It was almost two weeks later that Angela and Ehlo returned to town again. They spent several days to unpack and get situated before heading to Jacky’s for a typical gathering. Jacky had used his money to get a small condo in town. Small yet suitable for him, considering his current situation. Some of them were already present when Angela and Ehlo arrived.

“The main couple is finally here,” Andy joked as the two entered.

Angela sent Andy a dagger look while Ehlo rolled his eyes. Before they could say anything, Sonia arrived.

“Hey, how’s it going lately?” Angela asked as she close the front door.

“Been getting used to the new job,” Sonia confessed.

“Like your old job better?”

Sonia shrugged. “Pros and cons actually.”

“That’s the spirit,” Ehlo chimed in. “Before long, you’ll find out that Producer Lin has been stalking at your apartment and begging you to save his ratings.”

Angela turned to Ehlo then. “You’re saying I’m doing a terrible job?”

“Walked right into that one, didn’t you, Huang?” Wallace teased then. After saying that, he turned to Andy. “I like the real version of Ehlo better than your portrayal these past two weeks. It’s much more entertaining.”

“What are you talking about, man?” Ehlo asked, wrinkling his face at Wallace.

“Chen Yi has been acting like you these past two weeks,” Wallace explained. “It was getting really creepy how accurate he was.” Wallace paused to turn on his mischievous smile. “Until now, of course.”

Ehlo had on the look that said he didn’t believe a word Wallace was saying. “Whatever, man.”

Sonia took that time to tug on Angela’s shoulder and whispering, “I have something to tell you and Bianca. Maybe outside?”

Angela took a quick glance around the room before returning her attention to Sonia. “In a bit. I have something important to tell them first.”

Sonia nodded, stepping aside as Angela clapped for the others’ attention.

“All right, we have some news,” Angela declared after everyone had quieted down.

“What’s the big deal?” Andy asked, crossing his hands and waiting for further development.

“Guess who we bumped into while on vacation?” Angela asked—though she meant it rhetorically.

“Bill Gates?”

Ehlo wrinkled his face. “Really?”

Andy shrugged. “I want to meet him too.”

“He’s too busy to meet you.”

Andy shrugged again. “Then who?”

“You guys remember Chris?” Angela asked, looking at her sister, Joanne, and Andy in particular.

“Of course!” Andy exclaimed. “How’s my buddy doing?”

Angela shook her head. “Not your Kris, my Chris.”

“Hey,” Ehlo jumped in then, pointing at Angela.

Angela had on a teasing smile. “You know what I mean.”

“Still not cool.”

“Oh my god, you mean your boyfriend in high school?” Andy exclaimed again. “We haven’t seen him since you guys broke up.”

Angela nodded. “Long time, right?”

“How’s he doing?”

“He’s been traveling around a lot. He hasn’t changed a bit. It was like it was yesterday.”

“That means still handsome and easygoing, right?”

“Really?” Ehlo asked, giving Andy a look. “You’re obsessing over him? Are you sure you’re not…”

“Hey, I can acknowledge another guy’s good looks because I’m very secured about my own appearance, okay?”

Ehlo rolled his eyes again.

“So, you spent the whole trip with him instead of Ehlo, that’s why he’s pissed, right?”

“I’m not pissed.”

“Speak for yourself, man.”

“I am.”

“Sure.”

“Guys,” Angela interrupted them. “That’s actually not why we gathered everyone here today.”

Andy had on his mischievous smile. “There’s more?”

Ehlo gritted his teeth and gave Andy a sharp look again.

Angela hit Ehlo’s shoulder real quick as a warning before turning to face the front again. She turned to Jacky in particular this time. “We found Sophia.”

That was when the others turned serious. Even Andy had turned off his mischievous smile.

“You can tell me,” Jacky said, having guess the outcome from Angela and Ehlo’s expressions.

“I’m really sorry, man,” Ehlo said, his voice serious. “I couldn’t convince her to come back because…”

Jacky shook his head. “It’s not your job to do that. I couldn’t blame you for my inaction. It’s up to me to convince her.”

Ehlo shook his head also. “No, you can’t.”

Jacky turned to Angela this time.

