“Do you know someone who is interested in that place?” Mr. Zeng asked his wife.
“I could find out,” Mrs. Zeng said, placing another plate on the table. “But you know of the location. It’s kind of inconvenient.”
“It’s a bright spot right at the center,” Mr. Zeng pointed out. “It would grab a lot of attention.”
“We’ll see,” Mrs. Zeng said again in that same half doubtful tone. “Qiao, don’t pick on your food.”
“Sorry,” Qiao Qiao mumbled as she continued to twirl her fork.
“We’re family after all, you should try your best to help your niece,” Mr. Zeng urged.
“I’m telling the truth,” Mrs. Zeng defended herself. “I don’t see what’s wrong with being a career woman though. Why should Jing Wen quit?”
Upon hearing Alyssa’s name, Qiao Qiao looked up from her bowl. She turned to her parents with an attentive look, waiting patiently for them to continue.
“High class society’s code, honey,” Mr. Zeng reminded Mrs. Zeng. “Reputation is the most important thing to them.”
“It was just a bunch of senseless rumors though,” Mrs. Zeng said, her voice on the edge. “What’s the big deal?”
“Rumors or not, it’s still circulating. You know how scary that could lead to. A lie told a thousand times will become the truth.”
“Now I know why I didn’t marry that…”
“Eh…” Mr. Zeng pointed a warning finger at his wife.
“I’m kidding,” Mrs. Zeng said, giving her husband a reassuring smile.
“Mom, Dad, are you two talking about Alyssa?” Qiao Qiao asked finally, her voice full of anxiousness.
“Yes,” Mr. Zeng replied, turning to his daughter. “How many Jing Wen cousins do you have?”
“If you’re talking about Alyssa, then…” Qiao Qiao dragged out slowly, encouraging her parents to reveal some more details.
“I forgot you don’t work there anymore,” Mrs. Zeng said. “Jing Wen has to close down her place and go help the Zhao family business instead.”
“What?!” Qiao Qiao exclaimed, standing up from her seat. “That’s outrageous!”
“Calm down, little one,” Mr. Zeng said in a calm voice, extending his hand out to signal for her to sit back down. “You’re just like your mom.”
Mrs. Zeng cleared her throat at that time as Qiao Qiao obeyed her father’s command.
“It’s true,” Mr. Zeng said, turning back to his wife.
“What about the others? Do they know? I mean are they going to stop her? And…” Qiao Qiao urged her father.
“She probably announced it already,” Mr. Zeng informed his daughter.
“But…how come the others didn’t tell me?” Qiao Qiao asked in disbelief.
“Maybe they thought you already know?” Mr. Zeng reminded her of her closeness to Alyssa.
Qiao Qiao’s eyes moved back and forth before returning her attention to her father.
“And don’t you have to go to Chen Yi’s house?” Her father reminded her of a more urgent matter at hand.
Qiao Qiao jumped up from her seat again and inspected her watch. She rushed toward the living room to grab her handbag before shouting to her parents, “I’ll be home around 8 tonight!”
“Be careful!” Mr. Zeng shouted before the door slammed shut.
“Chen Yi! Xiao Yu!” Qiao Qiao called out as she entered the backyard.
“What are you yelling about when it’s only 10?” Chen Yi asked from across the yard.
“Big news!” Qiao Qiao continued in her loud voice as she made her way across the yard toward the other two.
“What’s so big about it?” Chen Yi asked, studying Qiao Qiao with his radar eyes. “It’s 10 in the morning and not to mention it’s Saturday. What could be that big?”
“Orchids’ going to close her place up,” Qiao Qiao blurted out, settling down on the bench next to Chen Yi.
“It’s Saturday, what’s she doing to close it up in the first place?” Chen Yi asked, going back to the piece of wood he was working on.
“No, that’s not what I mean.”
Chen Yi looked up since he could hear the irritated tone coming from her. “What then?”
“I meant her in-laws made her end her business and go help the Zhao family business.”
“What?!” Chen Yi exclaimed, wrinkling his face. “How could that be?”
“There you guys are,” Esther’s voice uttered from across the yard.
Qiao Qiao, Chen Yi, and Achel looked to see Esther with Tony by the screen door.
“What’s wrong?” Esther asked, seeing their troubled faces.
“You won’t believe what happened,” Qiao Qiao said, jumping out of her seat.
Tony and Esther were making their way toward the group at that point.
“Orchids’ going to close her place because her in-laws don’t like it,” Qiao Qiao said.
“What?” Esther asked, confused.
For some reason, they all turned to look at Tony at that time.
