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Chapter 52

“These people don’t sleep do they?” muttered Quincy as he sat on the floor, scrolling through his phone to keep up with what the Internet had to say on the impromptu meet that they had put up. “It’s been an hour since the meet and how come so many articles pop up, especially when we did not invite any press?”

“Get up, you’re blocking the way, man,” said Haruhi, kicking him as she carried an oversized flower bouquet in. Bastian and Erska followed in, holding a styrofoam container of all the snacks that Erska had received as gifts.

As if on cue, he laid down instead, saying, “This is more comfortable.”

“I agree,” said Fyre, lying beside him as he looked into his phone, both bodies taking half the space of the tiny kitchen.

Erska looked at the odd combination. “Are you guys going out or something?”

“Ummm,” began Fyre awkwardly, looking back and forth at Erska and Quincy. “No. I mean I used to like this douche bag except not anymore.”

“Oh, please. You have good taste, Fyre,” commented Quincy.

“Except for one, Erska, I generally have good taste,” retorted Fyre.

“As long as you idiots stop being touchy, everything will be fine,” bickered Haruhi. “Drama queens. Just tell us what’s going online!”

“But Fyre,” said Quincy, turning beside Fyre as he bit his lip. “The kiss was good, yeah?”

Fyre nodded affirmatively. “True but it was all me, Quincy.” After which he stuck his tongue out like an impish child.

“If y’all don’t stop being flirty, I’ll step on you both,” warned Bastian, aiming his leg at a spot where it would hurt them badly.

“Okay! Okay!” protested Fyre as his legs involuntarily curled in. “I’ll read, I’ll read. So, here…it says ’As much as Erska has launched a protest against the mass voice, showing that despite the backlash that she can stand and for which we also applaud, but the support she has garnered goes onto show that it had failed to attract a large number-”

“Stop it, Fyre!” hissed Erska as she sat on the chair, almost stumbling but was caught by Haruhi. “I don’t think we need to read rubbish. Nothing in the world can stop them from writing stupid stuff,” she said, clutching her head as she rolled her eyes, wiping the sweat off her forehead.

“Yo, don’t you think your rich friends can take these articles down? Why do you got to suffer?” inquired Quincy.

“We-We made a deal not to help me out,” she replied as she rubbed her chest, blinking consecutively. “Even if that happened, then the press will be all crazy and say we deprived them the freedom of speech.” Erska shook her head twice and the rose chocolate bouquet nearby was all she could see. Probably because it was chocolate. Though it was inches away, she tried hard to reach it yet Bastian who had been watching her like a hawk, swatted her fingers away, making it almost impossible in her current state.

“Bastian!” she grunted, reaching for it again only to have the bouquet pulled away from her. “Bastian! I want to eat it, I’m-I’m not feeling good..”

Everyone looked at Bastian, all perplexed. He was staring at Erska, being all rigid, not an ounce of emotion was visible on his face.

“That’s her gift, Bastian. What are you doing?” whispered Haruhi.

“Did you take your tablets, Erska?” he asked.

“That’s none of your business-”

“I said did you or did you not take your tablets?” he repeated, stressing every syllable. He was calm yet there was something terrifying with the way he said it.

“I might’ve forgotten-”

As Bastian thrust the bouquet onto Haruhi’s hands, he turned towards Fyre. “Are you keeping check or not?”

“I am keeping check,” he answered, trying to keep his voice straight. “She might-”

“That’s enough!” Erska yelled, slapping her palms on the counter as she stood up. She walked towards Bastian, holding the counter for a grasp to make sure her wobbly legs don’t give her away. She pointed her index finger at Bastian and said in an almost feverish tone, “Stop nannying me. You don’t have the right-”

“I bet in seconds you are going to faint, Erska.”

“Whatever the fuck it is, Bastian,” she said, almost breathless. “I can handle myself, I don’t need,” she continued as she walked closer, letting go of her grasp on the counter only to lose balance and Bastian, who had foreseen this scenario minutes go, caught her as she lost consciousness.

Bastian turned towards Fyre again while he slid his arm around Erska’s neck to support her. “You better keep check,” he instructed as he led her out of the kitchen.

This time Fyre was done being told what to do. He frowned and said, “I don’t understand why you’re being so insistent.”

Bastian stopped in his tracks and said, “Because she is your assignment and you take care of her.”

“I understand that,” Fyre said as he sat up. “Did you forget that she is going to die and this is probably her way to demise? Why should I be an obstacle to fate?”

Bastian was left speechless while his grip around her tightened. Seeing that he had no answer, Fyre continued, “She’s living her best now, achieved her desire and everything and her death is probably within this week. So, why-”

Bastian had walked upstairs before he could hear the rest.

