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Interlude

21 Jul
Interlude
Interlude
A Love Story

 
      Mark Stirling sighed as he slipped the key from the ignition. He closed his eyes and let the tension flow from him, breathing a thank you that the day, and the week leading to it, was finally over.
     But indulging in self-pity accomplished little, so he extracted the travel suitcase from the trunk and turned to the building that fronted the road.
     The stylized number eight of the Super-Eight motel chain gave small comfort. The dilapidated cabins that lined the parking lot, said that the place probably dated from the 1950s and would supply little in the way of amenities.
     Gravel crunched underfoot as he made his way toward the office. Unfortunately, moving closer brought no improvement, only curiosity as to how the old place had survived. Its rural location and lack of competition probably helped. But still, that it had survived spoke in its favor.
     The old-fashioned screen door screeched a shrill welcome, closing behind him with the flat slap of wood against wood as he stepped inside.
     Shaking his head at a room that perfectly fulfilled the promise of the outside of the building, he started across the bare concrete floor toward the check-in desk, an ancient merchandise case of glass and wood, straight out of the nineteen-forties. Inside the case, an assortment of sundries stood on display, including a bottle of white liquid labeled Wildroot Cream-Oil that he took to be a hair-care product of some kind.
     “Hello, and welcome,” the heavyset man behind the counter said, smiling. “You’ll be wanting a room?”
     His cheerful voice added a promising note to the place, at least.
     “Just for the night.”
     “Where’ya headed?” he asked, as he spun the old fashioned registration book to face the guest’s side of the counter.
     With a trace of bitterness he couldn’t suppress, Mark said, “Philly, if things go better tomorrow than they did today.”
     “Oh-oh… Car trouble?”
     “Uh-huh.” Bending to sign the book he added, “My transmission seems to have blown a clutch, so I’ve spent part of the day waiting for the tow-truck and the rest waiting for the mechanic to get around to working on it.”
     “Hottenstein’s place?”
     “I think so. It’s about three miles toward the turnpike from here?”
     “That’s him. He’s a good man. If it can be fixed, Zack Hottenstein can do it.”
     “Maybe,” he said, without enthusiasm. “But not today. He can’t get the parts until tomorrow morning, at the earliest.” At the man’s curious look in the direction of the front door, he added, “The owner let me use one of his cars for the night.”
     “Like I told you,” he said. “A good man.”
     “Mmm… Is there a place nearby where I can eat?”
     “Uh-huh. Keep on down the road for a mile or so, Lydia’s place is on the left.” The man was silent for a moment, then ventured. “On your way home to the wife?”
     “Not married, I’m afraid.”
     The man cocked his head for a moment, then shook it as he said, “I’d have figured you for the marrying type.”
     That brought a chuckle, and “Oh I am, or will be if I find the right woman. At the moment I’m headed for a new job in Philly…if I ever get there.”
     “Ahh…” The man leaned an elbow on the countertop, tapping a finger against his cheek for a moment before venturing, “You knew what the problem was with the car, and you have the look of someone who’s handy with a wrench, so I’m guessing you’re…” He stood and threw a finger in Mark’s direction, saying, “I figure you for a mechanical engineer.”
     Mark turned the registration book back to face the man, who had reached back to take a key from a pegboard mounted on the wall.
     “Good guess. I design industrial conveyor systems—or will if the damn car holds together long enough to get me to Philadelphia.”
     About to hand over the key, the man hesitated, and said, “Say, are you in a hurry?”
     Mystified, he shook his head. “Not any more. What did you have in mind?”
     “Well, if you can give me a few minutes, I’m taking a sort of survey, to get a feel for the type of people who stop here.”
     “Well…” He glanced around the seedy lobby, suppressing the headshake the view wanted to generate. That, and the tired looking cabins that stretched the length of the parking lot gave little to be positive about. But mentioning that wouldn’t be very diplomatic, so he said, “I’m afraid I’m not the typical traveler.”
     “That’s okay,” the man said, cheerfully, reaching for a clipboard he had hanging on the wall. “You count, too…grab one of those chairs and set yourself down for a bit.” Without waiting, the man came around the counter, heading toward a group of worn chairs clustered around an equally ancient table.
     With a “what the hell,” shrug, Mark took one of the other chairs and settled into it. With nearly an hour before dinner this might kill some time.
     “Okay,” the man said, pencil poised and sounding as though about to gather information of earthshaking importance. “Name and age?”
     “Mark Sterling, and I’m twenty-six.” The man recorded that at the top of the form and stopped to admire his handiwork before continuing on with such things as marital status and occupation. The man even requested income, data he declined to supply—though he did admit to “middle class,” when pressed.
 
