“Seriously?” Clover paused right in front of the door, glimpsing at the never-ending queue. “So many people waiting out here!”
“Don’t bother,” he said, reaching for the black mask in her grasp, putting it on him, “We are special.” Danise lowered his head and looped his arm in hers, rushing her into the shop.
And that was when the magic started. Bright lightings of standing lamps flickered in her eyes. Postcards, readable materials arranged on the shelves nailed to the bricked walls. Across the beige planes, white strings connected from one end to the next, with many pieces of photos dangling in between. Milky white claimed the tables and chairs. Along the corridor between the payment counter and the main cafe area, isolated guest rooms were planted at the sides.
In short, the inside of the shop was nothing like the outside.
It was portraying the modern era design.
Locking his sight at one of the solo rooms, Danise paused his steps and leaned against the bifold doors. Clover took a peak. It was the same man she saw outside a while ago. He didn’t notice he was being watched. Rather he was focusing on his tasks- cleaning the vacant space, preparing to invite the next customer on the list to be served. New utensil sets were put on the table and when they failed to be in the position he wanted them to be, he adjusted them two to three times. Without any nags.
“Ohisashiburidesu ne`, Raymond-san.” Danise finally placed a soft knock, greeting him.
The metal chopsticks slipped, clinking onto the floor.
“O genki desu ka?” Danise continued, taking a step closer.
He turned to the back slowly. “..Da..Danise?” Brows drew in.
Danise chuckled. “Yeah, it’s me,” he said, outstretched his arms, “Life’s good?”
Instead of offering him a hug, he flashed to him and whacked him with the napkins. “Idiot! Where have you beenn?! I’ve been looking everywhere for you!!”
“Ouch!” he cried. “Raymond! How could you do this to your long lost brother?”
“Long lost brother?” Raymond twisted Danise’s pinna, “Since when we are blood-related? Other than the media, I could hardly see your face anywhere!” he slanted his eyes at him. “You know I don’t like to watch them.. how thoughtful of you, long-lost brother.”
“Ahh..ahhh..!” he tipped on his toes, hands trying to save his pinna from getting ‘detached’. “How could you say that..!”
“Stop acting, dumbass!” he trapped his head under his arm, punch drew up as though he was really going to hit him.
“My goodness. Raymond! My hair is ruined!” he grumbled, freeing himself. “I’m a public figure too kayy.”
At that instance, the naughtiness in his eyes vanished away. “.. Public... figure?” he paused, long enough for awkward silence to creep in. “....Is.....Ky..Kyle doing good...?” The words were breathed out in an almost voiceless whisper.
“He’s fine.” Danise tapped his hair to make it looked neat, “Perhaps he would be better if she forgives him.”
“That’s....-” his voice trailed off. “That’s...”
“Duhhh. Forget about it. Don’t tell me anything about that witch,” Danise waved his hand, shutting off the explanation Raymond was trying to make. Dragging Clover into the conversation, “Here, she’s your brother’s new personal assistant,” Danise introduced, “Clover Hon.”
“Kyle’s new... personal assistant..?” he shifted his gaze to the girl beside his childhood friend.
“Nice to meet you, Raymond,” Clover put on a sweet grin and held out her hand for a shake. Part of her was stunned by the similarities Kyle had on him. But his cheekbones were a little lower, eyes a little flatter.
He didn’t respond to her immediately, allowing the sounds of plates and cups clattering, the screeching noises of the seats being dragged front and back, voices of the customers floated into the room.
Millions of questions displayed on his face but he wasn’t making any attempts pouring them out. Thin curvy lips parted open, fingers drumming on his maroon pants hiding beneath the black apron. Raymond’s gaze was practically lost in hers, as though he had traveled to another dimension in her alluring pearl- black eyes.
But it was getting numb for Clover. The muscles of her cheeks ached, for smiling too long. Her smile lines were decreasing though she tried to hold them in place. Her hand was still left unattended.
It was only until Danise nudged Raymond’s elbow when he finally snapped back into the world.
“Ohhh..I’m..so...sorry.. Really sorry.“” he quickly grabbed Clover’s hand in both of his before it dropped fully down .“It’s really a pleasure to meet you, Clover.”
She puffed as she heard Danise tsk-ing at the side.
“Here, have a seat. I’ll serve you with some desserts in a very short while,” Raymond gestured them to the table, reaching for the door.
As soon as he exited, Clover let out a long breath, crumbling onto the seat.
“I thought he was going to scream at me somehow,” she dropped her face down on the table, rubbing it on her folded arms.
“For what?” he took off his striking tie, coming over and sat down beside her.
“God knows. Maybe his sixth sense told him that I messed up his brother’s event day.”
He unbuttoned the top button of his shirt and widened the gap of the collar, showing tips of the sexiness of his tanned skin under the clothes. His jugular veins were very obvious. Stains of sweats were slipping, though it was a real wonder how he got into that state since the room wasn’t anywhere close to heat.
