Lonely No More

by Norsebard

Contact: norsebarddk@gmail.com




This romance belongs in the Uber category. All characters are created by me, though they may remind you of someone.

All characters depicted, names used, and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended nor should be inferred. Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

The registered trademarks mentioned in this story are © of their respective owners. No infringement of their rights is intended, and no profit is gained.

This story depicts a loving relationship between consenting adult women. If such a story frightens you, you better click on the X in the top-right corner and find something else to read.

This story contains some profanity. Readers who are easily offended by bad language may wish to read something other than this story.




Written: September 28th - October 6th, 2014.

Thank you very much for your help, Wendy Arthur :D

As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D

Description: A chapter closes in Judith Engelbrecht's life when she decides to leave her husband of fifteen years. Yearning for at least a time-out from the marriage that has led her nowhere, Judith races to her summer cottage at the coast to find some peace of mind. Starting anew is a daunting prospect for a woman approaching her fiftieth birthday, but at least she has help in the shape of her next-door neighbor, the spirited Alice Lundgaard…





The fading light of the late-September Sunday evening was disturbed by a pair of bright headlights that carved through the mounting gloom.

The holiday home resort near the coast was all but deserted at that time of the year, so the forty-nine year old Judith Engelbrecht had the narrow, paved road all to herself - a good thing as it turned out, as her sleek, black Audi A7 was in effect too wide and unwieldy for the narrow stretch of road that went the last part of the way to the resort.

Sighing, Judith rubbed her weary eyes. It had been a snap decision to leave her stately apartment in Aalborg and take to the coastal road, but if she hadn't left when she did, she would have exploded from the frustration that had built up inside her.

A headache throbbed deep inside her head. She had been ill-prepared for the three-hour drive - she hadn't even brought a bottle of water - and every place she had expected to stop along the way had been closed. The summer tourist season was long since over and the big rush of families arriving for the mid-term holiday was still three weeks into the future.

She finally made it to Poplar Lane and turned onto the dirt road which was even narrower than the paved connecting road. As she drove by the cottage of her closest neighbor, the Petersens, she noticed a small, white car sitting in the carport. There was a light on in the house, but she was too tired to pop in and say hi to the elderly couple.

Her summer cottage, named the Benedikte after her late mother, soon came into sight. Originally built in 1979, it had been renovated and redecorated many times over the years to keep the rooms and the furniture to an exemplary standard that befitted the wife of an oh-so important banker and businessman. Presently, the walls of the main cottage were creamy yellow while the windows and sections of the roof were held in white. The smaller annex next to it was still painted in the previous color, powder blue.

Each time Judith saw that annex, she was reminded of the room her husband had converted into a nursery for her when she had been pregnant a decade earlier. Through tragic misfortune, the nursery had never been used.

Sighing again, she came to a halt out on the dirt road to see if everything was all right. At first glance, the main cottage and the annex appeared to be just fine, so she turned into the driveway and drove up the gravelly path to get the large car in under the roof of the carport.


She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath of the familiar scents of woodwork, mothballs and dusty curtains that greeted her when she opened the front door. Not only did those smells remind her of the days, weeks and months she had spent at her grandparents' summer cottage when she was a little girl - the best summers of her life - but they were proof that she was alone.

Even before she closed the front door, she shuffled into the house and took off her high-heeled shoes in a hurry to walk around on her socked feet. The shoes had been awful to drive in, but she hadn't had time to put on more appropriate footwear. Her three-quarter-length dark gray coat soon followed, revealing an elegant electric bronze satin shirt and a pale gray skirt.

The view over the beach and the ocean beyond it from the forward dining room was as magnificent as ever. Though it was gloomy and overcast, and the lower edge of the clouds seemed to nearly reach the gray sand, it was possible to get a few glimpses of the rough, white-topped waves now and then.

A faint smile creased Judith's lips as she ran her hand over the top of the smooth backrest of one of the beechwood dining chairs. The view was special, but it would have to wait. First, she needed to switch the circuit breaker so she could restore the power for the electrical heating panels.


A short hour later, Judith turned off her telephone and put it on the coffee table. The plastic gadget landed next to a half-empty bottle of red wine that she had snatched from her apartment in the knowledge that she would need outside assistance to fall asleep on the first night.

She had found a pair of bathing slippers that she had put on instead of the awful shoes, but even they were pushed off as she swept her legs up into the L-shaped leather couch that could seat six but that had never been used for more than two.

The bedroom was on the upper floor of the cottage, but the long, tiring drive and the amount of red wine she had consumed meant that she simply couldn't be bothered to crawl up the steep staircase to get to it.

After finding a warm throw to cover herself with during what she hoped would be a short power nap, she grabbed a handful of decorative cushions and fluffed them hard to get the dust out; then, she leaned down to rest her weary head on the top cushion.

Almost working on instinct alone, her last conscious act was to let her fingertips run over the small indentation on the ring finger on her left hand. She had left the wedding band at home, and she was sure she would never wear it again.




Three things conspired to wake Judith up the next morning. The first was her tongue that had been glued to her palate. The second was the distress signals sent out by her over-filled bladder - and the third was the strange, rhythmical thunderclaps that came from the front door.

"Gah," Judith croaked as she sat up on the couch. A brief glance at her watch proved that her intended power nap had turned into a nine-hour blackout. It was a quarter past eight, and judging by the light, it had to be AM. "Gah," she croaked again. Gravity had somehow changed during the night, and she had to lean forward and put her head in her hands to compensate.

The rhythmical pounding from the front door became less and ultimately disappeared altogether. Judith shook her head in a slow, exhausted fashion and looked at the world with bleary eyes. She needed something to get her tongue to release, but the only liquid she had at her disposal was stale wine, and she didn't quite fancy that.

Though the haze that had invaded her mind was strong bordering on the impenetrable, she remembered that she did in fact have a cold water faucet in the bathroom. In her present state, the journey there would be a lengthy one, but her bladder told her that she needed to get a move on. Sighing, she got up from the L-shaped couch and staggered into the bathroom to freshen up.


Just before nine o'clock, the rhythmical thunderclaps originating at the front door returned, but by now, Judith was at least ready to face whatever it could be. She was sitting at the dining table in casual slacks and a bra, mending her delicate electric bronze satin shirt that had stripped two buttons during the night, but she whipped on an old, striped polo-shirt that she kept ready for just such an occasion.

Judith fluffed her long, mousy brown hair out of the polo's hem and shuffled over to the door. She could see through the frosted glass that whoever was waiting outside was alone, but she couldn't identify the visitor. 'It's probably Mrs. Petersen,' she thought and rubbed her brow upon realizing that the elderly lady would expect to hear all the juicy details of why Judith was there alone.

From somewhere deep inside, she found a half-smile that she managed to screw onto her face as she opened the door. "Hello, Mrs. Peters- oh…"

Judith came to a halt when she realized the person waiting outside wasn't the elderly Mrs. Petersen but a strawberry-blonde in her mid-forties.

Her pert nose, her well-placed dimples and the generous spraying of freckles across her cheeks gave her a much younger appearance, but the little crow's feet around her eyes and the corners of her mouth proved that she was an adult, not a teen out selling cookies to support the Girl Scouts. She wore screaming pink tennis shoes, well-worn blue jeans and a lined, pale green windbreaker that matched her eyes perfectly.

"Hi!" the woman said with bubbly enthusiasm in a voice that was deeper and richer than her petite exterior would suggest. "I'm Alice Lundgaard, your new neighbor. I saw you arriving last night, but I didn't want to intrude. I was here a little while ago but I guess you weren't up yet."

"Oh… uh, hello. I'm Judith Engelbrecht," Judith said and instinctively put out her hand to offer her visitor a proper greeting. Only then did she notice that both of Alice's hands were in use carrying a thermos and a baking tin covered by a layer of aluminum foil respectively. "Oh… uh… come in… come in," she said and stepped aside.

"Thank you," Alice said and kicked off her tennis shoes before she crossed the threshold, revealing a pair of green and white socks. "Oh! Your view is just as nice as mine!" she continued, looking out over the beach from her vantage point in the middle of the dining room.

"Uh… yeah," Judith said, trying to smooth down what had to be a bad case of morning hair. Everything was going just a bit too fast for her foggy mind. The last thing she needed was a lengthy gossiping session, but on the other hand, she didn't want to be an ogre by showing her visitor the door - especially not since the contents of the baking tin sent out a delightful smell that made her remember she hadn't eaten for nearly a day. "Uh… so the Petersens…?"

"Oh, I bought the cottage from the Petersens earlier this year," Alice said and moved back from the view. "Mrs. Petersen broke her hip and she had to move to a retirement home where she could be monitored."

"Oh… I see," Judith said with a smirk. In the nine summers the Petersens had lived next to her, she had never exchanged more than a handful of words at a time with the lively, old couple. It seemed the bouncy Alice had a way to get people to open up to her.

Alice smiled and turned around on her socked heel. It was clear she was looking for the kitchen, and eventually found it on her own since her hostess wasn't of much use. "Indeed. Anyway, I brought you some apple pie and a thermos of tea," she said as she crossed the living room floor with a purposeful stride.

Judith kept standing at the front door with a puzzled look on her face. All she'd had in her kitchen cabinets had been old muesli, so the concept of 'apple pie' certainly had a nice ring to it. Chuckling, she closed the door and shuffled into the kitchen to see what her self-invited guest was doing.

The doors to the cabinets were already in full swing by the time Judith made it out there. Alice had found a pair of plates, the proper eating utensils and two mugs. Comically, she had pulled over a footstool to stand on in order to reach the top cabinets.

"Yeah," Alice continued unperturbed at the puzzled Judith, "I'm in the middle of redecorating and I do it all on my own, so when I noticed that you had arrived, I felt an urgent need to speak to a fellow human being. After all, one can't hold an intelligent conversation with a patchwork rug, right?"

For the first time, Alice's purposeful gestures slowed down and she came to a halt high atop of the footstool. "Uh…" she said, glancing at the taller woman who was leaning against the doorjamb with her arms crossed over her chest. "I hope you don't mind that I…"

Judith let out a chuckle and let her arms fall down her sides. "No, of course not. It's all a bit of a blur, though… I fell asleep on the couch last night so I don't have all my ducks in a row yet."

"Oh…" Alice said and glanced at the L-shaped leather couch that she could see a corner of through the door to the living room. "Say, that's a beautiful couch. You sure didn't buy that at IKEA, huh?"

"No. Uh… please get down from there before you slip and hurt yourself," Judith said and took the plates from Alice's hand so the shorter woman could hop down from the footstool.

Alice smiled and quickly took a big step down onto the linoleum floor. "Why, thank you. Oh, you don't have to worry 'bout me. I used to parasail when I was younger."

Before Judith could make a comment on that surprising revelation, Alice removed the tin foil that covered the apple pie. Once the pie was in full view, Judith's stomach took control of her body and didn't leave any resources available for other activities, like straight thinking. "Oh… oh, my, that looks fantastic… and smells fantastic," she mumbled, rubbing her empty tummy.

Alice smiled broadly at the enthusiastic response before she took a knife and expertly cut two large yet not too lavish slices out of the pie. The slices found a home on the plates, and she was soon at work unscrewing the lid on the thermos so they could get some tea.

"Listen, ah…" Judith said, realizing with a growing sense of embarrassment that she couldn't remember the charming woman's name. "Uh… oh, I'm sorry, I've forgotten your name," she continued, rubbing her brow.

"Alice," the bubbly strawberry-blonde said with a smile that faded when she caught a glimpse of the confusion that was written all over Judith's face. "Oh, I've done it again, haven't I? I've come on too strong… haven't I? I know. It's a fatal character flaw that runs in the family…"

"Well… uh… it's certainly been a whirlwind encounter so far, Alice," Judith said and let out an embarrassed chuckle.

"If you want me to leave, I can-"

"No! No… not with such a marvelous apple pie whispering my name!"

Alice laughed out loud and quickly filled the mugs with steaming hot tea. "Okay. So… let's sit in the dining room. The view is so beautiful today."

"Yeah, but…" Judith said and looked at her electric bronze satin shirt that took up most of the space on the dining room table. "There isn't much room and-"

"Oh… I did it again. I must come across like a real psycho, huh?" Alice's shoulders slumped as she spoke and her entire demeanor changed like someone had flicked a switch. Her good mood seemed to dissolve and turn into a dark mask of disappointment. "The truth is that I've spent the past ten days up to my elbows in plaster spackle fixing a dry wall that had cracked. I haven't seen more than one or two living souls in that time, and I guess… I guess that I just wanted to talk to someone. Jeez, I'm sounding like a groundhog on acid. I'm really sorry," she said in a despondent voice.

Judith had to stifle a smirk at that colorful description. The thought had crossed her mind. To show that she wasn't spooked by the strawberry-blonde's exuberant presence, she reached over and touched Alice's elbow before she took the two plates. "How about we started over? Hi, I'm Judith and I live here. If you can hold on for two seconds, I'll put these down on the dining room table and move aside a few items so we can sit there. Okay…?"

"Okay, I can hold on for two seconds… sure I can," Alice said and regained some of her bubbly nature. "Hello, Judith, I'm Alice Lundgaard. Sometimes known as the groundhog on acid… you know, the one always poking her nose into other people's business."

Laughing, Judith put down the plates and put the needle and thread into the small tin sewing box she kept them in. Once the pointy stuff was out of the way, she folded the electric bronze shirt neatly and hung it over the backrest of one of the beechwood chairs. The dish mats were quickly set to make sure the expensive table wouldn't get ungainly rings from the mugs. "All right, that should be it. You can bring the tea over now."

"Neat!" Alice said and quickly deposited two mugs with steaming hot tea on the table's dish mats.

The view out of the landscape window was in fact beautiful. The heavy cloud cover from the day before had given way to a typically clear blue September sky infrequently interrupted by fluffy white clouds that had been strewn about at random.

Some three hundred yards beyond the windows of Judith's cottage, the ocean was far calmer and even inviting compared to how it had looked earlier. To prove the point, a few people were playing with their dogs down on the beach, throwing balls, sticks or Frisbees into the water so their pets could retrieve them.

Though the people down there wore heavy clothing to stay warm in the breeze that perpetually rolled in from the sea, it wasn't as cold as it could be at that time of the year; in fact, the rays of the autumn sun that fell through the landscape window were pleasantly warm.

Judith pulled out her guest's chair to let her know she could sit down. Once the strawberry-blonde was seated, Judith sat down herself and used a spoon to dig into the warm apple pie with gusto. "Mmmmmhh! Oh, this is wonderful, Alice," she said, discreetly wiping her lips on a napkin.

"I'm glad you enjoy it," Alice said and dug in herself.

The two women enjoyed the apple pie in rare silence, but predictably, it wasn't too long before Alice couldn't hold back any longer. "So," she said, taking a sip from her mug, "I wasn't here during the heatwave in July, but I'll bet the public beach was packed to capacity with sun-worshippers?"

"It was. It was tough to find a spot down there," Judith said with a faint nod.

"I'll bet you caught a few rays, though! With your coloring, you must be able to get a fantastic tan. My red hair prevents me from getting beyond looking like a cooked lobster."

"Who, me? Oh, no. I used to, but I don't sunbathe anymore," Judith said with a firm shake of her head. "There's a local bylaw that says women over forty-five can't wear skimpy clothes in public."

Alice stared at her hostess in wide-eyed puzzlement for a few seconds until she realized Judith was jesting. She let her eyes climb over the taller woman's frame from her feet to the top of her mousy brown hair. "Oh, ha ha, pull the other one. Goodness me, Judith, you really don't have anything to worry about. You're a beautiful woman, you know."

"Gosh, thank you, but… no. Sunbathing is for the size zeros, not plus-sized women like me. Let's change the subject, shall we?" Judith said, deliberately looking away from Alice's far more slender frame.

Chuckling, Alice reached over and briefly patted the back of Judith's left hand. As she did so, she couldn't help but notice the indentation on the ring finger. "All right," she said, slowly tearing her eyes away from the spot on the finger where a ring, probably a wedding band, had been recently. "Changing the subject… what do you do for a living, Judith? I'm ordinarily a kindergarten teacher but I've taken a year's sabbatical to take a few classes in modern pedagogy at the Adult College. I really love working with children. They respond immediately, you know. If you do something they won't like, you'll hear about it…"

While Alice spoke on, Judith sat quiet and stared out onto the magnificent view without seeing anything. 'What do you do for a living?' should be an easy question to answer, but most often, when she told someone - especially liberated women like Alice - that she was simply a stay-at-home housewife because her husband hadn't wanted her to go back to the labor market following their marriage, she always ended up with a severely derailed conversation.

She and her husband Herbert had been married for close to fifteen years, and for the first twelve of those years, staying at home doing nothing had been just fine for her. She had embroidered cushions and knitted sweaters, she had learned how to paint on tiles and on canvas, she had helped a friend translate a book, and she had even tried to dabble in writing and submitting short romantic stories to the Family Journal and the Our Home magazines.

