Chapter 10 – What Lies Ahead

“For the love of whoever, stop banging,” Ehlo scolded, clutching his head.

The banging continued.

Ehlo was forced to open his eyes and get up from his place to check it out. It turned out, he forgot to shut the door to the deck, so the wind was banging it. Lucky that he went to check, because he spotted Chris sleeping outside. Chris was clutching some pillow as well.

“What the hell, man?” Ehlo said, shaking Chris at that point.

“Huh, what?” Chris mumbled incoherently.

Chris was actually sitting on one of the chairs on the deck and had somehow fallen asleep, so his body had slid from the seat slightly. He was also holding a pillow to his face. It was probably to shield from the sun that was rising. Ehlo yanked the pillow from Chris when Chris didn’t wake up.

“Huh? What? Where?” Chris said as he jumped from his seat. When his vision cleared again, he looked at Ehlo. “What in the world, man?”

“I was doing you a favor,” Ehlo said, tossing the pillow right back at Chris. “If you catch that wind, you’re going to be so sick that you have to stay here for a long time. That would be a shame.”

That was when Chris realized where he was and the situation at hand. “Sorry.” He rubbed his head and followed Ehlo into the kitchen. He also remembered to shut the door to the deck. “We partied really hard last night, huh?”

“I’m never drinking again,” Ehlo said, clutching his head and settling down at the stools in front of the island at the center of the kitchen.

Chris sat down as well and took in the kitchen’s view. “Wow, this place is nice.”

“Of course,” Ehlo said. “I designed it.”

Chris shook his head. “You’re seriously so arrogant.”

“Just proud.”

Chris shook his head again. “Seriously.”

“What do you want?” Ehlo asked. “Coffee? Tea?”

“Just something to cure the hungover.”

“You guys are finally up,” Angela’s voice said then.

They turned toward a hallway that looked like it was leading to the bedrooms and saw Angela and Margaret walking out together.  

“Yeah,” Chris said, rubbing his head again. “I don’t remember much anymore.”

“Yeah,” Angela retorted. “That’s because Wallace had to haul you two back here.”

“Where’s Huo then?” Ehlo asked.

Angela gave him a look like he was nuts.

“What?”

“He was in the living room with you.”

It was then that Ehlo turned toward the living room area. He finally saw Wallace sleeping on the sofa.

“What happened to the others?” Chris asked, still holding his head.

“They went home after Jacky and Johnny helped you guys inside the house.”

Ehlo wrinkled his face. “I remember we even had a chat on the deck.”

“You did,” Margaret said. “That was because you guys refused to let them leave. They had to coax you for a while before you settle down and promise to go inside.”

“Oh,” Chris said, putting a hand up. “I think I heard something about wanting to see the stars.”

“That was what you said. You said you wanted to watch the stars before going in.”

“I think I left first,” Ehlo said, wrinkling his face and trying to remember.

Chris wrinkled his face as well. “I think I said I’ll be right in.”

“I must have passed out and forgot to close the door. Wait, if I forgot, why didn’t Huo close the door?”

“You knocked him out,” Angela said.

“What?” Chris asked, getting up without realizing that abrupt movements would cause his head to sway again. He clutched onto the counter to regain his balance. “He knocked Wallace out?”

“No jokes,” Margaret said, nodding. “We had to take care of Wallace.”

“You’re just lucky Yvonne isn’t here or you’ve been dead meat,” Angela said, her face reflected of disappointment.

“What happened to Yvonne and the others though?” Chris asked.

“They decided to stay with Alyssa and Qiao,” Margaret replied. “So, we separated into several groups after that. Oh yeah, Bianca took Sonia home since you know what happened with her dress and all.”

Angela was still staring at Ehlo, letting Margaret continue with updating what happened after the wedding reception last night.

“It’s never happening again,” Ehlo said, his voice sincere.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep.” She turned to Chris then. “And you, you’re bad influence on him. If you dared to get him drunk again, our friendship is over.”

“What?” Chris asked, confused. “I didn’t mean to get him drunk. We were trying to get Jacky drunk.”

