Chapter 2

After a long five hour coach ride, Taeyeon finally arrived at the countryside. She slipped on her leather jacket as she alighted from the coach. It was a cool and cloudless afternoon in the countryside. The air felt clean and crisp. Numerous trees lined the perimeter of the bus station. Only a few people were seen milling around the bus station, presumably waiting to pick up passengers who were arriving on the same coach as Taeyeon.

 

 

Stepping into the arrival hall, Taeyeon noticed a young man holding up a placard with her name handwritten on it. She signaled to the man as she pulled her suitcase towards him.

 

 

“Miss Kim Taeyeon?” the man asked.

 

 

Taeyeon nodded. The man was probably around twenty, clean cut with spiked up hair and a smooth fair complexion. He was wearing a brown jacket with a yellow Spongebob tee underneath.

 

 

“Hi, I’m Seungri from On Cloud Nine, the guesthouse which you’ll be staying in. We make you feel like you’re on top of the world, literally. Haha!” Seungri greeted, flashing a toothy grin.

 

 

Taeyeon gave Seungri a strange look, as if he was speaking in a foreign language. Seungri grabbed the handle of Taeyeon’s suitcase and beckoned her to follow him. Taeyeon tightened her grip on her suitcase, trying to stop Seungri from taking it away from her.

 

 

Sensing that Taeyeon was suspicious of him, Seungri added, “Don’t worry, I’m not a crook. Your friend Sunny was the person who made the booking on your behalf. I’m here to pick you up.”

Hearing a familiar name, Taeyeon decided it was safe to follow him.

 

 

The ride was an old school Volkswagen van that had the resort’s logo and name plastered on the sides of it. Several cartoon angels adorned the windows of the pale blue van. Seungri opened the front passenger door for Taeyeon, loaded up her suitcase at the back of the van and set off towards the guesthouse.

 

 

*********

 

 

“Taeyeon noona, we’re here.”

 

 

Taeyeon felt someone nudge her shoulder. She woke up from her short nap and looked around, still half asleep. The bus had parked along a road outside a double storey house. A large hand painted sign ‘On Cloud Nine’ hung loosely above the large oak door. A bright red letterbox stood next to the gate with the number 9 painted in gold on it. Taeyeon got off the bus and stretched her limbs.

 

 

“Taeyeon noona, this way please!” Seungri called out to Taeyeon from the main door.

 

 

Upon entering the guesthouse, a middle-aged lady with short hair greeted Taeyeon with a warm smile and enveloped her in a bear hug. Taeyeon felt like she was suffocating but managed a slight smile after she was released from the hug.

 

 

“Hello Taeyeon, a warm welcome to you! I’m Mrs Hwang, the owner of On Cloud Nine guesthouse. Your good friend Sunny booked you here for your short holiday with us,” said Mrs Hwang merrily.

“Hello Mrs Hwang, I’m Taeyeon, nice to meet you,” Taeyeon greeted with a bow before extending her arm for a handshake.

 

 

“On Cloud Nine, as the name suggest, is all about making people feel happy. Understand that you’re often stressed out at work and have irregular meals. Over here, you’ll cast all your worries aside and enjoy a peaceful time in the countryside,” Mrs Hwang said, smiling as she explained about the concept of the guesthouse.

 

 

Is this some kind of a marketing gimmick? Am I on candid camera? On Cloud Nine is all about making people feel happy? I bet that shikshin can come up with a better tagline than that.

 

 

“In case you haven’t realized, we’re located at the top of a small hill where the air’s much cooler and fresher.  It makes you feel like on top of the world. There’s a viewing tower just a short walk from the guesthouse. Do take a look when you’re free. I’m sure you’ll fall in love with the view. Here’s a cup of hot chocolate to warm you up in this cool weather.” Mrs Hwang handed Taeyeon a white ceramic mug that had an angel’s wing as a handle.

 

 

Goodness, even the cup is gimmicky. I wonder who’s the ad agency for this guesthouse.

 

 

The hot light brown liquid trickled down Taeyeon’s throat, warming her body.

 

 

“Thank you, Mrs Hwang. Pardon me if I look a bit shocked as I have absolutely no idea what Sunny has planned for me. I was dragged out of bed early this morning and the next thing I knew, I was shoved up a bus and sent here.

