Erkan Uzkan

A cut above the rest

Chapter 1 A cut above the rest

Ben woke up to the ringing alarm clock of his cell phone. He still felt somewhat perplex after the events of the previous day because he had quitted his job. A job that he felt like choked him out and his peers who started out as friendly slowly began to display the same kind of isolating behavior he was experiencing with the folks of that small town he was living in. There are a few things you should know about Ben – he was a kind guy; slightly bulky physique; dark, short hair, wearing glasses; always eager to please; trying hard to belong but effectively failing. He never understood what was expected of him or how “Social norms” worked or even saw them as a hindrance – something which led to him leading the life of an outcast. Or being somewhat pushed into it. But make no mistake he had a very strong moral compass always pointing towards “Right” – his personal NORTH. A circumstance owed to the fact that after the death of his father, while Ben was six years old, he grew up on a steady diet of comic books - raised by an extraordinary and strong woman. Those comic books which depicted larger than life stories in bold, beautiful colors in which the “hero” prevailed in his “quest” by simply doing what was “right” – adhering to virtues such as humility. It struck home with him. Being shaped by something like that showed in the way he spoke and acted leading to people perceiving him as slightly off or detached  -  an “oddity” or “anachronism” if you will. But after all he was a young man - comprised of all the same desires , hopes and wishes like any other young man. Perhaps lacking the “means” or a “voice” to obtain what he wanted but yet driven by the wish for a safe haven  – a place that he could call home and a family. And this is where the second important factor that shaped Ben came into play – LOVE. He didn’t lack empathy. On the contrary – he was overflowing with it. But as the years passed by and the mounting  disappointments started to take their toll on him he began to become more careful - eventually becoming a recluse. Yet he tried to keep that spark inside of him alive and hid it – fully showing it only to those who he felt were “kindred” and patient enough. Since he inadvertently really tended to test that patience with his antics but never having any ill intent. He had perfected this “hiding in plain sight” to the point where he became something like a “social chameleon” - relying on his instincts since he didn’t know much about “social norms”. Especially making friends. After being left to his own devices for so long Ben believed that he could tell the difference between someone who was genuinely like him or who was pretending to be. So disconnected from what was going on around him that you could have put him into a room full of people and he still would have felt alone. And the fact that the world around him steadily kept on changing and became more and more complex at an incredible rate didn’t help either. Values changing or crumbling altogether. Values, Ben held so high in regard. Values that his heroes were made of. And if you took that concept of LOVE added romantic movies to the mix you would have had all the ingredients in place that would eventually set Ben upon his path of his life-long search for that one woman that would make his heart run over with happiness. Someone he could live out this larger than life love story with. Someone that was so perfectly walking that thin line of being  a “kindred spirit” yet making her way in this world. That individual that eventually would become his lover, spouse, friend, companion, teacher, support system. And vice versa. That individual that he could love more than life itself and by whom he would be equally loved in return. In short his entire WORLD.

But today was a new day. Ben was keeping in touch with Catherine who was called Kate by her friends.  Something  which she preferred. She was a former peer of Ben’s and had become something like a confident over the course of two months at work even though she didn’t have any idea what he was going through. Things started picking up especially towards the last few days of Ben’s employment. He started to respect her since she was highly qualified and an all around nice girl to begin with – outgoing and communicative. She was slightly smaller than Ben with an average physique and long dark blonde hair and light blue eyes to go with it. Pinning her hair up or letting her hair flow freely as she saw fit while walking nimble-footed through the hallways of the open space office wearing one of her funny tees she was known for.
Ben’s cell phone was giving off one of those notification sounds as he was leisurely zipping on his first cup of coffee.

 It was Kate via her messenger application.

 „You should have seen that look upon your face as Geneviève kissed you goodbye“ she wrote while he could imagine her putting on a smirk while writing those lines. „And YOU should have seen what was going on inside of me that very moment. I felt so weak and strangely enough it felt good. Hadn’t had that for quite some time. I am so confused. I don’t know what to do. I think I should ask her out. I know chances are probably somewhere between slim to none but I’ve been a fool for lesser things“ he replied.
 
„What exactly are you planning to do? How exactly are you going to do that - now that you have quitted your job and are not going to see her at work?“ she asked.„That’s a good question. Well, she gave me her business card, right?“ he replied while the gears in his head started to set themselves into motion. Little did Geneviève know that the moment she gave him her business card it felt like the “Call to Adventure” in HIS own personal hero’s journey. That he probably was as driven as Ahab in his chase of a certain White Whale. His white whale being that happy home and a family he was so much hoping for. Even though everyone knows how that story ended.  But maybe he was willing to go down with this ship if necessary since she truly had left a lasting impression with him over the course of those two months he had seen her at work. Every little word exchanged, every small encounter, every fleeting glance and that beautiful smile of hers – it was exactly how Ben always envisioned it to be. Like those moments he had seen so many times in those romantic movies. And exactly in those moments he listened. He listened very closely to what was going on inside of him even though he had stopped listening altogether a long time ago to not hear all those hurting words people called him over the course of all those years. „This feeling. Feeling weak in the knees. Not being able to focus on anything. Automatically feeling so incredibly good the moment she enters the room. More than just Serotonin and Oxytocin kicking in. This is it! This must be love! “ he figured. It was that one time where Ben and Geneviève had a cup of coffee together. During their conversation he somewhat tested her by hinting at those personal tragedies he had endured in his past – even though HE knew that this was an incredibly stupid move to do. Something that could scare her away. But if she could take a glance into his less pleasant memories and could yet ! feel att racted by him she could be the one woman with whom he could have a kind of love so strong that could endure anything. He had to find out. „I’ll call her later on!” he wrote all the while thinking that this was the next step according to protocol after the initial boy meets woman moment he had with Geneviève. „I hope you don’t end up being in over your head, Ben!” Kate replied – trying to be the voice of reason.

A few hours later Ben tried to muster up the courage by looking at that business card over and over again. It was a very nice one. Entirely in blue with a beautiful portrait of her on it – Ben’s most favorite color and the woman he could see himself falling in love with. „What could possibly go wrong?“ he asked himself as he dialed the number. As she answered the phone he said with a trembling voice - with the insecurities clearly audible in every syllable „Hi there, Geneviève! It’s me, Ben. I hope you are doing fine. How was your weekend?”„It was nice. Listen, can I call you back later? I am on my way to France right now. I am somewhat short-spoken.” she said loudly with all the noise of the car and traffic going on in the background.„Sure thing! I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed our little coffee break together and I would love to extend that to a full-blown dinner date if you will. How does that sound?” Ben asked her pulling out all the stops. „Sure, why not…” being her last few words before being cut off all of a sudden. Being abruptly interrupted like that but her last words being a positive answer Ben was left standing there with a mixed bag of emotions and questions. “What was he supposed to do now?” being one of those many questions that were circling in his head. Kate was the first person that came to his mind. After all she was in the know about what was going on so there was no need to be all secretive with her about it. And she struck Ben as someone that already had some experience when it came to relationships. Ben really didn’t want to botch this one up. Geneviève meant a lot to him.

„Kate, I did it!” he texted her with a strange combination of excitement and being clueless. He had been there before. A few times. Those situations. And it always felt the same. Up until now. Somehow those emotions had managed to pierce through that jadedness that had held Ben tightly in it’s grip for so many years. And Ben felt great about it. Like vital signs coming back on.„You did what exactly?” she wrote back. „I called her, asked her out and she said YES….sorta!” he typed while having a smile going from ear to ear. „What do you mean by sorta? It’s either yes or no” „Yeah, well we got cut off. But – for the record - she said YES.” „So what you gonna do next? You don’t expect this to be this great romance you think it would turn into. Now do you? She’s way out of your league.” „Yes, I am very well aware of that and this is probably me pushing my luck hard like I always do but would it be THAT wrong if I really wanted this to be exactly that great romance…someday…soon?”I asked cautiously „No, but let me tell you from my own experience that relationships are a VERY MESSY AND UGLY thing. I had my fair share. Some lasted a little bit longer and some didn’t. And I even ended up being together with total jerks. I am done with having my heart broken and I figure so is she. So do the math of you coming out of this with….what?…putting a ring on her finger by any chance?…someday?” „I am truly sorry to hear that. I mean that your feelings got hurt… Don’t get me wrong since I am not that cocky enough to believe that there is anything special about me. I am just like any other guy trying to make his way in this world and believe me it’s difficult enough as it is. It’s just that….I just wanna be happy with her…That might come across as very simple or naive to you but that’s all there is to it! if you peek behind the curtain. That’s my Endgame! And I know it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. But I feel like if anyone can pull it off together with me then it’s someone so passionate, strong and amazing like she is. I am fascinated by her. That’s how I feel about her and I am just so incredibly curious to find out more about her.” And then something happened  while finishing his little speech, clearly exceeding 140 characters, carefully trying not to let show too much in fear of that neither Kate would understand what drove him – it felt like Jiminy Cricket in a mean leather jacket posing the question what Batman would do in such a situation. Ben knew he had to get to the bottom of things. See if she had any feelings for him as well. And if they were equally strong. He truly hoped they were - more than anything in this world.

