You can do this, Veronica. It's just a bed.
Technically, that’s a true statement. It's nothing more than rumpled gray bedding on a queen-sized mattress. Slept-in. No different than the other twenty-one beds I've stripped and dressed this morning.
Also, utter bullshit, because this isn't merely a bed.
It's Logan's bed.
Damn you, Ratner. Ten-to-one, this is some kind of 'revenge-served-cold' thing over last year's shampoo incident.
It's a cliché. Brilliant girl meets charismatic boy. Magic results.
No, not me and Logan. I can hold my own in the charisma department, thank you very much. I'm talking about the co-CEOs of LA-based software firm, Lexicity. Founded in 2003, Lucia Soto (the brains of the operation) developed the product, while Braylon James charmed investors out of their millions. Somewhere along the way they fell in love and became engaged. Or at least she did.
If you asked me what the company does, I would mumble something about it being a 'tech startup, doing tech things, I'm not techie enough to understand', followed by, 'Go ask Mac. She temped there last summer.’ Or telecommuted.
Tempecommuted? Teletemped? Whatever.
Ms. Soto arrived late for last week's appointment, and only Mac’s moral support kept her from bolting. A thick sweater hung from her frame as if she’d recently lost weight, its lemon-yellow tone only exaggerating her dark circles and pallid features. She perched on the very edge of her chair, erect posture and motionless hands contrasting with her timid, skittering gaze.
For several months, she’d suspected her fiancé of cheating. The usual stuff - hushed phone conversations, out-of-town business trips, evasive laptop closing when she entered a room. I kindly refrained from pointing out that the guy's name was Braylon, but come on, wasn't that the first sign?
Lucia launched into the stand-by-your-man portion of the interview, shouldering blame for neglecting his physical needs while putting in seventy-hour work weeks. Oh, the irony. My attention wandered, considering (and discarding) creative solutions for hiding his corpse.
“I cloned his phone.”
And just when I was doubting the existence of her spine.
“...just for three days, until he did a factory reset. I only wanted verification, you know? I thought I could confront him, give him an ultimatum or something, and we could move on from this.”
Gag. You don't 'move on' with someone who can't keep his dick in his pants, you excise them from your life with surgical precision.
Reading my body language, Mac shot me a warning glance.
Right. Not being paid for my opinion.
Lucia stopped me halfway through my 'Silver Package' pitch. “No. You see, I had it all wrong. Braylon wasn’t cheating. At least not with a woman.”
‘You want to hire me to find out if he’s gay?’ I asked, already two steps into planning my investigative approach. I would need a honey trap, of course. Someone irresistible and...
“No.” She actually cracked a smile. “Not that either.”
Lips stretched tight in my best imitation of patience, I motioned for her to continue.
'His phone log showed calls to Kane Software, and other software industry giants."
Perhaps fearing the question/answer session might go on like this for hours, Mac stepped in with an explanation.
Don't quote me, but it was something like, “Ms. Soto is working on some super technical doodad, expected to revolutionize some up-and-coming tech sector or another. She contracted me last week for a little White Hat hacking, and via some overly-complex method, I uncovered a breach in the code.”
At my slack jawed expression, she clarified. "Mr. James stole copies of Ms. Soto’s hard work and intends to sell to the highest bidder. Next week, most likely."
Well damn. I'd almost prefer the cheating. "What makes you think he'll make his move next week?"
Lucia produced a printed confirmation e-mail for a Monday through Friday reservation at the Neptune Grand. 'He claimed he would be back East for his cousin's wedding.'
"Do you have a copy of the police report?"
Mac gave me another warning look. "Actually, Ms. Soto wants to leave the police out of this. She didn't file a report."
"I might be misreading Braylon's intentions. He might be making a deal benefiting both of us. Maybe he wants to surprise me.”
Are you shitting me?
“I just want confirmation of what he's planning before I bring the police into this. Who he's meeting, what he's offering – that kind of thing. So I was hoping you could...I don't know...bug his room or something?'
I explained the difficulty of bugging the hotel. Mars Investigations boasts a decent collection of listening devices, but as a rule, transmissions produced at the Grand tend to be virtually inaudible, due to persistent interference. Don't ask me how I know this.
"I would have to do it the old-fashioned way - with a voice-activated recorder. Problem is, they only record so many hours of audio before you need to switch tapes. Unfortunately, I've never gotten my hands on a Neptune Grand master keycard." Not for lack of trying. Believe me.
'What if I told you...' Mac fixed me with the thoughtful gaze I associate with ‘my life is about to get harder’. '...that this guy at school who might have a crush on me happens to be an assistant manager at the Grand?'
'Then I would ask you, if he was hot, emotionally stable, and willing to comp you a master keycard. For a friend.'
She rolled her eyes. 'I'm saying I may be able to convince him to put you on the housekeeping schedule for the week. Which would get you access to exchange the tapes.'
"And Loverboy would just agree out of, what? Altruism?"
"No." Her cheeks pinkened. "But maybe he would to score points with me. Plus, since Ms. Soto is paying for your time, my friend would essentially be getting free labor? Who could turn that down? It's win/win."
I'm going to pause here and mention that these are exact quotes - 'guy at school', 'assistant manager', ‘my friend’. Never once, did she utter the words: Jeff Ratner. If she had, I would've refused. Forcefully.
But Veronica, you're thinking, ...did you forget something important about the Neptune Grand? A certain top-floor presence consisting of seventy-two inches of self-destruction and hair gel? You're bound to run into him.
Excellent point. But, you see, I had a plan.
I started laying the groundwork while shadowing Gabriella for my weekend orientation session.
A pretty girl of twenty-one, Gabi's high, musical voice discharged words in a rat-a-tat-tat rhythm. She reminded me of Lilly a bit, in that she never met an emotion she couldn't dramatize - amazing, awesome, spectacular, unbearable, horrific. I liked her instantly. Shame I had to manipulate her.
