Sonia looked at her watch for the umpteenth time as she was pacing back and forth in front of the radio station. She wondered if he had forgotten. She couldn’t call again to bug him since she knew that he was already nice enough to do her a favor. She couldn’t be so thick-skinned as to bully him or be so demanding. Then she stopped pacing and wondered if anything was wrong with them. He sounded so concerned for his girlfriend before that she couldn’t help but be a little touched by it. She shook her head slightly, trying to get rid of some strange thoughts creeping its way into her mind. Just as she was trying to get rid of the thoughts, she heard a car honking. She looked up to see Jacky’s car coming closer. As the car slowed down, she could see clearly who the girl in the passenger seat was. So she was the famous Qiao. The person Jacky mentioned last night–and this morning.
“Get in, Miss Sui,” Jacky commanded. “You’re the one in a hurry.”
Sonia snapped out of her trance and got into the backseat, feeling a bit strange. Jacky pulled out after the door was closed.
“Had fun waiting?” Jacky teased.
“Definitely,” Sonia returned in her usual sarcastic tone.
“Hey, don’t have to be sarcastic. I wasn’t the one responsible for your car breaking down.”
“You never know.”
“What kind of response is that? Ungrateful.”
Sonia ignored Jacky and turned her attention to Qiao Qiao. “So you’re Qiao, right? Nice to finally meet you.”
Qiao Qiao turned sideways in her seat and greeted Sonia with a friendly smile. “Nice to meet you too.”
“Don’t have to lie to her,” Jacky said. “She knows.”
Qiao Qiao turned to him. “Huh?”
“She knows we’re not boyfriend and girlfriend, but we’re just playing out our roles to deceive Jo. That is until I find another solution to this obstacle.”
Jacky glanced at her briefly. “Why do you sound so disappointed? Do you want it to be real then?”
“I couldn’t care less.”
Jacky let out a smile before looking into the rearview mirror to check on Sonia. “Where are we heading, Miss Sui?”
“Okay then. Let me drop Qiao off first.”
The trip back to Orchids Agency was somewhat awkward and consisted of a lot of silence and constant staring. Just as they were one block from the place, Qiao Qiao told Jacky to drop her off at the corner of the street.
“I’m not in a hurry,” Jacky reassured her.
“It’s all right,” Qiao Qiao said. “I want to take a walk.”
Jacky stopped the car and turned to Qiao Qiao. “Are you all right? You’re still bothered by what happened before?”
“No. I just need to take in some fresh air.”
“All right then.”
Qiao Qiao nodded and stepped out of the car.
As they were talking, Sonia had stepped out of the car. She took the passenger seat after Qiao Qiao left. Jacky pulled out after knowing Qiao Qiao was safe.
“She’s quite pretty,” Sonia commented casually.
“Yes. Pretty disturbed.”
“Did something happen?”
“Maybe she just needs to get used to certain things.”
Sonia wasn’t sure what Jacky meant but didn’t want to pursue the matter further. She could hear the serious tone again, so she stayed silent for the rest of the trip.
Qiao Qiao felt a bit strange as she was walking back to the agency. She had never experienced this type of feeling before. Helplessness and confusion were hitting her all at once. And yet she was somewhat glad of the helplessness. What was going on here? She couldn’t be beat down by some minor failure. It was unavoidable. She couldn’t let her spirits sink, especially on a nice day like this. She took in a deep breath and increased her pace toward Orchids Agency. She noticed that Cyndi was not around–possibly discussing the latest case with Orchids. Simon was actually working on a case right now since he was holding a yellow folder instead of the white binder like before.
Wallace looked up at that time to see Qiao Qiao’s long face. “Why the long face, Miss Tseng? What did he do?”
Chen Yi took his attention off the computer screen in front of him and turned toward Qiao Qiao.
“Nothing,” Qiao Qiao answered passively, walking toward them. “Just some unlucky event. But lucky Jacky was there.”
“What happened?” Wallace asked–not out of curiosity but of concern.
“He’s a flake after all,” Qiao Qiao said, tapping on the folder in her hand.
“You exposed him?”
“I had a plan, but Jacky beat me to it. Then he…” She stopped to tap on the folder again. “…got mad and tried to attack us.”
“You let him have the opportunity of his face feeling the carpet?” Chen Yi jumped in because of how slow Qiao Qiao’s story-telling was.
Qiao Qiao shook her head.
Chen Yi wrinkled his face. “Then what?”
“Jacky blocked him. We got out of there in time.”
“You mean that show-off beat you to it?”
“I didn’t have time to react,” Qiao Qiao confessed, sitting down at her desk. “I was…shocked.”
“Shocked? Are you serious? You beat half of our class until they cried.”
