“The serpent strikes again,” Ehlo reported into the phone.
“Quit being lame!” Jacky shouted back.
“Hey! I’m helping you here.”
“If it wasn’t because of that accident, I rather have Silver Dove helping me.”
“You don’t like my voice?”
“I’m coming out now. Where are they?”
“They’re outside, leaning on the rail. They’ll be caught off guard if they’re this immature in spying on people. I can’t believe he took Ming Dao’s advice and called Angela up.”
“Just one more day then I can be free.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“This is too funny, man. Ming Dao’s a better spy than Angela. Can’t believe she got Sam busted.”
“Or maybe she wants to give up?”
“Are you kidding me? She started this whole thing in the first place.” Ehlo dodged out of the way at that time. He was almost busted himself. You can’t be too proud, he thought. He was that good.
“What did you guys talk about the other night?”
“We drank some beer and did some bonding.”
“And he didn’t suspect you?”
“Of course not. I could get an award for Best Actor any day.”
“Don’t be too eager to claim the prize when you don’t know if he’s acting himself.”
“Unless Ming Dao’s lying too.”
“Why would he lie?”
“The same reason I would lie.”
“Okay, you can go back to work. I’m off.”
“Where are you going? Home?”
“No. But I don’t care if they stalk me anymore.”
“All right then. But Johnny and I better be the first to know. Of course Qiao too. Okay, maybe Chen Yi even.”
Jacky let out a chuckle since he couldn’t help it. “You got something against him?”
“He called me a pervert in front of everyone, remember?”
“It’s unavoidable. If you drop out of the race to win Qiao’s heart, then he’ll stop picking on you.”
“What are you talking about? What race?”
“Why are we still playing this game? We all know you’re competing with Chen Yi and Sam. Soon to be Ming Dao too.”
“What does Ming Dao have anything to do with this?”
“You’ll see soon enough.”
“That’s exactly your problem.”
“You’re always so eager to expose others’ secrets and intentions, but you never bother to explain yourself to anyone.”
“We already have this conversation, remember?”
“I’m going to get it sink in your head so you can stop it with the cool act.”
“I told you already. What’s the point of explaining when they already form their own conclusion?”
“You’re just making matters worse by doing that.”
“Forget it. I’m not continuing this conversation.”
“I need to get back anyway.”
They hung up after that.
Ehlo crossed the street and dialed Ming Dao’s number when he was on the sidewalk again. As he was waiting for Ming Dao to pick up, he looked around casually as he was walking back to work. He lowered the phone and hung up as he saw the scene in front of him unfold. How in the world did Jacky know?
Qiao Qiao walked out of the phone store, her pace brisk yet consistent. She was late and she knew it. Chen Yi was going to wonder if something happened again. He will give her “the talk” later. Just as she was thinking of his possible words, her cell phone rang. She took it out of her handbag and saw that it was Chen Yi. Yes, right on time. “I’ll be right there. Don’t rush me.”
“Actually, I’m stuck in traffic right now,” Chen Yi informed her. “Could you wait for me?”
Qiao Qiao laughed. “I can’t believe it! You’re always so prepared.”
“Come on. I can’t control reckless drivers, okay?”
“Okay then.” She hung up after that, slowing her pace again. She switched the gift bag to her left hand as she continued down the street. She couldn’t believe her luck as she turned right at the corner. “Ming Dao!”
Ming Dao turned around and saw her. He smiled and walked toward her.
“What are you doing here?” Qiao Qiao asked.
“Waiting for Bianca,” Ming Dao replied. “What about you?”
“Supposed to meet Chen Yi around here but he got delayed in traffic.”
They began to walk toward the café at the corner of that street.
“No Sam?” Qiao Qiao asked casually.
Ming Dao looked down on the ground upon hearing Sam’s name. “No.”
“What’s wrong? You guys had a fallout?”
“It’s more like…”
Ming Dao looked up at her. “Jacky didn’t tell you?”
Qiao Qiao shook her head. “I haven’t seen the guys since Monday.”
“Uh…regarding that…I want to apologize again.”
“It’s not your fault. I was careless. I have to say thanks actually.”
“Thank Chen Yi. If he didn’t yell in time, I wouldn’t know either.”
Ming Dao turned to look at her again.
“We have to apologize to you for making you follow our scheme like that. After all, Sam’s your friend and we…”
Ming Dao extended his hand to stop Qiao Qiao. “It has nothing to do with you guys. We chose to take those actions instead of just asking direct questions. This is one silly game all right.” He let out a nervous laugh after that.
