Chapter 11 – Reality Check

The next day, Tony and Esther were at Jacky’s place. It was around 10, but Ehlo had claimed that it was still too early to have guests at that ungodly hour. Perhaps it was because he had another late night, even way past their little gathering at Uncle Ben’s.

“So, what have we here today?” Ehlo asked, sipping on his teacup.

Yes, they were now on tea, not coffee. The Chang siblings had influenced them all, not wanting them to rely on coffee too much. Or it was more like Nic and Angela’s doings since Achel would never dare to boss them around like that.

“Nice,” Tony said, walking toward the kitchen with Esther, his sarcasm was subtle but detectible.

“Hey, you’re in my house,” Ehlo said, shrugging as he placed his teacup back on the counter.

“So I was working on the plan for the land redevelopment project,” Tony said, settling down in front of the counter and facing Ehlo.

Ehlo nodded. “And?”

“How do you like to join the team?”

“What?” Ehlo asked, blinking twice, not believing his ears.

“You heard right,” Tony verified. “I want you on the team.”

“Number 1, I’m mad swamped right now. Number 2, I have a wedding to take care of too. And number 3, ironic much?”

Tony wrinkled his face at the third comment.

“We all know the Zhao’s company got kicked off for bringing all their goons, why would you want to repeat their mistake by recruiting all your friends?”

Tony smiled. “I’m not like them. I only recruit the capable ones. In fact, I’ll let you in on the basics, you draw up a plan and present to us at the meeting. There are also other architects up for this. So you’re not the only one.”

Ehlo covered a yawn before answering. “Seriously, I’m swamped. And I thought you guys are further into the project than that. It has been awhile since you accepted the project, right?”

“It was a mess. We had to iron out a lot of stuffs before we could move on.”

“That bad?”

Tony nodded. “You don’t know the half of it.”

Ehlo shrugged, taking another sip out of his teacup.

“So, what will it be? You’re in or out?”

Ehlo wrinkled his face as he placed his teacup down again. “I told you already, I’m swamped.”

“Seriously, Huang, you might as well strike out on your own,” Wallace said as he walked toward the fridge. “The best decision I ever made.”

Ehlo had on his annoyed look. “Not everyone’s as rich as you to afford the risk.”

That comment had stopped Wallace from rustling stuffs in the fridge and had turned to stare at Ehlo. Tony also had on his amused smile at that point, but he didn’t say anything. He was waiting for the drama to unfold.

“Seriously?” Wallace asked–with one eyebrow raised.

“Who are you talking about here?” Jacky chimed in, his amused smile was on as well. He was also making his way toward the fridge to find something.

The room was quiet as they were waiting for Ehlo to answer.

“Shut up, man,” Ehlo rattled out, getting up and washing his teacup.

“I thought you hate Luke,” Wallace reminded Ehlo.

Ehlo had on his annoyed look again. “I just think he’s trying to go after my fiancée, okay?”

“The more you should quit,” Tony coaxed.

Ehlo turned to Tony at that time. “Are you nuts?”

“And we all know why we’re here,” Wallace mumbled as he returned to ransack the fridge with Jacky.

“Well, think about it,” Tony said, setting down a folder he had been holding since he entered the house. “All the information you need is in there. Call me to confirm for the meeting.”

Tony turned to the other two after saying those words to Ehlo.

“You guys staying for lunch?” Wallace asked.

Wallace and Jacky were actually standing around and munching on some food at that point.

Tony shook his head. “Can’t, have to go meet my mom for lunch.”

“Oh, she’s going to put Yan on trial?” Wallace asked, his tone cunning.

“Funny,” Tony said, his sarcasm making its appearance again.

Wallace shrugged. “Hey, how should I know?”

“We have to go,” Esther said, tugging on Tony’s arm at that time.

Tony had actually taken a hold of Esther’s hand after claiming that he had to meet up with his mother for lunch.

“Good luck,” Wallace said as Tony and Esther made their leave.

“Whatever, Huo,” Tony said, but didn’t turn back.

“So, what do you think?” Wallace asked, turning his attention to Ehlo again.

Ehlo was actually reading the files in the folder Tony had given him.

“We’ll see,” Ehlo answered, no sarcasm this time.

After that, he got up from his spot and left the place as well. Wallace turned to look at Jacky this time. Jacky shrugged and left the kitchen with his apple.

