This is a small excerpt from the short story Homes from Homes, available now as part of the book Shy Feet: Short Stories Inspired by Travel. Enjoy!
He is half your age and one inch shorter than you. He stands behind you, smelling of shoe polish and washing detergent. He has dark eyes that burn through your lower back and into the pit of you.
The lift stops and the doors open. It’s your floor. You walk on to the grey carpet and don’t look back.
Inside your room you go through the usual motions. Lie suitcase on bed. Kick off shoes. Find hotel slippers and slide feet into them. Check mini bar for water and wine. Survey bathroom for stray hairs and signs of past guests. Push bath plug in and run hot water. Pour in bath oil, lots of bath oil. Check and adjust the water’s temperature. Walk into the bedroom and pull the curtains. Undress. Hang up suit. Deposit underwear and stockings in the laundry bag. Slip on complimentary dressing gown. Unpack tomorrow’s clothes. Open laptop and charge phone. Connect to the Internet. Scroll through emails and bookmark the urgent minority. Retrieve pink highlighter and notes for tomorrow’s meetings. Pour a glass of wine. Place ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door’s outside handle, close and turn lock. Take wine and notes into the bathroom. Let dressing gown drop to the floor.
You have one foot in the water, when there is a knock at the door.
Robed again, you tut your way to the door’s peephole. It is the man from the lift, the one with burning black eyes.
“Room service,” he says. He has an accent and carries nothing in his hands.
You unlock the door and open it, covering the knot of your dressing gown with one hand.
“I didn’t order room service,” you say.
“I know, Madam.” There is an unfamiliar vowel leaping off the end of the sentence. You quite like it. “Would you like some room service?”
You take a second, looking at him through pinched eyes.
“You looked a little hungry in the lift, so I thought I would ask,” he continues.
You smile now. Whatever this is, it’s already added a spark to your stay in this hotel, your third in as many weeks.
“How does one look hungry, exactly?” You challenge him.
“You can just tell when a woman is hungry. There is something about her.”
With his rolling words and unfaltering stare, you are very attracted to the young man who has the nerve to show up on your doorstep.
“Well, I am not hungry. Thank you.”
“Okay.” His smile stays broad and confident. “You’re welcome.”
He turns and walks away.
Back in the hot bubbly water, you ignore the notes and you sip your wine slowly. You stick your big toe in the hollow of the tap and think about where the hotel porter’s accent may be from.
* * * * *
A dull day follows. You are bored by the third meeting and you struggle to show enthusiasm for the drinks that toast the day’s end. Your male colleagues make all the usual jokes; “Is it still grim up north?” “How are they coping without you?” “Hired any farmers recently?” You nod and smile. And then you remind them that yours was the most profitable area per capita last year. You also mention that you live on one hectare of land in a five-bedroom property, while they are stuck in semi-detached houses or apartments with no view. You decline a second glass of wine and you gather your belongings to go, ignoring the quips about you needing your beauty sleep.
Outside the bar, you see St Paul’s lit up in the fading light of dusk and its beauty astonishes you. You marvel at the history of the streets you are walking along; you can almost feel the dome of St Paul’s watching you take each step down Cheapside.
You miss London. It was home for a while.
You look back at St Paul’s once more, before crossing the road and seeing your hotel ahead of you.
He is waiting for you.
He stands outside the hotel’s double doors, his hands clutched behind his back. But of course; that is his job. As you get closer you see that he is shivering, despite it being a mild April evening.
“Where are you from?” You ask.
He raises his eyebrows. “I am from Portugal, near Lisbon.”
“Where?” You step closer. “Where exactly?”
“The end of the world,” he says, his eyes alight again.
He tells you that he is from a small coastal village, thirty kilometres west of Lisbon. It is close to Cabo da Roca, the most western point on Europe’s mainland.
“All you can see is the ocean. No matter how far ahead you look, there is nothing but the blue of the sea and the blue of the sky. For centuries people thought it was the end of the world.” He is looking up at you in your heels but you know that he’s really seeing the sea and the sky back home. “Now it is just a landmark for tourists.”
“And what’s your name?”
He glances back at the hotel entrance and it serves as a reminder that you are the guest and he is the service provider.
“Carlos.” Perhaps you seem disappointed because he says, “I know it’s not the most exciting Portuguese name.”
“It’s a great name. I’m Patricia.”
“Patricia. Now, that is a beautiful name. That is a Portuguese name.” Finally you feel the chill in the air that keeps him rubbing his hands together.
“And why do you speak English so well?”
“University. For five years I studied your language. I graduated last year, so I came to London to make my fortune. Maybe I didn’t expect to do that working in a hotel, but that is life.” There is a calm pride in his voice. It contrasts with the insecure jibes of the overweight and overpaid men you just left.
“You have a wonderful smile, Carlos,” you tell him. He is so young and there is so much ahead of him, waiting to dull his shining optimism.
“Thank you, Patricia,” he nods. Service provider. Guest.
You wish him a good evening and walk through the double doors.
* * * * *
Your sleep is broken by the third knock. By the fifth you are out of bed and he doesn’t get to finish the eighth. You squint into the light of your open door and pull him in.
He kisses like each kiss is his last and it’s up to you to slow him down. You haven’t kissed like that in years and there is a reason why; it’s not to your liking. Pace slowed, you start to touch him; the breadth of his chest, the scratch of his stubble and the bounce in his hair. There is firmness where it is unexpected and he is gentle when you don’t anticipate it.
You begin to lose yourself.
Read the rest of Homes from Homes and eleven other stories inspired in Shy Feet available on Amazon (ebook and paperback) or Kobo (ebook only, suitable for iBooks and Nook). And you can add Shy Feet to your Goodreads bookshelves.
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Frances M. Thompson
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