Like Jacky promised, they resumed their friendship like many days before. This time, Jacky made sure to stay a safe distance away from Joyce when he interacted with her, making sure no one would be able to pin anything on him. He also made sure that Joanne was always by his side and sitting next to Joyce to avoid any other unnecessary misunderstandings. He didn’t want to make Joyce cry again but didn’t want to ignore Gino’s feelings either. He knew working hard was the only way to solve the obstacle.

Though he had taken cautious steps in maintaining his friendship with Joyce and keeping a safe distance at the same time to let Gino know of his considerate actions, Clara somehow ended up causing trouble for them once again. If only Gino would understand that Clara was up to no good and if only Kenny wasn’t so right with his premonition, their lives would be less frustrating. Knowing Gino’s honest nature—or perhaps too honest nature, they tried to work it out among themselves and let Joyce do the explaining with Gino, not stepping into the two’s relationship unless Joyce would allow them to help.

James, unlike all the other times, had turned into a pessimist that they did not dare to aggravate him in any way. They would have to try to be understanding like his past breakups. It was harder on them all this time because of how James had initiated the breakup. Though he seemed reluctant, he didn’t give in to try and patch up things with Caitlin either. Their lives ended up being a long nerve-racking wait for something to happen to dissolve all the problems. Anything, just anything and they would welcome it with opened arms.

Before they knew it, the last day of September finally left them. October turned into its chilly state fast, causing all parties to prepare for the changing season. They were once again occupied with their upcoming plans, especially Joanne and the rest of the Tseng clan, thinking of new tactics to maintain their edge over the rival shop.

On a more positive side, Elizabeth finally returned from her inspirational trip with her novel finished. The others were overjoyed that they would get to read her latest work again. They, of course, had to wait for the release day—just like anyone since Elizabeth had already handed in her work after finishing it, leaving them no chance to persuade her otherwise.

“I can’t believe so much has happened,” Elizabeth commented when they sat down for a coffee break one afternoon.

Joanne nodded.

“So…what about you guys?”

Joanne turned to see Elizabeth eyeing her cautiously. “What about us?”

“Don’t look at me like I’m crazy. Come on now. When are you guys getting married?”

Joanne resumed her casual expression again. “It’s the teasing again, right?”

Elizabeth blew at the steam in her coffee cup, shaking her head. “No, I’m serious.”

Joanne didn’t say anything. She continued to stir her coffee.

Elizabeth turned to Joanne with the utmost sincere expression. “I’m not trying to be nosy. How long do you think he’ll roam around? Freedom is just another word for delay. A delay for matters. How long do you think he could do this? Before you know it, you guys will get tired of this…and…”

“Qing jie,” Joanne interrupted, finally turning to her sister with a serious expression. “Our relationship might be odd to everyone. But I think we’re going through a test right now. You know what’s the most difficult test of all?”

It was Elizabeth’s turn to stay silent.

“Distance. You know how many people use distance as an excuse for their breakup? How many people gave in to cheating because they felt lonely or otherwise abandoned? When they could just work on their communication skills. If they have a strong commitment to one another, they wouldn’t break up. Assumptions and fake support tear people apart. People don’t just break up because of misunderstandings. It’s the inability to understand or put forth the effort of communicating with one another.”

“Qiao, people aren’t wrong because they can’t pass that test. They are human. They’re not perfect. You can’t just dismiss it as senseless actions. It just proves that marriage secures the relationship better.”

“I’m not saying they’re wrong. I’m just saying it’s wrong to think marriage could keep people together. If they can’t get past a little test of time, what good does marriage do? Is that supposed to be a contract or some sort of chain or a way of controlling the other party? If they want to get married, get married. Don’t use excuses such as fear of losing one another.”

“Qiao, love is blind.”

“That’s why relationships end so easily.”

“Then let me ask you…”

Joanne waited patiently for her sister to continue, abandoning her stirring task altogether.

“Do you want to marry Jacky?”

“Of course.”

“Have you ever told him that?”

Joanne didn’t answer.

“See? You’re also fearing that he’ll take it the wrong way. You’re also hiding things from him. It’s just that you can’t see it.”

Joanne got up from her seat at that time, abandoning her coffee altogether.

“Qiao, I’m not trying to put you in a hard spot. I’m just worried for you.”

Joanne turned around to look at her sister at that time. “I know. And I have to admit I won’t know what would happen in the future but I can tell you for sure that we will get married one day.”

