Volume 15 - Back to Business, Chapter 114 - Short Handed
Yuisu's cell phone rang in her pocket so she put her linen-folding on hold. She'd been making slow progress anyway since she was exhausted after dealing with a guest emergency at 2am the night before.
"Um, hello…" Yuisu said sluggishly as she leaned against the laundry room counter. Since it was her personal phone and not the business line, she wasn't worried about appearances. Not that she'd been answering the business phone lately. That's what the automated 'no-vacancy' message was for.
"Hiya, Yuisu?" a chipper and feminine voice replied.
She sounded familiar, but Yuisu couldn't place it. "Yeah, that's me. May I ask who I'm talking to?"
"Oh, I'm so sorry, I should have introduced myself. It's me, Lato!"
That was the jog that Yuisu's memory needed. Lato was the adorable dragonewt maid she'd met a year ago at the Zoic Inn. She had beautiful cyan hair, eyes, and scales, and she had even joined Yuisu's group for lunch at a buffet.
"Lato, it's nice to hear from you. What's up? Uh, and how'd you get my number?"
Lato's blushing was practically audible in her voice as she said, "I hope it's alright that I got it from Sari. I called the Mountain Lily Inn number first of course, but I got a recorded message that said you were booked full for months! Is that true?"
Yuisu shifted the phone to her other ear and started folding some smaller laundry with one hand, mostly towels for the cabins. "Yeah. We're as full as I can handle on my own. The Exchange Program put us on a list of liminal-recommended businesses and now we're buried in customers."
"Oh, Sari mentioned that list. She got added to it last week and we're hoping to see an uptick in reservations as a result." Lato paused for an instant, then said, "But enough about my work. I heard the Mountain Lily Inn earned a bit of a reputation…"
Yuisu set a folded towel on a towering pile. There was some concern in her voice as she said, "Oh? What kind of a reputation?"
"As a place for lesbian liminals to find love, or at least hook up," Lato said bluntly. Despite her cute and innocent appearance, it seemed Lato was rather open about sex. "Any truth to that?"
Yuisu sighed and said, "Yeah… they've been hooking up alright. I had to post signs about not getting freaky in the hot spring and not getting it on behind random bushes. Is it really so hard to just screw inside the cabins?!"
Yuisu didn't mention that a large number of those hookups involved a certain alraune homestay… At least Aluru hasn't been breaking any more girls' hearts. I'll take this over that any day.
A cute and slightly erotic giggle came through the phone. "It sounds like you've got your hands full." Then she shifted gears and said, "I've wanted to see your inn for so long, and more so after Lyca recommended it so highly."
Her voice took on a painfully sweet tone. "I know that your recording said you were full, but do you think maybe, just maybe, you could squeeze in a visit for me? It'd be on weekdays, if that helps. I'm the Zoic Inn's head maid now, so I shouldn't leave them on a summer weekend anyway."
Yuisu's first instinct was to say no, but she thought for a moment. I do have vacancies on some weekdays, but I'm just too short-handed to get the rooms back in commission fast enough. I'm tempted to ask the girls for help, but they've got jobs of their own. Except for Mara and Aluru, who would probably cause more harm than good as maids…
Wait a second. A crafty smile appeared on Yuisu's face. That's it! I need to stop putting this off, and Lato actually has the experience to do it right.
Yuisu turned away from the towels and gave her full attention to the phone call. "Actually, I've got a proposal for you. I'll squeeze you in for a few days for free, if you help me hire and train a maid while you're here."
Not only did Lato agree, she really did know what she was doing. She'd been in charge all the maid hiring and training at a much larger inn, after all.
First, before their call had even ended, she told Yuisu to place an ad in the local classifieds. She'd said to schedule a single day of walk-in interviews, and recommended including 'liminals encouraged to apply' somewhere in the ad.
The ad worked and Yuisu got some interested calls, but because of the remote location of the inn, most people backed out. Yuisu couldn't really spare the space to give the maid housing, so they would need to have their own transportation. It should have been obvious to Yuisu sooner, but it turns out that young people and liminals both didn't tend to own cars.
Lato arrived in town the night before the interview date, and Yuisu set her up in the center bedroom of the main house, the one non-cabin inn room.
"Sorry about the bed," Yuisu said, waving a hand at the bare bed with a folded pile of clean sheets on it. "I got pulled into something before I finished making it."
Lato flapped her black and cyan wings and waved a scaled hand. "Don't worry about it! What's one more bed after the thousands I've made?"
Then she put that hand on Yuisu's shoulder and said, "But before that, can you show me the hot spring? I'd love a little heat right now."
