Authors: Elisabeth Wagner
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2013 Elisabeth Wagner
Translation copyright © 2015 Julia Knobloch
All rights reserved.
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.
Previously published as
Bring mich Heim
by Amazon Publishing in Germany in 2013. Translated from German by Julia Knobloch. First published in English by AmazonCrossing in 2015.
Published by AmazonCrossing, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and AmazonCrossing are trademarks of
, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Laura Klynstra
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014919939
Every day deserves to be fought for.
I had everything I could think of. I was doing great.
I was self-confident. I had the best friends ever. A fantastic job. A stable relationship. My first apartment.
I had a future.
And then . . . what was left?
I . . . I was all that was left.
But I hated myself.
Graz, June 2010
I had made it. Years of studying were finally over. No more sitting at my desk, hour after hour, buried in books. The library I’d acquired during my time in college disappeared in moving boxes, stored away in my parents’ attic, abandoned to dust and oblivion.
Now in my early twenties, I’d finished my studies and earned my degree. After laboring for three years, finally my last day of college had arrived. I’d enjoyed being a student. Among many good memories were some not-so-great ones, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Each experience had made me the person I was. The person I wanted to be. I was happy and proud . . . For twenty-three, I’d achieved a lot. Nobody could take this away from me.
Everything seemed perfect. During school, I’d landed an internship with the press office of the local newspaper, which had proven the ideal job for me. I was a very outgoing person and loved to come up with new ideas about how to promote the newspaper and how to connect people.
Then things got even better. My internship turned into a full-time position. I was ecstatic. I’d found my calling.
I was so happy that I couldn’t stop smiling on commencement day.
“Can you believe it, Mia?” My friend Julia jumped up and down. Apparently I wasn’t the only one feeling high that day. “It’s over. No more studying ever again. I was beginning to think we would never graduate.”
I smiled. She and I didn’t need many words; we understood each other without saying a thing. Besides, my expression displayed my joyfulness much better than words.
Our newfound freedom felt surreal. Never again would we set foot in this building. We’d made it! All those all-nighters had been well worth the struggle.
“Come on! Let’s get out of these gowns and meet the guys. I’m sure they’re already waiting.”
“You don’t need to tell me twice,” I said, grinning at my best friend.
We helped each other out of the huge, itchy, tentlike gowns, though the getup, especially with the cap, had made me feel very important. Then Julia took my hand and dragged me through the crowd and out the door.
“Hey there, beautiful! Are you ready for a surprise?”
Christoph, my boyfriend of three years, hugged me from behind and placed a tender kiss on the nape of my neck.
“You’re a knockout in that business suit. You should wear it more often,” he whispered in my ear. I craned my neck to look at him. “Babe, I’m very proud of you. You’ve earned a reward.”
I turned around slowly, still in his embrace. Smiling, I wrapped my arms around his neck and softly kissed his mouth. Even after several years with him, I still couldn’t get enough of those lips. Tenderly, rising on my toes, my own skimmed up his cheek until they reached his left ear.
surprise, I can clearly picture,” I whispered and nibbled playfully at his earlobe.
“Mimi, baby, you are driving me crazy,” he muttered hoarsely. His hands wandered down the small of my back and touched my butt.
I leaned in closer, but he loosened his grip, took my hand, and said, “OK guys, let’s hit the road before it gets too late. Markus, Julia, let’s go!”
Tuscany, June 2010
“Stop teasing and tell us where we’re going,” I begged Christoph and Markus, Julia’s boyfriend.
“Nope.” Sitting shotgun, Markus let his head fall back against the seat as he laughed. Strands of his black hair swept over his forehead. He turned around to look at Julia and me. I glanced at Christoph. An equally broad smile was plastered on my boyfriend’s face.
Julia pouted. “You’re so cruel. We’re going on a trip, right? Why else would we need baggage?” she asked.
The two guys apparently couldn’t help themselves. Their laughter grew louder. Julia and I sat with our arms crossed and glared. Then I poked Christoph’s shoulder, raised my eyebrows, and made a pretense of scolding him. “Do you have any idea what a pain it is for women to pack their bags without a clue where they’re going? Just so you know, everything I own is in there, and I don’t want to hear a single complaint that it’s too heavy. Do you understand? Why, we could be going somewhere freezing cold!”
My boyfriend shook his head. “Are you serious? You’re telling me that you packed winter clothes?”
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you.”
Julia pursed her lips, but I could tell she was trying not to laugh.
“Hofi,” Christoph addressed Markus by his nickname, “my girlfriend is insane. Winter clothes?” With wide eyes he looked at me in the rearview mirror. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Julia couldn’t resist any longer and her merriment spilled out.
“Well, that’s what you get when you don’t tell us our destination. Next time just add
. It’ll make things so much easier.”
Now Markus grinned along with Christoph. “Juli, please tell me you didn’t bring winter clothes, too.” Running his fingers through his wavy hair, he shook his head and sighed.
Christoph threw me a crooked smile. “Letting you gals know would have spoiled the whole surprise, so I’ll take full responsibility for your heavy bag.” He winked at me.
Seven hours later, we knew we would definitely not need our sweaters. Our boyfriends were treating us to a vacation in Italy! After the long hours in the car, my legs felt numb and my back hurt. I yawned and stretched my stiff bones. But who cared? We were in Tuscany!
I threw my arms around Christoph’s neck and covered his face with kisses. “Thank you, thank you, thank you . . . ! This is so sweet of you. My darling, you’re the absolute best. I love you so much.”
Christoph removed a strand of hair from my face and stroked my cheek with his thumb. His soft lips caressed mine. My heart beat faster. Brushing back a lock of his soft blond hair, I took a deep breath, inhaling his familiar smell, and held him tighter. He leaned his forehead against mine and looked into my eyes.
