There is no question about Lom’s welcome to the family. He is a great storyteller, so without a dull or awkward moment, he has all the women enthralled within minutes. It feels as though he has been part of them forever, to the point that Nina is almost jealous of the easy rapport both her sisters and her mother have with him after such a short time.
Holding hands, sitting close and even little kisses of affection they exchange – all is accepted without comment or judgement.
Later, when her mother is getting dinner ready in the kitchen, Nina joins her.
“I’ve never seen you so happy.”
When her mother repeats this observation to Lom during dinner, he looks at Nina with a smile.
“She is, isn’t she?”
By the time they get back to her flat it is eleven o’clock.
“I need to go to bed if we want to be at my mum’s at nine.”
Even as they cuddle up, her back to him with her bottom cradled in his groin, his arm draped over her, they intend to go to sleep.
Finally, Nina tells him how brutally honest they were at the clinic, saying she has to weigh up what she can afford against the chances of success – the average is three to four cycles, costing six to eight-thousand pounds. The likelihood of success on the first and only go is extremely limited.
“So, how have you left it?”
“That I will think about it. If I want to go ahead, I’ll make an appointment.”
“What do you think? Where am I going to get two thousand pounds from, to effectively throw down the toilet?”
“Oh, yes… of course. I’m sorry.”
And he genuinely is sorry – sorry she cannot get what she wants, sorry she feels disappointed and dejected.
But he has been experiencing such extremes of jealousy at an unspecified, theoretical man, he is not sorry she is not going ahead with it and will not use someone else’s sperm.
Again, Nina reassures him she will be fine once she has got over the emotions and come to terms with reality.
Lom chooses to accept her words.
She still does not ask him to reconsider, does not bring up The Question again and he admires how she is dealing with the disillusionment.
They settle back into their routine and enjoy each other’s frequent company and occasional sex.
Her eyes remain sad.
Munich, 21st June 1985
Thank you so much for letting us stay. I can promise that we’ll treat your house with the greatest respect.
I was very lucky with my flat. I never knew my paternal grandmother is an artist, too, let alone that she is good. (I think I told you about my other grandmother’s paintings.) Anyway, we were never that close to her because she hated my mother, and we only saw her from time to time in the holidays when I was little. She lives in Berlin and we were in the south and travel was expensive. But over the last few years, she has sold some sculptures and other artwork to illustrate books.
I don’t know why, but she made contact with us and decided to give each of us some money. There was enough for me to put down the deposit, which was 3 months of rent and have some spare for bills. I work three days a week and more in the holidays, so I manage all right without student finance.
We’ve been thinking, and thought it would be nice for us to say thank you in person, my baby sister’s suggestion, so we’ve changed our route. We’ll travel back through Heaton to the ferry. We’ll have a few hours over lunch. May we invite you? Although you’ll have to tell us a good place to go, not too expensive…
I’ll write again when I know exactly at what time we’ll be arriving.
Nina processes his intervention over a few days and gets used to the idea. She makes a list of five jobs to apply for and tackles the first one.
Proudly, she tells Lom what she has done on Monday afternoon.
“Have you ever applied for a job?”
“Well… I had a job before I left back in ’83 and I had one in Germany.”
“How did you find them?”
“The one here at the job centre. Don’t you remember? And the one in Germany at the Student Union.”
“OK,” he replies with exaggerated patience. “Can I give you some advice?”
“Of course you can. You know you can.”
“You’re in a funny mood and I don’t mean to criticise… Anyway, this list of five jobs you’ve made… Apply to all of them.”
“All… at once? What if they all say yes?”
“All at once. If you get lots of replies, then you’re in control and can choose the best of the bunch.”
She sits down to think. Doing it one at a time and waiting for a reply before moving on to the next one could take ages, and Christmas is coming, and she is almost out of money.
Nina has no choice but to wait until Lom is ready to talk, but her heart is pounding, and not in a good way. She is scared.
As soon as they enter the flat, she asks again what is wrong.