“Newsflash, Jacky wasn’t drunk,” Angela said, her voice still fierce. “You and he were, making the other three take care of you.”

“Angela,” Margaret called out then, placing a hand on Angela’s shoulder. “They didn’t mean to. I assure you that Chris had never been that drunk before.”

Angela brushed Margaret’s hand off her and stepped toward Ehlo instead. “It doesn’t matter what I say, it wasn’t my pact to keep, remember?”

Ehlo nodded and placed his hands on Angela’s shoulders. “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.” He finally hugged Angela to him, patting her back. “It won’t happen again.”

Chris and Margaret exchanged a look as Ehlo continued to soothe Angela. The room was quiet for a while. Chris and Margaret didn’t dare to move. It wasn’t until Wallace stirred that they found an escape route. They moved toward the living room at the same time and checked on Wallace.

“My head is killing me,” Wallace said, rubbing the back of his head at the same time.

“How bad is it?” Margaret asked. “You need to go to the hospital?”

Wallace wrinkled face. “It’s not that extreme, is it? I probably banged it last night while I was asleep.”

“Memory loss,” Margaret mumbled.

“What?”

“You forgot why you were knocked out.”

“Knocked out?”

“Yeah, you’re going to the hospital,” Chris said, urging Wallace to get up.

“Hey, I’m good.”

At that time, even Ehlo and Angela had stepped over to the living room. It was four against one, so Wallace didn’t have a choice. Angela prepped a concoction for both Ehlo and Chris for their hungover before they left. It took several hours to get Wallace checked out. Then they had to wait for the result of the head scan.

“This TV drama is still on?” Chris asked, pointing his cup toward the TV overhead.

“I think it’s a rerun,” Margaret answered.

They were sitting at a long bench at one of the hallways. After asking that, they watched in silence again.

“This drama has to be the most unrealistic ever,” Chris said about five minutes later.

“Why?” Margaret asked, looking at him. “You follow it?”

Chris shrugged. “On and off. But you know what breaks past all the unrealistic formulas?”

“What?”

“The main guy, he has this incurable disease, see? Guess how cliché it becomes? He has to try to break up with his girlfriend because he doesn’t want her to see him all ugly and fragile like that. His words, not mine. So, he met her at this bridge and…”

“Excuse me, spoilers,” Someone sitting at a bench across from them said.

“You don’t have to listen to me, you know?” Chris returned, not threatened.

That other person got up at that time and left after a set of incoherent rants.

“Now I know why you get along with Ehlo,” Margaret chided, shaking her head.

Chris shrugged. “It’s not the first day you know me.”

“Wait, what about the drama?” Wallace interfered.

Chris turned to Wallace then. “I didn’t know you like this soap.”

Wallace shook his head. “No, I wasn’t following it. But it sounds familiar. I want to know the details, so I could place where I heard of it before.”

Chris nodded before turning to the set again. “So, he meets her at this bridge. Actually, it’s coming up now, look.”

That was also when Ehlo and Angela returned with some sort of drinks in their hands.

“Nothing yet?” Angela asked.

“No,” Chris answered. “Maybe they’re backed up.”

Wallace gestured toward Angela and Ehlo then. “Come here, watch this.”

Angela and Ehlo exchanged a look before walking over to their bench. They had sat at the opposite bench. The TV was still visible at that angle, but it wasn’t enough unless they leaned forward more.

“This better be important,” Ehlo grumbled, sitting down next to Wallace.

“It is,” Wallace promised as Angela sat down next to him to watch as well.

Chris and Margaret exchanged a look again but didn’t say anything. they focused on the TV screen again. Luckily, Ehlo and Angela’s interruption didn’t cost them the scene since the bridge scene Chris mentioned finally came up. When Chris said it was coming up, it was actually the part where the leading guy was walking around the park in daytime. The supposed breakup scene Chris mentioned was during nighttime. The dialogues started after the male lead stopped in front of a bridge and took the female lead’s hands into his.

“What is it?” The female lead asked, her face reflected of worry. “You can just tell me.”

