The first thing Adam noticed was the rain falling on the windshield. Since the wipers weren't on, it was near impossible to see past the waves of water running down the glass. All he could hear was the sound of the heavy deluge going on around him.
He was in his car, but didn't know how or why. The last thing he could remember was sulking in his office after arguing with Larisa. Why was he in his car now? More importantly: where was he?
It was hard to make out his surroundings past the water, but he could at least tell that he wasn't in the driveway anymore. He appeared to be in a parking lot, though not one that he recognized. Since he was in the driver's seat, he must have driven here . . . but why? And when? He had no recollection of leaving his office, much less the house.
On his lap, he clenched his hands, and in doing so, crumpled something. It felt like paper. Confused, he looked down at his left palm. There he found a scrap of paper. He recognized the color of the lines as being from one of Larisa's accounting notebooks. Not to mention the various monetary numbers on it.
Why do I have this?
It made little sense, though not as little as his current location. But then in his awe he turned the paper over and saw something on the back: the number "203" scrawled in black pen.
It's in my handwriting . . .
The mysterious number only confused him further. Without a clue of why he'd written it, but knowing it was somehow important, his only thought was to pocket it, but he didn't. Instead, with his right hand, he checked to see if he had his cellphone on him. To his surprise it wasn't in any of his pockets. He didn't have it. He'd brought only the number, it seemed.
A sudden clap of thunder made him jolt in his seat. It was too late in October for a thunderstorm . . . He'd have sooner expected snow. It always snowed before his birthday. But now it was storming instead, and he had to wonder if he was imagining it.
Thankful that he'd at least had the forethought to bring his jacket, Adam stepped out of the car with hesitance. Harsh winds pelted him with sharp beads of rainwater and made a mess of his already-unkempt bangs. Even despite the coat, he was freezing. Then he saw it, across the street: a big red "6" on the front of a building. He narrowed his eyes at it.
Motel 6? But that's not in Chicago . . . Where am I?
He sure as hell hoped there was a Motel 6 in Chicago that he didn't know about. If there wasn't, that meant he'd driven so far north that he'd gone into a neighboring city.
Feeling the paper balled up in his hand, he put two and two together to form an unsettling conclusion: it was a room number. But that only created more questions.
Whose room? Who told me this number?
He didn't feel well. In fact, he felt like he was about to snap. It was a terrifying sensation: knowing that his sanity was dangling on a mere thread. Jesse had been right: he needed to talk to someone. If he dealt with whatever was going on here alone, he'd lose his mind for sure!
Un-balling his hand into a cup-shape, he again looked down at the number. Should he risk it? Whoever's room it was, they were the only person he could turn to now. They could fill in the blanks for him.
This is a terrible idea, he fretted. But also a risk that I need to take right now.
Every step he took toward the street separating him from the motel made his head spin. He felt top-heavy and off-balance, like he might fall over at any moment. His head pounded and ached. But he didn't stop, despite his body's protest.
He managed to make it across the street without getting hit or losing his footing. As he stood in front of Motel 6, the overcast night sky lit up with a brief flash of lightning. Then, a few seconds later, a shuddering boom made him shiver. It wasn't that he was afraid of thunderstorms; rather the contrary. But at that moment, the storm felt like a sign of impending doom.
Room 203 was, as expected, on the second floor. He reached the door after wobbling up the stairs as if he was heavily intoxicated.
I may as well be. Feel about the same . . .
There was a long moment where he stared at the number on the door, matching what he'd written, and didn't do anything. He didn't feel welcome. What if he was wrong about the number, and he was about to knock on the door to a stranger's motel room? In truth, he wanted nothing more than to go home. But in his current state, he wondered if it would even be safe to drive.
I should wait this out in the car . . . Drive home in the morning.
He was about to turn around and head back to the stairs when he heard the door unlock. When it swung open and he saw who was inside, he was simultaneously filled with both relief and horror.
Evangeline said nothing as she leaned in the doorway, holding shut the blue bathrobe she wore. Her hair was damp from a recent shower, and the look she gave him was one of loving pity. The moment she opened the door, an overwhelming perfume-y smell—the smell of pansies and scented candles—struck him.
All at once, any ideas that Adam had disappeared. His mind was blank as he stared down at the young girl in front of him. Though she'd showered, she'd already applied a fresh coat of makeup. As if . . .
. . . She was expecting me.
Evangeline reached up and pushed her hair behind her ear. Then she took a step back. "Come in," she beckoned in a gentle whisper.
For a beat, both of them stayed still, gazing at each other. It wasn't until she moved to the other side of the door that Adam finally obeyed, and after he did, she closed and locked it.
"You're drenched," she observed. "Sorry. I didn't think it would pour so hard."
"You invited me here?" asked Adam, meek.
She reached up to his neck and he flinched, but if she noticed, she didn't show it. Instead, she grabbed the collar of his jacket and started to pull it off. It made Adam feel strange, and part of him wanted to push her away. Humming an affirmative, Evangeline took Adam's coat and hung it on a hook by the door.
