Bad news spread like wildfire was what happened after the news broke regarding Unex’s bankruptcy filing. The tabloids were having a field day with the news. However, the so-called regular high-end newspapers weren’t any better either. They gobbled the details up like a starving animal. The news cycle was very much the same for four straight days.

“The way things are, Alyssa might as well quit,” Andy commented when they were sitting in Cynthia’s breakroom again on Friday morning.

As interesting as it was, when Wallace and the other two arrived at Alyssa’s place on Monday, she was actually on her way out to check on Vincent. Worried for her safety, Ehlo and Joanne volunteered to tag along. Before they could enter the Zhao mansion, they saw a swarm of reporters being broken up by authority figures arriving on the scene. So they were forced to step aside as well. Luckily, Ehlo reacted quickly and told Joanne to escort back to Alyssa’s car before they were caught by reporters. Because the reporters seriously didn’t need them to hand over another topic of discussion. Oh, the authorities moved in on the Zhaos? But did you hear that the ex-daughter-in-law also showed up? What was she doing there? Did they reconcile? Was she involved in this as well? They sure dodged the bullet with that one. However, Alyssa ended up buying most of the newspapers that had been giving the Zhao family bad press hence some disconnect of news within a certain community. Her effort was ineffective and most of them also knew that but didn’t say it out loud in front of her. Because of this day and age, information wasn’t just about newspapers or word-of-mouth but also about the expansion of online accessibility. That was why Andy had made that comment when they settled down for morning coffee before work.

“Can you blame her?” Ehlo asked. “Okay, I know that coming from me. But come on, it’s crazy time.”

“Do you think they still love each other but just couldn’t make it work because of his crazy family?”

Ehlo gave Andy a look. “Eight o’clock soap?”

Andy wrinkled his face. “What?”

“Is that where you’re getting your material from?”

“No,” Andy answered quickly. Too quickly. Like he wasn’t going to be caught dead with watching those soaps.

“He might not be getting his materials from those soaps, but you guys were caught by one of those paparazzi people,” Wallace said, slamming a newspaper in front of them for emphasis.

Ehlo grabbed it and looked at the picture before standing up. “I was careful!”

“I know,” Wallace said, sitting down at the chair between Ehlo and Andy. “But they’re sneaky.”

“Damn tabloids,” Ehlo muttered.

“Someone also leaked the fact that Alyssa bought those newspapers off of them too,” Wallace continued, standing up again to pour himself a cup of coffee.

“What are we going to do now?” Andy asked, his worried look intensified. He was looking between Ehlo and Wallace as he waited for their answers.

“Can’t do much,” Wallace asked. “But we need to convince Alyssa to stop wasting her money. It’s not helping anyone but those assholes.”

“How’s Vincent doing?” Cynthia asked, walking into the breakroom at that time.

“I saw him at the police station,” Wallace said. “It’s complicated since they’re still trying to collect evidence of his involvement. I told them already to restructure their chain of operations, but they didn’t listen to me. Now it’s getting harder to prove that Vincent doesn’t know anything about those embezzlement activities. He signed off on half of those paperwork too.”

“Are you going to be pulled in as well?” Andy asked then, concerned.

Wallace shook his head. “The police cleared me. But I can’t come into contact with them until everything is sorted out.”

“Which could be a few weeks or a few months.”

“Or years, the way they’re operating,” Ehlo chimed in.

“You mean the police or the Zhaos?” Andy asked, turning to Ehlo.

Ehlo smiled at his own brilliance. “Both, actually.”

“Ehlo ge,” Achel called out at that time from upfront.

“What?” Ehlo returned.

“Jie told you to turn on to your phone.”

Ehlo wrinkled his face and fished around for his phone. Then he realized something. “I forgot my phone in the car.” He got up from his place at that time. “I think.”

“Better think faster,” Andy said. “Your days are numbered.”

“What?”

Andy had on his teasing smile. “Chris is back. You better behave or you’ll be out of the picture.”

“He isn’t back,” Ehlo argued, following Andy out. “We just bumped into him that one time, okay? Besides, he’s history.”

“Doesn’t look like it,” Andy said, pointing across the street.

“Oh, for the love of…” Ehlo said, his face even more wrinkled than before.

