Several days later after work, Jacky was seen cleaning his room. He had been sloppy these past weeks because of the obvious reason. He knew he could not allow himself to put the task off with that excuse anymore. Perhaps, it would help with distracting him to stop thinking about that so much. Yet he was wrong. Because he had no idea how much stuff he found that reminded him so much of them, together. That also slowed his progress because he kept stopping to go through some of the items.
“Hey,” Ehlo called him when Ehlo arrived home. Then Ehlo’s smile turned off. He saw Jacky holding a photo album at that moment. Two guesses.
“Why are you blocking the hallway?” Johnny asked as he walked by.
Ehlo turned to Johnny, forgetting what in the world he was going to say since he entered. He just shrugged and moved out of the way, entering Jacky’s room. “What a time to clean your room.”
“Been slacking,” Jacky replied, snapping the photo album shut. “What’s that?”
Ehlo had no idea what Jacky was saying either but he looked down at his left hand. Then he remembered.
“Want to catch Xiao Ling Ling’s new movie this weekend?” Ehlo waved the tickets in his hands for emphasis. “I got smarter this time, reserved ‘em beforehand.”
Jacky shrugged, his mind traveling. “Not sure. I still have to wrap up this one project.”
“Are you going to quit? Did you get back to Producer Lin yet? The deadline’s way past already.”
Jacky nodded. “I told him I’m not going back.”
“But this job is driving you insane. Come on, man. You know you hate it.”
Jacky shook his head. “I can’t just walk away from the challenge. The other job had always been so comfortable that I let myself go. I need to shape up on some of the stuff I learned a long time ago.”
Ehlo sighed out. “Using work as an escape?”
Jacky didn’t deny it. “Maybe. But I think this might help me find my direction on where I want to go from here.”
“Sure.” Yes, Ehlo turned his sarcasm back on.
“You asked Angela yet?”
Ehlo wrinkled his face in confusion. “What?”
Jacky pointed toward the tickets in Ehlo’s hand. “That.”
“Oh…yeah, told her already.”
“Hey, guess what?” Wallace said, stepping into the room.
The other two looked up at him since they’d been sitting on Jacky’s bed.
“What?” Ehlo asked, not even wanting to guess.
“Johnny found a house already.”
Ehlo jumped up–literally. “What? That fast?”
“I think they’ve been discussing these stuffs for a while now, so it’s easy. But look at the price first…”
Ehlo scoffed. “Sure, Johnny could afford it.”
“The point is, you want to go with them to check out the house later?”
“Where is it at?”
“By the sea. A bit out of town. It’s great.”
“From the catalog.”
Wallace nodded, understanding Ehlo’s hint about misleading advertisement. “We’ll have to see for ourselves, right?”
“So you guys want to come or not?”
Ehlo stopped and looked at Jacky before turning back to Wallace. “Bianca’s coming?”
Wallace wrinkled his face, thinking Ehlo’s crazy. “Duh.”
Ehlo sent Wallace the look, clarifying he wasn’t crazy. And that Wallace should have known what he meant.
“Oh…uh…” Wallace scratched his head, though he never had that habit in the past. “I don’t know, man.”
“You guys go,” Jacky said, getting up from his bed. “I have to clean my room.”
Ehlo and Wallace exchanged a look as Jacky picked up the duster on his desk. They didn’t have time to distract Jacky or find any other way to make the atmosphere less hectic since Chen Yi appeared at the door at that time.
“Hey, you guys are all in here,” Chen Yi said, noting the obvious.
“Just admiring the new carpet,” Ehlo snapped.
“Jacky ge!” Qiao Qiao called out, coming toward Jacky.
“Hey,” Jacky greeted her.
“Aren’t you going to see Johnny’s new house with the others?”
Qiao Qiao shrugged, like she didn’t care. “It’s just a house.”
“How supportive of you,” Chen Yi noted.
Qiao Qiao sent him a glare.
Chen Yi shrugged. “Okay, whatever.” He shifted from one foot to the other. As if he wanted to say something else but didn’t dare because of Qiao Qiao’s fierce look.
“If you want to ask me something, go ahead,” Jacky said, having gone back to dusting but had to stop once again.
Jacky slipped a hand around Qiao Qiao’s shoulder–like he was restraining her from doing anything rash. “Don’t mind her. Go ahead.”
Chen Yi still hesitated, shifting on his feet again. “Er…well…uh…
“At this rate you’re going, we won’t even see the shadow of that house,” Ehlo cut him off. “What is it? Spit it out already.”
Chen Yi finally stopped shifting altogether and turned to face Jacky again. “You sure it would be safe to let Sonia go with him?”
Then the others understood Qiao Qiao’s glare. Now it wasn’t a matter of Qiao Qiao attacking him anymore. Ehlo and Wallace turned and gave Chen Yi a sharp, murderous look. It wasn’t like Chen Yi wasn’t there these past weeks. Why force Jacky to answer it now?
