~ An Innocent Heart ~
by Heike Freudenmann and G. S. Binkley
aihfgsb@yahoo.com

written by
G. S. Binkley
xxgsb@hotmail.com
© 2003 Binkley and Freudenmann



Top 25: Jun. 30, 2003
Top 25: Jun. 23, 2003
Synopsis: "An Innocent Heart" is about a woman's disillusioned quest for love. After giving her heart to another ten years earlier, Robin Hart decided to shun love forever. But an unexpected reunion with an old friend tests her resolve and gives hope to the beautiful Kim Patakas who has troubles of her own. When Robin intercedes between Kim and her boyfriend, the young woman tries one more time to find the key to her true love's heart. Both Robin and Kim have to search within, melting away the layers of insecurities and doubts that they will only be able to do with each other as they pursue their own quest for love.

Sexual Content: F/F partners
Code:
L: Love between two people with kisses, embraces and tender moments.
LS: Love scenes described in more detail, involving scenes of lovemaking.
ES: Explicit love scenes.
This story is rated: LS
Fiction (Alternative)

Language: Expletives spoken within the character's personality, mood and circumstance.

Acknowledgement: Lyrics to the song "Just A Little" by Liberty X

This is copyrighted material, © 2003 Binkley and Freudenmann……all rights reserved. It may be reproduced, duplicated or printed for personal use only. For all other uses, please contact xxgsb@hotmail.com

Chapter One

"Robin! Get over here."

Robin Hart held up her hand as she finished her conversation on the telephone. "Okay, Peter. I'll be right there." Returning the phone to its cradle, she pushed back her chair as she stood then took two long steps toward one of her colleagues.

Marion pushed the telephone at Robin. "Some kind of an emergency."

Grabbing the telephone, Robin touched the older woman's shoulder and asked. "Where's Daniel?"

"He's in a meeting with Mr. Hermann." The thirty-eight year old woman returned to her shipping documents.

Sucking in a deep breath after a long day in the office with one crisis after another, Robin answered the telephone in her usual professional manner. "Hermann & Company. This is Robin Hart. How may I help you?"

Desperate, Kostas Patakas let out a concerned sigh. "Where's Daniel?"

"He's in a meeting right now but I can help."

Robin's calm voice didn't relieve the frustrated man's demeanor. "I certainly hope so." Kostas' mind ran over the recent events that led to the emergency facing him.

While watching the operator of the machine change the end mill holder against a collet chuck, Kostas let his thoughts drift over the pending shipments that had to be ready for the same day. Suddenly his thought process was interrupted when the grinding sound of a tool being handled wrongly in the machine reached his ear. The operator had already sprang into action in order to stop the machine as the emergency halt was the only possibility to save the spindle and the rest of the tools without having too much damage done.

"What's going on?" Kostas yelled as he immediately headed toward the machine to check for himself what kind of damage had been done to the spindle. He was somewhat relieved when he discovered that only the collet chuck had been broken while being used.

Mehmet, the operator, was already on his way to the stock department to get an exchange tool as he knew that the order he was working on was extremely urgent and had to be finished and shipped before the end of the day. "I'll be right back."

Kostas, who followed him to the department, nearly had a heart attack when he heard the words from the stock person. "Nope. Last tool was taken out two weeks ago, and our supplier still hasn't delivered any replacements."


Taking out his cell phone he dialed the phone number he knew by heart, knowing that this particular company could solve his problem because they usually had the same tools on stock. Although the prices were higher, the quality spoke for itself and thinking about his urgent order made him forget about the upcoming costs for the needed tool.

As soon as he heard the company's name, he asked for the sales manager but ended up getting someone else. He was temporarily distracted when he heard her name.

"Mr. Patakas, I assure you I can help." Robin glanced quickly at her watch. She needed to see Peter in the production department before he could proceed with an order.

"I need one of your tools. A collet chuck." Kostas ran his hand through his thick gray hair. "Please tell me you have it."

Wanting to please her customer, Robin whipped through the computer's stock list, checking for the specific part and found they had one in stock. "We have it."

Relieved, Kostas shifted gears from desperation to urgency. "I need it now. I have this order that has to go out today."

"No problem." After Robin hung up, she ran her hand through her short brown hair. Seeing that Marion was on the telephone, Robin turned to another colleague. "Karin." Robin scribbled something on a piece of paper. "Put this in the computer. I'm going to pick it up myself."

"But…" The pretty young woman was a bit confused at the irregularity of the office procedures. "That's not the way…"

Robin leaned down and took the time to smile at the new employee. "Sometimes you just have to improvise."

Karin quickly inserted the order into the computer and hit the enter button. Since coming to work for the tool company, it didn't take long for the dark haired girl to realize that Robin was the heart and soul of the organization. She was the hub by which all spokes were connected.

Grabbing her car keys and her light jacket, Robin yanked the printout of the order from the printer before she headed to the stock floor. Before leaving, the twenty-eight year old Export Expert informed her colleagues about her plans. With focused determination, Robin strode through the production department on her mission. She briefly stopped to talk with Peter regarding the production schedule before proceeding. Upon arriving at the stock department, she immediately grabbed the manager and told him what kind of tool holder she needed to have checked out right away.

Running alongside Robin, the manager just barely kept pace while heading over to the section where the tool could be found. Josef stepped up the ladder and retrieved the tool for Robin. He added his own personal comment regarding the computer system with a little smirk. "Didn't think that this computer system of yours would be right that we would still have one of those tools on stock?"

"Just because some guys in the production department forget to tell you to change the stock quantity when they need something for their own machines doesn't mean that the information in the computer is always right or wrong." Robin replied. It was an ongoing playful bantering between Robin and Josef that kept working at the company both interesting and entertaining.

Shouting a hasty "thank you" over her shoulder after she wrote a delivery note for the tool holder, Robin headed out to her car in order to drive to Hechingen straight away.

A short ten minutes later, a very relieved Kostas Patakas saw an oriental blue BMW turning into his parking lot. When the person who was driving got out of the car, he recognized her immediately.

While Mehmet used the tool to work the machine, Robin studied the broken tool. "Do you mind if I take this with me and try to find out why it broke?" Although it wasn't one of her company's tools, Robin was keenly interested about why it failed.

Distracted, Kostas readily agreed when Robin said she would get back with him with the results. His mind was very much focused on getting the order out before the end of the day. "Sure, sure. Let me know." He asked the machine's operator. "Mehmet? Do you need some help?"

Before Kostas got any kind of answer, the shipping manager came running up. "Mr. Patakas! Horst got hurt. He's okay but we need help right away or else we won't get the order out."

Stretched to the limit due to several important last minute orders, all of Kostas' employees were busy. Frustrated, he wiped his sweaty brow. Knowing he had a mountain of paperwork to finish and several phone calls to place, Kostas started to roll up his sleeves.

"I can help." Robin announced to the shipping manager then turned to Kostas.

Relieved, Kostas asked. "Are you sure?"

"No problem."

It only took a moment to accept the kind offer. Kostas gratefully patted her on the arm, noting the muscles beneath his hand. "You're a life saver."

Robin followed the shipping manager to the docks when she heard another employee frantically yell for their boss. The five foot seven woman smiled knowing it was good not to be the boss.

************************

The little girl was crying when Kimberly Patakas noticed her. "Hey." Kim stooped down. "What's the matter?"

Wiping her eyes, the small child sniffed. "Nuthin."

Kim blotted a few errant tears from the child's face then let the small girl blow her nose into her handkerchief. "Sure doesn't seem like nuthin. Tell me. Maybe I can help?"

"Anke!" The child's mother came up from behind her. The mother soothed her daughter by running her hand through the child's blonde locks. "She's upset that you don't have her favorite book. You see her older brother somehow managed to use the pages for a school project and….."

The little girl managed to whimper louder.

"Well, let's see what we can do about that. Okay?" Kim took the child's hand and led her a short way down another aisle.

************************

The older woman dropped her purse on the counter. She quickly glanced around the store, looking for some help.

When Amanda, the storeowner, noticed the waiting woman, she immediately stopped what she was doing to assist her customer. "May I help you?"

"You most assuredly can. I placed an order over a week ago for a book. No one has called so I thought I would stop in. My name's Mrs. Wilhelm." The customer pursed her lips tightly as if expecting that the book should have been ready and waiting.

Amanda rubbed her temple as she scrounged around for the order. She could see the customer was becoming increasingly impatient.

***********************

While the child's mother browsed for other reading material, Anke and Kim were sitting on the bookstore's floor. "And then Hawk…"

"…our hero…." Anke inserted with a huge smile.

"Yes, our hero, morphed into a high flying raptor…" Kim extended her arms outward as if flying, which caused Anke to mimic her actions. "…. and swept through the valley protecting all of the people from the giant forever."

Clapping her hands, Anke giggled. "Yippee… the giant gone and Hawk save the day."

"Yes she did."

Overhearing the last bit of the story, Anke's mother asked. "Do you have that book in stock? She certainly seems to like it."

Kim helped Anke up, dusting themselves off. "No. Actually, I wrote it and it's not published yet."

Grabbing her daughter's hand, the mother smiled. "Put me first on the list when it is." She looked down at Anke. "How bout we get a Happy Meal from McDonalds before we head home?"

Anke eagerly nodded. She wiggled her tiny fingers at Kim as she was led away by her mother. "Bye, bye."

Kim waved and smiled as the little girl retreated off in the distance. It was then she overheard a loud and angry voice being raised. The five foot six young woman turned the corner to see her boss and a customer in a heated exchange. Actually, the customer was the only one yelling to a very fatigued Amanda. When Kim walked up next to her boss, she asked. "Amanda? Is there something I can do?"

Before the sixty-five year old storeowner could answer, Mrs. Wilhelm spoke sharply. "Yes, there's something you can do… find my book."

Kim's green eyes surveyed the shaking Amanda before turning to the customer. "And the name of the book?"

Amanda handed Kim a piece of paper. After the auburn haired woman studied the book order, Kim smiled and made her apologies. "I'm afraid I took this order and failed to place it." That piece of information met a disgruntled look. "And I apologize wholeheartedly. Let me make it up to you though. I'll put this on rush order and even pay for it myself. Okay?" The customer finally relented when Kim added. "Please."

After Mrs. Wilhelm left, Amanda grabbed the order from Kim's hand. "You didn't place this order, I did. Or rather I forgot."

"It doesn't matter, Amanda. She'll get her book and all will be right in the world again."

Amanda wearily sat on the chair behind the counter. "I should just give all this up. I'm getting too old to run this business by myself." Amanda briefly thought of her partner who had died several years earlier. It was their dream to start the bookstore and they spent many happy years there together. "Besides, my heart's not in it."

"What are you talking about?" Kim lightly stroked Amanda's shoulder. "Why this place wouldn't be the same without you?"

"I don't think I have it in me anymore." Amanda shook her weary head.

"Now that I'm out of school and working here full time, I can take over all the things you don't want to do." While attending the university, Kim worked part time at the bookstore on the weekends and during the school breaks. She loved working there because being surrounded by books made her feel secure.

Clasping her young friend's hand, Amanda spoke sincerely. "Okay. If you do one thing for me?"

Smiling, Kim nodded.

"Bring in your stories. Don't even think about shaking your head. I know someone in the publishing business and she's very interested." The sweet smile on Amanda's face was hard to resist and it was a dream of the young woman. But it was the added. "Please." That did the trick.

