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Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die…*
The Charge of the Light Brigade was in my head, this verse particularly. Why the hell was I thinking of going into battle, into certain death, when thinking of spending the day alone with Ewan?
The thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever consciously avoided being alone with anyone these last years, it’s just kind of happened. I took jobs that put me around lots of people, usually in hotels. I travelled alone. When I started up my business, it was alone. When I’ve needed contact with another human being, as often happens – I have all the right urges, despite everything that has happened to me – I do find myself with another man, secluded for a little while at least. But the length was no longer than a couple of hours at least, and there was always that relief, that sweet relief, when whoever it was I had blindly chosen left me at peace.
This wasn’t a battle, being here with Ewan. It wasn’t something I’d have to fight through. He was here to make sure I was okay. Whatever had happened in his life previously, maybe something to do with the war (which war?) I don’t know, something in his life made him want to take care of me. Or at least, made him want to insure I would be safe. We’re all governed by our past, whether we like it or not. His made him want to stay and secure, mine made me want to flee.
My whole body tensed as Ewan settled himself on the bed next to me. It’s the issue of your average hotel room. Unless you are somewhere fancy, unless you are in a suite, the chairs provided in the room are practically redundant. Useless, uncomfortable vessels which are only good for storing luggage or strewing your clothes over. It wouldn’t be appropriate in any other situation to sit on a bed next to someone you hardly know; but in a hotel it seems the only option.
I wasn’t worried about Ewan’s intentions. Although, maybe I was. If he was here for other reasons, sexual reasons, I would have been fine. Happier, even. Because my goodness, he smelt good. And he was handsome and well built and had those lovely blue eyes. Yes, I would have been much happier if it was for sex. I think knowing it wasn’t on the cards heightened my feelings of awkwardness.
‘You all right?’ Ewan asked, perhaps sensing or seeing me become a stiff plank.
‘Um, yeah, yeah, I’m fine,’ I lied.
‘Can I just check-’
Ewan left the sentence unfinished, and before I knew it he was over me, his large hands eclipsing the light. Gently he prodded the gauze covering my stitches.
‘They should be fine,’ he said. Examination over, he settled back to his side of the bed.
I fanned my wet hair over the pillow, and concentrated on the television screen, trying to find something worthy to watch.
‘Should we dry your hair?’
‘No, it’ll be fine.’
I spend my life with wet hair, never being bothered to do anything with it. Usually, it ended up being wrapped in a bun which I would take out in the evening to find my hair still wet. Even if I wanted to do anything remotely stylish with my mane, I never had the available equipment with me. No matter what the star rating of a hotel, it was rare to have one with a hair dryer that gave out anything stronger than a slight drizzle of warm air.
‘If you want to rest, you can, I’ll just wake you up every so often,’ Ewan said gently.
‘Um, yeah, okay,’ I said uncertainly.
I didn’t think it would be possible for me to sleep, feeling as I did. Yet the moment I did, sleep found me, despite the throbbing pain in my head.
Throughout the day, I wasn’t really aware of the times Ewan woke me up. I didn’t stay awake for long, anyhow. Just enough to feel his hands on my shoulder, see his blue eyes looking wistfully down at me while I opened mine.
A day of dreams, mostly. Different fragments of my life floating in and out, of Ewan’s blue eyes, constantly there, something of a token for which I didn’t know the meaning.
At some point when I was woken, the light in the room had changed. Dimmer, less harsh. Ewan wondered if I wanted something to eat, that he was ordering room service. I ordered the club sandwich.
I always order the club sandwich. It’s that one standard meal which all hotels should have on their menu, and is the measure for the rest of it. I’d already had the club sandwich the night before, and knew it to be good. Crispy bacon. Seasoned chicken. Perfectly cooked fries. I looked forward to another.
Ewan ordered, and I heard him ask for our meals to be charged to his room. I didn’t object as I couldn’t be bothered. We ate on the bed, as you do when you’re staying in a hotel, regretting it as always later on when you spend the night rolling around in crumbs.