     After five minutes of increasingly personal questions, none relating to his opinion of the motel, it was time to bring things to a halt. What possible connection could his religious beliefs have to do with selecting a room for the night?
     Before he could speak, though, the man put the clipboard aside, smiling.
     “Well, that ought to do nicely.” He studied Mark for a moment before murmuring, “Very nicely.”
     Standing, then, he walked to the counter. To Mark’s surprise, he placed the room key he had been holding back on the pegboard and picked another, saying, “I think you’ll like this room better.” He pointed in the direction of the line of cabins, as he said, “It’s second from the end…number fourteen.”
     Feeling as though things had been happening of which he was only partially aware, he took the proffered key. But the man at the garage had said nice things about the motel’s owner, and though old, the place was spotlessly clean, so he headed toward the room.

*

     Cabin fourteen appeared to be exactly like all the others: tiny, drab, and badly in need of paint. For a moment, he stood in the gravel parking lot fronting the line of cabins. Was it worth the effort of driving to some more modern place? The innkeeper, in response to his request for a wake-up call at seven, supplied an ancient wind-up alarm clock, explaining that the cabin had no phone.
     But he had already paid, so with a shrug, he dug in his pocket for the key. A look around before making any final decision made sense.
 
     “Hello? I’ll be out in a minute.”
     A woman’s voice, coming from what could only be the bathroom, was unexpected. He backed out to compare the number on the cabin’s door with that on his key. They matched. A quick glance inside showed the room to be neat and made up, but the clothes-rack was in use and the dresser-top showed evidence of occupancy.
     “I’m sorry,” he called, backing through the door once more. “I think I’m in the wrong room.”
     “No, wait!” she called. “Give me a minute.”
      Wait? Mystified, he stood in the doorway, unsure of what to do. He should close the door, to keep the insects out, but the idea of entering a stranger’s room, especially following that odd encounter with the innkeeper, required more confidence than the situation generated. A quiet “Damn!” from the bathroom did little to reduce confusion. After a moment a toilet flushed, followed, a few moments later, by the opening of the bathroom door.
     A young woman emerged. The room lights were off, and she was partly in shadow, but at a guess she couldn’t be over twenty. She wore jeans, a brightly patterned tee-shirt, and a face that glowed red with embarrassment. She was tall for a woman, but still, several inches under his six feet—and slim.
     “I’m sorry,” she began. “I didn’t expect anyone for another hour or so, or I wouldn’t have been…been…” Her face reddened still further, as she gestured toward the closed door of the bathroom.
     “I’m Myra,” she finally said, as though that explained everything.
     Apparently, the hotel also functioned as the local bawdy house, and the manager had either given him the wrong key, or thought he might be interested in a bit of sexual entertainment before dinner.
     “I’m sorry, I…” Feeling foolish, he took a deep breath and started over. “I’m afraid there’s been a mistake. I’m supposed to be in a regular room for the night, not…not visiting you. I think I—”
     “It’s okay,” she said, motioning for him to come in and close the door. “This is your room. It’s just that I…well, I come with it, if…if that’s okay with you.”
     “Okay? I…you come with the room? What in the hell does that mean?”
     Either he had stepped into the set of a movie, or was involved in an elaborate practical joke. The odds said practical joke, and that the interview had kept him in the lobby as a delaying tactic to give the actress time to get ready. He glanced around, seeking the camera lens that must be concealed nearby. Perhaps behind the mirror above the dresser?
     “I’m sorry, I’m not doing this very well,” she said, apologetically. “But this is the first time for me, and.…” She stopped, chewing on her lip and looking uncomfortable, eyes downcast.
     She comes with the room and I’m her first customer? Good God, I’ve stepped into crazy.
     But standing half in and half out of crazy seemed silly, so he took a step forward and allowed the door to close, plunging the room into shades reminiscent of twilight, yielding to curiosity and committing to at least see which way things went.
     Her quiet, “Thank you,” gave some sense of re-assurance. Still, with no idea of how to proceed, he waited for her to go on, while mulling over what little he knew.
     A trace of perfume hung in the air—something light and floral. Had she applied it in anticipation of his arrival, or was it simply the scent trail of her cosmetics? Certainly she didn’t seem the type to turn to prostitution, or look like one. Her mode of dress seemed more suited to an afternoon in the park than a seduction, and she appeared to be wearing little makeup—though both could be the result of his arriving earlier than expected.
     With a visible effort she straightened her spine, though she kept her gaze riveted on the floor, avoiding his eyes. She had a nice face, though, but, again, not the face of a prostitute.
