Chapter 7 – 3 vs. 2

Qiao Qiao stayed silent as Vincent and Orchids were chatting away happily on the opposite seat. She couldn’t believe she was riding in a limo instead of Jacky’s car right now. She had this itch to know what the others were doing at the moment. The driver was driving at an excruciatingly slow rate that Qiao Qiao felt like tearing her hair out already. She knew that he was just being extra careful, but she couldn’t help feeling like they were not moving at all. She had a strong urge to tell them to stop the car so she could walk home and she would get there faster than that. While she was sulking inside, she suddenly caught Jacky’s name somewhere in Vincent and Orchids’ conversation. She snapped to attention again, listening in.

“He sure doesn’t know when to stop,” Vincent said.

“It takes two, you know,” Orchids pointed out. “Stop playing your silly game with him then.”

“You two know him?” Qiao Qiao asked, alarmed.

“Of course. Actually, he knows Vincent first and then the rest of us. He didn’t tell you?”

“Not really. He and Ehlo kept changing the subject on me.”

“He probably just wants to remain mysterious. Don’t blame him. He’s a little strange, but harmless.”

“Hm…”

“Talking about him, I have to send Wallace something when I get home.”

“What does Wallace have to do with anything?” Qiao Qiao asked, confused and unable to restrain herself from the curiosity.

Orchids shrugged her shoulders. “Nothing. It’s just that I tend to associate them together.”

Qiao Qiao gave Orchids a weird look.

“That means they didn’t tell you either?”

“Tell me what?”

“They’re cousins,” Vincent said.

“What?!” Qiao Qiao forgot that she was in the car so she stood up straight when she heard what Vincent said. She ended up bumping her head on the roof. Wincing at the pain, she sat back down again.

Orchids rushed over to check her head.

“I’m fine,” Qiao Qiao managed, biting her lips.

“You need an icepack? I think Vincent has it around.”

Vincent was already opening a compartment and getting out an icepack. He handed it to Orchids. Orchids placed it on Qiao Qiao’s head.

“I’m fine now,” Qiao Qiao reassured her, taking the icepack. “Don’t worry.”

Orchids returned to her seat next to Vincent again.

“So those two have been putting on a show?” Qiao Qiao asked, bringing the focus back on their previous topic.

“I guess it’s a mistake to let you know,” Orchids said.

“How come?”

“They must have their reasons to hide it from you.”

“Like playing some kind of trick on me? I’ll show them.” Then she realized something else. “So that’s how he knows my last name?”

“You told him you’re my cousin. He put two and two together.”

“But like you have just one cousin.”

“I have only one Qiao cousin, missy.”

“Oh…” Qiao Qiao said, feeling foolish and letting out a nervous laugh at the same time. “But still…those two need a lesson.”

Orchids looked toward Vincent. Vincent smiled, indicating he didn’t know either.

*****

Jacky emptied his pocket contents on the table as he was changing out of his suit. As he was reaching into his right pants pocket, he realized that he still had Sonia’s hair clip with him. He put it on the table, reminding himself to return it to her tomorrow. He walked out toward the living room again after a quick shower. Looking into the kitchen, he saw Ehlo and Johnny sitting at the counter–Ehlo behind the counter and Johnny in front of it. He walked into the room and sat next to Johnny.

“Watermelon?” Ehlo offered.

“You didn’t eat enough at the party?” Jacky asked.

“Come on. Who would be full with those mini-luxurious foods that are only nice to look at but not enough for filling?”

“It’s not your first day knowing him,” Johnny reminded Jacky. “Let him satisfy his hunger.”

Jacky got up and walked toward the fridge. He took out a soda and sat back down again.

“So how was the ride back?” Johnny asked, putting on his teasing smile. “Missed Qiao?”

“You mean me or him?” Jacky asked back.

“Both.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ehlo rattled out automatically.

“He doesn’t want to answer but it’s written on his face,” Jacky said to Johnny before turning to Ehlo. “You look like you’ve just gone to a funeral.”

Jacky and Johnny slapped each other a high five.

“Quit it, guys,” Ehlo warned. “Or I’ll eat this watermelon alone.”

“Like we care,” Jacky said.

“Oh yeah, how did Qiao like the song you wrote for her?” Johnny asked.

“She doesn’t know I wrote it.”

“You didn’t tell her?”

“Why should I? It’s just a song. She might misunderstand that I like her.”

“The lyrics are dripping of your love for her.”

Jacky wrinkled his face. “Was I that obvious?”

“Not yet.”

“All right then. I’ll stop writing her songs then. I’ll leave it to Mr. All-You-Can-Eat over there.”

Johnny sniggered, trying to hold back his laughter.

“I’m holding a knife here,” Ehlo warned again. “You two honestly want to aggravate me?”

