“So he just told you guys that he would consider if you could come up with a good plan?” Bianca asked the others.
“That’s what he said,” Ehlo repeated his words once again so Bianca could register it into her mind.
“He’s not that bad, you know,” Wallace commented.
“Not until he made us clean that place up,” Qiao Qiao mumbled.
“Come on now,” Jacky urged. “We did make the mess.”
“But how did he know it was us?” Ehlo asked, looking around the room.
“Uh…” Wallace managed, not knowing how to answer.
They were back at his and the other three guys’ place again, trying to think up of a different plan. Although it was only Monday night, they felt the need to call for the meeting with the rest of the group after leaving the shop–and Tang Feng.
“Simple,” Chen Yi said.
“What?” Ehlo asked.
The others stayed silent and waited for Chen Yi to continue.
“We’ve been followed,” Chen Yi replied crisply.
“That makes him creepy though,” Ehlo said–almost shivering.
“What are you talking about?” Wallace jumped in, wrinkling his face. “You’re making us sound like a bunch of scaredy-cats.”
“He is creepy though,” Angela said, tossing her hair behind her shoulders again. “How could he just stalk us like that?”
“Didn’t half of us stalk each other during most of last year too?” Ehlo asked, reminding them all of the incidents that happened since their reunion last summer.
“Are you trying to stir things up again when we haven’t even solved this problem yet?” Qiao Qiao demanded, crossing her hands together and wrinkling her face.
“That means I can stir things up when we’re done with this one?” Ehlo asked back, his face unmoved.
“Huang Yu Rong!” Everyone in the room shouted at the same time, knowing too well of Ehlo’s way.
“All right, all right,” Ehlo said, raising his hands up in surrender. “I was just kidding.”
“Why are we arguing anyway?” Bianca asked. “Aren’t we supposed to think up of a plan to convince Tang Feng?”
“He’s setting us up for failure,” Chen Yi said.
“He said he’ll give us a chance, but it’s just to get us off his back. Whichever proposal we put in, he’ll reject it.”
“He doesn’t seem like that type of person,” Angela said.
Chen Yi shrugged. “Who knows?”
Just as Wallace was about to say something, a song began to play. Wallace recognized it was Cyndi’s favorite song so he knew it was her phone. Cyndi sent them an apologetic smile and left for the kitchen to take the call.
“What now?” Ehlo asked, eyeing the others in the room.
“I don’t know about you guys,” Wallace said with a yawn. “But I’m going to sleep on it. Maybe each of us think of a plan and discuss it later to see which approach we should use?”
“Not a bad idea,” Jacky said. “Most of us are tired anyway.”
“I guess our plan with persuading Auntie Zhao is postponed?” Tony asked, looking around the room at each of them.
“We can still save it for later,” Wallace said.
“If Tang Feng takes over and somehow agrees to run under the same type of work, then do we still need to convince Mrs. Zhao?” Angela asked.
“We still need to mend the damage done by those rumors spread by those so-called high-class crowd,” Wallace said with much more sternness than intended, getting up from his seat.
“Whoa,” Ehlo said, looking after Wallace as he made his way down the hall to his room. “I guess he’s pissed off, huh?”
“He has every right to be,” Jacky said, feeling the need to defend his cousin.
“But did he have to drag us in too?”
Jacky turned back to him. “What?”
“If you consider yourself that then go ahead and feel offended.” Jacky got up from his seat and headed to his room also.
“Hey! When is Sonia coming back?”
“None of your business,” Qiao Qiao jumped in before Jacky could reply.
“Kid, this is our house,” Ehlo snapped.
“You started it!”
“You forgot your place again,” Angela jumped in, tugging on Ehlo’s ear lightly.
“What?” Ehlo demanded, turning back to Angela and attempting to rescue his ear. “She started it.”
“You’re arguing with a girl.”
“So? When I stare at some girl, you can pull my ear, but arguing?”
“Hmp.” Angela had let go of his ear already but still wore the same hostile expression.
“When is Sonia coming back, man?” Ehlo attempted again as he saw Jacky coming back.
