Fifteen minutes later, the guys–Chen Yi, Jacky, and Wallace–were standing in the break room to chat among themselves. Cyndi was inside the office with Orchids to help Tony. Qiao Qiao and Simon were eating lunch at their desks.
“Do you think he’s here to…” Jacky asked casually, waving his sunglasses.
“No way,” Wallace said. “He must have known Vincent and is just visiting Orchids?”
“Why isn’t it possible that he’s here to have us set him up with someone?” Chen Yi asked, interrupting the mysterious atmosphere the other two were trying to create.
Jacky and Wallace turned to look at Chen Yi like he was from another planet.
“What?” Chen Yi asked.
“We just told you who he is,” Jacky said.
“So? Can’t a successful tycoon be desperate?”
“Yes, but not him.”
Qiao Qiao walked into the room at that time. “Why are you guys crowding the coffee machine? Move over already.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jacky said.
Jacky and Chen Yi stepped aside, obeying Qiao Qiao’s order.
“Why aren’t you guys outside eating?” Qiao Qiao asked, looking from one guy to the other. “Too busy gossiping?”
“We’re trying to figure something out,” Wallace said.
Wallace eyed the coffee cup in her hand. “Is that for Sun Xie Zhi?”
“Listen in on their conversation. We want to know why he’s here.”
Qiao Qiao looked at each one of the guys in turn–five seconds each. “Why would you guys want me to do that?”
“Nothing, we’re just curious.”
“You guys seriously have too much time on your hands.”
“Hey, I didn’t want to come here,” Jacky pointed out. “You invited me.”
“I’ll deal with you later,” Qiao Qiao said before turning to Chen Yi. “And stop laughing, it’s not funny.” She finally diverted her attention to Wallace at last, not giving him a break either since he started the whole thing. “Shame on you. You should be making an example for me, not encouraging me to go eavesdrop on people.”
With that, she walked off, leaving the guys to ponder among themselves. The guys finally peeled their visions from the empty space that she occupied earlier to look at each other, wondering what got into her.
“What do we do now?” Wallace asked the other two.
“You’re asking me?” Jacky asked back. “Do you want me to go and sneak around in there?”
“You’re known to be the spy in the group. Go ahead.”
“Like I can do it now. If you want me to do it, tell me beforehand. I can’t bug the room now. It’s useless. They’re almost done.”
“That’s not acceptable. What kind of spy are you?”
“I didn’t say I was a good one. You guys gave me the name, remember? And why are you picking on me? Want me to pick on you? How’s it going with you and Angela? Planning to get back together anytime soon?”
“Angela as in Xiao Yu’s sister, right?” Chen Yi jumped in.
Jacky nodded. “Yeah.”
“You knew them and we didn’t know each other until now?”
“As I said, I’m not around much after a few times of hanging out together. Besides, back then we weren’t that close anyway. I only hang out with Ehlo and Johnny for the most part. Wallace hangs around with us sometimes. And not to mention I completely disappeared from the group after I moved out.”
“What happened then?”
Jacky sighed out.
“Jacky’s aunt got married to Jo’s uncle,” Wallace answered in Jacky’s place. “They moved into the Chu resident. Jacky moved out.”
“Let me get this straight,” Chen Yi drawled out in disbelief. “Jo’s uncle married Jacky’s aunt.”
“What does that have to do with Jo’s family? I mean with her and her parents. It’s a bit odd already that he should be moving in with her and not the other way around but he brought along his siblings’ family too?”
“I’ve been wondering the same thing right from the start,” Jacky recounted. “But every time I brought it up, everyone was so eager to shut me up that I just gave up.”
“How big is your house anyway?” Chen Yi asked, looking at Jacky. “How can so many people live in there?” Then he eyed Wallace suspiciously. “Don’t tell me you’re living at the Chu resident too.”
“No,” Wallace said quickly–a little too quickly. “Uncle Ben moved out with Aunt June. They like living a simple life. And I live alone.”
“His uncle or your uncle?”
“My uncle and his aunt,” Jacky replied.
“Uncle Ben is the oldest, then Dad, then Aunt Rose.”
“Are you asking us because you want to know or because you want to file it away for Qiao?”
“I can’t be curious?”
“Be curious then.” He turned to Wallace after that. “Hey, want to move in with us? We still have an empty room across the hall from Johnny.”
“Reason?” Wallace asked, giving Jacky a suspicious look.
“Next time we shoot some hoops, we won’t be missing one person if Johnny decides to join in.”
“That’s your reason? You want me to move way across town just for basketball?”
