When the door opened, a naked torso faced Clarice. Not just any old torso, but a hot,
muscled, six-pack naked torso. She blinked and blinked, and then she blinked some more.
She couldn’t understand why a grown man would be wearing a towel, just a single white,
fluffy towel wrapped around his waist, to answer the door.
He was leaning against the doorframe, one hand supporting his tall, lean,
muscular body that, Clarice noted, any female would want in her bed, including her. Not
that she’d bedded any male, of course, since she was still a bloody virgin, for God’s sake.
As her eyes traveled up to his face, her heart decided to do a disco dance, moving
in time to the sound of the very popular music currently playing in the background
somewhere inside the man’s house.
She felt a little breathless and lightheaded. Her cheeks flushed the same shade as
the bouquet of scarlet roses in her arms. Not that she was florist or a delivery person or
anything. No, the florist was one of her best friends, Elise, and the delivery person was
too sick with influenza. So being the great best friend that she was, Clarice offered to
Elise had begged because this was her VIP client. Elise herself was too busy
preparing for the many orders for Valentine’s Day, which was tomorrow, so the job was
thrust upon her with little room for argument. And Clarice herself had succumbed to
Elise’s bribery of free roses, which she really loved.
Now here she was, knocking on the door of 99 Summerson Street in Herne Bay,
one of the wealthiest suburbs in Auckland. At the moment, her eyes were busy blinking
rapidly at the half-naked male specimen standing before her. But my oh my, did she
almost forget she was holding on to the bunch of roses because, heaven help her, this man
was G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S. That slightly wet, dusted-corn hair had a sparkling golden sheen
beneath the afternoon sunlight. The man looked so hot she couldn’t help ogling at him.
Putting all the symptoms together, which included the pronounced asthmainduced
breaths, the after-the-marathon heart rate, and the light-as-a-feather feeling inside
her head and stomach, Clarice concluded this condition was due to the fact that she had
never seen a naked man in the flesh in her whole twenty-nine years of life. If she had
counted the time she had seen her young nephews during their bath time, however, then
yes, maybe she had seen the male species displaying their valued male anatomies. But for
the likes of men like this one, so well toned, so well made, and with so much
testosterone, then the answer would be a definite no. Those arms looked so strong, so
“Can I help you?” he asked, drawing her senses back to reality, breaking the spell,
and making her blink a few more times before she became aware of the mission she came
“Umm.” Suddenly, she realized she’d lost her voice. Her throat was dry as dust.
She tried to speak, but the only sound that came out was, “Umm…” again. Knowing any
attempt to speak again would only make her sound like more of a complete idiot, she
resorted to using hand gestures. Clarice practically shoved the bouquet right in his gorgeous face. That took him
by surprise and he moved backward.
“So… sorry,” she croaked. There, finally, she’d found her voice. Even though it
didn’t sound anything like her natural voice, at least she could pass her message across
“No, that’s fine. Just a little startled, that’s all.”
Gosh, this man has such a nice voice, she couldn’t help thinking.
“Darling, what’s taking so long?” A singsong voice traveled from somewhere
inside the house. “Come back to bed.”
The hottie turned to smile at whoever it was, then said softly, “Be back soon.”
He has such soft eyes, Clarice thought when he turned to smile at the woman she
assumed to be his wife. They were azure blue, like a clear, cloudless summer sky.
Dear heaven! Why are all good and handsome men taken? They were like car
parks. All the good and available ones were taken, whereas the ones that were available
were the ones you had to parallel park to get. Damn my parallel parking.
His attention suddenly shifted back to Clarice, and what she saw written on his
face she did not like. His once soft and subtle azure eyes that had spoken of gentleman
breed had now completely vanished. In its place shone a glittering spark, those pupils
exuding a strong, wicked gleam, like the devil about to play with his toy. His once broad
and friendly smile had also been completely wiped away. Instead, the corners of those
lips quirked up to form a devilish grin.
