Immer wieder (Time and Again)

She came back to her laptop on the desk, and re-read the email, not quite believing what she had read the first time.

“After a short, nasty battle with cancer mom died in peace at home”. Jenny could hardly believe it and scanned down the end of the lengthy email that had taken Jenny some minutes to read.

“Mom really liked you, I know she’d like it if you came to her funeral…”

After all these years it was the first contact Jenny had received from Emma. How Emma had managed to even get hold of her email address was undisclosed in the correspondence. It didn’t really matter though. After many years of silently hoping and praying that Emma would get in touch she had and now Jenny felt sad. It also lit up fireworks in her mind but Jenny pushed it out of her head by rubbing her forehead briskly. It was all too much. But above all, why now? Emma’s mom and her had got on really well. Why the hell hadn’t Emma at least given her the chance to….”Oh Emma”.

“Who’s Emma?” A voice came into the study carrying two cups of hot chocolate. Jenny slammed her laptop shut before even realizing she’d done it. The noise left silence behind while Jenny tried to cover it with a big smile. “Just an old friend”. The response instantly left the brunette, who stood in leggings and a big blue woolly jumper, regretful of that answer.

“Want to tell me about it?” The smooth female voice was backed up with kind smiling blue eyes and Jenny couldn’t bare to look at Delsie at that moment. She got up. “No, not now”. She knew she was deliberately being coy and off-handish with her response but she hadn’t fully digested the news yet, let alone share it with anyone else. She found herself not even wanting to share.

Delsie was left standing in the study room that overlooked the park all alone wondering what Jenny had seen. The tall woman, in green slacks and a crisp cotton shirt chalked it down to another bad review. Jenny was insistent on finding them online even though they usually weren’t that bad, and were more aimed at her co-dancers.

Later on Delsie set herself up in front of the TV. She was flicking to find an afternoon film when Jenny joined her in the small but cozy lounge, full of oversized furniture and various pictures hanging in no particular order across the walls. Without saying anything Jenny sat beside her on the brown leather couch, entwining her arms with Delsie who continued pushing the remote to find something half decent on the screen. Jenny sighed and gently laid her head on Delsie’s arm. The screen stopped its constant change in picture as Delsie settled on an old black and white detective movie from yesteryear. She put the remote down and moved forward to take a sip of her hot chocolate from the table in front of her. Jenny hadn’t brought hers with her. As she put the cup down and leaned back she took a glance at the beautiful brunette beside her. Those blue eyes never failed to captivate Delsie and yet today they seemed far away and distant. They weren’t even looking at the TV.

“You know those reviews aren’t even worth the time spent writing them.” Delsie took a glance to her right but all she got back was a silent nod. Delsie turned back to the TV. If Jenny didn’t want to talk then there was no point trying to make her. Five years of living together had taught Delsie that. Jenny was a closed book in some chapters, even to Delsie, but she’d learnt that in the end it didn’t matter because Jenny always made her feel loved and there was nothing Delsie couldn’t trust when it came to Jenny. It wasn’t so much secrecy, more just a behavior of hiding emotions which Delsie guessed came partly from a career in performing arts and partly to deal with the death of her parents that happened long before Jenny met Delsie. Even their first date, and subsequent others left Delsie frustrated at Jenny’s locked heart. But even so Delsie kept coming back, she couldn’t help herself. There was always something that Delsie was even more attracted to that kept pulling her back but could never put her finger on it. It certainly wasn’t Jenny’s inability to give love. She made Delsie feel remarkably loved, even now as she stole a glance down at their interlocked fingers.

Delsie was so engrossed in the movie she hadn’t even noticed Jenny get up off the sofa and moved to the sash window but no sooner had she looked out she was back on the sofa, balancing herself on the edge looking more unsettled than earlier.

“I think I need to go to Germany”.

It didn’t quite register at first. Delsie was still too absorbed by the unfolding drama on the TV.

“What?”

Jenny rubbed the hair out of her eyes and stood up, then sat down again. Delsie switched the TV off and turned to face Jenny.

“Germany? Why?”

