Reservations? Yes. A couple. Like: Is Hayden really as interested in me as I am in him? And is my roommate right—should I "beware of hookups"?
Confirmation? Doubtful. Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you said "commitment."
Special Requests? Let me get through this summer without being fired and heartbroken.
Let me fall in love this summer.
Let me be part of the inn crowd.
"And you are?"
You've got to be kidding me.
I was the last person to arrive. I hate walking into a room that's already full of people—even if the room is the front lobby of a gorgeous seaside inn on the coast of Rhode Island, where I was lucky enough to be starting a great new summer job.
Being late wasn't the impression I wanted to make on my first day, especially since I'd barely gotten this job to begin with, and had found out only a week before that it was mine.
"Hi. I'm Elizabeth McKenzie," I said to the woman standing in front of me. She had short, reddish hair and a stocky, athletic build. She was wearing khaki pants and a white Tides Inn polo shirt that looked as if it had been ironed. The short sleeves had actual creases. "But please, call me Liza," I said. "Sorry—am I late?"
"Just a minute or two. Miss Crossley." She held out her hand to shake mine, and gave me a quick once-over glance, as if she was deciding whether to approve of me or not. I was relieved that I'd removed that pink streak from my hair before I got here—she didn't seem the type to appreciate things like that. Her handshake was so strong, I nearly winced from her grip. "So you're the last-minute hire," Miss Crossley said.
She didn't sound all that happy with the decision, which was funny considering she was the Inn staff manager and she had to be in on hiring me, at some level. I wished she hadn't announced that I was "last minute" like that to the room. Everyone kind of looked up and focused their gaze on me, as if there might be something wrong, or suspect, about me.
As if I'd only made the security clearance by the skin of my teeth. As if I were only good enough when there was no other option.
Or at least that's what their faces told me. That I was being snobbed.
Yes, it's a verb. Especially useful around exclusive communities like this one. I actually hadn't known that much about it until three years ago when, because of my mother's job as a professor, we moved to a new town, where Snobs 'R Us was the name of one of the after-school clubs.
Just kidding. But moving right before sophomore year had been a little traumatic for me. Just when I was working my way up from being a lowly freshman, I had to start all over again, and the cliques at my new school didn't make it easy. It was like everyone had lived in the same town forever and I was the sole new person. That wasn't true, but that's how it felt until I made some friends. Now I was wondering if I'd just walked into the same situation here, at my perfect summer job.
One girl flashed me a sympathetic smile, so at least there was that. The room was filled with about forty people, taking up nearly every seat in the large, spacious lobby. It was starting to hit me that I was actually on the Tides Inn staff. I couldn't believe it. Everything had happened so fast, since I got the summons a week ago. My dream job, coming through. I might be late and I might be a little uncomfortable, but at the same time I knew I was lucky to be here.
I finally spotted an empty white wicker chair by the window, so I nodded to Miss Crossley and scooted past her to take a seat.
"Now, we'll do some introductions later on, once you've had a chance to get settled. But the Inn opens for summer season—the only season we have around here—in two days," she said. "That gives us two days to get completely perfect at everything we do. We don't accept less than perfection here at the Tides Inn. Our customers expect it, and we demand it. You've all been hired because of your extreme trustworthiness."
She made it sound as if we were about to go into battle, and we were the elite soldiers. The Green Berets—although I didn't think the Inn's color scheme was green. More like a blue-gray, the color of a whale you might see if you went out far enough in a sailboat. And instead of berets? We'd probably wear floppy bucket hats.
"Now," Miss Crossley went on, "some of you are new to me, some are old friends—" She stopped as the screen door creaked open and slammed shut with a bang.
A tall guy with brown hair, wearing long khaki shorts, flip-flops, and a navy T-shirt ripped at the neck, stepped into the lobby. He glanced behind him at the door, then turned back to Miss Crossley and smiled. He had the kind of smile that made you like him instantly.
"Someone's going to have to fix that before the guests get here," he said.
"Thanks for volunteering, Hayden. Nice you could make it," the manager said. She cleared her throat as she glanced at her watch.
So I wasn't the last one to arrive, after all. Victory! Or at least not total outright failure. I looked at him; his T-shirt said, "Mapleville Academy" on it, a place I'd only vaguely heard of but probably should know about. I thought it was one of those elite private schools in New England.
"Sorry, Peach. I got lost," he said.
"Peach?" several people repeated.
I'd only met Miss Crossley a minute ago, but I didn't get the impression that she was very "peachy" at all. Apple, maybe. Granny Smith Apple. Sour.
"In case the rest of you are wondering, Hayden's the only one allowed to call me that." Miss Crossley narrowed her gaze at Hayden. "And even then I'm not so sure, actually. And what do you mean, you got lost? You've been here the past two summers, plus I picked you up from the New York train yesterday. So where have you been?"