_____ rubbed her hands together nervously, pacing her living room in silence. She knew her husband Ludwig would be home any minute, and her head was reeling with ways to tell him her news.
“Aw, man,” she muttered, running her hand through her hair as she thought, a gesture she had picked up from Ludwig. “What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do?”
She froze as she heard the front door being unlocked and pushed open, heavy footsteps coming into the house and closing the door and locking it. She whirled around to see her husband stagger into the living room. She immediately pulled her best smile and said, “Hi, Luddy. How was your––”
She stopped herself when Ludwig walked right past her, removing his coat as he went to the kitchen. _____ furrowed her brows in confusion. Ludwig never blew her off like that, ever. What was up with him? She followed his movements and went into the kitchen as well. She noticed that Ludwig’s coat had been hung carelessly over the back of a chair, and Ludwig was pulling a beer out of the refrigerator. He unceremoniously uncapped the brown bottle and took a long swig.
“Ludwig?” said _____. “Everything okay?”
Ludwig finished his swig, consisting of half the bottle, and let out a gruff sigh. “Ja. I’m fine.”
She nodded, her hands still nervously holding onto each other. “That’s good,” she said, her head lowering to look at the kitchen tiles. “Because I really need to talk to you about something.”
While _____ had spoken, Ludwig had quickly and greedily downed the rest of his beer, and he threw the now empty bottle away and started to leave the kitchen. “Can we talk about it later, schatz? I had a bad day at work, und I don’t want any more stress at the moment.”
_____ blinked. “But I thought you said everything was okay.”
Ludwig grunted, which _____ had come to find was his way of saying “I was wrong.”
_____ stepped forward a bit. “So, what’s wrong?”
“No. You’re lying, Ludwig. I’m your wife. I know when you’re lying.”
“I’m fine, _____,” replied Ludwig, an edge obvious in his voice.
_____ pursed her lips, then said softly, “Why are you acting like this all of a sudden?”
“That’s none of your business!” Ludwig snapped, causing _____ to freeze. He grunted in frustration, and stomped out of the kitchen and out the front door, grabbing his keys and wallet on the way out.
_____ sat herself slowly into one of the seats at the kitchen table, holding her face in her hands. She breathed deeply, trying to keep the tears in.
“Eine weitere, Barkeeper.”
The bartender raised a skeptic eyebrow at Ludwig as he handed him his third beer that night. Ludwig took the mug in his hand and gulped down a large portion of the beverage. He sighed heavily, setting the mug back down onto the counter. He ran his other hand through his blond hair, a few strands falling out of place. He hated that. He hated when anything was out of order. And that’s exactly what happened today. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, and Ludwig had had enough of it. He needed to get away for a while.
“Well, well. Haven’t seen you in a bar in a while.”
Ludwig turned his head, a bit surprised to see his wife’s childhood friend standing only a few feet from him. “What’s it to you?” he said, annoyed.
Alfred smirked apologetically and sat down beside the German. “Tough day at work?”
“Yo, barkeep! Gimme a beer, would ya’?” Alfred looked back at the man at his side. “C’mon, it’s not so bad. Could be worse.”
“You could still be working with Feliciano.”
Ludwig snorted at this, pursing his lips to prevent any beer from escaping his mouth. “Alright, you got me on that one.” He set his mug down. “What are you doing here, anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be in New York?”
Alfred picked up his new beer bottle, taking a short swig and setting it back down on the counter. “Yeah, well, I had time to take a little vacation, so I thought I’d come and spend some time with my buddy and her hubby.”
Ludwig rolled his eyes, downing the remainder of his beer.
Alfred scanned his expression. “Something happen between you two?”
The German sighed softly. “Nein. Just a little argument about my day.”
“And how’d that end?”
Ludwig blinked, what had happened between him and his wife finally dawning on him. He immediately held his head in one hand in shame and groaned in frustration. “I left the house to come here.”
Alfred breathed in through his teeth, making a hissing sound. “Dick move, bro. Dick move.”
He stood up from his seat on the stool and patted the other man’s shoulder. “C’mon, man. This isn’t the place you need to be right now.”
Ludwig looked at the American, nodding and standing up as well. “You’re right,” he said, his voice unusually hushed. He started for the door, Alfred following close behind.