“Self-defense class isn’t real life, Chen Yi.”
Qiao Qiao sighed and began to write her report. Chen Yi looked toward Wallace. Wallace shrugged.
“Your invitation card, please” The security guard at the door prompted mechanically.
Jacky handed him the card. After a brief inspection and verification with the guest list, the security guard stepped aside for them to pass.
“This place is…” Qiao Qiao began.
“Nerve-wrecking?” Jacky finished, turning to see her expression.
“Nerve-wrecking?” Qiao Qiao repeated his choice of words, wrinkling her face and turning to him. “Where did you get that?”
“Just thought I add in some words of my own while we’re describing the place?”
Qiao Qiao smiled.
Sam and Sonia joined them at that time after they passed through the security check.
“This place is…” Sam began the same way Qiao Qiao did a minute before.
“What’s with you two and describing this place?” Jacky asked, cutting Sam off.
“It looks quite glamorous,” Sam finished, ignoring Jacky’s rudeness.
“I want to say the same thing!” Qiao Qiao exclaimed with a gleeful smile on her face.
Sam gave her a polite smile.
“So…where should we go first?” Sonia asked, looking at Jacky. “Ballroom or…”
“Let’s do a quick tour first,” Jacky suggested.
“Okay, which side you want?”
“I’ll go left, you go right. We’ll meet at the end of the hall and go into the ballroom together.”
“Okay, kids,” Jacky said to Qiao Qiao and Sam. “Feel free to explore while we work.”
Qiao Qiao glared at him while Sam looked somewhat offended.
“What?!” Sam exclaimed, his voice matching his expression.
“Calm down,” Sonia soothed. “He’s joking.”
“You haven’t gotten used to him yet?” Qiao Qiao asked, turning to Sam again.
“Hard to,” Sam said. “He’s unpredictable.”
“Thank you,” Jacky said proudly.
“That wasn’t a compliment,” Sam pointed out.
“I know.” Jacky’s cell phone rang at that time. He fished the phone out of his pocket and answered it. “Hello?”
“Where are you guys?” A voice asked impatiently. “We’ve been here ages already.”
“Where are you then?”
“Ballroom. Come quickly. You’re missing a show.”
“We’re not the paparazzi. We’re here on serious business.”
“One of the guys you’re going to interview is here. Come on.”
“Okay, fine. We’ll be there.”
“We?” The other guy asked, sounding confused.
“You’ll see,” Jacky said secretively before hanging up and turning to Sonia. “Change of plans, Miss Sui. We’re going to the ballroom first.”
“What happened?” Sonia asked.
“Ehlo said there’s a show going on that we should see,” Jacky elaborated.
“We’re not the paparazzi,” Sonia echoed Jacky’s words from a minute ago.
Jacky smiled, not saying anything. He turned to Qiao Qiao and grabbed her hand. “Let’s go see the show.”
“What show?” Qiao Qiao asked, puzzled.
“I’m not sure. But Ehlo said it’s good.”
Sonia looked hesitant, but followed Jacky and Qiao Qiao down the hall anyway. Sam wondered what all the “secret talk” was about, but he didn’t want to ask.
They could hear yelling vibrating down the hallway as they were closer to the ballroom. Jacky turned to look at Sonia.
“The voice…” Sonia remarked.
“Sounds familiar, huh?” Jacky continued.
They increased their pace.
“It looks serious,” Sam said.
“Strange,” Jacky mumbled.
“Why would you argue in front of the crowd like that?”
“When you’re that mad, it doesn’t matter who’s around.”
They could see two men arguing heatedly in the center of the room as the crowd was looking at them from the doorway.
“What are they talking about?” Qiao Qiao asked.
“It’s financial stuff,” Jacky explained. “Mr. Chen got ripped.”
“The guy in the blue suit.”
They focused on the argument again as Mr. Chen’s voice raised to another level.
“Do you think that anyone would believe you?!” Mr. Chen bellowed. “I got evidence!” He pulled out some papers and shoved them into the other person’s hand.
“What is this?” The man in the black suit asked. Then he realized the contents of the documents so he ripped it up and tossed it into the air. “You don’t have anything now.”
“This must be some kind of skit,” Jacky whispered to the others. “They must be blind not to see us here.”
“If you think I’m foolish enough to give you the original copy, you’re wrong,” Mr. Chen continued with a confident smile.
“Tell me where you’ve hidden the papers!” The man in the black suit yelled out, lunging forward at Mr. Chen, attempting to strangle him.
Just then, another man stepped into the scene.
“Stop right there!” The man in brown suit ordered.
The man in black suit let go of Mr. Chen and attempted to run. The man in brown suit advanced forward and restrained him.
