Chapter 25 – Scrambling Mess

“That was good,” Ehlo commented.

“Average,” Chen Yi said passively.

“Do you have to contradict everything I say?”

“Here we go again,” Xiao Qiao said, defeated. “Would you two ever stop?”

“Do love rivals ever stop?” Chen Yi asked back.

“Don’t mind them,” Jacky told Xiao Qiao. “You’ll get used to it in no time.”

“Great,” Xiao Qiao mumbled. “Lucky I found a good place to write my novel or I’ll be driven to insanity with their showdowns.”

“I thought you said we’re quite an interesting group?”

“After a week of this, I guess I can do without.”

“Change of mind? So you’re packing your bags and going home tomorrow?”

“You wish.” She saw Ming Dao and Qiao Qiao passing by her at that time. “And why were you too yawning in the theater? It wasn’t that bad. Quite good for those pop production actually.”

Chen Yi–along with the others–turned to Ming Dao and Qiao Qiao.

“Uh…it wasn’t as awesome as I expected,” Ming Dao said. “That’s all.”

“Come on,” Qiao Qiao chimed in with the same tone. “Do you expect everyone’s taste to be the same?”

“Flashback, you were the one who bragged about how good it would be when you convinced us to go last weekend, remember?” Chen Yi said, putting up air quotes to make his point.

Ming Dao let out a nervous smile. “Uh…I guess I let my obsession for the Soulfest Duo get to my brain.”

Chen Yi turned around to talk to Achel and Xiao Jie again since he didn’t seem to be that into picking on Ming Dao anymore. The others, on the other hand, kept eyeing Ming Dao and Qiao Qiao suspiciously. That also made Ming Dao so uncomfortable that he stopped discussing whatever it was with Qiao Qiao and walked by Sam instead. Qiao Qiao had no choice but to join Chen Yi and the other two, listening in on their conversation.

Xiao Qiao shrugged her shoulders. “Forget it. I shouldn’t be wondering about everyone’s strange behaviors anymore. I’ll drive myself crazy thinking about it.”

As if out of habit, Jacky shoved his hands into his jacket pockets as they continued to walk out to the parking lot. He fished his cell phone out of his right pocket to turn it back on. As soon as the screen loaded, he could see that he had two new messages. His eyebrows came together when he saw who it was from.

“What’s wrong?” Wei Ru asked, seeing the change in his expression.

“I have to get back home later,” Jacky said. “Something about Mom wanting to talk to me about matters.”

“Is that having anything to do with Jo?” Ehlo asked.

Jacky nodded. “Possibly.”

“Who’s Jo?” Wei Ru asked.

“Someone.”

“That sounds so clear all right.”

Ehlo put a hand on Wei Ru’s shoulder. “Xiao Ru.”

Wei Ru turned to him to see him shaking his head, indicating she shouldn’t ask anymore. She could see his serious look–a look that rarely existed on his face, so she quieted down as they continued to walk out.

Although Jacky was troubled about matters that could possibly be related to Jo, but he had been paying attention to Johnny’s behavior since they’d been walking also. He just couldn’t take it anymore as he watched Johnny walking ahead in front with Bianca. He increased his pace to catch up to Johnny, cutting into Chen Yi and Achel on purpose.

“Hey!” Chen Yi yelled out, annoyed.

The others who had been walking in the same line as Jacky were a bit confused also. But they waited to see what would happen since they rarely saw Jacky behaving in a rash way.

“Sorry, had to take care of something,” Jacky apologized to Chen Yi.

“You could have said ‘Excuse me’ first,” Chen Yi shot back, but not as annoyed as before.

“Don’t mind him,” Ehlo jumped in. “He’s a bit unstable lately.”

“Cork it, Yu Rong,” Jacky gritted.

For some reason, the others expected Ehlo to continue with his smart comments, but his smile faded and he stayed quiet, observing Jacky’s next move.

“What’s going on?” Wei Ru whispered to Ehlo.

“The last time he called me Yu Rong, he disappeared,” Ehlo whispered back. “That was how you girls came to know him.”

“Oh.”

While they were exchanging all these, Jacky was whispering to Johnny. Johnny looked like he was denying it or trying to contradict Jacky’s words at first but later he seemed to give in. Johnny took a look around once before turning back to Jacky.

“Let’s find somewhere else to talk,” Johnny said in a serious tone.

“All right,” Jacky agreed. Then he turned back to the others. “You guys want to go somewhere to eat? Since we’re near this shopping center and all.”

“Good idea,” Chen Yi said.

