Chapter 20 – The Mystical Forest

Johnny woke up early on Saturday for a photo-shoot while the other guys were still sleeping in. He made sure to leave them a note since it was a last minute thing when they left the set last night. Ehlo woke up around 8 and walked to the living room to watch TV, not bothering to change or do his morning routine. Around 9, Wallace woke up and marched out from his room, heading for the bathroom. He came back to the main hall later to hear some sounds coming from the living room. Curious, he walked to the living room to find Ehlo sitting lazily on the sofa, watching TV.

“What are you doing up so early?” Wallace asked, surprised.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Ehlo muttered out absentmindedly.

“That’s strange.”

“What’s so strange with a guy having insomnia?”

“Nothing. Just strange, that’s all.”

“You’re strange for keep mumbling nonsense.”

Wallace could see how irritated Ehlo was so he quit it. He looked toward the kitchen. “You hungry? I can make breakfast today.”

“Go ahead. I’m going to brush my teeth first.”As he said that, Ehlo got up and headed down the hallway that led to their bedrooms.

Wallace looked after Ehlo for a bit, still wondering what was really going on lately. Then he spotted Johnny’s note at the edge of the coffee table so he knew Johnny was already out and about.

About half an hour later, Ehlo and Wallace were sitting in the kitchen eating breakfast silently. It was the worst meal they’d been through these past weeks since Ehlo and quiet didn’t go together quite well. After breakfast, they decided to do laundry since they hadn’t done that last week like they planned. Wallace did that while Ehlo went to his room, saying that he needed to pull together a house plan for a client by Monday.

Around 11, Wallace’s cell phone rang so he ran back to the main hall from the laundry room to pick it up.

“Hello?” Wallace said into the phone–somewhat out of breath.

“You guys want to catch a movie with us?” A girl’s voice asked. “The new movie adapted by Xiao Ling Ling’s latest novel is out.”

“The Mystical Forest?”

“Yeah.”

“Let me ask Ehlo if he wants to come.”

“All right. I’m going to buy the tickets now. If you guys are interested, join us at the same place, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Bye.”

Wallace hung up after she did. He walked over to Ehlo’s room to find him still drawing at his desk. Ehlo could see Wallace’s shadow as Wallace was coming closer to his desk so he was prepared for it.

“What?” Ehlo asked, still drawing away.

“I guess you can’t come then,” Wallace said.

“Where?”

“Bianca just called to ask if we want to join them for a movie.”

“Which one?”

“That new movie adapted by Xiao Ling Ling’s book is out.”

“You mean ‘The Mystical Forest’? It’s already been adapted? When was that?”

“I’m not sure, but Bianca said it’s out. She’s buying the tickets right now.”

Ehlo jumped up from his seat. “Really? Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go!”

Wallace jumped back. “Watch where you’re pointing that.”

Ehlo realized he was still holding his sharp pencil and ruler in his hand. He dropped it on his desk and went to his closet, looking for a change of clothes.

“I guess I’m getting ready then?” Wallace asked.

“Duh,” Ehlo said back.

Wallace left Ehlo’s room to go back to his room. He got ready and met Ehlo in the living in about fifteen minutes later.

They headed out to Ehlo’s car since they probably will end up going home together anyway after the movie.

*****

Ehlo and Wallace arrived at the theater about twenty minutes later at the entrance to find Bianca waiting for them. Somehow, Ming Dao and Sam were there as well. They were not as surprised since wherever Bianca was, Ming Dao was probably somewhere nearby. Sam? Probably Ming Dao invited him along. They were more surprised when they see Johnny coming from the parking lot.

“What are you doing here, man?” Ehlo asked.

“Shooting went smoothly so we wrapped up about half an hour ago,” Johnny explained. “I got the call from Bianca so I decided to join her. Didn’t know she invited half of the town to come.”

“Very funny,” Bianca said.

“We’re here to see the movie, right?” Ehlo prompted. “Then what are we waiting for?”

They began to make their way in as Ehlo joined the ticket line after consulting with Bianca of the time on her ticket.

They ended up eating first before watching the movie since Bianca has cushioned the time by buying the tickets for a later hour.

As they were sitting down at a table in the food court, Johnny noticed something. He turned to Bianca. “What happened to the rest of the gang?”

