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Chapter 20

“Richard, are you even listening to me?”

“Not exactly, just a minute,” he said, perusing through the last of reports. As much as he wanted to put it away for the time being, Alice’s heel tapping wasn’t making things easier. “Okay, then,” he said, setting the file onto the pile which was immediately whisked away by his always formal suit draped assistant. Richard leaned forward, carefully picking up the cup of tea. He would have asked Alice to reheat it except that it wouldn’t do any good for his wife’s temper.

“You look pretty,” he complimented.

“Are you done with your tea?” Alice shot back while her hand rested on the black luggage which was fully packed.

“I’m done now,” he said, placing the cup on its saucer, reclining back on the sofa. “Now, what’s the emergency?”

“Are you living under a rock?” she asked calmly.

“No..and did I ever tell you that you are starting to look a lot older than me? People are going to compare us otherwise but that greying makes you look beautiful. I am blessed,” he replied casually, running his hand through dyed blond strands.

“Richard!!” her voice thundered, hitting the centre table with a thud so heavy that the cup clattered for a while. “This is not the time for jokes. And I’m sure people are asking you too. Our daughter has gone rouge! And you are nowhere bothered until and unless I call you ! Especially after I come stomping into one of your meetings!!”

“I’m serious all the time, Alice. Give the girl a break.”

“A break?! Richard, she says she wants to leave home and stay in some weird place and do what she wants!”

“And it isn’t because you wouldn’t allow her to pursue what she wants, right?” he asked, leaning forward, looking into her eyes.

Alice looked dumbfounded. “That’s because she was making a stupid decision! Are you actually supporting her now?”

“Did I interfere when you made announcements regarding her sequel?” Richard asked, his voice rising higher.

“Because you’ve never cared! You were more bothered about the company! Besides, when was the last time you were at home apart from occasions? I understand that you like to work but who is going to take care of our daughter??” Alice fumed until she was almost breathless.

“And you cared too much to drive your own daughter away from the house. Am I correct?”

Her breaths became slower, her lips quivered while her fingers clenched onto the skirt. Her blinks became rapid and when she finally closed them, streaks of tears ran down her cheeks. Richard loosened up his tie, sat beside Alice and placed her head against his head while slowly rubbing her shoulders. “Our little girl has grown so much. Yes, I wasn’t there at home and you know that’s because we struggled initially and I got so used to working that my mind is conditioned that way. Stop worrying about her. She’ll make it.”

The bell rang and Alice was up, ironing out her skirt with her hands, flicking her hair behind her ears while her eyes frosted on command. She rolled the luggage forward while Richard followed his wife like a faithful puppy. Classic Alice.

Outside, on the portico stood Bastian, hands tied to the back. There was just something about the woman that chills ran down his spine, especially today. As she handed over the luggage to him, she said, “Nice job with the brainwashing”

“That’s something I’d carve on a trophy and hand it to you, Mrs. Saphine,” he retorted with a smile as he picked up the luggage.

Before Alice could react, Richard interrupted as he extended his hand, “ I don’t think we’ve properly met. Richard Saphine.”

Bastian shook his hands. “A pleasure. The name’s Bastian.”

“So, Erska is going to be living with you? Are you her boyfriend?” Richard asked, all suave looking for his age.

Bastian looked back and forth at Richard and Alice. “That-that is a huge misunderstanding. I’m just a friend. She’ll actually be staying with my friend, I mean my-my cousin, Haruhi,” he exclaimed as he raised his hands in defence, having forgotten about the luggage which went down the flight of stairs due to gravity’s force. Richard’s assistant who was standing beside Richard’s car caught it with his swift hands, watching Bastian carefully.

“I’m just asking because I kinda got to know from Alice that you spoke on behalf of Erska and from the words you used, you came off you know, a bit strong. Maybe a little too protective? That’s why.” Richard asked with a rigid look when in actuality, he derived joy from bullying him.

“No-no, Mr. Saphine. Nothing of that sort. She’s in good hands. So, can I leave?”

“If anything happens to Erska, you’ll be taken to task. Then, I’ll show you how bad things can go down,” grunted Alice.

Bastian simply nodded his head despite the number of comebacks that could roll off his tongue at that moment. He slowly descended the steps, getting the luggage from the man who had stopped it from going awry and got into the taxi under his watchful eyes. What a weird household.

As soon as the taxi left the compound, Alice turned towards the house and walked in. “Where are my kisses, hon? I’ll be back for dinner,” Richard called out from the portico.

“Don’t make promises that you can’t keep, Richard!” she snapped without turning her back. “Shut the door on your way out!”

Richard chuckled as he straightened his tie and walked towards the car. His assistant walked forward towards the door handle.

