Chapter 10 – Refresher

The next morning at Jacky’s place, Ehlo was unleashing his wrath. Or more like he was back to being their typical Drama King. It was none other than the whole Lynn fiasco that he didn’t get to participate in but only was able to hear the recounts from Jacky. The guys were by the counter and were having breakfast like once upon a time. With the exception of Johnny and Nic, or one of those random gathering they used to have. Yet it was one of those moments they’d welcomed since whenever. This time, Wallace was behind the counter while the other three were sitting at the stools in front of it. Ehlo was the one sitting in the middle with Bryant on his left and Jacky on his right.

“I can’t believe it, man,” Ehlo continued as he wolfed down some more food. “How could you not wait for Huang and Huo to record this epic moment? I really want to see Lynn’s face when she opened that door.”

Jacky shrugged. “Too bad.”

“But seriously, man, welcome back,” Ehlo clapped Jacky’s shoulder. “We can finally move on.”

Jacky smiled, not caring if Ehlo was getting dramatic again. He must admit, he was finally back.

“If you want some dramas, Huang,” Wallace spoke up then. “How about I toss in another project for you on top of your current projects?”

Ehlo had on his threatening look. “I dare you.”

Wallace shrugged, wiping his mouth with a napkin. “I was talking to Cynthia the other day.”

Ehlo raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, it was last week before she and Nic went off for their romantic vacation,” Wallace clarified. “Anyway, she agreed on it so I guess I could go forth with the construction phase in the next several months. Preferably after our wedding.”

“What? Your rate’s killing me, man.”

Wallace cleared his throat. “I purchased the shop next door to us so we have more space to work with. I was thinking of merging the two together. That would help with Cynthia’s current limited space issues too. She could open more classes and hire more people to help her. Not to mention her shop would have even more room for stock. Then she could cancel her monthly storage at this one place.”

Ehlo’s face reflected of impatient. “And you’re telling me this because? You need my permission?”

Jacky couldn’t help but smile. “I’m beginning to think Angela’s affecting your thinking rate.”

Ehlo turned briefly to give Jacky an annoyed look. “Thank you, Backstabber.”

“I want you to work on a plan for me,” Wallace said, ending Jacky and Ehlo’s side jab at one another. “You could discuss the details of the layout with Cynthia when she’s back next week.”

That was when the room went silence. It wasn’t because Wallace had gestured for Jacky to stop targeting Ehlo. It was Ehlo freezing on his own, even paused his chewing.

“Say something, man,” Wallace urged.

“You’re kidding me, right?” Ehlo said at last. “I’m swamped. On top of that, there’s the wedding plans.”

Wallace had on his teasing smile again. “Come on, you dared me.”

“What do you say, Huang?” Jacky jabbed once again. “Not up to the challenge?”

Ehlo wasn’t annoyed with Jacky this time, but ended up shaking his head and smiling in the process. “I’m not used to you being all mischievous again.”

Indeed, they hadn’t seen Jacky joked since a long time now. This time, it wasn’t just some forced attacks to reassure them like many times before that he was fine either. Perhaps only Bryant didn’t get what Ehlo was trying to say, considering how he hadn’t seen Jacky happy before. At least not completely comfortable like now. The Jacky he knew was tense and serious in many ways. And that was one of the reasons why he hadn’t spoken up much since they sat down to eat breakfast together.

“Stop changing the subject, Huang,” Wallace taunted. “What will it be?”

“You wish that I would back down,” Ehlo returned the attack, pointing at Wallace with the fork in his hand. “Of course, I’m in.”

“I’ll draw up the terms for our contract later then.”

Ehlo had on his amused look. “Seriously?”

“Business is business. It’s always good to keep things clear.”

“Whatever, Huo.”

Wallace didn’t say anything but just smiled before resuming his consumption task. Ehlo shrugged and went back to eating as well.

“How did you get the owner to sell though?” Bryant asked suddenly. “I mean he loves that shop.”

“He said he’s getting old,” Wallace replied. “So he’s moving back to his hometown to live with his son and daughter-in-law. I offered to buy him out. I also took care of two month’s pay for the employees.”

“Wow, you sure are crazy,” Ehlo commented, his sarcasm intact.

Wallace shrugged. “I only did what Tang Feng did for us once.”

Upon mentioning Tang Feng, Ehlo turned serious again. He scanned Jacky and Bryant’s faces before speaking up again. “Seriously though, do you still like Cyndi?”

Jacky reached his hand out to hit Ehlo as soon as he heard it. However, Wallace, instead of displaying some outrage expression because of Ehlo’s words, just smiled.

“What?” Ehlo urged.

Wallace still had on his smile. “Qiao asked me the same thing the other day.”

“What did you say to her?”

