While the team of five was eating and chatting happily inside, there was a mysterious silhouette prowling across the street from the agency. His darting eyes were watching their every move and waiting for the right moment so he could strike. He looked at his watch every once in a while, getting quite impatient by the minute since he only had a few minutes left before he had to go. Why weren’t these people moving yet? How slow can they eat? He was about to doze off on his car rooftop that he almost jumped when someone tapped him on the shoulder.
He turned around to see who it was.
“What in the world did you do that for?!” He exclaimed in a frustrated tone. “You want to give me a heart attack?!”
“Come on now,” The guy who did the tapping said casually. “You’re the one sneaking around here. You’re the one giving others heart-attacks.”
“I’m not sneaking around,” The first guy said defensively. “I’m just merely observing them, okay?”
The second guy smiled. “Sure. We both know you since….” He stopped to gesture his hand for dramatic effect.
“We know exactly when you’re up to something.”
“If you’re so good at predicting things, why don’t you change your occupation to being some fortune-teller instead of being an architect?” The first guy asked, annoyed.
While they were talking, there was also a third guy standing there, but he had been silent the whole time. Now he spoke up.
“Are you guys done yet? Why did you drag me out here in the first place? I have to get back in five minutes or I’ll be late for the shoot.”
The other two guys turned to look at him.
“You want to take the car?” The first guy asked.
“No,” The third guy replied. “Go ahead. I’ll just haul a Taxi or something.”
The first guy looked around the area a bit before turning his attention back to the third guy. “Forget it, Johnny. Take the car. At this hour, you’ll make it there faster walking even.”
“Are you sure?” Johnny–the third guy–asked back.
“Go ahead,” The first guy said, turning to the second guy. “Ehlo, go with him. You can come back for me later.”
“Are you kidding me?” Ehlo–the second guy–asked, shocked. “You still want to spy on them?”
Before Johnny could open his mouth to say something, a girl’s voice could be heard from somewhere near them.
“Jacky ge!” The voice rang above street level noise, disturbing the flow of typical traffic sounds. “There you are!”
Ehlo and Johnny turned in every other direction to see what was going on.
“You guys see her anywhere?” Jacky–the first guy–asked.
“No,” Ehlo replied. “She’s scary. I think you better leave with us or she’ll tail you until…”
Ehlo stopped in mid-sentence as they saw a girl walking toward them. She was just about two feet away from them now. Jacky made a run for it as the other two guys were still staring at the girl. He raced across the street toward Orchids Agency. He was in luck that there were no cars around there at the moment. He turned around quickly to see how far the girl was from him. Before he knew it, he crashed into someone. They both tumbled down on the ground. As he was getting up, the other person tried to get up also. They bumped their heads together a second time. Both screamed out in pain.
“Sorry, Miss!” Jacky blurted out in an apologetic tone, rubbing his forehead at the same time. “I was in a hurry.”
“In a hurry and not looking?” The girl asked, wincing at the pain.
“Uh…” Jacky stuttered, letting out a nervous laugh.
“It’s all right,” The girl reassured him–though she was still wincing from the pain. “Forget it.” She stopped to look around real quick before turning her attention back on him. “Are you here for us?”
Jacky glanced at the door briefly. “Uh…actually…I…”
“Every guy–okay, almost every guy–comes in here like that,” The girl rattled off, not caring for his side of the explanation. “I mean with those nervous stutters like yours. So don’t worry.”
Jacky took another quick glance across the street. He could see that Ehlo and Johnny were still distracting the other girl for him so he turned back to address this girl.
“If you don’t mind, can you help me with something?” Jacky asked.
“What?” The girl asked back, puzzled.
“Let’s go,” Jacky instructed, slipping his hand around her shoulders and hauling her toward the entrance of Orchids Agency without answering her question at all.
“Hey!” The girl exclaimed in alarm. “What’s going on?”
Jacky let go of her as soon as the door was closed.
Chen Yi, who was sitting around talking to Wallace, saw what was going on. He jumped out of his seat and raced to the door. “Qiao! What’s going on?”
“I have no idea either,” Qiao Qiao said, turning to Jacky for an explanation.
Jacky could see from a quick glance of the surroundings that they had finished eating while he, Ehlo, and Johnny were talking among themselves outside.
