A Room at the Inn
To be honest, two minutes after I said I'd participate in the 12 Days of Christmakwanzaka Bloghop, I flipped out a little. I don't consider myself a sweet holiday romance kind of girl. What the H-E- double candy canes was I going to write about? But I had an image in my head, of a rock star on a diverted airplane. I decided to make it Christmas Eve and we'd see what would happen. The story that flowed out ended up showing me exactly what the holidays mean to me. A little something sweet, a little more champagne, and a whole lot of hope.
A Room at the Inn
I didn’t even know how to spell Reykjavik. But here I was, spending Christmas Eve in an Icelandic version of a Holiday Inn, while my Air France flight waited for the Christmas miracle of forty-eight inches of snow to magically disappear off JFK’s runways.
Halfway across the Atlantic, our jet had turned towards the North Pole in an unexpected detour to Reykjavik. I twisted the name around my tongue, just to try it out while I waited in the hotel bar for my room. Some of the passengers had opted to stay at the airport; I had jumped on the first bus out of there. No, I didn’t have my luggage. But damned if I was going to spend Christmas Eve scrunched up on a bench somewhere in an airport where even all the duty free shops were closed.
There was a gentle nudge on my right shoulder as another stranded passenger fought for space at the bar, like it was Bethlehem 2000 years ago. I moved over as much as I could. Far be it for me to stand between a man and a drink.
I glanced over briefly, just to give a polite we’re-all-in-this-together smile and then froze, as things in Iceland are wont to do. The man next to me was Cord DeBose, lead singer for the Pope Mobiles.
Deep breath, Annie. Play it cool, Annie. Just because People’s Sexiest Man Alive is standing RIGHT NEXT TO YOU is no reason to…
“Hey.” That was Cord DeBose. And that was his mouth moving and his voice emanating and his eyes looking at me.
Freak the fuck out.
“Hey,” I managed before groping for my beer. He motioned to the bartender, who promptly brought over another beer, because even Icelandic service workers recognized the lean, mean hotness of the international superstar, even when he was just in a flannel shirt, sleeves rolled up to reveal those recognizable tattoos on forearms that rocked a guitar every night. I took a deep, deep drink of Northern Atlantic ale.
“You from the Air France flight?”
My hand shook a little, realizing that Cord DeBose was making conversation. With me. “Yeah. You too?”
“Yeah.” His mouth quirked a little, and I caught a glimpse of hesitation in his face, which would be weird because Cord DeBose couldn’t be nervous. Could he?
“I love that guy.” He gestured at the new David Sedaris book I had in front of me on the bar, the one that I had saved just for the plane ride back.
“Me too,” I said, caught off guard that I might actually have something in common with a rock star.
“Annie,” he finished. That hesitant light flared in his eyes again. “It’s uh, on your boarding pass.”
And it was, the slip of paper sitting next to the book, my ticket to get on the Air France bus. If any other guy in the world had sidled up next to me in a bar and spied my name, I would have backed away slowly, but I wasn’t doing that now. But it wasn’t just his fame that put me at ease. It was that light. That slow smile. That respectful pause that made me realize that there might be more to Cord DeBose. Something real.
He reached for his beer and something overtook me. Something that had been dormant for years, something that I barely recognized. I lifted my glass. “To the holidays,” I said, making direct eye contact for the first time.
Cord smiled, a little surprised, a little pleased and raised his beer to meet mine in a kiss of glass. “To Christmas.”
A rush of warmth flushed through me at our toast, better than any yule log. Maybe this Christmas wasn’t going to be the worst ever, after all.
Then I got a tap on the shoulder from someone in a hotel uniform. “Miss Coller?” He asked, mispronouncing my last name. “I’m sorry to say, but we were unprepared for the room requests. We have no more rooms available. The bus can take you back to the airport when you are ready.”
Cord groaned while I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of trying to make a pillow out of my sweatshirt on an airport floor. “Isn’t there anything you can do?” Cord asked.
“Oh, Mr. DeBose, your room is available now. The Presidential suite.”
Guilt and embarrassment nearly dripped off Cord as the hotel employee assured him that he would be taken care of, for as long as necessary. And when Cord held up a hand, the man stopped groveling and backed off. Must be nice to be rich and famous, I thought, sliding off my barstool and grabbing my carry-on.
I was in the lobby when I heard Cord's call. “Annie, wait.”
I looked between the rock star with the unfortunate entitlement complex and the front door where the Air France bus was loading a bunch of other pissed off, exhausted refugees. “What,” I snapped, not really caring that I was being rude.
“You don’t have to go. You can stay.” He paused. “With me.”
Riiiiight. He must have seen that thought on my face because he amended, quickly. “Or you can have the room. But it’s a suite, so there will be plenty of space. For the two of us. To share. Or not.”
