Ehlo was the first one to recover. He turned to Detective Chen again. “Gone? What do you mean gone? You’ve got to be kidding me, right?”
The noise level in the room began to rise again.
“No way!” Ming Dao shouted in disbelief. “Tell me I misheard him.”
“But he said ‘gone’,” Sam said.
“He just said gone,” Chen Yi snapped. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
“What do you think it should mean then?” Angela shot back.
“Shut up!” Ehlo yelled above all their voices.
Everyone turned to Ehlo.
“Don’t you think it’s better that we ask him?”
Everyone turned their attention to Detective Chen at that time. Detective Chen cleared his throat once more before speaking up again.
“I think you all must have misunderstood my words,” Detective Chen said, looking from one to the other. “What I mean is he left town earlier this morning and didn’t leave words of his whereabouts so I can’t get into contact with him at the moment.”
Everyone breathed out a sigh of relief.
“See?” Ehlo said to others. “What’s all the fuss anyway?”
“Like you weren’t panicking too,” Angela snapped.
Ehlo took several steps toward Angela, waving his fingers at her. “You still dare to say? It’s all your fault that he left.”
“What are you saying? I didn’t even go near him at all. How can I even say anything to make him leave?”
Johnny tried to grab hold of Ehlo as Ming Dao stepped forward to help Johnny. They seemed to have divided into two groups involuntarily, trying to put some distance between Ehlo and Angela.
“Let’s all calm down here,” Ming Dao interfered.
“Guys!” Chen Yi shouted. “We’re at the police station here.”
“The more convenient so I don’t have to go far if I get arrested,” Ehlo said, his tone matching his words.
“Come on,” Johnny urged. “Stop acting like this.”
“Everyone, please,” Detective Chen spoke up again. “Calm down. I’m not finished yet. Everyone!”
They finally stopped the foolish fight and turned to Detective Chen again.
“In this folder,” Detective continued in a calmer tone, tapping the folder in his hand. “I have some information regarding Miss Sui.”
The others turned to look at Sonia and then back at Detective Chen.
“Jacky has hired a private investigator to track down Miss Sui’s car. He turned the information over to us before he left this morning.”
Everyone looked more confused than ever. They began to ponder back to all the times they saw Jacky sneaking around or meeting a certain party. So it was…
“We’ve been investigating a series of car theft. We’ve been monitoring that particular car shop for a while now, but can’t seem to find the connection between it and the series of car thefts since everything was done so carefully. But with Jacky’s help…” He stopped to tap the folder in his hand again. “…we finally got a break. We were able to locate them. In fact, my team’s out there right now, trying to bust them.” He glanced at his watch real quick. “Hopefully, they’ll call me soon to tell me some good news.”
Everyone in the room turned to look at each other as they were listening to what Detective Chen was saying.
“Oh, right,” Detective Chen said. “I almost forgot.” He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a bag with a tiny key inside it. “Miss Sui, this is yours.”
Sonia stepped forward to receive the key.
“I apologize that we must keep this for evidence,” Detective Chen said. “But I just want to verify if it’s really your key since we only had Jacky’s word earlier.”
Sonia took the plastic bag from him and studied it carefully. “Yes, it’s my key.”
Ehlo stepped forward. “It’s the key the shop-owner almost forgot to give it to us.”
“So he took the key to investigate the matter?” Angela asked.
Ehlo turned to Angela. “What did you think it was?”
“Ehlo…” Johnny called out, trying to stop another possible argument again.
Ehlo turned to Johnny. “What?”
“It’s not like he’s never coming back.”
“So? The damaged has already been done. And half of you in this room are responsible.” He scanned the room once, making everyone nervous. His eyes stopped on Sonia. “And to think that he was actually going through this for you.” After that, he stepped back into a corner of the room without another word.
Sonia looked down at the floor, edging back into her corner by Angela and Bianca also after handing the key bag back to Detective Chen.
“It’s okay,” Bianca whispered to Sonia, trying to reassure her. “It’s not your fault. It was our fault.”
“I didn’t believe him,” Sonia said softly. “I should have been more direct. Even if we have our disagreements at work, but…”
Qiao Qiao looked over to Sonia. “It’s okay, Sonia. He still went through the investigation despite the fact that the others are spying on him, right? So he’s not mad at you. Don’t worry.”
Sonia smiled at Qiao Qiao.
Chen Yi looked at Qiao Qiao. “If he’s not mad at them, then why did he leave?”
