Excerpt from “Leveling Up”
Adam Chandler and his life partner, Ben Randal, are set to celebrate their one-year anniversary as a couple. Adam is a brilliant game developer about to graduate from Emory University. When he arrives home late on Friday, he discovers a note from Ben, a blue rose boutonnière, and instructions to meet him at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta. When Adam arrives, he is mistaken for someone else, then ferried to the top of the hotel to an exclusive and expensive private room, where he’s told he is to be the companion of a rock star he worships. Things spin further and further out of control until Adam is so dazed and confused he doesn’t know which end is up. Will Ben believe his story—if they ever see each other again?
- 22 pages
Looking back on it, Adam thought wronger was a more appropriate word, for every succeeding moment was further from right than the last. By the end of the evening, Adam was certain his career had ended before it began, his relationship with Ben was over, and his entire life had been ruined more decisively and quickly than he would ever have thought possible.
“Ah, Mr. Chandlis. We’ve been expecting you. Please, this way.”
Adam blinked at the maître dʼ. She wasn’t much older than he was, but she spoke with a cordial authority strengthened by a man’s power suit tailored to fit her tall, slim frame. She stood straight without seeming stiff and wore a perfect smile below raven hair that brushed the tops of her ears. A silk topaz tie that gleamed in the restaurant’s recessed lighting set off her light-brown eyes. She extended her hand to point in the direction Adam should go.
He blinked again. “It’s Chandler. I’m Adam Chandler.”
The woman’s smile changed subtly. Now there was a twinkle in her eyes that somehow transformed her into a co-conspirator. “Of course, Mr. Chandlis. We’re quite familiar with the special needs of our top-tier guests. Anonymity is—” Adam tried to interrupt her, but she continued without pause. “—often required of those who depend on the Hyatt Regency to provide discreet services. Now please, this way. Everything is ready for you.”
She motioned again with her hand. Her demeanor, both warm and commanding, prompted Adam to take a step without thinking about it. She waited for him to move, then joined him at his side.
Adam took six steps and stopped.
The hostess turned with eyebrows gently raised over yet another smile, this one inquiring. “Yes?”
Adam smiled back, but his perplexity combined with his boyish looks to make him seem like a child unsure of whether he was being led to punishment or to a reward. He felt completely off balance, and spoke hesitantly. “I really think you have the wrong person, ma’am. My name is Chandler, not Chandlis,” he said, stressing the last syllable of each name. “Adam Chandler.”
“It’s obvious that you’re practiced at this, Mr. Chandlis. But as you can see, there’s no longer any need. This is a private corridor. The public has no access here.” She stepped forward, but Adam stood still. She turned, her smile still in place, but now under sterner eyes.
Suddenly Adam’s gamer instincts clicked on. He lowered his eyelids a bit and grinned crookedly. “I get it now,” he said, his voice low in his throat. “Yeah, this is quite good, quite good. Ben said I should be ready for anything tonight. Well, he got me, that’s for sure. You’re pretty good at your role too.”
The maître dʼ drew breath and stifled a sigh. One last time she ushered Adam forward. They stopped at the end of an elegant corridor. Adam noticed that there was no button on the wall beside the elevator. He looked at the maître dʼ, who reached into her coat pocket. She withdrew a small key and bent to the drawer of a small table under an ornately framed mirror. She unlocked it and took from it a slim black device, also devoid of buttons. She pressed one end of it and returned it to its place, then locked the drawer. She turned and smiled at Adam. He smiled back awkwardly.
Then the elevator doors slid open. Adam stepped in, grinning again at the joke Ben was playing. He turned and his grin fell away instantly as the doors closed, separating them. There were no buttons inside at all, not one. Adam looked around. The polished oak and brass interior gleamed in the soft, indirect light. As he faced the doors again, the car moved, slowly at first, then accelerating. There was no display of floor numbers. The contradictory phrase lavish minimalism rose to his consciousness. Adam was suddenly nervous.
If I’m going to the top, then this really is a case of mistaken identity. The only thing at the top is Twenty-Two Storys, and that’s way more exclusive than Ben can afford.