After James and Sonia left, they turned to stare at one another again. It was like they were collecting their thoughts as of what to do next.
“I always wanted that watch too, you know,” Ehlo began.
“Get your own then,” Qiao Qiao snapped.
Ehlo turned to Qiao Qiao. “For a person who’s rooting for Jacky, you sure scored lots of points with James earlier.”
Qiao Qiao scrunched her face up even more. “Like I want to. I just didn’t want the rest of us to look so petty, that’s all.”
“Like you didn’t support him too.”
“I was keeping my manners.”
Qiao Qiao scoffed, rolling her eyes. “A likely story. What was that about ‘our Sonia’?”
“Hey, hey,” Wallace interfered. “Let’s break it up here.”
“Let’s get out of here,” Johnny said.
“Good idea,” Ehlo seconded. “If not, I think someone’s going to catch a fever with all the heat soon.”
Jacky had to restrain Qiao Qiao from attacking Ehlo. “Calm down, sis.”
Jacky smiled. “He’s kidding.”
“All right, I’ll quit,” Ehlo promised. He sighed out before speaking up again. “So…that’s done, huh? What are we going to do now?”
“We have four days until the deadline,” Wallace informed them, not even flinching though they were so close.
Ehlo looked around at that time. “I seriously think you should talk to that girlfriend of yours. She’s not even here anymore. Like she’s eliminating herself out of our lives or something. Are you sure you two didn’t break up?”
“Huang Yu Rong!” Angela yelled out, yanking on Ehlo’s hand so hard he thought he felt the bones snapping apart at the ligament.
It was also then that Ehlo’s smile faded. And it wasn’t from pain either. Though he must admit that hurt–like hell. He turned to Jacky then. “I’m sorry.”
Jacky shook his head. “Forget it.”
“As I was saying,” Johnny interfered a second time. It was like he was taking back his role as their peacemaker after having been gone for so long. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Got it,” Ehlo said, saluting.
As if Johnny’s words were commands, the others cleared out of there. Angela, however, stopped Ehlo from going to his car.
“What?” Ehlo asked, turning to her. “I said I was sorry earlier.”
Angela shook her head. “I should be the one saying sorry.”
Ehlo’s eyebrows came together in confusion.
“Your hand okay?”
Ehlo nodded, offering her a smile. “Don’t worry about it.”
Angela didn’t look so tough anymore–though Ehlo wasn’t displaying any types of threatening glare. “I’m really sorry. It’s just that I…”
Ehlo took her hands into his, proving he could still use ‘em just fine. “I know you’re worried for him. I’ll try to be more careful in the future too.”
Angela finally smiled.
After that, they walked to his car together–hand-in-hand.
The next four days went by in a breeze, so unlike the past excruciating six weeks. It was almost like they were no longer caring for the shop that made it less unnerving. Yet most of them could feel the irony of it all. However, they felt it was because they had other dramas to focus on that it didn’t matter anymore. Or more like because Qiao Qiao had let go a long time ago, realizing that the shop wasn’t the point, but Alyssa’s well-being. The shop was just a place where they once worked at–and because Alyssa was there that made it special. Now? It was only an empty shell. That did not mean Tang Feng was a terrible boss. It just meant that the memories of the past could never be reestablished. Alyssa was Alyssa, and Tang Feng was Tang Feng. They were both two different human beings, how could things be the same? Yet they did not want to give up completely either because they had a promise to carry out. In the end, it wasn’t about winning or losing, but about living up to their words.
The five of them were gathered around the meeting table with Tang Feng calculating the numbers Friday afternoon–that was after they closed the shop.
“Hurry up, man,” Qiao Qaio urged, feeling impatient.
“For a person who doesn’t work here anymore, you sure are bossy,” Tang Feng commented, tapping away at his calculator still, not even losing his concentration at all.
“I just want to know the result faster,” Qiao Qiao argued.
“Don’t rush him,” Chen Yi jumped in. “If you do, he might mess up.”
“He won’t mess up.”
“Want to bet?”
“If you two kids would take it outside,” Tang Feng interfered.
Qiao Qiao scoffed. “Whatever.”
Tang Feng smiled, not saying anything more. It was like he missed having her around. Her liveliness always lit up the room. He also felt it was kind of funny that they kept silent after his latest interference. Being the boss was just a title around here. They always acted like they ran the place themselves, which they kind of were. Yet he had found out something as well, he wasn’t really cut out to be a boss. At least not at some random gift shop like this.
They waited patiently for Tang Feng for the next half an hour. They didn’t want to rush him too much. Even if they had given up on the idea of saving the shop, but they still want to know if they had achieved anything.
“Okay,” Tang Feng finally said after ten more minutes.
“How did we do?” Qiao Qiao asked anxiously.
Tang Feng had on one of his amused smiles again. “You didn’t do anything, you know, except for the first two weeks or so.”
Qiao Qiao scowled. “What about what I did during the renovation?”
Tang Feng shook his head, his amused smile still on. “We agreed not to count renovation, remember?”
“You two can fight it out later,” Chen Yi jumped in, his patience running below average by now. “Feng ge, just tell us the result.”
Tang Feng knew Chen Yi–and possibly the others–was more than ready to hear the answer so he cleared his throat quickly to regain himself. “We…” He cleared his throat again, his eyes still on the sheet of paper in his hands–and his smile still on. “We are…short.”
“Why are you still smiling then?” Qiao Qiao asked, shoving him on the shoulder.
“I win, so don’t I get to celebrate?” Tang Feng asked, reminding her of their terms.
“What did we agree upon again?”
Tang Feng was still displaying his victory smile. “If you guys lose, I get to turn it into a bakery.”
“What would the bakery be called then?”
