Chapter 4 – A Brewing Storm

“So I miss something major again?” Qiao Qiao asked Wednesday night when she was standing over them in the living room.

She’d been on a trip with her parents–and Tang Feng. One of those rare trips that she even attended. And it was just her luck that she missed a major turn of events in their life–just as she declared seconds ago.

All the guys nodded, even Nic. Nic was already used to seeing Qiao Qiao at their place during odd hours. Jacky wasn’t around. He was still working on a project at the office with his team.

“I can’t believe I missed it,” Qiao Qiao whined, sitting down on the rocking chair, allowing them the access to the TV again.

“Like you missed some gold rush or something,” Ehlo said casually, reaching for the remote to change the channel. “She’ll be around. You’ll get to meet her.”

As if Ehlo’s words were commands, the front door opened at that time and Sophia walked in.

“Hi, guys!” Sophia greeted them, her cheerful mood obvious.

Ehlo pointed toward Sophia’s direction, his eyes on Qiao Qiao. “See? Even Heaven’s on my side. Here she is now.”

Qiao Qiao got up from the rocking chair as Sophia made her way to the living room, which didn’t take much time or cover much ground.

“Hi,” Sophia greeted Qiao Qiao. “You must be his sister.” She meant Jacky.

“Uh…yeah…” Qiao Qiao said, hugging Sophia back–though she had expected the usual handshake.

“This is too funny,” Ehlo commented after the girls separated. “You used to be so unpredictable too. Now you’re just standing there all dumb-looking because someone else out there is so unpredictable.”

Qiao Qiao scowled at Ehlo’s comment about her being dumb. “You always enjoy moments when people are embarrassed.”

Ehlo shrugged. “Funny. People need to take it easy around here.”

“He’s just kidding,” Sophia said, patting Qiao Qiao’s arm and trying to calm her down. Though Qiao Qiao knew that–and the fact that she knew Ehlo longer made it ironic that Sophia was comforting her. But Sophia didn’t give Qiao Qiao time to react. “I’m going to make dinner. Are you staying?”

“I guess so,” Qiao Qiao said weakly, still trying to figure out this strange girl’s personality.

Sophia smiled, pleased that someone else was present for dinner tonight. Then she just headed for the kitchen, leaving Qiao Qiao standing there awestruck.

“Move, girl,” Ehlo scolded her. “We’re trying to watch TV here.”

Qiao Qiao wanted to attack Ehlo again, but she was still figuring out the other matter so she just returned to the rocking chair. She hugged her feet to her, thinking–only setting one foot down to kick the ground when the chair almost slowed its pace.

“Yu Rong, stop being mean,” Sophia chided Ehlo from the kitchen. “I want her to stay for dinner.”

“She’s not that easily offended,” Ehlo returned.

“Still…tone it down.”

Ehlo saluted. “Yes, ma’am.”

Qiao Qiao turned to Ehlo with a shocked expression. “You would listen to someone else besides from Angela without being sarcastic?”

Ehlo shrugged. “I love this girl.”

“Does Angela know?”

“Hey, I meant I love her ten times more than Jacky’s past girlfriends combined.” Though he might as well be saying that he preferred Sophia ten times over Sonia because they all knew Jacky’s only girlfriend ever was Sonia.

“That’s harsh,” Qiao Qiao commented, regaining herself slowly. Possibly because she was more comfortable when arguing with Ehlo. “Didn’t you…”

Ehlo turned from the TV and gave Qiao Qiao his full attention. “Hey, I never liked Sonia in the first place, so it’s not like I’m being a sore loser or unreasonable about the whole breakup when I’m talking about her in that way now.”

“But you get along with her fine when…” Qiao Qiao stopped to gesture her hand.

“It’s called tolerance. And I don’t like Sonia because I can’t like everyone on this planet, okay? But I do respect her for going with her heart and not cause even more complications if she were to linger.”

Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face, puzzled. She believed Ehlo since he had even told Jacky several times in the past that he wasn’t that fond of Sonia. Yet he had supported Jacky throughout, even urged Jacky to pursue Sonia–if that made Jacky happy. And then when the table turned, Ehlo didn’t mention anything about his preference of Sonia at all or add more salt to the wound, but just tried to support Jacky. What Qiao Qiao didn’t get was why Ehlo seemed to be raving about Sophia left and right like that. Even Angela didn’t get that much attention when it involved his raving. She turned her attention to Sophia at the kitchen then. It seemed like it wasn’t Sophia’s first time making dinner since she seemed to know where everything was without asking Ehlo–or the other guys. Qiao Qiao suddenly realized Sophia was a lot shorter than Sonia. Or…maybe it was because Sophia wasn’t wearing those high heels like Sonia. It wasn’t like Sonia was always wearing high heels, but when she did, she made even the proudest girl felt ashamed because of her endurance to those heights.

“Don’t let Ehlo fool you,” Wallace spoke up, attempting to sabotage Ehlo. “He just likes Sophia because he doesn’t have to cook dinner since she came.”

Qiao Qiao turned to the three guys again. “She has been cooking for you guys all these times?”

Ehlo shrugged. “Hey, she didn’t object.”

“He’s taking advantage of her,” Nic jumped in. “Like when she saw him so busy one time with finalizing his project and said that she could do it. And he just translated that to ‘from that point on’ instead of ‘that one time only.’”

Ehlo turned from Nic to Wallace, his expression obviously annoyed. “Hey, I don’t see you two helping her.”

“Are you guys arguing again?” Sophia asked from the kitchen, her crystal clear voice coming out all wrong in that chiding tone. She didn’t hear them before because they had lowered their volume on purpose.

“No,” Ehlo answered quickly. “They’re the ones targeting me.”

“Better get ready for dinner, twenty minutes.”

Ehlo saluted toward Sophia’s direction again. “Got it.”

Ehlo got up from his place and went to his room. It was also then that Jacky entered the house. Qiao Qiao jumped up from her place and ran to him.

“Jacky ge!” She called out like any other times and gave him a hug.

Jacky patted her shoulder, returning her smile and releasing her. “Just got back?”

Qiao Qiao followed him toward the kitchen. “Yeah.”

“How was your trip?”

Qiao Qiao shrugged. “It was all right.”

While they were exchanging those words, Ehlo had come back and was sitting down at his spot on the sofa between Nic and Wallace again.

“This is going to get interesting,” Ehlo narrated to the other two, smiling.

“What?” Nic asked, his eyes glued to the TV, except when Jacky and Qiao Qiao walked by them.

“Cat fight,” Ehlo said excitedly.

“But she has a boyfriend already,” Nic pointed out, obviously confused.

“And she’s his sister,” Wallace reminded Ehlo.

Ehlo snapped his fingers. “You guys don’t get it.” And as if it was his duty to enlighten both Nic and Wallace, he cleared his throat–ready for the lesson. “Say if I was a girl…”

“That’ll be interesting,” Wallace jumped in, cutting Ehlo off, his smart-aleck smile on.

Ehlo turned to Wallace with an annoyed look. “I said ‘if’…”

Wallace’s smile was still on, not feeling threatened because of Ehlo’s hostility. “Still, that would be interesting, you know.”

“You’re missing the point,” Ehlo gritted his teeth, trying to control his anger. He turned to Nic, not wanting to deal with Wallace anymore. “Anyway, as I was saying until I was rudely interrupted…” He had put major emphasis on ‘rudely interrupted’–to which Wallace was still smiling innocently and shrugging his shoulders. “If I was a girl, I would get all jealous too if my so-called brother no longer cares for me that much but has turned all his attention on some girl he barely knew.”

“You want to bet on it then?” Wallace sabotaged again.

Ehlo turned to Wallace. “Okay, non-believer, you have to be my slave for one week if you lose.”

Wallace pointed at Ehlo. “You know if you take that risk, it would go the other way if you lose.”

Ehlo scoffed, his confidence entering the arrogance boundary already. “Like I would lose.”

“Fine then,” Wallace said, extending his hand toward Ehlo, wanting to seal the deal.

“You’re witness then,” Ehlo said, turning to Nic.

Nic shrugged. “All right.”

“Dinner time!” Sophia announced from the kitchen.

“Coming!” Ehlo returned, jumping out of his seat.

