Chapter 16 – Exposed

After work, Wallace arrived at East Shore Café to see not only Ehlo, but also Angela, Sonia, Jacky, Joanne, Bryant, Andy, Chris, Margaret, Mark, and Yvonne. What in the world was Yvonne doing there? He thought she was gong to meet him at home. He had received a call from Ehlo after a meeting with one of his clients and Ehlo said he had to come. He didn’t realize Ehlo was also inviting the rest of the town too.

“So, this is Hong Men Yan (鴻門宴)?” Wallace asked, scanning all the faces present.

“Joke’s over,” Ehlo said. “What were you doing with Jan this morning?”

Wallace turned to scan all the faces present again. Who saw him? Who told Ehlo?

“Well? What in the world were you and Jan talking about?”

“None of your business?” Wallace tried. He knew it was worth it. Maybe.

Ehlo turned on his full glare now. “Yeah, not buying it. Jan has been avoiding us like the plague for the past week or so. Now she shows up in town with you. Mind telling me why she has no problem talking to you?”

“I didn’t know you own the whole town.”

Ehlo wasn’t amused. “Yeah, not falling for it. Not today.”

Wallace turned to Yvonne then. “Don’t you trust me?”

“Really?” Ehlo jumped in before Yvonne could speak up. “You’re going to try to use your wife as a shield?”

“Fine,” Wallace said, looking at Ehlo again. “I’ll be honest with you, Huang.”

Ehlo had on his unconvinced look. “Please do, I’m waiting.”

“It’s none of your business, really. What Jan and I talked about, has nothing to do with you. She made me promise not to tell anyone, so I won’t. And there’s nothing you can do to persuade me otherwise.” Wallace knew he was lying through his teeth. But he knew better than to tell the truth. Not this time.

“This wasn’t the first time you met privately with Jan, you know,” Joanne said at that time.

Wallace had on his surprised expression. He tried to cover it real quick but some of them had already seen it. He turned to Joanne. “What are you talking about?”

“Mark saw you.”

Wallace turned to Mark at that time.

“I didn’t think much of it that day,” Mark said. “But now the more I think about it, it was you. It must be you. You were the one who upset her.”

Wallace scolded himself for not being more careful. So much for hiding in plain sight, he thought.

“Well?” Ehlo asked, his face now hard to read.

Wallace scanned all the faces present again. The sun was starting to set now. And reflecting this type of eerie shadow on their faces that made Wallace felt a bit self-conscious.

“I can stand here all night, Huo,” Ehlo said, his voice determined.

Wallace was still standing there staring at Ehlo. He wasn’t moving either. He knew Ehlo was serious. But could he? Should he? Yet those staring eyes. He sighed out. “I didn’t intend for any of this to happen, Huang. But you have to understand that Ricky Chang isn’t just some legendary businessman. You know why he could survive in this industry all these years? Do you think Unex is the only one capable of underhanded tricks? Or Da Fa? Or even Ambrose? This is everywhere!”

“So you’re admitting you talked to Jan?” Ehlo asked, taking a step forward and staring at Wallace with much disappointment. Or was that betrayal? “You’re admitting that you were the one who drove her away?”

“We live in a realistic world, Huang. We can’t just seal ourselves in that bubble anymore. Not after all these years. Especially not now. Did you even see his eyes that day when he said he didn’t want Jacky near Jan? You think just because he knows your parents, he’s going to go lenient on you?”

Ehlo scoffed. “You’re the one living in some unrealistic world, Huo. You think that everyone’s out there to get you? Just because we had some past incidents doesn’t mean it’s always like that. And they say I’m the one who’s paranoid.”

“Call me paranoid all you want. Call me whatever you want. I know you’re mad, but…”

“Mad? You betcha I’m mad.”

Wallace wasn’t backing down. “I did what was best for us!”

“Really, Huo? It’s best for us? Who are you to decide what’s best for us?”

