The next two months passed and I never brought up the trip back home again. I felt it was safer this way. The lingering in my heart was still there but in time it stopped being a lump in my stomach each time I thought about it, sending my heart into a frenzy and turned into a slightly uneasy feeling, one that I could easily ignore, or at least cloud with the thought that I simply did what I had to do.

Sasha and I were just preparing for our first vacation together with his parents in the south of France when I remembered that we hadn’t planned our camping trip that I had gotten him. I was folding a couple of light sweaters and neatly putting them on the bed while he stood inside our closet grabbing shirts and dress shoes to take. „Can you fold these?“ he asked me. „Sure babe, hand them over.“ I abandoned my shirts and felt the exquisite fabric of a black dress shirt between my fingers. „Babe, I was thinking, we still have to take that camping trip.“ He was pulling out his swim shorts and stopped to look at me. „Yeah, I almost forgot about that. Good that you are thinking about it. When should we go?“ „Oh I was thinking after this vacation we could go, I still have some time off and you could take a day or two as well, right?“ „Yeah sounds like a good plan to me.“ He dropped his shorts into his suitcase and hugged me. „You and me alone in the woods, I can’t wait,“ I laughed kissing his neck.

We were meeting his parents at the airport in Munich, as they had their layover there. I studied my suitcase. It used to be dark pink but having seen more than one airport in its lifetime the color had faded around the edges. I had a habit of collecting stickers from everywhere I went and they covered a good part of it, at least where the adhesive was still working. Next to Sasha’s Louis Vuitton carry on it looked like a child’s bag. „Emma,“ Sasha interrupted my thoughts. I looked at him. „There is our check in.“ „Oh yeah, great.“ I heaved my bag onto the belt and handed my passport over to the lady at the counter. I couldn’t help but notice how she looked at Sasha and shot him a smile unter her thick dark fringe asking for his documents. Sasha smiled at her but he was friendly and not flirty. „Unfortunately the aircraft is quite full. I am afraid you won’t be sitting together.“ she said. „Oh, can’t you..“ „That’s fine. It’s a short flight anyways.Thanks“ Sasha cut me off. „Ok well, then enjoy your flight.“ I didn’t know if I imagined it, but it looked like she winked at him. „So what was that all about?“ I burst out without even thinking about it. „What? I thought it would be fine since it’s only a 2 or 3 hour flight.“ „Yeah that is fine, but the flirting? That wasn’t fine.“ I didn’t want to start our vacation with a fight but ever since his birthday the thought of Natalia was still lingering in the back of my head and for the sake of peace and quiet I hadn’t brought it up again. „I wasn’t flirting.“ „Maybe you weren’t, but she was. And you were awfully quick to accept the fact that we aren’t sitting together.“ „Yeah, cause she is sitting next to me on that plane. Come on Emma. You are imagining things.“ „I am not imagining anything. Maybe I am overreacting, but still it doesn’t feel good.“ „I am not responsible for how you feel.“ Sasha stopped to look at me. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want this fight, especially not right before meeting his parents. I let it go. „Ok, Sasha. I don’t want to fight. Let’s leave it at that.“ „I think that might be better for the both of us.“ He replied, his tone still icy.

We met his parents at the gate and his mom looked smaller than she had the last time. She was dressed immaculately but she was so thin and frail I was afraid I was going to break her when I hugged her hello. His father was on the phone when he came discussing business in English with a slight accent. „Emma, I am glad you are joining us this year. Is this the first time in France for you?“ „Oh yes, I can’t wait. I have been studying a little French and I hope that it will come in handy.“ She laughed almost silently. „Oh I am sure you won’t need any, where we are going. But it is good to know.“ She pulled Sasha into a hug as well but he stiffened at her touch and released her quickly. „Hey mom.“ he said in English. When she answered in Russian her voice went up at least an octave. She sounded like she was talking to a baby kitten softening her tone from when she was speaking to me before. Their exchange ended when Sasha’s dad hung up and kissed first me, then him on each cheek. „Let the vacation begin.“ he said and laughed loudly.


The flight was uneventful and I spent most of it staring at the skies while Sasha was talking to his dad. We were flying business class, Sasha had paid for everything. When the flight attendant handed us 2 glasses of champagne the chatter between Sasha and his father stopped for a moment and I gently put my hand on his „Are we ok?“ I whispered. „Yeah, sure. Why wouldn’t we be?“ Sasha pulled his hand away but put it on top of mine almost immediately. I sighed and continued to stare out of the window, letting the champagne cloud my thoughts until there was nothing left but beach and sand and French wines to think about.

