Chapter 31: RED IS YOUR COLOR
The next day, I reached into my work dress to retrieve the tinnie pin, but it was gone. I frantically pulled both pockets inside out then desperately checked every dress I owned. Devastated, I retraced my steps. I knew the last place I had actually touched it was the mortuary, but I had walked through town and the apartment quite freely since. The morning was spent on my hands and knees checking every square inch of the flat.
“For heaven sake, child, what are you doing?” Mama G inquired as she saw me patting the boards under the table.
“Anton’s tinnie pin, Mama. I lost it!” Tears streamed readily down my face.
Mama G loosely scanned the room then knelt next to me. Her arms wrapped around me instead of reaching to the floor to assist.
“You need to leave for work, Ella.” Her hands cupped my face gently and wiped my tears.
“I can’t . . .” I sniffled loudly and wiped my nose on my sleeve.
“I’ll look for it, dear. I’m sure it will show up somewhere. It is part of you. I’m convinced it will find its way back.”
She helped me up and led me to the door where she kissed me on the forehead.
I tortured myself the entire way to the Frankes’. I lost more and more of Anton every day and losing his one token of friendship felt as though I’d lost him completely.
“Ella,” Lena found me in the library. “I haven’t seen you all day, not even during lunch, are you well?”
I nodded. I had watched for every opportunity to get to the mortuary without anyone seeing me, but it was impossible. Herr and Frau Franke had gone in and out multiple times. Frequent business today had forced my distance. Frustration consumed me.
“I am well.” I forced a lift in my voice to keep Lena from knowing the truth. She placed her arm around me. “When do you see Stefan again?” she whispered quietly into my ear. My smile could not resist his name. My eyes sparked with only a mere mention of him. “Ah, I see,” Lena chuckled. “It must be tonight.” “Yes.” I blushed.
“What are you going to wear?”
I thought about it for a moment. I hadn’t even considered anything but finding the pin. My face curled in confusion. “I actually don’t know.” I didn’t have a lot of choices, but I knew I wanted it to be impressive. The last occasion would be hard to outdo, but I couldn’t wait to try.
“Here, Ella.” Lena reached into her pocket and handed me some coins. I tried to give them back. “No, Lena, I can’t take this.”
“Yes, you can, please. I want you to get a new dress. It’s not much, but you are my friend, and I want to help.” She clasped my hand with the coins, “Go to Alexanderplatz after work. You are sure to find something at Zentralmarkthalle.” Then she kissed me on the cheek.
When I got home after shopping, Mama G was already asleep in her room. I needed to inquire of the pin but didn’t want to disturb her. Her health caused her to fall asleep at all hours of the day. It would have to wait until tomorrow.
This time, when I stepped through the door to meet Stefan at Dafne’s, I wore a short, red dress with a black belt and a pair of black knee-high boots Khloe gave me. It was obvious I was a force to be reckoned with the moment I entered the café.
“How do you do it?” Stefan questioned as he met me near the front.
“How do I do what?”
“Appear more beautiful each day I see you!”
I smiled, embarrassed again. I hoped he thought that but struggled to hear it said out loud.
As handsome as Stefan appeared in his gray turtleneck sweater and black dress pants, I could have asked him the same thing, but I just admired silently. He took my hand and led me to a corner table. Holding out my chair, he squeezed my shoulders gently from behind as I sat down.
“Thanks for coming.”
“Thank you for the invitation.” I scooted closer to him and whispered, “Our time in the mortuary was too short.”
His eyebrow rose adjacent to a sly grin. “I couldn’t agree more.” The waitress approached the table to take our order.
“Are you ready to order, Ella?”
I hadn’t even looked at the choices yet. Stefan stared at me as I tried to focus on the words.
“What?” I smiled and peered over the top of the menu.
“Red is definitely your color,” he said boldly.
I laughed. “You’re distracting me.”
“Really?” He smiled devilishly. “I can do better than that,” he responded playfully. Now both his eyebrows rose as if accepting a challenge. I knew he would win, I changed the subject.
“Did you finish your painting of the Elbe River?” I asked him. I really wanted to see it again.
“Almost, you can come and see it tomorrow if you like.”
“I would love to.” My eyes lit up. “Will you be there also?”
“Possibly . . .”
The waitress returned. I ordered Konigsberger Klopse at Stefan’s urging, “well known to be the best meatballs and capers in town.” Stefan stared at me for a few seconds before he spoke.
“One thing I’m curious about, Ella, is with your family gone . . . why haven’t you tried to get to the west since?”
I studied him carefully. Then naturally glanced around the room, it was personal.