„I just decided on something. I’ll go and see her.” he typed. „Go where? France? Why?” Kate replied in the blink of an eye which made Ben think that she was genuinely surprised. „The business card says Luxembourg” „You’re actually not really considering going to her place, right? Please tell me you don’t!” „I do! I absolutely do!” he wrote. If only written words could have conveyed determination convincingly you would have heard a young man without ANY doubts in those brief seconds. „You are walking a very thin line here. She may not react well to this – at all!” How was Kate supposed to know that Ben had a very simple rule he followed of no matter how far OUT THERE the line he drew would have been that he never would have crossed that line. The ground rule being – not forcing yourself upon someone or causing harm to someone unless being attacked. „If she’s the woman I think she is – the woman I love - then she will understand.” „Well, I guess then there is nothing left for me to say. I don’t condone it. On the contrary. I still think it’s a bad idea since it will only lead to you scaring her off. But if this is what you think you must do…”„Thank you for not judging me and your support!” he calmly typed. And those were the last few lines Ben and Kate exchanged before Ben went off packing his backpack and getting ready for the short but hopefully meaningful trip that lied ahead of him.
The following morning the alarm of his cell phone went off even though he hadn’t slept much probably due to the adrenaline coursing through his veins.  He was never one to have breakfast since „What’s the use of having it all by yourself” he thought. But that morning he didn’t even have his usual cup of coffee. It was an unusual situation after all – to the point where even his stomach was in a turmoil. So he had his shower in the morning, a clean shave, brushed his teeth and put on his clothes. Finally he strapped on his huge backpack and off he went. First order of the day being plundering his bank account. Scraping together the last few bucks in his pursuit of happiness. „I don’t regret any of this. I love her” murmuring to himself before fastening the straps on his backpack and heading to the train station. A phrase which would become his mantra he would utter in all those moments whenever he felt that he had lost his strength. He already had bought his train tickets the previous evening and according to the information he had the travel time would be somewhere around 5 hours. 5 hours give or take were hopefully the only thing standing between him and the woman he loved so much. It was a very cold but beautiful morning with the sun coming up in the distance. He had a feeling of HOPE upon seeing this. A concept which growingly felt even more fuzzy to him as time had passed by. The thought of seeing her and holding her in his arms was that one thought that made him absolutely forget about the cold. Even though he had become resilient against the cold during his many hiking tours he used to do in his spare time he literally had more than just warmed up over the course of two months to the idea of having her in his life. He kept checking his cell phone, making status updates on Facebook every so often to keep his senses, which were on high alert, busy. Getting onto the first train of a few that he had to take that day, dropping off his backpack a! nd takin g  a seat. All the while listening to music and daydreaming about how the first encounter would play out. Every now and then he looked out of the window seeing a familiar scenery. He was so focused at the road ahead and the upcoming events that the people around him just became a blur in his peripheral vision. He was enjoying his music, listening to a carefully crafted playlist he had put together for that day. Music - something that played an integral part in his life as well since it had kept him company in so many lonely nights. Something he wanted to change. After arriving at the first intermediate stop it became a routine of arriving at further intermediate stops and posting status updates on Facebook. A routine which he was grateful for since it meant that everything was going well. Something that would hopefully apply to his first encounter with her too. Going well that is and not being stuck in a routine. It was later on where he began to enjoy the train ride since it provided him with so many new impressions as in seeing strangers from all walks of life. People he definitely never would have met living in that small town of his. Particularly interesting from that point on forward where more and more people started speaking French. Something he noticed as he got closer to Luxembourg. A detail which made him feel pretty much like the proverbial fish out of water for a second or two since he wasn’t speaking any French except for a few bits. But he trusted on his skill of blending in whenever he wanted to which he had honed over the course of years, the kindness of strangers and the knowledge that a smile goes a long way. Something even HE knew. And there was something else he noticed as he got closer to Luxembourg and therefore closer to her. Something inside of him - it was that growing feeling of excitement and the mounting anticipation of seeing her again. Would he be able to convey his feelings for her? How would she feel about it? So many important questions he hadn’t any answ! ers for yet. But he knew that he would surely try his best in making his case. This was his way of reaching out to her.

Finally he arrived at Central Gare Luxembourg – the main train station. The weather was cold and murky upon arrival. The sun nowhere to be seen. But that didn’t stop the immediate fascination he had with Luxembourg. It was so interesting with the Place Gare (The Square in front of the train station) being a thoroughly busy place and swarming with people left and right. He had been to a few places before but it was always a sight to behold. And strangely enough for the first time he didn’t feel out of place or threatened by what was going on around him. Was that the “prospect of her love” at work that soothed this sense of alienation that had troubled him ever since he could remember? Or what was it? He had to find out. One look at his cell phone yanked him out of his thoughts and back into reality. He had no cell phone coverage there and had forgotten his GPS handheld device at home. Two things he should have considered before embarking on his little journey. Funnily enough he never had been one to engage in anything without doing his homework before. If this was his heart trying to take flight then this was a tremendous blind flight in every sense of the word with him neither having a map of Luxembourg nor a map of her heart and how to win it over avoiding all the social trappings and hardships in the process. What he lacked in preparedness and knowledge of  “protocol” he was willing to make up with resolution and sincere emotions.

