Before reading, see: Prologue//Flashback: Maddy’s
Disclaimer: This is a revised version of chapter one! I workshopped the hell out of it in one of my classes this semester, so I thought I’d update it here too. Thanks for reading! I hope you guys like these characters just as much as I do and that this is the start of something worthwhile.
Chapter One: Commute Home (Revised)
Today, I decided to walk home a little lackadaisically. It wasn’t my usual speed, but I knew it would get me to where I was going — especially since I wasn’t in much of a rush. For some reason, this particular Friday just felt different. It was nicer outside than it had been this past week, so I decided to take it all in. The cool spring air was slowly caressing my bare legs with each step. It was chilly and almost unbearable, but I didn’t mind. After all, it’s my fault that I woke up with hope that the Texas weather would stay consistent throughout the day. The mornings were always deceiving compared to the afternoons.
With each step, I noticed the trees were coming back to life, the grass was slowly becoming greener after each watering, and the animals were thriving off it. It’s sort of ironic to see all of the animals coming out of hiding, as if Texas knew what the winter season was. Here we just get a handful of freezes and a bunch of cold wind. We barely get any snow. Most birds even come here from up north to avoid their states’ weather, as if the sunny beaches of Cancun were too far of a flight.
As I walked, I counted the steps between each sidewalk crack. “One-two-three, one-two, one-two-three-four,” it was almost like a dance, albeit an unusual one, but the counting came naturally. I started to imagine a polka band playing at each step. The casual “oom-pah-pah, oom-pah-pah,” that was filling my brain took me down my path. I took this course home every other day, so I was bound to get there eventually.
After quite a few “oom-pah-pah’s”, I turned the corner next to my family’s old diner and knew I was almost home. Or rather… I thought I was, until I bumped into something sturdy. I should’ve looked up, god damn it, I thought to myself as the man I bumped into started to turn red.
“Shit! Watch where you’re going!” he exclaimed, holding his cup away from the damage I just caused. He didn’t notice I was watching him until he started wiping off his laptop bag and flannel with his hands. With just a quick glance, this man really had a lumberjack thing going on. Beard and all.
“Oh my god, I’m so, so sorry. Please let me help you,” I said to him, while I opened up my backpack to find my pack of wet wipes.
“Thanks, but I’m fine. It’s fine,” he said kind of aggressively, but his expression softened when he finally looked up; his light brown eyes pierced my greens. “Ugh, I’m sorry. I’ve just had a long day,” while he held his hand out, “My name’s Alexander, I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
I didn’t expect him to take such a turnaround, but I closed my bag and shook his hand anyway, “Maddy, my name’s Maddy. I’m so sorry.”
“Please, just stop apologizing. It’s okay. I said it’s fine, and I meant it,” he said more calmly while he put his hand on my shoulder.
Almost immediately, I shrugged his hand off, “Okay, are you sure you’re okay? That coffee had to have been really hot. Please, let me buy you another one.”
“Alright, alright, you can buy me a new cup. Is the diner fine?”
“Actually, would it be okay if we went down the street to Starbucks instead? I don’t really want to set foot in there.” Immediately, I mentally crossed my fingers and hoped he wouldn’t ask why. Especially since Gordon and I haven’t had time to fully evaluate it.
“Umm, yeah. That’ll be alright. I’d actually prefer it if that’s what you’re more comfortable with. Just lead the way,” he said.
* * * *
On our way to Starbucks I realized that there was more to this guy than I thought. He wasn’t just a tall, rugged man, but he had quirks of his own. Not only was he avoiding the sidewalk cracks as he stepped, but he kept the same number of steps between them too.
“What on earth are you looking at?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing,” I laughed nervously. “I just noticed that you never step on any cracks. I do the same thing.”
“Were you counting? I try to keep at least two to four between each crack. I’m not superstitious or anything,” he chuckled while he rubbed the back of his neck, “I just kind of kept the habit from when I was a kid.”
“Oh, I suppose I was,” I blushed, “I do the same thing… except I imagine polka music playing.”
“Polka, huh? Care to elaborate?” he asked, and I reluctantly let him in on my little secret, because he let me in on his. And to my surprise, we ended up walking my weird, and quirky way all the way to the coffee shop.
* * * *
When we got to Starbucks, I ordered my usual iced green tea latte; the matcha was my favorite part. It made me feel as though I was actually taking a step towards something healthy. I didn’t even know Starbucks had this drink until a few weeks ago, but I fell in love at first sip.
“Your total is $5.75,” the barista said. So, I quickly went to search my backpack, but noticed my wallet was missing. I could’ve sworn I had it earlier, and it wasn’t long until I started shaking in panic.
“Um, Alex? Do you mind getting this?” I asked nervously, “I can pay you back later. I promise.”
“It’s Alexander, and are you asking me to pay for your coffee after you spilled mine all over me?”
I couldn’t read if he was serious. All I could get out of my mouth was, “Oh, yeah… I’m sorry. Um, I might have some kind of cash in this bag somewhere,” and I started to search again. Digging through crumpled receipts and the chapsticks I though I’d lost, the idea dawned on me that my wallet was still sitting on Gordon’s desk and my frustration must’ve shown on my face because Alexander offered to pay anyways.
