Chapter 10 – Conspiracy

“What?” Cynthia exclaimed, her voice echoing off the walls. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No,” Cyndi returned. “Do I look like I have all the time to joke? Dad’s dating some horrendous fashion offender.”
“How long?”
“I don’t know. I was too mad so I stormed out of there without asking.”
“Last night?”
“No, I stayed in my room and didn’t come out so didn’t have a chance to ask him.”
“What you should’ve done was gather information to sabotage them, not get worked up like that.”
“Huh, like you could stand it if you see the way she was picking on Jiro, staring him down like that.”
“She was just studying me,” Jiro jumped in. “People do that all the time when they first meet someone.”
“Who asked you?” Cyndi had turned on him.
“Now, now,” Cynthia interfered – a role too reversed. “Let’s not turn against each other. We need to unite to drive out the ultimate enemy first. In fact, two of them.”
“What do you mean?”
The guys had turned to her also. Though Nic already guessed what she meant, but he wasn’t someone who would speak up. Not in a time like this.
“Mom’s going out with some boring doctor,” Cynthia announced.
“What?” Cyndi’s reaction was not as strong as Cynthia’s since she knew too well of her sister’s constant trap. She eyed Nic, trying to detect any signs of suspicion. She only saw him nodding in agreement to Cynthia’s declaration. She returned her attention to her sister. “This is just great.”
“Tell me about it,” Cynthia said. Then she realized something. Like something really wrong. More than the situation they were in now. “Why are you so upset lately?”
“Duh,” Cyndi snapped.
“I meant for real. It’s not just because of Mom and Dad. I thought you would be calmer than me in handling things.”
Cyndi’s eyes turned intense. “You’re trying to imply that I’m less suave than you in handling things?”
“Girls,” Nic jumped in. He had seen enough. He got up from his seat and walked toward them. “I know you’re frustrated with your discoveries and your parents are moving on. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to sabotage them like that. They found their new happiness, right?”
“What do you know?” Cyndi snapped, her attitude matching the tone that she had used on Jiro earlier.
“Hey, don’t attack Nic just because he’s right,” Cynthia jumped in.
Cyndi turned on her. “Huh, so your boyfriend is right? Are you trying to contradict yourself now?”
“What’s really going on?”
“Nothing.” The sarcasm was still there.
“Come on, sis.” No emphasis on ‘sis’ this time.
“Okay, okay,” Cyndi let out, frustrated. “I just discovered that Dad’s so much like you. Or it’s the other way around. I don’t care.”
“Hey, you’re like Mom too.”
“But it’s getting confusing!”
Cynthia could see that her sister was on the brink of crying. Only one more step. She directed her eyes to Nic and then Jiro. Then she decided that it was better if she took care of it. She stepped forward and placed a hand on Cyndi’s shoulder. “Come on, there, there.” She was holding onto her little sister – the last thing on earth she would be doing, rocking back and forth, slowly.
“I don’t want your pity,” Cyndi argued, pushing her sister out.
Cynthia was persistent and did not lose her ground. She still held onto Cyndi. But she gestured toward Jiro behind Cyndi’s back. Nic had to help Jiro up and they made their way toward the girls. Cynthia handed her sister to Jiro.
“It’s okay,” Jiro soothed.
Cynthia gestured for Nic to leave the room. They were in Cynthia’s shop but not out front like they usually were. That was Cynthia’s office. As they stepped outside, Cynthia let out a sigh.
“Don’t worry,” Nic assured her.
“Save it for the kids,” Cynthia said.
Nic did not say anything else. He looked toward the entrance. The afternoon sunrays were dancing back and forth outside.
“I know what exactly is going on.”
They made their way to the counter and sat in front of it. They were both observing the view outside.
“Are you really going to sabotage your parents’ new relationships?” Nic asked after a few minutes of silence.
Cynthia let out a sigh again. “I don’t know.”
“I want to.” It was Cyndi.
Nic and Cynthia turned to see her and Jiro making their way toward the counter. Cyndi had probably used the restroom to wash her face.
“I think we should reconsider what Nic said,” Cynthia said, her voice serious, no traces of tease or wanting ultimatum.
“I want to investigate more,” Cyndi clarified.
“How do you want to do it then?”
“Spending more time with them.”
Cynthia nodded, urging her sister on.
“And…I need your help.” She looked reluctant. Like it was so hard for her to say it.
“I don’t want to sabotage Mom anymore.” It was something she hated to admit. “I meant she’s so happy now…even if that doctor is…” She gestured her hand.
“I just want to know if our parents are really happy. I want to know what kind of person those two are.”
“We need to do one thing first.”
