The sledgehammer bashing his brains in roused Tom to consciousness, only for him to find no such weapon and no violent attack taking place, but still, he’d never experienced pain like it.
Word couplets flashed through his mind: car-crash, head-injury and brain-tumour. If he wasn’t in so much pain, he’d get up and google the symptoms of brain damage. He continued to lie down with his eyes shut, unsure whether using the internet remained a part of his skill set.
The disgusting fur lining his mouth triggered an old memory from a previous decade. He didn’t drink often, but Tom remembered the symptoms of a hangover.
It had been many years since he’d woken up with such a hangover and since he’d gotten so drunk that he didn’t remember much from the night before.
Much? He didn’t remember anything, including how he’d arrived in bed. His left shoulder sank into the comfortable mattress, and his tender head rested on a soft pillow – so he had made it to bed.
Remaining perfectly still, Tom cracked open his eyes and squinted. The vaguely familiar luxurious surroundings were bathed in soft lamplight. The last time Tom recalled seeing this view the room itself had remained still. Not now. He was, in fact, in his hotel room, which was now beginning to spin.
He remembered checking into the guest house and hastily unpacking his bags in a room that was remarkably perfect before going to the bar.
Tom found small comfort in the knowledge that he hadn’t been drugged, kidnapped and taken somewhere strange. Thirty-something-year-old overweight plumbers didn’t get taken. Tom would have laughed at his own flights of fancy if he didn’t feel so rough.
He didn’t want to move his throbbing, delicate head at all. Nevertheless, needs must, and Tom’s needs lay in the direction of the bathroom where he could still remember depositing his toiletries when he’d arrived, not many hours earlier.
He needed to do two things ASAP: one, clear the beer from his stomach, and two, replace said fermenting alcohol with glorious H2O.
Slowly and carefully, Tom tentatively moved one leg then the other over the edge of the bed and raised himself into a sitting position. His foot landed on a towel on the floor next to the bed; he had no idea why it was there.
The room moved enough on its own without Tom moving about too.
Oh, God. I’m going to hurl.
Carefully, he let the bedclothes fall away from his naked body as he stood. He shuffled towards the bathroom, focused on the destination while hoping he’d make it to the toilet before the contents of his stomach sprayed the bed linen and the carpet with a jet of vomit. His perception of his life swung from an action thriller to a horror film genre.
He kept his eyes almost closed because the way the room swayed and spun hurt his head.
At the entrance to the bathroom, Tom glanced back into the room.
If the hangover from hell was the first unexpected thing he confronted when he awoke in a room that would not stop moving of its own volition, discovering a stranger had slept next to him in the bed was the second.
The dark-haired man was sprawled out on his stomach with his face turned away so that Tom could only see a broad back, muscular biceps and hairy arms. A couple of bath towels covered the great expanse of bed between where the two of them had lain. Tom didn’t want to think about why they might be there, the towels or the man.
Fortunately, the mystery man appeared to be out cold because Tom couldn’t deal with a guest in his room right then.
The unlikely events had to be coincidentally connected. Tom never slept with strangers and never drank to great excess. Until now.
Apparently, he’d drunk so much the night before that he’d completely blacked out because he had no idea who the stranger was, or how they’d come to be in bed together. If his head hadn’t hurt so much, Tom would have taken a good look at the stranger, but he had a bigger problem to attend to in the direction of the bathroom.
For some people, waking up with casual acquaintances, friends with benefits and hookups, was no big deal. For Tom, this deal was enormous.
Tom didn’t do this, ever.
Not just because he’d been in a relationship for the past eleven years, but he’d never done the casual one-night-stand thing before then either. He’d only ever slept with one person. Tom was the sort of guy who needed to get to know someone before falling into bed with them.
At what point in his life did he ever think he was going to take his clothes off and get into bed with a stranger? Never, as far as he could remember, but it had happened last night.
The big question remained: had they done more than sleep?
That was something Tom couldn’t answer. He remembered nothing of going to bed, not the activity that led up to getting into it nor whether anything happened when they got there.
Whatever happened, they’d fallen asleep leaving the bedside lamp on. Whether or not the soft light was to create a romantic atmosphere was not permitted to take up space in Tom’s mind when he had other more pressing concerns.
He was relieved to make it to the bathroom, behind the closed door, where no one would witness his delicate state, and where projectile vomit could be easily cleaned up if it missed the target.
Tom didn’t know whether to sit on the toilet or the floor beside it while he hugged the porcelain with his head in the pan.
To start with, he opted to sit on the floor for a while. Sit, think, dose.
Who is the man in the bedroom? Did anything intimate happen?
Sleeping in the same bed was intimate. How had things gotten to that stage? What weird trickery went on inside the walls of Podlington House to make this happen? And Tom’s biggest regret was that he couldn’t remember what had happened.
As nature took its course, bits of the day before came back to Tom in disjointed fragments.
Hurriedly unpacking because he wanted to go to the bar and drown his sorrows.
No. That’s not how it went.
Unpacking because he’d agreed to renew an old acquaintanceship after a chance meeting.
With Philip Crinkle.