L as in Love (Book One) - Ruth Gogoll - ebook

L as in Love (Book One) ebook

Ruth Gogoll



Peek into the interwoven lives of the women who gather at the Sappho Café, and meet a broad cross section of Cologne's most interesting people. Whether we're in the presence of the "perfect" couples or the women who are on the lookout for love, you'll find that Sappho always has drama on the menu - as well as a first-rate cappuccino. So sit back and enjoy the ride. Once you've met Sabrina, Chris, Carolin, Rick, Rebekka and all the rest, you'll be back for more "L" - as in lovely ladies, lust, laughter, lies, lightheartedness, and lasciviousness - but mostly, "L - as in Love"!

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Ruth Gogoll


Book One

© 2011édition el!es

www.elles-books.com [email protected]

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form whatsoever.

ISBN 978-3-95609-179-7

Translated from the German bySusan Way

Cover illustration: © ag visuell – Fotolia.com

Chapter 1

   Marlene, Chris, and Sabrina   

“Oh, come on.” Marlene waved her off. “Knock it off with the love stuff already! There’s no such thing.”

“Whatever makes you think that?” asked Chris.

“Nerve-wracking relationship crises, stressful come-ons, one misunderstanding after another . . .” sighed Marlene.

“Maybe you just pick the wrong women,” Chris suggested cautiously.

“Me? The wrong women?” Marlene exploded.

“Well, yeah, I mean . . . maybe you should try one sometime who has more brains than . . . umm . . . boobs.”

Marlene drummed her fingers on the table impatiently. “That’s not the problem.”

“You don’t think so?” Chris shrugged. “When I look back over your last three . . . liaisons . . .” And really, all of the ones before those three, too, she thought to herself, but she didn’t want to enrage Marlene again. Then she’d get nowhere at all with her.

“Coincidence.” Marlene shook her head violently.

“Coincidence?” Chris’s eyebrows rose. “If I remember correctly, you dove right in with every one of those women on purpose. Not one of them accidentally stumbled into your bed.”

Marlene stopped her drumming. “It’s just that they were so sweet . . . somehow.” She looked like a bewildered dachshund.

“You never saw past their exteriors,” Chris sighed. “You didn’t pay attention to anything else. Maybe you should’ve had them spell the word ‘love’ first, as a basic qualifier.” At least two of them wouldn’t’ve been able to do that, she thought spitefully, but she refrained from sharing such snarky thoughts with Marlene.

“I do everything I can.” Marlene held up her hands helplessly. “I buy all my women shoes.”

Chris could barely hold back her laughter, but she tried to suppress it. “And what do you hope to accomplish by that?”

“Women have a thing for shoes, everybody knows that,” Marlene mumbled.

Chris glanced down at Marlene’s worn-out sneakers, which she had the feeling might be the same ones Marlene had been wearing when they’d first met – years ago. “If that’s true, then you’re not a woman,” she said.

“Well, yeah . . .” Marlene pulled her feet back so the table hid them from Chris’s eagle eyes. “I’m just . . . not that kind of woman.”

“Neither are some other women you could meet,” Chris agreed. “How would it be if you tried one of those for a change? You’d have a lot in common. Maybe even the same concept of love.”

“That would never work!” Marlene stared at Chris, flabbergasted. “Someone who dresses like me?”

“She doesn’t have to dress like you, but at least you might have some common interests if you chose someone more similar. Wouldn’t that be nice for a change? What do you talk about with these females of yours, anyway?”

“Umm . . . talk?” Marlene looked confused.

“That’s what I thought.” Chris sighed. “You don’t talk a lot, am I right?”

“No, it’s more like . . .” Marlene wrung her hands, “. . . a little.”

“A little,” Chris repeated. “Or not at all?”

“Yeah . . .” Marlene made a face. “As soon as we start talking, I always get accused of not caring about her, of never listening to her –”

How could you listen if you never talk to each other? thought Chris.

“Of just not doing everything she expects.” Marlene ran her hands through her hair. “But what does she expect? I never get told that.”

“And then she accuses you of not doing what she’s never told you to do?” asked Chris.

“More or less. It’s always pretty much the same. And usually . . . she’s already found someone else by then. That’s why –” Marlene stared at the table. “That’s why I don’t like to talk. When she starts to talk –”

“You take her to bed,” Chris finished her sentence. Marlene had told this tale so often that Chris pretty much knew it by heart. Only the individual woman changed.

“Yes.” Marlene was staring at Chris again now. “That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”

“Hmm.” Chris tried to find some way to explain to Marlene what this was all about. “Sure, it’s good. But if you only do that –”

“I mean, when someone starts in on me like that, it’s the beginning of the end anyway, so why talk to her and speed it up? Besides, I don’t even understand half of what she says.”

“What don’t you understand?”

“She says I don’t respect her enough. That I only ever wanted sex from her. That I only came on to her because I wanted to get her in bed.”

Chris frowned. “But that’s true.”

