“All right guys,” Tang Feng prompted. “Last round before we get out of here.”
“Yes, sir,” Qiao Qiao joked, saluting.
“Very funny,” Tang Feng mocked, his expression annoyed. He walked toward the back area and down the hallway. The girls followed him while Wallace and Simon checked the front. He turned around to give the shop a quick scan.
“What’s wrong?” Qiao Qiao asked, wrinkling her face.
“Where’s Chen Yi?” Tang Feng asked, turning to the girls.
Qiao Qiao shrugged while Cyndi shook her head.
Tang Feng reached for the door handle to the storage room anyway. They had merged the conference room with the storage room to make more space. Tang Feng took a step in to reach for the light switch while the girls waited outside.
“What was that?” Qiao Qiao asked, her voice shaky.
“What?” Tang Feng asked, turning around, his hand abandoning the light switch.
Qiao Qiao pointed her hand at the room. “That.”
Tang Feng turned around to look inside the room again. He had turned in time to see a white shadow passing them by. He could hear both girls screaming behind him.
“You think we invited the real thing by playing that joke?” Qiao Qiao asked, her voice still shaky.
Tang Feng turned back to the girls to see that they had huddled together and were clinging onto each other’s hands for support. He felt a bit amused that Qiao Qiao should behave that way. She was not a scaredy-cat. Why was she acting like that? He turned back to the room to avoid himself from laughing out loud at their humorous behaviors. Then he could hear it. A definite mechanical sound. Very small but audible. He reached out and switched the light on to avoid the prankster from attempting the skit again. However, the prankster didn’t know when to stop. He could see something being thrown their way. He reached out to catch it and spotted a white gown. More screams from the girls. He turned around to check on them and saw that Wallace and Simon were by their side at that time.
“What’s going on?” Wallace asked, stepping toward the door also.
“A stubborn ghost,” Tang Feng said casually.
“You mean it’s real?” Qiao Qiao asked, looking into the room.
Tang Feng didn’t answer. He took another step into the room, turning left to where it merged into the conference room.
“Feng ge!” Qiao Qiao called out.
Tang Feng didn’t answer to that either. He walked to where the long table was. “Chen Yi! If you’re not out before I get to five, you’re fired!”
The door to the far left of the room opened at the time. Chen Yi stepped out with a sly smile on his face. “I got ‘em big time, didn’t I?”
“That’s not funny,” Tang Feng scolded, not afraid of showing his stern expression to Chen Yi.
“So it was you!” Qiao Qiao shouted, advancing into the room.
“I didn’t realize you were such a scaredy-cat though!” Chen Yi exclaimed in victory.
The others had stepped into the room by that time also.
“That was not cool, dude,” Wallace commented.
“We’re going to close for the day soon anyway,” Chen Yi reminded them. “I thought I give the girls a little surprise.”
“Since you thought it was funny,” Tang Feng said, crossing his hands together. “You can clean up the mess. This time…” He pointed his right index finger at Chen Yi. “Get rid of the ghost stuff for good.”
Chen Yi finally realized that Tang Feng was not kidding. He nodded and walked to the storage area at the other side of the room. Tang Feng watched carefully as Chen Yi clean up the place while the others stared in amazement.
“How did you get him to be so obedient?” Wallace asked, turning to Tang Feng.
“He wants his job,” Tang Feng said in his as a matter of fact tone.
“He doesn’t have to be here,” Wallace said. “Besides, using your authority for unreasonable means is…”
“It’s not about that. It’s about a matter of principle. I told everyone no more games. I’ve been lenient since the planning phase. If I don’t enforce the rules around here, it will get out of hand.”
“You’re the boss all right,” Wallace commented, crossing his hands also.
Cyndi walked toward the direction where Chen Yi was cleaning up, attempting to help also.
“Let him do it himself,” Tang Feng spoke up. “So he will remember not to pull some childish prank the next time.”
“Feng ge,” Qiao Qiao called out, walking to Tang Feng’s side and sliding her hands through his still crossed hands. “Don’t be mad.”
