“I knew it!” Qiao Qiao exclaimed, breaking the silence–and awkwardness–first.
“Says the person who just quit this morning,” Tang Feng narrated, reminding her of their brawl previously.
“I knew something was up,” Qiao Qiao continued on, not letting Tang Feng win. “I meant after this morning.”
“And you still want to quit?”
“That’s different. I have to get away before I could think clearly.”
“Asking for a day off wouldn’t do?”
“I had three unexplained days off, hello.”
“One more wouldn’t kill. After all, aren’t we running a family business?”
Qiao Qiao couldn’t help but smile. And Tang Feng did the same.
“How could you two act like nothing just happened when you wanted to tear each other apart this morning?” Chen Yi jumped in.
Tang Feng shook his head. “She wanted to tear me apart, I didn’t want to do that to her.”
“So you two are really siblings?” He meant Tang Feng and Cyndi–of course.
Tang Feng nodded. “Since you guys heard, there’s no point denying.”
Chen Yi wrinkled his face. “But you two don’t have the same last name.”
“She changed her last name.”
All three pair of eyes turned to stare at Cyndi. Like they were demanding an explanation from her.
“Don’t attack my sister,” Tang Feng came to the rescue.
The three pair of eyes directed their attention to Tang Feng, waiting for his excuse. Or clarification. Whichever came first.
“I’m the prankster, remember?”
“She changed her last name so she could survive school?” Chen Yi asked, his expression incredulous.
Tang Feng nodded. “You know how the school system is. They could get all prejudiced just by looking at the older sibling. Or those students could bully her just because they couldn’t do anything to me.”
Chen Yi held his hand up then. “Wait…”
The others directed their attention to him.
“That means she’s our senior too?”
Tang Feng shook his head. “The reason why I’m your senior is because we went to the same schools up to the university days. I had to change school a lot when I was little. When we finally got to the university level, Cyndi and Tony studied arts and architecture respectively, so they went to the same school. I went into Business.”
Chen Yi let out a sigh of relief, glad that things were only so complicated.
Tang Feng turned to Qiao Qiao at that time. “So you’re not quitting anymore, right?”
Qiao Qiao shook her head. “Still quitting.”
“Getting back at me?”
“No, it would be too much of a joke if I stick around.”
Tang Feng flashed on his teasing smile again. “Who are you saving your face for?”
Qiao Qiao had on her serious, determined look again. “Me.”
After that, she turned to leave.
That night, Qiao Qiao came to Jacky’s house to crash like many times before. Chen Yi was around, playing Wii with Ehlo again. Wallace was in his room, doing some research for a new proposal he wanted to discuss with Tang Feng later. That also meant Cyndi wasn’t around.
“So we worried for nothing,” Ehlo stated, his voice on monotone. Or he could be covering for his own foolishness.
“I told you not to react so strongly,” Jacky jumped in, setting a fruit bowl in front of Qiao Qiao.
“Huh,” Ehlo mumbled, pretending to be concentrating on the game.
Jacky smiled, shaking his head. He turned to Qiao Qiao instead. “So…how does it feel now, sis? Much better?”
Qiao Qiao nodded. “Of course. We don’t have to worry for Wallace anymore.”
“More like you don’t have to worry for yourself anymore,” Ehlo corrected her.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Stop playing the innocent card, kid. You were pretty devastated the last time we were at your house. Like you invented another category for miserable.”
“I was worried for Wallace, okay?”
“Who are you kidding? You were devastated because you thought you fell for some dude who would only be interested in some other dude’s girlfriend.”
Qiao Qiao scoffed. “Whatever.”
“Seriously though,” Jacky interfered. “What are you going to do now? Since you already quit, you know.”
Qiao Qiao shrugged. “Time for a vacation?”
Jacky had on his amused smile then, shaking his head. He sat back, leaning his head on the headrest of the sofa before speaking up. “To think that you were so fed up and so into saving the shop months before.”
Qiao Qiao leaned back on the sofa also, getting into the same position as Jacky yet kept a safe distance from him–like they’d been maintaining since he sat down. “So I learned to take it easy, okay?”
“Sure,” Ehlo jumped in, sabotaging her again.
