Johanna – 5-2

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I woke up and looked around confused for a moment before I realized where I was – at the Jagerhof Hotel in Zermatt, Switzerland. I rolled out of bed, went to the bathroom and rummaged in my bad to get dressed. I found that I had only packed one set of athletic underwear. I did not want to wear the sports bra and panties from the previous day’s hard skiing. So I had to put on a regular lace-and-silk bandeau bra and matching panties.I forgot about my underwear as soon as I was on the slopes. I began the day with much more confidence. I led the way down on the first run. I hit a headwall, took off and when I landed, I found myself in a steep rock-strewn bowl. It was wide open, and I really let it rip. I could hear the wind whistling in my ears even through my helmet. Every now and then, there was an exposed rock ledge or a small boulder, but on the wide expanse of the bowl, they were easy to avoid. There was nothing to slow me down. Just when I felt I was the fastest skier on the mountain, a red-jacketed figure flew by on my left, squeezing between me and rock formation so close that I felt the blast of his passing.Thinking it was Dieter, I altered course and chased hard. He was skiing smoothly and effortlessly, and it didn’t seem possible that he had passed me so fast. However, it is much easier to follow than to lead, so I quickly caught his tracks. We were going so fast, that I stayed a bit farther back than I knew I could, recalling my tongue lashing from the older Swiss gentleman the previous day. I didn’t want to run into him.It was a very long run. I carved a slightly wider turn to take a quick glance at my watch. I’d been skiing for over half an hour, but the slope ahead seemed to go on forever with no end in sight. Then all of sudden, the slope eased, and we were in a long gentle runout. I dug my edges in to generate a bit more speed on the easy slope and got closer to Dieter. It was strange, for his style seemed different from the previous day. He finally stopped on the flat, just in front of a small lodge.I realized immediately that several things were wrong. The signs on the lodge were in Italian! The red-jacketed skier put his goggles up – it wasn’t Dieter! He looked over at me.“You stayed with me all the way down?” he asked.“Yes,” I said.“I was going over a eighty kilometers an hour.”“I could have passed you back,” I said. “But I didn’t want to do any big jumps. I got yelled at yesterday for doing that.”“Impossible!” he said. “I saw you at the top of the piste. You have terrible form.”“Whatever,” I muttered under my breath, not wanting an argument. Then I spoke up. “Are we in Italy?”“Yes. Do you have an international ski pass?”“I don’t know,” I said, showing my pass to him.“This is a student discount pass. It’s only good for the Swiss side.”“Is that a problem?”“It just means you can’t ride up any of the lifts here.”“How can I get back to Switzerland?”“You’ll have to pay for an Italian pass.”“I don’t think I can afford that.”“Komm mit mir,” he said, abruptly switching to German. (Come with me.) He had a Swiss accent, but even though it sounded strange, it was quite clear and understandable.We went into the lodge and he spoke to the person at the service desk in rapid Italian. I stood by him, catching very little of what they said. The Italian at the service desk was a dark-haired young man who smiled at me a lot through the conversation. At the end of it, my new red-jacketed friend turned to me and said, “Du hast Glück. Er findet dich hübsch und wird geben dir einen Pass für eine freie Fahrt den Berg hinauf.” (You’re lucky. He thinks you’re pretty and will give you a pass for one free ride up the mountain.)I smiled as winningly as I could at the Italian and walked back out with my new friend. We got our skis on again and I followed him as he skated over to the lift station. Two gondolas and a tram ride later, we were at the top of the ridge, with Switzerland on one side and Italy on the other.“Vielen danke,” I said to him. (Many thanks.)“No problem,” he replied in English.“What’s your name?”“Thomas,” he said. “Thomas Lindt. You?”“Johanna von Eschenbach.”