I had expected some sort of castle from what Sasha had told me. His parents had been staying at the same hotel for years and him as well as his sister would meet them there wherever they were at around the same time each year. When we arrived I was a little disappointed that it was just a very high class chain hotel with a generic reception area and staff wearing uniforms that I was sure I had seen before. Sasha’s family seemed to have been expected, as a sleek looking man with a white shirt stretching over his expanding belly was greeting them enthusiastically, first in broken Russian and then in English with a heavy French accent. „Mr and Mrs Yugov, It’s is so nice to have you back with us this year“, he smiled, the area between his shirt buttons dangerously stretching the more he moved, showing inches of his bare belly. „Ah and Alexander, I am so glad you could join your parents this year as well.“ He reached over and cupped Sasha’s hands with his enormous ones. He shot a glance at me and I held out my hand but he just asked „Where is your lovely sister Yulia this year? Will she be coming as well?“ „We don’t know yet.“ His mother answered for him. „She might be held up at school, but she is trying really hard to make things work. She wouldn’t want to miss her favorite time of the year.“ Somehow I felt like she only said this for his benefit and sure enough he beamed at the compliment. Finally he turned his gaze to me and then back to Sasha „And who is this lovely young lady with you?“ He smiled politely but I could see that he was trying hard to figure me out. „This is my girlfriend Emma, Mr. Founier.“ I held out my hand again for him to shake „Very nice to meet you“ I smiled. „It’s my pleasure entirely.“ He did a small bow like they did in old movies and pretended to kiss my hand. I could feel heat creep up my neck but I kept my smile in place. „I wish you a wonderful stay here with us. Should you need anything at all please do come to me directly. I am the hotel manager.“ He handed me his card. „But I am sure that Alexander will tell you everything you need to know about this place, he has been coming here for years after all.“

We checked in at the regular reception desk and were given adjacent rooms. Something I wasn’t really comfortable with but I didn’t want to bring it up if Sasha was fine with it. On our way up to the room he took my hand and whispered „We are always given adjacent rooms, my sister and I. I will see what I can do to change it while we were here.“ I smiled gratefully but didn’t respond. His parents were already at their door and just waved at us before closing it behind them.
The view was spectacular. You could see the ocean and the rugged coast line as well as the turquoise swimming pool with a lot of tanned, beautiful people lounging around it. The interior was modern and clean, nothing would have told you that you were in the South of France. We might as well have never left Germany at all. The fabrics on the bed looked expensive, so did the mountains of soft towels and bathrobes in the bathroom. I didn’t want to know what a night at this hotel cost Sasha’s parents, I just knew that there was no way I could have afforded it. I had agreed to let them pay for the room as long as I was allowed to pay for my own food and invite them once or twice but that idea quickly faded as I saw the priced at the restaurant later at dinner.

Sasha had been quiet while we were getting ready for dinner, turning on the TV almost the second we walked in the door. I couldn’t help but think that his behavior had to do with my reaction at the airport earlier but I didn’t want to bring it up again. In the elevator to the restaurant he had taken my hand and I saw that as a good sign. His parents were waiting for us in the lobby. His mom had changed into a light cashmere sweater and long white linen pants despite it being almost 90 degrees outside. I figured she had to be cold all the time given how thin she was. His dad was wearing matching pants and a shirt which he left open. Sasha had told me not to worry about bringing too many dress clothes as we weren’t alway going out with his parents but I knew right away that even my dressiest clothes weren’t the right choice at a place like this. Even the young girls and women were dressed more preppy than sexy and I immediately felt out of place in my short strapless dress and high heels. I was glad that the waiter led us to a table close to the entrance so I didn’t have to walk around the entire restaurant. The entire wait staff seemed to know Sasha and his family. Each of them stopped by our table at some point during dinner, asking how they were, about his sister or how business was. Some acknowledged my presence by addressing me directly, others nodded politely as Sasha introduced me but I could see in their eyes that they had already forgotten who I was. It made me wonder how many girls Sasha had brought here over the years and if they just couldn’t bother to remember all of their names.