“Should I tail him, Mr. Saphine?” he asked as he opened the door. “I have reasons to believe that your daughter might be in imminent danger. If anything is to happen, I can bring her back and-”

Richard raised his hand. “Never mind. This is Erska’s decision. It’s time for her to grow. Let’s see how she handles her decision now that the ball is in her court. Like the way she wanted.”

“Rise and shine!!”

No matter how much Erska wished the ringing in her ears would stop, it just kept coming back in the form of a high pitched scream and the sudden exposure to sun wasn’t making things better. She pulled herself under the covers but soon her blanket that defended her from getting out of the comfort of the bed was of no use when her body was exposed to the sun’s wrath to her dismay.

“Rise and shine!!” ringed the voice again but now it pierced through her ears clearly and there was no escape from this horror. She sat up, all wobbly, her short ponytail up on her head as she rubbed the sleep off her eyes. She felt a shadow hovering near her which she believed was the source of the shrill voice.

“Good morning,” the voice said in a much softer tone.

“Morning,” she replied back, yawning as she opened her eyes to a shaggy looking Fyre who was still in his pajamas.

“We’ve gotta lot of work to do and you’ve gotta lot of adjusting to do to this place, princess. So, I’m giving you like 20 minutes to push your sleepy self down or I’m going to throw a tantrum,” he warned and closed the door on her.

Erska fell back on the bed. Someone’s gone rogue. All of a sudden everything in her life has gone topsy turvy. She was sharing her room with Haruhi for God knows how long. Erska had kicked herself out with the help of Bastian who was always very eager when it came to causing drama. One suggestion from Haruhi and it got his nasty brain chugging but it wasn’t false. She wouldn’t have the freedom to pursue her ideas if she tried to convince her mother and she had always tried her best at convincing.

It was surprisingly cozy, her stay at Haruhi’s. Haruhi had graciously offered her the basic amenities till she reaches her goal which Erska felt was a weird thing to do because they weren’t close at all but sure, whatever falls on the lap, you pick it. She didn’t mind being deprived of her usual luxuries which surprised her. And Haruhi’s cat was great company until anyone got on its nerves. She still hadn’t attempted to use her credit cards but fortunately a couple of dollars might let her survive for a few days. Haruhi was a generous host yet Erska knew she might have to get used to new arrangements and take responsibilities for her decisions.

The whole thing seemed bleak and unsure. Her life had taken the most unexpected twist – definitely not the kind on her bucket list. But for now, all that she can do to defend herself in this comedy called life would be to work on the next novel yet her ‘idea book’ was of no help – containing random scribbles, sketchy illustrations, made-up words for future use, elaborations e.t.c. Then, there was Fyre. I’m not sure how that crackhead will turn out to be. I had enough of Bastian and Quincy stirring trouble every time.

Therefore, presently, she resorted to either staring back at the endless whitewall or petting Tamago’s head when it felt like rolling on her lap. There was immense quietness most of the time except at night which she got a preview of yesterday- when Haruhi would make a hue and cry before settling on her bed, Tamago being the origin of hue and cry and Haruhi being the victim.

Apart from the novel, Erska was interested in getting to know Cafakla. Just a glimpse of the neighbourhood was interesting enough for her. She had attended some art showcases or fairs at Deliah Park but never got to explore the whole neighbourhood. No wonder Haruhi spent most of the time outside – at her shop, visiting various small enterprises, chatting away when there was nothing to do. Enjoy the present, I suppose. Maybe, I’ll make use of this opportunity.

“I smell eggs!”

“Of course you do, why won’t you??” Haruhi grunted as she flipped the omelette. Quincy was being an annoying little bug and she was finding it hard to prevent herself from swatting him.

“Wow, it smells good in here!” Bastian exclaimed, strolling in as he rolled the luggage, letting it fall to the ground while he settled himself on the counter. “You’re making eggs?”

Haruhi grinned until the ends of her lips hurt. “First, how did it go? Did they throw you out?”

“Throw me out? I’m Bastian. I charm people. I don’t get thrown out,” she replied, beaming proudly as he pointed towards the luggage.

“Bastian, if you actually think you’ve got clever comebacks, save your energy because you don’t,” Haruhi shot back.

“Woaah! Buuurn!” Quincy chuckled.

“I’m actually hurt,” Bastian said, looking uneasy.

“Someone cooking eggs?” Fyre asked, popping his head into the kitchen.

“Enough with the goddamn eggs! Y’all want eggs, y’all make it!” Haruhi barked as she switched off the stove, placing the omelette on her plate for herself.

The boys looked at her with droopy puppy eyes which had no effect on her they understood as soon as she simply began forking it into her mouth. “Erska awake yet, Fyre?”

“She’s up but I think it will probably take the rich girl another thirty minutes to get herself out of the bed,” Fyre replied as he switched on the stove to cook after Haruhi’s cooking had left a smell so addicting and irreversible in the kitchen.

