They arrived at Alyssa’s house about an hour later due to traffic. When Jacky finally parked in front of the house, Ehlo and Wallace jumped out of the car in record time. Even Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao could not compare to their speed. As if to prove Ming Dao wrong, Qiao Qiao had been driving quite cautiously all the way–even when she was tempted to speed after they managed to escape traffic.
“This is it,” Chen Yi spoke up, breaking through everyone’s thoughts as they stood in front of the house, taking in its view.
Although they’d been at this place numerous times before but it suddenly seemed so foreign to them.
“You two were so eager to get out of the car, what’s stopping you now?” Jacky asked, pointing toward the entryway.
“In case anyone else is in a rush more than me,” Ehlo defended himself.
“What’s your rush? You’re just here to see the show.”
“Guys…” Cyndi reminded them of the situation.
Qiao Qiao didn’t say anything but just stepped forward to ring the doorbell and stepped back again to wait. The others followed her up the front steps and waited also.
“You think they’re here?” Ehlo asked, scanning each and every one of them.
“We’ll take our chances,” Wallace said, tapping on the black rail behind him.
“Why didn’t we just call them to see if they’re in before coming all the way?” Cyndi asked.
“Because we’re a bunch of lunatics who only want to see the results, not hearing excuses being fed to us over the phone,” Ehlo answered.
Angela hit Ehlo on the shoulder.
“What?” Ehlo asked, turning to Angela. “Like I’m wrong.”
Angela gave him a look. Before he could say anything else, they heard some footsteps from inside so they turned to the door again.
“Hey, you guys!” Vincent exclaimed upon opening the door. “You’re just in time to help us move.”
“Move?” Ehlo asked passively.
“Um…come in first and I’ll explain,” Vincent said, seeing their faces all displaying a similar troubled expression.
They turned to look at each other once before stepping inside with Qiao Qiao behind Vincent. Jacky was actually behind Qiao Qiao and was putting a hand around her shoulders, refraining her from saying the wrong words. They walked down the familiar hallway that led to what used to be Qiao Qiao’s room during her stays in the past. At the end of the hall, they ascended the staircase to reach the second floor. When they reached the top, they turned right to go to the rec room where they could see Alyssa sitting on the sofa, packing away the rest of the items on the coffee table. When they were about to speak up, they were silenced once again because of the empty space that had bled into the rest of the surroundings behind Alyssa.
“You guys are so quiet today,” Alyssa remarked, looking up from her task.
“They’ve been behaving this way since I opened the door,” Vincent said, walking toward her and sitting down.
“This is the last of it,” Alyssa said, turning her attention to Vincent.
Vincent nodded before turning to the others again. “Come on, guys. Sit down.”
“How can you make it so simple?” Qiao Qiao asked, stepping forward. “Like nothing’s happening.”
“Qiao, what are you talking about?” Alyssa asked, still in a calm tone.
“Are you treating us like outsiders now?” Qiao Qiao continued in her interrogative tone, her irritation apparent.
“What?” Vincent asked, looking from Qiao Qiao to the rest of the group behind her.
“When are you going to tell us that you moved if we haven’t caught you today?” Qiao Qiao asked, ignoring Vincent. “And were you planning to tell Wallace and the others at all that you’re closing the agency down?”
“What?!” Vincent exclaimed, turning to Alyssa. “You’re closing down the agency?”
“I…” Alyssa stumbled.
“He doesn’t know it?” Qiao Qiao asked at the same time.
“Is this all a misunderstanding?” Cyndi managed, attempting to ease the situation.
“Is this a late April Fool’s joke?” Ehlo jumped in.
“Yu Rong,” Jacky said sternly, finally speaking up and stepping forward to stand by Qiao Qiao’s side.
“Are you closing the agency then?” Vincent repeated when the room was quiet again.
“I just asked Auntie to look around for potential buyers and I was going to tell you,” Alyssa explained.
“What about us? You ever planned to tell us at all?” Qiao Qiao continued in her frustrated tone.