"Okay. I will." Kim was hesitant about sharing her stories. Something that Amanda didn't understand at all. Kim knew that her boss was the only one who had really shown any interest in her stories. Not her boyfriend or even her parents gave much pause to consider it a serious venture. She briefly thought of another person that had encouraged her. That was so long ago though. She was distracted from that pleasant memory when she heard her name.

"Kim?" The firm voice tried again to get her attention. "Honey."

When Kim looked at the handsome man in front of her, she offered a reluctant smile. "Hi. I wasn't expecting you."

Sandro Fischer reached across the counter, grabbing her hand in his. "Just wanted to see how my favorite girl is doing." His smile was charming and seducing all at once until he added with an underlying sarcastic tone. "You gonna be ready on time tonight… for once?"

She withdrew her hand. "Amanda? Why don't you go on home and I'll lock up. Okay?"

Amanda patted her graying hair ensuring it was in place as she stood. "Hello, Sandro." She hugged Kim then turned her full attention to the strapping young man before her. "You take real good care of her…. or else."

He winked at the older lady. "Gotcha."

After the store's owner went upstairs to her apartment, Kim started gathering the daily receipts together. "You don't have to wait, Sandro. I have my car."

"That beat up old thing." He chuckled. "Actually, I didn't stop by to take you home."

"How nice." He didn't notice the sarcasm in her voice.

Sandro dug his hand into his pocket and threw some money at her. "Could you stop by and pick up a gift for my mom's birthday? You know what she likes. I would but I'm meeting Sebastian and a few others on the soccer team before I pick you up and…."

Kim interrupted him or he would have gone on forever. "No problem."

"Thanks honey. You're a life saver." With that, Sandro gave her a quick peck on the cheek before strolling out of the bookstore.


Chapter Two

Robin flipped her bedroom light on. She was in a hurry to change and get to her second job as a projectionist at the local movie theater. As she changed into cutoffs, Robin fired up her laptop in order to check her email. While waiting for it to connect to the Internet, she selected a book to take with her to the movie theater.

When her cell phone rang, Robin twirled around and nearly took a nasty tumble after stumping her socked foot against a chair's leg. She reached for the window's ledge, preventing her from falling. "Robin Hart."

Noting his younger sister was somewhat short of breath, Ross Hart asked. "Robin? You okay?"

"Yeah." She straightened up but remained at the window. "Just getting ready to go to work."

"If you need money…" Ross didn't want his sister to have to work all the time and he felt she deserved half of the family business left to him by their mother's father.

"Ross…" Robin adjusted her stylish wire-rimmed glasses to get a better view of the Hohenzollern castle off in the distance, a top a hill. "I love working at the movie theater. It's not like I need the money or anything. I just get a rush when I'm there… seeing all the people coming in."

"Well, I'd worry less if you moved here to Dallas. We have lots of movie theaters you could work at and you know you'll always have a job here with me." Ross attempted again to bait his sister into moving to the United States.

Robin sighed heavily as her brown eyes gleamed at the castle. "No. I'm home here. It's where I belong."

"You and that damn castle." Ross fumed.

"That's not the only thing that keeps me here. Mom and dad are here."

"Only because you insisted on taking them back to Germany after they… died." It had been six years since their parent's death but it was still hard to acknowledge.

"It's where dad wanted to be buried and mom… well…" Robin crossed her room to her desk. It was filled with pictures of her mom and dad along with some of her brother, his wife and four children. Robin ran a finger across the frame of a picture of her parents sitting on a stone bench near the castle where they first met so many years ago.

"I know… mom never was far from his side." Ross briefly reminisced about growing up in Germany. While he was born in the USA, his sister was born in Germany and they lived there for nearly 20 years before their mother's father had a heart attack. Upon returning to his mother's home country, their father along with Ross managed his grandfather's security business where Ross now wrote security programs for companies in the Dallas area.

Robin, too, took a short stroll down memory lane. She stared intently at the picture of her mother in her uniform. Michele Blair was serving in the United States Air Force as a flight surgeon while based in Germany when she met their father, Hans Hart. "Anyway, Ross, why'd you call?"

"Do I have to have a reason to call my little sister?" Robin could hear Ross smile from the tone of his voice.

"No… but something's on your mind. Give."

"Jessica and the kids wanted to know if you were coming over soon." Ross tried to be nonchalant in his probing before he finally revealed his own feelings. "Oh, and me, too. You know how much I miss you."

Cradling her cell phone between her shoulder and her chin, Robin said. "This fall? Maybe." She punched in a few commands on her laptop to check her inbox.

"Maybe… nothing! Or I'll bring my whole brood over and you know how rambunctious the twins can be." Ross warned with a mock threat.

"My godchildren are only two, Ross. How rambunctious can they be?" After reviewing her new email, Robin closed the program then began to shut off her computer.

Ross laughed. "One day, Robin. One day you'll have kids of your own and you'll see exactly what I mean."

That thought depressed Robin. It wasn't that she didn't love children, quite the contrary. But her hope of ever being with the girl of her dreams was shattered a long time ago. The future prospect of love in her life looked rather bleak. "Maybe."

Sensing the melancholy in his sister's voice, Ross insisted. "Christmas then. Promise me you'll be here for Christmas at least."

Robin's demeanor brightened. "I wouldn't miss it. Now, I really got to get going."

"Hey, hold on." Ross commanded. "Did you get it?"

"Yep." Robin reached for the jar of salve after she tore off her T-shirt. Replacing the phone to her ear, she started to rub in the healing salve against the sensitive skin on her upper left arm. "Looks great, too."

"I don't know why you had anything added to it. I liked the hawk and that snake thing." Ross referred to Robin's tattoo.

"That snake thing around the hawk stands for eternity." Robin informed her brother as she screwed the lid back on the jar. "Now, if you don't have anything else… I've gotta get going."

"Alright. At least call me next week though." Ross said his goodbyes.

"No problem." After Robin ended the call, she climbed into a fresh T-shirt and grabbed her book before heading out the door.

***********************

Kim rushed through the kitchen where her mom was fixing supper. "Hi, mom." She popped a couple of grapes in her mouth. "Bye mom."

"Hold on a second, Kimberly." Her mother's stern voiced stopped her in her tracks.

Kim shifted from one hip to the next. "What? I'm in a bit of a hurry."

Elena Patakas continued to stir the pot while eyeing her daughter. "Are you eating here or going out with Sandro?"

"Going out." Kim chanced a glance at her watch.

"Did you have to work late at the bookstore?" The young woman rolled her green eyes because it seemed to Kim that her mother was only making idle conversation.

When her dad walked into the kitchen, he kissed his only child. "Hi, honey. How was your day?" He asked before placing a sweet kiss on his wife's cheek and covertly squeezed her backside.

"Kostas!" Elena scooted away. "Stop that."

Kostas winked at his daughter before he grabbed the newspaper and sat at the table. Kim just shook her head.

"You're in a good mood." Elena noted to her husband. "When I talked to you this afternoon, you sounded like you'd be home late."

Impatient, Kim softly touched her father's shoulder, seeking his support. "Mom? If there's nothing else, I need to get ready."

Elena gave her petulant daughter a stern look.

Clasping his hand over Kim's hand, he spoke to his wife of twenty-five years. "Elena….." Kostas cajoled his wife. "Young people have things to do. Let her go."

Before her mom could reply, Kim flew out of the room.

"Oh, by the way, Kim. I saw someone today that…" Kostas turned in his seat only to find his daughter long gone.

Elena placed a glass of wine in front of her husband. "Too late."

Kostas put the paper down and smiled. "She meeting Sandro tonight?"

Elena sat down in the chair next to her husband and took a sip of his wine. "Yes."

"Ah… young people in love." Kostas closed his hand over his wife's hand.

A concerned look did not stray from Elena's face. "Hmmmm… so why are you home early? Well, earlier than you thought."

"We got that big shipment out today." Kostas smiled proudly. "Even with all the pandemonium going on at work today and then the collet chuck breaking…" The gray haired man threw his hands in the air. "But we got a replacement and that…" Kostas snapped his fingers together. "… you know, Hans' daughter she brought us another tool and when Horst got hurt…"

Elena wiped her hands on her apron. "What happened to Horst?"

"It was a busy day for all of us and he was stacking the boxes onto the truck and somehow smashed his hand." Kostas shook his head. "Anyway, Hans' daughter…"

"Robin?"

"Yes, yes, Robin… stayed and helped load all of the boxes for the shipment."

"So what are you going to do with the extra money from that big order?" Elena went back to preparing the evening meal.

"Johann has some property around Market Square he wants me to invest in." Kostas recounted the call from Sandro's real estate father about a spectacular investment that just came on the market.

Elena twisted toward her husband in order to observe him. "And?"

"I think it's a good deal, Elena." Kostas rubbed his chin. "It's in the same block where Kim works. And you know that property has always had high return value."

"Whatever you think, Kostas." Elena removed the pan from the stove. "Silvia and Johann have been good friends for years and now that our children are practically married…" She let the end of that wishful thought dangle in the air.

Kostas slapped the table. "Done then." He scooted his chair back from the table and patted his lap. "Now… come here. Sit. I want to give you a proper hello."

"Kostas, you are so bad." Elena giggled. However, Elena's verbal protest didn't stop her from doing just as her husband requested.

*************************

Kim dashed into her room and headed straight for the old box at the bottom of her closet. Even though she was running late, she took the time to dust off the top and open it. Peering into the deep box, Kim withdrew some of its contents. She studied the typed pages briefly. "I wonder if…"

She briefly allowed herself a reprieve from getting ready to meet her boyfriend as Kim recalled the many happy and sad times during her teenage years. Kim scanned her stories, delighting in the memories of when she got to hang out with her older cousin and the gang. Being four years younger, Kim was considered the tag along. But not everyone treated her that way. And that one person was eulogized in her stories. Kim propped her hand under her chin. "She was always my hero."

The auburn haired young girl was deep in thought when her mother knocked on the door. "Oh, hi, mom." Kim stuffed the papers in the box before shoving it back into the closet for safekeeping.

"I thought you were in a hurry?"

"I am." Kim began to change her clothes. "Thought you were fixing dinner?"

"You're father's making his special dessert." Elena leaned against the doorway. "We'll save you some."

"Danke." Even being of Greek heritage with a little bit of Irish thrown in, Kim easily learned the German language. When her family lived in Greece, they would visit Kostas' brother and his family in Germany. Being an only child Kim loved to visit her older cousin, Yasmin, every chance she got. Then when she was around fourteen, her uncle made her father a business offer and they moved to Germany.

"So… how are things between you and Sandro?"

Kim slipped into her tight blue jeans and snapped them. "Okay." It took less than a minute to select a pretty green top. Turning, she slipped it on only to see her mother's dismay at her laconic answer. "What?"

"I was just wondering about your plans… the two of you. Sandro graduates from law school in December."

"So?"

"It's just that Silvia and I were talking and a Christmas wedding would be… nice."

Kim finished buttoning her shirt. "I really wish you and Sandro's mom would stop charting out my future."

"And Sandro's future."

"And Sandro." Kim sighed as she put on her shoes. "Mom, we've only been going together for less than a year."

"Your dad and I met and married and had you all within a year." Elena pointed out this fact proudly. "And it turned out pretty good I'd say."

