Friday morning, Hilda heard the coffeemaker gurgling and spitting in the kitchen. She opened her eyes and smiled. Jack’s hard body fit her back like a glove.
She could not think of a better way to start her day.
Jack blew on the back of her neck.
“I know you’re awake.”
“Your breathing changed.”
“The happy sigh?”
“No. That came later.”
“How long have you been awake?”
“Just before you.”
“You set the coffeemaker?”
“Uh-huh. I found the instructions last night.” He put his arm over her and squeezed. “Ready to get up?”
“Actually, yes. I feel like myself again. Thank you for putting up with me.”
“You’re welcome. Still resigned to staying in Charlottesville for Dr. Osborne?”
“Not resigned now: I’m looking forward to it. I really liked him at the interview. Besides, Charlottesville is safer than most other places.”
“I would agree with you there. Shall we sally forth in domesticity and love, then?”
Hilda turned around and put her face nose-to-nose with his. “What does that mean?”
“I was thinking of taking all the panniers empty to Wegman’s and stock up the apartment at least. Do some laundry, then maybe take in a movie tonight or see who’s playing at the Pavilion.”
“That sounds like a plan.” She threw the covers back and sprang from the bed. Jack rolled out, and they both donned bathrobes before trooping to the kitchen for some fresh coffee.
“Emily has her follow-up appointment with Dr. Morgan today. I agreed to go with her.”
“Where will you meet her?”
“She’s coming here at one-thirty.”
“OK. I want to take a walk to the Corner to see what’s new, but I should be here when you get back.”
After the rain Wednesday and Thursday, it was refreshing to ride out the bike lanes on Fifth Street. The sun was brilliant, but the air carried the omen of fall coming soon. There would be more hot, muggy days, but not stretches of them. Posters and signs welcoming the returning students were beginning to appear on the storefronts. They spent an hour in Wegman’s supermarket, restocking all the perishables that the flat lacked. On the way back, Hilda pointed to a two-story brick house set back from Ridge Street. With its broad porch and ancient magnolia trees in the yard, it seemed to welcome visitors who came by foot or got off at the bus stop in front.
“That’s Dr. Osborne’s place,” she said. “It’s just about as far from my place as the ER was in the other direction.”
“So. you can vary your routine again?” Hilda nodded. “Good.” Jack noticed the small wooden sign near the door. “Not much for advertising, is he?”
“He doesn’t need to. I talked to some of the families I know from UVA. He’s been the neighbourhood doctor for twenty years. Went to Charlottesville High School, and his parents still live here.”
“A real family doctor, then?”
“Yup, like something from a 1950’s TV show. Very homey. But he’s sharp, and he keeps up with the research better than most of the doctors I have worked for.”
“I’d like to meet him.”
“You probably will at some point if you stick around.”
A short siren burst behind them startled them both. A Charlottesville motorcycle officer pulled up alongside and waved them over. They straddled their bikes and watched the officer park his steed in the bike lane and come toward them. He was about Jack’s size, and his snug uniform emphasized his excellent physical condition. Jack was absolutely sure they were not doing anything illegal riding down the bike lane. Then he saw Hilda grin.
“Walter, you sonofagun! You didn’t have to scare us like that!” Hilda swung around to Jack. “Jack Rathburn, Sergeant Walter Johnson. I told you about him.”
Jack and Walter shook hands. “Fast work stopping Lee in the ER. Congratulations.”
“Thanks.” He looked uncomfortable. “it was my first one. It still bothers me.”
“Sorry. I’ve been there,” said Jack. “If the feeling never goes away, you’ll know you’re still normal and healthy.”
“Thanks,” Walter nodded in understanding. He smiled at them. “Hey, Hilda, I can’t believe you’re back. The place has been dead since you took off with Emily.”
“Not from what I see on the news.”
“At least this time, we were better prepared. Oops, that’s the third cyclist that has had to go around my bike. I better go. Shariq’s having a birthday party soon. How can I get hold of you?”
