Just Another Holiday
Jared stared, and stared. There's a pile of paperwork an inch thick at the receptionists' counter waiting for him this morning, all marked with polite tags basically telling him to get them done by 3 o'clock in the afternoon. While the Speckled Kyrii didn't really mind the extra work, it feels as though his co-workers were ganging up on him at times.
Heaving a sigh, he let his eyes wander over the central lounge. Working at the Mystery Island Resort brought about many benefits. Besides a comfortable wage and fun customer-oriented events that come one after the other, one just can't help but fall in love with the aesthetic beauty of the beachside resort. The wooden buildings were constructed to mimic the earthy feel of local establishments, and were kept open-air as much as possible to make full use of the island's tempered climate and to give a perfect view of the sparkling sea.
A short musical score played by local instruments caught in Jared's ears, signalling the coming of yet another customer. He schooled a smile as the pair approached, setting the papers aside for now. They were young, a Pirate Krawk and a Maractite Peophin dressed casually for a holiday. He envied them.
Their luggage had already been whisked off by the bellhop as soon as they arrived. Jared couldn't help but notice a black case, as long as he was tall, as it was loaded on the cart. It might have been a cello. He greeted the pair pleasantly and with a smile, his name-tag glinting on his tailored vest.
"I'm Hokoei, and she's Cyprus. We don't have a reservation," informed the Krawk as they sat down at one of the lounge's low, rattan-woven tables to glasses of iced tea and a talk on their stay. "But my sister and I would like to book a room for a full week. Two single beds. We'll leave on Friday morning."
Oh, so she was his sister. Jared mentally chided himself for being assuming. "Would you like the ocean view or the garden view, sir?"
"The garden. It isn't a connecting room, is it?" He sipped on the tea. Jared noted that his pinky stayed on the glass, and wondered if it meant that the guest really liked tea.
"I can arrange for that. So, it'll be the Garden Wing, Premier Room, for two. I will be processing your deposit. Meanwhile, feel free to browse through this leaflet. It's a programme of all the activities held at the resort at the moment, although the complimentary 4 o'clock tea time buffet has been moved to the Suria Restaurant on account of a company's training camp being held at the resort. If you are worried, please do not be: we aim to provide you with our best service regardless of any other commitments that we may have."
The sister didn't seem all that interested in the talk, he noted, working quickly at the counter. The Peophin had finished the tea in two gulps and was now wandering around the lounge, looking at all the local handicrafts on display. There was a light rain dancing on the roof tiles, and she appeared to be enjoying the moist feel in the air.
"Ah, excuse me. Mr. Jared." Startled, he turned to face the Krawk, who was leaning on the counter with a serious expression on his face. "I forgot the most important question: how many swimming pools do you have?"
The footfalls were loud against the wooden floor, and the Krawk sunbathing on one of the poolside chairs cracked an eye open, watching as a troop of waiters rushed past. It wouldn't have been anything too far out of the ordinary, but he could tell by the tell-tale bulges in their waistcoats that they were hiding Ylana's Blasters underneath.
Being the only people out in the pool at 4 (it was tea time for everyone else, and this resort offered a scrumptious array of pastries) besides a determined family of five offered them some measure of privacy. The Peophin's head broke the surface of the pool and she rested her hooves on the pool's edge, her white hair fanning out in the water behind her.
"It's none of our business," she reminded him casually, before beckoning over an attendant and asking for the specialty seasoned seaweed that the attendant tried to explain was only available during dinner. Her adamant personality could be quite overbearing, and she watched him scamper with a smug look on her face.
In deciding that the attendant's silhouette looked familiar, it suddenly occurred to Hokoei that he forgot to order something for himself.
Jared gave the guest room a look-over, and once satisfied that it looked picture-perfect, snapped the door closed behind him and wheeled the cleaning trolley a few metres forwards.
As he raised his hand to the doorbell, the door opened and he met the steady grey eyes of the Krawk from yesterday. He had an exotic name, Jared knew, and as a consequence he couldn't really remember it. At least the sister had the same name as his Plumpy-loving aunt.
"Well, good morning Mr. Jared. I see that you are a cleaning lady today," the Krawk said.
He shrugged. "I do many jobs around the resort."
"That's unusual." The Peophin had snaked her head over her brother's shoulder to inspect him. "I didn't think that the resort would be short on staff," she drawled.
"We have a hefty crowd to attend to, and the client was very picky about how they were to be served." The defensive words slipped out before he could rein them in. It was a contradiction to yesterday's words, he knew, and his heart plummeted as he realised that his words had just dragged the resort's name on the floor.
She may have frowned slightly, but her brother smiled kindly. "I'm sure that he was."
"By the way," interjected Cyprus all of a sudden, "can I ask what's with all the jars of fresh flowers everywhere? I could have sworn that you didn't have half so much yesterday."
Kayaking was good fun, decided Hokoei as he slipped his boat through the waters like a water snake. It required a steadily rotating motion that worked like a metronome: it was something that you can keep pace to, lose yourself in and relax.
