When the Lilies Turn Orange (Chapter 4)

When the Lilies Turn Orange (Chapter 4)

A Chapter by Raven Held

 

 

Four

 

 

 

Zinnia

 

 

 

“Okay. We need to talk, pig,” Rox said over the phone that night.

The ride home was uncomfortable, to say the least. Dom was obviously hurt that I had bailed so abruptly, and Rox was furious at how I just ditched them and ran out after dad’s patient (for her, it meant: whackjob. As much as she is liberal-minded about the functions of separate genders in a society, she could be quite parochial about other matters), and Dean couldn’t care less.

Oh-h-h-h-h, sweet child of mine…!” I didn’t know of any brother who could still sing along to Guns and Roses when his kid sister just ran out into some dangerous alley after some guy.

Or maybe he was just trying to ease the tension in the cab, I don’t know.

“How was the dinner date, my blossoming offsprings?” was what mom said when we entered the house. I swear, sometimes, she creeps me out.

“Whatever,” I muttered and headed up to my room. I heard mom question Dean about my swerve in attitude.

I could have stayed longer in that alley. I would not have wanted to leave. I knew it wasn’t Rox’s fault, but what business was it of hers whether I talk to Connell or not? She was just being plain bigoted.

“Whatever, Rox, get off my case,” I said, throwing myself upon my bed.

“Tell me you did not just bail in the middle of dinner with us, just to go hang with a bunch of misfit-looking –”

“What? Misfit-looking? Since when have you become Miss Prissy Little Prep-head?”

“I’m just saying,” Rox replied, “you hardly know the guy. What’s he to you that you have to run after him to check that he’s okay, and that you have to make friends with his friends too?”

“It’s not important, Rox,” I replied wearily.

“It is to us! You should’ve seen Dom’s face.”

“If it matters that much to you, maybe you should just go comfort him instead of breathing so heavily down my back.”

“I wasn’t the one who bailed dinner to talk to a bunch of … people … with a minivan parked in some quiet alley, with one of them being so punch-drunk he probably can’t even remember his age.”

I was too tired and bummed to be angry at her, but at that I could feel heat rising in my chest. “You’re just so freaking hidebound, Rox, you know that? Just because they lead different lifestyles from us, and hang out in a minivan you regard them like how Hitler regarded the Gypsies.”

“That’s such complete crap,” Rox stated, but I knew that she knew I was right. Some way or other.

“Look,” I said, just wanting to be alone with my thoughts for the remainder of the night, “tomorrow’s going to be a busy day, what with the Beaming Rose visit and all. So we’ll talk then, okay?”

“Sure, we’ll talk then.”

 

*

 

When your life changes, it happens gradually, like with baby steps. Then, it’s like after the getting-to-know-you initiation is over, everything hurtles at you with frightening familiarity that makes you believe that change is never a good thing.

Every year, Howard de Cruz, our resident travel-writer, came back for a visit in his hometown. It was always a big thing, and everything would be set up to celebrate his annual homecoming. And when I say big, it really means massive. The celebration involved a large-scale party to which everyone in the estate (a hundred and fifty-six members in all, and counting) was invited.

In our cosy little private estate (‘almost a town on its own,’ as Howard once described), Howard, which was how he wanted everyone to address him, was considered a mini-celebrity. He was a food connoisseur, by the way, and travelled almost all over the globe, earning a generous income from tasting newly-opened restaurants’ specialty or judging food fiesta competitions (he was one of the judges at the International Eats). And then he gets more money whipping up some dishes here and there – on rare occasions – and even more from writing reviews on the food he has tasted for the international magazine, Culinary (not the most creative name, I know).

He’s tasted the authentic Kim Chi, foie gras, snails, horse meat (I know – almost puked out my dinner when I heard him say that the previous time), and all sort of bizarre stuff that people call delicacies around the world. Sometimes, he brought some back to let us tried a nibble of it (I wouldn’t touch the horse, though, however much he persuaded), and regaled us with his stories abroad. Everyone loved Howard. He was like our very own Bilbo Baggins.

So a few days ago, the town heard the news of his imminent homecoming and now, you could practically go mad with all the buzzing going on around you, but you won’t really, because it was Howard that was coming back. Everywhere in Wroughton (the really classy name of our estate. If you haven’t quite figured out how it’s being pronounced, it goes along the lines of ‘rotten’, except that you drag the ‘o’ a little longer), everyone was discussing how this year’s celebration was going to be bigger than last year’s. Anyone could be in the planning committee, you see, so naturally, since Howard was such a star, everyone wanted to be involved in throwing him a party memorable enough to make him want to return next year.

