Chapter 17 – Bonds

Jacky couldn’t focus any longer when he hears Mina sighs for the umpteenth time of the day.
“Will you stop it?!” Jacky yelled her way, looking up from his notebook also.
“I can’t help it,” Mina said, sighing out yet again.
“What’s so bad about Yu Rong coming?” Johnny asked. “I thought he’s your brother.”
“Yes, he’s my brother,” Mina said. “And he’s going to tie me up and toss me in the trunk and drive me home.”
“Stop being dramatic, Missy,” Jacky teased.
“Jacky ge,” Mina whined. “You don’t know how serious this is going to be.”
“You make it sound like you’re getting into an arranged marriage or something,” Chris commented.
“Hey!” Mina yelled out.
Chris and Darren have been sitting several tables over from them and are having a little conversation of their own. It has been like that since they arrived at the edge of town and managed to settle themselves at the café to wait for Ehlo’s arrival. However, Chris couldn’t help but interfere with Mina’s sighing ritual – both because he’s curious and somewhat annoyed by it.
“I don’t even know why you guys are here in the first place,” Xiao Jie spoke up from the table next over. “You guys have done nothing except argue with Mina since…”
“They’re guarding their treasure,” Jacky said. “You wouldn’t rob them of that, would you?”
“Huh?” Mina asked, her eyes changing from boredom to anticipation.
“You’ll find out soon if you haven’t detected it yet,” Jacky said before turning back to Johnny.
“You men make no sense,” Xiao Jie said before turning back to continue her conversation with Wei Ru also.
“Like you women do,” Jacky muttered under his breath.
Mina laughs since she heard that because she’s right next to Jacky.
They continue their wait engaging in separate conversations for another twenty minutes before seeing Ehlo’s car. Although Mina looks reluctant since they arrived but she is actually the first one to run to the car as Ehlo parks into a spot near the café.
“Hey, you guys,” Ehlo greeted them. “Long time no see. And…strange that you should be here also.”
“He’s guarding his treasure,” Jacky and Mina said at the same time.
Ehlo stares at Jacky and his sister for a bit before turning back to the girls. “You girls still look pretty as always and…”
“Ge,” Mina whined. “Aren’t you going to address me? Why do I have the feeling that you’re ignoring me on purpose?”
“I’m not,” Ehlo said defensively. “Need to greet outsiders first.”
“You’re denying our friendship then?” Xiao Jie questioned him with a stern look.
“Of course we’re friends, but someone’s guarding his treasure so I have to…you know…be careful.” He glances briefly towards Darren’s direction before letting out a secretive smile – to which only Jacky understands.
“Whatever, ge,” Mina said.
“Let’s sit down before we chat any further, considering how we’re here already.”
The others nod and lead Ehlo back to their tables. However, the strangest thing happen is when Ehlo actually sits down at Jacky’s table, Wei Ru and Xiao Jie end up switching to their table as well. Then Darren and Chris come over also, which makes it even harder to try and relax because of how crowded it had become. A table made for four or five turned into a party of eight squeezing in and trying to get along.
“Could you guys please go over there instead?” Xiao Jie asked, eyeing Chris and Darren.
“If you want to guard your treasure, you can still do it over there, you know,” Mina said. “Considering how we’re not going anywhere anytime soon.”
Chris and Darren have no choice but to cooperate since Xiao Jie had issued the order. Mina also takes it into her hand to switch tables since she doesn’t want to crowd the group. Johnny, seeing how awkward the situation has become, gets up also.
“Eh…” Jacky said, putting a hand out of to stop Johnny from walking away. “We’re not done here.”
“You’re still working on his song?” Ehlo asked.
“He knows?” Xiao Jie asked, turning to Jacky.
“Yes,” Jacky said, answering both questions at the same time. “And I’ll let him choose later…as in singing my song or James’ first. Or maybe just choosing one is enough for now. It’s a sample to the producers after all.”
“You’re almost done?” Ehlo asked. “‘Cause I can’t wait to tell you about all the ideas I came up for our new song.”
“Almost,” Jacky said. “Don’t worry. You’re still sticking around for a month or so, right?”
“Not really,” Ehlo contradicted Jacky. “Mom and Dad want Mina home ASAP and I can only stall for so long.”
“How long then?”
“Two weeks maximum.”
“That’s good enough since we both have ideas already, right?”
Ehlo nods.
Before the others could say anything else, they hear a familiar voice from somewhere near them. They turn their attention away from Ehlo and do a quick scan around them. Then they see a familiar face towards the direction of the sidewalk leading back into town. It is Brittney. They wait for her to be right in front of them before addressing her.
