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I wake up to him kissing my neck and running his hand between my thighs. I sigh and turn my head to kiss him. He needs a shave, but I’m too distracted to tell him that. And besides, I like the stubble. I’m tempted to tell him to let me sleep another hour, but he runs his fingernails along my stomach, and I come alive against him.

Eventually I turn over and pull him close, careful to keep the injured finger clear of his writhing back. Kissing his shoulder, I can see the bruised, stitched flesh, torn and marred, in heavy contrast to his smooth tan skin.


I would have really appreciated it if she’d told me sooner I was losing her. I knew we were going to break up, but I couldn’t have gauged how vicious she was going to be about it.

We’d been getting along lately, though, so I guess I misinterpreted that as a reconciliation. In hindsight it was pretty clearly just a cease-fire.

She was doing her makeup in the bathroom. She was naked, her hair fresh and dry, and before I jumped in the shower I came up behind her and kissed her neck. My hands slid along the curve of her hip.

“Get the fuck off me!” She jabbed me sharply with her elbow. Not enough to hurt, not in the body, anyway. But enough to startle me back.

“Jesus! What was that?”

“Are you trying to make me put out my goddamn eye?” she snarled. Even curled back across her teeth, her pink lips looked remarkably kissable. Eyeliner gave her a stare like sharp wire.

“Alright! I’m sorry.” I put my hands up in surrender and stepped into the shower.

“Oh, don’t sound so fuckin’ wounded.”

I didn’t answer, just started my shower. After a minute or so I heard her groan. “Turn it down! The steam is gonna fuck up my hair!”

I ignored her. I let the heat scald away my irritation with her. By the time I stepped out, she’d already left for work.


When he and I are finished we hold each other, our chests pressed together, me breathing heavily just behind his ear. His hair is sweaty, but when he sweats it’s with a clean, almost sterile odor. I run my fingertips against his scalp, ignoring the slight sting of my injured finger. We both need a shower. We’re clearly not done fooling around just yet.

Every so often he gives me a lazy kiss to my temple. We both doze off a few minutes. When I wake up I can feel him getting ready to go again. When Brittany got her stuff, she stripped the linens straight from the bed and threw them in the car. Soon Bobby and I are tangled in the act of consecrating the bare mattress anew.


“Christ, all I’m trying to do is talk to you-…”

“That’s all you fucking do. You talk about things but you never fucking do them. Goddamn, you’re boring.”

“Babe, just…”

“Just get the fuck back, alright?”

“Goddamnit,” I caught the door to the bathroom before she could close it. “Do you want us to break up or what?”

“No! I just want…”

“You don’t even fucking know what you want! All you do is endlessly bitch at me…”

She pulled the door. I tightened my grip, holding in place. Before I could say anything else, she threw her entire body into pulling it closed, grunting in anger and effort.

My finger made a dull, wet sound as it was smashed against the frame.

I remember yelling so loudly it felt like a roar. Brittany covered her mouth against the drips of blood spotting the carpet. She kissed me over and over on the forehead and told me she was taking me to the emergency room. She ran off to get dressed and grab her keys. While she was getting ready, I climbed into my own car and drove away.

I heard her come home from work around nine. I’d locked myself in my room. On the table in the kitchen, I left a note, telling her she had a day to get her stuff out. That’s all it said. Now that I think of it, I haven’t laid eyes on her since seeing her disappear into her room. This room, where Bobby and I are now.


When Bobby gets out of the shower I’ve set up a tray with toast and eggs. A carafe of coffee is on the desk I moved in here yesterday.

Bobby dries his hair. “God, I love you.”

He says it lightly, and I pretend not to notice him gauging me with his eyes. Seeing how I’ll react.

Oh, no.

His phone vibrates again. Text from Mark: “Hey babe. Flying back in tomorrow.”

Bobby tosses the towel over the curtain rod. He pours coffee without getting dressed. I take in the sight of him, and run my thumb along the stitches in my finger.

