DISCLAIMER: The characters of Olivia Spencer, Natalia Rivera, Rafe Rivera, Frank Cooper, Buzz Cooper, Rick Bauer, Marina Cooper, Blake Marler, Ava Peralta, Jane, Greg, and Daisy Lemay are the sole property of Procter & Gamble, Telenext and CBS. They are being used for entertainment purposes only. No profit is being gained.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: All other characters and the story itself are my own creation, are entirely fictional, and are not intended to represent any actual person, living or dead. Any resemblance to any actual person or incident is purely coincidental and/or a figment or your own imagination, for which I cannot assume any responsibility. © 2009 Formerlurker. (In my fictional Springfield, Olivia never got a heart transplant or even needed one, although she does have health issues. Natalia never married Gus. In fact, Gus never even lived in Springfield and wasn't Alan's son. Frank and Natalia never dated, much less got engaged and almost married. Rafe never shot Jeffrey.)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Summer House
I don't know what possessed me to accept Olivia's invitation to go with her on a three-week trip to a remote area of mountains in the Appalachians. Maybe I was just curious about the mountains. I had read stories about those mountains and the people there, but I had never been there before, and to me it was a mythical place. I really wanted to see it first hand. Maybe it was because I knew that Olivia Spencer had no business going on a trip like that by herself not in her condition. Whether she would admit it or not, she needed someone to be there for her. But everyone who knew Olivia knew what a stubborn woman she could be, especially now, when her health was at issue and she didn't want to accept it.
There was something about Olivia, though. I couldn't put my finger on it, but she fascinated me. She had caught my imagination from the first day I met her. So, as I said, I don't really know why I accepted her invitation, and I am even more unclear why she made the offer in the first place. If I had it to do over again, and I knew what I know now, would I have looked into the window of that little house in the clearing in the woods? Would I have opened that door, knowing that it would change everything, that it would turn my whole world upside down?
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Maybe I should just start at the beginning, and explain how a three week working vacation, and solving a 60 year old mystery, changed my life forever.
Working for Olivia Spencer wasn't my original plan when I moved to Springfield. I didn't even consider staying at the Beacon, Olivia's hotel. It was too expensive. Instead, I rented rooms at a small boarding house for Rafe and myself. The rent was well within my budget and I could pay by the week or the month, without signing a lease or coming up with a security deposit. In short, it was perfect for someone in transition who wanted to stretch her money as far as possible.
Then I set my sights on getting a job, immediately if not sooner. I went downstairs and sat at a table in Company and ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of water. Then I opened the local paper I found in a stack by the door and looked for the want ads. There weren't many that didn't require experience or education I didn't have.
Live in Nanny Wanted
Hmmm, room and board in exchange for being a full time mother to three children AND cleaning up after them? No thanks.
PT probably means not more than 20 hours per week. I can't even afford to pay for our rooms here on that ...not if I expect to feed myself and Rafe too. Next.....
Housekeeper Wanted Immediately
Well, I certainly have the experience. I wonder what is considered "competitive" in this town.
I drew a circle around the ad, just as a short jovial looking man with thin graying hair came over to my table. He was a leprechaun of a man, with twinkling eyes and an infectious smile, but he looked like he could have crawled out of a cardboard box on a street in Chicago, with his unruly hair, his two-day old gray beard, and the food stains on his shirt and pants.
"Hi. You're staying upstairs, aren't you?" he asked, extending his hand to me.
"Yes," I replied, cautiously.
"I'm sorry. Buzz. Buzz Cooper. I own this restaurant and the boarding house. My grand-daughter, Marina, rented you the rooms. I just wanted to welcome you to Springfield."
I smiled back at him and shook his hand. "Natalia Rivera. Yes, my son, Rafe, and I will be living upstairs. I like the rooms. Simple, but clean and convenient."
"I couldn't help but notice that you're looking at the Want Ads."
"Yes.....but I have a little money saved. I can afford my rent." I hurried to reassure him, in case he thought I wouldn't be a good tenant.
"No, I didn't mean....Look, we're short a server here. Have you ever waited tables?"
"Yes, I have."
"Great! When can you start?"
"Well......don't you want me to fill out an application first?"
"Nope. I prefer to just trust my instincts on these things. I never could tell from an application how someone would work out anyway. I prefer to go with my gut. It usually works out better that way. Besides, if you filled out the application for the room, I already have all the information about you that I need. So, would you like the job?"
"Yes, definitely." And with a handshake and a smile, I got my first job in Springfield. I was excited and relieved. I hadn't even asked how much it paid or the hours, but it didn't matter. I needed something right away and this was definitely convenient. I wouldn't have to worry about my old car breaking down and making me late for work. So, I congratulated myself, In town for less than 24 hours and you already have housing and a job. Nice work, Natalia. Things are looking up already.
Buzz went into the back room and came back with a T-shirt sporting the Company logo, and a server's apron. "Here. You can change into this and start work right now if you want, or you can start tomorrow morning. Your choice."
"I'll go upstairs and change and start right now."
"Rick, I don't have time for this. Could you just cut to the chase and give me your little lecture on working too hard so I can get back to the Beacon? I have appointments in 20 minutes and I cannot afford to be late. These people want to book a convention for 100 people at the hotel. I can't keep them waiting." I was so tired of Rick's dramatics.
"Olivia," Rick said, sighing audibly, "You are making my point for me. You have to slow down. The stress is not good for you. What you had was angina. It was mild, but you should look at this as a sign to slow down and smell the flowers. Get some exercise. Walking every day would be good. Nothing too strenuous at first. Take an aspirin every day, and take this," he said, handing her a prescription. "Then I want you to come back to see me in a couple of weeks for another stress test. Make the appointment on your way out. And slow down!"
"I'll consider it," I said, rolling my eyes at him. "Now, may I leave?"
"Yes," he sighed, shaking his head.
After my appointment at the Beacon, I decided to go by Company for a late lunch. "Hi, Olivia," Buzz greeted me as I walked in the door, "You look tired. How are you?"
"You really can be annoying," I replied.
"Huh? Hey, I was just...."
"No, no....I know. I saw Rick this morning. He's being all mother hen with me about slowing down and then you had to say I look tired. It was just bad timing."
"Maybe you should listen to Rick. He is your doctor."
"I will, but he doesn't understand that I have a hotel to run."
"So what can I get you?" Buzz asked, changing the subject.
"I'd like to get lunch if it's not too late."
"Nope. Have a seat and a server will be right with you."
The young dark haired woman was new. I had never seen her before.
"Hi. I'm Natalia. I'll be serving you today. Would you like a beverage to start?" she asked, smiling at me. She had brown eyes that sparkled and the most amazing dimples. Buzz made a good hire. She will certainly bring in the customers with her looks and personality at least, male customers.
"Just water, please," I said, "And......a house salad with the dressing on the side. And please, make sure the croutons are fresh."
"Right away," Natalia said as she hurried off to fill the order.
As soon as she left, Buzz caught my eye and raised his eyebrows, as if to ask what I thought of his new waitress. "Nice. When did she start?" I said, and he laughed. "Today," he said, "She and her son have rooms upstairs. They just moved here from Chicago." Natalia returned with my water and told me the salad would be right out. "Thanks," I said, and winked at Buzz when she turned around.
When I finished my lunch, Natalia appeared again, seemingly out of nowhere. "Can I get you anything else?"
