Chapter 15 – Thicker Than Blood

Jacky and Mina look out towards the water ahead for a while before Mina speaks up again.
“Jacky ge, I know I can’t persuade you to forget Xiao Yan jie, because that’s like taking a part of you away and robbing you of past memories. But… do you know that you’re just setting yourself up for self-destruction if you keep this up?”
Jacky turns to look at Mina. The little girl who once cried to him because her brother had hidden her dolls is all grown up now. In fact, she’s even more mature than he had thought.
“Have you been reading too many romance novels again?” Jacky teased, smiling.
“Jacky ge, I’m serious.”
Jacky could see it through her eyes. “All right. I’ll just have to take your word for it.” He turns his attention towards the sea ahead again.
Mina looks in that direction also, sighing. “James ge once told me that the sea is like your friend. It could take your pain away as well as bringing pain upon you. I think that’s exactly what it’s doing to you right now – both at the same time.”
“James must be lying then.”
“Maybe, maybe not. But you know the reason why I’m here?”
“You mean here as in…?” Jacky prompted, looking at her again.
“As in coming to this town to stay with you.”
“Because of you.”
Jacky knows that Mina is always straight-forward, but he couldn’t believe his own ears. “Say again?”
“I’m not kidding. And I don’t mean it in that way either. Since you’ve returned home that night, I know that you’ve relapsed again. You were still cheerful, but I could see the difference.”
Jacky couldn’t believe that Mina would sacrifice getting in trouble with her family just to stay and comfort him. She is really growing up now. Jacky sighs. “Maybe…”
“Not maybe, I know that you’re troubled for sure. But can you not hide it from me too? It’s bad enough that you’re avoiding the Lai family and Xiao Jie jie already.”
“I don’t know. If I stay around Wei Ru anymore, I…”
Mina puts her left hand on Jacky’s right shoulder. “Jacky ge, it’s okay to move on. Xiao Yan jie won’t blame you. She’ll be happy as long as you’re happy.”
“It’s not that. It’s…”
“You’ve been around Wei Ru for a while now, right?” Jacky asked, looking at Mina again.
Mina nods.
“Don’t you notice some similarities between her and Xiao Yan?”
Mina wrinkles her face. Her eyes move back and forth, thinking. Then she looks at Jacky again. “No wonder. I mean I’ve been having this weird feeling like I know Wei Ru jie since… I don’t know since when.”
“Exactly. Because she reminds us of Xiao Yan so much.”
“But it’s okay though, right?”
Jacky shakes his head. “I’m wondering if I’m beginning to fall for her because she’s Wei Ru or because she reminds me of Xiao Yan. I don’t want to…”
“Treat her as a replacement?”
Jacky nods.
Coincidentally, they both look out towards the sea ahead again. Both sigh out deeply before resuming their conversation.
“Sometimes I wonder if you’re Yu Rong’s sister or mine,” Jacky commented.
“Sometimes I wonder the same,” Mina admitted, smiling. “I mean we get along so well, like real brother and sister that we even conspire against my brother too.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t stay at your house so much anymore.”
“It’s too late to undo that, Jacky ge.”
“I guess so.”
“But seriously…” She stops and turns to Jacky again “…could you not avoid all of us? I mean maybe you should see for yourself if you like other things about Wei Ru jie or just that she reminds you of Xiao Yan jie. You can’t just avoid her like that. It’ll torture the both of you. You’ll never find out for sure if it’s true or not unless you interact with her more.”
“Do I look like I’m up for it? You told me not to put up that front any longer, right?”
Mina sighs. “You got me there, but…you can’t edge out of this one. I mean you’re now finding out the truth, it’s not putting up a front. Just go ahead and try it out.”
“You make it sound like I’m going shopping for some new clothes.”
“Don’t tell me one of those phrases again.”
“Jacky ge, come on.”
Jacky sighs out. “Maybe I should…”
“Maybe you should stop worrying so much.”
“How can I not when I would risk hurting Wei Ru and others involved?”
“You’re hurting her right now too, you know.”
Jacky looks at Mina. “Is she in such a bad condition?”
“Not yet. But if you keep torturing yourself, we’ll all worry to death.”
Jacky sighs out, directing his attention to the water ahead once again.
Mina could see that it’s a different sighing. It’s the one that means he’s giving in to her suggestion.
