Wilfair Prequel: We Sleep After Dark

A stripey plastic ball frooshed past my shoulder. The ball that immediately followed was as stripey and as candy-colored as the first and it connected with the side of my head. Rather solidly, too, for an air-filled orb inflated for one purpose: pool play.
      "Oof." I put a hand to the large hibiscus blossom tucked behind my ear. Today I was a glammed-up girl from a '40s-style adventure flick. It was one of my favorites from my costume closet, a wardrobe rich with Hollywood history but light on low-key, don't-look-at-me wearables.
      "Sorry, lady!" called a kid from the deep end.
      "That's no lady," said another kid. "She's like 17."
      "I'm 16," I corrected, wondering if that was a plus or a minus in the mouthier kid's eyes. Not that I really cared. He wasn't my guest. Would it be rude if I slipped my foot out of my shoe, dipped it in the water, and splashed a little in his direction? He was probably 14. We were practically the same age. My foot splash could be counted as horseplay, and not merely a peevish lashing-out on my part.
       My foot fidgeted inside my vintage velvet shoe as I glanced with a stomach flip at the motel lobby. I absolutely couldn't have Monty or Gomery or their moms -- their moms! -- see me splash water at one of their guests.
       It would be a total hornet's nest, or the human equivalent, less the stingers but plus stinging words.
       "Huh, 16." The kid turned to his friend. "See? Not a lady."
       "I am so a lady!" I huffed with a firm fingerwag, glancing again at the lobby to make sure all of this was going undetected by anyone who rocked Overbove as a surname.
        Did proper ladies fingerwag? Probably not. Proper ladies waved trifling matters away with a throaty laugh and carried on with whatever fabulous errand they were about to complete, with style.
       But this was not a fabulous errand I was on. I was here at Motel Fairwil, for what seemed like the 200th time of my life, to complain.
       The lodging of ridiculous complaints aimed specifically at the motel next to my family's hotel was something I'd never learned to excel at, though I made them enough.
       Might as well get it over with. A peek at the motel diner told me Mrs. Overbove and Mrs. Overbove stood at the counter, talking with Patti, the motel's only employee. Which meant the person at the front desk was going to be one of their sons, but which one? Both presented problems.
       Seconds later, I spied a tie folded upon itself on the front desk. Not Monty. Also? More problems.
       "Hey," I said, jangling, then attempting to quiet, the sleigh bells tied to the motel's lobby door. "Hey there, I mean, not just 'hey.' Hey there."
       "'Hey there' is better than 'hey,'" agreed Gomery, putting down the four-color pen he'd been doodling with. "The more elegant and formal choice of the two."
       "Yeah, totally, right?" I didn't even know what I was saying by this point, though I suspected syllables and consonents might be involved.
       "You good?"
       "Like, why wouldn't I be?"
       "You got beaned by that ball. That hurts. I know. I've taken a hundred surprise beanings over the years."
       I twisted. "You see everything out this window, don't you?"
       "What else am I doing with my life?" he laughed, then glanced near my face. "Defensive flower. That deflected it. Smart move." He pointed to the side of his own head. "Everyone should wear one in the pool area. Mandatory."
       I side-looked the diner through where it adjoined the motel lobby. The cousins' moms were still in intense discussion with Patti. I had to be fleet of complaint and I had to be gone.
      "So, I know you're busy."
      He waved a hand over his building-like doodles. "Very."
      "I hate bothering. I really, really do."
      "Have a seat?"
      "No, thank you."
      "Can I get you a coffee? Water? Something?" He moved as if he was about to head into the diner.
       Erf. I didn't want that. He'd return with his mother, or aunt, and then I'd likely turn on heel and leave, unwilling to make my complaint.
      "I'm fine." To show the high level of my fineness, I sat on the vinyl couch across from the front desk and tucked my dress around my knees. "Um, I just wondered if there was a way, at all, you could dim the motel sign at night. Some of our guests who, like, clearly have curtain-closing issues, have complained. The sign is too bright."
       "It is bright. It's neon, and it helps us get our guests. We don't have advertising, beyond these surefire bets." Gomery placed his thumb against a stack of bumper stickers and fanned them.
        "Right. Right. Well. I mean, I want you to have guests, of course! Of course, but. We sleep after dark."
        "We sleep after dark," he repeated.
        "Yes. We do. People do, mostly. Which makes me wonder why your sign has to be so, like, blaaaaar --" I flashed my hands to indicate maximum brightness "-- at 2 o'clock in the morning? Who is even awake? Not me. I've never been up at that time of night, ever, and if I ever am, well. Mark that day, because it will be a little first."
        Gomery pondered, finally placing his pen on the front desk. "The issue with neon, Fair, is this: It doesn't come with a dimmer switch. It's all tied up with inert gases and discharge tubes and atoms pinging here and there."
        "Atoms," I repeated.
        "So, in theory, I could step over to this switch and turn off a few of the letters -- make them dark -- while leaving some of the letters lit."
        "Why would you do that?"
        "I wouldn't. It's just an example to say a neon letter can be fully on or off but not merely dimmed."
        "Got it. I do. I understand. It's just, like, guest complaints. At the hotel." I pulled my mouth, attractively.
        "Yes," nodded Gomery. "I feel for you."
        "I know you do. You guys do. But. I mean, we'll just have to institute a closed-curtain policy."
        He leaned on his elbows, his eyes sweeping The Wilfair. "That's a lot of curtains to police." His eye-sweeping stopped at my third-floor room, or so it seemed. "Good luck, sergeant."
        The sleigh bells jangled softly to my right but no one entered the tiny lobby. Instead the basket end of a pool scoop wormed through the door and toward me. It poked my shoulder once, then twice.
       A glance outside revealed that the scoop's human handler stood flattened against a nearby wall. The puppeteer attempted to escape detection even as he deftly operated the pool cleaner's long, thin arm.      
       Gomery stood there, nodding to himself, and possibly stifling a laugh. "Excuse me, pool scoop?" he asked.
       The pool scoop stopped bumping my shoulder and turned quizzically toward the front desk, as if it had really heard its name.
       "Stop that at once," said the guy in the glasses to the inanimate object.
       The pool scoop's basket dropped, dejected.
       Moments later Monty strode in, sighed, and circled his arms around the leaf skimmer. "Quit picking on the pool scoop. After all it does for us. Sheesh."
       "What was that about?" Gomery asked his cousin, gesturing at my shoulder.
       Monty shrugged. "Bothering Fair, you mean? Oh, just bothering Fair. I like my motives direct and uncluttered."
       The 17-year-old behind the front desk nodded. "That's honest."
       "What's happening here? Is The Wilfair fill-in-the-blank at us?" The more casually clad of the two cousins attempted to twirl the scoop theatrically, bobbling it in the process.
       "Our neon sign is too strong," said Gomery.
       "Strong like us!" Monty used the scoop's arm to jab at some invisible foe.
       "We reached an agreement, though." I stood, smoothing the backside of my dress as discreetly as I could.
       Monty sneered. "Don't capitulate, Mer! We've got pool scoop on our side! We're all-powerful!" He waved the scoop around the lobby like a flag, nearly knocking the motel's old phone to the floor.
        I cleared my throat. "Your cousin did not capitulate. I did. Your neon sign can blaze a trail through the LA sky and Wilfair guests will have to close their curtains."
        "But The Wilfair's windows are my nightly show! Open curtains for everyone!" Monty spread his hand to the hotel then scowled at his cousin. "Capitulate, Mer! Give in. Stop being so selfish for once. Let Miss Finley have her way. We'll turn off the neon sign at night."
        "Bye now," I said, pushing on the door.
        "Watch out for balls," called Gomery.
        I touched the bloom at the side of my head. "Defensive flower, remember?"
        The scoop operator peered at the pool through the lobby window. "Oh no they did not. Do not tell me those miscreants out there got you, too! They've been aiming for me all morning." Monty pushed through the door after me, dropping the pool scoop directly in front of the lobby. "EVERYONE! IN THE POOL! We're settling this score. Volleyball net out, NOW. Pick your teams and pick 'em good, because I'm only playing with winners. This one's for the glory and the fame and most importantly for those two big beach balls over there, the ones that have hit several people today, myself included and my weird neighbor and her weird head flower included. Menaces masquerading as toys! They're all mine by game's end! ALL. MINE."
        The riled-up motelier-cum-volleyballer yanked out the pool's net, pulled off his t-shirt, threw it at a nearby lounge chair, and cannonballed into the deep end, much to the delight of the pool's feisty occupants.
        I stood outside the door and stared at the hastily dropped pool scoop, then turned back to the lobby. "Should I hang this up somewhere?" I mouthed through the glass, pointing at the scoop.
        "Leave it," mouthed Gomery from inside the lobby. "Fankvo."
        "Fankvo?" I mouthed back.
        "Fankvo," he mouthed again.
         "I can't understand what you are saying," I mouthed, wrapping my lips purposefully around each vowel.
        He closed his mouth and met my eyes and his look said "thanks, though."
        What the!
        Did he just say something to me with a look?


