This drama belongs in the Uber/Original category. All characters are created by me, though some of them 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 a touch of profanity. Readers who are easily offended by bad language may wish to read something other than this story.
NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR:
Written: For the 2016 Royal Academy of Bards' Valentine's Day Invitational.
- Thank you very much for your help, Wendy Arthur :)
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: For Camilla Jorgensen, this Valentine's Day won't bring love, laughter and happiness. It'll mark the fifth anniversary of moving in with the love of her life, Trine Vangsberg, but much of the past year has been spent battling an invisible, undefeatable foe that has ripped her heart and soul to shreds. She's in no mood to celebrate, but she has a promise she must keep…
It seemed that most of the forty thousand people who lived in the city of Rødovre had all had the same idea at the same time: go to the shopping mall and buy the last items they needed for Valentine's Day. To call the R-City Mall bustling with activity would be an understatement. The main aisle on the second floor wasn't merely bustling, it was on the brink of all-out carnage, chaos and mayhem - a direct result of the three-for-the-price-of-one specials at Vick's & Mick's, one of the most popular fashion outlet stores.
Romantic, instrumental mood music played over the mall's speakers to get everyone to buy just one more thing at one of the two-hundred stores, and faint scents of roses and candy were distributed throughout the aisles by the air conditioning system.
Once upon a time, Valentine's Day was seen as a day where romance and love could finally spread their wings and rise above the humdrum of the dull, gray, everyday life, but - like Christmas, Halloween and every other minor or major holiday - it had turned into a commercial nightmare. Some, like the thirty-four year old Camilla Jørgensen, still believed in the original notions, but they were outnumbered by the army of consumers around them.
The large-scale, tag-team wrestling match of men and women pushing and shoving to get to the best three-fer offers in front of the Vick's & Mick's fashion outlet was reflected in the storefront windows of La Femme Tallulah, a smaller, quieter, and far cozier clothes boutique.
Camilla sighed and moved away from the windows, shaking her head at the craziness that unfolded across the aisle. The independent La Femme Tallulah was among her favorite haunts at the R-City Mall, but there were so few customers there she knew it would only be a matter of time before the owners would have to close down the store or sell the stock to one of the major players.
Walking around the stacks of jeans, slacks, chinos and other forms of pants, she let her fingers play across the fabrics to get a feel for the textures and the quality of the seams. La Femme Tallulah had always had high-quality clothing, so she found no questionable items.
The ladies' wear beckoned, and she came to a halt at the shelves carrying tops and sweaters. In mid-February, the weather was still far too chilly for the flimsy tops, but a knitted sweater in the color known as old rose caught her eye. It was a turtleneck, but not a tight-fitting one. Taking the soft garment off the shelf, she stretched it a little to test its stability in the regular critical spots: under the arms and at the lower hem.
"It's top quality knitwear, Miss," the sales clerk said over Camilla's shoulder.
Smiling, Camilla turned to look up at the gangly fellow whose long neck and limbs gave him a look akin to a giraffe despite the classy, dark clothes he wore. A metal tag on his chest proved his name was Patrick. Like so many other modern men in their mid-twenties, he wore square, horn-rimmed spectacles that made him appear like a public school math teacher from the 1970s. "Oh, I can certainly feel that," she said and mussed the soft fabric between her fingers. "I'm going on a Valentine's date later on, so I need to look my best."
"Oh! Congratulations!" Patrick said and waved at Camilla in an effeminate gesture. "I wish my boyfriend would ask me out, just once. But no, I always have to do the heavy lifting. Good thing he's so cute or I would have walked out ages ago."
Camilla smiled at the younger man. Though she hadn't met him before at the boutique, she enjoyed the easy-going atmosphere created by all the sales clerks who worked there. "Men. Eh?" she said with a knowing wink. "Anyway, I think I'll have this sweater. That's three-hundred and eighty kroner, right?"
"Yes, indeed," the sales clerk said and took the garment. Folding it with an expert's touch, he moved over to the fitting room, but Camilla waved her hand in dismissal.
"I don't need to try it on, thank you. I know my size. It's a perfect fit."
"All right," Patrick said and turned back to the counter. Activating the electronic cash register, he swiped the bar code past the reader which responded with a two-tone beep. "And how will you pay, Miss?"
"Direct transfer," Camilla said and reached into the pocket of her blazer jacket to find her smartphone. Soon, she held it up to the rear side of the cash register so the transaction would be processed automatically. A few beeps later, she put the phone away.
"Here you go, Miss," the sales clerk said and handed Camilla the paper bag containing her new sweater and the receipt.
