“Better now?” Ehlo asked.
“Yea. Thanks,” Xiao Jie said, giving him a smile.
Xiao Jie had stopped crying ten minutes ago and they just sat there quietly. Now that she’s calm again, Ehlo knows it’s the right time to speak up. They’re sitting with their backs to the apple tree at that moment.
“So, still up for the picnic?” Ehlo asked casually.
“What’s it with you men and food?” Xiao Jie asked, looking over at Ehlo for an explanation.
“What?” He asked innocently, looking around. “It’s a nice day – even though it’s coming to an end soon.”
“I’m just kidding,” She said, smiling at him.
“Knowing how to joke is good,” He said back, sending a smile along also. He stands up at that time and looks at Xiao Jie. “Ready to come back?”
“Yes. But not ready to go that way to the car.” She points towards the direction of the waiting area.
Ehlo knows too well if they go back to the waiting room, they have to go back to the front lawn area, which is where the wedding is still in full motion.
“All right then. Let’s go this way, He said, pointing towards the opposite side.
“It’s a long way around, are you sure?”
“I’ll carry you all the way there if you want,” Ehlo offered, grinning.
Xiao Jie bursts out laughing at Ehlo’s reaction.
Ehlo starts to walk in which Xiao Jie follows him – side-by-side.
“Let me call Fan Gang first,” Ehlo said.
He retrieves his cell phone from his pants pocket and begins to press Jacky’s speed dial number.
“You’re coming back?” Jacky asked when he answered.
“You could have said ‘Hello, how are you doing?’ or something like that.”
“I know it’s you, so can’t I skip the formalities?”
“Oh right. We’re not coming back, but we’ll meet you by the car.”
“All right then. See you in ten minutes.”
“It takes you that long to walk?”
“No, we’re going to go by the back way. I don’t want to see Brent’s face another minute.”
“You know what? On second thought, we’ll wait for you. Then we can walk out together. We’re at…”
“I know where you’re at. Don’t move.”
“Can I breathe?”
Jacky hangs up on him.
“Nice guy,” Ehlo mumbled as he snaps his phone shut.
“What happened?” Xiao Jie asked.
“Fan Gang said he’ll meet us here.”
A few minutes later, Jacky and Wei Ru show up. Ehlo doesn’t see Darren so he looks at Jacky to explain.
“Darren’s leaving with his friends.”
“Oh,” Ehlo muttered flatly.
“Let’s go, okay?”
The four of them make their way through all the trees and into a path to the right. When they’re finally out in the parking lot, Jacky gets out his key and de-activates the alarm. They all get in – Ehlo next to him in the passenger seat – while Wei Ru and Xiao Jie sit in the back.
The four of them are silence for the first few minutes on the road. When they’re finally turning to the street out of the parking reserved for the wedding, Ehlo speaks up.
“So, how about that picnic?” He asked, looking at the Jacky and then the girls.
“Sounds good,” Jacky replied, taking a quick glance in the rearview mirror. “Ladies?”
Wei Ru turns sideway to look at Xiao Jie.
“At the park near Wei Ru’s house or on the beach?” Xiao Jie asked.
“Whichever place you prefer.”
“Any place that doesn’t remind me of…”
“How about my place?” Ehlo suggested. “There’s a park nearby. If not, there’s also a beach not too far away.”
“It’s too far,” Jacky pointed out.
“So? We can all go home to pack now and go to my house for a vacation!” Ehlo said enthusiastically.
Jacky takes a glance at the rearview mirror again, wondering if Wei Ru’s parents would accept. Wei Ru looks towards Jacky at the same time so their eyes meet in the rearview mirror. She looks away quickly out the window on her left.
“I don’t know about my…” Wei Ru started.
“You know what? It’s a good idea to get away for a while. I’ll convince Mom and Dad for you,” Xiao Jie said.
“Don’t sound so down,” Ehlo piped. “It sounds like you don’t want to be with us.”
“I think she’s just tired,” Jacky said, attempting to cover for Wei Ru. “It’s been a long day.”
Ehlo sees that Jacky’s defending Wei Ru, so he turns around halfway to look at Xiao Jie, signaling for her to chime in. Xiao Jie smiles.
“True. It’s been one long day,” Xiao Jie commented casually, turning to Wei Ru at the same time. “So? How’s it going with…” She tilts her head towards Jacky.
Wei Ru looks out the window and doesn’t answer.
“That good?” Xiao Jie pursued.
Ehlo realizes something, so he speaks up.
“Oh yea, what happened to Mr. Who-Sings-Better-Than me?” Ehlo said out of nowhere.
“He’s our exclusive entertainer,” Jacky explained. “Why do you need him to come? Or do you want to have a competition at the picnic?”
“I just want to know, okay?”
“He’s staying back because the crowd requested more songs.”
“Jealous?” Xiao Jie asked, looking at Ehlo to see his reaction.