They were out in the front of the shop already and Andy was just making his way toward the other side where the classrooms were. Since Ehlo needed to check his car, he was following Andy casually. Ehlo knew Andy was just trolling him since they had the topic change. Yet he didn’t know that Chris was standing across the street until Andy pointed it out for him. Yes, Chris was really standing across the street. In front of Novia’s shop to be exact. And Angela was also there.

“How did you know?” Ehlo asked, turning to Andy with a confronting look.

Andy shrugged. “I swear I didn’t know until I saw him right there. You know I was just kidding earlier. How should I know my mouth’s that…”

“Just shut your crow’s mouth before you say anything else damaging,” Ehlo warned before heading out the door. “Huo!”

It wasn’t like Ehlo wanted to be a coward. But he had a feeling if Wallace wasn’t there to hold him back, he might commit some type of crime that could land him at the police station soon if things kept happening the way they were.

“What?” Wallace asked from the breakroom.

“Come on!” Ehlo yelled back before the door slammed shut.

Wallace could hear the urgency in Ehlo’s voice, so he turned to Cynthia. “I guess I’ll be back later?”

Cynthia smiled. “I have to open up anyway.”

Wallace saluted her way. “Thanks, Miss Wang.”

*****

When Wallace reached the front of the shop, Ehlo was already across the street and was standing in between Angela and Chris. Wallace finally understood why Ehlo felt so threatened by Chris’ presence. Then he realized Andy wasn’t exaggerating. Chris looked like he stepped right out of those GQ magazines. Crossing the street and coming even closer, Wallace was feeling a little self-conscious himself. Chris was seriously looming over all of them.

“Hey, Wallace,” Novia greeted him and gestured for him to join them.

“Hey, how’s it going?” Wallace returned.

“I heard from Cynthia that you got summoned by the police as well.”

Wallace nodded. “Don’t worry about it. They cleared me already. It was just procedural.”

Novia had on a smile of relief. “That’s good to know.”

Wallace nodded again. “Definitely.” He finally turned his attention toward Chris, knowing it was inevitable—and extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Wallace Huo.”

Chris shook Wallace’s hand and had on his bright smile. “Nice to meet you.”

“So, what brought you here, Chris?” Ehlo asked, his voice leveled.

Chris scratched at a spot behind his neck before answering. “It’s funny actually. Seeing you and Xiao Han weeks ago made me realized I haven’t returned home in the longest time. So I thought I do just that.”

“Oh.”

“I know, right? It’s crazy, because so many things have changed.”

“You haven’t returned home in fourteen years?”

Chris shook his head. “No, I returned home several times already. I think the last time was two years ago. But I’m just never used to staying at one place for a long time.”

“So, why are you coming back now?”

Chris took a quick glance at Angela before answering. “Let’s just say I’m a little nostalgic. It’s not like I stayed long this time either. The others told me that Xiao Han moved here already so I thought I came to visit real quick before heading out again.”

“You mean you’re leaving today?”

Chris shook his head again. “Of course not. I’m staying for a while. Novia said there is a lot of nice scenery around here. I could use it as inspiration.”

“Novia, huh?” Ehlo turned to give Novia a look then. “What do you do then? Why do you need inspiration?”

“I paint.”

“That’s it?”

Wallace had to shove Ehlo in the sides then. “Cynthia paints too, you know.”

Ehlo turned to Wallace with an annoyed look. Like he was staring at a traitor. The sole reason why he brought Wallace along was to back him up. He didn’t need this negativity. “She’s an artist who does a lot more than just paint, okay?”

“Oh?” Chris asked curiously. “Who’s Cynthia?”

“She owns the shop across the street,” Angela answered, pointing toward that direction.

Chris turned to inspect it real quick before turning back to them. “Looks like a lovely shop.”

Angela smiled. “Chen Yi teaches there now.”

Chris looked shocked. “What? Chen Yi as a teacher?”

“Life, huh?”

“What about Nic? Or Xiao Yu?”

“Nic’s dating Cynthia. Xiao Yu also works for Cynthia, and she’s dating Chen Yi.”

Chris was seriously fascinated by what he just learned. He looked beyond shocked at that point. “This is unbelievable.”

