Chapter 1 – April’s Fool

Ehlo lifted his hands up to shield his eyes from the excruciatingly bright mid-day sun. He scanned the area once more before looking down at his watch to check the time–yet again. He ended up hopping on the railing and settling himself comfortably on it so he could rest his feet for a bit. He resorted to tapping on the metal to entertain himself as he kept one eye out for her. If she didn’t show up within five minutes, he was out of there. Yes, he would have to face the music later, but he would get fired if he didn’t get back to work on time. After all, he didn’t own that place. He let out a sigh before doing another routine scan around the place. His tapping was far from the pattern he established the first time around. However, he didn’t care since his patience was running lower and lower by the minute. Another excruciating minute passed by and she still hadn’t arrived. He would’ve tried to call her if he hadn’t forgotten his cell phone at home–that very morning when he claimed he got everything when he left.

“Waited long?” A voice asked from somewhere.

He had been quite focused on the view behind him that he had forgotten to check on the designated area. Upon hearing her voice, he was suddenly pulled back to reality. He turned around to see her smiling at him. Playing innocent today, aren’t we? It was not like he was going to lose anything. He hopped off the rail and walked toward her.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” She asked, still sounding so innocent that he could almost explode.

“Nothing big,” He said back, taking her hands into his while at the same time still keeping a cautious eye on her as they made their way back to the parking lot. “I was just getting some fresh spring air, you know. And then it got me thinking…”

“What?” She asked, swinging their joined hands back and forth–so carefree that he wondered where she got all the energy to be so enthusiastic.

“I was just wondering if you’ve lost your watch or something like that,” He said, his tone still leveled but his expression contradicted his calm state. “But now that I could see your watch is very much attached, it’s just puzzles me…”

“What are you getting at?” She continued on in that same innocent tone, turning to give him a clueless look.

“Oh, I don’t know,” He blurted out–his voice starting to give way to its sarcastic mood. “It’s like almost an hour already and I think I have to get back to work. That’s all there is to it.”

“Talking about that, you don’t need to go back,” She said in an as a matter-of-fact tone.

He shifted his eyebrows just slightly, turning her toward him and did a quick scan of her image at the same time.

“What are you doing?” She asked, flashing on her usual amused smile.

“Wondering if someone kidnapped you or did you forget that I don’t own that place,” He shot back, resuming his footsteps again.

“I called in for you and told your boss that you’ll be off for the rest of the day,” She said in that ‘know-it-all’ tone again.

“What?!” He exclaimed, stopping altogether.

“Why are you so alarmed?” She asked. “Today is your birthday after all. What kind of girlfriend am I if I let you work the day away without any excitement, right?”

“Zhang…Shao…Han,” He drawled out her name slowly for dramatic effects while pointing his right index finger at her at the same time. “Is this some kind of joke? You expect me to believe that cheapskate would let me off for the day?”

“Why are you talking about your boss in that way?” She asked, eyeing him with more suspicions than he was giving her. “Luke is not that bad.”

“Luke?” He asked, still keeping that suspicious look on her. “How long have you known him anyway? Are you hiding something from me?”

“That’s not the point,” She said, dragging him toward his car. “Come on. We have to hurry.”

“What’s your hurry anyway?” He slowed down on purpose–just so that she could drag him again. “I’m serious, that Luke isn’t some guy you can just play mind games with. He’s creepy, okay?”

“I thought you said he’s a cheapskate,” She reminded him–so typical of her to point out his faults.

“He is, but he’s also a creepy boss,” He implied strongly as he was getting out his keys. “How did you know him anyway?”

“I called in one time and he picked up ‘cause you were away,” She replied, tossing her hair behind her shoulders. “I think he left a note on your desk so you can call me back.”

“That was him?” He had a very good reason to be surprised. But regained himself while she circled around to the other side. He got in real quick before saying, “That’s why he’s creepy, okay? He’s just so off the…”

“Isn’t it a bit weird telling ghost stories on your birthday?” She pointed out.

He stopped dead from his task–starting the car–and turned to her. “What ghost story?”

She smiled. “Well, you tell it like some ghost stories.”

“I’m not talking to you anymore.”

“Okay then. Where are we going?”

“I thought you had a plan? You’re asking me?”

“Let’s head to the mall and meet up with Johnny and Bianca then.”

“I get off work just for that?”

“Come on…”

Why did she have to grab his hand when she said that?

*****

Angela smiled at the scene ahead of them although it was not of any extraordinary view. But maybe it was because of the familiarity that made her feel so welcomed by its mere presence.

“So, what’s the grand idea of taking me here?” Ehlo asked, breaking through her thoughts.

“You’re spoiling the mood,” She scolded him.

“So? It’s my birthday. I can do whatever I want, right?”

“You want to prove that by bullying your girlfriend?” Bianca asked.