“Angela, Cyndi, and Sonia are somewhere in the area–shopping,” Bianca informed him. “They’ll join us later. Chen Yi, Qiao, Yan, and Xiao Yu went to some event together.”

“S.H.E.’s concert?” Wallace asked.

Bianca shook her head. “No. I think it was some sort of comic convention.”

“Animation, not comic,” Ming Dao corrected her.

“Same difference,” Bianca argued.

“How can it be the same? Comic is…”

“How about graphic novels then?” Wallace suggested, cutting Ming Dao off.

“That sounds more like manga.”

“Guys, why are we fighting over what’s the correct term?” Johnny asked, feeling a bit amused. “The point is they won’t be joining us later, right?”

Bianca nodded.

They went back to eating at that time.

As promised, the other three girls joined them when they were done eating. They entered their designated room about twenty minutes earlier since they wanted to find good seats, considering how large their group was. Somehow, the girls ended up on one side and the guys on the other with Bianca and Johnny being the connection between the two groups. Wallace had to take the hint and sat between Ming Dao and Ehlo to avoid any disagreement threatening to break out at any time.

The movie lasted about two hours and thirty minutes–a little too long for some of their tastes. As soon as they stepped out of the room, Angela breathed out a sigh of relief.

“That was something,” Angela said. “Gosh! The book was seriously much shorter.”

“Seriously,” Ehlo echoed. “That was too boring.”

“Who was the one so eager to head out the door earlier?” Wallace asked, walking beside Ehlo.

Ehlo turned to Wallace. “Can’t I criticize the stuffs I spent a decent amount of money on just to see?”

Wallace held his hands up in surrender. “Anytime.”

Ehlo turned back to Angela. “Oh yeah, the only part most accurate about the movie was when Suzie finally realizes the importance of Danny in her life, you know…” He put his hands up in quotation. “…the whole thing with family matters–although a bit cheesy but enough. The rest is just some stuff they scrap up out of nowhere.”

“Darren’s her father, Danny’s her lover,” Wallace corrected Ehlo.

“That’s right,” Angela chimed in, hitting Ehlo’s right shoulder. “Get your facts straight, man.”

“Maybe it was too boring so I forgot the details?” Ehlo attempted to justify himself.

“And you’re still criticizing?”

Ehlo shrugged his shoulders. “Whatever.”

“Actually, I think it didn’t mean to be so literal with the scenes, but it was trying to integrate the message into the story itself,” Wallace said. “It doesn’t lack too much in depth comparing to the book.”

“They alter too much of the concepts itself, making it less believable,” Angela pointed out. “It was deeper in the book.”

“Come on now. You can’t expect them to get every single detail right. After all, it’s a production. Think about the budget and other things like it rains like crazy around here while they were shooting the movie. They’ll never release it if they keep waiting for sunny weather.”

“They could have gone somewhere else that’s sunny to shoot it, not changing the plot,” Ehlo argued.

“As I said before, think about the budget.”

“Whatever, I don’t buy it.”

“Why are you three arguing over some movie?” Cyndi asked. “It’s just for fun, you know.”

“We’re not arguing against each other, just trying to defend the author. And besides, there are only two teams this time–the winning team and losing team.” Ehlo smiled after saying that.

Johnny glanced at his watch. “Knock it off already. You guys want to go somewhere else before we head back?”

Bianca finally caught up to them. “How about checking out that new shop around the corner? Sonia was telling me about it just now.”

“Oh yeah!” Angela exclaimed excitedly. “That place is just so hype. Let’s go again. I didn’t get to look at everything earlier since we have to come back to meet up with you guys.”

“I guess my fiancée has the last word already,” Ehlo said, sliding his hand around Angela’s shoulders. “Let’s go, guys.”

Angela brushed his hand off and walked to the other side where Bianca and Sonia were.

Ehlo turned to Wallace. “What’s wrong with her?”

“You tell me,” Wallace said passively.

“Oh yeah, I heard some rumor about you breaking up with Cyndi and then getting back together again, is that true?”

“What rumor mill was that from?”

Ehlo shrugged his shoulders. “No idea where it originated. So…is it true?”

