“Clover?” Her name blurted from Kyle’s mouth the moment he opened the door after several knocks placed on it.
But the face appeared wasn’t the one he anticipated for.
“Hey!” she greeted, holding up her hand and paused it in the air, as if she didn’t notice the changes in his mood.
“Yeah. It’s me,” she zipped off her boots, brushing past by Kyle who was still standing by the door.
“What are you doing here?” Kyle asked, taking two steps at a time to catch her pace.
Her steps paused at his words. Turning back, she flashed him a brief smile. And within that smile, a slight hint of sadness was displayed. He would’ve noticed, if his mind wasn’t all about Clover. You’ve changed, Kyle. I never needed a reason to come to your place.
“Just....missing you,” she winked, walking over to the couch.
“I told him to take a day off today.”
Steams of vapour from the kettle accompanied by the sounds of water bubbling in the pot pulled Kyle away from Stella, to shut off the switch. His kitchen was set in the living room. Modern style. A rectangular white glossy, minimalist table was put in front, with several tall seats that came together with it. He opened the cabinet, took out a packet of freshly roasted Robusta coffee beans and grabbed a bunch of them, sniffing under his nose. A slight curl formed at his lips as he dropped them into the burr coffee grinder, grinding them to the size he wanted them to be. Kyle had always loved coffee. Never once he bought any instant coffee powders. To him, they were a shame to the origins of coffee beans. Despite how busy he was, he always made time to grind the beans to brew his drink.
Aromas of the beans started to float in the house, seducing the tastebuds of everyone present. And they got stronger as Kyle poured the hot water into the mugs lined up. The smell got Stella off the couch. She went over and pulled out a tall seat, hands cupping her face, waiting for Kyle to serve her with his coffee.
“Here,” Kyle said, “have a try.”
“Hmmm... ” Stella sipped in slowly and the rich flavour of the coffee beans melted on her tongue instantly. “Wow...Kyle..” her lenses-free eyes grew wide in excitement. “Just tell me one thing that you are not good at.”
“..Thank you..” he chuckled, staying where he was with no intention of pulling the seat next to hers.
And that was it. The end of their conversation. Awkward silence crawled in the air. Kyle busied himself by blowing the coffee. Though he felt’s Stella’s longing stare, he chose to ignore.
“You’re angry with me?” Stella broke the silence. “...Kyle?”
He shook his head. “Why should I?”
“For... the incident that happened in Guilin,” she said in a quiet voice, looking at the swirls in her mug, following her inertia. “Kyle.. I-”
“Stella,” he cut her, putting down his mug almost too loudly. “Maybe it was my mistake.. For not clarifying things with you..Maybe it was my mistake for giving you hope. Maybe it was my mistake--” he swallowed a lump down his throat, ” for...” Letting you to fall in love with me.
She wrapped his free palm in hers. “.. No.. Don’t.. don’t clarify...” the muscles on her cheeks wobbled, hints of tears were reporting at the corner of her eyes. “..Don’t... Kyle...”
“Stella, please,” he swept the skin-ship away. “You’re a goddess. A gifted composer, singer, model. The whole world belongs to you. You just need to ask and many lines of men would waiting to approach you!”
“But in those lines, there wouldn’t be you,” she fixed her desperate gaze on him. “The whole world belongs to me but not you!”
Stella rushed to the inside of the kitchen, “Kyle.. I love you,” and a tight, hungry embrace followed right after.
“No.. No.. Stellla!” Kyle pushed and freed himself from her touch, a little bit too rough, almost stumbling her on her balance. “I’m sorry... Stella. But..” he bowed, which only made the situation worse. He had never bowed to her before. “Please..don’t love me.”
“It wasn’t a choice,” she sobbed, hitting it right at the bullseye, “I never wanted to fall in love with you, Kyle,” Stella closened their gaps, arms wide open, attempting to trap him in her locked circle for another time.
The sight of the damaged car into the porch gave Kyle a chance to escape. He sucked in a deep breath, trying to be as small as possible and slipped away from her distance, as if he was afraid to have anymore contacts with her. Stepping towards the door, two familiar faces coming down from the carmade him let out a long sigh of gratefulness.
“Clover!” he clasped her arm, ” Are you alright? What happened? What’s with the.... car?”
She parted her lips to speak. But before Clover could throw out the words, Kyle shot a look at Brandon, “What did you do to her?--”
“Kyle!” Clover interrupted. “Let’s have a party,” she shot the widest smile her lips could give. “It’s my birthday today.”
That shifted his mood instantly. “R--really?!!" he began to hustle around, "Should have told me earlier! Quick! Brandon! Help me with the preparations. Ask Danise to buy a cake and get over here fast!”
His voice echoed as he fleed back into the house clumsily. The comfy slippers flew off his feet and laid pathetically in the middle of the porch.
“...You know” Brandon said, walking over to her direction. “... maybe...”
“Don’t..." she stepped back, "don't give me any reasons to stay, Brandon,” she was tearing up. “I’m afraid...” she glanced at him, salty liquids swimming in her eyes. ” I would lose the courage to leave.”
Kyle was already in his apron, digging the refrigerator for the frozen meats. Grabbed some carrots, green veggies, fishballs and dumped them into the sink. He didn’t know why, but he wanted to cook a fiesta on his own for Clover’s birthday. After all, it was her first birthday celebrated with him. The tap was left running, melting the ice in the meats. He wiped his hands on his apron and glanced at the time, should be done before 7 p.m.
