It took ten minutes to walk to the hotel. Sora okayed her two acquaintances with security and they made it to the main lobby, Eyia eyeing the guards. Both Jin and Eyia talked in Asgardian as they entered the hotel. They sounded impressed, examining the three leveled lobby and grand architecture. The tenants called the elevator at Sora’s signal.
“Why won’t the doors open? All the other doors opened on their own.” Jin questioned as she stared at her reflection in the metal.
Sora hesitated. “Umm—the elevator first has to come down.”
Switching languages, Jin started speaking eagerly to Eyia, pointing at the glowing numbers as they descended. They both shifted in awe as the car elevator rose with an expensive looking vehicle to their right, visible through glass walls. So weird. Then again, they did come from another country. But they should have seen all this stuff when coming into the U.S.? Maybe they came over illegally and I guess Tibet is pretty removed from society?
The doors opened and a breath of astonishment escaped Eyia’s lungs as she closely examined the interior. Sora’s lips twitched with a smile as she walked in, gesturing for them to follow. Slowly, the two entered, looking around in wonder.
Ron had already changed shifts and Howie was on duty; he stared at the two enthralled girls uncertainly. “Are they with you?”
Nodding, Sora laughed. “Yup, the first people I’ve invited home in a while.”
A warm smile touched his cheeks. “At least three years! And your hair’s back to normal?”
Sora shrugged, trying to look apologetic. “It was a wig. Yesterday, I wanted to see how people would react. Sorry.”
“Ah, I see.”
Howie inputted her penthouse information. The two girls watched the doors shut and dropped to the floor as the elevator started rising.
“We’re going up—without moving!” Jin said.
Howie chuckled. “That’s right and I do this all day!”
Jin seemed spellbound as she stared at Howie. “How does it function?”
Howie lifted an eyebrow and questioningly glanced at Sora as she grimaced with a shake of her head. “Gears, cables, and a motor.”
“Hmm.” Jin folded her arms, seeming impressed. “It’s a more advanced form of engineering than I’m used to.”
Arriving on the top floor, the doors opened to her penthouse and the two girls stepped in with mesmerized tones as they stared around. “You live in the heavens!” Jin breathed.
“In a way?” Sora said, waving Howie goodbye; he seemed slightly concerned with leaving her alone as the doors shut.
Walking toward her room Jin and Eyia followed, they stared at two of her dad’s expensive cars shown through the glass wall as they took the stairs up to her room. Passing through the flex room, they stopped to study the paintings and statues lining the open room with wide eyes. She smiled at Jin’s whispered statement: “A castle in the heavens.”
Walking into her room, she unhooked her phone from its charger and dialed room service. Grabbing an order sheet from her side desk drawer, she handed it to Jin. Jin accepted it and began reading the text and definitions. Putting her phone on speaker, Sora waited for the attendant to answer. “Yes, this is room service. Name and order please.”
Eyia and Jin seemed to be overwhelmed as they stared at the phone. “You have a magical communication device!” Jin whispered.
“Yes, this is Sora, one moment.” Turning to the two girls, she explained how room service worked. She smiled as they turned their attention to the booklet and phone.
She walked to her bathroom and frowned as her eyes were drawn to the room’s corner. She didn’t throw her clothes in the laundry chute this morning. Remembering the clothes, she’d received from Frank, she decided to pay him back while she remembered.
Walking back to the flex room, she said, “Hey Jin, Eyia, I’m going out for a second. You can explore after you finish ordering.” She waited for their accented voices. “Just don’t go into the bedrooms.” Not receiving an answer, she sighed. Moving to the flex room, she asked again. They nodded as they browsed through the menu, Jin talking to the service attendant.
Grabbing five twenties from her purse, Sora put it in her wallet and pocketed it. Going back to the foyer, she pressed the elevator button and waited for Howie and the elevator.
Arriving, Howie lifted an eyebrow. “That bad already?” He asked with a laugh.
“Some short errands,” Sora replied.
“Hmm.” He glared at her with a slight smile. “That was a rude prank to pull yesterday. You had the whole staff worried.”
Sora rubbed the back of her neck nervously. “Yeah—it wouldn’t have been that bad if someone didn’t go around spreading rumors!” Smiling up at him. “It’s nice to know people care.”
Howie nodded. “Well, you had me fooled and of course we’d worry! We’ve known you since you were a little girl. Anyways, I like you with long hair a lot better than short … aren’t you supposed to be going back to school?”