Maybe he’s sincere, but two days into this I’d prefer it if he wasn’t. I never touched him before Brittany left. Never thought of it.

While he stands there I contemplate going to him, kissing his body, going further and further until he’s against the wall and shuddering above me. I think about him trying to do that with Mark, a man almost twenty years older. Always tired, always busy, always out of the house when Bobby gets home. Maybe Bobby does love me. But he also can’t.

Bobby types something into his phone while he drinks his coffee. He winks at me while he sips from the mug. The tip of my left middle finger is deep blue and purple. Between the stitches I can see the skin beginning to heal. The flesh is smashed and shredded, but still it comes together.


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Krista and I smoke cigarettes by the door to the employee garage. She’s just off work and I’ve just rolled in. It’s February and it’s freezing. The garage can park forty cars but there’s only five here now. It’s just her and me, smoking and complaining about work. Occasionally she curses our managers in bubbly Greek.

“Christ,” she says, rubbing at her eyes. “I gotta be up in five hours for my shift at Hilton.”

It’s a quarter past eleven now. “Shit,” I say. “And you live all the way in Clarksville. That’s two hours coming and going.”

“Yeah.” She takes another drag on her smoke. “Fuck it. I’ll just sleep here in my car. I’ve done it before.” She shrugs and says something in Greek that sounds dismissive.

It really is cold in here. “Oh, fuck that!” I say, digging my houseman keys out of my pocket. “Here. Stub your smoke and follow me.”

We take the service elevator to the housekeeping floor, and I grab a bundle of roll-away linen from the racks in back.

“Front desk to houseman,” my walkie squawks. I unclip it from my belt and answer. “Go ahead.”

“Guest in room 307 needs a roll-away.”


Krista and I ride the lift to storage. Storage is a little warmer than the garage, just because heat rises. It’s just as much a concrete box as downstairs, but here every available space is filled with items guests may request during their stay. A single window looks out over the alley. Red neon spills in through the glass, and the occasional hoot from drunks outside works its way in like whinnies from a field.

I pull one roll-away to take with me to the guests, and make space to set another down. “Here ya go,” I tell her, dropping one bundle onto the bed. “This has gott abe better than sleeping in your car.”

“Oh, no!” she says, almost alarmed. “I can’t put you to this much trouble!”

In the neon light, with her brow creased, I’m reminded she’s 41. She looks younger than she is, but here I faintly notice indicators of her age. Small creases by her eye. The sheen of her skin. Not old. Not even weathered. Tempered.

Under fluorescent light her bouncing, kinky hair is light brown, but in the glow of neon it is a deep rose red.

I wave a hand. “It’s no trouble. You’ll be up and out before anyone else clocks in. No one’s gonna know. It’s just me on hall duty tonight.”

“But the extra laundry!” Her eyes bulge from worry or guilt or maybe just the general shame of the working poor. “I don’t wanna make extra work for anyone!” And she bites her nails and mutters something Greek.

“They’ll never notice. It’ll literally just be an extra armload. They’ll clock out the same time they always do.” I slap the thin mattress. “Sleep here. I’ll wake ya in five hours”

She hesitates, then gives a shy grin, hugs me, and kisses my cheek. She says something I don’t understand, then follows it with: “You’re sweet, little baby.”

I’m twenty-six, but in that moment I feel like an eight-year-old being reminded of my childishness by a pretty high schooler.

“I try.” I grab the other bundle and roll the other bed behind me. “G’night.”

Something in Greek, just as the door closes behind me.


“Krista’s sleeping in storage,” I tell Clint at the front desk. “Can you believe Dan scheduled her for dinner shift? Knowing her morning schedule?”

Clint rolls his eyes. “Assholes.” Then: “You sure she’s comfortable? I could look for a spare room.”

“Nah, she’s good. Just wanted ya to know in case it was too cold for you to take your smoke break downstairs.”

