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The Receptionist
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"The Receptionist"

 

Shantal bit her lip as she hung up the phone. Room Service wasn't at fault that the welcome champagne didn't arrive before the newlyweds did. The hotel didn't get enough notice but such is the nature of her job as one of Highland Crowne Hotel's receptionists. Premium service is gladly rendered at this magnificent hotel on top of California's Carmel Valley. Everyone was aware of the HCH prestige - awarded six stars by the Hotelier International for thirty years running.

The morning went smoothly at reception for Shantal and her three colleagues save for the lady who demanded her bedsheets changed on day of her check out. Shantal looked forward to her lunch break so she can do her reading. She loved romantic stories by Greta Love, a novelist after Shantal's own heart. Working ten hours, six days a week, the only treat Shantal can afford are her romantic novels. She can snatch random moments, read a line or a paragraph and dream in segments.

The next day, after the early rush and the reception desk quiet, the Greta Love book caught Shantal's attention and she flicked through its pages.

"You like Greta Love?" Startled by the man's voice, Shantal accidentally dropped the book.

"Sorry I startled you. I locked myself out of my room."

"I...I'm fine Mr. Grant. Here's another key. Y...yes I like Greta Love."

"What do you like about her?"

"Oh, she's so much like me, the way she thinks and feels...through her characters I mean." Shantal blushed.

"Interesting." He remarked as he walked away.

"Have a great day Mr. Grant" Shantal saw the sadness in the man's eyes but hadn't time to dwell on it. It was Friday and the week-end crowd - usually the rich and famous - have begun to arrive for the Pebble Beach Hollywood Open.

"It'll be a crazy weekend so please be on stand-by in case we need you - double rates of course." Hotel Manager Troy Mahoney announced at the staff meeting.

"Damn. I promised my kids I'd take them to the Boardwalk." Katya slammed her food tray on the table.

"It's not always like this; you know how the golf tournaments are Kat." Shantal soothed her friend.

"I like to complain...it makes me feel a little better. Don't know why we bother to go home Shantal, we should just camp here." Katya viciously bit into her cheeseburger.

A busy Saturday rolled in the rest of the weekend guests that reserved the remaining luxury suites and honeymoon bungalows. Skipping lunch, Shantal strolled out of the hotel gardens into the woods. The hotel perched on top of the highest cliff in the Carmel Coastline and offered an exquisite view of the vast Pacific Ocean. Cypress and redwood trees dotted the hotel grounds and not one blocked the view from any of the picture windows. On Shantal's first day at the job she found a petrified redwood trunk covered in ivy. It became her personal retreat where she could sit and read or gaze at the trees and sky.

"Hello." Again the book fell from her hands.

"Yes, Mr. Grant, How may I help you?"

"At ease. You're off duty aren't you?" He looked amused.

Slightly annoyed, Shantal coolly said, "I'm sorry I'm never at ease when I'm within the hotel premises. What is it you needed Mr. Grant. I'm on my break."

"I didn't mean to intrude. I enjoy my hikes around the valley and I saw you. How many books do you average?" Eager to talk about her reading, Shantal brightened up.

"I've read all Greta Love's novels except the hardbounds - they're expensive. I also read other authors, but only when I've finished hers. I probably average about two books per week."

"What's in her novels that interest you?"

Shantal was silent for a moment. The question seemed personal but this is a hotel guest and customers are always right.

"Hope. She gives hope in her stories. It lifts my spirits and buoys me when so much is asked of me."

"Wow. She must be some writer. I must look into her." Lowell Grant smiled.

"I'm at a stand still with my paperback collection. Seems she hasn't written in six years."

"Seven." The hotel guest corrected her.

"You know of her?"

"Only from what I've read in the newspapers."

"Here. You can have my book. I've read this many times."

"You mean you are reading it again?" He looked at the title. "Lost in Longing" written in 1990, when Greta Love said goodbye to what might have been, Lowell Grant recalled.

"Her books are sold at our gift shop but you might want to see if you like her style."

Lowell returned to his suite clutching Shantal's book. The edges were frayed and her address daintily written inside it - Shantal Collier.

As anticipated, Shantal and Katya had to assist at the hotel that Sunday. All rooms were full and the public rooms and banquet halls busy with several receptions.

Waiting for Shantal at her desk was a gift wrapped package and she tore the wrapping eagerly. To Shantal's delight, there were two hardbound Greta Love books, the ones she couldn't afford to buy. A hand-written message read: I liked the book and I bought us some more. Thanks, Lowell Grant.

