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Chapter 15

“You sure that’s the girl? She hardly looks like her picture..” Bastian said as he pulled down Quincy’s black shaded aviators, wanting to make sure his friend’s eyesight wasn’t in grievous danger.

Quincy raised his eyebrow, adjusting his aviators to its former position as he sipped the hot coffee which he placed it back on the saucer almost instantly, the bitter stimulus on his tongue activated.

“Maybe have a look for yourself,” Quincy said, pushing the file towards his friend.

Assignment : 54

Name : Fleur Gin

Age : 35

Occupation : Bookstore employee

Address : No.9, Miu Enclave, Bleu Rue, Cafakla, Lessa

Death : 6 months from now

Cause of Death : Drug overdose

A picture of a freckled short-haired peach blonde in huge rectangular glasses in a plain lime green dress was attached, her face almost entirely covered by the glass frame.

“Wow. Quincy. Are you sure you don’t need a check-up?” Bastian asked, pointing towards two similarly blonde women with the same rectangle glasses in redlined grey uniform which was the norm for all employees of the bookstore Lettered at Leisure.

“Old age is getting the best of me, son,” Quincy dragged, leaning back against the headrest of the chair.

“Maybe if you had a mirror, you wouldn’t say that,” Bastian shot back, pointing the obvious. It wasn’t surprising that he was getting strange glances in the store. The gold-rimmed aviators, the pearl studded yellow beret which matched the tones of the leopard printed faux fur coat and the gold plated chain were all things that one would be wearing for a rap battle.

“Just trying to live life to the fullest, dude..” Quincy said, attempting a hoarse whisper of a rapper that was an obvious failure.

“You mean trying to be an attention seeker..” Bastian said, flicking Quincy’s forehead, “What are you doing here anyway? I got to know from Haruhi that you are on vacation. Is there a specific reason why I am forced to babysit you?”

“I..umm….it’s not a big deal…let’s just say,” Quincy said, removing his aviators in slow motion while parting strands of his luscious blonde hair, his grape shaded eyes attempting a piercing gaze. “I got to know Orfer’s weakness and he gave me free vacay for however long I wanted. Let’s just say I achieved some privileges…”

“Yea…I ain’t getting impressed anyway so tuck away your pheromones for the load of girls on your radar…” Bastian commented, getting up.

“Well, I don’t need to be reminded about the kind of job I do…” Quincy said, rolling his eyes.

“We’re the vital ones in the cycle of life and death. The Draphas. Be proud,” Bastian said, patting his friend’s shoulders.

“I highly doubt it…anyways get along with your work…go go..” Quincy said, shooing him away.

Bastian walked towards Fleur who was busy scanning through some books. He stood behind her, pretending to be interested.

“That seems like an interesting read. What’s the title?” he asked, scaring her out of her senses. She stepped back, her back hitting the shelf. Adjusting her glasses, she showed him the cover of the book that had its title screaming in hot pink – ‘Mysteries of Statistics.’

“It’s for a friend,” she said, replacing the book, “How can I help you?”

“A book suggestion, perhaps?” he asked.

“Considering the kind of professional interests you have,” she said, gesturing towards the book she had just shown him, “I’m unsure as to what might interest a scholar as yourself..”

“I appreciate the sarcasm. How about something along the lines of…romance? Romantic novels and stuff?” Bastian asked, running his fingers through his long hair.

Her eyes widened, shaking her head in pretentious disgust as she walked on. “Well, someone wants a lesson on how to flirt...Follow me..”

“How long are you gonna keep lying on your stomach?” screamed Alia, inviting a strange look from the couple behind her. She could see their looks of disapproval through their image on her front camera as she facetimed Erska.

Gina swatted Alia’s back while her face showed signs of apology to every onlooker whose momentum was interrupted. Sipping on her milkshake, she said, “I know you are frustrated, Alia but it won’t guarantee our stay at the café here if you don’t lower your voice. The manager over there has been giving me the stink eye for the past ten minutes..”

“Maybe if you joined me, you’ll know why I’m frustrated,” Alia shot back as she shifted her position next to Gina, trying to include her in the facetime. “I’ve been staring at the white wall and a bob of purple hair for twenty minutes and all I hear is “Uhhhh” or “Yeaaa” or “Don’t care” in the most horrible voice…almost as if she’s possessed by a frog…”

“Okay, okay,” Gina said, patting Alia’s back.“ But…what exactly are you trying to do again??”

