Her hand moved on its own, allowing the swirling, colourful glow to swallow it whole and thus becoming one. The chilly thrill jerked her fingers as it crawled on them, awakening her self-consciousness. When she tried to grasp again, it purled further away from her touch, floating up the surface.
Clover stopped and glanced around, realizing nobody else was there other than Kyle and her. Mini wishing bottles were everywhere, reflecting those beautiful rays hitting on them. Some had messages, wishes from the silent voices. While, some had hundreds, thousands of handmade stars in them.
Level 21 was not a floor.
It was a transparent-top, roomless, empty land.
But also a wonderland.
The tiny twinkling objects hopping on the ground caught her instant attention. She crouched down, folding her arms on her knees and pondered a while what kind of creatures they were.
She wouldn’t have expected them to be stars. Maybe some kind of animations.
But they were. Well-portrayed sharp edges along the sides of their bodies. Grinning, she flashed her palm up and slowly like a pet, they began hopping on her, forming a straight line along her bare arms.
“Kyle!! Kyle!!! ” she screamed, little bit too loud. “Look at this!!”
“I was like you too when I first came here,” he chuckled, walking towards her from behind. “I even thought they were real until my uncle told me that they were man-made decorations.”
“Your uncle?” Clover asked in her high-pitch tone, toying around with the artificial stars.
“Yeah, aside from being a lawyer, he's also one of the mains in here...” he sat down beside her, legs fully stretched. “Here was where I first celebrated with him the success of being an idol.”
“Wow... your uncle must be really nice..”
“But it was also where I shed the most tears.”
And that somehow dimmed the lights illuminating by the stars.
Clover tottered her arms, dropping off the foreign objects and shifted her position to focus wholly on him, “...Dream...Mare...” she stared straight into his Asian eyes, pausing, hesitating if she should continue what she was going to say.
“You heard about it?” he lowered his head, blinking to keep his wall from cracking.
Clover nodded, “Yesterday.”
None of them continued the conversation. Leaning her back against the gigantic, magnificent tree with Spanish mosses hanging down, Clover tilted her head and looked through the top. It was already night, the real stars were up, and there were the two of them, wishing lives could be as simple as abc.
Staring at the glimmering creations of God through the gaps between her fingers, “Let the stars in the sky, erase the scars in your heart,” she murmured.
“H..-Huh?” Kyle gasped, startled by her sudden outspoken, strangely familiar words. Somebody said almost the same thing to him before.
Clover laughed, “Nice quote, isn’t it?”
Little Kyle, remember that no matter how busy you are, never forget to speak with the stars. The masculine voice echoed in his head, bringing back the past, to where there was still a place for the little him to hide. They heal.
And in the midst of the voice, through the tears swimming in his eyes, there was a hovering face he saw.
A face that he was desperate to see.
A face that he had millions of words to express.
“...D-....dad?” he stood, longing eyes fixed at a spot in the air, extending his hand to touch.
But it faded within seconds before he could say anything further.
“..Kyle?” Clover asked, “What’s wrong?”
You’re still angry with me, dad? he thought, letting the silent pain to wet the ground.
“Hmm?” turning to her, “Ohh.. yeah. The quote! Where did you get it?” he smiled and rubbed his eyes, hoping to sneak away from Clover’s concern.
With the evolving darkness around, he did. Clover didn’t realize a single thing. “Here,” she pointed to the beating prop protected by her ribcage, “it came out from here.”
“I see,” he patted her head, “..it’s been a long time since I heard anyone saying something like this.”
“Because...” she said, eyes twinkling at the reflection of the sparkling creations hanging up in the sky, “...stars heal.”
Stars heal. That was what his dad told him too. The most comforting phrase that he had been waiting for somebody to tell him, after the loss of the man he loved the most.
She curled up her lips, into such a deceiving smile, misleading Kyle to lose the stable beats of his heart. Knowing what was trying to penetrate into it, he sucked in a deep breath, summoning the chill to calm down his unsteady emotions. “Let-Let’s head to the lobby,” Kyle blurted, which only sounded like a cough thanks to his nervousness. “Danise must be nagging already!”