“Seriously, that’s how life works when you’re not around much,” Ehlo jumped in. “While you’re pondering about the many changes of the world, some of us still has to work.”

Wallace looked at Ehlo then. “You work?”

Ehlo turned to Wallace with an annoyed look. No, he looked livid by now. “Oh, shut up already, Huo.”

“Something wrong?” Chris asked, his shining smile finally off.

“Of course not,” Wallace said before Ehlo could say anything. “He just forgot his meds for the morning.” After saying that, he dragged Ehlo away from them. “I have a meeting with him. We’ll be back later.”

Angela had on a puzzled expression but let the guys leave anyway. Chris and Angela followed Novia inside her shop after staring a little more.

*****

Still, several days went by before any one of them heard any news regarding what happened to Unex in general and to the Zhao family on a personal scale. On the upside, Wallace was finally able to convince Alyssa to stop with the unnecessary buying of newspapers. It wasn’t going to benefit anyone—unless she was able to buy them off completely. And even if so, she would still have to deal with the backlash of the incident if words traveled if she somehow managed to get together enough funds to buy them out completely. It was a lose-lose situation regardless of how they looked at it.

“When is Yvonne coming back, man?” Ehlo asked as he was walking with Wallace one afternoon.

Yes, Yvonne hadn’t been around since Angela and Ehlo came back from their vacation. She went out of town to check on one of her suppliers. She’d launched a jewelry business about a year and a half ago after having failed to commit to some other jobs that weren’t cop-related. It was surprisingly successful, and it was a happy coincidence that she enjoyed doing that enough to continue with its expansion.

“Why?” Wallace asked, looking at Ehlo with much surprise. It wasn’t like he didn’t know that Yvonne was probably one of Ehlo’s favorite persons but Ehlo had been occupied recently. So occupied that he didn’t care much for anyone’s opinions. Or possibly didn’t even realize anyone existed outside of his conflict. “You need something from her?”

Ehlo pointed his coffee cup at Wallace. “Hey, don’t troll me, man.”

Wallace had on a light smile. “Why? You’re losing your touch, Huang?”

“Oh, come on, man.”

Wallace turned off his cunning expression—just for Ehlo’s sake. “I don’t know. She said that she has several more things to take care of before coming back.”

Ehlo looked troubled. “She can’t be back soon enough.”

“You know you can text her, right?”

Ehlo wrinkled his face at Wallace. “You know you can ask her for a more specific timeline, right?”

Wallace shrugged. “I know the exact time. I’m just not telling you.”

Ehlo had on his annoyed look. “Now you’re just being an asshole.”

Wallace was still able to smile. “What? Why do you need to know about Yvonne’s status so much? I thought you have more crucial things to worry about.”

“Hey, I’m just worried for you, man.” Ehlo took another sip out of his coffee cup before continuing. “You see the pattern here? You might be next.”

Wallace wrinkled his face. “What are you talking about?”

Ehlo let out an exasperated sigh. “Sonia went out of town for an assignment, bumped into James. Angela and I went out of town for a harmless vacation, boom, some past flame just showed up. Now Yvonne goes out of town to meet with her suppliers. You never know if she might run into some past boyfriends too.”

Wallace wasn’t offended or upset over Ehlo’s comments. In fact, he had on his amused expression. “I’ve never known you to be so superstitious. Not to mention lack of confidence.”

Ehlo gave Wallace another annoyed look. “Have you seen the guy? Look at him!”

“Yeah, but you do know he’s the past, right?”

“He doesn’t seem to know it.”

“He’s just overly friendly.”

“You sure about that? You want to stab me in the back too?”

“What do you mean ‘too’?”

Ehlo gestured with his coffee cup. “Qiao, Chen Yi, and Xiao Yu have been surrounding him and worshipping him since he arrived. You’re telling me I’m paranoid?”

Wallace still had on his amused expression. “You’re jealous of them? You do know that they knew him before they knew you, right? Besides, they haven’t seen him for fourteen years now, more or less. Of course, it’s normal to…”

“Doesn’t matter.”

They turned a corner and crossed a street before Wallace spoke up again.

“You were never that hostile toward me, you know,” Wallace reminded Ehlo.

Ehlo raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, more like you weren’t that hostile toward me regarding Angela. You were only pissed off at me for being in that scheme with the others that one time because of Jacky.”

