Sometime after one in the morning I left Kim’s room on the hotel’s second floor. We’d shared some passionate kisses, but as we started to go further, she pulled back, apologized. I said I understood. She apologized again and asked me to leave.
I’d been sent to the west coast for a two-day leadership seminar, ‘Yes, You Can’, held in one of those coastal towns strung along the Pacific where one town blends into the next. Kim was the seminar leader, and offered the first physical contact I had with another human being since my divorce from Bonnie. Our split had been finalized the week before Christmas amidst reruns of It’s a Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The company had booked me into a no-frills hotel for three nights—bathrooms down the hall and sheets changed every three days, if you asked.
As I headed downstairs to my room, I saw a woman perched on the second step, her head resting against the post, or maybe the middle rail. I couldn’t tell which from the upper landing. She wore the same clothes as earlier in the day when I’d passed her on my way out to dinner. Her suitcase rested at her feet. She shifted slightly as I stepped down, looked at me sleepy-eyed when I reached the bottom step.
“Don’t you have a room?”
“No,” she said in a thick accent. She pivoted her head toward me. “My friend is to meet me, but she never show up. She had reservation. Me, nothing. No credit, no room. I wait, I call, but she not come now. Maybe tomorrow.” She closed her eyes.
“Sleeping on the stairs is no way to spend the night.” I watched her for three or four seconds, then, not knowing why I felt motivated to offer, said, “Come on. I’ve got a room. You can have the bed. I’ll sleep on the floor.”
“I no prostitute,” she said, eyes still closed.
“I know, but you can’t sleep here. It’s not safe and it’s uncomfortable.”
“I not know you.”
“I don’t know you, either. Look, my room’s right down the hall. Why don’t you—”
“No. I sleep here.”
“Okay. But if you change your mind, I’m in room 17.”
“Mind not change. Leave ’lone before scream.”
“Okay. Okay.” I threw my hands up, headed to my room. “Just trying to help.”
Five minutes later, I fell into an exhausted sleep.
I heard tapping. My mind struggled to sort reality from dream. I waited, strained in the dark to hear, head lifted. Silence. My head dropped back on the pillow and I closed my eyes. A soft knock on the door sounded. I slipped out of bed and looked through the peephole.
“Just a minute.” I slipped on my pants and opened the door.
“I change mind.”
I flicked on the light as she placed her suitcase against the wall by the door. I made a bed on the floor while she washed her hands and face in the sink.
“I’m Walt, by the way.”
I lay on the comforter, turned toward her. Korreena untied her hair. She sat on the queen-size bed, removed her boots, and dropped them on the floor. She unbuttoned her blouse.
“Maybe I should get the light,” I said.
“Yes. Sleep better in dark room.”
She dropped her blouse on the floor. She stood and twisted to unzip her skirt. Her breasts swayed with the movement. I rushed for the light switch.
I settled into the comforter. The keys in my pants pocket dug into my hip. I listened to her crawl into bed.
“You sleep in pants?” she asked.
“No. But I thought . . . I’m not wearing underwear.”
“Not to worry. I see naked man before. Make comfort for sleep.”
I hesitated, stood, took off my pants, laid them out on the floor, and wrapped myself in the comforter.
I had just dozed off, when I heard that tapping again.
“You have visitor?” Korreena whispered. “You expecting?”
“No,” I said as I fumbled in the dark for my pants, but couldn’t find them. I wrapped the comforter around my waist and looked through the peephole, my vision blurred.
“Kim?” I said as I opened the door.
“I changed my mind. I want to be with you tonight.”
Kim pushed the door aside, stared at Korreena who had propped herself up on one elbow, sheet around her waist, illuminated by the hallway light.
“What’s this?” Kim pointed at Korreena.
“That’s Korreena. This is Kim,” I said, pulling the comforter tight around me.
“You bastard. Trying to get me in bed and the whole time you’ve got someone waiting for you down here?”
“Kim, it’s not like that.” I followed her down the hall, tripped on the comforter and fell. “She was sleeping on the stairs,” I said from the floor.
“Go to hell, you—you man.”
I struggled to my feet with the comforter draped across my shoulders like a cape and stumbled back to my room. I tapped on the door. “It’s me, Korreena.”