After a few minutes of silent walking, the two men stopped at a nearby fountain. Alfred sat down on the wide edge of the fountain and pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his jacket.
“Since when did you take up smoking?” said Ludwig, surprised.
Alfred shrugged and extracted a cigarette from the pack with his teeth. “Since the stress started getting to me. You’re not the only one who gets stressed anymore.” He held the pack out for Ludwig, and the German sighed and accepted the offer, taking a cigarette and sitting down beside him.
“Do you have a lighter?”
“Yeah.” Alfred returned the pack to its home and traded it for an old-fashioned cigarette lighter. He lit his cigarette quickly before handing the lighter to Ludwig. Ludwig lit his and gave the lighter back.
Alfred took a long drag, looking up at the starry sky as he let out a smoky breath. “Y’know. . .I’m really jealous of you. . .”
Ludwig raised an eyebrow, taking a short drag.
“I mean, you got _____. I’m not gonna lie, I love her.” He laughed humorlessly. “I even loved her back when we were little.” He looked down at the cigarette cradled between his fingers, suddenly finding a distaste for it. “I don’t know. Maybe if I’d done something sooner. . .” He shook his violently. “No. Never mind. Forget I said that.”
Ludwig looked at him, his expression softening, then he pursed his lips and looked at the ground. “Nein. It’s alright. I. . .” He held his head in his hand, rubbing his temple. “Sometimes, I wish I was still single. . .”
Alfred stared at the German, dumbfounded. Did he seriously just say that? But he loved _____, right?
. . .Right?
“I don’t think that as often as you think,” the German continued. “It just passes through my mind every once in a while. I still love her, but sometimes. . .”
“I love her. . .” Alfred mumbled absentmindedly. “I want her. . .”
“I wish I had your life.”
The sentence was said by both men, neither one listening to the other. They glanced at each other, blinking at each other momentarily, then passed it off. The two looked down at their half-finished cigarettes in renewed disgust, both dropping theirs and grinding them into the ground simultaneously. They stood up.
“Well, I guess I’ll see you later,” said Alfred. He turned to leave, waving slightly. “Night, Lud.”
Ludwig nodded curtly before making his way back to his house.
Ludwig opened the front door to his house, careful not to make any noise. It was late, almost one in the morning, and he assumed that _____ was asleep now.
He guessed correctly, seeing that all the lights had been turned off. He climbed the stairs to his room, his expression softening at the sight of his unconscious wife lying across her side of the bed. He removed his clothes, changed into his sleepwear, and lay down in the bed. He leaned over _____, whispering into her ear, “Es tut mir leid, liebe.”
He settled into the bed and fell asleep a few minutes later.
Alfred opened his eyes to the morning sunlight that reached every corner of the room. He yawned deeply and rolled onto his side. He froze when he saw a figure lying beside him in bed.
I didn’t get that drunk, he thought skeptically. I only had one beer. He pushed himself up to see the person, his eyes widening in recognition.
“Oh, my God, _____!” He jumped back to the edge of the bed, but stopped when he noticed that his voice sounded different. He slowly climbed out of the bed, which he saw was definitely not his, and stepped toward a full mirror hanging from the wall. He blinked with wide light blue eyes at the strange but familiar figure in the reflection.
The man staring back at Alfred was not him, but Ludwig.
Alfred raised his hand and waved it in an odd fashion, and Ludwig did the same. Alfred furrowed his brows, and so did Ludwig.
“What the hell?” Alfred muttered, but it was spoken in Ludwig’s voice. The voice was now Ludwig’s, but the accent was still Alfred’s. Alfred paced a few feet in thought.
Okay. This is whack. This is insanely whack. This. . .This has gotta be a dream. Just some crazy dream. . .
Alfred pinched his arm and looked around, his surroundings unchanging.
A soft, tired moan emitted from the bed, and Alfred whirled around to see _____ shifting in bed. Thankfully, she wasn’t fully awake, which gave Alfred a few moments to think.
After those moments of thought, Alfred leaned over her figure and whispered in the best German accent he could muster, “I’m going to see a friend. I’ll be back soon.”
_____ smiled slightly, her eyes still closed, and she nodded and let out a low “Mm-hm” before falling back into blissful slumber.
