As promised, it was a fairly simple meal. Well, as simple as could be expected with someone making sandwiches and a salad who had obviously too much time on his hands to make food more complicated than it would otherwise be. “What would you like on your panini?” he said. “I like to keep it simple. How about turkey, lettuce, cheese, red onions, and sliced tomato?” “What kind of cheese?” “Pick something you like.” “Alright,” he said with a smile before putting some colby cheese on it. She saw that he liked his sandwiches pretty simple as well, with just some meat, cheese, lettuce, and red onions, even simpler than her own choice. He put some chips on the plate next to the salad and then mixed up some salad. She was stunned to see how complicated he liked to make salads, with some spring greens, spinach, alfalfa sprouts, carrots, red cabbage, several types of beans–black, kidney, and garbanzo–peas, celery, broccolini, shredded cheddar cheese, and a nice light balsamic vinaigrette with some herb crutons on top. “You really like your salads,” she said approvingly. “I do like them colorful. It adds a bit of color to life,” he said with a smile as he put the salad bowls on their usual table. She supposed she could call it a usual table since this was the second time they ate there. He mixed some fruit juice and the two of them sat.
“You wanted to see a view?” he asked, but it was somewhat of a rhetorical question, she supposed. “Yes, is there a way to see a view from up high?” “There is,” he said with a nod. Do you have a jacket?” “No, would I need a jacket?” “It would probably be best to have a light jacket, but I’ll see what I can find in my closet after we finish eating.” “Oh,” she said, a bit taken aback. This sounded quite mysterious to her, and she was definitely in the mood for an enjoyable mystery. “I must admit it’s a place I go to sometimes myself, even if it sometimes makes me feel lonely.” “I bet it would be less lonely with someone else there.” “You’re right about that,” he said with a smile. She felt it was the right time to talk about her strange phone call, even if it would kill the mood a little. “I called that info number you gave me.” “You did?” “It wasn’t very helpful.” “I’m not particularly surprised,” he said with some asperity. “The information line confirmed that you were the only employee at this hotel but did not give a location for the hotel.” He laughed. “Have you ever been to Springfield?” “Which one? There are many of them.” “That’s true, I meant Springfield, Illinois.” “What is there to see there?” “It’s the state capital of Illinois, and it was long the home of Abraham Lincoln, but if you don’t have business with the state of Illinois and you’re not a fan of Abraham Lincoln you’re right, there wouldn’t be much to see.” “What are you getting at?” she asked, curious. “Well, there is a hotel that sits on the edge of a prairie, and it seems like an incongruous place for such a big hotel. I feel that way here sometimes, where the hotel is in an incongruous place.” “Do you know where we are?” “I don’t have a clue where we are, honestly. It’s been forever since I was anywhere else other than here.”
She was puzzled, but at least the good mood was gone. “Are you saying that where you take me will give us no clue where we are?” “You’ll see. If you can find some clue in it, that’s more than I have ever been able to do.” He shrugged his shoulders politely. The two of them ate in silence for a bit. “There seem to be a shortage of windows here,” she said suddenly. “You’ve noticed that too?” “When we came into the hotel from outside there were plenty of windows, and the hotel didn’t look particularly prison-like, but once you get inside there is only artificial light.” “It’s quite mysterious, and not something I have appreciated myself, but yes, it appears to be deliberate. There are only two places where one can see outside. One of those is the front lobby door, which you have no doubt seen when you came in, and the other one is something I am about to show you. I hope you aren’t disappointed, like something that is hyped up and built up.” “I’m sure it will be alright.”
She paused a bit. “Do you ever feel imprisoned here?” “All the time.” “How do you deal with it?” “Do you read much?” “Some, but I don’t read a lot.” “One of the books I have in my room is one that I must have been fond of from an early age, since I’m not sure I would have ever read it as an adult without first reading it as a kid. The novel has some absurd pink cover, and it’s called ‘A Little Princess.’ In the book, the heroine, a spunky girl named Sara Crewe, is serving as a scullery maid in a posh English girl’s school and in order to cope with the dismal reality of her existence she imagines herself as a prisoner in the Bastille who must be brave.” “Do you think you must be brave?” “Often. This place, before you and your friend came, especially, was like being in a very large but empty prison. It was like the movie Wall-E, where poor Wall-E had a job but was all alone in a world.” “That sounds terrible.” “There are worse fates, I suppose, but it is definitely not a fate I would have wished for myself,” he agreed.
