Chapter 23 – Match-making Season

Jacky snapped off the alarm and turned to the other side, trying to go back to sleep when his cell phone rang. He wondered who it was since he didn’t need to go into the station during weekends anymore–unless there was an emergency. The last thought seemed to be an undrinkable yet effective medicine for his sleepiness. He sat up and turned to the other side to grab his phone.

“Don’t you have anything better to do than call me way early in the morning?” Jacky ranted into the phone.

“Yes, like keeping a promise to visit a friend,” A girl’s voice said back.

“Great,” Jacky mumbled. “Which friend is it? Someone famous that I need to know about?”

“Yes, quite actually. His programs are broadcasted throughout the country daily.”

“Good for him.” He looked at his watch real quick. “Can I get back to sleep now?”

“I’m sorry, but you may not.”

“And why is that? I thought you’re meeting up with a certain famous someone. Don’t you want to keep your appointment?”

“Because I do want to keep that appointment, that’s why I have to make sure you’re awake.”

Jacky was about to hang up on her–even if she was one of the persons to make him smile recently–when he heard her next words.

*****

“I can’t believe you girls travel all the way here to see us just for two days,” Jacky said–still in disbelief.

Xiao Jie smiled sweetly. “Jacky ge, we promised to visit you, remember?”

Jacky returned her smile before addressing Xiao Qiao. “Miss Zhao, I thought you were putting me on when you called me earlier.”

“Am I that senseless?” Xiao Qiao asked.

“You never know,” Jacky said, flashing on his challenging smile.

Ehlo had been quiet the whole time except for when they first arrived and introduced themselves to each other. Now that he saw Jacky and Xiao Qiao having a staring contest, he spoke up.

“I honestly thought you were exaggerating, man,” Ehlo said. “But seeing how earthly she is, I have to admit you’re right.”

Xiao Qiao turned her attention on Ehlo. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Aggressive like Qiao all right.”

The other two girls looked at each other, confused. Xiao Qiao wrinkled her face and looked at Ehlo with a questioning look.

Ehlo turned to Jacky. “You haven’t told her about Qiao?”

“I’m not like someone who talks and thinks about Qiao 24/7,” Jacky mumbled.

Ehlo ignored Jacky and turned back to Xiao Qiao. “Qiao is his sister.”

“God-sister,” Jacky corrected him.

“Oh.” She turned to Jacky again. “The one you mentioned earlier? Her name is Qiao too?”

Jacky nodded.

“That’s nice. I would like to meet her then. What’s she like?”

Jacky smiled. “She’s a very interesting and complex girl…like any other girl.”

“Very funny.”

“I’m just kidding. If you want to meet her, we’re meeting later this afternoon for a little gathering.”

“How come we can’t meet her now? Isn’t it weekend?” She glanced at her watch quickly. “Or is she still asleep?”

“She and her friends are heading to S.H.E.’s concert right now. They want a good seat.”

“They have the tickets?!”

“Aww…they’re so lucky,” Xiao Jie whined.

“Yan won the tickets from a contest,” Jacky explained.

“Oh.”

Jacky flashed on his cheerful smile. “So…want to come along to the gathering?”

“Wouldn’t it be strange if we just come uninvited?” Wei Ru asked.

“I just invited you.”

“Still…”

“Don’t worry. I was there with them yesterday afternoon when we planned it.”

“Oh.” She turned to look at Xiao Qiao and Xiao Jie.

“I want to go!” Xiao Jie shouted excitedly. “It’ll be fun, right, Jacky ge?”

Ehlo smiled at Xiao Jie’s innocent smile.

“All right, we’ll go,” Xiao Qiao spoke up on the girls’ behalf. “But are we supposed to prepare some kind of dishes or bring anything?”

“Bring yourself,” Jacky said.

“I’m serious.”

“I’m serious too.” Then he stopped. “No wait. You know what? Better bring some type of dessert. It would score major points with the guys.”

Xiao Jie’s eyes brightened. “So, Jacky ge, are you going to take us on a tour around this place?”

“If you want.”

“You have to or else,” Xiao Qiao ordered in her usual authoritative tone.

Jacky smiled.

After they finished their drinks, Jacky paid and they left the restaurant to head for Jacky’s favorite location–the beach.

Somehow during the ride, they had accidentally learned of Ehlo’s admiration for Qiao Qiao so they tried to scrap out all the information as they could on it. Wei Ru even took it into her hand to help Ehlo score some points at the gathering that afternoon. Jacky noticed that was so unlike Wei Ru since she seemed more calm among the three girls and didn’t talk as much, but she was getting along quite well with Ehlo. Jacky knew he shouldn’t complain since he should be glad they were getting along fine. He snapped himself out of his thoughts and answered Xiao Jie’s latest question and tried to stay focus with the conversation between them three on the way to the beach. Of course, Ehlo and Wei Ru had somewhat separated themselves from their little group talk awhile back. They only chimed in occasionally when Ehlo felt like adding a comment or two to Jacky’s words or wanting to answer one of Xiao Jie or Xiao Qiao’s questions.