Erska shook her head as she massaged her temples. It took a while for her blurry vision to get back to focus since it was quite dark, probably late evening when the shadows faded away. She slapped her cheeks as she sat up, her arms supporting her. She looked around, noticing that she was in her room yet she was even more surprised to find Bastian sitting beside her, fallen asleep with his head placed next to her. It soon explained the mystery of how her body might have travelled from the kitchen. She was still feeling giddy as she brought her knees closer to her, hugging it. This sudden movement caused Bastian to wake up as he jerked out of sleep, scaring the wits out of Erska.

“Geez, Bastian…” she mumbled as she tried to gather her strands and bundled it flimsily against her head due to the sweat lined up along her neck, also due to the unavailability of her band.

Bastian was still rubbing his eyes as he looked at her struggle. “ You want to tie your hair?” he asked, standing up.

“Yeah…I can’t seem to find it,” Erska said as her hands felt the bed, a mess in which she might have placed somewhere.

“How can you search in the dark?” he said as he switched on the light which suddenly blinded both their eyes but they continued their search until they finally gave up.

“Aaaah..this is just so damn sweaty,” she moaned with her eyes shut, breathing slowly. All of a sudden she felt a shadow close on her, her eyes opened quickly in reaction to see Bastian remove his band, letting his hair fall while carefully gathering her strands during which his fingers slightly brushed against her neck which got her stiff in a place while he tied a bun.

“Is that fine for now?” Bastian asked as he went to pick up a towel that hung on the opposite corner of the room.

Still dumbfounded, Erska just stared at him as he walked closer again and sat beside her, patting dry the sweat off her neck. “I’m asking you something, Erska. You good now?” he repeated, acting like an oblivious sucker.

“Yea..I-I’m good,” she managed in a distracted manner.

He halted and looked at the ends of her hair, touching it. “Well, your blonde is showing. Are you going to colour it again?”

“That requires some serious thought after all,” she said after she pondered for a while. “Or maybe I’ll just let it go full blonde and then, colour it when I feel? Seriously, my brain is simply not in the mood for it now.”

“Hmm..” Bastian said, patting her cheeks. “So, how was today?”

“It was good. Did not expect it but I was really surprised. Lot of people told me that they would keep supporting me though they weren’t my fans initially. I was happy to hear that,” she said, faintly reminiscing morning’s events. “Did you see my mom? And my friends?”

“Your mom, huh?” wondered Bastian. “I did see your friends but there was this odd person looking like some mafia mistress and…okay, that’s definitely your mom.”

Erska giggled at the description. “That’s her and she seemed pretty proud of me. She actually said that. I’m..happy to hear that..”

“You proved her wrong, Erska,” Bastian said, offering his fist for a bump which was reciprocated.

“Not without your help, Bastian,” she said, pointing him. “So, since I’m feeling all generous, tell me one thing that you want fulfilled and I’ll be your fairy godmother!” she said, waving an imaginary wand in her hand.

“Ummm…not really. I got nothing,” Bastian said, leaning back.

“C’mon, Bastian!” she said as she sat up, slapping his thigh in frustration. “Don’t be such a stuck up now!”

“Okay,” he said, leaning forward as he took her hand in his, getting all serious. “Take your tablets, okay? Just do that.”

“I’ll-I’ll do that, okay?” she said quickly. “Just tell me something else.”

Bastian began twirling the ends of his strands, licking his lips as he dived into a long thought process to the point where it got Erska yawning. He hesitated but managed to roll the words off his tongue. “How about a hug for your friend?” he asked, extending his arms.

Erska narrowed her eyes. “That’s all?”

His face faltered. “I’m leaving,” muttered as he was ready to go only to be pulled back onto the bed forcibly by Erska, tugging onto his shirt.

“Okay. Okay. Come back, you idiot!” she said as she extended her arms to which made Bastian nervous all of a sudden, moving in cautiously as he put his hands around her neck, patting her in intervals, breathing in and out slowly as if the rhythm matched both of them. And that’s when her signature vanilla scent hit him, throwing him on a loop of memories, especially the time when he smelled the similar scent on her. At Deliah Park. Slightly mesmerized by the familiarity and a warmth denied for so long, he began massaging her back to Erska’s surprise, tightening his grip which sent chills through her spine. His locked in feelings went wild and uncontrolled and he had no intention of taming it at that moment. She was all curled up in him, unexplainable tension building in her while her heart pounded so hard that it was audible to her ears. Nervous, she moved her arms around him a bit, accidentally brushing her lips against his nape which was like a jolt sent through his body, bringing him back to reality. He removed himself from the embrace to see that Erska, too, was in shock. Her eyelids were moving back and forth between the hazel spheres fluttering as she licked her lips.

