Chapter 23 – Decisions

Bryan spots Xiao Jie sitting behind the counter calculating away and jotting down some notes. She seems quite busy. He’s about to turn and leave but Xiao Jie catches him at the door when she looks up. She sends him one of her sweet smiles – her naturally sweet smiles – before putting down her pen. He wants to leave yet he couldn’t for some reason. He watches as she approaches him. Their distance closes when she opens the door.
“Hey there,” Bryan said after clearing his throat loudly – as if needing to stir up some courage.
“Got something for me?” Xiao Jie asked, her eyes searching for a possible item that needed his deliverance.
“Huh?” He uttered – not realizing that it would come out that lame.
“I thought you were delivering something from Wei Ru or something,” Xiao Jie clarified.
Bryan shakes his head. “Nah. Was just walking by and decided to check on you.”
Xiao Jie nods.
“You want to come in?”
“Actually, I…”
Xiao Jie waits patiently for him to continue.
“I want to tell you something.”
“You rather stand out here?”
Bryan hesitates a bit, looking into the empty shop.
“Come on,” Xiao Jie urged, grabbing his hand and pulling him into the shop.
Bryan has no choice but to follow her. Suddenly, he feels like he has lost control of his own person. Or was it because he has entered Xiao Jie’s territory? Impossible since they’ve known each other since young. How could he feel threatened by her presence, her territory? He even came here endless times in the past, especially those days when she first opened to help her settle in. What was this feeling within him? Why was he behaving that way?
“Okay, you can talk now,” Xiao Jie said, pulling him back to reality.
He could see that they’re sitting at the counter. In fact, he’s in front of it and she has somehow returned behind it. She is giving him her full attention at the moment. However, he couldn’t find his voice to begin. More specifically, he couldn’t seem to find the right words to start the conversation. What happened to hi pre-planned words?
“Well?” Xiao Jie prompted, searching his face for the answer, her smile teasing – yet still sweet.
“Um…” Bryan managed, still searching for the right words.
“What’s really bothering you lately?” Xiao Jie asked in her serious tone.
Was he that obvious? Perhaps he was. If not, why would she ask?
“Are we going to sit here forever?” Though her words were teasing, but she reaches out her right hand to cover his. “Are you all right?”
He finally looks up at her instead of staring at the counter’s surface like before. He let out an internal sigh before speaking up at last. “Remember what I told you awhile back that one night when we were gathering at my house?”
She stays silent this time, waiting for him to continue, instead of voicing her opinion like before.
“It was the argument I had with Darren…and the whole courage thing.”
Xiao Jie nods, urging him on.
He finally tightens his grip on her hand. “It wasn’t a joke.”
Xiao Jie smiles. “You have an interesting way of telling me things. It gets more and more confusing by the second.”
Bryan clears his throat. “What I mean is…um…”
“I know.”
Bryan wrinkles his face with confusion.
She places her other hand on top of his hand also. “I accept.”
Bryan’s eyes brighten. “You mean? I…we…”
“You’re silly, you know that?”
Bryan reaches his hand up to scratch his head out of habit – and possibly from nervousness as well.
“What do you want to do now?”
He directs his attention to her again. “Um…”
“Want to go somewhere since I’m done for the day?”
They finally let go of each other’s hands.
“Want to ask the others to join us?” Xiao Jie asked, putting away her folder.
“I think Jacky’s busy with some promotional event,” Bryan said, taking the pile of folders from Xiao Jie’s hand. “Say…”
Xiao Jie stops moving around and turns to Bryan again since she could sense his serious mood. “What?”
“Why are you agreeing to go with me?”
“Must there always be a reason?”
“But don’t you think this is some trap or a bet I put up with the guys?”
“If it is, I’ll never let you live it down. Besides…”
Bryan stays silent, waiting for her to finish.
Xiao Jie smiles. “I know you better than that.”
Bryan has on a disappointed look – contrary to his supposedly happy sate. “It’s a shame though…”
Xiao Jie has on her teasing smile – yet it was still sweet as always. “What? You want to take it back?”
“I thought it would’ve turned out a lot more romantic.”
“That coming out of your mouth is unbelievable. Stop watching those daily dramas.”
Bryan turns around to inspect the shop once more. They’ve returned to their closing tasks after some playful exchange. Now, Bryan’s just checking to make sure they’re ready.
“Anything else?” Bryan asked for the last time.
“No,” Xiao Jie replied, reaching behind the counter to grab her handbag. “We’re set.”