“Shame on you, Ehlo,” Johnny continued. “How could you do such a thing?”

“Why are you guys making me out to be the bad guy when I had to wait around for her for almost an hour and then…” Ehlo rattled off.

“Still,” Bianca interrupted him.

“Oh great,” Ehlo flustered. “This is the worst birthday ever in history.”

He ended up walking toward the water fountain ahead while the others exchanged a secretive smile behind his back.

“Are you guys coming or not?” Ehlo hollered back to them.

“Coming, Master,” Angela mocked, increasing her speed.

“He’s mad all right,” Bianca said to Johnny.

“This better work,” Johnny said back before resuming his footsteps.

When they arrived at the entrance of the cave, they could see Ehlo and Angela by the seal’s area.

“Tell me why we’re here again,” Ehlo asked as Angela turned away from the seals and continued on her way.

“To relax,” She replied.

Ehlo turned to give her a look.

“What?” She asked.

“I give up,” Ehlo mumbled before walking toward the monkey cages to the far left path.

Angela turned around to look at Johnny and Bianca–who had managed to catch up to them.

“Did someone forget to feed him his meds this morning?” Bianca asked.

“I would be mad too if someone’s pushing my limits like that,” Johnny said, suddenly feeling like he needed to give Ehlo some support.

“But how else are we going to stall for time?” Bianca asked, turning to him.

“There are other ways,” Johnny pointed out.

“But is it effective? Or will it cause him to be more suspicious of us if we were to use some other less annoying methods?” Angela asked.

“I guess not,” Johnny admitted.

“What is it with you three and stopping to have side talks?” Ehlo shouted from ahead. “Are we here to visit the animals or are we coming for tea?”

Angela let out a secretive smile again before catching up to Ehlo–with Johnny and Bianca tagging behind at a safe distance.

“You guys are just too much sometimes,” Ehlo continued on as the others were finally close enough that he didn’t have to raise his voice too much. “It’s my birthday and you make it sound so important at first but you just want to use me as an excuse to ditch work and come here and stare at the…”

“Why are you so irritated?” Angela asked. “Can’t you be patient and enjoy the scenery with us?”

“If you want to enjoy the scenery, go to a park, not a zoo,” Ehlo retorted.

”Who upset our favorite guy again?” A voice said from their right.

They turned to see Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao walking toward them.

“Oh great,” Ehlo snapped. “What is this? A reunion at the local zoo? How convenient.”

“Who pulled your tail this time?” Chen Yi asked when he was closer.

“You meant someone dares to?” Qiao Qiao asked, amazed.

“Very amusing, you guys,” Ehlo said, his tone still apparently reeking of sarcasm.

“Come on now, you can’t be mad at us for a harmless joke, right?” Qiao Qiao urged.

“Say, where is your girlfriend?” Ehlo asked, eyeing Chen Yi. “Or did you two…”

“I dare you to say it,” Chen Yi challenged.

“Did you sneak off to have some precious time together?” Ehlo completed his question without a blink.

“Hey! There you guys are!” Achel’s voice blurted out from somewhere near them.

They turned to see Achel holding two ice cream cones and were coming toward them from the path Ehlo and the others had come from before.

“And I thought…” Ehlo said, pasting on his teasing smile.

“Jie!” Achel exclaimed upon seeing Angela.

Angela turned on Chen Yi when she saw her sister handing one of the ice cream cones to Chen Yi.

“I didn’t tell her to get it,” Chen Yi blurted out nervously.

“I wanted ice cream,” Achel said, shielding Chen Yi from Angela’s gaze.

Although Achel said that, but she gave the other cone to Qiao Qiao.

“Thanks,” Qiao Qiao said automatically as she took it.

Achel smiled back at her.

“This is the part I like the most,” Ehlo spoke up again after some observations of all parties present. He snapped on his mischievous smile again before saying, “It’s getting interesting.”

Angela turned on him and gave him a sharp look before resuming her way down the path.

“What?” Ehlo exclaimed in disbelief. “So that’s it?”

“You should know her by now,” Johnny said, giving Ehlo a pat on the shoulder for support before following Bianca also.

As if discouraged by the turn of events, Ehlo didn’t want to focus on Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao’s possible schemes anymore. He turned to follow the others also.

“What happened?” Achel whispered to Chen Yi as they followed the others casually at their own speed.

“You wouldn’t want to know,” Chen Yi whispered back, handing her the ice cream cone.

Somehow, they ended up sharing the ice cream between them as they made their way around the zoo.

It was about an hour later that they finished the tour. They stopped at a rainforest setting café located at the corner of the north side to enjoy the scenes before leaving. Apparently, Qiao Qiao had brought a camera with her and had been snapping pictures of everyone involved. Somehow, they managed to get Ehlo to smile a decent smile at one point and had quite enough to share all around when they get back later. Now that they were sitting at their booth enjoying their drinks, Qiao Qiao reviewed the photos again.