“Word.” He’s typing a mile a minute, closing guest accounts and settling invoices. In half an hour he’ll print three-hundred receipts, some stapled together for longer stays, and I’ll spend a busy hour sliding them under doors. It’s a little after one in the morning.

“You and Krista talk a lot.” He gives me a coy, stubbly smile. “Always smoking together when I come in.” He looks over and winks. “And then she’s always making you coffee before you clock out.”

“Oh, dude, Jesus Christ. She’s, like, my mom’s age.” Which is nearly true. My mother married very young. But Krista…Krista does not look like my mother. Not even a little bit.

Clint shrugs. “Hey man, I’m just sayin’. My man’s older than she is.” Clint’s my age. “Besides, after a certain point, do age differences even exist anymore? This ain’t fuckin’ high school.”

“Funny ya say that. She woulda been in high school when I was born.”

“It’s like that Wanda Sykes bit,” he says, typing through his duties. “If you can’t find a good man, raise one.”


Two guests come back from bar hopping around three. Two women, one blond and sort of heavyset, but no less pretty for it. The other, deep brunette, slim and having a little trouble balancing on her high heels. Halfway across the marble lobby she stops, leans on her friend for support, and slips them off. The two of them make for a side hallway, where the overnight coffee station is.

Ten minutes later, I’m bringing a fresh carafe out when I see them go into the room they share. I swap out a few condiments, and in my haste to get the chore done I stumble over something hidden by the table skirt. When I crouch down to see what it is, I find a pair of black heels. The same the guest kicked off in the lobby.

I grab them, feeling awkward as I carry them to the guests’ door, and knock rapidly. You’d be amazed how fast someone can pass out. I steel myself for an irritable string of swears when the guest, the slim one, opens the door. She’s still in her dress, her eyes a little red, her makeup wiped off of her cheeks.

“…yeah?” she asks. She seems nervous, and I guess if I was alone and pretty, I’d be uncomfortable if a strange guy knocked on my hotel door too. Actually I’d be nervous if that happened regardless of who I was, come to think of it.

“Uh…I think these are yours?” I motion to the table. “I found ’em near the coffee?”

Her eyes light up with understanding. “OH! Oh, thank you so much!” Her voice is quickly layered with emotion. “Aw! That was so sweet of you!”

I’m tempted to tell her I’m just paid to do this, but lately it’s been occuring to me how much of an asshole that makes me sound when I say that. “Well, they looked nice on ya. It’d be a shame for you to lose ’em.”

The night’s libations seem to make her melt when she hears that. “Aw! You’re so sweet!” And she leans into me then, steadying herself with one hand against my crossed arms. When she touches me I quickly wonder how she’s able to keep herself from blowing away in the wind. She pecks my cheek, and I pretend to run a hand over my beard to hide what I suspect is a blush.

“Thank you!” she says again, with more sincerity than I would’ve expected.

“Y-yeah,” I say, then smooth the stammer down. “Yeah, no problem.”

She smiles and holds eye contact as she closes the door, and fifteen minutes later my heart is still pounding in my ears. I take a quick smoke break with Clint in the garage.

“Jesus Christ,” he says, shaking his head. “You gotta stop working so hard, man. You’re beet red.”


By three I’m hurriedly stuffing guest receipts under doors. On the seventh floor a middle aged man with expensive clothes but an alcoholic’s physique grins and holds out his hand before opening his door. I give him his receipt and ask him: “So how much ya owe us?”

He looks over the printout and says: “Probably not as much as y’all deserve.” Then he looks up at me: “How much they pay ya anyway, kid?”

“Ten and change an hour.”

“Yeah. Not nearly enough.”

“True,” I agree, since it seems safe to. “But better than a lot of others get.”

He holds eye contact for a second. “But you’re not looking to keep this job forever, are ya?”

I cross my fingers. “Well, ya know. God willing, an’ all.”

“You from around here?” Here being Louisville.

“Nah, nah. I grew up around Atlanta. A little to the south. Poor part, ya know,” and he laughs with me, and I wonder how much of being poor he can actually identify with.

