The fourth floor of the Holiday Inn Pleasant Hill reeks of old cigarette smoke. The deep voice of a TV newscaster seeps under the door, out into the empty hallway I'm walking down. I've emptied my backpack of cracker crumbs and crayons for everything I need tonight: my toothbrush, a pair of Levi's, clean underwear, and condoms. I've also brought along some food to accompany the wine that I look forward to sipping. I'm just a few miles from where I grew up in these conventional suburbs.
But at this moment, I'm so far from anything conventional. I'm a good mom, but I'm also a bad girl.
My bad girl -- the part of me that exists despite all the responsibilities, tasks, and pressures of single-motherhood -- hasn't emerged in a long time. She's not exactly bad. She's this desperate part of me that wants so badly to do things that might be out of character and risky. She makes her most dramatic appearances when I'm feeling out of control with balancing the demands of being a single mom with the need to maintain adult relationships.
I rap on the door and Conner opens it. He's wearing a white, flowing cotton shirt with all the top buttons undone and loose-fitting cotton pants. I smile at him and think, You're my angel.
"Hi," I whisper. My voice is shy.
When I step into the dark room, I expect him to kiss me or embrace me. But he turns off the TV, sits down on the edge of the bed, and lights a cigarette.
We don't say a word, but I'm smiling. I step over to the coffee table and pull my picnic supplies out of their brown bag, setting them up on the paper plates I've also packed. There are sweet purple grapes, fancy salted crackers and cheddar cheese. I even brought along a knife and small plastic cutting board to chop up the green apple into small perfect slices. My routine comes effortlessly. This is so easy, in fact, that I almost forget that I'm making a snack for a sexy grown man who's ready to make love to me. Silly me, I'm so used to cutting everything into bite-sized pieces for my five-year-old daughter!
"This is weird," Conner says.
"Everything. You don't just go to a hotel room with someone you don't know and have a picnic."
I hold the knife in mid-air. You don't? Why isn't he grateful? Isn't this every man's dream, to have an attractive woman he hardly knows spend the night with him at a random hotel?
Maybe this was all a very bad idea. Maybe I should just turn around and go home.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, my Catholic mother is talking to me. What on earth are you doing, Rachel? What if he's a serial killer? What if he has a disease? Is it really worth it?
I push those thoughts away and I sit down on the bed, close to Conner but not touching. I'm not willing to give up the possibility of wild night this easily. Conner is looking down at my thighs, which peek out of my tight jean skirt. I shaved my legs in a quick shower this afternoon, as my daughter played dolls in her room, and the lotion makes them gleam. I nervously clasp my hands in front of me.
"It's all going to be okay?" I say to Conner, raising my voice in a sweet inflection.
This is exactly what I often say to my kid when she resists doing something, like going to the dentist.
Goodness, the transition from mom to bad girl is going to be a little tougher than I thought. I barely know Conner -- we've only been on one date -- so for a single mom like me, going back to my place is not an option. And if I don't know a man very well, going back to his place could be unsafe. Personally, I like to get creative in neutral spots, like a hotel room.
"Want some wine?" Conner says, offering me his glass.
That's when I notice the bottle of white wine on the bedside table, already opened. I take a very long swig, emptying the glass.
I first saw Conner behind the counter at the local bed store he manages. He had his back to me. He was at least six feet tall, and his head was shaved. I have this thing for men who shave their heads, and when I saw him -- his smooth head beautifully shaped -- I wanted to reach out and wrap my hands around it.
He turned around and I saw that he had big, deep brown eyes and a beautiful open face. I started to sweat.
"Hi. Can I help you?" His voice was deep and smooth, and his eyes looked straight into mine.
"I'm just fine, thanks!" I responded a bit too enthusiastically. But I wasn't just fine. I was red. I have this tendency to blush madly when I'm embarrassed or as the case may be, terrifically attracted to someone. I went around the corner, glowing.
My hands were hot, and I pretended to read the price tags: $115, $225, $400. My mind was a blank. What size mattress did I have again?