He recalled that his next step had to be checking in at the hostel dropping off that heavy backpack he was carrying around with him the entire time. Since from here on out he had to be quick on his toes – in every sense of the word. This entire undertaking had happened so spontaneously that he hadn’t even booked a room at the hostel before he took off. Hoping that there were still rooms available he rustled up a map of Luxembourg at a nearby information desk with those few bits of English he spoke. Thankfully, the people he encountered and he had to meet yet were incredibly helpful, kind and patient. Exactly the kind of people Ben was looking for. Another point that Luxembourg had on the Plus side of things if he was to move there someday. Given things would ever develop that quickly into that direction.
So after gathering information the old fashioned way namely asking around and practicing some map reading  Ben literally got the lay of the land. Roughly at first but he was getting there. Getting an idea of how to traverse the city by public transportation as he went along – which lines or what platform to take and so forth. It was so amazing how he felt impressions came rushing in on him left and right during that bus ride to the hostel. So many architecturally impressive buildings passing him by. And he hadn’t seen anything yet. That spirit of optimism he had the moment he got out of the house that morning got such a boost upon arrival and by seeing all those beautiful things around him. But he had to stay focused. Had to be on the lookout for key locations such as grocery stores, florists and whatnot. Since he was in a city he didn’t know and didn’t spoke the language well so at least navigational skills were mandatory here. After all he didn’t want to end up running around town looking for his wife pretty much like Harrison Ford did in Frantic.15 minutes later he finally arrived at the hostel which was located next to a large viaduct that at this point had Ben thinking „Luxembourg – you never cease to amaze”. The moment he entered the spacious lobby he was greeted with a smile by a young woman that was sitting behind a large reception desk. She was very kind and had long dark blonde hair. After getting all the obligatory paperwork done at the reception he quickly went up to his room. Time was of the essence here. Neither did he want to let the woman he loved so much keep waiting nor could he hold back the anticipation he felt inside. Quickly stuffing his backpack into the locker he did a quick last check if he had everything he needed and off he went towards town. He remembered passing by that florist earlier on which looked very nice from the outside. „I should look into that. I guess a small sign of my affection wouldn’t hurt.”! he thou ght by himself.  As he walked towards the florist he came by a few landmarks which he would have appreciated for their beauty but he knew he had to pick up the pace. There was no time to lose. He didn’t come all the way for a sightseeing tour after all. And as he ran he felt his heart start pounding in his chest partly due to him running and partly due to getting closer to the truth namely if Geneviève truly returned his feelings or not. Entering the florist and not knowing the least bit French was fortunately not a deal breaker in brokering a bouquet of the most beautiful Baccara roses he had seen in a long time. That much he figured that day. After having done that he had to refocus, take a closer look at that business card and see where that town was that was written on it – it read Pétange. He looked at his wrist watch and felt like he was being late. Way too late. Would he be able to make it? Almost barging in into the next information center the clerk behind the desk must have felt sorry for Ben or he didn’t want to be a roadblock for a budding romance after seeing those gorgeous flowers. On the contrary – he was the most supportive person anyone could ever wish for in a situation like that. After what probably felt like saying „Thank you” a thousand times Ben went on his way. This time chasing the bus to Pétange. Eventually catching it, getting off at Pétange and feeling totally exhausted. Exhausted indeed but happy and incredibly excited as well.
Merely a few steps were separating him from her. This felt like the most difficult part to do. What would she say? How would she react? He kept on walking those last few meters right down to the door of her office. And it was as if whoever was in charge wanted this to happen since exactly that moment she came out and saw Ben. There she was – Geneviève. Imagine meeting a Goddess - a woman so incredibly fine and more than able to hold her own against anyone. Tall, a slender physique, flowing jet-black mane and eyes so blue that one could get easily lost inside of them. The way she carried herself with so much dignity and strength, having the situation around her always in control. Imagine a feeling like the sun coming up the moment she entered the room. The moment she put on a smile and you loved every little wrinkle in the corner of her eyes - proof that she had this sunny personality that is simply irresistible.    
Both of them stopped dead in their tracks. Ben was the first to break the silence as he walked towards her perhaps giving off his best Lloyd Dobler impersonation with the only thing missing being a stereo that was blasting Peter Gabriel’s „In your Eyes”
Ben: „Hey there Beautiful! I have mis…”
Geneviève: „WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” she interrupted him. Clearly upset and surprised.
Ben: „I missed you. A LOT!”
Geneviève: „So?”
Ben: „I know you owe me nothing but I came all the way for you and doesn’t that at least earn me a FEW minutes of your time?” he said putting all the love he felt inside for this remarkable woman into every syllable. Trying to make it count.
Geneviève: „Maybe?... I am listening.”
Ben: „I brought you these!” he said and cautiously made a few steps toward her giving her the roses he had bought for her. She took them after hesitating at first but then drawing them slowly nearer towards her face to smell them while looking at Ben with those eyes.
Geneviève: „Listen, I am gonna give it to you straight…”
Ben: „I wouldn’t want it any other way.” he quickly inserted setting things straight on his end.
Geneviève: „I am a grown-up woman. I have my job and my family and don’t need any of this “little princess stuff” in my life. From what I have gathered over the course of those two months we have been working together you sometimes come across as a reckless underachiever who hasn’t got his act together. Go home! This isn’t doing neither of us any good.“
That moment Ben felt his heart shattering into a thousand pieces and yet he didn’t lose the faith he had in this woman and the relationship that still might dawn out of this complicated situation. Kate was right. Geneviève didn’t need any more heartbreak in her life. And Ben was hell-bent on not ever breaking it. Ben had heard through the office grapevine that she had been divorced. He also had heard that some were calling her things like being cold and detached. Something Ben didn’t pay any attention to at all since he had heard the way she had spoken of her family including her two sons she was raising while being a self-employed business woman at the same time. And there was so much warmth and compassion resonating in her voice when she did that. He truly loved her. Not a single superpower his heroes had would have helped in that moment as he was so desperately struggling for words. At this point he knew that there was no room for false pride. So he did let go of it and laid his entire soul bare in that very moment hoping that she would see something that would make her change her mind.
Ben: „I know you don’t need to be saved by me, Gen. You are strong! That’s what I love about you among so many other things. Would you believe me if I said that I am worth the effort? That you wouldn’t regret it a single day from here on out if you told me that you love me and you want to be together with me? That I want to be a better man because of you?”
„Maybe…come with me!” Geneviève said quietly as she took him by his hand and they both walked towards her car, got in and drove away into the night. Into a future….together.                        
 
Chapter 2  Afterglow

There she was. Lying in his arms. Sleeping peacefully. Resting from the love they made last night while the sun was making it’s way through the blinds. The sheets still having that smell of that perfume she used. Ben loved it. It would be forever etched into his memory much like that very moment.

No, Ben wasn’t broken. He endured things that had pushed him to the brink so many times but every time he came back twice as determined. And it wasn’t good looks since he wasn’t good looking at all but exactly that determination and endurance which had earned him that place – by her side.  That perseverance that hopefully showed Geneviève that he truly cared. That this wasn’t just a fling and he wasn’t playing her.

After they had arrived at her place last night she took him by the hand and they both walked towards her apartment door. As she unlocked the door gently and let him in she couldn’t realize how much it meant to Ben since by letting him in she showed him that she clearly trusted him. That much he had figured out since she once told him that she would only spent her valuable time with her family or working. Was this her way of telling Ben that he had truly managed to get through to her?  Earned a place in her heart and her life? The idea of that alone made Ben feel ecstatic. After getting comfortable on her couch they had conversations about what they expected from life with a glass of Pinot Noir to go with it. All the time exchanging glances, touching each other, quickly followed by some intense kissing and caressing. No, they didn’t lose any more precious time since it was understood where all of this would lead to.

When lying beside her he looked at her. There was a slight age gap between them. An age gap he didn’t mind at all since she felt so incredibly “familiar” and genuine but much more refined than Ben. He was aware of the implications of this – societal and otherwise - if this was to go few years down the line. But he didn’t mind since he loved her for that spark and those blue eyes. And he definitely wasn’t going for the low-hanging fruit as some might have accused him of since he never had been that kind of guy. The only reason why he kept his silence up at the workplace of them becoming a couple was to not embarrass her. To him she would always be beautiful as long as she kept that spark he fell in love with alive and he would do his best to make that happen. She was as fierce and strong as he was. He truly loved her.
He felt ashamed since being hotheaded and socially inept as he was he felt like he had misinterpreted her saying “Go  home!” last night. He recalled how she once asked him at work if he had slept well already hinting at that she genuinely cared about him, his well-being and wanted to protect him but now totally sealing it by her telling him to go home since she knew that Ben was totally out of his comfort zone by following her all the way to Luxembourg. She got that part right but what she didn’t realize was how far Ben was truly willing to go for her as long as Geneviève loved him too. Was she that one woman he was looking for by any chance? „There would only be one way to find out” he thought.
Ben leaned slightly forward to softly kiss Geneviève on her forehead and wake her up. „Good morning, sleepyhead! I hope you slept well” said Ben with a smile on his face. „How about I go and get that green tea with lemon from that one particular place that you love so much and you told me about? How does that sound?” he said. „No..no…please  put your clothes on and leave!” she answered brusquely. „ Wait….what…why?” asked Ben totally surprised and not expecting that kind of reaction at all. „I thought we had a wonderful night together…and…that we had something great going on. That you having slept with me meant that we are officially a couple by any chance and maybe you would introduce me to your loved ones as your partner someday?” said Ben all the while trying to keep his composure. There it was again – that feeling of something great in his life slipping through his fingers and him not being able to do anything about it. And just for once not even having contributed to it – inadvertently or not.

„What do you want from me, Ben? I mean what do you REALLY want from me?” asked Geneviève having that inquisitive and skeptical expression on her face meanwhile gotten out of bed and sitting up straight on the edge of it with her back turned against Ben. The only thing covering her beautiful body being a blanket she was holding in front of her. He really didn’t understand where this all of a sudden came from. Gen always struck him as the level-headed one that if this had turned into that relationship Ben was truly hoping for most likely would have played the part that kept him in check. But now it felt the other way round and Ben really wasn’t good in defusing such situations. The fear of losing her was just too much to handle for him.

„Sometimes you are like this fragile man-child that I have no interest in talking to afraid of hurting you – not that I care about it it’s just such a mess with which I don’t want to get tangled up with. That you might turn into a blubbering mess upon the slightest touch. Which normally would have entirely ruled out me sleeping with you. And I really can’t tell if you are playing me….with all of those mood swings you have. You are just so hard to read.” Geneviève said looking him dead in the eye.

Where was all of this coming from? Was this some sort of defense mechanism of her to prevent her from getting hurt? Being afraid of committing herself and therefore having to adjust her life, on which she had worked so hard on building up, towards a life with Ben together. Had he been just a One Night Stand for her?  If so why hadn’t she set it straight from the get go so Ben would’ve clearly known what he was getting into.

