Chapter 22 – The Link

The week continued with Jacky working hard–as promised–to make up for his absence, bringing the ratings back up again. Jacky not only continued with his special summer segment with Sonia, but also managed to squeeze in several of his usual inspirational ones as well. However, he gave up his weekend slots to Angela since he didn’t want to overwork like in the past, so that also meant he didn’t have to pre-record either. Aside from his usual work routine, he managed to come to visit Qiao Qiao and the others at Orchids Agency like usual. Nothing special happened until the end of the week rolled by again.

Jacky just entered Orchids Agency as Qiao Qiao stepped out from the break room. “Guess what happened today at the station?”

“What?” Qiao Qiao asked back.

“Guess.”

“I don’t want to guess. You think…”

“What?”

Qiao Qiao didn’t answer, but pointed toward the door. Jacky scanned everyone’s faces before looking in that direction also.

“Whoa!”

“Exactly.”

Wallace unfroze himself in time and stepped forward to greet Tony.

Tony put his hand up to stop Wallace. “No need. I’m looking for that cute little girl. Where is she?”

“Apparently not here,” Qiao Qiao mumbled under her breath.

Jacky smiled at Qiao Qiao’s comment, giving her a side glance in the process.

“What?” Qiao Qiao whispered. “Don’t give me that look.”

“I’m not saying anything,” Jacky said, not whispering at all.

“You look like you want to,” Qiao Qiao said, still whispering.

“You’re accusing me of thinking now?”

Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “Whose side are you on?”

Jacky flashed on his teasing smile. “My side.”

Jacky and Qiao Qiao were so busy battling it out that Qiao Qiao even forgot about whispering. Tony looked over to them at that time, taking a step toward them.

“Mr. Sun…” Wallace attempted to bring Tony’s attention back on himself.

Tony put his hand up to stop Wallace again. “I said I don’t need your help right now.” He turned to Jacky and Qiao Qiao. “I know you two from somewhere?”

“Like the last several times you were here,” Qiao Qiao snapped sarcastically.

“You have an edge. I guess you’re friends with that cute girl.”

“That cute girl has a name too, you know.”

“Very straight-forward.”

“Thanks,” Qiao Qiao said, annoyed.

Jacky still maintained his smile.

“You think it’s so funny, huh?” Tony said to Jacky.

“You think it’s so funny to pick on people, huh?” Qiao Qiao shot back before Jacky could speak up.

“Zhu Fan Gang, you can’t speak for yourself?” Tony continued, ignoring Qiao Qiao.

Jacky still maintained his smile. “It doesn’t matter really.”

Qiao Qiao tapped Jacky on the shoulder. “You know him?”

Jacky turned slightly to Qiao Qiao, but still had an eye on Tony. “It depends.”

Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “On what?”

As Jacky was still shifting his focus back and forth from telling to not telling, Orchids walked out of her office at that time.

Orchids smiled. “Why are we all gathered around here? Isn’t it break time already?”

Jacky turned to Orchids. “We love it here so much that we don’t want to leave…ever.”

“Stop being dramatic, Young Master Chu,” Orchids teased. Then she turned to Tony. “I guess you’re all set?”

Tony nodded.

“I’ll be right out in a bit.”

Tony nodded again.

After Orchids left, Qiao Qiao looked from Orchids’ back to Tony and then to Jacky.

“What?” Jacky asked innocently.

“How come it seems like you all know something that I don’t know?”

“I didn’t know that they’re meeting up later. How about that?”

“But you know him?”

“Qiao, stop being nosy,” Wallace said. “Get back to work.”

At that time, Cyndi came back from next door.

“Did you give it to her?” Wallace asked.

“Am I that hopeless?” Cyndi asked back.

“Cyn!”

Cyndi smiled. “Of course.”

“Great then.”

Cyndi finally noticed Tony’s presence. “Why are you here?”

“Lunch date with your boss,” Tony said. “What else?”

Before Cyndi could inquire further, Orchids walked out with her handbag.

Tony turned to Orchids. “All set?”

Orchids nodded.

“Later, guys.”

Qiao Qiao was about to step forward and block Tony’s path, but Jacky extended his hand to stop her.

“What?” Qiao Qiao asked, slightly annoyed.

“It’s their business.”

“Don’t tell me he’s interested in Orchids.”

“Qiao, Orchids is like an older sister to him, how could he?” Wallace said.

“How should I know you men?”