     She wasn’t especially noteworthy—her face too thin for true beauty, her nose a trace too large. But attractive fit well. Certainly someone to be interested in were they have met under more normal circumstance.
     “Is there anything I can do?” he ventured, when she didn’t speak.
     She waved a hand in negation. “No, just give me a minute.” Then, with a shake of the head to settle her hair she moved toward the nightstand and turned on the lamp, then sat primly on the corner of the bed, pointing to the room’s only chair as she did so.
     “Sit there and I’ll explain.” She met his gaze then, with eyes of sunset blue, deep and compelling.
     Wow. To cover his reaction he turned the chair away from the battered old table and sat, noting with distaste that bare concrete floored the room, like the office, without even a token covering of tile or paint. The rest of the room fulfilled the promise of that floor, fairly shouting the word cheap.
     “Okay,” she said, forcing a smile into her voice. “I’m not very good at this. But like I said, this is my first time. So I—”
     “What do you mean your first time? Your first time with a…a man? Because if you—”
     “Let me finish,” she ordered, a little testily.
     “Sorry.”
     “It’s okay. But let me finish before you ask questions.”
     He held up his hands in surrender, then motioned for her to continue.
     “Okay…the problem is that the mines in this area have been closing down for years, and there aren’t any jobs.”
     “And?”
     “And everyone who can has moved away, especially the younger men.” Her voice carried tones of bitterness as she said, “Which means there’s no jobs available for a woman, and no men she might marry.”
     “So you have to turn to this to live?”
     “If by, ‘this,’ you mean sex for money, the answer is no.”
     “But you said…” Things were no clearer now than before she had began her explanation.
     “I said I came with the room. But I am most definitely not a prostitute, so get that out of your mind right now. I’m here to talk to you, and help you unpack, and to keep you company.”
     She waved a hand to indicate the room.
     “You may have noticed that there’s no television set. I’m here instead.”
     He blinked several times before saying, “You’re kidding. There has to be more.”
     She shrugged. “Well, I clean up and make the bed in this and three other cabins, and in return I have a place to stay and a few bucks for food. There’s a couple of other girls staying here, too, doing the same thing.”
     He shook his head. Definitely not your average motel. He waved a hand in inquiry. “So where do you sleep?”
     That brought color to her cheeks and a trace of hesitation in her voice, as she said, “When there’s no one here I use the bed.” She averted her eyes, as she added. “I’m supposed to…well there’s a pad in the closet that I can put in the corner.”
     “And if the man using the room offers you money to…to be more friendly? What would you—”
     She met his eyes once more, ice blue, as she said, “Mister, do you know what it’s like to be hungry—really hungry?”
     “I think so, yes. I’ve missed a meal or two.”
     “No!” She shook her head. “I don’t mean like when you miss a meal. I mean the kind of hungry that comes when you haven’t eaten in two days, and there’s not a damn thing left in the kitchen. Not catsup or mustard, either—because you drank the ketchup and ate even the mustard—and there’s nothing in your pocket to buy food with. Have you ever been that hungry?”
     “No,” he admitted. “No, I never have.”
     “Well I have…more than once. And I’ve been offered money for the use of my body when I thought I was gonna die for lack of food.”
     “But you said no.”
     “I said no. There’s not a lot that’s mine, Mister, but I have my pride. That I’ll always have.”
     “So, now you’re an American version of the Japanese Geisha?”
     “I don’t…”
     “They keep men company, entertain with music and song, and cater to their whims. But that’s all.”
     She nodded. “That’s me.” She sat up a little straighter, her eyes seeking his. “And those are the rules, so if you don’t want me here under those conditions you can change rooms…or I will.”
     He leaned back and crossed his arms, looking her over as a smile grew. The idea, so bizarre, and so far out of his range of experience that he couldn’t help but be intrigued by it, amused.
     Finally, he nodded and said, “You’ve got yourself a deal. My name’s Mark, by the way; Mark Sterling.”
     For the next hour Myra talked and Mark listened. She insisted on unpacking his things and placing them in the closet and dresser for him. While she did that, and after, at his request, she told him about growing up poor, something he had, thankfully, been spared. Her father, a coal miner, came to Pennsylvania from West Virginia, when the mines there began to close. He’d worked the local wildcat mines—when he could find work.
     An only child, her mother died of cancer when she was sixteen, followed shortly thereafter by her father. Since their deaths she had done anything that would generate enough money for food and a roof over her head. But times were becoming harder, lately, and jobs non-existent. In desperation, she’d turned to her uncle, who owned the hotel, and he had proposed the quirky arrangement. Her uncle, from what she said, had a good heart, and called himself an innovator, but spent a fair amount of time in Crazyville.
 
