The meeting with Lynn occurred the following Friday. It was at East Shore Café. Aside from the majority of the people present at the previous meeting, there were also Johnny and Bianca. Johnny and Bianca were actually there because of the good news regarding the upcoming double wedding. Both were equally shocked when they learned of Wallace and Yvonne’s abrupt decision earlier this week as well, like how the rest of the group had reacted initially. However, they were still in support of their friends’ decisions, even congratulating all parties. This particular meeting also allowed Bianca to help Angela and Yvonne plan the details. Bianca seemed as excited as it was her wedding years back. However, they didn’t pick on her, knowing she was just happy for her other best friend finally tying the knot at long last.
“This is just too funny, man,” Ehlo said suddenly while they were still waiting for Jacky and Lynn. He was shaking his head in amusement and swinging one of his legs back and forth on the railing.
“What?” Wallace asked, turning to him.
Wallace was actually sitting next to Ehlo this time since Angela had opted for a place at a table with Bianca, Yvonne, Joanne, Esther, Achel, Janine, Novia, and Cynthia.
“It’s just funny how many of us are moving out of the place this year,” Ehlo finished his latest fragmented thought.
“No one’s kicking you out, Huang,” Wallace assured Ehlo, though his voice had hinted traces of mischievousness.
Ehlo turned to look at Wallace and returned it with another one of his mocking smiles. “Speak for yourself, Huo.”
“So you guys are really moving out later?” Bryant asked. Bryant was actually sitting on Ehlo’s right on the railing. His eyes were wandering around the area as well and had stopped at where Joanne was huddled with the rest of the female population to look at various wedding-related catalogs. He somehow smiled at seeing her eagerness as he was still waiting for Ehlo and Wallace’s responses.
“It probably won’t happen until May,” Ehlo reassured Bryant.
“Or later,” Wallace followed.
“Guest list,” Yvonne mumbled at that time.
“Everyone here,” Ehlo returned. “Not to mention our parents.”
“What about Sonia?” Bianca asked, turning to the others–more the ones who knew what happened in the past than the new members to their group. Her face was obviously reflecting of worry.
Ehlo looked at Angela briefly before touching that topic. He had also spotted the same worry expression that Bianca wore. “It’s out of the question, of course, we have to invite her.”
As the others were exchanging looks among themselves in awkward silence, Ehlo spoke up again.
“But that also means I get to invite Sophia.”
“Of course,” Yvonne agreed. “But do you think she could make it?”
Ehlo shrugged. “Come on, at least call her first.”
“And you told me not to sabotage Jacky?” Joanne jumped at the chance, having abandoned the latest catalog in her hands already.
Ehlo wrinkled his face. “What?”
“You want to invite Sophia so you could play matchmaker again.”
Ehlo scoffed. “Oh, really? I’m that childish? I need Sophia to be the balance for my side, okay?”
“Why are you keeping score?” Yvonne asked, her tone confronting.
Ehlo shrugged again. “Come on now, we all know I don’t like Sonia, so at least I have to have Sophia around to distract myself during the ceremony, okay?”
“It’s not that long. I meant only a reception. We’re just going to register beforehand, remember?”
Ehlo shrugged for the third time–like he was still conjuring up some excuses for the matter.
“Then who are the witnesses?” Yvonne continued right on, not waiting for Ehlo’s response.
“Johnny and Bianca.”
“I agree with Huang,” Wallace said, his tone serious, not mocking or challenging like the previous times when interacting with Ehlo. “If you want, we can add two more witnesses, but that’s it.”
“Then I want Sophia,” Yvonne said in an as a matter of fact tone.
Wallace nodded. “I’ll get Jacky.”
Ehlo turned to Wallace, his cunning smile back on–just like that. “Look who’s Mr. Matchmaker now.”