“You know what I was thinking when I decided to go home?” Jacky asked in a serious tone.
“Trying to test yourself to see if you could get over it already?”
Jacky nods. “I thought I would. After all, it has been a year since it happened.”
“It’s no use unless you can let it go.”
“I don’t know if I ever will.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“I know. I’m not beating myself up because of that. I’m just…”
“I told you already. You’re not betraying her by moving on.”
“Perhaps you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right.”
“It’s funny though.”
“It’s funny that it looks like someone wiped the room clean. I mean if no one was there like a whole year, wouldn’t it look really dusty and all?”
Mina stays silent.
Jacky turns to look at Mina. He could see a strange expression on her face. What is it? Hesitation? “Don’t tell me you cleaned the room while I was away.”
“It’s the only way to preserve everything like it is.”
“Why not let it be dusty? It’ll remind me how long it has been so I can move on.”
“Knowing you, you never will. You’ll just sit around on her bed and think about past memories even more.”
“It’s funny how much you understand me that it’s scary. I’m supposed to take care of you, but it looks like…”
“It doesn’t matter, Jacky ge. We’re like siblings anyway.”
Jacky lies flat on his back on the big boulder, using his hands as cushion for his head. Mina does the same thing.
“Sometimes…I feel like I’m not moving at all,” Jacky said.
“Life’s strange, huh? It’s like you thought you could start a new life at this place, but you end up meeting people who reminds you of your past and then…there you go again…back at where you started.”
“Right on.”
“So, are we heading back anytime soon? What’s your final decision?”
“I’m supposed to work on some new songs, right?”
“You mean…?”
“I was talking to Yu Rong several weeks ago when we were still at your house about a new song. But I didn’t have a direction. Or maybe because I got distracted with what happened.”
“You thought of something?”
“Yes, just minutes ago.”
Jacky sits up and gets off the boulder, walking towards the direction that leads back to town. Mina follows behind, feeling more relief than before.
It is two days later that Mina runs towards the seaside again, looking for Jacky. She spots him sitting there like many days before.
“Jacky ge!” She called out to him.
Jacky turns around to see her. “Is this becoming a habit?”
“How’s the song coming along?” Mina asked, sitting down next to him.
“Creativity can’t be rush, Yu Lan.”
“I don’t see you rushing through your designs.”
“You never know.”
Jacky smiles. “It seems like you’re doing good lately.”
“What are you talking about? We see each other everyday. You make it sound like you just see me after a long time or something.”
“Stop kidding!”
“All right,” Jacky said, getting up. “Let’s get out of this sun and get something to eat?”
Mina clings to Jacky’s hand as they’re making their way to town again.
Jacky’s doing better now. He’s actually back to writing songs again. However, he’s still not visiting the Lai family or Xiao Jie yet. Not just yet. Mina doesn’t want to rush him since she doesn’t want to give him any pressures.
Two more days pass by before anyone else gets to see Jacky. He appears just as sudden as he disappears out of everyone’s life.
Mina is back working at the shop fulltime again. She looks up when she hears the bell dings from the entrance. Her eyes light up when she sees him.
“Jacky ge!” Mina exclaimed, running to him.
Wei Ru and Xiao Jie look up from the folder they’ve been looking at.
“Jacky!” Xiao Jie called out, giving him her bright smile. She steps off the stool she’s sitting at and opens the door in the middle to get out from behind the counter. She makes her way to him also.
Wei Ru’s still sitting at the stool in front of the counter, observing Jacky silently.
“You’re back!” Xiao Jie said when she finally reached him.
“You two made it sound like I went away for…” Jacky started.
“It is a long time,” Mina reminded him.
“Got you girls something,” Jacky said, tapping the package in his hand.
“That’s not going to win us over, Young Master Chu,” Xiao Jie teased, still smiling.
“What is it, Jacky ge?” Mina asked anxiously.
“Don’t tell me it’s food,” Xiao Jie said.
“I wouldn’t dare to compete with…” Jacky said, wrinkling his face. Jacky stops himself in time, knowing he shouldn’t go there yet. He doesn’t want to play with Wei Ru’s feelings. He knows he shouldn’t. Not until he’s sure of his feelings for her.
“Well, what is it then?” Mina demanded.
