Soon, July gave way for August as well. That also meant that Kenny’s little hypothesis about a possible cat fight became invalid. Or so they thought. Because one day in mid-August, Gino walked into the shop with his grim expression on. It was as if someone had offended him, particularly one of the people of the Tseng clan.

“Zhu Fan Gang!” Gino bellowed, alarming everyone in the shop.

Luckily, it was lunchtime so there were no customers present. They were actually in the break room, talking and eating. Joanne and Kenny exchanged a look before getting up to check out the matter.

“What is it?” Joanne asked, walking out to greet Gino.

Gino still had on his serious expression. “Where is he?”

“Jacky ge’s not coming today,” Kenny jumped in, standing by his sister’s side. It was almost like he was prepared to shield his sister from Gino’s possible attack. “What’s going on?”

“Where is Xiao Qiao?” Gino continued, not caring to clarify his behaviors or presence.

“Obviously not here,” Kenny answered, his hostile tone obvious. “If she’s here, she would have come out already, right?”

“Then that proves it,” Gino said, still not making sense to both siblings.

“What is it then?” Joanne pressed, still studying Gino closely just like her brother.

“Hey, you guys!” Charlene exclaimed as she breezed into the shop. “Jacky ge said that he wants to invite us to his house for dinner tonight. His parents are back again. I want to go!”

“Jacky’s here?” Joanne asked, still keeping an eye on Gino.

“Yeah,” Charlene answered, her spirit still high. “He’s outside.”

Gino turned his attention to the door, his pace rapid. Joanne reacted as fast, speeding by him and blocking his way at the door.

“What are you trying to do?” Joanne asked, alarmed.

“I have to talk to him,” Gino said, his hand rising up—ready to push Joanne out of the way.

“You have to tell us what’s going on first,” Joanne urged, not giving way.

“What are you guys up to again?” Charlene asked, finally realizing the hectic atmosphere.

“Get out of the way!” Gino yelled out, not caring to reason with Joanne anymore.

“Not until you tell me what’s going on!” Joanne yelled right back, not letting Gino scare her off easily. She turned to Kenny briefly. “Kenny, call Jacky and tell him to leave first.”

“I’ll hunt him down wherever he is!” Gino threatened.

“Kenny!” Joanne ordered again.

Before Kenny could take action, Gino made a move first since Joanne had directed her attention to her brother slightly. Joanne was pushed aside before anyone could react. Gino pushed the door open and made his way toward Jacky—who was standing by his car. Joanne and Kenny rushed outside to stop Gino, blocking his path once again. This time, Kenny made sure to shield in front of his sister.

“You have to get past me before you could do anything!” Kenny yelled out, determined to make himself heard this time around.

“If you’re not telling us what’s going on, we won’t back off,” Joanne said, stepping up by her brother’s side.

“What are you guys doing?” Jacky asked, approaching the three. “Isn’t it too early to be playing some game?”

“Zhu Fan Gang!” Gino yelled out—as if needing to make himself heard.

“What…” Jacky started to say.

Jacky didn’t have time to finish since Gino lunged forward and threw a punch at him. Joanne pushed Jacky out of way, but Jacky reacted in time and pulled Joanne aside, receiving the full blow. Kenny stepped forward to restrain Gino though he was not as strong because of Gino’s martial arts background. But Kenny didn’t give up. He continued to struggle with Gino as Jacky finally let go of Joanne so he could inspect his face.

“Fan Gang,” Joanne choked out upon seeing the blood dripping out of his mouth.

“Jacky ge!” Charlene’s voice rang with worried.

Charlene had joined them and could witness the scene unfolding but could not do anything to help. She was still too shocked by the turn of events to react. She could only stare blankly at her brother’s fight with Gino and her sister’s tears falling.

“It doesn’t hurt,” Jacky reassured Joanne, turning to Gino and Kenny again. “Quit it, everyone! What in the world is going on here?”

“Stop it!” Joanne yelled out, despite her emotional state.

Both Gino and Kenny finally stopped fighting and turned to look at Joanne.

“Do you guys want to get arrested and then we could explain it at the police station?” Joanne asked, her voice a little shaky yet her expression determined.

“It’s his doing!” Gino yelled out, pointing at Jacky.

“I don’t care whose fault it is,” Joanne yelled back. “All I know is, we don’t know what you’re talking about. Why don’t you just tell us from the top instead of acting out? Let’s do it in the shop before we attract any more attention.”