Ehlo eyed Chen Yi suspiciously. “I thought you’re full of popcorn already.”

“I’m a grown man, okay?”

“Kid…”

“All right already!” Jacky exclaimed, cutting Ehlo off.

Ehlo and Chen Yi quieted down for some reason–possibly upon seeing Jacky’s hostile expression.

“I think there’s a sushi bar somewhere down the street,” Bianca said, attempting to dissolve the thick uneasiness that was building in the atmosphere. “It’ll be great to try it out.”

“Ooohh..I love sushi,” Xiao Jie gushed. “I want to go.”

“Me too,” Achel said.

“I guess it’s set then,” Ehlo said.

“You guys go first,” Wei Ru said. “Ehlo and I have to talk about something.”

Ehlo looked at Wei Ru. “We do?”

Wei Ru turned to Ehlo, wrinkling her face and tilting her head a bit.

“Oh…okay…yeah…we do.”

“Okay then,” Chen Yi said. “We’ll go first.”

When they finally passed the main entrance of the theater, they turned left and headed for the sushi bar. After making sure everyone knew where they were going, Jacky, Johnny, Ehlo, and Wei Ru separated from the group to find a place to talk as the others continued to the sushi bar.

*****

“Are you sure about this?” Jacky asked again. “I mean…we’ve been teasing each other way too much and this could lead to a misunderstanding or…”

“I’m sure,” Johnny said with a determined face. “At first, I thought I was paranoid when I followed them around one afternoon but then later I realized they’re going out for real and I…don’t know how to face Ehlo so I kept making excuses each time Ming Dao, Qiao, and Bianca invite me to join them. I only go with Bianca sometimes but not together. And you could see how Ehlo and Chen Yi are going at each other.”

“Talking about Chen Yi, he’s acting a bit strange lately. It’s like he doesn’t care what Qiao does anymore and then he keeps snapping at her once in awhile. He’s getting me confused. Like I know him that long to figure him out but he’s getting unpredictable.”

“Or is he just using Xiao Yu to get Qiao jealous?”

Jacky wrinkled his face. “Is he that…?”

“I don’t think so. He’s a nice kid after all. I’m not saying that ‘cause he’s great at basketball.”

“I know. But it’s still strange. And what’s with Ehlo and Angela and Wei Ru?”

“I don’t know either. Suddenly Ehlo decides to get engaged with Angela…even though she strongly objects. And now he’s getting super friendly with Wei Ru. What was that calling her ‘Xiao Ru’? Is he using the same trick as Chen Yi? I mean with trying to get Qiao jealous. And somehow Sam is getting quite strange too how he kept sighing out sometimes when I hang around him and Ming Dao.”

“Oh yeah, he’s creepy all right. He just told me he’s not used to seeing me all quiet. Are you kidding me? Me being quiet?”

“You know what he means.”

Jacky avoided Johnny’s stare on purpose, sighing out. “The point is, everyone’s acting quite strange. And I thought there are no more secrets.”

“It might be too personal. They have the right to their own lives after all. I’m just worry about Ehlo right now. I mean how will he take it? I have more faith in Chen Yi getting over Qiao than Ehlo.”

“I think Chen Yi might take it harder though. Although he seems like he doesn’t care and keeps his cool act most of the time but I have the feeling when he likes someone, he will like them for a very long time.”

“Why are we even worrying so much about them anyway? I should be walking around and eating ice cream with Bianca right now!”

Jacky turned to Johnny. “Bianca?!”

“Uh…” Johnny suddenly looked away.

Jacky pointed at Johnny. “You!”

Johnny turned to look at Jacky again. “All right, all right. So I’ve been going out with Bianca. So what?”

“And you haven’t told us?”

“If I told you guys, wouldn’t I have to explain why and how I know Bianca’s not with Ming Dao?”

Jacky nodded. “True.” He looked at his watch. “Great. I have to get back home. You go ahead.”

“Are you sure? Don’t want Ehlo or me to come with you?”

“I don’t think they’re setting a trap for me. They’re family after all. Stop making it sound like my family is a bunch of mafia people, will you?”

“All right. I’m just concerned, okay?”

Jacky could see Johnny meant it out of concern so he softened a bit. “Sorry. I know you and Ehlo are my true brothers. But I promise you guys I’ll tell you what happens later, all right?” He clapped Johnny’s shoulder once, showing some gratitude for Johnny’s concern.

“Okay. Take care.”

Johnny watched Jacky headed for his car awhile before turning to the opposite corner. He made his way slowly to the sushi bar, feeling both relief and unrest at the same time. Relief because he could finally tell someone about it and unrest because Jacky now had to share his burden also, not to mention Jacky had to take care of his own problem as well.

