“Yeah. . .Okay. . .Sure, I’ll see what I can do. . .Okay. . .Thanks. . .Love you, too. Bye.”
_____ hung up and placed the phone on the desk in front of her. She had just had a conversation with her mother in America that she would rather have not had. Her grandmother, her mother’s mother, had passed away that morning. When her mother broke the news to her, she didn’t respond. She was silent for a few moments before calmly asking the date of the funeral. She then learned that it was to take place in two days in America. _____, of course, was not so thrilled about this. She had lived in Berlin ever since she had married Ludwig, which was almost two years now. She had visited her family back in America, but only during Christmas. And now, she was being asked to travel halfway across the globe to attend one of the very things she dreaded most.
She sighed and propped her arms up on the desk, holding her head in her hands. She rubbed her eyes tiredly with the bottoms of her palms, then lowered her head and rested it on her forearms on the desk. She closed her eyes for a moment, but opened them to look at the wall clock.
Luddy will be home in less than an hour, she thought. She bit her lip. I should probably prepare how I’m going to break the news to him. . .
_____ stood up from the desk and left the home office, murmuring to herself as she made her way down the hall.
“Let’s see. . . ‘Ludwig, sweetheart, my grandmother passed away this morning and I’m going to the funeral in America in two days.’” She stopped and blinked as she realized how incredibly insensitive she just sounded. She sighed and walked into the kitchen. “I gotta go to the funeral,” she continued to herself. “She was my grandma. . .”
She thought a moment as to what to make for dinner, then just settled on making homemade pizza. After gathering all the ingredients, she began to work, all the while still contemplating how she was going to talk to her husband.
Forty-five minutes later, _____ washed her hands and slung the dish towel over her shoulder. “There,” she said as she looked at the fully cooked pizza. “It’s all done.” She smiled at the masterpiece, but felt a small ache in her heart, causing the smile to morph into a frown.
She jumped when she heard the front door suddenly open. Footsteps followed, and a familiar voice rang out, “_____, I’m home!”
_____ blinked at the uncharacteristic happiness in the man’s voice, confused as to why of all days he was so happy. She cleared her throat and took a few deep breaths before replying giddily, “I’m in the kitchen!”
Ludwig then appeared in the doorway, smiling at his wife. He stepped toward her and kissed her on the mouth. “Hallo, liebe.”
_____ smiled as happily as she could. “Hi, Luddy. Good day at work?”
He nodded emphatically. “Ja. I managed to get all mein work done, und no one interrupted me.”
“That’s good.” She tossed the dish towel on the counter.
“Und how was your day, liebe?”
“Hm?” She blinked, then turned her head to look at the floor. After a moment, she beamed at him. “It was good. Any day off work is good for me.”
Ludwig smiled at her, leaning down slightly to plant a kiss on her forehead. “Gut.” He glanced at the stove. “Pizza, hm?”
“Uh, yeah.” She looked at the wall clock. “It’ll get cold if we don’t eat it. What do you say you go change while I cut up the pizza?”
He chuckled, then nodded and turned to leave the kitchen. As he left to go change, _____ immediately let her fake smile dissolve. She sighed heavily and leaned on the kitchen counter, rubbing her eyelids. She then turned around, let out another sigh, and grabbed a pizza cutter.
When Ludwig had finished changing into his leisurely clothes––a simple collared shirt and old dress pants––he made his way back downstairs to the kitchen, but stopped when something in the living room caught his eye. He stepped into the room and smiled. “What are you doing in here, liebe?”
_____ smiled at her husband, holding out a plate with two slices of pizza. “I just wanted to eat in here, is all.”
Ludwig smiled and sat down on the love seat beside her, taking the plate. He relaxed and sat back in his seat, taking a bite of the warm pizza. He swallowed and smiled once again. “Ist gut.”
She smiled back. “Danke schön,” she said before biting into her slice.
Ludwig stared at his wife, mesmerized. He had no idea why, but he was always captivated by _____’s omnipresent grace. She was able to capture such grace in everything she did, he observed, and he had fallen in love with it. He had fallen in love with everything about her. He was so grateful that his feelings for her were reciprocated.
He was also grateful for the plate in his lap, and the fact that it was able to obscure the embarrassingly obvious bulge in his pants.