“You’re the one to talk, Huang, you decide stuff for Jacky all the time”

Ehlo pointed at Wallace at that time. Yet he knew Wallace right. Even if he didn’t want to admit it. But it was just so frustrating. And he wasn’t going to let it go just like that. Not after how he got Wallace to confess. Then he found his next target. He approached Jacky—who was just standing there numbly, not moving or showing any trace of acknowledgment of what was unraveling right in front of them all. “Why aren’t you saying anything? This concerns you. Why are you always like this, man?”

Jacky still had on that beyond calmed look. “What should I say? She lied to me.”

Ehlo looked like he was going to lose it. “She lied because if she told you the truth, that would mean she’s ratting out on Huo.”

“Maybe that was her way out. Maybe she just didn’t think we were that interesting to her anymore, you know.”

Ehlo grunted. “She’s not Sophia.”

Everyone gasped.

“Ehlo, you’ve gone overboard,” Wallace interfered.

Ehlo turned to Wallace with a livid glare. “Don’t talk to me. You have no right to say anything right now. Not after what you did.”

“You can get mad at me all you want but don’t bring Sophia into this.”

“I’m the one who’s overboard? Sophia just gave up on us, okay? I’m supposed to keep wrapping this up in a nice bow even if it’s the truth?”

“She has the right to choose how to live her life,” Jacky said, his voice still passive. “So does Jan.”

After saying that, Jacky left.

“Jacky ge!” Joanne called out.

“Don’t follow me!” Jacky yelled back.

Because he was seriously going to lose it if anyone interfered. He needed some fresh air. And standing around listening to Ehlo and Wallace argue was not helpful.

“Great, just great,” Ehlo said after Jacky was already at the parking lot. He had to make sure Jacky’s car actually drove away before unleashing again. “I hope you’re happy now.”

“You can’t really blame Wallace for what happened,” Angela said. “Even Ricky Chang didn’t want Jacky near her. Who are we to say otherwise?”

 Upon hearing Ricky Chang’s name, Ehlo’s face had turned another shade of red. “Ricky Chang has no right to say anything in this. He never cared enough to say anything about Victoria anyway, why does he get to decide?”

“Because regardless of what happened in the past, he’s still her father. They’re still under the same roof. We can’t meddle or we’ll…”

Ehlo shook his head. “You know what? He can get mad all he wants, his precious Victoria got Wan Da. What did Jan get except those senseless rumors out there?”

“You know this is really unproductive arguing over technicalities right now,” Chris interfered.

Ehlo turned to Chris. “What do you suggest we do then, Your Royal Highness?”

“Don’t take it out on me,” Chris said. “All I’m saying if you guys want to stand around and argue, go ahead, I’m going to find Jan.”

After saying that, Chris turned to leave. Yet Wallace stepped in front of him.

“What do you want now?” Chris asked, feeling like he was going to lose it too if someone else was going to stop him.

“You can’t go,” Wallace said, his voice still calm.

“Why the hell not?”

“I told her that you already have someone.”

Chris’ face had now turned from serious to beyond livid. “You what?”

“You know why.”

“Oh? So now you’re judging me? Fine, I’m unreliable, I’m a player or whatever else you people want to call it, but you have no right. You can control people in your group, but you can’t decide that for me.”

Margaret stepped forward at that time, standing in between Wallace and Chris. “Stop it already. You’re all arguing over someone who’s not going to care about us in the next three months.”

Chris turned to Margaret then. “Oh, so you’re the expert now? I told you, Margaret, I don’t interfere with your decision about Eric. You told me you needed time to think, that you wanted my support. So I listened. That’s all I did, listened. You shouldn’t interfere with who I want to be with either.”

“I didn’t say that I wanted to get back together with Eric.”

“Oh? Good for you, but that still doesn’t give you a right to stop me now.”

Chris attempted to leave again.

“You stupid idiot, the reason why I told you about it was because I want you to stop me!”

Chris turned around and looked at Margaret. He could see that she was on the brink of tears now. Yet he didn’t have time for this, he needed answers. And he needed to get away before he would regret what he might say. “What?”

“Are you blind? I’ve been following you around all these years and you think that I like to hang around that group of friends of yours so much?”

“If you didn’t want to, you didn’t have to.”

Margaret’s tears finally fell. “It’s because I like you.”

