Two arms snaked around Bastian’s waist while he was trying to fit the baguette in the wicker basket that he had brought for the occasion. He was being nimble with his fingers because he stole the last baguette that Haruhi had been saving for a rainy day. He had spent around twenty minutes trying to fit the long ass bread as silently as possible in between cheese cubes, jam, meat slices, strawberries, bananas and a box of store bought doughnuts – all nestled within a cloth of a white and red plaid pattern that was set in the wicker basket.
“Oh my! That looks pretty!” exclaimed Fleur from behind. “This is the surprise that you said you were planning?”
“I said I’d pick you up, yeah?” Bastian said as he turned around, feeling her sunken cheeks. Her dark circles were getting more prominent and she was wearing her glasses which she rarely did out of work unless it made a fashion statement. Spying a tiny crack on the edge of the glass, he realized she was more focused on other things in life.
“It has been so long and I couldn’t wait to see you,” she said leaning in as she looked at Bastian’s lips expectantly. He understood as he softly pecked her in return carefully embracing her fragile body in his arms.
“I’m sorry I should have been faster, Fleur.”
“So, tell me where are we going?” she asked, nudging him with her finger. “Deliah Park?”
“What if it is Renest?”
“Renest? The forest? I mean we did star gaze but right now, in the evening? It would probably be deserted over there, Bastian,” she reasoned.
“Let’s just say I hired a makeshift gazebo, a table for two and some violinists. What do you say?”
Fleur gasped. “That-That must cost a lot, Bastian! Are you nuts?!” she said, hitting him on the arm. “You didn’t have to spend so much. It is not like we are filthy rich or something and at Renest? Goodness!”
“That’s okay, Fleur! Chill!” Bastian said, trying to calm her frantic self. “Once a while, I can do that. We can enjoy a bit, okay?” He let his fingers comb through her blush orange strands but at the ends, they were a tangled mess which Fleur pulled away from Bastian in embarrassment. Yet he repeated it once again, taking care to untangle it slowly. Take care of yourself a bit, will you, Fleur?
Ascending footsteps proved a timely interruption for them as they turned back to find Erska all dressed up in a matching black pantsuit, the lavender ends of her hair were fading as her true blonde colour showed, looking like a two-tone styled hair. “Looks like you guys are going out? A date?” she asked as she looked at the wicker basket in Bastian’s hand.
“Yes,” replied Bastian as he showed her the basket.
“But…” Erska said, biting her lip. “I’m going to release my book today, I thought you’d be there..”
“Sorry but I’m going to be stealing him away,” shot Fleur as she clung to Bastian’s arm, pulling him out of the kitchen while all Bastian could do was wear an apologetic smile on his face as he passed by.
Erska’s form stooped as she pocketed her hands in her hands, kicking away imaginary stones. Of course, that’s her boyfriend.
“Hey!” exclaimed Bastian, walking back in as he held onto her arm. “I’m sorry, okay?” Patting her head, he said, “Do well! You’ll definitely get a surprise when I’m back, okay?” Saying that he rushed off only to leave Erska looking all flustered. What the hell was that?
“Erska, you ready?” asked Fyre as he walked in, looking dapper in a violet suit. Before Erska could comment, Quincy and Haruhi joined them wearing suits as well, in pink and dark turquoise respectively.
Do these people just carry really good looking clothes all the time or something? “Guys. Is it uniform day or something?” enquired Erska, baffled by the ridiculous scene at display. “You too, Haruhi?”
Haruhi, on the other hand, was feeling the shame of her life. I can’t believe those two idiots actually got me into this thing. “We are Team Erska Saphine! That’s why we thought we’d all …dress..similar..” she exclaimed enthusiastically, her fists pumped into the air.
“I told she’d come around with the plan, Fyre..” said Quincy in a confident tone which seemed to fade away as soon as Haruhi shot him a furious glance.
“Okay. Okay. Let’s do this people,” clapped Fyre in order to bring everyone’s attention to the matter at hand.
“Alright!” said Erska as she followed them outside. They had made Solitarie a permanent set up for shooting, the vibe really going well with Erska’s presence. Therefore, Haruhi had temporarily resorted to viewing her clients personally at their homes while closing shop for a period of time.
“Ready?” asked Quincy as he set up her phone’s camera, trying to correct the angle.
“I guess…” she mumbled, sitting up straight as she clasped onto the printed copy of ‘The End?’ tighter in her hand which she had done for personal purposes. Haruhi sent her a thumbs up signal, brightly smiling to assure her which got Erska a tad bit more confident.
Quincy slowly counted the numbers using his fingers. “Three, Two, One. And..you’re live!”
Like a switch turned on, Erska’s nervous self was replaced instantly, her mouth curled into a bright smile. “Hey, guys, Erska here! Today is D-day, everyone! ‘The End?’ is finally out and you can get through the links that I’ve dropped in my account. Go and get your copy now so that we can get into the discussions right away but first, y’all must be wondering, right? Where is this book going? How is it going to be different from the first one? Here are some of my favourite parts that I’d like to share- our flirty boy, Daniel’s old days are calling him in and he’s over the edge, not sure if he wants to cross it or not. As for Tori, she is confronting her father – a past she is opening up for the first time and it threatens to destroy the relationship she’s having with Daniel. So, both are dealing with internal strives on their own but if they let it cloud their relationship, then it is over for real. What would they do? That’s the gist of it.”
