In the Flesh

I took my book out to the hotel. I could feel her upstairs. The fifth floor of the hotel was keyed access, reserved for major media personalities. A sweet sixteen party was held in the ballrooms that night. She was nervous. I sat down in the foyer and read, projecting calm and stability. A fatherly aura.

But I am sitting in the windows. She was afraid to be seen. I heard the drinking fountain running down the hall, twenty feet away, but cannot get up out of my chair. She returned to her room.

We tried again the next night. I had dinner, then leaned back to read my book. The concierge was standing in the entryway to the kitchen, looking at me. I gazed back calmly. I could feel her standing there, but she turned away.

My sister flew her boys out to LA for Spring break, and they stayed in the hotel. I took my sons out for desert. We had suffered a family crisis, and her sons needed some supportive company. I took them down to the lobby and ordered chocolate mousse for everyone. My sister remarked that they had seen Mel in the hotel earlier. I was focused on the children, attempting to erase the stress of the day. And then a tingle behind me. I turned my head, but don't see anyone I knew. I turned back to the children, and she walked right by me, hair wet and combed close to her face. I had a strong impulse to follow her, but didn't want to leave the children.

She was despairing, but Mel chimes in: "He's a great father." Thank-you, Mel. There's no one from whom that would mean more.

The next day, she called to me again. My boys had misplaced some Legos at the hotel the previous night. With that as the cover story, I drove out, negotiating strategies for getting her into the car. She wasn't in the foyer, so I asked after the Legos at the front desk, then walked out back to the patio. I felt her upstairs. "Open your curtains. Show your face." She didn't, she couldn't. She's afraid, afraid. Her fear haunted her, paralyzed her.

Months later, I am called out for drinks. I set up at the bar. One or two customers watched the basketball game on the other side. Suddenly, the place filled up. They dropped the name of a famous starlet, struggling at that time with her adult associations. And then, in she walked. I respect her privacy, and continue my conversation with my neighbor. She went upstairs with some of her entourage. I felt her calling to me. If she gave me everything, it will break the connections that have haunted me. What would I give her in return?

Thank-you. I'll dance with you at your wedding. I'll help you stay true to your values. But not that.

And there is Jewel, surprised and frustrated, but gratified. Her friend admits to her: "He really loves you."

I did, and do.