Throughout the next day, which was Valentine’s Day, Calvin kept fidgeting while trying hard to keep calm. He didn’t doubt Jiro’s plan. He just couldn’t imagine carrying out that plan. Not really. It just seemed so wrong. Somehow, the day rolled by just like that, his thoughts tormenting him throughout a supposedly important meeting. Then it was time to go meet Chun and Jiro outside the shop Joanne worked at.
“Should we really be doing this?” Calvin whispered to the other two when they were standing in a corner—somewhat hidden by the entrance.
“Don’t you trust me?” Jiro asked, his voice full of confrontation.
“It’s not that. But what we’re going to do is…”
Jiro’s threatening glare turned off then. He recognized that look of sympathy on Calvin’s face. “Here’s one lesson you need to learn: Never empathize with the enemy.”
“He’s not our enemy, he’s just…”
“Interested in Qiao Qiao too,” Jiro finished the sentence for Calvin. “That means enemy, okay? Now let’s get going with this.” He shoved Calvin toward the door while signaling for Chun to stay put. “Chun and I will come in a bit, okay? Whatever you do, don’t mess up.”
Calvin had no choice but to march into the shop—military style. He restrained the urge to turn back—or look back. But he could still feel Jiro’s eyes on him as he opened the door and entered.
“Welcome,” Joanne rattled out the usual greeting before realizing it was Calvin. She was looking at some clipboard at the counter. When she saw Calvin approaching the counter, she placed the clipboard aside and sent him a smile. “Hey, haven’t seen you in a while.”
Calvin nodded, forgetting what in the world he was supposed to say already. “Yeah…uh…I was…uh…busy.”
Joanne nodded, indicating that she was still listening. “So, what brought you here today? Coming in to buy a gift for someone?”
Calvin licked his lips, wondering why he was panicking. “Actually, I’m here to…uh…”
“Hey Qiao Qiao, I found it,” A male voice said from somewhere around the shop. “It’s hiding in the back.”
“Oh,” Joanne muttered, looking in that direction where a guy was coming toward them.
Calvin stepped aside reluctantly when the other guy headed toward them, placing some item on the counter. Joanne sent Calvin a smile, gesturing for him to wait as she rang up the order. He just nodded, standing in the corner, feeling out of place. That was when the chime in front announced the arrival of new customers. Calvin turned to see Jiro and Chun making their way toward him—or more like the counter. Jiro didn’t look too happy. Their plan had been thwarted by Calvin’s tongue-tied moment.
“Hey,” Joanne greeted Jiro and Chun with a familiar smile. Then she managed a glimpse Calvin’s way. “So you’re here to meet Ah Ru?” That was meant for Jiro and Chun.
“Sort of,” Jiro said casually, not really meeting Calvin’s eyes.
“Isn’t it after hours?” Chun asked, looking around the shop. He had pulled the sign in front to ‘Closed’ when he entered earlier.
“Yes,” Joanne replied. “Last customer here.”
“Always the same one,” Jiro commented, his voice containing apparent hostility. “So, you must be a real antique collector, eh, Nick?”
“Mick,” The guy who was waiting for Joanne to pack his item into a bag corrected Jiro with much annoyance.
“Whatever,” Jiro said, glancing toward the back corner—as if looking for hidden cameras. “So, Miles, what do you do for a living?”
“Mick,” Mick corrected Jiro again. “I don’t have to tell you.”
Jiro shrugged, like he wasn’t bothered or didn’t realize Mick’s temper was rising.
“Here you are,” Joanne said, shoving the bag toward Mick and giving Jiro a sharp glare. She, of course, knew what Jiro was doing.
“Thanks,” Mick said, turning to Joanne with the sweetest smile he could muster up—unlike the attitude he projected toward Jiro earlier.
“Anytime,” Joanne returned. “You’re the customer, right?”
“And always will be,” Jiro added helpfully.
“Da Dong!” Joanne called out, turning to Jiro with obvious annoyance. “You’re being rude to one of our customers.”
Jiro shrugged again—as if that was the only gesture he knew of. “Not mine.”
“I meant our shop here,” Joanne clarified.
“Oh…” And then he just had to shrug again, making Mick even more annoyed by his gesture.
“Wait,” Joanne ordered, not caring to hear of Jiro’s excuse anymore.