Alfred sighed and looked around. He spotted some clothes that had been laid out on a chair, and decided to dress into those. When he was fully clothed, he grabbed the keys off the dresser and darted toward the front door.
Alfred approached the front door of his rented apartment. He was a bit surprised that he wasn’t as out of breath as he would have been if he had been in his own body, but given that it was Ludwig’s body, he passed it off. He lifted his fist and pounded on the door, hoping desperately that someone would answer.
Thankfully, someone did. Alfred did. It was Alfred’s body, but the grim expression on his face made it obvious that it wasn’t Alfred.
The man in Alfred’s body stared with wide eyes, then glared at him. “So, it happened to you, too?” he said in a thick German accent.
“Ludwig?” Alfred leaned into the doorway, passing the threshold and stepping inside. “How did this––what’s going on?”
Ludwig sighed, adjusting the glasses he was not used to wearing. “I don’t know. I woke up this morning in your bed––und your body.”
“And I woke up––” A light blush colored Alfred’s––“Ludwig’s”––cheeks. “I-I woke up n-next to _____. . .”
Ludwig’s––“Alfred’s”––face flushed as he glared at the man in his own body. “You didn’t try anything, right?”
Alfred blinked. “What? N-No! Of course not!” He suddenly shook his head and said, “Never mind that. We need to figure out how we ended up like this, and how we can change back.”
Ludwig sneered, and Alfred found it hilarious how the German sounded in his voice. “It is not like you to get to the point so quickly. But I agree. Come in.” He walked into the small living room of the apartment, sitting down on one of the two love seats. Alfred sat on the one opposite of Ludwig, and an awkward silence ensued.
Ludwig looked up at the man in his body, a strange mixture of anxiety and fear stirring inside him. Could this have been brought on by something he had done? What could have possibly caused this?
His eyes widened in realization. “Of course,” he muttered. He blinked when he spoke, but relaxed. He was still trying to get used to having the American’s higher-pitched voice.
“What?” said Alfred. “Did you think of something?”
Ludwig stood up and paced the floor. “Last night, we both sat at that fountain, und we wished we had each other’s life.”
Alfred blinked. “So, what? If we wish we’d change back, would we?”
Ludwig pushed up his––“Alfred’s”––glasses. “I doubt it. I think. . .it was the fountain that fulfilled the wish.” He glanced at Alfred. “Unless your brother was nearby.”
Alfred snorted, which was an amusingly unusual sound to pass through the German’s lips––even if it wasn’t Ludwig who had made the noise. “No way. If he was even here in this city, I would’ve known by now. That guy sticks out like a sore thumb.”
“That’s true,” agreed Ludwig. He put his fist to his chin as he thought. “So, we would have to go back to the fountain und make the wish to change back. Of course. . .there must be a certain time we have to do it, though. . .”
“So, what do you think?” Alfred leaned on his knees as he looked up at the pondering man that manifested his body. “Maybe it’ll work if we do it tonight?”
Ludwig nodded slightly, letting his hand fall back to his side. “Perhaps.”
The two froze as a ringer suddenly went off. Alfred looked down and stuck his hand in his pocket, pulling out Ludwig’s cell phone that he had taken before he left. “Oh, yeah,” he said, flipping the phone open. “I forgot about this.”
“Who is it?”
“_____. She just sent a text.” He smirked and waved the phone in front of him. “Let’s see what kinky little secrets lie inside your little texts~!”
Ludwig snatched the phone away before Alfred had a chance to open the text message. He pressed a button on the phone and read the message. After a moment, he sighed and tossed the phone back to Alfred. “_____ is wanting me––you––to come home. She needs to talk to you about something.”
Alfred blinked. “Really? Do you know what?”
“Nein. All I know is that she wanted to tell me something yesterday, but I wouldn’t listen.” A look of conviction crossed Ludwig’s––“Alfred’s”––face before it was replaced by his usual undirected glare. “You should go. Tell me what happened when it’s over. We’ll meet back up at the fountain tonight at seven.”
“But wait!” Alfred stood up. “What do I do until then?”
“Just fake an accent. I’m sure you’ve done it before.”
Alfred gritted his teeth. “Ooh. So you know about all the. . .”
