Chapter 2 – Battle of Words

It was one week after the New Year madness that something else occurred. They were actually gathering at Cynthia’s shop for lunch. Well, some of them were. Angela and Cynthia were in the break room. Angela was seen by the microwave, waiting for it to finish heating some dish she had brought over while Cynthia was sitting at the table, stirring her teacup. It would’ve been coffee, but Nic had convinced her to quit coffee. As both were attending to their tasks, they were also engaged in some sort of conversation. It wasn’t because Cynthia was Nic’s girlfriend that Angela was forced to converse with Cynthia. It wasn’t that at all. They actually found some similarities hence ended up getting along quite well.

“Big news!” Joanne’s voice boomed into the room, interrupting their conversation.

Yet the other two didn’t mind. They turned to see Joanne walking in with a newspaper in her hand.

“What happened?” Cynthia asked.

“More drama from the so-called high class society,” Joanne answered waving the newspaper for emphasis.

“The Sun family and the Zhao family are at it again?” Angela asked, stepping over toward the table at that time to join the other two.

Joanne had already settled at a seat to Cynthia’s left. She had also cleared her throat for dramatic purposes as she turned to the business section of the newspaper. “Renowned Business Analyst Slammed Down By A Blunt Moved Delivered.”

“What kind of headline is that?” Cynthia asked, wrinkling her face.

Joanne shrugged. “It’s those business mind games.”

Cynthia’s face wasn’t wrinkled anymore, but she was still displaying this disapproving look. Of course, it was aimed at the article writer–and not Joanne. Though she didn’t say anything else, she kept silent and waited for Joanne to read the actual article.

“The land acquirement and development project by North Star Corporation had been the talk of town since several weeks back, and had been believed to not only help with the economy and the employment rate, but also could be a problem-solving solution. Renowned businessman Ricky Chang, now a business analyst, had given his premonition in an interview that this major project will dissolve the feuds between the Sun family and the Zhao family. Both families, due to some minimal matter, had escalated their feud to the point of irreversible. However, Ricky Chang had said this land acquirement and development project would be too big of a gamble for both sides to risk their side conflict for. Many agreed with Ricky Chang that both the Sun and Zhao families would not be as foolish to throw away a chance to work alongside the North Star Corporation. What shocked many was Tony Sun’s statement this morning to the press–after North Star Corporation announced that the new land acquirement and development project will go to the Zhao family. Tony Sun’s exact words were: Business is business, but maintaining a sense of dignity is also important.”

“Whoa,” Cynthia muttered, not believing the words she just heard. Though she didn’t doubt Joanne’s literacy. She was just shocked that Tony would throw away a major opportunity like that, especially with him being a smart businessman–as it was already acknowledged by many people.

It was also then that Ehlo walked into the room. He was carrying a large grocery paper bag. Angela got up to help him unload the items on the table.

“So, what’s going on around here?” Ehlo asked, obviously oblivious to the last few words he heard as he opened the door.

Joanne wasn’t upset that he had tuned her out. She waved the newspaper in her hand for emphasis once again. “More dramas from the so-called high class society, what else?”

Ehlo stopped with his current task–which was distributing the foods on different plates Cynthia had brought over–to stare at Joanne.

“What?” Joanne asked, somewhat rattled because of his serious expression.

Ehlo still kept on a grim expression as he answered her. “You know you’re part of that high class society, right?”

Joanne’s faced relaxed then. She shrugged. “Whatever.”

As Joanne released the paper from her grip and returned it to a corner of the table, Ehlo continued on with his task.

Actually, Angela and Cynthia had some similar phrase in their minds when Joanne mentioned about the “high class society”, but they didn’t dare say it out loud. Even if they were both much older than Joanne, and shouldn’t be fearing Joanne’s wrath, especially Angela. Yet for some unknown reason, they kept quiet. Ehlo was always the brave one, not caring if he stepped on a few toes in the process, even if it was one of his best friends in the world, like his constant scolding of Jacky in the past. So what made Joanne think she could become the exception? Or perhaps because she knew Ehlo too well–thanks to all these past years–that she didn’t care to strike back either?

“You’re part of that high class society too, you know,” Angela repeated Ehlo’s accusation as they settled down to eat. She was, of course, talking about Ehlo.

“Thanks, honey,” Ehlo said, his sarcasm on the high end.

But they were very used to Ehlo’s dramatic nature by now so none of them reacted. Or at least Joanne and Cynthia didn’t react. Andy was seen walking in with Achel. Joanne took a glimpse behind them before speaking up.

“No Yan?” Joanne asked, eyeing both Andy and Achel.

Andy shook his head. “No, she said they have a late meeting so she’s going to stay and eat with her co-workers.”

“Oh.”

Andy took that time to pick up the newspaper. “So, what’s new?”

“More dramas,” Joanne replied, leaving out the ‘so-called high class society” remark this time.

“Oh?”

The others began to eat as Andy read the short article. “Wow, I’m starting to really like this guy.”

“That means you didn’t like him before?” Joanne asked, puzzled.

Andy shrugged and finally settled down at a spot next to Achel. “It’s not that. It’s like, I don’t know.”

“Seriously though,” Cynthia interrupted them. “Why would Tony risk something like that? I meant even if what he said is true, but it’s still a major project. It’s the first time North Star Corporation allow two major companies to join in on the project.”

“He’s Tony Sun,” Wallace’s voice traveled to them.

He had walked in with Nic. He was also carrying a newspaper so even if he only heard a bit of the conversation, he understood too well what the others were discussing.

“He’s weird all right,” Nic said. “But I agree with his move.”

Cynthia turned to Nic with a puzzled look.