Sora’s eyes darted to the side. “Yeah, I love my long hair too—um, what? Some things happened at school … there was an accident. One of my teachers is in the hospital.”
“Oh, are they okay?”
Sora shook her head. “I don’t know, but Mr. Quest was one of the only teachers that would talk to me.”
Howie looked troubled. “You always said everything was fine at school. Are the teachers not giving you enough attention?”
Great! Not how I wanted this to go. “Oh, no, no. Everything is fine at school. I’m seriously considering homeschool though. I don’t know if you heard, but my dad’s off the grid for the week for some really big work thing. I left him a text about wanting to try homeschool.” Sora tried to make her smile as innocent as possible.
Howie nodded solemnly. “Yeah, I was worried yesterday so I tried calling him, but his phone went straight to voicemail. He must be pretty swamped trying to get everything set up to come back next week.”
Sora nodded. “It seems that way,” she said softly. He’s always pretty busy. Clearing her throat, she said, “I should get this done soon so I can get back to them.”
Starting, Howie nodded. “You’re right. My bad, but are you sure it’s a good idea to leave them alone in your penthouse?”
“Hmm, for some reason, I’m not worried.”
Howie frowned. “I think your dad would rather a staff present if you’re out.”
Sora shrugged. “Fine. You can call it in and watch them while I’m out.”
Nodding, he pressed a few options on the touch panel, explaining the situation to the front desk when they responded. Activating the elevator to go down to the lobby, he went into the penthouse. The elevator closed shortly after and went down to the lobby.
She exited as a temporary replacement staff entered. Walking out of the lobby and security, she went to the 24th street bridge and paused as she caught sight of Wendy. Something must be on her mind. Was she trying to catch me on the way back from school? She was wearing some casual clothes and had her hair up in a twisted ponytail.
Wendy frowned as she caught sight of her; she didn’t engage but watched apprehensively. A bit concerned, Sora walked over to her. “You alright, Wendy?”
Wendy bit at the skin on her lower lip, her eyes following Sora’s hair down her back. “Did you get a wig?”
Sora rubbed the back of her neck. “No, somehow it all grew back last night.”
“Hmm.” Wendy’s brow creased. “Jokes?”
Sora shrugged. “Were you waiting for me?”
Wendy leaned back against a pole and looked at the floor while lightly kicking out her left leg. “I—heard what happened. Some of the track kids saw you talk to Kari before she stormed inside the school and roughed up Lori.”
Nodding, Sora frowned. “Yeah, Kari didn’t know about Lori’s plan. She was pretty pissed. Are kids talking about it then?”
“Yeah—but not to teachers or anything … everyone’s too scared—how did you face her? I mean—telling Kari that Lori was doing something behind her back … how did you get the courage to do it?”
Sora shook her head. “I don’t know. I just—did it. I don’t know how else to explain it.”
Rubbing her right arm, Wendy cleared her throat and looked into Sora’s eyes. “Who were those two girls you were with at lunch? New friends?”
Sora breathed out heavily. I bet Kari sent her to find out some information. “Honestly, I don’t really know. I met them yesterday at a store and they showed up in my class this morning. They’re … odd, but I kind of like them. I can’t really explain that either … today’s just been an off day for me.”
Wendy broke eye contact and swallowed, before licking her lips. “Kari was asking around about them—it seems—it’s like she’s nervous about them.”
“I think you’re right.” Sora sucked on her lower lip for a moment. “If you want—I mean, if you’re free, you can come back to the penthouse. We’re ordering lunch.”
Wendy took a moment to answer as she looked at her feet. “I can’t. Kari wanted me to find out some information on them and report back to her … sorry.”
“I thought that was it.” Sora scratched behind her ear. “No worries. I understand. You have work today?”
“Yeah—my mom wants me back to clean up the house after…” She trailed off.
She never gets a break … if only her mom didn’t hate me. A sharp heat rose in her chest. “Look, you should stop letting your mom walk all over you! You need to have some fun too.” Her chest suddenly tightened with horror. What! What! Why did I say that? Wendy looked speechless. “No—eh, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I just exploded like that … I just, hate seeing you like this.”
Wendy laughed nervously. “I get it. I feel a little angry too sometimes—especially when she brings home more drinks the day I give her my paycheck. If I don’t … we won’t have much food, because she’ll spend her money on it … it’s a mess.” She chuckled.
Sora swallowed as the fire started rising in her again, but she was able to suppress it. “Yeah. If you get some time though, you’re always welcome. Security will always let you up.”
