About one month and a half later, Jacky and Joyce came back from their trip. Like when they left, Joanne came to pick them up. But this time, Gino didn’t ask to follow her. Instead, he called Joyce up while they were at the flower shop to ask her to meet him at the local park.

“I have to go for a bit,” Joyce said to the others after she got off the phone.

“Where are you going?” Joanne asked, taking her attention away from the current conversation to look at Joyce with cautious eyes.

“Just something I need to take care of,” Joyce said, hiding the real reason on purpose.

Joanne could detect some suspicious behaviors, but she nodded anyway. “All right. Remember we’re gathering at my house tonight.”

Joyce nodded and turned to leave.

“As I was saying,” Kenny said excitedly.

“Sure, Little Bro,” Elizabeth said, covering a yawn. “We believe you. Now, isn’t it time you get back to work or your boss’ going to issue some warnings?”

While her siblings were debating their latest topic of interest, Joanne couldn’t help but stare out at Joyce’s disappearing car down the street. What’s the big plan? She hoped that everything would be all right.

“What are you thinking, Missy?” Jacky asked, noticing Joanne’s strange expression.

Joanne turned to Jacky with a smile, shaking her head. “Nothing.”

“All right then. Let’s go.”

Joanne nodded, following Jacky out.

“We’ll be there tonight!” Joanne yelled out, announcing their departure to the others.

“Have fun!” Elizabeth yelled back at Joanne before returning to her debate with Kenny—that seemed to never end.

*****

Joyce settled down at a bench not far from the entrance of the park to wait for Gino. She gave her surrounding a quick scan, making sure she didn’t miss Gino’s presence. She spotted a couple walking by eating ice cream and chatting happily together. She smiled at another couple passing by walking in the opposite direction, arguing about something. What difference both couples seemed to show. The contrast reminded her of Jacky and Joanne for some reason. Maybe because they possessed both the feeling of getting along and not—at various times. She couldn’t help but wonder what she would be like in the future—when she did find her own happiness. Would she be mushy with her significant other like that couple who was eating ice cream? Or would they be like the bickering couple who seemed to never agree on anything yet still stayed together because they found some addicting vibes drawing them together? Somehow, she couldn’t imagine herself to be either one of those girls. She didn’t want either one of those roles fitting her nature. She would be more serious and more level-headed. Or so she hoped.

“Waited long?” Gino’s voice asked from somewhere.

Joyce snapped out of her thoughts and looked around to find Gino. She spotted him standing at the right side of the path ahead. The exact spot that the bickering couple walked past minutes ago. She got up and made her way toward him—with a smile on her face.

“So, what’s going on?” Joyce asked casually, gesturing toward him. “You sound so secretive on the phone that I would’ve expected something serious. Trouble?”

Gino didn’t say anything. He finally relaxed his hands, which had been hidden behind his back since Joyce spotted him. She could see a bouquet of flowers in his hands. She smiled, feeling the familiarity of the situation but it was a long, long time ago. He placed the bouquet of flowers into her hands. She sent him another smile and began to stare at the variety of flowers within vision. She could see a note in the center, which she took out and unfolded immediately. A familiar feeling washed over her again as she read the note silently, “May I have the honor of being your boyfriend?”

Gino had on his nervous look when Joyce looked up at him again. But he didn’t show any traces of mockery. In fact, he looked sincere. Too sincere.

“Do you want me to say yes or no?” Joyce teased, lowering the note in her hand.

“Do you want to say yes or no?” Gino repeated her question, dodging out of a sticky situation.

Joyce took another look at the flowers. He really made some effort, she thought. However, his method was not any more original than the next guy. Yet what other way could he use? She mulled the situation over and over in her mind. He was a simple, honest guy after all. What could she expect him to do? Though thoughts after thoughts occurred to her, only a minute had passed.

“I guess that’s a no,” Gino said half-heartedly, his sadness apparent.

“No, silly,” Joyce said teasingly. “It’s a yes.”

Gino wrinkled his face in confusion.

Joyce smiled. “I’m still holding the flower, right?”

Gino’s smile lit up. It was as if he was relieved that he had succeeded. Joyce returned the smile and took a step toward him. He took the hint to take her hand into his as they walked out of the park together.

