After work on Monday, Jacky stopped by Uncle Ben and Aunt June’s place to deliver some items to them. It was some random gifts he bought during his vacation and wanted to drop them off. He also volunteered himself for an inventory run.

“We’ll meet you back at our place,” Aunt June said after giving Jacky the list.

Jacky nodded as he turned to leave. He had called ahead, so it didn’t take long for Aunt June to put together a list of needed items. As he unlocked his car, though, he saw a car sliding into a spot behind him. For some reason, he looked toward the car and waited for the driver to get out.

“So, we live around the same area,” The driver said as she got out of her car and stepped toward him.

Jacky smiled. “Hey, Victoria.”

Yes, it was Victoria. The same Victoria he met at the grand event about two nights ago.

“Is this a good place to eat?” Victoria asked, gesturing toward the noodles stall to her right—and his left.

Jacky nodded and smiled. “The best in town.”

Victoria had on her doubtful look. “If it was the best, wouldn’t they have expanded it into a larger venue already?”

Jacky smiled. “It’s called enjoying the simplicity of life.”

“There are luxuries, but one can work smarter, not harder,” Victoria said. “It’s what my dad always says. That’s why he’s one of the most successful businesspersons in the industry.”

Jacky smiled again. “Everyone has their own comfort level. Taking one path or another isn’t right or wrong.”

Victoria shrugged. “So, what path are you taking then?”

“I’m a DJ at KFT,” Jacky said.

Victoria looked disappointed. “That’s a shame. You seemed bright. You would do well at my dad’s company. I could put in a word for you if you wanted it.”

“What does your dad do then? Grow money?” Ehlo’s voice reached their ears then.

Jacky didn’t see Ehlo in front of him when he looked around to check. However, he didn’t have to guess, because Ehlo’s placed a hand on his shoulder then. Ehlo was actually leaning on Jacky’s shoulder when he finally reached their spot.

“So, since you’re so glamorous in your fancy dress, why don’t you scramble out of our Peasantville and go back to your castle, Your Royal Highness,” Ehlo continued right on, still looking at Victoria.

“I’m sorry?” Victoria said, looking at Ehlo in disbelief.

“What in the world happened to you?” Jacky asked, finally noticing Ehlo’s outfit all messy and possible rips in several places. “Did you get robbed?”

“Worse,” Ehlo said. “My car broke down a little down the road and I tried to fix it myself. And you know it’s bad to crawl under there when you’re in a suit.”

Jacky shook his head. “So, what happened?”

“Had to call a tow truck. I thought I take a walk to work off some steam before Huo shows up. But someone managed to work up some more steam for me instead.”

Jacky shook his head again. “It’s not what it looks like.”

Ehlo had given Jacky a look that said, “Is she your new target?” So, Ehlo turned to Victoria again. “I thought you were leaving.”

“I don’t understand why you’re so rude,” Victoria said, finally showing traces of frustration.

“I don’t understand why you’re so condescending either,” Ehlo returned. “See where I’m going with this?”

Victoria had on her stunned look. “I’m condescending? You’re the one to talk. You just came out of nowhere, attacking me nonstop and you expect me to take it?” She turned to look at Jacky at that time. “Is this your friend?”

Jacky nodded. “He had a really bad day, as you can see.”

“That’s still no excuse to take it out on me.”

“You didn’t seem to think so when you attack honest people’s career choices,” Ehlo returned, not backing down at all. Far from it. He barely got started.

Because of Ehlo’s volume, Aunt June had overheard them and looked up from her stove. She saw Jacky still standing there. What was stranger was seeing Ehlo’s outfit in rips. She also saw a girl in a fancy dress talking to them. She turned to Uncle Ben and said some words to him before making her way toward them.

“What’s going on here?” Auntie June asked, looking from one to the other. “Ehlo, what happened to you?”

Ehlo turned to Aunt June with a smile. “A little accident, Auntie.”

Aunt June didn’t look too convinced with Ehlo’s charming smile. “Something you’re not telling me?”

