Chapter 15 – Signed, Sealed, and it’s an Agreement

“Black ink and white paper,” Ehlo drawled out dramatically. “This is what I call a guaranteed contract.”

Tang Feng turned to the others again. “I keep one, you guys keep one. Fair?”

Wallace nodded. “Fair enough.”

“May our collaboration be a success,” Tang Feng continued in his professional tone, extending his hand to Wallace.

Wallace shook Tang Feng’s hand to seal the deal while Ehlo zoomed in on the handshake to dramatize the moment on his camera.

“Doesn’t this call for a celebration?” Ehlo asked excitedly, looking at his watch.

“What do you suggest then?” Wallace asked back.

“Everything’s still too early to be sure of anything,” Tang Feng reminded them. “How about saving it for your actual success?”

Wallace nodded. “That’s true.”

“If everything goes smoothly after two months, I’ll personally pay for all expenses of your so-called celebration.”

“Deal,” Ehlo said, extending his hand out to Tang Feng.

Tang Feng shook it real quick before turning to stare at the girls. “Objections?”

“Wouldn’t it be unfair since the time limit would cut into renovation?” Qiao Qiao asked.

Tang Feng smiled. “Clever girl.”

“Well?”

“I won’t count renovations or preparations. Two months will start from opening day, all right?”

“That’s better,” Qiao Qiao said.

Tang Feng scanned everyone present once again. “Anything else?”

“I guess it’s done for now,” Wallace said on everyone’s behalf.

“Our planning starts tomorrow then.”

Wallace nodded.

“I don’t like people coming late or bringing friends along,” Tang Feng continued, his eyes staring at all the extra people in the room.

“It’ll only be me tomorrow,” Wallace said.

“What do you mean?” Chen Yi jumped in. “What about us?”

Wallace turned around to see Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao giving him disapproving looks. “You guys have work, remember?”

“We’re in on the plan,” Chen Yi said, speaking up for both him and Qiao Qiao.

Wallace wrinkled his face.

“You can say I’m bored of my current job,” Qiao Qiao said.

“And I’m too talented for my company to handle,” Chen Yi joked.

Wallace turned back to Tang Feng. “It’s your call.”

“Since most of the people leave already, I guess I’ll need some to get this whole thing going, right?” Tang Feng said casually. “Who else is in then?”

“I am,” Cyndi said, stepping forward at that time.

Tang Feng turned his attention to her upon hearing her declaration. “Are you sure, Xiao Ling?”

Cyndi nodded.

The others were a bit puzzled that Cyndi didn’t care to correct Tang Feng of his nickname for her. But they guessed that since Tang Feng was willing to negotiate with them already, so Cyndi did not want to upset him at that moment.

“Me too,” Simon said, stepping forward from the group also. “I wasn’t there for the rest of the team when they needed me this past month. I want to be there for everyone from this time on.”

“All right,” Tang Feng said. “Five.”

Wallace turned to Simon with a smile, clapping on his shoulder. “Welcome back, S.”

“That’s it,” Tang Feng said. “No more.”

“Looks like you guys are back where you started,” Ehlo said, smiling.

“And…” Tang Feng jumped in before the others could voice their opinions. “No more silly games in the future like buying those ornaments or other types of decorations. If you guys have problems, come talk to me. Sabotage is only for kids or people who do not have brains. I expect you to be more responsible than that.”

The others nodded in agreement.

“And…”

The others stayed silent again, waiting for Tang Feng’s next words.

“The reason why I actually agree to go ahead with this is because I could see through your friendship with one another, not because I agree with your games.”

“All these coming from a prankster?” Ehlo asked, shocked of Tang Feng’s little lecture.

The others turned to give Ehlo a murderous look, wondering what possessed him to speak up like that. They did not want to risk getting Tang Feng mad for whatever reason.

“Former prankster,” Tang Feng corrected Ehlo, still looking at the crowd in general. “The reason why I’m even saying this is because I’m going to be your boss starting from this day on. I do not want to end our plan before it even starts.”