“Let me see,” Chen Yi said, leaning in a bit closer.

“It came out pretty good, huh?” Qiao Qiao asked.

Chen Yi nodded as he slid back toward Achel and took a quick sip from her drink.

“What’s with you and drinking off people’s drink?” Angela asked from across the table.

“It’s sharing,” Chen Yi answered casually. “And not everyone. Just Xiao Yu, jie.”

“Where are the others anyway?” Ehlo asked, eyeing the group of three who were sitting across the table from him suspiciously. “I would expect a bigger gathering than some kiddie party.”

“They’re…” Achel started to say.

“They have work,” Chen Yi jumped in, cutting Achel off and sipping away at the drink casually. He had ignored the ‘kiddie party’ comment on purpose, not wanting to drag out the argument any longer.

“Don’t you three have work too?”

“Our boss got sick so he let us off,” Qiao Qiao said casually since she was still checking the pictures on her camera.

“All three?”

“So it was that coincidental,” Chen Yi said passively.

Then both Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao abandoned their current task–drinking and viewing–to look up at Ehlo with a bright smile on their faces.

“April’s fool!” Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao shouted in unison.

“Lame,” Ehlo said in his monotone voice. “I didn’t fall for it. If I did, then it’s really April’s fool.”

“Come on, man,” Chen Yi urged. “Stop acting so morbid on your birthday. People are going to think that you don’t like to spend time with us.”

“Why would I want to be caught dead with you kids?” Ehlo asked back.

“Or you want to spend time alone with jie?” Achel jumped in.

“If that’s the case, let’s move out, people,” Chen Yi said, shoving Qiao Qiao’s shoulder and signaling for her to leave.

“Quit the shoving,” Qiao Qiao warned, wrinkling her face. “You’re going to make me drop my camera.”

“I’m trying to hurry us out of here so we wouldn’t be in someone’s way,” Chen Yi explained, still shoving Qiao Qiao.

“What’s your hurry anyway?” Qiao Qiao asked. “I can sit here all day if I want.”

“Qiao,” Chen Yi said a bit gentler than before–and had already stopped shoving her. “It’s not your special day, so why are you stealing the limelight?”

The second half of what he said defeated the purpose of him using his “gentle tone.”

“I knew you were up to no good,” Qiao Qiao snapped.

“April’s fool,” Chen Yi reminded her with a grin.

“Same to you,” Qiao Qiao said with a smile. “Ha!”

“Great,” Ehlo muttered. “I’m stuck with a bunch of kids playing their kiddies games on my birthday.”

“It wasn’t our fault that you were born on April’s fool,” Chen Yi pointed out.

“Stop messing with him already,” Qiao Qiao said. “Let’s head out.”

With that, she got up and grabbed her small backpack from behind her.

“So now they leave us alone?” Ehlo asked no one in particular.

“Come on now,” Angela said. “They’re just trying to cheer you up. You can’t be mad at them, can you?”

“When did you become so understanding of others?” Ehlo asked, turning to her.

Angela knew he was kidding so she hit him on the shoulder. He smiled at her before getting up himself.

“Guess what?” Bianca shouted toward their direction.

She and Johnny had been at the ticket booth talking to one of the employees the whole while the rest of them were there.

“What?” Angela asked back.

Qiao Qiao, Chen Yi, and Achel–who were supposed to be leaving–stopped to listen in also.

“Free tickets to the amusement park!” Bianca shouted, holding up two tickets in front of them.

“Great,” Ehlo said sarcastically.

“Cheer up!” Bianca urged. “How about this? We’ll give it to you!”

“No need,” Ehlo said. “You guys use it.”

“You didn’t ask me,” Angela jumped in, staring at Ehlo with her dagger eyes.

“Sorry,” Ehlo said. “But I thought since we have to let the kiddies come too…”

“Hey!” Chen Yi interrupted. “Like we want to follow you. It was just a coincidence we were here in the first place.”

“Sure, whatever you say, kid,” Ehlo shot back.

“If he thinks he’s too cool for us, let’s get out of here,” Qiao Qiao said, grabbing Chen Yi’s arm–and signaling for Achel to do the same.

“Fine,” Chen Yi said, defeated.

He left with the girls while the other four stared after them.

“Nice going,” Angela remarked.

“I was just joking with the little kids,” Ehlo said with a grin. “They think that they’re the only ones who can pull those tricks on me?”

“Hmp,” Angela muttered, not as amused as Ehlo had expected.

“Come on,” Ehlo said, pulling on her arm. “Let’s go somewhere else. The zoo isn’t exactly my definition for fun, you know.”