 

 

“Haha, you have a very caring friend. Sunny has your best interests at heart and told us to pamper you while you’re here.  By the way, she left a note for you. You can read it when you get to the room. Seungri will show you to your room. Have a nice rest and we shall meet for dinner at 6.30pm,” said Mrs Hwang.

 

 

Taeyeon stuffed the envelope into her jacket pocket and followed Seungri as he led the way to her room. The house had a rustic feel, with white and light blue being the main colours. A small couch and fireplace adorned the living room. Photo frames lined the shelf above the fireplace.

 

 

Seungri led the way upstairs to Taeyeon’s room. It was located right at the end of the hallway.

 

 

109, 209…309

 

 

Seungri stopped outside the door numbered ‘309’.

 

 

“Taeyeon noona, you’re in room number 309. It’s our biggest room here and comes with an attached bathroom. This is your room’s key. You would need to swipe the card against the reader in order to unlock the door,” Seungri explained.

 

 

The room was tastefully decorated and spacious. Lavender scent filled the air. There was a chest of drawers, a couch, a small dressing table, a king sized bed and a small walk-in wardrobe that led to the bathroom. The room had an attached bathroom and it was well stocked with lavender-scented items such as bath salts and lotion.

 

 

“Dinner will be served at 6.30pm sharp at the dining area next to living room. Have a good rest and we’ll see you later.” Seungri smiled and left the room.

 

 

Taeyeon opened the curtains and plonked herself onto the couch by the window. She had a fantastic view of the countryside from her room. Remembering Sunny’s letter, she took it out from her jacket pocket and read it.

 

 

Dear Taengoo,

I hope you like the place. It was recommended by one of our clients. The best part about this place is that there isn’t anything much to do. ^___^  Before you start swearing at me, that’s the whole purpose. You’re supposed to be RELAXING! Free your mind and approach everyone with an open heart. Get rid of that workaholic in you for once. You’ll definitely thank me for it. Enjoy your stay and I’ll see you back home in 3 weeks!

                                                                                                                                           Hugs and kisses, Kyu

 

 

A grin appeared on Taeyeon’s face when she noticed a small bottle of gummy bears on the dressing table.

 

 

Yea, gummy bears, my all-time favourite snack.

 

 

She folded the letter and shoved it back into her pocket. She took out her mobile phone, intending to send some pictures of her room to Sunny, but she realized there was hardly any 3G reception in the room. She opened the window and stuck her hand out, hoping to get a better reception but there was none.

 

 

 

“Strange, why is the reception so bad up here? They didn’t install any telecommunications signal device? What do they use to communicate here? Bells and whistles?”  Taeyeon grumbled aloud. Being the city girl, she was used to replying to her emails, scrolling through Facebook and doing other stuff on her smart phone. Now with the zero 3G reception, she felt helpless and disconnected from the world. Frustrated, she threw the phone onto the bed.

 

 

Glancing at her watch, she had two hours to spare before it was dinner time. She couldn’t find anything nice to watch on television and decided to take a short nap before waking up for dinner. As soon as she lay on the bed, she fell asleep almost immediately.

 

 

*********

 

 

“Gosh, what time is it? Why is it so noisy outside?” Taeyeon mumbled. She peeped out of her cozy quilt and opened her eyes. It was a bright sunny morning and there were several birds perched on the window ledge chirping away.

 

 

Taeyeon was never a morning person. She preferred to work through the night, enjoying the silence and without getting interrupted by constant meetings and phone calls. She groaned and silently muttered a curse for the birds.

 

 

She rubbed her eyes again and before realizing that she was in a guesthouse instead of her usual bedroom. Yawning, she figured that she might as well eat breakfast since she was awoken by the birds. She washed up, tied her shoulder length hair into a ponytail and went to the kitchen.

 

 

Just as Taeyeon reached the kitchen, a sweet smell welcomed her.

 

“Good morning Taeyeon, hope you had a good rest. You must be really hungry now since you missed dinner last night,” greeted Mrs Hwang as she beckoned Taeyeon to sit at the dining table.

 

 

“Good morning Mrs Hwang. I didn’t realize I missed dinner last night. I’m so sorry about it,” said Taeyeon apologetically.

