"Nice try Lesley, sorry, but you won't get into my bed that way!" Stella Harmon our managing director, laughed as she passed and the others in the checking-in queue grinned at me.
For a few moments I stood nonplussed until one of the men enlightened me, "The hotel assumed you were a woman and booked you two into the same room."
Not for the first time, I blamed mother for misspelling my name.
I work as the maintenance man for a small company that supplies specialist Chinese herbal medicines and for the week, we had an enforced shut down. A construction company were replacing an old sewer pipeline that had collapsed with a much larger, 1.5 metre diameter plastic pipe and this necessitated cutting a deep trench down the centre of the road. With all the power, phone and water supplies affected, we had no choice but to close for the week. Fortunately we knew in advance and were able to warn our customers. Mr. Chang, the owner, decided to use the opportunity for staff bonding and to increase our marketing skills, not that the latter applied to me. I suggested I ought to stay and do some of the jobs I couldn't do whilst the others were at work but he adamantly refused and after pointing out there'd be no power and no water, said, "Mr. Wright, it is just as important that you get to know those in charge on a social level as for them to get to know you."
My attitude to the bonding week changed when I learned the hotel location for our stay was a few miles downriver from my birthplace and during the day, we would be sailing on waters I knew well from my youth. Sales and marketing presentations were arranged for the evenings but I could pass on them.
Most of the twenty-two others on the coach from our base in Somerset to the sailing resort in Essex, were office and sales staff and, yes, at times some of them looked down at me except of course, when they needed a repair done. With the coach only half full, I sat alone for the long journey across southern England and around London and started on the book of crossword puzzles I'd bought. Only Pat, one of the packaging girls, came and sat with me for a while. "So much for the bonding," I thought, "Everyone is sitting with their mates or colleagues, and no one is changing seats." I settled back in my seat and tried to doze and ignore the others.
We arrived later than planned and Stella announced, "Please check in straight away, the driver will bring your bags into the foyer and you can collect them from there." I wondered if she had any thoughts for the poor driver who must have been tired from the long and tedious journey.
He expressed his thanks when I said, "While you unlock the compartments I'll see if I can find a trolley and then give you a hand." Together we piled the bags on a low trolley and after two loads I joined the end of the queue. Everyone took it for granted the maintenance man would be the one to do the donkey-work and I'd been arranging the second load of bags in an orderly way on the floor when Stella laughed at me and quipped, "Nice try Lesley, sorry, but you won't get into my bed that way!"
Eventually I got to the check-in desk. "I'm sorry Mr. Wright, but we have a problem with your booking. We assumed you were a woman and booked you to share with Miss Harmon but..." Judith, the pretty receptionist stopped in mid sentence before going on, "The hotel is completely full because the other nearby hotel had a minor fire but the smoke and water damage closed it down for refurbishment and we've taken as many of their guests as we could fit in. I've sent for the manager to see what can be arranged."
"Who accepted the booking without checking?" the plump man demanded.
"Molly, I expect."
"It can only get worse," I thought as we waited for Molly to arrive. The others in our group were heading for the dining room but all ignored me. Five minutes later a stocky woman in her late twenties, early thirties I guessed, arrived and apologised sincerely. I heard her words but the dark purple-red patch that disfigured her left cheek and disappeared behind her hair, took my attention. I realised they were making her the scapegoat and knew it wasn't really her fault.
"What are you going to do about it?" the manager demanded, "As you well know, there are no spare beds. You do all the booking and room arrangements."
"There's the bed that Jane used until she left," the receptionist cut in with a sneaky smile.
Molly looked shocked, waited a few moments before saying, "There's a bed in my room ... that you are welcome to use ... I'm sorry, it doesn't have all the facilities of the other rooms ... but it's clean and it won't take long for me to clear my stuff to one side."
I could tell by her stuttering reply that she was uncertain about my sharing her room and I presumed her job would be at stake if she hadn't agreed. With more apologies, she led me to a small room at the back of the hotel and apologised several times for the state of the room. Certainly it wasn't up to the standard of the main hotel accommodation and overlooked the car park and bin area but it was clean and had a small toilet and shower cubicle. As she cleared her on-duty uniform from the spare bed, she again apologised for her mistake. "Molly, please stop saying you're sorry. The mistake was not yours even though the manager is blaming you," I gently reprimanded her, "The mistake wouldn't have occurred if the girl in our office had indicated my sex and in any case, I'd rather have your company than the boss lady or one of the salesmen. "I'm sure we'll get along fine together and you need have no fear of my molesting you." A smile lit up her face for a second when I added, "Or do I have to be afraid of you molesting me?"
