There are some people in this world who thrive from human interaction, who draw enamoured crowds wherever they go, and delight in plurals, and then there are those on the other end of the spectrum.
Those who like to slip like spectres between the this, that, and the other of human interaction. Those who bead up anxious under the straight line stress of ‘hello’.
Those like me.
Bar a few special individuals, I am most content in the singular. I can go hours in the reservoir of my own internal wonderings and be perfectly pleased. This was the reason for my rusty stiff reception to recalling the room share I must endure with Andrew that evening. I would rather spend 100 nights alone than this one with Him—especially now that I know He has a loaded gun. I was looking for any distraction to save me going up to join Him, but tiredness has a cruel sense of timing and my jaw strained with sleepy appeals pre-ten pm. Perhaps I could dash in quickly and slip straight between the sheets? Perhaps He isn’t even up there, in which case I am tiring myself out for no reason. What are the chances a good-looker like Him needs to hoard snores like me anyway? He is probably out striking poses in strobes and brushing the fingers of single ladies to the hammer and drill of a Saturday night.
Feeling the baggy lethargy of sleep like lead slippers, I made my way towards the room.
A sleepy stupor strained at my labours, eyes glistened in stormy contour blue, and nothing more. I fell into autopilot, reserving my entire focus for keeping the remaining hot tea inside the mug.
Three knocks. Nothing. Thank goodness, it seems He was out after all.
A light reverberation whispered in the corridor. I thought nothing of it.
I reached into my pocket for the hotel room door card, fumbled and found.
The undulating and familiar troughs and arches; a thoroughbred breeze humming past the eardrums. Such familiarity— but the thought only made a gentle contact with my conscience.
Pulled the room card out—or thought I had pulled it out, but it was ‘T’s card, in all its blank conundrums and queries of white. Nothing but her number and a bold letter T drumming its perplexing plosive-ity and unvoiced interrogations.
Before I could react, the door of the room swung open and I fell inwards, directly into—
There He stood, dripping post-shower crystals, wearing nothing but His abundant wedding vegetables and a happy-go-lucky smile. A smile that tugged a chord, dangling a bold toe over the line into improper cheeky smirks. My no-milk-no-sugar tea had spilled open jawed from the mug it sat in. It seemed I was destined not to enjoy my brew this evening.
“Hello Little Miss.”
I felt myself reeling in pulses of pure crimson—full traffic cone red, my cheeks flushing police sirens.
So much for my Expression Techniques, I had not trained myself for embarrassment. I took a deep breath and recalled my strategies:
- Learn to step back from a situation, try to see the bigger picture: I didn’t think making the picture stuck in my head any bigger would help.
- Focus: There was only one thing I could focus on at the moment, and that is the reason why I was blushing!
I could see this was futile. At this time, I had been standing statue still in silence, fox red in the face and burning in mortification for over 30 seconds, but there He stood radiating bodily pride, seeming to enjoy Himself—or my reaction, more likely.
I couldn’t think; every particle of poise plummeted into my feet, backing me misty-minded out of the door and shutting it behind me.
Most importantly, it wasn’t the Full Monty platter that sent me reaching beetroot in my cheeks, it was the tapestry of deep scars that laced through His white flesh like a worm-devoured apple. Red recent ones, round ones, puckered bullet-shaped ones, slender silkworm ones. He was a canvas of previous injury.
The lines of thought flexed and vanished. I couldn’t think straight—I wonder if this feeling is where the saying came from?
Three things struck me at that moment—two making me want to hit myself, and the other making me want to hit Him, my fist torn between targets.
- I knew he did this for effect and nothing else. He was power playing with me again
- I ate straight out of His hand-carved shower-damp palms
- I was still holding the card from ‘T’ in my hand, in full sight, and I have no way to know:
- If He saw it
- Whether it would mean anything to Him if He did. My speculation of a link between them may have been grounded in the very same misty-mindedness I suffered as I backed out of the room.
I have also learned that my Confidence Techniques are ineffective against embarrassment—or need a lot of work! It occurs to me, perhaps I will not be able to fight His fire with my own—perhaps I will have to find a way to extinguish the flame instead?
Outside the door, outside His judgement—for a moment—I filed my thoughts. How could He possibly have gained so many scars? Has something terrible happened to Him? That would explain a lot. How will I ever face Him again?
The door opened, “Don’t be daft, you can’t stay out there all night.”
He was wearing a pair of trousers. So He thought it was His nakedness that startled me? I took stock of myself, planed my face. He was right though; what choice did I have when there is nowhere else to stay in town? I stepped inside.
“Some bad things happened. It hurt a lot, but it does not hurt anymore. Never ask me about it—please.”
We were back to the afterthought of please again. I felt we had taken a full step backwards since He was gently tending to my cuts at the café. It did strike me that this was His doing. He wanted me to know this—why?
I turned away, struggling to keep fox red colouring my cheeks again. He took my hand tenderly, rubbed it for a pulsing instant, “You can look, touch if you need to, but no questions—please.”
A cascade of thoughts: should I look? Should I touch? Was He hoping this would open a feisty hormone-driven doorway? I am not that sort of girl!
If I didn’t, I would show weakness, and I have already let myself down tonight. He is not the sort of man you admit weakness to. His t-shirt was on the bed. I picked it up, contemplating whether to give it to him.
A long time ago, during my first weeks working for Andrew, I saw a patch of cover-up on His face, now, I stared Him placid-poker in the eyes, and noticed a set of black protruding marks, curling elegantly down His temple.
It seemed He had a tattoo there.
Weirdly, on further inspection, I only found one other, on His shoulder, similarly delicate intertwined lines. I say ‘weirdly’, because people who have ink on their face are usually covered from head-to-toe in tattoos. It seems almost as though they have run out of canvas before they run out of creativity, and choose to continue anyway, but Andrew had chosen, specifically, to tattoo His face. If you mark your face, surely the intention is that people should see it, but instead He covers it up. Ever more mysteries surround Andrew, and each new mystery, I am not allowed to talk about.
Working my way down, I noticed most of His scars seemed to have been inflicted at the same time; they blended into one another as though one wound hadn’t healed before another was inflicted—swampy burned patches, lengthy strangled cuts, and what I could only imagine were cigar burns. His back was a maze of whiplashes. The thought of it summoned bile. What could He have done to deserve these?
Beneath the canvas of scars, He was a sterling male specimen—taut and fine in every aspect. His perfection didn’t end at His beautifully chiselled jawline. I never knew there was such a thing as an eight pack—but for once, thankfully, I didn’t feel the Stockholm syndrome crush that seemed to have overtaken me recently, only the consuming desire to help another fellow human being.
His face undressed, washed clean of masks and power plays, for the first time ever—possibly—I saw His molten core.
He took my hand, placing it on His chest. The air leapt into an orchestral reverberation of quintessential leaps and bounds, a ballet of electrical charge, surging and raging and diminishing—and ever so gently curious. I think this meant He was nervous.
I had been making notes on the temperaments of His ‘medical condition’, and found it often peaks with emotion, focus, or interest. I had never witnessed this emotion before. You could say this has been my new obsession for the last month.
My hand on His chest, I felt the anguished topography of whatever past He had endured, and like this, we stood, simply looking at each other like two human beings seeing one another in bright light for the first time.
I am not sure what caused me to do what I did at this moment. It was not driven by the implosive thrust of hormones, but by the need to take care of another hurting and vulnerable individual. I placed both arms around Him, and held Him.
He could have pushed me away. He could have laughed at having manipulated me into acting one way or another, but He did not. Instead, I felt His large arms reciprocate.