     Mark glanced at his watch as he came out of the bathroom. They had been exchanging stories for over two hours, though it seemed far less than that. The room’s single window dimmed with the approach of evening, and his stomach reminded him that he had been neglecting it.
     “So, what do you do for food?” he asked, settling back into the chair, changing the subject from his own childhood in Ohio.
     “Food? Oh, you mean my meals. I take them here in the room, or with the other girls.” She hesitated, before adding, “I’d invite you to join me, but…” She stopped, and left the fact that she couldn’t afford to feed him unstated, saying instead, “But if you’d like, there’s a grocery about a mile from here where you can pick up most anything you’d like. I’ve been told I’m a fair cook.”
     He shook his head, rejecting that, leaning back in the chair as he studied her. She was better looking than he had first thought, or at least she would be if she spent some time off a third-world style diet. Feeling pleased with what he was about to do, he said, “Tell me, Myra, how long has it been since you’ve had a real sit-down dinner that someone else cooked and served?”
     A moment of hesitation, then, “Thank you, Mark.” I appreciate the offer, but I can’t accept it.”
     “But…why?”
     “I just can’t.”
     For a moment he stared, then asked, “Is it a rule that you can’t eat with the guests? You did offer to cook for me.”
     “That’s different.”
     “Different?” Then understanding came. “Ahh…You’d eat then because you’d have earned a part of the meal by cooking it.”
     That realization served as a reminder that they were not two friends sharing conversation and companionship. The camaraderie that had flowed so easily between them was gone, and once again they were client and…and what?
     He puzzled on that for a moment, before giving in with a shrug. “Okay, then, we can eat here. Will you at least come to the store with me? I’d really like your company.” When she appeared to be about to balk, he added, “That is part of the deal, after all—your keeping me company.”
     She gave in with good grace, and even agreed to his suggestion that they cook the steaks on the grill he had noticed in the park-like area behind the cabins, though she did complain that he should not have taken the most expensive steaks in the store’s meat-cooler when there were much lower cost cuts available.
     Myra sent him off to light the grill and start the steaks while she readied the rest of their dinner, then brought it out to the little park.
     The steaks helped make the meal memorable, but she’d done wonders with spices, an onion, and assorted vegetables—some of which he didn’t recognize. He had to agree. She was a good cook.
 