I baited the hook with far-away stares and sentences that teased answers before trailing off. By lunchtime, her curiosity piqued, she asked for my story. I demurred - wouldn't want to burden her with my drama, after all - and as expected, she insisted it was no trouble at all.
I spilled everything.
Gabi sat on a bathroom counter, legs swinging, as I recounted my tragic tale of love and loss with the rich boy in the penthouse suite.
"I can't believe I ever had a crush on that jerk," she said, upon learning how Kendall had draped herself all over him the morning after AlternaProm. I exhibited remarkable maturity by not drilling her over his level of awareness of said crush and whether she'd ever acted on it.
When I recapped how he'd moved on with Parker, right when I was searching my heart for a way to forgive him, she dabbed her eyes with a tissue. "I'm sorry." She laughed and made the cookoo sign at herself. "I guess I'm just a hopeless romantic. I was starting to root for you two."
After I described ejecting him from my life forever, she hopped off the counter, enveloping me in a tight hug. "You may not believe it now, Veronica, but the pain will pass. You are a beautiful and strong woman, and you will find love again."
While my story had been (mostly) true, I'd only revealed it in hopes that, if need be, she'd trade rooms with me. Not that it should come to that. Gabi's regular assignment consisted of the middle third of the hotel (floors five through eight). As Braylon James had reserved room eight twenty-one, there would be no feasible reason for me to clean the twelfth floor penthouse.
I’d never talked about my final breakup with Logan. As the one who'd initiated it, I'd felt compelled to present a stoic face in the aftermath. To swallow my pain, and exhibit only indifference when he moved on without me. Telling Gabi, brought a sense of catharsis I hadn’t expected.
Ratner watched our burgeoning friendship with smug amusement. That, in itself, should've tipped me off.
"What do you mean I won't be working with Gabriella?" I asked, upon arriving this morning for my first official day on the job. Ratner moved with long strides down the squeaky linoleum of the basement Service Corridor, forcing me to power-walk just to keep up. "I assumed that..."
"You know what they say about assuming." He shrugged.
"It makes an ass out of u and me?" I answered in a Betty Boop voice.
He stopped, pretending to consider my words, and then shook his head. "No. Just you."
"But about my assignment—"
Three night-shift employees in red polo shirts exited the laundry room ahead, moving towards us. They shouldered handbags and totes, and I waited until they finished exchanging pleasant goodbyes and moved on, before speaking again.
"You know exactly why I'm here, Ratner," I said, practically spitting his name. "If you're not going to assign me to Mr. James' room, I might as well go home."
"There you go assuming again." He pivoted left, through the open doorway of the break room, and I followed.
Several members of the housekeeping crew gathered around a half-pixelated television, waiting for their shifts to begin.
Waving over a fifty-ish woman with hard eyes and an unnaturally red pixie cut, Ratner said, "I'm well aware of your terms, and we can meet them just as easily by pairing you with Oksana, here."
Oksana? I mentally sifted through the gossip I'd gathered from Gabi. Oksana. Russian. Assigned to the top four floors. Hard worker. Heavy smoker. Known among the other housekeepers as Oksana the Grouch.
"Because she lives in a trashcan?" I'd asked.
"Because if she smiled, her face would probably crack. Wretched woman."
"Oksana," Ratner said, as the woman approached. "I'm going to add the eighth floor to your rotation for this week only. You'll be splitting your work with Veronica here though, so you should stay ahead of schedule."
She looked me up-and-down while I glared daggers at the rat-faced, duplicitous bastard. Despite the fact that her (admittedly solid) frame didn't even clear five feet, I gathered from her expression that she found me scrawny and lacking. Soft. She responded to Ratner with a grunt and a nod.
In fact, that's her go-to response to most small-talk. Nice weather. Grunt. I like your bracelet. Grunt. Up for listening to a sad tale of woe?
No, I didn't bother asking that last one.
So that brings me back to now.
Logan's bed. Where he once made me laugh and scream and admit things I'd never say with the lights on.
We don't even talk anymore.
Between school and my cases, I'm too busy for pining. Every now and then, I'll catch sight of him on campus. I'll wave. He'll nod, or salute, or give me that eyes-down half-smile, which I interpret as 'at least the sex was good'.
They're surreal experiences that I can only describe as remembering you only possess one hand, right at the moment you need to lift something heavy. Like that phantom limb phenomena, only the limb is my heart.
Logan Echolls, phantom heart.
By now, I'm probably about as 'over him' as I'll ever be. By which I mean, I'm productive and functional. When my thoughts do stray to him, they hover closer to the 'yearning' side of the scale than to 'good riddance', but it's an ongoing process.
Despite the heartbreak and disappointment, a self-erected shrine to Veronica-and-Logan dwells somewhere deep inside me, impervious to my post-breakup attempts to pull it down, smash it, or raze it to the ground. I had to settle for defacing it, vandalizing it with tacky graffiti. 'FOR A GOOD TIME CALL LOGAN ECHOLLS'! HE'LL FUCK ANYTHING'. Yet, even littering it with debris - broken bottles, sex tapes, the blood of our sacrifices (Leo, Piz, Parker) - can't completely conceal what was once something beautiful and real.
I still miss him sometimes.
I maintained my detachment throughout my other duties in the suite - vacuuming, dusting, emptying the trash. The living room seemed almost generic with the lighting set to harsh white. Dick's room required no more than a touch-up as, according to Mac, he's in Europe with his mom.
All that remains is this bed.
The bedding tells me he slept well last night. Not like the rough nights, where he tossed and turned, flinging himself across the mattress and twisting the sheets into knotted pretzels.
He told me once how I helped keep the demons at bay. Wonder who’s helping him now?
