Chapter 10

“So…how are we going to proceed with this plan?” Kenny whispers Joanne’s way when he passes by her.
“We’re going to post up a notice in front of the shop and spread the words around to our usual customers,” Joanne explains. “Need to start taking orders and make sure we have the supplies. After that’s done…”
“We probably have to do all of it the night before, huh?”
“Probably since that’s the only way to ensure that it will be the most fresh and ready for Valentine’s Day.”
“How many could all of us do in one day though?”
“We’ll see.”
“Aren’t you going to experiment it before actually following through with the plan? It’s a bit risky with just diving in like that.”
“Xiao Qiao and I are drafting up the notice among other things tomorrow. We’ll be doing the experiment also. If it works out good, we’ll post the notice up. If not, then it’s back to the drawing board.”
“Are we starting a bit late though?”
“We’re already behind schedule but it’s better late than never. We have a month. It’s a close call but for a small shop like ours, it’s going to be fine.”
“By then, Jacky and I will be gone so we can’t help with the rest of the preparations,” Joyce points out as she brings out another dish from the kitchen.
Joanne smiles. “No worry. The Zeng clan is all in for this battle.”
“But I have to study for exams that week,” Charlene whines upon hearing Joanne’s declaration.
“Qing jie will be back by then. She could give us a hand. And I’ll ask Calvin if he’s free. We need everyone we can.”
Jacky walks in at that time to set down the last of the dishes. He could only catch the last bit of it so he turns to the girls and Kenny for an explanation.
“We’re talking about our grand plan,” Joyce says.
“Oh? I swore I just hear you saying something about calling Calvin.”
“Yeah,” Joanne verifies. “For help with our plan. Since you and Xiao Qiao will be out of town, we still need some more pairs of hands to help, don’t you think?”
“Good idea.”
Joanne nods.
“Hey, what about Gino?” Joyce asks, sitting down at the spot next to Jacky.
Jacky turns to give her a murderous look.
“What?!”
“I think he’s busy with opening his martial arts place, right?” Joanne reminds Joyce.
“Oh yeah. I almost forgot.”
“So we shouldn’t bother him about it. Besides, it would take more time to teach him than do it ourselves.”
Jacky feels reassured again upon hearing that.
“Why does that sound a bit wrong?” Joyce asks, turning to Joanne for an explanation.
“I’m not insulting his intelligent,” Joanne clarifies. “I’m just saying that he would be too occupied with his plans and he would be out of focused to join in with our plan. Besides, I just met him again recently. Wouldn’t it be strange to ask him to jump in and help us with this out of nowhere? I know we’ve known each other ages now but it’s strange.”
“I didn’t realize you would care about that.”
Joanne shrugs. “I guess I’m already over the whole excitement of meeting him again. Or I’m just too worried about our plan right now.”
Joyce nods.
“I’ll go call Dad for dinner.”
The others nod and wait for Joanne to come back with Mr. Zeng. They all stand up to wait for Mr. Zeng to sit down before sitting back down in their spots. This time around, Joanne is sitting next to him with Jacky next to her and then Joyce. Kenny and Charlene are across the table with Kenny next to Mr. Zeng and Charlene next to Kenny.
“I was thinking of going back to work tomorrow,” Mr. Zeng announces suddenly after they begin eating.
“Ba, don’t you want to take a vacation?” Kenny asks.
“What is there to do this time of the year?” Mr. Zeng asks back, looking from his children to Jacky and Joyce, sensing something going on. “Are you kids hiding something from me?”
“I was going to tell you anyway,” Joanne says. “Competition moved in on us. But we managed to come up with some plans to keep our customers.”
“I’ve been with the shop for how many years now?” Mr. Zeng asks rhetorically. “Do you kids think I would be bothered by competitions?”
“Still something to avoid,” Joanne points out, placing a piece of veggie on Jacky’s bowl. “But you can come back to work if you want. We’re experimenting tomorrow.”
“I guess I’ll be ready to see the show then,” Mr. Zeng jokes.
Joanne smiles. “You’ll bet.”
“What else do you guys have in mind?” Charlene asks.
“The rest of the details will be planned after we succeed with the experiment. And our next plan will be carried out when Xiao Qiao comes back.”
“All right, everyone,” Kenny jumps in. “Let’s eat. No more business talk.”
The others laugh, knowing of Kenny’s appetite. However, they must agree with Kenny. The rest of the meal contains only of random talk and their possible plan for the upcoming days in regard to leisure and not business.