Clover gave a slight nod and they left nothing but their footsteps in the magical land.
Tapping the room cards on his hand, Danise turned his head everywhere, looking for the shadows of the two figures. He was sitting on the sky-blue round coaches placed in the middle, together with Stella. She was twirling the edges of her long wavy beige hair, leg crossed on another. Kenny walked over to them with two cups of iced lemon tea and clipped another one softly in between his body and arm. Unlike Danise who gulped his tea as though it was the end of the source, Stella sipped in, only touching the curve of her lips to the tip of the cup slightly.
Well- that was Stella. Always elegant and stylish.
Maybe because this place was meant for people with high statuses. Sunglasses were all they needed to pretend to be normal citizens.
“There they are,” Danise said, snapping his fingers to seek their attention, “finally.”
Sense of immediate jealousy rose in Stella the moment they appeared together, side by side. Though she tried to convince herself that Clover was just a personal assistant, though she forced herself to not have any bad feelings on her, none of her efforts seemed to pay off.
She didn’t like her.
“How many rooms?” Kyle asked. “There’s six of us, including Brandon.”
“Brandon’s joining us too?” Danise arched his brow.
“Yeah,” he said, “Guess he’ll reach early next morning.”
“Oh, okay.. But I could only get us two rooms... So... you, me.. and Stella in a room?”
He stole a quick glimpse at Clover before shaking his head at the arrangement made by Danise. Snatching one of the cards from his hand, “Clover, Brandon and me in a room,” he said.
“Kylee!!” Stella stomped her feet. “This vacation was originally meant for you and,” she flashed Clover a side-long look, eyes were strongly hinting the presence of envy, ”me.”
He took a step forward, extended his arm and rested it over her shoulder, “Aww... Stella. Don’t be angry.”
“I thought this was a good time for us to reunite properly,” she crossed her arms on her chest.
“Well... it’s just a number apart,” he argued, comparing the cards. “Our friendships aren’t going to be hindered just because of you not being in my room nor me being in yours.”
Stella parted her lips but Danise dragged her away before she could say another word. “Let’s just get to the ro---om first,” he yawned.
Kenny followed right behind them after bowing to the remaining two as a sign of goodbye. Clover wasn’t in a rush. Brandon was not here yet. In fact, he would only be here tomorrow. Meaning for tonight, there would be only two of them. It was definitely something for Clover. How could she feel nothing if she was to stay in the same room with a hot, rising superstar?
Feeling the heat stimulating under her skin, Clover shook her head, focusing on the noises around than the unnecessary thoughts running across her mind.
Security guards in red and white suits by the glass door stood firmly on their feet, sending off smiles as they opened the doors, welcoming and bidding goodbyes to those walked past them. Gold-colored luggage cart trolleys placed at a few corners, red carpet was displayed throughout the walkaway and it branched out to reach the registration counters. The dimmed lobby was ignited by the fibre optic chandeliers hanging down the ceilings, releasing a rather comforting energy.
The lobby of the Starry Land wasn’t as magical as Level 21.
More formally designed.
“Clover,” he called, little pinky contacting the pinky of the girl beside him.
She was jerked by that slight tingling sensation.“...Kyle...” moving her finger away, “do you really.. think this is fine? Brandon is not here yet.. ” she stammered as her black eyes scanned the existing people around. Though none of them paid any special attention to them, she still felt worried and insecure. “I think I should just go to the other room,” she said, getting up from her seat.
“Clover! Wait!” sliding down his sunglasses he put on a while ago to meet her eyes. “I thought you are my friend..” his voice sounded hurt.
Her feet hovered for a second before placing it back on the ground. “Well... of course we are, “she turned to him. “But that doesn’t mean that you and I can stay in the same room..”
He held his gaze, “Why not?” he mumbled, and there was a hint of sadness at the edge of his voice.
“What do you mean by that? Danise or even Stella deserve to be in the same room with you better than I do.”
"Exactly...” he lowered his tone to a puff of whisper, “it’s funny how I want it to be you and not them.”
“Hmm?” Clover asked, bending down to place her ear closer to him.
