Chapter 34: HEARTBREAK
“Hey, beautiful.” Stefan grabbed my hand and pulled me through the heavy doors into the mortuary. I didn’t even get a word out before his lips covered mine.
“Stefan!” I protested once I could breathe. “Stop, please.” My conversation with Lena was still fresh on my mind despite the few days that had passed. “Your parents—”
Stefan ignored my pleas and kissed me again. It had been over a week since the night in Prenzlauer, and while I tried to be reasonable, my heart wanted this as badly as he did.
“Stefan! Stop . . . your mother!”
“They’re gone,” he said and kissed me again.
I could feel the desperation in his touch as he pressed against me. I missed him more than I could bear. After several minutes, Stefan pulled back. “Spend some time with me today, Ella. I’ve missed you.”
He squeezed my hands. “Please?”
I wanted to more than anything, but I was desperate to tell him what I knew. “Stefan, we need to talk.” I struggled to focus again on what lie ahead.
“We can talk—” Stefan smiled slyly, “—and kiss.” It was a sexy look. He was incredibly attractive when he appeared that way.
“I have to work.” I was trying very hard to resist, conflicted. With his parents gone, I wanted to be with him, but I also knew this could be our last. It was painful.
“I’ll take care of it. Wait here.” Stefan disappeared momentarily.
“What are you up to?” I questioned upon his return.
“Nothing!” He grinned again. This was the first time our conversation felt somewhat normal again.
“They can do without you for today. I want your help in here.” “What help?”
“I need to be next to you.” He pulled me in again, his lips melting against mine. My whole body quivered. It had been too long since he touched me last. I placed my hand against his chest with barely enough pressure to halt him momentarily.
“What did you say out there?”
“I told Johann I needed your help, and you would be unavailable this afternoon and . . . he would need to have your duties covered.” Stefan kissed my neck then spoke up, “A very strange expression was on his face, does he know?”
I bit my lip, “Yes, he and Lena are the only ones, unless you make it obvious to the rest of the staff by always getting me out of my duties!” I pushed him back and forced him to face me.
“Stefan, your mother is suspicious of me.”
“I’m sure she doesn’t know.” His hands rubbed my shoulders. “She has my pin!” I cried. His fingers stopped moving.
“Your shield pin?” He pointed to where I wore it on my dress. “Yes.” Tears started to form.
“How? How did she get it?”
“She found it in here and told Lena she knows it belongs to the woman who is seeing you.”
Stefan stepped back. He put his hand to his forehead as if to think it through. He reached for me again and held me.
“I will get your pin back, Ella. I promise. She won’t know it was you.” Stefan kissed my nose.
I sighed as Stefan caressed my neck with his lips. My body hovered between weakness and exhilaration, just the touch of his skin against mine created sensations I never knew existed. His inconsolable grip yearned for something more, but I wasn’t ready. Maybe intimacy scared me, or maybe I was old-fashioned, but as I recalled the Kühns and how much they truly loved each other, it just seemed simple. Why not give the most personal part of you only to the one you are committed to forever?
The likelihood of marrying Stefan was slim. I knew this even as I found myself falling for him. Although I dreamt of being Frau Stefan Franke, we both knew his parents would never let that happen.
He grabbed my hand and led me down the hall. I spent very little time in here. It wasn’t my favorite place to be, but if it meant being close to Stefan, nothing else mattered today.
“What are you working on today?” I asked.
“Let’s not talk about work, mine or yours.” He winked as he closed the door to his office and led me to the couch.
I smiled as Stefan took a seat next to me. We were truly alone. It was hard for me to really believe it was possible, all I wanted to do was stare at him. Study every detail, memorize every line, but Stefan had other plans. His hands went immediately to my face and drew me in as his kiss stretched over several minutes. His desire radiated through his fingers, moving over my shoulders, down my arms, and holding my waist. His grip intensified. My chest tightened, and my breath became labored.
I wanted him more now than ever before, but I couldn’t. I placed my hands gently over his to stop them from sliding upward. He smiled.
This had become routine.
“Ella, . . .” Stefan whispered, “you drive me crazy.”
“You drive me crazy!” I groaned. The moment drifted close to the edge.
“Then why do we stop?” he questioned honestly. His fingers brushed against my lips, paralyzing me, as usual.
“Do you love me, Ella?”
My forehead wrinkled. “Of course, Stefan.” I was surprised by his question. “You know this!”
“Then why don’t we—” His hands held mine.
“Because . . .” I cut him off. I knew exactly what he was asking. My face grew serious. I bit my bottom lip hard. My eyes blurred, and the room seemed to get very small. I wasn’t sure I could finish.
“Because . . .” Stefan encouraged.