“Hey, Britt,” Jacky said with a friendly smile.
“Hey, girl,” Ehlo said, flashing on his teasing smile. “You’re late.”
“It was all their fault,” Brittney said, not looking at others but only Ehlo. “They didn’t bother telling me and I just happen to hear it from Sharon that you’re all here.”
“Sorry,” Wei Ru said. “I was in a hurry and…”
“Forget it,” Brittney said.
“Don’t spoil everyone’s mood, sis,” Darren jumped in. “We should be relaxing here and drinking some ice cold drink, not listening to all your rants.”
“Ge, you’re so mean,” Brittney whined.
“Great,” Ehlo said. “I just arrived here and you guys are arguing. Great way to greet me back really.”
“Oh, come on, Britt,” Mina urged. “Let’s talk over here while Jacky ge and my brother are talking.
Brittney looks reluctant but she doesn’t want to be their target so she walks over to where Mina, Chris, and Darren are and sits down between Mina and Chris.
“Nice place really,” Ehlo spoke up again. “I’m really glad to be back, guys.”
Jacky smiles, admitting to himself that he’s glad to have Ehlo around as well, considering how things had been these past weeks. Having Mina here with him is great reassurance to him, but she’s not Ehlo after all. It’s the bond between him and Ehlo that no one can replace, just like his bond with Xiao Yan that no one could change no matter how hard they try.
“It looks like not much damage was done here the last time I came to town,” Ehlo remarked as he makes himself comfortable on the sofa.
“Ge,” Mina whined, frowning.
“You know how neat you are,” Ehlo said, ignoring her and continuing to inspect his surroundings.
“Quit messing with her,” Jacky interfered. “How about we get going?”
“So fast?” Ehlo asked. “I haven’t eaten anything yet.”
“You always think about food,” Brittney jumped in.
“Why are you here again?” Ehlo challenged, his eyes piercing hers.
“You’re…” Brittney began.
“Britt,” Wei Ru warned her sister, hoping to avoid an embarrassing moment.
“If you don’t want to look at him, you can head on home, you know,” Darren jumped in, which surprised everyone.
“Ge,” Brittney whined. “You’re supposed to take my side, not someone else’s.”
While Brittney’s arguing the matter with her brother, Jacky signals for Ehlo to get up and follow him. Although still curious as to why Darren would defend him, Ehlo still follows Jacky into Jacky’s room.
“You two are making an unnecessary scene here,” Wei Ru warned her siblings.
“Why don’t both of you take a walk outside to cool down?” Xiao Jie suggested, eyeing them suspiciously.
“What are we? A bunch of 3 years old and you’re trying to convince us to take a 5 minute time out?” Darren asked, turning around to face Xiao Jie.
“Hey, we’re at Jacky’s place for the first time and you two are behaving like little kids. I’m just reminding you of your manners.”
“Would you stop trying to score points with someone and shoot us down?”
“Darren,” Wei Ru warned again.
“Jie, I’m just trying to figure out why she keeps targeting me,” Darren said, turning his attention to his sister.
“You’ve gone overboard,” Wei Ru said. “Like Xiao Jie said, we’re at Jacky’s place. Stop acting out like that.”
“You guys are still at it?” Ehlo asked, walking by them.
“Ge, what are you looking for?” Mina asked, getting up from her place at the sofa.
Mina has been sitting next to Chris in silence the whole time, observing the conversation between the Lai siblings and Xiao Jie. She has been unusually quiet. Now that she sees her brother coming back, she takes the opportunity to get up.
“Food,” Ehlo replied crisply and naturally.
Mina opens the fridge and takes out something before shutting it again.
“I’ll reheat this for you,” Mina said, waving the plate wrapped in plastic in front of her brother.
“All right then,” Ehlo said. “I’ll be in my room.”
“You settled in already?” Xiao Jie asked from the sofa, surprised.
“Are you kidding me?” Ehlo asked back. “I just threw my stuffs on the floor and head out here again.”
“Nice,” Xiao Jie remarked with tints of sarcasm in her voice.
“Maybe you want to go in and help him unpack,” Darren gritted with the same hostility in his voice.
“Darren,” Wei Ru warned once again.
“You just defended me before,” Ehlo reminded Darren. “Why attack me now?”
Before Darren could speak up to discredit his previous effort and to start another battle with Ehlo, Xiao Jie steps forward and grabs his hand, hauling him out the front door.
