Running away does the body good; even if it is only temporary. At least that’s what Billie had convinced herself. Routines are good, but sometimes the monotony becomes a weight. Billie felt the weight lifting the farther she drove from the apartment. She felt like she was floating by the time she got to the beach. She was three hours away from the apartment she shared with her sister and all the work-from-home things. She checked into a pricey hotel with an ocean view. It was December after all and no one would be swimming in that freezing water. But she could enjoy the waves sweeping the shore, hear the waves exhale as they folded into themselves, smell the salt in the air even though the cold threatened to numb her nose.
Her sister wasn’t the problem. Her sister was awesome. Just being cooped up in the apartment wasn’t good. Rejection from another lit journal and from Jordan had her re-evaluating her life. Maybe writing full-time and falling in love were both pipe dreams. She had strong feelings about both and worked hard to get there, but she always seemed to fall short. She had boxed up these feelings and tried to focus on other things, but they rattled in the box in the back of her mind. She had decided to revisit them when she was first stuck in the house and although her love for writing was rekindled, she sometimes wished she had left the box alone.
She took a long, hot shower and air-dried while watching a Chopped marathon on Food Network. She took the flat twists out of her hair. In the back of her mind, she was working a new story idea. The idea was budding, but nothing was clicking to make it grow more. Billie decided to put it out of her mind completely for now when her phone rang. It was Jordan. Normally she would let it ring, but she knew that meant memories would pop up and she wanted to enjoy being alone. She declined the call. If she was going to be alone forever she figured she should get used to it. Billie hated how dramatic that sounded, but it didn’t feel less true.
She lotioned her brown skin with shea butter and put on her comfy bathrobe from home. She picked and fluffed her afro. She was grateful her twist out looked good. She thought about getting dressed and getting food, but the desire to do nothing had a stronger pull for now. She’d probably get delivery later even though the thought of a rum and Coke or vodka soda seemed nice. And then she wished she had brought a bottle of wine and her personal wine glass she had gotten for her 30th birthday. She was 31 now and she still didn’t feel like an adult. She took solace in remembering that one of her undergrad professors had said that you don’t ever actually feel like an adult. You just do what you need to do.
Billie got dressed: sweatshirt and jeans and Birkenstocks with socks and headed downstairs. The pricey hotel had a bar in it. As she sat at the bar waiting for her cheeseburger, fries, and rum and Coke, she thought about being approached by a mysterious stranger and having an intriguing conversation. But because this was reality and not a Lifetime movie, she ate her cheeseburger and fries and drank her rum and Coke alone. She did notice that the bartender, named Phillip, was kind of cute. He had light brown skin and his voice was smooth and deep. They didn’t talk much, but he had poured a strong drink so she left him a nice tip.
Billie was dancing to her Afrobeats and soca playlist when something clicked for her story. She snatched up her phone, paused the music, and typed furiously. She would start the story on her laptop later. She just needed to finish fleshing out her idea. Billie plopped down on the bed after she finished typing. She grinned, euphoria washing over her. Then she heard the waves and felt the pull to go outside.
She felt ridiculous all bundled up as she headed down the water, but 30 degree weather wasn’t anything to play with. The ocean could still be admired while being dressed warmly. The cold crept into her old sneakers as she opened up her beach towel and sat down. She wondered if the ocean was always this loud and if all the people on the beach really made that much noise to be so much louder than the ocean. It was a little odd, but calming to see no one and nothing around.
Billie only lasted for about 10 minutes, but it was nice to be fully present. She always felt herself drifting toward the future or reflecting on the past. Some stuff from her past had marred the present and it made it hard to sit still and enjoy it. The present could be a little better if only she had made some better choices. And if the present was uncomfortable with its new struggles, only envisioning the future could bring relief. But watching the ocean with all its raw power and sitting in the crisp cold air had her full attention. She willingly emptied her mind and let herself be still and enjoy it.
Billie spotted Phillip at the bar and feeling the cold still holding onto her fingers, she headed over there.
“Hey do y’all have hot chocolate?”
“We sure do. Would you like some?”
“Can you put a little rum in it?”
Phillip smiled and she noticed dimples she didn’t before. “I can hook you up. You want it sent to your room?”
“Yes please. Thank you!”