Marlene grimaced again. “Well, it doesn’t seem to bother my ladies at first. They can’t jump in bed fast enough.”

“And you expect it to stay that way?”

“It doesn’t change for me,” Marlene answered blankly.

“But for her, it obviously does.” Chris took a deep breath. “That’s how it always is. In the beginning, when you don’t know each other very well, everything is just so hot in bed. But after you get to know each other better, you might also want to do something else together once in a while.”

“Like what?” asked Marlene.

“See a play, watch a movie, go out to eat?” Chris suggested. “You know. Outings? Conversation?”

“Why?” asked Marlene. “Sex makes me happy. And sex every day makes me even happier.”

“Has it ever occurred to you that sex alone might not constitute the balanced use of your free time?” asked Chris with a sigh.

“No,” said Marlene. “I slave away all day at the office. When I come home, I want to relax, maybe have something to eat, and then –”

“Off to bed.” Chris nodded. Marlene had always been that way. The only new thing was that she had started equating this behavior with love.

“Yeah.” Marlene’s voice sounded irritated. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Most women see it differently,” said Chris. “And expect something different.”

“Okay, but what the hell do they expect?” cried Marlene. “Why can’t they just say what it is?”

“Sometimes I really do doubt that you’re a woman,” replied Chris, shaking her head. “No woman wants to have to say what she wants. She just wants you to know it.”

“But how am I supposed to do that if she never says anything?”

“Have you ever tried a little romance?” asked Chris. “The two of you alone in front of the fireplace? You know – Love Story on television?”

“Love Story? What a hetero tearjerker!” Marlene gave Chris a mutinous look.

“That could be nice too, now and then. Or you could watch Desert Hearts. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is the romance. The more tissues she needs, the better.”

“I’m sure I don’t even have that many tissues,” muttered Marlene.

“Then buy some!” Chris threw up her hands. “No wonder they all leave you. You don’t make the slightest effort.”

“I buy them shoes,” muttered Marlene in a huff.

“In the particular right size for each one?” Chris asked sarcastically. “Or do you buy them in advance by the dozen?”

“So what if I do?” snapped Marlene. “It’s cheaper.”

“Oh, man! I mean: woman.” Chris was almost speechless. “Each woman is special – and she wants to be treated that way. You can’t just give everyone the same gift, and in the wrong size! Do they ever give you the shoes back, and then you turn around and pass them on to the next one?”

Marlene looked at Chris as if that had happened at least once, but said nothing.

Chris was aghast. “You’re mourning the loss of love, but you don’t even know what love is,” she declared with a sigh. “Love isn’t something material. It comes from the heart. It has nothing to do with shoes or sex.”

“Well, what does it have to do with, then?” asked Marlene, overwhelmed.

“Love is when you hold the door open for her, or when you help her into her coat. When you offer her the better seat in the restaurant and accept that you’re the one who’s going to be sitting facing the bathroom door all evening. Love is a feeling. It’s not a thing you can buy or define. Love is when you don’t have to stop and think about all the nice things you could do for your woman. You just do them of your own accord, based on what you feel in your gut.”

“She said something similar.” Marlene shook her head. “At least the part about just knowing things. But how am I supposed to do that?” She stood up. “There is no such thing as love, that’s all. I just have to come to terms with that.” She waved briefly and left Chris’s living room and apartment, where the two of them had planned to spend a pleasant evening together.

“You handled that very nicely.” A very familiar voice surprised Chris from behind.

She turned around in surprise. “I thought you were out with your old friends from school.”

“I was.” Sabrina sighed. “But it was boring.” She sat down on the arm of Chris’ overstuffed chair. “You said a lot of sweet things just now,” she whispered with a smile, stroking Chris’s hair.

“Oh . . .” Chris didn’t know quite how she should answer. “Marlene was so desperate, I was trying to –”

“I met her girlfriend . . . or soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, if Marlene keeps treating her that way.” Sabrina rolled her eyes.

“That . . . what’s her name again?”

“Anita,” replied Sabrina. “At first I thought she was another one of those . . . of Marlene’s buxom wonders, but she isn’t. She’s actually really great. Not dumb at all.”

“Oh, such compliments come from your lips,” said Chris, grinning.

“Yeah, we never get to know any of Marlene’s women, they come and go so fast,” sighed Sabrina once again. “Maybe the ones before weren’t so bad either.”

“Maybe.” Chris shrugged. “And what’s she saying now, your Anita?”

“She’s not my Anita; she’s Marlene’s Anita.” Sabrina gave her a slightly critical look. “But probably not for long.” She shook her head. “She really loves Marlene. I don’t get it.”

“I like Marlene too,” said Chris. “She’s one of my oldest friends.”

“There’s a world of difference between like and love,” Sabrina pointed out. “Even you know that.”

“What do you mean, even I?” asked Chris, unsettled.