Kim's shoulders dropped. Studying her mother for one brief moment, Kim finally walked over to her mom and kissed her on the cheek. "I love you. But I'm not you, mom. I want my own career. I have plans… dreams…"

"Ah ha… your stories." Elena crossed her arms. "Honey, you know I love your stories…"

"But?" Kim was increasingly getting frustrated.

"No buts… your father and I both enjoy your stories very much. I'm just saying that you can be married… and give us grandchildren…" Elena held up a halting hand to her daughter's impending protest. "… and write your stories at the same time."

Kim took her mom's hand in hers. "And live happily ever after, right?"

"Does that sound so bad?" Elena didn't understand her daughter sometimes.

"No. It sounds perfectly wonderful." Kim bit her lower lip. "I'm just not sure… Sandro is the one I want to do all of that with." There I've said it.

"Kim. You've known Sandro and his family… we all have for the last six years. They are wonderful people and we want you to have all the advantages in life and be happy."

"I want to be happy, too, mom." Kim hugged her mother. "Can we talk about this later? I'm going to be late." And on that note, Kostas called from downstairs announcing that Sandro had arrived to pick up his date.


Chapter Three

Robin yanked open the door to the movie theater. "Hi. Mrs. Franz."

The sixty-five year old cashier studied at the computer in front of her. "You're late."

"You're early." Robin teased her. "Got that thing figured out yet?"

Mrs. Franz glared at the projectionist before returning to her guide sheet on how to operate the computer. "Klaus left you a message."

Robin leaned against the counter. "And?"

Nodding at the note on the counter, Mrs. Franz grunted.

Picking up the note, Robin began to read it when Mrs. Franz said. "He had to go out of town to check on one of his other movie theaters. Guess you're in charge."

Robin watched Mrs. Franz go over the computer instructions once again. Even though Klaus had installed the new computer system well over six months ago, the cashier reviewed the sheet step by step. "Need any help?"

The older woman slapped Robin's hand away. "Go get your movies ready."

"Okay, okay." Robin placed her book on the counter before taking off. "By the way, who's scheduled to work tonight?"

As the cashier completed step number three, she said. "Nicole and Sascha."

"Alright. I'll be back to help you when I'm finished. The crowd should be arriving about then." The cashier completely ignored Robin.

Robin crossed the lobby and found two movies already assembled on their respective reels with a little note from Klaus telling her which one had to go to which projection booth. Taking the first one in her right hand, she started to carry it to projection booth #2 and had to wonder about such a movie that could be so heavy while transporting it upstairs. After arriving in the booth, she placed the reel right in front of the machine so she could hoist it up on the upper 5'8" high axle and started to set the movie so it was ready to play.

Hurrying back to the lobby she took the second reel into her right hand and marched back but had to climb another set of stairs in order to reach the final destination for the second movie where she proceeded to repeat the same actions in order to place the reel on the machine. Making sure that everything was set perfectly, Robin headed back to check on Mrs. Franz.

When Robin opened the door to the cashier's room, she saw Sascha waiting for her. "Hey, Sascha."

Not taking the time to welcome the projectionist, Sascha turned around and lifted her shoulder length blonde hair and commanded. "Robin, do your thing."

Mrs. Franz ignored them as she intently reviewed step number five.

Robin knew exactly what the green-eyed young girl was requesting. She started to give Sascha an impromptu massage. "You're muscles are tight. What have you been doing all day?"

The eighteen year old sighed with relief as Robin's hands worked their magic. Sascha rotated her neck freely before replying. "School. You wouldn't believe all the papers I have to do."

"Did you bring them with you?" Robin asked as she continued loosening the tight muscles with her nimble fingers.

"Yeah. I thought I'd work on them while the movies are playing." Sascha said.

Finishing off the massage, Robin checked on the cashier who had yet to complete the final step on the computer. "There you go, Sascha. Let me know if you need another one."

"Thanks." Sascha let her hair drop down on her shoulders before running her fingers through it. "I better get the popcorn started. Who's working with me tonight?"

"Nicole." Both Robin and the cashier answered in tandem.

"Oh, yuck." The young blonde was already preparing the popcorn machine for the first batch of the night. The machine was located just outside the cashier's office. "You better be ready to help us tonight then, Robin. The lines will be backed up cause we all know she flirts with the customers like crazy."

"I'll be around." Robin assured the popcorn girl. Guess there'll be no time for reading tonight. Returning her attention to the cashier, Robin couldn't stop herself as she punched in the remaining sequence that would ready the computer.

Slapping at the invading projectionist's hand, Mrs. Franz scooted closer to her computer in a protective nature. "Stop that."

Robin smiled a bit at the cashier's dismay with her. The projectionist turned to flip on the three showroom movie monitors. Klaus installed the system in the cashier's office so the projectionist could be readily available should there be a problem at the cashier's window or the candy counter. When everything was set, Robin walked out into the empty lobby waiting for that inevitable rush when all the people started to show up for the movies.

Hurrying through the opened door, Nicole saw Robin standing there and the dark haired girl sighed in relief. "Good. You're working tonight." Nicole knew with Robin at the helm she would be able to lollygag.

************************

"Honey? Have you made up your mind yet?" Sandro Fischer tried to harness his impatience with Kim as she perused the menu.

Dropping her menu, Kim rubbed her temple trying to ward off the beginnings of a headache. "Why don't you just order for me?" He smiled before she mumbled. "Like you do every other time."

Sandro searched for the waitress but directed his question to Kim. "What?"

"Nothing." Kim said with a tight smile.

After her boyfriend placed their orders, Sandro eased back in his chair and flashed a very lascivious grin as he watched the pretty waitress sashay away. It did not go unnoticed by Kim.

"You could at least wait till I went to the restroom." Kim said.

"What?" He leaned forward and reached across the table, taking Kim's hand in his. Sandro offered his girlfriend an unapologetic smile. "I can look, can't I?"

Kim withdrew her hand.

"What's wrong with you lately, Kim?" Sandro huffed. "Nothing I do seems to be right anymore."

"Funny." Kim returned the insightful observation. "I could say the same."

"You've changed." Sandro took a gulp of his drink. "And I can't say I like it. You used to be so…so…"

"What? Docile? Placating?" Kim demanded he pick one.

Sandro winked as he showered her with his most charming smile. "Understanding… accommodating."

Kim crossed her arms.

"You used to care."

"And so did you." Kim shot back.

Sandro reached across the table and grabbed her hand again. "Let's not fight. Okay?"

Kim was relieved when the waitress returned with their food. For a few quiet moments, both of them concentrated on eating. The uneasy tension between them was temporarily broken when both Sandro and Kim started to speak at the same time.

"No. You go ahead." Sandro insisted.

"I was just going to say that Amanda knows someone who might be interested in publishing my short stories." A genuine smile came to Kim's face as she spoke.

"That's great, honey." Sandro swallowed a bit of food before he continued. "But we won't need the money. You're looking at an up and coming hot shot lawyer."

"Money? Is that what you think this is about?" Kim asked in disbelief.

"Besides, you'll be busy entertaining after we're married. It's important to make the right contacts." Sandro shot her a wink. "And then there's the kids you'll be having."

Kim dropped her fork. "I guess both our moms and you have our life all planned out for me."

Sensing an impending argument, Sandro tried to placate his increasingly obstinate girlfriend. "I don't want you to have to worry you're…"

Kim interrupted him by finishing his sentence. "Pretty little head?" She fumed. "I can think for myself and even make a decision or two. After all, I got through the university without any help from you or anyone else."

He softened his voice. "Kim. Could you keep it down a bit? People are starting to stare." Sandro quickly scanned the area around him before he continued. "I know you graduated with honors and I'm really proud of you, honey. All I'm trying to say is that I can take care of both of us. You don't need to work."

Kim started to say something but Sandro furrowed his brow and spoke first, revealing his own insecurity. "A man has to be needed."

The auburn haired woman dropped her shoulders in frustration. "Sandro? Just exactly when did we come to that fork in our relationship where we stopped wanting the same things?"

The dark haired young man looked perplexed when Kim asked that question. Realizing their conversation was heading to a dead end, Kim just shook her head. She had to admit that Sandro was dashingly good-looking with his deep penetrating dark eyes and considered him a great catch. Didn't everyone say so? She tried to remember what first attracted him to her. Protective. He was very protective of me. But somewhere along the line that protectiveness morphed into some sort of domineering control. "Do you remember when we first met?" Kim wanted desperately to recapture that first encounter and all the associated feelings that came with it.

"I sure do." His charming smile was intoxicating. "You were in that cute green tiny bikini."

"And a bunch of rowdy guys decided I was going to be their next target in the midst of their water fight." The memory of Sandro coming to her rescue made her smile. "You came charging in…"

Sandro drowned the last of his drink. "Yeah, I beat the shi…"

"Sandro!" Kim frowned at his language before continuing. "I want it to be like that again… between us."

Sandro withdrew some bills and placed them on the table. "Nothing's changed, honey. We're still the same."

But they weren't. While Sandro's idea of their relationship stagnated in time, Kim knew they were heading in completely opposite directions. She decided to change the subject as her head started to pound again. "I thought we'd go shopping tomorrow for your mom's birthday present."

"You haven't got anything yet?" Sandro shook his head. "I can't anyway. I have that soccer game tomorrow and then I'm meeting Sebastian and the guys. You remember?"

"How could I forget!" Kim surrendered once again, realizing she wasn't making any headway in the serious talk she knew they would eventually have to have.

"Come on." Sandro jumped up, grabbing her arm. "Don't want to be late for the movie."


Chapter Four

Robin hovered over the cashier, as the line to the movie theater grew longer. "Mrs. Franz? Why don't I help? I'll take over the computer and check the reservations."

The gray haired cashier glared at Robin. The ringing of the telephone offered a reprieve between the two from the inevitable confrontation. "Blue Bridge Theater." Robin assisted the customer on the telephone as Mrs. Franz finalized a transaction.

Kim rubbed her temple as Sandro grew impatient while waiting in the snail moving line to the cashier's window. Stretching his neck up and over the heads in front him, Sandro tried to see what the hold up was. "Damn it. I have a reservation. You'd think we would get in right away."

Robin turned away from the noisy crowd in order to hear the person on the telephone. She jotted down the customer's reservation request for the next day.

When the line moved forward, Sandro stepped up but Kim remained in place. "Kim? What's wrong?"

"My head." Kim sighed, closing her eyes for a moment.

"I'm not the one that wanted to go to this movie. Sebastian and the guys are seeing 'Rapid Fire'." Sandro whined.

His attempt to make her feel guilty did the trick. She tugged on his shirtsleeve and said. "Why don't I wait in the lobby? Maybe I'll find someone who has an aspirin."

When Robin replaced the telephone on the cradle, she heard the familiar voice. Searching through the crowd of people lined up, Robin tried to locate the owner of that voice. It was coming directly from behind the tall dark haired man standing second in line.

When Sandro moved up to the counter, Kim had disappeared. "Fischer. I have a reservation."

Mrs. Franz punched in his name but nothing appeared on the screen. "I don't see your name. Are you sure…"

Fuming, Sandro leaned forward. "Yes, I'm sure." He stretched his neck, trying to see the screen for himself. "I called earlier today."

"Well, it's not here." The cashier insisted, pushing her glasses securely up on her nose.

Seeing the customer's face contort in anger, Robin interceded. "Here. Let me see."

Mrs. Franz reluctantly shifted over but refused to give up her seat.

Tapping his fingers on the counter, Sandro barked. "Any time now."

