“You’ll be fine they assured me, just get in, close the deal and you’ll be home in no time,” Andrea had said.
I was dumb enough to believe her. Ignoring the media, and the risks I got on the plane and flew to Detroit to close this deal. There was a lot of money on the table, if one of the big automakers picked up our computer programs for their automation line, it would be a big win for our company. Also, when the Vice President of the company singles you out to go, you go. At the time, my apprehension about going just seemed like paranoia. Andrea was smart. The plan was to get in and out, with a signed deal. God, I was so stupid.
I have been stuck in this hotel room, quarantined for the past three weeks. When I got here, I felt a little under the weather, but I pushed on, thinking it was a cold. When I got to my meeting most of the board members who I would meet with had declined to come, due to the pandemic. A wasted trip I thought to myself. I went back to my hotel and decided to sleep off whatever I was coming down with, it never dawned on my I had caught the virus. I woke the next morning feeling even worse. I always carried a small kit with me, of a fever reducer, a thermometer, antacid etc., like a travelling medicine cabinet. I took my temperature which was high, 103. I took fever reducer and went back to bed; I was so sick I didn’t care to eat.
I was awoken late in the afternoon by loud knock at my door. I got up still feeling unwell and answered the door.
“Miss Lannert, are you alright, you missed check out? We’ve been trying to reach you by phone.”
I tried to piece time together, I didn’t check out until the next day. I was confused.
“What day is today?”
“It’s Thursday, March 15th. Are you okay Miss Lannert?”
I had slept for almost thirty-six hours straight. I was so confused.
“I’m sorry I’m unwell. Can I book the room for another night?”
“Of course. We have a hotel doctor, I can have him come and help you if you’d like?”
The panic on the hotel manager’s face said it all, I was in trouble, healthwise. Normally, I would decline but I simply shook my head affirming to send the doctor, and closed the door, crawling back into the bed. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been so ill.
The next time I woke, there was a man standing above me, with salt and pepper hair and a face mask on. Normally, I’d startle but I was too sick to care. He introduced himself as a doctor for the hotel and performed a cursory exam, stating that he thought I had come down with the virus that more than half of the country had.
“I’d send you to the hospital but they’re beyond capacity. I can start an IV here, and see if a bed opens up for you at the hospital, in the meantime we’ll monitor you closely from here. I need to know if you are experiencing any shortness of breath, blurred vision, or numbness in yours extremities. The gentleman next to you is ill as well, we will see which one of you goes first. Have you been in contact with anyone who you think might have the virus?”
I nodded I had not. He asked more questions, confirming his suspicions that I had the virus. With a lack of tests, and them being slow to provide results, neither of us pressed the issue. I scribbled my name across a consent form and he started an iv.
Before he left, he told me a nurse would be by to help look after me and the gentleman in the room next to me, but if I had any trouble breathing to call 911. I could barely keeps my eyes open and was asleep again before the doctor left my room. I woke in the late afternoon, feeling better than I had in days. My I.V. bag was almost gone, and all I could think was that the fluids had to have helped. I sat upright, like I was waking from a trance. I reached over from my phone, seeing all of the missed calls from my roommate Becky, work, and my parents. I didn’t want to worry anyone, I needed to think about what to say without terrifying them. I texted my roommate, then called into work, which exhausted me. I would wait to call my parents when I sounded stronger.
The next two days were a blur, as I slowly improved. I don’t think the fear of my condition helped any. On the fifth day of my illness, my fever broke, much to my relief. I began eating again, and slowly started to feel better. The hotel had been wonderful, making sure I was cared for and I was truly grateful, albeit terrified of my situation. After a week down, I finally felt well enough to get up and move around my room a little. I finally called my family and told them what was happening, as I hoped the worst had passed. I was still weak, but grateful to be on the mend.
That night as I laid in bed, the hotel seemed quieter than usual. At dinner, the nurse had come and removed my IV. I was grateful to have it out, needles had always creeped me out. Despite being exhausted, I found sleep eluded me. I tossed and turned, longing for my own bed at home, but even if I was well enough to travel, I wouldn’t have wanted to go home and infect my roommate, who was still healthy, thankfully. I heard a soft noise I couldn’t quite make out, I listened again, and it seemed familiar but I still could not name it. The noise was coming from the room next to me. I got up and listened, it was the noise was of a man crying. There was something about the noise of it that hollowed out my soul. I knew he was ill too, but I didn’t know much beyond that. I wanted to help but I wasn’t sure what to do. I knocked gently on the wall. He quieted, and I hoped my intentions had not been misconstrued. I wasn’t asking him to be quiet, it was my way of letting him know someone else was here. I pressed my ear against the wall and heard him still crying quietly.