Qiao Qiao gave Chen Yi a sharp look. “Aiya! Would you stop adding oil to the fire?”
“What he said is true,” Wallace said, defending Chen Yi. “And Jacky has every right to be mad at us.”
Ehlo stepped forward again. “He’s not petty like someone, okay?” He glanced briefly at Sam before turning to Wallace again. “He’s just disappointed that some people failed to…”
Before Ehlo could finish, the sound of a phone ringing started up. Each and every one of them reached into their pockets or handbags to fish out their cell phones.
Detective Chen held up his hand. “It’s mine.”
They stopped fidgeting and turned to him. They waited patiently for him to finish and hang up before stepping forward, forming a semi-circle in front of him.
“Good news,” Detective Chen informed them. “We got them. But…” He turned to Sonia. “We only found car parts. Unless they’re hiding your car somewhere else, it’s very much gone.”
“It doesn’t matter anymore,” Sonia said. “As long as the misunderstanding has been sorted out. I don’t care about the car anymore.” She glanced at the door to their right. “Detective, if there isn’t anything else, can I leave now?”
“Don’t leave town, we need your help later.”
Sonia nodded and began to walk toward the door.
Detective Chen turned back to the others. “You all may go as well if there aren’t any other questions. I must go out front to wait for my team. If there’s anything else that we need your help with, I’ll contact you all.”
They began to leave.
“Mr. Huang,” Detective called out.
Ehlo turned around to walk back toward Detective Chen again. The others continued to pile out of the room and head for the entrance.
“When Jacky comes back, could you call and tell me?” He handed Ehlo a card.
Ehlo nodded and turned to leave again.
When they were out in front of the station, Johnny stepped aside to wait for Ehlo. Qiao Qiao followed him to wait for Ehlo also. Chen Yi, seeing how Qiao Qiao had stopped, stepped aside also.
“Do you think he’s going to get into trouble?” Chen Yi pondered aloud.
“No way,” Johnny said. “He was over-reacting a bit, but it’s not a crime or anything.”
Qiao Qiao hit Chen Yi on the shoulder. “Stop being dramatic already!”
“Hey, I’m just saying.”
Just then, Ehlo stepped out to meet them.
“What happened?” Johnny asked.
“Nothing,” Ehlo said. “He just wants me to call him when Jacky comes back.”
“If he comes back,” Chen Yi pointed out.
Qiao Qiao turned to Chen Yi. “Hey!”
“I’m just telling the truth.”
“Don’t worry,” Johnny reassured them again. “He’ll come back.”
Ehlo turned to Johnny again. “Who are you kidding?”
“I don’t want him to leave though,” Qiao Qiao said in a low tone.
“Like any of us wants him to,” Ehlo said bitterly, looking toward Sonia from afar. “Except for some people.”
Qiao Qiao followed Ehlo’s vision line. “Aiya! Could you stop being so petty?” She hit his hand. “Jacky knows it wasn’t her fault. We shouldn’t blame her.”
Ehlo still looked frustrated. “Then who should we blame then? I may never get to see one of my best friends again. Does anyone here understand my frustrations?! Why must we hide everything all the time? If we’re friends at all to start with, we shouldn’t be playing such silly games. We should confront each other from the start. And now? Look at us! Jacky’s gone! Half of us are feeling sore, but not saying anything to confront anyone while the other half are soaking in guilt. Why can’t I say it out?!”
“Ehlo!” Johnny exclaimed–a thing he rarely did.
Ehlo suddenly realized that Qiao Qiao looked somewhat startled. He didn’t realize how high his voice had risen. Even some officers in front of the station were looking at them. Chen Yi had stepped forward to shield Qiao Qiao from Ehlo.
“What are you doing here?!” Chen Yi yelled back. “We’re all frustrated! But do you have to take it out on Qiao?! If you’re so hype, why don’t you take it out on those people?” He pointed toward the street area where the others were getting into their cars.
“You bet I will! I had enough!” Ehlo began to walk toward the rest of the group.
Somehow, half of them were inside their cars but still hadn’t left yet. They were possibly spying on them to see how things were turning out. Only Wallace was watching them directly from his car. He was the only one still not in his car yet, but just leaning against it and waiting for Ehlo and Johnny. Johnny, Qiao Qiao, and Chen Yi followed Ehlo as he was making his way toward Bianca’s car.
“What are you doing?” Johnny asked, catching up to Ehlo.
