The midday Saturday sun creeps in through the cracks in the crappy hotel blinds; they roll over in the lumpy bed and groan.
The Advil on the bedside table has a blue child safety lid already uncapped and waiting for them. They fumble for it without opening their eyes, hitting the lamp with the back of their hand and retracting it, hissing in pain. Finally, they settle on the medication and pull it back into the fortress of a lumpy bed, shaking a couple of pills into their hand and swallowing them dry.
Outside, a vacuum sounds– the maid is making her rounds, humming along to something loud enough to be heard through the paper-thin walls and altogether too cheerful for– they roll over and squint at the tiny alarm clock– 11:19 am on a Saturday morning. Wincing, they swipe the sleep out of their eyes and resign themself to sitting up and taking in the room. The walls are too blue, blue in the way that only a young upstart hotel owner with no experience in a business could possibly think was a good idea, and three tacky sailboat paintings decorate the wall. They’re at least twenty hours away from the nearest beach.
Their phone is also on the bedside table, plugged into a pink child’s charger that’s fraying in the middle. The screen is cracked in the upper right corner– terrific– but it still lights up upon their touch, so maybe it doesn’t have to be replaced quite yet. They ignore most of the notifications, scrolling instead to the messages app and sending a single text.
“Where the hell am I?”
They wait for a few moments, pulling their hair up and attempting to scrub the sleep out of their face. No response. Alrighty then. They flop back down onto the bed, landing on the source of the lumpiness– an MIT college sweatshirt and a pair of checkered boxers. No sign of any pants. The sheets are thrown haphazardly, and the comforter is on the floor, along with most of the ugly cream-colored throw pillows.
They clamber slowly out of bed, testing each movement for uneasiness and slowly pull on the boxers. They’re mostly clean and relatively intact, save for a small rip along one of the seams. They discover their pants underneath the peeling corner dresser along with a gold bracelet too light to be real, and enough dust to cover a city. The bracelet has a turquoise stone in the middle but doesn’t look valuable enough to be re-sold; they drop it and put their pants on.
Opting to remain sockless and shirtless for the time being, they stumble into the hall and call the maid, interrupting her slightly-off-pitch rendition of Careless Whisper. She startles and knocks a bottle of fizzy blue cleaning solution onto the floor. They both watch the liquid drain slowly into the mottled dark gray carpet and the maid sighs long and low. “Yes?”
“What town is this?”
She studies them, eyes lingering on their chest and baggy sweatpants. “Rollendtown.”
“Shit. How far is that from Hunnel City?”
They watch her purse her lips together, perhaps counting the miles in her head. “About forty minutes I think? Maybe more?”
They nod slowly and thank her, then retreat back into their room and close the door. It sticks on the frame, and they yank it shut with a little more force than necessary. Grabbing their phone, they send another text.
“You’d better call me an uber asshole.”
No response. They contemplate the padded headboard of their bed, then the phone in their hand, but opt not to throw it and pocket it instead.
The hotel breakfast lounge is dwindling down as the crowds disperse and begin their day. They fumble with the coffee machine until it spits out a semi-decent blend, and down the entire cup, relishing in the way it burns their throat.
They take the second cup of coffee more slowly, washing it down with watery eggs and burnt hash browns in a rickety chair in the corner of the room, surrounded by people halfway on their way to places. Two kids run around the waffle maker, one in a green shirt and one in blue. Their parents stand by the coffee machine, the father examines the ingredients in the roast. They eavesdrop on the conversation; the mother thinks Hazelnut sounds good. The father would rather die than drink it. They both agree to stop at Starbucks on the way out and collect their kids and go. Two older gentlemen with golf clubs split dry biscuits and check their watches; a young lady in a business suit puts a napkin in her lap and takes a small sip of her coffee leaving a faint lipstick mark on the rim.
The coffee in their own cup is cold. They fiddle a bit with their napkin and check their phone. Still no response. With a resigned sigh and no new people to look at, they open their photo app. There’s a new picture waiting for them.
Unfortunately, they can’t help but grin just a little bit at the selfie of them passed out on the bed. He’s closest to the camera, holding it in a way that they can’t see his eyes or much of his face, just a sentimental smile and the world’s ugliest goatee, lit up by the streetlamps from outside shining yellow on his face. The room is stuck somewhere between light and dark and both of them are shirtless. The cream-colored pillows are already on the floor. It should be a love letter, a pretty thing, but all they can focus on are the stupid ugly cream-colored pillows in the background; they shut their phone off and throw the rest of their breakfast away.
