Chapter 14 – Scent of the Past

Jacky was summoned by his parents to come home that Sunday. He had dragged Ehlo and Wallace along. Ehlo reluctantly said that he could show up for the food. Wallace knew Jacky needed some backup, so he agreed. Jacky promised to make it up to them later since he knew they already have dates with their wives. Both Angela and Yvonne didn’t mind since they could delay it to the later part of the night. Considering how both had gotten along so well over the years, they ended up going shopping together instead.

“So, nice mansion,” Ehlo joked as they stepped out of the car.

“It’s the same one, you know,” Jacky said, looking at Ehlo like Ehlo was crazy.

Ehlo shrugged and had on his mischievous smile. “Just making conversation?”

“Ehlo?” A familiar voice said.

That was when Ehlo stopped smiling. He turned around to see his parents standing not far away.

“Hi, Mom and Dad,” Ehlo said, putting on his megawatts smile.

“You said you had a meeting with a client,” Mrs. Huang said, eyeing Jacky and Wallace suspiciously also.

“Uh…” Ehlo managed. “They actually canceled at the last minute. So I thought, I meant since Jacky was going to Uncle Chu’s place, I thought I go with him and all, you know. Just to say hi?”

Ehlo’s parents didn’t look too convinced. Jacky and Wallace actually took that time to greet both parents and uttered some polite words.

“So, family reunion, huh?” Ehlo said as they were climbing the steps toward the mansion. “What’s that about anyway?”

“No one said anything about family reunion,” Wallace whispered to Ehlo as they were by the door to wait for whoever it was to come answer.

“I didn’t know either, okay, man?” Ehlo shot back, forgetting to whisper.

That was when Mr. and Mrs. Huang turned to look at the two again. Ehlo had to turn on his charming smile again. Before he could utter some words to disperse the suspicion though, one of the maids opened the door and directed them inside.

They let Ehlo’s parents go first as a courtesy. Ehlo shoved Jacky inside first, considering how it was Jacky’s house after all. Wallace was behind Ehlo. All five of them were taken to the garden at the back. They could have gone through the side door and out into the garden, but it seemed like an after thought now.

When the maid finally stepped aside for them all to pass through the door, Ehlo’s jaw dropped as soon as he saw that there were guests in additional to Mr. and Mrs. Chu sitting by one of the fancy tables. It wasn’t that surprising that the Chus had guests over. But what was surprising was these particular guests.

“What?” Ehlo asked, turning around to exchange a look with Wallace and gesturing wildly. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

Wallace nodded. His face was all wrinkled up now. And Ehlo did remember to whisper this time around. Yet it wasn’t like it made any difference.

“Ehlo,” Mrs. Huang called out at that time. “Come here and meet Uncle Chang.”

Ehlo had no choice but to break from Wallace. He put on his megawatts smile again as he approached them and extended his hand out to greet the opposite party.

“Hi, Mr. Chang,” Ehlo said. “Nice to meet you, heard a lot about you. And when I say a lot, I mean a lot.”

“Ehlo, don’t be rude,” Mrs. Huang chided him.

“It’s okay,” Mr. Chang said, his voice sincere. “You can just call me Uncle. No need to be formal.”

Ehlo shook his head. “No, I couldn’t do that. How could I call the renowned businessperson and genius analysis Ricky Chang Uncle?”

Yes, the person in front of them was Ricky Chang. That was why Ehlo was so shocked when they entered. While Ehlo’s parents were talking to them, Ehlo had hung back on purpose to talk to Wallace. Jacky was left to fend for himself when he was also pulled by his parents to greet Ricky Chang as well. Now, it was Ehlo’s turn—and he was seriously on his own. Yet Jacky and Wallace didn’t think he needed back up. He was fine on his own. Just fine.

 Back to the situation at hand. That comment from Ehlo actually got Ricky Chang to laugh. He pointed at Ehlo with much amusement.

“This young man really knows how to joke,” Mr. Chang said. “Am I that influential?”

“I didn’t say you were influential, I said you were famous, Mr. Chang,” Ehlo said.

“Ehlo,” Mrs. Huang chided again.

Mr. Chang shook his head. “He’s just honest. It’s a hard trait to see nowadays.”