The party was to take place at the estate’s Grand Marquee, where we first invited the community minister to for a meet-and-greet chat session when he visited. We’re all rather proud of it. It’s a beautiful place. In the marquee is a little stage, elaborately adorned with satin sashes; and the marquee, air-conditioned, could hold a great number of people, perhaps the whole Wroughton population and more. It was situated plop right in the middle of a field, more like a park, I suppose, but a bare one apart from a few benches here and there.

The party took up the field and the marquee. I told you it was big.

The head of the planning committee was the Beaming Rose Nursing Home. It is not a hospital, but a resting home for the elderly, who either did not have children to look after them, or were there because they were too lazy to do their own laundry. Some people, like I said, just don’t know where to spend their money. There were nurses in the Rose, but it is actually more like a service apartment for the elderly than it should be.

Mom sent flowers to the Rose every week, just to spread the love. (“You keep this up,” dad once said, “and you’ll start making losses in a month.”) Sometimes, she made me send them, and I got to know some of them. There was this group who were made up of such different people from different background you wondered how they ever became such close friends. It was a lot like Connell’s motley crew (no pun intended).

Today was the day Howard was coming home. It was crazy. Those old folks were going insane trying to tell mom what they had planned, since mom was the operations manageress or something.

“That girl … whassername? Oh right, Jade. The shy thing,” J Lo said in her croaky voice. “She agreed to sing for us. Last minute! Unbelievable, I know.”

Okay, let me clarify that here. Of course she isn’t the real J Lo. We called her J Lo or Carla Jo. Her name is Carla Josephine Lo and we called her that when wanted her to stop talking. She thinks she boasted a figure that would leave the real J Lo in tears. I tell you, old people can be so deluded sometimes, it’s almost tragic. By the way, if her figure really interests you, Carla Jo was skinny like a bean-pole. Those veins in her hands were struggling to break out of that wrinkled old skin and when she clasped yours in hers to make a point, the experience was discomforting, like having your hand encaged in a prison cell constructed of bones, dry and hard. She looked unbalanced sometimes too (not just mentally), with her huge attention-grabbing poof of curly white hair bouncing merrily, teetering precariously like Mt Fuji upon her head. She looked like an old anorexic ostrich.

“Because that idiot from the band is down with stomach flu,” J Lo explained. “The bassist called us this morning to cancel their act.”

I cursed inwardly as I changed the flowers in the elaborate china vase on the reception table. I loved Whimsical Measures. People always said the local music scene was stale and couldn’t go far, but please, they didn’t think that it was they who determined how far the aspiring musicians went. Jared was the lead singer, and he was a really cool person. There was no airs that he put up, no pretension, and no holds barred. You could talk to him about anything. But people thought he was weird, in a too-loud, too-rowdy way, as though he were on a high all the time. But that was just him.

Rox came with her mom soon after I threw away the old orange gerberas (my personal favourite flowers). Annie, which was how I addressed her (people here have a thing about being addressed according to their age), was the logistics manager of the Homecoming Committee.

“Hi, Annie,” I said. “Hey, Rox.”

“Hello, Raven. Busy day today,” Annie said chirpily. She never struck me as a mother, even though I’ve known her as Rox’s mom for years. Like how my mother was the dreamy artist, Annie was the 80’s hippie chick who led a laidback, sort of unconventional life.

“Have you brought the flowers?” she now asked.

“Yeah, they’re in the van. I’m just going to bring them out. Mom’s upstairs in the studio, by the way.”

The studio was actually the recording studio. The Beaming Rose is, like I said, not a hospital of any sort. So it even organised this radio-broadcasting activity, where different residents of the Rose could try their hand at hosting a radio show every morning. Mr Arthur Gold was the resident deejay, because everyone loved him. On some days, he went mad over the Beatles and played Penny Lane twice in an hour; on others, he mellowed with some Carpenters. On others, he also played heavy, bumping R&B just to annoy people.

“Alright, thanks, chica. Rox can help you with the flowers.”

I raised my brows at Rox in a Let’s get started way and we both headed out of the foyer to the van.

