ONLY SOMETIMES — Chapter 1 & 2
Below you find the first two chapters of ONLY SOMETIMES.
Both the e-book and paperback versions will be professionally formatted with beautiful chapter headings, but this sneak peek is just plain text.
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I curse under my breath as I drive through the bare winter landscape. Villas and city streets turn into fields and farmhouses on the way to some gigantic manor in the middle of nowhere.
Grandad Villum’s old Volkswagen Golf smells like dusty air filters and old coffee from all the times he preferred his leaky thermos to the new ones I bought him. Still, I can’t imagine replacing it.
I slow down and back the car onto a small and muddy gravel road, putting it in park. The road is nestled between a fittingly spooky fir forest and a picturesque farmhouse. I take a deep breath, hypnotised by the windscreen wipers’ looping battle against the heavy downpour. The temperatures are supposed to drop later, and I’m already feeling a bit antsy about navigating these roads in worse conditions.
But if I can’t find my destination, it won’t matter. I pick up my phone with a sigh, not surprised to find that I only have one bar of service. After a few unsuccessful minutes, my app tells me I’m on the outskirts of Enebæk. That’s at least a name I’ve heard before. I took a wrong turn earlier, but my destination should be right past the forest.
Doubting my sanity at the absurdity of my plan, I head back out on the road—only to abruptly brake when a flashy car speeds by, well past the speed limit. I shake my head as the car disappears in the direction I’m going, just a tiny dot in front of me. It was the only other car I’ve seen for a while, but that doesn’t justify driving like a lunatic.
My fingers clench the worn material of the steering wheel, and I’m feeling anything but confident when I make it past the forest and take in the majestic manor at the end of the wide, pebbled road. It’s beautiful—white plastered walls, black glazed brick roof, symmetrical details and clean lines. It’s also huge, and I’m almost a little disappointed that it doesn’t have a tower. It looks like something I could have written into my world of fantasy.
The founder of this coastal preservation organisation—whose general assembly I’m about to attend—was best friends with a countess who lived here. Their meetings have been held at the manor ever since. Or as Grandad said it, ‘because of rich people and their traditions’.
I park at the last available spot near the main building, next to the posh speeder from earlier. I should probably leave the convenient parking space open since a lot of the members are senior citizens, but I’m feeling grumpy enough as it is. My phone starts ringing right as I cut the engine, and I don’t know whether to smile or hit my head against the steering wheel when I see it’s another call from Vita.
“Hi Vita, I just parked,” I answer, warily.
“I know,” she whispers. “I can see Villum’s car from the window. Are you sure it’s wise to park this close to the building? Someone might recognise it.”
“It’s almost dark and pouring. This parking space will do just fine.”
“No reason for that attitude,” Vita answers, but I can hear the snicker in her tone.
“What do you need? I prefer to get out of the car. It’s not exactly toasty in here with the engine off.”
“I’m only calling to remind you that we don’t know each other.”
“Vita…” I say, feeling exasperated. We’ve had this conversation more than once.
Grandad and Vita came up with the plan while he was in the hospital. I felt like shit for dismissing it. Even though I would do pretty much anything for my grandad, infiltrating an organisation for coastal preservation felt too far-fetched. It did after the wake too, but I was also feeling guilty that I didn’t help him on this mission he’d made his calling. I felt alone despite my mate Anker being there. We played video games and drank too much whiskey, and suddenly Vita appeared with her master plan. I’ve known Anker since I was six years old, and he will jump at any chance to create a little havoc. He loved the idea—said this was my chance to avenge Grandad. Anker loved my grandad too, and Vita might be an adorable old lady with a penchant for brooches and pearls, but she’s also sneaky.
And now, I’m supposed to pretend I haven’t known her all my life.
“It’s going to be fine. Your credentials are great. Your last name isn’t the same as Villum’s. Last time we voted for someone young, and I’m certain we’ll do it again. It’s easier to pass on the workload to the young forces,” Vita says cheerfully.
“Wonderful.” I’m still at the university, I have my part-time job, my novel, and soon I might have to attend board meetings. “I’m hanging up now. Bye.”