“I’m sorry to disturb you all like this, but I’ve been followed by someone and I just need to divert her attention a bit,” Jacky explained.
Chen Yi gave Qiao Qiao a look that said, “What is this? A teashop?”
Qiao Qiao turned to Jacky. “Who are you hiding from then?” She could see the hesitative expression on his face, but she didn’t let that get in the way of her interrogation. “It’s only fair since you bumped into me and then hauled me in here.”
“Oh…just my cousin. She’s over there.”
Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao looked toward where Jacky was pointing.
“I see your friends are doing fine trying to distract her though,” Chen Yi remarked.
“Since you’re here anyway, want to…” Qiao Qiao suggested, her eyes sparkling with mischief.
Chen Yi turned to Qiao Qiao. “Come on now. Look at him. Does he look like the type to…”
“How would you know he doesn’t have issues?” Qiao Qiao argued. “Like…”
Jacky smiled. “Sure. Maybe I can find someone for this weekend’s event at work.”
“We’re not here to find you a random date,” Chen Yi snapped, his expression didn’t seem a bit of being amused by Jacky’s statement. “But…”
“As long as he’s willing, it doesn’t matter,” Qiao Qiao said, cutting Chen Yi off.
She grabbed Jacky’s hand and pulled him toward her desk. Chen Yi followed closely behind. Wallace looked up to see what was happening.
“Qiao, are you supposed to do that?” Wallace asked.
Qiao Qiao let go of Jacky’s hand. “We’re competing for clients here.”
“We’re not in real estate or some other competitive field,” Wallace reminded her.
“We’re a team.”
Wallace looked at Chen Yi.
“Don’t drag me into this,” Chen Yi muttered. “I’m going back to read the files.”
With that, he returned to his desk as Qiao Qiao grabbed a new folder and some files to help Jacky.
After Jacky was gone, the other two looked at each other as the girl was coming even closer to them at that time.
“What should we do?” Ehlo whispered to Johnny.
“The most daring guy out of us three chose to flee, what do you think?” Johnny asked back.
“Are you calling me a coward?” Ehlo asked, offended.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you can’t handle her.”
Finally, the girl stopped in front of them.
“Where did Jacky ge go?” The girl asked in alarm.
“Uh…” Ehlo began, gesturing across the street. “Looks like he went in there to visit…uh…his girlfriend.”
“He has a girlfriend?” The girl asked, her eyes darting suspiciously at both guys. “I don’t believe it!”
“Take it or leave it,” Ehlo said, his voice more confidence than before. “Why would he go in there? You don’t think that he’s going in there to find himself….”
“Stop!” The girl screamed. “You two are just playing around, right?”
“If you don’t believe us, why are you asking us?” Johnny pointed out. “Ask him then.” He turned his attention to his watch before turning to Ehlo. “I’m late. Let’s go.”
Ehlo and Johnny got into the car as the girl was standing there still fuming with anger.
“Okay,” Ehlo commented. “That went well.”
“What?” Johnny asked, annoyed. “I’m in a hurry. If she can’t use some common sense to approach Jacky about it, then I don’t know what’s with her.”
“You’re telling her to approach Jacky? He would kill you if he knows you led her to him.”
“Too bad. Drive before she decides to throw herself in front of the car to get your attention.”
“All right. Quit rushing me.” Ehlo turned around real quick to make sure the girl wasn’t following them. After pulling out, he spoke up again. “That’s the strangest thing.”
“What?” Johnny asked, puzzled.
“How could she possibly have missed it?” Ehlo pondered. “I mean didn’t she see him running across the street?”
“Maybe the sun’s blocking her view?” Johnny suggested.
“Are you paying too much attention to her?”
“Hey, it’s only out of courtesy. After all…”
“Don’t tell me you’ve softened up on her. Didn’t you remember the last few times she ruined our plans?”
“When we were trying to introduce some girls to Jacky?”
“Not only that. What about the time she…”
Johnny’s phone rang at that time. He picked up immediately.
“What in the world did you tell her?” A frustrated voice shouted into the phone.
“What do you mean?” Johnny asked back, confused.
“Is it Jacky?” Ehlo asked, glancing quickly at Johnny.
