Chapter 9 – The Business

It was Valentine’s Day. Most of them had plans that day. Considering how it was Saturday, it was hard not to remember. And equally hard to find an excuse as to why they had forgotten to plan ahead. Yet someone still managed to forget. It was also the least person they expected to forget.

“It was Tony,” Andy said as he entered Jacky’s place around noon.

“Are you making it up?” Eddie asked in disbelief.

Some of the others were already there. Most of them had plans later in the day. So they were good. Yet when Ehlo heard something about Tony messing up, he couldn’t help but swoop right in.

“Trouble in paradise?” Ehlo asked as he entered the living room. He had been in the kitchen preparing some food for the others.

“Tony forgot to plan for Valentine’s Day,” Andy answered, turning to Ehlo at that time.

“Yan told you?”

Andy shook his head. “No, I talked to Tony earlier. He asked if we wanted to get together since he just finished his latest project. I told him I can’t tonight because you know. He freaked out and said he totally forgot.”

Ehlo had on his disbelief expression. It was like how Eddie had voiced his disbelief earlier.

“You got to be kidding me, right?” Ehlo asked. “Tony? Sun Xie Zhi? The one who declared himself King of Romance two years back forgot about Valentine’s Day?”

“I thought you said Valentine’s Day is a pyramid scheme created to suck people’s money,” Joanne said, walking in at that time.

“Eh…” Ehlo said, pointing at her. “No pinning stuff on me.”

Joanne had on her mischievous smile. “Scared Angela will hear?”

Ehlo scoffed. “Seriously? She doesn’t care about Valentine’s Day.”

“Then why did you book at this fancy restaurant months in advance?” Andy jumped in.

“Sh…” Ehlo shushed Andy and looked around, making sure Angela wasn’t around.

“It seemed like nothing changed since I’ve been here last,” Kris commented as he watched the scene played out. Yes, Kris was back in town and was just taking time off after his latest photoshoot project. He’d gotten along really well with the others—despite what happened the last time around. It seemed like he’d recovered after what happened already, which was good since Andy had missed his buddy and also felt bad for encouraging Kris on, even if he didn’t know at that time.

“They’re always like that,” Joanne admitted. “You’ll get used to them.”

“Is that the standard disclaimer newbies get upon stepping into your territory?” Eddie joked.

Andy shrugged. “Maybe we should put up a sign.”

“Why are you guys hogging the doorway?” Jun asked, appearing in front of them at that time.

All four guys and Joanne moved aside for him and finally closed the front door.

“Admiring the new carpet?” Ehlo provided the helpful answer.

Jun gave Ehlo a look. “Really?”

Ehlo had on his innocent smile. “Hey, you never know.” Then Ehlo noticed that Jun was alone. No Derek. They were usually a team. Where one of them was, the other wasn’t far away. It was almost like the old days regarding Matthew and Sam. That was until both guys got married. Then Ehlo wondered. “What are you doing here without your buddy?”

“You guys doing anything later?” Jun returned.

It was Ehlo’s turn to put on his serious look. “Really?”

“It’s Valentine’s Day, Jun,” Joanne reminded him.

“I know,” Jun said. “But hey, I’m single so that means nothing.”

“Not nothing,” Eddie said. “We could get together and have a party at the others’ expense.”

“Now you’re talking,” Andy said, clapping Eddie on the shoulder.

“You do know you’re not single, right?” Joanne said, eyeing Andy suspiciously.

“Of course not!” Andy returned, sounding offended. “I was just saying it’s a good idea and I support them throwing a party, okay? Why are you picking on me anyway? Tony was the one who forgot.”

“I bet he didn’t forget,” Wallace’s voice chimed in then.

They turned around and saw Wallace and Yvonne walking in.

“How much you wanna bet then?” Andy asked as they moved toward the living room as to not crowd the front door.

“Send me your Valentine’s Day bills then,” Wallace returned.

“Are you nuts, Huo?” Ehlo asked.

Andy, Kris, and Eddie all had their mouths opened. It was like their jaws dropped at the same time and hadn’t recovered.

“You all act like you just met Tony,” Wallace continued right on, choosing to ignore all the dropped jaws. “He’s probably pulling a fast one on us.”

“How could you be so sure?” Ehlo urged. “Did he tell you something?”

Wallace pointed at Ehlo then. “This is why he didn’t tell us anything. If he told us, we would be discussing it right now. That’s why he said he didn’t plan anything or acted like he forgot. That way, we couldn’t spoil the surprise he planned for Yan.”

“You have a point,” Andy said, having closed his mouth already.

“What if you’re wrong though?” Ehlo asked. “That’s a big gamble, Huo.”

Wallace had on his confidence smile. “I said what I said.”

Ehlo looked at Yvonne real quick before turning to Wallace again. “Your wife willing to let that money fly away?”

Wallace scoffed. “Seriously, man? You’re going to play that card with me?”

“Scared?”

Wallace shrugged. “Don’t believe me? You can ask my wife, she’s right here too, you know.”

