What are you willing to bet?
As they were walking toward the cafeteria, JZ said with a slight curve on the corner of his mouth, “Do you think she would be better as a pet or a robot?”
“Haha, what do you really want to know?” said One Word returning the fun.
“I think she would be better as a pet. Pets are warm. What animal do you think she would be if she was my pet?” he asked with a crescent.
“Haha, what do you really want to know?” said One Word returning the fun.
“Do you think she’s poison?” JZ asked seriously.
They kept walking until they sat at a table. JZ stared at One Word awaiting an honest answer.
“I think she’s poison. You can’t argue with all the signs. Even one of the interns noticed all the trouble her presence causes.”
Jing promptly brought a pot of tea over and returned to the kitchen.
Knowing One Word for years, he followed up with, “Do you really think she’s a keeper?”
“You are so difficult at times because of your immaturity. Just because she can take you on, she’s a keeper.”
Jing returned with some steaming dishes that were pre-ordered by JZ.
“What? Really? I’m immature?” he asked like One Word accused him of a heinous crime wrapped in a joke. He paused for shock for a moment, then flipped two tea cups over and poured the tea.
“Is there anything else you want to know?”
“Hey look! There’s JZ and One Word!” said Xiong excitedly as they entered the cafeteria. “Let’s go sit with them!”
“They look busy. Let’s not bother them,” suggested Elle, and chose the furthest table from them.
“This is the coolest restaurant I’ve ever been to. Look! There are lights on the floor! And JZ’s music is softly playing in the background sets the right mood,” Xiong said as he bobbed his head to the music.
“Hello Miss Elle,” replied Jing and handed her a menu.
“We’re the same age. Call me Elle,” she said, remembering his young face.
“I must maintain professionalism at work, Miss Elle.”
“What did he say?” she asked CeeCee.
“Oh, ok. I wouldn’t want to get you into trouble. Did he,” she tilted her head in JZ’s direction, “tell you that I now eat for free?”
“Do you know if my guests also eat for free?”
“I do not.”
“Can you wait a moment while CeeCee asks him?”
“Of course, Miss Elle.”
“CeeCee can you text him for me?”
“Sure,” and began typing on her phone.
“How’s your grandma?” Elle asked Jing.
“She’s still a strong woman, Miss Elle. Thank you for asking.”
“That’s good,” she said, smiling sincerely.
“He said that he has set a cap on how much you can spend each time you eat here, so I guess we can eat as long as we stay under the limit.”
“What is the cap?”
Elle opened the menu and scanned. Then closed it and looked up at CeeCee. “Ask him if he wants me to starve. If I was eating by myself, I would spend about 75 Yuan. Since I’m eating with two others, I want the limit at 200 Yuan.”
“It’s alright. I can pay for myself,” said CeeCee.
“Ask him first.”
Elle showed Xiong the menu and asked, “See anything you like?” with a smile.
“He said the limit is 120 Yuan.”
“That’s fine. Thank him for me.”
“I would like three glasses of coke, one dish of vegetarian wontons, don’t use eggs and don’t put MSG, one plate of ginger beef, and one bowl of ice cream. Can you take the 30 Yuan as tip?”
“You don’t tip in China, Miss Elle. I also don’t know the answer to your question.”
“Wait another moment, Jing. CeeCee, ask him if I could use the remainder to tip the waiter.”
They waited. “Nope,” said CeeCee.
“Then I want three bowls of ice cream. Thanks,” Elle said to Jing and returned the menu.
“I didn’t mean to overhear his father’s tone,” CeeCee began, “but what do you think will happen to him and his internship?”
“Gotta go back to the boss and be more specific about when he can work. I think it’s best if he talks to his parents and see what they say before telling the boss,” answered Elle. She sighed. “I was short-sighted. I was selfish. I shouldn’t have done this. I hope it’s the stress that’s causing my inability to think as I normally do.”
Jing brought the coke. “Thanks,” they quietly said.
“The best I can do now,” she said to CeeCee, “is to try and get him to make an impact on the boss and then see what happens with his father. Hey Xiong,” Elle said quietly trying to sound cheerful, “can you do this song for CeeCee to listen?”