I shifted my bag on my shoulder and saw the crowd of people trudging their way into a bus encrusted with gray snow. The window reflected the single strand of twinkle lights strung over the reception desk, reminding me that this was Christmas and every cell inside me did not want to be alone, in an airport. Not this year.
“Fine,” I sniffed, like I was doing him a favor. “Thank you,” I added. Even I couldn’t be that bitchy on Christmas Eve.
"Presidential Suite?" I said in shock as Cord and I surveyed the rather small, rather plain room we'd just unlocked. Nothing about this room said, “head of state.” Maybe the view was good. "Does Iceland even have a President?"
"They keep using that word and I don't think they know what it means."
I blinked twice and just like that, my heart unlocked. Stupid Princess Bride. Making frozen -solid hearts melt since nineteen eighty-something.
Cord tossed his backpack on a nondescript chair, oblivious to the miracle he’d unintentionally wreaked when he’d quoted my favorite movie. "Let's hope they know what 'room service' means," he said, grabbing a menu off the TV. "I'm starved. I bet you are too."
I turned away quickly before he could see the moisture welling up in my eyes. The Princess Bride reference had done its job. Simple acts of human kindness, like feeding me dinner were going to do me in. Turn me into a sniveling, snotty pile of goo. I wiped my eyes. This was so not the time. Or the place. Or the company.
Which was awesome company, I realized about thirty minutes later. Because when you stay with a superstar musician, he orders one of everything off the menu with extra fries and the hotel sends it all up pronto with complimentary bottles of pretty decent champagne.
In the years ahead, I'll look back and blame the champagne for what happened next. I felt warm and relaxed and the question just popped out of me. "Do you have a girlfriend?"
Cord stilled in that rock-star-caught-in- the-flashbulbs kinda way. "No."
"What about -"
"But I read -"
I was stumped. What if everything I'd read about a famous rock star in magazines and blogs wasn't true? I was working that one out in a champagne haze when his question burst my bubble.
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
An unexpected laugh exploded out of me. "No! I don't even have a husband!"
Which sounded awkward, and from the wary look on Cord's face, I knew I'd have to explain. "As of today. Or... yesterday." I fumbled and tried to remember the dates. "My divorce was final yesterday."
Cord's brows drew together. "I'm sorry."
"I'm not." I reached for my champagne glass, knowing it was a teeny white lie. I had been devastated enough, six months ago, to run to Europe on an extended business trip until the lawyers finished everything up. But now... I shrugged. "After all, no good marriages end in divorce."
A smile lit up Cord's eyes. "Do you watch his show? It’s hilarious."
I put a hand to my mouth. Cord DeBose understood my Louis C.K. reference. Tears started welling again and this time, I couldn't hide fast enough.
Cord cursed and reached over the table to take my hand. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that your divorce was hilarious."
I shook my head. How could I explain? "You're just so nice. And I haven't felt like this in such a long time..." Good one Annie... Now he'll be terrified of you. I tried snatching my hand back, but Cord held it in a firm grip. I swallowed. "Not like that. I'm sorry. I'm not insane or declaring my love or anything." Call it the Princess Bride effect, but I looked him straight in his dark eyes and took a chance. “What I meant was, I've forgotten what a connection with another human being felt like.”
Cord's thumb brushed my sensitive wrist, sending tingles up my arm. "You know why I came to talk to you in the bar?" When I didn't answer, he continued. "I saw you, on the plane, reading your book. You were laughing at David Sedaris and then you snorted."
Oh God. I was going to die of embarrassment in Iceland. How embarrassing.
Cord continued. "And I wanted to spend Christmas Eve with someone I could laugh with." He paused and let go of my hand. "I didn't want to be lonely tonight, either."
This time I reached for him, clasping my fingers around his long, callused ones. We sat and searched each other's faces, and I saw the realness I'd seen first in the dim light of the bar. I saw warmth that had taken the place of loneliness. I saw shared jokes and champagne and Christmas and loved what I saw. And when he squeezed back, I guessed he liked what he saw, too.
Cord ended up ordering more complimentary champagne, as rock stars do. We shared another bottle, watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation on the television, the Icelandic subtitles hypnotic, Clark Griswold and Cousin Eddie hilarious. We laughed at all the same parts and when I inadvertently snorted, Cord took my face in his hands and kissed me, a sweet, hot, gentle kiss that could have melted a hundred inches of snow on JFK's blessedly frozen runways.
The kisses continued, each one a simple, sparkly gift between two souls who needed to make room for one more person. We fell asleep holding hands, neither of us alone on Christmas Eve.
Thank you so much for reading! And many tinsel-y thanks to my A+ super amazing beta, Katy. If you liked this, check out my Pinterest page devoted to inspiration pics and retweet/ regram my link. This is the sixth day of the 12 Days of Christmakwanzakah Blog Hop. I’m sharing the day with the talented Rebekah Weatherspoon. Check out her story and many others here or follow #12DaysHop on Twitter.
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