“You hang around with us sometimes too. Might as well move in.”
“Did you say basketball?” Chen Yi asked, finally showing some interest.
“Want to join us then?” Jacky asked, turning to him.
“For the game–yeah. Moving in with you guys–no.”
“I figured that much.”
Qiao Qiao came back at that time.
“Hey Qiao!” Chen Yi called out. “Guess what?” He stopped to point at Jacky before continuing. “He knows Angela.”
“What’s so surprising about it?” Qiao Qiao asked back.
“It makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean he and Wallace are cousins. Wallace used to date Angela so of course he knows Angela.”
“I told you she’s a smart girl,” Jacky said.
Wallace smiled. “So…did you spy on them for us?”
Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face at him.
“I guess that means no,” Jacky translated.
“Why aren’t you guys out there eating?”
“We’re doing a guy talk.”
Chen Yi turned to Jacky at that time. “You know what? You should come here more often.”
“Why? So I can argue with you?”
“No. I just came up with an idea.”
Jacky, Qiao Qiao, and Wallace looked at him.
“Jo will never guess that you’re here,” Chen Yi continued.
“She came here last time, didn’t she?” Jacky reminded him.
“She’s not convinced that you and Qiao are a couple so she’ll never guess you’re here.”
“By the way, does she know where you live?” Wallace asked.
“Of course,” Jacky said. “But she doesn’t dare to come…at least not for the time being.”
Jacky put on a strange smile.
“What?” Qiao Qiao urged.
“She once walked in on Ehlo while he was showering and thought it was me. And then Ehlo scared her off by saying how they should get married since he just got taken advantage of.”
Chen Yi and Wallace ended up laughing as Qiao Qiao was listening to the rest of the story.
“Then why are you still concerned that she chases after you?” Qiao Qiao asked. “Get Ehlo on her case.”
“She thinks as long as she’s not around that place, he will forget it,” Jacky replied.
“How come he never mentioned it? And he seems to be scared of her too.”
“You were around the last two times.”
“He wants to make a good impression.”
Chen Yi cleared his throat.
Jacky knew that he shouldn’t aggravate Chen Yi, so he changed the subject. He diverted his glance at his watch again. “Oh…look at the time. I think I’m going to go since Mr. Sun doesn’t seem to be done yet.”
“You know him?” Qiao Qiao asked.
“Who doesn’t?!” Jacky and Wallace exclaimed at the same time.
“What’s with you two and harmonizing?”
“I don’t know,” Jacky said.
“He’s the young tycoon who was successful at the age of 23,” Chen Yi said, repeating Jacky’s words when he and Wallace were telling Chen Yi earlier.
“Really?!” Qiao Qiao asked, sounding half surprised and half doubtful.
“Interested?” Jacky teased.
“Whatever! I’m going to go back out and eat the last of the foods so you guys won’t have any left.”
“I’ll treat you guys to real food later.”
Qiao Qiao stuck her tongue out at him and left the room again.
“You seriously know how to aggravate her,” Chen Yi commented.
“It doesn’t matter,” Jacky said. “She treats me like an annoying, ‘know-it-all’ older brother.”
“You actually enjoy that?”
“I always wanted a younger sister. Might as well.” He turned to face Chen Yi again. “That reminds me of something.”
“Stop comparing her to Yan Yan. It gets on her nerves.”
“If you want to get her attention, try something else–like getting her a bouquet of flowers. It works better than comparing her to her best friend. And let her sit in front when you guys hang out, not Yan Yan.”
“She told you?”
“She mentioned them.”
“She mentioned the thing with you comparing her to Yan Yan to me too,” Wallace chimed in.
“She told everyone but me?” Chen Yi asked in disbelief.
“No, I’m sure not every one of us knows or we would have told you already. ‘Cause I was asking her whether you two are dating so she told me you prefer Yan Yan over her.”
They heard a door being opened at that time.
“Let’s go see the rest of the show,” Jacky urged, seeing an opportunity.
Jacky left the room first. Chen Yi and Wallace followed him. They walked out in time to see Cyndi walking Tony to the door. Orchids looked at all three guys.
“What’s with you three hiding in the break room?” Orchids asked.
“They were gossiping about him,” Qiao Qiao said before any of the guys had the chance to defend themselves as she was walking over to them.
“We were curious,” Chen Yi said.
“We were merely having a little discussion,” Jacky added, turning his full attention to Orchids. “By the way, what was he here for?”
Orchids smiled. “It’s confidential.”
Jacky smiled back. “I will never get over this.” He put on his sunglasses and began to leave also.
