“I’m okay,” I tell him. “About this, I mean. Are you?”
“Yes.” He has a hickey next to his collarbone. My first thought is how relieved I am that he can cover it up; my second is that I never want him to put clothes on again. “I am extremely okay.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” He rolls to his side again, pushing himself up onto his elbow, and because it’s a struggle not to look down again, I decide not to fight it. After a few wordless seconds, he laughs. “I might put some clothes on if we’re going to continue the conversation like this.” He motions vaguely to his lower half, still on display. “It’s a little drafty.”
Laughing, I pull the sheets to our chins and cuddle into the heat of him. He picks up my hand and begins massaging my fingers. Although there isn’t much he can do to stop the way my hands start moving as soon as I wake up, it’s still soothing; the rest of my body melts against the mattress. I’m happy with comfortable quiet. Talking means bringing up what got us here—or who—and what we’re going to do about it. I don’t know if I’m mentally prepared to deal with it before the sun is even up.
“We don’t have to decide anything now,” he says, studying me, “but we’ll eventually need to be on the same page about what we do outside this room.”
I gnaw on my lip, thinking while he continues to massage my hand. “As much as I want to protect this and keep it just between us for a little while, Melly will know. It’s like how dogs can smell fear, except it’s me with any hint of a life outside of work.”
“We don’t have to be anywhere for a few hours.” He looks at his watch. “Plenty of time to figure things out. I could go grab us coffee and something to eat and be back in ten minutes?”
“Yes, please.” My stomach gives a timely growl. “As you can hear, I am starving.”
He leans over me, hair a mess and eyes still sleepy. He kisses me once, not too long because we haven’t brushed our teeth yet, and then he’s up, sliding his glasses on and searching for his pants.
I lie back against the bed and stretch, content in a way I haven’t felt in ages. I listen to him move around the room, finding a shoe by the door, the other under the bed. Dressed, he leans over me again. I reach up, brush his hair back, and smile, relishing that this doesn’t feel awkward or weird.
“I want you to keep your glasses on.”
He lifts a single brow. He knows exactly what I mean. “We’ll do that when I get back.” A pause. “Don’t answer your phone yet, okay? Knowing Melly I’m sure she’ll be calling soon, and I want us to talk things out first.”
He peeks back over his shoulder at the clock. I groan. It’s five—almost time to get up and moving—but I want to stay in this happy bubble so much longer. “I won’t.”
Another kiss and then he’s up. “I’ll be fast. I’ll run.”
I laugh as the door closes behind him and fall back on the bed, grinning up at the ceiling. The room falls silent, but my booming thoughts easily fill the void. I like him. Not only is he absurdly good-looking when he’s naked, he’s also intuitive and patient and communicative and seems to get me, like really get me. Not because I’m simple, but because he’s looking carefully.
My smile falters. If he’s looking carefully, once the excitement of this wears off, he’ll see that there just isn’t all that much to me. Small-town girl, never been anywhere, no hobbies.
I like him, but what do our lives look like once we get back to Jackson? Other than the fact that he lives in a studio and has one loud neighbor and one old one, I know nothing about James’s life back home. Is he an early riser or a night owl? Does he cook or order takeout every night? I know he’s tidy, but is he fussy? Would my disdain for washing dishes drive him crazy? And what would it be like to work with someone I’m dating? I already don’t have time for a relationship—would the reality be that we’re ships passing in the night, the way it is with everyone else in my personal life?
Another question barrels past the rest: If we can’t keep this a secret, would Melly even be willing to share me?
That thought is enough to fully knock the shine off my afterglow. I roll onto my side and feel the crinkle of plastic beneath me. The other condom wrapper. I pick it up, look at it. He said we should talk, and he’s right, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d rather stay in the bubble and do other things first.
Practically vibrating, I rush into the bathroom. A towel is laid out smoothly on the right corner of the counter. Neatly arranged on top are James’s toiletries: toothpaste, toothbrush, travel bottles of some salon brand shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, face wash, and a small tub of expensive-looking moisturizer. I think of my own toiletry case, packed so full it will barely zip, toothpaste closed with Saran wrap because I lost the cap, a random assortment of shampoo bottles I took from another hotel, everything still covered in a fine layer of the pressed powder I dropped the night before we left. James would probably break out in hives if he took two steps into my hotel room and saw the wet towel I left in the middle of my bed and that most of my clothes are still lying in my open suitcase.