“Oh,” Jacky said, scratching his neck, having removed his hand from Qiao Qiao’s shoulder already. “James runs a motorcycle shop.” He licked his lips before continuing. “They’re doing very well at the moment.” He stopped to let out a laugh then. “What do you know? Sonia probably won’t have to do anything when they get married. So maybe she’ll just sit around at the register to count the money. She might get fat even.”
“And she’s a grown woman already,” Ehlo took over, still staring at Chen Yi like he wanted to tear the other party apart. “She made her own decision so I’m guessing she could take care of herself.”
“Uh…was just asking, you know,” Chen Yi stuttered, taking a step back.
“Jacky always covers his tracks. Don’t worry about that. If he doesn’t do something, then it doesn’t matter. But if he takes up something, he’ll make sure there are no stones left untouched.”
Chen Yi was still feeling threatened by Ehlo. “Uh…sorry…”
“Quit it already,” Jacky interfered. “Don’t you guys have a house to look at? I need to vacuum.”
“You’re not coming?” Chen Yi asked, surprised.
Ehlo pushed Chen Yi out of the room then, yelling for Wallace to follow. “I’ve been overestimating you this whole time, kid.”
After they left, Qiao Qiao turned to Jacky. “You okay?”
Jacky flashed on a smile. “Of course. Just cleaning. Can’t be too hard, right? Just not too fun after not cleaning for several weeks. More dust.”
Qiao Qiao leaned in to give Jacky a hug then. “Sorry about earlier. You know Chen Yi just has to have one of his clueless moments.”
Jacky patted Qiao Qiao’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. I know they’re all adjusting and are worried for Sonia. You must admit it’s poor timing, right?”
Qiao Qiao nodded, letting go of Jacky and stepping back again. “Definitely.”
“Go with them.”
Qiao Qiao shook her head. “I’m staying here.”
Jacky had on his amused smile then. “I really have to vacuum here, Missy.”
Qiao Qiao had no choice but to leave.
About a week and a half later–a Sunday to be more accurate, they were seen under a tree outside of town to send Sonia off. Qiao Qiao felt like it was that one time when they were saying their temporary goodbye to the three angels, except she was there with Jacky. Now? The others were there and Jacky was nowhere to be seen. Qiao Qiao barely paid attention to everyone’s words and what was being said because she was troubled. Jacky said he would be there because it was the last time, well almost. But she wasn’t too into the idea. Not that she didn’t have much confidence with Jacky being able to handle the situation. But it was about seeing another scene of Jacky smiling and pretending to be strong, suppressing his feelings.
Qiao Qiao snapped out of her thoughts and tried to focus on the conversation again, wanting to be sincere in front of Sonia. After all, they finally got to meet James. He had come several days ago to meet everyone and waited for Sonia. He had stayed at Sonia’s house–instead of at some hotel, which they didn’t want to meddle into because it wasn’t their business. They only tried to be polite as much as possible when Sonia finally introduced James to them. Even Ehlo had kept his manners though he had claimed previously that he did not want to socialize with the enemy. On the other hand, Angela had kept her promise to give James a hard time. Yet Bianca and Sonia did not interfere. It was like a scene they had witnessed once too many times in the past. It seemed like Angela never really got along with James regardless if that previous misunderstanding had occurred or not. Or it could just be their way of interaction because James didn’t mind. In fact, their banter was quite entertaining to witness. And the others could only watch and exchange glances among themselves, feeling left out. Out of their group, only Jacky hadn’t met James. He had claimed work commitments many times as an excuse. Yet it was like James understood and didn’t probe further. Although it made sense because he and Sonia had kept in contact since they reunited, but had managed to keep their distance up until now.
“All right,” Bianca said after some more commotion from everyone. “It’s getting late.”
“Jacky ge’s not here yet,” Qiao Qiao protested, glad she had finally paid attention. “He said he’ll definitely come.”
Ehlo and Wallace exchanged glances between the two of them. It was getting to be a habit and a routine that they exchange looks recently.
“Uh…” Ehlo managed. “Probably work commitments.”
“On Sunday?” Bianca asked, her face displaying obvious disbelief.
“Come on now, Miss Bai. It doesn’t mean he literally goes to the company and sits in front of the screen and type away. It just means he might be with his co-workers typing up some reports at some cybercafé to get in a recent proposal.”
James glimpsed at his watch then, flashing on a charming smile to disarm the hostility. “We can wait.”
Sonia nodded in agreement.
“I’ll call him,” Johnny volunteered.
“No need,” Wallace said. “He forgot his phone at home this morning.”
“Maybe he’s not coming,” Chen Yi jumped in.
Qiao Qiao sent Chen Yi an evil glare again. It was like he had become clueless on purpose lately. “Jacky ge always keeps his promises.”