Following the memorized steps from orientation, I pull on my gloves, visually inspecting the bed for sharp objects and fluids.
Oh God. Not fluids. Whatever you do, don't check for fluids.
Do I smell sex?
The routine I found so effortless in the other suites - circle bed counter-clockwise, pull bedding from corners and push to the center - becomes torturous. I'm bombarded with images of other women - blondes, brunettes, redheads, long-legged and large-breasted. They crawl all over Logan in this bed. Our bed.
I fend off the ghost-hussies with my only weapon - ME.
This proves to be a mistake.
GOD, I remember.
A stormy day not long after I returned from New York, lying sideways across the mattress in a post-coital haze while rain pelted the windows. Our first time. Logan's chin propped up on his hand. His warm unblinking gaze. Trying to conceal my euphoria at his admission that he’d never stopped loving me.
Days later, right here at the foot of the bed. The first time Logan pushed his face between my thighs. The liberating feeling of surrendering my soft-glow notions and embracing all the dirrrty he had to offer. My knees so wobbly afterward, I couldn't stand.
And the last time I lay here. Logan, anxious and evasive. Already resigned to me learning the truth. To losing everything. His wary surprise at the temporary reprieve.
Why did I push so hard? Would we still be together if I'd never asked? If he'd admitted the full truth? If I'd never run into Madison?
I remember times I held myself back, terrified of the hold he had over me. Times I embraced what we had with both hands. Times our bodies moved like a single entity.
Practically jumping out of my skin, I turn around.
Oksana stands in Logan's bedroom doorway, holding a stack of clean linens.
"Oops! How'd I miss those?" I shove the used sheets into my cart, peel off the gloves, and retrieve the fresh bedding.
"Hey..." I begin, tone casual, "Do you smell something...biological...in this room?"
"Biological?" She sniffs. "You mean like semen?"
Fighting back a dry heave, I answer in a tight voice. "Yeah, that must be what it is."
Oksana grunts. "You're imagining it. I don't smell anything."
"Oh." I exhale. "Maybe I am. Imagining things."
"Relax, Blondie. Your rich ex isn't bringing girls home. At least not lately."
"Ex?" I play dumb. "What makes you think..." Is she saying he's been celibate?
Oksana rolls her eyes, patience depleted, and points with her chin. "Left nightstand. Top drawer." Her footsteps shuffle away.
Not. My. Business.
I concentrate on my checklist. Fitted sheet. Bend at the knees securing over each corner. Pull sides tight, tucking any slack under the mattress.
Violating Logan’s privacy would be immoral.
Flat sheet. Arrange with equal overhang on both sides. Fold top edge down ten inches and then back to the crease. Smooth continuously with the palms of the hand.
I skip the next step - tucking the sides and making hotel corners. Logan hates being weighed down and confined.
Peeking through his drawers would be the antithesis of "Out of my life forever".
Pillows are stuffed - not shaken - into fresh cases. Loose ends folded inside. Throw pillows propped and arranged.
An extra mint. He loves the mints. Hell, two extra mints. For old times' sake.
To clean his bathroom vanity, I had to put his products away in the medicine cabinet. And since the door was already open, it didn't count as snooping when I inspected for signs of female toiletries. Sure, I sniffed - inhaled - his cologne. And aftershave. And shampoo. But who can that possibly hurt?
This is different. There is no legitimate cleaning-based reason for me to open that drawer.
I add the comforter, adjusting and folding until it's just right.
I learned about Logan's insomnia when we started sleeping together. Once, he confessed he still misses the lavender-scented sheets from his old house, and how much they used to help him wind down at night.
I suspected it was a subconscious association with his mother, and the small luxuries she’d always insisted upon in her daily life, but I kept the observation to myself.
They sell sheet-spray at the boutique down the road. Maybe I'll pick some up later. A little Logan-pampering for the rest of the week. A kind gesture. To make up for the fact that I'm definitely going to search his nightstand.
As I'd already suspected, my own face greets me as the drawer glides open on silent rollers. I'm not sure which is more ridiculous - the wide, toothy grin, or the side ponytail. It's one of several photos, and I pick them up, examining each closely.
The selection baffles me. None of them portray me as sexy or beautiful. In fact, if they have anything in common, it's that I look a bit goofy. Laughing too hard, smiling too wide, tongue tucked between my teeth.
They're moments where I dropped my guard, forgot my mantra of: 'the people you love let you down'. Moments of genuine happiness.
My throat grows thick, and grief claws at my insides.
I finger the other items in the drawer - my missing silver earring, the pink lip gloss Logan liked the taste of (surely bacteria-laden by now), movie ticket stubs, the bowling score sheet where he’d playfully drawn a big heart around our names and I'd added the feathered arrow.
Here's the bluish-gray scarf I searched for just two weeks ago. A gift from Logan. I press it to my face now, rub my cheek against the soft cashmere. Only the faintest trace of my perfume remains. Practically undetectable.
Just like me, in Logan's life.
I pick up a leather Moleskine notebook, opening the cover and flipping through page-after-page of Logan's neat handwriting. Crisp black ink on off-white perforated paper. A few pages in, a letter begins 'Dear Veronica' and trails off mid-sentence three paragraphs later. I find other letters addressed to me. interspersed among notes and appointments, and juvenile doodlings.
I don't take the time to read them, but certain words attract my eyes: apologize, forgive, regret.
Some letters are dated. Most aren't. The second to last was written last Spring. The last was addressed to Parker, apologetic and full of self-flagellation.
A few dozen rooms still remain to be cleaned, so as much as I’d prefer to linger here, I return the items to the drawer - notebook, scarf, photos - and push my cart out of the room.
I throw myself into my work for the next hour, spraying and wiping, dusting and scrubbing. Only a squeaky wheel and Oksana's occasional humming in the room next door breaks the silence.
