Chapter 28 – Increasing Distance

“Hey, Sonia!” Angela called out.

Sonia was making her way down the hallway toward the recording room but had to turn around upon hearing Angela’s voice. “What happened?”

Angela approached a little closer before speaking up. “New plan.”

Sonia looked puzzled so she gestured for Angela to go on.

“Want to do a joint-segment together?”

“Huh?” Sonia usually displayed her sharp personality at work and would never react in such ways, but she couldn’t help it lately. She was getting quite sloppy at this authoritative exterior thus letting her guard down with other matters as well.

“Jacky switched with me so they’re splitting my segment and Sam’s in two plus putting Jacky back on the weekend. So…instead of doing our own thing, want to do our segment together?”

“What?”

Yes, it took Sonia that long to absorb all the information in–at least recently.

“What’s wrong?” Angela asked, concerned. “You’ve been so out of it lately. And yes, Jacky switched shifts so…” She smiled and gestured toward the recording room.

“I guess so,” Sonia finally said.

“Great. I’ll get back to you on the ideas later and maybe we could start like the day after tomorrow or something. We have to at least agree on something first, right? Remember to do research.”

“All right.”

Angela pointed toward the recording room. “They’re waiting for you.”

“Okay.”

*****

Sam was making his way into the studio when he spotted Sonia walking down the hallway. He wondered why she looked so less attentive lately. He decided to ask her since they were friends after all. But as they were closer to each other, it looked like she didn’t see him at all. Sam wrinkled his eyebrows. “Sonia!”

Sonia seemed to be shocked by the interference of her thoughts. She looked up to see Sam stopping in front of her. “What?”

“No. You look distracted. What’s wrong?”

Sonia shook her head. “Just about the schedule.”

“Oh. It does affect you a bit but I guess ‘cause summer is almost over, it’s reasonable for him to stop it, right?”

“Huh?”

“I thought you knew. Jacky was talking to Producer Lin and he wanted to cut back on your summer program. Summer’s almost over anyway. It’s only reasonable…like I just said.”

“Oh? He did? I guess I was doing my segment before and didn’t get the message yet. I’ll go see the producer.”

“All right. By the way, did you see Angela?”

“Not sure. You can try calling her. I saw her earlier before I went into the recording room.”

“Okay. See you then.”

Sam continued down the hall although he wished that he could do something about her. It had been quite disturbing to see her in that state. But he knew that he needed to get going so he decided to put it aside and probably would talk to Angela later about it.

*****

Jacky was making his way out of the studio when he spotted Sonia near the entrance. This was the once too familiar scene from many times before since she still didn’t have time to get a new car. She’s probably waiting for a Taxi–again, Jacky thought to himself. He made his way toward the right side, directing his attention away from her. As he was about to breathe out a sigh of relief after passing her safely–without her spotting him, his cell phone rang. He scolded at himself for not switching it over to “Vibrate” mode. He continued to walk to his car while speaking into the phone. “Hello?”

“Where are you right now?” Ehlo asked.

“Work. Where else?”

“I thought you decided to switch your schedule.”

“I had to talk to the producer too, you know. Not like I can just say it and it’s a done deal.” As Jacky was walking, he could see Sonia’s shadow following him. He decided to ignore her and focus on the conversation.

“Anyway, big news,” Ehlo continued. “You know who showed up at our door again. And I thought she was gone for good after I threatened to have her take responsibility for taking advantage of the situation.”

“She still around?”

“I just got home to pick up something since I forgot it this morning and saw her at our doorstep. Decided to ignore her but couldn’t. I think it’s serious this time.”

“You better not let her in.”

“I’m not crazy. But…”

“What?”

“She threatened to tell Uncle later.”

“Let her. I don’t care.”

“Are you hiding something from us? How come she has so much power now? I mean she no longer speaks with this foolish, childish tone of hers but it’s like she has more power.”

“I can’t tell you but…” He saw that Sonia was still following him. “Sonia! Stop following me!”

“What are you talking about?” Ehlo asked, confused.

