Surprises of all surprises, both groups Johnny, Bianca, and Ming Dao, Sam came back the same day the coming week. (Or more accurately right on Monday.) However, they didn’t have time to come and pick up both parties. Qiao Qiao was still free yet she was on her mission again, a mission to heal her brother. Aside from that goal, Qiao Qiao had blocked out everyone else, knowing they would understand. They were doing just fine and she was still spending time with them, but the person who needed more support was Jacky. According to Ehlo, it was going to be a slow burn. It always was, just based on what happened with past family disagreements and all. And according to Ehlo–as unbelievable as it was, Sonia was Jacky’s first love ever. So Qiao Qiao could imagine the blow.
That night, Qiao Qiao went home with Jacky. She had a feeling he hated being alone during these times. Johnny and Bianca were already there. It looked like Bianca already headed home to shower and change–just like how Johnny had come back there and done the same. Qiao Qiao was a bit surprised that Bianca still wanted to come over, considering it must have been tiring with the trip and all. Yet Bianca was in high spirits. She didn’t look fatigued at all.
“Hey, you guys, missed us?” Bianca greeted them when they entered the living room.
“It looks like you had a good time,” Qiao Qiao commented, knowing she sounded lame–since it was too obvious from Bianca’s expression, but she didn’t know how to sound as lively as Bianca.
“We’re waiting for Wallace,” Johnny said, stepping toward Bianca who was standing in the center of the room.
Bianca sent him one of her sweet smiles. “All right. This is so exciting though.”
“Storytime around the campfire?” Qiao Qiao guessed, her attempt to joke failed again because her tone didn’t sound right.
“Cute,” Bianca said, patting Qiao Qiao’s head lightly before removing her hand from Qiao Qiao’s head.
Qiao Qiao exchanged a look with Jacky yet he was as clueless as she, considering how they arrived home together. “You know it’s not good to eat too much sugar at night, right?” She was implying Bianca’s somewhat hyper mood, guessing Bianca must have had too much sweets.
“I’m just excited,” Bianca said, trying to stand still–yet she couldn’t.
“Try to stay calm,” Johnny said, sliding his hand around her shoulders. “You don’t want to stutter or worse–have a nervous breakdown when Wallace’s finally home, right?”
“Either you’re waiting for Wallace or you want a crowd,” Qiao Qiao guessed, looking around the room. She did a mental check of every face in the room, feeling strange that even Tony and Esther were present, considering how those two would be off to eat dinner with Tony’s mother by this time. “Where’s Cyndi?”
“Bring your brain with you,” Chen Yi jumped in, walking up to them with Achel by his side. “Of course, Wallace’s going to bring Cyndi home with him. Told you to start working again.”
Qiao Qiao scoffed. “Huh…”
“You’re still on your strike?” Bianca asked, turning to Qiao Qiao at that time.
Qiao Qiao shook her head. “Just taking a break. I have a more important project right now.”
Bianca had on her teasing smile. “New boyfriend?”
Qiao Qiao managed a weak laugh. “Yeah right.”
“Talking about that, I think Feng ge misses you a lot,” Chen Yi inputted helpfully at that time.
Qiao Qiao turned to give Chen Yi a glare. “So tell him to get over it.”
Chen Yi smiled, his smart-aleck smile. “Touché.”
“Huo better be home soon ‘cause I need to get going with my project here,” Ehlo complained, walking into the living room at that time. “It’s not even funny to stand around here gawking at each other.”
Before Ehlo could complain some more, he had to get up and go get the door again. It was Ming Dao and Sam.
“Hey, you guys are back!” Qiao Qiao exclaimed, feeling glad for a distraction.
“Hey,” Sam greeted them while Ming Dao had on his puzzled look.
“What happened to you two?”
“My dad got sick so we had to stay behind and help my mom and brother with the shop, and take care of Dad too,” Ming Dao replied.
Qiao Qiao’s smile faded. “Sorry, I didn’t mean…uh…earlier…”
Ming Dao shook his head. “It’s okay. My dad recovered and is well again.”