“I know. See through peeperhole,” she said as she opened the door. Korreena stood in the doorway, naked, bathed in the yellow light from the hallway. She glanced down at my nakedness. I twisted the bottom of my cape around to cover my front.
“Kim girlfriend? Wife?” Korreena asked as I fell through the doorway, the comforter snarled around my feet.
“I’m not married. Divorced.” I wiggled and rolled the rest of the way into the room.
“So who Kim?”
The door closed, throwing the room back into darkness.
“Kim’s the instructor for the motivational seminar I’m attending. I saw her at dinner, and then, one thing and another—”
“Kim angry at you?”
“I not understand.”
“I’m naked. You’re naked. We’re together. And, I told Kim I’m here by myself. She thinks I lied.”
“You have no sex cause I sleep here?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“I talk to Kim. What room?”
Her feet shuffled on the thin carpet. I heard her gather clothes.
“No, please. No. Let it go. It’ll only get worse. Please go to sleep. I’ll deal with it in the morning.”
My eyes opened to the crack of hallway light pouring in under the door. My head felt groggy from sleep deprivation. I rolled over. I felt a sore spot on my left hip from my fall. I heard slight snores from the bed. Korreena faced the window, sheet off. I tried not to look at her naked body. She looked good. I heard sounds of waking, movement in the bed.
She slid forward, head hung over the edge of the bed. Her hair draped the side of the mattress, framed her face. “You know,” she laughed, “I thought last night you maybe climb in bed.”
“I said I wouldn’t.”
“You are man of word. Very few these days. Too bad Kim not see.”
“Too late for that, I suspect.”
“Never too late.”
After a brief silence I said, “Why’d you change your mind? Come to my room? You didn’t know me.”
“I not know. But you seem safe.”
Korreena laughed. “Not that safe. Safe enough.”
She twisted and swung her legs over the edge of the bed, stood and walked to the sink, bent over and washed her face while I watched, her face reflected in the mirror.
“You not very safe right now.”
I grabbed my pants. Korreena turned toward me, eyes trained on my crotch as I struggled to work my legs into my tangled pants.
“Not safe at all.”
“I’m doing my best.” I zipped my fly.
She laughed, grabbed a bath towel from the vanity and wrapped it around her. “I shower now.”
I threw the comforter and pillow onto the bed, then sat on the edge of the mattress and let myself fall backward onto the sheets, legs dangling over the edge of the bed. I felt horny and exhausted and relieved that Korreena’s friend would arrive later and they’d have their own room. I closed my eyes.
Korreena stood at the edge of the bed, wrapped in her towel, damp hair pulled back from her shoulders.
“Maybe a little. Didn’t sleep well last night.”
“You take shower. Feel better.” She rubbed and patted my upper thigh. “Tonight you sleep in own bed. Forget about Kim.”
Her hand slid off my leg as I sat up, face aligned with her towel-covered breasts. I wanted to pull the towel away, wrap my arms around her, draw her close, and run my lips and tongue over her flesh. It seemed so long since I’d been with a woman.
She backed away, stopped for a moment, contemplating something I couldn’t decipher from her face or posture. Then her expression changed and she walked to the sink. “You go shower. Use plenty cold water.”
“How about some breakfast?” I said as I put on my socks and shoes. “There’s a café across the street. I ate there yesterday. Decent food.”
“Breakfast sound good.”
Korreena’s suitcase lay on the bed. She closed it and snapped the latches into position. Dressed in brown shorts and vest, a white tee, and her boots, Korreena had a retro sixties look going for her. All she needed was a headband and some flowers.
The waitress with the pierced nose from the morning before was on duty when Korreena and I slid into a booth near the rear. I remembered her name started with L, but that’s the best I could do. She set glasses of ice water on the table and produced menus with a flourish. I glanced at her nametag: Lauren.
“Back again. And brought a friend, I see.”
“I no . . .”
I waved Korreena into silence.
A curious look crossed Lauren’s face for a second before she returned to her good morning smile. “Start with some coffee?”
“Yes. Please.” I nodded.
Korreena glared at me as Lauren left.
“Why you wave hand in face? So rude.”
“Because no one thinks you’re a prostitute. The waitress just meant you’re a friend—someone I know. I didn’t mean to be rude. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry. Pfft. For that you pay breakfast.”