Qiao Qiao sighed out at last, knowing she could never lie to them–even if she tried. “I don’t know. I guess I no longer feel like fighting. After seeing Alyssa like that, I don’t know…”
“What happened?” Chen Yi asked, pausing long enough to sneak a glimpse at Qiao Qiao’s expression.
“Like she’s well and all. Didn’t we want the shop because of her? But now we’re just using it to win the battle with Tang Feng.”
“I just don’t get you,” Ehlo took over with the talking again–at least for the guys. “You fight so hard for something and now all of a sudden, you’re giving up.” He knew he sounded repetitive but he didn’t care. He didn’t care if he was the only clueless one either. “Or should I say I just don’t get you girls?”
“Including Angela jie?” Chen Yi poked.
Ehlo gave Chen Yi a look. “You’re targeting me because?”
“Can’t a guy ask a harmless question around here?”
“Doesn’t sound too harmless.”
“You guys are at it again,” Qiao Qiao chided.
“Since we have nothing to worry about now, why not?”
“What happened to your dates?”
“What does it look like we’re doing now?”
“That means the same thing as being dumped for the night,” Wallace decoded as he walked by the living room–and into the kitchen.
“Thanks for helping, Huo. Like you didn’t get dumped too.”
Wallace returned to the living room, stirring his coffee at the same time. “There’s a difference. I need to get some plans going and she went home with her brother.”
“Good luck getting past your future brother-in-law then. It seems like he still controls her life so better brace yourself for it.”
“From what Chen Yi told me, he had some final word in the matter with that argument so…”
Wallace took a sip out of his coffee before continuing. “It must be some other misunderstanding. You wouldn’t want to assume again, would you?” He had been updated of their bizarre assumptions behind his back and what became of it in the end already.
“Hey, we were just worried for you, okay?”
“Thanks a lot then. But next time, remember to include me.”
“We did last time, remember? I told you to think things over.”
“Without eliminating details.”
“Whatever, you’re such a stickler for details.”
“It’s actually my fault,” Qiao Qiao interrupted them, defending Ehlo. “I didn’t want them to tell you until I get the details straightened out.”
Wallace turned to Qiao Qiao then. “Better give him some space.”
Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face but Wallace pointed to her right–his left. She turned to see Jacky fast asleep. No wonder he hadn’t been talking anymore. He seemed quite fatigued. She wondered if he was worried mad for her these past days. And his new job was getting to him. He never complained but she knew it was cramming his creativity big time. In fact, most of them knew it already.
She got up from her seat and adjusted the cushion she used as a pillow minutes ago. She gently adjusted his head so it would fall toward the pillow, allowing his body to straighten out so it wouldn’t cramp his muscles later. After fixing his leg so it was straightened out on the other edge of the sofa, she turned and made her way to his room. She found an extra blanket in his closet and brought it out to the living room. Unfolding it carefully, she draped it over him. Then she reached for one of the folding chairs near a corner of the room, setting it next to the coffee table and settling down on it. She didn’t even realize the other guys were watching her the whole time until later. And she had forgotten to pay attention to the placid state of the room. Ehlo and Chen Yi had stopped playing Wii–and Wallace had stopped his stirring routine.
“What?” She asked, staring at all three guys.
“Nothing,” All three guys replied at the same time, so in-sync with one another–like it was rehearsed beforehand.
She crossed her arms, unconvinced. “Whatever.”
“We just didn’t realize you were that considerate,” Ehlo elaborated.
“Or girly,” Wallace added.
“Enough,” Qiao Qiao cut Chen Yi off before he could finish. Though she had kept her voice leveled so it wouldn’t wake Jacky up. “He’s burnt out. We shouldn’t wake him up, right?”
“You are his sister all right,” Ehlo admitted, his voice sincere–yet also contained some underlying traces of teasing.
Qiao Qiao smiled, proud of herself.
Life resumed normally around them again for the rest of the week. At least for the most part. Qiao Qiao was jobless yet she wasn’t depressed. She was building her optimism once again. And also shrugging off her paranoia. The others continued on with business, not wanting to get themselves worked up over nothing. If Qiao Qiao didn’t mind, they didn’t want to trouble themselves either. As for the newly established relationship between Wallace and Tang Feng, both managed to keep everything professional at work–as much as possible. Off-work? They tried to keep everything normal, still trying to adapt. Tang Feng wasn’t as threatening as Ehlo had warned Wallace. As for the others? Ming Dao and Sam carried out their plan of returning to Kenting at the end of that week. It was a week later than they had anticipated because of other factors. They wouldn’t be back for two weeks or so later. Johnny? He was also making a trip out of town, but it was for work. Their team had to travel to Venice for the upcoming project. Bianca used the opportunity to go with Johnny–an excuse to get away and she always wanted to go there for a vacation. Ehlo and Chen Yi were still being neglected by the Chang sisters at times but they used it as an opportunity to get together for some Wii–or other guy activities.