The rest of the morning continued in that way. About an hour before the gathering, Jacky took the girls to a bakery to buy some sweets before heading to Chen Yi’s house. He wanted to come early to help since he was one of the planners after all. He wouldn’t mind introducing the girls to the other four before the rest of their group either. In fact, he wanted it to be that way.

When they arrived at Chen Yi’s house, Jacky noticed that the Chen’s family van was still out. That meant they would have to wait until Chen Yi come back with the girls, plus he didn’t want to alarm Chen Yi’s parents even if they had already been informed of the event. He parked one house over directly across the street and kept an eye out for Chen Yi while chatting with the girls again to fill up time.

*****

“That was just rad!” Chen Yi remarked. “That’s what I’m saying.”

“I still like their last concert better,” Achel said.

Chen Yi hit Achel on the head before replying. “What are you talking about? Being ungrateful again? Would you rather stay home and hear us talk about it?”

“No, I just meant…”

Achel stopped because of Chen Yi’s fierce look.

Qiao Qiao stepped in front of Achel at that time. “Would you stop it? Everyone has the right to express his or her opinions, okay?”

“What’s with you and protecting her?” Chen Yi shot back. “It’s like you suddenly adopted her as a sister or something?”

“We’re like sisters anyway.”

“Fine with me.”

Achel could see the intensity building, so she took one step forward to stand side-by-side with Qiao Qiao and placed a hand on Qiao Qiao’s shoulder. “It’s all right. It didn’t hurt anyway.”

Qiao Qiao’s anger turned into confusion. She turned to see Achel smiling. “But he’s…”

“Forget it, okay? Let’s go find our car and head home or we’ll be late for the setup. Besides, I can beat him later at card games!” She flashed on her mischievous smile at that time.

“All right.” She slipped a protective hand around Achel’s shoulder. “Let’s get out of here, people.”

Yan Yan looked at Chen Yi–who was still wrinkling his face. She gave him a shrug and followed Qiao Qiao and Achel to the parking lot also. Chen Yi couldn’t do anything so he followed behind the girls closely. Yan Yan had increased her pace and was side-by-side with Qiao Qiao by now, trying to strike up conversation and divert it into the safe zone.

*****

Ehlo let out another yawn as Jacky handed Xiao Qiao a bottle of water. He tried to cover his yawn but failed since the others could see it. “When are they going to show up? I thought you said…”

“Possibly traffic,” Jacky said.

“Traffic my eyes. There is no traffic going that way.”

“You expect me to believe no traffic going that way when there has been a concert at that place?”

“Come on now. They’re going back home, not to it.”

“You expect no one else to go back the same way as them?”

They had been waiting for about an hour and a half now and no signs of Chen Yi and the girls hence Ehlo was a bit impatient at the moment. The girls had been listening to the guys conversing, but now Xiao Qiao couldn’t take it anymore.

“Would you two stop?” Xiao Qiao scolded them. “Are we here to visit you and have some fun or babysit you?”

Jacky turned toward Xiao Qiao. “Sorry, Miss Zhao. He’s just challenging me.”

Xiao Qiao shook her head. “Guys.” Then she turned to Wei Ru and Xiao Jie. “This is the reason why I’m staying single. And I can’t believe Jacky…the person who talks like some real philosopher on the radio…is arguing over something like traffic.”

“I think you’re losing your fans,” Ehlo said to Jacky, nodding his head for emphasis.

“I wouldn’t mind,” Jacky said in the same passive tone he was feeling. “That way I can retire earlier.”

“So you can go after Sonia?”

Jacky gave Ehlo a sharp look.

“Who’s Sonia?” Xiao Jie asked.

Jacky turned to Xiao Jie with one of his charming smiles. “No one you would know.”

“Of course she doesn’t know,” Xiao Qiao said. “If she knew, would she ask?”

“Sonia’s one of the DJs at the station,” Ehlo filled the girls in.

“Oh…” Xiao Jie mumbled, nodding her head in the process.

Xiao Qiao wrinkled her eyebrows and got into her thinking mode. Ehlo could see her strange expression so he flashed on his sly smile.

“What did you figure out?” Ehlo asked.

Xiao Qiao turned to Ehlo. “Is she the one covering the special segment with him?”

Ehlo nodded.

“Stop talking about it,” Jacky jumped in, annoyed. “We’re off-work right now, remember?”

“What are you fidgeting about?” Xiao Qiao asked, eyeing him suspiciously. “I’m trying to understand things here.”

“Nothing to understand.”

Xiao Qiao smiled. “You’re hiding something from us.”

“No, I’m not.”

Although Jacky said that, but he knew Xiao Qiao was very smart so he pretended to check the time, diverting his eyes to his watch instead and avoiding eye contacts with her.

“Aha! So you do!” Xiao Qiao exclaimed in victory.

“This is getting interesting,” Ehlo commented, pretending to be an innocent bystander. “A girl making Jacky fidget and is also named Qiao.”

Xiao Qiao turned to Ehlo again. “So Qiao Qiao likes to give him a hard time too?”

