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Chapter 30

“Are you free any time tomorrow?” enquired Fyre, leaning against the entrance of Bastian’s room while Bastian himself sat like grumpy old Scrooge in a handsome suit, fanning.

“Absolutely not. I’m going out nowhere for the next two weeks,” mumbled Bastian, easing out his collar.

“Don’t worry. I’m not taking you anywhere. Erska and I are going out tomorrow. Just wanted to make sure you and your dear girlfriend don’t come prancing around.”

Bastian folded his arms. “Yea, right. Because we all loved going stargazing. One of the best things in my entire life,” he said, making exaggerated gestures in a high pitched voice.

“I admit it wasn’t the most joyful thing but-”

“Fyre, really. I’ll text you my location the next time you want to pick on me. Not now, boy,” Bastian said hurriedly, tapping his shoes in discomfort.

“Where are you going anyway? Dressed like that? You look real uncomfortable. Do you really have to go to that thing because your face..doesn’t give me that vibe at all,” said Fyre. Bastian’s nose had scrunched more than twenty times in the past few minutes.

“I’m not. I want to get into loose tank tops as fast as possible but Fleur insisted on coming to this book launching party at the store where she works. I’m really not in the mood. She’s starting to annoy me, man,” he complained, slouching his form against the chair.

“Just get it over with. It’s no biggie. After all, this is just a party, right? They’d probably have some food. You get to dress up. Once a while isn’t that fun?” Fyre asked.

“Yea, right. Fun. It’s taking the life out of me..”

“Chill, man. It’s just an assignment. Why are you being so serious right now? It’s not like she’s your real girlfriend,” stated Fyre.

Bastian sat up, palms clasped together, giving it a thought. “You are actually right. It’s just an assignment. Why am I getting worked up?”

“And thus,” Fyre began, ready to gloat while his posture resembled a pretentious Greek statue, “The teacher has become the student and-”

“Shut up,” Bastian said as he aimed a pillow at Fyre. “Get one thing right and you start bragging and stuff.”

“I mean I have to when I get the chance, yeah? Or when-”

Quincy stood at the door huffing and puffing, taking deep breaths before asking, “Haru-Haru... I mean Haruhi wants to change some display thing. I couldn’t really climb up the ladder. So, I was wondering if you could that?”

“Slow down. And, do I look like I want to climb the ladder?” Bastian asked, pointing to his suit. “You should ask Fyre. He’s slacking anyway.”

Fyre who had been standing there the whole time, unable to glance at Quincy was stuck in a staring match with the floor.

“I-I got some work,” Fyre stammered as he tried to make eye contact with Quincy while Erska’s bobbing lavender hair caught his eye in the background. “You should ask Erska. She’d help.”

“Help with what?” questioned Erska, her ears perking when her name was mentioned.

“Well, there’s a problem with the display at Solitarie, requires ladder climbing skills which I’m not too sure considering the condition I’m in,” explained Quincy, showing his cast.

“Alright, that won’t be a problem,” she replied as she walked towards Quincy only to be flabbergasted by Bastian’s fish-out-of-the-water image. “Why on earth are you wearing a suit? Did you miss today’s dress code or something?”

“I’m going to a book launching event that Fleur’s invited me to. I can’t really turn it down. I’m gonna be so bored. Books and stuff…” sighed Bastian.

“Book launching? Do you know who is the author?” Erska asked with increased interest.

“Some Arthur Fa-Fe. I don’t know some Arthur,” Bastian scratched his forehead, wracking his brains.

“Arthur Fenigan! Goodness, I haven’t kept up with him. The invite is totally wasted on you, man. If I had only..” Erska’s eyes lit up as she walked forward briskly, kneeling before Bastian, taking his hands in hers.

Bastian placed his hand against his heart, leaning forward. “Erska. I’m still a young man. Marriage is a huge commitment-”

Erska hit Bastian on the arm multiple times only for Bastian to giggle like an impish child. “Okay, what do you want? Tell me,” he asked.

“Get me an invite too. Please. Please. Please,” she asked him persistently, tilting her head in various directions like a cock, trying to act cute.

“Ahem,” coughed Bastian. “Maybe ask your rich friends. Or how about you go to the store yourself. The last time I went there, you were damn famous.”

“C’mon!” she pleaded, shaking his hands. “Whatever it was, I never dealt with people directly plus right now, I don’t know how people will react to me. Plus, you can get one for me. So, why ask someone else?”

“We could make a deal. Something in exchange for the invite?” proposed Bastian.

“No problem. How about I take you on a private tour around Lessa’s Museum? You might be able to see some first draft pieces of Codex Atlanticus… ” she cajoled.

That riled him up instantly, beaming all of a sudden. “Alright, Miss Saphine! Now, get ready. We have to be there in thirty minutes,” he said, hurrying her up.