“Nothing. She keeps following me that it’s getting quite annoying. How many times do I have to switch schedule for her to get the message that she’s such a pest?”

“Whoa. That sounds cold.”

Jacky could see that his words had some effect since Sonia seemed to slow down already. “Okay, I think someone got the message. Now onto the next girl.”

“Does Qiao know something that I don’t know?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Why are you being mean to Sonia? I know she’s not one of my favorite persons in this whole wide world, but I thought that was harsh. Are you trying to practice so you could attack Jo later? If that’s the case, then forget it. Just say it straight out without using Sonia as a practice target.”

“I can’t tell you…”

“What am I then? What’s with you lately and hiding stuffs from us? I swear we don’t know you anymore. You know what? Guy talk tonight with the four of us or you’re not going to sleep at all.”

“Come on now. Stop acting like those girls. When I need your help, I’ll definitely holler for you and Johnny.”

“Sure. When will that happen?”

“Look, I have to get off the phone and get out of here before Sonia tags me again, okay? I’ll get back to you guys later.”

Jacky snapped the phone shut before Ehlo could ask or say anything else. He knew he shouldn’t aggravate Ehlo or Sonia. But he had to do it. It didn’t matter how things turned out in the end, he only knew that he couldn’t let them know what had happened that day when he went home after receiving the message. It won’t do anyone any good anyway. It will only increase their pressure.

*****

Ehlo stared at the phone for a few minutes before putting it back into his pocket. He wondered if Qiao Qiao was right after all–with him neglecting Jacky’s problem for too long. But he couldn’t dwell about it at that moment. He had an important presentation at work for the new project. He had to make a good impression this time at the meeting. This would have to wait–but only until tonight.

*****

Cyndi finished her latest report and got up to bring it to Orchids before moving onto her new case. When she came back, she saw Wallace still sitting there. She glanced at her watch briefly and wondered why he was still sitting around since Simon probably left five minutes back already.

“Mr. Huo!” Cyndi shouted.

Wallace snapped his attention from his thoughts and turned to Cyndi. “What?”

“Why do you look so depressed lately?”

Wallace wrinkled his eyebrows. “What?”

“You know what I mean.”

Wallace didn’t answer but turned back to the file in his hand and pretended to be typing away. Cyndi knew if she didn’t ask today, she would never get a chance again–even if he would hate her later for being nosy. She stepped forward to his desk and put a hand on his shoulder.

“You okay?” Cyndi attempted once more.

Wallace stopped typing and reached his hand out to take Cyndi’s hand into his. He gave it a gratitude shake before letting it go. Cyndi removed her hand from his shoulder also.

“It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to tell me or anyone…ever, but stop it with the morbid look, please?” Cyndi begged.

Wallace nodded without saying anything. Cyndi knew she didn’t want to pursue the matter any further. She didn’t want to push him to no end. As she was about to tell him goodbye before heading for lunch, she heard the door being opened. She looked up to see Tony walking in.

“Senior Xie Zhi, looking for Orchids?” Cyndi asked.

Tony nodded.

“She’s in her office but probably will head for lunch soon.”

“You want to join us or no?”

As Cyndi was about to answer, Orchids came out from her office. She turned around to face Orchids instead of answering. “Senior Xie Zhi’s looking for you.”

“You coming?”

“I…”

“Oh, hold on. Wallace…”

“What?” Wallace mumbled. He had gone back to typing after Tony came in a minute or so ago.

“Can you give something to Penny for me later?” Orchids asked. “Melody said that Penny was asking about it and I said I would buy it for her since I know where to find it.”

“You can give it to me now, but she won’t be back until a week or two later since she went on vacation two weeks ago.”

Cyndi suddenly understood why Wallace was a bit down lately–or she thought she understood.

“Oh,” Orchids said. “I’ll give it to you this afternoon then.”

Wallace nodded.

“All right then.” She turned back to Cyndi. “You coming?”

“Uh…I guess,” Cyndi hesitated.

“Let’s go then. Vincent’s probably waiting for us.”

After that, Orchids walked to the door with Tony. Tony made sure to open the doors for both girls before stepping out himself.

