On a routine business trip, Henry picks up a handsome guy needing a lift to New Mexico. He soon realizes that the man is more than he seems, and the storms that keep chasing them are no coincidence. Holding on to the kind of love and passion he's always wanted but was too afraid to reach for will be the most difficult thing he's ever done.
It had rained for seven days without stopping. That in itself wasn’t unusual for summer in Arizona, or so the receptionist told me. It didn’t mean I had to like it. There was something weird about the weather, about its intensity, that reminded me of fierce love and passion. Not that I would know much about such things from my own experience. I had never been that adventurous, and my tastes weren’t exactly something my family would accept, but I had seen love like that. Torrential. Dangerous. Unexpected. I wanted that kind of love.
I was stranded in Florence, a small town in Arizona. I should have been in Silver City, New Mexico, by now, but the rain was bad, and the news warned to stay off the roads. After watching the fantastic show of lightning streak across the night sky amid a downpour of monsoon rain, I had to agree with the news. I sat in a chair by the large window, the curtains open wide, and watched the rain while I tried to think of how best to make up my lost time. I hated doing these trips, but my brother, Melvin, was sick, and I was the only other guy who knew the route and our contacts.
I worked in sales—promotional items, to be exact—not that it’s very exact at all. My mission for the next two months was to hit all the spots we distributed to and make sure, in person, that they were happy with us. Our company is a small endeavor run by Melvin and me. We had found that these types of runs made the customers feel special, resulting in sales. It was a small price to pay, and it was cheaper to do by car. It made us stand out in an age where all the other companies ran on automated phone systems and Internet orders alone. Sure, we had that too, but we still pushed for the personal touch. But this story isn’t about my prowess as a small businessman. It’s about how I found the kind of dangerous love I thought I’d always wanted.
My cell rang. I picked up. “Henry Beech.”
“Hey, Henry. How’s it going? Storm let up yet?” It was my sister-in-law, Kate.
“Nope, still stuck at the lovely Blue Mist Hotel in Florence.”
“You know there’s a prison out there.”
I nodded and said, “Yes.” Someone was out there in the rain, his shape a shadowy silhouette. A chill ran down my spine. Leave it to Kate to plant ideas in my head. She used to tell my brother and me ghost stories when we were teens, and they had started dating. Kate knew how to scare the piss out of a person.
“How’s my brother?”
“He has strep. The doc has him on antibiotics. He’ll be fine in a couple weeks. Back to his old self.”
“Sure wish it was him here instead of me.”
She laughed. The phone crackled and popped with static. “I’m sure you do. Listen, Henry, you stay—” But the line went dead. I set the phone down without taking my eyes off the man walking through the parking lot to the office. The rain pounded harder. He had to be soaked through. Lightning danced across the sky, illuminating the darkness in a flash of brilliant white. I swear the man turned and stared straight at me. Then, the darkness returned, and he went inside.
Just another customer, I tried to convince myself, all the while thinking he was probably an escaped convict who would break into my room and murder me in the night. Damn Kate. I watched the office for a while, expecting the worst—a blood-curdling scream, breaking glass, but nothing happened. I could see the man inside, standing at the counter while the receptionist waited on him. She was a nice older lady named Ruth or Ruby. I couldn’t really remember.
Sighing, I looked down at my paperwork and went back to my job, filling out forms. Once they were done, I’d transfer it all into the laptop and upload it in the morning. I hoped the rain would let up by then. I wanted to get going and get done with the trip. I’d only been to three cities, and I was already tired of driving.
Thunder rolled across the sky above the motel, shaking the glass in the window beside me. I glanced up in time to see the man leaving the office, striding along the sidewalk as if the downpour meant nothing to him. He stopped at my window, lifted a hand in a nonchalant wave, and then went on his way.
I heard him rattle the doorknob in the room next to mine. It opened and shut, and that was that. I had a neighbor.
I continued working, all the while wondering where the man’s car was and why he had no luggage. A glance to the office. The thunder boomed, and then, the power went out. I stared at my reflection in the glass, lit by my laptop screen. Yay for battery power. In the next room, I heard my neighbor’s footsteps. Something bumped against the wall, once, twice, then only the silence of the rainstorm. I waited a while before I shut my laptop and headed for bed.
Lying in the darkness, I heard my neighbor’s low voice singing. I tried for a long while to make out his words, but soon realized he wasn’t speaking English at all. It wasn’t Spanish. In fact, I’m not sure what dialect it was even close to. His voice pulsed and thrummed, much like the rain or a low drumbeat. It soothed my fear. I closed my eyes and let his song wash over me until I fell into a deep sleep.
I’m not one to remember my dreams, but when I woke up the next morning to a sunrise clouded over by gray skies and pounding rain, I remembered something. Just a scene. A handsome man reaching for me from beneath a shimmering surface of water. I had tried to hold my hand out to him, but I couldn’t touch him, no matter how far I leaned over the boat. He was drowning, and I couldn’t save him.
The remnant of that dream made me uneasy.
Still dressed in only my pajama pants, I pushed out of bed and stumbled to the open window. The sky looked angry. Thunder crackled. I sighed and scratched the back of my head. “That’s it,” I told myself. “I’m out of this place.” The rain increased. Water had pooled across the parking lot, making it look like a river had overflowed nearby.
I flicked on the TV and listened absently to yet another weather alert while I headed to the bathroom to shower and shave. “The National Weather Service has listed a....” I sighed and turned the water on. After stripping, I stepped into a warm shower and let the water rinse away my grogginess. The motel soap was cheap and grainy, but it smelled good enough. Bubbles slicked up my body. I leaned against the tile and wondered what it must be like to take a shower with another person. What if I did find someone? My brother would never understand me. My father never had. I think my mother knew, but she didn’t say anything, offering her polite smile and a few knowing comments over the years. There had been a few guys in college that I liked to hang out with, but I never asked if they were gay. I had known since puberty that I was.
Massaging shampoo through my hair, thunder rumbling overhead in a raucous boom that made the light flicker, I made a wish. I wished there was a man for me, a guy who understood my quirks, who would accept me the way I was and fill the empty void I tried so hard to pretend didn’t exist.
The power went out.
I rinsed away the soap and shampoo, then turned off the water. A shimmer of panic made my heart skip faster. I wanted to get out of that motel. I needed to get on the road and get back on track. Away from wishes that had no chance of coming true.
“Stupid thing to wish for,” I grumbled at myself. “It’s safer to be alone.” Dried and naked, I stood in front of the mirror and spread shaving cream across my chin, cheeks, and upper lip. I liked a clean look, and with each draw of the razor, I made myself less unkempt and more like a businessman a person could trust.
Through the sound of the storm beating on the roof, I heard the now familiar tune my neighbor had sung the night before. After splashing water over my face, I stared in the mirror and saw the silhouette of a man staring at me through the window by the front door.