Universally enthusiastic chaos-artist & storyteller

Chapter seventeen: Meet the family again

Back in the washroom, I check the temperature of the iron.
Then gaze upon the mountain of tablecloths that need pressing.
I didn’t even know the family had this many tablecloths.
Maybe they borrowed a couple somewhere?
I lay out the first one on the ironing board and spray it with a little water.
Then set down the iron with a satisfying little hiss.
I press into the fabric with gentle force and the folding creases and launder wrinkles disappear like magic.
As I work my gaze wanders out the window.
Outside the leaves are already turning brown. Autumn is upon us.
It’s weird.
Normally the seasons change so quickly, as if the moment you get used to one it’s already time for the next.
But this time so much has happened, it felt like summer could last forever.
I wish it would.
There’s a knock on the door.
“Delaylah?” It’s Harmony.
“How are the tablecloths?”
“I got four of them done.”
“Right, well they can wait. Dad wants you to clean and ready rooms one through five.”
“Five rooms? Where did all the guests go?”
“Dad arranged they go somewhere else for a bit. We’ll be having new guests tomorrow morning and they’ll need clean rooms.”
“Right.” I put the iron down on the stand and douse the fire. “I’ll get started then.”
“Thank you.” And just like that she vanishes again.

I grab my cleaning supplies, some fresh linen and clean towels, then close the door with my foot.
“Oh, Delaylah.” someone calls from the front desk.
This time it’s Melody who requires my attention.
“What is it?” I ask.
“There’s a letter for you.”
“A letter for me?” That’s odd, it’s far too early for another death-day party.
“Yeah, so can I give it to you?” she wonders aloud looking at my filled arms.
“Just stuff it in my apron, I’ll look at it later. Thank you, Melody.”
“No problem.” She carefully pushes the letter into my apron pocket.
I head on to room one.
Close the door behind me.
Drop everything.
And check the letter.

Darling Delaylah,

You are hereby invited to the opening of Bar-B. A delightful place to put down your burdens and unwind for a time. You can bring friends or come alone.
The opening starts at seven in the evening.
I hope you can make it.

With love.

It’s the name that shakes my weary head into realisation.
The old gallery.
Jaxogeras already managed to change it up and plan a new opening.
I’m impressed.
And it’d be a delightful distraction for Melody and me. A way to get away from the business for just a time.
I pocket the letter again. Reminding myself to ask her after I’m done here.
And set to work.

As I make my way from the first to the third floor I notice Harmony is sitting behind the front desk instead of Melody.
“Is Melody on break?” I ask.
“Huh? Oh, yes, she’s in the kitchen.”
I set down the buckets and brooms behind the desk for a bit “Then I’m on break too.” I tell her and head to the kitchen.
“Oh, okay.”

Inside the kitchen, Melody is eating some leftover roast meat and green beans.
“Delaylah.” Melody looks from side to side for a moment. Then puts down her fork and kisses me “How are you?”
“A lot needs doing,” I observe.
“Yes, yes indeed.” She sighs “I’m really glad you’re here you know. For obvious reasons of course but also because if we had to prepare this wedding with just the four of us I’m certain I would have expired before the big day.”
She draws an imaginary line on her neck with her finger and then hangs her head down saying “bluh.”
“That’d be bad.”
She laughs at this “Yes, yes it would be.” She then takes another bite of her lunch “But yeah, I’m really looking forward to a nice long night of sleep tonight.”
“Oh…” I let out slightly disappointed.
“Oh?” Melody asks.
I pull the envelope from my pocket and show it to her.
She glances over it “Oh.” Then bites her lip “I’d love to go darling but I’m not sure if it’s a smart move.”
“You should rest up tonight.”
“I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, I’ll take you there after the wedding. Then hopefully we’ll both have more time.”
“I should get back to work, enjoy your lunch.”
“Thank you.” She smiles and takes another bite.
I head back to the front desk to grab my supplies.