„I only want your love, Gen. And please believe me that I am sincere.” he interrupted her in a low voice. „Only my love? It is the best you could get of me. Do you even understand how much you ask of me?” „I said ONLY because I always thought that you live in a world where only cold hard facts and numbers matter and that something like love or any other emotion for that matter was merely a sentimental afterthought to you ”„What do you take me for, Ben?” Gen quickly interrupted him sounding somewhat indignant. „You….”he paused „…are a woman - an incredibly beautiful and exciting one at that. Something that you seem to have forgotten over permanently being a caring mother to your children and on top of that a business woman who is doing her thing trying to provide for your family. But who’s taking care of you, Gen?  Don’t you need love, care and attention as well?” Having finished his sentence Ben did something which was so uncharacteristic for him – he took on an even more proactive role. Even though the situation called for him to having to push aside years of inhibitions in mere seconds. That did take a lot out of Ben. He just embraced and held her tight while whispering the words „I am here for you!” into her ear. She pulled back her head, still embracing him, looking into his face and smiling.
„If so answer me one question – when did I have you?” asked Geneviève playfully slightly raising the pitch of her voice towards the end of the question and therefore indicating curiosity. A trait which Ben loved about her – having that singsong quality to her voice. „I guess it was a three strike thing – the first time I saw you from a distance standing in the Entrance Hall, then that moment you gave that very first lecture on those theories you are teaching where I sort of turned your first approach down so you wouldn´t notice that huge crush I had on you and definitely that moment where I ran down three levels at a breakneck speed, being afraid of having missed out on a great opportunity or even losing you altogether and you stood right in front of me and told me after a short conversation that there´s definitely something between us and that we should have a coffee break together. And that´s exactly where you had me wrapped around your little finger. I am not ashamed to admit it but don´t you ever use that against me. Do you hear me?” he said jokingly trying to make her laugh. And he succeeded. Her laugh was a thing of sheer beauty.  „There’s something else I wanna know about you!” she kept on asking which was fine by him since he wasn’t going to keep anything secret from her. Hoping that she would appreciate his trust in her and return it in kind. „Go ahead. Ask!” Ben said. „If you returned my feelings then why didn’t you come clean about it? Why didn’t you react to my signals? Anything!” Geneviève asked while being totally at a loss „There was so much going through my mind at that time.”Ben began explaining himself while looking into her beautiful blue eyes. „So many things weighing me down. I’ve been through a lot. And I am not gonna bore you with excuses but I had to be sure that I could trust you. Knowing that you could handle thi! s. Belie ve me you had my attention the very first moment I laid my eyes on you. I am truly sorry if I kept you waiting. I really didn’t mean to. I know that there are enough other fish in the sea but I also believe that if a relationship is supposed to endure the test of time it needs at least some time to grow and we both need to put some effort into it for it to work. It’s a rare thing these days – in those crazy, fast times. But now that it’s absolutely understood between the two of us we can go on to enjoying this newfound love we have going on. I am playing for keeps, Gen!” Ben made his case hoping that she would understand „ You surely took your time. Any longer and I would have given up on you” she replied. „I know! And I am so incredibly grateful that you haven’t given up on me….US!” „Me, too!” Gen answered, nodded slightly with her head, cracking a smile and kissing Ben.               

Ben: „Hopefully the next time you bring me to my knees will be the moment I propose to you.”
Geneviève laughed and said: „ What are you?”
Ben: „Complicated, but I will try dialing it down a notch on the drama for you“
Geneviève asked jokingly: „Promise?”
Ben: „Yes!”
Geneviève teasingly: „Let me show you where that particular place is where I get my green tea with lemon from!”

Being her last phrase before grabbing Ben by the hand and heading towards downtown Luxembourg. Ben felt like he was coming around. He didn’t feel like as if he was “sleepwalking” anymore. Something he had done for most of his life. Thanks to Geneviève and the love she gave him. She was fixing him probably without her even being aware of it and both had crossed lines they never thought they would – with him coming out of his shell and her letting someone into her heart.     

Chapter 3  Fait accompli

Ben and Geneviève had been seeing each other for over 6 months now. Six months Ben had thoroughly enjoyed – every waking minute of it. Even though Geneviève was incredibly busy rushing from appointment to appointment having  a very tight schedule while Ben was busy rushing from one job interview to the next trying to get a decent job. But fortunately she could take a day off and they spent it together just by relaxing on the sofa and reviewing the past 6 months they had been together. Six months full of joy and happiness but also pinpoint scheduling due to her having to balance between him, her job and her two kids.

„I still wonder how we two came to be. Must have been your patience and I love how you are being patient with me. I can consider myself to be more than lucky being able to experience this kind of love and relationship that we have with a woman like you. For the love of me I really can’t imagine anyone else with whom I would love to share this rather with than you. At times our relationship feels like a dance where sometimes you lead and sometimes I lead. I like that a lot. You truly have proven yourself to be someone who considers her heart to be more than just a muscle of the size of her fist.” Ben said while smiling and feeling a great sense of gratitude because he could be together with the woman he loved.„ I do wonder too how we came be” she said. „Why is that?” Ben asked straightening himself and starting to listen attentively. „It’s just that you never reacted to my signals which I were sending you constantly” sounding a bit spiky „You aren’t talking about you being all dressed up to the nines by any chance do you? Showing up at the workplace strutting your stuff. Since that’s a sign, right?” he asked wanting  to learn from her since she knew her way around people due to her job as a communication coach „No, I do that on a regular basis!” she replied playing it coy with a smirk on her face. „Actually, I love your somewhat subdued sensuality given how almost everything seems to be so aggressively oversexualized these days. Taking entirely the intimacy out of it. Whereas yours is so playful and comes so naturally as a part of your entire personality and not just some mean to an end. And how you caught me and reeled me in with far more subtle yet effective ways. For instance when I caught you looking at me whenever you felt unobserved. It was always enough to pique my interest but left me enough room to discover you. Definitely me falling for you hook, line and sinker and thanks for not beating m! e over t he head with it. Well, what can I say – I am somewhat mild mannered.”Ben admitted „You were anything but when you came all the way to Luxembourg to see me.”Gen interposed „See, to every rule there are exceptions” he said kiddingly „Just so I know you being so overly nice - Is that a signal since that’s usually what people do to get something.” „No, that’s actually genuinely me with no ulterior motives going on whatsoever. When I want to have some quality time with someone I just ask her out on a date. Trying to make things somewhat charming. Pretty much what you said the first time during your lectures – that everything should have a certain charm to it. Neither have I ulterior motives when I bring you flowers! No guilty conscience and stuff.”„Ah..ok! Glad we got that outta the way.” she replied and both started laughing heartily with Ben leaning forward to kiss Geneviève.

„I got an idea” Gen said „How about two of my closest female friends and the both of us go out and have a drink together?” „Sure, sounds nice” Ben replied not aware what Geneviève intended with that. She had been thinking about this a lot lately and was certain that Ben was committed to their relationship and after coming to know him better in those 6 months she wanted to take the next step by introducing him to her friends, kids and eventually her mother. Ben couldn’t have seen any of this coming -not in his wildest dreams -but it was exactly what he always wanted. Growing even further together as a family. But first he had to “stand trial” before Gen’s female friends.  

As Ben sat in the Taxi next to Geneviève, while being on their way to that bar she liked so much located in downtown Luxembourg, he felt a mounting sense of queasiness. Something which Gen quickly noticed since they had become so attuned to each other. They were holding hands which they did most of the time. She gently squeezed his hand to draw his attention towards her since he seemed so lost in thoughts while looking out the window. „Hey there, Honey! Everything alright?” „Sure! I just wanna get it right so you don’t end up being too much embarrassed of me around your friends.” he said jokingly „Don’t worry! You’ll do fine.” she said.

Arriving  at the bar they noticed that her two female friends were already sitting at the table having ordered drinks. Gen quickly proceeded to greeting them with the obligatory hello kiss while Ben was looking around in the room, senses as always in high alert, checking where the exits were located all the while thinking „Calm down! Everything’s gonna be alright. Don’t be a buzzkill. Socialize!” as he followed Gen to the table. „Girls, this is him! Ben, the guy I told you about.” she introduced him „Ben, that’s Sylvie and Emma!” „Pleased to me meet you! I hope she has only told you about the good bits.” Ben said trying to crack a joke. „Pleased to meet you too and don’t worry” Sylvie quickly replied identifying herself as the more outgoing one of them.  Both of them were giggling like schoolgirls. Ben couldn’t quite figure out what to make of it since him being humble as he was it would’ve never crossed his mind that they might feel attracted to him. And he was together with Gen anyway. Being absolutely adamant about it.