“You’re under arrest,” The man in brown suit delivered smoothly before turning toward the crowd, saying, “No one escapes from the law.” Then he let go of the other man.
The three men then came together in a straight line and bowed at the audience.
Everyone in the crowd clapped–excluding Sam, Sonia, and Qiao Qiao.
“How did you know they were just acting?” Sonia asked, turning to Jacky.
“I told you already,” Jacky whispered back. “No one would argue in a crowded room like this. It’s not in their characters.”
“Then this is the show?”
“What do you expect? We’re getting a preview of Mr. Chen’s new play.”
The crowd scattered then. Most of them were making their way toward the three men, trying to get in their words of praises. Some were walking toward the refreshment table to the right. Jacky could spot Ehlo and Johnny making their way toward him.
“So how did you like the show?” Ehlo asked when he was within earshot.
“Lame,” Jacky said. “Thanks for wasting our time.”
Sonia poked Jacky on his sides. “I thought you said we get a preview of Mr. Chen’s new play.”
“I’m talking to him, not you,” Jacky shot back, annoyed.
Qiao Qiao tugged on Jacky’s sleeve at that time. “Stop.”
“I’m just telling the truth,” Jacky continued, not backing down.
“So…” Johnny spoke up casually, gesturing toward Qiao Qiao. “Care to introduce?
“Oh,” Jacky said. “This Qiao and Qiao, this is one of my friends, Johnny.”
“Nice to meet you,” Johnny said, extending his hand.
“Same here,” Qiao Qiao said back in a polite manner before realizing something. “Oh, would you be interested in…”
“No need for that, Miss Tseng,” Jacky jumped in, cutting Qiao Qiao, knowing too well of her intention. “He has plenty of girls clinging onto him already.”
“How did you know my last name?” Qiao Qiao asked, surprised.
Jacky beat himself up inside. He just blew his own cover. “Uh…” He pretended to casually look at his watch before saying, “Look at the time. We better get started, Miss Sui.” Then he turned to Ehlo and Johnny. “I’ll be back later.” He remembered also to turn back to Qiao Qiao. “It’s best that you stay here since it could get boring. The guys don’t bite so don’t worry.”
“You want to interview the three performers?” Sonia asked him, gesturing toward Mr. Chen and the other two men. “Or me?”
“I’ll do it,” Jacky volunteered.
“All right then.”
Jacky, Sonia, and Sam left the group at that time.
“Why does he look so suspicious?” Ehlo asked, confused.
“That’s strange,” Qiao Qiao muttered. “Oh yeah, did Orchids look at your case yet? Did you get a call?”
“What call?” Johnny asked.
“Nothing!” Ehlo jumped in, cutting Qiao Qiao off on purpose. “Let’s go grab something to eat. I’m hungry.”
Johnny looked at Ehlo’s disappearing back and then turned back to Qiao Qiao.
“Why does everyone seem so strange today?” Johnny pondered aloud.
“I have no clue either,” Qiao Qiao admitted.
“Maybe we should just go get a drink and come back later?”
“Want me to show you around? Ehlo and I did a little tour earlier.”
Qiao Qiao smiled. “That’s fine.”
Johnny led Qiao Qiao toward the entrance of the ballroom and back out toward the main hall to begin their tour after they stopped at the refreshment table to pick up a drink. Ehlo joined them halfway through the tour. The three of them returned to the ballroom when they were done with the tour. They found Jacky, Sonia, and Sam standing at the corner near the door. Jacky and Sonia seemed to be sharing a joke of some sort.
“All done?” Ehlo asked loudly.
“Of course,” Jacky said, ignoring Ehlo’s subtle hostility. “If we’re not done yet, we might as well go polish Ray’s shoes.”
Sonia hit him on the shoulder.
“Do you have anything better to do than hit my shoulders?” Jacky asked, turning to her.
“I have to keep you in line somehow,” Sonia reminded him.
“So now you want to become my…” He stopped and gave her a charming smile as he could see her frown.
The ballroom became extremely noisy at that time. The group turned to see what was going on. They could see a crowd “in-the-gathering” again. They stepped closer to the entrance to see what was with all the commotion. When they were within view of the doorway, they could see a couple walking in. Qiao Qiao’s face brightened up.
“It’s Orchids!” Qiao Qiao exclaimed excitedly.
“Calm down,” Jacky reminded her of their whereabouts. “You’re acting like a kid that was just given candy.”
Qiao Qiao hit Jacky on the shoulder for that comment.
“Girls and their…” Jacky stopped as the crowd became a bit uncontrollable. He quickly pulled Qiao Qiao aside as more people shoved past them and toward the newly arrived couple.