“Chop the thing already,” Jacky urged.

Jacky ended up having to stand up and taking the knife from Ehlo to chop the watermelon up into pieces. Ehlo got containers to put the pieces in as Jacky was cutting the green peel off the rest of the watermelon after putting aside some slides with the peel for their midnight snack.

“Why did you put aside so many?” Ehlo pondered, closing the lid of the last container up.

“Call Ming Dao and Sam over here,” Jacky directed.

“I thought Sam’s still mad at you,” Ehlo reminded Jacky of the previous incident.

“He’s not that lame.”

“You want me to get on the phone to call them or walk across the street to call them?”

“Better call them by phone,” Johnny advised. “If you walk around looking like that, the neighbors will freak out and call the cops on you.”

“I’m not naked, okay?” Ehlo said defensively. “I’m wearing a t-shirt and shorts here.”

“Trust me. You don’t want to walk around in that right now. You’ll catch the night dew.”

“All right. I get your point.” He went to the living room to retrieve his cell phone. He found Ming Dao’s phone number in the Phonebook before pressing the ‘Call’ button.

It rang twice before Ming Dao picked up.

“Hello?” Ming Dao said into the phone.

“It’s Ehlo from across the street,” Ehlo said.

“What’s going on? It’s almost midnight already. Don’t you guys ever sleep?”

“We just got back from the party a bit ago.”

“I figured that. Sam just got back awhile ago.”

“Yeah. Anyway, want to come over here for a midnight snack?”

“What are you guys having?”

“Watermelon and soda.”

Ming Dao wrinkled his eyebrows. “What?!”

“So we’re weird.”

“Okay. I’ll be right over.”

“Okay. Remember to bring Sam.”

“I know. Bye.”

Ehlo walked back into the kitchen to find Jacky and Johnny already munching on the watermelon.

“Hey, no fair!” Ehlo exclaimed the injustice of the situation. “You guys didn’t wait for me?”

“Why?” Jacky asked. “You need me to feed you?”

“But still…”

“Like we eat your portion too.”

Ehlo sat down at his original spot behind the counter and dug in also.

They heard the doorbell ring five minutes later. Jacky got up to open the front door. Ming Dao was wearing a black t-shirt and dark blue jeans with black tennis shoes. Sam had changed out of his suit already–obviously–and was wearing a red polo shirt and black sports pants with navy blue tennis shoes. What’s with these two and sports clothes? Jacky smiled at them, holding the door for them to pass before closing and locking the door again. Ming Dao and Sam walked straight into the kitchen to join Ehlo and Johnny. Johnny gestured toward the empty seats on his left. Ming Dao sat next to him while Sam sat next to Ming Dao. Jacky walked back to his seat and sat down again, munching on his watermelon that was still in his hand since he went to the door. Ehlo pushed the watermelon plate toward Ming Dao and Sam.

“There are some sodas in the fridge,” Ehlo informed them.

Ming Dao got up to get some before sitting down again. He handed one to Sam.

“What happened to him?” Ming Dao asked, eyeing Jacky as he was opening his soda can. “Someone pushed his mute button?”

“He’s just tired,” Johnny said, feeling like he needed to defend his buddy.

“Tired from socializing with the female population at the party all night,” Ehlo blurted out, putting on his half amusing and half challenging smile.

Jacky gave Ehlo a sharp look, but continued to eat his watermelon in silence.

“Was the party that exciting?” Ming Dao asked, not aware of Jacky and Ehlo’s brief exchange.

“A lot of walking, talking, and dancing,” Ehlo highlighted. “That’s about it.”

“Then what’s so special about it?”

“A lot of rich and famous people were there,” Sam said. “It’s like your chance to connect with them.”

“Aren’t you two rich and famous too?” Ming Dao asked, turning to Ehlo and Johnny.

“I’m not either one of those,” Ehlo said in a dramatic tone.

“Is that an understatement?” Jacky asked passively, almost choking on his latest piece.

“There’s no need to hide my background from them,” Ehlo continued in that same dramatic tone, letting out a sigh for the same dramatic effect. “They’ll find out one day anyway.”

“Why?” Ming Dao asked, giving Ehlo his full attention. “What happened?”

“Actually, I…” Ehlo stopped briefly to let out a sigh again before continuing in his dramatic tone. “I was a very poor kid when I was little. Then somehow this gang leader saved me and took me in. He treated me like his own son and was even thinking of putting me in charge when he passed away. But…fate intervened and I was tossed out by some of the old men there who thought I was not suitable to be their leader since I was still so young. So then I had to work at very odd jobs until I could find enough money to live by and study until I get a degree. And…finally here I am…an architect, making a decent living.”

“Wow! You were seriously in a gang?”