The following Friday around lunchtime, Wallace just stepped out of Tang Feng’s office after a meeting when he spotted Chen Yi talking to someone in front of the shop. That person looked familiar but Wallace was only able to see that person’s back profile. It wasn’t until that person turned and followed Chen Yi toward one of the aisles that Wallace recognized that person. A smile formed on his face after the initial shock.
“Look who came for a visit and didn’t tell the rest of us,” Wallace teased when he approached them.
The other guy turned toward Wallace and smiled also. “So this place turned into some gift shop?”
“It’s a long story,” Wallace said, glimpsing his watch.
“That we have to tell you at lunch, Nic ge,” Chen Yi added.
Nic turned to Chen Yi, smiling all of a sudden. The amused smile, not the sincere one. “It’s interesting how things turned out.”
“Tell me about it,” Wallace muttered, not believing it either. “We haven’t seen each other for a while now. And when you come back, you realize you have two future bro-in-laws.” He glimpsed his watch again. “Better pick this up at lunch.”
“You want to go first or me?” Chen Yi asked, looking at his own watch.
“Feng ge said he would close for lunch today.” The fact that he had to switch to calling Tang Feng by some respectable name was already driving him insane. The most ironic thing was he was older than Tang Feng by months. Yet he guessed it was the price of being with the guy’s younger sister.
“He’s confusing the world out of the customers.”
“I think half of us already gave up on the idea of saving the shop, right?”
Chen Yi shrugged.
Wallace turned to Nic then. “Wait here. I need to put this away. Then we’ll go to lunch.”
Nic nodded and waited for both guys.
That night at home, Wallace dropped the bomb on Ehlo. Wallace seemed in high spirits that evening, tossing his briefcase at the sofa and unloosing his tie as he stepped into the kitchen where Ehlo was making dinner.
“Guess what?” Wallace asked rhetorically.
“You won the lottery?” Ehlo returned, his sarcasm and obliviousness rolled into one.
“I know why your girlfriend has been abandoning you these past weeks.”
“Enlighten me then.” He didn’t care to stop his pace with putting ingredients into the soup pot.
“Your future bro-in-law came for a visit.”
That got Ehlo. He stopped–literally–and turned to face Wallace. He studied Wallace’s face carefully, not wanting Wallace to deceive him. “You’re kidding, right?”
“She still didn’t tell you about it?”
“I didn’t ask. And you’re putting me on, right?”
“If you don’t believe me, ask Chen Yi.”
With that, Wallace left the kitchen and headed for his room–after retrieving his briefcase from the sofa. Ehlo was still confused yet he had to return his attention to dinner.
“Guess what?” Jacky repeated that same rhetorical question Wallace asked half an hour back when he returned.
“What?” Ehlo asked, not caring for sarcasm anymore. He was getting the last of the food together for dinner.
“Something interesting happened today,” Jacky replied, loosening his tie as he watched Ehlo. He knew Ehlo was nervous about something yet couldn’t pinpoint it yet. “Actually, two things.”
Ehlo turned the stove off before retrieving some dishes from the dish rack. “Mind speeding things up a bit?”
“I ran into the producer from CVN at lunch today.”
That got Ehlo’s attention. “You accepted his offer?”
Jacky shook his head. “I might not like Producer Lin’s crazy ideas at one point or another, but I won’t go that path.”
“What’s the other interesting thing then?”
“Producer Lin approached me after work and said he thought it through. Actually, I was at the station to pick Sonia up.”
Ehlo had on that impatience look again.
Jacky got the hint. “Anyway, he said that he doesn’t want some rule to get in the way of our relationship, so he decided to lift the rule for me and wanted me to come back.”
Ehlo broke out laughing then. But he stopped soon enough. Or maybe it was because Wallace stepped in and gave him strange looks. Like he cared if Wallace thought he was crazy. But he needed to get some words in first.
