After a filling (yet slightly costly) lunch, consisting of hot and salty fries and one of the most amazing sandwiches I had ever eaten, I found myself wandering the streets of Valentina for several more hours, stopping every now and again to grab a photo of something I caught my eye.
Now, as I began to make my way back to the front gate, I began to realize that this place would be incredibly photogenic at night. Between the glow cast by the lights, the various sounds and scents that wafted through the streets, and the uniqueness of some of the storefronts and signs, I could spend an entire night here and never capture every single thing worth taking a photo of.
'I definitely need to come back here,' I thought to myself. Above me, the rain continued to rattle against the tin roof of the awning. The sky beyond it had started to become a much darker gray as well. I pulled out my phone and checked the time. Only a few more hours of daylight were left. If I was going to be hitting the road in the morning, I would need to head back.
"Excuse me, sir?"
I stopped and looked up from my phone at the pair of Guard Patrol officers that were standing in front of me. I stuffed my phone back into my pocket.
"Uh, yeah? Can I help you?" I asked. One of the officers held up a sheet of paper.
"Have you seen this girl anywhere? Perhaps in one of the shops you visited?" he asked. I took the paper and unfolded it. On the page was a young girl, maybe 15 or so, with long wavy blonde hair and green eyes. The photo looked like it might have been taken at school, judging from the cloudy gray background behind her. I shook my head.
"Sorry, I haven't seen anyone like this. Is she missing?" The other officer nodded.
"A runaway from Gildlily. She's been missing for a week now," he said. I furrowed my brows and looked down at the photo again. I hadn't heard about a missing kid at all.
"Can't say I've seen her. I didn't even know someone was missing from Gildlily. I'm from there," I said. I handed the paper back to the officer.
"Well, if you happen to see her around, please call the Guard Patrol or find the nearest officer and let them know. Thanks for your time."
"Sure, no problem. Good luck," I said. The officers nodded and continued on past me. I watched them go for a moment before continuing back to the gate.
"Welcome back!" Lawrence said cheerfully. I gave him a nod as I pulled my hood off.
"Thanks. You all wouldn't happen to have a shower or something around, would you?" I asked. Lawrence nodded.
"Yep! The bathrooms and showers're upstairs, at the end of hall, just to your right. It's to your left if you're in the right wing," he said. I nodded my thanks.
"Thanks. You said dinner would be about six, right?" I asked. Lawrence looked down at his watch.
"Yeah, 'bout six. Harvey should be fixin' to serve it up here in a little bit," he said.
"Cool. Guess I'll go grab a shower and get some grub," I said. Lawrence nodded and turned back to his book. I started up the stairs, running my hand over my wet hair. I didn't mind the rain, but a hot shower sounded absolutely-
Lost in my thoughts, I didn't notice one of the guests coming out of their room. As I passed them, I felt my arm bump into them.
"Oh, sorry about that," I said, turning to look down at the girl that had been signing in earlier in the day. Her hair was short-cut, red, and shiny. Her glasses sat high on her nose, and she was currently narrowing her green eyes at me.
"Watch it," she grumbled. As I opened my mouth to apologize again, she turned and started towards the stairwell.
'Well, she's cheery,' I thought.
After a thorough shower and a change of clothes, I made my way into the common area of the inn. Two large tables sat in the middle of the room, made of solid wood and each able to seat ten in the finely made wooden chairs that sat at the heads and along the sides. A set of swinging double doors were at the opposite end of the room, next to a large window that looked into part of a kitchen. Against the walls were a number of lounge chairs, a sofa with a coffee table, and several bookcases, all loaded down with books and magazines. A fire burned in the corner fireplace, bringing warmth and dry air into the room. Hanging from the ceiling was another iron chandelier, though this one was decorated with fake ivy and flowers that hung down from the center and from the dip in each of the chandelier's limbs.
Already, other guests had seated themselves at the table. A few couples, a group of people my age, and a few others were chattering away or looking down at their phones.
I walked over and took a seat near the end of one of the tables. Each place had been set with a single large plate, silverware rolled up in a napkin, and a glass. Coasters sat next to each glass, and place-mats had been put under the dishes.
'Talk about neat,' I thought. As I pulled out my phone, the chair across from me was pulled out. I looked up to find the same girl from earlier, hood up this time, sitting down, phone in her hand. She glanced up at me, then quickly looked back down at her phone.
I sighed. Some kids these days were almost as bad as some people my age.
The sound of a bell being rung echoed throughout the room, and the chatter began to die down. The sound of a cart being rolled forward came from behind me, and as I turned around I watched as a tall, muscular man, wearing a flour-dusted black t-shirt, apron, and jeans, came through the double doors. His auburn hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and his pale blue eyes scanned the room as he began to push his covered cart over to the table.
"Evenin', ladies and gents," he said, his voice bearing an accent that I had heard a few times back in Gildlily. He smiled broadly as he came to a stop next to the table.
"Hope you're all hungry, cos I've got somethin' good'n hearty for you tonight," he said, pulling the white sheet off of the cart to reveal several large covered trays. He slung the sheet onto one shoulder and removed the lids from the trays, revealing various meats. One was a large pot roast, sliced open to reveal the perfect pink inside. The other was a roasted chicken, skin a pleasant golden brown. The last was a large pork loin, coated in seasonings. All three dishes were still sizzling.
Everyone around me began muttered to each other excitedly as the man uncovered several large containers, each holding other foods. Macaroni and cheese with a breadcrumb topping, homemade mashed potatoes with bits of the skin mixed in, steamed veggies and fresh hot rolls...
The smells that were coming from every dish were causing my mouth to water.