Authors: Nita Prose
“It would be lovely to meet you later,” I say, aiming for coy nonchalance. “So five
? Sharp? Is this a date?”
“Uh, yeah. Okay.”
“I’ll see you then,” I say, and start to walk away.
“Don’t forget your newspapers,” he says. He grabs a stack from the floor and plops them on the bar.
“Oh, silly me.” I struggle with the full stack as I carry them to my trolley. He’s now distracted behind the bar, pouring a coffee for a customer. I try to make eye contact with him one last time, but to no avail.
That’s fine. We’ll have plenty of time for eye contact tonight.
Life is a funny thing. One day can be quite shocking, and so can the next. But the two shocks might be as different from each other as night from day, as black from white, as good from evil. Yesterday, I found Mr. Black dead; today, Rodney asked me on a date. Technically, I suppose we won’t be “going” on a date but “staying” on a date because it will happen at our place of work. But that’s a matter of semantics. The date part is what’s most relevant.
It has been well over a year since Rodney and I went on our last date.
Good things come to those who wait,
Gran always said, and yes, Gran, you were right about that. Just when I thought Rodney wasn’t interested in me, then he reveals that he is. And his timing is impeccable. Yesterday was a jolt to my system. Today is also a jolt but in a much more pleasant and exciting way. It goes to show you that you just never know what surprises life has in store for you.
I push my trolley through the lobby and head toward the elevator. Another group of ladies, probably on a “girls’ getaway,” rushes past me. They close the elevator in my face, something I’m used to. The maid can wait. The maid goes last. Finally, I get an elevator all to myself and push number 4. The button glows red. I feel queasy as I go
back to the fourth floor for the first time since finding Mr. Black dead in his bed.
Pull yourself together,
You don’t have to enter that suite today.
The doors chime and open. I push my trolley out but immediately bash into something. I look up to discover I’ve just run into a police officer, his eyes so glued to his phone that he’s entirely unaware that he’s blocking the elevator. Regardless of who’s at fault, I know exactly what I’m supposed to do. I learned this in an early training session with Mr. Snow: the guest is always right, even when they are paying no mind whatsoever to whom they may be inconveniencing.
“My sincerest apologies, sir. Are you all right?” I ask.
“Yeah, I’m fine. But watch where you’re going with that thing.”
“I appreciate the advice. Thank you, Officer,” I say as I maneuver my trolley around him. What I really want is to run right over his toes since he refuses to step out of the way, but this would be inappropriate. Once I’m past him, I pause. “May I be of assistance to you in any way? A hot towel, perhaps? Some shampoo?”
“I’m fine,” he says. “Excuse me.”
He steps around me and I watch as he heads toward the Black suite. There is bright-yellow caution tape across the door. He stands to the side of it, leaning against the wall, one foot crossed over the other. I can see already that if he lolls around like that all day, he’ll leave a stain that will be a challenge to erase. I’d love to take my broom handle and flick him off the wall, but never mind. It’s not my place.
I head to the far end of the floor to begin my work in Room 407. I’m pleased to find it empty, the guests checked out. There’s a five-dollar bill on the pillow, which I pick up and put in my pocket with quiet thanks.
Every penny counts,
as Gran always said. I busy myself with stripping the bed and laying fresh sheets. My hands are a bit shaky today, I must admit. Every once in a while, a flash of Mr. Black enters my mind—sallow face, cold to the touch—and all the things I witnessed after. A bolt of electricity flashes through me. There’s nothing to be antsy about, though. Today is not yesterday. Today is a brand-new day. To ease my
nerves, I concentrate on happy thoughts. And nothing is happier to me right now than thoughts of Rodney.
As I clean, I replay our burgeoning relationship in my mind. I remember when I first began working at the hotel and didn’t know him well. Every day, as I collected my newspapers at the start of my shift, I tried to linger a bit longer. Slowly, over time, we became quite cordial—dare I say congenial? But it was one day over a year and a half ago when our affection was cemented.
I was on the third floor, cleaning my rooms. Sunshine was cleaning one half of the floor and I was tackling the other. I entered Room 305, which was not on my roster for that shift, but the front desk had told me it was vacant and needed to be cleaned. I didn’t even bother knocking since I’d been told it was empty, but when I pushed through the door with my trolley, I came face-to-face with two very imposing men.