Danger! Danger! Playboy alert! Clarice’s radar screamed at her when those
wicked eyes started undressing her, causing her scarlet cheeks to burn even more. But
before she could take a step back to assess her situation, the man caught hold of the
bouquet, capturing her hands in the process.
“Hey, let… let go.” She struggled, trying to remove his tight grasp.
“Naaaoooohhh.” He shook his head, that devilish grin still plastered on his face,
his eyes still sparkling with mischief.
Clarice tried harder to release his viselike grip, but it was no use. His fingers were
like dental clamps, wrapped around her hands so securely one would require pliers to
“I said… ” Clarice couldn’t finish her sentence, as she almost stumbled backward
when the man suddenly released her.
“Why—” She was about to give him a piece of her mind when he interrupted her
yet again, and she was struck speechless.
“You like what you see?” he asked, posing even more seductively on the
threshold of the doorframe, contorting his body as if he were a model out of Vogue
“Huh? Excuse me?” Clarice asked, puzzled.
“Obviously you came here to give me these roses,” his voice drawled out huskily.
“You must like me; otherwise you wouldn’t be here. And Valentine’s Day isn’t until
“I…” Once again her speech was interrupted when she saw a blonde entering her
field of vision, striking a pose as fashionable as the man before her.
The woman leaned onto the man and gave him a peck on the cheek, oblivious to
Clarice’s presence. The woman proceeded to move down to the man’s lips, making a sucking sound like a fish out of water, then to his Adam’s apple, until the man cleared his
throat, drawing her attention to the fact that they had a guest.
Clarice’s eyeballs almost dropped to the floor when the blonde turned to face her.
She too was only dressed in a loose towel, covering just enough for her breasts not to
The woman eyed her briefly. Then sensing Clarice had the same significance as
the potted plant displayed on the front porch, she turned back to her man.
“Hunter, honey,” she whined and then kissed Hunter right in front of her again.
“You took way too long, so I had to come and get you.”
Hunter didn’t look like he was interested. His eyes were roaming elsewhere, and
Clarice just happened to be their target.
Gosh, get a room, you two! Clarice wanted to yell at them for being this intimate
in broad daylight. And why am I still here anyway? Her job was done. She should get
going. But somehow, though, she wanted to get even with this blasted Hunter, who was
still grinning at her flirtatiously.
As if on cue, the blonde turned to her, giving her an evil glare. She said, “Why are
you still here? Who are you and what are you doing here, kid?”
KID? All right, that did it. Clarice snapped. Who was this chick calling her a kid
like she’d just been born yesterday? She was almost thirty, for God’s sake. This bimbo
was clearly her junior by almost a decade and had no right whatsoever to insult her. After
all, she was very sensitive about her age, and her pride just couldn’t take it when
someone called attention to it.
Clarice wanted to growl. This younger generation, they just didn’t show respect to
their elders. She really needed to set the record straight.
With that thought in mind, she clenched her fists tight in self-determination, lifted
her head to meet their eyes, and said, “I’m here—”
“To give me roses for Valentine’s Day.” Hunter grinned.
That did it.
“You bitch!” the blonde screeched, like an angry cat running its claws across a
chalkboard, grating her eardrums. If Clarice were to stay around listening to this bimbo
for another second, she could guarantee she’d lose her auditory senses.
What to do? she thought. That was when she saw Hunter’s eyes again. There was
that wicked gleam. That was when it came to her. She knew why he’d said all that stuff
before about the roses and Valentine’s Day. This blasted man wasn’t this bimbo’s
husband. They were merely playmates. Oh, what was she saying? Why use euphemism?