“Hey,” Kenny said, walking into the room at the same time. “Where did Jacky go?”

“He’s here?” Joanne asked in alarm, turning to Kenny.

“Yeah,” Kenny replied. “I told him you’re both in here, so he just walked this way.” He could see the troubled look on Joanne’s face. “Why? What’s wrong?”

Joanne and Elizabeth exchanged a look at that time, not answering Kenny. Kenny scratched his head out of confusion but decided not to pursue the matter any further.

*****

Jacky picked up a pebble buried in the sand and tossed it into the lashing waves. He must admit it was a good method to get rid of stress or frustration. No wonder Joanne had done it in the past. He smiled, reflecting back to their first meeting. His smile faded as soon as his mind returned to the words Elizabeth said to Joanne. He couldn’t believe he had run away from the situation. Or was he…no, he was still hiding regardless of the situation. It didn’t matter if he had walked into the conversation by accident. He should’ve entered the room and defended Joanne. He should’ve stood by her side and shielded her away from Elizabeth’s words. Even if Elizabeth had meant it out of concern, he could not forget the look on Joanne’s face. The feeling of being cornered. The feeling of knowing the answer but not wanting to answer. As the wind lashed at him once more, he tossed the last of the pebbles into the waves and walked back to his car. He knew he couldn’t just stand there and think. Joanne needed him. He couldn’t let her down any more than he already did.

He arrived back at Felicity Flower Shop in time for closing. He could see the others were already gone. Perfect timing, he thought.

“Miss Tseng,” He said, his voice teasing.

Joanne was locking up at the moment. But she turned her attention to him anyway.

“What’s with the starring?” He asked, poking at her forehead playfully.

She resumed her locking up tasks before turning to him again. “You overheard our conversation?”

“Which one?”

“You know which one.”

He took his silk scarf off at that time and wrapped it around her neck. “Let’s get out of here before we talk.”

“I’m not the desperate one. Qing jie brought it up.”

He didn’t say anything but just directed her to his car.

“What’s the big secret anyway? Why are you sneaking around?”

“You’ll know in a bit.”

Joanne wrinkled her face at his strange behaviors but stayed quiet anyway, waiting for him to arrive at their destination.

Fifteen minutes later, they arrived at the park near Joanne’s house. Jacky guided Joanne out of the car and into the park. Joanne felt strange that he should be doing that since she knew the place inside out already. However, she didn’t object. She allowed herself to be guided into the park. It was when they arrived in the center of the park that Jacky finally stopped.

“See anything?” Jacky asked, looking at their surrounding.

“What?”

“The scenery.”

Joanne shrugged. “Signs of autumn.”

“Exactly.”

“What about it?”

“I missed all of these since I’ve decided to travel.”

“I took pictures for you and told you about it.”

“It’s not the same as experiencing it myself.”

“I’ll save leaves for you this season when the leaves finally change.”

Jacky placed his hands on Joanne’s shoulders from behind. He leans a bit into her. “It’s not the same.”

“What do you want me to do about it?”

“How about letting me stay forever?”

Joanne shifted to her left for a bit, eyeing Jacky cautiously. “What’s going on here?”

“I made up my mind.”

Joanne waited for him to continue.

“I’m quitting this job and finding a more stable job.”

Joanne turned around abruptly, taking a step back from Jacky in the process. She eyed him with a worried look. “You’re not quitting because of what Qing jie said, are you?”

“Partially.”

“But…”

“No. I’m not saying that I’m listening to her. But it’s because of her words that made me reconsider. Can’t you see James’ morbid look these past days?”

Joanne nodded.

“The more I need to stay close to home. It’s like I could care less or worry less because I could get away for some time before returning to find him recovered again—just like in the past. And what about other things? Sure, I learned more about different places around the world, but what do I know about the changes around here? Anything business-related doesn’t count.”

“But…”

Jacky put a hand up to stop Joanne, indicating that he was not done. “And what about us? I spent the majority of the time away these past years. I think it’s about time I get to know you properly instead of all the free time I squeezed in between trips. You’ve supported me all this time, shielding me from others’ questions and fending off all suspicions. I think it’s about time I do some protecting.”

“Don’t do this because of what others told you. Having them influencing you is the worst; you know that right? That was what you told me when we first met. Don’t let others influence your judgment.”

Jacky took a step closer to Joanne again. “I’m doing this because I want to, Miss Tseng. You know more than anyone that I could not be influenced just like that.”