The five–who he had directed his eyes toward when he spoke those last few words–nodded.

“I’m going to clear up some suspicions before we can all leave.”

The others still stayed silent.

“I saw you guys the day you went to that place to buy your props for the silly skit. I followed you and saw it all. It was then that I sent my assistant out to investigate further into the matter. That was how I knew from the start and did not fall into your traps.”

The others exchanged a look with one another, feeling chills running down their backs.

“This is not to scare you but to say that, ‘Don’t think that others do not know.’”

“Why did you follow us then?” Qiao Qiao asked, puzzled. “I mean we’re just doing…”

“It’s sabotage,” Tang Feng said, cutting her off. “Others aren’t aware of it because they’re your neighbors and are aware of your gatherings that they thought it was somewhere along that line.”

“You didn’t answer my question. Why did you follow us?”

“Curiosity.”

“That means you were sneaking around too.”

“Qiao,” Wallace said, placing a hand on her shoulder to stop her. “He’s right. If he didn’t follow us and tried to stop us, we would’ve gone overboard with the game.”

“But we were just…”

He turned his full attention to her this time, his eyes serious and sharp. “It doesn’t matter. What if we got too excited in the game to stop? Or how long would we continue this until we could think of a better solution?”

“But I still don’t get why he would help us like that.”

“You can call it curiosity and an itch for old time’s sake,” Tang Feng said. “Or I like to throw money around because I’m bored since I just got back from the States.”

Qiao Qiao didn’t say anything more but still looked like she was still suspicious of the whole situation.

“All right,” Tang Feng said. “That’s it. Let’s get out of here and call it a day.”

“Wait,” Qiao Qiao said, speaking up again.

The others turned to her, holding their breaths silently.

“You haven’t told us about your idea for the new name.”

The others turned their attention to Tang Feng.

“It’s a secret,” Tang Feng replied. “But you will know in the upcoming days.”

Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face.

“Mr. Huo did say that it’s up to me.”

“That’s right,” Wallace said.

“Then we’re set.”

The others nodded in agreement before dispersing.

“Where are we going now?” Ehlo asked Wallace as they were piling out the door.

“You guys go first, I’ll stay a bit more,” Wallace said, stepping back.

Ehlo turned to look at Wallace but he could see that Wallace probably had some unfinished business with Tang Feng so he nodded. He followed Angela, Chen Yi, Achel, Qiao Qiao, and Simon outside. Cyndi turned to Wallace and saw him gesture for her to go first so she nodded, joining Ehlo and Angela by Wallace’s car, which was parked a little down the street. The others headed for their cars instead of lingering around like many times before. They promised to meet up at East Shore Café later to talk more among themselves. Only Ehlo, Angela, and Cyndi were still around since they came with Wallace earlier.

Wallace watched the others disappear out of sight before turning back to Tang Feng.

“What is there to talk about now?” Tang Feng asked–out of curiosity and not annoyance.

“Although you didn’t answer Qiao Qiao’s question but…” Wallace began.

“It doesn’t matter. Why must there always be an answer? Can’t I be some strange person who likes to experiment since I can toss money around?”

“I thought you’re not like that. Didn’t you say that we could think that the other day and now?”

Tang Feng shook his head. “Nothing gets past you, huh? You’re the cleverest one among that bunch. But sometimes you just have to let it rest. Maybe you will understand my bizarre side when we work together for the upcoming days.”

“How can we trust you if…”

“It’s not a matter of trust but professionalism. I already agreed to your terms. Don’t you think that I will suffer a higher loss if it doesn’t work?”

Wallace knew there was no point in pursuing the matter further since Tang Feng would not tell him so he decided to drop it for now. He nodded and turned to leave at last.

“I honestly hope that our collaboration will be successful,” Tang Feng said.

“We’ll see,” Wallace said, pulling on the door handle.

Tang Feng looked after Wallace with a secretive smile of his own. We’ll see indeed, he thought to himself.