Gran taught me to judge people by their actions rather than by their appearances, so when I looked upon these two behemoths with shaved heads and perplexing facial tattoos, I immediately assumed the best of them rather than the worst. Maybe these guests were a famous rock duo I’d never heard of? Or perhaps they were trendy tattoo artists? Or world-renowned wrestlers? Since I prefer antiques to pop culture, how would I know?
“My sincerest apologies, sirs,” I said. “I was told that all the guests in this room had vacated. I’m terribly sorry to disturb you.”
I smiled then, as per protocol, and waited for the gentlemen to respond. But neither said a word. There was a navy-blue duffel bag on the bed. One of the giants had been packing away a piece of equipment when I intruded, some kind of machine or scale that he was about to put in the bag. Now, he stood stock-still with the odd apparatus in one hand.
Just when I was feeling slightly uncomfortable with the amount of silence that lingered, two people stepped out of the bathroom behind the two men. One was Rodney, in his crisp, white shirt, with sleeves rolled, revealing his lovely forearms. The other was Juan Manuel, who
was holding a brown paper package, his bagged lunch or dinner, perhaps? Rodney’s hands were balled into fists. He and Juan Manuel were clearly surprised to see me, and to be perfectly honest, I, too, was surprised to see them.
“Molly, no. Why are you here?” Juan Manuel asked. “Please, you need to leave right away.”
Rodney turned to Juan Manuel. “What, are you the boss now? You’re suddenly in charge?”
Juan Manuel took two steps backward and became entranced by the position of his feet on the floor.
I decided this was the moment to step in and smooth the rift between them. “Technically speaking,” I said, “Rodney is the bar manager. Which means that in the strictly hierarchical sense, he is the highest-ranking employee among us at the present moment. But let’s remember that we’re all VIPs, every last one of us,” I said.
The two behemoths looked from Rodney and Juan Manuel to me several times in quick succession.
“Molly,” Rodney said. “What are you doing here?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” I answered. “I’m here to clean the room.”
“Yeah, I get that part. But this room wasn’t supposed to be on your roster today. I told them downstairs…”
“Told whom?” I asked.
“Look, it doesn’t matter. That’s not the point.”
Juan Manuel suddenly rushed past Rodney and grabbed my arm. “Molly, don’t worry about me. Run downstairs now and you go tell—”
“Whoa,” said Rodney. “Let go of her, right now.” It wasn’t a suggestion. It was an order.
“Oh, it’s quite all right,” I said. “Juan Manuel and I are acquaintances and I’m not in the least uncomfortable.” It was only then that it dawned on me exactly what was going on. Rodney was jealous of Juan Manuel. This was a masculine display of romantic rivalry. I took this as a very good sign, since it revealed the true extent of Rodney’s feelings for me.
Rodney eyed Juan Manuel in a way that conveyed his clear
displeasure, but then he said something entirely surprising. “How’s your mother, Juan Manuel?” he asked. “Your family’s in Mazatlán, right? I’ve got friends in Mexico, you know. Good ones. I’m sure they’d be happy to check in on your family.”
Juan Manuel let go of my arm then. “No need,” he said. “They are fine.”
“Good. Let’s keep it that way,” he replied.
How lovely that Rodney was concerned about the well-being of Juan Manuel’s family, I thought. The more I got to know him, the more his true nature revealed itself to me.
At this moment, the two behemoths spoke up. I was looking forward to being properly introduced so that I could commit their names to memory for future reference, perhaps even make sure they received chocolate turn-down service in the evenings.
“What the hell is going on here?” one of them asked Rodney.
“Who the fuck is she?” the other added.
Rodney stepped forward. “It’s okay. Don’t worry. I’ll fix this.”
“You better. And fuckin’ fast.”
Now, I must say that this repeated use of foul language took me aback, but I have been trained to act as a consummate professional at all times, with all manner of people, be they polite or impolite, clean or slovenly, potty-mouthed or well-spoken.
Rodney got right in front of me. In a low voice, he said, “You weren’t supposed to see any of this.”
“See what?” I asked. “The colossal mess all of you have made in this room?”
