Bastian set down his briefcase with a thud, startling the noodle slurping inmates at Franklin’s Motel who were cozying up at their favourite spot of all times: The Kitchen. “Y’all need to give me a good reason for calling me because I’m sick-”
And that’s when he noticed an unexpected yet familiar lavender mop of hair sitting amongst the bunch. Erska stood up, breathing heavily as she struck the fork down the counter, almost stabbing the surface and stomped forward towards Bastian. Erska hadn’t even bothered to wash her face, still seemingly patched while her hair was bundled so loose that it was falling apart. Slight cracks were visible on her lips and under the light, her black pupils were underlined by a pinkish shade on the sclera on which lines of red ran. She seemed more dreadfully sick than she was asleep. If she wasn’t wearing a medical gown. Bastian would have guessed that she was a patient.
Bastian was stumped by her presence because he had spent the last few hours with a fresh mindset in order to revamp himself and with Erska staring furiously at him, he was not sure why but he felt like few ghosts from the past have paid him a visit.
It was like a staring contest, only Bastian’s pupils were quivering, unsure how to react. So, he said, “Hey, how are-”
Yet he could not continue with the conversation for he was being hit on the chest by Erska’s rolled up fist at irregular intervals as her furious features softened to a sadder undertone. “How could you! How could you just leave like that!”
“Not a word! Not even goodbye!” she continued, her voice roaring but managed to be shaky at the same time. Erska blinked rapidly while her hand faltered as it rested on his chest, pausing for a moment before continuing to hit him weakly. Her breathing became so heavy that it was audible, almost like a low growl. Streaks of tears rolled down her cheeks as she continued her weak attempt. Bastian got hold of her hand in order to prevent her repetitive movements. She gave in without a protest, placing her face against his chest while Bastian embraced her, whispering, “I’m sorry.”
The whole situation raised so many red flags for Quincy. “Haruhi, this is-”
Haruhi raised her hand, asking him to shut up.
“But don’t you think this looks-”
“Quincy, she’s been absolutely distressed and with the ridiculous lie that we made up, she’s ought to go bonkers. After all, she did consider him a good friend. We all are, from her perspective, people who trusted in her abilities even when the world did not. Don’t make a big deal out of it right now,” Haruhi said in a low voice while she observed the situation.
The embrace didn’t last a minute as Erska forcibly pulled herself out, wiping her face like a little kid that didn’t wanna be seen crying. “And-And the hamper?!” she stuttered, resuming her annoyed tone. “Are you kidding me? Wait right here! I’ll be back with your gift!” Saying that she stomped upstairs.
As soon as she left, Bastian turned to the other three who had put him in a mess. “Out with it. What exactly did you guys tell her?”
“We…” dragged Quincy as his fingers twitched.
“Told that you were trying to escape to Hawaii from your Uncle who wants you to get back to farming in Wales as well as to heal your heart,” rattled Haruhi.
“Wha-What?! How did you people even make that up?” he asked with his hands on his hips.
“We kind of got creative with it..” said Quincy.
“Don’t bring me into this thing,” backed off Fyre into a corner.
“You guys did a nice job,” said Bastian as he slowly clapped.
“I know, right?” Quincy asked in a rather bright tone.
“I was being sarcastic, Quincy. You’re well on your way to get your ass whooped,” grunted Bastian.
“Sarcastic? That’s a pity!” he said, snapping his fingers in a cartoonish way only to get his ear twisted by Haruhi.
“You did some stupid shit too,” interrupted Haruhi. “ Why would leave the hamper here? Then, she started pestering us where the hell you were and stuff. We obviously had to tell her that you were gone for good. That’s when the tantrums started, she was repeatedly calling your smartphone and almost lost her mind saying that not only was her book a failure, she was also losing friends!”
“Goodness…” mumbled Bastian as he rubbed his cheeks.
“She almost fainted, just crying and sleeping for almost two days straight. I’m not even sure if she took her medicine. Things were already worse but she started getting miserable,” explained Haruhi.
“That’s why we pressed Orfer to get you back,” said Fyre. “Her D-Day is nearing and obviously, my job is to make her happy. Can’t let her go like this, being my first assignment and everything. Sorry for the trouble I caused, Bastian but I couldn’t think of another way.”
“That’s okay, Fyre. I understand,” he responded, scratching his head. “Nothing could be done.”
“I know you wanted to rush back to the HQ and rest but adjust for a little while, yeah?” cajoled Haruhi.
“Nah, I get it. I’ll see you guys tomorrow,” Bastian said, leaving the kitchen with his briefcase in hand. Just when I thought I escaped….why is this happening to me?
He sighed as he stood in front of Erska’s room which was already open. As he was about to knock, he heard the sound of something getting unwrapped and therefore, decided to peep inside.
Erska was sitting in the corner next to the side table, gorging on the chocolate pieces one after the other, licking the stain on her fingers like there was no tomorrow.
“And I thought you were going to throw the hamper in my face,” snickered Bastian as he walked in. Erska, on the other hand, was caught frozen. Especially after the big tantrum she threw.
“Well,” she said as she put away the pink hamper. “I just wanted to taste a piece and it felt similar to the ones that my dad gets from Swiss and I momentarily forgot..what I was supposed to do…”
“Great,” he said as he sat on the bed. “What a cry baby!”
