Room 211, Airport Inn
The Airport Inn was not the most majestic hotel in Austin, but it was conveniently located in front of the Austin Bergstrom Airport for the weary traveler. The natural light coming in through the window revealed a dirty, earth-toned brilliance. It was brown, and desolate outside. I walked down to the lobby, and invaded the business center to check my email at one of the hotel computers. There was a message from [email protected] with detailed instructions for my arrival. The subject was Where to go when you arrive. I printed out the email, and walked back through the lobby passed a pool that was empty. It was nothing special, but it was indoors, and there was a hot tub. The perfect place to kill an hour.
I couldn’t wait to get out of here. I rushed back to the room, and broke out my swim trunks, but first I sat down and reviewed the email. The nicest part of the room was the desk, and everything on it. The desk was well crafted with curvy legs. And the pen sitting on it was equally majestic. The hotel desk, and the pen they provide you can be crucial to a good trip if you don’t bring your own, and they can even force you into this mode of productivity. I looked through the text. It contained an outline of the book, a list of destinations, relics, key players, hotels, and then theories. There was a diagram outlining the site, and then a second page. The second page contained a list of parts that were entirely foreign to me. Most of them looked like flying cameras. They were used for remote sensing. Further down the page, there was a list of parts for another drone marked prototype that referenced X-Rays, Microwaves, Accelerometers, Sonar, Thermal Imaging, Cameras, Spectrometers… None of this meant anything to me. I decided this would be good to review on the plane since I wouldn’t be short on time.
I walked down to the pool with the hotel slippers and a towel. Swimming is a great way to relax—an indispensable pleasure. Like you’ve evolved beyond that primordial goop. You can also admire someone else’s form and their movements without being a full-on creep. Maybe that’s why it’s easy to make friends and they’re generally open to finding things to do around town. You have this—even if it’s fleeting—intimate connection with other swimmers because you’ve seen them move in the water, using nearly all their muscles to stay afloat.
There was a woman swimming as I walked in. I approached cautiously hoping not to distract her. Some people get this attitude once they’re using a thing that they need privacy, and they deserve it, because they were there first. She reached the edge near me, and smiled.
“Do you mind?” I asked, but in a low voice, looking right at her as she steadied herself on the side. I made what I thought was a meaningful gesture toward the closest spot in the water as if to say; you won’t even notice a difference. She was a natural swimmer, and beautiful. Something she already knew judging by the way she passively acknowledged me.
I assumed at this point she genuinely wanted to share the pool. What else was she going to say?
I put my towel down on the bench in the corner. It’s always an awful process trying to get into the water. There’s that moment you have to stick your foot in the water, breaking its uniformity and introducing chaos because you want to check the temperature before you jump in. And you think, stupidly, that you can prepare for the temperature change. It could be anywhere between 68° and 90° depending if it’s heated, or if you’re outside. And there’s no way to prepare for that moment of contact. It’s always shocking. The best strategy is always to jump right in, because you have to anyway. That uncertainty is something you always have to deal with, and the act of jumping releases adrenaline that makes it that much quicker to acclimate to the temperature.
The other option is one you can’t exercise if you want to meet people in the pool because it gives off this vibe that you’re not entirely prepared, or you’re scared. And it turns people off. You’ve probably seen the guy. He puts his toe in, then waits, then hangs over the edge, up to his knees, then waits, then he climbs in at the shallow end up to his waist, or maybe down to his nipples at this point and that ring fluctuates up and down a couple inches so that you can see he’s still entirely uncomfortable until he drops down to his neck, and then he takes a deep breath and goes under. By this point you feel so invested, so proud to see another human being overcome, that you want to give him some kind of award for not giving up. But he doesn’t just go under, he actually slides down gradually until he’s treading water comfortably and part, but not all of his hair gets wet, so you kind of feel like, bro, why the fuck are you even in the pool to begin with? And by the time the whole process is over with, which can be anywhere between one minute and half an hour, you’re so uncomfortable with the cowardice you just witnessed that you’ve just fucking had it and you get out because this person clearly didn’t come here for the right reasons.
