Morning Glory

Sleep was a rare commodity that night. The discomfort in my hand combined with lingering embarrassment, excitement and trepidation about the upcoming fight, and a constant desire for relief from it all managed to combine forces to keep me awake for all but an hour.

The longest – and last – stretch of sleep I achieved ended with a nightmare so vivid that I rolled out of bed, the sudden contact with the floor jolting me awake. When my eyes adjusted to the low light in the room I realized that I was only a few inches away from the ground powder which remained of my painkillers.

I stared at the mess for a few seconds, a small voice screaming at me to lick it right off the carpet, before I angrily pushed myself to a seated position, my back resting against the bed. I ran a hand over my prickly scalp, saw that it was just before 4 am, and heaved a deep sigh.

“Might as well give up now,” I muttered. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I struggled to my feet with a low groan. I moved to the bathroom, losing my boxer briefs along the way, and flicked on the light.

“Ow,” I moaned, “too bright.”

When I was done squinting I began to unwrap the bandage on my injured hand. The area was extremely tender and each movement sent bolts of pain shooting up my arm but I continued until the wrapping dropped to the floor.

I reached into the stall and turned the water on. While I waited for the water to heat up I studied my reflection in the small mirror above the sink. The bags under both eyes confirmed that I was in desperate need of a lengthy hibernation and the lines around my eyes seemed to have deepened overnight. And… was that a grey hair on my chest?

“Jesus. I’m getting old.”

Having seen enough, I disappeared into the shower to let my exhaustion and worries be seared away by the scalding water. It felt good to let the powerful spray massage my hand, so I let it do so until the heat in the enclosed space made me lightheaded.

I wrapped a hotel towel around my waist and returned to the bedroom to get my shaving cream and razor. After a slight hesitation, I moved to the window and cracked it open to let in the cool night air. I waited until the change in temperature served its purpose in slapping me until I was alert enough to shave, then closed it and went back to the bathroom.

Thankfully that was not the first time I’d injured my right hand badly enough to make it useless, otherwise shaving with my left would have been a bloody affair. It took a little longer than doing it with my natural hand, but the end result was about the same: a smooth coating of skin from front to back, with only my eyebrows maintaining their hairy ground.

After careful consideration I decided that I looked at least six months younger clean shaven. And that I needed to sleep for a week straight.

While I waited for dawn to arrive I sat on the edge of the bed and thought about Cara, Dawn, Alex, Gregor, and my infuriating right hand. My brain would not give me a moment’s peace. As soon as the sun poked an eye over the horizon I was on my feet and heading for the door, slipping my jacket on as I went.

I had planned on waiting for Alex in the lobby but Doris was already setting up shop at her desk when I exited the elevator. Thankfully she had her back turned at the perfect moment so I slipped outside before I could be seen.

“Not a bad start to the day,” I told the morning, a puff of white cloud carrying my words for a short distance before dispersing, “as far as omens go.”

Walking around the block that held the hotel at its center helped to ease some of my night tensions and the fresh air seemed to clear my head. When Alex didn’t appear after my first loop, I decided to do another, and then one more.

“Is that... are you actually smiling?” Alex asked when I found him shivering outside the doors.

“It’s a beautiful morning, why shouldn’t I be smiling?” I nodded towards the cloudless blue sky overhead and he just shook his head in disbelief. “I take you’re not a morning person?”

“Take me to coffee.”

“Luckily for you I know just the place. Come on.”

I let my feet guide us to a coffee shop so small it could almost fit in my back pocket, the tiny sign over the door letting the keen-eyed passerby know that Artemis waited inside with a fresh pot of coffee. Alex looked at me doubtfully but practically ran inside once I opened the door for him and the scent of roasting beans entered his nostrils.

We had the place to ourselves, which simply meant we were the first to arrive – there was only one table in the corner. Anyone who arrived after us would have to get their caffeine to go until we chose to vacate our post.

“Do they serve food here?” Alex asked once he had gratefully downed half of the contents of his red and grey mug.

“You can get a muffin to go but I’d suggest holding off until we get to a proper cafe.” I glanced casually at the young woman attending to the various brewing machines behind the counter before lowering my voice. “There’s a reason they only advertise having coffee here. I’ll take you somewhere that has food your body can actually digest once you’re done.”

After he’d drained the last drop of his coffee and his eyes regained some vitality we went back out into the cold and hung a left. I had no particular destination in mind so when we encountered a cosy establishment that was already three-quarters full we stopped and went inside.

There was a pleasant, communal feeling in the air that only comes from genuinely friendly staff and loyal customers who keep coming back week after week. Once I was able to confirm that the food was as comforting as the atmosphere I added it to my mental list of places to come back to.

“Ah, now I feel human again,” Alex announced as he fork clattered down on his plate, his eggs, bacon, and toast having vanished without a trace. “How is your hand doing this morning?”

“It would prefer to be numb but it’s not complaining too loudly about it,” I said as I retracted and extended my fingers a few times. “I’ll have to get Doc to put another bandage on it but for now it feels good just to let it breathe again. You ready to roll?”

“Yes. Is the castle in walking distance?”

“Everything is within walking distance,” I said with a half smile as I stood up, “some places just take longer to get to than others.”

“I think that I liked you better when you were miserable,” Alex said with a grimace.

“I’ll take that as a compliment. Come on, let’s go storm a castle.”

The End

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