Alia’s eyebrows raised. “You…never mind…here you go. Try your best to wake her up,” she said, shoving her phone into Gina’s hands, “As far as I know she’s holed herself in that dungeon she calls her room. She’s definitely not writing. I’m trying to pull her out..”

“Aaaah …..I’m feeling depressed already…” Gina stated, staring at the same scenery Alia was staring at.

The lump of purple hair seemed to have been triggered, showing signs of life. Pushing itself up, the hair’s owner face revealed itself – terribly bloated cheeks, dark circles underlining the crescent shaped eyes and an awkwardly arranged round silver rimmed spectacles.

“I’m still alive, you know…I mean insulting me like that…” Erska whispered drily as she rubbed her eyes, slipping her fingers in between the spectacles.

“Since when did you wear glasses?” Alia asked, leaning forward to get a better view.

“Since I had this sudden impulse to play dress up...” Erska said, sitting up as she leaned against the wall for supporting her head.

“You’re a bloody mess, Erska. So, back to whatever I was asking. Are you ever going to crawl out of your dungeon??” Alia asked.

Erska grabbed a handful of papers, whatever her hand could reach from the collection sprawled across her bed and presented it to the offended spectators.

“Uh uh uh. Don’t give that reason. I know you aren’t working. Just staring at the same paper means you have the ability to burn a hole through them. I heard from your mom that you are being a slowpoke. Get out, put your best dress on and hit Leisure!” Alia berated, her voice rising with every word. A pat from Gina made her consciously aware of her actions.

“There’s nothing you can do to make me move. I’m destined to drown in them until I find a solution to continue…” Erska stated.

“Your solution is going to take years to come if you don’t take some rest,” Gina said with patience. Alia had given up, pretending to play deaf to Erska’s ridiculous excuses.

“But what if the solution comes to me like…you know the next moment?” Erska said in a bored tone, “Then, I might...I don’t miss a million dollar worth of plot to some drinks and cookies?? Come on!”

“Well, missy. Aren’t you being a royal pain in the butt??” Gina asked, infuriated.

“I am. Deal with it,” Erska said, her silhouette moving from the former position to refill her cup of over sweetened hot chocolate from a kettle, leaving Gina to stare at the endless white wall.

“So, you really aren’t going to step out of-of……… your room?” Gina asked, slightly disturbed by the sight that her eyes had caught walking across them which Alia had noticed too.

“Nope. You have all the time in the world to waste,” Erska said, shrugging as she added swirls of whipping cream on it.

“Even if it has to do with Bastian???” Alia asked, hurriedly in an excited tone as she lunged forward.

Erska’s fingers on the cup tightened, holding her breath instantly while her eyes were wide open. Immediately, she dashed to pick her phone which almost slipped, trying to juggle it with the cup of hot chocolate with the flimsy cream on the other hand.

“We caught her attention,” Gina said, offering her hand for a high five to which Alia responded with absolute enthusiasm.

“You-you need to stop teasing me. That’s a lame joke, you both!” Erska managed, licking the entire cloud of cream in seconds.

“Oh, we aren’t joking, girl…” Gina said as she switched to back camera mode.

Erska spit the drink in surprise. A very clear image of Bastian’s loose hair fluttering back and forth, hands on his hips as he nagged with a familiar overdressed idiot was generated on her phone which in an instant switched back to her friends looking very closely at Erska.

“Tch, tch…haven’t you fallen way too hard, dearie? Your eyes are too bright for me…” Alia said, covering her eyes.

“I know you’re gonna land yourself here soon so we’re gonna do some other productive stuff like shopping..see ya..” Gina replied.

Erska began to protest. “You wish! You don’t think you can-”

“Blah blah blah. I can’t hear you,” Gina said, cutting off the video call.

Erska slowly settled down on the bed, placing the cup on the side table.

No. No. No. You can’t actually think of going, I mean you don’t have like a proper reason..but wait…why do I need a reason to see a person?? It’s just a meeting like what everyone does. That’s not like coincidental or something. Am I thinking too much? Wait…why do I want to see him anyways?? Woah. I’m really lazy. Wait. Wait. Yes. I have to talk to him regarding my novel. He’s right, I probably should take a step towards what I want even if it is risky. Even if I’m going to have to duke it out with my mother….shit…is it worth it?

The little bits of enthusiasm she began gathering shattered instantly, rethinking her decision. “Well. Why not do something fucking crazy once in a while….” she muttered under her breath as she gulped down the nearly scalding hot chocolate in unplanned rage which she soon regretted when her tongue went instantly numb.

