Yvonne got discharged the next day. Her injury wasn’t serious yet the doctors wanted to keep her until the test results came out. She only needed to return in several weeks for follow-ups and removing her cast. Wallace was still tagging her despite how she was saying she didn’t need his help. It was also one of those times when he was glad he’d opted for the route of a self-managing job. He was able to keep his own schedules. And he’d already finished the previous batch of files, right before he’d discovered Cyndi’s secret. As of now, he was free until someone called.
As for Yvonne, her new house wasn’t new. It was very well kept and sparkling clean like the houses often seen in movies. Yet it wasn’t new. It was actually her real habitat. The other apartment was actually rented for the purpose of the previous assignment. Some of her friends came to visit her and stayed for a while before taking leave–because of work or other related matters. As the day drew to its end, Yvonne finally turned to Wallace. She had been ignoring him all day. Not because she was mad at him over the other matter still, but more because she wanted to prove that she could take care of herself, not needing to depend on him for every single small task. Even when she could only use one hand for all matters.
“So, how long are you going to keep this up?” She asked him as she looked up at him.
She was sitting on her sofa and he was sitting on the opposite side–on the sofa’s arm to be exact.
“What?” Wallace asked back, crossing his hands. He wasn’t faking innocent. He was so clueless this time. In fact, he felt like almost everything Yvonne said was a clue to a new puzzle he had to figure out.
“Treating me like a replacement or distraction before you could move on,” Yvonne replied.
He wrinkled his face, even more confused than ever. “What are you talking about?”
She wasn’t amused, still thinking that he was trying to cover his tracks–after she had already exposed him or whatever motive he was still conjuring up in his mind. “Come on now. We all saw what happened to Jacky these past days with using Sophia to forget Sonia. I don’t mind that you’re helping me and possibly using your time here to distract yourself from thinking about Cyndi. But what I do mind is you telling everyone you’re my boyfriend and offending half of the population just because of that.” She brought out her free hand to stop him when his lips moved slightly. “I’m not talking about you embarrassing me in front of my friends. I couldn’t care less what anyone thinks. But don’t you think it’s a bit too much of a gamble?”
Wallace finally understood what Yvonne was getting at the whole while. He separated his hands and got up from his spot. Instead, he opted for the place next to her on the sofa.
“I will admit that I’m really mad about what happened between Cyndi and me,” He began, his voice serious and he hoped his expression was serious enough. “Scratch that, I just want to kill someone for it, if it wasn’t illegal. But it’s not because of her. It’s because I feel really stupid for even falling for those things. You can say it that my ego is really bruised right now. It doesn’t mean I’m going to use you like you thought of my actions.”
Yvonne was slightly touched that he was sharing his true feelings with her. But she wasn’t quite convinced of his words. Not yet. Her current silent state was just allowing him to say it at one go–without any interruptions.
“Because of what happened these past few weeks, it has allowed me to get to know you better. But it also made me feel even more confused about you, you know that, Miss Yao?”
Yvonne shrugged then. “Can’t help it. It was partly because of my undercover thing.”
She was about to get up because she knew he wasn’t ready to be honest with her yet. She wasn’t that naïve to think that he would like her just after a few weeks of interactions. Not to mention, he was supposedly waiting for Cyndi to come back and now the hard blow of realizing he had been used all these times. He still needed time to recover. She didn’t blame him. She just wished he wouldn’t cover it up with her after what she had told him. Yet he grabbed her hand to steer her back his way.
“The more confused I am, the more I want to get to know the real you,” Wallace continued, not wanting to lose this chance. “It doesn’t matter if you believe me or not, I will prove that I really mean it.”
Yvonne sat down in her spot again, still letting him hold her hand. “You still have so much baggage inside you. I want to help you with it, but I don’t want to hurt myself either, knowing that…”
She let it hung. Because his cunning smile was making its appearance again.
“So you admit that you like me,” Wallace said, his confident smile making its long-awaited appearance again. “If not, why would you say you don’t want to hurt yourself?”
“What I’m saying is…” She pulled her hand back. “I don’t want to waste my time.”