“Okay, about yesterday –”

“I’m sorry,” we both said in unison, then grinned.

“But, you know, it wasn’t really that bad,” I added.

“What isn’t?”

“His friends and all that. They remind me of J Lo and the rest. Just, you know, younger and without the hair.”

“And the Elvis obsession?” Rox quipped up.

“And the Elvis obsession,” I affirmed. J Lo considered herself as Elvis’s personal assistant or something.

We unloaded the flowers – still safe in their wooden crates – at the usual spots: the garden, the foyer, the balcony, and lastly, the wards. Sometimes, we got special orders for flowers to get delivered to certain people. But mom always thought it was unfair that some people got flowers while others who didn’t stared enviously on. So she made it a point to send flowers to every room. Dad says then, she’ll be making a loss. He’s always anticipating the Garden to close down. But I guess mom, in spite of her impractical nature, knows what she’s doing.

“Okay, we’ve got an order from a Mrs Germaine Wee … for yellow tulips to Room 3-Oleander, bed 4,” I said, referring to my order list for the day. Yellow tulips – there’s sunshine in your smile. I raised my brow. “We’ve got a new resident. Looks like J Lo’s got a new roommate.”

 

*

 

J Lo’s new roommate, it turned out, was Reilly’s grandaunt. Talk about karmic collision.

She was seated on bed 4, her fingers entwined with five wrinkled, bone-thin ones, exchanging quiet words with an old lady, probably fearing she would wake the roommates up. Carla Jo was not in her bed, of course. She was a morning person and was, I knew, in either the studio or dining hall nattering about this evening’s event flow.

I stared at Reilly for a while at the doorway, admiring how she carried herself with such assertiveness and confidence that she made everything seem normal around her, nothing to judge, much less fault. She was tall and sinewy, like a model, and pretty even though she was only dressed in a dark green tank top and jeans.

“Reilly?”

She turned around and spotted me at the doorway with my yellow tulips and Rox. A look of surprise was registered on her face. “Raven!” she said and stood up. “Hi!”

“Hey. This is my best friend, Rox. Rox, meet Reilly.”

“Nice to meet you,” Rox said and they shook hands.

“You – do you work here?” Reilly addressed me.

“No,” I replied, “I just deliver flowers here sometimes.”

“Oh, yeah,” Reilly replied, comprehension dawning on her face. “Connell mentioned something about you working in a garden.”

I could feel Rox’s gaze fall upon mine.

I merely smiled. “So,” I said, nodding at the old lady in bed 4. “She just moved here?”

“Yeah, that’s my grandaunt, Aunt Mimi,” she said, turning to smile fondly at her grandaunt.

“Hi, Aunt Mimi,” I said, and walked towards her bed. “I’m Raven, and this is my friend Rox. You’ve got flowers. Yellow tulips.”

“Lovely. Thank you, sweetheart,” Aunt Mimi said, beaming.

“How do you like your stay so far?” I asked as Reilly took the flowers from me.

“Very much,” she replied. Her smile did not exactly light up her eyes. “This place is buzzing.”

“Yeah, well, that’s because Howard de Cruz is coming back today,” Rox explained. “He’s –”

“The celebrated culinary journalist?” Aunt Mimi said, her eyes widening in excitement.

“The very same,” I replied, smiling. She was obviously a kitchen person. 

Reilly made a sudden movement that I caught out of the corner of my eye. When I turned to look, I only saw the yellow tulips in the bin and the attached scented card on top of it. I stared at her. Her lips were pursed, a thin line below her nose.

“What is it?” Aunt Mimi looked at her grandniece.

“Mom says hi,” Reilly related scathingly. Her lips curled with distaste.

I didn’t know if she had forgotten our presence. Or maybe she did not really care that others were privy to that little bit of her family she was revealing.

“Oh, honey,” Aunt Mimi said in a tone of dismay so uncannily like mom’s when I took dad’s side in their usual arguments that bid no winner.

“Flowers,” Reilly spat. “After everything, all she could do is send a bunch of flowers? If she really cared about us, she wouldn’t put you here and she wouldn’t –”

“We’re not having this discussion here,” Aunt Mimi warned quietly, her eyes flashing.

“Will you be coming to the homecoming celebration tonight?” Rox asked, probably trying to ease the tension.

I stared at her and her uncharacteristic welcome.

