Last time Imogen was settling into life as assistant manager of Killbilly Hotel and dealing with customer complaints.
Chapter Nineteen – Dodgy car dealers and a proposal
I can honestly say that during the next two years, there really was nobody to compare with Elmer and his wife. Sure, there was the odd hiccup, but on the whole, guests always left vowing to return, which is always a good sign. We had the occasional guests who were not quite as they seemed, and they provided some variety in our day-to-day routine.
There was the middle-aged man who arrived one afternoon with a much younger, blonde wife. His booking had been made about six weeks earlier and he signed the register while keeping one arm around his lovely companion. I don’t mean to be cynical, but in the hotel business you accept that sometimes things are not as they appear to be. The couple were shown to their room and appeared for dinner, late, just as we were about to take last orders. The next day they did not come down for breakfast and it was nearly one o’clock before they left for the day.
When they returned, at about five in the afternoon, the woman went upstairs to the room. All bedrooms had their own direct dial telephones but we did have a booth in the hall, which housed a public pay phone. The man entered the booth and dialled a number. He left the door open and stood half in and half out as he waited for the phone to be answered.
‘Hello darling, sorry about this, but my bloody plane’s been delayed and I’m still in Munich. What? I can’t hear you, too much noise here. Looks like I won’t get off tonight, so see you tomorrow darling. Sorry, have to go. Running out of change. Love you. Bye.’
With that he replaced the receiver and turned towards the stairs. Just as he passed reception he turned and winked at me and continued on. Unbelievable!
The next day the couple departed and he left a hefty tip for the staff. You could not have wished for a more pleasant pair and yet I found it incredible that someone so pleasant could be so deceitful. What a pity that it didn’t teach me anything! It might have buffered me from the shock I received when I discovered Peter’s ability to deceive, many years later. However, that was in the future.
One other incident, which really sticks in my memory, involved me and a red Chinese dress. One of our Australians, Mick, had a sister who was coming to visit for a few days. She was coming through Hong Kong and Mick asked everybody if there was anything that we would like brought over. I had always loved the idea of owning a red silk, high collared Chinese style dress, as I thought they looked stunning. I asked if perhaps Mick’s sister might be able to find me one in my size and not expecting much success thought nothing more of it. Much to my delight, when she arrived she had found just what I was looking for, and very inexpensively.
I had long dark hair at the time, and when I put this dress on for the first time, I thought I looked amazing. I wanted to wear the outfit immediately and decided that dinner that night offered the ideal opportunity. There was a fairly revealing slit down the side of the dress, just below where the little silk buttons finished. I wore high-heeled black shoes and I practised walking, up and down my room, trying not to expose too much thigh.
In my several months at the hotel, we had not seen a solitary Chinese guest. From what I could gather, oriental visitors to England preferred to stay in London, for the shopping and nightlife. I was fairly confident that my outfit was both elegant and attractive and I much appreciated the comments I received from staff and guests alike.
Half way through dinner, I was standing in the hall waiting for a large party of non-residents who had booked a table for ten people at nine o’clock. I saw a mini-bus pull up to the front door and several people head for the steps. The doors swung open and there stood nine rather startled Chinese gentlemen and a rather flabbergasted tour guide. To say my smile was sickly was putting it mildly. I had nowhere to go but forward, in full greeting mode. I gestured the party through to the dining room as speedily as possible, desperately racking my brains to remember what the colour red signified in China, was it mourning, or wedding or what. The tour operator was the last through the door and he reached out and touched my arm.
‘Thanks for going to all that trouble, but my clients are actually Japanese.’
Oh well, next time I will ask anyone passing through Tokyo to pick me up a Geisha outfit.
For the rest of the evening I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible but it is rather difficult when one is wearing a very tight, high cut, bright red, inappropriate outfit. Patrick thought it was the funniest thing he had ever seen and never let me forget it. From that day on I always wore black or blue outfits that, whilst boring and professional looking, were not in the slightest bit embarrassing.
While we are on the subject of Patrick, I should point out that though he was extremely attractive, there had never been any hint of romance between us. I liked and respected him and we became firm friends. Anyway, he had a steady girlfriend who worked as a solicitor in London and came down every other weekend. They had been together for ten years and seemed happy not to make it any more permanent than it already was.
I had managed to relegate Peter to the back of my mind and I was so busy, six days a week, that I had little time for romance. I tried not to go out with guests as I felt that it was unprofessional, but I had little opportunity to meet anyone outside of work. Once or twice, I dated a guest. But, after a couple of glasses of wine I would analyse my choice in men and I was slightly disturbed to discover that I seemed to be terminally attracted to rather dodgy characters.
There was Tom who came down with a group of golfing buddies, crammed into a Rolls Royce. They had a good time, flirted harmlessly and left on the Sunday. Tom pecked me on the cheek before leaving and booked three rooms for two weekends ahead. Sure enough, he duly arrived with different friends in a different car, a Bentley this time. I asked him where he got the cars from and he told me that he was a prestige car dealer in London and that he had a whole forecourt of this type of car. He asked me out for lunch on the Sunday, which was my day off, and we had a very pleasant time. He made me laugh, which was lovely.