 

 

“It’s alright. Help yourself to the freshly made pancakes and coffee,” Mrs Hwang offered.

 

 

“I meant to take a short nap but I guess I ended up sleeping through the night till this morning,” explained Taeyeon. The smell of freshly made coffee stimulated her senses and she felt more awake.

 

 

“I guess my bed must have been really comfortable or the long coach ride must have worn you out,” said Mrs Hwang jokingly.

 

 

Taeyeon’s stomach growled rather loudly when she saw the spread on the table. There were bacon strips, hashbrowns, pancakes, fried ham and scrambled eggs.

 

 

“Is there any 3G reception here? I can’t seem to get any data connection,” Taeyeon asked as she tucked into the sumptuous spread.

 

 

“The 3G signal’s pretty weak around here. If you really need to use the internet, there’s a computer in the living room that’s wired up and you can surf freely over there,” replied Mrs Hwang.

 

Taeyeon felt like she was living on a mountain, away from the real world. It had become a habit for her to constantly check her phone for messages, reply her emails and read the latest news on Twitter but without a proper 3G connection, she couldn’t do any of those. She let out a long sigh, wondering how she was going to spend the next three weeks here.

 

 

“How about picking up a parcel from the post office in town for me? You can take your time to explore the town if you like. Do you have a bike license? We have a spare scooter lying around and you can use it to get around if you don’t mind,” said Mrs Hwang, sensing Taeyeon’s boredom.

 

 

Used to the hectic and fast paced city life, Taeyeon jumped at the chance to do something instead of idling around the house.

 

 

“Yes, I have a bike licence.  In fact, I love riding! I own a bike back home and often go riding at night to distress. The thrill of feeling the wind in your hair and being one with my two wheeler…it makes me feel great!” Taeyeon said with a big smile on her face.

 

 

 

*********

 

 

Taeyeon fastened the strap of the pink helmet under her chin and turned the ignition. The engine sputtered twice before finally purring to life. She steered the shiny pink scooter onto the main road and headed for the town.

 

 

She was trying to go as fast as she could, ignoring the stares from passersby who were looking at her. The pink scooter was attracting a lot of attention, and so did the rider. It didn’t help that there were angel wings pasted on either side of the scooter’s top case. Moreover, pink wasn’t Taeyeon’s favourite colour. It was too sweet for her.

A pink scooter? Just what was Seungri’s sister thinking of when she bought it? Might as well decorate it with pink flowers and ribbons. Sigh…

 

 

After a twenty minute ride, Taeyeon finally arrived in town. She parked her scooter just outside the post office and went to pick up Mrs Kim’s parcel. After placing the parcel in the scooter’s topcase, Taeyeon went next door to the convenience store to grab some snacks before heading home.

 

 

Beaming from ear to ear as she emerged with her purchases from the convenience store, including a small cheesecake, Taeyeon decided to head back to the guesthouse.

 

 

“Aish! I bought too much stuff! Now I can’t fit all them into the topcase,” Taeyeon said, after trying to squeeze her purchases into the tiny topcase.  She had no choice but to dangle the box of cheesecake from the handlebar of the scooter.

 

 

The route to the guesthouse was very scenic. Multi-coloured flowers were beginning to blossom as the weather turned warmer from the cold winter last month. The route was a stark contrast to what Taeyeon was used to back home. Instead of tall buildings and apartments lining the road, trees lined the road instead, providing shade during the warmer months. Taeyeon was admiring the scenery as she rode along the scenic road.

 

 

As Taeyeon turned into a housing estate, a large Golden Retriever suddenly dashed across the street. She tried to swerve the scooter to the side of the road to avoid the dog and ended up mounting a kerb, stopping just inches away from a fence. Unable to maintain her balance, Taeyeon fell onto her side and landed up in a bush. The box of cheesecake landed upside down on the grass nearby. Thankfully the topcase was still shut tight, so its contents were safe.

 

 

“Angel! Angel! Come back here!” a female voice shouted.

Taeyeon struggled to get up from the bush where she landed. As she was dusting the dirt off her clothes, she heard someone talking to her.

 

 

“I’m sorry! Are you alright?” the same female voice said.

 

 

A young girl in a floral dress and white cardigan was standing in front of her. She had a startled look on her face. The Golden Retriever sat next to her and was busy chewing some flowers.

