tagRomanceKristiana Pt. 03: A Risk Taken

Kristiana Pt. 03: A Risk Taken

bycoaster2©

Part 3 Risky Business

I did pretty well staying in touch with both my father and the Nordbergs. We didn't always have a lot to talk about, but it was good to see a familiar face and we seemed to connect better with the visual reference. Hell, I had no problem with seeing Kristiana. She was, as always, very easy on the eyes.

The months rolled by and soon it was approaching winter once more. I found I didn't have any enthusiasm for dating lately. I hadn't encouraged anyone and perhaps that gave off the signal that I wasn't interested. It was going to be a lonely Christmas once more.

My father and I exchanged Internet purchased gifts. I got him two season tickets to the Reno Aces. He could take whomever he liked as his guest. I was hoping it might be a woman. He sent me the latest and greatest in road bicycles. He knew I rode almost every day and he went all out on a Trek Soho Commuter/City bike. It was a big improvement over my current ride. I called him immediately and thanked him for the extravagant gift. He thanked me for the tickets, telling me that in lieu of an available girlfriend, he would invite his next door neighbour who shared his love of baseball.

I also picked out some gifts for the Nordbergs. I hadn't sent anything in past Christmases since I gave Kristiana the pendant our first year together. I took the advice of a couple of young mothers at the office on what was appropriate for a three year old boy. Jan-Richard had celebrated his birthday in November. They suggested a wooden toboggan, something he wouldn't soon outgrow.

I sent Jan and Hedda the latest edition of the National Geographic World Atlas. They were often looking up locations where their guests originated and I knew that it was much more than just an Atlas. I hoped my father still had the one that I used frequently over the years. I almost bought one for myself.

It was much more difficult to decide on what to send Kristiana. Jewelry was out. While I wanted something personal, that wasn't what I wanted to convey right now. I was indecisive, so on a hunch, I telephoned Hedda and she willingly, almost enthusiastically, gave me the information I needed. I made the purchase and cringed at how much I was willing to spend. It didn't make sense, but I did it anyway.

The Nordbergs opened their gifts on Christmas morning and by nine o'clock I had a call on Skype, just about the time I expected it.

"Are you a crazy person, Richard?" Kristiana began. "This is too much."

"And Merry Christmas to you too," I chuckled. "Don't you like it?"

"Richard, it is beautiful, but it is too much. I cannot accept this."

"Gee, I'm sorry to hear that. I bought it on sale and I can't return it," I lied.

"I will be afraid to wear this for fear I will get it dirty."

"Model it for me," I said, still ignoring her concerns. Put it on and show me that it fits and looks good on you."

I could see her taking it out of the box and unbuttoning the front. I had purchased an obscenely expensive sheepskin lined suede walking coat in medium brown. I was pretty sure of my choice, but as she put it on, I knew immediately that I had chosen the right one.

"Turn around and hold out your arms," I instructed. It looked great and I was happy.

"Does it fit okay?" I asked.

"Yes," she said quietly, almost in awe of the feel of the soft material. "It is so beautiful. I love it, Richard. Thank you. Thank you so much. I will treasure this."

I thought I saw a hint of tears and I hoped it was happiness. This was not some spur-of-the-moment choice. Over the past seven months, I had made a decision and this was stage two. The first was to re-establish communications with her. Now the special gift. In the New Year, stage three.

It took a couple of clandestine phone calls to Hedda and Jan to discuss my options. I was worried that Hedda would explode and ruin the whole plot, but she managed to keep everything under control. I knew from experience that I could count on Jan.

I was keeping up regular correspondence with Dad and the Nordbergs. In fact, I was calling Switzerland and my father twice monthly. I would be heading to Bellwald the first of May for my vacation, just as I had planned. It was no secret and I was eagerly anticipating my trip.

For this trip, I had chosen to drive. I packed my goods into the seldom used Mazda and headed off for my adventure holiday. I stopped overnight in Karlsruhe, Germany, before completing my journey on Sunday afternoon in Bellwald. I must have slipped in under their radar because there was no one in the lobby, not even at the desk, so I put my laptop bag behind the counter and went looking for some live bodies. My first stop was the dining room and as I opened the door, the whole gang jumped up and yelled something like "surprise." Even little Jan-Richard was jumping around and yelling whatever it was he was yelling.