The hotel was old but renovated and it still had a door that connected our rooms. I knocked again on it, not sure if I was nuts or not.
“Are you okay?” I called out softly.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.” He called out in return.
“It’s okay, do you need anything?”
The question seemed absurd, I was barely out of bed myself, what could I possibly offer a complete stranger. I pushed my ear against the door and listened, but heard nothing. I waited and listened, hearing only the sound of my battled breathing. Eventually I climbed back into bed, but the situation left me uneasy. I rolled over and dialed 568, the room next door, never expecting it to work. The phone rang and a man’s voice croaked,
“Hello?” he asked weakly, then coughed.
I regretted my boldness. This was a mistake, the guy next door was a stranger but, I was in it now.
“Hello, hi, I’m in the room next door.”
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“No, I wasn’t calling for that. I couldn’t sleep. I just wanted to see if you were okay?”
“It’s weird, this illness, isn’t it? At first you can’t sleep enough, so tired, and then you can’t sleep to save your life.”
I let out a small laugh, he was right.
“Yeah, I think I’ve reached that phase, I am on day 10. How about you?”
There was a pause, and I instantly feared I had crossed some unspoken line in our conversation.
“I am on day 11 or 12 I think, I couldn’t tell you really. The days at the beginning are sort of a blur.”
“Yeah, I have never been that sick in my whole life.”
“Hey, I don’t want this to come out wrong, but thank you for calling. This is so lonely being stuck in this hotel room alone, away from home, ill. It’s,” he paused, “It’s scarry, you know?”
“I do. I’m here on business.”
“Me too, where from? You don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to.”
“I’m in from California, I work for a tech company. You?”
“I’m in from New York. I think I came down with this on the plane. Had I know I was ill before I left, I would’ve never left.”
“Same here. What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a lawyer, corporate law. Thank you for calling, it was very kind of you.”
“We’re all doing our best to survive this, you know?”
“I do. Tell me something good, something happy.”
His breath was more labored from the conversation, and I knew he was getting tired, because I was too. I didn’t know what to tell a complete stranger, so I chose the only thing we both shared in common.
“My I.V. came out today.”
“Thanks for that. That is good news. I hope mine comes out tomorrow. Thank you for calling, it was sweet.”
“You’re welcome, 568.”
“It’s your room number, 568. I didn’t get your name.”
“Ah, clever. It’s John.”
“It was nice to meet you John, I am Isabell. Sleep well.”
“You too Isabell. Call if you need anything in return.
Over the next week, John and I spoke nightly. He was the only person I knew that shared this experience with me, thankfully. His voice on the phone became something I looked forward to, beyond the endless hours of television. I was well enough to work for short periods of time, but I found that I tired easily. John confirmed he was experiencing the same symptoms. We were both quarantined along with most of the 5th floor for the next month. I was desperate to return home, but I also understood that I could still be infectious, and knew it was best to stay put.
We had spoken a lot about random things, and I noticed our conversation tended to stray away from the personal. I didn’t mind, John was a stranger after all. Curiosity finally got the better of me, as I looked John Hampton up on social media. His salt and pepper hair, strong jaw, and deep brown eyes were just my type. I saw that he had gone to Yale for school. His photos sported a string of pretty women at his side in the pictures. I noticed no one was pictured more than once. I couldn’t help but feel my neighbor was a bit of a player, yet over the past few weeks, I had gotten the impression that he was a decent guy. I laid on my bed and jumped when the phone on the nightstand rang, as I looked dug deeper into his Facebook page. I felt like I had been caught red-handed, even though there was no way for him to know I was creeping on his page.
“Hi, Isabella. I was wondering, does anyone ever call you Izzy?”
“My mom does sometimes. How are you tonight? Any new weird symptoms since you seem to be two days ahead of me?”
“Thankfully, no. Can I call you Izzy?”
“I guess. How are you feeling?”
“A little better every day. You know it surprises me, even after all of these weeks I still tire easily. How are you feeling today?”
“The same as you. I am homesick today.”
“Tell me, what do you miss most about home, other than the fact that it is home?”
I paused in my response as I thought.
“Well my own bed for one, but I think I miss the ocean most of all. I miss it.”
“Do you have a favorite spot to view the ocean, or a favorite beach?”
“I have lots of favorite place, but more in general, I just really miss it.”
“You’ll get back soon enough, I promise. So, tell me something good that happened to you today.”
He asked me that every day, and I found myself thinking all day what my good thing to tell him would be.
“Well, there are new free movies on the movie system. I’ve never watched so much tv in my life, but I must admit my guilty pleasure, there is a new Jules Derry documentary I really want to watch about washer women in India.”
“That is good news. I met her once on a flight from Brazil.”
“Really, that’s so cool. What was she like?”