"Thank you. And I'll also need my picnic basket, please."
Patrick let out a dramatic sigh as he reached down behind the counter. La Femme Tallulah had a strict no-bag policy, so Camilla had needed to deposit the old-fashioned reed picnic basket at the counter when she had arrived. "Oh, I beg your pardon, Miss. I had completely forgotten about that."
"I'm sure you would have noticed it sooner or later," Camilla said and let out a short laugh. "It's only a little wine and a few snacks. You know. For my Valentine's date later on."
"Oh, I'll bet the lucky fella will approve."
Camilla winked. "Or lucky lady."
"Or lucky lady, indeed," Patrick said and adjusted his horn-rimmed spectacles.
Camilla smiled and reached into her blazer pocket to find her smartphone. She looked around at the empty store and figured she wouldn't be taking too much of the sales clerk's time. "Here's my date… my sweetheart," she said and held up the telephone to allow the younger man to see a few of the selfies she had made with her girlfriend.
"Oh, what a cutie! You look so great together! So you're already an item? It's not a date-date, then?"
"We're coming up to our five-year anniversary," Camilla said and took back the telephone. In her eagerness to share the photos, she had moved too far ahead in the index. Her smile faded when the image on the small screen had changed from lush green to a clinical, hospital-like white. The smile was soon back on her face, but it had turned pained. "It's sort of a long-distance relationship now."
"Oh, honey, I know all about that! Goodness me, I have to pull four twelve-hour shifts here at the Tallulah every single week. I love working here, don't get me wrong, but sometimes, my love life amounts to heavy breathing over the phone!" Patrick said and adjusted his spectacles once more.
Camilla grinned and put her smartphone back into the pocket of her blazer. "I better get going. Thank you for the chat," she said and took her paper bag and her reed picnic basket before she headed out into the ferocious human jungle known as the aisles on the second floor of the R-City Mall.
The ground floor of the mall wasn't much better. Parts of the central square had been cordoned off and put into use as a playground for the countless children who were at the R-City Mall with their parents. Uniformed security personnel kept watchful eyes on the children so no unwanted interaction could occur that could turn into lawsuits against the mall further down the line.
Several benches had been put up just outside the playground where the parents could sit and watch their little ones play. Red and white plastic signs on the wooden benches and elsewhere said in capital block letters that the mall's no-loitering policy was still active, that teenagers weren't allowed to walk around in groups larger than four, that smoking was strictly prohibited, that consumption of alcohol was prohibited outside the mall's cafés and restaurants, and that only guests with playing children were allowed to use the benches at the playground.
A large carousel complete with old-fashioned horses, airplanes and veteran cars played loud, organ-based music as it turned, but it slowed down and fell quiet just as Camilla walked past it. The uniformed security personnel made sure no child would do more than two rides in a row so they wouldn't hog the carousel, nor get nauseous which could potentially lead to a lawsuit.
As a result, a line of kids swarmed off the carousel before the next group of excited younglings went the other way onto the colorful ride and found their favorite spots.
Camilla smiled at the sight, but it faded as she strolled across the last section of the central square and went into a connecting hallway past a store selling watches and jewelry that almost all reached into five digits.
Though she looked ahead rather than down, her eyes weren't focused so she glanced past all she met. Turning left, she walked down the deli aisle and took a deep sniff of all the exotic aromas that wafted out of the bakery, the wine imports, the tea shop, the fishmonger, the cheese shop and the butcher's.
Reaching the end of the deli aisle, she thought about visiting the Oriental Spices Imports or the brand new Spanish tapas cantina across from the other store, but decided against it and turned the opposite direction instead to go to a florist whose flowers were always fresh and erect.
The florist was a mature woman in her late fifties who wore Wellingtons over a lined fleece coverall to battle the chilly climate inside her shop - she also wore a scarf to protect her ears and her graying locks from the damp conditions. She was busy servicing another customer as Camilla entered the shop, but she looked up and nodded at the new arrival.
After nodding back, Camilla shuffled around the shop and looked at the dozens of buckets that were lined up everywhere on the floor. They were all full of wonderful flowers in bloom ranging from blood-red roses to faint purple crocuses, white winter aconites and even a few snowdrops. More flowers graced the walls; large, artistic bouquets and colorful creations that showed off the florist's skills in her chosen field. The store carried the smell so typical of flower shops: that certain mix of greenery, flowers in bloom and just a hint of dried spices that were sold in small paper bags to act as atmosphere.
