Bastian woke up to non-stop knocking on the door. As the door opened, Haruhi almost shoved a package into his hands and ran to her room. He stood dazed for a moment as Tamago stared at Bastian’s droopy self. After a moment of slapping which made his pale cheeks lightly red, he looked at the unforeseen package which had a pink note on top of it. It said 'Some luxe goodies from yours truly. Show them what a Drapha Alpha is, mister. You can win her over! Yours truly, Quincy.'
Alpha wolves don’t exist, dumbhead. I should take you to grade one.
In one go, he tore the metallic gift wrapper into shreds. Underneath the shiny covers was a neatly folded navy blue tuxedo which had soft black faux fur on its lapel, black pointed loafers and a heavy gold curb chain. He picked up the note again and crushed it.
Why did he act like he was sending his own clothes? Idiot.
Bastian was unsure if dressing like an ‘escort’ of sorts was going to fit with the image of him being a struggling writer but then again, a plain hood wasn’t going to do him any good in the midst of sybarites. Neither was he sure of the fashion that trended in Lessa.
No. No. It isn’t about being appropriate. It is about charming Erska. And that would do.
It took him a little longer than usual if he was going to pamper himself. He let his hair down messily yet in an arranged manner. A tad bit of eyeliner went on for emphasizing his sharp green eyes and the whole ensemble was ready after spraying a mist of perfume. Grabbing the invitation, he closed the door.
As he got down the staircase to catch a cab, he saw Haruhi talking to Franklin who was carrying Tamago in his hand. As Franklin went inside the motel carrying Tamago, Bastian went on to greet her.
“So, today Tamago’s hanging out with Franklin?”
“Yes,” she said turning around. “What’s with the fancy chain? Finally decided to try the club scene here?”
“I could say the same about you except you belong at a ball,” Bastian indicated at her slightly pale pink baby doll dress, a beaded box clutch with tropical patterns and silver pumps. Haruhi’s eyes shimmered with gold glitter, nude lipstick. While she sported a simple rose shaped pendant and silver drops earrings, her right hand wore an attention-seeking colossal turquoise ring.
“The thing is..” she began to explain until the invitation in Bastian’s hand caught her sight.“How on earth did you get invited to the Neptune Gala?”
“Did you even read the invitation?” she asked as she produced a similar one.
“No, not exactly. To make the long story short, I ran into Erska at Deliah park, you know when we went for that art gallery thing and she gave this invitation to apologize for her rudeness in all previous instances…”
“Erska at Cafakla? I never imagined that.”
“Neither did I.”
A taxi arrived and both of them got in. Haruhi gestured the driver towards her invitation and he nodded positively.
“How did you get invited?” Bastian questioned.
“Solitarie. Did you think my store was a local bauble shop?” Haruhi asked, looking slightly offended.
“Oh no…umm…” Bastian pondered for a long time.
“That came off rude. What I meant was I am a jewellery designer and I have some elite customers. I go to the Neptune Gala every year,” Haruhi explained.
“Isn’t it hosted by Saphine Fisheries?”
“No. They are just a part. You’ll find every big shot in Lessa filling their cups here. All in one place.”
“So, a party for the wealthy to show off?” he asked.
“Yes but more than that, it is a great place to make connections. That’s the whole idea,” she said.
For the first time, Bastian looked at the invitation. Swirls of red ribbons, dots of shimmer and the pale yellow card made it look like a layman’s Christmas greeting.
You are cordially invited to Neptune Gala 2018.
Date : 6 September
Venue : Morzaga Estate
Time : 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM
*Present the card at the registration in order to comply with our security checks.
“It looks very simple for a spoiled people’s party…” he commented.
“That’s because everyone knows what it means to get this piece of card.”
“It must be very boring for these people to print the same kind of invitation. They simply need to change the year and date I suppose,” Bastian observed loudly.
Haruhi smiled. “Not at all. The venues change every year. Like an Olympic torch from one household to another. I’m not sure if you are lucky or something. Morgaza is owned by Saphine Fisheries.
“Erska, dear why don’t you try this instead? This was a present from your grandmother and she’ll be very pleased to see her beautiful granddaughter in this, don’t you think?” she said as she laid an old fashioned over-sized light peach dress on a chair.
“But, mother. The girls and I took special care to choose one from Ligatuu..” Erska reasoned as she tried to strap on her short black spaghetti dress. Of course, mother, you don’t have to wear it after all. Seriously, in the last moment? In comparison to the dress, she had chosen for her daughter to wear to flatter her grandmother, Alice herself had gone for an off-shoulder mermaid magenta gown that had a trail of fabric following her as she moved. She shared with Erska her tawny skin tone and black almond-shaped eyes.