With time, those things grew less and less important until they were merely small grains of sand in a vast desert. A strong urge to do something useful with her life came to her upon meeting a relief worker at a Doctors Without Borders exhibition at her local shopping mall; a woman who spent six months each year in the poorest regions of Africa helping orphans and the ill had spoken to her at length about her experiences.

It had planted a seed in Judith to finally do something useful before it was too late. Relocating to Africa would perhaps be a step too far, but she didn't need to as there were plenty of people needing help even in the rich society she lived in. When she had mentioned wanting to work as a volunteer in a shelter for the homeless and the socially vulnerable one evening at dinner, her husband had shot her down in flames before she had even finished the first sentence. That had been the only time she had dared to raise the issue.

Three years on, the seed of freedom and purpose that had been planted had festered into a knot in her stomach. It needed to be unraveled for her to live on, and it was the direct reason for her hasty decision to up and leave her husband and her stately apartment and do a three-hour drive to a cold, empty summer cottage in late September.

She was forty-nine with her fiftieth birthday looming large on the horizon - and yet, she felt utterly useless as a human being when it came to anything beyond the various irrelevant, inane activities she had spent the past fifteen years on.

Sighing, Judith realized that Alice was still talking about funny situations that had taken place in the kindergarten where she worked. She took a long swig of the tea and hoped her self-invited guest hadn't noticed her zoning out.

"So I certainly know my way around runny noses," Alice said with a chuckle as she scooped the last part of her apple pie into her mouth. "Oh… have I been speaking too much again? In the future, you have my permission to tell me to shut up, ha ha…"

Judith smiled wistfully, hoping that Alice had forgotten all about her question of what Judith did for a living.

"Which reminds me…" Alice said and gently put her hand on Judith's elbow, "you never told me what you did?"

Judith leaned demonstratively back on her chair and fixed her gaze onto the ocean beyond the windows so she wouldn't have to look at her guest. "How come we're defined by what we're doing instead of who we are… or even who we wish to be?" she said quietly.


"I'm merely a stay-at-home housewife and have been so for the past decade and a half. Go on, feel free to joke about me being the knitting champion of the world. Or, depending on your political world view, scold me for baking spelt buns and not wanting to get my fingernails soiled."

"I wouldn't dream of doing either, Judith, you have to believe that," Alice said and hurriedly put a hand on top of Judith's. "That's all your own choice… and we each have to choose what we want from life, you know."

"Yeah, well. Some get to make that choice… others have it made for them," Judith mumbled. In her case, her husband had made the choice for her - a banker as important as Herbert Engelbrecht wasn't about to have a working wife with all the risks and implications that could create.

They had met when she was thirty-five and working as a receptionist for a company that Herbert had plans to support financially. A short week later, she had been transferred to his company through no wish of her own. Another short week later, he had started courting her with flowers and chocolate despite already being married. From there, Judith was on a one-way street to housewife-dom.

Alice smiled and took the opportunity to rub Judith's hand a little. Her pinkie ran over the indentation on Judith's ring finger a few times, proving that she could read between the lines. "I'm sorry, I did it again. I let my mouth run off with me. Oh boy, I can see I'm giving you such a wonderful impression of me," she said and shook her head slowly.

"No, it's me, not you," Judith said and emptied her mug of tea.

"I'm sorry. I better go hom-"

"No! No, tell you what," Judith said and spun around on the chair to look the strawberry-blonde in the eye. "I need to talk to someone just as badly as you, so… uh… how about we went down to the beach for a little stroll? The weather seems to be very nice today…"

"The beach? Sure! Sure, we can do that! I've only been down there a couple of times while I've been spacklin', and every time, the weather was… pardon my French… shitty!"

Judith chuckled, happy for the reprieve from the gloomier subjects.

"I just need to pop home for something warmer," Alice said and toyed with her pale green windbreaker, "but how about we met in fifteen minutes over by the picnic bench? You know where that is, right?"

"Sure I do," Judith said with an embarrassed, lopsided grin, "my husband paid for it. It's got a plaque with his name on it."


Much to Judith's slightly false chagrin, the important-looking brass plaque with Herbert Engelbrecht's name had been covered by a sticker agitating one of the left-wing political parties. Not only had the sticker been put on crooked, someone had tried to tear it off which had left it in an even worse state.

Judith had rummaged through her closets to find something warm to wear since her electric bronze satin shirt was still missing a few buttons. She had found a pair of dark winter slacks and a home-made knitted turtleneck sweater that didn't smell too badly of mothballs. Although the ensemble was mismatched and as far from haute couture as humanly possible, it was warm and comfortable - and besides, she would cover it with her three-quarter length overcoat.

The picnic bench had been placed on a concrete foundation at the edge of the sandy beach. From the slightly elevated position, it was possible to see for hundreds and hundreds of yards along the sandy shore, even down to the impressive, wooden bathing jetty that stretched far into the sea.

The beach scene was dominated by the strong colors of the early autumn. The broad band of reddish grass separating the beach from the dirt road stood out in a stark contrast to the pale gray sand, the grayish-blue water and the paler blue sky. As always, a faint breeze was blowing in from the sea, but it wasn't strong enough to create more than tiny, white ripples on top of the gently rolling waves.

"I'm coming! I'm almost there!" Alice shouted, running along the dirt road wearing blue jeans and a pale brown trench coat that was almost too long for her slender frame. She wore a knitted cap with a tassel that bobbed up and down each time her tennis shoes connected with the dirt road.

"Hi," Judith said and took her right hand out of her pocket to offer the pleasant, if chatty, woman a small wave. She hadn't thought of putting on gloves, but now she wished she had.

Alice finally made it to the picnic bench and promptly adjusted her knitted cap that sat so low on her forehead that her eyebrows were barely visible. "Hi, Judith. Sorry I'm late. My Mom called and I needed to tell her something. And when the Lundgaards start yapping, time flies."

"Oh, that's quite all right, Alice," Judith said with a smile. "Do you want to stroll up here on the dirt road or down on the beach proper?"

"Oh, the beach, the beach! That's why I'm here!"

The two women ventured down onto the soft sand and were soon employing the familiar peculiar gait necessary for walking in sand. They waddled towards the shoreline for a little while until the surface became more solid and they could walk normally again.

When they were within half a dozen yards of the edge of the water, Judith turned around and looked back up at the Benedikte and the Petersens' old cottage that now belonged to the bubbly woman next to her. Although the two cottages were very different with regards to their coats of paint, they were designed almost identically having been built by the same crafty building contractor, though a few years apart.

Alice was too busy shaking sand out of her right shoe to look at the cottages. "Oh, I'm glad we weren't caught on camera there. Boy, we really do have to waddle like ducks to get across the soft sand, huh?"

"Yeah… and we have to waddle like ducks to get back to the dirt road. So you have something to look forward to."

"Yeah! Whenever I'm at a beach, I spend hours afterwards picking sand from between my toes… oh… too much information, huh?" Alice said and crinkled her nose in the cutest gesture of embarrassment Judith had seen in a long while.

Smiling, Judith shuffled along the packed, soaked sand at the edge of the water. Alice soon joined her strolling south to stay on the same stretch of the beach they could see from their landscape windows.

Near them, what appeared to be a married couple played catch with their two young boys and their Retriever. The golden dog tore around the beach, barking like crazy and stretching to impossible lengths to catch the tennis ball they kept throwing at it. Now and then, one of the young boys would fall on his rear on the sand, but he always got up, laughed and kept on playing.

In the far distance towards the east, a front was slowly building up over the ocean, but the darker clouds didn't look like they would reach the shore any time soon.

The dark front made Judith think of her husband's state of mind when he would eventually notice that she had left. He would blow his top, that much was certain. He would down a glass of his favorite Single Malt and sit at his favorite leather armchair wearing his favorite sour expression; the one he always wore when he was angry with the world or anyone in it for messing up his plans.

What he would do then would be anyone's guess. It probably wouldn't be too hard for him to figure out that his wife had driven to the summer cottage, but Judith had no idea if he would let her be or if he would use his influence to start a manhunt to bring her back by force.

Blinking away the dark thoughts, Judith looked down at her shorter companion when she realized she had been spoken to. "Oh… I'm sorry. I was just admiring the view…"

"That's quite all right, Judith. I yap constantly, anyhow," Alice said with a grin. "No, I asked if you had any children?"

'I must hand it to her, she certainly knows how to find my sore spots,' Judith thought, looking out over the ocean. "No. I suffered an acute miscarriage some years ago. It tore something inside me that I won't bore you with. It left me unable to bear children," she said quietly.

Alice cringed so hard she looked like she wanted to dig a hole in the sand and stuff herself down into it. Her face turned red and scrunched up until it resembled a sock puppet from a demented version of the Muppet Show. "Aw… I'm truly sorry for bringing it up. I won't speak another word from now on, I promise!" she said, staring a hole in the back of Judith's head.

"That's all right, Alice… you couldn't know. Are you married? Children?"

"Unmarried and unattached, but I have a… uh, I'm loosely connected to what you could call a stepson from a previous relationship," Alice said while her face slowly came back to its normal color and shape. "We don't see each other much these days. He's working for one of the companies that supply the off-shore oil rigs in the North Sea."

"Oh, that's fascinating."

"Yes, but it's so technical it's way over my head. I have a younger sister, but she's living abroad with her husband. Do you have any siblings?"

Judith shook her head and closed the coat a bit more. "No, I'm an only child. Do you want to go all the way out to the bathing jetty?" she said, stopping to point at the wooden pier in the distance.

"No… we could perhaps do that another time. Let's go back. Okay?"

"Works for me," Judith said and turned around to head north. She had to admit it was quite pleasant to finally have someone to talk to, even if the bubbly woman did have a tendency to ask questions that she didn't have any answers for.


A few minutes later, Judith sneaked a glance at the strawberry-blonde and had to chuckle at the wide open look she carried on her expressive face. There was no doubt Alice had an inquisitive mind and plenty of spunk, nor was there any doubt that she was attractive in a very natural, unspoiled sort of way.

She opened her mouth intending to inquire how come someone as pretty as Alice didn't have a special man in her life when she was interrupted by a cell phone ringing somewhere deep down a coat pocket. "Well, that's not mine… I haven't changed the ring tone from the standard," she said when she recognized the theme from an old fantasy TV show.

"No, it's mine," Alice said and dug into her pocket to find her Samsung. Looking at it, she furrowed her brow and stopped walking. "That's strange… it's my Mom again. I better answer it at once."

"No problem," Judith said and kept on walking to give Alice a bit of privacy.

The puzzled look on Alice's expressive face turned to one of clear worry when she listened to the person at the other end of the connection. "All right… all right… yes, I'll be there… yes, as soon as I can. Thank you so much for calling, Mrs. Sawan. Goodbye." After closing the connection, she put the Galaxy back in her coat pocket with an emphatic "Hell…"

"Oh… is something wrong?" Judith said, noticing the immediate change in Alice's body language.

"Yeah. That was my Mom's neighbor, Mrs. Sawan. My Mom wanted to make soup in her microwave, but the bowl tipped and she scalded her right hand," Alice said and shook her head angrily. "The stubborn old woman doesn't even want to call the Medical Quick Response Hotline I installed for her. She's eighty-three."

"Oh, I see," Judith said with a slow nod.

Alice scrunched up her face and offered Judith a dark, sad look. "Mrs. Sawan said she heard Mom's cries. They have Mom's hand under the cold faucet, but… but… no, I need to see for myself. Maybe I can get some sense into that stubborn old woman! Judith, I'm truly sorry but I need to go at once."

"Oh, of course, of course … do you want me to drive you to wherever your mother is living? Is it far? I think my car will be faster… and you're a little agitated now…"

"You're right, but no thank you," Alice said and held Judith by the arms. "It's not that far, we're both living in Fredericia. It's just forty-five minutes or so from here. No, I don't want to drag you into my family nonsense. We'll… we'll talk later, okay?"

"Sure. I'm looking forward to it already," Judith said with a smile. Alice smiled back and took off across the soft sand.

Judith kept a close eye on the petite figure in the large trench coat. Once Alice reached the dirt road, she constantly picked up the pace until she was jogging back to her own cottage. Moments later, she came back out in her pale green windbreaker, got into the white car and reversed out of the carport.

Judith waved at her new acquaintance as the small, white car drove off down the dirt road, but she knew Alice wouldn't be able to see her.

When a sense of calm had once again fallen over the sandy beach, Judith pulled the coat closer and turned back around to take one final look of the ocean. "Such a whirlwind," she mumbled to herself as she zoomed in on a vast, pale blue bulk carrier far out towards the horizon, "but what a charming lady. Oh, I hope her mother is fine… and I hope we'll have another opportunity to chat."

Shivering from the chill that had sneaked up on her in all her solitude, she turned around and began the short trek back up to her cottage.




The next morning, Judith's breakfast consisted of a slice of leftover apple pie and a bowl of stale muesli - without milk. Although dry and dusty, the muesli had been tasty enough and certainly more delicious than her dinner the evening before: after turning the pantry upside down searching for anything edible, she had found a can of Mexican-style meatballs in spicy sauce that she had put in the microwave. At least, the label had claimed it was meatballs. After eating the contents of the can, she wasn't too sure.

Crunching on the bone-dry muesli, Judith sat at the dining room table and looked out onto the beach and the ocean beyond it. The weather was still nice if a little windy, but the wind had brought out several windsurfers who rode the waves like professionals in their neon-colored wetsuits.

She craned her neck to glance at Alice's house to her right. It hadn't been until the early evening that the bubbly woman had returned from tending to her mother. Judith had noticed the small white car returning, but she hadn't wanted to intrude. She had hoped the chatty Alice would come over for a talk, but she hadn't.

The last of the dry, stale muesli was munched on comprehensively before she gulped it down. "No," she mumbled, pushing back her chair, "I really need to go into town and buy some groceries… gosh, I hope the mini-mart is open at this time of the year… maybe Alice will know where to buy milk and things…?"

Another glance at Alice's cottage proved inconclusive as to whether or not the strawberry-blonde was up yet. Judith grunted and quickly did the dishes before she threw herself onto the L-shaped couch to watch the morning show on the huge, flat Bang & Olufsen TV that stood in the corner of the living room. Her husband had insisted on buying a fifty-inch TV for the cottage for no good reason other than he needed to have a status symbol.

So much for the status symbol - when she clicked on the remote, all that she got was a blank screen with a small box in the center of the frame that said No connection. Check cable or antenna . "Ohhhhh," she groaned and got up from the couch. She went around the TV and tried to see if anything was wrong, but the mess of jacks, cables and assorted other electronic doodads on the rear panel only conspired to make her confused.

"Damn, I really wanted to watch the morning show…" she said and turned off the TV. She tapped her fingers on the black plastic casing a couple of times before she strode into the bathroom and stuck her feet into the bathing slippers. Grabbing her keys and her coat, she locked the front door behind her and walked purposefully over towards Alice's cottage.


Judith groaned out loud when she turned the corner and realized Alice's carport was empty - the bubbly woman had probably left while Judith had been in the shower earlier.

Just to be on the safe side, she shuffled back around and walked up a short gravelly path lined with decorative boulders to get to Alice's door. There, she knocked and called Alice's name a few times, but nobody was home.

Grunting, she turned around and began to shuffle back down the gravelly path. She stopped at the foot of the path to look out over the beach and the ocean. Although the view was almost identical to the one she had in her dining room, the different angle meant that she was able to see a bit further north, up to the edge of the pine forest some five hundred yards away. She was even able to catch a glimpse of one of the white buildings that made up the vast, stately mansion where the rich proprietor who had originally owned the entire holiday home resort had lived in the late 1800's.

None of that brought her any nearer to watching the morning show, however. Since she was at Alice's cottage anyway, she thought she might as well take a peek inside - not that she was nosy. She shuffled back up the gravelly path towards the door, but stepped off it and walked around the front of the cottage.

Up close, it was easy to see that Alice had her work cut out for her. The Petersens had apparently been unable - or unwilling - to do much upkeep, so the window frames and the coat of paint were frayed, the rain gutters leaked here and there, and a corner of one of the large landscape windows was in the process of turning milky.

Judith pressed her nose against a window to look inside. The living room was roughly the same size as her own, but the walls were covered in rustic wooden panels instead of the neutral wallpaper she had selected.

Half of the living room's furniture had been moved over to the other side of the room to make way for the equipment and tools needed for the refurbishing of the interior. It was all a bit of a mess, but she could see that most of the furniture was vintage and made of high quality pinewood. There were paintings on the walls, but they - along with a pair of tall bookcases - had been draped in sheets to keep out the dust that would invariably swirl around.

Although the cottage had a TV antenna and a satellite dish on the roof, there didn't appear to be a TV set anywhere; at least not that Judith could see. Instead, a pair of powerful binoculars were resting on the sill of the landscape window.

The sound of a car engine approaching from further up the dirt road made Judith move back from the window and hurry around to the front door where she put her hands into her coat pockets and looked like she had been there the whole time.

