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Chapter 18

Bastian covered Fleur’s eyes as he led her towards the table he had booked at The Merlion. It wasn’t that hard, trying to figure out Fleur’s tastes. Going through the synopsis of every novel that was forced upon him was enough to know that she wanted to be treated like a spoilt princess.

“Keep your eyes closed,” he said, pulling out the chair for her to settle in. Then, he pulled out the chair on the opposite for himself.

“Shall I open?” she asked, trying to peek out of her ornamental oversized transparent plastic frames. Her off-shoulder pink pastel maxi and light coppery blonde space buns seemed to elevate her features.

“You don’t mind me starting on the spaghetti then?” Bastian asked, moving forward as his head rested on his hand, a smirk playing on his face.

Eyes open, Fleur pouted like a little child as her shoulders slumped while Bastian forked the spaghetti, attempting to feed her. “Here you go.”

“I’m not a little kid, Bastian,” she said, grabbing the fork from his hand as she looked around the expanse of the hotel for the first time. Red carpeted floors, teal and pale fuschia motifs with dark gold highlights covered the ceiling while circular chandeliers hung at regular intervals.

Fleur, obviously stunned, pretended to be indifferent as she slurped her noodle. “Not bad, Bastian. You’d be the first guy to actually get me impressed.”

“The pleasure’s all mine, dear.”

“Dear, huh? Crossing the limits a little too fast, aren’t you?” she asked, her eyes narrowing over the rim of the wineglass she was sipping from.

Bastian raised his hands in playful defense. “At your pace.”

“That’s okay. I like things a little fast too,” she said, twirling her hair as her eyes met his green orbs, his hair tied into a messy yet somehow neat bun and fitting plain coloured formals – she would have loved to give in to her drooling if not for self-control. She had not expected Bastian to come off very strongly ‘romantic’ right from the first date. It usually took her partners like five to four dates to ‘shower’ her with love. Besides, it was pretty obvious that Bastian was a great catch because there was no other good reason to explain visibly irritable glances she earned from the other ladies present in the room.

“So, what are your interests?” Bastian began to wade off Fleur’s zoning out. He wasn’t sure about Fleur but the awkwardness was starting to get to him.

“I just like to read a lot. Like a lot. You obviously saw me with heaps of books. Oh! And movies too. Love them. I go for the philosophy kind a lot.”

“Philosophy? Really? That’s surprising,” Bastian commented as his mind wracked through his memory to get a glimpse of the novels that were thrust upon him.

“Why not? I love life and its details, its offerings to us.”

“But, if my memory serves me right, there was no philosophy kind of novel when you gave me those books. They all seemed romantic to me,” Bastian stated.

Fleur pursed her lips for a bit and said “Oh umm. What I’m trying to say is life can be anything. It has got all elements, right? You know, like ups and downs, happiness and sadness and..”

By now, Bastian began bobbing his head up and down involuntarily like a robot, his brain only registering Fleur’s exaggerated gestures, wide eyes and protruding lips – all trying to bring emphasis to herself. It didn’t take him long to realize what kind of girl he was dealing with. Hearts filled with romantic ideals and minds filled with unrealistic sweet gestures, this was the type that tried to seem ‘mysterious’ only to end up heartbroken because their humongous standards let them down every time. Plus, they were emotional cry-babies. Great energy drainers. I really wish counsellors did our jobs instead.

“That’s why I say they are not simply romance novels,” she said, placing her hand on the table with a thud, snapping Bastian out of a reverie.

“I get it. Different perspectives,” Bastian responded, sitting upright in an attempt to shake off the weariness which happened way too often with his assignments.

“I knew you’d get me. I want to ask you this. Why me? Out of all the girls. And you seem like the kind that probably had a lot of girls,” she asked with a curious expression playing on her face.

Goodness. Not this. “I’ll be frank. Those freckles. Your hair. They seem dreamy.”

“You chose me because I’m pretty?” she snorted.

Bastian leaned forward, intertwining his fingers in hers which caught her pupils by surprise as they wandered back and forth between Bastian’s soft, pale fingers and his resolute eyes. “I chose a goddess. Now, I’m trying to learn about her. Yes, I approached you without much thought but rather than brushing it off as a girl I’ll never know, I am ready to take the risk even if you take me for a vile stalker.” That should do the trick. Now, for the cherry on top.

