Chapter 18 – The Good Old Days

After the little of what could count for excitement of Ehlo arriving, the upcoming days pass by in a dull, repetitive pattern as of the previous days. Jacky finishes up his song for Johnny before diving in with the song that he and Ehlo has planned earlier. While the guys are occupied with their tasks, the girls also busy themselves with their jobs. However, they still meet during after hours to talk or spend time together. Once awhile, the Lai family would also invite Jacky, Ehlo, and Mina to their house for dinner.
One day after work, Mina comes home with Wei Ru, Xiao Jie, and Brittney. She couldn’t find her brother anywhere but could hear talking from somewhere. Before venturing on a journey to find Ehlo, she gestures for the others to settle down on the sofa.
“I’ll be back,” Mina told the other three. “There is still apple juice in the fridge. Or you could have soda if you want.”
Wei Ru and Xiao Jie nod while Brittney walks around the room to explore its setting although she does the same thing every time they come to visit.
Mina could see Xiao Jie making her way to the fridge so she knows that they’re making themselves at home. She tosses her bag on a chair quickly before turning towards the hallway leading to their bedrooms. As she’s making her way down the hall, she could hear some arguments. Worried, she increases her pace and pushes the door to Jacky’s room open without caring to announce herself.
“What’s going on?” Ehlo asked, alarmed.
“I thought you guys are arguing so I…” Mina started to explain, gesturing in the general direction for emphasis.
“We are,” Ehlo verified.
“About?” Mina asked, wrinkling her face in concern.
Mina wrinkles her face even more in confusion.
“Yu Rong said that Johnny looks better in red but I think he looks better in blue,” Jacky clarified on Ehlo’s behalf.
It is now that Mina realizes that Johnny’s also in the room. She turns to see Johnny wearing a white shirt, smiling at her.
“He looks good in white,” She concluded before stepping out into the hallway again.
“White is boring,” Ehlo argued, his voice rising so Mina could hear.
“You’re wearing white too,” Mina yelled back.
“I’m not going to perform anytime soon!”
“Great,” Ehlo mumbled, turning back to Jacky and Johnny.
“Do you think we should make a big deal out of it?” Johnny asked the other two. “I mean after all, it’s just going to the studio to record, not like…”
Ehlo turns to glare at Johnny.
Johnny stays quiet while Jacky puts a hand on Ehlo’s shoulder. “Quit scaring him already.”
“First day,” Ehlo continued. “You should make a good impression.”
“He already met with them last time,” Jacky said.
“First recording day,” Ehlo argued.
While the guys are debating the matter over, Johnny settles down at one of the chairs around Jacky’s desk. He doesn’t want to say the wrong thing to upset either guy again. He waits for the final decision. Whatever it is, he will go along with since he knows the two have spent a great amount of time helping him these past days. After some pacing, Ehlo finally gets tired of it so he settles down on Jacky’s bed while Jacky leans against the desk, thinking.
“I got an idea,” Jacky said suddenly.
“What?” Ehlo asked, turning to him.
“If we can’t agree on anything, how about letting the girls decide?” Jacky suggested. “I’m sure the others are out there. That’s why Mina doesn’t stay long like she usually does when we’re in here.”
“Fine,” Ehlo said. “At least we won’t go around in circles all night. But…”
“What?” Jacky asked, knowing Ehlo’s up to something again.
“There are four of them out there,” Ehlo pointed out. “It will be a tie no matter what.”
“Let Johnny be tie-breaker,” Jacky said.
“You think the number of people will make a difference?” Ehlo asked. “I meant if he knows, he would’ve said something already.”
“You’ve been giving him glares, man,” Jacky reminded Ehlo.
“Oh,” Ehlo said, scratching his head. “All right then. Let’s do it.”
Jacky and Ehlo turn to Johnny to see if he agrees with their suggestion.
“More opinions would be good,” Johnny said quickly.
“Let’s go with the white first,” Jacky said. “Since he’s wearing it right now.”
Jacky walks to the door and opens it, stepping out to find the girls in the kitchen. He approaches them with a smile as he could see they are cooking something instead of chatting away at the sofa. He knows that Ehlo and Johnny are tagging behind so he doesn’t have to wait for them.
