It was always Haruhi’s sole job to procure vegetables and fruits from the farmer’s market but for some reason she was able to drag the whole lot to accompany her this time. Knowing Haruhi, she was the kind to dig dirt and threaten each in the softest way possible, specifically the ones that had to be cajoled because the farmer’s market was one long line of stalls that opened every Friday at Cafakla. There was a typical earthy scent when one entered the makeshift area but what enticed anyone more would be the various bright colours popping out from each stall – wild greens, sunset oranges, mustard yellow melons and blood red apples.
It was definitely candy for the eyes.
“If you keep staring that hard, your eyeballs will actually pop out. Ask me whatever you want,” Bastian said, carrying an empty basket in his hands.
“Okay. It’s just that it is a bit weird for me to ask,” replied Fyre, swinging a smaller bag as they lagged behind Haruhi and Erska who were practically skipping. Quincy trudged a little behind Haruhi as if he was under her command. But none of them except Haruhi and Erska were eager to go because Haruhi had already deemed that it was going to be a man’s job to carry all necessities back to the motel. Normally, they wouldn’t have protested if they wanted to show off their ‘manliness’ but the distance between the two destinations was enough for them to dream of an oasis.
“Then, don’t ask. Keep quiet.”
“Nope, I’m still going to ask,” Fyre said, clinging to Bastian’s arms as his mullet bounced up and down.
“Yea. Yea. Whatever,” he said, trying to shrug him off but Fyre’s hold was a bit sturdy. Quincy titled his head back to glimpse at Bastian. Seeing this, Fyre loosened his grip.
“Why on earth were you looking at Erska while you were kissing Fleur? Some kind of toxic jealousy?” he asked outright.
Bastian cringed a bit on the inside. Great. Now, you are going to be wounded for the rest of your life, Bastian. The things that you have begun doing.. “There is no use lying since it was very clear your figure was hovering around Erska like a hyperactive idiot when I kissed Fleur. I will be frank. I’m yet to figure it out..”
“Do you like Erska?”
“She was just my former assignment, Fyre. I don’t fall for them,” he replied resolutely.
“Because that is the only way I can make sense of this whole thing. What else could be the reason?” Fyre wondered to himself. “You kind of need to thank me because I’m helping you clear your brain.”
“That’s some nice way to bullshit,” he said, swatting Fyre’s head. “Obviously all that I did was prepare that whiteboard because it was my kinda planning and she found that out. I did flirt with her because at that time she was my assignment but when Fleur happened, I switched over. So, I understand that part because it is to prevent my identity from getting exposed. It wasn’t this that angered me. She calling me a slut..Now that!” Bastian slapped his thigh in frustration. “I’m over people calling me a player, playboy, boytoy and shit! It’s not fair when all I did was-”
His steadily increasing voice caught the attention of the three figures who were walking before them. They stood still looking back and forth at Bastian and Fyre.
“Any problem, guys?” asked Quincy, a tad too worried.
“No-Nothing. Go ahead,” Bastian stammered, waving them off.
“Since when were you both good friends? Looks like a master and slave relationship!” commented Quincy.
Fyre clung onto Bastian’s arm. “Why are you bothered if we are friends? Jealous much?”
Quincy swiftly turned his head and strode faster while Haruhi and Erska ran up to catch him.
“What’s wrong with Quincy?” asked Bastian to himself.
Fyre simply shrugged. “He’s a little kid…Don’t mind him. Let’s go back to what we were talking. You were frustrated with people calling you names.”
“Which you also did,” Bastian reminded, snubbing him.
“Which I apologize for. Sincerely,” replied Fyre.
“Okay..” Bastian dragged, looking at Fyre doubtfully. “So, I was frustrated.”
“You kissed Fleur because you were frustrated since Erska called you names? This is worse than kinder garden romance!” he exclaimed, trying to connect the dots.
“That’s stupid logic but I did make Erska jealous..” he replied, smirking.
“How is that?” Fyre asked, frowning. Either he was dealing with a mental patient or a dumbhead who was going in circles. Never did I think I’d come across the day when one of our famous Draphas stoop this low.
“Because she has a crush on me.”
“How do you know if it isn’t just your fantasy, Bastian? Most of the time she acts pretty indifferent.”