“This weekend,” Jacky said. “What happened to your ear?”
Ehlo finally stopped rubbing on his ear. “Nothing. Sam coming with her?”
“No. He went to visit Xiao Qiao already.”
“So Sonia has to do everything?”
“He was just coming to get some experience from the event. It’s over anyway.”
“Oh.” Ehlo wrinkled his face. “Why is Sonia not back yet though? Or….”
Jacky pointed at Ehlo. “Hey…don’t stir things up.”
“You never know.” As if by psychic, Ehlo put up his hand in time to catch Angela’s hand this time around before she could touch his ear. “Nice try.”
“You guys are too much,” Bianca said. “Always wanting to demonstrate in front of us.”
“Enough of this,” Jacky said. “Dinner, anyone?”
“I have to go home,” Qiao Qiao said, glancing at her watch.
“Me too,” Bianca continued.
“Same,” Tony chimed in.
“What are we talking about now?” Wallace said, coming out in time to see several hands raised.
“Dinner,” Jacky said.
It was at this time that Cyndi came back from the kitchen.
“What happened?” Wallace asked, concerned.
Cyndi shook her head. “I have to go home.”
“I’ll drive you.”
“Can you drive me too?” Qiao Qiao jumped in.
“What about Chen Yi?” Achel asked before she could stop herself.
“What about him?” Angela asked, eyeing Achel suspiciously.
“She’s too cool for us,” Chen Yi said, tugging on Achel’s hand to go.
“I’ll go with you guys,” Angela said, standing up from her spot, causing Ehlo to lose his balance since he had been leaning on her while she was sitting on the edge of the sofa’s arm.
“What about me?” Ehlo asked, standing up also.
“It’s your place,” Angela reminded him.
“Quit it, guys,” Bianca interfered. “Angela can go with me if you don’t trust Mr. Dare Devil’s driving.”
“Okay,” Ehlo said.
Jacky ended up stationing himself by the door to say goodbye to everyone. Ehlo headed for the kitchen after saying goodbye to Angela. When it was just Jacky and Ehlo again, Jacky joined Ehlo in the kitchen after locking the door.
“Do you think that Tang Feng guy’s for real?” Ehlo asked when they were eating dinner.
“Either way, we’ll have some sort of closure,” Jacky said, chewing on his piece of food absentmindedly.
“Are we being suck into this too blindly?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s none of our business after all.”
“We’re just a bunch of nosy people who can’t stand to see our friends frustrated without trying every single possible solution first…before giving up, no matter how silly the plan is.”
Just then, they heard some knocking on the door.
“Someone fix that doorbell already,” Ehlo muttered, getting up to open the door.
“I’ll get someone to do it,” Jacky said, getting up also. “Did Johnny forget his key again? He’s usually not that careless.”
“It could be Wallace coming back already,” Ehlo said. “He could forget.”
They finally have their answer when Ehlo opened the door.
“Hi,” Jacky rattled out casually–as if they didn’t know each other at all.
“What are you doing here, Mr. Lin?” Ehlo asked. “Forgot something?”
“Can I eat dinner with you guys?”
Ehlo burst out laughing. Then he tried to control himself. “Sorry. That was a bit unbelievable.”
Ming Dao shrugged. “I brought something over, so…”
“Okay,” Ehlo said, his voice more in the reassuring department than the teasing expression he wore. “I’m just surprised. Come on in. Must be boring without Sam.”
Ming Dao nodded.
“Johnny should be home in a bit so it would lighten up a bit more. And Wallace too, of course.”
When they settled down at the counter again, Jacky managed to get out a set for Ming Dao and a dish for the food that Ming Dao brought over also. They finally settled down, at last, to talk–with Ehlo still behind the counter.
“What should we talk about now?” Ehlo asked.
“Let’s not talk about Orchids Agency anymore,” Ming Dao said. “I’m a bit tired of it.”
“Sounds sooo supportive,” Ehlo said, drawing out his voice in mockery.
“I know it’s important…”
“Stop picking on him already,” Jacky interfered.
“What’s the harm with a little joke?”