They have to call a taxi to get home. The driver wears a backwards baseball cap and informs them it’s going to be a ridiculous amount of dollars before they even hit the road, and they shuffle through the wallet in their sweatshirt to make sure they have the right amount. The taxi driver informs them that he has driven people all the way back to where he got them out of spite, and they assure the driver they’ll pay.
There’s two crisp hundred-dollar bills in their wallet from last night. They can afford the ride.
The taxi driver puts on some radio music, some studio playing throwbacks from the sixties, songs they’ve never heard before and will probably never hear again. They stare out the dirty window at the passing countryside, all trees and farms and soybeans and corn, passing in a monotonous countryside medley. The rest of the interior of the car isn't much to look at either, just plain brown nylon peeled to shit.
They take half a second to think about whether sending three texts in a row is considered needy, but they do it anyway.
“This is why u don’t pick dates. Im in the middle of the fucking ocuntry.
Their phone buzzes and they click the notification, but it’s just a text from their sister, who wants to know if they’ll be home tonight. They respond with, “On the way,” and shut the phone off again, leaning their head against the greasy window. The taxi driver starts to hum annoyingly, but they ignore him and slowly drift off to sleep.
A sudden stop from the cab jerks them awake– they’ve reached the city. The cab driver curses relentlessly at the traffic, but they grin at the noises of home.
Their sister isn’t waiting for them at the shared apartment, but luckily this time they remembered their key. Entering their room, they flop down on the bed and stare at the cream-colored ceiling with the patch from where the upstairs neighbor's bathtub leaked. If they pull a hundred-dollar bill out from their wallet and hold it up, it almost covers the ugly spot from view. They mess with it, drawing it closer and further from their dominant eye until it’s just right, and then they study Ben Franklin. He doesn’t look quite as old somehow as he should.
There is still no new buzzing coming from their phone. He should be home by now, should’ve sent a text asking if they’d gotten back safe, but there’s nothing. They get up off the bed and close and lock the door before pulling out a bin from under their bed and removing the lid. Gingerly they pull out the contents, until photos and an old polaroid camera cover the floor. Only when the rug is covered in printed snapshots do they stop to look at them, examining the two faces that grow older together but somehow stay the same.
One of the pictures is taped to the underside of the lid of the box. If they were to take the tape off and flip it over, they’d find two signatures and a date on the bottom, thirteen years in the past, a moment frozen in front of a ferris wheel and a voice swearing it would last forever, swearing it would never change.
Pulling out their phone again, they refresh the messages app to find nothing; no new notifications, nothing at all. It’s a bad idea– they hesitate because they know it’s a bad idea, but they tap the phone icon at the bottom of the screen anyway.
It rings and rings and rings and goes to voicemail. They call again.
On the fifth try, he picks up.
“Some gentlemen you are, leaving me out stranded in the middle of–”
“Stop. Don’t start that– I’m done.”
“Pretty sure that’s what you said last time. And the time before that.”
“No, no this time I’m actually done. I thought about it. It’s over. I can’t– you know she’s positive, you know that. I can’t keep–”
“So this is it? After everything we’ve been through.”
A silence came from the other end of the phone, then a short intake of breath. “Look. You’re my best friend. But– but it’s not right. We’re– you’re– well you’re alright but I’m not. I can’t– that lifestyle isn’t for me.”
“That lifestyle? You mean me? You mean everything we had, everything we’ve done, long before she came along? You mean taking me to your bed and kissing me up and–”
“Stop. It’s not– it isn’t right.”
“You won’t be happy.”
“You won’t be happy, you’ll never be content. You tell yourself that, tell yourself that you love her, but at the end of the day you’ll carry her to bed and see my face and be miserable. I hope you know that.”
Another silence from the phone. And then, “Yeah. Maybe you’re right. But it’s my choice alright? And I’m not choosing you. I- I can’t.”
“Fine. So this is really it then?”
Another drawn in breath. “Yeah. It is.”
They want to mention the last photo from the bed, the ugly hotel room, the cream colored pillows, the stupid goatee. But instead the only word that comes out of their mouth is, “Okay.”
There’s another silence from the phone while they try to think of the right sentence to say– try to figure out how to make the words go. Their eyes wander around the room, to the polaroids and the Ben Franklin and the leaking cream-colored ceiling and they think that there couldn’t possibly be anything more miserable than this.
“I hope you find someone better than me,” he says, and they shut their eyes and breathe a little too deeply.
“I hope you find some comfort in your misery.”
He hangs up first and they sit in the apartment for a while, then take the cream-colored polaroid camera out of the shoebox and throw it away.