*****

“What are we supposed to be talking about now?” Ehlo asked. “Let’s go eat. I’m hungry.”

“You just know how to eat, don’t you?” Wei Ru scolded him. “No wonder you’re losing to the other guys.”

“Hey, don’t joke like that. I’ll get mad for real.”

“I’m not joking. I’m serious. I found out another way to pull you and Qiao closer.”

“Like your previous hare-brain ideas? It won’t work. You have to take everything slowly.”

“By using Angela and me to get Qiao jealous?”

“What? I was just kidding with Angela. It gets her every time. And I’m so not using you. I like calling you Xiao Ru, is that a problem?”

“No wonder you’re still behind them. Are you crazy? Calling Angela your fiancée is bad enough already. But calling me by my nickname? You want Qiao to think we’re closed or you want everyone to think you’re a player? Stop it with the games. It’s not working.”

“I told you, I’m not playing any games.”

“Still…knock it off. You need to act more serious and mature so Qiao could like you better.”

“Hurrump. So I have to change myself so she could like me? Yeah right. That means she likes someone totally different, not me.”

“It’s not that. You can be mature and considerate too. Like how you were with Jacky. You even shushed me earlier when I was trying to ask who Jo is.”

“It’s common sense. I mean it’s common sense and natural to do that after all, I’m Jacky’s best, best buddy.”

“Well, exactly. Maybe you should bring out more of that side so Qiao could see what kind of person you are.”

“She seems to like Chen Yi fine considering how immature he is.”

“At his age, it’s expected. And besides, who says she likes Chen Yi anyway?”

“She talks to him a lot?”

“They’re friends since high school. Of course she’ll talk to him.”

“Whatever it is, I’m still doomed.”

“How unenthusiastic could you get?”

“Very?”

“You know what? There’s a pattern going on in your group. All I see is cowardly actions among all the guys.”

“Hey! That’s going a bit too far. In fact, it’s quite far.”

“Like I’m wrong. Jacky likes someone among our group, right? Why is he always denying it? Even he’s scared of his own feelings and you guys still say that he’s the bravest one.”

“Jacky likes Sonia, so what? It’s history now, considering what happened.”

“What happened then?”

Ehlo told her real quick of what had happened several weeks back thus leading to the consequences at this moment.

“Aiya!”

“That’s what Xiao Qiao would say though.”

“I don’t care, are you keeping all our personalities in check? No wonder Jacky got misunderstood. If he were a bit braver, he would have confessed to her already. Now he’s stuck between her and Xiao Qiao.”

“Correction…he’s only stuck between his career and Sonia, not Xiao Qiao.”

“I thought Qiao said last weekend that…”

“She was just testing to see if he’s switching targets.”

“How do you know?”

“I’ve seen her with that look a lot in the past weeks.”

“See? You do understand Qiao. It’s just that you’re just too…scared to talk to her in serious manners.”

“I thought we’re talking about Jacky?”

“I’m just trying to prove there’s a pattern of cowardly going on around here among the guys.”

He smiled. “Enough already, Missy. Let’s go eat before I starve to death. I think you should eat too since people often say ‘When someone’s really cranky, it must be that the stomach needs filling.’”

“I’m trying to be serious here.”

“Come on. Stop acting all hostile. I promise you I’ll think it over carefully tonight, okay? Smile. You look scary with that expression.”

Wei Ru could see that he actually looked serious about thinking it over so she smiled.

“Yes! I’m off the hook.”

Wei Ru frowned again.

Ehlo pointed at her. “Hey! Turn that frown off.” He looked at his watch real quick. “At this rate, we’ll be licking their plates instead of eating our own foods.”

Wei Ru wrinkled her face. “That’s gross.”

“Let’s go then.”

They walked out toward the street and turned left to go to the sushi bar also. As they were walking, they saw Johnny up ahead. They increased their pace to catch up to him. Ehlo tried to call Johnny twice but he didn’t respond so he had no choice but wait until he was side-by-side with Johnny to speak up again.

“Hey!” Ehlo shouted, tapping on Johnny’s shoulder.

“What?!” Johnny asked, alarmed–almost jumping up from the fright–almost.

“Easy, man. I called you several times already so I thought I try tapping.”

“Oh…sorry. What happened?”

Ehlo looked around. “Where’s Jacky?”

“Yeah, I thought you guys were talking about something,” Wei Ru said.

“He went home,” Johnny answered.