Wallace didn’t turn on his equally challenging look this time around–like how it was many times before when dealing with Ehlo. He still had on his serious expression. “I had initially wanted Tang Feng–somehow down the road. But we all know it’s impossible now. And it’s not because of our past link that I wanted him to be my witness, but it was just a thought.”
“You wanted Tang Feng and not one of us?” Ehlo asked, feeling wounded.
Wallace shrugged. “It doesn’t matter now, does it? I mean we’re getting married on the same day anyway.”
“Huh, like you knew that was going to happen back then.”
“Now you two sound like an old married couple,” Andy jumped in.
Ehlo gave Andy a murderous look then. “For a person who’s in the same clan as me, you sure are a backstabber.”
“Why are you two in the same clan?” Janine asked, her confused expression on.
“I’m not taking in her name, you are,” Andy jumped in again.
Ehlo smiled, but a sarcastic one. “Nice, kid.”
“Nic, Angela, and Xiao Yu are siblings,” Yvonne explained to Janine, knowing that Ehlo would never get around to that one.
“Oh,” Janine muttered, nodding in the process.
Yes, no one had informed Janine or Novia of the siblings’ relations yet. That also meant Eddie was as in the dark as the other two. Bryant knew but he didn’t care to elaborate because he felt he didn’t need to.
“Are they coming or what?” Ehlo asked suddenly, his impatient visible on his face–and in his voice.
“Maybe it’s traffic,” Andy suggested, looking at his watch also.
“We got here fine.”
Andy shrugged. “How should I know?”
“Wasn’t asking you, kid.”
“You guys always argue like this?” Janine asked, eyeing them suspiciously.
Ehlo shrugged. “We’re just bored.”
Before Janine could speak up to satisfy her curiosity further, Ehlo hopped off the railing–as did Wallace and Bryant. Janine took the hint to turn and face the parking lot. Yes, Jacky finally arrived with Lynn–or that was their guess from Joanne’s face scrunching up.
“You promised to stay calm,” Esther whispered into Joanne’s ear as they got up to greet the other two.
“Whatever,” Joanne shot back, though the frustration was aimed at Lynn–and not Esther.
“Hi, everyone,” Lynn greeted them–even before Jacky could introduce her. “I’m Lynn, Jacky’s girlfriend.”
“Hi,” The others–excluding Jacky and Joanne–chanted in unison.
For Jacky, it was because he didn’t need to. But for Joanne, it was obvious she was still exuding her hostility.
“So, Jacky’s new girlfriend, huh?” Ehlo asked Lynn–though he was glaring Jacky down.
“What’s wrong?” Lynn asked, noticing the majority’s staring.
“Nothing,” The others mumbled in unison. And then they turned to exchange looks since it was unplanned that they should be harmonizing at that moment.
“Say, doesn’t she remind you of someone?” Ehlo asked, still staring at Jacky.
Jacky wrinkled his face in confusion. “Who?”
“Obviously, he doesn’t remember,” Wallace responded in Jacky’s place before gesturing for the others to sit down.
“Let’s order some food,” Bryant suggested, attempting to dissolve the hectic atmosphere.
“Good idea,” Ehlo followed. “I need a drink too.”
“I’ll go with you,” Angela volunteered herself for the task.
“Me too,” Wallace said, sending Yvonne a look.
“Same here,” Yvonne spoke up, having received Wallace’s message loud and clear.
“Okay, then,” Esther said. “I’ll clean up here.”
Esther was referring to the table she and the rest of the female population had been sitting at and were looking at catalogs since more than half an hour ago while waiting. The rest of the group at the table ended up helping her before joining their significant others at other tables. Esther knew Joanne better than to let her be alone, so she chose to stay at that table with Joanne. Janine and Novia changed their minds and stayed with the other two as well. Bryant and Eddie joined them at that table. As for the other tables, Jacky and Lynn sat with Johnny and Bianca. They saved some center table for Ehlo, Angela, Wallace, and Yvonne. That left Nic, Cynthia, Andy, Achel, and Kris at the same table.