Ehlo shrugged and turned off his smile, knowing Aunt June wasn’t buying it. “Huo’s coming to pick me up. My car’s in the shop again.”

“Did you try to fix it yourself again?”

Ehlo had on a sheepish smile. “You know me too well, Auntie.” He looked past Auntie June and saw Uncle Ben looking at them. He waved before turning back to Aunt June. “You closing soon?”

Aunt June looked at her watch real quick before answering. “Maybe two more hours.”

Ehlo looked worried. “It’s going to get dark soon, though.”

Aunt June smiled. “We all have bills to pay, right?”

Ehlo nodded. “Fair enough.”

“Why does everyone keep saying that?” Victoria asked around the same time Ehlo responded. “You can always find a better opportunity elsewhere, not having to be stuck here.”

Ehlo turned to Victoria then. “I thought you were leaving.”

“I’m waiting for Jacky to be free so I could finish my conversation with him,” Victoria said.

Ehlo did a circular gesture with his left hand, his right hand was still leaning onto Jacky’s shoulder. “As far as I’m concerned, your conversation is way over already. You just refused to leave.”

Victoria wrinkled her face in disgust. “You don’t get to decide for him when it’s over.”

“And you do? Also, why do you want to snap at Aunt June? What do you have against that saying?”

Victoria had on her impatience look but let out a sigh before speaking up again. “My sister always says that.”

“You didn’t seem to have a problem with that phrase before,” Jacky pointed out.

Victoria shrugged. “It gets annoying after a while.”

“It’s a good phrase, though,” Ehlo jumped in again. “In fact, I think I like your sister’s style. If I wasn’t married already, I would insist on marrying her just for her hardworking principle.”

Victoria had on her disbelief look again. “Hardworking? That phrase sounds like you’re giving up and just living life by the day, not even trying. And I have a hard time believing you’re married.”

“It’s a matter of perspective. And I don’t see a ring on your hand, unlike mine.” Ehlo even did a quick dramatic hand waving gesture in front of Victoria to show off his ring. But before he could continue his attack, his phone rang. He used his free hand to pick it up, refusing to remove his hand from Jacky’s shoulder still.

As Ehlo was struggling to swipe his phone to pick up the call though, they could see the words Rice Bowl (飯碗) on it.

“Hello?” Ehlo said, not caring that the others were staring at him. “Yeah. I’ll bring it over later. A little car accident. I’ll be a little late. You don’t have to call Huo, I’ll tell him when he picks me up later. Okay, bye.”

“Who was that?” Jacky asked, still amused of the nickname.

Ehlo gave Jacky a look like Jacky should have known already. “Tony. I told you guys already, he’s my rice bowl.”

Jacky shook his head. “Leave it up to you.”

“That’s so childish,” Victoria said then. “My sister does that too, always naming people with random phrases. So immature.”

Ehlo turned to Victoria again, his expression back to intense. “Seriously? Still here? And I already told you, if I wasn’t married, I would totally marry her. You don’t have to convince me of how cute she could be.”

Victoria turned to Jacky then. “I don’t know why you associate with him. But reconsider what I told you earlier. Here’s my card.”

“General Manager of Wan Da?” Ehlo read out loud as Jacky retrieved the card from Victoria. Ehlo actually had on his surprised expression. He looked toward Victoria again before turning to give Jacky a knowing look. Then he turned to Victoria like before. “So, Wan Da, huh?  As in Ricky Chang’s Wan Da?”

Victoria had on her proud look then. It was like she found Ehlo’s redeemable quality in recognizing a famous businessperson. “That’s right. He’s my father.”

Ehlo and Jacky exchanged a look again.

“What did you say your name was again?” Ehlo asked, looking at Victoria with a different set of eyes now.

“I didn’t,” Victoria said. “At least not to you. My name is Victoria, it’s on the card.”

“I wasn’t paying attention,” Ehlo said, shrugging—which was kind of hard to do with nonexistence personal space between him and Jacky. “I barely glimpsed the title. And…would you say some people call you Vicki?”