“Hey!” Qiao Qiao called out. “I’m not done with you yet.”
Jacky turned around and took his sunglasses off again. “You had about an hour and you didn’t bother to say anything. Why are you detaining me now?”
She walked over to him with an annoyed expression. “Hey! That’s rude.”
“That’s life,” Jacky said, turning to leave again.
This time, Qiao Qiao didn’t stop him, but she looked mad.
“Don’t worry,” Chen Yi reassured her. “He’ll come back after work.”
“How do you know?” Qiao Qiao asked, not peeling her eyes away from Jacky’s disappearing back.
“We need to regroup again after he’s done spying on Sun Xie Zhi,” Wallace elaborated.
“He’s seriously going to spy on Tony?”
Just as Jacky was opening the door to exit, his cell phone rang. Everyone in the room turned to him. He released the door and answered his phone.
“Hello?” Jacky said out of habit.
Everyone–excluding Orchids and Simon–walked toward the door and stood in a line in front of Jacky, listening in. Jacky gave them an amused look.
“Could you calm down?” Jacky said, his face tensing up a bit. “Your words are all jumbled. I can’t decipher the codes.”
“Who is it?” Qiao Qiao mouthed the words to him.
“You’re serious?” Jacky continued into the phone. “Okay. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be there in a bit.” He snapped his phone shut and opened the door again.
Qiao Qiao stepped forward. “Who was it? What happened?”
“It’s Sonia,” Jacky said without turning back to look at any of them. “Her car just got stolen. I’m picking her up now.”
“Whoa!” Everyone present gasped at the same time.
“Can’t talk now. I’ll tell you guys later this afternoon.”
The door slammed shut behind him and they watched him cross the street to his car.
“Guys!” Orchids called out from across the room.
Everyone knew it without saying. They returned to their desks, ready for work. Yet they seemed to be counting the time by the minute for the rest of the day, even Simon. Every time Qiao Qiao looked up at the clock, she caught someone doing the same thing. When closing time rolled around, Qiao Qiao jumped up first. She walked to the door to see if Jacky was back yet.
“I see someone’s in a hurry,” Chen Yi teased, his voice leaning toward the joking side more than the mocking side like many times before.
Qiao Qiao turned around to face Chen Yi. “Like you weren’t looking at the clock the last six times around.”
“Unbelievable,” Wallace remarked. “But why are we waiting for the time to pass?”
“We’re human,” Chen Yi rattled out. “We’re nosy by nature.”
“Nosy sounds a bit unappealing,” Cyndi said. “How about ‘curious’?”
Since they’d been working and officially introduced as co-workers last week, Simon hadn’t said much–aside from what was required for work. Now, he spoke up.
“Is this the typical routine here?” Simon pondered, looking from one person to the next.
“No,” Wallace replied. “Before those two came…” He stopped to gesture toward Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao. “We were very happy with our jobs. Now, we just adopt the anxiousness from them.”
“Why does everyone around here speak in codes?”
“It’s how we are because we want to stay mysterious. Qiao’s the most straight-forward one among us though. So if you need an honest opinion or the full version to any story, just ask her.”
Simon seemed to give up on them. He went back to put files into his briefcase and get ready to leave.
“Just in time,” Wallace said, checking his watch and turning to them. “Anyone want to join Angela and me later?”
“What are you doing?” Qiao Qiao asked.
“Going to Uncle Ben’s noodle stall again. Where else?”
“Who’s Uncle Ben? “
“Uncle Ben as in…?” Chen Yi jumped in, urging Wallace to clarify.
“Uncle Ben as in Jacky’s uncle,” Wallace confirmed Chen Yi’s suspicion.
“He owns a noodle stall?”
“Like I said, Uncle Ben and Aunt June like a simple life.”
“Everyone in this town seems to have some kind of secret.”
Wallace smiled. “Welcome to our town.”
Orchids came out from her office at that time. She smiled as she saw everyone was packing up. “Is it that terrible to work here?”
“We got the virus from your lovable cousin,” Wallace said, smiling. “That’s why we’re so eager to take leave now.”
“Oh? Then would any one of you be interested in taking on Tony Sun’s case?” Orchids said.
“He’s really in for…”
“Why does it surprise you guys so much?” Qiao Qiao asked. “Aren’t most of the cases kind of unbelievable in some way? That’s why we’re helping them in the first place?”
“We’re not talking about some middle-aged rich dude who is too busy making money to find himself a girlfriend. We’re talking about Sun Xie Zhi.”
Qiao Qiao was still giving him the strange look.