Qiao Qiao nodded. “Good then.”
Sam looked around at that time. “So what’s the big news?”
Qiao Qiao pointed toward Johnny and Bianca. “Ask them. Jacky ge and I got home just before you two came.”
As if that phrase had triggered something inside Bianca. She finally stepped away from her place next to Johnny and made her way toward Jacky and Qiao Qiao. They had moved to another less crowded spot of the living room.
“I called Sonia earlier and said I could pick her up for this but she said she was heads up with the schedule for next week so she couldn’t make it,” Bianca told them, looking at Jacky mostly.
“Oh,” Jacky muttered.
Qiao Qiao grasped Jacky’s arm then, patting on it for support. Jacky turned to her with a smile. She knew he was restraining himself.
“What’s wrong?” Bianca asked, her smile fading from her face for the first time. Their gestures were too obvious to miss.
“Uh…” Qiao Qiao stuttered, letting go of Jacky’s arm. “I think Wallace should be home soon.”
And it was like Heaven was on Qiao Qiao’s side because Wallace stepped in just about then. Alone, no Cyndi.
“Oh my god, could you tell me the lottery results for this week?” Chen Yi yelled out, walking over to Qiao Qiao again.
Qiao Qiao turned to Chen Yi after sighing out in relief. “What?”
“You said Wallace’s coming and he just walked through the door! How in the world did you do it?” He pointed at her face. “Hey, I know what’s going on. You’re not working anymore because you’d managed to acquire some cool powers, right?”
Bianca looked from one to the other, feeling like they hadn’t changed at all–and that she had read too much into Qiao Qiao’s weird behavior earlier. Her bright smile lit on her face again. “It seems like some things haven’t changed around here.”
“Guess not,” Chen Yi replied. But he didn’t forget about turning to Qiao Qiao and pestering her about her newly acquired powers again.
“You’re just too much, man,” Qiao Qiao returned.
Bianca walked away from them at that time and back to the center of the room–next to Johnny. It was then that Chen Yi flashed Qiao Qiao a wink. And Qiao Qiao caught on right away. She had been too sloppy, causing Bianca to get all suspicious. He had to jump in with his act to divert attention from Bianca.
“You’re welcome,” Chen Yi muttered before turning to listen to what Johnny and Bianca had to say.
“All right, everyone,” Johnny spoke up, at last, clapping his hands for attention.
It didn’t take long since they were already quite anxious to find out about Johnny and Bianca’s announcement.
“I called you all here to announce some good news,” Johnny began after everyone quieted down.
“Hold on,” Bianca interrupted him. “Let me get Sonia.”
Qiao Qiao let out a gasp and stole a quick glance at Jacky, her hands clutching at his shirt sleeves.
“I’m all right,” Jacky whispered to her, not wanting to draw any more attention to them both.
“I thought you said Sonia can’t make it,” Angela spoke up from somewhere to their right.
It was then that Qiao Qiao realized Ehlo was standing to Jacky’s right. Angela, of course, was next to Ehlo.
“She can’t make it, but I still have a way,” Bianca said, her optimism amplified in her voice.
Qiao Qiao, Ehlo, and Angela exchanged a look again, pondering what Bianca was up to. But they soon knew. Bianca had used her phone to call Sonia. As soon as Sonia picked up, Jacky’s expression changed. Qiao Qiao placed a hand on his shoulder, giving him some support.
“All right,” Bianca said, looking at Johnny.
They didn’t waste time to ponder the part of the conversation they missed that was between Bianca and Sonia. They just stayed silent for the next part.
“Ready, everyone?” Bianca asked, looking at them.
Everyone present mumbled something and went back to silence again.
“We’re getting married!” Bianca exclaimed, raising her hand up to show her ring. And she had intended for Johnny to break the news first. So much for it.