*****

The next day, Joanne begins her experiment after their opening tasks, setting the flower bracelet on the counter behind her to monitor throughout the day of its progress as she tends to customers. Mr. Zeng ends up doing inventory checking and browsing around the shop to tend to customers. The father and daughter team switches their tasks around halfway through the day to relief one another of the boredom they experiment. Although business continues to be slow but they recognize some of their old customers coming back after days of exploring the other shop. Some even commented on the crowded, suffocating atmosphere of the other place comparing to theirs. Joanne couldn’t help celebrating inside but keeps her professionalism at a maximum, only thanking the customers for their loyal support.
As for Kenny and Charlene, they have to attend classes like last week and could only come in to help on some days this week. However, Charlene pulls the ‘busy’ card on everyone again and does not plan to come in as much during the upcoming weeks. The Zeng clan is very used to it by now and does not hold her account for it since they have more than enough people to help them.
On the backup team, Jacky and Joyce will be stuck in meetings for the rest of the week and could only come at the end of the day to meet up for dinner or help close up. However, Joanne is already very grateful of Joyce in helping her with their upcoming plan. Although Joyce’s busy with reports – like Jacky – after a long meeting that day, but she still manages to call Joanne at lunch to check up on the flower’s progress.
“I think we need one more day for this experiment,” Joanne tells Joyce.
“What happened?” Joyce asks, worried. “Need to improvise?”
“I was so excited that I forgot the simplest thing. Actually, two things. One, I didn’t wear it on my hand to see if it would be durable for the whole day and two, everyone’s wrists are different. How could we just do it?”
“One more day for the experiment, I agree. But no need to worry about the second part. The material we’re making it out of is quite flexible. If it could last the whole day after you put it on your hand, it’s good. The guys aren’t going to be caught dead with a flower bracelet on their hands and it would take the surprise part away if the guys decide to buy it for their girlfriends that day, don’t you think?”
“Okay then. Looks like you got it all covered. Oh yeah…we need to discuss about the price too, how could I forget?”
“We’ll talk about that tonight also. And we can come up with a design to post up along with the notice. Having sample pictures of the bracelet would be even more convincing of course. And don’t worry. You’re just too stressed out by it so you forgot those details.”
“It would cost us if I keep forgetting like this because those are the crucial details. Oh yeah, deadlines. I’m thinking in two weeks, what do you think?”
“Good enough since we wouldn’t want to act too desperate with luring in customers and it would make it more special that way.”
“Thanks, Xiao Qiao.”
“No need for that. I’ll come back after work, okay?”
“Okay, bye.”
They hang up after that.
Joanne feels better that Joyce has got it covered. She taps on her head a bit, telling herself silently to focus since she can’t afford to be careless like that, especially in the upcoming weeks.

*****

After having all the details straightened out with tasks assigned, the Zeng clan and their backup team work diligently and productively for the upcoming weeks, making sure to meet their deadline. Coming up with such plan is not hard, but being able to keep up with the expectations from their current customers and possibly future customers, the pressure sure stands higher than before. Not to mention they have a big threat right across the street to remind them more of the aim for perfection.
After one week and a half pass by, Jacky and James’ parents come back from their trip so Joanne has to pull herself out of the project and turns off her aggressiveness long enough to come to the gathering along with Kristy and Joyce to the Chu family’s reunion.
When they arrive at the Chu resident, Mr. and Mrs. Chu receive Kristy, Joanne, and Joyce with much happiness and affection while a set of formalities and politeness are in placed for Caitlin’s arrival. However, Caitlin is not aware of the differences in treatment since she just thinks that both elders are still suffering from jet lag from their fatigued appearances.
“I heard you’re working hard to drive out some competition, Qiao Qiao,” Mr. Chu jokes when they all settle down in the living room to talk before dinner.
“It’s true,” Joanne admits, smiling. “But this little challenge will help us sharpen up.”
“Need me to pull some strings?”
“Dad,” Jacky jumps in.
“I’m just kidding, son,” Mr. Chu says, sending his son a wave.
“No need, Uncle,” Joanne answers, still keeping her polite attitude. “We’re in good shape.”
“How about my support then? You’re still taking orders, right?”
Joanne nods.
“One for me then. Do I have to pay now or…”
“Arthur,” Mrs. Chu scolds her husband.
“What?” Mr. Chu asks back, turning to his wife. “I’m just helping our future daughter in law here. What’s wrong with that?”
