Geeky boys grew up to be geeky men. They only learned to hide it better.

Despite the expensive clothes chosen for him by his stylist and the body of a hobby triathlon runner that he’d built by regular training, Jonathan was still a geek deep down inside – a hyperintelligent, sensitive boy, who got easily bored by mundane tasks, didn’t know how to do small talk or be likable, and was delighted by things that others found weird. With time, he had learned how to hide that side of himself when he wasn’t surrounded by people who shared his interests. He even learned the art of small talk, which he currently used to entertain his business partner at dinner in one of the most popular restaurants in the city. In front of the others, he was a picture of success, with an enviable list of patents and a company recently voted the start-up of the year. In front of a mirror…he wasn’t such a great pretender.

It all boiled down to familiar, old and bitter, loneliness. Of course, he allowed for another possibility – that he was simply annoyed that there existed something in the world he was not good at. Finding friends and getting them to stick around was much harder than inventing new test procedures for the pharmaceutical industry worth millions. And whereas all that money he earned had made him attractive to women, he shunned them because he either had doubts about their motives or because he didn’t like them. Or, it came to him as he listened to the endless monologue of the man who sat across from him, because they were not Lisa.

How come he was thinking about her again? As he advanced through his thirties, he kept coming back to such silly, insignificant things from the past, as if they could be his guidance for the future. They couldn’t because they were not a source of any wisdom or information. They were just heartbreaking moments that reminded him of everything he’d never managed to achieve, and possibly never would.

Lisa was a girl from his class in high school. He could still recall her dark blond hair and big eyes the color of earth, which were as vivid as they were beautiful. She had a sharp, witty, exuberant personality, so it was no wonder that when the time came all boys acquired a secret crush on her. But she chose Jonathan as her partner for the science competition, and he spent one memorable spring, his fifteenth, in her company.

“If you will excuse me,” said the man at Jonathan’s table and went to the restroom.

Jonathan nodded absentmindedly and returned to his daydreaming about Lisa. Their science project, a system for water purification, had been a full success. Lisa had an amazing talent for design and presentation, and it was due to her charisma that everyone learned to appreciate how unique their invention was. It helped that she was very smart and quickly grasped the science behind it. Jonathan stood no chance. Even before the day of the competition, he was head over heels in love with her.

They won the first prize. For him, it was probably the start of his career. For her, he learned, it was the first time she excelled in science and was praised for something more than being a nice, pretty girl. The experience had changed them both for the better, but what had made it unforgettable was something that happened after the celebration at school. Lisa had followed him to the schoolyard, where he had retreated, overwhelmed by having to talk to so many people. There, under the stars that had never again managed to shine so brightly, she kissed him.

Almost twenty years later, Jonathan sat at the table and stared through the large restaurant windows, fantasizing about that kiss. Nothing had ever come close to it. And nothing had ever come out of it. The next day Lisa pretended it didn’t happen and he was too insecure and confused to know what to do about it. High school ended and they went different ways. She probably didn’t even remember him now, he suspected. Most likely married and happy with the average one point-six children, why should she lose time thinking about the geeky boy who had clumsily missed his chance if he’d even had one? It was only he who had nothing better to do but obsess over a girl from the past.

And obsess he did. The windows of the restaurant looked at a courtyard, or more of a passage, through which a promenade ran. A couple came by and remained standing in the pool of light that spilled from the windows so that Jonathan could see them. The woman was wearing a winter coat, and her dark blond hair peeked under a woolen hat. The man…Jonathan didn’t manage to look at him because his eyes darted back to the woman. She reminded him of Lisa so much that he started to worry about his sanity. It was one thing to reminisce about her, and another to see her in the faces of strangers.

Before he could stop staring, however, the scene in front of his eyes took a turn for the ugly. The couple was quarreling – it couldn’t be overlooked. The woman threw something into the bushes that grew below the restaurant window, while the man kept talking but it didn’t seem to change her decision. Her shoulders were slumped, and she looked utterly defeated. Jonathan almost diverted his gaze because he didn’t want to pry. People had a right to privacy when their world was so obviously falling apart. But, at the same moment when he decided to look the other way, the woman turned to the window, and he saw her face. It was lovely and desperate, it was covered in tears, which were freely flowing down her cheeks, and it was…Lisa?