Reilly thought for a long while, staring at her hands. “Yes, I think I might,” she said with a smile. “Aunt Mimi is always making me read those reviews he writes, and I’m like, please, I’m not a food person.”

“Even though you’re an absolute glutton,” Aunt Mimi retorted.

I watched Reilly, so candid with her grandaunt. She seemed like a fresh undergraduate, already ready to seize whatever came her way with the same spontaneous candour she had with her grandaunt. But then I thought of that butterfly tattoo and its meaning.

The next minute, I hated myself for pinning her down with just a tattoo.

 

*

 

Reilly was, in fact, a model. This I learned of when I started making my way to the van. Rox had led Aunt Mimi to the studio for some getting-to-know-you with the rest of the old folks. Being more discerning of what getting stuck in a room with J Lo entailed, I elected to help Reilly with whatever it was she said she needed help with.

“You’re not really coming for tonight’s celebration, are you?” I said.

She looked at me. “I am,” she insisted. “I’m going to make it. It’ll be my first party with Aunt Mimi.” She did look psyched. “Although I’d probably get fired for missing tonight’s shoot.”

“Shoot?”

“Yeah, photoshoot. I’m a model.” She said that with as much esteem as she had when she realised her mother had sent the flowers.

“Do you really hate it that much?” Models didn’t always seem like a happy bunch of people, but I’m sure they had it much better than others. Maybe they were just spoilt and grumpy.

“It’s a job that makes you run around at irregular hours and make sure you keep every part of your body in pristine condition. It sucks being a clothes rack, but it’s the only one I’ve got.”

“You could work as a cashier,” I argued. We were striding across the road, where the van was parked beside the field. I had to walk a little faster to keep up with Reilly’s long-legged strides.

“I could,” she agreed, “but then I’d have to be stuck there longer before I can return to university.”

“What did you do – get kicked out?” I said with a little laugh.

She stopped, a few feet away from the grey van, and turned again to look at me. It was a stony stare that made me wish I had kept my mouth shut – again.

“My mom pulled me out,” she said shortly. She didn’t explain further, and I didn’t dare to ask more either. Body language wasn’t the only deterrent to questions; voices were too.

“So where’s the rest of the crew?” I said, in a fake-chipper tone.

“Carly and Joey are in the marquee, probably hanging with the other bands lined up for tonight, Tate’s in here” – she gestured to the van – “with a hangover as usual.”

“Hmm.” I waited for more.

“Connell’s at work,” she said. I wondered if she saved that fact for the last on purpose.

“Oh, I see. As what?”

Acting nonchalant didn’t work.

“How much do you know about Connell?” Reilly wanted to know. She removed her hand from the van door and leaned against it. She asked that question in such a ‘girly sharing time’ way that I half expected her to start twirling her hair. Instead, she crossed her arms. Behind her, her long mane of hair rippled with the wind and shone with the late-morning sun. Her honey-brown skin glowed.

“Not much,” I shrugged. “Except that he’s in therapy with my dad, and kind of seems to hate me.”

Reilly snickered. “He seems to hate everyone by default, don’t you think?” She paused, thinking. “Haven’t you ever wondered why he’s in therapy?”

“I heard something his dad said about him dealing with the loss of his granddad….” I replied.

“His dad is the world’s largest A-hole,” said a voice from within the van. I jumped a little away from it, and felt like a fool.

Reilly rolled her eyes, and pulled open the door, revealing a guy slightly younger than her, but a little older than Connell. He had on the same grey tee-shirt as the wasted guy had last night. “It’s really rude to eavesdrop, Tate,” she said flatly, propping her hand against her hip.

“Shouldn’t you be glad that I’m sober, at least?” he said, and raked a hand through his mop of dishevelled hair.

“You think? Man, you smell like horse crap. Could you at least get cleaned up before I introduce you to Raven here?” She placed an arm around me. I felt a glow of happiness one always felt when she felt accepted by someone she wanted to accept her.

Tate winced. “Your voice is grating on my nerves; I’m having heart palpitations,” he said to Reilly. Turning to me, he gave a brief wave. “I’m Tate.”

“Raven, nice to meet you,” I said, sticking out my hand.

“Sure you are,” he muttered, ignoring my proffered hand. I don’t know what’s wrong with this bunch of people, but they sure hate formalities. “Hey, Reilly. You got some more aspirin?”