“Well, we’re back,” he said, pointing to Zermatt far below. “Switzerland. Have a nice day.”He turned and went flying down the slope. I did not want him to think I was stalking him, so I let him get a good head start before heading down. I took a different route and soon lost sight of him.I spent the rest of the day skiing by myself, always looking out for Ulrike and Dieter. However, it is such a big mountain that I knew the chance of seeing them was very small. I wasn’t too worried as I knew I would see them at our après ski at 1700.I was at the top of the highest lift, thinking I would make this my last run of the day, when I saw Thomas Lindt again. I just caught sight of his profile as he was sliding his goggles back over his eyes. I called out to him, but he didn’t hear me. He poled over the headwall of a black slope and disappeared.I skated hard after him. By the time I got on to the slope, he was a long way down. I went into a full tuck and raced after him, not quite thinking about why I was doing it. He was skiing aggressively. Even though I took the straight line down, going airborne over ridges rather than using my edges, I was barely gaining on him. I saw signs, but I was going too fast to read any of them. The slope seemed endless and I began to feel the burn in my quads.I lost track of time and just concentrated on maintaining my rhythm with my eyes focused on his red jacket. Then I realized he was slowing, for I suddenly began to close the distance to him very rapidly. I dug in my edges and shed speed, to approach him at a reasonable pace.Once I got close to him, I saw why he had stopped. He was standing on the edge of a sheer cliff wall. I stopped a few meters from him and looked down – it was several hundred meters to the trees and rocks far below. I put my goggles up and called out to him, “Thomas!”He looked around sharply, put up his goggles, and saw me. His expression was shocked and angry, not welcoming at all.“Why are you following me? Did bonus veren siteler my wife hire you?”“I … I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I stammered.“We are off-piste. The Zermatt ski resort limit was a few kilometers ago, there was a marker. This is an avalanche zone. Didn’t you see the skull and crossbones signs?”“I didn’t see the resort marker. I couldn’t read any signs. You were going too fast.”“Why are you following me?” he repeated.“I … I don’t know. I saw you at the top and just wanted to say hello. Once I started following you, I just went into autopilot.”He looked at me for a long moment.“I should just leave you here,” he said. “There’s no way to ski back to Zermatt. Unless you have ropes, you’ll have to hike back all the way to that ridge up there.” He pointed up the way we had come. “It will take you ten or twelve hours. If you survive. It will be dark in an hour and temperatures will drop a lot.”I looked back up the steep slope, then along the cliff edge. I saw a narrow chute off to the right that looked a lot easier than many of the descents I had done with Dad – if only I had ropes.“I can hike back up,” I said.I popped off my skis with my pole tips. I stuck the poles in my jacket collar down my back as Dad had taught me. Then I used the skis as heavy trekking poles and began to trudge back up. He let me go about twenty meters before he called out, “Stop! Come back here!”“I don’t want to trouble you anymore,” I said, looking over my shoulder. “Don’t worry about me. I can take care of myself.”I turned back up the mountain and he called out again, “Please! Just come back down to me.” I kept trudging, gritting my teeth against the steep pitch. “Okay, okay! I apologize for accusing you of following me. Just come back here.”I looked up the slope and back at him. Then I snapped my skis back on and came down to him.“Without ropes, there’s only one way down from here,” he said. “Follow me.”“What happens when we get down? How will I get back to Zermatt?”“I’m afraid you won’t be able to get back to Zermatt till tomorrow.”He began skating laterally along the cliff edge. After a few hundred meters, it narrowed to a rocky ledge. He took off his skis and put them on his shoulder. I saw that he had alpine touring boots and bindings that were designed for hiking, so he walked confidently. I took off my skis and followed him, but I was much slower in my clunky downhill boots. It was hard to balance and I did what Dad always told me. I looked straight ahead for my next step and didn’t look down at the drop-off.The ledge was only about a hundred meters long, but it took me a good twenty minutes to cross it – one careful step at a time. Thomas was waiting for me impatiently. The slope down was even steeper than the one we had skied earlier and strewn with exposed rocks and boulders.The natural snow cover was uneven. On much of the slope, it looked too thin to be skiable. Thomas pointed far down to the bottom of a narrow cleft valley. It was already dark down there and the lights were on, marking a small cluster of structures. They were so far below us that the buildings themselves could not be seen.“That’s where I’m going. We will spend the night there and I will arrange transport to get you back to Zermatt in the morning.”I nodded.