Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Thank the Lord that's over. If I ever have to sit through another interminable 'business to consumer' strategy conference again, I'm just going to lose my mind. I wonder what the penalty for impaling someone on their own laser pointer is? Surely no jury in the land would convict.
Maybe next year I can call in sick, or dead or something, because I sure as hell can't sit through two days of that bullshit again next year.
But anyway, I've just dropped in at some scummy little multi-mart just behind the conference centre and got wine and I got candy, so I'm all set for one more night at that depressing dump of a motel, and then I'm out of here.
As I eventually turn into the motel parking lot, I see a space right underneath my room, and I head straight for it.
That's when it happens.
I've no idea who he is or where he came from, but all I see is a young guy in a smart suit appear seemingly out of nowhere. There's a sharp jolt, and a heavy 'bang' and suddenly he's tumbling across the hood of my car in a tangle of limbs.
Oh crap! Ohcrap ohcrap ohcrap!
Thanking every power I can think of, and a few that I can't, that the car wasn't moving quickly, I abandon it where I slammed the brakes on, and clamber out of the driver's door; and there he is, sprawled on the ground beside my car looking all sorts of dazed and confused and …wow. Pretty darn gorgeous actually.
I do a brief visual sweep of his body to see if there is anything I need to be worried about. There are no limbs pointing in unnatural directions and there's no blood. He's conscious and looking like he's trying to get back on his feet. All good signs I guess. I try hard not to dwell on the fact that he's a goddamn Adonis. It really doesn't seem appropriate to be perving over the guy you've just wiped out with your car.
Squatting down beside him, I hold out a hand in an effort to help him up. "I'm so sorry, I really didn't see you. Are you okay?"
Inwardly I smack myself upside the head. Of course he's not okay, he's been hit by a freaking car.
"I honestly didn't see you; do you feel okay to move? Should I call an ambulance? Here, let me help you up …"
Okay, now I'm babbling.
Then it slips out … "please don't sue me."
He's sitting up now, that's when I notice the empty ice bucket that he must have been carrying. It's rolled away across the lot, spilling its contents all over the asphalt. He's sitting inamongst a mess of melting ice cubes, blinking vacantly.
If I wasn't freaking out right now, I'd find it really kinda cute.
That's when I notice he's holding out his hand to be helped up, so I gladly help him to his feet. Good lord he's tall! I subtly take in the smart suit he's wearing, and notice with regret that it's scruffed at one knee, there's a trace of a bloody graze under the frayed material. I make a mental note that I need to budget for a replacement suit.
I blink, jolted out of my thoughts at his voice. It's mellow and gravelly, and – no, this is the dude I just hit with my car – I am not going to stand here fawning like a lovesick teenager over his voi … wait. Did he just call me Sue?"
He smiles shakily. I notice a small graze across his left cheekbone too.
"Thanks - for helping me up."
"Oh, you're welcome," I reply hesitantly. "Look, do I need to get you to a hospital or anything?"
He looks at me vacantly for a moment, as if he doesn't know what I'm talking about.
"You know, just in case you've hurt yourself?" I add, feeling the need to explain, as if a functioning adult wouldn't know what a hospital is for.
I wait for a response which clearly isn't going to come because he's wandered off after the stupid ice bucket. It's a motel issue ice bucket – so I guess I can take it that he's staying at the motel. That's handy to know.
But, for now, we need to get out of the parking lot. I figure, as he's standing there peering intently into the empty ice bucket, I can quickly slip the car into the empty parking space, then decide what I need to do with this guy.
As I fire the engine, he looks up, concentrating on me rather than the ice bucket.
It takes ten seconds to get the car put away and shut the engine off. By which time, he's already wandering away, carrying the goddamn ice bucket. Visions of him slipping on the spilled ice cubes and smashing his skull or something flit through my mind, and before I know what's happening, I'm tiptoeing through the ice after him, trying to catch up with my mysterious stranger.
As I fall in alongside him, he looks round at me.
"Hey?" he greets me with a smile. There's a total lack of recognition in his face, as if the whole fiasco of the last five minutes never even happened.
"Uh hi … again," I respond, fully aware that I'm babbling again; "do we need to get you to a hospital? You seem a little – you know – dazed."
His brow furrows. "Hospital?" Then he grins broadly; "What would I wanna go there for?"
I blink, "uh, well, you know. I just kinda knocked you over with my car."
At least he stops walking.
"Ah man, that would really suck," he replies brightly. "Hey, d'y know where the ice machine is?"
I can feel a headache coming on.
"Yes, it's right next to my room," I reply. "Do you know where your room is?"
There's that vacant stare again.
"No, of course you don't," I mumble under my breath.
"Look," I grab his wrist to try to stop him from walking towards wherever the hell he's walking, "what's your name? Are you with someone?"
"I'm with you," he replies without skipping a beat. There's a beaming smile, but somehow it seems wrong. There's an emptiness in his eyes that I can't quite place, and I'm pretty sure it's not only concussion.
