“No way!” Jacky exclaimed as soon as Joanne finished her recounts.

Joanne nodded, smiling at his expression.

“I guess your wish came true, huh?” Joyce teased.

Jacky flashed 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 interfered.

Jacky turned 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 reminded Jacky, letting out an encouraging smile.

Jacky nodded. “True.”

Joyce turned 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 asked.

“We have to strike forward while we’re winning,” Joanne declared, rubbing her hands together.

“What have you guys been doing though?”

“Spying on the neighbors, what else?” Kenny jumped in as he was walking by.

Joanne gave him a look before returning her attention to Joyce.

“Like I’m wrong, sis,” Kenny continued 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 asked, directing his attention toward Kenny finally since he had been observing Joanne’s strange behaviors.

“I finally got accepted at the music store,” Kenny said cheerfully.

“What music store?” Joyce asked, looking over to Kenny also.

“The one several blocks from here.”

“Drizzle Away?”

“Like we need any more rain around here,” Joanne grumbled.

“It’s bad for business?” Jacky asked—though he knew already.

Joanne nodded.

Jacky turned to Kenny again. “Is Uncle okay with it?”

“With me working there?” Kenny asked back.

Jacky nodded.

“I’m still around, not going to the North Pole or something.”

“Just treat it as one of his adventures,” Elizabeth said, sitting down at the table between Jacky and Joyce.

Kenny wrinkled his face. “Qing jie, you have so much faith in me.”

“We’re too familiar with your adventures, Little Bro,” Joanne joined in, pasting on a teasing smile.

“Jacky ge!” Charlene exclaimed from somewhere.

They all looked up to see Charlene coming in from the front entrance.

“Looks like our little sister still has that virus,” Elizabeth remarked.

“What virus?” Calvin asked, walking over to them.

“Same old,” Elizabeth said. “Tell you later. You should let him rest, Tian Tian.”

“Why are you guys always using that excuse when Jacky ge comes back?” Charlene whined. “He always socializes with everyone after he comes back.”

“You’re too hyper for him to handle,” Kenny jumped in.

“Ge!”

“Let’s go get lunch instead of sitting around here and wasting time,” Jacky interfered, standing up from his place.

“Not ordering out?” Joanne asked, turning to Jacky.

“No. Let’s get some fresh air.”

“Good idea,” Elizabeth agreed, getting up also.

“Want to go to the local beach?” Kenny asked. “It’s a nice day.”

“Nice,” Jacky commented. “Come on, Qiao.” He used his hands to drag Joanne from her place.

“I’m going,” Joanne mumbled. “Stop pushing already.”

“Should we invite some more people?”

“Like?”

“James ge,” Joyce inputted.

“And we might be able to think up of a new plan while we’re there,” Joanne pointed out.

“Get your brain out of business for a second, girl,” Jacky chided, yanking on her hand.

“We’ll be back later, Ba,” Joanne said as she walked by the counter.

“I’ll stay to help Uncle,” Calvin volunteered.

“No need,” Elizabeth said. “I’ll come back after lunch hours to help Dad. “You’ve been helping us a lot this past month. Stop straining yourself.”

“That’s right,” Joanne agreed.

“Let’s go already,” Kenny urged, still holding onto the door.

“Patient, Little Bro,” Joanne teased.

Jacky and Joanne followed Joyce out as Elizabeth grabbed a coat from behind the counter.

“Hey!” Charlene yelled after them. “Why aren’t you guys inviting me?”

“Are you family?” Kenny asked, still having a hold on the door.

“Duh!”

“Then why should we need to invite? You can just go. Common sense, sis.”

Charlene made a face at her brother before passing through the door also.

“All right, whose cars are we taking?” Elizabeth asked when they were all outside.

“Calvin and Kenny can go with us,” Jacky said quickly.

“That’s fine,” Kenny concurred before turning to Calvin.

Calvin nodded. “Sounds good.”

“Here,” Kenny said, handing Elizabeth his car key. “Since you’re coming back earlier than us.”

“I guess I’m with Charlene?” Joyce asked, looking at the others.

“Sorry, Xiao Qiao,” Jacky apologized, shrugging his shoulders.