“It’s treacherous terrain, there are very few ways down. Follow me closely, I’ve done it many times.”We got our skis back on, put down our goggles, and he gave me a thumbs-up before taking off. He picked his way carefully, looking for skiable snow. I kept coming up on his rear and having to brake. Finally, I gave up. This was terrain that I was used to, I’d skied such open backcountry with Dad almost since I could walk. At the next opportunity, I passed him, and let my skis run. I heard him shouting, but I ignored him, concentrating on the lights below as my destination.It was risky, but fun. I enjoyed myself immensely, constantly looking down the mountain for deeper snow to plot my route, juking right and left to avoid obstacles, getting airborne to go over them when they came up too suddenly. The lights of the tiny hamlet grew bigger and I grew more confident. Overconfident. There was a frozen stream and beyond it was a much flatter mountain meadow adjacent to the buildings. I went for a big jump and got almost two meters into the air to clear the stream.I landed in the meadows just as I wanted, but the snow cover was thinner than I expected. My weight and momentum drove my skis right through the snow. I heard an ominous ‘crack!’ as my left ski struck a rock hidden beneath the snow and I knew I had snapped it. I picked up my left foot to avoid dragging the broken ski and managed to stop on my right ski.I took off my skis, hiked back to my landing spot, and picked up my broken left ski tail. I looked up the mountain and saw Thomas’s red jacket, still far above me, skiing slowly and carefully, traversing regularly, unlike my headlong descent. It took him another five minutes to get to the frozen stream. He skied across a flat section and glided up to me across the meadow. He looked at my plight and pursed his lips.“You’re crazy,” he said.He glided past me toward the buildings. I slogged after him carrying the three pieces of my two skis.It was hardly a hamlet, just three buildings and a barn. However, in typical Swiss fashion, all the buildings were in perfect condition. All three buildings had simple signs in gothic lettering. One read simply “Gasthof” (inn), the second “Gemischtwarenladen”, (general store), and the third “Damenladen” (ladies’ shop). Thomas was waiting for me in front of the inn with his skis on his shoulder. I followed him in.Opening the door rang a bell and a middle-aged lady emerged from inside. We were in a cozy parlor with a cheerful fire in the grate. There were paintings and photographs of mountain scenes from all seasons on the walls. The furniture was solid and looked comfortable. The lady came up and gave Thomas a hug.“Willkommen, Thomas!” she said. “Heidi rief an, um zu sagen, dass sie zu spät kommt und nicht auf sie zum Abendessen warten bedava bahis soll.” (Welcome, Thomas! Heidi phoned to say that she will be late and not to wait for her for dinner.)She looked at me rather pointedly.“Das ist Johanna von Eschenbach. Sie ist …”  (This is Johanna von Eschenbach. She is…). He looked at me questioningly and switched to English. “Are you German? Or American? You have a nice accent, but I hear a slight foreign undertone. Most people would miss it, but in my business, it is important to place people.”“I’m American,” I said.“She’s an American student that accidentally followed me as I skied out of Zermatt. I had to bring her here.”“Welcome,” said the lady, smiling at me. “I am Anna Müller, I own this inn.” She turned to Thomas. “Unfortunately, we are fully booked and do not have a room for Fräulein von Eschenbach. However, I can make up a camp bed in your room.”“Has my bag arrived?” he asked.“Yes, it is in your room. You are in the Matterhorn suite as usual.”Thomas went through a side door, indicating with a nod of his head that I should follow him. It led to a small storage room. There several sets of skis and poles in brackets set on the walls and helmets on an upper shelf.“What size shoe do you wear?” he asked as he put his skis into a bracket and his helmet on the shelf.“Thirty-nine,” I said.Mom bought all our shoes from French outlets, so I knew my European size.He left as I was putting away my skis and helmet. I put my broken ski tail up on the shelf with the helmets. When I returned to the parlor, he was gone.“Herr Lindt has gone up to the suite,” she said. “It is on the right at the top of the stairs – through there.” She pointed to curtains on the inner wall of the parlor.“Thank you,” I said. “I must contact my friends and tell them where I am. What is this village called?”“This is not a village. Just tell them you are at Gasthof Müller. Any local in Zermatt can tell them where you are.”I texted Ulrike. She texted back immediately, “Glad to know you’re okay. I’m missing you at après ski.”“You don’t have to worry about me listening to you having sex with Dieter,” I texted.“You think I should give him another chance?”