Wallace looked after them, feeling a bit strange. It was like he was out on some big secret that everyone was sharing.  He snapped the folder in his hand shut and decided to lock up for lunch when his cell phone rang. He picked it up to see Ehlo’s name on the screen.

“Hello?” Wallace said into it miserably.

“What’s with you and the morbid tone lately?” Ehlo asked. “It’s like everyone’s having their own side-drama or something.”

“You’re calling me just to ask me that?”

“No, actually…”

“What?”

“Guy talk tonight, be home or else.”

“Don’t tell me it’s one of your hare-brain ideas again.”

“Will you trust me for once?”

“All right then. I’ll be home in time. In fact, I’ll be home right after work.”

“The better. If you see Jacky home, be sure to make him stay put.”

“It has to do with him?”

“Yes. He’s hiding stuffs from us and I’m going to get to the bottom of this. It’s not healthy seeing his or your morbid face on an ongoing process like this or Johnny and I will be infected by it too.”

“Stop being dramatic, man.”

“I’m serious this time, Wallace.”

“Okay then.”

“I’m off to lunch then.”

“Okay.”

Wallace snapped his phone shut and pondered to himself what Ehlo came up with this time. But then he remembered seeing Jacky in no better shape than him these past weeks as well. Although they both seemed to act like they were so happy in front of others, but they were like two icebergs at home nowadays. No wonder Jacky seemed a bit out of it when they had the talk that one time. He shrugged it off as he was getting up to go to lunch also. Whatever it was, he needed to put it aside until tonight. He had to meet a client after lunch so he needed to focus.

*****

Qiao Qiao put her phone back into her handbag and began to walk toward the street corner when she spotted Chen Yi down the street with Achel. She smiled seeing them so happily together. Although Chen Yi seemed like a bully to Achel at times, but he did care for her a lot. She almost forgot to press on the cross-walk light when Chen Yi looked toward her direction and waved. She snapped out of her thoughts and waved back to both. Then she turned her attention toward the street ahead again. Within seconds, Chen Yi and Achel were by her side.

“Why do we keep bumping into you?” Chen Yi teased.

“I can’t help it that we work in the same area,” Qiao Qiao said.

Achel smiled. “She got you there.”

Chen Yi looked at Qiao Qiao. “I’m letting you off this time, but next time…”

“Like I’m scared of you,” Qiao Qiao returned.

“By the way, where are you heading?”

“Meeting Bianca at the next corner.”

“Not Ming Dao?”

“No.” She remembered something so she turned to him. “Don’t tell him, okay? I meant I’m just not prepared yet to tell him and I wouldn’t want to…”

Chen Yi put a hand up to stop her. “Got it. Don’t worry.” He gestured toward the cross-walk. “Let’s go before the light changes again.”

Qiao Qiao turned her attention back to the street again since she was looking at Chen Yi and Achel while talking. After they crossed the street, they resumed their conversation again.

“Care if we join you then?” Chen Yi asked.

“That’s fine,” Qiao Qiao said. “So I can watch you two act cute again.”

“Get out of here. I’m not that dramatic and lovey-dovey like…”

“What?”

“I’m not saying it’s you…but probably Ehlo and Wei Ru.”

Qiao Qiao laughed. “You think they’re getting together?”

Chen Yi shrugged. “Beats me. Here comes Bianca now.”

They could see Bianca parking in front of a store. They increased their pace and got in the car so that Bianca could pull out.

Bianca smiled upon seeing Chen Yi and Achel. “Coincidence?”

“We do work around the same area…like two blocks to be exact…after all so it’s only reasonable to run into each other, right?” Chen Yi rattled out–repeating what Qiao Qiao said to him earlier.

“True.”

They continued the conversation for the rest of the ride to Seahorse Café in that happy tone.

