A Novel by Mira Steffan
Robert casually raised his right hand, which was resting on Ute’s shoulder, and greeted everyone. But then his gaze slid past them. Automatically, Charlotte turned and saw two attractive men standing behind her.
“Now the family is complete,” Dorothea said, “these are my brothers Finn and Lars. Finn is the runt of the litter.” Dorothea pointed to a blond man about six feet tall with a beard and shoulder-length hair who reminded Charlotte of a Viking. “And that’s Lars, the second oldest,” Dorothea pointed to a younger, more muscular and slightly shorter edition of Robert. Laughing, they both gave a curtsy. “Where are your girlfriends?” she asked her brothers.
Sven gestured with his head toward the restroom, “Getting dolled up.” “Sure,” Dorothea said in a what-the-heck tone.
Five minutes later, Charlotte knew why. Two very young, leggy, thin, very made-up women in miniskirts, high heels and generous décolletés came to the table giggling and gibbering, “Hey” said casually to the group, and nestled possessively against Finn and Lars, who were talking to Robert. The women continued to chatter with each other, “…I said to her that I read in a magazine that bow tie legs are out and looked meaningfully at her eyelashes.” She trailed off with a dismissive look. “And then I said,” she laughed with affectation, “then I said, that made me think of you right away.” They both burst into cackling laughter.
Charlotte was perplexed. All due respect, so young and already so spiteful.
At that moment, Anna approached the table with a tray of champagne glasses. She smiled warmly at her uncles and their friends. But before she could say anything, one of the women ruled her in a shrill voice: “Your laughing‘s hideous?”
Anna stopped as if rooted to the spot. Disbelief and confusion stood out on Anna’s young and open face. The champagne glasses on the tray began to tilt. Charlotte quickly took the glasses from her and placed them on a side table.
Ute, Finn, Lars and Robert, who were still engaged in conversation, were unaware of all this. Dorothea and the other guests in the round had paused in awkward silence.
The woman looked provocatively around the table when Finn laughed out loud at something Robert said and said, “Yeah, right.”
“See, Finn agrees with me. You laugh hideously,” she repeated her outrageous words, pressing herself close to him.
Dorothea was the first to find her voice again, “This is my niece, and I don’t like it at all when she is insulted in my home. She tapped her brother on the shoulder, “Finn, would you please escort your friend out.”
Finn looked at Dorothea in wonder.
“Your girlfriend can’t behave. She insulted our Anna.”
“Oh!” protectively, Ute put an arm around her daughter.
Finn frowned, “Jacqueline, what have you done?”
“Well, I didn’t know that was your niece.” Jacqueline let her red-painted lower lip hang in a pout, looking childish and silly.
The silence that followed, with Dorothea eyeing her with raised eyebrows and arms folded in front of her chest, was uncomfortable.
But suddenly life came to Jacqueline: “If I’m not welcome, I’ll leave. Are you coming?” she looked at Finn, then at her friend. But she shook her head and clung to Lars as if her life depended on it.
As Jacqueline and Finn headed for the elevator, Dorothea breathed a sigh of relief. “I hope this one will never become my sister-in-law,” she whispered in Charlotte’s ear as the music that had been playing in the background grew louder and overwhelmed all conversation.
“It’s party time,” shouted Robert, who was standing at the music system and had apparently decided to change the atmosphere as a DJ. He pointed to the open area behind the buffet.
“May I have this dance,” a woman’s voice said. Charlotte turned and saw Marianne smiling at Justus.
And before she could react, the two were dancing to Katie Melua’s “The Closest Thing to Crazy.” Way too close for her taste. Just as Charlotte was about to storm onto the dance floor, Dorothea approached her and engaged her in conversation about her brothers’ girlfriends. She listened to Dorothea, but couldn’t stop her gaze from wandering again and again, and it began to throb more and more inside her. At some point she couldn’t stand it anymore, apologized to Dorothea and made her way through the dancing couples.
“Now I’d like to dance with MY MAN,” she screamed in Marianne’s ear. With satisfaction, she saw her wince and quickly disengage from Justus.
“Yes, of course,” she said and slipped away.
Justus looked at Charlotte with an enigmatic look and pulled her close.
The next morning, Charlotte woke up feeling groggy. When she and Justus were about to leave at 4 o’clock, Robert had insisted on having a farewell drink. Of course, it hadn’t stayed with just one. Now her head was taking revenge with pounding pain. Justus lay next to her, fast asleep. There was no sign of Emma. Charlotte groped for the alarm clock. Stunned, she peered at the time. What she saw there made her jump out of bed. It was 12 o’clock. Where was Emma? Why was it so quiet? But then the realization seeped through her befuddled brain. Emma was with her parents. Until tomorrow. That’s right, today was Saturday. Relieved, she dropped onto her pillow, but the headache plagued her. It was no use. Determined, she got up, shuffled down the stairs to the kitchen, fired up the coffee maker, fished headache pills from the bathroom medicine cabinet, shuffled back to the kitchen, poured water into a glass, and swallowed two pills. What an evening. Charlotte’s thoughts dwelled on Marianne, the woman at the buffet, Jacqueline, and her friend. Why were women so mean with women? Why hadn’t emancipation taught women to stick together? Why did they fight each other? Why did women begrudge other women success, possessions, beauty? Why were women destructive, vile and mean? Why did one woman not grant another one‘s great love, beautiful home, contentment? Was all this spitefulness about one’s own wishes and desires? Did the jealousy of the other woman express one’s own desires, the difference between what one is and what one would like to be? Wouldn’t it be much more relaxed to go your own way and smile at other women instead of trying to destroy them with words and looks? And didn’t it feel much better to just give others an honest smile? Or was that a naive notion?
While these thoughts were buzzing around in her head like dragonflies, another thought startled her. Was she also like Marianne and Co. or like Heidi Lah from Meier’s outer office? Was she jealous of what other women possessed and attempted? No, spitefulness was not in her nature. She didn’t want to deprive anyone of dignity. Neither would she stand by and watch another woman make a pass at her husband. Fresh coffee scent tickled her nose. Lost in thought, she poured coffee into her mug. Admittedly – sometimes she wished for things that other women had. It drove her to do her best. Did that make her a bad person? On the other hand – why would that make her a bad person if it was the driving force behind good accomplishments of her own? Charlotte nodded thoughtfully toward her cup. There’s nothing negative about that. It just shouldn’t be destructive. But – wasn’t that the essence of competition? Didn’t competition inevitably amount to destruction?
So many thoughts flitted around in her head that she could no longer grasp a single one. Fatigue paralyzed her. She turned off the coffee maker and went back to bed. Justus was lying on his side, his face and closed eyes turned toward her. His regular breaths lifted and lowered his chest. Charlotte’s gaze slid over his prominent cheekbones, full lips, square chin, right leg resting over his plumeau. A very attractive man. Carefully, Charlotte lay down in bed, pushing her back against Justus until she felt his breath on her neck. Justus mumbled something unintelligible, put his arm around her and pulled her even closer. No sooner had she snuggled comfortably against him than she fell asleep.
Justus reminded himself not to make any abrupt movements. Satisfied, he breathed in her scent. He had liked her jealousy yesterday. That showed she still loved him, didn’t it? The evening had been interesting at all. He had felt again the special bond between them, this fascination for each other.