This is a lonely hotel.
I watch the people file in and out, families with children, briefcase-toting businessmen who can barely remember what city they’re in, lonely people who clearly feel out of place, as I sit on my perch at the in-house bar, a stool on the very end, closest to the door.
I sip the same drink, a glass of deep red wine, dry and biting. It keeps the mind fresh, interrupts the monotony of the passing people, always going, always rushing. It helps me imagine that they have lives, that this fleeting time they spend in a hotel is something they’ll barely recall in a week’s time.
Not like me.
I’ve made this my semi-home, a static place that offers comfort, where nothing changes, yet life still moves. The concierge at the desk. The constant sound of suitcases rolling, their wheels a soft whir on carpet, a steady click on marble. The cheap, beige rotary-dial telephone and its blinking red light. A familiar hand at the bar who always has my preferred wine in stock, the same glass from which to sip it, my leather stool always empty, waiting.
Sometimes, I allow for a diversion.
I glanced up at the television above the bar mirrors, my eyes half-scanning the breaking news headlines at the bottom. My eyes caught a couple of words: “fire,” “abduction,” “present.” And then there was a man beside me.
He was tall with light brown hair, wavy. He was thin but not unbearably so, and I could see his shoulder muscle ripple slightly as he extended his credit card to the bartender.
“Start me a tab,” he said.
Despite the fact that, except for mine, all barstools were empty, he chose to sit close, with one lone stool separating us. I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t exactly an approachable type of girl. I keep my interest, any interest, well-concealed. I respected his restraint.
I was in the mood to play tonight, though.
I took a quick side glance at the drink in front of him. A dirty martini, cloudy green-gray, with two bobbing olives and another three skewered on a glass cocktail sword.
A bit clichéd, but to his credit, he had at least tweaked it to his liking.
I could be that, too.
I slowly swiveled my stool so I was no longer facing the opposite direction, uncrossing my legs.
“I don’t often see pretty girls in hotel bars,” he said, turning to me.
“Well, you haven’t been to too many then, have you?” I asked, curling my lip.
I kept one hand on my wine, my flotation device, a grounding rock to cling to. It would keep me from drifting away, floating onward and upward, like an ownerless balloon.
“I’ve been to my fair share,” he said with a laugh.
“In that case, then, I think it’s safe for me to assume that that’s your go-to line for all of those pretty girls in hotel bars,” I said. I picked up the glass and took a slow sip, letting the liquid tease the tongue, resting on it for awhile, exploring the corners of my mouth before I swallowed.
“You’ve got me all figured out, then, don’t you?” he asked, the smile breaking into a grin. His arms were hunched forward on the bar, his face and shoulders turned to me. He had a perfectly white, square-toothed smile, and his eyes were a deep blue.
He did look like B. In fact, he was almost the spitting image of him, with that smile and those eyes. But wait – there was something off, something different.
While the stranger’s eyes glittered and fixed themselves on me, they didn’t have the same innocent, knowing-but-unknowing profundity as B.’s. They were darker, less green, more blue. A truer shade of blue, a know-where-I-stand blue.
I felt around in my purse, looking for my wallet. Somewhere in there was a photo, edges curling and exposing the white, of a mostly-blurred image: a group of people, four of them, were sitting at a table. The image was mostly an opaque blur of color and light, darkness and bright flashes, unknown shapes throughout, except for a definite, lucid circle toward the middle of the photograph.
There, in the middle, are two faces: mine, laughing at something a faceless body is saying, and B., who is sitting next to me, hunched forward, hands resting on his knees, staring ahead of him. He seems uninterested, but he knows about the waiting game. He knows all of my games.
I quickly excuse myself to use the ladies’ room, clutching my purse, walking slowly and surely away. I don’t want my unknown stranger of a guest to think I’m deserting him. I’m not. I just simply need to see this photo.
In the bathroom stall, I pull out my wallet and begin digging through the mass of receipts and business cards that have accumulated. A panic hits. Is it gone? Did I get rid of it? Lose it?
At the back of my paper mess, I see the familiar fuzzy corner peeking over the leather. A sigh. Thank God. Thank God it’s still there.
I pull it out, feeling the soft ripples of age beneath my fingers, wondering at the living relic that has come to hold so much meaning, like a talisman. I hold my breath, close my eyes, feel it burn in my hands, the density of a promise, the gravity of a past.
The ballast of truth.
I open them, and he is there.