*****

Sonia inhaled the salted air as she stood there, feeling much better than before. She opened her eyes again and looked toward the clear blue water ahead. She finally knew why Jacky loved this place so much. It was as if it had the power to take all worries away and leave the mind at rest–even if temporarily. She continued to stare out to where the seagulls were flying high above and were circling around a lighthouse. Just as a smile crept back onto her face, she could hear someone screaming from a distance. She turned in every direction to find the source of the voice. As she turned right, she saw a familiar silhouette standing on one of the big boulders. He must be very frustrated to be yelling so loud because they were quite a distance away. She made her way toward him, determined to find out his problems and share his worries this time.

“Jacky!” Sonia called out.

Jacky turned around to face her. He looked surprised upon seeing her there but quickly turned his expression into passiveness. “Were you following me?”

“I’m not. I was just over there and I heard you yelling, so I…”

“Didn’t you hear what I said earlier at the station? Why are you so thick-skinned? Always following me around and causing me troubles.”

“I wasn’t following you. I just told you that…”

Jacky shook his head. “I know what kind of person you are, so stop denying it. It will only make it worse.”

“But I seriously didn’t follow you!”

Jacky could see the frustration on her face and in her eyes. But he knew he couldn’t back down. “You think just because you can yell louder, I’m convinced it’s a fact?”

“What’s gotten into you lately? I admit that it was our fault in the past for doubting you for the wrong reasons but we all admitted our wrongs and apologized to you already. It was all a misunderstanding anyway. You said it yourself. Why are you doing this? You know that you’re torturing us with your attitude and…”

“Enough! You think you know me? Why do you always want to have the upper-hand in everything? You want to convince me you can read my mind now?”

“You’re so unreasonable!”

“Did I ask you to come over here and talk to me?” Jacky could see the anguish tears forming on the brink of her eyes. He wanted so badly to hold her to him and comfort her, to apologize to her, to promise her that he would never do such heartbreaking things again. But he held back all his emotions and maintained his passive, cold expression. He knew he must break the stare before he softened and ruined his plan thus far. “Well? What else do you have up your sleeves now?”

Sonia didn’t say anything more. She turned around and ran back to the direction she came from, her eyes filled with tears and frustration seething through her.

Jacky finally released his clenched fists and turned back toward the water ahead, feeling a mixture of grief and guilt coming at him all at once.

*****

That night, like promised, Wallace made sure Jacky stay put as they were waiting for Ehlo to come home. However, he didn’t have to exert as much energy in convincing Jacky since Jacky shut himself in his room for the majority of the time since he came home. Wallace only had to monitor the front door to make sure Jacky didn’t leave again. When Ehlo finally arrived home around 7 PM, Wallace relaxed and told Ehlo to take over while he could relief himself with a shower. Ehlo tossed his briefcase in his room real fast and took his post by the door. When Wallace came back about half an hour later, it was Ehlo’s turn. Then when Johnny arrived home at 8 PM, Ehlo informed him about the guy talk.

“You guys serious this time?” Johnny asked, looking from one to the other.

“Have you seen him so serious in all your life?” Wallace asked back.

“Okay then. Let me take a shower first.”

“I’ll go get dinner started then,” Ehlo volunteered.

Johnny nodded before heading for his room.

Ehlo turned to Wallace. “Keep watch.”

“Yes, Master,” Wallace snapped sarcastically.

Ehlo decided to ignore Wallace’s smart comment since he knew Wallace was not in any better state than Jacky. He stepped into the kitchen and began to prepare dinner instead.

About half an hour later, they saw Johnny walking out with a towel in his hands, drying his hair. Ehlo was still tending to the soup on the stove so he couldn’t move from his place.

“Are you trying to get us into the right mood?” Johnny joked.

“Tease all you want, but once I get this thing sorted out and we have our cheerful buddy back again, you’ll worship me for being a genius.”

“Sure. Right, man.”

Johnny ended up sitting around and watching TV with Wallace until another half an hour later. Ehlo was done with his cooking by then and was about to call them in to eat when they heard Jacky’s door opening. Ehlo made sure he had shut off the stove properly before walking into the living room again.

“Going somewhere?” Ehlo asked.

“No,” Jacky answered. “Can’t I get out of my room to stretch?”

“If you’re free, then let’s do our guy talk now.”

