Chapter 3 – Fate’s Invisible Hand

The incident that landed Ehlo’s phone into such a fate happened about 12 hours ago–as Wallace had said. It took place at a parking lot when he was about to get into his car. And for the record, he wasn’t planning on going anywhere that required some fancy suit that day. His plan was with the other guys–and the girls, and they were heading toward a movie theater when he received a call from a client asking him for a request to meet up. He didn’t do Sundays, but had to make an exception because the client sounded sincere over the phone. To back up a little, he had ended up quitting his job search, switching to being a freelance consultant instead–taking in per project jobs. Being his own boss was the best, knowing he didn’t want to go into the pyramid of corporate offices that would eventually end up in some blame game hybrid. So he had to start all over and manage to establish his own reputation these past year or so. That tied in with the call up for a meeting that morning.

The meeting went well with the manager in charge of the so-called upcoming project. The man’s assistant was a bit on the overly hyper side but Wallace didn’t mind–as long as she kept up with their conversation. After all, it was their company business, not his. His job was to be a consultant that would allow them to understand where they were going with the project–and if it would eventually bring in profits. Anyway, that went quite well with enough time to spare that he would meet up with the others for the movie after all–since the others had mentioned wanting to wait for him, letting the girls browse the shopping center first.

The person who walked Wallace out of the company’s building was the assistant, Yvonne. She went on and on with her enthusiasm as Wallace tried to check his messages, wondering if the others had tried to get a hold of him. Oh, the reason why he’d borrowed Ehlo’s phone in the first place was because his was dead. Well, not that dead, but barely working since he was still able to receive calls. He was going to get a new one soon–and because the nature of this meeting was kind of important and because he wanted to feel the phone in his hands so he had asked Ehlo in a moment of weakness.

Wallace was about to make an excuse so he could leave. Yes, Yvonne was an interesting girl–and not to mention his new client, one of them anyway. Yet he didn’t feel like socializing at this point. He felt kind of burnt out after 8 hours of a run through regarding the company’s operations–even though they had breaks in between. But before he could say anything, two things happened within several seconds of one another, which were: (1) Yvonne crashing into him and (2) someone zooming by them. He didn’t know how to react except grabbing a hold of her shoulders and steadying her. But she wasn’t scared like some other scaredy-cat girl who would turn all pale by now–or all shy because of the collision with him. Instead, she turned around to investigate on the culprit who had pushed her out of the way. Then the third unexpected thing happened because Wallace felt Yvonne grabbing his hand but it wasn’t his hand. It was his phone. No, Ehlo’s phone.

“Hey!” Wallace yelled out seconds too late. “That’s my new Sony…”

Too late, the phone had zoomed at a dizzying speed toward the culprit’s head and bounced back, smashing on the ground.

“Ericsson Xperia arc,” Wallace finished, still shocked by what had happened. Though he wasn’t sure if he was more in fear of Ehlo’s reaction when he got home or of Yvonne’s capabilities.

“Thanks, Miss,” An officer appeared at the scene at that time.

Wallace wasn’t sure how the officer could show up so fast. Or possibly because he wasn’t paying attention anymore. But he recovered in time to see Yvonne smiling at the officer before the officer led the already handcuffed culprit out of the way. It was then that Wallace unfroze from his spot and made his way toward the cell phone now nothing more than a piece of junk. Or more like bits and pieces of junk.

“I’m so sorry,” Yvonne rattled out, her realization kicking in.

Wallace didn’t feel like yelling at her. He was thinking of his fate when he got home. He turned to her then. “I’m going home.”

“I’m really sorry.” Yvonne’s voice sounded too timid at that moment, contradicting to her feisty gestures from a minute or so earlier.

“It’s okay,” Wallace said. “I’ll get a new one somehow.”

And he did. He tried. For the rest of the day. And night.

*****

Wallace finished his tale and sat down again. The room went quiet then–with Ehlo still letting the details sink in for him.

“So that was how my new Sony Ericsson Xperia arc got destroyed?” Ehlo asked, his voice passive, too passive. He had crossed his hands in the air as he said that.

Wallace nodded, his eyes searching Ehlo’s face for the upcoming rage.

“What in the world were you thinking?” Ehlo exclaimed, jumping up from his seat then – all too predictable from Wallace’s deduction.

Everyone got up at the same time. Jacky was already shielding in front of Sophia and Nic ready to jump in between Ehlo and Wallace again. Yet Ehlo didn’t make a move toward Wallace.

“You know you let the rest of the household down by losing a battle to a girl?” Ehlo inquired, his voice along the line of an interrogation. “You just let her snatch it out of your hands like that?”

“She was too fast,” Wallace defended his honor. “I didn’t even know she was going to do that, okay? I was paying attention to that robber and the poor lady who ran after him, crying.” It was strange that Wallace was able to remember some of those details now since he didn’t even remember much at that moment after it occurred. Or perhaps, he had focused too much on the phone after realizing what happened.

“So you’re saying if she didn’t throw my cell phone at that dude’s head, you would do it yourself to help that poor lady?”

