He'd shed his dinner jacket somewhere between the lift and the hotel room door, and after a number of attempts with the key card, neatly painted peach nails took it from him and opened the door. He felt the gentle but persistent press at his back and tried blearily to see her, caught sight of his jacket looped over her arm and meant to say, "Oh!" but instead fell directly onto the king size bed.
Air found his damp socks as she removed his shoes. He waited for the socks to go too, but they remained. He closed his eyes against the spinning of the room and listened for her movements around him, but they were light and he only caught the occasional sound, first here then there, as if she were transporting from place to place like a fairy. A soft thud near the table as she set his shoes down, then silence, then across the room the wardrobe opening and a hanger; she was putting his jacket away. It only made him more dizzy to try and keep up with her. He quit listening.
But then the door clicked and he realized she was leaving, and he didn't want that. His eyes popped open and he struggled to sit up against the weight of too much wine. His tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth and it took effort to unfix it as he blinked in the general direction of the door.
She had stopped when she'd heard him moving, was looking at him over her shoulder. He'd expected disgust, or at the very least displeasure, but as she came into focus he saw only concern in her features.
"Don't," he began but could not think of the rest. Don't what? Don't go? Don't worry? Don't be angry? Don't think I'm always this way?
And still she stood there and waited for him to finish his thought. But it had no ending; it was only so much confetti flying wide in a million different directions.
"Get some rest," she told him, not unkindly, and all at once he remembered she'd been sipping something with strawberries in it at dinner and he wondered if she tasted like that, like strawberries and champagne, and he very much wanted to kiss her.
His longing must have shown because she frowned a little as if confused and asked, "Are you all right?" And he realized she thought he might be sick. And maybe he was, but not in that way, not the way she thought. He was heart sick, sick from loneliness, from the false feeling of connections to others when deep down he knew he could live without them, would not miss any of them if his work did not bring them into contact. So very few of them mattered to him, really, and the forced show of pleasure in their company took a toll. But her . . . If she were to disappear at that moment, he would be compelled to spend time—maybe even the rest of his days, if that was what it took—searching for her.
"Strawberries," he said.
She tilted her head. "You want strawberries?"
He didn't, but she at least released the door and went to the room service menu. She would not leave yet. There was still time. Time for what, exactly, he hadn't yet determined. But he was willing to take small steps if need be. Like catching a bird or a butterfly, the need to move slowly and cautiously . . .
"They have a fruit bowl," she said, frowning thoughtfully down at the book. "Would that do? I can ask them to make it all strawberries if that's what you really want." She looked up at him. "Are you sure you can eat?"
"Will you stay?" he asked.
"I'm not really hungry," she said, but at the sight of his stricken look added, "But I can at least stay until they bring up the tray."
He relaxed, slumped back against the pillows and the headboard. More time, ever more time. He felt he could gather up the minutes like treasure, store them, save them.
She walked across the room to the phone, and even her walking away from him caused his heart to jolt. He hated the distance, was trying to devise how to bring her closer when she lifted her head and asked, receiver still to her ear, "Just strawberries?"
He nodded, causing his head to pound. And she hung up and went to the minibar and pulled out a chilled bottle of water. "You need to hydrate," she told him as she twisted off the top and brought the water to him. And he wanted nothing more than to pull her into his arms, but he made himself take the bottle and drink. When it was half gone he handed it back to her and she put it on the nightstand. And when she turned away, he couldn't help himself; he grabbed her hand, her wrist, desperate as a boy with a balloon he was afraid might float away.
She whirled around sharply in surprise, and the very momentum of the motion nearly had her collapsing over him; he would have caught her then and there, except the knock and the call of, "Room service!" forced him to release her. She took two steps backward toward the door as if afraid he might yet jump her from behind before turning to allow the tray to be trundled in. So much fuss for a bowl of fruit.
The attendant started to hand her the slip but she gestured at the bed and the attendant changed direction. He signed, fished out a generous tip, and saw with a stab of anxiety that she meant to follow the attendant out. His bird, his butterfly, his balloon, all flown.