Chapter 12

“No way!” Jacky exclaims as soon as Joanne finishes her recounts.
Joanne nods, smiling at his expression.
“I guess your wish came true, huh?” Joyce teases.
Jacky flashes out his mischievous smile, rubbing his hands together for effect. “This is great. By the way it’s going, we can proceed to the next stage now. Add more oil.”
“Oh no, you’re not,” Joanne interferes.
Jacky turns to her, his face all wrinkled up from surprise. “What do you mean? Don’t tell me you’re bailing out on me.”
“I know that we don’t like Caitlin but let’s not make it harder for James ge. I mean…after seeing his expression that day, it’s too cruel to do it.”
“Aww…”
“I think you’ll be busy enough before we head off again for our next trip,” Joyce reminds Jacky, letting out an encouraging smile.
Jacky nods. “True.”
Joyce turns to Joanne at that time. “So…are we going to proceed with our next plan then?”
“What are you girls up to this time?” Jacky asks.
“We have to strike forward while we’re winning,” Joanne declares, rubbing her hands together.
“What have you guys been doing though?”
“Spying on the neighbors, what else?” Kenny jumps in as he’s walking by.
Joanne gives him a look before returning her attention to Joyce.
“Like I’m wrong, sis,” Kenny continues on, pretending not to see Joanne’s dagger look. “But for real, I can’t do it anymore. I have to start work next week.”
“Oh?” Jacky asks, directing his attention towards Kenny finally since he has been observing Joanne’s strange behaviors.
“I finally got accepted at the music store,” Kenny says cheerfully.
“What music store?” Joyce asks, looking over to Kenny also.
“The one several blocks from here.”
“Drizzle Away?”
“Like we need any more rain around here,” Joanne grumbles.
“It’s bad for business?” Jacky asks – though he knew already.
Joanne nods.
Jacky turns to Kenny again. “Is Uncle okay with it?”
“With me working there?” Kenny asks back.
Jacky nods.
“I’m still around, not going to North Pole or something.”
“Just treat it as one of his adventures,” Elizabeth says, sitting down at the table between Jacky and Joyce.
Kenny wrinkles his face. “Qing jie, you have so much faith in me.”
“We’re too familiar with your adventures, Little Bro,” Joanne joins in, pasting on a teasing smile.
“Jacky ge!” Charlene exclaims out from somewhere.
They all look up to see Charlene coming in from the front entrance.
“Looks like our little sister still has that virus,” Elizabeth remarks.
“What virus?” Calvin asks, walking over to them.
“Same old,” Elizabeth says. “Tell you later. You should let him rest, Tian Tian.”
“Why are you guys always using that excuse when Jacky ge comes back?” Charlene whines. “He always socializes with everyone after he comes back.”
“You’re too hyper for him to handle,” Kenny jumps in.
“Ge!”
“Let’s go get lunch instead of sitting around here and wasting time,” Jacky interferes, standing up from his place.
“Not ordering out?” Joanne asks, turning to Jacky.
“No. Let’s get some fresh air.”
“Good idea,” Elizabeth agrees, getting up also.
“Want to go to the local beach?” Kenny asks. “It’s a nice day.”
“Nice,” Jacky comments. “Come on, Qiao.” He uses his hands to drag Joanne from her place.
“I’m going,” Joanne mumbles. “Stop pushing already.”
“Should we invite some more people to come?”
“Like?”
“James ge,” Joyce inputs.
“And we might be able to think up of a new plan while we’re there,” Joanne points out.
“Get your brain out of business for a second, girl,” Jacky chides, yanking on her hand.
“We’ll be back later, Ba,” Joanne says as she walks by the counter.
“I’ll stay to help Uncle,” Calvin volunteers.
“No need,” Elizabeth says. “I’ll come back after lunch hours to help Dad. “You’ve been helping us a lot these past month. Stop straining yourself.”
“That’s right,” Joanne agrees.
“Let’s go already,” Kenny urges, still holding onto the door.
“Patient, Little Bro,” Joanne teases.
Jacky and Joanne follow Joyce out as Elizabeth grabs a coat from behind the counter.
“Hey!” Charlene yells after them. “Why aren’t you guys inviting me?”
“Are you family?” Kenny asks, still having a hold on the door.
“Duh!”
“Then why should we need to invite? You can just go. Common sense, sis.”
Charlene makes a face at her brother before passing through the door also.
“All right, whose cars are we taking?” Elizabeth asks when they’re all outside.
“Calvin and Kenny can go with us,” Jacky says quickly.
“That’s fine,” Kenny concurs before turning to Calvin.
Calvin nods. “Sounds good.”
“Here,” Kenny says, handing Elizabeth his car key. “Since you’re coming back earlier than us.”
“I guess I’m with Charlene?” Joyce asks, looking at the others.
“Sorry, Xiao Qiao,” Jacky apologizes, shrugging his shoulders.
Joyce waves a hand at him. “No problem.”
“Why do you guys make it sound like I’m a tagalong?” Charlene jumps in.
Kenny rolls his eyes. “Stop being sensitive, sis.”
“Let’s go before the day’s over,” Jacky interferes, grabbing onto Joanne’s hand again.
Calvin and Kenny follow Jacky and Joanne to Jacky’s car as the others disperse also. Charlene still looks reluctant but she doesn’t want to hold up the others so she has no choice but to go with Joyce.

