Sora made it to the corner store without issue, dodging Howie’s eyes on the elevator. The two-story building was spackled white and locally owned. It was the closest market to the hotel, so she visited it regularly.
She caught her image in the large windows as she moved toward the front door with a grimace. She enjoyed dressing up and looking good when not at school, but her short hair made her self-conscious; she liked her long hair. She also needed to keep up appearances with the hotel staff, her dad had spies around every corner and, if she wasn’t careful, questions could be brought up.
Inside, several customers walked around; Sora noted each one, scanning for any signs of Kari’s group. A man and woman in their forties, apparently on vacation, recorded each other with their phones. A middle school girl was killing time in the unique clothing section, and two girls around her age browsed various foods.
A shiver ran up her spine, she walked to the ATM, studying the two girls. She didn’t recognize them, but around this area every girl her age should go to her school, though they did look like tourists.
The shorter girl looked Korean. She had silky auburn hair, a thin body, very light skin, and hard eyes, almost a clouded yellow. She wore tight, black jeans, faded at the thighs, a close-fitting, white and black shirt, and a small, transparent, white overshirt.
How’s she not burning up? It’s like ninety degrees outside.
They both lifted their head as she entered, seemingly puzzled, as they blankly stared at the items before looking over at her. The shorter girl’s gaze darkened as she glared at Sora, but her attention was diverted as her blonde companion squeezed the shorter girl’s shoulder. The girl had to crane her neck to look up questioningly.
The taller girl looked to have an inch or two on Kari. Her beach-blonde hair was held in a soft fishtail braid that hung below her shoulder blades. The girl’s glittering blue irises appraised Sora for a moment before returning to the shorter girl. She wore a brown leather Bandeau bikini, but Sora’s eyes were drawn and momentarily captivated by the most beautiful and elegant gold enlaced necklace she’d ever seen around the girl’s neck. The twined gold threads of the ornament played around each other, framing a large glistening white gem that glowed with an inner light, she had no idea how it kept its place between the lacing.
Sora moved to the ATM, keeping an eye on the two girls. The taller girl spoke in the oddest language Sora had ever heard; the words flowed together as if reciting melodic poetry. She couldn’t define the origins. To her surprise the Korean girl replied in the same language, pursing her lips and shooting an inquisitive glare in Sora’s direction.
Sora slid her card into the ATM. She tried to filter out the two tourists’ conversation in what seemed Italian and sounds the middle school girl made as she slid through clothes on the racks. She caught the shorter girl huff, resuming her search along the grocery shelves.
Sora removed her debit card and accessed the account her father allocated for her everyday use. She had ninety-eight thousand, two hundred and thirty-three dollars available. Her father added money each month; it had piled up over the years, and that was just her checking account.
She finished the transaction and placed the ten twenties in her purse, slipping her card in the side pocket. She glanced at the two girls and moved to the clothing section to search for a wallet. She scooted around the idle school girl to get them. She jumped as the middle school girl lightly touched her back to move past.
Laughing, Sora said, “Sorry about that.”
The girl smiled. “No problem.”
Sora picked out a brown wallet. She looked up to find the girl studying her hair and attire. The girl hummed before saying, “Very cute clothes, but I think you should grow out your hair. The short-cut doesn’t suit you.”
Sora’s smile grew a little with the friendly chat. “Yeah, I agree. I’m trying to grow it out.” She noted the girl wore a beautifully designed floral Pareo, black with blue and white flowers spaced across it. “That Pareo is pretty. Where did you get it?”
Glancing down with a grimace, the other girl said, “I like my pure white one better, but I got this one online. Thanks for noticing.”
Nodding, Sora looked down and opened the brown wallet to view the interior. The girl moved a bit closer, so Sora scooted further into the table to let her slide by.
The girl whispered behind her. “Lori really did a number on your hair this year. My sister told me about the walk home.” Sora tensed at her words.
Her sister’s a part of Kari’s group. Why didn’t I think about that?
“I heard Lori’s planning something special for you tomorrow. I don’t know what it is—anyways, later, rich girl.” Sora stood still for several seconds as the girl passed, waving to the cashier with a smile before leaving.
Lori’s planning something tomorrow? Probably something to get me to stay and defy Kari, but what would make me fear her over Kari?
Sora pressed a hand against her forehead, trying to ease her breathing. Her body felt heavy as she trudged to the cashier. The two girls her age were already at the register, so she got in line behind them. On the counter were a host of snacks and sodas. The man behind the counter was Zack. Sora was a regular to the store and knew most of the employees.
The two girls looked to be arguing in that outlandish language; the smaller girl seemed to be trying to explain something to the taller girl. Zack examined the two curiously as he rang up the final item. Sora noticed the two tourists move past them and left as Zack asked, “Are you going to buy all of this? Like I said, it’ll be one hundred thirty-three seventy-two.”
