Check out my second short story for Halloween Week here at evelynklebert.com. This is the story of two strangers trapped in a New Orleans boutique hotel in the middle of a tropical storm and the amazing connection that they discover between them.
The rain was pouring down in sheets, bands, they were called. She watched pensively through her balcony door. The breeze felt good, flooding into the dimly lit room. She stared downward toward the inner courtyard of the Hotel St. Mariana from the second floor. The swimming pool below, situated just in the center of the ornate patio, rippled with cascading rain droplets. The news said that the tropical storm should move over quickly, just tying up things for a bit, though the establishment had taken the precaution of placing sandbags at all entrances.
It was unexpected.
The storm was in the Gulf of Mexico but was predicted to move into Texas. Surprisingly, it took a substantial jog to the right at the last minute and landed in Louisiana, crashing her weekend getaway. She knew there might be a bit of rain, and it was the middle of hurricane season, late September, but she had been reluctant to shift course. She needed this. This time signaled a personal emancipation of sorts, beginning her life anew, and now, consequently, she was trapped in this little boutique hotel in the French Quarter for who knew how long.
She thought about going downstairs, not just staying here, trapped in the room. Though admittedly, it was a lovely trap, atmospheric. It reminded her of another time, one well removed from everything that her life represented now.
That voice in the back of her head, the cautious one that usually governed, reminded her that perhaps she should shut the balcony door, but the breeze felt so lovely and lifted her spirits. There was a rebelliousness burgeoning inside of her, one she usually kept in check, that seemed deliberately at odds with all those things she should do.
Undeniably though, the best part of this excursion of hers was that no one knew where she was. For the next two days, she’d escaped the snare of familial interference, people telling her what she should do, how to get on with her life, how she should feel. One way or another, this would be the new beginning for her that she so desperately craved.
It was a time to shed her old life, although, at the moment, all that progressive intent was a bit stymied as she was stuck in the middle of a storm. In some respects, storms made everything stand still. This, she’d always felt. The world and all her desires would simply have to pause until it passed.
Then again, perhaps this was just what she needed, a moment of quiet, suspended expectation and anticipation.
She leaned back on the white bedspread and closed her eyes, fatigue overtaking her. It had been this way for some time, just fatigue. She was so tired of stress and her life as it was. Undoubtedly all of this was purely emotional, then again, perhaps not.
He prowled with a deliberate restlessness. That was really the only way he could describe it. “Shouldn’t this be boarded up?” he fired toward the desk clerk, perhaps a little abrasively. He felt the clerk’s eyes on his back as he watched the torrents of rain pouring onto the street outside the plate glass windows.
“It’s only a tropical storm, sir. It should pass over with no incident.”
He frowned with tangible irritation. He was on a business trip traveling from up North, and this whole thing was woefully unexpected. Only a tropical storm was significant enough to cancel all his meetings and trap him in this little hotel. With frustration, he stalked the length of the antiquated lobby again. “Would you like more coffee, sir?”
He looked down at the Styrofoam cup in his hand that had been already filled twice with coffee several times more potent than he would ever obtain back home. The young clerk, a slender dark-haired lad that couldn’t have been in more than his early twenties, had made a pot of coffee just half an hour ago when he’d showed up. This storm was bothering him, and he undoubtedly was bothering the young desk clerk. “No, that’s all right.” Clearly, he was jumpy enough.
Mathias West didn’t like feeling trapped. He couldn’t book a flight out early, and he couldn’t roam the streets of New Orleans because of the storm. And he didn’t want to stop moving because if he did, it would only remind him of things he didn’t feel like facing, for instance, what a hollow sort of shamble his life was in. Ostensibly, he was a workaholic. He dated casually with no real intent of permanency because frankly it was easier and had become a habit. And usually, he was so busy that none of that was a problem unless, of course, things stopped like now.
He did not want this quiet time to reflect, but it seemed mother nature had other things in mind. So instead, he continued to stare out the window at the sheets of rain cascading off the pavement of Chartres St., trying to will it to move on, knowing full well what a futile waste of energy that was.