Twenty minutes later, she slowly tiptoed out of her room. “Maybe if I walked too fast, she’d probably not notice? But first I got to remove these…” Saying that she took off her sneakers. Little luck with that but she had to at least try. Her house was partitioned into two vast floors, the ground accommodating the hall, dining, her parent’s room, her dad’s study, tea room, kitchen and the first floor containing her room and a life-sized terrarium that seemed out of space for a house carpeted in fine fabric and artisanal murals. Despite the abandoned feeling of the empty spacious hallways, her mother has always seemed to be a keen listener for petulance. As a child, she’d get caught but her mother’s business involvement through her teenage proved a good excuse to escape most of the time. Emphasis on most.

“Where are you going dressed like that, Erska, honey?”

Yikes. Wrong timing.

Erska definitely did not expect her mother to be sitting in the hall which lead to the door. Her usual choice was the tea room where her mother had hung carefully curated tapestries that she had collected with all the care in the world. God save anyone who disturbed her personal time.

“To get some snacks?” she said, turning around slowly as she placed the sneakers on the floor in a clumsy effort to squeeze her feet into it.

Alice was looking through her glasses, her eyes stone cold dead as if she had caught a mouse, her salt and pepper hair waving in the air like she was Cruella De Vil. She put the newspaper down and proceeded to take a sip of tea while Erska stood grinning sheepishly.

“You’re wearing a shimmery lavender halter dress that could also choose to be an alternative for a ball and you are telling me you are going out for snacks? In which world did you start liking tight dresses to oversized outfits?” she said in a sharp tone as she smiled.

“Today? Just feeling a bit different….it doesn’t feel that bad..” Erska managed, smoothing out invisible creases of her dress.

Almost instantly, Alice replaced the cup on the saucer, emitting a tinkling sound that surprised Erska who staggered on the spot, blinking in reaction.

“Sweetie. I’m not ready to play games. Out with it,” she said, leaning back against the headrest of the sofa, crossing her legs.

Surrendering is the only option equivalent to survival of the fittest now. “I’m off to see Alia and Gina, mother…”

“Why did you lie then?” her mother shot back. She was ready with her questions.

“I mean..I…umm didn’t want you to..” Erska stuttered, rubbing her chin. What kind of rot am I spouting??

“Didn’t want to let me know that you are going out? I thought you were just going to hang out with Alia and Gina..”

“Yes, mother,” Erska said, putting her head down, “I’m just going to meet them..”

Alice cracked her fingers. Shit was about to go down. “Let’s analyse the new developments that we’ve had, Erska. You aren’t working on the novel. No pressure. I understand it’s hard some times and I’ve always been supportive of artists and their need for creative freedom. But now you’re lying for no reason. You even told me you were thinking of a new draft, something different when you’ve clearly got this-”

Erska stepped forward, blurting in uneasiness, “What-what’s wrong with that??”

“There you go. I hit the right spot. So, that’s what you’ve been up to?? Filling your head with some crazy ideas??” Alice asked, her voice rising.

“Crazy ideas?! What’s wrong with writing something new??” Erska asked, astonishing herself. Her voice cracked slightly as soon as she became aware.

“When you can play it safe, why are you troubling yourself getting into untouched waters?” Alice asked, walking towards her.

“Here is the thing, mother. I’m not going to play it safe. And I’m sick and tired of seeing the same words, characters over and over again. I’ve lost inspiration. No matter how much I try, I can’t,” Erska ranted, breathing heavily. At the same time, she began wondering if this was a dream or not.

“That’s why I said, dear. Let’s get some vacay rest or ask Ian for an opinion or something. Get the help you need but you refuse it completely,” Alice said, placing her hand on Erska’s back but Erska stepped back immediately.

“That’s not the problem. It’s not what I want anymore. I want something different. That’s what I will do.”

Alice held Erska’s chin. lifting her face as their eyes come in contact with each other. Alice’s calm lips turn into a nasty smile. “Foolish girl. You can’t do that. Are you certain of success?”

Erska’s lips quivered, a pit of familiar uncertain fear began its ascent from her stomach as it slowly branched itself throughout her. Her blurry eyes produced tears, rolling down her cheeks in an irregular pattern as she stared back at her mother’s stone cold eyes. Erska stumbled back, running towards the door.

“Remember. The beginning. The end. Everything started here. You carry the Saphine name. No matter how talented you are, it’s the Saphine that got you fame,” thundered Alice’s voice as Erska managed to push her wobbly self out of her house.

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