“Fresh Lemon,” Ehlo chanted into the phone. “How may I help you?”
“Do you guys make house deliveries?” The other person asked.
“Do ice creams melt in heat?” Ehlo asked back, his voice giving way to sarcasm.
Mina walks by at that time and gives him a look. He ignores her and waits for the answer.
“Of course,” The other person said.
“Then no,” Ehlo continued in his as a matter of fact tone. “We do not deliver.”
“But by the time I get out of class, your place will be close already.”
“We close at midnight.”
Ehlo waits for the other person to hang up first before doing the same.
“What was that all about?” Mina demanded, her hands on her hips.
“Stop spying on me, sis,” Ehlo said back. “Like I don’t know how to take calls.”
“The reason why we even dragged you out here to help is because Mom and Dad have to go visit Uncle Lin this afternoon.”
“I know, I know. Stop lecturing your brother.”
“If you would just stop using your sarcasm, we would have more customers coming in.”
“Like it’s my fault. They’re asking dumb questions.”
“Not everyone is like you, okay? They don’t know so they ask.”
“You want to take over then?
“In a bit.”
Ehlo goes back to take calls and tends to the register as Mina makes her way around the shop to tend to customers again. There are about three other waiters helping her so he doesn’t need to be around. But Mina keeps insisting. It’s like she doesn’t trust the waiters. He wouldn’t blame her since it’s going to get dark soon. However, he couldn’t help but feel trapped at the shop.
“I thought you’re always all smile, why are you grumpy today?” A familiar voice asked.
Ehlo turns around to see Hebe stepping up towards the register after the latest customer paid and stepped aside. She has on such a bright smile that he couldn’t help but smile also.
“Hey,” Ehlo said. “It’s funny that someone decides to visit me.”
“Mina invited me here,” Hebe explained.
Ehlo raises an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Actually, she insisted many times already but I was too busy with the latest project that I didn’t have time. Now that I’m done, I want to come by and check it out.”
“Great to know. Good news or something?”
Hebe looks confused.
“I mean with your latest project. If not, you wouldn’t smile so brightly, right?”
Someone else comes to the register at that time so Hebe steps aside for Ehlo to help that person before stepping back to stand face to face with him again.
“Come on,” Ehlo said, gesturing for her to join him behind the counter.
Hebe hesitates at first but steps past the opened door. Ehlo closes the door quickly and resumes his task at the register as the next person steps up.
“So?” Ehlo said as he’s free again.
“What?” Hebe asked back.
“About your project of course.”
“You’re right that it was a success.”
“Good to know.”
“I was going to go celebrate with Ken and Selena but they said they have something to do so I decided to come by here to ask you two.”
“So we’re the last resort?”
Hebe could see Ehlo’s teasing smile. “Come on now. It’ll be good for you since you look like you need some fresh air.”
“Where are we going then?”
“Picnic by the sea.”
Hebe slaps his shoulder. “Very funny.”
“In fact it is. I mean with you getting all friendly with me. I swear you’re up to something, like wanting some free ice cream.”
“Ge!” Mina called out to Ehlo as she walks up to the counter.
“What?” Ehlo asked, turning to face her.
“Can you taste this for me? Gus said that it tastes weird but I think his taste bud is off – again.”
“Is it poisoned?”
Mina wrinkles her face. “No.”
“If your brother is so afraid of it, let me,” Hebe jumped in, stepping forward.
“Hebe!” Mina yelled out, realizing that Hebe’s present.
“Let me do it,” Ehlo said, grabbing the ice cream cup away from Hebe. He grabs a clean spoon from a cup next to him and tests the ice cream. He wrinkles his face upon recognizing the flavor. “What in the world did Gus do with it?”
“You mean something’s wrong with my taste?”
“I think Gus put something else into it.”
“I’m going to kill him for it.”
“There will be no killing in this shop. Whatever you do, take it outside.”
Mina doesn’t care to respond to Ehlo but just walks off in a huff – heading towards the direction of the kitchen.
