This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Lavender Rose Copyright © 2012 by Theo Fenraven
Cover Art by Theo Fenraven
Malcolm Hale left his wheezing Honda Civic by the side of the road and walked up a beautifully landscaped drive a quarter mile away. It was hot, and he was cranky, so he followed the path of least resistance. How nice of his vehicle to break down near what appeared to be a fancy resort.
The sun beat down on his bare head as he trudged toward the main building. Summer in Florida was always a test of one’s equanimity, and this had already been the day from hell. Pushing through the double doors, which had roses etched on the glass, he moaned in relief as air conditioning walloped him hard, chilling the sweat on his skin.
Stopping just inside, he looked around. Directly ahead of him was the registration desk. To his right was a lobby offering comfortable furniture grouped around a coffee table. Along the far wall were computer kiosks on sleek modern desks. To the left was a leather-padded door, over which a sign read “Orchid Room.”
Mal crossed the clean tile floor to the desk, behind which a tall, slender man with short blond hair puttered, arranging paper and pens in perfect alignment. He was wearing a skin-tight shirt tucked into skinny black pants. A logo decorated his left chest. Purple polish glistened on his neatly-trimmed nails.
The blond man looked up and smiled, giving Mal an obvious once-over. “I’m Tristan. Are you here for the job?”
Mal was taken aback. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected to hear from the desk clerk, but that wasn’t it. “There’s a job?”
“You have no luggage. I’m making an assumption, something I rarely do. Also, I am expecting no guests this afternoon.” Tristan pressed his full lips together. “My good-for-nothing assistant quit this morning when I ordered him to stuff. Apparently, I insulted him.” His green eyes dropped to Mal’s crotch. “You won’t have to do that.”
Heat rose in Mal’s cheeks. “Where am I?”
Amusement filled Tristan’s eyes. “You are lost, aren’t you, dear heart?”
“My car broke down.” His smile was wry. “Dead cell phone, too. Forgot to charge it last night.”
Tristan laughed, a light musical sound. “Such tragedy! Well, I can summon a sweaty tow-truck driver for you. They’re all sweaty, you know. Where are you parked?”
Mal told him, and glanced around while Tristan made the call. He hadn’t noticed the name of the place when he’d walked in. He now saw it on an announcement board next to the lobby doors: Lavender Rose. Through the windows, he saw a pool, a hot tub, beautifully cared for cottages painted in tropical pastels, and lots of men.
It took him a moment to realize what was missing: Women; there were none.
Tristan silently replaced the phone in its cradle. “Rescue is on its way.” His green eyes swept over Mal once more. “Do you need a job, sweetie? Because I think you’d be quite the hit.”
Tristan heaved a dramatic sigh. “Please follow the bouncing ball. Are you gay or straight, hon?”
Mal thought about that, not knowing how to respond, and then realized he had nothing to return to and no idea where he was going. “What will get me the job?”
Throwing his head back, Tristan laughed. “My assistant leapt to do my bidding, day or night. Can you leap, dear heart?”
“Like a gazelle. Should I demonstrate?”
He waved a hand. “Save your strength. You’re going to need it.” Picking up the phone again, he punched buttons, listened, and then spoke. “Ruby, I’m sending someone to you.” Covering the mouthpiece, he mock-whispered, “What’s your name?”
A well-defined eyebrow rose as he spoke into the phone. “Get out the asbestos gloves, sweetie. I’m sending over one very hot Malcolm.”
Ruby had the requisite red hair for someone with that name, set off by clear blue eyes. In her early thirties, she was pleasingly plump, with a smile to rival that of the sun. When Mal walked in, she rose from her chair and reached across the desk to shake his hand.
“Tristan wasn’t kidding. You’re exceptionally handsome.”
Shrugging in embarrassment, he sat opposite her. He didn’t really know how he’d gotten here, but having a job couldn’t be a bad thing. His savings would last only so long.
When he’d hurriedly packed yesterday morning and taken off in the car, his only thought was to escape. Get away from Sue and her father and Mal’s job as manager of that man’s pool business and somehow make sense of all that had happened.
Mal wasn’t thinking straight, and he knew it. He needed to stop, take a look around, and give himself time to process the events of the last few days.
“This is for the assistant job?” Ruby asked, digging through a drawer.
“I think so. What does it entail?”
Grinning, she pulled out some forms and slapped them down in front of Mal. “Anything Tristan wants, because he always gets what he wants.” She handed him a pen. “Fill this out, and give me your social and driver’s license. The formalities must be observed.”
While he wrote, she talked. “Lavender Rose is a small but impeccably-appointed resort and spa for gay men. We’ve been in business for almost seven years, and are well known among a certain clientele. We guarantee absolute discretion, and don’t be surprised if you stumble across a celebrity or three in the course of your day.”
Mal carefully kept his eyes down, understanding now why he’d seen no women wandering the grounds. Did they shoot straight men on sight, or offer them a job if they were good-looking enough and never mind the difficulties that might arise? He resolutely filled in the details of his education.
She leaned over and tilted her head, reading off his app. “You’re not local. That means you’ll need a place to stay.”
