The next morning obvious tension erupted at Solitarie with Haruhi and Alice having a staring match. The other participants kept mum through the awkwardness.
“Wow. You are one audacious woman I must say, Mrs. Saphine.”
“I’m frankly not interested in having any kind of conversation with you. I’d like to talk with my daughter,” she said, acting indifferent to the consequences as she eyed Erska fidgeting.
“Do talk, the stage is yours.”
“You wish. I meant in private. Follow me, Erska,” Alice ordered as she walked out while Erska trudged behind her, unquestioned.
“Why exactly do you think she might have done all this?” pondered Quincy, uncomfortably sitting on a chair as he hugged his body.
“Was she trying to find some dirt on us?” suggested Bastian. “If that’s the truth, I can’t believe she would go to this extent.”
“Of course, she would. According to her, weren’t you the guy taking her precious child away from her?” said Haruhi.
“Precious child? That woman better get into her right senses..” mumbled Quincy, holding onto his arms. “Are we in some kind of trouble now?”
“Nope. She’s got nothing on us,” replied Haruhi. “By the way, why are you sitting like that? Something wrong with you? Apart from that thing on your left eye…”
“The elbows have been aching throughout the night. I applied some medicine in the morning but it’s still…” he said, rubbing his elbows.
“So, that’s why you were making those weird noises yesterday?” Bastian asked.
“Why? What did you think?” Quincy inquired, narrowing his eyes.
“I just thought you were starving for girls,” he sneered.
“I can’t believe you guys can joke right now,” sighed Haruhi, shaking her head.
Outside Solitarie, as much as Erska tried to keep her anger at bay, she anticipated that she was going to get drilled by her mother.
“As much as you are disappointed, did you have to go this far with these people? I can’t believe you actually spied them, mother,” Erska said carefully as she looked at her mother’s expression.
“I think you are the one who is going to be disappointed,” Alice retorted as she started probing for something from her bag, taking out a voice recorder. “You need to listen to this first.
But all they could hear was static noise. Alice started hitting the instrument once or twice, exhaling in frustration. “That’s some great timing. You need to believe me, Erska,” she said, grabbing onto her shoulders. “These people are not who they say they are. Some secret organization kind of thing from what I heard from the guys. I smell rats.”
“That sounds ridiculous. Even if that’s the truth, they haven’t done me any kind of harm and have only offered me kindness,” she replied glancing at Haruhi.
“Oh my goodness, Erska! Are you going to keep acting like a child??” Alice taunted, her voice rising as her grip on Erska’s shoulders tightened. “You are being taken advantage of in plain sight and you can’t see it ?!”
Fyre emerged from the storage room, dusting off his shoulders as he looked at the confusing scene unravelling before him. “Seems like I missed something..”
“It’s just the usual mother-daughter tussle..” replied Quincy. “Wow, that woman scares me. She looks like a beast let out of its cage!”
“Of course, she has to! Did she think she could actually play with me at my own store?” snickered Haruhi, her eyes bloodshot as she laughed to herself, looking like a textbook villain without an evil sceptre.
“What are you talking about?” asked Bastian.
“I had guys from the HQ sweep through the store and motel yesterday night. I felt like an idiot, being careless. That woman had sent those cleaning service guys and tapped into all our cameras, placed voice recorders. I sent our guys from the surveillance after the company and destroyed all sorts of evidence. Damn, they were trying to get thirsty and they hit dead ends! It was a close call or we would have been exposed.”
“Close call, alright. I have a bad feeling about where this is going to end up,” Bastian said as he looked back and forth at Erska and Alice’s exchange.
“Since it’s happening in front of us, I don’t really think anything could be drastic, Bastian,” insisted Haruhi.
Alice backed away. “Alright, your decision. Let’s talk about other things. How is your next big novel turning up, my daughter? Care to share some details?”
“I-I am working on the sequel,” she replied hesitantly.
“What did you just say? Come again, maybe?” Alice asked in disbelief.
“The sequel, mother.”
“Erska, dear,” Alice said as she clapped her hands. “You’ve grown up, haven’t you? Tricking your own mother into thinking that she is an idiot only when I wanted the best for you but now you are not only being a rebel but also a deceiver. Like you’ve got us all wrapped up in your little game! Of course,” she continued. “Who wouldn’t believe that innocent little face?” Saying that Alice held Erska’s chin, bringing her gaze to her eye-level.
“I didn’t mean to do that. It seemed more appropriate to do that…” she whispered, trying to look down.
“And didn’t seem appropriate enough when I suggested? All you wanted was to change, change, change! I don’t understand,” Alice said, suddenly changing her demeanour, her eyes getting sadder. “All I wanted was to do the best for you. I gave you all the support you needed, your vacations, trips with your friends, helped you when you were stuck and you do this to me!”
Erska’s fists were clenched to her sides, taking deep breaths, letting her mother’s words settle in as she thought about how to form her answers.
“Are you even going to answer, Erska? Is there something so wrong for me to even want an answer now?”
“Mother. It wasn’t on purpose. I wanted to do certain things my way but-”
“But you were stuck, right? And I helped you when you were stuck when your certain things didn’t go your way.”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” Erska said, attempting to make eye contact with her mother, blinking rapidly. “Even if I struggle, even if it takes me years, I’ll still do it my way.”
“Oh. Sounding all philosophical now, have we? Did you think you could’ve finished your first one with the kind of attitude you have now?” hit back Alice, stirring Erska.
Erska fell silent. She knew her hands were tied now. Her fingers ceaselessly rubbed against each other, forming sweat while she stood staring at her feet.
Bastian who was watching the mother-daughter duo keenly, tensed up as Erska kept mum. He poked Fyre and said, “I think you need to do something about it.”
“What? What am I supposed to do?” he asked, taken aback at the suggestion.