“Huh?” Wei Ru uttered, confused.

“You meant he went to face Uncle and Auntie?” Ehlo asked.

“Yeah,” Johnny confirmed.

“That’s crazy! Why didn’t you tell us? We could be backups for him.”

“I offered but he turned me down. “

“Of course you don’t just offer. You have to insist and then if it doesn’t work, stalk him and let us know.”

“He said it’s not that extreme so he can handle it.”

“He always says stuffs to reassure us.”

“I don’t think we should react so strongly either. It’s not going to be that bad. He went home couple times regarding that already. He should be fine this time.”

“Easy for you to say. What are we going to do now?” He turned to Wei Ru. “Xiao Ru, what are we going to do?” He even took it to the extent of slipping his hand around Wei Ru’s shoulders and leaned his head onto her left shoulder. She shoved him aside and displayed her disapproving look again. “What? We were getting along so well before.”

“Knock it off with your silly games already,” Wei Ru warned.

With that, she increased her pace to the sushi bar while Ehlo stared dumbfounded after her.

“Stop messing with everyone,” Johnny said. “it’s not funny.”

Ehlo turned to Johnny. “You’re acting strange too?”

“No, I’m not.”

Johnny increased his pace also, leaving Ehlo behind staring after them both. Ehlo had this expression on his face that said, “What did I do wrong anyway?” But he knew he couldn’t ask them since they seemed to be mad at him or at least he was sure Wei Ru was mad at him. He shrugged it off after standing there for another full minute and increased his pace also.

*****

Jacky closed the door carefully behind him before heading for his room. He tossed his keychain on his desk as soon as he passed through the door. He gave his room a quick scan before shutting his door. He walked slowly to his night stand and opened the top drawer, tossing Sonia’s Bluetooth inside where it almost hit the picture frame he had put in there awhile back. He picked the picture frame up and stared at it a bit before tossing it back inside, not wanting to think about it anymore. He removed his shoes rapidly before lying down on his bed, stretching back and forth a bit and cushioning his head with his hands, lying on his back to think things over. He sighed out after awhile, realizing that it couldn’t be helped. He would have done it that way no matter how many times he replayed the scene in his mind. Just as he was about to get up from his bed to head for a shower, he heard his door opening slightly. He looked up to see Wallace poking his head in.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Jacky asked casually, not really wanting an actual answer.

“Care for a guy talk?” Wallace asked, unaware of Jacky’s current mood.

Jacky put on an amused smile. “The guy who works at a dating service place needs my advice?”

“I’m serious.”

Jacky could see that Wallace was in no shape to joke so he nodded, signaling for Wallace to come in. After closing the door and locking it, Wallace walked to Jacky’s bed and lied on the other side instead of sitting down at the chair at Jacky’s desk like Jacky had predicted.

“What’s going on here?” Jacky asked. “I’m not interested in you in case you’re wondering. And why are you still wearing your shorts? It’s getting creepy.”

Wallace adjusted the pillow under his head. “Knock it off with the smart talk, man. I’ve had enough teasing from Ehlo.”

“He’s back?”

“Yeah. He and Johnny came back earlier. Johnny left again later though. Ehlo’s doing laundry right now.”

“Oh. So…I guess you couldn’t trust anyone else but me? Am I supposed to feel special or am I the last resort?”

“Zhu Fan Gang…”

“All right. Shoot.”

“I was thinking these past days.”

Great, Jacky thought to himself. He was so glad that everyone had been thinking lately. Good for them, he mocked sarcastically and so silently that he wasn’t even flinching at all, so Wallace couldn’t detect a change in his expression. Then he sensed that Wallace was silent so Wallace was probably waiting for him to reply. But what did Wallace just say? Did he miss something?

“What do you want me to do about it?” Jacky attempted, hoping the question came out about right.

Wallace still didn’t say anything so Jacky turned slightly to his left.

“Don’t fall asleep in my room. I can’t sleep in anyone else’s room. You know it takes me a long time to get used to new places.”

“I think I had about enough rest.”

I’m the one who needs rest here, Jacky thought. He continued to stare at the ceiling instead of looking at Wallace’s miserable state. He honestly couldn’t stand another person showing their morbid look in front of him.

“What then?” Jacky asked. “Don’t tell me it’s about Cyndi.”

“It has to do with her,” Wallace admitted.

“Are you going out with that Penny…whatever her name is?”

“Whoever told you that?”

“Qiao ran into you guys one day, remember?”

“Oh. Of course not. Was just socializing with the neighbor.”

“Sure you were.”

“Do you want to hear it or not?”