“Don’t take it out on me. I mean I would understand if he doesn’t come.”
Qiao Qiao cleared her throat loudly at that time, gritting her teeth. “Inconsiderate much?”
Chen Yi backed off then.
Qiao Qiao turned to James and Sonia at that time, sending them a nervous smile. “Sorry about that…”
James returned the smile. “It’s okay. I know it’s hard for everyone to like me at this point.”
“Forget it, man,” Ehlo said, clapping James’ shoulder. “If you start apologizing, I’m the first one beating you up.”
James looked surprised–and quite taken aback by Ehlo’s forward comment.
Ehlo removed his hand from James’ shoulder. “What I mean is if you’re apologizing, it’s like not respecting our Sonia.”
James smiled then, nodding his head in acknowledgment. However, Sonia had on her surprised expression. Ehlo turned to her and winked at that time, indicating that he supported her.
It was then that Sonia dared to smile. “Thanks, Ehlo.”
Ehlo waved his hand, indicating it was nothing.
“Jacky ge’s here!” Achel exclaimed at that time, announcing Jacky’s presence.
The others turned to see Jacky parking his car at a spot across the street. Qiao Qiao rushed forward and met Jacky halfway. They walked back to the others together.
“Sorry, I’m late,” Jacky rattled out. “Traffic.”
“If you start out early like the rest of us, you wouldn’t be late,” Ehlo chided Jacky.
Qiao Qiao turned to give Ehlo a sharp glare yet Ehlo wasn’t mad. Instead, he winked at her. She was confused, but stayed quiet and waited for further developments.
“I’m sure he has a reason, Huang,” Wallace defended Jacky.
Jacky reached into his inside jacket pocket and took out a box at that time. He turned to James and handed the box to James. “I heard from the others that you’ve been looking for this a long time now. I had to go a little further away to pick it up today. That’s why it took a while to get back.”
James took the box from Jacky and shook Jacky’s hand. He was still studying Jacky, not saying anything yet.
“Not bad for a first meeting present, right?” Jacky joked, offering James a friendly smile.
“Thanks,” James finally said, smiling also. He opened the box right away and saw a pair of watches.
Angela gasped around then. “Those are rare, like rare.”
James’ smile faded then. He looked up from the watches and toward Jacky again. “I can’t take it. It’s too valuable. Not to mention, we just met.”
“Too late,” Jacky said, not taking the box back from James’ extended hand. “I already had it engraved.”
James seemed like he didn’t believe Jacky. He reached into the box and took one watch out at a time. Each one contained a name, James and Sonia. Jacky had planned well.
“The engravings can be removed,” James said, putting the watches back into the box–and attempting to return it to Jacky again.
Jacky shook his head. “Keep it as a wedding present. Because…I’m not so sure I could make it to the wedding.”
Everyone present knew it was true. And they had to clap Jacky on for saying it–yet it didn’t sound hostile at all. It was a fact.
“Thanks,” James uttered after a few seconds. Like he had already recognized Jacky’s determination to give them the gift. But James wasn’t done because it took almost a minute for him to speak up again. “Thanks for returning her to me.”
Jacky’s expression tensed then. “Don’t ever let me hear you say that again.”
The others tensed up also, wondering if something was about to take place within the upcoming minutes. Like a peaceful goodbye turning into some hostile departure. Yet they tried to hold back, waiting for Jacky to continue.
“Because,” Jacky answered the unasked question reflecting on everyone’s faces. “She’s a priceless, irreplaceable human being. And not something that we toss around easily or push back and forth, like some object. She chose you.”
James nodded in agreement. “I’m sorry I said that.”
Jacky clapped James’ shoulder then, a smile finally lighting on his face. “Take good care of her.”
James nodded. “I will.”
Jacky stepped back to stand between Qiao Qiao and Ehlo, indicating that he was done. The others continued where they left off before Jacky came, finishing their well-wishing to James and Sonia. About ten more minutes, James and Sonia left them. Their bags were already in James’ car, so they didn’t have to haul anything.
“Take care,” Jacky said one last time, not being able to peel his stare from Sonia’s face.
“I will,” Sonia said, a serene smile on her face.
And that was it. Sonia turned to follow James to the car. They witnessed James opening the passenger’s door for Sonia, and the smile she sent him as she got in. The way she was at that point, most of them had never seen before. Because regardless of how gentle she might appear at times, she always appeared to be a career woman in front of them, always standing tall. Now? She seemed to be so relaxed, so at peace that it seemed surreal. She turned and waved at them one last time as James was making his way to the driver’s side.
Qiao Qiao turned to Jacky then, seeing the longing look in his eyes. She felt a lump forming in her own throat as she watched James’ car pulled out and Jacky’s haunting look as he was staring at the car getting smaller and smaller, disappearing around the bend of the road.
© Friday, October 28th, 2011
Posted: Wednesday, November 9th, 2011