When they were all present at Jacky and the other guys’ place, Angela spoke up first. It was like she had become their leader. Yet no one minded since it was just a gathering to discuss the upcoming leisure event–finally–after so much turmoil.
“Okay, we have to do the same thing as last year,” Angela began after clearing her throat. “Some of us will research on places, and one of us will have to keep track of one another’s schedule to map the day we’re all free.”
“Mid-Autumn Festival is right on Saturday this year, Angela jie,” Chen Yi pointed out.
“I’ll keep the chart then,” Bianca volunteered.
“You sure?” Angela asked, turning to her. “What about your wedding plans?”
“That’s several months away. I think I can handle this one.”
Angela shrugged. “Fine then. Anyone object to Bianca being the schedule person?”
Some of them mumbled about not minding while others shook their heads. The rest, they were just waving their hands.
“Okay then. Next item, which location should we go to this year?”
“How about Kaohsiung?” Ehlo suggested. “We haven’t been there for any types of festivals for years now.”
“That means we have to make sure hotel rooms are available and getting several days off as cushion.”
“Qiao’s the only one without that problem,” Chen Yi whined.
“Get over it,” Qiao Qiao returned, her smile indicating she was kidding. “And aren’t you unemployed now too?”
“The festival is like seven weeks away, Qiao. I’ll probably find a new job by then.”
Qiao Qiao shrugged, not feeling like arguing with Chen Yi anymore.
“No, wait,” Wallace jumped in.
Angela turned to him. “What?”
“We have to pick a place where they have fireworks. That one we witnessed from last year was awesome.”
“Agree with Huo,” Ehlo seconded.
Some of the others raised their hands in agreement also.
As the others were adding to the plan, getting more and more excited one after another suggestion, Jacky couldn’t help but let his mind drift. Like what Chen Yi had said at the shop, they did promise one another to celebrate the coming year. Yet this year, it just wasn’t the same. No matter how much excitement was added with the amount of the activities involved–or the change of location. Upon thinking of location, he could see the image of him holding Sonia tightly in his arms while they watched the fireworks together by the bridge came flooding back. Her smile when she turned to look at him had etched itself so deeply in his mind that he found it so suffocating at the same time. It was like his heart was going to explode soon if he continued to sit there and listen to what the others were saying. He knew he could no longer hold back the bridge of his emotions. He leaped from his seat and made his way toward his room, ignoring Qiao Qiao’s yelling out “Jacky ge” altogether, closing his door–and making sure he didn’t slam it or it would alarm the others even more.
“Jacky ge!” Qiao Qiao called out anxiously from outside the door. “Please let me in.”
Jacky opened the door slightly, knowing he had to reassure her real quick. Just a little bit more. Yet Qiao Qiao slipped into the room and shut the door behind her before he could utter any words of reassurance. Jacky turned his back to her.
“I just need a minute,” He said. “Go back out there or the others would worry.”
Qiao Qiao didn’t budge. Instead, she took another step forward, turning around so she could face him again.
“If you want to cry, just cry it out. It’ll make you feel better.”
Jacky shook his head, his bridge of emotion hanging on its last thread. “I can’t.”
His voice had come out in a whisper. Qiao Qiao didn’t care if she was stomping on his pride or not. She reached her hands out and took his arms, forcing him to lean on her shoulder.
“You’ve always been there for me,” She said, her voice almost cracking. “It’s time I do the same.”
As if those were the keywords, Jacky finally gave in to his sorrows. Qiao Qiao slid her hands around his shoulders and patted his back, sobbing herself. He had also slipped his hands around her, hugging her tightly. They stood like that in one another’s arm, no longer sure who was crying harder or louder than whom. And Qiao Qiao didn’t care either that he was hugging her too tight.
“I really miss her,” Jacky confessed as he attempted to control his emotions.
Qiao Qiao nodded into his shoulder. “I know.”
“I know that…if I…if I hadn’t taken care of…of the situation right away…I wouldn’t be able to do it anymore.”
Qiao Qiao nodded again.
“I know this day would come when I couldn’t control myself anymore…and if she sees it…then…she wouldn’t be able to live with herself. But it’s not her fault.”
Qiao Qiao patted his shoulder like before, still not saying anything. Her sobs had stopped yet her tears were still flowing along with his.