“You know the answer already,” Jacky answered in Ehlo’s place.
“Hey! You’re selling me out!” Ehlo cried out in frustration.
Jacky smiles and doesn’t reply. He just focuses on driving. He begins to slow down a bit since they’re about to turn into the street where Wei Ru’s house is at.
When Jacky parks in front of the house, Xiao Jie and Wei Ru get out first. Jacky gets out also, following the girls inside while Ehlo’s fighting with himself whether to go in or not. Jacky realizes Ehlo’s not with them so he turns around to signal for Ehlo to get out of the car. Ehlo shrugs and motions something to Jacky with his hands. Jacky walks back to the car and opens the door on Ehlo’s side, pulling Ehlo out.
“What?!” Ehlo asked in alarm.
“We’re going to your place. You have to go in,” Jacky said, pushing Ehlo towards the entrance.
“But…” Ehlo protested.
“Come on, man. The least you can do is let Mr. and Mrs. Lai trust you on this.”
Jacky increases his speed to catch up with the girls while Ehlo tags behind, suddenly feeling an unknown fear creeping up from within.
Xiao Jie’s the one who opens the door to enter the house since Wei Ru seems a bit nervous. Jacky is a few steps behind Wei Ru while Ehlo tags a distance behind. Jacky has to turn back to make sure Ehlo’s still there. Jacky chases away the urge to laugh since it’s one of those few rare times that Ehlo’s fidgety like this. They walk past the kitchen towards the living room to see Brittney there, eating a piece of cake. Brittney had come home earlier since she wasn’t that interested in the wedding after she helped with setting up.
Jacky, Xiao Jie, and Ehlo scan the room in one quick motion to see where Mr. and Mrs. Lai are while Wei Ru’s lost in thoughts.
“Britt, where are Mom and Dad?” Xiao Jie asked, turning to Brittney again after her scanning procedure.
Brittney swallows before speaking up. “At the shop, where else?”
“I thought they were planning to close today since half of you guys were helping me with the wedding,” Xiao Jie said.
“No. They’re cleaning the shop. Bryan’s helping them. Darren just came back a few minutes earlier and left for the shop also,” Brittney rattled off between bites. “He looked disturbed though.”
Ehlo, knowing that Mr. and Mrs. Lai aren’t here, relaxes a bit. Jacky looks at him regarding Brittney’s last comment. Ehlo just shrugs. Wei Ru sits down on the sofa next to Brittney while Xiao Jie continues.
“You know when they’ll be back?” Xiao Jie asked.
“No idea,” Brittney replied, shrugging her shoulders in the process. “Maybe in a bit or maybe around dark. I was there earlier though. I mean after I left the wedding. It looks like they’re halfway done though. With Darren’s help, it might be faster.” She pauses for a bit as if remembering something. “Oh yeah, Sharon’s coming home soon. Like Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.”
“She called?” Wei asked, finally tuning in on their conversation again.
Brittney nods while she continues to eat the piece of cake.
Ehlo looks at the piece of cake more carefully. “Don’t tell me that cake is…”
“No way! It’s one of ours,” Brittney clarified, wrinkling face. “I’m not eating that stuff.” Brittney displays a disgust look as if wanting to express her most loyal attitude towards Xiao Jie.
Xiao Jie turns around to face Jacky and Ehlo, who are still standing behind her. “What now? You guys want to go to the shop and ask?”
“Ask what?” Brittney asked, taking her attention from the piece of cake again. “Why don’t you call them first? They might be on their way back.”
“Good idea,” Xiao Jie said.
They wait silently while Xiao Jie takes out her phone and dials. It seems that Mrs. Lai is the one who picks up. Xiao Jie begins to explain to Mrs. Lai the whole matter. She is about to hang up, but Jacky signals for her not to.
“Uh…Mom, could you hold on for a bit?” Xiao Jie said into the phone. She covers the mouth piece and addresses Jacky. “What?”
“Ask her if we can come and talk to them directly,” Jacky said.
“It doesn’t matter. Mom agrees,” Xiao Jie explained.
“Respect!” Jacky shouted out.
Xiao Jie roll her eyes. “Young Master Chu, knock off the façade, she knows you’re there. If you ask for her Xiao Ru’s hand right now, she would agree too. Even eager to do it!”
Ehlo sniggers while Wei Ru turns a bit pink. Brittney’s busy eating her piece of cake so she didn’t really catch Xiao Jie’s last few words.
“Still! Let me talk to her,” Jacky whispered.
“Fine. Here,” Xiao Jie said flatly, handing Jacky her cell phone and steps back.
“Mrs. Lai? Regarding what Xiao Jie just told you…” Jacky began.
“You don’t have to be all formal,” Mrs. Lai said, cutting Jacky off. “I know we can trust you.”
“Don’t worry. My husband approves also.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Lai.”