“He just reminded me I have to do some yelling at a certain someone,” Ehlo said.
“Don’t do anything you’ll regret later.”
Ehlo turned to Johnny. “If I don’t do it today, I’ll regret it later.” He continued on his way again.
Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao increased their paces to catch up with Ehlo and Johnny.
Ehlo finally stopped in front of Bianca’s car. He pointed at all three girls one-by-one, indicating they should get out. Angela, Bianca, and Sonia opened their car doors and stepped out. Bianca circled around from the driver’s side and stood next to Sonia as Angela joined them after closing the back door. While the girls were getting out of the car, Ming Dao had exited his car also and was walking toward them at the moment. Wallace wasn’t far behind, seeing how serious Ehlo’s expression was becoming.
“What do you want?” Angela asked, annoyed.
“What do I want?” Ehlo repeated, pointing at himself. “What do I want? I want us to sort this all out today no matter what. If we do anymore hiding behind some shields, we will end up shooting at each other one day.”
Angela rolled her eyes. “Stop exaggerating already, will you? It’s not that extreme. Besides, Jacky’s gone already. We should wait for him to come back before having a talk with him.”
“So you’re the expert now? When will he come back then? He might not come back at all! Easy for you to say since you couldn’t care less. If he isn’t back, you can save your face and forget about it, right?”
“That’s not what I mean. Stop putting words into my mouth.”
“What’s going on here?” Ming Dao asked, finally arriving at their spot. “Don’t you guys think arguing in front of the police station is a bit too…” He gestured his hand around the area.
“That’s right,” Wallace jumped in.
Ehlo turned to Wallace with a sharp look. “Like you have the right to say anything here.”
Qiao Qiao couldn’t stand it anymore. She stepped in front of Ehlo, shielding Wallace from him. “Will you stop it already?! You’re behaving like some lunatic right now. Keep lashing out at others. Is that going to solve any problems?! You’re just making everyone uncomfortable. It won’t solve anything! Do you hear me?!”
“That’s right,” Angela said. “Stop barking at everyone already.”
Ehlo turned to Angela. “What did you say?!” He advanced toward her.
Qiao Qiao tried to stop him but he pushed her aside with rage. Before Chen Yi could step forward to catch Qiao Qiao, Ming Dao had already reached out to grab hold of her, trying to steady her. Bianca jumped forward also, half shielding Angela from Ehlo, half helping Ming Dao with Qiao Qiao. They each held a side of Qiao Qiao and calmed her down as Johnny stepped forward to restrain Ehlo.
Ming Dao turned to Ehlo. “Stop it already! You realized what you just did, right?”
“That’s right!” Bianca exclaimed in frustration. “You’re beyond reasoning right now. Could you calm down and listen to us?”
Ehlo finally stopped, realizing that he had just pushed Qiao Qiao. Johnny could see from his expression that he won’t do anything rash for now, so he released his grip on Ehlo’s shoulder.
“If you really want to talk this out,” Bianca continued. “Then we should find another location. Not here! I’m not saying that you’re embarrassing us. I’m just saying what if they misunderstood you?” She gestured with her free hand toward the police station. After that, she turned to check on Qiao Qiao. She finally released Qiao Qiao’s shoulder since she could see the color returning to Qiao Qiao’s face. She turned back to Ehlo again. “So, what do you say?”
“I agree,” Ehlo said at last. His tone is a lot lower than before, so they were reassured.
“Then everyone here should meet at…” Bianca continued, turning to look at Ming Dao for help.
Ming Dao scratched his head, his eyes darting around. “How about Go-Go Café?”
“But it’s too crowded.”
“How about Uncle Ben’s noodle stall then?” Wallace suggested. “It’s deserted, out in the open, and he won’t mind if we happen to chase his customers away.”
“Why not someone’s house though?” Chen Yi asked.
“It’s only fair because we might be suspecting some sort of conspiracy going on if we use any of our houses,” Ming Dao pointed out.
“All right. I’m in then.”
Ming Dao saw that Chen Yi had been eyeing him quite intently, making him quite uncomfortable. Then he realized that he still had a hand on Qiao Qiao’s shoulder from what happened before, so he released Qiao Qiao’s shoulder and took a couple of steps back to give her some space.