“Please, Clover,” he cupped her palm, eyes shielding layers of unspeakable hope. There was this weird, lingering feeling in him that wanted her to stay with him.
Sighing, she shrunk her shoulders. The puppy look on his face had totally stolen her strength to reject his request. The warmth of his touch was increasing the adrenaline in her. She didn’t know why Kyle insisted for her to be with him. Was it because her life story touched him? But his was not any better than hers either.
Suddenly, she heard a loud honk outside the entrance and two of the hotel employees immediately rushed over to welcome the presence. From where she was standing, she could see figures of many youngsters hopping down from a red bus. Drawing in her brows to pull her focus to the words displayed on the body, International School of Elite Aces, it wrote.
School trip? Clover thought, glancing at her watch that was showing 9:30 p.m. Sounds of their brown Chelsea boots tapped richly on the ground as they walked in with their roller luggage. Same outfits, white coats, black middle-length skirts and... they looked very young. Around 16 or 17 perhaps? Chatters and waves of laughter were getting stronger in the lobby as more of them entered, rising the uneasiness in Clover. Her instincts told her youngsters as such were very likely to know who Kyle Lee was.
“Come on,” she said, pulling Kyle up from where he was sitting.
Using her index knuckles gently to push up his sunglasses, “Room. Quick,” she muttered.
Clover glimpsed at the number on the card in Kyle’s hand before pacing off the soon-to-be crowded area to the lift. 1804.
“Hurry up...” she urged, pressing the button multiple times.
The students were surprisingly very fast with their checking-in procedures. One by one, the appearances of their shadows came in sight. Vibrations could be felt under the cemented ground, footsteps could be sensed approaching.
Kyle’s identity was at the edge of getting exposed.
“Oh gosh... faster please...” she hurried the lift once more.
Ting. Seeing the doors opened just in time, a silent sigh of relieve was exhaled through her mouth and quickly, she jumped into the lift, dragging Kyle along. The girls saw it opened- automatically sped up, waving hands in the air to make Clover stop the gap from closing.
But she didn't plan on letting them in, in the very beginning.
The halves were moving closer, only to leave another few millimeters in between. She pushed Kyle to the corner when the girls tipped on their boots to look at the humans inside while having her finger stuck on the 'close' button.
Irritation and annoyance were clearly displayed on their faces. Their lips could be seen mumbling about something that Clover didn’t care to know about. Definitely not something nice when she had just been a b*tch to them. All she managed to do was to flash an apologetic look before the doors were shut completely, rising to the 18th floor.
“Wow, Clover..” Kyle leaned his back against the wall after getting a private moment of their own, clapping his hands. “You passed as my personal assistant.”
“You weren’t worried at all, were you?” Clover glared at him, panting.
He laughed, hands tucked in his pocket. “Why should I be worried? I trust your abilities.”
Clover rolled her eyes, tired of pulling up with him and his jokes.
Stella was crouching outside his room, staring at her comfy rabbit slippers the moment they reached their desired floor. Dressed in simple black T, loose cut off maroon shorts, she was as flawless as ever. Bare face wasn’t at any level to be a hindrance to obstruct the elegance born in her.
Only a little pale.
“Stella!” Kyle called from few steps away.
Flashing the widest smile that her lips could make, “Hello, Mr.Perfect,” she greeted, mini heart punching harder on her chest the closer he paced.
But her smile wavered, watching Clover catching up from behind.
Kyle was hers.
Nobody else could snatch him away from her.
“What you doing out here?” he asked, scanning the key at the lock. “Where’s Kenny?”
“Out to explore, with Danise,” she said, “And I told you that I wanted to reunite with you.”
“You were serious about it.”
“I am serious with everything that’s related to you.”
“Okay okay. Enter first. We’ll ‘reunite’ inside.” Kyle said, holding the door for the ladies to enter.
Stella took the first step to enter and stood right in the middle, not giving any gaps for Clover to make her move. Startled by the sudden pause in action, Kyle glanced past Clover, wondering what was happening.
“...Erm...Clover...? “she acted sorry, poking her index into another, "...I'm a little... thirsty... C-could you please help me to get the tea at the lobby?”
“What? Oh Stellaa. Just call for room service!” Kyle nagged.