We chatted about the journey and the weather while I put my stuff away, but her face returned to its worried look when she glanced at the clock. "I'm sorry..." she started, "Sorry, I know you said to stop saying that, but dinner will be almost over in the dining room and I guess you're starving." I nodded. "I'll take you to the staff room and see what Chef can rustle up. There's always plenty of leftovers and the waitresses will be in to eat later."
Actually I had a pleasant meal with Molly and a few of the other staff and we sat around the table and chatted whilst drinking the after dinner coffee. The girls ribbed her about the sleeping arrangements and even suggested she deliberately arranged it that way but there wasn't any malice in the remarks and she took it in good part and I defended her too and once more blamed mother. In actual fact, I'd enjoyed the company far more than being with my group.
"Where have you been?" Stella demanded when I entered the area of the lounge designated for our use, "Please try and get to the meetings on time in future, you've already missed the main part of the briefing. Which room are you in?"
Accepting the bundle of papers she thrust at me, I looked at the key to Molly's room, "S6."
She gave me a puzzled look but noted it on her clipboard and went on, "You are just in time for the draw for partners for tomorrow's sailing excursion. We've already picked those with sailing experience as boat skippers and assumed you hadn't any sail training, so now we are to randomly assign boats and crews. Most of the boats were small sailing dinghies but a couple were larger and had a regular skipper or owner. "Boat 1 a 25ft cabin cruiser with the owner as skipper will take five crew. Robert..." She drew the slips of paper from a box and the assigned the next two boats. "Boat 4, a 15 ft sailing dinghy takes two people. Skipper Stella. I haven't sailed anything that small for years," she commented as she drew a name from the crew box, "Crew, Lesley. Well, it seems that if you cannot get into my room, you're getting into my boat," she laughed and the others did too. I wondered if she'd somehow rigged the draw but it didn't look like it and I think she would have preferred one of the other men or ladies.
Most went to the bar when the meeting and her pep talk on the need to get to know one another finished, but I headed for my room. "Breakfast is at eight and we are to be at the boat dock at nine. Make sure you're there on time," Stella reminded me.
Molly took off her reading glasses and put the novel aside when I entered and I noticed she'd already changed into pyjamas and wore a robe over them so I guessed she didn't wish to undress in front of me. Even with the robe I could see the protrusion of the material by her full breasts. She greeted me pleasantly enough and asked how the meeting went but I noted a nervousness in her voice. However, this disappeared and after a short while we talked about ourselves, our jobs and lives and I learned that she tended to shy away from public gatherings because of the purple blotch on her cheek showed even more clearly when she sweated and make-up only exacerbated the problem.
I woke early after a decent night's sleep and with an erection due to thoughts of the woman in the next bed, and slipped into the loo. Molly sat up in bed when I returned and dressed. "Would you like an early breakfast with the staff or would you prefer to wait for the dining room to open?' she asked. I jumped at the chance of being with her and perhaps giving Stella a little concern as to my being late. She put the local radio station on for the weather forecast and I wondered if we'd be allowed to go out. "Bright and clear with plenty of sunshine. Wind westerly, fresh, increasing to strong later." In a small open dinghy, we would get wet, probably very wet.
At breakfast we again came in for a certain amount of ribbing from the other staff but in general it was good-natured although some suggestions embarrassed Molly. While the rest of our party had breakfast in the dining room, I left by the staff entrance and walked to the river. As the forecast said, fresh wind and gusty with it, but with it being with the tide, the water wasn't too rough; choppy but no white horses. "That will change when the tide turns," I muttered and wondered again how much Stella knew about the conditions. I resolved not to reveal my knowledge unless directly asked but I doubted the MD would deem any reply from me to be worthwhile.
Back in the hotel, I donned my scuba diving wet suit which I normally used for wreck exploration off the Devon coast, and wore a pair of shorts over it. Again, using knowledge gained from diving and from sailing here, I filled my waterproof bag with essentials for the day and went to the staff room again to fill a flask with coffee. My skin hugging suit attire caused a few whistles from two maids and the comment. "I can see now why Molly offered you her room." I wondered if she'd thought about me in the way I had about her.
I arrived at the dock before the others and spent the time talking to the boat hire man about the weather conditions. "Be best to get yersells back afore lunch as the wind's s'posed to get a wholly lot stronger and there'll be a fair old popple on when the tide turns," he advised in the local dialect as he handed me a life jacket.
"I'll tell the boss lady but I much doubt she'll take any advice from a lowly maintenance man."
"Then you may well be a needin' that suit Bor." Little did I realise how true his words were.