“What?” Chris repeated. He turned to scan the faces of everyone else present. He could see Ehlo’s annoyed look. It was like Ehlo was telling him it was too obvious.

“You like me?”

Margaret nodded. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“Then why didn’t you tell me?”

“I’m telling you now.”

Chris pointed at Margaret. “No, we’re not going to do this now. Don’t you dare cry anymore. You don’t get to blackmail me with your tears.”

“Stop hiding,” Margaret said, not caring if Chris was not the least bit moved by it. “I know you know it too. You’re just scared that we might not be friends anymore.”

Chris started laughing. “Margaret, I might like to watch soaps, but I don’t like acting in one.” He sighed out. “I thought you know me better than that. But I guess I don’t know you that well either. Because if you understand me at all, you know that I don’t like beating around the bushes, especially regarding romance. Just say it out, stop all these silly guessing games.”

Margaret shook her head, crying even harder. In fact, she was trying to control herself. “Stop lying.”

Chris pointed a thumb toward himself. “I’m lying? You’re the one who’s lying to yourself. You know what I’m thinking of right now?”

“You’re thinking that you don’t deserve me, so…you’re just trying to make an excuse to run away.”

Chris had on an amused smile. “Margaret, you couldn’t be anymore wrong. What I’m thinking right now is I want to go find Jan. She’s the only one I’m thinking of right now, okay? I could just lie to you right here and pretend to think it over regarding us, but I’m not. You know why? Because I actually care about you as a friend. You think it’s cruel, you want to blame Jan. But that’s who I am Margaret. I don’t want to lie to you and lead you on, unlike some people.”

After saying those words, Chris turned and left. That was also when Angela stepped over to comfort Margaret. Ehlo had a lot to say—just based on his expression, but he didn’t. He just stared on, trying to digest all that happened so far today. That was also when Sonia walked toward the parking lot as well. Wallace was the only one who saw her leave, but he didn’t think he needed to stop her.  

The sun had finally set. Yet Wallace felt like this day was never going to end.

*****

Jacky was driving aimlessly around town. He didn’t want to go home. Even if he was the only there, and no one would be disturbing him, if he was there. But he just didn’t want to go home. Not yet. He didn’t know how to describe his emotional state either. It was up in a jumble. Or scrambled. He couldn’t even remember the correct word to describe what was going on. But he knew, it was not what he told Ehlo. Not all of it. Why did she lie? Why did he care so much?

Just as he passed by Uncle Ben and Aunt June’s place, he saw a familiar silhouette. He stepped on his brake, feeling like he was losing it. Some honks were heard around him. Yet he didn’t care. He merged out of traffic at his own leisure and parked. He had to walk back to the stall since he had passed it a distance already. Yet he didn’t care either. A little walk wasn’t going to kill him. It wasn’t like he hadn’t walked around town before.

“Your food is getting even better than before,” The girl who Uncle Ben was helping said. “It’s a surprise you’re not opening a big restaurant already.”

Uncle Ben chuckled. “Silly girl.” He patted her head gently, like talking to a child. “If I opened some big restaurant somewhere, would I be able to see you again?”

The girl smiled again. “If you’re really famous, then everyone would know you. Then it would be easier to find you.”

Uncle Ben shook his head and left her to eat as he went to tend to some other customers. He actually saw Jacky as he turned back to his stove. Yet Jacky just nodded, not approaching. Uncle Ben was still quite busy, despite the night well on its way. So he didn’t stop to talk either. Jacky was still silent as he sat down at the spot in front of the girl. She was so focused on enjoying her food that she didn’t realize he was there. Not until she finally looked up. And that was also when her smile turned off.

“How did you know I was here?” She asked, looking confused and possibly worried. “Did you follow me?”

“I didn’t,” Jacky answered both questions. He still didn’t know what to say. He was just staring at her.

“Xiao Li!” Uncle Ben called out at that time.

The girl turned around to see Uncle Ben waving at her. He pointed toward Aunt June. Jacky could see the girl waving back. Aunt June had smiled at the girl also. Like they knew each other since the beginning of time. What was that feeling like? Familiarity? Comfort? Belonging?