“Dr. Osborne. I start there after Labor Day.”
Walter gave her a thumbs-up as he mounted his motorcycle and sped towards downtown.
As they rode the elevator up to the apartment, Jack said, “You know, you haven’t been here a year and you already are tight with the local police, the local Marcus Welby, and countless people all over town.”
Hilda thought about that as they pushed their bikes to the door and she got out her key. “Makes it feel like home — like all the other places I’ve lived before.”
At one-thirty exactly the doorbell rang. Emily was standing there with a big grin on her face. She was in her bicycle kit and holding her Colnago racing bike.
“Hi, Hilda. Are you ready?”
“Of course. Want to walk or ride?”
“Can I leave my bike here? The UVA team is having its first training ride for anyone who is here early, and I want to be there.”
“Assuming that Dr. Morgan clears you.”
“He has to. He even called Mom last week to make sure I got x-rays yesterday.”
“Well, bring in your bike and change your shoes.” Emily leaned her bike against the wall and traded out her cleated road shoes for a pair of sandals. “If you don’t need the sandals afterwards, I can bring them over tomorrow, so you won’t have to carry them in your jersey pockets.”
Jack came out from the kitchen area and gave Emily a hug. “Good luck.” He looked at Hilda. “Let me know.” Hilda nodded. The two women left him there and walked to the UVA Medical Center.
Emily turned pale while sitting in the waiting room. “Oh, Hilda, what if there’s something still not right?”
“After all this time, I can’t see that happening. But what if there is? We’re in the best place possible to do something about it.”
“I guess so.”
“You have your heart set on racing again, don’t you?”
Emily nodded. “If nothing else, I want to know that I can come back as well or better than before. The touring this summer allowed me to see a life after racing, but I want to go for it while I can, if I can.”
Hilda patted her knee. “That’s healthy. You have no bad options, Em.”
The nurse called for Emily. Hilda pulled out her phone to read a book, but the nurse came back out right away.
“Emily doesn’t need a guardian now, but she asked if you would join them. Dr. Morgan agreed.”
“Thank you.” Hilda followed her down a short hall way to an exam room. Dr. Morgan waved and pointed to a chair in the corner, then continued checking Emily’s lungs with his stethoscope. The X-rays were hanging on light boxes on the wall. He went through the standard physical routine: tapping knees, testing for feeling in the feet, checking skin and range of motion of her arms and legs. Finally, he stared for a long time at the X-rays.
“Well, that’s all in here. Let’s go to my office.”
The office held a large desk, two visitor’s chairs. Medical books lined the walls, with no room for the certificates or other pictures. Hilda already knew about those from his on-line biography. They took their seats in front of the desk while Dr. Morgan went around to his big chair behind the desk.
“Emily, frankly, I’m surprised — calm down, now. It’s good news. Usually, some permanent sign of the fractures should be visible, but I consulted with two radiologists, and they can’t see anything either. We’ve never seen such a complete healing.”
“Can I train now?” Emily asked expectantly.
“Yes,” he said with a smile. “You’re fully released. Just look out for oil spots on the road.”
“I’ve learned to look out for more than that this summer.”
“Yes, I saw the news. Impressive.” He looked at Hilda.
“Nurse Paisley, thank you. I’m convinced that she would not have healed this well without the steady exercise of the tour this summer. And I am especially grateful that you brought her back to me in one piece.” He winked and smiled.
They rose and shook hands. Emily was glowing with excitement on the way back to Hilda’s flat. Hilda was glad that her stride was longer than Emily’s or she would have had to run.
Jack had a pair of protein bars in his hands when they walked in.
“I know you won’t stay for coffee, but here’s a pickup to put in your now shoe-less pockets.” He put them in her jersey as she bent over to slip into her cleated shoes.
“Thanks, Jack. Mariana said that they would be at the Outdoor Rec building in about fifteen minutes. I can just make it.”
