Looking around at the well-dressed, cultured people I felt even more like a hick, but Sabine immediately put me at ease. I began to understand how someone as young as her could be in such an important job. She was quite remarkable.

Soon our coffee arrived. The "Fräulein" brought the cups of "grosser Brauner" on silver trays with a glass of water, and Sabine explained the history and traditions of the Viennese coffee houses. She seemed very proud of her city and its traditions. I was really interested, and she began to tell me more of the history of the city.

After some time, she dug into her briefcase (like me she didn't carry a purse) and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. She smoothly withdrew a cigarette and lit it expertly, exhaling a plume of smoke. I was taken aback. She was so—nice. So cultured. Much too nice to smoke.

Sabine saw my reaction. "Oh!" she exclaimed, "I am sorry. I should have asked, I think. Smoking bothers you?" She waved the smoke away with her hand. As usual, she was direct, but her voice was kind. As she spoke, a thin tendril of smoke curled from her mouth.

I didn't know what to say. "I—I—I've never really thought about it," I stammered. "I never expected you to smoke, so I think I'm more surprised than anything."

Sabine smiled. "Smoking is more normal here than in the States," she said. It was true—the anti-smoking crusade had not taken hold. I already had to deal with smoke-filled restaurants and bars.

"I didn't think that you would be surprised, but it makes sense," she continued. "I'm sorry. Shall I stop?"

"It seems like you enjoy it," I told her, "so it's fine with me." Actually I was finding her smoking, like everything else about her, intriguing. We spent a couple of hours with our coffee and history lesson. When it seemed like it was time to go. I plucked up my courage and asked if we could get together for some coffee or something on the weekend.

"Kate, I would absolutely love to," Sabine said, "but I have to go to my mother's family in Linz. It is a big party for my grandparents." She smiled. "We will have to make up for it next week. Yes?" I nodded and left, feeling fortified to survive the weekend without Sabine.


The next week, though, the fates seemed to conspire against us. Jan and Janneke had some child-care issues, and the obvious solution was for me to hurry home early from work to help out.

Fortunately, Sabine had given me the number of her private office phone, so I did get a chance to call her to explain. She seemed disappointed. Perversely, though, her sadness made me feel good. We agreed that we would see each other as soon as we could. As the days dragged on with no domestic solution in sight we were limited to a few brief chats squeezed into our workdays.

By the following week, though, a new baby sitter had been procured, and I was again a free woman. I excitedly phoned Sabine first thing Monday morning, only to find that she was tied up all day. On the spot, though, we made a date for Tuesday.

By Tuesday morning, I was like a kid waiting for Christmas, wondering how soon I could see her. I got to work earlier than usual, and when I got to my desk, there was a lovely vase with a cheery bouquet of flowers. I opened the card.

"To brighten your day—the way you brighten mine."

I scampered straight to her office. She was putting folders into her briefcase, obviously getting ready to leave. When she saw me she paused.

"I have a big meeting at 9," she said. "I must hurry."

"Ok," I told her, "I just wanted to thank you for the flowers."

"What flowers?" she asked innocently, organizing her papers. I was stunned—devastated. She hadn't written the card? I had so hoped that I brightened her days...

Then I saw that she was laughing.

"You creep," I said. "You scared me."

"I know. It was fun. I hope you enjoy the flowers. I will see you for coffee. Goodbye." And she hurried out.


We had another delightful history lesson over coffee and the time seemed to melt away much too quickly. After a couple of hours, my heart sank at the thought that our time together would have to end.

Suddenly Sabine asked, "Do you have any plans for dinner?"

"Yes I do," I said, trying to look downcast.

"Scheisse," Sabine said. "It would have been fun." She frowned.

"Well," I teased, "my plans are to have dinner with you. I mean, if that was an invitation."

"Donnerwetter nochmal," she said, wrinkling her nose. "We are now even." I just giggled at her.

"Seriously, I would love to have dinner with you," I told her. I wanted to make absolutely sure she understood. This seemed way too good to be true. A smile lit up her beautiful face.

"I would like that much more than translating a German law book and telling you about Austrian history," she replied.

As we gathered our things and stood to go we accidentally bumped into each other. Spontaneously, we hugged. It felt wonderful—and as natural as breathing.