My phone buzzes around noon. A text from Susan at the front desk, notifying me of Braylon James' arrival. The elevator doors open on the eighth floor minutes later, and he steps off, casually elegant in a white oxford rolled to the elbows and expensive jeans. He wears charisma like some men wear cologne, and even I'm not immune.
He pauses at room eight twelve, helping Oksana free the wheel of her cart from the doorframe. She thanks him, and his blinding smile stops her dead in her tracks.
So that's the famous charm at work.
He passes me without a glance, and disappears into his room.
I've already planted the recorder, but I won't know until tomorrow if the audio takes.
I manage to keep Logan out of my thoughts until lunch. We're taking the elevator down to the basement, when my emotions decide it's time to punch me in the gut.
I only double-over metaphorically, but Oksana turns shrewd eyes on me. "You know Blondie, boys keep photos of girls they love next to their beds." She doesn't smile - doesn't even soften her gruff tone - but it's a kindness.
I answer with a grunt.
The problem with crossing the line the first time, is how much easier it gets the next time (or seven).
It seemed innocent enough on Monday. A few extra mints. A misting of the lavender sheet-spray I picked up at lunch.
By the time Friday rolls around, I'm so far gone, the point of no return is but a faint memory.
Oksana, it turns out, is not a grouch after all. She's taciturn and reserved, but as long as I work hard, and stay on-schedule, she doesn't care how much time I spend in Logan's suite. In fact, the electronic click-whir of his door unlocking is her cue to sneak off for cigarette breaks in the fourth floor stairwell.
To that effect, I've worked on my efficiency. How can I accomplish more in less time? How can I reduce steps? How many minutes can I free up for entertaining my insane Logan fixation?
He's so different now. I'm torn between fascination with his changes and resentment that he didn’t put in the effort earlier.
His mini-fridge contains yogurt and fruit instead of beer and alcohol. A collection of protein powders - chocolate, caramel, and cookies n' cream - hides behind a cabinet door.
Maria, my new friend in the kitchen, only thought I was mildly deranged when she caught me looking up his room-service order history. Then again, she sees nothing wrong with him ordering egg-white omelets, boneless chicken breasts, and broccoli, so her judgement is questionable.
I've tripped over his gym bag more than once, and workout clothing fills his hamper. Somehow, I forgot to send one of the shirts down to the laundry service. Simply an oversight on my part, but the oversized tee made for super comfy sleepwear last night. And Wednesday night. He's still a millionaire, he can afford to replace it. Same goes for that navy and green grandpa cardigan hanging on the back of my desk chair. Nights are chilly over by the beach.
I don't know how to feel about the anti-depressants in his medicine cabinet.
How much did he tell this Dr. Lisa Trivisonno about me? Us? If I know Logan, he accepted all the blame for our downfall, but then again, he also blames himself for his abuse. A skilled therapist would sift through his words for the bigger picture. How would our story translate, filtered only through his perceptions? Am I the toxic ex?
Am I a narcissist for even asking that question?
He's always been scary-smart, but he’s putting more effort into his schoolwork now. I did have to correct an answer on one of his assignments, but I forged his handwriting well enough that he'll never notice.
It wasn’t until yesterday that I finally discovered the motive behind his lifestyle changes. In a spill of papers from a curious white folder I accidentally knocked off the counter while cleaning the espresso machine.
Okay, if we’re being technical, it took four accidental drops before the papers spilled out, but just go with it.
The contents: a half-dozen brochures touting the benefits of Flying planes for the US Navy, Becoming a Naval officer, Careers in the Navy. Pages of notes in Logan's handwriting detailing physical goals he could begin building towards now, as well as recommended educational paths.
I may have COMPLETELY LOST MY SHIT.
In those first moments, the only thing that kept me from torching the material was a lack of fire.
When we were together, Logan occasionally made tentative references to someday. I played along like a good girlfriend, but no matter how much I loved him, and how much I wanted it, I could never quite bring myself to truly believe we had a future together.
My discovery of the Navy literature clarified everything down to a single pinpoint.
A future without Logan is not an option.
I need to stop this from happening, and short of the casual, 'So... Talk to any Naval recruiters lately?', I have no idea how to begin.
It's my last day at the Grand, although technically, I closed my case yesterday.
Turns out, Braylon James' dishonesty and charisma were no match for his stupidity. He’d left the suite with the hard drive sitting right out on his desk.
“There’s no point in stealing it back. He probably made copies,” Mac had told me over the phone. “I can be there in twenty minutes.”
She’d made it in fifteen. “Do you know where he is right now? Could he come back and catch me?”
“Doubt it. He’s been taking morning surfing lessons all week. Over at Crescent Beach.”
She’d unzipped her bag, unpacking her laptop, several cords, and two unrecognizable gadgets. “You said he hasn’t met with Kane yet, right?”
“No, they had lunch on Tuesday, but the big presentation is tomorrow morning. All the Kane bigwigs will be there.”
“Excellent,” Mac said. “Would your friend at the front desk be willing to keep a lookout for me?”
“Susan? Probably. Why? What’s the plan?”
Glancing up, she’d flashed me a twisted smile. “Lucia’s only instruction for me when she headed back to L.A. was ‘no police’. She never said I couldn’t make him the laughingstock of the industry.”
She’d refused to elaborate further and, having two remaining floors to clean, I’d left her to do her thing. She’d texted me when she'd left: Braylon James won't know what hit him.
Ratner hadn’t cared that I finished the active portion of my case early. 'The deal was for the week. See you tomorrow.'
Which is today, Friday, for anyone who lost track in the back-and-forth.
An hour ago, in the breakroom, I think I caught a hint of admiration from Ratner, although he concealed it immediately.
My coffee was weakly spluttering out of the vending machine when Gabi rushed in, breathless. “Omigod, Guys! You’re never gonna believe it!”
