WRIT LARGE: Ch 14, Part 1
Pair O’ Dice
When Olivia appears on the pool patio of the rooftop apartment, she is wearing a short white dress that shimmers and sparkles in the glow of the lamps as she moves. On closer inspection, the entire dress is covered in a criss-cross pattern of tiny silver crystals. She smiles as I offer her a pre-dinner glass of champagne and tell her that she looks incredible.
“Why thank you.” She gives a small curtsey. “I thought I’d go all out for my last evening and drag my Christmas dress out of the suitcase.” At my raised eyebrows, she giggles. “I’m kidding. I treated myself to this dress with my first month’s salary from Bernard. It’s the kind of dress that all girls can only dream of owning because it’s dazzling and mega-expensive, so I thought, why not. I’m worth it.”
I assure her that she is undoubtedly worth it and pass her a crystal champagne flute three-quarters filled with Moet, of which Tuah and Putera appear to have ensured a never-ending supply during our stay.
She takes a sip. “And plus, it is Lim Kok Thay’s sons we’re spending the evening with. I bet it’s not every day they get to entertain an ordinary girl.”
I tell her that no one should ever think of themselves as ordinary as we are all unique in our own way. She watches me for a moment and then shakes her head, grinning.
“That’s far too deep and sounds like something Doctor Who would say. We’re celebrating our trip tonight, and if that means getting you to relax a little, then that’s what I intend to do.”
We clink our glasses together and I take a sip of my non-alcoholic Brut. I invited Olivia to join me when she confirmed that Bernard had arranged to fly home the following day so that Gabin could be with his mother. She seemed slightly disappointed at cutting the visit short, while also grateful that she’d been given the unexpected opportunity to visit Genting, so I suggested some farewell drinks in her honour. Now I tell her that I will miss her when she leaves.
“I’m sure you won’t miss me spilling drinks over the counter or splashing you when I dive into the pool.” Her expression is still wistful.
Even that, I tell her. She has certainly contributed towards making this trip both enjoyable and memorable.
We finish our drinks and head to FUHU, a restaurant on SkyAvenue that serves contemporary Asian cuisine. Keong Hui and Loui Lim are already seated at a table next to an ornamental pond, and wave us over as we approach with the maître d. Both men are dressed immaculately and once again I am struck by Loui Lim’s appearance as someone prepared for a fashion magazine photoshoot. They rise and shake my hand, and both men kiss Olivia’s cheek when introduced.
“You look amazing,” Loui Lim says, admiring her dress. He touches a crystal on the short sleeve with his fingertips. He nods more to himself than to Olivia. “Let me guess: Louis Vuitton?”
“Wow, I’m impressed,” says Olivia, taking her seat. “I got a staff discount.”
I explain to the two brothers that Olivia is Bernard Arnault’s PA and that she is unexpectedly flying back to Paris tomorrow, hence the reason I suggested she join us tonight.
“No need to explain,” says Keong Hui. “A guest of yours is a guest of mine. We will make sure that you have an unforgettable evening.”
The brothers ask our permission to order on our behalf and, with our agreement, order enough food to fill the table three times over. The restaurant captures the ambience of an exotic garden, and as anticipated, the food is delicious. Keong Hui orders more champagne. I tell him I’ll stick to the green tea while we eat.
“I promised you a wild night and that’s what I intend to deliver,” says Keong Hui.
“I think you actually said you wanted to show him around the casino,” says Loui Lim. “You were trying to impress him with your new Vegas venture, remember?” He adds shredded duck and finely sliced cucumber strips to a paper-fine pancake and rolls it into a sausage shape.
“If I’d known, I’d have brought our matching jackets,” says Olivia, Loui Lim’s exuberance obviously contagious when fuelled with fine champagne.
“Matching jackets?” asks Loui Lim.
Olivia elaborates on our doubles-poker game, graciously omitting to tell them that the skill was severely lacking on my part.
“That settles it,” says Keong Hui. “We’re going to the casino later.”
Loui Lim rubs his hands together. “He wants to prove that he can beat me at Blackjack.”
“I know that I can beat you at Blackjack,” says Keong Hui.
“Good luck, guys.” Olivia raises her glass to them. Her cheeks are already a little flushed and I think that with the brothers’ encouragement, this could end up quite a farewell celebration.
“Oh, you will be playing too,” says Keong Hui.
Olivia laughs and raises a tiny sparkling bag which perfectly coordinates with her dress. She clears her throat exaggeratedly. “And how much money do you think a girl can carry in a bag like this.”
Loui Lim smiles at his brother. “Our treat,” says Keong Hui.
“No arguments,” adds Loui Lim.
I tell them that they might regret that decision as Olivia has a secret penchant for card games, and Loui Lim holds his hand up to high-five her. “We’ll be the dream-team.”
The more we eat, the more increasingly excitable the banter becomes. Eventually, when the table is almost cleared of food and we are all looking a little less immaculate than when we arrived, Loui Lim asks Olivia if she has any siblings.
“Sisters,” says Olivia.
He leans a little closer, his chin resting in one hand conspiratorially and asks, “And who is the favourite?”
Olivia doesn’t hesitate. “I am.”
“On what have you based that assumption?” asks Keong Hui.
“On the basis that I cause my mum no drama.”
“Yes!” Loui Lim exclaims. “You see – I told you I was father’s favourite.”
“And on what have you based that assumption?” Olivia asks.
“On the basis that my dear brother here recently quit as CEO of our father’s company to focus on his own venture.”
“Does a business decision count as drama?” asks Keong Hui.
“No.” Olivia shakes her head. “But I guess that’s always the risk when families work together, which is precisely the reason why none of my sisters have followed our mum’s career path.”
I ask what her mum does for a living.
“She’s a midwife,” says Olivia. “She adores babies. It’s such a shame that her graphic descriptions of childbirth over the years mean that she’ll probably never have grandchildren.” She laughs and sips her champagne.
The brothers are smiling. I can tell that they are both taken with Olivia as is everyone who meets her, and her earlier apprehension about spending the evening with them has vanished somewhere during the third bottle of champagne and their sibling rivalry. I wonder whether their behaviour extends to their other siblings, or whether this is simply a clash of exuberant personalities. I can imagine Christmas morning in their home as they were growing up – arguments over whose toy car was the biggest, shiniest, fastest.
When the final bottle is upturned in the ice bucket, Keong Hui suggests our next stop: Empire nightclub on SkyAvenue. With the brothers leading the way, Olivia stumbles as we leave the restaurant and I catch her, managing to keep her upright. “Don’t ever try walking in heels,” she says with a smile. I tell her that she should not feel as though she needs to keep up with Keong Hui and Loui Lim who are clearly accustomed to night-time entertaining and drinking copious amounts of champagne. “Don’t worry about me,” she says. “If you play along, they assume that you’re matching them glass for glass and that you don’t need any encouragement. It’s easy. Giggle in all the right places, always have a drink in your hand, and give them lots of attention.” She gives me an exaggerated wink.
I am enjoying seeing this story pan out from the narrator's perspective. It is interesting to see all the characters through the narrator's eyes. He almost seems more like a fly on the wall instead of a main character.
Excellent title and the ending resonated: had similar experiences myself when working on all-male heavy drinking teams in the days when alcohol was big part of work culture and drinks with clients more common. Her frequent self-description as 'girl' teamed with the reveal reminded me of this recent story https://www.dailydot.com/irl/server-pigtails-higher-tips/ (I am not a woman who'd ever choose to call herself a girl but have known others who pepper conversation with 'girlie nights' and 'drinks with the girls' or label themselves a 'girlie girl'. Interesting way to show character.)