There they were – Sylvie and Emma. Long-term friends with Gen since high school. Both very attractive women in their early to mid-forties with Sylvie being blond, a bubbly personality and Emma a brunette who was rather shy. After ordering drinks they engaged in small talk till the question that  everyone was waiting for came up.
Sylvie:„ How have the two of you met?”
Ben: „At work. She was teaching this old dog a few new tricks.” he said jokingly „I mean she tried. Considering how stubborn I can be sometimes.”
Geneviève: „Yeah, he was a tough nut to crack indeed. And still is” she tossed in her witty remark. „I was curious about him. Especially after having seen his tattoo.”
Sylvie: „What so special about it? Everyone has one these days.”
Geneviève: „It’s the message I got from it. It felt like an invitation to me.”
Emma: „What does it look like?” she asked curiously.
Ben: „Maybe I’ll show you later on!” he said. This time him being the one playing it coy.
Sylvie: „How long have you been together?”
Geneviève: „ Six months now. I really learned to love him over those 6 months!”
Ben: „Learned? Am I really THAT obnoxious? Don’t answer. That was a rhetorical question. For me it was love at first sight.” he said getting more and more comfortable around those three beautiful women as the evening went on.
Emma: „Isn’t that somewhat risky? I mean getting romantically involved at the workplace?” she asked gotten even more curious about this stranger that was sitting at their table.
Ben: „It absolutely is but there are probably enough statistics out there that prove that many people found their future spouse there. And I am not talking about a so called “work spouse” but a spouse in the very traditional sense of the word. That’s why I quitted my job to defuse that situation but still be able to be with her.”

Geneviève; „Wait…what? You did that for me? I really didn’t know that. You are crazy“ she stuttered in disbelief since she coming from a very business oriented mindset knew exactly what it meant in an economy like this one. Especially in his situation. Ben had never been clever enough to use words in a strategically clever way. He was too much driven by instincts for that to happen. But there was a reason why he had used that word spouse. And this time Gen was the one who couldn’t believe her ears. 

Ben: „I did it for…US! And Yes, I am crazy about you” he said while looking at her.

At that moment  Gen felt as if she had fallen in love with him even more. She kissed him gently on his lips and whispered into his ear „There’s more where this is coming from…far more. But we’ll get to that when we are back home, Baby!” smiling and giving him that seductive look with those blue eyes he loved so much.
All of a sudden Sylvie started openly coming on to Ben. „Did she do it because she was impressed of the sacrifices I had made to be with Geneviève?” he thought. Because that’s not what he wanted since he didn’t felt like he had to prove anything to anyone.

Ben didn’t react to Sylvie’s advances. This time not because he couldn’t read the signs but him really not wanting to. He felt that if he did engage in an affair with Sylvie on the side he would not only betray her but everything he believed in. Gen had proven through her actions that she wasn’t playing him and neither was he ever going to play her. Ben’s heart had made it’s choice or his bed if you will and he was going to sleep in it – literally

What Ben had even more confused was why Gen wasn’t reacting to this? He had come to know her as someone who could become very well jealous. A trait which he actually liked about her. Why didn’t she “claim” him as hers by linking arms with him or standing next to him holding him tight? What he didn’t know at this moment was that Gen had asked Sylvie to test him to see if he was loyal.

Gen gave Sylvie that signal they had agreed upon earlier on well knowing that Ben had difficulties reading them. The three girls got up telling Ben that they had to go to the restroom.

Gen: „So what do you think about him?”
Sylvie: „He’s some kind of weird. You can do so much better, Gen. Is he even interested in girls?”
Gen: „He´s together with me. Isn’t that proof enough?”
Emma: „Maybe he hadn’t had his coming out yet?” she interposed giggling shyly.
Gen: „No, he enjoys sleeping with me way too much for him to be not interested in girls and frankly speaking I enjoy it too. There are even times where I have to turn him down because he’s all touchy-feely. He’s just a genuinely nice guy.” she said having a smirk on her face and being somewhat slightly preoccupied as she recalled the countless nights the two of them had spent together. 
Sylvie: „Oh no, Gen please don’t tell me you got yourself someone with the “soul of an artiste”!” she said groaning and rolling with her eyes „Those are the worst. Does someone like that even get ANYTHING done in life? Or is he…you know…a little bit…slow? Or even worse - a drag and a bore. You don’t need a third kid to watch over, do you? There’s no fun to be had in being together with someone like that.” Sylvie said while almost getting all worked up over it.
Gen: „Stop it!” she abruptly interrupted Sylvie raising her voice and doing the sweetest thing she could have ever done for Ben by standing up for him. Ben would have been so proud of her if he had seen her that very moment. „Well, he came all the way to Luxembourg for me. He got that managed. Does that answer your question?”
Sylvie:„Alright, alright Point taken. I am just sayin’…for the sake of your own good.” she answered sounding slightly obsequious.
Gen: „I think he is slightly autistic but undiagnosed. I read up on people with that condition during my studies and on how they communicate directly and have a slightly different perception of things. Sometimes they come across as overly shy and their emotional life can be so much different than those of regular people.”
Sylvie:„Enough already with the science talk” she said jokingly yet slightly annoyed. „Good luck then. Listen, if he’s really a nice guy like you say he is then you have my okay.”
Emma: „Yeah mine too!”
Gen: „Thanks, girls! Not that I needed it but thanks anyway.” she said jokingly.
Sylvie:„ We should get back. He might suspect something.”
Gen: „Don’t worry. He won’t! That’s what I love about him so much – he’s so pure.”

The rest of the evening went smoothly. Much to Ben’s surprise. They returned to her place. With her lying quietly in his arms on the backseat of the taxi during the entire ride home. Upon entering he pulled her gently near and held her tight.„If I recall correctly you said that you had a little something for me. I am curious to find out what it is.” he said while he slowly worked his way up her neck kissing her. „Yes, I do have something for you! You are going to meet the rest of my family tomorrow.” „Really? That’s….fantastic. You have no idea how much I’ve been looking forward to this. Getting to know them and finding out more about you.” „Ssshhh….enough with the talking…I got something else for you. Let’s go to bed” she said as they both went to the bedroom.   

The very next morning after having their lengthy shower together, making out like sixteen year old teenagers all the while and their ritual of him having a cup of coffee and her some green tea they got into the car since it would be a half an hour ride to her mother’s place. Ben was incredibly excited. He had already seen Gen’s mother on a few pictures. Tall, slender, beautiful hair white as snow since she was in her mid sixties. Those hair in combination with those blue eyes. She was a gorgeous woman. Ben could easily see where Geneviève got her beautiful looks from. He had even cracked a joke about it „So, that’s what I am gonna get a few years down the line, huh? I can absolutely live with that.” „Idiot” she replied in a jokingly fashion while slapping him lightly on his shoulder with him only laughing loudly followed by a kiss. He wondered what Gen’s mother would be like in person? Was she going to like him? Was he about to meet his mother-in-law? He loved that idea. Everything felt like a gigantic puzzle where every piece was falling into it’s place. Ben was once again absentmindedly looking out of the window during the car ride as he passed by a picturesque scenery of hills and green fields. It was a cold but sunny day with a thick layer of fog hovering slightly above the ground.  He passed by horses which were out to grass and gigantic wind turbines. Something which he had never seen before. He would have loved to tell Gen to stop the car so he could take a closer look at them or even go on an extended hiking tour there . But there was no time for that since being too late wouldn’t have left a good impression with Gen’s mom. And he wanted to avoid that at any cost. Gen was her incredibly adorable self as she sang along to the music that was playing on the radio while driving the car. Ben looked over to her and took a mental picture of that moment. If the only gift he could ever wish for would have been an eidetic memory ! he would have wished for it right now.  He never wanted to forget ANY moment he had spent up until now and would spent from there on out with Gen. „What’s wrong, Honey?” she asked being surprised by Ben looking at her. „Nothing! Absolutely nothing. Everything’s fine” he said with a shrug. “She ‘s wonderful and I love her so much.” he thought while having a grin going from ear to ear.

After a 30 Minute Drive they arrived at a small town in the outskirts of Luxembourg. And Gen’s mom was already standing there at the doorsteps ready to welcome her guests to her house.

„Entrez!” Gen’s mom said while wildly gesticulating and being so incredibly glad seeing her daughter again since she hadn’t seen her for quite some time now. Geneviève and her mom had a close relationship which unfortunately diminished to a weekly phone call due to Gen’s tight schedule. But now she was back to visit her and had brought Ben with her. Gen’s mom smiled at Ben, hugged him and sized him up. For him it felt totally overwhelming since he hadn’t expected that. So much warmth and hospitality. This was exactly what he had been looking for all this time. And this time around Ben could easily see where Geneviève had gotten that bubbly, sweet, outgoing personality from. Even though at first she did her best to push him away and carry it off well that she truly cared about him. „Her mom had definitely raised her right” he thought.