After that comment, she headed back to her desk to work.

“What’s with her lately?” Jacky asked Wallace.

“You tell me,” Wallace said back.

“I was gone for a while, remember? How would I know?”

“You think Qiao’s right?” Cyndi asked them.

Wallace turned to Cyndi. “What?”

“Tony switched targets.”

“Auntie will never let him live it down,” Jacky pointed out.

“Aha!” Qiao Qiao exclaimed, jumping out of her seat. “So you guys know him before he even came into the door that one day! I want an explanation!”

“Come on now, how can I…”

“You’re the one insisting on no more secrets.”

“No more secrets only apply to outsiders, not us.”

Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “That’s cheating!”

“Too bad, that’s life, Qiao.” He patted Qiao Qiao’s shoulder for effect.

Qiao Qiao brushed his hand off. “Easy for you to say. I want to know though. Orchids’ my cousin.”

“Guys, stop scaring Qiao,” Wallace said.

Jacky sighed out. “All right.”

“Let’s hear it,” Qiao Qiao demanded, still keeping a stern eye on Jacky.

Qiao Qiao standing there having her hands crossed almost seemed too threatening so Jacky cleared his throat before beginning.

“I got introduced to him through Vincent like after he came in here the first time. I didn’t realize Vincent knows Tony, but that’s no surprise really since he has a lot of connections. I meant his father that is.”

Qiao Qiao’s hands were still crossed in front of her. “And you guys never told me?”

“We thought Orchids told you,” Wallace said.

Qiao Qiao turned to Wallace. “You know too? This is outrageous.”

Simon was finishing up his report before going to lunch, but he snapped his head toward their group upon hearing Wallace’s words and Qiao Qiao’s confrontation.

Simon got up. “Wait a minute!”

They all turned to him.

“What?” Jacky and Wallace asked at the same time.

“So you’ve been having fun at my expense the whole time?” Simon asked.

Wallace wrinkled his face. “What?”

“With how that Sun Xie Zhi has been tossing stuffs at me this whole time until I turned the case over you. No wonder he’s all withdrawing when you took over. He must’ve known.”

Qiao Qiao turned to Wallace again. “Don’t tell me what he’s saying is true.”

“It’s not, okay?” Wallace said. “Don’t you trust me?”

Qiao Qiao could see his serious expression–the rare serious expression that Wallace wore. Her eyes softened and she waited patiently for him to go on.

“I only know when I was over at Vincent’s house one day when they were talking about something and it was after you handed the case to me. But since they’re not broadcasting the information to the world, I thought there’s no need to slam it on the table at work. What is this? Rumor mill?”

Qiao Qiao–and everyone else in the room as well–could see, hear, and feel the apparent hectic gist. Simon seemed less angry than before. Qiao Qiao took a step toward Wallace and placed an arm on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” Qiao Qiao muttered softly. “I didn’t mean to.”

Wallace could see the somewhat scared expression on Qiao Qiao’s face so his features softened also. “It’s all right. I shouldn’t react so strong either.”

“I should have remembered how serious you would go to defend your integrity.”

“Forget it. I could understand Simon’s frustration. After all, if I found out that someone could possibly be planning to play some tricks on me, I would be mad too.”

“Sorry,” Simon mumbled.

Wallace turned to Simon. “It’s all right.”

Simon flashed on his smile. “How about sharing a bit though? Not harmful, right?”

The others knew that Simon was trying his best to divert the conversation out of hectic-city so they smiled as well, helping to ease the situation.

“Wait until Chen Yi hears this…” Qiao Qiao continued in a mischievous tone.

“I think Chen Yi knows though,” Wallace said, cutting her off.

Qiao Qiao snapped her attention back on Wallace. “What?!”

“I’m just guessing. You can ask him later.”

“You know I will.”

“Qiao…” Jacky called out.

Qiao Qiao turned to Jacky. “What?”

Jacky didn’t reply but grabbed Qiao Qiao’s left hand with his right, steering her toward a corner of the room.

“What?” Qiao Qiao repeated, irritated.

“I thought you don’t want others to misunderstand,” Jacky whispered. “Why are you acting like a jealous gf?”

“I…”

Jacky smiled. “Told you it’s hard to change your habits. Curiosity is a strange thing, Qiao. It burns good when it starts. The only survivors left to tell of the tales are the ones who have already lost a lot themselves also.”

Qiao Qiao still remained silent.