“And the irony of this whole situation is…” Jacky poured out his heart again. He had restrained his sobs to a minimum. “I told her that I won’t let a silly fortune-teller separate us ever again, that we would face whatever it is together.” He paused to control himself again. “I never thought ‘ever again’ meant less than a year.”
Then Qiao Qiao understood. It wasn’t like she didn’t understand the pain in his heart. Yet what she was clearer on now was about another promise. The first promise. For Jacky, he had to break a promise to keep a promise. Because they could not face this obstacle together. And the most heartbreaking part about the whole thing was knowing that Sunday was supposed to be Jacky and Sonia’s one year anniversary–since they got together, officially.
The following weekend–Saturday to be exact, the guys got together for a guys’ night only. In fact, it was limited to Jacky and his cohabitants. Ehlo and Johnny had gotten together to plan the event, wanting some understanding from the others that it was about time they had a talk–without hiding anything. Or worse, diving away from the obvious problems by protecting one another with subtle hints. And the others truly understood. Qiao Qiao even volunteered to clean up after them–if the mess was too much. The reason for her eagerness was obvious, but it also meant they were bringing out the alcohol–in the form of beer. And just for this once, Angela did not mind about Ehlo breaking the juice mantra.
“Happy birthday, man,” Ehlo said as they settled down on the floor.
Yes, it was Jacky’s birthday–if things were that much more interesting. And they had abandoned all furniture for the night, wanting to relax and not care about manners. They were just sitting on the floor in somewhat of a circle between the door and the coffee table. Ehlo was sitting with his back to the door while Johnny was sitting to his left–with his back to the hallway that led into their bedrooms. Jacky was sitting on Ehlo’s right with Wallace to his right–completing the loose circle. And they had also turned down the light a bit to reduce anxiety–whatever that meant.
“Thanks,” Jacky responded to Ehlo.
“What a way to celebrate your birthday, huh?” Wallace chimed in.
Jacky smiled, a bitter one. “Tell me about it.”
“Look on the bright side,” Ehlo took over. “We’re in balance. Only one breakup this year and we have a wedding coming up in several months.”
“Try two breakups and a wedding,” Wallace corrected Ehlo.
Ehlo wrinkled his face in confusion while Jacky and Johnny were turning their full attention to Wallace.
Wallace turned on his sly smile then. “I have a confession to make.”
“You’re putting us on, right?” Ehlo tested the waters while the other two remained silent.
Wallace shook his head, knowing Ehlo had misinterpreted his sly smile as the announcement being a joke.
“Might want to speed this up a bit, Huo. You’re stealing Jacky’s limelight.” As if people were even supposed to be proud of being abandoned.
Wallace cleared his throat, attempting to start over. His smile wasn’t on anymore. “Cyndi broke up with me five weeks ago.”
All three pairs of eyes opened so wide that it wasn’t even possible–if the circumstances were up to Wallace to do a scientific analysis. They were waiting for him to tell them it was one big joke–just to divert any sources of hostility in the air. Yet he didn’t. He just smiled.
“Tell me you’re kidding,” Ehlo finally said when Wallace didn’t elaborate.
“It’s the truth,” Wallace verified, his voice serious.
Then they were able to see traces of sorrow showing.
“And you didn’t find it crucial to tell us?” Ehlo asked, sounding offended. Not the tone that said he was sore because he didn’t know the news. No, he was far from nosy. It was guilt. “You let us carry on like inconsiderate idiots in front of you? Or were you expecting us to give you an Oscar for your performance?”
“What could I have said that would have made it any different?” Wallace asked back.
“Like we could…” Ehlo stopped to gesture his hand. “Be more supportive, less taunting.”
“You’re talking about yourself, Huang,” Jacky reminded him, smiling all of a sudden.
Ehlo nodded, admitting the crime. But he didn’t linger. He turned to Wallace again. “Seriously, how could you not tell us?”
“Bad timing,” Wallace admitted.
Ehlo wrinkled his face, his eyes traveling around the room–like he was trying to think. “Wait…five weeks…that’s…”
“The day we confronted Valerie,” Wallace filled in the blanks. “It wasn’t that morning or lunchtime. It was more like after we parted ways with Valerie, and went our separate ways too. I went to meet Cyndi after that, wanting to update her on what happened.”
Things snapped into place for Ehlo then. He turned to Jacky briefly before facing Wallace again. “You two got dumped on the same day.”