One of the TV channels was having a Gavin and Stacey-a-thon. Wonder how much of a coincidence that was, given we were in Cardiff. I love Gavin and Stacey, so was happy to watch it. Incredibly, Ewan said he’d never seen it. The guy surely must have been living under a rock or something.
When Ewan laughed, his body shook the whole bed. I think that’s when I first realised that, fuck me, I’m lying on a bed next to this gorgeous man. Everything felt a bit different after that. Like I was conscious that he was there. I could practically feel the heat of his body next to mine, even though our outstretched legs were at least ten centimetres apart.
I had to find myself a different kind of strength after that. The don’t-try-and-jump-the-good-samaritan-doctor strength. I began feeling turned on by absolutely everything. Even scenes of Smithy and Nessa doing it. I know. Disgusting.
Despite having slept in hourly bursts throughout the day, as midnight neared I figured I’d sleep again. This time I folded myself under the covers, glad that I’d have something, at least, between me and Ewan. But then I wondered:
‘How are you going to stay awake?’
‘I’m not,’ he said, pulling out his phone. ‘I’m gong to set an alarm for every two hours. I think we can safely stretch it out now.’
‘Oh, right, cool.’
‘I can lie here or I can go on the floor,’ Ewan said, his face stiff.
‘No, no, here’s fine,’ I said, mouth foaming. Holy shit.
Two things of note happened through the night. Firstly, I woke up of my own accord, dying for a pee. I looked over to Ewan, sleeping on top of the bed covers. A film of moonlight was illuminating his face and I found myself just staring at him. In sleep he looked peaceful and manly and strong. The kind of face you know is attractive, even with eyes closed. The kind of face you’d be pleased to see when waking up in a foreign room after a drunken, blanked-out night. For as long as my bladder would allow I stared at his face, thinking. I thought of his beauty and how it could be so easily tainted by whatever it is I am. I thought of his character, seemingly pure, and how it would definitely be bruised by mine; already damaged.
It made me see that Ewan Baker and me are not compatible. Not that I was thinking of us in any way. Not that there’d be a chance.
The second thing that happened was slightly embarrassing. Early morning, too early to get up, but the light through the curtains had me opening my eyes. Ewan hadn’t bothered setting another ‘wakeup’ alarm given I seemed to be in the clear.
When I woke I was on my side, my hand outstretched over a lump in the bed. My face and torso were warm, as if whatever it was surrounding me was emitting heat. Because, I soon realised, my arm was around and my face against Ewan’s torso. Discretely I tried to pull away, but the movement had Ewan opening his eyes, too.
‘Hey, you okay?’ he asked. This is when I realised that his arm was around me. Ewan pulled me in just as I was trying to pull away. With his other hand he wiped a strand of hair from my face. ‘How’s your head?’
‘Not as headachy,’ I admitted.
‘Good,’ Ewan replied, soothing my hair again.
He seemed quite comfortable with the arrangement.
‘Is this you?’ I asked him.
‘What do you mean?’
‘This,’ I indicated our bodies with the hand that had been draped over Ewan’s torso.
‘I thought it was you,’ he replied.
‘But your arm is around me, so I figured you’d kind of locked me in here.’
‘Where else am I supposed to put it with you jammed up next to me?’ Ewan asked, the corners of his mouth twitching.
‘Yes, well, I was trying to move before you woke up.’
‘Don’t,’ Ewan replied softly, tightening his arm around me. ‘It’s nice, just being able to be close to someone.’
I couldn’t disagree.
So we stayed like that until it was time to wake up; wrapped in one another’s arms.
The spell had been broken. They’re right about the ‘cold light of day.’ It is cold. You see things with cold calculation, with precision. The mind takes over from the heart.
Work was my priority. Ewan was still asleep while I showered, dressed, and packed my case. A reminder of the previous day’s activities occurred every time I bent over: momentarily I’d be sent into a dizzying state combined with a slight throbbing of the skull. I reminded myself to stay as upright as possible on the train journey to London.
