Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Chapter 25 continued

He accepted my invitation, and I stood back to let him pass. His face was unreadable, though I did catch his eyes scan my person and -- I swear -- a look of relief (?) passed over when he saw the pant legs of my pajamas.

What more could I think at this point, as I watched him take a seat at the small table where most of my room service still sat, growing progressively colder and less appealing? His eyes surveyed the meal, no doubt taking stock. I could just hear his mind whirling about my appetite.

"I had breakfast, if you're wondering." Instantly I wanted to take the words back. They were too harsh. Snapping and defensive, as if I were hiding something. It wasn't how I wanted this conversation to begin.

A muscle in his jaw twiched. "I didn't ask." I remembered the last time he sat at a table for a confrontation. Enlighten me, baby. And I'd thrown my wine in his face, furious at his insolence. I wondered if he'd be cocky like that again.

I didn't have any wine this time. A glass of flat soda was as good as it was going to get.

He was studying me now, openly taking in the sight: robe over light cotton pajamas, half-dry hair, not a spot of make-up... a woman standing before him with a million new thoughts and fears rushing through her. If I said the wrong thing, I'd lose him forever. If I said the right thing, and we became more, would I lose him anyway? Would I be enough? Or, once he had me, would he decide that I wasn't enough to ruin a relationship, loveless as it was?

He said he loved me, shouted it actually.  We'd known each other for a few years, but only truly became close when he moved into my office and we started working on the Foyer account together last year. He didn't love me though; he loved the woman he worked with. The one who had more issues then she could count and who kept herself to herself. He didn't know half of me, really.

Frantic apologies for innocent mistakes never crossed my lips at work, nor did pleas for attention. In the office I felt brave enough to speak, to shout, and to tell the truth. At home I shut my mouth and looked down to keep the peace with a man whose affection was purchased with golden silence and a 1950's housewife mentality. Lessons from Aunt Geenie put to good use.

He didn't know about how living tired me and how much I wanted to go back in time and change everything that happened on that day that boy laid me down -- either stop him from the start or let him finish. Perhaps I should have said yes. Would any of those changes change this moment, this here and now? Would a "yes" or a scream have taken me out of this room where this man stared at me with a calm expression and anxious eyes?

Did that memory make me want to challenge men sexually, to see if I could push and prod without another...? Was I testing some sort of limit within myself and was he my experiment? Or was all of this from Reed, who had been trying to convince me that I was meant to be an ornament on his arm?

"How did you find me?" I took a seat on the edge of the bed, not to entice but to distance. I didn't want to be so close that we could touch. Or kiss. Insanely, in spite of my anger and hurt, I wanted to do both -- just throw myself at him and claim what I missed: his touch, his hands on me, his kisses. I wanted to smell him, to bury my head in his neck and just breathe. If we never touched again, today would be enough... if I could have today. I'd take the memories and live on them forever, if I could have today.

Could we have more though? Was it too much to think that we might last for years? I could wait if I knew that... mentally shaking myself, I stopped. It was his turn now. "How did you find me?" I asked again.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Chapter 25: Come In

He found me. Found me at the hotel. And knocked.

In the instant that it takes to open a door, a million thoughts can occur. Outside of my room, on the other side of the door, stood a man who was baffling the hell out of me.

On the other side of that door was someone who could kiss me senseless and who could awaken passion that I forgot existed. He had learned almost instantly how to make me gasp and quake and shiver. Outside of this room was someone who, if I let him in, would no doubt be able to remind me exactly why I was drawn to him in the first place.

On the other side of this door stood the man who was a part of the reason I was here in the first place. Not the cause, mind you, but the impetus to move in this direction... the reminder that I still had too much life left to spend pleasing a man who could never be pleased.

Too, on the other side, was a man who knew about my computer files, about the lawyers at work, and the role I played in the whole mess. He could, very honestly, take me down and destroy -- at the very least -- my career. You know, you don't always think about those things when you should.

When I unlocked the door, what would happen? Would we fall together or fight it out? This man who I thought I knew was a mystery after all. After I opened the door, would I be more inclined to welcome him or toss him out as he had me? Right now, the idea of slamming the door in his face was slightly appealing. Perhaps it would hinge on what he had to say.

"Just a moment," I finally called to him, tightening the belt on my robe and finger-combing my short locks into some semblance of order.

At least my voice sounded normal.

I'm not even sure what I want, I realize. Do I send him back to his wife? Go, get out of here. Solve those problems first. Or keep him, as is, and realize that being second... or even third... fiddle might be preferable.

Back to the door, however. Where he was still waiting, no doubt with a million of his own thoughts. Was he thinking the same? On the other side of this door is a woman I can't understand for anything. Why did I come here? Will she welcome me or will she slam the door in my face?

It's easier to turn the knob, thinking that he's as uncertain.

For days I've been waiting for this, somewhere between sick over the thought and aching to see him. I thought distance and time would cure me. It didn't. I thought that it would lend me perspective, a chance to evaluate and understand what I was doing. It didn't. I still checked my e-mail a dozen time a day, thinking if I checked enough there'd be something. Sometimes I would look away while the screen loaded, thinking that staring might jinx me and leave the box empty.

Words on a screen, nothing more, but enough to make me keep my laptop on constantly, logged into the chat mode with a name only he knows, created for him alone. Just in case. The jumble of symbols deciphered into words and then decoded, full of meaning that we alone give to them... though not always, I think, what we intend to. Now the words between us would be spoken, I would be able to see his face, eyes, posture, and gestures. I would be able to measure my body language to his. I would be able to react accordingly and, above all, salvage some dignity.

