“Okay, go, Chen Yi,” Ming Dao prompted, tossing the ball toward Chen Yi. “Show us what you got.”
“Are you challenging me?” Chen Yi asked, catching the ball.
“Stop putting on that cool expression and toss the ball,” Qiao Qiao urged.
Chen Yi turned around to face her. “What kind of cheerleader are you? Stop rushing me or I’ll miss.”
“Hurry up, we’re wasting time!” Jacky yelled out.
Chen Yi turned to Jacky. “You sure act like her brother all right.”
Although Chen Yi looked like he wanted to start another fight, he began to dribble the ball and advanced toward the hoop ahead.
It was actually Sunday and everyone–except Wallace and Sonia–managed to drop by to see the show. They ended up calling it quits for the other game and starting a brand new game with different teams. Every one of the guys had gone already. It was finally Chen Yi’s turn to show off his skills–that was until the girls’ turn.
When Jacky, Ehlo, and Johnny woke up around 6, Wallace was still sleeping so they left a note for him when they left around 7. They’d been at it for an hour already. They took this long because they were mostly lost in endless debates about setting the rules for a certain move. They finally quit it and began a fresh game instead.
By the time Chen Yi made around 3 baskets in a roll even with Ming Dao and Ehlo’s block, the girls began to pay attention more closely. Only Qiao Qiao and Yan Yan knew how good Chen Yi was.
“Wow!” Bianca exclaimed, still not believing the scene in front of her. “He’s amazing. I guess Wallace wasn’t bragging after all.”
“Wallace never brags,” Cyndi said defensively before taking a quick scan of the yard. “By the way, how come Wallace’s not here yet?”
“He’s probably exhausted from the move yesterday,” Jacky answered upon hearing that.
“He actually decided to move in with you guys?!” Cyndi asked, her turn to sound doubtful.
“You didn’t know?” Jacky asked, surprised.
Cyndi shook her head.
“And he said you’re his girlfriend.”
“Hey!” Bianca exclaimed. “That’s low! Talking behind his back and all.”
“When was the last time you talked behind someone’s back?” Jacky asked, flashing on his mischievous smile and looking toward Angela’s direction.
“You were eavesdropping on us yesterday?” She was pretending to be shocked since she knew too well what went down yesterday and how much Jacky heard.
“What happened?” Qiao Qiao asked, finally managing to take her eyes off the court for a second.
“No. I just realized how creepy he can get.”
Chen Yi finally passed the test with Ehlo and Ming Dao. He walked back to the group, wiping his sweat with his hand. “I’m out there playing and you guys are standing here chatting? Show some respect, will you?”
“We’re chatting with our mouths, not our eyes,” Jacky pointed out.
“Hey, where’s Cyndi?” Chen Yi asked.
Jacky and the others turned around in every direction, trying to locate her. She had somehow managed to slip away from the group–unnoticed.
Ehlo walked to the group at that time. “Okay, girls. Who’s up first?”
“Me!” Qiao Qiao shouted, raising her hand in the air.
Ehlo smiled. “Let’s go then.”
Jacky was about to step toward the court again.
“I think it’s better if Ehlo and I test her,” Ming Dao interfered.
“Why?” Jacky asked, wrinkling his eyebrows. “Don’t you want to rest a bit?”
“She’ll pass with flying colors with you.”
“If I’m out, Ehlo’s out too.”
Ehlo looked at Jacky with a warning look.
“It’s only fair.”
Sam walked to them from the other side of the court. “Want me to take over then?”
“It’s better if Johnny does it.”
“Come on, guys!” Qiao Qiao urged impatiently. “Stop pushing the task to one another.”
“Okay,” Johnny said. “I’ll do it. Let’s go.”
It was settled so everyone stood back again. Sam returned to his place on the other side to watch.
Jacky looked after Sam. “What’s with him? He’s too cool for us?”
“Don’t blame him,” Bianca said. “He’s just…”
Jacky looked at her. “What?”
“All right. Whatever.”
They turned to watch Qiao Qiao again without another word.
Cyndi had managed to sneak away from the crowd when the others were busy arguing. She raced the rest of the way to the curve and crossed the street–glad she had worn tennis shoes today. She realized that the guys had left the door unlocked so she slipped in and closed the door behind her. She looked around the room before walking toward the hallway where it appeared to be the bedrooms. She couldn’t believe her eyes as she walked by the first room on the left. Wallace was sneaking around the closet, looking for something.
