It was more of a bed and breakfast than a hotel. A two story building with a wide front porch wrapping around three-quarters of it and a chimney sticking out the top. But the sign proclaimed it Hotel Yorba. The surrounding woods were verdant and the lake could be seen from the dirt parking lot. I didn't think it really should be called a lake. It was a large pond. But they had built a dock some years ago, and a red paddleboat was tied to it.
I squeezed Andrea's hand and we continued up the dirt path to the porch. Our feet clonked on the wooden boards, sounding our arrival. The screen door creaked open and a woman came out to greet us. Wearing a brown wool coat and a bandana wrapped as a band around her hair, she smiled broadly at us, one of those contagious smiles. We had already been grinning, but now our smiles became those joyful kid smiles where you aren't concerned with looking attractive, you're just smiling so hard it hurts. But it's a good hurt.
"Hello, I'm Rita Sellers," she said, reaching out to shake our hands. "We talked on the phone yesterday." I take her hand in mine.
"Daniel White," I informed.
Andrea loosened her hand from mine and took Rita's. "Andrea Schnider."
"It's great to meet you both," she said.
"You as well," Andrea assured.
"Well, let me show you the hotel."
Andrea and I nod eagerly and follow Rita through the front door.
"I'm quitting medical school," I told my father in his study two weeks ago.
Twelve blocks away, Andrea was eating dinner with her parents in their black, silver and beige themed penthouse when she said, "I'm quitting law school."
My father looked up from his book. "What?" my father asked. Andrea's mother spewed wine over their new tablecloth.
"It's not what I want to do with my life," we said to our dumbfounded parents.
"You've been so patient while I've tried to figure this out," I said. "And I appreciate it. But being a doctor won't make me happy."
At the Schnider's house Andrea started again. "Mom, dad…" She helped mop up the spill. "You've been so supportive while I tried out a few different things, but I realized that I don't want to be a lawyer. I only looked into it because you suggested it in the first place. But I need to love what I do. And being a rich Jewish lawyer is an unbearable option."
My father interlaced his figures on his desk. "What will make you happy?" he inquired, daring me to have an answer. But I was one step ahead of him; I already had one.
Andrea's mother stared, "What is a 'bearable option,' then?"
I grinned, eager to tell him. Knowing he will be confused. Knowing that I'm sure. That I've never been more sure of anything in my life.
Andrea smiled. "Okay…well…here's what I've been thinking," she started.
We told them about our road trip last Spring Break and the beautiful small town we drove through. And of the run-down hotel we passed by. With a "For Sale" sign stuck in the lawn.
"Now, we were running behind, so we only had time to stop and take down the number, but Andrea and I want to go back and talk to the owners…" I explained.
"…And after seeing what kind of shape it's in, and how much it would cost to buy it…." Andrea patiently said.
I took a dramatic breath and spouted, "We want to buy it."
Through our eager eyes, neither of us saw the disappointment in our parents'.
The old house's paint peeled off the walls, and it smelled dusty and dry. We went down a narrow hallway where Rita stopped to point into the room that served as an office. The door sat open, and a plaque hung by a string nailed to the oak. Black with gold lettering, it read "OFFICE". An old armchair sat expectantly behind the desk, cotton stuffing poking out of the tears in the leather.
"This is so great," I remarked.
"It's a little old…." Rita apologized.
"Amazing," Andrea agreed, stopping Rita.
"Well," Rita fumbled. "It hasn't been updated like the sitting room yet. Let me show you that." She held her arm out into the hallway, leading us back out.
After I graduated from High School, I was accepted at NYU. I wasn't surprised. I had the grades. I had the extracurricular activities, and a great history of community service. And while they may have taken that to say that I'm a very active member of the community, I know differently. Most of that I did on the suggestion of others. People always came up to me,
"Dan, did you hear about the poetry slam next Wednesday? You should check it out…"
"Danny! I was going to tell you, there's a Halloween party being held down at the community center for the grammar school. They need someone to run the haunted house. I thought you might get a kick out of it…"
"Dan, didn't you get an A in Debate last year? You should go out for the Debate Team…"
And I did most of the things people suggested. I knew they were just trying to help me. They just wanted me to find my passion. They wanted to be the one who was right that I was perfect for the soccer team. That gave me my start that would lead to a successful and happy life.