“Thank you,” Ehlo said, not missing a beat.

At that time, Ricky Chang gestured for someone to step forward. “This is my daughter, Victoria.”

“Ah…” Ehlo said, acting like he just saw her for the first time in his lifetime. And of course, he had seen her. That was why he was shocked in the first place. And not just because of Ricky Chang. “Of course, Victoria Chang, general manager of Wan Da, the second in command, future successor of Wan Da, also goes by the name of Vicki.”

Mr. and Mrs. Huang had been gesturing for Ehlo to stop since they were sort of a distance from the others. The other pair of father and daughter had their backs to them, so it wasn’t too much to send signals. However, typical Ehlo didn’t care to acknowledge those signs. He just went right on. Jacky and Wallace were actually standing next to each other now, huddled together and enjoying the show.

“You know my daughter?” Mr. Chang asked, surprised. He turned to Victoria. “You didn’t tell me you know Ehlo here.”

Victoria quickly explained how she met Jacky at that one event and then later Ehlo. However, she, of course excluded all their side disagreements she had with Ehlo previously.

“You told me to look you up, remember?” Victoria asked in her sweet voice and her sweet smile. She was obviously looking at Jacky.

Jacky had no choice but to step forward since his parents were staring at him now. “I was just making a suggestion. You didn’t have to do it.”

“What’s wrong with your voice?” Ehlo jumped in, looking at Victoria suspiciously. “Did you eat a bag of sugar before you leave your house today?”

“Ehlo!” Mrs. Huang yelled out at that time, stepping forward again. “I’m sorry, Ricky. I don’t know what’s wrong with Ehlo today.”

“Or ever,” Wallace whispered to Jacky, who had fell back again after Mrs. Huang stepped forward to stand next to Ehlo.

“No one asked you, Huo!” Ehlo exclaimed, turning to Wallace at that time.

Wallace was still able to smile. He even sent Ehlo a thumbs-up sign. “You’re doing great, Huang, no need for backup whatsoever. Never try building ships, the Titanic might have to take a step back.”

By this time, even Jacky had gone hysterical. He had to lean on Wallace for support.

“What’s wrong with you kids today?” Mrs. Huang asked, scanning all of them in turn.

“Actually, that was really good,” Mr. Chu said then, finally breaking into laughter. “If you and Wallace want to take it on the road in the future, Ehlo, it would be a major success.”

“Arthur,” Mrs. Chu chided her husband at that time.

Mr. Chu smiled. It was like he was remembering back to the past. “He actually reminds me of you, Ricky. Are you sure your kids didn’t get switched at the hospital?”

Ricky Chang wasn’t offended. He let out a chuckle as he gave Ehlo a glance over once more. “He does, doesn’t he?” Then he turned to Mr. Chu again. “But I think he’s more similar to my youngest daughter.”

“Exactly like you,” Wallace whispered to Ehlo again as the parents were busy debating about who was more similar to whom.

“How’s Janice doing these days?” Mr. Chu asked at that time, his voice serious again. “Had she found anyone yet?”

Ricky Chang also had on a sad expression at that time. He shook his head. “I don’t want to force her into anything. But she seems much happier these past few days. She just met some new friends recently and have been spending time with them. Mark just graduated also, so he came to visit her.”

“Jan is for Janice?” Ehlo jumped in, not caring that he was interrupting the parents’ conversation. “And you know Mark, Uncle Arthur?”

That was when the others turned to look at Ehlo again. Ricky Chang had on a careful look.

“You know my daughter Janice?” Mr. Chang asked.

“Yes?” Ehlo answered.

“You’re asking or telling me?”

“Telling?”

“Ehlo,” Mrs. Huang chided again.

Ehlo finally broke free from the shock of some newly learned information before resuming his cunning smile again. “Oh, of course.” He grabbed Jacky’s elbow at that time and steered Jacky forward. “Everyone, meet Jan’s new boyfriend.” He made sure to check on Victoria—and even sent her a cunning smile. “Also, we know Mark’s older brother, Chris. Chris just came back from his trip home recently and brought Mark back here. But didn’t realize you guys know him too. Small world, right?”