"No, just the check. By the way, Buzz tells me you're new to Springfield. How are you liking it so far?"
"I've been here less than a day, but so far I really like it," Natalia replied, "But, do you happen to know if there is a Catholic church nearby?"
"Oh, you're Catholic?"
"So was I, but it didn't take." I laughed, but Natalia wasn't laughing or even smiling.
"It was just a joke," I explained. Gee, this is awkward. I tried again, "I was raised Catholic, but I haven't been to church in years. I'm not really the religious type. God and I haven't been on speaking terms in a while."
"Oh...OK." Natalia replied, hesitantly, and she seemed so uncomfortable talking about it, I decided to just let it go. Not everyone gets your humor, Olivia, and it is obvious that the devout Miss Natalia doesn't see any humor in her religion. "There is a Catholic church in the next block," I told her. "You can walk there from here easily."
"Thanks," she said, and there were those dimples again. She was a very attractive woman, especially when she smiled. The men of Springfield would be ordering a lot more Buzz Burgers. I left some money on the table and said goodbye to Buzz. I left Natalia a big tip, in case she felt insulted by my comments about her religion.
I picked up the money from my last table and immediately realized that there must be a mistake. Surely that very elegant but irritating woman, who had laughed about my religion to my face, wouldn't have left me such a large tip. "Who was that?" I asked Buzz, looking out the window.
"Olivia Spencer. She owns the Beacon Hotel."
"She left me a $10 tip. That's more than her meal cost. Do you think it was a mistake? Should I go after her to see if she wants any change?"
"No, it wasn't a mistake. Olivia is a very generous person. A lot of people will tell you bad things about her, but Olivia has a good heart. She's just a little hard on the outside, because she doesn't want anyone to know how vulnerable she really is," Buzz said, looking almost wistful. "By the way, I never said that to you. OK?"
"Your secret is safe with me," I replied. I doubt anyone would believe me if I told them.
"I knew I could trust you," he said, laughing. "You did great today. Do you want to work the dinner shift, or do you need to unpack?"
"I would really like to work another shift for you, Buzz, but I really should get unpacked and settled in. If you want me to work an extra shift tomorrow, though, I'd be happy to do it."
"Great!" he said, beaming at her.
I went up to my room and started unpacking. I had never been anywhere other than Chicago and Springfield. My life had been pretty tame actually. Well, my life was as tame as life could be for a single mother working hard to raise a son in a big city. I never thought I would move away from Chicago. I had lived in Chicago my whole life, and after I got pregnant with Rafe at 16, my Catholic parents told me to either give up the baby or they wanted nothing more to do with me. I decided to keep my baby, Nicky's baby, and raise him on my own. I was stubborn, even then, and not even the shame of getting pregnant out of wedlock at such a young age could make me give up Nicky's child. I was such a romantic. Nicky was not so romantic. He left Chicago for parts unknown soon after I told him I was pregnant, and I never heard from him again. It broke my heart. I was so naive back then.
After Nicky left, I was about five months pregnant, and he had paid for the month's rent on our little walk up flat in advance. He left a simple note for me, telling me that he had gotten a job and had decided to take it. That was it. "Sorry, Natalia. I got a job and I took it. The rent is paid for the month. I hate to leave you alone with Rafe, but I never wanted to be a father, anyway. I'm too young to be tied down. Have a great life, Nicky." Have a great life. Right. I was 16, pregnant, disowned by my parents, had no money and no job, and Nicky was telling me to have a great life. Well, he was just a boy then. He was too young for the responsibility of being a parent. So was I, actually, but I had no choice in the matter. I got busy and found work cleaning the houses of the wealthy on Chicago's east side. I had the advantage of having English as my first language. I worked hard and got good tips in addition to my wages, so I was able to pay my expenses for a while. I was even able to put aside a little, by finding ways to save on food and other things.
After a couple of months, I had to stop working altogether. Fortunately, my tia, Rosa, my father's oldest sister, had learned of my situation and wrote to me asking me to come stay with her. I didn't really know her well, but I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I packed up my meager possessions and moved to her house. It was a simple but roomy place. Soon after I got there, Rafe was born. Two months later, Rosa had a heart attack and passed away. I was surprised to learn from her attorney that she had left me her house in her will. It wasn't worth a lot of money, and it wasn't in the best neighborhood, but the price was definitely right. I thanked God for my tia and her generosity. I went out and got work cleaning houses again, choosing jobs where I could take Rafe with me. Life was all about hard work, long hours, and making sure Rafe had everything he needed.
When Rafe turned 15, he got in trouble for painting graffiti. Then he started to hang around with the older boys in the neighborhood who were in a gang. He looked up to them. I was very worried about him. Finally, when I found out that Rafe had been skipping school and signing my name to absentee cards, I decided I needed to take some drastic action. I sold Rosa's house. I didn't get much for it, because of the neighborhood and its condition, but it was more money than I had ever had before. I knew I needed to put it aside and save it. I took a little to pay for moving, and I moved with Rafe to Springfield.
I don't even know why I picked Springfield. I heard someone talking about how nice it was there, a friendly small town. It was exactly the kind of place where I wanted Rafe to grow up, and it wasn't too far from Chicago and the familiarity of the city where I grew up. I needed to get Rafe away from his friends. They were a bad influence. He was a teenager and he wouldn't listen to me. I knew that moving was my only chance of saving him, so I did it. It wasn't as if I was leaving anything behind, not really. I worked so much I never had time to make many friends, and I certainly never had time to date or establish lasting relationships.
My life after Rafe was born consisted of working, taking care of Rafe, and going to church. The church was my only social network. All of my friends went to my church. I couldn't imagine my life without my religion. I couldn't really understand how Olivia Spencer could turn her back on that. I couldn't do it. My religion was the source of my strength. It had gotten me through so much, so many hard times.
Finally, I finished unpacking and putting things away. That was one of the advantages of not having much. It didn't take long to unpack. I went next door to see if Rafe had finished unpacking. He had left me a note, saying he was downstairs at Company, hanging out with Buzz's granddaughter. That's nice, I thought, He's already making new friends.
I went back to my room and lay down on the bed to rest. Thank you God, for all the help with finding a new place to live and a new job. Take care of Rafe. I'm glad he's already found a new friend. I don't remember falling asleep, but when I woke up, it was dark outside, and my clock showed it was 4:00 a.m. I was wide awake, so I decided to go ahead and get showered and dressed and walk down to see the church Olivia had told me about. Olivia Spencer. There is something about her that makes me feel uncomfortable. I can't put my finger on it. But Buzz seems to like her, so maybe I should just give her the benefit of the doubt.
"Coffee, Marina. My usual," I ordered, standing at the Company bar, "And an apple butter muffin, toasted." Then I thought of Rick, nagging me at my appointment yesterday about making some changes in my diet. I rolled my eyes. "Scratch the muffin, Marina. I'll take a banana instead." I picked up a banana from the basket on the counter and peeled it.
"Good morning, Ms. Spencer," Natalia said as she hurried past me to wait on her customer.
"Call me Olivia," I said, turning as she sped past me into the dining room. But she was already at the table, taking an order, and she ignored me.
"Good morning, Olivia," Natalia said, flashing a glimpse of her dimpled grin as she rushed by me again into the kitchen with her order.