“I know it’s frustrating, but try harder. You don’t have to show your distance by stop interacting with him, but you might want to try to care less. Leave that to his future gf.”

Qiao Qiao finally nodded. “Sorry. I guess I forgot.” She looked at Jacky again. “So much for trying to be mature, huh?”

Jacky clapped her shoulder, smiling. “Don’t worry. Your brother’s covering your back.”

Qiao Qiao gave him an appreciative smile.

“If the brotherly pep talk is done, we would like to go to lunch too,” Wallace hollered over to them.

“Coming!” Jacky yelled back.

Jacky still had a hand on Qiao Qiao’s shoulder as the two headed back to join the others and headed for the nearest restaurant for lunch. For some odd reason, Simon tagged with them also. Maybe curiosity got the best of him in the end.

*****

Just as the waiter left them after taking their orders, Chen Yi called to tell them he would be late since he had to go somewhere with Achel and Yan Yan.

“I guess Xiao Yu and Yan Yan are joining us for lunch too,” Qiao Qiao informed them with a smile after hanging up with Chen Yi.

“Does that mean more people attacking me and Jacky for information about Sun Xie Zhi?” Wallace asked.

“If you’re honest and willing to confess on your own, then we won’t give you a hard time about it.”

“Why are we talking about Sun Xie Zhi though?” Cyndi asked, looking at Qiao Qiao with a teasing smile. “Is he that interesting? Or are you asking for Yan?”

“Eh…” Qiao Qiao said, snapping to alertness. “Does this mean you know too? That’s why you’re not that interested in him?”

“Actually…”

“What? Don’t stop like that. Go on.”

“My, my. Aggressive, aren’t we?” Jacky teased.

Simon had been listening silently but now he felt the need to speak up. “Could you guys quit it? I want to hear what Cyndi has to say.”

Wallace turned to look at Simon, studying him so carefully and intently that it made Simon flinch. In fact, if looked at more closely, one could see his face changing colors slightly–subtle but still visible.

“Well?” Qiao Qiao urged, tapping on the table.

“We used to date,” Cyndi said in a low tone–almost too low that if they weren’t quiet they couldn’t hear her.

After Cyndi said that, she looked down at the table surface–both trying to hide from shame and pretending to be studying the table pattern.

Qiao Qiao jumped up in alarm. “What?!”

“When?” Wallace asked.

“How come you never told us?” Jacky followed.

“Come on now!” Simon exclaimed, his voice almost matching Qiao Qiao’s.  “This is a shocker! You used to date a young successful tycoon?”

Although they were all displaying some sort of uncomfortable or shocked reactions on their faces, but they still managed to stop themselves and wait for Cyndi’s response.

Cyndi managed to bring her head up to face them all again before speaking up. She fidgeted her hands nervously. “I…I…I got you all good, didn’t I?!” She flashed on a bright smile after blurting out the last few words.

Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “Hey!”

Although Qiao Qiao sounded mad but she sat back down in her seat again.

Jacky was actually the first one to recover. He gave Cyndi a thumbs-up sign. “Good job, Miss Wang. You managed to get past all our radars.”

Cyndi still had a smile. “Thanks. I wasn’t recruited for nothing.”

Wallace finally smiled, knowing that Cyndi was joking.

Simon wrinkled his face. “Don’t do that. It’s not funny.”

Cyndi smiled. “It earned me a compliment. Besides…I need to practice my skills or it will become rusty through time.” She rubbed her hands off each other for emphasis.

Before Simon could launch another series of complaints toward Cyndi’s direction, the waiter came back with their orders. They sat back and waited for him to place all the dishes on the table, and then flashing them a friendly smile and delivering a “Enjoy your meal” line as they nodded their thanks to him–with a smile of their own also.

Jacky scanned at each one of them briefly. “So…what now?”

“I still want to know more about Sun Xie Zhi,” Qiao Qiao said.

“For?”

“Just curious since…” She diverted her glance toward Cyndi again. “Come on now, did you or did you not date him? I know you said you’re joking but what if you decided to back out last minute?”

Cyndi pointed her chopsticks in Qiao Qiao’s direction. “You’re one sharp girl.”

Qiao Qiao’s face lightened up. “So that means I’m right? Come on. I want the truth.”

Wallace and Simon had stopped eating since Cyndi’s admittance. Only Jacky seemed unaffected, eating away at a casual pace.