“What’s the big deal this time?” He eyed Wallace. “I thought you have some problems to take care of. Why are you in on his hare-brain ideas again?” He knew deep down that he shouldn’t target Wallace since they seemed to share “gloomy-land” together nowadays, but he had to make them quit it.

“I think that he has a point this time though,” Wallace defended Ehlo. “It’s not just all hare-brain idea.”

“Oh?”

“Can you stop avoiding the matter?” Ehlo asked, taking over from Wallace.

“What are you talking about?”

“You and Sonia.”

“Here we go again,” Jacky said, frustrated. “Stop playing matchmaker already. Don’t you guys ever get bored of these stuffs? I’m so fed up with all these talk. New-flash…I’m going to marry Jo soon, okay? Why don’t you guys call off the over-hyped attitude?”

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

“You heard me. I’m marrying Jo soon.”

“We all know you like Sonia,” Ehlo said, regaining himself. “It’s written on your morbid face for the last month or so. Can’t you just muster up some courage and tell your parents about it? I’m sure they love her too, considering how smart she is and all…and…”

Ehlo stopped because he could see how grim Jacky’s expression had become.

“What’s with you and trying to make me follow my heart?” Jacky asked, still in his irritated tone. “In fact, what’s with you guys lately trying to convince me about my own feelings? Don’t I know how I feel toward Sonia? So what if I love her? Is that going to change anything?”

“If you love her, then tell her. Are you afraid of losing your job? How old are we all now? It’s life. Make some sacrifices instead of rotting yourself away with all these pitiful acts! Even if I don’t like Sonia that much, I still think she deserves to know.”

“Tell her? Tell her then what? Tell her to wait for me while I try to convince my parents that I won’t marry Jo even if they threaten their deaths upon me?”

“What are you talking about?”

All three guys–Ehlo, Johnny, and Wallace–turned around to look at him. They could see the amount of frustration building on his face and how intense he looked by then. Then they suddenly understood why he had been acting quite strange lately and not to mention cowardly with how he was trying to avoid the matter at all cost. It was not because he didn’t want to acknowledge the fact. But he just couldn’t come right out and tell his parents without hurting them. He might be harsh and mean toward Jo on many occasions in the past, but he can’t just use the same tactics toward his parents. Moving out of the house was one thing but driving the ultimatum toward them was another.

The room became quiet for so long that the guys no longer knew where to begin.

Just as Jacky was about to turn away from them to go back to his room, Wallace stepped toward him.

“It doesn’t matter what Uncle say, we’re backing you up on this,” Wallace said, determined. “Let’s go.”

“Where?” Jacky asked, his IQ suddenly going down several double digits.

“I might be a loser in love but I’m not a loser when it comes to family. Let’s go. I’m not going to be related to people who are ruining their kids’ lives.”

“You’re crazy. You don’t know what you’re talking about. No way.”

“Why are you making such a big deal out of it? The way I see it, when they see Sonia, they won’t rob you the right of deciding who you want to marry. Come on.”

“Why am I even telling you guys? I’m going to sleep.”

“Zhu Fan Gang, stop hiding! Can’t you be a little braver? Stop acting like a ‘Drama King’ and settle this once and for all.”

“He’s right!” Ehlo exclaimed, his frustration building above the same level as Jacky by then. “Stop hiding, will you?”

“There’s no other way. And that’s final.”

“They’re right,” Johnny finally spoke up. “Stop pushing the deadline back. It’s not healthy for you or Sonia. Or your family either.”

Jacky turned around again to look at all three of them in the face.” It doesn’t matter anymore no matter how you try to convince my parents. It’s already done.” He went to his room after that, not leaving time for anyone to react.

“This is just great!” Ehlo yelled out.

“Calm down, man,” Wallace said.

“How can I be calm? I had it with him and all his ‘I’ll take care of this myself’ attitude! What’s with him anyway? So he’s too cool for us now?”

After Ehlo finished those words, he stepped toward the front door and stomped out, slamming the door in the process also. Wallace didn’t know what else to do but turned to Johnny.

