Chapter 11

“Qing jie, could you help these people please?” Joanne hollers over the crowd of people lining up in front of the counter.
“Okay,” Elizabeth yells back, making her way towards the front of the store again.
“Next,” Joanne calls out, turning her attention back on the crowd.
“Will we get out of here in time to do anything?” An urgent voice asks.
“If everyone’s cooperative and be considerate to one another then we could finish this within half an hour,” Joanne answers, eyeing the group of people shoving each other out of the way.
“Quit it,” A guy in the crowd yells out to the group behind him.
“Kenny!” Joanne calls out upon seeing Kenny walking by.
“I’ll be right over!” Kenny returns. “Need to get some baskets for this person.”
Joanne continues to hand out orders and check off her list as the crowd simmer down again, trying to behave themselves.
“I’m right on time, right?” A guy asks, walking up to Joanne.
She is about to scold whoever it is for aggravating her at the moment but realizes that it’s only Calvin. “Hey! You’re here!”
Calvin doesn’t waste any time to talk but dives right in to helping Joanne distributing the orders to customers. The line moves a lot faster after that, causing both customers to be happy and Joanne less irritated.
“Ah…this is worth it after all,” A guy comments after picking up his order.
Calvin smiles, taking the money from him.
“Remember to call me next time when you come up with new creations, Qiao Qiao!” The guy hollers before leaving.
Joanne only has time to yell back a word of greeting before diving in to sort through the rest of the list.
“Jie, go rest,” Kenny says at last, appearing by Joanne’s side. “I’ll take over.”
“No need,” Joanne says, turning to her brother briefly. “There are more than enough spaces here. Between the three of us, we can finish this before lunch time.”
Kenny nods and takes his place next to Calvin at the counter to help the rest of their customers also. The crowd disappears at top speed after that with the three of them working diligently – with the occasional absence of one or another at times because other customers need them to tend to other tasks around the shop. Joanne’s the only who is stationed there the whole time.
“This is it for now,” Kenny says, letting out a sigh at last. “The afternoon crowd will be here after lunch.”
Calvin does a quick stretching routine and lets out a yawn. “I’ve never witnessed such crowd around here before. I guess you guys did it.”
“Not quite,” Joanne contradicts him. “Imagine how we need you to help as well but those people across the street probably did it in two shakes.”
“The item is what matters, Qiao,” Calvin reminds her.
Joanne nods. “But still…”
“Forget it, jie,” Kenny jumps in. “We should find something to eat before the next group comes.”
Joanne nods, agreeing with her brother.
Calvin follows Kenny to the break room while Joanne lingers behind, looking at her watch. Noticing that she’s not following them, they turn around to look at her.
“What?” Joanne asks upon seeing their glares.
“Let’s go,” Kenny urges.
“I’m waiting for James ge,” Joanne says. “You two go first.”
“Oh…”
Joanne nods.
Calvin and Kenny continue on their way while Joanne takes a seat again since she has not been sitting that comfortably the whole morning. Just as she’s about to call James to check on him, her cell phone rings.
“Hello,” Joanne says into the phone.
“It’s me, Gino.”
“Yeah?”
“How’s it going at your place? Need help?”
“Nah…we’re fine.”
“Oh. You sound tired.”
“What about your place then?”
“It’s good. We managed to finalize the legalities already.”
“That’s great to hear.”
“James ge?” Kenny whispers to Joanne at that time, walking towards her with a plate of foods in his hands.
Joanne shakes her head, mouthing to him the answer. Kenny nods and stays silent.
“I guess we’ll be looking forward to your opening day, huh?” Joanne says into the phone again.
“It’ll be awhile but worth it,” Gino says.
“Great to know.”
Kenny slides the plate of foods towards Joanne at that time, signaling that it’s for her. She gives him an appreciative smile before picking up the fork from it.
“It seems quiet now,” Gino says after a brief pause.