     Talk flowed like smoke between them, as they sat relaxed and alone in the growing dark. As she became more comfortable her language turned interestingly colloquial, with words like “ain’t” and local idioms and pronunciation coloring her speech.
     The lady was interesting company. Though provincial in many ways, she had a good head on her shoulders, and her tastes often mirrored his own.
     Then, without warning, he was yawning and it was time for bed.
     She noticed, and stood, abruptly, to begin gathering the dishes, her posture, outlined in the glow from the single overhead light the park boasted, showing tension.
     “Let me help you,” he suggested.
     “It’s no bother.” A note of cold formality that had been missing since before dinner colored her words, and she said little more as they returned to the cabin. The problem of where she would sleep had re-surfaced.
     That he had no robe or pajamas was another issue to resolve. The idea of the motel providing a companion might be fun, but it definitely should end before this point in the evening.
     Myra placed the last dish into the sink’s drying rack, and after a moment spent silently facing the kitchenette’s tiny sink, turned and leaned back against the countertop, her face pale and her expression terribly vulnerable.
     She bit her lip before saying, “If you’ll take a walk for about ten minutes, I’ll get into my nightgown.”
     He couldn’t help it. His eyes flicked to the bed, then back to her, as he chewed over how to phrase the question that came to mind.
     As though testing his reaction, she said, “It’s…a big bed.”
     “More than big enough,” he agreed
     She nodded. “And if…” She hesitated, and he was about to say something reassuring, when she threw up her hands in disgust, saying, “Oh what the hell. If I can’t trust you in the God-damn bed I sure as hell won’t change things by sleeping on the floor, will I?” She waved toward the door. “Go on out and take your walk, Mark, and let me do this quick before I can change my mind.”
 
     The moonlit darkness was alive with cricket song. That should have been comforting, but spoke of unhappy choices and missed opportunities, instead. He leaned a hip against the car, thinking over the events that resulted in this absurd situation.
     In hindsight it was so clear. The warning signs of the company’s collapse had certainly been obvious. And the car’s transmission problem had provided its own warning signs. In both cases it was more convenient, but not very smart, to procrastinate.
     A clear trail of warnings ignored led here, to standing in the dark, at a place where he would never have willingly spent the night, waiting to sleep with a woman he would probably never kiss.
     He should be in Philadelphia and settled into a decent motel—relaxing, or maybe having a beer in some little club and looking over the local women. Instead, he would be spending Saturday night chastely sleeping with a woman he didn’t know, miles from his destination. After a moment, though, he laughed out loud.
     “But hell, this is probably a lot more interesting than reading the apartments-for-rent section of the newspaper, which is what I’d really be doing.” He also had the wish that Myra lived closer to Philadelphia. It might be interesting to get to know her better.
     That subject he tabled for future consideration, when the light in the room abruptly went out. He checked his watch. It had been seven minutes since he left. Giving her another minute to settle herself, he re-entered the cabin and headed for the bathroom, preferring to undress there.
 