*****

They end up stopping at a small restaurant by the beach to have lunch. They choose a place outside that overlooks the beach to enjoy the view itself and to catch some sea breeze. Upon arriving at the restaurant, Charlene bumps into some friends and ends up going with them instead so they do not have to worry about distracting her the rest of the time there. Jacky calls James up but James says that he’s too busy to come for the time being.
“Ah…” Kenny drawls out in a satisfying voice when the food finally arrives. “Sun, sea, and breeze. That’s what we need to enjoy lunch.”
Jacky shakes his head in amusement. “Next thing you know, he’s going into theater arts.”
“Don’t encourage him,” Joanne warns Jacky.
“Very funny, jie,” Kenny snaps, giving Joanne an annoyed look.
Joanne just smiles and continues to eat.
“Hey, what happened to Gino’s place?” Joyce asks suddenly.
“What place?” Joanne asks back, turning to Joyce with a confused expression.
“His fitness center?” Jacky asks about the same time as Joanne.
“Yeah, his fitness center,” Joyce clarifies.
“He got it going good so far,” Joanne answers.
“We came by once,” Kenny informs them, nodding his head. “It was all right.”
“If it doesn’t go under the category of music, he’s bored,” Joanne translates for everyone.
Kenny gives Joanne a look but Joanne still has on her cheerful smile.
“I want to check it out later too,” Joyce says, breaking through their little side battle.
“Sure you would,” Jacky teases.
“Hey, stop being mean,” Joyce warns, turning to Jacky.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Uhuh.”
“Say…how about we…”
“What?”
“How about pushing along the whole match making thing!”
“What?!” Joanne and Joyce exclaim at the same time.
“Come on! James and Kristy…”
“No, you won’t,” Joanne says upon realizing Jacky’s intention.
“Why not?”
“I told you at the shop earlier, remember?”
“It’s a shame though.”
“I’m telling you, we don’t want to be responsible for their breakup.”
“He’ll break up with her sooner or later anyway,” Kenny jumps in.
Joanne turns to give Kenny a dagger look while Jacky slaps him a high five across the table.
“You know what?” Joyce asks, scanning at everyone present once before turning to Jacky.
“What?” Jacky asks back.
“If you continue to interfere with their business, it won’t work. But if you leave it alone and let things take its course, you might see better results.”
Jacky wrinkles his face.
“Look what happened Valentine’s Day. We were gone and they were together for most of the day. If we keep interfering, they’ll avoid each other more if they’re constantly being reminded of it. It’s like nagging will have the opposite effect, you know.”
Jacky finally loosens up, nodding his head in agreement. “It would take too long but I guess it makes sense.”
“So, just let it be and maybe you’ll see what you like happening in several months.”
“Are we betting when it will happen?” Kenny asks, his eyes full of mischief.
“Senseless,” Joanne comments before going back to her food.
“What?” Kenny asks again, looking at everyone – who had gone back to eating already.

