Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas in Luxembourg, Part 14



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But even Amita’s indomitable cheer found its Waterloo in the Inn’s finances. After a long day, she and Jill sat in the Luxembourg Inn’s restaurant, nursing mulled wine (both had turned down the opportunity to order the Yule Lager) and tension headaches. Across from them, Garrett resolutely downed a cup of the Inn’s signature coffee blend. Mother had insisted that a signature blend gave the Inn cachet. Mother had been gypped by her supplier.

“You’re never going to be able to fix up this place on the profits alone,” Amita said, her eyes fixed in gloomy reverie on the gold and avocado carpet.  “And it does need fixing up.”

Jill sloshed her wine around her mug. “Mother looks at the revenue and says, ‘All this money, we’re doing fine!’ But the revenue is plowed back into expenses, and there’s simply not enough profit, even after I’ve cleaned up the books, to make it possible for us to do upgrades. We’d need a loan for more than five years worth of profit to even begin to touch the upgrades the Inn needs to make more profit, and frankly, we’re a bad risk for any lender.”

“Also, your coffee is terrible,” said Garrett. Having no personal or professional stake in the Inn’s woes, he could have his little joke.

“If you want better coffee, why don’t you invest in the Inn?” snapped Jill, who privately agreed with his assessment.

“I invest in properties that I own,” said Garrett. “And your mother doesn’t want to sell to me, and you don’t technically own the Inn yet.”

Jill was about to retort that she wouldn’t sell it to him even if she did own it when a faint spicy hum of music, a breath of Bollywood, seemed to drone in her ear. She blinked and looked around, but she saw nothing out of the ordinary except Mr. Singh, who had just entered the restaurant. Jill made a mental note to have the doors checked: a draft was blowing Amita’s hair back from her face, and the sudden brightness made the colors of the restaurant swim and pop. 

“Mr. Singh, let me introduce you to my friend Amita, from Los Angeles,” said Jill hastily, shaking her head to clear it. “She’s here to help me with the accounting.”

“Amita,” Mr. Singh said, low and suave. “Charmed to meet you.”

“Mr. Singh,” said Amita, with lashes demurely sweeping her cheeks. “How do you do?”

“Won’t you join us?” asked Jill, feeling strangely like a foreigner in her family’s own inn. “We were just finishing up business.”

“Please excuse me,” said Mr. Singh. “I was just passing through. I’m going to take a walk outside.”

Jill looked outside, where the snow was dropping thickly. “But the weather…”

“I love the snow,” Amita breathed. “I’d never seen it before in my life before now.”

“Perhaps you will allow me the pleasure of showing you the grounds,” said Mr. Singh, extending his hand. And fantastically, Amita rose and, draping her coat over her shoulders, accepted it. Jill and Garrett sat open-mouthed as the two moved with graceful steps through the door.

“He’s a fast mover,” said Garrett.

“Did the sun just come out?” Jill asked. The sudden sparkling of flakes outside made the restaurant fade back into obscurity. As the last buzz faded from her ears, the Christmas tunes piped through the restaurant seemed flat.  She felt the weight of the Inn forcing her down into the ground. If only she could feel a warm salt breeze on her cheek. If only she could contemplate the vast expanse of the ocean.

“If only it would stop snowing,” she whispered.

“What?” Garrett said.

“If only it would stop snowing,” she said, louder. “No wonder the Inn is failing. Why would anyone visit a place where it never stops snowing? Why would anyone live in Ohio?”

“Not everyone can just walk away,” said Garrett, shrugging. “Some of us have jobs and family here.”

The old fury was flaring up in Jill’s chest. “For some of us, family is job. Working with Mother doesn’t just mean managing the Inn, it means managing her. I come out to do finances, I’m expected to declare my blind allegiance to anything Mother wants to do. Everything I do is related to the family business. Nothing is simple. Nothing is straightforward.”