Bastian got up and arched forward, cupping her face carefully like he was handling fragile porcelain, gently stroking her cheeks as he planted a light peck on her forehead. As Bastian sat back, Fleur resumed zoning out for a while before she began fanning herself in a vividly hysterical manner, conscious of her surroundings as eyes with envy scorned her.

“Geez, Bastian! A warning would be nice!” she said, swatting his hand.

“Well, I should warn you. Surprises are my thing. If you do want to continue meeting me, you should know that.”

“Oh, I don’t mind it,” Fleur replied in a cool manner as she crossed her legs while her stomach couldn’t contain the flutters. “You seemed to know some high profile people in Lessa. Didn’t you say you were a tourist?”

“High profile people?”

“Yes, you were hanging out with...Erska, right?” Fleur asked, her voice laced with caution.

“Yes. I have met Erska quite a few times. Her mother is a patron at the store which is owned by my cousin. I also work there,” Bastian responded, crystal clear of Fleur’s intentions.

“So, nothing more?” Fleur asked, her arms crossed.

“No. Didn’t I tell you she was my friend? She was right there when I told you,” Bastian reasoned in a calm manner.

“I understand but your gestures were, do not mistake me, kind of..flirty…I didn’t really like that,” she said in a stern voice.

“You don’t have to worry. Trust me,” he said, looking into her eyes.

The ends of her lips broke into a smile as she looked at him, exhaling. “Okay then. Enough of this. Why don’t you tell me about yourself?”

He got up in haste, his thighs hitting against the table’s legs while the objects on the table looked slightly disturbed in arrangement. “I’ll be back in a minute. The washroom.”

“Oh. Okay. Okay,” she replied as she looked at his legs with concern.

Ten minutes later, Bastian was taking deep breaths, his form slouched against the washbasin, cold water dripping down his face, wet loose strands reaching his neck as he let the slight chill to linger on. His tolerance for the emotionally weak seemed particularly low today or rather he seemed to be getting tired of trying to play the man of everyone’s dreams. Vacaaaaaation.

“Or it must be as Quincy says …being trained to flirt to the point it has become a part of me..unconsciously…” he whispered to himself, staring back at the reflection on the mirror. “The fuck you are trying to do with your life, Bastian?”

Patting dry his face with a tissue, he pulled out his Draphacon and scrolled down the contact list pointlessly until he clicked on Quincy’s name. Bastian’s attempt at waiting for Quincy’s obnoxious caller tune was cut too short as his even more obnoxious voice began blaring through the Draphacon.

“Bastian!! Did you check the news??”

“Woah. Woah. Slow down. I want to talk-”

“No! Nothing’s more important now. Did you check the news??” repeated Quincy in panic.

“No. I did not. Mind telling me the whole story?” Bastian asked patiently.

“Erska’s mother is an absolute hag! She just gave an interview, broadcasting to the whole world that Erska would be continuing her novel with a sequel and that she plans on producing it into a movie! All this without Erska’s permission. I mean, this is beyond-”

Bastian’s eyes grew wide. “I never thought Alice would stoop so low. How is Erska doing?”

“She seem to be staring off into the sunset. Almost too shocked to talk. Haruhi and Fyre are trying to calm her down.”

“Okay. I’ll be right back within minutes. Let’s see how to reduce damage,” Bastian stated.

“You are out with Fleur though-”

But those words fell on Bastian’s deaf ears as he zoomed out, determined to rush towards Solitarie as fast as possible.

“Erska. Drink some water. Wash your face. Do something. Sitting idle would get you nowhere,” Haruhi said in an attempt to console her as she placed the glass before her. Haruhi’s once in a blue moon tango with social media was going awry with the most unexpected consequence. Before Erska could even warm up to Fyre, Haruhi hit her with the disastrous news in the most casual way and Erska wouldn’t believe it until she had seen the viral interview video herself. Fingers rolled into her palms tightly, placed against her thighs while beads of sweat lined her forehead. Eyes that glinted once looking completely exhausted – almost as if she was staring into a void that was only visible to her. Fyre had tried to be soft with her but he was getting impatient and walked out for a smoke, letting Haruhi takeover an unresponsive Erska.

