“So…how are we going to proceed with this plan?” Kenny whispered Joanne’s way when he passed 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 explained. “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 freshest 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 well, 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 pointed out as she brought out another dish from the kitchen.

Joanne smiled. “No worry. The Tseng clan is all in for this battle.”

“But I have to study for exams that week,” Charlene whined 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 get.”

Jacky walked in at that time to set down the last of the dishes. He could only catch the last bit of it, so he turned to the girls and Kenny for an explanation.

“We’re talking about our grand plan,” Joyce said.

“Oh? I swore I just hear you saying something about calling Calvin.”

“Yeah,” Joanne verified. “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 nodded.

“Hey, what about Gino?” Joyce asked, sitting down at the spot next to Jacky.

Jacky turned to give her a murderous look.

“What?!”

“I think he’s busy with opening his martial arts place, right?” Joanne reminded 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 felt reassured again upon hearing that.

“Why does that sound a bit wrong?” Joyce asked, turning to Joanne for an explanation.

“I’m not insulting his intelligence,” Joanne clarified. “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 shrugged. “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 nodded.

“I’ll go call Dad for dinner.”

The others nodded and waited for Joanne to come back with Mr. Tseng. They all stood up to wait for Mr. Tseng to sit down before sitting back down in their spots. This time around, Joanne was sitting next to him with Jacky next to her and then Joyce. Kenny and Charlene were across the table with Kenny next to Mr. Tseng and Charlene next to Kenny.

“I was thinking of going back to work tomorrow,” Mr. Tseng announced suddenly after they began eating.

“Ba, don’t you want to take a vacation?” Kenny asked.

“What is there to do this time of the year?” Mr. Tseng asked 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 said. “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. Tseng asked rhetorically. “Do you kids think I would be bothered by competition?”

“Still something to avoid,” Joanne pointed 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. Tseng joked.

Joanne smiled. “You bet.”

“What else do you guys have in mind?” Charlene asked.

“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 jumped in. “Let’s eat. No more business talk.”

The others laughed, knowing of Kenny’s appetite. However, they must agree with Kenny. The rest of the meal contained only random talk and their possible plan for the upcoming days in regard to leisure and not business.

*****

The next day, Joanne began 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 tended to customers. Mr. Tseng ended up doing inventory checking and browsing around the shop to tend to customers. The father and daughter team switched their tasks around halfway through the day to relieve one another of the boredom they experimented. Although business continued to be slow, they recognized 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 kept her professionalism at a maximum, only thanking the customers for their loyal support.

As for Kenny and Charlene, they had to attend classes like last week and could only come in to help on some days this week. However, Charlene pulled the “busy” card on everyone again and did not plan to come in as much during the upcoming weeks. The Tseng clan was very used to it by now and did not hold her accountable for it since they had more than enough people to help them.

On the backup team, Jacky and Joyce would 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 was already very grateful to Joyce for helping her with their upcoming plan. Although Joyce’s busy with reports—like Jacky—after a long meeting that day, she still managed to call Joanne at lunch to check up on the flower’s progress.

“I think we need one more day for this experiment,” Joanne told Joyce.

“What happened?” Joyce asked, 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 will 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 hung up after that.

Joanne felt better that Joyce got it all covered. She tapped on her head a bit, telling herself silently to focus since she couldn’t afford to be careless like that, especially in the upcoming weeks.

*****

After having all the details straightened out with tasks assigned, the Tseng clan and their backup team worked diligently and productively for the upcoming weeks, making sure to meet their deadline. Coming up with such a plan was not hard, but being able to keep up with the expectations from their current customers and possible future customers, the pressure sure stood higher than before. Not to mention they had 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 came back from their trip so Joanne had to pull herself out of the project and turned off her aggressiveness long enough to come to the gathering along with Kristy and Joyce to the Chu family’s reunion.

When they arrived at the Chu resident, Mr. and Mrs. Chu received Kristy, Joanne, and Joyce with much happiness and affection while a set of formalities and politeness were in place for Caitlin’s arrival. However, Caitlin was not aware of the differences in treatment since she just thought that both elders were still suffering from jet lag from their fatigued appearances.

“I heard you’re working hard to drive out some competition, Qiao Qiao,” Mr. Chu joked when they all settled down in the living room to talk before dinner.

“It’s true,” Joanne admitted, smiling. “But this little challenge will help us sharpen up.”

“Need me to pull some strings?”

“Dad,” Jacky jumped in.

“I’m just kidding, son,” Mr. Chu said, sending his son a wave.

“No need, Uncle,” Joanne answered, still keeping her polite attitude. “We’re in good shape.”

“How about my support then? You’re still taking orders, right?”

Joanne nodded.

“One for me then. Do I have to pay now or…”

“Arthur,” Mrs. Chu scolded her husband.

“What?” Mr. Chu asked back, turning to his wife. “I’m just helping our future daughter-in-law here. What’s wrong with that?”

Mrs. Chu just shook her head and turned back to tune in to the conversation she was carrying on with Kristy and Joyce.

“So, what do you say, Qiao Qiao?” Mr. Chu repeated the offer, turning back to Jacky and Joanne.

“I’ll gladly take your order, Uncle,” Joanne replied with a smile.

Then Mr. Chu turned to his sons. “Jacky, James.”

“What, Dad?” Jacky asked.

James turned his full attention to his father and waited for him to continue. The room was not that noisy for Mr. Chu to call for attention but everyone quieted down anyway and tuned in to his next words.

“Showing some support for our Qiao Qiao here?” Mr. Chu asked, his smile teasing but his tone threatening.

“Out of town,” Jacky responded casually, catching onto his father’s attempt to joke.

“I definitely will,” James responded. “One for me too, Qiao.”

“Thanks, James ge,” Joanne said.

