The Tempest

by Bradford J. Howard

It was raining heavily all around me. I had my headlights on, and the windshield wipers fought the torrent of God’s tears with all their might, but the view in the storm was still quite blurry. I was sure that in a matter of moments, the rain would be too heavy to drive through.

The weatherman never said anything about this. I’m usually one of those analytical type of people, too; you know, the kind they call “bookworms” just because you’re twenty-four and you want to get your graduate degree out of the way right now (plus, you don’t really have a choice but to hurry because your girlfriend since the tenth grade is carrying your child). So I watched the Weather Channel, and the local news, and I even checked this weather website on the Internet, and none of them said anything about a storm coming; yet here it was, fierce as a caged lion set free. I was bound for Atlanta, hoping to make it to a job interview that would hopefully set me and my girl up for life. Of course, I would have to finish school and lug all that stuff down from Ohio, and then I would have to find a place for me and Jena and the baby, but it would be worth it if I had a job to greet me after college. And then, this storm came along, barely a half-hour after I had crossed the northern state line. There was no way I would make it to Atlanta in this weather. Even worse, I hadn’t found a rest stop in the last two hours. If I didn’t find some place soon, it would be me and my Corolla versus the rainstorm.

As if on cue, a bolt of lightning lit up the sky and the ground beneath it, and in that split second of between flash of light and crash of thunder, I saw a sort of structure on a hillside just ahead. I drove a little faster now, picking up speed and hoping to reach the place before things got worse. My windshield started to clear up though, almost like the rain was fading or just clearing out around my car. The building lay just ahead, and I parked in the parking lot next to it. I slid on my raincoat, got out of the car, and dashed through the front doors.

The little foyer was clearly lit, and curtains covered the windows so that the light was barely visible outside of them. The building was made of logs, and there was a hearth and a warm fire blazing within it; two armchairs sat on opposite sides of the hearth around an ornate rug depicting two dragons swirling around each other as thunder dashed the background they lay on. I turned to the right and approached the front desk; no one was there, so I rang the little bell. No one came. I rang the bell again, and once more no one responded. I started to bring my fist down on the bell with all my might, but a soft hand touched my shoulder. I spun around, not sure whether to be scared or prepared.

A tan-toned man with a baldhead and tufts of blond hair tucked behind each ear met my gaze. He wore a white shirt with a poorly done tie and some dark jeans.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hi,” the man said in a sort-of gravely voice. “Welcome to the Storm Shelter Inn.” Storm Shelter Inn, I thought. How weird. “Tough night out there?”

“Something like that,” I replied with a nod. “Do you have any rooms available?”

“Let me see.” The man walked around the counter to the other side and consulted a ledger book in the corner; as he was doing so, I noticed a hearing aid inside of his right ear, and when he came back, I saw another one in the other ear.

“You’re in luck. There’s one cabin left. It’s a single bedroom, so it shouldn’t be too bad. That okay with you?”

“Sure,” I replied. The man nodded and smiled slightly; then he turned around, took a key off the key hanger, and handed it to me. “If you need anything, there’s a phone on the bedside dresser. Just dial the lobby number.” With that, the man smiled again, and then he went up some stairs by the key hanger. I exited the lobby and then walked back to my car. I began to unload my stuff when it suddenly occurred to me that I had not asked him where the cabin was. The lightning lit up the sky again, and I made out a cabin a few sprints behind the lobby building before the light faded. I ran to the cabin and put my key in the lock; surprisingly, it opened the door. Weird.

I set my bag aside and took in the room. An oak clothing dresser stood to the left and a vanity to the right on the walls beside the beds. A fireplace sat in the corner to the right and a door lay next to the dresser. A closet with open doors was on the other side of the dresser, and I put my bag in there before collapsing on the bed. Man, what am I gonna do about this job? I wondered. I suddenly felt a chill enter the room, so I got to work lighting the fireplace, dimming the lights in the room for the best relaxing effect. I then decided to get out of my wet clothes, clothes I would no doubt need to wear to the interview tomorrow, so I would have to wash them. I picked up the phone by the right bed and dialed the number marked “lobby” on the directory… but when I put the receiver to my ear, the phone was dead. Dang!

I donned my raincoat again and dashed back to the lobby, slightly noticing another car’s headlights lighting my way. I heard voices before I even went in.

“I’m telling you, I am a star and I should be able to get a room!”