Xiong listened and he nodded his head. He stepped behind his chair and pushed it in. Elle took it back out and put it aside. “They must see you work,” Elle quietly said, tilting her head to JZ and One Word. Xiong listened to where he would begin in the middle of the song that was playing in the background, then he began. Elle began dancing in her seat to the melody and JZ took notice. He tried to appear like he was not watching his angel but he peeked too many times that it became obvious.
“This one too, Xiong. I’ll sing,” Elle said quickly and quietly.
Back at One Word’s and JZ’s table, “Good choice for giving her the illusion of a choice,” quietly said One Word, “Now two of them are standing. Looks like a certain someone wants to get your attention.”
Elle began singing and JZ was mesmerized by her exotic sound and moves. She gave JZ the attention he wanted by strategically making eye-contact periodically while seductively singing and dancing as that song required.
CeeCee, One Word, and JZ clapped when the song was over. “Sit,” Elle kindly ordered Xiong. “Jing is waiting for us,” she said then sipped some of her coke.
“That was amazing, Elle! That song was in Taiwanese. Do you speak Taiwanese?” asked CeeCee.
“No, I don’t. I really like that song. It makes me very happy to hear it because I think it’s perfect. His music video was pretty good too.”
Jing brought the food.
“Thanks,” Elle said to him with a smile, and sipped again.
“That song was meant for you. You danced and sung like that is the only song you want to hear forever. It really should’ve been you in that music video. You would’ve been famous instantly.”
“I wasn’t that good, was I?”
“Xiong, wasn’t Miss Elle’s performance excellent?”
“There was no one in comparison! I had to force myself to only listen to the track. If I had paid any attention to Miss Elle, I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate.”
“Don’t make me blush. My intention was to get their attention on Xiong,” said Elle, trying to hide the fun she had.
At One Word’s and JZ’s table, One Word joked, “How does a teenager like him get two girls to give him all that attention when you’re here with me?”
“I don’t know. All I know is that she wants me. She was singing and dancing for me.”
“How do you know that?”
“She was looking at me.”
“She was also looking at the waiter, the curtains, and the chandelier.”
“She looked at me differently than when she looked at those things. Maybe I should increase her food budget again and see what else she gives me.”
Back at Elle’s table, Elle was disciplining Xiong. “If you want to eat ice cream, you’re going to have to eat some of this first,” said Elle.
“But I ate earlier, and I’m not that hungry.”
“The subway ride is three hours long. You’re going to get hungry on the subway and think back, ‘I should’ve eaten when I was at the restaurant with Miss Elle.’”
“No I won’t. I want to eat ice cream.”
“What if you get a stomach ache? How can I return you to your dad with a stomach ache?”
Xiong was quiet.
Elle said in English to CeeCee, “I hope he’s not picking up this behavior because of you-know-who.”
“Tell him that I’ll bet him 10 Yuan that I can eat half of his rice and my own, and still have room for ice cream. If I win, he has to eat the other half. If I lose, he doesn’t have to eat the other half, gets dessert and 10 Yuan.”
“Do you even have 10 Yuan?” he asked Elle.
Back at One Word’s and JZ’s table, One Word asked, “Are they gambling over there?”
“It’s only 10 Yuan. I think you can look past it. Want to go over there and check it out?”
“Wouldn’t it be really awkward?”
“Aren’t you a bit curious of what’s at stake?”
“Let’s go,” said One Word and drank the last of his tea and they went over.
“Hey, can we join you guys?” JZ asked CeeCee and Elle.
“Of course,” Xiong happily replied.
JZ quickly glared at him and took a chair from another table, while One Word took the empty seat.
“We were curious of what was going on over here,” said One Word.
“Miss Elle said that she could finish her rice and half of my rice and dessert. If she won, this 10 Yuan is hers and I have to eat this much rice before I get dessert. If she lost, I would get dessert without having to eat this and 10 Yuan in credit,” Xiong said eagerly.
“If she won, I would tip the waiter, and if she won, she would tip him,” said CeeCee.
“But we don’t tip waiters in China,” said One Word.
“That’s what I told her but she said to leave a note. She also said that his grandma was really nice to her so she wanted me to give a nice tip. Do you guys want to bet her anything?”
“I don’t gamble,” said One Word, “and I’m not going to start.”
