Music was playing overhead as Angela and Ehlo walked out of the dining area of the hotel. They’d chosen a scenic one near the beach and was on their way there, after a light lunch. They’d discussed some other possible outing while eating earlier. In fact, they were still discussing and looking at a pamphlet while they were walking. As they made their way to the entrance, though, a couple walked past them, and the guy turned around seconds after—as if recognizing them.
“Xiao Han!” The guy called out and stepped in front of their path.
Angela paused for a moment, eyeing the other person before flashing on a bright smile in recognition. “Chris!”
The guy Angela called Chris even took it a step further by embracing Angela after she’d acknowledged him.
“How have you been?” Chris asked, still holding onto Angela.
Angela returned the embrace yet soon pulled away. Chris seemed to finally acknowledge Ehlo’s existence and had on an apologetic look—although his attention was still on Angela.
“Sorry,” Chris said, gesturing in the general direction. “It’s just that I haven’t seen you for the longest time.”
Angela shook her head. “It’s all right. Fourteen years.”
Chris smiled, his smile so bright that it looked like he stepped out of a magazine. “It’s been that long?”
Angela smiled as well. “Life goes on, right?”
Chris nodded in agreement. He finally turned to Ehlo. “This is?”
“My husband.” Angela grabbed Ehlo’s hand at that time and pulled him into the spotlight then. “Hey, this is my friend from high school.”
Chris had on an amused smile. “Friend?”
Angela had on a nervous expression then. “What do you want me to say?”
Chris had on a teasing smile. “Oh, maybe something like the guy you used to date?”
Ehlo looked between the two of them then. It wasn’t like he wasn’t observing them closely before. Based on their interactions, he was able to guess somewhat already. But Angela’s little omission of the true version made him a little unease inside. Something he was quite unfamiliar with. At least, something he thought he had abandoned years ago when he and Angela finally got together.
“Oh, so this is Angela.” The girl who was walking with Chris finally stepped forward and offered her hand. She’d been standing at one side like Ehlo previously. “I heard so much about you.”
“Liar,” Chris chided and gave the other girl a look. Like she was exposing him.
Angela turned to Chris at that time. “This is…”
“I’m Margaret,” The girl introduced herself. “One of Chris’ friends from college.”
Chris had on another one of his teasing smiles. “She’s really my friend, not your definition of ‘friend’.”
Angela slapped Chris’ hand then. “You really never changed.”
Chris didn’t take offend. “Long time, but it’s still me.”
Angela gestured around. “How long have you been here?”
“A week,” Chris answered. “You?”
“You’ll love it here. We’ve explored the majority of the popular locations already. We’re going to move onto the hidden gems this upcoming week.”
“We better go,” Ehlo interrupted, looking at his watch at that time.
Chris had on his apologetic look again. “Sorry. It’s just we haven’t seen each other so long.”
“Catch up later?” Angela suggested.
“Yeah,” Chris agreed. Instead of taking out his phone, he handed Angela a business card.
Angela looked at it briefly before stuffing it into her shoulder bag. She was actually wearing a sundress at that moment, so she didn’t have pockets. It was probably one of the rare times that anyone of recent had seen Angela in a dress, actually.
After some more words exchanged, both groups finally departed.
“This is a surprise all right,” Angela commented as they exited the hotel. “Who knew, right?”
Ehlo was still silent. He hadn’t seen this side of Angela before. Sure, he saw her happy expression or reactions before. Yet she looked so vibrant when she interacted with Chris earlier that had him puzzled. It also made him doubt himself even more. Was this the real Angela? He only witnessed a change of attitude in someone else previously and felt a sense of unease within. Because that person was Sonia. That content expression, that comfort when interacting with someone. That was what he’d saw between Sonia and James, even if he had to admit it. At least, that was before Sonia found out about the new kid. But still…was this…
“Come on,” Angela said then, tugging him toward the left side.
It was the direction that they’d agreed upon earlier. Yet now, his mind was elsewhere.
Several days later, Angela and Ehlo were on their way out of the hotel again when they had another run in. Yet it wasn’t Chris and Margaret this time. Two days ago, they were going to get together for lunch, but Chris had canceled at the last minute because he, Margaret, and some of their mutual friends had found a site suitable for camping so they went ahead with it instead of coming back to the hotel. That was why Angela and Ehlo decided to continue with their schedule of exploring various sites around town again.