“Fyre, there is one thing that you should never question. Draphas and the kind of charming ability that we have. Is that evident enough?”
“I could agree no more,” he smiled back. “We are the best at what we do.”
They stood behind Quincy and Haruhi at an apple stall and all their vision could focus on was how Haruhi had adopted her usual stance of threatening, pointing her finger at Quincy.
“Woah. Woah. We are in public, Haruhi. What are you doing?” Bastian asked in a whisper.
“Bastian! Tell me! Wouldn’t you do anything if you could get something for half the price?” she asked, animatedly.
“They give stuff for half the price??” he asked, eyes widening.
“Exactly! Now, this is what I call a normal reaction, Quincy,” she said, gesturing towards Bastian.
“She literally wants me to sell my body!” he grumbled, pointing towards the fruit salesman who was behaving in a strangely coquettish way towards Quincy, winking.
“Sell? All that man asked for was a kiss on the cheek. Though I don’t see the appeal..” she mocked, surveying Quincy up and down.
Quincy staggered back. “Excuse me. I can charm ladies. You don’t know what kind of a Drapha I was-”
“Well, then turn your charm on men too,” she said.
Bastian rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I mean it is just a kiss. Come on, Quincy. You can do that. It’s not even on the lips. Prove your worth, man,” he said, placing his hand on the shoulder in reassurance.
“Seriously? You too? This is bullshit. I mean it- Wait. There is no way y’all are short of money. Should I ask the HQ?” he reasoned.
“No, I’m not short of money. I could very well pay for the entire stall and buy it,” she stated in the most nonchalant way possible, looking at her nails.
“What?” chorused the other three.
“I’m just having fun, punishing my friend,” she said, placing a firm hold on Quincy’s shoulder as she winked. “If you don’t get it for half the price, I’m shipping you back to HQ. You know why you’ll get into trouble, right?”
Bastian, the things I do for you. Should have stayed in your own bloody lane. Quincy’s mouth was zipped as he turned towards the stall while Bastian and Haruhi proceeded towards the next one where Erska was buying greens. The salesman stood up, smiling as he turned his cheek. As Quincy prepared to lean in, his movement was restricted further since Fyre tugged onto his shirt from the back.
“Are you serious, Quincy?” Fyre whispered bitterly, pulling him back forcefully, stunning him.
“Of course, let go!” he said, removing Fyre’s hold on him.
“You’d rather do some-some cheap ass kissing but avoid me?!”
Quincy turned around, his pointed finger nudged Fyre in the chest consecutively. “That’s because this is a one- time thing like how I do it with my assignments. This has got nothing to do with gender. And I’ve never been in a proper relationship nor am I interested in anything.”
The salesman was getting impatient, tapping his toes. As Quincy smiled apologetically, Fyre barred him as he pulled some cash out of his wallet. “Would this cover it?!”
The salesman, taken aback, nodded his head in slow motion at the sudden outburst. He accepted the cash and got a bag of apples which he handed over to Quincy whose brain was still processing the ongoing.
“You didn’t have to do all that,” Quincy muttered in an annoyed tone under his breath.
“You-You don’t understand a damn thing, do you?” Fyre yelled, looking offended as he grabbed Quincy’s unsuspecting form by the hand and ran into the closest alley.
“What are you doing, Fyre?” he asked, wriggling off his hold as Quincy rubbed his wrist.
“Don’t do something like that ever again,” said Fyre, closing on Quincy. Any closer, their bodies would be in contact due to the narrowness of the alley and Fyre wasn’t bothered about it.
“You’re getting ahead of yourself, Fyre.” Quincy had gone through some crazy relationships due to his assignments. This wasn’t any better than that.
“Quincy, I’m controlling myself,” he said, cupping his chin rather aggressively. “And you want to act like a truant child, going around kissing and doing shit. If you don’t care much for it, then you wouldn’t mind this, would you?” he said, nuzzling Quincy’s neck while his arms slid to support his back pressed against the wall. He licked his neck slowly before nibbling on it, trailing upwards.
Quincy looked up to the sky, biting his lips in order to deny the moan that would escape if he wasn’t being careful. He whispered,“You got some technique, Fyre.”