“You’d be better off just masturbating in the shower.”She sent me a laughing emoji and I stuck the phone in my pocket, smiling broadly. I went through the curtains and found myself in a short corridor. It led to a dining room that was set for the evening meal. There were stone stairs at the far end of the dining room. I went upstairs and found the heavy door to the suite. It had a brass plate with the word “Matterhorn” in ornate gothic lettering. I knocked and Thomas said, “Come in!”I went in and found that he was in the bathroom. I took off my ski boots, my rain pants, my jacket, and my sweater. I went over to the full-length mirror and looked at myself in my jeans, wool ski socks, and white spandex turtleneck. My turtleneck was tight and outlined my black bandeau bra. Hints of black showed through the white spandex. I plumped my breasts with my hands, but they still looked pitifully small. My hair was sweaty, matted down by my helmet. I looked a bedraggled mess.“The bathroom is yours, if you want it,” Thomas said as he emerged.He had washed his face and hands and wore a cashmere turtleneck, dark trousers, a nicely cut blazer, and black loafers polished to such a high gloss that they looked like mirrors. I saw him for the first time without his helmet and ski clothes. He was a very good-looking man, tall, lean and muscular, with ice blond hair and very blue eyes.I went into the bathroom and took my time washing my face and hands. Then I tried to straighten my hair with my fingers, but I only seemed to make it worse. I made a face at myself in the bathroom mirror and mouthed, “You look like hell!”When I finally came out, Thomas handed me a box.“Shoes,” he said, when I looked at him questioningly. “Size thirty-nine. I asked Anna to select a pair for you from the ladies’ shop. I’m sure you’ll like them. She has excellent taste.”I opened the box and found a pair of open-toe slippers with high heels. There was a pair of black stockings and pink garters as well. I held them up.“She thought you would need them to keep your feet from getting cold. You can’t wear those slippers over your ski socks.”I went back into the bathroom and put on my new finery. I came back out and Thomas smiled. With the tall heels, I was almost as tall as him.“A big improvement,” he said. “I’m always amazed how much difference shoes make to a woman’s appearance.”“That’s what Mom says,” I agreed.* * * * *Anna had given us the best table in the dining room. It was tucked away from the others so even though every table was taken, it was very private. It was by the dining room’s stone fireplace, next to a wide window with a view of the Matterhorn. The soup was a hearty potato and leek creation and it was followed by the main course, which was venison accompanied by a very nice 2001 Louis Jadot.“Anna must like you,” I said.“I’ve been coming here for years. I pay her more than her regular rate.”“And order very expensive wines,” I said, raising my wineglass to the light. “This is a very fine Grand Cru.”“You know wines?” he asked,“My mother is French.”He looked surprised. He asked me about myself and the more he heard, the more surprised he looked. Finally, during the dessert, he raised his port to me.“A German-American Marine father, a French professor mother, Montana, horses, skiing, Wisconsin, classical music, German. I’ve met a lot of people in my business, Johanna, but you’re the most mixed-up person I’ve ever met. And you look like you are in high school.”“Is there something wrong with your eyes? I’m twenty!”“Well, to someone as old as me, that’s not much different from high school.”“And how old are you, grandpa?”“Thirty-eight. I have a fourteen-year-old daughter and a ten-year-old son.”“And what business are you in that you meet so many people?” I asked, curious.“Private banking.”“What’s the name of your bank?”“My name – Lindt.”“Did you start it?”He started laughing.“That’s what I like deneme bonus about you, Johanna! One moment you are so sophisticated, you know fine wines, the next moment you ask if I started Lindt Bank!”“I don’t see how that’s so funny.”“Private banking in Switzerland is very old, Johanna. Very traditional. Banks like Lombard Odier, Sarasin, Pictet, are hundreds of years old. Lindt Bank was founded by my great-great-grandfather in the nineteenth century.”“You run it now?”“Not quite. I’m the Chief Financial Officer. My older sister is Chief Executive, and my father is still Chairman of the Board.”“You must be very rich.”“We’re not poor.”There was an old upright piano in the dining room and Thomas motioned toward it saying, “Why don’t we have a post-dinner air?”“Do you play the piano?” I asked.“No, but you said that you do.”“I’m not very good!” I said, looking at the other diners.“I’ll make you a deal. If you play, I’d sing.”“You sing?”“A little. Probably as well you play. We can make fools of ourselves together.”“What do you want to sing?”“Can you accompany Va Pensiero? By Verdi?”“I’ve heard it lots of times, but I’ve never accompanied it. It’s pretty straightforward for the accompanist, though. It’s a deal.”Thomas beckoned Anna and whispered in her ear. She smiled broadly and left. She returned a few moments later with a book of sheet music of operatic arias. I flipped through it till I found the right page, set it on the piano and seated myself. Thomas stood by me and cleared his throat.   “Don’t you want to warn the other diners?” I whispered.“No, let’s surprise them!”I hit a few keys and then played a few scales to loosen my fingers. I read the music and ran over it in my mind. Then taking a deep breath, I skipped the orchestral part and began with the piano introduction. It was only about half a minute, but it seemed to last an hour. I heard all the conversations dry up and felt the weight of every eye in the room on me. Then I came to the short pause before the last two notes that heralded the vocal opening and looked up at Thomas. He was ready. I struck the keys, and he began to sing.He was obviously a trained operatic singer. He had great range and power:I looked in the mirror on the wall above my head and saw he had all the diners enchanted. They were nodding their heads and tapping their toes. By the time he opened the second stanza, first one and then another, and soon the whole dining room was singing along with him. Many began to stand as they sang louder, with great gusto. I played with more energy, trying to coax as much volume as I could out of the old upright.And then we were done. The dining room erupted into applause. There were shouts of, “encore, encore,” and we were surrounded, our backs were thumped and everyone seemed to be talking at once in German, in Italian, in French and in English. An Italian gentleman implored me, “Suona qualcosa, qualsiasi cosa …” (Play something, anything …)“Play something Italian,” Thomas whispered in my ear.How I wished Mom was with me! I thought furiously for something that I could play without too many false notes. I found a book of famous classical pieces on top of the piano and leafed through it. I decided on the allegro from Vivaldi’s Spring. Mom had arranged it for piano for me to play at my middle school concert. I thought I could probably hack my way through it. I played it passably well – at least well enough for this crowd that was happy and rather tipsy by now. I got a huge ovation, led by Thomas.The Italian gentleman insisted on singing Puccini’s Nessun Dorma. I found the sheet music for it in the book of operatic arias and accompanied him as best I could. He was not bad and when he was done, there was more shouting and cheering. Thomas pressed a glass of grappa into my hand and I chugged it.I was past being embarrassed and began to play Billy Joel’s, Piano Man. Thomas joined me in singing it. As before, we soon had everyone singing along with us. I was loose now, and since no one was complaining about my missed and false notes, I played on. I played everything I could think of from the Beatles to Owl City. Truth be told, I was pretty awful, and Mom would have covered her ears at the way I played. But this crowd forgave me everything, sang along with me, clapped and hollered. I drank steadily as I played – I don’t know if it made me better or worse!We kept everyone entertained for over an hour before Thomas and I took our final bows. There was more applause and then people finally began leaving. Thomas put his arms around me, hugged me tight, and I hugged him back. When we were finally alone in the dining room, he put his hand under my chin and tilted my head up to look him in the eye.“Johanna von Eschenbach,” he whispered. “You are magnificent!”He kissed me on the lips and his tongue came out probing, asking for admittance. I opened my mouth and welcomed him in. He kissed me like no one had ever kissed me before. He was artfully teasing, demanding attention, commanding obedience, and laying himself open to me, all at once. He moved his lips on mine softly, compliantly. His tongue moved in my mouth, guiding mine back into his. My heart began to race, and I felt heat in my belly slowly descending.“Thomas!”It was one word and it was spoken quietly. But the voice had such intensity that it sheared through my excitement, turning it off like a light switch.We stepped apart. A blonde woman stood in the dining room. She was tall, elegant and beautiful. She wore a long cashmere coat, a diamond choker necklace with matching earrings, and her hair was in a fashionable coiffure. She looked like she was in her thirties. Her coat hung open, so I could see her figure. She had full breasts, a narrow waist and rounded hips. She exuded femininity – so different from me! – and I felt a wrench of envy. She must be absolutely captivating to men, I thought, jealously. She must be great in bed.“Heidi,” said Thomas. “We’ve been waiting for you.”“Wer ist das… dieses Kind?” she demanded. “Schämst du dich nicht, Thomas? Sie sieht fünfzehn aus!” (Who is this… this child? Have you no shame, Thomas? She looks fifteen!).She spoke standard Schweizer Deutsch, not a canton dialect, and enunciated very clearly, so I understood her.“Hey,” I remonstrated in English. My words slurred a bit and I realized I was rather drunk. “I’m not a child! I’m twenty.”

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