Before dinner Sasha’s father ordered champagne, his mother taking a small sip and then pushing the glass over to her son. Sasha didn’t even look at her when he took it. They had been speaking amongst themselves in Russian mostly which is why I almost jumped out of my skin when she addressed me directly while I was taking another sip of champagne. „So Emma, how do you like it so far?“ I swallowed hard, some champagne dripping down my chin. I wiped it away with my thumb, remembering I should have probably used the crisp white napkin lying innocently in my lap. „Oh I absolutely love it.“ I smiled broadly. She didn’t say anything else, so I continued „It’s so beautiful and I can’t wait to explore the area with Sasha.“ I squeezed his hand while saying this. „That would be nice,“ his mother said with a laugh „maybe you can get him out of that hotel room some time.“ I laughed with her, secretly hoping that this had been one of her jokes that didn’t unterstand. When the waiter came by to take our order she had what felt like a million requests about the dish she ordered. She couldn’t eat this and that and if she could have lemon instead of vinegar on her salad. When I ordered my dish the waiter looked at me as if I was supposed to give him my long list of requests as well but I just clapped the menu shut and smiled at him. „Very well then. I will have your orders ready in no time.“ Dinner was wonderful, you could taste the freshness of the ingredients, the delicate use of herbs and spices made me wish that the portions were bigger than they actually were. After dessert the waiter stopped by with a cheese cart and even though I was pleasantly full I joined Sasha in choosing several cheeses for him and I. His mother had stopped eating right before dessert. „So what do you do around here?“ I asked talking a sip of my wine. „Massages and Thalasso therapy mostly, some water sports. Enjoying the fine restaurants around here.“ Sasha answered with a mouthful of cheese. „Yes, this is mostly a hotel to relax in. You can do sports and you can even have a nutrionist help you with your diet here.“ his mother added, looking at me directly. „Oh that sounds nice. But why would you want to do that? The food here is absolutely wonderful as it is.“ „Well it has helped me drop some weight before, they surely do wonders. I did the juice cleanse last year and it was delightful.“ I didn’t know what to say but I watched sadly as the waiter took my plate with last piece of cheese with him which I suddenly felt not entitled to eat.

As we got back to our room after dinner, Sasha turned on the TV again and plopped himself on the bed. „Want to watch a movie?“ he asked holding out his hand for me to join him. „Don’t you want to go back downstairs? Take a walk maybe, discover the area a little bit?“ „I know the area like the back of my hand, I don’t need to go outside right now. Besides I am tired. I have had a lot of work in the past couple of weeks and I just want to relax now.“ I wanted to point out that I didn’t know anything about the place or the area or even the country and that I would have loved to start exploring right away but I bit my tongue and said nothing. „Ok babe, sure. Let me just put on my PJ’s.“ We ended up watching movies until 2 in the morning and finally fell asleep with the sound of the waves gently crashing outside.

Sasha was already awake when I felt the sun on my face causing me to wake up from a deep, dreamless slumber. „Hurry up baby, we don’t want to be late for breakfast, do we?“ He pulled the blanket off my face just as I was trying to pull it back up. „Is it that late already? Don’t they have breakfast till 11 at places like this?“ I yawned. „Yeah, they do, but we are meeting my parents downstairs at 8.00.“ I rubbed my eyes and pulled my hair into a bun using the elastic around my wrist. „What time is it now?“ „7.45. so come on.“ I heaved my legs out of bed heavily, sleep still lingering in my bones. „You don’t actually have to get dressed, everyone just goes down there in their bathrobes or sweatpants. It’s a wellness hotel after all.“ Sasha had already pulled on his sweats and started reaching for the remote control. After the dinner outfit debacle I didn’t feel like making a fool out of myself again so I pulled a flowy dress from the closet in the corner of the room where I had hung it up neatly before dinner last night. Sasha’s suitcase was still on the floor, half closed. „I’ll just get ready quickly, ok babe?“ I gave him a peck on the cheek and went to put myself together in the bathroom.

Sasha had actually been telling the truth this time. When we were greeted by a friendly young waitress in a white shirt and black skirt I could see almost everyone wandering around in the breakfast area in their soft white robes with the logo of hotel discretely printed on the breast pocket. Most of them were also wearing the hotel slippers, some looked like they were still in their Pyjamas. When I spotted Sasha’s father, I saw him also wearing the bathrobe, which was too short for him so that his skinny legs were peeking out from underneath. His wife had dressed in soft jeans and a T-shirt, casual but you could tell she didn’t want to be mixed up with the bathrobe crowd. I was glad I had chosen to ignore Sasha’s comments earlier. „There you are“ Irina exclaimed as if they had been waiting for us for more than 5 minutes. „Emma, you have your first Spa appointment in 20 minutes, so you might want to hurry up a bit.“ „Um, Spa appointment?“ I was dumbfounded but I couldn’t not ask. „They will give you your schedule for the next 3 weeks downstairs at the Spa reception but first you have to go down there. It is at 8.20, so you have about 15 minutes if you want to go back upstairs to change before.“ I looked at Sasha for some help but he just glanced over at the buffet not listening to a word his mother was saying. „Ok, sure. I will do that.“ She seemed to relax a little now that she had delivered her message. Sasha finally acknowledged his mothers presence by kissing her on each cheek. „Shall we go and get something to eat?“ he turned towards me and pulled me into a short hug. „Sure, I should hurry after all I only have 15 minutes“I said winking at his mother but she had already turned her attention back to her phone lying on the table before her.