Alyssa turned to look at Qiao Qiao finally. She gestured for Qiao Qiao to come to her but Qiao Qiao still stood by Jacky’s side. She had to get up from her place and walked toward Qiao Qiao.
“Qiao,” Alyssa said in a soft voice, taking Qiao Qiao’s hands into hers.
Qiao Qiao yanked her hands away from Alyssa and took a step back, bumping into Jacky.
“Qiao, don’t do this,” Jacky whispered into her ears. “It’s hard enough for her already.”
“I’m not a kid who needs soothing,” Qiao Qiao finally spoke up, pushing Jacky aside also. “I need answers.”
Chen Yi and Ming Dao exchanged a look as Jacky tried to step forward again.
“Qiao,” Chen Yi said, putting out a hand to stop Jacky. “I know you’re very frustrated to find out that she…that they’re suddenly moving and we just happen to be here now. All of us are as surprised and confused. But could you just calm down for a sec and give Alyssa a chance to clarify everything?”
Everyone in the room–including Qiao Qiao and Esther, who’d known Chen Yi for so long–was surprised to hear such words from him. Qiao Qiao turned around to look at him to see him nod. She let out a sigh and stepped back between Ming Dao and Chen Yi to wait for Alyssa’s explanation. Ming Dao put a reassuring hand around her and tried to calm her down.
“It was a joint decision between Vincent and me to move back into the Zhao resident,” Alyssa began. “It would be more convenient for us rather than having to come and go every single day. Besides, Mom would want us to be nearer.” She stopped for a bit, possibly trying to choose her words carefully before continuing. “Perhaps it would be best for us to close down Orchids Agency because of what it has become. I do not want a place without enthusiasm. Rather than continuing like that, why don’t we just close it once and for all?”
“But…” Qiao Qiao argued.
“She’s right,” Wallace spoke up suddenly.
The others turned to him.
“What?” Qiao Qiao asked, surprised although her voice wasn’t as high as before.
The others were as surprised as Qiao Qiao so they all turned to face Wallace.
“We haven’t been putting in our 100% effort these past months at the agency,” Wallace continued. “Besides, it would be better for all of us to end this since there are a lot of other agencies growing to help people find their match. Wouldn’t it be better now to discover new things and move on before this job becomes a drag?”
“Thank you, Wallace,” Alyssa said finally with an appreciative smile on her face.
“But…” Qiao Qiao attempted again.
“Whatever it is, we’ll support you till the end,” Wallace added before turning to leave.
It seemed as if Wallace had spoken for them all so they ended up leaving one by one, except for Qiao Qiao. Chen Yi had to pull her out and make sure she didn’t say anything until they were outside and were standing by their cars again.
“What was that?” Qiao Qiao demanded, staring Wallace down.
“Yeah, Huo, what in the world was that?” Ehlo asked–though this matter didn’t concern him as much.
“We’re putting her into a hard spot,” Wallace said. “It doesn’t matter how she replies, it won’t change anything. We might as well pretend we understand and pull back to think up of a better plan.”
“You mean…” Qiao Qiao began.
“Now you’re talking, Huo,” Ehlo said about the same time as Qiao Qiao.
“What are we going to do then?” Cyndi asked.
“Aside from you, me, and Simon, who else works there?” Wallace asked with a smile.
“Alyssa,” Cyndi answered absentmindedly.
“No one. Debra quit already, remember?”
Cyndi wrinkled her face.
“That’s why it’s for the better.”
“Oh!” Angela exclaimed out in recognition.
“What?” Ehlo asked.
“It would be better because only some of us know. It would be awhile before you guys could close officially. So we could pull some strings and undo Alyssa’s decision.”
“How are we going to do it though?” Cyndi asked, looking from Wallace to Angela.
“Grab Simon and tell him about it,” Wallace said. “If he wants to desert, we can’t do anything about it then. But if he’s as determined as us to not let Alyssa ruin her own dream, then we’ll go all out with helping her.”
“But you said she’s determined to close it,” Esther pointed out.
