[1-6]

The festival was at its all time high.

The entire outdoor theatre was packed with groups of friends and families, all who were understandably excited for the countdown happening in an hour. Because of the huge turnout and the lack of wind picking up, it was unbearably stuffy. We were told by the management to report just at midnight, though the actual tear down would be at least half an hour later since the crowd would no doubt be hanging around and that would make tearing down difficult.

In short, it was free and easy time for me.

Not exactly free, since I was still looking around for that woman that made off with my work without paying a single cent. I could have gotten my phone fixed and reach out to the guy Matt, but that earlier was uncalled for.

The thought of a pick-and-run happening to me felt surreal. It was exactly because of that I felt a ball of anger welling in me. The day was already made worse with meeting Teng Mo in the middle of the mall, what a small world.

In fact, Singapore's land mass could be considered the size of an island so the chances of bumping into each other was definitely higher than finding a rare Pokémon in the woods. This hunt would be so much easier if I had a Pokédex with me, but that would mean she had to be a monster and not a person.

Yes, only monkeys would pick up items and run off like that. I would've pitied the fool, but it just wasn't my day today, and she had to be the one to bear the brunt of it all. Well, it would be so much better if she had not run off like that!

Just when I was circling around the barricades around the mosh pit, the crowd began cheering. My head turned towards the stage and there stood Yui in an amazing red dress with frills hanging at the ends.

Because of the bright lights, her make-up was more pronounced than I usually remembered, and her hair was tied into a bun at the top with accessories decorated all over, and her sides were curled beautifully as it sat perfectly on her shoulders down to her chest.

Beside her stood another emcee, I think I saw him on one of the varieties show before. Desmond was his name? Yep, I remembered that because it was that memorable. He was a great host in many of the shows he was in, and it was no surprise he would take the stage today as the one hyping the crowd for the countdown.

"Yui!"

"Yes, Desmond!" Was it just me, or Yui's voice was especially lively and cute today? It was the first time watching on do this on stage live, so it felt a little weird from the side. She was charming on stage, no less as someone hosting one of the grand events of the year.

This was the part where the emcees would exchange some banters here and there, get the crowd excited and the like. Since it was the first time for Yui, Desmond went on to get her to introduce herself. As she did, the crowd squealed with a mix of girls and guys. Guys too?

Seriously, the guys were so loud, drumming their chest like gorillas claiming the territory.

"How are you feeling now, since this is the first for you?" Desmond asked as he smiled at Yui. Since the microphone was worn like a headset, Yui's hands were free as she placed a finger on her lips as though in deep thought. For some, this act or pose might come off like she was trying to be cute.

Fun fact: that was how she act whenever she ponders on something seriously.

"I won't say it's the first for me. I mean, I've been counting down for twenty s– ah! You almost got me to reveal my age!"

"And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how to get a newcomer flustered on stage! Hahaha~!"

With the current atmosphere, I guess anything could sound funny if you put in an effort to make it so. Yui was genuinely surprised and laughed along as well, clapping to her partner's words.

"But on a serious note," Desmond spoke, this time his hands reached out to the audience, palms wide. Is he a wizard? The audience went quiet obediently as they anticipated his words.

"Would you be with your boyfriend counting down together if not for tonight? Tell me honestly, three, two, one..!" He pointed his finger straight at Yui, the question fired without hesitation.

Using a countdown at the back would no doubt bring along implicit pressure to answer right away, and if someone were not expecting such question, they would no doubt be caught off guard.

"Is this a confession? I'm sorry but I'm not interested in you, senior. I'm happy living the way I am right now." Yui's words were fired back to back without a gap to counter, and the one ended up being surprised was the veteran host.

"Wow, what a great comeback!" Even Desmond had to concede to that and clapped, urging the audience to do so as they laughed heartily. "No doubt a shining newbie here, give it up to Yui Lee!"

Yui acted along naturally and bowed to the crowd left and right. Just when she raised her head, our eyes met and Yui's face turned red just as the coloured light shone down on her. She held her hand in front of her chest and did a small wave at me with a smile.

"Dude, she's waving at me!"

"No way, that was for me. I love you, Yui! Weeeeeey!"

I wanted to return a wave, but the group of hormone induced primates acted up and yelled out to her, but she probably will be unable to hear anything from her side since the place was really noisy from where I stood. Judging by the group of guys bunching up in front, I was inevitably blocked, so I gave up trying and turned my back to continue my search.