A hand-written cardboard sign stuck among the roses said 'A dozen red, long-stemmed roses, 125 Kr. Two dozen, 220 Kr.' Camilla gave the flowers a long, hard look and decided on the spot that red roses couldn't be beaten as a romantic gift on Valentine's Day.
The chill made her shiver and close her blazer jacket. She hadn't yet had an opportunity to change into her new sweater, but she wished she had as it would be far warmer than the thin, stylish blouse she wore at present. When it became her turn, she shuffled up to the counter and smiled at the florist. "Hello. I'd like a dozen blood-red, long-stemmed roses, please."
The older woman returned the smile and walked around the counter to get to the freshest flowers. Crouching down, she carefully took one rose at a time and let it drip off into the bucket where it came from. "Coming right up, Miss. Is it for Valentine's Day?"
"Yes it is, actually…" Camilla said with a wistful smile.
"In that case, the cellophane wrapping is free," the florist said as she continued to gather the roses.
Camilla shook her head. "No thank you. I'd like to have them in a simple paper wrapping, please."
"Sure. How about I give you pink paper to mark the day? Do you prefer an open or a closed bouquet?"
"An open one, thank you."
Once the florist was done, she fluffed the roses in her hand and got to her feet. Shuffling around the corner, she put down the flowers on a stack of silk paper and wrapped an elastic band around the lowest parts of the stems so they would be controllable. She chose a sheet of pink wrapping paper and began to scoop up the long-stemmed flowers while she whistled through her teeth.
Camilla found her smartphone to pay, but when she moved up to the cash register, she noticed it was an old version that didn't have the capability to make a direct transfer. Shrugging, she put the telephone away and took her good, old wallet instead.
"So," the florist said and wiped her hands on a towel, "that'll be one hundred and twenty-five kroner, if you don't mind."
"One hundred… twenty… five kroner, here you go," Camilla said and put a bill and two coins on the counter. The blood-red roses looked magnificent in the open-topped wrapping paper, and she couldn't stop herself from burying her face in the heads and taking in a deep sniff. "Oh… so wonderful…" she whispered.
"Mmmm! They certainly are!" the florist said with a big grin. "Have a nice day, Miss."
Smiling, Camilla gave the roses another strong sniff as she left the flower shop to proceed to the parking garage where she had left her car.
Driving out of the R-City Mall's parking garage in her mint-green Hyundai i30, she took it easy over the four asymmetrical speed bumps put there to stop anyone from even thinking about speeding onto the connecting boulevard. As always, she got stuck in an endless line at the world's slowest traffic lights, but she was finally able to drive onto the four-lane boulevard that would take her to her destination.
She turned on the radio, but her favorite station only played romantic ballads to mark Valentine's Day. She wasn't in any mood for that, so she turned it off and glanced down at the blood-red roses that she had put on the front seat so they wouldn't risk getting crushed by the picnic basket.
Sighing, she came to yet another halt at a red light at one of the boulevard's countless intersections. She only had a mile or so to go. The characteristic gray, white and black high-rise housing the Municipal Hospital loomed large in the far distance. It had been a fraught year, and she had seen far too much of the interior of that wretched building.
When the next set of traffic lights changed to green, she continued along the four-lane boulevard until she could see the red brick wall that surrounded the small park she was headed for. Activating her turning signal, she left the boulevard and drove onto a gravelly path shaped like a crescent moon.
The white, round pebbles crunched under the wheels of her car, and she drove slowly and carefully to adhere to the speed limit which had been set at walking pace throughout the park. When she reached the central parking zone, it was pretty full, but she was able to find a bay not too far from a small, cozy café. Driving into the slot, she rolled up the power windows, pulled the handbrake and turned off the ignition - things that didn't usually require conscious thought, but today, she performed the tasks with meticulous precision. In short, she tried to put off the inevitable.
She remained in the car. It was a clear, crisp day with a gentle breeze that rustled the bare, wintery branches on the park's tall oaks and weeping willows, but the muted silence inside the car was what she needed at that moment in time. Such a strong scent emanated from the roses on the front seat that she was powerless to stop a smile from spreading over her features. It turned wistful as the events of the past year flashed before her mind's eye.
Sighing, she opened the driver's side door and stepped out of the Hyundai. She wanted to take a short walk in the park before she went into the café, so she buttoned her blazer jacket and set off along the gravelly path after pressing the key fob which locked the doors.
