Excerpt for Snowed In: Suhaib and Elijah by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Snowed In: Suhaib and Elijah

By Michael P. Thomas

Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

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Copyright 2019 Michael P. Thomas

ISBN 9781634867870

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

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Snowed In: Suhaib and Elijah

By Michael P. Thomas

It was a dark and stormy night. Probably. It was almost eleven P.M., anyway, and it had been snowing to beat the band for two days. I couldn’t see a thing through the curtains of steam rising from the hot tub in which I was ensconced. All I knew was it was stormy enough that the hotel was empty for the second night in a row, and dark enough that the increasingly insistent ding ding ding! trying to fracture the tranquility of my soak was probably imaginary. We’d had twenty-nine inches of snow in twenty-two hours, according to Tulsa’s favorite weathergirl, Miranda Chen-Singh, and the forecast called for at least another day and a half of steady snow-dump from the skies; anybody banging away at the Ring Bell for Service at the front desk of a roadside hotel on this night needed psychiatric care a lot more than they needed a hotel room.

And yet the dinging persisted. They’re gonna make me get out of this hot tub…I was not best pleased, but it was technically my job as a Guest Services Specialist, as my cousin-boss had emblazoned on my nametag, to provide a prospective guest with a modicum of service. And it was high time to refill my paper cup with hot chocolate from the lobby machine, so fine; I reluctantly raised myself from the one warm spot in Oklahoma, wrapped myself in a white hotel robe, my hair in a white hotel towel, and my feet in some white hotel slippers and, remembering my empty cup, I shuffled along the tiled corridor to the lobby.

Ding ding ding!

“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered, thinking unkind things about the sorts of people who clang for service while hotel employees are trying to enjoy a rare evening of solitude and hot chocolate. Do I come ringing your doorbell while you’re trying to take a bath? No, I do not. But this train of thought derailed when the bell buster, resting his palm for a spell, wandered into my field of vision at the end of the hall. I may well have gone and leaned on this dude’s doorbell at bath time, in the hopes of summoning him wet and naked to the door. He was a hunk!

Or a substantially overweight ex-twink, a few more steps revealed. Big and beautiful, anyway, even if it wasn’t all gym muscle. With a swoop of blond bangs over a pink-cheeked baby face, and a big butt sloshing back and forth in a pair of gray running pants of the variety specialty-cut for a “jock” in name only whose running days are a ways behind him and are not running to catch up.

I’m a sucker for a good-looking guy with a little meat on his bones, I guess is what I’m getting at, and I was indeed in a more service-oriented mood than I expected to be when I greeted him. “I thought I heard somebody out here.”

“It was me,” he said.

“I see that now,” I said around a smile. “What the heck, if you don’t mind my asking, are you doing out here on a night like this?”

He rolled his lively blue eyes and hugged himself around the heft of his middle, as if to ward off the chill of any snow that might have blown into the lobby behind him. “I’m trying to get to Arkansas. My sister lives there. It’s something of a family emergency.”

“With you out on the highway in this your family damn near wound up with two emergencies.”

He scoffed a polite half-laugh of agreement. “Yeah, I know. I started looking for a hotel like two hours ago. I’da just pulled over and slept in the car, but it’s white—they wouldn’t’ve found me until spring.” He made a point of taking in my spa attire, then looked around the lobby. “Do you know if anybody works here?”

“Huh?” It took a second to register; wet hair and a robe maybe didn’t scream On Duty. “Oh, right. Yes. I do. I work here.” I scurried to the front desk, as if to prove this assertion.

“Pretty lax dress code,” he said, following me.

“Yeah, well, I don’t work on Fridays, so I take my casual day on Tuesday.”

“I see.”

I dug through a drawer and fished out a nametag. Affixing it to my robe, I said, “There, see. Suhaib. That’s me.”

“You know what, I don’t care if you’re really ‘Suhaib’ or if you’re some wacky guest living out a front-desk fantasy; if you can give me a key that opens a room with a bed in it, you’re my new best friend.”