*****

“So I was saying how awesome it was if we could all married on the same day, right?” Andy said that afternoon when he met up with Achel, Joanne, and Esther at their favorite café.

“Seriously?” Joanne asked. “You said that to Kris?”

“Yeah. Come on now, we’ve known each other since forever. It would be cool to do it like how Ehlo and Wallace did.”

“Wallace just threw it out there at the last moment,” Joanne reminded him. “It wasn’t like it was planned.”

“Then ours is.”

“Good luck on planning anything like this,” Ehlo said as he walked up to them.

They turned to see him with Angela and Bianca. No Johnny.

“He’s inside ordering for us,” Ehlo answered, seeing their glances.

After saying that, Ehlo settled down at the table next over from them and turned to face them. He was actually next to Andy.

“Does that mean Kris is back?” Bianca asked, looking around. “Or his flight got delayed?”

“He’s inside getting something,” Andy said, sipping on his drink.

Yes, Kris was back already. Andy had gone to the airport earlier to pick him up while Joanne, Esther, and Achel went on a shopping trip together–since they hadn’t done some type of gathering just among the three of them for a while now. That also meant Esther had already been released from Tony’s mother’s grasp after a brief interrogation. The other two didn’t ask how it went since they didn’t want to pester Esther regarding the matter. They just focused on some random talks. Andy and Kris had joined them at the mall earlier so they came to the café together. As for the other four, they were there just because they wanted to meet up for some random talk.

“So, what do you think of Tony’s proposal?” Esther asked, looking over toward Ehlo.

Ehlo shrugged. “I read it. It’s interesting. But will have to wait.”

Esther smiled. “Does that mean you’re in?”

“Not sold yet.”

“You know they’re interviewing you, right?” Wallace spoke up at that time. “It’s not the other way around, Huang.”

Yes, Wallace and Yvonne had arrived. They had settled down at a table to the right of Andy’s table, not joining the other three.

“Huo, you don’t know the half of it,” Ehlo returned, not missing a beat.

“Sure,” Wallace said. “Whatever you say, Huang.”

“What are you guys arguing over now?” Nic asked at that time. “I feel like we didn’t miss anything while we were gone.”

Nic and Cynthia settled down at the same table as Wallace and Yvonne. Although he and Cynthia had been back for a while yet because they both had to settle back into work and whatnot, they hadn’t really caught up with the others much.

“It’s us, hello,” Ehlo said, his tone defensive.

“You better watch your tone, Huang,” Wallace said, his tone teasing. “It’s your brother-in-law here.”

Ehlo directed his annoyed expression at Wallace. “Funny, Huo.”

Wallace had displayed his smart-aleck smile like usual. “You’re welcome, Huang.”

“Here we are,” Johnny said at that time, walking over to them. “Kris is bringing out the rest of the orders.”

Upon hearing that, Yvonne signaled to Wallace. Wallace got up from his place and headed toward the side door. He helped Kris with the orders and set it out for the rest. They weren’t just sitting around either but Wallace getting up had caused a chain of actions as well. After they were done and settled down at some place or another, Kris had looked toward Esther.

“Mind if we talk for a bit?” Kris whispered to Esther when he was by her side.

The others had detected some traces of awkwardness on Esther’s face yet didn’t speak up to tease them. Not even Ehlo. Perhaps it was because they could see the serious aura coming from Kris. And even though Joanne, Andy, and Achel knew but they didn’t say anything either. Joanne only sent Esther a supportive look as Esther got up and headed toward the dock area with Kris.

“Who wants to bet on this?” Ehlo whispered when the two were out of earshot already.

Angela hit him on the shoulder while Wallace had sent him a serious look.

“What?” Ehlo asked, his face showing innocence.

“If we didn’t know what happened before, it’s obvious now,” Wallace said, his voice low on purpose. “Better not meddle into that one, Huang.”

Ehlo shrugged.

They changed the subject after that and waited for the other two to return. Although they didn’t want to act nosy yet some of them were unease, especially Joanne, Andy, and Achel–since they were worried for how it would turn out with those two. It was already brainless that Esther would have to let Kris down gently since she and Tony already reconciled, but what they were worried about was how Kris would react after learning the news.

*****

Indeed, the awkwardness between Kris and Esther turned into that of a hectic atmosphere when they were by the dock and had enough privacy to themselves for a side talk.

“I know I should wait and not swing this one on you like this,” Kris began. “But I just want to know.”