The girls looked troubled as the shorter one said, “We don’t have enough to pay.” Sora was a little surprised. Her accent had completely changed; she spoke English now like a Miami native.
Zack glared at the two girls. “No cash, no food, and you’re clogging up my line!”
The two girls stared at the enormous pile of already bagged items. “Is there the possibility of a tab?” the smaller girl pleaded.
Sora’s chest started to tighten.
How long are they going to hold up the line? I want to get back home.
Zack chuckled mirthlessly. “I don’t know any place that does tabs anymore.”
The smaller girl began talking to the taller girl in a concerned tone, while Sora felt her unease rising.
What if that girl tells her sister I’m here?
Lifting an eyebrow as the two girls continued their unintelligible discussion, Sora’s anxiety surfaced. “You two came to a store, gathered over a hundred dollars worth of food, and forgot you didn’t bring any money?” She instantly felt regret as everyone looked at her.
The smaller girl’s cheeks reddened as she glared at Sora. “Is that a problem, Little Fox?”
Sora’s cheeks flushed as she stepped back a bit.
I can’t believe I said that.
“N-No, I’m sorry. That was rude of me.”
Little fox though … Does she think I’m Native American?
The smaller girl nodded. “It was.”
Holding up her hands, Sora took a deep breath. I just want to get out of here, but I was pretty rude. Looking past them, she noted Zack’s frown, likely not enjoying how the situation was playing out. Resolving herself, Sora said, “Zack, I’ll pay for their items.” Zack and the smaller girl raised their brow at her response.
“You sure, Sora? That’s a lot of money to throw at some strangers?” Zack asked.
Sora smiled, pulling out her debit card. She extended the card to Zack and the wallet she wanted on the counter. “Yeah, add that to the order and charge it to credit.”
Zack shrugged and complied with a grunt.
The two girls appeared stunned as they appraised her. Sora’s mouth twitched as she heard the girls’ stomachs growl. The smaller girl’s face reddened further as she put her hand over her abdomen. They glared distrustfully at Sora, before gathering their bags.
Sora smiled at the smaller girl.
Should I try to talk with them and apologize for being rude? It’s something dad would do, and why should I be scared of that girl’s sister? She said Lori was planning something tomorrow, not today. Calm down … everyone’s not out to get me.
Judging the smaller girl as the spokesperson, she asked, “Is there somewhere you’d like to eat? If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to talk.”
The smaller girl frowned. “I saw some benches down this side street.”
Sora nodded, grabbed her wallet and card, and placed them inside her purse.
They exited the store and made their way to the benches in silence. Sora sat across from the two on a separate bench and waited as they took out some salt and vinegar potato chips. The smaller girl opened the bag and ate a chip, the other girl’s hand darted in to grab her own; they both took a moment to savor the taste before digging in.
Amused, Sora watched them devour the entire beg before saying, “My name’s Sora.”
Licking her lips, the smaller girl smiled. “I was wrong; you aren’t so bad, Little Fox!”
Sora’s smile faltered. “Can we stick with Sora?”
Nodding, the smaller girl said, “Alright, Sora. Thank you for the food. My name’s Jin-Kyong, but you can call me Jin—since we’re in America!” she exclaimed, before saying something in that strange language, nudging the blonde girl next to her.
The girl looked unsure, but said, “My—name—Eyia.” She had a tough time working the words around her tongue.
Jin sighed. “Sorry about her speech. I’ve been trying to teach her how to roll English off the tongue, but—as you can see, it’s a work in progress.” She started talking in Eyia’s language again, and Sora heard her focalize on the word is.
Swallowing and clearing her throat, Eyia said, “My name—is—Eyia.” Sora couldn’t help but smile a little.
She’s really cute.
Jin started speaking Eyia’s language again, teaching the other girl something else. They opened some soda and took a sip. Jin stopped speaking and looked down at the bottle in disbelief. She looked up at Sora, down at the bottle, then at Eyia, who looked back at her and began chugging the liquid, Jin following suit.
Finishing the bottle, Jin pointed at it. “What flavor is this, Sora?”
Sora lifted an eyebrow. “Orange.”
“Orange?” Jin repeated in a mystified tone.
Have they never had orange-flavored soda?
“Where did you guys come from? Out of country, I assume since you seem so excited to be in America.”
Examining another bottle of soda, Jin said, “I came from Tibet, and Eyia came from an island off Norway. I met her when traveling—what flavor is this one?”
It must have been a pretty remote island.
Sora sat back and crossed her legs, beginning to enjoy the conversation. “What are you two doing in the U.S.? It’s grape flavored, by the way.”
Still studying the bottle, Jin hummed. “Just traveling. Eyia wanted to see a sunny place, so we came here. This is supposed to taste like a grape?”
Intrigued, Sora asked, “Where did you learn to speak English so fluently and how do you not have any money if you are traveling abroad? Are you traveling with your parents?”
Jin’s brow creased at her questions. “I speak every language.” Her eyes narrowed as she looked up at Sora. “But you should know that?”