“If you’re talking about the times you made fun of me behind my back, yes. Now just go.” Ludwig pushed Alfred out of the door of the apartment, closing the door when Alfred was outside.
Alfred sighed, smoothed back slick blond hair, and started off toward Ludwig’s house.
Alfred opened the fortunately unlocked front door and stepped inside the house. He looked around him for a moment, then stopped when he saw _____ sitting quietly in the living room. He walked in and halted a few feet from her, and said in his best German accent, “_____?”
_____ looked up, and anxiety was plain on her face. “H-Hi, Ludwig.”
“What did you want to talk to me about?” Alfred felt a small hint of pride, knowing that his accent was convincing.
_____ blinked, then stood up and brought her hands together nervously. “Um. . .well. . .Ludwig, I, um. . .”
“Ja? What is it?”
She took a deep breath, gathering up her courage. “I’m pregnant, Ludwig.”
Alfred stared at _____ with wide eyes. His jaw dropped, and he was going to speak, but nothing came out. He backed up a few steps, then turned around and said, “I’ll be right back,” before leaving the room.
“L-Ludwig!” _____ stepped forward to stop him, but paused in confusion. She furrowed her brows and headed for where she had assumed he had gone.
As soon as he was out of sight, Alfred sped toward the empty kitchen and dialed a number into Ludwig’s cell phone. He waited impatiently a few seconds, then was relieved to hear someone on the other end.
“Ludwig! Wait––is that really what I sound like over the phone? Never mind. Ludwig, I just talked to _____!”
Alfred immediately whirled around, holding the cell phone behind his back. “_____! What––” He cleared his throat and started over with his makeshift German accent. “What are you doing in here?”
“I could ask you the same thing. And who’re you talking to?”
“What?! I’m not talking to anyone!” He subtly pressed the “CALL END” button on the phone and showed it to _____. “See?”
_____ looked at him, her expression a mix of shock and confusion. “Ludwig? What’s going on?”
Alfred was stuck. He knew he couldn’t talk his way out of this––he wasn’t one for reasoning like Ludwig. Instead, he did the only rational thing he could think of.
He took _____ in his arms and kissed her passionately. His lips gracefully caressed hers as he smoothly wrapped his arms around her waist.
_____’s eyes widened after a moment, and she pushed herself away. “You’re not Ludwig!”
Alfred blinked, the color draining from his face.
“What the hell is going on?! Who are you?!”
Alfred sighed, and gently placed his hands on _____’s shoulders. “_____. . .it’s me, Alfie.”
_____ stared at him, shocked. “A-Alfie. . . ? But, ho––”
“Ludwig and I met up at the bar last night. We went to a fountain and wished that we’d switch lives. And. . .Ludwig woke up in my body, and I woke up in his.”
_____ blinked several times, and she sat down, everything slowly sinking in. Her brows furrowed, then she looked up and Alfred and said, “Do you know how to reverse it?”
“We’re not sure,” Alfred replied. “But we think it has something to do with the fountain we were at when we made the wish. We’re gonna meet back up there at seven.”
_____ glanced at the wall clock. 5:15 PM. She sighed, absentmindedly clenching her fist. “We’ve got about two hours. Don’t make yourself too comfortable.”
Ludwig tapped his foot impatiently as he scanned his surroundings. Alfred should be here by now, he thought. He glanced at Alfred’s watch, which read 7:08 PM. He sighed, then cocked his head toward a nearby noise. He saw his body walking toward him, relief flooding through him.
But he panicked internally when he saw _____ behind him.
He looked at Alfred, who simply said, “She knows.”
Ludwig’s eyes widened, and he looked at the ground. “Scheiße,” he mumbled.
“Alright,” said _____. “How is this going to happen?”
Alfred shrugged. “Dunno. We didn’t even know it happened last night until this morning.”
Ludwig looked at his wife, her arms crossed and her head downcast. He took a step toward her. “Liebe,” he said.
She backed up, and he stopped, confused. She shook her head, still not looking at him.
Ludwig looked back, spotting Alfred sitting on the edge of the fountain. The American in the German’s body patted the spot on the edge, and Ludwig sighed and sat beside him. The two shared a brief silence, both looking up at the stars like they had the previous night.