“What are the chefs doing tonight?” Jacky asked.
“Xiao Jie Special,” Xiao Jie answered with a teasing smile on her face.
“Don’t tell me it’s burned fried eggs,” Ehlo joked, leaning on the counter next to where Xiao Jie’s preparing her dish.
“Very funny,” Xiao Jie said, her expression threatening but her tone still light.
“What’s the big deal today?” Jacky asked, still scanning the kitchen area. “Some kind of cooking contest?”
“We just thought we try to cook today since you guys are always so…” Xiao Jie began.
“Don’t go there,” Ehlo said, pointing a finger at her. “You’ll insult Mina’s inability to cook.”
“Ge!” Mina yelled out, wrinkling her face at him.
“It’s true,” Ehlo said, turning to his sister with a smile.
Mina still gives her brother an annoyed look. “Hmp.”
Ehlo glances the room just like how Jacky did before. “Hey, where is the other one? Gone home to sleep…just like her lazy self?”
“Hey!” Brittney’s voice rang out from the living room.
Ehlo turns around to see her heading his way – with a livid expression on her face.
“You’re so mean, you know that?” Brittney asked, a repetitive question that Ehlo’s very used to by now.
“Then why do you keep coming here?” Ehlo asked back, his sly smile still on his face.
Brittney crosses her hands. “Hmp.”
“Girls.” He then turns to the three chefs again and clears his throat. “All right, enough horsing around. We need you ladies’ opinions on something, except for the two immature kids, of course.”
“Ge!” Mina objected, her attention on her brother again.
“Enough,” Jacky interfered. “Here’s what we need you to do.”
Wei Ru and Xiao Jie stop long enough to listen to Jacky’s explanation of their obstacle.
“You men just make a big deal out of things for nothing,” Xiao Jie commented after Jacky finished.
“Like you women don’t,” Ehlo jumped in, defending the male population.
“I told you already,” Mina interrupted them. “He looks good in white.”
“Borrring,” Ehlo said, exaggerating his voice on purpose.
“What do you think?” Jacky asked, turning to Wei Ru.
“Um…” Wei Ru muttered.
Johnny smiles at the girls to show some appreciation for their effort while Jacky and Ehlo step aside to let Johnny stand in the center of attention.
“We have to see him in the other two shirts before deciding,” Xiao Jie spoke up finally. “It’s hard to imagine just based upon this one.”
“Smart girl,” Ehlo commented.
As Johnny heads back to Jacky’s room to change into the red shirt, Jacky steps towards the fridge and finds some sodas. He hands one to Ehlo and turns back to the chefs by the stove.
“What happened to Chris and Darren?” Jacky asked.
“Chris’ packing,” Xiao Jie explained.
“Darren went out with his friends,” Wei Ru answered, her attention still on the stove.
“So Chris is really going back to Hong Kong with Gigi?” Jacky asked, surprised.
“Of course,” Xiao Jie said. “He changed his mind.”
“No, he seems enthusiastic about this place. Thought he would stick around here for a while.”
Xiao Jie shrugs. “He’s a guy. How should I know?”
“Hey,” Ehlo jumped in, pointing at Xiao Jie with his index finger again.
“How about this one?” Johnny’s voice spoke up from behind them.
“This one is loud!” Xiao Jie exclaimed before the other girls could react. “Are you guys trying to get him a job at the circus?”
“Thanks, Miss Qu,” Ehlo snapped.
“I told you it doesn’t work,” Jacky said at the same time as Ehlo.
Ehlo turns to Jacky, pointing at his own back. “You want to stab some more?”
“Hey, we’re trying to do what’s best for Johnny here, not argue who can outdo each other,” Jacky said.
“Uhuh,” Ehlo snapped, not convinced.
“Are you guys done yet?” Xiao Jie asked, eyeing both guys.
“I guess I’m going to change then,” Johnny said quickly, returning to Jacky’s room once again.
“I guess we’re down to two now, huh?” Jacky said when Johnny’s out of earshot.
“It doesn’t mean yours will pass their radar,” Ehlo pointed out.
“Men…” Xiao Jie mumbled, shaking her head.
“Don’t pick on us,” Ehlo warned her. “One day, Missy, you’ll beg us not to pick on you. Because you know me…once I start, I’ll never stop.”