Tang Feng smiled even brighter, enjoying the joke. But he knew the others were impatient so he turned to them again. “All right, all right. I was kidding about the bakery. What do you guys want to do from here? Open or close?”
Qiao Qiao turned to the others at that time.
“Uh…” Simon managed but stopped.
“Go ahead, S,” Tang Feng prompted.
Simon still hesitated but continued anyway. “Stacey and I have been working on a plan to start our own business since last month and…”
Tang Feng nodded. “Don’t worry. This place doesn’t get affected anyway. It’s just that if we close, I need to make sure everyone has a job to fall back on. You’re good until you open?”
Tang Feng nodded also. Then he turned to Wallace. “What will it be, Mr. Huo?”
Wallace glanced at Cyndi once before answering. “Close.”
Tang Feng had on his concerned look then. And he had caught the brief glance but had chosen to ignore it–for the time being. “You sure you have something to fall back on like right now?”
“Do I even have a choice?” Chen Yi asked then, feeling the irony of the situation. “The funniest thing is I never thought I would change jobs so fast after graduating.”
“If you want, I’ll write a recommendation letter for you, stating that you’ve participated in one of my test runs, so it wouldn’t affect your reputation.”
Tang Feng nodded. “No jokes. I’m Tang Feng, remember?”
“You’re still you,” Qiao Qiao reminded him, sabotaging him.
Tang Feng pointed at her with the pen in his hand. “No letter for quitters.”
Qiao Qiao scoffed. “Like I need it.”
“Sure you don’t.”
“Are we late?” Ehlo asked, stepping into the room at that time.
They all turned around to see Angela, Jacky, Bianca, Johnny, and Achel behind Ehlo.
“Isn’t the door locked?” Qiao Qiao asked, wrinkling her face.
“It wasn’t,” Ehlo replied.
“I just switched the sign earlier,” Tang Feng clarified.
“And no one was out there tending to the place?” Qiao Qiao continued with her series of questions.
“Let’s go then since we’re done here.”
They had seen Tang Feng gathering up some items from the table while they were exchanging the last few words. So it made sense that he wanted to leave. The others who just piled into the room stepped outside again, making way for the six who had been in the conference room.
“I have to go first, okay?” Simon said when they were in front again.
Tang Feng nodded, shaking Simon’s hand. “Good luck with your new business.”
Simon smiled. “Thanks, Boss.”
Tang Feng shook his head. “No, you’re the boss now.”
Simon let out a nervous laugh before turning to the others to say a few words of farewell.
“Ge,” Cyndi finally spoke up. “Why didn’t you ask me about whether I wanted to open or close?”
Tang Feng turned to his sister then. “Because you’re family and I already overruled you.”
“That’s unfair! My name’s on the sign.”
“Your name’s on the sign, but my name’s on the deed.”
Cyndi scowled. “You’re just so unreasonable.”
The others had never seen this side of Cyndi before, except for the day some of them discovered her relation to Tang Feng. So they did not know what to say. They just stood there, listening to the conversation between the two siblings.
Tang Feng’s face became even more serious then. “I told you that day to think it over carefully but you didn’t.”
“I did think it over carefully.”
“So did I about this whole business.”
“That’s mixing personal and business.”
“You know it is!”
“You made your choice and I’ve made mine.”
Cyndi, seeing she couldn’t change her brother’s attitude, stormed right past him and left the shop in a huff, slamming the door behind her.
“That went well,” Ehlo spoke up after–possibly–a minute later.
Wallace made a move toward the door as well. But Tang Feng stopped him.
“Let her be,” Tang Feng said. “I’ll talk to her later.”
Wallace could see the expression on Tang Feng’s face so he relaxed and stepped back next to Ehlo again.
“So now that we agreed on closing,” Tang Feng recapped–like Cyndi didn’t even storm out at all. “I’m going to sell the rest of the inventory and lease this place out to whoever.”
“You’re not selling this place?” Qiao Qiao asked, surprised.
Tang Feng shook his head. “I don’t want it to get into the Zhao’s hands.”
“You have something against them?”
“You could say that.” He cleared his throat briefly. “Because what happened these past two months was partially my fault as well, I’m going to compensate all by sending a check of two month’s worth.”
“You don’t need to,” Wallace interrupted Tang Feng.
Tang Feng had on his serious look. “I want to.”
“We did agree on the bet.”
Tang Feng shrugged. “Just treat it as I like to toss money around, okay?”
Wallace didn’t object anymore, allowing Tang Feng to finish.
“Hurray!” Qiao Qiao yelled out after Tang Feng was done with his final speech to them all. “Everything’s solved now! We can move on with our lives! Let’s go plan for the mid-autumn festival then!”
Ehlo shook his head. “Kids.”
“I agree with her though,” Chen Yi came to Qiao Qiao’s defense. “We have to make time for the mid-autumn festival this year. We did promise one another last year, remember?”
The others exchanged a look among themselves.
“That’s right,” Wallace spoke up for them all. “Let’s go then. Meet you guys back home?”
Ehlo nodded for the rest.
The others piled out of the shop one by one, except for Qiao Qiao.
“Are you coming with us, Mr. Bossy?” Qiao Qiao asked, turning to Tang Feng.
“Are you kidding me?” Tang Feng returned.
Qiao Qiao shrugged. “If you’re too cool for us then…”
Tang Feng smiled. “Maybe.” But he got serious again. “I have to go talk to Cyndi.”
Qiao Qiao nodded, understanding.
“But…I’ll join you for the next meeting.”
Qiao Qiao smiled, a sincere one–and not one out of mockery. “It’s a deal then!”
© Saturday, October 29th, 2011
Posted: Friday, November 11th, 2011