“Bye… And Noah, thank you,” Vita says genuinely, her throat sounding a little tight. This is as important to her as it was to my grandad.
I unbuckle my seatbelt and make sure my dark green shirt isn’t too wrinkled. I don’t know the dress code for these things, so I went with my usual mix of a soft shirt and dark wash jeans. I open the door just as a woman gets out of the flashy car next to me, elegantly unfolding a travel-size umbrella. She isn’t wearing a coat, only a snug white jumper that makes her straight red hair stand out even in the faint afternoon light. Her legs look impossibly long in her black trousers, and she’s wearing bright red boots.
She angles the umbrella so I can see her face and raises an eyebrow at me, probably because I’m staring.
“Sorry. Just envious of your umbrella,” I say easily. I instantly pull up the collar of my coat to keep the raindrops from running down my neck, but I don’t bother closing it. I’m too distracted.
The woman walks right over to where I’m standing. I’m taller than her, but she’s tall enough that she can hold the umbrella over the both of us without a problem.
“I can share,” she says with a crooked smile and an intriguing sparkle in her eyes.
“Thank you.” I stick my hands in the pockets of my coat to keep them busy. I have a strange urge to reach out and touch her arm as we walk. I catch the scent of her perfume, something rich but feminine with a hint of caramel.
She manages to skip past the worst puddles as she efficiently steers us towards the main entrance.
“In a hurry?” I ask.
“I can slow down.”
I chuckle. “No, it’s okay. I can keep up. Your car also flashed right by me on the road earlier.”
“Oh right, I’m sorry about that. Usually, there’s no one on that stretch since it’s much easier to drive around Enebæk.”
She sounds a bit sheepish, so I offer, “I might have gotten a little lost.”
“Your car doesn’t have GPS? Really? It looked so new,” she answers, sending me a teasing grin.
“It’s retro.” I push the heavy wooden door open as the redhead closes her umbrella, smirking at me.
We step into the grand hallway, but I’m too busy memorising her features to notice anything else. Her face is a strange mix of warmth and sharpness, her eyes meeting mine straight on like nothing ever rattles her. They are the lightest grey I’ve ever seen. I also think she’s my age. I want to keep talking to her, but my brain can’t come up with anything to say, and feeling this affected by a stranger makes me a little uneasy.
She suddenly looks away and asks, “Which way are you going?”
“I’m not sure yet.” I’m only slowly noticing the pristine marble floor, the light blue colour on the walls, and the antique portraits and dark landscape paintings in thick golden frames. I should have asked Vita where she was spying on me from.
“Are you here to see their event facilities?” the woman asks, her eyes scanning over me. The side of her mouth quirks up, eyes dancing curiously. “Or to interview for a logger position?”
My shirt might be flannel, but it’s not even plaid. I’m grinning when I answer, “No, I’m here for the…” I can’t remember the bloody long name. I sigh. “The coastal preservation society’s general assembly.”
“Oh. Well, follow me then. We’re on the second floor. I don’t think we’ve met before?” Her expression turns a bit guarded.
“We haven’t. I’m Noah.”
“I’m Niko.” She opens a door into another hallway, and I can hear voices from somewhere in the distance. Niko. I like that; it suits her.
We walk up the pompous staircase, and the sound of her high-heeled boots echoes vehemently like they are demanding attention.
“Here we are. I’m going to get something in our office,” Niko says, gesturing to a large room with an open door. She’s gone before I have a chance to thank her, and I cautiously step inside. Some of the chatting stops, and my chest tightens from the attention. Most attendees in the room are my grandad’s age, but there are a handful of younger members, who I’m guessing are local business owners or politicians.
The old, crooked windows overlook the beautiful manor garden complete with two pavilions, and I bet this view is stunning in the summer. I nod to some random people and smile politely as I walk to the refreshment table to pour myself a cup of coffee from the posh silver dispenser.
It doesn’t take long before several members have introduced themselves, and there’s fifteen minutes until this thing starts.
Grandad gave me a membership for my thirteenth birthday. He also gave me a new pair of hiking boots for our camping trips, and I appreciated that present a lot more. I’ve been a member for eleven years, despite never attending a single event or assembly before.