Jacky ignored him and continued to eat.
“Hey, I’m just honest.”
Although Ehlo sounded like he wanted to pick a fight with Ming Dao but he changed the subject after that. About fifteen minutes later, Johnny and Wallace happened to come back at the same time so they joined the three guys for dinner also, talking about other subjects–including the famous upcoming sports event.
Tang Feng stepped out of the shop to see a girl leaning on the edge of the glass window, waiting for him. At least he thought that she was waiting for him.
“Can I help you, Miss?” Tang Feng asked–though he finally recognized her and could already guess her motive.
“I want to negotiate with you about something,” The girl said.
The girl nodded.
“What about it? Wasn’t I clear yesterday?”
“It wouldn’t hurt to hear another idea, would it? Besides, are you doubting me because I’m a girl?”
“Whoa. I didn’t say anything.” He glanced at his watch briefly before directing his attention back on her.
“Look, Miss, my driver’s going to pick me up at a nearby location. So how about if we take a walk and I’ll listen to your idea on the way?”
She nodded. “That’s fine then. And call me Qiao Qiao.”
“All right, Qiao Qiao then. Shall we?” He gestured his hand toward his right.
She walked side-by-side with him, but still managed to keep a little distance between them.
“What is your idea about then?” Tang Feng asked, giving her a side glance.
Qiao Qiao suddenly smiled, causing him to be confused. However, he waited patiently for her to continue. He had no idea that Qiao Qiao was just taking a little time reminiscing about the past. It was about a year ago that she and Jacky walked down the same path, talking about a completely different subject. She was more trusting of Jacky than Tang Feng but couldn’t help it that they were walking in the same direction as well. She finally cleared her throat real quick to bring herself back to reality and focused on the situation at hand. It wasn’t until they crossed the street that she turned to Tang Feng with a serious expression.
“Are you attached?” Qiao Qiao asked.
“What?” Tang Feng asked, wrinkling his face.
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
Tang Feng couldn’t take it anymore. He laughed out loud despite the situation. “Where did that come from? And what has that got to do with anything?”
“Just answer me.”
Tang Feng regained himself but continued to stare at her. “You’re attached so you can’t be interested in me, right?”
“Very funny. And no, I’m not attached, but of course, that’s not the point. Just answer me first then I’ll tell you.”
“Okay then. Of course, I’m not attached.” He kept a cautious eye on her, bracing himself for her explanation.
“If you agree, we can set it up for you after we manage to get back in business, not to mention…”
He extended his hand out to stop her. “If it’s not you, forget it.”
“What?! Stop teasing me already! I’m serious.”
“I’m serious too. What makes you think I’m not serious?”
“You look too smart to be one of those guys who would believe in love at first sight or whatever else.”
“What if I tell you I liked you since I was little and…”
“You weren’t in my class.”
“How could you be so sure? Like what if I changed my name?”
“Then what was your name?”
Qiao Qiao stopped dead in her tracks. She turned to him with her face all wrinkled up. “Tang Jia Hao?”
“What’s wrong with the name?” He asked innocently, still smiling.
“Tang Jia Hao? That obnoxious kid who set the record since elementary days?”
“You’re proud, right?”
“Tell me you’re kidding.”
“I’m not kidding.”
“But that means…”
They’d continued walking again since Qiao Qiao got over the initial shock already.
“Don’t worry,” Tang Feng reassured her. “I was just kidding about liking you. But I could reconsider it if you want.”
“Hey, that’s outrageous!”
“I’m the famous prankster.”
“What made you change your name then? No, wait…of course, you have to change your name.”
“You said it yourself that you’re the famous prankster.”
“Should I call you shi xiong then?”
“If you want.”
“The more you have to help me out with the shop.”
“I already am being nice by giving you guys a chance. It’s my shop now. I can do whatever I want, you know.”
“That’s true. But won’t you reconsider my suggestion?”
“No deal. Besides, I want to see what the other guys come up with.”
“I’m not discriminating against you. I just want to see if the others are just full of talks after all.”
“Considering all options, huh?”