“So…” Orchids prompted, waving the folder in her hand.
Everyone in the room looked at each other.
“Going once… going twice…going…”
“I’ll take it!” Wallace, Cyndi, and Simon exclaimed at the same time.
Wallace and Cyndi turned to look at Simon.
“Like you said, it’s Sun Xie Zhi, right?” Simon said with a nervous smile.
“Now you’re talking. I’ll withdraw then,” Wallace said.
“Withdrawing for real or trying to be nice to the new guy?”
“On a second thought, it’s not a good idea for me to do it. I might be tempted to stalk him or Jacky might get curious enough to take a look at the file.”
Simon turned to Cyndi.
“Same reason, but Wallace might be tempted to look at it,” Cyndi said.
“Hey, am I that nosy?” Wallace asked, sounding almost offended.
“Speak for yourself.” With that, she finished up with packing her handbag and was ready to leave.
“I guess it’s yours then,” Orchids concluded, turning to Simon with a smile. She handed Simon the folder and went back to her office.
“Orchids, I’m not going home with you today,” Qiao Qiao informed her cousin. “I’m going to join Wallace and Angela.”
Orchids turned around. “Uncle Ben’s noodle stall?”
Qiao Qiao nodded.
“That’s fine. Have fun.”
After Orchids closed her office door, Wallace spoke up again.
“Is this turning into some kids’ party?” Wallace asked, feeling a bit amused.
Qiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “What? We’re not good enough for you?”
“No. I wouldn’t dare.”
“Is Uncle Ben’s noodles that good?” Chen Yi asked.
“You have to try it to know because I don’t want to brag any further. We were there last week. That was when we bumped into the whole group.”
“Angela and I. Group as in Jacky, Sonia, Bianca, and the other guys.”
“Is it another group gathering then?”
“It could if you want it to be,” Wallace said before turning to Qiao Qiao. “Qiao, call Yan Yan and Xiao Yu to join us.”
“You’re turning this into a kids’ party yourself,” Cyndi remarked.
“Are you coming or not?”
“You guys usually make plans out of nowhere like this?” Chen Yi pondered.
“No,” Wallace said. “Just feeling like inviting you guys since the more the merrier, right?”
“And bringing in business for Uncle Ben, right?” Cyndi teased.
Wallace turned to Simon. “Want to come?”
“Uh…actually, I…” Simon stuttered.
“It’s all right if we’re too strange for you.”
“I didn’t mean that. I have plans earlier with my girlfriend.”
“All right then. Have fun.”
“Thanks. Then I’m out of here, okay?”
“Bye!” Everyone exclaimed out at the same time.
After Simon left, Wallace turned back to the others.
“So, let’s go then,” He commanded.
“Tell me the direction,” Chen Yi said.
“Let’s get out of here first,” Wallace insisted.
When they were outside, Chen Yi turned back and looked toward Orchids’ office.
“Do you think Orchids wants to join us?” Chen Yi asked.
“Are you kidding me?” Wallace asked back. “The Magician’s son wouldn’t want to be seen around there. He’ll get mobbed by the fans.”
Chen Yi wrinkled his eyebrows. “The Magician’s son?”
“You know our boss has a life outside of work, right?”
“I know. I just didn’t know she has a boyfriend.”
“All right, let’s go,” Cyndi prompted. “Are we going to stand around here all night?”
“All right,” Wallace said, turning to Chen Yi. “I’ll tell you the direction on the phone since I have to go pick Angela up.”
Chen Yi nodded. “Okay.”
Wallace got into his car, which was parked right in front of the agency. The others had to walk a little further down to find their cars. Qiao Qiao followed Chen Yi. As they were walking, Chen Yi spotted Jacky’s car driving up to them.
“Whoa!” Chen Yi exclaimed in disbelief. “I didn’t know he’s so popular with the female population. No wonder he doesn’t want to be seen here.”
Qiao Qiao could see Sonia waving to her from the passenger seat. But who was the girl with long hair in the back? As she was pondering, Jacky’s car came closer and parked into an empty spot in front of them. Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao stopped walking as Jacky rolled down the window on Sonia’s side.
“Where are you all going?” Jacky asked, leaning over to Sonia’s side.
“Wallace invited us to Uncle Ben’s noodle stall,” Chen Yi replied.
“He’s helping the business?”
Chen Yi shrugged his shoulders.
“You know the direction there?”
“Wallace’s going to call in a bit. He needs to go pick up Angela.”
“They’re getting back together for real?” Jacky asked, surprised. “I was just kidding earlier.”