Johnny nodded. He turned around real quick to see where the girl was now. Apparently, she took their advice and went after Jacky.
“Well?” Jacky urged.
“She’s in that shop?” Johnny asked.
“I had to run to the conference room.”
“You’re crazy. She’s your cousin, not some monster.”
“If you’re so brave yourself, why didn’t you just tell her off then?”
“I told her you were in the shop visiting your girlfriend,” Ehlo jumped in, raising his voice so Jacky could hear it. “Wasn’t there like three girls around in there? Just grab one.”
Johnny had to turn on his speaker function at that point, so Ehlo would be able to hear and not having to yell either.
“Great,” Jacky mumbled. “I think the one I was asking for help earlier has a boyfriend already. Can’t get her to help again.”
“What do you care?” Ehlo pointed out. “It’s just a little façade.”
“Okay, can’t talk anymore.”
Jacky hung up before the other two could say anything else.
“I swear he’s losing it,” Johnny commented.
“I know,” Ehlo agreed. “What happened to our clever friend?”
The guys remained quiet the rest of the way to Johnny’s photo shoot site.
Jacky took in a deep breath before stepping out of the conference room. What was the girl’s name again? Qiao? He thought so. He walked briskly toward the break room since he thought he saw her disappeared in there a few minutes ago.
“Qiao!” Jacky called out cheerfully.
Qiao Qiao turned to him.
“Hey,” Qiao Qiao greeted him back. “You decided yet?”
“Is that guy your boyfriend?”
Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “What gave you that idea?”
“His concern for you.”
“We’re all pretty close here,” Qiao Qiao said, stirring her coffee again. “What’s going on?”
“Could you do me a favor again?”
“What is it this time?”
“Pretend you’re my girlfriend.”
Qiao Qiao choked on the mouthful of coffee she was taste-testing. Jacky moved forward and tried to thumb her back. She finally calmed down after a few taps on the back.
“Are you kidding me?” Qiao Qiao asked. “What’s with you and sneaking around? If I didn’t know better, I thought you’re trying to avoid some marriage arrangement, which is very ironic if you tell me. I mean you know…” She stopped and gestured her free hand around the area. “…running in here.”
“Come on,” Jacky urged. “No time. Can you? Please!”
Qiao Qiao almost laughed out loud because of Jacky’s amusing expression. He looked so confident yet so rattled at the same time. What was going on here?
Before Qiao Qiao could tell him the answer, the girl’s voice boomed into the break room.
“Jacky ge!” The girl called out, appearing at the doorway.
Jacky–who was already quite closed to Qiao Qiao since he had to thumb her down to stop her choking fit from earlier–moved even closer to her. He slipped a hand around her shoulders and pretended to be guiding her back outside.
“Is she your girlfriend?” Qiao Qiao whispered to him as they were walking.
“Of course not,” Jacky replied before turning his attention to the girl. “Can’t talk now, Jo. I’m occupied at the moment.”
“But…” Jo jumped in.
Jacky increased his speed as Qiao Qiao was making her way back to her desk.
Chen Yi and Wallace were staring at them right now. The guys–not sure how to react–looked from one to the other.
“What in the world are you two doing?” Chen Yi exclaimed, his pen dropped to the floor. “Don’t tell me you’re practicing for the upcoming date.”
“Not exactly,” Qiao Qiao said. “But if you want to get rid of them both, just play along.”
Chen Yi wrinkled his face. “What roles are you two playing then?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Boyfriend and girlfriend! Don’t we look cute together?” She slipped her free hand around Jacky’s waist.
Chen Yi’s face was even more wrinkled by now. He had to give Qiao Qiao some credit for being so convincing. But what had he gotten himself into? Was this type of madness going to occur every single day? No wait, he and Qiao Qiao just started working today. But then again, she could have been working around here since whenever. After all, it was her cousin’s shop.
As Chen Yi was lost in thoughts, Jo had managed to find her way back to the area.
“Miss, have you decided on…?” Wallace asked, warning them of Jo’s arrival.
“The answer is still no,” Jo snapped before turning to Jacky. “Jacky ge, I don’t believe you two are together. You had a bet with Ehlo and Johnny, right? You’re just playing along with their schemes to test me, right?”