Ehlo nodded.

“And I’ll give you a hard time at the picnic if you don’t shush,” Jacky threatened Ehlo.

“By doing what?” Ehlo asked, still displaying his challenging look.

“By exposing to everyone that you’re madly in love with Qiao and wants to…”

“Like they’re going to believe you. It’s bizarre. I only know her lately, okay?”

“Yeah, like several months.”

Xiao Qiao hit Jacky on the arm. “Are you trying to divert our attention onto Ehlo so you could sit out on this one? Tough luck, Mister.”

Ehlo turned to Jacky also. “Hey! That’s right. We’re supposed to talk about my best friend here, not me.” He flashed an appreciative smile at Xiao Qiao. “Thanks, Miss Zhao.”

Jacky gave Ehlo a murderous look before turning back to Xiao Qiao. He was about to deliver his next defense but Wei Ru beat him to it by yelling out to them.

“What?” Xiao Qiao asked, turning to Wei Ru.

Wei Ru pointed toward the street. “Is that them?”

Jacky and Ehlo turned around in their seats to see as the other girls diverted their eyes that way too.

“Yes, that’s them all right,” Jacky verified. “Let’s go.”

They got out of the car quickly and crossed the street to join Chen Yi and the others as he turned into the driveway. They stood at a corner to wait for Chen Yi while he parked before approaching them.

“How was the concert?” Jacky asked casually.

Chen Yi shoved his keys in his jacket pocket. “It was a blast!”

“You’ve been waiting for a long time?” Qiao Qiao asked.

“Only about two hours,” Jacky teased.

Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “Very funny.”

“Don’t wrinkle your face, you won’t look pretty anymore.”

“Yeah. Whatever, the smart talk.” She finally saw the other three girls. “They are?”

Jacky and Ehlo had been the only ones walking up to them while the three girls tagged a distance behind them. Now that Qiao Qiao mentioned it, Jacky turned around and gestured for the girls to come closer.

“You must be Qiao Qiao, right?” Xiao Qiao asked before Jacky could introduce them.

Qiao Qiao nodded. “Yes and you’re…uh…oh!” She snapped her fingers, trying to remember. “Xiao Yue Lan?” Then she turned to Wei Ru and Xiao Jie. “You are Wei Ru and Xiao Jie?”

Wei Ru and Xiao Jie nodded in unison as Xiao Qiao opened her mouth to speak.

Xiao Qiao nodded. “Just call me Xiao Qiao is fine. No need to tell the others.”

“He already told everyone,” Ehlo pointed out.

“Did not,” Jacky defended himself. “Only some of us know.”

“Guys, stop wasting time,” Qiao Qiao chided. “We better get in and prepare before the others arrive.”

With that, Qiao Qiao turned to follow Chen Yi, Achel, and Yan Yan to the front door.

“Told you she’s aggressive,” Jacky whispered to Xiao Qiao.

“I heard that!” Qiao Qiao yelled back, still walking toward the front door.

Jacky increased his pace and put a hand around Qiao Qiao’s shoulder. “Come on, sis. Give me a break.”

“You had two weeks of break…which you traveled to who knew where. Now that you’re back, you have to pay back all the troubles you caused us.”

“Are you settling scores now?”

“I can’t?” Qiao Qiao had been shoving her hands into her jacket pockets the whole time she was walking and talking to Jacky but now she removed her right hand from her pocket and shoved Jacky’s hand out. “And we wouldn’t want my future sister-in-law to misunderstand.”

Jacky wrinkled his face. “Who?”

“Xiao Qiao!”

“What?!” The others exclaimed at the same time.

Wei Ru and Xiao Jie increased their speed to catch up to Jacky.

Xiao Jie tugged on Jacky’s shirt sleeve. “Eh…Jacky ge, I thought you said you only admire her as a writer. How come you’re…”

“So it makes sense now,” Ehlo blurted out, cutting the rest of Xiao Jie’s sentence off.

The others turned to Ehlo. Only Chen Yi didn’t seem to pay attention since he was trying to unlock the front door.

“That’s why he’s trying to hide the fact that he likes Sonia,” Ehlo continued. “‘Cause he shifted his target already.”

Jacky gave Ehlo a warning look. “You honestly want me to expose you?”

Qiao Qiao looked from Jacky to Ehlo. “What are you guys talking about?”

“Nothing!” Ehlo shouted quickly.

“It’s something if you don’t shush,” Jacky threatened once again.

“So we’re here to babysit you guys and not start a BBQ?” Chen Yi asked, slightly irritated.

As Chen Yi was saying that, he pushed the door open also.

“That was what I was talking about,” Xiao Qiao said.

Chen Yi stepped through the door. “Like it’s a secret that he’s madly in love with Qiao.”

“And you’re not?” Jacky asked.

Chen Yi put a finger to his lips to shut Jacky since they were walking into the living room now. “Mom, Dad, these are my friends I told you about. I’ll be in the back getting things ready. There will be more coming later. So in case they come…”

Mrs. Chen got up and addressed them as they greeted her with polite smiles and handshakes. Mr. Chen, on the other hand, only nodded at them briefly before going back to his newspaper.