“Open it,” Jacky said, handing the package to Xiao Jie.
Xiao Jie takes the package from him and opens it slowly, making sure not to rip the contents inside.
“You’re making me nervous with it,” Jacky commented.
“I don’t want to damage it,” Xiao Jie explained.
Jacky looks towards Mina. Mina shrugs her shoulders.
When Xiao Jie’s done taking off the outside wrapping, she could see a box inside. She turns it right-side-up to see what it is.
“Is this a joke?” Xiao Jie asked, looking at Jacky.
“It would sound better than that cow bell,” Jacky pointed out.
“Hey! That’s not funny,” Xiao Jie said, hitting Jacky on the shoulder.
“Come on,” Jacky urged. “Try it. If it’s not as nice, you can change it back.”
Xiao Jie looks hesitant, but opens the box to take out the wind chime.
“I’ll help you hang it up,” Jacky offered, extending his hand towards the wind chime in her hand.
“Okay,” Xiao Jie said, handing him the wind chime.
Mina follows Jacky to help him.
Xiao Jie turns back to Wei Ru. She sits on the stool next to Wei Ru. “Cheer up. He’s all right again.”
“Is he?” Wei Ru asked, still observing Jacky.
“Of course. If he isn’t, would he be here?”
“What if Mina just…”
“Have faith in her, will you? She’s not immature like she looks.”
“It’s not that. I just feel…”
“You worry too much.”
Jacky and Mina join them at the counter as they’re done with hanging the wind chime up.
Jacky signals to Mina to sit down before he does so himself. He made Mina sit next to Wei Ru while he sits next to her.
“Now we just have to wait for the next customer to come in so we know if it sounds good or not,” Jacky said, smiling.
“Why don’t you and Mina go outside and come back in?” Xiao Jie suggested.
Jacky wrinkles his face. “That’s not the same. You’ll probably think we manipulated the wind chime so it would sound good.”
“Would I do such a thing?”
“You never know.”
Just as they’re joking around, they see someone turning the corner and is about to enter the shop.
“Come on, open that door,” Jacky urged.
“Why is he wearing that hat over his head?” Mina pondered aloud. “I can’t see his face. Why does he give me the creeps? What if he’s…”
“Yu Lan, stop being dramatic.”
“I’m serious, Jacky ge,” Mina whined, clinging onto Jacky’s right arm.
The guy in front of the shop finally opens the door after much consideration.
The wind chime chimes nicely like the rhythm of music.
Jacky smiles with traces of satisfaction and somewhat of victory as he could see Xiao Jie smiling. He winces seconds later as Mina tightens her grip on his arm. “Would you stop?”
“But…but…” Mina stuttered, her voice shaky.
The guy finally takes off his hat that is covering half of his face.
Wei Ru and Xiao Jie get off their seats and rush towards the guy. Actually, Xiao Jie’s the one that’s running to him while Wei Ru’s walking briskly.
Jacky and Mina exchange a look.
Mina has released Jacky’s arm since the guy took his hat off.
“Chris!” Xiao Jie exclaimed, sending him a cheerful smile. “It’s a surprise. What’s going on here?”
“Sis decided to come back and visit since she has some time off,” Chris answered, smiling. “I heard Auntie said you’re both here so here I am.”
“Gigi jie is here?” Wei Ru asked, brightening up.
“How long are you two going to stay?” Xiao Jie followed with another question.
“I’m not sure,” Chris replied. “Sis has to go back after 2 weeks, but I’m going to stay around for a while.”
“That’s great to know,” Xiao Jie said.
Chris finally notices Jacky and Mina’s presence.
“You have customers right now?” Chris asked, gesturing towards the two.
“Oh. Almost forgot,” Xiao Jie said, grabbing Chris’ hand and walks towards Jacky and Mina.
Wei Ru tags behind.
“Chris,” Xiao Jie continued. “They’re our new friends, Jacky Chu and Mina Huang. Mina works here now. Jacky, Mina, this is Chris Li from Hong Kong. He’s Wei Ru’s cousin.”
After a round of handshakes and silent observations, they sit down on the stools to chat again. Xiao Jie sits next to Mina while Chris sits next to her with Wei Ru on the other side of Chris.
“It seems like I missed some major events,” Chris said.
“The more you should move back here,” Xiao Jie pointed out.