She gave them both a hug and clattered out the door.
“Well, I take it there were no surprises,” he asked Hilda as he poured two mugs of coffee.
“Actually, there were. She healed so completely that her bones showed no marks from the fractures. That’s extremely rare.”
“Morgan and his friends did some extremely rare work on her, I’ll bet.”
“They did. I am glad that we’re going to the Dempsey’s for dinner tomorrow. I can’t wait to see how she feels after her first training ride with no holds barred.”
They sipped their coffee in silence for a minute. Hilda liked the fact that Jack always waited before changing the subject.
“I called Ted while you were gone.”
“Nothing new on the Forebears or anyone else chasing us. He had just talked to Pete. They have two cases that they are collaborating on, in addition to the Forebears. But guess who’s in town?”
“Here or there?”
“Charlottesville.” He smiled when she shrugged.
“Your deputy in Baghdad?”
“The same. He’s the new PM at Rivanna Station out on US-29 north.”
“That’s the National Ground Intelligence Center. Big job.”
“It’s a small base now, but NGIC is not the only activity there; more are coming in all the time.”
“I’m happy for him. He impressed me.”
“Me, too. Anyway, I agreed to ride out there and pay him a visit on Monday.”
Hilda’s phone rang. “Dr. Osborne,” she mouthed with a surprised look.
“Hello, Dr. Osborne. I was going to call you this afternoon…The 27th? I guess I could. Sure… See you then, sir. Bye.” She rang off. “Seems that one of his nurses was injured in a car crash last week, and they would like me on board before the school year starts.”
“That’s OK, isn’t it?”
“Sure. I don’t need a Labor Day weekend, unless you have something planned.”
“Nope. I haven’t planned anything farther than Fridays After Five today at the Downtown Mall.”
They put their mugs in the dishwasher, then showered and changed to walk to the Mall.
Emily’s legs were burning, but her main problem was air. There was something different about her breathing. She could not find the balance she needed between frequency and volume of each inhalation. Mariana, Megan and Amber did not seem to be working as hard as she was, but no one was much for conversation as they blew down and up one ravine after another until they reached Route 151 and turned south into Nelson County. Riding parallel to the watershed provided some relief, and she concentrated on her breathing even as she kept up speed with the others. They took turns pacing the drafting line, which became more efficient on the 151 and Highway 6. Before she knew it, they were turning north on US-29 near the museum dedicated to The Walton’s TV show and heading back to Charlottesville. Long-haul truckers favoured this section of US-29, but they were used to the traffic, and the shoulder was wide and smooth. By five p.m. they were rolling into Charlottesville on Fontaine Avenue, spinning out easily as they cooled down. They locked their bikes outside Starbucks on the Corner, where they could keep an eye on them from inside.
“I’m buying,” said Mariana. “you’re on your own the rest of the year.”
They lined up at the cash register. Emily remembered the tall blond barista from before her tour.
“Strawberry Frappuccino, no whip and a scoop of protein?” he asked.
“You remembered!” said Emily. She admired him as he ran off each rider’s favourite drink and rang up the tab.
“Haven’t seen you all summer, but I know where you’ve been. How’s your handsome lieutenant?”
Emily blushed. “How do you know about him?”
“With all those paparazzi, someone had to put out a couple of memes of you two. More fun than Megan and Harry.” He leaned over the register. “I have Facebook friends in Montréal. My Canadian peeps kept me posted.”
Emily groaned, but she could not feel bad about it. The barista made her feel welcome, and it felt good to be back where people knew you for yourself. She joined the others at the pickup point, and they carried their cold drinks back to the front window.
“How is everyone?” asked Mariana. Megan and Amber said “fine,” but they had been racing all summer and were in top shape. “I’m not so fine,” said Mariana. “I spent the last month with my family without the bike. How about you, Em?”
“I feel out of shape, but mainly because my breathing was off. I did not expect that. And the ravines were something that I did not miss touring this summer.”