I wash my hands and rush through the rest of a makeshift routine: splash my face, finger-brush my teeth, and help myself to a dab of his moisturizer. I shake out my hair, smoothing it down and then fluffing it back up again. I take one last look in the mirror—I like the way he looks on me.
The thought cycles back: we still have three cities to go. I imagine telling Melly about this. The prospect is terrifying. Better: I’m able to keep James a secret, get through the rest of the tour, and then we take it one day at a time back home. Just like normal people do, right? Working less, playing more. Actually getting to know him—
There’s a noise from the other room, a jiggle on the outside door handle.
I race to the bed, heart pounding. The lock clicks just as I lie back against the stack of pillows, hair fanned out around me and sheet arranged so my leg is bare, my breasts barely covered.
The view of the door is blocked by a little hall, and I grin as I hear the door sweep over the carpet and swiftly close again.
“So about those three hours until we have to be downstairs.” I pick up the remaining condoms and dangle them midair. “Whatever will we do to fill the time?”
“What. The fuck.”
I stop breathing altogether. Melly.
I jerk the sheet over my chest and throw the condoms like I’ve just been brandishing a handful of shit. “Oh my God! What—what are you doing here?”
“What am I doing here?” She waves what I know without question is a honey-do list. “I was coming to talk to my husband! What the fuck are you doing here?”
I am so confused. Beyond confused, I am petrified. In a rush, I am up on my knees, one hand out in front of me while the other clutches the sheet to my chest. “Oh my God, Melly. You can’t think that I—that me and Rusty—! I would never!”
Melly tilts her head as she looks at me, really looks at me. She blinks slowly, her feathery lash extensions fluttering like she has all the time in the world. Outwardly, she seems suddenly calm. Her stillness is terrifying.
Oh God, can she smell fear?
“Would never what, exactly?” she says, too quiet, too serene. “Maybe you could clarify exactly which of your betrayals you are referring to, Carey. Never try to undermine me? Lie to me? Sleep with my husband?”
My heart is pounding in my chest. “Melly. I would never do any of those things. It’s not what you’re thinking.” I glance around the room, at my skirt that practically waves like a floozy from the floor where James threw it. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to tell Melly—I certainly didn’t want to tell her like this—and now I have to. “This isn’t Rusty’s room.”
“It is, Carey.” She holds up her key. “They didn’t have adjoining rooms, and Joe gave me the spare.”
“There must have been a mix-up when he handed them out.” I take a deep breath and let it out as evenly as possible. “This isn’t Rusty’s room, it’s James’s.”
Her forehead moves only infinitesimally these days—all the muscles kept in place with Botox and sheer will—but there’s definitely something displeased happening in her expression: the twitch of a perfectly waxed brow, the narrowing of her eyes.
I swallow; my throat is suddenly dry. With another quick glance, I nod to his shiny aluminum suitcase in the corner. “I spent the night with James.”
My admission seems to have taken some of the fire out of her, but she’s clearly not convinced. Stepping away from the hallway, she finally takes a look at something other than me and my body barely covered by sheets. She stops in front of the closet and cracks open the door. Instead of finding Rusty’s jerseys or custom tailored shirts, a row of neatly spaced button-downs stares back. Melly snorts, shaking her head at the view, and for a brief moment I think she might burst out laughing.
But then she closes the door and slowly turns. I barely breathe as her sharp eyes take in the general disarray around us. Besides my clothes, the garbage can is knocked over, my bra is on the desk lamp, and there’s a hastily torn open Intimacy Kit next to the bed.
“Well,” she says, and steps over what I think is my underwear. “You and James.”
I tread lightly. She might seem calm, but something’s lurking just below the surface. Right now Melissa reminds me a lot of a spider, and this feels entirely like a trap, luring me in.
“I don’t know if I would say me and James, exactly.” I motion to my sheet. “Could I put something on?”
She gives me a clipped “Of course,” and I stand up, sheet wrapped securely around me, and head for the bathroom.
Safely inside, I look at myself in the mirror again. I’m the same Carey from ten minutes ago, but I feel like a totally different person. Or, rather, I feel like the same Carey who got into the elevator yesterday, not the one who woke up this morning refreshed, relaxed, sexed, and wondering if—for once—someone might be completely on my team.