Marion took one last look in the mirror just before she left the cloakroom. Her pale blue dress was on the young side for her if she was honest with herself (she had bought it from French Connection after being told by the assistant that she looked ‘stunning’); it had a boxy cut and a slashed neckline, which was risky but she felt it made a statement of confidence and modernity that was infinitely preferable to wearing a suit. She had her game face on, the one that said she was in charge but would rise to the trust that was put in her, and as she opened the door from her office into the corridor, she smiled broadly at the waiting visitors.
“Mrs and Mrs Milbury, I’m so glad you could make it” she said as they rose from their chairs. Hands were proffered and shaken firmly. She didn’t believe in that faux-caring lingering hand-holding that some people did. Marion stood to one side and with a sweep of her arm indicated that they should precede her into her office, which was tastefully done out in pale grey and cream, with 2 cream sofas either side of a small table, and a desk of pale blond wood topped with some glossy folders and a pink orchid. There were several paintings – real paintings rather than prints – and a small bookcase, but the room looked bright, clean and uncluttered.
She waited until they settled themselves on one sofa, and she sat opposite rather than at her desk. “I know you don’t really want to make any choices today; it’s such a difficult decision and you really want to make sure it’s the right thing for Auntie Em, so please don’t feel that I am putting any pressure on you”. Marion prided herself in remembering what names clients used for their loved ones, rather than using Mr or Mrs – it made her seem like part of the family rather than part of a faceless business. “I just wanted to tell you about the change to our waiting list, and I thought the sooner I gave you the information the better, just in case it makes a difference to you. I’m so sorry you are even here in this office, to be honest, because I know you don’t want to be; it’s such a hard situation for everyone”. She paused, sympathetically waiting for a nod or some other indication that she was making the right pitch for them. Everyone had their baggage that they brought with them into the room; it could be guilt or it could be relief, and it was always good to tease out the angle that would work best.
Gordon Milbury leaned forward in his seat, and his brow furrowed. “Are you trying to say that someone else is jumping the queue?” He sounded alarmed. That was helpful – clearly they could not cope with Aunty Em at home and a decision needed to be made very soon. They had visited three times already, and she knew they had seen several other local care homes. What they didn’t know was that they were all owned by the same company, and that Marion met with the other Managers at the weekly review meetings. Tate Holdings had been slowly consolidating its hold on the care sector business in the eastern region. Marion saw a bright future for herself; she rather liked Arnold Tate and had been working on consolidating her hold on him for quite some time.
“Well not exactly, since there is no list as such, but you know how oversubscribed we are at Oakdale Grange, and there is a family that has been back to visit several times, like yourselves, and you know how we encourage that sort of period of getting to know us. They particularly liked the Malvern room, because of the balcony overlooking the park. They’ve arranged a meeting with me next week, so it seems quite likely that they are going to take that room. I know how much this means to you both. You see how things are; I can’t turn people down if there is a spare room.” She spoke gently, smiling all the time, with her head slightly on one side. Gordon Milbury turned towards his wife Iris, who looked down into her lap.
“Do you know what might be best? I’ve got to see a member of staff for 10 minutes, so how about I order some afternoon tea for you, and I leave you here to have a little chat. Would that be helpful?” She wanted to make this easy for them.
She went out and rang for Christine using the phone on the reception counter. She could have walked to the end of the corridor to see Christine in the kitchen, but she wanted to see Thea during this small interval, and her office was in the opposite direction. “Could you bring afternoon tea and some biscuits for two people in my office please Christine, quick as you can” she said, just waiting long enough to hear a confirmation and then putting the phone down and walking straight in to see Thea.
Thea’s office was a small and business-like space, with box files and wall charts and filing cabinets filling most of the room. Marion sat on the office chair opposite Thea, who said “What do you think?” with an expectant gaze.
“I think they’ll bite. Give us another 15 minutes, and then can you come in and tell me there is someone else coming to see the room at 6:30 tonight?”
“Are you staying to 6:30 today then?”
“No, I’ll be heading off at 3 to see Mr Tate of course, for his daily briefing; I just want to be doubly sure that I can get their signature before I go. He will be very impressed if I can say we are full. That will reflect very well on all of the staff of course. Make sure you pass on the message in the team meeting, won’t you?”
“Of course” said Thea, looking away. She wasn’t happy to be lying to prospective customers. She had a fair idea what the daily briefing was all about. But she had to give Marion credit. And chances were, it meant something better for her in the long run. So she wanted to watch and learn.