He cleared his throat in an attempt to purify his thoughts. “S-So. . .anything big happen today?”
_____ froze mid-chew. She looked down at the floor, then swallowed hard. “U-Uh. . .n-not really, no. . .” She pursed her lips. “W-What about you?” she asked, desperate to push the spotlight off of her. “Anything big happen for you today?”
Ludwig made a half-smile. “Well, everything went the way it was supposed to.”
She giggled. “That’s always good.”
The two soon finished the slices of pizza on their plates, eating in a silence that was comfortable for Ludwig, but utterly nerve-racking for _____. The whole time she was pondering over how to tell her husband about her grandmother’s death and upcoming funeral halfway across the planet. She wasn’t quite sure how much longer she could keep up this whole charade and pretend that everything was wonderful. She knew eventually she would crack.
Ludwig, on the other hand, was much at ease, sitting on the couch next to his lovely wife. As he looked at her, he couldn’t shake the feeling of how much he wanted her at this moment. He set his empty plate on the coffee table and gently took _____’s, laying it next to his. He then leaned over and planted a long kiss on her lips. He pulled away only long enough to draw her into his lap. His arms wrapped around her waist, and one abandoned her body to hold her face.
_____ panicked internally through her husband’s sudden show of affection, and although she would have loved to participate, she still couldn’t clear her mind of the phone call she had had with her mother. Her fingernails dug into Ludwig’s shoulders as she attempted to quickly sort out her feelings, unintentionally driving Ludwig crazy. He grunted and suddenly stood up, holding _____ like a small child with his hands on her rear and theirs faces toward one another. He carried her upstairs to their room, all the while kissing his wife madly.
_____ pulled away and rested her chin on Ludwig’s shoulders as he began to cover her neck with kisses. She let out a quiet moan, which Ludwig assumed was a sign that she was enjoying it. _____ tightened her arms around him and buried her face in the crook of his neck, using all of her will power to hold back her bottled-up emotions.
The two finally reached the bedroom, and Ludwig quickly closed the door with his foot and set _____ down on the bed. He then leaned over her, their faces not even inches apart, and they both seemed to tilt back until _____ was lying down on the bed, her feet still hanging off the edge. Ludwig lowered his head and kissed her once again, this time more passionately. After a brief moment of hesitation, _____ allowed her lips to move with his, her hands accidentally finding their way to his shirt buttons. Ludwig smirked through the kiss and proceeded to unbutton his shirt, revealing his almost skin-tight tank-top. He tossed the article of clothing onto the floor and returned to the heated kiss, moving his hand down to the hem of _____’s shirt. Just as his cool hand made contact with her skin, _____ yelped and pushed him away with a bit more force then she had intended. Ludwig stared at her in shock.
“_____,” he said, panting slightly. “What––”
He stopped himself when he noticed the now obvious look of fear on his wife’s face.
“_____?” he repeated in a softer tone, stepping back over to the bed and kneeling in front of her. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
_____ breathed deeply for a moment, forcing herself to keep her composure long enough for her to explain. “U-Um. . .I got a phone call from my mom today. . .”
Ludwig paused, taking one of her hands in his and letting the other run across her arm. “Und what did she say?”
She tightened her grip on Ludwig’s hand until her knuckles were white. “My. . .My grandma. . .passed away this morning. . .”
Ludwig remained silent, still kneeling on the floor and staring at his wife. He had met her grandmother before, and it didn't take long for him to realize that she was slipping away, physically and mentally. But, despite all that she had been through, she had still been a bright and happy woman, and _____ loved her deeply. He lifted his hand to cup her cheek and asked her gently, “Are you alright?”
_____ pursed her lips, but nodded. “Yeah. I’m okay.”
Ludwig sat back on the bed and wrapped his arms around her. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”
She pressed herself into him. “Well. . .you were having such a good day, and. . .I didn’t want to ruin that. . .not yet, anyway. . .”
Ludwig felt a pang of guilt. He had been so happy with his own feelings that he was completely oblivious to _____’s. He ran his lips lightly across her hair. “Are you sure you're alright, liebe?”
