The next morning, the Draphas were up early, catering to the needs of their human friend while she herself took some time to wake up from her beauty sleep. By the time Erska had woken up, the motel was deserted. Therefore, she figured that Solitarie was their only other spot of hangout. She had dragged her feet towards Solitarie only to find everyone seriously engaged in conversations in their respective phones, shocked by Erska’s shaggy appearance due to the recent plummeting of her mental health. Even if one were to consider nightwear acceptable, she hadn’t even brushed her hair. As she settled on one of the chairs, still blinking since her eyes were getting used to sunlight for the first time in three days. “What are you guys doing?”
They all turned towards her but returned back to finishing their conversations. Quincy was the first to finish his call. So, he said, “Let’s just say this is your revival plan. Something to bash those reporters in the head with.”
“By making calls?” wondered Erska.
“We are calling your fans, Erska.”
And that sentence had all the caffeine she could possibly have in one sitting. Her eyes widened in response. “My fans? What are you people talking about?”
“Bastian said he had found a blog where a considerable amount of people had liked your book. So, we ended up contacting them to organize a meet of sorts.”
“But shouldn’t you guys ask my permission or something? A meet?” Erska yelled, her teeth chattering. “How many people have you guys bothered for this?”
“So far….” Quincy muttered as he grabbed the sheet of paper that was lying on the counter in which they had shortlisted names and numbers, cross-checking it together. “Okay, so far we have contacted around forty five people and thirty have agreed to come. In total, we are going to contact seventy people and…”
“Seventy?!” exclaimed Erska as she facepalmed herself. “As long as no one sues me for this..but how did you guys round up seventy people?”
“What did you think we did last night? We had barely two hours sleep,” interrupted Haruhi as she hit Bastian on the head. “Someone had us grilled to death, browsing through every nook and corner of the internet.”
“Okay, two more are in,” said Fyre as he checked the list. “Erska, you can’t be in your nightwear right now. Get dressed up! In four hours, we’ll have to go to Lettered. Go! Go!”
Erska thought she hadn’t heard it right. “Lettered? You mean the bookstore in Leisure? Why again?”
“Because that is where the meet is going to happen, dumbass,” said Quincy as he flicked her on the forehead.
“I might actually have a stroke now,” she mumbled, wearing a bewildered expression.
As Bastian clicked off the phone, his attention turned to Erska. “What the hell are you doing?! Didn’t you hear them say you’ve got a fan meeting at Lettered in a few hours? Get going now!”
“Up, up,” continued Bastian, nagging her as he pushed her out of the seat. “No excuse to be lazy today.”
“Guys!” she screamed, getting hold of everyone’s attention collectively for the first time. “First, that costs a lot, don’t even joke about it because we’ll need to book the store at least two weeks in advance for a lower cost but that’s still money and-”
“What about this then?” interjected Fyre, shoving the digital receipt on his phone into her face.
“You-You…” she stuttered as she zoomed in to make sure she wasn’t reading it wrong. “Are you guys freaking millionaires or something? How the hell do y’all have this much?”
Fyre swiftly got his phone back. “Don’t worry, we pooled in together.”
“Why would you do that for me? It’s not that worth…and why so soon? Like we can wait for two weeks, huh? Maybe get a good discount? I can’t impose this one on you when I have to pay for it,” Erska said, dismissing them.
Quincy shrugged. “We’ve already paid, idiot. Get your ass ready as soon as you can.”
Haruhi swatted him on the head while Bastian spoke quickly before further disturbances could hinder today’s flow of plans. “Look,” he said, grabbing hold of her shoulders firmly. “Yesterday, it was their day but today and forever is going to yours. Why wait for two weeks when you have the opportunity to do it now, though it took a bit of money. You fight fire with fire, Erska. Let’s show the people that you are still standing. Have you checked how many books you’ve sold yet?”
“Ahhh..I-I haven’t switched my phone on yet…” Erska mumbled in a low tone as she forced a smile on her face. “Okay! Okay! I’m getting dressed up!” she said as she left the store, not willing to be a participant in Bastian’s reprimand.
Three hours later, they were at Lettered where all the preparations were already done. The employees had cleared out a section of shelves and had arranged rows of chairs with a desk at the front for Erska to sit. She was already there, tapping her feet nervously but all her mind could think was how much they had overpaid for the sitting. Assholes. Jumped at the opportunity. This doesn’t even cost much.
She wasn’t wearing her usual best, just a plain body hugging lime green jumpsuit with her hair tied to a messy bun and oversized bold wayfarer glasses. The others, being Team Erska Saphine, had traded their usual clothing for the classic black and white suit that resembled the guys from Men in Black except for the black bow. But as she stared hard at them like how the rest of the employees did, they looked more like groomsmen. Fight fire with fire, he said. How do you fight fire dressed like that?
“Yes, that’ll be it,” said Bastian as he picked up a brown paper wrapped sandwich from the tray that a lady was holding. “Are the drinks ready to go to? Thanks!” He walked towards Erska and handed the sandwich to her. “Sorry we had to rush here which wouldn’t be the case if it weren’t for someone who slept in again,” he said sarcastically to which Erska smiled in response.
“This is nerve wracking,” Erska said in a muffled tone as she was munching on the sandwich. “And I know most of these people here,” she said as she looked at the employees standing here and there while their focus was on Erska. “Are you sure that it is not too late to quit, Bastian?” she asked, trying to get up but was pushed down forcibly back into the seat.