“We’re taking an early lunch break,” Joanne says. “Since it has been so busy today.”
“Oh?”
“Yeah.”
“Are you sure you don’t want any help?”
“Of course I’m sure. We have the whole Zeng clan here and not to mention our backup team.”
“Backup team? I guess I’m not included, huh?”
“Nah, it’s not about that. You just got back here and have things to take care of. We can’t just grab you over here and take advantage of you.”
“I thought we’re friends.”
“We still are. That’s why I’m not taking advantage of the situation.”
As they continue the conversation, Joanne could hear the chime at the door. She turns to see James walking in. She sends him a smile and a quick wave. She turns around to the table behind her and takes out a special bracelet James had told her to create. She inspects it quickly to make sure it’s still good and hands it to James. James quickly hands her some money but she signals to Kenny for help. She sits back on the stool and resumes her conversation.
“You don’t look all sunshine today, James ge,” Kenny notes, taking the money from James. “It’s Valentine’s Day. It’s supposed to be good, especially for someone like you.”
“Plan failed,” James confesses, taking the changes from Kenny.
“What happened?” Kenny asks, turning his full attention to James after shutting the register.
“Some of Cait’s friends returned yesterday to visit her so she went out with them instead,” James explains.
“What?! It’s Valentine’s Day!”
James shrugs. “It can’t be helped.”
“Hey, Gino,” Joanne says into the phone at about the same time as James’ answer to Kenny. “I’ll get back to you later, okay? Duty called.”
“Okay,” Gino agrees. “Later then.”
“All right.” Joanne snaps her phone shut and extends her hand out to stop James from leaving. “James ge, what’s going on really?”
James lets out a sigh and turns to Kenny. Joanne understands so she gestures for Kenny to leave first.
“So…?” Joanne prompts after Kenny’s out of sight.
“Cait and I have been having problems recently,” James admits. “I just thought that it would be good to mend things today, but…”
“Is it our fault?” Joanne asks, feeling guilty.
James shakes his head. “I know you guys don’t get along with her but that’s not it. It’s probably because we haven’t seen each other much lately so she’s less tolerant towards how she’s being treated by the rest of us.”
Joanne gestures towards the flower bracelet in James’ hand. “Do you still want it then?”
James smiles. “It’s all right. I’ll take it to support our favorite Qiao, right?”
Joanne returns the smile, knowing that James’ reminding her about Mr. Chu’s threat when they were gathered together for dinner last time. She also feels a bit amused that Jacky thought James might be proposing to Caitlin on Valentine’s Day. He is wrong big time this time. However, she knows that she should try to comfort James, no matter how much the rest of them are against Caitlin being with James.
“Maybe we should start a party of our own for the rest of us who are abandoned for the day, huh?” Joanne jokes.
James manages a smile, knowing Joanne’s trying to cheer him up. “Maybe. My restaurant?”
“We’ll see.”
James’ expression suddenly turns serious again. “You’re okay with Jacky not being around today?”
“It’s just a holiday, James ge.” Joanne pauses and sends him a victory smile. “And a day for us to reap.”
James smiles – an amused smile this time. “I guess Miss Zeng always find a way to joke about everything.”
Joanne flashes out her proud smile. “You bet.”
“All right. I guess I’ll be going. Get back to you later about the gathering?”
Joanne nods, watching James walk away – his footsteps heavy from worry.

*****

James drives back to his restaurant with much heaviness. He searches his mind for another plan that could mend his relationship with Caitlin and would also not clash with her schedule. He knows that his most advantageous opportunity has passed so he can’t dwell on it. He needs to work on the next scenario. As he parks and steps out of the car, he could see one of the mangers walking up to him. He knows that he has to tend to things again. At least he will be too occupied to worry of his empty schedule for the day.