“Who is he really?” Sam asked, puzzled about the crowd’s abnormal behavior. “Why is everyone trying to get his attention?”
“You’ve got to be kidding, right?” Jacky asked back.
Sam turned to Jacky. “Why?”
“He’s the Magician of the Stock Market,” Sonia answered in Jacky’s place.
“It’s him?” Sam asked, more surprised than before. “He looks different from those business magazines.”
“Miss Sui, you forgot to add in ‘young’,” Jacky corrected her. “He’s the Magician’s son.”
“Oh,” Sam said in a more casual tone. “That makes more sense.”
After answering some questions from the press as well as the crowd in general, the couple made their way into the room. The crowd finally dispersed to make room for the two. As the two walked by their group, Qiao Qiao waved frantically at Orchids. Orchids smiled at Qiao Qiao. Jacky gave Orchids a warm smile as she walked by him. Orchids returned one of her own also. Ehlo took that opportunity to step in front of Jacky and snapped his fingers in Jacky’s face.
“What?!” Jacky exclaimed, somewhat annoyed.
“Stop staring,” Ehlo said. “You have a date.”
Jacky wrinkled his face at Ehlo.
The ballroom became dark at that time. Jacky could feel Qiao Qiao’s hands clinging onto his left arm.
“It’s all right,” Jacky reassured her in a soft voice. “They’re just switching lights.”
Just as Jacky said, they turned on the lights again, but it was dimmer than before, creating a soothing atmosphere. Music came on about the same time as the lights. It was a slow song. Couples began to fill the dance floor at that time. From the little light in the room, Jacky could see Ehlo and Sam tapping their feet to the music.
“Why don’t you two go dance?” Jacky suggested, smiling. “It’s a bit silly to stand around and tap your feet.”
Sam turned to Sonia with a smile. “How about it?”
Sonia took Sam’s extended hand and they headed toward the dance floor together. Ehlo looked around the room to find a possible dance partner.
“Ehlo, give me your hand,” Jacky commanded.
Ehlo, alarmed, snapped his attention back on Jacky. “Say again.”
“It’s not what you think. Just give me your hand.”
“What for though?”
“Come on! What are you afraid of? I’m going to chop it off?”
Ehlo still looked reluctant, but put out his right hand anyway.
Jacky took Qiao Qiao’s left hand and put it into Ehlo’s right hand.
“Go have fun,” Jacky said in that same commanding tone again.
“What?!” Ehlo exclaimed, confused.
Jacky turned to Qiao Qiao. “Give me a minute.” He then grabbed Ehlo by the arm, stepping away from the group and toward a corner. “Isn’t it obvious enough already? This is your chance.”
“What are talking about?” Ehlo asked, still not getting it.
“Both of you are matching. Get it?”
Ehlo turned to look at Qiao Qiao again before looking at his own outfit.
“I saw you hanging your outfit on the closet door since last weekend,” Jacky continued. “You’re always so prepared that it gets on my nerves sometimes, but it makes you so predictable.”
“You mean you bought Qiao that blue dress because…?” Ehlo prompted, still not believing it.
“You’re crazy! You can’t do that to her.”
“Hey, I’m not going to take advantage of her. Come on.” He grabbed Ehlo’s elbow to steer him back to the group. “Qiao, could you help Ehlo? His dancing feet are itching right now.”
Qiao Qiao looked toward Ehlo to see him smiling awkwardly at her. She knew that the other girls in the room were all taken, so she nodded.
“That’s my girl,” Jacky said, patting her on the shoulder.
Qiao Qiao gave Jacky a look.
“Hey! I’m not saying anything else.”
“Don’t let him ruin your mood,” Ehlo interfered, extending his hand. “Come, Miss Tseng.”
Qiao Qiao took Ehlo’s hand and followed him onto the dance floor. They began to dance.
“How did you know my last name?” Qiao Qiao asked.
“Jacky called you Miss Tseng earlier and you confirmed,” Ehlo said smoothly.
“But you say it so naturally that I swear you knew it way ahead of time already,” Qiao Qiao argued.
“So you both are really hiding something from me?”
“Not exactly. Jacky just likes to act all mysterious.”
“How about you?”
Ehlo let out a secretive smile before responding. “You’ll find out in the future.”
“You like to act mysterious too, not just Jacky.”
“Ah…so you found me out. I confess then.”
“Really?” Qiao Qiao said, her innocence so earnest that it was hard to tell whether she was kidding or not.
“No way! Are you kidding me?”
They both laughed as they were gliding around the dance floor together.
Jacky was wearing a satisfied smile on his face as he was watching from the corner of the room. He could see Sam and Sonia dancing and chatting happily also. He looked toward the wine bar to see Orchids sitting on one of the stools all alone. He made his way toward her. Feeling mischievous, he tapped her on her left shoulder but stood on her right side instead of left like he intended. Orchids, not falling for the trick, turned right to face Jacky. Jacky smiled at her without any awkwardness although he was exposed.