Oksana grunted, and sipped from her tea, while everyone else turned with anticipatory glances.
“I just got off the phone with my girlfriend, Teresa.” She wiggled her cell as if we needed reminding what a phone was. “You know, she cleans over at Kane Industries.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Well…” she began, “She was cleaning the third floor break room. Did you guys know they have break rooms on every floor there?” She angled her eyes at Ratner. “With free coffee and those little pastry things with the drizzled icing and jelly, and—”
Ratner cut her off. “Can you just get on with the story? I’m already working on the coffee thing.”
Gabi couldn’t seem to decide whether to be pleased or put-out over the interruption. She sighed and continued. “Well anyway, she was cleaning the third floor break room, when suddenly music erupted from everywhere!”
We all stared, waiting for the punchline.
“It was on every computer in the building. Even the big TV monitors in the cafeteria and common areas, and they couldn’t turn it off.”
“Turn what off?” somebody asked.
“The dancing guy! With the trench coat.”
“You know!” She balled her fists, alternating them in front of her as if playing invisible maracas.
“Um…I’m not sure that qualifies as dancing,” I said.
Gabi sighed, rolled her eyes, and began singing in the low, barely audible, tone of someone who gets stage fright. “Never gonna give you up. Never gonna let you down. Never gonna run around and desert you.”
“They Rickrolled the ENTIRE company?”
Oh Mac. You anarchist!
“How did it happen?” somebody asked.
“Well…” Gabi pauses, building anticipation. “Teresa’s got a little side action going with this guy in upper management. Which is pretty stupid, if you ask me. I keep telling her he’s never going to leave his wife, and she’s going to end up—”
“Gabi!’ Ratner growled.
“Right.” Another eye roll. “They had this CEO from some other company there. Said he was there to negotiate a merger or a buyout or something. Whatever. Anyway, he was delivering this presentation, and everybody seemed pretty impressed. But instead of unveiling the product, he launched some kind of virus. There was one of those ticker-thingies scrolling across the bottom, saying he’d make it stop once money was wired into his bank account.”
“What did they do?”
“According to Teresa, the head of security – who’s practically a giant, from what I hear – personally tossed him out on his ass. They sent everybody home, and are bringing in consultants to fix the problem. And trench coat man, just keeps dancing his heart out.”
Roll on, Rick. Roll on.
Logan's room is spotless, his bed is made, and I'm ahead of schedule.
Despite my many breaches of ethics, manners, and trust, so far, I've been strangely reluctant to read the unfinished letters in Logan's nightstand notebook. Instead, I photograph them with my cell, to read when I’m in the right state of mind.
Just one more thing to do, and...
"Security? I'd like to report a thief."
Fuck! He's supposed to be in class!
I spin around, shoving my hands behind my back. "This isn't what it looks like!"
Logan leans against his bedroom doorframe, sinfully gorgeous in snug jeans and my favorite green sweater. "If you’re here to fulfill my recurring fantasy, you’re about two years too late. Haven’t run the sneaky-maid scenario since senior year.”
“It’s the Frito Pie you had for lunch,” I say. “You know they always give you crazy dreams. Next thing you know, I’ll be wearing a Sumo suit.” Pointless diversion, but I had to at least try.
"No, I don't think I’m dreaming." Logan shakes his head, takes a step forward. "You see, there was a script. First I..." He motions to himself. "...threaten to call security. Then you..." (sweeping gesture) "...beg me not to report you. You slowly unzip your uniform, and tell me you'd do absolutely anything to keep your job."
Zipper? For all he knows, this smooth placket could be hiding a row of buttons? It could be decorative.
It’s totally a zipper.
“Weird fantasy, considering I didn’t even work here senior year.”
“Yeah, well my best friend’s girlfriend wasn’t my first choice of masturbatory material.” Logan moves to his dresser, pulling items out of his jean pockets – keys, wallet, loose change – dropping them in a shallow leather tray. “I was shooting for this little redhead who used to work here, but she kept turning into you. Just like the brunette bartender, the blonde with a locker next to mine, even Kendall. All of them turned into you.” He shrugs. “It was a crappy period of my life.”
I can relate – almost too well – but I don’t verbalize the sentiment.
"So what are you hiding behind your back?" Logan turns around, plants his palms on the dresser’s surface, and leans back. When I don't answer, he pushes. "Veronica!"
I sigh and hold out my left hand. The cashmere scarf dangles from my fingers. "It's not really stealing if it belongs to me."
Pain spreads across his features. He steps forward and he takes it, running his fingers over the material. "You could have just asked for it back." He shakes his head, and when he speaks again, his voice sounds raw and hoarse. "I get it. You’d rather put on a disguise and break into my room than suffer the torture of speaking to me."
"No, Logan. It's not like that."
He ignores my protest, nodding towards my right shoulder. "Now the other hand."
"There's nothing there."
"Show me what's in your other hand," he commands.
Like hell I will. I'd rather have the earth swallow me whole.
My uniform has no back pockets, and the cart is too far away. Lacking any sort of sleeves, cuffs or waistband, I'm forced to stash the small item behind the knot of my apron.
I hold out my empty hand. "Happy?"
He looks dubious, but nods. "Sorry."
"It's okay. It's not like you don't have reason to ask."
Logan sags onto the foot of the bed, runs long fingers through his hair. "Did you read my letters?"
He lifts his head, tilting it, as if daring me to lie.
I exhale. “I saw the letters; I even photographed them with my phone. But I didn’t read them. I wanted to save them for later, when…”
When I no longer have access to you.
“I can save you the trouble. They were all the same." He stares at his feet. “Variations of sad-sackery, to steal a term from Dick. 'I fucked up', 'I missed you', 'I’d give anything to take back Aspen and start over'. The usual. Too little. Too late."