“Enough already!” Sophia yelled out, alarming everyone–even Jacky who was playing the prince in shining armor at the moment. “It’s just a phone, okay?”

“I already told you it has important data in there.”

It was then that they realized Ehlo was not afraid of Sophia the way he was of Angela. His previous gentle behaviors must be because of not wanting to alarm her. Yet that thought must have already been extinguished from his mind.

“If you know that you can’t risk it, then you shouldn’t have let him borrow it. Or backup your data, hello. What century is this?”

That got Ehlo. His pointing hand ended up looking too silly so he lowered it to his side again.

“Why are you guys so loud out here?” Angela’s voice asked, sounding somewhat groggy. She was rubbing her eyes, trying to restore her vision.

All five pair of eyes turned to the hallway that led to the bedrooms to see Angela walking out from Ehlo’s room, wearing Ehlo’s pajamas.

“Huang Yu Rong!” Nic yelled out seconds later, unfroze from his spot, chasing after Ehlo.

Ehlo had gotten the hint since he saw the murderous look on Nic’s face when he heard the ‘Huang’ part. It was now the others’ turn to separate Ehlo and Nic–with Ehlo hiding behind Jacky and Sophia and Wallace trying to hold Nic back. The turn of events sure made all the difference because now Ehlo even forgot why he was even yelling at Wallace for in the first place. Or if he even had that argument like seconds back.

“I can explain,” Ehlo said as Angela approached them.

“What are you guys doing?” Angela demanded, her voice gaining its clearness. “It’s late already.”

“The more reason why you’re not supposed to be here,” Nic answered, his eyes still staring at Ehlo–and the intention wasn’t friendly.

That was also the moment when Jacky took back his image of the whole torch passing ceremony between Johnny and Nic. Because Nic was far from calm now. And Johnny never lost his cool with them in the past. If he had gotten mad, he was just faking it so they would stop their silliness.

“Start explaining, Huang,” Wallace urged. “I can’t hold him back long.”

“Are you using this chance to get back at me, Huo?” Ehlo shot back, still hiding behind Jacky and Sophia–with his hands on their shoulders to be exact.

“I could also not interfere, you know,” Wallace reminded Ehlo.

“Ge,” Angela called out, her voice chiding her brother. “It’s not what you think. I was tired after we got back from the movies earlier that I wanted to take a nap.”

“In his pajamas?” Nic asked in disbelief.

Angela wrinkled her face. “I didn’t want to sleep in my jeans, and I didn’t want to get my blouse all wrinkled up.”

“I was working out here all afternoon until he came back, okay?” Ehlo reminded Nic, pointing at Jacky at the same time.

Nic seemed to relax then and Wallace let go of him.

“Now that we got it all settled,” Ehlo said, stepping out from behind Jacky and Sophia.

“I still don’t believe you,” Nic clarified.

Ehlo sneaked behind Sophia again. “Hey, come on now.”

“If he’d done anything behind your back, she wouldn’t be here now, you know,” Sophia jumped in.

Ehlo clapped on Sophia’s shoulder then. “That’s right!” He turned to the others again. “See? Here’s a smart person now.”

It was then that Jacky unfroze from his pose and attempted to pry Ehlo’s hand off Sophia’s shoulder. Ehlo gave him a look but shrugged anyway, turning to Nic again.

“Come on, man,” Ehlo urged.

“If you don’t believe me, then forget it,” Angela said, storming off toward Ehlo’s room again. “You can think whatever you want.”

“Hey,” Ehlo called out, chasing after Angela.

“You want to go in there while she changes?” Nic challenged, giving Ehlo the look again.

That stopped Ehlo. He turned back to them, pacing the floor instead.

“Now that’s out of the way,” Jacky took over for everyone. “Can we all go to sleep now?”

“I have to wait for Angela to go home,” Ehlo mumbled, still pacing. “And you have to drive her home.” He meant Sophia.

That was when Jacky turned to Sophia again. But before he could say anything, he was interrupted like last time. Angela stepped out of Ehlo’s room all dressed in her clothes again.

“I’ll take you home,” Ehlo said suddenly. “It’s late.”

“I always go home late,” Angela reminded him.

Ehlo shrugged, like he wanted to find an escape route–and Angela hadn’t received the secret message. But he found another target. He turned to Wallace and gestured his hand.

“What?” Wallace asked, confused.

“My replacement phone, hello.”

“Oh.” Wallace turned and retrieved the bag that he had dropped on the sofa when he was trying to stop Nic earlier.

“What happened to your phone?” Angela asked, realizing the situation.

“Someone broke it and Huo didn’t stop her,” Ehlo answered bitterly.

“Hey!” Wallace jumped in again.

Angela had on her puzzled look but didn’t ask more.

“We already been through this, remember?” Sophia reminded Ehlo, wanting to protect Wallace again. “Backup your data in the future.”

Angela’s smile turned on then. “I already did that.”

The others had on their confused look.

“I backed up your phone earlier when I was helping you set the security thing,” Angela clarified, looking at Ehlo.

“Oh…really?” Ehlo’s face had lit up again, his troubled expression 200% gone.

