On Saturday, Ehlo and Jacky went out again—together. They were desperate. Ehlo had taken up Chris’ tactic, but he tweaked it a bit. Instead of going out with Angela to show off their relationship. He went out with Jacky instead. They were sitting at Uncle Ben’s stall and eating as part of the scheme. Well, they were indeed hungry, but that had helped with the show as well. Chris also joined them. He didn’t care if there were rumors. Ehlo agreed to let him tag along because Chris had this charming vibe that could ward all reporters off—or so he claimed. Like he wanted to admit it, but that was true. Whenever Chris was caught, he was so good at pivoting that the reporters didn’t even know why they were there in the first place. What stretched the plan a bit was when Wallace showed up in front of them. He hadn’t cared about the rumors either. He’d successfully helped with steering the press away from the majority so far.

“Hey, Huo, you’re blocking the view,” Ehlo said, his mouth still having strings of noodles hanging out of it.

The other three guys were sitting at the usual square tables, but because it was just the three of them, they sat in separate chairs instead of sharing a long wooden chair like when they got together in larger groups.

Wallace gave Ehlo a look and sat down. “What are you talking about? Why are you out here? I thought…”

Ehlo smiled. “New plan.”

“This is Day Number 6, Huang,” Wallace said. “You’re already changing the plan?”

Ehlo smiled, no longer having noodles hanging out of his mouth. “Plans could always be tweaked.”

Wallace wasn’t amused. “You know I’ve been out here trying to divert attention from you guys, right?”

Ehlo turned serious again. “I know, but I realized Chris said something that actually made sense.”

“Uh, thanks?” Chris jumped in.

Ehlo ignored Chris, his attention still on Wallace. “Instead of me parading around with Angela, I thought I would be out here with Jacky, just like old times, you know. It could work. At least steer their story away from the other stories.”

Wallace turned to look at Jacky—who was sitting to his right. “You approve this?”

Jacky shrugged. “We’re testing the water now. If it doesn’t work, it couldn’t get any worse, could it?”

Wallace sighed out. “All right then.”

“What’s wrong?” Chris asked, eyeing Wallace cautiously.

Wallace shook his head. “I don’t know how long Yvonne could take it.”

“You mean the old articles?”

Wallace shook his head. “No, Sonia.”

Jacky looked up then. “Maybe have Qiao switch with her.”

Wallace shook his head again. “I don’t want Qiao and the others to be too involved.”

“We’ll figure something out soon.”

“When?” Ehlo jumped in at that time, turning to Jacky since he was sitting on Jacky’s right.

“Soon.”

“Tony told you something?”

Jacky shook his head. He took a quick scan around the group before taking out his phone. He texted them before going back to eating again. Ehlo gave him a strange look but still retrieved his phone to check the message: I hired a PI to dig up info about the anonymous source. He promised me a week.

“Act normal,” Jacky whispered.

Chris pretended to be punching games while Wallace texted Jacky back in their little group chat. It said: How safe?

“It’s a gamble I’m willing to take,” Jacky whispered again.

This time, the message came from Chris: I have a confession to make.

Jacky and Wallace turned to look at Chris after reading the message. Jacky had checked his phone under the table so it wouldn’t be too suspicious with them holding phones at the same time. Since Ehlo already put his phone away, he was confused of their stares, but decided to check later.

Chris didn’t react, though, he obviously saw their reaction. His next message was longer: I was actually also around when Ehlo and Janine were talking. Margaret too. But I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to upset Ehlo if he knew we overheard his conversation. They were facing the streets at that time, so they didn’t see us come out. Eddie was out of sight at that point, so he was only able to see Ehlo and Janine, but not us.

Jacky and Wallace turned to look at Ehlo this time after having finished reading the long message. Wallace was a faster reader, so he looked at Ehlo first and then Jacky. Ehlo was once again confused, but he still didn’t check his messages.

Wallace typed the response: So, you were in the blind spot? If not, you wouldn’t be able to stay long. Did you see any reporters around? Or were you able to see anything? What about Margaret?

Chris’ response: I already asked Margaret. She didn’t see anything. She wasn’t looking out at the streets, but mostly focused on Ehlo and Janine. I think I saw a flicker of light at one point but wasn’t too sure if my eyes were playing tricks on me, so I didn’t say anything when we returned to the party that night.

Jacky: Where? Map?

 Chris took longer to respond this time, but he was resourceful. He had actually snapped a picture of the map of the mansion when Tony showed them the other day. He just used some editing tool on his phone to mark the exact spot of where he and Margaret were and the spot where he saw the flicker of light. He also labeled it.

Jacky: Thanks. I’ll send it along to my PI to have him check it out.

Chris smiled and put his phone away at that time. Just as Wallace was about to put away his phone, he heard someone coming up behind them. He turned in time to see a guy in leather jackets stopping in front of their table.

“James?” Ehlo said, still remembering to keep his voce low. “What are you doing here?”

Jacky had wrinkled his face upon seeing James. It wasn’t like he didn’t want to see James. But he just didn’t expect to see James there, especially recently. Chris had looked confused but waited silently for the others to disclose of this person’s identity.

“I want to see Sonia,” James said.

Ehlo looked around the area real quick before looking at James again. “It might not be a good time right now, you know. Especially with the news cycle and all.”

“I don’t care, I just want to make sure she’s all right.”

