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An iPhone jingle set off the morning and startled my eyes open into a blurred mist of soft light and dull fabrics. I attempted to silence the alarm, but my efforts went in vain as my reach remained shortsighted by a body anchored onto me. I silenced the noise after dozens of tactical spastic motions, alas without waking her.
Twilight crept into our barren room as specs of warm maroons and magentas sputtered along hardwood floors. It reflected off the ground, littering a bushy bed head lying across my chest. Emily’s soft breath brushed against my neck.
“Em,” I whispered, “get up.” I ran my fingers up tangled thick hair.
Emily never wanted to get out of bed when we were together, although she always made plans to get up early.
“What time is it,” she mumbled, fleeing under the covers.
“Sevenish,” I yawned, “You wanted to get started early, remember?”
“You want to sleep all morning?”
She didn’t say a word.
“Get out of bed,” I groaned, uttering every syllable as I dragged her out.
After thirty minutes of wrestling, showers, brushed teeth, and dressing ourselves, we stumbled out the door of our accommodation and into the streets.
New Orleans had been brief but eccentric as we staggered down a desolate Bourbon Street, unkempt in last night’s attire. Cool, sober air from the new year swept the French Quarter as did the working class with dustpans and brooms. Excrement, sin, and foulness baptised by the holiness of street hoses and forgiven by commuting musicians and custodians.
As we approached the gravesight of a once Spanish “Plaza de Armas”, Jackson Square, our tour of the French Quarter ended, cut short and swept up by gusts off the morning Mississippi. Scents of fried dough and powdered sugar encompassed us as the fragrance spun around us in the midst of loud crowds and sultry blues music. In front of us stood Cafe du Monde. We entered without second thought.
The cafe was opened twenty-four hours a day and was situated between the Mississippi and Decatur Street. As a high volume cafe, dozens of tables and servers lined the outdoor portion of the restaurant, under the canopy of green tarp. Patrons turned in and out for beignets and chicory coffee as the chilling January draft followed them. We were greeted by a kind, Southern gentleman the moment we sat down. Emily ordered us two orders of each item.
“You’ve been awfully quiet this morning,” Emily said.
“I’m quick to rise, but slow to start,” I said, rubbing my eyes, “I just need some coffee.”
And then, like clockwork, the waiter arrived, prompt and courteous, placing our plates and coffees in front of us. I payed the man and sipped my coffee.
“Well, there’s your coffee,” she cooed, gently smiling for a reaction.
“And here it is,” I said, looking across to Emily, “you look so beautiful this morning.”
Her eyes squinted and rolled away from my gaze, “You’re ridiculous.”
“You are. I’m a mess, love.”
She wasn’t wrong, but her elegant demeanor complimented her aesthetic. Delicate posture, nestled under bushels of hair follicles floating loosely in bursts of light breezes. She sat in front of me, and I knew she looked beautiful today. Her cheeks flushed under a thin layer of eyeshadow, blended into soft shades. My thoughts were too wiry but shameless in admiration.
“Maybe you’re right,” I said, “but I think you’re wrong.”
“You’re entitled to that.”
I grabbed her hand and smiled.
In the distance, soothing toots carried the lewd throttle of a boisterous man with a trumpet as he approached the front entrance of the cafe and erected a stool to sit on. We watched as he nodded and toot, toot, tooted away. His voice was foul, yet homey as he sang and paused to interact with people coming and going. He had a story about every city in The States. He played Blues.
“You’re doing it again,” Emily yawned, slow in a drawl.
“You’re so quiet.”
“I’m just enjoying the scenery,” I said, watching the trumpet player.
“Don’t act like you’re being normal.”
I smiled, finishing the last bit in my mug, “The coffee just hasn’t hit me yet.”
“Well then, come on,” Emily said, getting out of her seat, “Let’s walk.” She grabbed my hand and tugged. “You’ve paid, right? Let’s go.”
I watched her reflection glisten with speckles of fresh light from the rising sun off the Mississippi. She took us to the riverwalk with all the joggers and dog walkers and bicyclists. I followed behind as she darted into the horizon.
The wind blew harder the further we walked along the path. Frigid winter air off the Gulf Coast cut through my coat and made my spine shake. It was there Emily stopped and approached a rocky beach off the path.
As she staggered ahead along the small boulders in the river, the gusts picked up. It blew hard, pushing her tiny frame back towards me, and I caught her as she fell back.
“Be careful, dear.”
“I know. I’ll be careful,” She said, lumbering ahead.
I reached out and pulled her back by the arm, “No, Em.”
“What’s wrong?” She asked, confused.
“I love you.”
She was staring at me. I embraced her and we kissed. But the wind kept up, skimming moisture off from the top of the Mississippi and coating our heads.