“Don’t believe me?” Ehlo put his second watermelon piece down and pulled up the remaining of his shirt sleeve to reveal a tiger tattoo near his right shoulder.

“Wow.”

Jacky tossed the green peel from his watermelon piece toward Ehlo. Ehlo caught it in time and put it in the other plate–the peel plate.

“Make it believable, will you?” Jacky said passively.

“What? I’m not a good enough story-teller?” Ehlo asked, sounding almost offended his best friend should doubt him.

“What?!” Ming Dao jumped in, confused. “You put us on?”

“He’s just like his pal all right,” Sam remarked with traces of bitterness in his voice.

“Hey!” Jacky protested.

“It’s for fun,” Ehlo said. “Come on. Don’t take it so hard.”

“What’s the real story then?” Ming Dao asked, looking at Ehlo again.

Ehlo took a sip from his soda can before responding. “Jacky and I are hiding from our family. Johnny moved out here to be closer to his job. So we decided to move in together.”

“Oh.”

Ehlo smiled. “Wouldn’t you rather prefer the other version? Sounds more daring and adventurous, don’t you think?”

“Hey, Jacky,” Sam called out suddenly.

Jacky turned to him.

“So are you and Sonia going to broadcast the segment on today’s event on Monday?”

Jacky shook his head. “Sonia’s doing it. I’m just helping her with the interviews.”

“And you two are rivals?”

“We don’t play dirty. All our battles are quite fair.”

“That’s strange though,” Ming Dao commented. “I never heard of such thing before.”

“You don’t believe fair competition can exist?”

“No, just rare nowadays.”

“They’ve been at it forever,” Ehlo said. “They might as well get married already.”

Jacky gave Ehlo another sharp look.

“Hey, I’m just telling it as I see it.”

“You want me to tell Qiao that you like her?”

“That’s blackmail.”

“You like Qiao?!” Sam exclaimed, forgetting to restrain his curiosity.

Jacky turned to Sam. “You don’t know? It’s written on his face.”

“I can’t wait to meet her then,” Ming Dao said. “Everyone has been talking about her. And every one of you guy seem to like her.”

“Leave me out of it,” Johnny said. “I was just being friendly with her at the party since her boyfriend went off with his wife to do their interviews.”

“Hey, we’re not really dating and stop saying that Sonia’s my wife or she’ll kill me if she knows,” Jacky said. “She probably thinks that I started the whole rumor.”

“You introduced her as your girlfriend to me the other night, you know,” Ming Dao reminded him.

“She was there. She knows it’s a joke. She’s not here now, so I’ll be in trouble later since she won’t believe me.”

“Why do you care so much how she thinks?” Ehlo asked, slightly annoyed.

Jacky shrugged his shoulders. “I work with her. Have to maintain a balance. Can’t have too much hostility going on when we work together.”

“So…who’s Qiao really?” Ming Dao asked out of nowhere. “I mean what does she look like? What is her personality like?”

“She’s quite cute actually,” Sam described. “Very straight-forward and energetic. A little over-hype sometimes, but she’s harmless.”

“She knows martial arts,” Jacky pointed out. “How can she be harmless?”

“At least I don’t see you lying on the floor when she’s around–yet.”

“Ouch. And how can you describe her so accurately when you just met her this afternoon?”

“It’s not hard to figure her out.”

Jacky turned to Ehlo. “It seems like you got a rival. Whatever it is, you know I’m rooting for you, right?”

Ehlo turned to Sam. “So you honestly like Qiao?”

“Don’t listen to him,” Sam said, annoyed. “He’s always joking around.”

“Midnight people,” Johnny announced.

“Lock the door and release the dogs?” Jacky asked.

Ehlo and Johnny ended up laughing.

“You guys want us to leave?” Ming Dao asked, looking from one guy to the other.

“You can stay,” Jacky reassured him. “It’s only Johnny who needs his beauty sleep.”

“I’m going to bed,” Johnny said, stating the obvious and getting up from the stool he was sitting at.

“See?” Jacky said to Ming Dao.

“Just have to wake up early tomorrow,” Johnny said.

“What about you two then?” Ming Dao asked.

“It’s the weekends,” Jacky replied. “We don’t have to get up early.”

Johnny walked back to the living room to get his cell phone from the coffee table before turning back to them.

“Good night, guys,” Johnny said one last time.

“Good night,” The other guys said at the same time as part of a routine.

After Johnny left, they resumed their conversation again.

“So, what are you guys doing tomorrow then?” Ming Dao asked.

“Clean the house,” Jacky said.

“Wash our cars,” Ehlo continued.

“If Johnny was here, he would say ‘do laundry’,” Jacky took over again.

“Anything else?” Ming Dao asked.

“What would you suggest then?” Jacky asked, turning to Ming Dao.