"Let me know if you need my help-- "
There he was, right behind me. All the bed frames around me blurred together, and I stopped breathing as I rounded the corner.
Focus! I commanded myself. Don't forget what you're here for! But my mission had changed.
What was I here for again? A mattress? Or a man?
Yes, it was very fitting to meet him in a mattress store. After all, given my frame of mind, I was in need of some good loving.
This is supposed to be perfect. In Room 404, there is no daughter needing her hair washed and combed, no baked potatoes and butter to fix, no parent-teacher conference to prepare for, no dishes to clean in the sink. It is simple: just me, my man, and one big bed. The shades are closed; we have total privacy. In case we get hungry, our picnic is spread out.
What can I say? I'm a mom who's always prepared and ready to feed any hungry mouth! Of course, all of my accessories are at hand, too: condoms and lube.
I strip. Since giving birth, I have absolutely no qualms about being naked. I got over that when the two birth center nurses watched me shit in the hospital bed just before I pushed my daughter out. My stretch marks are a badge of honor and pride, not something to be embarrassed about.
When I fall back on the bed, Conner lies next to me, still dressed.
He reaches out and strokes my hair. What's he waiting for? C'mon!
I reach out and tug on his cotton pants. My fingers sleep under the elastic and skim his dark skin.
"Stop!" he says, uncertainly. "You're tickling me."
He stands up and turns off the bedside lamp. In the darkness, he slides out of his pants and lies down next to me. His shyness amuse me.
"How about your shirt?" I ask, fingering a white button.
"I don't want you to see my chest."
"Why not?" I ask.
"I don't work out like I used to."
"So? You're gorgeous!"
I unbutton the button.
"No, really," he says.
"C'mon, Conner, if anyone should be embarrassed about her chest, it's me! I'm the one who breastfed for almost three years."
He takes a deep breath and pulls his shirt over his head. I crawl on top of him and lick his nipples.
"Mmmm, nice," I hum, working my way down his tense belly to his cotton briefs.
Feeling how nervous he is only makes me more excited. I gently kiss him above the elastic. He moans.
I slowly pull off his underwear and roll a condom on his hard and long dick. I climb back onto his lean body, breathing us in. This is it.
When I look into his eyes and see how focused he is -- on me -- I'm in control. I move my hips and he gently takes hold of me. I devour this attention. He hits my G-spot and I groan. I come quickly.
When he slides out of me, I'm surprised. Is that it? He pulls the condom off with a snap and grips my hips, drawing me onto my back.
He's over me, entering me suddenly, the tip of his dick. We're unprotected. I freeze.
"Don't -- " I say, vulnerably.
"Please," he says. "I just want to feel you, just for a second -- "
Our connection is so strong: we're playing that childhood game of looking into another person's eyes, neither of us blinking, just holding on for as long as possible. I don't want to let go of this, I don't want to lose this.
His cell phone is ringing on the table.
I jump away. He reaches out to answer his phone.
"I can't talk right now, baby," he says. "No, everything's fine, I'm just finishing some business here. I'll call you back soon."
I have no doubt that he's talking to his "ex"-girlfriend.
When I sit up, the mother in me is back. Making a snack feels so ordinary. I slice cheese on the tiny hotel table. I try to hold onto that feeling of both of us so connected: his fingers pressing the small of my back, mine wrapped around his smooth head.
The bad girl says this was all worth it, this intimacy with a man, when his lips glide over my neck, his fingers trace my spine, and his eyes say I want you. She has no regrets.
But as I move away from him, a voice inside me is reprimanding: Now look at what you've done. What the hell were you thinking? You might die. This reprimanding voice is familiar -- it's my Catholic mother, a descendant of a long line of women who tried to do well by the church but often failed. She's treating me like a child, judging me for my wrongdoing. My mind goes straight to self-loathing, as she scorns this bad girl in the worst way.
On my way home, desperation arises all over again, and when I climb the stairs, there's my new silver bed frame with its matching table.