This meeting, as unexpected as the other one, also began in a similar way. The exception being that Angela spotted the other party first. Because the other couple was so engaged in conversation that they didn’t see Angela and Ehlo.
“Sophia!” Angela called out as the other couple passed them already.
This time, Angela took it into her own hands to run over and hug Sophia.
“We found you!”
Ehlo and the other guy Sohpia was walking with had stood back on purpose to let both interact. Yet Ehlo had nodded briefly at the other party, acknowledging his existence.
“How have you been?” Angela asked after releasing Sophia and had taken a step back to give Sophia her personal space again.
“I’m good,” Sophia smiled, her smiling shining.
Ehlo—unlike how he’d been in the past, always so happy to see Sophia—had been somewhat indifferent after the initial shock wore off. Because he had spotted the ring on Sophia’s hand. But he didn’t say anything. It wasn’t his business. Yet there was a sense of bitterness rising from within. Or was that frustration? He didn’t know.
“This is…?” Angela asked, gesturing to the person with Sophia earlier.
Sophia had on a shy smile then. She glanced at the guy briefly before turning to look at Angela again. “This is Ryan, my husband.”
That was when Angela noticed their rings. She’d been so happy to see Sophia again that she hadn’t paid attention to those details. Her smile had turned into a mild frown. That was also when she turned to Ehlo. Ehlo, unlike his past self, stepped forward then. He turned on his friendly smile.
“We’re both very happy for you,” Ehlo said, his voice leveled. “I’m glad that you found your happiness at last. We were just so worried when you took off that one time.”
Sophia’s expression wasn’t so cheery anymore. It was like she finally realized the awkward moment they were all in. “Ehlo…”
Ehlo shook his head. “Life goes on, right?”
Sophia had on her guilty expression then. “I…”
Ehlo managed another smile. “Don’t be sorry. We were the ones who should have apologized for putting both you and Sonia into such a difficult situation at that time. We were so immature. And I’m glad that we ran into you today. Because I really want to apologize to you for the longest time now.”
Sophia had on a light smile then. “I shouldn’t have taken off like that. I should be the one apologizing.”
Ehlo shook his head. “It wasn’t your fault. You should never apologize for wanting to escape such a toxic environment. I know that now.”
Sophia grabbed Ehlo’s hand then. “Thank you, Ehlo.”
Ehlo flashed on his teasing smile then. “Hey, at least, Sonia already forgiven us.”
Sophia smiled also, knowing Ehlo was just trying to dissipate the hectic atmosphere.
“Can I hug you?” Ehlo asked then, his eyes on Sophia.
Sophia understood Ehlo’s haunting look. It was for Jacky. She didn’t want to rob him of it, so she nodded. The moment they made contact, it was like the world stood still.
“I’ll miss you,” Ehlo said, his voice only low enough for Sophia to hear. “We’ll all miss you.”
That was also when Angela reached her hands up to cover her sob. Unsuccessful, she turned and fled the scene. Ehlo finally let go of Sophia.
“I’ll go after her,” Ehlo said quickly and gave chase.
He didn’t need to explain to Ryan. Because he thought it was their business with Sophia. If Ryan doubted Sophia or gave her any trouble, they will cross that bridge when it came to that. Now, it was his time to comfort his wife.
“What are we going to tell Jacky?” Angela asked when Ehlo found her at a nearby park.
Ehlo walked over to her and hugged her to him. “The truth.”
Ehlo’s expression was as troubled as Angela’s but he tried to maintain a passive tone. “It’s closure.”
“We shouldn’t have come here.”
Ehlo agreed, but for a completely different reason.
That night, Angela and Ehlo returned to the hotel quite late. Ehlo had been trying to distract Angela from the negative thoughts. Angela, understanding completely of Ehlo’s intention, tried her best to enjoy every one of the extra activities he thought up of after they finished exploring all the areas they’d agreed on earlier—before they bumped into Sophia, that was. Tired out and no longer as troubled, they returned to the hotel. Only to find Sophia standing at their door. It looked like she’d been waiting for a while now.
“I know I have no right, but I want to talk to Angela for a bit,” Sophia said as they stopped in front of her.
