By Will Thames
The man in room 315 instructs me to come freshly-showered and alone. This strikes me as curious- it’s just me in the profile picture. Does he expect me to bring a plus one?
I wonder if there’s a story behind the specific instructions. Did one of his boys bring another boy? An emotional support animal? An entire extended family? Did they bring picnic baskets and wine decanters?
“Oh don’t mind us it’s just that Sunday is family day we won’t be a bother.”
I laugh with my reflection in the bathroom mirror, still foggy from my prescribed shower. I am squeaky clean stem to stern. I square off with the me in my mirror and nod approvingly. I’ve got this. Then, out loud-
“You got this.”
I dress the part as best as I can; tight pants, a loose fitting tank, and my favorite hoodie. To top it off? A shot of tequila to quiet my nerves. I wash it down with some flat ginger-ale out of the kitchen fridge and step outside.
The night air hits my lungs like a freezing vice. The cordial smell of autumn is long gone, giving way to an absence of smell. A winter perfume.
Damn, I think. Should’ve grabbed a bigger coat.
I jam my earbuds in as far as they will go, hunch my shoulders against the chill, and walk faster.
A confession- I have a specific playlist for meetings like this. The in-betweens of contact. Something anthemic and driving to get me there. Something triumphant yet soothing for the trek home.
His hotel is a straight shot downhill. A recent renovation- it's hard modern angles severely out of place against the backdrop of my traditional college town skyline.
I push through the revolving glass door and am greeted by a rush of heated air. I check my watch. No time for another drink I’m already ten minutes late.
Too bad, I think.
My dad took me to this bar once. They had good mojitos.
The elevator ride up to the third floor is a solitary one. I take out my earbuds and begin to compose my face. Start with a blank canvas, relax all muscles. Then, I softly tell myself I am beautiful. I may not feel beautiful but I persist in my mantra until the doors slide open.
“You are beautiful, you are wanted, you are desirable, you can do this. You want this,” I chant as I step into the corridor.
This Will is cool. This Will is game. Unfazed by and open for anything. Most importantly, this Will is flame-retardant. He never gets offended, never gets confused, never hurts. He’s also a complete fabrication.
My act may be rough around the edges- this being only the second time I’ve tried such a persona on, but it still thrills me to play the part.
When I arrive at room 315, my heart feels like it’s connected to a car battery. I take a final deep inhale, and knock.
The door swings open immediately.
Was he waiting on the other side?
The man is much older than his picture led me to believe. The lines of his face deep set. His skin not as taught as I’d pictured.
Mind you, he’s hardly ugly.
His etched face frames two brilliant blue eyes and the classic jaw of an old Hollywood star. This kind of face got whatever it wanted back in its prime.
“Hi,” he says.
“Hi,” I purr, slipping past him and setting my bag down next to his impeccably made king sized bed.
“All alone?” I ask, taking care to arch my back as I straighten up.
He chuckles, closing the distance between us to wrap his arms around my waist.
“Not anymore,” he whispers in my ear.
He stands a good foot shorter than me but he may as well be seven feet tall. His confidence dwarfs mine. I wonder if he’s pretending like I am. If only he knew how loudly my brain is whirring, trying to anticipate every touch, every breath. Calculating every possible outcome.
“Relax,” he says. His hands find my shoulders and trace the outline of the bone.
Sure enough, I am rigid all over. Where did the act go? Where is cool Will?
“Sorry,” I mumble. I turn to him and he kisses me. Hard. His mustache tickles in a way I’m not sure I like- no. No of course I like it. He is exactly what I want.
We find our way to the bed. The sheets are freshly starched and feel too sterile against my naked back. He has the rest of my clothes off and is at work on his own shirt. Button by button he makes his way down to the navel. I help him with his pants and find he isn’t wearing any underwear.
By the time we are two bodies entwined, I realize I can’t do this.
It’s not the age difference, it’s not even the height difference. Something in me is clawing at the walls, screaming to leave.
“I-I-wait,” I say, my voice more of a whimper than a command.
“What’s up?” He asks.
I could make excuses, I could lie. I could even just up and run. Tear through the lobby in nothing but my quivering skin. Who would care? Instead, two simple words come out.
“I… can’t,” I say, looking him square in the eye. Can’t. Not won’t. But can’t.
“You… can’t.” He says, his icy purr taking on a hard edge. It isn’t a question.
I wait for further questioning, maybe even pleading. Instead, he sits up, shrugging off my legs.
“Fine,” he says. “Get out.” The simplicity of this dismissal surprises me.
I hold his gaze for just a second more before I slink off the bed and gather my clothes as fast as humanly possible. The shoes are the hardest to find. I consider leaving barefoot before he’s standing again with my sneakers in his hand. They were kicked under the bed. He is careful not to touch me as he hands them over.
I don’t even tie my laces before I’m out the door. On the walk back up the hill, I play no music.
As I close the door of my bedroom and toss my hoodie aside, I wait for the feeling of shame. Objectively, I’ve just experienced an utter failure, haven’t I?
I could have smiled harder, called him daddy, or anything to seal the deal. Yet there I was, feeling empty. Not hollow or out of fuel, just… nothing.
This story doesn’t have a grand catharsis. No earth-shattering realization. And in that way, I find it comforting.
I said no. Not because I felt obligated to. But because I wanted to. I said no- I left- and the world kept turning.