“What?”
“Ask for permission to lift off the rule.”
Cyndi had on the confused look.
“No talking to them.”
“Ooohhh…”
“Exactly.”
“It’ll be easy then. They’re so happy, they wouldn’t care if we interact with one or the other.”
Cynthia nodded in agreement.

*****

Two days later, the Wang sisters were seen at the Wang resident (aka Cyndi and her father’s house) doing cleaning together. They already got the rule lifted. It was so much easier than they thought.
“This is fun,” Cynthia remarked when they sat down at a step of the stairway leading to the second floor for a break.
“Huh,” Cyndi mumbled. She knew Cynthia was being sarcastic again – though Cynthia was smiling.
“Hey, I like this color better than the one you wore the other day.”
Cyndi was wearing her pink t-shirt. She was still in jeans – of course. Her sister, on the other hand, was wearing tan slacks and a striped pink shirt. It was more like she was going to a party or some formal social event than doing some house cleaning.
“Hey, have you been up there lately?” Cynthia continued. She meant the second floor.
Cyndi shook her head. “The only place that Dad would find some energy to clean by himself.”
“Because he knows if he didn’t, you would get to it.” Cynthia was smiling.
“Haha.”
Then they heard a key being slid into a keyhole. It was the front door. Both sisters got up and made their way to the door slowly. It was their father and…Shirley. Cyndi’s face scrunched up into a disapproving look immediately. Cynthia, on the other hand, greeted Shirley with much enthusiasm. After the initial introduction, Cynthia turned to her father.
“Eh, Lao Ba, I can’t believe you didn’t tell me,” She chided. “It’s like you have something to hide.” The way she stared at Shirley, it was like she was looking down on the woman standing in front of her.
“Your mother lifted the no talking rule?” Her father returned, ignoring her subtle challenging tone.
Cynthia nodded. “Of course.”
“I thought you only have one daughter,” Shirley chirped in – since she could not get a word in earlier. She was looking at Mr. Wang for an answer.
“Sometimes I wonder if this other daughter will acknowledge me,” Mr. Wang joked.
“I’m not that terrible,” Cynthia jumped in, defending herself. “Since you’re home early, we should have dinner together. I can’t wait to tell you…”
“Eh!” Cyndi yelled out suddenly.
They turned to see her wrinkled up face. Then Cynthia understood.
“Take your shoes off, everyone,” Cynthia ordered, her expression all business again. “Slippers only, remember?”
“She has never been here before, of course she doesn’t know any better,” Cyndi snapped.
Cyndi meant Shirley.
“Cyndi,” Mr. Wang warned.
“She’s kidding,” Cynthia said, walking over to a box in the corner. “I heard from Cyndi you’re with Dad now so I thought it would be a good idea to get you a pair of slippers as well.” She reached into the box and brought out a pair of colorful slippers. With a smile, she handed it over to Shirley.
Cyndi was covering her laughter.
Mr. Wang had on his disapproval look. More like uneasiness. “Cynthia.”
Cynthia was displaying her innocent look. “What? I wouldn’t know what Shirley would be wearing each time she comes, so have to be safe. I covered every single color, nice?”
“That’s Auntie,” Mr. Wang corrected Cynthia.
Cynthia shrugged. “I think it would be easier this way too. We don’t know how long you would be going steady with her, right? I wouldn’t want to get confused between which Auntie it is.”
Mr. Wang had been turning a few shades since Cynthia spoke up. Now he was turning into the shade of embarrassment. He ignored her, turning to Shirley. “Don’t mind her. She’s such a joker, like her mother.” He took the horrendous pair of slippers from her. “You can wear mine.”
“But it’s brown and not as stylish and doesn’t go well with Shirley’s outfit,” Cynthia jumped in.
Mr. Wang turned on Cynthia. “That’s enough.”
Cynthia shrugged, still faking innocence. “Fine with me.” She turned to Cyndi, placing a hand on her sister’s shoulder. “Let’s get ready for dinner.”
“When did you buy the slippers?” Cyndi whispered to her sister as they made their way down the hall leading to the kitchen.
Cynthia winked. “Secret.”
“Oh, come on…”
“Nic got ‘em.”
“His taste is that terrible?”
“I told him to buy it while he was at the store earlier getting us paint.”
“You guys are painting something?”
“I’m going to paint my room again later when you visit. Nice?”
Cyndi nodded. “It could be fun. What color?”
“Mint green.”
“Girls, where are the other slippers?” Mr. Wang asked, his voice a tad further away than before.
The girls pretended not to hear yet they were able to hear Shirley’s words about not going to exchange the slippers with him again. The answer was revealed when Mr. Wang and Shirley met the girls in the kitchen.