The car in question proved to be Alice's small, white Skoda Citigo that purred along the dirt road. When the two women spotted each other, Alice rolled down the driver's side window and used her entire arm to wave at her neighbor.

Judith duly waved back and followed the white car as it drove into the carport.

"Hi, Judith! What brings you over here?" Alice said as she stepped out and pulled the lever for the hatchback.

Judith opened her mouth to speak, but she never made it that far before Alice once again assumed control over the conversation while she retrieved two carrier bags filled with groceries from the back of her Skoda.

"Oh, I'm sorry I had to leave in a rush yesterday," the bubbly woman said as she put down the bags on the ground so she could close the hatch. "My Mom's hand was real bad and I had to take her down to the ER. Ugh, it was a mess… all that waiting. I'm not good with waiting, I get impatient real easily. My Mom's even worse, ha ha! Oh, I'm sorry, I interrupted you…"

Judith couldn't get her eyes past the pair of dark blue, tight-fitting jeans that Alice wore below her trademark pale green windbreaker. It had been many a year - and many a bitter tear - since Judith had been able to screw her increasingly chubby thighs down into such tight pants. The jeans looked fantastic on Alice's slender but shapely legs, and the brown leather belt and the cute, fashionable turn-ups at the lower hem only enhanced the look. "Uh… well-"

"Hey, do you wanna come inside? I could make you a mug of tea or something?"

"Uh… no thank you, not right now," Judith said with a smile as she finally looked Alice in the eye. "To tell you the truth, I came over to ask if you knew where to buy milk and food… I'm all out. Also-"

"Oh! Oh, Judith, please… I bought an extra carton of milk just now, you can have that."

"No, I wouldn't want-"

"I insist."


"I insist! Come on in, we can-"

Judith's head was spinning from Alice's inexhaustible inner energy that seemed to have the strength of a nuclear power plant. All she could do was put her hands in the air in defeat and butt in as fast as she could in order to stop Alice from breaking her stride again. "No! Uh, no thank you, Alice. I need to do that on my own. Uh… also, my anten-"

"You've left your husband, haven't you?" Alice said and once more put down the bags of groceries.

The honest statement snatched the wind right out of Judith's sails, and she had to draw a deep breath and pull her lips back in a grimace while she composed her answer. "Yeah," she said after a little while, thinking about the curious fact that the strawberry-blonde could repeatedly ask little, innocuous questions that all had huge, dark answers.

" 'Cos I noticed the… uh… indentation on your finger… there," Alice said and touched her own ring finger to illustrate the point.

"Yeah. I left in a hurry," Judith said and shuffled around on the spot to have something to do. "I needed to get out of there while I still had my sanity. The ordinary stuff suddenly grew to be a noose around my neck. You know… going to the same restaurant at the mall for lunch each and every day… drinking latté… cooking for my husband at night… knitting sweaters… only having sex for ten minutes every other Wednesday evening…" - Judith looked up in shock when she realized she had said it out loud. Alice smirked but otherwise kept a straight face - "And things… you know… things like that," Judith continued in a mumble.

"Girl, we need to talk," Alice said decisively. "Come in. I'll fix you some tea with rum. My Grandpa's imported rum… it's eighty proof but it'll make you relax."

"No, no, I… not now, please. I can't," Judith said with an incessant shuffle. She could feel her cheeks burning from the unfortunate personal information she had revealed earlier, so she looked anywhere but at the bubbly blonde in front of her. "I need to buy some groceries. And… and…"


"And I need to fix my TV antenna!"

Alice did a double-take just as she was reaching down for her own bags of groceries. "Uh… okay. Your antenna?"

"There's something wrong with my antenna and I really wanted to watch the morning show on TV2!" Judith said with a wide shrug. Even as she said it, she knew it would sound like the world's most inane, idiotic excuse when she had so many other, and far more important, things she needed to focus on.

Alice blinked a couple of times before she leaned her head back and let out a loud laugh. "Well, you're in luck, Judith… I happen to know my way around a TV antenna. I just gotta put this stuff in the fridge and then I'll come over to give you a hand. Okay?"

"Okay! God, thanks," Judith said and let out a sigh of relief. She locked eyes with Alice and found nothing but support in the shorter woman's sparkling orbs. Or perhaps there was something more as well? Warmth, perhaps? Whatever it had been, it was gone when Alice looked down to find her keys in her pocket.


A short while later, Judith sat on the edge of the L-shaped couch with the TV remote in her hand. She stared despondently at the blank screen that once again displayed the blue No connection. Check cable or antenna -message in a sea of blankness.

'Judith? Anything?' Alice shouted from the outside.

Judith got up in a hurry and shuffled out into the kitchen. Leaning her elbows on the sill, she stuck her head out of the opened window and observed Alice working on the many cables that came down the metal pole that held the antenna high above. "No… nothing."

"Nothing at all?" Alice said, wiping a few beads of perspiration off her brow.


"Damn. Uh… okay. Well, there's nothing wrong with the cables here. Perhaps there's a loose connection somewhere else. Please go back to the TV, Judith. I'll try to follow the path… shout if there's any difference. Okay?"

Judith smiled and nodded. "Okay. Thank you so much for helping me. Gosh, I feel like such a stereotype… you know, the clueless woman in distress?"

"Aw, no way, Judith," Alice said with a grin. "We're gonna get this fixed, have no fear."

Judith returned the grin and shuffled back into the living room to see if the situation had improved or even rectified itself while they had been speaking - it hadn't. The TV would still only show the blue box with the warning message, but at least a plan B entered her mind. Instead of attempting to fiddle with the countless settings on the remote, she clicked on the button on the TV's housing that opened the tray for the integrated DVD player.

The player's familiar intro screen showed up without a glitch, so Judith shuffled over to one of the sideboards to find a DVD she could use as a test. After a bit of rummaging around, she chose Under the Tuscan Sun, one of her favorite romantic dramas.

With the silver disc clicked into place in the tray, the movie loaded and started playing without any dramas at all. "Okay," she mumbled as she ejected the DVD, "at least the TV itself is still working."

'How about now?' Alice shouted from the outside.

Judith pressed a button on the remote to return to the ordinary channels, hoping the warning message had gone away - but she had no such luck. "Damn…" she mumbled as she shuffled back out into the kitchen. "Still nothing," she said, leaning on the windowsill.

Alice groaned out loud and put down the cables she had traced from the metal pole to the point of entry into the cottage's outer wall. "Not a damn thing?"

"Just the same warning message," Judith said with a shrug. "But the TV itself isn't broken. I've just checked a DVD and that plays just fine."

"Yeah? Which one?"

"Under the Tuscan Sun."

"No way! That's, like, one of my favorites! Oh, Diane Lane is such a beautiful, beautiful woman, don't you think?"

"Uh… yeah. She is," Judith said and furrowed her brow at Alice's enthusiastic response. The lead actress was indeed a beautiful woman, but whenever Judith watched it, she always kept a close eye on the hunk that played the main love interest.

Alice grinned like a Cheshire cat while she dusted off her hands. "Yeah! So, you wouldn't happen to have the operating instructions for the TV, would you? I'd like to take a closer look at it…"

"Uh… the operating… uh, it's bound to be somewhere," Judith said and looked over her shoulder like she expected it to magically appear on the kitchen table. When she looked ahead again, Alice had vanished. Moments later, a knocking was heard from the front door.

Judith chuckled out loud over the high degree of politeness displayed by her new acquaintance. She shuffled over to the door and opened it to greet her bubbly neighbor.

Grinning, Alice took off her tennis shoes and shuffled into the living room on red and white socks. She promptly sat down on the L-shaped couch and took the remote like it would tell her what was wrong with the TV. After checking it thoroughly, she began to fold her legs up underneath her, but then she froze in place and stared at a point just underneath the TV.

"What? Do you see a spider?" Judith said, following Alice's gaze. She couldn't see anything out of the ordinary; apart from the green LED on the TV that indicated it was on, there weren't any obvious warning signs - no red LEDs or the like.

"Ummm, Judith… did you turn on your set top box?"

"My set top… shit," Judith groaned and slapped a hand across her eyes. Still groaning, she got down on her knees and reached in behind the small electronic unit that sat on a shelf underneath the TV. She flicked the On/Off switch on the rear panel and leaned back on her thighs. The unit powered up with a faint whirr. Moments later, a green LED came on and a perfectly clear high-definition signal appeared on the TV. "I don't believe it… I can't believe I didn't check that," she mumbled to herself.

Alice changed the channels on the remote to see if everything was working. One after the other, all forty channels the antenna could pick up came with crystal clarity on the screen of the large TV. "And there you have it," she said and got up from the couch.

Mortified over her incompetence, Judith kept kneeling on the floor until it became too conspicuous. Sighing, she clambered to her feet and dusted off her slacks. "I remember now. I keep the extra box turned off because it doesn't have a proper standby function. And we have cable at home, so… excuses, excuses… no excuse for not using my head."

"Aw, that's all right," Alice said and hooked her arm inside Judith's. "You have no idea how much nonsense I've produced over the years. This was nothing. At least you didn't call a service technician, huh?"

"Gosh, no," Judith said, looking anywhere but at the strawberry-blonde. "Speaking of which… what do I owe you for the help?"

"Owe me? Oh, Judith… this is what neighbors do! If I have a problem, won't you come over and help me?"

"Well, sure," Judith said and chanced a brief look at Alice's expressive face that appeared to have turned just a shade onto the miffed side of the scale. "Of course I will… not that I'll be able to do anything whatsoever…"

Alice's demeanor once again changed like she flicked a switch. This time, she broke out in a wide smile that made her eyes sparkle. "Let's test that theory… Judith Engelbrecht, I'm inviting you over for an early dinner tonight. Let's say at four o'clock. Okay? On the condition that we make it together. Won't that be fun? Prepare it, cook it, eat it… and chat the whole time. Maybe a little red wine. All right, maybe a lot of red wine. Please say yes…?"

"Well, how can I say no to that? Not to brag, but I'm a pretty decent cook, actually… uh… if I do say so myself."

"I'll bet you are. Do we have a deal? Four o'clock at my place?"

Judith looked down at the shorter woman's excited face and felt a broad smile slowly spread over her own features. There was something about the bubbly Alice that tore down all the defenses that she usually had in place when interacting with other women - of course, she had never met a woman quite like Alice before.

Her other female acquaintances from her old life kept their real faces and personalities well out of sight of each other. To a woman, they hid behind expensive clothing and jewelry, and it was only when they drank too much at parties that the ugly truths came out and they showed who they really were. In contrast, Alice wore her heart on her sleeve and had no problem with it - in fact, she seemed proud of it.

"Four o'clock at your place… we have a deal," Judith said and resisted an urge that rapidly built up inside her to pull Alice into a hug. Ultimately, the urge was appeased by Alice herself who wrapped an arm around Judith's waist and gave it a little squeeze.

"Sounds great! It won't be a fancy, four-course meal… just something simple. We can wing it with what I got in my fridge. Yeah… that's gonna be fun," Alice said and offered Judith's waist another little squeeze.


Later the same day, Judith turned off the water in the shower and swept her wet hair away from her face. The sound that had alerted her soon returned, and it didn't take long for her to recognize it as being her telephone. "Dammit," she mumbled as she hurriedly squeezed some of the excess water out of her hair and grabbed a towel to wrap around it.

Adjusting the large bathing towel she had around her body, she padded on bare feet into the living room to get the telephone from the coffee table. One look at the display nearly sent her stomach plummeting down onto the carpet. The call came from 'Home.'

She stared at the ringing telephone, considering turning it off instead of going ahead with what would undoubtedly be a heated discussion. It kept ringing, so she wetted her lips and pressed the little button to establish contact. "Hello, Herbert," she said in a voice that she thought sounded remarkably un-panicky.

'Judith, where are you? Why all this drama? What's going on? Come back home where you damn well belong!' her husband's voice said at the other end of the line. For each word he spoke, the voice became increasingly angry and accusing.

Judith felt acutely overwhelmed by the line of questions and the harsh tone, and she bumped down onto the L-shaped couch so she was safe before her knees buckled and she would fall. "Herbert, I… I needed a time-out," she croaked, looking across the living room at the magnificent view out of the landscape window down at the other end of the cottage.

'A time-out? You could have asked for a weekend stay in Paris or Rome and I would gladly have paid for it! Why all the histrionics and drama? Look, Judith, where are you?'

"I needed a time-out from you, Herbert."


'Judith, that's not how you really feel and you know it. Now, where are you? Tell me and I'll come and pick you up. We need to discuss this perceived issue of yours face to face, not over the phone.'

Now it was Judith's turn to fall silent. She guessed that her husband had already figured out where she was - he simply asked to get her to confirm it, or perhaps to make her feel foolish and regret her decision. It was one of the two, of that she had no doubt. What Herbert couldn't know was that for each word he uttered, Judith's heart and soul grew more and more positive that she had made the right decision.

'Judith, I'm asking for the last time, why all this drama? And right before your fiftieth birthday, too! Don't you realize how bad a light you'll put me in if you make a no-show at your own bash? I've invited important business associates from all over the western hemisphere. They'll surely expect to see my beautiful wife there. Judith?'

'Beautiful,' Judith thought, tinged with a bitter aftertaste of gall. She couldn't remember the last time her husband had called her that. He bribed her with flowers, expensive clothes and fancy jewelry to make up for his deficits in bed and elsewhere, but terms of endearment were usually few and far between. "Herbert, I'm not coming back. It simply isn't going to happen," she said out loud in a voice that was far stronger than she had believed possible.

The familiar silence returned.

'Judith, I know you're at our summer cottage,' Herbert said in a voice that had lost all pretenses of friendliness. 'I could drive out there right now and… and ask you to come back. Ask you, Judith. But I won't. You need to realize for yourself that you've made a terrible mistake. However, I promise that if you return now, today, we'll forget the past three days. We'll pretend they never happened. And yes, whatever you feel has gone wrong between us, we can fix. How's that for a peace offering?'

"You condescending, patronizing son of a…" Judith mumbled, but she kept her hand over the little hole in the telephone. Once her chin had stopped trembling, she cleared her throat and put the phone back to her ear. "No, Herbert, I'm not coming back. Your bribes won't work this time. Even when I'm with you, I'm lonely… even when I'm with you, I feel… I feel… that I have less worth than one of your damn cars! Or your damn horses! Or your damn sculptures! Herbert, you feel more for that damn Venus of Milo reproduction than you do for me!"

'It's genuine Italian marble! It cost me an arm and a leg to get it shipped up from Genoa! Of course I admire it!'

Judith stared at the floor with wide, unseeing eyes. Without knowing it - or probably even caring - Herbert had just given her rock-solid proof that her decision to leave had been the right one. A flash of pain tore through her stomach and she had to press her free hand against it to make it bearable.

'We're not having this discussion over the phone! Judith, this is not you. Are you having a mid-life crisis? We were great together, but now it's like you're someone else. I demand to know who put all these alien thoughts into your mind… was it your therapist? That quack you've been seeing for the past six months? Was it him, that damn, creepy faggot?'

"H- how dare you use such a nasty word about Richard?! No! This is all my own doing… no… no, I c- can't… goodbye, Herbert," Judith said and frantically pressed the Off button on the telephone to get it to shut off for good.

When it was off, she threw it onto the coffee table to get it as far away from her as possible. She didn't even react when the expensive gadget sailed off the edge of the table and onto the floor.

Tears stained her cheeks and she started rocking back and forth. The severity of the situation once again overwhelmed her and she found herself unable to breathe properly; her breathing turned into a series of gasps for air. Sobbing, she pulled her legs up and moved into an upright fetal position to shut out the evil world that surrounded her.


She sat that way for nearly twenty minutes until the pain that rolled up from her hips and knees convinced her to put her bare feet back down on the floor. Wiping her wet cheeks, she shuffled into the bathroom to wash her hair again. She had a dinner appointment that she wasn't about to break.

As she waited for the water to heat up again, she looked at herself in the large mirror above the wash basin. Her crying had left her looking a mess. She briefly considered trying to conceal it with a healthy layer of makeup once she had washed her hair, but she knew it wouldn't fool Alice for more than two heartbeats.

Alice. The mere thought of the bubbly neighbor sent the briefest trace of a smile across her lips. "I don't feel lonely when I'm with Alice…" she said to her own reflection. She furrowed her brow when the undeniable truth of the statement hit her.

Behind her, the water heater sent out a small, electronic beep that meant the hot water was ready.

Judith continued to furrow her brow while she looked at her reflection. "There's something here I'm not seeing…" she mumbled, "but… but I'm glad I don't have to go through this whole thing alone. Now I have someone to lean on when things get ugly. And they will."

Sighing, she eventually unraveled the towel protecting her hair and stepped back into the shower.


Five minutes past four, Judith stepped up to the door of Alice's cottage and used her knuckles to tap a rapid beat on the wooden frame. While she waited, she adjusted her knitted blouse and pleated skirt to make them sit just right. Although she wore pantyhose, the chilly afternoon breeze swept around her legs and sent a wave of goosebumps up her thighs. She had decided on the skirt because she knew she wouldn't be able to compete with Alice's tight jeans - it was better to conceal everything.