The path that led away from the central parking zone was quiet to the point of being serene. Though the four-lane boulevard was less than two hundred meters behind her, the droning sound generated by the traffic wasn't intrusive. Sunlight filtered through the creaking branches to create magical patterns of light on the white, round pebbles, and the canopy of trees above made breathing just that little bit easier compared to the smoggy haze that always hovered over the inner city.
She strolled along in silence with her hands shoved firmly down the pockets of her blazer jacket. She wished she had brought her gloves - the sunlight had fooled her into believing the conditions would be pleasant, however the shade offered no warmth at all.
The ringing of nearby church bells made Camilla come to a stop and stare straight ahead. She had always loved the harmonic sounds created by the bronze bells, but the recent past had made her associate their ringing with pain rather than joy. The bells played a merry tune, indicating a wedding had just taken place. The happy couple would come out onto the steps where they would be showered in rice or confetti; then, they would have their picture taken before they would move onto the rest of the celebrations on their glorious day.
Camilla sighed and carried on along the gravelly path. The tall oaks and weeping willows gave way to a section of the park that saw neatly groomed lawns and low hedges lining narrower aisles. A few people were standing around, speaking to one another in hushed tones. It wasn't yet warm enough to remain in one spot for too long, so everybody shuffled back and forth on the gravelly aisles.
She glanced at a particular section of the park as she went past it, but she wasn't ready to go there yet. Instead, she followed the crescent-shaped path until it returned to the parking lot.
In the meantime, happy people from the wedding wearing tuxedos and extravagant dresses and gowns had swarmed out onto the parking lot and were trying to figure out who should ride with whom, and who should leave first so the rest could reverse out of the parking bays. Camilla stood alone at the mouth of the gravelly path watching the happy crowd exchange hugs and kisses on the cheeks before they flung themselves at the nearest car to get on with their no doubt extensive - and expensive - program.
None of them seemed to want to visit the cozy café, and that suited Camilla just fine. The mood she was in didn't allow room for joyful exuberance, so she wasn't unhappy with the fact the parking lot was soon deserted save for her own mint-green Hyundai and another, smaller car parked off to the side.
Walking around the back of her car, Camilla took the paper bag with the new sweater and shut the door with her knee. Fumbling a little, she brought up the key fob and pressed the square button to make the car lock its doors once more.
A delightful aroma of fresh coffee and warm pastries greeted her as she stepped into the cozy café. It had just the right size; not too cramped and not too impersonal. Twelve tables with two or three chairs at each had been set up at random to create a homey atmosphere, and each table carried an old-fashioned checkered tablecloth and a small candle in a glass housing.
Her heels clicked on the hard, dark-brown linoleum floor on her way over to the ladies' restrooms at the back of the cafe. On her way there, she waved at the barista who was busy wiping down a few cups and tumblers.
Stepping into one of the stalls in the café's restroom, Camilla shut the door behind her and moved the locking slider into place. The stall carried a noticeable smell of disinfectant and other chemical products, but the alternative would have been much worse. Everything was clean and fresh; the white tiles weren't even smeared with lewd graffiti like in every other public restroom on the planet.
After closing the lid to the toilet to use it as a platform, she unbuttoned her blazer jacket and hung it from a coat hook high on the wall. The thin, stylish blouse came next, and she was soon down to her bra. She took the opportunity to run a scented moist towelette over her neck and her armpits before taking her new sweater out of the paper bag and giving it a good fluffing or two.
The price tag and the brand collection label were pinned to the fabric with plastic ties, but she bit them apart and threw them into the small garbage bin in the corner of the stall. The warm sweater felt wonderful against her chilled skin, and she pulled it down and adjusted it to make it sit just right - it was a perfect fit, like she had predicted.
With a sigh, she stuffed her thin blouse into the paper bag from La Femme Tallulah that she had put on the closed toilet lid. After donning her blazer jacket, she fluffed her hair out of the collar.
Her face was set in stone as she performed the motions with a sense of robotic detachment. Some time ago, she had made a promise to a very special someone, and she intended to keep it. However, the closer she got to carrying out the plan, the more she could feel a boulder of pain and sadness developing in her gut.
From one moment to the next, her energy vanished and left her deflated like a leaking balloon. Though she considered her own pain irrelevant - and she was still determined to go ahead with the plan - she needed a moment of quiet reflection to sort the many emotions that raced around her heart and soul. Sighing deeply, she bumped down on the closed toilet lid and stared at the white tiles on the wall without seeing anything.
It took Camilla a good ten minutes to overcome the gloominess that had assaulted her. Once she was ready, she pulled the locking slider aside, took the paper bag containing her blouse, and stepped out into the outer restroom. She glanced at herself in the mirror above the wash basin and came to the conclusion that she didn't look half bad, all things considered. A brief application of chapstick later, she was ready to face the harsh, unforgiving world.