“I see you’re the same as always,” Orchids remarked.
“What’s there to change?” Jacky asked, sitting on the stool next to her. “I like myself very much.”
“Arrogant, aren’t we?”
Jacky smiled. “It’s a hard habit to break.”
“What type of drink, sir?” The bartender asked, looking at Jacky.
Jacky turned to the bartender. “Apple cider.”
“Huh?” The bartender uttered, unable to restrain his confusion mixed with a tint of amusement.
Jacky smiled. “I’m driving later.”
The bartender frowned but went to get some from the back.
“Only you could make people nervous without feeling guilty,” Orchids said, bringing his attention back to their conversation.
“It’s for everyone’s safety, including your cousin’s,” Jacky rattled out–as if scripted.
“Talking about Qiao, thanks for taking good care of her,” Orchids said sincerely, putting her wine glass down at the same time.
“Oh? Regarding what?”
“She told me about the whole incident at Richard’s house.”
“No problem. She’s like a sister to me. And we’re friends so…”
“When did you know that we’re cousins?”
“She told me the first day we met.”
“Yes, she’s very straight-forward.”
“She still has a pure heart unlike the rest of us.”
“Are you implying that the rest of us are bad?”
Jacky shook his head. “No.”
The bartender placed a glass in front of Jacky at that time.
“Thanks,” Jacky said, turning to the bartender with an appreciative smile to make up for his past mischief. He waited for the bartender to leave them and go tend to another guest before speaking up again. “It’s not that we’re bad. It’s just that Qiao’s not tainted by the society like the rest of us.”
Orchids turned her attention to the dance floor. Jacky did the same. Ehlo and Qiao Qiao were still dancing and talking happily. They both smiled at the scene in front of them at the same time. Qiao Qiao’s expression changed as she spotted Jacky and Orchids talking happily at the bar. Ehlo realized it right away.
“What’s wrong?” Ehlo asked.
“Nothing,” Qiao Qiao lied.
Ehlo could finally see what the cause was as he was facing the wine bar again. “Oh. Them.”
“How come you sound like you couldn’t care less?”
“Because I know he will come back later.”
They continued to dance as Ehlo changed the subject to distract Qiao Qiao from thinking about Jacky and Orchids. Jacky and Orchids turned back to their drinks again.
“So…what happened to your date?” Jacky asked casually, taking a sip of his drink.
“He has to socialize with the general public,” Orchids said, stating the obvious fact that Jacky should not be surprised.
Jacky turned to see Orchids’ date–aka the Magician’s son–being cornered by the press and others next to the door, asking questions still. He turned his attention back on Orchids again since he couldn’t see anything interesting or unusual about the scene. “I see a huge amount of the female population there. Don’t you want to stay close?” He couldn’t help but let out a wink and a mischievous smile to accompany it.
Orchids smiled. “Just let him then.”
“Oh, right. Why are you two here instead of the Magician?”
“Uncle has an emergency meeting so he told us to go in his place.”
“Oh. You both just stole the spotlight from Mr. Chen and his men.”
“What are the consequences then?”
Jacky shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not sure. We’ll just have to find out tomorrow if there is any news of assassins taking you both down in the next couple days.”
Orchids smiled, shaking her head at Jacky’s dramatic description.
“Glad I could entertain you while your Prince Vincent is away.”
“Are you two talking behind my back?” A voice behind them asked.
Jacky and Orchids turned around to see Vincent.
“So you made it safely back,” Jacky joked.
Vincent took a seat on the other side of Orchids. He ordered a drink before turning back to them.
“They sure are curious,” Vincent admitted.
“I’m surprised you still have this much enthusiasm,” Jacky said.
“Can’t do anything about them. Might as well answer all their questions. They’ll get bored and go away soon enough.”
The bartender put a drink in front of Vincent at that time.
Jacky smiled. “Let’s drink to that enthusiasm then. Let’s hope you still have that enthusiasm in the upcoming years.”
The guys clinked glasses and then emptied their glasses.
“They offer beer here?” Vincent asked as he was putting his glass back down.
“No, apple cider,” Jacky said with a mischievous smile.
Vincent wrinkled his eyebrow. “What?! And I just emptied my glass?”
Orchids smiled. “He put you on…again.”
Jacky laughed. “It’s not your first day knowing me, Young Magician.”
“I’ll get you back later,” Vincent threatened, pointing at Jacky for dramatic effect.
“We’ll see about that,” Jacky returned in an equally challenging smile and tone.
