Stared. Sighed. Stared.
This was somewhere he spent the beginning of his childhood, somewhere he thought was the best place on this planet Earth. Bitter. Sweet. It was indeed a very good place, if and only if he didn’t go against his family for the sake of his celebrity dream. Rolling down the tinted glass, his pair of sorrowful eyes glanced across the road, at the site that once he needed no reason to enter. The lump in his throat was getting harder to be swallowed, reminiscing the times he had. He was looking at the few customers going in and out, Raymond doing his best to serve them. Another waiter was standing by the door, promoting the special desserts of the day, distributing the posters. One thing was clear - DreamMare was no longer the same. It was getting discriminated. All it took was an article, and the place turned so empty. There were no any queues, no any people waiting on the list, like how usually would be.
Suddenly, a small kid dashed and stepped into Kyle’s attention. He started messing around with the water fountain- sprinkled, slapped, pinched, until it almost wet the whole ground. The people around were staring at him including the two waiters by the door. But the boy didn’t give a damn, until his mother came and pulled him away from his playground.
Just a fountain and he could be so happy.
It must be nice to be a kid,
happiness found him so easily.
“Hmm?” he looked up from his phone to meet Kyle’s eyes.
“You know what’s my biggest regret?”
Brandon shook his head. “What? Left DreamMare?”
“The desire to be an adult.” Kyle let out a soft, painful chuckle, expressing the hidden agony in him all this while, "If I knew growing up was this complicated, I'll never wish to grow up fast when I was a kid.”
“Time doesn’t speed up nor slow down, Kyle.” Brandon slid down his seat to lay his aging back. “You still would have to grow up though you never wish for it to come.”
Silently, he swiped off the accumulated tears at the corner of his eye and continued watching his brother doing his job. It was not a lie that he did miss them. Everyone in DreamMare. Nostalgia hit him. Though there were a few times where he wanted to stop by, the fact that he was a celebrity hindered him. He didn’t want to take away their privacies. He didn’t want the public to disturb his family.
But then again, the guilt in him, thinking what Brandon told him yesterday, rose to the peak. He couldn’t bring himself to switch on his phone. So much news, bad ones talking about DreamMare, Evelyn, emerging one after another. Were they true? He didn’t know. Of course he wouldn’t want them to be the truth. However, the details were way too concise for them to be fake either.
“You going down, Kyle?” Brandon asked, after seeing Kyle in a long silence.
He sucked in a deep breath. “Yeah,” putting on his sunglasses with a brief hesitation, clicking open the car, ” that’s why I’m here.”
Brandon got down together with Kyle, walking towards the once-glamorous DreamMare. It was right in front, but they were taking such a long time to reach. The tough figures brought out on them attracted Raymond’s attention. He furrowed his brows, squinting to try and figure out their faces. They look pretty familiar, he thought. Who?
Waiting with the piles of posters he got from the other waiter, he stood still, ready to invite them into the shop. “Hello, welcome to DreamMare. Today we have honeydew with lemon moose cake and also sparkling chrysanthemum tea,” he said with a professional tone, pointing to the illustrations on the paper he was holding, “Would you like to come in and have a try?”
“Long time no see,” Brandon greeted with a smile. “Raymond.”
Raymond was jerked by the sudden friendly approach. His eyes danced between the two men in front of him, hand grasping hard onto the stack when the breeze trying to slip them away, “... I knew you were familiar. But.. sorry.. I forgot your na---”
“Brandon,” the other voice spoke. “My manager.”
His attention automatically shifted to the man with the sunglasses. “And.. you are....?”
Taking off his disguise, “Kyle Lee,” pulling up the corners of his lips into a heartwarming smile, “your...brother,” he said.
Right under the sky, “Kyle???!!” Raymond immediately submerged him with hugs, feet stepping the ground with full excitement. “You’re finally here? Omg, Kyle. You have no idea how much I missed you. You changed your number. I couldn’t reach you.”
“Shhhh. Not too loud, brother,” Kyle whispered by his ears. “Let’s go in first, I have a lot of questions.”
Raymond’s excitement cooled down instantly. His instincts notified him of the questions Kyle was bound to ask. “Sure,” he said, leading them into the shop.