Victoria had on her suspicious look but responded anyway. “Yes, my family and some close friends call me that at times.”

Ehlo turned to Jacky, shaking his head. “You sure know how to pick ‘em.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jacky said, finally removing Ehlo’s hand from his shoulder. “I have some errands to run and then head to Uncle and Auntie’s place later.” He turned to Aunt June at that time. “Sorry, Auntie. I was distracted.”

Aunt June smiled. “Don’t worry about it. Just be careful. It’s getting late.”

Jacky nodded.

That was when Ehlo walked past Victoria who was leaving and approached a person in black suits. Victoria didn’t want to care, but she was curious what could attract Ehlo’s attention. Then she saw him heading straight for the guy in black suits.

“Hey, Huo, guess what?”

Wallace gave Ehlo a quick stare down before speaking up. “You got robbed?”

“Haha,” Ehlo returned. Yes, he called Wallace previously to talk about car trouble and asked if Wallace could pick him up. However, he didn’t care to mention his current state hence Wallace’s question. Yet he didn’t dwell. “Tony said to meet him at his house later, he just thought of a different approach for that project.”

Wallace nodded. “Let me go say hi to Auntie real quick.”

Ehlo nodded and followed Wallace back to where Jacky and Aunt June were still standing. Aunt June had thought of something else, so Jacky handed the list back to her for additions.

“Hi, Auntie,” Wallace greeted her as soon as they were closer. “Can’t stay long today.”

Aunt June nodded. “I heard.”

Wallace nodded also.

Aunt June looked back at Uncle Ben before saying, “I really have to get back to the stove. But since you’re all here, what do you think of celebrating Jacky’s birthday at our place this year?”

“That’s an awesome idea,” Ehlo said.

Aunt June nodded and left them all to go help Uncle Ben again.

It was also then that Ehlo realized something. “Hey, I thought you were leaving.”

They all turned to see Victoria still standing in front of her car, not budging. Since she was found out, she didn’t see the need to pretend she just happened to be there. She returned to the spot where she previously stood before answering.

“I couldn’t help but overheard that…”

“Family meeting, no strangers allowed,” Ehlo said, his hostility apparent.

“You know her?” Wallace asked, looking at Ehlo.

“Victoria Chang,” Ehlo said. “General Manager of Wan Da. Also, Ricky Chang’s daughter.”

Ehlo dragged out the introduction on purpose. Wallace didn’t shake Victoria’s hand as he heard the last part. In fact, he had yanked his hand back, which caused Victoria to be confused. Yet she didn’t have a chance to ask. Wallace spoke up first.

“Ricky Chang’s daughter? As in…”

Ehlo nodded furiously, indicating that Wallace had guessed correctly. “Worse than that. She exposed herself way before we knew who she really was. She managed to insult your aunt and Jacky in less than ten minutes.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Victoria rushed to explain. “I mean, I think that everyone should have an opportunity to shine, and working here seems really tiring for the body and…”

Ehlo raised one hand up to stop Victoria. “No need to explain anymore. We already gave you plenty of chances to redeem yourself. Way before I learned of your name.”

“You’re being unfair,” Victoria said. “You attacked me the minute you showed up. You expect me to just stand there and take it?”

“Was Jacky polite to you from the start or no? Why did you insult his aunt?”

Victoria had on her confused expression, pointing a finger at Wallace. “I thought you said it’s his aunt?”

“Same difference,” Ehlo said. “They’re cousins. That’s more information than you deserve to know.”

“I…” Victoria managed. She seemed speechless for once.

“Also, you like labels, Victoria?” Ehlo asked rhetorically. He gestured toward Jacky before saying, “Tian Cheng.” He then pointed at himself. “Winston & Co.”

Victoria had on her confused look again.

Ehlo smiled. “You might be the general manager of Wan Da, but I think your sister was the one who took after your father.”

Victoria’s expression turned to anger at that point. “You don’t know my family. You can’t just insult me like that.”

Ehlo had on his serious expression again. “Again, look in the mirror.”

