Friday rolled around rapidly the upcoming week since they did not seem to be dragging the days like they were doing the past few weeks. Huang and Huo were more relaxed, making the others around them less nervous. Since Qiao Qiao had decided to loosen up already, it became a bonus to them. The only person still feeling anxious was actually Valerie, who was silently wondering what Huang and Huo were up to with their plan. However, Huang and Huo were very careful and secretive so Valerie could only wait for the show to begin since she could not pull any hints out of them no matter how hard she tried.
“This is it,” Ehlo drawled out dramatically as they were standing by the shop like they used to that one afternoon when they first met Tang Feng–and negotiated with him and was forced to clean up their mess for him afterward.
“I sure hope it will work,” Qiao Qiao said.
“Don’t worry, it will,” Ehlo reassured her. “I’m getting off the phone.”
“Okay,” Chen Yi confirmed.
After he hung up with Chen Yi, Ehlo turned to Wallace and saw him nod.
“Let’s go then,” Ehlo said for the last time–though unnecessary.
Apparently, Ehlo and Wallace insisted on the others waiting for them a block down the street–if they wanted to come at all to witness the scene. They did not want Tang Feng to make a joke out of their gathering or disregard their plan without a thought. They knew they had to make an impression this time around, showing Tang Feng they meant business. No more child’s play. The game was over.
“Well, well,” Tang Feng’s voice boomed into their ears, relieving them of the wait. “I guess you’re back for another round of tricks?”
“We’re no prankster, Mr. Tang,” Wallace said. “We’re ready to negotiate.”
“Okay then,” Tang Feng said, seeing their grim expressions.
They followed him inside–with Wallace behind Tang Feng.
“You want something to drink?” Tang Feng asked them. “Coffee or…”
Ehlo and Wallace shook their heads at the same time.
“All right then, let’s go to the conference room since we’ll have more privacy there.”
Wallace scanned the empty room briefly, wondering if Tang Feng had installed in new cameras for the place. Seeing no signs of it, he entered the room also. He could see Tang Feng at the head of the long table. He felt a bit discouraged but knew that it only mattered in their plan and not where they sat. Ehlo had circled to the other side so he could sit on Tang Feng’s left so Wallace approached the long table and settled down on Tang Feng’s right.
“I guess I’m surrounded, huh?” Tang Feng asked, smiling.
“Cork the smart talk,” Ehlo warned.
“It’s my mouth, you know,” Tang Feng pointed out, turning to Ehlo with his teasing smile still.
“We’re here for serious business, not for tea time,” Wallace reminded them all.
“I guess it’s really serious this time since you didn’t bring your whole circus, huh?” Tang Feng taunted, turning to Wallace this time.
“We’re not going to get mad at you for pulling that one,” Ehlo said.
“Let’s start then.”
“Old plan, new tactic,” Wallace said crisply.
Tang Feng stared at Wallace. “Care to elaborate?”
“Keep the agency as a matchmaking place but base it off on a new tactic,” Wallace clarified, pulling out a folder from somewhere.
Tang Feng took the folder from Wallace and scanned it briefly. He looked up at Wallace again with a teasing smile. “Very organized with the placeholder.”
Wallace didn’t say anything. He waited in silence for Tang Feng’s upcoming words.
“If you haven’t noticed, the rumors are still circulating about this place. Everyone’s watching us, waiting for this place to turn into a more respectable business, not going back into its old pattern.”
“It’s because they do not understand,” Wallace pointed out. “It does not mean we have to stop what we’re doing. Tony’s working on his end to persuade Mrs. Zhao otherwise. She will probably pass it onto the others and clear all the rumors.”
“Is that so?”
“It would’ve been better if he does the damage control himself. Since Mrs. Zhao is as freaked out about the rumors as her crowd. She even forced Alyssa to quit, why do you think she has that much power over her high-class friends?”
“Who told you about all these things?” Ehlo asked, shocked by Tang Feng’s knowledge.
Tang Feng turned to Ehlo. “If I haven’t done any research, would I give you guys a chance like that?”
Wallace and Ehlo exchanged a look.
“It doesn’t matter what the outcome will be,” Wallace said. “What matters is your ability to persuade others otherwise.”
“Isn’t that what the outcome is for?” Ehlo asked, jumping in and forgetting that they were on the same side.