“I guess so. Maybe I should just be a bad person and go to your place and demand an explanation from Sam.”
Ming Dao smiled. “Oh?”
“Maybe we should all set a date for a little meeting to clear things up instead of snooping on each other like this.”
Qiao Qiao smiled also. “Maybe.”
They finally arrived at the café and chose a seat in front. As they sat down, a waiter walked by to ask them for their orders.
“Lemon grass special,” Ming Dao and Qiao Qiao said at the same time.
They turned to look at each other, surprised mixed with some shock.
“Will there be anything else?” The waiter asked, looking from one to the other, attempting to pull them out of their staring contest.
They turned back to the waiter.
“No,” Both blurted out at the same time again.
The waiter walked away after that.
”You like that too?” Qiao Qiao asked, turning to Ming Dao.
He nodded. “Yeah.”
“It’s rare that someone likes it. It’s the least popular drink here.”
“It tastes strange at first, but when you get used to it…” He gestured his hand. “It’s very addicting.”
“Besides,” Qiao Qiao continued. “People need to get it out of their head with how it should be used. I mean how come it should only be used in soup? How come it can’t be used for others? In this case, it’s a drink.”
“I totally agree. You just have to have an open mind about these types of things.”
“Chen Yi and Yan Yan would never get it.”
Ming Dao smiled. “Well, at least you got someone to sympathize with you, right?”
Qiao Qiao smiled also. “Yes.”
They couldn’t help but reached their hands out to slap one another a high five. Companionship was beyond their minds several days ago. Yet the possibility had increased several more notches.
Ming Dao glanced at his watch. “I wonder what happened.”
Qiao Qiao turned back to Ming Dao after taking a quick glance at the street, searching for Chen Yi. “Maybe she’s caught in traffic like Chen Yi?”
Qiao Qiao began tapping on the table surface as she watched cars streamed by. Then she realized how foolish she’d been. She handed the gift bag in her hand to Ming Dao. “Here.”
“What is it?” He gave her a puzzled look.
“It’s a replacement for your broken cell phone.”
Ming Dao handed the bag back to her. “You don’t have to.”
“It was broken because you tried to save me. It’s only legitimate that I compensate you.”
He reached into his pocket with his other hand. “Bianca helped me chose one out like yesterday.”
Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face, deep in thoughts. Then she snapped her fingers. “No big deal. Take it that I owe you one and if you need any help in the future, give me a call.”
Before he could reply, they heard a familiar voice behind them–Bianca’s. They looked up to see Bianca standing there with a smile.
“It’s small town, huh?” Bianca commented with a smile.
“Definitely!” Ming Dao said excitedly.
“Hi,” Qiao Qiao greeted Bianca with a smile.
Bianca sat down at a chair between Ming Dao and Qiao Qiao.
“I’m waiting for Chen Yi,” Qiao Qiao explained. “He’s stuck in traffic.”
“Talking about Chen Yi, he’s still trying to find a parking spot,” Bianca said. “He gave me the spot he found earlier.”
Bianca nodded. “Apparently, we were stuck in the same traffic.”
“What happened?” Ming Dao asked.
“Someone managed to get into an accident.”
“How bad was it?”
“Let’s just say they managed to stay alive.”
“If they’re not, you wouldn’t be joking.”
The waiter came back with Ming Dao and Qiao Qiao’s drinks at that time.
“I apologize for taking so long,” The waiter said, setting the drinks down. “The blender just got jammed so we had to fix it.”
“No problem,” Ming Dao reassured him.
The waiter turned to Bianca after that. “What will you be having, Miss?”
“Uh…” Bianca uttered, turning to Ming Dao. “Are you having that strange drink again?”
“Hey, I’m not the only one,” Ming Dao said defensively.
Bianca followed his vision and spotted the same drink in front of Qiao Qiao. She turned to the waiter. “Coconut juice, please.”
The waiter nodded and walked back inside.
Qiao Qiao took that opportunity to stand up. She pushed the chair in with one hand as she was picking up the drink with the other. “I shouldn’t be disturbing you two. I’ll go over there to wait for Chen Yi.”
Bianca shook her head. “We’re just getting together for lunch. Don’t worry. Stay.”
“It’s all right. See you two around.”
“All right then. See you.” Qiao Qiao walked to a table closer to the street and sat down.
