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   Chapter 7 On the Shelf

Attention Span and Other Stories By PaulineWiles Characters: 12190

Updated: 2018-01-11 12:02


From behind the reception desk, Pete hands me a shiny key and gestures to a man waiting quietly nearby. 'This is Gabe, ' he says. 'He'll show you to your room.'

Gabe steps forward. His skin is dark mahogany, the whites of his eyes two bright spots in his face. Then he smiles, and his beautiful teeth steal the show.

'You've had a long journey, Miss Hamilton, ' he says. 'You must be tired.'

That's an understatement: I'm wrecked. Every limb aches and my head throbs. When I nod in response, my neck feels like it's been twisted all the way around, like an owl's.

'Would you like me to call for a golf buggy?' Gabe reads my body language.

'That's okay.' I don't know why I refuse. 'I can walk.'

They sent my bag to the room while I was checking in. From that process, I can tell the resort is laid-back, casual, but crisply efficient. They knew who I was, almost before I walked through the ornate gates, past the bougainvillea, and into the lobby cooled by ceiling fans. Perhaps I'm the only single female arriving today. Or they know the flight times and guessed when I would reach the hotel. I don't know. But Pete barely glanced at my passport. I'm not even sure he bothered to run my credit card.

'It gets dark in about an hour, ' Gabe says, leading the way across the lobby, which is open on one side to offer a glimpse of the pool and palm trees beyond. 'Good that you arrived in daylight.'

We step outside, onto a path that winds among lush foliage. Beyond the pool, where a few guests bask in the slowly lowering sun, I can see the beach and hear the waves breaking gently on the shore. There's a breeze from that direction, and a chirping from some small birds with bright tufts on their heads.

'These are our standard rooms.' Gabe gestures to a whitewashed block, facing the pool, three storeys high.

'Very nice.' I assume that's the category of accommodation I booked. How can I not know that? It must be my headache, messing with my cognitive processes.

'Whereas, we've allocated you a superior suite.' Once again, Gabe guesses my thoughts.

'Oh.' I'm pretty sure I didn't reserve that. I can already tell this place is more luxurious than anywhere I usually stay, so there's no way I would have splurged on a posh room. Why can't I remember? What's wrong with me today? Should I say something, or keep quiet? Perhaps they're full and have upgraded me.

We turn a corner and pass behind a low restaurant building. Twenty or so tables are arranged on its verandah, facing the ocean. They're set for dinner, with wine glasses and pale blue napkins. I sniff the air, wondering what's cooking, but all I get is a fruity scent which could be either from the gardens, or the guests' sunscreen.

Gabe sees where I'm looking. 'Dinner starts at six, ' he says. 'Not long to wait. You have a choice of two restaurants tonight. Soft drinks and house wine are included.'

I don't remember any of these details from choosing this place. This must be costing an arm and a leg. I'm sure I can't afford it, not with last month's rent increase, and the tighter commissions at work.

'Uhh…' I want to ask him about my reservation, but feel foolish. Surely I should have clarified that with Pete, at the front desk? Shouldn't he have given me something to sign, with the room rate on it? Did I complete any paperwork? Think, Rachel, think.

'Most people, of course, get the standard room.' Gabe strolls easily beside me. His uniform is a white linen shirt and khaki trousers, elegant but practical. 'A few, I'm sorry to say, end up over there.'

I look where he's pointing, but all I see are tennis courts, flanked by dense bushes. Some low roofs, however, are visible beyond.

'Over there?'

He nods. 'Or at a different… resort… entirely.'

I have no clue what he means. 'Surely people just get what they booked?' I ask.

He laughs. 'That's an excellent way of putting it. Yes, I suppose they do.'

Why did he find that funny? I open my mouth to say something else, but he's pointing again.

'Now, here's our spa. We call it Cloud – we'll get you in there tomorrow. You look like death warmed up, if you don't mind me saying.'

Normally, I would mind. I would mind enormously. As a single woman in my late twenties, who sells dental products for a living, I take my appearance seriously. But he's right.

Gabe pauses on a little bridge which connects a lazy river with another swimming pool. 'This is our adults-only pool.'

The pool is deserted, the water barely lapping at the edges. It looks heavenly. 'I haven't actually seen many kids.' I frown, working hard to recall the other guests we passed only minutes ago.

Gabe sucks in his breath. 'Just the way we like it. It's terrible, really, when the wee ones come.' He shakes his head. 'Upsets all of us, even the old-timers.'

I raise my eyebrows. I'm not much of a kid person myself – plenty of time for that, I reckon, once I turn thirty and meet the right man – but his attitude seems a bit extreme for someone who works in tourism.

'But happily, ' Gabe says, showing me his perfect molars, 'we've not had any recently.'

Okay, that really is weird. He's more eccentric than he looks.

'This is our cocktail bar: Gates. And on the upper deck, our seafood restaurant.' Gabe's gesturing again. He's clearly proud of this place. 'Reservations are essential – call the front desk and say you want to dine at Pearl.'

Hmm, they like to give things one-word names here. Well, I suppose it makes life easy.

'And there, on the beach, are our luxury suites.' He places both hands on his hips and raises his chin as he looks proudly towards the sand.

I see a series of individual thatched huts, facing the sea. Even from here, they look amazing.

'Wow, ' I say, 'those are on my bucket list, for sure.'

Gabe throws his head back and laughs again. 'I love your sense of humour!' he says, before clapping me on the back. I wince but he doesn't notice. 'Bucket list! Hah!' He puts his head on one side, considering me. 'You're going to do fine, ' he says. 'I can tel

l.'