When the Society started, and my grandad was just a little boy, it was rather revolutionary and significantly impacted the official legislation on nature preservation. It used to be much bigger, with several regional divisions. Today though, my impression is that it’s all about the local lobbyism. Grandad fought hard against the turn the Society took, and he put a lot of work into preserving their values and making a real difference. About two years ago, he got into it with the chairman and they had a pretty public dispute, resulting in my grandad’s dramatic resignation. It bothered him ever since, and I know he had Vita present ideas on his behalf. The plan that I should continue in his footsteps came when he got sick. I hate that I said no and hurt his feelings, but this is a terrible idea.
I do agree with his ideals. I’m specialising in sustainable innovation at school, and my grandad’s values shine through in many of my choices. It sounds like this organisation used to be worth something, and now it’s all wishy-washy purposes and an excuse to host exclusive events.
I decide to find the bathroom and splash some cold water on my face rather than engage in more small talk. When I’m on my way back to the assembly, I hear Vita’s voice and follow it down the hallway. I stop in front of a small office stuffed with antiques and take a step back. Niko is standing behind the desk, going through a folder, and Vita sits in front of her. The soft glow from a chandelier-style lamp lights up Niko’s hair, making it a vivid mix of red and gold—an immense difference from the dull colours surrounding her.
“But, you have to see that I’m right. Finn isn’t interested in making a difference, but… I gave you all of Villum’s notes after the last meeting. I was sure you’d want to do something about this,” Vita says angrily.
“Vita, I understand your concerns. I’m handling this. But we must be a united board, a united society. I understand that this is difficult, and I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m taking all of your notes into consideration,” Niko answers.
Despite her empathetic voice, her words are too polite to be anything but a dismissal. Vita sighs sadly, and I instantly feel my jaw clench. I can’t look the other way when I see unfairness or injustice. It was a pain in my arse when I was a kid, and I always got into fights when someone stomped all over my values.
Vita leaves the office, and I’m about to follow her back to the assembly when a man I recognise as the chairman, Finn, comes around the corner. He’s in his late forties and his energy is confident, almost arrogant. There’s something about him that makes my stomach churn. He looks back to check that Vita can’t hear him, then asks, “What did Vita want? I’m concerned she isn’t in her right mind anymore, but that comes with age, sadly.” He tries to sound concerned, but it comes out as condescending.
“Nothing important, I have it under control,” Niko says brusquely, gathering her papers while my blood is rushing in my ears.
“Good. By the way, I meant to look over your presentation, but something came up. I know you have it covered,” he says to Niko as they leave the office.
I quickly work through a couple of breathing exercises and force myself to loosen up my shoulders before I walk back. If I speak up now, I’ll lose any chance of getting their votes.
It doesn’t take long before Vita appears by my side and we take our seats. She’s making a big show of not acknowledging me, and I’m tempted to roll my eyes.
First, Finn welcomes everyone. Under thirty people present, which isn’t that impressive considering that the total is just under five thousand members, whereas eight are on the board. Finn has a pretentious attitude to match the grand room, and I can’t help but find him a little sleazy in his expensive blue suit. He was also my grandad’s sworn enemy. The absurdity makes my head heavy.
“Today,” Finn says, “our youngest board member, Nikoline Nørgaard, will go over our presentation.” My eyes immediately find Niko’s seat at the front of the room. She’s looking at the chairman, and for a second, she seems annoyed before her eyes take on a flat expression. She confidently walks to the small podium and clicks on a remote to start the presentation, flashing us all a perfect smile.
She starts introducing the agenda. Electing a new board member is at the very end of the list. She is confident and charismatic as she talks, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t stop staring at her.
“I’d advise against looking at her for too long,” Vita whispers in my ear. An older man in a tweed blazer shushes her, but that only makes her eyes twinkle.
Sometimes she reminds me so much of my grandad, it feels like getting punched in the chest.
“Why?” I ask instead, fascinated with Niko’s clear voice, crooked smile, the poised way she moves, her strange blend of coolness and vibrant energy.
“You might turn to ice.”
I clear my throat to disguise my laughter. I’m just about to ask her to elaborate when I register the words at the top of each slide: The Nikoline Ottilia Nature Society for Coastal Preservation.