“Do you want coffee?” he asks.
He walks away.
She wants to cry.
When Lom sits at the table with his steaming mug, he motions for her to join him, which she reluctantly does, fear multiplying with very step.
He takes a hand and brings it to his lips, kissing it as if she were a lady, all the while looking her in the eyes.
He pulls her onto his lap.
Nina is reassured a little by the closeness.
This time, the question comes out as a whisper, and this time he answers.
“When your father followed me to the gents he said something very bizarre.”
“No, nothing about you. Nothing against you. Your mother.”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me? He won’t even talk to her civilly without going through a lawyer.”
Lom falls silent again until she prompts him.
Reluctantly he speaks. It is only one sentence, which stuns Nina into silence.
“Your father warned me to beware of your mother because she always steals her daughters’ boyfriends.”
At 20 weeks, Nina has her scan and brings him the photo the next day.
“I had to go on the bus. It was awful. They told me to drink plenty of water so they could get a better image. Apparently, you need a full bladder for that. Anyway, I drank too much too early and I was so desperate I had to get off at the supermarket stop to find the loo, bent over with pain, legs almost crossed… and then have half a wee. Have you ever tried to have just half a wee? It’s almost impossible. Once you start… So I had to drink all over again.”
By the end of her account, both Lom and Nina are laughing so hard it takes a few minutes for her to remember to show him the picture.
The image is black and white, grainy and indistinct. Unless you knew what it was, it could be almost anything.
But he knows.
It renders him speechless.
Lom is trying very hard to stay detached, not develop a link to the child, so when it arrives it will be easier for him not to be with them, but this blob with a heart is still part of him.
He deals with his surge of emotion by hugging Nina so she will not see his tears.
“Do you seriously want to have sex in the toilet?”
He asks the question, but is already freeing his penis from its confines.
“Yesss!” she hisses.
Lifting her skirt and tucking the hem into her waistband, Nina braces her hands on either side of the small mirror above the sink and thrusts her unclad bottom out at him.
“Yes, I do.”
“So I can see,” he chuckles.
As soon as he touches her intimately, amusement dies and he joins her in a land of desperation. His nerves are firing, electrocuting him with sexual energy. She is indeed swollen and dripping with excitement, twitching already as his fingers get lost in her slickness.
Without conscious thought, he drops his trousers and drives into her – skin to skin.
No more preliminaries.
Normally, he would slide in slowly, then pause to relish the moment of joining.
Nina pushes back against him and it takes his last conscious thought to grip her hips to prevent them from uncoupling at the most inopportune moment.
After five frantic bumps she reaches a soaring orgasm. Lom watches her grimace of pleasure in the mirror. Each contraction, squeezing his throbbing erection, is mirrored in her face, each accompanied by her sexy hum of release.
He, too, loses control.
“Do you remember Nymphenburg, where we went on your first visit? The one with the skating lakes?”
“I do. The one with the formal and wild gardens. What about it?”
“We’re meeting my mum and sisters there on Saturday. It’s got one of the best beer gardens ever, and beer gardens here are nothing like in England. There, they’re just pub gardens really, aren’t they?”
Lom nods in agreement.
“Here, they’re usually picnic areas in the parks in many towns, where you can bring your own food, but you buy the drinks at one of the stalls, a bit like the stalls at the Christmas markets we went to.”
“I like German beers,” he states, endorsing the plans.
“Now, this beer garden,” Nina continues, “is special in that you can buy food as well… actually, most of them have that option, but this one, their speciality is barbecued mackerel. It’s absolutely delicious. What do you think?”
“I love mackerel.”
“I thought you would… Talking about fish… Have I told you my father’s in Germany?”
“How do you get from fish to your father?”
“They both stink.”
Heaton, 15th June 1986
Yes, even in that first year, when you had little confidence in yourself and you were always so sad.
At first I just wanted to hug you to give you comfort, like I’d hug my children or grandchildren, but very quickly my body became aware of you in a different way, as a sexual being.