Everyone in the room went crazy then. Almost everyone. The others were gathering around Johnny and Bianca, saying their words of congratulations while Jacky and Ehlo sent Johnny a genuine smile.
“I guess it has to be him, huh?” Ehlo asked, turning to Jacky.
Jacky nodded, feeling mixed emotions inside. Though he made sure the smile on his face stayed. Johnny deserved every ounce of sincere from him. After all, the three of them grew up together. They were like brothers.
“Johnny and I were thinking the other day,” Bianca continued as the crowd simmered down once more. “What would happen if we did a triple wedding?”
“Impossible,” Ehlo blurted out, not caring if he was plain rude. “I’m not desperate.”
“Are you saying I am?” Angela returned.
The others laughed upon seeing the dagger look Angela sent Ehlo, at least most of them.
“How about you and Jacky?” Bianca asked into the phone.
Right around then, half of the faces in the room no longer smiled. Qiao Qiao had dug her head into Jacky’s shoulder, wishing for all these to stop. Jacky didn’t know how to react, except pat Qiao Qiao’s shoulder. He felt that suffocating feeling building up inside again. And it was like Qiao Qiao wanted to distract him with something to do so she didn’t care if she was acting bizarre. Her outward reaction could almost match his–if he didn’t have to put up a front.
“Moving on,” Ehlo spoke up at that time, walking up to the center of the room where Johnny and Bianca were standing. “It’s getting late, so let’s clear the way because I need a peaceful atmosphere to complete a project. Sorry to kick everyone out, but the world doesn’t revolve around love, okay? In fact, it’s kind of overrated. Come back this weekend for tea but it’s sort of weekday right now, and it’s getting quite late.” Ehlo turned to Johnny then. “Love you buddy and congrats, but I need to work, okay?” He turned to Bianca as well. “Welcome to our circle, Miss Bai, but it’s like late now. We’ll talk later. You can say goodbye to Johnny like over there.”
As if by magic, the room cleared, except for a few lost persons who didn’t budge–namely Johnny, Bianca, Ming Dao, and Sam. What wasn’t hard to miss was the ones who knew what happened walked by Jacky and gave him a pat or clap on the shoulder on their way out. Only some stopped to whisper words of encouragement to him. Jacky only nodded, smiling out of politeness. Qiao Qiao had already removed her head from Jacky’s shoulder and was helping Ehlo and Angela clear the room as well.
“Uh…you two had a long trip today as well, right?” Qiao Qiao asked, gesturing toward Ming Dao and Sam and offering them a friendly smile. “Might want to go home and rest, eh?”
Ming Dao and Sam exchanged a look, wondering who gave Qiao Qiao permission to kick them out. Then they remembered Ehlo did. So they said some words and left as well.
“Sorry,” Qiao Qiao yelled after them. “Make up to you guys later at some future gatherings.”
Ming Dao didn’t say anything but Sam waved to Qiao Qiao, indicating he wasn’t mad. Most of the people left, except for the people who lived in the house–and Qiao Qiao, Chen Yi, Achel, and Angela. The most obvious person who didn’t leave was Bianca, who launched right into an investigation.
“What in the world was that?” Bianca demanded, giving them a feeling she was channeling Angela. “I don’t mean to sound mean or arrogant, but we announced our future wedding and everyone’s lining up over there and talking to Jacky on the way out?” She realized she was still holding her phone in her hand so she looked down at the screen. “Huh…she hung up on me.”
“Probably her battery died,” Ehlo volunteered the answer.
“We’ll see,” Bianca said, pushing on some buttons on her phone again.
Angela stepped forward then, grabbing Bianca’s hand. “Don’t call her. We’ll tell you what happened.”
Bianca looked up at Angela and saw the seriousness on Angela’s face. Angela finally let go of Bianca’s cell phone and stepped back, sending Ehlo a signal. Ehlo nodded. But Angela didn’t start. She turned to Jacky, waiting for his permission. Jacky nodded, knowing he couldn’t delay things any longer.