“Producer Lin must have gotten drift of how CVN was approaching you so he had to make a move fast,” Ehlo said in his as a matter of fact tone.
“What did you tell him then?” Wallace asked, sitting on one of the stools.
Jacky loosened his shirt collar then. “I got straight to the point, telling him if it was about what CVN did, then he didn’t have to worry about it since I already turned CVN down.”
“And?” Ehlo urged, knowing there was more.
“He said it wasn’t just about CVN but more about wanting me to come back.”
“That guy sounds sincere.” Ehlo’s sarcasm was running high again.
Jacky laughed, knowing exactly what Ehlo meant. “I told him I would think about it carefully.”
“He gave you a deadline?” Wallace asked, turning to Jacky again. He had been helping Ehlo with setting the food on the counter for their little dinner.
Jacky shook his head. “But I told him I’ll get back to him in a week.”
“Good luck,” Ehlo muttered.
“Why are you bitter, Huang?” Wallace asked, turning to Ehlo.
“It’s not about being bitter.” He placed the bowl of rice on the counter before continuing. “It’s just too ironic, that’s all. I meant this is like a sacrifice not worth it at all. I mean we’re going around in circles.”
It was Wallace’s turn to laugh. “You’ll get over it, Huang.”
“Anyway,” Jacky spoke up again. “I gotta go take a shower, you guys eat first.”
Ehlo and Wallace exchanged a look while Jacky walked toward the living room. He stopped before he reached the hall leading toward their bedrooms.
“Did Sonia come the other day?” Jacky asked, wrinkling his face.
“Which day?” Ehlo asked, confused.
“The day we found out Tang Feng’s Cyndi’s brother.”
Wallace gave Ehlo a look but turned to Jacky anyway. “After you fell asleep?”
Jacky returned to the kitchen, nodding. “Yeah. She draped the blanket on me, right?”
Both Ehlo and Wallace shook their heads in unison.
“It was your sister,” Ehlo responded.
“Sonia called you afterward but you were out cold so Qiao answered and said that you were asleep,” Wallace added. “Sonia didn’t tell you?”
“She’s too busy lately, must have forgotten about it,” Jacky admitted.
“You see each other every day and she failed to mention it?” Ehlo asked, incredulous.
“She has been busy with the schedule at the station lately, so…we just see each other when I picked her up. I have my own project too. Two more weeks and we’ll be free.”
Both Ehlo and Wallace were nodding. It was like they sensed trouble in paradise but didn’t want to say it out loud.
“Anyway,” Jacky said. “I’m going to go shower.”
Ehlo and Wallace exchanged another look after Jacky turned his back to them. They didn’t speak up until they were sure Jacky was in the bathroom.
“A guy repeating things twice isn’t good,” Ehlo commented.
Wallace had on his bewildered look too. “Tell me about it.”
“Do you think this new job’s getting to him?”
Wallace nodded. “Definitely. But he chose it, right? Then there’s Producer Lin’s offer. So …”
Ehlo’s right hand shot up then to stop Wallace. “Wait…”
“Two weeks he said he’ll be free…”
Wallace wrinkled his face but nodded anyway.
“That means…he’s given this new place a two weeks’ notice?”
“He would tell us first?”
“Maybe he wants everything to go through first?”
They did not want to linger or ponder any further. They ate slowly, waiting for Jacky. Not talking much did not mean that they weren’t worried.
“What were you talking about earlier with my future bro-in-law?” Ehlo asked all of a sudden, wanting to distract himself from his thoughts.
“Nic came to visit Angela and Xiao Yu,” Wallace answered, glad for something to do–aside from thinking about Jacky’s state lately. “He came to the shop today and talked to Chen Yi first before I came out and saw him. We went to lunch and did some catch-up.” He paused to eat before continuing. “Angela seriously didn’t tell you?”
Ehlo shook his head. “If she told me, would I be this clueless?”
Wallace had to agree, nodding. He kept eating, letting Ehlo mull things over.
“Older brother or younger?”
Wallace smiled, knowing what Ehlo was fearing. “Welcome to the club, Huang. Older brother but younger than you by months.”
Ehlo shrugged. “Not too bad though. But I won’t add anything like ‘ge’ into the title. It’s too weird.”
