Chapter Thirty

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An hour and a quarter later, as they stood under the spray of the shower nozzle washing each other, Maria said, "Stupid to hold it in, isn't it? I can now think about my brothers again. That honours them far better than denying they're gone."

"What about your father? Do we also need to talk about him?"

"Mama and I did that for each other in August, once the shock had worn off." She paused her washing. "Strange we hadn't with Jacob and Nathan."

"But, it was late October by then, and you would have been at the hospital all day, and at the gasthaus through the evening. Not home until midnight or later. Turn around. Let me soap your back."

"And Mama was trying to salvage what she could from the vineyards, make the wine and try to sell some already in bottle. By then, nobody was buying. That's why I started at the gasthaus; make some money to keep us going. We barely saw each other except in passing."

"Do you think she needs to release some pent-up emotions about Jacob and Nathan?"

"She may. You could ask her."

"Better if you did. Mention what we've done, and ask if she wants to talk about them. It might help you further as you help her."

Maria nodded. "Your wisdom again." She giggled. "You're going to wear out my bum cheeks if you continue washing them."

"But your butt is so gorgeous. How can anyone not be captivated by its perfect shape?"

Maria turned around, looked down and laughed. "I thought so. You wouldn't believe the number of books I've pored through researching this. They all say you shouldn't be up again so soon."

"Fortunately, neither Dickie nor I have read those books."

"Do we need to do something with him?"

"What would you suggest?"

"I could wash him like you've been doing with my bum cheeks." She chuckled. "See what the outcome is."

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Half an hour later, David paused at the door to the men's mess and knocked. "Is everyone decent in here? I've a lady with me."

A few seconds later, Dolf opened the door and invited them in. "The coffee's likely stale." He looked across at the pot on the stove. "We can brew some fresh."

"No, that's fine. It'll be dinnertime soon. We just dropped in to see how your trip to Zürich went. If you were stopped at the Rhine Bridge."

Rick tapped Hans on the shoulder. "You tell it. You're the one who smooth-talked the guard."

Hans smiled as he looked up. "I was driving. Three in the front and eight in the back. As we drew closer to the guard, we discussed a story, but we could think of nothing plausible. Then at the last minute, the number eleven hit me. We were a football team heading to play in Winterthur —"

Rick butted in. "And the guard didn't even check the back, even after Hans said there were eight more there."

"That's clever thinking, Hans. You should take the ball the next time, so it looks more believable. Did you get to Zürich?"

"We stopped in Winterthur and took two rooms in a gasthaus. The next day, the snow turned us back halfway there, so we tried our luck again in Winterthur."

Maria looked at Manny. "So, did you cop any Sheilas?"

Manny guffawed as he winked at David. "Crikey, mate. I knew she was a winner."

"So, did you cop one?" Maria asked.

"Not for lack of tryin' to. Gees, they're tough to crack open here." He ran his eyes up and down Maria's body, then took another sip from his glass. "You're like a local in these parts. Do you know what the Sheilas around here want?"

Maria paused as she assessed Manny's level of sobriety. "Like anywhere; respect, recognition and acceptance as a person. Not simply a fuck."

Manny dropped his glass, and he scrambled to keep most of the drink from spilling. He licked his fingers then looked up and shook his head. "I've never heard a proper dame use that word."

"Sheilas may fuck, but proper dames don't. They understand the word, but they share sexual intimacy. They want to share, and they crave it as much as you do. But they do not want to be conquered or plundered."

All the men were staring at her as she paused.

She smiled and continued. "Part of what I've been researching at university is sexual attraction, both with animals and with humans. The human female has evolved a long way from her base animal instincts. She's no longer a cow, a sow, a mare or a Sheila. She's a person. Treat her as such, and if you do this well, she may treat you as a proper man."

Maria smiled at the nods from most of the men. "Women want to feel secure, not threatened. We want to feel we belong, but are not owned. We want to be appreciated for who we are, and not be seen as simply a hole to fuck."

Manny stared into his glass and slowly nodded. "Different from what blokes want."

"Not really, Manny. It's mostly the same. The same fundamental drives in all of us. Women are more oriented to feelings; men to action. And, fortunately, there's a broad meeting point between these."

She looked at David and saw his nod. "I'm working on a project to find what attracts men to women, and what drives them to take action. I've now interviewed many students at the university, and I would like to interview any of you who are willing to honestly share. Privately, one-on-one; no names, and no one but I will know anything except the data."

"I'm in," Rick said. He was quickly joined by the others, Manny being among the last.

Maria's smile widened as she saw their eagerness. "Excellent. I'm here until the end of next week before I return to Bern. This gives us plenty of time to arrange appointments."

She grabbed David's arm and looked up into his eyes, then back to the men. "As a bonus, I'll tell you what attracted me to David and how you can recognise when a woman is interested in you. We should do this soon, so you can use the information out there."

The men, almost as a group sat taller, expanded their chests and in other ways adjusted their postures. Maria paused, smiling as she watched them, then she raised a finger. "But, the data I receive from you will be of more value for my research if you don't discuss any thoughts about this amongst yourselves until we've all finished."

"This is like what I was going to talk about with my big sister," Franz said. "Before I left for the Army. We never got the chance."

Maria trembled, then recovered. "And what I would love to be able to discuss with my brothers." She paused and swept her finger past each man. "You can all be my brothers, and we can have the chats we didn't have."

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