Now to clean the rooms on the second floor, press the table linen-
“Oh, Delaylah?” Mister Dovey asks as he runs into me on the staircase.
“Yes, mister Dovey?”
“Uhm, well, could you maybe come to my room later today? Like not right now, when it’s convenient to you.”
“Whatever for?” I ask.
“I’ll need some help with my suit for the wedding but I don’t want to ask the girls for help.”
“Sure thing Mister Dovey.”
“Thank you so much.”
I nod politely, then head up the steps.
Okay rooms, linen, helping Dovey, then dinner, then dishes…
Then getting out of here for some quality time with the family.
I’m looking forward to it already.

“So what do you think?” Mister Dovey asks. He doesn’t sound too sure of himself.
I can’t say I blame him for that.
“This is the same suit you wear every day right?”
The young man winces at the accusation “Well…yes but I don’t actually have much else or the funds to get a wedding suit. Look I changed the tie though.”
“It’s crooked.”
Sounds like Zjeliah might have to clothe both sides of the happy couple.
“You know one of my siblings has a salon, I think he might be able to help out.”
His face lights up “That’d be great yes, thank you so much.”

By the time I finally manage to pull myself away from the ever-expanding list of chores and tasks, it’s nine in the evening.
The darkness outside punctuates the changing season. The lanterns shine sparse light onto the red and orange trees lining the street. There’s a chill in the air that feels quite refreshing after a long day of running around.
I must have missed the grand ribbon cutting or whatever official part the opening had to go through.
But at least I’ll be able to have a look and congratulate Jaxogeras on yet another achievement.

Whoever painted the sign on the front of the building did an excellent job and it makes me wonder if the gallery even had a sign before.
I don’t even think it had a name, we all just called it ‘the gallery’ because that’s what it was.
But the swirling gold against dark blue looks right, this looks like a proper establishment.
I open the door.
And marvel at the sparkles.

The walls are decorated with pink and gold wallpaper that curls and creeps along the walls. The floor is covered in marbled tiles. The furniture is gold leaf-covered wood carved in intricate patterns and upholstered in wonderful brocades.
It feels like home in a way. And it’s hard to believe this place used to be a picture gallery less than a month ago.
“There you are. I’m so glad you could make it Delaylah” Jaxogeras strides towards me arms extended in a welcoming gesture.
We hug “Thank you for the invitation.”
“Of course. This whole thing is thanks to you.”
I wave away the compliment “You’d have changed it up without my help.”
“Oh I know that, but who knows when?” they drag us deeper into the place and I find a small smattering of dolls already enjoying themselves to games or chatter.
It feels like the death day party.
But it’s not.
I think that makes it better.
“Heya Jaxogeras wanna play”
“Not now Korril but thank you for the offer.”
“Afraid you might lose? That’s fine, How about you Deylaylah?”
Jaxogeras rolls their eyes. I just look at the dice on the table and ask “What’s the game?”
“Roll as high as you can, but you’ll need a one and a four for your score to count.”
“Can I have a go?”
“Certainly, sit down, sit down. At least Delaylah has a spine.”
“We’re wood Korril, neither of us has spines.” Jaxogeras corrects him
“Exactly, now you sure you don’t wanna play?”
“Just move over already.” They concede. “But If more guests come in I’m out to greet them again.”
I think I’m going to like this place.

Time flies when you’re having fun.
I barely registered the sun rising.
I enter the hotel and pick up my book.
And get startled by the sound of the bell at the front desk.