“How are you guys doing?” Cynthia asked, settling down at the counter.
“Almost ready,” Nic replied.
Yes, Nic and Jiro had joined the girls at the house. They had volunteered to prepare dinner. Not because they did not trust the girls’ culinary skills. But more like they did not trust the girls not to kill each other first in the kitchen.
“Jiro!” Mr. Wang blurted out as soon as he realized Jiro was around.
Jiro looked up from his task. “Uncle, Aunt…”
“Shirley,” Cynthia corrected him.
Jiro looked confused.
“My mom is Auntie,” Cyndi reminded him.
“Sorry,” Jiro muttered.
“Lao Ba, this is Nic,” Cynthia said quickly when she saw Mr. Wang eyeing Nic so suspiciously.
“Uncle,” Nic greeted Mr. Wang with a polite nod.
Mr. Wang turned to Cynthia at that time. “Why did you girls make the guests work? This is so improper.”
“It’s not our fault,” Cyndi answered in her sister’s place. “They wanted to yet they’re so slow.”
“I wouldn’t blame him since he’s still injured,” Cynthia pointed out. She was of course talking about Jiro.
“Hmp.” Cyndi was displaying her long face again.
“Those slippers actually look good on you,” Cynthia commented, changing the subject on purpose.
“Ahem,” Mr. Wang warned.
Cynthia slipped off the stool she was sitting on. “Come on, let’s get everything ready.”
Cyndi, Jiro, and Nic helped her with setting up the table while Mr. Wang led Shirley over to the dining table. When they were done, the other three made Nic sat next to Shirley while Cynthia ended up next to Mr. Wang. Cyndi was between Cynthia and Jiro.
“Hey, not bad,” Cynthia commented.
They saw Nic smiling shyly across the table.
“You can open a restaurant,” Cynthia continued.
Jiro was waiting for Cyndi to try the dish that he made. In fact, he was placing it onto her bowl and waiting while she tried. Jiro had on his boyish smile as soon as he saw Cyndi nodding.
“I guess it would be a good idea to bring you guys to Mom’s on Saturday to meet up with Uncle Lu.”
“Who’s that?” Mr. Wang asked, his curiosity cranking up several notches from the sound of his voice. “I know all of your mother’s brothers.”
“Of course it’s not her brother,” Cynthia replied crisply. “It’s her new boyfriend.”
“Oh?”
Cynthia placed her chopsticks down and ended up using her hand signals again to communicate with her father. He laughed out loud at one point and even used the sign language to communicate back to her.
“Don’t worry,” Mr. Wang said. It was meant for Shirley. “Cyndi doesn’t understand our special language either. You’re not left out on purpose.”
Though he had no idea that Cynthia had already taught Cyndi the language these past days. And Cyndi was trying hard to keep a straight face with not understanding.
“So, you want to come on Saturday too?” Cynthia asked when she had picked up her chopsticks again.
Mr. Wang’s smile faded. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“So you want me to report back to you all the information but not be present? That’s like being a traitor.”
“I didn’t say that I want you to spy on your mother for me.”
“Not exactly in those words.”
Mr. Wang shook his head.
Cynthia smiled. She got him big time. It was a trap. She knew that he knew too well she was trying to get him in trouble hence not replying. Yet it was implying admittance to those who did not know them any better. And Shirley had been baited. Cynthia exchanged a satisfying smile with her sister. Their work was done. One down, one to go.

*****

Saturday finally arrived. Their plan proceeded. Cynthia had gotten in early and straightened up a bit before Cyndi arrived with Jiro. Nic came in time to help them paint Cynthia’s room. She had moved her stuffs to the guest room and covered the rest of the unmoved items with newspapers. Her mother was out with Dr. Lu. They were more than glad since they had even more time to prepare.
“So, how was it after we left?” Cynthia asked, painting her side of the wall.
They had divided the work into areas. Of course Jiro and Cyndi shared a wall. Nic was working on the back wall while Cynthia was by the window.
“I excused myself to go to my room but I was hiding in the guest room and heard them talking.”
“Of course,” Cynthia said, bored. “Moving on…”
“Shirley was asking about you and Saturday.”
“She still doesn’t believe I’m his daughter?”
“Not that, more like your words about Saturday.”
Cynthia smiled. “I knew she would take the bait.”
“I thought you guys said that you just want to make sure your parents are really happy. This sounds like sabotaging to me.” It was Nic.
“Where’s the fun if we do it the normal, mushy way?” Cynthia returned.
“Trying to be nice to her is so hard,” Cyndi added.
