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Chapter 9 – Switching Sides

Just as CJ said, we managed to find an inn before dark after we crossed the river. We rent two rooms, one for the guys and one for us girls. It was to save money and to stay together in case anything happened. Of course the rooms were next to each other – as we requested.
After the waiter left, we separated into two groups to browse around the inn to see if Xiao Bai was there also. CJ and I were on the same team, of course. Since Roger didn’t want Jing Jing to go alone at this “unsafe” place and Ting Wei and I were still at odds so we went with two and three in a group. Not to mention that CJ was still mad at Ting Wei over something unknown again. Guys. And I thought us girls had more dramas. But then I was glad that we were on the same team all the same since we moved faster than the others. When we were done and were waiting in the guys’ room again, the other three were still out and about. While CJ was twirling a coin in his hands, I went back to my thinking mode, wondering if we really have to go all the way to Hangzhou in order to catch up with Xiao Bai.
“Hmm…” I heard CJ say about 15 minutes later.
“What?” I turned to look at him.
“I wonder if it was a bad idea after all leaving Jing Jing with Ting Wei. “
“There’s Roger. And besides, if he feels it’s the right time to romance around rather than find Xiao Bai, then he can go ahead.”
“Come on, Angela. Maybe you should have a decent talk with him. Avoiding like that is not healthy.”
“Speak for yourself, Little Bro.”
I turned away from him to look at the wall instead. But I swore I could see him cringed when I said those last two words. Maybe we didn’t have to pretend anymore. Although I was mad at Ting Wei, but I didn’t have to take it out on CJ. He wasn’t the cause of our argument anyway.
“I wonder what’s taking them so long,” I said out loud, signifying that I was not going to ignore him completely. “I’m hungry.”
“Oh?” CJ said. “Let’s go find some food first then.”
He had stopped twirling the coin around now since the sound had stopped.
“Or maybe…”
Before I could finish my sentence, Ting Wei’s voice boomed over us.
“Hey guys! Guess what? We ordered some food already. It’s going to be here soon.”
“Great,” I mumbled unenthusiastically although I was complaining of hunger like seconds before.
CJ tried a tad harder than me to communicate with Ting Wei.
“Did you guys have any luck?”CJ asked, looking at the three.
“If they did, would they come back alone?” I asked sarcastically.
“What’s with you lately and that attitude?” Roger asked, walking toward CJ and me.
“Probably she’s just getting impatient because we’ve been here for so long,” CJ jumped in before I could deliver another blow.
“Strange that you would know what she’s thinking,” Roger said.
“Strange that you would go out of your way to discredit Angela,” CJ said.
Hey! Wait a minute! Wasn’t he mad at Ting Wei? How did it switch to Roger? I tried harder to pay attention, trying to figure out what was wrong with them. Did I miss something that was right before my eyes this past month we’d been here?
“Why are we fighting over senseless things? Let’s stop all these nonsense arguments and save our energy to find the medallion,” Ting Wei said.
“Fighting over Angela is senseless?” CJ asked, standing up to face Ting Wei with a challenging look.
“I didn’t mean that,” Ting Wei said, turning to look at me. “I just meant we shouldn’t be trying to pick fights with each other right now.”
“So we have to put our life on hold just because you messed up?” CJ asked. “Time’s running here even if you want it to or not. We might not be able to get back at all here. Why can’t I yell at him?”
Before anyone of us could say anything else, there was a knock at the door. We looked at each other once before Ting Wei parted from the group to open the door. It was the waiter bringing in food for us. I stood up to help him take the food off the tray although it was his job. I was not used to being served on although this was just something minor. We thanked him and waited for him to leave before resuming our conversation.
“Okay, you want to continue?” Roger asked, looking at CJ. “Go ahead, like I’m afraid of you.”
“Would you two stop already?” Ting Wei asked, sounding frustrated.
“Guys,” I said. “Come on.”
“Fine,” CJ said, finally sitting back down.
We began eating in silence for the first few minutes. I could see CJ still sulking inside from his expression.
This was just too strange. What else could happen? The guys were all against each other now – no wait, Ting Wei and Roger seemed to be on the same team while CJ was fending for himself. We girls were barely talking to each other, except trying to be polite. Suddenly, CJ would rather side with me than join forces with Jing Jing like he used to do many times before. Come to think of it, he had stopped joining forces with Jing Jing since we entered college, but that was not the main point. We didn’t get along. Even if he said we were trying to get along temporarily until we get home, but didn’t he just say we might not get out of here at all? What was the change in attitude?
“Angela,” I heard someone called my name.
I looked up at them.
“What?”
“We’re waiting for your answer,” Roger said, slightly annoyed.
From his look, I did not regret one bit for smashing his name plate apart in my mind.
“What answer?”
“Do you ever pay attention? It would save us a lot of time,” Roger said.
“Like you pay attention all the time,” CJ jumped in.
“Guys,” Ting Wei interfered.
“Forget it,” CJ said, turning to me. “They said that since we’re out of sight now, you and Ting Wei can stop pretending to be married. I object because we want to keep the story consistent no matter what but they said it’s impossible we run into the same people again. They say that once we get the medallion, we’ll just find a place to transport back and that’s it. But like I said before, like that will run smoothly. And…”
“If he doesn’t want to, I wouldn’t want to force him,” I said. “I didn’t want to make that story up anyway.”
“That’s good then,” Roger said, smiling brightly. “So I wouldn’t get so confused anymore.”
“Confused?” I asked, puzzled. “Why? It’s not real anyway, just a version of the story for others. Not like it’s real.”
“Uh…” Roger stuttered.
Suddenly, he became the scaredy-cat again. I waited to see CJ cover for him again, but CJ just continued eating.
“It doesn’t matter really,” Ting Wei said. “I mean I don’t mind either way.”
I suddenly wondered who CJ meant by “they” from earlier. It seemed to me like only Roger objected. Or maybe Ting Wei wanted to back out of it now since I didn’t pay attention before.
For some reason, I lost my appetite suddenly although we just started to eat for about 10 minutes or so.
“I’m going for a walk,” I said, standing up.
“I’ll go with you,” Ting Wei said, standing up as well. “I have something to tell you anyway.”
“No,” I said. “I want to go alone. We’ll talk later.”
With that, I turned to leave before anyone else wanted to follow me.