It was Lisa, Jonathan realized in one thunderbolt moment. She didn’t see him because she wasn’t looking at the people inside the restaurant. He nearly waved to attract her attention but stopped himself in time. No, she might not recognize him. He should go out and say hello, maybe? But she was crying, and that man was still there. Who was he anyway?

Jonathan stood up from his place without thinking clearly. At the same time, his business partner showed up, returning from the restroom. They almost collided. Jonathan hesitated, torn between the impulsive wish to talk to the woman outside, and the sense of propriety. He couldn’t just leave and saying that he’d seen his high school crush on the street and wanted to check if she remembered him didn’t sound as much of an explanation. And then, he glanced at the window again and no one was there anymore. Lisa was gone.

It took some effort for Jonathan to get himself under control again, but the dinner was almost over and after pinpointing the date for the next meeting, the other man left. Jonathan remained sitting in the restaurant, unsure why he was not on his way home. He ordered another glass of wine, and although he didn’t want it, it gave him time to arrange his thoughts and calm down. And linger, staring at the window with all the longing of a love-struck puppy, hoping that Lisa might show up again.

If it had been Lisa, he tried to reprimand himself and laugh at his own stupidity. However, that weird organ inside of his chest called a heart didn’t doubt for one second. It was her. What was she doing in this city? How long had she been living here already? How many times had they missed each other on the streets or in the subway, or been at the same place only seconds apart? Jonathan decided not to go there, for the sake of his serenity. Who knows, maybe she was just visiting? He hoped not, because that would mean their paths might never cross again. But even if they did, what then, he wondered?

No, it was time for him to pay and leave, and stop being a sentimental fool. He called the server and gave him his credit card, impatiently waiting to get it back. In the meantime, he finished his wine, his eyes drifting towards the window where he could still see the reflection of Lisa’s tearful face.

People passed on the other side of the glass, old and young, lonely or holding hands with someone, hurrying to live and love, and Jonathan fought the bitterness that the last drop of wine had left on his lips. Seeing the server approach with his card, he left the empty glass on the table and got up.

Suddenly, a shape he’d seen before caught his eye. Without paying attention to what he was doing, he grabbed his coat from the rack, took his credit card, and stashed it in one of the pockets, all the time staring at the window. The woman from before was back, searching for something among the bushes. Jonathan observed her briefly, smiling unconsciously when he recognized the way she tucked an unruly hair strand under her hat. Lisa…

Coming to his senses with a start, Jonathan ran out of the restaurant. It took him a second to orientate and find the passage which led to the courtyard. There were still a lot of people outside although it was cold and getting late. For a moment he feared that she had left again while he tarried, but then he noticed her slight form there where he’d last seen her standing.

The December night was crisp, and the air smelled of frost and pine, probably because Lisa was trampling juniper bushes in her searching frenzy, all the time sniffing loudly enough for Jonathan to notice.

“Where are you?” he heard her mumble, and he stopped, unsure how to approach her.

“Lisa?” he tried.

At first, she paid no attention, but when he called her name again, this time louder, she turned to him, startled. She scrutinized him for a few moments.

“Joni?” she asked, her face one big, insecure frown.

Jonathan’s heart melted a bit when he heard her call him by the nickname she’d given him all those years ago.

“Hi,” he said. “I saw you from the restaurant, but I wasn’t sure if it was you. I…”

She turned fretfully as if she had only then become aware of the large windows behind her.

“You saw me?” she asked, a pained expression flashing over her features. But then, she smiled, as if she had just decided to ignore that fact and focus on him. “My God, Jonathan! You, here? What are the chances?” she smiled. “I hardly recognized you.”