“Bianca,” Angela dragged out each syllable. She let out a sigh and looked into Bianca’s eyes before continuing. “Wen Shen came back.”
It was then that some of them realized Wen Shen wasn’t just one of Angela’s nicknames for James out of frustration, but it was acknowledgment with Bianca–and possibly with Sonia as well.
“What?” Bianca asked, not believing Angela.
“Believe it. And…it’s…” Angela wasn’t able to say the last word. What she meant was ‘over’ yet it was too cruel to say it. It was stuck in her throat.
“Let me do it,” Ehlo said, taking over for Angela. He looked at the room full of silence again. “I’m going to need some help so jump in whenever you could.”
The others nodded, understanding. Johnny and Bianca, of course, were still clueless. Ehlo let out a sigh before beginning from the part where they found out about the fake fortune-teller. Of course, they had to edit some scenes, trying hard not to stretch it out too much for Jacky’s sake.
“All of that happened in just weeks?” Bianca blurted out as soon as the others were done with their recounts.
The others nodded, excluding Jacky and Johnny. Jacky had been the only one not speaking up to explain himself the whole time. Qiao Qiao had urged him to leave the room several times since he didn’t need to be there, but he shook his head, wanting to stay.
“How could this be?” Bianca asked rhetorically. She was also lost for words. And she finally understood why the others were rushing to change the subject or attempting to shield Jacky from questions earlier.
“Tell me about it,” Angela said.
“I have to talk to Sonia.”
“Wait until tomorrow.”
“Like I could sleep tonight.”
“Try a sleeping pill,” Ehlo muttered. “We tried and we slept fine these past weeks actually.”
“Yu Rong…” Johnny spoke up finally.
Ehlo had on his oblivious expression. “I have the right to be sarcastic at this point.”
Bianca waved Ehlo off. “It’s okay. I’ll try to talk some senses into Sonia.”
Jacky stepped forward then. “Whatever has passed already passed. Don’t force her anymore.”
Bianca had on her disbelief expression. “How could you act like nothing happened? Like…”
Bianca’s reaction to Jacky’s passivity had also meant they had not mentioned the confrontation between him and Angela that one night.
“Bianca, please…” Angela came to Jacky’s rescue–despite the fact that she had reacted the same way at the beginning. “You don’t know how he feels. None of us do.”
Bianca turned to Angela, surprised. “You actually think he didn’t pull some strings to fake the reports? After all, he…” Of course, she was talking about James–and not Jacky.
Angela sighed out. “I didn’t want to believe it either. But I made sure every detail was exhausted during the investigation.”
“It’s just one week.”
“Jacky paid for all loss from other cases, allowing the guy to work on that case 24/7,” Wallace answered. “Even covering fees for all those connection networks so that guy could extract information from all sorts of people–or sources.”
Everyone turned to Wallace then, including Jacky.
“How did you know?” Jacky asked, his expression as shocked as the others.
“You didn’t want to be involved in the investigation, but the only hand you had in it was covering the fees,” Wallace explained. “Otherwise, how in the world did it go so fast? It would take months even to dig all that dirt. And the number of cases the man had on hand. I didn’t believe the result either, not because I don’t want to accept it, but because it was too fast. So I figured I dug for some logical explanation.”
“You still didn’t answer my question.”
“Simple, went to that guy and asked him about it.”
“He said it’s between me and him.”
“I got some help from Tony.”
“And now I present you the biggest idiot of the century, ladies and gentlemen,” Ehlo narrated, his voice still not losing any ounce of sarcasm.
“I don’t want to take credit,” Jacky clarified, not bothered by Ehlo’s mockery. “I just want this whole thing to move forward faster. I’m not being a bigger person by doing this. I got to know the truth by using that much money on the whole investigation, right? Anyone else looking at this situation would be mocking me for tossing money around while people out there are suffering. So you could just look at it as some spoiled, rich guy not knowing the value of money.”
“You’re still the biggest idiot of the century, no more, no less.”