“Oh yea, you like that?” Fyre said between his warm breaths, biting Quincy on the neck. “Want more of that?” he asked, slightly glancing at Quincy’s face.
Quincy looked down, feeling Fyre’s cheeks. “Yea. We could do this. No strings attached.”
Fyre’s blue pupils began quivering as his arms loosened grip, letting go of Quincy while he stumbled, his back hitting against the other wall. Quincy’s usual mirth which seemed everpresent vanished. It was replaced by a colder, unforgiving duplicate wearing Quincy’s skin.
“I don’t do relationships, Fyre. But I don’t mind what we did just now. I got to say,” Quincy said as he nodded his head, smirking as he bit his lip. “I liked what you did.”
Fyre’s lips trembled, unable to form proper words. His weak fingers were desperately trying to hold onto some crevice or hole of sort of the brick wall he was standing against but in vain, he was left tracing the coarse surface. He simply stood staring at the black eyes that reminded him of an everlasting night, intoxicated by its depth.
Quincy pocketed his hands into his pants and left with no warning, not even a glance while all Fyre could do was replay the last few seconds over and over again until Haruhi’s vague voice started pulling him out of the reverie.
“Fyre! Fyre!” she called out, slapping his face. He looked at her as if he had departed from a dream. Closing his eyes slowly as it got teary, he collapsed into her arms.
As Bastian popped out a water bottle out the refrigerator, his eyes travelled directly to Erska’s open laptop on the counter which lit the darkness of the kitchen. It was seemingly abandoned by its owner and he couldn’t resist reading its contents of something that looked like a long mail.
He crouched a bit and mumbled to himself. “This is Erska Saphine. I have previously written the novel ‘His way. Her rules.’ I would like to submit my manuscript titled ‘The End?’ which is a sequel to my previous one. Blah, blah, blah…” He skimmed through the whole thing because it ran for three more paragraphs. As he eyed the receiver’s email ID which said Parker’s Publications, fast strides approaching the kitchen could be heard. Bastian instantly turned around, looking at the cupboards, pretending to pick out something from the kitchen.
“Yea, Alia. That’s right. I….” spoke Erska on the phone, startled by Bastian’s presence. She hadn’t expected anyone because she was working furiously for the past hour without any interruption. She walked so cautiously, she had forgotten that there was a caller on the phone at the other end waiting for her.
“Sorry, Alia. I was thinking of something,” Erska apologized as she sat on the chair, her back to Bastian. She tried to look back but turned towards her mail. “Mom was right in a way. If I had to go all the way, it means I have to seek no help from Bon Voyage. Besides, I do think she would have controlled my process once again. This is for the better. Goodness, you should have seen the way Nate was trembling under mother’s nose!”
Bon Voyage? You went to Bon Voyage?! What kind of bravery shot into you, girl? Bastian couldn’t help being nosy with Erska, being his former assignment and everything. At least that is what he told himself. He slowly opened the cupboard and took a box of cornflakes. If he was going to stay and overhear, he had to do something plausible enough to make her believe.
“That’s why I thought I should approach other publishers. I’m in the process of compiling a list and sending them mails. I’m going to visit a few tomorrow,” she replied, still aware of Bastian’s presence. “Will tell you if anything goes well. Yea. Okay. Bye. Miss you too.”
Clicking off the phone, she proceeded to work on her mail, cracking her knuckles only to be interrupted by a crunching sound that emerged from behind her. She turned around swiftly to see Bastian slowly munching his cornflakes, holding his bowl awkwardly while little streaks of milk dripped from his mouth since he was startled by Erska catching him in the act.
“You got to wipe your mouth,” she said, before turning back.
“Ahhh yea,” he mumbled, wiping it off. “Looks like you are approaching other publishers. Good luck with that.”
“Drop your Prince Charming act, Bastian. I’m sick of it,” she said as she jabbed the keys, her typing speed more furious than usual.
“I may be a flirtatious douche bag but I’m sincere otherwise. I’m not going to do anything else to defend myself,” he admitted as he walked out, carrying the bowl and water bottle.
Erska stopped to watch him go, her hand supporting her chin. Why do you have to be a douchebag though?