They’d practically just had sex moments before she knocked on the door, and now, if she
suspected right, Hunter wanted to break up with the blonde and he was using Clarice as
Not so fast, you handsome beast. You’re not getting away this easy. Before the
blonde could do further damage to her eardrums and before her hot temper exploded like
a boiling kettle, she threw the bouquet in Hunter’s face, grabbed both their towels, one in
each hand, and yanked them off their bodies, exposing his and her anatomies to the black
cat sitting on the fence, birds in the trees, the bees sucking nectar from flowers on the
porch, and whoever happened to glimpse them at that moment. The blonde screamed, the man growled, and Clarice twisted on her heel and ran for her life, sprinting like the devil had taken chase. Of course, she knew the devil would never come chasing after her in his naked state. But she did stop to catch her breath when
she was halfway down the block because her limbs refused to take another step for fear of
her lungs collapsing.
Wow! Clarice couldn’t believe she’d just done that, yanking off their towels like
that. Then she began to laugh—so hard her stomach hurt. Once she managed to calm
down, she thought it was a shame she’d been too busy making her escape to clearly see
his male glory.
Stop thinking stupid thoughts this instant!
What was with her and her sudden fascination with the male anatomy anyway?
Was it because her biological clock was ticking, telling her it was almost time for her to
start thinking about producing some babies? Good Lord, she wasn’t looking forward to
her big three-zero.
How was she supposed to make babies if her forbidden door downstairs had yet to
be unlocked? And worse yet, where was she supposed to find the right key for her door?
A naughty thought ran through her head. Maybe Hunter had a secret key to unlock my
door. Then her heart did a little somersault.
Ah! She messed up her hair in her thought process. Calm down, my dear heart.
She placed her hand upon her chest to stop the thrashing beat of her heart. Otherwise, she
might have gone into cardiac arrest, and there was definitely no hospital near this part of
Once her heart settled again, her thoughts returned to the blond-haired, azureblue-
eyed Hunter. What was she thinking that he might have the right key for her door?
That beast was a playboy, a Casanova, who saw women as nothing above a piece of
bacon. That shaggy dog man-beast, eyeing her like a steak, wanting a piece of her. Well,
he wasn’t getting a piece, even if this steak was getting old—like tough leather old.
Clarice sighed in defeat. There was no point in sulking over matters like this now.
She must call Elise tonight to apologize for the turn of events. Elise might lose one VIP
client, but it was better for her staff not to be harassed or taken advantage of by that
Shelving the thought for later use, Clarice turned to walk back to her car, her
shoulders slumping, mentally counting down the days until she would meet her
But that particular day came faster than she expected.
Clarice wanted to cry. Right in front of her was a cake, a beautiful, delicious white
chocolate and strawberry cake, topped with thirty candles—no more, no less—just thirty
straight candles illuminating the entire room that was once shrouded in darkness.
The sound of her family and two best friends, Elise and Whitney, singing that
birthday song should have turned those tears into streams of joy, yet the one that came
trickling out of her eye right now was of sadness, of a sense of failure, as her entire thirty
years of life was reflected right before her eyes, like an open storybook.
“Clarice, darling. Let go of your mother’s skirt and come over here.” Her father
called her over to him, speaking to her in fluent Khmer, her mother tongue. But she
didn’t budge from her spot, her little fingers still clinging to her mother’s skirt for dear
life, too afraid to look at all the strangers’ faces staring at her.
Who are these people? she thought, eyeing the many strangers through her small
spectacles perched upon her nose. They came to welcome her when she got off the plane.
They looked just like papa, with blond hair and blue eyes, the likes of which she had
never seen before in the Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand.
“Welcome to New Zealand, my dear.” One lady leaned in, smiling.
Then another one came and crouched in front of her and asked her with a pretty
smile, “How old are you, little missy?”
Clarice didn’t know what to do. They were talking to her, but she couldn’t
Her father came over and translated in Khmer. She held out both of her hands and
made the number six to the strangers.
“Does she not know English?” the old lady asked her father.
“It’s my fault. I only taught her basic greetings. We conversed in Khmer all the
time in the camp,” her father said.
