Chapter 19 – Hope For Sale

Jacky stood at the edge of the cliff looking at the waves crashing back and forth. He suddenly felt at ease. He smiled, stepping a bit closer to get a better view. The early morning wind picked up at that time.  He looked down at the sea below again, fascinated with its breathtaking view. As he was closing his eyes to enjoy the peaceful moment, he heard someone yelling behind him. No, wait. More like three voices–one after another. He cranked his ears a bit to hear what they were saying.

“Don’t!” The first girl yelled out.

“Is he really going to jump?” Another girl asked. “Stop him!”

“Run faster!” The third girl ordered. “Take off your heels!”

Jacky smiled, feeling a bit amused. Were they talking about him or some other person around here? He opened his eyes again and glanced around the area to see if any other guy was standing near the cliff. No, only him.

“Hey! Don’t you dare jump!” The second girl yelled out.

Jacky finally turned around to see three girls in different color outfits running toward him. He couldn’t help but smiled at their worried expression. The girls finally stopped in front of him.

“What are you doing here so early in the morning?” The first girl demanded.

The second girl hit the first girl on the hand. “What do you think?” She turned to Jacky. “You know how precious life is? You better not do anything rash.”

“That’s right!” The third girl chimed in.

“Uh…” Jacky attempted.

“We know you’re going to tell us some very sensible reasons,” The second girl continued again. “But it only sounds sensible right now. And you’ll regret it later when you feel the air rushing toward you during the last few seconds of your life.”

“Ladies, I…” Jacky tried again.

“Don’t say anything,” The third girl jumped in. “You must calm down. Walk slowly back to us. It’s going to be okay.”

Jacky’s smile turned wider. He couldn’t believe these girls. “You three must have mistaken. I’m just here to enjoy some early morning fresh air.”

“Who are you kidding?” The second girl asked. “Everyone who wants to come here and jump down would reply with the same answer.”

“Do I look like I want to jump down?” Jacky asked back.

The first girl studied Jacky carefully before turning to the other two. “He doesn’t look like he’s here to jump down.”

“What do you know?” The second girl snapped. “They all say that.”

“This place isn’t a good place to commit suicide if I want to do that,” Jacky pointed out. “It’s too easily discovered by others.”

“What are you talking about?” The second girl asked, puzzled.

Jacky turned around to face the cliff again. The three girls panicked, yelling for him not to jump.

Jacky pointed toward the water below. “If someone wants to jump down from here, it’s just for a swim. You three see how high this place is? Even if someone jumps down, that person would hit the water before dying anyway.”

The three girls advanced forward and took a look themselves before turning to each other.

“He’s right,” The first girl said. “It doesn’t look like it.”

“Yeah,” The third girl agreed.

Jacky glanced at his watch. “The sun’s going to rise above our heads soon. It’ll be quite hot. So…if you three don’t have anything else to ask me, I’m going to go now.” He gave them a polite smile before walking away from the cliff and back into town.

The second girl didn’t give up. She caught up to Jacky and walked side-by-side with him. The other two girls looked at each other, not sure what to do except follow the two in front of them.

Jacky turned to the girl walking next to him. “Miss…”

“I don’t trust you,” The second girl jumped in, cutting him off. “What if you decided to come back here after we leave? We have to look after you.”

The other two girls had caught up with them by now.

“Hey, what do you mean ‘we’?” The first girl asked her companion.

The second girl turned to the first girl. “We have to prevent the inevitable, okay?” She hit the first girl on the head. “Be sharp.”

The first girl rubbed her head and followed silently. Jacky smiled, not knowing what else to say. He looked at the town ahead, wondering where he should go today. He wasn’t sure of where to go when he saw the road sign as he ran into the fork, but decided to try it out. He had been here for two days now and loving it already. Who knew he would encounter these strange girls today?

“Oh, right,” The second girl began again. “We haven’t seen you around here. Are you new? Did you just move into town?”

“I’m actually here on a vacation,” Jacky explained. “It’s a nice place.”

They were finally walking toward a wider area, so the third girl managed to walk on Jacky’s right side. She looked so excited that Jacky couldn’t help but smiled at her innocent expression.