Less than an hour later there’s a line at the desk.
I have never seen a line at the desk before.
But there must be at least twenty people here.
And they all like to hover around Harmony sending her congratulations and unsolicited advice.
Leaving Melody to do most of the actual work.
“All right, move over,” I tell Melody.
“Dad doesn’t want you doing the desk,” Melody responds coldly.
“Are you gonna tell him.”
“Don’t need to, they will.” She gestures with her chin to the customers and the first one in line, an older lady with an obnoxiously big hat regards me with suspicious eyes.
“I didn’t know your dad started hiring dolls.”
“He hired ‘doll’, only one and her name is Delaylah.” Melody bites at her with squinted eyes.
I quickly get up in an attempt to alleviate the hostility “It’s nice to meet you, madam.” I bow respectfully at her.”
“You’re doing it wrong.” The woman tells me bluntly, her nose upturned in my direction.
“Excuse me?” I ask.
“You’re a lady right?”
“Then you should curtsy.”
“Oh…I didn’t know that.”
“Disgraceful, I learned how to curtsy before I learned how to button my boots.  Whoever raised you must have had some odd priorities.”
I don’t think that was a polite thing to say. I ball my fist but keep my mouth tightly shut.
She’s a customer after all.
Another woman, younger but the resemblance is striking intervenes “Mother, it’s not important can we please just get the key and go put down our luggage.”
The older woman scoffs “Not important!? It’s rules like these that keep society together it’s-”
“Mom~ we’re holding up the line.” The daughter pleads exasperatedly.
The woman huffs “All right, what room do we get?”
“Number two, it’s right through there,” Melody explains holding out the key to the strict woman.
“Thank you.” The woman grabs the key from Melody’s hand and pulls her mother along “Come on.”
I watch them leave wondering how I should have felt by the interaction.
“Please don’t mind the old bat, she means well in her own way.” The man takes off his hat and extends his hand towards me “The name’s Cheer Viola, pleasure to meet you luv.”
“You’re relatives?” I look at Melody.
The man laughs heartily at this “The whole line is relatives, we’re here to see Harmony get married.”
Now that he points it out it’s rather embarrassing I didn’t figure it out by myself.
I mean statistically speaking too many of these people are blondes.
“Oh, that makes sense, so Harmony is your…?”
“How long have you been working here?”
“Six, maybe seven months.”
“Eight months.” Melody corrects me.”
“You got started in Paguroidea.”
“Time really flies.”
“Yes, yes it does. You’re on the second floor uncle, room four.”
“My gratitude is great.” The man announces joyously as he accepts the key.
Melody rolls her eyes at this, The man promptly ignores the gesture and shouts “Children, we’re going.” Before a crowd of kids comes crashing in.
“Which floor?”
“Second floor.”
“Yes! Come on!” The biggest one of them shouts before they shoot off to run up the steps.
“Don’t stomp your feet on the stairs, you’ll bother the other guests.” The man follows with a smile on his face.
Those are a lot of children.
It makes me wonder where their mother is.
“Uncle’s luggage is the blue set, can you get that upstairs?” Melody asks.
“Oh right! Of course.”

The whole inn is filled with Viola’s and Viola-adjacent people.
I’ve started noticing some trends.
They’re all headstrong.
They’re also all bad at agreeing with one another.
Meaning most of the time is spent arguing over minor things.
There is one thing.
One single pastime that all the member of the Viola family apparently has a passion for.
All someone needs to do to get the whole family together is lay down a small cardboard box on the dinner table and tell them “Let’s play cards.”
People gather around the table like moths to a flame and Mister Viola beckons me to join in.
“Can I?”
“Of course, it’s not like you have any guests to tend to now.”
I turn to Melody “Let’s-”
“I don’t feel too well, I’m going to bed early actually.”
“Oh, okay.” I guess she’s tired today as well.
“You did look a bit spaced out this morning.” Mister Viola concedes “All right, good night.”
Melody’s face pulls into a half-smile, she nods, then looks at me “Have fun.”