*****

Even though Joanne claims that they should strike while they’re still winning, they do not get to proceed with their next plan until two days later. Joyce has to prepare some reports and go to the company meetings just like Jacky. It is around noon and the usual time that the shop takes their lunch break that Joyce shows up at the shop.
“Finally a day of break,” Joanne says as they settle down at the table inside the break room.
Joyce smiles, setting her cup of water down. “I thought you enjoy business.”
Joanne shrugs her shoulders. “I am, but it could be tiring.”
Joyce has on her teasing smile upon hearing Joanne’s confession. “Then…are you backing out on the next plan?”
“No way!”
Joyce smiles again, knowing of Joanne’s aggressiveness. “Then let’s share notes.”
Joanne nods, taking out her notebook.
It is half an hour later that they stop to take a break. Joyce glances at her watch quickly as Joanne takes a drink of water out of her glass.
“Have to go?” Joanne asks, seeing Joyce’s gesture.
“I had something arranged with Gino,” Joyce replies, turning to Joanne. “He said that he would give me a personal tour of his shop.”
Joanne smiles. “Oh.”
“It’s not what you’re thinking.”
Joanne still has on that wry smile. “Uhuh.”
“Now I know why you’re with Jacky.”
Joanne has on her innocent look. “Why?”
Joyce shakes her head, knowing there’s no winning with Joanne regarding that matter. Joanne has on her serious look again for some reason.
Joyce detects that immediately. “What’s wrong?”
“I just want to thank you for the other day.”
“For what?”
“For stopping Jacky and his match-making schemes.”
“No problem. I know that we all agree about Caitlin, but I think we should respect James ge. And after all, you would never back down unless it’s James ge, right? It must be serious. Was he really sad?”
Joanne nods. “He looked devastated that day when he came.”
“Must be serious.”
Joanne nods again.
Joyce has on her amused smile all of a sudden. “It’s funny how we could go out of our way to sabotage them but when we hear that their relationship is in trouble, we end up trying to mend it.”
“Maybe we’re all feeling guilty?”
“I hope it’s not our fault.”
“I think Caitlin wouldn’t be shot down with just that. Besides, James ge’s always so sensible. He wouldn’t listen to us, knowing our schemes.”
“Let’s hope so.”
“What are you girls talking about?” Jacky’s voice booms into the room.
“I guess someone’s finally done with his report,” Joyce teases upon seeing Jacky walking in empty-handed.
“This will blow them away,” Jacky brags, sitting down at the chair between the girls. “So…what have you girls got?”
“It’s a secret,” Joyce says, shutting the folder in her hands.
“Yeah,” Joanne joins in, shutting her notebook also.
Jacky gives both a scan-over before turning back to Joanne. “So I’m on the out now?”
“No boyfriend special treatments,” Joyce says, her smile still teasing.
Jacky nods, his expression equally mischievous. “I guess I should just get out of here then since I’m not welcomed.”
“Oh no, you’re not,” Joanne jumps in, grabbing at his left arm so he couldn’t walk away.
Jacky turns around to look at her. “What do you need me for then?”
“We’re done here,” Joyce says, getting up from her seat. “You can have your girlfriend back.”
“Where are you going?” Jacky asks, turning to Joyce with cautious eyes.
“None of your business,” Joyce replies crisply before leaving the room.
Jacky watches Joyce’s back disappear from view before turning to Joanne for the answer.
“Not telling you either,” Joanne says, getting up from her seat and yanking on his hand to go.
“What? You guys are serious about this secret stuff?”
“It’s Xiao Qiao’s rights.”
“Sure.”
They are back out front of the shop again. Joanne could see her father by the counter like many times before.
“Where are the others?” Joanne asks, looking around.
“They had some plans,” Mr. Zeng replies. “So I told them to go first.”
“Those people,” Joanne mumbles under her breath.
“You two can go too if you have plans.”
Joanne waves her hand. “We’ll stay with you.”
Jacky nods in agreement. “I’ll order lunch.”
Joanne turns to Jacky at that time with excitement. “I want James ge’s latest!”
Jacky walks back to the table in the middle of the shop and settles down at it. Joanne follows, placing her hands on his shoulders from behind, urging him on. Mr. Zeng watches them silently at his place at the counter, shaking his head and smiling to himself. It’s good to be young – and in love, he thought.