Over the next two months, Tom appeared every other weekend, usually with some friends but often, when he was on his own, he stayed over for a few extra days and we went out on more dates. I was just starting to feel quite fond of him and thought what a nice man he was when he failed to appear one week. I got a cryptic message through one of the receptionists to say that he had been unavoidably detained. I heard nothing else until the following weekend when one of his mates came down on his own to play golf. I asked him if he knew if Tom was all right or not.
‘Yeah, he’s banged up in the nick, got caught flogging those rented Rolls Royces and Bentleys, looks like he’ll be down for about three years.’
I really did seem to have a problem identifying character flaws in the men I went out with. Scratch one prestige car dealer.
That was the extent of my love life for over a year. We were halfway through my second season at the hotel when I noticed that there was a booking for a P. Smythe. I assumed that it was a coincidence, and because we were very busy that week, gave it little thought. Imagine my surprise when I looked up from some paperwork to find Peter standing in front of me.
‘Hi Imogen, I expect you’re a little surprised to see me?’ Rather an understatement I thought.
‘What on earth are you doing here?’ Not my usual greeting to hotel guests, but surprise had robbed me of my customer service hat.
‘I wanted to see you and thought that if I booked in for a couple of nights we might get a chance to chat.’
I have to admit that my heart was pumping and I felt flushed as I looked at this older and softer version of the Peter I had known. I was also intrigued as to why he wanted to see me.
‘I am off tomorrow,’ I said. ‘Perhaps we can talk then?’
I knew that we would see each other throughout the day and I was grateful that we would be too busy to spend any time talking. I wanted to gather my own thoughts first, before being subjected to Peter’s persuasive manner.
I caught glimpses of him as he came in from a walk in the grounds, and as he had a pre-dinner drink in the bar. I showed him to his table, blushing and stammering like a schoolgirl. What was I doing? For goodness sake! This was the bastard who had made me feel so worthless. I was not going to be suckered into that one again.
He went to bed early. He was in a room at the top of the house and during my final walk through at midnight; I saw he still had his light on so perhaps he was as unsettled as I was.
The next day was beautiful, a really clear sparkling morning. My night’s sleep had been restless and I was apprehensive as to the day’s outcome.
After breakfast, Peter appeared in reception and we went out to the car park. He was obviously doing quite well as he was now driving a convertible sports car. He opened the passenger door for me, which was a lot more consideration than he had shown in the past, and I climbed into the little bucket seat as he slid in beside me.
‘It’s such a lovely day, I thought we would head for the coast, would that be okay with you?’
More consideration, goodness me, where would it all end? I nodded my agreement and we spent the next hour negotiating the winding country roads that led to the coast. It was time for coffee by the time we arrived and we parked outside a pub perched on a cliff above the sea. We sat outside in the sunshine and Peter went in and ordered our coffees and some biscuits. He sat on the bench opposite me when he returned and reached across the wooden table. He took my hand in his own and I tried to pull away.
‘Please Imogen, give me a chance, I want to make it up to you.’
I looked at him and was persuaded by his contrite expression to give him at least five minutes.
It was an interesting few minutes, filled with apologies and declarations. He told me that he had gone out with several girls since we split up, but he had always found there was something missing. He found that he was comparing everyone to me and realised that he missed me, and loved me. Well, there’s a turn up for the book. I admit to rather enjoying all these revelations, and I could feel myself being drawn into the warm and cosy picture that was being painted for me. Eventually, five minutes became three hours, lunch, a walk on the beach and a rather pleasant interlude in the dunes.
We got back to the hotel at about eight that evening. On special occasions, Patrick was happy for me to eat in the dining room on nights off and I went and found him in his study.
‘Do you mind if I eat with a guest in the dining room tonight Patrick, and perhaps you would like to join us.’
Patrick who was ploughing through some tax forms was relieved to be let off the hook.
‘What’s the occasion Imogen?’ He knew that I would only ask to eat with the guests if it was a special event.
‘I’m getting married.’ I replied succinctly. Patrick shot up from his chair.
‘Who the hell to? You haven’t had a date in ages.’ So, he had been counting too.
‘Room Twenty Eight.’ I replied and laughing I turned on my heel leaving Patrick speechless behind me.
The rest as they say is history. I finished off the season and then went home to be married in our local church. Peter had come down to see me several times in that last three months, and we were very happy.
I thought we had been very happy until the end. So how much of it had been an illusion? I hoped that it really had been only the last year, I could live with that, and maybe it was time for me to accept what had happened and be thankful for all the good years we had enjoyed rather than dwelling on the misery of recent times.
* * *
I had loved my journey back to the past and it had revitalised me and shown me what fun I used to be and how much I had loved life. It had also reminded me just how capable, adaptable and efficient I could be. I still felt the same inside as I did in my early twenties.
Forget the sagging body, wrinkles, and grey hairs. The inside is what counts.
In a short while I would be seeing Andrew again, and with my new image and attitude, I hoped that perhaps one thing might lead to another with him. Who knows what the future might hold? I put on one of my new outfits, makeup and fluffed my hair. Today was the first day of the rest of my life.
©sallygeorgina Cronin Just an Odd Job Girl 2001
Thanks for dropping by and I hope you will join me again on Monday for the final chapter of Imogen’s story.. Delighted to receive your feedback. thanks Sally