“What are you doing?!” Cyndi exclaimed, taken aback.
Wallace turned around in alarmed. When he saw that it was Cyndi, he relaxed again.
“You’re actually going through with it? I can’t believe it!”
“Cyn, calm down. I’m only trying to prove he’s innocent.”
“What are you looking for then?”
“I searched everywhere already. I just need to finish with the closet and get out of here. How’s the game going?”
“There is no game.”
“What? I thought…”
“The guys changed their plans and started a new game instead. They’re just testing everyone right now before picking teams.”
“Oh. The more time for me to finish then.”
“After Bianca’s done, they’re going to choose.”
“Then come on.”
“You want me to help you?”
Cyndi gestured her hand. “Okay. I’m not going to put you on the spot but…”
Wallace smiled. “I know. You’re just worried for me.”
“Let’s get this over with then.”
She began to help Wallace search the closet. Although they were prompt for time, they did it at a decent pace since they didn’t want to mess with Jacky’s stuff and make it obvious that someone had been there. After they were done, they were about to leave when Cyndi accidentally kicked the table in front of Jacky’s bed. She cried out in pain but managed to muffle her cry because she didn’t want anyone to hear it. They could be back at any moment. Wallace rushed to her side and helped her sit onto a chair. He rolled up her jeans and checked to see if she was bleeding.
“It looks bad,” Wallace commented, stating the obvious. “It’s going to turn purple soon. Let’s go to my room and I’ll find some meds to put on it.” He got up at that time. “Can you move?”
Cyndi bit down on her teeth. “Yes.” Just as he was helping her up, she saw an object glistening on the floor. “Wait!”
“What?” Wallace asked.
Wallace directed his eyes to the object she was pointing at. It constantly flickered as the sun rays were moving by it. He bent down to pick it up and studied it. “It looks familiar.”
“Yes. But I don’t remember where I’ve seen it.”
Wallace moved his visions back and forth, thinking. As his eyes passed a picture frame next to Jacky’s computer, he snapped his attention back on Cyndi. “Look!” He helped Cyndi closer to the door and picked up the picture frame. “It’s Sonia’s hair clip.”
“What is he doing with her hairclip?” Cyndi asked, smiling. “Keeping a souvenir?”
“I don’t know. Let’s get out of here.”
“Okay. Remember to put the hairclip back though. We don’t want him to know.”
Wallace turned around to put the hair clip on the nightstand before helping Cyndi to his room. As he was reaching for the doorknob, he heard someone calling his name. He turned around to see Ehlo smiling at him. He knew that grin. Busted, right?
Ehlo walked toward them. “I see why you’ve disappeared just now. Couldn’t wait?”
Cyndi blushed since they were caught off guard–more than from embarrassment. “It’s not what you think.”
“Then what should I be thinking?”
“I couldn’t care less.” She winced at that time since she turned around so fast that she forgot about her injury.
“You all right?” Wallace asked, concerned. “Let’s go.” He opened his door and guided her inside.
“What’s wrong with her?” Ehlo asked.
“She kicked the coffee table by accident,” Wallace lied.
“Oh. Lucky you’re not competing today or you’ll be dropped.”
“How’s the game going now?”
“Yes. Bianca’s not bad at all. She’s amazing actually.”
“How did Qiao do?” Cyndi asked, suppressing her outcry of pain at the same time.
“She was…uh…how should I put it?” Ehlo hesitated, scratching his chin.
“Aggressive?” Wallace suggested.
Ehlo let out a nervous laugh. “How did you know?”
“I played with her and Chen Yi once. It was a tough game.”
“Who won that game?”
“We had to forfeit.”
“Yes. It’s almost like having Chen Yi and Johnny on the same team.”
While he was talking to Ehlo, he had been applying some cream on Cyndi’s leg also. He was finally finished and was putting a bandage on the spot.
“Oh yeah, you guys want to go see the final teams?” Ehlo asked casually.
“I think it’s better if Cyndi stays here,” Wallace said.
“I’m fine. Let’s go.” She tried to get up, but failed.
“I think he’s right,” Ehlo agreed, observing Cyndi’s condition carefully. “Stay here. We’ll tell you the results later.”
“It’s not the same as seeing it.”
