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Not All Who Wander

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It's cute the way she's looking so intently at the map, eyes squinting and nose scrunched in pure focus like she's trying to memorize every possible bus route listed in case she’s randomly quizzed on the street. By the way her tongue is poking out from between her thin, pink lips and the slight sigh that escapes her lips, it’s easy to tell that even though she's trying so hard and is so focused, she is frustrated and absolutely clueless. Totally lost.

The thought crosses her mind for just a brief, shining moment that she should just keep walking, ignore the obvious tourist struggling with the pretty simple bus map, in exchange for a burning hot shower and warm bed, but she knows not too long ago that she was wearing the same shoes. She was the lost one struggling to learn the language, customs and even the –what she now knows to be quite simplistic- bus routes. Even though she’s still lost in her own way, she feels a pull, a slight shift in the universe urging her to pause if only for a moment.

"Kann ich Ihnen helfen?" The blonde woman looks back at her panicked, with wide eyes like a deer caught in the headlights before ignoring her and turning back to the map, so she tries a different approach. "Can I help you?" she asks again, this time softly in English and places her hand on the other woman's shoulder to gather her attention, noting how soft and cool the leather jacket feels underneath her fingertips.

The woman pulls her tired eyes from the map and looks over her shoulder. "Thank god. Someone who speaks English," she says with a thankful sigh, like she's secretly been praying for as much for the last hour. Judging by how purple her exposed fingers are as they trace the multi-colored lines on the map that might even be the case.

She lets out a soft chuckle and looks back at the flustered blonde who obviously isn't from the area as apparent by the large duffle bag slung over her shoulder and jacket that is far too thin for a German winter -the type of winter that is unrivaled by any in America, where the wind whips through you no matter how many layers you have on, cutting straight through to your soul to leave it a crystallized mass. No, a frigid German winter is not going to be kept out by a thin leather jacket, no matter how good it looks nor a thin beanie that rivals what trendy surfer chicks wear in California.

"I do. How can I help you?" she asks with a warm, inviting smile as she pulls her striped scarf tighter around her neck to keep the chills out -though she's unsure if they’re caused from the biting wind or the shivers that get sent down her spine when the other woman offers her hand out to shake and she takes it.

"I'm Ashlyn by the way. Ashlyn Harris," she supplies with a large grin that contrasts her wind-bitten cheeks, despite the pain and exhaustion that has settled into her bones, before quickly retracting her hand. She felt the fire ignite between them too, but plays it off in her head as it just being the warm touch of a stranger. "And you are?"

"Alexandra Krieger, but mostly everyone besides my family calls me Ali," replies the shorter brunette while shyly tucking a stray hair behind her ear as she takes in the way the other woman’s hair is blowing slightly in the wind, small crystallized snowflakes landing on the waves of blonde hair that peek out from under her hat.

Ashlyn quickly looks away as she finds herself getting captivated by the woman's cinnamon irises and soft, endearing mumble that she thinks can only result from a jumble of time spent between continents. She points to the bus map with a confused expression and then just shrugs, unable to figure out what she should even be asking.

It's obvious that she's lost and Ali can't blame her one bit. She's been in Germany for almost four years and although she's fluent now, there had been many occasions during her first few months where she would stumble around town, tears staining her frost-bitten, rosy cheeks as she searched for the B Route which would take her back to her humble little apartment. So when Ashlyn looks back at her with a pleading, desperate expression like that of a child who doesn’t understand why they can’t eat all of their Halloween candy in one sitting, she can't help but take pity on her even though she's just had a grueling double session along with a pool workout and wants a burning hot shower, a warm cup of coffee and her plush bed with the cloud like down-comforter in no particular order.

"Where do you need to go?" she asks politely, trying to keep her tired eyes open for just a bit longer. From her early days, she knows how hard it can be and she always said to herself if she ever saw someone in her position, she would help them out just as her teammates had done for her. As another wave of wind rips through the intersection, she whispers a thanks to her teammates who had saved her from the numbing cold on countless occasions –often driving around town to find her based on simplistic directions of ‘I’m by a trendy looking café’ or ‘it looks like I might be by a school’ when she didn’t even have the ability to tell them where she was.

The blonde smiles -the kind of smile that lets you know she's so damn thankful someone picked up on her cluelessness and came to her rescue- and quickly brings a piece of paper up to her face, a piece of paper that shows wrinkles of frustration. She studies it for a moment before a slight blush creeps up her neck -that Ali doesn't think is purely a result of the whipping wind- clearly embarrassed by her inability to even pronounce the street names or address of wherever she was headed. "Uh, I need to get to..."

Her voice trails off and it honestly sounds so pitiful that Ali gently prods the wrinkled and partially torn piece of paper from her freezing red fingers to get a better look. "Oh I know exactly where this is. It's a couple miles up town," she says with a nod behind her as if Ashlyn would have any idea where she was referencing.