I’d watch you. That first spring, when you finally emerged from your coat, it was like a butterfly in spring emerging from its chrysalis. Only you were a fully-fledged woman who sparked all my nerve-endings. And you didn’t wear a bra.
And your hips swayed when you walked.
There was that naughty part in me that wanted to imagine your voluptuous curves in my hands, on my body. But even before that, there was something that made me wonder what you were hiding under the coat.
And you didn’t cry all the time, only sometimes and deservedly so. When you weren’t crying, when you were at peace, your inner beauty would radiate out of your eyes and straight into my heart.
There were many times when I was grateful for my lab coat. I’d have risked being sacked if anyone had seen what my body was doing. That was in your first year at the school.
“By the way, when were you going to tell me that you want to go back to France by train? I was looking forward to that last drive, an extra few hours.”
“Not found the right moment, I suppose. You’re very distracting. I want you to come with me as far as Strasbourg. I want to spend those last few hours just with you, not with your family.”
“Unless you don’t want to travel back on your own?”
Finally, tendrils of fatigue reach her and she yawns.
“When did you come to this conclusion?”
“I suppose even before I arrived. I didn’t know if I’d get accepted by your family.”
“Do you even know if there is a train?”
“I did look into that back in England and there is. Can we go to the station tomorrow?”
“That should be easy… we need to pass it on the way into town anyway. We just get off a stop earlier. By the way, do you need anything washing? I was going to do a wash in the morning. It should dry on the radiator.”
“I’m not expected to return with clean clothes, so no. Actually… hang on… a couple of my handkerchiefs maybe. The one I used in the park tonight has Essence of You on it.”
“Why the sarcasm?”
Duly chastised and feeling foolish, she apologises blaming the intrusion of his other life and tiredness.
Finally they turn off the lights and assume the spooning position but, like on the first night, Nina cannot sleep – only for different reasons. Even though she is really tired now, there are so many emotions running through her that she feels restless, unsettled.
As they never made up the sofa in the morning they sit at the table. While Nina makes dinner on the two-ring hob, conversation never stops. Lom is sad to hear that the situation with her father has changed little.
“If it’s money or things… like his car… he’s generous enough… up to a point. But affection or advice, or anything emotional in any way shape or form… he just can’t get himself to do it. He’s never congratulated me for making it to uni. You know I’m managing to keep this flat without student finance, don’t you? He doesn’t… not interested. We’ve never had a constructive conversation about his new life with his new family. He’s still refusing to have a relationship with us that doesn’t include them.”
The only time Lom and Nina do not speak is while they eat but communication never ceases even then – looks smoulder and their feet find each other.
When dinner is over, they just push the plates to one side and talk resumes.
Nina’s good foot makes its way up Lom’s legs until it rests in his lap, palpating a growing erection while they discuss their favourite books.
“I’m a romantic,” she confesses.
“Like most women,” he teases.
She retaliates by massaging him harder. He heaves a deep breath through his mouth and closes his eyes briefly.
Lom knows Nina and her morning moods well enough to recognise that she will do less damage if he loves her awake than unceremoniously extricates himself and leaves the bed.
“I love you,” he murmurs, although he is sure she is not awake.
And yet she smiles. Her cheeks are flushed, as if she is reliving her moments of embarrassment before finally letting go. He watches her face as she sleeps, taking in the sea of freckles covering not just her nose, which turns up a little at the end, but every inch of her face right up to the hairline. Her auburn hair frames her face like a flaming halo.
Thinking about her ginger fur below, lush, natural and untouched by razors, mobilises him into careful action. He runs his free hand over her body, lifting a breast, soft, pliable and perfect, then traces a line down to the guardian of the most infinitely, precious jewel of pleasure.
As he teases his fingers through her soft down towards the top of her groove, she moans, leans back and opens her legs to give him access.
He is free but all thought of getting up and coffee have slipped his mind. Instead, he murmurs further words of love and she groans in response.