“You’re as stubborn as…”
“Don’t say Angela,” Ehlo warned him. “You’re going to break her heart.”
“Okay,” Wallace said, defeated. “If you really want to go, I’ll carry you.”
Ehlo’s jaw dropped at that time. “Whoa! You would go to that extreme?”
“It’s my fault she got hurt anyway.”
“I thought you said she banged it on the coffee table.”
“I…uh…spilled some stuff on the carpet so she helped me clean it up and…” He gestured toward Cyndi.
“Oh. Okay then. Let’s go. We’ll be late if we don’t hurry.”
Wallace knelt for Cyndi to get onto his back. He let Ehlo go first so Ehlo could open the front door when they were there.
Wallace crouched down a bit so Cyndi wouldn’t hit her head. “Careful, okay?”
“I know,” Cyndi reassured him.
When they were in Ming Dao and Sam’s backyard again, they could see two teams forming already–with each side having picked two members. When they were about a foot from the court, the others turned to look at them since Ehlo’s loud voice boomed over them.
“Hey!” Ehlo shouted. “I thought you were waiting for me!”
“Wow!” Jacky exclaimed upon seeing Wallace and Cyndi. “That was fast!”
“They’re pretty slow actually,” Ming Dao said, misunderstanding Jacky’s words.
“No, I meant them,” Jacky clarified, pointing at Wallace and Cyndi.
Angela looked uncomfortable seeing the sight. But Qiao Qiao advanced forward and began to tease Wallace.
Qiao Qiao smiled. “So that’s why!”
“Cork it,” Wallace said, attempting to shush her.
“Come on now. Can’t I have a little fun?”
“I see you managed to convince Ming Dao,” Ehlo said to Jacky.
“I had to convince Sam,” Jacky confessed.
“And Bianca’s on our side.”
“That means you have my spot reserved already?”
“Of course. Unless you want to change your mind.”
“Actually, I am. Sorry!”
“Hey!” Ming Dao jumped in. “I thought…”
“You want to change your mind as well?” Jacky asked, turning to Ming Dao.
“No, but I thought…”
“I’ll switch places with Johnny then,” Ehlo said.
“No deal,” Sam interjected. “We already decided that Johnny’s on my side.”
Qiao Qiao managed to simmer down with her questions somehow, so she could hear what was going on. She stepped forward toward the guys again.
“Come on!” Qiao Qiao urged. “We’ve been at this for like…” She stopped to look at her watch before continuing. “…an hour already. What’s with you guys? It’s just a game. Hurry or else!”
Jacky turned to look at her. “You’re really impatient, you know that?”
Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face at him.
Jacky smiled. “I guess you’re on Sam’s team after all, huh?”
“Of course! Hmm…” She walked toward Sam’s side and stood there.
“I guess you have to take her in now even if you don’t want her.”
“That means Chen Yi doesn’t have a choice?” Cyndi asked.
“Right on. Who would be suicidal enough to let those three be on the same team?”
“That’s fine with me,” Chen Yi said. “We’ll beat them to…”
“We’ll beat you first!” Qiao Qiao shouted, cutting Chen Yi off.
“All right,” Jacky interfered, looking at Ming Dao. “So are you with me or him?”
“Uh…” Ming Dao hesitated.
“It’s best if you stay with him,” Ehlo pointed out. “Do you want glory or defeat?”
“Quit influencing him,” Jacky warned Ehlo.
Ehlo didn’t say anything else, but just stood there and smiled mischievously, making Ming Dao nervous.
“Come on, we don’t have all day,” Qiao Qiao urged.
“I’m going with…Jacky,” Ming Dao said finally.
Jacky waved to him. “Come on then.”
“I guess I’m out?” Wallace asked.
“That’s what you get for being a sleepyhead,” Ehlo pointed out. “Not to mention being all lovey-dovey with your girlfriend also.”
Wallace smiled. “Jealous?”
“Like I care.”
“If you don’t care, want me to expose you?”
“By the way, Qiao…”
“You said you don’t care.”
Wallace wore the victory smile proudly on his face as Jacky spoke up again.
“All right,” Jacky said. “Unless we find someone else, Wallace’s out for now. First game next Sunday?”
“That means we have to wait again?” Qiao Qiao asked.
Jacky smiled. “If you want to lose now, we wouldn’t rob you of the chance.”
Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face at him again.