After saying that, Ehlo turned to Wallace. “Let’s go, man.”

Wallace turned toward Aunt June’s direction and waved to her real quick before following Ehlo back to his car. As Jacky turned to leave as well, Victoria stepped closer to him. He paused in his action.

“I really have to go,” Jacky said. “It’s getting dark. In fact, I might have to go really far out of my way to get the necessary groceries for Auntie.”

“I know I went overboard earlier,” Victoria said, her voice softer than before. “But I think you shouldn’t pass this opportunity because of that.”

Jacky smiled. “Tian Cheng, remember? I don’t need it.”

Victoria had on her confused look again. “You work for Tian Cheng? I thought you said you’re a DJ at the local station? Or were you testing me?”

Jacky shook his head. “I do work at the local radio station.”

“Then…?”

Jacky was looking out at the horizon turning its final shade. He turned to Victoria again. “Check some local newspapers, a tabloid magazine even.”

After saying that, Jacky turned to open his car and entered. He was done. In fact, if he didn’t get out of there soon, his bridge of emotion would break. And he knew the consequences wouldn’t be pretty. It had been a miracle already that he was able to stay so patient. Maybe it was because Ehlo had been saying all the words he wanted to say to Victoria?

*****

The next day after work, Jacky was also seen wandering around. He was actually walking along the local beach. It looked like he was looking for someone, though. He didn’t stop at the sandy area but continued his way toward a building to the corner. He waited patiently under an eave with a tree next to it as people walked in and out of the building.

“Hey, sorry for the wait,” Jun said ten minutes later, walking out of the building.

Yes, Jacky finally sought Jun out to talk. It had been almost a month now that they had that idea but never approached Jun. Yet he felt like he needed Jun’s perspective on the whole situation.

“Don’t worry about it,” Jacky said.

“Let’s get out of here, huh?” Jun said, gesturing toward the parking lot.

Jacky nodded.

They weren’t leaving. Jun was just putting his swimsuits and surfboard in the car. They returned to the beach area again. This time, Jun chose a shady area to sit. It was looking out at the water, so Jacky didn’t mind the scenery. He needed the fresh air.

“So, what did you want to talk about today?” Jun said. “I know I was a terrible person during what happened…”

Jacky shook his head to cut Jun off on purpose. “Not here about that. Yes, you were overboard, but so were the rest of us. That didn’t make it right either. But what’s in the past passed already. Just don’t attack Qiao in the future, that’s all.”

Jun nodded.

Jacky licked his lips once before speaking up again. “I actually wanted to talk to you about Jan.”

Jun had on his worried expression. “What happened?”

“Um…” Jacky managed, not knowing how to start. That seemed to be a recurring theme with him nowadays whenever it had to do with Jan.

“Is she all right? I haven’t seen her since I dropped her off at the airport that one time. She rarely lets me help her, but it’s only when she’s in a really tight spot. She feels bad for what happened in the past.”

Jacky cleared his throat real quick, knowing he needed to get it out of the way. Jun was definitely rambling. “You two used to date, right?”

Jun wrinkled his face. “No, she told you that?”

Jacky shook his head. “No, Ehlo guessed.”

Jun had to laugh at that. “He’s wrong. I used to date her sister.”

Jacky had on his surprised expression. “What? You used to date Victoria?”

Jun nodded, his smile no longer on.

“If Ehlo were here, he would have said, ‘What the hell, man? I thought you hate rich people.’”

Jun laughed again before resuming his serious expression. “It was in high school. She broke up with me after graduation. She was also one of the reasons why I hate rich people.”

“She never really changed since high school, right?”

Jun nodded. “I know it’s really unfair of me to judge everyone within the high-class society that way, but after attending all those fancy parties and seeing how they treated each other, and Jan all those years, I couldn’t stand it anymore. Victoria accused me of cheating on her with Jan and broke up with me. But we all know it wasn’t true. She needed an excuse to get rid of me. She thought I was dead weight because I didn’t have any ambition. I just wanted to live my life like a normal person, you know.”

