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Chapter 8

Here we go again.

Sighing, Bastian pushed open the door to Bon Voyage. He had gotten himself booked for a writer’s session. He went up to the reception from where he was directed to a particular room on the second floor. Along with himself, ten other individuals had registered for the session, sitting in the circular arrangement of chairs. It was high on demand, of course, if it was going to be headed by Erska herself.

Settling down on a chair, Bastian looked around to see everyone in smiles, chattering to make small talk with their heavy diaries containing scribbles all across the pages. That shot anxiety down his spine. His messenger bag contained some sheets and a singular pen. Shit was about to go down if he couldn’t masquerade properly.

Erska walked in, exchanging pleasantries with everyone as she passed by. She looked at Bastian, nodding her head in acknowledgment. Setting her bag in one of the chairs of the circle, she turned towards the eager audience. A round of introductions passed through before the event began formally.

“So, guys...I want you all to loosen up yourself. We’ll just have a casual talk. Writer to writer. Easing up a bit. Anybody wants to start? It can be anything..the stage is all yours..” Erska started briskly.

A knock interrupted a young man’s raised hand. A corner of the door opened, revealing Alice Saphine which evoked a low gasp from the audience. Probably surprised to see the person behind their favourite writer. Alice gestured Erska to come out.

“Excuse me. I’ll be back..” Erska muttered. The door closed and minutes later, Erska was back with a brightly smiling blonde girl around her 20s dressed in a tight black bodycon, carrying a white leather handbag embellished with gold. Her lace gloves and encrusted platforms caught everyone’s attention. Erska pulled a chair for her next to her own, resuming what she had begun.

“So, casual talk..anything you want to share?” she repeated.

The blonde girl stood up and said, “Hey…nice to meet you. My name’s Megara Jones. Meg for a shorter version. I just want to say I’m a big fan of Erska’s ‘His ways, Her rules.’ Like I have to say, it was soooo good for a debut novel. I’m sure everyone agrees with me..” Some slow clapped, others nodded in agreement. Erska herself seemed shy with the straightforward praise. She whispered a ‘thank you’ in response. Satisfied with her comments, Meg sat down on the chair with her legs crossed.

“Anyone else?” Erska asked.

“Me,” rose the young man who had previously raised his hand, “So, I don’t want to come off an anti. I’m not a fan of romance but I did read your book. Not my genre but I can tell a good book when I see one. Honestly, when I look at the relationship between Tori and Daniel, I feel the focus is majorly on how they show their affection towards each other. The portrayal of character seems non-existent …”

Erska’s face showcased a wide range of emotions over time from confusion to uncertainty. She took a deep breath in, taking a moment to collect her thoughts. “ I’m pretty sure that..umm through affection, the characters are well expressed through the feeling one shows. Parts of their characters are so obviously explained, you see..”

Most of the audience’s reaction turned from mild rage to pleasantness during the conversation. He sat down, confused yet nodding at the same time.

“Anything else..I’d like you all to share rather than you know, ask me questions..”

“Sorry, Erska but a quick question. I know I shouldn’t but do excuse me. I might die from not asking,” asked a spectacled, sweater-clad woman who was very flappy with her hand gestures.

“Don’t die. Do ask.” Erska giggled.

“Tell us. What scene did you like writing the most?”

“Umm the scene at the schoo-”

“The diner scene or the one near Daniel’s house?? I think the way you described the kisses were beautiful… gorgeous almost. I can almost feel Daniel being a real human being..” The woman looked entranced suddenly, picturing imaginary elements. Bastian observed how underwhelmed Erska’s emotions reacted to as opposed to his previous encounter with her.

She’s literally praising you! What is wrong with you?

“Thank you. It’s great to hear that many appreciate it. Anyone….” Erska murmured as she surveyed the crowd. Spotting Bastian, she pointed towards him in slight relief for some reason and said, “What do you have for us? Let’s talk about what you are working on..”

“We-Well, greetings to all. I am kind of inexperienced than everyone present here. I’m still writing down ideas…it is a romance with some elements from past like you know heroes, princesses, dragons, swords with a lot of blood and know what I’m saying.” Internally, Bastian’s composure was shaking as it tried to spontaneously open a faucet of fibs, attempting to be as professional as possible.

“Is there anything that you like focusing on?” Erska questioned.

“Umm the romance..? Add some spicy elements to it...I like that…” he lied. Somehow, he felt overusing ‘elements’ made him seem like an insider as well as a liar.

“How spicy?” asked the spectacled girl.