Joyce waved a hand at him. “No problem.”

“Why do you guys make it sound like I’m a tagalong?” Charlene jumped in.

Kenny rolled his eyes. “Stop being sensitive, sis.”

“Let’s go before the day’s over,” Jacky interfered, grabbing onto Joanne’s hand again.

Calvin and Kenny followed Jacky and Joanne to Jacky’s car as the others dispersed also. Charlene still looked reluctant but she didn’t want to hold up the others so she had no choice but to go with Joyce.

*****

They ended up stopping at a small restaurant by the beach to have lunch. They chose a place outside that overlooked the beach to enjoy the view itself and to catch some sea breeze. Upon arriving at the restaurant, Charlene bumped into some friends and ended up going with them instead so they did not have to worry about distracting her for the rest of the time there. Jacky called James up but James said that he was too busy to come for the time being.

“Ah…” Kenny drawled out in a satisfying voice when the food finally arrived. “Sun, sea, and breeze. That’s what we need to enjoy lunch.”

Jacky shook his head in amusement. “Next thing you know, he’s going into theater arts.”

“Don’t encourage him,” Joanne warned Jacky.

“Very funny, jie,” Kenny snapped, giving Joanne an annoyed look.

Joanne just smiled and continued to eat.

“Hey, what happened to Gino’s place?” Joyce asked suddenly.

“What place?” Joanne asked back, turning to Joyce with a confused expression.

“His fitness center?” Jacky asked about the same time as Joanne.

“Yeah, his fitness center,” Joyce clarified.

“He got it going good so far,” Joanne answered.

“We came by once,” Kenny informed them, nodding his head. “It was all right.”

“If it doesn’t go under the category of music, he’s bored,” Joanne translated for everyone.

Kenny gave Joanne a look, but Joanne still had on her cheerful smile.

“I want to check it out later too,” Joyce says, breaking through their little side battle.

“Sure you would,” Jacky teased.

“Hey, stop being mean,” Joyce warned, turning to Jacky.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“Uhuh.”

“Say…how about we…”

“What?”

“How about pushing along the whole matchmaking thing!”

“What?!” Joanne and Joyce exclaimed at the same time.

“Come on! James and Kristy…”

“No, you won’t,” Joanne said 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 jumped in.

Joanne turned to give Kenny a dagger look while Jacky slapped him a high five across the table.

“You know what?” Joyce asked, scanning at everyone present once before turning to Jacky.

“What?” Jacky asked 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 wrinkled 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 loosened 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 asked, his eyes full of mischief.

“Senseless,” Joanne muttered before going back to her food.

“What?” Kenny asked again, looking at everyone—who had gone back to eating already.

*****

Even though Joanne claimed that they should strike while they were still winning, they did not get to proceed with their next plan until two days later. Joyce had to prepare some reports and go to the company meetings just like Jacky. It was around noon and the usual time that the shop took their lunch break that Joyce showed up at the shop.

“Finally a day of break,” Joanne said as they settled down at the table inside the break room.

Joyce smiled, setting her cup of water down. “I thought you enjoy business.”

Joanne shrugged. “I am, but it could be tiring.”

Joyce had on her teasing smile upon hearing Joanne’s confession. “Then…are you backing out on the next plan?”

“No way!”

Joyce smiled again, knowing of Joanne’s aggressiveness. “Then let’s share notes.”

Joanne nodded, taking out her notebook.

It was half an hour later that they stopped to take a break. Joyce glanced at her watch quickly as Joanne took a drink of water out of her glass.

“Have to go?” Joanne asked, seeing Joyce’s gesture.

“I had something arranged with Gino,” Joyce replied, turning to Joanne. “He said that he would give me a personal tour of his fitness center.”

Joanne smiled. “Oh.”

“It’s not what you’re thinking.”

Joanne still had on that teasing smile. “Uhuh.”

“Now I know why you’re with Jacky.”

Joanne had on her innocent look. “Why?”

Joyce shook her head, knowing there was no winning with Joanne regarding that matter. Joanne had on her serious look again for some reason.

Joyce detected that immediately. “What’s wrong?”

“I just want to thank you for the other day.”

“For what?”