“Ease out the situation, man! She’s your assignment. Go on now!” Bastian repeated, urging him while his eyes were focused on Erska.
“That’s a family thing. How can I interfere? Are you crazy??” responded Fyre, standing blankly.
“It’s getting serious. Are you going to or-” Bastian left the conversation hanging, rushing outside as he stood beside Erska, letting his fingers grab onto her hand.
“Your boyfriend always appears in the most heartwarming way possible wielding his sword for you, dear! You are one lucky gal alright,” Alice commented sarcastically.
Bastian hadn’t planned to go down in any means lighter. “Ma’am, since Haruhi could press charges against you, maybe go back to your cozy little house?”
Erska looked at him, astounded by his bluntness as she covered her mouth. “Bastian!” she hissed.
Alice’s lips twisted in distaste. “It’s not like you are going to live here forever, Erska dear. There’s a lot waiting for you when you come back home!” With that, she got into a car without glancing back.
“You okay?” Bastian asked with concern.
“Yea, I guess…” she replied, looking dazed. “Dude! Oh my! I thought I was going to die when you said those words!”
“You should sometimes corner her like that,” he suggested as he opened the door to Solitarie for her, the other hand still holding onto Erska.
“That’s a luxury I wish I could afford though,” she said. As she looked at Haruhi, her eyes became apologetic. “I’m sorry, Haruhi. The whole thing must have been scary.”
“It’s not your fault, Erska. Let it go,” she said, patting her shoulder in reassurance.
“It’s kind of weird, seeing you two hold hands,” pointed out Quincy, frowning. Both of them stared at each other, swiftly removing the hold. “Did you really have to go to the point where you have to involve within a family thing?” Fyre asked Bastian when he was in proximity.
“Fyre, my boy,” Bastian said in a lower tone, putting his arm around him. “Yea, you could have ignored all that because after all a Drapha’s job is to make sure the person fulfills their desire yet is it that bad trying to make them feel comfortable? It was pretty obvious she couldn’t handle it. Even if you are going to tell me each for themselves, why not take this as a challenge and uplift her to the point where she can actually do that. Our job is not some one-line thing. This is just the start, Fyre. And it’s about to get a lot complicated.”
Fyre bit his lip, searching for the right words. After careful thought, he asked. “If that’s the case, Haruhi and Quincy seemed unbothered too?”
“I believe they would have wanted you to step up. Since I’m already familiar with Erska, I did it before it got serious. That’s fine. Everything’s a learning process..” he replied with a smile.
“You’re practically living here like a ghost,” whispered Bastian, trying to part through Erska’s hair which was pulled over her face, her head lying down against the table. “Your original colour is blonde?” he asked, looking closely at the tip of her strand.
As if on command the lavender coloured Big Foot awoke, shaking her head as she tried to pull it into a bun. “Yup,” she replied, surveying the book which she was using as a makeshift pillow. “I’m not sure if I’m gonna go with the same colour or re-dye it differently.”
“Your natural colour?”
“The last time I actually saw myself fully blonde was when I was probably eighteen. I started going for dark purple in the beginning but then settled on lavender. Never changed it ever since.”
“Hmm. How old are you now exactly?” he asked.
“Twenty four. What about you?” she asked, curious.
“Ummm thirty five, I guess..” he replied after giving it some thought.
“Thirty five?! Boy, you look young!” she said, playfully punching him in the arm.
“Why so? Never really thought of that..”
“Maybe because you have this ghostly, pale appearance?” she suggested, pinching his cheek. “Or maybe your hair too? You almost look..pretty? Bet you’d look fab with makeup on.”
“Bet I’d look better than you too,” he said winking as he flicked his hair behind his ears like a shy girl. “Your attempts at dissing me ended up in vain because now,” he said, cracking his knuckles. “You’re the target. What’s this mess?”
Erska closed her book instantly, pouting “I’m kind of stuck. It’s about to end and I’ve come across a plot hole that is trying to pull me inside. Hopefully, this ends soon..”
“Aaah..don’t worry. It will end soon..” he said, patting her head. “By the way, how are you? With everything that happened today morning…thinking about that?”
“I-I try not to but it does affect me. Maybe,” she said as she flipped her book, smelling the pages, “That’s why I’m stuck. I don’t know. I’ll give it a day or two.”
Bastian nodded his head in affirmation. “You do that. One second,” he said as he popped out his phone out of his pocket, his notifications running wild.
“Wow. Sounds like you’ve got a stalker…”
“That’s actually Fleur,” he said.
Instantly, Erska looked up, eyes widened. “I didn’t mean it that way..”
“Never mind but I do wish she thinks twice before talking,” he said as he texted.
“Bastian. Not that I think of her negatively or anything but sometimes she is a bit unreasonable,” she said, carefully choosing her words.
“She is a bit of a spoiled kid, I know,” he said, putting away his phone.
“No, what I meant was you know when we went on this stargazing trip, you just told her that she was often whining about not getting the employee of the month because she was skipping shifts and she got all irritated. To the point where she walked away…”
“That’s her being the spoiled kid she is. No biggie. The usual,” he said, laughing
“That was actually unreasonable. What I don’t understand is why won’t you defend yourself?” she asked, scratching her head.
“Defend myself? Why would I do that?” he asked, obviously confused.
“Because you are her boyfriend, Bastian,” she replied, equally confused. “You aren’t her nanny, accommodating to her antics. You’re in a relationship. It’s give and take.”
“Aaah..” he dragged, his mind blank while his memories chugged back to his previous ‘work’ relationships.
“Wow. Did you never realize, man? You go on defending everyone in the world but you don’t know how a relationship works?” she replied, slightly smirking at being right for once in a while. Specifically, when it got Bastian tongue-tied.