Ehlo’s bitterness had spread like wildfire or perhaps it was an omen coming true. His declaration during the move had sparked some sort of controversy. Because somehow, they ended up taking sides, even if it was just subtly at first. It began that Monday when the majority of them returned to work. The fact that Sonia had calmed down already helped Angela and Bianca even more. However, Johnny and Ehlo were still staying at their old residence. They hadn’t talked about returning to their homes as of that morning when they all went to work.

The day actually started out fine that Monday. Everyone was back at work and felt like they could use that time to distract themselves from wondering about the next step. At least for those who knew what happened since Sonia burst into their lives once again. What was even more interesting was how Sophia had come to work for Novia’s shop. She was still figuring what her next step was so Novia had offered, knowing that Sophia needed the distraction.

What made their day a little more enduring was having Jacky and Angela’s segments to listen to. Jacky was given back his early morning slot to greet listeners like years ago.

“Sometimes our lives take us where we least expected it, but if we look at it carefully, we realize that it had returned to its original point,” Jacky’s voice carried across the air wave as some of them were driving in to work that morning. “Then we question ourselves if all of the struggles and the constant actions we take to improve ourselves or stride on would be worth it after all. Or could we just sit back and wait for it to come to us once again?”

“More mushy talk,” Ehlo mumbled as he was gulping down his coffee.

Yes, Ehlo decided to rebel because he felt like it. Bryant was the one driving since Ehlo didn’t care to drive at the moment. They were taking Ehlo’s car. Bryant was driving to the studio and didn’t feel like commenting, considering how he was getting used to Jacky’s style and the other reason was because he didn’t want to incur Ehlo’s wrath.

Angela’s segment was before lunch. Jacky was working in his office at that time and had waited for her. They ended up meeting with Ehlo and the others at East Shore Café for lunch. Well, it was more like a little getaway meeting for some of them, because Ehlo needed a break.

“So here we all are again,” Ehlo said, sipping on his drink. He had switched back to some fruit-related drink, considering how Angela was right there.

“What do you have to complain about, Huang?” Wallace asked, looking at Ehlo.

“Seriously?” Ehlo returned, giving Wallace his famous glare.

Wallace shrugged, still smiling. “Come on, we all know the ones who have been suffering the most are Angela and Bianca, not you.”

“It’s bad enough that I have to postpone my honeymoon, but now I can’t even see my wife every single day? Is that too much to ask for?”

“Needy much?”

“Says the guy who gets to see his wife every single day.”

“Enough already, you two,” Joanne interrupted them. “Let’s just eat.”

“Uhuh.”

Jacky hadn’t said anything since he sat down between Joanne and Ehlo. He seemed to be deep in thought. Although Ehlo seemed far from done, he knew something was troubling Jacky, so he quieted down after that, using Joanne’s order as an exit. The others ate in silence as well. At least for several more minutes.

“We’re going to be done with the renovation within the next month,” Wallace said, getting back to business again. “Remember to take all the snapshots you can before Cynthia fills that place up.”

Ehlo nodded, still occupied with his food.

“Is Sophia coming later?” Angela asked, scanning the group for details.

Ehlo shook his head. “Novia said she’s taking Sophia to lunch, giving her some more information regarding the shop and other stuff. She’s just using that to distract Sophia though, you know how easy it is to run that place.”

Indeed, the group gathering that day was very small. The only ones present were Jacky, Joanne, Ehlo, Angela, Wallace, and Yvonne. The rest were busy or had opted to spend their time elsewhere.

“Who wants to bet how long the royal princess will throw her tantrum?” Ehlo asked, looking at the others.

“Tough luck on that one,” Yvonne snapped, feeling like picking on her food.

“I thought we’re not going to discuss that anymore,” Joanne said, looking from Ehlo to Yvonne.

“Who died and made you our leader?” Ehlo demanded, glaring Joanne down.

“I’m just looking out for my brother,” Joanne said, staring right back at Ehlo.