“Ummm…” Bastian muttered, lowering his head and that broke the spell for them.

The door suddenly opened, a timely interruption to wade off the awkwardness as both of them jumped off their seats. Fyre peeked in and said, “Thank goodness, you are awake, Erska. Why don’t you get dressed up? There’s a surprise waiting for you downstairs.”

Erska looked at Fyre and then, a clueless Bastian. “Please, don’t tell me there’s another meet. I can’t, I really am done.”

“Just shut up and come down, you’re gonna make people wait, Erska,” he warned rather sternly and went out without another word.

Since there was no dress code informed, she went for a neutral short black dress and walked downstairs cautiously, pushing Bastian forward as if he was her bodyguard.

“Guys!” exclaimed Haruhi as she strutted in from the entrance of the motel and grabbed onto Erska’s hand, leading the way “Come fast!” Erska turned back to Bastian for an answer who simply shrugged.

“What is it, Haruhi?” she mumbled but as soon as she went out, she gasped at the crowd gathered which collectively turned towards her as soon as she entered. Here and there, people carried that said something like ‘We are here with you, fight on!’, ‘Team Erska Saphine forever!’, ‘We’re here for you, Erska. So, write on!’

Instinctively, Erska bowed down, hands clasped together. Her eyes started tearing up slightly as she kept surveying the surroundings back and forth. “I..I..” she started but no words came out of her mouth. Bastian was also surprised by the overwhelming support that they had received, basically blocked the entire street. Looking closely at the crowd, he found some familiar faces from the neighbourhood. That’s right. The people of Cafakla never let one of theirs down.

“Don’t worry, Erska!” screamed someone, holding the board up high. “Let them write whatever they want on the internet! We’ll still be here!”

As if on adrenaline, everyone cheered loudly. While it quietened down, one more person came forward and said, “Neither will we. We don’t let people mess with us in Cafakla. If anyone dares enter, we’ll pitchfork them!”

“Hear, hear!”

“That’s right!”

Soon, the crowd began mingling, food rolling out from all directions. Cafakla had been busy when Solitarie and Franklin’s Motel had been comparatively quiet. Mrs. Delaney and Thomas were serving cupcakes from a tray as they waved at them. Fyre, Quincy and Haruhi went around as they tried to help the people while Erska still stood, shell shocked along with Bastian.

“Ummm, guys..” Erska started in a feeble tone after which she cleared her voice and switched to a more louder tone. “I cannot thank you enough for supporting me. I could not have asked for more. This really is one of the best things that happened to me, like a wish I never knew I wanted, all coming true!”

Everyone cheered again but all muffled since they were busy stuffing food in their faces. So, both of them plunged into the crowd to join in the fun. Erska felt like a local celebrity, shaking hands, signing and giving free hugs while the rest of them passed on food to her which she gulped down- to the point where she had to hide near a tree on the opposite side of the street which made a great hiding place since it was night– just so that people would stop offering her food. Bastian who had accompanied her was also a victim.

“Fuck. I might vomit,” she said as she held onto the tree for support. “That was too much.”

“I know,” agreed Bastian as he leaned onto the other tree. “I didn’t know today was going to end like a bang!”

“Me too!” Erska said as she looked at the crowd, her hands clutching her chest. “These people left their worthwhile jobs to do this.”

“Come on, give yourself some credit,” he said, walking towards her. “But yeah that is also true!”

She punched him on the arm playfully. “Idiot!”

“So, how do you feel now? Now, that the people have really is nothing compared to what we tried to do..”

“Man, I’m not joking but I really feel like I’m over the moon,” she said, looking at the night sky for its luminous white companion. “Though to be frank, it kinda did remind me of my previous fan meets, you know, during my first book…the numbers have drastically reduced obviously…but…” Erska rubbed her palms together, not sure where she was going. “It was like fall from glory but…I’m not sure how to explain this feeling.”

Bastian smiled, patting her head. “You need to get used to this, this new world for which you’ve taken responsibility unlike your previous attempt. All this,” he said, pointing to the crowd. “You made it happen. No agency, nothing. They are here for you. Sure, we supported you and stuff but none of this would have been possible if you hadn’t picked up your pen and wrote what you wanted.”

“Yeah….in the end, I was finally able to show my true self and it so happens some people are out there who do want to see it I guess,” Erska said, nodding her head.

“It may not be gaudy, it may not be where you are the star of the night, waving in between hordes of fans, no longer the long queues and people wanting to meet you…,” he said, staring into her eyes. “But you no longer have to disguise yourself.”

