“Last one,” Wallace urged, gaining encouragements from his fellow colleagues.
“You all just want to get me drunk,” Alyssa said.
“We don’t even have beer here, Lady Boss,” Simon said.
Alyssa smiled. “How about full from drinking all this water then?”
“You know we won’t do that to you, Alyssa,” Wallace said, his tone still innocent. “Last one?”
Alyssa knew that they were in high spirits right now so she might as well agree to his request. She finally nodded.
“All right then!” Wallace shouted again, raising his cup.
The others raised their cups as well, drinking one last full cup with Alyssa before they could scatter to socialize some more among themselves before parting ways.
As the others were talking among each other, Wallace walked around the room, lost in thoughts. He couldn’t help but think back to the very first time when he first came here five years ago. They were all recruited by Alyssa personally to join. He met Cyndi and the other three the very first day of work. He remembered helping to decorate the place as well. However, they never socialized or had any contact with one another until the first day–which was the official opening date. Their schedule had not allowed them to meet until that time. Alyssa was their link. He smiled, remembering what Alyssa had told him when he wanted to turn her down because of the strange offer. She said, “With such a charming smile like yours, it’s a shame to be shut in at an office doing accounting work, don’t you think?” He admitted that he had to sacrifice the pay for this job but it was the freedom that he loved. They were not just colleagues but were also friends. Orchids Agency was not about work, but about helping others–and actually making it work. Although their colleagues constantly changed, but Wallace must admit that he and Cyndi had always stayed by Alyssa’s side. He couldn’t help but do a quick mental check of their past colleagues–who were all in the room at the moment, chatting away among themselves. He then remembered that he was betting on Simon beating the records of some past employees. It was a shame that the test was cut short because of other interference. It not only ended Simon’s career as one of their agents, but it ended all of theirs too. As his eyes came across a picture that he took of Alyssa and Cyndi two years ago, he remembered what Cyndi told him when he asked her how Alyssa had convinced her to join. She said it with traces of mischief in her eyes, “Alyssa promised me a prince charming.” Wallace shook his head, wondering if she had meant it at that time. When he turned around and took another scan of the empty room–with only one big table left in the middle for today’s party, he saw Cyndi standing next to him. She must have known he was deep in thoughts so she had been waiting patiently for him to finish with his reminiscent moment. He sent her a smile, telling her that he was back.
“It’s funny how long we’ve been here, huh?” Cyndi said, returning his smile.
Before he could continue his train of thoughts, he saw Alyssa walking to the wall and taking off the last picture–the one he was looking at a minute ago. She smiled at them before taking the picture over to the desk, packing it up with the rest of her belongings.
“Come on, you guys!” Qiao Qiao’s voice shouted above everyone’s side conversation. “Picture time!”
“She has to have the last say,” Wallace said, smiling.
“Yes, she does,” Cyndi agreed. “Let’s go or she’ll personally escort us over there.”
Wallace smiled again, knowing Qiao Qiao was very capable of it–even if it was their farewell party. He took Cyndi’s left hand into his right and made his way to the middle of the room again.
“Where should we stand, Miss Zeng?” Wallace asked, flashing on his teasing smile at Qiao Qiao.
“Very funny,” Qiao Qiao shot back, but her tone was not as threatening like many times before. “Just for that, you’re standing in the back!”
“I guess I can’t argue.”
Even though he was sent to exile, but after some arrangements, he and Cyndi were standing in the second row. Wallace must admit that Qiao Qiao was good at directing since she managed to get the first row to kneel down and pose for the purpose of the event. Alyssa was about to stand in the back when Wallace waved her over, making her stand between him and Cyndi–like they once did in the very first picture of their opening with the exception of the other three scattering between the rows. When Qiao Qiao finally set the time for the camera, she managed to jump in at the empty spot Chen Yi reserved for her.
“That’s it!” Qiao Qiao shouted afterward.
They scattered once again to finish up and help Alyssa clean up before leaving. It was a miracle that the party lasted this long already since they claimed to have other commitments this afternoon. Alyssa stood by the door to show her appreciation for their attendance as each of them left one by one. While that was going on, Qiao Qiao turned to look at Wallace after she checked to make sure all her pictures registered in.
Wallace shook his head. “Not now. Act normal.”
“When?” Qiao Qiao asked anxiously.
“If Alyssa finds out, we won’t even start.”
Qiao Qiao could see Wallace’s intense expression so she resumed her cheerfulness to help Alyssa say goodbyes to their guests at the door. That continued for another ten minutes until it was just Alyssa, Wallace, Cyndi, Chen Yi, Qiao Qiao, and Simon again.
“Looks like I can always depend on you five, huh?” Alyssa teased as she walked back to the center table.
The others sent her a casual smile. They continued with their cleaning tasks again.
“So…you guys found new jobs yet?” Alyssa asked casually, setting another item into her cardboard box.
“It’s good as secured,” Wallace replied with much confidence.