I took a deep breath. “—because that’s a really personal thing for me and—” Stefan watched me carefully as I continued, “—I only want to share it with the man I will be married to.”
He showed obvious surprise by my statement. His forehead wrinkled with confusion as he drew back.
“What do you mean?” I could sense his frustration and turned away. I did not want it to come out this way.
“Forget it, Stefan,” I reasoned, still unable to face him. “I don’t want to ruin this day. It means a lot to me.” In my heart, I shunned reality, but in my mind, I believed this could be our last time together, and I wanted it to be perfect.
“No.” He pushed with apparent exhaustion over the subject. “I want to know what you mean by that.”
I finally faced him again, but hesitated. I knew the price of honesty already, but I couldn’t stop myself. “We both know there’s no way you can marry me.”
“Yes!” Now it was my turn to be frustrated.
“How can you know all that’s happened with your mother recently and not believe she’d use every ounce of her strength to stop us from being together if she knew it was me.”
Stefan appeared wounded. “I don’t care what she thinks, Ella.” “In secret,” I fired back.
I inhaled swiftly, it had been a long time since I’d used a sharp tone with Stefan and the stunned expression on his face confirmed our joint uncertainty. The subsequent stillness was thick, but far from calm.
Stefan stood up and walked back towards the window. He left the curtain untouched and pushed his fingers through his long bangs, a sign he was upset.
I tried to be rational, but even as I said it, the words sounded harsh. “We will always be sneaking around, because whether you like it or not, your parents will never allow you to be with me. It’s why we hide in the first place, right? Why you had to wear a disguise a week ago and why
you’re afraid to tell them how you really feel.”
It all rolled out at once. The room got very quiet again.
“Stefan?” I stood up to join him, but on my approach, the atmosphere changed. Even the air that swirled with warmth and love just moments ago, bristled like ice the closer I came. Leaving some distance between us, I stopped, his silence bothered me. “Am I not telling the truth?”
He didn’t answer. I reached out and touched his arm, but he didn’t react. My chest physically ached. I longed for him to stop thinking, stop being angry, and just hold me and protect what little time and moments we had left. Stefan’s gaze remained detached as he whispered, “This really isn’t about my parents, is it Ella?”
“What are you talking about?” I cried defensively.
He continued, “You have no plans of staying in East Berlin, do you?”
“Where is this coming from, Stefan?” I was surprised and worried.
I was afraid he had somehow read my mind concerning Anton’s last letter.
“You said it yourself. You attempted to escape twice before.” His eyes glazed over. How did this get turned around to me? I was stunned.
“Yes, Stefan, my family is in the West. Yes, I miss them. Josef is my brother.”
“What about Anton?”
“What about him?”
“You carry his letter everywhere. Didn’t you think I notice you reading it so often it’s nearly in shreds? Do you want to be with him?”
My eyes started to sting with tears. The very thought of them brought my tender feelings to the surface. Stefan saw through me.
“You love him, don’t you?”
“Stefan, I’ve known Anton since I was six. We only had each other in the orphanage. He watched out for me, and I, him.”
“But it’s more than that, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t even spoken to him in person for almost two years!”
“Is the pin from him?” I turned my head.
“The shield you hold close to your heart?” Tears slid down my cheeks.
“Have you kissed him?”
My hesitation answered his questions. Stefan tucked his shirt back into his slacks then walked over to his desk.
“I’m sorry, Ella,” his voice suddenly formal, “I forgot I need to get some paperwork finished.”
I stood still. I was shocked at how this afternoon turned so quickly.
“Why are you doing this?” I wiped the tears off my face and walked to the edge of his desk as he sat down. He ignored me. I slammed my fist on his desk. He glanced up at me, the blue in his eyes spread darkness across his face. They were unsympathetic and cruel, the part of Stefan I wished no longer existed. He appeared hurt and betrayed. I was confused. How could he be injured from the past—by a memory, my memory?
“OK, I’ll leave you alone—” Anger consumed me. Tears continued to flow down my face, my eyelashes blinking rapidly, “—but Stefan, you have no idea what it’s like to be alone. You’ve had a family your whole life. I’ve always been abandoned . . . my real parents didn’t want me. My adoptive parents died, and when Anton and Josef left, I literally wished to die. Before you go punishing me for my feelings and join the list of deserters, you should know I’ve fallen for you. I love everything about you but can never see a future for us because of your parents. They would have me dragged away before they would ever see us together . . . and you know I’m right!”
I slammed the door behind me.
When Johann saw me polishing the silver in the dining room less than an hour later, he attempted to inquire why until he saw my tearstained cheeks. He retrieved Lena, and when she came to me, I cried hard in her arms. She knew enough to not even ask.
Relationships are complicated. Ours was doomed from the
beginning, I just didn’t want to believe it.