“We’re running late. Only five minutes!”
Someone entered the van, tapping the air conditioning panel on the touchscreen to the third level. Strong flow of cool air rushed through, heralded by a relaxing scent of lavender.
He didn’t notice Clover nor her shadow.
Resting his hand on the steering, he laid down his back and tuned the channel to one with good reception. Latest news, list of 90′s songs made into the top 10, product advertisements. None made him stop his fleshy fingers until a soothing instrumental melody rang in his ears.
GZ Golden Music FM.
One of the few Clover enjoyed listening to when she was a kid. When her happy family was still perfect in shape.
Similar feels, similar background music. But nothing else remained.
Nostalgia struck her down, inducing the secretion in her eyes she tried hard to hide. Tip of her nose turned red, pearl-black eyes accumulated with tears. Memories came flooding at the back of her mind, reminiscing the good times once she had...
Running to her dad innocently, she screamed on top of her lungs. “Daddy! Look! It’s a rose!”
“Wow! That’s beautiful!” He cupped her up in a move and sat her on his neck. “Where did you get it, honey pie?”
Giggles filled up the lovely atmosphere surrounded by the greens. “Magicccc!!” she said. “I cast a spell and then... and then this flower pops out!”
Obviously, it was a lie. But he put on an act to play along with his one and only daughter.
“Then make me a house!” he said.
“Don’t wanna.” She rolled her tongue.
He plucked her down and swung her in his tough arms. “Don’t wanna?!” Teasing, he trapped her inside his cuddle. “Then I’m gonna eat you. ROARRRR!!”
She bared her baby teeth and planted them deep into his exposed skin.
“Ouch! Clover! That’s not fair!”
Clover chuckled and dashed for escape as she watched her daddy missed his step, tumbling inside the muddy soil.
All it took was the drips of her tears falling onto the mat for the vision to be transited back to the present, to the current dreadful situation. She thought growing up was fun and amazing.
However, it was just a thought that was never meant to come true.
Sucking in a deep, long breath, she swept the tears on her face. No time for this.
The man was still in the van. Song was left playing on its own and the seat door was hanging halfway open with his right-tattooed leg dangling in the air. While keeping an eye on him, she stretched her body, easing the cramps. She didn’t want to be reflected by the rearview mirror fixed in her direction.
“Oh goddd. Kyle. Can you be any slower?”
Kyle? she thought. Where did I hear the name again?
With a loud thud, he jumped off the van and dashed across, towards the drowning idol in the middle of the horde. Nobody was making way for him. They weren’t even bothered by his attempts of pushing and trying to get in between. Sucking in his bulgy stomach, he went in halfway through and pulled Kyle away too fast that the gifts almost slipped to the ground.
The man frowned his thick brows, lips mumbling something which seemed to be nagging the idol for lingering too long. But he was quick enough to force out a smile when he saw the fans were still following around.
Out of a sudden, Clover snapped. The two figures were coming in her way. She scanned the van. It did look like a property belonged to somebody of a higher status. But for it to be owned by a celebrity, this thought never seemed to hit across her mind.
“Can you do something right for once, Clover Hon?”
Scrambling to get the stained coat for a quick flee, her face twitched in pain as she accidentally knocked her head to the roof. Her locked hands were hindering her smooth movements. She panicked. Neither wanting to be arrested by the police nor caught by the men in black. History mustn’t repeat. However, the moment she reached out to push open the door, Kyle was already standing outside, waving goodbye to his fans. Clover threw herself to the other side.
The men were still there—where and when did they reappear?
Tension was thickening. Her gaze widened in sight, watching the target door slid open.
Before she could even realised, she was back in the boot.
“So tired...” Kyle said, stepping in.
He took off his sunglasses and pulled down the black mask, resting his head against the headrest of his solo seat.
“You could’ve just gotten in without greeting them lor.”
“Well... thought they didn’t know I was coming back today. Someone must’ve spilled it out. Anyway, they’ve waited long hours just to see me, Brandon. No harm to pause for a short greet, isn’t it?” He lifted the box lying beside. “What’s this?”
‘I’m so dead,’ she monologued.
Clover bit her lips and poked her fingernails into her hands, forcing herself to stay awake from the stinging pain. Blood was leaking. The cuts around her wrists pierced deeper, releasing a thin trace of metallic smell drifting along with the lavender scent. In fact, it was noticeable if one paid enough attention to it.
“Kyle, can you get my backpack in the boot?”
Boot?! She jerked.
“Sure.” He extended his hand to the back. “Where?”
Clover hugged her knees close to her chest, dodging the chances of having any skin contact with the celebrity. The coat left unattended in the middle, she quickly grabbed it over before attracting any attention. Anything bloody was very easy to cause unnecessarily heed. Holding onto the slightest hope, she thought she would not get busted, that she would make herself out like a real talented secret agent.
But everything came crashing down the next moment.
“It’s at the left end.”
Clover looked around nervously. She was on the left and also at the end. There weren’t any bags near her! Kyle stretched his hand further to the back and rummaged through the air blankly. She kept pushing herself backward though she reached the limit. He must have felt her rapid breaths on his palm. Because that was when he turned around suddenly.