“I’d love to kill you sometimes, but I really don’t think OD is the best form of murder,” Reilly said sweetly.

Tate threw her a simpering look, and said, “Oh look, the model’s being catty.” He tried to heave himself out of the van, and staggered down the step, wincing again at the sun. “My retinas are on fire,” he complained.

“What are you guys doing here?” I wanted to know.

Now that was just the tip of the iceberg. There were so many things I wanted to know about them. How was it that they suddenly appeared in Wroughton, and why did they seem so at home at the Beaming Rose? What was their relationship with one another? Why did they work, what did they do in the their spare time, why did they drive around always like a band on a road-tour, and why did Reilly get pulled out of university? Most importantly, what was it about Connell that everyone but me seems to know?

But even I knew you couldn’t bombard someone with all that. They’ll think you’re some kind of stalker, or that you resented their presence.

“Gee, thanks for the welcome,” Tate said. See what I mean?

“I meant, I’ve never seen you guys around before,” I offered.

“You know sometimes when people need to regain their footing, they go somewhere else to do it? That’s us,” Reilly said.

It was a vague answer, but I suppose it was the best I’ve got.

“Alright, loser, get to work,” Reilly said and punched Tate on the shoulder. “Connell’s in there alone. I’m going to give Joey a call. Those two slackers…” she muttered, punching the keypad on her phone.

“It’s Crew, Ri!”

I turned to see Carly/Austen and Joey/Crew jogging out of the marquee across the field towards us. Carly/Austen had on a bright pink tank top and jeans and looked like a younger version of Reilly.

“Oh, you again,” Crew said briefly to me, and turned to Reilly. I guessed that was his way of saying hi. I realised I had stopped being so fixated with his lip-ring; now, it just seemed part of him, instead of a superfluous addition. “So what’s Connell doing inside?”

I looked at him. Connell was inside?

“Being a nice volunteer, unlike some people who prefer slacking with other bands in an air-conditioned place while others slogged out of their charitable nature,” Reilly said.

“Okay, Catwalk, enough with the sarcasm already,” Tate grumbled and crossed the road to the Beaming Rose.

“I should get back too,” I said. “Check if my mom needs any more help with the flowers.”

“Flowers?” Joey/Crew sniggered. “So you’re the girl who’s always sending the flowers, huh? Wait. Is that how you met Connell? He said something about the girl in the flower shop last night.”

“The name’s Raven,” I said, somewhat indignantly. People who did not understand the language of flowers always tended to dismiss it as useless fluff with the same scorn as Joey/Crew had. “Flowers may not seem useful apart from being an ornament, but their meanings go deeper than many people think. They can be used to convey the things unsaid, symbolising the epitome of commu –”

Joey/Crew put up his hand. “Please. Spare me.” He ran across the road.

Carly/Austen seemed amused by my almost-panegyric on flowers. “Where did Connell find her?”

I pretended not to have heard her and headed into the Beaming Rose again. I was halfway through the glass doors to the foyer of the building, when I scarcely saw a towering stack of velvet-seated chairs lumbering my way like a stiff-legged elephant.

It probably wasn’t the most glamorous or gracious thing to start howling expletives while clutching my forehead like it was on fire. But come on, am I supposed to thank Connell for landing a bruise the size of a golf ball on my forehead?

At least, he had the decency to drop his stack of chairs like they had suddenly grown spikes, and ask, “Are you hurt? I’m so sorry, I –”

It wasn’t until he saw whom he had injured that he paused in mid-rambling apology.

“Oh, go on with the apologising, don’t stop on account of me,” I snorted, hand still on my forehead.

His face glowed like a chilli crab. Before he could say another word, however, J Lo’s voice cawed, “When I was your age, Raven, had I said the sort of things you just said, I would be guaranteed a one-way ticket to singlehood.”   

I turned. She was grinning at me with the usual witty gleam in her wrinkle-edged eyes.

“You think you’re funny, J Lo,” I said, still rankled by the gratuitous collision.

“Oh, I just think I’m wise,” she said slyly. “Well, if all the damage has been done, we really must get moving, Connor. There’s so much to do!”

“It’s Connell,” I corrected pointedly. J Lo, as much as I loved her, can be as great a source of irritation as Dean.

“Actually, I was thinking of tending to that” – he waved towards my forehead with a pained expression – “first.”