Meanwhile, he’s finally taken a shallow breath like when the player dumps the Gatorade all over the coach, and the guy just slips under lifelessly. And when he emerges it’s like he just swam the Hudson River, and he really commends himself for the fact that he “went swimming today,” because he just “loves to swim when he can.” Like he has a greater claim to this water than Michael Phelps has to the Water Cube.
There are few experiences so human.
I took four laps, which I imagined looked like a disaster before I noticed she was watching. I’m never the fastest guy in the pool, so I just make big drastic motions and kick up a lot of water. I tried my best to make deliberate, fluid movements with my limbs.
“You’re funny,” she said.
“I don’t swim too often,” I said.
“In town for South By?”
“No. Actually, I’m flying out to Beijing tomorrow.”
“Oh,” she said, her eyes perking up. “Beijing, that’s wild.”
“You?” I asked, because I was taught not to waste words.
“I am supposed to be working still for South By, but I’m quitting my job and not telling anyone instead.”
“That must be nerve-racking,” I said enviously.
“Not as much as you’d think.”
“Aren’t you worried about your reputation?”
“A thousand people here have the same reputation as me. Do you know what that is?” she asked. I stared blankly for a second, and then shook my head, like a half shake, because I didn’t want to appear rude.
“Didn’t think so. You don’t look like the South By type.”
“Maybe that’s why nobody wanted to hire me in this town.”
“That’s usually the case.”
“Hmm.” I groaned and looked down at the concrete.
“You’re not getting introspective are you?” she asked with her head tilted to the side.
“No,” I paused. “I guess… just realizing I never wanted to be here.”
“Why Beijing?” she asked, resting her head up against the side.
“Only job I could land. I’ll be helping chronicle this writer’s next book.”
Her eyes glowed, but she kept her voice calm. “Oh, you’re a journalist?”
“Something like that. Seems like a lot’s up in the air and they’re trying to figure out how to bring in the right people to make this thing huge.” I consciously tried to avoid the word startup.
“Sounds like the only job you could get is pretty exciting. Unless you like nametags, and convention centers, I guess.”
“How are you enjoying Austin?”
“More than ever,” she said, her mouth open just enough that I can see her front teeth behind her perfectly shaped lips. Her eyes were fixed on mine. We paused for a moment, caught in a mutual gaze. “Do you want to grab a drink?” I asked. “I’m not much of a swimmer.”
She laughed. “In town?”
“How about right here at the airport. I think they have a bar.”
“You don’t want to go out and see the town?”
“I’ve seen everything I need to out there.”
She looked scared for a moment, or at least hesitant. Then she answered. “One hour.” She pulled herself out of the pool, and moved over to the bench to grab her towel. She had an hourglass shape and every muscle moved gracefully. Her breasts were ample and perky, but she wore a bathing suit that hid them. It was her eyes that got my attention though. They were beautiful, brown, and unrehearsed. The kind of eyes you couldn’t hide from.
“Meet me at the bar downstairs,” she said as she ran the towel down her legs. She glanced at me as I walked passed her, breaking contact when her head was turned somewhere between 45 and 90 degrees. All she had was the bathing suit she was wearing and the towel wrapped around her chest.
I took a deep breath and got a strong waft of chlorine. My head started to ache. My fingers weren’t pruned, which means I wasn’t in long enough to really exercise. She walked around the corner and I stood there a minute waiting for her to disappear. I wasn’t going to see her in the elevator at this point. I would see her downstairs, or never again. I jumped back into the pool. The water was cool and refreshing. Once I heard the elevator door open and close a few times I hurried back to my room. Never in my life have I taken a quicker shower.
It took about twenty minutes to get dressed and groom myself, then I spent another ten talking to myself in the mirror, looking at my face to see what it looks like I’m saying, whether it’s suggestive, or awkward, or confused. I’ve never been in a situation quite like this before, and all we had was this one night. “I’m a writer, my name is Art.” I practiced the writer part repeatedly.