Jenny bit her nails and looked out of the window. Delsie pulled Jenny’s hand away from her mouth. “Jenny, what on earth is it?”

“I don’t want to hurt you but I’ve got to go. Please understand that.” Delsie gave Jenny a confused look and shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know what you mean. Why would you hurt me? Please tell me Jenny, you’re worrying me now”.

Jenny pulled Delsie’s hands in her own and looked at them intently. How on earth did she explain that someone she’d loved so much, once upon a time. Someone who she’d hurt in the most spiteful ways had got in touch again. And that she didn’t know what it meant but that she loved Delsie. Loved her deeply, without any regret and didn’t want to start now.

“You haven’t been to Germany in over six years. You told me you never wanted to step foot in the country ever again”. Jenny and Delsie had circled around the issue for over a day now. Silent responses were beginning to infuriate Delsie now and she refused to ignore it.

“Jenny, listen to me. This is just odd. Can’t you see that?”
“I’ve said it’s hard to explain and it is. I can’t quite understand it myself. But I just need to go”.

“To see an old flame you had a teenage fling with, at school? We all had those Jenny. It was nothing that special. It was a hump we all had to get over”

Jenny paced the bedroom between the wardrobe and the bed. Choosing aimlessly blouses and skirts she thought would work, might work for a funeral.

“I was 19 not 12 and it wasn’t just a fling Delsie. It was love at the time and I fucked it up royally.”

“Again, we’ve all done that. I dumped an ex by text once. I’m not proud of it but I sure as hell wouldn’t travel to Scotland or wherever the hell she lives now.”

“You don’t understand”

Delsie pulled Jenny to face her. “Help me then to understand Jenny”. The brunette looked at her partner. Delsie looked upset at Jenny’s behaviour and she didn’t blame her. “I would just feel better if I could go over there, pay my respects to the family and…then….” Then what Jenny thought? Make small talk with Emma? Would Emma even bother to talk to her? The email sounded like it had been written to a business rather than someone she had madly loved at one time.

Delsie was still looking to Jenny for some kind of explainable answer but Jenny looked away. Things were always so easy with Delise, uncomplicated and simple. That is what Jenny loved most about her. She came without any baggage or deep emotions. Delsie was bold and self-assured. Just what the brunette wanted for her new life although she hadn’t been looking when she came back to London to start her career in theater. She couldn’t help this wall she’s started to build around herself as soon as she’d read that damn email.

“I’ll take you to the airport then.” Jenny nodded, picking up her suitcase. She felt compelled to take in the house they shared before she left. “Don’t forget to feed Albert. He needs half a cup of dry biscuits and a tin in the evening”. Delsie picked up the suitcase noting the size. It wasn’t big so the tall woman took that as a positive indication. After all she didn’t have much else to go on. She’d lost her nerve asking Jenny how long she’d be in Germany and Jenny wasn’t forthcoming with that kind of detail. “The window cleaner is due next Tuesday. I’ve put the money on the side.”
“Right”.
“And you’ve got some dry cleaning that should be ready tomorrow.”
“Jenny.” The brunette double checked the kitchen to make sure everything was tidy before she left. Delsie pulled her towards the front door. “Come on, you’ll miss your flight.” Jenny turned and faced Delsie but stayed silent. Delsie couldn’t pinpoint what Jenny might be thinking but her dimpled smile had now disappeared. “I could come with you, you know that right? All you have to do is ask.” A hundred excuses came to Jenny’s mind but it was useless to lie to Delsie, she knew Jenny to well.
“I’m sorry I’m putting you through this and honestly if this situation required a call I’d have sat in that study and done it there and then but I just need to go and physically… finish something.” Delsie smiled, “I’ll give my girl credit, she’s got integrity even if I don’t always understand her”.

