Chapter 4 – Solstice
“A curious turn of events
That somehow made you entranced
With one glance I felt no regret
That one look made me forget
The circumstance I left
So maybe, baby, you’ll let me in
The one to show you all you need” – Malbec, Solstice
Lee Sze Kei – Ms. Doreen
Elaine Yiu Zhi Ling – Nurse Brenda
Leanne Li Yat Nam – Nurse Leanne
Suki Chui Suk Man – Nurse Suki
Vivien Yeo Sau Wai – Nurse Josie
June Chan Kei – Nurse Alice Chan
“Flowers for you, Suet Lei!” Brenda (Elaine Yiu) crowed once the delivery came through to the nurses’ station.
The nurses crowded around the expensive-looking bouquet before Suet Lei (Tavia Yeung) herself could see it, oohing and aahing.
“Wow, it’s beautiful,” Leanne (Leanne Li) said, her tone heavy with jealousy. “Who are you dating, Ah Lei?”
Suki (Suki Chui) counted the red roses enviously, wondering who could’ve bought Suet Lei such an extravagant flower arrangement. “Three dozen roses, must be some rich guy.”
“Go on,” Josie (Vivien Yeo) urged. “Read the card! We’re dying to know who it is.”
Suet Lei hesitated. “There must be some kind of mistake,” she protested. “Are you sure it’s for me?”
“Nurse Tam,” Impatient, Leanne grabbed the card off the bouquet and started reading aloud. “Thanks for that other day, I must treat you dinner to make it up to you. I hope you like the flowers.”
“Ooooh,” the bunch of nurses chorused. “How sweet!”
Suet Lei frowned. “For what other day?” she asked out loud, confused.
“Who’s it from?” Brenda asked.
Leanne’s mouth dropped as her eyes widened. “Michael Lam!”
“Michael Lam? You mean, the Michael Lam?”
“Michael, as in MC’s brother?”
“Oh my god, Ah Lei, you’re so lucky!” The nurses exclaimed one by one.
“Wait a minute, who’s Michael Lam?” Suet Lei asked, still confused.
Josie looked as though she wanted to smack some sense into her. “You don’t know who he is? MC’s brother, the one you took the blood sample from that other day?”
Suet Lei thought back, trying to recall his file. “Oh, that guy?”
Suki shook her head. “She gets such expensive flowers from one of the most eligible bachelors around here and all she can say is, ‘oh, that guy’?” she mimicked. “Honestly, are you sure you’re straight?”
Suet Lei glared at her and was about to retort before she was interrupted. “Nurses, you’re not being paid to stand around and look pretty while people die in the wards,” the chief nurse’s voice sounded.
As quickly as they flocked to the flowers, the nurses scurried away, undoubtedly itching with this new gossip to share with other people.
Suet Lei looked after them and groaned inwardly, “Great, just what I need.”
Suet Lei looked up from her files, startled. “Oh.”
Michael (Bosco Wong) stood in front of her, in a pair of jeans, and a designer jacket. “Did you get the flowers?” he smiled.
Suet Lei smiled back tightly. “The flowers, yeah. Umm, the patients would like to thank you for them.”
She laughed nervously. “Yeah. Uhh, I thought they would like some colour to brighten up their wards, so I distributed your generous bouquet amongst them. Hope you don’t mind. And you really didn’t have to. It’s my duty.”
Michael raised an eyebrow. This was interesting. She didn’t seem affected by the flowers at all. No, this was something he definitely wasn’t used to. Girls blushing, flirting, promising him good times, all after receiving flowers, now that was what he was used to. Girls not liking flowers and giving them away? He was speechless.
“…I hope you’re not mad or anything,” Suet Lei continued talking, fiddling with the front pockets on her skirt uniform. “But thank you. You didn’t have to.”
He watched her, wondering why she didn’t react the way other girls would. It was obvious he was making her nervous. “It doesn’t matter,” he smiled. “It was for you, and for you to do as you please with it.”
Suet Lei smiled, finally meeting his eyes again. “Thank you,” she repeated.
He liked her smile, and matched it with one of his which he hoped was equally as dazzling. “Can I buy you dinner tonight?”
