The next morning, Elle rode the subway with the pillow placed on top of the neatly folded blanket she washed yesterday. Today was a bit cooler than yesterday so she arrived at work with less perspiration in her peony pink blouse with sleeves to her elbows and denim short shorts.
“Morning,” Elle said in her natural, calm voice to the receptionist. “Is JZ here?”
“He’s on a business trip,” she kindly replied.
“Does he have his own room or office here? These are his and I want to return them.”
Uncertain of which room he was in, the receptionist decided, “Why don’t you hand them to me and I’ll take it to his office. He was clear that he wanted you to work all day.”
“Ok,” Elle said, and handed them to the receptionist.
Elle walked the few steps to the common area and saw her whiteboards leaning against the couch she slept on. She sat on that couch and continued in the Chinese dictionary. She was almost half-way done.
“Oh good, she’s here!” CeeCee said to herself excitedly. She approached Elle from the maze and enthusiastically said, “Morning!”
“Morning,” Elle replied in her calm voice. “Why are you so happy?”
“What a weird question. I’m always happy to see you,” she said, hoping to cover the awkwardness in her voice.
“Oh,” Elle said, a little surprised, “that’s nice to know,” she said with a smile.
“How are you?” CeeCee asked concerned.
“I’m alright. How are you?”
“Then why did you sound worried?”
“I was worried about you. What did he do that made you so upset?”
“I prefer not talk about it,” she said and looked away, hoping CeeCee would take the hint and not ask about it anymore.
“If you want to talk about it, you can talk to me.”
“By the way, do you think you’ll need me today?”
“How about New Guy?”
“Great. We’ll check in at lunch time.”
CeeCee happily went to One Word’s workroom to find JZ there. “Hey JZ! Hey One Word! Sorry to interrupt, but do you think you’ll need me today, JZ?”
“Great. Elle and Buzzy doesn’t need either of us today, so we’re going out. We’ll check back in at lunch time.”
“Who is ‘us’?” JZ asked.
“New Guy and I.”
“Why are you guys going out?”
“Because New Guy needs a break from Buzzy and I can help him make that break useful.”
“I’ll go and help them fix whatever conflict they may have.”
“NO!” CeeCee said loudly. “Sorry,” in a nervous voice, “you should let them resolve their own conflicts. That way, their relationship can grow stronger,” she smiled.
“Great!” CeeCee went into Buzzy’s room and said, “Let’s go!” to New Guy. Sensing that Buzzy was looking at her thinking why she needed New Guy again, she said, “Hey Buzzy!”
“Hey,” he responded in his normal even voice. “Why are you taking him?”
“Do you need him?”
“Then don’t worry about it. He’ll be back in time to bring your lunch.”
CeeCee and New Guy were in the hallway when CeeCee said in a loud whisper, “Hurry up. They’ve been open for 10 minutes already.”
CeeCee decided to go to stores in another part of the city, hoping one of those stores would sell what she was looking for. CeeCee went through two stores in two hours and still could not find it, while New Guy held her purse and watched her throw about a hundred dresses in two hours. Undeterred from this setback, she told New Guy, “Let’s go back and eat lunch.” They went to Li and Tea House and brought lunch back for Buzzy and Elle. After taking Buzzy’s lunch to him, CeeCee and New Guy decided to have lunch with Elle. She was hard at work writing the lines to her song, but when she was drawn to the smell of Chinese food in the bag CeeCee was holding, she looked up at the two of them smiling down at her, sitting on the floor.
“Hello,” Elle said.
“Hey,” CeeCee said. “Can we sit here?”
“Yeah, of course,” Elle replied and moved her whiteboards. When they sat, Elle asked, “What’s up?”
“We bought you lunch,” CeeCee said smiling and handing her a fragrant Styrofoam box from the bag.
“Wow! Thank you! But I’m not hungry,” she politely replied.
“It’s 12:30. How are you not hungry?”
“Knowledge is my food.”
CeeCee laughed and translated it to New Guy, who also laughed.
“Come on,” CeeCee said. “You don’t have to be so polite. We’re friends,” she assured with a smile. “Take it,” she said, handing the box to Elle.
“Thank you,” Elle said and graciously accepted. She opened the box and it was an extremely scrumptious-looking beef braised in soy sauce. She was practically drooling, but said, “Sorry, I can’t accept this because I’m a vegetarian.”
“Are you serious?” CeeCee was laughing, thinking that Elle was being polite again.
“I’m very grateful that you are so considerate, you both are so considerate, to buy me lunch.” She switched to Mandarin, “Lots of thanks but I’m a vegetarian, I don’t eat meat.”
“Really?” New Guy asked surprised.
“Yes. Do you remember the morning I went to dinner with JZ about two weeks ago in the red dress?” She reenacted the attack of camera flashes. “That’s what I will look like the day after I eat meat.”
“Really?” both New Guy and CeeCee asked.
“Yes. If you don’t believe me, ask JZ when he comes back from his business trip,” Elle said in English.
“Wait. JZ is not a business trip,” CeeCee said.
“No. Who would give you that information?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Elle said, trying to keep her face normal but felt a great distrust. “As long as he doesn’t bother me, right?” she said with a smile.
“At least take the boba tea,” CeeCee politely pushed.
“Thank you,” Elle said, graciously accepting their kindness.
“Don’t mind me, you guys go ahead and eat. Let me show you what I have so far.” Elle took two small whiteboards with her lines written in Chinese characters. One had, “Don’t fly don’t sing / Don’t dance don’t drink,” and the other had, “Bring it to the vet / She said it’s not sick.”
Both of them laughed. New Guy let CeeCee talk for him. “We like you. We think you’re good. These lines rhyme, but they don’t make sense.”