“Technically, Jacky and Sonia didn’t break up until a week after that,” Johnny corrected Ehlo.
Ehlo waved a hand at Johnny. “You and your technicalities.”
The room became quiet then. It was like they needed a minute–or two. Even if they had promised on not hiding or dodging when talking, but Wallace’s news had forced them into reconsideration all over again. Then it became clearer to them as to why Wallace didn’t chase after Cyndi that afternoon after Tang Feng had cut her out on the deal.
“Don’t tell me that was why Tang Feng didn’t let her have a say in the fate of the shop,” Ehlo said, details snapping into place for him.
Wallace shook his head, not sure either. “I don’t know. But it might be that. I think they will work it out somehow.”
More silence passed in the room.
“Look on the bright side,” Ehlo spoke up again–after that brief lapse in their conversation. “You don’t have to call Tang Feng ‘Feng ge’ anymore, right?”
Johnny had to laugh at that time–despite the situation. “You and your bright sides.”
“Hey, it’s the truth.”
“Actually,” Wallace interrupted them. “It’s not that bad because I still have hope.”
The others paid more attention then, wondering what the twist of the plot would be this time around.
“Tell me it’s just one of those silly, small arguments about what to put on a sandwich,” Ehlo rattled out, feeling a bit unnerved.
Wallace shook his head. “She broke up with me because she doesn’t want to hold me back. She found some programs in New York that she wants to study, but she doesn’t know how long she’ll be gone. And she also said she finally found her goal in life, not wanting to be stuck here forever.” As if wanting to reassure Ehlo he was all right, Wallace stopped and smiled. “Didn’t you say love’s overrated anyway?”
“Hey, I was just trying to get everyone out of the house at that time. How should I know someone else would think that too?”
“If they didn’t agree with you, they wouldn’t get out of the house?” Johnny stabbed.
Ehlo turned to Johnny. “Come on, man. Half of them knew, and the other half got smart.”
“Or got threatened by your presence,” Jacky pointed out.
Ehlo turned to Jacky. “Thanks, Backstabber.”
Jacky smiled. “You’re welcome.”
As if that little familiar exchange had made the atmosphere less hectic, Ehlo started laughing for no reason. At least much louder than usual. Yet the others did not stop him. They waited for his coming words.
“What is this? A typical daily soap?” He gestured his hand casually. “You know, the whole with throwing in some random excuse about the main girl wanting to go study. Likely.” It was too obvious Ehlo was operating on sarcasm again. “This is just great. We have two of those types of formula appearing in our lives already. The one with the old flame coming back and the other one about some lame study excuse.” He paused to take a sip out of his beer can again. “You know what we should do in the future? The next time you two find someone suitable…” He pointed his beer can in Jacky and Wallace’s directions respectively before continuing. “We need to do those background checks like our parents did generations ago, stripping down the family tree, just to make sure we don’t run into any bones in the closets.”
Wallace had on his serious look then. It was like he didn’t want Ehlo to taint Cyndi’s reputation. “I will wait for her.”
Ehlo shrugged. “Whatever, man.”
Some more silence passed between them again as they stopped to recollect their thoughts. And like the last lapse, Ehlo spoke up first.
“I guess my premonitions are just so eerily accurate, huh?”
“You mean your crow mouth jinxing the rest of us?” Wallace sabotaged him, though his tone wasn’t cruel.
Ehlo shrugged. Then he turned to Jacky again. “You okay over there?”
Jacky nodded, his face somewhat passive.
“Look, if you want to cry, just do it. You know we won’t laugh at you.”
Jacky shook his head, letting out an embarrassed smile. Though he knew the others would never laugh at him. And it was already obvious that the others had known about his breakdown last week. It was hard not to since they would just have to listen at the door to know. Yet they didn’t have to say it out loud or probe any further afterward. They just had to understand.
“I’m actually all cried out already,” Jacky clarified. His smile turned off then yet his expression still passive. “Actually, I want to say something.”
The others waited.
“I know you guys are thinking I’m stupid or even think I’m a bigger person for letting it go so easily so fast. But the thing is…” He paused to lick his lips before continuing. “I was just protecting my vulnerability from Sonia.” Another pause. “I didn’t want to wait until everything breaks loose like last week and me acting like a fool to beg her to stay. I want her to remember me as the guy who could pick something up and let it go without making all those dramatic fusses.”