"You never sent them."
"I never even finished them. Luckily, I came to my senses before I could humiliate myself any further. Anyway, why bother to rehash? I said it all in my voicemail message."
I assume he means the voicemail I deleted unheard not long after our breakup – when my anger still burned like hot coals. I don’t have the heart to tell him I never listened.
I move to the foot of the bed, pull out my cell, and hold it so he can watch me delete each photo. “There. All gone.”
“That looked almost physically painful.” Logan’s eyes glint with the tiniest hint of amusement.
“It was painful,” I admit. “I’m sure childbirth is worse, but I’ll probably lose plenty of sleep obsessing over the contents.”
He raises an eyebrow, apparently not expecting honesty from me.
“But…if you wanted me to read them, you would’ve sent them, so…I’d better get going. I still have eleven rooms left to clean.”
“Huh. I didn’t realize you were actually working in the hotel.”
“For a case. It’s a one-week arrangement, ending today – so I promise, you’ll never find me in your room again.”
"You've been cleaning my room all week?" he asks, becoming alert.
I nod. "I'm sorry, Logan. I had this elaborate strategy to get out of it, but my old buddy Jeff Ratner enjoys torturing me.”
He stands, moves to my cart, and picks up the lavender spray. "This was you? I wondered what I'd done to get on housekeeping's good side."
I nod, smiling graciously. "I remember you telling me it helped you sleep. Seemed the least I could do after being in your room. Anyway, I'd better get going."
I'm reaching for the handle of my cart when something thumps to the floor. In the split second it takes to realize what happened, Logan is bending over and picking up the item.
Oh hell Almighty.
He lifts the tiny glass vial to his nose, arches an eyebrow. "Your perfume?"
There is no possible way to wiggle out of this one.
He sniffs my cashmere scarf, still clutched in his other hand. "Care to explain?"
"What's to explain? The perfume had worn off; I was just refreshing it."
He's staring at me, and I can see the puzzle pieces falling into place. "You never had any intention of taking your scarf back."
I rearrange the cleaning supplies on the cart, since I can't meet his eyes.
In my periphery, Logan's lips twist into an ugly smile I haven't seen in years. He turns away, both hands sliding into his hair.
"I don’t think you realize how unbelievably fucked up that is," he says. "I'm trying to make a life for myself - one where I'm more than just a minor constellation orbiting around you. I have tough decisions to make, and suddenly, everywhere I look, I'm seeing reminders of you. The things you love. Mementos from our time together. I thought I was losing my mind, Veronica. Or self-sabotaging."
He turns back, lets out a bitter laugh. "I open my closet?" He plucks at his shirt. "There's the sweater you always encouraged me to wear when we went out. Right there at the front."
"It's a good look on you."
"Reach for a coffee cup? Your quadruple-insulated, keep-it-warm-for-a-week travel mug has somehow migrated from the back of the shelf to the front. I pick up my novel? There's a freaking bookmark in it."
"You know how much it makes me squirm when you dog ear pages."
"There was a slip of paper with a girl's phone number on it."
"You mean Brandi with an 'I'? It just sorta drifted into the garbage." I shrug. "Didn't think you'd want it back, once it was covered in coffee grounds and pasta sauce."
"Why are you doing this?" Logan's voice breaks, and he fixes me with a stare of utter despair. "I haven't suffered enough? You want to punish me some more? Gaslight me?"
"Do you really think I would do that to you?"
He holds up the scarf and perfume. "I don't want to, but the proof is right here in my hands!"
"You've got it all wrong."
"You know what? Forget about it. You said you have work to do, and I don't think I even want an explanation. " He sets the items down atop my cleaning cart, shoves it through his bedroom doorway, and makes an 'after you' gesture.
I make it as far as the suite's door - my hand on the knob. Leaving now would be a huge mistake. I head back to the bedroom.
Logan's back is to me. His body sags, and he's never looked so utterly defeated.
I move forward and touch his shoulder. "I need to make you believe me, Logan. I did not do this to hurt you or punish you."
He spins around, eyes blazing. "WELL THEN WHY THE FUCK DID YOU DO IT?"
"TO REMIND YOU THAT I STILL EXIST!" I shout back. I take another step forward, poking my finger in his chest. "You used to act like we had some kind of celestial connection or something, and now you seem to have forgotten you even know me!"
"FORGOTTEN YOU? I THINK OF NOTHING BUT YOU!"
We stare at each other. His chest heaves and my pulse throbs in my throat.
"I don't need to be reminded of your existence." His voice drops and points to his bed. "I lay awake every single night wishing you were with me. Regretting how I fucked everything up. I punish myself every single day."
"Then why did you stop trying to fix this?” My own voice is plaintive. “Why did you stop calling and start avoiding?"
"Because that's what you wanted! And when you love somebody, you give them what they need, even if it feels like you're dying inside."
My sinuses prickle, and oh fuck, I'm about to cry. I turn my back to Logan, fighting to get a handle on myself. To control my emotions.
"Veronica?" Logan speaks tentatively, takes a step closer.
"Did you want me to keep trying to fix things?"
"Uh huh," I say, aware that I sound like a six year-old.
He takes another step, bracing my waist with his fingertips - tentatively, as if expecting an explosion. "Did you want me to keep calling you?"
"Did you want me to stop loving you?"
As I shake my head, a choked noise escapes from my throat.
Logan moves against me, encircles me with his arms, and drops his head to my shoulder. I close my eyes, shifting my attention to the places where our bodies press together. He's warm and electric, and for over a minute, we merely breathe.
"I'm sorry for giving up, Veronica," he says, finally.
I'm sorry for telling you to. "It's okay."
"And I'm sorry for attacking your boyfriend last spring."
I twist around in his arms so I can see him. "Ex-boyfriend, and I forgive you. If anybody needs forgiveness it’s me, for invading your privacy.”
