I woke up to a text message from my mother. It said, Hope you are taking care of yourself.

I got out of bed and went to the bathroom and flipped the switch for the light. The bathroom in the hotel room had one of those big mirrors that took up the whole wall. I’m not gonna lie, I was looking good naked. Haha.

Funny too, coming back to this city. And now, a totally different person. But I wasn’t sure if I completely believed that. I wasn’t sure if anyone else would either. So I never told anyone when I came back. I’d arrive unannounced and flit through the shadows and delight in the surprised exaltations of old friends who thought they were seeing a ghost. My sick pleasure.

I only ever told her. And who would’ve thunk it. This woman who all these years I’d thought was so far out of my league. Here, with me. And it was good. It was all good. My mind was changing. Maybe that’s the kind of thing only women can see. The fairer sex.

I used the toilet, then I washed my hands, then I brushed my teeth. I came back into the room to see her on the edge of the bed, her bare back to me, brushing her long black hair. Beautiful hair, like it was the mane of some majestic animal you might admire and one day hope to befriend or even fall in love with. On her violin shaped back, a big tattoo of a tiger, baring its teeth and ripping red in her flesh.

“Feel like getting a bite?” I asked.

“I gotta go to work.”

“OK,” I said.

I went back into the bathroom. Not for any particular reason. I guess this was sort of the awkward morning after. Still, it was cool I could pay for a hotel room by myself now and have a beautiful woman keep me company. I’d take a shower and make myself coffee and see where the day took me.

And as if she had been reading my mind, she called from the other room, “What are you gonna do today?”

I walked back into the room. “I don’t know. Run around. Maybe go to jail or something.”

She was just shimmying her jeans up over her hips. I paused in the door to watch. I thought to myself, no matter where or what or when, moments like these will never get old.

She turned after she’d buttoned up. She crossed her arms. “God, I’m tired of dudes like you.”

“Dudes like me? You never known a dude like me,” I said. Like it was reflex. And I regretted it instantly, because I knew, to her, how phony it sounded.

She let me have it.

“I’ve known plenty of dudes like you. Just like you. Hey, listen, buster. You ain’t some spring chicken anymore. Dudes like you, you live so damn self-destructive. You fashion yourself some real tough fuckers, huh? Fuck this. Fuck that. Here for a good time, not for a long time. Thinking any moment’s gonna be your last.” She said all this smiling. It made me smile too, like an idiot. “Next thing you know, you find yourself going into your thirties and you’re still here. Except now you got bad knees or bad credit or less hair or a gut. That really the destiny you got mapped out for yourself, handsome?”

No one had ever talked to me like that before. As in, envisioned a future for me. A future I might be successful in. No one but me. And myself? I’d only done it in glimpses, in the hypothetical form. A night where the stars might be clear in the sky. I stood there, speechless.

“You wanna come down to the lobby with me? Get some coffee?”

“Yeah. I do. Let me put some clothes on.”

I did that and we walked to the door. Then I remembered. “Oh wait, I gotta put my shoes on too.”

“Don’t rush,” she said. “Have a seat in that nice chair. Put them on one at a time.”



About the Author

X.C. Atkins is the author of Grace Street Alley and other stories, published by Makeout Creek Books. Additionally, he has short stories in Prairie Schooner, Paper Darts, The Poydras Review, Akashic Books Richmond Noir, and other journals and anthologies. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University. He is a bartender in New Orleans.

(See more at http://xcatkins.squarespace.com)