Mother called as I entered my small apartment. “Lorraine, Simon’s passed away, leaving the hotel to me. I’m amazed the city never condemned that old firetrap. Anyway, we need to make a decision on what to do with it, so, pack a bag and your camera for emailing pictures to me.”
“But, Mother, I can’t leave now . . . I’m preparing midterm exams for my students.”
She ignored my protests. “You can go over the weekend. I used the airline’s website to purchase your ticket.”
I often rue the day I taught her how to use a computer. “OK . . . I’ll go.”
“Claire will meet you there.”
I groaned. Being sent to a dilapidated hotel was bad enough, but the concept of doing time with my polar-opposite sister was about as appealing as a root canal. Mother would not be deterred.
“You girls were so close at one time,” she said, sadly. “You’ve drifted apart . . . I pray that God will mend your relationship.” She hung up. Worn down, I packed a bag.
I arrived at the airport and rented a car. Soon, the Rose La Roux Hotel loomed before me, in supreme dereliction. I parked in the weedy gravel drive and gazed up at the two-story hulking monstrosity.
Mother had given me a key and a bit of history. Built in 1920, the hotel had once been the home of a wealthy citrus grower, who lost everything during a devastating freeze that wiped out orange groves and fortunes. Since the house was situated near a railroad track, some enterprising soul purchased it cheaply and converted it into a hotel. It changed owners many times before my uncle bought it in 1956. When the tracks were removed, hotel business dwindled, and Simon barely eked out an existence until he died.
Sighing at the sagging porch, broken windows, and unpainted, rotting boards, I doubted if the interior looked any better . . . it didn’t.
I fumbled with the lock until it finally yielded. A heavy scent of mold and decay greeted me as the door swung open. I shuddered at skittering noises made by mysterious creatures. Everything, including the creaky floors, was covered in a layer of dust.
“What a dump!” Claire had vaporized in the doorway.
We merely tolerated each other, separated by a wide gulf of differences and interests. I pursued academics, while she pursued wealthy men, marrying nearly as many times as Elizabeth Taylor. I’m a professor of literature at a small college . . . she is a socialite. We live on opposite coasts, and our circles rarely intersect. She was dressed to the hilt. Puttering around in an old house was obviously not on her agenda.
“Call a wrecking crew and we’re done.” She removed Jackie-O shades. “What kind of name is ‘Rose La Roux’?”
I shrugged and gazed forlornly around the living room. The place was an eyesore, unworthy of time or effort. It was probably best to just demolish it and sell the land.
Suddenly, I spied an object resting on the dusty mantle.
“Lorraine, let’s go!”
I ignored her and picked up an old tintype of two girls in braids, arms entwined, sitting on the steps of this very house. A cat was curled at their feet. On the reverse side was a label, with “Rose and La Roux” written in faded, spidery handwriting.
“The hotel was probably named for them . . . they look like sisters,” I handed the tintype to Claire, who became noticeably quiet. “Remember, we used to be that close.”
“I remember,” she said solemnly.
As we walked through the overgrown yard, littered with debris, Claire paused near a long-neglected climbing rosebush wrapped around a rusted archway. “Lorraine, I’ve missed you . . . let’s give our relationship, and this old hotel, another chance.”
I hugged her and smiled.
That evening, I emailed Mother a note along with two pictures . . . one of the tintype and another of Claire and me. We’d flagged down a passing motorist who graciously agreed to take a picture of us, arms entwined, sitting on the sagging steps.
Dear Mother: We’re turning the old place into a bed-and-breakfast. It’ll take lots of work, but we’ll pool our talents and do it together. We think you’ll approve of the new name . . . “The Sisters’ Hotel.”
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