Sitting at the tall rectangular wooden table nailed into the wall by the glass window, scenes from ten years ago greeted at the back of her mind. Those shady orangy maple trees dancing in front of her shop were blurring into the stories in her memories. Strong aroma evaporating from her cup of hot Caramel Macchiato slowly drifted away and replaced with the smells of her shameful past. Her vision was transported back to those inhumanity days. The days where she sold her pride and dignity.
Everything started because of...
He was in his usual outlook. Black suit, black pants, black striped tie and with a pair of black Crocodile shoes. It wasn’t the first time for her to be here. In fact, she lost the number of times she stepped into this ‘dirty’ room of his. He made her hooked on him. And at that time, money was what she needed the most.
Rolling on his chair, “Use that girl to steal the information,” he commanded, sucking his cigar, suffocating the circulating air in his lightless room.
“...B..but she’s just a child..” she stammered. “It’s... too cruel, Jack...”
“Because she is still a child,” he stomped his foot at the edge of the desk, pausing the chair from moving, glaring her with his pair of sharp cold eyes, “things would end faster and smoother.”
“10000000 yuan. You’re desperate for money, aren’t you?” he flashed a cunning smile, “Evelyn?”
“Just a small lie and the money is all yours,” he flipped open the suitcase, fingering the stacks of money. “DreamMare would then shine so brightly just like how you wanted it to be.”
Tears of embarrassment crawled into her eyes. Even the macchiato was disgusted by her cheap self-values. It went straight into her nose instead of the channel down her throat, giving her a sudden choke. Her eyes turned red. The customers at the side stared at her for a while and changed their places on a second thought.
“You okay, mom?” Raymond appeared, with a glass of warm water and few pieces of fragrant tissues.
She took the liquid and immediately gulped it down, clearing the itchiness in her.
“Thanks, boy,” she said.
“What you thinking about?” he asked.
She looked away from him, slurping her hot drink. You gotta hate me if you know. Her attention shifted to the pictures hanging down from the long white strings. The pictures were not filled in an orderly manner. At the end of each string, there were few centimeters being left vacant (enough to fit in one or two). They were to fit in her portions. Pictures of her together with her sons, drinking coffees, chit-chatting like worries never existed. But it was also, something that would take forever to come true. All the fault lied within her. The reason why Kyle chose to not come back to DreamMare was because of her, the reason why his dad passed away was because of her, the reason why Kyle had failed to meet him for the last time was also..because of her...
“Mom.. you know.. ” Raymond stared into the windows, sighing, “Kyle got himself into troubles.”
WHAT?! Troubles? Is he okay now? Did he get injured anywhere? What happened?!!
Was all she said, facing her back to her elder son.
“..Mom you’re still angry with lil’ brother?” Raymond stepped onto the support of the chair, extending his head a little, trying to look past his mom's shoulders. “...you know... with everything... Dad... DreamMare... and.. stuffs..”
She didn’t say a thing and continued swirling her cup of Caramel Macchiato.
“Let...Let’s reunite with Kyle... mom...” he pulled the edge of her flowery blouse like a child. “I can give Danise a call and we can meet Kyle right away...”
“I doubt he has any time for us, Raymond,” she said coldly, returning to the counter to get going with her job. As the boss of DreamMare.
The shop she fought by giving up on her pride.
The ringing sounds of the bell at the door one after another quickly got Raymond up from his 5 minutes break. He wiped the residues left along the table, pushing the seats back in. Piles of orders were stacked up at the counter and some customers were displaying hints of frustrations on their faces. Running through the lists, they were all the signature desserts. Chocolate mud cakes. Japanese Aloe vera cream puffs. Mango pancakes with breadcrumbs. He dashed into the kitchen right after to help out with the overloading requests.
DreamMare was known for its high-quality products. But today, customers tripled, burning out the energy of the workers. The orders were accepted but have yet to be delivered. Chocolate mud cakes still being baked inside the ovens, mango pancakes were being chilled to give the right textures. Left with the cream puffs. Digging the fridge, Raymond took out the packs of fresh aloe vera, cream icings, milk and got on his moves. The skills that he learned from Japan weren’t useless.
“You doing the puffs, ’mond?” The tall chef in the black apron gave him a quick glimpse and asked.
“Yea, leave them to me.”
“Great,” he muttered, placing the mango slices on the pancakes.
Pouring the unstripped aloes imported from Japan into the basket soaked in the sink, he rinsed them thoroughly. He took out the knife from the board and began chopping them into smaller pieces before removing the contents. The juices oozed out as he cut them, drenching the board with their sliminess. Taking out the egg beater, he put in all small slices of aloe veras, added some fresh flour and turned on the machine.
Okay, the filing was going to take a while to reach the right creaminess.
“Raymond!” One of the waitresses in white slid open the kitchen’s door.
“Hmm?” he crouched, looking for available pots in the cabinets to make shells for the puffs.
“Someone outside is asking to meet you,” she said.
“Who?” he popped up his head.
The waitress shrugged, “A young looking man and a young looking girl,” she said, putting the desserts on her empty tray and paced away.
Young?...Kyle??! With the hope that the man would be his younger brother, he ran.
Tens of people crowding the limited space in the shop as he stepped out. Looking left and right, he tipped on his toes to scan for the figure of his long-lost brother. The people were busy ordering, eating, drinking. None paid any special attention to him like what was told by the waitress a few moments ago. His mom was not there either. He walked himself deeper into the centre of the shop and continued glancing everywhere. But there were certainly no any traces of Kyle...