“That’s different.”

“How different? I’m also Angela’s ex, you know.”

Ehlo looked like he had enough. “Have you seen the guy?”

“We’re only losing on the height factor, man. Your yelling about his appearance won’t make it go away, you know. Also, you just implied Angela’s vain.”

Ehlo wrinkled his face. “What?”

“You kept talking about his look, as if that was the sole reason why Angela liked him in the first place.”

“It was high school, all of us were vain.”

“Speak for yourself, man. Again, he’s the past.”

“You know your repeating that won’t make it solid, right? Everything could change.”

“You have no confidence in Angela? Are you saying I could change my mind and go after her too then?”

Ehlo stopped in his tracks then and used his free hand to grab Wallace’s collar. “You break Yvonne’s heart, I’ll rip you apart. That’s a promise, Huo.”

Wallace wasn’t threatened by Ehlo’s sudden aggression. He peeled Ehlo’s hand off him before taking a step back. “Funny that you thought of Yvonne first and not Angela.”

“I have confidence that Angela won’t think twice about you.”

“Are you sure about that? You said everything is not solid, anything could change. Your words, not mine.”

“You two can’t even compromise on the smallest matter and you expect me to believe you can get back together? And I said everything could change, not anything. Your listening skills are lacking nowadays.”

“So you’re more confident that Chris and Angela could get back together?” Wallace had ignored the second part on purpose.

Ehlo was about to argue but his phone rang. He retrieved it from his pocket and picked it up. “Hello?”

“Ehlo ge, where are you?” Achel’s voice asked.

“Why?”

“Chris invited us to lunch, you want to join us?”

“Does ‘us’ include Angela?”

“No, jie is not here.”

“Good.”

“What?”

“No, nothing. I’m not coming. I’m with Huo. We’re going to pick his car up and meet you guys at Johnny’s later tonight.”

“Okay.”

After that, they arrived at the car shop, so they didn’t continue the conversation from earlier. Yet Ehlo was more troubled than ever. It was like a disaster unfolding in front of him layer by layer and every other person around him was too blind to see it coming. The most frustrating thing was how they acted like he was the crazy one. How crazy was that, right?

*****

As it turned out, Ehlo was in for another major surprise. Because the others had invited Chris to Johnny’s place for that night’s gathering as well. So when he entered the house, his reaction was hard not to miss.

“Oh, for the love of…” Ehlo muttered under his breath.

That was probably one of his most used expressions of recent.

“He’s everywhere,” Ehlo said to Wallace as Wallace entered.

Wallace had to park a little faraway because there were a few more people coming than expected.

“You know people can move from one location to another, right?” Wallace returned. “They’re not statuses, they don’t have to stay still.”

“Forget you,” Ehlo said and approached the group to the far right of the living room. “Okay, people, I’m here, we can start.”

“You seriously have a big head,” Wallace said, following Ehlo closely.

Ehlo turned to Wallace with one of his annoyed expressions again. “Don’t talk to me anymore.”

“What happened with you two?” Angela asked, eyeing from one to the other.

“Nothing,” Wallace responded with one of his charming smiles. “Just a little disagreement about statuses.”

Angela looked like he didn’t believe a word Wallace was saying, so she turned to Ehlo for an explanation. It was a rare scene because usually, she would doubt her husband’s recounts more than Wallace’s where facts were concerned, at least regarding their disagreements.

“Statuses can still be moved, you know,” Ehlo snapped, looking at Wallace still.

Wallace had both hands raised now. “Sure, man.”

“I’m guessing this is definitely not about statuses,” Andy said, his cunning smile on.

Andy was holding a glass of some mystery liquid that Ehlo and Wallace couldn’t really make out. But they soon realized the majority of people in the group had one too.

“What are you drinking?” Ehlo asked, eyeing Andy’s glass suspiciously.

“Oh, it’s pennywort,” Andy answered. “You want one?”

“I’ll get you one,” Angela volunteered and stepped away from them briefly.

“Okay, so pennywort again,” Ehlo said, tapping on his phone. He’d been holding his phone since he entered the house.

From Ehlo’s expression, Wallace knew Ehlo was thinking of Sophia as well. And Angela actually returned with two glasses of pennywort for both Ehlo and Wallace.