“Wow. Well, aren’t you one ridiculous idiot wearing panda printed pajamas?” Quincy asked.

“This is fashion and just because you can’t handle it, you don’t have to diss it,” Fyre responded to which Quincy’s eyes rolled a three sixty.

“Where the hell did you disappear off to the other day anyway? Slight distress and you can’t handle your assignments?” Bastian scolded him.

Before Fyre could say anything, Haruhi interrupted, “He did not go for a smoke. Three blocks away, he was wolfing down some waffles at Cornucopia Inn and spent the rest of the day trying to seduce the owner into giving the recipe.”

“I figured out that since you were doing a great job with Erska, I might as well go around exploring instead of singing her a lullaby,” uttered Fyre, unbothered.

“Quincy, I see a mentor in you,” Bastian commented.

“Hey, don’t you put me and him in the same box!” Quincy whined.

“You better be grateful Mrs. Louvel wasn’t there the other day or she would have whooped your ass for trying to get with her daughter!” Haruhi warned Fyre. “I am done dealing with toddlers. I can pack you back to HQ with bad remarks and your days as an active Drapha are gone to dust, mind you!”

Fyre, whose face was beaming proudly, fell as soon as Haruhi threatened to ship him back. It was barely a day after he attained his active status and most certainly didn’t want to go back to being a trainee.

“You haven’t answered me properly, mister. What happened?” Haruhi asked, turning her attention towards Bastian.

“Stop the drilling. I’ll tell you. So, I met her parents. Got her luggage. I came back. Oh, and her mother tried to threaten me. I met her dad too. Pretty much what happened,” he explained, walking towards the refrigerator to get the unopened grape juice carton. “ I’m taking this,” he said as he walked out of the kitchen.

“Hold on! Where are you going with the whole thing?” Haruhi asked.

“I’m hungry. I can eat something later. I got a date with Fleur. Kinda left her hanging the last time,” he explained.

“Fine. Fine. You got real guts trying to poke your nose in Erska’s situation,” Haruhi said.

“Poke my nose? She was scared! I simply gave her a way out…” he said, shrugging.

“Which Fyre will soon take over. Now, go on,” Haruhi said, waving him off.

As Bastian left them, Haruhi turned towards and whispered to Quincy, “Better keep them apart. Just for precaution.”

“So far nothing big. I’ll make sure to keep an eye,” he replied back.

“Why do we keep them apart?” Fyre whispered, an occupant they had forgotten that existed in their midst.

Both of them blinked, looking at each other. “Well…” Haruhi dragged as she scratched her neck, “If you had done your job properly, then I wouldn’t have Bastian doing your job. Do I have to send you back to the HQ?”

Fyre immediately put this hands up in defence. “I’m going to prove it to you that I’m real dedicated today.”

“Good,” Haruhi stated with a cough. “Quincy, get the mail, will you?”

“Well, that princess syndrome is not doing you any good, sweetie,” he replied.

“It was not a request, Quincy.”

“Geez. Alright,” he said with a shrug. “But you are making me those eggs the way you do it!”

“Good morning, guys,” Erska twittered, walking in briskly, setting herself beside Haruhi.

“Not bad. You’re early,” Fyre commented.

“Your luggage is here,” Haruhi said, patting the black trolley.

Erska’s eyes dilated as she reached for it. Pulling it towards her, she ran her hand on the top to feel the familiarity of the object in unfamiliar surroundings.

“So, who got it?”

“Bastian did,” Haruhi replied. “After all that mischief and we are here.”

“It’s kind of dreamy. It’s like I got permission for going wild but not exactly. I’m not sure…” Erska processed.

“Take your time but make it worthwhile,” she suggested.

“Actually, Haruhi. I want to thank you for letting me stay and do this. I barely know you but thank you. Genuinely. I’ll do my best,” Erska said, beaming.

“Well, it’s not all roses. And you’ve got chores to do to compensate. So, you may have a tough time if you haven’t done it. Have you done chores?” Haruhi asked for which Erska’s head shook negatively.

“Newer times! New things! We are going to have fun!” Fyre exclaimed patting Erska on the shoulder.

“Where’s Bastian?” she asked.

“Bastian? He’s gone on a date with Fleur,” Haruhi replied.

“Ohhh..” Erska dragged, looking down at her fingers fidgeting.

“Haruhi,” Quincy called out. “Most of the mail has to go to Mr. Dan of the laundromat. There is some trouble with the numbers. I better check that out. I’ll pass it over to him. Oh, I forgot! You’ve got one too.” He slipped a thin envelope in Erska’s hands.

“For me?” she asked, ripping open the end. There was no sender’s address and the contents were restricted to Lacao’s Premium Chocolate Powder sachets, the kind that she liked. Her lips naturally curled upwards. Thanks, daddy.

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