“How come you didn’t ask us girls, Uncle?” Kristy asked, curious.

“Only guys can order it for their girlfriends,” Joyce explained to Kristy.

“Oh.”

“It’s a good idea to show some appreciation then,” Jacky joked, his eyes passing from James to Kristy.

James cleared his throat and gave Jacky a threatening glare.

“All right,” Mr. Chu said finally, getting up from the sofa.

As if on cue, everyone got up also. They proceeded to the dining room to see the maids—Rita and Suzan—already finished with their tasks. The maids nodded at Mr. and Mrs. Chu and stood aside as everyone piled into the room.

“You two may go for the night,” Mr. Chu told them.

They nodded politely and left the room. As they walked by, Joanne waved goodbye to them. They smiled back at her before increasing their pace to the door.

“All right,” Mr. Chu said, calling for attention again.

Aside from Mrs. Chu who was standing next to her husband, the rest of them were actually lined up in front of Mr. Chu. They continued to wait silently for his upcoming words. It was almost a routine that they were assigned seats each time they were there for dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Chu. But it was their favorite part, especially Jacky and Joanne because Mr. Chu always managed to make it entertaining.

“This time,” Mr. Chu drawled out for dramatic effects. “Qiao Qiao on my right and Xiao Qiao on my left. Then…”

“You always pick them,” Mrs. Chu jumped in, interrupting her husband.

“I always leave you with one daughter-in-law,” Mr. Chu defended himself.

Jacky couldn’t help but let out a smile. Joanne had to poke him in the sides for him to stop. They all knew Mr. Chu’s words were a double-edged sword. He was acknowledging both daughters-in-law but did not clarify of the second one.

“Mom, it’s all right,” Jacky said, stepping out of the crowd. “I’ll sit next to you.”

“And have all of us suffer through the entire meal?” Mr. Chu asked, 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 exclaimed at the same time.

“You shouldn’t say those unlucky things at dinner,” Mrs. Chu scolded her husband. “All right then. You can pick according to your preference.”

Jacky let out another smile as he was waiting for his father to continue. He sent Joanne a wink while she sent him a dagger look back. Yes, she was trying really hard not to laugh but he just kept 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 stopped because they could hear the doorbell.

“I’ll get it,” Jacky volunteered, walking out of the dining room and into the living room.

“I’ll go with you,” Joanne added, joining him as he walked by her.

“Hey, you’re just in time,” Jacky said after opening the door. “We’re waiting for Dad to assign seats right now. Fun stuff.”

“For you,” Joanne whispered, 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 urged.

“Sorry, Calvin,” Jacky apologized. “Come in.”

They stepped aside for Calvin to come in before closing the door. Jacky and Joanne walked in front to lead the way—though it was not necessary since Calvin had been there several times already.

“Hi, Uncle, Auntie,” Calvin greeted Mr. and Mrs. Chu. “I apologize for being late.”

“You’re just on time, my boy,” Mr. Chu said with a happy smile.

Jacky almost took a tumble, but Joanne caught him in time.

“You all right?” Joanne asked, still having a hand around his waist.

“Yeah,” Jacky answered, righting himself up again. “Since when did Dad adopt Calvin?”

“I have no idea,” Joanne answered. “Listen up.”

“You just solved our obstacle,” Mr. Chu clarified 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 wouldn’t be able to sit next to James, Caitlin was about to object but James stopped her in time by putting a hand around her shoulders. She turned to him with her face all wrinkled, but James shook his head, indicating she shouldn’t start anything.

“So, Mom, what do you think?” Mr. Chu asked, 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 said, defeated, knowing her husband would never stop if they keep at it.

“All right, everyone,” Mr. Chu said again. “Get to your places.”

As Jacky was 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 urged again, seeing James and Caitlin still standing around after the others were already settling down at their assigned spots.

James rushed to his seat after giving Caitlin’s shoulder a reassuring pat.

“Yes, come on, jie,” Jacky said, implying an emphasis on the last word.

Caitlin sent Jacky a nasty look as she walked by him.

“Jacky, stop it,” Mr. Chu scolded his son. “We’re having a special dinner tonight. Stop spoiling everyone’s mood.”

“Sorry, Dad,” Jacky said, sounding apologetic enough but his smile said otherwise. He leaned into Joanne and whispered, “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 reminded 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 spoke up from the other side of the table.

“Request denied,” Mr. Chu replied 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 of 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 ended up leaning on Joanne for support. He had been trying to suppress his laughter but couldn’t believe his brother would go to such extremes for Caitlin. Joanne was handing him a glass of water now since he just choked.

“They don’t have to talk to communicate,” Mr. Chu continued 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 spoke up, finally regaining himself. His voice was a bit hoarse but still understandable.

Mr. Chu sighed out and nodded. “All right. Go.”

Jacky turned to Calvin. “Sorry, switch seats. I advise you to sit next to Xiao Qiao though since you won’t be able to eat anything with watching James and Caitlin.”

“Jacky,” James warned.

“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 turned back to Calvin again. “So yeah.”

James had already gotten up from his seat and had been making his way to Jacky’s side of the table. He was standing by Calvin’s chair but remembered to leave enough room so Calvin could get up. Calvin did as he was told and decided to listen to Jacky, taking the seat next to Joyce.

“Since we’re finally happy,” Jacky said. “Can we eat in peace, everyone?”

Indeed, after that little rearrangement, everyone ate and talked happily for the entire meal. Mr. and Mrs. Chu shared their adventure with everyone first. Then they ended 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 ended up relying on each other for company because James and Caitlin were engrossed in their own conversation—like Mr. Chu predicted. Other than that, the rest of the night went by in that same comedic manner.

© Sunday, September 13th, 2009

Posted: Thursday, April 28th, 2011

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