“They will when I have the song completed.”
“What is this song about?”
“It’s a secret. But it will be very clear once JZ reads it. Well…I hope it’s clear to him.”
“What about these characters?” CeeCee asked pointing to the larger whiteboard.
“I haven’t decided which one to use in my song yet.”
“Sorry to leave so abruptly but we have somewhere to go,” CeeCee said to Elle. Mumbling under her breath to New Guy, “Hurry up and eat. We can drink on our way there.”
In the security room with Big and Bigger, JZ closely watched Elle in the common room politely denying the lunch CeeCee and New Guy brought. He asked Big and Bigger, “How am I supposed to be in the same room as her without acting like a guy?”
The Guys laughed. “Don’t look at her,” said Big.
“But I can smell her.”
“That’s your problem,” said Bigger. “You need to stop noticing every little thing she does and has. If you take out her details, she becomes plain, and you don’t like plain girls.”
“That sounds promising but I don’t know if I can make her plain. She’s so wonderful…with the exception of those two whiteboards there,” JZ pointed at the ones Elle was showing CeeCee and New Guy. He sighed. “I don’t know why she doesn’t want to be with me. Why she doesn’t accept all that I want to give her?”
“That’s something you should ask her when you can control yourself,” said Big.
“What if you ask her?”
“But it was your great idea. Don’t you want to see its fruition?”
“You can’t trick me,” said Big, sounding confident.
“How about you pretend that you’re mad at her,” suggested Bigger.
JZ thought about it. “I’ll have to try it since it’s the easiest thing I can do so far.”
“Good luck,” The Guys said.
JZ left to get an excuse to be in the same room as Elle.
“Take the soap opera off mute,” said Bigger.
After visiting the cafeteria to get something vegetarian, JZ went to the common area in his studio where he found Elle on the floor writing, “You give your friend a gift.” “How am I supposed to pretend to be mad at her? She looks so innocent and so determined,” he thought to himself.
“Hey,” he said trying to sound casual.
“Hey,” she replied in her normal calm voice without looking at him.
“I brought you lunch. I hope you like Cold-Tossed Cucumber Salad,” he said trying to sound innocent.
“I’m not hungry,” she politely lied, still not looking at him.
“It’s almost 1 o’clock,” he said, implying that she was being ridiculous.
“I know you’re hungry so eat it.”
“I’m not hungry so don’t force me.”
He thought she misspoke so he waved his phone in front of her face and asked, “What did you say?”
“I’m not hungry so don’t force me,” she typed and raised the phone over her head.
“I’m not forcing you. I’m being considerate,” he typed and waved the phone in front of her face.
She considered what he typed and typed back, “I agree you are being considerate. Now be considerate to someone else. By the way, did you get the blanket and pillow I returned?”
“No, are they in my office? I’ve been away from my office.”
“I don’t know where they are. I handed them to the receptionist to return to you.”
“I’ll check my office later.”
“Ok,” she said. He was still standing in front of her. “Do you have something else to say?” she asked, still not looking at him.
“How is your song going?”
She lifted her hand above her head, signaling him to hand her his phone. “It’s progressing.”
“When will you be done?”
“Some time tomorrow,” she typed.
“Good,” he said. He was still standing there, wanting so badly to push her silky brown hair away from her soft white face. And when she looked into his eyes with her big, soft, brown, fragile eyes, his heart melted.
“Is there anything else?” she asked, bringing him back to the present.
“What you currently have does not make sense,” he typed.
“It will when it’s completed,” she typed back.
“Will I like your song?” he asked.
“No.” She continued typing, “That’s also not the question I would ask” but she decided to delete everything and told him “No, you will not like my song.”
Very concerned about what the content of her song was, he asked, “Will my fans like it?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“I expect your song tomorrow, then.” He was still standing there, imagining that he would go down to her, caress her arm, slide it up to her shoulder, then to the back of her head, look at her soft, pink, young lips, and kiss her.
“Is there anything else?” she asked.
“No,” he replied and left.
JZ felt defeated that Elle did not want to eat, because he did not get to eat with her. He returned to the security room where The Guys turned around in their seats to face JZ. “I don’t know what else to do.” He sighed. “I hope you like Cold-Tossed Cucumber Salad. I’m not hungry anymore,” he said as he handed it to Big.
“What if you talked to her but you don’t have to see her,” suggested Big. “That way, you can still find out more about her while not acting like a guy. And! And, you can remain professional with her.”
“Mmm, I like that idea. Tell me more,” said JZ.
“What is more to tell?” he rhetorically asked JZ. “Get her a cell phone and text her. She’s going to be so happy she’s going to hug you and kiss you. Ha-ha-ha, those Americans and their overt displays of affection,” Big said with a laugh.
“I would like those things from her,” JZ agreed.
“What if JZ texts her characters she doesn’t know?” asked Bigger.
“She has a Chinese-to-English dictionary with her,” Big defended.
“It could take forever to find the characters she’s looking for. Do you know how many characters there are in the Chinese language? What if JZ texts her something…let’s say…intimate…and she asks CeeCee or Hero to translate it for her?”
“He can send pictures,” Big defended. “Well boss, you got the good and bad sides. What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to get her a cell phone,” JZ said feeling hopeful. “Let me get one last look at her before I go.”
All three of them turned to the monitor filming the common area. “Aww, she’s sleeping.”
“That’s the fourth time she did that today. Cheers!” The Guys said to each other and took a sip from their beers.
“Four? Really?” asked JZ a bit surprised.
“Yeah. She’s probably tired from commuting,” said Big. “If you look at it this way, when we were in grade school, we’d be napping right around this time, too.”
“Let me know if I should be worried, ok?” said JZ.
“Ok,” they answered.