“You don’t see Marlene with the same eyes as Anita does, that’s what I mean, you dope,” teased Sabrina. “Anita is truly . . . I don’t know what she sees in Marlene, but she’s really suffering. She’s tried talking to Marlene, but Marlene –”

“Just drags her into bed,” Chris surmised.

“Right.” Sabrina shook her head once again. “Is she blind? Anita is yearning for her attention, for her love, but Marlene just wants to have sex with her.”

Chris shrugged again, helpless. “I tried to explain that to Marlene, but she didn’t seem to be listening. Or maybe she just truly doesn’t get it. If Anita hasn’t had any luck either . . .”

“Well, you know . . .” Sabrina grinned. “Anita has certain outstanding assets that are probably distracting Marlene from listening.”

“That is true,” Chris acknowledged.

“You remember that about her, but not her name?” Sabrina asked suspiciously.

“I was also somewhat distracted,” Chris grinned, “by you.”

“Hmm.” Sabrina looked skeptical. “In any event, it was sweet, the way you tried to teach Marlene what love is.” She smiled again. “Though it occurs to me that you haven’t helped me into my coat in quite a while. Should I be worried?”

“Not a bit.” Chris smiled back at her. “Or am I Marlene all of a sudden?”

“Fortunately, no.” Sabrina’s smile became tender. “Unless you’ve been faking it really well.”

“I don’t have that ability,” Chris assured her earnestly. “I am what I am. I can’t be any different.”

“Maybe neither can Marlene.” Sabrina stared musingly into space. “Poor Anita.”

“Poor Marlene too,” said Chris. “She gets dumped over and over and she can’t figure out why.”

“Yes, I sort of feel sorry for her, but more for Anita,” said Sabrina. “I can empathize with her, I guess.”

“Do you feel the same way about me that Anita feels about Marlene?” asked Chris, horrified.

“When you let your macho side hang out . . .” Sabrina said cryptically, “you do bear a certain resemblance to Marlene.”

“I let my macho side hang out?” Chris stared at her, aghast.

“Not exactly.” Sabrina laughed. “Just sometimes, you’re a little . . . brusque. But there’s really no comparing you to Marlene.”

“What do you mean by ‘brusque’?” Chris frowned.

“Don’t you remember how we first got to know each other?” asked Sabrina with a grin.

“Hmm . . . yes, I do.” A feeling of uncertainty crept over Chris. “You think I dragged you off to bed exactly like Marlene would have?”

“I have no idea how Marlene does it.” Sabrina shrugged. “But you seemed to know exactly what you wanted.”

“And you . . . didn’t want it?” Chris hadn’t felt this uneasy in a very long time. Why had Sabrina kept this from her until now? What else had Chris done wrong?

“I would’ve waited a little,” said Sabrina. “But it was all right.”

Oh, no! Chris wanted to tear her hair out until not a single strand was left. “All right?” she asked. “You thought it was all right? That’s it? And you wouldn’t have –” She was done for.

Sabrina’s grin spread across her entire face. “I’ll have to drop that one again in the future,” she said. “It seems to unnerve you quite a bit.”

“If that’s what you wanted, you certainly hit the spot,” said Chris wearily.

“Well, you’re pretty cute when you’re unsettled,” said Sabrina softly. She brushed a kiss onto Chris’s hair, then her ear, then her cheek. “You’re pretty cute, period. And you bear no resemblance at all to Marlene.”

Chris’s cheeks glowed. So did her ears. She felt hot all over.

“Do you know what love is?” whispered Sabrina in her ear. “It’s when to this day you still worry about whether you treated me considerately enough back then. When my happiness is more important to you than your own. When you hold back when you’d rather rush in. When you think of me first, and yourself second.” She looked deep into Chris’s eyes. “Love is always about the happiness of the other. I’m happy when you’re happy; I couldn’t be happy if you weren’t. And I have the feeling it’s exactly the same for you. That’s what love is. Nothing else.”

Chris cleared her throat. With a visible effort, she subdued the lump in her throat. “Our tape of Love Story – do you still know where it is?”

Sabrina smiled. “I think so, yes.”

She stood up and left the room. Chris moved the sofa closer to the fireplace and adjusted the angle of the television.

Sabrina came back and held out the tape to Chris. “Put it in,” she said. “I’ll go get the tissues.”

Chris got the tape ready, and waited. They’d sit close together on the sofa and bawl, then hold each other in their arms and feel close, and secure.

Yes, love, thought Chris. It’s the little things that count.

Chapter 2

   Marlene and Anita   

“Marlene, is that you?”

“Who else would it be? Are you expecting someone else?” Marlene grumbled.

“No.” Anita stood in the kitchen doorway and smiled. “Only you.”

“So why are you asking?”

Anita’s smile froze on her face. “I cooked. We can eat.”

“You always cook,” said Marlene. She turned and looked at Anita, though less at her face than at her breasts. “That’s sexy, what you have on.”

Anita’s smile looked like it was engraved in stone. “A kitchen apron?”