Gino finally realized that some people had stopped nearby or across the street to observe their situation and were pointing casually at them. He could see Jacky still standing there. He turned to Joanne again. “Fine.”

They finally returned to the shop with Joanne tending to Jacky.

“Kenny, lock the door,” Joanne instructed after everyone was inside. “We’re taking care of it in the break room.”

Kenny did as instructed. He joined them in the break room afterward.

“Now that everyone’s present, you could go ahead,” Joanne said.

Kenny took the hint to sit next to Joanne. Charlene still looked pale from the incident in front of the shop, so she was still silent. Jacky was sitting on Joanne’s right—and a distance from Gino.

“Well?” Joanne prompted, her face full of anger.

“This,” Gino said, slamming something down on the table.

The others could see that it was a set of pictures when they looked down to observe. Joanne picked it up and went through it one at a time.

“This is the time we were at the market night with James, remember?” Jacky asked, looking at Joanne. “Gino said he couldn’t come because he has a meeting with someone.”

“Two weeks ago,” Joanne said, nodding.

“What’s wrong with…” Kenny stopped because he could see the next picture.

“Exactly,” Gino jumped in. “Now you see why I have to teach him a lesson.”

Joanne turned to Jacky also, her expression casual—not of anger or suspicion.

“It was when you and James went to pick up the tickets for the show,” Jacky explained. “Something went in Xiao Qiao’s eyes, so I had to blow it out for her. You don’t expect me to wait for you to come back, do you?”

Joanne turned back to the pictures again, continuing with her flipping task.

“You’re just going to believe him like that?” Gino asked in disbelief.

“It’s the angle,” Kenny said. “The person who took the picture must have waited long for that shot.”

Gino turned to Kenny with a look of disbelief also—as if not believing that Kenny would cover such a sin to lie to his own sister too.

“I took a photography class. High school, remember? The days when I was snapping my camera like crazy. Most of our high school memories were taken by me.”

“Look,” Joanne said, ignoring the guys’ argument.

“What?” Gino asked, turning to Joanne again.

Joanne pointed to another picture she was looking at. “Here.”

“It’s still him trying to kiss her,” Gino said, his tone still edgy.

“Not that but here.”

They could see a reflection of Jacky and Joyce but from a different angle since it was the effect of the mirror. It looked like Jacky was trying to lean in for a kiss from the angle of the picture, but from the mirror’s angle, they could see clearly that the two were a distance apart.

“Good eyes, jie,” Kenny complimented his sister, his proud smile on.

“So if you want to accuse anyone,” Joanne said calmly yet her expression passive. “You should check all the evidence carefully. Whose idea of a joke was it? And if you think that Xiao Qiao would let Jacky kiss her just like that, it just means you don’t trust her at all.”

“I…” Gino managed, suddenly not so sure about the matter anymore. “I just…”

“Forget it,” Jacky said, seeing everyone’s eyes on Gino. “It’s a misunderstanding.”

“But he just hit you!” Charlene shouted, having finally recovered.

“I’ll try to be more careful next time. I meant as not to cause any more misunderstandings.”

“It was my fault for acting so rash,” Gino said, his voice a little too soft.

If the room wasn’t so quiet at the moment, they would not have heard him.

“Whose pictures are these?” Joanne demanded, her eyes still on Gino.

“Qiao,” Jacky interfered, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Forget it.”

“Umm…” Gino managed, his courage suddenly abandoning him. “One of Clara’s friends snapped a shot of it since the group of friends was at that area around the same time too.”

“How do they know she knows Jacky and Xiao Qiao or you to give this to Clara?” Joanne continued with her questions, not backing down.

“They didn’t know. They just showed her some pictures they snapped at the night market and she saw it so she gave it to me.”

“A likely story,” Kenny jumped in.

Jacky turned and gave Kenny a look, indicating that he should know when to stop.

“I almost got hit too,” Kenny continued.

“I’m sorry, you guys,” Gino said, his voice apologetic enough. “I wasn’t using my brain.”

“Obviously…” Joanne started to say.

“Obviously you were worried for Xiao Qiao,” Jacky jumped in, cutting Joanne off. “So you just overreacted.” Jacky shook his head. “So forget it.”

Gino nodded. “If it’s all right with you guys…” He hesitated a little before continuing. “Maybe we shouldn’t let Xiao Qiao know about this. I don’t want to hide it. It’s just that I feel too foolish.”

