"That will be room 807, ma'am," said the hotel manager, proffering two small golden keys in his left hand. He appeared to be in his late forties, white-blond hair slightly whiter at the temples. "Have a nice stay," he added with a winning smile.
Lena stared at him doubtfully as her mother took the keys and tiredly murmured her thanks. He didn't look right. What sort of sane person would be so awake and cheerful at the end of the day?
Shaking her head, Lena trailed behind to stare at the lobby. It was decorative; far more opulent than any other overnight places she and her mom had ever crashed at. The carpeting was woven with intricate designs- blood red with various web-like patterns in thin, ornate golden thread.
A chandelier hung from the spherical ceiling, the glass tinkling softly together as a porter appeared with a large cart to take their baggage. He was a tired-looking man in his late fifties, with a circumference of grey fuzz around the crown of his head. His uniform, while not as fancy as the managers, was still impressive. A dark green vest was adorned with a gold nametag that read, in bold dark lettering, 'James.'
Lena threw once glance back at the lobby before sluggishly trudging up the twisting set of stairs. The railing beneath her fingers was cool to the touch as her hand slid up its surface, tracing the leaf patters that bordered around the edges. When they at last reached the eighth floor, Lena stopped and looked around. Her mother came up the last steps a few second later, pushing the shoulder strap of her bag a bit higher up her arm.
"Where's the porter?" she asked, glancing back down toward the lobby. Lena shrugged, unsure herself.
Just as they were about to go back down the steps, James appeared from a hallway to their left, pushing the cart of luggage in front of him. He stopped at a room a few paces from where Lena and her mother were standing, wiping the sweat from his forehead. Frowning thoughtfully, Lena's mother withdrew the key from her pocket. "How did you get here before us?"
James glanced at them, his expression weary. "Elevator," he replied shortly before walking back down the hallway. Glancing at Lena with a what-can-you-do look, her mother unlocked the door and they both stepped inside.
Three beds lined the opposite wall, and there were two bathrooms, and, off to the left, a kitchen area. Lena plopped herself on the bed, taking off her jacket while her mom made two trips outside to get their belongings. "I wonder why we have three beds…" she mused, handing Lena her duffel.
"Dunno. Maybe they thought that your husband was coming or something."
Her mom grimaced, turning to busy herself with folding clothes into one of the cherry oak bureaus. "Maybe." Her voice sounded a bit forced, and Lena felt a pang of guilt.
"Sorry." The word escaped her before she could take it back. But she really was sorry for hurting her mom.
A smile flickered on her mother's face, and she gave a small nod in Lena's direction. "That's okay, sweetheart."
Slipping on her headphones, Lena sank back into her pillow, turning the volume up. Luckily, she had found some batteries in her bag earlier.
The sheets on the bed were crisp and a royal blue, smelling faintly of vanilla detergent. Lena turned her head into the pillow, murmuring a line of a song into the fabric as she wiggled to get under the covers. Her eyelids fluttered shut, and she sighed just before she felt herself slip into sleep.
Neither of them noticed when, half an hour later, the light they had left on flicked off.
The sound of running water reached her ears, and Lena shifted under the comforter, a frown forming over her features. Her eyelids peeked open, heavily laden with sleep. "Mom?" she croaked, struggling to sit up and paw at her blurry eyes.
A face peeked from around the corner of the kitchen. "Good morning, honey. C'mon, get up and I'll make us something to eat." Yawning, Lena stretched her arms above her head and dragged herself from the bed, trudging wearily to the kitchen. Once there, she dropped herself unceremoniously into one of the ornate cherry oak chairs and drummed her fingers on the table.
"No bad dreams last night?" her mother asked absently from over the stove, the rich aromas of french toast and cinnamon saturating the air. Lena blinked several times, struggling to form complete thoughts.
"Guess not." She yawned again, pushing her bangs off her forehead. That's right. I didn't have a dream last night. Guess it's just because I was so tired…
"Did you see the balcony yet?" Lena's mom asked, without looking up from the sizzling pans.
Lena started to shake her head, then remembered that her mom wasn't looking. "No, not yet. I didn't even know we had a balcony." Shaking her head in amusement, she tipped the front set of chair legs back, leaning her head against the headrest. "This place must be loaded- no wonder Celia has connections."
After wiping her palms on her jeans, Lena's mother shot her a reproving look. "Your aunt is not primarily interested in money, Selena."
"Lena, Mom. Lena."
In response, her mother rolled her eyes, grasping the handle of the pan and carrying it over to the table. "Alright, do you want any french toast, Lena?"