The next morning was interview day, but only a few applicants arrived. There were a couple of uninterested teenagers that had likely been put up to it by their parents, one middle-aged woman that was worryingly clumsy, and a man that seemed to just want an easy ride and balked at the idea of doing actual work.
There was also one liminal who stood out among the rest of the applicants. She was a stern-looking tiger woman with white hair and black striped fur on her arms, legs, and her little, round ears. She wore an elaborate white and blue outfit with red and gold accents that looked more fitting for royalty than for a maid job interviewee.
When it was an applicant's turn to be interviewed, Yuisu and Lato called them to the back porch. The weather was beautiful, so Yuisu had decided to hold the interviews outside on the porch while the remaining applicants waited in the living room.
After turning down all the other applicants, the tiger woman was the last to be called outside. Yuisu had expected the fancy clothes to look out of place against the natural background of trees, but the natural light and setting somehow made her look even more regal.
She introduced herself in a thick Russian accent as Anastasya Elena Nadezhda. The excessively impressive name fit with the noble way she carried herself and Yuisu started to wonder if she really was some sort of princess.
After Yuisu struggled to repeat her name, Anastasya said, "You may call me Anastasya, or Sya for short." She drew her name out into 'ah-nah-stah-see-ah' and pronounced Sya as 'see-ah'.
Yuisu was happy for that approachable nickname. "Alright, Sya. Why do you want to work as a maid at the Mountain Lily Inn?"
Sya sat up primly in her chair and promptly answered, "There are several reasons, so allow me to explain each in turn. First, I am an organized person who likes to create order in the world, while a maid is one who maintains order and cleanliness within her domain. I feel I would be well suited to the task and personally rewarded by the effort."
Lato nodded in enthusiastic approval, but allowed Sya to continue.
"Second, I respect the way the Mountain Lily Inn has created a welcoming place for both liminal- and human-kind. As a Cultural Exchange Program homestay myself, I endeavor to do my part to benefit the burgeoning relationship between those cultures."
Yuisu blinked in mild disbelief at how well spoken this woman was, since Japanese wasn't her first language and she was still in the exchange program. In any case, she did like what Sya was saying.
"And finally"—Sya's voice became softer and quieter, making her seem much younger—"I want to prove myself. I want to show that I am strong, capable, and willing to work diligently under your employ."
Needless to say, Lato and Yuisu were impressed. They asked several more questions and learned that Sya had no formal work experience, but had completed intense tutoring and training before moving to Japan to enter the Exchange Program. Sya was also only 17 years old, but Yuisu had no concerns about her level of maturity, which was arguably greater than Yuisu's own.
After their questioning, Lato pulled Yuisu aside and whispered, "You're very lucky to have found someone like her. If you don't hire her, I'm going to try to steal her for the Zoic Inn."
Yuisu giggled, then said, "Oh, I'm gonna hire her. I just need to confirm one more thing."
She turned back and addressed Sya, "One final question, Sya. Who is your Exchange Program Coordinator? I'll need to confirm with them that you have permission to be away from your host during work."
Sya quickly answered, "He goes by Agent Will. Of course you'll want to confirm with him directly, but he did support my application here. He seemed very fond of the Mountain Lily Inn."
Yuisu smiled. "That must be because he is my Coordinator as well, and he assigned all my current homestays. You'll get to meet them soon, because you're hired."
Sya's stern countenance finally cracked and a wonderful smile appeared on her face. She shook Yuisu's hand, then bowed profusely, saying, "Thank you so very much, Yuisu. I look forward to this opportunity."
Lato stood up and offered a hand to Sya. As they shook hands, or claws, Lato said, "I need you here at 8am tomorrow morning for your first day of training. Can you do that?"
Sya nodded and excitedly said, "Yes, I can. Thank you as well, Lato."
As the three women stood up to return inside, a huge white-feathered wing waved from the other side of the glass door. It was Haru, looking unsure as to whether she should be interrupting the interview.
Yuisu opened the door and asked, "What's up, Haru? We just wrapped up the final interview and we found our maid."
"Ooh, about that…" Haru said through clenched teeth. "There's actually one more applicant. She just arrived."
Yuisu frowned. "Huh, alright. One second." She smiled at Sya and said, "We're still on for tomorrow morning. Can you let yourself out while I deal with this?"
Sya nodded and set off through the house toward the front door. Haru watched her go with intense curiosity. Another fluffy white-and-black predator had intruded on her territory, but was she an ally or competition?
Once Sya was gone, Yuisu closed the door, leaving just her, Lato, and Haru on the wooden deck. She shook her head and said, "About this late arrival… We already hired Sya, and this new girl's tardiness isn't a good sign."
Haru raised a section of black-tipped feathers, her fingerless attempt at a 'hold on a second' gesture. "Well, she has a very good reason for being late. She's small and had a hard time getting a cab driver to, uh, notice her."