“Definitely!” The third girl exclaimed. “This is the best place ever. We’ve been here since we were born. It’s just awesome!”

“Would you stop acting childish in front of a guest?” The second girl scolded.

“It’s good to know that someone’s still attached to a place for such a long time,” Jacky commented. “Loyalty is a rare thing nowadays.”

The third girl smiled at Jacky’s compliment.

“See?” The third girl said to her companion. “He says I’m loyal.”

“Aiya, he’s just being polite,” The second girl snapped.

Suddenly, they saw Jacky’s face fell. It didn’t seem as cheerful anymore.

“Hey, are you all right?” The second girl asked. “You look like you want to go back there and jump down.”

The first girl poked the second girl on the sides.

The second girl turned to the first girl. “What?!”

“Do you have to remind him? We’re trying to distract him here.”

Jacky smiled. “It’s all right. I was just thinking of something.” He looked around casually, observing the scene. “Since you three are very familiar with this place, where would you recommend for breakfast?”

“You have to try out Xiao Bai’s bakery,” The second girl rattled off. “It has the best…”

“Oh come on,” The first girl said, cutting her friend off. “She always has old stuffs. If you want to recommend something, you have to tell him about Jing Jing’s café.”

“Oh yeah, we haven’t eaten there for a while,” The third girl jumped in. Then she turned to look at Jacky. “Want to come along?”

“Sure,” Jacky said. “If you say…”

“Are you kidding me?” The second girl jumped in–again. “Jing Jing…”

“We know you don’t want to brag about your cousin’s place, but you have to admit she’s good,” The first girl pointed out her friend’s intention.

“If you girls say so, then I must try it out,” Jacky said.

“Definitely!” The third girl exclaimed cheerfully. “Let’s go.” She unconsciously hooked her hand through Jacky’s right hand and led him into town.

The second girl wrinkled her face. “Aiya, what are you doing?”

The third girl finally realized what she was doing and released Jacky’s hand, looking somewhat awkward. She let out a nervous smile. “Sorry.”

“No problem,” Jacky said.

“Oh yeah, what is your name?” The second girl asked.

“Zhu Fan Gang,” Jacky said, glancing at the girls one by one briefly. “You girls are…?”

“Almost forgot,” The second girl said. “I’m Zhao Hong Qiao. My friends call me Xiao Qiao.”

Jacky turned to the third girl, who looked quite eager to introduce herself.

“Qu Min Jie,” The third girl said. “Everyone calls me Xiao Jie.”

Jacky turned his attention back on the first girl.

“Wei Ru,” The first girl said quickly. “Lai Wei Ru.”

“Nice names,” Jacky complimented.

The girls smiled.

“So…where is this café located at?”

“Don’t worry,” Xiao Jie reassured him. “It’s just two blocks from here.”

Jacky nodded.

“Oh right, if you’re on vacation, then…” Wei Ru began.

Jacky wrinkled his face. “Then?”

“Never mind.”

Jacky suddenly remembered back to what Ehlo said. Girls, always saying half and leaving the rest hanging. He couldn’t help but smiled.

“What are you smiling about?” Xiao Qiao asked.

“I just remembered something my friend said.”

“Must be a girl, right? If not, you wouldn’t smile like that.”

“A guy actually. He’s one of my best friends since childhood.”

“That’s strange.”

Jacky turned to her. “Strange to have friends since childhood?”

“No. Strange that you should think of him like that. Look at your smile before. What did he say anyway?”

“He said…” He stopped and tried to fake Ehlo’s voice. “Girls, always saying half and leaving the rest hanging.” Then he stopped again to resume his normal voice. “Funny, isn’t it?”

Wei Ru’s face turned a little pink at that time, knowing too well he was talking about her.

“Who is he anyway?” Xiao Qiao asked. “Is he here on vacation with you?”

“No. I’m actually on vacation alone.”

“Oh? That’s strange. Who would go on vacation alone?”

“Some people like to, okay?” Xiao Jie jumped in, sounding a bit defensive. “Could you stop picking on him? He’s our guest after all.”

Xiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “But it’s still strange though.”

“Aiya, you’re always curious,” Wei Ru snapped. “Save your author virus for later.”