Before Lena could make a sharp retort, a knock sounded at the door. Lena's mother placed the pan of french toast down on the table before jogging out of the room to answer the door. Disinterested in the visitor, Lena shoveled two pieces of the toast onto her plate and poured syrup on top, watching as it flowed off the side of the crust. After cutting the corners off, she stabbed one with her fork and lifted it to her mouth before swallowing it. Ahhh… she thought, her eyes closed in ecstasy. Pure bliss. The power of french toast.
From the main room came the sound of the door closing, and padding footsteps followed. "Well, wasn't that sweet," Lena's mom cooed as she reentered the kitchen, staring down adoringly at the assortment of flowers in her grasp. Upon seeing them, Lena winced.
"Mom, those flowers weren't picked out by a girl, were they?"
Looking up, her mother blinked several times. "How'd you know?"
Lena rolled her eyes, spearing the last bit of french toast with her fork and sliding it through the thick rivulets of syrup. "The colors, Mom. No girl in her right mind would pick out red, yellow, and purple flowers. There's a thing called clashing. I may know nothing of fashion, but my X-chromosomes do, to my utter horror."
Her dry remark elicited a laugh. "Apparently, the manager from last night has a son. That was him just now. He stopped by, I guess it was just to be friendly." She fingered the petals of the flowers before placing them in a vase.
Lena rolled her eyes, pushing the plate away. "Sounds like a really winner." She pulled the violet hair band off wrist and pulled her hair up. Ignoring the look her mother sent her way, Lena sighed and dropped her dish and fork in the stainless steel sink to stretch.
"Well, I think it was nice," Lena's mom remarked, her voice sounding slightly distant.
Glancing back at her mother, Lena studied her, raising an eyebrow. "Uh-huh. And how old is this guy again?"
"No, I really mean it."
Sighing in exasperation, her mother crossed her arms and started scrubbing the french toast pan in the sink. "You know, sometimes…"
Lena laughed and slipped out the sliding glass door leading to the balcony. Wind pressed itself insistently against her, causing her shirt to billow out in back of her. Shivering, she wrapped her arms around herself and stepped fully out, sliding the door so it sealed shut behind her.
The stinging air nipped at her face, but she pressed forward and gripped the railing that bordered the balcony. Blinking rapidly, she fought back the feeling of dread that surged through her at the soaring height below her. She swallowed, then backed away slowly, wrapping her arms around herself once more. Instead of dwelling on the frightening drop of landscape before her, she let her gaze drift upwards towards the azure-stained sky.
She sighed, letting her eyelids shut for a few moments while the air rushed past her ears. It felt almost surreal; like being caught in the eye of a storm, and staring out at it all through half-lidded eyes.
After a few moments, the wind caught up with her again, pushing her forward roughly. Recovering from her stumble, Lena was again forced to stare over the railing. "I didn't think we walked that far up…" she murmured, and the wind tore the words from her lips. It seemed to be gathering strength, tearing at her hair and clothes far more violently from before.
Just as she was about to head back inside, she caught a glimpse of a figure leaning across the balcony, his or her face resting on the elbow they had propped against the top rung of the railing. He or she simply stayed where they were as the wind whipped their short blonde hair wildly about their face and gripped at their clothes with greedy fingers.
Shaking her head with no small amount of disbelief, Lena scampered inside, struggling to shut the door behind her.
"Selena? Is that you?"
Lena took deep breaths, attempting to regulate her breathing. "Yeah, Mom. It's me." She sighed, leaning heavily against the glass door that hummed sporadically against the increasing pressure of the wind outside.
Withdrawing her hand from the glass, she walked through the kitchen and into the bedroom, where her mother was huddled over something on the floor. "How was the view?" she asked absentmindedly, glancing briefly up at Lena before training her gaze back on the assortment of canisters and tools in front of her.
Lena kneeled down beside her with a sigh. "It's alright," she lied, drawing her legs under her. "What are you doing?"
The woman's brow knitted, and she started scooping some waxy substance into a large container. "Making candles… I was inspired by breakfast this morning, and decided to try to make a candle that smells like maple syrup."
Leaning closer, Lena attempted to sniff the substance. "I don't smell anything yet."
Her mother smiled. "I'm hoping that's because it only gives off scent when it's dry." She experimentally ran her finger along the rim of the canister, and some of the wet wax came off on her finger. "Guess it's not done yet," she remarked with a laugh.
Lena smiled and sat back on the carpet. "Guess not."
