“Remind me again, why is he here?” Erska asked, licking the cream off her spoon from her hot chocolate.
Bastian looked at Quincy who was chewing on a mango lollipop for the past twenty minutes looking at his so-called friend and the purple-haired creature perched opposite to him.
“Babysitting..” Bastian stated in a bitter tone.
“Just think of a person third-wheeling your date. Services I offer include taking photos with the best angles, even in the most life-threatening instances and any other demands asked by the couple..” suggested Quincy, looking bored as he peered through the sunglasses.
She set her hands on the table with a thud. “We. Are. Not. A. Couple. What’s with all the misunderstanding?” she asked, looking at Bastian.
Bastian threw his hands up in the air. “I was simply teasing you. He’s the one making assumptions. Go for his sorry bottom.”
“My dear princess, chill. Obviously, babysitting me isn’t a biggie. Just pretend I don’t exist. I’m not a homewrecker. Geez,” Quincy replied, still nibbling on the lollipop.
“What’s with the shady tone, Quincy?” Bastian asked Quincy, brushing his blonde strands that were covering his face.
“I’m tired. Dead tired. I’m not protesting or shit but get over with your date, fast, darling,” he replied, falling against Bastian’s shoulder.
“Should I give you lovebirds some space?” Erska asked, drumming her fingers against the table.
“He’s feeling depressed for some reason. Just don’t mind him,” Bastian said.
Erska looked at Quincy doubtfully before turning back to a very eager Bastian. “Well, thanks for bringing me to Mint&Spice. When I looked up for café recommendations online, I came across this place. I’ve always thought to do a bit of writing here but never found the time to do so….well, somehow here I am..”
“Glad you’re liking it here,” Bastian said. Quincy’s snore interrupted them briefly, catching them off guard for a minute.
“So, tell me. What are we exactly doing here at your invitation?” she inquired.
“To talk about what’s bothering you. You’ve been trying to divert me away from it since yesterday..”
“Uh. And that being?” Erska asked, leaning forward.
“Your second novel. You’re trapped. I’m not allowing you to go before you tell me everything about it,” Bastian stated.
Erska’s face drooped. “Why are you begging me to open the path to hell? Uhhhhh. I’ll be short. As I was saying, slice of life was the genre chosen which was ultimately converted to romance but now, I want to go back to slice of life and..”
“Slice of life is, as I recollect, has got to do with all components in life including romance..like everyday stuff?”
“Correct but I was suggested to make it purely romantic, emphasis on that while cutting down others. Not that I’m displeased with the success but that is not what I imagined myself, a portrayal of a romance novelist when I’m not..” Erska elaborated, biting her teeth.
Bastian looked at her carefully before asking, “That makes you uncomfortable?”
Her spine erected. “Oh..umm..kind of…because I wanted to add a lot more life to the characters except just you know, just the juicy parts..”
“Well, then just make your second one the way you want it.”
She laughed nervously, covering her mouth. “Given my initial image to the public and the watered down version of my first novel, it’ll be hard to convince the people with my second one. And, I don’t exactly have an idea in mind like I want to work on something new but it’s like doing a sequel is a definite.”
“Put all those aside,” he said looking straight into her eyes, “Are you happy with what you are doing now? Would you have no regrets whatsoever if you do not work on the genre you prefer?”
She rubbed her cheeks in frustration. “Nope..if I’m going to be selfish about what I want..but then, it might fail because that might not be good enough and-”
“But you aren’t going to be happy anyway..are trying to be fake for the public, Erska?” he asked.
“Excuse me??” Erska asked, feeling provoked. “Fake, you say?”
“Yes, because everyone knows you as a romance novelist when you are so different. If you continue you along this path, aren’t you going to deceive everyone of who you are?” Bastian questioned.
That struck a nerve. Consciously fuming, she shot, “It can’t be that different! That was my first attempt! It took me years to finish and I spent so much time trying to perfect it. You can’t-”
Bastian raised his hands in the air. “I said nothing about you not being a hard worker. Don’t you think your efforts are futile because you didn’t put in the best you wanted in the first place? You are still worried about doing what you love....”
“Readers may not like it..... I mean, they may but seems risky. Sounds like an excuse yet-”
Bastian clasped her hands in his. “Do what you love, what you desire. Take risks. If you can spot a thief, as you define me and call me out…you can take greater uncertainties for yourself. Nothing’s wrong with being selfish.”
She looked at him for a moment, not sure of the response she wanted to convey. It’s not that she didn’t want to, she couldn’t. Of course, all that is very complicated to explain but the trace of hope injected shouldn’t do her much harm. Bastian looked at her keenly, expecting a prompt answer. Pressured, she said, “You’ve got me on the convincing-”
Bastian’s hands around hers tightened suddenly as he looked up. “Wait! I know this is out of the blue and all but are you ill or something?”
“Do I look ill?” she asked, touching her face.
“Uhhh no..haha..umm why am I asking stupid questions”, he said to himself scratching his head as he tried to divert attention, “So, wait. I’ve got you convinced?! Is that what you said??”
“Well, not exactly-”
“There is a possibility?” he said as he pressed on.
Erska snapped out of the pep talk when her phone began to ring. “Great. Looks like my mom caught wind of me skipping sessions. I’ve got to go..” she said, rising up almost immediately.
Bastian also got up, puzzled. “Should I walk with you or drop you-”
“Nope. I’m gonna have to handle this alone. See ya!” she said, closing the door behind them as she hurried on.