“That won’t help you win the game, missy.”
Bianca looked at her watch. “If we’re not playing today, how about lunch?”
“Good idea. Let’s go.”
They made their way toward the front of the house.
“Hey!” Sam shouted. “Where are you two going?”
“Lunch tastes better over there, you know,” Ming Dao said.
Ehlo walked after Ming Dao. “You know that you’re so thick-skinned?”
“At least I don’t feel like I’m eating rocks at home.”
“What’s going on? You two had a fallout?”
“All I can say is a certain someone can move in with him and I’ll be happy moving in with you guys.”
Jacky caught up to them at that time and heard Ming Dao’s comment. “Too late. Unless you don’t mind sleeping on the floor.”
“What’s for lunch then?” Bianca asked.
“You’re totally different from Sonia,” Jacky remarked.
“Oh yeah, why isn’t Sonia here?” Ming Dao asked, turning to Bianca.
“She said she needs to prepare for tomorrow’s show.”
“She could have come here and consulted with me,” Jacky said.
Ming Dao exchanged a look with Bianca. Jacky didn’t seem to notice it since he just turned to ask Ehlo something. Wallace and the others were catching up to them as they were waiting to cross the street. Achel suddenly ran in front toward the group of four.
“Jacky ge!” Achel exclaimed, trying to get Jacky’s attention.
Jacky almost jumped–almost. He turned around to face her. “Don’t call me that. It’s creepy.”
Achel smiled innocently. “How come?”
“It feels like Miss Desperate is calling me for some reason.”
“I’ll jinx her out with my voice then!”
“What did you want to tell me though?”
“I want to change my mind and join the team.”
“Why didn’t you say so before?”
“I couldn’t decide yet.”
“Come on. Please?”
“Yes, please Jacky ge,” Ehlo said, mimicking Achel’s voice.
Jacky shivered as he was shoving Ehlo in the sides with his elbow.
“Ehlo ge, you’re mean,” Achel whined, pouting her lips.
“Now I’m Ehlo ge? What happened to ‘the perverted dude that doesn’t know any better’?”
Achel let out a nervous laugh. “I said that?”
“Yes. The first day you met me.”
“I was a kid back then and didn’t know better.”
“And that’s a good reason?”
Chen Yi stepped forward at that time and put a hand around Achel’s shoulders. “Too bad, you can’t win. We know someone’s reeking of revenge right now.”
Jacky cleared his throat loudly at Chen Yi. He glanced at Qiao Qiao quickly before turning back to Chen Yi. Chen Yi withdrew his hand from Achel’s shoulder.
Achel turned back to Jacky. “How about it?”
“Sure,” Jacky said. “But you’re on my team, right? Since I don’t think you’re very popular with ‘the perverted guy that doesn’t know any better.’”
Ehlo winced as Jacky said those last words.
“You’re being unfair,” Qiao Qiao protested. “How come the rest of us have to try out and she doesn’t?”
“Because she’s Angela’s sister,” Jacky pointed out.
“But I’m your sister,” Qiao Qiao shot back.
Wallace smiled. “She got you big time.”
“Why in the world are we still standing here?” Johnny asked–having caught up with them already.
“No idea,” Jacky replied. “I’m just talking to Xiao Yu. I don’t know why the others are still here.”
They finally crossed the street. Qiao Qiao looked irritated since Jacky managed to maneuver out of a sticky situation again.
When they were all inside the living room, Ming Dao spoke up first.
“So…what’s for lunch?” He scanned each and every one of them for an answer.
Wallace had managed to help Cyndi sit down at the corner of the sofa.
“You know where the kitchen is,” Jacky said. “I’m going to go change.” He walked back to his room at that time.
“I guess we’re alone,” Bianca said before turning to Ming Dao. “Coming?”
Ming Dao got up from his seat.
Ehlo and Johnny went to their rooms already after they were inside. Sam had somehow disappeared again. Or maybe he didn’t come with them after all.
“Want me to help you two?” Wallace asked.
Cyndi grabbed his arm and yanked him to sit down next to her.
“Are you for real?” She whispered to him, leaning in a little so the others couldn’t hear. “Leave those two alone.”
Wallace looked toward the kitchen. “You mean…”
“I thought you’re faster than that!”
Angela looked at the two interacting and shifted her attention back to the conversation her sister was carrying, wishing Sonia was there since she felt like she didn’t belong in either group.