Okay, I make a decision. I'll take him up to my room where he'll be safe, then I'll head down to reception and see if I can find out more about the guy, and how to help him.
We climb the staircase towards my first floor room and, walking behind him, I'm relieved that he's moving freely. He certainly doesn't look like someone who's carrying any injuries, or no serious ones, anyway.
"Is this where the ice machine is?" he asks hopefully, as I open the door to my room.
"This is my room," I reply, "we can get ice later on."
I shepherd him into the room, and gesture for him to sit on the bed. "Make yourself comfortable," I offer, patting the quilt; "d'you want a coffee?"
"Where's the ice machine?" He asks, looking around the room.
I close my eyes and count to five.
"Later," I reply, as lightly as I can manage. "Now, what's your name?"
He looks down at his lap, and back up at me. There's a small shake of the head.
"You can't remember?"
There's another period when he looks like he's thinking intently. Another small shake of the head.
"Are you with anyone?"
He thinks for a moment. "You?" he answers softly, hopefully.
There's that sad smile again.
"That the bathroom?" He points to the door beside him.
I nod mutely.
He nods, and rises off the bed.
"Need to pee," he announces.
I figure this might be a good opportunity. "Fine," I acknowledge his request. "I've just got to go downstairs and see to some, uh, stuff. While I'm gone, you stay here, okay? Don't go anywhere." I point to the paper bag I just brought up with us from the car. "There's candy in there, help yourself. TV remote's on the nightstand."
He nods hesitantly, although I'm pretty sure none of that has sunk in, and I take one last worried look at the poor guy before I head downstairs to reception.
As soon I walk into reception, any feeling of positivity I have recedes rapidly, when I see the bored looking Receptionist leaning idly over some gossip magazine, a look of measured contempt on her face, as she pops a bubble of pink gum.
"Yeah?" she asks, without looking up from a story of some orange-tinted supermodel's apparent weight gain.
I try to erase the scowl from my face, and school my features into a neutral expression.
"I'm trying to find out about one of your current occupants," I begin. "He's about thirty to thirty five; probably a professional I guess; he's wearing a smart suit anyway."
The receptionist deigns to look up at me, and shrugs.
"Not allowed to give out details of occupants," she grunts, and looks back down at the scandal rag in front of her.
"I get that," I reply; "I just need to know if he has a next of kin, because I think he's hurt and they need to know."
She glances up again. "why don't you ask him?" she suggests apathetically.
I lean over the counter so I'm on the edge of her personal space, casting a shadow over the vacuous shit she's reading. "I've tried," I growl, enunciating clearly and slowly. "Like I say, I think he's hurt. He's confused."
She shrugs. "Can't help. Need his authority."
I knuckle my forehead and resist the urge so shove her rolled-up magazine down her throat. Sideways.
Stomping angrily out of reception, I lean against the wall and pull in a deep breath. I could just call an ambulance, I guess, but there's something about him – I don't think he wants to go to the hospital. Besides, from a total self-preservation point of view, a hospital visit is more likely to get the authorities involved; more likelihood of a lawsuit. If I can at least find out his next of kin, we can sort this out privately, and I might just get away with replacing his suit.
Maybe if I bring him down here with me, the need to tell her his identity might jog some memory. It's worth a try, I guess.
Heading back up to the room, I let myself in.
He's sitting on the bed. Naked. His hair's damp and there's a pair of socks in his hand.
Jeez, does he have any idea what he's doing to me?
"Oh," I make a token effort at averting my eyes, but amazingly, I do somehow manage to focus on his face …
He's been crying.
His eyes are reddened, and there's a damp tear track down his face.
"What's wrong?" I ask, making a point of trying to keep my eyes trained north of his shoulders. Which, for the record, are broad, and very muscular, and kinda gorgeous.
And I'm so going to hell.
"Uh, why are you …" I sweep my hand up and down to encompass the entire current situation.
He looks up at me, disconsolate. "I was in the bathroom, so I took a shower," he began; "now I don't know what to do."
"I think you should get dressed," I croak. This is a good opportunity to make a dash for the bathroom and gather up the clothing that he's discarded there.
I carry the bundle out into the room and dump it on the bed next to him. "Here you are," I announce, trying desperately not to get too close or inadvertantly touch anything out of bounds.
I need a cigarette. And I don't even smoke.
There's a faint sniffle, and I hear the creak of bedsprings as he rises, followed by rustling as he rummages through the pile of clothing.
It seems to be taking an inordinately long time for him to get dressed, and I inwardly groan as I hear the words I've been dreading.
"Can you help me?"
Slowly I turn around, only to be confronted with the sight of him, thankfully, dressed in his black suit pants, complete with torn knee, and with my bra crookedly stretched to breaking point across his broad chest.
"What the …?"
"I can't … I don't know how …" he sighs.
Damnit, I forgot I left that one hanging on the back of the bathroom door last night; I must have gathered it up just now, along with his clothes.
"Uh, actually, it's mine," I splutter; sidling across the room to where his clothes are strewn across the bed, along with several candy wrappers. I timidly pick up his white shirt. "This is yours."