*****

Wallace stepped outside in the afternoon sun and took in a breath of fresh air before glancing down the street to see the others already inside his car, waiting for him. They’d rolled down the window to enjoy the afternoon’s air. He must admit that he rather have them here with him than none at all. He suddenly felt lucky that Tang Feng had to delay their meeting until the afternoon instead of in the morning like they’d agreed upon last week.

“Hey Wallace!” A girl’s voice calling to him from nearby.

Wallace turned toward his left to see Penny walking out from next door. She must be visiting Melody again.

“How’s it going?” Penny asked with one of her sweet smiles. “Haven’t seen you around for a while.”

“I’ve been busy,” Wallace answered.

“Found a new job yet?”

Wallace smiled, looking at the shop behind him again. “Yes.”

“That’s great then.”

“What about you, Miss Lin? How’s life?”

Penny let out a secretive smile before answering. “I have good news.”

Wallace studied her face carefully, wondering what she was up to. “What?”

Her smile suddenly turned to indescribable happiness. “I’m getting engaged.”

“With Ambrose?”

“Who else?”

Wallace smiled, feeling silly. It must be his overworked brain from these past weeks that had caused his slowness. He finally spoke up after that brief reflection moment.  “Congratulations then!”

She shook his extended hand with that same felicity smile. “Thank you.”

They let go of each other’s hand and let out a casual smile once again, looking at the afternoon’s setting sun.

“When is it your turn?” Penny asked suddenly, turning to him again.

Wallace smiled.  “We’ll see.”

“All right. See you around then.”

Wallace smiled again before stepping toward his car where his friends were waiting.

*****

“So he knew our little game the whole time?” Jacky asked, eyeing the others to see if they were making it up.

“Yes,” Ehlo answered, his expression less determined than his usual self.

“He’s creepy then,” Bianca said.

“I thought we agreed on that a long time ago,” Ehlo reminded her.

“I guess we’ll have fun working with him, huh?” Chen Yi asked the others, flashing out his mischievous boyish smile–which seemed to have been gone on his face since when they could not remember.

“Good luck, man,” Ehlo said, clapping Chen Yi’s shoulder for luck.

“Like I need it. I’ll blend right in.”

“We’ll see.”

Wallace smiled upon hearing the familiar phrase he uttered out since he left the shop earlier – on both very different occasions and circumstances. He raised his iced tea glass up suddenly.  “How about we toast for our reunited team?”

Cyndi was the first to raise her glass to him–contrary to many times before where Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao would’ve beaten her to it already. “I agree.”

“Why not?” Chen Yi asked, raising his glass also.

Qiao Qiao quickly raised hers to the others as well.

“Welcome back, S,” Wallace repeated his words from when they were at the agency.

Simon smiled and raised his glass to theirs.

After they drank a sip or two to demonstrate the little toast, Ehlo spoke up.

“Why did you two decided to come back though?” Ehlo asked, studying Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao carefully.

“Excitement,” Chen Yi said.

“What about Alyssa though?” Bianca asked, repeating her concern of days ago.

“I already clarified with Auntie Zhao what is going on at the old place so she knows that it has nothing to do with Alyssa anymore,” Tony said. “Hopefully, that will ease off some pressure for Alyssa.”

Wallace nodded. “I guess we have to get used to the idea of not having a lady boss anymore, huh?”

“I wonder what he has in store for us tomorrow,” Qiao Qiao said.

“I hope he doesn’t disappoint,” Chen Yi said, letting out a secretive smile. “I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy this. A gift shop?”

“You might be bored of it again,” Qiao Qiao reminded him.

“No,” Chen Yi said. “Not with the former prankster around.”

“You’re still not scared after that lecture he gave us earlier?” Ehlo asked, his voice teasing more than showing signs of fear.

“I have a feeling it’s just a matter of pep talk so we could be serious about our commitment in the plan.”

“Oh yeah, how are you guys going to drop this one on your boss?” Wallace asked, turning to Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao.

“Submit my resignation letter, what else?” Chen Yi said, shrugging his shoulders. “I’ll probably have to stay awhile until they find someone to replace me.”