“Who in the world was messing with my stuff?!” Jacky exclaimed, scaring almost everyone out of their wits.
Everyone got up from their seats, including Cyndi who managed to hobble down the hallway to see. Ming Dao and Bianca dropped their utensils and rushed toward the hallway also.
“What happened?” Ming Dao asked, scanning Jacky’s room. “Your room looks neat to me.”
Ehlo walked into Jacky’s room from across the way. “Oh? If you mean the door’s not closed like before, it’s my fault. I forgot to close it when I was getting a bandage for Cyndi earlier.”
Wallace and Cyndi looked at each other. Why in the world was he lying for them? Did he see them snooping around earlier? He couldn’t have, right?
“No,” Jacky said, shaking his head. “This place just looks wrong. Not just because of the opened door.”
Johnny came into the room at that time. “It was me. I was vacuuming yesterday and moved some of your stuff around. Sorry. Didn’t put it back in time.”
“Wouldn’t I have noticed it if it was last night?”
“We were all busy moving stuff around yesterday. You wouldn’t have noticed it by the time you get back to your room. We were all exhausted, remember?”
This time, Ehlo turned to Johnny. Wallace and Cyndi exchanged another look. Johnny knew too?
“All right then,” Jacky said in a calmer tone. “Whatever. I’m sorry I over-reacted, everyone.”
Everyone went back to their places again while Wallace and Cyndi were still pondering what was going on.
“Did they see us?” Cyndi whispered to Wallace.
“If Ehlo saw us, it would make sense since he called out to me when we were making our way to my room, but Johnny?” He wrinkled his face.
“Doesn’t matter. We’ll just explain to them later.”
“Why are you guys all sitting there?” Bianca asked. “Helping?”
Wallace got up and went into the kitchen. He needed to do something to distract himself from all the paranoid thoughts. Qiao Qiao got up at the same time as Wallace, but she walked down toward the hall to Jacky’s room instead of into the kitchen. Chen Yi looked after her but didn’t take it into his hands to monitor her since he knew she was going to Jacky’s room–not Ehlo’s.
“Jacky ge…” Qiao Qiao teased.
Jacky turned around to see Qiao Qiao.
“Don’t do that,” Jacky said, slightly irritated. “It’s scary.”
“You’re the one that’s easily rattled now.”
“If you want to claim victory at this moment, then you got it.”
Qiao Qiao could see he was disturbed so she dropped the teasing smile. “I’m sorry. I just want to cheer you up.”
Jacky smiled. “Do I look like I need any cheering up?”
“You don’t usually overreact like that. Did someone really mess with your stuff? Like searching your room?”
“How do you know?”
“With all the staring that some of the people here did, I didn’t think it was Johnny who was moving stuff around. And wouldn’t you know something’s wrong even if you’re half asleep? It’s your room after all.”
Qiao Qiao smiled. “I’m not your sister for nothing.”
“Want to watch something?”
“Close the door.”
“Don’t you trust me?”
Qiao Qiao felt strange but closed the door anyway.
Jacky walked to his desk and tugged on a switch on the left side of the computer. A small piece of the wall snapped out and revealed a small camera.
Before Jacky could get the camera out, they heard some banging on his door.
“Gosh,” Jacky muttered. “I should have known Chen Yi’ll be going after me sooner or later.” He snapped the wall piece back in place and went to the door. “If you’re going to…”
It was Angela instead of Chen Yi.
“What?” Jacky asked.
“What were you doing in there?” Angela demanded. “What’s with closing the door?”
“I can’t talk to my sister in private?” Jacky challenged, feeling his anger rising.
“Stop using the shield that she’s your sister ‘cause she isn’t your real sister.”
Jacky slipped his hand around Qiao Qiao’s shoulders. “Jealous?”
“I mean it! Stop messing around with Qiao or…”
“Last time I checked, even if anyone isn’t happy with my interaction with Qiao, it should be Orchids who should come banging at my door, not you. And I thought it was Chen Yi coming.”
“Qiao’s Xiao Yu’s friend. She’s like a sister to me too so…”
“Could we not argue about this?” Qiao Qiao jumped in. “Angela, I know you’re concerned about me, but I trust him.”
“You just know him like last week,” Angela pointed out, turning to Qiao Qiao.
“Orchids trusts him.”