“She sounds determined,” Wallace clarified. “But she looks reluctant.”
“Let’s get out of here before she suspects us,” Ehlo told them.
They piled back into the cars they came from and decided to meet at East Shore Café to talk things over. Wallace called Simon up on the way there while Angela called Bianca.
“Well?” Wallace asked, staring him down. “Are you in or are you out?”
“Are you guys sure?” Simon asked, eyeing each and every one of them carefully. “Like this is not some late April’s fool joke that you’re playing on me.”
“Like we have all the time to do it,” Ehlo said.
“Then what is it?”
“We told you already,” Wallace said, still staring Simon down. “Alyssa wants to close it down and we’re stopping her from doing it.”
“You already explained to me that it is a matter that could possibly ruin her marriage,” Simon reminded them. “Why are we making it worse for her then?”
“Are you kidding me, S?” Wallace asked, outraged at Simon’s words. “Are we going to let them misunderstand us? We have to fight for it.”
“That’s right,” Ehlo agreed.
“What does this have to do with you?” Angela whispered over to Ehlo.
“I have to support Huo, don’t I?” Ehlo whispered back.
“Stop scaring him already, guys,” Jacky said, attempting to rescue Simon from the sticky situation.
“I thought you agreed to help us,” Wallace said, turning to Jacky. “Are you backing out too?”
“No,” Jacky defended himself. “I just want to remind you that we shouldn’t force anyone into helping us with this matter.”
“I have to go now,” Simon said, getting up. “But I’ll think it over.”
Wallace nodded–finally, not wanting to attack Simon more than he should be.
“What now?” Ehlo asked, turning to Wallace after Simon was out of earshot.
“Qiao,” Wallace said. “Pay more attention to your parents’ conversation about…”
“I know,” Qiao Qiao jumped in.
“We will have to wait and see who is taking over that place. Meanwhile…I think all of us need some time to cool off before we could clear our heads and think of a better way to approach this.”
The others nodded absentmindedly. They all got up at the same time also, heading for their cars.
“You’re coming with me?” Ehlo asked, turning to Angela.
“Of course,” Angela said. “I have to finish my report for Uncle Zhe.”
“Jie, want my help?” Achel asked, walking side-by-side with her sister.
“I thought you’re going with him,” Angela said, eyeing Chen Yi’s back.
Chen Yi was actually walking up ahead with Ming Dao and Qiao Qiao–with Qiao Qiao in the middle.
“Uh…” Achel managed.
“What’s going on here?”
“Xiao Yu!” Chen Yi’s voice shouted from the line in front of them.
“Coming!” Achel shouted back, increasing her footsteps.
“Are you bullying my sister again?” Angela asked, her voice threatening to tear Chen Yi apart if his answer was not up to her expectations.
Ehlo also kept an eye on Chen Yi and Achel, pondering about their strange behaviors. Bianca had increased her pace so she and Jacky were walking in the same line as Ehlo and Angela.
“Are you being over-protective of her again?” Bianca teased. “You know how Chen Yi is. He’s harmless.”
“They’re up to something,” Ehlo said, his eyes still on Chen Yi and Achel. “Like…”
“What?” Bianca asked. “Now you’re getting paranoid too?”
“Their interaction is not natural,” Ehlo pointed out.
“What do you mean? They’re not like you guys always demonstrating in front of us?”
“Bai Xin Hui,” Angela warned Bianca. “That’s not what we meant.”
“Maybe he’s trying to behave in front of you,” Bianca said, trying to defend Chen Yi’s actions.
“Still too strange.”
“Want to confront them?” Ehlo asked, finally turning his attention to Angela.
“Are you kidding me?” Angela asked back, turning to him with a look like he was crazy.
“You’re the one wanting to find out,” Ehlo reminded her, slipping a hand around her shoulders.
“Maybe I’m just sensitive,” Angela said, still keeping a safe eye on her sister and Chen Yi.
© Monday, June 15th, 2009
Re-posted: Friday, February 11th, 2011