“Like I’m scared of you,” Xiao Jie shot back.
“Good that you’re not scared of each other,” Jacky interfered. “I have to go somewhere tomorrow. You’re taking Johnny to the studio, right?”
Ehlo nods.
“How can you guys argue one minute and talk about something else the next minute?” Brittney asked, surprised.
“We’re men,” Ehlo replied, using Xiao Jie’s mockery on purpose.
Xiao Jie couldn’t take it anymore. She hits Ehlo on the shoulder before resuming her task at the stove.
“Here it is, you guys,” Johnny’s voice announced to them once more.
They all turn to see him in a striped blue shirt.
“We’re definitely going with white,” Xiao Jie said in an as a matter of fact tone.
“Ha!” Ehlo said, turning to Jacky with an ‘I told you so’ smile.
Jacky doesn’t speak up to contradict Ehlo. He just smiles.
“I guess that’s it, huh?” Johnny asked, gesturing towards the shirt he’s wearing.
Ehlo nods.
Johnny returns to Jacky’s room for the last time to change back to the shirt he was wearing when he came earlier in the day. When he comes back, the guys are already helping the girls set the table and get ready for dinner.
“Staying for dinner?” Jacky asked Johnny.
“Will it…” Johnny hesitated.
Jacky shakes his head. “Nah. And don’t worry. We’re not going to talk your head off about tomorrow. Probably just random stuffs since the girls are here. We don’t want them to be bored.”
Johnny nods, stepping into the kitchen to help the others.
Like Jacky promised, they end up talking about random topics during dinner and the rest of the night they spend there. The only time they go anywhere near the topic of tomorrow is to tell Johnny that Ehlo’s taking him to the studio tomorrow at noon. Johnny seems a bit uneasy upon hearing that but he refrains himself from uttering out any objections. He reminds himself once more that they are all trying to help him. He should not hold anything against Ehlo – even if Ehlo’s a bit aggressive at times.
The next day, Jacky and Ehlo part ways after breakfast. Jacky drops Mina off at Xiao Jie’s shop before heading to his preplanned destination while Ehlo picks Johnny up to head to the recording studio together. Everything goes on smoothly as they proceed to the studio. Ehlo stands outside and waits for Johnny while the others work with him. It is that moment that Ehlo realizes the girls are right – more specifically Xiao Jie is right – since they have chosen the right shirt for Johnny. It is just right for the occasion. He smiles to himself, wondering what in the world he and Jacky were thinking to make Johnny wear their choices. Were they just having one of their silly debates instead of thinking for Johnny’s own good after all?
Interestingly, it doesn’t take long for the recording of Johnny’s song. They are done within the hour. Ehlo is told that there will be more next time since they need to splice it up some more and call the guys back. Both guys thank the team and head back outside. As they’re walking to the parking lot, Ehlo spots a familiar presence standing by the curve. He slows down when he’s within a foot of that person.
“Hebe?” Ehlo asked, shielding his eyes from the sun.
“Huang Yu Rong?” Hebe asked back.
“That’s my name,” Ehlo said with a half smile.
“What are you doing here?” Hebe asked in her usual soft voice after the initial shock.
“I was just taking Johnny in for some recording,” Ehlo replied, pointing to Johnny.
Hebe finally turns her full attention to Johnny with a friendly smile. Johnny extends his hand with a smile on his face also, introducing himself to Hebe while Ehlo glances at the parking lot to find his car.
“So…” Ehlo said after both Hebe and Johnny are done with their exchange. “What are you doing here?”
“Waiting for a Taxi,” Hebe said.
“What happened to your car?”
“I left it for Selena since she needs it more than me.”
Ehlo looks puzzled so Hebe smiles.
“We’re roommates.”
“Oh…” Ehlo nods. “Um…want a ride then? Where are you going?”
“I just got out of an interview with someone so I’m heading back to the hotel now.”
“Let’s go then.”
“Are you sure?”
Ehlo smiles. “Of course, come on.”
Hebe hesitates a bit, turning to Johnny.
Ehlo understands her concern. “Don’t worry. We’ll drop Johnny off first if you want.”
Hebe nods. “All right then.”