“How about throwing some hoops? There’s a basketball hoop in front of our garage.”

“Okay. Two against two then.”

“What are we betting on?” Ehlo asked.

Jacky scanned everyone’s faces before speaking up. “How about Qiao? Whichever side loses has to give up on her.”

“You can’t put her up for a game!”

Jacky turned to Ehlo. “Getting defensive, aren’t we?”

“He’s right,” Sam seconded. “We can’t do that.”

Jacky turned to Sam. “You just admit to liking Qiao.” He put on his victory smile as he was sipping the last of his soda. As he was getting up to toss his soda can, his cell phone rang. He fished his hand into his pocket and got it out to answer it. “Hello?”

“What have you done to Jo?” A soft yet authoritative voice demanded from the other side.

“Mom, I didn’t do anything,” Jacky said. “In fact, I didn’t even touch her.”

“Why was she crying when she came home then?” Mrs. Chu continued to question her son.

“Beats me.”

“Tell me honestly.”

“Would I ever lie to you?”

Mrs. Chu sighed out. “When are you coming home then?”

“Uh…whenever she moves out.”

“You know we can’t just kick her out like that. It’s inappropriate.”

“It’s our house after all.”

“Show some manners.”

“I am. I’m not living there so they don’t have to worry about seeing my disapproving look all the time.” Jacky could hear his mother sigh again. “Look, Mom. I’ll come by to visit tomorrow, okay?”

“All right then.”

“But don’t set me up. I mean it.”

“Okay. Go to sleep then.”

“All right, Mom. Good night.”

He waited for his mother to hang up first before snapping his phone shut. He sat back down at the counter again after putting his phone away.

“The game’s off then?” Ming Dao asked.

“No way,” Jacky reassured him. “I’ll go tomorrow night. Jo has a party with her girlfriends.”

“How do you know for sure?” Sam asked.

“Dale.”

“Dale?”

“The housekeeper.”

“Oh.”

Jacky nodded and got up again. “I’m going to bed.”

“What about horror movie night?” Ehlo asked, sounding disappointed.

“I lost my interest.”

When Jacky was gone, Sam turned to Ehlo. “What’s with him?”

“Jo,” Ehlo replied. “Who else?”

“His cousin?”

“Marriage connections again.”

“What type?”

“His aunt married her uncle.”

“Oh…”

“Isn’t it a bit strange that a girl like Jo keeps chasing after him?” Ming Dao asked.

“She’s kind of hard in the head,” Ehlo explained. “Always pretending not to get it.”

“How old is she really?”

“Not sure anymore. With all of that makeup on her face.”

“Hm…”

“Why are you two keep asking about Jacky? What about you two? Girlfriends? Haven’t heard you two talked about it the last few times you were here.”

“No,” Ming Dao said quickly.

“Same here,” Sam answered. “I’m guessing you don’t since you’re pursuing Qiao right now.”

“You guys want to eat anything else?” Ehlo asked, changing the subject on purpose.

“No,” Ming Dao repeated his previous answer. “I think we should all turn in since we have a match tomorrow.”

“All right. Call me up when you guys are ready.”

“Okay then.”

Ming Dao and Sam got up to go. Ehlo followed them to the door and saw Jacky walking back out to the living room.

“I thought you said you’re going to sleep,” Ehlo said in a questioning tone.

Jacky jingled his keys. “Forgot something from the car.”

“Oh.”

Jacky ended up opening the door instead of Ehlo. He walked outside to the car in front of the garage. Ming Dao and Sam said their goodbye to Ehlo and headed back home. Jacky came back in holding a folder in his hand as Ehlo was about to close the door. Ehlo followed Jacky to his room after locking the door.

“Don’t tell me you’re working on your next topic,” Ehlo said in that same questioning tone.

“Why not?” Jacky returned. “I can’t sleep anyway.”

“We have a match tomorrow.”

“I’m going to be there.”

“What’s the change in mood? Come on.”

“You know clearly what,” Jacky reminded Ehlo, sitting down in front of his desk.

“It’s not that bad.”

“You tell me.”

“Just tell her straight out.”

“What happened last time when I told her?”

“She yelled really loud and left, pretending it never happened, and ran after you again.”

“See? What’s the point really?”

“Stop being so irritated, man. Try talking to her parents. I mean…”

Jacky turned to look at Ehlo.

“All right. Forget I said that.” He left the room, shutting the door behind him.

Jacky looked at the closed door, feeling bad that he had poured cold water in Ehlo was face, but he couldn’t help it. He was sick and tired of this game Jo was playing and his parents weren’t even doing anything about it. What was even more frustrating was they were not even letting him take actions on his own.

