Chapter 2 – The Trade Off Between Love & Work

I was working on my latest article when I heard Annie’s voice across the room calling me. I looked up to see her smiling at me. I waited for her to continue. She approached my desk, saying, “Angela, Chief Editor wants to see you.”
“Coming,” I said.
I gathered all my papers together and placed it inside my drawer before getting up to follow Annie. She led me down the hallway and turned right at the end of the hall. We walked to the end of that hallway before she pushed the door to an office on the right open and gestured for me to come in. I hesitated a bit before stepping in. She closed the door behind me, leaving me to face with Editor Wang. He gave me a friendly smile before signaling for me to sit down at a chair in front of his desk. I gave the room a quick scan as I made my way to the chair, sitting down slowly.
Editor Wang gave me a glance over before speaking up.
“Angela, right?” He asked.
I nodded.
“Your articles have been very impressive,” He said, smiling.  “The readers really like them. I’m going to give you your own column starting with the next issue. Are you up to it?”
I felt like celebrating inside already. What more could I ask for? I’ve been there for a month and my career was picking up already. I gave him an appreciative smile and answered, “Thank you so much, sir. You’ve no idea how much I appreciate this opportunity. I’ll try even harder in the future.”
Editor Wang gave me a proud smile and reached into his top desk drawer to pull out a package. He handed it to me to which I took it with both hands. Then he said, “These are fan mails. You can take a look and see what the readers suggest and come up with some ideas for your column. After you gather some ideas of what to do, you can come to discuss with me. We will come up with the overall theme for the debut of your column. Sounds good?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, feeling both excited and overwhelmed at the same time.
“All right. You can go back to work now.”
“Yes, sir.”
I stood up from the chair and marched out of there with the utmost confidence a person could ever feel. Annie had probably gone back to work already, so I didn’t see her when I made my way back to the front office. I made it back to my desk to see Laura and Kristy chatting away about something – probably the latest gossip. I pulled out the pile of papers from earlier and worked on it again. Although I was told I was going to get my own column soon and have nothing to worry about, but I still wanted to finish this week’s issue with all my efforts. I can read the fan mails at home later.
I worked silently and diligently all afternoon, trying to get the article done and in before taking a break. When it was finally 5 P.M., I packed up all the things I needed and left the office. I have a date with Ting Wei today. I didn’t want to be late, especially when it would be an advantage for her and a great opportunity to strike.
I hauled a Taxi to the Express Café. Luckily, there was no traffic although it was at this busy hour. I walked into the café to see Ting Wei talking to the waitress. Did he just get here? Strange. I advanced forward and sat down as the waitress left.
“You look cheerful,” He said. “How was your day?”
He smiled.
“What?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Nothing. It’s good to know that you’re happy.”
“Why do you sound so distance today?”
He shook his head again.
“Tell me,” I insisted.
I panicked. Must my personal life take a nosedive when my career just lifted up a bit? What was going on here? I was about to share the biggest news with him and he was sitting there with a long face.
“Jing Jing just told me something very disturbing,” He said, looking down at the table surface. “Maybe…we should…”
I was not hearing this. I was not hearing this. This wasn’t true. Did she tell him? Did she strike when I wasn’t around? Did she?
“Ting Wei,” I said softly. “Look at me.”
He couldn’t bring his head up at all. He was still staring at the coffee table like it was the most interesting object he had ever seen in the last 25 years of his life.
“Ting Wei,” I repeated, reaching across the table and taking his hand into mine.
He finally looked up at me. What was that expression? Shame? Guilt?
“What happened?” I asked in a calm voice.
He took in a deep breath before sighing out heavily. I restrained myself from yelling out those frustrating words. I gave his hand a squeeze for support. He finally looked at me straight in the eye.
“Shao Han,” He began. “Maybe we should reconsider our relationship.”
“What are you talking about?” I wrinkled my face.
“Jing Jing just told me how you tried to pull us all apart with your tactics throughout the years. I know you probably didn’t mean any harm, but I want you to know that we are all friends. No matter what, we can’t let our friendship end just like that. Even if you and I are going to get married one day, I want Jing Jing to still be in our life. Do you get it?”
“What?!” I exclaimed. I had yanked my hand out of his grasp. What in the world was he talking about here?
Somehow, I realized that everyone in the café had turned to look at us. I didn’t care. I needed to know. I turned back to him.
“She said that to you? When?” I stared him down with one of my famous sharp looks.
“She didn’t mean to blurt it out, but she just said it accidentally today when I was at her apartment.”
“You were at her apartment?”