Ehlo scoffed. “Sure.”

“Hello?” Angela said into her phone at that time. “Yeah, I’ll be there.” Then she hung up. Turning to Ehlo, she said, “Could you drop by home and pick up some items for me later?”

Ehlo made a face then. “What’s going on now? You can’t even eat your lunch in peace?”

Angela gave Ehlo a look.

Ehlo put his hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay.”

Angela had on a smile then. “Thanks.”

Ehlo nodded, not saying anything more.

“I’ll take you,” Jacky spoke up then, seeming to be out of his trance already.

“You sure?” Angela asked, looking at Jacky’s half unfinished lunch just like hers.

Jacky nodded. “It’s the least I can do.”

Angela smiled, nodding. “Thanks.”

“This is just great,” Ehlo mumbled after Jacky and Angela were out of earshot already.

Joanne sighed out as well. “I’m going to visit Sophia jie after work.”

“Count me in,” Ehlo said, agreeing with Joanne for the first time since they sat down.

“Huang, I know you’re frustrated, but could you knock it off with the attacks?” Wallace asked, turning to Ehlo then.

Ehlo turned to Wallace with a fierce look. “Come on, Huo. Do you expect me to sympathize with her? She’d chosen, so why should I pity her?”

“It’s not her fault it happened,” Wallace said. “Look, we’re all frustrated with this, but like I said before, you know it’s hard for Angela. And it’s not like Sonia planned for it to happen.”

Ehlo scoffed once more. “Who knows?”

“Huang…”

Ehlo wasn’t giving in though. He had on an even fiercer expression. “Look, since everyone and their cousins don’t want to be the monster, I obviously have to be. ‘Cause seriously? Either you guys truly care for Sonia’s situation or you’re just a bunch of fakes. She burst in like that, not caring if there are other things going on. Wasn’t anyone listening to what I had to say earlier? Dead Grandpa or my husband’s cheating on me way before he met me?”

Joanne sighed again. “I’m seriously sick and tired of this.”

“See?”

“So, I would appreciate it if you would give me a break for a while. The reason why we didn’t invite the others was because we didn’t want to think of it, right? So why torture each other with this right now?”

“Qiao’s right,” Yvonne gave in. “I’m sorry I brought it up earlier. Let’s eat.”

It was Ehlo’s turn to sigh. “Okay, whatever.”

So they ended up eating in silence again.

*****

What hit them like a brick was the news that came that afternoon. Jacky had gathered them together and announced it. They were actually at East Shore Café together. Well, some of them were there, not all. The ones missing were Janine, Novia, Sophia, Yvonne, and Bryant. Of course, Sonia wasn’t there, because it seemed like that was the topic Jacky was touching for that meeting.

“So, what’s the big news, man?” Ehlo asked, yawning. “I have to go home and catch some shut eye.”

“I have a temporary solution to your problems,” Jacky said, looking at Ehlo, Angela, Johnny, and Bianca in particular.

“What?” Ehlo urged, his impatience apparent.

“Let Sonia move in with Bryant and me,” Jacky said.

“What?” Ehlo exclaimed, getting up from his seat.

“You whined at lunch about how terrible it was not being able to live with your wife,” Jacky reminded Ehlo.

“I was just making conversation! Jeez, the gang doesn’t call me ‘Drama King’ for nothing. Hello!”

“But it wouldn’t be as exhausting for you all,” Jacky reasoned, looking at a very fatigued Bianca sitting next to Johnny at the moment. Even Angela was quite tired at that point. So tired that she wasn’t able to hit Ehlo or grab him so he could sit back down.

“I’m sorry, but Jacky’s right,” Angela said. “Sonia doesn’t have to move in with you and Bryant. But she needs to get out of there or pull it together soon. I’m so tired of her rants already.”

“Angela,” Bianca chided her friend.