He opens his door but he doesn’t go inside, just leans against the cheap aluminum frame. For as much as we charge you’d think we’d be built less like a Days Inn, but our location is primo so we get away with it. “Ya lived here long?” he asks, in a nasally accent I place somewhere in Ohio. He undoes a top button. His chest hair is as salt-and-pepper as the hair on his head.

“Couple years.” And I’m not stupid, I know what’s happening. I straighten the receipts in my hand, evidence I need to get back to work.

“Moved here for school?” he asks. In my head I translate: Could ya use some extra cash?

And like always, when a man gets aggressively flirtatious, I feel guilty for every woman I’ve ever gotten handsy with. “Sure did. Wrapping the degree next semester.”

“You can’t possibly afford that with what they pay!” He scratches at his chest. His stare is like the scope of a sniper’s rifle.

“Well, if I can keep my poverty a secret long enough, it won’t matter.” I move away, long, strong strides. “You have a good night, sir!”

He stays in the door frame a moment, unsure of what to do, then quietly says, “Yeah, you too,” goes inside, and closes the door.

When I’m done, I head down to storage to wake Krista.


Krista’s already up when I get there, sitting on the edge of her bed, smoking a morning ciggie and rubbing at her eyes. Her hair is still relentlessly buoyant, but even it seems to be taking time to awaken. It seems to hang with less spring than it does when she’s fully loaded on caffeine and nicotine.

“You’re up a little early,” I tell her, stealing a smoke and lighting up. Outside the tinkling of empty bottles becomes an outraged ringing, as garbage trucks empty Dumpsters behind alleyway bars.

Krista shrugs. “Slept like the dead, though,” she tells me. Her blouse hangs loose on her, a few top buttons undone. I notice her server’s smock is bunched up beside her boots, resting on her folded slacks.

“Oh, shit, I’m sorry,” I say then, stubbing out the smoke.

“Sorry for what, baby?” she asks, honestly confused.

“I…I didn’t know you still needed to get dressed. My bad.” And I’m backing away before she waves me back.

“No, no! I don’t care!” And she gives this bursting laugh that rings like hollow glass. “Ohhh,” she purrs, comforting but not condescending. “I embarrassed you! I’m sorry!”

“No! No!” I laugh then and relight my smoke. “You wouldn’t be the first naked woman I’ve seen, believe it or not.”

“Oh, really?” And she gives a tired grin. “And how many naked women have you seen?”

“Uhhh,” I take a deep drag. Can she see me go red in the wash of neon? “I don’t know. Never really counted.”

“Oh ho! So that many, huh?”

“You make it sound like I’m bragging.”

“Well,” she tosses her hair over her shoulder, “no harm in that. It’s something to brag about, after all.” She looks down, rubs at her eyes again, mutters something in Greek, then asks: “Anyone down in the staff showers right now?”

“Oh, hell no. No one from first shift is gonna roll in for another hour.”

“An hour.” She just says it, like a confirmation, staring at her burning smoke.

“I can get a kit ready,” I tell her, and start to turn again. She grabs my arm.

“Hey,” she says, and when I turn she pulls me a step closer. Another tug, and I’m nearly sitting on the cot with her.

“It’s chilly,” she tells me, and pulls me closer, throwing the blanket aside. I wasn’t aware of how cold it was until I feel the heat billowing from her bare legs.

“Damn, it’s chilly!” she giggles, throwing the blanket back over us. Soon her mouth is clamped against my ear. Her hands, strong from a lifetime of working to survive, anchor me to her like vices. Every few seconds she murmurs “Oh, my baby,” and then something, the same thing, over and over, in Greek. I never ask her what it means.

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While at Work



They’re both rushing through their routines, each of them fighting off the grogginess that holds fast when you have to be awake by five in the morning. He’s pulling on paint-spattered jeans, to compliment his paint-spattered thermal shirt. She wraps a towel around her hair and walks naked from the shower, picking a pair of slacks and a blouse to wear without really looking. She’ll do her makeup at work.