“She’s married,” Angela said, her voice leveled. In fact, Angela seemed much calmer than two weeks before. It was like she had time to prepare so she was ready for this moment.

That was when Joanne took a step toward Jacky and embraced him. “Jacky ge.”

Jacky absentmindedly patted Joanne’s shoulder. It was almost like that one time when Johnny and Bianca had gathered everyone around to announce their upcoming wedding and Joanne had attempted to comfort him. Now? The irony was that Sonia was standing not far from him at the moment and the person whom he missed his chance was someone completely different.

“I’m all right,” Jacky said a minute later. He turned to look at Angela and Ehlo then. “She looked happy?”

Angela wrinkled her face then, caught off guard. It was like she recognized that passiveness in him. It was the same passiveness that he displayed years ago when he was trying hard to conceal his feelings. Sophia’s words came back to her then. Were they really that exhausting to be around?

“She seemed happy,” Ehlo answered as Angela was lost in thoughts. “I made sure he wasn’t a creep. He really cared for her.”

Jacky smiled. “That’s good. Thanks for telling me.”

Ehlo sighed out then. “It’s closure, man. It’s closure.”

Jacky nodded, a forced smile on his face. “I know, I know.”

“Perhaps, we shouldn’t have called everyone here,” Angela spoke up then. “I just thought…”

Jacky shook his head. “You did the right thing. Everyone has been worried about her whereabouts. It was only right to inform everyone at the same time.”

Angela nodded, her expression still wrinkled.

Jacky glimpsed at his watch then. “I actually have a to go out for a bit. I’ll be back later though. You guys can still stay here. Just lock up after yourselves.”

As if the spell was broken by Jacky’s action, Joanne stepped away from him and the others ended up scattering around the apartment as well.

“What did you want to tell me?” Angela asked, turning to Sonia then. “I’ll go grab Bianca real quick, then we can go.”

Sonia shook her head then. “It’s okay. Maybe next time.”

Angela wrinkled her face. “What?”

Sonia shook her head again. “It’s not the right time.”

“Sonia, come on,” Angela said, feeling herself losing it again.

That was when everyone else turned to look at them. That was also when Jacky had halted in his step and closed the front door again. He had gone to his room to get some things before heading out. He just came back in time to witness Angela losing control.

“What’s going on?” Jacky asked, walking back into the living room.

“It’s not right to say it now,” Sonia said, looking down at the ground. “I don’t want to make the same mistake again.”

“The situation can’t get any worse than it already did, right?” Ehlo pointed out.

That was when realization kicked in for Angela. “Something happened with James?”

Ehlo’s alertness cranked up once more. “Again?”

Angela hit Ehlo out of habit.

“What?”

Angela gave Ehlo a look. “Don’t jinx us.”

“I think it’s a little late for that.”

“Guys,” Joanne interfered then, feeling like she needed to.

They turned their attention to Sonia again.

“I made up my mind a while back already,” Sonia finally said, her head still down. “I want to divorce James.”

Ehlo and Jacky reacted at the same time. Ehlo had to catch Angela while Jacky had to sit down at the sofa next to him.

“For the love of…” Ehlo said, feeling his frustration taking over. “What the hell did James do this time?”

“I’m sorry,” Sonia said, her voice timid now. “I was going to tell Angela and Bianca first. I’ll be meeting up with James to tell him later, but then…”

“You have nothing to be sorry about,” Ehlo returned, his voice firm. “I’m going to rip James apart if it’s the last thing I do.”

Sonia finally looked up at Ehlo. “No, don’t. It’s not his fault.”

“Then whose fault is it?”

“Ehlo,” Jacky called out, having finally recovered. Then he turned to Sonia. “I know it’s none of our business. But why are you divorcing James? I know it’s been hard getting used to the new arrangement. But it’s been two years now. What made you reconsider?”

“James is a good father,” Sonia said several minutes later.

“But not a good husband,” Ehlo finished.

Sonia shook her head. “It’s not that. He’s been trying. But that’s the thing. He’s trying to make everyone happy that he’s exhausted. So exhausted that he doesn’t realize he belongs with them more than me.”