While she had changed clothes, a few customers had arrived at the cozy café: An elderly man who sat at the table the farthest from the counter, and a pair of women she knew from one of their local hangouts. It had been a while since she had spoken to them, so they probably didn't know. Groaning inwardly, she considered slipping past without acknowledging the gals, but that would be rude.
Instead, she screwed a smile on her face and stepped up to the table. "Hi, girls! Fancy meeting you here," she said in a cheery voice she didn't think she possessed anymore.
The two women - who were both in their early thirties and dressed similarly in baseball caps, sports sweaters, lettermans and jeans - looked up from their coffee and shared pastry to gawk at the well-dressed woman who had spoken to them. "What the hell… hey, Camilla!" the first one said as she shook hands with the other woman. "Long time no see! Wow, girl, you look fantastic… you have a hot date or something?"
Camilla grinned and moved over to the other of the two women who pulled her down for a little hug. "Yeah. A hot date on Valentine's Day," she said as she kept her hand on the other woman's arm.
"Oh… it's Valentine's Day?" the first of the two sporty women said - it promptly earned her an elbow in the ribs from her associate next to her.
Pernille Overgaard and Anne-Marie Petersen were both former team handball players whose knee-related injuries had forced them to retire from the professional leagues. They hadn't known each other when they played, but they had met in rehab and had hooked up within a few months. Both square-built and fit beyond belief, they had soon earned the nickname the Tuff Chicks for their powerful presence. Pernille was a tough chick, all right, and Anne-Marie was the sensitive one in the relationship - though sensitive wasn't a term anyone would have used when she played defense in the pro leagues.
"Oooh! A hot date, eh?" Anne-Marie said and reached up to muss Camilla's hand. "Does Trine know? Hey, Pernille, how come we never go on a romantic date?"
" 'Cos we're already together, that's why," Pernille said and pushed her baseball cap back from her forehead.
Camilla smiled at the exchange, but it was a wistful one. "Oh, Trine knows. She's the one I'm having a date with. She's-"
"Oh!" Anne-Marie said. "Tell her we said hi, yeah? We've been kinda out of the loop for a little while 'cos we've lived in Jutland since last spring."
The smile froze on Camilla's face, but she nodded at the two gals. "I will. I remember hearing about that. You worked as coaches or something, didn't you?"
"Yeah. Still do," Pernille said. "Defensive line coaches to a third-league team. We've got a couple of weeks off now 'cos most of the amateur players are back at school. Exams and all that stuff. We'll go back in time for the playoffs. Ya know, I think they're happy to see our butts walk out the door."
They all laughed at that; Camilla could well imagine the local amateur players being run into the ground by the two, superbly fit retirees. At the counter, the barista opened up a new pack of coffee beans and poured the dark-brown items into the grinder. The delicious, rich smell produced by the grinder working at fever pitch to turn the beans into ground coffee made Camilla realize she needed a cup before she could move on.
"So," Anne-Marie said, sipping her coffee, "where's Trine, anyhow? Weren't you gals inseparable?"
The smile that graced Camilla's face was even more pained than usual, but she slipped around the table so her old acquaintances wouldn't notice. "Yes… she's… she's waiting for me."
Pernille grinned and emptied her own cup of coffee. She pushed the rest of the pastry over to her partner who wolfed it down in no time flat. "We don't wanna keep you guys waiting. It was nice meeting you again, Camilla… let's stay in touch this time, yeah?"
"Yeah…" Camilla said, needing to support herself by putting her hands on the backrest of the chair opposite from where the gals dubbed the Tuff Chicks were sitting. After shaking hands with Pernille, she was pulled into a hug by Anne-Marie. It was clear the more sensitive of the two sporty women understood that something was amiss. Camilla needed to talk about what had happened, but she didn't want to offload on someone who could only be categorized as an acquaintance, not a friend - and in any case, a café wasn't the right place for a heart-to-heart.
Five minutes later, Camilla sat alone at a table overlooking the parking lot. She nursed a half-eaten chocolate delight and a cup of cappuccino. The barista had made a heart in the layer of whipped cream to mark the date - it was a nice touch, but the drawing of the heart didn't match the one inside Camilla's chest. Hers was shattered.
She had taken a free MetroExpress newspaper from the rack at the counter, but the colorful headlines and articles about so-called celebrities from the world of reality-TV couldn't hold her interest for long. Leafing through it, she only stopped here and there to glance at some of the pictures.