Giving up on modesty, and after a certain amount of manoeuvring, we finally had my strange guest dressed in his own clothes. I suspect my bra will never be the same again.
He's sitting on the bed looking at me. He looks so lost, so sad. It's breaking my heart. I've got to find this guy some help, otherwise it's definitely got to be the hospital – whether either of us want it or not.
As we head down to reception together, I try to explain to him what I need him to do, but I fear none of it is sticking. At reception, the charmless receptionist has just moved on so some story about plastic surgery gone wrong, and I feel the urge to leave her with a few unexpected lumps and bumps of her own after she looks up and gives us that expression of measured contempt again.
I lead my friend to the desk by the hand, and don't give her the chance to speak before words are tumbling out of my mouth.
"This is the guy I was talking about. I need to find out if he has a next of kin." I turn to him, and tap him on the shoulder to divert his attention from the potted aspidistra he's studying; "I need to find out if you've got a next of kin."
He shrugs. "A what?"
The receptionist smirks. I want to wipe it off her face. With a baseball bat.
"A next of kin," I encourage; "can you remember anything? A name? Your name?
He looks at me, and I see his eyes well.
"No," he whispers miserably.
"Okay, well …" I start to speak, but my words are interrupted when the reception doors clatter open and a guy strides through. Incredibly tall, taller even than my guy, he looks to be a similar age to my strange friend, dressed in a suit too.
He looks frantic.
"Hey, I'm sorry to barge in," he blurts; "but have you seen my brother? He's … DEAN!"
His face lights up when he sees the man beside me. I see a mixture of joy, and anger, and overwhelming relief there.
I turn to him; "Dean. Is that your name?"
But to my dismay, there's not a flicker of recognition.
"Where the hell have you been?" Tall frantic man gasps; "I've been searching everywhere for you."
I note that the receptionist deems the exchange sufficiently interesting that she's looking up from her magazine.
But, rather than feel happy, I suddenly feel very protective towards my charge. Without taking my eyes off the other guy, I fumble blindly for his hand and grasp it gently.
"You're his brother?" I ask, as calmly as I can.
Frantic man nods, scraping a shaking hand through his hair which, for the record, is glossy and luscious and far nicer than mine. Bastard.
"Yes," he nods, letting out a long exhale; "my name's Sam. Who are you?"
"Oh, uh, well, I've been taking care of him, since earlier this evening when we, uh, ran into each other."
"Dean's not very well," Sam states; "he needs some – medication."
I nod slowly, and look beside me; the man – Dean, apparently – is studying the aspidistra again. What could be so fascinating about a goddamn plant?
"He doesn't seem to know you." I observe, well aware that my hand is tightening around the strange guy's (maybe Dean's) fingers; "are you going to take him to a hospital?"
Sam shakes his head; "no he doesn't need a hospital. We know what causes his memory loss. We know how to fix it."
I could almost collapse with relief. It wasn't me; I'm not the one that did this to him.
But that only seems to reinforce his vulnerability in my eyes.
"Prove it," I challenge, shocking myself with the strength of feeling that surges through me. "Prove you're his brother and that I'm not just handing him over to some random dude that could harm him."
Sam's eyes flash dangerously, then just as suddenly, they soften. There's almost a ghost of a smile on his face as if he's grateful that I'm looking out for his brother.
"Sure," he rummages in a wallet he's carrying, and produces a driver's license. It's definitely my guy's picture, and his name is Dean, Dean Hetfield."
I turn to Dean, and give his hand a squeeze; "hey look Dean, it's your brother; he's come to give you your medicine."
There's no discernable reaction as Dean's fingers slip free of mine, and he meekly allows Sam to take his other hand.
"Take care," I whisper, giving a small wave as the two men turn to walk away, Sam's arm across his brother's back, shepherding him forward. Sam mouths a silent 'thank you' to me.
Now it's my eyes that are welling up.
They don't quite reach the door before Dean's steps falter to a halt and he turns back to me.
"That candy was real nice," he murmurs with a smile, "and the soda too; thanks." Maybe I'm imagining it, but for the first time since I met him; it's a smile that reaches his eyes, and it's stunning; like staring into the sun. It's as if he knows he's safe and happy with Sam, even if he doesn't know why. All my instincts tell me he's safe now; it's going to be fine. It's a good feeling.
I'm left standing in reception, listening to the receptionist pop her bubbles behind me. Suddenly the world seems very empty and very dull, and I have a moment of calm to reflect on …
Wait … soda? What soda?"
It's only when I unlock the door to my room that I realise how exhausted I am. It's been a helluva day. Listening to hours of bullshit bingo at that stupid conference, then meeting Dean, okay – well, almost running him over, but let's not split hairs, and finally, reuniting him with his brother.
Heck, I need that wine.
When I return to my room, I reach into the bag I brought up from the car, rummaging through the empty candy wrappers that Dean left me and pull out the bottle.
The empty bottle.
What the hell?
THAT soda …
Damnit! See if I ever do a good deed for anyone again.