As soon as Kyle laid his feet inside, there was a sense of insecurity rushed into him. Something about it was dark. The joy he had in there when he was young was no longer available. And right then, he started to accept the stories spreading across the social media. About the rise of DreamMare, the fall of Tremon Hon, his company and everything that came after. His humanity ached at each step he made. It hurt him more, glancing at the happy pictures hanging down from the strings. DreamMare didn’t deserve to provide them with such feelings, because they stole it away from another source.
They ruined Clover. Her family. Her happiness. Her everything.
Ignoring the eyes of the existing customers, they headed straight into the private room, enclosed behind the bifold doors.
“Want something to drink?” Raymond poured the juices into the glasses.
Shaking his hand to reject his offer, “Where’s mom?” Kyle asked.
“You heard the news?” Raymond gulped down the liquid he got for himself.
“I wished I didn’t,” Kyle’s eyes slanted, deep layers of sadness exposed through them. “Raymond, I really wished I didn’t. But now it hit me. And I need clarification,” he squeezed his brother’s fist resting on the table,” did mom really play dirty tricks?” His stream was leaking, no longer under his commands. “Sorry.”
“Why you apologizing?” Raymond stroked his tearful face. “Didn’t I tell you? Don’t be afraid to cry--
“Because crying is never a crime,” Kyle continued, and a sudden warmth of brotherly love floated across the room.
But the next moment, Raymond’s shoulders shrunk at his question. Sweats escaped from his pores, dangling at his thick eyelashes. He buried his five fingers into his curly hair and let out nth times of heavy sighs. Lines of thin wrinkles could be seen at the edge of his eyes, as he slammed them hard to think of what to say.
Kyle was waiting for his answer, almost not blinking at all.
“Honestly, Kyle...” he paused, “I don’t know. I didn’t know that Clover is the daughter of the family until I saw her name being brought in. I didn’t know fate could be so funny that it linked back the two of you. Mom had been missing since this morning. I have no idea where she went,” pushing his hand into the tip of his pocket, he pulled out a piece of crumpled paper, “she only left me with this.”
“Read it and perhaps you could get the answer you want to know,” Raymond continued.
Unfolding the letter, Kyle’s eyes scanned through line by line, word by word.
“The truth from 10 years ago finally found its way to be under the spotlight.
I am not the good mother as you thought I would be.
I had nothing to say. Let the media tell the story.
And if Kyle comes back, tell him that he was not the reason dad passed away.
Everything was because of me.
The man-made cooling air blew away the paper held in Kyle’s hands. Letters smudged by the stains of his tears. He stood there, dumbfounded. All this while he had been blaming himself for the death of his dad. But the truth turned out to be a whole new disaster.
It was because of his mom?
“I think Clover recognized her,” Raymond said, “that was why she left immediately the other day when mom came back into the shop.”
Kyle snapped and got up from his seat, holding Raymond tightly by his arms, a little bit too rough. “Clover??! When did she come??!!” His face was wet with salty liquids.
“...Last week? She came with Danise. Actually Danise wanted to let Clover stay here. But I couldn’t promise them and told them to ask mom. But when mom appeared, they just vanished.”
His feet swayed. “Clover knew that it was my mom who destroyed her...” he stumbled onto the ground, “she knew it’s my mom.... why didn’t she tell me?”
“Because she was afraid you would take all the blame,” Brandon said, breaking into the conversation.
Lying awake on the bed, Clover stared into the ceiling, refreshing the scenes she had with Kyle yesterday. Those conversations, she replayed them again and again in her mind. The sensation of the hug still lingered on her. His warmth, the familiar mint scent on him was driving her crazy. How much she wanted yesterday to repeat, nobody would ever understand. She missed him, though she knew it was a forbidden longing.
“I think you would have known by now, Kyle,” she muttered, rolling left and right, sticking the thick blanket in between her legs, “Maybe it was really my mistake to begin with. I shouldn’t have gone to you at the airport.” Dropping a pillow on top of her face, “please don’t be sad when you learnt the truth..." she continued.
Wind escaped into her room through the tiny gaps of the opened windows seemed to be consoling her, patting gently on her head, cheeks, telling her everything would be alright. Walking towards the balcony, she engulfed her thoughts into the relaxing view. It had been a while to feel the world in such a simple way. Orange leaves falling from their homes, pieces by pieces in a rhythmic way, like how snow would drop on the ground to form the piles. Flock of birds flying together in a V shape, noises from the city drifted to her ears, squirrels hiding inside the thick bushes, cracking their nuts. Some even hopped from one place to another, looking for more.