Tang Feng let out a sigh. “Okay, let’s say I go ahead and continue the business but under a new name, not having anything in connection with Alyssa or whoever else, how am I going to convince the other customers that we’re here to help them instead of using it to our advantage to meet dates?”
Ehlo wrinkled his face. “Is that the latest gossip among the high-class society? They have dirty minds all right.”
“Wherever there are people, there will always be gossip.”
“Believe it because it’s happening right now. If you want, we can convert this place into a bakery and get it over with.”
“There’s one across the street,” Ehlo reminded him.
Tang Feng had been staring at Wallace while he said the previous lines but now he turned to Ehlo again. “So? Good competition then.”
“If you want to turn it into a bakery, you already did a long time ago,” Wallace pointed out. “You’re still giving us a chance and still waiting for us because you still have no plan of what to do with the place. You just bought this place out of a spur of the moment.”
“Clever,” Tang Feng complimented Wallace, pointing his index finger at him. “But you only guessed half of it. The other half…call it a secret.”
“It is not about clearing this place’s name up or not, but it’s about a matter of business, isn’t it?” Ehlo asked.
“You could see that they’re not making as much money here as you like so you…”
“If I was after money, would I bring troubles upon myself by buying this place?” Tang Feng asked, directing his eyes to Ehlo once again. Then he smiled, turning to Wallace again. “I know why you’re sitting like this. You’re trying to get me dizzy with turning back and forth between you guys. Then I could just agree with anything without thinking.”
“Don’t accuse us of a crime we didn’t commit…” Ehlo said.
“…yet,” Tang Feng finished. “I haven’t fallen into the trap yet. But I will if I get dizzy for real.”
“Are you leading us around in circles on purpose so you won’t have to deal with us anymore?”
“Nice try but no. Do I need to resort to that? Besides, I thought that you guys are actually sending another girl here to negotiate on your behalf. But this is an improvement.”
“For what it matters, we did not send Qiao or Valerie.”
“Is that her name?”
“Are you interested then?”
Tang Feng turned to Ehlo with a disapproving look. “I just gave you ten points of respect, don’t tempt me.”
“Valerie’s not bad though.”
“Then why aren’t you with her?”
“She’s not my type.”
“She’s not my type either.”
“Are you saying Qiao’s more your type then?”
Tang Feng didn’t answer but he just smiled and shook his head. Then he turned his attention on Ehlo again. “A girl who thinks she’s so good that she doesn’t take it into her mind to treat others with respect does not deserve respect.”
“Are you saying Valerie? You just met her. How can you be sure?”
“She likes to toss her hair over her shoulders and cross her hands when she talks to people. It’s like she’s saying she doesn’t care about what others think and doesn’t care to respect them either.”
“The truth hurts but someone has to say it.”
“Enough tea time chats,” Wallace said finally. “Let’s say we abandon the matchmaking agency altogether and convert it into a gift shop? Under whatever name you want to choose.”
“What?!” Ehlo asked, turning to Wallace. It must have been a revision of their plan since Ehlo displayed such a shocked expression that it could surpass his acting skills. “Are you abandoning our quest?”
“With business comes negotiation,” Wallace explained. “And within negotiation, there’s flexibility. That includes changing our plans–even if it means it will alter our goals.”
“Flexibility is a tricky matter though,” Tang Feng noted, speaking up before Ehlo could question Wallace’s intention any further. “If not used properly, you will regret it later because you can’t turn back. Altering your goal will do just as that. What if I told you that I want you to give up Cyndi?”
“That’s bizarre!” Ehlo shouted–and not Wallace. “You’re not agreeing, are you?”
“No,” Wallace replied, his eyes still on Tang Feng. “If you think that you’re going to succeed in getting us to give up, then you’re wrong. Taunting only works with the others, not us.”
“Good then,” Tang Feng said, nodding.
“You’re switching your target?” Ehlo asked suddenly.
Tang Feng didn’t answer–just like how he didn’t answer Ehlo’s question about Qiao Qiao either. He turned to Wallace again. “What will it be? Are you going to regret if it’s going to be a gift shop? What kind of gift shop will it be?”
“Exclusively self-made gifts,” Wallace answered, his expression and tone still the same as before–calm and collected. “Designed for lovers only.”
“There are dozens of jewelry and crafts places out there,” Tang Feng said, gesturing his hand. “They all claim themselves as exclusive.”