Thumping footsteps ran up to the door which was soon flung open. When Alice appeared in the doorway, she already had a bubbly "Hi!" on her lips, but her greeting died down when she checked out what her guest was wearing - in addition to the fancy clothes, Judith wore big hair, a delicate shade of blush, crimson lipstick, bone earrings and a gold necklace that had probably cost more than Alice's car.

On the other side of the threshold, Judith's lips formed an 'O' when she realized that she may have had a few misconceptions with regards to the dinner arrangement. Alice was simply wearing a pair of denim coveralls - liberally splattered with spackle-stains - over a red and white t-shirt. Her hair hadn't been combed this side of lunch, and her cheeks wore a natural blush that came from hard work, not a powder puff.

Alice stifled a snicker but she stepped aside to let her visitor come in. "Hi, Judith… oh boy, I think this could be called a classic example of uh… having different expectations for the evening."

"I'll say… I'm sorry, I didn't bring a hostess gift," Judith said and walked into the first part of the living room. As predicted, the basic shape of the room was roughly identical to her own cottage, even if some parts seemed to be mirrored - perhaps lessons learned from building the first house.

Like she had seen when she had pressed her nose against the window earlier in the day, half of the living room's furniture had been relocated to the far side of the room to make way for layers of protective plastic on the floor, wood trestles and several buckets of the ingredients needed to produce spackle.

"Yes, you did! You came!"

"Oh, but-"

"I've never been big on etiquette, Judith. So… I thought we could eat… and chat… in the kitchen," Alice said and put a hand on Judith's elbow to guide her along.

"Sounds good to me. I'm starving," Judith said with a faint smile that made Alice narrow her eyes.

In the kitchen - that had far older, but still functional, appliances compared to the other cottage - Alice cocked her head and pulled her guest to a stop by the refrigerator. "Hey… you've been crying. What's wrong?"

Judith looked at anything but her new friend. Her eyes fell on a row of magnets in all the colors of the rainbow that formed the letters L-O-V-E on the refrigerator door. Everything was neat and tidy, but she had expected nothing less. Two tea cups and a charming, old pot were waiting on a tray on the table, ready to be put to use. The seconds went by in a blur until Judith knew she was acting strange. "You don't miss a beat, do you?" she said, finally looking at the shorter woman.

"I'm a kindergarten teacher. I'm contractually obliged to have an eye on every finger… that's why my fingernails are so short," Alice deadpanned.

The humor made Judith's lips crease in a smile, but it soon faded. "Ah, it's not something you need to be concerned about. My husband called. He… well, he had a hard time understanding my decision."

Alice sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. "Girl… now we really need to talk. Okay, change of plans. We'll need plenty of wine. I cook, you sit… and we both talk," she said and helped Judith down onto one of the chairs that stood by a table in the corner of the kitchen.

A tired, relieved smile slowly spread over Judith's features as she sat down at the table. To have something to do with her hands, she took a paper napkin and began to toy with it. While Alice opened a bottle of red and found two wine bowls, Judith released a sigh that came from the bottom of her soul. "Well… it's not going to be pretty."

"The truth never is," Alice said and poured a healthy amount of wine into the two bowls. "Go on. You need to get it off your chest… and I'll be adding my two cents worth along the way, you can count on that."

Judith chuckled as she took the wine. She swirled it around the bowl a couple of times before she sniffed it. It wasn't from a quality vineyard like the wines she and Herbert had back home, but she knew it would be just fine. "To the ugly truth," she said and raised the glass.

"Hear, hear," Alice said and clinked the bowl.

They both took a sip in silence - the first of many. "All right," Judith said and dabbed her painted lips on the napkin. "It's been festering for some time now. It didn't start as a decision to leave him. I guess it initially came about a couple of years ago when I spoke to a…"




The early start turned into a late evening. It had been pitch black when Judith had staggered home, but she was lit up from the inside by the red wine she had consumed so she had been able to see just fine.

The night had been a story of deep sleep interrupted by frequent bathroom breaks, but now, the bright light of the new day streamed in through the windows in the bedroom on the upper floor of the cottage. How she had managed to navigate the steep staircase to get up there, she had no idea.

Glancing up at the windows, she could see that she indeed hadn't rolled down the window shades when she got home even though she thought she had. A long line of clothing on the floor told a tale of the red wine having had its hooks in her.

Judith snickered when she reached under the quilt and her hand found nothing but bare skin. "Well, that's a new one… I sure hope he was good 'cos I can't remember a damn thing," she said with a wide smirk, keeping her voice to a whisper so she wouldn't trigger the hangover that she could feel was lined up and ready to go. "Nah… who'd want an overweight forty-nine year old?" she added almost as an afterthought.

Speaking was too strenuous, so she snuggled down and let her mind do the talking. 'And the chatting! Gosh, I haven't chatted that much to anyone for years and years. But I could speak so freely to Alice… I can't believe the things I told her… private things I've never told anyone else… my deepest hopes and fears… my inner feelings…and she listened… and understood!' Judith thought as she reached for her watch that she had somehow managed to put on the bedside table. "Half past one!?" she spluttered when she read the hands.

Turning the watch over, she could see that it was in fact only seven AM. "Aw, I can sleep for another hour and a half… but I need to pee first… ugh… all that wine," she mumbled as she swept her bare legs over the side of the bed to take care of business in the upstairs bathroom.


Several hours later, Judith came back from a trip to the beach where she had taken full advantage of the breezy conditions that had rolled in from the east during the night to blow the cobwebs out of her mind. The weather had changed to overcast and gray, and there was a hint of rain in the air. Everything was swept along by the strong breeze; the first leaves were falling from the trees further up the beach, and the waves that rolled towards the shore were all covered in white foam.

When she crossed the dirt road, she could see Alice walking away from the front door of the Benedikte and back to her own cottage. Judith tried to wave, but the bubbly woman - who was wearing her long coat like she needed to go someplace - didn't see it. Instead, she turned the corner and went into the carport.

"Damn," Judith groaned and tried to pick up the pace so she could catch her friendly neighbor before she left. She had almost made it to the cottage when Alice reversed out of the carport. "Hello!" Judith cried, waving her arms again.

This time, Alice did see it. She promptly turned off the engine and stepped out of the Skoda Citigo. "Hi, Judith! Oh, I almost missed you," she said, putting out her arms to pull Judith into a friendly hug that ended with her placing a platonic smooch on each of the taller woman's cold, flushed cheeks. "How are you today? Your eyes are a little red."

"I feel a little red all over," Judith said with a chuckle. "I can't believe how good you look! You're fresh as a daisy!"

"Aw, I slept like a baby. Did you?"

"Yes, I slept surprisingly well, actually. Thank you for listening to my sob stories all evening. It was such a relief to have someone to confide in."

Alice smiled and put her hands on Judith's arms. "It was my pleasure, Judith. I'm honored that you felt comfortable enough to talk to me about such personal things. Anytime you want to chat, I'll be there."

"Thank you. And that goes both ways, of course. You have a lot of interesting stories to tell… far more interesting than mine."

"Thank you. I suppose I have lived more in a shorter amount of time," Alice said and performed a little shimmy on the spot. "Anyway, I was just over at your place. I wanted to ask if you were interested in going into town with me today? I need to do a little shopping and they're also putting up the autumn market. It looks really charming and rustic on the website. Of course, that's not necessarily a correct depiction of how it actually looks, ha ha."

To Judith, the offer of a fun day out with Alice seemed to have the strength of the cluster of rainbow-colored magnets on the refrigerator door, and she found herself inexorably drawn to the bubbly strawberry-blonde, her charm and her infectious enthusiasm. "Oh… the autumn market starts today?" she said while a broad smile spread over her lips. "Well… sure. I'd love that!"

"Great! Let's take my car… it's easier to park than your yacht over there," Alice said and swatted at Judith's arms just to show that she was jesting.

"Good thinking. Your car can fit into my Audi's trunk," Judith said and had an urge to stick out her tongue at her neighbor. Since nobody was there to stop her, she did so, and it felt damn good. The cute grin she got in reward warmed her soul from the inside out, and she smiled all the way around the back of the Skoda.


Almost inevitably, the autumn market wasn't as large as the website had promised it would be. Only a dozen booths and concession stands were up and running by the time Alice and Judith reached the small town's central square, but the regular shops that lined the square were all open to create a good shopping experience for the visitors.

Though few in number, the stands presented high quality products of all kinds ranging from a butcher selling salted ham, smoked baloney and crunchy pork rinds via a local master brewer who hawked his brand new Dark Autumn Brew, and to a stand offering dried sweets and roasted almonds. All these strong scents mixed with the cheese stand, the organic vegetables stand and the sausage cooker to create a wall of rich, natural aromas.

In addition to the concession stands, an equal number of booths sold clothes, leatherware, second-hand books and DVDs, and countless other things for the household.

The crowd had yet to fill out, but a fair number of families with pets, baby carriages or even wheelchairs were shuffling past the stands admiring the products on offer and the people in charge, like the butcher who wore an all-white uniform and a funny hat that he had on crooked, or the lady manning the bookstore who looked exactly like a retired librarian - she even had a bun in her hair. All she was missing was the ubiquitous pencil through it.

The law was upheld by two police officers who patrolled the market to make sure nobody was tempted to pick any pockets. They wore fluorescent green vests on top of their regular black uniforms to stand out in the crowd.

"Oh, isn't this simply marvelous?" Alice squealed, looking like she wanted to jump up and down in her excitement. "Let's stroll down there and slowly make our way back," she continued, pointing at the far end of the line of stands.

"Works for me. Lead on," Judith said with a sweeping gesture - but Alice had other ideas and swiftly hooked her arm inside Judith's.

Once in close, she snuggled up to the taller woman and flashed her a beaming smile. "No, let's do it together. Okay?"

"Again… works for me," Judith said and set off in a casual stroll.

They went past the butcher, the master brewer, the leatherware booth and the stand selling second-hand bestsellers and other easily read books with colorful titles. Alice briefly checked out the tomes for sale, but didn't find any of the ones she was looking for.

Upon reaching the far end of the autumn market, they turned around and prepared to go back the same way when the brightly colored signs outside a shop for applied arts caught Judith's eye. "Oh, that's right… Alice, do you have a moment? There's a shop over there I'd love to browse," she said, holding back her hair that threatened to blow into her eyes.

"The applied art shop?" Alice said, following Judith's gaze. "Sure! Sure, we can do that. Oh, I love pottery and little knick-knacks like that."

Judith smiled at her friend and began to stroll over towards the shop that was outside the marketplace itself. "So do I. I tried my hand at pottery a few years ago, actually. After I had thrown out my tenth failed experiment, I gained a whole new sense of respect for the people who can create vases and all those beautiful things."

"Mmmm!" Alice said as they stepped over the threshold and entered the shop. A small bell dinged as they closed the door behind them, and the sound prompted the owner of the shop to come out from behind a curtain at the back to greet her potential customers.

"Hello, ladies. Can I help you?" the sixty-something woman said. It was clear by her dirty hands and her filthy apron that she had been working with clay in her workshop at the back of the store.

Judith offered the craftswoman a smile and a small nod as a hello. "We'll just look around for now, thank you, but if we find anything, we'll let you know."

The owner of the shop smiled back and disappeared behind the curtain.

"Whoa," Alice said out of the corner of her mouth as she flipped over a decorative ceramic bowl painted like a red apple. "Check out those prices! They're all in the three-digit range."


"Yeah… what caught your eye here?"

"Well, last year, she made the most adorable ceramic candlesticks. I bought a pair, but they're back home in Aalborg. I don't think she has any left," Judith said and studied the shelves that all held colorful ceramic bric-a-brac of all shapes and sizes. "No, they're all gone. Oh, that's too bad. That was it, really."

Alice nodded and put down the decorative bowl very carefully so it wouldn't get marked. "I can't afford any of this, that's for sure!"

"Let's move on," Judith said and put her arm on Alice's back to lead her out of the shop.

The difference in temperature between the warm indoors and the chilly marketplace was noticeable when they stepped back out of the shop. Moving as one, they both pulled their coats closer to stop the breeze from getting in where it had no right to be.

The number of people visiting the autumn market seemed to have increased in the few minutes they had been inside the shop, and the spaces in front of the stands had filled up quite rapidly. The master brewer seemed to draw plenty of attention, but it probably hinged on the scantily clad waitress in the revealing Oktoberfest outfit rather than his new range of beer.

Smiling at each other, Judith and Alice set off in a languid, unhurried stroll that eventually took them back to the concession stands. Browsing to their hearts' delight, they looked at this, that and the other without a care in the world.

When they reached the booth selling healthy snack food, Alice came to a sliding halt and pressed her nose against the pane of glass that separated the sweets from the rest of the world. "Oooooh! Dried apricots… I love dried apricots. Judith, would you mind waiting for me while I bought a bag of natural sweets… or perhaps two?"

"Of course not, Alice," Judith said and stepped up to the booth so she could see the products that had her bubbly companion even more excited than usual. Organic, dried fruit had never really been her thing, but she had to admit they looked somewhat edible - to a certain extent. A second glance at a bowl of mixed, dried berries of unknown origin proved it still really wasn't her thing.

Alice was soon waiting in line to buy the sweets, and Judith took a step back so she wouldn't be in the way. Without conscious thought, her eyes sought out and fell on the slender strawberry-blonde who already had her wallet out.

In the chill, Alice's cheeks had turned a shade of flushed red that matched her hair perfectly. A wide smile graced her features all the way up to her green orbs that shone with excitement over having found the dried apricots.

'When she's like that, she's even more attractive. Stunning, really. Gosh, the men in her life must be deaf, dumb and blind!' Judith thought, once again furrowing her brow when an odd feeling tried to sneak up on her. A little voice at the back of her mind tried to tell her something, but she felt like she hadn't tuned in to the right frequency.

Alice soon returned from the booth with two bags of dried apricots. She greedily tore open the first bag and stuffed one of the yellowish sweets into her mouth. "You want one?" she mumbled, holding up the bag.

"Ah, that would be a 'no thank you,' " Judith said with a vehement shake of the head.

"Suit yourself. You don't know what you're missing, though. If you change your mind later, just ask… well, not too much later 'cos then I'll have eaten the whole thing!" Judith said and broke out in a snicker. She put the bags into her coat pockets and strolled on between the stands with Judith in tow.

Not long after, and without missing a beat, Alice reached over and took Judith by the hand like it was the most natural thing in the world. It wasn't merely a quick squeeze, no, she held on tight and even began to swing it back and forth as they strolled along.

Judith stared down at her hand - and then up at Alice. She could have pulled her hand free of the touch, but she didn't. A moment later, Alice eased her grip, almost like she had sensed Judith's trepidation.

For Judith, being separated from her new friend almost hurt her physically though she couldn't fathom how it was possible. All she knew was that she needed to restore the connection ASAP. At once, she sought out Alice's delicate yet strong hand and gave it a little squeeze. Then, she swung it back and forth like the bubbly blonde had done only a scant thirty seconds earlier.

None of them spoke, but they didn't need to. An attempt at silent, even telepathic communication seemed to work as Alice suddenly looked up at the taller woman beside her and offered her a charming, if remarkably shy, smile that spoke volumes.


They reached the little, white car without either of them knowing how they got there. Alice finally broke the contact and moved her hand up to rub Judith's arm. "Judith, are you hungry? I'd like to buy you a hot dog or something down at the sausage maker's. I don't know him, but I do know the brand tastes great."

Judith didn't reply at once. The thoughts that swirled around in her mind had her so pre-occupied that she had hardly heard Alice's offer. 'I have never, ever, in my entire life experienced such a strong emotion from something as simple and silly as holding hands. Goodness me, Alice Lundgaard has turned into the best friend I have ever had… and she's done it in four days. It just doesn't happen that way outside of romance novels, but… God, she is truly my best friend now. Amazing. It's like we're bound together!'

"Uh… Judith?" Alice said, humorously waving her fingers in front of Judith's zoned-out eyes.

"Oh… I was… uh… somewhere else," Judith said with a grin.

"Boy, you can say that again! I asked if you wanted a hot dog or something?"

"A hot dog?" Judith said and looked over her shoulder at the concession stands. In her peripheral vision, she spotted a waiter from the famed King Frederick restaurant hoisting the national flag, the Dannebrog, on a short, metal flagpole they had outside the establishment. Soon after, the same waiter put up a foldable sign that said Lunch now served . "No hot dogs today, Alice… we're going to eat at the King Frederick! C'mon!"

"Eat at the what?! I can't afford that!" Alice squealed, but Judith was already on her way over to the old building that housed the famed eatery and tavern from the eighteenth century.


Inside the establishment that oozed of class and old traditions stretching back several hundred years, Judith lined up at a sign that said Wait here . She unbuttoned her coat and assumed a suitably neutral expression.