“It’d be even sexier if you didn’t have anything on under it.” Marlene grinned. “But we can change that – later. Right now I’m hungry.” She went across to the living room. “Can you bring me a plate? I want to see how the football game went.”

“I set the table,” said Anita softly.

“But I can’t see the TV from there,” said Marlene. She was already sitting in the armchair in front of the television. “Can’t you get yourself a bigger screen? This thing is tiny. You can hardly see the ball.”

“I hardly ever watch TV,” said Anita, and went back to the kitchen.

“I don’t get that,” said Marlene, reaching for the remote control. “What do you do at night, then?” She grinned. “When I’m not here?”

Anita came into the room with a plate. The food on it was arranged like a small still life, in luminous colors, and smelled delicious.

Marlene grabbed the plate without even looking at it. Her eyes were fixed on the television, following the game she’d saved on Anita’s VCR.

“I read,” said Anita. “Usually.”

“Hmm?” Marlene hadn’t heard her. She picked carelessly at her food, quickly disrupting Anita’s beautiful arrangement.

“I’m going to eat at the table,” said Anita. Marlene didn’t answer. Anita went over and sat down at the dining table, still set with two plates and gleaming silverware, and in the center the silver candelabra with the two candles that she hadn’t lit yet. She’d been intending to light them when she and Marlene sat down to eat. Together.

Anita sighed and laid her head in her hands. She wasn’t hungry anymore. And she’d been looking forward to this evening so much. It can’t go on like this, she thought. I have to talk to her.

She remembered what Sabrina had said. Sabrina didn’t like Marlene, even though Marlene was Chris’s best friend. Chris and Sabrina – four years they’d been together now, and they still seemed so happy.

She and Marlene, on the other hand . . . Anita sighed again. But they hadn’t been together long at all; only three weeks. People just have to get used to each other at first. She always said that, but now she was no longer so sure that she wanted to get used to what was going on between her and Marlene.

“I can watch the rest of the game later.” Marlene was standing next to her and regarding her with a covetous look.

What did I expect? thought Anita. It’s always like this. “Don’t you want to know how it turns out?” she asked wearily.

“I already know,” said Marlene. “It’s not that important.” She laid a hand on Anita’s breast. “Can you take your clothes off?” she whispered hoarsely. “And then –” she swallowed, “put just the apron back on?”

Anita closed her eyes for a brief moment. “Of course,” she said. “Anything you want. What else am I here for?” She stood up.

“Exactly.” Marlene grinned. “I’m so hot for you, I could just do you right here –” One hand slid down to Anita’s butt, the other hand to her breast, massaging it roughly.

“Why don’t you?” asked Anita. “You don’t normally hold back. Why should you care about the good china?”

Marlene’s expression made it clear that she wasn’t even listening to Anita anymore. She was already too excited. Her hand ran under the apron and hastily unfastened Anita’s pants. She pulled down the silk panties so that Anita was naked under the apron. “Turn around,” she whispered roughly.

Anita turned around and braced herself against the table. She didn’t know why she was complying. She never thought about why she felt so completely at the mercy of Marlene’s commands, why she always submitted to them.

Marlene stroked her backside ardently and moaned. “You have such a hot ass. And such hot tits.” She reached around and ripped Anita’s bra off her breasts. “Insanely hot.”

Anita surrendered, in resignation. She wouldn’t even try to keep up with Marlene, who was too fast for Anita’s needs in any case – although at the beginning it had been enough, but only just. She simply let Marlene take her; a plate slid off the table and shattered as Marlene’s thrusts grew harder, as she rubbed herself against Anita and came.

“Oh, man!” Marlene let herself fall panting onto her back. “That was hotter than a monkey’s tits!” She laughed. “Especially the tits part!” She reached forward again and squeezed Anita’s nipples so hard it hurt. “Babe, you’re definitely the hottest thing on the market right now.” She rose and smacked Anita on the backside. “We’ll come back to this later. Now I’m gonna go watch the rest of the game. You can clean up and do the dishes in the meantime. It looks like a disaster area in here.” She laughed again and went over to the television.

Anita pulled her pants back up and buttoned them. She knelt down and gathered up the fragments of the shattered plate. It was her grandmother’s china, which she’d taken out especially for this evening.

Numbly, she regarded the individual pieces. What would her grandmother have said about how she had treated her expensive heirloom dishes?

But it’s too late now. What was I supposed to do?

She laid the shards on the table and pieced them back together. Little bits were missing and would probably never be found. Even if she were able to glue the plate back together, she’d never be able to use it again.

The telephone rang.

“Hey, can you get that? It’s annoying!” Marlene called from in front of the TV.

“Yes, I’m . . . going.” Anita pulled up her zipper and stumbled slightly as she rushed to the phone.

“Chris here,” said a voice Anita had heard only a few times before. “Is Marlene there? I tried her place, but nobody’s picking up.”

“Yes, she –” Anita swallowed. “She’s here.”

