When the Lilies Turn Orange (Chapter 3)

When the Lilies Turn Orange (Chapter 3)

A Chapter by Raven Held











Mom, like Rox, was thrilled with the idea of Dom asking me out for dinner. She was so excited she loaned me her makeup and a black blouse layered at the neckline.

“My little girl,” mom sighed wistfully as she did up my hair into some kind of twist, “on a date with love.”

Sometimes, I can accept my mom being a hopeless romantic even at the age of forty-five. But at other times, like now, I can’t. She should just act her age already, and start reciting the usual litany of cautions on curfew (as if I’d stay out till past eleven) and whatnot, like dad immediately had when I told them about the dinner.

“It’s not exactly a date,” I pointed out irritably, “and it’s definitely not a date with love.”

“Oh, you’ll see,” mom said, smiling sweetly. “They say love is blind, but I think the blind is loved.”

It was then that the doorbell rang and Dean, whistling cheerfully to himself,   bounded along the hallway, rushing to get it. I looked at mom, who went, “Awww….” at her lovesick little boy (puke).

“Hey Roxanne,” Dean chirruped, opening the door. “You look beautiful.”

“Hey yourself,” Rox said, with as much interest as Dean had with flowers. “Hi, Mr and Mrs Tang.” She looked up at me as I emerged from my room. She had on a powder yellow top with butterfly sleeves and a rather low neckline, and jeans, along with heels. Talk about playing hard to get. She totally wanted Dean to sweat when he saw her. “Pig, are you done? Because I think I see Dom approaching,” she yelled up to me.

Because my name, Raven, if you regarded it as a verb, meant ‘to devour greedily’, Rox had decided that Pig would be my middle name. She only called it when we were alone, though, to save my dignity.

I grabbed the clutch mom had loaned me and headed down the stairs as the doorbell rang again and Raven let him in. Dom had on this green striped shirt its sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and a pair of Levi’s. He looked good, but it wasn’t like I saw fireworks exploding before me or I felt my heart skip a beat when I saw him.

“Hey,” I said to him.

“Hey,” he said, grinning. Before we could say anything else or before dad could ask Dom anything, mom shooed us off with a merry, “Have a good time!” I only managed to hear dad call out, “Be back by eleven!” before mom practically shoved us out of the house and shut the door.

It was strange, but I felt bored, even though I had no reason to, since I was out with my best friend, my brother (even though he really was an idiot) and my Geography partner, and the night air was cool and liberating.

“What’s the matter with you?” Rox demanded during the taxi ride to Ristrot’s Bistro. “You’ve barely uttered a word since you got out.”

“Nothing,” I said indifferently. I wished I could’ve hidden the glumness in my voice though, because the next minute I saw Dom’s face fall dramatically. “I mean, not that it’s any of your fault, really. I just … I’ve just got my head wrapped around something.”

“Connell?” Rox guessed.

“Who?” Dom asked, the same minute I asked, “Where?” snapping right back to my body. I peered out the window.

“Not anywhere, idiot,” Rox said. I could hear the frown in her voice. I sank sheepishly back to my seat, feeling Rox’s rebuking gaze fall upon my skin. “Did Mr. Emotude talk to you this afternoon?”

“Yeah,” I said, not bothering to elaborate.

“Who’s Connell?” Dom asked.

“Dad’s patient,” Dean explained.

“Patient?” Dom repeated. “I thought your dad is a psychologist.”

“He is.”

“What about?” Rox asked. “Wait, let me guess. He told you his dad was actually a bigoted lump of walking testosterone and nothing else.”

“Very funny. He just.…” I trailed off. What had we talked about? That whole afternoon, after Connell left, I kept replaying whatever we said to each other in my head, analysing every movement, every body language. Yet now, I couldn’t, for the life of me, summarise what our conversation was about.

“He just bought three types of flowers,” I said lamely.

I probably wasn’t at my most eloquent that night, since I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t stop thinking about Connell, especially since I hardly knew the guy.

It’s strange that sometimes you could be thinking about someone and the next minute he’d pop out in front of you along the locker hallway or appear at the gym bench-pressing next to you while you sweat it out on the treadmill. Mom would call it karma, without a doubt; Rox would call it freaky mind-reading by the cosmos; and Dean would just say whatever.

But whatever it is, when we were waiting to be served at Ristrot’s, Rox poked me hard in the ribs and flicked her eyes in the direction of the bistro’s entrance.

“Talk about spooky,” she commented flippantly.

He was there with what I supposed was his entire family. There was big-headed chauvinist Keith and his poodle, Amanda. It seemed like Keith’s wardrobe only consisted of suits and ties and Goldlion pants. And Amanda looked too dolled up and stiff with her chiffon-coloured dress and heels.

