Room 822


She looks up and lets her glasses slide down her nose.  Tony looks nervously around the room till his eyes come back to the woman.  While he can't object to a woman in a robe sitting by the bed, she's not supposed to be there.  Or else he's not supposed to be here.  It occurs to him that his bathroom is immediately to the left of the door, and this one is to the right.  The bed is against the right wall, the chair just beyond it.  It's a mirror image of his own, and then it hits him.
      "This isn't my . . .  I must be in the wrong room."
      "Maybe the right room, but the wrong time," she offers, closing her magazine.  Tony glances again at his watch, realizing too late that it's a joke, then checks his watch again.
      "It's like looking in a mirror; everything is backwards," he chuckles.
      "Yeah, I'm sure they're all the same, cookie cutter rooms," she offers.  She stands up from the chair and he can't help but notice a glimpse of skin as she pulls her robe tighter.  It isn't often that Tony is at a loss for words, but there's something arresting about how calm she is.  She's a lot calmer than he would be if the situation were reversed.

      In that second, Tony realizes that she reminds him of a girl he knew in college.  Sara . . . Stacey . . . something like that.  A girl his roommate dated during the end of their senior year.  Digging deep, he remembers it—Susan—that's what it was.  She has the same dark eyebrows, and the same mannerisms, but especially the way she didn't seem alarmed at a stranger opening her door.  Susan took things in stride like that.
      Although she was his roommate's girlfriend, Tony had met her first, getting coffee and running for the bus.  Missing the bus is a more accurate depiction.  He was in the process of missing the bus and grumbling about the coffee that had scalded his hand.  Scalded his hand and made him crush the jelly donut he was holding.  The next bus was 40 minutes late, and by the time they got off the bus, he had her number in his pocket and they had made plans for the next week.
      The note was scribbled on a jelly-splotched, coffee-stained napkin.  With a pen that ran out of ink halfway through the note.  Clearly, it said "Susan."  Under that, a little less plainly, it said "7:00 T...sday" with coffee smudges, and under that, "The Stow-away" with a dot of jelly, and finally "721-..32, ca l me" with very little ink left in the pen.
      Tony's roommate Mike was perhaps the laziest person Tony would ever meet, so he was home when Tony got there.  Tony told Mike all about the coffee, the damn bus, the crumpled donut, and, of course, Susan.
      "That's great.  I'm sure you didn't get her number.  Mike was convinced that without him, Tony was hopeless.  Some days, Tony sometimes believed it, too.
      "What?  I can't get a number?"
      At 7:00 on Tuesday, Tony went to the Stow-away, got a seat at the counter and ordered a beer.  At 7:30, he ordered another beer and began to wonder.  At 8:00 he took the ratty napkin from his pocket, and realized that it told him more about breakfast food than how to get a hold of Susan.  By 8:45, he was at home, sneaking past Mike and his annoying questions about "how did your date go?"
      At 7:00 on Thursday, Susan was at the Stow-away, waiting patiently with a rum & coke.  At 7:30, she was waiting impatiently with that same rum & coke, and by 7:40 she was out the door with a nod to the bartender.
      Mike met Susan at a party the next weekend, while Tony was visiting his mother.  By the time Tony returned, they were an item.  Later, they could both laugh about the one that got away.  She spent much of her free time that semester at their apartment before transferring to a school somewhere down south.

      While this woman fidgets with her magazine, he steps backward and mumbles an embarrassed apology.  He hesitates a moment longer than he should as he scans the room again.
      "See you later," she smiles, with a little wave.  
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