Wallace grabbed a hold of her hand again. “You won’t.”
“Wallace, I’m honestly really tired right now. I don’t want to play this game anymore.”
“Look, you don’t have to accept me now. Let’s start anew. Just allow both of us some time to get to know one another. Then you can decide.”
He finally let go of her hand and got up from his spot. This time, he was leaving. Yvonne watched his disappearing back, her mind still a mess.
On the way back to the house, Wallace stopped at East Shore Café to pick up some items for the guys. He didn’t mind. After all, he was free until someone called. What he minded was how Josh had appeared out of nowhere and blocked his path. Josh didn’t look too happy but he didn’t care. He slapped Josh’s hand aside and stepped past Josh anyway. Yet Josh was persistent.
“What do you want?” Wallace asked coldly when Josh blocked his path again.
“Thanks to you and your friends, Cyndi broke up with me,” Josh said, his voice full of hostility.
“Congratulations then, you’re #14,” Wallace said sarcastically and slapped Josh’s hand aside again, not threatened by the other party’s intense look. “Wait for the book.”
“You’re still able to joke?” Josh asked, astonished by Wallace’s passivity. “Because of what you said, she felt so guilty and said she didn’t want to hurt me anymore.”
Wallace scoffed. “Cheap talk so you would still worship her like I once did. You know, the talk with not wanting you to wait and she doesn’t deserve you.”
“You’re just bitter because she didn’t share the glory with you,” Josh attacked as Wallace walked away.
Wallace knew he should let that one go. But he couldn’t. Not quite yet. He turned around and faced Josh. “Excuse me?”
“I thought it through already.”
Wallace smirked, an amused one. “Nice of you to start thinking.”
“So what if she used your stories to write her books? You’re just mad that she didn’t include you in on the fame like that one Xiao Qiao did. That’s why you want to corner her and bully her when her brother just died.”
Wallace scoffed again. “So nice of you to give us so much credit. But I don’t think we care about fame.”
“Then why confront her?”
Another mocking smile. “You’re seriously that stupid? It’s a matter of privacy and trust. We trusted her, that’s why we shared with her. What did she do? Go and make money out of it. It’s people like her that make other people not trust one another.”
Josh wasn’t offended by Wallace’s words. Yet he looked like he was more amused by it. “You people act like you’re a righteous bunch. But you’re just a bunch of fakes. Every single author uses a part of their life to write stuff anyway. I don’t see you making a fuss about it in the past. Just admit your ego got bruised because she dumped you. And you’re just looking for the next excuse to blame her and attack her. So why don’t you just man up and say what you really mean?”
Instead of getting riled up, Wallace still had on his amused expression. “Your funeral.”
“Is that a threat?”
Wallace didn’t answer. Not really. “Come on.”
He continued toward the parking lot with the bag of food still in hand. He made sure to secure the foods inside the pot he usually stashed in the trunk. Then he told Josh to follow him. Josh was confused but followed anyway. Though he was out to prove something, he didn’t forget his head. He had made Josh follow in Josh’s own car instead of inviting Josh into his car. It would be too much after they were done taking care of business. He wasn’t in the best of moods right now so he didn’t want to be stuck with Josh on the drive home as well.
They arrived at the local police station a little over half an hour later. They would’ve been there earlier but they were caught in traffic. Then Wallace had to call Ehlo to meet him halfway so he could transfer the foods to Ehlo, not wanting the foods to go cold. It worked out well because Ehlo was on his way home from work.
“Don’t tell me you want to file a complaint now,” Josh said after they already parked and got out of their cars.
They were actually standing by the sidewalk at this point. Wallace didn’t reply but just made his way toward the entrance.
“Hey!” Josh yelled after Wallace. “What are you going to do? Aren’t you taking this way too serious?”
“Detective Chen in?” Wallace asked the police officer standing by the door.
“He just got back,” The officer answered. “Is he expecting you?”
“It’s important,” Wallace said.
The officer looked reluctant but another officer who had recognized Wallace stepped over and allowed him through. And because they had cleared Wallace, Josh got to tag along as well.