Just as I did, I raised my hand as high as I could and waved, at least to acknowledge her. Whether or not she saw it, only my back and her would know.

Well, the search amounted to nothing to say the least.

Since I was only working as a temp staff for tonight's event, my staff card had no power over the guards when it came to entering the green room. The sacred place was strictly for the performers only, and the guard did not bother entertaining anyone else. My gut was telling me that was where she was at, and if I am unable to get in, I might as well wait for her to come out!

Judging by how long Yui and Desmond had been talking, it should be anytime now that the band will be up to perform. Just as I thought about how I should go about approaching them, the security guards by the entrance had an exchange with their walkie-talkie before walking out with their arms spread out.

"Please step aside. Thank you very much. Please…"

The two guards with their towering presence created a human barricade as they repeated the same line with their arms held out wide. Automatically, the people around shifted backwards like domesticated sheep herded around. I followed the crowd as well, but I'm not domesticated in the least. I was never fond of doing housework, and that reminded me I had a laundry basket to clear when I am back tonight…

Someone squealed at the back, and soon a barrage of flashes lit the area around. A couple of people pushed and nudged me around as they tried to get in front of me, only to be stopped by the burly guards on duty. They held their phone out and a couple of lights sparked from their camera towards a direction. When I looked up, I realised it was time.

A group of trios appeared from the room, dressed fashionably loud in the weirdest sense. For starters, they had a long mask worn over their head (a horse, a cat, and a t-rex) with a keyboard, guitar and mic on their hands respectively. Despite the crowds gushing over them with shrieks of admiration and love confessions, the band held themselves proper and waved back to them without a sound. That simple gesture was enough to set the fans' heart aflutter like "S-senpai noticed me!"

Their popularity was not what I had in mind. For a local band, they really have a decent and solid fanbase. I did not forget my intention to approach them of course. One of them was definitely Jay, if not the guy called Matt. However, there was no way I could have approached them now, and the next best course of action was after their piece was done.

"Without further ado, let us welcome the Masketeers with their hit single!" Yui announced and promptly, exited from stage right with Desmond behind her. A crew went over to Yui with a bottle of water to which she accepted with a sweet smile. She then turned to Desmond and offered her drink, to which Desmond raised his own bottle as they did a toast before drinking.

Yui twisted her body as she drank, and our eyes met each other despite the distance I stood from the backstage. She quickly finished up and waved her arms wide, causing the people around her to look towards my direction.

Ah, stop it please. Everyone's looking my way and it's real uncomfortable. Even the crowd around who noticed her weird reaction started looking around.

There was no other way but to walk towards her in this case. If I were to just walk away now, it would reflect poorly on myself as a guy, and the embarrassment Yui had to deal with for being ignored in public after her huge reaction.

"Harro, harro!"

What greeting language was that? Did you learn a new language while working in this industry?

Yui was having a chat with the guard standing by the cordoned off area that I assumed was their backstage. After exchanging a look between Yui and me, the guard stood aside and Yui waved her hand, inviting me in.

"Hey." I waved back as I got closer.

"You're here!"

"Of course I'm here. I have work to do, remember?"

"Ah, true. You did mention that earlier." Yui placed a finger by her lip and gave a smile. Unlike her usual at-home look, the woman looked almost like celebrity with her shiny dress and make-up. Granted, that's her job, but there was something that I could not put my words into for the girl in front of me tonight.

She was glowing, I guess? Yui did mention before that she had always wanted to be in the entertainment industry, and today being her debut on stage really felt like an accomplishment of hers. It was natural that she would feel that way. It was today that I realised Yui had a sweet smile.

Just when I was about to ask her how it felt being on stage, our two-person conversation was cut off by another voice behind me.

"Wa, I don't think I've seen you around," Desmond, the other emcee on stage beside her earlier, now stood beside me with a hint of curiosity in his words. He gave a refreshing smile and raised his hand in front.

"I'm Desmond, nice to meet you."

"Ah, erm. S-Shin. Nice to meet you." The way he carried himself and gave that introduction so smoothly showed how experienced he was in handling PR matters. I guess it was skill that came with working in the industry for so long. On the other hand, I pale in comparison and stumbled on my words instead. And that's another page into my book of embarrassing myself.

Desmond sized me up with a curious look from head to toe. With a grin, he reached his head towards Yui's ear with his hands up.

"Boyfriend?"

