The bell signalled the beginning of the ten o'clock break. Finally.
The last two hours had been endless. First the German class where Witzmann continued talking about syntax and I understood nothing. Then Biology, also taught by Witzmann, something about the life of the red fox.
Presently she put her red grade book on top of the Biology textbook and both on top of the class register. Then she picked up the stack, grabbed her keys, and made for the door. As always, I avoided catching her eyes as she left the class.
And this was only Monday, the full glory of the week still ahead.
"What are you gawping at, Baumann?" she asked without stopping.
I quickly sat up straight and stuck my nose back into my textbook. As the clickety-clack of her high-heels become fainter down the hallway I looked up and exhaled.
I turned to look out the window and saw Andrea approach Bauer's desk. Bauer was sitting with his back to her and talking to Hofer, but he caught her over his shoulder and watched as she left a folded note on his desk. As she walked away he said something to her that I couldn't hear. She turned and smiled at him but didn't say anything. Then she looked at me and smiled. I quickly looked away.
Bauer picked up Andrea's note, unfolded it, ran his eyes over it, and smiled. Then he folded it again. He raised his head to me and waved me over. Since he was the class leader and also because he was my protector, I obeyed. Bauer showed me the folded note. On the outside it said: TO HEIMO AND MICHAEL
"What does it say?" I asked.
Bauer motioned to the door and I followed him out. He led the way down the stairs, then right on the ground floor, and right again into boy's bathroom. Nobody was in there, and we went into the stall, closed the door, and Bauer locked it. There was little room obviously, and I tried not to touch the toilet bowl with my pants.
Bauer unfolded the note, looked at it for a second, grinned, and gave it to me.
It was squared paper, ripped obviously from the math exercise books. There were imprints of two pairs of lips on the page, made with red lipstick. Above the lush left pair it said MANUELA, above the pair on the right, which was detectably thinner, it said ANDREA. Underneath Manuela's lips it said HEIMO, underneath Andrea's it said MICHAEL. At the bottom of the note was a sentence: We heart you.
Naturally, I felt exhilarated as every boy of thirteen would feel if he got a love note from a girl. It was even better, because just as every other boy in my class I was in love with Manuela. I grinned back at Bauer, and we both grinned like idiots at each other for a couple of seconds.
"They are in love with us." Bauer said.
I remembered an episode a year ago.
I looked at the love note again.
"Why are you frowning?" Bauer asked.
I scratched my head.
"What is it?"
"Well." I said pointing at the note. "Clearly you are paired up with Manuela here, and I am paired up with Andrea."
Manuela was the most beautiful girl in the world. She was blond and slim, not very tall, but with beautiful blue eyes and beautiful eyebrows. Andrea was a redhead with freckles. She was tall and slim and average looking, but, speaking objectively, she was also the nicer of the two.
Regardless, I strongly felt that it should have been me who should have been paired up with Manuela, especially given that Bauer was the only boy who wasn't in love with Manuela, but fancied Andrea instead.
Bauer pointed at the bottom of the page: "They are in love with us." he said. "Don't you get it."
"You guess? That's all you can say?"
"Look, I am not saying that this isn't good, because it is. But ..."
"But it seems to me that Manuela is in love with you, and Andrea is in love with me. But I am in love with Manuela."
Bauer took the note out of my hands. He pointed at the space between the lip imprints. There was a large X drawn in pen.
"You see that?" he asked. "These are lines that go from Manuela to you, and from Andrea to me."
I took the note back and looked at it sceptically.
"Yes." I said. "Except that it doesn't make any sense. Why would they put a kiss between Manuela and you and another kiss between Andrea and me, if their intention is actually the reverse?"
We heard the bathroom door being opened and Bauer's index finger sprang to his lip. For a few seconds there was silence, then somebody rattled the stall door.
"Who is in there?" Fachlehrer Feldinger's voice sounded.
I grimaced. You didn't want to attract Fachlehrer Feldinger's attention at the best of times even in the unlikely event that you had done something right. And two boys locked in a bathroom did certainly not qualify as doing something right even at the best of times.
"Just me, Herr Fachlehrer." Bauer said quickly.
"Bauer? Is that you?"
"Yes, Herr Fachlehrer." Bauer said.
Again a few moment of silence. "All right, then, Bauer. Continue."
I almost burst out laughing. Bauer kept his index finger on his lips. We heard the bathroom door being opened again, then close.
"That was close." I said after a while.
Bauer opened the door to be sure we were alone, then locked it again.
"Well, I ask you again." I said. "Why would they put kisses between the names that they didn't actually intend to kiss?"
"You don't get it, Baumann, do you?"
"You really don't get it, Baumann."
"No, I don't. I don't get it. I truly don't get it. But maybe you can explain it to me, Bauer." I said derisively. I was getting annoyed with his superiority. I knew I risked maybe not a fat lip, but a week of being shunned.
"Manuela and Andrea are in love with both of us." Bauer said.
"With both of us? How should that work?"
"Look, you are making this too complicated. They have sent us this letter to let us know that they are in love with both of us. So we have to send them something back."
"But how should it work. I mean, say we ask them if we can walk them to the bus stop. Say we walk along the river. Who is walking with whom? Do the two girls walk next to each other, and the two of us? Or do I walk with Manuela? What if she chooses to walk with you?"
"You know what, Baumann? Forget it. Forget the whole thing."
"What do you mean, forget the whole thing? I can't forget the whole thing. They are in love with both of us. You said so yourself."
"Look. Does it make you feel better if you can have Manuela." Bauer said.
"So you agree, that Manuela wants you?"
"Well, you said that there is a kiss between her name and my name."
"I thought you liked Andrea better?" There was desperation in my voice.
"What I mean is that I am fine with either of the two, and you want Manuela, so I stand back and take Andrea."
"What do you mean, you stand back? If Manuela is in love with you, it doesn't matter if you stand back or not. She will still be in love with you and not with me."
"Well, if I make it clear that I want Andrea, she will have no choice than take you."
"Yeah, that sounds great. Thank you, Bauer."
"Andrea is more mature anyway, if you know what I mean." Bauer smiled and nudged me.
"Yeah, I know what you mean." Looking down into the toilet bowl, I noticed it was dirty. Bauer was right. Manuela was cute, very cute, but she was also a little boring. Andrea on the other hand looked a little wild. She always wore the collar of her blouse upturned, the top two buttons unbuttoned. Also she always had too much, much too much, lip gloss on.
"Look maybe we shouldn't be so presumptuous about this." I said. "Let's think about it and write them a response over lunch."
Bauer unlocked the door and had a quick look. The bell rang. From outside the bathroom we heard Facherlehrer Feldinger admonish somebody.
"I think they are leaving." Bauer said. "Let's wait a minute."
And so we stood there opposite the sheet metal mirror. Waiting, I looked at Bauer's reflection. Tall and slim, a confident smile on his face, in a red shirt and brown pants. He looked like a blond version of David Cassidy. I was a head shorter than he was, with giant pale cheeks, and in spite of my short hair, I looked like a girl, like a chubby girl. I yanked the zipper of my navy sweater up.
That's when I noticed that Bauer looked in the mirror too.