Toby woke, per usual, sometime after 5AM. He swung his legs out of bed but sat a moment before rising. He didn’t need to look to the other side. It was empty. He glanced back anyway. It was not how he pictured this morning would begin. He took another moment to gather his thoughts before deciding to just get on with it by starting the day as he starts every day, with a trip to the bathroom, putting on his robe and slippers, and then to the kitchen for coffee.
As he passed the open guestroom door, he couldn’t help but glance in there as well. The bed was still made. She didn’t stay the night there, either. But he knew that.
As the coffee brewed, he watched the carafe fill to the point he knew was enough to fill a cup, which he did. He replaced the carafe to let the brewing finish, added his teaspoon of sugar and a bit of milk to his mug, and took the first sip of the morning. There is something calming but uplifting about the first drink of morning coffee. If his day did not begin with this small ritual, nothing would be right from there on out.
Depending on the day, Toby would either sit in his chair in the living room and watch the morning news, or shower, shave, and dress. This being a Sunday, he typically watched the news first. But this morning, he walked through the living room, past his chair and TV to the window, and drew back the drapes.
Ellen’s VW camper was still in the driveway.
Toby froze, staring intently at the vehicle while his mind raced. He now realized he never heard her VW’s engine start up last night. He assumed Elen left, headed back to Colorado, putting the whole thing behind her, and leaving Toby to his miserable self. Their evening ended so awkwardly; so awfully, Toby winced at the recollection.
But, now, what to do? Do I go out there, he wondered, cup of coffee in hand with a, Good morning, did you sleep well? He looked at the clock: 5:54AM. He might wake her from a deep sleep. More awkwardness. He should just wait.
A small bit of hope renewed, he thought she would certainly come to the house to at least say goodbye, giving both of them the chance to at least end things cordially. Then again, she might just go, without a word. There he’d be, hearing her drive away. The thought brought him down again. But, then again, why else would she stay?
Just in case, Toby decided to unlock the door. Better yet, leave it open. Let her know he was awake and….yeah. That’s the plan. He would sit in the living room and watch the news, as he does every weekend morning, but with the door ajar, and wait. He put down his coffee and made his way to the door, a little too quickly, he noted. No need to run, he admonished himself.
As he reached for the deadbolt, he had another thought: Robe and slippers were, perhaps, too casual, probably bordering on the too familiar, especially given last night. Shower, shave and dress first. Better plan.
Toby headed for his bathroom. He quickly stripped, turned on the water and stepped in the shower. Just as he finished lathering up, another thought flashed by that he couldn’t hear a knock at the door or doorbell ringing while he was in the shower. Fuck! He quickly rinsed, shut off the shower, and yanked his towel off the rack with such force, it nearly pulled off of the wall. He frantically debated his next steps. Jesus! Do I dress now, or go open the door and then dress?
The unmistakable sound of a VW engine turning over reverberated through the house.
No longer concerned about being too eager, Toby hurriedly wrapped the towel around his waist and ran down the hall. As he fumbled with the front door’s deadbolt and the handle, he heard Ellen’s camper drop into gear
“Stop! Ellen?!” he shouted as he flung open the door, way too urgently and definitely too loudly. “Ellen!? Hey! Wait!”
He could tell from the look on her face that the sight of him in his driveway clutching the now fallen bath towel—which he hoped to goddamned hell at least covered all the essentials in front—was not what she expected to see. As he stood there, feeling every bit the idiot, and hoping he hadn’t also attracted the attention of his neighbors, Toby began to chuckle. How else could the morning after such a terrible night play out?
Ellen’s expression change to a soft, bemused smile. She cut the engine, and as she stepped out of the van, Toby wrestled his towel back around his waist as discreetly as he could manage.
“Can I…” he ventured, with an apologetic shrug, “…offer you a cup of coffee? Before you go?”
Ellen shyly approached him; her smile still spread across her face. “Yes. I’d like that. Very much.”
Toby gestured her to take the lead. As she walked past him, she said, “Sorry, but I remember you said you are an early riser, so I thought, hey, by 6 o’clock, Toby’d be up, and it would be OK if I, knocked, or whatever.”
Ellen wandered into the middle of the living room and turned around. She gave him a big shrug with her arms held up. “Standing there, I … I thought, maybe, I don’t know, that, whatever, maybe, it was all too much and you were blowing me off, or too pissed off about last …”
Toby stopped her with a dismissive wave. “I was the shower.”
“I can see that. Now, of course. Totally didn’t even occur to me.”
The silence that followed was surprisingly reassuring to them both. The sting of the previous night began to fade.
“God, I feel so stupid!”, Ellen blurted. “Just … I’m so sorry! I mean, thinking I should just take off. I’m so…”
“No, please!” Toby interrupted. “The thing is, I assumed you had already taken off. So, anyway, then I saw you didn’t, and I thought, Christ man, be a gentleman and get dressed! An then, after I got in the shower, I thought, oh, shit! What if she knocks, or rings the bell? I won’t hear it, and just as I got out, I heard your van…”
They both laughed.
“So,” Toby continued, “I’m going to just…” he gestured down the hall to his bedroom, “but, please,” Toby gestured again, this time toward the kitchen, “help yourself to coffee. There’s milk in the fridge and sugar’s there on the counter. I’m going to just get dressed…”
As Toby started to go, Ellen called after him. “Toby? I’m so sorry. Seriously, I…”
“Ellen, it’s OK. Really. I’m glad I caught you! Just, hold that thought a moment. I’ll be right back.”
“Of course. Take your time!”
As Toby reached his bedroom he called out, “Ellen, I say we call a ‘mulligan’.”
Ellen smiled. “Yes! Agreed. Let’s.”