There was another girl who looked younger than Connell, maybe fourteen. I can only assume her to be his sister. Like how their parents differed from each other like testosterone and oestrogen, Connell differed from the younger girl like yin and yang. She didn’t have Connell’s dark liquid eyes that always seemed hooded by some disturbing memory, or that chiselled jaw (but that was to be expected). In fact, she countered Connell’s features with large almond-shaped eyes and a dewy complexion. Her phone lines probably burst every month from guys trying to call her.

The girl, now, seemed passive, if a little bored (but still pretty nonetheless; (it’s so unfair it is enough to make you question the purpose of dressing up).

Which was more than I can say for Connell, who seemed to hate Ristrot’s with a passion. I can’t understand why, though. Ristrot’s a great place, and it serves the ‘best pasta in town’. When you actually taste it, you’ll know that Ristrot (if he’s the chef, or something) wasn’t lying. It’s really good. Besides, being really done up and fancy, it’s the kind of place your parents took you to to celebrate when you aced your exams or had your birthday or saved their pants from drowning or whatever.

Connell had his hands in his jeans pockets. As usual, he had on a brown Gap tee-shirt and jeans and his trusty old Pumas. His sister was in a white sundress and a cropped denim jacket that got Rox salivating.

Inclined against the Please Wait to be Seated stand, Connell was staring longingly out the double doors, as though wishing to be anywhere but here.

“Wow, is he always so pissed off with the world or what, huh?” Rox said, cracking me a lopsided grin.

“Family boy,” Dean added.

“Are we through sizing him out?” I demanded. “I’m starving.”

“Alright, jeez, has his negative aura pervaded you, or what,” Rox said defensively and called for the waiter.

It was a good thing I was seated on the inner side of the table, nearer to the wall, where I was pretty much hidden from his view. I didn’t know why, but it seemed wrong to witness him with his parents, especially when I knew how disgusted he was with his dad. I don’t know the true extent of his disgust, of course, but I could tell he hated his guts from the way he talked about him this afternoon.

But sometimes, things were just hell-bent on going against your way. And wouldn’t you know it, the waiter ushered them to the booth right before ours.

Look, I won’t say anything cheesy like ‘our gazes locked and I felt myself drowning in his deep eyes’, okay? But they did, although I didn’t feel myself sinking into his eyes. But he saw me.

And I saw that glint of recognition light up his eyes a little.

But before I could even work my lips up into something resembling a friendly smile, his eyes clouded and, dipping his head, he slipped into the booth.

And that was it. The moment was lost. And I was left there, my gaze still hanging stupidly where he left it, like a girl having savoured a kiss from her lover and left wanting more. Even though, of course, I didn’t think of him as a lover.

“Well, hi,” Rox said. “Nice to see you too.”

“You’ve got some kind of issue with him, don’t you?” I said flatly. I could see Dean and Dom watching our exchange rather amusedly from my peripheral vision.

Rox just laid her hands before her mutely, as though trying to fend off any accusations jabbing at her chest.

Dinner at the other table was strained. Although we tried not to, we couldn’t help but converse minimally so we could eavesdrop on the conversation next-door. There wasn’t much to hear, apart from a quiet ‘Happy birthday, darling,’ from Keith and Amanda, and a polite word of thanks from whom I presumed was the girl. I didn’t hear a single word from Connell.

“We’re eavesdropping,” I hissed, trying to concentrate on twisting my crayfish pasta around my fork.

“We’re testing the waters,” Dean corrected in a hushed voice. Rox rolled her eyes in confusion. “And why are we whispering anyway? We’re being more obvious. Get over it, Raven.”

“It’s not that I have anything against them,” Dom said slowly, “but that’s one weird family, you know? It’s, like, creepy, like the attack of the silent mannequins. How’d you all know them again?”

“He came over to buy flowers, and he’s with dad for therapy session,” I replied impatiently, realising that I was coiling pasta around my fork. I looked down and saw that it had bunched up like a coil of rope, dripping with pasty gravy. “Now can we just … I don’t know, leave or something? It’s rude to eavesdrop.”

“Speak for yourself,” Rox said and continued straining her ears for any remote form of conversation at the next table. “I’m not leaving until after dessert. Chocolate mousse today, yum.” She grinned antagonisingly at me. Sometimes, when Rox was in the mood to drive you nuts, it’s hard to get her to switch back.

“Why do you always have to do that?” a voice demanded from the other table. I actually started a little in my seat. Exchanging glances with the rest of them, who shrugged, I looked down at my now-cold pasta, pretending not to listen.

“Okay, family drama time,” Dean announced excitedly as Rox rose a little from her spot beside me.

“Rox!” I hissed, pulling her down.

She was unnoticed, thankfully, as I heard the girl’s voice resume: “It’s freaky, and it makes me look like a freak too, being your sister.” Her voice was wobbling, and she spat out that last word like it was bile in her throat.