A breeze suddenly brushed by, causing some fragments of flowers from above to separate from their resting place and flowed toward them. Joyce smiled as a petal of flower rested on her shoulder. She took it as a good blessing coming from Heaven. This is a good start, she thought.

*****

That night at the Tseng resident, Gino and Joyce joined them for dinner and also announced their current status. The others showed their happiness for both. Kenny even took it into his hands to tease Gino about joining the family—though Joyce was not really part of the Tseng clan. Aside from that little excitement, Jacky also took it into his hands to deliver the good news of Joyce not having to go on trips for a while since he would go with another one of their co-workers on the upcoming trip. This could be a good sign for Gino and Joyce since they would have more time to spend together. However, the same could not be said for Jacky and Joanne. Joanne, being Joanne, didn’t take it to heart and knew fully well of Jacky’s occupation and busy schedule. She wanted to treasure every moment that they were together, not wasting time whining about the unfairness of the situation. She knew it was not about being fair or unfair, but it was just part of life. Besides, Jacky would get his break in the future. No big deal really.

Before Jacky and Joanne separated that night, Jacky pulled Joanne outside into the night like many nights ago that they usually say their goodbyes—right under the dark sky—whether there were stars present or not.

“What is it, Young Master Chu?” Joanne teased, seeing the serious look on his face.

“Time for the surprise,” Jacky said, bringing his hand into his pocket.

Joanne smiled, waiting patiently.

“Here.” He handed the item to her, his smile beyond mischievous.

Joanne studied the item as he removed his hand from hers. She could see a small box. She quickly opened it with much anxiousness, wondering why his smile was so cunning. Then she knew. She turned to him and slapped his shoulder with the box.

“Hey!” Jacky yelled out, catching her hand. “You want to murder your future husband?”

“Serves you right for playing this trick on me!” Joanne yelled back, annoyed.

“What?” Jacky asked, innocently, still having a hold on her hand. “I thought it looks quite cute.”

“What are you guys arguing about?” Elizabeth asked, having heard their outbursts.

“Look what he got me!” Joanne yelled out, turning to her sister.

Elizabeth took the box from Joanne, opening and removing the item carefully. “Aww…it looks so cute!” She turned back to the house. “Everyone, look!”

The others walked outside to check out the matter.

“Hey, this is creative,” Kenny exclaimed. “I want one too but of course exactly like this and not of myself!”

“Zeng Zhi Rong!” Joanne bellowed, chasing after her brother.

“Sis!” Kenny called out in alarm, dodging out of the way in time. “I was telling the truth!”

“What are you guys doing now?” Joyce asked, finally joining the group.

“Jacky ge made a bobblehead doll of sis!” Kenny yelled out while still running from Joanne.

“I’ll catch you!” Joanne claimed, still not giving up the chase.

As Kenny ran by Joyce, he passed the doll to her.

“Aww…this is cute, Qiao,” Joyce remarked, tracing the material with her hand.

“You guys would think so because he’s not doing one of you,” Joanne pointed out, still protesting and declaring injustice.

“Come on now,” Joyce said. “He went through all that trouble, didn’t he?”

“You did say anything,” Jacky reminded her, reaching out his hands to catch Joanne and holding her in his arms from behind.

“How would I know it’s this?” Joanne retorted.

“You said anything,” Jacky repeated, smiling.

“If you don’t want it, sis,” Kenny said, returning to their side again. “Then can I have it? I’ll put it in my car!”

Joanne snarled, still struggling in Jacky’s arms.

“I think she still wants it,” Jacky translated.

“Welcome to our nuthouse,” Joyce said as Gino stepped up to stand by her side.

“I’ll try to get used to it,” Gino promised, eyeing Jacky and Joanne before returning his eyes to Joyce, giving her a smile.

*****

Another two months passed by them as they continued on with their lives. The only thing they had to get used to was having Gino around them from time to time. The ending of those two months also marked Jacky’s return from one of his business trips. This time, like Joyce, he got a break from the trips and would get more stable hours at the company’s office. However, Jacky’s return also meant Elizabeth’s departure for one of her inspirational trips again. This time, she claimed that the Caribbean was calling to her. In truth, it was just her excuse to get away from them for the time being. All the while, it was still a half-truth since she really needed to get going with her upcoming novel.