“You got our words,” Jacky said quickly before the others could object.

Gino got up at that time. “I’ll be going now. I’ll try to make up to you guys another day.”

Jacky got up at that time and walked Gino out before Joanne or Kenny could say anymore. When he came back, the Tseng siblings were still gathered in the break room.

“What?” Jacky asked them. “A staring contest?”

“Why did you let him off so easily?” Joanne asked, surprised.

“It’s like you were really guilty but glad there was a gap in this whole thing so you could dive out,” Kenny said. “And that’s why you’re shooing him out of here as fast as you can before he catches on otherwise.”

“Zeng Zhi Rong!” Joanne yelled out, turning to her brother. “How could you say that?”

Kenny shrugged. “Hey, it seems that way. I have a right to know, okay? It’s my sister after all.”

“I understand how he must have felt,” Jacky said, his voice not threatening or mad that Kenny was accusing him. “Like how I felt when he first showed up here.”

“But you didn’t beat anyone up.”

“Because that’s not my way, but I was being mean to him too, remember?”

“Are you making it up to him now by letting him vent out on you like that?”

Jacky shrugged. “I just know that we should give him a break. Don’t you think we’re giving that Clara the satisfaction if we let her plans go through?”

“That’s right,” Joanne said finally, realizing the situation. “If we let her play us and fall right into her traps, then we’re a bunch of idiots.”

“I guess I was right after all about her being trouble, huh?” Kenny asked, reminding them about his prophecy.

Joanne turned around to give him a look. “Why don’t you say something like we’ll win the lottery or something more fortunate? You always jinx us.”

Kenny pointed at himself, looking wounded. “So it’s my fault?”

“Of course.”

“All right,” Jacky said. “Let’s get out of here.”

“We have to go back to work,” Joanne said, glancing at the clock on the wall.

“I’ll just buy you lunch and bring it back here.”

Joanne nodded.

“Before you go though, clean that up,” Kenny jumped in, pointing at his own mouth for emphasis.

“Oh,” Joanne gasped. “I’m so careless.”

“You looked like you wanted to tear Gino apart first before taking care of his wound,” Kenny joked.

Joanne turned her eyes on her brother again.

Kenny raised his hands up in surrender. “I’m just kidding, jie. Let’s go, Charlene.”

“Are we still up for tonight then?” Charlene asked.

“Yes,” Jacky replied.

Kenny dragged Charlene outside at that time.

“You’re the one who has to go back to work, not me,” Charlene protested, still being pulled out by her brother.

“You don’t like to spend time walking back to my shop with me?” Kenny asked, diverting the subject on purpose.

After they were gone, Joanne turned to Jacky again. She reached up to inspect the blood that had dried up at the edge of his lips. She grabbed his hand and directed him over to the sink where she took out the emergency kit, helping him wash off the blood and apply some ointment on it.

“I guess we won’t be doing any kissing for a while, huh?” Jacky joked after Joanne was done.

“Hmp.” Joanne uttered out, looking annoyed.

Jacky grabbed a hold of her from behind like he did many times before. “You were really brave to use yourself as a shield before. I would’ve died of embarrassment if I didn’t react in time.”

“I didn’t have time to think. I just know I have to stop him.”

Jacky smiled, hugging Joanne tighter than before.

*****

That night proceeded just like how Jacky reassured them. However, Jacky’s spirit wasn’t as high as the last few times they had a gathering at his house. Perhaps, it was due to the fact that he couldn’t smile very well. Gino sure could punch.

“What happened to you?” James asked, eyeing Jacky that night when they settled down at the dinner table.

“Long story,” Jacky mumbled, not wanting to strain his energy at all.

James turned to Joanne for an explanation.

“It was a misunderstanding,” Joanne replied, her answer as brief as Jacky’s.

“I guess someone got what he deserves,” Caitlin said from the other side of the table. “Considering how someone always likes to offend others.”

Jacky didn’t care to exert his energy but just gave Caitlin a sharp stare.

“Now, kids,” Mr. Chu spoke up, knowing too well of their past disputes. “Don’t do this at dinnertime.”

“If someone wouldn’t aggravate me,” Jacky gritted.

“Seriously, son, what happened?” Mr. Chu asked, turning to Jacky.

“A misunderstanding.”

“Is that all?”

“Arthur,” Mrs. Chu interfered. “You shouldn’t stir things up at dinnertime either.”