Sabine took me to one of her favorite restaurants and ordered traditional Viennese food along with some really wonderful wine. Even though I pleaded with her to let me treat her, she insisted on paying.

"Sabine, I feel bad," I told her as we left. "You helped me so much with my work, and have taken me to coffee—and now you are buying me dinner."

She stopped me.

"Kate, it is my pleasure," she said sincerely. "I have a good job, and you are not being paid for your work. It is right for it to be so. Besides, I enjoy our time together very much."

"Well, thank you again. Thank you for all your help, and for all the time you have made for me. I know it must make the rest of your day more busy." She blushed and nodded.

"But it is worth it," she said. "Very much."

"Well, I want you to know I understand that and appreciate it. And thank you for the amazing dinner. I've had a wonderful time."

"I'm glad," she said simply. "I did too." We left the restaurant and stood in the courtyard of the Imperial Palace watching tourists wander about in the evening light.

"Do you need to get home right away?" I asked. "If not, let me buy you a drink somewhere." I was fascinated by her, and didn't want to go.

"Ok," Sabine said, taking my arm gently. "Let's get a glass of wine, my darling Kate," she added softly.

As we walked, she talked excitedly about various spots in Vienna, and how eager she was to show me her favorite places.

"I am so happy!" she exclaimed as we walked past the opera house.

I giggled at her exuberance. "I'm glad," I told her. "But why are you so happy?"

"Because I found you," she giggled. "I have been alone, but now I have my Kate."

"My Kate?" My heart started pounding as those words echoed in my mind. It sounded so possessive. So committed. And we were just friends—hell, maybe just acquaintances. And she was female. She sounded like she was talking about a date.

So why did I feel so good when she said "my Kate?" And her hand on my arm. God, it felt like nothing I had experienced before. Solid. Comfortable. Soothing. Sweet. Perfect. All of this made me incredibly nervous.

We settled into a cozy wine bar. She ordered us some more wonderful wine. Taking her glass she offered a toast.

"Auf meine neue Freundin Kate," she smiled. "Wollen wir uns duzen?"

My heart skipped a beat. We always spoke English, but it was clear that Sabine meant this as a symbol that we had become good friends. In German, the move to address each other with the friendly "du" was a big deal.

"Oh ja, Sabine. Du wirst immer meine gute Freundin sein."

We clinked glasses and it was done. I felt like the luckiest woman alive; I had made friends with someone very special. Sabine got her cigarettes and lit up. She looked beautiful, even smoking. We talked and she smoked. I was enthralled.

When we ordered more wine, Sabine took another cigarette. With an impish grin, she offered one to me.

I had tried smoking a few times before, but never really thought much of it. As I reflected, I realized that I mostly did it to impress some guys that I had been drinking with. I thought that trying to impress guys by smoking was one of the dumbest things I had ever done.

Now, however, it seemed an opportunity to share something with this fascinating person—with my new friend. I accepted one and she lit it. Now, this was something wonderful. I took a hit and inhaled, managing not to cough. It felt good.

I found that smoking with her was much better than when I had tried it with guys. I got a little buzzed from the nicotine. An idle thought came to me: "What else might be better with her than with guys?"

I exhaled, shuddering. "Where did that come from?" I scolded myself.

Sabine reached out and gently stroked my hand. I could feel excitement sparkle through me. She looked into my eyes and smiled. I could tell she sensed what I was feeling. She nodded.

Sabine hit her cigarette. "And what are you thinking now, darling Kate?" she asked, exhaling a cloud of smoke.

I took a hit myself, trying to collect my thoughts. "I am thinking of how my mother would scold me," I said with a sad smile. "Smoking. Drinking..." I let my voice trail off. "She would make me go to church and pray for forgiveness lest I burn in Hell."

"So you are religious?" Sabine asked.

"Southern Baptist," I told her. When she looked blankly at me I added, "Protestant—like hyper-Lutherans or something."

"Oh, I see," she said. "You were raised this way. But now? Are you still religious?"

"I guess—sort of," I replied "I guess I'd say that I'm definitely a Christian, but not a Baptist anymore."

I regarded my cigarette and the glass of wine—and her hand on mine. "Considering where I am at the moment it would be very safe to say that I'm not very Baptist anymore. But I'm still religious enough to feel guilty I guess." I had never been this open about my faith—or guilt—with anyone before. "Why now?" I wondered.