Mrs. Chu just shakes her head and turns back to tune in to the conversation she’s carrying on with Kristy and Joyce.
“So, what do you say, Qiao Qiao?” Mr. Chu repeats the offer, turning back to Jacky and Joanne.
“I’ll gladly take your order, Uncle,” Joanne replies with a smile.
Then Mr. Chu turns to his sons. “Jacky, James.”
“What, Dad?” Jacky asks.
James turns his full attention to his father and waits for him to continue. The room is not that noisy for Mr. Chu to call for attention but everyone quiets down anyway and tunes in to his next words.
“Showing some support for our Qiao Qiao here?” Mr. Chu asks, his smile teasing but his tone threatening.
“Out of town,” Jacky responds casually, catching onto his father’s attempt to joke.
“I definitely will,” James responds. “One for me too, Qiao.”
“Thanks, James ge,” Joanne says.
“How come you didn’t ask us girls, Uncle?” Kristy asks, curious.
“Only guys can order it for their girlfriends,” Joyce explains to Kristy.
“Oh.”
“It’s a good idea to show some appreciation then,” Jacky jokes, his eyes passing from James to Kristy.
James clears his throat and gives Jacky a threatening glare.
“All right,” Mr. Chu says finally, getting up from the sofa.
As if by cue, everyone gets up also. They proceed to the dining room to see the maids – Rita and Suzan – already finished with their tasks. The maids nod at Mr. and Mrs. Chu and stand aside as everyone piles into the room.
“You two may go for the night,” Mr. Chu tells them.
They nod politely and leave the room. As they walk by, Joanne waves a goodbye to them. They smile back at her before increasing their pace to the door.
“All right,” Mr. Chu says, calling for attention again.
Besides from Mrs. Chu who is standing next to her husband, the rest of them are actually line up in front of Mr. Chu. They continue to wait silently for his upcoming words. It is almost a routine that they are assigned seats each time they’re there for dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Chu. But it is their favorite part, especially Jacky and Joanne because Mr. Chu always manages to make it entertaining.
“This time,” Mr. Chu drawls out for dramatic effects. “Qiao Qiao on my right and Xiao Qiao on my left. Then…”
“You always pick them,” Mrs. Chu jumps in, interrupting her husband.
“I always leave you with one daughter in law,” Mr. Chu defends himself.
Jacky couldn’t help but lets out a smile. Joanne has to poke him in the side for him to stop. They all know Mr. Chu’s words are a double-edged sword. He’s acknowledging both daughter-in-laws, but does not clarify of the second one.
“Mom, it’s all right,” Jacky says, stepping out of the crowd. “I’ll sit next to you.”
“And have all of us suffer through the entire meal?” Mr. Chu asks, wrinkling his face. “Putting you and Caitlin together is like throwing the bomb into a room, knowing the consequences. You might as well prepare for my funeral.”
“Dad!” Jacky and James exclaim at the same time.
“You shouldn’t say those unlucky things at dinner,” Mrs. Chu scolds her husband. “All right then. You can pick according to your preference.”
Jacky lets out another smile as he’s waiting for his father to continue. He sends Joanne a wink while she sends him a dagger look back. Yes, she’s trying really hard not to laugh but he just keeps taunting her. His mother just managed to add another sword his father started.
“Okay then,” Mr. Chu said again. “Jacky next to Qiao Qiao of course. Erm…”
Mr. Chu stops because they could hear the doorbell.
“I’ll get it,” Jacky volunteers, walking out of the dining room and into the living room.
“I’ll go with you,” Joanne adds in, joining him as he walks by her.
“Hey, you’re just in time,” Jacky says after opening the door. “We’re waiting for Dad to assign seats right now. Fun stuff.”
“For you,” Joanne whispers, her expression still grim.
“Like you’re not laughing.”
“If you would just stop making me laugh.”
“I can’t. I just love Dad too much with his choice of words.”
“Guys?” Their new guest urges.
“Sorry, Calvin,” Jacky apologizes. “Come in.”
They step aside for Calvin to come in before closing the door. Jacky and Joanne walk in front to lead the way – though it is not necessary since Calvin has been there several times already.
“Hi, Uncle, Auntie,” Calvin greets Mr. and Mrs. Chu. “I apologize for being late.”
“You’re just on time, my boy,” Mr. Chu says with a happy smile.
Jacky almost takes a tumble but Joanne catches him in time.
