Robbie Ray Stewart knew a lot about hotels. This wasn't surprising when one considered just how many hotel rooms he'd stayed in over the years. The man had traveled all over the world, first as a musical superstar and later as the manager of his daughter, who was an even bigger superstar. As a consequence, he knew his hotels.
And if you asked the man to pick his favorite, he'd answer quickly…the Tipton Hotel in Boston.
Now, anyone who knows hotels is well aware that the Boston Tipton is a first class establishment. It boasted fine accommodations and excellent service…and the entertainment in the Tipton lounge was utterly fantastic. Yet none of those factors were why Robbie Ray rated the place so highly.
He liked it for sentimental reasons.
Some time ago…
Robbie Ray was doing a last minute check of the hotel room to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything. Hannah and Lola were already down in the lobby saying goodbye to their new friends at the Tipton. They didn't have to worry about settling the bill before checking out since this stay had been complimentary.
Sure beats the last time we were here, he thought as he turned toward the door. But Mr. Moseby didn't have to give us a free room to make up for it. I don't blame the man for throwing us out after that screaming match between Hannah and Mikayla.
Happy to know that unpleasantness of that sort would never happen again, Robbie went to exit. But when he opened the door he almost collided with a hotel maid.
"Oh, sorry," he apologized to the plain-looking Asian woman.
"That's alright sir," she answered in a monotone voice with a complete lack of inflection. "I was just about to knock. May I clean your room?"
"Yeah, that's fine," he replied. "I was just leaving to check out."
"Very good." Her voice was still dull and her face was all but expressionless. "Hope you enjoyed your stay. Please come again."
Robbie found the woman's emotionless manner odd and a bit off-putting, but he wasn't a judgmental person. "Well, thank you," he said, showing her a polite smile as he went to walk past her. "And don't go working too hard."
Though he didn't see it, Robbie's words actually caused a slight show of emotion to the maid's face. Her eyes widened just a tiny bit to indicate surprise.
"Sir?" she said. "Excuse me…but could you repeat that?"
Robbie turned back, wondering if the woman had taken his remark the wrong way. "Oh, I didn't mean you weren't a hard worker," he explained. "I just meant…have a good day."
She shook her head. "No, I wasn't offended." She paused. "I know it sounds strange, but could you just say the words again? Don't go working too hard."
He looked at her and saw that her face was still mostly unreadable, but there seemed to be a spark of curiosity in her eyes. And those eyes were studying his face intently. With a shrug, he did as she requested. "Don't go working too hard."
This time Robbie saw her eyes widen…but not due to surprise. Her expressionless face transformed as she gasped very audibly. Then, a wide, excited smile appeared.
"You're Robbie Ray!" she exclaimed.
After a split second of being startled, Robbie let out a short chuckle. So the woman was a fan. While he was rarely recognized by people who remembered his glory days as a performer, it did happen on occasion.
"Yep," he admitted. "What gave me away? The voice?"
The maid was still smiling. It was uncanny how different she appeared now that her face was showing emotion. She'd gone from plain and dour to surprisingly attractive in the blink of an eye. And when she spoke, it was no longer monotone.
"Yes, your voice," she answered. "But the words…Don't Go Working Too Hard was--"
"Ah, of course," he interrupted as he realized what had tipped the woman off.
"Your third single from your first album," she went on. "Peaked on the charts at number…four, I think."
"Good memory," he said as he glanced at the woman's name tag. "It's always nice to meet a fan, Grace."
"You know my name?" she said, but then felt foolish when she remembered her name tag. She blushed slightly and then adopted a calmer demeanor. "I really enjoy your music."
Robbie saw that Grace was determined to keep her cool. He appreciated that. The enjoyment of being recognized could turn sour with fans that were too excitable. He thanked her for her kind words and decided to engage in a bit of conversation before taking his leave.
"You a big country music fan?"
"Absolutely," she answered. "It's my favorite genre." She went on to speak very intelligently about the subject. As she did so her emotions faded and she became more clinical. Before too long her manner was just as it had been when Robbie had opened the door, and her voice was again a monotone.
