Fortunately, CJ and I didn’t catch a cold sleeping outside on the floor that night. But the distance between us and the others were drawn further apart with suspicions and whatnot. The only thing that kept us together was finding the medallion so we could all go home.
We traveled the next couple of days in rapid pace since every one of us was eager to catch up with Xiao Bai. It was strange that our distance should be so far apart. Maybe he traveled by wagon or horse? (Just for the record, horses weren’t easily acquired like those ancient serial often portrayed.) We were at disadvantage, but we didn’t want to give up. It was our only hope.
The chase lasted for several more days before we finally reached Hangzhou. The scenery was even more fascinating than the modern day version of it. Maybe it was because of its carefree atmosphere. We managed to rent two rooms at an inn looking out into the West Lake. It was really nice and relaxing. My moods improved a bit just by looking at it. Strangely, Ting Wei recovered quite fast after just two days being down in the dumps. Or was he just putting up an exterior so I wouldn’t feel so bad for dumping him? I scolded at myself silently for being so self-centered. Maybe he reconsidered things over and was actually glad to get rid of me after so long. After all, no one could stand my aggressive personality. As I was sitting at a corner of a wooden ledge of the inn looking out at the water thinking to myself, CJ came up to me.
“What?” I asked, turning to him.
He did a lot of “checking in” on me these days that it got quite annoying. But I couldn’t blame him for worrying.
“Recovering?” He asked, sitting down next to me.
“Doesn’t matter,” I said.
“What kind of attitude is that?”
“So you notice I have an attitude?”
“Come on, Angela,” He said.
“What do you want me to say? That I miss him so much I could…”
I stopped in mid-sentence because I could feel someone coming up behind us. I turned around to look.
“Food’s ready if you two want any,” Ting Wei said.
I got up and followed him inside. CJ joined us a few minutes later.
“Any luck?” Jing Jing asked.
Roger shook his head.
We had separated earlier after checking into the inn to ask around for Xiao Bai’s whereabouts. CJ and I got back early again. It was always those three, I thought.
“Maybe he isn’t back yet?” Jing Jing suggested.
Somehow, Jing Jing had been talking a lot more lately. In fact, she seemed happier. I was not implying that she was gloating over my miserable state, but it just seemed that she was happier. At least someone was happy around here, I thought.
“Stop picking on your food, will you?” Roger said to me.
“Stop picking on her then,” CJ fired back.
Great, I thought. Here we were again. I wonder if they’d been fighting these past few days too. I usually tuned everyone out at meal times that I had no clue if they did argue.
“You two have something going on or something?” Jing Jing asked teasingly.
I wanted to strangle her so much since my mood just improved. Did she have to remind me how miserable I’d been feeling these past days? And how were we all? Just because CJ liked to defend me didn’t mean anything. He was just being a good little brother right now. Was he?
As these thoughts were zooming in my mind, I heard chopsticks clinking on something. I looked up from my rice bowl to see CJ standing up and aiming his chopsticks at Jing Jing. What did I miss now?
“Shi Jing Jing,” CJ said angrily. “That’s enough.”
“What?” Jing Jing challenged, smiling. “I’m just kidding. Can’t you take a joke?”
“Don’t make me expose you.”
What?! He was going to tell everyone she liked Ting Wei? Wasn’t that like helping her? It didn’t matter anymore, I thought. It was not my problem anyway.
“Can we eat in peace for once?” I said passively.
“Shao Han is right,” Ting Wei said. “Let’s eat.”
Having him calling me “Shao Han” made it ten times worse than Jing Jing’s teasing words. However, after that, none of us dared to speak up again. We finished and went back to the guys’ rooms to talk about our next move.
“We should’ve asked for his actual address,” CJ said, sitting down at the chair at the center table. “This is like finding a needle in a haystack.”
“Who knew this place is so complicated?” Jing Jing said.
I turned to see her sitting quite close to Ting Wei. I turned my attention back to the water ahead again. I had walked outside and sat on the wooden ledge when we entered the room earlier. The rooms here were designed with doors leading outside so others could watch the scenery. It was really comforting sitting here. I rather stayed like this than sat in the room with the others.
“What if he exchanged the gold for money already? Or whatever else he could do with it,” Roger said.
“We still have to find him and ask who he gave it to,” CJ pointed out.
I turned to see CJ walking toward me since I could hear his voice getting closer as he said those last words. Probably it was a torture sitting at the table with Ting Wei and Jing Jing. Roger was actually lying on his bed right now while talking to us. This place actually had several beds in one room – unlike a few places we’d been to. I’d been sleeping on the floor quite often these past days that I was not exactly overly thrilled that this place should have such comfortable beds.
“We’re running out of money soon,” Roger said suddenly.