Cyndi cleared her throat. “The truth is he’s my senior. We used to go to the same university together.” She smiled as if remembering back to those days. “He’s a very nice person deep down so don’t take his arrogant attitude seriously. It’s just a front. The truth was everyone took advantage of him during those years since he was such a nice guy, always willing to help. But they were so shocked when he became a millionaire within a year after his graduation. Everyone suddenly clanged to him like they were his best buddies in the world, so…”

“The ‘I’m Mr. Arrogant’ exterior comes forth,” Jacky filled in.

Cyndi nodded.

“If you know him, then why didn’t you step forward and address him the day he came into our place?” Simon asked, unconvinced of Cyndi’s tale.

Cyndi turned to him. “Isn’t it a bit desperate to do such things? Besides, I just told you. He hates people doing those kinds of things. I think he had enough and needed to shield himself from it all. He’s nice but everyone has a limit they set forth to endure certain things. And I guess someone must have pushed past that breach for him to become such a person.” She let out a secretive smile. “I admit that I was somewhat disappointed at how he turned out to be, but after watching him interacting with Yan, I could see the sincerity through his eyes. People can disguise themselves in various ways, but the eyes never lie. I know there’s still the old Sun Xie Zhi in there. The Senior Xie Zhi I know.”

“Awww…” Qiao Qiao mumbled without realizing she said it out loud.

Jacky smiled at Qiao Qiao’s reaction as Cyndi continued to eat again. Wallace’s face showed passiveness throughout the little story while the others listened more intently. Cyndi’s voice sounded so smooth and reasonable that Simon seemed like he was convinced by now.

“It’s a shame though,” Qiao Qiao said. “I mean if you hold back not greeting him at all although you know him.”

“It’s good enough to know he’s well off and finally found someone he…” Cyndi said.

Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “Are you sure he likes Yan Yan though? Or is he just teasing her?”

“Senior Xie Zhi could be a real teaser if he wants to be, but the way he looks at Yan, I know he’s serious.”

“Impossible. How could he like Yan when he just met her? They haven’t interacted much except for the little arguments they have casually. Besides, he…”

Jacky smiled. “You’re a kid after all, Qiao.” He turned to the others. “Do you believe in a guy’s instinct?”

“Pep talk time again?” Qiao Qiao teased.

“What about it?” Simon asked lazily.

“It just so happens that a guy can just glance at a girl and knows that she’s going to be his wife in the future,” Jacky said, smiling.

Simon laughed.

“All right, non-believer… “

“Correction…one of your fellow guys abandoning you and your silly theory,” Qiao Qiao jumped in.

“All isn’t lost,” Wallace spoke up finally.

“Your vote doesn’t count since you live under his roof. Your mind tells you automatically to defend him.”

Jacky let out a chuckle. “She got you good, man.”

“This all comes down to Cyndi’s theory collapsing,” Qiao Qiao concluded in a professional analytical voice.

Cyndi shrugged her shoulders. “It doesn’t matter if I’m wrong. But I must say that if Senior Xie Zhi likes someone, he will take it seriously.”

“We’ll see.”

Jacky looked at Qiao Qiao. “Is that a challenge I’m hearing you declare?”

“Maybe.”

“Loser has to confess on the person he or she likes.”

Qiao Qiao snapped her attention to Jacky. “What kind of request is that?”

“I’m not immune to it if I lose, you know.”

“That’s no deal. We already know who you like without your confession.”

Simon looked around at the others. “Who?”

“Haven’t you heard after all the dramas and news of…”

Jacky clapped Qiao Qiao’s mouth with his right hand while struggling with his free hand to stop her from hitting him with her hands. When she finally pushed him aside again, she coughed a few times before regaining herself.

“What did you do that for?! To think that you’re my brother.”

“No point in saying it out loud. We’ll save it for later if he wants to know.”

“Since he doesn’t know, you could be making up a name and be done with it. Only we know and have to cover for you, okay?”

“Fine, if you’re so brave, then let’s take it up a notch.”

Qiao Qiao gave him a challenging look. “What?”

“Loser has to confess to the person that he or she likes in front of every one of us.”

Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face.

“See? You don’t dare.”

Qiao Qiao turned away from him and took a sip out of her water glass instead, trying to divert attention from herself.

“Remember, Qiao, all of those who lose will have to do it,” Wallace said in his persuasive voice. “So if you win, you get to see Jacky embarrassed and umm…Cyndi trying to confess to her Senior Xie Zhi.”