"Why?" Evangeline repeated the question for confirmation. When he didn't repeat it back, she approached the bed and patted the end of it, gesturing for him to have a seat. Then, she answered, "Well, because I was worried about you, I guess."
Adam finally looked around the motel room. It had been decorated from top to bottom with pansies and honey flowers. He could almost describe it as filled with the flowers. The smell of floral perfume was enough to suffocate, if the claustrophobic feeling they gave him wouldn't do that on its own. The room was lit only with a wide array of large, scented candles, most cinnamon.
He had so many questions he wanted to ask, like where she'd found so many pansies, and why the room looked like the set up for a scene of seduction. But the only words that found their way from his throat were, "Worried about me?"
"Of course," Evangeline affirmed as she paced around the room, dutifully adjusting plants and candles. "I mean, you confronted your wife a few hours ago, didn't you? I wanted to make sure you were okay, and show my appreciation."
"Appreciation . . . ?"
"Sit!" she cheerfully insisted.
Shuffling his feet across the carpeted floor, Adam made his way to the bed and sat down. For a few seconds he watched Evangeline hop from corner to corner, correcting things. Then he looked down at the floor. He was overwhelmed, and despite his desire to keep his masculinity intact he soon found himself on the verge of tears, head in his hands. It was a small hiccup—the stifled beginning of a sob—that made Evangeline stop in her tracks and look at him.
"Are you okay?" she asked, unable to mask the concern in her soft voice.
Without looking up, Adam shook his head. "I feel like I'm going crazy, Evangeline," he puled.
The girl approached him, and then walked past him and sat down beside him. She didn't say anything, didn't try to pad the conversation like someone else would. Instead, she sat in silence, looked at him, and waited for him to continue on his own.
"I don't know what to do . . . It's like I'm losing control. Ever since I finished that damned video, I've been seeing pansies everywhere. A few days ago, I hallucinated an encounter with you and came to the next day in a restaurant!" He shook his head. "When I was talking to Larisa, I felt detached from reality. I couldn't control what I said to her; it all just came out against my will. It's like . . . like I became someone else. Someone took control of me and made me accuse my wife of cheating—someone who isn't me! I'd be too scared of losing her to do that!
"Now I don't know what's going on. I still don't feel quite like myself. I don't remember you inviting me, or even driving tonight. I don't know where I am, or why I'm here! There's too many things that I don't know right now—I don't even know if this is real. Maybe I'm hallucinating right now . . . Maybe I've already gone crazy!"
"Adam, listen to me." Her voice firm all of a sudden, Evangeline grabbed Adam's shoulders and made him face her. Petite face twisted with determination, she scowled at him and insisted, "You're not crazy. Your wife's crazy for cheating on you, but you? You're not crazy. Do you hear me?" She shook him, and in doing so, her robe slipped down somewhat, exposing one of her shoulders. There was a white bra strap there, and it was loose, nearly following the robe down.
For some reason, the strap caught Adam's eye. The sight of the girl's bare shoulder stunned him speechless. Also visible to him was her collarbone, and he took in the way it jutted, creating a small crevice at the bottom of her neck. When she noticed him staring at it, her shoulder lowered, straightening out her clavicle as she gazed toward it as well. Then she looked at him again, and him at her. He was sure that his face displayed alarm, but Evangeline looked . . . puzzled?
Did I do something wrong?
Of course you did, dumbass. You're staring at her shoulder like some sort of pervert!
He averted his eyes from her and tried to turn away, but her small hands prevented him from doing so. So with nowhere else to turn, his eyes locked with hers again.
"We were meant to be together, Adam," she insisted in a hushed voice. "Can't you feel it? Fate and circumstance has lead us to be here right now, alone together in a place where no one can tear us apart." One of her hands ran itself down the side of his head in a loving caress. "You're my one and only, not hers . . . Aren't you?"
He stared into her eyes, now lavender once more, though maybe only because of all the purple pansies in the room. There was so much love in them, sincere and genuine, more than he'd even seen in Larisa's. He couldn't do this, but she had a point: they were alone, outside of Chicago, in a motel room. No one would ever know . . . But he couldn't. Could he? His decision was made for him in the form of a subconscious mumble that managed to escape his lips.
"Eve . . ."
Evangeline beamed at him, eyes glistening in the candlelight. Then she moved her face closer to his and kissed him. To his own surprise his first impulse was to kiss her back rather than push her away. Only a few seconds later they were making out, exchanging deeper, hotter kisses, and he pulled her into a tight embrace. Her robe slipped on the other side of her body as well, and with it went that side's bra strap. The instant her small, perky breast was exposed, she grabbed one of his hands and made him squeeze it.
Things were moving awfully fast, Adam realized. Not a minute ago, he'd been crying to Evangeline and considering leaving. Now he was being pulled further onto the bed, moving over the half-exposed young lady—his "forbidden fruit", as Jesse had put it. He'd be lying if he said that he didn't feel guilty already, but he didn't want to stop. He couldn't stop. As much as he wanted to deny it, he'd felt something for Evangeline the instant he saw her picture. And if it was the same for her . . . Who was he to argue against fate and circumstance?