But none of them gave me much exhilaration. I didn't mind participating, and some were even fun. Those were the things I clung to the longest. But after a few months I'd lose interest. In fact, the only thing I ever started during High School that I didn't stop after a few months was dating Andrea.
We met Senior year, somehow having always known of the other, but never really having talked. We both joined the Photography Club for a short time, but I dropped out two weeks later. After a while we started noticing each other at the same events, off and on throughout the year. Finally I asked her to lunch one day and if she was still going to all those clubs.
"Oh…no," she said. "I just got bored. I always do."
"Me too," I agreed.
"I mean, Photography Club was cool, but after a while…it's just like.." she trailed off.
" 'So what'?"
"Yeah," she agreed heartily.
Hers was the same story as mine. Ever since age seven she has gone through one hobby after the other. Ballet. Piano lessons. Dance team. Gymnastics. Writing. Philosophy club. Yearbook. I was relieved that I found someone else just like me.
And that day, I found the first thing that I never got tired of.
The sitting room was just down the hall, and opened by a two-door wide doorway. Two couches, a loveseat, and several recliners, all the same shade of forest green and placed strategically around the room to face the fireplace. A bookshelf stood waiting on both the left and right wall. A deep brown rug with pinecones and fall leaves printed on it covered the floor.
"Who's that?" Andrea asked, pointing to a two by two foot portrait on the left wall.
"That's Samuel Huntington," Rita explained confidently. "He built Hotel Yorba back in 1923."
"Really?" I cried in delight, turning to Rita.
"Yes…" Rita said, studying me.
"That's so quaint!" Andrea exclaimed. I put my arms around her shoulder and squeezed her. She giggled and squeezed me back.
"Yeah. Well… let's see the kitchen," Rita suggested. Down the hall and another left room, and went though the swinging doors into the kitchen. Rita told us it was fully equipped with any utensils we might need. Although neither Andrea nor I really knew how to cook, we couldn't help but be charmed by the chicken-print oven mitts, or the glasses of lemonade with apples dotted around them.
"I don't understand," Andrea's mother said as Andrea zipped her suitcase closed. "All we've ever wanted for you is the best you could possibly have."
I stood in the doorway politely, letting Andrea deal with her mother.
"I know, mom. But sometimes I feel like everything has been given to me. I've never worked for any of it. I'm just a rich little Jewish girl."
"And what's wrong with that?" Her mother demanded.
Andrea sighed. "Forget the Jewish part, okay? What I mean is that I've never figured anything out for my own. And now I have that chance. I'll have chosen the hotel." She took her mothers hands in hers. "It will be the best thing you could ever give me if you'll just let me earn something for myself."
She looked doubtful, but she held her daughter's eyes as she nodded. They embraced and Andrea kissed her cheek. Then she stepped into their living room and kissed her father on the top of his head. "Bye Daddy."
We headed for the door, trying to hide our excitement for her parents' sake.
"I love you," she said as we opened the door. "We'll call."
We shut the door on her forlorn parents and jogged down the hall to the elevator. Inside, I pressed for the lobby floor and took Andrea's face in my hands, kissing her. We were standing at the edge of a whole new part of our lives. For once I knew what I wanted. I wanted to step forward, and own something with all my being. I wanted to love what I do. I wanted to live with Andrea, and run our business together. I wanted to run my own life.
"So, what do you think?" Rita asked. We all sat on the porch, drinking more lemonade.
I stopped myself from jumping to my feet and thrusting my finger into the air while exclaiming, "We'll take it!"
"I love it," Andrea admits.
"Me too," I agree. "But we just want to make sure that it's something we definitely want before we jump into it."
Rita nodded, "I understand that."