“Hey!” Cyndi shouted. “I never said I like him.”

“We’ll see,” Wallace said passively.

“Either way, we would gain more since if you guys lose, that’s three confessions,” Jacky pointed out.

“I already have a girlfriend so it doesn’t count,” Simon clarified.

“All right, two confessions then. But I would love to see Wallace wing through his.”

“Hey!” Wallace reacted, feeling a light stab in his back.

“You ignited the fire.”

“So are we up to it or not?” Cyndi urged. “Come on, guys.”

“I’m in.” He looked at Qiao Qiao. “Scaredy-cat?”

Qiao Qiao looked up at all of them to see all three–Jacky, Cyndi, and Wallace–displaying a sly smile on their faces. She knew she was in for good. She turned to Simon to see him grinning as well. She knew she couldn’t back out now or she would be the laughing stock of her workplace and among her group of friends also.

“Fine,” Qiao Qiao said finally. “Might as well go along with this but whoever backs out will be subject to an even worse punishment.”

“I think you’re the most likely to back out, Qiao,” Jacky said.

“I would never.”

“We’ll see.”

Wallace turned to Simon. “You’re witness, okay? Since the rest of us aren’t very trustworthy. The wager is too high.”

Simon nodded.

“Shall we drink to it then?” Cyndi asked, raising her glass.

Jacky and Wallace raised their water glasses to Cyndi’s, clinking it briefly together before withdrawing and emptying it in one gulp. Qiao Qiao hesitated a bit before doing the same.

“I can see that you all are getting along just fine without us,” A voice said behind them.

They turned around to see Chen Yi standing there with Achel and Yan Yan.

“We’re way from being done with lunch,” Wallace said.

Jacky had to move closer to Cyndi as Qiao Qiao slid closer to him, making room for Yan Yan and Chen Yi. Wallace had to scoop closer to Simon to make room for Achel. They’d stationed themselves at a spacious booth earlier, but they’d been sitting quite comfortably between the five of them that they had to move closer to each other to make room for the newly arrived.

“What is the topic of discussion today?” Chen Yi asked as he was sitting down. “How come it attracted our guy who likes to keep to himself?”

Cyndi smiled. “You won’t believe it.”

Chen Yi turned to Cyndi. “Try me.” Then he slipped his hands into his jacket pockets out of habit.

“Sun Xie Zhi.”

Yan Yan wrinkled her face as Chen Yi took a sip out of the water glass the waiter just placed in front of him.

Chen Yi shuffled the menu in his hand. “And?”

“You’ve got to unplug your ears for this piece of news,” Qiao Qiao ordered in a mysterious voice.

Chen Yi turned to Qiao Qiao, waiting for her to continue.

“Well, we were talking among ourselves while we were about to head for lunch, see? And then Sun Xie zhi walked in and then something big happened. Like major. It appears that…”

“Get to the point!” Chen Yi and Simon exclaimed at the same time.

Everyone was not surprise that Chen Yi was impatient but they were a bit taken aback by Simon’s outburst. They all turned to look at Simon. Before they could fire questions at him for his possible impatience, the waiter came back again.

“Are you ready to order?” The waiter asked, looking from the two girls to Chen Yi.

“Uh…” Chen Yi said, glancing at the menu briefly. “Banana ice cream sundae with fudge on top.”

“Same here,” Achel said quickly.

Yan Yan was the only one to order a decent dish.

The waiter took their menus and promised to be back in a few.

“Why are you wearing a jacket and ordering ice cream?” Qiao Qiao asked, wrinkling her face. “Not to mention you two are wearing matching jackets and ordering the same type of ice cream too.”

The others snapped their attention to Chen Yi and Achel, inspecting them like they just seen those two for the first time in their entire life. Even Simon showed more than mere interest during his inspection process. Achel looked somewhat nervous upon seeing all eyes on her but managed a smile toward them. However, Chen Yi remained calm and self-contained like he always did. Actually, more like he was getting back to his old calm self unlike these past few weeks with his strange behaviors and frequent outbursts of frustration.

Chen Yi shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. Maybe ‘cause it was on sale earlier so we bought it. Didn’t realize it’s the same color.”

“And style,” Cyndi added.

Chen Yi smiled naturally. “That too. The ice cream? Ask her, how should I know she likes the same thing as me?”

