She slid out of bed, turned off the alarm before it could wake her husband, slipped downstairs with only the slightest click of the bedroom door giving her away. Dawn had broken, turning the kitchen pink. She watched the teakettle. Boil, already. Achieving verticalness was always the hard part of getting up early, but once on her feet, Maddie owned the morning. Waiting around as the sun rose higher and the wind threatened to kick up sent her searching for ways to keep busy.
She folded the laundry, sliding her hands along her son’s jeans to ensure the crease would be in the proper place.
She slid on a hoodie, sneakers, fetched the mail, tiptoeing out the door to the street and back.
She pulled off the hoodie, kicked off the sneakers, emptied the dishwasher, setting each glass and pan down so gently only the slightly clinks and clanks made it through the kitchen.
The teakettle threatened to whistle. She shut off the flame and poured the near-boiling water over two tea bags of Irish breakfast. Checked her phone. They were supposed to meet in 30 minutes.
Maddie texted. “Still on for this morning?”
Five minutes passed. She killed the time with lunges, plies, leg swings, random yoga moves she’d read about in some magazine while getting her hair cut. O, maybe.
“Yeah!” he texted back. “On my way!”
She was glad he used exclamation points.
She pulled the tea bag squeezer thing from the drawer, pressed the tea bags flat, discarded them into the compost bucket. Added a splash, pause, splash of milk. Sipped. Smiled.
Maddie went back outside, shivered, tugged her beanie on with her free hand. The wind threatened through the trees, rustling the eucalyptus until the cat-piss smelling pods dropped. She checked the tire pressure. Seemed full. Her tea was half gone. She would need her red windbreaker, helmet. Gloves.
She stepped into her house. The warmth of last night’s fire lingered. She padded upstairs, grabbed her gloves, brushed powder onto her face, mascared her curled eyelashes, kissed her husband, mumbled something about being back soon and left as he mumbled something back. “Love you, too,” it sounded like. The light had changed to gold, slanting in through the skylight.
As she pedaled away from her home, tea forgotten, helmet donned, red windbreaker announcing her existence to passing cars, the gold faded to the usual blue, a pretty enough color, Maddie thought, but totally predictable. It was only in the beginnings and endings of the day that the surprises happened.
The morning chill hit as she rode over the bridge, the breeze racing across the water, up her sleeves, across her ears, into her throat. She could be home in bed, pressed against her snoring husband, their shared comforter agreeably heavy across her legs. He’d painted the walls sky blue last year, her favorite color, because it was her favorite color. Blue, blue, blue, she thought, looking at the expanse above her. Another stupidly beautiful day.
She dodged a Honda, a Ford, a Toyota, what was wrong with people? She was on a bicycle, not invisible, not with her red windbreaker advertising I Am Here, I Am Here. Her fingertips tingled as she twisted the combination on her bike lock, smeared gloss across her lips. Someone had told her once that the temperature usually dropped right after dawn before warming up again. Maddie hadn’t validated the information, but right now she was sure her former coworker had been correct.
Marcel sat with his back toward the door. He was not watching for her, not waiting to welcome her. She moved into the line. Ordered a bagel, a coffee. Marcel still hadn’t noticed, too busy with his phone. Who was he talking to, she started to wonder, then caught herself. It doesn’t matter, she reminded herself. “Oh, hey,” he said as she slid into the chair across from him.
“Hey,” she said back.
He finished typing something on his phone, looked up.
“Hey,” he said again.
“Hi,” she said.
He gestured to his laptop. “Want to see a video?”
“Right now?” she said.
“Yeah!” he said, clicked play. She watched two South African musicians rage hip-hop style in various stages of undress. “It’s brilliant, right?” he said.
“I guess,” she responded. She held his gaze, talk to me, she thought. His hand rested large and smooth on the table. She longed to stroke it, settled for a quick pet while nervously glancing around the café.
He glanced at his phone, pulled his hand away to type something, set the phone, then his hand, back down. “Maddie b-baddie,” he sangsong, tapping on the table.
“Maddie?” the barista announced, sliding a bagel laden with too much cream cheese and a cappuccino weak with foam across the counter. Maddie retrieved them, sat back down, shoved the bagel into her mouth, each bite consisting of too much bread and spread to do more than nod at Marcel as he kept tapping and typing.
“Well,” he said as she finished her last bite, used yet another napkin to wipe away crumbs real or imaginary from her mouth. “I guess we have to get to work.” He raised his hand for a high-five.
A high-five? Maddie thought. She raised her own hand, slapped his. They walked out together. He waved bye as he climbed into his car, sped off. She unlocked her bike, pedaled over the bridge, the wind once again reminding her what being cold felt like.
Back home, she peeled off her shoes, socks, bike pants, sports bra, T-shirt, windbreaker. Shivering, she slid back into bed, pressed against the warmth of her husband. “How was your bike ride?” he asked, eyes closed.
“Fine,” she said. “Cold.”
“Poor thing,” he responded, reaching out for her. Feeling her nakedness, he opened his eyes. “Mmmm,” he said. “Your butt is freezing,” he said.
“I know.” She wrapped her leg around him. “It’s good to be cold sometimes,” she said. “It reminds me how nice it is to be warm.”