“What’s happening?” Hebe asked, confused and worried at the same time.
“Nothing big,” Ehlo said. “Same old stuffs. They’re always at it. Gus knows that Mina doesn’t have a knack for it so he often plays these pranks on her.”
Hebe still has on her confused look.
“Mina’s a tad off with her taste at times but we don’t dare to tell her that. Only Gus is brave enough to do it. That’s also why the rest of us can invent new ice cream flavors, except Mina.”
Ehlo flashes on his smile again. “Anyway, closing soon so we can go, huh?”
“She’s a kid after all,” Ehlo commented, staring at Mina walking along the seashore and kneeling down once awhile to pick up a seashell.
Hebe smiles. “It’s good to be able to remain so carefree like her though.”
Ehlo nods, returning his attention to the food he’s tending to.
“Something wrong?” Hebe asked, observing Ehlo cautiously.
Ehlo turns to her. “What?”
“It’s a bit strange to see you all quiet.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I’m not implying anything. I just have a feeling that you’re distracted or something.”
Ehlo shrugs. “I just remember the last time we were doing this here.”
Hebe smiles. “I’ll bet. Somehow, I wish that Ken and Selena could have made it.”
Ehlo turns to look at her again. “Does that mean you’re regretting your decision in inviting us?”
“No. That’s not what I mean. It’s just much more fun with more people.” Hebe turns to look at him more carefully. “Why are you taking my words the wrong way?”
Ehlo shrugs – like he did before. “I can’t help but feel it’s always a double edge sword with you.”
“Well what do you know?”
Hebe’s surprised in Ehlo’s change of tone so she turns to face him again – since she had returned her attention to tending to the foods. Then she sees it too. Her face wrinkles up a bit.
“This is why they turned down your invitation. Come on!”
Before Hebe could say anything, Ehlo grabs her left hand with his right and makes his way towards the couple walking at the other side along the shore. It is the opposite end from where Mina is so she is not aware of it yet.
“Explain yourselves!” Ehlo exclaimed out when they’re in front of the couple.
Upon seeing Ehlo and Hebe, the other couple withdraws their hands from each other.
“So you’re playing the innocent card now, huh?” Ehlo continued in his threatening tone.
“Quit it,” Hebe said, withdrawing her hand from Ehlo’s finally. She turns to the other couple at that time. “So, want to join us?”
The other couple exchanges a look before turning back to Ehlo and Hebe.
“Well?” Ehlo demanded.
“Uh…” The guy managed.
“Stop being so aggressive,” Hebe warned Ehlo. She turns to the couple again. “If you want some time alone, that’s fine too.”
“We would love to join you,” The girl said. “It’s just that….”
Hebe could see her friend’s eyes glancing back and forth nervously. “Don’t worry, Selena. I’ll make sure you guys won’t get bullied by you know who.”
“Hey!” Ehlo shouted out, pointing his finger at Hebe.
“Am I wrong?” Hebe argued. “You’re always bullying others.”
“And you’re with me because?”
“You two are dating?” Selena jumped in, forgetting about not wanting to draw unnecessary attention to herself.
“Of course…” Ehlo began.
“…not,” Hebe finished.
“You two are so cute!” Selena said enthusiastically.
“So are you two,” Ehlo said – with double meaning. He turns to the guy at that time. “Who would know that you and Selena are together, huh, Ken?”
Ken raises an arm up to scratch his head, trying to find an answer.
“Come on,” Hebe urged, grabbing Selena’s hand and guiding her back to their little fire.
“I guess the girls decided for you, huh?” Ehlo said, gesturing his hand towards Hebe and Selena.
Ken doesn’t know what to say so he just gives Ehlo a timid smile.
“Come on, man,” Ehlo urged, gesturing his hand towards the girls again. “I’m just kidding. I promise I won’t pick on you anymore.”
Ken doesn’t say anything still but he just follows Ehlo silently.