“Same,” Qiao Qiao answered.

Wallace turned to Cyndi at that time.

“I’m still in my initial point,” Cyndi said. “It wouldn’t be a problem if I quit now.”

“That’s set then, huh?”

“Let’s cheer before we separate,” Tony said.

“Where you going?” Ehlo asked, turning to him.

“Home, what else?”

Ehlo stared at the sky with the tints of orange waiting to take over the blue-ish color.

“Mom wants to meet Yan.”

Ehlo nodded. “Ooooh…judgment day, huh?”

“Don’t joke about that. You’re making her nervous.”

“I’m not,” Esther protested.

Tony turned to give her a smile before returning his glare to the others. “How about that toast then?”

“What is it for?” Qiao Qiao asked.

“Future success?”

“Big deal!”

The others turned to Qiao Qiao, waiting for her to elaborate.

“We already toast on that one thousands of times.”

“So?” Ehlo jumped in, contradicting her on purpose.

“So let’s try something else.”

“Like?” Chen Yi prompted.

“Power!”

Wallace and Ehlo exchanged a look.

“We love to hear about it,” Ehlo said. “But could you speed up the process a bit before the ice in our drinks melt?”

Chen Yi couldn’t help giving Ehlo a high five while Qiao Qiao sent them a dagger look.

“Calm down, sis,” Jacky said. “They’re kidding.”

“Of course, we were,” Ehlo said, giving in.

“Okay,” Qiao Qiao said, not convinced at all.

“Power for what?” Jacky asked.

“Power over Tang Feng!”

Ehlo and Chen Yi couldn’t hold it anymore. They ended up holding their stomach, trying to stop their laughter with not much success. Chen Yi–who had been sitting on top of a table nearby–instead of in chairs like the others, had to switch to sitting at the chair near him before he fell down.

“Very funny,” Qiao Qiao snapped upon seeing the guys’ reaction.

“It’s not…that….” Ehlo managed but stopped again since he was still unable to control himself.

Chen Yi had to stop since he had ended up coughing and was trying to take a drink out of his glass so he could restore himself.

“Not in a million of years,” Ehlo said finally.

“Why not?” Qiao Qiao asked.

“Either we end up being friends with him or let him boss us around,” Chen Yi said. “Overpowering him? It’s like trying to overpower Tony.”

“Thanks for the support,” Tony said.

Chen Yi gave him a smile before turning to Qiao Qiao again.

“Just because he’s our senior?” Qiao Qiao asked, looking at Chen Yi with much disbelief.

“No,” Chen Yi said. “Because he is a former prankster.”

“If we’re not toasting on anything, then I’m leaving,” Tony said.

“How about saving this toast for next time then?” Wallace suggested.

“When success is finally here?”

Wallace nodded.

“Fine with me.”

“Good luck.”

Tony wrinkled his face in confusion.

“He meant with presenting your mom her future daughter-in-law,” Ehlo clarified on Wallace’s behalf.

“Very funny,” Tony said, tugging on Esther’s hand at that time.

Ehlo flashed out his mischievous smile. “Anytime.”

“Have fun!” Qiao Qiao shouted after the two.

“What do we do now?” Ehlo asked, turning to the others again.

“Head home and sleep,” Wallace said, letting out a yawn.

Ehlo wrinkled his face. “At this time?”

“Come on man.”

“What did you do last night?”

“Finalizing the plan,” Wallace said.

“I thought you had that ready ages ago.”

“I had to double check and add more details in.”

“Oh.”

“Want to drive?”

“Sure, why not?”

Wallace and Ehlo got up at that time.

“I guess we have no choice but to follow you two, huh?” Angela asked, getting up also.

“Sorry, Mrs. Huang,” Ehlo said. “I don’t have my car with me.”

Angela smiled. “I’m just kidding.”

“See you guys later,” Cyndi said, waving to the others.

“Well?” Jacky asked, turning to the ones still around.

“I think I’m leaving too,” Simon said, standing up to excuse himself.