“Well, I’m sure she’ll adjust and come to fit in school just fine with all the other
children,” the young lady said.
School! Now that word she knew. Papa had taught her that word in the camp.
“Go back to your own country, you four-eyed monster.”
“Yeah, pancake face. Go back to where you came from.”
“We don’t want you here. Go away.”
Clarice cried when the others at school wouldn’t stop their bullying. She couldn’t
understand what they meant, but the physical abuse they bestowed upon her, pushing her
and pulling her pigtails, sure hurt her little wee heart. That night she cried on her
mother’s lap. “Chantee, my dear, don’t cry.” Her mother smoothed her hair while she cried her
eyes out. “You have to be brave and strong.”
“But they pulled my hair on the first day of school,” she complained. “I hate those
people. Why can’t they be nice? I don’t like this place. I want to go back to the camp.”
“Chantee, I know you’ll meet nice people soon. And who knows? You might
even be friends with them for life. There are many great people here in New Zealand.
And when you meet them, you’ll know how lovely this country is.”
Clarice’s mother was right, because the very next day at school, when she was in
the middle of being bullied again, a girl appeared, jumping off the monkey bars and
announcing to the whole school that from now on, this little Asian-Caucasian girl would
be under her protection. The girl who saved her was named Whitney, a boisterous girl
that was like a hot air balloon.
Clarice’s first real friend was a sight to behold, dressed all in black, with the
palest skin, like a sheet of paper. She was a little witch, casting deathly spells on anyone
who dared hurt her and her little friend. And now that Whitney had taken her under her
wing, Clarice was no longer afraid of anyone.
“I’m afraid I can’t let you participate in today’s sport, Clarice.”
Clarice wasn’t happy. She’d been looking forward to this day for ages and now
that it had finally arrived, she wasn’t allowed to participate because of her shoes.
What could she do? It wasn’t her fault her shoes had more holes than the number
of craters on the moon. Her PE teacher said it was unfit for sport. Simply speaking, it
may cause her injury.
“You can use my spare pair,” a quiet little blonde said beside her.
Clarice turned and smiled.
This little girl, who was three years younger than her, was called Elise. She was a
quiet, methodical girl who hardly spoke but had a heart the size of an ocean. She was a
charming, innocent, and pure-hearted girl, much like a cherry blossom on a nice spring
With Elise’s spare shoes, Clarice was able to participate in school activities along
with Whitney. From that point on, the three girls were now like the three musketeers,
sticking together like glue.
“Honey, I’ve been made redundant.” Clarice heard her father speak to her mother
in their bedroom.
“Oh no, Michael. What will happen to us?”
“Don’t worry, Montha. I’ll make sure you won’t starve.”
That night, Clarice sat forking her rice and tuna. Yes, she was starving. That small
portion wasn’t enough to supply the fuel for her growing teenage body, but she didn’t say
anything. She told her parents she was full and went off to bed.
At that point, Clarice made a life-changing decision. She would never go hungry
again. She would do anything to support herself and her family. “Don’t worry, Papa. I’m going to get a job. You don’t have to pay for my
education anymore,” Clarice vowed to herself.
The next day she applied for the paper run. She got accepted on the spot because
she was good at running. From that point on, she saved her money like her life depended
on it, which to her it did, because she knew she wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her
mouth. And if she wanted to get into University, then she would have to work hard.
It was on Clarice’s thirteenth birthday that she was able to attend high school,
along with her two best friends. That night while her friends were sleeping, preparing for
their new adventure ahead, she was still slaving over the iron, trying to press the
secondhand uniform she had bought with her own money.
Clarice knew her friends would arrive with newly pressed uniforms that had been
serviced by professional launderers because her friends’ families were far better off than
hers, but she’d never complained about her station and worked hard to achieve a level of
comfort for her parents and herself. In order to achieve her goal, she must be frugal and
mindful towards everything.
