Chapter 15 – First Date?

Qiao Qiao let out another yawn as Wallace got up to refill his coffee cup. Things were really going back to its peaceful day at Orchids Agency. It felt somewhat unfamiliar and forlorn for unknown reasons. Even Simon wasn’t used to the quiet atmosphere although it only occurred like the past two hours. Finally, Chen Yi couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Qiao, if you want to say something, say it,” Chen Yi said, somewhat annoyed with her constant yawns.

Qiao Qiao turned to look at Chen Yi. “What?”

“You’re driving us crazy with all of those yawns.”

“I’m just bored.”

“You don’t have to yawn so much though. Or are you nervous about the interview? When is it anyway?”

“Around lunchtime. And I’m not nervous. Bianca and I practiced about tons of times already.”

Wallace came back from the break room as Qiao Qiao began to tap her pen on her desk. At the same time, Cyndi walked out of Orchids’ room. Wallace saw a blue folder in Cyndi’s hand as she sat down at her desk again, sighing out heavily.

Chen Yi turned to Cyndi. “She’s yawning and you’re sighing. Great. We should change our place to…”

“It’s not that,” Cyndi said. “It seems like all our clients are getting quite picky lately. And they say they don’t have time to date, but they have time to give us a hard time.”

“You don’t know what ‘hard’ is yet if you haven’t met someone,” Simon jumped in.

They all turned to Simon.

Cyndi put the blue folder down. “What happened? Who?”

“That Sun Xie Zhi.”

Wallace sat down. “What about him?”

“I’ve never seen a guy so picky in my life. If we match up someone with the personality he prefers, he say she’s not pretty enough. If we let him choose her physical appearance and then set them up, he say she’s…” He gestured his hand. “…vain. And then…”

“He’s a successful tycoon after all,” Cyndi pointed out. “Gotta be picky.”

Simon wrinkled his face. “He’s driving me crazy.”

“Can’t you match the personality he wants with the look he prefers? I mean we got tons of profiles.”

“I think that’s not the point. He’s just trying to make trouble no matter what.”

“If he doesn’t want to look for someone, he doesn’t have to. Why would he pull such a scheme to waste both his and our times?”

“I think I know why. Well, sort of guessed.”

“Why?!” The others asked at the same time. They leaned in closer to Simon’s desk, waiting for him to answer. Qiao Qiao had stopped her tapping routine after Simon mentioned about his problem with Tony.

“His mother wants him to find someone, not him. So he’s just obeying her and coming here to get our help. But we’re just a shield for him to avoid his mother from introducing him to some other girls.”

Qiao Qiao hit her hand on her desk and stood up abruptly. “That’s outrageous!”

Cyndi glanced at Qiao Qiao briefly before turning back to Simon. “How did you come to that conclusion?”

“I was at his mansion once and his mother was questioning me about it,” Simon elaborated. “I told her we’re trying our best to find his match.”

“That’s even more despicable,” Qiao Qiao said. “Using us as shields like that.”

Wallace held up a red folder in his hand. “You want to swap with me then?”

“Red looks serious, like a warning sign,” Qiao Qiao commented.

Wallace got up. “On the contrary.”

Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “Huh?”

“It’s minimal work. Just more in the persuasion department.”

“Sounds easy for you.”

Wallace put on his usual charming smile. “It’s life. Give or take.” He turned to Simon again. “Or you rather take a yellow folder?”

“Stop being mean,” Cyndi scolded.

“I’m not. I’m just saying the truth.”

“I’ll trade someone for a green folder then,” Simon said.

Chen Yi gave Simon a challenging look. “Are you pushing Sun Xie Zhi to me?”

“Fine,” Wallace interfered, not wanting to lose his opportunity. “I’ll swap you a green folder.” He put the red folder down, searching through the folder stack on his desk for a green one. He finally looked up with a satisfied smile, handing the green folder to Simon seconds later. “Only one left.”

“Thank you,” Simon said with much relief, handing over the blue folder.

“I’ll have him crying for help by the time I’m done,” Wallace declared, flashing on his scheming expression.

“What are you up to now?” Cyndi asked.

Wallace sat down again. “You’ll see.”

“Don’t tell me you’re going to find the opposite of what he wants,” Qiao Qiao said.

Wallace pointed at Qiao Qiao with the folder in his hand. “That’s just part one. Part two will be…”

Before Wallace could finish, he saw someone at the door. The others turned around to look also. They half expected it was Tony since Wallace had stopped in mid-sentence. But the person at the door was actually a girl in a cotton white shirt and blue jeans skirt. She looked somewhat unsure or scared as she stepped in through the door. They all got up at the same time and walked toward her–stopping about a foot in front of her.

Cyndi smiled. “Hi, can we help you?”

“Uh….” The girl hesitated. “I’m looking for Melody.”

“Melody?” Chen Yi asked, wrinkling his face. “Sounds familiar.” He turned toward the others.”

“Yea,” Qiao Qiao agreed, tapping her chin. “Like…”

As the others were pondering about the name, Wallace stepped forward from the group. “Melody Chen, right?”