“You can call it that. And you want to stop here for a bit? I don’t want my assistant to look too hard for us.”
“You sound considerate.”
“I can’t be?”
“It’s hard to believe the famous Tang Jia Hao doing such.”
“I’m Tang Feng now.”
“That’s just changing your name.”
“It’s signifying growth too.”
“Or the need to hide from your past.”
“Why are you analyzing me now?”
“Oh yeah, how did you know we went to the same schools?”
“I looked you guys up.”
“Huh?” Qiao Qiao didn’t want to sound that dumb but she was confused if Tang Feng was putting her on again.
“Chen Yi was wearing his university jacket yesterday,” Tang Feng said. “So I feel the need to look through old yearbooks.”
Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “But you probably graduated or went to the next school when we switched school each time. How would you know?”
“I borrowed it from my sister.”
“Oh. So, where have you been all these years after you graduated from university then?”
“Traveling around the world mostly and seeing what it’s all about out there before I come back here and settle down for good.”
“Like finding a candidate and get married?”
Tang Feng pointed at her. “Don’t start, xiao shi mei.”
Qiao Qiao laughed, suddenly feeling like she could trust Tang Feng just a little more. “I can’t get past the famous prankster, huh?”
Tang Feng finally smiled. “Glad you remember that.”
“It’s funny to be talking to one of my seniors right now, especially a famous one.”
“Strange but it’s not impossible.”
Qiao Qiao nodded in agreement.
They continued to talk randomly, sharing old memories and changes in their school days. Somehow, Qiao Qiao was so engaged in the conversation that she forgot her plan altogether. Or maybe she knew that she could not persuade him otherwise. She also knew that she wouldn’t want to constantly bring it up and annoy him in the process. She wouldn’t want their only chance to be robbed of because of her constant nagging. The others would come up with something eventually.
While Qiao Qiao was using her charm and aggressiveness to negotiate with Tang Feng, Chen Yi was hiding nearby in a bush, monitoring her every move. They’d already planned it out beforehand–that he would be following her at a distance to be sure. It was the only way he would’ve agreed with her when she told him of her plan after work. She just couldn’t wait to share it with the others but had to carry the plan out right away. Chen Yi must admit he was lucky that she even considered sharing the plan with him instead of rushing to see Tang Feng by herself. Just when he was keeping a safe distance from Qiao Qiao and was trying to listen in on their conversation, he bumped into someone. He almost yelled out but managed to dodge out of the way in time, making sure Tang Feng couldn’t catch a glimpse of him yet. After his quick inspection, he turned toward the other direction, ready to argue with the other party–who had rudely bumped into him but hadn’t taken the time to apologize. As he was just opening his mouth to lash out, he recognized Ming Dao crouching not far from where he was hiding. No wonder Ming Dao didn’t say anything when they collided. Ming Dao was also making sure he wasn’t spotted by Tang Feng or Qiao Qiao.
“What are you doing here, man?” Chen Yi whispered, his voice sounding quite irritated for a whispering tone.
“What are you doing here then?” Ming Dao shot back, rubbing his head.
“I asked you first,” Chen Yi gritted his teeth, still managing to whisper–despite his hostility.
“I saw Qiao Qiao talking to him. I don’t know what’s going on but I want to make sure she’s okay. Didn’t know you follow them already. If I knew, I wouldn’t be as worried.”
Chen Yi had on his teasing smile. “Protecting her, huh?”
Ming Dao wrinkled his face in confusion. “What’s with you and teasing us all the time? I thought you promised to stop.”
Chen Yi shrugged. “If you stop paying attention to her so much, we would stop teasing you.”
“I just thought she’s like my sister so I want to look out for her, that’s all.”
It was Chen Yi’s turn to wrinkle his face in confusion. “So you’re not interested in her at all?” He saw Ming Dao wrinkling his face again so he continued. “I meant…I just don’t know what you two are doing either so I’m confused myself.”