The male lead had a haunting look on his face. “I want you to know that no matter what happens, I never meant to hurt you.”

The female lead looked intently at the male lead, like she was trying to find the answer curved on his face or something. “What’s going on?”

“I’m sorry for all the pain I caused,” The male lead said, his voice wavering. “I shouldn’t have tried to pursue you or ruptured your life even more when you were already…”

The female lead seemed to get what was going to happen. The camera zoomed to their linked hands and she gripped his hand even tighter than before.

“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” The female lead asked, looking at the male lead with tears in her eyes. “Why do you want to break up with me?”

“So dramatic,” Chris said then, letting out a laugh. “So fake.”

“Sh…” Angela, Ehlo, and Wallace uttered at the same time as they turned to Chris with their fingers on their lips for emphasis.

Chris had on his amused expression and raised his hands up in defense. “Hey, sorry, I didn’t know how invested you all were.”

Angela gave him a sharp look before returning her attention to the screen. Ehlo shook his head before turning back to the screen also. Wallace was already watching again after the “shush” episode. Chris and Margaret exchanged a look as they focused on the scene again. They had missed a few sentences because of Chris’s interruption. Luckily, the bridge scene was still happening. In fact, it seemed to drag out to another extent. Because they realized the two had walked a distance away from the bridge, but they were able to see the waterfront behind the leads. At this part, the male lead had his back to the female lead, and they were standing a foot or so apart from one another.

“My mom called the other day,” The male lead spoke up again.

“What did your mom say?” The female lead asked. “She’s coming to visit? Or…?”

“She reminded me about the promise she made to her best friend’s family, that I should make my decision soon, that she doesn’t want to go back on her words.”

“What promise?”

“A promise that I would marry her best friend’s daughter.”

“What?” The female lead asked dramatically and even started crying again, wiping her tears on her sleeves. “You’re telling me that you’re already meant to be with someone, and you were just playing with my heart?”

The male lead still had his back to the female lead, like he didn’t want to look at her. “That wasn’t my intention. But some things can’t be avoided. This is my fate.”

“Are you saying you’re giving up on me?”

“I didn’t mean to hurt you. I never meant to.”

The female lead took several steps to close the distance from her and the male lead. She wrapped her arms around him from behind before speaking up again. “We can run away. We don’t have to deal with this. It was your mom’s promise, not yours.”

The male lead attempted to peal the female lead’s hands away from him and put some distance between them again. He finally faced her this time.

“Just take it that I’ve abandoned you. You deserve to find someone better than me.”

After saying that, he left. That was the end of the scene.

“That cowardly, lying bastard!” Ehlo exclaimed after the scene faded out. He had gotten up as soon as he said that, facing Angela and Wallace at the moment. “I knew something was wrong.”

Wallace nodded.

Ehlo walked back to them and sat down at his spot again. “He stole a breakup tactic from some soap. Isn’t that great?”

“Strong reactions for a TV drama,” Chris commented, exchanging a look with Margaret again.

“You don’t know the half of it,” Ehlo said.

Chris shrugged, still confused with the other three’s reactions.

“Hey, what happens later?” Wallace asked, turning to Chris. “I meant the ending, did he die? Or suddenly the incurable disease went away?”

Chris laughed then. “It was actually really funny.”

“I doubt it,” Ehlo muttered.

Chris had on this beyond cheerful look. “No, it was really funny. This was just a halfway mark. Later, a bunch of other dramatic stuff happen like the female lead met some other dude and tried to start over. The male lead kept getting jealous of them.”

Ehlo had on his mocking look. “That’s supposed to be funny?”

“No, I meant the ending. Anyway, that jealousy stuff went on for a while. I didn’t watch it all but each time I watched, they somehow kept going back to that formula. Then we finally get to see why the male lead wasn’t dead yet after all these times that he spied on the female lead and this other guy.”

“Enlighten me.”

“The test results got switched at the hospital. So, he broke up with the female lead for nothing. Then he had to win her back again.”