“All right,” Bianca said. “If no one objects, then let’s all meet at Uncle Ben’s noodle stall. If anyone dares to not show up…”
“I don’t feel the need to explain to anyone,” Angela objected, stepping forward. “I want to wait until Jacky comes back and apologize to him personally, not to his…”
Bianca turned to Angela. “You know you’re partially at fault, right? Apologizing to Jacky doesn’t make the problem go away. You owe it to everyone here, including Sonia and I.”
“Bianca, you…” Angela started to say as she turned to look at Ming Dao. “Is it because of him?”
“No. I have a brain of my own in case you don’t know. We put up with your stubbornness because we’re your friends. Because we–Sonia and I–both know very well how much you care for us and mean it all for the good, but you have to take responsibility for your actions when you’re at fault. It is our duty as your friends to see that you do it.”
“Angela, can you give in for once?” Wallace urged. “Friendship doesn’t mean winning or losing. It’s not some competition. It’s to work on our understanding. This time, we failed–including myself–so we must at least undo those failures by listening to other people’s words.”
Angela finally put her head down and nodded.
Bianca turned to Ehlo. “I’ll make sure she’s there with us.”
Angela snapped her head back up. “Hey!”
Before she could say anything further, Wallace gave her a sharp look.
So it was finally decided. They finally dispersed and entered their cars. Qiao Qiao followed Wallace absentmindedly as they were all heading for their cars instead of Chen Yi. Chen Yi looked disappointed but understood that she needed to confide with Wallace for the time being.
Wallace was the first to arrive at Uncle Ben’s noodle stall. He and Qiao Qiao walked slowly to the noodle stall together after he parked about a block away from the stall, leaving parking spots for the others when they arrive. Qiao Qiao had been silent since they got into the car. Wallace looked over at her constantly to check on her. Now, he felt helpless more than ever. He was really losing it. Unable to help Jacky. Unable to help Qiao Qiao. He sighed out as they were halfway down the block.
“Don’t feel so despair,” Qiao Qiao spoke up suddenly. “It’s not your fault. We were responsible too for increasing the intensity of snooping around and spying on each other. In fact, Jacky’s somewhat responsible too ‘cause he kept joking around about our ‘missions.’”
“I should have known better than to give in to Angela though,” Wallace said.
“Angela can be quite scary sometimes. And you said you were trying to clear Jacky’s name, remember?”
“The best way to clear his name is to come and talk to him directly, not sneaking around like I did. What was I thinking? Is this some kind of detective movie?”
“Stop beating yourself up already. You’re making me feel worse.”
Wallace looked over at her. “Sorry. But you shouldn’t feel guilty. You and Chen Yi just know Jacky recently. Ming Dao and Sam too. You all didn’t know how intense things were between us.”
“You mean how intense things were with Angela’s wide imagination.”
“Let’s not push all the responsibilities towards Angela. Like the rest of us are any better. Maybe Ehlo’s right. We kept hiding and trying to protect one another until this point. On the surface, it seems like we’re all a bunch of good friends, but who are we kidding? If we were that good of a friend, would we distinguish between which groups we’re in?”
Qiao Qiao placed a hand on Wallace’s shoulder. “Stop it. We finally get a chance to talk it out. Don’t feel so depressed or you’ll break down in front of them before even talking things out.”
Wallace smiled–a sad one. “It would have been better if it’s that simple.”
They finally arrived at Uncle Ben’s noodle stall so Wallace stopped talking about the matter for now. He walked toward where Uncle Ben was standing, tending to the soup. Uncle Ben looked up and smiled at Wallace.
“Ah, visiting me today?” Uncle Ben teased.
“Actually…” Wallace hesitated.
“What happened? If you’re here to look for Jacky, he’s not here. I haven’t seen him around all week.”
“Actually, I have to apologize to you for causing his…”
“That’s not true,” Qiao Qiao jumped in, cutting him off. “We haven’t had the talk yet. Could you stop blaming yourself?”
Uncle Ben looked from Wallace to Qiao Qiao. “What’s going on here? You both look quite troubled.”
“Uncle Ben, could we borrow your place for a little talk?” Qiao Qiao asked. “We promise we’ll eat two bowls of noodles each after we’re done to make up for it.”
Uncle Ben chuckled. “What’s with this talk? You’re Jacky’s little sister, aren’t you? You don’t need to act all formal towards me. You can tear down this place and I wouldn’t frown.”
Qiao Qiao smiled also. “It’s not that extreme, but we had a little disagreement among our group and we just need a place where all of us can trust to sort this out.”
Qiao Qiao turned to Wallace. “Come on. Let’s get going.” Then she turned back to Uncle Ben. “Thanks, Uncle Ben! You’re the best!”
