Sylvie idly stirred the foam into her coffee with the small spoon that the bartender had placed on the saucer. She looked into her bag for the notebook, the one she usually took out when a thought crossed her mind, or when she was agitated sitting alone without a plan for the day. A swath of yellow hair swung down suddenly in front of her, and nearly hit across her face. Its owner, a tall woman with white patent boots and a tan, had wedged herself in between the chairs, and leaned over the bar with a ten in her hand.
“I just want the usual, Fred” she said.
She straightened, and her hair followed, this time closer, strands falling on Sylvie. It was fresh, still damp underneath, soft. The woman looked at Sylvie.
“Hot and ready to go, Linda,” the bartender said, turning back to hand the woman a saucer and cup and a tall glass.
“Why thank you, Fred!” Linda winked at him as she reached across for her coffee. She looked again at Sylvie, up and down, then smiled at her. “Nice jacket,” she said. “Are you cold?”
“Fred, it is freezing in here! Don’t you see that customers are bundled up?” Linda turned back to Sylvie.
“No,” Sylvie stumbled, feeling suddenly flushed at the unexpected attention, “well, yes. I was just outside, and haven’t warmed up yet.” Sylvie smiled back, glad to talk at last to another woman. “I love your boots!”
“Oh, thanks! They are a little small for me, though. It’s early and my feet are already throbbing in them.” Linda eased back onto a stool and crossed her leg to rub her right foot. “What size are you? We should trade!”
“These boots? They don’t quite match your outfit.” Sylvie looked at Linda’s tan, bare legs in the short white skirt. Her clothing, if a little off-season, was still perfect. The lace of a scarlet red bra peeked through the latticed design that closed the deep V-neck of a navy t-shirt. Linda leaned over, her skirt riding a little higher up her thighs as she re-crossed her legs to rub the left foot. Sylvie could see the top of Linda’s round breasts, firm beneath her crepey bronze skin–years of sun, no doubt, Sylvie thought. Linda leaned back again and stretched her arms in back, the t-shirt now stretched across her chest. Nipples. Sylvie loosened her jacket.
“It seems to be a little warmer here now.” And Sylvie stood to remove her coat, bending to fold it carefully across another bar stool.
“Hot, even.” Linda sipped from her coffee, then put the cup down on the saucer. “Would you join me?” she asked. “How about a table near the window?” She picked up her drinks and headed toward some plush seats away from the bar. Sylvie followed.
Sylvie noticed the dainty way that Linda walked–sore feet maybe, or an affectation. The square heel of her boots dragged at times across the floor, and Sylvie followed gently, then walked in front to pull out a chair as Linda approached. “Is this all right?”
“Oh, yes, perfect.” Linda crossed her legs again, then uncrossed them and tucked her feet up on the soft chair. “Well, you heard. I’m Linda. What’s your name?”
“Oh–French, right? Are you visiting?”
“Oh.. no, well I’m not French. And not visiting, not really,” Sylvie squirmed, surprised by her reaction to Linda’s invitation, her charm. “I am just.. just trying to figure a few things out right now.”
“Oh, was he terrible to you?” Linda nodded, leaning to hear Sylvie’s response.
The lace showed through Linda’s blouse again, and Sylvie watched, imagined where the tan lines might end–if they end. She felt the seam of her jeans rubbing between her legs, her panties moistening as Linda spoke in her candid, soft way.
“No,” Sylvie answered. “Well, it’s complicated.”
“Oh,” Linda placed her hand on Sylvie’s. “It always is. Tell me more.”
Sylvie had told no one of her frustrations with Todd. For months now she had wished for his embrace, for his response even, and for months she remained disappointed. She told Linda about him. She told Linda about their open relationship, but about Todd’s lack of response within it. She told Linda how she had discovered the hotel, about Jean-Paul. She told Linda that she had come back in hopes of finding him–she did not expect to say that, and was surprised to hear the words coming from her mouth.
Sylvie felt faint with the exertions of the past days, her emotions so close to the edge, and exhaustion setting in now that she had told someone. A friend. “I think I should go to my room for a while,” Sylvie heard herself say, even as she had returned here wishing more than anything to go out and walk until she could no longer think. She had wanted to walk, to forget these men, to turn her back on the voluptuous life they offered, the desire, the pain.
“Oh, my,” Linda said. “You are pale! You should lie down immediately.”
And this was it. Linda put another ten on Sylvie’s saucer, and offered a hand for Sylvie. Sylvie grasped it, and rose, almost hypnotically, as she walked from the bar to the elevator.
“Sylvie?” a man called out. A bartender. Sylvie blushed as she recognized the bartender who had seen her in such compromising circumstances just one day earlier.
Sylvie pretended not to hear him as Linda wrapped an arm around her waist.
“Oh wait!” Linda turned back. “Do you know Rob? He is calling you! Let me get him…”
“Rob?” Sylvie asked. “Oh, no, I need…”
Sylvie wanted to disappear, and Linda seemed suddenly strong to her, reassuring as a best friend. Sylvie sank a little against her, Linda’s long blonde hair once again in her face, so lovely.
“I need to go now,” Sylvie answered, and she stepped into the empty elevator.