“That’s fine,” Mrs. Chen said. “It’s good that you kids are coming over to our house. Chen Yi rarely takes his friends home. Don’t act formal. Just treat this as your own house.”

They all nodded in a polite manner.

“I’m going back to my work. You kids can go ahead.”

They nodded and smiled again before Mrs. Chen turned to leave. Chen Yi turned around and signaled for them to head for the kitchen.

“Kids?” Xiao Qiao repeated, looking at Chen Yi.

“She treats all my friends like kids,” Chen Yi explained. “Don’t worry. Mom’s just a bit…”

“Don’t say it,” Jacky stopped him. “You might hurt her feelings.”

“Of course someone’s of a certain age now so he wishes to reverse his age,” Ehlo pointed out.

“You want me to…”

“I’m not talking about your love life, why are you being fidgety?”

“Fine.”

“Great,” Chen Yi muttered. “We’re here to hear you guys argue. At my own house too.”

“What happened to your dog?” Qiao Qiao asked, looking around.

“Shut him in so you guys wouldn’t freak out,” Chen Yi answered passively.

“Like we would.”

“Want me to go feed him?” Achel asked.

“Go ahead,” Chen Yi said.

“Okay.” She walked over to one of the bottom drawers of the kitchen and took out a bag of dog food to pour into the dog bowl before heading toward the staircase to Chen Yi’s room.

“Wow,” Qiao Qiao uttered.

Chen Yi turned to her. “What?”

“She’d been around often?”

“Hasn’t every one of us?”

“True.”

“Are we going to start this thing or not?” Yan Yan asked, looking from Chen Yi to Qiao Qiao.

“Of course we are,” Chen Yi confirmed.

Chen Yi stepped toward the fridge and took out items after items, handing it to each one of them, signaling for them to bring it out to the backyard. They only talked casually about the items being handled as they brought things out into the backyard, but when they were all outside and were setting up the grill, they resumed their normal conversation again.

“What happened to Xiao Yu?” Qiao Qiao asked, looking around.

“Probably playing with Win,” Chen Yi said. “You know how Win gets excited when someone’s around.”

“Wait a minute,” Yan Yan blurted out.

Chen Yi turned to Yan Yan. “What?”

“Doesn’t Xiao Yu fear dogs?”

The others stopped what they were doing and looked at Chen Yi.

“Probably she got used to him already,” Chen Yi said, shrugging his shoulders. “How should I know? Win’s friendly.”

“You named your dog Win?” Xiao Qiao asked.

“Who would want to lose anyway?”

Xiao Qiao nodded. “True.”

“And why are you all staring at me? Get going before we’re doom.”

They resumed their tasks again–either setting out the foods and preparing to put it on the grill or trying to start the grill up or setting the tables.

“You guys get together quite often?” Xiao Qiao asked.

“Not much lately,” Qiao Qiao admitted.

“So today’s event is because…?” Wei Ru prompted.

Qiao Qiao smiled. “Last minute thing.”

“Oh…” Xiao Qiao uttered, even stump for their randomness.

“Hey, Mr. Pervert, can you check the shed to see if there are any more coals?” Chen Yi asked.

Xiao Qiao, Wei Ru, and Xiao Jie turned to check who should be the one responsible for such nickname. They could see the others stopping their tasks also as Ehlo walked to the shed without a word of disagreement.

“How in the world did he get that nickname?” Xiao Qiao asked, surprised.

“Can’t blame them,” Ehlo said, coming back to them at that time.

“You admit your crimes?” Wei Ru asked, smiling.

“We’re rivals.”

“Oh?”

Ehlo leaned in to Wei Ru a bit and whispered, “He likes Qiao too…we weren’t joking before.”

“Oh?”

“What happened?” Xiao Jie asked, stepping closer to them.

“They’re rivals on the court.”

Xiao Jie looked puzzled. “Court?”

Ehlo turned to Xiao Jie. “Basketball.”

Xiao Jie nodded innocently. “Oh…”

Ehlo gave Wei Ru a thumbs-up signal as he walked past her to the grill and she returned his signal with a smile.

Xiao Qiao saw clearly of their interaction so she walked over to Wei Ru, whispering, “What did he say?”

“They’re love rivals,” Wei Ru whispered back.

“Oh.”

After that, Xiao Qiao went back to helping Qiao Qiao set the table.

Yan Yan looked at her watch. “What time are the others coming?”

“They should come soon,” Jacky replied. “I’m not sure about Johnny though.” As if to answer Jacky’s wonderment, his phone rang at that time. He put the chair he was carrying down and answered his phone. “Hello?”

“I’m here,” Johnny announced. “Where are you guys?”

“In the back. I’ll be out in a bit.”

“Oh yeah, Wallace’s parking right now.”

“He’s here?”

“Yeah, I thought you guys were coming together.” He paused. “Never mind, I know the reason now.”

“What?”

