“Are you sure you are not doing this out of impulse?” asked Fyre, covering his face from the scorching sun as they stood in front of Bon Voyage.
“I’m definitely sure of that, Fyre,” Erska replied resolutely, holding onto her manuscript firmly.
“Maybe the scuffle with Bastian is driving you in a weird direction. Why not rethink…” he started only to shut his mouth as soon as Erska’s lips twitched in frustration.
“Definitely not!” she growled as she leaned in closer threateningly with a finger pointed towards him. “No more talking about Bastian! We have better things to do now! Come along!”
She sighed heavily while she pushed the door as Fyre followed her in, unsure of her intentions but whatever it was he was going have to keep an eye on her.
“How long it has been..” she muttered under her breath, taking a whiff of a scent that was stored in her memory. Usually, mornings were a lot calmer at Bon Voyage with almost no one to run into. As she surveyed her surroundings, a familiar figure stood by the reception, slightly stunned by her presence.
“Er-Erska?! What are you doing here?” asked Nate, almost stumbling.
“How are you, Nate? It’s nice to see you!” she exclaimed, rushing towards the reception as they went for a hug.
His face lit up. “You too..after what happened. It was all too soon. I didn’t think you’d actually do all that,” he mumbled. “How is the world treating you?”
“Definitely unfamiliar but it was worth the shot I took,” she said, smiling brightly. “I’m actually here on business but first, this is my friend Fyre who is also a freelance editor.”
Fyre raised his hand in acknowledgment as Nate frowned. Fire? Who names kids like that? Nate quickly turned his attention towards Erska to prevent the beginning of a very useless thought process. “How can I help you?”
“I’d like to submit my manuscript for review and check if it is worth it,” she said, placing it on the counter confidently.
“Sorry but how-how is it different from you leaving and then this-this,” he stuttered, not sure where he was going with the conversation.
“Well, I have worked on the whole thing by myself and I’m approaching the Bon Voyage for a very formal process to review it. Isn’t that different?” she retorted. “So, can you do that?”
A shadow peeked behind Erksa’s shoulders. “How is it that you often keep surprising me, daughter? Did the world feel too big for you?” commented Alice, hands folded while Erska stepped back in surprise.
“No-No,” she said, almost instantly composing herself. “I’ve come to submit my manuscript formally. I’m not asking favours.”
Alice stared hard at the manuscript before saying, “I’m going to have to refuse that.”
“Why not? Isn’t it free will for anyone to submit here?” shot back Erska at the ludicrousness.
“But, sweetie, didn’t you say you want to make it on your own? Then, you shouldn’t come here because all our processes are going to be the same. Even if you were to overrule all that, I can’t still allow it because you approached Bon Voyage with probably an inkling that this felt like a safe space compared to other publishers. That’s not completely fair, is it? Why don’t you take the time and effort to actually make it on your own instead of being a baby?” she said, patting Erska on the head.
“I didn’t think of that angle, mother. You are actually right because I’ll be back soon to gloat. Thank you for your time,” she replied with a plastered smile, taking her manuscript back as she stomped out while Fyre trudged behind, taking no part in any drama.
“Mrs. Saphine?” called Nate, doubtful. “Did you have to do that?”
“Let me see how far she can push herself. She better own up to her decisions.”
“I’m so sorry, Haruhi. I have never let anyone else do this,” mumbled Bastian, his face flat on the earring counter. “This is so embarrassing.”
“That’s okay,” she said, clicking off her phone. “You should be thankful that your assignment has no pride whatsoever.”
“Yea…so, what exactly did you send Fleur?”
“I sent a picture of you that was supposed to be ‘sneaky’ with a message saying that you are depressed because you broke up with her. She instantly replied that she would come to cheer you up.”
“Hmm. No surprise..”
Are you sure you are okay?” asked Haruhi. “Why exactly are you down? Because you fought with Erska? You did that to divert her from exposing yourself as a Drapha, right? What else is the problem?”
Bastian tried to shut her with his hands. “One at a time, Haruhi! One at a time!”
“Well?” she said, fighting off his firm hands.
“It’s just…I know it’s because of the profession. The thing is I’ve never been comfortable with playing this Prince Charming role. I just became so used to it. Quincy helped me with that. It was much easier to use it on assignments. I know I act like a jerk. I know it wasn’t on purpose but it is what she said hurt me. I’ve heard those words over and over again, being a player and stuff. It’s just that..sometimes, it feels meaningless. Jumping from one girl to another, as if I have no other choice. That’s why I’ve always been angry with Orfer. I don’t exactly like this but then someone still has to do my job. I just do it anyway...” He buried his face in his palms.
“Bastian. That’s a huge burden we all carry, each in our own way,” she said, placing a firm hold on his shoulder, trying to calm him down. “You’ll be fine once you get back to routine, yeah?”
“You’re right. Thank you, Haruhi,” he said looking up, hoping for the best.
“I should get going I guess. Leave you two alone,” she whispered as she eyed Fleur coming into Solitarie. “Better go check up on the motel.”
Bastian slightly nodded in affirmation as Haruhi left. He fell back into his former position, allowing two hands to hug him. He looked up slowly, pretending to be surprised. “Fleur..how- what are you doing here?”
“You were really pretending, huh? I knew it! There’s no way you would actually break up with me,” she said, brushing his hair as she cupped his face. “Your face looks real sunken.”
He held her waist close, hugging her. “I missed you. I realized I made a mistake but I wasn’t sure if you would come back to me. After all that I said…”
She pulled from his embrace, feeling his cheeks. “I was so angry and sad. Thank Haruhi or else I would have never known how you are feeling. From now onwards, let’s just be more truthful about our feelings, okay?”