*****

Jacky woke up at his desk, feeling heavy headed. He must have dozed off, trying to write a draft of his report. He flicked off the light on his way to the door before walking down the hallway to check on Ehlo and Johnny. Seeing both doors shut, he looked at his watch. Johnny probably left for the photo shoot already. Ehlo was probably out in the kitchen again? He turned around and walked toward the living room, making a left turn into the kitchen. Ehlo looked up as Jacky walked in. He was sitting behind the counter like he hadn’t moved an inch since last night.

“You look terrible,” Ehlo commented.

“My head’s throbbing like crazy,” Jacky admitted of his current state.

“Is the match off then?”

“No. Let me get some aspirin and then we’re good.”

“Come up with anything yet?”

“What?”

“A solution to get rid of you know who.”

“Told you already. No can do. Unless something happens to me, they don’t care.”

Ehlo didn’t say anything further.

Jacky set the aspirin bottle down and went back to his room. He decided to take a shower before doing anything else. He came back about fifteen minutes later to see Ehlo still at the same spot.

“Ming Dao called,” Ehlo informed him. “We’re going to start in half an hour. Hurry and eat.”

“All right then,” Jacky muttered absentmindedly.

Half an hour later, Jacky and Ehlo headed out toward Ming Dao and Sam’s house across the street. Jacky had already put in some laundry so it was going while the guys were playing. They would come back later to check on it.

The match went on longer than they expected. Ehlo ran back home to check on the laundry after the first match. Ming Dao and Sam won. Jacky and Ehlo won the second match. As they were getting ready for the third match, Jacky’s cell phone rang. He opened the screen door to go inside and retrieve the phone from the kitchen counter. He stepped back outside as he was answering.

“It’s Sonia,” A girl’s voice said.

“What’s going on?” Jacky asked.

“Can you do something for me?”

“What?”

“I was supposed to go pick up my car but I totally forgot because I was doing my report. And the shop closes early today. I can’t seem to get a Taxi right now.”

Jacky glanced at his watch, alarmed. He didn’t realize that it was this late already. That meant they’d been playing for about five hours straight–minus two 15-minute breaks.

“All right,” He said finally.

Sonia sighed out. “Thanks.”

“I was born to be your slave, so it’s all right,” Jacky said passively into the phone.

“Sorry…” Sonia said in a soft voice, regretting of her request.

“I’m kidding.”

Sonia could sense something wrong with him. “You don’t sound like it. What’s wrong?”

“I’ll tell you later. Okay, I better get started before the shop close.”

“All right. Thanks again.”

“No problem.” He hung up and turned to the guys.

“Well?” Sam asked.

“Sonia forgot to go pick her car up this morning so I’m helping her with that.”

“How?”

“Ehlo, let’s go,” Jacky urged, ignoring Sam’s question. “Sorry, guys. Rematch next weekend?”

“Fine with me,” Ming Dao said.

Ehlo went inside the kitchen to get his phone before following Jacky home. The guys grabbed a quick shower and change of clothes before heading out. They were taking Jacky’s car since Ehlo will be driving Sonia’s car later.

They arrived at the car shop about fifteen minutes before closing time. Jacky parked and reached into the compartment in front of Ehlo to fish out Sonia’s keychain.

“Whoa,” Ehlo blurted out upon seeing the amount of keys on it. “She seriously trusts you that much?”

“She forgot it here the other day,” Jacky explained.

“How was she able to get into her house though? ‘Cause that looks like a lot of keys.”

“She probably kept some spare keys or she would have gone mad already searching for it.”

Jacky and Ehlo got out of the car at that time. They walked inside the shop. There was a man sitting behind the front counter, tapping furiously on his calculator. He looked up at them when they were next to the counter.

“Can I help you?” The man asked.

“I’m here to pick up Sonia Sui’s car,” Jacky said. “We were here a few days ago to check on it.”

“Proof?”

Jacky fished out Sonia’s keychain.

The man stepped out from behind the counter and led them toward the back. They saw Sonia’s car on the right side of the lot.

The man turned to Jacky after pointing the car out to them. “Everything’s checked out and all.”

“Good then,” Jacky said, extending his right hand. “Key?”

“You have them,” The man reminded Jacky.

“Her spare key.”

“Oh. It’s inside.”

They followed him back inside. He stepped behind the counter again and reached into a drawer to pull out a set of keys. He finally separated the keys and gave Jacky the right one. Jacky studied it briefly.

“What’s this white substance right here?” Jacky asked, eyeing the man cautiously at the same time.

“Oh,” The man hesitated, scratching his head. “Probably I got the powder on it when I was working on the car and testing it.”

“Oh.”

The man nodded and then punched some keys on the cash register. He finally looked up and told Jacky the cost of the fix. Jacky paid the man and then handed Sonia’s keychain to Ehlo while he inserted the spare key into his wallet. Something wasn’t right. He needed to check it out before giving the key back to Sonia later.