 

 

“Do I look like l’m alright?! Your silly dog just dashed across the road and caused me to swerve into the bushes. I almost crashed through that wooden fence!” said Taeyeon angrily.

 

 

“I’m so sorry! Angel loves flowers and she spotted the flower bed in the house across the road and ran towards it before I could stop her. I’m terribly sorry!” the girl apologized profusely, bowing her head.

 

 

“Next time, keep your darn dog leashed up! I could have been killed you know!  Just my luck,” grumbled Taeyeon. Just then, she noticed blood trickling from a cut on her hand.

 

 

“You’re bleeding. Let me help clean up the wound,” said the girl softly. She held Taeyeon’s hand gently as she used a handkerchief to wipe away the blood and dirt from the wound.

 

 

Taeyeon looked at the girl who was busy cleaning the wound. She was about Taeyeon’s age and had sharp features. Her long dark brown hair adorned an oval shaped face. Her eyes, framed by long eyelashes, were brown.

“This should stop the bleeding for a while. I’m truly sorry about this. Let me help you get the scooter out of the bushes,” said the girl, tears almost spilling out of her brown eyes. Taeyeon hurriedly looked away, avoiding eye contact with the girl. She didn’t like the sight of someone crying, especially a girl.

 

 

“It’s alright, I can manage it myself. You’re wearing a dress and I don’t want your dress to get caught into one of these bushes. It might tear your dress,” said Taeyeon, as she skillfully backed the scooter out of the bushes. Thankfully, there was hardly a scratch on it.

 

 

Woof woof!

 

 

The dog was brushing itself against Taeyeon’s leg, trying to get her attention. In its mouth was the plastic carrier containing Taeyeon’s cheesecake. Judging from the misshaped box, the cheesecake didn’t survive the impact.

 

 

Bending down, Taeyeon took the plastic carrier from the dog’s mouth, carefully avoiding the parts which were covered in the dog’s saliva. She walked towards the nearest dustbin and dumped the carrier into it.

 

 

“I…I…I’ll pay you back for the cake! How much is it? I’m so sorry to have caused so much inconvenience for you,” said the girl softly, looking at the ground, afraid to see Taeyeon.

 

 

Taeyeon shrugged and replied in an irritated tone, “Forget it, it’s only a cheesecake. I can buy a new one another day. I’ll just go without my dessert for today.”

 

 

Tears were brimming in the girl’s eyes. Taeyeon’s heart softened and she felt bad for being so harsh with a stranger. Afterall, the only casualty was the cheesecake. Moreover it wasn’t exactly her fault if her dog had a strange fetish for flowers.

 

 

Taeyeon’s voice softened.  “Sorry, I was being harsh. I’ve not thanked you for cleaning my wound yet. Please pass me your handkerchief. I’ll get it cleaned before returning it to you. I’m Taeyeon and I’m staying at On Cloud Nine guesthouse. Where do you stay?”

 

 

“I know I’ve said sorry many times but I’m truly sorry for what has happened. I’m Sooyeon. You can keep the handkerchief. Don’t have to return it to me,” Sooyeon replied apologetically.

 

 

“Alright. Meanwhile, do remember to keep your dog on a leash. It’s for the good of both of you, in case it runs off again. Better be safe than sorry,” Taeyeon advised before hopping onto the scooter.

 

 

Taeyeon revved the engine and headed towards the guesthouse. Sooyeon watched Taeyeon disappear down the road on the pink scooter.

 

 

*********

 

 

“I’m back,” Taeyeon greeted as she went through the main door.

 

 

“What happened to you, Taeyeon? Did you get into an accident? Are you alright?” Mrs Hwang asked, concerned.

 

Taeyeon looked into the full length mirror in the living room and noticed the pathetic state she was in. There was a black mark on across her cheek and grass still stuck onto her jacket and jeans.

 

 

“I’m alright Mrs Hwang. Just a minor incident. The scooter’s okay, not a scratch. Here’s the parcel you wanted. I’ll go to my room to wash up,” Taeyeon replied.

 

 

“If you need to wash your clothes, the laundry area is next to the kitchen.”

 

 

“Thanks Mrs Hwang!” Taeyeon said, running up the steps to her room.

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