“Water under the bridge. You deleted the photos anyway.”
I bite my lip and drop my eyes. “Umm…I was telling the truth when I said I didn’t read your letters.”
“But…my curiosity got the better of me, and I may have inspected every other item in this suite. Since we're being honest.”
I can’t bring myself to look at him. Until he chuckles.
“How can you not be furious at me?”
He gives me the eyebrow equivalent of a shrug. “I could be. Or I could be relieved to know you still remember I exist too.”
“Pfft. As if anybody could forget you.”
His eyes shine with liquid emotion. He swallows, and skims his fingers along my jawline. "Can you forgive me for what happened in Aspen?"
"Done." I'd been halfway to forgiving him before he even started dating Parker, so this isn't a hasty decision.
"I was wasted and broken-hearted Veronica, and—”
I cut him off by lifting to my tiptoes and pressing a chaste kiss to his lips.
Logan’s jaw hangs. He blinks rapidly for a moment, and then returns the favor.
We smile at each other, and his forehead lowers, touching mine. Warmth radiates through me. A giggle bubbles up, and he snickers.
It's never been like this with anyone else. I'm weightless, like without his arm anchoring me, I might float away. "I've missed you."
The tip of Logan's nose touches mine, nuzzling, and we laugh. Another inch, and our mouths fall together.
The kiss is soft and intimate. A caress of lips. A glide of tongues. Light. Delicate.
I melt into him, arms coming up around his neck, fingers tracing the edge of his hairline. The stab of bristly hairs against the pads of my fingers nearly undoes me.
It’s so absolutely right. This is how boy hair is supposed to feel – coarse and sharp under your fingernails.
Subconsciously, I must have known what was missing, and why I'd found the silky, deep-conditioned hair of a certain other boy I’d dated almost repellent. Wrong hair. Wrong boy.
This is where I belong.
I mold myself against him, urging the kiss deeper, and Logan’s arms tighten around me.
With a little hum of pleasure, he spins us around and walks us to his bed. It hits the back of my knees, and he shifts, leans in and lifts me by the thighs. My legs wrap around his waist, and pressing one hand to the mattress, he maneuvers us onto the bed, digging his toes in the comforter to get us closer to the headboard.
“Hey!” I break the kiss.
“Huh?” He’s adorably aroused and befuddled, pressed hard between my legs.
“I just made this bed. Show some respect!”
Logan grins, bumps my nose with his own and pulls away. He sits back on his heels between my knees, twisting at the torso and smoothing the rumpled blanket. “Better?”
“Much. Thank you.”
I try pulling him back by the front of his shirt, but he resists, smiling down at where I lay, uniform pushed around my hips and legs open.
“Nothing. I just want to look at you. I can’t believe you’re here.”
I push myself up into a sitting position (which is awkward with my knees up and nothing to support my back). “You’ll have plenty of time for looking later. Why don’t you try some doing right now?”
Logan grabs me by the back of my neck, pulling my mouth to his. He kisses me, hard and possessive, practically drugging me with the intensity.
Need for him overtakes me. I can’t wrap my arms around him without losing my balance, and I can’t surge forward and straddle him without knocking him off the bed. As if he’s reading my mind, his palm cups my center.
My nerve-endings fire and a raspy moan breaks from my throat. I push my hands to the mattress, stabilizing myself, and rocking against his friction.
Logan shifts forward, lowering me down to the bed, and releasing my mouth. He straightens back up to his former position, eyes sweeping over me with enough heat to make me shiver.
His hands travel up my legs to my inner thighs, fingers twisting handfuls of nylon. He yanks in opposite directions.
Scrunching up his face, he tries again. Same result.
He sighs, gaze flicking heavenward, in a ‘why-must-you-test-me’ expression, and my chest shakes from attempting to suppress my giggles.
“That was supposed to be sexy,” he says, lifting a bemused brow.
I snort. “And it might have been, if I wasn’t wearing indestructible support hose.”
He sweeps his fingers over my abdomen. “Where exactly do you need the support?”
Lifting up onto my elbows, I shrug. “Recommendation from a co-worker. I guess they prevent you from feeling achy when you’re standing on your feet...Ohh…” I trail off as the heel of his hand presses into the spot that makes me see stars.
Something niggles at my consciousness, but my sex-starved brain is too ravenous for Logan to pay it any attention. I push at the hem of his shirt with my toes, wiggling it up enough for him to get the picture. He reaches behind his back, tugging his shirt off in a single motion.
“Oh. My.” I manage to say. Logan’s torso ripples with hills and valleys that didn’t exist a year ago. “You’re like a fucking topography map.”
He grins, somehow managing to overlap the line between bashful and arrogant. He runs a hand down his sternum, and drops his eyes. “Yeah, I’ve been working out a bit.”
I sit back up, shifting onto my knees. Kissing him softly, I skim my fingers over his…magnificentness (and if that isn’t a word, it should be). “I have every intention of learning this new terrain.” Kiss. “Climbing your peaks,” I thumb his nipple. “And exploring your…river valley…” I trace down the vee created by his hip bone. Kiss.
“But?” he asks.
“But, I’m still on the cock.”
Logan glances down at the bulge in his jeans. “Not yet, but if you play your cards—“
“CLOCK! You know what I meant.”
Logan sighs. "I thought you said the job was over. Can’t you just quit?"
I kiss him again and climb off the bed, adjusting my uniform. "Can't. I promised Ratner I'd finish out the week and, although I'm loathe to say it, I think I owe him one."
Logan’s bottom lip pokes out and I laugh. He throws his shirt back on and escorts me to the door, holding it open for me.
I push my cart out into the hall, and turn back, plastering my entire self against his everything. While our earlier kisses spoke of forgiveness and passion, this one is playful. Full of joy and promise.
