(Modern, Mystery, PG)
“Why do I have to do this?”
“Because,” I said, straightening my tie. “The Company President asked me to bring you. And, it’s good relations.” I glanced at the elevator panel- we were almost to the top floor. “Besides, you look great.”
Lin-Xi didn’t return my smile, keeping her dour expression. “The food better be good.”
I imagined it would be. A-O Soft wasn’t just celebrating their year-end party, the maker of the mega-selling Linna and Bess mobile phone game APP was going public in a few weeks. The founder, and many of the others at this party, were on the verge of becoming very rich people, and I didn’t expect any expense would be spared for tonight’s festivities. They’d rented out the whole rooftop restaurant at one of Taipei’s top hotels for their party, after all.
I was going mostly as a courtesy, since I’d been teaching English classes to a group of their employees for the past few months. I’d have liked to think it was because they treated me like an honorary employee and enjoyed having me around, but my more cynical side commented that it also looked pretty good to have a foreigner at the party. Whichever it was, an opportunity for a free meal at one of the best hotels in town was not something to be wasted.
The elevator dinged and the door slid open to reveal a hallway and a decorated table staffed by a man in a suit and a woman in a soft green evening gown. The man, one of my students at the company who used the English name Harold Wu, grinned and called us over. Harold was a balding software engineer in his mid-thirties, and a gregarious man with a loud laugh and an infectious smile.
“Teacher Mark!” He said, pronouncing my name “Mah-kuh” as most Taiwanese did, “Welcome to the party. It is good to see you.”
“You too, Harold.” I shook his hand, and then introduced Lin-Xi. “This is my friend, Ms. Kang.” Of course, that Lin-Xi was my girlfriend was obvious, but she hated the term “girlfriend” in English, as she thought it made her sound like she was a child, so I used “friend” as a neutral substitute.
Her sour expression gone, Lin-Xi was suddenly bubbly and friendly, and she and Harold exchanged greetings in Mandarin. While they did, I said hello to the receptionist who was manning the table with Harold; she likely didn’t speak much English, so she just smiled back. Then I looked for our names among the buttons that were laid out carefully in rows of two on the table before us, but when I did I came up short.
“Harold,” I interrupted. “I think the printing company cheated you. These name tags are all blank.”
At first Harold looked confused, and then when I pointed down he suddenly laughed. “Oh! Ah, no. No. It’s okay, these are supposed to be like this.” He picked up a pair and offered them to myself and Lin-Xi. “Please, put these on. These are the for game later.”
“A game?” While Lin-Xi pinned hers to the front of her light green blouse, I examined mine. It looked like the buttons we’d wear as kids that said things like “Hang in there!” or “Glee club rocks!”, but was completely blank. Having a thought, I started to hold it up to the light, but Harold stopped me.
“Hey, no cheating.” He smiled, “It’s the President’s surprise.”
Resolving to check it later, I smiled sheepishly and put it on, then Harold gave us our table assignment and, with promises to talk later, we continued on down the hallway to the restaurant’s main doors. The company logo was displayed large across the glass doors in blue and green, surrounded by Chinese characters I couldn’t read. I guessed it was the company name and a greeting and didn’t bother to get Lin-Xi to translate it for me. Not that it mattered, because the moment we approached they automatically opened to admit us.
Inside the party was in full swing, and well over a hundred finely dressed people were mixing and mingling around the room while servers moved among them pouring drinks. The very large room was laid out into three sections: a small open area, which was right ahead of us; a collection of large, round tables to our right; and an elevated stage to our left. Blue, green and white paper streamers had been hung from the ceiling, and the whole place had a festive feel to it, like the New Years party it was.
Lin-Xi and I first went down to find our table, but it was empty so we just claimed our seats with our coats and then turned to head for the snack table. It was already seven-thirty and I hadn’t eaten since lunch. Lin-Xi didn’t bother with lunch most days, so I didn’t have to ask how she felt. We were making our way through the crowd and almost there when we ran into Melody Xie, the company’s VP of software development.
