Chapter 13

About one month and a half later, Jacky and Joyce come back from their trip. Like when they left, Joanne comes to pick them up. But this time, Gino doesn’t ask to follow her. Instead, he calls Joyce up while they are at the flower shop to ask her to meet him at the local park.
“I have to go for a bit,” Joyce says to the others after she gets off the phone.
“Where are you going?” Joanne asks, taking her attention away from the current conversation to look at Joyce with cautious eyes.
“Just something I need to take care of,” Joyce says, hiding the real reason on purpose.
Joanne could detect some suspicious behaviors but she nods anyway. “All right. Remember we’re gathering at my house tonight.”
Joyce nods and turns to leave.
“As I was saying,” Kenny says excitedly.
“Sure, Little Bro,” Elizabeth says, covering a yawn. “We believe you. Now, isn’t it your time to get back to work or your boss’ going to issue some warnings?”
While her siblings are 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 hopes that everything will be all right.
“What are you thinking, Missy?” Jacky asks, noticing Joanne’s strange expression.
Joanne turns to Jacky with a smile, shaking her head. “Nothing.”
“All right then. Let’s go.”
Joanne nods, following Jacky out.
“We’ll be there tonight!” Joanne yells out, announcing their departure to the others.
“Have fun!” Elizabeth yells back at Joanne before returning to her debate with Kenny – that seems to never end.

*****

Joyce settles down at a bench not far from the entrance of the park to wait for Gino. She gives her surrounding a quick scan, making sure she didn’t miss Gino’s presence. She spots a couple walking by eating ice cream and chatting happily together. She smiles at another couple passing by walking in the opposite direction, arguing about something. What difference both couples seem to show. The contrast reminds her of Jacky and Joanne for some reason. Maybe because they possess 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 does find her own happiness. Will she be mushy with her significant other like that couple who is eating ice cream? Or will they be like the bickering couple who seems to never agree on anything yet still stay together because they found some addicting vibes drawing them together? Somehow, she couldn’t imagine herself to be either one of those girls. She doesn’t want either one of those roles fitting her nature. She would be more serious and more level-headed. Or so she hopes.
“Waited long?” Gino’s voice asks from somewhere.
Joyce snaps out of her thoughts and looks around to find Gino. She spots him standing at the right side of the path ahead. The exact spot that the bickering couple walked past minutes ago. She stands up and makes her way towards him – with a smile on her face.
“So, what’s going on?” Joyce asks casually, gesturing towards him. “You sound so secretive on the phone that I would’ve expected something serious. Trouble?”
Gino doesn’t say anything. He finally relaxes his hands – which had been hidden behind his back since Joyce spotted him. She could see a bouquet of flowers in his hands. She smiles, feeling the familiarity of the situation but it was a long, long time ago. He places the bouquet of flowers into her hands. She sends him another smile and begins to stare at the variety of flowers within vision. She could see a note in the center, which she takes out and unfolds immediately. A familiar feeling washes over her again as she reads the note silently, “May I have the honor of being your boyfriend?”
Gino has on his nervous look when Joyce looks up at him again. But he doesn’t show any traces of mockery. In fact, he looks sincere. Too sincere.
“Do you want me to say yes or no?” Joyce teases, lowering the note in her hand.
“Do you want to say yes or no?” Gino repeats her question, dodging out of a sticky situation.
Joyce takes another look at the flowers. He really made some effort, she thought. However, his method is not anymore original than the next guy. Yet what other way could he use? She molds the situation over and over in her mind. He’s a simple, honest guy after all. What could she expect him to do? Though thoughts after thoughts occur to her, but only a minute has passed.
“I guess that’s a no,” Gino says half-heartedly, his sadness apparent.
“No, silly,” Joyce says teasingly. “It’s a yes.”
Gino wrinkles his face in confusion.
Joyce smiles. “I’m still holding the flower, right?”
Gino’s smile lights up. It’s as if he’s relief that he has succeeded. Joyce returns the smile and takes a step towards him. He takes the hint to take her hand into his as they walk out of the park together.
A breeze suddenly brushes by, causing some fragments of flowers from above to separate from its resting place and flows towards them. Joyce smiles as a petal of flower rests on her shoulder. She takes it as a good blessing coming from Heaven. This is a good start, she thought.