Her eyes widened. “Umm, there’s really no need.”
“Well, since you gave my flowers away, you technically didn’t receive anything from me. Come on, it’s just dinner,” he grinned cheekily. “I promise I won’t bite.”
She laughed. “You don’t have to.”
“I’ve already booked a table at the Oriental Plaza, Nurse Tam.” Michael gave her a puppy-dog look. “Don’t turn a man down twice, will you? It kinda hurts his ego,” he teased her.
Suet Lei felt herself turn a shade of light pink. “Well, you can buy me dinner, but not at the Oriental Plaza.”
“You want to go somewhere else to eat instead?”
“Well, uhh, I’ve actually made plans for dinner tonight, but you can come along.”
He grinned again, the same charming, contagious grin. “It’s a deal.”
“You look breath-taking,” Ben (Raymond Lam) whispered in her ear as he escorted her into the grand ballroom. “I like the dress.”
Noelle (Bernice Liu) grinned back, her practiced entry walk graceful and poised. “It’s been sitting in my closet for awhile, waiting for the perfect occasion. Nothing more special than being my handsome best friend’s date,” she joked. The dress was strapless, made out of mustard yellow chiffon that hugged all the right places of her body, with a band of diamante encircling the underbust. The material loosely floated around her knees as she walked, accentuating her slender calves. The colour would’ve been harsh against any normal Asian woman, but it looked perfect on Noelle for she wore it with an assured sense of comfort.
“And I had no idea you were wearing yellow too,” Ben replied proudly, patting his lemon-coloured tie as he spoke.
Noelle stifled a giggle. “Now we look like one of those ridiculously cheesy couples, Dr. Chai.”
“I’m buying you dinner at a soup kitchen?” Michael was a good actor in front of the ladies, but he couldn’t help the incredulous tone seeping into his voice.
Suet Lei smiled sheepishly. “Sorry. I probably should have told you first, huh?”
Michael glanced around furtively. “So we eat here?”
“Umm,” she wringed her hands nervously. “I… uhh… I kinda volunteer here every Friday. And uhh, you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to. It’s fine. I understand.”
Michael swallowed hard. “Don’t worry about it,” he lied through his teeth. Remember the trust fund, Mike, he thought to himself. And at least Suet Lei was very easy on the eyes. This shouldn’t be that bad.
She glanced up at him through those big chocolate eyes of hers, and all was forgotten. “Are you sure?”
He grinned, and placed a hand on the small of her back. Perhaps a little presumptuous of him, but she didn’t move away, and so the hand stayed there. “Let’s go. I’ve never done this before, so you’ll have to show me the ropes.”
They walked in, Michael noting how easily Suet Lei went around greeting everyone, and how much the faces on the people there lit up at the sight of her. She led him towards a woman in a black sweater, jeans and an apron. “Ms. Doreen, I brought a friend today to help out. I hope you don’t mind.”
Doreen (Lee Sze Kei) smiled back. Suet Lei was one of her sweetest volunteers; the only male friend she remembered her bringing as a volunteer was Ben, but even then Suet Lei had claimed time and time again that they were like brother and sister, so she’d given up all hope of pushing the matter with the kind girl.
“Michael Lam,” Michael smiled, extending his hand.
“Nice to meet you; it’s about time Suet Lei brought her boyfriend here to meet everyone,” Doreen shook his hand, a mischievous glint in her eyes.
Suet Lei’s eyes widened in shock. “Ms. Doreen!”
Doreen laughed, and patted her hand. “Relax dear, I was just joking. Come on, let’s go, the food’s ready,” she said, leading Suet Lei towards the kitchen and throwing Michael a wink behind her back.
Michael laughed a little under his breath at her antics, and followed suit. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
He needed a breather, and this was as good as any. Not the most glamorous hide-out of course, the entrance to the ladies was just next to him, with the broom closet right behind him. Thankfully, all the women exiting the washroom strode out quickly in the other direction, not noticing him there. Usually he was effortless at these social things. He was good at his game; he was champion in the operating theatre and the class act when it came to these functions. Everyone wanted a piece of him. Tonight though, it was a little too much for the first time.
