“So, now that we’re all here,” Ehlo said about half an hour later at Uncle Ben and Aunt June’s.
“Please say it faster so we can all get home,” Eddie jumped in.
Ehlo glared at Eddie real quick before looking at the others in general. “Okay, who here added Jan’s number already?”
Jacky and Wallace exchanged a look before both raised their hands. Chris had already raised his since he thought that was a strange question. Because they were all there last Sunday. Was this a trick question?
“I think your memory’s beginning to fail,” Chris quipped. “Like, seriously, we were all there on Sunday. You refused to add her number, remember? Now you want to use this time to ask us? You know this is one of those questions you can just text us for, right? It’s not hard. And it saves time too.”
“You’ve been rambling for five minutes now,” Ehlo pointed out. “Talking about wasting time.”
“It was only two,” Eddie clarified.
Ehlo glared at Eddie again. “No one asked you.”
“All right, Huang,” Wallace interfered. “What is it this time? Don’t tell me you’re still mad that we didn’t include you. Chris might be long-winded but he’s right. You didn’t want to.”
“Hey!” Chris protested.
Wallace smiled. “You know I’m right.”
“No, you’re not,” Ehlo jumped back in again. “You’re only right about him being long-winded.”
“Hey, now,” Chris protested again. “I know you guys are joking, but it’s starting to hurt.”
“Starting?” Jacky asked, turning to Chris. “You have a lot to learn ahead of you. We’re all too numbed by his insults now that we no longer care what he says half of the time.”
“Numb is right,” Ehlo jumped in again before Chris could get a say. “Because you’re a bunch of assholes who could delete people out of your lives just like that.” Ehlo snapped his fingers for emphasis. “And I mean all of you.”
“What?” Wallace asked, giving Ehlo a troubled look. “Huang, you’re not making sense.” Then he realized what he just said. “You’re not making sense more than usual.”
Ehlo ignored Wallace’s swipe at him and scanned the others’ faces again. “You know why I didn’t need to add Jan’s number to my contact list? Because it turned out I already have it.”
Jacky and Wallace started laughing then.
“That’s really good,” Wallace said when they were done. Or mostly it was because Ehlo had given them a dirty look. “Was it when you hopped into your time machine to get it?”
“Hahaha,” Ehlo said sarcastically. “Why don’t you join the circus? Both of you, since you’re so good at your comedy act.”
“You tell me why then.”
Ehlo scanned their faces real quick before he spoke up again. “You all deleted Tang Feng’s number off your phones already, right?”
Jacky and Wallace exchanged a look at that time. Upon the mention of Tang Feng, Bryant had squeezed Joanne’s hand a little, just sending his silent support. Yes, they were all there for the meeting. Because Ehlo had threatened them. And he even promised it was going to be fast.
“This is relevant because?” Eddie asked, seeing that the others were somewhat affected by the question.
“Not relevant to you, but the rest of you,” Ehlo said, scanning their faces again.
“I didn’t,” Joanne said, suddenly looking down at the table.
Ehlo realized he had gone overboard. He shouldn’t have forgotten. But he was too busy throwing the others off the bus that he didn’t realize what he was doing. Well, in a way, he did. But he was just too overwhelmed by the discovery to consider all angles. Yet he knew he had to undo the damage. He focused on Joanne at that point. “You don’t have to delete him, just so you know. I have a great solution to all of this. And when I said about being assholes, I didn’t mean you, just them.”
“Hey,” Wallace interfered. “You’re going around in circles, Huang. Come on, it’s like 7 now.”
“No, it’s not, not even 6:30 yet.”
“The sun’s still going down.”
“If you haven’t interrupted me.”
Wallace gestured to Ehlo. “Please.”
Ehlo turned to Joanne again. “Qiao, change the phone entry to Jan’s name. It’ll help the healing process a little more.” Then he addressed the group as a whole after another threatening scan at them—although he did see some of them gasping and exchanging looks. “The rest of you who already deleted Tang Feng’s number do not have to do it.”
“What?” Wallace asked, although he had already somewhat put two and two together. He just needed Ehlo’s clarification.