“How should I know?” Chen Yi said passively.
Jacky looked at Sonia.
“What?” Sonia asked, giving him looks.
“You should know since you three are best friends.”
“I don’t think they’re getting back together. Not that I know of.”
Jacky turned back to Chen Yi. “I’ll give you the direction. In fact, how about following my car?”
“All right then.”
Just as Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao were turning to continue to Chen Yi’s car, Jacky called Chen Yi back.
“What?” Chen Yi asked, almost irritated that Jacky should be so forgetful as not to say everything at one go.
“Remember what I told you. Front seat.”
Jacky finally rolled the window up and prepared to pull out as Chen Yi and Qiao Qiao walked away from his car.
“What ‘front seat’?” Qiao Qiao asked, turning to Chen Yi. “What are two talking about?”
“It’s between us guys,” Chen Yi answered with a secretive smile.
“What’s that supposed to mean? This is just way over the top. Last week, you looked like you were sworn enemies with him and this week you’re acting like lost brothers.”
“Never mind that. Let’s go.”
Chen Yi increased his pace a bit, trying to ignore the subject.
When Chen Yi pulled out and followed Jacky’s car, he realized Qiao Qiao was in deep thoughts from her sudden change of expression. Qiao Qiao was still pondering about the girl in the backseat that Jacky failed to introduce.
Chen Yi waved his hand in front of Qiao Qiao. “What’s wrong?”
“She looks familiar but I don’t remember who she is,” Qiao Qiao said, her tone a bit quieter than her usual behavior.
“The girl in the backseat.”
“I wasn’t paying attention. Maybe someone we should know but don’t see around as much?”
“Don’t worry. If you don’t remember, I’ll ask them later for you.”
Qiao Qiao turned to Chen Yi. “Or are you just nosy?”
“Hey, I’m helping you here.”
“I’m not saying you are. I’m just pondering.”
“Whatever. Oh yeah, call Yan Yan already.”
With the mention of Yan Yan, Qiao Qiao’s smile faded. She recovered by reaching down to retrieve her cell phone from her handbag that was set on the floor two minutes ago. Chen Yi bit down on his teeth. He should have said ‘Yan Yan and Xiao Yu’, not just ‘Yan Yan’. Too late.
“Knock it off already,” Wallace warned. “If you want another person, just get Chen Yi.”
“Are you kidding me?” Jacky asked. “What if he’s good? We would definitely lose the last round.”
“Are you saying I suck at throwing hoops?”
“Uh…let’s just say you didn’t really make it the last few times we played.”
“You just dug your own grave,” Johnny pointed out.
Everyone turned to look at Jacky to see how he maneuvered himself out of the obstacle he just created.
“Give up already while you’re ahead,” Bianca said.
They were all at Uncle Ben’s noodle stall at that time. Since their group got quite “big”, they pulled three small tables together to make a long table. Jacky still hadn’t given up on recruiting a new player for Sunday’s game between the guys. Somehow along the way, Jacky called his roommates plus the neighbors to join them for a gathering. Everyone was having their little side talks around the table, but the main topic was about the guys’ upcoming basketball match.
Ming Dao turned to Chen Yi at that time. “So, you play basketball too? How about joining us this Sunday? We’ll beat them.”
“Hey!” Jacky shouted upon hearing Ming Dao’s words. “That’s low. Trying to recruit people for your side already.”
“You guys already got three. We need an extra person.”
“How about if I just sit out?” Johnny asked both parties, attempting to reduce heat from the little debate.
“No!” Jacky and Ming Dao yelled out at the same time.
“Guys,” Qiao Qiao said. “Always so competitive.”
Jacky turned around to her. “So are girls.”
Yan Yan tugged on Qiao Qiao’s arm to stop her from continuing. Frustrated, she turned to Yan Yan.
“What?” She asked, annoyed.
“We’re eating now,” Yan Yan reminded her. “Let’s not argue.”
“Come on, Qiao,” Chen Yi urged. “Let them talk it out themselves.”
Qiao Qiao went back to eating as Jacky and the guys continued with their “debate.” At about the same time, Chen Yi caught Sam smiling at Qiao Qiao.
Wallace turned to Jacky. “It doesn’t matter how you argue with him…” He stopped to gesture toward Ming Dao. “…you can’t have both Chen Yi and Johnny on the same team.”
“Why not?” Jacky asked.
“To maintain the balance. You haven’t seen how Chen Yi played. I’ve seen both him and Johnny at it already.”
“Okay. How about we get all the guys together on Sunday morning to see how they play before picking teams?”
