Story Preview: It’s Just Like Home

It’s Just Like Home
A Smuthunter Story

            Dan’s plane had touched down two hours ago, and those two hours had felt as long as the entirety of his cross-country flight.

Travelling east to west was better than the reverse, but not by much.

Having the airline lose, then find your luggage was better than having them just lose it.

Losing your rental car reservation, even though you verified it, and had your confirmation number, because there was ‘an issue’ somewhere in the system and the location then being completely out of vehicles, may have been better than losing it due to idiocy or a manual error, but not by much.

That was travel though, and Dan had done enough of it to have run into each of these pains in the ass separately, and the worse versions of each multiple times, but this was the first time he’d gotten the hat-trick of shitty experiences. Worse still, there was a line for check in.

The sun was setting, the jet lag was in his veins, and it was like no one in front of him in the line had ever checked into a hotel before.

“Hello there, welcome to…”

The check-in clerk went through his paces, Dan went through his, and luckily it all actually went smoothly.

Extended Stay.

It was like a time-share, but for business.

It was like staying with your relatives, if you had to pay for the pleasure of living in their Mother-in-Law-Apartment.

           Three weeks out west.

            One conference, one hundred meetings, a thousand business meals, and twenty-one nights not sleeping in his own bed, under his own roof, in his own time zone.

And for what?

The personal touch, when most, if not everything he was doing could be done remotely?

In a world of paperless offices and pointless email chains, there was still room for the self-indulgent pizzazz of the functionally unnecessary business trip.

At least someone else was paying for it.

There was a knock at his door, and no declaration.

He was in a pair of basketball shorts and a tank top. The shorts were for lounging around, and the tank top was the one he’d been wearing all day. Dan was in socks, but not shoes when he opened the door.

“Hi, I’m Meagan, I’m next door, I just wanted to come over and say hello.”

She was about his height, with an angular face, a pronounced narrow nose, almond shaped sharp pale gray eyes, and long wavy brown hair that went to her shoulders. Her dress was an armless summer blue with yellow sunflowers on it, her skin was smooth with just a touch of a golden brown tan, and her smile was full of bright white teeth.

“I’ve been here a couple weeks already, and I think I have it all figured out.”

She was beautiful.

“Hi, I’m Dan and I just got in. You didn’t hear me did you? These walls aren’t thin are they?” The slowly constructing realization that he may have to hear anything and everything around him started to…

“No, I mean, I heard the door a little while ago but that was only because it was really quiet in here. It’s a quiet floor, thick walls, don’t worry.” She had a non-regional dialect like a news caster or a…

“Let me guess, sales rep?” Dan was pretty good at this.

“Bzzzzz,” she shook her head and smiled. “How many sales reps have to stay in places like this? That’s a three nights tops visit and you know it. Let me try you.”

Her eyes narrowed, “I want to say, general upper middle management.”

It was his turn to smile, “What gave it away?”

“If you were a programmer, or a tech guy you’d have your laptop out and unpacked already. If you were real upper management you’d have a better room, and if you were real middle or lower middle management, you’d be in worse shape.”

It was true, oh god it was all true, “Well you got me figured out. What about you?”

“I’m the Human Resources version of you. We’re probably both here for the same conference, and we’re probably both here for the same fallout. But, you know, I have a rule with my hotel friends, no business names, and no business cards either, okay?”

There was a pleasantness to her, and it was easy for Dan to imagine someone else trying to be this fun and just coming off as cloying. But, she was genuinely enjoyable so far.

“You know what, Meagan right? That actually sounds great. But I’m beat, so…”

He trailed off because he had no idea what to say to follow that.

“So,” her eyes were smiling at his “you need to call it a night, but you’re all out of sorts and you’re tired, but you’re not comfortable right?”

That about summed it up.

“That about sums it up.”

“Well,” her gray eyes sparkled with enthusiasm, “I have a trick for that. It’s really easy and I can teach it to you if I can come in for a minute. It’s so easy I really can show you in a minute, and we can leave the door open too so it’s not weird that I’m just walking into your room.”

“It’s not making fists with my toes and walking around on the carpet is it?” He took a step back out of the doorway, and it had felt like her presence had pushed into the room ahead of her.

She stepped over the threshold, “No, this one actually works.”

The door was weighted to close, but she grabbed his suitcase and stuck it in the way. “Sit on the couch.”

She walked in front of him once he did, “Okay, for me it’s about making these rooms feel like home, that’s my trick. And it’s hard, because we’re not in our first studio apartments after collage right?”

Meagan’s smile was infectious, “And last year I had to spend more time in extended stays and hotel rooms than I did my own home, so trust me, this will work if you let it. So, here’s how you do it.”

Dan appreciated her energy, and her attention. “Find a spot in the room that you can make yours. It sounds silly, but like I said, it works. Pick a spot, like here on the wall, it doesn’t matter, so let’s try right here.”