“Oh yeah, I thought you said you were going to take me to that one shop,” Qiao Qiao prompted, tugging on Jacky’s arm.
Jacky looked at her.
Qiao Qiao hit him on the shoulder. “You forgot?! You said you found just the right dress for me for the party!”
“Oh…uh…” Jacky managed, finally catching on and feeling foolish that he was that slow. He looked at his watch real quick before continuing. “I…I have a meeting soon, but I’ll come back later this afternoon to take you.”
“Meeting?” Qiao Qiao snapped, pouting. “Yeah right! Are you sneaking around with someone again? Like…”
Jacky slipped a hand around Qiao Qiao’s shoulder to reassure her. “No. Of course not.”
“Then let’s go.”
“I have a meeting for real.”
“I don’t care. Come on.”
“Qiao, what are you doing?” Chen Yi asked, stepping forward and blocking their path.
“Tell Orchids I’ll be back later,” Qiao Qiao said.
“I guess she wins this time,” Jacky said, letting out a nervous laugh.
“Of course!” Qiao Qiao exclaimed, her voice full of authority.
She grabbed her handbag from her desk before dragging Jacky out of the shop.
Jo–who was still trying to sink all this information in–finally unfroze herself.
“Miss, are you okay?” Wallace asked.
Jo didn’t seem to hear Wallace. She walked toward the door, exiting. She didn’t follow Jacky like before, but headed toward the opposite direction–probably looking for her car.
“What in the world is Qiao doing?” Chen Yi asked, his voice full of impatience.
“She’s taking the roles too far,” Wallace commented.
“I’ll bet,” Chen Yi mocked. Then he turned to Wallace with his serious expression. “Is this stuff going to occur like…every single day?”
“Are you kidding me? It’s the first time it happened and I’m not sure if we should chase after them to see if Qiao’s going to be harmed.”
Chen Yi raced out of the door before Wallace could stop him. Little did Chen Yi know that Wallace was smiling secretly about something.
Jacky and Qiao Qiao were at the end of the block before they removed their hands from one another.
“Thanks,” Jacky said, turning to Qiao Qiao.
“It’s nothing,” Qiao Qiao said casually. “Sounds like fun though. But are you sure she’s not your girlfriend?”
“I have such poor tastes?”
“Don’t say that. She’s quite pretty, you know.”
“Since we’re near that shop, want to go try on the dress anyway?”
Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “What shop?”
“You don’t know that shop?”
“I was kidding. And why are you changing the subject?”
“Uh…” Jacky managed. “I really don’t want to talk about it now.” Then he resumed his smile again. “How about that dress?”
“If you can afford it.”
“You’re an interesting girl.”
Qiao Qiao looked sideways at him. “What are you implying?”
“You don’t know me or know whether what I’m telling you is the truth or whatever else, but you’re playing along just like that?”
Qiao Qiao shrugged. “It’s instinct that you’re not that kind of person.”
Jacky laughed. “Are you serious? What if your instinct fails? How would you know I’m not…” He slipped his hand around her shoulders again.
Qiao Qiao shoved her elbow toward his sides.
Jacky’s hand slipped off Qiao Qiao’s shoulder. He was rubbing his sides instead.
“Now I know why no one dares to mess with you.”
“By the way, what’s your name? Where do you work at? And…”
Jacky looked at her with an amused expression. “Your job kicking in on you again?”
“Isn’t it obvious to ask for these types of information when you first meet someone though?”
“True. Is your name Qiao?”
“Actually, it’s…” Then she stopped and looked at him. “Hey! I asked you first!”
“Sharp, aren’t we?”
“I’m Jacky Chu, 27 years old. I work at the local radio station as a DJ. Your turn.”
“Just call me Qiao.”
“Hey, I helped you earlier. I’m entitled to keep some secrets, okay?”
“We set the rules earlier?”
“No. But I’m setting them now, okay?”
Jacky, seeing Qiao Qiao’s competitive expression, smiled. “You sure are different from all the girls I met.”
“What are you implying?”
“What is that nothing supposed to mean then?”
“So are we really going to that shop or are you just stalling for time?”
“I need my car back first.”
“It’s only one more block away. You don’t need your car.”