Ehlo turned his eyes on Yvonne then. Yet Yvonne wasn’t threatened by everyone else’s glares shifting her way as well.

“I respect what my husband does with his money and he respects what I do with mine,” Yvonne said. “It’s called choices, you know.”

“Spoilers alert,” Ehlo returned. “You’re married, your finances are tied together now.”

Yvonne still had on her confident look. “You know not all married couples fit into the same mold, right?”

“You know you’re going to run into conflict soon with that separation of finances, right?”

“You know we’re not picking on how you and your wife manage your funds, right?”

“So?”

“So stay out of ours.”

That was when Ehlo stopped. He even had that stunned look on his face. Then they heard clapping sounds. It was Joanne. Ehlo finally unfroze and turned to glare at her.

“What are you clapping about?” Ehlo snapped.

“We finally get to witness the day when you got stunned into silence,” Joanne said with a teasing smile.

Ehlo wrinkled his face. “Whatever, girl.”

“Still not recovering yet, apparently.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Ehlo rolled his eyes. Then he turned to Wallace and Yvonne again. “Kids, right?”

“It takes a lot of thick skin for someone to go from shocked to acting like nothing happened seconds ago.”

Ehlo turned to Joanne again. “Hey!”

“She got you there,” Jun jumped in then. He had been silent since things escalated but now, he couldn’t help but contribute.

“Why are we all standing around here?” Angela asked then, walking toward them. She’d been in the back, clearing out some stuff from the laundry room.

“I’m done with cooking already,” Ehlo volunteered the information. “They were the ones coming over and distracting me.”

Everyone looked at Ehlo then. Their expressions were obviously reflecting of disapproval for throwing them all under the bus.

“Thanks, Huang,” Wallace said, speaking for all.

Ehlo turned to Wallace with a pleased smile. “You’re welcome, Huo.”

So after that, they settled down and had some light snacks before leaving one by one.

*****

As it turned out, Wallace was right. Tony indeed put them on. He knew their gossipy nature and used Andy to spread the words around about him forgetting hence Esther didn’t expect anything. Well, she wasn’t the type to nag about some senseless holiday anyway. Yet Tony’s little confession had made it that much more permanent that there wasn’t anything going on. And that had played to Tony’s advantage since he had planned a little romantic dinner at their dream house. Esther, of course, loved it. Not to mention how they hadn’t seen each other much since the New Years.

Ehlo regretted not putting his money behind Wallace because his plan backfired, and he ended up having to pay for Wallace’s meal instead. Yet Wallace shrugged it off and said they didn’t seal the deal, considering how Angela interrupted their little gamble.

The effects of the Valentine’s Day weekend barely wore off before some of them were discussing the upcoming Lunar New Year. It wasn’t like they wanted to neglect the celebration, but most of them were still swamped with work or projects. After all, they barely made it past Valentine’s Day.

“I’m signing off,” Ehlo said one afternoon. He was in Novia’s shop and was just hanging out to chat while Andy and Achel were at Cynthia’s shop. They were tagging rides from him since they all had to head to Uncle Zhe’s shop later to help anyway.

“How can you sign off on Lunar New Year?” Janine asked. “It’s all around us.”

“I’m still recovering from that Valentine’s thing, okay?”

“Are you saying you’re getting old, Huang?” Wallace’s voice teased at that time.

“Speak for yourself, Huo,” Ehlo returned. “We’re exactly the same age.”

Wallace had on his own teasing smile then. “You’re older than me.”

“Only by months.”

“It’s still an advantage.”

“You guys ever stopped?” Janine asked, eyeing them.

“Is this your first day knowing us?” Ehlo asked, turning to her.

Janine didn’t answer but just walked away from them.

“I guess not.”

“She made the right choice by walking away from you, Huang,” Wallace said.

“She was walking away from us so you’re part of the problem.”

“Speak for yourself, Huang.”

After that, they actually left the shop since Novia was having a busy day and it was far from over. She was holding out for Sophia to come back so hadn’t hired anyone yet. However, the others had suggested she reconsider because Sophia was nowhere near found. They were in for a long game. Who knew how much longer they had to wait?

*****

Ehlo kept his promise of staying out of Lunar New Year celebration. Sure, they did something really small the following weekend and then continued on with their work commitments. It seemed strange that they didn’t go all out this year, but they broke the usual routine and didn’t force things. Most continued to focus on work and only did small gatherings among their own groups or side events whenever they could.

Time sped up again. Yet still no Sophia. Ehlo was feeling hopeless by then. He acted like the world had ended or worse. The others told him to not be overly dramatic, especially in front of Jacky. Jacky, typical Jacky, continued to act like nothing happened. Although it was obvious his chance of finding Sophia at this rate was slim, really slim, but they didn’t discourage him even more. They decided to let him be for now. They felt if Sophia wanted to contact them, she already did. Perhaps, in time, they would move on as well. Because it was like what Jun once said, that Sophia was like the wind, sweeping into their lives subtly, making an impact to then disappear once again, and never be found ever again.

© Wednesday, July 8th, 2020

Posted: Monday, September 21st, 2020

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