"It's not enough. Not nearly enough to get us through the summer, let alone next Christmas."

I glance over at Margaret. Her eyes shine with tears that she tries to hide behind a sad smile.

"Well... I guess we'll make this Christmas the most memorable one yet. There's not much we can do. Unless some privileged billionaire donated some money to the resort, we'll be closed by the end of next Fall." Margaret's words are full of sadness and... acceptance. She knows the truth, and isn't afraid to face it. Smart girl. I'm glad I married her all those years ago.

Our financial agent and our groundskeeper sit at the oak table in the resort's main den. The air in here is sulky- dense and solemn, something you'd expect to find in a funeral home and not a heart-felt resort.

Our financial agent, Kaleb, clears his throat. I watch his hands dart to his tie, straightening it enough that I think he might strangle himself. He's uncomfortable. I don't exactly blame him.

"I mean... there's not anything you can do. You have enough savings to run this place for about another year, but- you're in debt. Debt up to your knees." Kaleb looks anywhere but at us as he says this. Margaret reaches for a tissue. The groundskeeper shifts in his seat. I smile sadly.

"You heard the man. Nothing we can do. So lets just enjoy the holiday season and downright spoil our guests. Lower prices, offer activities daily. I don't want this place forgotten, you know." I look at Margaret, hoping for some semblance of agreement.

A somber nod. "I agree."

The next few days are pretty amazing. The Seven Swans Resort, tucked in the forests of the Smoky Mountains, is a ninety-acre resort with a lot to offer. Guest Rooms are sprawled all over the property. They're outdated, I must admit. But we don't have enough money to do anything about that.

Another good thing about our Seven Swans Resort is that it's got recreation. You can find hiking trails everywhere, along with sports fields and a fishing area. We've even got a swimming pool. But the real gem of our resort is the kitchen. Our guests dine everyday at allotted times. We are known for our signature country dishes- chicken and waffles, fried chicken, and Honey Pineapple ham to name a few. Our guests- what little we had, at least- came almost supremely for our dining opportunities. When our chef died two years ago, things went downhill fast. Without the modern touch of a new hotel, and a chef to cook delicious food, people stopped coming. So now you could say we're in a bit of a situation. Well, a whole whopper of a situation.

We've had only one guest check in this season. His name is Jake Reinharte. I checked him in myself. There was something sort of strange about him- he never looked anyone in the eyes. And even stranger- he looked very familiar, but I promise I'd never met that man my whole life.

It's Saturday morning, four days until Christmas. Margaret and I sit at our table in the dining hall. It's just us and Jake in there. And it's a heck of a lot awkward.

"I feel so bad that he's here by himself, Bennett," Margaret says, eyeing Jake warily. I take a long sip of coffee. "Yeah, I do to. I guess.. we could invite him over here? I just want to make him feel welcome. After all, he is our only guest." Margaret nods. She gets up out of her chair, approaching the strange man. After a few moments of small talk, Jake leaves his seat and follows Margaret over to our table.

"Hello, there! Jake, right?" I put on a chipper smile as he takes a seat. To my relief, he returns it. I know I've seen him before. I know it.

"Yep. And you're Bennett?" I nod, still plastering a fake smile on my face. "Fine morning," he says slowly. Margaret looks delighted that he's talking, even if he's reluctant to.

There's a moment of silence as Jake digs into some watery scrambled eggs. I clear my throat.

"Are you enjoying your stay?"

He looks up at me briefly.

"Yeah. It's very... quiet, I guess. Which is good. I like quiet." I nod in understanding.

"Say, do you normally get more guests here? I don't know if it's the time of year or whatever, but this place is deserted." Margaret winces as he says this.

"Well, we used to get a lot more people, but the past two years it's been kind of slow around here. I guess it's the competition with Gatlinburg."

"That's a shame. Gatlinburg is nice, but there's so many people everywhere. This resort has a lot of charm that Gatlinburg lacks."

I'm sort of surprised that he thinks of Gatlinburg this way. The city of Gatlinburg is an hour South of here, and it's one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of the Smoky Mountains. Although he's right when he says the place is crowded. Really crowded.

The morning goes by rather quickly. Jake and Margaret make polite conversation the whole time, and Jake even offers to help decorate the resort for Christmas later on. By the time breakfast ends, my coffee cup is empty and my spirit is full.

We meet at the Main Den later on after lunch. Jake claps his hands together and exhales, staring at all the Christmas decorations that we've brought up from the basement.

"Wow." He whistles, a long, clean tune that sounds familiar to me. Before I can inquire about what the tune was called, he says, "You have a lot of decorations. Are you sure we can get this all put up in one day?" Margaret and I both chuckle at the same time.

"Yeah. And the decorations for the other buildings, to," Margaret replies.

Jake drops his jaw in a dramatic expression of shock. "You mean all of this is just for this building here?"

"That's right!"

It's an hour later, and Jake and I are on the roof attaching long strings of lights to the roof's edge. I'm working to hook on some red and green lights when Jake says, "Man, this reminds me of a scene I shot one time when I was decora- I mean, this reminds me of one time when I helped my dad set up the house for Christmas." I whip around to face him.

"Pardon me?"

He looks flustered. "Oh, just recalling an old memory."

Huh. Suspicious. I'm sure there's more to it than that.

I think back to an old holiday movie I saw a few years ago on the Hallmark Channel with Margaret. There was a young man on that show that was stringing Christmas lights up on his roof. Come to think of it, Jake looks a lot like that man.