Jacky looked around real quick. “All right. I guess we’re walking then.”
“You make it sound like walking is bad for you or something.”
“No. I have to call Ehlo and tell him to meet us there though.”
“One of the guys.”
Qiao Qiao waited silently as Jacky dialed Ehlo’s number.
“You dropped Johnny off yet?” Jacky said into the phone.
“Yeah,” Ehlo answered. “I’m on my way back now.”
“Don’t go too far. We’re going to CJ’s shop right now. We’ll meet you there.”
“Qiao’s coming with me.”
Qiao Qiao hit Jacky on the shoulder.
“Correction–the girlfriend you claimed I have.”
“Okay then. Meet you two there.”
They hung up after that.
Jacky turned to Qiao Qiao. “What was that for, Miss?”
“You crossed the line.”
“If you’re not my girlfriend, why are you going with me now?”
“I’m trying to lure in a customer.”
“I don’t need…”
Jacky smiled, knowing there was no winning with Qiao Qiao.
While Jacky and Qiao Qiao were making their way to the shop down the street, Cyndi returned from a short meeting with Orchids.
“Where did Qiao go?” Cyndi asked, looking around.
“She went with her boyfriend,” Chen Yi said without looking up from the files he was reading.
“Come on now,” Wallace said. “They were just playing the roles. You don’t have to get all jealous.”
“I am not.”
Cyndi looked from Chen Yi to Wallace. “Guys. Care to explain?”
Wallace did the explaining while Chen Yi pored over another set of files.
“So what happened after that?” Cyndi asked after Wallace was finished.
“Ran after them,” Chen Yi jumped in. “Saw Qiao gave the guy a blow. Remembered she knows self-defense. So I came back here.”
She finally settled down at her desk and began to type away as Wallace was getting back to his work also.
“How long do you think she’ll be gone?” Chen Yi asked out of nowhere.
“Maybe you should call her,” Wallace suggested, smiling.
Chen Yi buried his head in yet another file again.
Wallace looked over to Cyndi as he could see the little hostility going on. It was subtle, but it was there. Cyndi looked up from her file to see Wallace’s expression. She smiled and shrugged also.
It looked like they will have to wait for Qiao Qiao to come back.
Ehlo walked into the shop after finally finding a parking spot. He couldn’t see Jacky anywhere. He fished out his cell phone as he was browsing the aisles.
“Where are you two at?” Ehlo asked impatiently.
“We’re in the back area,” Jacky answered. “Near the fitting rooms.”
He snapped his phone shut as he walked briskly down the current aisle. He finally spotted Jacky sitting at a bench close to the fitting room. He was about to call out to Jacky when he saw a girl walking out from the fitting room. He rubbed his eyes to make sure it was not deceiving him. This girl had the brightest smile ever imagined.
Jacky could see Ehlo stopping a few feet from them. He turned and waved to Ehlo. Ehlo finally unfroze himself and stepped forward.
“Wow! Not a bad choice,” Ehlo remarked.
Qiao Qiao turned to Ehlo. “The dress or me?”
“I forgot to tell you she’s different from the other girls we know,” Jacky said, standing up from the bench.
Ehlo nodded, not knowing what else to say.
“Qiao, this is one of my best friends, Ehlo Huang Yu Rong,” Jacky introduced.
Qiao Qiao extended her hand out of courtesy. “Hi.”
Ehlo shook her hand, still somewhat bewildered.
Qiao Qiao smiled. “So…what do you think? He said it’s too fancy.”
She stepped back and did a twirl for the guys to see.
“You’re not going to some princess party,” Jacky argued.
“Are you saying that you’re taking me to that party for real?” Qiao Qiao asked, surprised.
Jacky shrugged. “Might as well. Jo’s going to be there.” He turned to Ehlo. “Or you want her to come with you? Since you don’t have a date yet.”
“Hey!” Qiao Qiao shouted, her hands on her hips. “Why are you two debating this?”
Jacky took a safe step back before speaking up. “Don’t you…”
“You’re wearing that dress right now. I don’t want to pay the compensation fees.”
“Then don’t aggravate me.”
Jacky smiled. “I was just kidding.”
Ehlo could see how dangerous it would be to interfere based on Qiao Qiao’s expression so he tried to maneuver safely out of the situation. “Whatever it is you two are talking about, I have nothing to do with it.”
