Chapter one: Meet the family
Zjeliah’s parlour is an explosion of colours and textures. Wild pinks, sharp reds and screaming blues all shouting for dominance.
It’s a hair salon most of the time. Bound threads that are sleek and thin or puffed up with curls. But anything fashion can be found at Zjeliah’s parlour and if it’s not there, he’ll want it even more than you.
The man himself is running from stand to stand trying to pick out that perfect wig for me.
“Have you ever considered purple? Like a reddish one?” he asks me while holding a long shiny example next to my face.
I look into the mirror “I think I’d like something a bit more subdued actually.”
“Again? Isn’t it time to step a little bit outside that comfort zone of yours? Try something bold.”
I cross my arms “I like my comfort zone, and I like hair colours that are more subdued.”
“Bah, boring, all right I’ll look at the browns and blacks and other boring colours for you.”
I chuckle “Thank you.”
The door to the salon opens with a happy jingle followed by a “What are you still here for, I thought your job interview was half past two?” the lady entering is called Kregaya and she’s one of my favourite sisters.
“Yes, but it’s still early… I think?” I look around for a clock. “Uhm? You don’t have a clock Zjeliah?”
“Of course not, it’s a beauty parlour, not an office. It’s a haven of relaxation. Clocks cause way too much stress.
“That’s all great but Delaylah has a job interview in thirty minutes.”
“Thirty minutes!?” I exclaim “How did that happen I came here at eleven.”
“I mean if I’d known you had a job interview I wouldn’t have showed off all my newest finds.” Zjeliah cries out with exaggerated indignancy. My eyes trail to the pile of brand-new knickknacks and baubles that he still needs to put away. “Besides, why a job interview, I thought you were a baker?”
“Oh, uhm, I got fired.”
I hiss uncomfortably “Longer ago than I’m proud to admit.”
“Wanna talk about it?”
Zjeliah nods briskly at that and then claps his hands “Right then, in that case, sod them for firing my darling sister and where are you going to apply now?”
“No time, again. Thirty minutes.” Kregaya cuts in “Did you pick a wig yet?” Kregaya asks and I shake my head awkwardly.
She sighs, then her voice softens “All right let’s have a look round then.” She grabs an ash blonde wig with a bit of a wave to it, a reddish brown spilling down over the shoulders and a brown wig that’s a bit more on the yellow side. “Right, which one of these do you like the most?”
“Absolutely not! You will not put a blonde wig on a cherry doll that’s sacrilege!” Zjeliah exclaims dramatically while pretending to faint.
“Look it just needs to look good for the talk she can come back tomorrow if needed but she can’t go like this.” She points at my bald head and I mean, fair.
“I insist on the russet, it’s the best one of the boring ones you picked.”
My sister rolls her eyes “Did he try talking you into rainbow hair again?”
Kregaya sighs “Zjeliah, Delaylah is a boring girl, let her have boring hair if it makes her happy.” She then hands me the russet wig for me to try.
Zjeliah dances around me with a mirror showing off every little angle as I ponder “It’s something to get used to surely but it doesn’t look bad.”
“Good enough!” Kregaya decides “Let’s go.” She pulls me from the chair and out we go, into the busy streets of Unebre rushing past carts and wagons, pedestrians and the odd bike with ridiculously large wheels.
“All right so this is the street where’s the place?”
“It’s right here.” I point to the slender building with bright yellow awnings.
“That’s the hotel you wanna work at?”
“Yeah, it looks cosy, and they have a vacancy.” There’s a small sign hanging on the door saying ‘open’ and underneath it is a piece of paper that says “looking for cleaner.”
She makes a thoughtful sound, then shrugs “You know what, I’m not gonna question it, just get inside it’s almost time.”
I hug her “Thank you for coming to get me.”
“Of course, now good luck and give ’em hell.”
Then rush to the door.
Right before the door I halt for a second, try to compose myself, fix my hair in the window.
Then I see the entrance hall is straight on the other side and the young lady behind the desk is looking straight at me. Her hair is pale and has tightly tiny curls creating a wild head of hair that needs to be tied down with ribbons and pins.
I chuckle uncomfortably and open the door.
“Hi, uhm, my name is Delaylah, I’m here for the interview?”
The lady nods once then looks down at a paper ledger laying open on the desk. She then turns and pulls on a cord, I can hear a bell ringing somewhere upstairs.
“He’ll be down in a minute.”
“Oh, okay thank you.” I smile, then look around, I don’t really know what else I’m supposed to do otherwise.
There’s a lot of wood in here, wooden wall panelling, wooden furniture and wooden beams running past the ceiling. There are a couple of chairs standing by the window, maybe I should sit down?
I expected more people here.
I don’t know how many rooms this place has but it can’t be many judging from the outside of the building. Yet I can’t help but wonder what’s the use of an entrance hall with sofas and things if none of the guests that stay here want make use of it.
The man thumping down the steps wears a mustard yellow suit with purple shoes and a big grin “Ah hello you must be Delilah?”
“Oh I’m sorry, I’m Mister Viola.” The man shakes my hand vigorously, I don’t squeeze back, but I nod pleasantly.
“That’s okay mister Viola, I’m here for the job interview.”
“Yes, yes follow me.” He lets go of my hand and points to the steps.
The office I’m led to is a small affair, with just enough room for a desk, two chairs and a filing cabinet wrapped between four cream-coloured walls.
He sits down on his chair and signals me to do the same.
He then pulls out my resume.
“Well I can see your job experience is very diverse?” He starts.