*****

I wondered endlessly around the neighborhood although it was nighttime. I no longer cared since I was pretty used to the people here now. Somehow, it was even better than taking a stroll around the block in our world. The nightlife at this place reminded me of those times we used to hang around during those last months of high school. Looking back, I realized that we were a “five-some”, not “threesome “like I always wanted to remember. Although CJ and I didn’t get along, but I was close with all the other three. And now? It seemed like the reverse. As I turned at the end of the block, I could feel the cold breeze in my face. I shivered, feeling the cold finally seething through my skin. After all, it was still chilly around this time. I had forgotten my cloak back at the inn. As I was standing there watching some kids playing with firecrackers while the parents were monitoring nearby, I felt something being placed on my shoulder. I turned around to see CJ putting a cloak on me – possibly mine.
“Don’t worry,” CJ said in a low tone. “It’s yours.”
“Why aren’t you eating with the rest of them?” I asked, securing the cloak around myself.
“I lost my appetite too,” He said, looking down at the ground.
“Hmm…”
“Don’t believe me?”
“No, it’s not that,” I said, looking back at the kids playing with the firecrackers since I didn’t want to face CJ right now. “It’s just so strange. I know I said it before, but our group is finally falling apart. And at such time too.”
“It’s unavoidable,” He said with a sad tone. “When there are so many secrets within us, something’s got to give.”
“What secrets?” I asked, turning to him again.
“Nothing,” He said, shaking his head. “Just guessing.”
“Always like that,” I said, disappointed. “You’ll be the death of me.”
“Am I that important to you for you to pay so much attention to?”
“You wish.”
“Just as I thought,” He said, laughing.
Somehow I could sense a little bitterness in his laughter. Or maybe it was just my imagination. Maybe it was my own bitterness toward life in general. I turned back to where we came from and started walking again. CJ walked side-by-side with me, not saying anything.
“Even if he doesn’t want to be husband wife with you, I still want to be your family,” He said suddenly.
Why was he being so nice to me? Or was he feeling sorry for me?
“If only we can catch up to Xiao Bai soon, then we can all be free from this madness,” I said.
Then I increased my pace, not wanting to say anything more. This was just too much. I didn’t want to think anymore of everyone’s strange behaviors. No matter how fast I walked, CJ seemed to be at the same pace as me. But somehow, he got the message and didn’t speak up for the rest of the way. When we were back at the inn, I saw Ting Wei at the front door. I walked past him without bothering to stop. CJ did the same.
“Shao Han,” Ting Wei called after me.
I continued to walk until I was in the back where the bedrooms were located. I finally stopped and turned around to face him. CJ seemed to have disappeared to his room.
“What?” I said. “I’m tired. I want to go to sleep.”
“Can we talk for a bit? I mean you’ve been ignoring me since that day and I don’t want it to be that way anymore.”
“What’s there to talk about? Either you believe me or Jing Jing. And it seems like you already decided when you want to ‘expose’ me that day at the coffee shop. It doesn’t matter what I say, you won’t listen to me.”
“I…”
“Don’t deny it. If you didn’t believe the story, you would have brought the story up and say how silly it is like any other time. But this time, you came out and confronted me.”
“Shao Han…”
“And you’re probably right that day about reconsidering our relationship.”
“Shao Han, I…”
“Let’s break up.”
He looked like I just hit him hard in the face. I couldn’t believe I just said those words either. But it was too late to take it back. I turned around and walked toward my room. Halfway there, I realized I shared the same room with Jing Jing so I turned back to walk outside front again. A night without sleep wouldn’t kill me.

