Chapter 9: Butter croissant and iced mocha

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I was in a daze. My gaze slid over the words on the papers in front of me but I took nothing in. There were muffled sounds and voices. 

"Allysa!" Said a voice before a hand touched me. I stood up with a start and realized that I was in the boardroom. Tengku Adam, Zureen, Nazrul and a few designers from my team were eyeing me with interest.

"Do you want to say something?" Asked Tengku Adam.

"Sorry... No, I don't have anything on my mind right now." I lowered my head and gracefully took my seat.  As much as I hated Nazrul for 'waking' me up from my comfortable day dream just now, I fought the urge to kick his feet underneath the table. I suspected that he was smiling or even holding a laughter, but I told myself to be patient for just ten minutes more. 

Once the meeting was concluded and we were all outside the boardroom, I approached Nazrul and punched his left shoulder. 

"Hey! What's that for? What have I done this time?" He looked perplexed by my new greeting style.

"That's for embarrassing me in front of everyone just now." I pointed my index finger at him as a sign of warning. 'Never do that to me again,' was the hidden message. 

Nazrul sighed, followed by a short grunt. "You were miles away - lost in your day dream. I had to wake you up, otherwise both of us could get fired."

"I didn't get much sleep last night, okay. So, sorry I couldn't give full attention," I said as I faked a long yawn. 

"Playing GTA again? Or you've been chatting with your friends until late night?" Nazrul seemed pissed by my behaviour. "Please take your work seriously, Allysa. We have many things to deliver before end of December!" His voice was not as soft as usual. 

"No, I was not playing games or chatting or even online last night," I started to defend myself. "There was something in my room that... that..." I stopped mid sentence, unsure of how to explain it to him. 

Nazrul grabbed my elbow and started walking. "Come, let's discuss this at the pantry. If Zureen is not having this talk with you, I will. And I'm going to do it now - before we miss any of the deadlines." 

I had no choice but to follow him. "Can we do this some other time? Don't you have another appointment after this?" 

Nazrul shook his head and quickened his pace. His hand was still holding my elbow. As we circled a small waiting area next to the boardroom, a few staffs were giving us funny looks. I took out my cell phone and pretended that it was an urgent call and I had to hurry somewhere because the person calling was waiting for me impatiently. 

We took the shortest path to the office pantry. It was empty except for the tea lady who was cleaning a few glasses. "Are we even allowed at the pantry at this hour?" I gave Nazrul a confused expression. 

"We are not loitering our morning. This is a meeting and I decided to have it at the pantry. Any problem?" Nazrul asked me back. Then he gestured for me to sit at a table next to the vending machine. "Coffee? Tea? Juice?" He asked as he signalled to the tea lady to come over. 

"Iced tea, butter croissant and papaya," I said and Nazrul's eyes went wide. "I didn't get enough sleep, didn't have time for breakfast. What do you expect?"

"Okay, okay." Nazrul raised his palm suggesting that I stopped talking. Then he repeated the order to the tea lady who looked excited to see him. I have to admit that Nazrul was handsome and dashing; even the cleaning ladies were after him. But the more I got to know him, the more I realized that beauty was only skin deep. 

"There's nothing to discuss, Naz," I told him after he was comfortably seated. "I won't jeopardize my work because of some problem I'm having at home."

"Losing concentration at work is the first sign that you're having a big problem, Allysa. Now, I'm not going to take this lightly. Your work will affect my performance." His tone was so serious that I started to coil inside. 

"Okay, I admit it. I'm having a big problem. There is a ghost haunting my room. I didn't get enough sleep. When I woke up this morning, I found myself lying in front of the bathroom door." I paused to catch my breath. "Now, I'm going to solve the problem myself and you won't have to worry about my work." I whispered to Nazrul and then shut my mouth as I saw the tea lady approaching us with our drinks on a plastic tray. She put our drinks in what seemed like an exaggerated task before giving a long glance in Nazrul's direction, as if expecting him to smile or say something to her. When Nazrul's expression remained serious, I said, "Thank you." The tea lady left us rather reluctantly. 

"Did you just make that up?" Nazrul gave me an accusing look. 

"Duh!" I knew he would never believe my story. 

"Don't try to be funny Allysa, ghosts don't exist. If you feel that you're not competent enough for this project assignment, you can always tell me or Zureen - whoever you are more comfortable with. Just don't make up some story to cover your weaknesses." He hissed, or perhaps was trying to control himself from swearing. 

"I was telling the truth, Naz. If you don't believe me, you can always... you can.. you can ... " What was I going to say? 'Come to my room and meet the ghost yourself?' That would be too much. I didn't want him in my room or even come near it. 

"What? Send a ghostbuster team to your house?" I knew he meant it as a joke but his expression was telling otherwise. 

"What do you know about ghost? Well, I strongly believe that there is a thing in this world that you have to see it to believe it."

Nazrul suddenly laughed at me. "Have you ever watched a TV program called Ripley's Believe It Or not?" He asked and I shook my head. Perhaps I was too young for such old school shows. I thought it was old school as the name suggested. "Well, you sounded just like the host of that program." He laughed again - harder than before. 

How wrong I was to think that this was going to be a serious discussion. There were times when I felt like a few people in the office were using us - the designers who were paid peanuts - as their punching bags, if not clowns, like how Nazrul was treating me now. 

"Don't laugh at me," I murmured. "I was being serious." Perhaps my words never reached his ears. He continued on laughing until his eyes were moist.

Feeling rather insulted, I reached for my drinks and sipped it slowly. That was when I saw my butter croissant and Nazrul's hot cup of mocha had frost around them. Nazrul's drink was no longer steaming. 

"Pst! Pst!"

I heard it first.

Nazrul was wiping the tears in his eyes and was going to say something funny when he noticed my expression. A fresh wave of fright had just swept over me. My palms started to sweat. 

"What is it?" Nazrul asked as he reached out for my hands. I pointed at his cold coffee covered in frost and his jaw dropped. 

The pantry was becoming as silent as a tomb. Nazrul and I looked at each other, too afraid to move a single muscle. 

"Allysa...."

It was the voice again. Here. At my office. In broad daylight. 

"That...?" Nazrul whispered, wondering whether it was what I have been trying to tell him about. 

I nodded in silence as soft, cold breeze started carressing my face. We both looked down and saw that Nazrul's drink had turned into iced mocha. 

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