Wallace spread out another set of newspapers on the table while picking up a new one to place on the left side. He had been at it since that morning and refused to give up until he found at least twenty. The other guys–Jacky, Ehlo, and Johnny–knew better than anything to mess with him in such a time. He had been at it since yesterday. He knew he was scaring the living daylights out of them all, but he had to do it. Even Cyndi didn’t dare to approach him either. Or she could possibly be staying at home and coping with the situation. He knew he would catch up with her later when he could finally reach his goal. Not now. When he finally declared victory by noon, the others breathed out a sigh of relief.
“This is the best one so far,” Wallace told the others as he settled down at the counter.
“What is it?” Ehlo asked, placing a glass in front of Wallace.
“What else is there? I don’t like the other positions. Not flexible enough.”
“How about a reporter? Or even a translator?”
“Photographer?” Jacky suggested, sitting down next to Wallace.
“That’s right!” Ehlo exclaimed, turning to Jacky. “Didn’t you used to do a lot of those stuffs when we were younger?”
“Isn’t that what Ming Dao does?” Wallace asked back.
“I don’t like to follow.”
“We’re trying to help you here.”
Before they could continue, they heard the door swung open. They all turned to see Qiao Qiao rushing in.
They did not react since they were used to her impatient behaviors.
“You guys!” Qiao Qiao shouted as she was standing in front of them.
“What?” All three asked in the same passive tone.
“I know who the new owner is!”
“Who?” Johnny asked, walking into the kitchen. He had stepped into his room before Qiao Qiao came in and just got back in time to hear about the new owner.
“This one guy from Mom’s old workplace. He’s going to turn it into some candy shop.”
“It’s not that bad, right?” Ehlo asked, looking from Wallace to Qiao Qiao.
“I thought we agreed to stop this from happening,” Qiao Qiao said, giving Ehlo her famous glare.
“We are,” Wallace said, trying to rescue Ehlo from Qiao Qiao’s grasp. “But we still have to cover our backs first.”
Before Qiao Qiao could speak up again, Wallace continued.
“Here’s the plan,” Wallace said.
“What?” Qiao Qiao asked, seeing his serious expression.
“What?!” The others exclaimed at the same time.
“It’s a way to stall for time while we can come up with a better plan.”
“It’s outrageous,” Ehlo said. “Who would believe it?”
“Superstitious people, who else?”
“When do we begin it then?” Qiao Qiao asked, still not believing in Wallace’s plan.
“Tomorrow,” Wallace answered crisply.
“We’re having the farewell party tomorrow, aren’t we?”
Qiao Qiao nodded.
“When Alyssa leaves, we start.”
“Let’s go shopping this afternoon and you’ll see.”
“Qiao, close your mouth,” Jacky said. “You’re making yourself look dumb.”
“I don’t believe it’s going to work though,” Qiao Qiao admitted finally.
“You’re underestimating me,” Wallace said, getting up from his seat. “You’ll be so convinced by tomorrow that you’re going to call me Master.”
“Where are you going?” Ehlo asked.
“Want to come along?”
“You want to come along?” Ehlo asked, turning to Jacky.
“Might as well,” Jacky said casually.
Qiao Qiao finally unfroze herself from the spot she was standing at and followed Wallace.
“We can’t all go,” Wallace reminded them, retrieving his car key by the door. “No more than eight. It would make sense that some of us are helping with grocery shopping for tomorrow’s party but if it’s too much…”
“Only three of us are helping you, right?” Jacky asked.
“Who else are we going to call for help?” Qiao Qiao asked, stepping outside to catch up to Wallace.
“Angela, Ehlo, Cyndi, and I are going to prepare the props while the rest of you go shopping.”
“I’ll call Chen Yi.”
“What about the others?” Jacky asked. “I meant would we want to get the others to help too?”
“Bad idea,” Ehlo said. “Huo just said the less people in, the better for this plan.”
“Are we good?” Wallace asked, turning back to the group still standing by the walkway. “Huang, we’re taking my car, right?”
“Qiao, leave your car here,” Jacky said, spotting the car parked behind Ehlo’s car.
“It’s not mine,” Qiao Qiao said. “It’s Chen Yi’s.”
“He switched cars?” Jacky asked, surprised.