“Mum, I want to go to Cambodia to help out the children and adults,” Clarice said
to her mother one day after she turned sixteen. She was watching the documentary about
Cambodian kids not having enough dental care, leading to poor oral health and losing
their teeth at such a young age.
At that moment, Clarice had made a lifelong decision. She was going to become a
dentist so she could help provide dental care in her mother’s homeland, Cambodia. It
wasn’t until ten years later that she and her team of dental professionals accomplished
that goal, setting up a practice in the heart of Battambang Province, donating free dental
care for all who would utilize their service. She usually frequented Cambodia on her
holiday at least once a year to check on the progress of the children there.
On her twenty-fifth birthday, Clarice went into the world of periodontology,
wanting to further study the subject of gum disease, so she could provide more service to
the community. And she did that within three years.
Clarice stared at the flickering candles, her mind flitting back to reality. All the
goals she had planned she’d accomplished. Everything she had wanted she’d received.
But now Clarice, aged thirty, was lost.
She bit her lip and stared at the candlelight dancing in front of her, those flames
providing just enough light to illuminate the many smiling faces that now stared back at
her—the faces of her many nephews, eyeing her weirdly, not understanding why their
aunt would be fabricating mass saltwater production down her cheeks; her cousins and
their husbands, holding each other’s hands, eyeing her with mixed feelings of sadness because they seemed to know what she was going through, since they were of similar
age; and then her mother and father, hugging each other at their ripe old age, looking at
Clarice took all of this in. And then a painful cord struck through her heart and
she reached a moment of epiphany, that single moment when she finally realized what
everyone was talking about for the past two decades.
Love. Marriage. Family. Children.
Too busy was she trying to achieve her status, her career, and her reputation that
she had totally forgotten all about that other important aspect of her life: love.
Sifting through her memories, Clarice tried to place any fond memory where she
was actually in love with someone. Her mind drew a blank. There was none, nothing, a
big fat zero, just a single goose egg. She had never had her first kiss, never had her first
dance at a formal during high school, never went to a nightclub, never had a boyfriend,
never had or experienced anything that a girl her age should have done while growing up.
In her entire thirty years of life, she had been working. In high school, she spent
her days working, if not studying. When she finally entered university, again she was so
busy studying and working she had forgotten to go to the annual dental ball, forgot to
look around her as her other classmates eyed each other across the room and asked one
another on dates. And even after she graduated from dentistry, she still forgot to have fun,
forgot to go out and celebrate her success at achieving such a high degree. And now she
was about to enter the big three-zero zone. By midnight tonight, she would be officially a
spinster, on the shelf, tough as leather
Who would want to chew this tough beef anyway, when everyone at the
supermarket would go for the veal?
To say she never had any interaction with the opposite sex was also preposterous,
because she had. Growing up, she had always been surrounded with her many nephews,
cousins, her male classmates, and now her patients also, but to associate them with the Lword,
now that would be preposterous. Although she did have many proposals, ranging
from eight-year-old boys to eighty-six-year-old men, namely her patients, how could she
take any of them seriously?
Her biological clock was screaming at her. Her hormones were on rampage as
tears streamed down her face and all those thoughts spun through her mind. She couldn’t
suppress them. She hadn’t hit menopause yet, but here she was having an emotional
breakdown because she was turning thirty and wanted a family of her own. That sudden
feeling of wanting another person there at night, lying close to you while you rest. Yes,
that strong yearning suddenly hitting her like a ton of bricks, and she couldn’t help but
burst out and cry even harder.
Clarice’s mother, Montha, sensing something was horribly wrong, came to
comfort her daughter.
“What’s wrong, Chantee? Why are you crying on your birthday?” she asked,
patting her daughter’s back. Whitney and Elise came to her side also. Their singing
faltered and they stared dumbfounded when they saw her in this state.