“We got a reputation.”
“So do they.”
“We are not running some typical family business.”
Tang Feng let out a laugh and pointed at Wallace in amusement. “You don’t know the half of it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ehlo asked, eyeing Tang Feng cautiously and suspiciously.
Tang Feng still had that secretive smile on his face. “Nothing.” He turned to Wallace again. “Continue.”
“I’m done,” Wallace said, getting up at that time.
“What?!” Ehlo asked, jumping out of his seat, alarmed. “What do you mean you’re done? You told me that we have a good chance this time around and you also said that we’ll stand firm on our words. And what happens? You end up changing the plan and now you’re giving up?”
“We’re here to convince him to take it into consideration,” Wallace said, still in his calm voice. “If he doesn’t like it, then that’s it. Do you want us to beg him for it?”
“All right,” Tang Feng said, not caring if he was interrupting Ehlo and Wallace’s conversation or not. “Let’s say I let you try it for two months. If it doesn’t work, we’re out of business.” He pointed at Wallace but then withdrew his hand back. “Actually, you’re out of business. I’ll be turning this place into a bakery.”
“You’re saying you want to give it a try?” Ehlo asked.
Tang Feng turned to Ehlo. “Of course. Why not? Since you…” He turned to Wallace this time. “…said that I have nothing else to do anyway. So I’ll let you try.”
“Is that official?” Wallace asked, still eyeing Tang Feng with his serious expression.
“If you want, we can draft an agreement and sign it next week,” Tang Feng said, getting up also.
“Thank you,” Wallace said, smiling at last.
“Don’t mention it,” Tang Feng said casually, making his way to the door. “Besides, I’m just treating this as a test for now. You guys aren’t secured yet.”
“We just needed that,” Ehlo said, walking to the door also.
“You guys sound so sincere, I swear you guys are going to hug me soon,” Tang Feng joked, opening the door and stepping out.
“No,” Ehlo reassured him. “But we just want to say something.”
“What?” Tang Feng asked, turning around to face the two guys again when they were in the middle of the spacious room.
“Thank you for participating in our production,” Ehlo said, his smile widening.
Tang Feng looked at Ehlo and then Wallace, waiting for them to continue.
“A Huang and Huo production,” Ehlo said finally, taking a mini camera out from his shirt pocket.
“Clever,” Tang Feng said, smiling. “Like I will go back on my word.”
“You never know in this day and age,” Wallace said.
“Monday at 10,” Tang Feng told them of the appointment. “If you’re not on time, I’m out.”
“We’ll be there.”
“Smile for the last shot,” Ehlo jumped in.
“Charmed,” Tang Feng said sarcastically before turning to leave.
Ehlo and Wallace exchanged a smile before following Tang Feng out also. The only reason why they were not giving each other a high five behind Tang Feng’s back was because they didn’t want to blow it by celebrating too soon or annoy Tang Feng even more at that time.
“That’s it?” Valerie asked in disbelief, rewinding the segment again.
“Of course,” Ehlo replied, turning to her. “What else do you expect?”
“You just pretend to be shocked and then change your plans just like that and then he just say ‘yes’ without any hesitation? How boring is that?”
“It’s not a game, it’s a serious matter,” Wallace said, his voice still containing the same calm attitude as before.
“Knock it off with your cool attitude already,” Valerie said. “It’s not like you at all.”
“You make it sound like you know him for so long,” Ehlo jumped in. “Or are you switching your target? You do know he’s taken, right?”
Valerie gave Ehlo a look before turning to the others again. “How can Tang Feng fall for that?”
“He underestimated us all those times when we were running the circus,” Ehlo explained. He could see the others giving him a look. “His words, not mine.”
“Whatever, Huang Yu Rong,” Qiao Qiao said, trying to shoot him down since he was really thriving on his victory right now.
“Only my girl can call me that,” Ehlo said, pointing at Qiao Qiao with a serious look.
“Okay then,” Qiao Qiao said, shrugging her shoulders. “Sorry. What should we call you then?”
“Mr. Pervert,” Chen Yi offered.
Ehlo turned to Chen Yi. “Want to fight?”
“Sorry,” Chen Yi said, turning to Qiao Qiao. “You can’t call him that either. It’s our joke. Too bad.”
“Whatever,” Qiao Qiao shot back.
