ELIZABETH PENNINGTON FROM THE PRECIPICE MYSTERY SERIES:
Another peak into Elizabeth’s diary as she shares her frustration, unexpected loss, and glimmer of hope during the Covid19 Pandemic.
June 15, 2020
Technically, the inn is open for guests, but we don’t have any yet—not that I thought people would come flooding through the doors now that Phase 2 permits us to be open. I just thought we’d have a few to welcome back. But I guess I shouldn’t wonder.
Allowing hotels and inns in Maine to reopen as of under Phase 2, while requiring out-of-state guests to self-quarantine for 14 days in a private residence before checking in, is ludicrous. And the only way around it is to provide a negative Covid19 test result that was done within 3 days of arrival—a test that, from what I understand, is extremely uncomfortable as it requires the person administering it to jab a cotton swab so far up your nose you want to take their head off. I fear we’ll never survive. The vast majority of our guests come from out-of-state, and they’re not going to be willing to follow the quarantine protocol. It’s just not practical. And I can’t imagine them lining up to have their nasal cavities violated so they can stay in our humble inn. I know our governor is just trying to keep her constituents safe, but this may very well sink us. Our registrations are just dribbling in, and most of our calls are just inquiries with no commitments. I’ve brought back half of our staff, but it may have been premature.
As a result, I’ve redirected my marketing dollars to in-state advertising, hoping to lure Mainers who would otherwise go out-of-state for their vacations. Fortunately, I can tout all the renovations we’ve completed and all the added amenities that they might not expect if they’d visited the inn years earlier. I’ve also been sending out emails and letters to our previous out-of-state guests to keep them informed of the requirements of the Phase 2 reopening and what comes next. I’ve been trying to sound hopeful without making any promises. In the process I’ve been delighted to hear back from a few.
Past Guests Check In
One guest to respond made me blush. Charismatic and charming Eli Hunter, the country singer who came with his band at the end of their concert tour to take a break before heading back into the studio. Of course, it could have been his publicist who did the writing, but just the same. I would think he would have had to approve of someone answering for him and the thought that he got back to me gave me a tickle in my abdomen. Although he said (or whoever actually did the writing) he and his band were going to pass on coming to Maine this year, he wouldn’t rule out next year. Evidently, they enjoyed themselves immensely. I mean, what’s not to love?
The rugged beauty of the coast of Maine is like nothing else: feeling the mist on your face on a stroll along the beach at dawn, taking a hike down to the breakwater and out to the lighthouse for some afternoon alone time, watching a spectacular sunset with a glass of chardonnay in an Adirondack chair on the precipice. One can find solace here in many ways. And in these uncertain times, what better place to find it? Hey, I should use that in the marketing!
One response to my emails that I didn’t see coming was from Mrs. Leibowitz’s daughter. She wrote back to inform me that her mother had passed away not long after returning from her last trip to Pennington Point Inn. I’ll admit I was shocked at the sadness that weighed heavy on me at the news. Mrs. L had always been such a crotchety old woman—an absolute pain in the neck—that I dreaded bumping into her when she stayed with us, and she came EVERY summer. She was exhausting. Very loud. Demanding. I hate to admit it, but I left her off the invite list for the grand reopening of the inn after we repaired the hurricane damage. As it turned out, I think I felt worse for not inviting her than I would have enduring her presence. It was a mistake—a decision made too abruptly to be sound, and there may have been some Pinot Grigio influence as well. But it was the best I could manage at the time. I never understood how Nana could handle her so well. But now that Mrs. Leibowitz is gone, it’s hard to imagine the inn without her. It will be so different. Then again, a lot of things will be.
One of only a few characters who appear in all the Precipice Series books to date, Harper graciously granted me a few minutes so I could get her perspective on the goings-on at Pennington Point Inn. She is a long-time and, at times, belligerent—even reluctant—friend of Elizabeth Pennington who has found herself in a position adversarial to Elizabeth more than once. But let’s hear her side of the story.
Penny Goetjen: Rachel, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Let’s go back to the day you met Elizabeth. You were both freshmen at NYU. Is that correct? And how did your meet? Did you become friends right away?
Rashelle Harper: Hey, thanks for having me. And yeah, Lizzi and I met freshman year. We were roommates. Couldn’t have been more different. (She chuckles.)
PG: How so?
RH: Well, even just our outward appearances. Lizzi has always been this attractive, demure woman—I mean you wanted to hate her because of it, but she’s too sweet. And unassuming. She can slip into a room with no one noticing. Me, I’m more like a wrecking ball when I walk in. No mistaking my arrival. She’s got that Ali-MacGraw-in-Love-Story look, and I’m more like Joan Jett of the The Blackhearts. Some might say I have an in-your-face type of personality. I’ll admit it. But it went beyond looks. Neither one of us had a very positive childhood: She lost both her parents when she was little. I had my mother, but she never would have won a mother-of-the-year award. She had her problems—drugs—and never really figured out how to be a mom. Because of it, I had to grow up quick . . . got street savvy in order to survive. But Lizzi grew up pretty sheltered. In a small town on the coast of Maine. So, when she showed up for college—and in New York City for God’s sake—she didn’t have a clue what she was in for. I don’t know if she would have survived that first year if we weren’t roommates. I showed her the ropes, saved her ass a few times along the way.
PG: But after graduation, you two took very different paths. How did it that work out like that?
RH: Well, it wasn’t intentional. Lizzi landed a great job in the city—one of the leading design firms—so there was no need for her to leave. And I don’t think she wanted to. I was having trouble finding a decent job in the hospitality industry in the city—one that would actually pay the bills—and I started to think I’d have to live out of my car. But then Lizzi and her grandmother came through for me. Amelia took me on at the inn.
