Duncan is an ocean from home over the holidays and expects to spend them alone. To his pleasant surprise, one of his European co-workers, Georg, befriends him and includes Duncan in the holiday traditions of his homeland: cutting a Christmas tree under starry skies at Georg’s country estate, decorating it at the family’s city home, and shopping at the Christmas market in Munich. Both men are lonely and realize they have much in common. But Georg’s life is in Germany and Duncan’s is in Boston. With the project they’re working on nearing completion, any chance for more than a holiday fling seems as elusive as stardust.
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“I had nothing else to do, and by agreeing to come here, it allowed the other members of the team to spend Christmas with their families.” I smiled, and he did the same. A nice smile, more sincere than the polite ones I was getting used to seeing. His smile went to his eyes and was genuinely warm. I’d seen him around the plant the past few weeks, but he’d never approached me, and I’d done as instructed and remained in the area set aside for me to do my work. “I’m Duncan Haversmith,” I said, extending my hand.
“Georg von Mittelbach,” he said. I’d seen his name plate on an office, and in my mind I’d pronounced it “George,” but he said it like “Gay-org” and it fit him really well. [A1] He was tall with dark hair, precisely cut, and deep brown eyes. I assumed he was one of the managers, since he had an office. “I have been asked to act as your liason to make sure you have everything you require.”
I was confused. “What about Hans?” I’d been working with him for the past two weeks.
“He went on paternity leave. His wife had a baby.”
“Oh,” I said, resisting the urge to turn back to watch the grinding process. I probably should have, because it would have given me a chance to cover my surprise. Hans and I had been working together for two weeks and he’d never mentioned anything about it.
“Sometimes—” he began and then paused. “I traveled to the US on business a few years ago for a few months, and you are much more open about your personal lives in the office. We tend to be a little more… private.”
I nodded. I had noticed that. “I guess I’m sad I never had a chance to offer my congratulations.” I’d been working as the liaison for the consortium that had contracted the mirror while it was being ground for a new-generation space telescope. The project was led by NASA, but a number of universities were also taking part. As an astronautical engineer, I led the team back at MIT that had designed the mirror and its housing.
“Please.” Georg smiled again. Dang, he was beautiful when he did that. No, beautiful was the wrong word—he was stunning, and his deep eyes shone in a way that reminded me of the shine of the water that both lubricated the mirror below as well as carried away the microscopic material ground away. “It’s his fourth baby. He should have it down to a science by now.” His smile brightened, showing off perfectly white teeth. My stomach did a little flip. It was brief, but a slight jittery feeling remained, one that told me Georg might be gay. Of course the way his gaze lingered a little longer than was necessary was also a clue.“How long will you be here?”
“I’m scheduled for another six weeks at this point, but I’m supposed to remain until the mirror is finished and packed for shipment.” I motioned to one of the chairs around the small table that filled the tiny room I’d been given as a work area. Since it was only me, it was fine. I rarely had visitors—only Hans, and now Georg. Most everyone else went about their business with little concern for me.
“There isn’t going to be a lot to see in the next few weeks.” Georg began setting a file on the table. “We are on schedule, and barring some hidden flaw in the glass itself, which isn’t likely, given our quality standards and the testing that was done before the process began, we should finish grinding and polishing on December 30. Then we can complete the packing process and we’ll fly it to the US and make delivery. I will admit, it seems excessive to have you here the entire time. There will be very little to see.”
“I understand,” I said. I really did. “This seemed like overkill to me, but they wanted someone here to communicate back and relay any issues. You are aware that this is the second mirror. The first one got halfway through the process and had a flaw. That was a different company, of course.”
“Of course,” Georg said with another smile, this one with a hint of pride. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Not that I can think of,” I said. “Except maybe recommend a few places to visit this weekend. I’ve been here a few weeks and have explored a little of the tourist section of Munich, but I’d like to do something different.” It was harder than I expected to be able to get around and see things since I didn’t speak much German. As long as I stuck to the areas frequented by tourists I seemed to be fine, but I had been hoping to see other areas.
“Of course,” Georg said, growing quiet. “If you like, I can show you around a little.”
The offer took me slightly by surprise, given how standoffish most people had been. “That would be very nice.”
“What would you like to see?”
“Whatever you’d like to show me,” I answered. It seemed like the right thing to say. “I haven’t been here before, so everything is new.”
“Is your wife along with you?”
“I’m not married and I’m here alone.” I sighed, and I knew I should have done a better job of suppressing it. Georg shifted his gaze slightly. “The plan was for my boyfriend to join me for a few weeks—at least that was the original plan. He decided his interests lay elsewhere a few months ago.” That was putting it mildly, but going into the gory details wasn’t appropriate. Hell, I wasn’t sure if what I’d already said was appropriate and wished that I’d kept my mouth shut. What if Georg was a huge ’phobe and I’d just talked myself out of someone to spend a little time with?
I had found that the weekends could be surprisingly long. There was a lot to do right nearby, but not having anyone to do things with made the hours crawl by and made most things a lot less fun. I was already beginning to tire of my own company.
“So you are gay,” Georg said matter-of-factly. “I am the same.” Maybe that explained why Georg was being so friendly. Not that I thought Georg was hitting on me or anything. But everyone else had been rather standoffish and Georg was so relatively forward] .
“Do you have a boyfriend?” I asked, hoping it was okay to ask.
“Not at the moment,” Georg answered, his smile brightening. “I have a meeting shortly, but I wanted to make sure you were up-to-date. I’ll come in each morning and brief you on the current status and any issues we encounter.” He checked his watch. “Tomorrow I’ll have more time and we can firm up plans for Saturday.” He gathered up his papers and left the room after a nod and a small smile.
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