“I actually have a meeting with him next weekend,” Wallace said as they walked down the long hallway. “Because I need to verify some information. And because I needed time to cool down. But now that you’re forcing me, then let’s get it out of the way.”
They were by Detective Chen’s office at that time. Yet Wallace didn’t enter. He turned to Josh.
“You can still back out.”
Josh didn’t know what Wallace was up to. But he saw no harm. He felt if anyone was in the wrong, it was Wallace. He knew he could always lodge a complaint toward the other party. After all, Wallace couldn’t pull the wool over every officer’s eyes.
“All right then.” Wallace stepped into the room then. “Hi.”
Detective Chen just hung up with someone so he got up from his seat upon seeing Wallace. He looked surprised. “I thought you said you’re in no rush.”
“I thought so too,” Wallace said. “But someone wants to rush me.”
It was hard to blame Detective Chen. Even if he was the brightest investigator around, he couldn’t just decipher Wallace’s words with so little information available.
“He’s Cyndi’s boyfriend,” Wallace explained, pointing at Josh. “Well, ex now. But I think it’s better that you show him that information than me because he won’t believe me anyway.”
“I thought you said it’s for you,” Detective returned, still confused.
“I thought so too, but he approached me today and accused me of causing his breakup.”
Detective Chen turned to Josh then. He observed Josh a bit more before shaking his head slightly. “I don’t know what you kids are pulling this time. But because you’ve helped me in the past, I’ll make an exception this time. There won’t be a ‘next time’, okay?”
Wallace nodded. “Thank you.”
Detective Chen directed his attention to Josh again. “Mr. Huo called me last night, asking for a favor. That favor involved his ex-girlfriend, Miss Tang. Because of Mr. Tang’s sudden death and many unanswered questions, I made an exception to pull Miss Tang’s files so he could verify some past details. Our meeting is set for the next weekend. But I guess I have to move the meeting up now.”
Josh nodded, maintaining a polite manner, not speaking in such a rude way like Wallace. Or that was what he thought of Wallace’s fragmented words toward Detective Chen.
“What Mr. Huo asked me to look up was the number of complaints filed against Miss Tang in the event that her past boyfriends found out about the privacy exposures.”
Josh nodded again, not wanting to offend Detective Chen by showing hostility. Yet his anger was surging inside again because of Wallace’s petty jab at Cyndi.
“All right, close that door,” Detective Chen said, eyeing Wallace at this point.
Wallace did as told and returned to the desk, pulling two chairs along with him. One was set for Josh. He placed them on either side of Detective Chen–both to keep distance and for a better view. Detective Chen made them turn away when he first typed in some security information before allowing them to sit down.
“Here,” Detective Chen said, turning the screen so that they could all see.
“Only seven of them filed complaints?” Wallace asked, surprised.
“Not all of them are readers,” Detective Chen pointed out. “It makes sense that they’re unaware of being used.”
Wallace nodded. “True. But what happened afterward?”
“Mr. Tang happened.”
Detective Chen didn’t nod or shake his head. “Half and half. Some of them had financial troubles, the others got job recommendations.”
Wallace connected the dots around then. “That means the shop…”
Detective Chen shook his head this time. “Though I don’t know all the details of that, I think Mr. Tang treats you like more of a friend than just one of his sister’s victims.”
Wallace nodded at this point. “I know.”
“So what if she did those things?” Josh asked, sounding frustrated and planned to make his voice known. He suddenly realized that Detective Chen seemed to side with Wallace as well. “In the end, if those guys took those offers from her brother anyway, how could they condemn her when they’re the same?”
Wallace scoffed then, his amused smile back on. He had been displaying this haunting look upon mentioning Tang Feng to Detective Chen. But now? He just wanted to reflect on his exact feelings for the other party. “Perhaps you like her that way and no one could change that. If you’re so persistent, then go after her and convince her that you don’t mind. Whatever. Just don’t go around blaming me when I wasn’t the one who manipulated her past. Not on purpose. If I’d known, I wouldn’t dare to stumble upon her experimentation process.” Wallace got up then. “Sorry, Detective Chen, but I’m leaving first.”