*****

I didn’t know how long I wondered around the streets, but one of the night guards stopped me and told me to go home, warning me how dangerous it was for a girl like me to be out at night. I had no choice but to return to the inn with him escorting me back. The waiters were closing as I stepped into the inn again. I thanked the guard for his help and went in. I didn’t feel like going inside at all, even now. But I couldn’t go back out, so I sat down on the steps in front of my room. As I leaned on the pole to rest, someone called me from behind. I knew it was not Ting Wei since he’d probably already gone to sleep. I didn’t care if he could sleep or not. I no longer cared about anything.
“You all right?” The person said, sitting down next to me.
I turned to him, seeing that he was not in any better shape than me. He couldn’t sleep either? Yes, it was CJ. It would be a miracle if it was Roger.
“What is it? Don’t tell me you can’t sleep either.”
My attempt to make light of the situation failed miserably. How did it come out so lame?
“Here,” He said, handing me a tissue – no, handkerchief.
“Huh?” I asked, wrinkling my face.
“You’re crying,” He said.
I reached up to feel my face and knew that he was right. When did I cry? Probably after I sat down because if I had cried before, wouldn’t the others had noticed already?
“Thanks,” I said, taking the handkerchief from him.
“He made you cried?” CJ asked.
“No,” I said. “I made myself cry.”
“Impossible.”
“I broke up with him.”
“What?!”
“You might want to broadcast that out too,” I said tiredly.
“Why?”
“I don’t know. I’m just tired of this. It’s like I already know it’s going to happen one day, but I still want to cling onto him. I shouldn’t be so selfish. Maybe I should have told him that Jing Jing likes him ages ago so she could have a chance. I mean all of us are very close and…”
I couldn’t seem to go on anymore. I felt like I was choking with grief. But then I realized it was because I was crying again so I couldn’t get the words out anymore. I wiped my tears and tried to calm myself down again.
“Angela,” CJ said softly. “You’re not wrong. How is it selfish that you kept it from him? I mean you’re the girlfriend after all. And if every girlfriend out there discovers that some girl likes her boyfriend, would it be selfish not telling him? It’s that other person’s decision to tell him or not. Not you. Why do you have to be so hard on yourself?”
“I…”
I still couldn’t talk. I was supposed to calm down, why did I cry even more? This was so frustrating.
Suddenly I feel CJ’s hand on my shoulder. Alarmed, I turned around. He grabbed a hold of my other shoulder also and hugged me to him.
“CJ?” I said, shocked.
“Just cry,” He said. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”
Although I really wanted to cry, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I pulled myself away from CJ, not wanting anyone to misunderstand even if Ting Wei and I had already broken up.
“Thanks,” I managed to say. “But I don’t feel like crying right now.” I leaned on the pole again, wiping my tears away.
“Sorry,” He said.
I should be the one saying sorry since I embarrassed him by making him look like an idiot.
“I shouldn’t scare you like that,” He said.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I just don’t feel like…”
“I know. But I still think you two are behaving quite rash. Maybe you should sort things out first.”
“I don’t want to go on like this anymore,” I said. “When there’s already doubt, it’s hard to go back to the normal times again. Even if we never get out of here, I don’t want to feel like I need to stay with him just for the sake of it.”
I could hear him sigh.
“Go back to sleep,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”
“I won’t be able to sleep either, knowing you’re sitting here. It’s not safe even if it’s inside the inn.”
I turned to see him leaning on the other pole. I knew I couldn’t convince him so I turned back and leaned on my pole again, feeling exhausted.
© Wednesday, July 16th, 2008
Posted: Saturday, March 13th, 2010

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