“Orchids doesn’t hang around him long enough to know.”
“And you do?” Jacky asked.
Their argument could be heard from the living room, but the others didn’t realize it was escalating so they began to pile in front of the hallway again.
Chen Yi stepped forward among the crowd upon seeing the hostility. “What’s going on here?”
Angela turned to Chen Yi. “You shouldn’t let her out of your sight. You know what could have happened if I haven’t banged on the door?”
“Relax. It’s Jacky, not some perverted guy,” Chen Yi said, putting emphasis on the last few words on purpose.
Ehlo came to his door at that time and heard that. “Hey!”
“I’m just using an example. I didn’t state any names.”
Achel joined them at the doorway also. “Jie, come on. Let’s not do this. It’s Jacky ge.” She could see Jacky cringe and realized her mistake. “Sorry! Bad habit.” She turned to her sister again. “Anyway, let’s go back to the living and chat.”
“You’re siding with him too?” Angela asked, shocked.
“I didn’t know there was any side. I thought we’re all friends.”
“Fine. If you guys trust him so much, then I couldn’t care less.”
With that, Angela brushed past everyone and stormed out the door.
“Don’t slam that…” Ehlo yelled after Angela.
Too late, she already did.
“…door,” Ehlo finished lamely. “She’s mad all right.” He turned back to Jacky again. “Did you step on her tail?”
Jacky shrugged his shoulders. “How should I know?”
Seeing Ehlo’s expression, he dropped his hand from Qiao Qiao’s shoulder.
“Let’s go back to the living room then,” Chen Yi said.
“I think I better go,” Achel said with an apologetic look. “It’s not right to stick around here like that.”
“It’s all right,” Chen Yi reassured her. “They’re not going to take it out on you.”
“Xiao Yu, stay. As your Team Captain, I command you to stay at least until after lunch.”
Achel managed a light smile. “Thanks, Jacky…” She stopped herself in time without saying the word “ge.”
Jacky smiled, appreciating her effort.
After that, everyone went back to their places–once again. Jacky shut the door again–right in Ehlo’s face when he was about to say something.
“I think he was going to say something,” Qiao Qiao stated.
“He’ll get over it,” Jacky said. “I need to see this before they get out of here.”
“You suspected them?”
“I hope it’s not them.” He went to the wall and removed the camera after the wall piece popped out. He pressed on the “View” option before searching for the most current clip. “Okay, this is yesterday’s. Let me forward it to the part where Johnny’s vacuuming.” He finally pressed “Play” when he saw Johnny entering his room with the vacuum still running.
They watched to see about fifteen minutes of vacuuming but didn’t see Johnny move even the tiniest object from its place.
Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “What’s going on here? Why did he lie?”
“He must have known who moved my stuff around,” Jacky said.
Qiao Qiao remembered something. “Is Ehlo lying too?”
“I don’t know. But we’ll find out.” As he was talking, he searched for the earlier clip when they were outside.
“When did Ehlo leave?”
Jacky rewinded the track and stopped when it reached 9. They couldn’t see Ehlo in the room even ten minutes later. Jacky switched to the previous clip to see if it was around 8:50 or something. Then he stopped dead since he saw the scene unfolding in his room around 8:40.
Qiao Qiao gasped, realizing who it was. “It can’t be. It…”
Jacky’s face had gone white. Qiao Qiao grabbed the camera from him and rewind it a bit more to when the room was empty and the door was closed at the beginning. She pressed “Play” so they would get some volume. They could see the door being opened and then Wallace entering. He looked around once before heading toward the desk. They could see Wallace’s face clearly since he was really close to the camera. Qiao Qiao forwarded the segment a bit since it was mostly searching around the room. When he was standing in front of the closet, they heard a voice yelling out “What are you doing?!” Cyndi stepped into the room after a few words were exchanged.
Qiao Qiao turned to Jacky. He still looked somewhat bewildered and his face began to display a somewhat passive expression. Qiao Qiao turned back to see what Wallace and Cyndi were talking about. It appeared that Cyndi was convincing him not to do it while Wallace was saying he only wanted to help Jacky “clear his name.” Whatever that meant. Then Qiao Qiao remembered.
Qiao Qiao could see that someone had closed the door to the break room. Her curiosity shot up several levels higher. She got out of her seat and walked toward the break room.