“You all right?” Joanne asks, still having a hand around his waist.
“Yeah,” Jacky answers, righting himself up again. “Since when did Dad adopt Calvin?”
“I have no idea,” Joanne answers. “Listen up.”
“You just solved our obstacle,” Mr. Chu clarifies of his words. “You sit next to Jacky while Caitlin will be at the end of the table with Mom. Kristy, you’re on the other side next to Mom, of course. And James, next to Kristy. This works out great.”
Upon hearing that she doesn’t get to sit next to James, Caitlin is about to object but James stops her in time by putting a hand around her shoulders. She turns to him with her face all wrinkled, but James shakes his head, indicating she shouldn’t start anything.
“So, Mom, what do you think?” Mr. Chu asks, turning to his wife again. “You can sit next to two girls just like me. So you would have two girls to talk to too.”
“Let’s eat,” Mrs. Chu says, defeated, knowing her husband would never stop if they keep at it.
“All right, everyone,” Mr. Chu says again. “Get to your places.”
As Jacky’s walking over to his seat, he could barely catch parts of James’ words to Caitlin, “Dad’s in high spirits tonight. Let him have his way. It’s just dinner.”
“Come on, kids,” Mr. Chu urges again, seeing James and Caitlin still standing around after the others are already settling down at their assigned spots.
James rushes to his seat after giving Caitlin’s shoulder a reassuring pat.
“Yes, come on, jie,” Jacky says, implying an emphasis on the last word.
Caitlin sends Jacky a nasty look as she walks by him.
“Jacky, stop it,” Mr. Chu scolds his son. “We’re having a special dinner tonight. Stop spoiling everyone’s mood.”
“Sorry, Dad,” Jacky says, sounding apologetic enough but his smile said otherwise. He leans into Joanne and whispers, “I told you I love Dad. He already sent her to exile and now he just has to rub it in some more by reminding us how much we’re enjoying our time.”
“Stop pushing your luck,” Joanne reminds him, still able to keep her tone to a whisper.
“Uh…Dad, could I switch seats with Calvin since I want to have a good view at the clock,” James speaks up from the other side of the table.
“Request denied,” Mr. Chu replies crisply.
“I need to wake up early tomorrow. I just want to make sure I get to bed early.”
“James, we all have cell phones. And not to mention you have a watch on your hand. Besides, would you want to rob your mom the chance of talking to her daughter in law? You can talk to Caitlin anytime.”
“How come Jacky can…”
Jacky couldn’t take anymore and ends up leaning on Joanne for support. He has been trying to suppress his laughter but couldn’t believe his brother would go to such extreme for Caitlin. Joanne’s handing him a glass of water now since he just choked.
“They don’t have to talk to communicate,” Mr. Chu continues with his explanation to James. “Besides, he and I can switch back and forth with talking to Qiao Qiao or Xiao Qiao. Or we can carry on a conversation between us four. Would you want to leave Kristy and Calvin alone while your mom’s busy talking to Caitlin? Be nice to the other guests.”
“Dad, give him what he wants before I choke to death,” Jacky speaks up, finally regaining himself. His voice’s a bit hoarse but still understandable.
Mr. Chu sighs out and nods. “All right. Go.”
Jacky turns to Calvin. “Sorry, switch seats. I advice you to sit next to Xiao Qiao though since you won’t be able to eat anything with watching James and Caitlin.”
“Jacky,” James warns.
“I didn’t say anything. I’m just saying he can’t intake food if he keeps seeing people acting lovey-dovey in front of him. And I just rescued you from the worst. Be grateful.” He turns back to Calvin again. “So yeah.”
James has already gotten up from his seat and has been making his way to this side of the table. He’s by Calvin’s chair now but remembers to leave room so Calvin can get up. Calvin does as he was told and decides to listen to Jacky, taking the seat next to Joyce.
“Since we’re finally happy now,” Jacky says. “Can we eat in peace, everyone?”
Indeed, after that little rearrangement, everyone eats and talks happily for the entire meal. Mr. and Mrs. Chu share of their adventure with everyone first. Then they end up having side conversations of their own around the table. It was a good idea after all to have Kristy on Mrs.Chu’s right since they end up relying on each other for company since James and Caitlin are engrossed in their own conversation – like Mr. Chu predicted. Other than that, the rest of the night goes by in that same comedic manner.
© Sunday, September 13th, 2009
Posted: Thursday, April 28th, 2011