Ehlo started laughing then. “What kind of lame plot is that?”

“I told you it was funny.”

“More like ridiculous.”

Chris shrugged.

“And that’s a thing? People are watching that?”

“You three were watching intently like minutes ago too, you know.”

Ehlo shook his head and turned to Wallace again. “Well?”

Wallace tapped on the bench, like he was thinking.

“Huo,” Ehlo called out when Wallace didn’t say anything.

Then the speaker overhead also called out Wallace’s name. That was when Angela tapped on Wallace’s shoulder to get his attention. The test results were ready. They waited outside for Wallace as he went to talk to the doctor again. It took another fifteen minutes before they left the hospital. Luckily for them all, Wallace was fine, just a little bump, nothing serious. He just had to rest and be monitored for concussion or any other symptoms.

“Where are we going now?” Chris asked, looking around the parking lot.

“Alyssa’s,” Wallace said.

Chris wrinkled his face in confusion. “Alyssa?”

“We can get food then while we’re there,” Ehlo said.

“You’re serious?” Chris asked.

“We’ll fill you in on the way,” Wallace said, seeing how confused both Chris and Margaret still looked.

The other two nodded and followed in silent. They were still exchanging looks from time to time though.

*****

“So, he has some kind of incurable disease that he can’t tell me about?” Joanne asked after the others showed her a short clip of the scene they’d watched at the hospital earlier.

They managed to hunt down a clip online that the production company used to promote the TV drama. It was shorter but showed some of the details that Joanne had mentioned before. Yes, the reason why Wallace thought it was familiar when Chris mentioned some bridge breakup scene was because after Joanne calmed down that night of the breakup and told them some more details of what happened. It was more like Ehlo had grilled her for details. The others tried to stop him, but somehow, he had convinced them it was to get a better understanding of it before confronting Bryant, so that was why they were able to recognize some of the similarities. The differences between the female lead and Joanne were their personalities and behaviors. The female lead had persistently chased after the male lead for the answer, which was seen in some other version of the promotional clips that they had missed earlier. Joanne, being a stubborn person that she was overall, hadn’t chased after Bryant.

“No,” Ehlo answered, scratching head. He looked unsure. “I don’t know.” He looked at the others. “But all I’m saying is he stole the breakup scene bit and used it.”

“Why used that particular scene though?” Yvonne asked then. “I mean there are plenty of materials out there to copy or should I say ‘consult’ if he can’t seem to come up with his own. Why would he use that one?”

They were sitting at the drawing room upstairs of Alyssa’s place. It was the same one they often commenced their gathering at. And like Ehlo promised, they got some food while trying to dissect the details of what they just learned. Ehlo and Joanne were the only ones standing.

“Why are we sitting around here and wondering about this?” Nic asked then. He and Cynthia along with Andy and Achel had stayed at Alyssa’s last night as well. It had been a tad chaotic after Ehlo and Chris got drunk. The had a lot of de-escalation to do. It was a miracle Tony didn’t get catch wind of it. Or possibly because there were so many guests around that it was harder to keep track of who was doing what. “Why don’t we just ask him? It’s not like we don’t have proof.”

“What if he plays the innocent card again?” Andy pointed out, reaching for his coffee cup.

“Let’s go to Janine’s first,” Wallace said. “I know, Huang, you don’t want to see her. But she’s our best bet now.”

The others agreed, so they all got up to leave.

“I’ll stay and clean up,” Achel said, knowing the others were troubled by what was going on and didn’t have the patience for it now.

“Me too,” Cynthia said.

“Actually, that’s a good idea,” Wallace said. “The less people there, he wouldn’t feel ganged up on.”

The others understood and started to get up again.

“Call Jacky,” Wallace said as they were descending the stairs.

“Already on it,” Ehlo said, fidgeting with his phone. “Are you still with us or no?”

Ehlo meant Chris and Margaret. He had waved his phone at them.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Chris said. He saw Angela glaring at him, so he turned off his smile. “I mean I wasn’t there for Qiao last time. I want to show my support.”