Yuisu tilted her head questioningly. "What, like she's really shy?"
Haru said, "No, that's not it. Perhaps you should just meet her. She is very determined to at least get an interview after traveling all this way, and I feel for her."
Yuisu was surprised to see Haru getting emotionally invested in a stranger for once. "Fine. Where is she?"
"On the living room table."
Sure enough, the late arrival was sitting on the coffee table. But she wasn't sitting on the edge like a child might. She was sitting cross-legged in the center of the table.
When Yuisu and Lato entered the room, the woman jumped to her feet and stood as tall and proud as she could: about 15 inches. The tiny woman wore a sporty white dress, thigh-high leggings, and a grey hoodie, all in miniature scale. She had strawberry blonde hair in loose pigtails, and what appeared to be cat ears on her head.
Yuisu couldn't help but stare at the miniscule woman. She had heard of some very small liminal species, but never seen one in person. Is she a fairy? I don't see any wings. And are those ears real?
Suddenly, the doll-like woman bowed deeply and belted out a surprisingly loud plea, "Please give me a chance to interview! It took so much to get here today."
Yuisu kneeled next to the coffee table so she could get almost eye to eye with the little woman. "I'm sorry, but I was only planning to hire one maid, and I already hired the best of the applicants that were on time."
The spritely girl snapped back upright and peered at Yuisu with wide and sparkling blue eyes. The sparkling was due to tiny tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. "Please, please give me a chance to show you what I can do as a maid! Just give me a messy room and two minutes!"
Yuisu looked to Lato for help, but she just shrugged and said, "Maybe you could benefit from another set of hands. I say give her an interview at least."
Yuisu nodded and turned back to the little liminal. "First, I'm Yuisu, the owner of the inn, and this is Lato, who's helping me hire maid staff. What's your name?"
"Rem," came the response. Her apparently real cat ears perked up and she said, "So how about it? Do you have a messy room?"
Yuisu's thoughts went straight to the laundry room, which got heavy use for all the inn's linens and the residents' clothes. "The laundry room over there could use some attention, I suppose."
She pointed a finger and Rem immediately leapt from the table and took off down the hall. She was much faster than expected for her size, and Yuisu had to jog to catch up.
After rounding the corner, Rem saw the open door and darted inside the laundry room. She peeked out, her face barely halfway to the door handle, and said, "Two minutes. You'll be impressed, I promise." Then she used both hands to push the door closed.
Lato and Yuisu shared a glance that said, 'What did we get ourselves into?' then Yuisu pulled out her phone to time the two minutes.
As the timer ticked down, shuffling and swooshing noises came from inside the room. It sounded like the little whatever-she-was could really move. Yuisu turned to Lato and sheepishly asked, "Uh, what species do you suppose she is?"
Lato shook her head. "No idea. Those ears mean she isn't a gnome, but that's all I know."
Yuisu had heard of a small animal-eared race called pookas, but everything she could remember about them said they had longer rabbit-like ears and dark fur. Rem's strawberry-blonde and cat-like ears just didn't fit.
Before they could ponder Rem's lineage any more, the laundry room door creaked open and the topic of their conversation emerged. Her hair was a little frazzled and she was short of breath, but there was a confident grin on her face.
"All done. Come take a look, ladies!" she cheered, just as Yuisu's phone timer beeped.
Warily, the two women pushed the door the rest of the way open and stepped inside. What had been a heavily-used and slightly cluttered room was now nearly spotless. Accumulated soap residue had been scoured from the top of the washing machine, an unsorted basket of laundry was now neatly folded, and the wood floor was still wet from a fresh mopping. All the countertops had also been scrubbed clean.
Rem had just done in two minutes what Yuisu had been putting off for weeks. It would have taken her considerably longer and she just couldn't spare the time.
All Yuisu could say was, "Wow."
Rem blushed a little, then said, "There's a bit more I could do with more time, especially in that washroom." She pointed over her shoulder at the frosted-glass door to the bathing room, which saw a lot of use as well. Daily use by six women and an inn guest had added up over time.
Lato marveled at the laundry room, just as stunned as Yuisu. She knew that an experienced maid could make quick work of familiar tasks, but cleaning so much so fast in an unfamiliar setting was unbelievable. Dragonewts didn't have any supernatural abilities, but she knew some liminal races did, and she was pretty sure something like that was at play.
Rem must have noticed their shocked expressions because she explained, "I used a little gremlin magic. I can't use it all the time, but if I eat enough candy, I can do this much a few times a day."
Reminded by her own words, Rem dug into a pocket on her hoodie and brought out a jelly bean the size of her palm. She nibbled on it while she waited for Yuisu's approval.