She sighed. “Yeah,” she said tiredly. “I just. . .I knew this was coming. Before I even met you, I knew she was slipping. . .slowly. . .So I just kind of accepted it way back then that she wasn’t going to be the same. She was dead to me long before this. . .”
_____ blinked as she felt something touch her cheek. She lifted her hand, and froze when her fingertips skimmed across a tear. Her breath started to shake, and her shoulders spasmed from her quiet sobs. She clutched a fistful of Ludwig’s tank-top in one hand while the other held onto one of his arms. “Lu-Ludwig. . .I don’t understand. . .I accepted it––I accepted that she was gone before she even left. . .So why am I crying now. . . ?!”
Ludwig pressed his cheek to the side of her head, catching the scent of her hair. “Liebe,” he whispered, stroking her hair. “It’s alright. Just because you accepted her leaving doesn’t mean you were fully prepared for her departure.” He kissed the crown of her head. “It’s alright to feel sad.”
_____ turned her head and buried her face in his chest, wrapping her arms tightly around his torso. She continued to sob weakly for a few more minutes, then slowly looked back up at her husband.
Ludwig leaned down and kissed her forehead. “When is the funeral?” he asked softly.
_____ sniffled. “The day after tomorrow.” She wiped her eyes and looked back at him with an almost pleading expression. “Will you come with me?”
He smiled sadly. “Ja.”
Ludwig and _____ walked out of the church hand-in-hand, clad in black apparel like everyone else. _____ looked around the front of the church until she spotted a familiar figure. She tugged her husband’s hand and went over to the woman. “Mom,” she called.
The woman turned, her reddened eyes widening slightly at the sight of her daughter. She smiled and hugged her daughter. “_____! How have you been?”
“Pretty good,” she replied, mirroring the smile.
_____’s mother looked at Ludwig. “And you, Ludwig?”
Ludwig half-smiled. “Ja. I’m alright.”
She nodded. “I got worried you couldn’t make it when I didn’t see you before the funeral.”
“Yeah, our plane landed late last night,” said _____. “And we overslept. . .”
_____’s mother grinned.
“Where’s Daddy?” asked _____.
She pointed to a spot not far from them. “Over there, talking to Granddaddy.”
_____ glanced over toward her father and grandfather, pursing her lips as she thought of whether to interrupt them or not. She smiled and hugged her mother one more time before going over to the two men, Ludwig following.
“Hey!” said her grandfather instinctively when he saw her. He wrapped his arms around her in a bear-hug.
_____ let out a squeak and wiggled her legs as she was lifted off the ground momentarily. “Uh, Granddaddy. . . ! You’re crushing me!”
He laughed and set her back down. “Good to see you, baby!”
She smiled back, then looked at the other man. “Hi, Dad.”
_____’s father smiled and hugged her briefly. “Hey, Missy.” He glanced to the side. “And Ludwig.”
Ludwig nodded. “Good to see both of you again.”
_____’s father looked back in the direction of his wife, and said, “I’m gonna go and check on your mom. Sit tight, okay?” He kissed his daughter lightly on the crown of the head and walked off.
_____ smiled as she glanced back at her father for a moment, then froze when she heard her grandfather say to Ludwig, “So, when should I expect to have great-grandkids?”
Her head snapped back toward him, her face turning beet red. She looked at Ludwig, seeing that he was blushing furiously as well. She slapped her grandfather’s arm. “Granddaddy!”
He laughed, and _____’s jaw almost dropped at how hearty it was. After losing his wife, he could still smile? Still laugh as happily as he did? That just seemed impossible to her. She imagined what it would be like if Ludwig died. When she did, her heart ached so much that she couldn’t stand it. She wondered if, one day, she could be as strong as her grandfather. She hoped so.
_____ leaned her head on Ludwig’s shoulder, closing her eyes. She let out an exhausted sigh.
Ludwig looked away from his book and at his wife. “Tired?”
She nodded. “Yeah.”
He kissed her forehead. “Don’t worry. We’ll be home in a few hours.”
_____ nuzzled his neck. “For being there for me. . .For everything.”
He smiled. “No need to thank me, liebe.”
“I love you.”
Ludwig smiled warmly at her, planting a sweet kiss on the corner of her mouth. “Ich liebe dich auch, schatz. Angenehme Träume.”