“I’ll meet you at her house then,” Jacky told Ehlo.

“Okay,” Ehlo agreed.

They separated as Jacky went back out front to his car and Ehlo to the back where Sonia’s car was parked.

They arrived at Sonia’s house around 5 because of traffic. Jacky rang the doorbell as Ehlo was shifting from one foot to the other while they were waiting for Sonia to open the door–which was seconds later. She must have been running since they heard her frantic footsteps before the door opened.

“Hi!” Sonia greeted them with a cheerful smile.

Jacky smiled. “Looking good.”

“Thanks. I meant for bringing my car back.”

Ehlo stepped forward to give Sonia her keychain. Sonia looked puzzled.

“You left it in his car several days ago,” Ehlo said.

“Oh,” Sonia said, letting out a nervous laugh.

“Can we come in for a snack?” Jacky asked, grinning.

Sonia smiled. “Sure.”

Sonia stepped aside for the guys to come in.

“You renovated or something?” Jacky asked upon seeing the view.

“Sort of,” Sonia replied.

Sonia led them to the living room and left. Jacky scanned the room with his eyes, noticing the difference from the last time he was there.

“I wonder how much she spent on this stuff,” Ehlo asked, inspecting the place himself.

“Why?” Jacky asked, turning his attention back on Ehlo.

“Looks too luxurious.”

“She has style.”

“Always complimenting her.”

“It’s good to know both strengths and weaknesses of the enemy.”

Sonia came back at that time, setting down three water glasses for them and a snack plate. “Go ahead. I’ll be back.” Sonia walked into the kitchen again with the empty tray.

“Where is she going?” Ehlo asked, puzzled.

“To her room to get her wallet,” Jacky answered.

“How do you know?”

“What do you think I am? Some charity foundation? She has to pay me back for the car bill.”

“Oh. And I thought you’re her slave.”

Jacky picked the water glass up and took a sip. Sonia came back a minute later with her wallet.

“How much?” She asked, looking at Jacky.

Jacky got his wallet out and handed her the receipt. She looked at it and took out the money to pay him. After the exchange, she set her wallet on the table and sat down next to Ehlo on the sofa.

“So…how was your day today?” Sonia asked casually.

“Me or him?” Ehlo asked, turning to her.

“Both.”

“We did laundry and shot some hoops with Ming Dao and Sam.”

“Had fun?”

“Oh yeah. And you just save us from losing when you called.”

Sonia smiled. “It’s that serious?”

“No. We had a tie. One more game to determine the winner.”

Sonia could see Jacky looked troubled since he was usually the one talking–not Ehlo.

Ehlo’s cell phone rang at that time. He picked it up. “Oh, hold on.” He could see the person’s name from the screen so he turned to Jacky and Sonia real quick. “I’ll take this outside.”

Sonia nodded. After Ehlo was gone, she turned to Jacky, edging closer to him. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing new,” Jacky said.

“Jo?”

“What else?”

Sonia sighed out.

“I know.”

“Perhaps.”

“Perhaps what?”

“You should find yourself a real girlfriend. Maybe then she’ll back off.”

“Are you signing up for that position?” Jacky asked, flashing on his mischievous smile.

“Please.”

“I know. Company policy, no dating among employees, right?”

“You know that already.”

“So if there wasn’t such a policy, you would agree?”

“You’re not giving up, are you?”

“I guess not.”

Just then, Ehlo walked into the room again.

“We have to get back,” Ehlo announced. “My turn for emergencies.”

“What happened?” Jacky asked.

“I have to report home or else.”

“Your parents are back?”

“Yes.”

Jacky turned to Sonia. “I’ll see you tomorrow at work then.”

Sonia nodded.

The guys walk themselves out as Sonia was leaning back on her sofa to rest.

*****

Jacky and Ehlo made a trip back to their parents’ houses before heading home around 8. As his mother promised, Jacky didn’t bump into Jo when he was around. Ehlo managed to come up with another excuse so he didn’t have to come back for another three months.

Jacky and Ehlo came in to find Johnny home already.

“Where have you two been?” Johnny asked.

“Went on an errand for Miss Sui and then we had to report home,” Jacky answered.

“Oh. Was that why you two left the wet clothes in the laundry room?”

“Was going to put it in the dryer but didn’t want to come back to a burning house so decided to wait until we come back,” Ehlo said.

“I put it in the dryer for you guys already. Placed the clothes in your rooms also. I’m doing mine now.”

“All right then,” Jacky mumbled.