“So…are you going to join us for a little celebration?” Ehlo asked, turning to Valerie again.
“No,” Valerie replied. “I have to get ready and head back to the States.”
“So soon?” Angela asked.
“I’m actually back for work and not leisure,” Valerie confessed.
“And you decided to get involve with this whole mess?” Ehlo asked, amazed and amused at the same time.
“Problem?” Valerie asked, turning her glare on again.
“No,” Ehlo said, his voice not challenging at all–surprisingly.
“All right,” Valerie said, getting up from her seat. “I’m going.”
“See you around then,” Angela said.
“I’ll tell you guys which day I’m leaving later.”
They watched until Valerie disappeared out of their sight before anyone spoke up.
“All right,” Ehlo said. “Let’s head to Uncle Ben’s for a celebration!”
“So soon?” Wallace asked.
“Come on now, Huo. We have to think on the bright side. He did promise and we got the segment to prove it.”
“Let’s go before it gets dark,” Jacky spoke up, knowing that they will stay forever if they didn’t wrap it up.
“Who’s going with me?” Ehlo asked, eyeing the others.
“We are,” Chen Yi said, raising his free hand up–since his other hand was holding onto Achel’s hand. He turned to Qiao Qiao and gave her his keys. “You can pick Ming Dao up and meet us there.”
“It’s a strange world,” Bianca commented as they were walking out to the parking lot. “Suddenly they’re getting along like lost siblings and Qiao’s on the out.”
“They’re from the same clan after all,” Jacky said. “It’s not strange anyway.”
“That’s right,” Johnny agreed. “After all, it’s not like they’re sworn enemies. The competition is over for a year now. They won’t hold it against each other.”
Bianca turned to look at Johnny and then Jacky–who were on either of her sides. “Are you guys hiding something from us girls?”
“We’re not talking this time,” Johnny said quickly. “It’s a promise.”
“Besides,” Jacky continued. “It’s not worth it, Miss Bai.”
“Mad at us?” Johnny asked, turning to her.
“No, just strange.”
“Nothing’s strange about it,” Jacky said. “It’s life.” Then he took a quick glimpse at his watch. “I’m going to pick Sonia up at the station.”
Bianca turned to him. “What about Sam?”
Jacky smiled. “It’s an unsaid thing.”
Bianca smiled at her silliness also. “True.” She could see Ehlo and Wallace walking side-by-side up front, talking about something. “I guess Wallace doesn’t have to look for a job anymore, huh?”
“Guess not,” Jacky said casually.
Chen Yi was actually walking on Ehlo’s right so the guys were probably sharing some kind of joke. While Jacky, Bianca, and Johnny were talking among themselves, the other three couples were getting along just fine. Jacky could almost feel his heart tearing apart for Qiao Qiao–who was walking at a distance behind them. Ehlo was handling the situation just fine with not revealing anything or letting things slip. But it was too much of a torture to watch Qiao Qiao being so lonely like that.
“Sis!” Jacky called out, waving to Qiao Qiao.
“What?” Qiao Qiao asked, walking back to them.
Jacky slipped a hand around her shoulders. “Feeling left out?”
“Nope,” Qiao Qiao said. “It’s funny to see them all get along but I guess it’s not that strange at all.”
“It’s a lonely road you’ve chosen, Qiao,” Johnny said suddenly, surprising even himself and the other three. He cleared his throat. “Sorry, was getting dramatic.”
“Are you all right?” Bianca asked, concerned.
Johnny nodded his head, reaching for her hand.
Somehow, Johnny and Bianca parted ways with Jacky and Qiao Qiao after that. Qiao Qiao stared after them with a puzzled expression. Jacky knew that he should not soften or it will ruin it for her. She would suffer even more when she realized what she and Chen Yi had done that had led up to their lost chance. He half-wished that he was walking up there with the others since Johnny had already caught up to the other three couples. However, he knew he had claimed to be Qiao Qiao’s brother. Whether it had been legalized or not, a promise was a promise. He should not back out in situations like this. Even if she’d chosen a lonely road, but she didn’t have to walk alone. Even if the others couldn’t handle the pressure of balancing themselves between both parties, but he would make sure to stay by her and support her no matter what. After all, hadn’t she’d been supportive of him the whole time he was going through harsh times the previous year?
© Thursday, October 8th, 2009
Re-posted: Saturday, February 12th, 2011