Pushing the newspaper away, she reached into her blazer pocket to find her smartphone. It didn't take long to check her e-mail - she hadn't received any - so she moved onto the photos and began to look at those she and Trine had made together.
There she was. Trine Vangsberg. Beautiful, vibrant, healthy. The love in her eyes for Camilla shone so clear her grayish-blue orbs were almost alight. The roguish smile she always pulled when she was trying to lure an unsuspecting Camilla in for a big kiss. The tip of a pink tongue that appeared between her lips when she was cheeky. The gentle hands with the long digits that were so good for so many things. The hair she always wore down to her shoulders because she was overly conscious about her ears - she felt they were too flappy, but it was nonsense.
As Camilla swiped through the images, she began to reminisce about all the little things that set Trine apart. The smoothness of her skin apart from the three scars she had on her hands following an accident at work. Her special, natural scent. The rich timbre of her voice. Her big, warm heart. Her boundless support and her willingness to help whenever she could. Her giving nature in bed and elsewhere.
Camilla's chest tightened as she swiped through the photos, and she had to close the image viewer before it could load the next batch. She knew it wouldn't be pretty. Putting the phone away, she concentrated on enjoying her cappuccino and looking out onto the near-empty parking lot.
It was time to move on from the cozy café. She had a promise to keep. She knew it, but she couldn't persuade her legs to move, nor her heart to settle down. It was in her throat in a way it hadn't been at Christmas or the New Year; the two holidays had gone by in a numb blur. This was different. This was Valentine's Day - the day where she and Trine had first realized it had turned serious between them. Five years had passed. The first four had been heaven, most of the fifth had been hell.
A group of potential customers entering the café gave her the kick she needed. As the four people participated in a loud debate among themselves on the merits of the various types of coffees on offer, she pushed the chair back and took the empty cup, the plate with the half-eaten chocolate delight and the newspaper.
After depositing the cup and the plate on the counter so the barista wouldn't have to leave her coffee grinder or the new customers, she put the newspaper in the rack for the next reader and shuffled back to the table to pick up the paper bag with her blouse. Nodding a goodbye to the woman behind the counter, Camilla left the café.
The weather hadn't changed since the last time she had been outside, but her new sweater was much warmer than her flimsy blouse had been so it seemed more pleasant. Finding the key fob, she pressed the square button which unlocked her Hyundai.
The paper bag with the La Femme Tallulah logo was quickly dumped in the trunk before she moved around to the passenger side door. Opening it, she took the reed picnic basket and the open-topped bouquet of roses.
She held the blood-red flowers to her face and took another deep sniff of the delightful, strong scent. Closing her eyes, she allowed herself to become lost in the fragrance; allowed herself to return to a happier time where everything was all right in her world. Gulls shrieking above made her drift out of her daydreams and return to the present.
The car doors were soon locked, and she set off on her solemn journey into the park carrying the roses and the picnic basket. This time, she walked down to the far end of the crescent-shaped gravelly path which was closer to her destination.
She walked toward the entrance to the path with a heavy heart. As she reached the impressive cast iron gate that was closed at night to protect the park from vandals, her eyes slid across the stylized letters on the bronze plaque at the center of the gate. They spelled out Rødovre Municipal Cemetery, a name that had been etched into her soul.
Sighing, she carried on. With a heart that grew heavier by the minute, she walked past a handful of the narrower aisles that were lined by low hedges before she reached the right one: aisle six.
Nobody was there, which was a relief, yet her legs refused to obey her commands. She stopped and took a deep, trembling breath. She needed to go on; she had a promise to keep. Tears welled up in her eyes but she blinked them away as she set off down aisle six, dragging her feet through the white, round pebbles.
Her mind had gone blank and her entire being was simply functioning on autopilot. The pebbles crunched under her soles as she shuffled down the aisle. Reaching her destination, the sun broke through a rare cloud and illuminated the green patch and the polished stone, but she didn't see any of it. Her eyes were locked onto the five rows of gold letters engraved on the granite headstone.
7.24.1980 - 10.19.2015
Rest In Peace
My sweet angel
We shall meet again'
The burial plot was maintained well; the cemetery's groundskeepers kept them all free of weeds and withered leaves. The headstone stood at an oblique angle at the top end of the plot like Trine had requested in her will. In her own words, if she had to have one, she wouldn't accept one that was dull and samey.
