The numbered doors crept by. The bland, dimly lit hallway seemed to stretch on until the floor met the ceiling at some point off in the distance.
He had always hated traveling.
He liked it at home. He liked his office. He liked his car. He liked his family close to him. He liked having sex with his wife in the middle of the morning, or afternoon, or whenever the mood struck them.
Commuting was bad enough. On the rare day when he had to leave his home office, he did his best to avoid rush hour. Finding himself in the middle of the slow-moving herd of sheep that clogged the arteries of the cities around his home for two hours in the morning, and another two hours in the afternoon was repulsive to him. He would work in the morning, drive in late, do what needed to be done, and get home before the afternoon rush. He didn't waste time "doing lunch" with his peers. He wanted to get home. He preferred the company of the beautiful woman who walked the halls of his home to that of any other.
But traveling was the worst. It inevitably required waking up early. Dealing with sheep. Parking in the middle of giant clouds of pollution. Memorizing his place among the hive of thousands of other vehicles, all buzzing in and out around him, paying more attention to their watches and plane tickets than the pavement in front of them. Security would always, always, choose him as the recipient for their special attention. Being groped by an illiterate sweaty fat man with a gun was always a fun addition to his morning. There were, of course, the overdue flights, missed connections, horrible yet expensive airport food, screaming, unwatched children, and grumpy flight attendants. And when he actually made it onto the flight, he would always have to spend the entire duration sitting sideways in his seat, because his shoulders were too broad to fit within the small confines allowed to those in the coach cattle cars. After breathing the same stale air as a few hundred people and getting his ears assaulted by jet engines for a few hours, the minor relief of landing was always a short-lived respite.
There was the trek across the airport. More crowded sheep. More polluted air. There was either the wait at the car rental place for the car that he didn't want, or the cab ride that was inevitably a near-death experience. Then the hotel. The obligatory lobby fountain. The silly uniforms. The fake smiles of the employees checking him in. The elevators always seemed to smell like a combination of cigarette smoke and bleach. The hotel rooms, while in different shapes and sizes were all really the same set of overused linens, overused televisions, and uncomfortable beds.
He was on a walk down a hallway heading to see yet another example of one of these rooms. He was tired. He was grumpy. He was hungry. He pulled one piece of luggage behind him, and had his other bag slung over his shoulder. He held his card key in front of him like a weapon, ready to stab it into the right door when he finally found it. He was somewhat pleased that he managed to time it where he arrived just after check-in time on a weekday. The hallways were empty save for the occasional cleaning cart blocking a doorway. It was nice and quiet, the only sound a muffled vacuum from behind a half-closed door.
As he aimed his head at the wall and watched the doors go by (1746, 1748), counting his way to his destination, he noticed - but didn't really see - someone walking toward him. His picked up on the person's luggage and their similar stumbling walk. He knew it was just another weary traveler, and paid them no mind. All he wanted was to find his room and call his wife. And maybe convince her to partake in some long-distance illicit activity before the kids got home.
He had asked to be put on the opposite side of the hotel from the cheerleader convention. The view might have been interesting, but he just didn't have it in him to listen to the high-speed, high-pitched blabber of college-age girls rambling on about nothing in the halls until the wee hours of the morning.
The card-key weapon stabbed into the eternal wound above the doorknob. The little LEDs flashed and turned red. His stabbed again. And again. Searching his mind for a magical verbal password that might bypass this obvious technological failure, he said "Come on dickweed, WORK."
While the magic words didn't seem to help with the lock, they did bring forth a giggle from behind him.
He turned around, eyebrows raised, to look at the fellow weary traveler who found his predicament so entertaining. And to see if they might be the recipient of a few more choice words from his rather lengthy vocabulary of profanity.
But his voice caught in his throat. His tilted roller bag fell to the floor. His mouth hung open, trying to accept what he just saw.
"My, you really are smooth, ya know." She smiled at him. "I thought you'd be shorter in person."
She was the fellow weary traveler. He had seen her so many times over the years. Talked to her. Joked with her. They had e-mail, IM'd, cammed, chatted, cybered, and about every other virtual verb that had been developed so far. His wife had teased him about her more than once. She always found the flirting rather cute.
This, however, was unanticipated.
It was his turn to speak, but all he could do was stare. He caught himself searching her body with his eyes, seeing it in three dimensions for the first time. As he scanned past the mostly-hidden curves and valleys that he knew were hidden beneath her coat, he felt his gut twist and turn, as if he was on some odd rollercoaster. The sudden buzzing in his ears made him realize that for some reason his adrenaline was flowing.
"Maybe you should try your card again."
"I think it's broke."
"Oh look — you do have a voice. In this hotel you are supposed to stick it in right-side-up. I thought you were supposed to know all this computer stuff?"
Yup. It's definitely her. He always did have an affinity for smart-asses.
He turned around, turned over the card, and stabbed the door once again. This time it was followed by the beloved green light and the sound of gears turning and locks releasing. He grabbed the door handle, pushed down, and shoved the door open. He dropped the shoulder bag off his shoulder next to the door, wedging it open.
He still wasn't quite sure what he should do with the feeling in his gut. He was even more nervous about the warm stirring from around six inches below that. He stood there, half in the hall and half in the room, looking down at his hand, watching the bright hallway light reflect off his wedding ring.
The adrenaline was doing what it does best. Heightening the body for an attack. The tunnel vision put all his acuity straight onto the gold band around his finger. The only thing he could hear was his own heart pumping. The shoulder bag felt like five ounces instead of its twenty pounds when he slung it to the floor. The colors were getting bolder, the light already much brighter. His mind was preparing for that ancient decision of flight or fight.