“She’s fine for now. We just need to a few more weeks to clear this away.”

“A few weeks?”

“Sit down, you’re drawing attention,” Chris whispered, his eyes searching the area.

After saying that, he moved aside so James could sit to his right. “Hi, I’m Chris.”

“I know who you are,” James said.

“Oh?”

“I read the newspapers.”

“So, all caught up on the latest gossips, I guess?” Ehlo joked.

James had on the annoyed look. “You’re not even taking this seriously.”

Ehlo was offended, but he knew he couldn’t react. They were out in public after all. He did an internal sigh before speaking up again. “Look, James, I know you must be upset, we all are. But right now, we’re playing the long game. And if you want to take it out on anyone, we weren’t the ones who were responsible for it, you know.”

“I’ll take you to see her,” Jacky said suddenly.

That was when Ehlo reacted. He turned to Jacky and grabbed Jacky’s arm. “Are you crazy?”

“He’s not going to give up until he sees her. Besides, we have a small window tonight.”

Ehlo still looked doubtful. “Okay, do whatever you want. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

They sat in silence for a while. The others somehow managed to convince James to order something and played along with their act. They filled him in a little more with what happened. Just a little because they still needed to keep things under the radar at the moment. They only told James what was relevant regarding Sonia.

*****

That night, like promised, they took James to see Sonia at Johnny and Bianca’s place. She had been staying in the guest room. Johnny had been on one of his photoshoot trips again, so Bianca was home with Suzie. It was convenient for Sonia to hide there since there wasn’t much to talk about—if the paparazzi found out. Also, Yvonne was there as well, so Bianca had additional backup just in case they were discovered.

When they arrived, Yvonne let them in. Bianca was putting Suzie to bed at the moment and wasn’t around. Yvonne did a quick scan of the perimeter before locking the door. She took them to the guest room where Sonia was staying. They saw that Sonia was wrapped in a thick bathrobe. It was like she was cold, but it didn’t seem so. She seemed surprised to see James there and didn’t know what to say so they stared at each other in silence.

“I’m going to walk around a bit,” Ehlo said as they stopped at the door.

“Me too,” Chris followed.

“I need to talk to Yvonne about something,” Wallace said, gesturing toward Yvonne.

Yvonne nodded and all four of them leave together.

“I’m going to be around this area, just holler if you need me,” Jacky said as he stationed himself by a small table a little bit down the hall from Sonia’s room.

The others two muttered a “thanks” before James entered the room and sat at a chair by Sonia’s bed.

“I’m sorry I didn’t call first,” James said, gesturing his hand in the general direction. “It was just that…I knew I needed to see you, to make sure you’re all right.”

“It’s okay,” Sonia said, hugging her bathrobe closer. For some reason, she didn’t know what else to say. It was like she feared judgment from him.

“I know I have no right to ask you, but was what they wrote about true?”

Sonia had to think about that one a little before answering. “Depending on what you read.”

“About you and that young master of Da Fa.”

Sonia nodded.

“Does he treat you well?”

Sonia nodded again.

James nodded as well, his smile finally making its appearance. “Then I’m glad. I hope that the others are right that this news cycle will end soon, so you two can continue with your lives.”

James got up then.

“James,” Sonia finally called out.

He turned back to see her tears flowing. Alarmed, he returned to her side yet stopped within a foot of her, not daring to go past the barrier. “Sonia, I…”

Sonia sniffed and tried to wipe her tears away before speaking up. “I thought you were going to scold me for getting myself into this mess. That was why I didn’t know what to say.”

James shook his head. “I would never scold you. What right do I have to scold you?” He paused to put on a light smile. “Besides, as a husband, I failed you miserably, what high road would I have as an excuse?”

Sonia shook her head. “It was my fault too. We just couldn’t go back to the way we were before it happened. I just expected too much of you. And it was also wrong of me to even expect us to be who we were at the time we first met.”

James shook his head, turning serious again. “Don’t ever say that. It wasn’t your fault. We both wanted to pick it up where we left off and continued on with our lives, but we didn’t realize it wasn’t that simple.”

Sonia, upon hearing James said that, closed the distance between them and hugged him. James returned the hug and patted her shoulders as she cried.

“You were the best husband anyone could ask for,” Sonia said after a while. “It was just that I was too stubborn.”

“Thank Jacky,” He said, attempting to joke. “What he said to me that day we left town; I’d always kept it at heart.”

And that was when Sonia shifted. James realized the change in her and let go, their personal space restored. Based on her expression, James turned around to find that someone was standing in front of the door. Jacky was also there but both guys were silent.

“I…we…” Sonia rushed to explain.

“James just came to see Sonia and made sure she was all right,” Jacky said, attempting to disperse the somewhat awkward atmosphere. “I’m sure, if you were here, you would have known.”

Jacky didn’t mean for it to come out that way. But the way CW looked at Sonia and James, an accusation that made Sonia felt guilty was what made him snapped.

James, thanks to Jacky’s prompt, recovered and stepped forward. “Yes, that’s right. I’m going to leave now since everyone seems to have everything under control.”

“I’ll walk you out,” Jacky said, gesturing toward the side of the hallway that led back to the main entrance.

James nodded and smiled. “Thanks.”

They left CW there to sort it out with Sonia. Jacky had sent CW a warning look before leading James out.

“Nice job guarding the door,” Jacky said to Ehlo and Chris as he and James were by the door again.