“Hey!” Bianca jumped in, sounding somewhat offended. “How about girls?”
Jacky looked across the table toward her. “If you want to join, I wouldn’t dare to stop you. But here’s the thing, do I still have to pick you up or you get your car back from the garage already?”
“I should have my car back by then.”
“If she can come, can I?” Qiao Qiao asked.
Jacky looked toward her. “Good idea. I’ll definitely pick Qiao if Chen Yi’s on the opposing team.”
Ming Dao turned to Jacky. “How come?”
Jacky smiled. “It’s a sure win thing.”
Ming Dao still didn’t get it, but as soon as he turned left to scoop some pepper into his noodle bowl, he could see it. Chen Yi was putting some food into Qiao Qiao’s bowl, convincing her to try the dish he ordered.
Ming Dao turned back to Jacky. “Okay. You can have Chen Yi. I’ll take Qiao.”
“Hey!” Qiao Qiao objected upon hearing her name. “What do you mean you’ll take me? How rude!”
“I think he meant you’re on his team,” Achel said, trying to avoid another conflict from starting.
“That’s still rude.”
Jacky turned back to Ming Dao. “I told you she’s straight-forward.”
“So I see,” Ming Dao admitted.
Uncle Ben walked to them at that time.
“Boss, can I have another bowl?” Ming Dao asked.
The others turned to look at him. He just ordered a big bowl when they first came.
Ming Dao stared back at them, unmoved. “What? I’m hungry.”
“Coming right up,” Uncle Ben said, responding to Ming Dao’s request.
Ming Dao smiled. “Thanks!”
“Uncle, I’ll have another too,” Jacky said quickly before Uncle Ben walked away.
“What is this?” Bianca asked, eyeing both guys with a smile. “Some kind of showdown?”
“Don’t worry,” Johnny reassured her. “They’re just a bit childish.”
Jacky and Ming Dao turned to look at Johnny.
“Stop changing the subject, guys,” Wallace said. “Are we going to meet this Sunday or not?”
“Definitely,” Jacky said. “Their place of course.”
“Count me in then,” Chen Yi jumped in.
“Whoever wants to try out can come,” Jacky announced.
“Can we come and watch?” Cyndi asked.
“No cheerleaders allowed. Sorry.”
Sonia hit him on the shoulder–a routine they were pretty used to by now.
“I swear, she doesn’t feel good if she doesn’t hit me like at least twice a day.”
“Are you planning to file for spousal abuse then?” Ming Dao asked.
Sonia gave him a look.
“We’re still betting on Qiao, right?” Jacky asked, reminding him of the conversation they had.
“What?!” Qiao Qiao exclaimed, outraged.
A scene–not very predictable although they knew Qiao Qiao–played out at that time. Qiao Qiao dropped her chopsticks and jumped up from her seat. She walked to where Jacky was sitting between Sonia and Wallace and pulled on his right ear. “You dared to use me for some bet? Huh? Say it!”
“Owww…I didn’t mean it,” Jacky pleaded. “I… guys.”
“Don’t look at me,” Wallace said, not caring to come to Jacky’s rescue although he was close enough to prevent it. “I told you not to mess with Qiao.”
Chen Yi managed to get up from his seat and tried to undo Qiao Qiao’s fingers to free Jacky’s ear. He managed to direct her back to her seat also, calming her down at the same time.
Jacky rubbed his ear, trying to bring back some feeling into it again. “Whoa! She’s very strong all right.”
“Why were you guys betting on Qiao in the first place?” Wallace asked.
“It’s a long story.”
“We’ve been sitting here talking nonsense for the last half an hour anyway.”
“Why are you guys betting on Qiao?” Angela asked, repeating Wallace’s question. “Who came up with the bright idea?”
Although Angela was asking, but she eyed Jacky cautiously, knowing he had a hand in this somehow.
“Hey, don’t look at me,” Jacky said. “I was just kidding. Since Qiao seems very popular so I said whoever loses has to give up on Qiao.”
“Like Ehlo and Sam said the other day, you can’t put her up for a bet,” Ming Dao said. “That’s just…”
“Suicidal?” Wallace finished.
“More than that. It’s just…”
“…wrong,” Sam finished.
Jacky turned toward Qiao Qiao to see Chen Yi eyeing Ming Dao and Sam suspiciously. He smiled, knowing there was going to be an unforgettable show coming up this Sunday. “All right. That means we have a deal, right?”
“We invited you guys here to catch up on old times and here you guys are…talking about sports again,” Angela whined.
Jacky turned to her. “Problem?”