“And I’m telling you, I refuse to give a room to anyone who is as rude to me as you’re being!”

The manager and a young lady in a white fur coat were engaged in a heated conversation. The woman stood about five-five, and her honey brown hair flowed down her coat like silk. Her back was turned, so I couldn’t see her face.

“Can’t you just give me a room?” the lady asked.

“Not until you apologize to me,” the manager replied.

“Apologize? Why should I have to apologize to you? You’re not the one making thirty-six million a year, running all over the world to please your publicist and producers; I am! So you should be apologizing to me.” The lady had a very strong voice, more arrogant than rude, but strong throughout. I decided to intervene before things got worse; I cleared my throat, and both the manager and the lady looked my way.

I was caught immediately by the lady’s stunning gray eyes; in fact, it seemed like I had been staring into them for an hour or two. They burned into my own fiercely, competitively, daring me to look away, but I couldn’t. She had two heart shaped pink lips that were lightly glossed, and the little makeup she wore made her look better than many women do when they are fully painted up like clowns. I forced myself to move up to them, but my eyes never left hers.

“Umm, is there a problem?” I asked. The woman seemed to suddenly break out of a trance, as she shook her head and placed a hand on her curvaceous hips as she turned fully in my direction.

“Yes, there is,” she said. “This little bellhop right here won’t give me a room.”

“I told her to apologize to me and then I would give her a room,” the manager told me. Both of them were acting like I owned the place, and it almost made me laugh. I turned to the girl first.

“The guy’s only doing his job, and he’s entitled to some respect,” I told her, and she recoiled with stiffness, looking at me like she had been betrayed. “I mean, if you are famous like you say you are, you wouldn’t want anyone talking to you all fierce and stuff, right?” The woman looked up, inhaled deeply, and nodded with a sigh.

“And you, sir,” I began with the manager. “You know how bad it is out there, and you should be worried more about getting some business than how the customer treats you. You are supposed to be the host anyway, I think.” The manager stood there thinking for a moment, then he smiled slightly.

“I suppose you are right,” he replied. He again spoke to the woman. “I’m sorry. We do have one room left, miss, but it has only one bed, and that gentleman to your right has it.” She turned to me again and held me in her eyes once more. I had to blink in order to stop from being taken again.

“If you want to, you can have the room. I could always sleep here in the lobby,” I told her.

“No, you were here first. It wouldn’t be right of me to take the room you already had,” she insisted. “Why don’t you two just share the room?” the manager interjected. It wasn’t a bad idea; in fact, I wouldn’t mind sharing the room with someone as beautiful as her. I could sleep on the floor if she needed the bed. But I had never been good with women in all my twenty-four years on Earth; it was almost a miracle that I had even gotten Jena to stay with me for the last decade. I didn’t want to receive the same ferocity she had offered the manager. But I conceded; we agreed to share the room, and the manager once again retired upstairs.

The girl and I made our way to the cabin, me carrying her bags as she followed behind me with a designer umbrella over her head. We went inside and I placed her bags in the closet. She shimmied out of her fur coat as smoothly as a snake shed his skin, and again her beauty struck me. She wore a short white skirt that was above the knees but not up her thighs, and a long purple sweater. She had many curves, more than I had ever seen in my lifetime, and she looked good. I mean, magazine cover good. I tried to clear my head, tried to keep in constant focus my girl sitting at home in Ohio. Meanwhile, the girl got to work tying her hair back into a ponytail at the vanity.

“Thank you,” she said, breaking the silence. “I appreciate you helping me like that.” I couldn’t help smiling.

“Well, I didn’t mean to make you feel bad. Personally, I think that the guy would have broken at the strength in your voice sooner or later.” She turned her head back slightly in my direction, and the vanity mirror reflected a smile on her face.

“It’s a bad habit, this voice. It makes me seem more aggressive than I sometimes want to be.” She then rose from the vanity and looked at me. The ponytail made her look even better, as it brought more attention to those gray eyes and enhanced her face. Her smile seemed to widen as she walked up to me and stuck out a hand.

“My name is Jordan,” she said. “Jordan King.” I almost didn’t want to touch her. As corny as it sounds, I thought if we shook hands, I might taint her beauty. But as I slid my fingers around her palm, I noticed how well her hand fit into my own. I thought of easing out of the handshake as lightly as possible, again thinking of Jena and the baby, but a handshake couldn’t really hurt.

“Ed Thomas,” I replied. “Nice to meet you.”

