A Manor of Love

Emmitt Andrews was standing behind the check in counter of The Mt. Griffin Manor, a historic Blue County Inn that dated back to the 1880s. Bethany Hughes was standing next to him impatiently waiting for him to get off the phone.

"Yes sir," Emmitt said, speaking into the phone. "We are located in the lovely hills of Mt. Griffin offering wonderful views of the Blue River as well as a private beach and acres of hiking trials." He hesitated, listening to the question being asked. "Yes sir, all fifty-five guest rooms have private baths and air conditioning. The dining room offers great dining cuisine. There's an 18 hole golf course a few miles away. In addition to the hiking paths, there are skiing trails during the winter months. We're terrific for weddings, family reunions and vacations, romantic getaways, golfing reunions, ski trips and honeymoons."

Emmitt paused again. "I think you'll like it here, Sir," he said. "Green lawns and beautiful gardens. Rich forests and a picturesque river. We have a large wrap around porch for sitting and relaxation. Well, we're online if you want to check us out further. The current building was constructed in 1902. Very well. Thanks for calling, Sir."

Emmitt hung up the phone and glanced at Bethany.

"You didn't get his reservation," she complained.

"He wasn't ready to pull the trigger," Emmitt shrugged. "I'm sure he'll call back."

"Are you really sure?" Bethany asked sarcastically.

Emmitt bit his tongue. He was often frustrated co-managing the inn with Bethany but it wasn't as if he had much of a choice. Emmitt's family had been running the Manor since 1948 but when the business hit hard times in the early 1980s the affluent Hughes family became co-owners by infusing capital investment into the property and bringing it new life. Both Emmitt and Bethany grew up working at the Manor, advancing their way up from dishwashers and chambermaids to waiters and waitresses to front desk receptionists and finally to managers when Emmitt's father was felled by a stroke and Bethany's Dad decided to retire from hands on oversight of the business.

Emmitt had known Bethany since they were thirteen and he considered her a valued friend and colleague but they didn't always see eye to eye managing the Inn, each bringing their own insights and ideas to the daily routine and those notions didn't always mesh. The two managers were competitive and opinionated. Emmitt referred to his co-manager as "Bethie" when he wanted to demean her in front of guests and Bethany would condescendingly call Emmitt "Mr. Andrews" as a way of publicly belittling him.

Bethany didn't like it when Emmitt moved into the old caretaker's cabin behind the Inn to be on site 24/7/365, mostly because she didn't think of it first. Emmitt insisted it was to save on rent by not living elsewhere but Bethany knew he wanted to be around the Manor as much as possible. Not to be outdone, Bethany took up permanent residence in Room 303 so she could be present just as much.

Bethany knew that Emmitt was not sexist but she continuously felt the need to prove herself by coming up with ideas on how to improve daily operations. The two shared the manager's office behind the front counter, their two desks pushed together and facing each other just like when their fathers occupied the office. The two co-managers shared the responsibilities of budgeting, daily operations, Staffing, discipline, Customer Service, and paying the bills, but they had different philosophies when it came to management style, personnel decisions, and advertising campaigns.

Bethany wanted Emmitt to think of her as an equal partner and worthy manager while Emmitt had a small chip on his shoulder from hidden resentment regarding the Hughes family. He felt the Hughes took advantage of the situation by moving in on the Andrews lore of previous success. The Hughes were all about money while - in Emmitt's estimation - the Andrews were about tradition and pride in the past. That's why he was resistant to Bethany's ideas for modernization, process improvement, and change.

As much as Bethany was frustrated and limited in her managerial responsibilities the truth was she liked Emmitt. They were long time kindred spirits when they worked under their fathers' tutelage and she knew their friendship bond would get them through the difficulties of co-managing together. Because she didn't have the ability to cook in her room and she couldn't eat in the Manor's dining room for every meal, sometimes Bethany would stop in at Emmitt's cabin to use his kitchenette. She kept a stash of food in his refrigerator and cupboards and as ironic as it was after spending ten hours a day together working, she often spent her afterhours socializing and eating in Emmitt's cabin.

Sometimes Bethany would sneak out of the Inn in her pajamas or nightgown to visit Emmitt who - when she stopped long enough to think about it - really was her only social outlet, not counting the Manor Staff and guests. As much as he annoyed her as co-manager, she really enjoyed his companionship.

Bethany stepped into the cabin in her silk pajama shorts and a tee shirt (she rarely knocked) to find Emmitt sitting on the couch with a book in his lap. She went to the refrigerator in the corner of the room and quickly put together a ham sandwich with some Fritos and a bottle of beer, bringing a second bottle for Emmitt. She sat on the couch next to him and he took the beer bottle from her without even looking up from the book.

"Were you able to reboot the computers?" Bethany asked, referencing the Inn's server that had crashed earlier in the day.

