Paul leans back and looks out of the window. The lights of the airstrip get smaller and smaller until they blur into a thin line. Paul has the familiar sinking feeling in his stomach. He opens his jaw to make his ears pop.
The seat next to him is empty. A flight attendant greets him by name and hands him a small towel with serving tongs. Paul puts it on his face, feels the warmth, the slight smell of lemon. He breathes in the moisture. In twelve and a half hours his plane will land in San Diego, California.
For five weeks they had been kissing the ass of Spectro Techtronics’ COO, had invited him and his husband to the club three times, had to switch to a high-level approach. So much for quick wins. Eventually, the signed contract arrived in his mailbox.
After a couple of beers in the office, they went to one bar, then on to the next one and the next. At half past two, Paul stood on a sofa in the lounge area of The Shallow and shook a champagne bottle. The cork flew, foam bubbled, three thousand euros ejaculated onto the dark laminate.
Sebastian and Jasmin bawled. Christoph snatched the bottle from Paul’s hand, put an arm around a young woman in a sequined top, and filled her empty glass. She looked like the redhead Paul had taken home last week.
The overdriven bass made his stomach vibrate, white and purple beams of light twitched around the room. He felt sick to his stomach.
Paul threw up in the toilet. He hadn’t eaten all day. The vomit reeked of stomach acid and gin.
At the sink, he washed his hands and rinsed his mouth. He did not look in the mirror, did not want to see his pale face. Next to the sink was an empty glass with ice cubes. Paul took one out and rubbed it over his wrists. He felt nothing.
The ice cube slid out of his hand along the edge of the sink and stopped at the drain.
Paul left the bathroom, pushing his way past sweaty backs to their table. Music thundered in his ears, lights danced before his eyes, his temples pulsed. He wanted to get rid of the taste in his mouth, picked up a clean glass, filled it with vodka and Red Bull and knocked the drink back.
Paul looked around, looked into Sebastian’s swollen eyes, looked at Jasmin’s sunken cheeks.
His Blackberry vibrated, he pulled it out of his pocket, the screen was black. He turned it on, maybe he had missed the call. Nothing.
Christoph still had an arm around the redhead. As his gaze travelled from her neck down her bare shoulders and back, the gold of her top reflected in his eyes.
With a loud bang, confetti fell from the ceiling, the crowd on the dance floor went wild. Spotlights grazed the redhead’s face. A drop of Christoph’s saliva hit her lower lip. Confetti stuck to his hair.
Paul’s stomach turned, he retched, swallowed stomach acid and Red Bull. He pushed through the crowd, elbowing his way to the exit.
The cold air hit him in the face. Paul felt as if he could breathe for the first time.
As he passed the bouncers, he got caught on the red cord, tore the barrier to the ground. One of them shouted after him, but Paul took off running.
He ran down the street, faster and faster, the lights of the shop windows blurred to his sides. He felt the sting of the cold air in his lungs, the grooves of the cobblestones through the thin soles of his shoes.
He ran, and ran, and ran, and ran, and ran.
Paul takes the towel off his face. The dampness leaves a taut feeling on his skin.
He didn’t check any luggage, all of his stuff fits in his backpack. He had cut off the handle of the toothbrush, removed the labels from the clothes, every gram counts. The seat in business class is the last piece of luxury for the next five months.
A soft beep sounds. Paul opens his eyes. The seat belt symbol above him turns off.