The Next Right Thing


Lila was in the hotel room, lying on the bed, shoes still on, jacket on, ready to move. She didn’t trust the new front desk clerk to call her but she couldn’t sit in the lobby anymore. The endless drone of cable news. Trump, Hillary and the talking heads. Trump’s supporters, angry and dishonest, Hillary’s supporters optimistic and dishonest. All, Lila thought, missing the point. You just do the next right thing in life. You just do it the best you can and then move on to the next right thing. Mistakes, bad things, they happen. Just do what’s in front of you, then do the next thing. What’s so hard about that?

But what if the next thing is the same old thing? And the same old thing again?

Lila dozed and thought of JJ. She saw him in weird vivid flashes: silhouetted against a campfire, pacing. Ranting about how stupid and dishonest people were. She saw him sitting and reading in a chair, laughing suddenly at something in the book. “What’s funny,” she would ask but she knew how he would answer. “Nothing.” Parts of him, parts of most men, never grow past 15 years old, closed off for good. She felt the feelings of the early days, excitement and rebellion, them against the world. Them against old people who had no clue. He made her question her parents for the first time in her life and that felt wrong but exciting.

The phone rang.

She came to, a little groggy, and picked up the receiver.


“He just came in.” The desk clerk.

“Where is he?”

“He’s talking to the manager.”

“I’m coming down,” she said and hung up.

She went to the door, but caught herself in the mirror as she went past. She paused and looked. Disheveled, rumpled, tired. Lila did a finger comb and a hair patting thing. Then her eyes twinkled and she laughed. She had come across the country to rescue JJ from this latest escapade. He had been on a drunken binge, had probably blacked out, sleeping who knows where, and had left his stuff behind in this hotel. And she was concerned with how her hair looked.

One of the things she loved about JJ, maybe THE thing she loved, was that he always brought home the absurdity of it all.

She laughed again and went out the door.

The Trail is Fresh

Front Desk

“So, you know him?” The Marriott receptionist, Pearl, faced Lila from behind the front desk.


“Well, he left some stuff behind. We’ll hold it for thirty days then we have to dispose of it.”

“What kind of stuff?”

“Travel stuff. Clothes, toiletries.” She paused. “Liquor.”

“When did he leave again?”

“Like I said, it’s hard to say. He checked in five days ago and paid for three nights. We needed the room and went in to clean it and discovered his stuff still in there. It was a bit of a mess, too.”

“What about security cameras?”

“I’m sorry, what is your relationship to him again?”

Lila paused. “I’ve been asking myself that for years. Let’s just say I’m a really good friend.”

“Well, I’ve told you all I can. He owes a cleaning fee which he’ll need to pay in order to get his things back. You’re welcome to wait in our lobby. There’s coffee.”

“I guess I’ll wait, then,” Lila said and turned to the lobby which was trying hard to look like America’s sterile living room, complete with fake fireplace. The endless droning scroll of cable news came from a TV above the mantle. “Can I turn the volume down?”

“I’m sorry, no. Marriott policy states that it should be set at five during daylight hours. It’s funny you should ask, though. Your friend wanted to turn it off, got in an argument with a guest, then went on and on about obese America being force fed junk news. Cheetos News Network, he kept saying. ‘Think for yourself!’ he yelled, and took off right before the manager called the police. I think he was intoxicated.”

“That sounds like him.”

The phone rang. “Excuse me,” the girl said and turned away. Lila went over to one of the sofas. She would just close her eyes for a minute, and gather her thoughts for the next move. It was probable that JJ left a trail of memorable encounters, similar to the “junk news” tirade. She could just canvas the bars and liquor stores like some old gumshoe. Or, she could just wait despite the loud TV. Or, maybe…

Back to the counter. “I’m sorry, are there vacancies?”

“Do you want a room?”

“I need some rest and a home base. Maybe you can call me if he returns.”

“I can do that.” Pearl smiled. “I’m off in an hour but Stephen knows who he is, too. He’ll call you.


“Yeah, my replacement.” Pearl looked left and right and leaned closer to Lila.   “You’re friend told him to come out of the closet.” Pearl whispered. “He said that Stephen needed to just open that door wide and come crashing out, knock over some furniture, and make his mark.”

“Is Steven … gay?”

“I have no idea,” Pearl said, laughing. She tapped at the keyboard. “Does your friend ever get beat up?”

Lila thought back. Yes, JJ had taken a few punches since she’d known him. However… “He doesn’t really need other people to beat him up,” she said. “He does a pretty good job of hurting himself.”

“Oh, well. I hope you find him, anyway. I need a credit card and an ID for the room. I’ll give you the online rate. $109 for tonight.”