“So much for a little guy talk, huh?” Johnny asked.

“What now?”

Johnny shrugged his shoulders. “Ehlo’s too hot-headed for his own good sometimes. But I think after he cools down, he’ll think of a better way to confront Jacky. He’ll be back later. Come on. Let’s go eat.”

Wallace didn’t feel like eating at all but seeing how Johnny was trying to patch things up as best as he could, Wallace nodded. They ended up eating silently and waiting for Ehlo to come back or for Jacky to change his mind and confide in them–once again.

*****

Sam was about to head for his room when he heard the doorbell.

“I’ll get it,” Ming Dao volunteered.

Sam waited for Ming Dao to open the door since he wanted to see who was coming at such an hour. As soon as the door was opened, they saw a very frustrated Ehlo stomping in.

“Sorry, guys,” Ehlo rattled out his apology. “But can I stay with you guys for the night?”

“One of your cold wars again?” Sam asked.

Ming Dao shut the door before returning to the living room–where Sam had managed to settle down at the sofa and tried to talk to Ehlo.

“My so-called pal decides to be a coward and I can’t even get him to see the light,” Ehlo continued in his frustrated tone, but not as harsh as he sounded earlier. “I need to get something going so I could get it through his thick head.”

“I’m guessing you’re not mad at Johnny,” Sam said.

“It’s Jacky?” Ming Dao guessed.

“Again?” Sam added.

Ehlo turned on Sam. “What do you mean again? The other time I was pretending so I could spy on you. But this time, I’m seriously fed up.”

“What happened?” Ming Dao braced himself for the worst based on Ehlo’s fierce expression.

“Do you guys want to help me?” Ehlo asked.

“On what?” Sam asked, still confused since Ehlo kept stopping.

“We’re going to help him and Sonia get together or we won’t be able to work or function normally around them. It’s driving me insane.”

“I thought you meant something serious,” Ming Dao said, beating himself up for falling for one of Ehlo’s dramatic episodes again. Yet he did not want to be impolite. Or more like he didn’t want to set Ehlo off more than Jacky already did. “Well, if you want to, then I’ll help you.”

“Me too,” Sam agreed. “But we can’t guarantee we’ll be successful since after all, it’s their lives.”

“I have a plan,” Ehlo reassured them. “Okay, maybe I don’t but how about setting up a meeting with the gang tomorrow morning?”

“Huh?” Ming Dao uttered.

“Remember that conspiracy that you did on Jacky the last time? We’re repeating it but this time for his own good…for real.”

“Are you sure?” Sam asked. “He might get mad at us. I mean I wouldn’t mind since I want to help Sonia too. But with Jacky…”

“Don’t worry. I’ll deal with him.”

“You said it like we’re taking him out or something.”

“Well, almost like that. Come on now. Are you guys in?”

Ming Dao and Sam nodded at the same time.

“Good. Then…what’s for dinner?”

“Sorry, we only have leftovers since we had an early dinner tonight,” Ming Dao said in an apologetic tone.

“That’s fine. With all that energy I used to fight with him, I’m hungry now.”

Ehlo got up and walked toward the kitchen. Ming Dao and Sam exchanged an amused smile behind his back while they followed him to the kitchen also. Ming Dao brought out the leftovers and tried to heat it up for Ehlo while Sam excused himself to go back to his room.

“So…what’s with him and turning in early?” Ehlo asked, curious.

“Nah,” Ming Dao said. “He just wants to go chat with Xiao Qiao. They usually have a meeting around this time.”

“Oh…”

“Yeah.”

“I think I better do something like this with Xiao Ru too. But then I can call her though.”

“You guys are partner in crimes?”

Ehlo smiled. “Something like that.”

“You seem less aggressive than before. Honestly, it’s not a good thing to admit, but you scared the world out of me earlier.”

“Sorry, man. It’s just that I’m frustrated with that Jacky.”

Ming Dao could see Ehlo’s intense expression turning back on so he nodded and changed the subject instead, trying to maintain a normal conversation again.

© Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Re-posted: Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Advertisements