This is something of a departure from my usual style and may not appeal to everyone. Relax, it’s not raunchy (spoiler). Nor is it moralistic. It’s just a story. Are we clear? Proceed.
She realises with a start that she has forgotten the awkwardness of being naked with someone for the first time.
Perhaps if they’d found themselves in a more romantic situation. But here they are, with the mottled light of the hotel curtains painting their skin in secondhand shades of green and purple, and he is carefully draping his shirt over the back of the chair, and picking up the fallen necktie he has dropped. Fumbling. He’s as nervous as she is, and this too comes as a revelation after the weeks of steamy glances and the illicit texts and the ever-pushed boundaries.
Hardly conducive to lust.
He sits next to her on the bed and takes her hand tentatively. “Are you… alright?”
She shrugs, trying to display indifference. The movement of her shoulders feels as though it is pulling time into herself, finally feeling the last two hazy hours during which she finished up at the office and drove out to this hotel and booked a room under a false name. They left separately of course, and while she waited for him she touched up her make-up and changed into the silk slip she hasn’t worn in years. She was light-headed all the time, not even thinking ahead, not daring to anticipate this final act. Instead she read old copies of gossip magazines that she found arranged on the side-table.
And then he arrived, and here they are, naked in a hotel room. Perhaps it’s the two-year-old celebrity gossip that has drained her.
“Yes, I’m alright.” She pats his arm reassuringly. And then she bites her lip. “Well… no. I just… it’s just that…”
Perhaps he sees her hanging silence as some inner maelstrom of emotion, of doubt and darkness and despair. He gets to his feet and paces to the dressing table and she can see his own tension in the sinews of his neck. The strangeness of a foreign body, she thinks.
She gets to her feet and follows him. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I just… it’s just…” The room, the curtains, the strangeness. The loneliness, like tumbling down a mountain, faster and faster.
And then it bursts out of her. “Jesus, I can’t stand it! Did you have to hand in your expense report today?”
Her eyes are wide and frantic, the words stampeding out of her. “It’s just that stupid old Caroline from accounting sent mine back to me twice – twice! And just because she hadn’t actually bothered to read my note. God she drives me mad! And I can’t even bitch about it to anyone because everyone’s so bloody terrified of her!”
The tension in him snaps with rubber-band lightning. “Oh my God, you’re so right! She’s such a bloody old harpy. Donald let slip once that she’s been reporting people weekly for the last ten years, and no one pays attention to her anymore because it’s always for rubbish like not following the formatting properly. I had such a run-in with her last week over it… God I was pissed off!”
“I can just imagine! Mind you, Donald is such a gossip. I swear, he’s made up half the bloody rumours in that place.”
“I know, right? Christ! Do you know, last weekend he took Sam golfing and they went out to the pub after, and Donald got absolutely pissed, right? And then on Monday he was telling everybody how drunk Sam was, like he wasn’t giving the alley out back a beer finish.”
“Filthy hypocrite!” She bursts out laughing, bounces back onto the bed. He follows and there they are, loose and wild in an orgy of office abuse, laughing hysterically at this colleague’s fashion sense and that colleague’s habit of leaving unwashed mugs in the sink, and her hopes of a promotion and his enthusiastic support. It spirals through elation and hilarity and finally she is lying with her head on his arm, relaxed, muscles loose, glowing with release.
“Oh shit, look at the time,” he says suddenly, and there it is, reality intruding. There are spouses to go home to, departures to co-ordinate. They dress side by side, quiet now. She wonders what he is feeling, whether he is ashamed by their waylaid assignation.
He shrugs on his jacket, throws her a cautious glance. “So er… same time next week?”
She looks at him for a long time, seeing all the possibilities. “Alright,” she says, and kisses him on the cheek before disappearing into the night.