“Thanks,” Wallace said, flashing on a grateful smile as he took a sip. Though he wrinkled his face seconds later.

“She didn’t make it right, huh?” Chris commented then.

“What?” Ehlo asked, having wrinkled his face as well after taking a sip around the same time as Wallace.

“She didn’t make it right,” Chris said.

“I think it’s fine,” An unfamiliar girl to some of them said at that time. “You’re just picky.”

“You see their wrinkled faces too,” Chris said, gesturing toward Ehlo and Wallace’s directions.

“Excuse me, but how did you get here so fast?” Ehlo jumped in, pointing at the girl with his phone.

The girl turned her attention to Ehlo and Wallace, smiling sweetly. “Hey, Ehlo. How’s it going? I just arrived in town today.”

“Oh, nice,” Ehlo said, his mind spinning of the possibilities.

“He meant nice to see you here,” Wallace said, extending his free hand then.

Margaret accept Wallace’s hand before introducing herself.

“So, Chris invited you here, huh?” Ehlo pried.

Margaret, oblivious to Ehlo’s intention, had on her sweet smile again. “Oh, he challenged me to come experience this town’s complicated environment. So, here I am.”

Ehlo and Wallace exchanged a look again. Margaret took that moment to turn her attention back on Chris. “It doesn’t matter if others don’t like it. You’re just picky in general.”

“You know she didn’t make it right, but you continue to defend her,” Chris said. “You just want to disagree with me.”

“Seriously, you’re still going after that?” Ehlo asked. “Let me tell you this, Margaret.”

Margaret turned to Ehlo again and waited for him to continue.

“She’s my wife and I love her,” Ehlo said, sending Angela a smile. “But no one beats Sophia’s pennywort drink and that’s a fact.”

“Who’s Sophia?” Chris asked, curious.

Margaret had on a thoughtful expression then. “I don’t think I met her yet.”

Ehlo did a quick scan of the room before turning back to the others. “She’s not here, but she used to be here. The point, pennywort is a tricky drink, okay? Whoever discovered it and turned it into a drink probably couldn’t even make it like Sophia does it.”

“You’re exaggerating, Huang,” Wallace said. “I’ll admit Sophia’s mix is better than Angela’s but I’m pretty sure it’s because half of us have been drinking the restaurant, standard recipe and not the self-made ones so it’s harder to weed out the authentic ones.”

“You and your technicalities,” Ehlo chided.

“Why are we drinking this here and now anyway?” Wallace asked, taking a quick glance of the area again.

“He’s outside,” Angela said, knowing exactly the reason why Ehlo and Wallace had to skirt around the topic of Sophia. “And it’s because Chris’ here again so I thought I made it after all these years.”

Wallace exchanged a look with Ehlo then, his expression a little more wrinkled than before. “Oh?”

“It’s actually my favorite drink,” Chris provided the helpful answer. “Xiao Han used to make it, or she tried to. But she never succeeded. It seems like it hasn’t changed.”

“What’s wrong with it then?” Angela asked. “I consulted with Sophia already.”

“You’re too impatient,” Wallace jumped in. “That’s why you can’t make it right.”

“What is this? Dunk on Angela Day?” Margaret joked. “Come on, guys. You all are seriously picky. I think it’s fine.”

“It’s fine when you first drink it,” Chris said.

“But once you swallowed it, there’s this bitter aftertaste,” Wallace finished.

Chris pointed at Wallace with his glass. “That’s right.”

Margaret shook her head. “I’m still sticking with picky.”

“Whatever you say,” Chris returned, taking another sip out of his glass although he’d criticized it profusely. “But I would love to meet this Sophia who everyone’s praising.”

“You almost did,” Angela said. “Too bad.”

“Oh?”

“She was at the same hotel as us, but you were on that trip so you didn’t get to meet her.”

“Really?”

Angela’s face fell then. “Yeah.”

Chris’ bright smile finally turned off. “What’s wrong?”

Angela took a quick glance around the room like Ehlo and Wallace just did earlier.

“He’s still outside,” Wallace said. “Ehlo went to check on him.”

Angela nodded and turned to Chris again. “She got married already so she’s not coming back.”