Jiro turned to look at Chun, smiling. “It’s working.”
Though Jiro had whispered that to Chun, Mick could hear it too. It was like Jiro had done it on purpose—since his voice was between normal talking and a whisper. Joanne was locking up the register and making sure everything was put away at that moment. Mick was still standing around—as if waiting for Joanne as well. Calvin was still standing at his corner, feeling numbed and observing Mick silently.
“Why are you still standing here?” Jiro asked Mick after a few more minutes passed by.
“Waiting,” Mick replied sharply, his irritation surfacing again.
“I meant them,” Joanne said, looking up from her notebook. “I wasn’t talking about you. Sorry.”
Mick’s disappointment was too obvious to the other three guys—since Joanne was back to jotting in her notebook again after some clarification to Mick.
Jiro let out a low whistle at that time. “Talking about misunderstandings.”
“Da Dong…” Joanne gritted her teeth, slamming her notebook shut at that time.
Jiro straightened up, saluting even. “Yes, ma’am!”
Jiro took a step back and pretended to be obedient—though his smart-aleck smile said otherwise. Chun sent him a look—to which he shrugged.
“Sorry for that,” Joanne apologized to Mick on Jiro’s behalf.
Mick’s smile turned on again. “No problem.”
Joanne nodded, turning toward the back counter to retrieve her bag. It was like she was done with other last-minute tasks and was getting ready to leave. Mick stopped her with his hand extending when she stepped out behind the counter.
“Anything else?” Joanne asked, still carrying a patience stride yet traces of impatience could be seen in her eyes.
“Today is Valentine’s Day,” Mick began.
“Duh,” Jiro muttered from a distance from them.
Joanne rolled her eyes yet didn’t turn around to look at Jiro. She continued to wait for Mick’s next words.
“I just wanted to ask if you could spend the rest of the day with me,” Mick rattled out real quick, not wanting to be sabotaged by Jiro any further.
“I’m sorry,” Joanne said quickly, turning Mick down—before Jiro could step in and do it for her. “I’m going to spend the rest of the day with them.” She had gestured a thumb toward Calvin, Chun, and Jiro.
“Yes!” Jiro exclaimed in the background, his victory smile on.
Mick seemed like he couldn’t stand it anymore, so he turned slightly toward Jiro and pointed at him—while still looking at Joanne. “What do you see in him?”
That was when Jiro’s laughter unleashed, not being able to hold it in anymore. “He thought I’m her boyfriend.” He was using Chun’s shoulder for support.
Chun rolled his eyes this time around. “Sure, he does.”
Jiro had somehow stopped laughing. “You heard him.”
Joanne turned to look at Calvin, Chun, and Jiro huddled together at a corner of the shop, waiting for her. She smiled and turned back to Mick. “They’re my family.”
That was Jiro.
Mick’s smile returned then. “So they’re just your brothers?”
Joanne shook her head. “Not really like that, but you would never understand. I’m sorry but I have to go and it’s after hours so I could ask you to leave without getting into trouble with the boss.”
“But…” Mick managed, trying to grasp for anything. “Valentine’s Day is for lovers and not…family.”
Joanne stole a glimpse Calvin’s way before turning back to address Mick—with a secretive smile on her face. “Accounted for.”
Mick had caught that bit of the staring. He studied Calvin more carefully then. “Him?”
“They’re engaged,” Jiro blurted out before the others could stop him.
“What?” Mick exploded—with more shock than frustration.
“So you might want to…uh…leave…” Jiro finished his victory speech.
“I don’t see a ring,” Mick protested, still looking at Joanne with traces of disbelief on his face.
Joanne slowly fished through her handbag and produced a ring then and there. She placed it on her finger and waved it at Mick, wanting him to look more carefully. Even Calvin and Chun were shocked by Joanne’s fast move with the ring and all. Only Jiro was still smiling. Calvin and Chun were eyeing Jiro at that moment, pondering if that was preplanned by Jiro—or if Joanne was using that excuse to fend off Mick.
“I just didn’t want to get it all banged up when I’m working,” Joanne explained, her hand returning to her side. “I’m sorry if that had caused some misunderstanding.”