“I would do anything for you.” His smile broadened. “I love you, too, Mimi.”
I still got goose bumps every time he said those three magic words.
We spent a whole week in Italy. Though Markus and Christoph had organized the trip together, while we were there, each couple went off alone with their partners, then reunited as a foursome for dinner.
I knew Tuscany only from photos and friends’ travel descriptions. Now I was finally there myself, ready to have my own experiences and to take my own pictures. I planned to draw a lot, too—something I loved to do. I couldn’t wait to explore the medieval cities, to feel that special feeling, that one you get when your fingertips touch a wall that is many, many centuries old.
The trip started out in Pisa where, to be honest, what I wanted most was to have that one photograph taken that everyone has taken while visiting that city. You know the one—where someone pretends to push against the Leaning Tower, as if to stop it from tipping over. True enough, it was the first thing we did. Without that snapshot, I would have refused to move on.
Once this important task had been checked off, we visited the Piazza del Duomo and then the romantic cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, with its interior lined with splendid frescos. Christoph’s hand in mine, I stared at the ceiling for what seemed forever, in silent awe. Words could not express how I felt.
Our next stop was Livorno. We spent the entire first day at the beach, on an empty stretch Christoph and Markus found, an ideal place to unwind and relax. It was heaven. With the sun warming my body and the breezes from the Mediterranean assuring I wasn’t too hot, I sat back in my new bikini on my colorful towel and dug my toes into the sand.
Christoph hugged me from behind, kissing my neck and my shoulder, and whispering sweet words in my ear. “I love you so, so much. I can never get enough of you.”
I laughed and twisted to look at him. “Enough of me or enough of this?” I motioned to my body.
He shook his head in mock disapproval. “Whoever said men have only one thing on their minds was wrong.”
I shrugged, leaned in closer to kiss him, and—bumped against the hard sand instead. He’d jumped to his feet and was trotting off. Startled, I watched him.
He looked back at me over his shoulder. “You’ll have to work for this kiss!” he shouted, laughter in the words.
Quickly I rose to chase after him, but he turned the tables and ran after me. Realizing he intended to throw me in the sea, I screamed and tried to escape. But I wasn’t nearly as fast as he was. He easily caught up and, before I knew it, had slung me over his shoulder. He ran fast and wild as my hair fell over my face, and I squealed the surf grew closer and closer. Then he halted, only to whirl us around.
“Chris, stop it! You’re making me dizzy!”
He only laughed harder and whirled us around faster. “Sounds good to me!”
With a huge splash, we hit the waves. As I sank underwater, I opened my eyes. Christoph’s eyes were open, too. Our gazes met. He swam closer and grabbed my hips, and we rose together above the surface.
For a long time, we just looked at each other, grinning with happiness. I loved his smile, now reflected in his wide brown eyes. I could never get enough of him. He was my Christoph. Kind, attentive, and always there for me. I so adored him.
The remaining day we had left in Livorno was clearly not enough time to do the city’s sights justice, but we’d never regret spending so long at the beach. Although we had less time than initially planned, we did manage to explore the historic district, especially Venezia Nuova—New Venice—known for its narrow, navigable canals.
The next stop was Volterra. I knew Christoph had included this stop only for my sake. He liked to tease me about my infatuation with the place. The book
was set there, and every time I read the novel or watched the movie, I raved about it.
Christoph, of course, could no longer stand watching the film, I’d insisted on it so many times. But even he was impressed by the beauty of real-life Volterra, something no film or book could equal.
Hand in hand, we wandered through the narrow medieval alleys and the Porta all’Arco, the city gate dating back to Etruscan times. We admired the Palazzo dei Priori, the town’s ancient palace. From time to time, Christoph would draw me close and kiss me passionately on one of the many overlooks that offered stunning views. How I wished we could stay longer.
Unfortunately, our trip neared its end far too soon, with only two days left for Florence—barely enough time to sample its treasures. Still, we kept our pace leisurely as we strolled through the medieval streets. I admired the old houses and let my fingers run over their rough Tuscan stone walls. I have always enjoyed touching surfaces, appreciating the feel of them—warm or cold, soft or hard—experiencing them with all my senses. It is the only way to really take in the surroundings and makes discovering something new so much more intense and exciting.
For our final stop, Christoph and I visited the famous cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore. Up close, it seemed almost unreal, it was that powerful . . . that immense. We walked up all 414 steps to the campanile—yes, we counted them. We also climbed the narrow and steep stairs to the cupola, a strenuous undertaking. But once at the top, the dazzling views made us forget the painstaking ascent.
We’d waited in line a long time to get into the cathedral, so once we’d had our fill of the scenery, we called it quits.
The next day, the four of us indulged in an exquisite lunch before hitting the road back to Graz. Cherishing the memories of our trip already, I knew I could never have imagined a better way to celebrate my graduation.
Once we were home, Christoph dropped me off at my apartment. After carrying my bags upstairs, he leaned against the door frame with a smile on his face, his eyes tired from the long drive. Even so, he still looked incredibly handsome. I was so happy he was mine, and I knew I’d never want anyone else. Christoph was the love of my life. I knew it. Just knew it. Every time I saw him, I fell in love all over again, each time more deeply.
“Thank you for this amazing trip, Chris.” I stood on tiptoe and wrapped my arms around his neck. His eyes shone into mine and then closed as I tenderly kissed his lips, a kiss which quickly turned passionate. His mouth opened, and his tongue tasted my own. He moaned with desire. I smiled, my lips against his, and then leaned back in his arms for a moment.
“Why don’t you stay over tonight?” I murmured. I pulled him inside and closed the door behind us.