Jacky turned to Xiao Qiao. “You’re a writer?”

Xiao Qiao nodded. “Only part time though. I work at a jewelry shop the rest of the time.”

“What are some of your works?”

“Uh…”

Jacky felt a bit surprised that she became all hesitant when talking about herself yet she was so eager to know about him earlier.

“She’s a romance novelist,” Xiao Jie said excitedly, turning to him. “Have you ever read ‘Red Rose’ by Xiao Yue Lan? Or ‘Faithful Season’? Or…”

“Aiya, would you quit it already?” Xiao Qiao jumped in, feeling an unknown awkwardness creeping up from within.

The others turned to her to see her a bit nervous.

“Why do you look uneasy?” Jacky asked. “Unless those aren’t your work.”

“It’s not that,” Xiao Qiao said. “It’s just strange to talk about my work like that. It’s almost like…” She scratched her head nervously.

“Bragging?”

“Yes.”

“What’s the matter? Those are good books, especially ‘Faithful Season.’”

Xiao Qiao’s eyes brightened. “Really?! You read them?”

“Yes. It was very touching.” He returned his eyes to the scenery once more before turning back to Xiao Qiao. “I can’t believe I’m face-to-face with one of the most famous authors of our time. Too bad I didn’t bring the book with me or I’ll ask for your signature.”

“Aiya, stop saying that. It feels strange.”

“Why not? Shouldn’t you feel proud of yourself?”

“She’s like that,” Wei Ru said. “Always like to chat over random subjects, but never wanting to admit her talent.” She let out a sweet smile. “You’ll get used to her.”

“That’s right,” Xiao Jie agreed.

Suddenly, Xiao Jie got all excited again.

“Here we are,” She declared.

Jacky turned to look at the shop in front of them. Although it looked small, but it had this cozy feeling to it. Jacky couldn’t help but feel all warm inside. Nice place, he thought. Nice group of people too.

They all entered the shop before speaking up again.

Jacky glanced at his watch. “Does this town open so early for business?”

“Yes,” Xiao Qiao confirmed. “We’re a small town, but we’re very hard-working.”

“I don’t doubt that one bit.”

They had sat down at a booth in the corner with Wei Ru and Xiao Qiao on one side while Xiao Jie managed to slide into the seat next to Jacky.

Jacky looked around the shop. “Small, but cozy.”

Xiao Qiao poured tea for them all. “Yes, it’s a small town. But…”

“It has this little cozy feeling that no other place could provide,” Wei Ru finished.

Jacky nodded. “I must agree. I’ve never seen such a place before. The rest of the world has already been contaminated by the luxurious and materialistic dreams.”

“Actually, there are still other people who manage to maintain a pure heart out there somewhere,” Xiao Qiao said.

Jacky looked at her. “Oh?”

Xiao Qiao put the teapot down. “Don’t believe me?”

“It’s not that. It’s just hard to imagine. I recently met this one girl, but the rest? I doubt it. I meant from the outside world of course. In here, everyone seems to be kindhearted.”

“Who is this special girl then?”

“My god-sister.”

“God-sister?”

Jacky nodded. “It’s not official, but everyone in our group of friends knows it.”

“Isn’t that enough already?”

“Oh yeah, who is the person you mentioned before that still maintains a pure heart?”

Xiao Qiao’s cheerful smile turned into a despair one. “He disappeared already.”

“He?”

Xiao Qiao glanced at her watch out of habit. “Actually…” She turned around toward the counter. “Jing Jing! Turn on the radio!”

Jacky looked at Wei Ru and then Xiao Jie, wondering what was going on. Wei Ru smiled at him, signaling toward the radio that Jing Jing just brought out and placed at the front counter. Jacky understood and began to listen in. He turned to Xiao Qiao with a surprised expression as he heard a familiar voice on the radio.

“Thanks for tuning in to KFT,” A familiar voice said. “We’ve have received numerous letters as well as phone calls from listeners regarding Jacky. We thank all of you for your concern, but Jacky just recently left due to personal matters. We will try our best to find him as soon as possible. Once again, thanks for your ongoing support. And now, I would like to turn this program over to our Sonia and Sam.”