Bianca wasn’t the only one displaying a surprised expression on her face since the others were too, considering how Angela had chided Ehlo throughout the whole situation. The ones present at the lunch gathering earlier were exchanging looks with one another. What had happened? Was it the fatigue getting to her?

“I swear she’s more considerate before,” Angela spoke up again. “Now? It’s like she lost her head or something. I can’t take it anymore. If you want to stay strong for her, then go ahead. I’m out.”

“You know too well she’s lost when it’s about James,” Bianca reminded Angela.

“Huh, I should have protested back then,” Angela mumbled. “Or at least put up a better fight.”

“She can’t stay with you guys,” Ehlo said, finally sitting back down and grabbing onto Angela’s hand. He seemed to have cooled down slightly after realizing how tired Angela looked.

“Then what is your solution?” Jacky asked, looking at Ehlo.

“Have her move in with Alyssa and Qiao for now.”

“I object,” Joanne jumped up from her seat. “If Sophia can’t stay at my place, then she can’t either.”

Ehlo had on his amused expression then. “Ironic much? You didn’t like Sophia in the first place.”

“Times change, things change, okay?”

Ehlo had his hands up in surrender. “Okay.”

“It’s just a temporary fix,” Jacky reassured them. “We’ll figure out something.”

“Sure,” Ehlo mocked.

“You guys have a better solution?”

The others mumbled random things. So, the meeting was adjourned, and they all headed home. With the exception of Jacky—who was making his way to Johnny and Bianca’s place to pick up Sonia.

*****

After Sonia moved in with Jacky and Bryant, the ripple effect had gone into full force. The fact that Ehlo wasn’t the one who started it officially made it tenfold more ironic. It was Janine taking charge. She confronted Jacky that night, demanding an answer.

“So, this is the reason why you asked us to take care of Sophia for you?” Janine got straight to the point as soon as she located Jacky in the kitchen.

“You’re on your own this time,” Ehlo said, looking at Jacky.

Ehlo hadn’t left yet. Johnny had already moved back home while Bianca and Angela helped Sonia settled in. That meant that Janine had stormed into the house without caring if Sonia or the others heard her. Ehlo was sitting in front of the counter as Jacky was preparing dinner that night.

“It’s a temporary solution,” Jacky said calmly, keeping his voice low.

“Do I look like I was born yesterday?” Janine retorted, still not backing down.

Jacky had stopped whatever he was doing and stared straight at Janine. “Miss Chang, I thought you’re not crazy like the rest of them.”

“Don’t change the subject,” Janine said, not threatened by Jacky’s serious look. “Answer the question.”

“Last time I checked, you don’t have enough information to go on or confront me,” Jacky reminded her. “If you don’t know, then you shouldn’t assume.”

Janine was still indifferent to Jacky’s reasoning. “Huh, so just because I don’t know, that means I can’t interfere? You know you just slapped Sophia in the face?”

“You’re exaggerating. Jing Jing could take care of herself. She’s smart enough to understand the situation, not listen to gossip or assume otherwise.”

“You just don’t want to admit that Ehlo’s right.”

Ehlo was gloating around then. His proud smile said it all. When Jacky turned to give him with a warning look, Ehlo just shrugged and took his cocoa cup to the living room instead.

“Hey, what are you doing here?” Bryant asked then, having just stepped into the house.

Janine didn’t want to talk to Jacky anymore, so she turned her attention to her brother. “You’re not living here with the enemy, let’s get out of here.”

Bryant had on his puzzled look. “What are you talking about?”

Since he wasn’t at the meeting earlier that afternoon, he was more than confused as to what his sister was implying.

“Your roommate just decided to take someone in so he could further his agenda,” Janine blurted out, not caring if the whole household heard her.

“You’re blocking the TV,” Ehlo said then.

Janine turned to Ehlo. “So, you’re on his side too?”

“I’m on my side,” Ehlo replied, indifferent to Janine’s anger.

“Don’t make a scene here, sis,” Bryant said, placing a hand on his sister’s shoulder.