“Erska. Here have some,” Haruhi repeated, nudging her with the glass gently which Erska accepted without a word, not meeting her eye.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Haruhi asked.

No response.

“Yes or no is all you have to say. It will let me know if you feel better left alone or not. But most importantly, it seems like a harsh situation is thrown upon you,” Haruhi elaborated as she turned away from Erska, looking back onto the glass shelves that encased silver trinkets. She felt Erska’s gaze follow her side form. “No matter how much you think and fear – we are always left with two options: to face it or to accept it,” she continued, “Choose whatever makes you feel better. What you feel is right for yourself.”

Erska huddled her body close, feet against her torso like a frog on the stool as her arms covered her thighs while her blank mind slept over Haruhi’s words. Haruhi turned towards her, slightly patting her head. “How are you feeling, Erska?”

“I’m not sure. I was just so happy I suppose. To be finally accepted. My mother accepting my decisions yet this…it is always the same. In the end, it is the same. Almost as if I’ll never get to do what I want,” she whispered weakly. “There is so much anger, so much of it,” Erska added as her voice raised slightly, “But there’s no use, you see? It drains my energy in minutes, wasting it over things that don’t go my way.”

“Ironic. That’s resistance of the lowest form. A voice, even if it is little still stands strong. Defiance where no one dares to defy just to let the other person know that there is more than one approach for the same thing,” added Haruhi.

Erska, still weary, patted her cheeks in confusion. Can things really be that simple? But simple to talk about when in reality, a strong will is required to defy it.

“Quincy! Can you stop being nuts for a second-”

Solitarie’s door swung open roughly, the handle creaked back and forth multiple times as Quincy and Bastian were engaged in a scuffle, scaring Haruhi and Erska out of their seats in shock.

Haruhi rolled up her sleeves and walked towards them with a no-nonsense attitude as she placed her foot between the door and its frame, preventing it from closing as she looked at the troublesome miscreants. “Calm down both of you! And Bastian! The hell are you doing here?”

“I just got to know from Quincy that Erska’s mother went back on her words!” Bastian explained, almost screaming as he looked at a weary looking Erska through the glass pane, who was slightly frowning now.

Haruhi glared at Quincy who cowered instantly. “Obviously, we can handle this ourselves, can’t we, Quincy? Look what have you done!”

“I’m sorry. I just let it slip…” he mumbled.

Bastian looked back and forth at Quincy and Haruhi, flabbergasted. “You actually thought of keeping this from me?!”

“Yes,” Haruhi replied, her arms crossed, “How does this concern you?”

“That’s what I’m saying,” Bastian said, nostrils flaring, “How does this not concern me?”

“Your present assignment concerns Fleur. Erska is no longer your assignment, Bastian.”

“I know that. Obviously,” Bastian replied with an exaggerated expression, “There is nothing wrong with looking out for a friend.”

“I should remind you that any Drapha’s first priority is to complete the assignment.”

“Not to the extent of being unbothered about a friend,” he replied casually.

“Do you dare defy your stationed Drapha, Bastian?” Haruhi questioned, her voice froid.

“That is not what I meant-”

“I said do you-”

Millions of thoughts raced through Erska’s mind as she watched the ongoing drama but the image of Bastian spiked a shot of anger for the most part.

Well, well. If it isn’t Prince Charming to the rescue? Does he think I’m some damsel in distress? Yea, sure. I may not be that brave but I definitely do not need your saving or your pity, you flirt!

Erska looked at her phone, trying to make sense of the solution she wanted to go ahead with. “Be brave, love,” she whispered to herself, sighing, “Here goes nothing.”

“Guys!” Quincy exclaimed in an alarmed tone that momentarily disrupted the ongoing clash between Bastian and Haruhi as their eyes followed his line of sight. Erska was furiously punching some numbers on her phone and waited for the call to connect, taking deep breaths as she shot a stoic glance at her onlookers.

“The Globe Mail? This is Erska Saphine. I’d like to tell you about my next new novel which is not going to be a sequel to my previous one. I have got all the time in the world.”

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