“So, Lynn, what do you do?” Ehlo asked when the others finished introducing themselves to Lynn–excluding Joanne, who was still unwilling to socialize with the enemy.
“Oh, I work at the old home on the other side of town,” Lynn replied, her voice chirpy. “You know, that abandoned side of town.”
Ehlo turned to give Jacky another look before returning his eyes to Lynn. “In that style?”
“Of course not,” Lynn answered, smiling. “The heels would kill me.”
“Not to mention that skimpy outfit is inappropriate,” Joanne mumbled.
Esther had nudged Joanne too late. But Ehlo had sent Joanne a thumbs-up under the table–without Jacky noticing. Yet Lynn seemed unaffected by that comment. She smiled and nodded in agreement.
“It would definitely get in the way,” Lynn continued right on.
“Uhuh,” Ehlo chimed in, not knowing where to go with that conversation either.
“So do you know Sophia Chou then?” Yvonne followed with the questionnaire.
“Who?” Lynn asked back, confused.
“Grandpa Chou’s grand-daughter,” Ehlo inputted the information. “There’s only one old home at that side of town. If you don’t know them, I don’t know which old home you’re talking about.”
“Oh, um, yeah,” Lynn stumbled–as if intimidated by Ehlo’s fierceness. “I mean I know, but I don’t know any Sophia Chou, probably she came around on a different shift.”
“Possible,” Wallace said, looking at Ehlo.
“You happen to have a surname, Lynn?” Yvonne rattled out, her tone leaning toward the icy path.
Ehlo smiled at the comment, knowing exactly where Yvonne was heading. He, of course, was complimenting her choice of words silently. The others were somewhat shocked by how Yvonne had worded her question, even if they come to know of her blunt nature in the past. Wallace wasn’t surprised, but just squeezed her hand lightly under the table, reminding her not to go past the boundary–or Jacky would cut the meeting short.
“Um, of course, who doesn’t?” Lynn replied, her voice a tad intimidated by now. Yet she tried to keep a calm composure. “Qin.”
“Lynn Qin, huh?” Ehlo mumbled. “Full name?”
“Qin Nan Qin,” Lynn answered automatically.
Most of the people present turned to Lynn–even those of who were busy eating at the moment. The staring was too obvious to ignore.
“Qin Nan Qin?” Ehlo repeated, his tone projecting disbelief, just like his facial expression.
Lynn wrinkled her face when she realized all the staring. “Why, what’s wrong?”
“Mind writing the characters down in case I misunderstood?”
Lynn did better than writing it down. She whipped out her iPhone from somewhere and typed it from a notepad app, which read: 秦南琴.
“Yup, the same one,” Ehlo told the others, at least the ones who were still staring.
“Why, what’s wrong?” Lynn asked again, her voice anxious this time.
“Um, done any reading lately, Lynn?”
Lynn obviously still looked confused. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
Wallace sighed out deeply, having covered his mouth with one hand already. “Next topic, shall we?”
Lynn was still scanning the faces that were staring at her, still trying to figure out what was going on. Yet the others soon stopped the staring and moved on, like how Wallace had suggested.
The rest of the meeting with Lynn continued in that same awkward atmosphere. Although some of them, especially Janine and Novia did try to interact in a much friendlier manner than the others, that didn’t ease the underlying hectic atmosphere. It wasn’t until they arrived back at the guys’ house that Bryant dared to voice his opinion.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but what in the world was that?” Bryant asked, eyeing everyone present. “I understand why Qiao didn’t like her, but you all?”
He obviously didn’t mean his sister and cousin or Eddie. He meant the rest of them. Possibly excluding Cynthia–who was also quite friendly during the meeting–whenever she managed to get a word or two in between Ehlo and Yvonne’s interrogation.
“She’s like a walking Jo all over again,” Ehlo replied, sitting down at the sofa. His face looked quite troubled and serious, but that didn’t mean he had forgotten about projecting the mockery look. “I mean, come on, ironic much?”