“So it was because of her that you’re shutting me out,” her voice was icy cold.
“Oh my god!” he snapped, dropping the carrots in his grasp. ” You shocked me Stella. What you...what you talking about? She’s my friend. And friends are supposed to celebrate birthdays for one another.”
“But you never been this committed for my birthdays,” she stood up, flinging her sling bag over her shoulder, showing her frustrations.
“Where are you going? Not staying for the party?” Kyle asked.
Stella gave him a sidelong glance. “I bet you don’t need me here,” she said, stomping towards the exit.
Clover cleaned the stains on her face the moment she saw traces of Stella reaching for the door. Her steps froze. Envy, jealousy, resentment were all portrayed in her eyes as their eyes contacted with one another. The scenes that happened on the night in Guilin replayed at the back of her mind. The amount of dirty water that was poured on her was hard to be forgotten. The backlash that she received from her fans. How could she not be angry? But, instead of spitting everything out, Clover smiled waveringly. She wanted to leave this place only with happy memories. However, the one-sided smile was not accepted by Stella. She rolled her eyes and brushed past her aggressively, challenging her steps to be still on the ground.
“H-he..-” Clover called out.
“Don’t, Clover.” Brandon caught ahold of her wrist, stopping her from running after Stella. “Don’t ask for troubles. Get in.”
Nostalgia kicked in as she entered. It was different this time. Perhaps it was because she knew her time to leave was nearing. She glanced around. Feelings had already grown towards this house, the things inside, the..people living in it. Looking at the blue sofa, the first encounter with Brandon in here made her laughed through her tears. She remembered how stuffed up his mouth was, with chips when he was trying to scare her away. It was funny. But saddening, to realize that time had flown so fast.
You really should leave, Clover, she told herself.
Sizzling sounds of the meats being put on the pan tore her away from her lost thoughts. Brandon was by the sink, cleaning, chopping the greens. Kyle extended his head a little to check on Brandon. When the veggies weren’t coming out in similar shapes and patterns, he critiqued on his cutting method. That stepped on Brandon’s nerves. He splashed the water from the running tap onto Kyle, drenching his hair and face. Holding the spatula, he split and ran, leaving the meats unguarded. Brandon swang his arm to make him stay in place but he was too fast. However, when he felt something dripping onto the tiles, he freaked out immediately. It was the oil from the spatula! Damn!
Her heart stung in pain. Guiltiness cramped her heart as she realized she made this two brothers quarreled because of her. If it wasn’t her, there wouldn’t be any need to do so. If it wasn’t because of her, they would have been in such close relationship like now. Everything was because of her. She was the culprit.
“I’m sorry..” she whispered.
Maybe Kyle heard her despite the noises in the kitchen. He lifted up his head and concern was written on him. It was the exact kindness he showered her with on the day he saved her. His gaze locked on hers. Are you okay, Clover? Blinking away her upcoming tears, she curled up her lips and nodded. I’m okay. She mouthed.
It was only until burnt smell hit his sensation, he rushed back and flipped them to the other side.
“Serious, please,” Brandon nagged, getting on with cutting his veggies. “I don’t wanna eat the root source of cancer.”
They were busying preparing the meals when a knock hit the door. “I’m hereee~~”
A huge box tied with a pink ribbon was being held in his right hand.
Clover reached for the door. And before she could actually respond to his presence, he pulled her into his cuddle. “Happy birthday, Clover!!!” he wished, giving few pats on her back, “Be happy always.”
Clover chuckled. “Thank you, Danise. It’s really a bless to meet you,” she expressed, pushing back her stream.
Danise, another angel. Other than Kyle, he was the one treated her with almost the same kindness. To think that she gotta be leaving them, and not knowing when would be the next time to meet again, it was hard to look into the future.
He took off his sweater and hurried to the kitchen, joining the other two for the preparations after putting the cake safely in the fridge. He was greeted with smiles. And the three of them looked like siblings, messing around with the stuff. Clover quietly went to her room and began packing her belongings while they were still unaware of her sudden MIA. Her steps were heavy. Her breaths were shaky. Her walls were tumbling.
“No, Clover. Not now,” she warned her tears. “Not now please...”
She snapped, sucking in her mucus and wiping away her tears messily.
“It’s just me, Brandon.”
He walked to her, handing her few pieces of documents. “I think you would need it,” he said.
“..Passport?” Clover crooked her brow.
He nodded. “I don’t think you have one with you right now.”
“Thanks, Brandon.. I really needed this.”
“Where do you plan to go after leaving here?”
She shrugged. “There would definitely be a place for me to hide.”
Brandon folded in his lips, helping Clover with her clothes. “..What you want me to tell Kyle tomorrow?.. after he realized you’re gone.”
Drops of her tears were falling onto the shirts in her hand. One after another, like there were no brakes. “.. Just say... ” she paused, trying to steady her breaths. “I’ve found someone that I can trust to live with.”
He froze. The meals were ready, and all he wanted to do was to ask them to come out and enjoy. But the conversations he eavesdropped weren’t what he expected to hear. It was so sudden. Retreating, he went back to the kitchen and acted like he knew nothing, heard nothing.