I had ten students at A-O Soft: two receptionists, three software engineers, two marketing planners, one accountant, and Melody. Of the group, which I taught Tuesday and Thursday evenings from six-thirty to nine, Melody was by far the one who needed it least. A confident, capable, and charming woman in her early thirties, she’d done her graduate work in the United States and Singapore before returning to Taiwan to join A-O Soft. As a result, her English was almost perfect, and I think she really just took my class to keep an eye on the rest of them.
This woman in a sunset colored dress greeted me warmly, and after I’d introduced her to Lin-Xi she leaned in and said, “Now I know why you don’t answer my texts, you bad boy.”
Caught off guard, I glanced at Lin-Xi nervously and tried to come up with a reply. Melody was the mischievous and flirty type, and she said things like this all the time, I normally didn’t mind, but that wasn’t in front of my very jealous Lin-Xi.
“Well, ahh…” I stammered. “It’s…”
For her part, Lin-Xi merely raised an eyebrow and said in a flat tone. “He’s welcome to text anyone he wants. I don’t care.”
The scene could have turned very ugly, but Melody was very much a master of social kung-fu, and knew how to keep things under control. “Don’t worry,” she told Lin-Xi with a mock sigh. “I just keep asking him about our homework, but he refuses to let business and personal life mix. Good for you, bad for me.”
And on that note, I suddenly found my voice. “Melody, is the President here? I really should thank him for inviting us.”
She nodded. “At the head table, over near the stage.”
“Thanks, can we talk later?”
“Call me anytime.” She winked, and we parted ways.
As Lin-Xi and I made our way to the head table, I glanced at her- she was quiet and serious again. “She was just joking,” I said. “She’s like that.”
“You seem to know her well.”
I winced, there was going to be a lot of repair work to do later. “She’s just a student.”
“And you’re her lucky teacher. It must be nice.”
I was starting to think maybe bringing Lin-Xi to this party wasn’t such a great idea after all when the head table came into view. President Lin was standing on the other side of it talking with two other Taiwanese men I didn’t know. He was a large, broad-shouldered man with a shaved head, stylish wire-framed glasses, and wore a very expensive tuxedo.
As we approached, he caught sight of us out of the corner of his eye and said goodbye to the men, turning to greet us. “Mark,” he said in heavily accented English. “Thank you for coming. Is this your girlfriend?”
Before I could reply, Lin-Xi introduced herself and they shook hands.
“Thank you for inviting me,” she told him. “It’s a beautiful party.”
He smiled broadly. “Mark is like one of my worker, and he is very strong at teaching. I wanted to see the woman he caught.” Then he winked at me.
“She is very pretty. You are lucky man.”
Normally, I would have made a joke at this point, but given the current temperature of Lin-Xi’s blood, I decided that the best course was just to smile politely and say, “Yes. Yes, I am.”
Lin-Xi thanked him as well, and then the president turned and called to his wife, who was sitting near him at the table. A thin, slightly frail looking woman, she was in a light purple shoulder-less evening gown and had her hair finely done up in a styled form above her head. Around her bare shoulders was a baby-blue shawl, and she wore a pair of dark blue-tinted sunglasses.
She turned to look at us slowly, and gave a thin smile. “Hello,” she said without getting up, then she also added “Ni hao,” to Lin-Xi. “Thank you for coming.”
We both greeted her back, and then she turned away from us.
“I’m sorry,” President Lin frowned and tapped his temple. “She has bad headache.”
I assured him it was okay and that I understood. Then I tapped the badge on my shirt and asked, “Are we playing a game?”
This brought the smile back to President Lin’s face. “Of course! Wait and see. There is big surprise coming, and you can win prizes.” He gestured over to the nearby stage, where at the back a pile of prizes for the evening’s games waited. Most were wrapped up like Christmas presents in boxes, but a few larger items like a bicycle, a large stuffed bear like you’d see at a carnival, and a large flat-screen TV merely had red bows attached.
I gave an appreciative nod. “Looks nice. What kind of game is it, sir?”
But he wasn’t telling, and after some of the other guests joined us, I let my hunger get to me and we wandered off to find some food.
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