On the business front, their ongoing competition with their rival shop was still a neck-to-neck situation. Though they were a small shop, they had customer loyalty advantage over their rival. That alone gave them an edge since after the initial excitement of having a huge shop opening up in town, the customers went back to support the Tseng’s flower shop like the old times. At times, there would be special promotional events at the new shop that would bring curious customers in again but that would eventually fade. The two shops were practically playing ping pong with one another.

On the last day of July, Jacky came into the shop to meet Joanne after work like many times before, but couldn’t find her anywhere. Mr. Tseng wasn’t at his usual post at the counter either. Jacky knew that they had not locked up yet so they had to still be around. As he walked around the shop looking for them, he heard some laughing from the break room. He made his way toward it, remembering back to the first time he met Gino officially. It seemed like a déjà vu to him. Who is it this time? Dino? Jacky smiled at his silly thought and shook his head briefly to clear it away.

“You’re just in time,” Joyce said when he stepped in.

“What happened?” Jacky asked, giving the room a quick scan—as if hoping to prove his guess wrong that there was no someone around.

“Look!” Joanne exclaimed in excitement. She extended her hand out to him, presenting him an item.

He took the doll into his hand, turning its head around to face him. Then he finally understood why she had to hand it to him in that way and also why everyone was laughing so hard before. He returned his attention to her. “Very funny, Miss Tseng.”

Joanne did a bow and straightened up again. “Any time.”

“I still think that the bobblehead of you looks nicer than mine,” He said, tapping the doll in his hand. “A lot cuter.”

Joanne sent him a threatening look to which he returned with a satisfied smile.

“So…” He looked around at the others. “Are we going?”

Joyce nodded. “Yes, of course.”

Jacky did another quick scan of the room. “What happened to your boyfriend?”

“He went to pick up his cousin at the airport.”

“Oh.”

“He has a cousin?” Kenny asked, scratching his head. “I thought he doesn’t have any other relatives. I don’t remember anyone his age. That was why sis was his only friend, remember? So he often hanged around us.”

“It’s his uncle’s niece,” Joyce clarified.

“The current one, right?” Joanne asked, turning to her brother.

“His aunt was married before?” Jacky jumped in.

Joanne nodded.

“You guys are just too nosy,” Joyce commented, walking out of the break room.

“Hey, we’re just normal people,” Jacky said, sounding a tad defensive. “By the way, where’s Uncle?”

“He went home,” Kenny replied. “We said we could take care of it when I was coming back for lunch.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t get fired yet.”

“What are you talking about?”

They were actually walking back out to the shop at this point, helping Joanne with the closing tasks.

“You keep wandering around places,” Jacky said. “It’s like you own the music store.”

“I always come back here on my break,” Kenny defended himself. “I know my limits, okay?”

“Where are we going today then?” Jacky asked, changing the subject all of a sudden.

Kenny shrugged. “Probably the same old stop at the house for dinner.”

“Hey, how about coming over to my house tonight then?”

“Your parents back?”

“No, still gone.”

“Then…”

“Just to spite Caitlin again since James’ meeting with her there tonight.”

“You’re at it again?” Joyce asked, walking by the guys. “I thought we agreed to leave them alone.”

“Come on now. She was challenging me.”

“Who started it this time?”

Jacky didn’t answer.

“See? Caught you!”

“Are you her best friend or mine?”

“Still….remember our agreement.”

“I already scratched my name off it.”

They were finally done with their tasks and were walking toward the front door together. Joanne returned from the break room after turning the light off and closing the door. She could see the three chatting away.

“What are you guys up to now?” Joanne asked, eyeing them suspiciously—mostly because she could detect Jacky’s cunning eyes.

“He wants to start again,” Joyce answered before Jacky could defend himself.

Joanne wrinkled her face. “What?”

“He wants to sabotage Caitlin again,” Joyce clarified.

Joanne turned to give Jacky a look.

“It’s a harmless prank,” Jacky said, his eyes darting back and forth innocently.

“Uhuh.”