“He probably went to pick up Cyndi.”

“Oh.”

“Here comes Ming Dao and Sam too…along with…”

“Who?”

“Bianca.”

“No surprise.”

“What do you mean no surprise? I should be surprised he’s still with Bianca.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Nothing. Talk to you in a bit, I’m going to join them now.”

“Ok, see you in a few.” As Jacky was putting his phone away and pondering about matters, he saw Xiao Jie standing next to him. He flashed her a smile. “What happened?”

“Nothing,” Xiao Jie said. “Are you…”

Jacky could see her mischievous smile so he signaled for her to go on, wondering what it could be about.

Xiao Jie leaned into him a bit. “Are you going to make your move towards Xiao Qiao?”

Jacky wrinkled his face. “What ever gave you that idea?”

“That was what Ehlo ge said earlier, remember?”

“He just wants to divert attention my way.”

“But if you are thinking of pursuing Xiao Qiao, you have my full support.”

“Oh…great.”

“What are you two up to?” Wei Ru asked from behind them.

As if caught red-handed, Jacky took a few steps back away from Xiao Jie. “Nothing. I’m going to go outside to check on Johnny and the others.”

Wei Ru watched until Jacky disappeared behind the screen door before turning to Xiao Jie. “What’s the big secret with you and him?”

Xiao Jie smiled. “Oh nothing. Just telling him that he has my support.”

Wei Ru looked confused. “Support for what?”

“Just support.”

With that, Xiao Jie walked to the table where Xiao Qiao and Qiao Qiao were engaged in conversation and sat down next to Qiao Qiao. Wei Ru still looked puzzled but joined them also, sitting next to Xiao Qiao.

A few minutes later, Jacky came back with Johnny and the others. Ehlo took the courtesy to introduce them all to Xiao Qiao, Xiao Jie, and Wei Ru while Jacky helped Chen Yi with the grill again.

“So this is the famous Xiao Yue Lan?” Wallace asked, settling down next to Cyndi.

Xiao Qiao took a quick glance at Jacky before answering. “He sure did tell everyone.”

“Simon doesn’t know so don’t worry,” Wallace reassured her. “And not to mention, Angela and Sonia don’t know either.”

“There are more coming?” Wei Ru asked.

Ehlo smiled. “We have a big group.”

“What’s with him being quiet?” Sam asked.

Ehlo looked to where Sam was eyeing Jacky suspiciously. “He’s not up to something again in case you’re wondering.”

Wallace cleared his throat at that time.

“I’m not picking on him, just stating a fact,” Ehlo said to Wallace.

“Something wrong?” Xiao Qiao asked, concerned.

Ehlo put on his charming smile. “Nothing.”

“It seems like there are lot of nothing going on around here.”

Achel walked out of the house at that time. She waved the new arrivals a “hi” before heading over to the grill.

“Jacky ge, go ahead and rest, I’ll help him,” Achel offered.

“Are you sure?” Jacky asked.

Achel smiled. “Yes.”

Jacky seemed to look convinced of Achel’s eagerness. However, Chen Yi looked doubtful. He eyed Achel cautiously.

“Did you wash your hands yet?” Chen Yi asked with a stern stare.

“Of course, I did,” Achel said. “With soap in the bathroom before heading downstairs. Smell it.” She even reached her hand across the grill and placed it in front of Chen Yi’s nose.

He slapped her hand away with his right hand. “No need to do that! Geez whiz. What if you get burn? You’re an idiot.”

“Sorry,” Achel said in an apologetic tone.

“It’s all right,” Chen Yi said in a less fierce tone than before. “But think before you act.”

Achel smiled. “I will.”

“Why are you standing there?” Chen Yi asked, pointing to the plate in Jacky’s hand. “Help!”

Achel nodded. “Okay.”

“Stop bullying her or I’ll beat you up,” Qiao Qiao warned from the table.

Chen Yi looked up at Qiao Qiao. “She offered to help. Of course it would be helpful that she ‘helps’ instead of standing around like that.”

“You’re just making an excuse to bully her.”

“Stop babying her or she’ll never grow up.”

“Stop arguing,” Achel interfered. “It’s all right. It was my fault.”

“Stop defending him,” Qiao Qiao said in a frustrated tone. “He will get arrogant.”

“Everyone…” Jacky said.

“Whatever then!”

Qiao Qiao sat back down in her seat while Achel took the plate from Jacky’s hand.

Jacky headed over to the long table where the others were sitting. He settled down next to Wallace. He eyed Ehlo and Sam carefully, wondering why they were even sitting right next to each other. A very disastrous formula. Then he shrugged his head and reminded himself not to get paranoid since they were friends. After all, they promised to cease all fire. But he couldn’t help to let his mind drift off and think of other related matters also. As he was lost in thoughts, he felt someone tugging on his sleeve. He snapped out of it and turned to his left to see Xiao Jie smiling at him. He realized she had gotten out of her place to seat next to him. “What?”

“They were asking you a question,” Xiao Jie said, smiling sweetly at him.

Jacky turned to the others again.

