Chapter 21 - Zoe
Stepping off the plane, I stood tall with newfound self-assurance. My eyes gleamed wishfully as I motioned into the light, letting go of the darkness that once shrouded me. Could this place really be one of the happiest on the planet? Copenhagen wasn’t top of my list but that’s what made it so perfect. No one would think to look for me here.
For the first time in a long time, I felt a spring in my step. Upon boarding the train to the city centre, I was caught off guard. In the carriage window’s reflection, there was a girl with an unfamiliar smile stretched across her face. After a moment, I realised the girl was me. The chuckle that proceeded was equally as foreign. Passengers gawked, making me giggle even more. Shredding my life in Haxby wasn’t a clean break by any means. If someone looked closely enough, they’d see a slight hesitation etched into my iris, but I would work hard on keeping that hidden.
My studio apartment was located a hop, skip and a jump away from the train station in the Meatpacking District – apparently one of the coolest spots to reside. The space was newly renovated whilst still conserving its original Danish charm. White walls echoed the neutral, soft furnishings. The only colour in the room emanated from a large canvas of the city that hung above the tiny sofa.
After unpacking and buying some basic groceries from the closet shop, I attempted to relax in front of the TV. I tossed and turned on the compact couch, flicking aimlessly from channel to channel. Adrenaline coursed through my veins as the city summoned me from afar. I ached to get back out and explore. As twilight descended across the metropolis, my feet hit the curb.
Like a bee gravitates to pollen, I followed the twinkling lights and soft jazz music beyond the station. Tivoli Gardens sparkled against the navy sky. My mouth fell open the closer I inspected its grandeur. As I made my way through the imposing archway, the true scale of its festivities flooded my senses. Sweeping rollercoasters adorned the air, strung lanterns and multi-coloured illuminations shone like beaming confetti.
Strolling along the path my nose picked up the sweet smell of pastries and chocolate. I gave in to my temptations and purchased a sugary doughnut. Underneath a weeping willow, I rested on a metal bench that was nestled next to the lake and towering Chinese pagoda. The first bite transported me back to my childhood. I closed my eyes and saw myself sat along the British shorefront, enjoying the delicacies of a seaside kiosk.
As I opened my eyes, I noticed a man mirroring me opposite the water. Was he looking at me too?
I turned around to see if anyone was stood behind me. No one. Still, he held his gaze. If it wasn’t for the depths of the evening light, he’d be able to see the crimson flush against my cheeks. Before I could wallow in my embarrassment further, he waved in my direction. I found myself waving back. My hand was a little closer to my body than his. He stood up and started walking away from the bench he once sat on. I thought he’d grown bored of our simple exchanges, but I noticed him begin to move towards me. I panicked. Should I stand and shake his hand?
I opted for budging up to one side, making room for him to sit next to me. There was a sudden light breeze that sent strands of hair across my face. I self-consciously pushed them aside as he approached.
Out came a gravely Danish accent, “Hej, må jeg sidde?” Thick, straight eyebrows hooded his grey-blue eyes that were fixed onto mine. His own shoulder-length, tawny locks flowed gently in the wind. He tucked one side behind his ear as he gestured to the bench I was sat on.
Unquestionably, now he could make out my reddened complexion, “Sorry, English?”
“May I sit?”
“Yes, of course.” I patted my hand against the metal, emphasising my point. “You speak English then?”
“Yes, most Danish do. We find tourists do not learn the Danish language as freely.”
Now he was closer, I could better inspect his face. I noticed his forehead bore several distinguished, fine wrinkles. I wondered how old he was. Stubble framed his full mouth. Above, he had a robust, strong nose. A manly nose.
I raised my hand, “Guilty as charged.”
“What is your name, English girl?”
As he turned his head to face me more fully, I saw a deep-set dimple in the centre of his chin. I followed the nape of his neck and watched as his pronounced Adam’s apple bounced as he swallowed.
I hesitated, this was my time to be anyone, anyone at all. I found myself struggling to come up with an interesting name, so I just settled on the one I already had. “My name is Zoe and yours?”
“Jesper. It is a pleasure to meet you, Zoe.” He stretched out his hand in what felt like a tongue-in-cheek formality.
I slowly slid my palm against his and shook.“It is lovely to meet you too,” I smiled.
“So, Zoe, what are you doing here in Copenhagen? Besides enjoying a doughnut.”
I felt his body shuffle a tad closer to mine. I decided I could be honest without needing to divulge too many depressing details.
“I’ve actually just moved here. This is my first day in Copenhagen.”
“What enticed you to move to Denmark?”
His eyes looked glossy with the warm ambience that surrounded us. He didn’t blink for even a second when he spoke to me. I smoothed my cascading hair between my fingers.
“I needed to make a change. Denmark just so happens to be one of the happiest places to live.”
He made a long sigh before he replied, “Happiness is what you make it. You don’t find it,” he says, searching the stars, “unless you happen to be sat opposite a beautiful stranger in Tivoli Gardens. Can I ask, are you alone in Copenhagen?”
I was taken aback by his forwardness but also a little impressed too.
“Yes,” I breathed.
“Then I must tell you something else.”
The seriousness in his voice worried me. Was this the part where he confessed a horrible ailment or revealed he had a wife?
“What is it?”
“You have sugar… on your chin.”
“Oh god, do I?”I began frantically wiping around my mouth with my hands. No wonder he’s been staring at me so intently.
“Here, let me.”
His thumb delicately rubbed the skin beneath my bottom lip, pulling my mouth slightly open. My breath accelerated. I hadn’t felt a man’s touch for so long. As my eyes fluttered from his hand to his silver eyes once more, I could feel the electricity pulling me to him like a magnet. No longer thinking, but falling, I closed the space between us with a kiss. A soft, sensual kiss. From then on, I was spellbound.