“I can’t believe I just agreed to this,” Erska grumbled, smoothing out the expanse of gold ripples waist down. The mustard gold satin was wrapped around her slender figure smoothly, elevating her bronze skin. Her lavender tresses were folded into a casual bun. Simple silver hoops, little to nothing eyeshadow and wine shaded lips did the trick for her. It took until the last minute to force the dress upon her and kidnap her to the surprise party set up by the Cheetah Clique.
“I don’t understand, Erska. Leave the madness for a while. Besides you looking absolutely stunning and this atmosphere being worry free and all, what do you got to complain? Just free your mind for one night,” objected Haruhi who was more than happy to have dusted her short bodycon netted black dress with a flattering halter neckline.
“Well apart from me being obviously down for a while-”
“I’m sorry but that topic is long gone,” Haruhi cut her off as they picked glasses of wines as a waiter passed by. “You being a sloth was over when you got excited by those hairpins.”
“And,” Erska continued, unable to deny the fact. “I’m pretty much used to sweats that this feels alien,” she said, pointing to her dress, mainly her exposed right leg. “For some reason, it just feels naked. Not that I’m not used to wearing this but it has just been so damn long since I attended parties.”
“Don’t worry, I think we might have enough drama to turn the focus away,” commented Haruhi as she gestured to towards a festive looking pair.
“I got to say, Erska. You look hot!” Quincy exclaimed, his crazily spiked blonde hair dancing in the hair, opting for a daring black crocodile printed suit.
“That must singlehandedly be the worst conversation we could have ever shared, Quincy.”
“Yea, you’re right,” he said after giving it a thought. “Now, I’m going to leave before it gets weirdly awkward,” he added, spotting Fyre laughing with a group of girls. Scapegoat for the night.
“Idiot,” mumbled Haruhi under her breath as Quincy left them.
“You tried something different, huh?” asked Erska, trying to compliment Bastian. Unlike Quincy, he had opted for a toned-down but still an attention grabbing indigo blue suit adorned with baby pink florals and thin black check lines. His long black hair was tamed and pulled back into a wet style, adding a silver rimmed round glasses with supporting chains, giving it a retro vibe.
“I…” he muttered, shyly looking down. “I was bored so I was dabbling a bit.”
“At this rate, you’ll be getting all the girls,” Erska blurted, giggling without much thought.
“Are you talking about yourself?” Bastian asked, winking. “You look good..” he said, looking up and down.
Haruhi rudely interjected before the conversation could escalate. “Bastian, you have a girlfriend. Should I remind you?”
“Right. I shouldn’t have done that,” he said, looking at Erska who was trying to look away, sipping her wine for the unwanted mess she had caused. Damn it, girl! You need to control your mouth before it starts running again. Guess, I’m one flirty idiot...
Not sure what to say, he ended up looking at the wood textured ceiling for a while. “Your friends did a great job of organizing this party – not too gaudy and even a bit light-hearted…” he said, pointing to the string of sky lanterns bordering the edges, while the expanse of the ceiling was covered with a quaint tapestry of saddle billed storks flying in the skies while the water dragons galloped their way despite the gushing waves. He wanted to switch conversations as fast as possible to avoid further silly encounters.
“Oh, yea…” Erska said nodding involuntarily. “It is also good they invited the unproblematic ones though to be, frankly speaking, I’m not well acquainted. I suppose except Ira who is a bit on the feisty side, others are social animals.”
“Now that I realize, why aren’t you hanging with your friends?” enquired Haruhi.
Bastian interrupted her interrogation as he looked at his phone. “Guys, I’m going to pick up Fleur.” He left them rushing, expecting no reply.
“So?” continued Haruhi.
“I guess there’s some problem with the appetizers and Ira got engaged in a fistfight with the organizer,” she explained, absolutely indifferent. “Since I am supposedly the ‘star of the night’, they didn’t want me getting involved. Right now, the kitchen is just raging with knives.”
“You are one nice friend. After all that drama you pulled about-”
“Nah, I’m not that bothered but I should probably go check though,” Erska cut her off before she could get an earful, almost stumbling on her heels with her glass, looking like a crazy drunk.