“Hey, you were the one who wanted to talk, not me.”

“Fine.” Wallace got up from Jacky’s bed and headed for the door.

Jacky, seeing how serious Wallace looked, got up from his bed also. “Knock it off, man. I’m sorry, okay? Loosen up.”

Wallace didn’t look as convinced.

“Fine. I promise I’ll shut up. How about that?”

Wallace went back to the bed and lied down as before. Jacky lied back down also.

“But you have to say it too,” Jacky said. “Staying silent is seriously driving my nerves crazy.”

“All right, I’ll tell you. Uh…”

Jacky bit down on his teeth as not to interrupt Wallace.

“I saw Cyndi with Tony yesterday.”

“And? What’s wrong with that? They’re classmates, remember?”

“It’s not that. I’m just afraid she might get conned by him.”

“Tony isn’t that bad, you know. Cyndi said only his mouth is running. Take it that he’s like Ehlo. Just a tad richer.”

Wallace sighed out. “Maybe I’m just worrying over nothing.”

Wallace got up and exited Jacky’s room before Jacky could say anything else. Even if he wanted to, he didn’t feel like it at that time either. He had his own problems to take care of-–and it was probably more time sensitive than what Wallace was concerned about.

*****

As Qiao Qiao was drying her hair, Wei Ru walked into her room.

“Hey, what’s happening?” Qiao Qiao asked casually.

“Something has to happen before I can come in?” Wei Ru teased.

“Nah, it’s just a habit.”

“Can I talk to you about something?”

“What?”

“Say…are you involved with Chen Yi?”

Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “Are you kidding me?”

“You two always argue and…”

“I argue with Jacky and the rest of the guys too. It doesn’t mean anything.”

“But with Jacky and others, it’s different.”

“I don’t know where you get that idea but I guess I must tone it down…like Orchids warned me many times about my aggressiveness. I just can’t help it. Some of the guys are so annoying though.”

“I thought you’re friends with them.”

“It doesn’t mean I have to tolerate their behaviors.”

“Not everyone is that immature though. What about the others? Say…uh…Johnny?”

“He’s a great role model for all of us really.”

“And…uh…Sam?”

“Sam? He’s…uh…okay.”

“Sounds like you don’t like him much.”

“He’s all right and we do have some things in common but it’s just I’m still trying to adjust to getting along with him again.”

“You mean with what happened?”

Qiao Qiao looked confused.

“Ehlo told me about the arguments you guys had already.”

“Oh…he’s so nosy. Can’t even keep a secret.”

“But he’s a loyal friend.”

“That’s true. Even if I was stopping him and trying to avoid a fight when he was lashing out at Sam and Angela, I must admit…I agreed with him. They went overboard.”

“But Jacky’s sneakiness could cause misunderstandings though.”

“Not telling the whole world what you’re doing isn’t a crime…unless you committed one.”

“That was why they were suspicious of him, remember?”

“They just don’t trust him enough. He’s not that type of person.”

“So…you’re saying that Ehlo’s loyal?”

Qiao Qiao nodded. “Definitely more loyal than some people I’ve known.”

Wei Ru smiled. “So…”

“What?”

“Does that mean you see something in him that you could possibly like?”

Qiao Qiao realized what was going on. “What’s going on here? Are you trying to play matchmaker? I used to work for Orchids, okay? I know the pattern.”

Wei Ru put on her innocent look. “Just asking. I’m just curious about all your relationships that’s all. Everyone and everything seems confusing at times.”

“Don’t blame you. I don’t know most of stuffs they do anyway, but we’re good for now. I don’t think we all need to inform each other of everything. It might get scarier if we do know everything though. It’s called living in the bliss of ignorance.”

“Getting poetic, aren’t we?”

Qiao Qiao smiled. “Jacky’s influence.”

“Not surprise.” She glanced at her watch quickly. “Okay, not going to bother you anymore or you’re going to accuse me of some unknown crimes so I’m heading off to bed.”

“Good night!”

Wei Ru smiled and turned to leave.

Qiao Qiao tossed her towel aside finally and got up to close the door after Wei Ru. She locked it on purpose. She did not need to deal with another person wanting her to hook up with one of the guys. She was deep in the mud as it was already. Pulling out the book she’d hidden beneath the other stuffs in her drawer, she opened it and traced a certain name absentmindedly, thinking about matters.

*****

“Enchanting?” The radio broadcaster said in a soothing tone. “What is the meaning of ‘enchanting’ really? Is it something you can describe with words? The answer is different for everyone, but for me, I would like to share my views with you regarding the word today through a song called “Enchantment.” It’s my latest so please give me some feedbacks and I’ll get back to you in the next show. Until next time, this is Jacky signing off.”

