Even Jake Hurst would approve, I think, as I slip my sweaty feet out of my tennis shoes and drop an overnight bag by the door. The bungalow is even more elegant than the images online portray. Softy curtained French doors separate my bedroom from the sitting area which, as I sink into the loveseat in front of the fireplace, is easily the cushiest piece of furniture that has ever hugged me from behind. And then, my gaze lands on the main reason I’d chosen this hotel over the others. The 1920’s California Craftsman writing desk perched just off of the fireplace, a latticed window above it hanging like a painting.
Taking in the delicate lines, the bronze knobs, I say aloud, “If inspiration doesn’t find me here, I’m screwed.” I laugh at myself, hoist my body off the sofa and slip toward the bedroom, delighted by the muted colors, pristine hotel whites and the walk-in closet the size of a small office. I throw myself onto the bed and grin up at the ceiling, rubbing the backs of my arms over the comforter like I’m making a snow angel. “It’s all mine...and I’m all alone...and... for some reason, I’m still talking to myself!”
I’d told my grandmother that flying to Tomahawk Hill to use the cottage was indulgent, but then, what would I call this? By the time I checked myself out of the Belmond El Encanto here, in Santa Barbara, I’d have easily spent a month’s worth of rent, plus utilities. And yet; breathing in the distinct scent of hotel sheets and reveling in the promise of room service, anonymity and uninterrupted writing time, I don’t regret my decision.
When I’d told Rich about my getaway plans, he’d been annoyed at first, and then hurt, and finally, resigned. “I thought you’d want to celebrate the sale of your properties with me? If you want to do something this extravagant, why don’t we plan a trip somewhere next month both of us can enjoy?”
Usually, I’d have caved. Rich was right to think we’d celebrate together. When he closed a real estate deal, he didn’t indulge by himself—he took us out to dinner or shopping, or if the deal were significant, he’d take us to a winery or out of town for the weekend.
Maybe it was the way Jake said, “what do you want to do with your money,” as though I gave-into other people’s opinions too often, or the triumphant look he’d given me when I blurted my fantasy of a writing getaway that made me cling to my decision but here I was, all alone, promising myself that I’d buy Rich something nice in downtown Santa Barbara to make up for my selfishness.
I get off the bed and barely suppress a “yippee!” as I note the curvy clawfoot bathtub and marble tile floors in the bathroom. The description had said all of the floors in the bungalows were heated, but I wonder, as warmth spreads from my toes to my face if it’s the thrill of knowing what I’ve set out to do that’s making my body thrum with anticipation.
My efforts had been fruitless last night.
All I had to show for four hours of brainstorming were two pages of black cumulus clouds in my journal and inky hands. I’d gone from sitting with my best posture at the desk (because it demanded that kind of respect), to the patio at sunset, and then the sofa, limbs all a twist, to finally, lying on the floor in front of the fireplace prostate at the foot of ideas, begging for something, anything!
And then, this morning, in that sometimes-magical space between asleep and awake, awash in the rose-yellow hues of early light? The first lines of my novel sang me fully conscious.
The first time she saw him, he was wearing the stiff white coat of a healer, but he’d addressed her like a gun-slinging cowboy, talking out of the side of his mouth, eyes twinkling with unfulfilled mischief.
It was Therese, looking like a vintage Revlon girl and Nathan Weiss, all legs and hooded smile; their meet-cute in an elevator at the hospital where she was a nurse.
Sitting straight up in bed, I’d piled the pillows behind me with one hand while reaching for my laptop (I’d slept with it in the hope I’d be struck by the hand of brilliance in the middle of the night), and then the hotel phone with the other.
By the time room service had arrived-- silvery pools containing hot coffee and cream and a piece of farmhouse bread as thick as my forearm—I’d completed a skeleton outline— the contents of which had made me itch with every fiber of my being to run around the suite with my arms raised in a sort of sloppy victory lap.
I stretch my arms over my head which unlocks the hinges at my mouth. A yawn as long as my torso escapes. I glance at the time. Eleven-thirty. Five hours have passed?I’ve been typing away for five hours? I check my fingertips for blood and grin as I save and triple save my manuscript, bursting to tell someone what I have accomplished. “I’ve had a breakthrough!” I whisper-yell into my room.
My stomach grumbles, confirming it's been a while since I’ve had something to eat, have stretched my legs. I close my laptop and get out of bed, walk across the suite to the patio doors, flinging them open like I’m Julie Andrews in, The Sound of Music, fully intent on belting out triumph in song.
I giggle at myself then flop into a patio chair, close my eyes to the perfectly starched blue sky and continue to sip on the intoxicating residue of inspiration. My first novel would be a story based loosely on my grandparents and Tomahawk Hill; about young love and building castles-in-the-sky kind of dreams.
I open my eyes when I hear, rather than see, other guests leave their bungalows. Based on the time, they’re most likely on the way to an early lunch or to the pool or out for a lazy stroll through one of the many carefully cultivated hotel gardens. At the prospect of leaving my rooms, I’m tempted to check my phone, but realize there isn’t any point since Therese, Rich, and Audrey had my hotel room number with instructions to use it only if death were imminent for either themselves or the other two. If I called just one of the three, the act would supplant the boundaries I had set.
So, I make a plan for myself.
Sustenance in the hotel restaurant. Some laps in the pool to get my blood flowing. Coffee and laptop in hand, I’d find a shaded bench in one of the gardens to continue writing until my bones began to fossilize. At that critical point, I’d explore some other part of this beautiful hotel. I’d write some more. I’d order room service. I’d take a soak in that gorgeous claw foot bathtub and end the night with a bottle of wine and the book I’d been saving to read specifically on this retreat. Two more nights and two full days of this, I tell myself with reverence. I was living the dream.