How could she tell her mother and the rest of her family and friends that she
wanted her own family, that she wanted love? But it was too late now. No man would
even look at her. She had passed her prime. But she couldn’t tell them that now, could she? Well, not when they were all
smiling before her. To tell them the truth would ruin the whole mood. So she lied.
“I’m just so happy you did all this for me. And you both, coming all the way here
from Dunedin, just for my birthday.” There, now the smiles were back, except for her
two friends who eyed her, clearly broadcasting, We’ll talk to you later about this.
“We wouldn’t miss it for the world, darling.” Her mother hugged her.
Just then, her little five-year-old nephew came and tugged at her skirt, asking in
his little high-pitched voice, “Aunty Reece can I open your presents?”
Children and their presents, she thought, smiling as another sob erupted. She tried
to hold back but almost choked on it, so she let nature take its course and more
waterworks escaped her eyes.
“Why are you crying, Aunty Reece?” Timmy asked her.
Clarice lifted her nephew to straddle her hips, then hugged him tightly, feeling
that warmth emitting from his small body.
“Because I’m so happy to be here, celebrating my birthday with you,” she replied.
“I love you, Aunty,” Timmy said, wiping away her tears. “So don’t cry anymore.”
“I love you too, Timmy.” She hugged him again. Then after she released him, she
walked to the present table. “And which one would you like to open first?”
“That one!” he said, pointing to the largest on the table with his little wee fingers.
So cute, so adorable—her motherly instinct cried out to her.
After she finished cutting the cake and everyone got a piece each, they all said
their congratulations, and a little while later, they all left her apartment. Her mother and
father were the last to leave.
“Chantee, are you sure you’re okay?” her mother asked her worriedly.
“I’m fine. Just tired from work, I suppose, and then when I came home, I got a
full-blown surprise.” She laughed drily, hoping her mother would believe her excuse.
“I didn’t want to surprise you too much, but Elise and Whitney suggested it,” her
mother replied, hugging her warmly.
Clarice eyed her friends as they both eyed her from the couch. She knew they
were waiting for her to explain what happened before.
“Thank you for today, Mum, Dad.” She went to hug them both, then led them out
the door. “When are you heading back to Dunedin?”
“Tomorrow. Max will drop us off. You take the day off too. You work too hard.”
“I don’t work too hard. I’ll drop you off instead. Speaking of Max, where is he?”
Clarice suddenly realized her favourite cousin wasn’t present during her birthday party.
“Not a clue, Chantee. You just make sure you look after that boy, though,” her
father said, rubbing his temple.
Clarice knew her father had a lot to deal with when Max was in Dunedin, since
both of his parents were away overseas, but now since he was here in Auckland, her
father grew even more worried. That little cousin of hers was more robust than a rodent.
There was no way of knowing when he would explode and cause trouble for them all.
“I will. I don’t understand why he can’t study in Dunedin when you’re both there
to look after him.”
“It’s because he’s worried about you and wants to make sure that you’re fine,” her
mother answered her instead. “He’s a boy, Chantee. He can look after you until Mr. Right
comes along.” “Yes, Mum.” Clarice kissed her mother and father, then closed the door as they
departed. She sighed heavily, leaning against the door, glad everyone had left. But as
soon as the door was closed, both Elise and Whitney rushed to her side.
“Explain!” was all Whitney said.
Clarice knew immediately what Whitney was referring to, but she didn’t want to
elaborate about her dilemma tonight. Tonight she just wanted to drown in self-pity,
maybe do something bad, like drink a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice without even
waiting thirty minutes to brush her teeth, or better yet, flag the whole brushing of her
teeth altogether so they would rot away in that acidic environment in her mouth.
“I…” she began but then choked on her word.
“I’m going to get some tissue.” Whitney sighed, patting her back. “I have a
feeling we’re going to cry over this.” Whitney jumped from the couch, motioning for
Elise to follow.
All alone now, Clarice brooded in self-pity. What could she say when the others
came back? That she was scared midnight would strike in two hours and when she woke
the next morning she’d have white hair and wrinkly skin, with no one beside her but a
walking cane as her only companion.