Tang Feng brushed her hands off and placed his hands on his hips instead, still having an eye on Chen Yi’s every move.
“Qiao,” Wallace said, shaking his head, indicating Qiao Qiao shouldn’t try anymore. He was able to see that determined look in Tang Feng’s eyes.
They watched as Chen Yi cleaned up. Afterward, they stepped out of the room. Tang Feng finally switched off the lights and turned to the others.
“I just want you all to understand how serious I am about running this business,” He said, scanning each and every one of them. “There are things to joke about and things not to.”
The others nodded, still staying silent. It was one of Tang Feng’s scary sides that they did not want to touch. Wallace was not afraid of Tang Feng. He just did not want to risk their chance. After all, they did spend an amount of time convincing Tang Feng–whether it was a small con or not, they still did it.
“All right,” Tang Feng said at last. “Let’s get out of here.”
Opening day approached rapidly and they ended up occupying themselves with last-minute chores. Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao silently thanked Tang Feng for having been so meticulous with his tasks list while Wallace, Cyndi, and Simon just moved with the pace like it was nothing to them. Unlike usual opening days, Tang Feng set it on Saturday on purpose, allowing most of the others in their group to attend. It was a secret among those who were in on the conspiracy that one sunny afternoon more than a month ago. But nothing was as surprising as when the sign finally arrived. They had set up an official ceremonial table with incense and other necessities for the offering of thanking Heaven for their progress thus far and wishing a continuance success. It was like Tang Feng had planned everything out to the dot because the sign arrived right about the time when he was getting ready to address the crowd that was gathered in front of the shop, waiting to see a show.
Some commotion revved up while Tang Feng was exchanging some words with the delivery men. Jacky and Sonia were seen still standing at their spot among the crowd as guests, waiting patiently as Ehlo and Johnny were carrying a conversation among themselves. As they watched the sign being positioned into place, they noticed that it was cautiously done so that the red cloth covering it wouldn’t come undone before the appropriate moment.
“I feel like attending some special ceremony,” Ehlo commented, his smile smart-aleck as always.
“What special ceremony is that?” Angela asked, eyeing him suspiciously, knowing too well her boyfriend was up to no good again.
“Strip club opening,” Jacky provided the answer helpfully, having overheard the exchange between Ehlo and Angela.
After that was out, two things happened at once, which were: (1) Angela tugging on Ehlo’s ear, demanding an explanation and (2) Sonia hitting Jacky’s shoulder, telling him to behave himself.
“I didn’t say anything,” Jacky said, faking innocence though his smile said otherwise.
“Stop,” Sonia warned again.
“Thanks a lot, Backstabber,” Ehlo snapped, turning to Jacky with a dirty glare–after having already rescued his ear from Angela’s attack.
“Sh…” Johnny shushed them since the ceremony was moving forward again as Tang Feng was already satisfied with how the sign was positioned.
“Yes, sir,” Ehlo muttered under his breath, saluting–and earning a glare from Angela.
The ceremony indeed continued after that little delay and/or sideshow. Tang Feng resumed his front and center post, introducing the shop, the employees, and their goals. Then the offering of incense followed. The crowd managed to keep quiet as they witnessed that little respectful gesture offered to Heaven high above. The moment finally arrived when they were allowed the sight of the sign above. Tang Feng had requested for the delivery men to set it up so that he could control it with the tugging of a red string hanging to the side. And he was about to do just that.
A series of murmurs were heard among the crowd as soon as the golden sign gleamed in their faces. However, for some of them, it was the shock of seeing the words that resided so permanently on the board. The sign read “豐凌” (Feng Ling) in big, polished characters with the spacing so perfect and so fitting. Below that were small, concise but legible words in English, which were: Feng Ling’s Gift Shop.
“Feng as in…uh…” Ehlo began, his volume reduced to an almost whisper, turning to Jacky. “And Ling as in…uh…right?”
Jacky nodded, verifying Ehlo’s suspicion, knowing too well where his buddy was going with the blanks without Ehlo finishing it.