Since the area around us was noisy with the band performing onstage and all, Desmond had to speak with a louder than usual voice, and because of that I could hear his concern very clearly from my side, thank you very much. I guess it was a question that came from left field. Yui's face showed a look of surprise as she averted my eyes quickly and scratched her cheek. Miss, if you act that way, people were bound to misunderstand you know?

"Friend. We're classmates before." Before Yui could reply, I offered the answer first. I was fairly sure Yui's answer would be the same, but I shudder at the thought that she might just be a klutz and introduced me as her tenant instead. Now that would be a saucy news for any paparazzi thirsty for a scoop on invading people's life.

Then again, if she did introduce me as such, that would mean she doesn't see me as her friend huh? That thought felt kind of depressing for some reason.

"Y-yeah! What he said." Yui backed my answer and shook her head while waving her hands in front of her chest. You're acting unnaturally coy so if you could stop doing that I'll appreciate it. Otherwise, I might think otherwise.

"Sure. Okay, Yui's friend, I hope you're having fun. I'm gonna go speak to the producers now, so if you'll excuse me." Desmond held a cheeky grin that carried a look of doubt as he looked at Yui to me, then back to Yui. Just like that, our random guest backed away into another place, leaving us with an awkward silence even though the music was blaring loudly beside us.

"…Interesting guy."

"Huh? I can't hear you!" Yui pushed her hair behind her ear and inched closer. Her moist eyes reflected the bright festive lights behind me. It was at that moment, images surfaced from the depths of my memories.

That bright night, the loud sounds, her.

"I said he's interesting. Besides, how does it feel to be on stage?" I had to look away or it would have felt weird to stare at her for so long. Instead, I posed the question I wanted to ask originally and Yui took a step back and pondered on it.

"I thought I'd be very nervous, and my heart was bam bam bam! But when I went on stage, all of that fear and anxiety washed away immediately. It was fun, I really liked it." Yui smiled as she reflected on that not so distant past. In fact, that was less than an hour ago.

The band was reaching their climax, and so did the atmosphere of the crowd. Watching them performing up front, I was quite impressed with their performance. The guitarist would pluck on the guitars with deft fingers, and the keyboardist would answer back with her countermelody.

As if acting rebellious, the guitarist turned around and faced the keyboardist while he played it off with his own set of complementary rhythm, as if taunting the other party to match up.

Standing at the stage closest to the audience, the vocalist held well too with her powerful, deep vocals. It made me wonder how she could even sing with that mask on her, but apparently Yui mentioned her mask was made with a special mesh that made her voice come out uninterrupted.

The set ended with a round of blasters firing off on the side of the stage with confetti dancing brilliantly in the sky. Just thinking of the cleaning up was a pain. A huge shout out to all the cleaners involved with the aftermath of such events!

"Shin, I'll be heading up to start the countdown now. I'll call you after I'm done!"

"Wait, my phone's…" My words did not reach her quick enough. Yui was already checking the audio equipment with the crew and after confirming everything was good, she turned her head and smiled again. That girl is having too much fun with her work that I'm getting a little envious.

The real work for me starts after this, and to think my muscles screaming from all the lifting was the furthest definition of fun for me.

Regardless, I decided to leave the backstage area and nodded to the guard to thank him as he unlocked the gate for me. I made my way to the reporting venue and it seems a couple of the guys were already there as well. The only thing we could all do now was countdown with everyone else.

As I stood there hearing Yui and Desmond's voices hyping the crowd down to five seconds, something caught my eye.

Someone caught my eye.

"Four!"

It could be an illusion that my eyes were conjuring before me. A couple of metres away was the image of Laura's back blended with the crowd.

"Three!"

She was smiling at the guy beside him. My gut twisted when I thought that guy could've been me. My mind was assaulted with all the pointless "what-if" scenario in this short span of time. Eventually, what came at the end of that tunnel of memories was the image of that night two years ago.

"One! …Happy new year everyone!"

Loud explosions lit the sky. An array of colours assaulted my eyes as they lit off one after another. When I looked back at the ground, her back was no longer there. There was no point in looking back at the past, lamenting over what could be done and should be done. It has been long enough and carrying that baggage with me would only wear me down.

Whatever happened in the past was a mix of joy, laughter, love, and sorrow. But when I watched the fireworks tonight for the first time in two years, I came upon a conclusion.

That even the most brilliant firework dies off eventually. A new one would appear after that, and another, and so on. There was no point getting fixated at what was once there.

Reaching that epiphany that night, for some reason, I felt a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.