"How utterly wonderful!" Shantal was ecstatic.

The endless California summer melted into autumn, then winter but Shantal hadn't really noticed. Christmas was fast approaching and preparations for the Staff Christmas Dinner filled up everyone's schedules. The front desk people were rehearsing a musical number dressed as reindeer while Mr. Mahoney tried on his Santa Claus costume. Everyone struggled to avoid working on Christmas day except Shantal who said she can tackle Christmas day with Greta Love. Her parents and little brother Chris won't be back from Hawaii until New Years day in time for Shantal's vacation.

The Christmas eve staff party ended with gifts and bonuses awarded and passed around and it was almost dawn before Shantal got to bed. Half asleep at the desk late Christmas morning there was a fax waiting for her. Greetings Shantal Collier. I found you a rare Greta Love book written before she became famous. It's on its way. Merry Christmas, Lowell Grant. She grabbed a pen and drafted a letter for him. She'll find his forwarding address in the hotel files.

As Shantal's hotel duties became routine, her correspondence with Lowell Grant became regular. They wrote letters, faxes, postcards and made occasional phone calls, unknowingly creating a friendship they began to rely on. Lowell advised Shantal about a writing career, while Shantal became a sounding board for Lowell when he needed someone to talk to. His last letter read, I need to make a decision Shantal, to stay in New York or move to California. New York is my hometown but I think there are too many ghosts from my past here.

One Sunday morning the newspaper featured an interview with Greta Love's publisher - A new book is in the making after seven years and publication will start soon as Ms Love finishes the book. Then another column listed the novelist's books with the caption The most intriguing and mysterious of novelists. At that moment Shantal knew she wanted to write.

"Damnit Shantal what will I do without you?" Katya sobbed.

"Kat, I'm only a couple of hours away. I will have weekends off now you know."

The whirlwind change in Shantal's life sent everyone reeling including Shantal. She found that she had to juggle learning and earning, the latter aspect she naively took for granted. Now she worked Sundays as well and the promised visits to Carmel forgotten.

"Sorry Mr. Grant, You can enquire from her last address. Yes I will give her your number soon as she calls. It'll be easier since you're in San Francisco now." Lowell stared at the address Katya gave him and wondered why Shantal dropped their correspondence. He must find her. He had something very urgent to tell her.

The Monarch of the Sun towered over the other cruise ships docked at Pier 32 and five hundred passengers poured noisily upon the gangway to embark for the Aloha Cruise. The Jimmy Price Dixieland Band immersed the atmosphere in frolicky music as voices over the speakers welcomed the cruisers. Shantal stood along with other staff members at the ship's grand foyer to welcome the passengers personally. People of all sizes and shapes - faces flushed with excitement - flooded the ship. Colourful Aloha shirts dotted the pier as far as the eye can see. On embarkation days the staff helped one another and today after Shantal's desk job she assisted the Social Hostess in addressing place cards and wrapping gifts and prizes for next day's events. Weary but needing fresh air after her duties, she ambled to the outside deck making her way to the portside away from the draft. She stood to look at the new moon and could feel her body relax. She loved this moment when the ship seemed almost deserted. Then, like a long forgotten dream, she heard a familiar voice.

"It's a great scene for a love story isn't it?" There standing before her, his hair lighter than she remembered, his eyes darker than she imagined.

"M..Mr. Grant, how? I...don't know what to say. My God...Lowell!" Her voice caught in her throat.

"Yes, and you don't know what I went through to find you."

"I meant to call you but I was struggling and I couldn't think of anything else but myself, I'm so sorry."

"You could have told me my dearest pen-friend ."

Lowell kissed her hand and said, "I went through hell to find you so I can give you this." Lowell handed Shantal a transparent folder holding pages of printed material.

"It is the last chapter of a book." Lowell led Shantal into the empty Dolphin Lounge . The whirring sound of a vacuum cleaner can be heard from a far away corridor. They sat together and looked in each other's eyes in silence. Slightly embarrassed, Shantal absentmindedly opened the folder. She began to read the manuscript, only looking up when she came to the very last page.
"This page is blank." Shantal remarked quizzically.

"I'll tell you why dearest Shantal", Grant Lovell spoke softly almost in a whisper. "Greta Love hasn't written in years because of a broken heart. You inspired her to write again like she's never written before but she's waiting for YOU to finish the story happily."

"Lovell Grant...Greta Love. I should have known."

"At your service." Grant Lovell smiled and bowed ceremoniously. Then he pulled her to him and kissed her happily ever after.

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