Life doesn’t often give you a situation that is a clear fork in the road. This or that. Left or right. As Ziggy would say, no false dichotomies, please. But I really did appear to have two paths I could take if I didn’t want to drive myself slowly insane, alone in my hotel room.
I could picture the kind of awful O-Henry-esque scenario that could ensue if I went to talk to Ricky, ended up pouring my heart out to him, and either me taking advantage of him or him taking advantage of me, all with the undertone of it being sickly justified by Ziggy potentially having been unfaithful whether by flirting with him or with Sarah or whatever…? No. I decided I didn’t want to be stupid enough to have thought of that possibility and then to go ahead and talk to him anyway. I mean, I’d like to think I would be stronger, better, more virtuous than to let that happen. But maybe the way to not let that happen was to not go down that path at all.
So I knocked on Claire’s door.
She answered it rather quickly, so I suspected she wasn’t sleeping either. She had the chain on and she asked “Daron?” as she peered at me through the crack in the door.
“Yeah. Having trouble sleeping.”
“Well. Like mother like son.” She shut the door to undo the chain and then opened it wider. “Could you go down to the lobby and see if they have chamomile tea in the caddy down there?”
Shit. So much for avoiding Ricky. And so much for my fork in the road. “That’s a great idea,” I tried to chirp brightly but I doubt it came out that bright. “I’ll get some for both of us.”
“I’ll start the water heating up.”
I trudged down to the lobby. Trudged, I tell you. Have I described the motel décor? It was mostly generic but there were faux-rustic touches here and there between the prefab concrete and institutional carpeting, mostly fake woodgrain and beams that were supposed to make it look a little like a log cabin, I think. Most of it was concentrated in the lobby and common room where the continental breakfast was served. There was a big fireplace there, but it was never lit.
Ricky was leaning against the front counter, doodling on a memo pad, yawning. He stood up straight when he saw me, then slumped back down when he saw I was heading for the coffee fixin’s.
There was no chamomile in the rack of teabags, though. So I had to approach him.
“Can I help you?” He had a lilt in his voice that I swear was not there before. I reminded myself my judgment couldn’t be trusted right now, though.
Stick to the plan, Daron. “Um, I’m trying to be a decent human being and get my mom some chamomile tea because she can’t sleep.”
“Aw, you’re sweet.” He ducked down and then popped back up with a handful of teabag packages. “Some of these are probably chamomile.”
I thought he was going to spread them out on the counter and pick through them, but instead he took my uninjured hand in one of his, turned it palm up, and then glommed the whole handful into it. Ziggy was right about him being dishy. He had a little bit of a wave to his dark hair across his forehead, and round, soulful eyes, and a slightly pouty lip.
And he didn’t let go of my hand before he said, “Hey, can I ask you something?”
I was on the defensive immediately, pulling my hand and the tea away. “I really need to get back.”
“You can tell me to buzz off, but I had to ask. You and he are like married, right?”
See, even people he’d just met could refer to Ziggy as “him” and it was obvious who they meant. “Right.”
“That’s… that’s so cool.” He put his palm to his cheek and actually mooned for a sec. I’m not sure I’d ever seen a real live human mooning before. I think before that moment I hadn’t even known exactly what mooning was. “I’m just…” He let out a dreamy sigh and switched hands. “You’re my heroes.”
“Uh, thanks.” Since the conversation had taken a turn into blurting out our feelings, I added, “You’re the first person I’ve met here who doesn’t seem to think we’re the tools of Satan or something. I mean, not that most of them notice this.” I flashed my ring finger his direction.
“No. They’ll notice this more.” He waved his hands down over his shoulders, indicating my long hair. “I can-not figure out why it’s okay for Jesus to have long hair in all the paintings, but God forbid anyone else. Why is that?”
“The military-industrial complex, maybe?” I guessed, which caused him to burst out laughing. I hadn’t really meant it as a joke but I guess it was as good as one.
“Probably,” he said. “I have to get out of this place.”
I assumed he meant small-town Tennessee as well as the motel. “Yeah, that would probably be good for your health,” I said. “Um, thanks for the tea.”
“Anytime, sugarbuns.” Okay, he didn’t actually call me sugarbuns. But that’s what the coy smirk on his face was saying.
I nearly ran back to Claire’s room.
(Guitarist trivia time: Ozzy’s main guitarist here is Zakk Wylde [which is not his real name, just saying] who ten years later would play the guitarist in the fictional band in Mark Wahlberg’s movie ROCK STAR, which I highly recommend, by the way, as great fun, if sometimes a little too accurate, much like SPINAL TAP. Zakk also markets a hot sauce, I think? He gets around. -d)