Jenny sat in the large hotel room, in the middle of Koln. She hadn’t bothered to open her suitcase. Instead, she’d kicked off her heels and looked out of the tenth floor window that overlooked the Rhine but was mostly blocked out by other buildings that filled up the throng of the city. Darkness was beginning to fill the skyline and was being replaced with lights. So much of the journey from the airport to the hotel had filled her with too many emotions and she was beginning to lose her nerve being here. If nothing else she felt pangs of regret not taking Delsie up on her offer. They should be sharing this city together. Delsie deserved that much. Jenny moved away from the window and sat on the bed, pulling her laptop out of its carry case. “Then again, if this was a holiday I’d gladly show you round”. As she pressed the button on her laptop Jenny’s mobile flared into life with a rendition of Toccata and Fugue. Noting who it was she hit the accept button.

“Hey”
“You made it then”
“Just got here. How’s Albert?”
“You’ve been gone like eight hours. I think you’re lucky, he hasn’t noticed that you are missing yet.”
“We should get a dog”
“I think we should get you back from Germany first, eh?”
Jenny sighed. “Sorry”.
“Anyway the cat may not have spotted your absence but I have. I’m going to have to make soup and it’s not looking good so far”.
“Are you ringing me to check a recipe?” Jenny chuckled. It was so like Delsie to make light of any given situation, a skill the brunette hadn’t perfected yet.
“Yeesss. This is important. Do I add basil or dill to tomato soup?”
“Basil. Not dill. It’ll end up tasting like fish”.
“Oh, okay. Gotcha. Basil it is. So, what’s the hotel like then?”
Jenny took in the room around her, she’d only booked this one because she remembered her parents stayed in it when they came over to vist her.
“Far too opulent. Why did you make me choose this one?”
Jenny heard Delsie choke on her drink back in London. “What?! Don’t blame me. Anyway, you like fancy. You could have had the Ibis”
“Yeah, could have but would the Ibis of had a decent room service menu?”
Delsie tutted. “As long as you’re alright”. The line went silent and Delsie cursed herself for being overtly caring. Jenny hated being mollycoddled at the best of times. “I’ll be here all weekend anyway”.
“Haven’t you got a dinner to go to tomorrow?”
“It’s been cancelled. The author decided the ending to her book and will give me another date when she’s, in her words not mine…” bashed it out”.”
“Lovely”
“That’s what I thought.”
“Okay, well I better go and unpack”. Delsie thought of the minimal unpacking that would take all of ten minutes but thought better of it.
“Alright gorgeous, give Cologne hell and I’ll wait to hear from you.”
Although nearly 400 miles apart Delsie could sense Jenny’s apprehension. “I’m not going to call you. You just phone me when you’re…done”. It was as much leeway as Delsie could bare herself to part with and did it with gut-wrenching pain.
“I love you”
“I love you too”

Jenny put the phone on the bed and stared at her laptop. As she read the email that had dropped into her inbox less than a week ago she wondered how to approach it. Now she was actually in Cologne the idea of actually seeing Emma after all these years was suddenly starting to hit home. Jenny closed the laptop again.

A bright light was hurting Jenny’s eyes. She was driving along a winding road and as she turned a bend in the road sunshine hit her eyes. The mountains were beautiful against the blue sky, so rough and grey against the forest down below. But still the light persisted so Jenny tried to pull the visor down but couldn’t find it. She fumbled above her head, she couldn’t see out of the windscreen. Jenny half wondered where it had gone because she’d used it earlier. She looked up to try and find the visor, temporarily taking her eyes from the road ahead. Before she knew it something large and black filled her side vision but it was too late to do anything. She frantically pulled at the steering wheel to get her car away from the oncoming van and in doing so drove straight off the mountain cliff. The realisation didn’t have a chance to register before her stomach lurched from the free-fall and Jenny was screaming. Just as the ground came up to meet her Jenny’s eyes flew open. She sat bolt upright, breathing hard and clutching tight at the sheets in front of her. Her breathing was heavy. It took several minutes before the brunette could gather her thoughts because everything seemed so unfamiliar. The light she’s seen had come through the curtains she’d left open last night. Then it dawned on her. It was Saturday, it was Mrs Muller’s funeral day and Jenny was back in Cologne.