I realised I was waiting for either Keith or Amanda to go, “Hey, watch your tone with your brother,” warningly. But that wait was in vain, for none came. It was as though they were mutely agreeing with her.

“You’re such a creep,” she went on.

“You know what, Charm?” Connell said loudly, standing up, and I saw his head and neck above the partition that separated our tables. His jaw was tight and his eyes were coals left out in the rain. “If I’m such a freak-show, why the hell did you ask me out for this stupid birthday dinner, when mom and dad specifically said I was not to come along? All that crap about trying to understand me?” He stared for a long moment at his sister as the entire diner held its breath for what he was going to say next. “Quit putting it on already,” he said quietly with a bitter smirk.

“If it’s anybody who drives me nuts, it’s you three,” he proclaimed.

Then he left. Showing no sign of consciousness of his surroundings, he walked out of Ristrot’s, the muscles in his shoulder tight as his jaw had been.

“Didn’t I tell you not to bring him along?” Keith was demanding of the girl called Charm. “The kid’s an embarrassment – always will be. No matter how hard you try, it doesn’t help. He’s a damn screw-up inside out! A damn bloody screw-up. Nothing more than that.”

Charm had fallen silent.

“This family’s way more complicated than I thought,” Rox said quietly. I realised she wasn’t eating anymore.

Maybe being Ruth’s daughter means that I am more emotionally sensitive, I don’t know. But after that little outburst, I found myself staring at the red chequered diner table while my thoughts grew in intensity and speed, like clouds being drawn to a swelling hurricane.

I stood up and walked out of Ristrot’s too, ignoring the calls of disbelief I heard vaguely behind me (What do you think you’re doing?). Of course, it was absolutely none of my business as to what went on in his life. Hell, I barely knew him. But there was something there that night that propelled me towards him, like how Erik’s singing lured Christine to the depths of his labyrinth (okay, that wasn’t how it happened exactly, I know).

I don’t know what I expected, maybe sitting alone on the kerb disconsolately, but I knew I definitely was not expecting to find him surrounded by a group of people at the back of Ristrot’s, where I finally located him. When I stepped out into the balmy night air, drowsy and panting from the day’s activities, I saw no-one, except for the few cars that cruised by towards Emil Street, where the bars and pubs were. The night was still young.

It was strange, but I didn’t think to stop and analyse what on earth I was doing. There are so many things that could happen with one simple move. If I had stopped and went back to Ristrot’s that night, our paths would probably never have crossed any further, apart from in dad’s office. And now that I had seen Connell, it was as if I could not picture any other life without his presence in it. Like I said, it was strange, especially so when I barely knew him, much less take a liking to him.

When I finally found him, he was climbing onto a grey minivan, which was parked along the deserted alley, its doors flung open to reveal a cosy sort of interior, as though it were a makeshift home.

It wasn’t dark in the alley, of course, but it made me stop in my tracks. Along with his friends, we were the only ones there. Knowing a bit of his history, those people he was hanging out with were probably those that my mother would not approve of. And it’s not because they’re not as dreamy as her. Of the other two guys present (excluding Connell), one of them was sprawled all over the foot of the minivan, either wasted or dog-tired (the guess is obvious since he was reeking of alcohol and he was muttering something about ‘swimming crabcakes’ and ‘flipping bottles’ as he snoozed), and another had a laidback aura around him that my dad would probably interpret as ‘slacker’ – it didn’t help that he had a pierced lip.

On the waist of one of the two girls there, I spotted a tiny butterfly tattoo where her tank top was raised above her hip, upon which her micro denim mini rested, revealing long, skinny legs. She was tall and skinny with the sort of high cheekbones that every girl seemed to try to hard to attain. On her, everything looked effortless.

I slid back into the shadows, finally questioning what the hell I was doing out there, trailing him.

I was about to head back into Ristrot’s via the little black gate at its rear, when someone called out my name.



Slowly turning my head, I saw the entire group, all six of them including Connell, staring at me. It turned out that Connell was not the one who called me, because he was hissing to the slightly older guy sitting beside him on the steps of the van to shut up.

“If you know her well enough to have found out her name, it’s only basic courtesy to say hi to her when you see her along the streets,” another girl said. More like lectured.

“Alleyway,” the older corrected.

“Alleyway,” the girl said, shrugging.

I stood where I was, watching this conversation unfold before me as though everything has been held in pause and only the three of them existed in Play mode.

Slightly Older guy looked back at me, as though he had decided to come back to me and had just pressed the Play button. “You wanna come over?”

“Excuse me?” I asked stupidly, trying hard not to stare at his lip-ring as moved and caught the glare of the streetlight when he spoke. It was obvious, however, that he was trying to suss out my relationship with Connell.

“I mean,” the guy went on, exchanging a glance with the rest, as though to say, how did he get to know this spaz? “Hi.”