Caitlin said...

Let the record show that I died from an overdose of swoony foreshadowing.

Also, this made me snort-laugh: "I didn't even know what I was saying by this point, though I suspected syllables and consonents might be involved." Oh, Fair, I think we've all been there.

Nikki said...

I just love their communicative looks. And Monty with the pool scoop? BFF! You can't help but enjoy everything Monty brings to a scene.

I also really like the change you did from "at night" to "after dark". It has much more of a Fair feel to it somehow.

Caitlin - Were I reading this on my Kindle, I would have highlighted the same sentence. We've definitely all been there. Some of us *cough*me*cough* may even have their feet firmly planted there. ;)

myrandaroyann said...

I really loved this! Caitlin and Nikki: that was totally my favorite line as well! I love this peak into earlier interactions between the characters. This snippet really made my night. I've been dreading the start of the work week (last week was insane and the first time I didn't want to come back after my break) and this really cheered me up! Thanks!

Wilfair Book said...

Guys, thanks for indulging me!

I generally put all of my practices and tricks out on the blog, for better or worse, so here's the background behind me posting original snippets on the blog.

1. Someone asks me to or suggests a scene. (I take requests.)

2. I'm in a slumpy point on the book (those happen; they're never serious). But writing something else, but with the same characters/world, has a way of pushing me past the book slump.

3. I want to write something that doesn't fit within the framework of the story thus far.

That's it, basically!

do dah said...


Caitlin #2 said...

This is so, so great. Also, what does it say about me that I snort-laughed at "watch out for balls"? :D

Jade said...

Like Caitlin said swoony foreshadowing! I need a defensive flower for my heart Gomery is just wrestling his way in there.

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