Nic, of course, understood her without needing her to say anything. He quickly spoke up to clarify. “I mean, come on, arguing with some family for years and now jump in to act all close just because of a project?”

“It’s not just a project, it’s a major one.”

“But he will get brownie points for it in the future,” Wallace pointed out. “People will remember him because he doesn’t give in to high pressure.”

“Or think he’s just petty.”

Wallace shook his head, disagreeing with Cynthia. “Not necessarily. Nic’s right, if Tony suddenly jumps in to act all close with the Zhao family for the sake of the project, it means his words are nothing. He could just be any businessman out there sacrificing his dignity for the overall picture. It would make his past statements all big fat jokes.”

“Yeah, like the next headline would be ‘Tony Sun: Only Has Backbone When It Doesn’t Have To Do With Business’ if he caves in,” Andy jumped in.

“Besides, land acquirement and development isn’t the only in thing right now,” Ehlo added. “Everyone’s just jumping on the bandwagon because of the rise of tourism and all. There’s also the recent environmental project Tony could get in if he wants. Even if it’s not the newest thing either, but at least it’s a project worth time investment.”

Andy nodded in agreement.

“Exactly,” Nic chimed in. “Would people rather support those destroying the environment even more by building humorous shopping centers or those who are seeking ways to preserve the environment?”

“Um, most businesses right now are seeking ways around the whole entertainment and leisure by taking the whole environmental preservation too, you know,” Joanne jumped in.

“Because they didn’t want to get shot down,” Ehlo said. “It’s all on papers and whatever they could do during those press conferences. If they follow through, then that’s something else.”

“Your company involved in any of the latest projects?”

Ehlo looked at Joanne then. “Confidential.”

“Aww…come on.”

“You know he’s right,” Andy reminded her.

Joanne knew she shouldn’t pursue the matter further so she focused on the food in front of her as well. But she didn’t stay long. She gave Andy the rest of the foods fifteen minutes later before leaving. She blurted out something about forgetting to do a certain task when the others asked.

“That’s our forgetful Qiao,” Andy quipped as the door closed.

Joanne was able to hear Wallace and Ehlo’s laughter before the door shut completely.

*****

Joanne didn’t go back to Alyssa’s place. Even if it was her day off and she would love to enjoy a relaxing day at home–with no one bothering her. She walked all the way across town–without caring to haul a Taxi. It was a walk she often enjoyed; at least it had been this way these past few years. She only stopped when she arrived at the spot that divided their side of the town with the rest of the other side strangely still so old and rundown. But she didn’t mind. She had been used to it. It was the memorial bridge that had impacted their life years ago. The same bridge Sophia often walked by–and had also met Jacky there, tying all their destinies with hers. And somehow, it had led to a back story that had to do with the man she once loved. Still loved. And missed dearly.

“You’re not going to jump, are you?” A familiar voice asked from behind her.

Joanne snapped out of her thoughts and turned around to face a smiling face. That smile was teasing. But she didn’t react fiercely like she would in the past. She wasn’t the rash girl the others once knew. It seemed like she’d grew ten years although it had only been more than a year later. Yes, she still joked with the others and still got involved with conversations, but it was mostly because she promised them she would be fine. It was only a front to reassure them. And they’d bought it. She was a better actor than Jacky, because they weren’t able to detect her false happiness like how she and the others were able to detect those pretenses Jacky had put on to fool them years ago. That also meant her acting had actually improved, because she was one of the persons among them that was highly likely to fail with shielding her emotions. It was what the four of them had agreed upon at Uncle Ben’s stall years ago.

“Hey, you all right, sis?” Jacky asked then, his smile turned into a worried look.

As Jacky walked toward her, Joanne turned toward the traffic whizzing by below again. She was leaning on the rail and seemed to be lost in thoughts. It was like she didn’t care to put her mask back on, unlike how it was with the others. It was like she knew Jacky–of all the people–would understand. And he did, because he let whatever of their conversation dissolved in the light breeze surrounding them. He also turned his focus toward the traffic below the bridge.

“What were you doing on that side of town?” Joanne asked suddenly, looking at Jacky at that moment.

Yes, Jacky had come from the other side of town, not their side of town.

“Was just taking a walk,” Jacky said, his eyes wandering–and not looking at Joanne.

“She’s going to come back,” Joanne said, her voice soothing. “It’s not like she disappeared on us. She managed to keep in touch with us like she promised.”

Jacky finally directed his stare at Joanne. He was no longer fidgeting or finding an excuse for his actions. And it was then that he realized how serious Joanne looked. Her composure was totally different from when she was with the others. He recognized that haunting look in her eyes. The ones he once wore. “You haven’t forgotten him yet, have you?”

Joanne shook her head. “How could I?”

“It’s okay to let go.”

Joanne shook her head. “I thought so too, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Joanne detached her hands from the rail then and turned to walk away. She was making her way back toward their side of town. Jacky followed closely, not wanting to lose sight of her.

“Since it’s your day off, want to come over and play games with the guys?” Jacky asked, trying to distract Joanne.

“Don’t feel like it,” Joanne replied, not caring if she was stomping on Jacky’s effort.

“At least let me drive you home.”

“I need the walk.”

“Sis…come on…”

Joanne could hear the anxiousness in Jacky’s voice so she stopped and turned to face Jacky again. “Okay, but you have to promise not to tell the others.”

Jacky smiled then. “Deal.”

So they made their way to Jacky’s car, which was parked not far from the bridge. He’d done that on purpose so he could enjoy the walk earlier. This particular encounter with Joanne was unexpected. It reminded him of the first time he met Sophia–though with the exception of it being night and day.

© Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

Posted: Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Advertisements