“We never dated to begin with. You knew that, don’t you? Stop making a scene here. And about the ‘getting back together’, I was just trying to fend Sun Xie Zhi off.”

“Oh.” Ehlo looked bored so he ended up looking around the area instead of focusing on the conversation with Wallace.

When they were back out at the parking lot, Johnny turned to them. “So…walk to the shop or drive?”

“It’s very hard to find a parking spot there, plus we all came in different cars so let’s walk,” Angela said. “It’s only a block.”

“…around this busy street,” Ehlo finished.

“Oh geez, how enthusiastic can you get?” Angela snapped sarcastically.

Ehlo smiled. “Very. Want to find out more?”

Angela ignored him and caught up with Bianca and Sonia again, who were already walking to the shop. The guys looked after her and began to walk in that direction as well.

They ended up spending the rest of the day browsing around different stores instead of going back home. The guys were just tagging along with the girls and talking about the latest “ins” in the sports world or other topics. Around 7, the girls claimed finally that they were tired, so they all walked back to their cars to leave the area. They met up at a restaurant to eat before heading separate ways.

Johnny went with Ehlo and Wallace when they were heading back home since he had been dropped off by his manager earlier. Johnny had to take over driving when they stopped at a gas station to fill up since Ehlo and Wallace were at it again with debating about the movie and the author’s perspective and/or approach of the novel itself as well as her original motive in writing ‘The Mystical Forest’. Johnny feared that they might get too involved in the discussion that Ehlo might crash into some pole while lost in the whole fictional world.

When Johnny finally parked the car in their driveway, he breathed out in relief since he could finally escape to his room and away from Ehlo and Wallace–even if just for a while. At least, until tomorrow that they decided to bring it up again. Ehlo and Wallace continued to argue as they were walking to the front door. Johnny stepped forward to open the door since he knew that they were too engrossed in the discussion to pay any attention at that time. He was surprised to discover that the door was unlocked as he was putting one hand on it and was still fidgeting in his pocket with the other to find the key. Johnny turned around to the other two.

“You guys locked the door before you left earlier?” He asked.

“Of course, what are you talking about?” Ehlo said in an as a matter of fact tone before turning to Wallace. “Did you lock the door?”

“Yeah,” Wallace answered.

“You two aren’t even sure if you locked the door?” Johnny asked in disbelief.

“I was turning off the washing machine before we left,” Ehlo said. “He was the one to get the door as we walked out.”

“And you…”

Before Johnny could continue, they heard some noises inside–like someone moving around. Then they heard some roaming sound like a machine turning on.

“Don’t tell me a burglar brought his own little machine to drill our safe down,” Ehlo mumbled.

Wallace turned to Ehlo. “We have a safe?”

“Of course we do.”

“Quit arguing,” Johnny jumped in. “Let’s go in.”

“Just like that? Unprepared?”

“Why? You’re scared? Show him your fake tattoo. He might buy it and leave us alone.”

“Hey! That is…”

Wallace finally stepped forward to turn the knob. He felt a bit strange also, but the worse could happen was seeing some sort of weapon pointing at him, right? He sighed out before pushing the door in. As Ehlo was about to yell out a warning, they saw a guy in white t-shirt and pants vacuuming the living room. A very familiar scene from about two weeks ago–at least to Ehlo and Johnny. He still had the clean hair cut and moved with ease around the living room. It seemed like he never left at all. The guys stayed silent to watch the scene, not believing it. Ehlo even rubbed his eyes to make sure he was not imagining it. The guy finally turned around to face them as he turned off the vacuum cleaner.

“What are you all gawking at?” The guy asked. “Close that door before some mosquitoes invite themselves in.”

Johnny closed and locked the door since he was the last one to enter.

Ehlo walked to the center of the room and circled around the guy, inspecting carefully as he went.

“What are you doing?” The guy asked. “Trying to make me dizzy? Quit it. I need to finish cleaning the house. You guys sure are messy. I swear you haven’t vacuumed in two weeks or something.”

Ehlo turned to Johnny and Wallace. “It’s him.”

“When did you come back?” Wallace asked.

“This afternoon,” Jacky replied. “Let myself in and did some cleaning since it looked like you guys didn’t bother to keep this place in one piece at all.”