“Is there coffee?” He heard a decidedly feminine voice back in the vicinity of the front desk. He turned around, spying a tall slim, brunette woman at the small coffee station on the side of the long cherry wood desk. Amazing, another soul stirring in this bleak situation.
“How is the storm?” he heard her ask the young clerk, but he interrupted, answering rather intrusively.
“Wet and unmoving.”
Slowly, she turned around at the sound of his voice. Yes, tall, slender, pale skin and enormous eyes, lovely, he registered rather quickly. “Oh really, not moving?” she asked with surprise.
“Umm, no, Ma’am, actually,” the young clerk intervened. “The storm is moving. It will just take a day or so to completely clear out.”
He shrugged, turning back to the window, “Best listen to the expert,” he muttered.
And then, surprisingly, in just a few moments, she was standing next to him, coffee cup in hand. “I know it’s an inconvenience, but I do love the rain,” she murmured.
“This much of it?” he asked with sarcasm.
“I suppose that seems odd. But I find it, well, energizing, I suppose.” He couldn’t help but pick up on it. There was something just a bit wistful in her voice and a lovely intonation that seemed only characteristic of New Orleans, or so he’d surmised in the brief time he’d been in the city.
“Well, as it seems, we’ll be stranded here for a bit. I suppose I should introduce myself, Mathias West.” He didn’t bother to outstretch his hand as both of them were still holding coffee cups.
“What an interesting name,” she commented softly. “Olivia Blanchard,” she offered, smiling at him only briefly. And there was no denying it. Just that quickly, he was intrigued.
The small restaurant nestled in one corner of the Hotel St. Mariana opened around 7:00 AM. And as it was, they were the only partakers of breakfast. “I’ve been told to caution you that the hotel could lose electricity at any moment.” The young blond waitress told them rather gravely.
Liv smiled, sipping her orange juice. Across from her, her breakfast companion just gave a sort of grunt in acknowledgment. “Thank you,” Liv murmured just before the younger girl scurried away. Liv was only thirty-five, but she felt like Methuselah next to some of these young kids these days. Across from her, Mathias — still trying to wrap her brain around that name — drank his coffee. She wondered how he could drink so much of it, but then again, he did strike her as someone living a bit on the edge of things. “You know. It may just blow over with no power outages. It’s usually the wind that does damage.”
He nodded, “So I’ve heard. We get our share of storms, so they’re not completely alien to me. I just wasn’t expecting one here. Now, I mean. There wasn’t enough warning. It really threw a kink in things.”
“Yep, they do tend to get in the way,” she responded with the slightest tinge of humor in her voice. She was surprised to be sitting here with this man, this odd, cantankerous sort of individual. He’d caught her by surprise in the lobby, striking up a sort of pessimistic conversation about the weather when she’d joined him. They’d watched the storm roll in through the front window of The Hotel St. Mariana. “I’m sure tomorrow things will right themselves again.”
“Can I quote you on that, Olivia?” he’d said gruffly, though he lingered on her name a bit. He wasn’t really what most people would consider a handsome man — probably at least in his forties, bearded, dark brown hair, more on the husky side than slim, maybe just under six feet, she thought. And exuding, what was it, a sort of direct, disgruntled demeanor. She’d thought to herself like an angry bear, but it didn’t bother her. She was a teacher and used to fielding all types of personalities.
“No, you better not, just in case I end up being wrong.”
He’d looked at her a little oddly at her comment, assessing, she thought. Most people tended to dig in on their opinions, but she wasn’t nearly that committed to off-handed remarks. “Are you local?” he’d asked.
“Yes,” she smiled, “native to New Orleans.”
“I could almost pick up that peculiar accent. It’s not exactly Southern.”
She smiled, oddly amused at being described as peculiar. “Well, southern covers a lot of territory. Though I admit, we’re different than most anything else around us. And you are from?”
“Up North, Maryland originally, now Boston. I was in for a convention, supposed to be a sort of vacation.”
“Thus, the frustration,” she murmured lightly.