“Sabrina gave me your number.” Chris laughed in a very friendly way. “I didn’t have it. But the two of you exchanged numbers recently.”

“Yes.” Anita was still a bit dazed. “We did.” She tried to pull herself together. “I’m sorry, I . . . I’ll get you Marlene right away.”

There was a second of silence on the line. “Are you okay?” Chris asked. “You don’t sound so good.”

“No, no.” Anita cleared her throat. “I’m fine. I just have a scratchy throat.”

“You poor thing,” said Chris. “A cold?”

Anita was irritated. She didn’t even know Chris. Why was she asking about her health? “No, just . . . I don’t know,” she said quickly. “It just happens sometimes.” She glanced over at Marlene, who was again staring intently at the TV screen. “Marlene is watching the game right now,” she said uncertainly.

“So she doesn’t want to be disturbed, I know.” Chris laughed. “Just tell her I called, when she resurfaces. Sabrina and I are going to Sappho. I just wanted to ask if you two wanted to come along. You could come later. Carolin and Rick will be there, too.”

“I’ll tell her.” From a distance, Anita contemplated the back of Marlene’s head in front of the glimmering glass screen. “But I don’t know if we’ll . . . if we’ll be able to come right away.” Depending on what else Marlene has in mind for me. “Or at all.”

“Tell her I will hold it against her personally if she doesn’t come,” said Chris, and her voice suddenly sounded serious. “If you both don’t come.”

“I’ll try.” Anita’s uncertainty grew. “But I can’t promise anything.”

“I know,” said Chris. “But I’d like it if we could chat sometime. Sabrina has told me a lot about you.”

“Told you . . . what?” Anita’s pulse began to race.

Chris laughed again. “That you’re a really great woman. And now, of course, I’m jealous.” Her laugh indicated that this wasn’t meant in earnest. “How about you just come to Sappho,” she added, “and if Marlene would rather rot in front of the television, leave her at home.”

“Umm . . . yes.” Anita didn’t know what she ought to say. Chris was Marlene’s friend, but she seemed more interested in Anita, which was slightly disconcerting.

“See you later,” said Chris, and hung up.

“You were right,” she said to Sabrina, who was sitting at her desk and scrolling through her e-mail.

“About what?” Sabrina looked up at her over the rims of her reading glasses, which Chris found exceptionally adorable.

“Anita and Marlene,” explained Chris. “Or rather, Anita. I was just on the phone with her.”

“So I heard,” said Sabrina, putting away her glasses.

“Oh, too bad,” said Chris. “You look so cute with glasses on.”

“If you say so,” said Sabrina. She smiled. “So what’s up with Anita?”

“She sounded funny.” Chris went over to Sabrina. “I mean, I don’t know her, but if it had been anyone else on the phone, I would have thought she was just about to cry.”

“Maybe she is. Maybe she was already crying. It’d be no wonder, the way Marlene behaves.”

“Yeah, I think so, too.” Chris sighed. “I’m really going to have to have another talk with her.” She stroked Sabrina’s cheek gently. “Maybe they’ll come to Sappho. Then I can call Marlene on the carpet.”

“Assuming there’s any point to that,” said Sabrina with a sigh. “I really feel sorry for Anita. Who knows what was happening between her and Marlene before you called. Marlene is over there, isn’t she?”

“Yes.” Chris nodded. “I don’t think any woman wants to spend time in Marlene’s apartment. Not even Marlene herself. She’d rather let her girlfriends cook for her.”

“Anita said she cooks regularly.” Sabrina nodded thoughtfully. “Which is, of course, convenient for Marlene.”

“That’s true.” Chris sighed. “Why do women put up with that?”

Sabrina grinned. “Hey, I cook for you. Usually.”

“Yes, I know.” Chris looked at the floor, somewhat abashed. “But in return, I sit at your feet.” She knelt in front of Sabrina and peered saucily up at her.

Sabrina laughed. “That’s the least you can do!”

Chris rose. “Well, tonight I’m inviting you out for dinner. At Sappho. So you don’t have to cook.”

“But someone else still has to do it. You’re not doing it yourself,” Sabrina rebuked.

“I’m just not very good at cooking,” Chris apologized sheepishly. “But if you absolutely insist, I’ll cook from now on. For both of us.”

“Oh boy!” Sabrina laughed out loud. “Frozen pizza every day! Now that’s really not my thing!” She smiled tenderly at Chris. “But it’s nice of you to offer. I’m sure Marlene hasn’t ever offered.”

“No.” Chris sighed. “I don’t know why she doesn’t get it. It’s so simple.”

“Maybe not for her.” Sabrina frowned. “It must not be.”

“So it seems.” Chris smiled. “Tell me when you’re finished. Then we can go to Sappho.”

“Five minutes.” Sabrina turned her chair to the computer and put her glasses back on.

“Sounds good. I’ll call Sappho and order the food, so it’ll be ready when we get there.”

Sabrina laughed lightly. “You do that.”