“Exactly,” Wallace followed, sitting down at the opposite corner of the sofa.
“Who’s Jo?” Janine asked, confused–and had every right to be.
Ehlo knew he has to fill the lost souls in so he let out a deep sigh before starting. This time, although he did exaggerate, the ones who knew about Jo didn’t care to correct him. They were lost in their own thoughts.
“And what in the world was that?” Ehlo exclaimed after he was done. “Qin Nan Qin? Are her parents setting her up for failure? Or mockery?”
“Maybe they’re not readers? Or least not that genre or author?” Bianca suggested.
“And maybe people can’t choose their names?” Joanne suggested, though the last thing she wanted to do was defend the enemy. “I meant there was this guy in my high school called Yang Kang.” She turned to Esther, Andy, and Achel at that time. “Remember him? He used to get teased all the time!”
“Oh yeah!” Andy exclaimed, having remembered.
“Wait, I got the Yang Kang joke, but what’s with the Qin Nan Qin one?” Bryant jumped in again, eyeing each and every one of them suspiciously.
Ehlo turned his glare on Bryant then. “You obviously didn’t read either.”
Bryant wrinkled his face. “What?”
“It was in the first edition,” Wallace clarified, knowing that he should relieve Bryant from the tension.
“Oh,” Bryant mumbled.
“Well, now that we got her name, we could pass it onto Tony and have him do all the dirty work,” Ehlo said, recovering again.
“You guys are seriously going forward with this investigation?” Janine asked, gesturing her hand. “Like seriously?”
“And you’re here because?”
Ehlo didn’t mean to sound fierce, but he could see the look on her face, suggesting that they were all crazy.
“There’s something fishy about her all right,” Yvonne joined in, agreeing with Ehlo.
“Better continue this next time,” Wallace said, looking at his watch. “He’s going to be home soon.”
Yes, Jacky wasn’t around. That was why the others were able to talk freely about Lynn without caring about Jacky getting on their cases about it.
“If he’s home, the more I should be talking,” Ehlo declared, his past mocking attitude was back on.
“What happened to not wanting to act rash like in the past?” Joanne jumped at the chance, her voice cunning. It was one of the rare cunning smiles from her nowadays, considering how she found out about Lynn.
Ehlo scoffed but didn’t say anything. He marched right into the kitchen to find some food.
“We just ate!” Andy yelled after him.
“You guys did,” Ehlo returned. “I was trying hard not to throw up.”
And that was when the others exchanged looks among themselves. Then Wallace shrugged.
“I have to go,” Esther said at that time, looking at her watch. “I’ll pass the words to Tony since I’m meeting up with him later.”
“We have to go too,” Andy said, speaking up for Kris, Achel, and himself–like always. “I’ll give you a ride.”
After the four left, Janine excused herself too, giving Eddie a look. It was like the two had some plans earlier as well so Eddie mumbled a greeting before following her. That meant the party was dissolved one by one. Nic and Cynthia was the next group to leave. Johnny and Bianca weren’t far behind, after exchanging more words with the others. Yet the two had promised to come back later that night for a reunion–among their small group, after Johnny and Bianca’s trip recently.
Indeed, Ehlo reverted back to his old past, rash self the minute Jacky came home that night. It was past 10. The only ones still around were the occupants of the residence, plus Angela, Yvonne, Joanne, Bianca, Johnny, Nic, and Cynthia. Bianca and Johnny had returned around 8 and stayed to continue the whole wedding plans and other side topics with the others. Then Nic and Cynthia had returned around 8:30, so they ended up having dinner there as well.
The minute Jacky entered, the others turned around to stare at him. It was obvious from their expression where the conversation was steering toward soon. Even Jacky was able to detect that. He would be too foolish if he didn’t have the slightest idea of what was going on. He had managed to ease the situation somehow along the way during the meeting. Yet for some reason, Ehlo and Yvonne continued to attack. Until he finally made up an excuse to get out of there. So the staring at this point was too predictable.