While they were debating about the two characters, Cyndi turned to Tang Feng upon seeing him smiling at her. Her expression mirrored that shock on some of their faces yet it contained a different meaning after the initial shock passed because she returned his smile as he nodded. Were they sharing an unknown secret the others hadn’t learned about?
“Do you think he’s after Cyndi?” Ehlo asked, getting right to business.
Yes, they were home again after attending that memorable ceremony–with some exceptions because some of them still wanted to explore the gift shop a little more.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Johnny dismissed the accusation. “He knows better than mixing personal and business, right?”
“You telling me or asking me?” Ehlo got up and retrieved some juice from the fridge that Angela had stocked for them earlier. Yes, she was getting him off the unhealthy sodas. He poured out some juice for them all before returning the bottle to the fridge. He didn’t continue until he settled down behind the counter again. “You saw her. I meant them, exchanging that look.”
“Maybe she was just amused?” Johnny suggested, still not buying Ehlo’s wild theory.
He took a sip of his juice before continuing. “Did she look amused to you?”
“You guys better not be talking about that when Wallace comes home later,” Jacky warned them, joining them in the kitchen after a quick trip to his room.
“Why not?” Ehlo asked, turning to Jacky. “We have to analyze the matter and reduce the threat here.”
“Are you stirring things up again?” Angela inquired, stepping into the kitchen also.
“Hey, I’m just concerned for our buddy’s future,” Ehlo defended himself, cutting up a pie Sonia brought over for them. “Did anyone remember what he said in that clip we recorded? Or was that just me conjuring it up all by myself?”
“It doesn’t matter what that was about,” Jacky jumped in again, sitting down next to Johnny. “We can’t interfere.” He paused to take a sip of his own juice. “Or add in oil to the fire.”
“Aww…come on, man,” Ehlo whined, passing the newly cut pie plate to Johnny. “What’s the fun of it then?”
“No fun. And don’t you have an upcoming project at work?”
Ehlo shrugged, not answering. He focused on his piece of pie instead. It was then that Jacky and Johnny exchanged a smile between the two of them. They were too familiar with Ehlo’s attempt to dodge his own situation while more than eager to meddle in others’ affairs.
“Big news!” Qiao Qiao’s voice rang throughout the shop two days later.
“What?” Wallace asked, his voice still leveled, feeling like Qiao Qiao was over-reacting again. “We actually made the news?”
“No,” Qiao Qiao replied, her voice coming closer to them. “Tony’s in trouble.”
That was when Wallace and the others snapped their heads up from their tasks, including Tang Feng.
“What happened?” Tang Feng asked–and not Wallace, his eyes actually on Cyndi when he asked that.
“A youngster whose sudden rose of fame due to nothing more than a mere stroke of luck sought out another reason to make news after a period of idleness from the business world,” Qiao Qiao read from the newspaper in her hands. She paused to look up at the others. “That’s the headline.”
Wallace nodded, prompting her to continue.
“Sun Xie Zhi, who was recognized as a genius by some of the most renowned businessmen, had recently stirred up a sensation among the high-class society to gain attention. Having been successful in the field for many years, he had also established his own journalism department to encourage young creative minds and hone the upcoming generation–to which he was applauded by many. However, it had seemed that he was not afraid of using it as a personal gain to draw attention upon himself, especially by using the pen to splatter a glob of ink or two to contaminate a certain family’s reputation.”
“Skip all those vague garbage,” Tang Feng jumped in. “What’s the point of the attack?”
Qiao Qiao looked up at them all again, abandoning the paper altogether. “Bottom line? I think the Zhao family got to him.”
“How can you be so sure?” Simon asked, not believing Qiao Qiao’s words.
“Who else would dare to talk about him that way? Unless…they got a go from the party who was attacked.”
“Opening time,” Tang Feng said, closing his office door without another word.
The others exchanged a look, except for Cyndi who was deep in thoughts.
“Doesn’t matter,” Wallace said. “Tony’ll handle it somehow. We have to worry about here now. We can always check with him after work.”
Qiao Qiao nodded, folding the paper in her hands together and making her way to the break room. After a few minutes, they were seen at various locations around the shop, performing their daily morning duties before opening up for business.