Without a warning, Haruhi handed over a tablet device in Erska’s hands which contained comments from the live stream. So far, almost five hundred people were watching the stream. Most of the comments sounded excited for her release, affirming that they’ve bought the book.
“Thank you, guys. It means a lot that you’ve bought it. I would soon like to know what you thought of it..”
A user called Gia34 asked her what her favourite part was and soon, the comment section was flooded with similar requests.
“For me, I think, Tori’s interactions with her father are kind of the best part. She has developed a trauma of sorts due to her estranged her father who had left her and her mother to fend for themselves, therefore to re-visit these feelings that she thought she had escaped from. It is my favourite part because she starts comparing her father and Daniel, bringing in a lot of conflict and confusion – how does she react to these is something I hope you guys will enjoy reading.”
User boice_forvr asked what was new in terms of romance.
“Romance, huh?” Erska spoke to herself as she thought for a while. “You’ll see a more mature relationship because they are taking it to the next level. The initial love-doveyness is off but there are some moments though not the most explicit, are heart fluttering moments for both of them..”
Random comments came in asking if there really was no ‘doki-doki’ moments.
“It is different for sure but you’ll love the progression and you’ll see an odd mix of side characters getting together to spice up the things!” she added in an excited tone.
A lot of users sounded equally excited until user KittyMeowMeow commented that she had read the first six pages and she wasn’t fine with the way it flowed because it sounded too seriously invested in Tori and her estranged father’s return.
To which Erska replied, “It may not be your cup of tea but I think there are others who would very much enjoy.”
A handful of users came to Erska’s defence, commenting that there are other fans who would still support her. Erska’s face lit up because people were willing to try it but it didn’t last long as more and more started supporting user KittyMeowMeow, saying that it indeed was not as enjoyable as the first one. Erska’s eyes raced up and down to find some positive comment, one or the other but soon, she was drowned in an ocean of negativity as the tablet fell onto her lap. Why now? Why now of all the time?
“Ahhh that felt great after such a long time….” said Fleur as she removed Bastian’s jean jacket that he had offered her. “Thank you for today.” She passed on the jacket to Bastian who simply laid it on the room divider. It was the first time Bastian had entered Fleur’s one bedroom apartment apart from the countless times her mother had tried to chase him out. The kitchen had two counters, some unwashed bowls in the sink, a table with two chairs and a rolled out bed on the wooden like floor where her mother was fast asleep. There were two doors that Bastian guessed lead to the bathroom while the other door that was slightly ajar was Fleur’s room. He had a peek and caught a glimpse of an overflowing wardrobe of pink coats, pearls, leopard printed scarf and some mishmash of cosmetics on the floor.
“Are you not going back home?” asked Fleur, swift on her feet as she closed the door to her room. “It’s getting dark outside.”
“Well, I thought I’d stay here….for a while..” he said, awkwardly scratching his head.
“Oooh..someone’s sounding naughty,” smirked Fleur as she leaned towards Bastian while her arms locked around his waist.
“Hardly romantic, Fleur because with her around…” he said looking all serious as he pointed at her sleeping mother. “I don’t think I can even breathe. I’m just lucky to be alive.”
“Oh please, Bastian!” Fleur said in a rather high pitched funny voice that was stirring her mother, who was now sitting up as she blinked at the couple. “Oh. She’s up again! I better get her something to eat..” While Fleur raced into the kitchen, Bastian was slowly moving away from Fleur’s mother’s view. She, on the other hand, was carefully watching as her hands grabbed onto an empty box which threw at Bastian as she shouted, “Get the hell out of here, Fred!”
Bastian missed being the target by an inch and preferred to stay at the entrance of the apartment which contained a divider that separated the door from the rest of the space. Fleur rushed to bring her a glass of milk which she fed her, sip by sip until she was done after which she wiped the remnant stain off her mother’s mouth.
“I’m so sorry, Bastian,” Fleur apologized as she looked at Bastian’s green eyes peeking from behind the divider while her mother’s hawk-like eyes rested on him.
“Who is Fred?” he asked in a tiny voice which was supposed to diminish his presence but only earned him an accurate hit from a bottle of medicine that was thrown his way. “Ouch!” Bastian yelled, one hand placed on his temple while the other took the bottle from the ground.
“Mom!” reprimanded Fleur as her hands searched for the nearest piece of cloth and tied her mother’s hands a bit too firmly.
“Won’t that hurt her?” he asked, walking forward with caution which caused her mother to struggle with the knot that was preventing her from throwing things.
“No. That wouldn’t be a problem,” said Fleur, looking all exhausted as she sat down on the chair while her fingers reached to the small white bottle from which she dumped three or two a shoved it into her mouth in one go after which she drank water to wash it down. “Fred..is her first love. I suppose it is because he also had long hair, just like you do. At least that’s what she had told me. She loved him very much but he cheated on her.”
But Bastian was not listening to her. He walked towards her as he looked at her mother, watching him with a threatening gaze. He lifted the small white bottle from the table. “Are those your sleeping pills?”
“Yes,” Fleur replied, pulling them from his grasp swiftly.
“You are not even going to sleep right now..why are you taking them?” he inquired in a stern tone.
“I..I probably just got used to them…It kind of soothes my head,” she said as she rubbed her forehead.
“Don’t take them unnecessarily and-”
“I know! I know!” Fleur cut him off instantly. “Stop nagging me, okay?”
“Okay,” he said, giving in as he slowly combed through her hair in repeated motions. He knew there was nothing he could do. In little ways, each of them defined their own paths.