“I’m telling you,” The girl said, turning back to Jacky with the same smile she had greeted Uncle Ben and Aunt June. “This place is the best in town. No other place could beat it. Don’t think that just because it’s small, it’s not good. The owner intended for it that way.”

“I know,” Jacky said.

Jan had on a cunning smile then. “Friends told you to come here, right?”

“No,” Jacky said, his expression still passive.

“Sorry, Jacky,” Uncle Ben said about two minutes later. “Busy night.”

That was when the girl looked up and actually scanned both of their faces in confusion—and possibly bewilderment. Or other mixed emotions. “Oh, you two know each?” She turned to Jacky. “Old customer, right?”

“You know Xiao Li?” Uncle Ben asked, looking at Jacky.

Jacky nodded. “I know her.”

Uncle Ben nodded—as if happy that was the case. He patted Jacky’s shoulder real quick before saying, “What will it be for you tonight?”

Jacky shook his head. “I’m not having anything tonight.”

“Why not?” The girl asked, her chiding tone obvious. “Don’t you want to support the boss here?”

Because if I were going to have anything, I would eventually throw up. Yet that wasn’t what Jacky said out loud. “I’m not hungry tonight.”

Uncle Ben finally seemed to notice something out of the ordinary. “What’s going on? I thought Ehlo said he was coming with you.”

“He’s not coming anymore,” Jacky said, still looking at the girl in front of him.

The girl had gone back eating while the two chat. Yet now she looked up at them again, trying to detect the problem.

“You two had a fight again?” Uncle Ben asked, his worried expression on. “You know you two aren’t getting any younger, right? And you’ve been friends since forever.”

Jacky shook his head, feeling a lump in his throat. “It’s not Ehlo.”

“Then…”

“It’s Wallace.” Jacky kept his eyes on the girl. “You know why.”

The girl’s worried expression turned even more intense. “He told you?”

Jacky nodded. “Only because Ehlo confronted him. Because we both saw you at the park this morning.”

The girl had a shocked expression on her face. “That’s not what you think. Wallace, he…”

“You mean to say if Wallace didn’t initiate it, you would have, right?” Jacky got up at that point. “If you want to leave, why are you here, Jan?”

Yes, the person sitting there eating the whole time and interacting with Uncle Ben like they were a family was Jan. It was the same Jan who waved happily at Aunt June behind the stove. The same one who acted so innocent in front of the poor old couple who thought she was just some ordinary girl out to hunt for some fine noodles. Or that was what Jacky had thought. He didn’t know what she was up to. But he wanted to wait for her mask to slip off. Yet it never came. And he was losing control. And he wasn’t going to let her succeed with hurting another one of his loved ones. Not again.

“Jacky,” Uncle Ben interfered, placing a hand on Jacky’s shoulder. “I don’t know what happened between you and Wallace, but don’t take it out on Xiao Li.”

Jacky turned to Uncle Ben. “She’s no Xiao Li, Uncle. Her name is Jan. She’s Ricky Chang daughter. She gets tired of her princess castle at times and just wants to go out and about to play with people’s feelings. Don’t you see?”

“Of course, I know she’s Ricky’s daughter. I know her since she was four. I used to take you and Ehlo out to the park to play with her all the time. Don’t you remember?”

That was when Jacky had on his shocked expression. “What?”

Not only was Jacky surprised, but Jan was also looking at Uncle Ben with much confusion on her face. Not to mention some people around them were beginning to murmur. Well, the noise level had been quite loud around them. It was a surprisingly busy night. But they had been keeping to their own conversation. Because of Jacky’s outburst, they finally turned to look at his table. Uncle Ben seemed to know that too.

“Not the time,” Uncle Ben whispered to Jacky, pressing his shoulder down. “Sit down, I’ll explain it to you when they’re gone.”

Jacky had no choice but to sit down.

“Sorry, everyone,” Uncle Ben said to the general crowd. “It was just a misunderstanding.”

The others murmured something and went back to focus on their eating or conversations. Jan also went back to eating as well.

“You’re still able to eat?” Jacky asked, feeling like he was going to throw up.