“Are you free next weekend?” Sam repeated his question.

“Always.” He gave the others a scan real quick. “What happened?”

Qiao Qiao got up from her place and walked over to face Jacky, sitting down next to Ming Dao. “Movie night.”

“Great. What’s showing?”

“Something the Soulfest Duo took part in.”

Jacky put on his teasing smile. “And how would you know that?”

“Ming Dao just told us,” Ehlo answered in Qiao Qiao’s place. “Where have you been?”

“Uh…” Jacky managed, not used to being caught off guard.

Xiao Jie hooked her hands through Jacky’s left hand. “Jacky ge, what have you been thinking?”

Qiao Qiao eyed them suspiciously. “You adopted her?”

Jacky turned to give Qiao Qiao a challenging look, smiling. “You jealous?”

“I couldn’t be bothered.”

Jacky finally realized what Qiao Qiao had been doing. “And what’s with…” He gestured his hand toward Qiao Qiao.

“What?”

“Hand on shoulder….”

Qiao Qiao suddenly realized she had been using Ming Dao’s right shoulder as support since she had been sitting in a crouching position on the bench instead of like the others. It was a harmless act to prevent herself from falling off the bench. The others were turning to them also. Qiao Qiao quickly removed her hand from Ming Dao’s shoulder, jumping down from the bench and sitting properly again.

“Sorry, habit,” Qiao Qiao mumbled casually.

“It’s all right,” Ming Dao said quickly. “I didn’t notice either.”

“Or were you enjoying it the whole time?” Jacky said, smiling mischievously at them both.

Ming Dao cleared his throat. “No way.”

Qiao Qiao gave Jacky a look for him to stop.

“Giving me that look won’t help, sis.”

“I’ll…” Qiao Qiao threatened in anger.

Jacky put on his challenging look. “What?” Then he realized something else also. “And lucky you’re not wearing a skirt today either or it’ll look very awkward.” He turned his mischievous look back on to complete the blow.

Qiao Qiao pointed at Jacky. “Hey!”

“That’s right,” Ehlo said. “You’re not wearing your blouse and skirt today. What’s with switching back to regular clothes?”

“Big deal! I’m just hanging out with some friends today and trying to enjoy a concert, not look pretty.”

“And the other times were just for that?” Jacky teased.

“I have to wear such formal outfits to work too, you know,” Qiao Qiao said defensively.

“I see you wear shorts to work before, Qiao. Like the first day I met you.”

“What’s with you and picking on me today?”

Jacky smiled. “I’m not, just stating the truth.”

“You’re…”

“What?”

“Guys, get your plates!” Chen Yi yelled over to them. “We can eat now!”

As if that was a command, everyone got up from their seats and piled over to help Chen Yi transfer all the cooked foods to the long table. They did all that in silence until Jacky put out the grill and joined them at the table again. Jacky noticed that they’d changed seats again–although some people were still sitting next to each other. He hesitated a bit before sitting down next to Wei Ru. Xiao Jie–like before–stayed close to him, sitting at his left. Ming Dao and Qiao Qiao were still sitting across from him with Sam on Ming Dao’s left like before, but Ehlo had switched places with Xiao Qiao. Chen Yi–like always–took his opportunity to sit next to Qiao Qiao while Achel settled down next to Xiao Jie. Yan Yan was now sitting next to Wei Ru while Wallace and Cyndi were on the other side of the table with Wallace sitting next to Ehlo. Johnny and Bianca were sitting at the right end of Jacky’s side of the table across from Wallace and Cyndi–with Johnny being the one at the end. They took turns passing food around the table with the casual noise level until everyone had everything they wanted on their plates.

“I wonder what took them so long,” Bianca said, glancing at her watch briefly.

“Probably someone doesn’t want to see someone,” Ehlo said, chewing and talking at the same time so it was very hard for them to understand even if they could catch his words at all.

Chen Yi wrinkled his face. “What are you talking about, man?”

“Don’t mind him, he always talks nonsense,” Jacky reassured Chen Yi.

Ehlo pointed his fork at Jacky. “Hey! Stop backstabbing me.”

“Like you’re not doing the same to me.”

“Why are you guys always arguing?” Wei Ru asked, wrinkling her face. “I thought you guys are best friends.”

Ehlo smiled. “He’s just sore about something.”

“What?” She asked curiously.

Jacky turned to Wei Ru. “It’s nothing. He’s trying to stir some suspicion up to put the spotlight on himself.”

“You’re…” Ehlo gritted his teeth.

Before he could say anything else, they heard Chen Yi yelling out. They all turned to look toward that side of the table. They could see Chen Yi having his fork over Achel’s piece of steak.

“What are you doing, man?” Ehlo asked. “Like you don’t have enough food on your plate already.”

“She’s not watching what she’s eating,” Chen Yi explained, still having his intense look on.

“What?”

Chen Yi pointed with his fork at the white fatty piece at the rim of the steak.

“So? It’s just a piece of fat.”