"Judith, I wasn't kidding!" Alice whispered when she caught up with the taller woman. "I can't afford to eat here…"

"I can. Or rather, my husband can. And I have his credit card."

Alice blinked several times, but before she had time to grunt out her surprise, a surprisingly young waiter wearing black shoes, black pants and a black vest over a white shirt slithered across the plush carpet to greet them and usher them inside.

Judith smiled at him; that certain nonchalant - perhaps even slightly arrogant - smile she had perfected throughout the years she had been married into the higher circles of society. "Table for two, please. We'd like the lunch menu. Oh, and would you please check this card before we place our orders?" she said and handed a platinum-colored plastic card to the young man. "It's been known to cause problems on older units."

"Certainly, Miss," the young man said, bowing to the customers. He walked ahead and led them to a table that fit their requirements.

Marveling at the splendor, Alice took off her coat and sat down at the square table that sported a small bouquet of dried flowers for decoration, a white tablecloth and two sets of eating utensils wrapped in napkins. She followed the waiter walking to the back of the restaurant with a pair of green orbs that shone with a mix of unbridled curiousness, shock and even a little awe over being inside the famed restaurant. "Psst, did you see his face when you gave him that platinum card? It looked like he was about to wet himself!" she whispered out of the corner of her mouth.

"Mmmm! Oh, and I made up the thing about the card having problems…" Judith said and folded up her three-quarter length coat before she leaned in towards her companion. "I wanted to check if my husband has closed the card to punish me. I wouldn't put it past him," she continued in a faint whisper.

Alice scrunched up her face into a mask of concern. "Well, I certainly hope he hasn't… I briefly worked as a dishwasher at a fast food diner when I was a teen… that wasn't particularly funny, let me tell you!"

Judith grinned at her new best friend and put her hands on the table in an open invitation for another little squeeze. It came at once, and the two women locked eyes and sent each other silent messages of support and friendship.

When Alice's warm, caring gaze seemed to go on and on, Judith could once again hear the little voice at the back of her mind trying to tell her something. She was no nearer to interpreting it than she had been before, but she was certain it wasn't a warning - it was more like a confirmation of something she didn't even know she had asked for.

Whatever the voice was trying to tell her, Judith knew without a shadow of a doubt that another aspect of the whole situation had been proven right by the pleasant events of the day. When she and Alice spent time together, she didn't feel lonely at all. The bubbly woman had such a comforting presence that all dark thoughts were simply swept away like the tide. To show her gratitude, Judith gave Alice's hands a little squeeze; a gesture that earned her a warm smile that in turn released a few butterflies in her stomach.

The moment was broken by the waiter returning with the credit card and two leather-bound menus. "Ladies," he said, putting a menu down in front of each of them. "The card offered no problems, but we have just installed a new unit. On behalf of the managers of the King Frederick, please allow me to say we are honored by your visit, Mrs. Engelbrecht."

"Thank you," Judith said and opened her menu. "We'll call you when we're ready to order."

The waiter bowed and moved away from the tables.

Once again, Alice followed him with her eyes. "Shoot, Judith… I was about to think that he'd fall down on his knees and spit-polish your shoes!"

"Money talks, Alice…" Judith said with a wistful smile. "So… lunch. Okay, I can recommend the smørrebrød …"


On their way back to the holiday home resort, Alice and Judith drove through a forested area replete with chestnut trees of all ages and sizes. The dark green crowns proved the majestic trees hadn't yet lost their summer colors, but a clear sign of the approaching autumn was found in the hundreds if not thousands of burs that littered the sides of the road that snaked its way through the woods.

Alice maneuvered the zippy little car with great aplomb, managing to keep a running commentary on the beauty of the forest while she drove around the snaking bends. Upon reaching a certain spot they had found earlier in the day when they had gone the other way, she drove off the road and into a small clearing.

"Oooooh, I'll bet I can find a few gorgeous chestnuts here," Alice said as she pulled the handbrake and turned off the engine. "I love chestnuts, Judith. I keep them as amulets, actually. When I have a few in my pocket, I feel like I'm protected from evil spirits… please don't tell me that's silly because I really believe it."

Judith shook her head and held up two fingers in a Girl Scout salute. "I'd never do that, Alice. Just look out for falling chestnuts when you go out there… those little buggers can hurt!"

"Sounds like you're speaking from experience," Alice said and took the opportunity to muss Judith's left knee.

Judith grinned back and patted Alice's hand that was still resting on her knee. Although the Citigo was far smaller than her Audi, the taller woman sat surprisingly comfortable in the front seat - of course, the seat was at the back stop and her knees were at a funny angle, but still.

Alice closed the door behind her and ran over to a particularly impressive pile of burs. She used the tip of her shoe to push them around so she could get some of them to open up and deliver the shiny brown chestnut. Now and then, she oooh'ed when she found a good one, or groaned when the perfect specimen rolled down into hiding.

The act was too cute for words, and Judith watched it with a broad smile on her lips. She opened the door to give nuggets of advice on where to try next, but found herself thoroughly told off with a humorous raspberry when her advice turned out to be a pile of empty burs.

When Alice had collected a handful of chestnuts, she ran back to the Skoda with the wind doing its best to whip her strawberry-blond hair around her face. "Ooooh! Look what I found!" she said as she shut the door behind her. Holding up five dark brown chestnuts of vastly different sizes, she pushed them around with an index finger. "This one's for you, Judith," she said, pushing a large chestnut over towards her passenger.

"Oh, but… gosh, I don't want to take your chestnuts, Alice…" Judith said and sat up straight.

"It's a gift," Alice said with a cute smile. "G'wan, please take it. You'd make me happy if you took it… you can be protected from evil spirits, too."

Judith couldn't ignore the plea of making Alice happy, so she took the large chestnut and buffed it against her coat. "Thank you very much… it's such a pretty chestnut."

"A pretty chestnut for a pretty woman."

"Gosh, now you are being silly!"

Alice chose not to comment. Instead, she winked at Judith before she started the Skoda and reversed out of the small clearing.


By the time they reached the holiday home resort, it was clear to see from the many puddles that littered the dirt road that they hadn't missed a thing by going to the autumn market in the small town - it appeared to have rained for most of the day.

Thirty yards before they arrived at Alice's carport, she slowed the Skoda to a halt and stared out of the windshield. "Judith, there's someone over at your cottage, look…" she said, pointing ahead at the second house.

Judith followed Alice's finger and promptly let out a long, deep sigh. A dark green Jaguar convertible was parked just outside her cottage, and a man in a gray business suit appeared to be leaning against the expensive car's door.

"Oh shoot," Alice said, putting the gearstick into neutral, "do you think it's a burglar?"

"No. A burglar we could handle… this is worse. That's my husband," Judith said darkly. "My future ex-husband," she added under her breath.

"Oh. Do you think he's upset that he had to pay for our lunch?"

Judith chuckled darkly and glanced over at Alice's genuinely concerned face. The strawberry-blonde kept looking ahead, but it didn't take her long to sense Judith's eyes on her. At first, the two women merely locked eyes, but a pair of identical, supportive smiles soon graced their features.

"I'll come with you," Alice said and continued driving along the dirt road towards her own cottage. By now, the man in the business suit had sussed out something was up with the white Skoda and had begun to walk over to the next house. "Listen, I'll be your rock… no, I'll be a chestnut in your pocket. The one that'll protect you from evil."

"Thank you… but it's gonna get ugly," Judith said in a half-whisper.

"Hey, I'm a kindergarten teacher… I eat 'ugly' for breakfast!"


Stepping out of the Skoda inside Alice's carport, Judith took a deep breath and gulped down the sour taste that had suddenly built up in her mouth. As she walked along the gravelly path that crunched under her shoes, she looked at her husband like she was seeing him for the first time.

At sixty-four, Herbert Engelbrecht was fifteen years older than her. When they had met, it hadn't been a problem because he had been a handsome, dapper man who never strayed far from his tennis racquet or his dumbbells. The problems came later when Herbert's advancing career at the bank somehow meant that he grew into having an increasingly conservative view of the world.

Within six months of joining the upper echelon at the bank, he had gained a distinguished full beard and a less distinguished potbelly, and he had lost many of the traits that Judith had considered his strongest sides, like empathy, supportiveness of her projects, and even his sense of humor. Now, he was just an obdurate old man who practically kept her on a leash.

Something had to give, and if it wasn't their marriage, it would be her sanity.

"Hello, Herbert," she said as she approached her husband. She kept her eyes fixed on his face to show that his days of controlling her were over.

"Judith," Herbert said, eyeing the strawberry-blonde who came out of the carport on the other side of the car. He kept a close eye on her as she walked around the back of the Skoda and joined Judith in front of the cottage. "And you are?" he said, cocking his head.

"Alice Lundgaard, how do you do. I live here," Alice said in a steely but remarkably civil voice as she pointed her thumb at the cottage.

Herbert nodded slowly before he tried to pin her to the spot with a hard glare. "This is between my wife and I. Do you mind…?"

"Yes I do, actually," Alice said, giving as good as she got. Her green orbs were well-suited to producing hard stares, and green fire flew right back at the businessman.

Judith whooped loudly on the inside, and she wanted to take Alice in her arms and give her an almighty hug. It was rare that someone talked back to Herbert, but according to her, it needed to happen more often. "Alice stays, Herbert," she said sharply.

"Hmmm," Herbert said and turned back to his wife. "Judith, this is madness. You said you needed a time-out… well, now you've had one. I hope this break has made you feel better. Shouldn't we drive back tonight? You and I… together?"


The rejection didn't sit well with Herbert Engelbrecht. Although he didn't blow his top or shout like a fool, his face slowly changed color until it settled down a few shades beyond crimson. Once again, he looked at the strawberry-blonde to get her to leave, but that didn't have much effect either. "Judith… it's chilly and windy out here. It was a long drive and I could use a drink. Can we please discuss this inside?"


The corners of Herbert's mouth twitched at the strong rebuttal, and it was clear to see that he needed to count to ten before he could continue. "That cottage is mine!" he said in a hoarse voice as he pointed at the Benedikte . "My money paid the inheritance tax… my money paid for the renovations!"

"But it's my name on the deed, Herbert. And it's my mother's name gracing the front. If you have something to say to me, you can do it out here," Judith said, gulping down another bitter surge. To stop an angry sob from bubbling to the surface, she had to clench her jaw and pull her lips back in a grimace.

Alice noticed it and hooked her arm inside Judith's to show her support. She glanced up at the taller woman and attempted to send her a telepathic message that seemed to connect with the intended target almost at once - Judith looked down and tried to smile though her lips never quite went beyond a faint crease.

Herbert looked from his wife to the strawberry-blonde, then back up at his wife. Drawing a sharp breath like he had just figured out the whole thing, he narrowed his eyes and locked them onto Judith's orbs. "Judith, this is not you. You're not like that! How long do you think this'll last? One week, two weeks? Then you'll wake up and realize you've made a terrible mistake! But by then, it'll be too damn late!"

"Herbert, I haven't a clue what you're talking ab-"

"I would have preferred if it hadn't come to this," Herbert said in a voice that grew in volume and harshness for each word, "but I'm giving you an ultimatum and I demand that you answer me right this minute. It's me… or her."

Judith stared in wide-eyed shock at the man she had been married to for nearly fifteen years. The world seemed to come to a standstill; the sun ceased to shine, the wind died down, and even the perpetual background noise of the rolling waves faded into nothing. Like the world around her, her functions ceased. Not only did she stop breathing with a shocked gasp, her heart seemed to slow down to the point of not beating at all. "How dare you?" she whispered. "How dare you utter such lies about myself and a woman you've only just met! You haven't understood a damn thing! That's not what this is about!"

Herbert growled out loud and spun away from his wife and the other woman. He only made it two steps along the gravelly path before he spun back around and pointed an accusing index finger at Judith and Alice. "That's your answer? Fine! I give you two a month, tops! Goodbye, Judith… I'll see you in court!"

Judith watched in silence as her ex-husband-to-be marched over to his Jaguar, got in and drove off down the dirt road with a long roar from the powerful engine.

Slowly, the world around her came back to life. She drew a deep breath to get her lungs going, but when she exhaled, it turned into a heartfelt sob that she didn't have time to conceal. "I'm so sorry you had to experience that, Alice… I'm so sorry," she said, rubbing her brow with the back of a trembling hand.

"I've heard worse," Alice said somberly; even she seemed marked by the angry confrontation. Her eyes never left Judith's face, but this time, the telepathic connection didn't work and Judith never looked back at her.

Smirking, Alice rubbed her face and drew her own, deep breath. With a sad smile, she put out her arms and pulled Judith in for a comforting, rocking hug. "Hey…" she said quietly to the sobbing woman in her arms, "hey, how about we went over to your place and made some hot cocoa? Hot cocoa and whipped cream, the perfect comfort food."

"I'd be grateful, Alice. Oh, I'm… I'm so sorry that my husband as-… oh, assumed those things about you. H- he can be such an angry old shit at times…"

Alice smirked again and stood up on tip-toes to place a platonic peck on Judith's cheek. "Eh. Words don't bother me… and besides, I've heard worse. Trust me," she said and put out her hand.

After a few seconds, Judith took the offered hand and allowed herself to be helped over to her own cottage.




Three weeks later, October 24th.

The corridors circling the many offices and courtrooms in the city court in Judith's home town of Aalborg were full of harried-looking people either racing towards one of the rooms or walking dejectedly away from it following a verdict that had gone against them.

A constant murmur of voices hung in the air though only a few of the many people seemed to be talking to others. Now and then, a heated word that rose above the murmur made others crane their necks and gawk in the hope of seeing a scandal in the making, but the hubbub typically died down before it could evolve into anything juicy.

A cluster of journalists seemingly late for a high-profile court case involving tabloid celebrities had problems getting their electronic equipment through the metal detectors at the entryways, and they had to go through one at a time in order to be thoroughly checked by the security personnel. Once they had been cleared, they raced along the elegant corridors to get to the specific courtroom in time.

Further down the corridor away from most of the hullabaloo, a pair of double doors opened to reveal Herbert, Judith and their lawyers and legal advisors. The two people who had been married until very recently briefly looked at each other before they went their separate ways without as much as a handshake.

Judith kept standing at the door, watching her husband of fifteen years striding down the corridor and out of her life. Although it was comfortably warm in the corridor, she felt a chill sneak up on her and she crossed her arms over her electric bronze satin shirt.

She had expected to feel elated, but in reality, a strange hollowness was all she had inside her. To start over nearly from scratch a few weeks before her fiftieth birthday wasn't what she had intended to do with her life. There were scores, if not hundreds, of unanswered questions that seemed to gang up on her and whisper in her ear that she should have stayed with what she knew instead of going off on some half-baked quest for freedom.

Since there were no children caught in the middle of the struggles, they had agreed on a clean break. He had kept the stately apartment, his cars - including the black Audi Judith had used for her escape - his horses and his Italian sculptures, but Judith had kept the summer cottage that bore her mother's name as well as all the little things she had accumulated over the years.

The financial matters had yet to be fully settled, but she would be secure for the rest of her life. She had already leased a new car, and she had rented an apartment in a quiet part of Aalborg that she had always found far more charming than the slightly cold and detached upper-crust neighborhood she had lived in with Herbert.

Gulping down a nervous lump in her throat, Judith put on her three-quarter length coat and shuffled off towards the exit to get started on her new life. At the door, she thought she heard someone calling her name, but the lobby was so full of people it was impossible to get a clear view of anything. Shrugging, she walked through the exit and out onto the wet, windy forecourt.

She had only made it a few steps along the pavement before her name was called out so loudly from somewhere behind her that a flock of pigeons took off in a hurry.

Moments later, Alice ran up to Judith and pulled her into a strong hug. "Judith! Didn't you hear me calling for you?"

"Gosh! Goodness me, Alice, it's so good to see you again!" Judith said, looking at the bubbly strawberry-blonde that she hadn't seen for three full weeks. "I've been thinking so much about you. I'm so sorry for disappearing like that… I know I should have kept in touch, but…"

"Oh, that's all right," Alice said and swatted at Judith's coat.

"I still have the chestnut you gave me."

"Awww… did it work? Did it protect you from the evil spirits?"

Judith snickered and reached into her coat pocket to wrap her fingers around the round chestnut. "Yes. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it kept me sane. It reminded me of you… well, and of the time we spent together, of course. The good times. Look," she said and pulled it out of her pocket.

"You've buffed it! Look at it shine," Alice said and stroked the chestnut with her thumb.

The shorter woman was wearing her large trench coat and the form-fitting dark blue jeans that Judith had been so envious of when she had first seen them out at the cottage. Three weeks of poor sleep and comfort eating had left their mark on Judith, and she felt like a blimp compared to the slender, petite Alice.

Alice didn't seem to notice the few extra pounds on Judith's frame. "That's so beautiful," she said and offered the taller woman a warm smile. "Actually, I thought I had missed you again. I've checked the city court's website over and over for the date when your case would be heard… I came to support you today, but would you believe it, the usher told me to wait outside a wrong office! I spotted you and Herbert coming out of another office much further up towards the exit, but I needed to swim upstream through an unruly group of journalist or whatever they were and then you were gone again! I called your name but you didn't hear me…"

"I certainly heard you the second time… along with the rest of the city!"