Qiao Qiao nodded. “Didn’t care for that daredevil car anymore for some reason.”
“Maybe he’s trying to prevent himself from speeding while driving with his precious Xiao Yu,” Ehlo said, his eyes cunning.
“Stop giving me goosebumps.”
Ehlo laughed as Jacky placed a hand on Qiao Qiao’s shoulder.
“You guys sure need to redo your garden,” Chen Yi’s voice said to their right.
They turned around to see him coming toward them.
“Where have you been?” Qiao Qiao demanded.
Ehlo crossed his hands and stepped aside, waiting for a show to start.
“I thought you’re not around,” Jacky said to Chen Yi.
“Just want to browse around for a bit,” Chen Yi said, shrugging his shoulders. “Where are we going now?”
“Grocery shopping,” Jacky said.
“I’ll explain on the way.”
Ehlo almost wanted to go with the other three just to see the showdown between Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao but he resisted the urge. Wallace pulled out after Ehlo got in on the passenger side. By then, the others had arrived at Jacky’s car. Chen Yi got in next to him while Qiao Qiao sat in the back.
“Here’s the plan,” Qiao Qiao began as Jacky pulled out.
It was only then that Chen Yi listened intently without interrupting or attempting to make one of his smart comments to upset Qiao Qiao.
“Where are we going?” Ehlo asked as Wallace was pulling out.
“Get the girls,” Wallace said.
“How do you know they’re free?”
Wallace focused on driving the rest of the way while Ehlo confirmed of their arrival. They ended up going to Angela’s place first because it would be more convenient since Cyndi lived near the place they were going to. When they picked up Angela, Ehlo switched to the backseat to talk with her while Wallace continued to Cyndi’s house. Angela couldn’t help but fire away questions regarding their trip. It wasn’t until they picked up Cyndi that Wallace spoke up again.
“Okay, no turning back now,” Wallace announced to them as he turned down a different road instead of turning back to the main street that led back out to town.
“What’s with the creepy narrative?” Angela asked, rolling her eyes.
Wallace ignored her sarcastic remark and began to explain to both her and Cyndi about their plan. When he was done, they were actually between two rows of tall trees overlooking an unknown sky. The girls began to realize their whereabouts at that time.
“Where are you taking us?” Angela asked, suddenly feeling the chills.
“If Qiao was here, she’ll believe me,” Wallace commented, not answering Angela’s question at all.
“Calm down,” Cyndi spoke up, her voice unusually relaxed. “It’s a forest behind our place. There should be a temple coming up.”
“Why are we going to the temple then?” Angela asked, turning to Wallace.
“We’re not,” Wallace said, still not answering fully.
“We’re going to a shop a bit down from the temple.”
“You’re going to purchase those items?” Cyndi asked, wrinkling her face.
“Sure. If it helps.”
“No buts…I told you it’s for stalling time. We’ll come up with a better way in the next few days.”
“You should have applied at some realtor place, man,” Ehlo said suddenly.
“What?” Wallace asked, glimpsing at the rearview mirror real quick to catch Ehlo’s expression.
“If you’d gone into the realtor place, you could manipulate things better.”
“I don’t have experience. It would take too long to convince people to let me take Alyssa’s case. We don’t have time. That’s why we’re doing all these senseless tactics here.”
“What other plans do you have then?” Cyndi asked.
“If we can’t convince the Zhao, then we have to find a way to buy the place back and do it ourselves.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Ehlo asked.
“I calculated already. We could split it between us. But…there’s the whole commitment. Some of us might not want to do this anymore.”
“If Alyssa’s not in, what’s the point?” Cyndi pointed out.
Wallace nodded. “Anyway, no more hesitation. We can talk about that later. Now, are you guys in or out? Before I turn around and go back home.”
“In,” Ehlo said without hesitation.
“Of course, I’m in,” Cyndi followed.
“I guess,” Angela said finally, still unsure of the plan.
“Then that’s set,” Wallace said, sealing their invisible contract.
“Why didn’t I go with them?” Qiao Qiao asked, sounding half reluctant and half bored.
“Because we need you to pick out the best veggies,” Jacky joked.
Qiao Qiao sent him a threatening glare. “Even if you’re my brother, you won’t get special treatments.”