Lom’s erection is impressive. For a man his age – he is in his 50s after all – he is amazed at his capacity. He has had more soul-stirring sex and satisfying orgasms in the last five days than in the previous five months or more. And here he is, ready to go again, once more close to climax after only minutes.
His potency is that of a young man her age – but then they say you are only as young as the woman you feel.
Nina is home.
Her voice takes his breath away and it is a couple of seconds before he speaks.
“Hello, my German friend.”
“Who is this?”
“Don’t you recognise me?”
There is silence at the other end and if he could not hear her breathing, he would have thought she had hung up. She eventually whispers his name, clears her throat, and repeats it a little louder.
“Lom? Is it really you?”
“Why would that surprise you so much?”
“Because… international phone calls are expensive.”
“I just want to check you’re OK.”
“Because you sounded down and then you stopped writing.”
“Oh? And several weeks later, you’re suddenly interested?”
“I didn’t receive the letters until today.”
“I sent them to the new address.”
“I know. The school office didn’t pass them on.”
“So I ask again, before The Wife comes home… Are you all right?” Lom finally says.
“Yes, I am. You don’t need to worry about me. As you yourself said… I always come out on top, because I’m sooo strong. Anyway, what can you do?”
“Be your friend.”
He hears the hurt hidden behind her defensive bravado.
“Just be your friend,” he repeats, then gives her time to absorb his words.
Nina blows her nose.
“You’re not crying, are you?”
“No. Of course not.”
Despite her protestations, there is a wobble in her voice.
“Please don’t. I just wanted to…”
He stops short to question what he actually really wanted to do, or be.
“I’ll always be your friend. OK? Whatever… We may not see each other, but I’ll listen, so don’t feel alone… You’re not.”
He listens to a series of noises – a giggle, which turns into an emotional sob, then a snort. She whispers his name several times and he hears the semblance of a smile.
“Look, I have to go. I’ll write, I promise. Will you write back?”
He waits through the next silence, and this time she breaks it with a tiny yes.
“Take care of yourself, Sweetheart.”
Although the alcohol flows freely, and most are getting quite merry, Lom sees nothing of the nightmare behaviour, which he has heard so much about. Nina’s mother remains a dedicated hostess – charming and eloquent.
Mulled wine in the afternoon makes way to beer in the evening, and still everyone’s behaviour stays perfectly acceptable, which is a relief.
However, he notices that Nina only has some of his mulled wine in the afternoon, and no further alcohol. She keeps throwing worried glances over to her mother.
Occasional intimate moments, a shared look, a touch, a brief peck on the lips, during which he does hold her entire attention, cannot distract her for long from her vigil.
As evening progresses and the atmosphere is still happy, she relaxes a little. Lom becomes aware of her hand resting on his thigh, seemingly innocently, but it is moving minutely, squeezing almost imperceptibly. Her fingertips reach towards the inside of his leg just enough so he feels branded but not so much it is inappropriate. Her hands are hot and radiating pure sensuality – more potent than obvious caresses.
“When do you think,” he whispers in her ear, “we’ll be able to leave? After all, tomorrow is a very long day.”
That night, their lovemaking is slow and sensual. They are now so familiar with each other that every touch, every kiss, every move builds the tension gradually. They know when to pull back to slow the speed of arousal without losing it and when to speed up.
Their climaxes are not quite mutual – by design – but follow one after the other, as neither wants to miss any of the other’s bliss. This works for them.
Later, Lom is almost asleep, hugging her from behind when he feels her sigh and whisper:
“I love you.”
He returns the words the following morning, when he is sure his mind is not clouded by passion, when he is sure they are the absolute truth.
He wakes Nina with the words. Her smile is so happy, he cannot help himself and returns to her outstretched arms. Although he does not allow himself to come, he enjoys every second of her morning joy. In the light of the bedside lamp, he can see the rosy glow that spreads over her chest and cheeks as she approaches her zenith.
She is quite simply beautiful, inside and out.