Chen Yi arrived at that time and joined her. He directed his eyes toward Ming Dao and Bianca’s table. “You’re not going to join them?”
“I just left. Ming Dao and I were waiting for you two.”
“Oh. You were with him when I called?”
Qiao Qiao shook her head. “No. I bumped into him when I was making my way here.”
Chen Yi nodded. “Oh.” He finally sat down. “So…what are you up to this time?”
Qiao Qiao’s eyes brightened. “I was thinking we could strike back with a new tactic, but after talking to Ming Dao…I think I have a different plan.”
“Oh? What is it this time?”
Qiao Qiao signaled for Chen Yi to lean in so she could whisper out her plan to him.
Ehlo pushed the door in to see Jacky vacuuming the living room. What in the world is he doing? It’s only Friday and he’s cleaning already? “What are you doing? It’s only Friday.”
Jacky shut the vacuum off before turning to Ehlo. “Might as well do it now. I don’t have time tomorrow.”
“Why not? You’re always so free on weekends. In fact, you’re always free.”
“I have to go somewhere tomorrow.”
“Really? Where?” Ehlo put the grocery bags on the coffee table and sat down on the sofa.
“Can’t tell you yet.”
“Hey. What’s with all these secrets? Stop acting like those girls. Always saying half and leaving the rest for people to guess.”
“You’ll find out tomorrow.” He went back to vacuuming after that.
Ehlo got up and brought the grocery bags to the kitchen. “Hey! Where’s Johnny?”
Jacky shut off the vacuum again. “He’s in a meeting with his manager.”
“Oh. Okay then. What about Wallace?”
“In his room.”
Jacky turned on the vacuum again since Ehlo began to take out the contents of the grocery.
Ehlo suddenly remembered something. “Hey! How did you know?”
Jacky kept vacuuming the floor this time, knowing that Ehlo would just keep talking and stopping randomly. He yelled over the vacuum’s sound instead of shutting it off. “Know what?!”
“Know that Ming Dao’s with Qiao Qiao!”
Jacky shut off the vacuum and walked to the kitchen. He didn’t care that the vacuum had banged against the floor after he tossed it aside. “What?! Come again.”
Ehlo shut off the water before turning to Jacky. “I saw them walking together today.”
“The next street over from where we were.”
“Really? Strange. I didn’t know that they’re that fast. Better call and warn Chen Yi. Better yet, let me call and ask Qiao first.” He walked back to the living at that time, searching around for his cell phone.
“Hey! What about me?”
Jacky turned around to face Ehlo again. “What about you? I’m sorry to say, you’re out of the race.” He paused briefly since he needed to correct himself. “Sorry. You were never in it to begin with.” He turned around and headed back to the living room again.
Ehlo was somewhat taken aback, but he went back to preparing dinner instead.
Jacky finally found his phone and began to dial Qiao Qiao’s number. He had abandoned the task of vacuuming and was sitting comfortably at the sofa with his feet on the coffee table, waiting for Qiao Qiao to pick up. He had to listen to her ringback tone for quite awhile. He ended up tapping along with the rhythm of the song. “Qiao!”
“Hey, how’s it going?” Qiao Qiao greeted him. “I was going to call you since I thought things over.”
“It can wait. I have to ask you something first.”
“Are you with Ming Dao now?”
“What?! Who the world told you that? I thought guys don’t gossip.”
“I’m just concerned, okay?”
“Who told you that though?”
“Uh…” He looked at Ehlo’s back for a bit before resuming his conversation. “I heard someone say that he saw you two together this afternoon so I’m just wondering if it’s true.”
“We bumped into each other while I was waiting for Chen Yi and he was waiting for Bianca.”
“Is that so?”
“What else is there?”
Jacky sighed out. “All right then. I’ll let you go back to whatever. I’m going to finish vacuuming.”
“Don’t hang up yet. I have something to tell you.”
“New tactic,” She said, her voice more excited than before. “We’re going to beat the answers out of Sam without having to spy around anymore.”
“I didn’t know we were spying to begin with.”
“That’s not the point. The point is…”
Jacky glanced at his watch. “I can’t talk right now. Need to finish vacuuming. I’ll call you tomorrow, all right?” He faked a yawn for emphasis.
“All right. Take care then.”
“Yeah. Good night.” He hung up before Qiao Qiao could say anything else. He went back to vacuuming for real after that, knowing he shouldn’t have lied to Qiao Qiao. But he didn’t want to involve her in their silly fight anymore. It was not worth it. By tomorrow, it will all end.