‘Are you off then?’
I turned to the bed to see Ewan awake and sitting up. I nodded at him. ‘I’ve got to get to London.’
‘More hotels to inspect?’
I smiled. ‘It never ends. Thankfully. It’s what pays my bills.’
‘Are you often in London?’ Ewan wondered.
‘Well, yeah. More hotels than any other city. I’m probably there every few months.’
‘We should catch up the next time you’re there.’
Tension was swirling into the room like a fog, choking me. I had to get out of there.
So began the awkward ‘it was nice to meet you’ routine that happens at the end of a one night stand when your escape is foiled by the bloke waking up. It was different this time because I actually liked the said bloke. And I hadn’t fucked him. And he’d opened a door into my face. So awkward for a completely different reason.
Ewan insisted on walking me down which was just elongating the process. It’s like when your family insists on coming into the airport with you to say goodbye. No one wants extend any emotionally difficult process. Except, it seems, parents and doctors-slash-army blokes from London.
Ewan waited in the foyer while I settled my bill, all the while making mental notes on how the staff treated me. Out in the street, the good doctor hailed me a taxi. As it pulled up, Ewan opened the door for me, stowing in my luggage. His mouth pressed into a hard line as he faced me; the final goodbye.
‘I am sorry for hitting you in the face.’
‘Maybe it’d be nice for us to meet on terms that don’t involve face bruising, sutures and concussion.’
‘Well, that would be nice, but I’m pretty sure we don’t move in the same circles, so I think it unlikely,’ I admitted.
Ewan tilted his head to the side. ‘Well, see, I was thinking of forcing it.’ He produced a card from his wallet, holding it out to me. ‘My mobile is on there. Give me a call when you’re next in London.’
I thought of making some quip about how I’d be in London later on that morning, would that suit? But it wasn’t a time for jokes. As soon as the card was between my fingers, I moved my hand back towards Ewan, giving it back.
‘Thank you for all that you’ve done,’ I said politely, ‘but let’s just leave it at that.’
I hopped into the taxi, not wanting to look back at Ewan; knowing it would break my resolve. I told the driver to go, but he hesitated, and in that time the door opened. I turned to see Ewan’s stern face.
‘Those sutures will need to come out in ten days,’ he said with a dull voice. The door was slammed, rattling the whole cab.
‘Go,’ I commanded the driver, feeling my eyes prick.
Later that morning I checked into my next hotel. I was relieved to arrive; escaping the looks of disgust and concern I’d seen on those around me since Cardiff Station. It was a boutique, upmarket hotel where actual art hung on the walls instead of the usual abstract work a five year old could do. It’s the kind of place celebrities would come to for a quiet drink when they don’t want to be seen by the photographers. Or where politicians discreetly met with their mistresses.
The hotel only had six floors and my room was on the third. With only my small, overnight bag, I wasn’t offered a bell hop, and so walked alone to the lifts and stairs at the back of the building.
Ordinarily, with just three floors, I would have taken the stairs. Yet as my hand grasped the door handle of the stairwell, the memories of what had last happened to me, just the day before, came flooding back. There would be no Ewan Baker in this stairwell.
The inevitable had happened. Something had occurred that was substantial enough to eclipse my hatred of lifts. Who knew it would be a man?
With a sigh, I moved over to the lifts, hitting the call button. The doors opened in an instant and I walked in to the tiny space. As I hit the button for the third floor, a large hand came out of nowhere, stopping the doors from closing. I saw the face, and body, of a very large man as he entered the small lift, immediately filling up the majority of space. He was followed in soon after by an equally large wife and three close-to-needing-child-services-due-to-their-size children.
I spent three floors with my face pressed in against the control panel of the lifts and with the arse of the wife squashed next to mine. When we reached the third floor it was like a human-sized game of Jenga, trying to arrange the large family so I could get out. I took three calming breaths once on my own, cursing Ewan with each of them.
He’d got to me.
The End (?)
* The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson
The Hotel Inspector – The Doctor and the Door can be viewed in full here