“You don’t have to,” Joanne said, looking up at Chris once before facing forward again. She was walking behind Ehlo and they had arrived at the first floor and some were putting on their shoes now. “It doesn’t concern you and I know you were close to him before.”

“The more I should be there,” Chris said. “If it’s as cliché as that drama, I have to convince him to stop hiding.”

“He just wants to see a show,” Ehlo said, exposing Chris as he opened the front door.

“Am not,” Chris protested as they were making their way to their cars.

Like before, the five who arrived together at Alyssa’s went together. The other three went in Andy’s car. Andy was the one driving and Yvonne was in the backseat.

*****

Eddie was the one who opened the door. Without a shirt on. And also in shorts.

“Nice outfit,” Ehlo teased—with an equally cunning smile to accompany the current state of awkwardness.

“Uh, hey guys,” Eddie managed. “It’s not what it looks like.”

That was when Janine came out from a hallway with a towel in her hands. She was wearing a typical t-shirts and shorts, drying her hair.

“Nothing is up at all,” Ehlo continued.

That was when Janine realized they were there. She stopped in the midst of her task and stared at them.

“Hello, how are you all doing? Come on in,” Ehlo narrated a minute later.

Eddie finally took the hint and moved aside for all eight of them to enter. Andy had stopped at Jacky’s place to pick him up earlier.

“What are you all doing here?” Janine asked. “I thought you said you don’t want to talk to me anymore. I got the message loud and clear after last night.”

Ehlo turned to the others to confirm Janine’s words to see them all nod, except for Chris—who was obviously too drunk last night to know the answer.

“Look,” Ehlo said, gesturing toward the general direction. “I’m sorry for what I did last night.” He scanned the apartment quickly before looking at Janine again. “I know it sounds like an excuse, but I was never that drunk before, and I honestly didn’t remember what happened last night.”

“After you insulted me and my whole family, you threw up on Eddie,” Janine said, gestured toward Eddie. “Then we had to get you to the car. Bianca told us to go first, so we left. What else do you want to know?”

Ehlo scratched his head. “It will never happen again.”

Janine tossed her towel on the sofa at that time. “I don’t care, actually. Because you said we’re not friends, remember?” She scoffed. “Of course, you don’t remember. Because being drunk is all the excuse you need for your behavior.”

“Janine,” Eddie interfered then, walking over to them. “I know you’re upset, but maybe he didn’t really mean it.”

Janine turned on Eddie. “Didn’t mean it? You know how people say they didn’t mean to say when they were drunk? It’s actually not true. You’re actually more honest when you’re drunk. He stated that he hated my whole family already. What more do you need him to do to believe me?”

Janine’s eyes were red now, but she refused to let her tears fall.

“Janine,” Ehlo spoke up again, stepping toward Janine. His expression was no longer containing any trace of mockery or any sense of humor. He looked serious and genuine. He waited for her to look at him before continuing. “I know what I did was wrong. I could never take back what I said. But you have to understand how hard it is to not get an answer to why it happened. You say that you didn’t deserve my attack, which you’re right. You have every right to scold me or hit me if you want. But don’t you think that Qiao deserves an answer? What had she done to Bryant? He was the one who pursued her in the first place. She didn’t ask for it. He asked her to give him a chance, and when she finally did, he just went and said he wanted to break up? Just like that? No explanation? And you know what else, he stole a freaking scene from a lame soap to do it? Don’t you think we deserve an answer too?”

Janine’s tears were finally flowing. In fact, at that time, even Joanne was crying. It was just that it wasn’t audible. Jacky was the one who comforted her. Eddie was the one who was patting Janine’s back. The room got quiet for a bit before Joanne broke from Jacky’s grasp and stepped forward to stand next to Ehlo.

“You can blame me for Ehlo’s behaviors because he just didn’t know how to deal with it,” Joanne said, looking at Janine. “But I want to know why. Just give me one excuse and I’ll never bother him or you or anyone again.”

Janine’s stern expression had lessened at that point and she turned to look at Joanne. She attempted to wipe her tears away with her hand and cleared her throat. “I can’t tell you. Bryant…”

“He doesn’t have any incurable disease, does he?” Chris jumped in to ask then.