Fifteen minutes later, Jacky was vacuuming the living room while Ehlo was cooking dinner. Johnny was in his room, talking on the phone to his agent. Jacky had to turn off the vacuum as he was vacuuming the hallway because his cell phone was ringing. He let the vacuum stand at his doorway before running back to the living room to pick up the phone.

“Hello?” He said into the phone. “You guys want to join us for dinner or something?”

“Uh…” Ming Dao hesitated.

“What?”

“No, was asking you guys to join us for dinner.”

“Ehlo’s cooking right now. What are you guys having though?”

“Sam’s making spaghetti.”

“Sounds good. We’ll be right over. Wait. I have to finish vacuuming.”

“You guys haven’t finished your cleaning yet?”

“We got carried away with other stuffs. Ehlo and I just got back from our parents’ houses.”

“Oh. Okay. Then we’ll wait for you.”

“Don’t have to. You can go ahead and we’ll join in later.”

“All right then. See you guys later.”

Jacky snapped his phone shut. He was about to place it back on the coffee table when it rang again. He clicked on the ‘Call’ button to answer. “Hello? I’m popular today.”

“Oh?” A girl voice said coolly. “You’ll be even more popular tomorrow.”

“Why?”

“Come to the agency tomorrow. You’ll be very popular by then.”

“Purpose?”

“No purpose. I just want to officially introduce you to everyone.”

“Qiao…”

“You lied to me.”

“About what?”

“You practically know everyone at the agency and you pretend you didn’t.”

“I didn’t say or pretend I didn’t know them. I just didn’t socialize with them when I was there. And besides, none of us–especially Ehlo and Johnny, all right, same with me–want to be seen around there. That’s why we act strange around the area.”

“Lame excuse.”

“It’s the truth.”

“Then what about Wallace?”

“Okay, it’s my fault that I didn’t want him to expose me yet since…”

“Since what?”

“Never mind that. I like to remain mysterious, okay? Maybe I take it too far and I’m sorry. But I didn’t take advantage of you in any way, did I?”

Ehlo walked by at that time. “Is that Qiao?”

“Yeah.”

“Where are you at right now?” Qiao Qiao asked. “Why is he with you?”

“We live in the same house,” Jacky said.

“Really?!”

“Yes. Johnny lives with us too. And to prove that I don’t want to lie to you on purpose, I’ll tell you something else. Ming Dao and Sam live across the street from us.”

“Who’s Ming Dao?”

“I forgot you don’t know him. He’s Sam’s best friend. And one more thing, we’re having dinner together tonight. Want to join us?”

“Yeah right.”

“Why not? Are you at your parents’ again or still with Orchids?”

“Still with Orchids. My parents took off again.”

“Really?! Then why can’t you join us?”

“It’s late.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“We all have work tomorrow in case you don’t know.”

“All right. I won’t disrupt your beauty sleep then.”

“Can you come to the agency tomorrow then?”

“You don’t need to introduce me.”

“It’s not about that.”

“Since Sonia doesn’t need a ride anymore. I’ll swing by around lunchtime.”

“Sonia got her car back?”

“Yeah. Ehlo and I picked it up for her.”

“Oh.”

“I’ll explain it to you later too. It’s a long story. And I have to get back to vacuuming the house.”

“Okay. See you.”

“Bye. And Ehlo’s frantically trying to get my attention. I think he wants to talk to you.”

“For real or are you putting me on?”

“A little of both. But seriously, I think he meant bye or something like that.”

“Send everyone my greetings then.”

“Okay. Bye.”

*****

Jacky parked the car across the street again and made his way toward the agency as soon as he locked his car. He took off his sunglasses and opened the door. As soon as he walked into the agency, he could see Chen Yi and Wallace sitting at their desks, talking about something. Another guy–possibly Simon–was sitting at his desk, typing away on the keyboard. Where are the girls? Wallace looked up to see Jacky coming in.

“Hey!” Wallace greeted him. “Come on in. The girls are in Orchids’ office.”

Chen Yi didn’t look so threatening anymore as Jacky was making his way to them.

“So…what are you guys still doing here?” Jacky asked, gesturing casually. “No lunch break?”

“We ordered out today,” Chen Yi answered.

“Oh.” He scanned the area once over since he didn’t get a chance to when he was there last week.

“You had lunch yet?” Wallace asked.

“No. I’ll get some later when Miss Zeng is through with me.”

“Don’t worry. She already told us.”

“Is that why he…” He stopped to point at Chen Yi with his sunglasses before resuming. “…doesn’t wear that murderous look anymore?

“Hey!” Chen Yi blurted out.

Jacky smiled. “Just kidding.”

“Who exposed you?” Wallace asked.

“I’ll find out later.”

“Why do you like to remain mysterious then?” Chen Yi asked. “We could have helped you with the whole ‘Jo’ stuffs if you weren’t so strange.”