Everyone turned their attention to Achel as Chen Yi breathed out a sigh of relief upon the little distraction he just created for himself.

“Uh…I don’t know,” Achel managed, her face burning hot by all the stares she was receiving. “I just thought since you guys already eat so I just want to make a quick one with a dessert and be done for now.”

Yan Yan turned to Chen Yi. “You guys ate before coming here?”

“I did,” Chen Yi said quickly before turning to Achel. “You?”

“I sort of ate something since there was a potluck at my workplace,” Achel said.

“I almost forgot you don’t work for Uncle Zhe’s shop anymore,” Wallace said.

Qiao Qiao turned to Yan Yan. “Wait a minute; weren’t you with them the whole time and you just came together?”

Yan Yan shook her head. “I met them by the parking lot.”

Wallace eyed Chen Yi suspiciously. “Why are you fidgeting your hand?”

Chen Yi took his hands out of his pockets. “How would you know? They’re in my pockets.”

“We’re pros, remember? You can’t escape from our censorship.”

“Knock it off already; we’re getting together for a little lunch, not some 21 Questions session.”

“You work with us; you should know the radar should never be off. You must work on your talents or it’ll become rusty.” Wallace sent a mischievous grin toward Chen Yi’s way before realizing that he was quoting Cyndi’s words from before. His smile faded too quickly for some of the others to digest.

Cyndi wrinkled her face. “What’s wrong?”

As she was asking him, she glanced around the restaurant to find the possible source of his change in reaction.

“Nothing.”

The waiter came back at that time to rescue him from having to defend himself any further.

After that little “questioning” session, they resumed their usual talk of possible weekend plans.

*****

That afternoon moved on smoothly without any other discoveries of any major earth-shattering event from anyone among them at Orchids Agency. Tony dropped Orchids off a minute after the others got back from lunch. Achel had tagged a ride with Yan Yan after they left the restaurant so Chen Yi didn’t have to drive her back to work. They launched right into work typing away at their computers without any other questions to avoid delay of progress of their workload–that had somewhat piled up tremendously these past weeks due to lack of progress. Jacky had returned with them earlier since he didn’t have to go back to the station for the rest of the afternoon. He sat at a corner of the room to work on his reports and possible ideas for next week’s program.

All wasn’t as quiet since they would take occasional breaks and chat a little among themselves, but would immediately go back to their reports after a brief exchange of words. It was until around closing time that Qiao Qiao jumped up from her seat and declared triumph. She had finally reached her goal of finishing the last report on her hand.

“I love catch up week,” Qiao Qiao commented. “I’m all done! I can leave this place without any chains attached or any unfinished businesses.”

“Glad to know,” Jacky mumbled from his corner of the room.

“Hurray,” Chen Yi said passively. “We should spring up some kind of party just for her sake of satisfying her quench for freedom.”

Qiao Qiao hit him on the shoulder. “What?!”

“Oh nothing,” Chen Yi said still in the same passive tone as before, sighing out in the process.

The others couldn’t help but laugh at Qiao Qiao’s expression.

“It’s hopeless to argue with Chen Yi, Qiao,” Wallace said as he stopped typing. “And I’m so done.”

Wallace followed Qiao Qiao’s example and got up to stretch his arm muscles and legs in the process.

Cyndi and Chen Yi finished briefly after that and got up to stretch also. Jacky joined them at their desks after he snapped his folder shut. Simon had been done several hours back already and had excused himself early because he needed to go pick up his relative at the airport. It had already been notified and verified by Orchids since they arrived at work that morning.

“I think it’s a good idea actually to throw a little party for Qiao,” Jacky said.

“‘Cause we’re glad she’s going away?” Chen Yi asked.

Qiao Qiao stopped stretching long enough to hit Chen Yi on the shoulder.

“Qiao…”

Qiao Qiao remembered from Jacky’s expression.

Chen Yi looked from one to the other. “What?”

“Nothing,” Jacky said.

Chen Yi did a quick shrug before heading toward the break room.

“Get me…” Qiao Qiao began.

Jacky sharpened his expression.

“Never mind, I’ll get it myself in a bit.”

Chen Yi continued on his way without looking back at them to see what was with Qiao Qiao’s fast change.

“Are you looking for an excuse to gather us all together?” Wallace asked Jacky, referring to Jacky’s agreement to throw Qiao Qiao a party.

