Check In (Short Story Romance)

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Hey, Peaches. How are you this evening?”

“Fine, Mr. Cavendish. I have your favorite room ready. I even went to set the thermostat just the way you prefer.” After a quick swish of his pen on the bottom of the print out I handed over the key to room 211. It faced away from the parking lot and with a storage room on the other side of one wall, it provided Mr. James Cavendish with the kind of quiet he preferred while on the road.

“You did get the information that I am here for two days this time?”

“Yes, Sir, I did.”

James leaned across the counter. No small feat as it was four and half feet tall. “Are you working tomorrow, Peaches?” He told me he called me Peaches every time he checked in because he said I was a refreshing treat after a hard day of business meetings. I think it’s because of my strawberry-blonde hair. The name on my tag is Karen though.

“I work the usual, three to eleven.”

“Any chance I can get you to go to lunch with me tomorrow?”

I gulped. Not that I didn’t find James attractive. I did. Way too fine a man to be paying the likes of me any attention. He’s tall and with a deep tan and dark hair. Clean-shaven, he always wore sharp, but simple business suits with a fun tie. His smile could light up the town if the power ever went out. Empty dreams awaited down that road. Plus, last night the guy I had been dating, decided to check into the hotel. On my shift. With a top heavy gal wearing fewer clothes than most Sports Illustrated swimsuit models do. Well. I’m exaggerating a little. About as little as her dress was anyway. Obviously I wasn’t putting out since the only way he was getting that kind of treatment from me would cost him a ring and a wedding. Obviously I was out of his price range. Dirtbag. So I go from him to this fine specimen? The contrast startled me.

“I’m flattered, Mr. Cavendish, but I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

“James.”

“Excuse me?”

“My name is James, Peaches, and please use it.”

“Okay, James. If you insist.”

His smile was broad enough to reveal a dimple. Won’t that be something to dream about tonight?

“I do, insist. Now, why would it be a bad idea for me to buy you lunch?”

“I don’t know you that well?” Why would I say this as a question? Of course I am dying to spend time with this man, I just figure . . . “Listen, James, if we date it will make working here when you check in, more difficult for me. Especially if things didn’t work out. I’m not a ‘girl-in-every-town’ kind of woman.”

He frowned but nodded. “Beautiful and wise. How is business tonight?”

“Good. We’re fairly full and you are the last of my reservations to check in. It will probably be a quiet evening.”

“What do you do when it’s quiet?”

“When I was in college, I would study or work on papers. Now that’s I’ve graduated I sit back and read.

“Do you mind a visitor tonight?”

“No. Occasionally I’ve had men, like you, come to visit. One used to play the banjo to keep himself from wanting to go out to drink. He used to come down to sing for me. It was sweet. Other times traveling men, even truckers, have stopped by to shoot the breeze. It has to be hard to travel and the only contact you have with a human is for business. I don’t mind.”

“Other men have been before me?” Wrinkles appeared on his forehead and he sighed. “So am I just going to be another notch on your desk?”

“No. For you, James, I’ll carve your initials. Will that make you feel better?” I grinned and his shoulders relaxed. He nodded.

“I’ll be back after I settle in.”

Week after week it was the same. James would come down to visit across the counter. If it got later and things were slow, I would sit out in the lobby with him. As long as I could get to the phone quickly, it was okay with my boss. I looked forward to his visits.

A few months passed. James had been on vacation for two weeks, and I didn’t get to see him until after that. When he strode in the door, he wore blue jeans and a t-shirt that fit oh-so-well across his chest. I almost didn’t recognize him.

“Good evening, Peaches! I’ve got some great news!” His pen made a quick flourish on the paper as I slid the key to him.

“What’s up, James?”

“This will be my last night staying here.”

My heart sunk to my toes. I think somewhere deep inside of me I even tripped over it as I filed his paper.

“Last night?”

“Yup. And you know what that means?”

“That I’ll miss seeing you.”

“Nah. Good guess but wrong. It means I can finally take you to lunch.”

I’m sure my confusion was written all over my face.

“I bought a condo in town. I’ve decided that my main base of operations is going to be here and I would hire others to run around for me.”

“Wait. You own the company?”

He dropped his eyes as he nodded.

“And you never told me? No. I’m sorry. I won’t be going to lunch with you. I thank you for the offer.”

Another customer walked in and I was busy for the next several hours. James never came down to visit.

I went home that night and licked my wounds in private. More like licked my spoon of very drop of Ben and Jerry’s I had in my freezer and suffered from brain freeze that did nothing to relieve the ache in my heart.

I had already turned in my resignation at the hotel and had planned to share the news with James, that I had finally nailed a job in my field. I would be doing marketing for a local company. This last night had been my final evening at the hotel.

It’s sad but James and I had shared all kinds of things. Dreams, favorite colors, foods and pets. We had talked about our families and childhoods. The highs and lows in our lives. The bad dates and the almost-the-right-one dates. We even shared a similar faith. I had never once asked him about his work. I figured he was trying to relax from it. I didn’t even know the name of the company he owned. Still, I thought he should have told me. I would never have even entertained foolish thoughts of a future between us. And I did. I was glad I had a week off between starting a new job to devour some more ice cream and then torture myself at the gym. All in an effort to forget this enigmatic man. My only consolation was that while it was possible for us to bump into each other in this town. It wasn’t likely.