"Fuck God, " Sabine grumped, "The only thing He has done is to enslave women. Fuck him."

I gasped. That was the voice of Satan.

"And so do you hate me now?" she asked, extinguishing her cigarette. She spoke softly, but her words and her gaze challenged me.

I put out my cigarette too. "Sabine, I don't think I could ever hate you," I told her, "even if I don't like what you say. Besides we're 'duzfreunden' now, so it's ok."

She reached out and intertwined her fingers with mine. We were now holding hands. It was suddenly very warm in the bar.

"And if I do something you don't like," she continued, "what would you say then?" She looked steadily at our interlocked hands.

"I would probably tell you that I didn't like it," I said very softly. I looked at them too. I said nothing.

We sat in silence for what seemed like a very long time. We just kept gazing at each other, our eyes moving from each other's faces to our entwined fingers, volleying back and forth like a cosmic Ping-Pong match.

"You have not done this before?" she asked finally.

"Wha—what?" I asked.

"This," she said simply, squeezing my hand.

"Ah. No. Uh. I mean—I did with a boy—with boys." I fell silent. "But not ever with a girl."

Sabine nodded. "And you said you would tell me when you don't like it. Yes?" she queried.

I couldn't speak. I moved my mouth but nothing came out. My mind, though, was racing 1000 miles per hour. Finally, I just nodded and we smiled at each other.

We had another cigarette together. Between the sensation of smoking and the feelings coming from holding Sabine's hand, I felt as though I were levitating out of my body. We talked, holding hands and smoking, and the time melted away. Soon Sabine's cigarettes were about gone, it was 1:00 AM and the bar was going to close.

Sabine walked me partway home, but finally, tragically, we got to where we had to part. We hugged. I couldn't believe how I felt. I was trembling; overwhelmed.

"You must tell me if you don't like what I do," she said embracing me and drawing me close.

"I will. I promise," I replied, hugging her tightly. She kissed my hair.

I whispered, "I'm so frightened." She kissed my hair again, and then released me.

"I know," she said with a smile. She caressed my hair. "Sometimes I make you nervous," she said simply. I shook my head, afraid that she would not ever hug me again. She dispelled that fear by once again embracing me. "I will see you tomorrow, my Kate," she whispered in my ear.

"I'll miss you until then," I told her. She headed down the steps to the subway. I watched her until she disappeared in the gloom.

When I got home, Jan and Janneke were in bed asleep. I tiptoed into my room and undressed, noticing that my clothes smelled like smoke. I hugged my sweater to my face and sniffed—the smell wasn't unpleasant; it reminded me of Sabine.

I dove into bed and cuddled up to a pillow. After tossing and turning for several minutes, I got up and retrieved the sweater, bringing its smoky scent to bed with me. With the pillow in my arms and my face pressed into the sweater I could imagine her presence. I found a little peace.

Smoke. A fog of feelings and thoughts curled through my mind like smoke in a bar. I couldn't understand why I felt the way I did—what these odd feelings were about.

I closed my eyes and prayed for guidance, for wisdom, for understanding.

Up until now I believed romance was something that only happened in movies. In real life, I had friendships and "hang out buddies" that morphed into physical encounters—but they never had these crazy feelings attached to them. I had listened to other girls swoon about boys, but never really felt anything remotely like that. I could play up in these conversations—at least well enough to seem part of the crowd—but never fully understood them. I just assumed that I wasn't a very sexual person.

"Lizzy Lezzie," the insult from my school days popped into my mind, then Aunt Kathy and Aunt Gail. Is this what they felt? I knew, of course, that they "liked" other women, but I had never really thought about what that meant. They had always seemed so platonic—almost sexless. But that was around their disapproving family.

What about when they were alone? Did they hold hands? Kiss? Did they do more? Of course they did—but that was a sin. And of course I was "normal." I could never be that way.

No. I just had a low sex drive. And I was alone in a strange city and had made a wonderful new friend. I closed my eyes. Sleep continued to elude me.

I started to pray for forgiveness, but stopped when I realized that I didn't know what I was asking forgiveness for. What had I done wrong—except to have some wine and smoke a couple of cigarettes? Suddenly those vices seemed very unimportant compared to the greater sin of...