They did not have to call Tony up to investigate the matter because his reply to the person who wrote the article came around lunch–in a special coverage corner of his magazine’s weekly issues. Surprisingly, it was Tang Feng who went out and bought the magazine during lunch break. He tossed it on the table when he entered the break room and left the scene without a word. Wallace, Chen Yi, and Qiao Qiao exchanged a look while Cyndi picked up the magazine and turned the page to read the article. Simon was out for lunch, a date with Stacey to be exact.
“The High-Class Society’s Pasttime: Gossiping with the Paparazzi,” Cyndi read aloud.
“Nice headline,” Wallace commented, his smile mischievous.
“Instead of looking for effective alternatives to strengthen their business or seeking for better ways to improve themselves, they had decided to choose an easy way out,” Cyndi continued. “By joining forces with gossip magazines, they are able to vandalize their enemy’s delicate affairs as well as burglarizing other people’s opportunity to voice out their own opinions.”
Wallace still had on his mischievous smile. If anything, it had turned into some traces of taunting. “They are so deep into it…”
“What in the world is he doing?” Cyndi asked, her tone obviously frustrated.
The other three exchanged a look of mild surprise.
“He has to strike back, doesn’t he?” Wallace asked, his voice prompting for her to agree with him–or more like them.
“But that means he’s also making it harder for Alyssa and Vincent.”
“They started it,” Chen Yi reminded Cyndi.
Cyndi tossed the magazine aside, not caring to touch it anymore, her reaction oozing of apparent disapproval.
“That’s so childish.”
“It’s called business,” Tang Feng’s voice spoke up suddenly. “Dirty business to be exact.”
Cyndi turned to him with her displeased look still on. “You approve?”
Tang Feng shook his head. “But in this case, I have to say he’s clever. No one could play this game better than him actually. If they want to play the hinting game, he’s ready.”
“You sound like you know him,” Qiao Qiao noted, her eyes scanning Tang Feng, searching for answers.
Tang Feng flashed on his smile all of a sudden. “With his record, it’s hard not to get noticed.”
“But you sound like you know him on a personal level.”
And just like that, Tang Feng’s shield was up again. “Do I?” Then he was gone from their sight again.
“What’s with him?” Chen Yi asked, staring at the empty space greeting them all.
Qiao Qiao’s eyebrows arched as she mulled things over. She got up from her seat, tossing the magazine she had taken from Cyndi’s abandonment earlier. “Feng ge!”
“And someone else’s in trouble,” Wallace said, smiling as he continued with his lunch.
“What’s she going to do?” Chen Yi asked, playing with his food–something he rarely did. “Beat the answer out of him?”
Wallace shook his head yet his smile was still gleaming. “She might.” Then he noticed that Cyndi was still distracted. He reached a hand over to her side of the table. “Come on. Stop being so hostile.”
Cyndi wasn’t assured by his gesture. Her irritation was still showing. “I can’t believe Senior Xie Zhi is going along with this stupid game. And I can’t believe it that someone’s encouraging him.” She got up from her seat and left them also.
“Hey!” Wallace yelled after her, getting up himself.
By that time, even Chen Yi was out of his seat and was following Wallace closely as Wallace was chasing Cyndi down. However, when they were in the main area of the shop, they spotted Qiao Qiao following Tang Feng along the aisles, still pestering him about his possible encounter with Tony.
“Where did Cyndi go?” Wallace asked, still darting his eyes up and down the aisles of the shop.
“She said she has to leave for a while,” Tang Feng replied, his back still to them as he made his way down another aisle.
Wallace took a glance at his watch, though he was sure it was cutting close to the amount of time they had left for lunch.
“Don’t worry,” Tang Feng said, as though having eyes on the back of his head. “She won’t be long.”
“Don’t tell me she’s going to confront Tony,” Chen Yi jumped in.
“I should’ve gone with her,” Qiao Qiao said suddenly, turning to face Wallace and Chen Yi. “Then I could ask Tony if he knows Feng ge.”