I asked Sasha as he was loading scrambled eggs onto his plate. „So what’s the deal with the Spa appointments?“ „What do you mean?“ he stuffed a green olive that was threatening to fall off his plate into his mouth. „Well your mom just told me that I had appointments too, I didn’t know that.“ „Oh yeah,“ he shrugged „she booked everything. It’s great, you will be so relaxed afterwards, trust me.“ And with that our conversation had ended and he turned back to the buffet.

After I had hastily stuffed some scrambled eggs, a crispy French baguette topped off with soft cheese and a bowl of fruit into my mouth and went upstairs to change into my own hotel robe, I was at the Spa lobby at 8.20 sharp. I gave the pretty receptionist my name and room number and she exhaled noisily. „We ask you to be here at least 5 minutes prior to your appointment Ms. Grant“ „Oh I am sorry, I didn’t know.“ I stammered. As if she had just remembered that I was the client, she out up a huge smile and changed her tone of voice. „Of course you didn’t, it is no problem at all. If you follow me please.“ She stepped out from behind the desk, he slender hips gracefully moving as she led me to an empty treatment room. „You can undress now. Your therapist will be with you shortly.“ she smiled. „And oh, Ms Grant this is your schedule for your holiday. I hope you enjoy your time here“. And with that she closed the door behind her. I took a quick glance at my schedule. It was almost 2 pages long and had my name and hotel number printed on the top. I was a little shocked to see that I had at least 2 treatments every day. I couldn’t even imagine how much this had once again cost. Plus I hadn’t actually planned on spending most of my vacation downstairs in the dark hotel Spa when the sun and the ocean were waiting for me outside. But I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, so I decided to wait for my first treatment before passing judgement.

The room was narrow and long and covered in cream tiles. There was what seemed to be a shower at the end of it and a little chair with white cushions by the entrance where I shyly placed my bathrobe. I had a bikini underneath but still felt somewhat naked. I stood around for another couple of minutes waiting for someone to tell me what was coming next. Finally a small middle aged woman with short blonde hair entered, barely looking at me. „Ah Ms. Grant,“ she said shooting me a quick look, „please take off your clothes and proceed to the end of the room“. Her accent was heavy and she kept fumbling with my papers as if she didn’t want to look at me. „Ok.“ I said, placing my top and then my bottoms neatly on top of my bathrobe. I took of my shoes and quickly went over to where I assumed the shower was. „Could you please turn your back to me now and lift your arms“. If I didn’t know any better I would have thought I was in prison, standing there naked, with my back to a stranger. I didn’t feel relaxed but scared. She didn’t pick up on any of it. I will turn on the water now she said, not knowing what that meant I closed my eyes expecting the water to come from above me but was instead hit with a hard jet of water first on my calves, moving upward to my thighs and bottom. I finally understood that this was probably some sort of massage technique that was supposed to relax my muscles or help with cellulite or something but I had never felt more undignified in my entire live. She proceeded to the other leg and repeated the procedure. Then she worked on my back and asked me to turn around doing the same thing there only leaving out my chest and stomach area. After about 10 minutes the whole thing was over and the lady asked me to get dressed again. I stuffed my bikini into my pockets and got out of there as fast as I can. Still trying to work out what had just happened I glanced at my schedule. I had the next appointment in 5 minutes and after what the receptionist had said I hurried to get to my treatment room this time. I was glad that the next treatment seemed to consist of me just soaking in a tub of saltwater, the scent of essential oils lingering in the dimly lit room. This was what I had expected in the first place and I finally relaxed, closing my eyes and listening to the soft music playing in the background.

I told Sasha what happened when I got back to our room and he couldn’t stop laughing for the next 5 minutes. „You have never had Thalasso Therapy before?“ he finally said after catching his breath. „Um, no. And a litte warning might have been nice.“ I was planning on being a little angry with him but seeing him smile like this I just couldn’t anymore. „If you don’t apologize I might have to get you into that little room and spray you with a hose.“ I winked. „Oh come and try.“ He wrestled me to the bed tickling me while I giggled and for the first time it actually felt like a vacation to me.





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