"Uh… huh…" Yuisu mumbled. She was thinking, Phoenix fire and yuki-onna snow, and now gremlin magic. There's so much more to liminals than humanity knows…
Yuisu cleared her throat and shook her head to refocus. "I'd say you earned an interview, Rem. Let's head back to the living room."
Rem smiled broadly and skittered back down the hallway, saying "Thanks!" as she ran.
The interview revealed that Rem was indeed a gremlin, and she'd graduated from the Exchange Program nearly a year before. At 21 years old, she was a similar age to most of the girls in the house, though she acted rather childlike in a way that reminded Yuisu of Mara.
The conversation didn't uncover any red flags, and Yuisu thought she could really benefit from having a second maid to take over more of her work, so she offered Rem a job. She also offered a hand to seal the deal. Before she realized that her hand was much too big for Rem to shake, Rem grabbed onto her index finger and shook that instead.
"I look forward to working for you, boss," she said cheerfully.
While still hunched over to talk to Rem, Lato asked, "Can you be here at 8am tomorrow for training?"
"Hmm…" Rem pulled her eyes from Lato's impressive cleavage and looked up at Yuisu. "I guess now's as good a time as any to ask… Can I stay here for the night? I'd rather rent a cabin than deal with a taxi to my hostel and back."
Yuisu wasn't expecting that question. "Uh, well, we're pretty full right now…"
Rem's cat-like ears folded down and her eyes went wide and pleading. "Please? I'd actually prefer a cozy closet, if you have one available."
Yuisu struggled to resist the adorable gremlin. "I don't know… If you're staying at a hostel in town, you'll need to deal with the taxi ride eventually."
Just then, a bright pink arachne sauntered by on her way to the kitchen. She stopped and stared at Yuisu for a second, then said, "Uh, I didn't realize you liked to talk to dolls, Yuisu."
Rem put her hands on her hips and scowled at Mara. "I am not a doll."
In a flash, Mara pounced in between Yuisu and Rem, all six of her eyes wide with delight. "Oh, em, gee. You are cuter than any doll ever! I'm normally more into plushies, but I just wanna dress you up and build you a house and—"
Yuisu made a fist and bopped Mara on the top of the head, then said, "Mara, she's the inn's newest employee, so stop treating her like a toy."
Rem nodded firmly. "And nobody dresses me up, ever." After a moment, her serious expression faded. She smiled and added, "But I'd take you up on the house offer. I really do need a place to stay. I know the job offer wasn't a live-in position, but I'm still kinda hoping…"
Once again, she turned her puppy-dog eyes on Yuisu, but now Mara had joined in as well. It wasn't clear whether Mara's two extra pairs of eyes helped or not, but Yuisu's defenses fell just the same.
"Fine, fine. You can stay the night, since you're so small. We can talk about more permanent options tomorrow, after I get some sleep." Yuisu's exhaustion was starting to show on her face and in her speech.
"Thank you, Yuisu! I can already tell you're gonna be a great boss." Rem then turned to Mara and introduced herself, much to Mara's delight. The two small liminals had the same excessive energy and hit it off well, despite Mara's poor first impression.
"Oh, I can't wait for you to meet my girlfriend, Tsuen. She just loves little cute things," Mara said as Yuisu and Lato left the living room, heading toward Lato's guest room.
Lato put a hand on Yuisu's arm. "You know, having a live-in maid could be really good for the inn. For example, you wouldn't have to always be on-call all night."
Yuisu stifled a yawn, then responded, "Yeah, I know that, but I'm not sure about having yet another liminal girl living in the house…"
Lato had barely registered the reply, because she had looked outside and noticed a very beautiful and very green woman approaching from the hot spring. Droplets of water cascaded down her hair and sparkled against her viridescent skin and vibrant purple petals. She was wearing a leaf-like bikini top and a tiny skirt, and it seemed she had thrown them on after exiting the spring without bothering to towel off.
"Speak of the devil…" Yuisu muttered, right before Aluru opened the glass door.
"Ooh, who's this darling dragonewt?" the recently-bathing beauty said as she shuffled inside on her tentacular roots.
Yuisu looked at Lato and gestured at the dripping wet alraune, "Lato, this is Aluru, one of my homestays." Then she cast a serious glare at Aluru and said, "Aluru, Lato's a friend of mine, and she's in town to train our new maids. Don't you dare break her heart."
Aluru placed a hand to her chest and with a wounded expression, she said, "I'd never dream of such a thing."
Yuisu paid her little show no mind and waved to Lato as she turned back toward her own bedroom. "Those interviews wiped me out. I'm going to bed. Seeya in the morning."