Lauren returned with the pot of coffee. Korreena and I stared in silence at the stream Lauren poured into each cup.
“I’ll be back for your orders in a minute.” She took the pot with her.
“There Kim. She hungry for breakfast, too.”
Kim sat at the far end of the counter near the kitchen.
“Kim. Come join,” Korreena called, motioning Kim toward us.
I turned to Korreena, opened my eyes wide, then looked back at Kim, who shook her head, snarled the right corner of her lip, and turned her attention to the plate of food in front of her.
“Oh, well. I try.”
“What were you thinking?”
“I think maybe talk, be friends.”
“I think maybe that idea doesn’t work.”
“I go talk Kim. Explain.”
Lauren came for our order as Korreena edged out of the booth. Lauren shifted toward me blocking my exit.
“I have two eggs, easy over, wheat toast, no butter, and big milk.”
The waitress turned to me as Korreena made her way to Kim.
“Rye toast, buttered, and a side of bacon. You don’t happen to serve Bloody Mary’s, do you? Anything alcoholic?”
“We don’t have a license for that.”
“Then make it a small tomato juice.” I waited while she wrote. “Can you put a celery stick in the juice so I can at least pretend?”
“Sure. Rough morning?”
“I’ll get your order in right away.”
Kim and Korreena exchanged words. I sipped my coffee as I waited for the inevitable.
Korreena slid into the booth opposite me. Kim stopped at the edge of the table.
“Kim join. She understand.”
“Yeah, I understand. I understand real well. I understand you send a woman to do a man’s work. I understand you think being naked with a woman in your room after leaving me is all right. I understand that you think I’m an idiot and will believe anything your friend tells me. I understand. I understand you’re an asshole.”
Kim grabbed my full glass of water. Ice cubes settled into my lap. Water dripped from my face. The restaurant fell silent as people looked up from their meals. The front window rattled as Kim slammed the door behind her. A nervous laugh from somewhere, then everything returned to normal.
“I thought you said she understood.”
“Maybe I think wrong. At least not hot coffee she throw.”
Lauren appeared at the table as though she’d expected that, handed me two towels, and soaked up the water from the table top with a third.
I scooped ice out of my lap and into the empty glass, wiped the front of my shirt and dabbed at soaked pants with a towel. I blotted the water from the booth’s imitation leather seat. Lauren crouched to get the puddle of water on the floor. Her t-shirt gaped open at the neck. Her black low-cut bra exposed the sway of her breasts with each movement of her arm. She looked up, saw my eyes and clasped her shirt to her neck with her free hand. I turned away, embarrassed. Lauren ripped the towels from my hands, and rushed to the kitchen.
“You like her breasts?” Korreena asked.
“Oh, God.” I leaned my head back, looked at the ceiling, and wished someone would slit my throat.
“Which better? Lauren or mine?”
I lowered my head and sighed. “How would I know? She’s wearing a bra.”
“Hmmm. Good point.”
The morning air seemed more brisk, damp, than the day before, even with my change into dry clothes. I stopped, closed my jacket, then stuck my hands deep into the pockets, but couldn’t shake the cold. I hoped I hadn’t caught something other than my usual hypochondria.
Minutes before, I’d left Korreena and her suitcase by the stairs. She’d spoken on the phone with her friend, who said she’d be there soon. I felt sad, if not a little relieved, to wave goodbye to her.
I walk to the convention center unsure what to expect after my morning ice water challenge. I think about skipping the seminar, but don’t know what else I would do, other than wander the streets, get lost, get mugged. Maybe I’ll go to the seminar, skulk in the back, pick up some catch phrases to toss around the office at the next meeting.
The coffee shops are full; the mini-marts perform a brisk business. Heavy traffic passes on the street, cars filled with people on their way to work, maybe to lead, or maybe not.
“Yes, you can,” I yell at the vehicles.
People pass on the sidewalk, ignore me, continue on their way. I blend into the migratory stream of foot traffic headed downtown, thrust toward the convention center, and another day of Yes, You Can. My own voice reverberates in my head, and I think maybe it’s true; I can. I swerve from the crowd, take a side street, and set my own path.
Ray Carns asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.