“I told her I know you guys don’t believe that I could move on just like that,” Wallace said, his voice serious again. “But I know I love Yvonne. She’s not someone’s shadow or a rebound. Because I finally realize that I prefer aggressive girls, even if I couldn’t make it work with Angela in the past.” He looked at Jacky at this point. “I know I told you I thought Cyndi was the one, but I was wrong. And I’m not saying that because I felt sore she used me for a novel idea. But it’s because when Angela returned years ago, I was reminded of all the arguments we used to have in the past and couldn’t reach an agreement most of the time. I wanted to steer clear of her type. Then I realized how Cyndi was so supportive of others although she did have her mischievous moments. So I just attached myself to her as a hope that perhaps I could finally make a relationship work. But that was because I wanted to be safe. I needed a reason to be safe.” Wallace was no longer looking at Jacky but was staring at all three guys in general. “With Yvonne, she stirred a feeling in me that I thought I lost in the past already. It was driving me insane, but it also made me feel like she was the balance I needed.”

“And I just regretted asking in the first place,” Ehlo mumbled.

“I’m not saying I still have feelings for Angela and using Yvonne to replace her spot,” Wallace clarified. “We just don’t see eye to eye on most matters.”

“You managed to get along fine all these years.”

“That’s because she’s not controlling my life.”

“You make her sound like a monster.”

“Huang, what do you want me to say? As a friend, I could let things slide with her. But others…”

“Example?”

“Remember that time when Angela found out that Sonia met up with James already?”

Ehlo cleared his throat and glanced at Jacky real quick before going back to eating.

“It’s fine,” Jacky said.

Ehlo shrugged.

“Angela was going on and on and on about the whole matter,” Wallace continued. “I don’t know how you could stay silent and just let her talk your ears off. I had to put on headphones, man. If I didn’t need a drink of water, I wouldn’t step out of the room. How could you stand that? And you’re like one of the most hot-headed persons I’ve known. And on top of that, remember how you used to go at each other like you were sworn enemies?”

“I don’t know how to explain it to you, man,” Ehlo said, no sarcasm this time. “But I understood why she was ranting.”

“It’s not like I don’t understand, but I don’t see the point of dragging the situation out.”

“Okay, enough already. I got it. Next item?”

Wallace shrugged. “You asked.”

“I told you I regretted it.”

“Qiao said she would reconsider me,” Bryant suddenly said.

The others turned to him.

“Last night?” Wallace asked, looking at Bryant.

Bryant nodded.

Ehlo clapped Bryant on the shoulder. “Congrats, man.”

Bryant smiled, but it was a small one. “It’s not a sure thing yet. She said we’re just getting to know each other.”

“That’s Qiao for you.”

Wallace shook his head at Ehlo’s comment. “Don’t listen to Ehlo. You know already about Tang Feng or somewhat of it, so if you want to pursue Qiao, you have to be patient.”

Bryant nodded. “I know.”

“Who’s getting his hopes down now?” Ehlo asked, his sarcasm surging high again.

And that was another Huang and Huo battle that Bryant learned to stay out of. Even Jacky wasn’t participating in their new disagreement. But it wasn’t because he was scared of either’s wrath. He just wanted to sit back and watch. Things were indeed back to its familiarity of the old days.

*****

Like Wallace promised, when Nic and Cynthia came back the following week, the expansion project proceeded. At least it was in the manner of discussing details and initial planning. Wallace had already drawn up a contract and went over it with Ehlo, even ironing out some inconsistency. As for the rest of them, their lives also went back to its normality at work, busy but productive. For some of them, they no longer had to worry about Jacky or Joanne’s matters anymore. On top of that, the wedding planning continued in the background like always. The majority of the female population dived in to help with ideas, additional arrangements, and making calls so Ehlo and Wallace were able to focus on the expansion project. Yet it wasn’t like that was their only project. Although both were engaging in constant battles, but Wallace had followed through with letting the project be a side thing for Ehlo at that time being as Ehlo finished his more pressing projects at work. Wallace, on the other hand, also had to finish up with his consultations.

Before they knew it, a week and a half had passed already. It wasn’t until Friday of the second week that they slowed down a bit. Well, it was more like they were summoned to a meeting at East Shore Café. Unlike the lack of presence for some of the previous meetings with the stalking missions, they were all present this time. Even Johnny, whose schedule had let up a bit hence allowing him some sort of break, showed up. They came in groups but eventually arrived by 6:30. Perhaps the only person not present was Kris, who was still on his photo shoot trip.

“So what’s the big deal here, Mr. Sun?” Ehlo asked in a confronting tone. “Don’t you have things to do, like knocking down the Zhao’s empire?”

Yes, Tony was the one calling for the meeting this time around. And as soon as Ehlo uttered the last phrase, Angela had hit him on the sides.

“If you keep hitting me like that, I’m going to fall off,” Ehlo protested, sitting up straight again since he’d been sitting on the railing and leaning his head on Angela’s shoulder.

“You just never learn,” Angela chided.

“All right already,” Wallace interfered. “Let’s hear what Mr. Sun has to say for himself.”

Wallace was actually sitting on Ehlo’s left, but had kept a distance from the other two. Yet he couldn’t stand their interruptions any longer hence speaking up.

“I have good news for everyone,” Tony announced, his positivity reflected his words.