Ashlyn smiles and is immediately grateful not only that she met Ali, but that she was actually able to be of some assistance, though her eyes still house a slight apprehension. A slight shiver creeps up her spine again and finds its way back down to her toes which have become numb despite the boots she's wearing that always seem to do the trick in America. Not even the thick wool socks with little shark decorations -her favorite pair that were gifted to her by her grandmother last Christmas- stand a fighting chance. "Thank god. Can you point me to where I should go to grab the next bus? I just need to get out of this damn cold!"

Ali lets out a slight giggle that makes Ashlyn's heart jump just a beat. It's the kind of laugh that's purely innocent, but slightly contained -like Ali catches herself just in time and doesn't want Ashlyn to think she's being rude and laughing at her- and Ashlyn finds herself joining in before she knows it. "What's so funny?" she finally asks with a small, weary grin.

Ali places a hand on her lower back and gently brings her back over to the map plastered on the black metal street pole where the swinging intersection stoplight hangs from. "We're right here," she says and points while Ashlyn leans in to get a good look, "and you have to go here," she continues and drags her fingers slowly across the map while trying to ignore the freezing feeling off the pole rippling through her body and simultaneous heat on her neck from Ashlyn's breath as she leans in innocently, but still dangerously close to her. She slides over a bit -playing it off like she just wants to let Ashlyn get a better view- and even though she’s getting caught up in the intoxicating scent of her perfume, finishes with, "the walk to the closest bus route that goes there will almost be as long as the walk to your place."

Ashlyn just groans and drops her face into her palms. This is the last thing she needs, the last straw in the saga of her continuous bad day. "Either the taxi driver had no idea what I was saying when we left the airport or he just took me as an American fool and robbed me of a bunch of Euros."

Ali can easily sense the annoyance in her voice -not that she thinks the blonde is even trying to hide it- and reaches out again to touch her arm comfortingly. "My car is parked around the corner and I live just a few blocks from where you're going. Why don't you let me give you a ride?" It’s a lie, she actually lives on the other side of town, but something is keeping her there, keeping her glued to the woman that she thinks might break down and cry if she doesn’t do something.

She's exhausted and can feel her legs throbbing and burning with pain despite the cold air ripping through her team issued Adidas practice pants. She still wants her bed and a hot shower, but it's been awhile since she's had an encounter with another American and she can't deny the longing feeling she gets when she thinks about home. As patient as her teammates had been about her learning German, after a few months they'd strayed from it, leaving her to pick up on their conversations in the mother country's language. Though she’s now fluent in German, it would be nice to have an actual face to face conversation in English that didn't involve pixilated computer screens or choppy FaceTime sessions with her friends and family back in the states. The fact that the blonde standing before her is stunning doesn’t hurt either so she curls her lips into an inviting smile and shyly adds, "Maybe we can grab a coffee on the way and warm up a bit too?"

"I'm married," Ashlyn quickly stammers and holds up her left hand to show a beautiful platinum band with three inset diamonds as if she needed proof because Ali wouldn't take her at her word. She thinks to add that she's madly in love with her wife of three years who is also her college sweetheart, but quickly decides that would be overkill, partially because Ali starts laughing right away and also because she’s extremely embarrassed at her over-the-top reaction to begin with.

Another chuckle escapes Ali's lips and she shakes her head in disbelief. She had already noticed the ring on the blonde's finger -even in the overcast German weather it gleamed enough to immediately catch her attention, although she'd be lying if she said she hadn't looked for it to begin with out of curiosity- and was very amused at her flustered reaction. "And I'm just offering a ride home and friendly cup of coffee," she playfully chastises while holding her hands up in the air as a sign of innocence. "I don't make it a habit of finding cute, helpless looking Americans in the streets of Germany and going out to coffee before taking them back to my place to seduce them into having wild, crazy sex with me."

She's surprised at the words that come out of the brunette's mouth -more so the hot, crazy sex part and less about the fact that she called her cute- along with the skeptically raised eyebrow that follows them, almost like she's a bit confused as to why Ashlyn jumped to the conclusion that she had deeper intentions in the first place. She had seemed so innocent and conservative, but maybe it was the brash, frank German coming out of her. Obviously she had been in the country for quite some time, at least long enough to know what a proper winter coat looks like, that a winter hat needs to be thicker and tightly woven and that a scarf of some type is a must. The situation, as best as she can read it, does seem harmless and she can honestly use a friend at the moment instead of helplessly wandering the German streets for another few hours on her own like a sad lost puppy.

"Alright, Alexandra Krieger,” she breathes out assuredly. “I'll just have to take you up on that cup of coffee."