*****

That night at the Zeng resident, Gino and Joyce join them for dinner and also announce of their current status. The others show their happiness for both. Kenny even takes it into his hands to tease Gino about joining the family – though Joyce is not really part of the Zeng clan. Aside from that little excitement, Jacky also takes it into his hands to deliver the good news of Joyce not having to go on trips for a while since he will go with another one of their co-workers on the upcoming trip. This could be a good sign for Gino and Joyce since they will have more time to spend together. However, the same could not be said for Jacky and Joanne. Joanne, being Joanne, doesn’t take it to heart and knows fully well of Jacky’s occupation and busy schedule. She wants to treasure every moment that they’re together, not wasting time whining about the unfairness of the situation. She knows it’s not about being fair or unfair, but it’s just part of life. Besides, Jacky will get his break in the future. No big deal really.
Before Jacky and Joanne separate that night, Jacky pulls Joanne outside into the night like many nights ago that they usually say their goodbyes – right under the dark sky – whether there are stars present or not.
“What is it, Young Master Chu?” Joanne teases, seeing the serious look on his face.
“Time for the surprise,” Jacky says, bringing his hand into his pocket.
Joanne smiles, waiting for her surprise.
“Here.” He hands the item to her, his smile beyond mischievous.
Joanne studies the item as he removes his hand from hers. She could see a small box. She quickly opens it with much anxiousness, wondering why his smile is so cunning. Then she knows. She turns to him and slaps his shoulder with the box.
“Hey!” Jacky yells out, catching her hand. “You want to murder your future husband?”
“Serves you right for playing this trick on me!” Joanne yells back, annoyed.
“What?” Jacky asks, innocently, still having a hold on her hand. “I thought it looks quite cute.
“What are you guys arguing about?” Elizabeth asks, having heard their outbursts.
“Look what he got me!” Joanne yells out, turning to her sister.
Elizabeth takes the box from Joanne, opening and removing the item carefully. “Aww…it looks so cute!” She turns back to the house. “Everyone, look!”
The others walk outside to check out the matter.
“Hey, this is creative,” Kenny exclaims. “I want one too but of course exactly like this and not of myself!”
“Zeng Zhi Rong!” Joanne bellows, chasing after her brother.
“Sis!” Kenny calls out in alarm, dodging out of the way in time. “I was telling the truth!”
“What are you guys doing now?” Joyce asks, finally joining the group.
“Jacky ge made a bobble-head doll of sis!” Kenny yells out while still running from Joanne.
“I’ll catch you!” Joanne claims, still not giving up the chase.
As Kenny runs by Joyce, he passes the doll to her.
“Aww…this is cute, Qiao,” Joyce remarks, tracing the material with her hand.
“You guys would think so because he’s not doing one of you,” Joanne points out, still protesting and declaring injustice.
“Come on now,” Joyce says. “He went through all that trouble, didn’t he?”
“You did say anything,” Jacky reminds her, reaching out his hands to catch Joanne and holding her in his arms from behind.
“How would I know it’s this?” Joanne retorts.
“You said anything,” Jacky repeats, smiling.
“If you don’t want it, sis,” Kenny says, returning to their side again. “Then can I have it? I’ll put it in my car!”
Joanne snarls, still struggling in Jacky’s arms.
“I think she still wants it,” Jacky translates.
“Welcome to our nuthouse,” Joyce says as Gino steps up to stand by her side.
“I’ll try to get used to it,” Gino promises, eyeing Jacky and Joanne before returning his eyes to Joyce, giving her a smile.