“Since I’m going to the party anyway, don’t I get to pick who I’m going with?” Qiao Qiao pointed out.
“Fair enough,” Jacky agreed.
“I’m going with…”
Qiao Qiao gave him a look.
Jacky flashed on his innocent smile. “Just kidding again.”
“Who’s Chen Yi?” Ehlo asked, looking from Jacky to Qiao Qiao.
“One of the guys who work at her place.”
Jacky turned to Qiao Qiao again. “So, Miss…who?”
“Might as well go with you since…” Qiao Qiao admitted.
“All right,” Jacky said, cutting her off. “That settles it. Get out of that dress.”
Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face at him, but turned back toward the fitting room. Jacky sat back down on the bench and signaled for Ehlo to do the same.
Ehlo inhaled and then exhaled before speaking up. “It seems like you guys are hooked for real.”
Jacky laughed. “Are you kidding me?”
“She’s not good enough for you?”
“No. That’s not what I mean. We’re just playing out our roles and since she offered to help, we’re just covering all bases.”
“You two seem to get along fine though.”
Jacky turned to look at Ehlo. “You told me to grab someone from the shop, remember? It was your idea.”
Ehlo shrugged. “I’m not saying anything. Just that I couldn’t help but wonder if you two know each other before this.”
“No. She’s just easy to get along with. After all, she works at Orchids Agency, so she must have some great communication skills to be able to interact with customers, you know.”
“Why are you coming up with all these reasons? I’m not saying that you like her.”
“I just met her today.”
“Do I look like I would fall for someone just like that?”
“Uh…you never know.”
Jacky eyed Ehlo. “Oh….” His eyes brightened. “You like her!”
“I’m not saying anything.”
“Your face is betraying you.”
Qiao Qiao came out again at that time. She had on a simple light blue dress opposing to the fancy white one from earlier.
“I like the other one better,” Ehlo remarked.
“This one looks better on her,” Jacky argued.
“I like both,” Qiao Qiao said.
“You can’t have both,” Jacky reminded her.
“I’m paying for it, not you,” Qiao Qiao retorted.
“Oh no, you’re not. What would others think if I let my date pay for…”
“I can go alone,” Qiao Qiao snapped, cutting him off.
“VIPs only, Miss. And besides, what’s the white dress supposed to be for then? A wedding?”
Qiao Qiao saw Jacky’s mischievous smile. “Yeah. Your wedding with Jo.”
Jacky and Ehlo laughed at the same time.
Ehlo turned to Jacky. “She’s good.”
“Told you she’s different,” Jacky said before turning to Qiao Qiao again. “What will it be? Blue or white?”
“You know what? This feels more comfortable than the other one,” Qiao Qiao admitted.
“Told you,” Jacky said, getting up at the same time. “Go change. I have to go home.”
“I thought you have to go back to the station,” Ehlo said.
“Taking the rest of the day off.”
“You’re not the boss’ son, you know.”
Jacky smiled. “I’m pushing my luck.”
Qiao Qiao came out at that time, changed back to regular clothes again. She was holding the blue dress in her hand. Jacky walked toward her and took the dress.
“Let’s go, everyone,” Jacky urged.
Ehlo was walking on Jacky’s right while Qiao Qiao was on his left.
“Qiao, do you mind having to take in some information right now?” Jacky asked, turning to Qiao Qiao.
Qiao Qiao’s eyes brightened upon hearing those words. “You’re actually considering it over?”
“No,” Jacky said, pointing toward Ehlo with his free hand. “For him.”
“What?!” Ehlo exclaimed.
“It’s about time you find someone. Stop hiding. Girls aren’t that scary, you know.” He paused briefly before continuing. “Aside from Jo.”
“There you go.”
Qiao Qiao smiled. “It’s all settled then.”
“All right. I’m going to drop you two off at Orchids Agency and head home afterward. Qiao, I’ll call you tonight to tell you more about the party.”
Ehlo remained silent for the rest of the trip back to Orchids Agency. He glanced at both Jacky and Qiao Qiao once in a while, coming up with a possible scheme of his own.
© Friday, May 16th, 2008
Re-posted: Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011