“I know. It’s been a while,” he stuttered, unsure if she liked the way the time had changed him. On his part, despite a few more lines and the sorrow in her eyes, and she looking, well, all grown up, he didn’t notice too many changes. She could still make his head spin with one twinkle of those big, brown eyes.

“Centuries!” she sighed. “Oh, come here! Let me give you a hug.”

She stepped out of the bushes and approached him, catching him unawares. Her arms around him, the sudden warmth of her body, and the scent of her hair…Jonathan didn’t know how he managed to return her friendly hug without prolonging the embrace beyond the acceptable point.

“You look…different,” she beamed at him when she let go. “You look good! I still can’t believe we met here of all places. What are you doing in Berlin?”

“I live here. I moved shortly after I finished the university.”

“How amazing! I came to live here a few years back,” she said. “You know, if you’ve been a bit more present on social media, we might’ve found out about this ages ago.”

“True,” he shrugged. He never had time or desire to connect with the former school gang online. Or with anyone, for that matter. “But what are you doing…here?” he pointed at the juniper shrubs. “Have you lost something?”

She nodded and blushed, but he couldn’t be sure because it was dark.

“I think it’s hopeless,” she admitted.

“If you tell me what it is, I can help you look for it.”

“How sweet of you but, no, thanks. Maybe I just give it one last go. Are you in a hurry? Do you have to leave?”

Jonathan shook his head.

“Then stay put,” she grinned. “I’ll be back in a second. And then we can catch up, at least a little.”

She turned, retracing her steps, and started to rummage among the bushes again. Jonathan waited for her to be done. Minutes passed, but he was not impatient. He could stay like that forever, watching Lisa move here and there, with her nose to the ground like a bloodhound.

“Oh, here it is!” he heard her triumphant call, as she picked up something and held it in her hand.

“What is it?” he was curious.

She stepped over the bushes and came closer.

“This,” she showed it to him. “My engagement ring.”

It was a thin silver circle with a small stone, which, from what he could tell, didn’t look like a diamond.

“You’re engaged?” he asked, hoping his voice was not giving away his disappointment.

“Not anymore.” She put the ring in her purse. “I broke it off, about an hour ago,” she said. “And threw away the ring, but I reconsidered and came back to find it. I figured it must be worth something and since as of today I’m most likely homeless and jobless, I should probably not throw away valuable items just like that.”

“Good thinking,” said Jonathan. “I…kind of saw what happened.”

Lisa looked at the brightly lit restaurant interior and sighed, “You and everybody else, I guess. I hope the scene didn’t spoil anyone’s dinner.”

“No, I think it was just me watching because I thought I recognized you, but then you were gone before I could do anything about it…”

“Then it’s fortunate that I decided to come back,” she smiled, even though her eyes were still sad.

Jonathan heartily agreed.

“So, what about that catching up?” he proposed timidly. “You want to go for a drink or something?”

Lisa looked around and then back at him. “This has been a long and quite devastating day for me,” she said. “I’m sorry if I don’t seem enthusiastic, but I am really glad to see you. I’m just not sure how much strength I have left for…anything.”

“I could walk you home?” Jonathan offered.

“I don’t think I want to go home. My fiancé, correction, my former fiancé is probably there. I’m not ready to deal with him just yet,” she said. “You know what, maybe that drink is not such a bad idea after all. Just around the corner, there is a street…”

“Full of bars. I know. I live here, remember?” he laughed. “Which one’s your favorite?”

It didn’t take them long to get to the bar and in the meantime, they exchanged a few words, like two strangers that they effectively were, Jonathan reminded himself. Just because they had attended the same school two decades ago – and kissed once, his memory whispered – didn’t mean that they could relax or knew anything about the other person. But the longer they talked, the more he recognized everything he’d loved and found great about the high school Lisa. It was still there, and she was still the same, just like he was because people didn’t change in their essence. The only thing changing was the illusions they had about themselves.

“The first round’s on me,” she said once they found a free table in one corner of the bar and wriggled out of their coats.

“How many rounds do you plan to have?” Jonathan wondered.

“Enough for you to tell me all about yourself.”

