Once Upon a Summertime - Melody Carlson Page 0,1

but she occasionally sneaked a peek at friends’ Facebook pages—not for long, lest she feed any jealous green demons festering inside of her. Naturally, she never posted a single word about her own personal or professional life. Occasionally she was tempted to fake some exotic photos and falsify her whereabouts, just for fun, but really that wasn’t her style. Better to remain honest and simply suffer in silence.

From across the street, she frowned at the garishly painted Value Lodge. Not for the first time, she wondered what idiot picked out those colors. The bright yellow and red stripes had always reminded her of a fast-food restaurant; they looked like mustard and ketchup, but much less appetizing. In Anna’s opinion, almost everything about this motel was unappealing, from the “free continental breakfast,” which consisted of small cardboard boxes of cereal and cartons of milk and juice, to the kidney-shaped swimming pool in its varying shades of blue and sometimes green, to the lumpy queen beds topped with bedspreads with a texture akin to fiberglass. For the life of her, she could not understand why anyone would stay here on purpose. Well, except that the Value Lodge boasted the “lowest rates in town.” She would give the motel that much—it was definitely cheap.

It was, in fact, the general frugality of this establishment that was the very bane of her existence. She’d suggested improvements to the owners, a semi-retired couple who were friends of her grandmother: relatively inexpensive perks like fresh floral arrangements in the lobby, upgraded linens, quality toiletries, or even a bowl of fresh fruit to accompany the continental breakfast. Every time, her ideas were politely but firmly declined. “Not in the budget,” Rich Morgan would tell her. “Not in the budget,” his wife Sharon would repeat like a trained parrot. And off they’d go on their merry little way.

As Anna walked across the motel’s narrow parking lot, which had trash in it as usual, she made a mental note to herself to send Mickey out for litter patrol—again. Taking a deep breath, Anna forced a pleasant smile as an elderly couple exited the motel. They had checked in with her yesterday afternoon, for just one night, but they’d gotten her attention because they seemed like such sweet people. They were taking a cross-country car trip to mark their fiftieth anniversary.

“I hope you enjoyed your stay with us,” she said cheerfully as the gentleman politely held the outer door for her and his wife.

“Yes, uh, thank you.” He sounded hesitant as he followed his wife out. Almost as if something was wrong. Well, why should she be surprised? And why bother to inquire, except that was what a manager said to guests who were checking out. Still standing in the vestibule between the two sets of doors, Anna watched them hurry to their car. Wrinkling her nose, she peered curiously around the small space. Why did it always smell so doggone nasty in here? And even worse on warm days. It was as if someone had gotten sick and no one had bothered to properly clean it up.

She held her breath as she propped the exterior door open, wedging it in place with the rubber doorstop. Fresh air couldn’t hurt! Second note to self: Remind housekeeping to give this room a good disinfectant scrub during the night shift tonight. With temps heading for the high nineties this week, this entryway needed to smell fresh—or at least not quite so disgusting.

As she continued into the shabby lobby with its faux marble vinyl floor and eighties wallpaper, she vaguely wondered why guests never complained about that wretched smell as they entered. Maybe she should put in a suggestions box. But as she stooped down to smooth a wrinkle from a worn area rug with a curling corner that would soon be a tripping hazard, she realized if guests ever paused to complain, there would be no stopping them.

“Morning, Anna.” Jacob, the night manager, waved sleepily from the reception area.

“Good morning, Jacob.”

He made a relieved smile. “You’re early as usual.” He’d already gathered his belongings, as if he planned to make a fast getaway. “Refreshing to see someone who takes her job seriously.”

She heard the teasing tone in his voice but forced a smile. “A good manager is punctual, preemptive, and positive.” She grimaced to think she had just quoted the three Ps from one of her least favorite college instructors. What a joke.

Jacob simply laughed. “Well, then I’ll be preemptive and punctual by