One week later, they were standing at the airport, sending Sophia off. At least some of them were. The other guests were already gone earlier in the day since they had driven there or had taken a bus or other alternatives not having to do with flying. James, Elisa, and their kids had already left two days ago so the only one traveling by plane that day was Sophia.
“This is it, huh?” Ehlo said, his smile cunning like always.
“You’re married now, behave,” Joanne chided.
Ehlo raised an eyebrow. “On what universe does it say I have to?”
Sophia smiled, feeling a little sentimental, considering the moment. “I’m going to miss all of you so much.”
“Aww…don’t go all mushy on us, girl,” Ehlo said, his teasing tone still on high.
That was when Angela reached over to hit Ehlo on the shoulder. It wasn’t like they would change their routine or interaction just because they were now married.
“I’m going to file for spousal abuse soon,” Ehlo said, reaching out to grab a hold of Angela’s hand.
“Sure,” Angela returned, not believing a word of it.
“All right,” Jacky interfered. “Jing Jing has to go soon. You guys stop arguing already.”
“Yes, sir,” Ehlo saluted.
Angela hit Ehlo again yet Sophia didn’t mind. She smiled and shook her head at their banter. Joanne ended up hugging Sophia before Jacky could say anything else.
“Remember to come back and visit us again,” Joanne said, her voice reflecting apparent sadness.
Sophia patted Joanne’s shoulder and nodded. “I will.”
When Joanne finally released Sophia and stepped back to give Sophia some space, Sophia spoke up again.
“I have a surprise for you in the next few months,” Sophia declared, her smile somewhat mischievous. It was indeed rare although it wasn’t like Sophia was that innocent.
Joanne had on her confused look. “What?”
“You’ll see.” This time Sophia’s eyes passed toward Bryant as well. “It’s about hope.”
Joanne and Bryant exchanged a look then yet when they turned to look at Sophia again, she didn’t seem to want to disclose any more of the matter. Instead, she turned to Jacky.
“Hug her already,” Ehlo said, pushing Jacky on the shoulder.
“You forgot your place again,” Angela chided, pulling on Ehlo’s ear.
Ehlo let go of Jacky’s shoulder to rescue his ear like many times before in the past.
“Serves you right, Huang,” Wallace spoke up at that time.
They turned to see Wallace walking up to them, holding Yvonne’s hand the whole time.
“Sorry, we’re late,” Wallace apologized, looking at Sophia.
Sophia shook her head. “It’s okay.”
“Here,” Yvonne said, handing Sophia a package.
Sophia had on a surprised look, still waiting for Yvonne to clarify.
“It’s for Grandpa,” Yvonne said. “Don’t worry, I checked, it’s within the safe items.”
Sophia finally took the item from Yvonne and sent her a smile full of gratitude. Then it was Yvonne’s turn to hug Sophia.
“Thanks so much for coming back and agreeing on being our witness,” Yvonne said before letting go of Sophia.
Sophia maintained her graceful smile. “It was an honor.”
“The way you girls are going, he won’t get to hug her,” Ehlo chided the female population.
“No one’s stopping him, you know,” Joanne returned, glaring at Ehlo.
Ehlo still had on his smart-aleck smile.
“Send our regards to Grandpa,” Jacky finally said, looking at Sophia.
“I will,” Sophia said before taking the initiative and hugging Jacky instead of waiting for him to make a move.
Jacky, of course, returned the gesture, even tightening his grip around her yet he didn’t say anything.
“Shame on you, man,” Ehlo said. “How could you let her make the move first?”
Jacky and Sophia already let go of each other. Yet Jacky didn’t have to say anything to defend himself. Angela had already taken care of Ehlo by pulling on his ear once more.
“Like I’m wrong…ow…”
As if that was enough of punishment already, Angela let go of Ehlo’s ear and reached out to hug Sophia as well. It was indeed a rare gesture, but understandable.
“Yvonne said it already, but I still want to say thank you for being there for us,” Angela said.
“All right,” Jacky said. “It’s almost time.”
Sophia reached out toward Bryant at that time and brought his hand toward Joanne’s. “You better take good care of her.”
Bryant didn’t know what to say except nod. As if satisfied with the response, Sophia finally let go of their hands and scanned the group standing in front of her once more before taking leave. Jacky stepped forward and helped her roll her luggage along. It wasn’t until she was done checking in that he was reassured. But he didn’t forget to hug her one last time before returning to where the others were waiting for him. Yet when he was by their side again, Ehlo didn’t tease or make any additional comment. He just clapped Jacky on the shoulder as they made their way back outside. Wallace was walking on Jacky’s left and had mimicked Ehlo’s action by giving Jacky a gentle pat on the shoulder as a supportive gesture as well.
About two months later, Joanne was seen standing by the bridge that separated their side of town from the other, thinking. She had her hands on the railing and was looking down at the traffic below. Her attention soon directed toward the horizon where the sun rays were dancing back and forth along with the light breezes. Yet she wasn’t alone for long. Bryant soon showed up but he didn’t disrupt her. He also placed his hands on the railing and watched the horizon with her.
“It’s only been a while but I miss Sophia so much,” Joanne confessed.
“She’ll come back,” Bryant reassured Joanne. “Not to mention we still have contact with her, right?”
Joanne nodded. Then she turned to Bryant with a smile. “So, you ready for today’s meeting?”
Bryant returned Joanne’s smile before nodding. They descended the bridge after that, heading toward Bryant’s car, which was parked at the edge of the curve.