“Ehlo ge is right,” Achel whined. “It’s so good…”

“You know you could get high cholesterol from this stuff?” Chen Yi pointed out. “Not to mention it could clot up your heart.”

Achel didn’t say anything but wrinkled her face in protest.

“I’m helping you here. Hands off.”

Achel still looked reluctant but removed the fork she was holding from her plate and put it on the edge of the plate, waiting patiently for Chen Yi to remove the fats from her steak. The others watched silently, not caring to argue with Chen Yi anymore since he did have a point. When Chen Yi was done, he disposed the fatty piece to an empty plate nearby before signaling for Achel to continue eating. Then Chen Yi finally realized that the others had stopped their side conversations also and were staring at him.

Chen Yi turned to them. “What? A staring contest? Eat!”

As if Chen Yi was their commander, they once again followed his order and went back to eating.

“Wow,” Ehlo said, after swallowing this time around.

Jacky nodded his head. “Exactly.”

“Talking about a health nut.”

“You all should watch it too,” Chen Yi advised.

Ehlo nodded his head and turned on his teasing smile. “Yes, we should. We definitely should.” He turned to Wei Ru at that time. “Hey, Xiao Ru, let me help you with that. I think it’s not healthy for you. And hands off, girl or else.” He reached across the table to Wei Ru’s plate and repeated what Chen Yi just did for Achel, doing it so slowly that the others couldn’t help it anymore. They burst out laughing, except for Chen Yi and Achel–who were annoyed and embarrassed respectively. After Ehlo was done, he withdrew his hand back to continue eating. He gestured his hand toward Wei Ru quickly. “You may continue eating.”

“Thanks, Ehlo ge,” Wei Ru said in her ever so sweet voice added in with an equally sweet smile.

The others laughed even harder.

Ehlo stopped eating after his latest swallow and took a little bow at them. Wei Ru stopped eating also to give Ehlo a high five from across the table.

Chen Yi rolled his eyes. “Haha, guys.”

“You must admit that was good, right?” He turned to his audience again. “You guys should do the same for your girl too. I mean every one of you should be checking to see if there are any substances that would threaten your loved one’s health and get rid of it before it’s too late.”

“Cyndi knows how to take care of herself without me looking after her,” Wallace commented from the other side.

Cyndi turned to Wallace. “I don’t belong to you!”

The others laughed at that comment.

“The show’s getting better and better by the second,” Ehlo said, smiling.

“Glad we could entertain you,” Wallace said, his sarcasm on the verge of breaking loose again.

“Well, like it was my fault that you guys blurted out things yourselves.” His surprised expression flashes on. “Hey! My fiancée is here!”

Wei Ru wrinkled her face. “What?!”

“I’ll tell you later.” Ehlo jumped out of his seat and walked around the table to the back door.

The others stopped eating and looked up also. They saw Angela and Sonia walking toward them.

Bianca got out of her seat also and joined them halfway. “Hey! Thought you couldn’t make it or something.”

“Of course not,” Angela said, smiling. “We were just delayed by traffic ‘cause we went somewhere else earlier.”

“Oh.”

“Where did you go?” Ehlo asked, eyeing Angela with a questioning look.

“None of your business.”

“No way to talk to your fiancé.”

“Huang Yu Rong!”

“Here!” Ehlo exclaimed, getting into his saluting pose.

Angela gave him an annoyed look before walking over to the table and sitting down next to Achel. Ehlo went back to his seat also.

“Are you serious?” Wei Ru asked, studying Ehlo carefully.

“I’ll tell you later,” Ehlo repeated the phrase, still smiling.

As they were exchanging these few words, Bianca and Sonia were done having their side talk so Bianca gestured for Sonia to take a seat at the left end of the table while she went back to her seat. Sonia walked over to the other side of the table and was about to sit down next to Chen Yi when Chen Yi got up abruptly.

Chen Yi turned to Qiao Qiao. “Hey, Qiao, can you move over one?”

Qiao Qiao swallowed her food before turning to Chen Yi. “Why?”

Chen Yi tilted his head toward Jacky slightly.

“Oh…”

Chen Yi slid his plate over one space as Qiao Qiao did the same. But before they could settle down again in their new space, Ming Dao got up from his seat and headed toward the end of the row, sitting next to Cyndi. Some wondered about his intention but they did not linger. Sonia settled down between Qiao Qiao and Sam and placed a box in front of her also. Upon seeing it, Jacky tried to create some space so she could put it in the center. Their hands touched briefly while they were organizing the plates on the table. Jacky yanked his hand back in time, mumbling a “Sorry” before continuing to eat again. Wei Ru noticed the little awkward moment between Jacky and Sonia. She was about to ask Jacky something but she saw his somewhat disturbed look so she decided to save it for later.

“You guys are an interesting group of people,” Xiao Qiao commented.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Ehlo said before stopping himself again. “Or maybe it will.”

Jacky seemed to remember something so he looked up from his plate. “What were you guys talking about before with Soulfest Duo’s movie?”

“I didn’t realize they were guest starring in this one movie,” Ming Dao answered from the other end of the table.