“All right then. Take care.”

Simon nodded and headed toward the parking lot also.

Jacky turned to the last of the group at that time.

“I guess I have to go pick Johnny up,” Bianca said, standing up as well.

“We’ll go with you,” Jacky said, getting up.

“We are?” Sonia asked, looking at Jacky.

“I changed my mind.”

Sonia nodded, getting up.

Jacky turned to the remaining five. “I guess see you guys later?”

“Guess so,” Chen Yi said, giving them a wave.

“I’ll call you tomorrow regarding our upcoming program, Sam,” Sonia said quickly.

Sam nodded.

Jacky and the others left after that.

“Well?” Qiao Qiao asked, turning to the other four.

“Karaoke night?” Chen Yi suggested.

“Yeah right,” Qiao Qiao said.

“Then why you ask?”

“Maybe we should all go back since we still have a long week before us?” Ming Dao hinted.

“No fun,” Qiao Qiao said, wrinkling her face.

“He’s right,” Chen Yi said. “Come on, Xiao Yu.”

He and Achel left also.

“And if you need help typing your resignation letter, feel free to holler!” Chen Yi yelled back at Qiao Qiao in mockery.

“You’re not funny!” Qiao Qiao shot back.

They could hear Chen Yi’s laughter though he had gone far.

Ming Dao, Qiao Qiao, and Sam ended up leaving together since they had no choice but to. The guys dropped Qiao Qiao off at her house before heading home also.

*****

“Are you sure this game is beatable?” Ehlo asked, turning to Wallace again.

“Of course, it is,” Wallace said. “If not, why would they make it for? Trying to tempt us?”

“They could.”

“Why are you guys arguing over a game?” Angela asked.

Ehlo flashed out his charming smile. “We just have all the time in the world.”

“Cute.”

Ehlo brushed his hair with his hand real quick. “Of course.”

Angela shook her head and joined the others in the kitchen again.

“Ready for Round 2, Huang?” Wallace asked, turning to Ehlo again.

“Sure,” Ehlo answered with much more confidence than a minute ago.

“Why are we hiding from the others?” Angela asked, sitting down between Cyndi and Bianca.

“Because we’re sick of them?” Ehlo asked, having heard her.

“Don’t shoot him!” Chen Yi shouted seconds later.

“Sorry,” Ehlo said, his attention back on the screen.

“You just lost us a life.”

“Relax, kid. We’re going to get it back like…now.”

“I think he has a lot of luck tonight,” Wallace commented.

“Do you guys think it’s right to just abandon the others just like that?” Angela pondered aloud again.

“Come on now,” Ehlo jumped in again. “If we spend every single minute with them, we’ll go crazy.”

“If they find out we’re here, we’re dead meat.”

“When have you become such a scaredy-cat?”

“I’m not. It’s just…”

“What?”

“Don’t!” Chen Yi and Wallace yelled out at the same time.

“Sorry!” Ehlo said, turning back on the screen again.

“Lucky you missed or we’ll kill you for it,” Wallace said.

“But seriously,” Ehlo said. “Why are you worried about it? I’m sure they have other plans too.”

“I don’t know,” Angela said, wrinkling her face.

“Come on, cheer up,” Bianca said, placing a hand on her shoulder.

“It’s like we’re trying to avoid Qiao or something,” Angela said finally.

“Are you still thinking about it?” Ehlo asked.

“Yu Rong…” Jacky said, trying to shut Ehlo up.

“She hinted it first,” Ehlo said.

“It’s okay if we talk about it,” Achel said. “I mean I’m okay. Jie, don’t be sad. What passed already passed. We can’t hold it over anyone.”

“Angela jie, you can’t be serious,” Chen Yi jumped in. “No one cares about it anymore. Besides, it’s just Monday. Everyone has to work tomorrow so it would make sense that we’re not really up for any other activities.”

“And we’re all here because?” Angela asked them all.

“We’re bored?” Ehlo filled in.