“Cuz,” a deep voice said from behind her, startling Clarice out of her thoughts.
Clarice turned around and saw her cousin Maximilian, the subject of her earlier
conversation with her parents. She smiled, seeing her favourite young cousin, all dirtybrown
hair and dimples.
Maximilian was her cousin on her father’s side. She didn’t have any relatives on
her mother’s side, as they did not survive during the war. Her mother was the only one
that had made it alive. She lived in the Khao E Dang camp for many years before meeting
Maximilian had full-on typical European-Kiwi features, fair skin, with a few
sprinkled freckles dotted on his nose and cheeks; while she had the typical Asian features
in her genes, making her traits stand out more than her other cousins, with thick black
hair and fair porcelain skin. When the two were seen out and about together, no one
would even believe they were related.
“Happy birthday, you.” He hugged her from behind, almost strangling her neck in
the process. “And I’m not going to congratulate you for turning thirty, but I’m definitely
gonna get some of that cake on the table over there.” He laughed cheekily, eyeing his
favourite white chocolate cake.
“Max, you rascal.” She swatted his hand and stood up, facing him. “Don’t think
you can come to my birthday party without congratulating me. Now be a good boy and
say your part.”
“Nah.” Max shook his head, smiling.
“Maximilian Henry Christopher Mason!” Clarice warned him, knowing Max
hated it whenever anyone used his full name.
Max screwed up his face in disgust. Why his parents had decided to name him
Maximilian was beyond him. Clarice did mention his mother was a historical romance
fanatic since reading that book from her favourite author Alexia Praks, called The Duke’s
Revenge or something along those lines, with the hero being called Maximilian. His
mother had become so addicted to the story that she had declared if she ever had a baby boy, she would name him Maximilian. Then lo and behold, just three months later she
was pregnant. And now he was stuck with the name.
“Not going to,” Max said, determinedly stubborn.
“Fine then. I’ll just grab Sweet Elise and Madam Witch, who will tear your ears
“What? They’re both here too?” Max asked in fright.
“Why wouldn’t they be? They’re my best friends.”
“What’s wrong, Maxy boy? Scared of us?” Whitney asked from behind him.
Max was already shaking in his boots.
“Yes, Max. You better say your congratulations to Clarice or I might have to
sweet talk you into doing it,” Elise added.
Max wasn’t looking forward to Elise sweet-talking him. The last time he got on
Clarice’s wrong side, he ended up doing his cousin’s chores for a whole week, and he
didn’t even know he had agreed to the deal in the first place. And as for her other friend,
Whitney, the one he liked to secretly call the Wicked Witch of Oz, was no better either. If
Elise used the sweet approach, then the Wicked Witch used her spells to torment him,
which mainly involved painful words that eventually led to punishment, not by her hands,
but by his very own cousin Clarice.
Both of them were wicked, and if he didn’t know any better, Clarice was also. But
out of the three, he had to admit he had great affection for Elise, the sweet one. But then
again, he couldn’t help hanging around any of them. It was like they produced this
spinster’s pheromone that attracted him to their clan. Not that he was in love with them or
anything. It was more along the lines of a sibling relationship whereby every time he
hung around them, he felt safe and happy, like they were his long-lost sisters. That was
why he made it his mission to make sure they were all safely married and never remained
the Three Spinsters for too long.
“Now where were you when the others were here?” Clarice eyed her cousin’s
attire. “Why are you all dressed up?”
“Not telling,” Max teased.
“Maximilian!” Clarice warned him again.
“Just out and about with friends,” he said cheekily, trying to avoid the hidden
“Where?” Whitney asked in her serious tone.
“Mmmm, a nightclub,” he finally admitted.
“Maximilian,” they all said simultaneously.