“We’re friends after all. Can’t I go to her apartment?”
Why did he want to make me look like the bad guy?
“What I mean is how could you believe her right away? She could have made the stuffs up, you know. Or she was just kidding.”
“Shao Han, calm down.”
How could I calm down? He was listening to her nonsense words and not believing me. How can I remain calm? But then I knew that I would look very guilty if I kept this up, so I took in a deep breath before beginning again.
“How could you be so sure?” I said calmly. “I mean what proofs does she have?”
He didn’t say anything. Instead, he reached into his backpack and pulled out some papers. He laid it in front of me before facing me again.
“What is this?” I asked, puzzled.
“Read it,” He said, gesturing toward the papers.
I took the papers from the table and started to scan through it. My eyes stopped after just scanning through one line of the topmost paper. What was this? Why did the hand-writing look so familiar? Was it Jing Jing’s? Then I realized it. It was a trap. A trap created by a mastermind who had gone psycho.
“What is this?” I asked, looking at Ting Wei finally. “Take this back to Jing Jing and tell her to stop playing useless games.”
“Shao Han,” He said, not taking the papers from me. “It’s okay to admit it. I won’t get mad at you. After all, we’ve been dating all these years and…”
“We’ve been dating all these years and you don’t believe me?”
I suddenly felt disgusted of his cowardly behavior. Was he afraid of Jing Jing or of me? Why wasn’t he able to say everything out? And why didn’t he believe me? We’ve been through so much in the past. He should see through that this was just another senseless trap set out to pull us apart.
“If you want to say something, then say it,” I said. “Otherwise, I’m going home.”
I got up from my seat as soon as I finished those last words. He stood up also, stepping forward to stop me.
“Shao Han, you should calm down and tell me everything. I promise I won’t get mad at you. We can’t run away from this forever.”
I stared at him straight in the eyes. “If you want me to explain, then why don’t you believe me? I have nothing to do with this nonsense. If someone has proof, why didn’t they come forward before? Why wait until now?”
I pushed his hands away and walked out of the café without another word.
“Shao Han!”
I didn’t care how long he called or followed me. I walked straight to the entrance, fuming all over. He couldn’t be so naïve after all these years, could he? After all these times.
For the next two days, I didn’t acknowledge anyone’s existence, except my boss and co-workers. I spent all my time poring over fan mails and researching on possible topics of interest for my column. My effort finally paid off when the boss approved of my idea during our next meeting. I walked out of Editor Wang’s office, feeling happy and proud of myself.
When I was putting away things at my desk, Laura walked by and told me someone was there to see me. I looked up at her, saying, “I don’t want to see him.”
“It’s not a him,” Laura said in a teasing tone.
“Oh? Who is it then?” I stopped packing.
“It’s a girl,” She replied. “She said she wants to have a talk with you.”
“Tell her I’m not here,” I said, thinking it was Jing Jing.
I went back to packing my things again.
“You seriously don’t want to see me?” A girl’s voice flowed across the room.
I looked up to see my long time friend from college, Helen. She looked the same as always, wearing out of style clothes and a cheerful smile on her face.
“Hellen!” I ran across the room and hugged her.
The other co-workers were looking at us, but I didn’t care. For the past days, I finally saw someone that I could trust and pour my problems out on. We pulled apart and looked at each other once more, exchanging a smile.
“You haven’t changed at all,” Helen commented, observing me with her bright eyes.
“Same with you,” I said. “How have you been?”
“Good…like always,” She said. “How about you?”
“Uh…” I hesitated. “Let’s get out of here first.”
Even if I wanted to break down and tell her all my problems and have her sympathize with me, this wasn’t exactly a good place to do it.
“Good idea,” Helen said. “I’m hungry. Let’s go get something to eat.”
I walked back to my desk to pack the rest of the contents before leaving with Helen.
About half an hour later, we settled at a restaurant on the edge of town. It was my favorite restaurant since it looked out into the sea area, giving a very relaxing feeling. We chose a table nearest to the sea so we could take in the view.
“So…can you fill me in on the latest happenings of your life now?” Helen asked after the waitress left our table.
I looked out into the water ahead, not knowing where to begin. No matter how closed I became with Helen those last two years in college, I didn’t want to pour out my heart to her. At least, not those problems. It just felt so strange. I finally sighed out and looked back at Helen.
“Just the usual, work and all,” I said. “I finally got my own column.”
“Oh? That’s nice.”