“We can do some odd jobs again to earn some money,” CJ said. “Hopefully, we can find Xiao Bai soon so we don’t have to worry too much.”
Just then, we heard someone knocking on the door.
“Don’t tell me someone ordered food again,” I said, not turning around at all.
“I didn’t,” Roger said.
Ting Wei must be the one going to the door since I could hear him talking to a man about something. CJ walked away from me so I knew it was something important. I stood up and followed him. As we were back inside the room, Ting Wei closed the door again and walked back to us. He had a smile on his face so it must be good news.
“Good news, guys,” He said.
How clichés could he get?
“We’re in luck,” He continued.
“What happened?” Roger asked, still not getting up from his comfortable bed.
“Someone said they know where Xiao Bai lives and that he just came back several days ago,” Ting Wei said, smiling.
“You passed the words around?” CJ asked.
“Yes,” Ting Wei replied. “After all, we can’t cover every part of this city, right? It would take a very long time.”
“So where does he live then?” I asked.
“At the other side of town,” He said. “We’ve been looking in the wrong direction this morning.”
“Great,” I said.
“That means we have to leave now?” Roger asked, almost sounding like he was whining.
“We can start tomorrow since that person just said he’d already gone off somewhere with some friends. He won’t be back home until tomorrow.”
“I’m guess we can go rest now, huh?” I said.
Ting Wei nodded.
I walked out of there without saying goodbye with anyone. They knew me too well already. They should understand. If not, it didn’t matter. After tomorrow, it would be done.
Just as last time, I wandered around the neighborhood again. It was a nice city. I wanted to walk around some more and enjoyed the city because when we returned home, we wouldn’t get a chance. At least, I still have a lot of things to take care of. Somehow, I bumped into CJ as I crossed the bridge that led to this one temple.
“Why do I always bump into you?” I asked teasingly.
“Looks like this place is really good for your mood,” He said, smiling.
“It’s a nice place,” I said.
“Hey, why are you here anyway?”
“Want to try some of those fortune-telling stuffs?” He said, pointing toward a stand in front of the temple where an old man was sitting there.
“Yeah, right,” I said.
“Who knows? Maybe…”
“Maybe you’re just thinking too much,” I said, turning around again since I wanted to stand on the bridge a little longer.
“Hmm… If you don’t want to, then that’s fine. We’re getting closer, excited?”
“More like relief. But then again, I don’t want to get my hopes up too high. Until we see the medallion in our hand…”
“Think positive, will you?”
“Whatever you do, don’t jump down.”
I turned to look at him.
“You look like you want to,” He said.
I turned back on the path and walked into town again.
“So you’re just running away?” He said behind me.
“You’re getting annoying again,” I said as he caught up to me.
“Come on,” He said in an excited tone. “We’re almost home. I have to practice on my routine again or my parents will think I got kidnapped, which isn’t that far from the truth.”
I stopped in my tracks and turned to him.
“What?” He asked, stopping also.
“What will happen to us?”
“We’re going home.”
“No, I meant we’ve been here for almost two months now. Time doesn’t stop for us. So what would happen if we suddenly appear? And what have they been doing or thinking? Or…”
“Angela,” He said in a low tone, so others around us wouldn’t hear him. “Calm down. As long as we’re home, it doesn’t matter. We’ll come up with a story later somehow.”
“Maybe we’re just gone for couple hours in reality like those sci-fi or fantasy movies.”
“Could it be?” I wrinkled my face.
“I don’t know. Anything is possible,” He said, shrugging his shoulders.
“Let’s go back and rest. We lack sleep so much that I swear Xiao Bai would be scared of us too when we show up on his doorstep tomorrow.”
We walked the rest of the way in silence. When I was back in my room, I looked for Jing Jing to see her gone. She was probably exploring, I thought. After all, this place was irresistible. The better. I had the room to myself. I decided to take a nap anyway since I needed it. I didn’t want to wake up late tomorrow. A little more of sleep would only build up my energy.
The next morning, I woke up early as I predicted. I was glad too since I didn’t want to miss Xiao Bai or want anything to happen. The thing about the ancient time was, you ended up getting up early anyway whether you want to or not. I got out of bed and did my morning things like usual. Jing Jing was still asleep when I was all dressed up and ready to go. I didn’t want to bother her since it was still so early. I walked next door to see if the guys were awake yet. Like usual, CJ was the first one to walk out of the room. The other two were probably just tired.
“Too excited to sleep?” CJ asked, greeting me with a smile.
“Mixed,” I said. “I always get up early anyway.”
“You still look terrible despite the amount of sleep you had.”