Qiao Qiao dragged Wallace over to the tables and began to pull some chairs aside so they could join several tables together like the last few times. They made sure to form the long table under a tree so they have shade as well as the distance from the few current customers. Both worked at the task in silence until they saw Chen Yi show up. He was actually right behind them but got cut off several blocks back because of traffic thus causing the delay. He joined in to help them after waving a greeting to Uncle Ben.
“Qiao, you’re okay?” Chen Yi asked.
“Sure,” Qiao Qiao said with a bright smile.
“Ready to fight against Angela then?”
Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “We’re here to talk things out, not fight. Not making things worse, okay?”
“I’m just kidding. Calm down.”
Angela, Bianca, and Sonia arrived next. Angela still wore the expression like she was unwilling to be there, but Bianca was walking behind her to monitor her–like promised earlier.
Qiao Qiao saw Sonia’s sad face. “Don’t worry, Sonia. Ehlo’s a bit straight-forward but he’s harmless.”
“Harmless?” Angela snapped. “Is that an understatement? He almost hit me and literally pushed you aside.”
“If I were him, I would have already strike.”
“You still side with him after what he did to you?”
“Sometimes I wonder if you and Xiao Yu are really sisters.”
With that, she went back to setting chairs in place since they were done arranging the tables by now.
Angela turned to look at Bianca and Sonia.
“Don’t act innocent,” Bianca said. “You know you tend to get carried away sometimes.”
“Even you’re with them?” Angela asked in disbelief. “I couldn’t believe it since we got into the car, but now I’m just…”
“It’s until this state already and you’re still stubborn? Like Wallace said, we’re not in competition with each other. We’re friends. So can we just sort out all the misunderstandings instead of caring so much about who’s wrong or right? Why does it matter so much? Failure isn’t a sin. It’s how we learn and grow.”
“You’ve been listening to Jacky’s show?”
“If you haven’t yourself, how would you know I’ve been listening too?”
Bianca smiled, knowing the real reason why Angela always poked at Jacky every chance she could find. Could it be…? Or was she just thinking too much? She put a hand on Angela’s shoulder. “There’s hope for you after all.”
At that time, the rest of the group arrived also. It seemed that they had been stuck together with the flow of the mid-day traffic somehow. Wallace, Qiao Qiao, and Chen Yi finally finished with their task and were sitting at a corner of the long table. Ehlo seemed calmer than before. In fact, he looked a bit guilty when he glanced briefly at Qiao Qiao. Surprisingly, Johnny was the first to speak up among the new arrivals and not Ehlo.
“All right, everyone,” Johnny said, calling for attention. “To ensure that we will eat our hearts out here today before we leave, we must sort all these out.” He clapped his hands together for effect. “So how about getting started already?”
The ones that were still standing began to sit down at the table. Bianca made sure that Angela wasn’t anywhere near Ehlo to avoid some unnecessary scenes from replaying again.
“All right,” Johnny repeated. “Since everyone agreed to talk, who wants to start first?”
“That isn’t important,” Chen Yi said. “The important matter at hand is which subject matter we should tackle first.”
“Then which one would you suggest?”
They all turned to Ehlo.
“How about the one responsible for this whole ‘spying’ thing in the first place?” Chen Yi suggested since Ehlo didn’t speak up.
“We all were, weren’t we?” Bianca said.
“But who started sending spies to our side first?”
“Okay,” Wallace said. “So I agreed on that so it’s mostly my fault for not going directly to Jacky and ask, but followed along with their scheme.”
“Come on, you could do better than that. How about saying something like…”
“Chen Yi…” Qiao Qiao jumped in.
“Angela started the fight,” Ehlo said, finally speaking up.
“What?” Angela shot back. “Why is it always me? They were the ones who said Jacky looked suspicious with Sonia’s key. Who was the one talking about the obsession?”
“Okay, I admit I sort of helped fuel the scheme,” Ming Dao confessed. “But I was just joking. I didn’t go along with it, okay?”
Qiao Qiao looked at Ming Dao. “Not speaking up about it is the same as going along with the scheme.”
“We’re not getting anywhere with this,” Johnny said. “How about we go in a different direction?”
“We’re actually on the right path,” Chen Yi contradicted Johnny. “It’s just that we let everyone else and his cousins speak up. All right, so we all agree that it started with most of us suspecting Jacky might be behind Sonia’s car theft incident–whether it was because we were joking or not, right?”