"Here you go." Robin quickly issued the tickets to the increasing irate customer. "I'm sorry. I hope you enjoy the show."

Sandro huffed as he threw some money on the counter then smirked. "I shouldn't have to pay for… incompetence."

Mrs. Franz reclaimed her position as Robin's keen brown eyes trailed the man into the lobby. She recognized potential trouble when she saw it. She watched Sandro maneuver his way through the crowd as he greeted a young woman. All Robin could see was her back when Sandro placed a hand on her shoulder. The two engaged in a short conversation before he walked off toward the candy counter, leaving the auburn haired woman behind. Robin was about to return her attention to the ticket counter when the young woman turned. She was struck by the woman's mesmerizing verdant eyes. "I knew I recognized that voice." A broad smile emerged on her face upon seeing the very familiar face of her friend. Robin was going to say hello when the casher called her name.

"Robin! Can you get the phone?" The irritable cashier mumbled. "I could use some help you know."

"Yes, ma'am." The movie theater's jack-of-all-trades was on the job.

As Kim stood alone in the lobby while Sandro purchased a couple of soft drinks and candy, she saw Sebastian Stauss approach with several other people. She greeted her boyfriend's best friend. "Hi, Sebastian."
The nearly six-foot blonde leaned down to offer Kim a peck on the cheek. "Hey, Kim. Where's Sandro?"

Jerking a thumb over her shoulder, she said. "Getting us something for the movie."

The blonde man searched for his friend who was now standing at the counter talking with a very young and lean girl with long dark hair.

After Sandro gave his order to the candy girl, he spared Kim a hasty look and saw his friend. Sandro wiggled his eyebrows before throwing a nod of his head in the direction of the girl behind the counter then smiled.

Sebastian nodded knowingly. Another one bites the dust.

Kim turned to the young pretty girl with Sebastian. "Simone, I didn't know you'd be here."

"I got back in town from school early." The lean red-haired girl replied.

The two other guys with Sebastian made their excuses. "We'll meet you inside."

Sebastian nodded as Kim asked Simone. "You wouldn't happen to have an aspirin?"

"Let me look." Simone dug threw her purse.

When Kim started to check on her boyfriend, Sebastian diverted her attention. "Kim? What movie you going to see?"

"Here Comes Jordan."

"Aw…. forget that one and come with us."

"No, thank you. I don't think my head could handle all the machine gun noise and explosions." Kim noticed that Simone had come up empty-handed.

"Sorry, Kim."

Closing her eyes, Kim rubbed her forehead again. "These lights are hurting my eyes. Would you tell Sandro…" Before she could turn to look in Sandro's direction, the blonde man placed a halting hand on her shoulder. "…I'm going to go on in."

"Sure thing." Both Sebastian and Simone watched Kim disappear into the crowd before returning their eyes to Sandro at the counter, openly flirting with the candy girl.

Nodding, Sebastian said. "Some things never change."

Simone bumped up against him. "You could warn her."

"Oh, no. Not me." Sebastian grinned. "And you better not either."

"You just don't want to get on his bad side. He's going to be your free ride into the business world." Simone hit the nail on the head.

"Come on." Sebastian grabbed her arm, escorting her off to the movie showroom. All the while thinking of the bright future he had with Sandro as his partner in their future law office. With his money and my brains, we'll make a dynamo team.

Meanwhile back at the candy counter, Sandro wasted no time chatting up the cute candy girl. "Nicole. That's a lovely name. Maybe I could call you Nikki?… Nic?" He leaned over the counter and whispered in her ear. "How bout I just call you?"

Leaning over the counter, Nicole giggled as she ignored the long line of waiting patrons. "Well, it is my job to please the customers." She was well aware that he came from a very wealthy real estate family.

When the last of the customers wanting tickets for the movie had been served, Robin headed to the lobby in search of her old friend. What she saw caused her eyes to squint in fury.

"Robin!" Sascha who was manning the popcorn machine yelled. "Can you give us a hand here?" The blonde nodded toward her inert co-worker.

In a flash, Robin assisted the customers and within a few minutes the majority of them had been served. Sascha was waiting on the few remaining customers. Robin sucked in a breath as she marched over to Nicole and her overeager customer. "Can I help you?"

Sandro ignored the interruption as he ran his fingers lightly over Nicole's arm. Sensing impending trouble, Nicole hesitantly pulled her arm away.

Robin cleared her throat. "Is there anything I can help you with?"

Annoyed, Sandro looked her up and down with his usual smirk. "Not hardly." He reached over, grabbing Nicole's hand again. Pulling her closer, Sandro whispered in her ear.

Nicole blushed. "Okay."

With that, Sandro grabbed the two cups on the counter and headed off to the movie showroom.

The young girl refused to meet Robin's eyes as she busied herself wiping the counter off.

Robin contemplated her next move. Nicole's flirting was an on going problem and the projectionist knew that Klaus had intended to talk with the eighteen year old. Acquiescing to her boss's wish to be the one to handle the situation, Robin gave the girl the appalling job all the movie theater employees dreaded. "Nicole. Someone needs to clean behind the soda machine while the movies are playing and after that…" She pointed to the candy display under the glassed counter. "….why don't you straighten that up? I'll bring out some more boxes of candy you can put in."

Relieved to not come under fire, Nicole readily agreed. "Okay."

She hurried off as Sascha walked up to Robin, shaking her head. "Slut."

"Why don't you go ahead and get some of your school work done?" Robin suggested. Deep in thought about what to do next, Robin didn't notice Sascha quietly leave.

***********************

When Sandro wedged in next to Kim, the movie had already started. "Here you go."

"Danke." Kim took a long sip from her soft drink. "What took you so long?"

"Shhhh… " Sandro ignored the question, pretending he wanted to hear the movie.

The pounding in her head had not subsided. She desperately wanted to ask Sandro to take her home but she knew she would never hear the end of it since the movie was her suggestion. Kim closed her eyes, shutting out the glare from the screen as she fell into a daydream.

The setting sun threw shards of red, orange, blue and yellow lights across the horizon. Lying on the luscious green grass, Kim propped her head up, gazing at the colorful sky. The stillness was broken when a warm body brushed up against her hip. Kim smiled as she turned and looked at her friend. The comfort she felt as they shared the waning evening together brought a snug cloth of protectiveness around her. Kim's friend nudged her when a low flying hawk swooped above them. It was then the novice writer came up with an idea for a children's story. It would be a tribute to her friend. Her hero, her protector, her…

Sandro elbowed Kim, tearing her away from her soothing fantasy. Or was it a dream… no, it really happened. "What is it, Sandro?"

Irritated, he asked. "Did you want to see the movie or not?"

"I do… it's just this headache won't go away." Kim acknowledged and was going to ask if they could leave when he interrupted her.

Sandro scooted up in his seat. "I'll go see if they have something for your headache up front."

"Danke." Kim yielded to his offer.

***********************

Robin stuck her head out of the cashier's office to see what progress Nicole was making on restocking the candy supplies. The young girl was bent over gathering several bags of candy when a long arm reached over the counter and hooked the top of the revealing thong, snapping it.

Nicole jumped. "Hey." Upon seeing who it was, she smiled. "Hi."

When Robin heard the seducing words waft from the dark haired man's lips, she crossed her arms as she leaned against the doorframe. Sucking in a deep breath, Robin made a command decision to cut short the impromptu flirting session being played out before her eyes. After two long steps, she came to a screeching halt when her concerned brown eyes caught sight of her old friend.

Shocked green eyes zeroed in on her boyfriend who was leaning over the counter as he placed a long intimate kiss on willing lips. "Sandro!"

Breaking the kiss, his shoulders dropped but he didn't immediately look around at his fuming girlfriend. Instead, he whispered to Nicole. "My ex… let me take care of this."

Robin's keen hearing overheard the request. Not wanting to intrude, Robin remained in place as she watched Kim storm across the lobby.

With each advancing step, Kim replayed the picture of Sandro kissing the girl behind the counter in her mind. She knew he had a roving eye that never failed to spot a pretty woman passing by but Kim turned a blind eye when it came to her suspicions about him cheating on her. Their relationship that had bloomed brightly in the beginning was now fading rapidly.

Robin saw Kim position herself in front of Sandro as Nicole quietly slipped away. With Kim's back to her, Robin stood at the ready, waiting to see what would ensue.

Sandro casually leaned against the glassed counter. Sheepishly, he shrugged and offered an unapologetic look. "Sorry about that."

"Sorry about what? That you kissed her… that you were cheating on me?" Flushing from the anger swelling up inside, Kim knotted her fists.

"No. I'm sorry you had to see it." Sandro puffed up his chest as he grabbed at her. "Come on." Small crowds of people were leaving the movie theater and Sandro didn't want a scene.

She easily evaded his grasp. "No. Don't touch me."

Angered now, Sandro commanded in a low strained voice. "Don't do this."

Flailing her arms in the air, Kim yelled. "Do what? Make a scene? You can do as you please but I'm supposed to just sit idly by and play the docile little girlfriend."

Scratching the back of his neck, Sandro twisted around away from the small crowd that had gathered upon seeing the fighting couple. "It was nothing. She was nothing. Let's just get out of here and I'll explain."

He moved toward her but she backed away. "No!"

"How are you going to get home? You came with me." He shot an evil look at the crowd causing some of them to disperse.

After viewing the monitor on the table where she was doing her homework, Sascha ducked her head out of the cashier's office. "Robin? One of your movie's has ended."

Robin nodded but didn't turn around.

Steadying her turbulent emotions for one brief moment, Kim calmly said. "We're through, Sandro."

He rolled his eyes at her proclamation. "What are you saying?"

"What don't you understand?" Kim crossed her arms. "It's over."

"No, it's not." When Sandro took a slow step forward, Robin bolted up behind the unsuspecting Kim. "Now come on. I'll take you home."

Kim backed up and connected with a solid body behind her, without even turning around, she was covered in a cloth of protectiveness when waiting arms wrapped around her.

"I'm taking her home." Robin declared in a tone that brooked no argument. Kim relaxed in Robin's arms upon recognizing her voice.

Sensing defeat, Sandro was relieved to see Sebastian and his friends. He grunted. "Fine by me." Confidently, he strode among his friends. "Come on."

When the lobby had emptied, Kim slapped her hands up to cover her eyes and turned into Robin's comforting arms. Her chest heaved as tears streamed down her face from the ugly encounter.

Robin stroked her soft auburn hair and whispered. "It's okay. Everything's gonna be okay."

************************

Robin handed Kim a bottle of water and two aspirin. "Here you go."

Mrs. Franz watched the young girl dutifully swallow the pills before turning back around to help a customer at the window who was requesting a couple of tickets for the late show.

"Danke." Placing the water bottle on the counter, Kim rolled her head around, trying to loosen the taut muscles in her neck.

"Here let me." Robin swirled Kim around on the stool, taking up a position directly behind her friend. Soothing hands began a slow relaxing massage at the base of Kim's neck. As Robin continued the massage, she increasingly pressed harder to loosen the tight muscles, expanding her reach to include the younger woman's affected shoulders.

"God….. that feels good." Kim's eyelids dropped in relief as her muscles were liberated from the stronghold of knots under the ministration of Robin's tender touch.

"That better?" A concerned Robin asked.

Not wanting the massage to draw to a conclusion, Kim at first started to ask Robin to continue until she saw Mrs. Franz checking her watch. "Yes, that's great. Danke."