Although the two still remembered what Sophia had said before she left yet they still hadn’t thought much of it at all. They still meet up almost every day, taking things slowly but nothing serious had paved itself into the picture. However, Bryant wasn’t disappointed in the progress, he actually felt like he was part of their group, regardless of their bizarre behaviors at times.
Half an hour or so later, they arrived at Alyssa’s place. But Bryant wasn’t dropping Joanne off. He went inside with her. Alyssa wasn’t the only one there. Esther, Andy, and Achel were there as well.
“Hey, you guys,” Andy greeted them. “You guys got the paint?”
“Of course,” Joanne said. “It’s out in the car.”
So they followed her and Bryant outside to retrieve the so-called paint. That was also when they saw Nic’s car pulling in. He was with Cynthia.
“Ge!” Achel called out as soon as the two got out of the car.
“Hey, everyone,” Nic greeted them.
“You’re here to help?” Joanne asked, surprised.
“I’m just dropping Cynthia off,” Nic replied. “I need to get back to the office for a while.”
“I’ll drive Lady Boss home later,” Andy said, smiling.
Nic nodded. “Thanks.”
Andy saluted with just two fingers. “Don’t mention it.”
“Say hi to Alyssa for me,” Nic said.
Yes, Alyssa didn’t follow them outside. She was still inside cleaning up. So the others nodded as Nic turned to leave.
They waited for Nic to exit the driveway before proceeding with their transporting tasks.
“Ironic, isn’t?” Cynthia commented as they were done with moving all the paint cans into a room upstairs. “I shut down the shops during weekends so the crew could work faster with renovation yet here I am helping someone with their renovation task.”
Yes, Alyssa was doing a little renovation of her own. And Ehlo was already finished with helping Tony drawing up a plan for the land development project. That was why he was moving forward with the renovation project for Wallace. However, that didn’t mean he was already done with the duties of Tony’s project. He was currently hopping between two job sites. He had also taken up on the suggestion of breaking out on his own. That happened half a month back–after he finished some side project for the company. He was free to work on whichever project he picked. Of course, he and Wallace had finished moving all their possessions out of their shared residence since years back already. They only left behind shared furniture and appliances because it was something they wanted to reserve at the place. Or more realistically, it made sense to keep it there for Jacky and Bryant to use.
“You can’t back out now, Lady Boss,” Andy joked. “You have to set examples for us.”
“You sure are good at sucking up,” Joanne exposed Andy.
Andy gave Joanne an annoyed look before walking toward a corner of the room. “Here are the papers.”
Yes, they had to finish with spreading papers out so it wouldn’t ruin the floor.
“Janine and Novia are coming later so we’ll have more help,” Bryant reminded them.
Yes, Janine and Novia heard about Alyssa’s renovation project so they decided to help too since it was just repainting and some new decorations to liven up the place.
They continued working in their pre-chosen areas for about fifteen minutes before Janine and Novia showed up. The two apologized for being late since they had to stop somewhere first. Then Alyssa soon joined them as well. They worked until an hour or so later before taking a break. That was also when Joanne took Bryant to her room. It was the same room that she stayed in the years back before Alyssa got married and moved away. Stepping into the room, she felt a wave of the past tugging at her. Yet she shrugged it off, telling herself it was already gone. She should be familiar with it again, considering how she’d returned to this place for almost a year already.
“Here,” Joanne said with a smile, pointing to the wall sharing the same side with the door.
Bryant looked over to see a large tree yet not quite like a tree staring back at him. He turned to her for an explanation. To which Joanne smiled before walking closer to the tree.
“This is my relationship tree,” Joanne said, brushing her finger past some names. “It’s a link to all the people in our group. Well, almost all. ”
Indeed, when Bryant stepped closer, he was able to distinguish the differences between each line. The lines were of different colors, which correlated the different relationships. Through it, he understood all of their relationships with one another–whether it was in the past or present. And although he was still confused with the guys’ conversations at times at home yet he didn’t want to ask. It seemed inappropriate and he didn’t want to tread on some dangerous road.
“Do the others know you made this?” Bryant asked at last.
Joanne smiled. “Some of them.”
“Wouldn’t it be awkward?”
Joanne shrugged. “I don’t know. But after I had that one conversation with Wallace months back, I decided it was all right to make this tree.”
“What about Jacky?”
“He’s fine. He’s back to himself already.”
Then Bryant wrinkled his face. “Why is Sonia listed twice?”
“Sonia Chu is James ge’s daughter,” Joanne said. “Jacky’s brother, not Sonia’s husband.” Then it was Joanne’s turn to wrinkle her face. “They seriously didn’t tell you anything? I meant you met James ge at the wedding. You should know his daughter’s name.”
Bryant reached his hand up to scratch his head. “I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Joanne smiled upon seeing how guilty Bryant looked. “It’s okay. I’ll start from the beginning, seeing how your roommates like to see you clueless.”
Bryant had on his relieved expression then. “Thanks.”
“So, anyone let you see a picture of Sonia yet?”
Bryant wrinkled his face.
“Jacky’s ex, not the little princess.”
Bryant shook his head.
“It’s hard to blame them. But we’re just being safe.”
Joanne then told Bryant of their story, right from the beginning. Or at least from when she first met Jacky and how all of their lives collided since then.
© Friday, November 28th, 2014
Posted: Sunday, December 14th, 2014