And it continued on, small talk. He worked for the Boston Globe as an editor, and she was a teacher at a community college. She expected him to be dismissive of that, many were, but he wasn’t, just continued to ask more questions. Of course, she didn’t flatter herself that he was really interested. It was clear to her that Mathias West desperately needed a distraction, and she just happened to fit the bill at the moment. After all, in truth, a distraction suited her as well.
She glanced around the small restaurant. Yes, she and Mathias West were indeed the only individuals here. So strange, she hadn’t even intended to leave her room that morning, but then the strongest restlessness had flooded over her, a need to ramble and explore, so much that it felt impossible to resist. She sipped her cool frothy orange juice and thought how lovely and indulgent a Mimosa would be just now. After all, she was now a free agent of the freest kind.
“Well, Olivia Blanchard,” he said casually, stirring his coffee, “you haven’t told me if there is a Mr. Blanchard.”
She glanced up, feeling just a little jolted, but again, she’d forgotten that the angry bear was direct and had no southern sensibilities of tactfulness, which suited her just now. She was tired of careful people. “No, no Mr. West, just me.”
Mathias waited, looking at her for an instant, expecting her to continue, then finally filling in. “Well, Olivia, I should tell you that I wasn’t always an editor. I started as an investigative reporter in my younger days and can’t shake the feeling that your response wasn’t a hard No but rather a soft one.”
“A soft one?” she questioned.
“More story there,” he elaborated.
She glanced around, wishing distractedly the waitress would come with her hash browns and eggs. She didn’t usually eat much breakfast, but for some reason, she felt like indulging, just like the hotel, an indulgence. Oh yes, back to his prying, “I’m not sure what you mean, Mr. West.” She said softly with an elusive smile but then noticed that he was studying her quietly, probably waiting for an answer that sounded reasonable. Well, she shouldn’t be surprised. Again, what else were they going to do today except perhaps dig up a stranger’s skeletons in the closet? “I’m recently divorced,” she offered quickly.
He nodded slightly as though she’d only acknowledged what he’d picked up on. “Yep, divorce is its special kind of hell, never easy.”
“Personal experience?” she asked, not overly concerned if she was now prying. It was only fair, and tactfulness seemed out the window here. It wasn’t as if they ran in the same circles or ever would. So, what if she offended him? Though oddly, her impression was that offending him might be difficult to do.
“About eight years ago, we’d been married just out of college, then, well, it just sort of fell apart.”
“My husband and I had been married just short of ten years. It was final, I guess, about a month ago.”
“Children?” he asked calmly.
“No, I, well, we tried. I lost a baby close to term once. Then there was another miscarriage. Just didn’t seem to be in the cards.”
His eyes seemed to change a bit. They were light-colored, maybe blue, or green, but she wasn’t sure. “That must have been difficult,” he said, maybe in a comforting way. It was challenging to tell with him. She suspected it wasn’t his nature to comfort, but she could be wrong. She didn’t have the best track record in reading people, her ex-husband being a prime example.
“Yes, it was, but the marriage wasn’t good. Children would have — I don’t know.”
“Made it complicated?”
She sighed, smiling a bit, funny feeling confiding in a stranger. It wasn’t her nature to be so unguarded. But now, with the storm, in this lovely little hotel so far apart from the way she’d always lived, it didn’t seem to matter all that much. “I would have loved children, but, yes, it would have made it difficult. Ryan and I were leading separate lives. And he, well, just went off and fell in love with someone else.”
His eyes were so fixed on her as though he was intently listening to what she was saying. It was odd that amount of attention. “I’m sorry, Olivia. That sounds like a very painful time.”
She smiled, “Most people I know call me Liv. Olivia seems very formal.”
He nodded, “Liv,” as though considering if, indeed, he felt comfortable with the sound of it on his lips, and then the food arrived, and the intense conversation stopped for the moment.