“And whose bright idea was it to follow through with the suspicion?”
“Mine,” Ming Dao said quietly, still looking down at the table.
“What?” Qiao Qiao asked, alarmed. “I thought Angela and Sam…”
“You don’t have to act all big and take the blame,” Angela blurted out angrily. “It was mine, all right?”
“You’re not making this any easier,” Wallace said. “We’re not here to seek out who’s at fault. We’re here to reach an understanding.”
“At the rate we’re going, we’ll still be here by the time it gets dark.”
“Being impatient doesn’t get us anywhere either,” Chen Yi said, taking his authoritative status. “All right, so Angela and Sam want to pursue the matter.”
“I just want to make sure someone’s not a crazy stalker,” Sam said defensively.
“What’s with the attitude here?” Chen Yi shot back, not backing down to Sam’s hostility.
Qiao Qiao turned to Sam. “Don’t tell me you’re still mad at Jacky for pulling that trick on you the first day you’d gone live. Don’t tell me it’s true because that’s just lame.”
“Qiao…” Wallace interfered.
Ehlo turned to Ming Dao. “I guess you’re trustworthy after all. You didn’t tell him.”
“You told me not to,” Ming Dao said, finally looking up from the table.
Ehlo turned to Bianca also. “Thanks, Miss Bai.”
Bianca smiled at him.
Sam turned to Ming Dao. “What are you hiding from me?” He turned to Ehlo. “We’re here to sort things out, could you guys stop it with the secrets first?”
“If you’re so eager to find faults with other people, why don’t you look at yourself first?” Ehlo snapped, his expression as stern as ever.
“Ehlo!” Johnny yelled out.
Ehlo turned to Johnny. “Could you stop trying to shush me? If he wants to know, let me tell him then.”
“I’m just trying to remind you Jacky wouldn’t want you to do it.”
“He’s not here right now. And it doesn’t matter anymore. What’s the point of keeping a secret when all it leads to is more misunderstandings?” He turned back to Sam. “You want to know? All right. The mastermind behind the whole prank at your first meeting was that angel over there.” He stopped to point toward Sonia. “Not Jacky, okay? If you want to act petty and pull some pranks back, target it at her. I admit it’s not bright of Jacky to go along with it. But he did it for love.”
Ehlo turned to Johnny again. “If he doesn’t love her, why shoulder all of this nonsensical stuff being tossed at him in the first place?”
Sam suddenly didn’t know how to react. He turned to Sonia and then looked back down at the table surface.
Sonia looked somewhat nervous, but took in a deep breath before turning to Sam. “Sam…”
Sam looked up at her again.
“If it was because of the prank we pulled on you, you shouldn’t be mad at Jacky. It was my idea. I persuaded him to do it just for fun. We were just curious who it was that Producer Lin pulled in this time. I didn’t know that it would lead to this. I’m sorry. I really am.”
“Forget it. It’s too late now.”
Ehlo rolled his eyes. “You would forget it when it’s a girl.”
“Ehlo…” Johnny said again.
“I’m entitled to my own opinion, you know.”
“All right already,” Chen Yi jumped in. “Let’s continue with the…”
Ehlo turned to Chen Yi. “It is relevant, you know. We weren’t on a tangent. If Sam wasn’t sore about Jacky playing the prank on him, would he have eagerly helped Angela?”
Sam turned to Chen Yi also. “He’s right. I admit I was petty and rash also. I should have thought of it better than just…try to act like some mighty hero, thinking I’m right in what I’m doing.”
“It’s all Jacky’s fault,” Qiao Qiao mumbled. “Always acting so mighty, always so forgiving and not wanting to explain anything to others.”
“I told him many times it’s going to be his downfall,” Ehlo said. “He would be so honest about nonsense stuffs, but not serious matters like these.”
“I told you Jacky’s at fault too,” Angela followed suit.
“Stop trying to shrug off responsibilities already,” Ming Dao said. “Like you’re any better.”
“Guys,” Wallace reminded them of the situation.
Ehlo sighed out. “All right. Let’s get back on track then.” He turned to Chen Yi real quick. “I’ll take over if you don’t mind.”
“Go ahead,” Chen Yi said.
Ehlo turned to the general audience. “Let me get this straight. So you guys…” He pointed at Angela and Sam. “…sent Wallace over to spy on us by convincing him it’s to clear Jacky’s name.”
“I admit I was curious too,” Wallace clarified.
