Ain't It Funny

By Laura Schiller

Based on the Nesthäkchen series by Else Ury

Song performed by Jennifer Lopez

Germany, 1925

It was not exactly love at first sight – second sight would be more accurate. Annemarie Braun had come to Professor Bergholz's party expecting nothing but cakes, confetti and dancing with Krabbe and Neumann; she went home bonded for life, although not knowing it until much later. She looked into the warm gray eyes of the man who had taken care of her in Würzburg (despite repeated brush-offs on her part) and felt herself at home.

As they floated down the river in a boat decorated with roses, past the old gray tower into the golden sunset, he simply looked at her and said: "Thank you for taking this ride with me, Fräulein Annemarie."

Then he kissed her hand. That was all it took.

She jokingly described him to her friends as her "knight", but despite the archaic term, she believed Dr. Rudolf Hartenstein was exactly that – kind, courteous, protective. A modern knight who had chosen to battle death and disease in the field of medicine, just as she had. But she couldn't be his lady … not without broken promises on both sides.

It seemed to be like the perfect thing for you and me
It's so ironic you're what I had pictured you to be
But there are facts in our lives we can never change
Just tell me that you understand and feel the same

"You know I love you," she pleaded. "But I can't marry you … I promised Father I'd join him in his medical practice … "

They were on the long, winding staircase to the top of the cathedral tower in Ulm, with nothing but the empty sky above them. A stone gargoyle bared its fangs at her. She felt dizzy, not only from the height.

"He can find a replacement easily enough," Rudolf snapped back from behind her. "But I can't. Not for the joy of my life."

The joy of his life. Was that really what their time together had meanr to him?

Long walks down the winding cobblestoned streets of Tübingen, Reutlingen, Ulm. Green fields and lush orchards. A stolen photograph. A pitch-dark cave, his arms gripping her waist from behind to stop her sliding down into the underground lake. A whisper in her ear … "You do like me a little bit, don't you?"

This perfect romance that I've created in my mind
I'd live a thousand lives, each one with you right by my side
But yet we find ourselves in a less than perfect circumstance
And so it seems like we'll never have the chance

It happened one rainy afternoon when they were trapped in the Nebelhöhle, the infamous 'Cave of Mist' where Duke Ludwig of Württemberg had hidden from his enemies. They became separated from their friends, without a light, calling for help with no one to answer. She was afraid, sobbing, clinging to his hand; something that would embarrass her awfully in daylight. She never knew exactly how he got from calming her down to courting her, but he did; somehow she found herself in his arms, being tenderly and passionately kissed.

That kiss burned on her lips all through the cold, rainy walk to the train station. She felt marked, changed; never to be a child again. Disloyal to her father, her ambition. The kiss was in Rudolf's eyes every time he looked at her; every time they were alone, he called her Herzle, 'little heart'. She couldn't stand the way that endearment, spoken in that soft, rolling South German dialect of his, could give her butterflies in her stomach.

So on the steps of the Tower of Ulm, eye to eye with a stone gargoyle, she resolved to end it for once and for all.

Ain't it funny how some feelings you just can't deny
And you can't move on even though you try
Ain't it strange when you're feeling things you shouldn't feel
Oh, I wish this could be real
Ain't it funny how a moment could just change your life
And you don't wanna face what's wrong or right
Ain't it strange how fate can play a part
In the story of your heart

Rudolf had been twelve when his parents died. His little sister Ola had been nine. They had held hands all through the funeral, watching the black-clad people and the lilies on the casket like something out of a surreal dream. She had sobbed into his shoulder in the smoky train station at Stuttgart until they took her away – none of their aunts and uncles, seemingly, wanted to the expense of two children at once. Rudolf hated train stations after that – until he met her.

She was the golden-haired girl who missed her train for a bottle of Coke – and laughed. She was the girl who brushed off his offer to help with a toss of her hair, whom he saw exploring Würzburg as freely as if she owned the town, who had a sweetness that reminded him of Ola, but a spirit all her own. It was a secret triumph for him when she finally admitted that she was lost, and what was the name of her hotel again?

"If I'd known you were so nice and so – reliable – I never would've acted that way," she said, smiling up at him.