“There’s not that much to tell.”

“Really? No photos of your wife and kids?” she joked. He shook his head. “A dog at least?”

“I had a couple of gerbils once,” Jonathan replied. “No photos, though, sorry. What about you?”

“Well, you had a chance to see the guy I spent the last couple of years of my life on,” she let out a slightly shaky breath but managed to smile bravely. “No kids. Luckily.”

The server, a woman in a black T-shirt and apron, approached and brought them drink menus.

“We’ll have tequila shots, for the beginning,” said Lisa without looking at it. “And then, a cocktail. They have great cocktails here.”

“I’ve been here before, you know,” he admitted. “I love their…”

“Mojito,” she said at the same time as he, and they laughed. How he adored the sound of her laughter. It transported him back to those after-school hours in the chemistry lab when they’d worked on their project, and he had been busy mostly staring at her. He reminded himself not to do the same thing now, but it was difficult.

“You know, I have to change the initial statement,” she said. “We’ll have as many rounds as it takes for me to get drunk enough to forget about how I almost married someone who was so not worth it. Which might be quite a lot of alcohol.”

“No worries. I’m paying,” smiled Jonathan. “It’s only fair. You mentioned you were jobless…”

“Oh, well, practically. My ex and I have a small firm offering IT support and webpage design and stuff, but I can’t see myself working with him any time soon, so…oh God, I don’t want to think about it now. It’s such a mess. Let’s just drink. And talk. Tell me, what have you been up to all these years?”

Jonathan tried to tell her, and she seemed eager to listen to all he had to say, but each time he formed a sentence in his head it seemed too much like bragging. He didn’t want to brag or sound like he thought he was something special just because he’d be able to retire before he turned forty. Or maybe he just wanted to avoid that moment when people realized he was worth millions, and when he could see silent calculation in their eyes. Lisa might be different, but he didn’t dare test her. He valued his memory of her too much.

Finally, he ended up revealing as little as possible and asking all the questions.

She had traveled the world right after high school. Decided to study and went for computer science and media. Done an internship at a big marketing company. At some point, became a freelancer, and then…Jonathan presumed that at that moment in her life the ex-fiancé had made an appearance, but Lisa was reluctant to talk about it. Right until the third cocktail.

“Are you with someone right now?” she asked bluntly. Jonathan was half-drunk himself and they had been talking about the increasingly personal stuff so that the question didn’t bother him.

“No,” he said. “I was until half a year ago, but we split. I don’t think she loved me, and I didn’t want to be with someone just to show others that I can do it.”

“I understand. That would be pointless,” she chuckled. Her eyes were misty when she took another sip of her drink. “I don’t think Alex loved me, either. Maybe in the beginning. But soon we became business partners more than anything else. And when lives get so entangled…there’s this research that shows the more time and money you invest in something, the more reluctant you are to let it go. I guess that was the case with us.”

Jonathan waited for a second and then asked, “What happened?” He as well was beyond worrying if a question was too personal or not.

“He fell in love with someone else,” she said quietly. “I guess that’s what happened. He says it is nothing, but how can it be nothing when they’d been seeing each other behind my back for months now? You know, I wouldn’t even mind if he had only been honest with me from the beginning. If he had just said – I’m bored with this relationship, and I want to try something else. I want to have sex with other women. I’d tell him that it’s fine and that I was bored too, and that maybe I could tag along the next time he had a date, and we could have this crazy, open, polyamorous relationship where everyone would be happy and…not bored.”

Lisa’s eyes filled with tears while Jonathan tried to imagine having a love life that included more than one person. He was an expert in multitasking, but that would have been so exhausting. No, he would have been happy with only one woman – the right one.

“But he wasn’t honest,” Lisa sobbed. “It’s the betrayal that’s so hurtful and humiliating. Why didn’t he just say something? How did he think it would end? With us getting married while he banged different girls on the side? Or that one girl, until he decided he could run the firm without me and told me to pack my bags? Oh, how I hate him,” her sobs turned into growls. “I hate everything about him. How he never cleaned up the mess he made in the kitchen, or how he always expected me to keep track of his appointments. Or how he admitted his cheating a week before Christmas. And in the middle of the street because he thought I’d be less likely to make a scene. But I made a scene anyway, didn’t I?”