Nic and Wallace exchanged a look–with Nic shrugging. When the two entered the kitchen, Wallace knew he was on the losing side when he saw Qiao Qiao’s expression. Whatever it was that had gone on between Jacky and the girls had been lost on the three of them since they were too busy getting the technicalities out of the way–and then came the bet. Wallace silently wondered where the broom closet was since he was in for some major sweeping–namely cleaning Ehlo’s room.

“Come on, you two,” Ehlo urged. “At the rate you’re walking, you’ll be licking our plates.”

“Yu Rong,” Sophia called out, keeping Ehlo in line again.

Ehlo shrugged. “It’s the truth.”

She smiled, wanting to make light of the situation. “Well, we’re eating now so don’t spoil the mood.”

“Yes, listen to her since she’s the chef after all,” Jacky seconded.

Ehlo saluted them both. “Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Chu.”

Jacky gave Ehlo a look while Sophia clarified that she wasn’t involved with Jacky.

Ehlo shrugged. “Whatever.”

By this time, Nic and Wallace had settled on the remaining stools. Jacky was sitting behind the counter with Sophia.

“Say, what took you so long to get into the house anyway?” Ehlo asked, turning to Jacky.

Jacky had been talking with Sophia about something but turned to Ehlo upon hearing his question. “Oh…I was helping Sam with something after I dropped him off across the street.”

“He still doesn’t have a car?” Wallace asked, turning to them.

Jacky shook his head.

“If we didn’t have enough people already, he could move in with us,” Ehlo said.

“I could move out,” Nic said, not sounding mad–just casual.

“Nah. We’re from the same clan, I can’t kick my future bro-in-law out.”

“Are you saying you want to kick me out?” Wallace demanded.

“I didn’t say that.”

The reason why they were even talking about letting Sam move in with them was because Ming Dao had moved back to Kenting, having already gotten married with his long time girlfriend–and taken over at his father’s small shop. Sam still wanted to stay and expand his career, but didn’t want to take Ming Dao’s car so he was still hunting around for cars–and relying on rides from Jacky from time to time, which Sam wanted to turn down as well but Jacky insisted.

“You guys are at it again,” Sophia chided them.

“They’re always like this anyway, what’s wrong with that?” Qiao Qiao snapped, her hostility apparent.

Sophia’s smile didn’t fade, but she shrugged. “I just think we should maintain peace while eating dinner, that’s all.”

“It seems to me like they’re being forced to be the so-called peaceful.”

“I…” And that was the second time since they knew her that Sophia became speechless.

“Qiao, that’s enough,” Jacky interfered, giving Qiao Qiao a disproving look–the first one he ever issued toward her.

It was also then that Ehlo turned to Nic and Wallace, extending his hand toward Wallace–who was sitting on Nic’s other side. “I’ll take money instead of your service for a week, Huo.”

“Maybe it won’t turn out so bad,” Wallace said, knowing too well he was fighting a losing battle.

Ehlo shrugged and turned back to the main conversation again. Ehlo’s little exchange only took seconds so when he turned back, it was just in time to see Qiao Qiao’s reaction.

“Like I’m wrong,” Qiao Qiao continued, not backing down. Or did Jacky’s sudden unsupportive behavior cranked up her stubbornness even more?

“For a girl who’s eating the enemy’s food, you sure are loud,” Ehlo noted.

Qiao Qiao turned to Ehlo with a murderous look. “Then I don’t have to be.”

With that, Qiao Qiao stormed from the room after slamming her hand on the table with anger–eventually exiting the house, slamming the door.

“Qiao!” Jacky yelled after her, getting up from his place.

Ehlo, Nic, and Wallace got up from their seats as well.

“Let us,” Ehlo said, turning to Jacky. Then he turned to the other two. “Come on, guys.”

Nic and Wallace didn’t have to ask. They followed Ehlo out of there, searching for Qiao Qiao.

“I…” Sophia managed, feeling guilty. She got up from her seat, wanting to run after them as well.

Jacky pulled her back, patting on her shoulder to calm her down. “Don’t worry. They can handle it.”

And that was the first time since he knew her that she brushed his hand off her shoulder. “But it was my fault. I have to go apologize or it wouldn’t be right.”