Johnny and Bianca ended up following the two. They went to the amusement park where Bianca just got the tickets and spent the rest of the afternoon there.

*****

“I honestly hope it’s worth it,” Chen Yi said, crashing down onto the sofa next to Ming Dao.

“What did you guys do?” Ming Dao asked, curious.

“We ticked Ehlo off and sort of had a fight with him and…” Qiao Qiao said, her voice trailing since she could see everyone in the room stopping what they were doing to stare at her. “What?!”

“I didn’t tell you guys to be so extreme,” Wallace said. “What if he doesn’t come home at all tonight but end up…”

“At our place?” Sam finished.

“Didn’t mean it that way,” Wallace said with a nervous laugh.

“Well, we can’t dwell on that now, right?” Sonia interfered. “Let’s finish this up and we’ll find out in two hours.”

“That’s right,” Jacky agreed. “Cheer up, guys. We’re not going to some funeral.”

“Zhu Fan Gang!” Everyone yelled out at the same time–including Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao.

“Sorry,” Jacky said, covering his mouth.

*****

After having been gone for half of the day doing pointless activities, Ehlo was more than ready to head home. He wondered why he went with the other three in the first place. He must admit that even if they were the most wonderful group of people he’d met in his entire life, but they were not that exciting in terms of planning activities for his birthday. Yes, it was just a day to remind him that he was getting there, but could they put in more effort than this? How old were they all really? A day at the park?

“Where should we go now?” Angela asked Bianca.

Ehlo rolled his eyes, wanting to put an end to this as soon as possible. He had to work tomorrow. What were they trying to do? Stay out all night just to prove they could spend every minute with him?

“Let’s head home,” Johnny spoke up after checking his watch. “It’s not that late but we all have work tomorrow, right?”

“Thank you,” Ehlo piped in, relief that Johnny brought it to the girls’ attention.

“All right,” Angela said, sounding almost disappointed.

“I guess we’ll have to take the girls back to our house first?” Johnny suggested. “I mean since Bianca have to pick up her car and all.”

Ehlo nodded.

*****

“I want to go inside for a bit,” Angela spoke up as soon as Ehlo pulled into the driveway.

“You need a drink of water after all that talking?” Ehlo teased.

“That’s mean,” Angela said, hitting him on the shoulder in the process.

Ehlo smiled. “Lucky I’ve already parked or we’ll end up by that pole over there.”

The others got out one-by-one, ignoring Ehlo.

“So you guys aren’t going to talk to me now?” Ehlo asked, getting out also. “It’s still several more hours before 12, you know.”

The others didn’t reply. They just continued toward the walkway leading to the porch.

“Hey, you’re going to keep ignoring me while walking into my house?” Ehlo attempted.

“I live here too, you know,” Johnny reminded Ehlo.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Ehlo said, catching up to Angela. “Anyway, I was…”

“Surprise!” A thunderous sound echoed as the door opened.

Ehlo repressed a scream as soon as the lights came on. He scanned the room to see a group of smiling people in front of him–his friends to be exact.

“How do you like this one, Huang?” Wallace asked from the center of the room, gesturing his hand at the current setting.

Ehlo still didn’t say anything but just continued to observe his surroundings. He then turned to stare at Angela–who had a bright smile on her face at that moment. He slipped a hand around her shoulders before turning to the others again. The others were unusually quiet at the moment, waiting for his response. He looked at Wallace in the eyes before saying, “You know what? You guys suck big time on the surprise thing.”

“Are you being ungrateful, Huang?” Qiao Qiao asked.

“I know,” Chen Yi followed. “After all, we did keep Qiao out of the kitchen just to guarantee you won’t be poisoned.”

Everyone couldn’t help but laugh at Chen Yi’s words, including Ehlo. Only Qiao Qiao looked annoyed, giving him a dagger look.

“Honestly though,” Wallace said, finally regaining himself. “Why do we suck?”

“You kept me bored for half of the day just for this?” Ehlo asked, gesturing his left hand for effect.

“How else would we set this up if you could roam around freely and happily?” Jacky asked.

“Very funny,” Ehlo said, annoyed.

“Why are we still standing around here?” Qiao Qiao jumped in.

“Exactly my point!” Chen Yi chimed in. “Let’s party!”

“So this is a kiddie party after all?” Ehlo asked, gesturing his left hand again.

“Hey!” Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao exclaimed at the same time.

“Just kidding, guys,” Ehlo said, finally putting on a smile. “You guys can pull an April’s fool on me but I can’t on you?”

The others could see that Ehlo was kidding so they smiled back at him.

“Thanks, guys,” Ehlo said with much gratitude and appreciation–contrary to his previous sharp words.

The others either smiled or signaled out to him that it was nothing as he pulled Angela into a hug.

© Friday, March 13th, 2009

Posted: Friday, February 11th, 2011

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