Xiao Jie rolls her eye at Jacky again as he hands the cell phone back to her. Ehlo laughs and thumbs him on the back.
“What?” Jacky uttered, turning to Ehlo.
“Over-killed, man,” Ehlo whispered to Jacky.
“I don’t see you having the gut to talk to either one of them. Who was the one who look like a scared chicken a few minutes ago?”
Ehlo looks around, smiling. “Who?”
Jacky gives Ehlo an annoyed look while Brittney laughs at their little exchange.
Brittney straightens up and looks at Xiao Jie. “So, where are you guys going?”
“To Yu Rong’s house,” Jacky replied.
Brittney jumps up out of her seat. Her spoon has splattered on the floor the minute she jumped up.
“I want to go too!” She exclaimed, ignoring the spoon’s fate altogether. She rushes over to Jacky, grabbing at his sleeve. “Can I go too? Ge, please…”
Ehlo gives her an odd look while Xiao Jie observes the scene. Jacky looks towards Wei Ru for help. Wei Ru looks unsure. Xiao Jie decides to take the lead.
Xiao Jie clears throat. “All right, you can go. But you can’t bring any other friends with you.”
Brittney lets go of Jacky’s sleeve and runs over to Xiao Jie, hugging her. “Thank you so much Xiao Jie jie jie!”
“Why are you so excited?” Ehlo asked, wrinkling his face.
Brittney has already let go of Xiao Jie, but is still standing there smiling. Ehlo has somehow broken through her thoughts, causing him an annoyed look from her.
“I want to get away for the summer, okay?” Brittney snapped.
“And going to my house does that?”
The expression on Ehlo’s face makes Brittney’s temper rises a couple more degrees. She can’t believe he’s embarrassing her in front of all her siblings and future bro-in-law.
“Yes! I want to go and annoy you, okay?”
“Geez…edgy,” Ehlo commented. “Watch your attitude, little girl. Hard time to find a boyfriend in the future.”
Brittney sticks her tongue out at Ehlo. The others laugh, except for Ehlo. Then Jacky turns to Xiao Jie.
“Do we need to call the shop to tell Mrs. Lai that Brittney’s coming with us?” He asked.
“No need,” Xiao Jie replied, shaking her head. “I told her some of us are going so she’ll know when she comes back.”
“How subtle can you get?” Ehlo asked.
“Very,” Xiao Jie responded with a smile on her face.
“All right,” Jacky said. “If we’re going, let’s get moving.”
“Wait,” Ehlo called out.
“I have to take my car back too.”
“When the girls are done packing, I have to go back to pack anyway.”
“He’s living with you?” Brittney asked, surprised.
“Problem?” Ehlo asked, raising an eyebrow at her. “It’s just temporary since he recruited me for the wedding.”
“Not at all. Was just curious.”
After that, Brittney heads down the hallway at the end of the kitchen to pack. Wei Ru gets up from the sofa and follows also. Jacky and Ehlo look at each other, not knowing what to say. Then they settle down on the sofa to wait for the girls to be done packing. Xiao Jie follows the guys to the sofa and sits next to Ehlo.
“We’re going back to my house and you can take Xiao Jie to her house to pack while I pack. Then we’ll meet you guys there?” Jacky mapped out the plan.
“Fine with me,” Ehlo agreed. “If Miss Qu trusts me.”
“That’s fine,” Xiao Jie said. “Unless Wei Ru and Brittney don’t trust you.”
“Wei Ru probably doesn’t want to come with me though. But I wouldn’t worry about Brittney. Remember about five minutes back.”
Ehlo then plays out the scene again by tugging at Jacky’s sleeve.
“Ge! Ge! Can I go too? Please, ge…” Ehlo rattled off, mimicking Brittney’s words and actions from earlier.
Jacky feels goose bumps forming on his skin, so he yanks his sleeve back from Ehlo’s grasp. Xiao Jie’s laughing away on the other side of Ehlo.
Xiao Jie clears her throat after she stops laughing. “You guys are just too funny.”
The three of them move onto other random topics while waiting for Wei Ru and Brittney. Another ten minutes pass by before the girls are out. Jacky gets up first, reaching for Wei Ru’s luggage. Although it’s light, but he insists on carrying it for her. Ehlo, of course, pretends to not see Brittney carrying hers. He just steps towards the front door to open it for Jacky. The girls follow the guys back to the car. As soon as Jacky puts both girls’ luggage in the trunk, they get in – with the guys in the front and the girls in the back as before. No one speaks for the rest of the way to Jacky’s house, lost in their own thoughts while listening to the radio. The sunrays shine everywhere, creating a dream-like effect as the wind carries all the yellow leaves away. It is indeed a nice summer day, like Ehlo said earlier – although the day’s half over already.
© August 27th, 2007
Re-posted: Saturday, February 20th, 2010
“Better now?” Ehlo asked.