“If you want to say it, just get it out now,” Jacky began after closing and locking the door. He walked to the living room and stopped, waiting for their upcoming questions–or attacks. “I rather it’s sooner than later.”
“Since you said it, I’m more than glad to get it over with,” Ehlo said, getting up from his place on the sofa.
Even though Ehlo was the one speaking up, but the others had gotten up from their places as well. It was like they knew it wouldn’t end well. Bryant was actually in his room at the moment but had stepped out and made his way down the hall to them when he heard Jacky’s voice. He had stopped not far from where Jacky was standing and was waiting for further developments.
“I asked you before, and I’m going to ask you now,” Ehlo said, his attention focused on Jacky. “Doesn’t she remind you of someone?”
Jacky wrinkled his face, totally confused, not faking it at all. “Who?”
“Jo!” Angela exclaimed, having enough already.
Jacky wrinkled his face to think and then he finally understood why Ehlo’s attitude was so terrible earlier, even if Ehlo had tried to tame some of the comments but Ehlo was far from friendly. “She’s not like Jo.”
“Huh,” Ehlo continued, his hostility cranked all the way up. “Seriously? You can’t see it? I could see it the moment she strolled into our vision line!”
Jacky had on his amused expression, his worries all gone, knowing Ehlo had misunderstood. “Dramatic, much? You should’ve gone into theater art instead of architecture.”
“You think it’s so funny, right? Well, I think it’s ironic that you avoided Jo like the plague in the past and now ended up with one just like Jo.”
“Exactly,” Angela seconded, seeming like she was on Ehlo’s side 100% this time around, unlike how she had stopped him from his madness at times.
Jacky shook his head. “You all don’t understand what’s really going on here. You will later when you get to know Lynn better.”
“Oh really?” Ehlo took over, his sarcasm still cranking high. “I already know her from that dreadful meeting earlier.”
“You know how first meetings are misleading? No one would ever predict that you ended up with Angela.”
Ehlo’s expression was more than offended at this point. “You can’t compare her to Angela, okay? The reason why we never got along in the first place was because of my side comments at that time. And because we’re equally hot-headed. But I could tell she isn’t some ‘Jo’, okay?”
“You can say all that now because you’re engaged.”
Ehlo scoffed. “Like I need to cover my tracks. Even if we didn’t get along, books actually pulled all of us together one way or another, okay? When was the last time Lynn picked up a book?”
It was Jacky’s turn to look grim. “You can’t judge her just because she doesn’t read the same genre as you.”
“Or does she read at all?”
“Don’t Yu Rong me. I told you many times in the past already, and I will tell you again now. I never liked Sonia, but at least she’s got class. Lynn? She’s trying too hard to fit in but ends up making a fool of herself instead!”
“Huang Yu Rong!” Jacky bellowed this time, not caring if his voice was rising at a frightening level. “You’ve gone overboard. You can’t look down on someone just because you think she’s like someone else from your past. You don’t know anything about Lynn except her parents had to give her such a name.” While he was on a roll, he turned to Yvonne as well. “And as for you, Miss Yao, you never met Jo before, so how could you attack Lynn like that?”
Yvonne wasn’t threatened by Jacky’s stern stare. Even if Wallace had tried to shield her from Jacky’s attack, but Yvonne stepped forward to stand side-by-side with him again, staring right back at Jacky with a challenging look. “I just don’t like her, okay? Do I have to like everyone on this planet?”
Ehlo smiled at that time, pointing at Yvonne. “I knew there was a reason I liked you!”
Ehlo’s excited state contradicted his hostile attitude from earlier. Yet it didn’t dissolve the already intense atmosphere. Jacky turned to Ehlo again at that time.
“Just because you like someone or don’t like someone, you can’t force them out of my life,” Jacky said, gritting his teeth. “You don’t know Lynn or her past. I can’t tell you guys about it, because it’s her life and whenever she’s ready, she will share with you all. But for now, at least have the decency to be polite.” At that time, he turned to Joanne. “I would’ve expected more of you than this.”