“I was in for this new Wii game you guys got,” Chen Yi said. “But seriously though, it’s tiring to be hanging out with some people all the time, especially when they don’t have a sense of humor.”

“Who are you talking about then?”

“Just saying.”

“It feels kind of comforting though,” Wallace said.

Ehlo raised an eyebrow. “Huh?”

“No outsiders around.”

“Thanks then,” Chen Yi said.

“What do you mean?” Ehlo asked.

“For saying that I’m not an outsider.”

“We’re in the same clan, you can’t be an outsider.”

“This is the part where Chen Yi’s going to hug you for saying that,” Wallace jumped in.

“Shut up, man!”

“Ha!”

“Good shot.”

“Do you guys ever get tired of all these shooting games?” Bianca asked from the kitchen counter.

“It’s fun,” Ehlo replied.

“And challenging,” Wallace chimed in.

“And addicting,” Chen Yi wrapped up.

“Great, we have ‘The Three Musketeers’ now,” Bianca muttered before turning back to talk to the other girls.

“Isn’t it a bit silly that we’re hiding here and playing games though?” Ehlo asked suddenly.

“Now you feel weird without the others too, huh?” Angela asked.

“No. I just think it would be fun to beat the other guys so bad they have to run home and cry.”

“Who is going to cry first though?” Chen Yi asked.

“We’re from the same clan, don’t tempt me.”

“Votes?” Wallace said suddenly.

Ehlo turned to him briefly. “What?”

“Who wants to invite those guys over here? It’s almost dinner time anyway.”

“Might as well.”

“No objections?”

“Finish this battle first,” Ehlo said.

“Yeah,” Chen Yi agreed. “This is the final battle.”

“I’ll go then,” Jacky said, getting up from his seat behind the counter–next to Sonia.

“Thanks, man,” Ehlo blurted out.

Jacky made sure to walk behind the guys instead of in front of them so they wouldn’t be affected. He shook his head silently at his friends’ addiction. As he grabbed the handle, the doorbell rang. He turned around to look at the others once more before turning back to open the door.

“You look devastated,” Jacky commented. “What happened?”

“I’m just bored,” Qiao Qiao replied, sounding energy drained.

“Come on in,” Jacky said. “We’re going to cheer you up in no time.”

Qiao Qiao stepped into the room to find the others–who claimed tiredness or other commitments–all there in the house. “You guys have been hiding here all this time?”

“Hey, was going to call some people over for more fun,” Ehlo said, sounding almost defensive.

“Don’t talk,” Chen Yi said. “You always get distracted. I don’t want to play this again.”

“Okay,” Wallace said. “Focus, everyone.”

“They’ve been at it since they got home,” Jacky explained to Qiao Qiao. “Just go ahead and go into the kitchen with the others but don’t walk in front of them or you’ll have to face the consequences. I’m going to ask Ming Dao and Sam if they’re interested in joining us for dinner.”

Qiao Qiao stepped into the room timidly, feeling like she just invaded into their private party after passing through the threshold. She could see that all three guys–Chen Yi, Ehlo, and Wallace–had their eyes glued to the screen, focusing on their game. She looked into the kitchen to see the girls chatting happily among themselves. What made her feel even more out of place was her two best friends were fitting in with the others more than she–who was usually more actively involved with the others than them. Sonia caught her eyes as she continued to stare with envy at the others engaging in conversation. Sonia waved to her and gestured for her to come toward them. However, she felt like she was going to create some ruptures if she as much as took a step.

“Don’t tell me you’ve been standing here the whole time,” Jacky’s voice brought her back to reality. “Come on, sis.”

Qiao Qiao turned around to see Jacky–but no Ming Dao and Sam.

Jacky seemed to have read her mind so he flashed out his reassuring smile. “They’ll be over in a bit. Come on.”

Qiao Qiao allowed herself to be led into the kitchen by Jacky, finally feeling all right that he was there since he had always been the one link between her and the rest of his friends.

“Darn it!” Ehlo yelled out seconds later.

“Cover me,” Wallace said. “I’m going to shoot the disk, you two shoot the dude.”