“You don’t know that,” Chris said, his puzzled look on. “You and I still meet again after all these years. It’s life. Maybe one day, you’ll see her again.”

Angela nodded. “You’re right, but it won’t be the same.”

“Oh?”

“I can’t share this.”

Chris nodded in understanding. He’d noticed the others were skirting around the Sophia topic. He knew too well. It was just that he chose not to engage. Margaret had sent him a look awhile back and he had shaken his head, indicating that they shouldn’t probe. So, this was just a casual question to confirm his suspicion. He turned his attention to Wallace then. “So, how did you know Angela anyway?”

“They didn’t tell you?” Wallace asked, eyeing everyone within their small group by the sofa—and Chris was the only one sitting on the sofa because the others were all standing around him.

Chris shook his head. “No.”

“I’m also Angela’s ex.”

Chris had on a shocked expression and turned to look at Angela real quick before returning his attention on Wallace again. “And you let her get away?”

“Hey, speak for yourself, man,” Wallace returned.

Chris let out a chuckle then, his glass pointing toward Wallace’s direction. “Fair enough.”

“So, still dunking on Angela?” Margaret asked. “You guys are seriously too much.”

Margaret took it up another notch by walking toward Angela and hooked her hands through Angela’s, leading her out of there. “We don’t need such negativities, right?”

Chris shook his head at Margaret’s reaction before turning to Wallace again. “Seriously, what happened between you and Angela?”

“It’s history,” Wallace said, raising his hand up. “Also, married.”

Chris looked shocked again. “I haven’t seen your wife.”

“She’s out of town, meeting with some suppliers. She’ll be back by the end of this week.”

“You told him and not me?” Ehlo’s voice rang out then. “You backstabber.”

“Hey, man, come on,” Wallace said, turning to Ehlo then. “You could have texted her yourself.”

“Seriously, man, I’m not going to text her.”

“Why not?”

“Because…”

“Hey, where’s my wife?”

“Margaret dragged her away from us,” Chis answered.

Ehlo wrinkled his face. “What? What did you maniacs do to her?”

“They were being men,” Andy answered.

Andy had been there the whole time but was staying quiet on purpose. It was like he was watching a show. Now, he felt like contributing. Probably adding fuel to the already blazing fire?

“Hey, Backstabber, stop being helpful,” Ehlo snapped.

Andy had on his smart-aleck smile before walking away from them.

Ehlo shook his head in disappointment. “Kids.”

“He looks like a grown man to me,” Chris said.

“Still a kid to me.”

“Just like how you thought Qiao was a kid, right?” Wallace jabbed.

Ehlo turned to Wallace with a livid expression. “Huo, stop trying. I already hate you.”

Wallace still had on his amused expression. In fact, it had intensified to another notch.

“If I didn’t know better, I thought you two were actually the married couple and not…” Chris said, gesturing his glass between the two of them.

Ehlo turned on his murderous glare. “Stay out of it, Pretty Boy.”

Chris still had on a bright smile. “Strong reaction.”

“Just admit it already,” Wallace said and wrapped his hand around Ehlo’s shoulders all of a sudden. “These marriages of ours are just a coverup for our feelings for one another.”

Ehlo elbowed Wallace at that time and turned to him with much annoyance still. “Seriously, Huo, just stop.”

“Where’s Jacky?” Angela asked, walking back toward them at that time.

“He’s still outside,” Ehlo answered.

“You talked to him?”

Ehlo nodded.

“Where did Margaret go?” Chris asked, changing the topic on purpose.

“She’s in the other room,” Angela said. “Talking to Bianca and Sonia.”

“Sonia’s here?” Ehlo asked, exchanging a look with Wallace then—like suddenly they were best friends again.

Angela nodded.

“She seemed all right?”

“For now, she’s handling it better than two years ago, so…”

“Let’s hope so.”

“I have a feeling each time I change the topic, it gets into another uncomfortable territory,” Chris noted.

“Glad you noticed,” Ehlo said, more out of fatigue than hostility.

“What…”

Before Chris could finish, Jacky entered the house and walked toward them then.

“Hey, you guys mind if I leave early?” Jacky asked.

“Ask the host,” Ehlo said, pointing toward the other room.

Jacky glanced in that direction real quick, his expression lacking confidence. “I think I better not go over there for now.”