Joanne smiled. “Whatever you decided, you have my support.”

“It’s about time I take things seriously and get to know you inside out before we get married.”

“You weren’t serious before?”

He took a step closer and took her hands into his again. “Stop picking on my words, Miss Tseng.”

“But you said…”

Jacky swung their linked hands back and forth. “It’s good to know that you haven’t changed at all, always giving me a hard time.”

“It’s a sign if you want to change your mind about things.”

“You wish.”

They laughed at the same time and walked out of the park together. Though the day was cold, the last bit of the sun rays shone down warmly on them as they continued out of the park.

*****

That night, Jacky fished out his cell phone after his shower to call Joyce. He had to wait for her to call back since she seemed to be on the phone with someone. Two guesses it was Gino.

“Hello?” Jacky rattled out as soon as Joyce returned his call.

“What’s going on?”

“Meet me at the park tomorrow.”

“The one near the flower shop or near Qiao’s house.”

“Near the flower shop.”

“What’s the big deal?”

“It’s better to tell you in person.”

“All right. I have to tell you something too.”

“So we’ll switch stories tomorrow. I have to get the last of my report done.”

“Same here.”

They hung up after that. Jacky fumbled with his phone again as he walked down the hall to James’ room.

“Hey, you want to go somewhere tomorrow?” Jacky asked, walking into his brother’s room.

“I thought you have a meeting tomorrow,” James said, looking up from his computer.

“After that,” Jacky clarified.

James nodded. “Sounds good. But can I borrow your car tomorrow around noon?”

“What happened to yours?”

“In the shop.”

“Oh…okay. I’ll be done anyway.”

James resumed his task at the computer, so Jacky took the hint to disappear from sight. He returned to his room, feeling a tad distracted. He wondered what he could do to help James. For once, he was able to witness the breakup process—unlike the last few times how he would be gone and when he came back, James had a new girlfriend. He brushed the discouraging thoughts aside, knowing he would think of something to help James later.

*****

Jacky was the first to arrive at the park the next day—next afternoon to be exact since Joyce had changed the appointment on him. In fact, he was standing at the bench where Joyce liked. She claimed that a lot of good things had happened to her there so she wanted it to be that bench this morning when she called him to confirm their meeting.

“Formal attire,” Joyce noted upon her arrival.

“I just got out of a meeting,” Jacky explained.

Joyce smiled. “No need to explain. I’m just teasing you.”

“I know. Anyway…”

“Let me go first.”

“Sure.”

“I want to quit my job.”

“What?”

Joyce settled down on the bench at that time. Jacky had no choice but to follow suit.

“So…” Jacky prompted, getting impatient. “What is this about quitting?”

“I realized something…”

Jacky waited this time—instead of interrupting.

“This is one of those rare times we stay at the end of the summer and into autumn, huh?”

Jacky nodded.

“We’ve been missing a lot.”

“It seems so.”

“So…I thought of quitting and finding a more stable job.”

“What brought this on?”

Joyce didn’t reply but just smiled.

Jacky pointed a finger at her. “Oh…because of love, huh?”

“Don’t laugh.”

Jacky shook his head. “It’s just funny that you decided so fast.”

“I think it’s about time that I think seriously about relationships.”

“Oh, really?”

Joyce could sense Jacky’s teasing tone. “Sure, laugh away. But that’s my plan. It’ll be better in the long run when I can’t travel anymore. So it’s not just about someone.”

Jacky nodded. “I believe you…almost.”

Joyce sent him a look but resumed her serious expression again. “So what about you? What was that you wanted to talk about?”

“I’m quitting too.”

“What? Get out of here.”

“I’m not kidding.”

Joyce studied his face intently, looking for traces of deception. “Are you kidding me? What brought this on?”

Jacky quickly recounted of his decision and what led to it. She listened without interruptions. It wasn’t until he finally finished with the last bit of it—his conversation with Joanne—that Joyce finally spoke up.

“Wow.”

“That’s all you can say?” Jacky asked, looking at her with a surprised expression.

Joyce shook her head. “It’s just funny how we decided on that about the same time.”

“I guess we’re really advancing and withdrawing as one, huh?”

Joyce knew he was referring to their promise of friendship when they were little, trying to imitate those movies they saw ages before with the corny lines. She let out a smile at their silly past promise—yet so true at that moment. He smiled also as they were looking out at the horizon together at the setting sun.

© Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Posted: Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

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