The headstone had been placed in a small patch of bare earth next to the spot where the urn had been set into the ground. A row of square stones separated the bare earth from a grassy patch where Camilla usually put the flowers she brought for Trine. An irregular-shaped stepping stone had been put in the center of the grass so she could reach up to the headstone without crushing anything.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Trine. Happy fifth anniversary. I love you. Look, I brought you a few roses. Blood-red, your favorites," Camilla croaked as she put down the picnic basket and tore the pink wrapping paper off the bouquet intending to distribute the flowers at the foot of the headstone for a change. She had forgotten about the elastic band put on the stems by the florist, and she let out a small, pained laugh as she took it off and spread the twelve roses across the stretch of bare earth.
Inevitably, the tears came.
She stood up straight and bowed her head in silent respect for the woman she had loved. Emotions swelled inside her, and she was powerless to stop the vile images from Trine's prolonged period of illness from once again flashing across her mind's eye. The unpleasant stabs of pain from Trine's ovaries, the surgery, the chemotherapy, a brief moment of happiness following an all-clear, Trine's deteriorating health over the summer, further tests, further chemotherapy… hospitals, more hospitals, and even more hospitals. All that pain. Days, nights, weeks, months of endless pain that no medicine could ease.
And finally the somber message from their doctor. Two months. Maybe less. They were allowed seven weeks together, the last of which Trine was confined to a hospital bed. Seven harsh weeks of terrible pain and suffering for them both. Countless times of crying out their fears and frustrations on the other's shoulder, or holding hands and whispering quiet words of support in the dead of night when the pains became too strong for even the strongest painkillers. Speaking in hushed tones about the many wonderful things they had experienced together. How they had met. How they had stayed together. Where they had gone. Where they had so dearly wanted to go.
When Trine's light was finally snuffed out at twelve minutes past two in the morning on October nineteenth, Camilla had been at her side, giving her weak hands a final squeeze and her pale lips a final kiss. Ultimately, death had been a relief. Trine had always been a strong, vibrant woman, but the cancer had robbed her of everything. She had withered away to nothing; an empty shell with a mind clouded by morphine-based painkillers.
Camilla slowly returned to the present and she took another deep, trembling breath to at least try to get on top of her raging emotions. Trine had found peace, but peace was the furthest from Camilla's mind. It had been nearly four months since that dull, gray morning where she had come home alone to an empty, cold apartment full of memories of the years shared with her partner, and she hadn't been able to move on at all. She hadn't cleared out Trine's clothes from their closet, nor had she disturbed the items on the desk where her partner had spent her final minutes at home.
A ball point pen, a notepad with the cover flipped open and the top piece of paper torn in half. A silver frame carrying a photo of them kissing. A silly plastic trinket that could blow soap bubbles that had never failed to produce laughter. A small rubber ball that Trine had loved to play with when she was stressed out - the rhythmical pa-donk, pa-donk, pa-donk created when she had thrown it against the filing cabinet had driven Camilla off the wall on a regular basis. It was all still there like Trine had just gone for a cup of coffee.
Camilla shook her head. She knew in her heart she would never move any of those items. She didn't want to move on. She wanted to remember the touches, the laughter, the kisses, the moments of intimacy, and the genuine, honest love they had shared. She didn't want to forget any of that. Moving on would be to throw their entire relationship on the scrapheap. It would be to throw Trine on the scrapheap.
She had a promise to keep, so she wiped her eyes and moved back to the picnic basket. Looking at it now, it didn't seem such a great idea to have a picnic at the foot of the grave. It seemed disrespectful or even a little creepy, but a promise was a promise. She and Trine had met at a picnic organized by the company where Trine had worked at the time. After hemming and hawing for most of a year, they had hooked up for good the following Valentine's Day and had made a mutual pledge to always have a picnic on that date to celebrate their initial meeting.
Camilla let out a strangled laugh as she opened the lid on the reed picnic basket and found a blanket that she spread out on the white, round pebbles. They had kept their promise for the following few years, but she had never envisioned holding their anniversary picnic in a cemetery. She had made a sandwich for each, but she couldn't eat anything. Instead, she took a flute and the small bottle of rosé wine she had bought.
It seemed odd to sit down on the aisle, but a promise should never be treated lightly. Pouring herself a small amount of wine, she raised the glass at the headstone. "Happy anniversary, sweetie. I love you. I know you love me too," she said before she took a sip from the flute. The liquid was so cold she could hardly taste that it was wine. Smirking, she drained the last of it in a single gulp and put away the tall glass.
