Close Encounter

It was mid-day when Melissa left the police station. Before turning out of the lot, her eyes scanned the road for any sign of a silver pick-up. She found none. She knew that she should return to the hotel, that she should call Marc and explain what was happening. Instead, she found herself driving around the small town, pulling in and out of parking lots and side streets, pursuing every silver pick-up she could find.

As late afternoon faded to dusk, she found herself back at the convenience store, site of her one, brief encounter with the victim. Perhaps it was her own guilt, she thought, that made her return to the scene of the crime. On the warm night breeze, a familiar voice floated back to her and interrupted her thoughts. She glanced around to find the source.

From the driver’s seat of a car nearby, Detective Becker was calling to someone entering the store. Steve Fisher made no reply but waved an acknowledgement then disappeared inside. When he reemerged a few moments later, he was carrying a large, plastic cup in each hand and had a plastic shopping bag dangling from his fingertips. He caught sight of Melissa, paused, and then held up the cup in his left hand, as if to propose a toast. She smiled and waved back to him. Through the passenger side window, he handed Becker one of the drinks, then opened the door and slid into the empty seat beside him.

Long after they’d gone, when the mosquitos began their nightly feast, Melissa gave up the hunt and returned to the hotel. She had a drink, alone, in the tiny bar, then shared an awkward elevator ride with an amorous couple up to her floor. When the doors opened, she found a muscular man in gray sweatpants and a tight, white t-shirt waiting to get on. His eyes were a brilliant shade of green and his dark blond hair was sweaty, as though he’d just been to the gym. He glanced first at the couple, still locked in a passionate embrace, and then at Melissa, who couldn’t help but laugh. “Think I’ll wait for the next one,” he whispered with a wink.

Once in her room, she ran a hot bath and soaked in it until the water grew cold. She emerged from the tub, wrapped one towel around her chest and a second around her long, damp hair and began to rummage through her bags.

She’d been looking forward to slipping into her favorite pair of sweat pants and crawling into bed with a good book. She looked through one bag, then the next, before heaving her third and final suitcase onto the bed. She tossed shoes and toiletries in every direction until, at last, the suitcase lay empty in front of her. She realized that Marc must have mistaken one of her bags for his own and left with it. “Son of a bitch!” she cried, before snatching up the empty case and hurtling it against the wall, where it fell with a muffled thud onto a heap of its own discarded contents. She flopped, defeated, onto the bed.

After a few minutes, she dragged herself back to her feet and grabbed the first bag again. She pulled from it a pair of pink and white striped, satin boxer shorts and a matching top.

Like the second honeymoon, the outfit had been a feeble attempt to reignite their love life. It wasn’t really lingerie, not the costume of a proper seductress, but rather a middle-aged concession to the same. She put it on, shoved the bag off the end of the bed, turned on the television, and crawled under the covers. Two sitcoms later, her growling stomach reminded her that she had not yet eaten.

She attempted to order room service, only to discover that the kitchen had closed an hour earlier. She remembered a cluster of vending machines around the corner from her room. She slipped out of bed, cracked open her door and peered down the empty corridor. For a moment, she debated changing back into her jeans, but decided instead that the machines were close enough, and the hallway empty enough, to risk it. She stepped into the corridor, realizing, only as the lock clicked shut behind her, that she had neglected to grab the key card off the nightstand.

Cursing her own stupidity, she decided to forestall the inevitable trip to the lobby by first visiting the vending machines. She half-ran, half-walked down the hallway toward the alcove, where she’d seen the machines earlier that day. As she ran, she glanced over her shoulder and was relieved to find that no one was following her. Unfortunately, both she and her luck came to an abrupt halt only a moment later, when she rounded the corner into the alcove and nearly collided with a man in gray pants and a tight white t-shirt, who was bent forward in front of her, retrieving his purchase from the door at the base of the machine.

She thought of the man who had winked at her near the elevator. She’d barely noticed him then. Now, all she noticed was the way the soft fabric of his knit pants clung to his muscular thighs and tight, firm backside. At least, she thought, he’d be able to appreciate the humor in her predicament. She tugged at the hem of her tiny boxer shorts and tried to think of something clever to say. A moment later, as he stood and turned to face her, Melissa’s mouth fell open and a flush as pink as her tiny pajamas crept across her cheeks. She found herself staring into the luminous, blue eyes of Steve Fisher.

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