Janine returned her eyes to Bryant. “Fine, do whatever you want.”

Just like that, Janine shrugged Bryant’s hand off her shoulder and stormed out of their place.

“Nice,” Ehlo mumbled, finally having his view of the TV restored.

“What happened?” Angela asked, walking out to the living room at that time.

Ehlo shrugged. “How should I know?”

Although it was too obvious what was going on. And that was just the beginning.

*****

The second act came into play that Friday when Jacky came home from work. It wasn’t Janine coming over for another confrontation. But it was Joyce. So Jacky’s surprised expression was justified. Considering how things had been hectic since the day Sonia moved in with him and Bryant. Even more hectic than previously.

“Hey!” Jacky exclaimed, not believing his eyes. “How’s it been? Where’s Sam?”

“He’s across the street, getting friendly with your new neighbors,” Joyce returned. “Wei Ru and Xiao Jie are also there.”

“Oh? That’s great. How long are you all staying this time?”

Joyce’s expression turned serious then. “As long as it takes for someone to take a hint.”

Jacky’s smile had also turned off. He had a feeling he knew where this was going. He opted for the straightforward method. “They told you?”

Joyce nodded. It was then that Jacky licked his lips and stared past the hallway.

“They’re all over at the neighbors,” Joyce clarified, knowing too well what Jacky was fearing.

“Let’s not do this,” Jacky said, returning his eyes to Joyce’s.

“Don’t you think it’s better than them sneaking around like in the past?” Joyce said, gesturing her hand. “How long have we known each other?”

“Xiao Qiao, I know what I’m doing.”

“Do you?”

“It’s not what it looks like. I would expect this from Ehlo or Angela. But the first person who came to confront me was Janine. Now you?”

“So, you hate confrontation or facing the truth? And you obviously know why Angela can’t do that.”

“I know.”

“Well?”

Joyce was staring at Jacky. Jacky had avoided answering the first question on purpose.

“Don’t you think you’re making a big deal out of a little misunderstanding for nothing?” Jacky asked back. “I would more than appreciate it that you’re coming to visit us. But please don’t tell me it’s because of this. The Xiao Yue Lan I know isn’t this senseless.”

“It’s a coincidence,” Joyce admitted. “But since I heard about it, I might as well get it out of the way before I could enjoy this trip.”

“Then enjoy it. Don’t turn this into one of those guilt trips.”

“You’re seriously going to take advantage of the situation and…”

Jacky shook his head then, his amused expression on. “Mrs. Wang, you’ve stepped over the line.”

After saying that, Jacky left. He went to his room, not caring if Joyce had disapproved of his cowardliness. Or so it seemed when he came back fifteen minutes later. It was more like he had joined them across the street.

“How was work today?” Sonia asked, sending Jacky a sweet smile.

“It was fine,” Jacky said, not meaning to sound so passive, but he was trying hard to repress his negativity because of his encounter with Joyce earlier. He scanned the room and found that only some of them were there. It made sense because the others were still at work or had other plans.

“Hey,” Derek greeted him, nodding his head. “Food’s on the way.”

“You’re ordering out when we have a master chef around?” Ehlo said, his voice definitely in disbelief.

Jacky turned around to see Ehlo walking in with Joanne.

“Jacky ge,” Joanne called out, walking over to Jacky and hooking her hands through his.

Jacky smiled at Joanne’s attempt. He knew exactly what she was up to. He was able to feel the irony of the situation. It was the exact reaction she had when she first met Sophia. Now? She was definitely sending Sonia the message to back off. And Ehlo wasn’t doing the damage control like he once did.

“Jun’s out for grocery,” Derek clarified, looking at Ehlo at this point. “He’s going to cook later.”

“Oh,” Ehlo said, stepping toward the kitchen. “You guys have anything to drink?”

“You were supposed to restock our supplies, remember?” Derek returned.

Yes, Ehlo had been getting along quite well with the neighbors. In fact, he seemed to spend more time over at their place than at Jacky’s.