“What?” Ehlo asked.

“Chris walked right walked right by you guys.”

Ehlo wrinkled his face and looked at Chris standing in front of him. Then he realized what Jacky meant. “Oh…CW’s here?”

Jacky shook his head in disbelief before scanning the room for Wallace and Yvonne.

“We were in Suzie’s room, helping Bianca,” Chris defended his actions. “Little Suzie refuses to go to sleep so we had to sing her a song.”

Jacky still felt annoyed, but he knew he shouldn’t take it out on them. Luckily, Wallace and Yvonne came back around then.

“Ready to go?” Wallace asked when he saw James by the door with the other three.

James nodded. “It’s just that…”

“What?”

“Sonia’s safe with him?”

Ehlo wrinkled his face. “What do you mean?”

“CW walked in and saw James talking to Sonia,” Jacky said, knowing he had to give them some sort of context.

“What did he do?”

“He had one of those looks.”

Ehlo looked confused. “What look?”

“Hostile.”

Ehlo seemed to finally get it. “Oh…you know what?” He turned to James then. “With us here, we’ll make sure Sonia is safe.”

James nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“I shouldn’t have come. Now, it seems like I caused even more complications for Sonia.”

Ehlo scoffed. “Come on, man. I’m pretty sure he has plenty of girlfriends in the past with his young master attitude. If he can’t handle that Sonia has a past too, I’ll break both his arms and stuff it down his throat.”

“Like how it happened with Bryant?” Wallace reminded Ehlo.

Ehlo turned to glare at Wallace. “Whose sides are you on?”

Wallace had his hands up in defense then. “Hey, I’m just saying.”

“All right already,” Yvonne interfered. “If you stand here any longer, no one is able to sleep tonight.”

They knew Yvonne was right, so they didn’t say anything else. James nodded at the others and thanked them again before leaving with Jacky. Ehlo and Chris decided to stay behind to make sure there weren’t any complications with CW and Sonia, considering how they did promise to look after Sonia. Fortunately, nothing happened, and CW left after a little talk with Sonia. They both seemed to be in better moods, so the others didn’t ask. Ehlo and Chris made sure Sonia was really fine before heading out as well.

*****

“I told you we would get caught,” Ehlo said Monday morning when he slammed the latest gossip magazine down at the table.

They were at Cynthia’s shop again and Cynthia had been opening like normal, considering how Wallace had threatened to sue if the paparazzi still blocked his shop and preventing business from flowing through. It was too big of a gamble for their so-called publishers, so they backed down. They were done hiding—or so Ehlo had declared since Saturday night when they left Johnny and Bianca’s place.

Wallace picked up the magazine as Ehlo went to pour himself some coffee.

“Mystery man coming into contact with Ehlo Huang and Jacky Chu turned out to be Sonia Sui’s ex-husband,” Andy read the headline over Wallace’s shoulder.

“Here’s another one,” Joanne said, walking in at that time. “Sonia Sui upgrading her poor husband for the young master of Da Fa.”

“They were talking about the competition between Jacky and Chris last week though,” Cynthia said, wrinkling her face in confusion.

“Ah, so naïve,” Ehlo teased as he sat down with his coffee. “Miss Wang, you still think they care about keeping the stories straight? Or quality reporting in the first place? If they did, they wouldn’t be covering this nonsense.”

“Lucky we shook them off before we got to Bianca’s,” Wallace said, handing the magazine to Andy. “If not, there will be plenty of materials for the next three days.”

“What happened?” Cynthia asked, hugging her coffee mug.

“CW came while James and Sonia were talking,” Ehlo said. “It got a tad…awkward. I think Jacky did a pretty good job in not pulverizing CW.”

Cynthia gasped then. “What happened?”

Wallace shook his head. “He’s exaggerating.”

Cynthia shook her head at Ehlo. “You scared me.”

“Like I’m wrong,” Ehlo said. “The way it was, I swear if he were so brave, he would have opened his own press con and clarified the matter already, like declare Sonia’s official status, so she wouldn’t have to hide. He still dared to act jealous?”

“I thought you said Tony told them to hide.”

Ehlo scoffed. “It’s a suggestion. It’s the general guideline to hide from paparazzi. He didn’t have to follow through, you know? But I guess what they say is true.”

“What?”

“Paparazzi is usually the ultimate test for high-profile couples. If you can’t pass it, you’re done.”

Cynthia wrinkled her face again. “Is it that extreme? I meant I don’t understand the news cycle, even after all these years, but how can you blame Chris for not reacting in the right way? You said it many times before, they’re good at twisting things.”

Ehlo shook his head. “He’s powerful, unlike some of us, he could just exude his power and it could shut everyone up. They might not be happy about it and could continue to chase the gossips, but step forward and use some power on them. Some would stop, especially the smaller tabloids.”

“Why aren’t you doing the same?”

Ehlo smiled. “It’s a different matter. And I’m not dodging. Angela and I were both accused of infidelity and also a lot of things that are tangled with our families. Besides, we already discussed it over thoroughly and decided it was best not to hand Angela to the dogs.”

“Don’t you think you’re too harsh on Chris? I don’t mean to go back and forth, but he’s the fourth son after all, he doesn’t seem to have as much power as his brothers.”