I was mobbed by Hedda, Victoria, Kristiana and little Jan-Richard, all wanting to hug and kiss me at the same time. I spent a little extra time on Kristiana. Jan and Karl were next with hugs and handshakes. It was quite a reception, far beyond what I expected.

I had my arm around Kristiana's waist and I hadn't retracted it yet. She turned to me and looked at me intently. No words were passed, but something was there. I could see it in her eyes. The little guy wanted some attention, so I picked him up and quickly gave him a rude mouth razz on his now exposed stomach. He roared with laughter and immediately wanted me to do it again. I obliged before putting him down.

It was early yet, well before the dining room would be in use. I had started very early this morning, anxious to complete my journey. Victoria and Karl drifted off while I sat at a table with Jan, Hedda, and Kristiana, little Jan-Richard on her knee.

"It feels so good to be back here again," I said.

"It's good to have you back," Jan said with instant agreement from the others.

We talked briefly about the trip and my most recent call. The subject of the Christmas gifts came up and I explained I wanted to thank them for their friendship and hospitality.

"Kristiana, you'll have to model that coat for me so that I can see it in person and not just on my computer screen."

"Perhaps later," she said with a shy smile.

"Did Jan-Richard like his toboggan?"

"Only every day we had snow on the ground," Jan laughed. "He nearly exhausted me with his demands to run faster. Later on, he decided we should go up on the ski lift and come down the mountain with the skiers. I had to say no to that idea."

"There is a little hill near the school yard that we take him to," Kristiana said. "He would stay there all day if he could. The snow is gone now, but I'm sure he will be back there the first day we have snow this winter."

"It looks like he is keeping you fit, young lady," I remarked. In fact, if anything, she looked like she might have lost a few pounds. Either that or my memory was faulty.

"Kristiana has been going to fitness classes for nearly two years," Hedda said with pride. She looks very good, don't you think Richard?"

"She always looked very good to me," I admitted, watching her blush with the acclaim.

"Can I help you with the luggage, Richard?" Jan volunteered.

"Thank you. Let's get a cart and we can get started."

Jan-Richard and Kristiana disappeared, probably to get him ready for his supper while Jan and I pulled the cart to my car.

"You brought everything?" Jan said, seeing the load in the back of my car.

"Might as well if I'm going to be staying for a while. Do you think Kristiana has realized I'm staying?"

He shook his head. "No. It will be a shock to her. But trust this, Richard. It will be a good and welcome shock."

I smiled. It was exactly the response I was hoping for.

I had separated my things into what could go into my old room with Karl, and the things we could take to the storage area in the rental building. We dealt with the storage items first before bringing the three bags into the hotel.

"I'm nervous, Jan. This is a big risk, surprising her like this."

"This is not a risk, Richard. Trust me, I know my daughter. This is not a risk."

I really hoped he was right. There was a lot riding on the next day or so. It was still an hour until supper would be served and I took a beer from the bar and left a five euro note in return. I slumped down into one of the overstuffed chairs in the lobby and relaxed after the tension of my arrival and the long drive from Germany.

I heard little footsteps pound down the hall and saw Jan-Richard peer around the corner to see who was in the lobby. When he saw me, he came running over and crawled up into my lap and leaned back. Not a word was said as he sat quite still with his head tilted back on my chest. It was one of those amazing moments that you never expect and catch you completely off guard when they happen. I thought I was going to tear up for a moment. This trusting little boy had decided I was okay and had come to visit.

When Hedda appeared, she saw the little tableau and her hands went to her face, her eyes wide in surprise. She turned back to wave to someone and next Kristiana came into view. She saw the two of us in the chair, resting comfortably together and I saw her blink, then turn away. She turned back and the look on her face was one I'll long remember. It was a combination of confusion, tears and delight. In a moment of inspiration, Victoria took out her cell phone and took a picture without flash. Jan-Richard never moved a muscle, but watched the adults as they stared at him. He had no idea what was going on, but it wasn't a bad thing, so he stayed put.

I don't know what prompted it. Perhaps it was the adults staring at him, but Jan-Richard began to giggle. When he did, I couldn't help myself and I giggled too. That set him off on another round of giggles. We went on like that for a couple of minutes before I couldn't resist.