With a tender smile, Chris observed Sabrina’s expression of concentration as she opened an e-mail.

Why do I have all the luck? she thought. How did I come to deserve this?

She picked up the receiver and dialed Sappho’s number.

Chapter 3

   The Sappho Gang   

“Hey, you’re already here.” Chris waved a greeting at Rick and Carolin, who were sitting at a table inside the restaurant.

“I’m hungry . . .” growled Rick, rubbing her stomach.

Sabrina laughed. She sat down next to Carolin. “Guys are all the same,” she said, grinning at her.

“Since when am I a guy?” protested Rick.

“Since always,” said Carolin. “Since we were in school together.” She and Rick had been best friends for years, but they’d never been a couple.

Rick grinned, but said nothing else.

“I’m hungry, too,” said Chris. “Have you ordered yet?”

“Yes.” Carolin nodded. “They’re running a little slow today, and Rick didn’t want to wait.”

“Okay.” Chris turned around and waved to the server. “Melly?”

Melly came over to their table. “What can I do for you, girls?”

“A few things,” said Rick, letting her gaze travel over Melly’s shapely figure.

“You never learn,” said Melly, bending down and tapping Rick on the nose with one finger.

“You keep being too nice to me, so I keep getting my hopes up,” grinned Rick.

“If everyone in this café did that, I’d have an awful lot to do – I mean, after quitting time,” grinned Melly in return. “Chris, Sabrina, what would you like?”

“I already ordered over the phone,” said Chris. “But you guys are so busy, it’s probably not ready yet, right?”

“I’ll find out.” Melly nodded and disappeared in the direction of the kitchen.

“Have Marlene and Anita shown up yet?” asked Chris.

“Marlene and who?” Rick gave her a puzzled look.

“Anita, Marlene’s new girlfriend,” Sabrina enlightened her.

“Oh, the blonde with the incredible front end,” said Rick, grinning again and making a corresponding gesture with both hands in front of her chest.

“Don’t call her that.” Sabrina gave Rick a chastising look. “She’s very nice.”

“I never denied that,” replied Rick. “But ‘nice’ just isn’t the first thing you notice when you look at her.”

“See, you are a guy,” Carolin grinned.

“Now really!” Rick defended herself. “Can I help how she’s built?”

“No,” said Chris. “But you can help the way you talk about it.”

“You three aren’t usually so prudish.” Rick shrugged. “But okay. I won’t say any more.”

“Marlene always finds such . . . umm . . . well-built women,” Carolin mused. “You hardly notice their faces anymore. Somehow they all look the same.”

“I think we should stop talking about people behind their backs,” said Sabrina. “It’s not very polite.”

“You’re right,” Carolin agreed. “But Marlene . . . well, even though I’ve known her for quite a while now, I don’t like the way she behaves.”

“She can be a great pal,” said Rick. She looked at Chris. “Don’t you think so?”

“Yes.” Chris nodded. “She’s a great pal – as long as you‘re not sleeping with her. That’s why you and I get along with her so well.”

“Seeing as you two are such great pals,” Carolin leaned in, “would you please take her aside and read her the riot act? Isn’t that also a pal’s job sometimes?”

“I already tried,” sighed Chris. “But she doesn’t understand it. For her, there are only two kinds of women, pals and . . . well, the other kind.”

“The ones she wants to lay.” Carolin nodded.

“So what are we then?” Sabrina looked at Carolin with some irritation. “We’re neither her pals nor . . . no, really no!”

“Marlene has somewhat limited perception.” Chris grinned. “Fortunately. Otherwise she might already have tried to get you to –” She looked affectionately at Sabrina.

“I think, with a B cup, I don’t have a chance,” Sabrina replied good-humoredly. “And I’m glad. I suspect Marlene can be pretty overpowering when she sets her sights on a woman.”

“That’s true.” Chris sighed. “How often have I witnessed that before?”

“What did you witness? Did I miss something?”

All eyes shot up.

“Hi, girls,” said Marlene with a grin, rapping on the table in greeting. She sat down next to Chris.

Only then did anyone see Anita, who had come in after her. She stood at the table, somewhat uncertain.

“Hello, Anita,” smiled Sabrina. “Come, sit with us.” She indicated the empty chair next to her.

Anita seemed unable to make up her mind. At that moment, Melly returned from the kitchen. “Your chateaubriand is almost ready,” she said to Chris and Sabrina. “Marlene?” She looked questioningly at Marlene. “A beer? Something to eat, too?”

“Beer,” said Marlene. “I already ate. Bring me a tall one.” She glanced over at Anita, who still was still standing there undecided. “Well sit down, already,” she said. “How long are you just gonna stand there?”

“Yeah.” Anita spoke softly and scurried hastily behind the table. She sat tensely on the edge of the chair Sabrina had offered.

“How are you?” asked Sabrina, giving her a friendly smile. “Better? Chris said you might be coming down with a cold.”