Ricky Chang was still staring at Jacky and also Ehlo. He was sure confused. In fact, all the parents were confused. Considering how Ehlo had a way with his storytelling, no one could blame the parents for not believing Ehlo.

“You’re dating Janice?” Mr. Chang finally asked, still looking at Jacky.

“Yes,” Ehlo answered.

Mr. Chang ignored Ehlo and continued to stare at Jacky.

“He’s just sabotaging me,” Victoria finally spoke up, her sweet voice forgotten. “I mentioned I have a sister, so he’s just going with that now to mess with everyone. Dad, you can’t just take his words for it.”

Ricky Chang turned to Victoria at that time. “Is that true?”

“Of course, Dad. I admit, we had a really bad start, so Ehlo’s just getting back at me now.”

“No, he’s not,” Ehlo answered for himself. “Did you know that we met Jan before we met you?”

Victoria shook her head and had on an amused smile. “Enough already, it’s not funny anymore. You can joke around with me, but don’t mess with my dad.”

Ricky Chang ignored both parties and turned to look at Jacky. It was like he was still trying to decide if Ehlo was telling the truth. Then realization hit his face.

“You smell just like him,” Mr. Chang said.

“What?” Ehlo asked, confused.

“Not you, him,” Mr. Chang said, pointing at Jacky.

Ehlo took that time to lean a little closer to Jacky. He tried to snip harder. He didn’t smell anything different than usual. Okay, maybe a little different, but nothing. Really. Jacky was feeling really uncomfortable between the stare Ricky Chang gave him and Ehlo’s no boundary inspection. He soon shoved Ehlo aside.

“It’s called cologne,” Ehlo said, turning to Ricky Chang again. “Why?”

“You can’t be with her,” Mr. Chang said, still looking at Jacky.

“Why not?”

As if to rescue Jacky from any more intensity, his phone rang. Jacky sprang to action and retrieved his cell phone.

“Sorry, I have to take this,” He said and walked toward the backdoor of the house, pointing to the cell phone. “Work.” Yet he didn’t pick it up until he opened the door. “Hello?”

And that was the last they heard of that conversation because Jacky had shut the door behind him.

“Okay,” Ehlo said to everyone that was left behind. “That went well.”

“I apologize for Jacky,” Mrs. Chu rushed to explain, looking at Ricky Chang with her apologetic expression—since her husband wasn’t helping at the moment.

Ricky Chang turned to Mrs. Chu then. He had a troubled look on. “I should be the one apologizing for my rash reactions. But I’m serious this time, Mary, Arthur. They can’t be together.”

Ehlo and Wallace exchanged a look between one another before glancing back and forth between the parents again.

“Why?” Ehlo asked again. He had enough of their beating around the bush answers already.

Ricky Chang turned to look at Ehlo again. He didn’t seem to lose patience with Ehlo like Ehlo would have predicted. He wouldn’t blame the man if Ricky Chang did indeed become upset with him. He just wanted to know the real answer.

“I already told him,” Mr. Chang said. “He smells just like him.”

“Albert?” Wallace asked, finally understanding the situation.

Ricky Chang nodded. “Janice can’t go through that again. I won’t allow it.” He turned to Mr. and Mrs. Chu again. “You understand. You’re parents too.”

Mr. and Mrs. Chu nodded at that time.

That was when Victoria finally displayed some traces that she believed Ehlo’s words about the other three knowing her sister. Yet she still shook her head. “No, it can’t be. I don’t think he smells like Albert. Dad, you’ve mistaken.”

Ricky Chang turned to his daughter. “You were never that close to Albert the past. If you were, you would recognize it. I smelled it right away when Arthur and Mary introduced me to him earlier. But I just couldn’t figure what it was until they mentioned Janice.”

“Does switching cologne help with the current situation?” Ehlo asked while Victoria was still in shocked from her father’s words.

“Ehlo,” Mr. and Mrs. Huang chided at the same time.

“No,” Mr. Chang responded, his voice stern as his expression.

“That means Victoria has zero chance as well, right? I mean we wouldn’t want to trigger Jan’s episodes any more than we already did.”

“That’s right, neither one of my daughters can be with him.”