“I’m more used to living in Hong Kong though.”
“Well, in that case, you win some and lose some. Can’t blame anyone but yourself.”
“You’re still the same Xiao Jie I know.”
“Your last visit was several months ago. How could I change that much?”
Chris notices how quiet Wei Ru is. He turns to her. “What’s wrong?”
Wei Ru gives him a weak smile.
“Don’t worry,” Xiao Jie reassured him. “I’m always here, so no one dares to bully her.”
As Xiao Jie says that, she turns to look at Jacky. Whether it is coincidental or on purpose, they wouldn’t know. Mina turns to look at Jacky also.
“What’s going on here?” Chris asked, looking from one to the other.
Xiao Jie turns on her bright smile again. “Nothing! Are you and Gigi jie going to come over for dinner tonight?”
“Your house?” Chris asked, puzzled.
“No, Wei Ru’s house,” Xiao Jie clarified.
“Ooohh….” Chris uttered, slapping his right hand on his forehead. “I almost forgot. You practically live out of Wei Ru’s house. Probably. Even if sis can’t, I’ll go.”
“That’s great then. Want to head home together later?”
“What about your uncle?”
“Maybe I should tell him to meet us there, huh?”
“How long has he been back?”
“About a month.”
“Is that his new record?”
“No. Actually, his record is half a year.”
“When did that happen?” Chris asked, both curious and puzzled.
“Last Christmas,” Xiao Jie replied with a smile. She looks at her watch at that time. “You know what? Let’s close early and go somewhere to talk.”
“What about customers?” Chris asked.
“They have my number.”
“I don’t know what kind of shop you’re running. You open and close as you please. It’s a miracle the shop is still around.”
“Hey, as long as I get the job done, it makes up for the rest of it.”
“We know you’re rich, Miss Qu.”
Chris and Xiao Jie hop off the stools they’re sitting at and head for the door as Xiao Jie’s getting ready to go. Wei Ru follows them. She switches the lights off as she’s making her way to the door. Mina takes the hint to clear the counter and puts away the documents.
“Nice,” Jacky commented.
“Are you sore that someone took your spotlight away?” Mina teased.
Jacky and Mina are the last ones to exit. Xiao Jie activates the alarm and closes the door after them.
“Should we head back to your shop then?” Xiao Jie asked, looking at Wei Ru.
Somehow Wei Ru turns to look at Jacky.
“I don’t mind,” Jacky said, knowing what she’s thinking.
“So you need confirmation from him but not us?” Xiao Jie asked, putting her mischievous smile on again.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Wei Ru mumbled. She starts walking towards the street corner after that.
Xiao Jie could see Chris’ puzzled look. “I’ll fill you in on this later.”
“All right then,” Chris said, not wanting to probe.
Jacky and Mina round up last, walking side-by-side.
The Lai resident becomes quite homey and light-hearted at the same time that night. They have to extend the dining table since every member of the Lai family are present, plus Gigi, Chris, Jacky, Mina, Xiao Jie, and her uncle, Qu Zhong Heng.
Sharon was back about two weeks ago from another trip and is sitting next to Jacky at the table right now, playing catch up. Mina’s sitting on his other side. Wei Ru is across the table from him. She’s sitting between Chris and Darren. Xiao Jie’s on Chris’ other side. Xiao Jie’s uncle is sitting on Xiao Jie’s other side. He’s chatting away with Mr. Lai – who’s at the head of the table. Mrs. Lai is sitting next to her husband. Gigi’s next to her and then Sharon. Brittney’s sitting next to Darren on the other side of the table. Bryan is sitting next to Mina and across from Brittney.
The current setting reminds Jacky of the scene that occurred about two months ago. Everything was still simple and smooth-sailing. He looks at Wei Ru across the table, talking happily to Chris. Xiao Jie catches it and gives him an encouraging smile. Jacky smiles lightly at her, but turns back to resume his conversation with Sharon. Conversation is actually a loose term since he’s only half listening. Mina rescues him from Sharon’s questions and fires away questions of her own.
Jacky stays silent for most of the night spent at the Lai resident. He spends his time listening mostly, trying to catch up with everyone’s life.
When they’re done with the meal, Mr. and Mrs. Lai are in the living room talking to Xiao Jie’s uncle while the others are heading out in the den in the back to enjoy the night air and talk among themselves. Gigi and Sharon stay inside.