“They’re a workout, all right,” said Amber. “None of the race courses have the interval training feel of those ravines.”
“You kept up pretty good, Em,” said Mariana. “I think you’re going to rock again next year.”
“Well, don’t ask me tomorrow. I’ll bet I pay for this little metric century.”
Mariana gave her a hug. “I’m so glad that you are back on the team. Look, guys, I gotta run home. See you Tuesday?” They all nodded and watched Mariana clatter back to her bike. Emily and her friends finished their drinks, catching up on the races that Megan and Amber had done that summer. They both had followed Emily’s kidnapping thanks to VeloNews but were not aware of her other adventures. Emily did not volunteer much; what they had read was exciting enough. They finished up and gave each other a parting hug by the bike rack. Emily rode over to Cabell Hall in time to catch her mother coming out. They rode home together.
Saturday evening, Jack and Hilda rode to Brandywine Drive for dinner. It felt familiar and safe. Jack and Katherine both noticed how well Hilda relaxed.
“I’m glad to see you unwound, Hilda. May I ask what upset you in particular about those men on the I-64 ramp? Emily tried to explain it, but I would like to understand your perspective.” Mark and Emily stopped chatting with Jack and were looking at her expectantly. Jack gave a small smile of encouragement.
“It was more than the clowns at I-64, Katherine,” she said. It was the whole day. Just about from the moment we left Doswell, we saw one truck or motorcycle after another headed east flying the Stars and Bars or sporting swastikas or both. I was a wreck by then time we reached that ramp.”
Katherine paused and thought. She said, “I know a thing or two about oppression, being a student of feminist literature, but you seemed to handle all that Confederate flag stuff before. What was different on Tuesday?”
“It was the combination, and all that it brought up for me. After I joined the Army, I had to learn about being black in America, including learning to see the Confederate flag as a threat. Remember that I’m half-German. I wasn’t aware of being black as a child, but I grew up keenly aware of the scars my mother’s people carry from the Nazi era. Swastikas are illegal in Germany, and everyone is very sensitive about that dark part of our history. Seeing those two symbols flaunted again and again just got to me. I’ve never felt so depressed and discouraged in my life.” She looked at Jack and put her hand out to him. “Thanks.”
“Thank you, too, Hilda,” said Katherine, “for being willing to share that. I have tried to understand how these symbols work, and sometimes just doing my research gets me down. I admire your guts.”
They ate silently for a while. Then Hilda asked, “on a different note, I don’t see you limping, Em. How was training yesterday?”
“I’m sore. But not as much as I expected to be. The riding this summer kept things in better shape than I expected.”
“It’s fun with no load, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but they were going a good 20 kilometres per hour faster than we let me go this summer. My breathing was screwed up. We rode 100 kilometres and I didn’t get the balance right until we were almost back in Charlottesville.”
“Sounds like you’re already working it out.”
“Oh, yes. But I’ll still need to work on those ravines and ride longer races.”
“I think our days as Emily’s riding partners are over, Katherine.”
“I think so. Would you like to pedal around with an old lady once in a while?”
“Sure. Maybe we could get Jack and Mark to come along – just to make them feel bad.”
The two men laughed as heartily as the women.
“It’s a deal, then. If the Pinarello’s too fast, I can ride the Diverge to even us up.”
They agreed to meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays after work.
That night back in the flat, Hilda lay in Jack’s arms and stared at the ceiling.
“Everyone is home and settling in for a routine year, except you, Jack. What are you going to do when I go to work?”
“Right now, one day at a time, dear. I have more choices than I want to consider right now, and I think a couple more may come up soon.”
“You mean Giles in Montréal?”
“Or Ted in Aberdeen, or a half-dozen other Army buddies who could use my skill set.”
“I’ll hate to see you go.”
“You may not have to. Let’s see what happens.”
She did not want to think about it. Instead she rolled over and kissed him…
Until next week,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,