“What I mean is…”

They heard the wind chime jingled at that time, so they all turned to the door. It was none other than Gino walking in. However, there was a girl clinging onto his arm. They stared at the two as Gino made his way toward the group. Joyce smiled at him as she stepped in his direction.

“Hey,” Joyce greeted him casually. “I guess this is the cousin you were talking about.”

“She’s being polite,” Jacky whispered to Joanne.

“What’s wrong with that?” Joanne whispered back, giving Jacky a side glance.

“Being polite to her boyfriend is a problem.”

Joanne realized she had misunderstood Jacky’s words. He did not mean Joyce was being polite to the girl—like she thought. She must agree it was strange all right.

“Any girl would react like that,” Joanne said, feeling the need to defend the female population.

“Here comes a whole package of dramas unleashing,” Kenny whispered in his mysterious, narrative voice.

“Quit causing trouble,” Joanne warned her brother.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Hey, you guys,” Joyce called out to the three huddled together by the counter.

Jacky, Joanne, and Kenny took the hint to step forward.

“This is Clara,” Joyce introduced, gesturing toward the girl. “She’s going to stay around for a while since she wishes to find work here.”

“Great,” Kenny mumbled, his voice dripping sarcasm.

Joanne hit him behind his back lightly for him to stop. Only Jacky could see it since Joanne did it so light that it was hard to see because the siblings were standing quite close to each other.

“Sounds like a plan,” Joanne said.

“Definitely,” Jacky continued, his voice equally hinting sarcasm as Kenny’s but his smile covered his attitude up.

“You have a place to stay yet?” Kenny asked, getting right to the point.

“Um…I’m going to stay with Uncle since I don’t know for sure if I will find a job here,” Clara answered, shrugging. “I might as well treat this as a vacation, right?”

Jacky nodded. “True.”

“It’s a tough world out there, I’m telling you,” Kenny continued—as if understanding the whole perspective—or he could possibly be trying out his smart-aleck attitude again.

“Well, my aunt and uncle are planning to have a family dinner tonight,” Gino informed them. “So I guess Xiao Qiao and I won’t be joining you.”

“I thought it’s only us four,” Clara jumped in, turning to Gino with a confused look.

Gino tried to detach Clara’s arm from his hand again. He stepped forward and placed a hand around Joyce’s shoulders. “This is my girlfriend.”

“Oh,” Clara said, finally understanding the picture.

“I told you, dramas,” Kenny repeated to Jacky and Joanne, remembering to whisper.

“Quit disturbing the peace,” Joanne gritted—though she could detect the hostility coming from Clara. Though it was subtle, it was there.

“I guess we’ll get to know each other tonight then,” Clara said, turning to Joyce with a sweet smile.

Joyce returned the smile.

Gino turned to the other three. “I guess we’ll be going now.”

Jacky and Kenny nodded in unison while Joanne smiled.

“I told you trouble is coming,” Kenny said in an as a matter-of-fact tone when Gino and the girls had already left the shop.

“You’re the one stirring up trouble,” Joanne said, pointing an accusing finger at her brother. “I warn you not to put any more oil into the fire in the future, okay?”

Kenny saluted. “Got it, sis.”

“Come on, you two,” Jacky interfered, gesturing towards the door. “We have to head back for dinner.”

Joanne turned around to check the shop one last time. When Jacky and Joanne reached the door, Kenny was already by Jacky’s car waiting for them.

“I got a suggestion,” Joanne said after locking the door.

“What?” Jacky asked, twirling his keychain in his right hand.

“How about you keep my bobblehead and I’ll keep yours?”

Jacky wrinkled his face. “I thought that’s what we’re doing.”

“No, not our gifts to each other but the ones of each other. It would be too weird to stare at ourselves, right?”

Jacky nodded. “True.”

Joanne reached into Jacky’s pocket and took the bobblehead of him and placed it into her handbag. “There. I’ll give you mine when we get home.”

Jacky nodded again.

“Do you only know how to nod?”

Jacky flashed out his teasing smile. “I’m nodding along with my bobblehead self.”

Joanne gave him a look to which he maintained his smile.

© Monday, April 12th, 2010

Posted: Sunday, May 1st, 2011

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