“Ask her what she wants,” said JZ.
Elle put her bowl and chopsticks down and chewed and chewed. After she swallowed, she took a deep breath and exhaled. “I want to know what he wants if I lose,” answered Elle.
He thought about it. “I want her to sing another song of her choice.”
“I’ll agree to that if he allows me to use the remainder of my food budget to tip the waiter from now on. Tell him the waiter’s grandma was really nice to me.”
JZ considered it. “Ok,” he said with a smile.
Elle resumed eating.
“JZ,” said Elle, “can you tell Xiong where I’ll be living tomorrow?”
“She will be living in the silver building,” he said and pointed in the building’s direction, “right next to this one.”
“It’s very nice of you to give her an upgrade.”
He was baffled and tried to hide it. “Why do you think we gave her an upgrade?”
“She said that if she lost the bet, I would have to wait until she got paid. That means she doesn’t have any money except to ride the subway. She walks to everywhere else she has to get to. I also know that she wouldn’t accept anything from anybody unless she felt she had to. At first, I thought she was being extra polite but after a while, there was something in her tone and the way her face looks when she talks to you that made it clear that she wouldn’t take anything from anybody. You had to make it impossible for her not to live there. That’s just the way she operates.”
“Wow, look at you all smart and mature all of a sudden,” said CeeCee.
Xiong shyly looked away.
With Xiong’s observation, JZ realized that he had experienced the same thing, also: the first time he took Elle out on a date. “I’m glad she recommended such an observant kid,” said JZ. “You know she almost lost her job because of you.”
“Really?” Xiong said with his head down. “I feel so bad to have given her such a hard time earlier.”
“Done,” said Elle, putting her chopsticks on the bowl. “You better start eating. We have to leave right after we’re done,” she told Xiong.
“It’s only 2:30. The workday isn’t over yet,” said JZ.
“Tell him I have to take a three-hour subway ride home, shower because I haven’t bathed in two days, and then pack my belongings for the early trip tomorrow. I’ll also have to take down the remaining cameras and listening devices in my apartment.”
“I think the guys I hired to take them down threw them all away,” he said nonchalantly.
Jing came and began cleaning up. “Wait, don’t take these yet. He still has to eat this, but bring the ice cream anyway,” said Elle.
Jing nodded his head and did what he was told.
“Tell him I had plans for those cameras and listening devices. Tell him I’m furious at him, and I will remain mad at him until all the cameras and listening devices are returned to me,” Elle told CeeCee trying to control her angry tone.
Jing brought the ice cream.
JZ had a very confused face. “Why is she mad at me about that? This was supposed to be a surprise. A good thing. A nice thing. I’m calling her bluff, what’s she going to do if she’s mad at me?”
“Don’t do this, JZ,” One Word advised under his breath. “Those cameras and listening devices aren’t worth anything to you but they’re worth something to her. I understand you had good intentions to relieve that place of all those things but she had plans for them. This is a battle I advise you to concede.”
“Ask her CeeCee,” said JZ with frustration, “Ask her what she’s going to do if I don’t return those cameras and listening devices.”
“After I finish this ice cream, I won’t eat and drink water until I die,” Elle said and angrily ate the ice cream spoonful by spoonful as she stared JZ down. JZ was staring back like he did not believe that she would starve herself.
“Why don’t I call my dad and see where those things are?” interrupted Xiong, and he stepped outside.
“This was hours ago. I don’t know if they can be saved,” JZ said angrily.
When he returned a minute later, the tension only increased. He said something but Elle was not paying attention Xiong, then, poked her arm and she flinched, and turned her angry face to him. “Good news,” he repeated with less enthusiasm. “My dad took them to our place.”
Elle’s face and voice softened. “All of them?”
Xiong nodded his head.
“Good,” she said with a sigh of relief. “Eat,” she firmly ordered and he began eating. She ate a few more spoonfuls and pushed the bowl forward. “CeeCee, make sure you write a note with the tip so Jing doesn’t get offended. Tell JZ to tell Jing the change that’s going to happen,” Elle said in English. Then Elle said in Mandarin, “One Word, can you take me to my purse? It’s in a room with only a big piano. Xiong, I’ll return in a bit.”