Jacky nodded.

“So, yes, I’m such a hypocrite, right?” Jun had on a bitter smile then. “I kept picking on Qiao, but I didn’t realize how much she and Jan had in common with their past, their struggles, and many people judged them for it.” He paused and sighed out. “I initially got it wrong. I thought Qiao was like Victoria, like how she seemed to generate a large group of support around her and isolating others. But I realized it too late that I was focusing on the wrong aspects.” Another pause and sigh. “At least, Qiao was luckier than Jan in some ways, Jan can’t confide in her parents either.”

“It’s disappointing to hear that Ricky Chang is a terrible father,” Jacky joked.

Jun smiled, knowing Jacky was trying to disperse the hectic atmosphere. “He’s not. It’s just that he’s trying not to pick sides. But it made it even worse. That’s why Jan’s rarely around. She traveled a lot and involved herself in different charity causes. She doesn’t flaunt it, but I could see all her efforts through her stories at times. You know the money her father saved for her? She used it all for charity. She only used the money she personally earned on herself. Because she felt she didn’t deserve all that money from her father when she didn’t work for it.”

“I could believe that.”

Jun nodded again before resuming his story. “It was through one of those trips that she met her late fiancé.”

“Have you ever met him?” Jacky asked.

Jun nodded. “Three times. Jan invited me on one of those trips about eighteen years ago. It was briefly after Victoria broke up with me. It was her way of getting me away and having a change of scenery. We actually met Albert at the same time. But they weren’t dating at first, we were all just casual travel friends. I meant maybe barely acquaintances. Just to get along on the trip and get the mission done, you know. Albert was studying to be a doctor, so he was actually attending with one of the senior doctors as an assistant at that time.”

Jacky nodded.

“The second time I met up with Albert was thirteen year ago when they started dating. Jan had moved to the States with him. They seemed to get along really well; I was happy for them. His parents were a bit wary of her, but her dad was there too, and he reassured them that they came from a genuine background and wasn’t trying to con their son’s savings or something.”

“Parents,” Jacky muttered.

Jun nodded in agreement. “It was going well for a while. I meant, they were really happy together, they got engaged like six years ago, I think. The last time I saw Albert was five years ago. He was on his deathbed.”

“I thought Mark said he never met you,” Jacky said, finally realizing why he felt strange about the timeline.

Jun smiled. “We kept missing each other the first two times. The last time? He just didn’t remember. It was really chaotic that day.”

“What happened? I think Mark said Albert was hospitalized.”

“Yes,” Jun verified. “Albert and a team of doctors were taking care of these patients who had this mysterious virus. I say ‘mystery’ because I don’t remember what it’s called anymore. But one of the patients coughed blood on him. The virus traveled into his system and destroyed it faster than a normal patient. The doctors said it was really strange. They didn’t know what happened previously that had caused it. But he died before they could get the cure to him. The truck carrying the cure was delayed that night. It was snowing so bad. Most of the other types of transportation weren’t able to get through anyway. We were holding out hope, though. But it was too late.”

“Mark mentioned a call and Jan missed it,” Jacky said.

Jun nodded. “We persuaded everyone to go home or at least find a place to rest while the others stay. I called her but she was asleep, so Victoria picked up. I told Victoria that she needed to get Jan to the hospital right away because that truck wasn’t going to make it. The storm finally let up and they were able to move again but it was getting really bad for Albert.”

“Mark said Victoria ignored that call on purpose.”

Jun nodded. “I was really anxious and called Victoria back several times. She turned off her phone and also turned off Jan’s phone. They didn’t arrive at the hospital until after the fact. Jan received five slaps from Albert’s mom. I wished I was able to prevent it, but I was busy confronting Victoria to see it coming. By the time we heard the third slap, it was too late. Not only did she got misunderstood but also missed the chance of seeing Albert for the last time. Because of what happened, she no longer trusts Victoria for anything, even the simplest tasks.”

“That was why she insisted on letting me hold onto her phone and not her family members?” Jacky asked.