“I’m a writer…”
I marched out of the room with purpose, getting downstairs fifteen minutes early so I had time to grab a drink before she showed up. Something to calm my nerves. The bar was dark and woody, the furniture regal. A piano sat off to the side, but looked like it hadn’t been played in years. The bar was fully stocked. I ordered a shot of Jameson, and a glass of Glenlivet to follow. I was too distracted by the burn in my throat now to get excited.
A man with black hair, clean-shaven and middle-aged sat down at the piano and played a slow waltz. I moved over to the comfy seating in the middle where the music was audible, but where she might also surprise me when she entered. The bottom of the glass was far away. I swirled it hoping that would somehow make the alcohol hit me faster. I felt good. Leaning back and crossing my legs I grabbed onto the chair with one hand, clinging to my glass with the other when she walked in. I felt guilty at first because I didn’t recognize her and I thought she was a new girl entirely. I’d only seen her wet, with her hair back. It took only a moment though. In an eighth of a second I noticed her eyes. Her large brown eyes, and the whites around them were perfect. They were glowing. No bulge over the eyelids, and no tired bags hanging beneath. I doubt she’d ever touched them to put in contacts, or that she’d ever been told she needed glasses. They were the kind of eyes you would want to see when you woke up in the hospital, because despite the fact that you were in a hospital the fact that she was here meant this was where you were supposed to be, and she was who you were supposed to be looking at. Fuck, that’s crazy.
She wore a black and maroon shirt that sparkled in the light, suggesting the bar was meant to attract girls like her. She’d probably been here before. Dark blue jeans hid every inch of skin down to her ankles but revealed the legs underneath them and the perfect ass that supported her. I suddenly realized I didn’t know her name as she noticed me. She sat down slowly watching my every move.
“The writer,” she said.
“It sounds better when you say it,” I said. “Can I get you something to drink?”
She waved down the waiter. I had no clue what she was going to order. The look in her eyes suggested she didn’t want me to know, but she wanted me to guess. It was a pleasant state of curiosity. The waiter leaned in, and she whispered something to him without looking away. I couldn’t hear and I felt jealous, like there was some secret, some intimate detail I just missed. I took a swig hoping to hide my self-doubt.
“You swim well,” I said.
“You’re nervous,” she said. “I can tell.”
“I’m careful. Sometimes. When the occasion calls for caution.”
The waiter brought her drink. Glenlivet. “Are we in danger?” she asked.
“Not at the moment,” I said. “Are you looking for danger?”
“I think danger is an illusion. It’s how we justify staying in the middle.” She took a sip of the drink.
“Are you challenging me?”
She laughed. Her laugh reminded me of the gas they give you at the dentist’s office, only it’s her laugh that’s the gas, and I’m the one who’s about to get hysterical and let loose that secret I’ve been holding in for years. It moves all her best parts in a symphony of human perfection. She tipped her head back, and downed the glass.
The waiter immediately approached to make the switch in about five seconds.
“What’s on your mind? You look worried?” she asked.
“I don’t know where I’m going to be tomorrow, and I’m living on someone else’s dime.” I lifted my glass to prepare for a sip and said, “and I’m feeling very much alive right now. Do you know the feeling?”
“I always feel alive. Do you know the feeling?” she asked.
“I’m dying to find out,” I said. The scent of her hair opened up my lungs and my heart started pounding, my fingertips and my toes feeling the rush of oxygen flooding into them. My fingers started to get warm as I clutched the leather seat.
“Have you seen the nicest room in the hotel?” she asked.
“Never,” I said, as if I never knew there were nice rooms, and I didn’t care.
She ordered two more drinks. Hers had olives. Mine looked like vodka. “Let me give you a tour,” she said. “I have a bottle in my room.”