All I had to do was open the door and let him in. Then the words that were filling my throat and choking me would finally sound. Meanings would be created, and tonight perhaps I'd sleep without replaying our last conversation, vainly seeking hidden meanings and contradictions. Worse, finding them and trying to understand.

Wrapping my fingers around the doorknob, I remembered our three-hour drive, the way my hand curved around the stick. The way the hum of the motor vibrated through it and into me in a way that always made me feel a part of the car. Fanciful, I know.

Unlike the stick, the doorknob felt cold, almost icy -- though I knew it was my imagination. Knobs are knobs. Doors are doors. And, with a glance behind me, tables are tables. We give meaning, nothing more. The door is only a barrier because I let it be. By keeping it closed I can spare myself his telling me that this running will solve nothing; I can spare myself being told that I wanted some personal absolution. The door keeps me in here, my safe little haven, and keeps him -- and reality -- out.

A click as I slid the deadbolt back. An inch closer to reality, to the words I was sure he would throw at me. But I'd given up hiding from reality eons ago, hadn't I? Those promises darkly made when everyone else was talking about the future as if the present wasn't happening. Staying here and calling off sick just to avoid a man who, mere days ago, was about to take me on the desk in his hotel room...

...and who was now at my door, about to enter my hotel room. If I could turn the knob. You don't believe in hiding, or at least you claim you don't, I reminded myself.

What meaning would I give this meeting...?

Taking a deep breath, steeling myself, I yanked the door open. "You found me." I paused, then, knowing that I was about to seal whatever fate awaited me with my next words. "Come in."

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Chapter 25: Found

And Liam wrote:

I awoke out of a sound sleep and saw the red numbers that lit up my clock’s face. 5:04. I’m never up so early… and almost never up without the alarm. The recently departed dream I’d been having came flooding back. I usually don’t remember my dreams, but this one… this one was strong. I was on the second floor of the antique shop that Meredith and I had browsed one day after lunch together. She was standing, looking at some items on a shelf and I came up behind her and put my arms around her.

We fit together like two upright puzzle pieces. My breathing was quickening.She turned and put her arms around me, kissed me and bit my earlobe. “I missed you, baby.” I said to her. She whispered back. “I missed you too.” Everything about her was so real: her touch, the feel of her skin; her scent; the taste of her mouth. The wooden stairs of the antique shop began to creak and soon the bearded old proprietor appeared and we pulled apart... 5:04 a.m.

It had been three days since I’d seen her. Things at the new satellite office are utter chaos and I was able to lose myself in it, trying to restore… no, create… some semblance of order. I got things down from a high level of disorder to... well… a livable level, a low roar of confusion.

I was now to head back to the main office to give my progress report.That first day back was uneventful… that is after I found out that Meredith had called in sick. Prior to that I practically had to pull my car over on the drive in to work. My stomach was in knots and twice I thought I was going to lose my breakfast. I scraped myself together in the company parking lot, steeling myself for what kind of encounter I could only imagine. I was relieved when Luella said Mer had called in sick.

At noon, I went out to get lunch by myself, which I hate doing alone. I decided to cheer myself up by being adventuresome and see if that Mexican place was still open. I was thinking about a decadent burrito and a side of platanos, the fried plantain bananas that I knew from many years ago when Mrs. Alvarado lived next door. This is (or was) the only place in the city that has them… or used to have them. I hadn’t been there in a long while. It was on the other side of town, not a bad district, but simply in the opposite direction of my place… my old place… from the city center. I just didn’t get out that way often. On my way there, I passed a QuickieMart and decided I’d get something to drink with my burrito. All they ever had at Jimeno’s was this rather nasty soda flavored with tamarind. Sort of a cross between Dr. Pepper and Alka Seltzer. I pulled into the lot and as I looked for a space to park, I noticed the red Shadow parked on the end of the row… unmistakably Meredith's car. 

Reflexively I drove past her car to the other end of the lot and pulled around to the farthest gas pump. I didn’t get out, but I watched the door, transfixed. She came out, dressed in everyday attire, jeans and top, her hair pulled back, sandals on her feet. She headed straight for her car, carrying a large drink and a newspaper. One thing was sure: she wasn’t sick.

I suppose I told myself that I was supposed to see her, all the stars had aligned so that I would see her. I stopped for a drink just at the right moment. Five minutes earlier or later and I would have missed her. And what were the odds of me even being on this side of town? This side of town? Wait a minute… what the hell was SHE doing here? That’s why I followed her. She drove less than ten blocks before she turned into a hotel. Nothing extravagant, but not cheap either. I had been hanging back three or four cars, trying to be inconspicuous. When she turned in, I drove past. I should have looked away as I did, but I couldn’t help looking after her. She disappeared into the hotel garage.

Oh my God… did she leave him? That was my first thought anyway. She never spoke about fights with him.  I guessed that they didn’t… or that she didn’t like to talk about them. Either way, I had known she was unhappy. This was one of those situations where whenever I thought about this man I would think, “If I could meet him and speak freely without fear of consequences, I would LOVE to say to this idiot, ‘Are you blind? Do you have eyes? Don’t you see what you have in front of you? You fool, she is so out of your league… and you’ve lost her… only because you didn’t give her what she needed.’”

Maybe she was visiting someone. Maybe she was on her way to rendezvous with someone else? I paused at this last thought. No. Not that. So… what else could she be doing at a hotel? I was going to find out. Directory assistance connected me to her hotel and I called an asked to leave a message with her never asking of she was there or not. They patched me in to her room phone. I hung up before the first ring even ended. So, she was staying there. Now what? I decided to think it over while I chased down my burrito. My head would be a little clearer after I’d eaten. I just hated the thought of washing it down with that rust remover Jimeno’s passes off as soda.