She reaches under the bed for shoes, finds his work boots instead. She hefts them his way, tossing them so they land by his ankles. The thud makes her wonder how he walks in them. Beneath the drips of paint they’re a deep, dark brown. She finds a pair of kitten heels and nudges them into the open with her foot while she slips on her underwear.

“You gonna be late tonight?” she asks him as he pours coffee into a thermos.

“Probably. The other guy I was splitting the job with is too wrapped up in a loft he’s working on downtown. I’m pretty sure he’s just bailed.”

“Well, that’s more money, at least.”

“At least.”

She tightens the belt of her slacks and shakes the towel off onto the bed. She comes up to him, topless, hair damp, contacts out so he’s just a vaguely handsome blur, and grabs him by the hips, closing her eyes to find his lips with hers. “My poor blue-collar baby.”

He wraps his arms around her, and the weight of the thermos throws her a little off-balance. Her body leans against his. The kiss gets a little breathier before she breaks it off.

“Save that for after work, babe” she tells him, kissing his nose before she goes to finish dressing.

“In that case, I’ll work at light speed and get home early.”

“Well, my day’s probably gonna run a little long too.” Allie puts in her contacts and blinks them in place, then grins as he comes into focus. “So you’ll just have to be patient, mister.”

“I’m the soul of patience.” John throws on a denim jacket and heads for the door. “Love you!” he calls out as he leaves.


Allie’s day does run pretty long. Around seven she gets a text: “Made it home by daylight. Accomplishments like that warrant a reward, I’d say.” John follows it with a little winking emoji.

Brandon reaches around from behind and cups her breast. His fingers knead her in time with every thrust. She can feel him getting ready to climax. Her moans become small whines, and his body bucks as he finishes.

Then they’re both face down, breathing heavy into the sheets. Her face is red and her breathing’s heavy. Tucked away in her purse, set to silent, her phone vibrates again.

“Love you!” the screen reads.


He sleeps in the next morning. He has another job lined up but this one has to be done at night, when the shops in Harlem are the least busy. He’s still naked and the sheets still smell of last night’s sex. She leaves a note asking him to do laundry, then kisses him on the temple before turning to leave.

“You look like sunshine,” he mumbles.


“Your hair. I…” he swallows to lubricate his voice, “…I don’t usually see it dry in the morning.” He cracks open one eye and smirks. “The light from the window. It makes it glow. Like sunshine.”

She leans her head against the bedroom door and smiles. “I love you,” she tells him, and she does. In this moment Allie loves him so much she could cry if she thinks about it too long.

“You gonna work late again?”


“Alright. I might not be here when you get back.”

“That sounds like a threat.”

He huffs a little laugh. “You know what I mean.” He waves a hand overhead. “The job tonight.”

“Yeah, I know. I tossed your clothes in the machine. Do me a favor and wash the sheets next?”

John makes a lazy salute. “Ma’am, yes ma’am.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”


She stays late again. Really late. Around nine her phone vibrates, unseen and unheeded in her purse. “Heading to the job, babe. Washed the sheets and remade the bed. Dinner in the oven. Love you. Like, more than you love me.”

Another winking emoji.

The sheets are bunching under her back but she ignores them. Her lips touch Brandon’s but the kiss never finishes. Their open mouths just barely meet, and they snake their tongues together, the warmth of their breath bathing their faces and fueling the eager pumping in their hips. Her knees are wrapped around his waist, locking him in place. His hands run across her stomach and an electric heat rocks her as they graze her nipples. She’s pulling him in with her ankles. She can feel him finish, again, the second time tonight.


Allie’s already showered and asleep when he comes home. She picked him up a sandwich, and he eats it while he comes down from the coffee he drank a little too liberally through the night. Finally he strips away his painting clothes and tosses them in the hamper. John spent most of the night by the shop’s doors, and the gusting winter wind has worked its way through to his bones. Even half an hour in a steaming shower can’t work the chill loose.