“Don’t you guys ever quit it?” Orchids asked both guys.
“Why? It’s fun,” Jacky said, looking at his watch. “All right, I’m going to leave you two alone since you’ve been separated for most of the night already.” He set his glass down before descending the stool.
“Take care,” Orchids said.
Jacky made his way back toward the dance floor again.
“I’ll get you real good next time!” Vincent repeated his threat to Jacky.
“I’ll wait for it then!” Jacky shouted back.
As Jacky was making his way back to Johnny, he heard a familiar voice behind him. Chills ran down his back as he recognized it. He pretended not to hear and increased his pace through the crowd.
“Jacky ge!” That same chilling voice called out again.
Jacky knew it was useless so he turned around to face her.
“Oh, hi Jo,” He said casually. “What are you doing here?”
“My father is here so I’m coming along tonight to help him,” Jo answered.
Jacky let out a nervous laugh. “Oh really? That’s great then. I’m heading…” He stopped to point toward the dance floor. “…that way if you don’t mind.”
“So you don’t have a date after all, do you?” Jo asked.
Jacky wrinkled his eyebrows. “What are you talking about? Of course, I do.”
“Jacky ge, don’t lie,” Jo said in her chilling voice again. “You know it’s not working.” She took a step forward and clung onto his arm like many times in the past.
“Look,” Jacky pressed, detaching her hands from his arm. “I’m sorry. But Qiao’s waiting for me right now.”
“Don’t lie. She’s not waiting for you and she’s not your date either. She’s dancing happily with Ehlo right now.”
“What?!” Jacky exclaimed, pretending to be surprised. “Why that…I’m going to get him.”
Jacky made his way rapidly toward the dance floor, weaving through dancing couples. He knew Jo was still behind him. Probably waiting to see a show. Jacky zigzagged around the crowd on purpose to stall for time as he was pretending to look mad–mad at Ehlo that was. Just when he thought that he couldn’t find any other solution to dodge Jo without breaking Ehlo and Qiao Qiao up, he spotted Sonia standing on the other side of the dance floor. Where is Sam? He scanned the surrounding area, but couldn’t see Sam. Who cares? As long as he could get out of this one. He walked happily toward Sonia and whisked her away and into the dancing crowd again.
“What are you doing?” Sonia asked, alarmed.
She had to dance along with him since they were already in the crowd so she didn’t want to disrupt the other couples.
“Where is Sam?” Jacky answered with a question of a totally different subject.
“He went to the washroom,” Sonia said.
“Oh. Okay. Great then.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Help me with this one, will you?”
Sonia could see Jo making her way toward them. It looked like Jacky had lost her among the crowds when he was zigzagging earlier.
“Jacky ge!” Jo called out in an out of breath voice.
“Hi, Jo!” Sonia greeted cheerfully.
“I thought you said you’re going with Qiao or whoever that girl is,” Jo confronted Jacky, ignoring Sonia completely.
“I like to change partners, okay?” Jacky said casually.
“I thought you both are rivals at work. You’re not fooling me.”
“So? Can’t rivals turn into lovers?” He pulled Sonia closer to him.
“Don’t go too far or I’ll expose you,” Sonia whispered into Jacky’s ear.
“Play along,” Jacky whispered back. “I’ll give you your freedom back when she’s gone.”
“What?” Sonia asked, infuriated. “Now you own me?”
Although they were silently arguing, they still carried a smile on their faces that Jo didn’t know that they were actually at odds at the moment.
“I want Sonia to say it,” Jo demanded.
Sonia smiled. “Say what? Isn’t this enough?”
“I’m not convinced,” Jo whined, pouting at the same time.
Sonia put her head gently on Jacky’s left shoulder as they continued to move to the music.
“How about now?” Sonia asked.
Jo could see the happiness on Jacky’s face as Sonia put her head on his shoulder that she couldn’t bear to see it anymore.
“Fine then,” She muttered, enraged as she was making her way back where she came from again.
Jacky breathed out and released Sonia a bit, but not letting go completely yet. Sonia stood up straight again, looking after Jo to make sure she was gone for real.
“So can I go now, Young Master Chu?” Sonia asked.
Jacky could detect her words dripping with sarcasm, but he still maintained his smile. “Let’s finish the song. It’s one of my favorites.”
“I don’t know if I’m helping you to get rid of her or she’s helping you to play a trick on me.”
“Take it however you want it to be.”
The song ended at that time. Some couples were leaving the dance floor and heading toward the refreshment table or to the other side of the room to talk among themselves. Jacky and Sonia released each other. Just as Sonia was about to walk away, the next song came on. Jacky grabbed her hand and pulled her back.
“What?!” Sonia exclaimed out a familiar response from minutes back.