Jun nodded. “It makes sense. I think Ricky Chang took a trip around the same time they released the phone?”

Jacky had to think about it for a bit before nodding. “Yeah, I think so. I don’t remember anymore, a lot of happened.”

Jun nodded again in understanding. He had to agree to that. “If they gave it to Victoria, she would have tossed it out. Or if they gave it to the maid or someone else in the household, Victoria would eventually have access to it and toss it out.”

“Is it that extreme?”

“You think I’m bitter, but it’s all possible. Even if Victoria thinks she means well, she only makes it worse. All of Jan’s last memories of Albert are in there. I know, you’re like there’s a thing called backup. But that was the last phone she used when Albert was alive. She kept replacing parts and actually went through tons of hoops to get those parts. It seems silly to you, but it’s her.” Jun stopped to look at Jacky since he’d been looking out at the water all the while recounting the story. “I am bitter, actually. But what Victoria did? It was unforgivable. It wasn’t her choice.”

“Mark mentioned something about keeping best appearances?”

Jun nodded. “I told you that virus traveled through Albert’s system faster than a normal person, right?”

Jacky nodded also.

“I’m guessing you saw Albert’s picture on Jan’s phone?”

“Chris actually have some of them too,” Jacky said. “Mark sent ‘em to him.”

Jun nodded again before continuing. “Victoria was actually jealous of Jan scoring a good-looking doctor with that look of hers.” Jun had on a bitter smile. “Albert, he was actually like one of those doctors you see in those daily drama or maybe those movies about a good doctor saving the world or whatever.”

“Too good to be true,” Jacky contributed.

Jun nodded. “Exactly. Let’s face it, half of the doctors nowadays are just becoming doctors for money. I’m not saying we don’t need money to live.”

“We all have bills to pay, right?” Jacky asked, not being able to help himself with that phrase.

It was like Jun understood the joke, so he smiled as well. “Yeah, that. Anyway, you get what I mean with how it is.”

“The original intent of becoming a doctor has been lost.”

“Yeah.” A brief pause and a sad sigh as Jun looked out toward the water again. “With that face of his? The virus completely destroyed it. Only the ones who stayed at the hospital during the last shift knew what Albert looked like before he died. So, that was why Victoria thought it was best to not let Jan see it. She rather they showed up later after everything was over and they would only need to help with taking care of the paperwork before the body is released. Even then, it was unlikely that she would see his face after it was destroyed.” A longer pause this time around. “The only reason why Jan was still able to keep a relationship with Albert’s family after things cooled down was because his parents overheard us arguing in the hallway. After I dragged Jan away from the scene, Mark and Seth helped me grab Victoria. We weren’t going to do anything to her. We just needed to talk. But like I said, it was really chaotic that day. We just did things irrationally. Jan finally recovered enough to grab Victoria and questioned her. That was when Victoria blurted out that phrase. I seriously don’t want to repeat it.”

“Mark already told me,” Jacky said.

“Yeah. Jan was going hysterical after hearing that from Victoria, so her words were really loud. That was what got all the parents’ attention. Yeah, Ricky Chang was also there. He came like briefly after we left the quarantine area and had the confrontation with Victoria. Guess who didn’t tell him about what happened either?”

“What did he do?”

“He tried to separate both of them.”

“Albert’s mom broke free from her husband at the same time and finally went over to hug Jan. She apologized profusely and even held Jan until she calmed down.” Jun turned to Jacky again. “I told Ricky Chang that if he didn’t get Victoria out of that room at that moment, I didn’t know what I was going to do. That worked. He left with Victoria and never even attended the funeral.”

“After that?”

“It took several months to clear out their place, but it finally happened. Jan didn’t leave the States until a year or so later. She needed to stay for Mark and Seth’s sake. Or so she tried to convince herself. She couldn’t let go, you know? Before she left, she also returned Albert’s ring to Albert’s parents.”

“Why?”

“It was his grandmother’s. She knew better than to keep it.”