Ehlo shook his head. “Actually, yes and no. You’re right that he’s the fourth son and he broke out of the family business, so he doesn’t enough power in that sense. However, his name alone, being a son of Da Fa’s is a huge advantage. They moved to third spot after the Zhaos got kicked out of the game. They could buy all those tabloids and turn ‘em into tofu shops by tomorrow if they want to.”

Cynthia laughed at Ehlo’s comparison. When they settled down, Cynthia spoke up again.

“But it’s not his decision to make, you know. If he sues them or use some kind of power to pressure them, wouldn’t it affect his father’s company?”

Ehlo shrugged. “So? You’re right, but still same answer.”

“Come on, Ehlo, be reasonable.”

Ehlo smiled. “Who are you talking to? I’m the pettiest of them all.”

Cynthia shook her head and smiled. “If it were you, would you do something like that then?”

Ehlo nodded. “Sure. And you know what, Tian Cheng’s number 8 right now, but Jacky’s doing more than young master number 3 over there.”

“He’s just sore that he placed the wrong bet,” Wallace said, walking back into the breakroom at that time. He’d been outside looking for something.

Cynthia turned to Wallace. “What bet?”

“He thought CW wouldn’t be so cowardly, he was wrong.”

Cynthia smiled, a teasing one. “You used to call Jacky a coward all the time, you know.”

Ehlo shrugged. “So, he was a coward in the past, but when it came to protecting Sonia, he didn’t back down.”

“With this whole mess, do you think they’re going to get back together?”

Ehlo and Wallace exchanged a look then. They looked like they were thinking about it.

“No,” Wallace answered.

Cynthia had on her worried look. “How could you be so sure?” She directed her attention on Ehlo before saying, “I thought you said paparazzi is the ultimate test for high-profile couples.”

“You want them to get back together?” Ehlo asked.

“The way you’ve been going on, I thought you support them.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“You didn’t either.”

Ehlo smiled. “Fair enough.”

“Well?”

“I agree with Huo, that they won’t get back together.”

“Why not?”

“First, Jacky and Sonia have never been a high-profile couple. Second, the spark is gone.”

“Spark?”

“The way they looked at each other and the way they interacted.”

“Chemistry?”

Ehlo nodded. “Your turn, Miss Wang.”

Cynthia had been holding her coffee mug in midair, but now she placed it down on the table. “I don’t know.”

“Oh, come on, what kind of answer is that?”

“I wasn’t around when they were together. So, it’s hard to say.”

Ehlo had on his sly smile then. “Still Team Sophia, right?”

Cynthia had on her embarrassed smile. “You just have to bring it up, huh?”

Ehlo’s sly look turned off. His smile was a normal one now. He shrugged. “Nothing to be embarrassed about. I was a proud supporter of that movement—until it got shut down.”

Joanne had been sitting silently between Ehlo and Cynthia after she brought in the other magazine. She didn’t feel like contributing before regarding CW, but now that they mentioned Sophia, she felt a lump in her throat. It was like she never had a proper goodbye for Sophia and was now having a delayed reaction, even if it had been years now.

“You all right?” Cynthia asked then, seeing Joanne’s eyes red.

Ehlo and Wallace had been phasing out on them after Ehlo’s last comment, but now they turned to Joanne. She got up upon seeing their staring and turned her back to them, trying to rub her eyes. Cynthia got up also and patted her shoulder.

“Nothing,” Joanne said, her voice hoarse. “Don’t worry about me.”

Ehlo and Wallace exchanged a look again. They were still sitting yet was waiting for her to recover, knowing they shouldn’t say anything. Yet, seeing her like that, they couldn’t just let it be, right?

“I think we’re all more invested in Sophia than Jacky, you know,” Ehlo said then.

Joanne turned to Ehlo. “What are you saying?”

“She was a great friend to all of us and made a difference in our lives, but she wasn’t meant to stay,” Wallace said.

“She was the closest to an older sister to me,” Joanne admitted, sitting down again. “If only I have treated her better.”

Cynthia returned to her seat as well, patting Joanne on the shoulder. “It’s not you, Qiao. Some of us, weren’t meant to stay. I know it’s cliché, but it’s life.”

Joanne nodded. “I know, but I want so much for things to work out.” As she was saying that, her tears flowed again, she had to cover her mouth to muffle her sobs. “Why can’t things work out for once?”

“Someone hug her already,” Ehlo blurted out, having had enough. Even he wanted to cry. In fact, he was feeling a lump forming in his throat.

“I’m all right,” Joanne said after a while. She got up again and left the room.

“Qiao!” Cynthia called out and chased after Joanne.

Ehlo and Wallace got up at the same time and went outside to check as well. They weren’t running like Cynthia, but their pace was as rapid. Then they saw it. Even Cynthia had stopped at the shop’s entrance.

What happened? As it were, Joanne—in her haste—had run straight toward the front door, hoping to escape. Yet because of her vision being blurred, she didn’t really see what was ahead. She had run smack into Jacky. He was taken aback, but he soon pulled her into a hug and comforted her as she cried. What was more, at the same moment, Bryant was seen across the street in front of Novia’s shop, so he spotted them. That was also when Cynthia caught up with Joanne and witnessed Jacky pulling her into a hug. Ehlo and Wallace arrived seconds later and also halted behind Cynthia. And what completed the scene was a flash seconds later.

“Aw, damn it,” Ehlo exclaimed as soon as he saw the flash.