“How much spice can you handle?”, Bastian asked with a slight smirk. The crowd went ‘Oohhhh’, the majority consisting of women. However, Erska didn’t seem to take part in the ‘fun’.

Miss No Fun is back!

Erska looked hard at Bastian and asked, “ And..? Go on..”

“A bit of friendship, family also….” he managed.

“Do you have more, Bastian?” she asked, grinning widely which definitely felt more pissed off than genuine happiness especially if you are going to grit the teeth against each other.

“I’m afraid I said, I’m working on ideas…”

“What you could do, Bastian is to read a lot when you aren’t working on your ideas. It helps a lot, really..”

“Thanks, will do and see…Might I raise a question?” Bastian asked, doodling a stick figure on his writing material for the sake of pretense.

“Sure, that’d be great!”

“Just some casual talk to ease out... getting to know each other...A personal question: What would your wish what do you most aspire to do in life?” he asked.

“Obviously, meeting fans…” the spectacled girl said.

“Fan signs…don’t we all?”

“Money?!” someone asked.

“Flying to countries?”

“What about you, Erska? What do you wish for most?” Bastian asked, cornering her timid looking features. Hopefully, it would reveal the tip of an iceberg.

Everyone turned towards her. She cleared her throat, slightly stuttering. “Umm..publish my next novel, give my best for it…”

“That’s not even a wish! Like..isn’t that natural for you?” a person raised from the crowd.

“Not counting eggs before they hatch,” she replied, crossing her fingers.

Another interruption from Alice Saphine bowled their way but this time she made her presence known amongst the curious younglings. “Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us this evening. I’m sure you might have heard of me but introductions are good manners. I’m Alice Saphine, mother of Erska Saphine, one of the most celebrated writers in Lessa at present…” Applause erupted as everyone looked at her in awe meanwhile Erska’s hands covered her mouth, embarrassed by the ‘showcase’. Alice continued, “We are going to do things a little different today, dears. All you budding future celebrities must be tired working on your novels every day. So, today I propose that you have the fun of your life! I’ve booked the whole lot of you at Luna in Marune since I heard it was the hottest spot. Work hard, play hard!!”

This time the applause was energetic accompanied by random high pitched whistles from the crowd. As soon as Erska heard of Alice’s proposed plan, she walked towards her mother who ushered her out at once as she asked the gathering to follow them downstairs. Murmurs floated as everyone began packing their belongings. Alice and Erska whispered to each other heatedly, which Bastian noticed. As he walked past them towards the entrance, he tried to overhear bits and pieces of the conversation.

“Now, you take good care of Ms. Jones over there. Remember what I told you. Don’t want you playing your tricks on my reputation. Surviving in my circle isn’t as easy yours, darling,” Alice lectured.

The crowd assembled downstairs soon. Alice addressed, saying, “A limousine is ready for everyone! A lap of luxury awaits, my fellow writers!!”

Everyone cheered, walking out as they patted Erska on the back who looked bewildered at the way her evening had panned out. Bastian watched Erska gulping as she looked at her mother talk animatedly with a platinum-haired lady wrapped in layers of fur coats, standing along with Ms. Jones. As the tiny gathering turned towards the door, Bastian jogged out the door.

Erska surveyed the flashing lights, looking at the writer’s group disperse into the dancing crowd. Her mother had reserved a special VIP lounge for the whole group which consisted of a circular seating arrangement made of cushions, unlimited appetizers and the best of drinks. Twenty minutes into the scene, everyone was getting drunk, swaying groggily to the music. Only Erska, Meg and Bastian remained seated. Meg was having her third tequila shot, pouring one for Erska.

“Umm that’s okay…I’m not in the mood, really…” she refused, politely yet she rubbed her forehead in frustration.

“Cheer up! It’s just a shot..don’t be a wimp!” Meg insisted, rashly deciding to swat Erska’s barring hands.

Erska stared a little too long at her shot, smiling awkwardly at Meg. Closing her eyes, she prepared herself to take it down in one go which was interrupted by the one and only Bastian who took a swift swig.

“, that’s a good sport!!” Meg commented, pouring him another shot which also went down the throat in seconds.

The game went on and on, Bastian and Meg trying to out beat each other yet Bastian was staying strong and Meg slightly tipsy. Just then, a dude turned up at their booth, dancing oddly as he sat next to Meg who pulled him in for a kiss. It was after some time that Meg noticed she had an audience who needed introductions.

“Sorry ya’ll, this is Mack, my friend. Meet Erska ..are?” she asked Bastian.

“The name’s Bastian.”