The matters actually distract him for a good amount of time since when he steps back out to find his car, he could see that it’s 2 P.M. He looks at the two festival tickets in the compartment below the radio and wonders what he would do with it. If Jacky was here, he would’ve given it to Jacky so Jacky could spend the time with Joanne. But Jacky’s not, so… He lets out a sigh again and decides to go anyway, knowing that he shouldn’t let it go to waste. Maybe he’ll call someone out to watch it with him.
When he arrives at the entrance, he realizes that there’s already a long line waiting for their tickets to be punched. He does a quick scan before debating whether to go in early or not. It is when he decides to walk around first, he hears someone calling him. He turns around to see a smiling Kristy.
“Hey,” James greets her, surprised that they would bump into each other at that time of the day.
“Didn’t expect to see you here,” Kristy says.
James wrinkles his face in confusion.
“Didn’t know you’re interested in these stuffs,” Kristy clarifies.
“Oh.”
“So…luck ran out?”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t worry. I was not able to get any tickets either.”
“You were trying to get tickets?”
Kristy lets out a nervous smile. “I was going to go help Qiao at the shop but she told me that they got it under control and that I should go enjoy my time off. So, I thought I should try my luck. But…”
“That’s no big deal then.”
Kristy has on a confused look this time.
James fishes out the tickets from his pockets and hands it to Kristy. “Here. You can have both since my plans changed.”
“Oh?”
James nods. “Yeah.”
“But what will I do with two tickets?”
“Go with your date, of course.”
Kristy’s smile turns back to the same nervousness as before – when she had to confess to James of her silliness. “Are you into the teasing business too?”
“What do you mean?”
“We all know I’m not attached.”
James could see that he has crossed into the forbidden territory so he wants to make up for his foolishness. He gestures his hand towards the tickets. “Want to go together then? I mean we wouldn’t want it to go to waste, right?”
Kristy wrinkles her face. “You sure?”
James nods, meaning it. “Come on. We’re friends.”
Kristy smiles, knowing that James’ sincere.

*****

“Phew,” Joanne utters after the last customers disperse.
“Are you going to calculate the numbers tonight?” Kenny asks, eyeing Joanne cautiously as she’s gathering up all the papers on the counter.
“Probably after dinner.”
“I’m so tired I could go home and sleep without doing anything else,” Calvin confesses, resting nearby.
“Thanks so much for helping,” Joanne says to Calvin.
“It’s my pleasure,” Calvin says back, smiling. “At least you guys trust me, right?”
“Want to join us for dinner then?” Kenny asks.
“Don’t you guys want to go home and rest? I mean you wouldn’t want to invite guests over after a long day at work.”
“We always work anyway,” Joanne reminds him. “Besides, James ge and I made plans earlier to get together.”
“Oh?”
“What’s with him and the old woman?” Kenny asks.
“Talking about that, don’t rub it in at dinner or else,” Joanne warns her brother.
“Yes, ma’am,” Kenny rattles out, saluting in the process.
Joanne points at him, her eyes as threatening. “I mean it.”
“I know, sis. Am I that inconsiderate?”
Joanne nods. “True.”
“All right. Let’s get out of here.”
“Where did Qing jie go?”
“In the back, drinking tea.”
“Oh.”
“Yeah.”
They end up closing half an hour later since they have to do their usual clean up tasks. It is another half an hour before they arrive at the Zeng resident because of traffic.
“How did you guys do today?” Mr. Zeng asks upon seeing their tired faces.
“It went well,” Joanne answers tiredly.
“Most of them loved it,” Kenny replies, entering after his sister.
“It was interesting,” Calvin says politely, closing the door after himself.
“Ba, you didn’t have to cook,” Joanne says, sensing the aroma from the kitchen.
Mr. Zeng gestures towards the kitchen. “I figured since I get to rest on this busy day, it’s the least I could do.”
“You’ve been helping us these past weeks too,” Joanne reminds him.
Mr. Zeng looks around at that time, realizing something. “Where’s Qing Qing?”