“Okay,” Chen Yi agreed.

“Why are you so quiet tonight?” Jacky asked, looking at Qiao Qiao.

Qiao Qiao had chosen the space next to Bianca but only listened in since she sat down. Now that Jacky asked, she turned to him with a clueless expression on her face.

“You all right?” Jacky asked, his full attention on her now.

Qiao Qiao nodded.

“Yes!” All three guys–Chen Yi, Ehlo, and Wallace–screamed out in joy, slapping each other high fives at that time.

“This is what I call teamwork,” Ehlo shouted.

“Will you guys knock it off?” Angela asked, turning to give them all a look.

“What happened?” Ehlo asked back, walking into kitchen at that time.

“Qiao, you all right?” Angela asked, turning to Qiao Qiao.

Qiao Qiao nodded again.

“You’re scaring us by not saying anything,” Ehlo jumped in.

“It’s just weird to see you guys all here,” Qiao Qiao said finally.

“You could’ve come here to look for us.”

“How about karaoke night then?” Chen Yi said, putting up his suggestion from earlier again.

“Sure, why not?” Wallace said, walking into the kitchen.

“You want to talk alone?” Jacky whispered into Qiao Qiao’s ear, having a protective hand around her shoulders.

“Don’t tell me you’re still feeling sad because Ming Dao has a girlfriend now,” Chen Yi jumped in.

The others–excluding Achel–turned to Chen Yi. “You knew?”

“Sure,” Chen Yi replied casually. “I bumped into Ming Dao one time and he told me.”

The others turned to Qiao Qiao.

“What?” Chen Yi asked, wrinkling his face in confusion. “Are you guys hiding anything from me? Like again?”

“It’s nothing,” Qiao Qiao said, getting up from her seat.

“Stay,” Jacky said, pressing a hand on her shoulder and making her sit down again. “Are you really all right?”

“I’m fine now,” Qiao Qiao said, turning to him. “I was just feeling a bit left out earlier, that’s all.”

“Stop talking in codes, guys,” Chen Yi warned them. “Come on now!”

They could see Chen Yi’s mood changing.

“Sorry,” Qiao Qiao mumbled, her head down. “It’s my fault for making a big deal. Let’s just get ready for dinner, okay?”

“It’s not about that,” Chen Yi said. “And you think I’m that dumb to not figure it out that you went along with my plan?”

The others turned to Chen Yi, their turn to be confused.

“So I figured out that Qiao was lying as soon as I learned that Ming Dao already has a girlfriend.” He let out a sigh, his attention on Qiao Qiao only. “What didn’t happen between us…was meant to be like that. It doesn’t mean I’m the bigger person by taking that step before or you’re a bigger person by holding it back either. It’s just a big misunderstanding because we failed to speak up and just allowed assumptions to take over at that time. It also means that we didn’t succeed because we can’t just be honest with our feelings at that time, okay? I don’t know if you still like me or not. But I can tell you now that I don’t, okay? I’m not just saying that because Xiao Yu and everyone are present. I’m saying this so you guys don’t have to sneak around and trying to protect the inevitable to happen anymore. Like what if I know and want to get together with you again. Because if you know me, you would know I’m not that type of guy. Once I made a decision, I will not turn back. Understand?”

Qiao Qiao nodded, realizing Chen Yi was right. She was being silly. They all had been. After all, hadn’t she known him all these years? Before she even came to know anyone else in the room. Aside from Achel and Esther. Why was she such a coward to face such consequences? It was no time to play hero.

“It’s not the end of the world, okay?” Chen Yi continued. “Besides, our tempers clash too much to get along as a couple. We’re better as pals, right?”

Qiao Qiao nodded again. “I’ve been so silly.” She turned to the others. “I’m sorry, everyone, for causing you to worry.”

The others shook their heads, indicating they did not mind.

Qiao Qiao got up from her place at that time and stretched, sighing out before speaking up again. “It feels so good now. It’s like a heavy burden has been lifted off my chest.”