There’s a moment when you have the potential for a one-night-stand when you realize it isn’t going the way you planned. Not in a bad way, but you’re not in control. You can either continue as if that’s okay, which is harder than it sounds or you can try to completely change the mood by battling her for control. The latter is a delicate maneuver, whatever sex you are, because it’s the struggle and the compromise that creates the spark. It’s the unwillingness to yield that drives you to the point of exhaustion until one of you surrenders to the other’s dominance. And if you put in the right amount of fight you could be on the verge of the best sex of your life. The former always feels wrong like some primal urge is forcing you to scratch a bad itch. And it’s liberating to take the risk. To challenge her to surrender herself to your lead. And it’s liberating to succumb to her. I still haven’t asked her name.
She led us down the hall to her room, and smiled as she dropped the key into the reader. We walked in, and she moved over to the bar. She grabbed two glasses, and leaned across me to grab a bottle of wine, but I pushed it back. She reached further, and I grabbed her by the arm, her head tilting up and her eyes scanning me as she held back a smile. Her skin was covered in goosebumps. I shook my head. She didn’t say anything. I leaned in slowly, and paused, letting out a warm breath as her lips parted. My thumb brushed her earlobe and my fingers touched the side of her head as I pulled her in for a kiss.
Now, I won’t go into all the details but every stage of her appearance from her demeanor to her makeup, hair, and her outfit, and even the lacey bra and panties she wore underneath are permanently etched in my mind. Her attitude, her movements, her playfulness, and her desire to wrestle for dominance, were all uniformly sophisticated, primal, and feminine. She knew what she looked like and she was not ashamed to share it with you on a guided tour of the most thoughtful and stimulating physical gauntlet in the human theater. And she, like I, was torn between being in control and being ravaged in a physical contest where the winners are everyone who’s too tired to move. Too tired to try some grand gesture.
I fell asleep in the bed naked with my hand laid across her chest. The last thing I remembered her saying was “I like to be touched.” The alcohol made some of it cloudy, but I’ve never slept better in my entire life.
The sunrise crept in through the window illuminating her skin as I watched her take deep slow breaths. The air tickled my arm. She fit perfectly in my hold. I slipped out of the bed and stretched as I quietly moved over to the bathroom. I closed the door and brushed my teeth, turning on the water, and staring at myself in the mirror as I splashed a few drops on my face. I’m a writer. She lie face down in the white sheets more beautiful than the night before. She looked like she would need some time to recover.
Her pen was nicer than the one in my room. I scrawled out a note in my small but neat handwriting trying to make it bigger than usual. I wanted her to think I had nice handwriting. “Feeling alive all the time is exhausting. My flight leaves in a few hours. Beijing then Xi’an. Thank you.”
I left the note, then walked over to the bed and kissed her softly on the cheek. She slept deeply. I took one last look at her, and rubbed my hand over her hair. It was time to go. I walked over to the door, and lifted the handle slowly sliding out and quietly pulling it shut.
I walked over to the elevator and went down two floors. The maid was making rounds, and my door was open. My stuff was scattered throughout the room. Nothing was missing, and there was no damage. I’d never come back in the middle of a round of cleaning before.
The woman left. I showered and changed clothes but kept my jacket for the flight. Checkout time wasn’t for two hours but I was ready to leave. After a night like that I wasn’t going to hang around. I needed to move before I started thinking about what she was doing. I walked up to the desk and collected my bill. It was more than I made in the last month, which isn’t very high. Apparently it costs a lot to get inspired when it’s someone else’s money.
There were few people at the Austin-Bergstrom Airport as the shuttle pulled up to the departures. I got through the security in what felt like under twenty-five minutes. It’s a wonderful thing flying out of Austin.
My flight would go to JFK then over to Beijing directly so I had a long day ahead of me. I pulled out the email and reviewed the list of contacts first. Some were marked businessman, engineer, government official, academic, and others were marked TG. Travel guide maybe. There was another section of names marked ‘missing.’ None of the names were familiar but there appeared to be two common threads—they were mostly Westerners, and they all took weekend trips while staying in Beijing. I sat at the gate and sipped a coffee as I waited to board.