“I don’t want to talk about it with outsiders here,” Jacky said, eyeing Caitlin.

“You…” Caitlin began.

“Cait,” James interfered this time. “Let’s not do it at dinnertime.”

“You mean I could take her out and finish her off after dinner?” Jacky asked, his annoyance level rising another notch.

James gave Jacky the same look like many times before.

“That’s enough,” Mrs. Chu spoke up again.

Both Jacky and James stopped talking and continued to eat. Caitlin also took the hint to not aggravate Jacky anymore.

“Karaoke night, anyone?” Mr. Chu suggested, eyeing his sons.

Jacky didn’t reply though he knew that his father was compromising with him and trying to make up for adding part of the oil into the flames.

“Sounds good,” Joanne agreed, placing a supportive hand on Jacky’s shoulder. “But I think the rest of us will have to entertain ourselves since Jacky can’t follow this time.”

Jacky managed a smile upon seeing Joanne’s effort.

“Then your mom and I will have to let you kids hear our golden voices,” Mr. Chu joked.

“Arthur,” Mrs. Chu called out, shaking her head disapprovingly.

“What?” Mr. Chu asked back, faking innocence. “If we don’t sing, like anyone else would sing around here since James will be occupied with pleasing Caitlin and our Jacky is currently not under the condition to sing.”

“It’s okay, Dad,” Jacky finally said, feeling like he needed to defend his father after what the old man went through for him. “Qiao and I need to go somewhere for a while so we can just scatter.”

“Really?” Mr. Chu asked, eyeing Jacky and Joanne suspiciously. “I didn’t hear you two mention it earlier.”

“Last minute planning,” Joanne continued. “Sorry, Uncle.”

Mr. Chu waved it off. “No problem. We’ll think of something later.”

Jacky nodded.

After dinner, Jacky and Joanne excused themselves and left the Chu resident. They were actually dropping Kristy and Calvin off at the Wang resident since both siblings claimed to have some other commitments as well. Jacky didn’t say much during the car ride either. He let the other three interact among themselves. It wasn’t until they arrived at the Wang resident that Jacky finally spoke up.

“Sorry that you guys had to be there when it happened.”

Kristy shook her head. “Don’t worry about it. We’re used to your battles, remember?”

“You actually didn’t initiate it this time,” Calvin said, displaying a proud look—as if it was something to be proud about.

“What do you know, huh?” Jacky joked, smiling also.

“Calvin,” Kristy chided.

“It’s okay,” Jacky reassured her. “We’re family. We can joke like that…unlike someone.”

“Family?” Calvin asked.

“Dad calls you ‘my boy’, doesn’t he?”

Calvin smiled, knowing Mr. Chu’s overly enthusiastic nature. “True.”

“I guess we’ll be going now,” Kristy said, breaking up the conversation. “Take care, okay?”

Jacky nodded.

“And whatever it is, hope that you can take care of it. If you want, remember to look for us to consult.”

“Yes, Teacher Wang.”

Kristy gave him a look but just the usual teasing one and not the stern one.

“All right. See you.”

The Wang siblings stepped back so Jacky could pull out. He turned to wave to them one last time before driving off.

“You okay?” Joanne asked when they were safely in traffic again.

“Yeah,” Jacky said, attempting to smile.

“You don’t have to reassure me. I know it hurts to move.”

“Maybe I should learn hand signals too.”

“Seriously though, are you okay? You haven’t said much all night. I meant aside from the fact that it hurts to move.”

“I’ve been thinking.”

Joanne didn’t want to interrupt him, so she waited patiently for him to continue.

“Actually…” Jacky said after they passed another traffic light. “I was thinking about Gino and Xiao Qiao.”

“I thought you were thinking of a way to get back at Caitlin.”

“I’m not that senseless. I have more important things to take care of.”

“So…”

“So…how about we not see them for a while?”

Joanne wrinkled her face in confusion. “Are you sure it’s a good idea?”

“Giving them space and time would be good for their relationship. We could hang around them more when their relationship is stabilized.”

“Won’t Xiao Qiao get suspicious of us?”

“I’ll make up an excuse, saying that we need the time alone.”

Joanne smiled, knowing Jacky would always cover all bases. She finally nodded. “All right, I’m with you.”

“No wonder Dad said that you’re his favorite daughter-in-law.”

Joanne smiled again, reaching over to grab hold of Jacky’s free hand.

© Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Posted: Monday, May 2nd, 2011

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