“I’m . . . I’m fine,” Anita answered quickly. She was still speaking softly. “It was nothing.”

“You have a cold?” asked Marlene. “Couldn’t you have told me that before I ate? Now I’m going to catch it, too. I can’t afford that right now.”

“I don’t have a cold,” said Anita, even quieter than before. “Everything is all right.”

“Well, I hope so.” Marlene shot her another resentful look.

Sabrina glanced at Chris. Chris nodded.

Carolin leaned forward so she could see Anita better. “This is the first time I’ve seen you at Sappho. What do you think?”

“Oh. Oh, yes.” It seemed like Anita hadn’t expected to be spoken to. She looked around quickly. “It’s nice here.”

“It’s a little short on fresh meat, though” said Marlene, looking around as well. “I could use some about now.”

Anita started and sank further down in her chair, as if she could no longer tolerate the tension.

“You’re impossible, Marlene,” said Chris angrily. “Is that really necessary?”

“What?” Marlene looked at her uncomprehendingly.

“Comments like that,” said Chris. “This isn’t some sleazy pick-up joint.”

“For God’s sake . . .” Marlene shrugged. “What does that matter? Don’t you all look around? Everyone does it.”

“But you’re not here alone,” said Rick.

“What? Oh, Anita.” Marlene gave a dismissive wave. “She doesn’t care. She’s used to it.”

“Well, I’m not,” Sabrina said sharply. “And I don’t want to get used to it. So please, behave yourself.”

“Oh, but Madame is sensitive today,” grinned Marlene. “Does she give you hell like this at home, too?” She looked at Chris.

“Stop it, Marlene,” said Chris quietly. “Sabrina is right. If you’re going to behave like that, go somewhere else.”

“Suit yourself.” Marlene stood up. “If you don’t want me, then I’m leaving. Have fun.” She turned around and stomped out furiously.

Melly returned with the large beer. “Where’s Marlene?”

“Gone,” said Chris. “Give me the beer. I could use it about now.”

Anita stood up.

“Where are you going?” asked Sabrina.

“I have to . . . go after her.” Anita gazed helplessly at the door.

“I don’t think so,” said Sabrina. “It would be better if you stayed.”

“But –”

“Good grief, Anita!” Carolin flared. “Why do you put up with that?”

“Put up with . . . what?” Anita looked like she didn’t quite understand the question.

“She treats you like . . . like dirt, and you run after her?” Carolin shook her head. “You need to show some backbone.”

“I . . . she . . .” Anita sat down again, flustered. “It was nothing.”

“Nothing?” Carolin eyed her. “Well, you must have very thick skin. If my girlfriend treated me that way . . .”

“She had a hard day at the office,” said Anita. “Her boss –”

“Who cares about that?” Carolin interrupted. “I don’t care if she had a hard day at the office. That’s her problem. And no reason at all to take her bad mood out on you.”

Sabrina shook her head as well. “According to what you told me before, this is no exception. Trouble at work is not the reason. Marlene is the reason.”

“She . . . she can’t help it. She gets worked up about things so quickly,” said Anita. “Then she just has to vent.”

“All over you?” Carolin stared at her. “Are you her doormat or her garbage can or what?”

“She . . . she doesn’t mean it that way,” said Anita softly.

“But I mean it that way,” said Carolin. “She can behave however she wants when she’s alone, but that –” She took a deep breath to calm herself. “What would you like to drink?” she said amiably to Anita. “Let’s not waste the evening. Sappho doesn’t deserve that.”

“I agree,” said Chris. “Should we order a nice bottle of wine, for all of us?” She looked at Anita. “Do you drink wine?”

Anita was still sitting there, shoulders hunched. “Yes, I . . . drink wine,” she said timidly.

Melly came to the table with an armload of plates. “Now everything is ready at once,” she said, placing the dishes in front of each of the women.

“Melly, please bring us a bottle of that great merlot,” said Chris, “that tastes so much like France.” She laughed.

A few minutes later, they made a toast. “To a harmonious evening,” said Carolin, laughing and rolling her eyes. “Which should no longer be a problem.” She looked over at Anita. “Sorry.”

Anita smiled shyly. “I’m sorry I caused so much trouble.”

“You? Trouble?” Carolin laughed. “I think we have a lot more work to do on you, babe.” She clinked glasses with Anita. “To start – enjoy the evening, and don’t think about Marlene anymore.”

“I’m glad you came,” said Sabrina, smiling.

Anita’s shy smile slowly blossomed. “Me too,” she said quietly.

Chapter 4

   Rick, Melly, Thea   

“Here so early?” Melly wiped off the counter and put an espresso cup down. “You don’t usually come in for breakfast.”

“That’s because I never eat breakfast,” said Rick. “Not at home, either.”

“So, now you want . . .” Melly raised her hands helplessly, “nothing?”

“No,” said Rick, and gazed at her.

“Oh, Rick . . .” Melly sighed. “I have to take care of this.” She picked up the espresso and took it to a woman at a table near the door.