Ehlo exhaled then, his smile extremely bright. “I got news for you, Uncle Chang. They’re not dating, it’s a miracle, isn’t it? But as long as Victoria doesn’t have a chance, I’m good.”

“Ehlo,” Mrs. Huang chided once again—in vain.

“Enough of this,” Mr. Huang said. “Why don’t you and Wallace go back inside until after we have the meeting?”

“What meeting?” Ehlo asked, scanning the room again.

That was when Ricky Chang turned to the others again. “I initially came over to discuss with them about the project of the new shopping center. Perhaps, it’s better that we combine resources this time.”

“Say no more,” Ehlo interrupted, putting up a hand. “I’m compromised, I can’t be here while you discuss this.”

Ricky Chang turned to Ehlo’s parents then. “I thought you said your son could help us on the architectural side.”

“Sunrise,” Ehlo said, pointing at himself. “My rice bowl.”

Ricky Chang couldn’t help but laugh at that comment. “I didn’t know you work for Tony Sun.”

“With him, not for him. But he’s still my best client.”

“Wallace?” Mr. Chu said then.

“Also compromised,” Ehlo said.

Ricky Chang had on another surprised expression. “Also Sunrise?”

Wallace shook his head. “Ambrose needed my help with preparing for the upcoming auction.

Ricky Chang smiled again. “It’s indeed a small world, huh?”

Ehlo nodded. “So small.”

“What about Jacky?”

“He works for KFT, also very compromised. They’re a step above from the paparazzi.”

“None of your sons work for you?” Mr. Chang asked, turning to look at Mr. Chu and Mr. Huang.

“What can I say?” Mr. Chu said, his voice containing some traces of humor. “My kids aren’t as talented as Victoria here to help you manage an empire like that.”

“Also no ambition,” Ehlo said, looking at Victoria at that point. “We’re just dead weight, you know. Like Jun.”

Upon hearing that, Victoria’s face turned even paler. She couldn’t speak up to say anything since the parents were all present. It wasn’t like Ehlo was mentioning her name, but some of them obviously knew what he meant by that.

Ricky Chang wrinkled his face then. “Jun? You know Jun?”

Ehlo smiled and looked at Ricky Chang again. “So small, right?”

“All right,” Mr. Huang said. “The day’s not getting any earlier, out with you kids.”

“Yes, sir,” Ehlo saluted.

Mr. Huang pointed at Ehlo. “You better stay for dinner.”

“Jokes on you, Dad, I’m heading out now.”

Mr. Huang shook his head and nodded. That was Ehlo’s cue to slide a hand around Wallace’s shoulder and hauled him out of there as well.

“How about that movie, huh, Huo?” Ehlo said as they were making their way back into the house.

“What movie?” Wallace returned, having no idea what Ehlo was going on about.

Ehlo finally took his hand off Wallace’s shoulder and started to scan the hallway. It looked like Jacky left already. That coward, Ehlo thought. Yet he could almost sympathize for being in such an awkward situation earlier.

*****

The next day after work, Ehlo gathered some of them for a meeting at East Shore Café. No Jacky. Because the meeting was about Jacky. Sort of. And Jan. Sort of.

“So,” Ehlo said. “This is getting depressing again.” He sighed out before continuing. “Can we find some normal person to meet in the future?”

“Maybe we just attract bad luck,” Andy noted. “We should burn some sage.”

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.”

“Remember that day when Jacky got a little close and held her hands?” Chris asked, looking at Ehlo and Wallace in particular.

“She froze,” Ehlo answered.

Chris nodded.

“Because she recognized his cologne,” Wallace followed.

“And then she wasn’t sitting near him or wasn’t really interacting with him until we got to the gift shop.”

“I wasn’t there, can’t account for it,” Ehlo jumped in again.

“I’ll give you a brief summary.”

“Please do,” Ehlo said, gesturing his hand for emphasis.

Chris ignored Ehlo’s sarcasm and told them all real quick what happened.

“Lovely,” Ehlo said after Chris was done. “She likes Beethoven, Jacky also likes Beethoven.”

“Along with the majority of the world’s population,” Chris pointed out.

“You know what I mean.”