“Is she related to that Nikoline?” I whisper.
“Great-granddaughter. Her grandmother isn’t involved anymore. Her mother was our chairman’s best friend, but mostly dealt with charity events. I haven’t been able to get a read on this one yet. She got your grandad’s seat after he left the board.” Vita adjusts her enamel flower brooch and sighs. “I was sure voting for someone young would be a good thing, but I’m afraid she’s just like her mother.”
I have no idea what that means other than she’s a rich kid, and I’m not surprised she got elected to the board when she’s the freaking great-granddaughter of the beloved founder. If Niko’s dismissal of Vita earlier is any indication, then she’s both unwilling to make any real change and acts like she’s in charge.
Grandad despised that type of entitlement—something I guess he passed on to me. I make an effort to uncurl my fists, opting for rubbing my hands on my denim-covered knees.
Niko explains the results of the Society’s various projects—everything from improving the conditions for the local wading birds, a charity luncheon in the name of protecting the wild blue mussel population, and getting schools involved in cleaning the beaches as they learn about reusability, to how the Society still plays a role in protecting the coast south of Enebæk from unnecessary traffic and industrial expansion.
I can’t stop myself from being drawn to her clever charm. She seems genuine, but at the same time too charismatic, too articulate. Too measured.
I sigh and lean back in my chair, quietly observing my grandad’s replacement. I think I need to take Vita’s advice, not because I’m afraid I’ll turn to ice. But because Niko is awfully distracting.
The mix of rain and snow is disrupting my sight as I drive further south of Enebæk to the coastline that started it all. I’m moving at a snail’s pace compared to earlier, and the best call might be to turn around and take the motorway back to Copenhagen. Only, I’m too stubborn for that. I keep driving, humming along to my loud music, pretending that love songs can make the pitch-black landscape feel less eerie. I need to clear my mind and be reminded why I’m working so hard. Why I stayed up well past my bedtime, making the presentation for our general assembly, or why I let Finn talk to me like I was his assistant. I need to feel connected, but as I take in the wild shoreline, I also wonder if I’ve lost my marbles.
I park on the side of the road, shuddering at how loud the brisk wind hitting the windows sounds without my music.
Finding my wool coat and scarf on the backseat, I cast a longing glance at my purse. I have one of my great-grandmother’s journals in there. A little treasure only I know exists. I found the journals in Mum’s home office after the funeral. I originally joined The Nikoline Ottilia Nature Society for Coastal Preservation to feel closer to my mother. A way to channel my grief and connect with her. I didn’t expect to feel the connection to my great-grandmother as strongly as I do. Reading these journals has made it clear that the famous Nikoline Ottilia was kind, passionate, and fierce—but also sneaky, scheming, and resourceful. I’ve never admired anyone this much before.
The promise of curling up on my sofa with her words later gives me the last push I need, and I step out into the cold February evening. One hand on the railing, I hold on for dear life as I tread down the slope. My boots are not made for beach walks, and with each step, the heels dig deeper into the muddy sand.
The water here is usually shallow and much calmer than the rest of the coast, but tonight the waves are roaring, insisting on being seen. This coastline is the home of the Nordic Silk Piper, a small wading bird that was on the brink of extinction when my great-grandmother started her society and fought to keep this area and its untamed nature safe.
I close my eyes, inhaling the salty air. Rain and sea splatter hit my face, and the icy wind cuts past me as it plays with my hair. I can hardly keep my eyes open, but that’s okay because I simply need to feel, and remember that this is bigger than me. Saving my great-grandmother’s society gives me a purpose. She stood on this beach long before I was born and decided to fight.
When I’m out here in the darkness, in the nature that inspired so much greatness, I embrace the solitude. It won’t be long before I’m back home with tasks, expectations, and demands to deal with before I can call it a night. I do best when I’m moving. Too much quiet for too long and I start to feel antsy. I shake my head, pushing my thoughts away. I don’t know how long I’ve been standing here for, but my toes and fingers feel numb, and the slight pain in my ears reminds me that I’m not wearing a hat, so I cautiously return to the road. Once I sink into the comfortable leather of the driver’s seat, my mind sneaks back to our new board member. My car is a big contrast to the old one he drove. I liked the way he looked when he spoke about it, though. The sentimental value was unmistakable.