“Yes. Stop stealing all the spotlights from other people.”
“You can’t blame him,” Sam said. “He loves to hear his own voice.”
“Ooohhh…” The others–excluding Jacky, Sonia, and Angela–harmonized, looking from one to the other.
They waited for Jacky to react. But the person who broke the silence around the table was Uncle Ben coming back with Jacky and Ming Dao’s latest orders.
“Thanks, Uncle,” Jacky said lightly.
“You seriously are too much,” Angela said, sounding almost disappointed that nothing happened.
Jacky turned to her. “What?”
“Someone just insulted you and you’re just sitting there eating?”
Jacky smiled. “Why not? It’s good food.”
Angela shook her head, turning back to her conversation with Wallace.
“What about you two? Getting back together anytime soon?”
“You want us to?”
“Sure, why not?”
“You seriously should join us,” Wallace teased, attempting to divert the subject elsewhere. “You can take Chen Yi or Qiao Qiao’s place when they find another job.”
“I thought they like working there.”
“We had to bribe Chen Yi.”
“If you’re not going to eat that, don’t dispose it,” Ming Dao spoke up upon seeing Jacky picking on the item in his bowl. “Let me have it.”
Before Ming Dao could finish, Jacky already put the piece into Sonia’s bowl.
“Too late,” Jacky said apologetically.
Seeing Ming Dao wearing the disappointed look on his face, Bianca gave him her piece.
Bianca smiled. “There you go.”
Ming Dao, surprised, turned to her.
Jacky waved his chopsticks at Ming Dao and Bianca. “You two hooked up?”
Ming Dao pointed his chopsticks back at Jacky. “I could say the same for you.”
“Come on now. Whatever she doesn’t want to eat, she tosses it my way too. It’s only fair that I return the favor.”
“If you can tell me everyone’s eating habit around here, then I believe you.”
“What are we betting on?”
“I’ll let you pick first on Sunday.”
“Okay. Deal.” He cleared his throat for dramatic effects before beginning his description task. “I’ll start with you. You love pepper, but don’t like soy sauce on anything – including tofu. Bianca doesn’t like onion. Johnny doesn’t eat seafood. Ehlo doesn’t eat beef. Angela doesn’t like greasy stuffs. Wallace likes to mix additional ingredients into his soup. Miss Sui doesn’t like a lot of meat in anything she eats. Chen Yi likes to pick on his food, not sure why. Qiao doesn’t eat mushroom. Yan Yan will eat anything, but squids. Cyndi doesn’t like liver and she has this weird habit of eating dessert or sweets before the main meal. Xiao Yu loves fried fish the most. Sam…will eat just as anything, but not pepper.”
While he was saying all these, he received several stares.
Ming Dao looked around the table. “Is he right?”
Everyone nodded at the same time.
He turned back to Jacky. “How do you know?”
“Two of them live with me. And half of the population either I know from the past or have known for about a week now.”
“I’m actually impressed,” Sam admitted, sounding impressed instead of the usual mockery tone.
“And you thought he only likes to hear the sound of his own voice, huh?” Angela asked back, surprised at her own self for defending Jacky.
Sam looked somewhat uncomfortable.
“I’m kidding. But honestly, he’s not that bad like you think. He might look like he doesn’t care about anyone but himself, but he’s more considerate and observant than you think.”
Jacky turned to Angela. “Why are you defending me? It’s not like you.”
“Just because we never got along in the past doesn’t mean things can’t change.”
“Let me guess,” Ming Dao spoke up again, pointing his chopsticks in Jacky’s face. “You were the reason they broke up so now you’re trying to patch things up for them.”
“So you’re a psychic now?” Jacky asked, slightly irritated.
“So I’m right?”
“Far from right. And I’m not going to tell you. It’s their business.”
Wallace glanced at his watch real quick. “What are we going to do later?”
“We should go do something to work all this food off,” Achel suggested.
“Let’s go swimming!” Qiao Qiao exclaimed.
Achel smiled. “You read my mind!”
“Talking about that, how about a pool party this weekend?” Bianca asked. “Sunday’s out, but there’s Saturday.”
“Can’t,” Jacky said.
“It’s Chen Yi’s gradation party. Let the other kids go to his house for a little celebration. Don’t steal the spotlight from him.”
“How do you know?”
“Qiao told me.”
Chen Yi turned to Qiao Qiao, surprised. She smiled at him.
Jacky got up. “I’m done.”
“So?” Ming Dao said.
“I’m helping Uncle clean up. You guys can go ahead.”