“We were going to do some cleaning, but Bianca called and asked us to join her at the theater,” Ehlo explained. “So ended up watching a movie and hanging out half of the day.”

“Is that why the laundry isn’t done yet?”

“Of course. Would you rather I leave it on and come back to a burning house?”

Johnny smiled at the familiar scene played out several weeks back, except he was the one questioning them about their cleanliness.

Wallace had been silent for the most part since they entered the house, but now Jacky turned to him. “What’s with you, man?”

“Uh…I…” Wallace stuttered.

Jacky realized what Wallace might be thinking. “Forget it. I removed the camera already. It’s better not to know anything in the future.”

“You mean I could sneak around in your room to find your diary from now on without worrying if there’s a hidden camera around?” Ehlo said, a mischievous smile forming on his face.

Jacky gave him an amused look. “I don’t have a diary. What are you talking about? I’m some junior high school girl who still doodles in the book about her possible future prince charming?”

Ehlo shrugged his shoulders. “You never know.” He turned to look toward the kitchen. “What’s for dinner?”

“Didn’t check. Thought you guys would at least go grocery shopping while you’re out.”

“Since you’re back, want to call the guys over for a reunion?” Wallace asked.

Ehlo turned to Wallace. “No way! Keeping it from them for another night won’t kill them. In fact, some might still be glad to know Jacky’s not around to steal their little ‘limelight.’”

“Stop being so petty, man,” Jacky said.

“So you want to invite them over?”

“Of course not…yet. But I’m just saying stop bringing the same old thing up. After all, I think I got it straightened out already. Thanks to three angels.”

“Angels?”

“I’ll tell you guys in a bit. I’m going to finish vacuuming.”

Johnny and Wallace went into their rooms as Ehlo tried to whip something together with whatever was left in the fridge for their little reunion.

About half an hour later, Jacky was done vacuuming and joined Ehlo in the kitchen after putting the vacuum away.

“Guess what?” Ehlo asked.

“What?”

“I did a little revenge on them while you were gone.”

“Oh?”

“I made them cringe so bad that it wasn’t even funny.”

“Stop exaggerating already, man. It’s funny the first few times, but it gets quite old after awhile.”

“I’m not kidding. You can ask Johnny and Wallace if you don’t believe me.” Then he remembered what Jacky said earlier. “And what about those angels?”

“Oh. Hold on a second.” Jacky walked out of the kitchen, past the living, and turned right down the hall to enter his room. He started to unpack his luggage and put things away before going back to the kitchen.

“It took you that long to find your answer?” Ehlo asked in disbelief.

Jacky could see that Johnny and Wallace were sitting at the stools in front of the counter. Ehlo was behind the counter again–liked he once was weeks ago. Jacky walked to them and sat down next to Johnny.

“No,” Jacky said. “I just realize I need to unpack.”

“You haven’t unpacked even though you got half a day?”

Jacky shook his head. “After I saw the mess you guys created, had to get rid of it first.”

“Okay, can we talk about the angels now?”

“You guys know Xiao Yue Lan, right?”

“Your favorite author?”

Jacky nodded. “Yeah.”

“And?”

“I met her when I was going into this town.”

“You serious?”

“You want me to prove it to you?”

“Where was it? And how?”

“Actually, it was very funny.”

“I’ll bet.”

Ehlo’s monotone wasn’t lost to Jacky, but he was trying to be optimistic at the moment.

“I was standing at the seaside to catch some fresh air and the three girls thought I was committing suicide so they tried to stop me.”

“The angels, right?”

Jacky nodded.

“What does that have to do with Xiao Yue Lan?”

“Xiao Yue Lan was one of the girls.”

“Whoa!”

“Definitely. And she’s actually very down to earth and straight-forward, unlike some other hokey authors out there who only acts that way when they’re in front of the camera.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. But anyway, I didn’t realize she listens to my show.”

“And that feeds your ego?”

“You want to be the reason that he’s going to disappear this time?” Johnny asked.

“Come on now. He’s not that petty like someone.” Unknowingly, he looked toward the left, which was the direction across the street at Ming Dao and Sam’s place

“Knock it off already, I’m serious,” Jacky said. “I don’t care about that anymore. And besides, I’m half responsible for what happened anyway. From now on, I will concentrate on making my program even better.”