“You were unusually quiet before, why are you upset now?”
“I can’t believe I got talked out of joining the action.”
“Preparing for the plan.”
“You’re helping us from starvation here. Don’t you feel like a heroine now?”
Qiao Qiao sent him another glare.
“Come on, sis. Loosen up.”
“Guess what?” Chen Yi asked, walking to them with two packs of something in his hands. He tossed it into the cart before looking at them again. “It was on sale.”
“Haha,” Qiao Qiao snapped.
“What’s wrong with you?” Chen Yi asked. “I thought you would be welcoming any sort of distraction to prevent Alyssa from selling that place.”
“We’re being used for some other errands here.”
“So? We can buy for ourselves too. I can’t believe this store offers all my favorite snacks.”
“I thought you’re the health nut.”
Chen Yi smiled. “Dried fruit snacks.”
Qiao Qiao scrunched her face up again, crossing her hands in front of her. “I wish Sonia was here.”
“We all know she’s out of town, working on the latest project with Sam, right?” Jacky reminded her. “It’s not like she’s going on a leisure trip.”
“What’s wrong with her?” Chen Yi asked, looking at Jacky.
“I’m right here, you know,” Qiao Qiao jumped in.
“We’re all frustrated with what’s going on lately,” Jacky said in a soothing voice. “But must you take it out on us while we’re trying to think up of a way to stop it?”
“He’s right,” Chen Yi continued. “It’s not like we don’t care. You think I want to buy all these snacks? We’re trying to keep calm so we can think. Stop it with the whole ‘you’re the only one who cares.’”
“Sorry,” Qiao Qiao said upon seeing Chen Yi’s expression. “I’m just…”
“We know,” Jacky said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “But getting worked up won’t help, okay?”
Qiao Qiao nodded. “I’ll go see what else we can buy.”
Jacky smiled. “That’s more like it.”
“What’s wrong with her lately?” Chen Yi asked, eyeing Qiao Qiao’s disappearing back. “Is she still after Ming Dao?”
Jacky shrugged, pretending to be studying a label on a box he just picked up. “Why?”
“It’s just that…” Chen Yi hesitated.
Jacky abandoned his charade and turned to look at Chen Yi. “How are you and Xiao Yu?”
“We’re good,” Chen Yi said casually. “Why?”
“Just wondering since you guys seem a bit strange too.”
Chen Yi shrugged.
Jacky could see Chen Yi didn’t want to talk about it so he continued to push the shopping cart forward again, making his way to the next aisle.
“I’m going to get something too,” Chen Yi said after a while, making his way to the dairy section.
Jacky made sure Chen Yi was going the other way before catching up to Qiao Qiao on the other side of the store.
“Tell me something,” Jacky said when he caught up to her.
“What?” Qiao Qiao asked, putting a magazine down in its place again.
“How long are you going to keep the ruse up with the whole Ming Dao thing?”
Qiao Qiao looked around in nervousness.
“He’s on the other side of the store.”
“He could come around without us knowing.”
“We’re facing each other so we could look out for him. And don’t stall. I need to know what’s going on so I could cover for you.”
Qiao Qiao sighed out. “Not sure what’s going on either but I guess I don’t care anymore?”
Jacky placed his hands on her shoulders. “Are you really okay with it? I know I haven’t been helping you these past months but I’m still here. If you can’t take it, just come crying to me and we’ll figure something out. Stop playing the tough card. Holding it inside isn’t good for you. Look what it has done to you. Even if you’re still aggressive toward the rest of us but it’s different than the usual cheerful girl I first met.”
“Don’t worry,” Qiao Qiao reassured him. “I won’t go crazy. In fact, I don’t feel anything at all when I hang around him and Xiao Yu and Yan Yan. It’s like it stopped matter so much.”
“I just hope so.”
“And you better explain it to Ming Dao since Chen Yi kept teasing you guys…”
“I told him already and apologized to him for causing him trouble. And I said I will announce later that I’m no longer interested in him so the others wouldn’t tease him anymore.”
Jacky nodded. “No matter what, I’m here, okay?”
Qiao Qiao nodded also.
They continued to make their way around the store, finishing their shopping.
© Sunday, July 26th, 2009
Re-posted: Saturday, February 12th, 2011