“A small one,” admitted Jonathan.

“And now I’m having a meltdown in front of you, even though you haven’t deserved it,” she sniffed. “That’s what you get for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I need another drink.”

“How about a walk instead?” he suggested, thinking that both the place and the time had been just perfect.

“If you wish. But it’s going to be a very wiggly walk,” Lisa warned him.

“Maybe you and I can wiggle in opposite directions, so in the end, we’ll cancel each other’s wiggles and manage to keep a straight line?”

“Possible. But we’ll have to at least hold hands for that to happen,” she concluded correctly.

Jonathan agreed. The science of it could not be ignored and besides, he had nothing against holding hands with Lisa.

Once out on the street, he hesitated nevertheless but Lisa came closer and linked arms with him. “There. Where do you want to go?” she asked, looking up at his face.

To the moon and back – the ridiculous thought came to Jonathan as he watched the soft curves of her cheeks under the hazy light of the street lamps.

“Down the river, to the cathedral?” he proposed instead. “Let’s check out the holiday decoration.”

She nodded.

They walked slowly, gauging their balance, and laughing at how cautious they were, but the fresh air soon cleared the worse of Jonathan’s dizziness, at least the one caused by alcohol.

Even though it was late, the streets were not empty.

“This city never sleeps,” Lisa whispered. “I used to find that so consoling but sometimes I think of our little town and how much simpler the life there used to be.”

“Maybe it only seemed simpler, because we were kids,” Jonathan said. “Still, I remember some complicated moments.”

She avoided his gaze, probably thinking about the same thing – that night in the schoolyard and their kiss. Or maybe not. Maybe it was just him and his stupid obsession. He should have kept his mouth shut. His only hope was that he didn’t sound as if he was reproaching her for something.

They reached the riverbank and stopped to admire the reflection of lights on the water. Lisa let go of his arm and leaned onto the metal rails, the vapor of her breath curling as it escaped her lips when she sighed. Jonathan wanted to hit himself for saying the wrong thing. It was worse than saying nothing. When did he forget?

“But you’re right,” he tried to cover up his insecurity. “I am often overwhelmed by the crowd and the sounds. I think I’m still a country bumpkin. I live outside the city.”

“Where?” she wondered.

“The lakes.”

“Oh, fancy,” she laughed. “The rent must be huge.”

He nodded. It would have been if he were renting, but he owned the villa, together with a garden, a pier, and a boathouse. He smiled to himself. What would Lisa say about a boat ride in spring? Or a picnic on the lawn behind his house in summer? Suddenly he felt a strong desire to experience all that with her, and an equally strong fear that this would never happen.

“I’m stuck in an old building in what used to be the eastern part. Or I was…” she frowned. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. I should probably go there and pick up the most important things and find a place to sleep. I can’t walk the streets the whole night with you.”

“Why not?” asked Jonathan without thinking and she laughed.

“Because it’s cold. And you might have something else to do?”

“I don’t,” he said earnestly. “There’s nothing I’d rather do than walk these streets with you.”

Their eyes met and Lisa’s grew wider. She stopped laughing, sadness and warmth spreading over her face.

“You know Joni, I forgot what a great guy you were,” she said. It took a while, and the whole time she didn’t take her eyes off him, but at last, she asked, “Back then at school, after the celebration, when I kissed you, did I freak you out?”

Jonathan was so perplexed by her question that the only thing he managed to utter was, “No.”

“Then, why didn’t you do anything about it?” she wondered.

“I didn’t know what to do,” he admitted. “It was my first kiss. I thought that you’d changed your mind and were embarrassed.”

“I wasn’t,” she shook her head and frowned. “I was just…I didn’t know what I wanted.”

“I know. I wasn’t much of a catch,” he murmured with some cynicism.

