“Great,” I said, feeling a small prick in my chest and taking in a deep breath to ease the pain before it began. I stretched my legs and waited as he pulled out a ledger from under the counter.
Definitely not using one of your software here.
“Name?” Chuck asked, holding his pen over an empty row.
“Last name with that?”
Chuck looked at me, squinted for a second and then shrugged. “I assume you’re gonna be paying with cash, then?”
I nodded as he wrote down Chance No Last Name in the register. I peeked over, noticing that only one other name was jotted down above mine, and pulled out my wallet. “Could I have a room on the ground level?”
“You can have any room you want,” Chuck smiled. “Other than mine and room ten, your pickings.”
“Good to know I have company,” I smiled.
Chuck laughed and shook his head. “Guy in room ten’s booked the room for six months. Some writer fella who never really leaves the room unless it’s time to eat or take a walk to the diner. Don’t worry, he won’t be bothering you.”
I didn’t really care. I was hoping for some peace and quiet, but actually finding it scared me a little. It was almost as if I had stepped into some Twilight Zone episode, where there were only a few people left in the world, and my only way across the country had blown a head gasket. I checked my phone, made sure I had bars, then pocketed it again. Better safe than sorry.
“How long you planning on staying, Chance?” Chuck asked.
“Couple of days, maybe three,” I replied. “Depends on when Hank can finish fixing my truck.”
“1978 Chevy. Blown head gasket.”
Chuck smiled. “Oh, that’s a beaut, that one. Take care of it, it’ll take care of you.”
“Yeah, I guess it got upset that I’ve been ignoring it for a few years.”
“Trucks are a lot like women,” Chuck laughed. “Ignore them, and they’ll welcome you back alright when you come crawling. But they’ll definitely give you hell for it.”
“I had it coming, then,” I smiled.
I didn’t exactly know what it was, but for some reason, I was actually starting to feel better. The tension of the city, coupled with the frustration of the broken-down Chevy, it was all gone. Almost as if I had stepped into a completely different world, a bubble of sorts, and had left everything else behind.
I could get used to this.
“Only it isn’t operational unless we have a full house. If you want a drink, Joel’s is a couple of buildings down.”
The swimming pool was at the center of it all, small but clean, fenced in. Other than an older Ford parked at the far end of the parking lot, the motel was empty.
Chuck let me know that his wife came in every morning with fresh pie, and there was always coffee brewing. If I was hungry, there was a diner, apparently next to Joel’s, where they served the “best burgers this side of Dallas”. Most of the townsfolk kept to themselves, which suited me just fine, and other than the twins who worked here in the morning, and some woman named Ashlyn who tended to the flowers that decorated every corner of the motel, I wasn’t going to be bothered much.
It amused me how much Chuck cared about my privacy, and given that I had paid in cash and refrained from giving him my last name, it wasn’t all too surprising. Guy probably thinks I’m running away from the police or something.
He opened the door to my room, and I was hit by the strong smell of Gardenias. The scent almost immediately brought me back home. I was eight again, racing around behind our house while my mother fooled around with her garden. Somewhere in the distance I could hear my father’s tractor, and I knew any minute now he’d be driving the loud monster back, hopping off it and giving my mother a long, wet kiss. Then he’d tell her to stop breaking her back over plants that did no good, and then call me over to help him in the barn.
For a second there, I completely forgot about Austin, about the company, about anything and everything, and was lost in this one solitary memory.
Chuck snapped his fingers in front of my eyes and brought me back.