“What?” Tony asked, gesturing his hands. “It wasn’t my fault if you want to go after someone.”
“We’re just wondering if you know more about it,” Chen Yi spoke up for all of them.
“It has been circulating for a while so it’s the only way to end the rumors,” Tony explained to them.
“What rumors?” Qiao Qiao asked, still confused.
“Umm…” Tony muttered, scratching his chin.
“Come on,” Qiao Qiao urged.
“Qiao,” Chen Yi interfered.
“It’s kind of inappropriate to say it in front of the girls,” Tony admitted finally.
“Just say it,” Qiao Qiao urged again, her voice even more anxious than before.
“It’s…uh…it’s more of a…”
Esther had to cup Qiao Qiao’s mouth to prevent her from interrupting Tony like before.
“The only thing I know is,” Tony started again. “One time we were–my mom and I that was–at one of the socializing parties and we heard some people talking about Vincent and Alyssa. One of the women there–I think it was Mrs. Liang. She said that it’s amazing how the Zhao could take it that Alyssa is involved in such a business, with so many types of people coming in and out of her place.”
“What’s the big deal with so many people coming in and out?” Chen Yi asked. “Isn’t that good business? Even though that means there are many single and not so confident people?”
“That’s not it,” Tony clarified. “It was more like what she said afterward.”
This time, Chen Yi stayed silent to let Tony continue.
“She said with how many men coming in and out of there, she wondered if Alyssa is….”
“That’s bizarre!” Chen Yi exclaimed. “She actually said that to Vincent and the others?”
“No,” Tony answered, shaking his head. “She was talking among a group of friends. Mom and I overheard when we were walking around the room. You know the whole concept of smokes and fires. The rumors spread and…”
Tony didn’t say anymore since he could see the others looking even more troubled than before. Qiao Qiao, contrary to her previous state, ended up sitting down on the bench instead of acting out her frustration like before. Chen Yi had dropped his wood piece and was looking around at each of them, wondering if his ears were deceiving him.
“We can’t let that happen, can we?” Esther said, breaking their little numb state.
“I’m afraid it’s no use,” Tony said. “Considering how the possibilities are and you know the Zhao family has their reputation and they need to maintain a good image.”
“But…” Qiao Qiao managed.
“It’s their family problem after all,” Tony reminded her. “We can’t get ourselves involved because it might cause more trouble for Alyssa.”
“But…” Qiao Qiao repeated her previous word.
“Orchids doesn’t have to quit,” Chen Yi said suddenly, his smile bright on his face again.
“What are you up to now?” Tony asked, pointing his sunglasses toward Chen Yi.
“We are going to prove to those people that it is not what they think,” Chen Yi answered, getting up from his seat.
“Now?” Tony asked, confused.
“No, of course not,” Chen Yi reassured him. “We need to regroup and come up with a plan first. Let’s go.”
“Where?” Qiao Qiao asked.
“Where else?” Chen Yi asked back. “Huang and Huo resident.”
“Are you sure they would help us?” Qiao Qiao asked, her voice suddenly not so full of confidence. “I mean they know how this works with reputation and all and…”
“We’ll see,” Chen Yi said before heading across the yard to the screen door again.
The others exchanged a glance of their own before catching up to Chen Yi.
When the group of five arrived at Jacky, Ehlo, Johnny, and Wallace’s place, they could see all three cars parked there so they knew that the guys were still around. Chen Yi took the lead to ring the doorbell. Surprisingly–yet not so surprisingly, Ming Dao was the one opening the door for them.
“Hey!” Qiao Qiao greeted Ming Dao with a smile.
Ming Dao smiled back before stepping aside to let them in. He closed the door before joining them in the kitchen.
“Did Orchids tell you guys yet?” Chen Yi asked as he took the seat at the counter where Wallace was sitting behind it.
“Tell us what?” Wallace asked back, passing Chen Yi a cup of orange juice.
“She’s shutting down the agency,” Chen Yi said, playing with the cup in his hand.
“What?!” Wallace exclaimed, almost choking on his juice.
“What’s going on here?” Ehlo asked as he stepped into the kitchen. “What are you kids doing here? Can’t we ever get a break from you kids?”
“Hey!” Qiao Qiao shouted. “What’s with you and picking on us?”
“I don’t know, you’re in my house so…”
“That’s not the point,” Wallace interfered. “Are you sure Orchids wants to close? What about us?”
“What?” Ehlo asked, opening the fridge. “Orchids…I mean Alyssa wants to close?”
“That’s what Qiao said,” Wallace told Ehlo.