“I can do that. You got a credit card and a driver’s license?”

Once we dispatched with the initial-here-sign-here formalities, I gave him a key and my usual spiel: “Continental breakfast is laid out in the morning from seven until nine, it’s included in the rate of your room. Complimentary coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are available in the lobby twenty-four hours a day. There’s snacks, beer and wine, and sundries for sale in a little cubby around the corner, you pay me for those here at the front desk. The pool closes at ten,” I added, “but I still have it open tonight because the hot tub feels amazing.” I gave him yet another once-over. Here on the side of the Oklahoma highway, it wasn’t the kind of offer I’d make willy-nilly, but he gave off a distinctly queer big-city vibe, and with the night sky more ice than air, I could always chalk it up to Southern hospitality if I was reading him completely wrong. And you don’t get what you don’t ask for. “You’re welcome to join me.”

His smile was genuine, which I figured counted for something. “Appreciate the offer,” he said, “but I think I’ve already started to fall asleep. I’d just as soon get on up to my room.”

“You don’t need to be embarrassed.” It fell out of my mouth—I’d meant it as a private thought, at most. And yet I kept talking. “It’s not like I’ve never seen a fat guy naked before.”

He blushed, but he laughed, and looked at me like maybe someone had snuck up behind me and was making bunny ears with their fingers. “It’s not that,” he said. “Thanks anyway.” He walked the few feet across the lobby to call for the elevator, pressed the Up button. The doors opened right away and he all but leapt in.

“Have a good night, then,” I said.

He was still kind of chuckling, kind of looking at me like maybe I was some half-cocked guest who’d tied up the real employees in the back room, when the elevator doors slid closed on him bidding me the same.

* * * *

“It’s not like I wanted to move back home to my parents’, and it’s not like they were dying to have me back. But I needed to get the heck out of Dubai, and my sisters all had blaring neon No Vacancy signs installed in their yards when word got around I was looking for a place to land; it just kind of happened. I’ll get my own place, obviously, but I’m not trying to sign a lease in Oklahoma, I don’t want to be tied to Tulsa if I don’t have to be. But then my cousin Amira bought this hotel, and we’re almost never a hundred percent full, and if I stay over a couple nights a week in an empty room she feels like the place is being looked after. And with five feet of snow on the ground, what am I gonna do, cross-country ski home? Snowmobile, maybe—that sounds kinda fun, huh? But I don’t have one of those.

“So now I’ve been here like a year and a half, when I first told my parents I was thinking a month at the most. But this way practically all my money goes into savings, and when I do split, I’ll be able to get my feet under me. Maybe I’ll go to Minneapolis, you know: ‘make it after all.’ Ha! Talk about needing a snowmobile. Mine are a desert people, maybe more like Vegas…

“I tried Arizona. Phoenix. Went to ASU, but college wasn’t really for me. Not the ‘school’ part, anyway. The party part, I did alright. Talk about an education. I always knew I was gay, since I was a little kid, but I grew up Muslim on the Great Plains; it just never occurred to me it might ever be something I could act on. Not that my family’s even that conservative—my mother covers her hair, but my sisters don’t—but my whole environment, it was just never an option. Honestly, I just figured everybody had these feelings and married women anyway ‘cause those are like the rules or whatever. Some guys are hetero and go nuts for women—I didn’t figure that out until I started having sex. You know, with other dudes, and I was like oh, wow, this is pretty fun, people do this ‘cause they’re into it. So like, college was fun—real fun—but I flunked out by about Halloween. Meh, I figure it’s more college than a lot of people do.

“So I bounced to L.A. With this guy I was ‘with,’ meaning we’d hooked up at like two parties and they kicked him out of my dorm at the same time. But we were more than just roommates, mostly ‘cause all we could afford was this little studio in Hollywood, and so we slept together on this thrift-store futon and tried to force some kind of couple thing to happen, which basically meant adopting a dog that was totally against our lease and ‘breaking up’ when we got kicked out.