*****

Joyce arrives at Gino’s fitness center to find him engaged in a conversation with a possible customer. She stands at a corner of the room, observing him silently, smiling at his hardworking attitude.
“Miss, how could we help you?” A young man asks, walking up to her at that time.
Joyce turns to the helpful gentleman, giving him a polite smile. “I’m waiting for your boss.”
“He’s occupied at the moment now, Miss. I’ll be happy to help.”
Joyce shakes her head. “No, it’s all right. I can wait.”
The young man looks reluctant, half afraid to upset their customer.
“It’s okay, really,” Joyce speaks up to reassure him again.
“You’ve come,” Gino says, walking up to them at that time.
Joyce nods, turning her attention to Gino.
“You can go back to work, Don,” Gino says, gesturing his hand. “I got it here.”
The young man named Don nods and walks away at that time.
Gino then turns back to Joyce. “Waited long?”
Joyce shakes her head. “No. Just a little.”
Gino looks at his watch. “It’s almost lunch time for me so how about a quick tour and go grab a quick bite to eat?”
Joyce nods. “That’s a good idea. I just make my way here from Qiao’s shop so didn’t get a chance to eat yet.”
“You were at Qiao Qiao’s place?”
Joyce nods.
They begin the tour around the place. They only linger a bit at a few places before moving on again. Joyce – the typical loud and active Joyce – doesn’t seem to have much to say this time around. However, Gino doesn’t notice it since he only known her for a short period of time though it has been a few months now. It is at the end of the tour that Joyce finally speaks up again when they’re walking out of the fitness center.
“I thought you said it’s a martial arts place,” Joyce reminds Gino of the conversation they had at Joanne’s shop.
Gino reaches his right hand up to scratch his head.
“I’m just kidding,” Joyce reassures him with a light smile. “Anything is possible, right? After all, the plan could get changed.”
Gino sends her an appreciative smile for her effort to lighten the situation. “Actually, I was doing some research and thought that it might be better with a fitness center. More customers that way. But I do offer special classes that teach martial arts during a certain time – if anyone’s interested. It has been going well so far.”
“That’s great then.”
Gino nods.
“How about finding some food now?”
Gino has on this nervous look again. “I’m such an idiot, huh?”
Joyce’s surprised that he would say that about himself. “Don’t say that about yourself. You’re just so into your shop that you temporary forget about other things.”
Gino gives her another appreciative smile as they make their way to Joyce’s car.
As they’re heading to a restaurant that Joyce recommends, they carry on a conversation that involves more about the scenery and its many changes around town since Gino has been around years ago – rather than going into sticky territory as before. Though they are interacting more comfortably than before, but Joyce couldn’t help thinking that Gino’s one of the most shy guys she has ever met.