Robbie was disappointed by that. Grace was much more pleasant when she smiled. But his disappointment was offset by his undisguised awe at the woman's knowledge of country music. When she started speaking about early country artists and casually threw out terms like 'Lubbock sound', 'Close Harmony' and 'Western swing'…Robbie could barely keep his jaw from dropping. He'd worked with professional musicians who didn't know as much as Grace. He would have been happy to keep talking with her for quite some time.
But time was not something he had at the moment. His beeping cell phone reminded him of that. He saw that his daughter had texted him from the lobby. Hannah wanted to know what was keeping him.
"I'm afraid I have to go," he said.
"Yes," she replied. "And I should be working anyway."
Robbie paused for a moment and then pulled out his business card. "You know if you'd like to talk music some more…why don't you e-mail me?"
She took the offered card without showing any reaction, though she did say, "Thank you. Maybe I will."
And after saying a polite goodbye, Robbie made his way to the elevator.
Grace Lau was not an unhappy woman. She just wasn't a particularly happy one. At one time she'd had dreams and ambitions, but she'd been forced to give those up when she'd left college to take care of her mother. She'd made a decision at that time, a decision not to be angry. Who could she have been angry at anyway? The drunk driver who'd killed her father and left her mother brain-damaged was certainly deserving of anger…but he was also dead. Grace didn't see how raging at a stranger's ghost would accomplish anything.
She'd stoically spent eleven years and three months caring for a woman who no longer knew who she was. When her mother finally passed, Grace didn't feel much sadness…just a vague bit of relief. Her emotions had been effectively numbed by that point.
In the years that followed, she got by alright. She worked, she went home, she read or listened to music and then she slept. Lather, rinse, repeat. She'd spent the entirety of her twenties with no social life so she was used to not having friends. Her co-workers provided adequate human interaction, even a fair amount of entertainment. The Tipton did have some colorful characters after all. But she never got close to any of them. She'd grown comfortable with solitude and emotional distance.
This was why she didn't know how to deal with the traces of excitement she felt every time she looked at Robbie Ray's card. His e-mail, his phone number…if she wanted to, she could contact him. Contact a man who was not only one of her favorite singers of all time, but also the man who was responsible for the last truly happy moment she could remember.
Grace had been nineteen. She and two girlfriends from college had travelled to Florida for spring break. Robbie Ray was at the height of his popularity and playing a concert in Miami. The girls had front row tickets. The show had been fantastic.
Her parents' accident took place a month later.
There's no point in e-mailing him, she thought as she sat in her apartment. No point at all.
She looked at the card again.
Then again, what could it hurt?
Robbie had no trouble remembering Grace when her first e-mail arrived a week after they'd met. Her message was nice, if somewhat formal. She wrote about which of his songs she enjoyed the most, and asked if she was correct when she guessed about his musical influences. Those guesses were spot on.
He wrote back, mostly discussing music.
A few e-mails later, he suggested that they could speak on the phone sometime.
Grace still worked and still went home, but sometimes her nights consisted of more than just reading or listening to music. Several times a week, she and Robbie would have long phone conversations. Music was usually the main topic, but naturally other subjects came up as well.
Grace learned why Robbie had abruptly disappeared from performing years ago. She admired the fact that he'd decided to devote himself full time to his children after their mother had passed away.
Robbie managed to find out how a Hong Kong-born Bostonian had become an expert on country music. Her parents had moved to the states when Grace was two months old. By the time she'd turned four, both her parents were working full time jobs. For the next six years Grace had only one babysitter, a wonderful middle-aged woman who'd lived in the same apartment building. Her name had been Daisy and before coming to Boston, she'd spent most of her life in Memphis, Tennessee.
But even as Robbie and Grace learned about one another, they each remained a little puzzled. Robbie liked talking with the woman as their conversations were always interesting. But she always spoke in the same neutral tone. It was hard to hear even a trace of emotion in her voice. Yet she must have enjoyed their talks, for she always checked to see when they'd be able to speak again.
Grace didn't understand why a man who was so personable and outgoing was willing to spend so much time talking with her. She assumed it was only her knowledge of music that kept him calling back. Eventually he'd get bored and their conversations would cease. In fact, their next talk would probably be their last. She kept telling herself that.