Jacky smiled, feeling some bitterness in his mouth. He brought the teacup to his mouth and began to drink as Producer Lin turned the show over to Sam and Sonia. He heard Sonia’s voice coming on first.

“Hi, everyone,” Sonia greeted them with her usual cheerful tone. “We’re back for today’s show to talk about…”

“Jing Jing, you can turn it off now!” Xiao Qiao yelled toward the counter.

Jacky was about to object, but he didn’t want to upset Xiao Qiao, so he ended up sipping on his tea again. Xiao Qiao finally turned her attention back to them.

Wei Ru pat her on the shoulder. “Come on now. Don’t be so down. Maybe he’ll be back soon. Or maybe he wasn’t gone in the first place, but the radio station just wants to pull in more listeners by making up this news about his disappearance.”

“Aiya, if they make it up, I’m sure he wouldn’t go along with it,” Xiao Qiao said, apparent irritation showing on her face. “He must be gone already.”

“Don’t sound so serious,” Xiao Jie said. “It’s like you lost your best friend.”

“Hey!” Wei Ru shouted. “We’re still right here. Do you want to jinx us?”

“No way! I just…”

Jacky looked at Xiao Qiao. “You like that guy’s show that much?”

Xiao Qiao scratched her head. “Uh…”

“You don’t know how much she looks up to him,” Wei Ru teased. “It’s like…”

Xiao Qiao poked Wei Ru in the sides for her to stop.

“But seriously, do you guys think that he…” Xiao Jie guessed.

“Nothing happened to him,” Jacky jumped in, cutting her off. “Don’t worry.”

“How would you know?” Xiao Qiao asked.

Xiao Jie turned to Jacky. “Are you a fan also? How do you know he’s okay?”

Jacky poured some more tea for himself. “For one, if it’s a serious matter, don’t you think that the police would be sending out some kind of alert for him already?”

“We wouldn’t know if they did,” Xiao Qiao pointed out. “We’re too far away from there.”

“I live there, okay? I know.”

Xiao Qiao’s eyes brightened. “You do? How is that place?”

“Just like any other town. Always so complicated and…”

“You would say it lightly since you live there, but to us…”
“If you want, you can come back with me later and visit us.”

Xiao Qiao’s eyes brightened but her face fell again.

“What’s wrong?”

“We just know you. It’s not good to tag you like that. It’s just…” She scratched her head out of habit. “…strange.”

“It’s okay to tag me at your own town then?”

Wei Ru and Xiao Jie turned a bit pink at Jacky’s comment. Wei Ru began to pour some more tea for herself while Xiao Jie edged a little further away from Jacky. Xiao Qiao, on the other hand, gave him a challenging look.

“Hey!” Xiao Qiao exclaimed. “What are you talking about?”

Jacky smiled. “I’m kidding.”

Xiao Qiao could see he was pretty much harmless so she calmed down.

“Honestly though, you girls could consider. Probably I won’t go anywhere else after this…but maybe I will.”

“What do you mean?” Wei Ru asked.

“Sounds old-fashioned and somewhat lame, but I’m on a journey to explore myself again. I told them I’ll be back but I wasn’t sure when until I came here. It’s strange. But this place does change people’s view about life. There seems to be more hope at this place. Maybe I shouldn’t leave at all.”

“What are you mumbling about?” Xiao Qiao asked, wrinkling her face.

At that time, Jing Jing brought over a basket of fresh bread plus some sweets for them. She set it down on the table before leaving again.

“Nothing,” Jacky said quickly. “Let’s eat.”

They ate in silence for a while before Xiao Qiao realized something. She looked over to him.

Jacky stopped eating. “What?”

“To think more carefully, your voice sounds familiar,” Xiao Qiao said.

Jacky smiled. “Oh?”

“I probably heard it from somewhere already. It’s just that I can’t place it at the moment.” She turned to Wei Ru for help. “Don’t you feel it?” She turned to Xiao Jie also.

Wei Ru wrinkled her face. “That’s right. It does sound familiar.”

Xiao Jie’s eyes brightened. “That’s right! I’ve been pondering it since we met him. I meant since he spoke up. It’s like I know him a long time already but don’t know from where.”