Wendy rubbed her shoulder. “Thanks, Sora. Maybe next week. I have some time off. Well—I better get back for the last block.”
“Alright, hope to see you later.”
Wendy nodded as she walked back to school, shoulders low.
Sora growled lowly as she left the bridge to find Frank’s stand. Maybe I can talk to her mom and smooth things over? It’s been three years, maybe something’s changed. Who am I kidding, she’s an alcoholic that uses her daughter like a slave! She had a hard time quelling her anger this time; it took more than a few breaths before she could reign herself in.
She found a different person working the booth. Smiling as she neared, Sora asked, “When does Frank work?”
The man greeted her with an extended hand. “Ah—Know Frank, do ye? Frank works on call, the name’s Glen.”
Sora shook his hand and backed up. “So, he only comes when you’re busy?”
Glen nodded while scratching the scruff at his neck. “Yeah, had a terrible cold yesterday. So, Frank filled in. Funny thing is—this mornin’ Frank gave me this kinda tonic that cured me like that!” He snapped his fingers with a hearty chuckle. “Yeah, Frank’s a strange one. Every time I call something interestin’ happens.”
Laughing, Sora handed him the money. “This is for the shorts and shirt he gave him. He was a real help. The extra money is for his trouble.” I’m glad Frank was there yesterday; he helped my mood a lot. Cutting their conversation short, she said, “Take twenty yourself for the trouble.”
He nodded with a pleased expression. “Thanks, little lady!”
Arriving back at the penthouse, she relieved Howie. He seemed shocked as he motioned her to follow him. “Do you have any idea how much they ordered?”
Sora shook her head. “I’m guessing a lot, but I’m fine. Don’t worry about it.”
Howie took a deep breath and truly looked concerned, but nodded. “Alright, but I warned you.”
Leaving Howie as the elevator doors shut, she met Jin and Eyia in the living-dining room, joining them on a couch. Jin looked slightly confused as she twirled the phone around her fingers, Eyia watching her as if the phone might turn into a snake.
“Did the call drop?” Sora asked.
Jin shook her head but looked unsure. “No—we didn’t drop—the call. We ordered all the food and then the man stopped talking—where did he go?” Jin asked, with slight pauses as she twisted the phone around in her hands, thoroughly examining the rectangular device.
Laughing, Sora said, “He’s gone, and I bet with how big your order is that it’ll be a while before the food’s ready. In the meantime, you two can take a shower or hang out in the spa? Anything sound appealing?”
Jin pursed her lips and studied Sora. “Shower, like a rain shower? It’s—a device that produces water, right?”
Did they bathe in the ocean? Sighing with a smile, Sora gestured for them to follow. Confused, they complied, Jin leaving the phone on the couch. Entering her bathroom, she tossed her old night attire into the chute and walked into the large shower. Jin and Eyia were studying the chute with questioning expressions, probably wondering why she let it eat her clothes. Activating two of the overhead facets and staying out of the water’s spray area, she heard a sound of awe come from the girls.
“A shower without clouds.” Jin breathed.
Sora grinned and checked to make sure it was warm. Satisfied, she said, “You can jump in Eyia; use these two bottles on your hair.” Sora pointed to the shampoo and conditioner, demonstrating how to push down on the dispenser. “You don’t need a lot.” Jin translated and Eyia nodded in astonishment, starting to undress.
Sora blushed and turned away. She didn’t even hesitate! I know we’re girls, but still, she could have waited. Clearing her throat, she turned to Jin. “While she showers, do you want to talk?”
Jin was still studying the water with interest but nodded. They made their way back to the front room and sat down on the sofas. Sora studied Jin for a moment before saying, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you two seem easy to impress. Most of this is very standard in cities, at least in North America and much of the world.”
Jin nodded. “Eyia and I have never seen these kinds of devices. We—come from extremely remote places.”
“I see … what kind of things are you used to? Like, how do you get food and live where you come from?”
Jin held her head up with the back of her hands while thinking. After a moment, she said, “You want to know a little about our background. I understand we must seem out of place. It’ll give you a brief explanation.”
Sora nodded. “Thanks. I don’t want to press if you’re uncomfortable … I’m just curious.”
“No worries.” Jin leaned back, staring out the ocean. “I lived high in the mountains. I ate whatever I could come by and helped sustain the village I was in. After some terrible events, there was nothing left for me there and I left to explore and find new meaning. That is when I met Eyia. After she completed her tasks, she wished to visit somewhere warm and that is how we met you.”
