“Afternoon Jason,” the waiter said gloomily, handing him his menu. Jason didn't bother to ask what was wrong. It was the same thing day in and day out in this place. Gloominess was the usual here. “What will you be having?”
Jason passed the menu back without looking at it. “The usual,” he replied in his monotone voice.
Nodding, the waiter turned go, then stopped and turned back. “Anything else sir?”
“Anyone joining you today sir?”
Jason clenched his jaw. Brushing his fair hair out of his eyes he said coldly: “That’s a joke in poor taste.”
The waiter nodded, not worried about Jason’s apparent anger. “Sorry sir. Just thought I might-“
“Just get me my food dammit!” Jason ordered, picking up the fork lying on the table and twirling it around in his fingers. “Lonely men need their food.”
The waiter nodded for the umpteenth time (making Jason wonder whether the man had a spring in his neck) and walked away with the same stooped posture Jason was accustomed to seeing at the hotel.
Looking around the place you wouldn't expect the people there to be so gloomy. The fittings and furniture were bright, cheerful colours, a somewhat annoying sight for the hotel guests. In the dining room the wallpaper was light blue and large bay windows looked out to an amazing view of the town, facing the side where the sun came from, which filled the room with rays of sickening happiness. The dining room also had a cute little bistro feel, making one feel as though they were on a date – something that grated on Jason’s nerves every time he was in here. If I were on a date I wouldn't in this depressing place he thought resentfully, lounging back in his chair, still twirling his fork in his fingers. Probably not good manners, but at this point he didn't care.
Heartbreak Hotel. A fitting name for the place, he thought. The hotel’s actual name was The Golden Arms, but to many people it was known as Heartbreak Hotel. It was nestled right down at the end of Lonely Street (the street’s actual name). People with romantic issues – in other words people who were either dumped or left by their significant other – came here, hoping to take solace in the other hundreds of people who shared their pain. Not that it helped. If anything, the place made you even more depressed as you began to believe that love and romance were just for books and movies. And also because romance rarely ever turned out the way you wanted, this place made a tidy profit.
However, it wasn't just the guests that were depressed at Heartbreak Hotel. The desk clerk never stopped crying, and the bellhops were dressed in black all the time. The cook rarely ever left the kitchen, the activities director never directed anything. And of course, all the guests just shuffled around, talking of their numerous heartbreaks.
At thirty, Jason found this drivel extremely annoying. But where else could he go? His wide had divorced him for some Italian artist or writer or whatever, taking the house, the car, everything. At the moment, this was the only place he could afford to stay.
He growled softly, clutching the fork so tightly in his fists his knuckles turned white. God, he would do anything to be out of this place. The constant moaning, moping and wallowing in self-pity made him want to scream. True, he was with them on not liking the cheerful décor, but naturally he wasn't a very cheerful person. He had accepted the loss of his wife and had moved on. However, these people insisted on reliving the painful memories day in and day out, complaining about how hard their lives were while dining on three course meals and sipping moderately expensive wine.
He couldn't wait to get out of here.
Nodding curtly to the waiter as his food was laid on the table, Jason picked up his knife and cut into his steak. Even the food tasted gloomy. His face contorted in displeasure, but he ate anyway. This was the only food he was going to get.
He listened to the quiet as he ate. Jason didn't care much for music. Especially the kind of music these people played. Irritating, corny love songs that would more often than not result in at least two women leaving the room in tears. These songs brought back painful memories for him, of which he didn't like to be reminded.
Keeping his eyes on his plate he relaxed in the silence – though hearing the odd sniffle or sob. Just background noise. At least no one was…
He groaned internally as someone flicked on the stereo, and the theme from the Titanic blared across the room, assaulting his eardrums. This was probably the anthem for all heartbroken people. This song had made him cringe when it first came out, and it still did now. And of course, there followed the sounds of crying women, and the men hid behind newspapers or magazines, trying to escape from Celine Dion’s irritatingly sappy song.
Jason closed his eyes and threw down his fork and knife in confusion. He rubbed his forehead with his slender fingers. God, he hated this place. Why-
“Why can’t the idiots play something else?” a voice asked, completing his thought.
He responded without thinking. “What’d you expect? This is Heartbreak Hotel. You come to stay, and the pain never goes away.” He paused. “So you listen to crap like that and dream about your ex-lover coming back for you.”
The person laughed, though without humour. “How accurate.”
Jason opened his eyes, looking up through his lashes.
It was a woman sitting at a table opposite to him, looking out of the window. She was slender and elegant, like something out of an old movie. Her skin was as pale as the moon, contrasting with her waves of brown hair that cascaded down her back and tumbled over her shoulders. Her lips were rosy and looked incredibly soft, her face delicate and fragile looking. She didn't have a vibrant, shining sort of beauty. It was more subdued. The beauty was in her bones. In the straight line of her jaw and nose, the high cheekbones, the delicate shell of the ear. It was the kind of beauty that would be there even when she grew old. Her face was smooth and expressionless, as if it had been wiped clean of emotion. Jason didn't say anything, but he continued to look.
