Chapter 23: FORGIVENESS
It was another night of restlessness. Despite convincing myself it would all work out, I was troubled . . . even angered. Another way the spoiled child—well, now man nearing nineteen I believe—had his way. All he ever had to do was snap his fingers and it was done. Whatever Stefan wanted, Stefan got. Well, I was not going to fall for his charms that easily . . . did I really think he was charming? Ughhh, it was a horrible night and an even more horrible day. I peeked around every corner to make sure we never met. I knew I was acting weird. By their small comments about the scene he had made the night before, everyone else noticed it too. I denied whatever they conjured up. I wanted nothing to do with Stefan.
Finally, at 4:30 pm, I decided I wasn’t ready to face him and rushed out of the house. It was very risky. If Frau Franke somehow found out I left early, she could follow through with her threats, but I justified it.
I couldn’t see Stefan.
At home, it was all I could think about. I knew I couldn’t avoid him forever. It was better to be honest with him. The Kühns taught me a great deal about integrity and it was being tested. Now, I had a chance to prove I backed up what I believed.
I decided if Stefan found me at work, I would arrange to see him after, but only long enough to tell him his apology was accepted, and that was it.
“You disappeared last night.” Stefan emerged much sooner than expected. I’d only been working for forty-five minutes the following morning when he entered the dining room.
I spun around to face him, but words did not come easily as he stood tall in the doorway. He wore a vivid, button-up shirt that made his blue eyes appear brighter than I had ever seen. I quickly turned away.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. “I needed to be somewhere.” Instantly, I realized I had undone the very speech I’d sworn to give, the one which spouted honesty. Reluctantly, I faced him again.
“No, I’m lying.”
Stefan’s eyebrows rose with curiosity. He slid into a chair at the table as if this was going to be a long discussion.
“I don’t want to see you at all, Stefan. I actually don’t even know why you all of a sudden keep showing up, but I simply can’t forget the past. The Griebnitzsee station, the names, the painting, your mother’s birthday . . .” He nodded subtly with each item on my list.
“I only wanted to apologize, Ella,” he spoke evenly, with no emotion. “I can’t take back what I said or did. I want you to know I really am sorry.”
I watched him carefully. He was different. His forehead wrinkled slightly as he waited for me to respond.
“It’s done,” I whispered. “I accept your apology.”
Stefan grinned slightly as he stood to leave. Awkward silence filled the room as he realized we had reached the end of our conversation. He hesitated and then spoke, “I saw Lena enter the back door fifteen minutes ago. You should go see her.” He excused himself.
I quickly put my duster down and followed him out the door only to find Lena right there in the hall. She gave an odd stare when she saw us both exit the dining room at the same time.
“Lena,” Stefan spoke up first, “you look well.”
“Thank you . . .” Her gratitude was reserved. “I understand I have you to thank for that.” She blushed a little. My eyebrows rose curiously.
“I didn’t do much. It was actually Ella here who sought you help. I only assisted.”
“Well, whatever you did, thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He laid a hand on her shoulder, and again her cheeks brightened a shade darker. “I must get back to work. Good day, ladies.”
Lena’s confusion was apparent.
I waited until she met my eyes but kept my distance. I wasn’t sure what she thought of me. Lena ignored the hesitation and reached for me.
She embraced me tightly. I couldn’t hide the tears.
“Lena,” I could hardly speak, “I am so . . . so sorry.”
“Ella, it wasn’t your fault.”
“It was! If I hadn’t asked” —She put her finger to my mouth to silence me. I’d forgotten once again how careless I can be— “Why would you ever forgive me?” I relived that day often in my mind. My breathing accelerated.
“Ella, stop.” Lena insisted. “It wasn’t your fault. It was I who . . .” She caught herself. “. . . it’s over Ella.” It was still the same sweet beautiful Lena, but her smile did not carry the same weight. Even her eyes did not sparkle like they used to. I found myself glancing down to her arm.
I saw the scar before she pulled her arm behind her. “It’s the past.”
No matter how much she tried to get me to not feel guilty, I knew it would be there, in front of me, all the time.
Lena’s expression instantly changed. “Was that man really Stefan?” She spun around to the direction he had left and pointed down the hall.
“Yeah.” My thoughts started to wander. “Yeah, it really was.” Her mouth soundlessly formed the word “truly?” “My sentiments exactly,” I snickered.
“But—” she contemplated “—but didn’t the two of you just come out of the dining room together?”
“No, . . . no, I mean yes, . . . we came out the same time, but it’s nothing Lena. He apologized, that’s all.”
“How is this nothing, Ella?” The old Lena appeared, briefly. “The biggest arsch who ever lived said he was sorry, and you say it’s nothing?”
Lena groaned. “That’s front-page news.”
I nodded my head. Yes, I guess she was right. My desire to hold onto my anger somehow challenged any reason. It was the only thing about my life I felt I could control.
Johann appeared and picked Lena up and swung her around. “We have missed you!” he said truthfully. The temporary help came nowhere close to her abilities, and it was obvious the house suffered in her absence.
“This calls for a celebration!” Johann cried, “Tonight!”
“Oh no,” Lena declined, “too soon.”
He nodded understandably but insisted for another night. I laughed. It actually seemed like our little work family was whole again.
“And maybe you can convince miss ‘I’m too good for the job’ over there to work the Fasching dinner . . .” Johann would not let it go!
However, Lena remembered how upset I was the previous year.
“No, I actually don’t want her there,” she chuckled. “She messes everything up.”
I smiled. It was good to have her back!