“Artsy. She was nice enough. I’ve only seen one of her films about the women from the Inuit tribe. I remember it, it left a lasting impression on me. So, if you were at home in Chicago would you have gone to the theater to see it? Are you a movie snacks kind of person or no?”
I giggled, “Yes and no. I usually buy my own popcorn, then sneak in Chardonnay. I know that’s weird, but I really like popcorn and Chardonnay together. I always feel like such a rebel. How about you?”
I heard John laugh, and for the first time I noticed I liked making him laugh.
“I’m the guy with the giant snack tray. I can’t help it. I came from a poor family, and as a kid I didn’t get to go to the movies a whole lot. If we did, we didn’t get snacks. Now as an adult I buy the whole counter when I go.”
This time he made me laugh.
“That’s funny, I can imagine you, arms full of junk food with a big grin on your face.”
“Have you been online stalking me?”
I had outted myself unintentionally, I laughed nervously. “I may have looked you up.”
“Well since we are being honest I looked you up too, it’s nice to put a face with a name.”
“What did you order for dinner tonight?”
“I haven’t decided. You?”
“I thought it seems like a good night for a burger and a beer.”
“That does sound good. And a good documentary.”
“I have a crazy idea. Feel free to decline, but would you like to eat dinner with me tonight, and then maybe we could watch that documentary, if you were up for company?”
I felt my stomach flip nervously.
“Okay. Are we allowed to do that?”
“I don’t see why not, we’ve both had the virus. We can’t re-infect each other and we aren’t leaving our rooms. If you don’t want to that’s okay.”
“No, I’d love to. My room or yours?”
I realize how forward that sounded and cringed inside.
“How about mine in a half hour?”
“Okay. See you in a half hour.”
I hung up the phone as a wave of panic washed over me. I had not washed my hair today or put makeup on in almost a month. I tided the room and made the bed. It felt strange to be inviting a man to my room. After the room was more presentable, I put some blush on and noticed my hand shook. I realized I was nervous. I knew it was crazy to be so excited, to have dinner with a man who was practically a stranger. I hadn’t seen another person unless it was medical staff, and they were in full PPE when the visited, in almost a month as well. Housekeeping left clean bedding, and towels outside our door, as we swapped clean for dirty that was bagged up every other day. Even room service left the food outside our doors. We were not allowed to open our doors until the room service staff had cleared the hallway. I tried to make my hair more presentable. I was naturally curly, and I normally straightened it. I pinned it back as best I could and put on lip gloss. I examined myself in the mirror, it looked like I had put in effort, maybe too much. I wiped my gloss off and reexamined. It was better, I thought.
I heard a knock at the door that separated our rooms. I felt a nervous flip in my stomach, he was on the other side of the door. I put my hand on the doorknob as I unlocked the deadbolt with my other hand. I pulled the door open and there he stood, before me, the calming voice on the other side of the phone. He had on a soft blue, button-down shirt, and jeans. He had rolled his sleeve cuffs on his shirt and wore a thin beard. I couldn’t believe that he was finally standing in front of me.
“Hi,” I said.
“You’re real,” he said vocalizing my inner thoughts. “I hope this isn’t too forward, but you are more beautiful in person.”
I smiled as looked down bashfully, I had always been terrible at taking a complement.
“Your hair is curly. On social media your hair is straight.”
“I normally straighten it. I am naturally curly. I haven’t really done anything with it because..” I gestured around the room.
I found his complement sweet. I could not stop staring at him, his eyes were the color of a dark cup of coffee. I felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend, even though we had not met in person until now.
“Thank you, do you want to come in?”
I moved out of the way and gestured to the tiny couch. Having him sit on the bed just felt odd.
“Your room is the same as mine.” He laughed. “I haven’t ordered dinner yet. Have you?”
“No, not yet, I wasn’t sure if you wanted to wait.,” I said as he sat on the navy-blue couch.
“I’m starving, so I am ready whenever you are.”
I walked over a picked up the phone and put in our orders. I sat in the armchair in the small sitting area of my room and caught John staring at me.
“Sorry, it’s just nice to be next to another person. I didn’t mean to stare.”
“It’s alright, I get it. It has been an odd experience, hasn’t it?”
“I don’t think odd is a big enough word for it. Have you seen the news today? Over fifty- thousand have been infected so far here in the US. Poor Italy, they are still in the trenches too.”
“I had to stop watching. I just couldn’t handle it. That is so many. It feels like the whole world is falling apart every time I watch it.”
“I lost my job today.”
I turned and looked him, the shock of his news spread across my face.
John shrugged his shoulders, “I’ll be alright. I always seem to land on my feet.”
“You know things are bad when America, is laying off attorneys.”
I wasn’t sure if he would understand that it was meant joke, albeit a poorly timed one. I was relieved when John let out a laugh from deep inside.