Alice snickered but suddenly fell silent and stared at the taller woman's hair.

"What's happened to your hair?" -- "Oh… you've cut your hair!" they both said as one.

Alice ran a hand through her shortly cropped, strawberry-blonde locks that gave the wind no chance of snatching it or whipping it around. "I needed a change. I'll be going back to work in early November, and… well, small hands and long hair… not a good combination."

"Ouch… no, I can see that. And me? Well," Judith said, reaching up to touch the zone above her forehead that she knew Alice was talking about - at least, that's where her green orbs were still fixated on. "I gave away all my hair dyes. I realized I only colored my hair to appease my ex. The gray is coming through more and more now. It makes me look older, but… you know… I turn fifty next month. There's no point in attempting to look thirty-five anymore."

"I think you look beau-ti-ful, Judith… just simply beautiful," Alice said and gave Judith's hands a squeeze. "I've missed you. It's been so quiet out at the cottages without you."

"I've… I've missed you too. Are you still toiling with the spackle?"

Alice laughed out loud. "Still spackling. And studying, too. My final exam is next week. Then I'm fully prepared for the new regulations that come into play next year at the kindergarten."

"Oh, best of luck with that!"

"Thank you."

They fell silent for a little while. Something unsaid hung in the air; Judith could feel it, sense it, almost taste it, and yet, the little voice at the back of her mind still hadn't learned to speak in clear terms. She cocked her head and studied the bubbly blonde's new hair. The shorter style worked perfectly for her, and Judith suddenly had an urge to run her fingers through it and gently claw the scalp beneath it, just to see and hear how Alice would react.

Knowing that it would be inappropriate, Judith pushed it all aside. Instead, she nodded solemnly and began to shuffle off towards the parking lot. "I wanted to go out to the beach, but I just couldn't slip it into my schedule. The past three weeks have been insane. One meeting after the other. Lawyers, lawyers and more lawyers. Ugh. Oh, and by the way… I'm now officially Miss Judith Karlsen. That was my maiden name."

"Oh! Oh, how charming. Miss Karlsen, I like the sound of that," Alice said and hooked her arm inside Judith's.

They seemed to have re-established their old telepathic connection because they both strolled along the forecourt without speaking a word about where they were going.

After a little while, Alice moved her arm away from Judith's so she wouldn't appear to be intruding. Judith felt it at once and didn't like the separation at all. To rectify the problem, she sought out Alice's hand and held on tight as they walked along.


At the parking lot - that was so packed that several cars drove around endlessly to find a spot, much to the obvious frustration of the drivers - Judith had to chuckle out loud when she discovered where Alice had parked her small, white Skoda Citigo.

"Hey, what's so funny?" Alice said and pressed the button on the key fob that unlocked the doors. "Are you still laughing at my car? We can't all be driving a yacht like your Audi, you know," she continued, leaning against the driver's side door with a mock scowl on her face.

Judith moved up to stand between the white Skoda and an identical royal-blue one next to it. "I'm not laughing at your car, honest. I'm laughing at the fact that of all the slots here, you've parked right next to my new car," she said, tapping her knuckles on the roof of the blue Skoda.

"No way!"

"Oh yeah."

"It's the same as mine!" Alice squealed and began to study the blue car more closely. "Wow, you bought the Elegance package with aluminum wheels, velvet seat covers and a leather gear knob! My, my, I guess I made a lasting impression on you? Or my car did, at least."

Judith put out her arms and Alice promptly invited herself in for a hug. "You did. Or your car did, at least," she echoed, sticking out her tongue at her shorter friend. After she had pulled it back inside, she realized that the only times she had done that since outgrowing the ballet tutu she'd had when she was five years old had been when she had been with Alice. "I was surprised how comfortable it was. There's less room to park where I live now, so… a smaller car is just right. I'm leasing it."

"Oh, you've already found a new apartment?"

"Yes, in one of the most charming neighborhoods here in Aalborg. A really nice three-room pad with a brand new kitchen and a fairly new bathroom. It's a good size for me and my things."

"I'm glad to hear it," Alice said and stepped back from the hug.

"Oh, you simply must come and- uh, perhaps I could tempt you to visit me sometime?" Judith said and suddenly felt acutely embarrassed for some inexplicable reason.

"I'd love to, Judith. I'll put it in my diary. Well, now that I know you're all right, I better get back to Fredericia. I'm going to check up on my Mom. Her hand still looks bad after she scalded it the other week."

"Oh, I remember that. Listen, Alice," Judith said and put her hands on the shorter woman's shoulders. "I want to thank you for your moral support today. It… it means a lot to me to know that… well, that someone actually cares. Cares about me and what I've been going through. For the past three weeks, Herbert has given me the cold shoulder whenever we've met. I think his expectation was that I'd eventually cave and regret my decision… he has never understood it only made me more determined to go ahead with the divorce."

"Oh, that's the least I could do, Judith. How could I stay away?"

Judith smiled at the shorter woman. She had a question, a big question, burning at the back of her tongue, but she had no idea how the bubbly Alice would react to it.

Seeing Alice again made her aware of how much she had enjoyed the few days they had spent together - days where she had actually felt more alive than she ever had. "I've missed chatting with you… do you… oh, I know it's probably going to upset your own plans for the weekend…" Judith said, studying Alice's fair face that seemed genuinely puzzled at the direction the conversation was going, "… but do you think it would be possible for us to meet at the cottages tomorrow afternoon? I would love to spend a cozy Saturday evening with you just chatting about my… oh, my plans for the future… you know… there's something I've been thinking about so hard… I need to share it with someone… I need to share it with you, before my mind melts from all the agitation. Soon, the weather will be so cold it'll be impractical for us to stay at the cottages. And we live a hundred and eighty miles apart, so… so I thought, why don't we meet in the middle? You know?"

Judith realized she was rambling, so she bit down on her tongue and looked anywhere but at Alice's puzzled face.

By doing so, she completely missed the transformation that occurred on Alice's face. She broke out in a blinding, perhaps slightly disbelieving, smile that reached from her lips and all the way up to her forehead. Her entire demeanor changed to one of relief, and she put her hands across her mouth like she couldn't believe what she had just been told. "Oh… oh, Judith, I'm so glad you suggested that. Yes! Yes, I'll gladly meet you tomorrow! Oh, with the things that were said at the cottages the last time you were there, I was… was worried that you perhaps weren't… wouldn't… no, that's all in the past. Oh yes, I think we should meet!"

Judith smiled back and pulled Alice in for a new hug that ended with a pair of platonic smooches on her cheeks. She leaned down and kissed Alice's brand new short hair for good measure. "Great! I'll try to see if I can get down there at two or so."

"I'll be waiting for you," Alice said in a voice that seemed to reach down into a deeper register than usual.

Judith briefly furrowed her brow at the nature of Alice's response. Now the little voice at the back of her mind was screaming from the rooftops, but she still couldn't understand what it was trying to tell her. She had a growing suspicion that either she or Alice had misunderstood something, but she didn't want to cause her new friend any embarrassment, so she kept quiet. "Please take care on your way down to Fredericia… the Friday afternoon rush hour traffic around Aalborg can be ridiculous."

"I will, thank you," Alice said and opened the car door. "And tomorrow… I'll bring the wine, you just bring yourself. Eh?"

"Sure," Judith said with a grin. "Have a safe drive home."

"Thank you," Alice said and got into her car. Closing the door, she turned the ignition key so she could roll down the power window. She reached out in an invitation for a little squeeze that Judith was only too willing to deliver.

Moments later, Alice started the small car's engine and reversed out of the slot. She drove off with a happy honk-honk from the Skoda's horn, waving her entire arm out of the window while she navigated around the parking lot.

Judith waved back until Alice turned off the parking lot and onto the boulevard beyond it. Before she got into her own car, she leaned against the roof and performed a thousand-mile stare at nothing at all. "What a day it's been," she mumbled to herself, "and what a night we're going to have tomorrow. Alice… goodness me, she's quite simply the best friend I've ever had. She's the only one I can talk to so openly… I can't wait to tell her the Family Journal has agreed to print three of my romance stories…"

Feeling her sixth sense tickle her ear, Judith suddenly realized that several people were gawking at her for speaking to herself. Blushing, she unlocked her new Skoda and got in in a hurry.


The following day saw the recent spell of fair weather surrender to a front that had rolled in from the east overnight. Low clouds, intermittent showers and a strong wind left their mark on the day that never went beyond gloomy.

The strong wind blew most of the remaining foliage off the trees leaving only the most stubborn leaves, but even they would eventually succumb to the passing of time. Piles of crimson and gold littered most roads and made driving conditions difficult, if not treacherous from the slipperiness.

Judith drove off the main road and onto the paved connecting road that would take her to Poplar Lane. The windshield wipers had been working non-stop since she had left Aalborg some three hours earlier, and she was dearly looking forward to a break from the monotony and the tiresome driving conditions.

As she made it onto Poplar Lane, she had to perform an extra-wide turn to clear what appeared to be a lake a foot deep in the middle of the road. The many puddles strewn all over the dirt road proved how hard it had rained there, and the wind even caused little waves to ripple across their surfaces.

Judith had no time to study mother nature's fascinating exhibition; instead, she kept her eyes trained on Alice's cottage. The white Skoda was parked in the carport which proved the bubbly strawberry-blonde had already arrived. A pleasant flutter tickled her stomach from the inside as she drove past the cottage on her way over to the Benedikte . When the thought of soon meeting Alice came to her mind, she was powerless to stop a warm, genuine smile from gracing her features.

She parked her new car in her old carport and got out to take the things she had stowed in the rear. After she had carried the blankets, extra clothing and various other items inside, she went around the cottage to check for any storm damage. Luckily, the Benedikte hadn't been harmed by the strong winds that had pounded the region since just after midnight.

The clothes and the other items were soon stored safely inside the cottage's many closets and cupboards. Stopping at the beechwood chairs in the dining room, Judith slowly ran her hand over the smooth backrest of one of the chairs while she looked through the landscape window at the angry ocean beyond the gray beach.

She couldn't help but reflect on the fact that she had been standing in the exact same position that evening when she had fled from Herbert. So much had happened in those four weeks; her entire world had been turned upside down - and the little voice at the back of her mind told her the wild, scary adventure was only just beginning.

"Judith?" a familiar female voice said from the door.

A bomb of happiness went off and spread colorful sparkles everywhere in Judith's tummy at the sound of Alice's rich voice, and the slight flutter she had experienced earlier turned into an earthquake that tickled her insides mercilessly. The intensity of the sensations caused her to close her eyes and shiver for the briefest of moments. It gave her a clue that she was on the verge of something major, but the nature of the event was still an unknown to her.

All of these reactions happened within a second; then Judith spun around and hurried over to greet her neighbor, best friend and confidant. "Hi, Alice! Gosh, I thought I'd never get here… what awful weather we're having today!" she said, pulling the shorter woman into a strong hug.

"I'll say… it was raining buckets here earlier."

"Goodness me, you look fantastic," Judith said with her hand on the back of Alice's head. She had never held her so intimately before, and she had no idea where it had come from - it had just been the right thing to do.

Alice grinned over the unexpected contact. "Thank you. I never knew that old blue jeans and an even older windbreaker could score so big in a fashion contest, but there you go."

"Perhaps it's your new hair… I must admit, I am quite partial to your hair."

They looked deeply into each other's eyes for a brief moment before Judith removed her hand out of fear of intruding into Alice's personal space. She took a sliding step back to take in the sight of her friendly neighbor. "It's a little bit chilly in here, so I think I'll turn on the electric heating panels. I'd rather not have it get too dank."

"Yeah, I already have my heating panels going. Well, it's quite late in the year. So, anyway," Alice said and took Judith's hands in her own, "I've bought enough food to support a regiment. Pasta and veal… the finest veal you can imagine. I'm going to expose you to one of my favorite recipes. Red wine, too. Plenty of red wine. Some of it may even go into the oregano-laced tomato sauce, ha ha! You'll be able to hear the angels sing tonight, I guarantee it!"


"Yes," Alice said seductively. Her eyes went on a very brief tour of Judith's features, stopping at the older woman's enticing lips in particular. "How about we held our little Saturday night bash here? It's so messy over in my cottage… and your oven is newer and quicker than mine."

"Oh sure, Alice… we can do that. Listen, it's only, ah, a quarter past two. I really, really need a-" - Before Judith could say what she needed, a yawn fell upon her and caused her face to crack wide open. "Oh! Gosh, I'm terribly sorry… how rude of me," she said once it had blown over.

"Bored with the company, are we?" Alice said with a wink.

"Never! It was a long drive… gosh, I need a shower and I guess a little power nap as well before I can do anything… could I tempt you to take a stroll down to the beach with me in an hour's time or so? If you're too busy, you can-"

"I'll be there," Alice said and gave Judith's hands a little squeeze.


Down at the beach, the raging elements provided an awesome spectacle for Judith and Alice who had to lean into the wind to stop swaying. The gale force winds that rushed in from the ocean's wide open expanses whipped the tufts of grass that stood between the dirt road and the beach into a frenzy, and the white foam from atop the crashing waves was sent hurtling across the sand that had been painted dark gray from the earlier rain.

Seaweed, shells, pieces of driftwood and several other objects had been blown onto the beach by the relentless waves that were driven by the howling wind, attracting plenty of attention from families that were out to see mother nature at work.

The characteristic salty smell of the sea came blasting at the two women and made Judith take a deep breath to fill her lungs. For a big city woman like her, there was something primal about standing at the shore and feeling the force of the elements - it proved that in the overall scheme of things, she was merely an irrelevant grain of sand from the beach they were visiting.

Judith shook her head and looked down at her bubbly friend. If she herself was a dull grain of sand, Alice was a beautiful seashell. The strawberry-blonde had her coat pulled up to under her nose to stay warm, but her rosy cheeks, her sparkling eyes and the charming smile that Judith just knew lurked behind the coat gave her so much presence it was impossible for Judith not to be awed.

"Isn't this beautiful?" Alice said, shouting to be heard over the howling gale.

"Yes! Very!" Judith shouted back.

"C'mon, let's stroll out to the bathing jetty… or is it too wild today?"

Judith chuckled and snuggled even further down into her three-quarter length coat. The conditions were wild, but she had come to understand that 'wild' wasn't as scary as it had once been - to a certain extent, at least. "Let's do it," she said and took Alice's hand.


They walked along the beach until they reached the wooden bathing jetty that stretched out into the angry sea. Wisely, none of the individuals and families that visited the beach had dared to challenge the bright red signs that warned of hazardous conditions on the bathing jetty above a certain wind speed. The risk of being blown off the pier and into the merciless sea by a strong gust of wind was simply too great.

The jetty's wooden support beams caused the crashing waves to disintegrate upon impact and send showers of saltwater droplets over the assembled spectators. The children loved it, but most of the adults present didn't think it was something they needed to experience more than a few times.

"Yikes!" Judith cried when another shower of droplets doused her and Alice. "No, I think we've got what we came for… how about we went back and made some hot tea?"

"How about we made some hot apple pie to go with the tea?" Alice shouted, leaning in towards the taller woman.

"Oh, I'd love that!" Judith said with a series of firm nods. "I simply adore your apple pie!"

Alice broke out in a beaming smile and blew Judith a little kiss. Not a split second after doing it, her face froze into a mask of worry like she had accidentally done something she hadn't meant to do. The mask of worry stayed there for a little while, but when Judith didn't seem any different, she slowly returned to normal.


Back home, Judith put down the tray with the steaming hot apple pie on the coffee table at the L-shaped couch, and went over to the sideboard to find the eating utensils needed. She was all set when Alice came in from the kitchen with the tea pot.

The electric heating panels had done their job exemplary and the temperature was comfortable enough for Judith and Alice to sprawl on the couch in regular indoor clothes. After returning from the stroll, Judith had changed into a dark blue sweatsuit. She had never imagined that she would wear such a garment on a voluntary basis, but she had to admit the fabric was far softer than anything she had in her closet.

Alice was wearing pale blue jeans and a long-sleeved jersey that bore the name of the kindergarten she worked at, the Ladybug. When she noticed Judith's eyes on her, she grinned and rolled her sleeves halfway up her forearms. "Isn't this just wonderful?" she said, taking the plate and cutting off a slice of apple pie. "You and me here… with apple pie and tea… what more could a girl ask for, huh?"

"Oh, I could think of a few things… like intimacy, love and glorious sex on lazy Sunday afternoons," Judith said and swept her legs and socked feet up into the couch.

Alice spluttered and nearly choked on a piece of apple pie that had been within a centimeter of going down the wrong pipe. Hacking and coughing, she put down the plate and wiped her lips on the back of her hand. "God, you nearly got me there!" she croaked, coughing again to get all the crumbs out.