Jenny had spent two hours getting ready, which even by her standards, was pretty bad considering she’d only bought the one outfit with her for the funeral. In the mirror, Jenny went over in her mind what she should say to Emma, or whether she should just sit at the back and then get away as soon as the service was over. It wasn’t really Jenny to just hide, or keep in the background. She hated attention but wouldn’t shy away from something that needed to be said. It was she loved her job so much. Dancing allowed her just enough creativity without too much needless attention. Her three lucky years on the West End had taught her that only hard work brought success, not the talent she thought she’d come over from Germany with.

Even in the taxi that Jenny asked the hotel to order for her she still wasn’t 100% sure what to do and it was making her nervous. She kept fumbling with her mobile phone in the hopes that Delsie might have text but then remembered that Delsie had promised she wasn’t going to contact Jenny so was probably sat in their study going over research notes for the next novel that she’d mentioned before Jenny had left.

Cologne went by in the taxi’s windows. Nothing had changed, the city was still relatively small compared to London which was three times the size and buzzed with millions more people. But Cologne had its charm. The beautiful ancient buildings and the medieval boulevards never failed to impress Jenny. She remembered how she;d take Emma’s hand in hers as they’d walk along discussing their future plans. Jenny wanted to dance and Emma wanted to sing. They had planned on moving to Berlin, Barcelona or Paris. Jenny tried in vain to convince Emma about London but she wouldn’t have it. Saying it wasn’t her type of place. She wanted to be surrounded by some countryside and access to quiet places, and at the very least good weather.

“If we go to Barcelona we’ll have sun, sand and umm…what’s that other word beginning with s, I wonder?”
“Emma, don’t tease. London would be a great opportunity for your singing career”.
“But I don’t want to speak English. I want to speak Spanish”.
“You’re pouting…”
“I know…is it working?”
“No…yes!”

Jenny knew she’d have followed Emma anywhere in those days if she’d insisted as long as they were together.

She had no further time to dwell as the taxi came to a standstill outside the church. She paid the driver and got out, pulling her dress down for what seemed the 20th time that morning. It wasn’t that the black dress was too short but Jenny found herself feeling too subconscious in it. She looked around. There were still a few people going into the church. Jenny followed behind a couple hoping she could just ease through the door and spot Emma before Emma had a chance to spot her.

“You made it then?” As Jenny entered through the heavy iron door a familiar voice caught her off guard. She spun to her left, putting her perfected face on. But it wasn’t Emma, it was Luzi.

“Hey Luzi. Yes, I wanted to come”. Luzi looked Jenny up and down. Jenny tried not to squirm under the scrutiny. “I just wanted to pay my respects”. Jenny kept moving towards the pews but Luzi wasn’t letting her off that lightly. She gently pulled Jenny to one side.
“I don’t know why I bother getting involved. Especially after our parting words”. Luzi sighed heavily. Jenny winced, she remembered those words all too well but waited for Luzi to continue. More people were coming through the doors. Young and old. She broke her attention from Luzi for just a moment, hoping to look further down the aisle and find Emma but she couldn’t.
“The thing is Jenny, we can’t find Emma. She seems to be…she’s not dealing with her mum’s death very well”. Jenny found herself too shocked to respond. “Timo is out looking for her, as is some other…friends. But her dad’s here. The service needs to begin. Jenny still couldn’t find the words to answer Luzi but she still didn’t need ay prompting. “Would you have any idea where Emma would go? We’ve checked her flat, place of work, even the goddamn school we all went too and she’s not anywhere.” Luzi looked frazzled, and tired. Jenny wondered just how much Luzi had been here to support Emma. Jenny wracked her brains. It was all so long ago. How would she know where Emma might be. She didn’t even know where Emma lived now, what she did, who she was seeing. But something in the back of Jenny’s mind focussed and a strange memory came flooding back. “I hate to ask this but where did Mrs Mueller die?” Luzi looked confused, “The hospital, why?”. Luzi looked seriously at Jenny, “You can’t mean she’d go there? Emma hates hospitals, even more so now with what happened.”