Everyone turned to glare at Chris. He held his hands up again—like how he did at the hospital to shield from the others.

“Hey, it’s fair game when he totally stole from that soap,” Chris reasoned.

“No,” Janine said, having somewhat calmed down already. “He doesn’t have any incurable disease that I know of. But he has his reasons for doing this…”

“What’s that reason then? You can’t expect us to believe that it’s really about arranged marriage, do you?”

Janine shook her head. “It wasn’t that, it…”

“What?”

Janine looked torn before, but now that she had some time to think it over, it looked like she wasn’t going to cave in. They saw her took a deep breath before looking at them again. “Just take it that he met someone new and this wasn’t going to work out anyway.”

“What?” Ehlo asked, feeling his rage rising again.

“Ehlo,” Jacky, stepping forward at that time, pulling on Ehlo’s shoulder.

Wallace also stepped forward at that time, standing on Joanne’s right. “Whatever it is, I will get to the bottom of this, this I promise you. I am Wallace Huo, and I will keep that promise, unlike someone. One day, when the truth comes out, you won’t like how I will react. Nor will you like how it turns out.”

Janine looked alarmed and turned to Wallace then—because she was looking at Jacky before. “No, you don’t know what you’re doing it.”

Wallace wasn’t threatened by her warning. “Do I? You have one last chance to tell us now. Because I won’t be begging anymore once I step out of this door.”

Janine shook her head. “I can’t tell you.”

“Then you’ve chosen.”

After saying that, Wallace turned to leave. He only stopped briefly to grab onto Yvonne’s hand.

The remaining parties exchanged looks of confusion among themselves. Even those who were supposed to be know what Wallace was talking about. Jacky and Ehlo exchange one of their looks, a look that some of the people present in the room hadn’t seen before. That was because they were more used to seeing Ehlo and Wallace conspiring. They never knew of Jacky and Ehlo’s history—as much as they thought they did. However, they didn’t linger. It took about a minute to recover, but they soon removed themselves from Janine and Eddie’s presence.

*****

About a month later, Wallace’s birthday to be exact, some of them were gathered at Ehlo and Angela’s place to celebrate. It wasn’t much of a celebration because they were just looking for an excuse to distract themselves. It had been a month full of intensity and frustration. The way things were, they were still unfruitful with finding out what happened that had caused Bryant’s change of heart. Even though Joanne had told them to not pursue it anymore, considering her words to Janine during their last confrontation, but some of them refused to give up. Ehlo and Wallace were the most determined to go after the truth. Or so they had dubbed to be. Jacky, of course, supported them because he was Joanne’s brother after all. He had to back her up, considering how many times she’d got his back, and didn’t care if the others had condemned her—even if it was someone within their group that had done it. It was about time he stepped up. It was an unsaid thing that the Chang siblings all supported Joanne, because of the history they shared, even way before Jacky or anyone came into the picture. That, of course, meant Andy as well. The same went for Yvonne. She was already upset after learning of Bryant’s cowardly ways of escape. She was even more upset after learning that he’d snatched some lame soap plot to break up with Joanne. That had fused her determination even more. What about Sonia? She also took Joanne’s side. Although she had firsthand experience of how damaging it was taking sides when they didn’t have the full picture of the story yet, she felt she had to support Joanne in times of need. It wasn’t like she was going to go out of her way to attack Bryant or anyone else connecting to him. She was just there to show support for Joanne, distracting Joanne by taking Joanne out to different events with the rest of them or just a little small meal here and there.

Chris and Margaret, unlike their carefree selves, had stayed even though they’d only learned of what happened recently. They decided to help Ehlo and the others with the so-called investigation. Chris, surprisingly, had taken Joanne’s side. Because, in his words, he felt that it was a major asshole move that Bryant had entered Joanne’s life and ruptured it after her previous boyfriend had died, and then dropped her like she was dead weight. That didn’t sit well with him, even if he had appreciated Bryant’s hospitality toward him in the past.