"Hm. I think that's all we can do for now. Do you want to go out somewhere?" Her mother wiped her palms on her jeans, pushing with her feet the various candle-making tools so they were clumped together.
Rising to her feet, Lena nodded. "Sure. Let's go find out what this place is like." She walked over to her duffel bag and unzipped it, fishing around inside until she found her sneakers.
"Here's your key, Selena," her mother said, tucking one of the small keys inside Lena's jacket pocket. "In case you want to go off somewhere, we can meet back here."
Lena nodded, feeling grateful. "Thanks."
"Mom, can we get some of the hot chocolate over there?" Lena asked, rubbing her hands together and blowing warm air into her cupped palms.
"Sure. Let's get inside before this wind tears our ears off," her mom shouted over the howling wind. They pushed through the strong gusts and ripped open the door on the side of the street.
Once inside, they peeled off their gloves and hats, their heavy panting sounding out of place amidst the peaceful atmosphere of the coffee shop.
As Lena slipped into a booth near the back of the shop, her mother ambled up to the counter, her movements made stiff by the many layers of clothing covering her frame. "Hello, ma'am, how may I help you?" a bubbly teen inquired, making her way up to the register.
"May I please have… one hazelnut coffee and one hot chocolate?" As the girl set to work on the order, Lena's mother made her way to the bathroom.
Lena fidgeted with the napkin at her place, rolling and unrolling the silverware. I wonder if it's something about this place…
Lena looked up at the voice, eyes immediately jumping to the boy sitting at the table in back of her. "Can I help you?" she asked, her voice sounding a bit raspy from the wind. She cleared her throat, feeling a bit of heat rise to her face.
He studied her for a moment, and she raised an eyebrow, scrutinizing him in turn. He appeared one or two years older than her, with white-blond hair not unlike the manager from the hotel. His nose and ears were pink at the tips from the cold. "Are you related to the woman that just went into the washroom?"
Lena frowned. "Maybe. Who wants to know?"
He laughed, his voice surprisingly clear and genuine-sounding. "Just me. I'm fairly certain that I just met her… yesterday, I believe? She mentioned that she had a daughter, but I wasn't sure if you were related." He studied her thoughtfully for a moment. "You two don't look similar at all."
Unsure whether to act offended or not, Lena settled for a half-shrug. "I don't look much like anyone in my family. Where did you say you met her?"
He grinned. "I didn't say. You two checked into my hotel."
"Well, my father's, technically." His gaze flicked for a moment to where her hands were fidgeting with the silverware on the tabletop, and she ceased her movements. "I just help run the place."
"Oh?" she replied, not really certain what to say. Then a look of realization crossed her features. "You were the one who came to our room this morning! With the… the flowers!" She burst into laughter, which only subsided when he grinned hesitantly back at her.
"I guess that's a good thing?"
"It depends on whether your recipient is colorblind or not."
After a moment, the boy grinned. "So, I still haven't caught your name."
Her smile slowly died as she stared at him. "I generally don't give everyone I meet my name."
"Well, I'm not everyone, now am I?" he asked, his voice edged with something akin to playfulness.
Just then, Lena felt the back of her neck tingle, and a jolt of cold shocked through her system. She jumped a bit in her seat, her head smacking the back of the chair. "What just-"
"Oh, Selena, you've met Calvin already?" Her mother had appeared from out of nowhere.
When Lena answered, her gaze was fixed firmly on him, not her mother. "Yeah, Mom. I think we've met."
A/N: Oh. My. God. That took so long to write, it's not even funny. 2,555 words without this Author's Note. That's over twice the size of any of the chapters so far of this story. And I think if I ever have to write another chapter longer than this, I might die. This literally took me days. If there are any mistakes, I'm sorry. I can't check. If I do, I know I'll see a billion mistakes and want to rewrite the whole thing.
And our new character in introduced! I promised I would work him in. (:
Anyway… to my lovely reviewers, to whom I dedicate the long (painful) length of this chapter.
kayoko101: A review for every chapter? Aw, that's so nice of you! You're making me blush.
PurityTears: …haha. Yeah. It goes there.
florida: No more of Kaja in this chapter. But oh well. I updated! Now it's your turn.
undercover-angel96: Thanks! And sorry for the s l o w update.
GetBehindMeSatan: You caught it! Wow. You're a very attentive reader. And yes, I did switch his eye description. I actually rewrote the first chapter recently, and I kind of… forgot his eyes were blue. And thank you.
swyen: Aw, thanks! (:
destroyed perfection: Thank you! And I like Latin… though I don't actually know the language.