Jan shrugged. “It’s good food. Do you want me to waste the food that Uncle Ben and Aunt June made?”

“I’ve been looking all over town for you and you’re sitting here eating?” Ehlo’s voice said at that time.

That was when both Jacky and Jan looked up at a very angry Ehlo. They also saw Andy and Chris behind him. How did Chris end up going with Ehlo? Didn’t he leave after Jacky did? Or did they separate and then join forces again?

“I think you need to get your eyes checked,” Chris said. “Only she’s eating.”

“Sit down, all of you,” Uncle Ben chided as he walked past them. “I have enough of all of you coming here with your dramatic outbursts. We’re not shooting a spy movie.”

“Geez, hostile, much, Uncle?” Ehlo said, sliding into an empty spot on Jan’s right and Jacky’s left.

Andy and Chris had no choice but to slide in on the other side—with Andy sitting next to Jacky while Chris was next to Jan.

“Order something before I throw all of you out,” Uncle Ben warned.

“Um, one bowl of your special noodles,” Chris rattled out. “And maybe three portions…”

“We’re all out of snacks, just noodles for now.”

“Fine, just one bowl of noodles then.”

Uncle Ben turned to Andy then.

“Same,” Andy said.

Uncle Ben directed his eyes toward Ehlo.

“Maybe something to drink?” Ehlo said. “Because I will throw up if I eat anything right now.”

“I’ll get you some ginger ale.”

Ehlo nodded. “Ginger ale it is.”

Uncle Ben walked away from their table at that time and headed back to the stove.

“I thought you said you’re going to ignore her from now on?” Ehlo asked, eyeing Jacky suspiciously. “Sounds like she’s not the only liar, Young Master Chu.”

Jacky ignored Ehlo.

“Hey, how come he doesn’t have to order anything?” Ehlo yelled toward the stove area.

Uncle Ben gave Ehlo a sharp look before tending to his stove again.

“Tough crowd,” Ehlo said.

Andy and Chris exchanged a look before looking at the other three again.

“I don’t know why you’re all pulling long faces with me,” Ehlo continued. “I should be the one who’s mad.”

More silence. Until Uncle Ben came back with some of their orders. Jan took that time to order some desserts after Uncle Ben finished distributing the new orders.

“Are you eating for ten?” Ehlo asked—after Uncle Ben left.

“Only two,” Jan answered. “I’m carrying his child.”

Jan had pointed at Jacky with her chopsticks. Everyone else turned to stare at Jacky.

“You all believe her?” Jacky exclaimed.

“How should I know?” Ehlo returned. “You’ve been together for a while and then you always disappear without us knowing. Catching you eating together today is just sheer luck on our part.”

Jacky stared right at Jan, not knowing what he should be feeling. Because she was driving him insane with her innocent smile. Like how could Ehlo not see it? And he thought she was so different from Victoria when he learned that they were siblings. Yet, perhaps, they weren’t far too different? Especially their deceptive nature.

“I thought I told you to shut up until I close up,” Uncle Ben said about five minutes later when he came back with Jan’s desserts.

“Don’t look at me,” Ehlo said. “It was Jacky. He got Jan pregnant and now he refuses to take responsibility.”

“You what?” Uncle Ben exclaimed, forgetting that he was not supposed to cause the outburst either.

Jacky got up from his seat then. “You know what? I’m not going to take it anymore. You people do whatever you want, I’m out.”

Jacky turned to leave at that time. Jan finally got up from her seat and stepped forward to stop Jacky. She was clinging onto his hand.

“Please don’t go,” Jan said. “We don’t have to get married, but our child can’t be fatherless.”

Jacky tried to shrug her off at that point, but her grip was seriously strong. How in the world could that tiny girl have such strength?

“Let go before I do something that you would regret,” Jacky said, having gave up on trying to detach her hand from his already. He was still looking straight ahead, not caring to look at her.

“How could you be so heartless?” Someone from a table nearby said.

“Yeah, you’re so irresponsible!” Someone else yelled.

“Asshole!” Another voice yelled out.