When she returned, she avoided walking past Rick and began washing glasses behind the counter.

“I ate breakfast here once,” said Rick. “One single time. With you.”

“I know,” said Melly. She didn’t look up from the sink.

“Why not, Melly?” asked Rick.

“Why yes?” Melly lifted her gaze and looked Rick directly in the eye. “Does there always have to be an explanation for everything?”

“I can’t force you to tell me,” said Rick. “But . . . did I do something wrong?”

Melly braced herself against the sink. “It was one night, Rick. One night like a thousand others.” She looked at Rick, but she didn’t smile. “You didn’t do anything wrong, I’m just . . . well, I’m not cut out for a relationship. I don’t want one. That’s all.”

“One night like a thousand others?” Rick stared at her.

Melly took a deep breath. She dried her hands, crossed her arms, and leaned back against the cupboard. “Or a hundred . . . or ten. Isn’t it all the same?”

“Not really,” replied Rick, blown away by Melly’s offhand assessment.

“It’s my life, Rick,” said Melly, exasperated. “You have nothing to do with it.”

“Unfortunately, that’s true,” sighed Rick. She slid onto a barstool. “Would you make me an espresso, too?”

Melly gave her an unwilling glance. “If you absolutely must have one.” She turned to the espresso machine and tamped a fresh portion of ground coffee into the portafilter.

“So that night meant nothing to you,” said Rick.

“Damn it!” Melly twisted the portafilter into place with a rough jerk, and pressed the button. “Are you never going to get it?” She was still speaking with her back to Rick.

“What is it that I’m supposed to get?” asked Rick.

Melly turned around. The coffee flowed into the demitasse behind her. “I’m not the love machine on duty here,” she said resentfully. “You wanted something from me, and I gave it to you. Isn’t that enough? What else do you want?”

“You,” said Rick.

Melly shook her head. “I’m not for sale. I belong only to myself.”

“I don’t want to buy you. I only want . . . to be with you.”

“That’s the same thing. Or almost. Anything like that is out of the question for me; how many times do I have to tell you? Am I speaking Greek? Why am I not getting through to you?”

“Maybe my Greek really is a little rusty.” Rick grinned crookedly.

“This isn’t a joke, Rick!” Melly turned back to the espresso machine and took out the cup. She put it on a saucer, paused, and sighed. “What else am I supposed to do?” she asked. She turned around, placed the cup on the counter in front of Rick, and looked at her. “I like you, Rick. In fact, I like you a lot. That’s why I slept with you, and it was very nice. But it’s nothing more than that.”

“One time and never again? Is that your motto?”

“More or less. It keeps a great deal of trouble at bay.”

“Did you have trouble? With a girlfriend? Is that why?”

“You keep looking for an explanation,” said Melly, “but there isn’t one. Believe me, would you? It’s simply the way it is.”

“I can’t believe it. Because I also like you . . . a lot.”

“Good grief!” Melly took a few quick steps out from behind the counter, embraced Rick roughly, and kissed her.

The woman Melly had served the espresso to looked over from her table with interest.

“Don’t you understand?” Melly gasped as she disengaged from Rick’s mouth. “This has to stop. Or you can never come into the café again.”

“You’ll ban me?” asked Rick, still completely stunned by Melly’s kiss.

“I could,” said Melly, “and I will, if you don’t drop it. If you don’t leave me alone.”

“How am I supposed to do that? After that kiss?”

“You’re crazy.” Melly shook her head. “And you’d better go now. I don’t have anything more to say to you.”

“Am I banned? Am I forbidden to enter the café?”

Melly sighed. “No. Come, if you want. But don’t come alone.”

“As you wish.” Rick slid off the barstool. She looked at Melly. “But I can’t promise you that I’ll never look at you again. That is definitely too much to ask. If you want that, then please just throw me out completely.”

“I’ll think about it,” said Melly. She turned around and went back into the kitchen.

Rick’s gaze followed her. When she stopped staring at the empty doorway, she redirected her focus toward the exit.

“Having problems with your girlfriend?”

Rick turned. It was the woman who’d ordered the espresso.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” said Rick. “Unfortunately.”

“Ah.” The woman stood up. “Unrequited love. The most romantic kind.”

“I don’t know if it’s love,” said Rick. She crossed to the door, opened it, and left.

A few steps later, the woman was next to her again. “My name is Thea. Thea Funk. I’m a journalist.”

“Really?” Rick replied absently. She was still thinking about Melly.

“I’m working on a series about . . . hmm . . . interpersonal relationships,” continued Thea Funk. “Relationships between interesting people.”

Rick stood still. “A gossip columnist.” She laughed lightly. “Well, I’m no celebrity. None of us are.”

“That’s not what I’m writing about. Gossip isn’t exactly the wrong idea. But aren’t we all interested in people’s private lives? It doesn’t always have to be about celebrities.”

“I’m not particularly interested,” said Rick. “Sorry.” She kept walking.