“Oh, that is just dandy. You volunteer to help, and then you drop your chores mid-way to cavort with a girl! Don’t worry about me, now. I’ll just heave these chairs and set them up myself with my old brittle bones….”

“Oh grow up,” I said. I snuck a look at Connell. He was looking torn up between helping her with the chairs, and wanting to tend to the wound blossoming on my forehead. “That’s J Lo for you, don’t worry too much about it. She’ll forget about this in half an hour or so,” I muttered to him as she tottered away like an indignant old Bird of Paradise, looking for someone else to enslave. She was still muttering about ‘young people and their abominable capriciousness’ like some huffy, indignant martyr.

“Why do you call her J Lo?”

“You mean she didn’t make you call her that?” He shook his head. “Give her a few more hours to warm up to you. She’ll go on and on about how she puts the real J Lo to shame, yada yada.”

Connell eyed me dubiously.

“Well, you must have realised she’s not quite mentally stable!” I said, feigning horror.

He stared at me, a quirked-out look on his face. Clearly, my jokes fell flat on him. I rolled my eyes. “So, are you going to do the First-Aid thing on me, or not, because I’m pretty sure my forehead’s turning into a rugby ball soon.”

“Oh, right,” he muttered and sprang into action. “Crew!” he yelled. “Can you set up these chairs? I, uh, got something else I need to do.” He sat me down on the waiting area couch and went off in search of a First Aid kit.

Magenta, the volunteer housewife at the Info Counter plodded over to me in her Hush Puppies comfort soles. She was a portly lady with a grin as bright as her son, Daniel, was.

“Heavens, Raven honey, what happened to you?” she exclaimed in that feminine hand-on-chest way.

I grimaced. “Is it really that bad?”

“It’s just discoloured. And slightly swollen,” Connell said, and began applying some iodine solution. I winced and muttered some more expletives.

“I’m sorry,” he said defensively.

“How come you’re here, anyway?” I asked, a little grousingly.

“I was referred here, by your dad,” he replied absently. “He said it might do me some good, helping out here. Plus, we just moved here. Still in the midst of unpacking.”

“Is that why your entourage is moving in too?”

He paused. “They’re my friends.” He said that last word like he was twisting a breath mint over and over in his tongue until it dissolved, amazed by its refreshing quality. “We just kind of support each other.”

“In what way?” I pressed on, wincing again as he resumed the First Aid mission.

Despite all the flurry and excitement around us, as the old folks and some volunteers from Wroughton – and not to mention Crew and his crew, pun intended – bustled about preparing for tonight’s programme, the way Connell and I talked, it was as if we had all the time in the world, and he could go on dabbing iodine on my forehead for as long as I wanted him to. I couldn’t help but stare at him. He may be a patient of my dad’s, but he didn’t look crazy at all. Or even depressed. His eyes were brown, warm, his lips parted slightly as he worked on my injury.

“Our families, our lives – they can be kind of messed up sometimes.” He stopped and looked at me pointedly. I thought about that evening at Ristrot’s, that little eruption and its aftermath of tense awkwardness, and averted my gaze, as though I had intruded on something shameful that I shouldn’t have.

But when I looked up, he was also looking away.

“Like, really messed up, you know?” he said, laughing mirthlessly as he stared with unfocused eyes. “You wouldn’t even believe it if I told you. If you still wanted to hear, that is.”

“Why don’t you try me,” I suggested, spreading my arms open. Body language, dad would say.

He shook his head with a rueful smile. “Some other time,” he said, his head low. He looked up. “I guess this is our common factor. This ‘my life is crap’ thing.”

“That’s nice. But how do you all know each other?” I asked some more.

“Chance,” he simply said. “Luck, I would say. I’ve known Reilly since young, and she’s known Crew” – he rolled his eyes – “Joey, from goodness knows when. Childhood friends, you see. So, eventually, we ended up as a … an entourage.” He smiled grudgingly. It was a lopsided one that girls would usually describe as ‘lofty and charming’.

“Last night….” I began, waiting for him to elaborate.

He stopped and looked at me for a long moment. I wanted to tear my eyes away, but found that I couldn’t – or didn’t want to. He didn’t look away either, but held a steady – almost bold – gaze.

“What about it?” he finally said.

“Nothing.” I blinked, ashamed that I had even brought it up.