Ehlo nodded, still pondering how Sophia managed to find out about their room number. He’d imagined in his head about some movie-related schemes that somehow got Sophia and her husband the in on the information. Yet he kept quiet. In fact, he headed down the hall. There was a small lounge there. He spotted Ryan nearby and walked over to him, making small talks. The least he could do was maintain some sense of peace for Sophia’s sake. It felt so much like how it was to maintain some sense of peace for Sonia’s sake years back. The only difference was that they weren’t on their turf this time around. The more it was crucial to keep the hostility at bay.
Meanwhile, back at Angela and Ehlo’s room, Angela just unlocked the door with her card key and let Sophia in. They settled at a table by the window before Sophia began. Angela even took out some water from the fridge and offered some to Sophia as a courtesy—even if neither of them had taken a sip.
“Angela, I’m sorry,” Sophia said after a few minutes of silence.
Angela shook her head. “You have nothing to be sorry about. Ehlo’s right. We have no right to interfere with your life. I should apologize for my outburst earlier.”
It was Sophia’s turn to shake her head. “No, I know I should have contacted you guys sooner. But I…”
“We weren’t there for you when your grandpa died,” Angela said. “Instead, I was…”
Sophia shook her head again. “It wasn’t your fault. Sonia’s your best friend. You can’t just leave her like that. But I know you and the others made sure I felt welcomed.”
Angela had on a bitter smile then. “So much for it. We made it worse.”
Sophia looked out at the night sky for a moment before turning back to Angela. “When I left that day, I didn’t know where I wanted to go either. But I knew I couldn’t stay. I tried so hard to stop the others from fighting and picking between me and Sonia.”
Angela stayed silent this time, knowing Sophia wasn’t done.
“I was so trapped at that time. It was like everywhere I went and everything I touched became much more complicated than I wanted it to be.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Angela said. “We should have known better. Instead, we just went and decided everything for you.”
“When I first met Jacky, I wanted to help him. I didn’t realize I would get pulled into something so complicated. Perhaps, I shouldn’t have meddled. Then things wouldn’t have turned out for the worse.”
Angela smiled then. It wasn’t a happy smile, but it was like she felt a sense of irony. “Ehlo told me a story several months after you left. It was about a meeting some of them set up briefly after Sonia moved in with Jacky and Bryant.”
This time, Sophia was the one staying silent and waiting for Angela’s upcoming words.
“Chen Yi had asked what if Jacky and Sonia were still together, and Yan had responded by saying we probably wouldn’t have met you.” Angela paused to give Sophia a sad smile. “But then Wallace said that we would eventually meet you because of Tang Feng.”
Sophia understood that Angela was trying to reassure her. Yet she was still uncertain.
“So, you were in our timeline regardless of your actions. And we should be glad to have known you. I just wished that we were better behaved.”
“Do you ever get the feeling like you were suffocating when you were around them?” Sophia asked all of a sudden.
Angela hadn’t considered that. She shook her head. “Maybe it was because I knew most of them for a long time now. It could get complicated at times, but in the end, I wouldn’t have survived some of my major changes without them.”
Sophia had on a light smile. “Perhaps, it’s because I don’t belong. Because that was what I felt when I was with them. Even though I knew they meant well. Even Novia and Janine were…”
“Novia finally hired someone to replace your spot,” Angela jumped in, not being able to help herself. “Jun convinced her.”
“How are they doing now?”
“Jun and Novia got together on Valentine’s Day last year. They just moved in together at the beginning of this year.”
Sophia smiled. A curious smile. Like a fascination with this turn of events.
“Life, huh?” Angela said, not realizing she had repeated what Ehlo had said years ago during that meeting she just mentioned briefly minutes ago.
The rest of the conversation between the two was about some of the happenings after Sophia’s departure. Sophia met Ryan two years ago when she was still unsure of where to go. He had convinced her to stay at his hotel for a while. She almost left several months later but had somehow stayed. They didn’t get married until last year.
They chatted until way past midnight. That was also when Ehlo returned to check on them. Ryan had followed him. Seeing both of their wives were fine and were chatting in a more harmonious atmosphere, they were reassured. They soon said their goodbyes and parted ways. This time, their exchanges were calmer and less dramatic.
“I’m glad we had the talk,” Angela admitted to Ehlo after the other two left.
“I’m glad too,” Ehlo said.
It was indeed closure. They all needed it.
© Friday, July 10th, 2020
Posted: Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020