Chapter 7: A hot cup of Darjeeling tea

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Alicia Keys was singing 'Girl On Fire' at the top of her lungs and I knew it was time to wake up, but I couldn't help but tapped on the snooze key and went back to sleep. Five minutes later Alicia Keys screamed again and I nagged myself: 'if you want to have pancakes today, you better get out of the bed now!'. 

Half an hour later I was in the kitchen, mixing the pancake batter and heating up a flat pan. While waiting for the thick pan to be ready, I sent an SMS to Elaine: 'Want pancake brekkie? Come over in 20 minutes.' Her reply came 10 seconds later: 'Of course I want! C U!'

I sprayed some vegetable oil on the pan and spread a ladle of batter onto it. The pancake started bubbling in less than a minute and the aroma must have travelled so fast that when I picked up the ladle to make the second one, Lily and Marina appeared in the kitchen. 

"God, I love this smell," said Lily as her gaze fell on the pan.

Marina, who had just finished rubbing her red eyes rested her chin on top of the breakfast counter. "I miss Miami," she suddenly said. "When I was staying with Craig's cousin, she served us pancakes every morning." She was telling about her short visit to Miami last year, when she was going out with Craig, an American architect she met in Kota Kinabalu. 

I flipped the pancake over and turned down the fire before asking her, "whatever happened to Craig? He was so nice to you, I remember..."

"Urgh!" Marina ran her fingers through her hair and grabbed a bottle of mineral water from the cabinet. "He found his soulmate and married her." It was clear that she was still very much hurt by their failed relationship.

"But he seemed like a nice guy," I said, not looking at Marina.

She heaved a long sigh. "All men seem nice in the beginning. Especially when you first meet them." Marina paused to sip some water. "Once you get to know them, say, for six months, then all their colours start to show. That's when you have to decide whether you should continue with the relationship or stop seeing him immediately."

"So, you left Craig after six months?" I asked.

"No, he left," replied Marina. 

"I'm sorry," I said as I spread another ladle of batter. "All the while I thought you were still going out with him."

"Who's going out with whom?" Nora stormed into the kitchen in her bathrobe. Her toothbrush was sticking out of her mouth. I thought I heard her in the bathroom a few minutes ago. 

Lily turned and laughed. "You have such good ears for gossips, haven't you." 

"I was just telling Allysa that Craig had left me," said Marina, looking uncomfortable having to repeat her ex-boyfriend's name. 

Nora made a clicking sound with her tongue and said, "that was two months ago, right? Why are we still discussing him? Hey, I thought you've moved on?" She patted Marina's back. 

"Totally!" Said Marina. "I've totally moved on!" She raised both hands above her head. 

"Yeah! We all have moved on," added Lily as she caught Marina's hand and they held their hands up high like the casts of a play at the end of a show, after the final curtain was drawn. 

I looked at them; there was a twinge of excitement in the kitchen but I couldn't figure it out.

"We're really sorry we didn't tell you about Maldives, Allysa," said Nora as she came to to stand next to me. I was cleaning some crumbs on the flat pan with a soft brush. "The thing is," said Nora before a long pause that made me really nervous. When someone began their sentence with 'The thing is...', it was a clue that they were about to say something hurtful. 

"The thing is, all three of us had quit our jobs and we went to Maldives to celebrate," said Lily with a shrug. 

"Oh, that's news." I stared at them with wide eyes. It was difficult to believe that they decided to leave the airline after almost five years of employment. "I thought you're all happy working as air stewardesses," I said. 

"It's about time to explore new things, Allysa. We're not getting any younger, aren't we?" Marina got up and helped me with the pancake. She flipped it twice before taking it off the pan.

I went to sit in front of Lily. "I'm so glad, actually." I was being honest although my cheeks felt hot with embarrassment. "That means I won't be home alone anymore." My lips curved into a thin smile. 

"It depends, Allysa," said Marina, who was standing in front of the stove - legs wide apart. She hadn't been in the kitchen for some time and was holding the spatula in an awkward manner. "I landed a job with a television station while Lily and Nora decided to focus on modelling."

"So, you guys will still be away most of the time?" My happiness was shortlived. Marina nodded and turned her attention back to the pancake. 

"I think I should make some Darjeeling tea," Lily offered herself as she removed a box of tea from the cabinet. I knew she was trying to dodge the question. 

"My mother is coming next week," I said as I leaned over. My stomach was churning. "How am I going to convince her that it's safe for me to stay here?" My eyes darted from Lily to Marina and finally to Nora. "She's really worried about me, especially after the robbery."

"We have installed an alarm system, Allysa. It's a good deterrent. You can tell that to your mom. She would understand and not worry too much." Lily poured some hot water in a pot and dipped two tea bags in it. 

"She wants me to quit my job and go back to Kedah because she thinks that KL is such a big and dangerous city. Now, how am I going to convince her otherwise?" I asked them but none could give me an immediate answer. 

"Don't you like living in Kedah? You can get to see your mom everyday," suggested Marina, and it received a few nods from Nora. 

I scratched my head and let out a long sigh. "Well, the problem is I couldn't find a good paying job there. Apparently, interior designers are not in demand even in the cities. How am I going to repay my study loan and the monthly installment for my parents' house?"

My three housemates fell into a long silence and tried their best to avoid my gaze. Nora went back into the bathroom while Lily pretended she was busy taking out the cups from the lower cabinet. Marina was pouring and spreading the last ladle of batter and started to hum an unrecognizable tune. 

The silence was broken by the sound of door bell. I got up to get the door. It was Elaine. 

"Morning! Where's the pancake?" She asked chirpily. 

"Come on in." I closed the door behind her and we walked to the breakfast counter. Lily and Marina were already spreading butter and syrup on their pancakes. Lily had two on her plate, leaving only two on the serving plate. "You can have my share, Elaine. I need to hurry up. Nazrul is coming to pick me up in ten minutes." I lied. Nazrul wouldn't be here in fourty minutes. 

"Oh, sure! That's so nice of you. Thanks for the pancake, babe!" Elaine said in her sweetest tone while Lily and Marina lowered their heads. 

I went into my room and sent an SMS to Nazrul: 'Can you come earlier? I'm hungry. Need brekkie.'

His short reply came almost immediately: 'K'

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