“Agreed,” he said, kissing her hand. “Let’s hang out the whole day.”
“Alright. Let’s go crazy today,” Fleur said, mildly yanking him out of the chair, his supposedly lifeless body. He smiled, letting himself get pulled by her as they went towards the entrance. From the other side, Erska and Fyre entered, animatedly bickering about something.
“Well, I thought if I approached Bon Voyage, it would be like revenge. Like getting back at my mom-” Erska halted, not expecting to visualize an unforeseen reunion.
Bastian and Fleur stopped in their tracks, blank. Fed up, Fleur dragged Bastian out but was restricted by his sudden pull in the opposite direction which brought their bodies closer as he held Fleur’s chin firmly, kissing her while his eyes went straight for Erska.
Erska sneered as she rolled her eyes, stepping back at being present in the most ridiculous scene possible. What is he, trying to make me jealous or something? For the first time, I’ve seen you go so low, Bastian. Making me jealous with your own girlfriend!
“There you are! I knew you were the one sneaking those mini cupcakes that I stored for later!” exclaimed Haruhi loud, catching Quincy in the act who was unable to defend himself instantly because his mouth was working on the heavy frosting of the cake. His blonde head peeked from the refrigerator, grinning.
“I give up. I just got too addicted to it. It looks store-bought. I’ll get some to replace,” he managed in a muffled tone, hindered by the obstacle filling his mouth.
“You better!” she said, nearing him as if she was going to throw a punch. “By the way, Bastian and Fleur just made up. Thought I’d let you know,” she said, side-eyeing him. “You seemed bothered about your friend.”
“That’s good to know. Everything will go back to being normal,” Quincy stated, satisfied with the result. He was about to walk out with the rest of the cupcakes he had managed to mush into his palm but was intercepted by Haruhi.
“Quincy, do tell me. What exactly were you doing with Erska in Bastian’s room?”
Quincy almost staggered back in surprise but was determinedly rooted to the ground with no visible change in his face. “Like I was telling you...I was showing her how messy Bastian was. Teasing him..”
“Aaah and the whiteboard just happened to be lying on the table for her to see?” she pressed.
“ No. It was actually under the bed, underneath a pile of clothes..”
“No matter how much you try to get away from this, you can’t,” she continued, holding his collar.
“You’re getting way ahead of yourself, Haruhi! It’s purely coincidental!” he protested, aggressively.
“Really? Because throughout the whole fight between Bastian and Erska, you were as quiet as a mouse – watching them carefully rather than being worried about your friend’s well being. The hell is wrong with you?!”
“I care for him! That’s why I did it!” he defended himself, his eyes bloodshot. “Do you know how worried I am?”
“Didn’t I ask you to stay clam? Why the hell are you poking your nose in and causing problems?”
He shook his head. “You wouldn’t say that if you had seen the way he was flirting with Erska. They were getting intimate! One of the things that I know about him is that he is a man of honour and he was totally out of the line! It almost felt like I didn’t know him!”
“You are getting ahead of yourself. Remember you said that your friend was a man of honour? Remind him that and he’s back on path. You didn’t have to create this huge drama. I talked to him, he was apologetic and got together with Fleur. End of conversation. You had to do all that, get him riled up and hurt him at his worst. Stop being hyped up!” she said, shaking him by the collar as she controlled her urge to choke him.
“Whatever I did was for his own good,” insisted Quincy, not budging.
“No..you did what you thought was right. Now that I have warned you, you have no right to interfere or I’ll not even let you near Bastian if you are planning to continue being hysterical,” cautioned Haruhi as she let go of him.
“Meeting dismissed! If anyone else has anything to tell me, you can stay back,” ordered Orfer as he sat back in his chair, swivelling from his position to rub his glasses. At the sound of footsteps, he went back to his former position as he adjusted his glasses. “Vidya. Not a surprise. What can I do for you?”
Vidya had grown a bit more timid than usual. Her one mistake – assigning Bastian the wrong assignment was an error Orfer was not ready to forget. He had to snub her every time they met. “I thought I should bring something to light,” she said.
Orfer sat up. “Don’t tell me it is Bastian.”
“No. No. Bastian is doing fine. He’s giving me orderly reports. No problem at all,” she spoke hurriedly before further judgement could be made.
“That’s fine then,” he said, sitting back in a more relaxed manner. “What else?”
“It’s not a big deal. I just got to know information from the administration that Haruhi, the stationed Drapha of Lessa had asked for help for some emergent measures. Though it doesn’t have anything to do with Bastian, I wanted to let you know since I’m starting to be extra careful..to prevent errors..” she stated, gulping.
“A quality I’m starting to appreciate in you. Go ahead,” he said, nodding his head.
“It seemed that she wanted to wipe some evidence of Drapha presence that had fallen into human hands. She said that it was not harmful enough to affect their daily activities and action was taken immediately,” she reported.
“If she is going to ask for our help, that means it was serious because she couldn’t contain it within human means. None of our Drapha devices helped her prevent this?” he asked.
“It seems the action was taken after one of our sensors were tripped, invisible to human eye.”
Orfer thought for awhile, rubbing his chin. “Hmmm. Exactly what are they doing? To think our presence might have gotten exposed… I want you to get in touch with our surveillance and get connected to the cameras or sensors or whatever hell is at Lessa. I’ll issue an order. Keep track of it and let me know if something is out of place.”