Jacky knew what was going on, but he shook his head at Ehlo. The world didn’t matter anymore. They didn’t live with him nor his friends. He did.

*****

That afternoon, Jacky and Joanne’s picture became a cover for a side tabloid. The headline? Jacky Chu seen with a mystery girl, could this be his new beauty?

“So…” Chris said, gesturing in the general direction.

They were at Uncle Ben’s noodles stall again. Only Ehlo and Wallace were there with him this time, no Jacky. They were sitting at the same table and same spots as last time.

“I don’t know, man, I don’t know,” Ehlo said, checking his phone. Then he turned to Chris. “You were spying on me and Janine?”

Chris gave Ehlo a weird look. “You haven’t checked your messages?”

Ehlo shook his head. “I turned off my phone the whole weekend. It added back ten years to my life.”

Chris smiled. “I guess only you can do that.”

They stayed silent as Ehlo checked his messages.

“You think Qiao’s okay?” Chris asked about five minutes later.

“No,” Ehlo and Wallace replied at the same time. Ehlo was still checking his messages.

“That bad, huh?”

Ehlo and Wallace nodded this time.

“What was Sophia like?”

That was when Ehlo stopped checking messages and exchanged a look with Wallace.

“She’s really kind,” Wallace said.

“Maybe that’s why she can’t survive us,” Ehlo said, sighing out.

“It’s too bad I didn’t get to meet her,” Chris said.

“Perhaps,” Ehlo said, then paused a little. “It’s better that way.”

And they fell back into silence again as Ehlo went back to checking his messages.

*****

By Friday, they were very much numbed by the news cycle’s ridiculous headlines that they didn’t bother buying magazines anymore. It was really contributing to the profits of those tabloids anyway.

“Where are we going today?” Ehlo asked. “We can’t keep going to Uncle Ben’s. I mean, I love the man, but seriously…”

“I don’t know,” Jacky said, checking his messages. “You pick.”

“Great,” Ehlo said.

They were in Ehlo’s car and were heading to some unknown location. Wallace was in the backseat.

“At this rate…” Ehlo continued.

Jacky’s cell phone rang at that time, so that was why Ehlo had stopped. He looked at Jacky real quick before turning back to the traffic ahead. They were actually at a red light, so he wasn’t careless with his driving.

“Hello,” Jacky said into the phone.

“I got it all, but you’re not going to like it,” The person on the other side said.

“As long as you got it.”

“I’m going to send it to you now.”

“All right.”

“I usually don’t say much, you know how our relationship is all these years. You send me the job and pay half, I complete the job and receive the other half.”

“You know money’s not an issue here, Will.”

“I didn’t say it was an issue. I just want to give you a little advice”

“What?”

“The information I’m sending you, let it go.”

Jacky wrinkled his face. “What?”

“They’re very powerful, despite their lack of response to the situation right now. They could make you disappear without a trace, even if your family business is in the top ten right now. That was what they did to the Zhao family. It won’t be long before they go after the others to reach the top. They won’t hesitate to remove a threat.”

“Will…”

“I have to go, I can’t talk anymore. But please listen to me, for your own good.”

After that, Will hung up. Jacky looked at his phone, still confused.

“What?” Ehlo asked, feeling impatient—but he still managed to keep his eyes on the traffic ahead.

“Will said that he finished his investigation already,” Jacky replied. “He’s going to send over the information we need. But…”

“What?”

“He also advised me to drop it.”

Ehlo finally managed to get away from the traffic and turned toward a side street. He parked safely before turning to Jacky. “What? Is he crazy?”

Jacky had on his intense expression. “I don’t know. But all these years I’ve known him, he has never shown fear before.”

Ehlo had exchanged a look with Wallace. “What’s going on? Did he run into some trouble? Like got threatened or anything like that?”

Jacky shook his head. “He didn’t say. He just warned me to be careful.”

At that time, Jacky heard a chiming sound, so he checked his message. It was actually some instructions to connect to a secure file sharing host. It took him about ten minutes before he was able to complete all the steps. Ehlo was tapping his dashboard and looking around the streets, feeling self-conscious for some reason.

“Here it is,” Jacky said, opening up an image file.

At that time, Ehlo had leaned over toward Jacky’s phone as Jacky held it out to share the screen. Even Wallace had leaned forward to get a better view.

“Who is that?” Ehlo asked, wrinkling his face. “She looks familiar.”

Jacky exited the photo viewing app before turning back to the other files in the folder Will sent. He pressed into the file that said “Profile” and began reading. Within seconds, their faces changed one by one. Ehlo and Wallace both leaned back in their seats. Ehlo was rubbing his forehead again.

“What to do…what to do…” Ehlo mumbled, repeating the phrase several more times.

Jacky had also sat back in his seat properly. They hadn’t finished reading, but the first line had said enough. They needed time to recover first.

“What are we going to do?” Ehlo asked again, turning to look at the other two, having removed his hand from his face already.

“Go to Tony?” Wallace asked. “Maybe he can advise us.”

Jacky nodded, agreeing. “That’s right. I did promise him I would tell him when I get the result.”

Ehlo got out of the car at that time.

“Huang, what are you doing?” Wallace asked, looking at Ehlo.

“You drive, I need a minute,” Ehlo answered and opened the backseat car door.

Wallace had on his puzzled look but got out of the car to circle around to the driver’s seat anyway.