"Do you have any plans for later?" I ask against his lips.
He pulls back, smoothing loose hair back from my forehead. "Nothing that can't be canceled. You want to get together and talk?"
Talking isn't even in the same realm as what I have in mind. "Yeah...Sure. Actually, I'm going to need an explanation for this Navy nonsense."
"Veronica..." His tone contains just enough of a warning to imply that he’s not backing down on this issue. But I have plenty of time to work on him.
"Later." I cut him off with a chaste kiss to the lips.
…which escalates to not-so-chaste. I’m on the verge of pushing him back into the suite, beginning our talk early, when he pulls back, smiling warmly at somebody over my shoulder.
“Hello again, Oksana.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Echolls. How are you today?”
“Wonderful. Can’t remember the last time I felt this good.”
Flattered, I beam up at him until he finishes with, “Thanks to your miracle soup. I appreciate you leaving a batch for me with the kitchen.”
She accepts his praise with a slight bow of her head.
“I believe this is yours?” He scoops me into a bear hug, momentarily lifting me so that my feet dangle. “I found her perfuming my nightstand.”
Oksana has the decency to ignore my predicament. “That must have been traumatizing, Mr. Echolls.”
“Indeed.” He lowers me back down. “You could’ve warned me when you saw me getting off the elevator.”
“Yes, I could’ve.” She nods once and turns her cart towards the elevator.
I stretch onto my tip-toes, giving Logan a quick kiss. “See you later?”
“Count on it.”
In the elevator, I keep my mouth shut and my eyes down, but fail miserably at wrangling back my smile. It takes possession of my face, stretching so wide my cheeks hurt.
I’m so happy!
To my left, a wheezy-hiss sound bursts from Oksana, and I panic, scrambling to remember my CPR, before my brain translates it to laughter.
She’s laughing at me.
“Magic soup?” I say.
She shrugs. “Fixes whatever ails you. Except broken hearts, but you seem to have that under control.”
“If I didn’t know any better…I might suspect you of a little match-making. But that would be crazy.”
“Would it?” She lifts a sculpted brow.
“Why?” I ask, genuinely curious.
“He’s good people. For a shiftless rich kid. And you have one of the best work ethics I’ve seen. Other than the constant snooping, I mean. You both deserve happiness.” She shrugs, and that’s probably about as touchy-feely as she gets.
“I like you too, Oksana.”
She grunts, but I catch her smile as she turns away. Her face doesn’t crack.
Grabbing my purse from the break room on my way out to lunch, I run into Ratner. He gives me a double-take.
He shakes his head. “Nothing, I’m just used to you scowling and seething, like you want to murder somebody.”
“Hmmm.” I touch my lip, playing dumb. “I wonder who?”
He doesn’t take the bait. “Well, it’s your last day here, so you won’t have to worry about me anymore. Sad. You’re a surprisingly good worker, but I can’t say that I’m going to miss having you around.”
I give him a supportive squeeze on the arm. “Good thing you don’t have to say it then, Jeff. You’ll be happy to know that Logan and I got back together. It’ll be like I’m not even leaving.”
Several feet behind him, a blatantly eavesdropping Gabi squeals, claps her hands, and bounces on her heels like a Price Is Right contestant with the winning bid. I flash her a ‘we’ll talk later’ hand-signal.
Returning my attention to Ratner, I say, as if having a sudden epiphany, “Hey…maybe I’ll finally take Logan up on his offer to move in together. He always did want to take our relationship to the ‘next level’, and I certainly can’t complain about the room service here. Top notch!”
Ratner looks as if he’s swallowed his tongue. I slap him on the back and hoist my purse higher on my shoulder. “See you after lunch, boss.”
A doorknob clicks, steam fills the air, and Logan’s voice emerges from behind me, exasperated. "Veronica? What in the hell are you up to now?"
A grin splits my face. Finally! I've only been standing here for ten minutes.
The open nightstand drawer before me is merely a prop – who needs to read old letters when you can have the real thing? Still, I arrange my features into an expression of anxiety as I slam it closed and turn around – eyes wide, lower lip between my teeth.
He stands in his bathroom doorway, arms crossed over his chest and a bath towel wrapped loosely around his hips.
Hello, biceps. Damn, have I missed you.
"This isn't what it looks like. I swear!” I color my tone with exaggerated fear.
"Is it ever?" He smirks. "Whatever you're looking for, did you consider asking?"
I raise two pleading hands. "Please don't call security. I'm begging you!"
Logan lowers his brows, confused. Didn't he let me off with a warning and a makeout earlier?
"You see, Mr. Echolls," I step towards him, words spilling out like water through a colander. "Logan, I mean. I desperately need this job in order to pay my way through college. My father is sick at home. The bills are piling up, and he needs important medication. So does my dog."
He tilts his head, one corner of his mouth lifting.
I pinch my uniform’s zipper pull between two fingers.
Logan’s eyes zero in, watching the teeth separate, inch-by-excruciating-inch as I walk towards him. It stops a few inches below my navel, and shrugging the fabric off my shoulders, I allow it to pool around my feet.
I stand before him wearing nothing but heels and the lace-trimmed thigh highs I purchased on my lunch break.
The emotion in his eyes outweighs the lust, and he’s clearly overwhelmed, but he swallows hard and rallies. “Easy-access hosiery. Wise choice.
I tug at the front of his bath towel, and it drops to the floor. From the looks of it, Logan is already VERY invested in this game.
Holding his gaze, I kneel down before him, stare up with wide eyes. "I'll do anything to convince you not to report me to security, Mr. Echolls. Anything at all."
He smiles, glides soft fingers over my cheeks. "Well Veronica, since you ask so nicely, I'm sure we can come to some kind of...” Sharp inhale. “FUCK. OH FUCK, VERONICA."