“I’d been waiting tables. No place fancy, just this little Mexican dive up the street from our apartment. But now I pretty much had no place to live, Kyle took the dog, and I had this wad of cash—Paris came to me on a total whim, and I was like, Why not? Bought a plane ticket, found this place on a bulletin board at a mosque, right on the river in the 6th in this little old Lebanese lady’s attic, had to walk up like two hundred stairs every time I came and went, in case I wasn’t skinny enough. I don’t speak hardly any French, but I sure speak Arabic, and the lady I lived with, Mme Khoury, she had this nephew, and he had this corner store, and I knew how to sell cigarettes and make change and work for way below minimum wage under the table, and one day I looked at a calendar and I’d been in France for five years. My hair was almost to my hips, I weighed like a hundred and eight pounds, I was smoking three packs of unfiltered Turkish cigarettes a day, and I could say ‘This isn’t a library; buy something or get out!’ in like nine languages. Khalid, my boss, was also pretty much my boyfriend, even though he had a wife and a girlfriend and had two kids with each of them—we’d go on vacations, me and him, sometimes for weeks. Italy, Greece, once to New York. Where he found the time…Then one day my cousin—my cousin who owns this place? Her brother Hassan—he comes through Paris on his way to the Middle East, I meet him at his hotel for dinner. He wants to open Dubai’s first Olive Garden, bought a franchise with some frat brother he went to Rice with, says I should come and help him manage it. What I knew about Dubai would’ve fit in a housefly’s underpants, but Hassan’s talking about you haven’t lived until you’ve flown Business Class on Emirates, and me and Khalid had gotten in this big fight like two nights before, so like three days after pretty much hearing about it for the first time, I’m in Dubai, in this mall the size of Rhode Island, up to my elbows in unlimited salad and breadsticks. They had this local guy, Tarek, running the kitchen, big meathead with this killer smile, and me and him, we worked together like eight days a week, and he loved making me laugh and, well, let’s just say it would have been better for everybody if the cop who found us going at it in Hassan’s SUV in the mall parking lot hadn’t been Tarek’s fiancée’s brother. I was on a flight to Newark within like seven hours. I called my sister in Atlanta, my sister in Houston, my sister in Mexico City, they were all real sorry, but between kids, in-laws, and promises of back-up excuses, they just didn’t have the room. I didn’t know anybody in New York, I’d never really known anybody but Kyle in L.A., and I found a one-way flight to Tulsa—with three stops, mind you—for a hundred and seventy-nine dollars. Which left me with twenty-one bucks in my pocket, which got me to my parents’ house in an airport shuttle, and now I work here, that’s pretty much my story.”

“So what you’re saying is, you’re a fiercely private person who doesn’t share a lot with strangers?” His laugh was good-natured as he scraped the bottom of a little plastic yogurt with his little plastic spoon. I had spent the night at the hotel—not like I had a choice—and laid out breakfast more or less according to policy, even though at the most it would just be the two of us. Like I might pass up a crack at a free waffle? He’d lumbered into the breakfast nook a little before seven, and I’d been trying to make conversation ever since without coming off as desperately flirty. There was something about this guy…

“Meh. None of my secrets are really juicy enough to bother keeping,” I said, shrugging a shoulder. “And it’s not like you’re really saying anything…”

He laughed again. “That’s fair, I guess. Although you’re a tough act to follow in the life-story department.”

“Yeah, not everybody can top, ‘Once I worked at an Olive Garden.’”

“Honestly I’m not sure I can. I grew up in Albuquerque, went to Chicago for college, been there ever since.”

I looked at him. Raised an eyebrow: Go on.

“Ta da!” he said, shaking his hands to add flourish.

I offered him a beat to say more. When he let it lie there, I said, “You’re right, the Olive Garden is a better story.”