Reluctantly, Robin withdrew her hands, sensing an immediate loss. She, too, saw the cashier check her watch. "Kim? I need to start my last movie for tonight. Would you mind staying here? I'll be right back."

"You go on." Mrs. Franz directed the projectionist. "She's perfectly fine here with me." After catching some of the verbal altercation between the pretty young girl and her boyfriend, the cashier wanted to hear the inside scoop. She loved working at the movie theater and being around all the young people there kept her feeling young.

Robin checked with Kim to see if that was okay before she headed out the door. A smile and a nod assured the taller woman that Kim would be fine. "Be back in a bit." When Robin walked into the lobby, she saw Sascha cleaning the popcorn machine. "Sascha? I know Nicole was supposed to stay late but…"

"Sure… I'll stay." Sascha readily agreed. "I could use the money."

Determined, Robin approached the longhaired Nicole. "Nicole. After you finish wiping down the counter, you can cut out early. Sascha's staying."

Happy to hear Robin's offer, Nicole nodded when she briefly met Robin's eyes. She furiously spun the cloth over the counter. She held in an inner smile because she had a fair idea where Sandro and his friends would end up that night. Nicole was not one to miss an opportunity. And this one was golden.

In short order, Robin readied her last movie for the night before returning to the cashier's office. On the way, she advised Sascha that she was going to run Mrs. Franz home and if there would be a need to call her on her cell phone. "Kim. I have to take Mrs. Franz home. Would you mind waiting here? I'll only be a minute."

Mrs. Franz grabbed her light coat and purse then insisted. "I can walk home."

Looping her hand inside the older lady's arm, Kim said. "I'll go with you." Kim and Mrs. Franz shared a knowing smile caused by a shared secret.

Robin sighed heavily as she watched the two conspirators walk off. She knew something was up and figured that her name played a central role in the discussion that evidently took place while she was gone. Robin temporarily forgot that Mrs. Franz was easily able to squeeze even the smallest bit of information from others. Except me. Robin guarded her thoughts and feelings with an ironclad fist from others.

Mrs. Franz called over her shoulder. "Are you coming or not?"

Both women shared a stifled giggle to Robin's dismay.

After the short trip to Mrs. Franz apartment, Robin helped Kim out of her car when they got back to the movie theater. "I could have taken you home, too."

"Not on your life. It's too early to go home and besides we have a lot to catch up on." Kim heard Robin's stomach growl. "And you need something to eat… now."

"I can't. I need to get back inside." All evening Robin had resisted the increasing hunger pains since she missed supper. "Sascha's…"

"Robin." Kim placed a soft gentle touch on the older woman's arm. "We can get something right next door at that Italian restaurant. Tell Sascha we'll be there if she needs you…and we'll bring her back a piece of pizza or something."

The pleading green eyes were Robin's undoing. "You go get us a place and I'll be there in a minute."

In less than five minutes, Robin slid into the booth across from Kim. The younger woman selected this particular location so her friend could have a strategic view of the front of the movie theater.

"I hope you don't mind but I already ordered your favorite pizza." Kim smiled.

"Danke." Robin sipped her Spezi before settling back in the booth. "You'll share, right?"

"Sandro and…." Kim hesitated. "… we had dinner earlier but I really didn't eat much. So, yes. I'm starved actually."

A few moments of silence passed but neither felt uncomfortable. When they both started to talk, Kim said. "You first."

Not wanting to delve into a serious discussion right off, Robin said. "I saw your dad today."

"He didn't say anything to me when I saw him earlier."

"I'm sure it wasn't worth mentioning." Robin suddenly shifted, sparing a quick look outside the restaurant's huge front window. "They needed a tool and I dropped it off."

"Where are you working? I heard you moved back here but…" Kim resisted seeking out her old friend upon learning that Robin had returned to Germany. Too many unresolved feelings still lingered.

"I know." Robin offered an apology. "I should have looked you up. After my parents…"

Reaching across the table, Kim cupped Robin's hand. "I'm sorry. I know how close all of you were." Wanting to spring alive a lighter subject, Kim asked. "How's Ross? Last I heard he was married with several children."

This brought a smile to Robin's face. "Four. He stayed in Dallas after…" Again, Robin refused to say the word. "He has his own business and keeps trying to convince me to move back there."

A concerned frown crossed the younger woman's face upon hearing that statement. "Are you?"

"No." Robin said all too quickly then diverted the subject from herself. "Enough about me. How are you?"

The pensive look on Kim's face told only part of the story. As always it didn't take much prompting for the younger woman to open her emotional floodgates to Robin. "I suppose you want to know about Sandro?"

"Only if you want to tell me. I would never…" Robin unconsciously leaned back in her seat.

This brought a smile to Kim's face because Robin was never one to pressure or make her feel uncomfortable, quite the contrary. Fond memories of her cousin, Yasmin, and her school friends flooded Kim's mind.

"What are you smiling about?" Robin reached across the table, nudging Kim's hand. "Tell me."

Kim let out a short laugh. "I was just remembering the time when my cousin, you and the rest of the gang snuck out of the dorm."

"At the foreign language school? I remember." She waited a moment while the waitress served their pizza. "Danke." Robin ensured Kim got the first pizza before grabbing a slice. "Which time are you talking about? There were so many."

"The time we all got drunk." Kim took a big bite from her slice of pizza. "This is good."

Robin grinned at the younger woman's enthusiasm as she watched Kim devour the whole piece. Shoving the pan across the table, she said. "Take another one." Pausing only briefly before she said. "Try to save Sascha a piece though."

With her mouth full, Kim looked up. "Oh…you!" The auburn haired woman playfully threw a napkin at Robin. "You know I like to eat."

"For be it for me to try and stop you." Robin teased. "You always could hold your food…but not your liquor. And just for the record, I never got drunk."

Kim sprouted a suspicious green eye at Robin.

"Okay, okay… there was a time or two that I ended up praying to the porcelain goddess but never did I drink too much when you were with us." Robin insisted.

Kim turned thoughtful after that statement. "No. You were always the one watching out for us."

The dark haired woman shook off the compliment as if it was a foreign invader. She was not used to such kind words spun her way. "That's not true."

Sensing that her friend was embarrassed, Kim changed the subject but not before declaring one final thought. "It is. You were our protector. And don't you dare contradict me." Robin acquiesced without a word so Kim continued. "Now you never did tell me where you're working at?"

Robin and Kim engaged in idle conversation talking about everything and nothing. They briefly touched upon where they worked and what had happened to them over the last ten years since the last time they saw each other. It wasn't until the waitress slipped the bill on the table that Robin checked her watch. "We've been here over an hour. I need to get back."

As Robin paid the bill, Kim collected the remaining pizza to take back to Sascha. The taller woman opened the door, allowing Kim to go first. As she did, she deliberately bumped her hip against Robin. "Move over. Remember I had four pieces."

The couple was still laughing when they walked back into the movie theater. "Sascha, here you go." Kim handed the cardboard box to the young girl. "It took everything I had to make sure there was some left for you."

"Funny." Robin nudged Kim causing both of them to share a laugh. When Robin noticed the strange look on Sascha's face, she immediately remembered her responsibility at the movie theater. "I'm going to check the movie monitors first but I can give you a ride home now if you want."

Everyone at the movie theater liked and respected Robin. She had worked there for over five years and knew every nuance of the place. Robin was always the consummate professional. And during the last year and half that Sascha had worked there, she had come to know Robin quite well. As well as the sometimes stoic Robin would let anyone. However, seeing Robin with Kim, the young girl noticed something different about the projectionist. "No, I called my boyfriend. He should be waiting outside."

"I'm sorry. It was my fault." Kim started to explain.

Sascha waved off the apology. "Don't worry about it." She gathered her purse and the box of pizza. "Besides, my boyfriend will love you for this."

"Bye." Kim waved before she walked into the cashier's office where Robin was checking the monitors.

At first Robin didn't acknowledge Kim's presence as she stood next to her. The strange look on Sascha's face along with the realization that she had fell easily into letting her guard down around Kim somehow made her feel off balance. She needed to reclaim that steadying feeling that grounded her.

Kim watched her silent friend unconsciously play with the lone loop earring in her left lobe, as Robin intently seemed to study the monitors. It was then she noticed that Robin did not have one in the right ear. "Did you lose an earring?"

Robin didn't move.

When Kim touched Robin's arm, it startled her. "Sorry. I was just asking about your earring."

The older woman flicked the earring one last time. "Oh, yeah. I'm sorry what did you say?"

Pointing to Robin's right ear. "Did you lose it?"

"No. Actually, I didn't wear any for awhile then when I decided to start again, this one closed shut." Robin shrugged. "I only wear one now."

Kim studied her friend for a long moment before declaring. "I like it."

Shyly, Robin reluctantly accepted the compliment. When her down turned eyes raised to meet Kim, the younger woman smiled. "Danke."

Kim stared deeply into Robin's fluid brown eyes where they both shared a moment of familiarity and something else that the older woman couldn't describe and the younger woman recognized.

Out of the side of her vision, Robin noticed the movie credits on the monitor running. "Show's over." Kim's green eyes held onto her friend's eyes for a second longer than Robin could withstand. "I should go… I need to get… my movie's finished."

Over the next twenty minutes, Kim acted as a tag along as Robin closed up the movie theater. When they were ready to go, Robin opened the door for Kim. "Time to take you home."

Kim pouted. "What if I don't want to go home?"

Robin checked her watch, noting the late hour. Recalling part of their conversation about where Kim worked, Robin reminded her friend. "I thought you told me you have to be at work at ten in the morning."

"Okay. You can take me home… if you promise me, you'll stop by and see me tomorrow."

Robin looked at her watch again and seeing the midnight hour had passed, she kidded. "You mean today?"

Kim crossed her arms and offered yet another pout at being teased by her friend. "Is it a deal or not?"

Robin extended her hand. "Deal."



Chapter Five

As was her habit every weekend morning around seven Robin got up and went to the living room where she opened the blinds. "Don't want the neighbors to think I'm lazy and sleep in." Peeking outside, she could see the sun shining in the clear sky, bringing a smile to her face. She briefly stopped by the bathroom before crawling back in bed. She slept until eight-thirty.

Her first stop on her weekly excursion was a visit at the cemetery where her parents were buried. Robin lovingly sorted through the few weeds that had sprouted up since her last visit then carefully planted her mother's favorite flower and lit a candle.

Standing, she sucked in a deep breath. For the last six years, Robin made her weekly vigil to see her parents and talked with them. Sometimes the talks were long and other times a simple 'hello' would suffice. Today, she felt somehow elated and at the same time unsure about things in her life. She scraped the ground with her shoe several times, trying to cast off this uneasy feeling inside her.

"Mama… I miss you. Both of you. I know…" She hesitated, looking around to see if anyone was near. "You're somehow always there… watching over me. Making sure I don't do anything I'm not supposed to." Robin knew without a doubt that her mom would give her a little tap on the head if she was out of line or needed that extra nudge in order to stay on the right course. "You remember Kim Patakas? She's Yasmin's little cousin… from school. Anyway, I saw her last night. We talked. It was good to see her again. It brought back a lot of memories." As if stuck for words, Robin fell silent. "Well, she wants me to stop by and see her today. I think I will."

As Robin walked away, she knew her mother was smiling.