Quincy, who was watching the whole thing, wanted to throw a large vase at them. Geez. Can’t the both of you stay put for a while? He knocked on the door. Erska stood up, slowly turning while plastering a smile on her face.

“Quincy, this is really important. I haven’t gone to any kind of event recently. Please, it would really help me. Please. Please,” she started once again, clawing up Quincy’s sleeve like a hyperactive hamster. “Besides, Fyre is free. Take him. I’m going to get ready.” She zoomed out of the place before anyone could protest.

As Fyre trailed behind Quincy, he suddenly stopped and said, “I’ll get someone from one of the rooms. They’ll help I’m sure-”

Fyre started walking in the opposite direction swiftly. Quincy ran up to him, placing his left hand against the wall and cornered him. “Why are you avoiding me?”

He began stammering. “You need help right now. I have work. So, I’ll just-”

Quincy held Fyre’s wavering face to his eye-level and gazed directly into it. “Fyre, we need to talk about what happened yesterday-”

“We have nothing to talk about, Quincy!” he fumed, brashly flinging away Quincy’s hand as he walked away.

But Quincy was persistent as he grabbed onto Fyre’s arm. Immediately, Quincy was hurled against the wall as Fyre twisted his left arm, whispering, “Leave me alone. We have nothing to talk about,” he continued as kept on twisting his arm while Quincy tried his best to resist, taking deep breaths to contain the increasing pain. “I’m going to hurt you so bad, you won’t be able to talk stupid for a while.”

“You’re hurting me bad now,” said Quincy, almost whimpering between his breaths which shocked Fyre senselessly, his fury draining out of him. He slowly removed his hold over Quincy, rubbing his left hand as he glanced at his right hand to make sure his cast was okay but Quincy pulled away his arm rudely, while Fyre turned his face sideways.

“You’re a fucking coward,” Quincy sneered as he massaged his arm.

That struck Fyre’s nerve. Stretching his neck, Fyre closed on him. “I know you like girls only. Can you do something about the crush I’ve got on you?”

“I feel like the only idiot,” muttered Bastian as he stood before Lettered, having a glimpse of the crowd from outside. “I don’t know a damn thing about books and I feel funny next to you,” he said looking at Erska who had chosen a rather casual attire consisting of matching black sweatshirt and sweat pants, her attention-grabbing hair stuffed underneath a black cap.

“That’s because you have been invited by your girlfriend. Shouldn’t you try to present yourself like the perfect boyfriend you are, mister?” she stated. “Can we go in? Why do we look like we are about to go steal some shit from them?”

“Aaah. I don’t wanna do this…” he whined, jumping up and down until his eyes met Fleur’s who was inside the store, which prevented his body from performing further antics.

Fleur strutted carefully in her walnut brown body con dress and heels to hug Bastian, softly pecking him on the cheeks. “You look dashing, baby! Well, who did you want the invite at the last moment?”

And cue, Erska was right up in Fleur’s face, waving at her to Fleur’s dismay.

Fleur stepped back a bit, looking back and forth. “Definitely did not expect you…” she said grinning. “When are you launching your next one?”

“Kind of you to ask, Fleur. Right now, I’m gonna go ahead and enjoy myself,” replied Erska, walking ahead. Aaaah, she’s starting to get on my nerves!

“You do that, Erska. We’ll be right inside,” she called out to her as she swiftly turned to Bastian, looking all grumpy. “What is she doing here?”

“She’s a writer and obviously she’d be interested in this sort of thing. That’s why, dearie,” he cajoled her, holding her hand as they walked in.

“I bet you’re looking all happy because Miss Erska Saphine has decided to grace us with her presence. You were being childish, giving me all sorts of excuses the other day for not being able to come but now you’re here a lot happier. Why, you never even tried to defend me the other time while she just ran her mouth like a herd of bison let loose,” bickered Fleur, her forehead crinkling.

“Fleur, I didn’t do anything because you were speaking, right? You did it for me too, okay? Whatever you say, I go by it too,” he said, looking into her eyes causing her face to waver in shyness.

“Okay, I trust you,” she giggled, tracing his sleeve as she looked up but her attention was caught by someone on the other end. “Damnn it! I got some work, baby. I’ll come over soon, okay? And thank you so much for coming.”

“I’ll be right here or just give me a call when you get free,” he said as he pointed towards a corner where Erska was standing, perusing a book.

Fleur narrowed her eyes but had no other way to turn the other side since duty called her.

“So, how does it feel to be back out after a long time?” Bastian asked, walking over to Erska. “Feels like you’ve been just shut inside, working on your novel..”

“What do you mean I’ve never been out? What about that stargazing trip we took?” questioned Erska.

“Really? Stargazing? Amazing plan, Erska,” he snorted, rolling his eyes. “I meant, like a social event. Even when we did go stargazing, wasn’t it always just us?”