"The new waitress seems to be working out well," I congratulated Marina, "I see she's here again for another shift this morning, so I assume she must be working out."
"Oh yeah," Marina agreed, "She's doing great. She agreed to work a double shift today breakfast and lunch. She's a hard worker too. Got here 15 minutes early and helped us fill salt shakers and restock jams."
"Really?" I said, contemplating Natalia as she hustled back out to wait on another customer. I really needed another housekeeper, and it occurred to me that Natalia would be perfect for the position. I liked her work ethic and attitude. But I didn't want to steal her away from Buzz when he had just hired her. I decided to leave it alone for the time being. Buzz was still smarting a little from me leaving him at the altar. It hadn't been one of my finer moments. I just panicked, I guess. It wouldn't have worked out anyway. None of my relationships ever worked out. I had finally realized that I just don't do relationships well. I vowed to restrict myself to flings and casual sex in the future. But in the interests of not totally destroying the tentative remnants of my friendship with Buzz, I would keep my hands off his new employee for now.
Olivia Spencer is staring at me. What is up with that? I rushed past her on my way to the kitchen. "Two eggs over medium with ham and a short stack, Buzz," I called out, as I rushed to make the toast and fill the drink orders.
When I went back out with the drinks, Olivia was gone, and I didn't think about her during the rest of my two shifts. After I finished work, I decided to go and see a house that I saw advertised in the newspaper. I really wanted to get a better place for Rafe than a boarding house room. He needed a real home, like the one we had in Chicago. He was already missing his friends there, and our house. Maybe I could find something I could afford to buy with the money I got from selling Rosa's house.
When I pulled up in the driveway of the farmhouse, I felt a sense of comfort. The exterior seemed inviting and warm. I couldn't wait to see inside the house. A car pulled into the driveway behind me. A woman got out of the car and walked up to me, smiling. 'Hi," she said, "I'm Blake Marler. You must be Natalia. Would you like me to show you inside the house now, or would you prefer to see the rest of the property?"
"Let's go inside first," I said. The minute Blake opened the door, and I walked into the farmhouse, I fell in love with it. It was perfect. Blake must have seen it in my face, because she smiled at me as she said, "All the furnishings are included, unless you don't want them, and then I will make arrangements to have them removed."
"Oh, no, I love how the owner decorated the house. It suits me perfectly. But I can't make a decision about it right away. I really need to think about it."
"Oh, of course you do. You haven't even seen the whole place yet. Why don't you walk around and look. I'll wait in the kitchen for you and then we can see the rest of the place if you like."
"OK," I said, touching the throw on the back of the sofa. "Does the fireplace work?"
"Yes, and I understand it draws perfectly. Cassie, the owner, had it inspected and cleaned after she moved out."
Imagine a fireplace that doesn't have an oil stove sitting in front of it. It is so beautiful. I ran my hand along the mantle. Then I went upstairs to see the bedrooms. There were four, and two full bathrooms, the private master bathroom and one to be shared. There was a small half bath downstairs, and a huge country kitchen with the most amazing appliances I had ever seen. I loved the kitchen immediately.
"I can see you like the kitchen. Cassie was a great cook and got the best appliances. That's a Bertazzoni gas range. It has 15,000 BTU burners, and a convection system in the oven. There are even settings for dehydrating and defrosting. The refrigerator is a Sub Zero. They come with the house."
"You're kidding!" I exclaimed before I could restrain myself.
Blake laughed, "No, I'm not kidding. Are you a cook?"
"I like to cook. I don't know if I would call myself a cook. I really like to bake, though." I was thinking about the convection oven. It was the kitchen of my dreams. I needed to reel in my enthusiasm a little, though. I had never purchased a house before, and I could see that I would need someone to give me some advice before I could make such an important decision, even assuming I could get the owner to accept a price I could afford. I didn't even have any idea what I could afford at this point. I just knew that I loved this house, but it was the first one I had seen, and I really didn't want to get my hopes up.
I walked with Blake to see the barn and the sheds and the little duck pond and by the time I got back to my car, I was determined to figure out a way to buy this house. It was perfect for me. I didn't even need to buy furniture, because between the furniture that was already there and the pieces I had inherited from my Tia, there was nothing I would really need. I could just move right in.
I hadn't gotten up the nerve to ask Blake the price, but she told me anyway. She gave me a brochure with the asking price. Now I just needed to find out how I could afford this house. I didn't have enough money from Rosa's house to pay for it. I would need a mortgage, and I had not idea if I could qualify or how much my payments would be. I really needed to ask someone for help, but I didn't know anyone in Springfield except Buzz and Marina and Daisy, and I really didn't want to ask them. It felt like I would be revealing too much about my personal business. Plus, it might make them feel that I was not reliable as a tenant or an employee if I started talking about moving again so soon after arriving in Springfield.
Then it occurred to me that I could ask Olivia Spencer. She didn't really know me, but she owned a hotel. Surely she would know about mortgages and what prices were reasonable. The thought of asking Olivia made me very nervous. Olivia was intimidating, but I wasn't really afraid of her. She seemed more bark than bite. I had known powerful women like her in Chicago. I cleaned their houses, so I knew all about them. No, Olivia Spencer didn't frighten me at all. But she did make me very nervous for some reason.
I noticed that I was passing by the street that went to the Beacon, and on an impulse, I turned down that street. I had no idea what I would say to Olivia, or if she would even see me. I just decided to take a risk. It wasn't like me at all. I never took risks. I am the type who has to consider every possible outcome and weigh all my options carefully before making a decision. Even so, I felt strangely good about my decision to talk to Olivia about the farmhouse.
"Ketel One martini, dry, three olives," I instructed the bartender at Towers, taking a seat at the bar. It had been a busy day. I had gotten a couple of new accounts which would bring in a lot of business. Given the economic climate, business was holding pretty steady. I had to think up some strategies to lure in business that I would have easily gotten before the slump. Executives liked to get extra perks for their conventions, freebies. It reduced my profit margin, but it was better than losing the business. The bartender placed the chilled glass in front of me and I took a sip. "Perfection," I said, and he beamed at me.
I saw Natalia Rivera enter the restaurant and wondered what she could be doing here. She didn't seem like the type who could afford a place like this. Maybe she would surprise me. She did, in fact, because when she glanced my way she smiled and walked in my direction. I vaguely wondered what she wanted.
"Hello, Ms. Spencer," Natalia said.
"Olivia," I corrected her.
"Yes, sorry, Olivia," she smiled nervously. "I was wondering if you might have time to help me with something. Please say no if you don't have time. I really don't want to impose on you."
"Well, I don't know whether it will be an imposition until you tell me what it is."
Natalia's dimples disappeared and a little furrow was on her brow. I had clearly caught her off guard, as I intended. "I, uh...Maybe I should have called first....I'm sorry....uh....""I'm not going to bite you Natalia. Just tell me what it is."
"OK...well," she said, as the dimples returned in a less pronounced incarnation, "I was thinking about buying a house."
"Yes, well.....I have never bought a house. Well, I haven't bought anything big like that before. My car was third hand and didn't cost much. It's just that.......I inherited some money before I moved here, and I would like to get a house for my son and myself, and I have no idea how to go about it." She let her breath out audibly when she finished her speech.
"And you want my advice?" She nodded. "Why me? You don't really know me."
"I don't really know anyone here. I just thought that, being a businesswoman and a property owner, you might be able to help me. But, as I said, if you don't have the time or...."