The next trip was to the butcher shop at Market Square. Robin hurriedly selected several sausages before crossing the street to the bakery where she added some rolls to her shopping bag. When she came out of the bakery, Robin spied the local tourist information office where she knew Kim's cousin Yasmin Patakas worked. Dietrich now. Robin updated Yassi's last name as she had married right out of school. That memory tore at Robin's heart.

But a smile came to her face, as she looked further down the street to see the bookstore where Kim worked. Checking her watch, Robin hurriedly dumped her foodstuff in her car and walked the short block along Market Square.

When the doorbell chimed, Amanda looked up to greet the first customer of the day. Vaguely recognizing the young woman that entered, she asked. "May I help you?"

"Amanda? It's me. Robin Hart."

"Oh, yes." Amanda tapped her face upon recognizing the younger woman. "You haven't changed much. Other than your hair's shorter."

Robin ran her hand through her very short hair. "My summer cut."

The sixty-five year old woman touched Robin's upper arm as she guided her further inside the store. "Been working out?"

Robin shrugged. "Not in a while. Lifting those big movie reels keeps me…"

"Hello." Kim greeted her old friend.

"Hi." Robin smiled.

Amanda's gray eyes shifted between the two women. "You two know each other?"

"Robin and my cousin went to school together. We were all pretty close back then." Kim explained her relationship to Robin.

Robin stepped up next to Kim, wrapping her arm around the shorter woman's shoulders. "Yep, she's just like my kid sister."

With that declaration, Robin beamed, as the light in Kim's eyes seemed to dim. Only Amanda took note.

Looking around the old bookstore that housed books of every kind and lined every wall from floor to ceiling, Robin said. "The place hasn't changed much."

"Ha. Not in the last thirty-five years." The storeowner shuffled off as she continued to speak. "Why haven't I seen you in a while? You used to be in here every week. Sometimes two or three times a week."

Robin was a voracious reader, which could be easily verified by the thousands of books that lined her bedroom walls. But over the last few years, she spent more and more time alone buried in her books. Not even venturing to the local bookstore. "I'm pretty busy with work and everything and I guess …" A bit embarrassed, she finally admitted. "Ever since I got my computer I download stories from the internet or order online."

"Mmmmm hmmmm…" Amanda sifted through some paperwork. "Sometimes I guess the old ways die out."

Wanting to make amends, Robin spoke up. "Actually I've been looking for several books and can't find them anywhere. I was wondering if maybe you…"

"Kim?" Her employee looked at her. "Will you take care of our customer here?" Amanda sucked in a deep breath. "If you two will excuse me? I think I'll go upstairs and get some tea."

Kim hugged Amanda before she turned to leave. The older woman headed toward the back of the store to the stairs leading to the second floor where she lived. Over her shoulder, Amanda instructed her employee. "Don't let her leave before she buys something." Robin and Kim laughed then the storekeeper added. "And make sure you give her a special store owner's discount. Bet they don't do that over the Internet."

Kim grabbed Robin's hand, pulling her behind her. "I'm glad you came in today."

"I said I would." Robin said a bit tersely. After all, she was a woman of her word.

Kim swung around and stared at Robin. "Yes, you did." She smiled remembering all too clearly one day years ago when Robin promised she would wait up for Kim and her cousin ensuring that a window was left open at the dorm so they could sneak back in. Robin covered for the missing girls when the dorm mistress did her nightly bed check. Kim never attended the foreign language school but was allowed to stay there for several days at time when she was visiting her cousin while her parents were still living back in Greece.

"You mean the night I nearly froze my…"

"That wasn't my fault." Kim waved her arms, playing innocent. "No one asked you to wait outside."

"Uh…huh. And if I had waited inside, you two would still be stuck in that big snow pile near the side of the road… after you slipped and pulled your cousin down with you."

Kim tapped her finger to her lips. "She never could hold her liquor."

Robin fussed Kim's long auburn hair. "What about you? You were fourteen and thought you could hang with the big girls."

"I did." Kim protested. "You're the one that had to go home from the party early."

"I was sick." Robin countered.

Kim giggled. "From drinking too much."

"Food poisoning." Robin gave Kim a stern look before playfully tapping the younger woman's arm. "I'm telling you there was something in that food."

"Anyway, you promised you'd be waiting for us…"

"Which I did."

"Which you did. A good thing to… we were so late…"

"And drunk."

"And drunk." Kim conceded. "You saved us."

Robin quickly looked away.

"The one thing I remember about all of that was the next day when Yassi couldn't believe you waited up for us. I remember her saying that she didn't know if she would have done the same. Not out in the freezing cold." Kim knew her cousin would not have done the same as Robin did for them. "I knew then when you said something you meant it."

"Of course." It seemed so foreign to Robin that anyone would go back on their word. Especially when it came to being there for the people you cared about. When Robin said something, she only had to say it once for it to be true forever. "What are you doing later today?"

Kim's shoulder slumped. "I work all day. Amanda's not been feeling well and tonight I'm having dinner with a bunch of my family… my aunt, uncle and Yassi will be there.

"Oh…" Robin seemed frustrated with the news but offered a small smile. "Tell her 'hi' for me."

"I will." Kim nodded. "What about tomorrow?"

"I have a soccer game at one. On the castle grounds."

"I see." Kim waited patiently to see if Robin would ask her to come by. When Robin just stood there, Kim finally said. "I've always enjoyed watching a good game of soccer."

"You should come then."

Kim smiled. "Okay."

"And maybe Yassi would like to come to." Robin's face brightened. "When you see her tonight, maybe you could ask her."

"Yeah, I will." It was as if the sun had set on Kim's face. Changing the subject quickly as not to reveal the sullen feeling inside, Kim said. "Before you go, you have to buy a book. Which one do you want?" Kim bent down, poised with pen over paper ready to take the order.

"The Woman I Love."

Temporarily dazed, Kim's heart skipped a beat. Thinking she didn't know if she heard correctly, she asked. "What?"

"It's the name of the book." Robin said innocently. "You know it?"

"Yes." Kim assured Robin she would order the book and call her when it had arrived. As Kim watched her friend leave, the younger woman revisited a dream she had so long ago and wondered if the fading fantasy ever had a chance of becoming reality. From a maelstrom of emotions, Kim shuddered under the onslaught of cherished memories.

************************

Robin and Michael Helleis scrambled for the soccer ball. Being a few inches taller than his teammate, his foot snatched the ball from under Robin's grasp. "Hey, we're supposed to be on the same team."

The muscular man smiled broadly as he bounced the ball with his foot. "We're only practicing."

"You better be that good during the game." Robin playfully poked him in the chest before she snagged the ball and kicked it across the field to another teammate. Michael walked to the sidelines with her.

Dunja Helleis clapped and yelled. "Did you win yet, daddy?"

Whisking his six-year-old daughter up in the air, he laughed. "Not yet but give us time." Then Michael pulled his son closer. "You two want to get something to drink with me?"

Phillip Helleis nodded as he walked along side his father, pausing only long enough for Michael to give a quick kiss to his wife.

"Bring me a drink, too, honey." Sarah Helleis requested.

The slightly shorter redhead felt Robin's arm fall over her shoulder as her friend pulled her in for a hug. "I'm glad you came."

Sarah's blue eyes met Robin. "Are you kidding? The kids wouldn't miss it."

"Yeah but I thought you weren't feeling too well." A concerned Robin asked. "Thought maybe we'd even miss our usual Wednesday evening play night."

"Come on." Sarah tugged at Robin as she led her over to their cars. "We're still on for Wednesday. And I'm feeling much better. Michael took care of the kids yesterday… so I had all day to rest. If you can call it resting with them checking on me two or three times an hour. I swear I love them but sometimes…"

Robin knew her friend was only kidding. She secretly envied Sarah's seemingly blissful life with her husband of ten years and two children. Sarah's only real complaint was that Michael worked too much. He volunteered to help friends when they needed assistance of any kind. "If they ever get too much for you… I'll take the kids but…" Robin bumped into Michael. "You have to keep this big lug. I'm not taking him."

"Here." Michael handed first his wife then Robin a bottle of water. "Talking about me again?"

Dunja yanked on her dad's blue soccer shorts then said innocently. "Dad, mom always talks about you."

"You're not supposed to say, Dunja." Her brother of eight corrected her.

"Why not?"

"Because." Phillip eyed his sister warily.

"Because why?"

"Because it's not polite."

Dunja sipped on her drink. "What's not polite?"

"Not you." Phillip glared at her.

"Okay… you two." Michael mussed his son's short dark hair. "Why don't we all kick the ball around before the games starts. Okay?" Both his children eagerly nodded. "Then your mom can talk about me in secret." He gave his wife another quick kiss before he trotted off with their two children.

"See what I have to put up with." Sarah smiled.

Swallowing the last of her water, Robin smiled when she saw two women get out of a car. She immediately recognized one of them. Nudging her friend, she asked. "Did I tell you who I ran into Friday night?"

Following Robin's pointed finger, Sarah recognized both women. "It can't be. I haven't seen her in a couple of years."

"It's Kim…" Robin said then upon recognizing the other woman, a huge smile rose on her face. "And Yasmin."

Sarah detected the excited tone in Robin's voice. "Yassi Dietrich?"

Waving them over, Robin yelled her greetings. "Over here."

Kim received a hug from Robin before she greeted Sarah. "Hi."

Shaking her head, Sarah smiled at the younger woman. "You look great."

"You, too."

Yasmin Dietrich hesitantly accepted the hug from Robin but offered a cooler reception toward Sarah. "Hi."

Sarah smiled as she nodded her welcome to her old schoolmate. "Came to see the big game, huh?"

There was no love lost between Sarah and Yasmin. They went to the same foreign language school but generally ran in different groups. In an odd sort of way, Robin was the connecting link between the two. Robin was never part of any one group. Since she arrived at school a couple of months after the semester started and by that time most girls had divided up into their own groups, she was more of a loner. She more or less drifted between the groups. Robin always considered herself the outsider. However, it was Sarah who was the first one to welcome her and offer her friendship.

Yasmin shrugged. "Well, Martin's out of town so…"

Excited, Robin beamed. "I'm glad you could both come today. Can I get you anything to drink?"

Both Kim and Yasmin declined.

When Michael dropped the kids back to their mom, he informed Robin the game was about to start. "Robin, let's get out there."

Quickly glancing at Kim then Yasmin, she said. "Wish us luck?"

Both Phillip and Dunja cheered Robin and their father. "Go Hawks." It was short for 'Castle Hawks', the name of their team.

************************

Kim, Yasmin and Sarah along with her children watched the game until Dunja informed her mother she had to go the bathroom. "Okay, honey. Right after your father…" Sarah jabbed her hand in the air upon seeing Michael make a goal. "Yes!"

Phillip jumped up and down as did Dunja but for different reasons. "Mom… I have to go to pee."

"Alright… let's go." Sarah made her excuses to Kim. "We'll be back in a bit."

"Sure." Kim smiled. Turning to her cousin, she said. "It's great seeing Sarah again. And her kids… wow. They have grown."

Yasmin didn't seem to notice as she checked her watch once again, mumbling. "He's supposed to call."

"Maybe he got tied up with work." Kim said as her eyes were glued to Robin who was guarding the net.

"On Sunday?" Yasmin huffed. "I'm telling you Kim breaking up with Sandro was the best thing for you. Men! Who needs them? They're just a pain in the ass."

Kim kept a close eye on Robin as she tended the goal, preventing the other team from getting another goal. "She's good, isn't she?"