A few minutes of silence passed by. Jacky didn’t know what to say after that. Jun didn’t mind since he was looking out at the water again.

“I know it sounds like some daily soap,” Jun said. “But that was what really happened.”

“I believe you,” Jacky said.

Jun turned to Jacky then. “Don’t pity her.”

Jacky had on his surprised look then.

“It’s written on your face.”

Jacky scratched his head, feeling foolish. “Ehlo said the same thing to me.”

“Jan hates it when people pity her.”

“I don’t think anyone would want that. But it’s hard not to sympathize with others.”

“Then sympathize, but don’t feel like you need to save her. It took me a long time, but I finally get it.”

Jacky stayed silent, knowing Jun wasn’t finished.

“Qiao taught me.”

Jacky had on his confused expression again.

“She was so much like Jan, how could I not see it, right? But you know that bubble most of us live in? I just couldn’t see it until I saw how Qiao reacted outside of all your reactions.” Another pause. “I’m really sorry for how I behaved that day at the graveyard. I know I shouldn’t but…”

“You used that excuse to break up with Novia?”

Jun nodded, his face full of shame.

“Why?”

“Because I don’t deserve her.”

“You can’t mean that.”

“I know that now, but it’s too late.”

“It’s never too late.”

“Who’s the one being unreasonably optimistic now?”

Jacky shrugged. “How about a bet?”

Jun had on his surprised look. “I didn’t know you like to gamble.”

Jacky shrugged again. “It’s Ehlo’s influence.”

“What do you want to bet on then?”

“If a miracle happens somewhere from now until Saturday, you have to go talk to Novia.”

“What?”

“You two do not have to get back together, obviously. It’s up to you and her. But you owe her an explanation and an apology.”

Jun reconsidered it for a few minutes before nodding.

Jacky made Jun shook on it before both guys got up at the same time and left.

*****

That Friday morning, Ehlo called for a little gathering at Uncle Ben’s after work. He actually sent out a message through their group text. Some of them couldn’t come. It was about Jacky’s birthday and that they better not disappoint Uncle Ben and Aunt June. It was one of those years that they didn’t want to plan a surprise, so they included Jacky in the group text as well. They already had quite a few surprises in the past year. They didn’t need anymore help.

As it were, Ehlo’s car was still in the shop. He wanted to go back home to change before the meeting because had another formal meeting earlier in the day. Jacky had dropped Ehlo off and would return later since he wanted to change out of his work clothes as well. After Ehlo showered and changed, he decided to do some cleaning before Jacky came back. It would help Angela. She was stressed out again because of Uncle Zhe’s dramatic episodes. She didn’t need to stress herself out more after she got home. Maybe he would plan something special tonight.

Just as Ehlo was done with the general cleaning around the house, he checked his phone for missed calls or messages.

“Typical,” Ehlo mumbled as he saw that Johnny and Bianca weren’t coming back in time, but they were going to send gifts along.

He wasn’t mad at Johnny nor Bianca. He knew they’d been waiting for this family vacation for a while now. Yet it had become a recurring theme over the past few years with their lack of presence in everyone else’s lives. He sort of missed it when they were living in such simpler times.

As he was exiting out of the messages, he tapped into his contact list. Going to the “Favorite” tab, he let his hand linger past Tang Feng’s name for a few seconds. It was a constant struggle with him. He was one of the ones among their group who hadn’t deleted Tang Feng off the contact list yet. It wasn’t like they were expected to. But they eventually had to let go one way or another. After hearing what Mark said about Jan, he realized he could learn from that. Letting go wasn’t because one no longer cared about that person who had already passed away. But perhaps, it was best to let go just to live the best of life as how that other person would have wanted? Ehlo didn’t have the answer. But perhaps, once again, it was best that he finally let go. For some reason, he tapped on the icon that caused it to go into dialing instead of clicking into the actual contact page so he could delete. Perhaps, there was a tiny speck of curiosity as to who had received Tang Feng’s number after it was disconnected and redistributed. His nerves were indeed on the edge as he waited. Time seemed to stop as he heard it going into the second ring. He was about to click the red icon to cancel it. However, someone finally picked up.

