Swallowing the embarrassment, cupping her swollen face, Clover extended her legs far apart and flee to the backstage. All those eyes staring at her back, words they muttered, pierced through her like there was no end. The black mask was drawing down her face by her own silent tears. Even the remaining crews at the back narrowed their eyes as they saw her coming out through the curtain. They were blaming her, criticizing her. Though none actually yelled at her, their gestures said it well enough for her to understand.
It was suffocating.
She needed to be alone.
The leftover dignity in her made her pushed through the forming crowd and reached for the red button fixed on the wall - exit.
But the moment she stepped out, bright rays shone across her cheeks, accompanied by the natural warmth, paused her attempts to run away.
She leaned against the wall, hands stuck at her back, feeling the roughness inside her exposed palms. Numerous sighs hiding the unspeakable pain hurting her pride were exhaled. It was the only escape to make her feel better under the layers of blue fluffy clouds, along with the tones of greeneries. The view in front was indeed soothing. Though it wasn’t as calming as the one she used to be in, but it was enough to cure her soul from crumbling any further.
"It's okay, Clover Hon," she consoled. "It's just another bad day."
Holding her hands up in the air, lines of sunlight reflected in her eyes through the gaps in between, erasing the glooms blossoming. The little, big greens surrounding the place of the event were dancing along with the light wind, making everything seemed so simple. Autumn leaves swaying in a rhythmic movement, away from their branches, onto the muddy ground where the roots of their homes were planted.
It was beautiful witnessing the fall.
Down the uphill road, she could hear cars passing, people talking. About what? She didn’t know, but she was sure it probably wouldn’t be anything worse than what she was experiencing.
Taking off her mask, staring blankly into the space, she bent down her knees, circling the sandy bricky floor, "but.. I'm really tired...”
Suddenly, three small curry fishballs stuck on a stick was shoved in front of her, “Don’t be,” the owner of the stick said, “here, eat this.”
Her stability wavered as he came in too instant, dropping her fully on the ground. “W..who are you?” she stammered.
He smiled, still shoving the fishballs to her, “Not a bad man.”
“Sorry. But I’m not in any mood for any pranks.” Clover gave him a dull look, “Go and play with the crews inside. They--”
“Clover Hon,” he pulled the shorter- correcting the position of his striking red tie. “I’m pretty sure that there’s no any other Clover Hon in there. Tall and slim body. Black pearl eyes, long silky hair. Perfect description of you.”
She jerked, dropping her eye level as the man brushed away the particles to sit beside. “W-who.. are you..? W-wait...how..h-ow... How did you even know my name?”
He smirked, displaying his deep dimples, “I’ll tell you once you eat these. I heard that you never had anything up till now.”
“Fine,” she grabbed the stick, proceeding with the munches. When the man wasn't doing what he said he would, she shot him a glare, demanding him to keep his words.
And it actually chuckled him, vibrating his protruding Adam's apple.
“To make it simple, I was supposed to be the special guest for the event today. But the star inside,” he pointed to the inside of the backstage, “told me to check on you.”
Clover chewed the second fishball, “Kyle?”
He nodded. “He wanted to know if you’re okay....you know.. after....the...erm....” he looked away from her, trying to portray his message through his busy hand gestures crawling in the air.
“Public slap?” she rose her eyebrow.
Scratching his spiked up hair, “..Well....” he asked, “you okay?”
Clover snorted, “What are you going to do if I say I’m not?”
“I wouldn’t approach you if I’m unprepared you know,” he said, grabbing Clover to stand up along with him. “Let’s go.”
“Where?” she chunked the final piece down her throat.
The unknown man took a pocket tissue out of his back pocket and handed it to her. “You’ll know,” he said, dragging her towards the exit of the whole place.
Actually- the second exit, it was hidden so secretively in the bushes. Not linking to the main entrance nor giving any hints to anyone about their disappearance.
Holding her hand tightly in his, he gave it a few pats before leading through the grassy tunnel. Clover lowered her body, squatted to walk on the big round stones, avoiding to get stuck to the thick branches. Jumping across the shallow river with slow flowing liquid, she tapped her toes softly on the rocks and it went on until they reached another path.
“Wait!” Clover drew back her hand from his grip and braked her steps in the middle of the narrow route. “What about your special appearance?”
The shrubs were too tall and strong, blocking the view of the man in front of her. She had to drop down her body three quarter to be able to see the lower half of him.
“Kyle’s got his way. Not to worry,” he assured her, pushing his hand through the bushes to reach her once more.
Too tired to think any further, she took in his hovering palm and continued what she started.
As soon as Clover reached the open road, she immediately turned to look at the path she just walked on. There was clearly no any slight hint displayed. For a very brief moment, it seemed like she just passed through a secret garden, stimulating the familiar fairytale sensation that was once alive in her.
