“Yes, room 17-034. Eight o’clock is fine. Great. Th- Thank you.” Steven pressed the end button on the phone and shoved it into his pocket. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with his right hand and dried it on his khaki dress slacks, leaving a dark handprint behind.
He grabbed the hotel card and headed out the door toward the elevator. The doors dinged and slid open, and he stepped inside them. As he waited for the seventeen floors to pass, he glimpsed his reflection in the polished gold trim of the elevator interior. His face was flushed and glistening. He ran his fingers through his thinning hair, straightened his collar, and avoided eye contact with himself for the remainder of the ride.
He wound his way around the slot machines and tables to the lounge, taking an isolated stool at the end of the bar while a group of college kids did karaoke at the opposite end.
“What can I get for you?” the girl behind the counter asked with a generic smile.
“How about a Jake-Knife?” he replied, head sunk down into his shoulders, arms wedged against the bar. He pulled his phone from his pocket and pushed the home button. It said it was 7:33PM.
She turned away from the bar. Her red hair hung from a clip on the back of her head and swayed as she reached for the bottles and poured. “That’s strong stuff,” she said, turning back around. She grabbed the bar nozzle and pushed the button, dribbling Coke into the glass. “Most people don’t order those unless they’re trying to forget something they did, or hoping not to remember what they’re about to do.”
She picked up a white square napkin from behind the bar, laid it in front of Steven, and placed the martini glass in the middle. She wiped her hands on a rag and tried without success to meet Steven’s eye. “Are you staying here at the hotel?” she said, rubbing the surface of the bar with the same rag despite there being nothing to clean up.
He glanced up at her face then sipped his drink. “Yep,” he replied, wincing as he felt the alcohol sear his throat.
“You in town for business or pleasure?” she inquired as he took another gulp, taking the entire glass down in one shot.
“Another please,” he croaked through watery eyes. She turned and began mixing another round. “Business,” he replied once his throat had stopped burning.
“What kind of business do you do?” she continued as she placed another drink in front of him, refusing to let him sit and marinate alone.
He pinched the stem of the glass in between his thumb and forefinger, spinning it around as the napkin twirled beneath it. “What’s your name?” he asked as he peered into his drink.
“Hi Roxy. Do you always ask so many questions to people who clearly want to be left alone?” he asked before pressing his lips to the rim of the glass and taking a sip.
“No,” she said as she let out a chuckle, “but a man doesn’t make a beeline from the elevator to my bar and down two without something on his mind.”
He smiled and looked at Roxy over the top of his glass before tipping it up and taking the drink in one gulp again. “Just loosening up before an 8 o’clock appointment,” he muttered through the haze.
She glanced at the television at the end of the bar, then back to him. “Well . . . it’s 7:49 by my clock.”
He picked up his phone. “Shit! Can you bill the drinks to my room?” he blurted as he stood up from the barstool and darted toward the exit.
“What’s your room number?” she called back.
“You got it,” she said, taking the empty glass behind the counter. “Don’t forget your ring!” she called out just as he cleared the wooden doorjamb.
His shoes squeaked as he came to a full stop. Walking back to the entryway, he cocked an eyebrow at the girl behind the counter. “My ring?” he said as he looked down at his left hand. “I’m not wearing a ring.”
“Right. I just saw a tan line of a ring and thought you might have dropped it . . . or maybe taken it off,” she said with a nod, Steven’s full attention on her now. “I wanted to make sure you got it back if you did.”
He didn’t say a word but stared at her with glossy, confused eyes.
“Wouldn’t want to be late for your 8 o’clock,” she said with a soft smile. A faint smile crossed his lips in return and he sprinted toward the elevator.
He slid his hand into the crevice in the nearly closed elevator doors and triggered the release. The door reopened and he slipped inside, joining a young woman dressed in a small black dress and an older gentleman already inside.
“Sorry- sorry,” Steven said, out of breath from his cross-lobby jog. The two occupants didn’t reply.
He saw himself in the reflection of the gold trim again, this time he looked himself in the eye and didn’t look away. He smiled, rubbed his eyes, and pulled his phone from his pocket. The floors passed as he scrolled down his contact list, clicking on “HOME” just as the doors slid open at floor twelve and the gentleman exited the elevator.
Tears blurred his vision as the other line continued to ring. He leaned against the back of the elevator while he waited for the other end to pick up. His lone elevator partner fidgeted with the straps of her dress and checked her makeup.
The voicemail chime rang in his ear and he smiled as he listened to the greeting he had heard a hundred times before. The young woman fished her phone from her satchel and opened a text with a single number in it: 17-034.
She slid it back into her purse and exited the elevator on the seventeenth floor.
Steven pushed the button for a few floors up and left a message on the voicemail. “Hi honey! Just- just giving you a call to tell you I love you and . . . I’ll be home soon.”