“Want me to help you remember then?” Jacky asked, flashing on his mischievous smile.

Xiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “Huh?”

Jacky withdrew his chopsticks from the sweets plate and put it down on his own plate again. He took a sip of tea before clearing his throat. “Someone once told me that fate is something you can only experience, but can’t use words to describe it. I never believe it before, but thought that I share with you all today. When people talk about ‘fate’, they often associate it with love relationships. But what I think is…fate is also something between family and friends as well. If there isn’t any mystical element coming into play, how can you be with your current family members? How could you’ve encountered such good friends? So…fate…should be use for all circumstances instead of just for the purpose of acknowledging love relationships.”

While he was saying all these, all three girls were looking at him and listening intently. Then Xiao Qiao finally snapped to alertness as he finished the last few words.

“Aha!” Xiao Qiao blurted out. “So you’re Jacky!” She hit his hand with hers. “Why did you make a fool out of us?”

“No wonder your voice sounds so familiar,” Wei Ru said.

Jacky smiled. “Sorry. I just didn’t feel like exposing myself, especially when I’m on vacation. But since I already found out who Xiao Yue Lan is, it’s only fair to let you all know who I am.”

“So you’re the famous Jacky!” Xiao Jie exclaimed excitedly. “That’s so cool!” She was clinging onto his hand again without knowing. “Jacky ge, you’re my hero!”

As soon as he heard the words “Jacky ge”, he winced out of habit. Xiao Jie realized that she had clung onto him again. She released his arm and gave him a nervous smile.

“Sorry, habit,” Xiao Jie apologized.

“It’s all right,” Jacky reassured her. “It’s not you. It’s old habit.”

“What habit?” Wei Ru asked, puzzled.

“Someone I know calls me that, so I’m just reacting out of habit.”

“You mean ‘Jacky ge’?” Xiao Jie asked.

Jacky winced again.

“Sorry!”

Jacky smiled. “No problem. Like I said, old habit.”

“I know! I can jinx whoever it is I out with my cute voice!”

“Aiya, would you stop giving me goose bumps?” Wei Ru said, shuddering at the same time.

“I’m just excited that I finally get to meet Jacky…” Xiao Jie stopped before she got to the final word. She smiled at him instead.

“Please,” Xiao Qiao said. “Knock it off already. You’re starting to make us look desperate.”

“Don’t worry,” Jacky said. “I think she’s just honest.”

“That’s right!” Xiao Jie exclaimed, feeling confident from Jacky’s protection.

“Because she’s praising you?” Xiao Qiao asked around the same time as Xiao Jie’s words.

“No,” Jacky said. “I can see the sincere in her eyes.”

Wei Ru bit on her chopsticks. “Oh please, could you stop giving us chills too?”

Jacky smiled, going back to the food in front of him.

“Oh, right,” Xiao Qiao said, remembering something. “Are you really here on vacation or…”

“Or what? I’m here to do some research for my future shows?”

“Possible.”

Jacky smiled. “Actually, I never expected that I would come here. I was just wandering around. But this sign I saw by the road as I was turning led me here.”

“What sign?”

“Hope for Sale.”

Xiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “What sign is that? I’ve never seen it before.”

“It’s about 50 miles from here.”

“Oh.” Her eyes suddenly brightened up. “So when are you returning?”

“You want me to return?”

“Those two taking over your slot are boring.”

“Can you get your priorities straight?” Wei Ru jumped in.

Xiao Qiao turned to Wei Ru. “What?”
“You would rather hear him on the radio than have him sitting here and eating breakfast with us?”

“I guess…” She looked down at the table surface, but snapped her attention on Jacky again. “But still, you shouldn’t be hiding if there is really something going on. If not, you wouldn’t be our role model anymore. You hear me?”

“I guess I shouldn’t let you girls down then.”

“That’s right, Jacky ge,” Xiao Jie agreed. “There’s this saying, something about not letting girls down.”

Xiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “What are you talking about? You’re killing the prose.” She shook her head and turned to Jacky. “She doesn’t know anything.”

“Hey!” Xiao Jie protested.

“Let’s not argue anymore,” Wei Ru interfered. “We should be at work soon. Hurry up and finish.”