“Oh, please. We are not doing this right now. You can wear that dress when you go to clubs or other parties. C’mon. Be a dear and wear this,” her mother said in a pleading tone. She walked out carefully gathering her long magenta maxi’s trail of fabric without another word.
Erska took the heaps of peach fabric that made up the bottom in her hand and buried her face in despair. She reached out to the side table to pick up her ringing phone and answered the call. “Yes?”
“Come on down, now. We’re all preparing for a photoshoot plus you haven’t been in my vlog at all even during the preparation part. Where are you hiding yourself?” Alia rattled, annoyed.
“Uhhh..umm..” Erska dragged, unable to take control of the situation as she frowned at the dress.
“If you aren’t coming down within the next ten minutes, I’ll scissor you!!” she threatened.
“Scissor me? Goodness, What the….you know what, Alia? Make it five minutes and I’ll be there. You just saved my life today, girl!”
“What?” Haruhi asked, amused.
Bastian put her hands into his without a word and walked on the red carpet that was spread out to invite them. Passing their invitations to the registration desk, the funny haired man smiled pleasantly at Haruhi while his eyes narrowed towards Bastian.
“Are you sure you are in the right place, sir?”
“Excuse me?” Bastian asked, not sure if his hearing senses worked efficiently.
Adjusting the three strands that covered his entire head, he said, “Like suppose you should be at Marune or something? Courting young ladies like everyone does?”
Haruhi intervened the ridiculousness immediately by placing her finger firmly on the guest list. “If you would check, I’m sure you’ll find the names Bastian and Haruhi on it.”
“Of course, madam. I…umm…uh..yes. Both of you! You may enter and enjoy the time of your life at the Morgaza Estate. Neptune Gala welcomes you..”
After exchanging niceties with the ‘doorman’, she lead Bastian viciously through a path that deviated from the rest of the red carpet.
“Why are we taking the uglier path? That way seemed shinier,” whined Bastian.
“Because at the end of that path is a photoshoot which I’m not willing to be a part of,” she muttered, breathing heavily.
“What? Let’s do some justice to our amazing clothing. Like how us Draphas do,” he stated, his feet plugged to the ground.
“Don’t you think the last thing you’d want is to leave a piece of evidence of your existence in some elite archive that is also going to publish it worldwide. You’ll be a celebrity on Earth while getting your ass whooped at the HQ,” she reminded him.
“Lead the way, fair maiden,” Bastian said, offering his hand. Haruhi stomped on without looking back.
The interior was no joke. Red fabric that hung from the corners of the ceiling reached the centre of the enlarged dome. It also glided down the walls like curtains, giving off a dynastic finish as the gold-coated decorative structures alternated with rich crimson. From the centre, hung a long traditional chandelier lit in dim yellow. Along the walls were florally shaped lamps that highlighted the painted murals in intervals. Purple velvets covered the tables, a bowl with floating candles as the centrepiece in the middle. Drinks were served in silver dusted chalices, appetizers in little white hand-painted ceramic plates of abstract spirals. Men looked regal in their formal suits while the ladies graced the occasion with their flowing drapes.
“Okay…How are we supposed to start?” Bastian asked, tongue-tied.
“Start? Sorry but I do have to greet my customers before settling myself for some booze. You’ll be fine with that?”
“Unless someone is going to comment about the clothing that I’ve selected personally to attend this fine occasion,” Bastian stated, checking himself.
“Which is going to be a lot but if you are the one for sharp comebacks, you can handle anything yet your disposition seems doubtful after I saw the way you reacted to the doorman.”
“Outrageous, Haruhi! I didn’t even have the time to react,” Bastian argued back.
“Too slow, Anyways-”
Before any word of the sarcastic nature could roll off his tongue, Bastian found them being waylaid by a plump ginger woman wrapped in light lavender silk with a matching fascinator which seemed to grow plumes on its own.
“This is my personal favourite. Haruhi Pierre. She is the designer of Solitarie. You must have heard of it. Everyone does,” the ginger woman told to the other woman who was tall, holding onto her magenta dress.
“Madam Silvia. It’s a pleasure to be invited,” Haruhi said.
“The pleasure’s all mine. And who might this gentleman be?” she asked, glancing at Bastian.