*****

They arrived at Tony’s mansion an hour later. It would have been half an hour, but they had to double back and split up. Ehlo went to get Angela while Jacky and Wallace went to get Sonia and Yvonne. They had mutually agreed to include their spouses because it was only right. Sonia? They convinced her to come along since Yvonne was also going. They didn’t really disclose much to the other three because they needed to keep it under wraps right now, but they promised it would come out at the meeting.

Only Tony was there when they showed up, no Esther. Esther was probably still at work like most of the others. Tony gave them a look when he opened the door.

“What’s going on?” Tony asked, seeing all six of them there—and in broad daylight too. Of the six, three faces reflected the same troubled look.

“Close the door first,” Wallace said.

Tony still had on his puzzled look but closed and locked the door before joining them in the living room. When the other six got there, they realized Ambrose was also there.

“Hey, guys,” Ambrose greeted them. “Long time.”

Not really, since they were at the same party about two weeks ago. However, none of the six cared to correct Ambrose. They sat down and waited for Tony to sit down as well.

“This is serious,” Tony noted. “All three of you are displaying the same expression.”

Ehlo nodded for all three of them.

Tony exchanged a look with Ambrose before speaking up. “What is this about?”

“We know who was responsible for the anonymous tip,” Jacky said, licking his lips.

“Who?”

Ehlo, Jacky, and Wallace could see the same worried expressions on the faces of Angela, Sonia, and Yvonne yet didn’t say anything. They waited as Jacky took out his cell phone at that time and unlocked it. He got up and made his way toward Tony. Tony met him halfway, considering how Tony detected his intense expression.

Tony had on a doubtful look as he saw the picture. He looked at Jacky’s face again. “Auntie Wang?”

The female population exchanged looks among themselves yet didn’t say anything. They were probably processing.  

Jacky nodded. “We didn’t know at first, or at least didn’t realize who it was although Ehlo said that she looked familiar. But according to the profile, it was indeed her.”

Tony began to pace, threading his fair with his fingers, trying to think. Jacky returned to his seat as they all waited for Tony.

“Of course, how could I be so careless?” Tony finally said after possibly two minutes later.

“What?” Ehlo asked, feeling his impatience creeping up. “So, you knew all along?”

“No, of course not,” Tony said, having stopped his pacing already. He turned to look at Ehlo. “I just meant I should have seen it coming.”

“What is this about?” Wallace asked. “Are you saying she acted on her own and not Da Fa’s decision?”

Tony sat down in his spot again. “Remember I told you how I had to talk to my mom regarding my plans before we move forward with the actual party?”

The others nodded.

“Well, since the party was supposed to be for Chris after all, we had to include her in the meeting, right?”

The others nodded again, wondering when Tony was getting to the point. They knew all of that since Tony came up with the idea. They had to in order to help him and Esther set up the party in the first place. Although impatient, they waited for Tony to continue.

“She probably used the information we told her that night to contact the tabloids.”

“So…?” Wallace prompted, exchanging a look with Ehlo and Jacky.

“Remember how I told you guys she wanted to use this opportunity for Chris to break into the business world? Or at least be known by others. He has always been overshadowed by his brothers, mostly because he hasn’t been involved in the family business. They know he’s there, but no one really pays attention.”

All three went back to nodding, still waiting for Tony to arrive at the point.

“She probably thought by disclosing the location, it could somehow create a sensation for Chris.”

“So, you think she’s acting on her own?” Ehlo asked, exchanging looks with the five other people that came with him—and not just with Jacky and Wallace like previously.

It was Tony’s turn to look confused. He finally noticed them exchanging looks. “What do you mean?”

Jacky sighed out, tapping on the cell phone in his hands. “Before Will sent me the files, he warned me about dropping the issue. He only sent it to me because that was our deal.”

Tony wrinkled his face, exchanging a look with Ambrose. “What?”

“Will Chung, right?” Ambrose jumped in.

Only Jacky was the one nodding this time.

Ambrose nodded in a knowing manner. “Will has a reputation, he’s not just going to spew out a bunch nonsense just because. So, whatever he believes is happening behind the scenes, it’s not just based on gossips.”

“If he thinks Da Fa might be involved in some way and not just a coincidence, this is huge, right?” Ehlo asked, staring between Ambrose and Tony.

Tony shook his head. “I still don’t think Da Fa is involved, at least not initially. Auntie Wang might have been acting on her own. If Da Fa was involved, it wouldn’t have turned into such a mess.”

Ambrose nodded, pointing toward Tony. “He’s right. If Da Fa had been involved, they would have calculated all the possibilities before dropping these tips on the tabloids. What’s more, if they want to use these methods to destroy their competitions, they would have made sure Chris wouldn’t be there. Even if Chris isn’t involved in the family business, he’s family after all. Old Fox Wang wouldn’t sacrifice his own son like that. Not to mention, they’re also affected by the rumors right now.”

“So, if you’re both right,” Ehlo said. “Then Chris’ mom acted on her own, which means…we don’t have worry about being targets? That is if what Will says is true about Da Fa’s capabilities.”

Tony nodded. “But…the upside is, Da Fa would also try to extinguish the rumors out as soon as possible. We’re in Week 2, they’re going to make a move soon.”

“What does this mean for us then?” Ehlo asked.