He waited then asked, “Have you tried?” I nodded.
“Really? How?” His interest seemed provoked. I scanned the café again. You never knew who would be listening. “They didn’t turn out . . .
of course, you know that since I’m still here.”
“It was multiple times?” Stefan’s face could not hide the shock.
“Yes, twice I pursued it.”
“Like what?” He appeared quite interested. It was uncomfortable talking about such a delicate topic, especially with someone whose family was directly involved in keeping people from crossing.
“People died,” I whispered. Stefan shook his head then leaned in closer. I could smell the mint from his tea on his breath. It tempted me.
“Are you still trying?”
I thought about this for a minute. “Depends—”
“—Depends on whether staying turns out to be better than leaving.”
Stefan stared at me, he seemed unsure whether he should believe he knew what that meant. A little surprised at my own audacity, I changed the subject. Despite the euphoric feelings that kept arising in his presence, my heart dangled with vulnerability.
“What did you want to do before the mortuary became your life?” This was my attempt to turn the conversation. He responded easily or let me believe I was in control. Either way, he was a gentleman.
“I had many different ideas.” He chuckled. “I wanted to travel abroad and paint. I also wanted to be a musician and” —Curious, Stefan had my full attention now— “lastly, I wanted to open a discotheque here in Berlin.”
I snorted out loud. “Dancing?” It actually didn’t surprise me. “Are you laughing at me?”
“No—” I backtracked, “—the um . . . tea tickled my throat,
and . . .”
“Uh huh!” He didn’t buy it and grabbed my hand. “You are making fun of me.” His touch was playful and exhilarating.
“No, I actually have never been out dancing.”
“Really?” Stefan appeared surprised. “Sorry, I thought every teenager in Berlin had been to a nightspot.”
“Nope, but I don’t think I’m a normal teenager either.”
“You’re right—” Stefan’s half grin emerged “—and that’s a good thing.”
Stefan reached over for my other hand and now held them both in the center of the table. It seemed so natural.
“How did I find you?” he whispered.
I heard the words, but I was caught up in the moment. His face not far from mine, I watched Stefan’s eyes as they lit up the same time his lips curled into a smile, the kind that bowed just enough to appear devious. His blond bangs fell slightly over his forehead and swept to the side when he moved. I could not take my eyes off him. He could possibly be the most handsome man I had ever seen. Not that I’d seen many with my sheltered life, but it wasn’t only his appearance anymore that sent goose bumps up and down my arms. Stefan had become a man. A man who I discovered was as incredible inside as he was outside.
“What?” He matched my stare.
“Nothing.” I pulled my eyes away and tried to glance around the café, but it wasn’t anywhere as appealing as his face.
“Don’t tease,” Stefan laughed.
“I’m not,” I joked but still didn’t gaze back at him. He spent the next couple minutes jockeying to get me to face him again. My stubbornness emerged, but this was one game I was fine with losing. The mood shifted to light and enjoyable, and we spent most of the night laughing, which was such an unusual experience for me. I’d never done that before.
Later, as Stefan walked me home, he kept his arm around me the entire way. It was comfortable and sweet to think that everyone we passed knew we were together.
Before we arrived at my apartment, Stefan stopped at the corner and wrapped both his arms around me. We were in the shadows of the nearest street lamp; therefore, a fair amount of darkness concealed his embrace. Stefan’s tall, lean frame towered over me. I tilted my head back to face him.
“Are you going to put your hand out for me to shake tonight?” Stefan leaned in close enough for me to feel the heat emitting from his skin. My heart thumped loudly, I was sure he could hear it. When I shook my head “no” it was so subtle he might have missed it if he wasn’t so near.
I could taste the salt on his lips, they were both strong and soft at the same time. My entire body felt every sense magnified. I had read books that described similar moments, but none had even come close to what I felt at that very minute.
As our silhouettes emerged from one to two, our eyes remained locked. The limited light from the street lamp cast shadows on half of Stefan’s face, but even in the darkness, his eyes seemed to glow. Streaks of mesmerizing blue appeared brighter than a gem. I suddenly perceived precise details in an altered state. It was like the kiss created a whole new dimension of communication. This startling awareness stunned me. I smiled bashfully, “Did I do that OK?”
He kissed my forehead with a smile. “It was perfect.” Holding my hand, he led me home. I stood on my tiptoes and kissed his cheek before stepping into the apartment and could not stop smiling from that point on.
As I got ready for bed, I kept touching my lips. They remembered every move Stefan made, and it was one I couldn’t wait to repeat.
Everything about tonight was exactly how I hoped it would be.