Mick didn’t know how to react then. His eyes moved toward the three guys huddled together. Calvin was still shocked—and thinking. Chun had somewhat recovered but was still puzzled. Jiro, the typical Jiro, was waving the ‘goodbye’ sign toward Mick’s direction with his taunting smile.
“When did you get engaged then?” Mick asked, returning his attention to Joanne—still persistent to pursue the matter.
“A long time ago when we were kids,” Joanne replied, smiling proudly. “Our parents were best friends.”
“Arranged marriage?” Mick asked, still shocked.
“Your script?” Chun whispered to Jiro while Mick’s attention was on Joanne.
“Watch and learn,” Jiro whispered back, not revealing the secret—just yet. Then he stepped forward toward Joanne and Mick. “What is that? An interrogation? Knock it off already. We still have a full schedule ahead.” Jiro slipped a hand around Joanne’s shoulder, attempting to haul her away.
Mick shook his head, his voice lower now. “I just can’t believe it.”
“Well, believe it,” Jiro said, his voice loud and clear—not feeling an ounce of sympathy for the enemy—as he had put previously.
“I’m sorry,” Joanne muttered one last time as she was being pulled away.
“If you’re with him, how come you’re not walking together with him but you’re being close with him?” Mick rattled out at a speedy pace and somewhat incoherently.
“This is an interrogation,” Jiro said, turning to look at Chun, his hands up in the air in exasperation.
Joanne still maintained her smile, not missing a beat at all. She walked toward Calvin and grabbed a hold of his right hand with her left. “Let’s go, Ah Ru.”
That was when Calvin unfroze himself from his spot and followed Joanne—
without a word still, like he was still processing the whole madness and pondering if he was in some limbo state.
“He’s not wearing a ring,” Mick declared, having spotted the oddity.
Jiro stepped toward Calvin at that time, pushing on his shoulder. “What? You lost your ring?” He sounded outraged enough but since his back was to Mick, Mick couldn’t see that he had winked at Calvin to play along.
“I…uh…” Calvin muttered, still not catching up—quite yet.
“Come on, Chun!” Jiro urged, gesturing toward Chun. “What are you waiting for? Help search!”
“How could you have lost it?” Joanne asked around then, giving Calvin a sharp glare—like any typical fiancée would be furious if such incident should occur.
After some fussing around, Jiro craftily slipped Calvin the ring when Joanne moved to shield his view. Calvin held it up when Jiro moved toward the spot Chun was standing at.
“I didn’t lose it,” Calvin said, finally finding his voice. “I was just putting it in my pocket for safekeeping.”
“Then why didn’t you say so before?” Jiro asked, his outrage mode still on.
“You were yelling at me.”
Jiro rolled his eyes. “Sure, blame it on me. I’m sure you luckily found it in your pocket somehow.” He walked toward Calvin and Joanne again. “Well, put it on. You want to lose it again?”
Joanne grabbed the ring right out of Calvin’s hand and helped him put it on. Like she wasn’t taking a chance with it. Calvin was staring at her all the while, still shocked by her reactions.
“Okay, now that’s set, let’s get out of here,” Jiro said, ushering everyone to the door—and ignoring Mick on purpose.
“Coming Mick?” Joanne asked, looking behind her shoulder briefly. “You have to leave before I could lock up.”
“You should have said ‘Leaving Mick?’ instead,” Jiro corrected Joanne as he was walking toward the door.
“Here we go again,” Joanne mumbled, shaking her head.
Mick had no choice but to move toward the door. The others were already outside when Mick finally made it to the door. They were waiting for him—with Jiro tapping his foot for emphasis. They watched as Mick dragged his feet toward his car and left.
“Where are we going now?” Joanne asked, locking the door at the same time.
“You guys are going to the beach,” Jiro informed her. “Chun and I have to meet up with our dates.”
Joanne turned to Jiro after making sure the door was really locked. “What? I thought we’re spending it together.”
Jiro smiled. “Valentine’s Day.”
Joanne sighed out. “I guess I can’t ask for more, huh? After all, you guys did help me with fending him off.” She began to take off her ring and handed it to Jiro. “Thanks.”
Jiro didn’t reach out his hand to retrieve the item. Instead, he winked at her—along with a mischievous smile. “Keep it.”
Joanne looked shocked. “But it’s your creation.”