“Wow, you’re right,” she affirmed, recollecting. “I can’t believe it myself. I’ve spent a lot of time with you guys. It does feel great to be out.”

“You do like to dress up from what I’ve seen. Why didn’t you? Maybe you could chat with someone you know. You could see your friends too. After all, this is your neighbourhood…” suggested Bastian, surveying the crowd that was engaged in conversation, the kind of crowd that he thought Erska might fit in, the kind that she enjoyed and longed for.

“I’m trying not to grab attention and my outfit blends in. I’ll be like this normal civilian, observing the proceedings. I don’t really want to talk to anyone,” she said, allowing her thoughts to free flow. Suddenly holding onto Bastian’s sleeve she said, “Why did I think this was a good idea? If I ever run into someone, I don’t really know what I would say. I only thought about trying to enjoy a change since it has been so long but I’m not going to survive today. This was a real bad idea.”

Bastian patted her on the back. “It’s going to be okay. You blend, man. You’ll be fine. Don’t worry and just do what you always do, okay?”

“Let’s just hope what you say is right,” Erska said, crossing her fingers.

At the other end of the room, Fleur was bragging about her hot new boyfriend to her fellow employees, Jane and Ria.

“That’s him? Damn girl! You got yourself a good one,” exclaimed Jane.

“I can’t believe you did that. Lucky you! Perhaps if he has got a friend, do introduce me, will ya?” asked Ria.

“Sure. Sure. Whatever you say. After this event gets over, I’m gonna introduce y’all to him, okay?” said Fleur, beaming.

“Don’t think we are going to go soft on you. We might even let out some of your secrets, Fleur!”

“If that happens, you’ll meet some dire consequences, guys!” giggled Fleur.

“By the way, who is that girl he’s talking to?” questioned Ria, frowning. “That doesn’t seem good..”

“It’s his friend,” replied Fleur, appearing to be nonchalant about it.

“Whatever it is, be careful. He’s a good catch. Anyone can whisk him away,” suggested Jane.

“I know my boyfriend, guys. I trust him,” replied Fleur in a firm manner but a seed of doubt which was already planted in her mind had taken form and finally, began its work in contemplating vile possibilities. Looking around the room frantically, while digging her nails inside her palms in frustration, she caught sight of reporters. Well, Miss Saphine. Let’s see if you can handle this.

“Enjoying it so far?” asked Bastian. They were standing almost at the edge of the room while everyone was keenly listening to the author speak about his book.

“Yea. I enjoy Arthur’s books. He’s quick-witted and funny. The kind of non-fiction I’d get into,” she said. “And you?”

“I’m surrounded by books. The last thing in the world I’d want to do is read. So, I’m pretty pumped up!” he exclaimed, raising his fists.

Giggling, she swatted him playfully in the arm yet giggling she was no longer in the next minute when she noticed that few people were collectively staring at her. Her initial reaction was to stagger back. This caught Bastian’s attention who was also unable to comprehend the situation until one person approached Erska, trying to get a look of her under her cap. “Erska, is that you?” he asked as he walked a bit too close, tipping off her cap in a flash. “Everyone! Erska Saphine is here!!”

Erska scrambled to the ground to pick up her cap to defend herself from the sudden buzz of people flashing their cameras and bombarding her with questions.

“What is the theme of the next novel and when can we expect it?”

“Have you given up on your novel, Miss Saphine?”

“How does it feel to get back on your feet? Are things okay between you and your mother?”

“Where have you been staying all this time? Is there a reason why you’ve finally decided to show up in public after such a long time?”

All Erska could do was crouch, her ears ringing with verbal nonsense while her eyes were tight shut. Before she could curl into a ball, she felt a layer of clothing over her. She looked up to see Bastian offering her his suit, protecting her away from the raging crowd and uninterrupted flashing. He was smiling as he grabbed onto her hand while the other arm slung across her shoulder, lifting her form gently and led her away, almost jogging and they were soon running as he let go of her hand, feeling the wind against their skin, out of the store, out of Leisure and into the night as fast as they could till they were breathless.

“That was..something. Crazy people..” Bastian said, sitting in the middle of the vacant road in between breaths.

“I-I’m sorry. You also couldn’t enjoy your time,” apologized Erska, holding her knees and letting her cap drop.

“Shut up. Really. Damn you work hard. Really hard, dealing with people like that. Thumbs up to you,” he complimented, winking.

“The usual,” she said, waving him off as she looked back to see if people were still chasing them.

“Still,” Bastian said, eyes twinkling under the moonlight while he stroked her hair. “You be proud of yourself.”

And she wasn’t breathing anymore, partially transfixed at his suddenness, his fingers combing through her hair which got her all tingly with the wind whistling through her strands.

Realization hit Bastian a little too late, letting his hand falter while mentally noting to take control of his unconscious actions as he looked at his palm. He swiftly turned the other way, saying, “Okay. Let’s go back.”

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