Yasmin ignored Kim when her cell phone rang. Noticing the caller ID indicated that it was her home phone, Yasmin demanded even before she said hello. "You just get home? You were supposed to come back yesterday."

The younger woman took a few steps away in order to try and give her cousin some privacy. She knew Yasmin and Martin had been having marital problems with all of the traveling he did for work. To add to the tension was her cousin's suspicion that Martin was cheating on Yasmin. Kim was temporarily distracted from her thoughts when the crowd cheered because Robin had deflected another attempt at a goal from the other team. "Way to go, Robin!"

Upon hearing Kim yell, Robin took a brief moment to wave back. That's when she saw Yasmin look at her causing the goalie to wave again. This time with an even bigger smile. Then in no time, her mind was back on the game at hand. She glanced once more to the sidelines before she took three long steps, kicking the ball nearly the length of the field.

"He just got back in." Yasmin informed her cousin. "You want me to drive you home or do you think you can catch a ride?"

"Go on." Kim figured she could get a ride with Robin. "I'll be fine."

Yasmin started to leave as Sarah and her kids returned. Suddenly, she stopped and leaned in to Kim. "I'll call you later… if not, call me tomorrow."

Over the last couple of months since Kim was now living back in Hechingen, Yasmin used her as a sounding board regarding the problems and suspicions about her husband.

Their attention turned back to the play on the field just as Michael was volleying for the ball with an opposing player. They were locked in a heated duel with their feet when another player rammed right into him, knocking him down on the ground. The loud thud heard by everyone was from the colliding heads.

Robin rushed to his side as a worried Sarah looked on from the sidelines. "Michael?" The goalie snapped her fingers. "Mike?" Robin lightly slapped him on the face a few times.

Shaking his head and groggy, Michael squinted his eyes open. "How long you gonna kept hitting me?"

Relieved, Robin joked. "Until you can stand up on your own two feet and wave to your wife so she knows you're okay… or else she'll kill me for talking you into being on the team."

"Okay…okay." Robin helped her teammate to his feet, giving him one last look square into his brown eyes, checking for anything unusual. Once given the okay by Robin, Michael dusted himself off and waved to his concerned family. "I'm okay…. really."

Sarah let go of the breath she was holding. "Thank God."

"Good thing daddy has a hard head. Right mom?" The curly haired blonde girl said innocently.

Sarah tried to hold in a laugh, remembering that her daughter probably had overheard her say those very words to her husband only yesterday. "That's right, honey. That's right."

*************************

After Robin's team won the game, Kim noticed Sandro drive up in his sporty black Mercedes SLK 260. She felt a moment of apprehension bundled with a sense of anticipation. The auburn haired woman was in one way glad to see Sandro but in quite another wished to avoid any potential confrontation. Her emotions teetered on edge until a lean young girl with long dark hair stepped out of his car.

The winning goalie gathered the game ball and walked over to where her friends were standing on the sidelines. At first, she saw Kim's apparently anxious attention diverted toward some approaching cars then noted a definite change in the younger woman's deflated stance. Robin walked up behind her, wrapping an arm around her. "Everything okay?"

Nodding in Sandro's direction, Kim shrugged.

"I see." Robin squeezed Kim harder, wanting to comfort the young woman. "Just remember… I'm here."

Kim leaned into Robin, speaking quietly. "I don't want to talk with him."

"Okay." Looking around, Robin noticed Yasmin's car was gone. "You want me to take you home?"

"Yes." Kim sucked in a deep breath. "But not home."

Sensing her friend's somber mood and wanting to cheer her up, Robin said. "First we get something to eat then maybe take a ride. Okay?"

Robin said her brief goodbyes to Sarah and her family then to a few teammates all the while carefully avoiding Sandro or any of his friends. Quietly, Robin guided Kim to her car.

From a distance, Sebastian Stauss ribbed his friend. "You gonna let her get the better of you?"

After a hard glare from Sandro, his friend's laughter died quickly.

Hanging his arm around Nicole's neck, Sandro asked. "We're on the schedule to play them right?"

A now more subdued Sebastian just nodded.

Sandro let out a wicked laugh. "I'll grind her ass in the ground."


Chapter Six

As usual, Robin was the first to the office. Juggling her water bottles in her left hand, she unlocked the door then clocked in. After a short stroll through the lobby, she entered the small break room adjacent to the sales areas. Robin dropped off her water in the fridge and unloaded the dishwasher, placed the mugs and small plates back in the cabinet. Then she walked into the sales office where she opened the blinds on her rounds throughout the office, turning on all the computers. Next thing on her list was to check the fax orders that had come in overnight.

Her mind was not on work even though she smiled a couple of times as thoughts of Sunday's soccer game came to mind. Robin called Sarah later that night after taking Kim home to check on Michael. Apparently, Dunja was right. He does have a hard head. Her thoughts then turned to the unexpected visit of Yasmin. Robin wished she had had more time to talk with her old friend. The export expert smiled at the vision of Yasmin in her head. Then for some reason an even wider smile crossed her face when she remembered Kim teasing her about showing off while playing goalie. They debated that statement until Robin finally yielded to her young friend and reluctantly admitted maybe she was showing off an itty bitty tiny little bit.

She was drawn from her happy musings when Josef popped his head in the office. "How'd that part work out for you?"

Robin leaned back in her chair as she stared briefly at the stock manager debating whether or not to give him a hard time before he did that to her. Deciding to give him a reprieve, Robin's brown eyes beamed brightly. "Perfect."

"Must have." Josef smirked. "You never came back from what I hear. Have a hot date?"

"Met an old friend." Shaking her head, Robin knew she shouldn't have let him have the first shot. But instead of offering a smart retort, she grabbed the collet chuck. Holding it up in the air, Robin deliberately walked toward the older man. Her bluff was called when she realized he stood there unfazed by her mock striking pose as she held the tool. "Here. I told Mr. Patakas that we'd try and find out why this broke."

"Oh, now we're in the business of analyzing our competitor's tools." His bearded face was serious as he kidded her.

"Josef… will you check it out or not?" One of Robin's eyebrows cocked up as she glared at him.

"Alrighty." Josef took the tool before he turned to leave, mumbling. "Must be one of those days." They both knew to what 'those' days he was referring.

Robin yelled out after him. "No, it's not one of those days but I'll be sure to look you up when it is."

************************

When she woke, Kim stretched luxuriously in her bed. A very satisfied smile bloomed on her face that equaled the sun's rising outside her window. Spending the day with Robin made her feel wonderful enough so that it overshadowed the slight queasy feeling in her stomach. So many happy thoughts assaulted her mind, she didn't know which one brought more happy feelings to her. Then the tapping at her door drew her out of her musings.

"Honey?" Elena stuck her head through the door. "You going to sleep all day?"

"Amanda's got a doctor's appointment late this afternoon so I'm going in later than usual." Kim scooted up in bed to get comfortable. Running her fingers through her long hair, Kim smiled.

Noticing the serene look on her daughter's face, Elena winked. "Had a good weekend… I take it."

"Very." Kim brought her knees up to her chest then wrapped her arms around her legs.

As Elena sat on the side of her daughter's bed, she asked. "What'd you do?"

"Mmmmm… well, after watching the soccer game, we went for a long drive, got something to eat and… talked."

"What'd you talk about? Anything special?" Elena's inquisitive nature had to be held in check, waiting to find out more about what caused the almost blissful look on her daughter's face.

"Everything and nothing." The smile on Kim's face remained steadfast.

Elena grabbed at her daughter's foot, pulling on it before she practically pleaded for the details. "Come on. Tell me."

"Well…" Kim sat up straight. "We talked a little bit about the game. You remember Sarah… Yassi's friend from school." Kim pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Maybe not exactly friends but they are civil to each other…"

"Kim! What about the game?" Elena recognized the mentioned name but couldn't place the person Kim was referring to. Years ago, it worried her that her daughter seemed more pre-occupied with her cousin's friends than with making any of her own. When they finally decided to move to Germany, their daughter was ecstatic. It seemed to them that Kim left Greece behind without giving it a second thought.

"Her husband cracked his head during the game. And you know they have two adorable kids who have grown…" Kim's arm raised up two feet. "…since I last saw them. It was nice seeing her again."

"Who dear?"

"Sarah."

"Oh… what else happened? Anything special?" Elena was getting frustrated that her daughter wasn't taking the hint. She waited on baited breath to hear the impending news she hoped was coming out of her daughter's mouth next.

"Yassi drove me there but Martin called and so she left." Kim looked at her mother seriously. "You don't even want to know about that. That reminds me I should call her later. She never did call me yesterday."

Elena really didn't care to hear about Yasmin's woes but she did spare a moment to wonder why her niece was the one to drive Kim to Sandro's soccer game.

"Then after the game…"

"Who won?"

"We did."

"How many goals did our champion make?" Elena asked proudly about hopefully her soon to be son-in-law.

Confused, Kim stared blankly at her mom. "None."

"None?"

"Mom, it's kinda unusual for the goalie to make any goals." Kim declared.

"Guess I don't know as much as I thought about this game." Elena scratched her head. Sandro is always the one chasing around trying to kick the ball in that little net.

"But the best part of the day was later…" Another smiled graced her adoring face.

Elena practically rubbed her hands together hungrily. "Now we get to the good part."

"Yep. We drove around the castle after getting some ice cream. And talked." Kim capped her statement abruptly as if that should be enough.

As if hanging on the edge of a cliff, Elena waited. "And?"

"And it was wonderful."

"Kimberly Gayle, if you don't tell me right now everything and I mean everything… your mother just might …"

Kim pressed her hand on her mother's arm, calming her. "Okay, precisely what do you want to know?"

Finally getting her daughter's undivided attention, Elena posed her question carefully. "Was there a special question you were asked yesterday?"

Shifting her greens eyes back and forth, Kim couldn't remember any special question. "No…" Then quickly added. "…not yet."

"Okay… is there a question you would like to be asked." Elena didn't know why she had to play this cat and mouse game with her daughter but if it yielded the information she desired, she would.

"God, I hope so."

"And what will you say should this particular question come up?"

Clasping her mother's hands in hers, she exclaimed. "Yes."

"Wonderful." Elena leaned over and kissed her daughter on the cheek. "Now, I think I'll make a call." Silvia will want to hear about this. Neither woman wanted to be the last to know when their children finally got engaged.

Kim overheard only bits and pieces of what her mother was mumbling as she left. Something about plans and all the things she had to do. Perplexed, Kim wondered out loud. "I wonder why she's so excited about whether or not Robin will ask me to come to her next soccer game?"

***********************

After lunch, Robin decided to see if Josef made any progress on why the collet chuck broke. Maneuvering her way through the production department, she noticed a small crowd gathered around Josef and the production manager. "Hey, what's going on?" The whole group was studying the broken chuck as if it was an alien from outer space.

Scratching his head, Josef disagreed with Peter. "That wasn't a good test. Do it again?"

"Don't take it so personal, Josef." Peter gave the tool back to the stock manager. "It's not even one of ours."

"I've been here over forty years. Worked every part of this place more than once. And I'll only say this once for all you young whipper snappers… an intelligent man learns from his mistakes…" Josef closely eyed those standing around. "… but it's a wise man that learns from others mistakes."

Robin interrupted the standoff between the production manager and the stock manager by taking the tool from Josef. "Peter, try it again."