“What are you doing?” Darren asked, alarmed.
Xiao Jie doesn’t reply but continues to pull Darren outside. It is until they’re a safe distance from the house and is under a tree not far from Ehlo’s car that Xiao Jie stops.
“What is it?” Darren asked, irritated.
“Could you stop behaving in that way?” Xiao Jie asked.
Darren’s face still displays the innocent look. “What?”
“Stop trying to attack Ehlo. Don’t tell me you’re still sore about what happened before.”
“Stop it with the ‘what’ already. You know that you’re making it hard for everyone? Yes, Jacky and Ehlo yelled at you before but it was because of me. You can’t stay mad at them for that long.”
“I’m not mad.”
“Then why are you lashing out at them for no reason?”
“I’m not. You’re just sensitive.”
“Look at me.”
Darren doesn’t dare to.
“Look at me!”
Darren has no choice but to obey her.
“Are we still friends or not?”
“If we’re not, then I don’t need to waste my breath anymore.”
Xiao Jie turns to walk back into the house after saying that. However, before she could get any further, Darren reaches his hand out to grab a hold of her, turning her back to face him.
“I admit that I’m being a jerk,” Darren said, his voice more serious than usual. “But it’s because I care for you more than I should be.”
“That’s because we’re friends, right?” Xiao Jie asked. “But you should know that Jacky and Ehlo have been helping us a lot. They’re not a bunch of bad guys who…”
“Brent never showed any signs of a bad guy until the end.”
“The point is…”
“Do you like Ehlo?”
“We’re friends.”
“That’s it?”
“We’re friends just like you and I are.”
Darren lets out a sigh.
“Never mind. Since you’re so determined, I won’t behave in that way anymore towards Ehlo. And I’m sorry.”
Xiao Jie finally smiles. “That’s better. Let’s go back inside.”
Darren nods.
After the others have gone home and Jacky already left for his room, Ehlo gestures for Mina to step outside with him to the front porch. It is until Ehlo closes the screen door and takes a seat next to his sister at the edge of the steps that Mina finally speaks up.
“Ge,” Mina began, her voice full of confidence from earlier gone.
Ehlo turns once to look back into the house, making sure Jacky’s not around before turning to his sister again. “How is he lately? Made any progress?”
“Better than I thought,” Mina said.
Mina quickly recounts the events of the past weeks to her brother as he listens silently without any interruptions. It is until she’s finished that he lets out a sigh.
“Ge, what’s wrong?” Mina asked, worried.
Ehlo shakes his head. “No. It’s a bit funny that you’re the one to wake him up out of his silliness. I’m his best friend after all and should be the one to…” He stops to take a sip from his soda can, looking casually towards the porch light across the street where the neighbors are probably asleep by now.
“But it was your plan,” Mina argued, feeling the need to reassure her brother.
“It was just my idea,” Ehlo clarified. “It was your own effort in helping him overcome the worst.”
“Stop it. You’re making me sound like some hero.”
“Maybe you are.”
Ehlo smiles. It’s a bit funny that his sister has helped his best friend get past one of the darkest obstacles of his life, but now she acts like some kid, only wanting her brother to be happy. He looks at the same porch light across the street again, remembering how he and Mina had conspired with one another to help Jacky in regaining his self confidence. Yes, it was their little show in front of the others. All three of them grew up together, but Ehlo and Mina are siblings after all. How could Jacky know of their conspiracy? Moreover, who would be a good candidate for making Jacky face his past and move on? Ehlo could do it but he knows he needs to leave his friend some dignity and not lecture Jacky about his life, considering what the latter had been through. With all the reminiscing, he almost forgets that they should go in and catch some sleep of their own. They will need their energy for the upcoming days, especially Ehlo – who have to work with Jacky nonstop in regard to helping Jacky and Johnny. If only Johnny knows, he thought to himself. He could see Mina staring at him with concern so he puts on a smile and tousles her hair a bit, telling her he’s fine. He gets up from his spot and gestures for his sister to do the same. They head inside and lockup after that.
Although the Huang siblings have been cautious all that while, but they had no idea Jacky had been standing behind the ajar wooden door, listening in to their conversation. He had been standing there when Mina was in the middle of recounting the events to Ehlo and heard about the siblings’ plan. He did not feel ashamed of himself or mad at Ehlo for doing that. But instead, he suddenly appreciated Ehlo’s friendship even more. Before Ehlo got up, Jacky had returned to his room – unnoticed.
© Monday, November 24th, 2008
Re-posted: Sunday, February 21st, 2010