Kayaking was slow and tedious, thought Cyprus as she simply floated, irritated enough at the movement of the oars that she had decided to let her boat just float and see where the sea takes her. Kayaking was for people who were unfortunate enough not to have fast river rapids to race atop of.
From their spots in the sea, the two siblings of widely differing opinions together watched as the company training supposedly taking place on a privately reserved beach erupted into a full-scale water-gun war, complete with pirate impersonations and overturned cake.
His favourite place in the resort was of course, the kitchen. Jared spent as much time as he could there, and everyone knew that even though they could swap shifts with him whenever it inconvenienced them, adding extra kitchen chores to the deal could be seen as a form of thanks for his help.
Maybe it was because he needed something to do that would regularly remind him of home. Maybe it was because he wanted to not feel so lonely for a change. Maybe he just enjoyed the rhythmic motions of following recipes. It didn't really matter.
Jared was dicing capsicums when the pair waltzed in like the kitchen was their own, never-minding the automated security checkpoint that should have been at all staff entrances. The cooks collectively stared.
"Hello!" waved the Krawk cheerily. His right hand had a note in it, which he handed to the nearest chef, who happened to be in charge of sauces and had a temper like Tabasco. "We'd like to have some of your ingredients please. Everything except number five, because we brought our own salmon with us."
Before the sauce chef could spontaneously combust from the breach of kitchen-hierarchy-based-honour, Jared took it upon himself to be the errand boy at a nod from the Head Chef. He rescued the paper from being torn in half, gave it a once look-through, folded it neatly along the creases and handed it back. "Please take a seat. I'll have everything ready in a few minutes."
The Kyrii made good on the promise, returning a mere two minutes later with a rattan basket laden with purchases through their pantry. The end table was unused at the moment, so he wiped it once with a semi-damp cloth and unloaded the basket for them to check through.
"All-purpose flour, yeast, olive oil, sea salt, tomato paste, mushrooms, whole olives, milk..." he announced as he unloaded each one, feeling as though he was reciting ingredients for pizza. The Krawk confirmed his worst fears as he clapped his hands together.
"Excellent. Now, we'd like to make use of a small portion of your kitchen, if that's agreeable."
Jared could hardly leave them unattended in the staff kitchen. He moved his chopping board over so that he could cut up his share of capsicums while they worked. It was an... enlightening experience to watch them cook. Or at least the brother cook. His sister just lounged around sneaking off fruit tarts from a silver tray nearby.
The Kyrii could hardly call himself versed in the art of pizza-making, but he was pretty sure that no one should be adding milk into the dough. The guest even asked for a heavy-duty whisk. A whisk! Why isn't he using the mixer that the kitchen had just for doughs? He couldn't find the courage to protest or to suggest something, so sure the Krawk looked of his movements. But he had to admit, the Krawk made for a decent batter-pounder. He worked the dough like it was eggs for scrambling, then smoothed it out into an even circle swiftly with a rolling pin.
Jerad nearly screamed in horror when the Krawk diced the olives, the Shenkuu-forged knife easily cleaving even the seeds into quarters. The Krawk then haphazardly tossed them on the rolled-out dough, along with mushrooms and salmon slices before slathering them all with tomato paste. That done, he plucked the pizza peel from its hook. He was far too smooth with his movements: when Jared moved in to intercept and to sort the monster meal out, the Krawk pivoted like a dancer to avoid him, jabbing the peel through an opening under his right arm to hook the pizza on and sticking it into the oven. He closed the door with an air of satisfaction.
"You should really be more careful. You could have hit the pizza," he chided. Jared couldn't really do anything else but stare at the oven door, wondering if what he had witnessed was sacrilege. The other chefs already seemed torn between professional pride and humouring the guests. They solved it by minding their own businesses, and leaving Jared to sort it out.
The Krawk did his own washing up, and even bent the now-misshapen whisk back into shape. He was quite thorough in cleaning, for which Jared was infinitely grateful for.
"Are... are you sure that's going to taste nice?"
"Sure thing. Cyprus always eats it, don't you, Cyprus?"
She nodded, and Jared had to wonder if she did so out of loyalty to her brother or if malfunctioning taste-buds were a hereditary trait in their bloodline. In twenty minutes' time, his opinion would heavily favour the latter as he watched her scarf slices down like a pizza-shredder. The alarming crunching sounds didn't seem to faze either one of them, and actually made him wonder if his own sister was lying when she said that olive seeds were full of poison.
Later on, when Jared was cleaning up his own utensils, he noticed that there was a letter from the Head Chef in his side pocket. He wondered when had it gotten there.
"Hokoei. I see that you still haven't lost that pickpocketing habit of yours. I want you to listen up, and listen clearly. What did I tell you before about busy-bodying in other people's affairs?"
"Ah, I'm sorry. It wasn't premeditated, so... forgive me?"
"Exactly what did I say?"
"'It's none of our business.'"
"You know, I heard that something interesting is going to happen this Thursday night at the ballroom."