*****

Another two months pass by them as they continue on with their lives. The only thing they have to get used to is having Gino around them from time to time. The ending of those two months also marks Jacky’s return from one of his business trips. This time, like Joyce, he gets a break from the trips and would get more stable hours at the company’s office. However Jacky’s return also means Elizabeth’s departure for one of her inspirational trips again. This time, she claims that the Caribbean’s calling to her. In truth, it’s just her excuse to get away from them for the time being. All the while, it is still a half truth since she really needs to get going with her upcoming novel.
On the business front, their ongoing competition with their rivalry shop is still a neck-to-neck situation. Though they’re a small shop but they have customer loyalty advantages over their rival. That alone gives them an edge since after the initial excitement of having a huge shop opening up in town, the customers go back to support the Zeng’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 are practically playing ping pong with one another.
On the last day of July, Jacky comes into the shop to meet Joanne after work like many times before, but couldn’t find her anywhere. Mr. Zeng isn’t at his usual post at the counter either. Jacky knows that they have not locked up yet so they have to still be around. As he walks around the shop looking for them, he hears some laughing from the break room. He makes his way towards it, remembering back to the first time he met Gino officially. It seems like a déjà vu to him. Who is it this time? Dino? Jacky smiles at his silly thought and shakes his head briefly to clear it away.
“You’re just in time,” Joyce says when he steps in.
“What happened?” Jacky asks, giving the room a quick scan – as if hoping to prove his guess wrong that there is no someone around.
“Look!” Joanne exclaims in excitement. She extends her hand out to him, presenting him an item.
He takes the doll into his hand, turning its head around to face him. Then he finally understands why she has to hand it to him in that way and also why everyone was laughing so hard before. He returns his attention on her. “Very funny, Miss Zeng.”
Joanne does a bow and straightens up again. “Any time.”
“I still think that the bobble-head of you looks nicer than mine,” He says, tapping the doll in his hand. “A lot cuter.”
Joanne sends him a threatening look to which he returns with a satisfaction smile.
“So…” He looks around at the others. “Are we going?”
Joyce nods. “Yes, of course.”
Jacky does 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 asks, 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 clarifies.
“The current one, right?” Joanne asks, turning to her brother.
“His aunt was married before?” Jacky jumps in.
Joanne nods.
“You guys are just too nosy,” Joyce comments, walking out of the break room.
“Hey, we’re just normal people,” Jacky says, sounding a bit defensive. “By the way, where’s Uncle?”
“He went home,” Kenny replies. “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 are actually walking back out to the shop at this point, helping Joanne with the closing tasks.
“You keep wandering around places,” Jacky says. “It’s like you own the music store.”
“I always come back here on my break,” Kenny defends himself. “I know my limits, okay?”
“Where are we going today then?” Jacky asks, changing the subject all of a sudden.
Kenny shrugs his shoulders. “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 asks, 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 doesn’t answer.
“See? Caught you!”
“Are you her best friend or my?”
“Still….remember our agreement.”
“I already scratched my name off it.”
They are finally done with their tasks and are walking towards the front door together. Joanne returns 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 asks, eyeing them suspiciously – mostly because she could detect Jacky’s cunning eyes.
“He wants to start again,” Joyce answers before Jacky could defend himself.
Joanne wrinkles her face. “What?”
“He wants to sabotage Caitlin again,” Joyce clarifies.
Joanne turns to give Jacky a look.
“It’s a harmless prank,” Jacky says, his eyes darting back and forth innocently.
“Uhuh.”
“What I mean is…”
They hear the wind chime jingles at that time so they all turn to the door. It is none other than Gino walking in. However, there’s a girl clinging onto his arm. They stare at the two as Gino makes his way towards the group. Joyce smiles at him as she steps towards his direction.
“Hey,” Joyce greets him casually. “I guess this is the cousin you were talking about.”
“She’s being polite,” Jacky whispers to Joanne.
“What’s wrong with that?” Joanne whispers back, giving Jacky a side glance.
“Being polite to her boyfriend is a problem.”
Joanne realizes she has misunderstood Jacky’s words. He does not mean Joyce is being polite to the girl – like she thought. She must agree it’s strange all right.
“Any girl would react like that,” Joanne says, feeling the need to defend the girl population.
“Here comes a whole package of dramas unleashing,” Kenny whispers in his mysterious, narrative voice.
“Quit causing trouble,” Joanne warns her brother.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Hey, you guys,” Joyce calls out to the three hurdled together by the counter.
Jacky, Joanne, and Kenny take the hint to step forward.
“This is Clara,” Joyce introduces, gesturing towards the girl. “She’s going to stay around for a while since she wishes to find work here.”
“Great,” Kenny mumbles, his voice dripping sarcasm.
Joanne hits him behind his back lightly for him to stop. Only Jacky could see it since Joanne does it so light that it’s hard to see because the siblings are standing quite close to each other.
“Sounds like a plan,” Joanne says.
“Definitely,” Jacky continues, his voice equally hinting sarcasm as Kenny’s but his smile covers his attitude up.
“You have a place to stay yet?” Kenny asks, 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 answers, shrugging her shoulders. “I might as well treat this as a vacation, right?”
Jacky nods. “True.”
“It’s a tough world out there, I’m telling you,” Kenny continues – 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 informs them. “So I guess Xiao Qiao and I won’t be joining you.”
“I thought it’s only us four,” Clara jumps in, turning to Gino with a confused look.
Gino tries to detach Clara’s arm from his hand again. He steps forward and places a hand around Joyce’s shoulders. “This is my girlfriend.”
“Oh,” Clara says, finally understanding the picture.
“I told you dramas,” Kenny repeats to Jacky and Joanne, remembering to whisper.
“Quit disturbing the peace,” Joanne grits – though she could detect the hostility coming from Clara. Though it is subtle, but it is there.
“I guess we’ll get to know each other tonight then,” Clara says, turning to Joyce with a sweet smile.
Joyce returns the smile.
Gino turns to the other three. “I guess we’ll be going now.”
Jacky and Kenny nod in unison while Joanne smiles.
“I told you trouble is coming,” Kenny says in an as a matter of fact tone when Gino and the girls have already left the shop.
“You’re the one stirring up trouble,” Joanne says, pointing an accusing finger at her brother. “I warn you not to put anymore oil into the fire in the future, okay?”
Kenny salutes. “Got it, sis.”
“Come on, you two,” Jacky interferes, gesturing towards the door. “We have to head back for dinner.”
Joanne turns around to check the shop one last time. When Jacky and Joanne reach the door, Kenny’s already by Jacky’s car waiting for them.
“I got a suggestion,” Joanne says after locking the door.
“What?” Jacky asks, twirling his keychain in his right hand.
“How about you keep my bobble-head and I’ll keep yours?”
Jacky wrinkles 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 nods. “True.”
Joanne reaches into Jacky’s pocket and takes the bobble-head of him and places it into her handbag. “There. I’ll give you mine when we get home.”
Jacky nods again.
“Do you only know how to nod?”
Jacky flashes out his teasing smile. “I’m nodding along with my bobble-head self.”
Joanne gives him a look to which he maintains his smile.
© Monday, April 12th, 2010
Posted: Sunday, May 1st, 2011