I walked around the bend, Death Bend as I called it growing up. A sharp turn with a manageable hill. One moment you’re veering left, the next you’ve completely turned the opposite way. The canopy of trees lining both sides give an added sense of intimacy. As if any interaction might light a spark ending the world as one knows it.
Ahead pages of last week’s newspaper dance across the winded road. Stumbling and swaying with the breeze, gently moving through the leaves. The rays of the new morning light trickling down through the gaps.
Coming into the opening, I close my eyes feeling the faint warmth of the morning sun. No cars, no overcast, and even the birds are having a quiet moment to themselves. The soft hum of the trees pulse against my face. If I wasn’t so bundled I’m sure I would feel their energy encasing me.
The invigorating fragrance of pine takes over. I could be anywhere right now. Colorado, Washington, Maine, New York or even New Mexico…
“Shit,” I mutter. My eyes snap open as my heavily gloved hand fumbles for my phone.
Looking down at the black screen I see a piece of newspaper clinging to my battered snow boot. After eight years of service they still keep my feet warm providing there’s no snow or rain, and I’m wearing two pairs of socks. I shake my foot out into the road as I fail to unlock my phone. The ripped black lining of my boot bops against the pavement threatening to fly off. The paper is still holding tight.
The hill is stretching out, the most visually-inhibited section of the hill is behind me. There’s one more bend ahead, then it’s a straight shot to the county store. From there a short hill to the town library. I drag my foot along the pebbled edge of the road. Finally the paper is gone and my phone is unlocked. The sun shines strong as I’m rounding the last of the bend. The glare is horrendous. I’m struggling to open the right email.
Laughter bubbles up, spilling like a fountain from lip lips. The trees are staring down at me. Their evergreen leaves throwing shade. I sit up slowly, gravel and debris falling loose from my shoulder length auburn hair. I look down at my hands. Flecks of black and specks of grey snuggle into them, unlike my phone, which is gone. Hard chips of rock dislodge themselves from my palms. Most of them anyway.
I look down at my feet, rather my foot. One of my snow boots is gone. My socks are tangled together next to my still-booted left foot. Further to my left is a bicycle. Laying on its side, its back wheel spinning like it’s in a hurry. My laughter stops. A man, maybe a handful of years older, is under the front wheel. His chest is moving, and he has a beard – the underneath of which is made up of dark gray hair. He’s sliding the bike off his chest and sitting up. His hands, tanned and strong, release the buckle of his helmet. Sunlight reflects off his white hair. Cut short on the sides, the top is thick and styled back. It’s surprising, yet it suits him. His eyes are emphasized by his laugh lines, crow’s feet, my mother used to call them, and his mostly white manicured beard. His eyes are green. As green as the tops of the trees. Wide and focused. They are flaked with yellow and gold, like New Mexican foliage.
“Are you alright?”
A burst of giggles erupts as I realize how close he is. His hands hover to each side of me. His brown, almost dark grey eyebrows poised, waiting for an answer.
“Have you ever been to New Mexico?”
“Christ,” he said, his hands taking hold of my arms. “Do you know if you hit your head?”
I look up into his eyes, they are riddled with concern. My giggles stop.
“I’m sorry,” I say, sliding back, “I was trying to send an email to a client about New Mexico. At least I was before we ended up here.” I look around us.
“I’m okay,” he says. His voice, like his arms, are strong and smooth. “Are you alright?”
“I am. I think having such a puffy coat helped,” I smile as I put my socks back on. “Have you seen my other boot?” Standing up, he looks around. I watch as his body straightens out. Tall and clearly muscular. He walks over to his bike and pulls my boot out from underneath the spinning wheel.
“Here,” he says, returning it.
“Thanks,” I smile. “It’s the least I can do Miss,” he says, extending his hand as his voice trails off.
“Bruised, I think,” I say as I take his hand. He helps pull me up and as I’m brushing the dirt off my backside, it feels tender. A bruise reminiscent of the Aurora Borealis will be formed by lunchtime. “Thanks. I’m Lucy. Is your bike okay?”
“Seems to be,” he says. His body moves toward the bike, but his eyes stay locked on mine. “Haven’t really checked it out yet.”
The birds have begun stirring. Chirps from the trees sound like newscasters broadcasting a live event. I look up and see them tree hopping. The sun is reaching above the trees, but it’s still cold.
“I don’t know much about cycling, but I know those bikes cost a pretty penny. I still have to find my phone if you want to check it while I look?”
He smiles as he walks over to his bike. Lifting it off the gravel, he sets it back on both wheels and begins looking it over.
“It seems to be a very bad bike,” he says turning back toward me.
“Is it broken?”
“No, but it’s a thief.” With a straight face he holds up my cell phone.
Again I find myself laughing, and before I can think about not embarrassing myself, I hear it. The sound of pig farmer’s dreams.
“Did you just snort?”
My face flushes, and not from the cold.
“It’s too early for me to be that funny. It’s only 8:30 and I’ve told my funniest joke of the day.”
He laughs as he returns my phone. The corner of the glass screen protector is shattered, but I’m smiling enough my teeth are getting cold.
“It’s an honor to contribute to such a record.” For a moment we stand there on the roadside.
The sun and the birds stirring above. The newspaper is the only traffic. I can still see the yellow of his green eyes, like fall in New Mexico. “Shit on rye,” I say as I try to unlock my phone. “I’m sorry. I have to get this email out.” Before I can focus on my phone, I blurt out, “I’m not letting you leave until you make sure your bike is okay.”
His eyebrows knit as he nods.
The email leaves with a swoosh. I look up and find my name-unknown-cyclist watching me.
“New Mexico, huh?”
I’m taken aback.