They have the sliding door open so they could still hear the others talk. Bryan, Darren, and Brittney are sitting on the lawn chairs near the door while the rest of them are sitting on the wooden floor. Wei Ru’s on the far left with Chris next to her, then Xiao Jie’s next to him, Jacky and Mina are on the far right.
“The night garden always gives off this peaceful feeling,” Chris said, sighing out peacefully.
“Some gardens are creepy though,” Mina remarked.
“Been watching too much of those movies where the plants come alive?” Chris asked teasingly, turning to look at her.
“No. Garden of memory,” Mina replied, somewhat annoyed.
“Garden of memory? Sounds like a title for a movie or a book.”
“That garden actually exists.”
“Really?” Chris asked in a challenging tone. “Where is it?”
“You wouldn’t understand if I tell you.”
“Yu Lan!” Jacky shouted, trying to stop Mina from saying further.
“Jacky ge, he’s challenging me,” Mina protested.
“Will you two stop it?” Xiao Jie interfered. “You’ve just met today. And you were getting along just fine at the coffee shop earlier.”
“He started it first,” Mina mumbled.
“How old are you really?” Chris asked. “Okay, fine. I give up. You win, is that good?”
Mina wrinkles her face.
Jacky pats Mina’s shoulder to calm her down.
“Is the garden of memory the one at your house?” Xiao Jie asked, turning to Jacky.
Jacky nods.
“No kidding!” Chris shouted out in disbelief.
“Non-believer!” Mina retorted.
“Yu Lan!” Jacky interjected.
“Are we supposed to be talking about this right now?” Wei Ru asked, turning to eye them cautiously.
“Maybe we shouldn’t,” Xiao Jie said, looking at Jacky.
“I’m fine. If you’re curious, just ask,” Jacky said.
“Maybe another day.”
“That’s a good idea,” Mina agreed. “Like when someone’s not around.”
“What does that supposed to mean?” Chris asked.
“That means she likes to pick fights with people,” Darren answered.
Mina jumps up from where she’s sitting and approaches Darren.
“What are you doing?” Darren asked in alarm.
“What is it with you?” Mina asked back.
“I like to know the same about you.”
“You insulted my brother first, so it’s only right that I’m mad.”
“Fair enough, but what about him?” Darren asked, pointing towards Chris.
The others have turned around to see the upcoming event that’s about to unfold right in front of their eyes. Jacky’s already standing by Mina’s side to make sure she doesn’t strike at Darren.
“He’s being a non-believer,” Mina reasoned.
“Is that a crime?” Darren asked, letting out a mocking laugh. “You expect people to believe everything you say?”
“Yu Lan!” Jacky yelled out again. “That’s enough. Let’s go.”
Jacky tugs on Mina’s arm. She turns to see a change in his face. She knows she stepped over the line already. Her expression softens. She nods and looks down on the ground. Jacky puts a hand on her shoulders to guide her back inside. He stops at the doorway and turns to the others.
“Sorry, everyone,” He said. “I’m leaving.”
“See you tomorrow at my shop?” Xiao Jie asked, smiling.
Jacky nods before turning to the living room again. He and Mina exchange some departing words with the five people in the room before leaving by the front door.
After they leave, Xiao Jie turns to Wei Ru. Chris seems to sense something also.
“What’s wrong with those two?” Chris asked.
“It’s personal,” Xiao Jie replied briefly, not wanting to disclose anything further.
“That extreme?” Chris said with a half-smile.
“Don’t ever make fun of the garden of memory again,” Xiao Jie said in a serious tone.
“I didn’t. She was reacting too strong.”
“I know she went too far. But it’s because of her great respect for Jacky, so don’t argue with her about it again in the future.”
“Who is Jacky really? He’s a strange guy.”
“He’s a nice person. It’s just that something happened during our little vacation so…”
Darren jumps out of his chair and sits down next to Xiao Jie on the ground, “What happened?! How come you two never told me?”
“It’s not your problem,” Xiao Jie replied.
“Ooooohhhh….what’s the big secret?”
“Darren…” Wei Ru said.
“Ge, would you stop acting so nosy?” Brittney spoke up for her sister.