“No, it wasn’t that. You were all one could wish in a guy. Smart, and kind, and attentive. And funny. But I was too young to see it, and I had this stupid idea that you should pursue me, and you didn’t, and then I was disappointed and decided to ignore you, and then it was too late.”

“I’m sorry,” he murmured.

“Now I make it sound as if it were your fault,” she sighed. “It wasn’t. It was me. I should have pursued you. I just never knew how to pick the right man.”

“I’m here now,” Jonathan said, wondering if he was too brazen but Lisa only smiled sadly and continued the walk.

The time ceased to matter as they slowly meandered down the street, by the river and the cathedral, and followed the main boulevard with the myriad of lighted linden trees towards the Brandenburg gate. Jonathan realized that for all the years and holidays he’d spent in Berlin, he had never walked with anyone like this. He’d never had the time or, he realized, the right company.

“Will you walk with me to the subway station?” Lisa asked.

“You want to go home after all?” he inquired, fighting the sudden pang of disappointment.

“I must behave like a grownup. And I must let you get on with your life,” she shrugged.

“How about…” he hesitated.

“Yes?”

“I go with you? Just to make sure you’re all right?” he offered.

“You’d really do that?” she beamed at him. “Oh, Joni, you don’t have to. We see each other again after all these years and what do I do? I recruit you to help me clean up my mess.”

“Hey, mess happens. It’s a part of life,” he said, all the time thinking that he’d do much more just to be allowed to spend time with her.

“Okay,” she agreed at last. “We’ll go there, I’ll get my stuff and ask a friend if I can crash at her place. I can do that. And then you’re free to go.” She took a deep breath and nodded as if to encourage herself.

All Jonathan could think of was that he didn’t want to go, that he wanted to stay with her forever, but he didn’t know how to say it without sounding desperate, so he remained silent.

The familiar subway smell greeted them when they reached the closest station. At that time of night, trains were not very frequent, and Jonathan secretly rejoiced to see how many minutes they would have to wait for a train to arrive. In one corner of the station, a homeless guy was taking a nap, and a few more strange-looking persons were walking up and down or sitting on the benches, but no one seemed interested in Jonathan and Lisa.

They boarded the train. Lisa took a place by the window and stared outside as they left the station. She looked tired and heartbroken and far away, somewhere where Jonathan didn’t matter and couldn’t follow. Oh, how he wished for her to realize that he had meant it – he was here now, and the only thing she needed to do was to pick him and forget about that other loser. But things didn’t work that way, he reminded himself. And he didn’t know how to make them work the way he wanted.

Lisa took out the phone from her purse and dialed a number. By the look on her face, no one was answering. She dialed another one, without success. After one more attempt, she lowered the phone into her lap.

“Everyone seems to be busy. Maybe I should just get a room at a hotel,” she said. “Or suck it up and sleep on the couch. After all, I’m paying half of the rent.” She gave it a thought but then shook her head. “I’d rather sleep under the bridge. Even if I froze to death.”

“How about you stay at my place?” he blurted out.

Her eyebrows raised, and he could see she didn’t know what to think of his offer.

“My house is big, and I have several empty rooms. Just for tonight, or until you figure out what you want to do,” he rushed to explain.

“Oh, Joni, I couldn’t,” she said. “I can’t impose on you like that.”

“You’re not imposing!” he shook his head. Couldn’t she see that he would be the winner here?

The train slowed down.

“This is my station,” she said.

They got out and climbed the stairs to the street. She hurried to the next corner, then turned left, and suddenly stopped.

“You were serious when you offered me to stay at your place?” she asked, her voice tense.

“Yes.”

“Okay,” she nodded. “I’ll just take what I need and then…how will we get there?”

“I’ll call a cab,” he proposed.

“Fine. Good.” She repeated it once more as if she were trying to persuade herself that she’d made the right decision.

They continued walking until they reached a quiet street lined with low-rise buildings on both sides. Lisa stopped in front of an entrance. Jonathan noticed her last name on one of the buzzers. While she rummaged through her purse, he called a cab service, telling them where to pick them up.