“I don’t know what Cinnamon Cayenne–
“Cimarron Canyon State Park”
“Cimarron Canyon State Park is, but it sounds fascinating. Especially for less than $1500.”
I feel my lips part as I continue to stare at him.
“You didn’t know that you talk to your email, huh?”
“Oh,” my laughter is starting to annoy me, “It’s a super power.”
“What does it do?”
“Makes dreams come true, and sends people on trips of a lifetime.”
“Don’t tell anyone, or you’ll blow my cover as a travel agent.”
“I see,” he says. His hands are now holding the handlebars of his bicycle. The front wheel is angled perpendicular to the road.
“Are you headed back this way?” I gesture toward the way to the county store and the library. “Is your bicycle ruined?”
“No,” he clears his throat, “but I would hate to ruin this moment. Given that I just said that I probably just did.” I can’t stop looking into his eyes. They’re warm and bright. Another moment passes.
“Actually, I’m headed to the county store, if you’d like to keep me company,” I suggest as I begin walking.
The spokes of his bicycle whispering into the wind as we walk. “Probably for the best. Don’t want to risk it on a 4% – 6% grade anyway.”
“I didn’t know the hill had to take a test.” I turn to look at him deadpan. A laugh reminiscent of barrel aged whisky and years of cigarettes fills the quiet street. “I thought you said you don’t bike?”
“Cyclists aren’t the only ones who know about slope, gradient, or inclines. They’re just the only ones to do it in skin tight clothing.”
His laugh scares away the birds. His jaw flexes as his mouth smiles. “Intelligent and magical? Are you sure your boot wasn’t some kind of mystical lamp in disguise?”
We laugh and talk the rest of the way to the county store. I’ve asked him a million questions about his cycling – his favorite form of exercise that he started in his forties, his age – he is 17 years my senior, his work – he is a principal software engineer who is on vacation this week, and his travels – most excitedly, he has hopes of getting to Antarctica. I’ve nearly choked on my own spit as he says the word, Antarctica. When I regain composure I tell him, “I’ll give you my card. I’ve had that trip planned for years. Just haven’t gotten around to going myself yet.”
“If you’re not excusing me from your Saturday morning routine, I would love to hear all about it. You can bill me for your intel. Would breakfast be enough, or am I insulting you?”
“That sounds lovely, except I can’t.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t -”
“I can’t have breakfast with someone who hasn’t told me their name.”
“George,” he says, again extending his hand to me.
We shake, and he opens the door.
Around a quarter to one Maggie, my usual waitress, stands over our booth with two menus tucked under her elbow and a ticket in her hand. “Are you staying for lunch or cashing out?” We stay for lunch and at 3:30 Maggie kicks us out.
“I didn’t realize you guys closed at 3:30,” I say to her as George pays the bill in cash.
“That’s because you’re usually on your way to the library by 9:30,” she laughs.
“Sir, you gave me -” Silently George shakes his head.
“Two meals, two excellent services, and more coffee refills than I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“Usually I cut her off at three,” Maggie says as she casts a sideways look at me, “but she’s in your hands now.”
The sun is almost where we left it, except now it’s on its way to sleep. I think about the walk home and how it’s only going to get colder. Winter is hanging on to the bitter end.
“I hate to be forward,” George says, “well any more forward than I already have been, but I live a block down from the library. I’m not sure how far your walk home is or if you were planning on going to the library, but if you’d like a ride home.”
“That would be lovely, I can either meet you at your house or if you want to come to the library, there are a few books I wanted to check out.”
“Do you have any recommendations? I’m off this week and it never hurts to have a good book around.”
Cars pass by either slowly chugging up the hill or racing down it. He checks three times: left, right, left, before crossing the street. His hand delicately hovering above the small of my back. By the time we get to the library I’ve recommended a handful of books and two series. He’s unintentionally added two more books to my list. We go our separate ways, each heading to find the books we want to read. His list is shorter, but I’m done before him. I find him in the fiction section under “D.” He smiles at me as he pulls out my favorite book, a book I didn’t know he added to his list. My heart flutters when he takes out his own library card, tucked away with his license, his food store card, and his house key all jammed inside the pocket.
He drops me off at home, and waits until I am in my house with the door closed before driving away. I have him my cell phone number and personal email, and for the next week we email each other articles about travel; text each other jokes about genies, cyclists, and travel; we talk on the phone about the books we’re each reading; and we have dinner two on Tuesday and Thursday. He is respectful of my work schedule, even though he is off. On Saturday he rides his bicycle to my house, and leaves it in the driveway. We walk to the county store and return our books to the library before walking back to his house. He makes us lunch and drives me home.
Before I go to bed on Sunday, I grab my journal and my pen:
After 38 years of being the poster woman for fiercely independent and a non-relationship person, it took one man one week to melt my heart. He’s intelligent and funny. He’s accomplished and still wants to do and see more. He respects my ways of thinking and of being. I’ve told my friends in passing about him and they all think I’ve finally lost it and given my favorite sex toy a name and backstory. I don’t even know his last name. Maybe it’s too much coffee, but I think there might be something there… he goes back to work tomorrow, so we’ll see. Whatever it is or becomes or doesn’t, it’s been a perfect week.
The next morning I wake up. I do my pushups, start my coffee, and make my breakfast. My email alert dings from my phone. Taking a casual glance as I wait for my egg to soft boil I notice GR Harrowman has finally returned to work and answered my email. Another email has come in, just moments later, from George.
I’m sitting at work catching up on emails. I received an interesting one from the most exceptional woman I’ve ever met about New Mexico – it’s my Executive Assistants 10 year anniversary in November working for me and I wanted to send her on a trip. While I would hate to be too forward, perhaps you want to make two reservations, one for myself with a possible guest in September, and one for Cassie in November.
George GR Harrowman