Geneviève: „Maman, this is Ben! Ben , this is my mom Camille!”
Ben: „Pleased to meet you, Madame!”
Camille: „No need to be so formal! You can call me Camille!”
Ben: „Thank you very much!”
Camille: „How was your car trip?”
Ben: „Very pleasant with Gen by my side.”
Camille: „Come on in. I have some coffee and pastries”

Ben quickly noticed that this adorable elderly woman was clearly eager to impress him not knowing that she didn’t need to since he felt the same way about the entire situation like he did upon seeing her amazing daughter for the first time. Totally convinced of it that this was the right choice.  After a while sitting at the dinner table Camille asked Ben: „So, Ben tell me. How or when did you notice that you had feelings for my daughter?” „Well, there was this feeling I had with her. It was as if we easily could have stood in a room full of people around us, which we actually did at the office, yet feeling like an immediate intimacy kicking in whenever she stood near me, spoke to me or made and held eye contact. And the entire world around us disappearing completely. The both of us connecting immediately.” A feeling that Ben knew all too well but now with the difference that Geneviève had entered this limbo state of loneliness. And their love would be able to pull him out of it.

„That’s so beautiful” Camille said „But all of this wonderful feelings aside for a second or two – what do you do as a profession? Can you provide for my daughter? Contribute anything tangible to this relationship?” „Maman!” Gen quickly tossed in as if to say how she could ask him something like that „No, it’s okay. You have every right to ask me that question. It is true. I am currently out of work but I have a job interview coming up next week and I am positive about it. Neither will I be deadweight for Gen nor to our relationship and I think she can provide for  herself perfectly fine even though I would love to support her in every way I can.” „Ok, that sounds acceptable.” Camille answered favorably.

„Would you like to meet my two sons?”Gen asked expectantly. Hoping as much as Ben that the first meeting would go well. „I’d love to!” he answered. Ben had heard the faint sound of kids playing the entire time they had been there but hadn’t seen any out on the streets upon arrival. Gen stood up from the dinner table and walked outside into the garden at the back of the house. Only to return accompanied by two boys.

Ben smiled at them with the younger one returning the smile immediately. He kneeled down to be at eye level with him. „Hey there little man! What’s your name?” Ben asked cautiously with a low voice. „Eric” he answered shyly looking down at his soccer ball, avoiding eye contact but having a faint smile on his face. „Pleased to meet you, Eric! How old are you?” Ben asked and Eric quickly raising his tiny hands with all ten of his fingers stretched out showed Ben how old he was all the while dropping the soccer ball he held onto. „What an incredibly bright and adorable kid” Ben thought standing up while playfully mussing up Eric’s hair trying to break the ice even more by doing so. Standing right next to Eric was judging by the looks what seemed to be his older brother. „Hello young man! What is your Name?” „Marc” he answered hesitantly. „And how old are you if I might ask?” Ben asked but got no answer from him but Gen „He’s 14!” Marc was skeptical and Ben really couldn’t hold it against him since he probably wouldn’t have reacted any differently at his age and in his situation. It would take more time to gain his trust he figured and he was okay with it. Not that he felt like he had much left of it but he had made peace with that fact considering that he in this moment had to fastforward his life from adulthood to probably becoming a father with important parts of his life missing. He would try his very best to be a supportive, good friend and a teacher by teaching them the little he did know about life. Nowhere near expecting them to call him Dad someday. He was absolutely willing to shoulder that responsibility. But Gen pulled him back out of his thoughts by sending off the kids back to their soccer match. „That went well! Don’t you think?” she asked Ben cautiously testing the waters. „Yeah it did, Honey!” he answered kissing her trying to reassure he! r that e verything was fine.     

„Uhmm…there’s something I need to discuss with my mom. Could you excuse us for a few minutes?” Gen asked feeling tense at the prospect of what was coming next. „Sure thing!” Ben said as he was zipping on his cup of coffee while Gen and her mom went to the adjacent room therefore moving out of earshot.
Gen: „So, mom what do you think of him?”
Camille: „He seems to be a nice guy. Just be careful, go slowly and don’t rush into marriage. As your mom I hate to be that “I told you so” Person but you know what happened last time. He left you for a younger woman.”
Gen: „I have never met someone like him before, Maman. He’s so traditional in his views regarding Love, Relationships and Loyalty yet so forward thinking in other things such as gender roles since he accepts me pursuing my career. He even supports me however he can. I must admit that he is full of contradictions which makes living with him incredibly demanding and difficult at times but it also keeps things interesting, And I also have this feeling of safety with him. That’s what makes me feel drawn towards him among many other things.  And you saw how he treated Eric and Marc. No, Maman. I did put him to the test. He’s real and I think he comes through for me and my children when the situation comes push to shove. He might have made mistakes in his past but his past is his and his future is with me.
Camille: „I really hope he values the trust you put into him.”
Gen: „I think he does, Maman.”
Camille: „You are my daughter and I love you like only a mother can do. I just don’t want you to get hurt. As long as he treats you good everything is alright with me and the two of you have my blessing.”
Gen: „Thank you so very much, Maman!” she said hugging her mother with both of them slightly tearing up.

As Geneviève entered the kitchen Ben noticed that she had tears in her eyes. That was a signal even he would understand. Something that raised all kinds of red flags with him. „What happened, Darling! Everything alright?” he asked her being obviously concerned since he couldn’t stand the sight of her crying. „No, no! Don’t worry. Everything’s absolutely perfect!” she calmed him down with a smile and a passionate kiss. He was confused because he was getting mixed signals but since he had learned to trust her he took her word for it. How could he have guessed that those were tears of joy. And he had no idea how great everything had been over the last few days and how even better things were about to become between them.

It was already dark outside when they departed and drove home to Luxembourg. Camille had prepared a doggie bag for them filled with that delicious pastry. Eric and Marc had decided to stay at their grandmother’s house so the coast was clear for Ben and Geneviève that night. A night full of love making and reviewing the events of the last few days. „My friends seem to like you!” Gen said  as they were lying in bed. „Really? I must have done something right for a change. I like them as well. Your mom is adorable.” „She likes you too. And she could see you as your son-in-law.” Gen mentioning that very important detail very casually hinting at things to come. „Really? Please tell me you aren’t kidding me because this old heart of mine couldn’t stand it if you were to be kidding me. ” Ben had hoped for this to happen for so incredibly long now. „Let’s talk about that another time since I would much rather prefer snuggling up to you right now” „What’s holding you back, Honey?”

Yes….Everything was falling into it’s place.
 
Chapter 4  True-Blue
 
„Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue." Gen murmured as she adjusted her dark blue lace garter on her left thigh. „That should be some incentive for him tonight" she thought and smiled. She was wearing a dark blue tapered midi dress made out of satin with a dipped hemline and a small tulle bridal veil that just about covered her mesmerizing eyes. Topped off with a bolero jacket with a stand-up collar she had borrowed from Sylvie and sling pumps to go with it. Her beautiful black mane complementing her outfit. She was a woman that cared a lot about her appearance. Especially today. The day that Ben and Geneviève had been waiting for so long now even though Gen had been married once before and therefore knew the procedure like the back of her hand. For Ben this was a first. Geneviève had bought that dress together with her mother Camille in a small boutique in the Rue Pierre Gregoire in Pétange. Ben was absent to avoid any bad luck by seeing her in her dress before the wedding. Not that either of them was superstitious but both of them truly wanting this to last and therefore not taking any chances. Little did he know at that moment how breathtaking she would look standing right in front of him. As Gen was putting the final touches to herself by putting on some of that perfume that Ben loved so much and some of that dark red lipstick she had bought recently the memories of the proposal came flooding back. „Oh Ben! Sometimes you are really like this fool that takes itself so serious and simply can't unwind but I love you anyway." she thought and chuckled. 
It was that evening in that restaurant. They were celebrating being together for 9 months now. Probably not being enough of a reason to celebrate for any other couple since it wasn't a full year, 5 years or whatever the "protocol" dictated but Ben had never been one who needed a reason to give Gen a treat. Not because of the fact that he didn't know anything about the "protocol" but because he truly loved her so much.
That job interview Ben had mentioned to Camille had went well and it ended up being a great workplace for not only did it accommodate for Ben's condition it even played to his strengths resulting in a mutually beneficial working condition. Earning him enough to be able to do all the things he had missed out on so far. So much so that he could save up enough money for a decent wedding ring. He was willing to take the next step with Gen not knowing that she was feeling the same way about him all along. But there was another thing he had to get out of the way. Something she needed to know about him. Something so fundamentally "different" about him that it still could break this wonderful relationship at this point after having it carefully built up together over the course of 9 months. This wasn't supposed to end in a rude awakening for neither of them.