“I thought you said you made it for Selina and were just letting me borrow it for today.”
“So you two planned the whole thing?” Chun jumped in right then.
Joanne turned to Jiro. “They didn’t know?”
Jiro shook his head. “Only partially.” Then he caught Chun’s expression, so he rushed to explain. “She called me and wanted my help one day, so we cooked the scheme up one time when I came to pick her up after work.”
“Oh. No wonder Ah Ru’s all shock.” Joanne turned to Calvin with an apologetic smile then. “Sorry about that…you know Da Dong…he’s always so…”
“Hey, I just helped you here.”
Joanne turned to Jiro again with a smile full of gratitude. “I know, I know. You’re the best, okay?”
Jiro’s smile turned bright once again. “That’s better.”
“Okay, let’s get out of here,” Chun said, looking at his watch.
“Coming,” Jiro answered, knowing it was meant for him anyway.
“What about me?” Joanne asked. “You sent Lara home already.”
Jiro winked and tilted his head toward Calvin. “Ask Ah Ru.”
Joanne hit Jiro on the shoulder. “I’m not kidding. Ah Ru probably has to work on his latest project.”
“Actually,” Calvin somehow found his voice again.
Joanne turned to give him her full attention.
“I have to tell you something so…”
Joanne’s expression became a surprised one. Though she nodded, accepting his offer to drive her home. Jiro removed his left hand from his jacket pocket and sent Calvin an ‘Okay’ sign. Then he followed Chun to their car. Joanne felt a little anxious as she followed Calvin to his car. It wasn’t like she hadn’t been with Calvin before. They practically grew up together. But it was like they had somehow grown apart after she moved out of Calvin’s house. She stayed silent the whole time while Calvin was driving.
“Hey, this isn’t the way to Lara’s place,” Joanne finally spoke up when she realized his error.
“No, it’s not,” Calvin confirmed. “I’m taking a detour somewhere first.”
Joanne nodded, relaxing again.
When they arrived at the beach, Calvin parked and got out first, circling around to open Joanne’s door. She was a bit surprised at his hospitality but let it drop anyway. It wasn’t like she was going to turn down his polite gesture. She stayed silent and followed him toward the path leading out toward the sands and then toward the brink of the water.
“Nice weather,” Joanne commented, feeling a bit foolish that she should start a conversation with the weather being the topic.
Calvin nodded, not minding her random comment at all.
They walked along the path a while longer before Calvin stopped and turned to Joanne. His expression was turning serious then. It made her feel even more anxious. Yet she did not speak up to interrupt him. She knew he was about to start—finally.
“Earlier when we were at the shop,” Calvin began, dropping his hands to his sides—since he had stopped fidgeting altogether. It was as if he had made up his mind.
“Oh, that…” Joanne interrupted, not being able to help herself any longer. “You know Da Dong…”
“I didn’t mean that.”
Joanne wrinkled her face. “Then…”
“When I entered, I wanted to ask you if you wanted to spend the rest of Valentine’s Day with me…but…”
Joanne’s stomach did some spinning, but she tried to hold her composure. “You changed your mind?”
Calvin shook his head. “But I was interrupted.”
“So?” She was playing cool on purpose, knowing she couldn’t jump ahead and assume too much.
“I thought it over already,” He picked up his pace again. “I’ve been too silly to care about what others said when they don’t know anything about us.” He paused to let that sink in for her, trying to read her expression—and feeling a bit unnerved himself. “Could you forgive me for causing you so much pain in the past?”
“Could you give me one last chance to prove to you that I love you more than you could ever imagine?”
Joanne’s lips wavered then. What she was about to say had been lost by his admittance of love. Had she heard wrong?
“You could turn me down because I deserve it,” Calvin said, his voice leveled, trying to keep calm—and not giving her any pressure.
Joanne finally reacted. “I could never blame you for anything, you know that. I chose to love you on my own.”
Calvin’s smile finally made its appearance at that moment. “Is that a yes then?”
“Yes, you idiot,” Joanne said, half-chiding and half-teasing.
Calvin finally stepped forward, hugging her to him.
“You’re going to place that ring back on my finger, right?” Joanne asked, not giving Calvin a break while she was at it.
Calvin smiled, nodding, knowing she could feel it. And he somewhat silently wondered to himself if she was related to Jiro.
