Kate started hosting guests in her spare bedroom when her roommate, Angie, moved out in a Saturday morning flash. It was a move both unexpected and hurtful, since Kate had been overly generous with her money and energy.
Angie worked long hours, so Kate always left an extra portion of that night’s meal saran-wrapped on the counter. When Angie lost her mom in a dramatic highway accident and had to cover some of the funeral expenses, Kate wrote a check for the full rent amount, once for hardship and a second time out of kindness. Even Angie’s asshole boyfriend benefitted from Kate’s effusive kindness; when he fell asleep on the couch, leaving half snorted crumbly white lines on the coffee table, Kate wiped up before morning, tying the lemon-scented cloths into little balls before throwing them down the trash chute.
Angie never said much, let alone thank you, but Kate understood. Everyone has tough times, she thought.
But when Angie departed without a word, leaving behind formerly hidden walls of grey dirt, like a skyline of where the furniture had been, Kate was indignant. Anyone could share an apartment, but she had opened up her home.
Kate could have found another roommate, but she didn’t want that level of commitment again, so she listed her second bedroom for out-of-town guests to reserve. Pictures and words couldn’t capture her detail orientation and welcoming nature, but she was confident that anyone there for a short stay would appreciate them.
She wanted to believe that people know when they are getting something extra.
Her first guest was Lucio, a gangly Italian with a scratchy voice. He was used to his mother taking care of things, so he didn’t realize the rarity a pristine Manhattan apartment represented. When he arrived, small backpack tight to his spine and jeans clinging to his stringy thighs, he gave the apartment a dismissive glance. “Questo fará.”
When Kate entered his room after he left for the day and neutralizes the café-like scent of Benson Hedges Lights, he never noticed. When she replaced her usual Keurig pods with special edition Lavazza espresso, he had three of them in a row, placing the mug next to the sink. The lip of the cup was stained, laced with caramel marks that matched his teeth.
A night after Lucio’s departure, she welcomed Megan and Derek, a couple from San Diego who spent most of their four mornings there in the shower. Kate could hear them laughing like drunk college kids, convinced that no one could hear them fucking. Of course she knew, especially after they left to see the sights and she cleaned the bathroom, down on hands and knees in soapy residue and pubic hair.
When they left, they penned a short, sloppy review.
Private room, great location. Bathroom could be more comfortable.
And then there was Richard, a mid-50s portly man that, based on his facial hair, attire and well-worn leather satchel, would be pegged as a professor, no matter his actual occupation. In truth, he was a financial advisor, but Kate decided it was more satisfying to picture him at the front of a lecture hall, droning on about medieval English history.
From his arrival, he had promise. After unpacking his things, he strolled through the living room once or twice, stopping to zero in on a photo of Kate as a child. She was in front of a Christmas tree, her face washed out by the bulbous multi-colored lights.
“You’ve really done well for yourself,” he said.
“Thank you. Do you want some hot chocolate?”
“That sounds delightful.”
When Richard left, she felt optimistic. There were people who appreciated her, and this realization motivated her to spend a few minutes freshening the guest room. She moved with purpose and intuition; she knew exactly how to make the place feel new again.
Freshen his linens by waving them in front of the open window.
Empty the trash, and wipe down the inside of the wastebin.
Toss the newspapers he had left behind.
Light a candle and let it burn all the way down.
Richard stood in the doorway, clutching a bag from the candy store down the block. He had muddy streaks of chocolate around the edges of his mouth.
“What are you doing in my room?” He seemed agitated, almost frightened.
“I just wanted it to be nice for you.”
“If this were a hotel, I would have put up the do not disturb sign.”
Richard left early, his face growing redder and shinier as he lugged his suitcase down the three flights of stairs. He yelled back as he left.
“Goddamn freak. Scare an old man half to death.”
That’s the thing about guests, Kate decided. They do and say things they would never in their own home.