By this time, even Andy and Chris had stopped eating and was standing up to watch the development. Actually, they had stopped eating the minute they heard about Jan’s pregnancy. They thought it was a joke at first, but now it had blown up into something completely outrageous. Jan can’t be making it up, right? Not since the crowd had already been alarmed. Like everyone present was watching. Chris wanted to step forward to yell at Jacky. Yet Ehlo had extended a hand out to stop him. He sent Chris a wink. Chris wrinkled his face yet Ehlo shook his head.

“Please don’t be mad,” Jan continued, pulling at Jacky’s sleeves. Her voice was really pitiful at this point. She was on the brink of tears. “I’ll do anything you want.”

“I want you to let go of me and stop this nonsense,” Jacky said.

Jan hugged him from behind. “But I don’t want you to leave.”

“I’m counting to three.”

“Please…don’t…” Jan begged, hugging Jacky tighter.

“One…”

“No…please…”

“Two…”

Then someone’s phone rang. Jan finally let go of Jacky and reached into her pocket.

“It’s mine,” Jan said in her normal voice again.

Jacky, though, had threatened to leave—and now was free to go—wasn’t leaving anymore.

“Okay, I’ll be home soon. Bye.”

“Who was that?” Ehlo asked—as if nothing was going on, like seconds before. And that no crowd was gathering at all. Yes, a perfectly normal night with just their small group eating, really.

“Gary,” Jan answered. “He’s sending my dad to the airport. He’s on his way back.”

“Where’s that old man going?”

Jan shrugged. “How should I know? Probably business stuff again.”

“Uh…Jan?” Andy prompted. “About the crowd.”

Everyone was still watching them. Some of them lost interest and sat back down. Others? They were murmuring and wondering what was going on. Jan finally turned and addressed the crowd again.

“Sorry, everyone,” Jan said. “That was just part of an act I was rehearsing for a play. What did you guys think of my performance? They’re all my friends. No one is the asshole here. They’re just helping me act.”

“You guys sure are senseless!” Someone yelled out before sitting back down at their table.

“I’ll pay for everyone’s meal,” Jan said. “My treat for your troubles.”

The crowd went wild after that.

“You kids sure know how to scare this old man,” Uncle Ben chided after everything was settled.

Jan walked over to Uncle Ben and wrapped her arms around him. “I promise to keep coming to support you for the rest of my life.”

Uncle Ben hit her forehead. “You’re always full of tricks, silly girl.”

Jan let go of him and Uncle Ben went back to his stove. It looked like things were winding down already since they were able to see Aunt June cleaning up. They were probably waiting for everyone to finish eating before closing.

Back at their table, they were still standing around. Jacky was still frozen in his spot. Ehlo was staring at Jan with a new sense of surprise. Chris and Andy had exchanged looks between the two of them again.

“Since when did Uncle Ben adopt you?” Ehlo asked, still displaying his full shock mode.

Jan winked. “Secret.”

Jacky sighed out, turning to leave again.

“Hey,” Jan called out, grabbing onto Jacky’s arm again. “Don’t you want to stay for the story?”

Jacky looked at her. He was seriously so tired. He wished that she would stop. Why can’t she be honest for once? “Do you really want me to stay?”

Jan nodded.

“If you really want me to stay, then why do you keep pushing me away? Why did you lie? Why did you…”

People around them started murmuring again because Jacky’s volume had risen up once more.

“I’m still paying for your meals,” Jan said, turning to them again yet still having a grip on Jacky’s hand. “One more performance won’t kill, right?”

Some people made some comments about “crazy performers” before going back to their conversations again.

“Come on,” Jan said, tugging on Jacky’s arm. “I’m so close to knowing the truth. Don’t you want to know as well?”

“What truth?” Ehlo asked, his face serious.

“Stay, please?” Jan said, still looking at Jacky.

Jacky finally nodded. Why did he have to look into her eyes? It was a mistake. But she indeed had a point. He wanted to know the truth too. Or more like a past that he must have forgotten. How could he have forgotten her? Because of life? Was he waiting for her all these years? Even if he didn’t know why? Or how?

© Sunday, November 8th, 2020

Posted: Saturday, January 30th, 2021

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