I took a moment to peer out the hotel window, opening it an inch so that we could hear the turbulent rain. There were no people. The area was like an evacuation. They were all firmly inside their dwellings, waiting and watching nature for what it had in store. There was a long line of black-grey clouds like a herd of buffalo touching nose to tail with no separation between them. It went on for miles and I knew the rain wasn’t about to let up. It came straight down with the occasional diagonal burst. And then the same worry; my apartment would become flooded and I would have to use my short supply of bath towels to soak up the intrusion when I got home.
I closed the window and went to Gale on the bed.
The harrowing cycles of rain and thunder complimented our lovemaking. It was only when we stopped to breathe, huffing like construction workers, that we caught each other’s eyes and chuckled at the rain. Our session was prolonged because I wanted it that way. She was gracious, taking whichever pace I chose, but I cared about her too much to rush to solution. My kisses were wet, and at first I apologized for them. But she snickered and laughed under her breath. Her eyes told me it was desired, that moisture equaled caring, lips on skin meant tenderness. And I gave that to her in gulps, long before I ever went in for the kill. Even that went on like a boat ride, smooth out of the gate, and then rocky with dips and lunges, back to serenity like the stunned, and then momentous, with force, like my heart was the steering the ride.
Afterward I lay back with my head on the pillow. The hair at the back of my head was cold and wet. The air-conditioner was on high and its air whirled at me urgently, chilling me so that I pulled the sheet up over my torso. Gale got up and walked naked to the bathroom. Then I heard her laugh.
“What is it?” I said.
“I look terrible,” she said giggling. “I look like a ghoul.”
“Come on! You don’t wear that much makeup,” I told her, and fortunately it was true.
“Oh really?” she said and poked her head out of the bathroom. There was mascara clouding her eyes with trails running down her cheeks.
“Looks like someone put you through the ringer.”
We smiled and she went back to the bathroom, this time closing the door. I looked again at the large windows that faced west, to where inoffensive rain was smacking the panes, like an audience down below throwing pebbles up at us. The pelts were busy, sometimes finding rhythm. I lay back and listened to them with my eyes narrowing in relaxation. Suddenly my stomach croaked and I was hungry.
“I can’t believe you talked me into leaving work early,” she said, coming out of the bathroom wearing a white terrycloth robe.
“Hey, what’s with the robe?”
“It’s the hotel’s, silly.”
“Yeah, that’s nice. Now lose it.”
“You’re bad,” she said shaking her head and coming over to the bed, sitting on the corner the same way I did when putting on my socks and shoes. Then she raised her right foot and tucked it under her bottom.
“It’s still raining,” I said with indifference.
Gale got up and went to the windows to watch it.
“Hmm…” she said, “Sure is.”
Five minutes later I’d managed to get Gale out of the robe and back into bed, though we only lay there this time. I sure as hell wasn’t ready for another go. We chatted over miscellaneous topics. First it was the weather, then the forecast the rest of the week, the potholes in the streets, car tires, a possible wine tasting road trip in Temecula, and back to the rain again. We had planned to go out for a bite, but the rain talked us out of it. So we lay there and I held her lovingly. Within minutes I was fast asleep.
I awoke groggy from the good sleep. It had been a rest that wasn’t needed though just as appreciated. I got up and walked naked to the mirror, inspecting my torn face in the vanity. It was cold and there was a breeze of unknown origin sifting at my thighs and buttocks. I felt self-conscious. I felt exposed. Looking back, Gale was watching contentedly. Her face seemed to say, I love your way. At least that was what I had hoped, for I was middle-aged and not in the best shape anymore. I had a bit of a stomach and my chest was no longer inflated as in my youthful days. But I knew who I was, and accepted it. I shivered on my way to the bathroom.
“Are you cold?” Gale said laughing behind me.
“I sure as hell should be,” I said, and then back-stepped so she could see me again in my nakedness. “Look at me. I’m a naked mess!”
“Oh Hank,” she blushed. “You’re cute.” Her hands were holding her face now, and her eyes blinked slowly and sensually.
“I’ll be right back,” I said in order to get out of the limelight, and went to the bathroom. I brushed my teeth slowly, watching my eyes in the mirror. After I washed my face it took a while to find clear vision again as I had mashed the towel over my eyes. When I came back Gale was snoozing again. I sat on the rigid chair at the desk and watched her.
Self-doubt crossed my mind. I wasn’t in the habit of finding girlfriends like Gale. In fact, it had been years since I’d gone on a second date. Dating was a sham. It was a regurgitation of a boring bio with added embellishments in order to keep the conversation interesting. I didn’t mind listening to them talk. Actually, I was intrigued by their different pasts. But the hoping and wanting to get along was what annoyed me to tears. We based our initial chemistry on looks. If that passed the test, we talked and walked on eggshells to see if we could meet at the backdoor without finding too many red flags. It was a minefield. Our eyes were wide like microscopes, our questions careful and scrutinizing, asking on behalf of ourselves and our families and all the people we respected who would or would not approve. It was sad really, the insecurity. But I felt I’d moved past that of late. Somehow my sense of self had found a place. It was no longer a question mark of curiosity and wonderment.