Upon taking the broken tool, he nodded before proceeding with a third and hopefully final test. Once again, the test yielded the same results. "Good enough?" Peter asked Josef.

"Just what I thought." Josef grabbed the tool, studied it for a brief moment before handing it over to Robin with his conclusion. "Substandard material."

"A low grade of metal, huh?" Robin affirmed. "Thanks guys. I'll let Mr. Patakas know."

A cough interrupted the gathering. "Ah… Robin? You holding some kind of impromptu meeting?"

All their surprised eyes shifted to the sales manager, standing patiently as he waited for an explanation.

"Nope… got everything under control." Peter waved his men back to work.

Nudging past Robin, the stock manager whispered. "Someone's in trouble."

Robin stood alone with only the broken collet chuck for a crutch. Somehow that thought made her stand straighter. "What can I do for you, Daniel?"

"Mr. Hermann wants to see you?" Daniel turned around then jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "And bring that thing with you?"

Several production employees smirked at Robin's impending meeting with the big boss. And it didn't help when she walked through the sales office and Marion taunted her. "Guess we'll find out now what happened to you Friday afternoon when you didn't come back to work."

The gossip around the water cooler that day centered on the mysterious smiles that peeked up unexpectedly on Robin's face all morning. No matter how hard Marion and several other employees tried, Robin refused to divulge any information.

Once inside the office of the owner of the company, Daniel sat down after Gunther Hermann offered both of them a seat. The gray-headed man propped his elbows up on his large desk. He took a long moment to collect what he was going to say. "Robin…"

"Yes, sir."

"Kostas called this morning." Gunther rubbed his chin before continuing. "He just gave us all of his business… thanks to you."

Inside, Robin was beaming but she shunned the credit. "I didn't do anything special… just delivered the tool he requested."

"Nonsense… although we do have the best tools in the business." Gunther leaned back in his leather chair. "And Kostas agrees we do… even glad to pay the small extra price for them. No, it was more the fact that you helped him in his time of need. You're the one that brought all of his business to us."

Daniel delighted in the fact that Robin seemed to grow uneasy under all the accolades she was receiving. "He's right, Robin. You get the credit for this one."

Robin shrugged. "The customer's the king."

"Is that the tool?" The boss asked.

Handing it to him, Robin said. "Yes, sir."

Mr. Hermann studied it a moment before he announced his own assessment regarding the failure of the tool. "Inferior grade of material." He scooted up on his chair. "See here." Pointing to the break point on the tool, the boss explained. "Ours will never break here because we use the best raw materials." He handed it back to Robin. "Kostas said you'd get back with him?"

Robin nodded.

"Daniel, we need to do something special as thanks to our good employee." Gunther rubbed his chin before he winked at his sales manager then asked. "Do you think we could slip a bonus in Robin's next paycheck?"

************************

Amanda glanced over one of the stories Kim had written. "Yep, this one's my favorite. We'll send it off first and see how the publishers like it."

Peeking over her boss' shoulder, Kim smiled. "That's the first one I ever wrote."

"I know."

"Well, did you know that story was inspired by someone very special?" The glow in her green eyes twinkled brightly. "That was my first big crush."

"Robin?" Amanda asked but figured she was right on the money.

Taken aback somewhat, Kim swallowed. "Why would you say that?"

"I'm an old woman, Kim, but I'm not stupid…"

Placing a hand on Amanda's arm, Kim started to clarify the intention of her question. "I didn't mean that at all."

Amanda patted Kim's hand. "I know you didn't. I was just teasing you. I'm right though."

Kim sucked in deep breath before the smile that rose on her face gave her away. "Yes."

"I knew it."

"How?"

Amanda glanced at her watch before she sat on the chair behind the counter. "The other day when Robin came in…" Kim nodded. "… you had that same look in your eyes as you just did a minute ago."

"Oh!" Kim said, not realizing her feelings reflected so easily in her expressions.

"And then there's this story…" Amanda waved the papers in her hand. "Most stories with heroes in them are male and your hero, Hawk, is female…. and she looks strikingly like Robin… come to think of it."

"I guess she does."

"You like her, don't you?"

Kim realized that a straightforward question deserved a straightforward answer. "Yes."

"Then my next question is how much?" Again, Amanda figured she knew the answer to her question.

The younger woman shrugged. "I don't know."

"More than Sandro?"

The auburn haired woman turned to Amanda. "That's all together different."

"How so?" Amanda wasn't letting her young charge off the hook.

"Aren't you supposed to have a doctor's appointment?"

"They can wait. This is more important." Amanda set aside Kim's story and crossed her arms.

Kim shuffled back and forth on her feet. "I don't know that's…" The young woman was concerned about revealing her true feelings regarding Robin Hart because she didn't know what Amanda would think but she was soon relieved when her boss spoke again.

"You remember Sadie?"

"Of course. You're partner." Kim stated the obvious as everyone knew Amanda and Sadie ran the bookstore together for years.

But it was the not so obvious that Amanda now declared. "Yes, she was my partner… in every way."

Looking into the storeowner's gray eyes was all it took for Kim to realize full well what Amanda was saying. "I… I'm sorry. I know it was hard when she died but…"

"It's okay, dear. We had many wonderful years together." Amanda allowed only a brief moment to remember her beloved. "In a town this small, we thought it better not to advertise."

"I guess not but it is getting better these days. Not so many raise their eyebrows about it anymore." Kim expressed her own wishful thinking on the matter.

Amanda conceded to only part of Kim's statement. "Perhaps. Still… it has a long way to go." Touching Kim's arm, Amanda offered her sage advice. "Don't let anyone else's opinions on it keep you from doing what's in your heart."

"What do you mean?"

"That crush you had on Robin…" Amanda's discerning gray eyes easily penetrated the thinly veiled shield of denial Kim held in place. "…apparently never went away."

Kim dismissed Amanda's observation with a short wave. "Oh… it doesn't matter anyway."

"Because of Sandro?"

Kim thought about it for a minute. "No, it has nothing to do with him… you see, Robin liked someone else. Oh, she liked me too… just not in that way. You heard what she said the other day. She thinks of me like her little sister. I'm afraid it's hopeless. Robin never got over her."

"Her?"

Just then the door chime rang and in stepped a curly haired blue-eyed woman. Pointing to the woman in question, Kim nodded. "Her."

*************************
"Robin, are you going to tell us what's been going on all day?" The very inquisitive Marion asked for the third time.

Like a cat that just swallowed the canary, Robin simply smiled.

Marion tried to rally the other employee sitting across from her. "Karin, what do you think? You think Robin had a date over the weekend?"

Mild and meek Karin wanted to stay clear of the teasing the older woman was giving Robin as she was relatively new to the office. "How would I know?"


*************************

Amanda gathered Kim's stories and stuffed them in her satchel. "I'll mail these off after I go to my doctor's appointment."

"Thank you, Amanda. I really appreciate it."

"You can thank me when you get published and have a book signing here." The storeowner winked before she collected her purse and headed out the front door but first offered a knowing greeting to their customer, causing Kim to giggle.

"What's with her?" The curly haired woman said, referring to Amanda.

Ignoring the woman, Kim asked. "What are you doing here?"

Sighing, Yasmin Dietrich complained. "It's been busy as hell at the office. I'm lucky to even get this break as short as it is. You got something to drink?"

Kim pulled out a soft drink from the small fridge behind the counter.

"Thanks." Yasmin sipped it before saying. "I thought you were going to call me yesterday. When I called, your dad said you still hadn't gotten home."

"Robin and I went riding around."

"That's nice." Yasmin leaned against the counter, her mind clearly on her problems. "I know he's cheating. Had some cock and bull story about having to go out of town again on Wednesday."

"Have you asked him about it?"

"What!" Yasmin acted as if her cousin's suggestion was ludicrous. "I can't just bring it up… I need to know for sure first. You have an awful lot to learn about relationships Kim. If I ask him and don't have any proof, he'll just feel justified and act like I'm some kind of jealous wife."

Kim did everything she could to stifle herself from asking the obvious question on her mind. But in the end, she found herself saying. "You are… jealous." Seeing the fury rise on her cousin's face, Kim added. "Sometimes… but aren't we all?"

"Kim." Yasmin stared hard at her cousin. "I know half the family says that I'm always jealous of what others have…"

"Like the time cousin Tamara had a clown at her birthday and you…"

Glaring at her younger cousin, Yasmin admitted. "That was different."

"Come on, Yassi. You've always been that way. But…" Kim winked at her favorite cousin. "… you have so many other great qualities."

Yasmin grunted.

"Why else would I have wanted to hang around you all the time when I was little?" Kim nudged her cousin. "For vacations, I always wanted to come and visit you."

"Come on, Kim. It wasn't me you were so keen to see all the time. It was Robin Hart. It was always Robin this Robin that. Whether you admit it or not you had a crush on her." Yasmin smiled when she remembered her little cousin tagging along everywhere she went and Kim kept asking where was Robin. It stood to reason that Kim would gravitate to Robin because when the other older girls at times ignored Yasmin's little cousin, it was Robin who gave her the attention she sought.

Shyly, Kim admitted. "That might be true but you were the one she liked."

Yasmin laughed. "Yeah, she certainly tried to show off. You remember that time on the bike when she fell?"

"She was trying to impress you, Yassi."

"I know." The older cousin smiled. "She was cute."

Kim leaned her chin on the edge of her hand. "Mmmmm Hmmmm."

Yasmin leaned over the counter coming within several inches of Kim's face. "So? What did you two do yesterday? Is it serious?"

*************************

Robin slapped the broken tool against her hand for the hundredth time as she gazed out the window to a bright sun shining day. Her thoughts turned to the drive around the castle with Kim the day before. "Wish I was out there?"

"What'd you say, Robin? Something about last weekend?" Marion pushed some papers across the desk to Karin.

Oblivious to her colleagues kidding, Robin just smiled as she swung around in her chair in order to answer the telephone.

**************************

Kim slapped her cousin's arm. "Oh, get serious. She still thinks of me as a kid sister."

For some reason that comment relieved Yasmin. Since her love life wasn't in full bloom, she wasn't eager to hear about others that were. "Okay then what'd you two talk about?"

"The old days at the dorm mostly and the soccer game." Kim had wanted to bring up the subject of her boyfriend but didn't know if Robin would want to hear her woes. "Speaking of games… they have a play night every Wednesday at the Old Brewery."

"Who?"

"Robin and Sarah."

Yasmin checked her watch. "Are you going?"

Kim slumped her shoulders. "Wednesday is Silvia's birthday. I was supposed to buy her a gift from Sandro."

"What are you going to do?"

She shrugged. "I really like Silvia. She's always been nice to me and I really don't want to hurt her feelings."

"Maybe Sandro already told her the two of you broke up?"

"I doubt that he even thinks it's really over between us." Kim noticed the customer enter the shop. "I don't know what I'm going to do."

"Well, let me know because I was hoping you'd spend Wednesday evening with me…" Yasmin's voice dripped with loathing when she continued. "…. since Martin is going out of town."

Kim gathered the two empty bottles on the counter. "I'll let you know."

"Guess I better get back."

For a long moment, Kim stared off in space wondering what the week would bring. It didn't help that she had a sick feeling in her stomach.


Continued in Part 2


This is copyrighted material, © 2003 Binkley and Freudenmann…all rights reserved. It may be reproduced, duplicated or printed for personal use only. For all other uses, please contact xxgsb@hotmail.com




The Athenaeum's Scroll Archive