“Just ‘Ed,’ or is that short for something?” I was surprised at her question. I was trying to be cool by shortening my name, but I guess she saw right through me.

“It’s short for Oedipus.”

“Like that Greek myth guy Oedipus?”

I nodded. “Something like that, but it’s spelled differently. How’d you know that?”

“Well, I do read,” she said jokingly. “It’s nice to meet you, too.” I finally realized how long our hands had been interlocked, and I gently pulled away. As her hand left mine, however, I noticed a fairly cut diamond on her ring finger.

“Are you married?” I asked. She looked at me in astonishment, and then sort of twisted her lips in a smirk.

“Something like that,” she said. I almost smiled at my token phrase coming out of her mouth. “How did you…” she stopped in mid-sentence when she looked down at her hand and remembered the ring. “Oh, you saw the ring, huh?” I nodded. “Well, I’m not really married yet. I’m just engaged right now, so it’s not finalized yet. I was on my way to an audition in Atlanta.”

“Atlanta? An audition?”

“Yes. I’m a famous dancer, you see, like an artist of rhythm. I’ve been dancing since I was five and haven’t stopped moving since. My mother thought I had ants in my pants or something, but I’ve been lighting up Broadway and music videos ever since. I was going to the Afrikanizisms Talent Agency.” What? That’s where I was headed…

“I was headed there, too,” I replied. “I was being interviewed for their music department.”

“Oh, really?” She said, looking interested. “So I was gonna be dancing to your beats, huh?” We seemed to smile in unison at her joke.

“Yeah, I’ve been trying to be a music producer for quite a while, but I have been going after my master’s in that area, too.” She looked impressed by what I told her.

“Black brother actually trying to do something with his life. I almost can’t believe it.”

“Why can’t you believe it?” I asked, preparing for a battle.

“Oh, wait, don’t be getting all defensive on me now. I was just saying…” She sighed before continuing, like what she was about to say was sort of hard to put out there. “Why we don’t we get a little comfortable first? Is there anything to drink in here or something?” I looked around the room, but there was no fridge or kitchen or anything. I started to walk towards the phone, but then I remembered the door next to the dresser. I opened it, flicked the switch beside it, and a light lit up a narrow stairs. I went up the stairs, and there was a small room with a bathroom on the side, a washer and dryer, and a small fridge in the corner. It was crazy. Jordan popped up beside me.

“Well, this is something,” she said.

“Something it is.”

Jordan and I sat in the glow of the fireplace eating the sandwiches and drinking the champagne we found in the fridge. That little thing housed two sandwiches, a bottle of champagne, and two little champagne glasses, and that was it; it was almost like two people had been expected to spend the night here. I kept striking distance, though, always making sure to honor Jena and keep it on a “roommate” basis.

For what seemed like hours on end, Jordan and I shared our life stories. She clarified what she had started on earlier by saying that her man was getting temporary jobs and then got himself purposely fired in order to get unemployment checks from the city; he had hustled drugs when they first got together, but he had long since “quit.” She was a little irritated that he wouldn’t get a steady job, though; in fact, she learned just days ago that the guy had used her credit card to buy that engageme

“Ouch,” I said, feeling kind of disturbed and kind of sympathetic for her.

“Well, it ain’t really bothering me. I love him, and maybe not as much as I used to, but I do. And I think that we can still make it somehow.”

“So you will just let him use you like that?”

“Well, he isn’t using me, per se,” she explained. “I mean, I let him use some of my resources because I love him.” But is he doing what he’s doing because he loves you? I wanted to ask. There are some things better left unsaid, though, and that was one of them. Jordan suddenly perked up.

“Since we might be working together, you want me to give you a little preview of what I’m all about?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said. She got up with a smile and pranced over to the radio she had earlier taken out of one of her bags. She fiddled with it for a minute, then took a sort of statuesque pose in the center of the room. Within seconds, Blackstreet’s “Deep” shook the air. Jordan moved with the gracefulness of a ballet dancer, but the dancing itself was like the kind you see in the clubs sometimes, like ballet but with a hip-hop flavoring. She moved and undulated like nothing I had ever seen before, and my stomach just started tightening. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. This beautiful girl was dancing for me; I had never been good with women. This kind of thing happens to players and smooth high rollers, not grad students like me. She winded down with the song and closed with this smooth, even split on the carpet. I smiled and clapped lightly, and she smiled back.