The storm continued to rage outside. Once in a while, he could hear it rattling, but it felt different now. All the irritation and frustration he indulged earlier was being stripped away. Liv? Did he dare tell her he preferred Olivia? Did he dare tell her that she was entrancing him with her candidness, with the lovely intoxicating tone of her voice? That a forty-three-year-old man was developing an intense crush on a perfect stranger, with emphasis on the word perfect.
This was ridiculous at his age. But he wanted to excoriate the ex-husband and thank him profusely for letting her go and throwing her in his path. She was quiet now, eating her breakfast, and he knew she was wondering if she’d made a mistake sharing the raw and painful part of her life that she was still dealing with. He was a middle-aged man and felt like he was in entirely new territory. He knew people and how to read people. But this, what was going on here, was new. “So, you’re leaving tomorrow?” she asked, her eyes wide. They were hazel, with flecks of dark green throughout.
“I’m not sure. There was a convention and meetings scheduled through the weekend, but I have a feeling all of it might be cancelled.”
She smiled, “Pity you can’t see more of the city. Have you been here before?”
“No, I haven’t. I wasn’t planning sightseeing, but I could be stranded a little while.”
“There are worse places to be.”
He moved his scrambled eggs around on the plate a bit. He’d ordered as she had, but not really hungry, and right now not at all interested in his food. And then he asked the question he’d wanted to ask for some time. “So, you live here in New Orleans, Liv?”
“Yes, well, in Metairie, I have a townhouse.”
“So, you’re here at this hotel. Why exactly?”
She paused, looking at him strangely. She was used to being judged. He could feel her wariness on his skin. He did have instincts as he called them. “I guess that seems strange to you.”
“No, not necessarily. I’m just curious, trying to put all the pieces together.”
“Lovely woman, all alone in this little boutique hotel buried in the French Quarter. I’m just nosy I guess.”
She smiled tentatively again, looking down at her plate, then glancing up at him almost shyly, deciding whether to trust him or whether it mattered if she could. “I just needed something different, a break, away from the old life — from people, from old things. I wanted something for me, completely out of the ordinary. I guess that sounds a bit self-indulgent.”
He shook his head slowly. “No, I booked this hotel away from the convention center, away from people I might know, for something different as well. To breathe different air for a little while.”
She stared at him, considering, he thought, that maybe under all his gruffness, there might be something there, something quizzically kindred. “That’s it exactly, to breathe different air. You do understand.”
“Yes, of course, I do, Olivia.”
He left the doors leading out to the balcony open in his room. The breeze from the rain outside helped to keep the room cooler. Just after his entrancing breakfast with Olivia Blanchard, the building did indeed lose electricity. He and Olivia had taken the stairs to the second floor, where they both had rooms. He’d escorted her to her door at the other end of the hall, wondering distractedly how to prolong their exchange.
“Are you a fan of cards?”
She’d smiled, indulgently he thought. “Only if I’m winning.”
“Seeing as we’re a bit trapped here, maybe I can test your skill later.”
She stood in the narrow hallway, looking at him in a way that made him wish they weren’t parting just now. “That sounds intriguing, Mr. West. You know where I am.” And then she’d left him to his own devices. Oddly, he wasn’t thinking anymore about his frustration, about being trapped here, unable to get on with things. Now, he was thinking about how long to wait before going down the hall to knock on Olivia Blanchard’s door.
She had opened the French balcony doors to allow some manner of light to creep into the hotel room. Outside, the storm raged, but she felt as though that veil of depression that had been hanging on her for months had been lightened. She smiled to herself. Suddenly, she felt young again, engaging, attractive. Angry Bear, she laughed — thinking about the man just down the hall that seemed anything but that now. In the short time they’d spent together downstairs in the lobby, then the dining room, she’d begun to see beneath the layers. He was incredibly sharp, to the point, insightful, compassionate, funny, and incredibly good-looking. And leaving for Massachusetts in probably a day. She was being silly, but it felt so good to be seen for a change, to be listened to, to not be judged by a lifetime of baggage.
She stood by the open doorway, feeling the soft mist of rain caressing her face. She was tired, but she didn’t want to sleep. She wanted to jump in headfirst. Of course, she didn’t know his room number. Maybe she could figure it out. And then, a bit unexpectedly, she heard a soft knock.
