Today's Reading

Men are afraid that women will laugh at them.
women are afraid that men will kill them.

—Margaret Atwood

PART ONE

BRACE FOR IMPACT

1


She was aware first of the scent of the hotel shampoo, a Middle Eastern aroma reminiscent of anise, and then—when she opened her eyes—the way the light from the window was different from the light in the rooms in the hotel where the crew usually stayed. The morning sun was oozing through one slender line from the ceiling to the floor where the drapes, plush as they were, didn't quite meet and blanching a strip of carpet. She blinked, not against the light but against the thumping spikes of pain behind her eyes. She needed water, but it would take a tsunami to avert the hangover that awaited. She needed Advil, but she feared the red pills that she popped like M&M's at moments like this were distant. They were in the medicine bag in her own hotel room. In her own hotel.

And this definitely wasn't her hotel. It was his. Had she come back here? Apparently she had. She was sure she had left. She thought she had returned to the airline's considerably more modest accommodations. At least that had been her plan. After all, she had a plane to catch this morning.

Her mind slowly began to tackle the questions she would need to answer when she rolled over, the principal one being the most prosaic: what time was it? It seemed that the clock was on his side of the bed, because it wasn't on hers. On her nightstand was the phone and a china tray with date and sugar cookies and three perfectly cubed Turkish delight candies, each skewered with a toothpick-sized silver spear. Time mattered, because she had to be in the lobby of the correct hotel—her hotel—with the rest of the crew by eleven fifteen, to climb with them all into the shuttle to the airport and then the flight to Paris. Everything else, including how she was going to find the courage inside her to swing her legs over the side of the bed and sit up—a task that, given how she felt, would demand the fearlessness of an Olympic gymnast—was secondary. She breathed in slowly and deeply through her nose, the noise a soft whistle, this time inhaling a smell more pronounced than the anise: sex. Yes, the room was rich with the unmistakable scent of a luxury hotel shampoo, but she could also smell herself and she could smell him, the evidential secretions from the  night before. He was still there, an absolutely silent sleeper, and she would see him once she rolled over. Once she sat up.

God, if only she'd brought him back to her room. But at dinner he had slipped her a room key, telling her he would be back by nine and to please be waiting for him there. She had. His room was a suite. It was massive, impeccably decorated and bigger than her apartment in Manhattan. The coffee table in the living room was inlaid with mother-of-pearl, the wood polished to the point that it reflected the light like a full moon. There was a bottle of Scotch in the bar—this was a real bar, not a minibar or campus fridge with a couple cans of Coke Zero on the lone shelf—that might cost more than the monthly maintenance on her apartment back in New York.

She closed her eyes against the shame, the disgust. She tried to remind herself that this was just who she was—how she was—and to ratchet down at least a little bit the self-loathing. Hadn't they had fun last night? Of course they had. At least she presumed they had. When she had first opened her eyes, she had hoped for a moment that she had only been passed-out drunk, but no, it was clear that she had been blackout drunk. Again. The difference was not semantics. She experienced both. Passed-out drunk was more humiliating when it happened: she was the woman with her face half buried in the throw pillows on the couch, oblivious to the party moving on without her. Blackout drunk was more embarrassing the next morning, when she woke up in strange beds with strange men, and not a clue how she'd gotten there. She could recall this hotel room and this man, and that was a good sign, but clearly there were chasm-like gaps in her memory. The last thing she could recall was leaving. In her memory, she was dressed and she was exiting this
suite, and he was in one of those marvelous hotel room robes, black and white zebra stripes on the exterior, terrycloth on the inside, and joking about the broken bottle of Stoli they had yet to clean up. He'd mumbled that he would deal with it—the spilled vodka, the dagger-like shards—in the morning.

And yet here she was. Back in his bed.

She sighed slowly, carefully, so as not to exacerbate her looming headache. Finally she lifted her head and felt a wave of nausea as the room spun. Instantly she sank back into the pillow's voluptuous, downy welcome.
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