She was awake now, watching me like a harmless cat.
“Welcome back,” I said and she smiled.
“Why didn’t you wake me?”
“What for? You were in a better place.”
“Unconscious is a better place?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“What did you mean then?”
“You were sleeping sweetly. You were so relaxed. I’ll bet you were dreaming of nice things.”
“I don’t know what I was dreaming,” Gale said and adjusted the pillows behind her so she could sit up. The sheet fell to her waist and her breasts were out there for me to see. She looked down and then up at me.
“You’re damn beautiful,” I said. “You’ve got me all riled up inside. In a good way, of course.”
“Me too, Hank,” she said and looked away thoughtfully.
I was spun. But there was that core of me, deep within that told me I couldn’t do it. I was a life bachelor it said. And then I went deep, admitting what it was. It was plain fear. I was middle-aged and afraid to do what many youngsters had attempted and failed.
“How do you feel about me?” I said point blank, giving her my eyes.
“What do you mean?” she said.
“Exactly what it means.”
“You know how I feel,” she said with a look that told me.
“Let’s not beat around the bush,” I said and suddenly she was perked up like a deer caught by a car.
“What do you mean?” she said.
The room got silent. I was a nervous fool. Everything I’d told myself not to do was out the window, getting soaked in the rain. The rain was cleansing that side of me. It told me it was never too late to start fresh, that it was always possible to break convention.
“Hank?” Gale said a bit timidly this time, pulling the sheet over her chest and holding the thinness with both hands. I looked at her hands. They were soft and gorgeous.
“How long have we been going out?” I said, though knowing the answer. I was beating around the bush just as I’d told her I wouldn’t.
“About four months. A little longer.”
“I’ve got to tell you I love you,” I said with the driest throat. My heart was lumping and I was fumbling with my hands not knowing what to do, so I went to her on the bed. I sat at her side, scared to wits, and her hand found my thigh.
“Hank…” she said with a mouse’s voice, holding my hand to her face and keeping it there against her cheek. I didn’t see her lips move but there was her voice saying, “I love you too.”
“Okay, well it’s out there now.”
Her eyes were warm with happiness.
“I want you to stick around,” I said because I wasn’t the smoothest guy. “I don’t want you going anywhere.”
“Yes,” she said and curled closer to me, setting her head on my lap.
That was how I had done it. In my own way I’d asked her to stay with me for as long as possible.
“Let’s get out of here and get a nice dinner. And let’s keep the room for the night.”
Gale’s head went back to the pillow so that she sat reclined.
“I still don’t understand why you wanted to get a hotel room when we have both our places to go,” she said.
“I can’t explain it,” I said.
Gale raised her eyebrows that I knew better than to put one over on her.
“Okay,” I said. “There’s something special–” I broke off. I looked her in the eyes. “Don’t you think?”
“Yes.” But she was still waiting.
“I wanted everything to be nice and perfect. No worrying about dust and clutter and clothes everywhere, and napkins and dirty dishes in the sink, and none of that nonsense.”
“Then we should have gone to my place and saved however much you spent on this room.”
“Oh, so you’re the clean one?”
“I’ve seen your place,” I said sarcastically.
“It’s fine. Just fine,” I said smiling.
“I’m just saying. Wasn’t this place expensive?”
“It’s already forgotten. Everything was worth it. Why, do you think this place is a dump?”
“Look, we can spend time at our places any time after this, just not tonight. I wanted to be on neutral ground.”
“Okay, that’s fine,” she conceded and crossed her arms.
“You think I’m crazy,” I said and pulled her arm to uncross them.
“That’s the understatement of the year,” she laughed and I wrestled her to the sheets, the sounds of her cackling and my grunts emanating over the otherwise quiet room. And then like an hourglass running out of sand we collapsed and lay staring up at the ceiling, breathing quickly.
The rain was soft so that we could no longer hear it on the windowpanes. We lay there with daylight expiring, neither of us reaching to turn on the lamp. Her face nuzzled into my neck. I held her close, feeling her warm skin. My stomach groaned though I ignored it. And then the rain picked up again, singing us a song. It was a melody of discovery, for everything was brand new to my ears; the pitter-patters and sprinkles and barrages were sharp and clear, coming to me as though I was flying high above and my delicate ears had just popped. My vision was also skewed, the darkening sky making the raindrops fly invisibly at the window. And the panes drooled as though melted by the night. Gale moved closer now, resting a leg over mine. I wanted to tell her I loved her again, more tenderly this time, like I should have done in the first place.
“Gale,” I whispered.
“Hank,” she droned.
And we both laughed.