Episode 5 – The Labyrinth of Charlotte Reimann

A Novel by Mira Steffan

Charlotte and Justus had met for the first time at a freshman party. She stood at the edge of the dance floor and let her gaze glide casually over the crowd. At 1.94 meters tall and with his long, blond, slightly wavy hair, he had immediately caught her eye in the crowd. Relaxed, he leaned against the counter facing the dance floor and chatted with another student. Susanne followed Charlotte’s gaze and grinned: “Come on.” And before Charlotte could catch her breath, they were standing in front of the two. “Got a light?” asked Susanne of the other, waving her cigarette back and forth in front of his face.

He looked at Susanne, blushed, stuttered, and fumbled awkwardly for a lighter from his pants pocket. As the flame flared up and Susanne held her cigarette to it, Charlotte saw that a delicate blush covered her face as well. Two hours later, she and Paul left the party together. Four meetings and two months later, they were a couple. A year later, they got married. It took longer for Justus and Charlotte. That’s because Justus was dating Brigitta, a tall, blonde medical student, who two minutes later, after Susanne and Charlotte had joined Paul and Justus, stood next to him and wrapped her arms possessively around his neck. Since Charlotte generally didn’t interfere with relationships and she felt a little out of place without Susanne, she left the party shortly after Susanne and Paul. Now and then, she would see Justus in the hallways and outside area of the university building and, of course, at Susanne and Paul’s wedding. Each time they nodded shyly at each other and looked at each other with smiles.

Then they lost sight of each other. She heard from Paul that he had transferred to another university for his doctorate after completing his engineering degree. But three years later, they unexpectedly met again. Charlotte was now head of the controlling department in a large industrial group, and Justus was project manager. She didn’t know that he also worked for the same company, since their departments were in different buildings. It wasn’t until the annual company party that they met. Charlotte was standing with a colleague, a champagne glass in hand, discussing the general economic situation.

“I’m sorry, don’t we know each other?”

Charlotte looked in the questioner’s direction and into blue eyes. She recognized him immediately. Her pulse rate quickened and silence reigned in her speech center. What was she supposed to say? How to react? All of a sudden, the silence in her head turned into irrepressible joy. She would have loved to shout out loud, “Sure.” It took her all her energy to hold back. She reminded herself to be calm, took a deep breath and nodded hesitantly. Nevertheless, her vocal cords were failing. In the beepy voice of a five-year-old, she heard herself say, “I think. From university?”

Justus beamed at her, “I knew it. You’re Charlotte.” She nodded, no longer trusting her voice. He held out his right hand to her, “My name is Justus Reimann.” “I know,” she slipped out, and he smiled delightedly.

He hadn’t changed much. He was still as slim as he had been at the party, a little more muscular, but with short hair. He looked damn good in his suit and the white shirt that was open at the neck. Charlotte smiled tentatively and introduced him to her colleague, but he ignored her in the ensuing conversation, and quickly disappeared.

Justus grinned at his back, “I think he was bored.” Charlotte grinned back, “Looks like it.”

Cheering, she raised her champagne glass and their glasses clinked together, “How is Brigitta?” The question had escaped her mouth before she could stop it.

Justus looked at her with a furrowed brow in confusion.

“Your friend…the medical student,” Charlotte added explanatorily, giving herself an imaginary slap. She really should have been more subtle about that. But sometimes her mouth was faster than her head.

“Oh, I see,” Justus’s brow smoothed, “she works as a doctor at the university hospital. At least that’s how it was three years ago when we broke up.”

Charlotte nodded to her champagne glass and took a deep breath. It doesn’t matter now, she thought, and asked aloud, “Is there a new Brigitta in your life?”

Looking up, she met his amused gaze: “No, right now I’m single.”

Again Charlotte nodded to her champagne glass.

“And you?” she heard him ask.

“I’m single too,” she mumbled into her champagne glass.

Justus then changed the subject, as if they had just been talking about the weather, “How do you like your job here?”

“It’s okay.” Unfocused and nervous, Charlotte gnawed on her lower lip.

What else they talked about, Charlotte couldn’t remember. Her imagination was doing erotic capers and the conversation rushed past her like waves of letters. Around 11 p.m., they left the party together.

She had blown him away, back at the freshman party, with her brown curls and the light brown eyes with the green dots in them, looking at him as if she knew what he was really like. Her slim waist, her even oval face, her fair skin, the full mouth, her serious manner, her pleasantly deep voice – he knew it immediately: she was what he wanted. The relationship with his girlfriend at the time, Brigitta, was rather pleasantly friendly and fizzled out without drama after he changed universities.

Whenever he saw Charlotte, a flame shot through his body. But she made a dismissive impression, and he didn’t dare approach her. Once, though, at Susanne and Paul’s wedding, he was on the verge of asking her out. But by the time he had built up enough courage, she had disappeared. Then came the company party. And he seized his chance. When she left the party with him, he could hardly believe his luck. With her, he felt more alive than ever before. With her he could achieve everything, with her his fears lost their power. They harmonized with each other in every way. When he proposed to her and she said “yes,” it catapulted him into a state of bliss. Even if it sounded corny, that’s exactly how it was.

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