“So did you see that Noelle Man?” a loud voice came wafting out from behind the ladies room door.
MC (Moses Chan) stiffened.
Someone snorted. “Who could miss her? In her stupid yellow dress, trying so hard to stand out. Lack of attention, that’s what I call it.”
“She thinks she’s some hotshot, eh? Just because she’s been in a few trashy print ads and played some bit part characters in a few serials.” There was the sound of taps being turned on and off.
“Pfft. Did her characters even have any lines?”
They all laughed shrilly.
“And did you see who she’s with too?”
“I know, Ben Chai of all people! So eligible,” one of them sighed.
“Stupid slut. Always hanging around all these men.”
“Heh. How do you think she even got those roles in the first place?” the first woman suggested.
The other two giggled, as the noise from the hand dryer covered their gossip.
Not long after, three women exited the washroom, without a second glance to his dark corner. MC smirked to himself, noting that they were all unsurprisingly in the conforming colour of black, almost similar cocktail dresses. He shook his head. Jealous, that’s what they were.
To his surprise, the door swung open seconds later.
And he found himself almost eye to eye with a pair of big brown hurt eyes. Her name was on his tongue, but before he could say a word, she quickly turned away, a swish of yellow chiffon, a slight dejection in her stride.
“How’s my favourite patient keeping up? Playing Scrabble by herself again?”
Ka Ching (Leila Tong) smiled to herself as she saw the text message. “Scrabble alone will never be the same again after the intense competition you gave me last night, Dr. Chai. How’s the ball?” she typed back quickly, her fingers nimble with text messaging after all those months spent in bed.
Putting the phone down, she smiled to herself. Almost as quickly as she had put it down, it beeped again.
“Scrabble alone would be more fun than this ball, trust me. I should’ve brought you as my date. Mine probably abandoned me for better-looking guys.” Ka Ching felt a flush creeping over her cheeks, giggling a little at the upside down smiley he added at the end of the message.
“You look happy,” a male voice sounded.
Startled, she dropped her phone, having not heard anyone enter the room. Looking up, her eyes widened. She hadn’t seen him in ages.
Suet Lei giggled.
Michael writhed uncomfortably and mock-glared at her. “What’s so funny?”
“If only the nurses at the hospital could see you now. Michael Lam, donned from head to toe in plastic; hairnet, gloves, apron,” she laughed.
He couldn’t help but laugh too. “I crinkle every time I move!”
“I really should take a picture of this.”
His eyes widened and he grabbed a ladle full of soup from the pot next to him. “Oh, Nurse Tam, you wouldn’t,” he held up the ladle menacingly.
She laughed and followed suit, grabbing a ladle of rice as her defense. “This is my territory you’re treading on, Mr. Lam,” she said, mimicking his tone.
“Ahem. Could I have my rice now please, Ms. Tam?”
Both Michael and Suet Lei laughed. She turned back and grinned at the homeless man in front of her. “Certainly, Uncle Kwok. I was just giving the newcomer a lesson,” she teased, scooping rice on the man’s empty plate.
Michael followed suit and scooped a spoonful of mixed vegetables onto Uncle Kwok’s plate, neatly next to the rice. More and more people came steaming into the shelter, most of which were dressed shabbily, some with smudged skin. Never had he seen so many homeless people in his life. What amazed him even more was that Suet Lei knew most of them by name. He tried to keep up with the quick moving line, left hand giving out sweet and sour pork, and his right hand with the mixed veggies.
Suet Lei stole a glance at him as he nearly dropped the ladle, smiling to herself. Who knew the rich, spoilt, lusted-after Michael Lam would’ve stuck around for so long, without a single complaint.
He caught her glancing at him, and pulled a funny face at her, making the both of them crack up at the same time.
“Excuse me,” a little girl in pigtails and a torn dress tiptoed over the counter to glare at them. “Will you stop laughing? You’re getting saliva all over the sweet and sour pork,” she said indignantly, one hand on her hips.
Both of them laughed even harder, and Michael gave her a double helping of the pork to make her smile.