I almost fall off of the ladder.

Jake is a movie star! That must be how I recognize him so easily!

I try not to show shock on my face as I continue adjusting the lights. If Jake's such a famous celebrity, then why would he come here? To this place? Shouldn't he want to be around people? And then it all makes sense. Jake came here to get away from people, not to be around them. He wants an escape from such a chaotic life. I think back to when he mentioned that he liked quiet. Well, this is certainly the place to come for that.

We work in silence until Jake moves his ladder a few feet to where he can start on the other side of the roof. "No! No, not there. We're putting the lights over here," I yell, hoping I won't scare him off of his ladder. "Why not? There's a lot of room!" Jake responds. I sigh. Dang it. I really don't want to deal with this right now. "Come over here Jake!" He inches toward me, obviously bewildered. "Look. Don't tell Margaret I told you this, but we don't have a ton of money to pay for a large electric bill. As you can see, the place isn't doing so well. We'll be closed by next Christmas." Jake listens solemnly. "That's too bad. I'm sorry." I wave my hand in a don't-worry-about-it gesture. "Nah. Margaret and I are getting up in years. We're bound to retire someday." He looks thoughtful, like he's carefully choosing what to say next. "That is really bad news. This place is special." I didn't know it then, but what I'd just told him had saved the resort.

We make a lot of progress by dinnertime, and by nine o'clock that night, the place looks great. There's supposed to be a lot more Christmas lights, but it's a hard thing to watch your savings account be sucked dry by electricity bills.

At dinner, I quietly tell Margaret about what I've discovered about Jake. She was surprised, yes, but had been sensing something familiar about him just as I had. I was beginning to wonder just how famous this Jake Reinharte really was.

The next day at breakfast, Jake joins us at the table once again. After another meal of polite small-talk, he gets up to leave. As he pushes in his chair, he announces, "If you two are free before lunch, I'd like to meet in the Main Den. I have something to talk to you about." Margaret looks surprised in the best way possible. "Of course." As he walks away, she glances at me, confused. I shrug. "He didn't tell me anything about a discussion with him." Margaret's eyes go blank. I know she's wondering what Jake has to say. I admit that I'm doing the same thing.

An hour before lunch begins, Margaret, Jake and I settle around the oak table in the Main Den. Margaret looks nervous, but collected. Jake looks happy and eager. I'm starting to get a little worried when Jake says, "So." He clears his throat as if he's having a hard time forcing the words out of his mouth. "Bennett here has told me about your financial situation. And I know you told me not to tell Margaret, Bennett, but I think I have a solution." He leans forward and rests his hands on the table. "I want to buy The Seven Swans Resort." Margaret gasps. I suck in a deep breath. "Jake, that's awfully kind, but I'd rather see the resort closed than made into some high-class shopping mall. I-"

"But that's just it! I want to buy the resort just the way it is. No changes. You two will still run the resort. I'll just be the one funding it. This place is magical; you two can see it. And so can I. Believe me, I will have this place kept just as it is. I apologize for interrupting you, but I just want you to know that." Jake breathes in sharp breaths, panting almost.

Margaret looks very calm, but she's thinking. Hard. "Jake, I trust you fully. But the money.. land's sakes! You can't possibly have enough to buy and run this place on your own. Now it's none of my business, but I don't want to see you in debt."

Jake stares at the ground sheepishly. "I know. But that won't happen. Do either of you know who I am?"

Margaret and I exchange glances. "I've seen you in a movie," I admit. "But I don't really know anything about you besides your name and your face." He smiles, a mischievous grin that sets his whole face glowing. "It's true that I'm Jake. But I'm Jake Rileys, not Jake Reinharte."

Oh. Wow. A billionaire, right under our noses, staying at our resort.

"But you're r-rich," Margaret stutters. "Like, filthy rich!" Jake turns back his head and laughs. "Yeah. I'm in a lot of movies and stuff. And I'm sorry for lying to you about my name. I just wanted a few days away from it all. Paparazzi and the like. I didn't know if you would let people know that I'm staying here."

Margaret shakes her head vigorously. "No. We'd never do that. And Jake Rileys... wow. I've heard the name, but I've never bothered with how you look."

No wonder I couldn't quite place his face anywhere.

I pipe in. "You'd be willing to buy the resort?"

"Yep. All ninety acres of this place."

I look at Margaret, fervently considering the offer. I know only two things as of right now. One- I fully trust Jake, despite the whole name thing. And two- I'm ready to sell this place to him. I know that he's enjoyed the quiet here, and that makes me confident in his decision that he will keep things the same. I'd rest easy knowing that the resort is in good hands. I'm sure Margaret feels the same way.

Still looking at each other, Margaret and I say, "We'll do it."

A year later, I'm sitting in the dining hall sipping a mug of coffee. Margaret sits across from me, chatting quaintly. The dining hall is full with people. Ever since the word got out that Jake Rileys owned The Seven Swans Resort, the hotel has been booked solid. Not only has Jake funded this place, but he's paid for all of the Guest Rooms to be modernized. The best part is, he's held true to his promise. Besides the newly renovated Guest Rooms (which he updated with our permission), everything on the property is still run exactly as it was when we still owned this place.

Jake is still one of our closest friends, and visits his resort annually. We love seeing him around here, especially when he helps set up the Christmas decorations.

I guess things can work out for the best, even when it's not looking that way. I guess Christmas Miracles really do happen. Or rather, I guess 'Privileged Billionaire Miracles' really happen.

December 21, 2019 20:33

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