The next time Jared saw the pair again, he was bringing some rented bicycles back to the Fitness Centre, a wooden shack near a rocky shoreline of the sea that made for part of the resort grounds popular among the guests for its recreation value. They were jogging, which was unusual for everyone but athletes and dedicated Neopians in this hour of the morning. The sister did not seem to have noticed, but her brother waved. Jared responded in kind, then bolted the bicycles to their stands.
After returning the keys to the counter of the Fitness Center, Jared headed off towards the shed, humming a low tune as he went. He procured a pair of hedge clippers there, as well as a pair of sturdy plastic buckets. After that, off he went down a random path lined with bushes, displaying an acute proficiency in art of cutting out fresh flowers but still making sure that the bushes didn't look too bald afterwards.
Later, he would arrange them in whatever local pots they had left and place them in all the empty spots that had cropped up since yesterday. And also buy new pots from the market.
As soon as Hokoei unlocked the door, Cyprus slithered past him and sank into the closest bed with a great sigh of contentment.
"Don't joke: you haven't even broken a sweat floating around in that water bubble of yours." The Krawk closed the door behind him and pulled a crisp new towel off the metal rack. He had already cooled off during the walk back. "And that's my bed that you're lying on. Go sleep in your own."
"Stingy," mumbled the Peophin drowsily. He knew better, but let it slide.
"When I get out of the shower, I expect to see you all prepped and ready to go. The buffet starts at six-thirty sharp, and I'll miss the first round of the curry chicken pie if we're any later."
He disappeared into the bathroom and Cyprus rolled over so that she faced the ceiling.
"Mr. Unknown-Person-Under-The-Bed: either you tell me what are you doing down there or I stab Naginata through the fancy duvets."
The formal party was open only to members of the company and their close relatives, and took place on Thursday evening in the Jongsarat Ballroom. It was a posh affair with gentlemen in their best suits and brightest ties, ladies in cocktail dresses and delicate jewellery, children running unrestrained and repeatedly calmed by waiters offering glasses of juice. Jared was one of those waiters, dressed in the stiff tailcoat that he was accustomed to wearing for such events and standing by the local artefact that the hotel had rented for today to bait the thief.
"It looks like it's going to rain soon," remarked Hokoei, chin in his palm as he faced the clouded sky. He was watching Cyprus's partial reflection in the window as she smoothed plastic wrappings away from a black case, and tenderly coaxed live swords from its maw.
She grinned, and a Peophin's face never looked scarier. "That's always a sign of good luck."
"I'm sorry, but the party is a private one. May I see your invitation, sir?"
The Krawk gestured to a Christmas Uni inside a few paces from the door. "It's with him."
Ryuki looked very healthy. The days at the resort had certainly helped his pale complexion, although his big grin didn't need any upgrades.
"Hokoei! I thought that you would have met up with me sooner! You could tell that I was here, couldn't you?"
Hokoei laughed. "Yes, it was very obvious indeed. Cyprus looked plenty amused herself. Have you been pushy again?"
"Nonsense! But wait: where's big sis? Did you two have a fight?"
"She's off having fun. We're in the wrong place after all."
The Uni blinked confusedly. "Eh? What do you mean by that?"
Jared was feeling quite light-hearted and chatty on Friday, for Thursday evening's initial disappointment quickly moved into excitement when the gossip spread in the lockers during the morning's prep time. His infectious mood flooded over the receptionists' counter. "Would you know: the thieves who had been making off with our displays were caught yesterday! I hear that security chanced on them thieving on the remaining handicrafts while the staff was running the party, and sorted them out!"
"That's great news," Hokoei smiled as he signed the bill, ever the indulging listener. "Did you manage to find the rest of your stolen handicrafts?"
"I'm not so sure about that, but since we're leaving the thieves to the Defenders, they are helping us to wrap this up by combing the docks for the boat with the stash ready to be shipped out. All three of the conspirators spilt the beans even before interrogation, so we'll be hearing from them this afternoon. Here's your receipt and if you could spare the time, we would appreciate it if you could fill in this feedback form. We would like to improve on whatever you felt lacking in your stay."
Just like the day they came a week ago, it was raining lightly. The Peophin had finished her iced tea ahead of time and was looking around again, poking around the lounges and scrutinising flowers that were still wet with early morning dew. The management had decided to make it a permanent feature of their display due to the number of positive responses received.
"Did you enjoy your stay here?" Jared asked conversationally. The Krawk didn't seem to have heard him over the overlarge Vacana carriages that came rolling by at that moment, to the musical accompaniment of the local instruments that had heralded their coming on the first day. Cyprus approached the two of them.
"We should be going before we miss the airship back," she prodded, seeming to be in a mysteriously good temper. After returning the form, they bid him a quick goodbye and piled onto the carriage laden with their luggage and questionable cello case, and then they were off.
He glanced at the feedback form. There were polite and helpful remarks in all the right categories, though he wasn't quite sure what to make of the comments section:
Thank you for entertaining us during our stay. We do appreciate it.
Maybe that was their equivalent of an A grade. For all their eccentricities, they were good people. He certainly hoped that they would be staying with the resort again.