"No, no...it's fine. Sit down. I'll buy you a drink. What would you like?"
"Oh, uh....I guess a glass of white wine. Thanks." She sat down next to me, and I ordered her drink.
"So tell me, which house are you thinking of buying?"
She handed me a brochure. It was Cassie's house. I smiled, and she looked at me oddly. "It's the farmhouse that my former business partner is selling," I explained. "I know the place well. Let's see what they're asking. Hmm.....actually, that's a very fair price. She'll probably find a buyer pretty quickly with that asking price. Although, in this economy, anything is possible. It's a great time to buy real estate, if you have the money to do it."
"I know," Natalia said, smiling widely, "I really love the farmhouse. I fell in love with it the minute I walked in."
"Not good. I hope you didn't tell the agent that."
"No...I....Well, actually....I did say that I loved the kitchen." She was frowning again, worried.
"Don't worry about it. It doesn't matter. How much money do you have to put down?"
She told me and I started writing some numbers down on a cocktail napkin, figuring the mortgage payment in my head. When I told her the figure, I could see all of the excitement drain out of her. I felt strangely sad for her. I had no idea why I cared whether Natalia Rivera, a woman I barely knew, could afford Cassie's house, but apparently I did.
"Look, you're only $700 per month short on the mortgage payment. Maybe you could take in a boarder to make up the difference. The problem is, the banks are being really tight with credit right now. It'll be tough to get a loan without much credit history and just your income from Company," I explained to her. She nodded, crestfallen.
Then it was as if a lightbulb went on inside my head. "Do you have any experience doing housekeeping?"
"Only every day of my life since I was 16," Natalia said, smiling at me again.
"I'm looking for a housekeeper for the hotel. It's a full time job, but I'm willing to be flexible, to a degree, about the hours, so you can keep your job at Company and work here too. It's a lot of work, and it's physical work, so why don't you give it some thought first. If you decide you want the job, fill out an application and I'll give you an interview tomorrow."
"I'll take the application now," she said. "I don't need to think about it. I have worked two jobs for years, so this will be no different.. You have to do that when you're raising a child alone."
"I'm a single mom too."
"Yes. Her name is Emma. She's seven....going on 30."
Natalia laughed out loud at that.
Well, well.....she does have a sense of humor after all.
I drove home singing. I couldn't believe my good fortune. There was a chance I would be able to afford the farmhouse after all. It meant I would have to work two jobs, but that wasn't anything new. If I also got a boarder, I would even be able to put away a little something for an emergency. The only obstacle now was getting the loan. I was new in town and that might make it more difficult. Plus, as Olivia had said, banks were tight right now. But I didn't want to think about all the potential problems. I just wanted to think about that fantastic kitchen in my very own home.
"Thank you, God, for sending me to Olivia," I prayed out loud in my car. Olivia. I didn't know what to make of her. One minute she was putting me in my place and the next minute she was helping me figure out how to get the farmhouse, and even offering me a job. At that moment, I had no idea why people had a problem with Olivia, though. She is a little tough on the exterior, but Buzz is right. She has a good heart. I was looking forward to working for her. I had plenty of experience dealing with difficult people, having worked for some of the more prominent families in Chicago. But I was so naive, as it turned out. Little did I know then what was waiting for me, just around the corner. I was just learning all the intricacies of Olivia Spencer. I turned up the radio and continued singing on my way back to Company, blissfully oblivious to what lay ahead for me and Olivia.
It occurred to me that women might be jealous of Olivia. Maybe that's why people had issues with her. If these people Buzz had mentioned were women, I could see how they might be a little bit intimidated. After all, she was a very beautiful woman who was also very powerful. She had an aura of ...... something.....I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I could see that she was very guarded. She had walls around her, a hard outer shell, like Buzz said. It made me wonder what had happened in her life to make her need those walls around her. I admired her for being able to run a very successful business and raise her little girl on her own. I wondered what had become of Emma's father. Had Olivia ever married him? It was odd. Olivia didn't really strike me as maternal, but when she talked about her little girl, she positively glowed. It gave me a glimpse behind her walls.
I kept thinking about Natalia and her excitement about the farmhouse. For some reason, I really wanted her to get it. Why should I care? I barely knew her. But I did figure out a way to hire her without pissing Buzz off. I took a sip from my martini and congratulated myself on being able to think on my feet. I had found a way to solve Natalia's problem and mine at the same time. There was something about her.......I couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew instinctively that hiring her was a good move. It would be a couple of months before I realized just what a good move it was. For now, I contented myself with thinking about my very productive day. Two new accounts and my job vacancy filled. Hey! I can afford to sleep in tomorrow. I have no appointments until 2:00. Damn! Life is good.
At that moment, Doris Wolfe walked into Towers. Damn! An almost perfect day......ruined. "Hello, Mayor," I said, trying not to grimace, "How are you doing?"
"Fine. I'm just here for a drink before I head home. What's new with you?"
"Not much. Just sitting here figuring out my schedule for tomorrow."
"I'll leave you to it, then," shot back the Mayor.
Crap! She beat me to the punch. Oh well, not even Doris Wolfe can spoil this day. "Likewise," I said, raising my glass, and giving her my best debutante smile. I would not allow her or anyone else to get the better of me.
When I woke up, it was still dark outside. I was too excited to sleep, so I turned off the alarm, which hadn't gotten the opportunity to wake me since I moved to Springfield. I kept waking up early. At this rate, I wouldn't even need an alarm clock. I packed up my things and went to the bathroom down the hall to shower and get ready for the day. It was a big day for me. I would be interviewing for a job at the Beacon. I still had to impress Olivia and let her know I would be an asset to her hotel. I wasn't exactly worried, because I knew how to do the work, but I was nervous with so much riding on getting this job. Plus, Olivia kept me a little off balance. I don't think it was intentional. It was just something about her.
On the drive over to the Beacon, I watched the jonquils blooming on the side of the road. Spring was in full force in Springfield. I loved watching the new growth on the trees and bushes, and all the bulbs blooming. The air was still crisp in the morning, but the sun warmed things up quickly. There was a sense of promise in the air, as if great things were just ahead. I pulled into the Beacon parking lot feeling on top of the world.
I walked up to the front desk and waited until the desk clerk finished a call. "Hi. My name is Natalia Rivera. I have an appointment with Ms. Spencer," I informed him.
"Please take a seat in the lobby. Ms Spencer will be right with you," he said, and he waved one hand in the general direction of the seating area. I did as I was told.
I waited about 10 minutes before Olivia walked into the lobby. I was looking at a magazine from a selection next to the love seat where I was sitting, and I looked up and saw her walking toward me from across the lobby. She was wearing gray dress pants and a matching vest with a white man-tailored shirt. Her smoky green eyes were focused intently on me, and for the first time I noticed just how beautiful she really was. I couldn't take my eyes off her, and I couldn't believe what I was feeling. My heart rate had quickened and I felt as if the bottom of my stomach had plummeted. I realized that my mouth had dropped open and I had the good sense to close it, with some effort, but when she stopped in front of me and extended her hand, I was at a complete and total loss for words. I mean, I had nothing, nothing at all. My mouth was very dry, and I swallowed to try to regain my composure. I couldn't think of one thing to say, so I shook her hand firmly and just waited for her to say something to break the spell she had cast on me.