“We did spend some money on you, madam. You sit down now,” he warned. “First, did you check your sales count yet?”
“Oh, that..” she hesitated and took a huge bite, slowly chewing on purpose as she switched on her phone for the first time in days.
“If we were not in public, I would have punched you. I’m not lying, Erska.”
Erska covered her mouth and let out a burp. “That’s not the way you treat a lady, Bastian.”
“I thought being a douchebag had nothing to do with genders, Miss Saphine,” Bastian said, performing a dramatic bow.
Before Erska could rebuke, she was more surprised by the numbers she was viewing on her phone. “No way!” she exclaimed as she slapped herself. “It is still a small number but they have actually purchased it. Fifty more copies have been sold and it is actually increasing!” she squealed, beaming. “I thought no one would purchase it anymore, Bastian.”
“I told you, right?” he said, patting her on the back like she was a puppy. “People who support you will come. So, be assured!”
Erska threw a thumbs sign. “I’m bloody assured, alright. Seeing them, makes me all assured,” she said, pointing towards a familiar trio that was balancing books on their arms to the dismay of certain employees. Even Haruhi had joined in which means no one was in charge or even noticed that the store manager was fuming at them from a distance.
“Aaahhh. These people making a fool out of themselves at the wrong time,” sighed Bastian. “I’ll be back, Erska!”
As he approached the trio, Quincy called out, “You check this out! I never knew this was possible.” He had piled up the books in such a manner that looked like the house of cards.
“I can better you, Quincy!” retorted Haruhi as she began picking those books from Quincy only to be intercepted by Bastian.
“Guys! We are out! Not the time to be behaving like kids!” hissed Bastian as he took it forcibly. “If you hadn’t noticed the manager is pretty pissed off with us right now.”
“Really?” asked Fyre as he surveyed the surroundings. “I don’t see anyone.”
“The man with a honeycomb like hair at the register,” whispered Bastian. “See him?”
“Oh, him? I can take care of him,” assured Fyre, winking at him.
“Fyre!” grunted Bastian, hitting him on impulse.
“I cannot believe you did that, Fyre,” said Quincy with his hands folded. “From choosing someone like me to him?” His face turned disgusting like he was breathing sewage stench.
“Quincy. You do realize that man can see you, yeah? Are we out to embarrass Erska now?” groaned Bastian.
“Really Quincy?” continued Fyre, totally unbothered. “You aren’t that much of a catch either!”
“I’m sorry, is anyone even listening to me?!” hissed Bastian, arms flapping in an excited state.
“I think the only person probably worried is Erska,” said Haruhi as she waved to the lone girl from a distance. “And probably worried about the way you just acted. Like a Russian dancer hopping on coal..”
“Which I wouldn’t be, Haruhi,” he explained patiently. “If you guys didn’t act like monkeys.”
“The real question is why are you being all hysterical right now. Just chill,” she said, patting him on the back. “Fyre will take care of it. He’s her Drapha, right?”
“Whatever it is, I will,” replied Fyre lazily because he was busy winking at someone else.
“I…I’m not even going to try,” muttered Bastian as he turned towards the entrance and saw that people were arriving. “I’m done with you people.”
“Now, you know what I deal with every day..” sighed Haruhi, shrugging as she joined Bastian to welcome the guests.
Soon, the place was buzzing with people to the surprise of the employees at the store. One after the other, they greeted Erska and even left some gifts for her. It definitely wasn’t her usual numbers for which long queues ran till it reached the mall’s entrance. She was surprised to find that there were some that genuinely appreciated her book.
“I never thought I would come to like your book, Erska. No offence,” giggled a rather old woman, probably in her mid-thirties – a demographic she never thought she’ll be able to reach, having seen a lot of teens at her fan meets. A box of cookies was passed to Erska. “I got to know yesterday that the internet was being harsh on you. Keep on going! I liked this a lot better than your first one!”
“Thank you. Thank you so much,” said Erska enthusiastically as she shook her hands.
“No problem. Just wait and see,” she said as she gestured to the crowd clicking pictures and videos. “It’ll show that people were hating on you for no reason in no time!”
“Thank you for your kind words. I couldn’t thank you enough,” Erska said, beaming brightly as the next person came forward, their form covered by a huge bouquet of chocolate shaped roses.
“That looks …amazing!” exclaimed Erska, mesmerized by the bouquet so much that she wasn’t looking away when she was signing. “It kind of resembles like the one my father gets me.”
“Well, Dad sends you his regards, dear,” answered the fully clothed woman with sunglasses, oversized coat to hide her frame, her salt and pepper hair tucked inside the scarf.
“Mom!” gasped Erska as she got up but Alice in disguise forced her down. “What are you doing here? Is this a surprise? Were you invited?”
“Not exactly but I hope everyone is allowed,” she said, lowering her glasses. “Since today morning, the phones kept buzzing about an apparent fan meet. With no official announcements, I thought it was a lie, considering how negatively the internet had reacted. Rumour or not, I had to come and see for myself,” she said, looking around. “But you proved them wrong. And me too.” Alice smiled as she touched her daughter’s cheeks. “You did me and dad proud. You did you proud. You did them proud too,” she said, pointing to the Cheetah Clique that had assembled in one corner, fists raised in the air as a show of support. “And you did it all alone.”
“Well, I had some help,” replied Erska, instinctively glancing at the Drapha quartet who was messing around. “It was Bastian’s idea.”
Alice chuckled. “That boy’s one confident idiot.”