“It will be up shortly.”
Billie smiled and turned to go back to her room. She changed into all sweats and got a tip ready. A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door. Billie opened it and was surprised to see Phillip.
“Oh you make room calls too?” she asked, taking the cup.
“Sometimes. Since it’s slow, I’d figured I do the honor myself,” he replied.
“Thank you,” Billie said, handing him the tip.
“Thank you,” he said, raising the tip in his hand.
Their eyes lingered on each other a few more seconds before he turned away. Billie swore she had seen the beginnings of a smirk on his face, but Billie decided to behave and close the door.
Billie turned to the USA Network for a Law and Order SVU marathon and sipped her spiked hot chocolate. A monologue from her character started forming in her head toward the end of both show and hot chocolate. She opened her laptop and shut off the TV before getting sucked into another episode. She started typing away and became her character writing in her journal:
Some women endure toxic love, a bad relationship, a severe heartbreak, etc and find love within a year or two. Not without doing some work of course. But then there are other women who work on themselves and heal and are still waiting for love. Some women have the fortune of not having anxiety and societal timelines get in their heads. I’m not one of those women. I have the misfortune of anxiety and a mother who acts as if she’s suddenly aging at the speed of light. She should have been an actress, that one. She acts as if my eggs will dry up if I don’t marry within a year or two. But love doesn’t work like that. You can’t demand love. You can get all pretty, tie a bow on your pain, lock your skeletons in your closet and reassure love that you will answer its call and love will still not appear. If dressing up your pain doesn’t work, you can publish a disclaimer on it. If hiding your skeletons doesn’t work, you can hand over the key and address each skeleton by name. And even after those revelations, love will still not appear. It’s the one thing we’re not called to chase and it can be absolutely frustrating when you’re trying to tell the world I just want that and the world keeps telling you to wait.
Seeing more of herself in that journal entry than her character Jaci, she saved her word document and shut her laptop.
The next day, Billie spent more time writing. She removed the journal entry from the story and saved it in another document. She wrote something more in line with Jaci’s voice. Jaci was the romantic Billie wouldn’t let herself be. Jaci was happier and more at peace about waiting on love. Skepticism had tainted Billie’s romanticism. She wouldn’t let that happen to Jaci.
Billie had eaten breakfast and lunch in her room determined to put a lot of words on the page. Both were delivered by Not Phillip. Okay, to be fair, his name was Henry and he was definitely not as cute as Phillip.
She went to the bar for dinner and Phillip was there. She smiled and he smiled back.
“Glad to see you’re still with us,” Phillip said.
“I’m checking out tomorrow,” Billie said with a sigh.
“Back to reality?”
“Hopefully it’s better after this,” Phillip said.
“Me too,” Billie said, holding her tongue on how she doesn’t have cute guys to bring her food back home.
She ordered some shrimp alfredo pasta and a nice Riesling per Phillip’s suggestion. They talked about the adorableness of baby Yoda, the best doctor from Doctor Who (Ten obviously), and the longevity of Grey’s Anatomy. As she finished up her food, Phillip went on to help other customers. She didn’t let her mind wonder. She had learned that it’s best to be rooted in reality especially when it comes to men. If their words didn’t reveal their intentions, their actions would. Luckily, it wasn’t that deep with Phillip and she wouldn’t make it so.
“What? No dessert?” he asked after she requested the check.
“All this alcohol I’ve been drinking makes up for it,” Billie said.
“It’s not really the same though, is it?” he asked.
“Please don’t tempt me,” Billie said, a grin spreading across her face.
He winked. “I got you.”
Billie left a nice tip again and headed back up to her room.
Billie woke up early enough to watch the sunrise. She did it from her room in her PJs of course. She wanted to be comfortable and not cold. She felt at peace about going home today. The sun rising reminded her of how light she felt when she first got there. She wasn’t floating any more, but she wasn’t drowning either. She was grounded. Comforted. Billie knew that running away had been the right choice. And that’s not something you can say often about running away.
Billie had breakfast with Not Phillip at the bar after the sun rose above the horizon. She came back to her room, finished packing, and checked out.
On the drive back, she had feared that reality would become a weight after escaping it. But it didn’t. It settled on her shoulders like a soft, warm scarf. And the excitement about seeing her sister grew.