When they’re finally out in the traffic, Ehlo glimpses into the rearview mirror quickly to see Hebe looking out at the passing view.
“Been here long?” Ehlo asked.
“Was just here last week,” Hebe replied.
“Yea. What are you doing here?”
“Visiting some friends and need to escort Mina back or my parents are going to go bananas.”
Ehlo quickly explains to Hebe what happened. He knows that she wants to know but doesn’t ask. It’s probably her curiosity from reporter’s virus. Or it could just be because they are friends – even if for a short time.
“Since you’ve been here for a while or seem to know this area…” Hebe began when Ehlo stops at a red light.
“What is it?” Ehlo asked, glimpsing into the rearview mirror again.
“Do you know any hotel less expensive? I’m going to empty my pockets soon. I thought I would only stay like one or two days but the person I’m interviewing is always busy. I have to do it in several sessions. Now…”
Ehlo nods, continuing across the intersection. “Oh. You want to stay at a resort for free?”
Hebe could hear the mischief in Ehlo’s voice. She wants to turn and give him a good talk since she knows she has been talking nicely to him. He shouldn’t tease her. But she could see the harmless smile on his face through the rearview mirror so she waits for him to continue.
“I’ll ask Wei Ru if they have an empty room for you,” Ehlo continued. “I think Sharon’s planning a trip soon so there should be space.”
“I wouldn’t want to bother them,” Hebe said, feeling uneasy.
“Don’t worry,” Ehlo said. “They have a café. You could come and help on your spare time to repay them, how about that? Or you’re planning to check out the scenery later and wouldn’t want to be stuck in some shop?”
Hebe taps on her chin, still hesitant. “Um…”
“I’ll ask for you. Just think it over and give me a call.”
Hebe finally nods.
Like planned, they drop Johnny off at his place before driving to Hebe’s hotel. They exchange numbers quickly before Ehlo drives off – back to the other side of town.
“Good news, guys!” Ehlo exclaimed as he enters the house.
“What happened, ge?” Mina asked, her smile bright.
“Why are you smiling like that?” Ehlo asked, his eyes moving suspiciously around the room.
“We’re not playing a prank on you,” Mina reassured her brother.
Ehlo still scans the room as he resumes his footsteps. “You never know.” Then he realizes something when he finally sits down on the sofa. “Why are you girls here? I thought you’re at the store.”
“Got off early,” Xiao Jie announced from the kitchen.
“What?” Ehlo asked, wrinkling his face.
“I decided to take a break today,” Xiao Jie said with a smile, handing Ehlo a glass of water.
“Oh…” Ehlo said, taking the glass from her.
“What’s your good news then?”
“I bumped into Hebe in front of the building of the recording studio and guess what?”
“Hebe as in…” Mina jumped in.
“One of Ken’s co-workers that we met last time,” Ehlo told his sister.
“Oh,” Mina mumbled. “I remember now.”
“How’s she doing?” Wei Ru asked, coming out from the kitchen with a glass of water also.
“Fine,” Ehlo answered.
“What is she doing here?” Xiao Jie asked, turning to Ehlo.
“Oh. “
“And…Johnny’s recording session was a success the first time around,” Ehlo said. “Well, at least I hope so. They said there will be more after they put everything together.”
“That’s great then,” Xiao Jie commented.
Ehlo nods. “Oh yeah…” He turns to Wei Ru with a serious expression.
Wei Ru has settled down next to Xiao Jie on the sofa, listening in silence. Now that Ehlo addresses her directly, she gives him her full attention.
“I just told Hebe that…” He hesitated, suddenly lost for words.
“What is it?” Xiao Jie asked. “Come on. Don’t tell me you’re shy.”
Ehlo clears his throat and explains to the girls of his suggestion to Hebe earlier.
“That’s great then!” Xiao Jie exclaimed after Ehlo’s finished. As if forgetting that she does not live at the Lai resident – or have the power to decide, she turns to Wei Ru. “Right?”
Wei Ru nods. “I’ll tell Mom and Dad about it later.”
“Thanks,” Ehlo said with an appreciative smile.
“Eh…” Xiao Jie said, her voice mischievous. “Why are you so concerned about the matter or…”
“What?” Ehlo said innocently. “I was just helping a friend in a time of need.”