“Don’t try to go with variety ‘cause that would be like what the others are doing.”

“Of course not. Just try to spice the hour up with something else, probably better research material–not just based on random stuffs happening around me.”

“All right then.”

Ehlo got up at that time to check on the stove. As he turned it off, Johnny and Wallace took the hint to help him with getting dishes and other utensils out for dinner. They did all that in silence. Jacky got up also, getting some lemonade from the fridge and glasses from the cabinet on the right side of the kitchen.

“So…tell me more about the angels,” Ehlo urged as they were sitting down again. “They have names, don’t they? I meant besides from Xiao Yue Lan.”

“Xiao Jie, Wei Ru, and Xiao Qiao,” Jacky rattled off the girls’ name. “Guess which one Xiao Yue Lan is?”

“Xiao Qiao?”

“It would make more sense if it’s Xiao Jie, right?” Johnny said. “I mean you listed her name first.”

“It’s got to be Xiao Qiao,” Ehlo argued. “Sounds more mature.”

“You can tell how mature someone is from that person’s name?” Wallace teased.

“That’s not a good reasoning, but he has luck in guessing,” Jacky said.

“I’m right?” Ehlo asked, surprised at his own luck.

Jacky nodded. “Yes. I guess I like to list Xiao Jie first ‘cause I spend more time with her than the others combined in the past week and a half.”

“Doing?”

“She’s sort of like Qiao, you know–a sibling.”

“You mean she’s as aggressive and…”

Jacky smiled. “I’ll tell Qiao that next time I see her.” He resumed his serious expression again. “And no, not like that, but more to the innocent side. I guess it’s more accurate to say that she’s a mix of both Qiao and Xiao Yu.”

“You mean the whole…” He stopped to imitate Achel’s voice. “…Jacky ge…” He switched to his normal voice again. “…thing?”

“Yeah.”

“How come you’re not wincing anymore when you hear that?” Johnny asked, curious.

“I’m cured.”

“Can I try several more times?” Ehlo asked.

“Not you. It sounds too freaky.”

“So, what about the other two’s personalities? You said Xiao Yue Lan is straight-forward and down to earth? What else?”

“I guess you can say she’s the aggressive side of Qiao, but she’s more mature and experience. She’s quite intelligent too. And Wei Ru? Still can’t figure her out yet, but she has this strong personality that contradicts her appearance. I mean she looks vulnerable and all, but she’s always so determined, not giving up on anything.”

“Just a week and you noticed that much already?”

“It’s a small town. I practically know every one of their neighbors too. It’s a good place to be if you like peace and quiet.”

“You mean boring and bland?”

Jacky smiled. “I guess you can’t settle down at a peaceful town like that after all. And I promised to take you guys there so the girls could meet you.”

Ehlo put on his charming smile. “Hey, I wouldn’t mind if you did since I wouldn’t mind meeting three cute girls.”

“You’re still pursuing Qiao or no?”

“Don’t mention it anymore, he might explode,” Wallace warned Jacky.

Jacky glanced quickly at Ehlo before turning back to Wallace. “What happened?”

“I think your prediction came true. Suddenly Ming Dao’s in the game after all.”

Jacky flashed on his victory smile. “Told you.”

“How did you know though?” Johnny asked.

“Ming Dao’s calm personality suits her aggressiveness better than all of us combined.”

“That’s true.”

“Hey!” Ehlo shouted. “Whose sides are you guys on?”

“I’m just stating the situation,” Jacky said. “I didn’t say he won yet, okay?”

“Actually, he already did,” Johnny mumbled.

The others turned to Johnny.

“What?” Jacky asked.

“Nothing, let’s eat,” Johnny said quickly.

They went back to eating in silence for a bit before talking again, but this time about random topics. Even if they touched bases with something near the danger zone, it was just briefly or a summation of what happened during the time Jacky was gone. Jacky also told them about the town he encountered also–both about the friendly people and the relaxing scenery. It seemed like a good old reunion that was somewhat too good to be true. Somehow, a similar thought occurred in the other three’s mind, which was “Hopefully when I wake up tomorrow, everything doesn’t prove the opposite of the current scene”–as they headed for their rooms after dinner.

© Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Re-posted: Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

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