"Natalia, are you all right? You look a little flushed," she said. She still had my hand, and I couldn't think of a good way to retrieve it.
"Uh.....no, I mean....yes, I'm fine. I just...," I stammered, and I smiled at her and hoped she wouldn't notice that I couldn't speak coherently. She let go of my hand and gestured in the direction of the elevators.
"Well, if you're ready, we can go to my office and do the interview. Do you have the application filled out?"
"Yes," I said, opening my purse and taking out the completed application. I handed it to her.
As she took it, she looked into my eyes and asked, "Are you sure you're OK?" There was a gigantic lump in the pit of my stomach. I had to do something quick. I could not do the interview in this state. "Maybe I should.....could you tell me where I might find the ladies' room?"
"It's down the hall to the right of the concierge desk," she said, pointing in that direction. "I'll wait here for you and look this over."
I managed to find the ladies' room without disgracing myself. The minute I closed the door behind me and confirmed that no one else was in there, I braced myself against the counter top and looked at my reflection in the mirror. I looked the same, although a little flushed. What on Earth is going on with me? I splashed cold water on my face, hoping it would snap me out of whatever this was. I felt a little better, more under control. Now, I just needed to get through the interview. That was all. You can do this, Natalia. It's just an interview for a housekeeping job. You know you can do it. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I would think about what had happened and try to figure it out later. It was probably nothing except nerves about the job, the house, everything being so new and different in my life. I would probably laugh about it later. I smiled at my reflection in the mirror, and I shook my head at how silly I was being, imagining things. I really needed this job, and I was determined not to mess up my interview.
The application looked very impressive. Clearly Natalia was more than qualified for the job. In fact, she could be a housekeeping supervisor right now with her experience. The fact that she had worked for many of Chicago's prominent families was a plus. It meant she was used to dealing with wealthy, powerful people. Natalia Rivera was turning out to be quite a find. Sorry, Buzz, but this is business, I thought ruefully. "Ah, you're back," I said, as Natalia walked up to me, "Let's go to my office."
Sitting down at my desk, I looked across at her. She was sitting with her hands on her lap, looking a little shell-shocked. Maybe she's the type that gets nervous in job interviews. It would explain why she hasn't gotten better jobs before. That must be it. She's got some sort of interview anxiety. I had seen it before. It really didn't matter, though. What really mattered was if the person could do the job well. I would still offer Natalia a chance for advancement. It was up to her to prove herself and take advantage of the offer. As far as I was concerned, it was a no-lose proposition.
"I'm impressed with your experience, Natalia," I started, and I could see that I had her attention, "Have you ever considered moving into management?"
"I..uh...I don't have any college. I had my son, Rafe, when I was 16, and I had to drop out of high school and work, but I did manage to get my GED."
"I understand," I looked at her and made the decision, "Here's what I'm willing to do. I'll give you the job in housekeeping. It's hourly, 35 hours per week, and you get health insurance. But if you do well, and I still think you can handle the job in two months, I will promote you to Housekeeping Supervisor. That job has a starting base salary of $43,000, plus bonuses, health insurance, a 401(k), and two weeks paid vacation. However, it's a salaried position. I will expect you to put that position first. If the hours at Company become an issue, I will expect you to quit that job. I'm not saying you can't work a second job if you want. I'm just explaining to you that you must put your job at the Beacon first. Do you understand what I'm offering?"
She just sat there for a moment and stared at me. Then I saw her shudder slightly, and she cleared her throat. "Yes.......Thank you. That is just so.....I had no idea that..." Natalia stammered at me, blinking, and then I saw her gather herself and she seemed to get whatever was flustering her so much under control, "Yes, Olivia, I totally understand. Thank you. I would be happy to work for you. When would you like me to start?"
"How about on Monday morning? Let's say ....7:00 a.m.?"
"Perfect," she said confidently, "I will be here."
"Great!" I said, standing and walking around my desk to shake her hand, "Welcome to the Beacon. If you go to housekeeping in the basement, ask for Janet. She's the Housekeeping Manager. She will give you your uniforms and will fill out the rest of the paperwork. I'm glad you decided to take the job." Then I saw her avert her eyes from mine, as if she was embarrassed. I guess I will never understand performance anxiety. It is not something that is within my realm of experience. But something about Natalia's discomfort was bothering me. I just couldn't put my finger on what it was.
I sat in the little park and watched some children playing near the creek. Their mother was nearby, making sure they didn't get into too much trouble. From time to time, the sounds of their laughter would echo up to the little gazebo where I was sitting. It was a beautiful day in Springfield. I realized that, even though I was a city girl at heart, I loved the peacefulness of this little town, and the friendliness of the people here. It felt safe here. I was getting to know people, and making friends. I had a job. In fact, I had two jobs.
Thinking about my new job inevitably led to thoughts about my new boss. What I couldn't yet wrap my mind around was my reaction to Olivia Spencer this morning. Why had I gotten so flustered? In the dark recesses of my mind, I felt an idea starting to grow, and it scared me so much I kept pushing it back down, refusing to allow it to surface. If I allowed it, if I put words to what I was feeling in that moment when Olivia walked across the lobby toward me this morning, I wouldn't be able to take it back later. I had always believed that you have to be very careful with the words you say because you can't take them back once you have said them. I felt the same way about the words you think. Even when you are the only one to hear the words, you still can't take them back. But if I didn't say the words in my mind, I would never be able to figure out what was wrong with me. I still felt so unsettled by my interview with Olivia.
God, are you trying to tell me not to work for Olivia? Am I in some kind of danger? Is this a mistake, or is it your will for me? I prayed, my hands clasped together on the gazebo railing in front of me, as if it were the back of a pew. But it didn't seem right that there would be anything dangerous about Olivia. She had been perfectly nice to me, and had offered me the best job opportunity I had ever been offered. It meant I could afford to make an offer on Cassie's house. I would be able to afford a mortgage payment now, even without a boarder. I might even be able to save some money if I kept working at Company. I could keep a little bit of the money I had and use it to help Rafe with college. Yes, working for Olivia at the Beacon was an unexpected blessing. It wasn't a bad thing. I couldn't imagine how it could possibly be a bad thing.
But, why did Olivia have such an overwhelming effect on me? It was almost as if..... I shook my head to clear it of the thought, but it persisted, rattling around in my head like the spare change in my pocket. I am NOT attracted to Olivia Spencer. I am not. Then I put my forehead down on my clasped hands, because I knew that it wasn't true. I knew that what I had felt, what had flustered me and turned me into an incoherent mess at the interview, was precisely that. OK, so I am attracted to her. She's a very attractive woman. Even another woman can see that. It's pretty obvious, after all. I felt a little better. That made more sense. Olivia Spencer is a very beautiful woman. She is strong and powerful and has an air of sensuality about her. It makes perfect sense. Anyone would notice something like that. I congratulated myself on making some sense out of my strange response, but I still felt a little out of sorts, especially when my imagination treated me to a replay of the statuesque woman walking across the lobby toward me, enveloped in her "air of sensuality." Words, Natalia. You need to be more careful about your choice of words. I groaned inwardly. Then I decided to stop thinking so much about it. I had a new job. I needed to focus on that, go find Rafe, and celebrate my good fortune.
