This is Part 1 of my serial story. Stick around to find out what happens next!
Part 1: Interview
Hotel Fulcrum was a square brick building, four stories high, roof tiled in white. No balconies — no view. No valet attendant, just a square car park, almost empty. On the other side of the car park was a petrol station. Nothing special. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Janet Ling walked through the doors and marvelled at the contrast between the hotel’s plain exterior and its grandiose interior. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling. The floor was white marble, except for where it had been covered by rich red and gold carpet. Maybe it wasn’t quite the Ritz, but it certainly beat most hotels she’d been to.
She approached reception with a little trepidation. “Hi, I’m Janet Ling?”
The receptionist gave a piercing look through pale blue eyes. “Miss Ling. Ah yes. Here for the interview?”
“Someone will be here shortly.”
Janet nodded again and took the time to watch the people hurrying back and forth across the lobby floor. It was bustling, which seemed odd since the carpark had so few cars in it.
A man in a blue suit came towards her. “Miss Ling? This way.” He led her through a series of winding corridors to a large office. It was a dark room, the only light coming from two desk lamps and a thick red candle. They cast a soft glow on the rich brown wood but left everything else in shadow.
The man behind the mahogany desk was, according to the name-plate, Mr. James L Smith, the hotel manager. “Miss Ling, please sit.”
Janet sat. She was trying not to think of the man as a skeleton, but that really was the best way to describe him — bony and pale, with dark sunken eyes and thinning grey hair. It didn’t help that there was some sort of strawberry-lavender concoction in the air. The red candle must be scented.
“So. Tell me about yourself.”
Janet had prepared a little for this job interview, but she found herself stumbling over words and forgetting basic facts about herself. She hadn’t exactly expected the interview to be a breeze, but it was just a job as a server, it shouldn’t have been too difficult, should it? But as she continued to answer the basic questions, she couldn’t help but feel that Mr. Smith was not at all impressed.
“All right,” he said, after she had stammered out some skills that could be relevant. “Why do want to work here?”
Janet took a breath. “I just moved back to the area for the summer, with my parents. So it’s convenient for me. And I admire your dedication in bringing tourists to this area. I grew up here and I think it’s underrated.”
Mr. Smith leaned forward and frowned. “That’s not a real answer.”
Janet blinked. “I’m sorry?”
“That’s an answer you prepared in advance in order to make yourself sound good. I want your real answer. Why do you want to work here?”
“I meant what I said.”
“About moving back home from the summer and needing something to kill time, maybe. You’re an accounting student just finished with your second year. You’ve listed your hobbies as travel and adventure, but you’ve never been outside the country. You did work at a cafe, but mostly your great achievements lie in the academic sphere — top marks for maths and music in high school, high distinctions in many of your units at university.“
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand why that’s relevant.” Janet resisted the urge to rub her temples. The smell in this room was giving her a headache.
“Exactly. Nothing you’ve done points to your identifying with our culture and our mission. I doubt you approve of anything we do. You don’t even like the scents we use.”
“What? I didn’t say that.”
“You were thinking it, very loudly. Well, Miss Ling? Why did you apply to work here?”
“Fine.” This guy had obviously made up his mind about her. She had nothing to lose. “The truth? I’m back with my parents for nearly three months over the summer. My best friend — my only friend — is going on a holiday I can’t afford, and my relatives decided to come across the country for the holidays. They’re all staying with my parents, and the place isn’t really very large, so I want something that takes me out of the house as much as possible. So here I am. Satisfied?”
“But why us, in particular? You could apply at any restaurant, any cafe, any shop.”
“And maybe I have. You know people apply to several places when they’re looking for jobs?” Lay off the sarcasm, damn it.
Smith shifted some papers on his desk. ”Only you haven’t, not really. We’re your first choice. You applied for some yesterday, but only because you thought this wasn’t going to work out.”
“That’s not true,” she lied. How the hell could he know that?
“It would surprise you what we know, Miss Ling. Will you finally answer the question?”
Janet shrugged. “I mean, if I need to get a job, it might as well be …”
“A poky little place in the middle of nowhere that almost certainly sees very few guests?”
It had been almost exactly what she had been thinking. She stared at him in shock. “I didn’t say that.”
“I believe it was on the tip of your tongue.”
“You can’t know that.”
“Were you thinking something else?”
“I mean … this is an industrial area. You aren’t near the beach, you aren’t near anywhere tourists might want to visit.”
“So perhaps we’ve failed the location test.”
“But you have been here as long as I remember. So I guess you must know how to attract customers, or you would be out of business by now.”
Smith cocked his head to one side. “Would it put you off if I told you we actually see a lot of business?”
“No. It’s not that I don’t want to work hard or anything, I just wanted something a long way from my parents’ house. My aunts …”
“I understand.” Smith leaned back. “Do you have any questions for me?”
Janet shook her head, not trusting herself to speak.
“In that case, I think we’re done here. Thank you for your time. We’ll be in touch.”
Sure you will. At least this would make a good story. Janet couldn’t wait to tell Angela how badly she had stuffed this up.
“I can’t believe it,” said Angela.
Janet turned the car off the freeway, towards the airport. “That’s basically what happened.”
“You said you didn’t know how they could have enough guests stay open? You went to an interview and basically said their business was impossible! Janet, the things you say, sometimes.”
“I didn’t exactly go out of my way to say it.” Janet wondered if she should mention the fact that Smith had seemed able to read her mind. No. Angela would dismiss it as paranoia. She’d probably be right, too.
“Janet, darling, you have got to be careful with that mouth of yours. I love you and everything, but every now and then you say something stupid, or ask too many questions. You’ve got to learn to read the room.”
“That’s worked out for me so well.”
“You haven’t done it properly, that’s why it hasn’t worked out. You aren’t just going to stay home all summer, are you?”
“Not if I have a job.”
“You need more than a job. Join a club or something?”
“You sound like my Aunt Nina.”
“Sorry,” said Angela, although her tone was flippant.
They stayed silent until the airport came into view.
“You don’t need me to come down, do you?”
“Nah. You’ll be all right?”
“You’re worried about me? You’re the one travelling to Europe on her own.”
“I’m going with a tour group. I’ll be fine. But you’re going to be alone here.”
“I’ll keep busy.”
Angela sighed. “Promise me you’ll try to get along with other people who aren’t me.”
“I’ll try.” Janet rolled her eyes.
On the way home, though, Janet’s mood dropped. Angela had been her best friend all the way through high school and beyond. They’d been inseparable. But Angela had always been more outgoing, and now going to Europe with other friends. She didn’t need Janet. But Janet needed her.
On coming home, she found that the house guests had already arrived.
“Janet, sweetheart!” Aunt Nina pinched her cheek. “You’ve grown so much! And you’ve lost weight.”
“I’m sure I haven’t,” Janet mumbled.
“How were your grades at uni?” Uncle George rumbled from behind.
“Fine, fine.” Muttering reassurances and greetings, Janet made an escape to her bedroom, where she checked her emails. To her surprise, the top one was from James L Smith, Hotel Fulcrum’s Manager. A job offer!
Janet read it twice in disbelief. They couldn’t really want her? After what she had said?
Well, here was something to take her out of the house. Janet clicked reply and began to type out her acceptance.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed it, you can read Part 2 here