“Only Chen Yi have to call him ‘ge’.”
They stayed silent for a while until they couldn’t stand it anymore. It had been a long time since Jacky mentioned the shower and left for it.
“I better check on him,” Ehlo said, getting up from his seat behind the counter.
Wallace nodded. He stopped eating and waited for Ehlo. It wasn’t like he needed to, but he was getting unnerved. They had been too occupied with Qiao Qiao’s paranoia and their own workload piling up these past weeks to directly pay more to Jacky’s situation. Yet they weren’t oblivious to it. Wallace just hoped that Jacky would actually agree on coming back to the station. Perhaps that might get Jacky back on track again.
“Unbelievable,” Ehlo said, pulling Wallace out of his thoughts.
Wallace turned to see Ehlo back in the kitchen. No Jacky. “What happened?”
“He fell asleep again.”
Wallace’s shocked expression came on. He got up from his place. “In the shower?”
Ehlo shook his head. “Relax. Not that extreme. He got done with the shower all right but he fell asleep waiting for his computer to boot up.”
Wallace sat down again, but his expression still worried. “You made sure he wouldn’t fall over?”
“Yeah, hauled him back to his bed, and turned the computer and lights off already.”
They continued eating again, but remained silent, lost in their own thoughts again.
“And I thought we could relax for a while after that bizarre adventure,” Wallace commented a few minutes later.
“Tell me about it,” Ehlo said, repeating Wallace’s phrase from earlier.
And they were back where they started.
The next morning when Ehlo and Wallace got up, Jacky was already up and ready to go. Though it was supposed to be the weekends.
“You’re early all right,” Ehlo commented casually, making his way to the kitchen.
Wallace sat down next to Jacky on the sofa, ruffling his own hair, still feeling out of it. “So you decided to return to the station?”
Jacky turned on the TV and switched to the local news channel. “What made you say that?”
“It’s overtime again,” Ehlo said, walking into the room with a cup of coffee.
“We don’t need to work the weekends, why drink coffee?” Wallace said upon seeing Ehlo wolfing down the coffee.
Ehlo shrugged, sitting down at the new rocking chair next to the sofa. “Used to it.”
“Wait…don’t change the channel yet.”
Ehlo turned to Wallace, looking puzzled. He had picked up the remote after Jacky placed it back on the table. Jacky had walked away to get something so Ehlo thought of switching–at least until Jacky came back.
“Go back,” Wallace urged. “I see a familiar face.”
Ehlo shrugged and turned the channel again. “The day when you find some criminal’s face familiar to…” Ehlo didn’t need to say the word ‘you’ because he realized why Wallace had acted so urgent.
“Crank the volume up,” Wallace commanded, gesturing toward the screen.
Wallace actually didn’t need to say it because Ehlo was already cranking the volume up. It was also then that Jacky returned to the living room. And the other two did not have to recap because Jacky also saw the news segment and the person being arrested at the scene. They stayed quiet to listen in–with Jacky still standing there, his attention no longer on the pamphlet in his hands.
“He was arrested yesterday at the local temple for fraud,” The news anchor continued as the clip of the arrest was played in the background. “It is believed that he has been carrying on this business for over ten years already, but only stayed at this temple the last five years. Because of his claimed ability, he persuaded the head of the temple to let him stay. However, they did not realize he had been involved in various illegal acts. Further details will be provided during our nightly news segment.”
It was then that Jacky, Ehlo, and Wallace exchanged a look among themselves. Though not saying anything yet they all understood the emotions reflected on one another’s faces.
“This has got to be one big misunderstanding, right?” Ehlo finally said when he lowered the volume of the TV again.
“It looked too serious to be a joke,” Wallace reasoned.
“What’s that temple we went to called again?”
“We didn’t catch the beginning of the news segment but it’s the same temple. It was on the sign, Gentle Lotus Temple.”
“I could have a look into this,” Jacky volunteered, finally unfreezing himself from his spot. “After all, I did help in the past with some tips.”
Wallace nodded in agreement, wanting to find out the truth as well.
“Does this mean you and Sonia aren’t really soulmates?” Ehlo asked, looking at Jacky. His expression wasn’t mocking, it was dead serious.
© Tuesday, October 25th, 2011
Posted: Friday, October 28th, 2011