Why would I know that?
Sucking in her lower lip for a moment before releasing it. “Huh? Why would I know that—and isn’t it impossible to speak every language?”
Jin sat back, the bottle coming to her lips as she thought. She started speaking in that strange language, and Eyia frowned with a quizzical expression. They talked for several seconds before Jin stared uncertainly in Eyia’s direction. “Humph,” Jin shifted to look back at Sora, “do you know what language we’re speaking?” Sora shook her head. Eyia looked even more confused. Sighing, Jin said, “I guess it isn’t the most common language around. We’re speaking Asgardian—a little less refined than Olympian, but it gets the job done.”
Sora shook her head in bewilderment. “Asgardian—like the movies?”
Jin looked over at Eyia and scratched her head. Shrugging, she said, “Anyways. It’s been great talking with you, but we need to go.” She spoke in Asgardian again, and the two girls stood, grabbing their bags.
Eyia waved, all the bagged goods swinging in a frenzy, she yelled, “Salutations!”
Jin chuckled and spoke to Eyia in Asgardian, saying Goodbye between the strange phrases.
Eyia flushed and waved again. “Goodbye, Sora.”
Jin made a dismissive gesture. “Yeah—later, Sora. We’ll probably see each other sometime in the next few days. At least I expect we will.”
With pursed lips, Sora watched them go.
We’ll see each other again in the next few days? They’re strange and are they really going to lug all those groceries back to their house … hotel … Do they even have a hotel?
Shrugging, she walked home. Seeing a few middle school girls walking across the street, she rubbed her neck nervously. She couldn’t do anything about Lori, and all she had to do was weather a single week.
She passed security and took the elevator up, greeting Howie. She was thankful he didn’t pursue her haircut, but she could feel his concern suffocating her. When the elevator stopped, she went into her penthouse. Stepping inside, she softly said, “I’m home.”
Howie cheerily called behind her, “Welcome home, Sora!”
Smiling, she watched him wave goodbye as the doors shut. Continuing inside the penthouse, she kicked off her heels and rummaged through her bag for her cell phone to call room service. When someone answered, she said, “Yes, this is Sora. I’d like the smoked arctic char appetizer and chicken caesar salad. Oh, and a few of the madeleine truffles. Thank you.”
Taking her heels and bag to her room, she placed them in their normal spots. She looked over at her bed and groaned. Resisting the urge, she stretched and slipped off her dress, accessories, and removed her bra. Putting them away, she changed into white silky pajama shorts, a white spaghetti strap shirt, and slippers.
She moved to her desk, sitting in a white chair, and she opened her laptop. She began looking at schooling alternatives. She searched for fifteen minutes before sitting back as she heard a ding sound throughout the penthouse. She glanced at her phone notification that showed room service had arrived. Confirming they could enter by text, she continued working until they sent the message it was ready.
She moved downstairs to the dining room, noting the neatly placed dishes. Momentarily ignoring the food, she stared through the enormous glass wall at the beach and ocean below. She watched ships move across the water and people playing along the seaside. Placing the dishes on the floor, she stared down with sad eyes. She wanted someone to have fun with on the beach. She’d had a few friends during grade school, but Wendy was the only one that stuck.
Eating slowly, she finally dug into her truffle, the pungent flavor doing little to cover her dark thoughts.
One week, that’s all that’s left. All the hours of extra schooling to graduate early, the plots, and schemes I came up with along the way. Everything can be over if I can survive this one week.
Her mind shifted to Mary.
What will happen to her? Will she still be blackmailed after I leave school?
She cursed internally, running a hand through her hair.
I hate Kari … hate Jenny … hate Lori. How are they so powerful? Well, Kari’s the powerful one, and they all feed off her. Maybe she is a part of the Russian mob or someone in her family is Bratva, at least. I can’t believe they’d use a dirty cop to cover up a bullying video.
Finishing her food in silence, she set it on the table, and text room service to pick it up. Returning to her room, she studied online homeschooling options and references to teachers in her area. At eight, she walked to the front room and contemplated the spa. Deciding to soak for a bit, she changed into a black bikini and let her worries wash away.
Kari’s done with me. I can finally move on with my life.
She soaked for the healthy side of an hour, before cleaning up and jumping in bed. Groaning, she got out of bed and went to grab her phone from the balcony. Getting back in bed, she text her dad:
I know you won’t get this for a while, but I want to start homeschooling. I’ve been looking at possible teachers and curriculum online. I could even enroll in some of the colleges around the area. Text me when you get this. Love you.
Scooting to the side of her bed, she grabbed her charging cable and plugged in her phone. She nestled underneath her blankets, feeling the bliss of lying in bed after a hard day.
Can I really make this happen in a week? What’s Lori planning to do tomorrow?
It took over thirty minutes to clear her mind and fall asleep.
Now nine days ‘till my sixteenth birthday and seven days ‘till dad’s back home.