“Here,” Joanne said, handing Calvin the ring Jiro hadn’t taken back after Calvin released her from his grip.
He took it and slid it carefully onto her finger.
“Woohoo!” Jiro’s voice could be heard from somewhere.
“You idiot!” Chun’s voice followed.
Calvin and Joanne, not at all annoyed by the interruption, scanned the area for signs of both of their childhood friends. Jiro and Chun, having already exposed their presences, stepped out of their hiding place—which was behind a large boulder—at the same time. Jiro was grinning ear to ear while Chun was rolling his eyes at Jiro.
“We thought you have dates,” Joanne reminded the two.
“It’s ‘we’ now, huh?” Jiro teased her.
Joanne scowled. “Wait until I tell Selina about how annoying you are.”
“Tough luck, kid. You can’t pay your matchmaker back by doing that. Besides…”
As if finishing Jiro’s words, Hebe and Selina stepped out from the same boulder the guys had stepped out earlier.
“You’re all here!” Joanne exclaimed, more embarrassed—and less outrage.
“Hey, we gotta see the show, right?” Jiro defended himself—and his conspirators.
Calvin had been silent the whole time. He was still feeling the effects of it all. It was like it was too good to be true. Yet when Jiro punched him on the shoulder playfully, he snapped to attention again.
“You can’t be mad at us for spying on you, right?”
Calvin shook his head. “I just felt…it’s not real.”
“Dare to regret?” Jiro asked, his voice threatening.
Calvin shook his head again. “Just…that…thanks, Da Dong.”
“Hey, spare us of the mushy talk. What are friends for, right?”
“Who’s being mushy now?” Chun pointed out, slapping Jiro’s shoulder.
Jiro gave Chun the annoyed look.
“But I have to admit that you’re pretty good.”
Jiro’s proud smile flashed on again, nodding in agreement. “Of course.”
“Arrogant, aren’t we?” Hebe asked, her voice a bit more playful than they expected. “Maybe I should tell Selina to reconsider…”
Jiro pointed at Hebe. “Hey, don’t play that game or I could do the same.”
Hebe looked like she didn’t care.
“You’re like your twin all right.”
“That’s what twins are for.”
The others laughed at Hebe’s comeback while Jiro nodded, admitting defeat.
“So, how about a celebration?” Jiro asked after they settled down again.
“We still have our dates,” Chun reminded him.
“What’s with you and keeping to the schedules? Come on, we still have plenty of time, right? Besides, ever heard of reservations?”
“He’s right,” Hebe agreed with Jiro, causing Chun to be surprised. “Let’s stay out here and watch the sun go down. Then we can go.”
“All right,” Chun said, feeling like he had no reason to object—at least not anymore.
They faced the sky ahead then, waiting for the sun to set—with each one lost in his or her own thoughts.
“I must admit I haven’t watched the sunset for a long time now,” Jiro confessed, sounding a tad too serious for himself.
“Same,” Chun agreed.
Jiro hooked his hands through one another and placed them behind his head then, swinging back and forth. He was standing between Chun and Selina. “You guys want to go back to our house and visit later?”
“Our house?” Chun repeated, puzzled.
“Not here, I meant our hometown.”
“Better for surfing?” Calvin asked, looking over at Jiro.
Jiro nodded, dropping his hands to his sides again. “And the view’s better too.”
“I didn’t know you’re such a country boy,” Chun teased.
“Whatever, man, tease all you want.”
“We want to go too then,” Hebe jumped in, speaking up for both herself and Selina. “We want to see the place that you guys have been raving about since forever.”
Jiro turned slightly and looked in Hebe’s direction. “So we’re taking you girls to see your future in-laws?”
It was right then that Jiro received a light nudge from Selina. He turned to her to see her turning red with embarrassment.
“Sure, why not?” Chun said at that time, feeling affected by Jiro’s mischievousness. He could see Hebe turning slightly pink as well—yet Hebe pretended to stare out at the water ahead.
“I can’t wait to return either,” Joanne admitted, her eyes sparkling along with the sun rays that were hitting the water at the moment.
So it was mutually agreed that they would make that journey soon.
© Tuesday, September 6th, 2011
Posted: Wednesday, September 7th, 2011