“It’s okay. It's okay. I’ll go get it,” Clover said, retreating back as though she understood what Stella was trying to hint.
Kyle caught her wrist, attempting to go with her. However, it wasn't accepted by Clover. She rose the muscles of her cheeks, slipping away his warmth touch on her. It's really okay, her gaze meant, and left the space.
“Thanks, Clover,” Stella hissed, closing the door once Kyle was wholly in.
Standing by the large, slider glass window, she shifted her weight to her palms pressing on the wall, engrossing in the night view of Guilin. Reflection of the lights on the buildings across the hotel shone in her black mirror eyes. Dancing, swaying, just like bright stars enlightening the dark streets out there. Beautiful, she hissed, pushing open the knob without any hesitations.
A gust of breezing wind escaped through the gap blew on her, shoving her silky hair to the back, exposing her entire face. “Waaa...” she held her arms like Rose in the Titanic. “Lovely...”
She would have stayed a bit longer. But it was interrupted by the alarm of the lift. She didn’t press any buttons. But there were people exiting. Quickly, not wanting to miss the chance to board, she pulled in the window and locked it securely before dashing off.
Far beyond upon reaching the lobby, the big containers containing the juices and teas were no longer existing. She furrowed her brows, drawing up a closer image of the situation in the lobby.
She fastened her pace, confirming the sight she saw was right, "Excuse me, are there any teas still available?" she asked the man changing the stained tablecloth into a new one.
" Teas?" he shook his head, looking at the small jugs next to him, "i'm afraid teas would not be available for now. How about some sours?" he held up the jug with a hand and another grabbing for an empty glass.
Clover hesitated for a moment. But it wasn’t going to look nice if she returns with nothing in her hands.
And so, she let the man did his job.
Clover danced her eyes. “Where’s Kyle?” she asked, handing the juice to Stella, who was waiting alone in the room.
“He just got a call, shall be back in few moments,” Stella turned her a cold shoulder. As she was about to gulp the liquid, her gesture wavered, pausing the juice from sinking into her mouth.
"Nothing," Stella flashed a slight fake smile, sipped the lime juice down her throat and laid on the bed, waiting for the ‘expected’ incident to happen.
Well, sadly the innocent Clover didn't know the trouble Stella was trying to get her into. Missing the view she saw a while ago outside the lift, she walked to the casement next to the single bed that she expected her to be sleeping on. Once again, it mesmerized her. She dropped on the mattress, eyes never failed to dazzle at the breathtaking moments. Half-moon hiding behind the grey clouds, greedy of its light from sharing to this world completely, making the stars hanging up there received a wider attention.
Suddenly, the scene with Kyle flickered in her mind, where they were alone at the wonderland. Clover pursed her lips, hiding her smile as a rush of heat rose to her cheeks, turning them red.
"O...O-uch..." her moans stole her imaginations from drifting further away. "O....u--ouch..."
“STELLA?!” Clover immediately rushed over, “Are you okayy???!” She was shivering in coldness, shivers dripping down her temple.
Just then, she heard the door being clicked opened and a familiar figure appeared. “What happened?!” Kyle asked, flapping his feet in the air to shake off his shoes.
“...Kyle...My stomach hurts...” her voice was hard to be heard, “like hell...”
Running to the bed, Kyle held her in his arms, “Stella??! What’s wrong?”
“...I just... drank the thing Clover brought for me...” she pointed to the empty glass on the table.
And even though Clover knew that it wasn’t her mistake, her muscles tensed involuntarily.
“The tea?” he stared at his personal assistant.
Panic arose in her. “... There wasn’t any tea left when I went down just now... only.. juices...” Clover bit her lips, hands clenching on her jeans.
"What juices?” Kyle’s voice was dead cold. It was the first time for him to speak to her that way.
“WHAT?!” he shouted, almost jerking the entire floor. “LIME JUICE?! Don’t you know that Stella is allergic to limes?!!!”
“I...I didn’t know.. really.. I’m s-sor--”
Before she could finish her sentence, Kyle cupped Stella, hugged her the princess way and brushed past without saying anything much.
It was clear enough that...
he was angry.