“For stopping Jacky and his matchmaking 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 nodded. “He looked devastated that day when he came into the shop.”

“Must be serious.”

Joanne nodded again.

Joyce had 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 boomed into the room.

“I guess someone’s finally done with his report,” Joyce teased upon seeing Jacky walking in empty-handed.

“This will blow them away,” Jacky bragged, sitting down at the chair between the girls. “So…what have you girls got?”

“It’s a secret,” Joyce said, shutting the folder in her hands.

“Yeah,” Joanne joined in, shutting her notebook also.

Jacky gave both a scan-over before turning back to Joanne. “So I’m on the out now?”

“No boyfriend special treatments,” Joyce said, her smile still teasing.

Jacky nodded, his expression equally mischievous. “I guess I should just leave then since I’m not welcomed.”

“Oh no, you’re not,” Joanne jumped in, grabbing at his left arm so he couldn’t walk away.

Jacky turned around to look at her. “What do you need me for then?”

“We’re done here,” Joyce said, getting up from her seat. “You can have your girlfriend back.”

“Where are you going?” Jacky asked, turning to Joyce with cautious eyes.

“None of your business,” Joyce replied crisply before leaving the room.

Jacky watched Joyce’s back disappeared from view before turning to Joanne for the answer.

“Not telling you either,” Joanne said, 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 were back out front of the shop again. Joanne could see her father by the counter like many times before.

“Where are the others?” Joanne asked, looking around.

“They had some plans,” Mr. Tseng replied. “So I told them to go first.”

“Those people,” Joanne mumbled under her breath.

“You two can go too if you have plans.”

Joanne waved her hand. “We’ll stay with you.”

Jacky nodded in agreement. “I’ll order lunch.”

Joanne turned to Jacky at that time with excitement. “I want James ge’s latest!”

Jacky walked back to the table in the middle of the shop and settled down at it. Joanne followed, placing her hands on his shoulders from behind, urging him on. Mr. Tseng watched 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 arrived at Gino’s fitness center to find him engaged in a conversation with a possible customer. She stood at a corner of the room, observing him silently, smiling at his hardworking attitude.

“Miss, how could we help you?” A young man asked, walking up to her at that time.

Joyce turned 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 shook her head. “No, it’s all right. I can wait.”

The young man looked reluctant, half afraid to upset their customer.

“It’s okay, really,” Joyce spoke up to reassure him again.

“You came,” Gino said, walking up to them at that time.

Joyce nodded, turning her attention to Gino.

“You can go back to work, Don,” Gino said, gesturing his hand. “I got it here.”

The young man named Don nodded and walked away at that time.

Gino then turned back to Joyce. “Waited long?”

Joyce shook her head. “No. Just a little.”

Gino looked at his watch. “It’s almost lunchtime for me so how about a quick tour and go grab a quick bite to eat?”

Joyce nodded. “That’s a good idea. I just made my way here from Qiao’s shop so didn’t get a chance to eat yet.”

“You were at Qiao Qiao’s place?”

Joyce nodded.

They began the tour around the place. They only lingered a bit at a few places before moving on again. Joyce—the typical loud and active Joyce—didn’t seem to have much to say this time around. However, Gino didn’t notice it since he knew her for a short period of time though it had been a few months now. It was at the end of the tour that Joyce finally spoke up again when they were walking out of the fitness center.

“I thought you said it’s a martial arts place,” Joyce reminded Gino of the conversation they had at Joanne’s shop.

Gino reached his right hand up to scratch his head.

“I’m just kidding,” Joyce reassured him with a light smile. “Anything is possible, right? After all, the plan could be changed.”

Gino sent 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 nodded.

“How about finding some food now?”

Gino had on this nervous look again. “I’m such an idiot, huh?”

Joyce was surprised that he would say that about himself. “Don’t say that about yourself. You’re just so into your work that you temporarily forget about other things.”

Gino gave her another appreciative smile as they made their way to Joyce’s car.

As they were heading to a restaurant that Joyce recommended, they carried on a conversation that involved more about the scenery and its many changes around town since Gino had been around years ago—rather than going into sticky territory as before. Though they were interacting more comfortably than before, Joyce couldn’t help thinking that Gino was one of the shyest guys she had ever met.