The girl nodded. “Yes.”

Wallace smiled, gesturing toward the left wall. “Next door.”

“Oh!” The girl blurted out, embarrassed. “I’m sorry. I must not look more carefully when I opened the door.”

“No problem, Wallace reassured her, opening the front door. “In fact, I’ll walk you over there and introduce you to those people so you can get a better feeling of this area. It gets quite confusing around here, you know. Considering we’re so close together and all.”

The girl gave him an appreciative smile. “Thanks.”

Wallace didn’t even turn back to them even once as he was walking away with the girl.

“What was that?” Chen Yi asked as the door slammed in their faces.

“That was one of our employees crossing the line,” Qiao Qiao commented.

They walked back to their seats, still pondering about Wallace’s actions.

Qiao Qiao tapped her pen on her desk again. “That was a relief though. If she’s one of our clients, imagine her…”

“Another Sun Xie Zhi, right?” Simon jumped in.

Qiao Qiao nodded. “Definitely. Look at how attractive she looks. She’s beautiful. I mean….beyond words.”

Simon nodded also. “And I wonder who could measure up to her standard.”

“Who else but our charming prince?” Cyndi teased.

She said the last part a bit too loud so they turned around to see Wallace coming back.

Chen  Yi got up again. “So…what is her name? Number? Address? And all those?”

Wallace sat down at his desk before speaking up. “What in the world are you talking about? Why are you all staring at me?”

“We’re waiting for your answers, Prince Charming,” Chen Yi demanded.

Wallace laughed at his new nickname.

“Come on,” Qiao Qiao urged. “Tell us.”

Wallace cleared his throat. “You guys are so nosy.”

“It’s our job,” The others harmonized.

“All right. Her name is Penny. She just moved back into town and is looking for a job right now. She’s going for an interview next door, so we might be neighbors.”

“Everyone’s moving back here,” Qiao Qiao noted. “Old story. What’s with that? How come I never know her?”

“You’re from out of town too, you know? Before you moved in with Orchids.”

“Do you two…” Chen Yi began, looking at Wallace and Cyndi. “…happen to know her too? Or anyone from our group? Like how it was with Angela and…”

Wallace shook his head. “She looks oddly familiar, but I don’t remember her. Probably just some random person around town.”

“Hmm…” Qiao Qiao muttered.

“So…interested?” Cyndi asked.

“Wipe that smile off your face,” Wallace warned.

“Come on. I just want to know if I can step out of my role now. Or should I say… am I free of being your shield now?”

The others stared at Wallace closely–even Simon.

“What?” Wallace said. “None of your business.”

“It is my since it involves me after all, you know,” Cyndi reminded him.

Wallace turned back to her. “All right. You don’t have to be my shield anymore.”

Cyndi smiled. “Thanks.”

“And you just confessed to us, Prince Charming,” Qiao Qiao mocked, putting major emphasis on the last two words.

Wallace went back to work after that, ignoring them. Girls and their sarcasm, he thought.

The others smiled at each other. It was like they were sharing a secret. And the sad thing about it was Wallace was out this time, not Simon. In fact, Wallace was out of it big time.

*****

To their disappointment, both Qiao Qiao and Penny didn’t get the job at both their interviews that day. However, they weren’t at lost since Penny came to visit them the next two days for unknown reasons. Wallace became his active self again as he studied Tony’s case and focused his 99% effort into it–aside from the 1% left over on his other cases.

On Wednesday, as Penny arrived around lunchtime, they saw Melody Chen with her and somehow could guess the reason of her visits since the first day they met her.

Wallace was the first to get up from his seat and approach the girls. “How can we help you both?”

“It seems our little gathering for lunch is out the window,” Cyndi mumbled.

“I guess I’ll just leave first then,” Simon said.

“Have fun. Don’t wait for us. Since Prince Charming is practicing his lines right now.”

Wallace ignored Cyndi’s words and continued to address the two girls instead.

Chen Yi looked over to Qiao Qiao to see her putting stuffs hastily into her handbag. “Qiao, what’s your hurry?”

Qiao Qiao didn’t stop her packing. “I want to get out of here, of course. What else?”

“Like the shops would close if you wait another fifteen minutes. And it’s not exactly lunchtime yet, you know.”

“Doesn’t matter.” She checked her handbag one last time. “All right. Got everything. See you all later.”

“Hey!” Chen Yi called out.

Qiao Qiao turned back halfway to the door. “What?” She checked her watch quickly. “I’m in a hurry.”

“What about our meeting with Yan?”

“It’s today?” Qiao Qiao asked in alarm, looking around in panic. “Right now?”

“No, this afternoon.”

Qiao Qiao sighed out. “Oh! Geez whiz! And I thought it’s now. We’ll talk about it when I get back. No, wait. Didn’t we reschedule it until Friday? ‘Cause Yan has to go out of town later today and can’t make it back in time.”

“Really? How come she didn’t tell me?”

“Call her up then.” She looked at her watch again. “Really have to go.” She rushed out the door before Chen Yi could say anything else.