It was more joyful glimpsing at their acts, than to overthink.
“Here have more, little squeaks,” she pointed to the huge tree right outside her room.
She must be too loud. The squirrels dived into the maze of the branches at a stroke, thinking that the sound was from somebody who would be triggering their safety.
“I was just trying to help, kayy,” she nagged.
Just then, a knock was heard.
Danise? Clover thought, stomping towards the entrance to her room.
Creaking open the door, “Danise? I thought----” she trailed off.
It was Stella.
For a moment, she couldn’t speak out her name. Clover’s hand was still stuck at the knob, showing no intention to invite her in.
“You’re not letting me in?” Stella asked with a crooked smile.
With no words, Clover stepped back a few steps, wide enough for her to enter.
“Not bad, huh? Danise sure knows how to take care you,” she ran her fingers along everything she came across. “Wow, what a nice view to wake up to,” she walked towards the same balcony. “Where’s Danise by the way?”
Ignoring her question, “What brought you here?” Clover asked, finally voicing out.
“To kill you,” she glared at her. “Would you believe?”
“You won’t kill me.”
Stella tapped her hand on her mouth, as if she was shocked by what Clover had just said. “You’re right. I won’t kill you. But you wouldn’t know what I can do to you. Right now."
“...You've won, Stella. Why do you even hate me so much? I knew you planned the incident at Guilin, tricking Kyle into blaming me for giving you those limes... What did I do to you?"
“Well... the fact that you've gotten his heart when I'm supposed to get his. Karma, young lady. I saw the news, circling all over the Internet. About you, DreamMare and stuffs,” she pulled out a stool and crossed her leg, facing Clover, “Of course, thank god that the public doesn’t know that DreamMare belonged to Kyle’s family nor Evelyn is his mother.”
“So, what is the point you trying to make?”
“Hmm.. From a princess life, you crumbled down into being a sex slave. Stella removed her pink fluffy rubber band, letting her hair fly in the embrace of the wind. “... But who asked you to fall in love with KYLE?!”
“I am already avoiding him!” Clover snapped. “What else you want me to do?!”
Stella shook her index finger. “No no no.” Showing three fingers, “I’m giving you only 3 days to leave China, Clover,” her voice was icy cold. ” I don’t care how you are going to lie to Danise, but I need you to vanish in just 3 days. Don’t blame me for not being kind if you failed me.”
Sliding her handbag on her, she stood up from the stool. The lavender scent diffusing from her body was itching Clover’s nose. Too thick. Clover was just standing blankly while watching her making her leave. Stella had her hand on the doorknob when it was clicking open from the other side. Retreating back, the door was being pushed open and slowly, Danise’s face appeared.
“Stella?!” Danise was shocked.
She held up her hand to greet him. “Yo, Danise. You’ve been away from the media for quite some time, aren’t you?”
He curled up his lips thinly. “Not for a hot superstar like you to worry.”
“Well...” she flipped her hair, “wish you luck.”
“Get her on my bed tonight.” The order ended on a dangerous note.
Tonight? Kenny’s hand slid from his ear. So I gotta get on my move already.
He stared at the reflected image of him at the rear mirror, and softly tearing off the plaster stuck on his face. A mark was slowly revealing. Hold on! It wasn’t a mark or what not.
He was the scarred man.
Rubbing his hand along the scar, he twisted his mouth, relaxing the muscles of his cheeks. The day which had been delayed ever since the incident at the Guangzhou airport was finally here. Bending down his head to have a full look at the hotel Stella just entered, a crooked, evil smile formed.
He knew he was on the winning side. Stella was nothing but just a chess to get Clover on the hook.
“Maybe you are good on bed, Clover Hon,” he smirked, wetting the surface of his lips. “I shall have you after him."
From afar, shadow of Stella was nearing. Kenny let his scar exposed and got down the car, holding the door apart for the model to enter. She didn’t realize a thing. Not even giving him a look. Too busy with Clover’s matter.
“Kenny. Help me check on her. I need her to disappear after 3 days.,” Stella commanded, taking out her phone from her bag. “1254.”
“Oh.” A gust of winning tinkle flowed in him. “I see. 1254," and an evil sly decorated on his lips.
He had won the upper game.