“She made me forgot,” Xiao Qiao said.

Jacky looked at the three girls, amazed that they were still friends. But then their friendship reminded him of the friendship he shared with Ehlo and Johnny. Despite their differences, they managed to stay friends all these years.

Wei Ru bit on her chopsticks and looked at Jacky again. “That’s strange.”

Jacky turned to her. “What?”

“You didn’t wince when Xiao Jie called you ‘Jacky ge’ just now.”

Jacky shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe I’m cured.”

“That’s great!” Xiao Jie said excitedly, clinging onto Jacky’s hand again. “See? I told you my cute voice would work!”

Xiao Qiao and Wei Ru turned to look at each other, shaking their heads.

“Let’s eat,” Jacky said casually.

Xiao Jie released her hand from his again and continued to eat. Then Xiao Qiao called Jing Jing over to bring more food for them.

They finished eating half an hour later and left the café together. Xiao Qiao spoke up first when they stepped out of the café. By now, more people began to pile into the café.

Xiao Qiao turned to look at Jacky. “Here’s the deal, if you want to tour this place some more, Xiao Jie’s free since she’s on her summer break. We Ru and I have to go to work. Want to meet up later for lunch? Or do you just want to break away from us all as soon as possible?”

Jacky complimented Xiao Qiao silently for her blunt personality. Not to mention, she didn’t even blink or blush as she said those last few words. “Uh…it’ll be good that I have a guide for the day since I’ve only been around the sea area these past days, not really knowing where to start.”

Xiao Jie clung onto Jacky’s hand again. “Yay! Good choice!”

Xiao Qiao wrinkled her face. “Would you stop already?”

Wei Ru glanced at her watch. “Don’t bother about her. We’re going to be late soon if we keep nagging her.”

“All right. Want to meet at Ming Tian for lunch then?”

“That’s a good idea,” Xiao Jie said.

“All right. It’s decided then.” She turned to Xiao Qiao. “Let’s go.”

Jacky and Xiao Jie waited for the girls to cross the streets before beginning their tour.

*****

In the next couple of days, Jacky found out more about the three girls’ background. Most of their family members lived together, but the three girls decided to break out on their own several years ago. They ended up moving in together instead.

Jacky stayed at the town for another week before deciding to leave. He came to love the little town that he didn’t want to leave anymore, but he knew he shouldn’t let everyone who cared for him down, so he decided to stop his wandering also. The three girls were happy for his final decision, knowing he had sorted out his problems already. Their departure was by the seaside where they first met, except not exactly at the cliff, but to the side road leading out of town.

“Jacky ge!” Xiao Jie blurted out in a longing tone instead of her usual cheerful voice. “Remember to write us!”

“Please, what age is this?” Xiao Qiao scolded Xiao Jie before turning to Jacky. “She means call us.”

Jacky smiled. “I’ll keep in touch. Don’t worry.”

Xiao Jie stepped forward to give him a hug. Jacky was a bit taken back, but knowing Xiao Jie’s bubbly nature, hugged her back.

“Don’t forget about us,” Xiao Jie repeated before finally letting go of him and stepping back to stand next to Xiao Qiao.

Xiao Qiao extended her hand. “Nice knowing you, Zhu Fan Gang.”

Jacky shook her hand, smiling. “Same, Xiao Yue Lan.”

She smiled back at him.

They finally released each other’s hand after a final shake.

Jacky turned to Wei Ru.

Wei Ru extended her hand also. “Take care.”

Jacky smiled. “You too.”

“And whatever obstacle you run into, don’t give up,” Wei Ru continued. “We all…” She turned to look at Xiao Qiao and Xiao Jie. “…will support you.”

Xiao Qiao and Xiao Jie nodded their heads in agreement. Xiao Jie even went to the extent of giving him a “thumbs-up” and a “happy” smile.

Jacky let go of Wei Ru’s hand. “All right. I’m off then.”

The girls stood there and waited until he disappeared around the bend before walking back to town.

Jacky walked to his car, feeling a new hope forming within him. It was a good decision to turn into this town after all.

© Wednesday, June 26th, 2008

Re-posted: Monday, February 7th, 2011

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