“Y’know she’s pregnant, right?” said Alfred, making sure _____ was out of earshot.
Ludwig snapped his head to the side, staring at Alfred through wide eyes. “Was. . . ?”
Alfred nodded. “Yeah. That’s what she wanted to talk about.” He leaned back on his hands. “Well, lemme be the first to congratulate you.” He looked at Ludwig, a small smile on his lips. “Congrats, Luddy.”
Ludwig, still in shock, looked down at the ground. He nodded slightly. “D-Danke. . .”
Alfred sat back in his original position. “What’s the matter?”
Ludwig shook his head, then looked back at _____. “I. . .Alfred. . .What if I’m not a good father?”
Alfred laughed, the two once again finding it strange to hear such a noise from the German’s vocals. “Are you kidding? Knowing you, you’d make a great dad! You and _____. . .You’d make the perfect parents.” A genuine smile graced his lips. “I know you two are gonna be happy together. And. . .that’s all that matters, right?”
Ludwig felt a pang resonate in his chest. What was it? Happiness? Guilt? He wasn’t sure, but it caused him to gaze sorrowfully at the ground in front of him and whisper, “I want my life back. . .”
Suddenly, the two felt a strange sensation encircle them. It felt as if they were floating, hovering above the people on the ground, watching over them like angels. And as quickly as the sensation came, it was gone.
Alfred blinked, then moved his hand to adjust the glasses on his face. He froze, his eyes widened. He whirled around and looked into the fountain water, smiling when he saw his own body in the reflection. Ludwig did the same, a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips.
Alfred laughed, launching himself at the German and hugging his neck. “Yahoo! We’re back, baby!”
“Ja. . .” Ludwig’s smile widened. “_____, we’re––”
Ludwig stopped when he saw _____ standing at the edge of the fountain nearby. She wrapped her fingers around one of her left fingers. She gently pulled the plain silver band off her left ring finger and tossed it into the fountain.
“_____!” Ludwig ran toward her, then went to the edge of the fountain. He stepped in, being about knee-deep, and trudged through the splashing water until he found the ring. He dove his hands in to grab it, and returned to the edge and climbed out, ring clutched tightly in his fist. He stared at his wife. “_____. . .why did you do that?”
Hot tears pricked _____’s eyes. “You wished you had another life, didn’t you?”
Ludwig realized now what the feeling inside him was: Guilt. The feeling pierced his heart like a knife, and he stepped toward her. “_____. . .”
“Please, don’t,” she said, her voice breaking. “Just don’t. . .” She kept her head down, her hair hiding her face. “I. . .If you want to. . .move on. . .or go away. . .then, I won’t stop yo––”
_____ was immediately cut off by Ludwig’s sudden embrace. He held her tightly in his soaked arms, stroking her hair gently. “Nein,” he whispered. “I never want to leave you. I never ever want to leave you again. I’m so sorry I ever wished that.” He paused. “Can you forgive me, liebe?”
_____ was silent for a long moment, then looked up at him and nodded mutely. “Y-Yeah,” she muttered.
A relieved smile passed the German’s lips, and he shakily slipped the wedding ring back onto _____’s finger. He laid his lips on hers. “Ich liebe dich,” he whispered. His fingertips lightly ran across her stomach, and his smile grew. “Ich liebe dich so sehr.”
_____ smiled as well. “Ich liebe dich auch.”
“Aw~! It’s so sweet~!”
The two turned to looked at Alfred, each with a raised eyebrow.
The American held his hands up defensively. “Hey, don’t mind me. Just keep doing what you were doing.”
“By the way,” said Ludwig, wrapping an arm around _____’s waist. “How did you find out that we changed bodies?”
Alfred stood up. “Well, I kinda explained it to her, but. . .” He furrowed his brows. “How did you find out I wasn’t Ludwig?”
An amused smirk played across _____’s lips as she looked at Alfred. “You kissed better.”
He watched the trio from his seat outside a local cafe, happily sipping his coffee. He smiled as he set his cup down on its saucer. “Well, it looks like my work here is done,” he said to himself. He glanced at his watch, then stood up and re-buttoned his coat. He headed back inside the cafe and toward the exit.
“Have a good night, sir!” called one of the employees.
Arthur smiled back at him. “You, too!”