Everyone has a limit. I hit mine on a picture-perfect Saturday in late April. I had resigned myself to being alone. Unlike my mother’s generation, I didn’t need a partner. I didn’t need a marriage contract. I did fine on my own. Or so I thought.
The loneliness set in after I started perusing the online dating sites. It was as if knowing what my prospects were made it worse. My profile was overflowing with potential mates that had perfected the bathroom selfie. The few times I accepted a match I quickly realized the dating software had failed me. I had no gracious way out. My “thanks but no thanks” message was most often greeted with, “Whatever. You’re an ugly bitch anyway.”
But then I found Micah. Skin the color of a perfect cool inky night and eyes that gently urged me to give him my story. How had I stumbled upon this gem in the pile of patriotic t-shirts and scraggly beards? Micah was an open book. And a nice person.
Naturally, I started to get suspicious. I had been on the dating site for over six months before I met Micah. Nothing comes easy there.
After a hellish shift at the hospital, I was dragging myself into the door with a pile of mail. At the top of the pile was a postcard that read, “Welcome to the Starlite Inn: Where people can’t help but be themselves.”
I thought to myself, “What the hell? That’s so weird?” But it caught my attention, so I threw it on the kitchen table rather than in the trash.
Two days ago, I called the number on that postcard.
“Starlite Inn, where people can’t help but be themselves.” I was instantly lulled into a sense of trust and ease with whoever this velvet throated voice belonged to.
“How can I help you today?”
I paused for a good five seconds. “Yes. I received this postcard in the mail awhile back and thought I’d call and see what you have available.”
“We were expecting you. So, will your friend also be joining us?”
I was stunned. How did they know I was bringing someone?
“There are no coincidences at the Starlite Inn.”
Normally, I would have hung up the phone. But there was something so reassuring about the voice on the line. So, on that picture perfect Saturday in late April, Micah and I made our way up the Blue Ridge mountains towards the Starlite Inn.
The drive wound us up the mountain to the point I thought I might be sick. When we left the main road for a gravel one, I was sick. The car bumped across the narrow gravel drive for what felt like a mile but was in reality much less. Just as I couldn’t take the jostling anymore, the narrow drive opened to a small parking lot with a neat and simple motel high above. There couldn’t have been more than six rooms connected to what looked like the office.
I shielded my eyes from the sun with my hand, and I could see into the glass wall. A slight man stared back at me, his pencil-thin moustache turned upwards with his grin. As he raised an arm to wave, my eyes adjusted to the sun, and I saw he was wearing a powder blue tuxedo. Vintage perhaps. As if he was on his way to a very dated prom.
The man pushed the door to the office open with his hip and waved two plastic looking motel keychains in the air.
“You made it! I do hope the drive was enjoyable.”
He moved down the steep concrete steps as if he was floating. His fingers hovered above the railing giving the illusion of a grip. When he reached the bottom, my eyes settled on his glistening white patent leather dress shoes. Pristine.
“Do you need help with your bags?” The oddly dressed proprietor reached out and pressed the plastic keychains into my hands. “One for you and one for Micah. Just as requested.” Then he gave me a wink. But I hadn’t requested anything. Although, I was grateful for the separate rooms. I didn’t know Micah all that well.
Micah turned to me curtly. “How does he know my name?”
“We know everything here at the Starlite. It’s what makes us special. Well, and the internet. You can find out everything on there these days.”
I watched Micah’s face for any hint that I had been found out. Found out for what I didn’t know. But I felt a kinship with the tuxedo-wearing weirdo and wanted to smooth the situation over. Micah nodded and smiled.
“Very well. My name is Vincent. Let’s get your retreat started!” With that, Vincent tapped his watch twice. The sound was much louder than normal and almost ricocheted off the mountains. It was as if all other civilization held its breath.
Vincent looked over his shoulder. “Micah, grab those bags for you and the lady.”
Without even acknowledging I was standing beside him, Micah said, “She can manage them herself.” As soon as the words escaped his lips, shame washed over his face. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I said that. Let me grab your bag.”
Vincent placed his hand on my back. My shoulders instantly dropped from up around my ears and relaxed. “You are going to learn so much about Micah. The Starlite is the perfect getaway for a new couple.”
We followed Micah up the steep concrete steps towards the Starlite. The building was old, but it almost glittered in the afternoon sun. Vincent held the heavy door for me, and Micah hustled in around me to be first. He dropped the bags in the middle of the room and sprawled out on the couch with his phone. The room was heavy with the scent of gardenias. I inhaled deeply, and the tension in my body melted.
