berlin is for lovers chapter six

[to catch up previous chapters, jump here]

Fire. 

Fire? Fire! 

Nora’s hairdryer — whose package 100% said “for global use” — is on fire. 

“When I said I wanted my life to literally be the fire emoji, I didn’t mean literally!”

With a towel, Nora manages to unplug the fireball and throw it into the shower. The molten plastic sizzles as she turns on the water. 

“Farewell, hair dryer, I hardly knew thee.” 

The burnt smell lingers in the air causing Nora to open a window. A fresh spring breeze tickles her face. She smiles. Takes a deep breath. She’s here in Berlin. Maybe this fire was a sign? A reminder to relax and appreciate the blessings in her life. She’s basically getting paid to study abroad, after all. 

Thanks to her Corporate Fairy Godmother Ulla, Nora’s pulled the Golden Ticket. And tonight Ulla’s even invited her for a welcome dinner. How did Nora get so lucky? Although she's still super jet lagged, Nora feels like a new woman. Euro Nora. Nora 2.0.  New Year, New Nora. 

Even in social settings, New Nora is super professional, which is great because Ulla mentioned her colleague Spiros might join them tonight. Based on his lack of exclamation points in emails, Nora expects he’ll be terrible, probably the German equivalent of Dane, but she will, of course, be polite. 

Nothing can ruffle her feathers. Starting tonight, Nora belongs in Berlin. Now that she thinks about it, the fire was probably a sign from the universe to start down a new path. The locals are low key so she will be too - air dried hair and all. Rocking a slouchy white t-shirt under a leather jacket, sneakers, and delicate gold jewelry, Nora feels good about her new, low-maintenance identity. 

Then at the last moment, after slipping down an IG beauty rabbit hole, Nora's inspired to swirl an aggressive Merlot-hued gloss around her lips. She looks at herself in the mirror. Noir Nora. It’s amazing, although she worries she’ll regret the decision later. 

Nora heads out. Locks the door. Pauses, turns around, goes back in to make sure the hair dryer is definitely dead. After a decade of worrying whether or not her straightener would burn down her apartment, Nora realizes that without any fire hazard hair tools, she’s going to have so much extra time on her hands. 

Out on the street, Nora admires the architecture of her neighborhood. It just feels so… European. The perfect mix of historic and modern. As she makes her way through Prenzlauer Berg, she can’t help stopping every few blocks to take another sunset pic against a sherbet-colored building.  

Up ahead Nora spots a cute blonde in a skimpy costume. Nora can't quite make out what she’s dressed as, all she can see are her over-the-top lucite heels and lacy dress. Nora kicks up her pace to get a better look. If there’s one thing Nora loves on any continent, it’s a theme party.

Nora’s speed walking soon catches her up with this potential new friend.

Hallo, guten nacht. Sorry to bother you, but I’m new here, and I know this is weird, but maybe we can hang out sometime?”

The blonde smiles, nods, grabs Nora’s hand. 

“Two hundred for the hour, ja?” 

Nora looks down the street and sees 10 other similarly-dressed women talking to sketchy men. 

Of course Nora just accidentally propositioned a prostitute in search of companionship.

Nora grabs a 20 from her purse and shoves it at the girl, you know, because of feminism, then sprints off in an Olympic dash down the street. Thanks to her sneakers, Nora keeps up the cardio all the way to the restaurant, following the dot of her GPS all the way there. 

Fifteen minutes later, Nora dabs her shimmering forehead with a rogue napkin found in her purse. The cardio endorphins have calmed her nerves, which is nice, but on the other hand, Nora’s now standing alone in a dark alley. 

According to both Yelp and Google Maps, it is indeed the place to be, yet Nora can’t help but wonder if her mother was right, and this whole “assignment” was just one elaborate Taken scheme set up by the Big Pharma puppet master global overlords. (Nora’s mom watches a lot of Shondaland.)  

Nora’s staring down at her phone when she hears what sounds like gun fire. Ugh! Terrorism! You ruin everything! She’s about to duck for cover when she realizes it was just Ulla’s six-inch heels skipping across the cobblestone. 

Wait, why is Ulla so dressed up? Nora dies a little when remembers she’s dressed like a slobby kid brother.

Hallo, Nora! Glad you found it, right this way.” 

Nora follows Ulla through a dimly lit door and up a flight of rickety black stairs with provocative posters lining the walls. None of this makes Nora feel any better.

The staircase leads them directly into a stark white restaurant that’s sparsely yet dramatically decorated with wall-size  genitals. American 90s pop music bounces around in the background, which adds to Nora’s confusion of the space/time continuum. Is David Lynch directing her jet-lag-induced fever dream?

“What is this place?” Nora asks.

Cookies Cream. Berlin’s best Asian fusion Vegetarier.” 

The hostess tells them to hold for a moment, and Nora excuses herself for the “W.C.” aka a much needed opportunity to check her lipstick. If she’s already got Ronald McDonald face, she should know sooner rather than later.  

Ugh, it’s one of those bathrooms. You know, the world’s most awkward co-ed lavatory set-up, where everyone pees in their own glorified toilet closet and then shares a giant communal sink. Is there anything worse than wanting to rid your teeth of spinach dip but your next Bumble match could be washing his hands next to you? 

Luckily, though, the mirror is free. Nora does a brief lipstick inspection. Surprisingly, even after her impromptu workout, she’s still kept a modicum of her outward composure. She then heads for a stall because it’s one of Nora’s personal philosophies never to pass up the opportunity to pee. (Something about long road trips as a child and a fear there won’t be a toilet again for another 500 miles.)