MC walked out of the large ceiling to floor glass doors of the ballroom and onto the beautiful grounds of the hotel garden. There was a smattering of people outside, quietly chatting. Only one woman sat alone at the gazebo. He walked towards her, hands coolly in his pockets.
She looked up at the sound of footsteps, saw him, and turned her gaze back to her glass flute of champagne. “Don’t.”
“Don’t pretend you didn’t hear all that earlier on. Don’t pretend to be concerned. Don’t sit down. And sure as hell, don’t. Bloody. Smirk.”
He sat down opposite her. And smirked. He couldn’t help it. “Defensive, much?”
“You don’t have to pretend to be nice to me, you know,” Noelle downed the last of her champagne and set it down on the gazebo table. “You don’t like me. And the feeling’s mutual, believe me.”
“You sound hurt.”
She looked away, ignoring him.
“Look, if it matters, I know the three women.”
Noelle turned back to glare at him. “I really don’t need to know details of your various escapades with women, thank you very much.”
MC chuckled under his breath. “I don’t kiss and tell.” When he got no reply from her, he continued on. “One of them is Angel Sung, Sung Wah’s, as in Sung & Sung Watches Corp, eldest daughter. Spoilt brat, thinks very highly of herself, brain the size of a medium-sized shrimp. Another was a Miss Hong Kong semi-finalist in 2000, I can’t remember what she named herself, but it’s after a fruit. Enough said. And I don’t know who the third one was, but she forgot to shave her legs tonight. Big no-no, especially in her short dress.”
Noelle stared at him, a smile bubbling on her lips. “I don’t know how you just said all that with a straight face,” she said incredulously.
He shrugged. “I’ve a good memory.”
She finally allowed herself to laugh. “I only hope your memory is as good when it’s comes to medicinal procedures.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I’m not the top neurosurgeon in the hospital for nothing you know. Some would even say I’m the best in the country.”
“I forgot you were a walking advertisement for yourself,” she rolled her eyes. “Although with the constant coverage from the gossip magazines, I don’t see why you have to bother.”
He leaned in closer to her. “You looked me up in the gossip magazines. Why, I’m flattered, Noelle,” he said, his voice deep.
It was her turn to smirk. She leaned in closer too, her eyes not backing down. “That’s because I specifically use your articles to line the floor of my car whenever I need to transport garbage to the landfill nearby.”
“So, this is where you’ve gone, MC!” A ridiculously grating voice came from behind Noelle. Both Noelle and MC turned around. “Who’s this you’re with, MC?” she asked, her eyes sweeping over Noelle.
Noelle smirked and returned the once-over, her gaze coolly lingering over the woman’s cheap-looking velvet dress which was too low and too short for the occasion and her trashy looking platform heels.
MC cleared his throat. “Well, this is Ms. Man, Noelle. This,” he gestured towards the woman, “is Nurse Chan, or Alice.”
“I’m the head of the nurses’ department,” Alice (June Chan) added.
Noelle smiled. “That’s good to know,” she said simply.
“What are you doing out here, MC?” Alice switched her attention to MC. “You said you’ll save a dance for me!”
Noelle cringed. This was worse than Ah Lok, the guy she had to wrangle MC to save her from in the parking lot. This woman’s voice was all sorts of high-pitch with a variety of screechy undertones.
Plastering a gracious smile across her face, she leaned across and laid her hand on MC’s arm softly, improvising. “Hey there, if you want to dance with my date, you’re gonna have to wait until I’ve had my fair share of dances with him first, okay?”
MC stared back at her, and quickly played around, the confusion for a split second not obvious. He smiled gallantly, and shrugged at Alice, while holding his hand out for Noelle to hold. “May I?” he glanced at her.
Smiling sweetly at him, playing the part, she placed her hands in his, “My pleasure,” she said, and he led her out to the dance floor.
And that’s all for this update! Not a lot of Raymond or Leila this chapter, because I really wanted to devote something to the Bosco-Tavia pairing. And of course, I always end up writing tons of Moses/Bernice. I didn’t mean to, I swear! I’ll make it up to all you Ray/Leila fans next chapter, promise! Let me know what you think. 🙂