Slowly, her gaze turned to him, and he caught his breath as her eyes met his. They were a deep, dark blue, like the ocean at night, or the midnight sky. Like both those things they held mysteries, and they held secrets. But unlike those things they also held pain. Jason could see that she had tried to bury it deep down, but it was there, burning intensely in her eyes.
“May I help you?” she asked coolly as he continued to look at her.
“I haven’t seen you here before,” Jason replied just as coolly, ignoring the little jump his heart gave when she spoke.
She brought a delicate hand up to rest her chin upon. Jason noticed that the sleeves of her white shirt were too long. The bottoms of her sleeves extended almost to the tips of her fingers. It made her look smaller, more vulnerable, but somehow it suited her.
“You've been here long, have you?”
“Then you would have seen me.”
“You've been here long then?”
Her mouth twitched. “Reasonably.”
Jason raised an eyebrow at her, resisting the urge to grin. He hadn't felt that urge in a long time. Leaning forward, he mimicked her pose, resting his chin on his hand. “How’d it end?” he asked bluntly. It was a commonly asked question at the hotel. It was as if he’d asked “how was your day?”
“He cheated on me.” she replied just as bluntly, looking him straight in the eye. “You?”
“I was divorced.”
“She fell in love with another man.”
“I see.” She looked him up and down, making his heart beat a little faster in his chest. Her mouth twitched again. “I can’t imagine why.”
Jason’s mouth twitched in response, his heart beating harder against his ribs. “Me neither.”
She looked back up at him, and her mouth stretched into a beautiful smile before she started laughing, her face lighting up with humour, her dark, mysterious eyes twinkling.
The colour rose in her pale cheeks, staining them with pink.
Jason help laughing either, a grin stretching across his face, his eyes crinkling in the corners and lighting up as he laughed with her. The muscles in his face felt oddly stiff, as though laughing and smiling were things he had forgotten to do.
Jason felt lighter as he looked at her smiling face, as if a huge load had been lifted from his soldiers. And something else felt different too, in his chest. There was warmth there now, a tingling sensation that spread through his body as he laughed with her, going all the way down to his fingers and toes.
They looked away after a moment, shyly looking to the side, as the laughter died down. Then they looked back up, as though they couldn't bear not looking at each other. They laughed again, too pre-occupied to notice that the other guests were staring, their eyes wide as they wondered how these two people could have anything to laugh about in this place.
After their laughter subsided they continued to look at each other, smiling shyly.
“Ah, w-what’s your name?” Jason blurted out, falling over his words in his haste to talk to her. He could feel the colour rising in his cheeks and he coughed in embarrassment, hoping she wouldn't laugh at him. He glanced down, wanting to kick himself. Normally he wasn't like this but…her gaze, her smile…he couldn't think straight. He felt like a tongue-tied teenager, like he’d never spoken to a woman before.
She smiled, her eyes sparkling. “Jacqueline,” she murmured. “And you?”
“Well Jason-“ she patted the seat next to her. “Won’t you join me?”
Jason raised an eyebrow. “I thought it was against the rules to join people. It is Heartbreak Hotel after all,” he added grinning.
Jacqueline laughed again, the sound ringing though the room, making the guests blink and look around in surprise, as if they were coming out of a deep sleep.
“If that were the case, I’d say laughing and chatting with a handsome man would be against the rules too.” She grinned impishly at him and spread her hands. “Yet here we are.”
“Touché.” He walked over to her table and sat opposite her, so he could look into her deep, mysterious eyes as she talked. “Though we may get thrown out.”
“I'm willing to risk it.”
Jacqueline smiled at him, her eyes twinkling. He could see that the pain was still there, but it was starting to fade.
“So what are the chances of this?” he asked, raising an eyebrow and again picking up a fork, twirling in through his fingers. “Two lonely people meeting in Heartbreak Hotel?”
“I’d the chance was quite high. This place is full of lonely people.”
“You know,” Jason murmured conspiratorially, leaning forward, “don’t tell anyone, but I don’t feel so lonely any more.”
Jacqueline leaned in as well, her mouth forming a mischievous smile. “Me neither. What do you suppose this means?”
Jason looked around first before answering, as thought they were sharing secret information. “Well I don’t know but…” he slowly reached across the table, taking one of her small hands in his and wrapping his long fingers around hers. He could feel his heartbeat immediately pick up at her touch, and he caught his breath. Looking up at her he saw that she cheeks had gone pink, and she was smiling at him shyly, her face open and hopeful. Jason formed a small smile of his own, holding her hand firmly. “But maybe we could discuss it over a cup of coffee?”
Jacqueline raised an eyebrow and Jason chuckled. “Not here I'm assuming?”
“God no,” Jason laughed. “Anywhere but this place.”
Jacqueline sighed. “Good. I was getting tired of the heartbreak.”
Jason repeated “Well it is Heartbreak Hotel after all.”