She made it sound like I just gave her a pet plant and it was the least to her preference, so she was just being polite and subtle with the compliment. I couldn’t blame her though since I made it out to sound like it was the least to my interest too. She came all this way out of town to see me. I know I shouldn’t be so ungrateful even if I had problems of my own. It was not her fault at all. She was far from the cause of my problems. I managed a smile and turned to her again.
“Hey, Helen,” I said, my tone less passive.
“What?” She asked.
“Want to go shopping later? Like old times?” I grinned.
I could hear the excitement in her voice, knowing I hit the spot.
After we finished eating, I took her to the nearest mall and we spent the rest of the afternoon there. We talked and laughed like old times, browsing through endless shops inside the mall. We only stopped once in awhile to look at one item or another, but we had fun catching up on old times and reminiscing. When we finally left the mall, I found out that she was staying at a relative’s house. I then remembered she has a cousin here. We promised to meet up again tomorrow so I could show her around the neighborhood. We separated after that.
I walked home, feeling much better than before. Having been alone these past two days, I couldn’t help but feel like I could only have one or the other – personal life or career. But I was glad that Helen had appeared. She had helped me realize that I could do a lot more than just sit around and sulk about my personal life. I can choose to be happy if I want to. I didn’t want to restrict myself to a corner.
As I walked into the house, my mom greeted me with a smile.
“Shao Han, we have good news,” She said excitedly.
“Ma, what is it?” I asked, curious.
“Your father just got a promotion,” She replied.
“That’s great,” I said, smiling.
“But…” Her smile faded.
“But what?” I asked, alarmed.
“We have to relocate.”
I froze in place. What?! When I want to ask her again, her eyes lit up. She looked at me straight in the eyes like before. I waited for her to continue.
“I’m so foolish. You’re all grown up now. You don’t have to go with us if you don’t want to. Our relatives are still here. We’ll ask them to look out for you from time to time, okay? You’ll be all right, won’t you?”
“Uh…that’s  great,” I said. “I just got a promotion also. Well, sort of. So I don’t really want to move yet.”
“Really?” She smiled widely. “That’s great. This calls for a double celebration.”
“Ma, it’s nothing really.”
“Shao Han, it’s great news. We should celebrate. Don’t worry. I’ll take care of the details.”
I knew I couldn’t stop her so I let her carry on anyway.
“We can’t do it this weekend, how about next weekend?” She turned to me again.
“That’s fine, Ma,” I said.
“All right. Then it’s set. We should buy…” She started to mumble out some possible ideas. Then she realized something so she turned to me again. “I’m so careless. Have you eaten yet? I’m going to reheat the food for you.”
“Ma,” I stopped her. “I already ate with a friend. You know, Helen. She just came into town to visit since she has a relative here.”
“Helen?” She looked puzzled.
“My friend from college. She was my roommate.”
“Oh. Maybe we should invite her over for dinner sometimes. How about tomorrow? How long is she going to be here?”
“I don’t know. But let me ask her.”
“All right then. Oh, you look tired. You should go rest since you have work tomorrow.”
“I’m all right. I’m going to my room to work on my next article. You should go rest early, Ma.”
“All right. Don’t stay up too late.”
I nodded and walked to my room.
I tossed my bag on the floor as soon as I entered my room. I looked around, overwhelmed by the mess that had accumulated these past two days. I would probably clean it up that weekend.
I ended up taking a shower before settling into my desk again, trying to put together some ideas for the article. As I began to brainstorm my ideas, I realized it was not easy as I thought.
“Why did I promise to hand it in tomorrow?” I whined out loud.
It was my habit when I was stressed.
“Calm down,” I told myself. “Zhang Shao Han, you can do it. Breathe.”
I placed my pen and paper aside and pulled out the fan mails from my top desk drawer again. Which topic should I cover first? Why did it all look so important? I pushed the mails aside also. I got up from my chair and began to stretch, trying to wake myself up again.
As I sat back down in my chair, I felt a rumbling sound. What was that? Another earthquake? I tried to get up and go outside to check. Were my parents still awake? Did they know? Just as I was about to open the door, I felt some whooshing sounds and then a twirling dark wind covering my vision line. What in the world was going on here? A tornado? Impossible! How come there were no yelling or other noises outside? As I was pondering and struggling to escape from the dark wind, I felt it getting stronger and stronger. I tried to steady myself but couldn’t any longer. My attempts to yell out at the last minute had been lost. I couldn’t utter even a word even if I wanted to. The wind was so strong and the swooshing sounds were getting louder and louder. Suddenly, I felt like I was being swept away by it and into the ceiling and into an unknown blanket of blackness.
© Sunday, July 13, 2008
Posted: Saturday, March 13th, 2010