Angela turned to Ehlo then. She and Yvonne had mostly been listening and weren’t really contributing. However, she felt like she should say something now. “Should we respect Ricky Chang’s wish?”

Ehlo turned to Angela with a puzzled look. “What?”

“Un-invite her to Jacky’s birthday.”

Ehlo shook his head. “No way, it’s already decided.”

“But if they interact too much and…”

“You said it yourself, Ehlo,” Chris reminded Ehlo. “We can’t let it happen to her.”

Ehlo had on his annoyed expression. “You’re just saying that because you know he’s out.”

“What?” Chris said, offended. “I’m not that type of person. I admit, I want to get to know her more, and might be interested in pursuing a relationship with her. But I would like a fair competition, not some imbalance like that. I’ll go talk to Ricky Chang if I have to.”

“You know what? Save it, because…” Then he stopped himself. Ehlo’s face had turned to cunning at that point. “Eh…you might be onto something.”

“What?” Angela asked, recognizing that look too well.

“You don’t have to go talk to Ricky Chang,” Ehlo said, looking at Chris with his cunning smile still. “You can just go ahead and pursue Victoria Chang.”

“What?” Chris asked, confused.

“What?” Ehlo returned. “Just get her off Jacky’s back for now. She’s seriously annoying. I’ll bet you anything she convinced Ricky Chang to collaborate with Jacky’s parents. She just didn’t know that my parents have been discussing stuff with Jacky’s parents too, so they’re in on it.”

“Why do I have to go?” Chris asked. “What if she falls in love with me for real? And why can’t Jacky just reject her on his own, you know, like a normal person?”

“Huh, as long as you don’t fall for her, you can just jump out of it and then laugh in her face. Or, you know, just let her take care of you for a while, if you know what I mean.”

Chris got up from his seat at that time. “What do you mean? Do you think I’m a gigolo or something?”

Ehlo got up as well—although he knew Chris was looming over him, sort of. “You said it, I didn’t say it.”

“Stop!” Angela yelled above their voices and got up from her seat as well. She gave them both disapproving looks. “You two are seriously crazy. You’re not helping the situation. We’re talking about Jacky and Jan’s future here. And shame on you, Ehlo, for thinking that you could mess with someone’s love life like that.”

“Hey, Victoria probably deserves it,” Ehlo said. “You knew what she did to Jan and Jun.”

“Since when did you care about Jun anyway?” Chris jumped in.

“Since I’m a human-being, okay? Unlike someone.”

Chris had on an amused smile. “A human-being who would think of such a low tactic to go after someone they have a gripe with?”

“If you like Victoria so much, why don’t you go to her side and support her? Why are you here with us?”

“You!”

“Wallace?” Angela called out, turning to Wallace for help.

They could all see Wallace sitting there playing on his phone, not really paying attention to the argument.

“Really?” Angela asked with apparent frustration.

“There’s no point anymore,” Wallace said. “Let them work off the steam. Their dreams are ruin.”

“You guys know you didn’t care for Jacky or Jan in the first place, right?” Yvonne reminded them.

“Exactly,” Andy agreed, nodding to show his support for Yvonne’s statement.

“Stay out of it, kid,” Ehlo said, giving Andy the annoyed look again.

“The truth hurts.”

Angela pulled Ehlo back at that time. “Stop it. You know it’s not helpful to take it out on anyone.”

Ehlo let out a deep breath and sat back down in his spot. Angela knew he wasn’t going to do anything rash anymore, so she sat down in her seat as well. Chris was the only one standing now. He scanned their faces real quick before sitting down as well. They stayed in silence for a bit before someone’s phone rang.

“Hello?” Chris said into the phone. His face lit up the minute he realized who it was. “Oh, you’re coming back? That’s great. Just in time for Jacky’s birthday.”

“Who was it?” Ehlo asked when Chris hung up.

“Margaret.”

“Great.”

“You don’t sound so great.”

“Because I know the drama will increase by ten times come Wednesday.

“Stop it with the gloom and doom already, man.”

Ehlo was going to continue but Angela grabbed his hand under the table, so he closed his mouth again, not saying a word.

“I guess this unproductive meeting is done,” Wallace said, getting up from his seat at that time. He shoved his phone into his pocket and turned to Yvonne. “You want to get out of here and head home?”