“Qiao, what are you doing?” Chen Yi asked upon seeing her movements.
Qiao Qiao turned around to face Chen Yi, putting a finger on her lips. “Sh… I’ll tell you later when I’m back.”
When Qiao Qiao was standing next to the door, she heard Wallace’s voice.
“Sometimes I wonder why we never start,” Wallace said.
“What?” Cyndi’s voice asked.
“Nothing. Pull up a chair.”
Qiao Qiao heard a chair being slid across the way and then Wallace spoke up again.
“About what happened that night, the others are suspicious of Jacky. They want me to take Jacky’s offer and move in with him. I might be able to find something at his place.”
“What?! I thought you guys were just kidding.”
“With Jacky’s strange nature, everyone’s suspicious of him now.”
“She’s undecided. Angela sort of went ahead and made the decision for her.”
“She’s the same as always.”
“Yes. After this morning’s meeting, it seems that Bianca’s coming over to our side. But Angela and Sam won’t let it rest. I guess they’re both concerned for Sonia, but it’s just a bit far-fetch. They’re saying that if I want to prove his innocence, I should go ahead with the plan.”
“Does that mean Ming Dao’s on your side now?”
“Ming Dao–I’m not sure what happened. But he seemed to change his mind since this morning.”
“Oh yeah, Qiao said she bumped into Jacky at the restaurant when she was meeting with her client. He was acting suspiciously according to her. But he said that he was there on some business matters.”
“Could it be related to why he had to leave early this morning?”
“He left early?”
“Fifteen minutes before the show end.”
“Are you suspecting him too?”
“No. I’m just wondering. Don’t tell the others. They might go to the extreme of stalking him.”
“They already are. Sam’s been stalking him since we left the meeting. He might even know who Jacky’s meeting already.”
“Whatever it is, Chen Yi and Qiao support Jacky so we’re on your side, okay? Don’t carry all the burden yourself. I know everyone’s concerned for Sonia, but don’t do anything you’ll regret later.”
“I hope not.”
“We better get back out there or they’ll think that we…”
Upon hearing that, Qiao Qiao stood up straight again and sneaked back to her desk–unnoticed.
“What did you find out then?” Chen Yi asked, seeing Qiao Qiao coming his way.
“I’ll tell you later,” Qiao Qiao repeated her words from minutes ago. “I need to put something together first.”
“Qiao!” Jacky called out, trying to bring Qiao Qiao back to the present.
Qiao Qiao finally snapped out of her thoughts and looked at Jacky. “What?”
“What were you thinking?”
“I know what’s going on now.”
Jacky looked surprised. “You do?”
“Sorry I didn’t tell you earlier. I wanted to check something out first. But I guess it’s too late now.”
Qiao Qiao realized that Jacky had taken the camera back and turned it off already. “I was curious what Wallace and Cyndi were doing in the break room on Wednesday. I thought they were sneaking in there to sweet talk, you know.”
“And I thought I gave them a little surprise. But then I heard them talking about you. And how the others are suspicious of you.”
“I don’t know if it’s the same with what they’ve been talking about before. But it has to do with Sonia.”
Qiao Qiao nodded. “They think you stole her car.”
“What?! That’s outrageous! Even if I’m nuts, I wouldn’t do it.”
“I know. We all believe you. Well, at least I thought so. But it seems like only Wallace, Cyndi, Ming Dao, Chen Yi, and I believe you. Of course, that goes for Ehlo and Johnny too since they’re your best friends.”
“That’s why Angela’s so worked up then? Because I’m in here alone with you?”
“I guess so. I admit I was rude to her earlier but I couldn’t help it after hearing how she’s trying to influence Wallace again. In fact, I’m glad Wallace broke up with her.”
“Qiao, that’s not nice. That’s between them.”
“How could you defend her after she accused you?”
“They’re worried for Sonia. Angela can be a bit rash sometimes, but she means well. I admit that we don’t get along that well in the past, but I like it that she’s always so supportive of her friends.”
“So…what are you going to do about this now?” She gestured toward the camera.
“Pretend I don’t know, but I must find out something.” He got up and put the camera back into its place in the wall after turning it back on. He opened the door and walked to Johnny’s room.
Qiao Qiao followed him.
“Hey, Johnny,” Jacky called out when he entered.
Johnny turned around from his desk next to the window. “What’s going on? Lunchtime already?”