Jacky shook his head. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Sophia shook her head also, disagreeing with him.

“Look, trust me, okay? The guys can handle it.”

Sophia still looked doubtful yet she didn’t make a move to chase after the others anymore. Though her face still displayed that same worried expression as she looked toward the front door where the other guys had disappeared as well.

*****

“Qiao!” Ehlo called out, finally catching up to Qiao Qiao who was standing out in the garage–next to Jacky’s car to be exact.

“Where’s Jacky ge?” Qiao Qiao asked, crossing her hands together. It was like she’d been waiting for Jacky to run after her. Then she let out a heavy sigh. “Oh, like I expect him to care now.”

“We told him not to come,” Ehlo clarified, defending Jacky.

“Or she told him not to come?” Qiao Qiao translated, uncrossing her hands and dropping them to her sides again.

Ehlo pointed at her then. “Hey, don’t go accusing others.”

“I thought you would be happy that Jacky’s not sad anymore,” Wallace commented, looking at Qiao Qiao.

Qiao Qiao scoffed. “I am, but she’s being so flaky.”

“Just because you’re jealous of the attention she’s getting doesn’t make it right to go accuse her of anything.”

Qiao Qiao scoffed again. “Huh, like you’re not accusing me too.”

“Am I wrong?”

All three guys stared at her, waiting for her to respond. From their look, she knew she couldn’t hide it. She had always failed to cover her tracks in front of them. But she wasn’t backing down either, not completely. “But something has gotten into him. He would always hug me back in the past but he just patted my shoulder earlier. And look at the way he’s looking at her and protecting her. Like he’s possessed or something.”

“We’re talking about voodoo now?” Ehlo mocked. “It’s called love, Qiao.”

“But…he never reacted like that when he was with Sonia…and…”

“You want him to still be miserable and thinking of Sonia?”

“Of course not.”

“Look, I know she’s a walking fortune cookie, but I love her anyway, okay? You know why? She’s the only one who could get through him when the rest of us failed since the last two years.”

“I have to agree with him on that,” Wallace interrupted Ehlo’s little speech.

“He’s fine the way he is,” Qiao Qiao mumbled, unconvinced.

“No, he’s not,” Ehlo argued. “We all know that he has been more careful in creating a shield to reassure us since his sad phase would only be noticeable when we find out he has been listening to some songs. But does that make the problem go away just because we pretend we didn’t know what he’s doing?” He didn’t wait for Qiao Qiao’s next defense. “And you might not notice it, but he hasn’t been close to you since we all knew you and Tang Feng were together, not just now like you claimed. But do you know why?”

“I…” Qiao Qiao hesitated.

“Because if I was Tang Feng, I wouldn’t want my girlfriend to be so close with some guy either,” Ehlo answered, his eyes on her–serious and sincere, not reeking of mockery or teasing at all. “Regardless if Jacky’s treating you like his sister and you treating him like an older brother or not. It’s a mutual unsaid thing, Qiao. It’s like a code among us guys without anyone having to say it out loud. It’s just like how you girls have this unsaid code about not touching one another’s boyfriend.”

“I…” Qiao Qiao stumbled. Then it hit her. Ehlo was right. Jacky had not been all that close with her since he learned of her relationship with Tang Feng.

But Ehlo wasn’t done after that brief pause either. He was on a roll–and he didn’t care if he offended anyone. “So do you think it’s appropriate for you to go accuse Sophia while you should be thinking about Tang Feng’s feelings too?”

And Qiao Qiao did acknowledge Tang Feng’s feelings. Yet she wasn’t ready to give up either. She recovered and looked at Ehlo again, not the ground anymore. “It still doesn’t mean I can’t form my own opinion of her. Like you said, you don’t like Sonia either.”

Ehlo nodded. “You got me there. But what I’m saying is give yourself a chance to get to know her before you decide.” He continued after that pause. “You will always be our little sister and we will continue to care for you, but it is also our job to show you some other sides of things in life, not just spoil you with attention, okay?”

Qiao Qiao knew Ehlo was right–despite his harsh words. She finally nodded. And that was when Nic and Wallace sighed out in relief, exchanging a look between the two of them.

© Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Posted: Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

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