“Then let’s go.”
They continue out the door. Bryan stands by the corner of the street waiting for Xiao Jie to lock up.
“Tell me,” Bryan said when they’re walking down the sidewalk to retrieve his car.
“What?” Xiao Jie asked, giving him a side glance.
“Why do you like me then? It’s like you accept me just like that. It’s like you didn’t need to think. And you’re not surprised either.”
“You already confessed last time, didn’t you?”
“But everyone took that as a joke. You even stormed away.”
“I didn’t storm away. There were just too many people around.” She lets out a secretive smile all of a sudden. “And I need to enjoy the moment on my own.”
“What?” Bryan exclaimed, not trusting his ears.
Xiao Jie stops walking since Bryan has stopped to observe her – as if just discovering her existence for the first time.
“‘Enjoy the moment?’” Bryan repeated.
Xiao Jie nods. “I’ve been waiting for the moment until you admit you like me.”
Bryan wrinkles his face. “What?”
“I always wanted to prove to you that I’m matured, that I’m independent. But our age gap is…and you never care to look at me that way so…I sort of moved on. But I couldn’t totally. That was why when you said you liked me, I was shocked or maybe I didn’t know how I would react. I had to think it over – if I still like you.”
“When did you start liking me?”
Xiao Jie shakes her head. “I don’t know. I always felt safe with you around and how you always took care of us. Even if you only thought of including me because I’m Wei Ru’s friend.”
“What about Brent?”
Xiao Jie’s smile fades.
Bryan takes hold of her hands into his. “I’m sorry. I just thought…I…”
“I was sad when Brent and I broke up but I recovered so fast since I went with Jacky and the others on that trip. It was like I was just going through another phase of my life, experiencing things. It was like it didn’t matter for some reason. I thought I really like him too but I soon forget about it. For some reason…I didn’t care anymore.”
Bryan smiles since he could see Xiao Jie’s face lighting up again.
“Enough with the questions, how about you? Don’t tell me you like me when we were little. That has to be an exaggeration in front of the guys.”
“I don’t know when I liked you, but I know I must have liked you for a while before you started to date Brent. I realized how I reacted to you two being together at times.”
“And you never said anything?”
“I didn’t know I was supposed to say anything. I meant tell you not to date him? That’s like…”
“Maybe things would turn out differently.”
“Do you hate me for not staying by your side when you and Brent broke up? I wanted to but…”
Xiao Jie shakes her head. “You didn’t know how to react since it was so sudden, right? Not to mention, I didn’t bother telling anyone until you just found out…”
“It’s okay. It’s over now.”
Bryan nods.
“So let’s get out of here.”
Bryan resumes his footsteps but he halts again.
“What?” Xiao Jie asked, puzzled.
“Darren likes you. What should we do?”
“We’ll just have to get him to understand. I waited all these years for today. I’m not throwing it away.”
“But I can’t…” Bryan rubs his head. “I should’ve thought this through before even having the nerve to…”
Xiao Jie takes his hands into hers, trying to calm him down. “We’ll face this together, okay?”
Bryan nods, feeling all better with her reassuring smile.
Bryan and Xiao Jie enter the shop together. Bryan takes the lead, his confidence back in place. He suddenly feels a strange courage from within as he makes his way towards the counter.
“What happened to Darren?” Bryan asked, looking around.
“He’s in the back,” Mr. Lai answered.
Bryan turns to nod at Xiao Jie. She returns his signal with a smile.
They make their way to the back of the shop. They could see Darren sitting at the break room area, watching TV.
“Hey, you have a minute?” Bryan asked, stepping into the room.
Darren turns to face them. He could detect some seriousness in his brother’s eyes. He signals for them to wait a moment as he turns to the TV again. He clicks on the remote to shut off the TV before standing up to join them.
“What’s going on?” Darren asked. “Pop need me out front?”
“No,” Bryan said. “Actually, Xiao Jie and I have something to tell you.”
“Maybe we should sit down first.”
Darren gives both Bryan and Xiao Jie a scan over before returning his attention to his brother. “You’re dating?”
“Um…” Bryan began, feeling his courage abandoning him once again.
“We’re brothers, okay? I’m not going to act petty.”
“Don’t take it so lightly. We’re serious about this.”
“So am I. Since you two came here to talk to me, I guess you know that I like Xiao Jie. But do you know that I will get over it? It sounds like I have prepared this speech a long time already but…Ehlo is right.”