She pointed at a nondescript section of wall, “Look right where my finger’s pointing, relax, and just think about being comfortable, think about being where you are, done with travel, done with moving, trust me, think about all of these facts, facts about where you are and how you feel, these are just facts, and think about how it can feel just like home if you let it.”

Dan had taken a breath and was really listening to her, but it didn’t sound like much of a trick.

“You’re not doing it.” Meagan gave him a look that absolutely said HR management, then tapped her finger against the wall. “It won’t work if you don’t do it. Take a centering breath, focus here, and try it, you’ll be happy you did.

Dan laughed, “Okay, sorry, yeah, I’ll try it. Are you on that side of the wall?”

“I am.” Her reprimanding look turned into a smile. “Now, okay, just relax, look right here, just with your eyes, and think: I am comfortable, I am relaxed, I am done with everything else, I am here, and it’s just like home.”

This time, as Dan played along, he felt a remarkable sense of relief as she repeated “I am done with everything else.”

When she finished leading him through her little mantra her smile got a little bigger, “See, I told you it works.”

“I do feel better.” Dan did too.

“That’s good. The secret though is to do it over and over until it really sets in. So let’s do it a few more times, and I’ll leave once you’ve finished winding down and I know you can get some sleep.”

His eyelids were starting to get heavy, and he was feeling very content to just sit on the couch, and there had to be a way to make plans with her, or talk about something else once she was done with this.

“Okay, just take a deep breath, I am comfortable, I am relaxed,” her voice became softer, her tone was more soothing, and her words came a little slower. He felt his eyes blink

“I am done with everything else, I am here, you can close your eyes Dan, it’s just like home. Relax, you’re where you need to be, it’s just like home Dan.”

He felt good.

“Open your eyes, I know they’re heavy, I know you’re spent, it’s been such a long day, but this is the last part. Look right here, look at my finger, right here, it’s just like home. Take those words inside yourself now, feel their meaning, feel how relaxed you are, it’s just like home, it’s just like home, it’s just like home.”

His mouth moved, “It’s just like home.”

His eyes closed again, and when he said those words he felt the stress of the day, the tension, the anxiety, and the apprehension of the trip, all fade away.

“See,” Meagan’s voice returned to its enthusiastic tone, “it works, and now you’re ready to call it a day, just like home right?”

When her voice picked up its pitch and tempo Dan’s eyes opened and he knew he was smiling, sort of uncontrollably but when she said ‘just like home’ it felt like a warm blanket was wrapping around him.

“You should visit me tomorrow when you get back from work, it’s my day off, and it would be great to talk to you about something other than my trick for making things feel just like home. You’ll come visit me won’t you, on the door to the right of you on this side, okay?”

It sounded really nice, “Yeah.”

She was half way to the door when he responded, and as he watched her go, he noticed that she had a nice butt. It was a slow thought, and he wondered if he was answering her question or agreeing with the sight in front of him. It had been a long day.

“Good, it’ll be good to talk tomorrow when you’re more with it. Sleep well.”

And with that, she was gone, having moved his suitcase out of the way so the door could close behind her.

“Hi! Dan, it’s so great to see you, come in. I’ve been here a while, so, sorry it’s a little ‘lived in’ in here, how was your night? How was your day?”

Dan’s first day had been smoother than he’d expected, but the weird thing was that he’d stopped by Meagan’s room before even walking into his.

“It was alright. I got a sense of what I was doing, you know how it goes. And I’m sorry about last night, it was nice of you to come over, but I was just beat.”

Her hair was up in a loose bun with a few long strands falling down her cheek, and she looked remarkably relaxed. “Oh, it’s okay, I’m glad I could help you relax, you needed it.

Being more awake, and more focused, it was even more clear to Dan now just how attractive Meagan really was. She was wearing black tights, a long, frilly, sleeveless white blouse that was almost a dress, knee high brown leather boots, and frameless glasses. Dan realized he was staring.

“So,” she was smiling at him and he wondered if it was because he’d been staring, “what did you do with your day off?”

The reality was he had no idea who this woman was, and the same went for her and him.

“I slept in, watched some TV, went for a walk, did some boring sight seeing, you know. There’s not a lot to see but I like to take in the local flavor, I also went to the gym. Boring day, I guess. Are you hungry?”

He was.

“I am, but, I feel a little over dressed for being out.”

“Hold on.”

She closed her door, then a moment later opened it again and stepped back into the hallway with her purse. “Let’s go to the restaurant downstairs. It’s nice, and you’re dressed for it.”

It wasn’t so much of an invitation as it was a declaration of what they were doing, and he was kind of fine with that.

“Dan, do you ever feel like people make too much out of what they do professionally sometimes? Do you know what I mean?”

He might have been dressed for the restaurant but somehow Meagan was too. It might have been her poise, or the quality of her casual wear, but she also seemed to fit right in.

“I don’t know, I mean jobs are a big part of our lives aren’t they? Just in general they open up what we can and can’t do. What’s good here?”