“Calm down,” Jacky said. “Another song? Please?”
“Don’t tell me it’s one of your favorite songs again,” Sonia said, seeing Jacky’s gleeful look.
“You’re smart. Yes. Come on. Don’t you recognize this song? Everyone loves it, right?”
Sonia couldn’t resist it either since it was one of her favorite songs too. She took Jacky’s hand. Jacky smiled happily and they began to dance again.
“By the way, I finally figured out what’s wrong with you tonight,” Jacky said in an as a matter fact tone.
Sonia wrinkled her face. “What do you mean?”
“I’m not trying to pick a fight. I’m serious.”
“What’s wrong with me then?”
“It looks better down since it’s all curly like that.” He removed his hand from her waist and reached up to her hair to remove the hair clip that was holding her hair up. Her hair tumbled down onto her shoulders again. He put his hand back onto her waist after putting the hair clip in his pocket. “See? It looks better now.”
“Like I can see it.”
“Don’t frown. Smile. You look prettier when you’re smiling.”
Sonia couldn’t help but smiled. They glided around the room again in silence and enjoying the moment. When the song was finished, they still stayed in each other’s arms. The next song started and they began to dance again. As they were gliding around the room, they caught a glimpse of Ehlo and Qiao Qiao so they slowed down.
Qiao Qiao smiled. “Can I cut in?”
Sonia smiled back. “Sure.” She released Jacky and let Qiao Qiao step in. Sonia watched as Jacky and Qiao
Qiao disappeared into the crowd again. She turned to see Ehlo smiling. She knew that smile. “All right.”
“That’s the spirit,” Ehlo said encouragingly.
They didn’t get to finish the song because Sam cut in halfway through the song. He had been talking to Johnny before and was itching to dance again. Ehlo had no choice but to walk back to where Johnny was standing.
“Looks like it’s an interesting night tonight,” Johnny commented casually, using his drink glass as a microphone. “So…how does it feel like when your dance partner wants to dance with your best friend instead?” He stopped and pointed the fake microphone in front of Ehlo.
“Knock it off, man,” Ehlo snapped, irritated.
Johnny laughed and they talked about something else instead of how Ehlo got dumped. Ehlo walked toward the refreshment table to get another drink.
After Qiao Qiao cut in, she began to fire away questions at Jacky. He was half amused and half trying not to laugh. He knew she was very confused by now. He couldn’t wait to hear what kind of information Ehlo had fed her earlier.
“So…how did you know Orchids?” Qiao Qiao continued. “What were you two talking about? Why were you two looking my way and laughing earlier?”
“Whoa!” Jacky exclaimed, attempting to stop her series of questions. “What’s with all these questions?”
“Don’t change the subject. Answer me.”
“Okay, first one–how can anyone not know her? We were talking about you mostly. That’s also why we were looking your way.”
“So you knew all along who I was?”
“Not exactly. I sort of guessed.”
Jacky smiled. “Anything else?”
Jacky took the time to glance at his watch. “Whoa. It’s getting this late already.”
“Are we heading home soon then?”
“It depends on Sam and Sonia.”
“I feel kind of bad for you.”
“Just kind of? Why though?”
“You have to drive them around and…”
“It’s my choice. I’m fine with it, you know.”
“Tell me seriously though, are you dating Sonia?”
“What made you say that?”
“The way you two interact are like husband and wife.”
Jacky laughed. “Where in the world did you get that idea? We’ve been working together for so long so we know each other too well. It’s also a tactic to remain half-friend and half-enemy with your rival. It’s a great one in fact. Maintaining the balance and all.”
“No, it’s not that.”
Jacky realized something. “So…how was it with Ehlo? I saw that you two were having fun?”
“He’s a funny guy.”
“In a good way or bad way?”
“Good, of course.”
Jacky smiled. “That’s good then.”
Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “Are you playing matchmaking?”
Jacky flashed out his secretive smile. “What do you think?”
“Don’t do it to me or you’ll pay.”
“Like what?” Jacky challenged.
“Like…” She pinched Jacky on the sides.
Jacky wrinkled his face a bit, but still managed to control himself. He resumed his smile. “It’s not bad. I must wish Ehlo luck then.”
“Does that mean you pick Chen Yi then?”
“What does Chen Yi have to do with anything?”
“Come on. You can’t be that naïve. You know Chen Yi likes you, right?”
“No way. He just likes to tease me.”
“That’s what all guys do. Act a little foolish to make the person they like smile.”
“Like you’re doing with Sonia?”
“Clever, but no. We’re talking about you right now.”
“Why are you such a gossip?”
Jacky smiled. “Not sure. Maybe ‘cause I’m a curious person. So…what makes you so sure that Chen Yi doesn’t like you then?”