“I thought you said she’s not an object,” Ehlo jumped in. “Why are you using ‘pick’?”
Jacky turned to Ehlo then. “I meant the relationship, not Sonia.”
Ehlo nodded, getting it.
“And why are you caring about image anyway?” Wallace took his turn with questions. “It doesn’t matter what others think. Even if you preserve your image, so what? Let others judge, they don’t know how you feel. If you hadn’t given up so easily, you could have persuaded her to stay.”
“No, I actually agree with his preserving his image thing,” Ehlo contradicted Wallace. “And we’re going in circles with your second point, man.”
It was Wallace’s turn to be confused, at least with the first declaration. “What?”
Ehlo cleared his throat briefly. “He doesn’t care about what others think. When it comes down to it all, I think being called a stupid idiot for giving up is worse than making a big fuss about the whole thing, you know? I meant at least those ‘making a big fuss’ trends are in right now, though everyone might as well be copying those overrated idol dramas.” He paused again. “But what he’s getting at is actually about protecting his image in Sonia’s heart only, not wanting to tarnish it completely. I don’t know how to explain it to you man, but I know the feeling.”
Wallace exchanged a look with Johnny then. Yes, Ehlo could be so enlightened at times. No matter how many years they’d known him, they could never get used to it. Perhaps his comedic side had always overshadowed his serious, enlightened side.
“And you guys know what else?” Jacky picked up his thoughts from earlier.
The others remained silent, waiting with their undivided attention–like minutes ago.
“With what was going on these past weeks, some of you blame James and others blame Sonia but have you ever thought about others on James’ side? I meant his family and friends? Or the people who know him? We’re here, that’s why everyone thinks I’m in the right and supports me. But with James, imagine what he must have suffered all these years, trying to find Sonia, wanting his life to be back to normal again.”
The others exchanged one of their looks again, knowing Jacky was right. It was a matter of perspective. If they were on the other side, they would react differently. There was no right way to look at it, but understanding it didn’t make it less frustrating.
“The next thing you know, you’re entering the temple to become a monk,” Ehlo commented. “You know, with all your enlightened talks lately.”
“Huang Yu Rong…” Johnny called out, wanting to stop Ehlo.
Ehlo just waved his hand, trying to dispel the somewhat strange atmosphere. “I know, I know, I’m just kidding, okay? Anyway, what else are we doing tonight? Since we seemed to have talked those issues out already.”
“How about a toast for a new start?” Johnny suggested.
“Good idea,” Ehlo agreed, clinking his beer can to Johnny’s.
Jacky and Wallace exchanged a look between the two of them before doing the same.
“Are you sure about all of this?” Johnny asked all of a sudden, looking at Jacky. “Because I could talk to Bianca about postponing the wedding and…uh…”
Jacky shook his head, his expression getting intense. “I wouldn’t want to be responsible for that.”
“I know. But Bianca would want Sonia as her bridesmaid as well and I want you as my best man.”
Jacky shook his head again, his features less wrinkled than previously. “I’ll be fine. The wedding won’t be until next year, right? By that time, I’ll be on my feet again–if not earlier. Besides, having some good news to look forward to is already enough.” He smiled then. “Helping with all the preparations will be enough of a distraction.”
Johnny looked reassured then.
“All right,” Ehlo jumped in again. “Let’s get all these beers out of the way then.”
Though they had said a guys’ night without worrying about anything yet it was like Ehlo wasn’t used to the beer anymore. It wasn’t any different from the others. Though they had taken one each out of the six-packed case, two remained untouched while they just took small sips while talking. Ehlo got up to restore the two untouched beer cans and dispose of his current one. He came back with juice and some food for everyone.
“So much for a guys’ night, huh?” Wallace joked, taking the food plate from Ehlo.
They had moved to the coffee table, not wanting to get food on the carpet. But they were still sitting on the floor. And the lights were still at an opaque level.
“At least we got some things cleared, right?” Ehlo pointed out.
Wallace nodded in agreement. He raised his juice glass toward Jacky at that time. “To a new start.”
Though that was repetitive, what Wallace meant this time was specifically for Jacky’s situation. Jacky, of course, understood. So he raised his juice glass to Wallace’s also.
© Friday, October 28th, 2011
Posted: Sunday, November 13th, 2011