“He’ll probably deny it,” Tang Feng said, his voice passive.
Qiao Qiao turned back toward Tang Feng. “Feng ge, you do know him, right?”
Tang Feng finally turned to face the other two. “How do you guys deal with her persistence?”
Chen Yi shrugged. “We just basically ignore her. Only Jacky would give in to her demands. No wonder she’s spoiled.”
Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face and made her way toward Chen Yi at that time. “Hey!”
Before she could get too far, Tang Feng grabbed hold of her arm and steered her back toward him. “You should learn self-control.”
Qiao Qiao’s face was still scrunched up yet she waited for Tang Feng to elaborate.
“If you continue to be this threatening, no guy would dare to pursue you.”
Just for that, Qiao Qiao yanked her hand back from Tang Feng and stormed back to the break room. Tang Feng then turned to Wallace and Chen Yi to fill him in for that unexpected explosion when he finally realized that Wallace was on the phone.
“Don’t tell me you’re calling Xiao Ling,” Tang Feng said. “She’s probably driving.”
“Xiao Ling?” Chen Yi repeated, wondering where that came from.
Tang Feng shrugged, making his way back to his office.
“What’s with him?” Chen Yi asked, turning to Wallace.
Then they were back where they started again, except Qiao Qiao was the first one to leave this time and not Tang Feng. Yet it wasn’t much of a difference. Wallace was still anxious and Chen Yi was still clueless.
That night, at Jacky’s place, Chen Yi was seen sitting at the counter chatting away with Ehlo. The others weren’t around at that time, especially Wallace who was out on a date with Cyndi. The Chang sisters were not around either to monitor both guys hence they were able to get together and gossip.
“Do you suppose something is going on between them?” Chen Yi asked, playing with his food again.
“Now you’re talking,” Ehlo said, displaying his interested expression. “No one cares enough to talk about it.”
“Or they’re just trying to avoid it. Or try to play the considerate card in front of Wallace.”
Ehlo pointed at Chen Yi. “Straight on. Those guys won’t even play the ‘what if’ game with me.”
“Hurry before Wallace gets home then.”
Ehlo poured a cup of juice for each of them before getting to business. “What did you notice today then?”
“He called her Xiao Ling. And even let her off for returning to work late.”
“Why isn’t Huo doing anything?”
“At work, hello.”
“When is Huo even afraid of Tang Feng? Or anyone even?”
Chen Yi shrugged. “What’s with you guys and juice lately though?”
“Xiao Yu didn’t get you on it yet?”
Chen Yi shook his head, eyes showing traces of suspicion. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“It’s Angela’s mantra so we’re all in on it now.”
Ehlo had a cautious eye on Chen Yi also. “I thought you’re the health nut.”
“I’m just feeling the pain for you, not being able to control your life and all.”
Ehlo scoffed. “It’s all in the fun. Anyway, back to business, Tang Feng really shows interest? I thought he wanted to marry Qiao?”
Chen Yi cringed, twirling his fork in his hands.
Ehlo’s suspicious glare intensified upon seeing Chen Yi’s reaction. “Don’t tell me you’re still caring for Qiao in that way.”
Chen Yi shook his head. “I think she likes him though. And if he likes Cyndi then…”
Ehlo let out an amused smile at that time, shaking his head. “She seriously has no luck in love.”
“We’ll take care of that later, what about him and Cyndi?”
Ehlo shrugged. “Stalk them and see what happens?”
“Got a better plan than that? You’re part of the Huang and Huo team after all.”
“You work there, it’s easy to keep an eye on them.”
“Do you think they know each other before and are like…”
Chen Yi’s hesitation got Ehlo’s attention since Ehlo had been focusing on preparing dinner. He turned to face Chen Yi, eyeing Chen Yi so carefully that almost made Chen Yi cringe, almost.
“Just spit it out. The others aren’t here.”
“Yet,” Jacky finished, entering the kitchen. He eyed Ehlo as he made his way to the fridge. “Didn’t I tell you not to talk about those stuffs?”
