I ring the doorbell. Maddy answers the door; shes wearing my Spinanes shirt and a pair of pajama pants. Across the front of the shirt is a bright red scar of spilled KoolAid and her hair is in pigtails. I look at her and fall in love all over again; its the greatest feeling in the world. She is my salvation from everything that drags me down.
Heya, Mad, I say.
She gives me a hug and says, Happy new year, Sonny.
We go inside. She hushes me. Dont make too much noise. Thomas is sleeping. She sits on the couch and I go to the kitchen.
Can I have a glass of water? I ask.
Its apparent that neither of us are really in the mood for talking.
What are you watching?
She stares at the TV. Her attention is focused on the screen. Television always puts her brain on autopilot. Responses are delayed, simple, and to the point. After a few moments, she answers: Muppet Treasure Island. Thomas favorite movie.
I let my body fall next to her on the couch. The living room is lit by the television alone, the walls and the furniture aglow in a radioactive blue. How was the party? she asks quietly, without taking her eyes from the screen.
Bleh, I say. Its the all-encompassing answer for everything that is unworthy of a detailed explanation. I hate parties.
I finish off the glass of water and burp. Maddy reaches over with the pillow shes cuddling and hits me. I giggle. Her eyes never leave the screen.
Sleepy, I lay my head in her lap. My buzz has worn off and a calm washes over me. We watch the Muppets in their pirate garb as the first morning of the new year carries on. Maddy runs her fingers through my hair over and over again, petting my head like a cat. Being here, lying on her couch, its perfect. Absolutely perfect, like a dream. Heaven comes to us in small doses.
My mind is drifting. Minutes pass, they seem like hours. The world is slipping by, my life is slipping by. My eyes are closed. I breathe in. I breathe out.
I cant tell if Im awake or asleep. I hear myself say, Have I ever told you how I'm a sucker for girls in pigtails?
Maddys fingers run through my hair.
I fall asleep.
* * *
When I wake up, I hear Maddys voice in a half-whisper: Thomas! Dont do that!
Something soft pokes my nose. A pause, and it happens again.
Leave him alone! Hes sleeping! I hear her bare feet on the floor, walking over to the couch.
That soft thing keeps poking me. I open my eyes. A tiny finger is pointing at me in the center of my field of vision. Thomas is giggling. Maddy kneels down behind him, wraps her arms around his tiny frame, puts her chin on his shoulder and smiles at me. Morning, sunshine, she says.
Playfully, I say, Who was that poking me? Was it you -- Thomas?! I reach over with one hand and tickle him. He squirms, but Maddy holds him in place, allowing me to exact my revenge. Thomas laughs uncontrollably.
I reach over and grab him with both hands. I pull him over to the couch, lift him up bench-press style, and shake him vigorously. The boy cannot stop laughing. This is what you get for waking me up! I say.
Maddy stands up, grabs Thomas from my hands, and proceeds to spin him around. The kid laughs still. She puts him down and he runs away.
Maddy sits on the couch, squishing my legs against the cushions. She says, You know, Thomas is really happy when youre around. Ive never seen him react to someone so well.
Hes a great kid.
Youre pretty great.
Thanks. Am I blushing?
She leans over and kisses my forehead. She runs her fingers over my temple. I mean it. Youre awesome. Im glad youre here. The one thing that I was afraid of was that Thomas wouldnt have a man in his life. You know, a father figure. But now hes got you.
Im at a loss for words. She knows what Im thinking, though: Of course. Of course, Ill treat Thomas as if he were my own. Of course Ill be here for you, Maddy. You have always been my favorite.
We look at each other for a few moments, smiling. Maddy has the most beautiful smile. She leans in again, and kisses me on the lips.
I never thought our first kiss would happen like this. So simple, so everyday. No dramatic music playing in the background like in a movie, like I imagined things would happen.
I open my eyes, she pulls back with hers still closed and smiling.
As she sits upright, her eyelids open to reveal the brown eyes I fell in love with the first time I saw them. Would you like some coffee? she asks.
Sounds great, I reply.
She goes to the kitchen. From there, she shouts, Thomas! Fruit Loops!
The lad comes scampering out of his room and seats himself at the table. Maddy pulls the box from the top of the fridge, pulls the milk from inside, and plops a bowl down in front of Thomas. Knock yourself out, sweetie.
I sit up on the couch, my clothes crumpled from a short nights sleep. Its early. Must be eight in the morning. Maddy walks over with a cup for me. I thank her and she gives me a wink. Im not sure how she can function on so little sleep, but she always does. Shes radiant.
I take a sip and not only is it frightfully hot, it is brutally strong. I wince from both.
Thomas pours some cereal into the bowl, followed by the milk. The milk comes out in clumps. Man, things are so much worse around here than I thought. Before I can say anything, he shoves a spoonful into his tiny mouth. The look on his face is priceless. He spits it out back into the bowl and I laugh.
Maddys fishing through the cabinets for something. Yeah hon?
Somethings wrong with the cereal.
I laugh harder. Maddy looks at me funny. Whats wrong with you? she thinks. She looks into the bowl and starts laughing, too. Only she attempts to control it.
Oh honey, Im so sorry! Its not the cereal! Its the milk. Its spoiled. Did it taste bad? She puts her hand on the top of his head, the way truly loving mothers do.
See how its all lumpy? Next time, dont drink it if its lumpy like that, okay? Maddy pushes her hair back and sighs. Well, I guess well have to go out to eat. She looks at me and says, Whaddya think?
Awesome, I say, wired from the single sip of coffee.