One of the behemoths spoke up then. “Lady, we’ve just cleaned everything up good.”
“Well,” I said. “You’ve done a substandard job. As you can see, the carpet needs a vacuum. Your footprints are all over it. See that? How the pile is disturbed by the front door, and then over there, by the bathroom? It looks like a herd of elephants tromped through here. Not to mention this side table. Who ate powdered doughnuts without a plate?
And these big, fat fingerprints. No offense, but how could you not notice those? They’re all over the glass top. I’ll have to polish every doorknob too.”
I took a spray bottle and paper towel from my trolley and began spritzing the table. I cleaned up the whole mess in a flash. “See? Isn’t that better?”
The behemoths’ faces mirrored each other—their long mouths agape. Clearly, they were quite impressed with my efficient cleaning techniques. Juan Manuel, meanwhile, was obviously embarrassed. He was still staring at his shoes.
No one spoke for a good, long while. Something was amiss, but I was hard-pressed to say what. It was Rodney who broke the silence. He turned his back on me and addressed his friends. “Molly is…she’s a very special girl. You can see that, right? How she’s…unique.”
What a lovely thing for him to say. I felt truly flattered and avoided eye contact for fear that I was blushing. “I’m happy to clean up after your friends anytime,” I said. “In fact, it would be my pleasure. You just have to tell me what room you’re staying in and I’ll ask for it to be added to my roster.”
Rodney addressed his friends again. “Can you see how helpful she could be? And she’s discreet. Right, Molly? You’re discreet?”
“Discretion is my motto. Invisible customer service is my goal.”
Both men suddenly moved in on me, pushing Rodney and Juan Manuel out of the way.
“So you’re not a squawker, right? You won’t talk?”
“I’m a maid, not a gossip, thank you very much. I’m paid to keep my mouth shut and return rooms to a state of perfection. I pride myself on getting the job done and then disappearing without a trace.”
The two men glanced at each other and shrugged.
“You good?” Rodney asked them. They nodded, then turned to the duffel bag on the bed. “And you?” Rodney asked Juan Manuel. “All good?”
Juan Manuel nodded, but his lips were a sharp line.
“Okay, Molly,” Rodney said as he looked at me with those piercing
blue eyes of his. “Everything will be fine. You just do your job like you usually do, okay? You leave this place spotless so no one will ever know Juan Manuel and his buddies were here. And you keep quiet about it.”
“Of course. And if you’ll excuse me, I really should get to work.”
Rodney came in close to me. “Thank you,” he whispered. “We’ll talk more about this later. Let’s meet up tonight, okay? I’ll explain everything.”
It was the first time he proposed such a rendezvous. I could barely believe my ears. “I would love that!” I said. “So it’s a date?”
“Sure. Yeah. Meet me in the lobby at six. We’ll go somewhere and talk privately.”
And with that, the behemoths grabbed the duffel bag, pushed past me, and opened the hotel room door. They looked down the hallway, left then right. Then they gestured for Rodney and Juan Manuel to follow. All four of them promptly vacated the room.
The rest of that morning went by in a blur of activity. As I cleaned furiously, yearning for six o’clock to come, I suddenly realized that I’d worn old but serviceable slacks and one of Gran’s high-collared blouses to work that morning. This would not do at all, not for a first date with Rodney.
I finished the room I was cleaning and pulled my trolley into the hall. I searched for Sunitha on the other side of the floor.
“Knock-knock,” I said, though the suite she was cleaning was wide open. She stopped what she was doing and looked at me. “I need to run an errand. If Cheryl comes up here, would you tell her…that I’ll be back shortly?”
“Yes, Molly. It’s well past lunchtime and you never stop. You’re allowed to take a break, you know.” She began to hum as she continued cleaning.
“Thank you,” I said, dashing out of the room and down the hall to the elevator. I rushed out the revolving front doors.
“Molly? Everything all right?” Mr. Preston asked as I sailed by him.
“Splendid!” I called back. I took to the sidewalk, jogging. I raced around the corner to a little boutique I passed every day on my way to
work. I’d always admired the lovely lemon-yellow sign and the mannequin in the window, smartly dressed in a chic new outfit every day. This was not a place I’d normally shop. It was meant for the guests of the hotel, not for their maid.