“I guess we have more people now, huh?” Ehlo said, sitting down next to Hebe again.
“Where did Mina go?” Hebe asked, scanning the seashore for her.
Ehlo shrugs. “Probably ran off with someone.”
“I can see that you care about her so much.”
“Hey, why are you picking on me now?”
“So you won’t get a chance to pick on other people.”
Ehlo wrinkles his face. “What kind of mentality is that?”
“Ge!” Mina’s voice called out from somewhere.
All four of them turn around to check it out. They could see Mina running up to them. She stops abruptly in front of them upon seeing Ken and Selena present.
“What are you gawking at?” Ehlo asked. “Sit down.”
“Why are they here?” Mina asked – out of shock more than sarcasm.
“They were walking over there so we invited them to join us,” Hebe explained.
“Oh,” Mina said, finally sitting down next to her brother.
“Who is up for a round of KTV later?” Ehlo asked suddenly.
“It’s already getting late,” Hebe commented.
“Why don’t you save your breath for next month, ge?” Mina reminded him.
“What’s happening next month?” Selena asked, looking from Ehlo to Mina.
“He’s going back to this other town to see Jacky perform,” Hebe replied in place for the Huang siblings.
Selena turns to Ehlo for verification. “Really?”
“It’s just that,” Mina jumped in, her voice eager.
Ehlo puts a finger to his lips, signaling for his sister not to disclose his secret.
“What are you guys hiding?” Hebe asked.
“Nothing,” Ehlo said innocently. “Let’s eat.”
At that time, only Ehlo and Mina seem to share the actual secret. Hebe couldn’t help but return Selena’s stare. Ken is the only one not speaking up regarding the matter. He’s silently feeling relief that the others aren’t teasing him and Selena anymore. Ken’s silent celebration is quite short lived since Ehlo’s next question brings him back to the state of nervousness.
“So when did you guys begin dating?” Ehlo asked when they’re done distributing foods among themselves.
“Uh…” Ken managed, scratching his head again.
“About a month ago actually,” Selena said, taking the initiative since Ken seems to have lost his voice at that moment.
“Great. You guys are acting like a bunch of celebs, hiding it from us.”
“Maybe they would know you’ll be teasing them like now,” Hebe jumped in, defending her friends – and colleagues.
“Quit it with the threatening look already. You’re scaring them.”
“I’m just messing with them. What are you worried about? Like I’m going to eat them alive or something.”
“What about you two then?” Selena asked, looking at Ehlo and Hebe suspiciously. “I thought you guys don’t get along.”
“I thought she told you,” Ehlo said, giving Hebe a look before turning back to face Selena.
“No, she didn’t.”
Hebe hits Ehlo’s right hand at that time.
“Stop making up stories.”
“All right, all right. I’m kidding again. We’re not attached. Was just making your head spin ‘cause you guys were hiding stuffs from us.”
“I’m still puzzled about you two acting like you’re long time friends though,” Selena said, not letting Ehlo or Hebe off at all – as if she’s getting back at them for picking on Ken.
As if needing permission, Hebe turns to look at Ehlo once – to which he nods – before turning to Selena again. She quickly tells both Ken and Selena how they’ve encountered each other several months back at that one studio.
“Wow,” Selena said when they’re done. “It looks like fate.”
“Now it’s your turn to target us?” Ehlo asked, eyeing Selena cautiously.
“Are you the only one entitled to tease others?”
Ehlo smiles. “I guess it’s fair but I don’t think you two could outtalk us.”
Selena raises an eyebrow and sends Hebe a mischievous smile. “Us?”
Hebe – for some reason – turns away from Selena’s stare at that time. She pretends to bring her attention back to her food plate on her lap instead.
“Why so quiet, Ken?” Mina asked suddenly and unintentionally rescuing Hebe from an awkward moment. “Don’t mind my brother. You know him. Always so…”
Before Mina could finish, Ehlo already grabs a hold of her shoulders and attempts to choke her.
