To Wallace’s surprise, Nic was very friendly toward Jiro at the Christmas dinner. He thought there was some underlying scheme lying in wait. However, that did not come up at all–even after they were finished with their meal and moved on to what the girls called ‘tea time’ when they were gathering around the fireplace. The dinner was actually at the Huo’s resident. They included Mrs. Huo as well. It made sense to. She only left them during tea time. They were in the drawing-room.
“What are you up to, man?” Wallace whispered when they were making themselves comfortable.
“Stop being paranoid,” Nic whispered back.
No one asked Wallace how in the world he was doing on purpose. Only an idiot would ask that. It might push his button. They just resumed some normal traditions that they were expected during the holidays. If Wallace went ahead with it, then they were good.
“A guy can’t even ask a question around here?” Wallace returned, abandoning his whispering schemes.
“What are you guys talking about?” Yvonne asked, turning to them. She was stationed next to Wallace as usual.
“We’re just…” Wallace began, his mischievous smile on.
Nic looked so anxious that Wallace let out a laugh and shook his head. Teasing Nic was just so fun. He almost felt like it was old times. Almost.
“Gifts exchange time?” Angela asked, looking at them. She was sitting next to Nic. And she had earned a grateful look from her brother–who was more than glad to eliminate the focus on him.
“I didn’t bring any,” Wallace confessed, stretching back on his chair and kicking the floor so his chair would swing back and forth.
Yvonne hit him on the arm and gave him a look.
“What?” He asked, turning to her with an innocent smile. “I provided the place for our gathering.”
“Your mother had to agree,” She reminded him.
“It’s still part of my place.”
“I didn’t bring gifts for everyone though,” Jiro admitted, looking guilty.
“Welcome to the club,” Wallace said, bringing his hands together and placing it behind his head. He was still rocking back and forth in the chair.
“Stop,” Yvonne chided.
“No more talks,” Angela urged. “Let’s get this going.” She handed each of them a box of some sort.
“No fair,” Wallace whined, looking at Jiro and Cyndi’s box. “How come it’s bigger than ours?”
“It’s for them. There’s only one of you.”
Wallace nodded–though his smile said otherwise. Like he was still acting like a smart-aleck. He opened his gift anyway, spotting a wooden box with flower indentation around the surface. There was also a spread of flowers as part of the design in front. The tab was only partially wood that dipped a bit to allow a white space for any sort of design so the flowers were suitable for it. Inside, he could see potpourri. It was still in a little pouch but the fragrance was very nice.
“Those two items came separately but I thought I combine it,” Angela clarified, seeing how he was studying it so intently.
Wallace sent her a smile, indicating he loved it.
The others were also opening their gifts from Angela around the room. Jiro and Cyndi got a set of dolls from ‘Precious Moments’. Nic got a new watch. Practical. Yvonne received a bracelet. Nothing fancy, but it was something up to her taste.
“My turn,” Yvonne said after putting the bracelet on her left hand. She handed Angela hers first though they were across the circle from one another.
“Great,” Wallace mumbled, feeling like he had been stabbed. Their Drama King was seriously back.
“Nic,” Yvonne said next–which made Wallace’s outstretched hand looked ridiculous. She smiled and finally gave Wallace his when she was done distributing one to Jiro and Cyndi.
“It better not be scarves,” Wallace said, holding the box to his ear and shaking it.
Yvonne had on her arrogant look. “I won’t pull the same stunt twice.”
Wallace nodded, his smart-aleck nod, not the sincere one. He attacked his in two shakes–while the others were still being polite with unwrapping theirs.
“Nice,” Wallace said.
“Stop being ungrateful,” Yvonne warned.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Your face says it all.”
“Touché.” He waved the item in his hand, his smile showing apparent satisfaction. It was a tie. Then he focused on Jiro and Cyndi’s. “You two married?”
The others turned to look at him. Nic looked like he wanted to strangle Wallace–for giving them ideas.
“No,” Jiro replied quickly. Too quick.
Cyndi–knowing Wallace too well–did not care to reply.
“Causing trouble again?” Yvonne asked, her eyes were showing traces of warning again.
“Hey, you guys keep giving them gifts as one.”
They could see that the items Yvonne gave Jiro and Cyndi were a pair of drinking glasses. They were identical, not pink and blue like the usual, typical couple items. There were gold decorations surrounding their names which were etched into the glasses.
“Wow,” Wallace muttered.
“Thanks,” Cyndi said to Yvonne with one of her sincere smiles, still ignoring Wallace.
Jiro nodded, not knowing what to say. Maybe it was because Wallace and Nic had been staring at him. Though that was soon forgotten because they were focusing on Nic’s gift. It was a scarf. Not the scarf Wallace and Nic had spotted that one time. It was a dark blue one with shades of light blue and yellow on the rim. Wallace turned to her when he realized it was a scarf.
“He doesn’t have one,” Yvonne defended herself.
“For a person who’s receiving freebies, you sure have a lot of opinions.”
Wallace stuck his tongue out at her and placed his head back on the headrest. He kicked the floor again, sending the chair rocking back and forth. “Have you guys watched that Louis Koo movie?”
“Stop rocking it then.”
“I’m not scared, just asking if you are.”
Angela finally opened hers. It was like a routine that they were waiting to see each other’s items before opening their own. And the item was a pair of sunglasses.
“Great, sunglasses in the peak of winter,” Wallace muttered, his smile showing apparent mockery.
Yvonne reached over and poked him on the shoulder.
Angela smiled. “I’m going to need it for my trip.”