“What’s so hard about it?” Nic continued.
The sisters sighed out at the same time. “Her horrible sense of fashion.”
“That’s a crime?”
Cynthia and Cyndi exchanged a look from across the room. Only Jiro was the smart one not contributing in this situation.
“Cynthia!” They heard from somewhere around the house.
“That’s Mom,” Cynthia said, placing her brush down. “Come on, Nic.”
Nic followed her out to greet her mother and Dr. Lu while Jiro and Cyndi stayed.
“Where have you been?” Her mother asked. “And what were you two doing in the room together?”
“Oh, nothing,” Cynthia replied, her smile cunning. “Just the usual like what people usually do behind closed doors.”
“Cynthia!” Her mother chided, shaking her head in disapproval.
Nic was turning red. Not guilty red, but more like embarrassment.
“Mom, I got a surprise for you!”
She dragged her mother into her room, not caring if Nic or Dr. Lu was staring at them.
“I’m not going to…”
Her mother did not get to finish.
“Mom!” Cyndi yelled out upon seeing her mother.
“Cyndi!”
They were hugging. Of course Cyndi had remembered to put her brush down.
“You kids are painting,” Ms. Shen said, having studied the room. She had released Cyndi and was pacing the room.
“I transferred my stuffs to the guest room already,” Cynthia explained.
“You don’t like blue anymore?” Ms. Shen asked.
Cynthia shook her head. “Too common.”
“Not when you know how to decorate it,” Cyndi said, hinting her room was some shade of blue too. In fact, it was ocean blue with patches of clouds above and the ocean residing where the wall hit the floor.
“You want to decorate my walls then?” Cynthia offered.
“Sure, why not?”
Cynthia looked around once more. “Let’s finish this up and go outside for a break.”
“Good idea.”
Ms. Shen left the room after that.
“Why is the second floor restricted?” Nic asked when they were stopping for a break after the first coat.
They were in the den. And sitting at the steps of that led into the garden, not on the chairs nearby.
“Mom and Dad’s last argument was there,” Cynthia replied, taking a sip of water.
“Oh…”
He meant the Wang resident’s second floor, not this house. This house did not have a second floor.
“Hey,” Cynthia said after a brief silence.
“What?” Cyndi knew it was meant for her.
“If Mom and Dad reconcile again, would you want to stay at the old house or move here?”
“The old house, of course.”
“It’ll be a waste of paint though.”
“You can live here with Nic.”
“Huh.”
Nic was staring at the floor. He looked like he was studying the patterns of the tiles.
“But Nic would want to stay at his house too, right?” Jiro jumped in, wanting to defend his friend.
“It would take too much of a miracle if Cynthia let him win,” Cyndi said. She was smiling. The smile that was challenging her sister.
“You’re funny,” Cynthia snapped, taking another sip of water. She got up from her place and headed inside. “Let’s get this finished.”
Though they all knew they had to do a third coat. Jiro and Cyndi exchanged a look. Cyndi shrugged. They followed Cynthia inside – hands still linked. Nic was the only one sitting there, thinking. Then he soon got up and joined them in with the other three.
The rest of the day went by smoothly with their painting task. By the time dinner rolled around, they were beyond exhausted, except for Cyndi. She was like their mother in that she never seemed to run out of energy, especially when it came to cleaning tasks.
“Since you kids are tired, I guess I’ll cook,” Ms. Shen said, observing the four.
“I’ll help you, Mom,” Cyndi jumped up from her seat, her energy running high – still.
“You sure?” Her mother asked, looking at her.
Cyndi nodded, following her mother to the kitchen.
“I think she’s made of iron,” Cynthia commented, leaning back on the sofa.
“I thought you are,” Jiro remarked.
“What?” Her threatening glare was turned on.
“Hey, don’t bully my Jiro!” Cyndi warned from the kitchen.
“Wouldn’t dare!” Cynthia shot back.
“I guess I’ll go help them,” Jiro said, getting up from his seat. He had detected the teasing look on Cynthia’s face. He was feeling his own face burning.
Cynthia turned to Nic – her next target.
“I just remember I need go to buy something real quick before the stores close,” Nic said, getting up from his place.
She eyed him cautiously. “What?”
Nic scratched his head. “Uh…”
Cynthia waved her hand. “Forget it. Go.”
Nic nodded, exiting the living room.
Cynthia was ready to attack Mr. Lu – er…Dr. Lu. YET he had used the opportunity of her conversation with Nic to escape. She spotted him in the kitchen, helping the others. She smiled, knowing it was impossible for him to get a word in. Her mother and Cyndi were too much alike. They had the same frame of mind.