She whisked open the hotel door without hesitation. He was standing in the hallway with a deck of cards in his hands and a can of cashews. “I picked these up at the airport. They’re my weakness. But I can come back later if you’d like to rest.”
“No, maybe it’s the storm, but I can’t sleep. Come in. We can pass the time,” she said tentatively.
And then he looked at her warmly, making her melt a bit inside. This probably wasn’t the best idea, wasn’t safe, but she craved, needed to feel alive for a change.
As the day stretched on, the rain continued to pound outside the hotel with shifting levels of intensity. But it went unnoticed as they whiled away the morning playing cards. At first, on the coffee table that stretched in front of the white loveseat in what she would term the sitting room of her tiny suite, then later across the great white puffy comforter of her double bed, as it was more comfortable for leaning and resting with the large down stuffed pillows.
Was it improper?
The idea had not even crossed Olivia’s mind. Maybe she should be more careful. After all, what did she really know about this man, except that on the whole he was good at poker, not at gin, and a bit clueless about stealing casino, though he did seem to be catching on.
She was sitting on the bed, shoes off, leaning back against the headboard, while Mathias sat at the foot of the bed perched on one arm. He’d gotten rid of his sports jacket early on and rolled up the sleeves of a button-down blue shirt as the room was getting stuffy from the lack of air. They’d both gotten bottles of water from the mini-fridge, taking advantage while it was still cool.
Her mother would think her mad, allowing a stranger to spend so much time in her hotel room, but at the moment, she didn’t wish to think about her mother. And her less-than-supportive antics during her separation.
“So, I can pick up the ten and the two cards that add up to it,” he said with such a focused expression that made her want to giggle.
“Yes, all that.”
He glanced up with a furrowed brow. “Now, don’t laugh at me. I’m an amateur here.”
“No, Mathias, I saw you play poker. I definitely wouldn’t call you an amateur. So, no one ever calls you by a nickname, just Mathias.”
He nodded solemnly, still focused on the cards. Evidently, he was taking this very seriously. “Yes, nothing ever seemed to fit me. So, I was stuck with Mathias.”
She took a sip of the water that was now becoming less than cool. “It’s going to get pretty muggy in here with no air.”
He straightened up, having collected his pile of cards and added them to a very meager stack on the side. “Yes, I’ve noticed that about your climate here, very sultry.”
“The word is humid, and yes, it can be daunting even in the Fall.”
“The Fall is lovely up north,” he murmured. “You should come see it.”
She looked at him a bit oddly. The talk had been rather superficial, nothing as deep as what they’d perused over breakfast. But she’d felt a slight shift in his tone. “I’ve been up as far north as North Carolina, but that’s it.”
“Your turn,” he said. Then as she quickly picked up a card, he added, “I’d be happy to show you around Olivia Blanchard if you’d like to see it.”
She glanced up with a bit of surprise. That was direct, but then again, he was quite direct. “But you barely know me, Mathias,” she said lightly, taken aback by the draw she was feeling to this “stranger.” But a “stranger” who undeniably felt like someone remarkably familiar.
And then, quite unexpectedly, he reached out, covering her hand with his, and she felt an overwhelming response to the sudden contact. Was it attraction? She didn’t know. She’d never felt this before, this soothing feeling emanating into her skin through his touch, electric, maybe, but calming, relaxing. “Oddly, it doesn’t feel that way.”
She hesitated, nodding a bit, acknowledging the unchartered nature of their situation. Was she being silly? Probably, but she felt inclined to push away all those fearful voices that difficult life experiences had hammered into her head. They were the ones telling her to second guess everything she felt or thought, the ones telling her that somehow she was unworthy of feeling good or having happiness. All of them felt so easy to drown out at the moment.
“You’re thinking way too much, Olivia,” he murmured. His voice had that rich, deep timbre that seemed to reach inside her.
She smiled shyly, “Picked that up, did you?”