“Which is exactly what I just said, Bastian. Thank you for the explanation,” Erska commented in a rather serious tone.

“Well, I just…thought I made sense,” he said, scratching his head so awkwardly that Erska started feeling bad.

She held his arm and said, “I was just joking. I’m sorry.”

“That’s fine.”

“So, with the moon in the sky and the people assembled,” she said, dusting off her hands. “I’m going to take this time to ask you a question.”

“Okay…” he dragged, not sure where she was getting at because she was all hyped up suddenly.

“Do you like me, Bastian?” she asked, turning towards him.

Her raven black eyes were boring into his in so much seriousness that all he could do was flinch back and bite his lips.

Seeing that he was startled, she just continued to pour her heart out, not holding back on everything that she has held in for quite a few months. “Because it seems like you just broke up and all these mixed signals are not working…and I don’t wanna be Fleur’s replacement, yeah? That’s just not nice. Plus, you do know that I’ve been having a crush on you and stuff. I need to know if this is serious at all…”

Despite all the sentences ringing clear in his ears, he was in a blank state as if he was watching her speak in a monochromatic, silent film. He tried to close his eyes to think clearly but to be hit with darkness again was like no escape once more. Not knowing what to do, Bastian simply stepped a few steps apart, creating distance from her and whispered, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it anymore.” After which he turned away, clutching his chest and breathing slowly. He clasped his mouth which began to whimper as if on instinct as an unbearable pain invaded him, causing him to tighten his grip over his feelings from fracturing his feeble soul. He bit his lips while clasping onto his mouth so hard that his nails dug onto his skin, he began to let his tears roll down along with every single thing he had managed to hide in the past few days and possibly something that had been in disguise for so long - before he could finally sort his feelings out.

Erska, on the other hand, was taken aback by his sudden change. She was so sure that he was going to act cocky or reject her or rather accept her by a large chance because he certainly was acting different. She stood rooted to the ground until she heard something that sounded like a sob that got her hair standing on its edge. Unsure of what she was hearing, she edged closer as his form began shaking. Without a warning unlike the alarm ringing in her head, she grabbed hold of Bastian and pulled him towards her. Initially, he seemed to be protesting against her advances but finally, he gave in, weakly. She gasped, looking at his face, having never seen anything like this before. He was a mess, tears continuously streaming from his emerald eyes that were now twinkling beautifully. His lips were bruised while the ends of his mouth had his nail marks, buried so hard there were signs of blood. He seemed absolutely vulnerable, sobbing like a hurt animal.

Erska’s fingers began to tremble as she reached for his face, cupping his pale cheek to wipe tears off his pink, feverish skin. He showed no visible reaction as if he was staring into a void, as if someone was controlling him.

That’s when a slight shot of anger took over Erska. Having chased him like he was the last one standing, here he was, acting as if nothing was left in the world for him. She slowly wrapped her arms around his neck and for the first time, his glistening eyes looked at her as if she was his master, ready to be commanded.

“Why, Bastian, does it feel like you’ve got nothing left?” she asked, letting her fingers through his silky long black tresses. “You’ve got no right to do that for the way you acted towards me…”

“I’m sorry,” he repeated hoarsely like a broken tape recorder.

“Aaaah…no matter what you say, I still end up falling for you,” she said, awkwardly smiling as she continued to caress his head gently. “But, somehow, something has changed now. I don’t know why. I just feel it. So, I’m just going to go with what my heart says.”

She tiptoed, hoping that she’ll feel his lips as she arched forward while pulling his face towards her. His mind went into a shock due to her sudden movement, he wasn’t sure what to do. She was slow, afraid of offending him but gained momentum seeing that he wasn’t rejecting her. He was scared to give in to the hungry wolf on the inside but he had to pull away. He was making a mistake. This was not forever. This can’t happen but that only incited anger, anger at how cruel it was because all he wanted to do was to feel her, kiss her and hug her right now. Like an addictive drug, the more he tried to refuse, the more he craved it. So, he grabbed her by the waist, pulling her body closer towards his and kissed her back with so much ferocity that it unwound the tightly bound feelings, their subtle touches spread in each other like rapid fire so much that she was also plunging deep into this cotton candy daydream, brushing his hair over and over again to reassure that it was all hers. A daydream that she thought would always be an empty longing as if she was left stranded in some lone island where she would wither away like mortal seafoam while she watched him kiss another girl. Tears dripped down her cheeks, allowing the agony to let go of its hold on her.

But, now he was with her, in her arms, together with the moon and stars as their witness, wishing for an eternal night because they had finally reached home after being lost for so long.

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