Bastian turned around to see Quincy lying flat on the cushioned bench. He had forgotten that he was letting Quincy use his shoulder as support. “Yo, Quincy! Wake up!” Bastian cajoled as he tried to shake him from sleep. Quincy simply adjusted himself into a more comfortable position. Now, I’ve got to carry you all the way up, you bastard.
I personally would love to swear now, Ian.
At the corner of her eye, Erska could see that Ian was trying to sip a fizzy drink that was overflowing with bubbles from a can. A knock on the table brought her back to the reality she was subjected to.
“What have you been doing, dearie?” her mother asked. Alice was wearing her reading glasses which she usually does only when she reads or when she’s ready to screw up a person.
“Uhh um working on the draft,” Erska said, waving a paper before her mom.
“Really?? Because that is not what Ian tells me..not about the ‘not working’ part. I’m definitely sure that you are the most hardworking person I’ve ever known,” she said smiling, “Yet you are a bit of a slacker..so, tell me how can I help you? The public response to your first one’s been great and I want to release another one before it dies down. You know I’m being rational, right?”
“Yes, mother….I’ll start on it again.”
“So, I can count on you? Anything else you want? How about a trip? Maybe a little bit of distraction….tell me where you want to go, the girls and you could have a nice time, maybe you could do a bit of writing at the same time…what do you say? Spain? Or the Vatican? You said you liked it there last time, nah?” Alice asked, her eyes eager.
Erska was thrown off guard. She blinked rapidly, dubious. “Umm uhhh nope. I feel comfortable here….I’ll get on with it…”
“Alright! It’s all set! There you go, Ian,” Alice said looking at him who nodded back. As she went for the door, Erska stood up suddenly as her fingers tightened its grip onto the table. The sudden motion caused her mom to look back. “Yes, dear? Something you want to tell me?”
“Ummm”, Erska rumbled as she began scratching the table with her fingers, “ What-What do you think about ..I don’t know…something new…like a new story...Wouldn’t everyone like it? Like..”
Alice let go of her grasp on the door handle and walked towards Erska, placing her hands on Erska’s cheeks. “ Aaah that’s the thing troubling you? Don’t worry. I know you’ll work it out, dearie. I’m not asking you to not work on what you want but rather work on what you know. So, let’s focus on the present.” Pulling Erska into a hug, Alice continued, “I’ll be there for you no matter what. We’ll get through this together.”
Erska laid on her mother’s arms, slightly bitter. She said nothing.
“I thought I took a short nap, Helen,” Orfer said as he tried to sit up from the comforts of his soft cushioned armchair. A wrinkled head peeked up from the mound of papers that were being arranged on Orfer’s desk.
“You are not Helen.”
“I don’t have wavy red hair, do I, Orfer?” Waldo asked as he got up.
“Since when did you replace my assistant?” Orfer asked, pretending to survey the papers.
“Since Helen started sobbing how tough you were. She’d rather be guarding the elevator..”
“I’m not tough. Maybe we should switch places, Waldo,” Orfer suggested to which Waldo threw his hands in the air.
“Uh-uh. I know that’s a risky spot, Orfer plus I know you wouldn’t give up the position that easily. You’re doing great work. I’ll leave you to it…” Waldo said as he went out.
“Compliment me and then, leave me to my bitter reality…” Orfer grumbled to himself. He stood up, looking at the towering bundle. These were mostly reports. It wasn’t a necessity to go through each and every report Draphas were working on but it definitely reduced all sorts of negative consequences. Though they are closely monitored by the reporting officers, Orfer took it upon himself to do it personally when he was elected the Drapha Head. Rules can change from time to time depending upon the Head.
“Let’s see what we have…” He picked up the topmost of the pile. The name ‘Bastian’ was in capitals on the front page along with the following details that looked something like this:
Name : BASTIAN
Class: A (Empath Specialization)
Athlete - 35%
Empath - 50%
Tactician - 15%
As soon as he opened it, the first few pages contained the name of his assignments but the last entry was ‘Applied For Revision’ in red ink. “Aaah this idiot…trying to get out of assignments as much as he can…” Orfer looked up the last assignment on the index of assignments and found the name Erska Saphine, next to which the name of the reporting officer was also labelled. He swiftly turned the pages to Erska’s profile. Usually, Draphas themselves are only assigned with the necessary details regarding what they’d need to work while a more elaborate version is present with the reporting officers who record the workings of the Drapha. It can also be said that certain information is restricted so that it doesn’t meddle with an active Drapha’s tenure.
“But then again, he hasn’t applied for a revision once….is he feeling a challenge? No matter what happens, he’d still try to clear his assignments…” he muttered to himself.
Orfer tried to skim through Erska’s thirty-page profile. He got stuck when the words ‘insecure’ and ‘unjust’ caught his eyes. He went back to reading the sentences. “Erska has always been having a hard time associating with people around her, making her feel insecure mostly…Often subjected to feeling unjust yet she works around it without actually facing it for the larger part… She has tried to hole up herself in order to change the unsatisfied according to her desire but the presence of her celebrity like status has prevented her….”
He had seen Bastian’s assignments before. These weren’t it. It was new. He was usually assigned to the ones that showed no control over principles whatsoever. Even if they did go through a period of misery, they showed no instances of change to overcome their faults.
Patterns. This assignment is out of pattern. It’s going to ruin everything!
Orfer quickly connected to the Records Archive as he turned to look at the name of the reporting officer. His voice roared. “I want Vidya in my office right now or I’m having her sacked!!!