Ehlo rubbed his face down before answering. “Do whatever you want, man.”

Seeing Ehlo’s expression, Jacky licked his lips once. “I…”

Ehlo shook his head. “Just go.”

“Thanks.”

Ehlo nodded.

“What was that all about?” Chris asked, his confusion heightened to another level.

Ehlo shook his head then, finally opening his eyes again. “We just managed to hit the jackpot with three things hitting us at the same time, that’s all.”

“Five, actually,” Wallace said.

Ehlo looked alarmed. “Five?”

“You, Sophia, Jacky, Sonia, and Vincent.”

“How can you list Jacky, Sonia, and Sophia but tell me it’s not all the same?”

“You know why.”

Ehlo scoffed. “I hate this.”

Ehlo walked away from them then.

“I better go after him,” Angela said to the other two. “See you guys around?”

Chris and Wallace nodded.

“It seems like your group isn’t as united as I initially thought.”

“We are united,” Wallace said, crossing his hands. “It’s just not as cheery right now.”

“Oh?”

“Trust me on this one, you don’t want to know.”

Chris took Wallace’s advice and stopped probing. In fact, the rest of the night continued in a somewhat of a bland mood. Because Angela and Ehlo were gone.

*****

That Friday, Wallace came into Cynthia’s shop with Yvonne. Yes, Yvonne was finally back. Ehlo and Andy were already there. Cynthia and Achel were outside in the main area of the shop, getting things ready like usual.

“Hey, you’re finally back,” Ehlo said cheerfully, getting up from his seat.

“Hey, I heard what happened,” Yvonne said, giving him a sympathetic look. “How are you coping?”

“Not well,” Ehlo said, eyeing Wallace with much intolerance. “Considering how I’m surrounded by backstabbers. But it’s good that you’re back now. I finally have someone I could trust to talk to.”

Yvonne gave Ehlo a look like he was the weird one. “You could have texted me.”

Wallace laughed then—to much of Ehlo’s annoyance.

“What?” Yvonne asked, puzzled.

“I told him the same thing.”

“You seriously think this is funny, right?” Ehlo returned. “You need to divorce him already. Or we can’t be friends anymore. He’s bad influence on you.”

“If I divorced him, you know I’m leaving you guys, right?” Yvonne pointed out. “No way am I staying around so you guys can dunk on me.”

Ehlo gestured in Yvonne’s direction. “Good point.”

“That’s a strange topic for morning coffee,” Tony’s voice rang out at that time.

The others turned to see Tony walking into the breakroom.

“Hey, long time no see,” Ehlo said.

“Indeed.”

“Hey, you guys!” Joanne’s voice called out then before Tony could say anything else. “Big news.”

“How big?” Tony asked when Joanne was in the room with them already.

“Uh…” Joanne managed as the newspaper in her hand hung in midair.

“Go ahead and tell them,” Tony urged.

“What’s going on here?” Ehlo asked, looking from Joanne to Tony and back.

“Business,” Tony replied crisply and made himself comfortable at the table.

Ehlo was still confused but sat down next to Tony as well.

“Well, Miss Tseng?” Wallace urged.

“Um…” Joanne said, opening the newspaper in her hands. She cleared her throat briefly before beginning. “New Development in the Unex Bankruptcy Filing: A Bidding War to End it all.”

“Vague much?” Wallace asked, but not attacking Joanne—just the article.

“It seems that while the ongoing case with the Zhao’s embezzlement hasn’t reached its conclusion yet there have been some shifts within the industry. It was agreed upon by several parties that there will be an acquisition of the company instead of typical closure. Three major companies have been known to eye the Zhao empire for years, trying to take over, but unsuccessful. Among them, Tony Sun’s Sunrise has a high chance of winning this bidding war. However, North Star Corporation, another strong company within the industry, has as much advantage as Sunrise in wining this battle that has yet to start. What surprised many was Lucie’s Dormitory also entering the field. But many agreed that they had none to zero chance of winning. They were probably just entering the field to pump some publicity into their little company. Renowned business owner and analyst Ricky Chang had predicted that Sunrise will emerge to be the winner. Because of the complications of the case, all assets have not been released yet. Therefore, leading to unknown date as to when this bidding war will take place.”