Well, I guess I'd better do some damage control, I thought, as I pulled my car up to Company. I checked my makeup in the visor mirror. When I walked into Company, I didn't see Buzz. Frank was there, though, sitting at the bar having a beer. "Hi Frank," I greeted him. He turned around in his seat. "Hi Olivia," he said, obviously irritated, "What's up with you?" I guess he thought I didn't see him as he turned back around and rolled his eyes at Marina, or maybe he did. Maybe he intended me to see it. It had been a long time. I thought Frank would get over it and move on, but he was the sort to carry a grudge. He just wasn't the type to be direct about it. Well, I did hurt him. There was no denying that I did that, so I would just have to put up with the fallout from that until he truly forgave me. But his passive aggressive attitude was becoming a little tiresome.
"Is Buzz here?" I asked. Marina responded, "He's in the back, cooking. It's still the lunch shift."
"I think I'll order lunch and wait until he's available, then."
"OK," Marina said, "Sit anywhere you like and I'll be right with you. Here's a menu."
I ordered the tuna noodle casserole and a glass of iced tea. Buzz brought it out to my table and served it himself. "Marina said you wanted to talk to me," he said, frowning a little as if he was worried about what I might say.
"Well, it's not all that serious, Buzz. I was having lunch anyway. Have a seat. There is something I wanted to tell you, just so you don't hear it from anyone else first and get the wrong idea."
"Sure," Buzz sat down, and he was looking at me skeptically, "What's on your mind?"
"I offered Natalia Rivera a job at the Beacon today," I said, as I speared a noodle with my fork. "She's going to work as a housekeeper for a couple of months and then I'm going to promote her to Housekeeping Supervisor if she works out. I just wanted you to know that I told her she doesn't have to quit working here. I'm not trying to steal your employee."
"Good. She's a good worker. I would hate to lose her."
"Yes, I know. That's why I hired her. I like her attitude. Also, I think she has potential for management."
"Well, she seems like a really nice woman, so I'm glad you're giving her the chance. You're not such a bad person, Olivia," he said, and he winked at me, "No matter what anyone says."
I chuckled at his little joke. Buzz knew he could tease me, and I could hold my own with him. "Frank probably wouldn't agree with you about that," I commented, glancing at Frank and raising one eyebrow. It was pretty obvious that Frank was deliberately avoiding looking in our direction.
"Aw, he'll get over it eventually. Hey, I did," and he chuckled.
"Yes, you did, didn't you?"
"Don't forget. I know where all the bodies are buried."
We both laughed. I still had a fondness for Buzz, even if there was nothing else there anymore. He did indeed know where all the bodies were buried. I had a reputation for using men up and tossing them away, and we both knew it. It wasn't exactly a secret, and I wasn't exactly ashamed about it. I knew that men were attracted to me, and I liked being able to have that control over them. I always had. Buzz winked at me again and got up.
"I've got to get back to the kitchen. Enjoy your lunch. Try not to steal any more of my employees, OK?"
"I'll work on it," I shot back.
Now why couldn't Frank act more like his father? Then I sighed, because I knew full well why he couldn't. I left Frank for Buzz and left Buzz waiting for me at the altar. Frank was the black and white type. For him, things were either right or wrong, and there was never any gray. He had me firmly categorized in the "wrong" column, which wasn't exactly incorrect. It's just that I didn't particularly care about being wrong, as long as I was in control of the situation. God, I can't believe I ever actually dated Frank Cooper. What on Earth was I thinking? I chuckled to myself at the thought.
Olivia was walking out of Company as I arrived for my shift at 3:45 p.m. I was a little early, but I wanted to help prep for the dinner service, and I also wanted to explain to Buzz about my new job at the Beacon. Rafe and I had gone out for a sundae after he got out of school, to celebrate the new job. He was very excited for me. I still hadn't told him about the farmhouse, because I didn't want to get his hopes up until I knew it was a real possibility. When Olivia looked up and saw me, she smiled and I felt my cheeks grow warm. She looks so much less intimidating when she smiles. I ignored the little voice in my head that pointed out that she also looked even more beautiful.
"Hi there," Olivia beamed at me, "Working tonight?"
"Yes," I said, "Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to work for you."
"The pleasure is all mine, Natalia. I really want it to work out for both of us. As far as I'm concerned, this is going to be a win - win."
"Thanks. I'll do whatever I can to live up to your faith in me."
"I know you will," Olivia said, warmly. "Bye. I'll see you on Monday."
Thank God I didn't trip all over my words again. That went well. I got through it without even once thinking about......anything. I realized that my mind seemed to have a single track where Olivia was concerned. It was probably because I had spent so much time thinking about her after my interview. It was perfectly understandable that the same thoughts would come up again when I saw her. At least, that's what I told myself, and I almost had myself convinced.
When I walked into the restaurant, Buzz was standing behind the bar. "Hi," he greeted me, "You're early."
"Yes," I said, "I wanted to talk to you about something before my shift, if you have a couple of minutes."
"Sure," he said, looking at me with his quizzical elfin expression that always made me smile.
"Well, I went on a job interview today at the Beacon," I started, and then Buzz interrupted me.
"I know," he said.
"You do?" I was surprised.
"Yes. Olivia was here earlier. Apparently you made a great impression on her."
"Well, I'm glad," I said, relieved that he already knew, but worried still that he might have the wrong idea, "I just wanted to assure you that I still want to work here, if I can schedule my shifts around my hours at the Beacon."
"I think we can handle that. Are you sure you can handle it, though? That's a lot of work."
"I'm used to working two jobs. I know I can handle it." Please don't take this job away, Buzz. I really need both of them right now.
"Ok, then," Buzz said, "Is that all you wanted to talk about?"
"Yes," I replied, "So what can I do to help you get ready for the dinner service?"
"How about sweeping and setting the tables?"
"I'm on it."
I walked into my suite at the Beacon and threw my purse on the small table next to the door. Emma ran in behind me. "Guess what, Mommy?"
"What, Jellybean?" I couldn't remember when I ever had that much energy.
"I made a new friend at school today," Emma exclaimed.
"You did? Is there anyone in your class who wasn't already your friend by now? School is almost over."
"Yes, silly. Her name is Sarah and she just moved here with her family. She's really nice." I love how comfortable Emma is making new friends. She would have some good networking skills when she got older. But at that moment I was just so tired. All I could think about was getting out of my work clothes and into something comfortable and being able to relax. "Emma, would you like me to put "Harry Potter" in your DVD player in your room? Mommy needs to rest for a little while."
"OK. Can I order some snacks from room service?"
"Yes, you MAY order some snacks," I emphasized the correct grammar, smiling at her as she hurried into her room to call in her order. "Mommy needs something a little stronger than a snack," I mumbled to myself, as I kicked off my shoes and walked over to the mini bar to pour myself a glass of Cabernet. I had been feeling so tired lately. Business was certainly no more demanding. The Beacon's vacancy rate had increased just like every hotel in the country. Then I remembered that I was supposed to take an aspirin and my prescription, but I hadn't remembered to get it filled, so I guess that would have to wait until tomorrow, because there was no way I was going back out again. I just wanted to turn in early, maybe even right after Emma went to bed. God, Olivia, you are getting so old. You used to be able to work all day and party all night and still have enough energy to seduce any man who caught your interest. I sighed at that thought. I hadn't seduced anyone in a long time. Maybe that was what was wrong with me. It was downright depressing. Maybe I should call Jane and go to Towers for some serious flirting. But when I thought about actually doing it, I just couldn't work up any enthusiasm. I decided to just call room service and order dinner for me and Emma instead.