He squeezed her hand a bit. “I can literally feel it on you and, of course, see it in your eyes. They’re so easy to read.”
“Guileless,” she muttered.
“I would have said entrancing.” And then he reached over, lightly touching her face and pulling her in for the softest kiss. She couldn’t remember what she should do, couldn’t remember who she was before this moment, only that she sank into the comfort, sank deeply into the possibility.
Olivia knew things, knew she should stop, knew this would probably end in heartbreak for her if she let herself — what was the word, feel?
“It’s all right,” he whispered, pushing the cards onto the floor of the hotel room, and pulling her closer to him, his hands on her sides.
She breathed in deeply. What could she do? What did she want to do? Again, his mouth was on hers, more insistent, magnetic, pulling her intently toward him. And then there was the swirl, like the storm outside, that just blotted away everything, blotted away memory, concern, and allowed her to respond as if this moment between them was all there was.
She kissed him back, pulling him more securely to her, against her. All was forgotten, and all was remembered as they began to find peace in each other’s arms.
He quietly watched her lying next to him asleep. Mathias could still hear the storm raging outside. The doors on the balcony patio were partially opened. But inside the room, it was calm. He was perfectly content to be still now. He wasn’t thinking to the next moment, rushing onward, plotting, strategizing beyond this place. It was perfectly novel to him. He was content.
She shifted in her sleep, and then her eyes fluttered open. They were so lovely, deep, warm, and vulnerable. He remembered holding her so close just a little while ago, the passion and gentleness in her eyes as he made love to her. He wasn’t the sort of man who liked to deceive himself, and it was clear, even to him, that he’d fallen in love, maybe for the first time in his life. What a predicament, what a glorious predicament.
She moved again beside him, then murmured. “What time is it, Mathias?”
“I have no idea,” he whispered huskily, reaching over to her again and pulling her against him. He was determined to take everything this moment had to offer.
She was hungry. On and off during the evening, they had raided the min-fridge in her room, then he had done the same returning with an assortment of cookies and crackers from his. And they had lived off of these for the rest of the evening.
“Any chance we could find something else to eat downstairs?” she asked.
Mathias was across the room looking out the balcony, wearing his shirt untucked over his pants. For the balance of the day, they’d worn a lot less. It made her cheeks warm. Even when she’d been married, she couldn’t remember having spent such an intensely intimate day. She pulled the sheet up a little higher. “I suppose we could get dressed and go foraging.”
She laughed, “Sounds like a lot of effort. How does it look out there?”
“Still raining, still wet, but the sun is trying to make its way out.”
“Too bad. I’ve decided yesterday was my favorite day ever. Don’t really want it to end.”
He turned back to her coming to sit on the edge of the bed, then taking her hand in his. “My favorite day ever as well Olivia. But it doesn’t have to be the only one.”
“Why don’t you come back to bed Mathias?” she smiled. She didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to think about what this meant, could mean, anything really. She just wanted to continue to be simply happy.
“I thought you were hungry.”
She pulled on his arm. “It will keep.” And he complied, rather easily, she thought.
They slept again. And Olivia dreamed of the storm. She could see it rolling over the landscape, not like a usual hurricane but like a great steamroller of turbulent clouds breaking through the land, through her townhouse where she lived, through the school where she taught, her car, her mother’s house, the quaint little house where she used to live with Ryan uptown. All of it was crushed, demolished, with nothing left. It was devastating, but strangely she didn’t feel devastated. She felt relieved as all those old bondages, things that weighed her down, were purged from the landscape, and she was left ready to start over.
She woke up with a start. Mathias was not next to her, and her heart lurched in panic. Maybe he’d left. Maybe he’d decided their “fun” night was over. Then she heard rattling in the bathroom, and he walked out.
She bunched the bedsheets in her hands. But didn’t feel relief. “I didn’t want to wake you,” he said, smiling. Then his expression changed as he sat down next to her on the bed, “What’s wrong?”
“Honestly?” she asked.
“Of course,” he said, lightly brushing her face with his fingertips.
“For a moment, I thought you’d left.”
“Really? Why would you think that?”