“Sonia…” Angela said, having somewhat recovered already. She was now sitting next to Jacky on the sofa. “I know it’s hard, but it’s life. I know you love him…”

“I also know I need to let him go.”

“Sonia…”

Sonia shook her head again. “Dan’s a good kid and he has been trying to get along with me the best he could whenever we’re out together. But I know he wants more than anything to see his parents together.”

Ehlo turned to look at Jacky then whispering, “You two are exactly the same.”

Jacky wrinkled his face and shook his head, sending Ehlo a warning look in the process.

“Will James be happy?” Angela asked. “What’s more, will that make you happy?”

Sonia smiled. “James doesn’t know it, but he’s falling in love with Sara again. Or maybe he knows, but he’s staying with me out of responsibility. Because he promised. I don’t want that to be the reason we’re together. He should be with them. They already have an established family unit. I wouldn’t want to be in their way.”

“Will you be happy?” Ehlo repeated Angela’s second question.

Sonia had on a light smile again. “If he’s no longer exhausted from all this juggling and could move on, I could live with myself better. Besides…”

They all waited in silence for Sonia’s next words.

“I think I could finally see what I wasn’t able to see years ago,” Sonia continued. “The feeling of loving him and holding on to him for so long was just that. It wasn’t realistic. Once I was met with an obstacle, I ran away. It took me two more years to realize why I shouldn’t let it continue on.”

Unlike in the past, Sonia seemed much calmer. The ones who were present at the moment exchanged looks among themselves.

“If you’re sure,” Jacky said. “You have my full support, whatever it is that you two decide when you finally talk to James.”

“Of course, you support her,” Ehlo jumped in. He lowered his voice before saying, “Because it works in your favor.”

Jacky gave Ehlo a look again.

“Jacky’s right,” Angela said then, reaching out a hand to place it on Sonia’s shoulder. “You have my full support.”

Sonia could see the others nodding as well—although they didn’t say anything. She smiled, feeling much better.

“Thank you.”

After that, Jacky ended up staying and even cooked for them. It was indeed a strange day. Yet that was life, right?

*****

Monday morning, some of them were gathered at Cynthia’s shop before opening. It was a routine they still maintained, at least, that was a habit they kept that was linked to the shop.

“So we found Sophia but she’s married,” Andy recapped for some of them. “And now Sonia and James seemed to be back to normal but they’re getting a divorce.”

Some of the ones that were at the meeting on Saturday had been given the greenlight to pass the words along by Sonia. Because they messed up so badly the last time they meddled, so they needed to be sure if Sonia wanted everyone else to know as well.

“Life, huh?” Ehlo said, his comment was meant as a joke, yet his tone was all wrong.

Andy turned to look at Ehlo then. “I have a feeling like we had this conversation before.”

Ehlo shrugged. “I think we did but different context.”

“Perhaps, it’s for the best,” Cynthia spoke up then. “I meant we tried to stay out of it in the past two years, but we had a feeling everything was so forced, right?”

The others exchanged looks among themselves.

“So polite,” Andy agreed.

“So bland,” Ehlo continued.

“So…”

“Big news!” Joanne’s voice rang into the shop then.

This interruption reminded them of years ago when Denny was still with them. Everyone and their cousins could just walk right in and announce various news. They turned to Joanne then, not bothering to ask anymore. They knew she would tell them regardless if they engaged or not. In fact, they’d barely recovered from the last two pieces of news. What was one more?

“Top News: Unex has declared bankruptcy. Who will become the next top dog within the industry?”

Ehlo spit out his coffee the moment Joanne read the first line. That was also when Cynthia rushed to grab some napkins for him.

“Sorry,” Ehlo muttered, trying to wipe the coffee off the table. “Thanks.”

“Vincent’s going bankrupt?” Andy managed after the initial shock died down and Ehlo was no longer wiping the table. “But they’ve been rising since several years ago. They’re a big threat to Tony and…”

“Read the next part,” Ehlo urged, gesturing toward Joanne.

“The news came out as a shock to everyone and anyone who could be considered a ‘big deal’ within the industry. However, when analyzed carefully, it would eventually come to this point anyway.”