It’s nice to know you, Danise. Clover sipped the glass of lemonade water that Raymond served before he stepped away. Trying to be more comfortable with the space around the 4 person table, she pushed the chair beside her slightly. She was about to break the generating silence when Raymond came back in with a tray full of mouth-watering, elegant pastries and desserts.
The aroma was enough to conclude everything. Taste. Smell. Sight. 100%. Cream puffs were done so exquisitely with the spun sugar put messily all over, hints of strawberry paste leaking seductively from the openings. Next to the cream puffs, top layers of the green tea tiramisu cakes looked so crispy and bubbly, playing another big part in draining away their patience.
They were totally controlled by the tray.
“These are our special menu for the week,” Raymond said, serving the sweets to them.
Eyes opened at the zoomed-up images of the pastries, “Wow! Raymond! .... !” Danise exclaimed, “I didn’t know that you guys have already come this far.”
Gulping down her overflowing drools, “A..Amazing..." Clover continued.
Raymond laughed at their overreactions. " Oh come on guys! Stop overreacting. Have a taste!” he said, pulling the seat next to Danise’s.
Hands shivering in anticipations, Clover clipped the cream puff with her two bare fingers and swallowed it wholly down her throat. Her eyes widened as the paste oozed out, allowing each section of her taste buds to savour it. The richness, textures, moistures were far beyond its presentation. Clover turned to look at Danise and the exact same expression was featured on his face, misleading her to think that she was seeing the reflection of her own self.
“Clover..” Raymond began with a heavy sigh out of nowhere, overtaking the cheerful atmosphere in the room. “Life is only a life, if you make it alive.”
That automatically stopped the chew in Danise’s mouth. He gave a -why-are you-being-so-philosophical- look to him but Raymond chose to ignore.
“Kyle taught me this phrase.” he lowered his head to the empty tray. “I don’t know how you ended up with Kyle. As far as I know, Kyle never had a personal assistant before this."
She moved her eyes to Danise and he nodded in acknowledgment.
Out of a sudden, Raymond stood up from his chair and shifted to the one near Clover’s. Cupping her hands in his, voice trembling into unsteady sobs, “Please Clover.. please protect Kyle.. Clover... He has... lost too much. I couldn’t be by him when he needed it the most... So..Clover please... help me..”
“What happened?” she was surprised that her voice sounded firm. "What's wrong with Kyle?
“You don’t know?”
Clover shook her head.
“Well, I thought it would be better if she hears it from you. That’s why I brought her here.” Danise said, clearing the floating questions, while taking another huge bite of the green tea cake.
Raymond relaxed his grip, letting out another heavy sigh. “Ever since young, Kyle has always loved music,” he began. “He would play with the notes on the keyboard, making sense of the black and white keys. When he was 8, he began writing lyrics based on the melody that he composed, recording his singing on videos and posting them on several platforms. Everything was so perfect back then. Even our parents were very proud of him.”
He gulped down the stinging lump, displaying a painful smile, ” However, they never thought that this was his dream. The life he wanted to live. They wanted him to help out in this shop, make it into a world-class ranking like what it is now. Back then, DreamMare was nothing like this. But Kyle was very sure of his passion. He wanted to chase after his real dream. As he grew older, he became rebellious and went against the whole family, and ended up got chased out of the house.”
“Where were you?” Clover asked.
“In Japan. Dad sent me there to master my baking skills. I wasn’t here when the chaos happened. I hated myself for not being there for him.” Clenching his fists, regretful tears coming into view. ” And I only got to know this when Danise gave me a long-distance call. By the time I came back, everything was too late. Kyle... was already gone.”
“But isn’t Kyle successful now? He’s so famous! You can see him everywhere," Clover extended her arms," on the streets, shopping malls, newspapers..." she held on, " Aren’t your parents...feeling the same?”
"Parent." He corrected her. “Our dad passed away six years ago.”
“Wait.. six years ago?! If I’m not wrong.. that’s when...” Clover’s face tensed, “Fame hit Kyle?”
Raymond smirked. “Funny, isn't it?” Reaching for the jug, he poured the water into Clover’s empty glass. “He didn’t know our dad had chronic disease by then. Because he was still angry at us for not supporting his dream, for stepping on his love, he couldn’t be contacted at all. Dad wanted to meet him, to tell him how sorry he was for forcing him to give up on music. But.. his time was slipping away. And expected...Kyle.... couldn’t make it back in time to bid his last goodbye..”
A drop of pearl-like liquid slid from his eyes as he blinked. Clover plucked few pieces of tissue from the handmade tissue box. “Mom was very angry at Kyle,” he sniffled, “Up till now.”
“This must be what he meant when he said he sacrificed too much..” Clover mumbled, feeling the ache on her chest.
“Clover,” Raymond called out.
“Hmm?” she said, moving her attention back to him.
“Help me to look after Kyle. He might look tough and strong on the outside. But inside he’s nothing like that."
“Don’t worry, Raymond,” Clover assured, tapping on his shrunken shoulder. “He saved me. Of course, I will try my very best to protect this... little boy.”