He nodded. “Somewhere cheap. Got any suggestions?”
“A few select employees are offered a small bungalow so they can remain on-site. Tristan lives here, as do the directors of Guest Services, Maintenance, and Food and Beverage. As Tristan’s assistant, that option is open to you, and in fact, we encourage you to take advantage of it. The rent is a percentage of your salary and automatically deducted from your paycheck.
“Lavender Rose offers 24-hour service, and while we make sure you get enough down time, our expectations of you are higher than they would be in a normal hotel environment. You will be more than adequately compensated for that.”
“What is Tristan head of?”
“Everything,” she said simply.
Mal felt his mouth drop open. “But he was behind the front desk…”
Ruby snickered softly. “Tristan is everywhere. That’s part of his job. Sammy had a dental appointment, so Tristan filled in.” She gave him an appraising look. “As his assistant, you will be his eyes and ears and do anything he asks of you. We’re family, Malcolm. We run a very efficient, very profitable business, but the bottom line is, we look out for one another. Tristan is the sweetest, most wonderful person I’ve ever met. Treat him right, take care of this resort and the guests, and there is nothing he won’t do for you.”
Unaccountably, Mal was moved by her words. Sue’s father, Bill, was the complete opposite, expecting one hundred and ten percent from every employee and never giving anything in return. His pool business had struggled the last few years, and Bill had taken it out on everyone working for him. It had been a relief to be fired. Mentally heaving a sigh, Mal laid these thoughts aside; he still wasn’t prepared to closely examine the events leading up to that.
He finished writing and slid the application toward her. She picked it up with fingers whose nails were long and painted red. He suddenly recalled Tristan’s purple nail polish, and absently wondered if the man’s toes were the same color, and then grinned at himself for being an idiot.
“I see you have experience in customer service, computers, office work, and sales. That’s great. Tristan and computers do not get along. He only has to walk by and they hiccup.” She stood. “Social and license?”
Mal dug them out of his wallet, she made copies and returned them, and he put them away. When she remained standing, he gazed up at her stupidly.
Seeing his confusion, she smiled. “Welcome to Lavender Rose, Malcolm. You start tomorrow.”
He gaped at her. “That’s all? Don’t I have to interview with ten people and wait a couple months before hearing back?”
Her smile widened. “I told you, Tristan always gets what he wants. He called back after sending you over and told me that unless you were an escaped hatchet killer, I was to hire you immediately.” She gave him a pointed look. “You aren’t, are you? Don’t bother lying, because even though Tristan’s instincts are good, I will be thoroughly checking your background while you get settled.”
“Worst thing I’ve done lately was rack up a parking ticket.”
“Follow me, then. I’ll take you to your bungalow.”
HR was located in a corner of an office building tucked away beneath a stand of Canary Island palms. Mal followed Ruby down a cobblestone path to a fork. She paused and pointed right. “That takes you back to the main building and the rest of the resort, in case you got turned around.” She went left, and he fell in beside her. After a few short yards, there was a sign: “Staff Only.”
Beyond that was a clearing ringed with trees and bushes. A U-shaped structure that reminded Mal of a strip motel filled the area, except these units were in better repair. The windows sparkled, the roof was in good shape, and the paint was recent.
“Where do people park?” he asked, appreciating the freshly-cut lawn bordering the sidewalk.
“There’s an employee lot just east of the main building.” Ruby led him to the west end. “Tristan combined these first two units for his quarters.” She pointed to a blue door with a gold number two nailed to it. “That’s yours, right next door. The former assistant cleared out a couple days ago and the place has been visited by Housekeeping and Maintenance.” She opened the door and waved him inside.
Windows had been left open, and fresh air had almost obliterated the smell of paint and cleaning supplies. It wasn’t a large space, perhaps six hundred square feet, but laid out beautifully. The kitchen was small but complete and offered faux granite-topped counters and an island. The living room was nicely furnished, separated from the kitchen by a tiny, tiled dining area. On the far end was a bedroom with a queen-sized bed and bathroom with tub. It was light and airy, and Mal immediately liked it.
He smiled at Ruby. “How much is it?”
“Less than you’d pay for something comparable elsewhere. We deduct forty percent from your paycheck each week. That amount covers this place, your meals―which you may eat in the grill or café at any time, or in the five-star restaurant, if properly attired―and your work uniforms, which we provide and clean.”
“That’s a generous arrangement.” Sixty percent for him? Everything else paid for? He’d be able to save some money and maybe get ahead for the first time in years.
She held up a card key, and when Mal put his hand out, she laid it in his palm. “Tristan always says, ‘happy employees mean happy guests.’ He’ll come for you in the morning.”
After she left, Mal sat on the couch and looked around. Bird song floated in through the open louvers. He heard no traffic noise and nothing from the guests. Afternoon sun pouring through the trees outside dappled the walls and ceiling. The shadows moved hypnotically as a breeze moved through the greenery.
Kicking off his sneakers, he propped his feet on the coffee table, laced his hands behind his head, and smiled.
(To be continued)