“At least there were breadsticks in yours.”

“Yeah, well…” I let him watch me run my eyes up and down his body. His gym membership might have been current, but then again, it takes a certain amount of strength to carry around a stomach the size of a prize-winning pumpkin. “I’ve got a feeling there might be a few breadsticks in your life story you’re not telling me about.”

He wasn’t much of a talker, but getting a laugh out of this guy was a piece of cake; he gave me another big one.

“Is ‘Sunflower’ really your last name?” I’d seen it on his ID the night before. Noticed it partly because it was incongruous on a big guy with three days’ worth of beard, partly because it somehow suited him anyway.

He only left me hanging for a couple beats. His smile faltered while he formulated his answer but rallied and participated in its delivery. “My parents bestowed neither ‘Elijah’ nor ‘Sunflower’ on me, if that’s what you’re asking. But they would have if they’d been more in-tune, so I took both names about fifteen years ago.”

“So Elijah isn’t your real name either?”

“Elijah isn’t my given name. But it’s real, alright. It’s the only name I’ve got.” He smiled. He’d taken no offense, but he’d made his point. “You don’t think it suits me?”

“On the contrary,” I said. “It’s a super sexy name.”

This got a blush out of both of us. I changed tack when we broke eye contact: “So did you talk to your sister? It’s too bad you couldn’t make it. I hope everything’s okay.”

“Oh, I’ll make it. I have to.”

I looked out the front windows, exaggerating my head swivel by way of inviting his gaze to join mine. They were greeted by a monochrome panorama of white, head-high piles of fresh snow barely glimpse-able through the swirling wall of late-falling flakes.

“Dude, the state line is like a hundred miles. You’re not gonna make it a hundred feet in this. If you even get to your car. If you can even see your car.”

“I don’t really have a choice,” he insisted, resting one hand on the jutting shelf of his belly.

“You’re right, you don’t. We’re pretty much stuck here. I bet for a couple more days.”

“It can’t be like this the whole way,” he theorized. Or fantasized…

“It doesn’t have to be. Even if it’s sunny and dry ten miles up the road—it’s not, but even if it is—how’re you gonna get there? You probably should’ve flown.”

“I did. Or you know, I tried.”

“What happened?”

Here he allowed a peek at a sheepish expression. “We had to divert to Tulsa. We couldn’t land in Fayetteville.”

“Wait, so you diverted to this crap?”

He nodded.

“So it’s worse there…”

“I guess. I really need to be with my sister, like as soon as possible.”

I kept my eyes on the winter wonderland outside the front window. Blowing snow piled up on drifting snow. There were two feet of snow gathered round the front door, and it was sheltered under a portico. “This must be some emergency.”

“She’s having a baby.”

“And what are you, the only obstetrician between Chicago and Fayetteville? She can’t get another Lamaze partner? Looks like you might need to wait for the Facebook photos, bruh.”

“I just…I just need to be there, is all.”

“Well then, we’ll hope this lets up.” I stood up with a friendly smile of optimism. “In the meantime I’m having another waffle. You want one?”

He shrugged. “Why not? Thanks.”

There were two waffles makers side by side at the end of the little breakfast bar, and I scooped a paper cup of pre-mixed batter into each one. “You want anything else?” I asked him while the waffles cooked. “Another yogurt? One of these apples?”

“I’m alright for now, thanks. I might take a couple apples for the road.”

“The road, right.” Cute, but delusional. “I’ll leave the fruit out, then,” I said. The rest of breakfast—the shrink-wrapped muffins, the single-serve boxes of cereal, the instant oatmeal—I set back in the cupboard. When the waffles were done, I plopped his on a plate and set it before him on the table, along with some little packaged butters and syrups. I slathered my own with syrup and returned to my seat across from him.

“I love a good waffle,” I said. “It’s pretty much the reason I took this job.”

“She pays you in waffles?”

“That’s truer than she thinks it is.”

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