What the heck does that mean?

'So, I bet you've got rich and famous folk staying in those, right?' I ask, as we begin walking again, now on a path which runs parallel to the ocean, along the back of the luxury huts.

'Hmmph, ' is the unexpected reply. 'Famous, yes. Rich… not so much.'

I look at him questioningly.

'We've had Nelson Mandela, yes. And Mother Teresa. She had that last cottage, there.'

'Wow.'

Gabe must be older than he looks, if he's worked here that long. Mother Teresa's been dead for years.

'Mmm, yes, and that nurse – what was her name? Flo… Florence someone.'

'Nightingale, ' I say, reflexively, then wait for him to praise my humour again.

'Nightingale! That's the one. Nice lady.'

I look at him. He's totally pulling my leg. What an oddball.

But he's still straight-faced. 'Not far now.'

The path turns away from the beach, through another lush garden, and emerges in a pretty courtyard. Five tiny cottages are arranged around it, each with their own front porch and hammock.

'Oh!' I stop, charmed. 'How lovely.'

Gabe strides towards the cottage in the far corner, more set back than the others. In addition to the hammock, a cobalt-painted rocking chair sits on the porch. The front door is also blue. Like the beach cottages, the roof is thatched.

Gabe gestures to the key I'm carrying. 'Miss Hamilton, may I have the honour?'

'Please do.' I drop it into his hand.

Inside, the cottage is cool. The shutters are closed, the ceiling fan is on, and I sense air conditioning too. We step into one large room, with a huge bed near the door and a pair of chic sofas at the other end. The walls are soft white, the bedding is white, the furniture is white. The orchid on the console table is white. A pale blue quilt, and an abstract cerulean painting which could be sea, or sky, or both, offer the only colour in the space.

'How… serene.' I look around, then perch on the bed as the calm reaches out and swaddles me. 'It's lovely.'

'I'm glad you like it.' Gabe starts to say something else, but my attention is captured by the television. It's on, not surprising in an upmarket hotel like this, and I assume it's the welcome channel, promoting the resort's facilities.

But within moments, I see this video loop is altogether more personal.

'That's me!' My mouth drops open at a wobbly shot of me, around age ten, on a pony. My mother walks alongside, one hand steadying me in the saddle.

'Is that –? That's my graduation, ' I say, recognising my friends from university giggling alongside me, all of us twirling the tassels on our ludicrous mortarboard hats. I clamber off the bed to put my nose closer to the screen. I must have misplaced my contact lenses, somewhere on the trip.

'Why is the TV showing – oh God, that dress was awful.' It's switched now to the wedding of a childhood friend. I was chief bridesmaid and wore lilac flounces. 'This is… bizarre.'

Gabe stands, head on one side, watching the screen. 'Don't you like it? It's quite popular. We call it Eulogy Tube.'

'You… Did you say Eulogy?'

Gabe doesn't answer. Nor does he look away from the television. 'Ah, ' he says finally, 'here it is.'

'That's not me, ' I say, as a more professional clip comes on. It looks like the local news programme. 'Definitely not me.' The woman on camera is glamorous, polished, blonde.

'The funeral of Rachel Hamilton was held today in her home town of St Albans. Miss Hamilton, who was killed last week on a pedestrian crossing in the town centre, has been hailed a heroine for saving eighteen-month-old twins from a speeding bus. Police confirmed today that the bus driver suffered a heart attack and they are waiting to interview him in hospital. The family of Mabel and Mimi Braithwaite praised Miss Hamilton for pushing their pram clear of the bus, leaving herself in its path.'

'What is this?' I sit back heavily on the squishy bed. 'What's… going on?'

My jet lag must be catching up with me, big time. My whole head is foggy. This doesn't make sense. Why is a montage of clips from my life on the resort television? What the hell was that last one?

'Gabe?' I look up at him as he clicks the television off, then crosses to the windows to tilt the shutters. Slanted light dances into the room.

'Gabe!' I say again, panic rising through my voice. 'Where am I?'

'Miss Hamilton… Rachel…' he says. 'I thought… that you were doing so well.'

'Well? What do you mean, well?'

'I thought… you understood. I'm so sorry, I thought you knew. I should have explained.'

'What do you mean?' My tongue repeats, as my stumbling brain thinks, no, actually, don't explain. I don't want to hear this.

I flop back on the bed, my aching limbs begging for sleep. Above me, against the white ceiling, the fan spins slowly enough for me to follow an individual blade, if I try. I let my eyes circle for a few moments, already wrapped in the blissful calm of this place. Pearl… Gates… Peter.

The fog dissolves.

Slowly, I puff the air out through my stinging lungs, then drag my torso up, propping on my elbows to consider Gabe. He's still by the window.

'The rooms people get, ' I say, speaking now with effort. 'Standard or… superior. You… allocate them, don't you?'

Gabe nods.

'But not based on what they pay, ' I continue.

'Oh, it's a form of payment, Miss Hamilton. Just… a different currency.'

'And I'm in here because…' I can barely say it. 'Because of… those twins.'

He nods again.

'And your name isn't really Gabe, is it?'

He raises his eyebrows. 'It is, miss, yes. Absolutely.'

I shake my head, which thumps obligingly. 'But you've shortened it, haven't you?' No wonder my entire body screams each time I move. I was hit by a bus. 'What does… what does your mother call you?'

The last sunlight of the day nudges its way in, creating a halo effect behind him.

'Ah, yes, Miss Hamilton, well… my friends all call me Gabe. Have done for years.' He grins now, a wonderful, angelic smile. 'But my mother, she likes to call me Gabriel.'

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