It had never been Anna Gordon's dream to work for a motel—certainly not the Value Lodge. And most definitely not in the same sleepy town she'd grown up in. But as her grandma had reminded her just that morning, "A job is a job, and I'm sure there are plenty of unemployed folks who would be grateful to trade places." Even so, as Anna walked the six blocks from her grandmother's apartment to her place of employment, she longed for something more.
As Anna came to Lou's Café, someone backed out the front door with a watering can in hand, nearly knocking Anna down. "Excuse me!" the careless woman cried as she slopped cold water onto Anna's good Nine West pumps.
As Anna caught her balance, she recognized the o ender. "Marley Ferris!" she cried out. "What on earth are you doing here in Springville?"
Marley blinked in surprise. "Anna?"
"I can't believe it's you." Anna stared at her old friend in wonder. Marley set aside the watering can and the two hugged—long and hard—exclaiming joyfully over this unexpected meeting.
"It's been so long," Marley said as they stepped apart. "Way too long." Anna slowly shook her head.
"And look at you." Marley studied Anna closely, from her shoulder-length strawberry blonde hair to her shoes. "So professional in your stylish suit. And still looking way too much like Nicole Kidman's little sister."
Anna smiled. "Thanks."
"What're you doing in these parts anyway?"
"I was about to ask you the same thing." Anna adjusted her purse strap.
"I'm just home for a few days." She jerked her thumb over her shoulder. "Helping out with my parents' café. My mom's laid up after back surgery."
"Oh dear. Is she okay?"
"Yeah. It was a ruptured disc, but sounds like they got it cleaned up. She just needs to take it easy for a few days." Marley pointed at Anna. "Seriously, what're you doing back in Springville, and looking all uptown too?"
Anna grimaced, wishing for a better answer. "I'm, uh, I'm managing the, uh, the motel," she mumbled.
"Oh?" Marley's brow creased. "A motel? In this town?" Anna tipped her head down the street with a somber expression.
"The Value Lodge?"
"Uh-huh." Anna glanced at her watch. "And I should probably get going."
"Oh yeah, sure." Marley looked doubtful, as if she was still processing this bit of news.
"It's great seeing you," Anna said. "You look fantastic."
"Hey, why don't you come back over here for lunch?" Marley said quickly. "Give us time to catch up. The Value
Lodge does give you a lunch break, doesn't it?"
"Absolutely." Anna nodded eagerly. "At 1:00."
"I'll be right here." Marley picked up the can and began to water the large terra-cotta pot by the front door, which was overﬂowing with colorful pansies and red geraniums. "I promised Mom I'd keep her plants alive until she gets back. Can you believe how hot it's been? And it's only May!" She plucked o a dried bloom, tossing it into the gutter.
"I adore your mom's ﬂowers. So pretty and cheerful." Anna waved as she continued on her way. And it was true—she did love seeing the café's ﬂowers. It was a bright spot in her day. The blooms reminded her of the small hotel she'd worked at during her college years. Some students in the hospitality management program had disparaged the old Pomonte Hotel by calling it the Podunk Hotel. But compared to the Value Lodge, the thirty-six-room Pomonte was quite chic, from its cast iron ﬂowerpots by the door to the bubbling fountain in the lobby. It was true what they said: you don't know what you've got until it's gone.
Anna felt a familiar wave of disappointment wash over as her destination came into view. The boring two-story motel had been built in the early eighties, and most Springville residents agreed it was an eyesore. Some more motivated citizens had even gone to the city council demanding improvements. Anna couldn't blame them. When she'd accepted the managerial job, she had convinced herself that she could make a difference in the humdrum lodgings—or she could move on after a year. Unfortunately, she'd been wrong on both accounts.
As she got closer to the building, her general dismay was replaced by some ironic gratitude—she was thankful that none of her college chums could see her now. It was bad enough having to confess her lackluster vocation to a childhood friend this morning. But if her college acquaintances knew—like her ex-roommate who now worked in Paris, or the ex-boyfriend who managed a Caribbean Ritz—Anna would feel thoroughly humiliated.
She wasn't a big fan of social networking, but she occasionally sneaked a peek at friends' Facebook pages—not for long, lest she feed any jealous green demons festering inside of her. Naturally, she never posted a single word about her own personal or professional life. Occasionally she was tempted to fake some exotic photos and falsify her whereabouts, just for fun, but really that wasn't her style. Better to remain honest and simply suffer in silence.
From across the street, she frowned at the garishly painted Value Lodge. Not for the first time, she wondered what idiot picked out those colors. The bright yellow and red stripes had always reminded her of a fast-food restaurant; they looked like mustard and ketchup, but much less appetizing. In Anna's opinion, almost everything about this motel was unappealing, from the "free continental breakfast," which consisted of small cardboard boxes of cereal and cartons of milk and juice, to the kidney-shaped swimming pool in its varying shades of blue and sometimes green, to the lumpy queen beds topped with bedspreads with a texture akin to fiberglass. For the life of her, she could not understand why anyone would stay here on purpose. Well, except that the Value Lodge boasted the "lowest rates in town." She would give the motel that much—it was definitely cheap.