“We all were. Just that some of us chose better ways.” He could see Wallace’s shameful expression. “I’m not blaming you. I’m just saying you’re easily persuaded.” He turned his attention to everyone again. “Does anyone else have any other suspicions they want to clear up or get it off their chest then?”
Sam remembered something, so he turned to Chen Yi. “Did Jacky tell Qiao to jump out into traffic that day?”
“What?!” Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao exclaimed at the same time.
“I’m serious. I want to know.”
“No,” Chen Yi said with a disgusted face. “You can say that Qiao would lie because she wants to cover for Jacky, but you know how much I care for Qiao’s safety.”
“All right then. What happened that day?”
“What happened?” Qiao Qiao jumped in. “Your spying skill sucks. Well, not really since Ming Dao was careful but you were just too careless because did you guys know that your reflections exposed you? Jacky had to talk to this locksmith–now I know why since he had to confirm his suspicion that the key has been tampered with. He called Chen Yi and me up so we could distract you guys while he went in. I was trying to call him up when I saw you so near to the shop. It looked like you want to enter so I had to warn him. I think he shut his phone off while he was talking to the locksmith so I had to take the chance. I didn’t realize that a truck was coming until it was too late. Lucky Ming Dao heard Chen Yi’s yell so I’m still alive.”
“Lucky we never hung up,” Chen Yi commented, remembering the nerve-racking incident.
“I told you Jacky wouldn’t ask Qiao to do such things,” Ming Dao said to Sam.
“How should I know?” Sam asked rhetorically. “At that time, it was so suspicious.”
Ehlo cleared his throat. “If that’s done, then…” He turned to Angela. “You know your spying skill sucks too, right? You and Sam were a terrible team.”
Angela wrinkled her face. “What?”
“I was across the street from you guys when you tried to follow him yesterday. We separated after he came out.”
He turned to Ming Dao. “What were you doing yesterday with Qiao?”
Chen Yi cleared his throat. “This is no place to investigate about personal matters. And Qiao wasn’t with Ming Dao yesterday, I was.”
“No, she wasn’t. I saw her.”
“I was on my way to meet Chen Yi and ran into Ming Dao,” Qiao Qiao jumped in before the two guys tear each other apart then and there over some senseless misunderstanding.
“Are we all finished yet?” Johnny asked.
“Not quite yet. All right, so we’re all clear now? Could everyone please stop sneaking around the next time anyone of you suspect someone of something? It would save us a lot of trouble.”
“Wait,” Angela said.
“What was Jacky trying to find out at the locksmith place?” She turned to Qiao Qiao. “He told you what he was doing?”
Qiao Qiao shook her head. “He didn’t tell us at that time. I guessed. Didn’t you see there are still components of white powder on the key? It’s possible that the shop-owner used it to make a copy of the key so he can get in without anyone knowing and drive away safely without any suspicions.”
Chen Yi wrinkled his face. “That’s right! I saw the powder on the key when Detective Chen handed it to Sonia too but didn’t realize it until you said it.”
“All right,” Ehlo began again. “That’s a totally different case we can discuss later. Any more questions regarding anyone’s behavior that could lead to suspicions?”
Everyone shook their heads at the same time.
“I guess we’re clear away. Ready to declare a truce and reunite once again as a group?”
“That’s it?” Angela asked, surprised. “All the fuss was just for this cheesy moment?”
“You rather have us all going at each other? Or being so morbid or frustrated like earlier? I just want to get everything clear away so there will be no hard feelings in the future. That’s the difference between Jacky and me. He’s considerate for people’s feelings, but it just buries everything so deep that it will shot right back at us one day, causing this. Don’t you all think that it’s better to get our frustrations out once and for all?”
Suddenly, Angela began to see Ehlo in a new light. She no longer wanted to argue with him. She smiled. “You’re right.”
Ehlo smiled also. “Thank you.” Then he turned to Wallace. “And Mr. Huo, Johnny and I covered for you that day when you and Cyndi sneaked around Jacky’s room because we overhead you saying how you want to clear Jacky’s name. We wanted to spare the moments of awkwardness. We both were back into the house right before they chose teams.”
“I…” Wallace uttered.
“Don’t have to feel guilty. If I didn’t have faith in you, I wouldn’t have covered for you. And I must admit, I was a bit rash for yelling at you earlier.”
“You have the right to.”
“But…don’t ever sneak around Jacky’s room again. He has a hidden camera in there.”