“I shouldn’t have said that, I’m sorry you lost your job.”
“No, it’s true. I’m going to have to leave soon. I can stay for a few may days but work will not be paying for the room anymore.”
“Oh John, are you well enough to travel home?”
“I’m going to rent a car and drive. I want to reduce expose to as few people as possible.”
“That’s a long drive, are you up for it?”
“It is but I can do it in one day, a long day, but one day.”
“That’s actually a good idea for getting home. I was nervous about flying, even though we aren’t supposed to be infectious anymore, I don’t want anyone to go through what we just went through. It would be a much longer drive for me though, and I’d have to stay at hotels along the way.”
“After I leave, can I still keep in contact with you? Maybe not nightly, but you know. Just keep in touch?”
“I’d like that.”
There was a knock at my door and I knew it was our dinner. I jumped up and waited on our side of the door for the room service attendant to clear the hall before I stepped out and grabbed the trays that were stacked on top of each other. They were heavier than I had expected and I strained at the weight of them. John came from behind me and gestured to grab them. I pressed my body up against the door so he could pass. I could smell him for the first time, and there was something about the way he moved that I found incredibly attractive. There was a moment, just a split second where he noticed me in the same way. The hair on my arms stood, as I felt prickles on the back of my neck. John carried the trays back to the sitting area and set them on the small coffee table. I sat back down on the chair and he sat back down on the couch. We ate our dinners and he was right a burger and a beer hit the spot. As we ate I realized that something special shared between us was coming to an end, and that realization was met with sadness.
After dinner, we sat on the bed to watch the documentary. Part of me wondered if he was doing it for me or he had a genuine interest in Jules Derry’s work. I tried to concentrate on the film but I couldn’t help but wonder if he was going to make a move. I played and replayed my reactions to his advances time and again in my head, so much so that I found it difficult to concentrate on the documentary. I had surprised myself that I would actually welcome his advances. It was so odd, John felt like a stranger. The back of his hand brushed up against mine. I wasn’t sure if it was intentional or not, but I hooked a finger of his and he took the cue, gently grabbing my hand to hold it. I waited with bated breath for his next move, but it didn’t come. The sexual tension was heavy, and he still hadn’t made a move.
As the credits rolled, he turned to look at me, and my stomach did that nervous filp again.
“I know this sounds crazy, and I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m really going to miss you.”
“Not at all,” I said softly, “‘m going to miss you too.”
He leant in to kiss me and I knew it would stoke the 4-alarm fire going on inside me. He kissed my cheek softly and pulled away just enough to look me in the eye. Before I could make another move he pulled away completely. I had given all of the signs for him to go ahead, but he didn’t. I felt panicked, had misread the situation entirely? John got up off of the bed, his body language lingered like he didn’t want to leave.
“I need to go. Thank you for tonight.”
Before I could respond he turned and walked out closing the door between our rooms behind him. I was so confused. I reached for the phone to call him and then stopped. I wondered if I had offended him somehow. I put the phone back down on the receiver and sat in silence. His room was silent as well. After a while I got up and took a shower. I buttoned my pajama top and looked in the mirror after my shower still confused. I had to know. I walked over to the hotel door and knocked gently. I didn’t hear any movement and wondered if he was asleep. I knocked again, deciding this would be my last attempt tonight. I heard his footsteps approach and I took a step back so he could open the door. He opened the door and stood there bare-chested, his pajama pants hugging his hips.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, but I just have to know, did I offend you in some way?”
“No it wasn’t you. I’m sorry I left the way I did, it was rude.”
“I couldn’t stay and not kiss you. Kiss you for real, not a peck on the cheek.”
I stepped forward into his room and placed my hands around the back of his neck and kissed him. I didn’t hold back. I felt his arms wrap around me as he pulled me in closer to him. I kissed him right there until my lips tingled. Kissing him was so much better than I had imagined. He felt like home, and passion, and warmth, and so much more all at once. John pulled away first.
“Wow,” he said in a whisper.
I leaned back in, and he pulled away a little further.
“Wait, Izzy, I really like you. I don’t want to hurt you, I have a terrible track record with women. You’ve been someone special to me, I couldn’t live with myself if I hurt you.”
“If you aren’t into me, that’s okay, I’m a big girl, I can handle that. If you are afraid, then what we have been through together is all of the more reason to take a chance, isn’t it?”
He moved his hands to either side of my cheeks as he brought my lips to his, kissing me, to the point that my knees wobbled. I had never been kissed like that in my life. We spent the night together in his bed. I woke the next morning in his arms and I knew something had changed for both of us, little did I know that it would be the first morning waking in the arms of my soul mate, my husband, the father of my children and my best friend.