“That was great,” I told her, feeling butterflies in my throat and stomach.

“Well, you know,” she began, “ I dance even better when I’m not alone.”

I wasn’t sure how to take that. I thought she was just saying something, but I was hoping we might dance together too. At the same time, I was hoping she wouldn’t see me make a fool of myself stepping all over her feet and out of rhythm. She smiled embarrassedly.

“Okay, umm, that’s called a ‘hint,’ Ed,” Jordan said. A hint? I thought. Oh.

“Oh,” I said aloud. “Oh. Oh, I’m sorry, Jordan.”

“That’s probably one of the reasons you think you’re so bad with women. You have to look for the signs sometimes, you know.” She walked over to me and took my hands, then led me back to where she had danced in the center of the room. She messed around with the CD player again, then moved a little closer to me.

“Umm, Jordan?” I said, and she looked deeper into my eyes if it was possible. “I don’t really know how to dance.” She smiled again. Again, Jena and the baby came to mind. I’ll just be dancing, I thought. Can’t hurt.

“I will teach you then,” she replied. “You have to take a chance in order to know if you can do something.” She removed my glasses from my eyes, and then moved my hands down to her hips just as the song “Deep” began again. She moved closer to me and swayed left to right with her arms wrapped around my neck, and I just followed, trying not to hold her too tight. My hands held clumsily the curves of her hips, but I held her as close as I could. Then Jordan began to move up and down, letting her hands fall free and moving her thighs closer to me. I didn’t know what I was feeling, but it felt like heaven. I never thought this would happen to me. Not even that time that seemed to bring about Jena’s pregnancy was as good as this.

Jordan slowly turned the other way and pressed herself against me, her butt pushing up against me, and I just couldn’t keep up; I knew surely that she would eventually stop and tell me I was doing something wrong. I didn’t want to see if I would eventually get it and start dancing this “grind” thing, they called it, and then end up moving like I was a freak or something. But eventually the music got to me, and just as I knew the perfect combination of highs and beats and strings to produce a good song, I suddenly began to feel the music, feel the vibrations course through me and move me “deep” themselves so I didn’t have to. I moved into Jordan, and she moved into me, and we just danced like that for a while until she pulled back and leaned against me when the song ended, or at least when I thought it had ended. Apparently, “Deep” was the sixth track on the CD, but we had stopped moving when track eight was about to begin. But that was the last thing on my mind; all I was worried about was Jordan’s eyes looking into mine, reflecting me in them.

“You have beautiful eyes,” she said of my hazel eyes that were being seared into by hers.

“So do you,” I replied.

Jordan emerged from the door wrapped only in a white towel that capitalized and enhanced the very curves I had held in my hands two hours ago and still felt. I myself finished ironing the clothes I had washed after I finished showering and while Jordan had went in there. At times while I waited for the wash, I almost wanted to press myself against that bathroom door, to feel the heat coming from Jordan’s bath, feel it slide under the door, tickle my toes and make its way up my body. Even now, at this moment, I wanted to go over and just hold Jordan and look into her eyes until forever. Little beads of water clung to Jordan’s bare shoulders, and the water had sort-of slicked back her hair, making her look even better than she had with her hair in a ponytail. Her long, shapely legs made a beeline for the bed, and she plopped down beside me, laying back on the bed and staring into my eyes. I didn’t know what time it was; I still heard the rain falling outside; but I could have cared less.

“Jordan,” I said finally, “you are quite an amazing person.” I was surprised at my forwardness, but I had drunk something earlier. Maybe the champagne had made me a little braver. Either way, Jordan gave me her biggest smile that whole night after I said that.

“Well, you are nothing short of incredible, yourself,” she replied. And the seconds that followed, we were suddenly kissing. Her kisses were deep and passionate, like she just knew we were meant to be or was just consumed by the heat in the room. I kissed her back with as much vivacity, and soon her hands were on my robe. I almost expected something to happen, almost couldn’t wait to finally see what it would be like to have a beautiful woman in my bed… but then, out of the corner of my eyes, I saw the ring. I backed away from Jordan’s kisses, and she opened her eyes.

“What’s up?” she asked. I kept my eyes fixed on her engagement ring, and she finally looked down herself. “Oh.