“I normally get one of the specials anytime I go out to eat anywhere, it’s a rule of mine. I mean, when will you be back? When will it be back on the menu? You never know when you’ll get another chance to try it. And I know what you mean, but I think we don’t see ourselves as best we could when we see who we are in relation to our work and what we do.”

The waiter came by, and they ordered drinks. He ordered a gin and tonic, and she smiled, said that sounded good, and ordered the same.

“It’s like this Dan, take you. I don’t want you to tell me what you do, like I said, no talking about work, no business cards, always order the special, but you have a way of seeing yourself don’t you? And you can see yourself now, one way, even in this moment sitting here, just listening to me talk, you can see yourself in one very clear and specific way.”
She stopped speaking to take a drink from her water glass at the same time he did.

“You’re probably even thinking about cause and effect related to your job, how you’re talking to me now, in this moment with me right now because you’re here, and you’re only here with me now, focused on this moment now, because you were sent here by your job. And the way you see yourself in this moment is that work was responsible for this, but when you see yourself sitting here now, do you think about how I knocked on your door? How that’s a happy accident for both of us?”

This time she stopped to take a drink first, and Dan followed.

“But the reason I knocked on your door isn’t because it’s work related, why I’m here in this building doesn’t get to determine what I like, and I like to know people. I see myself as outgoing and social, I see myself as engaging and I hope I’m interesting and fun, and I wonder if you can notice that about yourself too now Dan, can you notice that in this moment whatever you thought you were going to be doing, whatever you thought was happening one way, or for another reason, is happening separate from all of that?”

He found himself taking a another drink of water as she asked him this.

“It’s a big abstraction isn’t it? But you’re right, I know what you’re saying.”

She smiled.

“It is. But it’s like this. I knocked and you answered, we talked and you listened, and we made plans and you followed through, and now we’re about to enjoy this meal, and get to know each other more, because it feels good to connect with people on our own terms, separate from everything else, separate from the context of what we think we’re supposed to be saying or doing, what we’re used to communicating and focusing on. Can you see yourself now, separate from that image of self, able to focus on what you want to share, what you would rather be saying, not engaging in defining yourself by what you do for a living, but by telling me about who you really are? So we can really connect as people?”

Their drinks arrived, and the waiter listed the specials.

They both ordered the fish, and a bottle of wine to go with it.

“I like puzzles. Like, jigsaw puzzles with hundreds of pieces. I do them upside down so the colors don’t fool me.”

There was something challenging about Meagan that, besides the fact she was beautiful and this really felt like a date, made Dan want to impress her. The way she spoke, the way she sat, it felt like she was pulling something out of him, compelling him to meet her on her level, whatever it was.

“Oh wow,” her gray eyes lit up with her smile, “I would have had you for a crossword guy. I’m a big crossword fan. I like clues and hints and riddles, tell me why you like puzzles.”

“I like the immediacy of a puzzle, how you use your hands and you have to have soft eyes for them too. You can’t just look for one piece, you have to look at what pieces you have in front of you, especially after you start from the edges.”

Meagan was nodding along with him, “Plus it’s something you can just focus on and get lost in. When you solve a puzzle you’re imposing your will on it, solving the questions it answers, but while you make it into what you want it to become, a solved problem, you have to play by its rules. You have to understand it, submerge yourself into it. Do you ever lose time when you do puzzles?”

“I don’t think I know what you mean? Like lose track of time, sure.” The gin was good, Sapphire probably, he didn’t have a sensitive palate.

“Sort of, but losing time is more than that. It’s like blacking out from being hyper focused, and then coming back into yourself and realizing you’ve done half the puzzle. Has anything like that ever happened to you?”

Dan laughed, “The closest I’ve come to that was drinking too much and waking up to having eaten a whole pizza.”

She laughed.

They talked more.

The wine was good, the fish was good, and they ordered dessert, and it was getting late.

“This has been so much fun Meagan,” he signaled for the check.

“Good, I’m glad. I’ve been having fun too.” She leaned in a little closer to him, “Dan. Can you see yourself walking me up to my room now?”

Her voice had dropped, but her intensity had stayed at the same level. More so though, the pull Dan had been feeling all night seemed to crystalize. As she asked him about walking her up, Dan’s mind flashed into a clear, sharp image of the two of them holding hands as they walked out of the restaurant and back to the elevator…

“Good Dan, I can see you seeing it, hold on to that image. Tell me, what happens when we get to my room?” His mind shifted, and his mouth started to move before he could catch himself.

“We start kissing just inside the door.” Dan spoke, then started to blush. “Why did I say that?”

“Because I asked you what you saw happening, and you wanted to tell me.” She had kept eye contact with him the entire time. “Also, because I tricked you.”

“You tricked me?” he blinked.

“Yes. I tricked you.” She reached across the table and put her hands on his. “If you say the right things the right way, and you read someone as they respond, you can hack their brains a little, and get them to open up, or answer truthfully, by disrupting their decision making process.”

“Do you tr…”

She squeezed his hands, “No work questions, no work talk. Pay the bill.”

Just wait until you see what happens next!!!

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