Alex stops at the first motel he comes across, a shabby building complex seven blocks from the bus station. The clerk behind the front desk says not a single word to him as he checks in; takes long drags of a thick cigar and thrusts a list of room prices under Alex’s nose. It’s dirt cheap and Alex is not required to present ID. He hands the clerk enough money to keep the cheapest room for a week and is gifted an old, rusting key in return.
The room houses a rickety bed with stained sheets and mismatched furniture, the bathroom black with mold. Alex doesn’t bother unpacking his things—they are too few for there to be any point. Instead, he withdraws a handful of money from his duffel bag, pockets it along with his room key and exits the motel.
Alex knows how it works by now, getting by in the big cities, and the first thing he does is find a bar. A dive bar, ill-reputed like the motel, so they won’t ask any questions. Places like that are always run by the same kind of guy—fat, balding, angry at the world for their misfortune. Alex works them with an expertise he isn’t proud of, gambles on the fact that someone else has blown off their shift and pretends he’s their replacement. It works, inevitably, and if he’s lucky he can play it several days in a row and pay off his motel bills night by night.
Searching all the while for something to tether him somewhere, finally.
The person behind the first bar he tries is a woman.
She has dark hair and darker eyes, her lips the colour of sweetheart cherries. Caramel-skinned and slender, she draws the attention of every patron slumped in their stools at the bar. Her gaze, when it falls on him, is razor sharp. It makes speaking difficult and he takes ten seconds to order a soda.
The woman smirks, mocking, but nods. She drops a cluster of ice cubes into a tall glass. “If you didn’t come for the booze,” she remarks, raising an eyebrow in his direction, “why did you come?”
Alex shrugs, nervously. “Company, I guess.”
In truth, it’s only half a lie. He’s been lonely for far too long.
She tilts her head towards the line of leering men. “This lot aren’t great for that unless you’re sporting two x chromosomes.”
“Most definitely are.”
Alex blushes and sips at his drink to cool the redness from his skin as the woman laughs; a rich, warm sound that slips down his spine like an ember to an oil slick. He cannot help but
stare at the way that mirth curves her mouth into a crescent moon stained scarlet.
“You know what I mean,” Alex mumbles, smiling himself. It exercises muscles stiff from lack of use.
“I do,” she concedes. The corners of her eyes crinkle as her lips quirk, her expression playful. “I’d be happy to keep you company.”
Alex knows that he should leave—find a different bar and make enough money to cover the cost of his motel room for the night. It would be the smart thing to do. The logical thing.
“So,” he grins, leaning closer, “what’s your name?”
AP Story: LIPSTICK
Written by Shannon Eden