"So… nothing much has happened since the last time I was here," Camilla said and let her fingers slide through the faint straws of grass surrounding the stepping stone. "Mom and Dad send their regards, of course. I bought a new sweater to look good for our date. Isn't it nice? It's a really good fit and it's definitely warm. Speaking of warm… last Wednesday, we lost the central heating for a while, but it didn't take the super too long to fix it. Only a couple of hours or so. A pipe was leaking down in the basement or something. I met Pernille and Anne-Marie just now. Remember the Tuff Chicks? They looked great. Oh, and there was plenty of commotion home on our street the other day, too. A car was rear-ended right in front of our apartment building, but… but… oh. Who cares."
Sighing, Camilla looked away from the headstone and let her eyes glide over the peaceful landscape surrounding her. Neatly groomed lawns, trimmed hedges, perfectly raked aisles with perfect, round pebbles - it seemed wrong somehow for a vibrant woman like Trine to have her final resting place in such a serene environment.
"I spoke with my grief counselor," Camilla whispered, toying with one of the pebbles just beyond the edge of the blanket. "I still have trouble sleeping when you're not there to hold me tight… and when I do fall asleep, I have nightmares about you. I have two further consultations left on the initial contract with her, but I don't… oh, I don't think I'll continue it beyond that. She's only telling me what everyone else has said… that I should move on. Let you go. The hell I will. I still love you!" she said and threw away the little pebble with such force it bounced off the aisle and into one of the other burial plots.
Breathing heavily, she buried her face in her hands. "I still love you. And I won't let you go. What's left for me if I do? An empty apartment… an empty bed. An empty life," she whispered and looked back up at the headstone. "Oh God, Trine… I miss you so much… so damn much. My heart feels like it's trapped in a vice. The pressure is inhuman… I can't take much more… I just can't. I'm suffocating from the loss," she continued in a strangled croak.
The bitter lump in her throat refused to go away no matter how hard she swallowed. She glanced at her surroundings through a veil of tears as she tried to keep herself in check. "Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I can hear you humming in the kitchen while you make breakfast for us. I can hear you so clearly, and for the briefest of moments, I think everything that happened was a nightmare… but it's all in my head. You're not there anymore. You're here. You're dead."
Her throat tied itself into a knot. Giving up the unequal struggle with her emotions, she allowed the tears to come. It didn't take long for her cheeks to glisten from the salty droplets that fell off her chin and stained her blazer jacket.
She cried in silence for a few minutes before she began to dab her eyes with a handkerchief. High above, the sun was taking part in the eternal chase with a few clouds, and golden sunbeams created beautiful patterns as they touched the ground seemingly at random. The gentle breeze that always rolled over the flat cemetery caressed Camilla's cheek and toyed with her hair.
Smiling through the tears, she closed her eyes to pretend it was Trine's long, slender digits once again stroking her skin; once again playing an overture to the symphony they would create when they kissed and made love.
'Camilla! Don't run!' a female voice suddenly shouted from further down the crescent-shaped path. Camilla gasped and slammed her eyes wide open. She stared at the source of the voice that turned out to be a young mother pushing a stroller. The wheels dug into the white, round pebbles if the stroller was occupied, so the mother had let her little daughter run freely - a bit too freely, as it had turned out.
The adult Camilla let out a strangled laugh as she looked back at the headstone. "There's no need to yell, Trine… I'm right here," she said, echoing an exchange she'd had countless times with her sweetheart. She chuckled as she got to her feet and began to fold up the blanket. "… And here I'll stay. That's a promise. You know me. I always keep my promises. I still love you, you know."
Once the picnic basket had been packed, Camilla dusted off her hands and the seat of her pants before she bowed her head in silent respect for her late partner. Sighing, she put a foot on the stepping stone and leaned forward so she could reach the granite headstone. "That's it for today… but I'll be back. Love you. Bye-bye, sweetie. Happy anniversary… I hope you liked the roses," she said and let her thumb caress the engraved gold letters that formed Trine Vangsberg's name.
Moving back, Camilla blew Trine a kiss before she began the walk back to her car carrying the reed picnic basket that seemed out of place at the Rødovre Municipal Cemetery. A faint smile graced her lips, and she nodded a brief hello to the mother whose daughter shared her name. Visiting the cemetery had done her good. She had felt Trine's presence, and it had soothed her soul. She would still return to an empty apartment, but it mattered less this time.
The smile remained on her face as she remembered the sensation of the breeze caressing her cheek. It had been Trine, she was certain of it. Stopping, she turned around and waved at aisle six. "Love you, Trine. I'll be back soon… I promise!" Camilla Jørgensen said before she carried on to the central parking zone so she could drive home.