Soon, he was done, but Lisa still searched for something. Finally, she gave up and moaned, “Oh, no. I don’t have my keys.” She looked at Jonathan, biting her lips, and then shrugged. “I’ll have to ask Alex to let me in. I’m so stupid sometimes.”

“I’ll wait for you here,” Jonathan said. “The cab should come any minute now.”

Lisa scowled when she pressed the buzzer and a man’s voice replied.

“It’s me,” she said, interrupting whatever the man was trying to say. “Let me in.”

“Have you decided to be reasonable?” the voice asked.

“I’ve decided to come and collect my things,” Lisa retorted.

“If that’s what you want. But can we talk first? Please?”

Lisa took a deep breath and glanced in Jonathan’s direction.

“I know I messed up,” the voice continued to whine, or so it seemed to Jonathan who wished the guy would shut up. “But Lisa, won’t you give me another chance? After all that we’ve been through…”

“Just let me in,” she insisted, and yet it seemed to Jonathan that her anger was mellowed by the pleadings she had been subjected to.

“Of course,” said the voice meekly, and accompanied by a loud buzz, Lisa pushed the door of the building open.

Before she went inside, she looked at Jonathan, insecurity etched on her face.

“I…can you give me ten minutes?” she whispered. “I guess I should talk to him.”

“Sure,” said Jonathan. “Look – there’s the cab. I’ll be inside. You take your time. Whatever you need. I’ll wait.”

Lisa nodded and disappeared into the darkness of the stairwell.

Jonathan sat in the cab and waited. Ten minutes passed. Then twenty. The driver looked at him questioningly, but as Jonathan did not react, he went back to minding his own business.

How long was too long, Jonathan wondered. Twenty minutes? What was that compared to twenty years? And yet, after twenty more, he realized Lisa was not coming. Why was it so hard for him to accept that she might have chosen to give her fiancé of many years another chance? She didn’t owe Jonathan, a shadow from her past, anything, not even an explanation. Nevertheless, he couldn’t force himself to tell the cabbie to drive away. He couldn’t accept that after all the serendipities that had made him believe that wishes could come true, this was how this night was going to end.

But what did he expect? His personal Christmas miracle? A second chance with his first love? He tried to tell himself that it was better this way, that maybe he had been spared a disappointment when he inevitably discovered that Lisa was not the ideal woman he had imagined her to be. Still, the bitter taste of loneliness remained on his lips and Jonathan wasn’t sure that he’d ever be able to get rid of it after tonight.

He took a deep breath and opened his mouth to tell the cab driver to take him home.

And then he closed it because at the same moment in the rear-view mirror he saw the door of Lisa’s building open.

Jumping out of the car, he stood and stared at the sobbing Lisa, who was dragging two heavy-looking bags. Her face was covered in tears and some snot, and her woolen hat was askew, but in Jonathan’s eyes, she was still the most beautiful woman in the world.

“You’re still here,” she cried. “I was so scared that you’d be gone. I would have understood it if you left, but I was ready to ring at the door of every house in your neighborhood until I found out where you lived. I’m such an idiot. Alex wouldn’t stop talking, and he had suddenly turned into the perfect boyfriend and for a moment I wavered…”

“But?” Jonathan asked.

“I remembered you,” Lisa said, coming closer and dropping her bags unceremoniously on the ground. “Not just that you were waiting, but that you existed. You have reminded me of what I really wanted in a man. And Alex just wouldn’t do. No one would. Only you.”

Did she just say that? Jonathan could not control the infatuated smile that spread across his face.

“I’m sorry I took so long,” Lisa sobbed, throwing her arms around him. “Thank you for waiting.”

“No problem,” Jonathan whispered in her hair. “You are worth it.”

As he gently embraced her, he glanced up at the night sky over Berlin. Only a few stars were visible, but Jonathan thought that never in his life had he seen any stars shine so brightly.

Copyright © 2022 Verena Key. All rights reserved. The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.