Smiling, Sora nodded. “How did you make it to America though? It’s like you swam across. A lot of this stuff is on boats or airplanes. It’s just—a little shocking you haven’t seen anything like this and to make it to Florida.”
Jin sucked on her cheek for a moment. “Hmm. I guess I’d rather not say if you don’t already know.”
Sora’s brow lifted. What’s that supposed to mean? Should I know? “Hmm.” She nodded. “Okay, I understand. I won’t press.”
She began explaining the U.S. standardized living. Jin soaked up the information with wide eyes and many questions. Fifteen minutes into the conversation, Eyia came dripping into the front room with foamed shampoo and conditioner soaking her hair; she looked completely lost and frustrated. Sora noted Eyia still wore her necklace with momentary curiosity. She didn’t remember her wearing it when she was undressing. Smiling with amusement, Sora got up to show her what to do; Jin followed and observed with fascination.
After Eyia dried off, Sora spent fifteen minutes trying to find something that would fit Eyia comfortably in her closet. The problem was her waist and bust, most of Sora’s clothes were fitted to her own size. She finally gave Eyia one of her longest dresses; it extended down to her shins and wasn’t too tight around her chest. Taking the next hour to explain modern day comforts, Sora had one of the most enjoyable times she’d had in years.
When the carts of food arrived, Sora had to shake her head with mirth. “Did you two order the entire kitchens clean?” Her words, however, were drowned out by Jin and Eyia’s squeals about a feast.
Sora had to tell them to wait for the servers to set it across the large dining room table since they started helping themselves as it came through the elevator doors. She was astounded and slightly perturbed with how much Eyia and Jin could eat as a substantial portion of the six carts of food disappeared into their stomach.
Finished, Jin sighed with satisfaction. “I’ve never had a feast to this magnitude and it sets up so quickly!” Yeah … that feast is probably going to cost my dad over two thousand dollars. However, she was perfectly content with paying out of her own account.
A few more hours of showing them the TV, Spa, community games room, and views, Sora enjoyed their company. She even took them to the golf simulator, which Eyia picked up quickly and even made it on the high scores. Jin seemed to be getting frustrated she couldn’t get close to beating Eyia’s score, Eyia glowing with pride.
Once nine P.M. hit, Jin yawned, the sun descending below the ocean horizon. “I think that’s enough for today. All this information is giving me a headache,” Jin commented. Eyia said something in Asgardian with a sly smirk, which made Jin huff, responding back in a pouting sort of way.
“Hmm,” Sora grinned. “What did she say?”
“Humph, she’s gloating. She says she’s better than me at the golf machine and the other games. She has an unfair advantage though … I’m not good with tools.”
“I see. So Eyia’s pretty good with hand-eye coordination?”
“That’s an understatement.” Jin sniffed. “Anyways, we better get going. We’ll have to try that octagon fighting ring thing next time. Then we’ll see who wins!” She glared at Eyia, whose eyes were sparkling with anticipation.
What? Does she want to do a UFC match against Eyia? Eyia’s a giant compared to her, but she sounds completely confident. Sora forced a laugh. “I don’t know if that would be a good idea. There are a lot of rules with that you’d have to learn.” Jin glared up at Eyia as she stood tall as if declaring her victory over her in this round.
“You two can stay here if you don’t have somewhere to go. We have guest bedrooms.”
Jin shook her head, turning away from Eyia in disgust. “No, we can’t possibly stay with how much kindness you’ve already shown us.” Scratching the back of her neck, she added, “We’ll pay it back … someday,” Jin mumbled as she stared around the penthouse doubtfully.
Gesturing for Eyia to follow, they both moved to the elevator. Jin wanted to operate the elevator herself but became completely lost and Howie amusedly pointed her in the right direction. They both left, Eyia waving her goodbye with a broad and true smile. “See you—Sora. I victorious Jin!” She spoke almost fluently and blazed with pride, while Jin muttered under her breath.
As the doors shut, Sora threw herself on one of the couches and stared out at the sunless sky. That was fun. Stretching, she smiled. I didn’t get any school work done today, but that’s fine. Why should I care … I’m leaving next week.
Walking to the bathroom, she began getting ready for bed, she felt exhausted. Done with her bedtime preparations, she went to her room and finished. Jumping into bed, she snuggled down below her blankets and sighed with bliss. I can only hope tomorrow will be as good as today.