"I'm… I'm… I'm sorry, Alice… I didn't mean to spook you…"

Alice chuckled and reached for a napkin to dab her moist eyes. "Well you did! Yikes!"

Judith felt bold, so she scooted up into the corner of the couch and put the plate in her lap. "I'm sorry. Are you okay?" she said when she realized that Alice was still staring at her in a gap-mouthed sort of way.

"Well, apart from choking on the pie, I'm just fine," Alice said and hurriedly returned to her apple pie. "I've just never heard you being so, uh… speak so freely before. That's all."

"I'm free to say what I want now," Judith said with a shrug. She took a bite of her pie and chewed on it carefully to savor the rich taste of the apples, the marzipan and the cinnamon. "Alice, what do you look for in a relationship?"

Alice blinked a couple of times before she cut off a slice and held it on the fork. "Gosh… what do I look for? Well, intimacy, love and glorious sex on lazy Sunday afternoons… that's a good starting point, ha ha. Oh… warmth, compassion. Comfort for my heart and my soul. An inherent trust in my partner. And, ummm… I can't really express what I mean, but like a silent understanding. You know? That we know what each other want without necessarily discussing it. That we're in tune with each other's feelings… I guess that's what I'm trying to say."

"I can definitely follow you there. Sometimes, being around Herbert was like interacting with a brick wall. Men, huh?"

"Uh… yeah, I guess. Some women aren't much better," Alice said and scratched her eyebrow.

"True!" Judith said with a chuckle. "But look at us… haven't we often been in tune with the other? I feel it's happened quite a lot. Oh, Alice, I'm so happy to have you as such a dear friend. To use a childish term, you are my bestest friend. I can speak with you so easily… I can say things to you I'd never, ever be able to say to Herbert. Oh, I dearly hope that if I ever find a new sweetheart that you and I can still chat like we do now. Thank you." Judith flashed her new, 'bestest' friend a smile before she went back to the next bite of the scrumptious apple pie.

Alice was conspicuously silent for nearly half a minute before she let out a quiet "You're welcome."


After enjoying the veal and the red wine at the dining table, Judith and Alice had relocated to the L-shaped couch to continue their cozy soiree. Darkness had fallen and the tealights had been lit; the mood around the leather couch had become one of warmth and intimacy. The many little flames created flickering shadows that danced across the walls and the faces and bodies of the two women.

They had moved the coffee table aside to create a private little corner, and while Judith was resting prone on the couch with a glass of wine within easy reach, Alice was sitting on the floor with her legs stretched out ahead of her and her ankles crossed. She had found a soft cushion for her head by leaning it against the side of Judith's stomach. Although she reached up on the table now and then to take her own glass of wine, the bubbly strawberry-blonde had turned somber and reflective.

The soundtrack was formed by Antonin Dvorak's Ninth Symphony which played from the DVD player in the TV set. Humming along to the bombastic yet melodic symphony, Judith reached for her glass to take another sip. "That's one of the few good things Herbert ever gave me… a love for classical music. Dvorak, Sibelius, Schumann, Rimsky-Korsakov… all the old masters. Their music is just so timeless and beautiful. Do you like classical music, Alice?"

Alice seemed to return from somewhere far away before she answered. Holding her head up straight, she mussed it against the side of Judith's stomach for a few seconds before she moved away again. "Some of it. This one's fine."

"Oh yeah, some of the symphonies just drone on and on, I agree," Judith said with a nod before she took another sip of her wine.

When Alice sighed deeply, Judith furrowed her brow and looked down at her friend. For the umpteenth time, she could feel something unsaid between them, and the fact that she couldn't read the situation well enough to understand what it was had begun to grate on her quite severely. She knew the key to the answer - or perhaps even the answer itself - was right there at her fingertips, and yet, it was almost like she didn't speak Alice's language despite their undeniable chemistry. "This is so cozy and nice, don't you think?" she tried, hoping to get a reaction out of the uncharacteristically somber Alice.


Nothing further happened, and Judith drew her lips back in a grimace. 'All right, that didn't work,' she thought, trying to think back to their dinner conversation to remember if Alice had mentioned anything about feeling unwell. Nothing came to mind, so she took another sip and snuggled down on the couch. "In the three weeks since we last saw each other, I've done a lot of thinking about how I want my life to be from now on," she said, sloshing the red wine around in the bowl.

Hearing that, Alice perked up, and she drew a breath that she seemed to hold.

"It would be so precious to me if you and I could-"

"Oh, Judith," Alice said quietly around a smile that slowly spread over her face.

"-work together on my new short stories," Judith continued, oblivious to the change that had swept over the strawberry-blonde. "The Family Journal was happy with my earlier submission so the editors have actually commissioned me to write a further three romantic short stories! Can you believe that? I'll need someone to take a look at what I've written before I submit them. I thought we could do that together? That way, we could stay in touch."

Alice opened her mouth but not a sound came out apart from a strangled squeak. She turned around to shoot the older woman a shocked glare that offered a hint of the violent tempest that was pounding her from on the inside. A moment later, she turned away from Judith and let out a deep, long sigh.

Judith heard the sigh but didn't understand the underlying message. Instead, she looked at the short, strawberry-blond hair with a smile on her lips. Once again, the urge to touch Alice's hair trickled through her. 'Perhaps I could… gosh, dare I? Dare I run my fingers through her hair?' she thought, slowly reaching up with her free hand.

Judith had barely touched Alice's hair before the younger woman leaned forward to break the contact. "Please don't."

"Oh, Gosh, I'm so sorry… I shouldn't have done that without asking for permission. Do you have a headache?" Judith said and reached over to put her nearly empty wine glass on the coffee table. When Alice didn't answer, she tried to turn around on the couch so she could sit up, but the path was blocked by Alice's back, and she didn't want to ask her to move.

"A headache?" Alice said quietly. "No. But I do have an ache inside me that won't go away."

Judith gasped and moved her legs the long way around the shorter woman so she could sit upright on the couch. She hurriedly reached down and took Alice by the shoulders. "Oh, no! Please… please tell me what's wrong, Alice? What can I do to help you?"

Alice sighed and shook her head. "You can't do anything to help me, Judith…" She sighed again and continued in a faint voice: "You're the cause of my heartache."

Although Judith had heard the second part, it took a few seconds for the words to filter through her concerned mind. When they did, it was like someone flicked a light switch inside her head. All of a sudden, the fog cleared and the truth became so obvious she could have kicked herself for not understanding earlier. Staring at the back of Alice's head in a state of confusion and even mild shock, she opened her mouth to speak - but in an unwanted echo of Alice's earlier predicament, not a single sound would come out no matter how hard she tried.

Moments later, Alice spoke the exact words Judith had thought of but was unable to produce. "The truth is… Judith, I'm in love with you. It started that night before we went to the autumn market. I had a little crush on you before that, but… but it turned serious that evening where we had that beautiful heart to heart in my kitchen about… about everything. We really opened up to each other that evening. The trip to the market only strengthened my feelings for you."

"But we're both women!" Judith croaked through a throat that had tied itself into a knot.

"I'm a lesbian, Judith."

"Since when?!"

Alice snorted and broke out in a disbelieving, bitter laughter. "Oh, for a good number of years, thank you," she said, slowly shaking her head so the short locks tickled Judith's chest.

"But… but I… I'm not like that," Judith said in a voice that trailed off into nothing. A myriad of thoughts flashed through her mind. Alice being into women would explain so many of the little moments between them, but what could explain the strong reactions she'd had herself at seeing, talking to and even touching the bubbly strawberry-blonde?

Her mind became a blurry mess of thoughts that she couldn't sort out without outside help. 'Do I have romantic feelings for Alice?' she thought, and the pang in her stomach that immediately followed the question proved that she had. 'But how is that possible? I've never, ever had romantic feelings for any woman, at any time of my life… but Alice is different… God… I do have feelings for her… that's what the damn voice has been trying to tell me for God knows how long! I've been such an idiot not to understand it!'

From the TV, the second movement of the symphony started playing; romantic tones from the insistent cellos and woodwind instruments filled the living room and seemed to swirl around the two women. Alice turned to face Judith with a dark, even sad look on her expressive face. Her green orbs went on a slow tour of the older woman's features until they stopped at her lips.

Though her expressions told a tale of conflicting emotions, Alice moved closer, closer and closer still until they were merely inches apart. Judith did nothing to prevent it. The music swelled romantically as Alice moved in for a kiss, perhaps the only kiss they would ever share.

Judith had never been kissed by anyone but men; it wasn't a man kissing her now, but she couldn't care less. The softness of the lips that touched hers swept away the last of the concerns she'd had, and she allowed the woman kissing her full access by leaning her head back just a fraction.

Her eyes slipped shut to surrender to the passion Alice put into the kiss, but she had to open them after a short while to see if it was really happening - if she was really being kissed by a woman. The kiss was far better than anything she had ever tried with any man. It was soft, caring, loving, and offered with so much heart that she simply couldn't resist parting her lips and leaning into the sweet kiss.

A series of lustful detonations sent everything inside her into a frenzy. Her heart rate increased, a burning heat swept around her body that set fire to spots that hadn't been properly stimulated for years, the butterflies she had in her stomach all flapped their wings and took off at once, and she had an urge, the strongest urge she had ever had about anything, to continue the kiss and to go much, much further with the woman who kissed her.

The need for air forced the two women apart, but they stayed close and studied each other's faces. Judith grinned goofily, but Alice had large tears running down her cheeks. A moment later, she used her sleeve to wipe them away. "I shouldn't have done that… I'm sorry," she whispered before she staggered to her feet.

Before Judith caught up with what was going on, Alice had put on her shoes and was running for the door with her coat in her hand. "Wh- what are you… Alice, where are you goi- wait! Wait!"

Even though Judith jumped off the couch and followed the younger and far nimbler woman as quickly as she could, she wasn't fast enough to intercept her. The gravel outside the front door cut into her feet and made her jump around on one leg at a time. "Ouch! Oh… ouch! Dammit, what happened?!" she groaned, leaning down to brush away the gravel that had become stuck to the soles of her socked feet.

Taking a deep breath, she cried "Alice! Alice, please come back!" loud enough for the entire Poplar Lane to hear, but Alice didn't return. "What in the world has come over her?!" she groaned, rubbing her face angrily.

The sound of a car engine starting prompted Judith to run forward, gravel, chilly wind and puddles be damned. Before she could reach Alice's cottage, the small, white car reversed out of the carport and onto the dirt road.

"Alice!" Judith cried, waving her arms to catch Alice's attention, but it was to no avail. At once, Alice took off in a hurry and raced along the darkened dirt road until she turned sharp right to get onto the paved road at the end of Poplar Lane.

The white Skoda went straight through the huge puddle in the corner and sent water cascading everywhere. Even after it had gone out of sight, the cones from the headlights could be seen reflected on the trees as Alice raced out towards the main road.

Growling out loud, Judith patted her pockets to find her keys so she could pursue Alice into the night, but she soon discovered that her car keys were in her coat which was upstairs in her bedroom. "Oh no… no, no, no," she groaned, leaning forward to put her hands on her knees.

The shock and the chilly conditions caught up with her, and she began to shiver so hard her teeth nearly clattered in her mouth. "Jesus… please drive safely, Alice… I… I think- I love you too," she said through a clenched jaw while she rubbed her arms furiously to stay warm.

The chilly wind and her drenched socks eventually forced her back inside. Several of the tealights on the coffee table had been snuffed out by the draft from the open door, and one of the wine glasses had tipped over and had broken in two.

She closed the front door behind her and leaned her forehead against the cool frame. Large tears ran down her cheeks, but she did nothing to stop them.

From the TV, the horrendously inappropriate third movement of Dvorak's Ninth Symphony began playing. Uplifting, swelling tones filled the living room as the Scherzo molto vivace ran its merry course to its climax.




Several hours later, Judith had curled herself up into a fetal position on the L-shaped couch. She had kept a light on in the dining room so Alice could see that she would be more than welcome to come over if she needed a serious talk upon her return - if she was coming back at all.

Judith had a fleece throw covering her body, but her hands were clenched on top of the blanket. She almost didn't dare to breathe out of fear of missing the sound of the little, white car's engine driving up the dirt road.

Sighing, she reached over to check her wristwatch that she'd had to take off her arm. It read ten past midnight - Alice had been gone for more than two hours, driving around somewhere in the middle of the night in poor weather.

She put the watch back onto the coffee table and pushed it next to a nearly full wine bottle. After Alice had stormed out because of her, she had intended to get helplessly drunk, but her stomach had rebelled after the first glass so the rest had remained in the bottle.

"Oh…" she groaned, stretching out her legs so she could turn over onto her back. The blanket slid down to the floor, but she pulled it back up and spread it out again. "I haven't been this scared for years… not since my miscarriage. Oh God, please let her be safe," she mumbled, rubbing her dead-tired face.

All kinds of horrible images of car accidents and injured drivers flashed before her mind's eye whenever she tried to rest, so she worked as hard as she could to stay alert.

"But she's safe. I know she's safe. She has to be safe," she mumbled into the semi-dark living room. The lamp she had turned on in the dining room down the other end of the cottage wasn't strong enough to illuminate the entire room, so the couch was half-buried in deep shadows. "I'll never forgive myself if she isn't… no. No, I won't even think about it. No. She's safe."

It was too creepy to hear her voice in the silent cottage, so she snuggled down under the fleece throw to concentrate on the most important aspect of the evening - the unexpected romance. 'I can't believe I've fallen for a woman,' she thought, shaking her head slowly, 'but I have. I've fallen for Alice. It's actually love… I can feel it in my bones… in my heart. It's far stronger than what I felt for Herbert back then… far stronger. God, there's no comparison. This is the real thing, isn't it, Judith? The real thing, and it's with a woman.'

Judith sighed and rubbed her face again. She briefly checked her phone to see if it was still on, which it was. "If I haven't heard anything from her at a quarter to one, I'll call the police," she mumbled, pushing the phone back onto the table.

'I've never connected with anyone the way I have with Alice. That's one thing. How can I fall for a woman? I'm not a lesbian… at least, I didn't think I was. Gosh, this is frightening. I've never had as much as a crush on a woman my entire life, and I've worked with several very, very attractive women. My goodness, fifty years old next month and I learn something about myself that'll turn my world upside down. Herbert knew… somehow he knew. He noticed it after seeing Alice for two damn minutes! Herbert… who couldn't read my emotions if I wrote them down on a damn blackboard! How could he have known…? It must have been so painfully obvious… I'm the world's biggest fool…'

"Damn, I need to pee…" she groaned and pulled aside the blanket so she could sweep her legs over the side of the couch.


Back under the fleece throw three minutes later, she let the days she had spent with Alice earlier in the month run by in a cavalcade of little touches, longing glances and sly comments. Everything was so clear to her now, but it hadn't been then - then, she had been so grotesquely oblivious to the things Alice had tried to convey she might as well have been walking around with her head under her arm.

'And look what I've done… I've accused Herbert of not listening to me, or even paying attention to me at all. Well, hello there! Miss Karlsen, you fool… you're even worse than Herbert. Women are supposed to notice things like that! I'm smack-bang in the middle of a romance with a woman. Or I was before it got screwed up so royally. Where would it have lead? Would we just have dated? Would I have moved in with her? Would Alice have moved in with me? No… she takes care of her mother who's in Fredericia. But my new apartment… I've paid three months rent in advance… I'd lose that money if I moved so soon. But money can never be allowed to stand in the way of love… oh God, I'm so confused…'

A faint sound from somewhere outside made Judith sit up straight and strain her hearing. The sound was repeated a moment later, and it turned out to be a large twig that had been blown onto the roof by the strong winds. Sighing, she leaned back down and pulled up the blanket.

'Maybe it's just me who's old and mentally incapacitated? Let's pretend that I couldn't read the signs because they came from a woman… what if it had been a man? Would I have been able to read a man's intentions? If a man in his mid-forties had turned on the old charm… pah… younger men wouldn't even feign interest in a near-fifty year old with chubby thighs and graying hair. And an older man… no thank you. Been there, done that, not gonna happen again. God, I've been such a blind, ignorant fool… an idiot… no, a nincompoop!'

Sighing, Judith reached up above the blanket to check the time on her wristwatch - twenty to one. "No, that's it… I'm calling the police to ask what I should do," she said and pushed away the fleece throw so she could sit up.

She took the phone and dialed one-one-four to get in touch with the watch desk of the police station she knew was in the small town where she and Alice had visited the autumn market. Since it wasn't an emergency - yet - she didn't feel comfortable about using one-one-two, so she saved it for later.

'You've reached the Garslev-Breyning Police Station. The telephone hours are eight AM to four PM Monday through Friday, nine AM to three PM on Saturdays and eleven AM to two PM on Sundays. If you have an emergency, dial one-one-two-'

"Oh, dammit!" Judith groaned and threw the telephone down into the couch. She rubbed her face several times before she bounded to her feet. Nervous energy screamed through her and made her unable to stand still for more than a few seconds at a time. "I should go look for her," she mumbled, pacing the living room floor in a new, dry pair of socks, "but she could be anywhere… and then I'd probably end up getting lost myself! Oh, dammit… dammit!"