On the other hand, Derek and Eddie were forced to side with Bryant because of their friendship with Bryant and Janine—respectively. Derek was also forced to side with Bryant because of what Ehlo and Chris had done, blaming him for things he didn’t do. Yes, that was one of the things that happened during their drunken state. That was the tipping scale. Although Eddie was more sympathetic toward Ehlo, even if Ehlo had ended up throwing up on him. Still, he chose to give Janine his support, considering how there were already so many who was siding with Joanne and cornering her and Novia—even if they already backed off and weren’t even bothering them anymore. But the pressure was still there. Jun had chosen to support Bryant’s side because of his link to Novia, and also because he felt Ehlo was a major asshole for attacking Janine at the wedding. That scene had caused a lot of embarrassment and hurt for her, so he wasn’t ready to listen to Ehlo yet.

As for Tony and Esther, they chose to stay neutral. Not because they didn’t support Joanne. But they understood too well the sensitivity of the situation. They wanted to remain the voice of reason, just like Johnny and Bianca. They didn’t want to completely dismiss either side just because. It was going to end one way or another. And they wanted to become the bridge of communication for both sides.

Regarding the rest of their friends, they didn’t bother telling them. Because of the number of guests who attended that night, they only got to mingle a little bit before moving on. Also, they had their hands full after what happened, so they couldn’t really update. Then afterward, it was just too embarrassing and unnecessary to update—or at least they thought so.

“The worst birthday ever, huh?” Ehlo said, settling down next to Wallace when he came back out to the deck.

They were holding a small BBQ event at Ehlo’s place for Wallace. Jacky and Ehlo had insisted, considering after what happened. They needed a break.

“I actually like it this way,” Wallace said, taking the drink from Ehlo.

As promised, no one brought any source of alcohol into the house that night. After what happened a month ago, Chris didn’t dare to object, although he didn’t know why they were blaming it on alcohol. Some things would eventually come out anyway.

“Why?” Ehlo asked, taking a plate Sonia just handed him. “Don’t tell me you’re shy of crowds, Huo.”

Wallace smiled, knowing Ehlo was trying to make light of the situation. “All the people who matter are here.”

Ehlo looked at the circle forming around the little fire pit they set up earlier before speaking up. “Ouch.”

“It’s not like the others don’t matter,” Wallace said, looking at the stick he was holding. “But I think I like to be around people who are more honest right now.”

“You can’t really blame Johnny and Bianca,” Jacky said. “Or Yan or Tony. I mean we almost messed their wedding up after all.”

Wallace shook his head. “I don’t blame them. I’m just tired.”

“I’m sorry,” Joanne said then. “I didn’t mean for it to turn out that way. I shouldn’t have made a big deal of it that night. People break up all the time. If I hadn’t made such a big deal out of it, everyone would still be…”

Wallace turned to Joanne. “No, it wasn’t your fault.”

“But…”

Wallace shook his head. “I know it. There’s something bigger than you involved in this. And I will find out. This, I promise you.”

Those words were said previously at Janine’s place before they left. Some of them recognized it.

“Cryptic, Huo,” Ehlo noted, exchanging looks with some of the people around the circle at that time.

Wallace didn’t say anything more after that. The atmosphere went silence after that. However, Andy spoke up after about five minutes or so.

“Let’s not focus on that for now, okay? How about we toast for something positive next year?”

Because it was Wallace’s birthday, it was also the day after Christmas and almost coming into the New Year.

Jacky smiled then. “I like that.” He turned to Wallace then. “What do you think?”

Wallace knew the others were making an effort to cheer him up. He nodded. He held up his cup like the others and waited for Andy to start.

“To health and prosperity!” Andy declared.

Although it was kind of generic but everyone else clinked their cups to his words after he was done. Afterward, the twelve of them continued to talk about some random topics and made plans for the New Year. Perhaps, better things will come?

© Sunday, August 9th, 2020

Posted: Thursday, October 8th, 2020

PREVIOUS CHAPTER | CONTENTS