Joanne scoffed and crossed her hands in front of her again. “I didn’t even say a word at the meeting. Just because you can’t win the argument with Ehlo doesn’t mean you can take it out on me.”
Jacky took a step closer to Joanne at that time–to which Bryant somehow used himself to shield in front of Joanne. Yet Joanne–like Yvonne–had stepped up to face Jacky, not wanting to lose out on this argument.
“And I thought you’re waiting for Sophia,” Joanne repeated one of the phrases she had said recently after finding out about Lynn, even if the situation was already so chaotic.
“I am waiting for Jing Jing,” Jacky said, his voice firm this time around–and not all tongue-tied like that one time he was caught off-guard.
“Doesn’t look like it,” Ehlo mumbled, his sarcasm still on.
Jacky scanned all the faces in the room at that time, realizing they were all on one side. He looked at Johnny, wondering why Johnny wasn’t playing his peacemaker role like in the past. And it was like Johnny understood so he stepped toward the center of the room.
“Perhaps, all of us need more time to calm down after this first meeting with Lynn,” Johnny said, specifically staring at Ehlo.
“Yeah, maybe,” Nic followed, his voice felt weak yet he was sorting out his own thoughts as well.
“And some of us has to work tomorrow,” Bryant added.
“I’ll drive you to your recording tomorrow,” Ehlo said as he was looking at his watch.
“Thanks,” Bryant returned.
“I’ll drive you home,” Angela said, looking at Joanne.
And just like that, the rest of them left one by one.
“I’m going out for fresh air,” Ehlo mumbled as he spotted Wallace and Yvonne leaving. “I’ll come back with Huo.”
“Yeah,” Wallace said, agreeing with Ehlo for one of the few times lately.
It wasn’t until it was only him and Bryant left in the room that Jacky let out a deep sigh.
“Don’t look at me,” Bryant said. “I don’t understand this whole thing either.”
Jacky knew he shouldn’t take it out on Bryant. He nodded and left for his room.
Several days later, Ehlo and Angela were seen in front of Tang Feng’s grave. They were there to clean up and place new flowers. They hadn’t come since the anniversary. So it was a bit messier than usual, considering how they usually took turns going more often. It was just that they were distracted–one way or another. At first, they were working in silence.
“What’s this?” Angela asked a few minutes later.
“What?” Ehlo returned, looking her way. “Flowers, dear.”
Angela gave him a look, like he just committed another crime–according to her. “I know it’s flowers, but who placed it here? The only one there last time was mine, remember?”
“Well, we’re not his only friends, you know. Other people could come and visit without our knowledge.”
Angela wrinkled her face, thinking. “But who?”
Ehlo grabbed the already tattered bouquet from her hand and fished around for the card–if it hadn’t flown away already. Angela kept silent as Ehlo checked. Luckily for them, the note was clipped securely on the plastic stick.
“It’s from Jacky,” Ehlo said at last.
Angela’s surprised expression came on then. It was like she didn’t believe Ehlo’s words. She reached out to retrieve the bouquet again and checked for herself. She even checked the date at the bottom of the note, which was in Jacky’s handwriting.
“He did come that day,” Ehlo muttered, his voice barely audible. It was like he was thinking things over.
Angela nodded, finally letting go of the bouquet and placing it to one side of the tombstone again.
“He was probably late.”
Angela nodded again.
They stayed silent a few more minutes before continuing their cleaning task. Knowing they had no choice but to throw out the already withered flowers, Ehlo retrieved the note from the bouquet before disposing of it.
“We have to tell Qiao,” Angela said after they were done and were ready to go.
Ehlo nodded this time. “Definitely.”
“But will it help?”
Ehlo shrugged, not sure either.
© Sunday, July 6th, 2014
Posted: Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014