“Maybe,” Jacky admitted. “But still a good idea since we haven’t gotten together since…”

Wallace nodded. “Exactly. Where would it be though? Don’t tell me at Uncle Ben’s place again. I like Uncle Ben, but I’m not all for noodles lately.”

Chen Yi came back at that time, stirring his cup.

“You’re drinking coffee at this time of day?” Jacky asked. “It’s almost off work.”

“It’s tea,” Chen Yi clarified.

“Oh. Still.”

“It’s not the kind that keeps you up all night though.” He sat down at his desk again. “Are you guys still talking about the same thing?”

“Yeah. But we’re deciding where to gather at since Wallace just objected on Uncle Ben’s place.”

“At Qiao’s place. Since it’s for her, right?”

“Good point but can all of us pile into Orchids’ place?” Wallace reminded them.

“Good point,” Jacky admitted.

“My place?” Chen Yi tried again. “I have a big backyard. We could do a barbeque. Besides, we’re celebrating for me too, right?”

“For?” Wallace prompted.

He, Cyndi, and Qiao Qiao had stopped their stretching routine already but were still standing in front of their desks.

“I haven’t told you guys, but I found a new job also,” Chen Yi said.

“Really?!” Qiao Qiao exclaimed.

Chen Yi finally turned his attention on Qiao Qiao. “No, I’m kidding.”

Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face at him.

“So…are we all set then?” Cyndi asked.

“If there aren’t any other objections…” Jacky said.

“No!” The others shouted out in unison.

“Great. When though?”

“Tomorrow afternoon?” Chen Yi suggested.

“You’re fast all right.”

“Why delay things?”

“Good point,” Wallace said.

“It’s a deal then,” Qiao Qiao said excitedly, looking at the others. “Should we go shopping together after work?”

“We probably should,” Jacky said.

“I only have couple hours though,” Chen Yi informed them. “Everything has to stop at 8.”

“Why?” The others asked at the same time.

“Other commitments. I have a life, you know. I can’t tag along with my co-workers 24/7.”

Cyndi smiled. “All right, Young Master Chen Yi.”

Chen Yi turned to Jacky. “And remember to invite Ehlo and the others too. Wouldn’t want them to miss it since we’re not just celebrating within our workplace here.”

The others looked somewhat alarmed and/or shocked upon hearing Chen Yi’s words. Even Jacky couldn’t maintain his calmness any longer. He had a good reason to be since Chen Yi had been calling Ehlo “Mr. Pervert” since the day he heard of Achel’s past nickname for the guy. But now he reverted to using Ehlo’s real name. They stood still for a few seconds more before unfreezing themselves from the spot. Wallace sat down and wrote some notes down into a folder before he actually packed up. Chen Yi continued to stir and drink his tea slowly since he already packed earlier while he was doing his stretching. While the others were packing, Qiao Qiao was sitting down at her desk and was writing diligently onto a piece of paper.

“What are you doing?” Jacky asked, peeking over her shoulders. “Oh…”

Wallace turned to see when he heard Jacky’s question.

“What is that web thing?” Wallace asked.

Qiao Qiao didn’t reply but finished the final stroke before looking up at them all. She realized everyone had stopped what they were doing and was looking at her, waiting for her to answer.

Qiao Qiao smiled. “I’m making a little link tree.”

The others wrinkled their faces and continued to stare at Qiao Qiao.

“Just to keep up with everyone’s relation and link for future reference and my sanity. And of course…” She tapped on the paper for emphasis. “I can add on to it in the future also.”

Jacky and Wallace let out a laugh as Chen Yi gave Qiao Qiao a “Nothing better to do” look. Cyndi just smiled casually.

“Don’t come to me asking for clarification when you’re confused and lost or not up to date with anyone in our group,” Qiao Qiao said, still in an enthusiastic tone.

Jacky let out another chuckle and gave Qiao Qiao a pat on the head.

Qiao Qiao slapped Jacky’s hand off, wrinkling her face at him. “It’s not funny.”

“All right,” Wallace interfered. “Let’s close. I’ll go in and tell Orchids that we’re leaving together today.”

As promised, Wallace came back about a minute later and they left together after locking the door and switching the sign to “Closed” so Orchids wouldn’t have to deal with late-comers later. They spent the rest of the three hours wisely since Chen Yi had already declared prior commitments. Before separating, they each held a guest list of their own so they could ease the load of people to call that night.

© Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Re-posted: Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

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