"My sister lives on Parkstraße 3. Look her up. She's 'reliable' just like me."

And he waited for a month, bombarding Ola with increasingly impatient letters, until he finally got to his uncle's party in Tübingen and saw Fräulein Braun smiling in welcome. It was a moment that changed both their lives.

Sometimes I think that a true love can never be
I just believe that somehow it wasn't meant for me
Life can be cruel in a way that I can't explain
And I don't think that I could face it all again

The most maddening thing was that he knew she wanted him just as much as he wanted her. He could hear the faint hesitation in her voice, even when she teased or scolded him. He could see he way she dropped her golden eyelashes when he looked at her too long. He could feel it when he kissed her. The only thing that kept them from being happy was her confounded stubbornness.

"And one more thing, Doctor … please don't be angry with me!" she said, white-faced and near tears. The acid remark on his tongue melted away, and instead he reached out to gently stroke her cheek.

"You dear, silly girl … " he murmured.

That was when her brother interrupted from further up the stairs, shattering the moment. It seemed to be his fate, thought Rudolf, to snatch at happiness and have it denied him. Why did he still do this to himself? Why did he continue to be friendly and civil to Annemarie, write her long letters when they were apart, even go so far as to get her an internship position at the Westend Hospital where he worked? Why did he keep setting himself up for further heartbreak?

I barely know you but somehow I know what you're about
A deeper love I've found in you and I no longer doubt
You've touched my heart and it altered every plan I've made
And now I feel that I don't have to be afraid

"What in the world were you thinking of?" he snapped.

Annemarie's scatterbrained ways were getting on his last nerve. Medical journals unfinished, damaged equipment – this was no way for a would-be doctor to behave. She had to learn that her behavior had consequences. And if she wouldn't give him her love, for Heaven's sake, she owed him her full attention at least!

"I didn't come here to be treated like a child," she flashed back. "A kind word will always reach me, but I won't be sneered at!"

"Oh?" He raised an ironic eyebrow. "You didn't seem to think much of my kind words in the past."

The hurt look in her eyes as she stepped back made him feel as if he had slapped her.

That was when he decided that they couldn't go on like this. It was a vicious cycle capable of destroying them both. Just one bold, decisive action, just a few words to clear the air of the poisonous fog between them, and she would have to see reason.

Three days later, on his way home from the hospital by way of the castle gardens, he saw her walking alone. It was raining, and she had no umbrella; her white sundress clung to her and he could see her shivering even from a distance. He did not think twice; he simply chased after her.

Ain't it funny how some feelings you just can't deny
And you can't move on even though you try
Ain't it strange when you're feeling things you shouldn't feel
Oh, I wish this could be real
Ain't it funny how a moment could just change your life
And you don't wanna face what's wrong or right
Ain't it strange how fate can play a part
In the story of your heart

"Fräulein Annemarie, slow down! Let's walk together, shall we? Oh, that's right, you don't like linking arms."

A thunderbolt rumbled across the sky. She clutched his arm under the umbrella; neither of them commented.

"We've been together in weather like this before," he said.

"Yes, in the cave – "

"That's not what I meant."

The silence was broken. The memory of that kiss was like a third person walking between them.

"Annemarie … won't you try to help out my memory a little?"

I locked away my heart
But you just set it free
Emotions I felt held me back
From what my life should be
I pushed you far away
And yet you stayed with me
I guess this means that you and me were meant to be....

They argued, of course. Annemarie's loyalty to her family was one of the things he admired most about her. But he knew perfectly well that no loving father would ever sacrifice his daughter's happiness for the sake of a medical practice, especially if he had a son-in-law who could take it over just as well. As for Ola, he would miss the opportunity to live with her – but by this time she had found a life partner of her own.

"So that means … oh, Dr. Hartenstein, that means I can love you!" She threw her arms around him in spite of his slick raincoat, knocking the umbrella aside; neither of them cared.

"Not if you keep on calling me that," he ordered, his radiant smile giving the lie to the stern tone of his voice. "From now on I'm 'Rudi', understand?"

She laughed and kissed him, the rain streaming down their faces like tears as the clouds parted to reveal a delicate, shimmering rainbow.