*****

Everyone’s busy schedule pushes time forward and before they know it, it is another month. It is also time for Jacky and Joyce’s next trip. This time around, they’re heading to Japan. The time is unknown this time as of how long they will have to stay. However, it will not surpass two months.
Like many times before, Jacky and Joyce depart with Joanne being the person driving them to the airport and making sure they pass through all security checks before leaving. The only difference this time around is that Gino’s also with them.
As they say their usual goodbyes, Jacky pulls Joanne aside as Joyce waits for Gino to speak up.
“How in the world did it turn into their mushy goodbye?” Jacky asks as they’re out of earshot.
Joanne hits him on the shoulder. “Stop being mean. And you’re getting nosy.”
“I can’t ask?”
Joanne points at him, recognizing his smart aleck look.
“What do you want this time?” Jacky asks Joanne, changing the subject on purpose.
“I always tell you the same thing. I don’t know why you’re always asking.”
“If I don’t ask, what if you want something and I didn’t know?” He has on that mischievous look again. “Although I’m extremely gifted and undeniably handsome but I can’t read minds. I think it’s a trade-off for those two since I can’t be so perfect, you know.”
“You’re getting quite arrogant lately.”
Jacky shrugs. “Anything to get you smiling.” He takes her hands into his at that time. “Seriously, what do you want?”
Joanne has on her thoughtful look. “Your choice.”
“Is that a test to see if I can surprise you or am I boring you out now? So you could decide to scratch me off your list and move on to the next guy?”
Joanne removes her right hand from his left and slaps him on the shoulder again. “You’re mean!”
“You always say the same thing. Now I’m the one getting bored.” He fakes a yawn at that time, using his right hand to cover his mouth for the effect.
Joanne has on her hostile look at that time. “So now you want to change girlfriend?” With fast reflexes, she reaches up to grab hold of his left ear with her right hand. “Huh?”
He attempts to rescue his ear and dodges out of the way but couldn’t. “I’m kidding! I’m only kidding!”
“Sure you are,” Joanne retorts, still attempting to maintain the upper-hand.
Jacky and Joanne are so loud that it grabs hold of Gino and Joyce’s attention as well. Joyce shakes her head at them, so used to their strange relationship.
“This is the reason why I’m never bored of them,” Joyce says, still having her attention on Jacky and Joanne.
Gino doesn’t know what to say but just scans the terminal – as if the answer resides on there.
“So…” Joyce oozes out, bringing her attention back on Gino. “What were you saying earlier?”
Gino reaches a hand up to scratch his head again, hinting nervousness. Joyce waits patiently for him to mull it over. He finally turns to her at last – possibly about a full minute later – and has on his determined look.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to drop some kind of surprise right now before I take off,” Joyce jokes, sensing some seriousness in the atmosphere.
“Actually,” Gino says. “When you come back, I want to tell you something.”
“Oh?”
Gino’s nervous look returns – as if threatened by her presence. “I need some time to prepare.”
Joyce nods, knowing she couldn’t force the answer out of him. “I guess this is goodbye then.”
“We better go soon!” Jacky yells out from somewhere to Joyce’s right. “I’m going to get killed here.”
Joyce turns to see Jacky still trying to fend Joanne off. “If you say that louder, you might get arrested on the spot and not having to take off anymore.”
“Sorry,” Jacky mumbles, knowing from Joyce’s glare that he has interrupted her moment.
Joyce turns back to Gino at that time. “I guess I’ll have to wait then.”
Gino nods. “Have a safe trip.”
“Watch your moves, Zhu Fan Gang!” Joanne yells out before Jacky and Joyce disappear down the corridor.
“Sure, Mrs. Chu!” Jacky calls out, wanting to have the last words – or so he thought.
“I guess it’s us again,” Joanne says, gesturing towards the direction that leads back outside. “Ready?”
Gino nods.
“What’s with you lately?” Joanne asks, her voice full of concern instead of mockery.
Gino shakes his head. “I don’t know either. It’s just that I think this departure will tell for sure.”
“Sounds almost too poetic,” Joanne remarks, eyeing Gino cautiously. Then she recognizes the look on his face. She has on a secret smile yet she doesn’t want to expose him or ruin his plans. Instead, she resumes her serious, concerned look. “Well, whatever it is, you can tell us and we’ll help you sort it out.”
“I might but I need more time.”
Joanne nods, understanding his need of space.
Gino turns to give her an appreciative smile. “Thanks for offering though.”
Joanne shakes her head. “We’re friends, remember?”
Gino nods, feeling like he’s back in those high school days when only he and Joanne remain by each other’s side and support one another throughout. He thought he lost her as a friend through all those times, but he could finally recognize his old friend again through her silent supportiveness like the old days. She didn’t care for others’ tease or mean words but was always so supportive and defensive of him. It was all because she was his friend. And still is, he thought.
“What are you thinking of?” Joanne asks when they’re out in the parking lot again.
“Nothing,” Gino says, his confidence returning and voice hinting a tad of mischief.
Joanne smiles, knowing her old friend is back. A guy who’s too honest for his own good at times yet very trustworthy.
© Thursday, November 19th, 2009
Posted: Saturday, April 30th, 2011