I pasted on the look that said, “Don’t start with me”, and walked down the hallway to the front of the inn again – where it merged into the restaurant. I could hear his footsteps following me. He actually took the hint to be quiet so I was not as annoyed anymore. I ordered some teas and buns for breakfast. I ascended the stairs and found a table next to the window again. Actually, the 2nd floor was pretty much open space where you could look outside on all four sides, but I chose the side with the view looking out to the lake. It just brought upon a sense of comfort and ease. CJ invited himself to my table like any other times. When my orders came, I handed one of the buns to CJ without a word. He took it and munched on it greedily. He had this terrible habit that made it look like he hadn’t eaten since the dinosaurs extinct. I had to constantly remind him to mind his manners since we began this journey, but today, I no longer cared. After today, we were free from each other, right? So whatever he wanted to do, just let him.
“Hey,” He said suddenly.
I peeled my eyes away from the lake for a bit and turned to look at him.
“Last day of being siblings?” He said, raising his teacup.
I gave him an amusing smile, continuing to tear another piece of my bun and putting it into my mouth.
“What? You don’t want to end our sibling relationship or you never acknowledge this relationship in the first place?”
If he wanted to play this game, why not humor him just for the last time? I raised my teacup to him. We clinked cups and emptied it in seconds. After that, I went back to looking out on the lake and enjoying my bun.
Just as I let my thoughts wander into the unknown again, I heard a mocking voice behind me. Yes, Roger’s annoying voice. I had long forgotten what I did to his name plate in my mind, but it was not in a good condition anymore.
“Well, well, what are you two celebrating just now? You finally decided to get together?” Roger asked in a mocking voice.
I ignored him and continued to stare at the scenery ahead.
“Last breakfast?” Roger continued, sitting down next to me in the process.
I got up slightly and pulled my chair closer to the other side near CJ.
“What’s wrong, girl? It’s not like you don’t know me or anything.”
“Knock it off already, man,” CJ said in an irritated voice.
“I’m just being friendly with her,” Roger said. “What’s wrong with that?”
“If that’s friendly, then I don’t know what you’ve been doing these past weeks.”
I stood up and walked away from them, knowing that I couldn’t take anymore of this nonsense. Although CJ was being very helpful by defending me, but if I stuck around any longer, I might resort to violence – like strangling Roger. The scenery was nice, but the people around me weren’t. As I descended the stairs, I could hear footsteps behind me. I turned sideways to see CJ. He was that good, always managed to stay close.
“I’m not going to go alone if that’s what you’re thinking,” I said.
“Of course not,” He said. “I don’t want to hear anymore of Roger’s nonsense either.”
I smiled and turned to face the front again, increasing my pace. We bumped into Ting Wei and Jing Jing at the bottom of the stairs. It was funny that they were always seen together nowadays. Or maybe I was just being paranoid. But then again, what did it have to do with me? I shrugged my head mentally and walked outside as CJ continued his conversation with Ting Wei.
“I’ll go upstairs to get Roger,” I heard Jing Jing say.
To think that so many were around here that she would be more careful not speak in English. I made my way outside again, focusing on our only goal.
The other four joined me about two minutes later at the door. I turned around to face them again.
“So…we’re all ready, right?” I asked them, looking from one to the other.
“Definitely,” CJ said.
The others nodded.
We turned left as soon as we stepped past the doorway of the inn.
It was a nice day today. My hope raised a few notches since this could be a sign that we would be successful.
Apparently, Xiao Bai’s house was sort of hidden at the very end of town. It was the last rows of houses before the path led into the woods. It looked like a little hut more than a real house – even for ancient time’s houses. Ting Wei walked up to the door and knocked on it while the rest of us stood to the side waiting for Xiao Bai to open up. We stopped to listen after Ting Wei withdrew his hand from the door. It was as if we all stopped breathing at that particular moment. It was like our silent consent that this was our last straw.
Ting Wei turned around and looked at us when about two minutes seemed to have passed. CJ stepped up and knocked louder on the door. Yes, leave it up to CJ to be loud. Finally, we heard some rustling sounds inside. All our eyes turned to the door again, waiting for whoever it was to come to the door – specifically Xiao Bai. We finally let out our breaths as we saw a familiar face at the door.
“Xiao Bai!” CJ’s beyond excitement could be heard through his words.
“Who are you all?” Xiao Bai asked, his face full of confusion.
Ting Wei stepped in front of Xiao Bai again. “We met at Granny Yang’s house about a month ago in Huang Tu City.”
Xiao Bai looked at us with his radar eyes once more before turning his attention back on Ting Wei.
“So…what can I do for you today?” He asked.
If he was living in modern times, he would get an award for being “straight-to-the-point” already. I guessed it was for the better since we didn’t need to beat around the bush at this point, did we? We were all too tired for games.
“We were told that you found a gold coin in the haunted house,” CJ begin. “We want to know if you still have it.”
“Um…”Xiao Bai raised his right hand up to scratch his head.