“I thought you hate him,” Xiao Jie jumped in, surprised at Darren’s admittance.
Darren turns his attention to Xiao Jie. “After Ehlo yelled at me for what I did to Brent’s wedding, I was mad at him. But I think I was more ashamed of myself for pulling such a childish trick. I look like an idiot. I seriously want to make up for what I’ve done but I just don’t know how…I…”
Darren’s hesitation reassures both Bryan and Xiao Jie that Darren’s not putting up a front for their sake. They should know him very well. They should know that he’s not an unreasonable person. He’s a good person. He might not come up with the best solutions to deal with things, but he honestly cares for them.
“I keep struggling inside these past months,” Darren continued, fidgeting his hands at his sides a bit. “And keep acting like I don’t care. But seriously…I think still owe you an apology, Xiao Jie. A sincere one, not just a subtle apology to cover up my embarrassment.”
“It passed already,” Xiao Jie said in her reassuring tone. “Don’t keep it inside anymore.”
“And I admit that I can’t accept it after I know Bryan likes you. But I’ve silently been prepared for this moment.”
“Darren, we…” Bryan began.
Darren puts his hand up to stop Bryan, shaking his head in the process. “It’s okay. I know I don’t sound like my usual immature self but I really thought this through this past month. So let me finish, okay?”
Bryan and Xiao Jie maintain their silent state.
“It’s good that I could tell myself to move on because I finally have the answer,” Darren continued. “So don’t feel bad, okay? We’ll always be family. And…” A smile forms on his face at that time as he turns his attention to Xiao Jie again – contrary to the seriousness of the situation. “I was right to call you Big Sis from the start.”
Xiao Jie couldn’t help but smile at Darren’s joke.
“So let’s go outside and tell the others?”
“Little Bro,” Bryan called out in a concerned tone. “Are you really okay?”
Darren turns to Bryan with a smile. “I’ll be lying if I say yes but I’ll be okay in the future. Give me some time.”
Then Darren gestures for Bryan and Xiao Jie to head back out front. They follow Darren to the front counter again – where Mr. Lai still posts at.
“Pop, big news at the dinner table tonight,” Darren announced.
“What are you kids up to now?” Mr. Lai asked, turning to Darren with cautious eyes.
“Don’t worry, Pop,” Darren reassured his father. “It’s good news.”
They gather at the Lai resident that night just like any other night since the past few months. Everyone eat and talk among themselves until the end of the meal. This time, Darren calls for attention instead of getting up to leave hastily like many times before.
“What now, ge?” Brittney asked, annoyed.
“Simmer down, sis,” Darren said. “We have big news tonight.”
Jacky, Wei Ru, and Johnny exchange a look among themselves. However, no one speaks up to inquire. They turn to Darren, knowing the sooner he announces it, the sooner they could leave the table.
“Bryan finally found a sister in law for us,” Darren said, looking at his siblings one by one. Then he directs his eyes to his parents. “Mom, Pop, are you ready to meet your future daughter in law?”
“What are you getting at, Darren,” Mrs. Lai asked, knowing too well of Darren’s past pranks.
“Darren,” Mr. Lai called out, his voice hinting impatience.
“Let’s turn it over to our leads then,” Darren narrated, smiling.
The others turn to Bryan, waiting for him to say that Darren was just putting them on – again.
“What Darren said is true,” Bryan said, reaching for Xiao Jie’s hand.
“You kids are serious?” Mrs. Lai asked, her voice beyond excited.
“I’ve never been so serious in my life, Mom,” Bryan confessed.
“That’s great. In fact, let’s celebrate!”
Mr. Lai doesn’t say anything, but he has on his approving look after studying his son’s face for a minute.
“Wait until Ehlo hears about this,” Darren said suddenly, repeating of Xiao Jie’s frequent phrases these past months regarding the happenings surrounding them.
“He’ll be surprised,” Jacky said, smiling across the table at Bryan and Xiao Jie.
Wei Ru is speechless at the moment, not because of unhappiness, but out of excitement. She could not believe what is actually happening – though she knows about Bryan’s plan ahead of time already.
“What’s going on here?” Someone’s voice called out from the door.
They look up to see Uncle Heng stepping in.
“You just missed the most exciting part of the night,” Brittney announced, her face still displaying traces of astonishment.
“What happened?” Uncle Heng asked, looking around the table and waiting for someone to update him.
“Sit down,” Mr. Lai said, his tone lighter than his usual authoritative attitude. “We’ll tell you.”