“I am Bast-”
Haruhi interrupted. “He’s Bastian. My cousin. New to Lessa.”
“He hardly looks Japanese,” Madam Silvia observed.
“We’re a mixed-race family, Madam,” Haruhi said.
“Interesting…how did you get invited, young man?”
“Through Erska,” Bastian replied.
“Erska as in Erska Saphine?” spoke up the woman in the magenta maxi. There was visible greying that intermingled with her black strands, sharp black eyes that reminded him of a hawk and slight emergence of wrinkles graced her cheeks.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Alice Saphine, Erska’s mother,” she said, extending her hand which Bastian shook. She continued, “Not to seem rashly inappropriate but how do you know my daughter? I’ve always known her peers.”
“It was an act of apology. She kind of mistook me to be a stalker but I wasn’t..so..”
“Well, what do you do then?” she asked, her heels tapping. By now, Haruhi and Madam Silvia were nowhere within Bastian’s vision.
“I-I am a writer.”
Her monotone expression changed spontaneously, giving way to a bright smile.
“So is Erska. You must be a fan, huh? I know. My daughter is absolutely amazing. Such a young age and the laurels bestowed upon her…A gift to me..” she ranted, proudly.
Bastian simply pasted a smiled upon his face as he listened to her ongoing oration which he hoped would not bestow upon him the bleeding of his senses. In the corner of the eye, he was able to identify Erska’s posse – all in black except for Erska.
“You must be so lucky..if only you could meet her. I have no idea where she is. She could be with the Duke of Cless for all that I know..” Alice went on with her nose up in the air.
“She’s just behind us, Madam,” Bastian said which caused a little wrinkle formation on Alice’s face.
“You are really lucky, boy,” she said, patting his shoulder. Then in a loud voice, she called out as she turned back, “Erska dear, did you see who….what have you done to the dress?” she asked, her proud voice suddenly shivering.
As Erska walked towards them, she carefully strutted in her gold embellished pumps, not to give away too much skin to the slit that exposed most of her left leg. Black bands covered the off-shoulder bodice of her heavily netted peach number. A headband made of gold leaves resembling a Laurel wreath rested on her light purple hair. Underneath her eyes, a line of gold shimmer was drawn.
“Mother, I…it seems you’ve actually met my friend over here,” Erska managed as she took Bastian’s arm into hers and walked off the opposite direction saying, “I’ll show him around and greet you later.”
“Well, where to, my lady?” Bastian asked.
“I-I’m so sorry. I have no clever ruse whatsoever to get out of the problem I’ve created,” she whispered.
“That’s okay. I am often used as a ruse,” he said
She looked at Bastian. “Well, your whole life sounds like bad luck, huh?”
“Oh sorry..but you were able to make it to the Gala!”
“Yup but I wasn’t told it is a party for the wealthy..” Bastian commented.
“Aaah..” she said, brushing through her hair. “It’s a big deal for people in Lessa, alright..well, didn’t want to scare you off the bat..”
“Okaaay. So, should I be wary of any surprise you might throw in my direction?” he asked.
“No-no. No. No. No,” Erska replied, waving her hands. “Wait, what is your name again?”
“I’m personally offended, Miss Erska Saphine. After all, I was a ruse in your three minute cooked up plan,” he stated.
She pursed her lips, her forehead wrinkling as she thought. Bastian put his fingers on her forehead, smoothing it and said, “It’s Bastian.”
“Oh..umm..” she said, staring at the stranger who was touching her forehead. “You must be popular among the ladies, considering…but you can keep your hands to yourself, you know?” With that, she slowly removed his hands off her face.
“I’m just a nice person. That’s all.”
“Nice people don’t-”
“Erska! Girrrrrrl!! Which century were you going to introduce us to this hottie over here?” asked her friend, Ira Moe. Her posse had caught sight of her.
“The pleasure’s mine. The name’s Bastian,” he said, taking her hand.
“There you go. We are all done with introductions. Let’s greet the guests ya’ll!!” Erska exclaimed, pulling the whole lot of her friends in the other direction. Before parting, she said, “Hope you have a nice time, Mr. Bastian. Will talk to you later regarding your adventures.”
Bastian looked at them until they vanished into the crowds.
Would have been a lot easier to charm those girls than her.
“Were you even going to tell us??” Freya asked, sipping wine.
“We need him for my vlog too..too bad I didn’t have my camera with me, then..” Alia said as she surveyed the crowd.
“ How did you meet him anyways?” questioned Gina.