“I had several interviews,” Simon said.
“Still searching,” Cyndi said.
“I guess it was a smart choice that we left early after all, huh?” Chen Yi joked, grinning widely.
Qiao Qiao turned to him with her famous glare but she could see Alyssa’s guilty look for causing the other three to be out of work so she held her tongue, not saying anything at all.
“Am I late then?” Vincent’s voice asked from the door.
They looked up to see him coming in.
“You’re just in time to take care of the heavy work for us,” Alyssa joked.
“Gladly,” Vincent said, smiling.
The others were done emptying the table by now–with the other items either in the trash bags or back to the boxes Alyssa laid out for them. The table was the last item. Although Alyssa volunteered Vincent for the heavy labor part but Wallace and Chen Yi were the ones folding the table up. When they were done with the task, they carried it to the door–with the others tagging along carrying various items in their hands. Vincent led the way to his truck while Alyssa held the door for them. They continued making trips back and forth until the room was completely empty, except for their own possessions. The others looked at the room one last time as they were retrieving their stuffs from the room and stepping back out to the afternoon sun again. Alyssa turned off the lights and locked the door before turning to them.
“Thanks, everyone,” Alyssa said with a smile. “We’ll keep in contact, right? Especially you, Qiao.”
The others nodded.
“Hey,” Qiao Qiao said as the others began to make a move to leave.
They turned around to wait for her.
Qiao Qiao waved her camera in the air. “How about one last picture?”
“Sure,” Alyssa agreed, still smiling.
“How about I’ll take it for you guys with the lady boss?” Vincent offered.
Qiao Qiao handed Vincent her camera before grabbing Alyssa’s hand, urging her to stand in the middle. Qiao Qiao posed on Alyssa’s left while Cyndi was on Alyssa’s right. Wallace stationed himself next to Cyndi–like many times before. Chen Yi hesitated a bit before stepping closer to Qiao Qiao. Simon followed the lead and stood next to Chen Yi.
“Ready?” Vincent asked, adjusting the camera in his hands.
The others smiled as he snapped.
“It’s good,” Vincent said, looking up at them after a brief inspection.
“Thanks,” Qiao Qiao said. “Do you want a picture with the lady boss here?”
“Sure,” Vincent said.
The others scattered out to make way for Vincent and Alyssa. After that shot, somehow, Wallace wanted to take one with Cyndi also. Then Qiao Qiao ended up taking a picture with each one of them. It seemed to be endless with the picture marathon. However, it could be an underlying reluctant feeling they all shared about leaving the agency–for the last time.
“All right,” Alyssa said finally–after Qiao Qiao snapped a picture of her and Simon. “See you all around sometimes.”
The others nodded and exchanged a smile with their boss for the last time. Because the next time they meet, they would be regular friends. They watched until Vincent and Alyssa disappeared down the street and got into Vincent’s truck. They continued to watch until the truck disappeared out of their sight. They even remembered to wave goodbye to the couple in the truck as it passed by them.
“Well?” Qiao Qiao finally said, breaking the unbearable silence among them.
However, before he could make a move, he saw Tony, Esther, Ehlo, Angela, Achel, Jacky, and Johnny walking toward them.
“Hey you guys,” Wallace said causally.
“The party’s over?” Tony asked.
Somehow, they ended up lining up in front of the shop and stared inside it, lost in their own thoughts. It was awhile before someone spoke up.
“I’ll miss this place,” Ehlo said, sounding a bit more emotional than he should be.
“What are you talking about?” Johnny asked, eyeing Ehlo suspiciously. “I vaguely remember that the only time you spent here was like about a week last year when Jacky took Alyssa’s offer to stick around for a while.”
“That’s right,” Jacky said. “I also remember you hiding from this place.”
“Like you guys are any better,” Ehlo shot back.
“By the way, why are you guys here?” Wallace asked, looking from one to the other of the group of seven.
“We thought you’ll be done by now so we swing by to see what’s up,” Jacky said.
“Saw you guys waved to Alyssa, so we didn’t approach until now,” Tony continued.
“Do you guys really want to keep this place?” Tony asked, looking from one to the other.
They nodded, including Ehlo and Johnny–who weren’t as attached to this place as the others.
“I think I have a plan,” Tony said. “Wait for my good news.”
After saying that, he walked away from them–with Esther still by his side.
“What plan?” Qiao Qiao asked anxiously, her voice raising a bit since Tony was already a distance from them.
“I’ll tell you later!” Tony hollered back.
“Strange,” Qiao Qiao mumbled.
The others did not say anything although some of them were anxious about the plan. They stared until Tony’s car pulled out and disappeared–just like how Vincent’s truck disappeared from their sight minutes ago. They honestly hoped that Tony had a secured plan since they were still unsure of what to do while they proceed with their temporary one. After all, they couldn’t stall for time that long.
© Tuesday, July 28th, 2009
Re-posted: Saturday, February 12th, 2011