The room returned to its silent state once more, with each one lost in his or her own thoughts.
The next day after work, Bianca came to the radio station to pick Sonia up. Angela was already in the backseat. She had refused to come, but was dragged there by Bianca.
“Congratulations again,” Sonia said, settling into the passenger seat.
Angela rolled her eyes and received a sharp glare from Bianca. She abandoned the childish scene and buckled up again. While Bianca and Sonia talked random, Angela ended up text messaging Ehlo. He had to work late that night. So she was stuck with Bianca and Sonia until later.
“Angela…” Sonia called her all of a sudden.
Angela lowered her cell phone and gave Sonia her attention.
“I know you’re still mad at me, but…”
Angela put a hand up to stop Sonia. “Save it.”
“Angela,” Bianca interfered, her voice underlying some traces of a warning.
“Once you’ve chosen your path, don’t apologize for it,” Angela continued, ignoring Bianca’s warning. “Or that would just mean you’re saying that your choice is wrong. Or you’re regretting it.”
Bianca finally relaxed, her smile on again. She knew that Angela was silently saying she supported Sonia.
“But I’m not going to say congrats because that would just mean I’m celebrating Jacky’s grief.”
Bianca’s smile faded again. “Angela…”
“Don’t Angela me. We all know it’s reality. We can’t ignore the fact that there are aftermaths after what happened. It’s not like he pushed the stop button on his emotions.”
“I know,” Sonia said, her face sad. “I shouldn’t have given him hope and then…”
“I told you not to apologize. It’s life, it’s unpredictable. We’ve known each other for a long time already. Of course, I know you care for Jacky, but it could never replace your feelings for James.”
Sonia smiled then, feeling relief that Angela wasn’t mad at her anymore.
“And if there’s any apologizing going on around here, I’m the one who should be doing just that.”
“I acted like I wanted to support you but I stormed out that day like a madwoman, leaving you there to deal with Jacky.”
“He said that you were just worried for me. And I know that.”
Angela looked surprised. “He said that?”
Angela shrugged. “Sometimes, he’s just too dumb. He thinks for others too much. And doesn’t expect anything back. No wonder Ehlo’s always keeping him in line.”
Bianca cleared her throat then, not wanting Angela to make Sonia uncomfortable.
Angela glimpsed into the rearview mirror to see Bianca’s expression. She ignored it again. “Like I’m wrong. We should stop living in denial here.”
“What I mean is I want Sonia’s version of the story and not anyone else.”
Sonia faced the front again and waited for Bianca’s questions. Angela tuned them out since she already heard enough weeks ago–and some more details later. She needed a break so she ended up text messaging the others again. Though she wasn’t sharing the contents of the conversation but was just whining about her boredom to whoever would reply.
“When is James coming to pick you up anyway?” Angela asked after Bianca was done interrogating Sonia.
“In two weeks,” Sonia replied. “I took care of things at work already.”
Angela nodded but exchanged a look in the rearview mirror with Bianca.
“That means we’ll get to see him before you’re off?” Bianca asked.
“Good,” Angela said, playing with her cell phone accessory. “I’ll give him a hard time when he’s here.”
“No, you won’t,” Bianca warned her.
“I’m not going to kill him.”
Sonia smiled, knowing that she would miss them a lot with all these random bickerings. With the three of them, it always reminded her of their similarity with Jacky, Ehlo, and Johnny. It was also a coincidence that they ended up with the three guys as well. Yet now…but she reminded herself not to regret–just like how Angela had warned her.
“You definitely have to come back for the wedding,” Bianca spoke up again, with traces of teasing and warning morphed into one.
“I will,” Sonia reassured Bianca.
“Girls’ night out tonight?” Angela asked suddenly.
Bianca nodded. “Definitely.”
Angela finally smiled, knowing she would never regret anything either–since she already made amends with Sonia. And will be using the upcoming time wisely with Bianca and Sonia before Sonia left.
© Friday, October 28th, 2011
Posted: Monday, November 7th, 2011