“Good then,” Chen Yi said, smiling again.

“I feel so silly now, keeping everything inside.” She stopped and turned to Achel. “I never congratulated you two properly. Sorry, Xiao Yu.”

Achel got up as well, feeling nervous. “I should be saying sorry. Are you sure…you’re not just saying it so I would feel better?”

Qiao Qiao smiled, wrapping a hand around Achel’s shoulders. “Silly, girl. I think I dodged a disaster. I should thank you for taking Chen Yi in.”

“Hey!” Chen Yi jumped in, feeling offended.

Qiao Qiao laughed before turning to Chen Yi again—with her hand still wrapped around Achel. “You better take good care of our Xiao Yu or else.”

Achel suddenly turned a tad pink, not used to having the limelight on her.

“You betcha,” Chen Yi said, his bright smile on again.

“All right,” Ehlo shouted, his voice more energetic than ever. Possibly from knowing everything was already taken care of. “Let’s get dinner going, okay?”

Qiao Qiao and Achel released each other and turned to the others again.

“Are you our leader now?” Qiao Qiao joked, wiping her tears from her face.

“If I don’t take the lead, we’ll be starving soon,” Ehlo returned, his smile showing traces of apparent relief.

“Then let’s get started, everyone,” Jacky urged, finally stepping away from his place next to Qiao Qiao.

“I have to give you your copy of the Soulfest Duo’s book later,” Qiao Qiao said to Chen Yi as the others were scattering around the room again–since they were all stationed in the kitchen to listen earlier.

“I got one,” Chen Yi said.

“A signed copy,” Qiao Qiao clarified.

He smiled. “You’re kidding?”

Qiao Qiao smiled also. “I’m good, right?”

“I can’t believe you’re that patience.”

They heard the doorbell at that time.

“I’ll get it,” Ehlo volunteered, running to the door.

A minute later, he came back with Ming Dao and Sam.

“Looks like a reunion tonight,” Sam blurted out as soon as he stepped into the room.

“Seems that way,” Jacky said.

“What’s going on here?” Ming Dao asked, looking from one person to the other.

“All right, everyone,” Jacky said, clapping his hands together. “Dinner time.”

“I’ll go call Johnny,” Ehlo said, walking away from the group.

“I’ll clean up then,” Wallace added–since they had abandoned that task temporarily earlier.

“I’ll help you,” Chen Yi chimed in.

“Then let’s go.”

While Wallace and Chen Yi cleaned up the living room, Jacky and the others helped set dinner up while Ming Dao and Sam took a seat at the table. Qiao Qiao finally got up to help the others as well, feeling her mood finally improving since she could feel the excitement of the night building up again. Having already gotten everything out in the open was much better than having it bottled inside all along.

“Who says we can’t celebrate early, right?” Qiao Qiao asked the others when they all sat down to eat.

The others smiled, knowing that Qiao Qiao was all right again. They were also glad that their princess was cheerful again.

“To our success in teamwork,” Wallace said cheerfully, raising his orange juice glass.

“You mean the game or…” Ehlo began.

“Both.”

“All right!”

“Stop toasting or we’ll be full of water instead of food,” Sonia warned them.

“That’s right,” Jacky agreed. “Listen to our favorite DJ.”

Sonia turned to give him a look. Jacky returned it with one of his charming smiles while Ehlo clapped him on the shoulder for support.

“Huang Yu Rong,” Angela called out, her voice stern.

“I know,” Ehlo said. “I forgot my place again.”

Angela smiled. “Now you remember.”

“It feels like the good old days again,” Wallace commented.

“Let’s hope we can survive Tang Feng,” Ehlo said.

Wallace turned to him. “What are you talking about, Huang? We’re the ones dealing with him, not you.”

Ehlo smiled. “Hey, you know me.”

Yes, they all know Ehlo too well with his exaggeration.

The rest of the night continued in that cheerful tone–full of jokes and laughter. They even stayed for karaoke night–and then some.

© Saturday, October 17th, 2009

Posted: Saturday, February 12th, 2011

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