“Before you know it, he’ll be late for her wedding too,” Darren whispered across the table to Jacky and Wei Ru.
Bryan, Xiao Jie, and Brittney could hear that as well. They share a secretive laugh and continue to talk among themselves while Mr. and Mrs. Lai get Uncle Heng up to speed.
After they help clear the table, they gather outside the garden to talk among themselves like many times before. Mr. and Mrs. Lai are in the living room with Uncle Heng. Bryan and Xiao Jie are actually in the rec room.
“I can’t even believe it,” Darren said suddenly, laying on the wood surface and swinging his feet back and forth.
“What?” Jacky asked, turning to him.
Darren cushions his head with his hands before speaking up again. “So much things has happened these months. And then the moment I’ve been waiting for finally come. But I’m actually relief.”
The others exchange a look as Darren look at the sky.
“Maybe,” Darren continued. “Being too stubborn is not a good thing.” He directs his eyes to Brittney at that time. “So Britt…could you stop playing senseless games?”
“What?” Brittney asked, wrinkling her face in confusion.
“We all know you like Ehlo, so could you stop acting all childish about it?”
The others – excluding Brittney – exchange another look. How did Darren know? They silently remind themselves that Darren acts like he could care less but he actually knows more than meets the eyes.
“I don’t care about him,” Brittney said, her eyes staring out at a rose bush nearby.
“Maybe you should just treat it as a silly crush and move on.”
“But I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“It’s just us here. Why would you care to hide it for?”
“Britt,” Jacky spoke up again.
Brittney turns to Jacky.
“Maybe you should take Darren’s words seriously and think about it. Think about what you want.”
“Jacky ge!” Brittney whined.
“I’m sorry but I heard what you and Mina were talking about that night.”
Brittney sighs out. “I don’t know. I just think that…he’s so cool…but he just annoys me so much at times.”
“Think it over then.”
Brittney could see all eyes on her so she nods.
“What else will happen tomorrow?” Darren asked suddenly.
“Are you really our brother?” Wei Ru asked, her eyes studying Darren cautiously.
“What?” Darren asked back, turning to his sister.
“He sound so serious that it’s scary.”
Darren sends her a boyish smile to reassure her. “I’m trying hard to face this situation without wisecracks. Or hiding from it.”
Wei Ru couldn’t help but feel for her brother. It’s as if he’s holding everything back for the sake of everyone. She places a hand on his shoulder. Darren sends her another reassuring smile and claps his sister’s hand once before letting go.
“I’ll be fine, sis,” Darren said once more.
“Ge,” Brittney called out, abandoning her place at the wooden chair by the screen door and stationing herself on Darren’s left. “I’m sorry.”
“For what, silly girl?” Darren teased, turning to his left and looking up at her.
“I always thought that you only know how to make fun of others,” Brittney explained, tears brimming her eyes. “And like to pick on me. But I never realize you’re so considerate.”
“Don’t give me so much credit,” Darren said lightly. “We’re the Lai family. We have to stick together no matter what.” He sits up at that time, placing a hand around Brittney’s shoulder. “Stop crying…or Mom’ll think I made you cry.”
Brittney finally stops crying after a few more sniffs. Darren releases her shoulders but still keeps an eye on her.
“I promise you I’ll think about my situation seriously,” Brittney said, her voice hoarse from crying.
Darren smiles. “Whatever it is, I’ll support you. In fact, we’ll all support you, right?” He turns to the others.
Jacky, Wei Ru, and Johnny nod.
Darren turns back to Brittney again. He places a supportive hand on her shoulder. “See? We’re all here so you don’t need to worry.”
Brittney finally smiles. Darren lets go of her shoulder and lays down on his back again, his feet dangling on the edge of the wooden board in a relaxed pose.
Jacky could see Wei Ru on the verge of crying as well so he places a hand around her shoulders. “It’s going to be okay.”
Wei Ru nods, inhaling and exhaling deeply. She doesn’t want to cry in front of her two younger siblings. She knows she needs to stay strong for them.
“Do you guys think it will rain soon?” Darren asked, looking up at the sky above once again.
“Maybe,” Jacky replied. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
“I hope it doesn’t get too bad this season.”
“Me either,” Brittney agreed.
There seems to be an unsaid mutual agreement that they should observe the sky in silence for the next few minutes. Like Darren said, a lot of things had happened these past months. What will tomorrow bring?
© Thursday, April 8th, 2010
Posted: Monday, April 12th, 2010