Right now was one of those times Max thought he was their little brother, with
their eyes staring at him like any big sisters would, before laying out the ground rules and
As for Clarice, she couldn’t believe her young cousin would attempt to do such a
thing. Never in her mind had she ever thought he would attend a nightclub. When she
was his age, all she’d ever do was work and study. She didn’t even have time to admire
the view around her, let alone go clubbing.
“There was hardly anyone there, though. It was too early and I didn’t even get a
sip of alcohol. So there, I didn’t do anything wrong.” He rambled his confession.
“But, Max, you’re only in high school,” Elise said. “But I don’t want to grow up not being able to experience drinking alcohol. I’ve
only got one life,” Max whined to Elise. “Plus, I want to experience it before I turn
When Max said this, Clarice felt her world spin around, her tears almost
overflowing again. Before they could escape, though, she wiped them clean while the
others were too busy with their argument to notice her change of expression
Since growing up, Clarice had never had a chance to get drunk. In fact, she had
never even been near to or tasted alcohol since the moment she was born.
No, wait. That was a lie. She had been near alcohol. In her life as a dentist, she
had been near the Bunsen burner many times, with its purple spirit, making impression
trays for the molding of her patients’ teeth. But that’s the alcohol required for lighting
flames, not the drinkable sort.
“You’re underage, Max,” Elise said, cutting her thoughts.
“More importantly, Maximilian, you broke the law.” Whitney topped it off.
“What, Whitney? Are you gonna tell my mum?” Max challenged. “Phone her in
“I think I might,” Whitney answered, walking towards the phone.
“You wouldn’t dare.” Max gasped. “It’s gonna cost Clarice a fortune to phone
Dubai. Plus, you don’t know her phone number.”
“Oh, I would, Maximilian.” Whitney nodded to show she meant business and
picked up the phone. “I could always ask Clarice for your mum’s phone number. Plus,
I’ll pay for the phone bills.”
“You witch.” Max gasped, head bulldozing at Whitney.
“Now, now, you two, stop it. It’s Clarice’s birthday, after all.” Elise interrupted
their feud, catching Max’s head just in time before he made contact with Whitney’s
stomach. “I don’t want his mom to know Max has gone out. It would look bad on her
“Oh, thank you, Elise.” Max forgot all about his anger and went to wind his arm
around Elise instead, resting his head on her shoulder like a little puppy asking for
affection. “You’re the best, not like my cuz and that Wicked Witch of Oz.”
“Excuse me?” Whitney huffed at Max.
“No, nothing, I didn’t say anything.” Max pretended to zip his mouth. “Elise, you
didn’t hear anything, right?”
There was a look of sadness and longing on Elise’s face that Max couldn’t
understand. It only appeared for a fleeting second before it disappeared again.
“I didn’t hear that,” Elise said, smiling at Max with affection.
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that, then,” Whitney finally said, letting the subject go.
“All right,” Elise said, smiling too enthusiastically this time. “Now, Max, say
your congratulations to your cousin.” And that was when they all noticed Clarice had
gone completely silent and a sad look was plastered on her face again, just like the face
she had made when she blew out the candles.
Whitney was the first to react, folding her arms around her friend to comfort her,
while Elise went to grab some green tea, with Max following blindly behind her, having
not a clue as to what had just happened.
Once Clarice and Whitney were on the couch and Elise and Max came back with
the steaming green tea, they all sat in a circle, giving Clarice their undivided attention. “That’s it. I’m not going to cry over what’s already been done, or hasn’t been
done,” Clarice declared with her head held high. “We are going out tonight.”
“Wherever you’re going, can I come too?” Max asked enthusiastically.
“Not unless you have a death wish,” Clarice said, eyeing her cousin sternly while
the two friends pondered Clarice’s declaration.
Yes, Clarice thought. She might be old and yes, she might be on the shelf, but it
wasn’t too late yet to find her own family, her very own husband, and find love. Starting
tonight, she was going to reverse the clock. Tonight, they were going clubbing!