“Yes, I haven’t quite figured out what I want to do with my life.”
“I see now, I don’t see a birth date uhm-”
“I started working about ten years ago, it’s right there in my timeline.” I don’t think my age should matter, I couldn’t even tell him if it did. I have no idea how old I am. All I know is which siblings are older and younger than me.
The man pauses for a bit as if trying to gauge the situation, then he asks “What do you think you’ll like about working in a hotel?”
“It looks cosy, I like the way the place feels.”
“It feels warm and kind. I bet a lot of people come here for that quality.”
The man laughs heartily at this “I think most people come here for a bed and a roof above their head. But I’m glad to hear you like the atmosphere, you should tell my wife, she’s the architect of that side of the business” Then his tone of voice becomes more serious. “But it’s hard working in a hotel, the rooms of the guests need to be cleaned every day, as does the reception and kitchen. Depending on the number of guests you may be asked to help prepare dinner and the guests will need help with getting their bags and suitcases to their room. I’m not sure if that fits inside your idea of cosy.”
“Oh, I don’t mind that, I’ve worked as a cleaner inside Unebre University for a while and I’ve been a lugger at the lumber mill. However, I must admit I can’t taste anything so I don’t think I should be cooking on my own.”
“You’d be in charge of cutting, peeling and kneading I don’t think that would be a problem.” He looks over the papers again and bites his lip “I hope it’s not improper to ask but, do you have any special needs, as a doll that is.”
“Not as far as I know? Although I was wondering if this position came with a place to spend the night.”
“I thought dolls didn’t sleep?”
“We don’t, but it’s nice to have a space to read when it’s dark outside.”
“I see…room and board are not included normally, but if you wish to read in our parlour during the night I won’t stop you. But it does mean you’ll be here for breakfast preparations as well.”
“Any other questions?”
“You don’t want to know your pay?”
“Oh that, that would be good to know yes.”
“It’s four lodis per week, payday is Wednesday, and it’s given to you by the mistress of the house after dinner.”
“Then welcome to the team.” He sticks out his hand again.
I shake it confidently. Then quickly let go again and follow the man out the door.
“You met Melody at the door already but allow me to introduce everyone properly.” He knocks on the door next to his office and says “Darling we found one.”
“Is it the doll?”
“Come on in.”
Mister Viola opens the door and in an office that looks like an exact mirror image of the one we just left. Behind the desk sits a woman with long blond hair. Her hair coiled up behind her head in an intricate pattern, I wonder how she did that. “Oh she’s pretty, I like the hair, very eccentric.” She says as she gets up. “I’m missus Viola, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
I puff up my chest proudly at the compliment and remind myself to send the kind words onward to Kregaya. I then shake her hand wondering how many times I’ll have to do that today.
“Are you sure you wanna keep her in the back dear? She would make quite the striking image.”
“We’re a family business, it’d look weird to see someone sitting there who’s not from the family.”
“All right, I guess that’s true. She’d probably do a better job than Melody though.”
“Darling!” Mister Viola lets out in shock.
The woman shrugs “It’s true isn’t it?” she then waves away the remark as easily as she made it. “Well, regardless, welcome to the team.”
“Now let’s head to the others shall we?” the man takes me down the steps again pointing at doors on the way.
“Now this floor is ours, so my office, my wife’s office. Our bedroom and then this is the bedroom of our daughters Melody and Harmony. The floor above is for guests, there are also a couple of guest rooms on the ground floor in the back, we come down to eight guest rooms in total. The ground floor rooms are tidied during breakfast, and the rooms on the second floor are cleaned during lunch. That way the guests aren’t inconvenienced by your being there.”
“Is cleaning a room inconvenient?”
“It is when it’s a stranger and not your spouse doing the cleaning. It feels off.”
We go down the steps again but instead of going into the parlour, we take a turn to the right.
“Here’s the kitchen” My guide opens a door and a cloud of steam rushes out into the hallway.
“Opening a window may be a good idea.” My new boss suggests dryly.
“Right, on it.” A voice calls back in the mist. The voice is young, ladylike and pleasant.
As the vapour vanishes the shape of a girl in young adolescence arises.
With blond hair and curls, she looks identical to the girl from the front desk. But something about her is different.
“Delaylah this is Harmony, Harmony, this is Delaylah, our new employee.”
That makes sense.
“It’s a pleasure.” She reaches her hand out to me, I shake it carefully.
“How’s supper coming along?” Mister Viola asks looking at the pot on the range.
“This recipe is crazy, the water keeps boiling off so then I add more and well…”
“I think you’re supposed to put the lid onto the pan,” I observe.
“The recipe doesn’t say- oh, never mind.” Harmony chuckles awkwardly, then start opening cupboards looking for a lid.
“Well then, let’s head back to the front desk and after that, you can get started with preparing the dining room.” We exit the room.
We walk to the front desk where the other half of the set is still sitting, her head resting on her hand and gaze down at the ledger on the table.
“Melody.” The man announces and the girl’s shoulders shoot up as if startled.
“Oh hi, dad.”
“This is Delaylah, she’s got the job.”
I reach out my hand to her “Hello again.”
“Hey.” She nods at me, I nod back not entirely sure what I’m supposed to do next.
“Melody doesn’t talk much.” Mister Viola explains “Now on to work. I’ll show you the supply cupboard.
I follow the man out of the lobby again, looking back once to see the girl setting her elbow on the table and resting her head on her hand.
Is she falling asleep on the job?
“Anything wrong?” The man asks me as I’m straying behind.
“What? No, I don’t think so.”
I pick up the pace.