Esther nodded. “I understand. I wanted to tell you before you left, but I was worried it would affect your mood.”

Kris had on a smile then, his expression full of confidence. “So, what will it be?”

Although he was exuding coolness and composed manner, but his fingers were tapping on either side of his thighs. He was indeed nervous.

“I didn’t realize you still harbor feelings for me after all these years,” Esther said, getting right to the point. “But I have always treated you like a friend, nothing more. So even if it wasn’t for Tony, my answer would still be the same.”

Kris was no longer smiling or pretending he was all right. He sighed out with much heaviness. “Just like that, huh?” He looked toward the water behind Esther before returning his gaze to hers. “It’s okay. I mean I just needed to know after all these years. I appreciate your honesty.”

Esther still had on her passive look, not showing traces of guilt or reluctance. “Also, Tony and I reconciled already.”

That was when Kris could no longer keep his composure. “That was why you didn’t want to tell me before I left? You think I couldn’t take it? That was why you kept mentioning Tony with your explanation?”

Esther shook her head, her face a little wrinkle. “You misunderstood. Tony and I didn’t get back together until after you left. Tony actually came that day at lunch to talk to me about it. Then you came that afternoon.”

“I don’t believe you.”

That was all Kris said before he turned and left.

“Kris!” Esther called out, rushing after him.

Yet Kris increased his pace and walked past all of them waiting by the table. They all stopped their side conversations and stared at Kris.

“Hey!” Andy called out when he realized Kris wasn’t going to stop. “You came with us!”

Kris didn’t answer but walked on toward the parking lot.

“Don’t chase him down,” Wallace interfered, getting up from his spot at that time.

Andy turned and looked at Wallace, his face scrunched up in confusion.

“He won’t listen to you. Let him cool down.”

Andy sighed out. “If I knew it would turn out like this, I wouldn’t have encouraged him to confess to her.”

“His attitude was already terrible before,” Ehlo pointed out. “It wouldn’t make a difference anyway.”

“Huang’s right,” Wallace said. “He’ll come back when he cools down.”

So they ended up eating before heading home. Jacky had taken Sophia some place hence not being around with them for that gathering. The others also had their plans. Bryant had to meet up with the program director so he wasn’t able to make it either.

*****

Ehlo and Wallace were wrong this time. Kris didn’t come to seek them out or cooled down for that matter. Within that month, they didn’t see Kris at all, not even at Andy’s house. Apparently, Kris had returned to the Chen resident to retrieve his remaining luggage before Andy came home. He probably was crashing at his manager’s place for the time being. Or it was their guess, considering how he wasn’t returning Andy’s calls either. It seemed like he was taking it harder than they thought. It was like how Eddie had said to Janine that one time–although none of them had overheard him, because Kris was more invested than Eddie ever did so his reaction was tenfold stronger.

During that time, the others also had their plans so they couldn’t really send out a search party for Kris. They only let Andy do the searching since Andy was after all the most suitable person to talk to Kris. They didn’t want to make Kris feel like he was being put on display as a side show. Sometime later, Andy was able to confirm of Kris’s whereabouts and safety yet he didn’t intrude either. He only left a message saying whenever Kris was ready to talk, he was there.

Time continued to march forward as they were wrapping the last bit up for the upcoming wedding. Ehlo and Wallace also had to balance that with their projects at work. Wallace and Cynthia had talked it over and agreed on pushing back the shop’s renovation to allow Ehlo to take on Tony’s project. Yes, Ehlo had finished his current projects two weeks after Tony handed him the folder so he felt like he could take on the challenge. He told Wallace first and then Wallace had passed it along to Cynthia. Of course, Cynthia didn’t object, considering how she knew it was important for Ehlo’s career with that land development project.

Aside from those happenings, the others had to help Ehlo and Wallace move out of their current resident as well as Angela. Ehlo and Angela were moving into a small house they found not long ago and had finalized the papers several weeks back. Wallace was moving in with Yvonne, because her real place was big enough for the two of them, not some small apartment like previously when she was on the undercover job. She had saved up over the years and was finally able to buy it before she met Wallace and the rest of them. Wallace didn’t mind, because he wasn’t the type to let others gossip about his capabilities. It was now their nest.