“So…” Ehlo said when Joanne was done reading. Then he realized something. “Who the world named their company Lucie’s Dormitory anyway?”

“I think that’s Ambrose’s company,” Wallace replied.

Ehlo wrinkled his face. “What? Penny’s Ambrose?”

Wallace nodded.

“You guys don’t know that?” Tony asked.

Ehlo shook his head. “I don’t pay attention, okay? We just call him Penny’s rich husband. We don’t know what he does.”

“Nice to see how much you care for her.”

“Hey, it’s not like you know more than us.”

“I actually do know more than you. Because we have to go against them in the next several months.”

Ehlo shrugged. “What do you want me to do then? Spy?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“But you implied it.”

Tony pointed his sunglasses in Ehlo’s direction. “You’re paranoid.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Wallace agreed.

“Shut up, Huo, just shut up,” Ehlo warned.

Wallace shook his head and turned to Tony again. “So, what are you guys going do with Vincent’s company?”

“First step? Gut everything and start building a new foundation before I could look at the other parts.”

“That bad, huh?” Ehlo asked.

Tony nodded. “You wouldn’t believe how bad it is even if I tell you.”

“Have you told Alyssa yet?” Joanne asked, looking worried.

Tony shook his head. “I haven’t talked to her since the news broke about the investigation. It’s not that I want to distance myself from them. But it was already looking bad for Alyssa when she was caught at the Zhao mansion that one time. If I were to show up and got caught with her, you know how the news cycle would be?”

Joanne nodded. “I understand.”

“I’ll go talk to her eventually though.”

“I’m going to see her later. You want to say anything to her?”

“Hang in there.”

Joanne nodded.

“Anyway,” Tony said, turning to Ehlo and Wallace again. “The reason why I came here today was to recruit you two.”

“What?” Ehlo asked.

“The reconstruction process will be long and extensive; I prefer to work with those I trust.”

“You know it’s nepotism on another level, right?”

“You need a dictionary really bad, Huang,” Wallace chimed in.

Ehlo ignored Wallace and was still looking at Tony. “You know what I mean.”

“How about think it over first before dismissing my offer?” Tony returned, playing with the sunglasses in his hands.

“Win the bid first then.”

Tony smiled. “Fair enough.”

After that, Tony said a few more words to them before taking leave. Joanne left with Tony so that left four of them in the breakroom once again.

“So…” Ehlo said, gesturing toward the general direction.

“That turned out…” Wallace attempted also.

“Not what we expected?” Andy offered.

Both Ehlo and Wallace nodded at the same time.

“This is going to drive a huge wedge between the Sun and the Zhao, right?” Yvonne asked, looking between Ehlo and Wallace.

“They’ve been strained for years anyway,” Andy said. “It’s all business, right?”

Ehlo sighed. “You have a lot to learn, kid. It’s not that simple, not anymore.”

“They have a lot more beef than just some business agenda,” Wallace agreed.

“How will Vincent’s side react?” Yvonne asked.

“They’re going to fight to the death and I’m so not kidding,” Ehlo said.

“Tony shouldn’t have aggravated them so much over the years,” Andy said, feeling frustrated of the current situation.

“Can you blame him?” Ehlo asked. “They attacked Alyssa so many times in the past, it was like ridiculous. I agreed with Tony for interfering. I meant, who was having her back anyway? Even Vincent didn’t even have her back when they were dating and then married. So I say that totally serves him right for his current so-called girlfriend leaving him after news broke several weeks ago.”

“You really hated Vincent that much?”

“You don’t?”

“Hate is a really strong word, man.”

“Oh, come on, if it’s such a strong word, why don’t we have world peace yet? If people are so disgusted with such a word like ‘hate’, they would do anything to prevent the actual action that defines ‘hate.’ Do you see that happening yet?”

“Ehlo, you’re reaching,” Wallace interfered.

“You know I’m right, Huo.”

Yvonne nodded then. “Ehlo’s right.”

Ehlo’s eyes were still on Wallace. “See?”

Although Yvonne sided with Ehlo, Wallace wasn’t mad. He was just lost in thoughts. How did they arrive here?

© Saturday, July 11th, 2020

Posted: Saturday, September 26th, 2020

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