Jacky got up from his seat after signaling to the guys next door that he was leaving. They signaled an “okay” back and Jacky nodded. He gathered his notes together and turned to the door. As he was about to open it, he saw Sonia walking toward him. He was a bit surprise but then he unfroze himself from the spot and opened the door for her.

“Hey,” Sonia greeted him.

“Your schedule changed?” Jacky asked.

Sonia nodded.

“Who got kicked out this time?”

“Ray got promoted.”

“Good for him.” As he was saying that, he was leaving the room.

“Hey.”

Jacky turned back to face her. Seeing his passive expression, she seemed discouraged to continue so she shook her head. He continued to walk out of the recording room and back into the main offices. As he was packing away his stuffs, he saw Angela walking toward him. “How’s it going?”

“You’ve seen Sonia?” Angela asked.

“In the recording room.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

“No problem.”

After that, he went back to packing. When he was done, he began to walk out of the studio. However, when he passed the entrance, he saw Sam rushing in. “Hey! What’s going on here?”

“Have you seen Sonia?” Sam blurted out.

“In the recording room.”

“Okay. Thanks!”

Sam brushed right past him and down the hallway in such a speed that Jacky couldn’t even imagine possible.

“What’s going on?!” Jacky yelled after him.

Sam managed to brake in time and turned around to Jacky. “Can’t tell you now. But it’s something important!”

After that, Sam continued down the hallway in lightning speed again. Jacky shrugged his shoulders and continued on his way again. While he was deactivating his car alarm he heard his phone ringing. He picked it up after getting into his car and locking it.

“Hello?” He answered.

“Big news!” Qiao Qiao’s voice rang into the phone.

“What?”

“Orchids’ getting engaged!”

“And?”

“She’s getting engaged! This is serious!”

“Isn’t that supposed to happen soon? I was expecting Vincent to announce it anytime soon now.”

“He told you?”

“No. Isn’t it common sense though?”

“This is just great.”

“What are you talking about? Aren’t you supposed to be happy?”

“I just lost a bet with Chen Yi.”

Jacky burst out laughing. He hadn’t even laughed that hard since…things began to go haywire.

“It’s not funny!”

“Oh come on. That’s the funniest thing I heard in the last three weeks or so now.”

“Still…she’s my own cousin and I couldn’t even predict right and Chen Yi got it right?”

“He’s just lucky, how about that? Besides, you were too busy with your boyfriend to monitor Orchids.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Stop pretending. Johnny told me.”

“What in the world? What did he tell you?”

“You and Ming Dao.”

Jacky heard Qiao Qiao scoff.

“Just because I hang out with him and Bianca it means we’re going out?”

“Qiao, it’s me, you don’t have to hide it. I can take it. I’m not one of your pursuers.”

“But you don’t understand!”

Jacky could hear the apparent frustration in Qiao Qiao’s voice. It wasn’t about hiding things from him but the overly annoyed feeling of being tossed around and being match-made by others. Or was that the feeling he was going through hence translating her frustration as so?

Qiao Qiao sighed. “Sorry.” She paused for another sigh. “It’s just that it has been too frustrating with everyone teasing me and I seriously want it all to stop. Even if it’s funny for a while but it gets annoying fast. I don’t want to hurt anyone but it’s killing me to feel like I’m responsible for anyone’s heart being broken. Or I’m just thinking too much. Or it’s my ego tricking me into believing that all the awesome guys of this town are falling for me.” She stopped to sigh once more. “You there?”

Jacky finally collected his thoughts again. “Yeah, just thinking.”

“So…what are we going to do now? I hate to bug you but I think only you’re powerful enough to tell the others off.” She stopped before adding, “…without hurting them too much.”

“You made your final decision on who to pursue then?”

“Not you too.”

“I meant if it would be easier to break to the others. Like you know, they lose so they would stop it with bugging you.”

“Well…”

“That’s a yes?”

“Yeah then. Now we tell everyone, right?”

Jacky rubbed his temple. “I have to work out how to break it to Ehlo first.”

“Oh? Oh yeah, I think Wei Ru’s trying to match me up with him though.”

“No wonder they were sneaking off the other day.”

Qiao Qiao sighed out–for whatever time it was that they both had lost count.

“Don’t worry. We’ll work it out somehow, okay? And you should be happy for Orchids.”

“All right. See ya.”

Jacky hung up and exited the parking lot.

