I, being the idiot who couldn’t understand Fahrenheit, hadn’t realised how cold it was until I stepped out onto the balcony. My jumper was sweet relief against the biting wind. I leant over the railing, my breath mingling with the steam of the hot chocolate I’d snuck up from the buffet downstairs.
Bare branches reached up from the streets below, a sea of colourless leaves in perfect rings around their trunks. Distant beeps and sirens rang out from somewhere in the city. The sunrise had just cleared the horizon, and cast a beautiful glow on the aged buildings opposite me. There was very little noise, save for the birds. Only a few wanderers roamed at this early hour of the morning.
This place was a pure dream.
A voice interrupted my reverie, and I looked around to see a girl my age leaning over the balcony beside me, her long hair dangling around the glass panes. She was wrapped up in a dark coat. Sunlight glinted off the ring around her middle finger. But her bright eyes were the thing I noticed first.
I smiled, hoping to hide my sharp intake of breath. “H-hi.”
There was a comfortable silence as we regarded each other.
“Coffee?” she asked, pointing to my cup.
I shook my head, “That stuff’s too bitter for me.” I motioned with my drink, “Hot chocolate. I have a bit of a sweet tooth.”
I shuffled closer to her. She seemed to glow in the rising run. The light made her hair look like woven threads of gold. She was staring at me with a smile so warm it seemed like it was just for me.
“You’re up early,” I said.
The mystery girl shrugged, “Jet lag can do that.”
I nodded in sympathy. “We came in last night.”
“Oh, I heard,” she replied in a voice that seemed almost too playful.
I winced. “Sorry. Mum and Dad—”
“—were having a fight, yeah,” she finished for me. “I heard every word through the wall. Which is saying something.” Her reply was nonchalant, but her eyes looked guilty.
I took a sip from my hot chocolate, pausing at the unexpected thick texture. I expected her to keep talking, to give me pity over parents who couldn’t learn to keep private matters private, anything so I could keep listening to that soothing voice of hers.
There was a bit of plastic around one of her ears, and I had a thought. “They need to learn to keep their voices down. They can’t keep relying on the neighbours being deaf.”
That made her laugh. God, it was beautiful, like her. I don’t know if it was the sugar, but a sudden surge of confidence flowed through my veins. I picked up my voice, “Y’know, I’m glad the first person I’ve met here is you, because you’re just a breath of fresh air from my boring old life.”
The blush that came to her cheeks made my heart pound. “What’s your name, stranger?”
Before I could give my reply, I heard a door opening on her side. “Laya—? Oh.”
It was her mother, whom shared her daughter’s grey eyes. “Good morning. I guess we’re not the only early birds here.”
I nodded to her in acknowledgement.
“Laya, we’ll be heading to breakfast soon, so make sure you’re ready.”
Her mother left with a flip of her nightgown and disappeared between their room’s curtains.
“I guess I’ll be going then.”
My heart fell at the thought her leaving, even though we’d met for only ten minutes at most. Without a thought, I reached out across the gap. “I…uh…” I began pathetically.
I cast my eyes down. “Clara.”
“That’s my name. Clara,” I repeated.
“A pretty name for a pretty girl.” It was my turn for heat to rush to my face. “We’ll meet again,” she said, and then she was gone. The smell of her sweet perfume lingered in the air, and I lowered my hot chocolate to savour it a moment longer before it was carried away by the light breeze.
There was no ‘have a nice day’, or a ‘hope to catch you again’. She didn’t even leave a way of contacting her again. Just a promise from a girl I’d met by chance. I waited for a while longer, listening to the muted fumbling and hushed tones of their room, then headed back into mine.