     Taking a deep breath and turning off the bathroom light, he opened the door and moved toward the bed. As he got in she slid away, to the far side—close to the edge and facing him—placing as much distance between them as possible.
     For a time, they lay that way, he on his side and she on hers, saying nothing. The moonlight spilling through the blinds touched her hair, painting a silver halo around her shadowed face.
     Finally, unsure of what to say, he ventured, “Are you all right?” It seemed inane, but given how conscious of the situation he was, she probably felt the same. Certainly, she needed reassurance.
     A flicker of smile came, barely visible in the darkness, and she reached out to touch his arm. “I’m okay, it’s just… Well this is my first time, and it’s not exactly what I expected.” She brought her hand abruptly back to her side, as if she’d realized that he might take her touch as an invitation.
     He laughed, a little louder than he had intended. “Well it’s my first time, too, remember?”
     That brought a real, though tiny smile, and, “You’ve never slept with a woman without…without…?”
     “Never.” He hadn’t planned to say more than that single word, but for no reason he could explain, found himself saying, “There haven’t been many times of the other, either.”
     “Oh?” She moved a bit closer, studying his face, as though searching for something. “Why not?”
     He rolled on his back, not wanting to meet her eyes. Finally, he shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess part of it is a fear of catching something. But mostly, I think it’s because I’m afraid I’ll fall in love with the woman just because of the sex, and I don’t want to do that. My parents did, I think, and I lived most of my life in a war zone as a result of their stupidity.” He turned his head. “You?”
     Silence followed, as she, too, turned to study the ceiling for a time, before saying, “Just once. I thought he loved me, but he bragged to all his friends about it the next day. I just…just…” Another silence, until, “Most of my friends married the first man who would have them, and now they have a couple of kids, a husband who spends most of his money on beer, and a life that’s no better than mine—maybe worse, because they can’t ever do anything about it.”
     “And you can?”
     “I had hopes of it.”
     He rolled over to face her, interested. “And?”
     She, too, turned, so that they were now lying almost as close as lovers, her voice intense with yearning, as she said, “For two years I’ve saved every cent not needed for necessities, with the idea of moving to Pittsburgh, or maybe Reading, with enough money to live on for a month. I figured I’d find a job waitressing, or maybe clerking in a store. If I could only do that I’d never come back here again.”
     “So what went wrong? You said you had hopes.”
     She bowed her head until her hair pressed against his cheek, and her sigh tickled the hair on his chest, before she looked up and said, “I was there, Mark. One more month and I would have been gone. But, there was a fire and I lost everything—clothes, money, car—everything. Had it not been for my uncle loaning me the money to get started again I don’t know what…” She gave a little shake of negation, then leaned her head against his shoulder in sadness, her voice a teary whisper as she said, “I came so close, Mark…so damn close. And now…”
     Gently taking her chin in his hand he brought her eyes up to meet his, as he said, “How much did you lose, and how much do you owe your uncle now? I could—”
     “No!” She shook her head, almost angrily. “I don’t take charity.” Flat finality hardened her voice, and her hands came up to pull his away. But he was stronger, forcing her to meet his gaze as he said, “I have in mind a loan, Myra. Just a loan, one you can pay back when and if you can.”
     He released her then and she rolled away, to sit on the edge of the bed, facing away from him, her voice flat and emotionless as she said, “You were out of work yourself just last week. Suppose this job doesn’t work out?”
     “And if it doesn’t?” He raised himself on one elbow. “I was out of work because my company failed, Myra, not me. I’m good at what I do…damn good…and if this job doesn’t work out there’ll be another. I’m not worried about that.”
     “But you can’t—”
     “Can’t afford to help? Yes I can. I’m not wealthy, but it won’t break me, even if you never manage to pay it back.” When she made no immediate reply, he added, “At least think about it, okay? I’ll leave you my forwarding address when I go.”
     She nodded, still facing away, but said nothing, then slipped under the sheet with a sigh, turning to face him. “I will think about it,” she said, at last. Then she leaned close to kiss him gently on the lips, lingering there and surprising him with both the act and the way her kiss affected him.
     When he began to respond she moved away, taking the hands that had come up to draw her closer and holding them firmly, saying, “No, please, Mark. That was to thank you for being so kind, but that has to be all. I’d feel like…like I sold myself if we did more.”
     “Myra, I—” She touched a fingertip to his lips, stopping him.
     “Please don’t be angry.” He nodded, and she added a wistful, “I almost wish you hadn’t made your offer, because I think I liked kissing you.”
     He could think of nothing to say, other than “Thank you,” before rolling onto his back once more. Instead of moving away, however, she retained one of his hands and moved closer, to lay her head on his shoulder, whispering, “Good night,” and touching her lips momentarily to his cheek. He couldn’t help himself, and turned his head to place a gentle kiss on her forehead in return, before murmuring a good night of his own.
 