“I don’t know what’s going on. But I have a girlfriend already and…”
“She hasn’t told you? She helped me buy gifts for my girlfriend all the time. She and Bianca, that is. Bianca doesn’t have free time anymore–with the dating thing and all so Qiao Qiao has been helping me and giving advice.” Then he remembered something. “Why are you spying on her though?”
“I’m here because I’m just taking a watch on Qiao. She told me of her new plan after work and wouldn’t allow me to drag her back to discuss it with you guys first. So I insisted on following her just in case.”
It was now that the guys turned back to check on Qiao Qiao again. Tang Feng and Qiao Qiao were still talking but what was stranger was that they were laughing away like they were sharing some secret joke. Both Chen Yi and Ming Dao wrinkled their faces and cranked their ears even harder, trying to listen in. But because of traffic and the amount of distance they were between the two that they couldn’t listen in. They gave up and ended up staring at the two instead, hoping it would end soon.
As they were waiting, Chen Yi couldn’t help but mull things over in his mind. He wondered what in the world was going on. He definitely needed to talk to Qiao Qiao after she was done with the current conversation.
“Hey!” Qiao Qiao’s voice rang into both guy’s ears, sending them jumping up.
“What?!” Chen Yi exclaimed, feeling embarrassed that he wasn’t prepared since he was deep in thoughts.
“Why are you guys together?” Qiao Qiao asked, staring from one guy to the other.
“What happened to him?” Chen Yi asked, scanning the street for Tang Feng.
“He’s gone,” Qiao Qiao said. “He went to pick up his sister.”
“Oh,” Chen Yi said, scratching his head out of habit.
“You guys didn’t answer my question yet.”
“Um…he…” Chen Yi turned to Ming Dao, giving him a chance to explain for himself.
“I saw you walking with him and I felt a bit uneasy since he’s a bit strange, so…I followed you,” Ming Dao confessed. “I’m sorry. But I just want to make sure if everything’s okay.”
“I have Chen Yi with me, so I’m all right,” Qiao Qiao reassured him.
“He was just worried since he didn’t see me,” Chen Yi said, backing Ming Dao up–though his mind was still spinning in confusion-land.
“Oh.” She turned to Ming Dao with an apologetic look. “Sorry I didn’t inform you guys. I’m always so rash with my behaviors, huh? I guess I should’ve listened to Chen Yi and talk to you guys first.”
“It’s all right,” Ming Dao said with a smile. “I’m glad you’re all right.” He looked at his watch quickly. “I have to go now if you’re safe. Catch you guys around whenever.”
Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao nodded. Ming Dao waved to them one last time before leaving them. Chen Yi had to make sure he was far away before turning to Qiao Qiao again.
“What in the world is going on here?” He asked, getting straight to the point.
Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “What?”
“You never told me that Ming Dao has a girlfriend.”
Qiao Qiao looked at Ming Dao’s disappearing back before turning to Chen Yi again. “He told you?”
“Yeah, just now.”
“I was going to tell you guys anyway.”
Chen Yi had on his sad expression, almost wanting to say a word of reassurance, but Qiao Qiao put up a hand to stop him.
“It’s part of life, right?” Qiao Qiao said, smiling. “Perhaps it’s not meant to be. And I chose my own path. But it doesn’t mean the end of the world, right? I could always find someone else. Just take this as some silly crush then.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
Qiao Qiao nodded.
“I’m sorry if I’ve been giving you a hard time lately.” He gestured his hand in the general direction. “I didn’t know…”
Qiao Qiao shook her head. “I’m not any better. But it’s not because of that, okay? I’m just frustrated that we can’t help Alyssa.”
Chen Yi smiled. “Don’t worry. We’ll figure out something. In fact, maybe Huang and Huo will think of something in no time.”
“Anyway, I have to go pick up Xiao Yu, okay? You need a ride back?”
Qiao Qiao shook her head. “Jacky ge’s going to pick me up.”
“Be careful, okay?”
Qiao Qiao nodded, still smiling.
It wasn’t until Chen Yi was out of sight that Qiao Qiao finally retrieved her cell phone to call Jacky.
© Thursday, September 10th, 2009
Re-posted: Saturday, February 12th, 2011