“Talking about that, anyone wants to go watch it next weekend?” Ehlo asked, scanning his radar eyes around the table once. “We could do it as some sort of gathering again. Come on.”

Wei Ru looked up at Ehlo. “Too bad we have to go back home.”

Xiao Qiao smiled. “No, we’re not.”

Wei Ru turned to Xiao Qiao, confused. “We’re not?”

“Of course we’re not. I decided already. I have too much writing material here. I can’t let this opportunity pass.”

“You mean we can stay here with Jacky ge?!” Xiao Jie shouted excitedly.

Xiao Qiao turned to Xiao Jie. “I don’t think we should be staying with Jacky ge.”

“You can’t anyway unless you want some of us to sleep on the floor or on the sofa,” Ehlo pointed out.

“You know what I mean,” Xiao Jie said to Xiao Qiao.

Jacky turned to Qiao Qiao who was deep in thoughts about something. He cleared his throat. “Qiao!”

Qiao Qiao turned to Jacky in alarm and wrinkled her face.

“Could the girls stay at your house while they’re here?”

“Huh?”

“Xiao Qiao has decided to stay here for a while after all.”

“Oh…okay…” Her eyes brightened. “That’s even better. I’ll have more people to talk to around the house.”

Wei Ru turned to Jacky. “Is it okay though?” Then she turned to Qiao Qiao. “What about your parents?”

Qiao Qiao smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m staying at Orchids’ house right now. And she doesn’t mind visitors at all.”

Wei Ru nodded her head. “All right then.”

“I would’ve taken you to my house but I’m not staying there right now and even if I want to, can’t afford it,” Jacky said.

Xiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “What do you mean?”

“I’m not staying at my parents’ house either. I’ve been staying with Ehlo and Johnny for several years now. Wallace just moved in with us recently.”

Xiao Qiao nodded. “Oh. Sounds complicated.”

“It is,” Ehlo said. “And the reason why he can’t take you girls to his parents’ house is because they would freak out.”

All three girls–Xiao Qiao, Wei Ru, and Xiao Jie–looked at Ehlo, waiting for him to continue. Sonia was especially paying attention to what Ehlo was saying but she was pretending to pick on her food.

“Come on now. Three girls at the same time.” Ehlo flashed on his mischievous smile again. “They’ll be pondering if you three are their possible future daughter-in-law.”

“Impossible!” Xiao Jie exclaimed–a bit too quickly.

Ehlo laughed. “And even if they don’t think that, someone will…like…”

“If you say it out, I’ll choke you to death,” Jacky declared–yet another threat toward Ehlo.

“Fine then.” He went back to eating after that.

Xiao Qiao looked from Ehlo to Jacky. “What?”

“Nothing.”

Ehlo smiled. “You’ll find out that a lot of nothing happens around here.”

“I see that you guys have started without us,” A voice behind them said.

They all turned around to see Simon walking in with a girl.

“It’s about time,” Jacky said.

“What happened?” Chen Yi asked.

“What else?” Simon said. “Traffic.” He gestured toward the girl next to him. “This is my girlfriend, Stacey.”

“Hi!” The others blurted out at the same time.

The girl smiled back at them.

“Come on,” Chen Yi urged. “What are you two waiting for? An invitation?”

Simon knew too well of Chen Yi’s straight-forward talk so he just smiled and led Stacey to the table. Stacey sat down next to Angela at the end of the table while Simon walked to the other side to sit next to Chen Yi. Angela and Achel helped pass the food to Stacey while Chen Yi did the same for Simon.

“All right,” Jacky said, taking control of the conversation again. “Since we have a complete group now, let’s start.”

“Start what?” Wei Ru asked, confused.

Jacky raised up his soda cup. “To Chen Yi and Qiao!”

“What?!” Ehlo exclaimed.

“They’re leaving Orchids’ place and breaking out on their own.”

“Oh…”

Everyone–upon hearing the explanation–raised their cups also.

“What else is there to cheer for?” Ehlo asked.

“New friendship?”

“Too…”

“…mushy?” Wei Ru finished.

“Exactly.”

Xiao Qiao smiled at Jacky. “It’s not a bad idea though.”

Jacky looked at Ehlo. “See?”

“You two are fans of one another,” Ehlo pointed out. “Of course you would vouch for each other.”

Simon wrinkled his face. “What are you talking about?”

“Nothing!” The others–except for Stacey, Angela, and Sonia–blurted out at the same time.

“All right then.” Simon still eyed them suspiciously but decided to mind his own business so he went back to eating.

“What else are we going to do today?” Chen Yi asked. “Don’t tell me eat and eat.”

“What else?” Jacky asked back. “Look at all these foods.”

“True…”

So…they ended up spending the rest of the day at Chen Yi’s house eating and talking. Of course they had to pack things and go inside when the sun was setting. The desserts hadn’t been touched yet since they’d been eating at a slow pace and talking. They headed toward the drawing room to talk with each other some more after cleaning up and washing the dishes–and also as not to disturb Mr. Chen.

© Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Re-posted: Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

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