“Over here!” A masculine voice called. “Raymond-san!”
He turned. Though it wasn’t what he expected to see, it wasn’t what he didn’t want to see either.
“Hey, Danise,” he breathed, joining them on the table, “hello, Clover,” he said in a more polite manner, shifting his attention to her who was slicing the chocolate cake with her fork.
“It’s nice to see you again, Raymond,” she faked a smile.
He crossed his arms on the table, eyes dancing between the two humans in front of him. Danise hid his face underneath his light blue Adidas cap, lips trembling, hesitating to speak. Other than staring at the messy stains of the dark chocolate on her plate, Clover refused to look elsewhere.
Something was off.
“What is it?” he asked in a serious tone, breaking the silence, overtaking the surrounding noises growing in the cafe.
Their motions paused at the note, moving their gazes to him.
“...A little.. help..?” Danise asked, lifting his cap higher with his knuckle.
“Kyle got himself into troubles... --”
“I know. The scandal issue,” Raymond interrupted, giving a side peak at Clover. “But I thought it’s.. kinda settled?”
“Wow! You know!” Danise went to him and laid his arm over his shoulder. “And you said you hated the media,” he teased.
“It was so hard to not know, okay? Even the newspapers, radios kept talking about it,” he shook the arm off him. “What’s the matter?”
“...You see..” Danise began, messing with the water droplets on the surface of his glass of iced passion tea. “... Something really.. really terrible happened to Clover that’s why she ended up in China... ” he sighed, “even though the scandal is cleared, but you know...the media is not going to let her go without some bashes.”
“And?” Raymond drew in his brows. “I don’t get it, Danise. Can you get straight to the point?”
“She needs a place to stay.”
He froze, wasn’t expecting to hear those words. Straightening his posture, he looked at Clover, but the gaze couldn’t last for few seconds.
“You mean... you want her to stay here? At DreamMare?” he asked.
“Can she?” His voice was calm but it was cracking at the edge. He was worried he might get rejected. "I remembered you guys do have accommodation supplied for your workers."
When Raymond remained silent, he continued, “We needed someone we can trust, Raymond. And you’re the only one that we could think of. Someone that is free from the media.”
“Danise...” he said, ” I don’t have the final say when it comes to situations like this. You know my mom, she wouldn’t take in anyone with no clear backgrounds..”
“Oh, come on Raymond!” he grumbled. “Fine, let’s meet your mom then. Though I really hate her so much.”
Standing up, “I’ll let you know when she’s here,” he uttered in a rush, “I gotta go. People are starting to crowd again.”
He was right. The crowd was forming. Raymond was back in his manager mode at a glance, serving the customers to their seats. Attending to a big family with two toddlers, do you need baby chairs? was said by judging on the movement of his lips. His mother was indeed nowhere to be found. Clenching his fists, Danise banged the table, just to pour out a portion of his overflowing frustrations. Clover extended her hand, lowered his cap and tapped softly on his shivering grasp. Opening it, let’s go, she wrote with her index. Danise looked up at her and she gestured to the door, after putting a few money notes under her plate. However, he insisted to wait. Wait for the boss to appear, he meant
Clover fixed her eyes on the door, watching for any lady/boss-like figure to enter. She had never seen Kyle’s mother before. And a small part of her was scared to meet her. How is Kyle’s mom? Is she as friendly as her kids? Or is she the complete opposite? she thought. People kept emerging after the door, and Raymond barely had any time to speak to them anymore.
“I don’t think she would be here today,” she repeated her words verbally this time. “Let’s go, Danise.”
He stared blankly into her eyes. He wanted to persuade her to stay, to wait for just another couple of minutes. But, would Raymond’s mom appeared by then? Yes? No? He wasn’t sure.
“...Where will you go then?” he asked in a whisper, concerns and care reflected in his twinkling eyes.
Sinking her hand into her bag, “Brandon gave me a new copy of my passport,” she said, moving her fingers to touch it, “I’m sure it’s no longer a problem for me to go anywhere.”
“You are not staying out of my reach, Clover Hon,” he deepened his voice. “I would... be sad..”
Suddenly, the door was pushed open and a gust of strong wind barged in along. The echoes of the heels dragged all the existing attention to her for a moment. Her let-down maroon hair was flown like a lion’s mane, covering half of her features. The sunglasses were slipping down the bridge of her nose and droplets of sweats were streaming down her neck. She headed straight to the counter, diffusing her scent of green tea perfume across the room.
Just by sensing the change of energy in the cafe, “She’s back,” Danise hissed underneath his breath.
Her head reflexed immediately. The lady seemed young, didn’t look like a mother of two. She was talking with somebody on the phone while dealing with several bills on her desk. She didn’t notice her nor Danise. But there was this strange sense of familiar on her. The way she brought herself, her charisma, her voice and even that perfume scent of hers was making her nostalgic.
She felt like she knew her...
It didn’t hit her right away, but when it did, her black eyes froze in fear.
She knew her.
Danise stood up to approach, but was stopped.
“What’s wrong?” he flashed a puzzled look, returning to his chair.
Though she shook her head, the paleness on her face was enough to break her lie.
The muscles of her cheeks were wobbling, and tears were fighting to stay still. Her stream was leaking. Hatred from ten years ago rekindled at the back of her mind. Everything felt so fresh once again. Never in forever, she thought she would meet her again.
But it was happening right in front of her.
It was her...
who took away her happy family.