     How long they lay that way he had no idea, but there wasn’t the slightest chance of falling asleep. He lay wrapped in his own thoughts until a tear falling on his shoulder brought him back to the room, and to her.
     “What’s wrong,” he asked, as he turned, so he could see her face.
     “It’s nothing.”
     “You’re crying. That’s not nothing. Does it have to do with me?”
     She shook her head. For a time they lay close, and he noted that her breath was sweet, and that she carried a trace of the scent of soap, mixed with her own pleasant, and very erotic, personal scent. It took a conscious effort to keep from turning her to spoon against him.
     “I’m not going to do this anymore,” she said after several minutes of silence.
     “This?”
     “Staying in the room like this—with men. It’s not…” She sighed. “It wouldn’t be the same. I would probably compare them to you, and the idea of spending the night with some fat, balding businessman…” She sighed as she said, “I just couldn’t do it.”
     She made no complaint when he wrapped an arm around her, only cuddled more closely against him.
 
     The old clock read almost three when he extricated his arm from around her and got out of bed, to stand and stare out of the window. Her breath, quiet and steady, spoke in the rhythms of slumber, something that eluded him. After a moment he moved to the chair, to sit and stare at nothing for a long time. At last he reached a decision and nodded slowly to himself, satisfied. More at peace, he slid into bed, pleased to feel her move against him and give a little sigh of contentment, though she didn’t wake. Then he slept.
 
     The sun cast bright slivers of light against the far wall when next he opened his eyes. For a moment he lay, then moved his leg toward her side of the bed, to make contact. She wasn’t there. He blinked away his drowsiness and sat up, to search the room. But she wasn’t there, either. Her clothing was, however, and the bathroom door was closed. That brought a smile, as memory of their their meeting returned. It seemed so long ago.
     Sitting on the edge of the bed he stretched as he called her name.
     “Just a minute.” A smile brightened her voice as she added, “You seem to have a knack for catching me in here.”
     “That I do,” he murmured to himself. Then he noticed her half-filled suitcase resting on the table—something to be taken care of.
     In many ways a stranger emerged from the bathroom to give him a bright, “Good morning, sleepyhead.” Her long brown hair was pulled back into a flowing ponytail, and her face, with the hair pulled away from it, had taken on an almost regal cast—a look of which he most definitely approved. She wore sandals, and had on a white skirt with a bright red blouse above it, tied at the bottom and buttoned only part way up, showing a quite interesting curve of breast. Indeed, with a little feeding, Myra would be quite a woman.
     But he pushed such thoughts from his head and motioned toward the chair, saying, “Sit. I need to talk to you.”
     “About?” With a puzzled expression, she backed into the chair, keeping her eyes on him as she did so.
     “About us. About what I said last night.”
     “Us?”
     “Well…that’s a maybe. But as you said to me, yesterday, wait till I finish before you ask any questions… Okay?”
     At her mystified nod, he said, “I thought about it a lot last night, and I don’t think your idea of moving to a strange town and making it within a month is sound.”
     “No?”
     “No. There’s too much that can go wrong, so I came up with a better idea.”
     She seemed to be about to speak, but stopped and leaned back in the chair, as she said, “Go on.”
     Now, saying it aloud, rather than rehearsing it in his thoughts, the idea seemed to take life, and make even more sense than it had when he had formulated it late in the night.
     “Look,” he began. “We seem to be able to get along, right?”
     “… I guess.”
     “And wherever you go you’ll need a place to stay, right?”
     She placed folded hands in her lap, and her eyes were unreadable as she studied him. “So you want me to move in with you, to be your—”
     “No! No, that’s not a condition.”
     “What, then?”
     Feeling inept and a bit defensive, he fidgeted a bit before saying. “Look, Myra, what I mean is that if you didn’t have to worry about paying for a room, the same money as I was going to loan you will last two or three times as long.”
     She took a deep breath and let it out again before nodding slightly, urging him to continue.
     “There are no strings to this,” he hastened to assure her. “And you can…well you can sleep on a cot if you like.” He looked away, then, unwilling to meet her eyes, given that he was making a fool of himself.
     “But I liked sleeping next to you. Why—”
     “What?”
     She shrugged. “It was nice. Why would I want to sleep on a cot instead of with you?”
     “Really? You—” he stopped, blinking in surprise. She had just told him she would not only accept his offer, and would be leaving with him, she would be sharing his bed; expected to share his bed; even wanted to.
      Amazing.
     “Thank you, Mark.” She blushed, and looked down, seeming shy.
     Apparently, he hadn’t just thought that word, so he went on with, “Well you are. Amazing that is. And I liked sleeping next to you—very much. But what I meant was that you don’t have to…I mean we don’t necessarily have to—”
     “Men are so damn silly about such things,” she said, shaking her head. She then proceeded to take any sting out of her words by coming into his arms and kissing him into near insensibility before she turned back to her own packing—leaving him standing stunned by the bed
     Before he could reply to that astonishing remark, or the implications of that incredible kiss, she pointed toward the bathroom, saying “You better get in there and get showered and dressed while I finish packing. We have to be in Philadelphia by this evening.”
     “But…” He stared at her for a moment, before pulling himself together enough to ask, “But wouldn’t that make you feel like a… Well, like I was buying you?”
     At his question she stopped and turned enough to ask, “Does your first offer still stand? Can I still borrow enough to go somewhere else and try it on my own if I decide to do that, instead?”
     “Well, yes. Of course it does.”
     “Then that’s your answer. I’m going with you because I want to, not because I have to.” She went back to her packing, as though everything was explained, while he decided that he would never, never, never understand the female mind.