"What's so funny?" I asked him.

"I don't know," he said in perfect diction. "Those people are silly."

That started another round of giggles. I'd never had the chance to interact with a child before. This was something quite different and it left me with very warm feeling of pleasure. We were communicating somehow. He was my friend and he felt safe in my arms and I felt like ... well ... I didn't quite know what I felt like. I knew I wanted him to like me and it looked like I had accomplished that, although I had no idea how. I knew one thing for sure, I really loved this little guy. He was very special and I was enjoying every minute of this little get-together.

None of the adults approached us. I had a feeling that they didn't want to disturb the moment. Children don't have a long attention span and sooner or later Jan-Richard would be off to do something else. I just didn't want to rush it.

Finally, I decided to say something.

"Does your mama read you stories?" I asked.

He nodded vigorously. Instantly, he jumped down from my lap and ran off down the hallway. I had an idea where he was going. Sure enough, a minute later he came roaring back, handed me a story book and climbed back up into my lap. I looked at the book and almost laughed out loud. It was Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham. I know my parents read this book to me when I was Jan-Richard's age. I also remembered my father used to add sound effects when he read it to enhance the story that I'd already heard fifty or more times.

I opened the book and began to read. It took about two pages before I found an opportunity to enhance the story and I let fly with my best Daffy Duck impression on some dialogue. Jan-Richard turned, took a look at me, and burst out laughing. We were off to the races. It doesn't take long to read a Dr. Seuss book, so my additions helped stretch the time out until he had to get his hands washed and come to the dinner table. He made me promise to read another one after dinner and I happily agreed.

I sat at the table waiting for Kristiana and Jan-Richard to arrive. Hedda was serving and Karl and Victoria had joined us. When we finished the main course and dessert was served, Jan took up his cue.

"Well, Richard, tell us about your career. It must be going very well."

"As a matter of fact, I resigned last week," I said, as if I was giving the time of day.

"Oh, my," said Victoria, and the look of shock on Kristiana's face was something to behold. This had come right out of the blue.

"What will you do?" Kristiana asked, clearly worried.

"I have a better offer," I said without elaboration.

"Where, doing what?" she persisted.

"It's in the hotel industry. I feel I learned a great deal working here and I wanted to put that to good use."

"Where?" from Kristiana once more.

"Here," I said simply.

I looked and saw the look of utter confusion on her face. "Here?"

"Here," I nodded.

"This hotel?"

"This hotel," I confirmed.

She looked around the table at her parents. "Why did I not know about this?"

"Because it wouldn't have been a surprise then," I explained in a level voice, trying hard not to laugh at her bewilderment.

I could see her trying to process all this as she sat back in her chair.

"What will you do?" she asked, still quite unsettled.

"Oh, I don't know. Scrub floors, wash dishes, clean toilets ... you know ... the usual management jobs."

"Richard!" she said, displaying a bit of temper. "Do not play with me. What will you be doing here?"

"Learn all there is to know about running a hotel just like this one. Helping to make some changes to make the Glacier Aletsch even better."

"Father! Is this true?" she said.

"Yes ... it is true. Richard has given up his very successful career with Rail Europe to come here and be part of our happy family."

"But Richard," she said, still trying to fathom what she was being told. "You were doing so well with the job in Holland. Why did you give it up?"

"Because I learned something important this past year. I learned that it is better to be happy than it is to be unhappy. Money and success did not make me happy. What made me happy was working here with people I love and respect."

"You are going to stay?" she asked, still not quite able to accept this turn of events.

"If it's all right with you ... yes," I smiled.

"We must talk," she said, getting up. "Let me put Jan-Richard to bed and we must talk."

"I'm sorry, but I promised I would read Jan-Richard another story and I always keep my promises."

She looked at me and I could almost hear the gears grinding. She looked at her son and saw the look of delight on his face as I announced my intention, then surrendered.

"Very well. Afterwards ... we will talk."

The look on Victoria and Karl's faces was one of surprise, but not concern. The look on Jan and Hedda was one of humour. They knew what I was up to because I had told them ahead of time. We had been planning this for three months.

I might have known that Jan-Richard would choose the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It was one of my favorites as well. I loved the cartoon version when Thurl Ravenscroft sang "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch." I still knew most of the words by heart and the young fellow was going to get my version of it tonight.