“But I’m just engaged, I’m not married yet! And he could be cheating on me with someone else by the time I get back there. Tell me you don’t feel it. Tell me you didn’t feel something just fill you up and consume you that moment I looked in your eyes. I know you did because I felt it, too, like a shiver down my spine but one that I wanted to feel. Edipus, he’s not like you. If I just ignore how I feel about you, I could miss out on something so much better and so I have to take my chance.” Jordan again tried to kiss me, but I just got up off of the bed. She jerked back in bewilderment.

“That’s called a ‘hint,’ Jordan,” I said, and then I immediately wished I could take back what I said. Jordan’s eyes were filled with hurt, but she looked away.

“Yes, it is a hint.”

“You’re getting married soon.”

“To a fruitcake,” she argued.

“To a fruitcake you love,” I reminded her.

“And you have a pregnant woman waiting for you at home,” she brought back to mind. Jena… I could hardly believe I had forgotten about her. I’m no better than Jordan is. I walked back to the bed, tried to ignore the shadows from the fire that fully curved Jordan’s legs and shoulders. “You’re right. I’m sorry, Jordan.”

“No, don’t be. I should be the sorry one.” She leaned back on top of the bed. “Geez! This is frustrating!” Yes, it is, I thought to myself. Perhaps more to me than it is to you. I lay back on the bed also, and Jordan just moved over and placed her head on my chest, and we just lay there watching the shadows the fire projected on the wall mimic the dance we had done earlier.

I opened my eyes and the room was filled with sunlight. The pen still lay at the bedside table where I had written the letter to Jordan last night, but then I realized there was no Jordan next to me. There were a few notes on the table, but they were song lyrics. Was I dreaming? I thought. I got up out of the bed and looked in the closet; my bag was the only one there. Jordan’s radio was gone. The coconut and kiwi fragrance Jordan brought to the bed after bathing that had so seduced my nose last night was gone with the wind. There was no fire, no sign of ashes or anything. But that was too real for me to be dreaming. Surely, Jordan wasn’t just a figure of my imagination. Or was she?

After showering, I packed my bag and then went to the lobby to pay for the room, but then something funny happened. When I went inside the lobby, no one was there. I rang the bell a few times, but no one came. I noticed when I turned around that the armchairs were gone from their spot on the sides of the fireplace. I quietly went around to the other side of the front desk, but it seemed like no one had been there for a while. I checked the ledger book in the corner; my name was in it, on the very last line, but Jordan’s was nowhere to be found. Instinct told me to go up those stairs, so I did. It filled into a room similar to the one Jordan and I had in our cabin, but there was a cot in the center of the room and a mirror to the right of the bathroom. I searched the room and again, no one was there. How weird, I thought. I went back downstairs and left the room key on the front desk, then I exited the lobby. I walked back to my car, set my bag inside the trunk, and I got it; I was about to start the ignition when I noticed something fluttering on my windshield in the wind. I got out and found a small piece of folded paper under my windshield wiper. It said,

Dear Oedipus,

Thank you for being so kind and nice to me last night. I met a lot of guys in my lifetime already who would gladly take advantage of a woman like me when I’m asleep, but you respected me enough not to; plus, you’re being a responsible father and sticking by your woman while she is bearing a child. I know I will never meet anyone like you again, and it’s sort of sad because now I feel lonely and like I’m a fool. I think that maybe you never had trouble with women; you just thought you did and you let that stop you, and you shouldn’t have. You are such an amazing person; your girlfriend is very lucky and I hope she never forgets that. Thank you again, Oedipus, for making me feel so special. I will never meet anyone like you again.

Love always,

P.S.: I bet I can read your mind right about now. That manager dude was gone when I went in the lobby. I even checked upstairs and I couldn’t find him. I barely realized that my bags had already been packed for me and that the fire was out. That was kind of freaky, but at the same time, it’s not. I know what I saw, and all that really matters is I was there with you the whole time. Hopefully I’ll see you in the ATL.

I smiled at Jordan’s letter. So I hadn’t been dreaming. I wondered myself if she was somewhere reading the letter I written for her, placed in the last bag I had packed up for her, the one I assumed was her purse. I will never meet anyone like you, either, Jordan, I thought to myself. For a small minute, I almost wished I had never met Jena, that I had never planted that seed in her that would become our child. Then I put the letter and those wicked thoughts aside. It was only nine in the morning, and with any luck, I could make it to Atlanta before noon. I sat there for a while, turning to the different radio stations, and then I finally settled on one that was playing “Love Angel” by the Johnson Sisters. Then I drove off.

The Tempest by Bradford J. Howard

© Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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