“I don’t know. This, last night, yesterday, it’s all new territory for me. Was it a fling? Two people trapped in a storm whiling away the time. Or, or was it—”
“Something more,” he filled in. “What do you want it to be, Olivia?”
“I think I want you to tell me what you want it to be first,” she stammered. “This is all scary new terrain for me. I’m quite sure I don’t have to say this, but it’s not my normal way of doing things.”
He took her hand in his, murmuring, “No, not you don’t have to say it. I don’t want you to feel afraid. Honestly, it’s new for me as well. I can’t ever remember feeling this way, feeling such a profound draw to someone as I do to you.”
“So, what now?” she whispered.
“We need to talk and make plans. I want you to come back to Boston with me.”
She leaned back against the pillows. “Really, just like that?”
He nodded slowly, “Yes, just like that, I can take some time off, several weeks, spend it helping you to get things in order, then we can go.”
“Just upend my life.”
His expression hardened a bit as though he were considering. “Is it a life worth preserving?”
She frowned at his bluntness. “I don’t know, Mathias. That’s a lot of change.”
“You asked what I want. I think I’m making it clear that I want you.”
“So, I move to Boston. What, then, we live together? I’m not really keen on that.”
“Then let’s get married.”
“I just got unmarried.”
“Then I’ll find you a place there for a while and help you find a job until—” he sighed deeply, running his hand through his thick hair. “Look, I haven’t had the time to figure this out beyond I want to be with you, perhaps need to be with you, Olivia. The question is what do you want.”
She pursed her lips. Old habits die hard. She was afraid, afraid to leap. “Right now, I want to get dressed and get something to eat.” Suddenly, she heard a quick sizzle, almost like a zap, and then the electricity flashed on.
He looked up a little darkly. “Well, I guess we’re back to real life,” he commented dryly.
Mathias plugged in his cell phone, whose battery had depleted some time before, and took a shower. He’d left Olivia in her room to do the same. He sensed that she needed a little time to herself, to consider what they’d discussed.
For him, it seemed obvious, black and white. They should be together, even if that meant uprooting her to do it. Maybe her roots here were deeper than he suspected. Maybe it was an old habit, being comforted by the familiar, even if it was miserable, though he hoped this was not the case.
But the time they’d spent together had been a revelation for him. He was old enough to be able to sense the extraordinary. It wasn’t just the intimacy, though he had to admit that was unparalleled. But it was mostly the extraordinary connection that he felt just being near her, talking to her. He had always heard the word kindred but didn’t truly understand what it meant until now.
But he did know how to fight, how to be tenacious, and how to get what he wanted. And what he wanted was Olivia Blanchard. He just had to figure out how to convince her.
She dressed slowly, deliberately. They were to meet downstairs in half an hour, and she had to say something. “What do you want, Olivia?” he’d asked. Had she answered? What did she want?
She wanted to go back to last night when everything was simple, and they were just together, with no past, no future.
She thought again about her dream. About the great storm rolling through and pummeling her life. Was that what Mathias was — a great storm flattening her old life? But in the dream, she didn’t seem to mind. She felt unfettered, free. All she had to do was leap. But did she even have that in her anymore? To leap?
He waited for her in the lobby, noting a different clerk at the desk this morning, a rather tall blond-haired boy, still young. He passed by the coffee. He didn’t want it. He felt more than awake already. Outside, the sky seemed bright and rosy. One would scarcely know that a storm had blown through.
He wandered up to the desk, the young man seeming enmeshed in the laptop. “Well, I guess the storm has passed.”
The boy glanced up, plastering on a friendly smile. “Sir?”
“The storm from yesterday, the tropical storm, Selene, or whatever they called it. It’s passed.”
Confusion seemed to furrow his young brow. “Storm, sir? I’m sorry I don’t know what—”
“Now come on. It knocked the lights out last night.”
“What’s the matter Mathias?” Suddenly, Olivia was right at his elbow. He hadn’t even heard her approach.
“This young man seems to be playing a prank on me. Not very funny if you ask me.”