We went to a table in the back corner of the cafe to wait for our order, and I still couldn’t stop thanking him. He even pulled my chair out for me, and suddenly I couldn’t remember the last time I was ever out with a guy. Clearly, I wasn’t used to this kind of chivalry.
“Maddy, it’s fine. Stop thanking me,” he said. “But, if you don’t mind me asking, what was that back there?” he asked.
“What was what?”
“Why couldn’t we go into the diner? I mean, I prefer Starbucks, but you seemed a little reluctant to go in there.”
“Oh, it was nothing.” I could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t believe me, so I quickly added, “I just have a few bad memories there, that’s all.”
“Yeah? If you don’t mind me asking, what are they about?”
“That depends,” I said, “Why Alexander? Why not just Alex?”
“I just don’t like shortening my name. My mom gave me my whole name for a reason, ya know?” he said, while he messed with the straps to his bag. He was fidgeting, just like what I do when I’m talking to new people. This is insane. We really were so similar.
“Oh,” I said. “So, I suppose you’ll just call me Madeline then?”
“Madeline, huh?” he winked, “Would it be alright if I called you that? It’s so beautiful.” Suddenly, I could feel my cheeks turning red, this guy really had an effect on me. I couldn’t believe how easy it was for him to make me blush.
“No, I suppose that wouldn’t be a bad thing. So, now I guess I have to tell you my story then,” I started, right before my order was shouted out to the whole café. “Well, that’s me,” I moved to get up, but Alexander stopped me.
“I’ll get it, they just set mine on the bar as well.”
“Uh, alright. Thanks.” I shot him a smile and he went for our cups, but on his way back, I noticed that he was looking at my drink like it was a foreign object.
“How on Earth do you drink this stuff?” he asked, while holding up my drink and inspecting it. He looked like he was looking at an undiscovered object. Like matcha was the strangest thing ever.
I laughed and asked him, “What do you mean?”
“This dark green stuff… it looks like there’s dirt in your drink.”
“Uh, have you ever tried matcha before? It’s ah-maaaze-iiing,” I informed him.
“No, I haven’t. I don’t tend to drink or eat food that looks like dirt,” he said, and I immediately felt myself start to shut-down. We just met, and he was already criticizing my drink.
“Well, it doesn’t taste like dirt. I’d ask you to try it, but you probably don’t have fantastic taste buds considering you got a grande black coffee at Starbucks of all places,” I snapped.
“Woah, woah, woah… calm down. Madeline,” he grabbed my hand, “I was just kidding.”
I quickly pulled it away from him. “Well, it’s really hard to tell if you’re kidding Alex. I don’t read sarcasm very well with you apparently and I don’t know how to deal with it.” I slowly started to scoot my chair away from the table, “Maybe I’m overreacting, but you’re not great at being facetious.”
He threw his hands up in defeat and said, “Okay, okay, okay. I’m sorry. I’ve been told that my face isn’t very great at expressing itself.” I could see the remorse in his face, and I felt horrible. I really need to stop doing this to everyone. “So, what is it about the diner? I know we just met, but I wish you’d talk to me. There’s just something about your eyes that resonates with me. I want to know everything about the girl who spilled coffee on me,” he said, while rubbing his finger along the outside of his coffee cup lid.
I could feel a wave of warmth wash over me, I seriously needed to interact with more people, I thought to myself. It shouldn’t be this easy for him to make me feel this way. Reluctantly though, it was only fair I told him a little bit about myself, so I decided to tell him, “Okay, well since you told me your weird name thing, that diner actually used to be my parents. The place was originally named Maddy’s after my grandmother, who was also my namesake. At first, it was awesome. They bought it when I was around eleven-years-old. I spent all my summers there, my first job was there, and it was great… until they sold it. Now it’s just a run-of-the-mill restaurant. I’m just glad the new owners kept some of the nostalgia intact even though my parents’ menus aren’t there anymore.”
“I’m really sorry to hear that, it must’ve been hard having to adjust. Have you gone in there since?” he asked, and this time I let him grab my hand. First, this man is everything. He was complex, but I could still understand his quirks at the same time. Second, how did this all come out of a spilled coffee?
Before answering his question, I decided that it was time to leave before things got a little too personal. “Actually, I hate to cut this short, but I should probably get going. Swanson needs me. We can always dig into this later, if you want?” I scooted away from the table.
“Wait, who’s Swanson?”
“My cat. He’s very particular about when he gets his food,” I said while I stood and started to put my backpack on.
“Oh, you have a cat? That’s another interesting note on Madeliiiine… what was your last name? Mine’s Woods,” he said.
“Alexander Woods, huh? That sounds fitting,” I told him. I almost had to stifle a laugh to cover up the irony. This man looked like a lumberjack, and his last name was Woods. He was definitely going to hear about this later; if there is a later. “I’m a MacCarthy. Not like Melissa, more like the usual Scottish last name.”
“So, Madeline MacCarthy. That explains your hair and eyes. Are you Scottish?”
“You know what Alexander, seriously. Let’s save this for another time. I really need to get home to Swanson.”
“Alright, alright, alright. Let me give you my number and we can meet again? Maybe next time you won’t get my shirt dirty,” he joked.
I pulled out a scrap of paper from my backpack and a pen, “Sure, actually, here’s mine. Don’t lose this,” I grinned.
“Oh, trust me. I won’t.”