Just This Once…
(“Well, well, he’s got stories to tell of love that is long overdue.
Well, well, who is under his spell is paying the devil his due…” –The Rolling Stones)
You wake up on Friday with blood in your mouth and a tear in your lip. It shouldn’t bother you so much that it’s there, but you have no recollection of it ever happening. It’s unsettling and disturbing, and you shiver in the warmth of rumpled sheets.
You remember getting off the elevator with a lurch in your gait and more-than-slightly glassy eyes, the scent of expensive liquor and dirt-cheap beer tainting the air. You laughed at the paintings on the hotel wall and conversed animatedly with the tall potted plant in the hallway, before a thin wisp of lucidity clicked in and you remembered how to unlock the door to your room.
You think that you weren’t alone when that door opened, that there was someone on the other side, someone familiar. A someone that tasted of chocolate and spice, but smelled like baby powder and rich buttery leather. A someone, you mused, that was decidedly familiar.
Your back hurts, just a little, when you stand up to walk to
the bathroom. Your steps are slow,
hesitant…your sea-legs still somewhere far over the
You sigh as you catch a quick glimpse of yourself in the mirror, squinting at your bleeding lip and running your tongue over the ragged flesh. The sour taste in your mouth isn’t all coppery tang, like blood. You taste cotton and sandpaper and day-old kisses, and you are infinitely thankful you’re in the bathroom as your stomach lurches violently.
You rinse your mouth and go back to bed.
Three hours later, things haven’t changed much. Clarity, fickle as she is, has decided to delay her visit to your murky little brain, so you are forced to try to piece together the previous night’s events with whatever lame-ass clues you can find.
You decide you’d make a shitty detective.
You know that the pair of jeans draped over the asymmetrical couch in the corner belongs to a man because they’re too big to fit you and they don’t hug your hips in all the right places. They’re scented, just faintly, of tobacco, and a large stain toward the bottom suggests alcohol but could be something else entirely, for all you know. There’s a t-shirt lying in a puddle on the floor, some dumb slogan or other decorating the front of it. It smells faintly of deodorant and when you slip it over your head you know for certain that it belongs to a guy. Two of you could fit easily inside the mass of black fabric.
You walk aimlessly around the hotel room, realizing you’re closer to home than you think when you recognize the hotel’s stationery. Your heart gives an icy tug when you spot the opened condom wrapper laying on the ground, and the half-empty box of Trojans half-hidden under the bed. Your mysterious soreness is magically explained, and you’re not entirely sure you didn’t like being oblivious.
The room is sort of cold and you wrap a blanket around your shoulders as you gingerly sip a glass of water. It’s quiet in the room, quiet but not peaceful, and a sense of uneasiness folds around you when you realize that eventually your guest will return. You stifle your first giggle of the day when you muse that he could quite possibly be naked. His clothes, after all, are in plain view.
You doze off again some half-hour later, your face falling helplessly into the lush fabric of the couch. The blanket is just soft enough to snuggle against but not so soft to tickle, and you’re peacefully sleeping away when a hand falls onto your shoulder and you sit bolt-upright, your heart threatening to clatter out of your chest. You whip your head around and it takes a nanosecond to recognize the man in front of you.
You look at Justin with your head cocked to the right side and your cheeks turning a lovely shade of pink. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not in this lifetime, anyway. Not with your boyfriend, fiercely devoted, out of town, promising tenderly to “come home as soon as I can, baby.”
“Morning,” He whispers, all blue eyes and pouting pink lips. His tone is hushed, reverential. He’s gazing at you like some sort of pagan goddess, and your skin begins to crawl with residual embarrassment.
“Hi…” You mutter, refusing to meet his eyes.
He tilts your face towards his own and looks at you earnestly, and you swallow, your throat making an audible click under his intense scrutiny.
“I’m sorry about last night…” He murmurs, barely brushing the pad of his thumb over your swollen lip.
“Um…that’s okay…” You say quietly. You really, really want to ask him what happened, but you figure that the awkwardness quotient of this little scenario has already spiraled out of manageable proportions, and so you say nothing.
You forget that Justin, for all his self-absorption and relentless perfectionism, is also damn near a mind-reader when it comes to figuring out peoples’ motives and intentions, and he sees right through your little charade.
“You…” He begins, before taking a slow, staggering breath. “You don’t remember, do you?”
Your silence is all the answer he needs.
He begins pacing, running his fingers through his hair, walking to the window, staring down onto the city streets. His back is stiff and strong, his arms crossed defiantly over his chest, his chin pointed downward. Unlike Justin, your people-reading skills are limited to those people with whom you’re extremely close, so you can’t, for the life of you, figure out what he’s thinking.
But he takes care of that rather quickly.
“This was all a mistake, wasn’t it?”
He makes it a statement, not a question, and you sit meekly behind him, unsure of how to react. When he turns and walks toward you again, his eyes are to the ground, his shoulders rolled forward. He brushes past you without so much as a word and collects his clothing. He’s muttering under his breath but you can barely hear him, and on unsteady legs you totter to where he stands, carefully laying a hand on his back.
He recoils, a high-tension wire, his eyes wide and very, very blue. Completely unreadable.
“I should go…” He whispers.
There is so much you want to ask, so many things you want him to explain. The hazy morning fog that settled over your mind refuses to lift, and lurking just below its surface is a thick, slippery fear...fear tinged with embarrassment, with shame, with remorse and regret.
“It’s my fault,” He says softly, and you realize that your emotions are written plainly across your face. He’s been reading them the whole time.
“No…” You start, but he interrupts you.
“I shouldn’t have let you in,” He says wistfully. Tension and unspoken words hang fitfully in the air as he silently collects the rest of his belongings. Just before he walks out he comes to stand before you, cupping your cheek in his hand and laying the barest, most careful of kisses across your lips, tongue sweeping delicately into your mouth as he whispers goodbye in the softest of voices.
As you watch him walk away, the strong muscles of his back coiled tightly in bunches, you feel a warm liquid lick across your chin. You realize your lip is between the solid prison of your teeth, the pain impulse almost forgotten, so deep in thought you were.
And suddenly the morning’s first mystery isn’t a mystery at all.
You fall asleep with blood in your mouth and a split in your lip, the echo of Justin’s voice in your ear.
“I shouldn’t have let you in…”
You hate it when he’s right.
© 2002 ~A.