Chapter 16

Like Jacky promised, they resume their friendship like many days before. This time, Jacky makes sure to stay a safe distance away from Joyce when he interacts with her, making sure no one would be able to pin anything on him. He also makes sure that Joanne is always by his side and sitting next to Joyce to avoid any other unnecessary misunderstandings. He doesn’t want to make Joyce cry again but doesn’t want to ignore Gino’s feelings either. He knows working hard is the only way to solve the obstacle.
Though he has 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 ends up making trouble for them once again. If only Gino would understand that Clara is up to no good and if only Kenny isn’t so right with his premonition, their lives would be less frustrating. Knowing Gino’s honest nature – or perhaps too honest nature, they try 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, has turned into one pessimist that they do not dare to aggravate him in any way. They would have to try to be understanding like his past breakups. It is harder on them all this time because of how James had initiated the breakup. Though he seems reluctant but he doesn’t give in to try and patch up things with Caitlin either. Their lives end up being a long nerve-wrecking wait for something to happen to dissolve all the problems. Anything, just anything and they would welcome it with opened arms.
Before they know it, the last day of September finally leaves them. October turns into its chilly state fast, causing all parties to prepare for the changing season. They are once again occupied with their upcoming plans, especially Joanne and the rest of the Zeng clan, thinking of new tactics to maintain their edge over the rival shop.
On a more positive side, Elizabeth finally returns from her inspirational trip with her novel finished. The others are overjoyed that they will get to read her latest work again. They of course have to wait for the release day – just like anyone since Elizabeth has 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 comments when they sat down for a coffee break one afternoon.
Joanne nods.
“So…what about you guys?”
Joanne turns 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 resumes her casual expression again. “It’s the teasing again, right?”
Elizabeth blows at the steam on her coffee cup, shaking her head. “No, I’m serious.”
Joanne doesn’t say anything. She continues to stir her coffee.
Elizabeth turns 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 interrupts, 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’s Elizabeth’s turn to stay silent.
“Distance. You know how many people use distance as an excuse for 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 with 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 through 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 marry, get marry. 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 waits 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 doesn’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 gets up from her seat at that time, abandoning her coffee altogether.
“Qiao, I’m not trying to put you on a hard spot. I’m just worried for you.”
Joanne turns 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 says, walking into the room at the same time. “Where did Jacky go?”
“He’s here?” Joanne asks in alarmed, turning to Kenny.
“Yeah,” Kenny replies. “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 exchange a look at that time, not answering Kenny. Kenny scratches his head out of confusion but decides not to pursue the matter any further.

*****

Jacky picks up a pebble buried in the sand and tosses it into the lashing waves. He must admit it’s a good method to get rid of stress or frustration. No wonder Joanne had done it in the past. He smiles, reflecting back to their first meeting. His smile fades as soon as his mind returns 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 doesn’t matter if he had walked into the conversation on 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 lashes at him once more, he tosses the last of the pebbles into the waves and walks back to his car. He knows he can’t just stand there and think. Joanne needs him. He can’t let her down anymore than he already did.
He arrives back at Xing Fu Flower Shop in time for closing. He could see the others are already gone. Perfect timing, he thought.
“Miss Zeng,” He says, his voice teasing.
Joanne is locking up at the moment. But she turns her attention to him anyway.
“What’s with the starring?” He asks, poking at her forehead playfully.
She resumes her locking up task before turning to him again. “You overheard our conversation?”
“Which one?”
“You know which one.”
He takes his silk scarf off at that time and wraps 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 doesn’t say anything but just directs her to his car.
“What’s the big secret anyway? Why are you sneaking around?”
“You’ll know in a bit.”
Joanne wrinkles her face at his strange behaviors but stays quiet anyway, waiting for him to arrive at their destination.
Fifteen minutes later, they arrive at the park near Joanne’s house. Jacky guides Joanne out of the car and into the park. Joanne feels strange that he should be doing that since she knows the place inside out already. However, she doesn’t object. She allows herself to be guided into the park. It is when they arrive in the center of the park that Jacky finally stops.
“See anything?” Jacky asks, looking at their surrounding.
“What?”
“The scenery.”
Joanne shrugs. “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 places 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 shifts to her left for a bit, eyeing Jacky cautiously. “What’s going on here?”
“I made up my mind.”
Joanne waits for him to continue.
“I’m quitting this job and finding a more stable job.”
Joanne turns around abruptly, taking a step back from Jacky in the process. She eyes 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 nods.
“The more I need to stay close to home. It’s like I can care less or worry less because I could get away for sometime before returning to find him recovered again – just like in the past. And what about other things? Sure, I learn more of different places around the world, but what do I know about the changes around here? Anything business related doesn’t count.”
“But…”
Jacky puts a hand up to stop Joanne, indicating that he’s 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 these times, 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 judgments.”
Jacky takes a step closer to Joanne again. “I’m doing this because I want to, Miss Zeng. You know more than anyone that I could not be influenced just like that.”
Joanne smiles. “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 takes a step closer and takes her hands into his again. “Stop picking on my words, Miss Zeng.”
“But you said…”
Jacky swings 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 laugh out at the same time and walk out of the park together. Though the day is cold but the last bit of the sun rays shine down warmly on them as they continue out of the park.

*****

That night, Jacky fishes out his cell phone after his shower to call Joyce. He has to wait for her to call back since she seems to be on the phone with someone. Two guesses it’s Gino.
“Hello?” Jacky rattles out as soon as Joyce returns 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 hang up after that. Jacky fumbles with his phone again as he walks down the hall to James’ room.
“Hey, you want to go somewhere tomorrow?”Jacky asks, walking into his brother’s room.
“I thought you have a meeting tomorrow,” James says, looking up from his computer.
“After that,” Jacky clarifies.
James nods. “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 resumes his task at the computer so Jacky takes the hint to disappear from sight. He returns to his room, feeling a tad distracted. He wonders what he could do to help James. For once, he is able to witness the breakup process – unlike the last few times how he would be gone and when he comes back, James has a new girlfriend. He brushes the discouraging thoughts aside, knowing he’ll think of something to help James later.

*****

Jacky is 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’s standing at the bench where Joyce likes. She claims that a lot of good things had happened to her there so she wants it to be that bench this morning when she called him to confirm of their meeting.
“Formal attire,” Joyce notes upon her arrival.
“I just got out of a meeting,” Jacky explains.
Joyce smiles. “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 settles down on the bench at that time. Jacky has no choice but to follow suit.
“So…” Jacky prompts, getting impatient. “What is this about quitting?”
“I realized something…”
Jacky waits 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 nods.
“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 doesn’t reply but just smiles.
Jacky points a finger at her. “Oh…because of love, huh?”
“Don’t laugh.”
Jacky shakes 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 nods. “I believe you…almost.”
Joyce sends him a look but resumes 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 studies his face intently, looking for traces of deception. “Are you kidding me? What brought this on?”
Jacky quickly recounts of his decision and what led to it. She listens without interruptions. It is until he finally finishes with the last bit of it – his conversation with Joanne – that Joyce finally speaks up.
“Wow.”
“That’s all you can say?” Jacky asks, looking at her with a surprised expression.
Joyce shakes 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 knows he was referring to their promise of friendship when they were little, trying to imitate those movies they seen ages before with the corny lines. She lets out a smile at their silly past promise – yet so true at that moment. He smiles also as they’re looking out at the horizon together at the setting sun.
© Wednesday, April 14th, 2010
Posted: Wednesday, May 4th, 2011