“So, let me get this straight,” Angela finally spoke up. “This guy, Will, who is Jacky’s PI tells you that Da Fa, Chris’ family business, is crooked and we’re going to just go with it? No questions?”

“Actually, Will has a great reputation,” Yvonne said, her face troubled. “I’m not saying he won’t miss, but he’s not the type to gossip. Everyone who’s within the law enforcement knows who he is and how effective he is. He never messes around. That’s why he’s untouchable after all these years. He’s accurate but also very careful in what he does.”

“So, what you’re all saying is, we can’t mess with Da Fa regardless of who was responsible for the anonymous tip in the first place?”

Ambrose nodded then. “I know this sounds like we’re shooting some cliché gangster movie, but Da Fa is the real deal, not happy ending movie either. We can’t go after them unless we’re 100% sure we won’t miss. Or the backlash won’t be pretty.”

“This is what you have to deal with if you’re going to marry into that family,” Ehlo joked, turning to Sonia with a crooked smile.

Angela poke Ehlo in the sides then. “We’re talking about serious stuff here.”

Ehlo shrugged. “I’m just saying.”

Sonia had been quiet since the beginning and her expression had turned even more worried as she listened to all parties’ contributions of their knowledge. She knew Ehlo was trying to make light of the situation, but she couldn’t help wondering what she’d gotten herself into.

“Sonia,” Jacky spoke up then.

Sonia turned to look at him as he walked toward her and sat down at a chair next to her.

“I know we shouldn’t drop this one on you like that,” He paused to look at Angela and Yvonne as well before turning his attention back on Sonia. “I know we shouldn’t drop it on you three like that, but we all agreed when we found out that it was best that we let you three know at the same time as Tony.”

“Based on his past records of concealing things, he’s made progress,” Ehlo said, his smile once again meant to make light of the situation.

“Thanks for telling us,” Sonia said. “I appreciate it.” She sighed out before continuing. “It seems like I got you guys into a tight spot. And the truth is…” She had looked down at an unknown object, but now she looked up at all of them again. “I don’t know how to repay all the losses incurred to everyone for either your business losses or personal suffering. Now, it’s going toward another level. Your lives might be in danger too, if it’s true. And I…”

Angela walked toward Sonia then, sitting on the chair on her left side. She patted Sonia on the shoulder since Sonia’s tears had started falling. “Sonia, it’s not your fault. You didn’t know.”

“I’m sorry,” Sonia said, trying to recollect herself. “I didn’t mean to cry. I know tears are blackmail. But I just…”

“You don’t need to apologize for what you’re feeling,” Yvonne spoke up then, walking over to them as well. “Look, let’s be brutally honest. I don’t really like you that much, Sonia. It’s not because of what happened years ago either, but it’s more like we don’t really have common grounds much aside from our mutual friends. But I’m going to tell you something, it’s not your fault that you’ve stumbled into this. You’re living your life and moving on. Who knew that would happen? It’s annoying with what happened, but don’t you ever dare blame yourself for this, okay?”

Sonia attempted to wipe her tears away and nodded. “Thanks, Yvonne.”

Yvonne turned around and face the others as well. “You know what? You all forgot one important thing since you started this discussion.”

“What?” Tony asked.

“Include Chris.”

“What?” Ehlo asked. “We’re so not including him. What if it gets out? Wouldn’t it endanger Will if what he says is true?”

“No one said we’re going to disclose our sources. Also, this is a good time for a test.”

“You forgot one important thing though,” Ambrose spoke up then.

Yvonne turned to him. “What?”

“No one has that much guts to reveal anyone having anything to do with Da Fa. It would be easy to trace it if Chris tells even one member of his family about it.”

“That’s a gamble we have to take.”

“We’re going to gamble with people’s lives now?” Ehlo asked. He liked Yvonne, but he thought that was beyond rogue.

Yvonne ignored Ehlo’s comment and kept her focus on Ambrose. “Don’t tell me the powerful Ambrose Hsu do not have a solution for this one.”

Ambrose smiled. “Challenge accepted; I’ll see what I can do.”

Yvonne smiled and returned her attention to the others. “Here’s what we do next.”

“What’s Ambrose going to do?” Ehlo interrupted Yvonne.

“Get Will some protection, probably,” Wallace clarified for Ehlo’s sake.

Ehlo wrinkled his face yet he saw Ambrose nodded to confirm Wallace’s words. “Okay then.”

Yvonne knew Ehlo didn’t have any more problems—for now, so she continued. “We test Chris, see if he’s worthy of Sonia. If he chooses his family, I think we could cut our losses and find our own solution to this matter. If he passes the test, we include him in the future operations.”

“You make it like we’re in some special forces or something,” Ehlo commented, shaking his head.

“Isn’t it a bit extreme to make him choose like that?” Angela asked, wrinkling her face. “I mean I agree with testing him, but…”

“We’re not telling him to sever ties with them,” Wallace said. “We’re just going to test him to see if he chooses Sonia or his family in this situation. If he doesn’t protect his wife now, what makes you think is going to happen in the future?”

Angela nodded in understanding. “You’re right.”

“So, we’re doing this?” Ehlo asked, looking at all parties in the room.

“How are we going to test him, though?” Tony asked, wondering what the others came up with—and if they were going to involve him in this grand scheme.

“You’re so involved,” Ehlo said then, seeing Tony’s expression. “After all, this started at your place.”