Either he had dandruff or he was considering if he should let us in on the secret. I was guessing it was Option B.
“I know it’s unbelievable, but we were staying at that house our first night in that town and we lost it,” CJ explained. “It’s not a gold coin, but a medallion. In fact, it was a medallion given to Ting Wei by his grandma when she passed away. We hope that you would return it to us. Of course, you can name your terms. We promise we will do it if we can. But if we can’t, we can find another way in fulfilling your wish.”
I applauded my brother inside for such a well delivered speech. He didn’t flinch when he said “a medallion given to Ting Wei by his grandma.” Yes, he was that good. But…the down side of it was…what else was he lying about to us? As I was pondering this over, I could hear Xiao Bai’s response.
“…I didn’t know,” Xiao Bai continued. “If I’ve known I wouldn’t…”
We all held our breaths, hoping he didn’t exchange it.
“…have taken it,” He finished.
We all let out another breath of relief. It was not healthy to continue this pattern, but our lives depended on that medallion.
“Why don’t you all come in?” Xiao Bai offered.
If I was some horror movie narrator, I would describe the scene as followed: At that moment, they all turned to look at one another, uncertain of what to do. Should they enter the habitat? Entering a place of the unknown? What if what awaited them all was an unknown of some kind? As they pondered this over silently, they could hear a howling sound from a distance. The sky suddenly became unusually dark. It was like an omen warning them of their possible danger. Before they knew it, they…
“If you don’t mind,” CJ said finally, cutting into my silent narration. “We want to wait here.”
Xiao Bai looked at us once more before turning back in. He came back about five minutes later, which was a little longer than we expected. Or maybe it was a decent amount of time, but we were just impatient. He handed the golden medallion to Ting Wei. Ting Wei inspected it carefully, making sure it was “the one” before turning to the rest of us. He smiled, raising the medallion up high for us to see.
“Thank you so much for your help,” CJ said. “And we’ll…”
“How about I come to get you guys tomorrow?” Xiao Bai asked, cutting CJ off.
“All right then,” CJ said.
Ting Wei and CJ walked back to us as Xiao Bai closed the door.
“Let’s get out of here,” CJ said.
We walked back to town, lost in thoughts. We should be jumping up and down with joy, but we were not. Maybe we still needed some verification whether the medallion was the “key” after all. Maybe we didn’t want to believe that we finally did it. Whatever it was, we ended up walking silently all the way back to the inn. It was not until we were finally back in the guys’ room, shutting and locking the door that we spoke up again.
“How about a test?” Roger grinned.
“We still have an agreement to carry out in case you’ve forgotten,” CJ said, annoyed.
“Who cares? Once we’re gone, they probably won’t remember us. Just like in those sci-fi movies, you know,” Roger said.
Although his voice came out in a “reassuring tone” but none of us could sense that – at least I didn’t sense it.
“There are things called ‘commitments’ in case you don’t know,” CJ said. “It doesn’t matter if they remember us or not, but we already agreed. We must carry it out no matter what.”
“Only you’re the crazy one to agree with him,” Roger retorted.
“Would he have given it to us if we didn’t agree?” CJ reminded him, raising an eyebrow.
What did CJ agreed to? I must have missed something while I was doing my horror movie narration. But whatever it was, it couldn’t be that bad, right?
“That’s right,” I said. “Whether the medallion works or not, we still have to keep our promise.”
Roger turned to me with a dagger glare, like I just poured ice cold water down his back.
“What do you mean ‘whether it works or not’? Of course it will,” He said confidently.
“Just like those sci-movies, right?” CJ asked mockingly. “Hello! Reality!”
“Guys,” Ting Wei interfered. “We shouldn’t argue over this.”
“But…” Roger attempted.
“CJ’s right,” Ting Wei continued. “We promised Xiao Bai. We have to follow through.”
Roger couldn’t say anything since it was three against one. He just stepped back from us and walked to the bed. Yes, that was Roger. Always running away when he couldn’t win. Actually, it had been like that these past months.
Ting Wei turned to us as Roger left our circle.
“We should all rest and get ready for tomorrow,” He said.
As if dismissed, we all walked away. But as I was walking to the door, I wondered who died and made him our leader. What did we need rest for? What in the world was the promise? I half wanted to ask them, but that would mean I wasn’t even paying the slightest attention at the most crucial moment of this whole journey. So I just left the room and walked toward the front of the inn again.
“Shao Han,” I heard Ting Wei’s voice behind me.
Great. What did he want now? Don’t tell me he was going to make sure I stay put.
“I’m just going for a walk,” I said without turning back to look at him.
“I didn’t mean to stop you. I just have something to tell you.”
“All right,” I said, sighing out at that same time. “But not here.”
© Friday, July 18th, 2008
Posted: Saturday, March 13th, 2010