Detective Chen nodded. “Take good care of Yvonne.”
“If she would let me.”
Detective Chen let out a chuckle then and shook his head, not forgetting to display his amusement either. “That I can believe.”
After that brief yet humorous exchange between them, Wallace left and Detective Chen turned serious again. Josh left several minutes later. Detective Chen seemed more than glad. He had some more paperwork to take care of. If he hadn’t promised Wallace, he wouldn’t even put up with this random encounter.
Three weeks later, Wallace was standing in front of the shop. Yes, it was still “Xin Ru’s Art Gallery”, but the only difference was its actual owner. Wallace had already finalized the last of the paperwork regarding all the legalities. That also meant he had signed a new agreement with Cynthia. They had agreed on following the same terms as to how Tang Feng and Cynthia had negotiated at first. The difference was the updating of some relevant information. Cynthia just left a while ago with Nic. They had a movie date together. As strange as it seemed, the phrase “things get worse before they get better” rang true for their cases. Somehow, there was a new start to look forward to. Perhaps, the others already moved on–and Wallace knew Tang Feng would want them to move on as well, but he still can’t. Not yet. All these years knowing Tang Feng, he had come to enjoy their strange challenges tossed at one another at times. Now? It wasn’t the same. After that little talk with Detective Chen at the station, Wallace was more willing to accept the shop. Though he didn’t mind as much anymore after the initial shock wore off when the will was read, but it still felt strange. Luckily Detective Chen reminded him of their friendship. Tang Feng wasn’t just thinking of Wallace as one of his sister’s victims–just like Detective Chen had said. They were friends.
“Hey, Boss Huo, ready to go?” Qiao Qiao joked, pulling Wallace back to the present.
It had been a long time since he heard her joke so he was a tad taken aback at first. He didn’t want to believe it. But when he turned to see her walking toward him with the late afternoon sun shining on her and that bright smile, he was convinced she was ready. Not the ‘ready’ like she had reluctantly declared to assure them like several weeks back after the talk with Yan Yan. Perhaps she had also realized that Tang Feng would want her to continue on with her life?
“Hey, sunshine,” Wallace returned, flashing out his usual teasing smile. “Where are the others?”
“Right here,” Ehlo replied, stepping out from another corner of the street, from Wallace’s left to be exact. Ehlo was also wearing a smile. He had a bottle of something in his hand. “Don’t worry, it’s not alcohol since we all have to drive back anyway.”
Angela was the one carrying a bag of paper cups. She handed those out between the four of them.
“You call a celebration without us?” Jacky’s voice chided them then.
Wallace felt like he was suddenly in some illusionary dimension where they all were coming together at the same time, no longer feeling broken and lost like weeks before. Soon, even Chen Yi, Achel, and Yan Yan joined them. Did they plan this gathering, knowing it was the day Wallace sealed the deal at last? Yet how could they celebrate when this was all the result of Tang Feng’s accident?
“Here’s to time will heal all wounds,” Ehlo said and raised his cup to Wallace’s.
That was when Wallace got his answer. They weren’t celebrating about Tang Feng’s misfortune. But they were celebrating for their recovery at last.
“Time will heal all wounds indeed,” Wallace chanted and pressed his cup a tad closer.
The others did the same before every one of them emptied the cups. It was apple cider. But suitable for the occasion.
“Our link to the shop will never change, right?” Jacky asked, clapping Wallace on the shoulder then.
Wallace knew Jacky was silently comforting him. And he knew he shouldn’t let them worry any longer. He smiled and nodded, emptying his cup again.
“It was what Tang Feng was trying to tell Cyndi all along,” Ehlo said, sounding almost enlightened.
It was one of his rare, serious, making sense moments that they could never get used to. But this time they all nodded in agreement.
“Perhaps one day she will?” Wallace suggested, his mind thinking back to what Josh said.
“Perhaps,” Ehlo returned, knowing he shouldn’t attack Cyndi any longer. If Wallace was willing to let go, he wasn’t going to beat that dead horse anymore.