Tony had his hands up in defense. “Okay, do whatever you want, but don’t go too far. You know Yan and I still have to answer to my mom, right?”

“Don’t worry,” Wallace said. “We won’t land a hand on him.”

“Yet.”

Wallace smiled. “We’ll see.”

So, they spent the next half an hour or so to discuss their so-called scheme to test Chris. Although Sonia was unease about it, but she agreed in the end, because she knew the others were worried for her sake. Also, because she felt she owed it to them for needing to find out about CW’s real nature, which was something she should have done before moving past the barriers with him.

*****

The next few days passed by in a blur. The majority were getting back to their old routines because the public stop caring or stopping to ask questions as far as rumors went. In fact, news had also died down regarding some people in their groups. It seemed like Ambrose and Tony were right with their predictions, that Da Fa would step in and do some type of interference hence the news cycle slowing down. As their routines were going back to normal, some of them were happy to be free of public scrutinization. However, several parties were still seemed troubled. Specifically, Ehlo, Jacky, and Wallace who hadn’t talk to one another since that day.

“What are you going to do later?” Chris asked one day when he and Ehlo were walking along the streets.

Ehlo shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe go for a swim?”

They were heading to the beach to meet up with Angela and Margaret. It was their plan after work. Things were safe enough that they thought it would be fine to go back to living normally again. It was Chris’ idea to go to the beach for some fun.

“You know I meant after this, right?” Chris asked, eyeing Ehlo suspiciously.

Ehlo shrugged.

“Why are you so quiet lately?”

“After the madness of the last two weeks, I can’t get some peace and quiet?”

Chris found that hard to believe. He remembered Ehlo telling him how many things was on his list after the whole fiasco was over. So, now that they were able to go out and do things like normal again, Ehlo was less enthusiastic about it? “So, um, when is Jacky’s PI guy going to finish up with the investigation into that anonymous tip situation?”

Ehlo shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“I think Jacky mentioned a week. I doubt it would be that easy. But Jacky usually don’t bluff, so…I thought…at least he found something. I meant his PI guy would have found something to move forward with. A little side update, maybe.”

Ehlo stopped walking then and turned to Chris. “Look, Chris, don’t make me lie to you right now, okay?”

After saying that, he turned and walked away. Chris didn’t follow. Instead, he stood there watching as Ehlo turned on his false smile as he approached the girls. He saw Ehlo pointing toward the water before heading toward it with his surfing board. It wasn’t until Margaret saw him and waved him over that Chris finally moved. Yet, he couldn’t help wondering what was really going on.

*****

Friday came again and that was when the silence broke. Actually, Ehlo and Wallace were talking to each other again, even held meetings with one another, considering how they were still in contract with Ambrose to help regarding Unex’s acquisition. The mess was too big, so it took a lot of time and effort to restructure everything. The others who were at the shop were glad since they realized that something was wrong but didn’t want to ask the other two just yet. They were actually prepared for the worst, thinking that the tabloids had gotten to Ehlo and Wallace somehow.

“How do you like that, huh?” Ehlo said, scooping more sugar into his coffee cup.

Wallace shook his head, not believing what Ehlo just said. It was the same exaggeration. He wasn’t surprised. He took his coffee to the table and sat down.

“What are we going to do later?” Ehlo asked. “Yvonne freed up her schedule yet? We could go out for something.”

Because of how the rumors were dying down already, Yvonne didn’t have to stay consistently with Sonia anymore. In fact, Sonia had returned to her place the previous day.

“I’ll ask her later,” Wallace said, playing with his phone.

“Why don’t you text her now?” Ehlo asked, eyeing Wallace cautiously.

Wallace shook his head. “She’s catching up on sleep. She’s been having trouble sleeping. I think it’s about time she takes a day off to herself.”

Ehlo nodded. “Tell me about it.”

Then Wallace’s expression changed.

“What?”

Wallace turned to Ehlo. “Did you tell anyone?”

Ehlo wrinkled his face. “What?”

Wallace scanned the breakroom real quick and even got up from his seat to make sure no one was nearby. “What we found out last Friday.”

Ehlo shook his head, feeling annoyed all over again. “Who would I tell it to, really?” He felt like kicking something again. “It’s not like telling one more person would get my money back.”

“Then it was one of the others who did this?”

Ehlo wrinkle his face again. “Did what?”

“Jacky ge, wait!”

Ehlo and Wallace turned toward the breakroom entrance in time to see Jacky walking in with Joanne, Andy, and Achel. The other three were trying to stop Jacky. Ehlo had gotten up since he heard Joanne’s voice.

“I thought you would at least tell me before you did this,” Jacky said, raising a magazine up in front of them.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Ehlo asked.

“It wasn’t him,” Wallace jumped in.

Jacky turned to Wallace then. “Then it was you?”

Wallace looked offended. “If I did it, I would have blackmailed them first to get our money back, not fattening the tabloids’ pockets.”

“What the hell are you both talking about?” Ehlo asked, looking from one to the other.

Jacky tossed the magazine toward Ehlo then. Ehlo caught it and scanned the cover. That was when he realized what was going on. It was the blurry version of the photo that Will sent Jacky last week. The headline? Mystery woman turned out to be the anonymous tip for the breakthrough of the three scandals at the sensational party two weeks ago.

© Friday, August 14th, 2020

Posted: Monday, January 18th, 2021

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