Wallace turned to Angela. “What trip?”
“I just accepted a project for this one company,” Angela replied. “I’m not sure when I’ll be back. Another company also wants me to do some designs for them.”
“What will happen to your tattoo shop?”
“I could close it for a while.”
“My turn,” Cyndi said, handing out her gifts.
Jiro also took that time to hand out his for Wallace, Cyndi, and Angela.
“Just treat it as being from Jiro as well,” Cyndi said when she handed the items to Nic and Yvonne.
“Gloves,” Wallace said upon opening his. Indeed, it was a pair of brown leather gloves. He waved them back and forth in the light and then turned to Yvonne.
“Is this your way of saying I’m the person you’re going to dispose of the items you don’t want?” Yvonne asked.
“Sorry,” Jiro said–and not Wallace. “I didn’t know what you like.”
“No probs,” Wallace said. “I just didn’t want it to cover my ring.”
Jiro nodded, understanding.
Yvonne did not need an answer for her tease. It was already answered. She placed the pair of gloves into her bag.
It was finally Nic’s turn. He handed each one of them an item, no exceptions. Jiro and Cyndi got separate bags. Ironically, their gifts were of similar nature. It might as well be a pair. Coasters.
“Since you already have those glasses,” Nic commented. He meant it as accompanying Yvonne’s gifts.
“How thoughtful,” Wallace mocked.
Nic gave him a look.
“Thanks,” Cyndi said, sending Nic a sincere smile.
Jiro said the same and received a nod.
Yvonne got a picture frame. It was one of those digital ones that allowed one to load pictures in and could be used for a slideshow.
“Talking about giving a gift that’s linked to your job,” Wallace joked.
“Open yours then,” Yvonne said, pointing at his.
Wallace shrugged and opened it. A pair of silver pens. He turned to Nic. “Hinting much?”
“Talk less and do more,” Nic said–as if he needed to spell it out for Wallace.
Wallace scoffed and went back to rocking his chair.
“Thanks, ge,” Angela said upon seeing the sketchbook in her hand. It was decorated with golden rims.
Nic smiled and nodded. They were indeed a pair of practical siblings all right.
“Everyone done?” Wallace asked a minute later.
“What do you have in mind?” Yvonne asked, looking at him suspiciously.
“Let’s go outside.”
There was a door to the right of the room that led out into the garden, linking it to the rest of the house.
“What for?” Yvonne continued with her questions.
“You’ll see,” Wallace said, getting up from his place.
The others exchanged a look and got up from their seats as well. They grabbed their coats as they made their way to the door.
“Creepy,” Yvonne commented as she stepped out into the darkness.
But that did not last long because they were greeted with a sky of light. It wasn’t the stars either. It was strings and strings of lights wrapped around the vines and the poles surrounding the garden. It was like a curtain of lights, except without the curtains. There were swings filling the once empty spaces forming a complete circle. There were six, one for each of them. The swings also had lights embedded in the strings. Wallace took the center one of the three that were near the red brick wall divider with selected roses and gestured for the others to take their places.
“This is your gift to us?” Yvonne asked, turning to him.
They hadn’t realized that he had brought along several gift bags with him. He handed Yvonne hers first, then Nic. Then the two had to pass the others around the circle until each had one, except for Jiro and Cyndi–who also received a joint gift.
“A binder,” Nic mumbled. “Practical.”
“Laugh all you want,” Wallace said.
Indeed Nic’s mocking smile faded because the contents inside froze him. He turned to Wallace. “Are you sure?”
“Unless you don’t want to.”
“I’ll read it and get back to you regarding the terms.”
Wallace nodded, swinging back and forth on the swing, feeling the night air hitting him in the face.
“What is it?” Yvonne asked, unable to resist her curiosity.
“Contract,” Wallace answered, slowing down a bit.
Yvonne still looked confused.
“We’re merging,” Nic clarified, tapping on the binder.
“What?” The others–except for Wallace–exclaimed.
“What’s so surprising about it?” Wallace asked, sitting still again. “Let’s face it. He’s the inventor, I’m the businessman.” He gestured at them. “Open ‘em.”
Yvonne already removed the wrapping. She only needed to open the box. She gasped and turned to him. It was a pendant.
“You’re welcome,” Wallace said casually, kicking the floor again.
“How did you know?”
“You’ve been eyeing it for a while now.”
“A wallet?” Cyndi uttered from across the garden.
“It’s for Jiro. Switch it.”
They did and the gift for Cyndi was actually a silk scarf.
“Who says that scarves are cheap?” Yvonne asked, turning to Wallace.
“This is…” Angela began, turning to Wallace.
She also got a box. Coincidence? It was also wooden. In fact, it was almost identical to the one she gave him, except for the smooth layer all around and the tattoo-like design with Angela’s name on it. It was empty inside.
“Freaky,” Yvonne mumbled, not believing it.
Wallace shrugged, swinging higher. “Who else is leaving this place?”
Yvonne turned to him. “Why?”
“Just in case we suddenly disappear from one another’s life without reason.”
The others did not know what to say. They just exchanged a look.
“No one knows what happens tomorrow, right?” His swinging had slowed down. He got up when the rhythm stopped. “Let’s go inside then.”
The others got up slowly, wondering about Wallace’s sudden change. Yet they did not want to push him. They followed him and Nic turned off the lights. There was one thing going through their minds: Wallace was just putting up a front for their sake. He did not want to ruin their holidays. But one could only put up so much of a show.
© Thursday, March 10th, 2011
Posted: Friday, April 15th, 2011