*

     Calvin Zeigler watched the old car pull out of the lot. He smiled at the sight of Myra seated next to Mark, cuddled possessively against him. For a long moment he watched the car as it receded down the road, then grinned and headed back to the desk to reach for the phone.
     “Zack? I just wanted to tell you that you hit one out of the park again. One of the girls just handed me a check for two thousand dollars.” He laughed before adding, “Though I’m not certain you earned the money this time, because from what the man said, he really did have something wrong with the car.”
     He listened for a minute before saying, “They make a nice couple. You’ll see them in a few minutes. And I’ll see you tonight with your commission…take care, now.”
     Still smiling, he hung up the phone, leaned back in the chair in satisfaction for a moment, then pulled a file folder out of the display case to fish around in it for moment. He studied the card he’d extracted, then reached for the phone once more.
     “Hello, Sue Delhagen please.” A moment’s wait, then, “Sue? This is Cal Zeigler from Man-Finders… Uh-huh…sure did, honey. They left this morning, and that leaves an opening for you. Have you studied the manual…and played the video?” He listened silently for a moment, before saying, “Well that’s good, and we’ll go over it again when I see you, so pack a bag and get yourself over here as soon as you can.”
     About to hang up, he brought the phone back to his ear, saying, “Honey? One more thing. I know I’ve said it before, and you’ll hear it from me again, but this is important. I don’t care if you have to chain your legs together, there had better be no sex, and only one or two kisses, or you’ll sure as hell find yourself alone in the morning… What?… Well, yes, but only for a moment or so… Remember what I said, though, and don’t forget to bring your preference form, so I can pick out the right man for you.”
     Setting the phone back in its cradle, Zeigler leaned back in his chair and smiled, as he waited for his first guests of the day to arrive.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Author’s note:
 
     This piece began as a spec story. The editor was planning an anthology of romance and romantic stories set a fictional motel chain. The project never came to fruition, but the story, when completed, was one I especially like because when you read it a second time it has a very different subtext. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, and got here from Facebook, pressing the “Share” button at the page bottom will let others know the story is here, and give them the chance to read it, as well.
 
     And if my little story pleased you, I’m glad. There are other stories posted, as well. You and others like you are the reason I write. If it did bring a moment of reading pleasure, take a moment to rate it. Feedback matters to me. And if you’re in the mood for something a bit longer. make a stop to look at my novels, and read the excerpts to see if they please, too.

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Posted by on July 21, 2011 in Short Story

 

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