“Skip that roundabout nonsense,” Ehlo said, his mind buzzing.

Joanne skimmed some lines before reading again. “As an anonymous source disclosed, there were some severe mismanagement of funds within the company thus leading to this current move by the company. That same anonymous source also disclosed that the authorities were involved. Could it be embezzlement? Or much worse?”

“Stop reading,” Ehlo said, his voice a begging tone more than an order. “My head’s spinning too much.”

Joanne lowered the newspaper in her hand and exchanged a look with the others.

“Don’t tell me you invested in their stock,” Andy said seconds later.

Ehlo wrinkled his face and turned to Andy with a sharp look. “Of course not. I’m Team Tony all the way.”

“Then why is your reaction so strong?”

“Because I’m a human being who actually cares about other human being’s well-being, okay?”

“Why are you yelling at him?” Joanne asked, giving him a look.

They were seriously concerned for Ehlo, not criticizing him.

Ehlo clutched his head and closed his eyes for a second before opening them again. “Sorry. I…it’s just things are shifting.”

“Like feng shui?” Andy suggested.

Joanne hit Andy with her newspaper then.

“What?”

“Not the time.”

Ehlo shook his head then. “I don’t want to be superstitious, but this is seriously some really bad energy going around lately.”

“It’s called actions and consequences, Huang,” Wallace’s voice spoke up then.

They looked up to see Wallace walking in with his own newspaper in hand. “As much as I want to defend Vincent, the way his business was structured, it would eventually come to this anyway.”

Ehlo turned to Wallace then. “You know something, right?” Then he had on this look as if he remembered something. “Of course, you do! You did some audit for them in the past.”

“Confidential, Huang,” Wallace answered. “But I can tell you just from an outsider’s perspective, since most people know their structure and business operation model anyway. It’s not a good one.”

“Nepotism,” Cynthia said.

Wallace nodded and pointed his newspaper at Cynthia. “Exactly.”

“Welcome to reality, Huo,” Ehlo said, having somewhat recovered already. “Because the majority of the businesses around town are built around nepotism.”

“Huang, go check a dictionary.”

“What? What I said is true though.”

“What are we going to do now?” Andy interrupted them. “Are you guys going to go and talk to Vincent?”

“I probably shouldn’t,” Wallace said. He had on the expression that said he was wagering the pros and cons. “If the rumors are true, I should stay away for now. At least, make sure the authorities aren’t investigating. If I come into contact with Vincent, that might hurt his and mine statements.”

“What are you going to do then?” Ehlo asked. “You just can’t act like you don’t care. It would appear cold.”

“I’ll check with Alyssa if she wants to go. I could send words along.”

Ehlo nodded. “Makes sense. I’m coming with you to Alyssa’s.”

“I thought you have work.”

“I work for myself, remember? I can do it whenever.”

“I’m coming with you,” Joanne jumped in. “Jacky ge dropped me off earlier so I don’t have the car with me.”

“Okay.” Wallace turned to Cynthia at that time. “Sorry, but I’ll come back later for that meeting.”

Cynthia nodded. “Lunch?”

Wallace nodded as he followed Ehlo and Joanne out of the breakroom.

“Hey, what about me?” Andy yelled after them.

“You have a class to lecture,” Cynthia reminded him.

It was like Andy just remembered of his duty, so he had on an apologetic smile and grabbed his coffee cup before exiting the breakroom as well. Cynthia had on a worried look, but she continued with the rest of opening duties as well.

As it turned out, Andy ended up quitting his job two years ago and went to help at Cynthia’s shop. Considering how he had taken almost all of Cynthia’s classes, so she had offered him a more flexible schedule after hearing him complaining about how his boss was becoming ridiculous with the endless demands. Andy had taken the offer and never looked back. What was more, he even recruited Achel to help Cynthia as well. However, instead of taking on the duty of an instructor, Achel joined the sales associate’s team to help with the customer service side. Not to mention how Achel’s previous workplace was forced to shutdown due to other reasons and she didn’t want to go work for Uncle Zhe’s shop. It worked out well in the end for all of them.

© Saturday, July 11th, 2020

Posted: Thursday, September 24th, 2020

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