Qiao Qiao jumped up from her seat at that time. “I want to go too.”
Chen Yi looked defeated, feeling like the smile she just gave him was just a pigment of his imagination.
“All right,” Jacky said. “Let’s go. I need Chen Yi, Ehlo, and Johnny too.”
The others got up and followed him. They went back and forth, carrying the dishes and bowls toward the back of the stall.
“Wow,” Ming Dao said. “He’s very strange all right.”
“I thought you guys are neighbors,” Angela said. “You should know his habits by now.”
Ming Dao shook his head. “I’ll never get used to him. He’s always so weird. One minute, he’s acting like some arrogant rich dude. Then the next minute, he’s a know-it-all. And now, he’s acting considerate and helpful?”
Angela smiled. “He lives in a complicated family.”
“No,” Wallace disagreed. “He likes to be mysterious. No one can guess who he really is.” Wallace could see Sonia’s disappointed expression. “Well, except Miss Sui, who is very clear on who he really he is.”
“What?” Sonia asked innocently. “Don’t bring me into this.”
“We know each other for a while now. Stop pretending.”
“I’m not pretending anything.”
“See? But seriously, either quit your job or tell him to.”
“What are you implying?” Bianca asked, confused.
“Company policy, employees can’t date.”
Wallace nodded. “Exactly. They’re both very popular right now. But if they change station, they’ll end up being rivals for real so if they want to get together… one has to sacrifice his or her career.”
“Tell him to quit then. Since you want to recruit him for your agency.”
“Are you kidding me? He’s at his high right now. And then again, he loves his job regardless of how popular he is right now.”
“Guys, always so selfish.”
“Hey!” Ming Dao jumped in. “You’re outnumbered. It’s better not to talk about us guys here.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to talk about him right now either,” Angela agreed.
“You’re siding with them too?” Bianca asked, surprised and feeling somewhat betrayed.
“No. You ride with them, remember?”
Ming Dao smiled. “Told you.”
“If you’re at odds, I’ll take you home then,” Wallace offered. “Since you’re best friends with Angela after all.”
“Really?” Bianca asked.
“That’s great,” Bianca said with a smile full of gratitude before turning to Sonia. “Want to come with us?”
“I…uh…” Sonia stuttered.
“They can’t even date,” Wallace pointed out. “Why are you robbing them the chance of seeing each other every moment of the day?”
“Talking about that, if I didn’t know better, I would think that he hired someone to steal your car,” Angela said.
Sonia turned to Angela. “What?!”
“He likes you. So he’s coming up with an excuse to be by your side all the time.”
“Would he go to that extreme?” Bianca asked doubtfully. “Come on. This is not some soap operas.”
“You’re suddenly siding with him now?”
“No. It’s just unbelievable.”
Ming Dao looked at Angela. “But you may be right. After all, he’s rich and crazy.”
“You still believe that Ehlo’s in a gang?” Sam asked. “Jacky said Ehlo was exaggerating, remember?”
“You’re siding with him too?” Ming Dao asked, surprised of Sam’s sudden change of mind. “Come on. How should we know? It’s their words against ours.”
The others turned to see the five helping Uncle Ben. Jacky and Qiao Qiao were washing dishes and putting them back on the dish rack. Chen Yi, Ehlo, and Johnny were cleaning up the area. Looking at this scene, the others turned back to Ming Dao.
“Nah!” They all said at the same time.
“I thought you said…” Ming Dao managed, staring at Angela.
Angela smiled. “I was just kidding.”
“Oh come on. This is no fun.”
The others were finally coming back to the table again, except for Jacky. He was paying for their meal. As Jacky reached into his wallet to get out some money, something dropped out from his wallet. It created a loud “dinging” sound as it hit the ground. Everyone at the table turned around to look. Jacky bent down to pick it up after giving some money to Uncle Ben. They could see from the afternoon sunlight reflecting toward that direction that it was a key.
“It’s my car key!” Sonia exclaimed, alarmed.
“Of course it is,” Ehlo said, having heard her.
Sonia turned to Ehlo. “What?!”
“It’s the spare key that you gave to that shop owner for repair. He put it in his wallet after he gave me your keychain. He must have forgotten to give it back to you when we were at your house last Sunday.”
The others–excluding Ehlo and Johnny–turned to look at Ming Dao again. Could he have? No, right? Or…
Ehlo and Johnny could see their strange looks. They turned to look at each other. Ehlo shrugged his shoulders, indicating he was as clueless as Johnny.
© Friday, June 6th, 2008
Re-posted: February 2nd, 2011