Eyes filled with fright and impossibility.
He saw her. “B... Brandon. Who’s she?”
“Hmm?” he mumbled, steering to the left. “Who’s... who?”
“Who are you? How...how did you get up here?” Kyle tried to maintain his coolness but his voice betrayed him completely.
He ran his hands along both sides of the doors, checking if the locks have been switched or damaged.
“Just... how the heck did you get in here? Are you some kind of stalker? Or... my hardcore fan?”
“What you talk—” Brandon wasn’t sure what Kyle was talking about until her voice came upon.
Clover got down on her knees. “Please don’t call the police,” she pleaded, salty liquids smudging her face.
That freaked Brandon out. “WHAT?!”
The brake was too sudden, jerking the entire vehicle, responding to its inertia. Kyle lost his momentum and dropped wholly onto Clover. Her stained coat was pushed away, revealing the unexposed cuffs.
His legs were stuck in between hers as he placed his hand behind her head, securing it from any great impact. None of them moved for the first few seconds, which only added more oil to the flaming fire in Brandon.
“Get off her lah KYLE!” Brandon screamed from the front. Too many cars honking at the back. He had to continue driving. “I’m gonna call the police,” he said furiously, rummaging the compartment beside the gear, reaching out to his phone.
“No! Please... Kyle,” Clover cried, pulling herself out of his wrap. “I swear none of this is a prank. J-Just drop me off somewhere and I... I’ll disappear out of your sight! Promise!”
He stared at her skinny, bloody hands for a while before asking his next question. “What happened?”
The coldness in his voice was gone. Surprising enough. This time, there was slight warmth at the edge of his tone. And it was growing.
She heard him. But she was hesitant to speak.
“DON’T BOTHER. KYLE!” His manager shouted. “F*** lah!”
“Come on. Tell me. Or else I really need to hand you over to the police,” he said, tapping off the dust on the van mat to sit in front of her.
She shook her head and it was all she did. No answers. Only trembles on her cracked lips.
Kyle heaved a heavy sigh. He plucked the paper clip strangled in between the PVC yarns. He turned and twisted it few times before getting to her cuffs.
“I’ve seen people doing this on TV. I’m sure it’s not that difficult.” He smirked, “Well... it shouldn’t be...”
“What the hell are you trying to do Kyle?” Brandon frowned. “You’re gonna be so dead if the paparazzi see you doing this.”
“We’re in a van, bro,” he snapped. “With tinted windows.”
“S... slave,” she whispered.
“Sorry?” Kyle drew in his face.
“I... I was captured here as a sex slave.” Gluing her eyes on the pocket hung at the back of the front seat, her voice was turning thick. “I needed to run away, Kyle. That was why I sneaked in here without thinking. I didn’t know whose van is this. All I know is that I don’t want to be a sex slave anymore.”
Silence grew. The clip slipped from his hold but he quickly stretched out his palm, stopping it from kissing the floor. Without demanding any further explanations, he continued to deal with the locks. Even the hot-tempered Brandon had zipped his mouth. Clover took a glance at the rearview mirror just to see his reaction. Thick black eyebrows were furrowed, showing several wrinkles on his temple. Of course, as a manager of a rising superstar, he couldn’t let his guard down by simply believing any stories without valid proof.
After all, if it was nothing related to them, then they shouldn’t be asking for any unwanted troubles.
Clover heard her cuffs unlocked. Kyle was removing it away from her, careful to not add on any more pressure to the wounds.
“I’m... sorry,” he repeated.
“Don’t be,” she said pathetically, staring at the bruises and fresh cuts on her free hands. “What are you sorry for?”
“If you really feel sorry for me...” she interrupted. “Please, Kyle. Don’t send me to the police. They won’t help me. The fact that I didn’t go through any immigration checking is the perfect example to explain. They’re corrupted.”
Her eyes were filled with unspeakable hope and thousands of silent pain. She toyed around the baby strips at the sides of her torn black pants. But when Kyle said nothing to assure her safety, the efforts she put to hold back her tears came crumbling, pushing through the wall she built.
“I’m not lying.”
“I never said you’re lying.”
“As much as I don’t like it, the trouble has already started,” Brandon muttered.
He gave a hard press to the accelerator pedal and took a steep right turn at the T-junction. Veins bulged from his arms as he switched his sight from the rearview mirror to the wing mirror every three seconds. Another sharp turn. The car screeched and banged against the concrete sidewalk. He showed no decrease in speed in driving down the narrow, isolated route.
Kyle clasped the grab handle to stabilise himself from hitting every corner.
He pressed it again, speeding forward. “I think we’re being tracked.”
“Tracked?” Clover blurted, turning her head to the back.
“Yeah. Thanks to you I supposed.” Brandon tried to sound annoyed, but his energy to do so was all shifted to his driving skills.
She fixed her sight at those cars and when their faces came into view, her legs wavered unconsciously, crashing down her whole body.
“How... is this even possible?”