Angela looked over to Ehlo at that time and actually had on a proud smile. Was she taking pride in how Ehlo had let go of something she thought he couldn’t after that outburst at East Shore Café weeks back?
“His words to me that day,” Wallace said out of nowhere. “I get it now.”
“What are you talking about, man?” Ehlo asked, wrinkling his face in confusion.
“The one afternoon he apologized to me, you know about Cyndi having a new boyfriend. He wasn’t apologizing because of that. But because he couldn’t break the cycle yet.”
“It’s not up to us to decide that anymore, you know. You can’t control that. None of us can. But you can ensure that his shop will continue operating, whatever you decide to do with it. Even if Miss Wang might not be leasing it anymore.”
Wallace had on his mischievous smile around then. “Oh, I don’t know about that.”
“What are you saying?” Qiao Qiao asked, turning to him.
Wallace’s taunting smile was still on. “Nic hasn’t told you guys?”
Ehlo was as confused as the last time. “What?”
“He and Cynthia started dating already.”
“Get out of here!”
“You serious?” Angela asked, sounding as surprised as Ehlo.
Now even Achel was curious and confused. Wallace was now sure they weren’t faking it. Achel was always the tip of scale to determine if Angela was faking confusion or not.
“After we went over the papers once again and finalized the deal, Nic and Cynthia excused themselves because they have a movie date,” Wallace answered, grinning ear-to-ear.
“Here’s another toast then!” Ehlo exclaimed, pouring more liquid for everyone. But he wasn’t done since he turned to Wallace again after they were done emptying that cup as well. “So what about you and Yvonne?”
Wallace turned serious then, shrugging in the process. “It’s up to her now.”
“It’s almost like waiting for a death sentence, huh?”
Angela hit him then since Ehlo looked a tad too happy to see Wallace suffer, especially in the hands of a girl.
“I just dropped her off at Detective Chen’s earlier,” Wallace continued, ignoring Angela and Ehlo’s sideshow on purpose. “She got her cast off already.”
“And you don’t call that progress?” Ehlo asked, stunned. He suddenly felt like he didn’t know Wallace anymore. Like the guy’s standards and priorities were all mixed up.
Wallace shook his head. “She lets me help her with some stuff and we still meet up from time to time lately. But she still doesn’t say anything regarding that yet.”
The “that” in question was regarding Wallace’s offer to Yvonne earlier, meaning he was still waiting for her decision. He had told Ehlo and Jacky after he got home that day–and didn’t mind that they passed it on to the others. Because he honestly didn’t have anything to hide. Even more so, it wasn’t like he was ashamed of his relationship with Yvonne–whatever that might be in the future.
“So…what now?” Ehlo asked, gesturing toward the general direction.
“We could…” Jacky began but was stopped by his cell phone’s ringtone. He picked it up as the others waited. “Hello?”
They tensed up, pondering if it was Sophia calling back. Jacky’s smile showed promise. But they didn’t dare to interrupt.
“It’s James,” Jacky said after hanging up. “He wanted to surprise us so he didn’t call until now.”
“James…” Qiao Qiao mumbled, eyeing the others, pondering if she should even ask. And because she was confused as to why Jacky was excited.
“James shi xiong’s back for a visit again?” Ehlo asked, his voice as excited as Jacky’s.
Jacky nodded. “They just unpacked. They want to meet us back at the house and catch up on some things.”
“His brother,” Wallace mouthed Qiao Qiao’s way and slid a hand around her shoulders. “Let’s do it, okay?”
As Wallace was saying those words, he made his way back to his car. His hand was still around Qiao Qiao. It was like he knew she needed a crash course. It wasn’t like she hadn’t met James and his family before at Johnny and Bianca’s wedding. But it was way too confusing at that time. It was a good idea for a crash course on their way back to the house.
“Good idea that you’re taking her,” Chen Yi said then. “I need to go pick up Kris before joining you guys there.”
That also meant Achel and Yan Yan would have to go with him.
“All right then,” Jacky said. “I’ll see you guys back at the house.”
They dispersed after that, not needing to say anything more.
© Monday, December 24th, 2012
Posted: Friday, April 5th, 2013