“So I forgot,” Ehlo said, his voice a tad defensive.

“I’ll go then,” Jacky volunteered, seeing too well that some people were eyeing him because he had settled down at the sofa next to Sonia.

“I’ll go with you,” Joanne said, jumping up from her seat also. She was still tagging Jacky the whole while they sat down.

“Fine,” Jacky said, not wanting to argue.

“Kids,” Ehlo mumbled as he was back in the living room with a glass of water in hand. Once he was already settled, he turned to the others. “So, what are we doing now?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be meeting up with your wife later?” Derek asked.

Ehlo shrugged. “Change of plans.”

“Oh.”

“Anyway, I’m going to head out in a bit, I’ll be back later though.” Ehlo got up about the same time as he finished those words. Yet he wasn’t leaving. “Who wants to come with me?”

“Where are you going then?” Viva asked.

“Local mall.”

“I’ll go with you.”

“Me too,” Jade jumped in, getting up at the same time as Viva.

When Ehlo turned to Joyce, she shook her head, so Sam sat back down, because he had miscalculated his wife’s move.

“I’ll come back later for dinner,” Ehlo said, turning to Derek again.

Derek nodded.

“Where are you guys going?” Jun asked when he saw Ehlo, Viva, and Jade walking out of the house.

“To the mall to meet up with my wife,” Ehlo responded.

Jade gasped then. “But you said the plan is canceled!”

Ehlo had on his mischievous smile. “Come on now, she was right there, what did you want me to say?”

Viva placed a hand around Jade’s shoulder, smiling in the process. “Come on now, is this your first day knowing him?”

“Don’t worry,” Ehlo said, looking at Jun. “We’ll be back later.”

“All right then,” Jun said, moving out of their way and entering the house.

“All right,” Ehlo said, turning to the other two. “Let’s go.”

Viva and Jade followed Ehlo to his car. Like promised, they headed to the local mall to meet up with Angela. Ehlo did not mention about not inviting the others on purpose. He said that the others had their own agenda. Viva and Jade didn’t speak up to contradict Ehlo. Although Viva had to nudge Jade before she gave Ehlo away by accident.

Meanwhile, Jacky and Joanne were seen heading toward a different direction. They weren’t heading to restock supplies like Jacky initially planned. He and Joanne actually had a talk with Jun before they left. Jun had already purchased beverages enough for that night, mostly juices and sodas. He was busy talking to Jacky and Joanne, so he didn’t unload the grocery until they left.

“Next time, a little heads-up would be helpful,” Jacky said, giving Joanne a glance over when they were at a red light.

“What?” Joanne asked innocently, playing with her nails.

“You know what,” Jacky returned, driving on again.

“It’s not my fault that Xiao Qiao wants to go after you,” Joanne reasoned.

“I’m not saying it’s your fault. I would appreciate it if you warn me first.”

“I didn’t know about it until I came over and Sam told me where Xiao Qiao went.”

“And your phone was where?”

“Um…”

While Jacky waited for Joanne to respond, he made a U-turn.

“Where are you going?” Joanne asked, paying attention to the road again instead of her hands.

Jacky didn’t respond but made another turn, right this time.

“Jacky ge!” Joanne exclaimed, reaching for Jacky’s hand.

“Don’t,” Jacky warned, putting a hand up to stop her yet his eyes still focused on the road.

Joanne backed off upon seeing Jacky’s grim expression. She stayed quiet for the rest of the time. Even when she realized he had returned to his place to grab something he had forgotten in his haste. And even when they arrived at Janine and Novia’s apartment to pick up Sophia. Apparently, he had planned something with Sophia but didn’t let them know. Or at least he didn’t care to inform them after what happened earlier. Joanne ended up staying with Janine and Novia instead of tagging with Jacky and Sophia.

© Saturday, December 6th, 2014

Posted: Friday, September 18th, 2020

PREVIOUS CHAPTER | CONTENTS | NEXT CHAPTER