Angela nodded, smiling. “So if you give me your new phone now, I’ll retrieve the data from your account and transfer it to your phone tomorrow.”

Ehlo handed Angela the bag gladly. “I knew I was smart when I chose you.”

Angela had on the doubtful look–though that worked against her if she discredited his words.

“Now that your data’s not lost,” Nic said, clearing his throat. “Can we call it a night yet?”

“Definitely,” Ehlo said, turning to the others with a smile.

It was then that Angela realized there was another girl in the room–though she should have realized that several minutes ago. She turned to Ehlo for an explanation.

“Sophia,” Ehlo said, pointing toward Sophia. “Jacky’s new girlfriend.”

“I’m not his girlfriend,” Sophia clarified before Jacky could do it. “I’m just some hitchhiker.”

Angela didn’t want to stand there and debate about the matter. She glimpsed at her watch real quick. “Gotta go home or Uncle Zhe would worry.”

“Isn’t it too late for that?” Ehlo asked. “Besides, your brother’s here so it’s not like…” He stopped because Nic was giving him looks again.

“I have to go home too,” Sophia said, breaking the tension between them all.

Ehlo nudged Jacky then. “Take her home, man.”

“It’s okay,” Sophia said. “I could…”

“Walk?” Ehlo finished. “No Taxis around here unless you specifically call and schedule a ride ahead of time. Besides, it’s too late for one now.”

Jacky wasn’t moving though. He was suddenly feeling torn, for unknown reasons. Because of what happened between Ehlo and Wallace, and then Ehlo and Nic that he had neglected his own doubts. Now that his attention was brought back on it again, he wasn’t so sure that he would…or could…

“It’s okay…” Sophia insisted. “I’ll find a way. I always do.” She turned on her bright smile to reassure them all.

“I’ll take you home then,” Angela said, jingling the keys in her hand.

“But…” Sophia objected.

Angela shook her head, not taking no for an answer. “Come on, we’re going to stand here for the rest of the night if you don’t make up your mind.”

Jacky smiled then, feeling that only Angela could make Sophia so off guard, so predictable like the rest of them again. Though he had no idea the person who had more effect on her, making her all clueless and losing her magic was him. But life moved on because Angela tugged on Sophia’s hand after saying goodbye to the other guys. And they left the guys there gawking at each other for a few minutes.  Except for Jacky who was looking at Sophia’s disappearing back, wondering why he missed her already.

*****

Since that interesting night, Jacky and the others didn’t see Sophia anymore. Because she lived at the other side of town, it was harder to locate. Though Angela once tried to go find her, she came back in vain. It was like Sophia’s talent to hide from them all because even some of her personal friends–or so-claimed friends–didn’t know where she was. The reason why Angela didn’t know where to find her was because Sophia had asked to be dropped off at the bridge that one night, claiming she lived near there and wanted to walk the rest of the way home and not wanting to trouble Angela any further. It wasn’t until one night in mid-August when Jacky came by that bridge again that he spotted her standing there, looking down at the city night–just like he once did. He smiled at the familiar scene, wondering if she was trying to experience what he must had felt that night.

“You’re not going to jump, are you?” He repeated the phrase she had asked him the first time they met, his voice containing the same sense of teasing that her voice once carried.

She turned around then, her face full of tears, staring at him. Alarmed, he approached her, wondering why the 180 degrees change in personalities between the two of them. She didn’t wait for his extended arms but just leaned on his shoulder and cried some more. He didn’t ask either, just patted her shoulder, soothing her as she continued to cry.

Twenty minutes later, they were sitting at the hotpot stall eating like last time. This time, it was obviously his job to cheer her up.

“What happened?” He finally dared to ask.

She stopped eating and stared at him with sad eyes.

“You know I won’t make fun of you,” He reminded her.

She nodded, understanding too well. “I was trying to finish my book and I couldn’t. I got stuck so I was wandering around and…I was thinking what it was like for you standing there that night all alone. And it was really sad, so I cried.”

Jacky wanted to smile at her silliness yet he couldn’t, especially when she got to the end. Just watching her now, he knew he had made up his mind already. It was also the reason why he even stumbled upon this path tonight. He cleared his throat slightly. “You still want to help me with the other thing?”

She looked at him, doubtful. “I wasn’t trying to hint at anything or force you into it.”

Jacky shook his head. “It’s not about that. I made up my mind already before coming here.”

“So you haven’t been looking for me?”

Jacky admitted that was the truth, but he didn’t want to say it out loud. It wasn’t just that. It was more complicated than that. He wasn’t sure why or what. But if he had said yes, it would make her sad–and he couldn’t explain the second part either. He couldn’t even explain it to himself, how could he explain it to her?

But it was like Sophia wanted to let him off, so she just smiled. “But it’s okay. Since you agree on letting me help you now, we can start.”

Jacky smiled, nodding. It was like he was already prepared to obey her every command, not wanting to see a tear appearing on her face ever again. Yet interestingly enough, their conversation for the rest of the night didn’t even contain any types of tips to help his cause at all. It was all about her past days and his. In the end, he even invited her to spend his upcoming birthday with him.

© Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Posted: Sunday, March 31st, 2012

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