Ben: „Gen, do you remember how you always kept wondering how someone so smart can be so stupid at the same time?" he said having figured out by now that she was only joking by saying that line.
Geneviève: „Yes?" she asked cautiously while looking up from her plate. Sensing something coming her way. Something unpleasant perhaps.
Ben: „I have the Asperger Syndrome! That's the reason why." he said bluntly. There it was. He had addressed the elephant in the room.
Geneviève: „I know, since I read up on your condition. Your behavior breaks with every communication rule I had been teaching up until this point. That’s what made me fascinated about you and I suspected something like that." That’s what he loved so much about her. She was so incredibly smart.
Ben: „How much do you know about this condition?"
Geneviève: „Not much. Just that it's a neurological dysfunction. Your brain lacks the ability to connect the dots to be able to read subtext, facial expressions or any other signs for that matter. Which leads to all kinds of…complications. Simply put. That's all I know."
Ben: „Pretty much, yes! Then you probably know that not everybody ends up being a genius. There are varying degrees of it. Some people are even being rendered absolutely incapable of fully participating in life by it. Having sometimes severe problems in every area of life – whether professional or private."
Geneviève: „Yes, it's sad! Are you diagnosed?"
Ben: „No, I am undiagnosed but I have made an appointment to undergo a medical check. Knowing why you never fitted in all those years and being able to give it a name changes a lot." He said hoping that a diagnose would give him the kind of peace he was hoping for.
Geneviève: „You hide it well but I could never really grasp you. Not being able to clearly figure out who you are. There was always this feeling of a glass wall being between us. And early on in our relationship I even had the feeling that you were lying to me all the time or would even cheat on me."
Ben: „And I can't hold it against you since I felt like having almost perfected being a social chameleon due to the fact that the little time I have spent among other people probably all of them were NTs. It took me quite some time to figure out myself WHAT I am."
Geneviève: „NTs?" she asked curiously.
Ben: „Neurotypicals! Regular people whose brain is wired in a way to read and send signals deliberately so they can communicate non-verbally. So I guess you do need to spell out things for me every now and then." he said jokingly but then falling back to the more somber and slightly monotonous tone of his voice as he kept on talking „How am I supposed to play you if my brain in this condition isn't even wired to do that, Gen? If I made you feel as if you were being played then it's probably I've picked up a few not so nice traits along the way trying to make my way in this world. People might be born as an Autist but nobody is born a jerk, Gen! Some people just push your buttons because they can. Just for the kicks. I don't derive any pleasure from playing you. Sometimes I might be just curious as to how you would react in certain situations to get a better understanding of you and how I can be a better lover and friend to you but that's all there is to it. There is no subtext with me, no powerplay, no envy and no jealousy. If I aim higher in life then it's because of necessity but not out of greed." Ben said being clearly nervous since this moment was quite an endurance test for their relationship and he was aware of it. He wished that there would have been an easier way to do this but at some point he had to come clean about it. Being dishonest was no foundation for a healthy relationship let alone a healthy marriage he thought. „Are there any other drawbacks I should be aware of before this goes any further?" she asked growing insecure about what she had planned for that evening namely her proposal. „Yes, there are a few things. Sometimes I feel so detached from myself to the point that I don't feel any signals that my body is sending me such as hunger over an extended period of time or even the freezing cold. There might be moments where you might feel like being neglected by me but that's not the case and never will be because I love you way too much for that. Sometimes I really don't know how to express my feelings. I am so sorry, Gen!" he said feeling ashamed that he couldn't be the man she needed him to be. Being empathetic as she was Gen felt hit twice as hard by this confession since for once she saw Ben she had fallen so much in love with suffer from his fate yet trying to make the best of it and it also brought back memories of neglect she had to experience by her Ex-Husband. „Then again there are moments were I experience some sort of sensory overload" he kept on going „How could you stand me kissing you let alone sleep with me then?" she tossed in „You know that it took me over two months to make my first move. Two months were I had to be absolutely sure that I could trust you. We connected instantly. I might be emotionally blind but that much I felt. If you recall correctly I didn't even avoid eye contact with you. I fell in love with you and I felt attracted to you from the first moment I saw you but I have such a hard time telling if a NT is lying to me or not. See, whatever insecurity you feel I feel a thousand times worse and yet I put myself out there. It makes me so much more vulnerable to being lied to or being played." And that moment she began to understand how right she was with her notion of him being "pure" and how difficult it must had been for him living everyday being out of his comfort zone. „There's one thing I ask of you - never sneak up on me. I have to see things coming. Because sometimes I become so overly focused that everything around me disappears."„ You can be a judgmental jerk sometimes, you know that?" „Yes, I know and I also know that my condition is not a get out of jail free card but I am not more or less of a jerk than anyone else" he said jokingly trying to lighten up this tricky situation „And if I am being judgmental then it's because I HAVE TO assess people and if they take advantage of me due to my condition"
„You don’t expect me to give you coaching in communication do you? Is that the reason why you think you fell in love with me? Neither can I be some sort of surrogate mother figure to you." she said being aware of her profession and the fact that she was slightly older than Ben. Her insecurities shining through. „No, Gen!" he said firmly „And you won't have to since I can pull my own weight especially with that new workplace I have found now. I am truly in love with you and you took my love for you and ran with it. You didn't hesitate." he said confidently .
„Since there is no subtext with you let's play a game where you have to be honest. Let's call it Big Deal or No big Deal" since she as a communication coach liked conveying content in a playful manner. „I am gonna name you a few things and you'll answer quickly if it's a Big Deal or not to you"„Big Deal as in if it's important to me?" he asked just to get any misunderstandings out of the way. „Yes!" she answered.  „Sounds good! Go!"
Geneviève: „ Okay! Commitment"
Ben: „Big Deal"
Geneviève: „Being Faithful!"
Ben: „Very Big Deal!" the answer coming quick like a shot. „I have no idea where this is headed but I like the direction" he thought while she fired away a barrage of high concepts all of them sounding oh-so-sweet to him. Each and every one striking a chord.
Geneviève: „Responsibility"
Ben: „Big Deal!"
Geneviève: „Communication"
Ben: „Big Deal!"
Geneviève: „Honesty"
Ben: „Big Deal!"
Geneviève:  „Trust"
Ben:  „Big Deal! Ok, hold up where is this leading to?"
Geneviève:  „Don't be so impatient. Name me one thing you like about me besides my looks!"
Ben:„From the top of my head I can even give you three things. Emotionally clever, knowing the difference between empathy and pity"
Geneviève: „Pity is condescending, right?"
Ben: „Exactly!"
Geneviève: „What's the third thing?"
Ben: „You are patient enough to love me the way I am. And if an Aspie tells you that your "flawless" and approaches you then this means a lot since the most of us are known to be not the socializing type and we tend to point out what we personally consider to be flaws in every detail which inevitably turns you quickly into the least likable person in presence if you are surrounded by NTs"  he said jokingly.
Geneviève: „That's because you see the bigger picture with every detail in it due to not being able to filter between the unimportant and the important. So you take everything in."
Ben: „Exactly. Another Drawback if you will. Yet I somewhat managed to become a more or less well functioning cog in a meritocracy despite my handicap and a few bumps along the road here and there." he said being sardonic about it years of frustration swinging in his voice as he was picking at his plate of Tagliatelle which had gotten cold by then. Gen reflected on all what had been said in the last 15 Minutes which felt like hours considering the consequences this confession brought with it. She recalled all those tender moments they had together in those 9 months and decided to not give up on what they had since she was sure that they would find a way. Even if it meant making small adjustments. They would overcome. Together.