“Hello?” A familiar voice said into the phone.

That was when time actually froze for Ehlo. He thought it did before. But it just slowed down. Now, it actually stopped.

“Hello?” That familiar voice asked again.

“Jan?” Ehlo finally managed to get out. He felt like his tongue was folding into itself. It was a real struggle to try and utter even a word.

“Oh, hey,” Jan said, her voice more energetic than before. “You finally caved, right?”

“What?” Ehlo asked, seriously confused. And no one could blame him for what he was going through at the moment. Did he say something to her? What did he do? Did he bet his life on it?

“You said you wouldn’t want to add my number to your phone anyway. You caved, right?”

Ehlo was still confused. “Your number?”

“You called me, remember?”

That was when he somewhat regained himself. He had blacked out—somewhat. He didn’t know if one could black out while still conscious in a way. He didn’t know. He was trying to recall some matters. Okay, so during their conversation, Jan had exchanged numbers with them while they ate when they were all at East Shore Café last Sunday. Then? Yeah, he didn’t bother adding her because he claimed they weren’t really friends, just merely acquaintances. It was a joke. He just didn’t want to get his hopes up about Jacky. It was obvious if it did come down to it, he would support Jacky over Chris. But he knew if it came down to that, he could always ask the others for her number. Chris? He would understand Chris wouldn’t know Tang Feng’s old number. But the other two? They had no excuse not knowing.

“Well?” Jan demanded as Ehlo was still lost in thoughts.

“When did you get this number?” Ehlo finally managed. His voice was passive, not confrontational like before. He realized she had the right to be annoyed because he indeed did call her. It wasn’t her fault he was going through things.

“About three years ago when I moved back here,” Jan said. “Why?”

“Nothing,” Ehlo said.

“Are you all right?” Jan said, her voice genuinely concerned. “Stupid question, I know. But I don’t know how to ask you so it wouldn’t upset you. After all, we’re only acquaintances, right?”

Ehlo smiled, sensing the tease in her voice.

“If it’s about your friends,” Jan said, her voice unsure. Like she was trying to look for the correct words.

“It’s not that.”

“Then…?”

Ehlo licked his lips once before sighing out. He knew she couldn’t see him, but he knew he need to pull himself together in order to convince her. “This number…”

Jan waited. It was like she understood his hesitation. Or more like Ehlo wished she had understood it.

“This number…it was an old friend’s number. I…I still haven’t deleted it after all these years. But I’m just curious who got the number. So, I just dialed to check. I was about to hang up because of the silly idea, but you picked up.”

“It’s not silly,” Jan said.

“Thank you.”

Then he hung up. He knew it was rude. But he had a feeling she would understand. As soon as he hung up though, his phone range again.

“Hello?” Ehlo said.

“I’m on my way back,” Jacky said. “Sorry, traffic.”

“It’s okay.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah, I just need to tell you guys something later.”

“What?”

“Later, when we’re all present.”

“Ehlo…”

“It’s so I don’t have to repeat it.”

“Okay then.”

After hanging up this time, Ehlo returned to his contact list. He clicked into the entry that said “Feng Wang” (豐王) and started editing. He scrolled down to the note section where he had notes of the past nicknames he used for Tang Feng first, adding the “Feng Wang” nickname to it before clicking above that to put another note “Tang Feng’s past number.” As he was finished, he saved it before clicking into editing again. At the top where it still said “Feng Wang”, he started to type in new characters, which turned out to be “Barbaric Girl” (兇女). Yet he backspaced, like he was thinking of a better nickname, typing in “Weirdo” (怪人). He clicked saved before rubbing his nose. Would that be too over? He didn’t know. But it didn’t feel right either. He clicked to edit again. This time, he thought a little harder. As he heard his doorbell rang, he typed in real quick “Foolish Girl” (傻姑娘) before saving it.

© Saturday, November 7th, 2020

Posted: Tuesday, January 26th, 2021

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