“Wallace’s not around,” Ehlo rattled out naturally, as if that was already on the tip of his tongue if he was being interrogated.
“Don’t you want to know though?” Chen Yi jumped in, not wanting to divert away from the topic anytime soon. “I mean come on now, he’s our senior, but it doesn’t mean that we would let him get away with it if…” He gestured his hand.
“If he and Cyndi know one another before, then it’s their choice to tell us or not,” Jacky reasoned. “We can’t just force it out of them, right?”
“But it would be too late if something happens.”
“If Wallace’s not speaking up about it, what could we do?”
“You’re a pal all right,” Ehlo snapped. “If we hadn’t been persistent about your thing, would you and Sonia have gotten together?”
Jacky paused in his tracks, turning to face Ehlo again–since he was leaving the kitchen and away from this bizarre conversation. “You got me there. Okay, fine. We’ll ask Wallace about it when he gets home, but if he doesn’t want us to poke further, then don’t, okay?”
“I’m supposed to listen to you because?” Ehlo’s voice was still dripping of mockery.
“Because you still want to live here.”
Ehlo let out a laugh, not being able to help himself. He had to steer away from the stove before trying to regain himself. “Excuse me? My name’s on the papers for this house too.”
“Johnny and I could always outvote you.”
Ehlo scoffed again, as if that was his latest favorite response. “Sure, like Johnny doesn’t want to know about it too.”
“Know about what?” Wallace’s voice asked.
They turned to see Wallace walking toward them from the living room.
“How come you’re home already?” Ehlo asked, eyeing Wallace cautiously, looking for clues.
“She said she had to go somewhere so we called it off after the movies.”
“Yu Rong…” Jacky prompted, the typical phrase that hinted Ehlo needed to stop.
“What about you guys?” Wallace asked, looking from Chen Yi to Ehlo.
“What about us?” Chen Yi asked, playing with his food again.
“No dates tonight?”
Chen Yi shook his head as Ehlo went back to tend to the stove.
“They have to go pick up some visitor or guest,” Chen Yi said, shrugging.
“Yeah, must be a friend of the family.”
“I guess you two aren’t considered family yet?”
“Speak for yourself, Huo,” Ehlo finally said, turning to face Wallace. “How’s your side doing?”
Jacky cleared his throat subtly at that time.
Ehlo sent Jacky an annoyed glare before returning his attention to Wallace. “How are things going with you two? I heard Tang Feng moved in on her?”
“I don’t know what’s going on really,” Wallace said, noticing the strangeness between Jacky and Ehlo, but choosing to ignore it. “But she’s distracted about the Tony situation right now. Besides, I don’t want to get paranoid or anything. Cyndi would tell me if there’s anything wrong.”
“Like today at work,” Chen Yi provided helpfully.
Wallace pointed at Chen Yi with a sharp look, apparently offended, more than they thought he would be. “I won’t play that game. She will tell me when she’s ready.”
“People who say that usually break up in the end,” Ehlo said, his turn to be helpful in keeping the stats straight.
Wallace shook his head. “We won’t.”
“Look, Huo.” Ehlo had stopped fidgeting all together and was looking at Wallace in a serious manner. “I don’t want to see you two breaking up or see any ugly argument breaking out in the future, but disregarding it all together doesn’t help either. We don’t need you to be some hero or playing some perfect, supportive boyfriend in front of others. If you’re uncomfortable about it, you should get it out before you blow up.”
Wallace nodded. “I know. But right now, I’m giving her time because she’s distracted about what’s going on with Tony and the Zhao family. This will affect Alyssa and Vincent greatly, you know.”
Ehlo nodded also. “If it is indeed the Zhao family like Tony had hinted, then they had unleashed the worst themselves. You don’t go poking at some beehive and expect to walk away without a scratch.”
And just like that, Ehlo went back to cooking while the other three exchanged a look among themselves. Chen Yi shrugged, knowing the other two were expecting him to explain since they had only returned awhile ago–and was possibly wondering if it had to do with what he and Ehlo were discussing earlier.
© Monday, June 21st, 2010
Posted: Saturday, June 25th, 2011