*****

Everyone’s busy schedule pushed time forward and before they knew it, it was another month. It was also time for Jacky and Joyce’s next trip. This time around, they were heading to Japan. The time was unknown this time as of how long they would have to stay. However, it will not surpass two months.

Like many times before, Jacky and Joyce departed with Joanne being the person driving them to the airport and making sure they passed through all security checks before leaving. The only difference this time around was that Gino was also with them.

As they said their usual goodbyes, Jacky pulled Joanne aside as Joyce waited for Gino to speak up.

“How in the world did it turn into their mushy goodbye?” Jacky asked as they were out of earshot.

Joanne hit him on the shoulder. “Stop being mean. And you’re getting nosy.”

“I can’t ask?”

Joanne pointed at him, recognizing his smart-aleck look.

“What do you want this time?” Jacky asked 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 had on that mischievous look again. “Although I’m extremely gifted and undeniably handsome, 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 shrugged. “Anything to get you smiling.” He took her hands into his at that time. “Seriously, what do you want?”

Joanne had 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 removed her right hand from his left and slapped him on the shoulder again. “You’re mean!”

“You always say the same thing. Now I’m the one getting bored.” He faked a yawn at that time, using his right hand to cover his mouth for the effect.

Joanne had on her hostile look at that time. “So now you want to change girlfriend?” With fast reflexes, she reached up to grab hold of his left ear with her right hand. “Huh?”

He attempted to rescue his ear and dodged out of the way but couldn’t. “I’m kidding! I’m only kidding!”

“Sure you are,” Joanne retorted, still attempting to maintain the upper hand.

Jacky and Joanne were so loud that it grabbed hold of Gino and Joyce’s attention as well. Joyce shook her head at them, so used to their strange relationship.

“This is the reason why I’m never bored of them,” Joyce said, still having her attention on Jacky and Joanne.

Gino didn’t know what to say but just scanned the terminal—as if the answer resided on there.

“So…” Joyce said, bringing her attention back on Gino. “What were you saying earlier?”

Gino reached a hand up to scratch his head again, hinting nervousness. Joyce waited patiently for him to mull it over. He finally turned to her at last—possibly about a full minute later—and had on his determined look.

“Don’t tell me you’re going to drop some kind of surprise right now before I take off,” Joyce joked, sensing some seriousness in the atmosphere.

“Actually,” Gino said. “When you come back, I want to tell you something.”

“Oh?”

Gino’s nervous look returned—as if threatened by her presence. “I need some time to prepare.”

Joyce nodded, knowing she couldn’t force the answer out of him. “I guess this is goodbye then.”

“We better go soon!” Jacky yelled out from somewhere to Joyce’s right. “I’m going to get killed here.”

Joyce turned 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 mumbled, knowing from Joyce’s glare that he had interrupted her moment.

Joyce turned back to Gino at that time. “I guess I’ll have to wait then.”

Gino nodded. “Have a safe trip.”

“Watch your moves, Zhu Fan Gang!” Joanne yelled out before Jacky and Joyce disappeared down the corridor.

“Sure, Mrs. Chu!” Jacky called out, wanting to have the last words—or so he thought.

“I guess it’s us again,” Joanne said, gesturing toward the direction that led back outside. “Ready?”

Gino nodded.

“What’s with you lately?” Joanne asked, her voice full of concern instead of mockery.

Gino shook his head. “I don’t know either. It’s just that I think this departure will tell for sure.”

“Sounds almost too poetic,” Joanne remarked, eyeing Gino cautiously. Then she recognized the look on his face. She had on a secret smile, yet she didn’t want to expose him or ruin his plans. Instead, she resumed 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 nodded, understanding his need for space.

Gino turned to give her an appreciative smile. “Thanks for offering though.”

Joanne shook her head. “We’re friends, remember?”

Gino nodded, feeling like he was back in those high school days when only he and Joanne remained 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 asked when they were out in the parking lot again.

“Nothing,” Gino said, his confidence returning and voice hinting a tad of mischief.

Joanne smiled, knowing her old friend was back. A guy who was too honest for his own good at times yet very trustworthy.

© Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Posted: Saturday, April 30th, 2011

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