And yet every one of their phone calls ended with her knowing exactly when they'd speak again.
It was early December when Robbie Ray returned to the Tipton. He and his family were there to attend Carey Martin's wedding. The festivities were taking place at the hotel, and much of the Tipton's staff had been told they were welcome to drop by the reception if they weren't working that evening.
Grace wasn't working that evening. And she knew Robbie was going to be there. He'd even said he was looking forward to seeing her.
She felt uncomfortable. It wasn't that she was dissatisfied with her appearance, she actually thought she looked pretty good. But she questioned why she was going to so much trouble. Getting a new dress, fixing her hair…it was foolish. It wasn't like Robbie was going to look at her and be impressed.
But part of her hoped that he would. She hated that fact. She'd gotten by without hope for years now. She was only setting herself up for disappointment.
Robbie did a double take when he spotted her at the reception. She looked downright glamorous. He might not have even recognized her if not for her characteristic deadpan expression.
"Dang Grace," he said as he greeted her. "You are looking fine."
The corners of her mouth threatened to form a smile. "Oh...you're just saying that," she replied in a neutral tone.
"I hope you're not calling me a liar," he responded.
"No, I'm just questioning your eyesight."
Robbie chuckled. While Grace didn't exhibit emotion, she was quick witted. After so many phone conversations, he'd become accustomed to her sense of humor.
Similarly, she was used to Robbie trying to get her to laugh. He'd gotten into the habit of telling jokes during their phone calls and then listening for any signs of mirth in her voice. So far he'd had no luck, but he remained undaunted in his efforts.
"I got a good one for you," he said, ready to unleash another attempt at humor.
She raised an eyebrow slightly and dearly hoped he wasn't going to repeat the 'nacho cheese' joke again.
"You ever hear the one about the two farmers?" he began. When she shook head her head in response, he continued. "Well, once there were two farmers…" he paused for a long beat, "…now there's more."
She looked at him quizzically for a moment, waiting for a punch line. None were forthcoming.
"Don't you get it?" he asked.
An instant later, she did. Then she groaned. "That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life."
Robbie's reaction was one of triumph. "Yes, finally!"
"Finally gotcha," he answered. While Grace may not have laughed, she was clearly showing emotion in both her expression and inflection. When he pointed this out to her, she tried to return to her normal demeanor but she couldn't quite manage it.
"Nope, no good," Robbie teased. "I can see a smile there."
The more he went on, the more color appeared on Grace's cheeks. "Cut it out," she said.
"Only if you stop trying to fight it. Keep smiling." He paused. "You look pretty when you smile."
Her cheeks were crimson at this point. Robbie asked her to dance. She accepted.
She kept smiling.
Things were different after that. Grace's co-workers no longer head her speak in a monotone. Her face was no longer an expressionless mask.
The phone calls with Robbie Ray continued, except now they spent much more time talking about things besides music. And the conversations eventually went from happening several times a week to every night of the week.
In March, Grace took a vacation…to Malibu.
In May, she gave Mr. Moseby her two weeks notice. She moved to California not long afterwards.
Back to the present…
Yes, Robbie Ray Stewart really had a soft spot in his heart for the Tipton Hotel in Boston.
After all, it was where he'd met his wife.
author's note: And there you have it, the greatest crossover pairing in the history of fanfic. How long do you think it will be before Robbie and Grace take fandom by storm?
All kidding aside, the reason for this story was that when I was finishing Two Brothers and a Pop Tart I asked readers if there was anything they wanted to see before the story ended. Elianna22 said she wanted to see Robbie Ray find romance, hopefully with an existing character. Since most eligible characters from both Suite Life and Hannah Montana were already paired off in my story…I thought, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, why not Grace? After a few e-mail exchanges with Elianna I became intrigued by the idea of doing a serious story with the pair. Certainly Grace was wide open when it came to creating a background…something that I had already exploited when I used her in an earlier story Being Herself - shameless plug…go read that to see a cameo from a noticeably different Grace.
So anyway, I got a kick out of working on such an unlikely story. I know it's written in a way that leaves a lot of blanks for the reader to fill in, but that was intentional. I hope you found the results somewhat entertaining. Please review.