The cards get dealt around and I think I may be cursed with a bad hand at the start of every game.
It’s not a big deal. I’m already glad I’m allowed to participate.
“So have you already tried on the dress?” some relative asks of Harmony and immediately it’s clear what this whole card game is going to be discussing.
“Oh, I have, thanks to Delaylah.”
I put up my hands gingerly “That’s me.”
“Really? You’re not going to wear your mother’s dress?”
“The poor thing got munched. I might be able to repair it for Melody’s turn but there’s more than enough to worry about right now without repairing a dress on a deadline.
“So what are you going to wear?”
“You’ll see.” Harmony signals to Mister Dovey.
“I mean we can kick him out of the room for a bit.”
“No, that’s rude.” Harmony states resolutely.
“He’s only not allowed to see the dress right? Having it described technically shouldn’t cause bad luck.” The uncle proposes.
“Yeah, but we shouldn’t risk it.”
“For science?”
“She’s your niece, darling, no experimenting on the family.”
“But they’re twins, the epitome of study subjects, we can compare the result when it’s Melody’s turn.”
“If ever.”
“She just needs more time to find a beau, nothing wrong with that.” Mister Viola says.
“Are you taking her out enough? There’s only a limited amount of eligible men coming through these doors every year.”
“If you want a girl to get married you can’t just wait around as a parent for her to fall in love on her own. I mean it worked in your case.” The lady gestures at Harmony and mister Dovey “And I’m glad for that. But Harmony is a much more…agreeable character than Melody in any way. She’s far too coarse to court someone without outside help.”
“Too coarse to court?” I ask while my annoyance with the table grows by the second.
“She’s unrefined, it’s not your fault really.” She gestures to Melody’s mother “I see it often with twins, one half takes all the social skills and then the other half just…has to figure things out without. It’s quite tragic but that’s where your help is needed.”
“I think you’re wrong.” I put down my cards face-down. This is not the kind of game I like to play.
“Excuse me.” The old woman challenges.
“I think Melody is kind and considerate and a good conversationalist. She just needs time to become comfortable with people. Time you obviously have not granted her before writing her off as a lost cause.”
“Delaylah!” Mister Viola barks as the table gasps around me.
The old lady’s face runs over in red “Miss Delilah, as serving staff it’s not your place to talk back to me, especially not with cruel accusations like that.”
I look at Mister Viola. He pretends not to see me as he addresses the matriarch “Delaylah has gotten on quite well with my daughter lately. It’s been a good development for both of them I think. However, she is aware of her status as personnel and she’d like to apologise to you for stepping out of line.”
No, I don’t I-
Mister Viola sets his eyes on me and I start to have the feeling I don’t exactly have the option to refuse.
Not if I want to keep this job.
I ball my fist “I was out of line, I apologise.”
The old bat’s face wrinkles into that of a cat who’s just found a mouse to eat. “Good. Now was dealing again?”
My eyes drift to Harmony she smiles at me apologetically.
I wonder if I can leave the table.
Is that also rude?
Do I need to be excused?
And by whom?
I want to go to Melody.
I want to hug her and apologise for apologising to that bitter woman.
She probably wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails from it.
But now I just feel like a failure.

Sweet release comes around when my points run out.
I thank the table for a fun game and flee out of there.
The moment I’ve left the room I rush up the stairs.
“Melody I- Oh…”
She’s not there.   
I guess she sneaked out again…
I could go back downstairs. Head to the reception room and read.
But I don’t want to risk running into more family members.
I’m starting to get why Melody rather runs off than play cards with them.
I sit down on the floor before her bed.
And wait.

I move back to the parlour by the time the inn has gone quiet.
Yet there’s no sign of Melody.
Part of me suspects she must have run away from home.
Maybe stole some jewellery from some older relatives and sold them at the pawnshop.
But she wouldn’t leave without me, right?
Never mind that she wouldn’t leave without witnessing her sister’s wedding.
I know all this and yet every time the hour hand makes another round my stomach feels like it’s sinking ever deeper.
When the sun starts rising I’m a ball of nerves.
I’m kicking myself for not going out and looking for her.
What if she’s in danger?
What if she expected me to come looking for her?
What if she was waiting for me at the train station but now she opted to leave by herself before getting found out?
Wait that doesn’t make sense.
How would I know she was there?
The sound of the door opening softly makes me jump up from my chair. “Melody?”
“Hey, Delaylah.”
“Are you okay? Your eyes are red.” I observe, she also seems a little sluggish, although…that can be explained by the insinuation she was up all night again.
“I’m fine, Let’s get to work.”
“It’s five a.m.”
She shrugs “There’s a lot of things left to do before the wedding day and I don’t want anyone complaining I didn’t do my part.” She takes off her coat and heads to the kitchen.
“I guess? Wait hold up, at least let me make some tea first.”

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