Noah Lindberg. He was easy to talk to, flirt with when we met at the carpark. It’s been a while since someone caught my interest like that. He’s handsome, but not in the typical polished and sophisticated way the men who attend our events are. I was only half-joking when I asked if he was a logger.
I frown and focus on the slippery road. There’s no point in thinking about him anyway. I’m not going to flirt with a board member. Besides, after he was elected, he seemed disinterested, even borderline rude, and his eyes didn’t hold the same spark as before. Well, except for when we shook hands… To my dismay, I can feel the warmth returning to my cold cheeks when I think about my instant reaction to his touch. And it was just a handshake.
I was supposed to have looked over the new board member candidates yesterday, but Finn was too busy dining somewhere to send me the log-in information, so I know next to nothing about him. Frustration simmers through my body, and I let myself think of all the colourful words I’d like to call Finn. It makes me press the throttle a tad too eagerly.
I just hope this Noah guy has a good head on his shoulders and is ready to work because I sure could use the help, even if I find his attitude confusing.
My phone starts ringing the moment I hit the motorway and get a proper signal. I accept the ‘hands-free’ call, and my dad’s voice replaces one of my favourite pop ballads through the car’s speakers. “Hi Nikoline, how are you?”
“Hi Dad.” My dad calls me at the same time every week—when his calendar reminds him. It’s a nice gesture, and there’s something comforting about his no-nonsense voice. I add, “I’m good. I’m on my way home from the general assembly. You?”
My dad was supposed to attend as well, but he had to fly out to a meeting in London at the last minute. Not that he cares about the Society, but he always showed up to support my mum, and his donations are generous. “I talked to Finn yesterday. He said you helped him make the presentation for the assembly. That’s a great learning experience for you.”
I wince in the dark car, glad Dad can’t see me. I didn’t ‘help’ Finn make the presentation. I did the whole thing myself, but my dad will dismiss it immediately if I complain. Instead, I tell him a bit about the assembly’s agenda and that we chose a new board member. I can sense my dad is getting distracted, and he’s eager to get the conversation over with. He shows genuine interest when I do well on a project at work or earn a high mark at the university, but other than that, he checks out quickly. It is what it is.
He tells me about his meeting today, and with a wistful sigh, he says, “It would have been an ideal way to learn the mechanics of what we do. I can’t believe your brother threw away all the opportunities laid out for him before he was even born. Most people would kill for this access.”
“Dad…” I’m so done listening to him complain about Zander. It stings too, because I actually attend the coveted university programme my parents wanted for me. I’ve worked with several different mentors through my dad’s company, and I’m eager to soak up all that valuable knowledge he believes Zander is missing out on. But it’s like Dad doesn’t even see it. Or maybe it simply never occurred to him that I would do anything other than what was expected. A kettle doesn’t get praised for boiling water, so why should I? I know Dad is proud of me because otherwise he would’ve let me know.
It’s on the tip of my tongue to tell my dad how messed up his logic is. When my brother was self-destructing on the path my parents chose, Dad complained less about his behaviour than he does now when Zander is happy, independent, and enrolled at university. Arguing with my parents has never worked, and I think I was a child the last time I openly disagreed with my mother. That thought makes me want to speed again.
Dad clears his throat. “When are we having dinner next time?” he says, thankfully moving on.
“Thursday next week. I can resend the calendar invite when I’m home.”
“Sure. Sounds good. Are you driving carefully? My weather app believes I’m still in Enebæk, and the weather looks awful.”
“It’s not great, but the motorway is okay,” I say, feeling a tad pitiful that his concern made me smile.
“Okay, good. I better get going. I’m meeting our potential customer for a couple of drinks in half an hour.”
“Sure, have a good evening then. Bye, Dad.”
“Bye.” The call disconnects and my music starts again.
I adjust the volume until I can’t think of anything other than driving and singing along, ignoring the frustrating sadness that sneaks in through the cracks when I’m not paying attention. I’m just tired. I’ve been pushing too hard lately. It’s got to be that.