“I wasn’t clear?”
“Tang Feng’s old number is now Jan’s number.”
“How did you know that?”
“You don’t believe me?”
The others all shook their heads.
“You’re you,” Jacky reminded Ehlo.
Ehlo scoffed. “Whatever, man.” Then he turned to Joanne. “Qiao, call Tang Feng’s number.”
“What?” Joanne asked, still trying to digest what Ehlo just said.
“Call the number,” Ehlo repeated. “I can’t do it because I already changed my entry, and they don’t trust me. You still have yours, so it would make sense that you call and prove my point.”
Joanne was still unsure, but she pulled out her phone anyway. As a respect for everyone, she had put her phone away after Ehlo called for attention, so she didn’t have it in her hands like some of them. She searched through her contact list as the others waited. She did it quite slowly. Somewhat because of nerves. Somewhat because of the staring from the others. She didn’t blame them. Ehlo’s demand was indeed bizarre. She wanted to trust Ehlo. She knew it was something he knew she was sensitive about. Yet she couldn’t shake the surreal feeling either.
“Put it on speaker,” Ehlo urged.
Joanne nodded and clicked the speaker function as they waited for the call to connect.
“Hello?” Jan’s voice came on around the third rang.
Everyone exchanged looks around then. Of course, some of them hadn’t met Jan yet. The rest of them were just looking toward the people who had met her already to see how they reacted.
“See?” Ehlo said then, gesturing toward the direction of Joanne’s phone. She had set it on the table while they waited for it to connect. So now it was in the spotlight for all to see that Tang Feng’s name was on the screen as Jan’s voice spoke up from the other side. “Proof.”
“Now you’re just being mean,” Jan said then, hearing Ehlo’s words. “Whose number is it now?”
“Um…” Joanne managed, still shocked of the development.
“It’s Qiao,” Ehlo said. “They didn’t believe me that our friend’s number is now yours. So I had to ask Qiao to call you for demonstration purposes.”
“Great experiment then,” Jan said, her sarcasm obvious.
“Exactly like him,” Wallace whispered to Jacky at that time.
Jacky had on his wrinkled expression. He was thinking. He did hear Wallace’s words, but he was still too distracted.
“Just put in Qiao for future references,” Ehlo was saying to Jan. “Thanks for participating in the experiment.”
“Which Qiao is it?” Jan asked. “Jacky’s sister or Sam’s wife?”
“Jacky’s sister,” Ehlo clarified.
“Don’t hang up yet!” Ehlo yelled out.
“No, you want to come to Jacky’s birthday next week?”
“That’s in the middle of the week.”
“We’re living on the edge.”
“Some of us have to work, you know.”
“Coming from you?”
“Yu Rong,” Jacky warned around that time, rubbing his forehead, trying to rub out the wrinkle.
“Don’t ‘Yu Rong’ me,” Ehlo said, his expression also threatening. He wasn’t backing down. He turned to the phone again. “Come on, what do you say, girl?”
“Where are we going then?” Jan asked. “Not one of those fancy restaurants where you have to dress up?”
“And let you use that as an excuse to turn us down?”
“Please say yes.”
“No, we’re not going there. So, you have no excuse to turn us down.”
“How many people are coming?”
“Um…” Ehlo paused. “Maybe sixteen.”
“I sure hope we’re not going to Jacky’s place. There’s no way in hell sixteen people are going to fit into his apartment.”
Everyone “ooooh” at that time, except for Ehlo. He was actually laughing. It was really funny. At least, to him.
“She just called you poor,” Ehlo said, still trying to restrain his laughter.
“Yeah, that’s just math,” Jan jumped in again, not caring that she had offended Jacky.
“No, we’re not going to Jacky’s. We’re going to Jacky’s uncle’s place. They have a house out in the countryside. You can fit the whole town in there.”
“Are you sure you’re an architect?”
Ehlo had on his stunned look. Like where was this going? “What?”
The others were laughing. Wallace had ended up choking and Yvonne had to hit him on the back.