The man brought her to the exact spot where Brandon parked his car. It wasn’t very difficult to guess which was his. Only one that was bright in colour, which was kinda obvious it belonged to him. When the spotlight of target car she had in her mind flashed, a little joy of guessing something right ignited in her.
Neon blue BMW i8.
“Seatbelt,” he said, sticking in his key, turning on the engine.
“Oh,” pulling the belt, she asked, “By the way..what’s your name?”
He looked at her, eyes widened in shock, “I didn’t tell you?”
Clover shook her head.
“My bad. I’m Danise,” he flashed a smile, almost as gentle as Kyle’s. ” A singer.”
“Danise?” The memory of Kyle dialing his phone the other day came across her mind. She remembered him mentioning Danise to someone he named as ‘Little D’ on his phone. “Ah... Little D?”
“Wow! You know!” he laughed, checking the back while reversing his car, heading for the single lane road. “Yeah," winking, "That’s me.”
Clover chuckled along with him. In fact, she was pretty surprised at herself for being able to laugh out together with a stranger she just met half an hour ago.
But if it was Danise, then maybe it wouldn’t be that bad.
Danise didn’t mention where were they heading to nor Clover asked. It didn’t matter anyway. Anywhere was fine as long as not back there. She was desperate to be alone, even if it was just for a short little while. A short moment to feel free was better than having none at all.
Sighing, the vision in her emotional eyes turned foggy as she decided to bid goodnight to the world.
Upon waiting for the traffic to be cleared, “I wonder what’s your story,” Danise muttered under his breath, “Hopefully.. it wouldn’t be so much worse than Kyle’s..”
Supporting her head from sliding off the headrest, “Sleep well, child,” he continued.
It had the perfect outlook of a traditional Chinese coffee shop though it appeared to be like a bungalow from afar. The dull, yet captivating beige colour of the entire structure played a very big role in spreading the historical feels. Ancient Chinese characters printed on the enormous vases put at the doorway, portraits of the ancestors since the Qing Dynasty were framed and fixed onto the walls. Between them, the writings were written calligraphically with paints, displaying and explaining how did the Chinese characters get simplified as time passed by. Laces of the tied-up translucent lavender pink blinds swinging at the door, water fountain at the front circling and performing in various patterns. A five-star certificate and a few pictures of the signature desserts were pasted on the outside of the standing alone shop, inviting the taste buds to come upon.
Of course, it would have been a real question mark if a well-known, beautiful coffee&patissiere shop like this to be lineless in front.
The queue had already lined up to the opposite road, waiting to be served.
“I’m really sorry for the long wait,” a guy pushed through the glass door, carrying a tray full with small pieces of mud cakes. “Here, have a taste. I’m really very sorry,” he apologized, giving off the pieces.
“How much l’ger do we’ve to wait?” a young Western lady in ripped maroon jeans asked in her rich American accent, shifting her weight to her left leg.
“Err....” he bit his lips, glancing back at the crowded space in the shop. “We are trying our best to be as fast as possible. Really sorry for the inconvenience caused.”
“Damn. This is so so so superb,” someone in the queue interrupted the discourse. “Do you still have this in store?” he asked, licking the residues of the chocolate cake on his pinky.
“Yes. Yes. We do have. It’s the signature of our shop. We have it 24 hours.”
“Gooddd. Otherwise today would be a total waste.”
“Thank you for your support. I on the behalf of the whole crew, appreciate your words.” Sticking the empty tray under his arm, he bowed 90 degrees to him, and then to the remaining crowd, “and once again, I’m truly sorry for the wait.”
Danise slowed down the pace of his car the moment he saw the ever-crowding famous patissiere shop, DreamMare. One of the places where he spent his childhood with Kyle. He remembered how they were scolded by Kyle’s parents for messing up the kitchen, running around and not helping with the chores in the shop. At that time, DreamMare wasn’t a world-class renowned shop yet. But everyone in the shop was working their very best to produce five-star quality pastries and coffees, including the guy, apologizing to the crowd a while ago.
But now, they finally made it. Their efforts finally paid off.
“You still look the same,” Danise said under his breath, “Raymond. He continued, “I’m glad,” driving away his BMW i8 to find a space to park.
Thank goodness there were still available ones. Pressing hard onto the oil pedal, Danise sped and secured the target space.
“Clover, wake up,” he shook her arm, pulling up the handbrake. “We’re here.”
“Hmm..?” she crinkled her brows, stretching her body. Red lines could be seen in her eyes as she opened them to receive the sense of light. “Where are we?”
“What?” Clover asked.
“I thought maybe you should know,” he got off his car and went over to Clover's. ” a little bit about Kyle’s story,” he said, opening her door.
“What does that got to do with.. what?.. Drimmere?”
“DreamMare.” Danise corrected. “A world-class patissiere shop, owned by Kyle’s family.”