Chen Yi turned to Cyndi. Even Cyndi had a clueless expression on her face. Simon had left already, so they could not ask him either. Only Simon was here early enough this morning to remember if Qiao Qiao received a call from someone or not. Too late. They would have to wait.

“What’s with her lately?” Chen Yi pondered aloud.

“Hmm…” Cyndi said, tapping her pen on her desk. “Maybe, she… Oh!”

“What?”

“Maybe she knows where Jacky is and is meeting up with him and not letting us know?”

“We promised no more secrets, remember?”

“If it’s Jacky’s wish, she could abide to it.”

“Far-fetch. We haven’t heard anything from him for days now. It’s impossible he might come back without anyone seeing him. It’s a small town after all.”

Cyndi curled her hair with her pen absentmindedly as she was thinking. “Maybe he disguised himself?”

“Must he go through such extremes?”

“Want to go check it out then?”

“Follow Qiao? That’s bizarre!”

“Either that or be at lost.”

“She’ll get mad.”

While they’d been diagnosing Qiao Qiao’s behavior, Wallace had been chatting away diligently with Penny and Melody that he hadn’t even taken a minute to include them.

Cyndi looked at her watch. “Let’s go order something and bring it back. Or do you want to meet up with Xiao Yu or someone for lunch?”

“Uh…” Chen Yi managed, still trying to think up of a reason to reject her offer.

Cyndi smiled. “Don’t tell me you’re going to take my advice and tail Qiao.”

“What are you two up to now?” Wallace asked.

They didn’t realize that Wallace had finally walked back to them–along with Penny and Melody.

“Guess what?” He asked, still smiling.

“You found a treasure map?” Cyndi guessed.

Wallace wrinkled his face. “What?!”

Cyndi flashed on her innocent smile. “Nothing.”

“Okay,” Wallace said, gesturing toward Penny and Melody. “Did you know that they’re friends since college? It’s strange we never know this stuff before.”

“Like we spend half of the day stalking the neighbors or something.” Cyndi made sure to give Penny and Melody a friendly smile so they would know she was actually teasing Wallace and not meaning to offend the girls. She gestured for Penny and Melody to sit down in the empty seats left behind by her co-workers.

“Actually, we want to invite you all to lunch,” Penny said.

“Reason?” Chen Yi asked, turning to the girls as well.

“Must there be a reason?” Melody asked back. “We’re neighbors after all.”

Chen Yi looked at his watch. “I love to join everyone, but I have to go somewhere in a bit.”

Wallace turned to Cyndi. “Miss Wang?”

Cyndi got up. “I’ll go get Orchids.”

“Do you have to ask your boss’ permission to go to lunch with us?” Penny asked in alarm.

Cyndi smiled. “No. Just checking to see if she wants to join us.”

“Oh.”

“I’ll be back.”

Wallace gave both girls a bright smile after Cyndi disappeared into Orchids’ office.

“Don’t worry. Orchids’ a really cool boss. She won’t bite us if she’s coming along.”

Cyndi came back out at that time.

Wallace turned to her. “So?” He glanced briefly at Orchids’ closed office door. “What’s the final answer?”

“A lunch date with her prince charming,” Cyndi replied with a smile.

“Oh.” He turned to Penny. “I guess it’s the four of us then.”

“Where’s Chen Yi?” Cyndi asked, looking around.

“He left after you went into the office,” Melody said.

“Oh.”

“What’s he doing anyway?” Wallace asked. “I never knew he had a lunch date of some sort.”

“You’ll never know. He’s trying to protect his precious treasure right now.”

“What?”

Cyndi grabbed her handbag. “Nothing. Let’s go.”

“All right then.” He turned toward Penny and Melody. “Ladies.” He gestured for them to go before him.

Cyndi smiled a secret smile as they made their way to the door. This is going to be an interesting show, she thought.

*****

Qiao Qiao rushed through the front gates of the Northside Theater, letting out a sigh of relief that she wasn’t late. She saw people lining up at the entrance so she joined them.

“Where to, Miss?” The security guard asked when it was her turn.

“Soulfest Duo’s performance,” She rattled off, handing him her ticket.

He returned the ticket to her. “Just go straight ahead, Miss. They will check your ticket there.”

Qiao Qiao nodded and smiled. “Thanks.”

She stepped past the entrance and walked down the hall, her footsteps echoing on the marble floor.

“Qiao Qiao!” A familiar voice called from behind her.

She turned around to see Ming Dao walking toward her.

“Oh, hey,” She greeted him casually, not surprised that he was there.

“I didn’t know you’re interested in these stuffs,” Ming Dao said, gesturing toward the direction of the art show.

Qiao Qiao smiled, tapping the ticket in her hand. “What do you know, right?”

Ming Dao nodded. “I guess.”

“Let’s go before all the good seats are taken.”

Ming Dao agreed and they made their way toward the back and got in line. They had no idea that someone had been spying on their coincidental meet up and taking it for an actual planned one.

© Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Posted: Monday, February 7th, 2011

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