“He prefers Yan Yan over me, okay?”
“Has he ever told Yan Yan he loves her?”
“What? No. At least not that I know of.”
“Then he doesn’t like her all that much. He’s just saying that so he could get your attention.”
“What are you? Love Adviser?”
“I could switch occupation if it’ll convince you.”
Qiao Qiao felt a bit uncomfortable having Jacky stared at her like that. “Come off it already. It’s not funny.”
“Want to bet then?”
“So you’re scared to find out.”
“Who says I’m scared?” Her expression sharpened up at that time.
“Okay then. Let’s bet.”
“Fine. Tell me the bet.”
“Let’s test Chen Yi. Whoever wins get to decide what to do with the other person.”
“How about betting on an item?”
“Scared that I’m going to sell you off?”
“No, but what if you have unusual requests?”
Jacky raised an eyebrow. “So what you’re saying is that you want me to win?”
Qiao Qiao turned a bit pink. “No. I mean…what if…aiya! Stop staring at me with that mocking smile!”
“It’s not mocking, it’s amused.”
“Whatever, it’s not funny.”
Jacky turned his amused smile off as not to aggravate Qiao Qiao any further. “Okay then. Happy now?”
Qiao Qiao smiled. “Yes.”
Jacky put on a normal, friendly smile instead of his previous one. “Girls.”
They finished the dance and walked off the dance floor after that to join Ehlo and Johnny by the door.
“It looks like you two are ready to leave,” Jacky said.
“Definitely,” Ehlo confirmed. “It looks like nothing exciting’s going to happen soon.”
“You’re leaving too?” Johnny asked Jacky.
Jacky shook his head. “Not yet. Waiting for Mr. Wang and Miss Sui.” Just then, he spotted them coming toward their group of four. “And here they are.”
“Leaving?” Sonia asked.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Jacky said.
“All right then. Let’s go.”
As they were walking out of the ballroom entrance, they heard a voice calling Qiao Qiao’s name. They turned around to see Orchids weaving through the crowd. Qiao Qiao walked toward Orchids.
“What’s wrong?” Qiao Qiao asked, seeing Orchids’ concerned look.
“Your parents are back early. They just called me and asked where we were. Come back with me.”
Qiao Qiao turned back to Jacky.
“Go ahead,” Jacky said. “We don’t want to explain too much…yet.”
“All right,” Qiao Qiao said reluctantly. “Thanks.”
They watched until Qiao Qiao disappeared into the crowd with Orchids before they turned around to leave again. Jacky detected a string hanging in front of the door for no particular reason. He had a feeling there was something going on. He stepped forward and pushed Ehlo and Johnny past the door before going through it himself. They heard a splashing sound behind them and then a loud thud seconds later. They turned around to see an empty pail on the floor with water surrounding it. The crowd was chattering among themselves and pointing toward the entrance.
“Whoa!” Ehlo reacted first among their group of five.
“Where did that come from?” Johnny asked, looking around for the possible sources of the trap.
“Old trick,” Jacky replied. “Will never work with me.”
“Was that intended for you then?” Sam asked.
“Yes.” He scanned the area to see Vincent’s disappointed face toward the back of the crowd. Jacky gave him a thumbs-up sign and a challenging smile before turning to leave with the other four. “He never learns.”
“Who?” Sam asked with the same puzzled look on his face.
“Vincent,” Ehlo answered.
Sam still looked puzzled.
“It’s the Young Magician,” Johnny clarified.
“You know him?”
“Who doesn’t?” Jacky said.
“I mean personally. I saw you chatting with his date earlier and then he came. I was asking Sonia and she said you’re mere acquaintances.”
“And you doubt her? No one doubts Miss Sui.”
“If you’re just mere acquaintances, then why would he play such a trick on you?”
“For hitting on his date?”
“How complicated do you want it to be?”
Sonia smiled. “He’s putting you on again. Stop being so naïve.”
Sam turned to Jacky. “Stop joking around all the time, will you?”
“Why not? It’s fun.”
“Don’t mind him. Let’s go.”
Sam and Sonia increased their paces to the main entrance.
“What did I do?” Jacky asked innocently, looking from Ehlo to Johnny.
“Serves you right, man,” Ehlo said. “Keep playing jokes on the new guy.”
“Hey, I can’t help it if he can’t take it.”
“Enough already,” Johnny said, attempting to break off their nonsense talk. “Let’s go.”
The three guys caught up to the other two. They chatted among themselves until they reached the parking lot. Then they separated into two groups like before when they first arrived–with the exception of Qiao Qiao.
© Monday, June 2nd, 2008
Re-posted: Thursday, February 2nd, 2011