Darren turns to look at Brittney also. “What’s with all of you? You seem to change since you came back from that vacation. I wonder if you got kidnap and are never the same again.”
“Stop being dramatic,” Xiao Jie said, getting up at that time.
Chris, Wei Ru, and Brittney follow suit. They all head back inside leaving Bryan and Darren puzzled. Darren goes back to his original spot at the lawn chair. He gives Bryan a look.
“Don’t look at me like that, Little Bro,” Bryan said. “I wasn’t there, remember?”
“Still…what do you think is wrong with them?” Darren attempted.
“Either they’re still mad at you for sabotaging the wedding or they’ve got problems of their own. Stop being so nosy. Go to sleep.” Bryan gets up and leaves also.
Darren scratches his head and ponders if Bryan’s in on the big secret – whatever it is.
As Bryan’s walking back to his room, he couldn’t help but worries for his other siblings, Xiao Jie, and Jacky – especially Jacky. During the time Jacky was here, they’ve become almost like best friends. He wonders what had happened to cause things to be this way. He wishes he could help them or at least know the situation to share the anxiety with them. But he knows he has to respect the others if they don’t want to share it with him. As he’s walking by the drawing room, he could see Chris and Xiao Jie talking happily at one corner of the room while Wei Ru and Brittney are playing chess again at the center table. It seems like they’re avoiding him and Darren on purpose. Maybe they just don’t want to talk about it yet. He couldn’t blame them. He stands there observing them a little more before continuing on to his room.
As promised, Jacky arrives at Xiao Jie’s shop the next morning with Mina. He has offered to take Mina to work. As they step past the door, they could see Wei Ru helping Xiao Jie with opening the shop. Xiao Jie looks cheerful as always while Wei Ru still looks somewhat worried.
“It seems like you both partied quite late last night,” Mina joked.
“We got carried away,” Xiao Jie confessed.
“And I thought you two are good role models for me,” Mina teased, pretending to be disappointed.
“I guess we failed you,” Xiao Jie said, sighing out. Xiao Jie could see that Jacky’s in a better mood than when he left last night, so she says, “Well, Young Master Chu, what have you got for us today?”
Jacky glances around the shop quickly before turning to Xiao Jie with a smile.  “If you want me to re-model this place, I can do it. I got plenty of experience these past years since my parents are always so ‘renovate’ happy.”
“Is it going to be bright gold or some dark and gloomy theme?” Xiao Jie asked, smiling.
“Whichever you prefer, Miss Qu,” Jacky said.
They both laugh at the same time.
“You are getting better,” Xiao Jie indicated.
Jacky’s smile fades.
Xiao Jie grabs onto Jacky’s hand. “I’m sorry. Did I remind you of it?”
“No. Not at all. I just remember something else.”
Xiao Jie lets go of Jacky’s hand. “Oh? What is it?”
“Good news, everyone,” Jacky announced, glancing quickly at the other two girls before turning his attention back on Xiao Jie. “I completed a new song.”
“Really? So that means you’re back?” Xiao Jie asked anxiously.
“Yes and no.”
Xiao Jie’s smile fades.
“Yes as in my devotion to music is coming back and I’m going to focus on it for the time being. And no because I can’t guarantee I won’t disappear again in the next few weeks.”
“Well, at least you’re coming to see us like usual, right?”
Jacky nods.
“That’s good.”
“Jacky ge, can you tell us the name of your new song?” Mina asked, walking towards him again.
Jacky steps back and waits for all three girls to look at him before speaking up again. “Thicker Than Blood.”
“What?!” Xiao Jie exclaimed, confused. She looks towards Wei Ru.
Wei Ru shrugs her shoulders, indicating that she has no clue either.
Xiao Jie turns her attention back on Jacky. “You mean somewhere along the line of ‘blood is thicker than water’? But yours is focusing on something that could go beyond family?”
Jacky nods.
“What is thicker than blood then?” Xiao Jie asked curiously.
“Loyalty and understanding.”
Xiao Jie looks towards Wei Ru again as Jacky turns to look at Mina. Mina finally understands. She smiles at him in which he smiles back. It’s the same smile. The smile that indicates that they’re sharing a secret. A secret and a discovery. An event that occurred on that one sunny day by the seaside.
© Monday, May 12th, 2008
Re-posted: Saturday, February 20th, 2010