BY EMILY ANTONELLI
Remember him? I’ll never forget him. Not from the day he first walked through the front doors of my inn. He was a rather tall young man in his late twenties. He was drenched head to foot and shivering as he approached the counter. I can’t lie; I was shocked to see him. We hardly ever get any visitors in the winter, especially not when the holidays have come and gone. Part of me thought he walked in on accident, the way his eyes were glazed over. It didn’t look like he knew where he was. But he asked if there were any rooms available. I told him we had plenty, and I asked him for his name. He told me it was Isaac Vale.
“Okay, Mr. Vale, how long will you be staying with us?”
“I-I’m not sure.” He said, “Few days? Two weeks.” Obviously, this made me suspicious. I held eye contact with him for longer than I probably should have. Something about him just didn’t seem right. I couldn’t tell if he was sinister or not, but something was definitely off. But there wasn’t much I could do about it, so I marked him down for room fifteen. He paid in cash. I asked him if he needed help with any of his bags, but he told me he didn’t have any. I watched him as he stuffed his wallet into his pocket and shuffle down the hall towards room fifteen.
Of course I was still suspicious. Who checks into an inn for two weeks without any luggage? I had my son Al do some research for me. He searched the Internet for the longest time, and the only Isaac Vale he could find worth noting died almost ten years prior. Surly if our Mr. Vale was on the run from the police, we would have seen it on the news. But nothing, not even a picture of the man I saw ever crossed our path.
The day before Mr. Vale’s two-week stay expired, he asked me to book his room for another month. I was surprised of course. During his two weeks in town, I hardly saw him leave his room other than to grab his daily meal from the shop down the road. But I agreed, and he paid, once again, with cash.
At this point, he started helping out around the inn. I found he was quite handy. I can’t tell you how many times he fixed the heating in that building. My suspicions hadn’t quite died out, but I figured there was no reason I shouldn’t hire him since he didn’t seem to have any other place to go. He happily agreed, and as part of our agreement he would live in room fifteen free of charge. Just as long as he could keep it tidy.
My eldest daughter Liza came to visit me one afternoon. She was complaining about car troubles she was having so I had Mr. Vale take a look at it. He and Liza talked the entire time he was working on it. I watched them from the window, laughing at chatting like they were old friends. By the time he was finished and the car was running smoothly, they made plans to have dinner that night.
Suddenly, all of my suspicions returned. I knew nothing about Isaac Vale. Where had he gotten all of his money? Why did he have no possessions upon arrival? I didn’t even know where he came from! I expressed my worries with Liza, but she shook them off.
“We’re just getting dinner, mother.” She told me, “It’s not a wedding.” I didn’t want to interfere with my daughter’s life. At the end of the day, Isaac Vale was a good man. Hard working, polite, and handy. Not to mention charming, and not too bad looking either. Liza could take care of herself. So I let them have their date.
A year passed by and Mr. Vale and Liza were still together. At this point, he had moved out of the inn and into an apartment with Liza. I still did not know much about his past and that bothered me, but Liza insisted that he hated talking about it.
“He said he was from up North and not much else.” Liza told me, “to be honest, I don’t think he’s done anything worth talking about. But its better to just respect his privacy.” So I respected his privacy and tried to pry as little as I could.
Summer was coming quickly, and my small staff was getting prepared for our busiest season. Already guests were beginning to flood into town to enjoy the warm weather. I on the other hand would be enjoying their presence at my small inn.
One day while Mr. Vale and Liza were helping me straighten out the lobby, a young man came to check in. After I took down his information, I called Mr. Vale over to help him with his bag. The young man froze in his tracks when he saw Mr. Vale. It was as though he had seen a ghost.
“J-Jack?” He stuttered. Mr. Vale looked genuinely puzzled. He smiled kindly at the man.
“No, sorry. You have me mixed up.” He leaned over to grab the man’s bag, but the man put his hand on Mr. Vale’s shoulder.
“Jack Ellis. It’s me, Charlie! Charlie Todd! We grew up together!” Mr. Vale stared at the man. He smile faded, his eyes now wide. He looked as pale and confused as the day he first checked into my inn. He stared up at the man as though in a trance.
“Your family’s been worried sick! They gave up on looking for you! Everyone thought you were dead!” At this point, Mr. Vale wasn’t looking at anyone anymore. His eyes gazed off into the distance, his mouth agape, still holding onto the bag with one hand. I looked at Liza, who looked just as confused. Clearly, she knew nothing about this.
“Isaac?” she called, but he made no sign of hearing her. He just kept staring blankly at the wall, white as a sheet. Charlie Todd didn’t say anything either. He looked at Liza and I, as if we were going to give some sort of explanation. After what seemed like forever, Mr. Vale dropped the bag and walked over to the door.
“Isaac!” Liza called out again. Mr. Vale stopped dead in his tracks. He turned to face the three of us.
“I have to go now.” He said in a monotone voice. Then, he turned around, walked out the door, and never came back.
Apparently, Jack Ellis was from a small town up north. One day last January, he left his work in a repair shop and never came home. Apparently, he and his girlfriend had an argument about leaving town and starting over somewhere else. Jack Ellis was unhappy with his life and wanted a new one. His girlfriend, however, was happy where she was.
His girlfriend and his parents looked for him everywhere, expecting him to be at a hotel somewhere. They gave up looking after authorities found his car abandoned in the woods just outside of town. Everyone suspected the worst.
However, Jack Ellis ditched his car in the woods after emptying his bank account. He took the identity of Isaac Vale after he came across the name in the library’s records. From there he took the bus as far as he could afford, which was to our town. After wandering around, he came across my inn.
I’ve spoke with Charlie Todd once or twice since then. He’s still in shock over finding his friend alive miles away from home. From what he tells me, Jack Ellis is back at home living with his parents. He sees a physiatrist daily. Apparently, he had no memory of being Jack Ellis during his time with us, and now has hardly any memory of being Isaac Vale.
I haven’t talked to him, and to my knowledge, neither has Liza. She was angry with him for a long time. She kept telling me she should have known something wasn’t right about him. I told her not to blame herself, and not to blame him. He was sick, and there wasn’t much anyone could do about it. She’s moved on, of course, but I’m sure she still misses him. I know I’ll never forget him. What a strange person to encounter, that Mr. Vale.