*****

That night at dinner, Ehlo kept eyeing Jacky suspiciously from time to time. He did it so much that the guys couldn’t take it anymore.

“What’s with you tonight?” Johnny asked, not able to ignore it any longer. “Did he forget to include you in on one of his grand plans or something?”

“I’m just wondering,” Ehlo said.

“What?” Wallace asked.

“Come on now, ‘Enchantment’? Who is that aiming toward?”

“It’s a song,” Jacky said lamely.

“Am I supposed to believe that you still treat Sonia the same way or are you shifting your focus toward Xiao Qiao?”

Wallace stopped eating and turned to Ehlo, wrinkling his face. “Xiao Qiao? That song was for Xiao Qiao?”

Ehlo gave Wallace a disbelief look. “You’ve got to be kidding me, right?”

“No, I’m not kidding.”

“Wandering through a small forest through the night and discovering a full moon shining brightly above? Doesn’t that imply something?”

“Huh?”

“Xiao Yue Lan.”

Wallace burst out laughing.

Jacky was a bit surprised at Wallace’s reaction since he hadn’t seen Wallace smile much lately either. Or maybe Wallace was just worried for Cyndi earlier regarding Tony because after that night, Wallace seemed to resume his normal routine again. Jacky stopped assuming further and forced himself to listen on their next words as Wallace stopped laughing.

“Dude, Lan and Lin are different words,” Wallace explained, attempting to lead Ehlo out of the ‘forest.’ “Lan is blue and Lin is forest. Where in the world did you get that from? If he was writing about some blue moon, you could say it’s about Xiao Qiao but…”

“That’s where he’s being clever about,” Ehlo said, cutting Wallace off. “He did it on purpose so we won’t suspect him.”

Wallace continued to laugh while Ehlo put on his proud smile.

“Laugh all you want. You’ll soon find out I’m right.”

“Why don’t you both ask him then?” Johnny said, stating the obvious.

Ehlo and Wallace turned to Jacky.

Jacky hesitated for a bit before speaking up. “Ehlo’s right.”

“What?!” Wallace exclaimed, still not believing his ears.

Ehlo turned to Wallace. “See, I’m right?” He turned back to Jacky. “I’m right?”

“Yes, that’s the trick,” Jacky confessed. “Being subtle on purpose.”

Wallace had stopped laughing since he realized Jacky was serious. “What about Sonia then?”

“What does it has to do with Sonia? And I’m only writing a song. Not like I’m going to get down on my knees and ask for her hand. I wrote Qiao a song once too. Does that mean…”

“Okay, okay,” Ehlo interfered. “We get the point.”

As they were going back to eat again, they heard the doorbell ring.

“I’ll get it!” Ehlo volunteered. “I’m in high spirits right now.”

“Whatever,” Wallace mumbled. “No one’s going to compete with you.”

Ehlo was already out in the living room so he didn’t hear what Wallace just said. But Jacky could see that Wallace was back to his disturbed mood. Before he could ask, he saw Ehlo coming back.

“What happened?” Jacky asked.

“Your enemies arriving to seek for revenge!” Ehlo declared.

“Crazy.” Jacky looked toward where Ehlo was pointing to see Ming Dao and Sam. “Oh, hey.”

“Hey!” Ming Dao greeted them. “Have you guys heard the news?”

“You mean the one about Jacky writing Xiao Qiao a song?” Ehlo asked back.

“What?!” Ming Dao and Sam exclaimed at the same time, both confused and shocked.

“You’re so behind. Sit down.”

Ehlo moved over to sit next to Jacky on purpose so Ming Dao and Sam could take the seats on the left. Johnny and Wallace were still sitting behind the counter like before.

“We haven’t seen you guys around for ages now,” Johnny said.

“Yeah,” Sam agreed. “Strange but I suggested to Ming Dao that we come over here and do one of those guys get together again. Hope you guys don’t mind.”

“Of course not,” Ehlo said. “We have a lot of catch up to do. Now, first off…”

“Why don’t you just call it rumor mill?” Jacky snapped, cutting Ehlo off on purpose.

“Stop bursting my bubbles.”

“What was that all about Jacky writing Xiao Qiao a song then?” Ming Dao asked.

“The one that was playing earlier today. Didn’t you guys hear?”

“Enchantment?”

“Yeah.”

“What does it have to do with Xiao Qiao though?”

Ehlo repeated the explanation he gave to Wallace earlier.

“You’ve got to be kidding me, right? It’s Lan, not Lin. How can it be little forest with the full moon?”