Fatigue finally bowled Judith over a quarter past two in the morning, so she dragged herself up the narrow staircase and into the bedroom where she shed her day clothes and put on her sleeping shirt like an automaton.

Shuffling into the upstairs bathroom, she peed, washed her hands and brushed her teeth - the latter to get rid of the foul taste created by the wine and the worry. The toothpaste took care of the foul taste, but not the twenty-pound boulder of guilt and raw fear she carried around in her gut.

She considered downing a few sleeping tablets but changed her mind even after pouring some out into her hand. The pills returned to the bottle, and the lights were clicked off with her elbow.

In the bedroom, she pushed the lamp further away on her bedside table so she could have room for her telephone. It was still on, but the constant state of readiness had taken a toll on the battery. She briefly thought about plugging it into the charger, but that was downstairs in one of the sideboards and she simply couldn't be bothered to go back down to fetch it.

As her bedside reading, Judith had been enjoying a historical romance by J.P. Lovestone called A Love That Counts, but now, even the look of the wonderfully kitschy cover - of a fair maiden being saved by a dark-haired nobleman while the wind gently ruffled her strawberry-blond hair and her sheer undergarments - made her stomach perform a highly ungraceful flip-flop.

Sighing, she swept aside the bedspread and shuffled up under the covers. She snuggled down and got comfortable before she clicked off the lamp on the bedside table. The moment darkness fell upon her, she thought she could hear something from next door. Gasping, she turned the lamp back on and bolted upright in bed. While she had the light on, the sound wasn't repeated.

Judith groaned and fell back down onto her pillow with a bump. She had barely turned off the lamp before the odd sound returned. This time, she understood at once it was the old-fashioned light bulb sending out a ticking sound as it cooled off. "Judith, Judith, Judith…" she groaned, "get a grip, woman! Alice is far away… she's back home in Fredericia. She's not coming back."


An hour later, sleep was no closer to claiming Judith. She stared wide-eyed into the darkness with a mind so muddled of the fatigue and the myriad of thoughts running through it she could hardly spell her own name.

One thing had been proven without a doubt - each time she thought of Alice, an emotion raced through her that she could only describe as love. She had never felt it with Herbert. She had married the older man for financial stability and status, not love, she realized that now. He had provided that sought-after financial stability and status for fifteen years, but the marriage had numbed her senses to such an extent she had lost one of the most important things in life, namely the ability to love.

Sighing, she rolled over onto her left side but kept staring into the darkness. The pale blue, electronic glow from the telephone on the bedside table had bothered her so she had put it on the floor, but while she rested on her left side, she could see it clearly again.

A sudden need to come clean and confess her feelings to Alice caused her to reach down and grab the telephone. She quickly found Alice's number in the registry and waited for the connection to be made. She knew it would be a long shot that Alice would speak to her, or perhaps even listen to her, but she had to try.

'Hi!' the familiar bubbly voice said at the other end of the line. Judith knew it was the pre-recorded message on Alice's answering service, but it still made her gasp, and it caused her heart to painfully insert an extra beat. 'I can't speak right now… there's a first for everything… but if you leave a message after the beep-thingy, I'll get back to you as soon as I can. 'kay? Bye.'

When the beep came, Judith rolled over onto her back with her telephone glued to her ear. "Alice, it's me… I can't tell you how sorry I am that… that it… that our wonderful evening had to end that way. I'm so, so sorry that I couldn't see the terrible pain you must have been in. I'm a blind fool… b- but I've been doing a lot of soul-searching and-" - Click.

"What? Oh, dammit!" Judith growled as the time to state her message ran out. She found Alice's number and put the phone back to her ear. Once the pre-recorded message was over, she closed her eyes and spoke in a low, insistent tone. "Alice, it's me again. Please come back… I so dearly want to tell you how I feel ab- about you. I can't express myself over the phone… I need you, Alice. I need your touch… I need to see your smile… I f- feel something for you I can't explain… but it's stronger than anything I've ever experien-" - Click.

"Oh… aw, dammit all to hell!" Judith roared, thumping her fist into the mattress.

Panting from the emotional exhaustion, she put the phone down in the bed and covered her eyes with her hands. The frustration brewed up a storm inside her and took away the last possibility of finding rest.

Then the phone rang.

"Oh!" Judith cried and hurriedly reached for the phone - the caller ID simply said 'Alice.' Judith's entire being turned to jelly as she clicked on the little button and put the phone to her ear. "H- hello?" she croaked in a faint voice.

For the first few seconds, the only thing transmitted was dead air, but the person at the other end of the line soon spoke up. 'Hi, Judith,' Alice said, sounding like she called from another world.

Judith pulled her lips back in a worried grimace at the despondent tone in Alice's voice. She had always been so bubbly and animated, but now it sounded like the weight of the world was on her petite shoulders. A sob built up in Judith's throat that she needed to swallow away before she could speak. "Hi, Alice. Are you all right? Are you safe?"

'Safe, yes. All right? Well… no. But I've gone home.'

Judith nodded to herself - she had guessed as much. "Alice, what I said on your answering service came from my heart… I've… I've done a lot of thinking, a lot of soul-searching and… and I f- feel something for you too. It's love, Alice. I haven't loved for so long that I j- just couldn't recognize it… but… but it's love. I can't stop thinking about you. When I see you, my heart explodes in my chest. When we touch… when we're not touching, I want to hold your hands again at once! And the kiss… oh, God, Alice, the kiss… it was the most beautiful, wonderful thing I've ever experienced. I want you to kiss me again… if… if you wish to, of course."

Alice chuckled darkly at the other end of the line. 'But you're not a lesbian.'

"I don't know what I am. I do know that… that what I feel for you is so strong that my heart just tries to reach out for you even as we speak right now. Please, Alice, we need to talk in person. C- can I come home to you in Fredericia later today?"

Alice sighed. 'Are you being serious with me? Or are you just saying what you think I wanna hear?'

"God no, Alice… you must believe me. Please believe me… please," Judith said, sweeping her legs over the side of the bed so she could sit up. With the conversation not going in the direction she had hoped, her hands had gained a slight tremble. Moments later, the tremble was transferred to her body that began to shiver from the chilly conditions and the growing worry that it would go off the rails all over again.

Silence filled the air for long enough to make Judith look at the telephone to see if the connection had been lost.

'I believe you,' Alice finally said, prompting a huge sigh of relief to escape Judith's lungs. Several tears sprang from her eyes and ran down her cheeks, but unlike her earlier crying, these were happy tears.

'Come over and we'll talk.'

Hearing that, Judith's head jerked upright and she grabbed hold of the bed's frame with her free hand. "Wait… didn't you say you were at home?"

'I am home… in the cottage. Close to you.'

"Oh God! I'll be there in two minutes!" Judith cried and bolted from the bed. In the darkness, she couldn't see her shoes, she couldn't see her clothes, she couldn't see the door out of the bedroom - and she couldn't even see the little button for the lamp on the bedside table.

She tore around the pitch black bedroom like a headless chicken trying to put on her sweatsuit and her shoes when she remembered that she could use the telephone's glow to find the lamp. She found the button in a hurry, but had to slam her hands over her eyes as the bright, orange light suddenly illuminated the bedroom.

"Ouch! Dammit!" she growled, and her annoyance only grew worse when she realized she had put her sweatpants on backwards. That was quickly rectified, but to top that, in her mad scramble, she had pushed one of the bathing slippers in under the bed. She swept it out with her foot and put them on in an almighty hurry.

The last thing she did in the bedroom was to grab her coat that contained all her keys. The steep staircase was taken in four flying steps, and she was soon out of the front door and on her way over to Alice's cottage.


By the time Judith made it across the gravelly path and up to the front door at the other cottage, the door had been opened. She took full advantage of it by running into the living room that still looked as messy as it had done earlier in the month. "Alice, where are you?" she cried, looking around for the younger woman.

"Over here. I came back ten minutes ago," Alice said from a pinewood couch that she had dragged over to stand in front of her landscape window. She still sounded depressed and she didn't even get up when Judith hurried around the corner of the couch.

"Alice… please forgive me. I've been so blind," Judith said, wringing her hands in front of her stomach. "Please forgive me. Please… tell me what I should do so we can make it work."

Alice looked up at the older woman with eyes that were clearly red from too much crying. "So we can make it work?" she echoed, shaking her head slowly.

"Please, Alice… give me a chance," Judith said and squeezed herself down onto the soft cushions next to Alice. "I understand now. I wasn't feeding you lies when we spoke on the phone… God… I really, honestly do have strong feelings for you too… I just couldn't understand them. I do now. Here, give me your hand… please give me your hand."

Alice did as asked and allowed herself to be held by Judith's chilled fingers.

Judith held on tight and moved Alice's hand up to cover her heart. "Can you feel that? Can you feel how strongly it's beating?"

"You've been running…"

"You make it beat this strongly, Alice! Please believe that. I was blind as a bat… that's all I was… a blind, ignorant fool. It didn't have anything to do with you but everything to do with me. Please feel my heart and tell me-"

"Judith, I did everything but jump up on a table and do the Lambada," Alice said darkly. "You didn't respond to any of it. You mean to tell me you were so blind? I kept thinking it must have been a conscious decision on your part to ignore me. It damn well hurt!"

"No! No, it wasn't! I read you loud and clear on a subliminal level, but I was too thickheaded to understand what the little voice in my head was telling me… I know your infatuation with me must be gone now, b- but… it took me this long to understand-"

"It hasn't gone," Alice said quietly.


"But it hurts so badly. And when you said the things about you and I being in tune with each other, remember that? When you said that, I was thinking, well, open your damn eyes, woman!" Alice said and turned towards Judith. Her green orbs briefly shot fire, but it didn't last too long. "Open your eyes and see what I feel for you," she continued in a calmer voice.

Judith smirked broadly and rubbed her brow with the back of a trembling hand. "Not one of my finest moments, eh?"


Judith sighed and looked through the landscape window into the pitch black night. Several minutes went by in silence where she tried to make heads or tails of the thoughts tearing around in her mind.

She knew nothing, except that now that she was sitting next to the strawberry-blonde, the twenty-pound boulder of guilt, fear and worry she'd had in her stomach had evaporated. She looked down and noticed their hands were close. She wanted so badly to move her fingers three inches to the right and take Alice's hand in her own again, but she was frightened out of her wits of being rejected. "Alice…" she tried, but her voice broke and she had to clear her throat. "Couldn't you at least feel that I was responding to the kiss?"

Alice chuckled darkly and offered Judith a faint nod. "I could. But by then, it was too late."

"It was such a beautiful, beautiful kiss. I… it was the best kiss I've ever had. If…" - Judith looked down at the hands again; then up at Alice's depressed face - "if I asked you to kiss me again like that… would you?"

Alice sighed deeply. "Not right now."

"Oh." Judith slowly slid her hand away from Alice's since it was obvious the younger woman wasn't in the mood for any contact. 'When she touched my heart before, I came alive,' she thought, sneaking a glance at the object of her desire next to her, 'Now, being separated from her is killing me. Gosh, I can only imagine what Alice went through before I came to my senses… oh, if I could only go back in time and-'

"Not until we've discussed where we're going," Alice said, looking firmly at the older woman on her left.

Judith furrowed her brow. Her train of thought had been interrupted, but it didn't take her long to go back to the previous subject, which had been kissing. "Do you still want to go anywhere… with me?"

Alice chuckled darkly and nudged her elbow into Judith's side. "I still love you, doofus."

When it dawned on Judith that she had once again put her foot in her mouth, she let out a long groan. "I'm so sorry, Alice… I swear, one of these decades, I'll learn to do it the right way. I just can't express how I truly feel… this is all so new to me. Not the fact that we're both women, but love! Love itself, Alice!"

"It's high time you learned something about the facts of life, young lady!"

"I know…"

Alice chuckled again, and this time, the laughter was closer to her regular voice. "Love is the most precious thing we human beings can share because it comes from our hearts and souls, not our minds… or our wallets. Love is what matters, Judith, not how we define ourselves. I know who I am. You're only just starting out in that confusing maze, and yet we've found each other through that little thing called love. Judith, please…" Alice fell silent and closed her eyes like she was trying to compose an important point.

Judith stared at the deadly serious blonde next to her with bated breath. She didn't dare move a muscle out of fear of disturbing Alice at the wrong moment.

"Judith, please, let your heart take control. Not your mind. Love, don't think. Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you? Just let your heart take the wheel. If you do that, then we can have a future together. I'm into women, it's perhaps different for you, who can tell, but… we're here, you and I, and-"

"-And we love each other," Judith whispered. She looked intently at Alice, wishing, hoping, praying they would kiss again so she could prove her point.

"Can I trust you with my heart?" Alice whispered back.

Judith nodded. The urge to run her fingers through Alice's short hair that had been weighing so heavily on her mind for so long finally won out, and she let her long digits caress the short, strawberry-blonde locks and the scalp beneath. The sensuous sigh she got in return was enough for her breath to hitch. When she felt Alice lean back into her touch, the last of her worries melted away. They would be all right. "You have so much more experience than I have… will I be able to satisfy you?" she whispered, running her thumb through the reddish locks.

"You'll satisfy me by doing what your heart tells you," Alice said quietly, moving her hand over to claw Judith's thigh.

The intimate contact gave Judith such a jolt that she couldn't stop a gasp from escaping her lips. 'God… if this is what it's going to be like with Alice… I'll burn up if we ever… no… the first time we make love…' she thought, instinctively licking her dry lips.

Alice chuckled and locked eyes with the older woman next to her. Once more, her orbs went on a little tour of the features until they stopped at the lips. With a relieved smile, she slid closer and claimed Judith's mouth in a warm kiss that once again proved it didn't matter what the label said if the chemistry was right.

They kissed for a while before they broke off to breathe. Judith grinned goofily at the affections that she simply wasn't used to from her old marriage. She and Alice hadn't strayed too far from each other, and another kiss was on the cards almost at once.

The new kiss became heavier, more insistent. Judith couldn't believe how great it felt to be kissed so thoroughly. Every last nerve-end inside her saluted the sweet contact that only grew stronger as the kiss deepened. Someone moaned, it may have been herself, she wasn't sure. A hand, it may have been her own, she wasn't sure, crept up the inside of a t-shirt to caress the smooth skin it found there. Another hand came the other way, fondling, stroking, caressing, cupping a breast.

Judith's skin instantly caught fire where the hand held her. Gasping, she leaned forward to increase the pressure; it worked as the fire created by the touch slowly spread to the rest of her and sent her senses into a frenzy.

"Too much too soon?" Alice whispered, slowly pulling her hand back from Judith's left breast.

"No," Judith breathed. She opened her eyes and stared so deeply into Alice's green orbs she was afraid she might drown there.

Alice leaned forward and placed a tiny kiss on each of Judith's cheeks. "Because I've been told that I can come on too strongly sometimes." A cute, charming smile graced her features as she pulled back to get a better view.

When Alice smiled, Judith hoped she'd one day drown in the green orbs. 'She's right,' she thought, smiling back. 'Just let the heart take control. No more words, no more conscious thought… just let the love guide us along.' - "Hey," she said and reached up to caress Alice's silky smooth face, "before I met you, I… I was lonely. Always lonely. Even when I was around others… but whenever we're together, you and I… I'm not lonely. Lonely no more. What a charming title for a romance novel, don't you think?"

"I dunno… I prefer to do it, not read about it," Alice said and leaned in to add another kiss to their growing collection. They looked at each other for a few seconds before they broke out in identical saucy snickers.

The moment they shared only intensified, and Judith could feel all the old cracks in her foundation slowly filling with that little, magical thing called love. That she happened to love a woman was an unexpected twist, but one that sent all sorts of happy, warm sparks through her heart and soul.

Snuggling up to Alice, she cast off the remaining shackles of worry and did indeed allow the love to guide her along. "Alice," she whispered, "I think I love you. No, I do love you. Isn't it amazing?"

"Yes. I'm glad you do. I love you too, Judith," Alice whispered back, clawing Judith's thigh again. "Let's just sit here together and wait for the sunrise."

A few seconds went by where Judith leaned her head against Alice's in a state of bliss - but then she furrowed her brow and craned her neck to look the bubbly strawberry-blonde in the eye. "Wait… the sunrise? Alice, the sun doesn't come up for another four or five hours!"

"Ooops. Eh… I guess there's plenty of time for more kissing, then…"

"Now you're talking," Judith said and leaned in to claim Alice's lips. Before they kissed, she studied the fair, expressive face of the woman she had come to love. She would never have believed it if she hadn't experienced it firsthand. There she was, Judith Karlsen, in love with a woman. Perhaps about to make love with a woman.

Her world had been turned upside down, but it appeared it had only righted a previous wrong. With the bubbly, charming, spirited, spunky and just plain gorgeous Alice Lundgaard safely in her arms, her world was now the right side up.

And then they kissed. More than once. More than twice, too.





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