When she’s done, Nora flushes the toilet and goes to unlock her stall door. The brass lock is really wedged in there. Ugh she shouldn’t have put on hand lotion earlier. Using the bottom of her shirt, she yanks the knob till it clicks open. Thank goodness, that could have been a disaster. 

She pushes the door open. It doesn’t budge. She pushes again. Nothing. She gives the door frame a tug toward her for good measure, but there isn’t a handle. Surely it pushes out. She flings her body against the door. Nothing. 

Nora’s anxiety and claustrophobia compound on one another. She slams her body against it again. It doesn’t budge. She hears water running. 

“Help!!” Nora shouts. “I’m trapped!”

Her cries for help cause the guy washing his hands at the sink to pause. He turns off the water and follows the voice to the stall. 

“I am coming!"

He finds her door and gives it a shove. It doesn’t budge.

He looks around for a handle to pull it open. There’s nothing. 

He tries to push again. Nothing. Unfortunately Nora hasn’t gotten the memo to stop pushing from her direction too. The struggle of opposition lasts for a few seconds before Nora finally gives way - just as he gives one final forceful push. 

The door flings inward and his momentum propels him forward, tackling Nora, who lands seated on the toilet, cradling him in her lap like a giant baby. 

Nora turns to apologize at the same time as he jumps up. He stares in horror at a pair of vampy lips perfectly preserved on his collar.

Nora stands up, and out of habit, accidentally flushes the toilet. 

“I’m so sorry! I’ll pay for the shirt. Please let me know how much I owe you. I just moved here, and I’m fighting a losing case of jet lag."

She smiles. Any annoyance he felt melts.

“This shirt has a coffee stain I keep hidden by rolling up my sleeves. Time to retire it anyway. Do not worry. 

Nora gives him a once over. This guy is pretty hot. Could it be that easy? A girl walks into a bathroom, leaves with her soulmate? Not a bad headline. 

She takes a step toward him. 

“Thank you for saving me.” 

“I do not think you need saving.”

“For all you know, I could have been in there for hours. Days, even. My mom would probably send out a search party from Texas. The start of an international crisis.”

“As a boy, my dream was to be a cowboy in Texas. Maybe still is.”

“I hate to break it to you, but there aren’t anymore cowboys. Except in Dallas, but probably not your thing.”

“Too bad to hear.” 

“Maybe I can buy you a drink sometime to soften the blow? And make up for the shirt?”

He looks conflicted. Shakes his head. Exits without saying another word. Err?? Bye??

Nora looks at herself in the mirror, her lipstick surprisingly still on point, which is great since she’ll die alone. Nope, never mind, she decides not to let this rejection ruin her night. She just needs to get her sea legs under her. But first, business at hand. Time to start this new chapter as a star investor relations consultant. 

Nora heads out into the restaurant with her head held high. That is, until the hostess leads her to a table where Ulla is sitting across from the THE GUY IN THE BATHROOM. 

Oh you’ve got to be kidding me. Be chill, Nora.

Nora forces her body to walk one foot in front of the other toward a man whose shirt is wearing the same shade of lipstick as her mouth.  Luckily she realizes he’s put on his leather jacket. Aw, leather jacket twins. WAIT NO. He’s Spiros. Work Spiros. No Exclamation Point Spiros.

It occurs to Nora that in the span of a mere half hour, she has propositioned both a female prostitute and her new coworker, great work, really knocking it out of the park. 

Spiros stands up to shake Nora’s hand as Ulla introduces them. 

“Spiros Metropolis, meet Nora Randall. Spiros is Dandidozo’s team lead. The three of us will work closely during the next six months.”

Nora follows his lead and plays it cool, but he chooses the seat next to Ulla for good measure. Ulla hands her the drink menu.

“Should we start with bubbles?” Ulla asks. 

“I think I’ll stick with water for now,” Nora replies. 

Nein, we must do a proper welcome.”

A bottle of sekt (pronounced zekt) — i.e. the super charming abbreviation Germans use for prosecco — plus, what is it now, one, two, three rounds of mojitos later, Nora’s turned up the charm, megawatt-smiling her way through telling an incredibly silly story.

“So then I was at this pop-up dinner, and guess who showed up? David Hasselhoff! Random, right? And I’ll be honest, The Hoff might be super old, but now that he’s sober, I get it, Germany, I do — “

Spiros can’t keep his eyes off her. He would never, ever admit this to anyone, but he might have looked Nora up on Linkedin after a conference call where she'd made a (hilariously inappropriate) joke. 

He would deny that his budget approval for her to come to Berlin was anything other than mandatory for the project, but, let’s be honest, he’s not mad she’s here. Sure, she’s a little, um, more than he expected, but maybe Ulla’s right, it’s important to shake things up every once in awhile. 

His phone rings, slicing through the banter. He silences it, but the spell is broken. Ulla checks her watch.

“Lydia must be asking what you are doing for all hours of the night. Sorry we have kept you so long, Spiros.”

Nora flinches at the suggestion he’s taken. Sure he’s her coworker and she DEFINITELY didn’t plan on going there, but you know, it’s nice to have options. 

“I have not seen Lydia since Gemma’s official welcome dinner last fall. Tell her we must all get together to celebrate your engagement.” 

On that note, Spiros gets up.

“It was nice to meet you, Nora.”

Nora smiles politely and nods. As he walks away, she can feel Ulla examining her, and Nora worries she wasn’t playing it cool enough. From here on out, Nora’s all business.  

“Shall we go to a club?” Ulla asks. 

Well, maybe starting tomorrow it can be all business?  

No. This is a test from the universe. Lock it up, Nora Randall. 

“Thanks for the offer, but I need to sleep. I’ve got a big day tomorrow.” 

Good job, Nora, you got this!

Nora immediately goes home and googles Spiros. 

One step forward, two steps back. The corporate fairytale continues.