“Oh,” I said, and quickly walked over to them, even though it might be a bad idea. They were hanging out in a deserted alleyway in the classic kidnapper’s van after all. “Um, hi. I guess you all know me.”

Okay, so sue me if I’m behaving like I’m socially impaired. I’d like you to try talking to a bunch of people possibly older than you, possibly waiting to kidnap you in their minivan, and a couple of them possibly pretty good-looking too. I mean, I’m no sucker for eye candy, but come on. These older kids with their more self-assured air made me feel more like a fumbling idiot than usual. Could what Dean said – that I coop myself up in Mom’s Garden too much – be true? You never truly realised how inept your social skills were until you were thrown into such circumstances.

“Connell knows you,” one of the two girls there told me. She was viewing me with a certain degree of apprehension that made me even more uncomfortable.

I looked at Connell, who was determinedly fascinated with the black alley cat delve into an uncovered bin in hope of finding some scraps.

“I’m … Well.” I looked at him, waiting for him to make the introductions. But three seconds ticked by and I received no help. So I took it upon myself to do it. “He came to my dad’s for therapy session.”

Then I wondered if I should have revealed that. Suppose his friends did not know he went for therapy? Going for therapy isn’t exactly something to be proud of, and I had probably just blown it for him.

But all that worry was for nothing, because the next I knew they were all somewhat chummier with me. Still tentative, but that shaded glint in their eyes was definitely unveiled.

“Oh!” one of the girls said. “I’m Austen.”

I frowned. Not in a disapproving way. “As in Jane?”

“Yeah,” she replied matter-of-factly. “The one in the frilly cap era, whatever.”

“Bullcrap!” the older guy exclaimed. “A load of bullcrap, Carly, and you know it.”

“I don’t think it’s something I know,” she said defiantly, crossing her arms before her. Then she turned to me. “I’m Austen,” she repeated, as though trying to convince everyone present, including herself.

“Your name is Carly,” the older guy told her, as though she were a kid of two still figuring out how to address herself. “And I’m Crew.”

Their names were most definitely made up by themselves.

“If you can call yourself Crew, I don’t see why I can’t call myself Austen, Joey,” Carly/Austen retorted, rolling her eyes.

“You guys are being lame,” the older girl with the butterfly tattoo said. To me, she explained, “They’re always doing that, going at each other’s throats over stupid little things like these. But mostly, just to humour them, in case they work a big drama over the small things, we just call them what they like to call themselves. I’m Reilly.”

I accepted her handshake. Her hand was slim and her skin tight and smooth – delicate, my mother would say, the kind of hands men want to hold in theirs and not let go for fear of it getting hurt. She smiled. It was open and somewhat encouraging. She seemed the most normal person here.

“And this is Loser,” she added plainly, nudging the wasted guy sprawled on the ground next to the van with her flip-flopped feet.

“Hi,” I said in a rare moment of witty articulation and charm. “It’s nice to meet you all.”

Crew snorted. “Please,” he said, dragging out the word in all its glorious air of derision. “Save us all the niceties. Nobody ever finds it nice to meet us.”

“Says you, Crew,” Austen said. “You’re such a waste of human tissue and organs that all the paramedics hate you.”

Crew shot her a withering look.

“Why not?” I asked. “I think you guys are fascinating.”

At this, Connell looked up as though I’d said something offensive.

I realise I had probably said something wrong, because everyone started staring at me mutely and there was a tense minute where no-one said or dared to say anything (me).

“We aren’t specimens in the butterfly museum,” Reilly said sharply.

“I – I know,” I stammered at this sudden belligerence and sensitivity towards this issue. “I meant, I think you guys are fun to hang out with. You know, so many diverse characters and all.”

“Right,” Crew said, frowning in incomprehension. He could be the next Dean. “Whatever. So how did you say you knew our man here again?” he added, thumping Connell’s back.

I didn’t get a chance to reply, because from behind me, Rox called out, “Raven!”

All of us turned to look at her.

“Come on,” she said meaningfully, “we gotta get home.”

I wanted to stay in that deserted alleyway – the whole night, if that meant I could kept talking to those people; I wanted to let them know how I knew Connell; I wanted his friends to shed some light on his taciturnity; I wanted to know what they did during their spare time and how they got together when their personalities couldn’t be more different if I wanted them to.

But I had to go. Home was where Rox said I had to go.

But it felt like she was pulling me back to her side, the side that encompassed the soft dim glow of the candles on Ristrot’s tables, Dom, and everything else I had come to expect nothing more of.


© 2008 Raven Held

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Added on February 15, 2008


Raven Held
Raven Held

Singapore, Singapore

Aspiring author, dreamer, TV addict, fed with a steady diet of grapes, green tea and supernatural fiction. I have five novels under my belt and is working on her sixth. more..

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