Nic returned in time for dinner. Like the other night at the Wang resident, Cynthia let Cyndi sit next to their mother. One exception, she sat next to Nic even if he had to sit next to the enemy – once again.
“This is more fun than the other night,” Cynthia commented after they were all settled down.
“The other night?” Ms. Shen prompted.
“At Dad’s,” Cynthia clarified.
Her mother looked pleased. She seemed satisfied with her daughter’s admittance in stomping down her father. Or so she thought.
“But it’s not that terrible though,” Cyndi spoke up, defending her household.
Cynthia faked a yawn. “If you want to wager between an educated doctor and a fashion designer with poor taste.”
Jiro and Nic exchanged a look. Their girlfriends had just lifted the curtains to their show.
“What’s this all about?” Ms. Shen asked. She knew they were up to something. It would be too insulting if she did not notice.
“Oh, Dad has a new girlfriend,” Cynthia explained. “She has poor taste. Can’t believe he chose her.”
“Hey,” Cyndi jumped in. She knew the others expected her to defend her father. She had to live up to the filial daughter role. “At least she’s pretty.”
“Pretty boring.”
Jiro sniggered. Then he faked a cough. He was terrible at this. He knew he was dead meat with both sisters, especially his sister in law. He managed to get in an apology after gulping down some water.
Cyndi stopped eating and turned to her mother. “Ma.”
Ms. Shen turned to her.
“I want to live here for a while.”
“What?” Cynthia jumped in. This was unplanned. She sent her sister a “Stick to the script, will you?” look.
“It would be fun to visit…” Cyndi continued, ignoring her sister.
“That means we have to remember to visit the right household during the visit,” Jiro joked.
Cynthia sent him a “Who asked you?” look. Cyndi was still looking at her mother for a response, oblivious to her sister’s silent protest.
“It would be nice,” Ms. Shen finally said.
Cynthia sighed. “She’s living in the guest room then.”
“Fine with me,” Cyndi returned.
“And I want to move to Dad’s too.” Cynthia had to thank her brother-in-law for this one.
“Did you ask him yet?” Ms. Shen asked, turning to Cynthia.
“No. But I can later.”
“You have to move your stuffs back so Cyndi would have some room.”
“Of course. After the paint dries.” Cynthia had a smile on her face. It wasn’t like she did not know how to improvise.
Jiro and Nic exchanged another look across the table. They wondered what the sisters had planned this time around. They did not have long to ponder since the rest of dinner was spent with Ms. Shen asking the guys questions. It was like 21 Questions all over again. Dr. Lu seemed so left out, considering how Cyndi occupied the rest of Ms. Shen’s time.
After dinner, the guys excused themselves. Even Dr. Lu was not so persistent in staying to accompany Ms. Shen anymore. As the three couples were saying goodbyes to their significant others, Nic and Cynthia went to the den. Nic wanted to talk to Cynthia about something – personal?
“Here,” Nic said, handing Cynthia a bag.
“What?”
“Open it.”
Cynthia felt strange but opened it anyway. She recognized the bag from earlier when Nic returned from the store. She opened the brown box inside to discover an air freshener. It was just a simple air freshener, but it was her favorite fragrance. How did Nic know? She looked up at him.
Nic gestured his hand. “It’s for your room.”
Nic did not have to say it. She knew. Her room still smelled like paint. It would last for days. This was a great distraction. She smiled. “Thanks.” It was not gratitude. It was something else. A feeling she couldn’t explain.
“Don’t mention it.”
Jiro and Cyndi’s goodbye was also outside. At the front door.
“What games are you girls playing this time?” Jiro asked, eyeing Cyndi suspiciously.
“Secret,” Cyndi said, her smile showing the almost exact cunning expression he’d seen earlier on Cynthia.
“Keeping secrets from me?”
Cyndi nodded. Her smile was still teasing as ever. She just discovered how nosy her boyfriend could be.
“Then I’m leaving,” Jiro said, turning to do just as he declared.
“Eh…” Cyndi called out, grabbing onto his arms.
Jiro smiled. He got her for the first time. But she soon realized he was also teasing her. She slapped his shoulder.
“You’re mean!” She lashed out.
“I learned it from my girlfriend.”
“Hmp.”
And they fought all the way to Jiro’s car. She had changed her mind about staying behind a little longer – and had yelled out a goodbye to her mother when she poked her head inside the door briefly. She had more crucial things to take care of. Like teaching Mr. Wang a lesson for deceiving her – and thinking he could get away with it. Just because he was her boyfriend.
© Friday, December 17th, 2010
Posted: Saturday, February 12th, 2011