This is a short excerpt from the third part of The University Club trilogy which will be published later this year.
“Katrin?” Alex pokes her arm with her finger. “Hey. Are you there?”
Katrin looks up, turning from the window and smiling. “Hey, sorry. I was thinking.” She sits up and clicks the mouse that’s held firmly in her hand. “We need to spice up the party menu — what do you think of adding some more savouries?”
After their housewarming party last year, the women decided to make it an annual event. A chance to get together with friends, especially those rarely seen, and to cook for more than two.
Alex sits down across from Katrin and sips from her coffee mug. “Hmm, well, we don’t have many. It’s mostly sweets. What did you have in mind?”
Katrin sits back, “Well, what about starting with some salt caramel chocolate cake? I mean, it’s sweet, but the sea salt is nice.”
Alex nods, “we could do that, sure.” She takes another mouthful of coffee. “What about cheese? I think we could probably do more cheese. And ham. There’s no ham on this menu.” Katrin leans back into her laptop and renews typing. “Hmm, we could do that. Do you think there will be demand for ham?” She giggles pauses for a moment and looks back out the window. “That reminds me, I need to keep an eye on the time. My shift starts in an hour.”
Alex frowns. “What shift?” Katrin remains silent. “You’re off today, remember?”
“Sorry?” Katrin turns to Alex and smiles. She looks at her watch, “Jessica will kill me if I’m late again.”
Alex feels a cold shudder go through her, “Katrin, what are you talking about?”
Katrin shuts her laptop and leans forward. “My shift, at Maples. I need to get ready and go.”
“Whoa, Katrin, Honey? You haven’t worked at Maples in over a year.”
Katrin guffaws, picks up her laptop, and walks around the table to kiss Alex on the forehead. “Hahaha, oh, it would be great if that were true. OK, I have to get ready.”
Alex watches Katrin as she goes into their bedroom, then picks up her phone. She clicks on the WhatsApp icon and types in a message to Jessica.
The weather is still relatively mild for October, at least during the day. Crisp, golden leaves underfoot, and the late afternoon sun on her face put Katrin in a pleasant mood. As she walks down the street towards Maples, she stops in front of the wine shop, looking in the window. “We need some more wine,” she thinks to herself. Katrin looks at her watch and walks into the store. “Hello!” the store clerk greets her. “Can I help you choose anything?”
Katrin smiles, “no thanks. I already know. Two bottles of Long Little Dog, please.”
“Of course. Great little wine.” The clerk takes two bottles from a case on the counter and wraps them in paper. Would you like a bag?”
“No, thanks, I’ll just put them in here.” Katrin opens her knapsack and makes space. “I should have brought a larger bag, Hahaha.”
“Twenty-seven dollars, please.”
Katrin hands the clerk her bank card. “Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot to plug this in this morning. It will just be a moment.”
“No problem.” Katrin smiles and turns to look out the window as the clerk waits to scan the card. Through the window, Katrin watches the people walk by, remembering the previous day’s feeling that Kate was nearby. She looks across the street at the park, remembering the afternoon beneath the trees. Katrin inhales, holds her breath, and exhales loudly. Her attention is caught by the sound of a bus honking and braking suddenly. As it drives away, Katrin sees Judy standing across the street, watching her.
“Oh, my God!! Judy!!” Katrin runs to the shop’s door, trips in the doorway, and rights herself as she moves.
“Wait! Miss! Your card!” The clerk holds up Katrin’s card and runs around the counter. Katrin gets to the sidewalk as delivery pulls up, blocking her view of the other side of the street. She looks left and right and walks into the busy street. As the van moves away, Judy is nowhere to be seen.
Katrin runs to the curb and looks up and down the busy sidewalk, but she cannot see Judy. “It was her. Oh, my God. Judy was here.” Shaken, Katrin walks up and down the sidewalk looking in the stores and the park entrance. After ten minutes, she looks at her watch and decides to continue walking to work. “The wine!” Katrin runs back to the store.
“Hi.” The clerk smiles as Katrin returns and hands her the wine and her bank card.
“I’m sorry. I thought I saw someone I know.” Katrin takes the card and places it back in her wallet. “Thanks. I’m late for work. Bye!”
“Have a good day. Enjoy the wine!”
Katrin walks briskly down the street when her phone rings. She pulls it out of her pocket and continues to walk. “Hello? Oh, hi, Jessica. Really? Oh no! OK. Thanks for calling.” Katrin slows her pace, stopping to return her phone to her jacket pocket.
Fifteen minutes later, Katrin opens the door to the apartment, greeted by Alex sitting on the couch where she’s reading a book. “Hi! What happened to your shift?”
“You know I don’t work at Maples anymore. Why didn’t you say something? Jessica called me.” Katrin puts down her bag and tosses her keys into the bowl on the hallway table. “I couldn’t understand why she called me at first, and then I remembered I was heading down there. Did you call her?” Alex nods. “Thank you. Well, I bought some wine.” Katrin smiles and takes off her jacket.
“An evening together and wine? Sounds good.” Alex walks over to Katrin and kisses her cheek, lifting the wine from the open bag.
“You know what the cherry on top was? I saw Judy just now. And that’s weird because yesterday I had the feeling I was being, I don’t know, followed? I thought Kate was there. She felt close.”
Alex moves slowly into the kitchen, placing the wine on the counter. “Honey, Judy’s gone. You know that, right? When’s the last time you saw Patricia? Maybe your meds need to be checked.”
Katrin kicks off her shoes and walks into the kitchen, where Alex takes her into her arms. “I saw her last week. Just hold me. It was weird, I was looking through the store window, and there she was. Maybe it was the light, a reflection, maybe wanting to see her again.”
Alex holds Katrin tenderly, stroking her hair and whispering. “Everything’s fine. It’s probably stress, a distortion in the glass, you know? I love you.”
“Mmmm. I love you too.” Katrin pushes herself deeper into Alex’s embrace and doesn’t see the tears in her eyes. “Do you really think I’m okay?”
Alex holds Katrin tighter and closes her eyes against the tears she feels welling up.