Garrett was staring at her as if she’d begun to drool. “Jill, sometimes a job is just a job, even if it is attached to a family business.”

“What about you?” Jill demanded, suddenly angry at him because he was kind. “Where’s your independence? Where’s your objectivity? I thought you couldn’t stand your family, but here you are investing your dad’s money anyway.”

“It’s my money now, and well it should be,” said Garrett sharply. “What’s the matter with you? So you’re angry with your mother. It gives you no right to be gratuitously rude and throw my family in my face, which you don’t have any idea what you’re talking about anyway. Is this your modus operandi? When you’re unhappy you lash out at the person closest to you? It’s unattractive.”

“What the hell is modus operandi?” Jill shouted. “And why should I care if you don’t find me attractive? So I’m unattractive. Who cares? I don’t need a man to validate my appearance.”

“I didn’t say I don’t find you attractive,” said Garrett. “But your tactics right now are repulsive. Repulsive: that means the opposite of attractive, ergo, unattractive. Modus operandi: the way you work. I’m learning more than I’d like about that, at this moment.”

He stood up and put on his hat. “Call me when you’re in a better mood.”

Jill watched him walking away and wondered if she should wait to break down until she was in her room, or whether she should just complete her public disgrace and bawl right here in the restaurant. When Mother was cool in the face of a rage, it always seemed like she fully intended to be provoking. In Garrett’s case, Jill felt like he was actually disappointed. Disappointed not just in her words, but in her. What, he’d hoped for something deeper? Maybe he’d thought she was a professional, or some kind of emotionally competent person? Well, what if that was all there was to her — rage and reaction? Let him just walk away. See if she cared.

She cared.

She stood up to go after him, only to find herself confronted by a snow-blown Reagan.

“Do you even answer your phone any more? I had to walk all the way over here to find you, and now my hair is ruined.” By way of proof, she shook her lank locks accusingly at Jill. 

“Wear a hat,” Jill advised, in no mood to be sympathetic to the failure of Reagan’s blow-out at the expense of losing Garrett.

“Look, you’ve got to help me,” Reagan said, pushing Jill back toward the table she’d come from. “Mother is out of control. Did you know she’s been staying at my house? She’s rearranged my pantry, fired my house cleaner that I’ve had for three years, and opens my mail. I told her she needs to go home, but she cries about being near her loved ones. If you were staying at the house she wouldn’t need to suffocate me.”

“I’m not one of her ‘loved ones’,” said Jill flatly. 

“Oh my god, Jill, you can’t pay attention to anything Mother says. She just gets that way. She’d probably welcome you with open arms if you would just talk to her. It’s only fair to me.”

“If I would just…,” Could Reagan even hear herself? Did she realize how entitled, how disgustingly pampered she sounded? “I should be Mother’s punching bag so you can have a night off?”

“Yes, exactly,” Reagan agreed with relief. “I mean, tomorrow night she’s taking Quennedey to midnight mass, so I’ll get a little quiet time then, but otherwise…” She appealed to Jill with a gesture that was probably supposed to convey a weary candor. “I just can’t take any more of her, Jill. I’m just emotionally tapped out. Let’s work together, get her back home in time for Christmas. It’s what Daddy would have wanted.”

Jill was suddenly exhausted. “You should go home before it gets worse out there,” she said, rising from the table. 

“Think about what I’ve said.” Reagan zipped her coat with purpose. “It’s time of love and joy, not a time to hold grudges. Show a little Christmas spirit.” 

Jill showed her to the door. “See you later.”

Reagan paused in the doorway, for the first time seeming genuinely unsure of her words. “By the way, when I was coming in… I mean… does Mr. Singh dance?”

“Does he what?” 

“Never mind,” said Reagan hastily. “Only I thought I saw… It must have been a trick of the light.” 

Finally Jill was free to collapse face first on her bed and ponder whether even the Christmas spirit could paper over her mess of a life.

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