“Okay, non-believer, you just lost just like Wallace did to me.”

Ming Dao turned to Jacky. Jacky nodded.

“No way!” Ming Dao exclaimed, still in that disbelief voice. “I never thought it to be like that.”

“Clever, eh?” Ehlo asked, though unnecessary. “And I’m the only clever one who figured it out.”

“I bet a bunch of people did already,” Jacky muttered.

“How?”

“They know I’m a fan of Xiao Yue Lan.”

“So?”

“So they will figure it out.”

“Want to bet then?”

“On amount of calls and fan mails?”

“That too but I’m going to ask all the people around us to see if they know.”

“Okay. Deal.”

“If the others don’t know, you lose and I get to make a request.”

“Great. Do I have to write a song for you too?”

“No way! I’m not that…never mind, the point is you’ll have to follow all my orders for the whole day.”

“Deal.”

“You’re that brave?” Wallace asked.

“I feel like testing my limits.”

“So…you’re switching your target as well?” Sam asked suddenly.

Jacky looked at Sam. “What?”

“You like Xiao Qiao now?”

“Of course not. I wrote Qiao a song before too, does that mean I like her too?”

“Oh…”

Ehlo looked at Sam with suspicious eyes. “Why are you asking anyway?”

“Oh, nothing.”

“I used that excuse once too many times already. What’s going on here?”

“You like Xiao Qiao?” Wallace probed.

“Who?” Sam asked.

“You. Who else?”

“No, wait,” Ehlo jumped in before Sam could react. “I thought he likes Sonia.”

“Eh…are you trying to mess things up again?”

“No, I’m serious. Why would he fight with Jacky so much before if he doesn’t like Sonia?”

“Uh…” Sam managed, fidgeting his hands. “I was just being paranoid and a bit sore, okay? And I heard those stuffs going on all the time. It was just a misunderstanding.”

Wallace could see how uncomfortable Sam looked so he signaled for Ehlo to stop pestering Sam.

“All right then…whatever,” Ehlo said, defeated. “Forget it. So now you like Xiao Qiao?”

“Uh…”

“Oh come on,” Jacky urged. “Like there are any outsiders here.”

All five guys waited for Sam to spill the beans. Sam could see that he couldn’t hide it from the others so he nodded.

Ming Dao hit him on the shoulder. “You sly fox!”

“Not surprising but congrats,” Jacky said.

“What do you mean congrats?” Ehlo asked. “He hasn’t even made progress yet.”

“Come on now. Xiao Qiao yelled at all of us already the past weeks but hasn’t yelled at Sam once. It proves that she has good impressions of him. So…”

“Not saying anything could be good?”

“See how well they were getting along at the movies?”

“No, wait,” Johnny interrupted.

The others turned to him.

“I thought he likes Qiao.”

If there wasn’t a solid foundation between them, Jacky would have already kicked Johnny under the counter. Too late. The others turned to look at Sam for an explanation. Only Wallace seemed relax while Jacky tensed up a bit while they waited for Sam to react.

“Uh…okay, okay,” Sam said quickly. “Stop staring at me. I admit I sort of like her ‘cause she’s such an interesting person. But I realized something.”

“Like?” Ehlo prompted.

“She’s an interesting kid. That was it.”

“Ah…you’re into more mature girls,” Jacky concluded. “Great.” As he was saying that, he breathed out a sigh of relief as the others were still having their attention on Sam. He also scratched Sam’s name off the list of people he had to break the news of Qiao Qiao’s possible, made-up status to.

“But…” Sam continued.

The others kept their attention on Sam as Jacky tensed up again, hoping for the best.

“I’m not talking about Qiao anymore.”

Jacky let out another sigh of relief as the others relaxed and continued to eat also.

“I don’t know if Xiao Qiao would…”

“Don’t worry. We’re all rooting for you, right guys?” He turned to the others for support.

The others nodded automatically.

“Thanks, guys,” Sam said with much gratitude.

Ehlo flashed on a bright smile. “No problem.”

“You’re just happy he’s out of the race already,” Wallace pointed out.

“He wasn’t in the race at all…to even be out of it,” Jacky corrected Wallace.

Ehlo turned to Jacky. “Hey!”

Jacky smiled. “Sorry, but the truth is very hurtful. I rather be the one breaking it to you than let you continue to wallow in illusion-land.”

“That’s a bit harsh,” Ming Dao remarked.

Jacky glanced at Ming Dao briefly. “Speak for yourself.”

With that, Jacky got up from the counter and went to the sink, disposing his bowl and chopsticks.

© Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Posted: Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

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