"We're good to go," he said casually

"It's scary to realize how dependent we are on those stupid things," Bethany said.

Emmitt nodded in agreement while Bethany picked up the remote from the coffee table, turning on the old movie channel. She glanced at the book Emmitt was reading.

"Jane Smiley?"

Emmitt nodded again without looking up. "It's good," he said.

Bethany shrugged and sat back on the couch, watching the movie and eating her sandwich. This seemed to be their regularly routine and sometimes Bethany wondered if Emmitt would even notice if she walked into the place stark naked.

"Do you think we're going to spend the rest of our lives here?" She asked.

"Do you mean in the cabin or at the Inn?" Emmitt asked, confused.

"Either. Both."

"I don't know," he admitted.

"We're thirty-three years old, Emmitt," Bethany sighed. "Don't you feel like we're getting old?"

"Not really," he answered, finally glancing at her.

"I'm just not sure if I envision myself doing this for the next forty-years," she said with serious thought.

"We wouldn't have to live here forever," Emmitt pointed out. "I mean, our parents had their own houses."

"Are we ever going to meet anybody who will give us a reason to move out of here?" Bethany asked.

Staring at her with a curious expression on his face, Emmitt let out a small laugh. "What's the matter?" He teased. "You suffering from cabin fever?"

"Very funny," she frowned.

"Don't over think this stuff, Beth," Emmitt advised. "It will work out the way it's supposed to."

"You're so caught up in your stupid family's noble cause that you don't see that you're going to be stuck here forever," Bethany pouted.

"I don't see that as a bad thing."

Bethany shook her head and climbed off the couch. "I'm going to bed," she grumbled.

"I thought you liked it here," Emmitt said, standing and placing the book on the coffee table

"We've been doing this for twenty years," she sighed. "Doesn't that scare you?"

"It was part time until we got out of college," he pointed out.

She groaned with frustration. "I don't think you get it."

Bethany placed her sandwich plate on the kitchenette counter and when she turned she was surprised to find Emmitt standing all up in her grill.

"I'll be happy here as long as you're here too," He grinned, walking her back until she was stopped by the wall.

"I drive you crazy," she reminded him. "You hate co-managing this place with me."

"It's not all bad," he smiled

Bethany stared at him trying to figure out if he was putting the moves on her. "What are you doing?" She asked with uncertainty.

"We make a good team, don't you think?"

Bethany couldn't help but smile. She took in a deep breath and allowed herself to fall into him for a familiar hug. His arms wrapped around her waist and he kissed her forehead as he often did in an almost insulting sisterly way.

Without even thinking about it - acting on long stagnant and reserved feelings - Bethany lifted her head up and - for the first time in twenty years of friendship - planted a kiss directly on Emmitt's lips. She could tell by his brief flinch that he was surprised by her action but she kept it going by deepening the kiss and running her tongue along the trace of his lips.

"Jesus, Beth," Emmitt mumbled with surprise.

"Shut up," she ordered, opening her mouth to allow their tongues to dance in unison.

Bethany often felt an underlying sexual tension with Emmitt and she figured it was finally time to act upon it. Their friendship had been close but in a sisterly-brotherly kind of way even though she knew there was something more unrealized (and un-dared) between them. She was relieved that he hadn't pulled away in horror or disgust – maybe that was a sign of hope and possibilities.

Emmitt's mind was racing. Was this a fantasy come true feeling her lips on his? He had thought about her often in a romantic and sexual way but he was always afraid of ruining a perfectly good friendship and working relationship if he made advances toward her and she rejected him. It didn't feel like she was rejecting him now! His hands found their way under her tee shirt and he ran his hands along her spine. Bethany lifted her hand to the side of his cheek and she finally broke the kiss, stepping back to study him with a silly grin on her face.

"Well now..." She smirked.

Emmitt let out a breath. "Yeah," he agreed.

"Well," she said seductively. "See You!"

"Wha…."

But she was already past him and out the front door before he could even turn around to protest. He didn't know whether he should laugh or cry. Was she teasing him? Playing with him? Leading him on? Offering a sneak preview of things to come? He stood in the cabin for a few minutes as the scent and thought of Bethany passed through his thoughts before smiling to himself and heading for bed.

They both acted as if nothing was different the next morning when they began the routine of the day, although both smiled at one another more than usual. She had always been beautiful in his eyes. Tall and muscular, athletic and confident, attractive and appealing with her shapely figure, long black hair, and glowing smile.

Emmitt was busily typing away on his computer across from her and wasn't paying much attention when the phone rang on Bethany's desk.

"Hello?" Bethany said.

There was a pause and then a blood-freezing scream as Bethany dropped the phone onto the desk and she burst out in tears. Emmitt looked up in shock to see his friend hysterically weeping across from him. She picked up the phone and asked a few questions while Emmitt stared at her with wide eyed fear.

Something was terribly wrong.