Heading towards the kitchen through the bar, she managed to smile past the other guests while covering her nose due to the sudden whiff of strong varnish floating through the area. It was an incredibly remote place called ‘Through the Silk Route’ in Marune, a newly opened bar that her friends had found which barely had any patrons. So, they were able to book the whole place for one night. Despite containing Oriental accents, its effect was mild and soft, not off-putting at all. The area was around five hundred square feet, smooth wooden flooring except for the centre part which was surrounded by crimson coloured chaise lounges, short coffee tables and the potted ferns in porcelain. In the middle, was an inbuilt aquarium set within the floor, containing lotus leaves and koi carps. On one end, a silent lady wearing deep green coloured maxi with a qipao neckline played the guzheng with uplifting notes while on the other end was the bar containing liquor in whimsically shaped bottles set on a high wooden table underneath a line of red neon string of lights with a backdrop of a gold gong which contained motifs of the Chinese zodiac on it.
Erska slowly opened the door to the kitchen only to be almost hit by a waiter who was coming out in a hurry, carrying plates of colourful crepe style things, forcing her to stumble inside, grabbing the attention of those engaged in the battle. Alia who was barring Ira from the cook, swiftly strutted towards Erska with a fake grin and pushed her out. “It’s your day, honey. Don’t involve yourself in this.”
“We’ll be right outside, all we got to do is parcel Ira out. Just wait for us, okay?” she said, shutting the door on Erska’s face so hard that she didn’t dare go knocking back. Erska then excused herself to the inconvenience of the bartender who was being lenient in allowing customers come and go as they please due to the partially loud scuffle taking place in the kitchen.
Erska surveyed the crowd, spotting Haruhi engaged in a deep conversation with perhaps one of her acquaintances. She didn’t want to interrupt her for having created an awkward diversion earlier, therefore walked aimlessly until she sat on of the chaises. Not sure what to do, her brain replayed the most recent memory that was beginning to itch her. I was not flirting with him but somehow I couldn’t stop myself from making ‘flirtatious’ remarks yet he has a girlfriend, after all! But..he wasn’t that bothered either…does he not care for Fleur? Goodness, Erska! He treated you like crap but you care for all the antics he comes up with!
She looked up at the animated crowd, suddenly smiling at the pretty scenario, the seamless fusion of suits, flowing gowns under Eastern influence which felt like an unlikely future. Amongst the bustle, she caught sight of a wandering Bastian, pouting like a lost little kid. All the crappiness apart, he looks fine. Involuntarily her eyes lingered over Bastian so much that he was coming her way, happy to find a familiar figure. Erska slowly looked towards the tapestry on the ceiling, pretending to admire it.
“Hey!” Bastian said, sitting beside her while his hands reached for a shot glass from a nearby table and chugged down, not even bothering to think that it might have been left by someone.
“Hey….so, where’s Fleur?” she inquired.
“She’s unable to enter Marune, stuck in traffic.”
“That’s right…it’s 10:30 and the people are going to start hitting the clubs soon. Too bad…” said Erska.
“Isn’t this your night? You are sitting all alone here?” Bastian asked, his hands reaching for another glass to drink but held it mid-air, realizing it was someone else’s.
“That’s because the only people I actually know here are my friends and you guys…” she said while her head tilted in confusion looking at Quincy and Fyre, Quincy’s hands wrapped around Fyre’s waist as they chattered away with a group of girls. It seemed pretty obvious to her that the proximity between felt different. “What is going on with them?”
Bastian followed her line of sight and sighed. “Drama queens. Nothing to worry about though..”
Suddenly, the guzheng notes slowed down and the people in the bar started collectively swaying, probably due to the tipsiness. The empty centre had people pulling in, dancing in pairs.
“Are these people serious?” wondered Bastian at the change in atmosphere from a confused clamour to footsteps trying to match with the harmony of the guzheng.
“Ballroom dancing and Chinese music? Of all the crazy things I have witnessed in my lifetime, it is not so bad…” commented Erska, though it felt slightly ridiculous but she might have thought a little too far ahead, now that she was witnessing Fyre and Quincy dancing together. “Okay, tell me, Bastian. What the hell is going on between those two?”
He began scratching his neck in discomfort. “As far as I know, nothing is certain. Fyre has a crush on Quincy. They are teasing each other back and forth.”
“Wow, that’s messed up,” she said, staring at the strange pair.
“Yeah,” Bastian mumbled, tapping his feet nervously. He wanted to do something. He had dressed up after a long time and was looking forward to enjoying the night yet all his friends were in different corners while Fleur hadn’t even arrived yet. It would be like pouring age old liquor down the gutter to waste his time by sitting. So, he turned towards Erska and asked, “Shall we dance?”