The others turned to Qiao Qiao. Qiao Qiao could see that she needed to start from the beginning so she quickly told them what she found out at the breakfast table that morning.
“Oh…” Ehlo spoke up after Qiao Qiao’s done. “Dramas among the royalty. She should’ve married someone like…”
“Are you trying to stir up stuffs again?” Jacky asked, chewing on a piece of cracker.
“What?” Ehlo asked innocently. “I’m just stating the obvious. Royalty and dramas. Get it?”
“Are you sure, Qiao?” Wallace asked, ignoring Ehlo and turning his attention back on Qiao Qiao.
“I wasn’t paying attention at first when my parents were talking about it since I thought Mom was just talking about her new case again,” Qiao Qiao explained. “But when she mentioned looking for a potential buyer for Jing Wen, I snapped out of it and asked them.”
Jacky turned to Wallace at that time.
“I’ll call and ask her,” Wallace said, reaching for his cell phone.
“What if she’s planning to tell us on Monday?” Cyndi asked, looking at Wallace.
“If it’s really Monday then we only have two weeks to find new jobs.”
Qiao Qiao gave him a look.
“He meant it’ll be too late to interfere,” Cyndi clarified, seeing Qiao Qiao’s expression.
“Why close though?” Ehlo asked in a serious expression.
“From the sound of it, Mrs. Zhao probably pressured her into it,” Jacky said.
“From the sound of it, you five are out of jobs for a while.”
“You always have to look on the negative side, huh?” Cyndi asked.
“Come on. I’m just stating the truth.”
“Facts or no facts, I’m not sitting around here to ponder,” Wallace said, shoving his cell phone into his pocket and getting up from his seat.
“Are you really going to confront them just like that?” Cyndi asked, alarmed.
“All I know is that I don’t want to sit around and assume,” Wallace replied, making his way to the living room.
“What about breakfast?” Ehlo blurted out.
“You can stay,” Wallace shot back from the door. “This doesn’t concern you anyway.”
“Are you kidding me? Why would I want to miss a show?”
Ehlo zoomed past the living room faster than anyone could imagine and grabbed the door just in time before it slammed shut. Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao–who were trying to follow Wallace before–had to dodge out of the way to prevent from getting hit. They couldn’t help but turned around to give the others a look before following Ehlo also.
“Well?” Jacky asked the others.
“For the first time in my life, I agree with Ehlo,” Tony admitted.
“Let’s go then,” Jacky said.
“I’ll go tell Angela,” Cyndi said, making her way down the hall to where the guys’ rooms were.
“Jie is here?” Achel asked, surprised.
“She came earlier to use Ehlo’s computer because she said hers broke,” Jacky explained.
“Oh…” Achel said.
As they were exchanging these few words, the others were piling out of the house. When Cyndi came out with Angela, Jacky held the door for them before locking it.
“So much for a Saturday break, huh?” Jacky asked, catching up to the others.
“I thought you guys would be gone already,” Tony said, seeing that Ehlo and Wallace were still by their cars.
“We’re trying to figure out who should drive,” Ehlo answered.
“I’ll drive,” Jacky volunteered, stepping forward. “You’re too excited to drive and you’re just not around right now.”
“Fine with me,” Ehlo and Wallace said at the same time.
Angela and Cyndi stepped forward to follow them to Jacky’s car as Tony and Esther stepped toward Chen Yi’s car.
“Xiao Yu!” Chen Yi hollered from his car.
“What about Qiao and…” Achel pondered aloud.
Before Achel could finish, Wallace turned around and tossed his keys to Qiao Qiao.
“I’m good,” Qiao Qiao said with a smile to reassure Achel after catching the keys with her hand. “Come on, Ming Dao.”
“You’re driving?” Ming Dao asked, sounding almost alarmed.
“Problem?” Qiao Qiao asked, staring him down.
“No,” Ming Dao managed.
“It’s my car, what are you worrying about?” Wallace jumped in.
“I didn’t say anything,” Ming Dao said timidly.
“We’re wasting time, people!” Ehlo said, poking his head out from the backseat window.
“All right,” Qiao Qiao said. “Let’s go.”
Seeing the others staring at him to hurry up, Ming Dao had no choice but to follow Qiao Qiao to Wallace’s car.
They had to wait for Chen Yi to back out first since he was blocking Jacky’s car, not leaving enough space for anyone to leave.
As they were heading for their destination, each had a different feeling flowing through them, wondering about the real story behind the whole matter.
© Friday, May 8th, 2009
Re-posted: Friday, February 11th, 2011