“Ah yes…Bastian…” she whispered to herself, her head against Mack’s shoulders.

Mack got up, leaving Meg to herself and settled a little too close to Erska. Instantly, Erska’s face lowered, eyesight towards the ground, feeling Mack’s nasty breath neared her as she took some seconds to compose herself for a witty comeback but he was too fast. He parted her hair and went for her lips when Bastian rose to slap his face. Mack’s face turned shades of red as Meg stood up, crystal clear all of a sudden.

“Sssh chill, chill, chill. Stop making a big deal between us friends. My friend is your friend too, you know what I’m saying, Erska dear. I think your boyfriend over there requires explanation on how things work amongst people like us,” Meg said, throwing a dirty look at Bastian.

Without a word, Erska reached for a bottle from the bucket of ice and began drinking away directly to the surprise of the other spectators. Even Bastian’s firm grip on the bottle was no match for the absolute rage that Erska’s dark orbs carried.

“See? She’s just warming up to you, dear!” Meg said.

Erska turned towards her. “Warming up, my ass! Get your crappy bottom away from me, you spoiled stupid brat! Go play with your boy toys and keep to your fancy vacations!! Don’t go around wrecking people’s lives!! Burn in hell for all that I care!”

Meg wasn’t having it either, “Oh, you’ll hear about this from my mother! Then, we’ll see who is on top of whom! I know all about you. One line from me and Knoxville would buzz with rumours, your whole career would go downhill!! Prepare to get effed up!!” She gathered her bag, the contents spilling out while balancing herself against Mack’s torso and disappeared into the crowd.

Erska rested back on the sofa, her hand covering her forehead. Bastian who was watching the spectacle wasn’t sure what to do. He leaned forward and asked, “Do you want some water? Are you okay?”

She looked at him through her fingers as she sat up. “I’m not okay.”

“Well, can I do anything? Would a punch on that dude’s face help you?” he asked, serious.

“What you should do, is throw one on yourself, sir.”

“Huh?” Bastian asked, taken aback.

Erska crossed her legs, making herself comfortable. “You’ve been the only odd person that I’ve ever met..tell me what do you want from me??”

“I’m not sure what you mean. Have I been rude to you or something?” asked Bastain, baffled by her sudden change.

“Nope. Exactly the opposite which makes me wonder why?”

“Well, why not?” Bastian shot back “I don’t understand why you are treating me like Mack. I’m not the one at fault. It’s the drink causing you misjudgement..”

Erska cupped Bastian’s face rashly. “I know it is Bastian that I’m talking to. Yes, you helped me and stuff which you got no reason for. Maybe it’s true that you are simply a nice soul helping a girl out..yet something’s wrong as hell..”

“Which is?” he asked.

“Why do you fake being a writer?”

“Excuse me?” he asked, taken aback by his failed ploy.

“Vague on earth did you think you could actually pass for one? Your face?” she asked, drinking from another bottle.

“ I’ve done nothing of that sort..I’m just nice…” he managed.

“Too nice, too nice….what else do you want to know? My family? My friends? wish? What are you going to do, be my fairy godmother?”

It was Bastian’s turn to offer her a shot which she gulped down, swaying against the table. Massaging her face, she slapped her cheeks and rubbed it.

“Being nice, huh? Keep it to yourself, mister..” she said, grabbing the bottle from him.

Your tolerance is insane but I’m glad the tipsiness is working out, Miss Saphine. “Look, I’m sorry..but do you remember…the thing about your wish? Your desire?” he asked, trying to drive her back to the topic. Obviously, there was something more to it.

“You haven’t let it go yet???”

“We have various kinds of desires, don’t we? Like your novels or falling in love or fulfilling some priority towards ..friends or family…?” He tried giving her various options to evoke some kind of response.

She set the bottle hard, breaking the bottom into half as the pieces spread across the wide table. “Do you want to know it bad?? I’ll tell you, don’t worry…” she murmured, catching hold of Bastian’s collar, staring into his eyes.

Her breaths slowed down yet heavily. “Your eyes..they’re kind of pretty…” she said as she pushed his loose hair back, letting her fingers comb through it.

“Hmm…” he responded, noticing her pinkish cheeks on her sun-kissed skin.

“My wish…my desire…I so wish I could fucking forget, I need my memory obviously..haha…umm…I wish I can be mute for the rest of my life….Just write on and on and…never talk…how peaceful my life would be if only that was possible…”

She fell on Bastian’s shoulders, making herself comfortable against his neck. Soon, sleep carried her away.

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