Yvonne had a suspicious look on her face, yet she nodded.

“See you guys later then,” Wallace said as turned to leave.

“Yeah,” Yvonne said before following Wallace to the parking lot.

Ehlo and Angela exchanged a look after they left. Angela shrugged. There seemed to be a silent conversation between them, so Andy and Chris could only stare in confusion and shrugged as their eyes met one another.

*****

The next day around lunchtime, Wallace was seen at the local park. He had to go out of his way to not attract attention. He didn’t want to run into any mutual friends. Because five minutes after he arrived, Jan walked up to him and sat down across from the stone table he had settled at.

“Hey,” Jan greeted him.

Wallace smiled. It was a sad one. “Hey.”

“This is a serious meeting,” Jan noted. “Not one of those, maybe we should have a side surprise for Jacky on top of that party that’s about to happen tomorrow.”

Wallace nodded. He knew she was joking around on purpose. His expression was serious enough that he could cut glass, so it wasn’t hard to detect. The fact that she was so much like Ehlo made it ten times harder for what he was about to do. Yet he knew he had to.

“You’re a straightforward person,” Wallace began, already feeling his stomach twisting.

If it was Ehlo, he would have said something really sarcastic already. Jan also looked like she wanted to say it, but she didn’t. Possibly because she was trying to hold herself back. Probably due to the fact that Wallace had such a serious expression on.

“So, I think you would appreciate it if someone would do the same for you,” Wallace continued.

Jan nodded.

“We met your father the other day,” Wallace said.

That got a reaction out of Jan. She still didn’t say anything. Yet the worried look on her face said it all.

“It was a coincidence actually,” Wallace said. “I’m sure it wasn’t too coincidental because I think your sister had something to do with that meeting. But…” Wallace paused to lick his lips once before continuing. He recounted the majority of the things that happened during the meeting. He had to edit out Ehlo’s side banters, once again, because he didn’t feel it was relevant to the story. “Although I’m not happy with how your father’s choosing to approach this situation, but it is none of my business. But what I do think I could do as a friend is to prevent Jacky going down that path before things get even more complicated.”

“This conversation only boils down to the fact that you want me out of your life, is that it?” Jan asked.

Wallace nodded. If Ehlo were there, he knew Ehlo wouldn’t like it at all. And that was why he had to fake uninterest yesterday during their uneventful meeting while texting Jan to set up this meeting.

“You have nothing to worry about,” Jan said, getting up at that time. “It’s done.”

“Jan,” Wallace called out and grabbed her hand before she could walk away. “I know this hard to swallow. It’s really unfair to you, but…”

“I’m not a main character in your life,” Jan returned. “Not even a recurring one, only someone who would suddenly appear out of nowhere to stir up the pot a bit before exiting stage left, right? Why bother?”

Wallace withdrew his hand. He knew she was right. They couldn’t take the risk anymore.

“But I can’t guarantee I won’t interact with Mark or Chris,” Jan said. “You know it’s one thing to say that I’m no longer interested in hanging out with your group. But it would be too much to say I don’t care about Mark, right? Chris is your friend, but he’s also Mark’s brother. I will try to turn down his friendly invites if he ever suggests any type of gathering with your group. That’s it.”

“About Chris…” Wallace said, feeling like he was the biggest asshole on the face of the planet. “He might have someone already, so don’t…get too close to him.”

Jan’s expression was blank at that moment. Like she had put up another of shield that couldn’t be broken. “Any final requests?”

“No,” Wallace said, feeling like screaming into the abyss.

“Good then.”

After saying that, Jan left.

*****

As Jacky was on his way home, he received a call. He had to wait for the red light before calling back.

“Hey, sorry about that,” Jacky said. “I’m driving home.”

“No problem,” Jan said. “I was going to leave a message anyway, but you called back.”

“What’s going on? Is it about tomorrow?”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to make it tomorrow.”

Jacky’s smile turned off. “What’s wrong?”

“You know it’s Wednesday. Not everyone could pull it off. Sorry, I shouldn’t have accepted it when Ehlo put me on the spot over speakerphone.”