By this time they were both finishing up their food and drinking a bit more of the fruit punch that the bellhop had mixed up before they ate. “If we leave now we should be able to get to the roof before sunset.” “We’re going to the roof?” “Yes, we are,” he said as he led them first to his room and saw that there was a light jacket that was her size. She was puzzled by how this hotel seemed to know what they needed, if not what they wanted. “I see your uniform will be warm enough?” “It should be. It’s not too cold this season yet.” He led them to a place near the lobby where he turned a key and opened the door to one of those old-fashioned elevators that would have been new in the early 1900’s. “How often do you come up this way?” “Not often, but sometimes it’s good for a change of pace,” he smiled. “I love this kind of elevator.” “Me too. There’s something appealing about its old fashioned nature, isn’t there?” “Absolutely.” The elevator slowly wound its way to the top, and she noticed that the number eight was lit up. “I thought this hotel was only seven floors.” “There are seven floors of rooms, it is true, but one additional floor, if one considers the roof to be a floor.” “I’m not sure I would consider it to be,” she said honestly. “Me neither, but so it is.” They had reached the top, and the door opened to find them on top of a concrete roof. The roof would not have been unappealing if it had some solar panels, as ludicrous as that would have seemed wherever they were.
She looked out towards the setting sun and then all around and saw that there was nothing but trees all the way around. Now she knew why the bellhop had no clue where they were. There were no houses, no roads that could be seen beneath the treetops, no lights that would be a sign of habitation. There seemed to be no birds, that one could sense if one was close to the ocean. There was nothing but an infinite expanse of monotonous dark green all around. She wondered how she would feel if she was all alone in a place like this. She would likely feel as if she was alone in the universe, with no one caring about her at all. She didn’t know if she could take living like that for very long, and yet somehow this kind and shy bellhop had endured such an existence. There must be some sort of bravery and stubbornness in him that was far deeper than anyone would ever expect. It took a great deal of courage to be alone with one’s own thoughts, one’s own fears, one’s own longings that the universe seemed to laugh at, and not everyone could face that existence at all, much less carry on and do one’s duty in the midst of it. She felt proud of him, and she turned to smile at him as she saw that he too was lost in reflection at the sight.
“How long do you want to stay here?” he asked. “Well, do you see the stars from here?” “I would think so, given that there is no light to block the way.” “We can lay there,” she said, pointing at a relaxing chair that appeared within her eyesight. “That’s true, but we’d have to snuggle close to fit on that chair.” “I don’t mind,” she said with a smile as she leaned in to kiss him. They walked to the chair, and he laid down, while she laid on top of him and he put his arms around her waist in a way that struck her as very comfortable. “I could spend hours here.” “Me too,” he said gently. She was amazed at how beautiful the sky looked with its gorgeous shades of pink and orange and purple and blue, gradually getting darker and darker as the stars began to light up the sky. Although the two of them were silent for a long time, looking at the stars, it did not bother her at all. It was not an awkward silence at all, but more of a reverential silence, as the two of them felt the intimacy of their bodies close together as he held her while also staring into the vast expanse of an empty universe. It was an unusual contrast to her, the delicate tension between intimacy and intense loneliness. She thought she understood why he did not come here often, though, as without the intimacy the expanse would only feel even more lonely than he likely did already. It was one thing to be inside a hotel that felt like a prison and to be alone in what felt like a snow globe, but it was an entirely worse thing to be all alone in what one could see all around. Such a thing would feel like a punishment that one didn’t deserve, and she was sure that he didn’t deserve that fate of crushing isolation and loneliness.
“I’m glad I can enjoy the stars with you.” “This is by far the best night I have ever been up here,” he agreed. “Have you ever fallen asleep here?” “No, never. I was too oppressed by my solitude for sleep to come.” “Can you recognize any of these stars? There are so many of them. I’ve never seen a night sky like this.” “Well, the big dipper is still easy to spot, and I saw Saturn dipping toward the horizon around twilight. It looks like there’s a comet shining near the North Star tonight.” “Do you like staring at the stars?” “Sometimes,” he said thoughtfully. “One is reminded of the old Bob Seger song.” She racked her brain in vain to remember it. “We’ve got tonight. That’s the name of the songs. Specifically, I was thinking of the line, “Look at the stars, so far away.”” “That would make sense,” she said, agreeing with him. She turned so that she could nuzzle her head in his chest and he gave her a kiss on the head. “If I fall asleep here, will you stay until morning?” “Of course I will. It’s a warm enough night that we shouldn’t get cold, and I wouldn’t want to disturb your sleep.” “You don’t mind sleeping with me?” “No, I don’t,” he said gently. “It’s not as if I can remember it having ever happened before, but no, I don’t mind. I’m not the sort of gentleman to take care of you, and you don’t seem like you’d do any harm to me.” “No,” she replied thoughtfully. “I think we are both quite safe holding each other.” “I agree entirely,” he said. She moved up so that she could give him a lingering kiss, and they held each other through the night as they both fell asleep in each other’s arms. Because they fell asleep together and did not wake up until dawn, they missed some of the more beautiful sights in the night sky, like a beautiful meteor shower, or the rise of Mars and Venus together in the morning sky. They probably did not mind, though, the peaceful sleep of the blessed together under the night sky.