Of what? Feeling? Needing the touch of another person? A very confused mixture of guilt, anger and sadness flooded through me.

I finally fell asleep as the sun began to rise.


Even though I was exhausted, I couldn't wait to get to the office. Once there, I immediately scooted up to Sabine's room. Her secretary waved me in immediately. Apparently I was expected. Sabine smiled when she saw me.

"You look tired. Are you alright?" she asked. When I nodded, she added, "Do you need more help with your report?" We both laughed.

"I just wanted to say good morning," I told her. "And thank you again." I paused. "But if you're offering, I'm having a little trouble getting the format right," I replied. "Seriously, though, only if you have the time. I don't want to hijack your work."

"It is ok," she said, surveying her desk and frowning. She wrinkled her nose in that special way. God, she was beautiful!

"Mmmmm. Let me work here for an hour or so" she continued. Then I will come to you and we will finish your project."

I reached out and patted her shoulder affectionately, and she covered my hand with hers, leaning her head back and closing her eyes. "One hour," she said with a sigh. "I will see you in the library then."

I went down and collected everything that we would need, and then began organizing my notes so we could get right to work. Before I was finished, Sabine came walking in. She looked a bit serious.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Nothing really, but I am upset," she said. I stood up and walked over to her. She hugged me. "I just talked with the Director. I must go away for a few days," she said. "It is part of my job." She sat down and I found a chair next to her.

"How long?" I asked.

"A long time. Five days," she said, wrinkling her nose again. "I will be back on Monday."

"That's terrible," I sighed. "I'm going to miss you," I blurted out. Then I blushed, suddenly embarrassed by my honesty.

Sabine smiled. "You are the best when you are honest," she told me. "Let's get to work."

She looked over what I had done and seemed genuinely impressed. She made a few suggestions, and gave me one of her reports to use as a template for the format. By the time it was typed up it looked very professional, and the content seemed good.

We had a wonderful "farewell dinner," but then she had to go get ready for her trip. We walked together, holding hands, as far as we could. Finally we stopped and just stood, looking at each other. Sabine smiled at me, but didn't move to do anything more. I was too frightened to do anything but wait.

And then, as if moved by the hand of God, I reached out to Sabine and hugged her. She immediately wrapped her arms around me.

"Please travel safely," I said, holding her close. "I can't wait until you are back."

"Me too," she sighed. We looked into each other's face. She leaned forward and kissed the tip of my nose. My heart hammered in my chest. She kissed my nose again and then released me. "You will have some time to think," she said knowingly. "That is good. Perhaps we can talk when I return." I just nodded.


I felt at loose ends without Sabine, but decided to take advantage of some of the wonderful things in Vienna while she was gone. On Thursday, I had dinner in a cute little coffeehouse and went to the opera.

On Friday, I decided to visit the Prater. I stopped home to change clothes, and while I was there, Jan called to say that he was held up at work and wouldn't be home until late in the evening. Janneke seemed upset.

"It is nothing," she said. "I was alone all day. It is just longer to be alone now." She smiled. "But it can't be helped." She looked like she needed a friend, so I decided to stay with her until Jan arrived. It would be better to see the Prater during the day on Saturday anyway. When I saw how happy she was to know that I would stay home, I knew I had done the right thing.

I made a small meal for us. While I did that, she settled down to feed Julius.

"I envy you, Kate," Janneke sighed as Julius latched onto her nipple. "You are so—free." Then she looked at me. I must have looked slightly shocked.

"No, I don't mean it like that," she added hastily, gesturing at her newborn child. "He is the best thing I have ever done—ever will do," she sighed, as he began to nurse eagerly.

"But you—you can form your life however you want at this moment," she said as she stroked her child's head. "My life's story was written when I looked into Jan's eyes one day." She closed her eyes and her head fell back. "Then we—well—here we are. It is complicated, but we are where we put ourselves—and where we want to be."

She looked at me significantly. I loved how she could be so passionate and honest when she talked. She was very different than Aunt Kathy, but had some of the qualities I loved so much about her.

"This is where we will be for the rest of our lives. Where we will die," she said softly, and paused. "But you. You are not dying yet. You are still living—changing—growing." She looked at me. "Where will you die, Kate?" she asked, finally.

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byKatieAnnBB© 89 comments/ 203759 views/ 210 favorites

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