PG: You both landed in locations that seemed diametrically opposed to your personalities. The bustling, bristling city seems more fitting to you more than Elizabeth and the opposite could be said for a quiet, small town like Pennington Point for you.
RH: Some people might say I needed to soften my personality, and a small town in Maine was a good place to do that. And maybe it was what I needed at that point in my life, to turn down the noise—around me and in my head. But I think Lizzi liked the anonymity of being in the city. She could get lost easily. She likes being able to do that.
PG: Did you find it difficult to blend in at the inn with your, as you said, in-your-face-personality and your heavy Brooklyn accent?
RH: (She smirks, as if recalling a particular incident.) Yeah, I think guests checking in were kinda shocked. I think they were expecting me to say “ayuh” and have a Mainer’s accent, which I just can’t fake. I think some were actually disappointed. I could see that, though. If you’ve traveled quite a distance and you’re looking forward to experiencing everything that is quintessential Maine, that would include the quaint accent as well.
PG: Was there one guest in particular that reacted to hearing your—
RH: Mrs. Leibowitz. Everyone just called her Mrs. L, but she was one of the first guests to react to my accent. She’s a pain in the rear but she’s one of the regulars. Comes every summer. That first time I met her I remember . . . she took a step back, jerked her head back, and had this look on her face like I’d slapped her. You know how short she is. She can barely see over the counter. That made it look even more comical. When I asked her if everything was okay, she said she hadn’t heard a Brooklyn accent that thick since her mother died. She finally came around, and we were able to get her checked in, but not before her mumbling something about Amelia farming out the work and losing touch with her guests.
PG: Was there any particular part of your job that you didn’t care for while you were working at the inn? Any ritual or amenity offered to the guests that you didn’t like?
RH: The damn clambakes on the beach.
PG: How did that affect you? I thought you manned the front desk and took care of reservations.
RH: The clambakes were so labor intensive, everyone had to help out. All the food and cooking supplies had to be hauled down to the beach. Not to mention chairs and folding tables. And afterwards, it all had to be lugged back up again. It was a logistical nightmare, but Chef Tony pulled it off every time without a snag. He just needed an army of schleppers to make it happen. The guests loved the clam bakes though, so no one dared complain out loud. Tony’s an amazing chef. What he does within the confines of the kitchen is nothing short of four-star, but the meal he prepares in a pit in the sand is incredible. Lobsters, clams, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, followed up with his homemade raspberry pie or blueberry cobbler. Almost makes all the work worth it. Thank God they were only once a month.
PG: And how about outside of the inn? Did you find the transition to a small town difficult?
RH: Hell yeah. If I wasn’t so desperate for work, I doubt I would have stayed past the first week. It was awful. And I didn’t have Liz around to commiserate with or just hang out with—not that there were many places to do that, but it would have been nice to have her there. I really missed her.
PG: Did it bother you that Elizabeth was doing exactly what she’d set out to do after college? An inn in a sleepy seaside town in Maine couldn’t have been what you were going for.
RH: Now don’t put words in my mouth. I was happy for her. She’d worked hard to land that job, and she was working her ass off to forge a career for herself. Pennington Point Inn may not have been on my radar, but I was grateful Amelia was willing to give me a chance. Figured it was at least a resumé builder. After a while, though, I thought I was going to lose it. It’s just too quiet at night, during the day, too. It took some getting used to.
PG: When Elizabeth returned to take over running the inn, how did that transition go?
RH: (She pauses for a moment and glares at me. I was thankful to be across the table.) It sucked. No two ways about it.
PG: Because she didn’t have a background in hospitality, and suddenly she was stepping in and becoming your boss?
RH: I know, right? Exactly. That’s what I mean. It pissed me off. I knew that inn better than she did.
PG: Really? She did grow up there. Can you completely discount that?
RH: Well yeah, but she didn’t understand the flow in the kitchen or managing reservations or handling guests.
PG: But she had Chef Tony in the kitchen who she could depend on. He’d been at the inn for many years. With the reservations, she could depend on you to handle that area. As for the guests, I would imagine Elizabeth would have picked up on how her grandmother handled them over the years. I could see her being compassionate and professional in how she interacted with them.
RH: Yeah, okay. Yeah, she always did have a knack for handling people. And if I’m being completely honest, I learned a thing or two from her. But the rest of it, she didn’t have any inside knowledge.
PG: And if you’re being honest, the friction between you two . . . you brought on yourself. Didn’t you?
RH: I don’t know. I think it was a combination of things.
PG: Did it bother you that you lost your drinking buddy?
RH: You could say that. We had a lot of fun drinking together over the years. We could polish of a magnum in an evening—no sweat.
PG: But once she came back the rules changed, didn’t they?
RH: Yeah, out of the blue. Suddenly she said it was affecting my job.
PG: Was it?
RH: According to her, yes.
PG: But you didn’t agree?
RH: I just think her reaction was a little over the top.
PG: But things got better for you across the board once you started going to AA. Isn’t that right?
RH: (Another pause, this time with her eyes averted to the floor.) Yeah, you could say that. I guess I have her to thank for giving me my life back. I hated that she insisted I go. I mean, we used to have so much fun drinking together. But now I’m grateful. She made it a prerequisite for keeping my job.
PG: So, could you say she saved your life?
RH: Yes, you could say that.
PG: Can you say that?
RH: (Another pause) Yes, Lizzi saved my life, and I’ll be forever grateful.
PG: I’m sure she’ll be happy to know that. Thank you for your time.