“No sir, I’m sorry. I wasn’t here yesterday, but I assure you there was no storm. It was a beautiful sunny day.”
She grabbed his arm firmly. “Mathias, come here. Let’s get something to eat.”
“It’s all right,” she murmured, pulling at him. “It’s all right.”
“I don’t understand,” he grumbled. “How ridiculous.”
It was quite bizarre. Olivia felt dizzy. She remembered the storm yesterday, the time when the lights were out — all the hours they spent together in bed, and the weather was raging outside. But then she remembered dreaming about the storm, and suddenly it all felt confusing.
“You remember it, don’t you? When we met downstairs in the lobby, we watched the rain.”
Vaguely now, she remembered but thinking about it made her head spin. Maybe it was hunger. That was why. They hadn’t eaten, had they? “I—I think so.”
Mathias reached into his pocket for his phone. He could check the news. That would confirm it and settle all this nonsense. But then he remembered that he’d plugged it in upstairs. “I have to get my phone.”
“I’ll wait for you.”
“No, no,” he said, grabbing her arm. It was ludicrous, but in all the confusion, he didn’t want her slipping away as well.
Mathias was a man that hung onto the facts. It made him feel grounded in his work and his life. But now, out of the blue, things felt indefinite, not grounded, as unstable as sand.
He held onto Olivia, though, pulled her to his side, and wrapped his arm around her back in the elevator. She wasn’t saying much.
“You do remember, don’t you?”
And she would whisper, “Yes, of course,” but it sounded hesitant. Was he losing it? Had he had some sort of bizarre stroke that tampered with his well-ordered memory?
By the time they got to his room, his head was spinning with disorientation. He moved quickly across the space to the phone on the end table. There were several voicemails. He looked at Olivia with concern, who had immediately sat down on the edge of the bed.
Quickly, he listened intently to the voicemails. “Mathias, where are you, buddy? You missed the first two meetings at the Conference Center. Are you all right?”
Then, “Mathias, it’s after lunch. Are you going to be a no-show all day?”
And lastly, “Mathias, it’s Todd. Call me back.”
He stared at the phone as if it were a viper, letting it slip out of his fingers onto the bed. He stared wide-eyed at Olivia. “What’s happening?”
She shook her head. “I’m so tired. Can we sleep?” Abruptly, he pulled her into his arms, and they laid down.
Olivia stood on a hill overlooking the city below. It vaguely registered that it wasn’t a landscape that was literal but rather symbolic.
“What are we looking at?”
Mathias was beside her this time. “The path of the storm,” she answered.
“I don’t see it,” he stated flatly.
She smiled, “Don’t you see it’s changed everything, remade what was.”
She took his hand. She could see it clearly, but it might take Mathias a while. But she’d be with him to help.
Slowly, she opened her eyes. Her head pounded, oh yes, with hunger. They still hadn’t eaten. Mathias was sitting up beside her, looking around. “I guess I better let them know I won’t be making the conference.”
She took his hand. “Let’s go slow. First, let’s get breakfast, and then figure out our next step.”
He nodded, pulling up her hand to kiss it. “I can’t quite remember Olivia. Was there ever a storm?”
“I think there was, but not exactly the way we thought it was.”
Copyright © 2022 by Evelyn Klebert
“The Storm” first appeared in a collection of short stories entitled Appointment with the Unknown: The Hotel Stories.
In “Too Many Pens,” an artist finds a very routine stay at a hotel slowly transforming into a place of romance and mystery. “Slipping” is the story of a young woman finding herself threatened by unexpected interdimensional attacks. Two unique travelers find love and themselves trapped in a French Quarter hotel during an unexpected tropical tempest in “The Storm.” In, “The Armstrong,” two people from different eras try to bridge the gap of time itself in an old historic hotel. “Variables” tells the story of a dimension traveler battling to rescue a man from a devastating fate. And “Hotels in the Time of Covid,” explores a relationship between a news reporter and her spirit guide.
Follow the unpredictable lure of the supernatural in this collection of Hotel Stories.