Erska leaned back in surprise. “Dance? It’s not weird?”
“Oh, it is weird but...I just feel like I’m not enjoying this place enough. It’s okay if you don’t want to,” he replied, resorting to wait until Fleur arrived.
“Oh umm, we can dance,” Erska said as she got up, feeling sorry.
“You are fine with?” he asked, standing up. “Because I don’t think we are exactly on good terms I think..”
Erska bit her lip. Oh, that. “It’s just a dance after all and it is hosted for me, so, let’s just be..you know..socially courteous..”
“Okay, then,” Bastian said, shrugging as his right arm slid to hold her waist while the other hand was clasped with Erska’s. They began stepping back and forth, matching the rhythm of the others in the room as Erska began sensing that Bastian was holding her awkwardly to not touch her. Therefore, his arm being somewhere mid-air was causing him soreness, resulting in occasional drooping.
“That’s okay, Bastian. You can hold..me properly,” she said, looking away hoping that her face wouldn’t blush.
“No. I’m just being respectful. I haven’t treated you right and this..just drop this conversation and enjoy,” he stated with all seriousness.
“Alright..” Erska muttered, not protesting. And it was in these times of him being an absolute gentleman, Erska had to do a double take and re-think her perspectives. Being in proximity with him wasn’t helping her mind also, being lead comfortably across the floor in skillful hands that fit perfectly with hers while his emerald orbs glistened under the light emitted by the sky lanterns. He smiled and so did she in return. It didn’t feel wrong, settling with the atmosphere and going with the crowd. All the scuffles they had seemed miles away now, to Erska’s surprise. Either I am extremely forgiving or a blind fool...
As Bastian’s arm started hurting again, his fingers grazed her satin exterior but pulled back eventually when his senses hit.
“Stop being stupid, Bastian,” Erska scolded, as she pulled his arm towards her hip a bit too forcefully, causing her to sink into his arms, her face awkwardly landing against his chest. It took her a few seconds to go back to her former position as her instincts kicked in because, in that short time span, the velvety ensemble he was covered in and the sudden whiff of citrus scent drew her in his embrace.
“Are you alright?” Bastian asked, his voice slightly shaky as he held on to her like he was holding a lifeless doll. Erska, on the other hand, was more than fine, somewhat ashamed of the direction in which her actions took her.
“I’m-I’m fine,” she stuttered, her eyes blinking. While trying to remove his hand on her shoulder though she really didn’t want to, she tried to peel his finger away weakly.
“Of course, she wouldn’t be fine, Bastian. That girl’s head over heels for you!” shouted Alia, focusing her camera on the unsuspecting couple who didn’t think they were having an audience. Her whole gang was standing there with a smirk to Erska’s embarrassment, causing the pair to repel away from each other.
“Alia!” Erska yelled in protest, trying to cover the camera which failed. Instead, Alia, zoomed in towards the awkward pair standing a few feet apart. “And this is what happens, ladies and gentlemen when you are caught red handed!”
Erska stared at her with an incredulous look. “Are you vlogging?!”
“No. I’m live streaming. And you are providing me with amazing content,” she said, sticking her tongue out.
“Goodness, Alia you can’t. I mean,” Erska said as she glanced at Bastian. “He has a girlfriend. It is not very nice.”
“Stop lying to us,” Ira interrupted at her ludicrousness, slapping Erska on the back. “You’ve been hitting on each other since the time you were sitting on that sofa! We were spying on you the whole time!”
Erska’s face turned into shades of red. “Spying? Guys, I’m telling you the truth. We’re just friends as if friends don’t dance-”
Bastian came forward before this could escalate further. “It’s true. I do have a girlfriend. Erska is..just a friend,” he said, looking at her before eyeing Alia’s camera. “It might be disrespectful to my girlfriend if this continues and I can’t let that happen.”
“Oh, okay…” Alia nodded, mischief vanishing from her face. “I’ll make it up to you.”
“Thank you for understanding,” he said, being formal while he started punching numbers on his phone. “Excuse me, I’m going to pick up my girlfriend.”
As he left without glancing, Erska watched his form go forlornly with a bit of yearning in her eyes, inhaling the air for traces of sweet tangy oranges. “You need to move on, man,” said Alia as she slid her arm on the shoulder of her hopeless friend. “Nothing good can come out of this.”
“I know,” sighed Erska. “I’ll eventually move on but until that, let me go awry for a while.”