Christie let out a deep breath as the sign for the Mermaid View Inn finally came into view. It felt like they had been driving for hours, even though they only lived a few towns over from Benchley, Virginia. Benchley was a small coastal town. Christie couldn’t remember if she had ever visited it or not, though it felt familiar to her.
Her husband, Luke, put on his turn signal at the next stop sign.
“Are we there yet?” Sylvia, their eight-year-old daughter, grumbled from the back. The car ride had made her quite the grumpy passenger. It didn’t help that Sylvia was prone to getting carsick, forcing her to lay back against her seat as she squeezed her cerulean eyes tight until the nausea passed.
“Almost,” Luke said with a smile as the car turned onto a road that winded upward and to the right.
“Thank God,” Fourteen-year-old Carrie huffed from beside her little sister.
Christie smiled tightly at her children before turning her attention back to the view in front of her. This winding road seemed to just go on and on! She let out a small breath of impatience, ready to just be there already.
Luke chuckled, the sound deep in his throat. “You women are so impatient,” he teased.
“My tummy hurts,” Sylvia protested.
“My brain hurts,” Carrie mumbled.
“And my ears hurt,” Christie declared, turning to shoot her daughters a smirk that went unnoticed. Sylvia had her eyes squeezed shut, a huge grimace on her lips. Carrie was staring out her window like the sullen teenager that she was.
Christie turned back around in her seat just as the road turned once more and the inn itself came into view. She just stared in stunned silence for a moment. It was huge. It also appeared to have been built right on the cliff, overlooking the gray-blue waves of the ocean below.
She swallowed. Christie had never been a fan of heights. Once, as a joke, her older brother had lured her to the top of a mountain while hiking and convinced her to crawl out to a ledge. She hadn’t wanted to let him down so she’d done it, even as her legs shook and her stomach churned the entire time. Once she was there, he had left her there. She had never forgiven him for that and had stopped looking to please him from that day forward.
“Wow,” Luke said as he pulled into the parking lot. Christie waited for her heart rate to slow as he did so. Thinking back to that day always raised her blood pressure.
“We’re here!” Sylvia announced gleefully, opening her eyes and gawking at the inn. “Wow! That’s our hotel?”
“Yep! Amazing, huh?” Luke asked as he turned off the ignition, unbuckled his seat belt and swung his door open.
Taking a deep breath, Christie unbuckled herself and threw her own door open. “Well, get all of your stuff! No second trips!”
“No second trips,” Carrie echoed. It was a rule in their house. It applied to groceries, shopping, and traveling. They’d all rather have their arms fall off than make a second trip.
Luke began to hand out everyone’s luggage. Everyone had a suitcase and a smaller bag. The girls had opted for backpacks while the adults had gone with smaller duffel bags. They were supposed to be here for two weeks so they had wanted to be prepared, yet not burdened.
“That everything?” Christie asked.
Luke peered into the trunk. “Don’t see anything! We all good to go?”
After each family member affirmed they had everything, Luke locked the car and began to make his way toward the inn. As Carrie and Sylvia followed, Christie glanced at their car to make sure all the doors were closed and that no one had left anything behind before following after her family.
The walk was short. As they got nearer, Christie could see the Mermaid View Inn more clearly. The walls were a white stucco, with large windows and light coral curtains hanging open in every one. The front door was made of a crackled glass that was beautiful.
Before Luke could even reach for the silver knob, the door opened and a doorman wearing a black and white suit nodded at them as he held the door open. Luke quickly thanked them as he and the girls went inside. Christie glanced at the dark haired man, who nodded politely at her before she followed her family inside.
“Welcome to the Mermaid View Inn!” an older woman at the antique front desk chimed, smiling. She was five feet four with her silver gray hair bound into a knot. There were fine wrinkles on her face but she didn’t look ancient. She had to be in her sixties at least, but it was hard to pinpoint her actual age. Christie could only hope to pull off the same thing when she got older.
She pushed back her short blonde locks as they approached the front desk. The older woman’s smile made her smile in return. Christie didn’t see a name badge on the woman’s darker gray dress.
“I’m Eleanor Rawlings,” the woman introduced.
“Oh,” Luke said. Eleanor Rawlings! The owner. The very person who had sent a letter a month ago, telling them that their family was invited to come stay at the Mermaid View Inn for two weeks, free of charge. That it had been a random draw, though neither Luke nor Christie could recall entering any contests. Carrie couldn’t remember if she had or not.