The others were quiet, waiting for Tony to say it. Ehlo was the only one having his eyebrow raised, reflecting his impatient. It was also then that Esther got up from her place–where she’d been sitting with Joanne, Andy, and Achel. She smiled and walked over to where Tony was standing, which was sort of the center of their gathering area. Tony had extended his hand out–to which Esther had returned the gesture with extending her own hand to grab onto his. That was also when understanding kicked in for some of them. Ehlo’s smile was cunning as he exchanged a look with Angela.

“We’re back together,” Esther announced, her smile brighter.

“That’s right,” Tony confirmed, swinging their linked hands.

“I knew it!” Ehlo exclaimed before any of the others could input.

While the majority voiced their excitement and uttered words of congrats to both parties, some of them were exchanging looks. Actually, two groups were exchanging unsure looks. One group being Joanne, Andy, and Achel. The other was none other than Janine and Eddie. Yet Eddie’s somewhat awkward expression turned into a smile briefly after. He even clapped, which caused a chain of reactions from the others as well.

“This is definitely a good sign,” Ehlo said when everyone had calmed down already.

“I didn’t know you were that superstitious, Huang,” Wallace jabbed like always.

“Joke all you want, Huo,” Ehlo returned. “I’m taking this as a good sign for the upcoming days. I should have bet against you guys. I could win big by now.”

“The reason why I called you all here,” Tony spoke up again. “It’s not just because I want to announce this good news. But I want you all to be witnesses.”

“Don’t tell me you’re proposing already.”

Angela hit Ehlo again, but he just smiled as he grabbed onto her hand.

“Not exactly,” Tony said. “We just got back together so I want to take it slowly again. But what I want you all to be witnesses to is my promise.”

“Mushy-ville,” Ehlo whispered to Wallace.

Wallace had to snicker at that comment.

Tony ignored the two and turned to Esther at that moment. “I know there have been uncertainties in the past about where our relationship was going. So now, I really want to make it clear. Whatever happens in the future, I promise I won’t let you be pulled into those high class society’s dramas like how it had turned out for Vincent and Alyssa.”

Esther nodded, her smile trusting like how she was in the past with Tony. Or it was more like even more trusting than before. It was like their relationship hadn’t changed at all despite being separated for a while. If there was a change, perhaps it was a sense of maturity.

“Your words, Mr. Sun,” Ehlo jumped at that chance. “If you let Yan down, you won’t hear the end of it from us.”

Tony turned to Ehlo then. “That’s a promise, Huang.”

“Then this calls for a celebration,” Wallace said then. “You can’t be calling us all here to starve us, right?”

Tony nodded, not showing traces of fear. “Fair enough.”

“Or maybe we should go to Uncle Ben’s place to celebrate,” Ehlo suggested, scanning everyone’s faces.

“Who’s Uncle Ben?” Eddie asked, looking at the others for answers.

“My uncle,” Jacky replied.

“Sure, why not?” Tony said, looking at Esther to confer–to which Esther nodded.

“All right then. Let me call him.”

They waited in silence for about a minute or less before seeing Jacky gesture the “Okay” sign. It was then that they got up one by one to go to the parking lot. Wallace was the one who told Eddie the directions to the place. Joanne was going with Bryant like usual so she would tell him on the way. Novia got directions from Jacky before he left with Sophia.

As the others were leaving in groups or pairs, Janine managed to haul Eddie aside after Wallace was done giving him directions to talk to him.

“Hey, you okay?” Janine asked, her face full of concern.

Eddie was still smiling. “Sure.”

“Come on, it’s me.”

Eddie was still unfazed by Janine’s urgency. “Honestly, it’s not a big deal with me.”

“Eddie…”

“Don’t believe me?”

“It’s not that, it’s like you acted like nothing happened.”

“You’re underestimating me. I’m fine.”

Janine still wasn’t convinced. Eddie scanned the perimeter real quick before speaking up again.

“Seriously, I like her, but not in a sense that I would go crazy if she reconciles with her boyfriend. Come on now. I found her interesting because she’s so independent and ambitious. But I was also curious about her past with Tony. In a way, I’m glad they reconciled.”

Janine still had on her doubtful look. “You sure?”

Eddie’s smile was as bright as ever. “I’m not as invested as say some guy that might have liked her a long time already. We just knew each other for several months, you know.”

“My brother and Qiao only knew one another for a short time too, look at how they get along.”

“They’re different. They have this chemistry that it’s hard to miss. Just like how you could see it with Tony and Esther.”

Janine was still staring at Eddie, trying to detect traces of pretense. Eddie grabbed onto to her elbow and nudged her along.

“Come on, if we don’t hurry, they will wonder what happened to us.”

So Janine had no choice but to drop it and quicken her pace to Eddie’s car.

That night, they indeed had a huge celebration at Uncle Ben’s. It wasn’t just for Tony and Esther, but it was also to relieve all the tension they had faced the past several weeks–both with work and personal life. Uncle Ben and Aunt June welcomed the new faces with their usual cheerfulness, so they fitted in just fine with the rest of the group. They didn’t leave the place until late that night.

© Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Posted: Monday, December 8th, 2014

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