“Hey!” Erska whined as she slapped his thigh. “Don’t you dare! You were the one who left without a warning!”
He put his hands up in defence. “Okay. Okay. I know. Now, how do I explain this….”
“You know, I think the worst part was that you made such a ridiculous lie! Farming in Wales? Really?” she asked, cocking her eyebrow.
He pursed his lips. I don’t know too, damn it. “I’m not sure about all that but breaking up with Fleur did hurt..”
“Oh,” she said, sitting up in attention. “You broke up for real?”
“Yea..” Bastian said as he exhaled. “That was..quite hard..”
“What happened though?” Erska asked, trying to be careful.
“It just didn’t work out. She took like two shifts and she met a person at work who fit her better than me..”
“Oh….I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s been going on for a while and that’s why I wanted a bit off, you know to clear my head and shit,” he explained as the lie rolled off his tongue smoothly.
“Then what was all know you are escaping from your uncle and stuff?” Erska enquired, frowning.
I want to ask the same thing. “I think they might’ve lied so that I wouldn’t be embarrassed or something? Those idiots could have told the truth. Geez.”
“Then, what the hell are you doing here anyway? Weren’t you supposed to take a break?”
“Umm..” Bastian began, scratching his head, hoping something would pop into his head. “Well, I got to know about your thing a little bit late. The articles on the internet and everything…”
“Oh..that, huh?” she said, her head faltering as she hugged her knees. “So, you came back?”
“Maybe it is a sense of camaraderie? I felt bad that I knew it pretty late. I was only waiting at the airport, so, I thought I might just turn up here…” he said.
“Camaraderie?” she asked with a hint of suspicion. “I’ll believe you.”
“I came all the way from the airport and you dare tell me that, huh?” asked Bastian, trying to sound irritated. “Anyways, how are you doing?”
“Honestly, not that good yet,” she said as she buried her face into her palms. “It’ll take some time for me to get better.”
“What exactly happened?”
“My usual fanbase was not supportive and they bombarded my live stream which obviously would have been watched by bloodthirsty reporters. Yet it was the fans that hurt me because by now, I’m used to all the bullshit they write about me. I suppose I wanted to retain my fans even when I knew that was not going to happen. Wishful thinking, I know. I just thought it wouldn’t be very bad but whatever happened was exactly as I thought it would..”
Bastian took out his smartphone and typed ‘Erska’s new book’ only to be flooded with headlines like ‘The End? Erska’ s become a fortune teller of her own fate!’, ‘Just as predicted, she is just another writer who had a great back up’, ‘That’s why the little girl should’ve listened to her mommy!’
“Do these people have nothing to do with their lives,” grunted Bastian as he began clicking through other pages of search engine results. “What are they, bloodhounds or something?”
Erska smiled weakly. “It’s just how it is..but it’s not like they’re wrong or something. Maybe I should have listened to my mom. It didn’t really work out, right?”
Bastian looked up from the phone as he set it aside. “Hey! You don’t get to say that to yourself, okay? You get me? I really wouldn’t mind slapping me, if you keep saying stupid shit like that…”
Slightly taken aback, she just whispered an ‘okay.’
“Now,” he said as he picked up the phone again, continuing to scroll, “Did your mother say anything? Your friends? Dad?”
“Actually..” Erska dragged as if she was caught red handed. “I don’t really know because my phone’s been switched off for quite a while…”
“So, that basically means you have not checked your phone at all?!”
“Nope,” she replied, shaking her head.
“You’ve got no idea how many books you sold then?”
Her face sprouted wrinkles. “How many books? I mean, does that matter right now because-”
“Just answer the goddamn question, Erska!” he growled, making her jump.
“No, I suppose not because I’ve not been checking my account. The last time I check, it was close to seventy before the mess started but now, I’m not sure.”
“Maybe you should re-check,” Bastian said as he passed over his phone to her. “I found it somewhere on the third page. Obviously, most us don’t go past the first page when we are searching.”
“Oh my!” she exclaimed as she stood up in a hurry, almost stumbling. She was surprised to find a blog giving positive reviews for her book. It was called ‘Old Wife’s Tales’ and the owner had said something along the lines of how she had developed a newfound respect for Erska and her writing. Though it was young adult fiction which she usually doesn’t enjoy, she had enjoyed Erska’s book immensely to the point where she didn’t understand why her fans were whining. And agreeing with the blog post, forty people had commented similar things.
Bastian stood up as he saw her smile and said, “That’s why. Do re-check. There are people who support you, okay?”
“Awww thanks,” she said, her voice becoming unintentionally cutesy as she tilted her head to the side causing Bastian to fluster and cough.
“That-That’s not a problem. I mean, no problem,” he muttered. “I’ve got a plan. It’s time to change tides, okay?”
“Okay!” Erska replied enthusiastically, fists pumped in the air.
“We’re in this together, yeah?” he repeated, suddenly extending his arms horizontally as if he was asking for a hug.
Erska flinched back, amused at Bastian’s reaction. Does he have a screw loose or something right now?
Understanding that he had done something awkward on impulse, he pulled her in, lifting her up in the air for a second and letting her down. A speechless Erska was an advantage for Bastian presently which helped him grab his phone and rush to his room to save his face. As he closed the door, he leaned against it, shutting his eyes. You’re doing all kinds of stupid shit, Bastian.