Before they knew it, it was already June. In fact, it was roughly two weeks before the wedding. It was Friday and they were helping with the move once again. They had been doing a little of that here and there during their off time so it had been slow. Not to mention how they had to do some basic cleanup as well as taking care of the safety measures. However, they weren’t that badly delayed because they had already finished with moving Angela’s stuffs the previous week. It was now Ehlo’s turn. Yvonne had been organizing her place to make some space for Wallace’s possessions so Wallace wasn’t in a rush.

“On three,” Wallace said as he and Ehlo were moving the desk toward the front door.

“You guys, I got bad news,” Bryant said as he entered the resident.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s bad news or good news,” Ehlo rattled out. “Just move out of the way.

Bryant did as he was told, making way for the two guys.

He actually followed the two guys back outside to help with changing the angle and placing it into the truck. Yes, they had rented a bigger truck to move heavy furniture.

“What bad news?” Ehlo finally said when they were standing on the ground again.

“I won’t be able to make it to the wedding,” Bryant replied.

“What? Are you kidding me?”

“Why not?” Wallace asked, keeping calm.

“I told my manager not to arrange work on that day and he did leave it empty,” Bryant explained. “But then there were some problems with the set and then the equipment for this other show so they pushed our filming day back. Now they say that the whole team has to work on that weekend to make up for time.”

“What in the world?” Ehlo said, outraged.

Bryant’s face had reflected that same frustration. “You know what? I’ll call him back and say it’s a no go since I already have plans. They can’t just change it on me like that.”

As Bryant was retrieving his phone from his pants pocket, Wallace held his hand up to stop Bryant.

“Don’t,” Wallace said. “You know how difficult it is for the crew. They can’t control it either. So if you do that, it affects everyone.”

“But…” Bryant protested.

“Listen to him, man,” Ehlo said at last, his composure much calmer now. “I know it sucks, but don’t worry. You won’t miss it. We’ll be filming the whole time. You get to see the grand wedding in HD.”

“Bragging much?” Wallace sabotaged Ehlo once again, his smile cunning.

Ehlo had on his arrogant look. “Trust me, Huo. It will be epic.”

So after that brief exchange, they returned to the house to continue with transferring furniture to the truck. Bryant had also cooled down and helped them as well. He was not any less disappointed, but tried to push that bit aside for the time being.

“I can’t believe you’re not going to be there,” Joanne said when she heard about it upon arriving about an hour or so later, her disappointment reflecting the rest’s.

“Hopefully filming will be smooth,” Bryant assured her. “Then maybe I could make it to the reception.”

Joanne couldn’t keep her frown when she saw Bryant’s smile. She knew he was making an effort to cheer her up.

“Hey, some news, you guys,” Andy announced as he entered the house several minutes later.

“Good or bad?” Ehlo asked, eyeing the piece of paper in Andy’s hand.

Andy shrugged. “Depends on how you look at it.”

“Don’t tell me you can’t make it to the wedding either.”

Andy wrinkled his face. “What?”

“Never mind, kid. What’s up?”

Andy finally lowered the paper in his hand. “Kris left already. He said he didn’t know how to face us at this time, but he apologized for behaving like he did in the past month. He also sends his blessings to you four regarding the wedding. He can’t make it. But he gave me the gifts so I could hand ‘em to you. They’re in my car. You could come and get it in a bit.”

“So how was he when you met up with him?” Joanne asked, her expression worried. “Is he still mad at us? Does he still misunderstand us for putting him on display or something?”

Andy shook his head. “He said he knew we wouldn’t do that to him. But he said he needs more time to get over it, if you know what I mean.”

Joanne nodded.

That was also when Esther returned from Ehlo’s room with some more items in her hands. She had overheard the last bit.

“He looked all right?” Esther asked.

Andy nodded. “He’s fine. Don’t worry.”

Esther nodded, and realized the others were staring at her. “I know you guys think I’m cruel, but I didn’t want to appear all wishy-washy or worst, like I’m stringing him along on purpose.”

Ehlo raised his hands in surrender. “We didn’t say anything, Miss Liu.”

And they indeed didn’t say anything else after that. They went back to moving tasks once more. Tony came about ten minutes later to join them. It was one of those rare times that he was free hence chipping in as well.

It wasn’t until another half an hour that Jacky returned from work to help. Sophia wasn’t around since she was with Yvonne, helping her with more organizing tasks. They were indeed scattered all over the place these past months. Yet they didn’t mind. It was life.

© Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Posted: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

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