They’d called the place to make sure it was legit and there were tons of positive reviews online so they had decided to accept the offer. The inn overlooked a beach so it hadn’t exactly been a hard sell for any of them.
Now they were looking at the one who’d invited them in the flesh and Christie immediately liked her just from the way she looked and smiled. Her ice blue eyes were bright but kind and lively.
“We’re the Daniels,” Luke said, setting down his suitcase to hold out his hand.
Mrs. Rawlings shook it primly. “Nice to meet you.”
“You as well,” Christie said. “This is Luke, I’m Christie, and this is Carrie and Sylvia.”
Mrs. Rawlings’ smile softened as the two girls peered up at her.
“Thanks for inviting us,” Carrie said. Christie was a bit amazed at this politeness. Pulling manners out of her eldest had been a chore lately.
“You are most welcome, dear,” Mrs. Rawlings replied. “I’m happy you won the drawing.”
“About that drawing—“ Luke started just as the door opened again. He and Christie both turned as two middle aged women and a girl who looked around Carrie’s age walked inside.
“Welcome to the Mermaid View Inn. I’m Eleanor Rawlings.”
The woman with long, brown curly hair looked over at her and smiled. Her green eyes were bright. “Hello! I’m Annie Andreas-Hudson and this is Cat and Summer.” Annie nodded first at the other woman, then at the girl.
“Very nice to have you,” Mrs. Rawlings said.
“Hi, we’re the Daniels. I’m Luke, and this is my wife, Christie, and our daughters, Carrie and Sylvia,” Luke introduced.
“Nice to meet you,” Annie said. She nodded toward Cat, who had dark hair cut into a bob and black cat-eye glasses. “This is my wife.” Another nod at the girl. “And our daughter, Summer.” Summer looked a lot like a younger version of Annie, only with light brown eyes and black rimmed glasses.
“You too,” Christie said.
Carrie and Summer regarded one another. “How old are you?” Carrie asked.
“Twelve,” Summer answered.
Carrie grimaced. “I’m fourteen.” She gave Summer a look that indicated that she was a little too young to hang out with her. Christie wanted to swat her for that look.
“I’m Sylvia. I’m eight,” she proudly said as she stepped up to grin at Summer.
“Hi,” Summer said, seeming unbothered by Sylvia’s age. Carrie rolled her eyes and looked away.
“Well, here is your room key,” Mrs. Rawlings said, handing two sets to Luke.
“Thanks, Mrs. Rawlings,” he replied.
“Oh, no, please call me Eleanor. Everyone does.”
He nodded. “Eleanor.”
“You’re on the second floor,” Eleanor added.
“How many floors are there?” Christie inquired, silently scolding her heart as it began to quicken.
“Six. My lucky number,” Eleanor revealed.
“I like eight,” Sylvia announced.
“That’s a fine number,” Eleanor replied.
“Me too,” Summer revealed, smiling.
“Thanks again,” Luke said, forgetting to ask about the drawing with the arrival of more people.
Eleanor nodded at them. “You’re welcome. There will be a brochure full of information about meals and events in your room. I hope you enjoy your stay.”
Christie almost said “You too” before she caught herself, flushing. She was so bad for that! She managed a “thanks” as she ushered her daughters after Luke, who was heading to the elevator.
While she would have preferred the ground floor, Christie was perfectly fine with the second floor when they could have ended up even higher. The view was probably already a little scary as it was.
The four of them headed into the old fashioned elevator as Eleanor turned to hand a room key to the Andreas-Hudson family.
“Summer seems nice,” Sylvia remarked as she pushed the “2” button, her eyes filling with delight as it lit up gold.
“She does,” Christie agreed.
“I hope there’s someone my age around,” Carrie grumbled.
“We’ll see,” Luke said as the elevator dinged, the doors sliding open to a hallway with green and gold patterned carpet and a deep red runner leading the way to the rooms.
“What room are we in?” Carrie asked.
Luke glanced down at the number on the key. “202.”
They came to the gleaming wood door. The keys were the old fashioned skeleton kind. Christie was surprised to see them. It seemed all hotels and inns used keycards now. She kind of liked how quaint the place was already. The click the key made was satisfying.
The door creaked open and as usual, the kids barged past. Luke and Christie exchanged an amused smile. Some things never changed.