He bent his head low as he packed up the First Aid box. I blinked again, slightly disorientated. Some things slipped into place easily, melding into each other and couldn’t ever be torn off if you tried, and some things were never more than a moment, blink and it’s gone. This was it. The moment was lost.

“Anything else you want to interrogate me about? If not, I think we should be done here,” he said.

I looked up at him, wondering if I had officially offended him. But he gave me a slight smile and shut the First Aid box.

“Thanks.” I prodded my bruise. It rose about a couple of centimetres from the plain of my forehead. “Ow,” I declared. “Should I ask for a mirror?”

“Not the best idea,” he advised. “You look like you’ve got a purple flower sprouting from your head, if that helps.”

“Thanks,” I said again, glaring at him. I combed some more fringes down and attempted to create more defined bangs.

“I’ll go check on the chairs,” he said, offering me a hand to help me up from the couch. “Catch you later.”

“Later,” I said, and watched him run into the glaring midday sun, his back strong and his hair slightly messy, brown in a way his eyes had been. The brightness of the sun threw everything into a world so bright that normal shifted into what they called ‘crazy’. I tried thinking about what crazy really was, but the fans were whirring overhead, spinning warm air around in the foyer, making it difficult to think. Recycled air, I thought, like how memories were recycled and packaged into a new product again, as good as never, formed with items once discarded.

 

*

 

I sat there, fingering my bump lightly, prodding it gently as I continued staring at Connell across the road, who was setting up the chairs in the field.

As I was wincing, having applied too much force (had Connell really been that gentle that I didn’t even feel much pain when he tended to my bump? Maybe I was just distracted by his story), Magenta bent down till her face right in front of mine.

“What?” I said, dropping my hand as though it had been caught in the cookie jar.

“Am I seeing something?” she said.

“Seeing what?” I said, a little defensively.

Magenta smirked. “Honey, you’ve had your eyes fixed on that boy and been smiling that goofy smile since he left.”

“No I haven’t,” I retorted.

“Don’t pout,” Magenta said, still smiling that stupid knowing smile, “it’s not flattering on you. I’m seeing something, honey. I know it when I see it. I can always tell. You may not feel it, but let me share a word of wisdom with you. When you start looking after boys like that, it’s the start of something.” She nodded, as though I had given her the correct answer.

“We are merely acquaintances; I barely know him!” I protested, getting up from the couch.

She shrugged. “I barely really knew my husband until we conjugated in our marriage –”

“Oh, ew,” I said and made for the stairs. “Spare me the intimate details, Magenta.”

Making a hasty getaway, I almost had a second collision with Rox, who had also opted to take the stairs after leaving Aunt Mimi with the other old folks.

“Sorry, I –” Rox stopped dead in her apology. “Whoa. That must have hurt.”

I realised she was talking about my bump. “Uh – yeah. It kind of did. Okay, I want a mirror this instant!”

“What did you do – topple down the stairs?”

“Had a run-in with Connell,” I said. The last word settled around us like petals, the way I said it. I realised how I enjoyed dragging out the first syllable and curling my tongue about the l’s at the end.

Rox raised her brows, then frowned. “He did this to you?” she demanded.

“It was an accident, Rox, ever heard of that? I’m sure you’ve been in one before too, just maybe the magnitude wasn’t that big,” I said in annoyance.

“Okay,” she said defensively. “Over that. What’s he doing here?”

Her tone raised pins of irritation in me. “I’m sure he has the right to –”

“Just answer the question.”

“He happens to be here as a volunteer.” I didn’t add that it was dad who suggested for him to be here, because then Rox would want to know why dad did what he did, and I didn’t have the answer to that. And then Rox would say Connell was ‘shady’.

“Did Dom call you?” she asked suddenly.

Actually, he did. Twice – last night. But I let my cellphone ring till it stopped. “No,” I said.

“I’m sure he didn’t,” Rox said. “Aren’t you at least going to apologise to him? It’s just basic courtesy, something you didn’t exactly have with you last night.”

Last night. Last night was a pivot about which I stood. I knew what walking out of Ristrot’s meant; but I didn’t know what returning to it later meant. What I did know was that it went along the same lines as the moment I had blinked away.

 



© 2008 Raven Held


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Added on February 15, 2008


Author

Raven Held
Raven Held

Singapore, Singapore



About
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..

Writing
The Secret The Secret

A Story by Raven Held


Open Season Open Season

A Story by Raven Held