Wallace felt some chills running down his back.
“Johnny and I don’t know where it is. But Jacky knew we were lying when we covered for you ‘cause he saw you on video. So I’m not trying to scare you, but I’m just giving you some heads up for the future.”
Angela wrinkled her face. “He has a hidden camera in his room?”
Ehlo nodded. “That’s what he told us that day. The same day you ran out on us.”
“He was trying to show me the video that day when you banged on the door,” Qiao Qiao said to Angela.
Angela nodded absentmindedly, finally knowing the reason. “Oh.”
“What were you thinking anyway?” Ehlo asked. “That he…”
“I was just being careful.”
“Sure you were.”
“But still…who would keep a hidden camera in their room like that? That’s creepy.”
“Jo was at our house one day without us knowing. She hid something in his room. It caused some trouble with his parents. He almost couldn’t get out of it. So he vowed to put in a hidden camera for the future if Jo ever wanted to surprise us with her ‘visits’ again. We–Johnny and I–thought he was kidding. But he did it for real, not letting us know even.” He glanced at Qiao Qiao briefly. “I guess you could say that only Qiao knows where the camera is now. So…”
“I’m not going to tell you all where it is,” Qiao Qiao said quickly. “In case you’re wondering. Even though we say no more secrets from here on out, but it is Jacky’s room after all. Unless you plan to sneak into his room, you have no worries about being exposed.”
“All right then,” Angela said. “Can we eat now?”
Suddenly Angela looked so childish but so cute that they couldn’t believe her change in attitude. Ehlo looked around the table once more at the others. Seeing that they were nodding, he called the meeting to an end.
Wallace turned toward the noodle stall. “Uncle Ben, we’re done!”
Uncle Ben took the hint to prepare some noodles, plus other side dishes for them.
Wallace got up at that time, walking toward the stall to help Uncle Ben.
Qiao Qiao got up also. “I want to help too!”
She followed Wallace as the others looked at each other.
“Stop trying to score some points with him!” Ehlo yelled after her.
Qiao Qiao turned around and stuck her tongue out at him before resuming her task at the stove.
“You sure changed,” Bianca said to Ehlo.
“I don’t know,” Ehlo said. “I feel so frustrated and coped up these past weeks that I couldn’t stand it anymore. I have to apologize to everyone for my outburst earlier.”
“Forget it,” Angel said. “Like you said, we shouldn’t keep secrets among each other, right?” She bit her lips at that time. “Do you think that Jacky will come back though?”
Ehlo’s smile faded. “I’m not sure myself either. But according to past experience…I…I don’t know.”
“Oh come on!”
“What? He has never been disappointed at us before–at least at Johnny and me, so how should I know? The farthest he went was leaving home, but that’s different since he doesn’t want to argue with his parents on a regular basis regarding some outsiders. But he comes back to visit at times so it’s nothing serious. But like he said in his letters, he will be back one day. We’ll just have to wait and see when that ‘one day’ comes.”
“He left letters?”
“Of course. We’re his friends–at least for Johnny and me.” He smiled at Angela. “Sorry.”
“No hard feelings.”
Wallace and Qiao Qiao came back with drinks for everyone at that time. After everyone had a glass in front of them, Ehlo raised his.
“How about a toast to our friendship?” Ehlo suggested. “This time for real.”
“Too cheesy,” Angela said.
“Come on. It’s a new start. Don’t spoil the mood.”
Seeing his high spirits, Angela clunked her glass to his. The others followed suit.
They stayed there to eat breakfast-slash-lunch for the next hour and a half. When they finally separated, they promised to meet back at Ming Dao and Sam’s house for the match–with or without Jacky. They helped Uncle Ben clean up and put everything back into its original spot before leaving.
As Qiao Qiao followed Wallace to his car, Ehlo pulled her aside to have a talk.
“Qiao, I’m really sorry for earlier,” Ehlo said sincerely. “I didn’t mean to push you. I…” He gestured his hand.
She smiled. “No hard feelings, remember? Let’s start over as real friends then.” She extended her hand out to him.
Ehlo smiled and shook her hand.
“Then we’re good.”
They parted ways after that. Ehlo still maintained a smile as he walked to his car with Johnny.
The hectic atmosphere finally lifted and they were officially a group of friends–starting anew once again, thriving for the future. And waiting for Jacky to come back, of course.
© Thursday, June 26th, 2008
Re-posted: Saturday, February 5th, 2011