“Your favorite, yes?” Vincent gave me one of his closed mouthed smiles complete with a wink.
“Yes. My favorite.” I wanted to ask how he knew, but the words didn’t seem important.
I felt Micah’s heaviness behind me. “Yeah. About that smell. It’s giving me a headache. Can you open a door or something?”
I felt a puff of air escape Vincent’s lips as he clicked his tongue in disapproval. He did not open the door. Instead, he turned my hand over and patted the two keys. “Make sure you give Micah room 217.” I nodded.
“Cocktails and music begin at 6:00 here in the lobby. You will both be joining us.”
He didn’t ask. He told me, and I nodded. Because I wanted to join him. I needed to join. Micah bent down to grab his own bag and walked out not even holding the door for me. As it slammed behind him, Vincent squeezed my arm.
“I’m so excited for the evening. Many things to come, my dear.”
His joy was contagious. After such a hard ride here, my body had relaxed. I hated the word, but I felt renewed. Refreshed. I passed room 217. The door was closed, and the small window air was humming a sad tune trying to keep up with the weather. My room was next door. God, I hope the walls weren’t thin.
As I pushed the door open, a woosh of chilled air greeted me. I felt movement behind me.
“Hey! Your room is nicer than mine. And colder. Let’s trade.” Micah had already scurried off before getting an answer. And he was back with his small duffel bag in hand.
“It’s a trade!” He wiggled his plastic keychain at me before chucking it at my face.
I recoiled from the key and was in shock.
“Oh my god! Are you ok? I’m so sorry. I just thought you would catch it.”
Rather than make the moment anymore awkward, I left Micah in the perfect sixty-seven-degree room. I peeked into room 217. The air felt like a wool sweater and smelled like vinegar.
“Oh, honey. No, no, no, no, no. Why are you in room 217?” Vincent was pissed.
“It’s fine. Really.”
He sighed heavily and tapped his watch two times.
“Life can be a rotten lottery, but you don’t have to settle, dear. Choices abound!”
I heard Micah’s air conditioner make a sad noise as it sputtered and stopped.
“Freshen up. Cocktail hour is just around the corner.”
Washing my face with some cool water seemed to do the trick. Although, it didn’t change the fact that my room smelled like a pickle factory. I knocked on Micah’s door, but there was no answer. I took the short walk to cocktail hour alone and enjoyed the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Maybe this trip could still be saved.
“Hello there, dear.” Vincent held the door open for me. “How about a cocktail for the lady? A pink squirrel. Yes, that’s what you need.”
Vincent handed me the creamy, pale pink drink, and I followed his eyes to the chair in the corner. Micah was in a serious and close conversation with a busty blonde. A busty blonde about ten years younger than me.
“Looks like he found a friend.” Vincent patted my shoulder. “Rebecca came last weekend with her new beau. He left, but she stayed behind. If you open your eyes wide enough, the Starlite will reveal it all.” He walked away swaying his body to Patsy Cline crooning about her sweet dreams.
Micah abandoned the blonde. “Hey. Is your AC working? The weirdest thing. Mine stopped about the time I got settled in my room.”
The blonde was by his side. “Oh, have you met Rebecca?”
I nodded and moved away. I sipped my drink to try and soothe my frustration and embarrassment. I was wrong again. How did I keep finding these dead-end dates? I didn’t want to be my mother. I didn’t want to marry a man like my father. Yet here I was at the Starlite Inn watching my perfect-until-now boyfriend paw at a blonde.
Vincent sidled up to me and took me in his arms. We spun around the room only now to Ms. Kitty Wells telling me about living in Heartbreak U.S.A. It was almost as if we were floating just above the floor.
“You’re going to be fine. Really. You will.”
I pressed my cheek to Vincent’s, and I felt it. I was going to be fine.
“There’s so many of them out there. And when you find another, you bring him here. On the house. Vincent will take care of you. The Starlite will reveal all.”
Our dance ended. Micah was still wrapped around the blonde. He didn’t even know I existed.
I pushed the heavy glass door open just as Hank Williams began singing about your cheatin’ heart telling on you. As the door closed behind me, the phone rang and I heard Vincent say, “Starlite Inn, where people can’t help but be themselves.” I looked over my shoulder and waved. Vincent winked.
Katy is a writer and editor for a national engineering and surveying organization and a fiction editor for Identity Theory. Her writing has appeared in The Dead Mule School, Reckon Review, Cowboy Jamboree, Salvation South, and elsewhere. She was born and raised in South Carolina and lives with her spouse and two pups, Finn and Betty Anne. You can find her on Twitter at @MarchingFourth and katygoforth.com.