“Ge,” Mina called out from a chair nearby. “Is she going to be my sister in law? I know we were all teasing you about it last time at our house. But I want to hear it from you.”
“I’m not talking to you girls anymore,” Ehlo said, getting up from the sofa and walking around the room with the water glass still in his hand.
The girls exchange a look and giggle among themselves of discovering of Ehlo’s weak spot.
“Where’s Fan Gang?” Ehlo asked from the kitchen.
“Not home yet,” Xiao Jie replied.
“Anyway, we’re not going to hang around here long. We’ve just decided to stay for a bit. Want to hang around with us at the mall?”
“No,” Ehlo replied crisply.
“All right then.”
Although the girls claimed to be just stopping by but they end up spending the rest of the afternoon with Ehlo, talking and watching TV. The girls continue to grill Ehlo for information regarding Hebe but Ehlo continues to fend them off as easily – contrary to his nervousness from earlier. Though a bit annoying at times, but Ehlo must admit he hasn’t had this much fun messing with some girls’ head before.
“It seems like the good old days again,” Ehlo commented out loud suddenly when Mina’s in the kitchen refilling everyone’s glasses of lemonade this time around and not water.
“Like we haven’t had much fun these days,” Xiao Jie said. “Or are you suggesting that you don’t like to hang around with us that much these past days?”
“Nah, it’s just that…” Ehlo stopped, shrugging his shoulders. “I don’t know.”
“You can say it,” Wei Ru urged, putting on her friendly smile. “We won’t get offended.”
“Thanks for your support,” Ehlo said, turning to Wei Ru. “It’s good to have you back with us, Xiao Yan.”
Ehlo’s smile fades as soon as he says the last few words. He could hear something crashing to the floor in the kitchen. He doesn’t have to turn to know that Mina has dropped a glass. Mina doesn’t bother to clean up the mess either but turns to look at her brother. Even Wei Ru and Xiao Jie are staring at Ehlo with curious eyes.
“I…” Ehlo managed finally, getting up. “Sorry, I had too much to drink. I’m going to go and splash some water on my face now.”
“We were drinking lemonade,” Xiao Jie reminded him. “What’s going on?”
Ehlo doesn’t turn around to face them. “Uh…I slipped my tongue…sorry. I’ll be back.”
Xiao Jie gets up from her seat and catches up to Ehlo, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Are you all right?”
Ehlo nods, still not turning around to face them. He just gives her hand a gratitude pat before continuing on his way. Xiao Jie turns to Mina to see Mina turning away from her as well. Mina has pretended to clean up the mess while her brother continues with his absent-minded walk. Xiao Jie knows that she will be stepping over the line but she has to take this opportunity up, especially when Jacky’s not around to hear them.
“Wait!” Xiao Jie shouted out, causing Ehlo to turn around and face her finally.
Even Mina has stopped cleaning and gets up from the floor also.
“It has to be today,” Xiao Jie said at last.
Both Ehlo and Mina remain silent.
“You two have to tell us what happened to Xiao Yan,” Xiao Jie said. “I know it’s none of our business. But isn’t it a bit unfair that we’re supposed to understand and be considerate when we don’t know anything? I hate to be in the blind. You know that.” She looks at Ehlo as she said those last words.
Ehlo lets out a sigh and turns his attention to a hanging decoration on the wall to his left.
“You just called her Xiao Yan, you know that, right?” Xiao Jie reminded him, pointing at Wei Ru.
Mina walks towards the two girls and turns to where her brother is, standing a distance down the hall from them. Wei Ru has already gotten up from her seat when Xiao Jie did and is also standing nearby, waiting for the Huang siblings’ answer.
“Ge,” Mina said finally. “Xiao Jie is right. We need to tell them. I’ve been keeping my promise for so long that it’s so tiring. You know it yourself that we can trust them.”
Ehlo turns his attention to his sister finally, his eyes reflecting a sadness that Jacky once wore.
“Ge,” Mina urged again.
Ehlo turns to see Wei Ru’s worried expression and Xiao Jie’s determination. He knows he can’t hide it from them. He turns to his sister and nods at last.
© Wednesday, October 7th, 2009
Re-posted: Sunday, February 21st, 2010