“Why do you think I wasn’t as worried when Qiao left with him that day?” Wallace said to Chen Yi.

“I thought you said Qiao knows self-defense.”

“I trust him not to make any moves.”

“So you doubt Qiao’s abilities?”

“Uh…”

“Just because you’re capable doesn’t mean you can do it,” Jacky said. “Experience is the only drive to sharpen up those abilities.”

“Spoken like a true expert,” Chen Yi snapped.

“Thanks.”

“That wasn’t a compliment.”

“I know. But a suggestion?” He raised his sunglasses up for emphasis.

“What?”

“Stop getting so defensive on Qiao’s behalf. It’s like you’re wearing the sign that said ‘I’m madly in love with Qiao so I’m willing to do anything for her.’”

“What?!”

“Stop pretending. You’re even more obvious than Ehlo.”

“Stop it, man,” Wallace interfered.

“I have a bet to win here.”

“What bet?”

“Miss Zeng challenged me. Okay, maybe I challenged her first. But we’re betting who likes her more–Mr. Chen or Mr. Huang.”

“You told Qiao?!” Wallace exclaimed, standing up from his seat.

“Why not? They both wear it on their faces.”

“Want to bet who’s going to win?”

“No deal.”

“Why?”

“At this rate they’re going, a third person might as well jump in and take Qiao away to a far away kingdom.”

“Huh?! What kingdom?”

“It’s an expression.”

“You mind doing an analysis for us then?”

“Okay. Since you asked, I’ll be honest.” He stopped to clear his throat for dramatic effects before beginning. “Chen Yi has a better chance since he knows Qiao a long time already aka they have some history together. But his weakness is waiting too long. Maybe he’s afraid that he’s going to get rejected or maybe he’s keeping Qiao in suspense.”

“I’m right here!” Chen Yi shouted out in annoyance.

“Hey, he told me to analyze, okay?”

“You don’t have to talk so loud.”

“Why not? Qiao might hear it so it saves you a confession.”

“Stop robbing him of the chance,” Wallace said.

“Okay, two against one so I’ll move on. Ehlo? He could do it, but he’s a tad too hesitant.”

“Who’s the third person that’s going to snatch her away then?”

“You mean if Chen Yi doesn’t make a move?”

Wallace nodded.

“Either Ming Dao or Sam.”

“Who’s Ming Dao?” Chen Yi asked, curious.

“Sam likes Qiao?” Wallace asked at the same time as Chen Yi.

Jacky pointed his sunglasses at Wallace. “Not yet, but he will.” Then he turned to Chen Yi. “Your possible love rival.”

Chen Yi turned to Wallace, knowing it was hopeless to talk to Jacky.

“Sam’s best friend and roommate,” Wallace answered.

“But…” Jacky continued, as if the other two guys were still paying attention to him.

Chen Yi and Wallace turned their attention back on him–out of habit and curiosity.

“It doesn’t matter who wins in this game….because…”

“Get it out already!” Chen Yi exclaimed impatiently.

“Impatient, aren’t we? Okay. It doesn’t matter who wins because what matters the most is who Qiao likes.”

“Isn’t that the same thing as who wins?” Wallace asked.

“No, it’s not. I just rate them on who has a better chance in interacting with Qiao. I didn’t rate who weighs more in her heart. So it doesn’t matter how all of them compete or try to create opportunities to be with Qiao. It all comes down to who she decides to be with in the end.”

“That goes without saying,” Chen Yi said sarcastically.

“What’s the scale then?” Wallace asked. “I think Chen Yi wants to know.”

“Ehlo’s definitely out unless there’s something about him that she brags about,” Jacky said.

“How do you know Ming Dao and Sam aren’t out?”

“Sam has some common ground with her. You weren’t there yesterday when we were driving from Orchids’ house to Sonia’s house. They were talking non-stop.” Jacky paused on purpose to see the reaction on Chen Yi’s face.

“Are you telling the truth or you just want to rattle him up?” Wallace asked, catching on upon seeing Jacky’s actions.

“A little of both. But they honestly did get along quite well.”

“What about Ming Dao?”

“I’ll get back to you after they finally meet,” Jacky said, glancing at his watch. “By the way, what’s taking them so long?”

“Beats me.”

They heard the front door being opened at that time. All four of them looked toward the door. (Simon managed to put the file he was reading down at the moment.) They saw a guy in his late twenties walking through the door. He was wearing black from head to toe, except for his gray-ish scarf and dark brown sunglasses. He was wearing a raincoat, which caused them to be puzzled. When he took off his sunglasses, Jacky and Wallace turned to look at each other.

“Sun Xie Zhi!” Jacky and Wallace shouted at the same time.

What in the world was he doing here?

© Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Re-posted: Thursday, February 2nd, 2011

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