“It’s okay.” He made an effort to laugh, but it felt flat. “You know that Ehlo. He’s harmless for the most part, but sometimes he just takes the gamble a bit too far.”

Jan laughed. Her laugh also sounded less energetic than usual. Or perhaps, that was just Jacky’s own interpretation because of his spoiled mood. “Thanks for understanding.”

“It’s just a birthday, we’re just looking for an excuse to get together and eat my uncle and aunt’s delicacies anyway.”

“I should have told Ehlo since he invited me, but since you’re the main character, I thought I said something to you first.”

“Oh, don’t worry about telling him, I’ll talk to him later.”

“Thanks.”

After that, they hung up. Jacky had to focus on driving anyway. He could call Ehlo later when he got home.

*****

“That Jan sure doesn’t like to keep her words, huh?” Ehlo jabbed the next day at Uncle Ben and Aunt June’s place.

“Drop it already, man,” Wallace said. “You chose to do it in the middle of the week.”

“Still, she gave me her words.”

“Tony and Yan aren’t here either,” Chris pointed out. “I don’t see you getting mad at them.

Ehlo scoffed. “If you weren’t sitting so far away, I already hit you.”

Yes, for today’s arrangement, they had put two medium-sized tables together. But that was just because they wanted to have some comfortable spaces between one another. The attendees of the event, excluding Uncle and Aunt June—who were the hosts, totaled to eighteen. That was only because Margaret had returned in time and Sonia was able to attend at the last minute. Jan had asked Ehlo if she could invite Mark previously, but since Jan wasn’t coming, Mark didn’t care to show up either. So the current arrangement was Ehlo at the left end—right if looking in from the outside—of the table on one side, then Angela, Yvonne, Wallace Chris, Margaret, Sonia, Aunt June, and Uncle Ben at the other end of the table. From Ehlo’s right was Jacky, then Joanne, Bryant, Janine, Novia, Derek, Eddie, Andy, and Achel. The rest were busy because of work commitments. They had already sent their words to Jacky via text or phone call already. He didn’t hold it against them, obviously, considering how he said it wasn’t that big of a deal.

“What?” Chris asked, not caring of Ehlo’s wrath.

“Everyone’s so used to them not being around nowadays, it doesn’t matter anymore,” Ehlo said, annoyed as to why he had to explain word per word to Chris.

“Now I want to meet this Jan myself,” Margaret said, feeling amused. “I want to see what her deal is.”

“Her deal is she’s a liar,” Ehlo said. “Nothing to see here.”

“You were the one who brought her up,” Chris reminded him.

“Whatever, man.”

“Shouldn’t we be talking about Jacky here?” Margaret asked, pointing toward Jacky. “I mean it’s his birthday after all.”

“Exactly,” Wallace agreed.

“Shut up, man,” Ehlo said, not backing down.

Yet he did turn the attention to Jacky’s birthday instead of ranting on and on for the rest of the night about how much of a liar Jan was.

“You all right?” Sonia asked Jacky when they were getting up to clean up.

Jacky nodded. “Yeah, thanks.”

Sonia sent him a warm smile. “You know Ehlo.”

Jacky couldn’t help but smile as well. “No filter.”

Sonia nodded. “I’m sure Jan wanted to come but you know work…”

“Yes, work is so hard,” Ehlo snapped, having heard that.

“No one is talking to you, you know,” Joanne jumped in.

The others were making trips inside the house and back, so they had one way or another overheard the conversation between Jacky and Sonia. Yet not everyone chose to contribute, unlike Ehlo. Because Ehlo interfered, so Joanne interfered as well.

“If I were you, call her and set up something for this weekend,” Ehlo said.

“I want to come too,” Chris said, smiling.

Ehlo turned to give Chris an annoyed look. “No one asked you. Why do you want to show up? To be a lightbulb?”

“Leave him alone,” Margaret said. “Are we going to end the night with another argument?”

“I could agree with that,” Ehlo said, his voice less intense. “Everyone should be ignoring him.”

After saying that, he gave Chris a glare before heading back inside with two chairs.

Margaret shook her head and followed Joanne inside with her own chairs as well.

© Saturday, November 7th, 2020

Posted: Thursday, January 28th, 2021

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