“She went to the store to pick up something,” Kenny answers, dropping down at the sofa. “I think I’m going to sleep until I’m 27.”
“And pass the chance of meeting all of your idols?” Joanne teases.
Kenny props his head on a pillow next to him. “Whatever, sis.”
“Why don’t you kids go wash up and eat?”
“Good idea,” Joanne agrees. “I’m starved.”
Although Mr. Zeng urges them to eat, but they continue to wait until Elizabeth returns before setting out the foods and digging in. Charlene arrives home at the same time that they set the last of the dishes on the table and joins them also – after setting down her backpack in her room.
“It looks like you spent the whole day cooking,” Elizabeth notes, her eyes browsing all the dishes on the table – knowing that each one is a favorite of one or the other of them present.
Mr. Zeng smiles. “I might as well reward you guys with such hard work, right?”
“That’s great,” Joanne says. “Maybe it will motivate us to think of a better plan for the next round.”
Mr. Zeng wrinkles his face. “More?”
“Ba, this competition is an ongoing process. We can’t stop now. We managed to draw attention because we thought of something new this season. We should keep it up while the attention is still on us.”
Mr. Zeng knows that he shouldn’t interfere with his daughter’s business mind so he just shakes his head slightly and goes back to eating.
“Wait a minute,” Joanne says suddenly, putting down her bowl of food.
“What happened?” Mr. Zeng asks, looking at his daughter again.
“Forgot to call James ge.”
“Oh.”
Joanne fidgets around in her pocket to find her cell phone. She taps on the back of it as she waits for James to answer. She suddenly wishes that he would pick up soon or she would go crazy with his Ringback tone. She hopes that he will change it soon since it is not one of her favorite songs – or even close to tolerable.
“Hello,” James’ voice finally answers.
“James ge, want to join us for dinner?” Joanne asks. “I know we couldn’t get back to each other earlier but I was still busy at the shop. So…what about now? Dad’s cooking tonight.”
“Uh…I guess I’m not as lucky today to taste Uncle’s dishes. How about next time? I finally have a date.”
“Stop it,” A girl’s voice chides from James’ side of the line.
Joanne smiles upon hearing James’ teasing words, reminding her of their ‘abandoned status’ from earlier. She has a feeling that the voice sounds familiar but maybe it’s because of the obvious reason. “Caitlin’s friends finally let her off?”
“No. Actually, I just bumped into a friend earlier when I was going to this festival on the other side of town. We’re at this night market right now since we just got out of the festival. Can’t get back in time.”
“Oh…nice. It’s good to know you’re not alone.”
“Can’t talk anymore since it’s quite crowded here. So I’ll see you around?”
“Okay then. Take care and have fun. I guess I’ll have to rely on Kristy now since she doesn’t have a date either and is probably done watching some show that she was talking about earlier.”
“No need to call her. She’s with me.”
Joanne gasps, realizing why the voice sounds so familiar. “Whoa.”
“It’s not what you think, Qiao. We’re just friends hanging out together since we both don’t have plans, okay? It’s just somewhat like what you and I planned but I can’t make it back in time at this point.”
“Have fun then.”
“Bye.”
Joanne hangs up, letting out a smile. She feels the irony of the situation since Jacky has been trying so hard to pull James and Kristy together yet he never succeed. And now? They’re spending Valentine’s Day together because of cancelled plans and a coincidence.
“He’s not coming, huh?” Kenny asks from across the table.
Joanne shakes her head, still smiling. “No.”
“What happened?”
Joanne smiles at Kenny’s fast reaction to take on the hint of her smile. “Let’s just say it has been one interesting day.”
Kenny wrinkles his face. “What?”
Joanne lets out a secretive smile again. “You’ll see.”
Kenny knows that he can’t pry it out of his sister so he turns to the others. The others shrug and continue to eat.
© Wednesday, November 18th, 2009
Posted: Friday, April 29th, 2011