“Can we pleeeeease go back?” whined Ira like a child shadowing an adult.
Erska simply popped open a champagne bottle, filled her glass and gulped it in one shot. She proceeded to do it for three times.
“Woah, woah..slow down on the drink, missy,” Shania said.
“Just one more shot…” Erska said trying to reach her glass which Gina grabbed.
“Did anything upset you?” Freya asked.
“Ummm..nooo. I just wanna drink up! Or..maybe..never mind,” Erska said, conflicted.
“Lies make a pretty girl cry. Out with it,” Alia said, pinching Erska’s cheeks.
Erska looked at her friends and heaved a huge sigh. One hot guy and everyone goes on rambling as if I have the time to be actually bothered by relationships.
“Where are you staring off too?” Gina asked.
“Her possible boyfriend, maybe?” offered Ira, giggling as she and Gina began nudging each other like little girls.
Erska couldn’t take it out on Bastian who was present exactly at the spot where her eyes seemed to stare off into. She began rubbing her arm as she looked at her friends.
Nothing was changing anyways. It was always like this.
Smiling, she giggled along, “Umm nope. You can have your ways with him if you want..”
“Oooohhh…” cooed Freya.“I’ll call him over then... Mister Bastian, over here!”
Bastian stepped back, startled. Smoothing out his suit, he walked towards the group of ladies waving at him, his hands pocketed.
“So, more about the man in your life if you will, Erska?” Shania asked.
“Stooop it! Mister Bastian here is a writer too..” she said in a sly tone.
“Swash-buckling romance, dear sir?” Freya asked.
“Kind of a struggling writer, to be honest. Many thanks to Erska for inviting me though..” he added, hoping to accumulate brownie points.
“Not an issue at all, Bastian.”
Bastian froze for a moment, blinking before joining in their ‘laughter roulette.’ If that scene had occurred in the public or elsewhere, there are many possibilities to being whisked away to a mental asylum. Though Erska seemed to be laughing, her hands covering her mouth yet her eyes told a different story. They were wandering away. Fake, huh?
“Excuse me, young children. Let me kidnap my daughter for a moment, please?” asked a hovering figure behind them dressed in a normal black and white suit, blonde hair slicked back and a sharp goatee. It was more about charisma than the accessories.
“Yes, sir. You may. Just don’t forget to return her to us…” Shania said.
“I’ll be back..” Erska said cheerfully, rubbing her arms. The father-daughter duo left the posse, whispering to each other.
“So, we’ll be having you for the rest of the day..”Gina murmured, clasping his hands.
All Bastian could do was smile. He was starting to get dead tired of them. It was getting him nowhere near his plan. On top that, he was robbed of his assignment when he was starting to approach proximity.
Must start taking things to my hands. Change of plans.
“I know it is a sin to be excused from such exquisite creatures as yourself but please do excuse me while I go to the men’s version of the powder room.”
Saying that he walked off to trace the path taken by Erska and her father but he was left looking at a mass of confusion. Since the estate belonged to the Saphines , it was a great grove to get info that would help his assignment. He surveyed the entirety to see that the castle-like structure had many floors with entrances at different points. Black clothed guards seemed to creep in every nook and corner. He sighed. He had nothing to do now. Viewing the cast expanse of floors and rooms, he decided that he’d rather pursue a hobby of his. Being nosily curious about a medley of valuable objects. And this place seemed to be filled with such keepsakes. He keenly looking at the various artisanal works, peeking into each room only to be astonished by extravagance. Stumbling upon a balcony overlooking the night sky, he walked towards the carved balustrade and leaned against. Closing his eyes, he felt a cool gust of air against his skin. Inhaling deeply, he turned around to leave only to be stunned by the presence of Erska’s crouched figure to his side, a glass partition diving them. Bastian hunched down to meet Erska’s eyes which weren’t clear from the side. He realized that the glass was not see-through, considering that she had not shown any adverse reaction due to his presence. She simply gazed at the horizon as she blinked spontaneously while her cheeks turned pinkish every passing second. Her coral shaded lips began quivering as she breathed in and out slowly. Gold lines under her eyes became runny as little droplets emerged. Wails erupted and she rolled in her fingers into a ball, pointed nails against her skin. Unable to control herself, her palms closed on her lips as she bit her hand hard in order to attract no passer-by whomsoever.
Bastian staggered back as he watched her, transfixed by the ruptured emotions displayed on her features. So, you aren’t Missy-I’ve-Got-It-All after all. Who’s hurt you this bad at your home turf?