“Ge!” Mina yelled out, wrestling with her brother.
“This is what you get for not knowing your place,” Ehlo shot back, not ceasing his attack.
“Quit it,” Hebe repeated her usual warning, hitting Ehlo’s right shoulder.
“I need to teach her a lesson so she wouldn’t backstab me the next time.” He has loosened his grip on Mina but haven’t completely let go of her yet.
“Ge!” Mina yelled out again. “If you don’t stop, I’m going to tell them your secret.”
“That you like…”
“I’m going to tell Mom and Dad that you…”
Ehlo yawns and lets go of Mina at last. “You’re so predictable, sis.”
“It seems so interesting to be siblings,” Selena commented, smiling at the Huang siblings in admiration – and possibly a tint of jealousy.
“It’s the best,” Ehlo replied. “You get to bully her and…”
Hebe nods at about the same time as Ehlo’s reply.
“Ge,” Mina whined. “Only you bully me. I’m sure other brothers are more protective of their sister.”
“Sure, sis. And behind her back, they would also sell her off to someone else…”
“Don’t believe me?”
Mina doesn’t care to answer but continues to eat instead.
“How do you think that some guys were able to court those girls with protective brothers? The brothers end up selling her off to the highest bidder.”
Mina still doesn’t care to respond.
“You’re scaring your sister,” Selena said, noticing Mina’s expression.
“I’m not scared,” Mina clarified. “Just frustrated that my brother’s like this.”
“He’s just joking,” Hebe said, getting up from her spot. She walks to Mina’s side and sits next to her, slipping a protective hand around her shoulders. “Don’t be mad.”
“This is good,” Ehlo commented.
Hebe gives him a look. “You’re still able to eat so comfortably?”
“What? I’m just saying how it’s good that you two are getting along. And why not? It’s good food. Wouldn’t want it to go to waste.”
“You three are just like a happy family,” Selena teased.
Ehlo could see that Ken’s smiling also so he hands Ken a soda. “Glad to see you loosening up again. You know I’m just kidding, right? Congratulations, you two.”
Ken accepts Ehlo’s handshake this time around.
“Come on, sis,” Ehlo said, turning to Mina and patting her right shoulder with his left hand. “I didn’t mean it.”
As he tries to sooth Mina, his hand touches Hebe’s briefly since they’re both having their hands on Mina’s shoulders. He withdraws it abruptly, not wanting Hebe to get the wrong idea that he’s trying to take advantage of the situation. But when he turns her way, he sees her smiling at him. He returns the smile, not sure why she’s suddenly giving him a break.
“You’re not a heartless brother after all, Huang Yu Rong,” Hebe said, dispelling Ehlo’s puzzlement state.
“Of course,” Ehlo said, his face lifting a bit higher than usual to show his self-pride. “I’m the world’s greatest brother.”
The others smile, knowing that Ehlo could not be serious for long. Hebe shakes her head yet she still has on a warm smile. It’s like she’s fascinated by Ehlo’s many sides.
“All right, how about that KTV get together, everyone?” Ehlo asked, looking around the circle.
“Sure,” Ken said, finally speaking up for the first time.
“Thanks for the support, man.”
“Since he’s going, of course I’m going,” Selena said.
“If you two are up for it, I guess we can’t say no,” Hebe chimed in.
“Like I have a choice,” Mina mumbled.
“Come on, sis,” Ehlo urged, placing a hand on his sister’s shoulder again. “It’ll be fun.”
“Do I get to sing too or will you hug the microphone like the last few times?”
“Of course you get to sing. In fact, you’ll be up first, how about it?”
Mina finally nods.
The others exchange a smile again seeing how childish Ehlo could be at times.
Yet they must admit that it’s not a bad night for a gathering either.
© Thursday, December 31st, 2009
Posted: Thursday, April 15th, 2010
“Fresh Lemon,” Ehlo chanted into the phone. “How may I help you?”