“Possible, but it’s worth a try, no?” Luzi clicked her tongue trying to formulate a plan. Jenny could see there wasn’t one coming. “Look, why don’t I just go and have a look and if I see her I could phone you?” Luzi didn’t look convinced. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. What if Emma see’s you? It could set her off…”

“Luzi, Emma wanted me to come today. We were going to have to see each other one way or another. Besides it’s time I got the chance to explain things.”

“Explain things? I think your sudden absence explained a lot, Jenny. You know how fragile Emma is the last thing she needs is reminding of what you did to her all those years ago. No, it just won’t work.” Luzi tried in vain to look for someone else to go but Jenny pulled at her arm. “Look, I’m hardly going to to burst into some old rendition Luzi. I just want to help. There is no-one else to go. For once, you’re just going to have to trust me”. And before Luzi could close her mouth and formulate a stern replay Jenny had quickly walked out the way she had come. She hailed a taxi and jumped in. The hospital was on the other side of the city, across the river. The grey clouds appeared to be parting and the sun was pushing through. Jenny let out a sigh she didn’t realise she’d been holding in. What are you doing Jenny? She asked herself. Deep down she didn’t know if this was a crazy excuse to leave a funeral or a genuine wish to help. One way or another she might find out soon.

Once again she got out the taxi and realised this time she was rather over dressed for a hospital. She’d asked to be dropped off at the Outpatient clinics. It was the closest place to the Cancer wards. She didn’t think Emma would want to make any fuss, so the wards were out because Jenny figured people would ask her what she was doing. So Jenny kept walking down the long corridors with their pale blue walls that stretched out in front of her for what seemed an eternity. The passages seemed empty, the only people she passed was the occasional white coat or the porter ferrying a wheelchair bound patient. Jenny checked every ward door giving the impression she was looking for something, in reality, it was someone and perhaps, she thought as her heels clicked the shiny linoleum flooring, she didn’t want to be found either. Eventually, Jenny found herself coming towards the end of the corridor. There were no further wards or consulting rooms. Jenny put her hands on her hips, to her left was AAE and she didn’t think Emma would go there and to her right was a fire door leading to the back of the hospital. Jenny nearly turned around and headed back until something caught her eye above and she stopped still. The hospital chapel.

It was just an ordinary door with the sign above, it just blended in with the rest of the hospital and Jenny had nearly missed it. Jenny suddenly felt rather nervous. Now is not the time Jenny, get yourself together. With one foul swoop she pulled the door towards her and stepped inside.

The silence penetrated Jenny’s hearing and she could hear her heartbeat in her ears. The room had rows of chairs upholstered in blue leather. The front of the room a giant cross hung on the brick wall with a less than robust altar that looked like it was made of of plywood. A red bible adorned the draped stand and the details of the psalms to be played showed on a board in front. Jenny pulled her eyes away from the front and caught sight of a small movement right at the front of the left pew of chairs. There was no denying the sight of small blonde even though she appeared to be bent over. Jenny’s entrance caused Emma to get up slowly and turn around. “Thank you for letting me….” Emma stared at Jenny who slowly started to walk towards her.

Emma looked so sad, it broke Jenny’s heart to see the blonde like this. She was wearing slacks and a jumper underneath a padded jacket. Emma’s hair didn’t look like it had been given any attention for days and as she followed the blonde looked away and down Jenny noticed that the trainers she wore looked like they had walked miles.  They were caked in dirt and mud.   As she approached Emma continued looking down at her shoes but she didn’t move away.

They stood in front of each other for what seemed like hours. Jenny had waited years for a moment like this but now it wasn’t the right circumstances and she felt helpless. “Emma, I am so sorry”. Emma sniffed and rubbed her eyes but wouldn’t make eye contact. “How did you find me?” “Actually, I didn’t know if I would. It was just a hunch”. Emma nodded. “I have to go”. Emma started to move around Jenny and the brunette had to fight the urge to grab hold of the blonde, to keep her there. “Do you want to go?”

Emma turned slightly towards Jenny but Jenny couldn’t move. She could feel Emma’s eye’s on her and it was paralysing. The room was silent but for a slight hum coming from the strip lighting above..

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