Ehlo rolled over to his right side and shut off the alarm as he tried to pull the cover over his head again. He didn’t remember why in the world he would set the alarm for. Then his mind snapped to alertness. Wait a minute! He didn’t even set it to begin with. How could it be on? He threw the cover aside and looked around his room. He could see a piece of paper next to his alarm. Great, he thought. A typical Jacky prank. He grabbed the piece of paper and was about to toss it into the trash bin on the other side of the room when he realized there were too many words on it to be a joke. He rubbed his eyes a few times before reading the paper. He recognized it was Jacky’s hand-writing. He was surprised to find a letter. What was going on here? He looked around his room once more before looking down at the letter again. The letter said: Yu Rong…
“What’s going on here?” Ehlo mumbled out loud.
Jacky hadn’t called him “Yu Rong” in a long time. It must be serious. He paid even more attention to the words.
When you’re reading this letter, I’ll be long gone by then. Someone once said, “Each of us must take a journey to explore ourselves before becoming the person we want to be the most.” It sounds too silly and far-fetch when we first heard of it. In fact, we often make fun of it too. But I finally understand what it all means. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve known someone, but when we come to question that person, it is time to pull back and explore from within our true self and also of the people around us. For once, I have to say I’m sorry to you both. Life has taken its twist on me and I finally learn to let go of everything there is around me–at least temporarily. I will be back one day–hopefully we will still be good friends like always.
Ehlo jumped off his bed and opened the door to his room. He looked across the way where Jacky’s room was. He walked across the hallway and opened the door to see the room empty. Jacky must have been gone a long time already. He exited the room and walked down the hallway to Johnny’s room. He began to pound on it without caring whether Johnny was still asleep or not. Unexpectedly, Johnny opened the door in fresh new clothes. Ehlo barely remembered Johnny was free this weekend. Or did his schedule change again? Considering he met with his manager last night.
“Did you know that…” Ehlo gestured his hand, not knowing where to begin.
“I know,” Johnny said, nodding.
Johnny went back into his room. Ehlo followed, still holding Jacky’s letter in his hand. Johnny walked to his desk and picked up a piece of paper similar to Ehlo’s. He turned around to face Ehlo again, handing him the paper. Ehlo exchanged the paper he held with Johnny. The letter Johnny received was a little different from Ehlo’s. It said:
In the past few days, I have come to a decision that I’m sorry I couldn’t include you two. Sometimes in life, we must take a journey of our own in order to learn and grow. I can’t say it’s the wisest choice I’ve chosen, but I can guarantee that I will return one day–ready to fight alongside my true friends again.
Ehlo looked up at Johnny after he was finished reading the letter. “What in the world is he up to?”
“He seems serious this time,” Johnny said, stating the obvious. “I don’t think it’s a joke. The contents are longer this time and the style is totally different.”
“But where is he going then?”
“If he already decided, then I guess we’ll just have to wait until he’s back.”
“But when will he be back?”
“Whenever he’s ready?”
“Now you’re becoming all cliché too?”
Johnny could see how frustrated Ehlo was, so he stopped himself from saying the next few words. Before he could come up with a better answer, their house phone rang. They looked at each other before heading out to the living room to answer it. They hadn’t received calls from the regular phone line for a while now. What was going on here?
When they reached the living room, they found Wallace already answering it. He was still in shorts like Ehlo.
Ehlo and Johnny looked at each other as Wallace was talking into the phone, wondering what was going on since Wallace sounded serious.
“Yes, sir,” Wallace said obediently and seriously. “We’ll be there right away.”
He hung up after that and turned to Ehlo and Johnny.
“Well?” Ehlo demanded.
“We’re wanted at the police station,” Wallace answered.
“What?!” Ehlo and Johnny exclaimed at the same time.
“Detective Chen won’t say anything. He said he will tell us when we’re all there.”
“I guess there goes my day,” Ehlo mumbled, making his way back to his room as Johnny followed behind.
Wallace wrinkled his face. “Where is Jacky?”
“Gone,” Ehlo replied sharply.
“Don’t ask.” He continued to his room without another word to Wallace.
Johnny turned around. “Don’t worry. He just has some things to take care of. He’ll be back one day.”
“It is.” He went to his room as well, leaving Wallace standing there.