"It does need a lot of work," Andrea inputted. "And we're just a little wary in taking on that big of a project."
"Well, you have as long as you need to think about it. At the moment, you're my only interested party. The hotel's not going anywhere," Rita assured.
"Well, I was thinking," and I turned toward Andrea, "Maybe we could rent a room for the night? To get more familiar with it?"
Andrea nodded. "That's a great idea."
"And that'll be absolutely no problem," Rita said.
We quickly finished our lemonade and brought in our luggage from the car.
We set our bags down and surveyed the room. It was the first one she showed us, a king-size bed in the middle, and a beige loveseat in front of the window which took up most of the wall. There was a table and set of chairs, and on the right end of the room was the bathroom. All the rooms had been updated with new furniture in the mid-nineties, and still looked relatively new.
Andrea sighed happily. I swooped down on her, wrapping my arms around her waist and lifting her off the ground. She squealed as I spun her around the room. We fell on to the bed and she looked up at me.
"What do you think?'
"Hmmm…" I mused. "I think that it's perfect."
"I can already see troops of little Jew babies running all over the place."
She laughed and we talked the afternoon away, eventually falling asleep on the bed, already comfortable in our surroundings.
Some time later, I woke in the dark, Andrea's face light up by the moonlight coming through the window. She was looking at me and she sighed, fidgeting with her pillow. "Are you scared?"
"About what?" I said.
"You know what," she insisted. "That this is it. That we'll stick with it this time."
"No, I'm not scared."
"Why not?" she asked.
I rolled over to look at the ceiling. "I don't know," I whispered. "It just fits. Like the hotel has been here, waiting this whole time. Maybe it's because no one pushed it on us. We found it for ourselves this time. Maybe it's because," I looked at her, "I'm choosing to do this with you."
Andrea smiled, the corners of her eyes folding delicately in a way that made it easy to imagine her in twenty years. And I knew she'd be beautiful even then.
She took my hand, "Exactly."
The next morning we called our parents to give them our new address and to have our belongings shipped over. We signed the deed and spent the day making plans for the renovation of Hotel Yorba. Over the next few months, it was re-shingled, re-built, re-painted, and re-furbished. And two months before the re-opening, Andrea and I were married there. We held small ceremony, but an elegant one, which I would relive for anyone willing to listen. A year later, our first daughter, Melanie, was born there. Simon followed after her.
Andrea was diagnosed with breast cancer twenty years after the hotel opened. She died three years later, at home, while I slept in a chair next to her bed.
Soon after, the kids moved off to college, only returning for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They had to help me out with the cooking, since Andrea had been the real chef of the family. I almost burnt the turkey the year that Melanie first had me meet my first grandchild. A girl, Teri, who so resembled Andrea that I wished more than anything that she could have seen her when she was till alive. And I was content for some years, living through the happiness of the kids and the guests who stayed with us.
It was one morning in September, at the age of sixty-five that , while having a cup of coffee on the porch and watching the mist lift itself from the pond, I decided to put the hotel up for sale. Every year since Andrea's death the Hotel felt less and less like home. I no longer felt that I should keep on living there.
A few months later, I greeted the first couple to arrange an appointment to see it. They were just as starry-eyed as we'd once been, clutching each other in excitement. And now I showed them our Hotel Yorba, with the pieces of both of us etched everywhere. I reeled off all the best of the stories to those kids and felt myself no longer holding on to them as I had. They each slid further into the floorboards of the hotel and I knew they were not only Andrea and mine's memories.
After leaving Yorba, I bought a condo in the city, closer to the kids. I set up all the best pictures on the mantelpiece. The first few night I woke up, unsure where I was. On the edge of the dream, I'd hear Andrea asking, "Are you scared?" But after I remembered that she'd died and that I'd sold the Hotel, I'd calm as much as I could and stand at the mantel. Looking from picture to picture, I'd smile at those times.
"We'll always have Hotel Yorba," I said wistfully to the empty house.
"Exactly," Andrea had agreed.