I don't know how long it was going to take for young Jan-Richard to calm down enough to go to sleep. I had him laughing to the point I was worried he might pee his pants. After a while he began mimicking my voice and joining in the story. His favorite part was the punch line: "Stink ... Stank ... Stunk!"

It was great fun and while Kristiana stood by with a frown of disapproval, once in a while it would slip and I could see a laugh being suppressed. What she must have realized was that I was having just as much fun as Jan-Richard.

"He's never going to get to sleep tonight. Tomorrow he will be cranky," she said, admonishing me.

"No, tomorrow he will be singing the Grinch song as I teach him all the words."

She took my hand and led me to her room closing the door behind her. She looked like she was about to explode when I stepped forward, pulled her to me by her shoulders, and kissed her. She resisted for about three seconds before I felt her relax and join me. The kiss lasted a very long time.

"You've come back to the hotel," she said quietly, looking at me intently.

"I've come back for you," I whispered. "If you want me."

I heard a cry escape her as she wrapped me in her arms and kissed me and held on for dear life.

"I was kind of hoping you'd feel that way," I said with a smile.

This time there were tears. "Oh, Richard. I've wanted you so much. I can't tell you how sorry I am for what I did."

"I forgive you, Kristiana. I did a long time ago. I know what happened. You were very young and he took advantage of you. If he could seduce a forty-year-old happily married woman, he could seduce and twenty-two year old unmarried woman. But that's in the past. We are different people now. You are a mother and much more mature. I am wiser and know now what is important to me. You are important to me, Kristiana. Jan-Richard is important to me. Your parents and this hotel are important to me. This is where I belong, and I hope you will agree that I belong with you and Jan-Richard."

"Yes," she cried, her eyes wide in surprise. "Yes, Richard. Yes, you belong with us ... me and my son."

"Our son," I said. "If we marry, then I will want to adopt Jan-Richard. I want to be his papa. I will love him as if he were my own. And I will love his mother as if there were no other woman in the world."

"If we marry?" she asked, now further in confusion.

I pulled the little velvet envelope from my pocket and opened it, displaying a ring.

"Kristiana Nordberg, will you be my wife?"

I got a nod and a smile before a "Yes" and a crushing kiss.

I slipped the ring on her finger, knowing it would fit. Hedda made sure of that.

"I have to leave for a minute, but I'll be back and I'll be staying," I said.

"Yes ... you will be staying," she smiled, kissing me once more.

I slipped out the door and walked to the Nordberg's suite, knocking lightly. Hedda opened it and I was invited in.

"I am to be your son-in-law," I smiled.

I heard the sigh of relief from Hedda and received a crushing hug as confirmation. There was an equal smile of satisfaction on Jan's face.

"Our plan worked perfectly," Jan said. "Congratulations."

"Thank you, but I couldn't have done it without your help. I had to trust that you knew her heart and that I could expect her to want me. The bonus is little Jan-Richard. He is a wonderful child and we are getting along very well. I will talk to him in the morning and tell him what is going on. He's smart enough to know what it will mean."

Hedda came to me and hugged me tightly again before kissing me on each cheek.

"Welcome to our family, Richard. We are so happy to have you join us. Kristiana is a very lucky girl."

"Thank you both. You have been so supportive. Tomorrow we will call my father and give him the news. He knows nothing about this, but he has encouraged me, so I'm sure he will be happy. I'd like you to meet him and I'm sure he will be here for the wedding."

I kissed Hedda and shook Jan's hand once more before returning to my room.

As I entered, Kristiana was standing by the window, wearing the sheepskin coat I sent her for Christmas.

"Do you like?" she said, turning and modelling it for me.

"You know I do. I like the coat too."

She began to unbutton the coat and I was pretty sure I knew what to expect. She didn't disappoint me. She was naked under the sheepskin.

"God, what have I been missing?" I moaned.

"Get undressed and I will show you."

It didn't take long for me to strip while Kristiana dimmed the lights and pulled down the comforter. I went to her when I was naked and embraced her, marvelling in her soft, smooth skin and running my hand through her silken hair. It had been so long. So long since I had been in her arms. So long since we had made love.

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