Wallace wondered if it had anything to do with their silly spying recently. But he decided that it will have to wait. He went to his room also, getting ready for the trip.
When they were all outside, Ehlo spotted Ming Dao and Sam across the street. What was this? He was about to go and question them but Johnny stopped him.
“Let’s not do this right now,” Johnny reminded him of their trip.
“Fine,” Ehlo muttered reluctantly.
Ehlo got into his car and started it up as Johnny got into the passenger side. Wallace pulled out before Ehlo could pull out. They headed for the local police station, not saying a word to each other until they arrived at their destination.
Ehlo and Johnny walked into the station together as Wallace tagged behind. The atmosphere seemed beyond hectic since they woke up. It was not getting better as of now. Wallace didn’t know what to say to the guys. He just followed them silently, hoping nothing serious was going on.
A police officer stopped them at the entrance as they were ascending the front steps.
“Detective Chen told us to come,” Johnny explained, taking out his ID to confirm of their presence—as did the other two.
“Okay,” The police officer said, his face less intense than before. “Just walk down the hallway and turn right at the end of the hall. Room 23. The others are waiting for you all there.”
The police officer opened the door for them and stepped aside for them to enter. Ehlo and Johnny looked at each other after they passed through the door, pondering what was the meaning of all this.
When they reached Room 23, Ehlo opened the door to see their whole group waiting for them, except for Ming Dao and Sam. Even Angela was present. What was going on here? Before Ehlo could speak up to ask, they heard footsteps behind them. They turned around with the door still ajar to see who it was. All three put on a surprised expression as they saw Ming Dao and Sam down the hall.
“What in the world?!” Ehlo exclaimed, not able to restrain himself any longer. “Is this some kind of joke?”
“Hey, you guys!” Ming Dao called out.
“Don’t tell me you got called by Detective Chen too,” Ehlo said.
“How did you know?”
Johnny turned to the door and looked inside again. “Let’s go in and wait.”
They stepped through the door and closed it.
“All right,” Ehlo said. “If anyone wants to confess now, I won’t get mad. What’s the meaning of this?”
Qiao Qiao stepped forward among the group from the room. “I don’t know either, but I got a call awhile ago, so here I am. When I got here, I saw Sonia, Bianca, and Angela here. Then later the others show up as well. Now you guys.”
Ehlo turned back to Johnny.
“Don’t look at me,” Johnny said.
“Tell me Jacky didn’t go this far.”
“What does this has to do with Jacky?” Qiao Qiao asked, wrinkling her face.
“Once awhile, he would pull pranks on us. But I honestly hope it’s not his doing this time.”
“Talking about Jacky, where is he?”
Before he could finish, the door opened again. They all turned around to see who was coming this time.
A man in his mid-40s walked into the room, carrying a folder. He closed the door before addressing them.
“Hi, everyone,” The man greeted them. “I’m Detective Chen. I’m sorry to call you all here so early in the morning and at such a short notice too. But…”
“I don’t mean to be rude, sir, but is this Jacky’s doing?” Ehlo asked impatiently.
“It does have something to do with your friend Jacky. But it’s not what you think.”
“Then what should we think?”
Johnny put a hand on Ehlo’s shoulder. “Ehlo…” He then turned his attention to Detective Chen. “I’m sorry, sir. My friend is…”
Detective Chen shook his head. “It’s all right. I know everyone’s anxious to know what’s going on, so I’ll get straight to the point.”
“I’m sorry, but last interruption,” Qiao Qiao said in a soft, apologetic voice.
Detective Chen turned to look at her, waiting for her to continue.
“Since you said this has something to do with Jacky,” Qiao Qiao continued. “Then does that mean you know where he is? Can we see him face-to-face to clear things up?”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t help you with that.”
“Why not?” Ehlo asked, his voice wavering a bit.
“What?!” The others exclaimed in disbelief.
Everyone in the room turned to look at each other, alarmed. Sonia’s face had become quite pale by now. She had been quite unnerved since they arrived, but she didn’t want to over-react. She can’t seem to hold it back anymore. Bianca grabbed hold of her shoulders and tried to steady her. The guys all turned to look at each other. Even Ehlo seemed to turn pale by now. Qiao Qiao looked at Detective Chen straight in the face, wondering if he was lying or not. It couldn’t be, could it? They were talking about the optimistic, cheerful Jacky here. How could it be? Jacky? Gone?
© Friday, June 13th, 2008
Re-posted: Friday, February 4th, 2011