'Hey, Em," I called out.
She came running back into the room. "Yes, Mommy?"
"Hi Honey. What did you order?"
"Chicken tenders and french fries," she said, smiling at me.
"Mommy's going to call and order dinner instead. Would you like some chicken for dinner?"
"Great. Now go back and play until it gets here. I'll call you."
"Ok, bye," she said as she ran back into her room to get back to whatever she had been doing when I interrupted her.
I ordered dinner and then sat and sipped my wine, thinking about how nice Buzz had been about me hiring his employee. Natalia showed a lot of promise. I might have something special there, I thought. I had no idea at the time just how prophetic I would turn out to be.
As I was coming out of my office at about 1:30 to go to a lunch meeting at Towers, Natalia Rivera walked by with her housekeeping cart. "Hello, Olivia," she greeted me, her face lighting up in a radiant smile. She really is a lovely young woman, I thought, as I mentally congratulated myself again on hiring her.
"Good afternoon, Natalia. How are you liking the job?"
"I love it. The hours work perfectly for me. Janet gave me the perfect schedule. Everyone has been so nice to me here. You have great employees."
"I know. I hand selected every one of them." I don't believe in delegating certain things. Each member of my hotel staff reflects the hotel and therefore me. I don't really trust anyone else to choose my employees. I trust my gut instincts....Except in matters of the heart. I'm not doing so well in that department. My five divorces will attest to that, and I imagine Frank might chime in too. Then I chuckled to myself, thinking what Rick Bauer might say about how I was doing in "matters of the heart." I made a mental note to take my prescription to the pharmacy immediately after my lunch appointment. I kept forgetting or running out of time, but I was doing OK, so it obviously wasn't that important. Rick is such an old fuss-budget sometimes.
"Olivia, are you OK?" Natalia startled me out of my ruminations. She looked genuinely concerned.
"I'm....peachy." I lied, trying to look sincere, "Just a little tired. I have had a lot of meetings. Promoting the hotel in this kind of economy isn't the easiest thing, but it has to be done. In fact, I'm off to a meeting right now, and if I don't hurry I'm going to be late. I'll catch you later."
My encounter with Olivia had me concerned. She looked so tired. I also noticed that she was using more makeup, especially around her eyes. I suspected that she was trying to cover up dark circles. I had been working at the Beacon for only about two weeks, and I hadn't seen much of Olivia. Greg, the banquet manager, told me that she was in negotiations with a couple of groups in Chicago, and was also working with a publicist to promote the hotel. Chicago is within driving distance, so Olivia would drive there for her meetings and drive back in the afternoon to be home at night with Emma. I decided to talk to Greg after my shift. I wanted to reassure myself that Olivia was well.
When I walked into the banquet office, Greg gave me a huge smile. "If it isn't the lovely Ms. Rivera. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company, madam?" I liked Greg. He was so charming, and he had a great sense of humor.
"I thought I would stop by and say 'Hi'," I said, "I also wanted to ask you about Olivia."
"What about her?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. He looked as if he expected me to reveal some juicy gossip.
"I ran into her this afternoon. She was on her way to a meeting. I don't know. She just looked really tired, and I was a little worried about her."
"Oh.....I haven't seen her today. She's been really busy."
"She works hard, doesn't she?" I commented to him.
"Yes," Greg said, and then he added in a conspiratorial tone, "But frankly, we're all worried about her."
"You are too?"
"Yes. She's so tired lately, and one of the bartenders said she's been to Cedars a couple of times this month. She's not the same person she used to be. She doesn't stay out late or go to parties or anything. She hasn't for the last month or so. Plus, she hasn't yelled at me about anything in a month. It's just not like her."
I knew that Greg was the type who liked to exaggerate things for the dramatic effect, but this time I could tell that he was totally serious. Apparently Olivia's lack of angry displays was a cause of real concern for him. He wasn't just joking or gossiping. "Does she usually get angry with you more often than once a month?" I was incredulous. I certainly hadn't seen that side of her.
"Oh, yeah," he said, smiling, "She's not one to keep her feelings inside. Know what I mean?" He laughed, "I've been here for three years, and she yells at me about something at least once a week," he added, winking, and then he was serious again, "until last month. I tell you, something is really wrong with her. Not that I'm complaining about avoiding her wrath, you understand. It's just that she hasn't really been herself at all."
Then his phone rang and he hurried to answer it and get back to his job. I decided to see what I could do to help Olivia. It was 3:15 and I didn't have a shift at Company tonight. Maybe she was finished with her meeting. I went to the registration desk and asked one of the clerks to call Ms. Spencer for me.
"She doesn't answer her office phone. I'll try her cell." She said, dialing another number. I heard her leaving a message on the cell phone voice mail for Olivia to call the front desk. 'Sorry," she said, "She doesn't answer. Maybe she's in her suite."
"Thanks," I said, and I turned to leave. Then I made a decision to check on Olivia in her suite, just to ease my mind about her.
As I knocked on Olivia's door, I asked myself if I was doing something really stupid. Olivia might not appreciate me intruding on her private business. When the door opened, Olivia looked sleepy and really annoyed. "Yes," she said, before the door was even opened a crack, "What is it?" She was standing there glaring at me. I realized too late that it had been a bad idea to interrupt her.
"Uh....I'm sorry to bother you. I just...."
"Well?" She looked angry, and very tired. Her clothes were rumpled, as if she had been sleeping in them, and she wasn't wearing any shoes. Her hair, which was normally perfectly styled, was a little disheveled. I must have interrupted a nap.
"I'm sorry if I woke you. I was just worried about you and I thought maybe you might need some help with something. I don't have a shift at Company today, so if there is any....."
"If I need anything I have an entire hotel staff at my beck and call. You really don't need to worry about me. I'm fine. I was just taking a nap. People do that sometimes."
"Ooo...kay. Like I said, I'm sorry I...." I was backpedaling furiously, and I started to literally back away from Olivia's door, plotting some way to escape without getting myself fired.
"No. Wait," she said, closing her eyes and rubbing the bridge of her nose with her fingers. "Wait. There is something you can do for me, since you offered..."
"Anything," I said.
"Come in," she said, backing away from the door and motioning for me to enter her suite. She walked over to a small writing desk and pulled a scrap of paper from a stack in a basket. I followed her into the suite hesitantly.
"Would you take this to the pharmacy down the street and get it filled for me, please? Just wait for it and bring it back. I haven't been able to spare the time, or I would have done it myself."
"Of course," I said, and then I hesitantly asked, "Olivia, are you really OK?"
"Of course," she said, "Why wouldn't I be?"
I gestured at the prescription in my hand and started to say something, but she beat me to it.
"Oh that...that's just my doctor being cautious. Probably wants to make sure I can't sue him or something. I'm fine. I'm just tired. I just need to get more sleep." She was chuckling, but there was no laughter in her eyes, and she didn't look "fine" at all. "The pharmacy has my credit card information on file," she continued, "You just need to give them that prescription and wait to bring it back after they fill it. And when you get back, use your pass key. And for God's sake be quiet. I'm going to go to bed for a little while."
"Ok, sure. I hope you feel better after your nap, Olivia." I walked out the door into the hall.