She feels warm as he climbs in bed beside her. He presses himself against her and wraps an arm around her waist. Without waking up, Allie turns on her side and curls against him. In these quiet hours, it comforts him to think that they are so natural together one could see their love as automatic.

Beneath the sheets, pressed naked against her, John falls asleep in the gentle heat.


Brandon rocks his hips with each nod of her head. He holds fistfuls of her sweaty hair as she works her way up and down. Each thrust lifts his waist clear off the bed. His abs have to be tired, but he’s so close and so into the moment that his rhythm only builds. “Oh, yeah,” he groans. “Aw, fuck yeah.”

And then he’s done, groaning and holding her head in place until he’s completely spent. They lie like that for awhile afterward, and when Allie finally looks up, she sees someone out of the corner of her eye. Someone who hadn’t been there a moment before.

She looks up and sees John, looking right at her. After a pause he turns and starts to walk away.

“John!” she calls, and gets up to chase him. “John, wait!”

He stops, and turns back around.

“What are you doing here?” she asks.

He shrugs. “Finished the job earlier than expected. Thought I’d pop by and see if you wanted a sandwich or something. You gonna be late again?”

“Not too late.” A grip hands her a robe, and she slips it on. “We should be done by tonight.”

“Sweet. You hungry?”

“Starving. Like literally to death.”

“Methinks the lady doth protest too much.” He checks the time on his phone. “Panera okay?”

“Oooooh, yes! Something in asagio bread.” She makes a pressing motion with her hands. She does this all the time when she speaks. If she asks for soup she makes a little bowl shape. Coffee and she pretends to tip a cup. It’s juvenile, but it tugs at his heart when she does this. It’s why she does it, actually.

“Your wish is my command. Back in ten.” He leans in to kiss her, but she ducks it with a sheepish grin.

“Uhhhh…we’ve been at it for awhile now.”

Now he grins. “Ah. Okay. Uh…any facials?”

“Not tonight.”

“Then in that case,” and he kisses her forehead. Her face has always been so sensitive. She feels a quivering warmth ripple down her cheeks and through her scalp. In her head, she sees an image of herself, melting like ice against him. “I love you,” he adds. He almost sings it, because saying it in plain words somehow always feels dishonest. Or really, not honest enough.

“I love you too!” She actually does sing it, because she’s nothing if not honest.

“Hey, Allie!” Lenny calls from his director’s chair. “You ready for the next scene?”

She thinks about it. They’ve been working a few hours now. She doesn’t want to be too sore when she gets home. “Maybe. Is there an ass scene in this thing?”

“There can be. You up for it?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“There’s no rush, kid.” Lenny’s Boston accent clashes with the supportive tone he’s trying to sport. “We can wrap this up tomorrow if you need us too.”

“Nah, let’s get this thing done. I got another shoot tomorrow night. I hate it when my schedule gets crowded.”

“Your call, hun. Hey, Brandon, you get that?”

“Got it!” Brandon calls back. The fluffer leaves to double up on his lube. “Be ready in fifteen!”

“Alright, folks, take thirty to eat! We’ll shoot this after and then we’re done.” Lenny waves his aide down. “Steph, call accounting so they can add the ass work before they cut Allie’s check.”


In contrast to the day’s filming, their lovemaking that night is tender and slow. To a voyeur it would almost seem like they’re simply cuddling. He only touches and kisses her wherever she isn’t sore. As he pecks his way down the bridge of her nose she finally climaxes. The gentle, billowing orgasm makes her think of a warm blanket, caught in a breeze on a clothesline.

She feels him finish in her hand, and she continues holding him as they fall asleep. His body presses her to the bed, shielding her from the chilly night. She wraps a delicate hand around one shoulder, anchoring him to Earth. They sleep like that, exhausted from the work that is being alive, and being in love.

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