“No time for chit chats. My room–now.”
Johnny could see how serious Jacky looked so he got up and followed Jacky without any further questions. Jacky stopped in front of Ehlo’s room and looked inside the room to see Ehlo lying on his stomach, reading a magazine.
“Ehlo, my room–now!” Jacky called out.
“What happened?” Ehlo asked, still staring intently at his magazine.
“Get off your bed already,” Johnny urged. “He means it.”
Ehlo looked up to see how serious Jacky looked so he abandoned the magazine and followed the group of three to Jacky’s room. Qiao Qiao shut the door after they passed by. Jacky sat down on the chair next to his desk while Ehlo and Johnny settled down on his bed. Qiao Qiao remained standing next to Jacky.
“Well?” Ehlo demanded.
“Why did both of you lie earlier?” Jacky asked.
Ehlo flashed on his innocent look to disarm Jacky’s serious stare. “About what?”
“You were never in my room, to begin with. How could you have gotten some bandages out of here or forgetting to shut the door?”
“Uh…how did you know?”
“Have you forgotten that I installed a camera in here after Jo came in the last time she was here?”
“Oh…I thought you were kidding about that.”
“Apparently, I’m not.”
Ehlo looked around the room nervously. “Where is it then?”
“It’s a secret. But that doesn’t matter. Why did both of you lie?” He turned to Johnny. “You didn’t move a single object around in here. And don’t tell me you need to vacuum my closet.”
Ehlo turned to Johnny also. “Yeah, why did you lie?”
“How did you know I was lying then?” Johnny asked, looking at Ehlo instead of Jacky.
“I got back after you did. When did you come back out anyway?”
“After Wallace helped Cyndi back into his room to take care of her bruise. I was in my room when they were talking next door. They didn’t see me when they were searching the closet. I slipped by them unnoticed and listened in. I used my window to go back outside and sneak across the street again.”
“Clever. No wonder I didn’t see you. I was actually near the room when Cyndi banged her leg and then they discovered the hair clip. And they saw your picture on the desk…” He pointed toward the picture frame behind Jacky. “… and put two and two together.”
“Is that the reason why you switched teams?” Jacky asked.
“Yes. I was thinking back to how suspicious they were so I decided to get back at them by playing their own game.”
“But…” Qiao Qiao suddenly lost her voice.
Ehlo turned to Qiao Qiao. “Are you saying you’re with them too?”
“Ehlo!” Jacky shouted, reminding him of the situation.
Ehlo realized that he just snapped at Qiao Qiao.
“It’s okay,” Qiao Qiao said in a quiet tone.
“Whatever you find out later, don’t act on impulse,” Jacky said, looking at Ehlo.
“Why not?” Ehlo asked.
“Because they have a right to know. And I’m not hiding anything from them either so why bother to create more suspicion?”
“You know what your problem is?”
Jacky waited for Ehlo to continue.
“You never want to explain to other people. That’s why they always get the wrong idea.”
“So what? Why should I explain when it would make things worse?”
“What’s wrong with clarifying yourself?”
“You will sound even more defensive. What’s the point?”
They heard knocking on the door at that time. They looked at each other, wondering who it was this time. Then they heard Bianca’s voice.
“Lunch’s ready,” Bianca announced. “Would you guys care to join us?”
“We’ll be right out,” Jacky answered.
“All right. Don’t say I didn’t warn you–Ming Dao’s already eating and we know what happens when he gets started.”
“Thanks, Miss Bai.”
They could hear Bianca’s faint footsteps walking away after that.
“So, can we go now?” Johnny asked. “Or you want us to starve? You know Ming Dao can really eat.”
Jacky nodded. “All right. Go ahead.”
Ehlo and Johnny got up from the bed and walked to the door.
“Wait,” Qiao Qiao spoke up suddenly.
They turned around to look at her.
“One last question then I’m done.”
Jacky got up from his chair. “What?”
“What were you really doing at the restaurant that day?”
“I had to take care of some business. I’ll tell you guys when I can verify something.”
“All right then. Let’s go before Ming Dao wolf down all the food.” She opened the door and walked out toward the living room.
Jacky ended up going out second as Ehlo and Johnny exchanged a look behind his back that said somewhere along the line of: “What business?”
© Wednesday, June 11th, 2008
Re-posted: Friday, February 4th, 2011