"Im sure I will. Bye," she said, as she closed her door behind me.
As soon as I closed the door, I felt like I would collapse from exhaustion right there on the other side, before I could even get to my bed. I couldn't remember ever feeling this tired before. I really had been working too much lately. Fortunately, Emma had a sleepover tonight, so she wouldn't have to see me like this. I couldn't start scaring my little girl. If Natalia Rivera noticed, I'm sure Emma would too. Maybe that prescription will help. Rick isn't a total moron, after all. He is a good doctor, even though he worries far to much. I walked over to the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. Maybe I should go ahead and take an aspirin now, in case I'm asleep when Natalia gets back. I can always take the other medicine later, after I wake up.
I took the aspirin and then went to lie down on the bed. I just fell down on top of the coverlet. I don't remember falling asleep, but I must have, because the next thing I knew, I could hear Natalia Rivera talking to me, and I was trying to wake up enough to figure out what she was saying. I was still mostly asleep, and I didn't really want to wake up. I tried to open my eyes, but I couldn't. My eyelids were too heavy. Just let me sleep, Natalia. What are you doing? Put the damn pills on the desk and get out of here. Maybe I said it out loud. I don't know. She must have left, because I didn't hear her talking anymore, and I was able to go back to sleep.
As I left the Beacon, I kept replaying the encounter with Olivia. I looked at the prescription in my hand. I couldn't read most of it, but I could read the name Lipitor. I knew that was for high cholesterol. I felt a little guilty reading Olivia's prescription, but she had to know I would find out what medicines she was taking if I went to the pharmacy for her.
I had to wait about 20 minutes for the pharmacist to fill the prescription. When it was ready, the clerk told me that the pharmacist wanted to do a consultation. I said, "This isn't for me. It's for Olivia Spencer. I'm just picking it up for her."
"That's OK. The pharmacist would still like to speak to you."
I walked over to the little window at the end of the counter and waited for the pharmacist. When she got there I repeated, "I'm not the patient. I'm just her employee. She asked me to get her prescription filled."
"That's OK," the pharmacist said, "I still have to give you this information. Please tell Ms. Spencer that it is very important that she takes the Lopressor according to the directions on the bottle or her doctor's instructions, and that she does not stop taking it unless her doctor tells her to do so. If she does stop taking this medicine suddenly, it can lead to chest pains, an irregular heartbeat, and sometimes even to a heart attack. That is very important, so please tell her for me."
"I will," I said, my fears for Olivia increasing. I hurried back to the Beacon with Olivia's medicine. When I got to her room, I did as she asked and used my pass key. When I entered the suite I saw Olivia lying across her bed. I checked to see if she was breathing, and she was, but when I felt her pulse, it was very faint. I was worried about her. I tried to get her to wake up. "Olivia, please wake up. It's Natalia. I have your medicine, and I think you need to take some right now." Olivia mumbled something incoherent. I shook her a little and tried again, "Olivia, wake up now. You need to take some medicine. I have to give you a message from your pharmacist. Come on Olivia, wake up." She moaned a little and there was a furrow in her brow. She raised both eyebrows, and I thought for a moment she might wake up, but she didn't.
I didn't know what to do. Should I call her doctor? His name is on the bottle. I can look it up. But what if he doesn't get here in time. Should I call an ambulance? I made the decision to call an ambulance and deal with the consequences if it turned out to be the wrong move. However, I asked them to pull up around back where we could take Olivia down in the service elevator so the hotel guests would not be alarmed. Then I called Greg and told him what had happened. I asked him to wait outside for the ambulance and show them to Olivia's suite as quietly as possible, using the service elevator. I asked him not to tell anyone what had happened, or Olivia might kill both of us.
I propped the door open with the security latch and waited in the suite with Olivia. I watched her to see if there were any changes in her condition, my fingers glued to her wrist so I could feel her pulse. Less than four minutes had passed when the paramedics entered the suite. Greg was with them, his eyes as big as saucers. "Is she .....? He looked ashen.
"No, no...she's alive Greg. I think she may be having a heart attack.
The paramedic looked at me then. "What makes you think that?" he asked me.
I handed him the package with her medicine. "She sent me to get her prescriptions filled."
The paramedics lifted Olivia onto the gurney and rushed her out to the waiting ambulance. Greg and I followed them. I left Greg with a promise to update him as soon as I knew anything, and I followed the ambulance in my car. At the hospital, which was very close, I parked and went inside to the emergency waiting room. I told the nurse at the desk that I was there for Olivia Spencer, who had just been brought in by ambulance. She told me to wait and someone would come out and talk to me soon. It felt like I waited for hours, but when I looked at the clock, I realized it had only been about an hour and 45 minutes. A nice-looking man with dark hair came out. He was wearing a doctor's coat. He came over to me and asked, "Are you the woman who called the ambulance for Olivia?"
"Yes. I'm Natalia Rivera. I work for Ms. Spencer in her hotel."
"Well, you may have just saved her life," he said, "That was quick thinking on your part."
"How is she?" I asked.
"She's going to be OK. She knows you're here and she asked me to bring you in to see her. I'm Olivia's doctor, Rick Bauer, by the way," he said, extending his hand to me.
I shook his hand and followed him into Olivia's room. She looked so frail and small lying in the bed, the IV and other tubes connected to her. A nurse was next to the bed, adjusting the IV.
Olivia looked up at me, her eyes half-lidded. She looked so weak and a little gray. "Rick tells me you probably saved my life," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "Looks like I"m going to be here a little while. They're getting me ready for surgery. I hate to ask, but I really need your help."
"I'll do anything I can, Olivia. What do you need?"
"Come over here," she motioned, "I'm having a little trouble breathing." I moved closer to her bed. She looked up at me. "I need you to call the number on the pad next to the bed. I had Rick write down the name and number where Emma is spending the night. Let Mrs. Blaylock know what has happened, and ask her not to tell Emma. I don't want to frighten her."
"Of course. I'll tell her."
Olivia reached out and her fingers touched my arm, "There is a number for my regular sitter, Jane, on the pad too. Call her and see if she can stay with Emma while I'm in here. But, if she can't...." Her eyes looked lost.
"Don't worry, Olivia. If Jane can't watch Emma, I will."
She grasped my arm feebly, and looked in my eyes, "Thank you. You can stay in my suite with her. I also had Rick put down the number for my daughter, Ava. Call her and let her know what happened. And Natalia ...."
"Yes, what else?"
"I need you to handle things for me at the hotel while I'm in here. My appointments are on my Palm. It's in my purse in the suite. Reschedule the appointments and don't let on that anything is wrong with me. That's important. And make sure everything runs smoothly. Work with Janet and Greg. Let them know, but no one else. Understand?"
"Yes, Olivia. I understand. I'll do my best. You just concentrate on getting well, Olivia."
"Thank you, Natalia, for everything." She pressed my arm again and tried to smile, but she was clearly too weak. I felt overwhelmed. I couldn't believe that the frail woman in the hospital bed was the vibrant, powerful Olivia Spencer. I left the hospital with my head spinning. I had so many things I needed to do. I decided to call Ava first. She deserved to know her mother's condition. She would probably want to be by her side. I would then go to the hotel and talk to Greg and Janet before they left for the day. Then I would call Mrs. Blaylock about Emma, and then Jane. The appointments would have to wait until tomorrow. It was too late to call anyone about business anyway.
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