The sunlight streaming in through the windows is still weak and the birds are still quiet when I wake up the next morning. It’s early. Early enough to hunker down and go back to sleep for a few more hours. Also, my head is pounding, even though I didn’t drink anything past nine o’clock. There’s a slight chill in the morning air, so I pull the sheet tighter around my shoulders and burrow closer to Max.
Or at least that is what I want to do. But then I realize Max is gone.
I bolt upright at the discovery. The sudden movement only causes my head to hurt more, and I instantly regret it. God, getting old sucks. When the throbbing is finally down to manageable levels, I open my eyes and survey the cabin.
Nothing looks amiss. Everything is just as we left it last night, except that there’s a fresh pot of coffee on the counter. The sight of the coffee makes me relax, but only a little. If Max had time to make coffee, clearly nothing is wrong. Similarly, though…if Max had time to make coffee, then why didn’t he have time to wake me up to tell me he was leaving? Or at least write me note?
I don’t like suspicious things. I don’t like secrets. And Max knows that because I explicitly told him a few weeks ago. Our relationship—or whatever this is—is still budding, and so I feel like now especially there shouldn’t be any secrets. We haven’t even known each other long enough for secrets to come up.
A hundred different scenarios start flitting through my mind, most of them having to do with other women. I hate that I’ve become that woman—the jealous and insecure type—but being cheated on by your fiancé and finding out three days before the wedding will do that to you.
Just as I’ve decided that I should probably leave, cut this whole thing off at the pass, and not look back, I hear the hum of a car outside and the sound of gravel crunching underneath tires. Through the screen door I can see Max. He transfers out of the car and I can tell he’s in his wheelchair instead of using his crutches. I watch as he pushes through the gravel and then pops an easy wheelie over the one step. He has three giant paper bags on his lap.
I know I should say something, but I’m afraid if I open my mouth something not very nice will come out. I’m stubborn and impulsive and hotheaded and I know it. I do, however, purse my lips as Max smiles warmly at me.
“Morning,” he says and sets the bags on the table. “Do you like French toast?”
I raise my eyebrows.
“There’s a place over in Sandfly that has the best French toast I’ve ever tasted. It’s actually a BBQ place by day, but on the weekends they do breakfast too,” he tells me, grabbing Styrofoam containers from two of the brown paper bags. “I got some eggs, too.”
Despite my resolve to remain silent until he gives me an explanation, my stomach growls loudly. “Damnit,” I mutter.
Max grins. “It’s also great hangover food.”
“What makes you think I’m hungover?” Yeah, my head is throbbing, but he doesn’t know that.
“You’re scowling and not talking?”
I roll my eyes and scoff. “Yeah, well, most women expect someone who isn’t a one-night stand to be there in the morning.”
Max sighs. “I was hoping to be back before you woke up.” He puts the food containers on his lap and crosses the room to where I’m sitting on the bed. He gives me a crooked smile. “Breakfast in bed. I was trying to be romantic.”
At that statement, my heart begins to thaw. I take the container from him and open the lid. It looks as delicious as it smells. “Maybe next time you can shoot a text?”
“And give away the surprise?” Max exclaims, indignant. “Not a chance.”
I roll my eyes, but unlike a few minutes ago, this time it isn’t out of annoyance. “Okay, well, in that case, I’ll just expect you to always be gone the morning after and for there to always be breakfast in bed.”
Max flashes me one of those smiles that would make me weak-kneed if I weren’t already sitting. Then he fists pumps the air.
I laugh at his antics, feeling the last vestiges of my anger ebb away.
As we eat, Max tells me that his fellowship will be ending in two weeks. A wave of sadness washes over me as he starts to explain all the loose ends of his research he must tie up and the presentation he must prepare before he heads back to Athens. The Greymound Foundation is hosting a dinner to see him off next Saturday and he’s starting to go into all the details, but I’m barely listening, instead wondering what will happen to this thing we’ve got going after he leaves.
His question jerks me out of my pity party. “Huh? What?”
Max frowns. “I asked if you would come next Saturday?”
“Oh, of course!” Actually, a scientific presentation about porpoises sounds mind-numbingly boring, but I’d never tell him that. Plus, it seems suddenly like I need to relish in every bit of time with him I can. I smile at him apologetically. “Sorry, my mind wandered.”
“Yikes. I’m boring you now, next Saturday is going to put you sleep.”
“Nah,” I tell him, although he’s closer to the truth than I hope he realizes. “Trash?” I ask, extending my hand and changing the subject.
Max hands me his empty container. I gather up one of the brown paper sacks that the containers came out of and shove the remaining bag and trash into it. That’s when I remember the third brown bag.
“Did we forget something?” I ask and hold it up. It’s surprisingly heavy.
Something about Max’s expression changes. It’s subtle, but it happens. He waits a moment before answering, and I can’t get but get the feeling that he’s trying to decide how best to answer.
Finally, he says, “Just some work stuff.”
It seems a reasonable enough explanation, so I shrug and set it back down on the table.
Out of the corner of my eye though, I see Max let out a silent breath that he had been holding in, and suddenly all of my misgivings from this morning come rushing back.