The Monday after a week of orientation, I was surprised to receive a delivery of a dozen long-stemmed red roses. At work. The note attached said, “Congratulations, James”

I got a lot of ribbing from my co-workers and I kept the flowers there until that Friday night. After that week, I took the wilting flowers home. As I placed the vase on my kitchen table, I couldn’t help but think of James’ startling grey eyes and the way one little curl appeared if his hair grew too long. The rest was straight. Black as midnight. I wondered if I had missed my one chance of love with one of the really good guys out there.

My roommate, Stacy, whipped past and plopped a stack of messages in front of me. “Call the guy. He’s driving me nuts. I’m out of here for a date. See ya in the morning.” The door slammed shut.

I leafed through the pieces of paper. James. James. James’ secretary, Carol. James, James. The same number left on every page. By the time I finished the stack, I had the number memorized.

I dialed.

“You have reached the phone number of James Cavendish, President and CEO of Smash Industries. Please leave a number at the beep and he will return your call as soon as he is able.”

Beep.

“Hi, James. It’s me, Peaches. Thanks for the flowers. That was really sweet of you.”

I hung up and it rang.

“Hello?”

“Karen?”

“Yes.”

“It’s James.”

“I kind of figured. I saw the number on the caller ID.”

He laughed. “Why don’t you have a cell phone like everyone else?”

“No one has ever needed to reach me that badly to make it worth the expense.”

“I hope to be the one to make you change your mind on that.”

“Excuse me?”

“Listen. I’m sorry I never told you about my business. You never asked and specifically said you wanted my time with you to be relaxing and I was happy to forget about it when we visited. You became my lifeline every week to the real world outside of business. You don’t know how desperately I needed that.”

“I’m glad I could help, James.”

“I miss you.”

I smiled as a tear rolled down, tickling my cheek. “I miss you too.”

“Would you reconsider my offer of a date?”

Would I? Yes! In a much more subdued manner that nowhere near indicated the way my heart was waltzing in my chest, I responded. “I would.”

“Tonight?”

“If you give me time to change?”

“Is an hour sufficient?”

“More than.”

“I’ll pick you up.”

“Wait. Don’t you need my address?”

“Already have it. I’ll see you in one hour.”

I rushed to change and threw about five outfits on the bed. I finally decided on a nice pair of slacks, comfortable shoes and a simple sweater. I wasn’t going to be any more than I ever was. If James didn’t like that, then too bad. I would rather know that now.

An hour later, to the minute, there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find him there in casual slacks and a button down shirt open at the collar and blazer. I swallowed. It had only been a few weeks since we had last seen each other. So why did he look better than I ever remembered?

“You are gorgeous out of your uniform, Peaches.”

I shook my head, grabbed a wrap and my purse and let him lead me to his car.

He drove me to a park and then helped me out. “Is it okay if we take a short walk first? We have time before our reservation.”

I nodded and let him lead me through a path edged with flowers. The birds sang and swooped around us as we strolled under the trees. The sun hadn’t set yet and the sky had a strange light. Soft and beautiful. We came to a bench and he motioned for me to sit. I did and he sat next to me.

“Karen. We’ve known each other for a few years now, but even more so in the past few months, I think we’ve become friends.”

I nodded. Friends. Wasn’t that the death knell to any relationship?

“I didn’t just choose to move here because it was convenient. I moved my main office here for one reason alone.”

I turned to him and tilted my head. “One reason?”

He nodded as he leaned forward and placed his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands in front of him. “Do you want to know what it was?” He didn’t look at me, but stared across the path at a bunny rabbit chewing on a flower.

“Sure. If you care to tell me. I always thought you didn’t want to talk about business.”

“I don’t. But I do want to talk about you. You and me.”

“What does that have to do . . .?”

He twisted to the side and took my face in his hands. “You. Everything has to do with you, Peaches. I love you. I can’t stop thinking about you. I can’t hardly work not knowing if you could possibly want me too.”

His thumb caressed my bottom lip and I let it fall open. I swallowed hard and put my own hand up to his stubbled chin. I had only ever known him as close shaven. I liked this version of the man. “Why would someone as wonderful as you, settle for someone like me?”

“You really don’t know how beautiful and delightful you are?”

I shook my head.

“Then let me show you.” His lips met mine and every bone in my body turned to melted wax. I was as light as air, carried away on a dream and a prayer. When he pulled back, all I could do was stare.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. Well, not so soon anyway.” That dimple appeared. I remained silent. I had no words. My brain was mush.

“Karen. I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you. If it is too soon for that kind of sentiment, I understand, but I had to put it on the table. I want to stake a claim on your heart. Would you at least think about the possibility of marrying me?”

Puppy dog eyes couldn’t have begged sweeter than he did. I would have given him he moon if it had been in my power.

I nodded.

“Yes to considering or. . . “

“Yes, James. I would be delighted to be your wife. You already own my heart. I’ve been miserable without you.”

A smile spread over his face. “Really?”

“I love you, James. Now kiss me and take me to dinner.”

“First . . .” He dug in his pocket and pulled out a stunning ring and placed it on my finger.

“It’s beaut—”

My words were cut off by his kiss. I think he got the point.

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