„You know that one weekend where we met Sylvie and Emma and got to see my mom? I tested you! You know that?" she began speaking gaining momentum for what was to come since she was preparing to propose to him. The same moment he thought that he had said everything he had to say about his condition and that it was for her to decide now if this was to go any further or if they would walk out of this restaurant watching their love dying right then and there. „Yes, I remember that weekend very well, Gen. But before you keep on going any further there is something that I need to ask you…."„What is it?" she asked feeling slightly confused since he interrupted her train of thought. „Just a second…" he replied getting up from his chair, walking over to the bar where he ordered two Aperol Spritz even though a situation like this would have called for two glasses of champagne. But Gen being the down-to-earth woman that she was loved Aperol Spritz so that was exactly what she would get. Ben stuck his right hand into his pocket and pulled out the small box with the engagement ring in it. A beautiful tension ring made of 18k white gold with a small diamond in it. He opened it, took a quick look at it and dropped it into one of the glasses without any hesitation. Quickly grabbing the two lowball glasses with the bartender giving him the approving smile since he knew exactly what was coming next after having witnessed their conversation from afar. He had seen this situation countless times. Ben returned to the table, totally blindsiding Geneviève as he slowly served her the glass. That very second she saw that glass in front of her losing her cool entirely and bursting into tears. And she knew exactly what it meant. As Ben sat down he didn't know what to make of the situation since in his understanding he associated tears with sorrow and grief. „Have I done something wrong?" he thought while still observing the situation for a few seconds. Trying not to panic. Seconds an NT wouldn't have needed to make heads or tails of this situation. „Are you alright, Honey?" he asked concerned. „This….this is…so wonderful…Ben!" she stuttered barely able to speak because of her being so overwhelmed by the situation. Ben felt a slight sense of relief upon hearing that everything was alright. He stood up with the few people sitting around them slowly noticing what was going on and starting to watch the situation unfold. Not a single sound could be heard as he walked over to Gen, took her gently by the hand and got down on bended knee. People were whispering until it was Ben asking the question that would break the silence. „Will you marry me?" he asked with a calm voice while looking into her blue eyes and holding her hand. „Yes!" she said with a tearful voice. Adding „But we should fish that ring out of the cocktail" quickly to it and displaying her more pragmatic side. „I think we should!" Ben replied while not being able to wipe that smile off of his face and being in total disbelief that this was happening. He took the fork and fished the ring carefully out of the glass with drops of Aperol running down the tip of the fork. Reaching for the cloth napkin he noticed the people around them who were quietly observing what was to happen next. Carefully cleansing the ring he looked over to Gen who was extending her hand meeting him halfway. Ben took her by the hand and slipped on the ring to her finger. „Camille had been right regarding the size since it fitted like a glove" he thought and breathed a barely audible sigh of relief. Having put the ring onto her finger, he drew her near and they held each other tight as they kissed. The few guests in the restaurant answering what had happened there by breaking out in applause for the soon-to-be newlyweds. „The ring suits you!" Ben said while he wiped the last few tears off of her face. With them telling each other how much they love one another being drowned out by the sound of the applause.                         

„Gen! I have something for you." Camille said as she entered the room. „What is it, Maman?" Gen answered as she was brushing her long black hair. „It is this necklace that I have which was given to me by my mother at my wedding. And I would love to for you to wear it today." Camille said while opening that small jewelry box. The necklace was something of delicate beauty with a chain and a small pendant made of Sterling silver and the pendant having the shape of a heart. In the center a blue topaz. „That's beautiful!" Gen rejoiced as she did put it on. „Thank you so very much, Maman! But if this is some sort of tradition then why didn't you give me this the first time I got married?"„I didn't think that Jules was the right choice for you but we´ve been over this many times and I truly wish that you and Eric and Marc find happiness with Ben. Anyway, well wear! But I think we should get going now. You wouldn't want to be late to your own wedding. Now would you?" As Gen and her two Bridesmaids Sylvie and Emma got outside Gen looked up to the skies. The weather wasn't on their side that day as it was clouded. Everybody got into the sedan. After a 15 Minutes ride they arrived at the town hall of Pétange. Ben was already standing there. Geneviève looked at Ben as he reached out for her trying to help her out of the car. And their eyes met. There he was – wearing his black three-button single-breasted suit with a short notched lapel and the dark blue dress handkerchief and tie to go with it. He felt like falling in love with her all over again upon seeing her standing in front of him in her wedding dress. It was exactly that same feeling he had back in September when he saw her standing in that Entrance Hall for the first time. She no longer saw the same young man he was 9 months ago. He had gotten his act together and he was about to have a Family of his own.

„Everyone's here, Gen!" he said. It was supposed to be a civil wedding with only the closest friends and family. But it was going to be one to be remembered. Geneviève and Ben had organized everything with Gen having the lion's share since she was good at those things due to her job. Ben recalled the afternoons they had spent together discussing the smaller details such as what the invitations would look like and the guest list. Gen even going to the length of considering  who was going to be seated where to avoid any trouble during the festivities afterwards. She once told him that she would have loved to get to know his parents which both had passed away. He seconded that notion since he would have loved for both of them to witness their son raising a family. „Ben!" a soft voice spoke to him taking him out of his memories back into the here and now. It was Eric. „What is it, little Man?" he asked Eric while looking down. „It's cold. Can we go inside?" „Yes!" Ben replied and took Eric by the Hand. The kids had gotten used to Ben. Even Marc who was so reluctant in the beginning had begun to like him. „Honey, we should go inside. The marriage registrar is probably waiting. And Eric is freezing"„Let's go inside" Gen said and smiled. As they went inside each and every one of the guests was smiling and the sun slowly made it's way through the clouds. Everything was coming together to form a very cheerful atmosphere. Ben and his little Family entered a large dark wood-paneled room with a high ceiling and a table in the middle. On this table was a large red-backed book. The marriage register Ben assumed. And the marriage registrar our soon-to-be newlyweds had met and shook hands with before was standing there at that table as well – greeting everyone with a friendly face. Ben and Geneviève kept walking towards the table with the whole entourage of guests in tow which started to spread across the room. Camille had taken the kids and joined the other guests. It was Ben, Geneviève and the marriage registrar taking the center stage from here on out.

The couple approached the table with both of them taking a seat and after getting the final slew of paperwork done and checking the credentials the registrar started giving his speech. After speaking about  the meaning of the matrimonial bond and everything that comes with it with he focused his look on Ben and asked him with a stern voice „Do you Benjamin Cole take this woman Geneviève Lavie to be your lawfully wedded wife? To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do you part?" „I do!" Ben answered not hesitating a single second. The marriage registrar turning his attention towards Gen and asking „Do you Geneviève Lavie take this man Benjamin Cole to be your lawfully wedded husband? To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do you part?" „I do!" she answered with a slight tremble in her voice. „I now pronounce you husband and wife!"And there it was – that phrase that sealed it all. From here on out they would be facing life and it's challenges together. He took the Ring that was lying on a pillow in front of him and slipped it gently on her finger. Another tension ring made of 18k white gold with a small diamond in it but slightly broader. Something they had picked together this time while strolling around in the streets of Luxembourg. Gen felt so incredibly happy and this time trying not to lose her composure while slipping the ring on Ben's finger. Unlike that time where Ben proposed to her and had caught her totally off-guard. They kissed like they had done so many times before but this time it felt special. Ben didn't even feel that the situation was overwhelming him with all those people he didn't knew except for a few familiar faces from Gen's circle of friends he had got to know in the! last mo nths. The registrar reminded the newlyweds that there were still a few formalities to do. „Of course!" Ben said sounding slightly apologetic for being totally absentminded but this time not due to his condition but having his focus entirely on Gen. Trying to take a mental picture of this moment. He signed his name into the marriage registry with Gen following his lead. And then all there was left to do was for the registrar to congratulate. Ben looked around and all he could see were happy faces. Most important of all the expression on Gen's face. He took her by the hand and as they went outside people were throwing rice at them. It was only laughter and joy whichever way one looked. Eric, Marc and Camille being in high spirits. The bridesmaids Sylvie and Emma being flirtatious with the male guests as they were having  some glasses of champagne. After the initial uproar died down the entire wedding party got in their cars since they were still festivities planned. And so did Ben and Geneviève where they could have a quiet moment together in the backseat of the sedan with which Gen had arrived that morning.               

Ben: „I need you to know this, Gen. You made my life truly worth living. I am eternally grateful having found you. All of you – the kids, your mom, our friends…"
Gen: „I know" she simply said interrupting him, caressing his face and kissing him „We still got a little bit of fun ahead of us!"

And this was it. Ben got diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. A circumstance which as strange as it may be gave him some peace of mind. Now knowing WHAT he was.

One long part of Ben's Life had ended and another one began. Full of new surprises, challenges and with the huge difference that he didn't had to face it alone anymore. He had a family now.

He had found his whale.
 
 
 

 

All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Erkan Uzkan.
Published on e-Stories.org on 20.12.2013.

 

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