“You know the population of our town?” Jan continued. “Give or take the estimation, it’s mathematically impossible to be able to fit the whole town’s population into a specific venue. Even the local stadium couldn’t do it. Is that countryside house inside Perkins’s tent?”
Some of them laughed.
“What?” Chris asked, wrinkling his face in confusion.
“It’s a Harry Potter reference,” Ehlo said, turning to Chris with an annoyed look. “Go read some books.”
“Just watch the movies,” Andy jumped in. “It’s there in the fourth movie and then the last two as well. I think, I don’t remember anymore, but it’s in there.”
“Not the point right now,” Ehlo jumped in. “Stop changing the subject.”
“Coming from you?” Chris and Andy blurted out at the same time.
“They’re right, you know,” Jan said then.
Ehlo could see Chris and Andy’s taunting look, so he sent them a death glare. “Anyway, do you want to come or not?”
“Okay, fine, I’ll be there, just send me the address before then.”
“Okay, I’ll do it after the meeting.”
Jan hung up after that.
Ehlo turned to the others again. “See? What did I tell you?”
Joanne had already retrieved her phone from the center of the table and was still holding onto it, like she was still shocked of the outcome.
“To think that you two didn’t recognize that number when she read it to you,” Ehlo chided, looking at Jacky and Wallace.
“Who in the world remember phone numbers anymore?” Wallace returned, not tongue-tied by Ehlo’s accusation.
Jacky nodded in guilt.
“Where were you then?” Andy jumped in. “Why didn’t recognize it when you read it off?”
“Restroom,” Ehlo answered.
Ehlo shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Kids.”
“All right, are we going to talk about the gathering or not?” Janine jumped in then. “The sun already set.”
Ehlo gave them another scan over. “Are all of the woman with the last name Chang this aggressive?”
“You want me to answer that for you?” Angela asked, giving Ehlo her famous glare.
Everyone else laughed again.
Ehlo put on his charming smile then. “Of course not, I was just joking around.”
“I don’t know about you guys, but I love her even more after this,” Chris said, his smile beyond bright. “Who could go against Ehlo like that? I mean, aside from Xiao Han.”
Ehlo sent Chris an annoyed look. “No one cares about your feelings, you still can’t go after her, Perv.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Andy jumped in. “There’s no need for that here, right?”
“Yeah, ask your girlfriend about that title when you have more time.”
They could see Achel lowering her head at that time. She had turned somewhat red by now.
“Do I sense a comeback of the title Mr. Pervert?” Wallace asked, his smile cunning.
Ehlo turned to Wallace with a threatening glare. “Shut up, man.”
Some of the people who didn’t know about the history of the nickname had exchanged looks among themselves. The others? They were laughing.
“Time,” Wallace said, tapping his watch for emphasis—after everyone had settled down again.
“Okay, okay,” Ehlo said, knowing he should get it going.
The rest of the hour was indeed used to plan for next week. They were indeed living on the edge. Because if anyone of their birthdays fell on the weekdays, they usually celebrated during the weekend before or the following weekend, depending on their schedules. However, this time, they wanted to make an exception. It would take some creative planning, but it wasn’t impossible.
When Jacky was driving home about half an hour later, he dialed Jun’s number when he was at a red light.
“Hey,” Jun said. “How’s it going?”
“I hope you got your speech ready because you’re going to have that talk with Novia soon.”
“What?” Jun asked in confusion.
“A miracle really did happen.”
Jacky told Jun what happened at the meeting. He only summarized some parts. Well, more like the relevant parts. Since Ehlo and some of the others had some side banters, Jacky felt it wasn’t relevant to the main story.
“If you don’t believe me, you can call Jan to verify,” Jacky said after he was done with his tale.
Jun was silent for several minutes. Jacky knew Jun needed time. He was still driving anyway; he didn’t want to push Jun on it.
“I believe you,” Jun said when Jacky parked into a parking spot.
Jacky smiled and hung up, knowing their conversation was over. He knew Jun wasn’t going to go back on his words.
© Saturday, November 7th, 2020
Posted: Wednesday, January 27th, 2021