Jacky and Joyce’s plan did not carry through until two weeks later since they had to finish their last project with the company before they could go. Arrangements were made along the way and Joanne had agreed to let Joyce come to the flower shop to help her while searching for a more suitable job accordingly. Jacky and Joanne promised not to spoil the surprise for Joyce since Joyce planned to tell Gino upon the last day when she had the final letter as proof. Jacky, on the other hand, could fend for himself and decided to take a break for a while before resuming his job searching task.

On their last day of work, their co-workers gathered around to send them words of well-wishing as well as engaged in some random conversation. They continued to talk happily until they reached the parking lot.

“I always knew that you guys will quit one day to get married,” A long-time co-worker said to Jacky and Joyce.

“That’s right,” Another guy chimed in. “After all, you’re always inseparable. Might as well get married.”

“You guys are always too much,” Jacky said, shaking his head and signaling for their friends not to say more.

“All right,” A third guy interfered. “Let’s not argue on your last day, okay?” He turned his attention to Jacky and Joyce again. “Remember to tell us what your new plans are.”

“That’s right,” The first guy agreed. “We should keep in touch.”

Jacky and Joyce nodded in unison before walking away from the group. With a few more words exchanged among themselves, Jacky and Joyce parted ways also. Jacky pulls out after Joyce, and they turned in opposite directions at the corner of the street.

Joyce arrived at Felicity Flower Shop an hour later—thanks to traffic. She parked carefully behind Joanne’s car before approaching the entrance. The chime jingled as Joyce opened the door to enter. Mr. Tseng and Joanne turned from the counter to greet her. With a bright smile on her face, she held up a white envelope to them. Joanne met her halfway to take hold of the letter.

“You really are fast,” Joanne commented, smiling.

“Well, what’s the point in talks? It’s better to just do it, don’t you think?” Joyce returned, shrugging.

“True,” Joanne agreed, raising the envelope high above. “To a courageous girl who’s willing to sacrifice her bright future for love!”

Joyce attempted to snatch the envelope away from Joanne. “Stop it! Don’t wrinkle it!”

Joanne ran toward the center of the shop while still holding the envelope in her right hand. Joyce chased after her. Since she was taller than Joanne, she managed to snatch it out of Joanne’s hand—undamaged. Joyce waved the envelope in her hand with a victory smile on her face. Joanne’s eyes brightened with mischievous intent.

“Oh no…you don’t,” Joyce warned, putting some distance between them.

They ran back to the front of the shop.

“Girls, we’re running a flower shop, not a daycare center,” Mr. Tseng shouted from the counter.

Both girls laughed with excitement before straightening up again.

As Joyce tugged the envelope into her handbag, her cell phone beeped. She took it out of her bag to see an incoming text message. She pressed several keys to view the message. After two minutes, she looked up at Joanne with a happy smile.

“I don’t have to guess, huh?” Joanne teased.

“He wants to meet me at the park,” Joyce informed Joanne, smiling.

“Oooh…it’s the final moment!” Joanne shouted excitedly, turning on her eager expression. “Can I come with you?”

“All right. But you have to observe the scene from a distance.”

“All right!” Joanne turned to Mr. Tseng. “Ba, I’ll be back later.”

Mr. Tseng nodded.

The girls made their way to the entrance.

“Let’s take my car since I know you’re too excited to drive safely,” Joanne said, half-jokingly and half-excitedly.

“What are you talking about?” Joyce asked.

“Oh come on. We know how you tend to get carried away.”

And that was the last Mr. Tseng heard of the girls as the door finally banged closed.

*****

They arrived at the park fifteen minutes later. Joanne’s driving wasn’t any safer than Joyce’s, but both girls managed to make it in one piece. They got out of the car after Joanne parked. Joyce just took the white envelope out of her handbag and stashed the handbag below the backseat.

“Too free-spirited to carry any other possessions?” Joanne teased.

Joyce smiled.

After Joanne locked the door, the girls made their way to the meeting place—the bench in front of the park. As they were coming closer to the bench, they could see Gino waiting there. Joanne was standing a distance away from Joyce—as promised. What was surprising was that Clara was also there. What’s the purpose of her being there? To ruin the scene? Joanne brushed the negative thoughts out of her mind, knowing after today, things would only get better.

Joyce walked slowly toward Gino with a bright smile on her face and the envelope in her left hand. She stopped when they were just inches from each other. They took in each other’s image before speaking up.

“You’re early,” Joyce said, still smiling.

“I want to get things over with as soon as possible,” Gino muttered.

“That desperate to share the news with me?” Joyce teased. “I have something to tell you too.”

“Let me say it first.”

“All right.”

She could see his face troubled, but she decided not to be too paranoid. He was probably just tired from work. She waited patiently for Gino to speak up again.

“Xiao Qiao, let’s break up,” Gino said quickly, but clearly.

Joyce’s bright smile faded.

Joanne couldn’t hear the words being exchanged from the spot she was standing, but she could see the hostility on Gino’s face. She could see Joyce’s left hand wavering as the envelope seemed to drop from Joyce’s hand. Before the envelope could join the specks of dust on the ground, Joyce tightened her grip on it again. She regained herself.

“Are you kidding?” Joyce asked, maintaining a light smile on her face. “This is no time to joke, you know.”

“I’m not a person who likes to play games, especially despicable, manipulative mind games,” Gino said in a cold voice.

“What are you talking about?” Joyce asked, confused.

“Stop pretending. I saw it all.”

“Saw what?”

“You were playing with my heart all along, right? Never taking any serious consideration of our relationship.”

“Gino, what are you trying to say? What happened?” She raised her left hand up, displaying the white envelope in front of Gino.

Gino diverted his eyes away from Joyce toward an unknown object behind her. “Let’s not beat around the bush anymore. You know it clearly in your mind that you’ll marry Jacky one day. Why fool around with my feelings?” He turned back to face her after saying that.

“What are you talking about?” Joyce asked, wrinkling her face. “Jacky and I are just friends. Best friends. Everyone knows that. You obviously know that.” Her left hand had dropped to her side again.

“Don’t kid yourself. It’s the reason why you don’t want to quit your job.”

Joyce grabbed hold of Gino’s left shoulder with her right hand. “Gino, I…”

Joyce was practically near tears. She couldn’t believe how things had turned out. She thought Gino trusted her. After all, she had been honest with him throughout the time they’d known each other. What brought this on? As thoughts after thoughts floated through her mind, Gino delivered the final blow by brushing her hand off and stepping back, putting yet even more distance between them. Joyce was speechless for the first time in her life. She swallowed a lump forming in her throat, trying to speak up again. However, no words came out. With images after images of a possible future slipping away slowly with Gino’s continued cold stare, tears finally flowed down her cheeks. Gino still maintained that same cold face, watching silently as drops after drops of tears formed into a long, continuous line rolling down her cheeks. It’s only part of the act, he thought.

As time seemed to stop, Joanne unfroze from the spot she was standing at and rushed forward toward Joyce. She directed her cold stare toward Gino as soon as she saw Joyce’s distraught face.

“What are you doing?” Joanne demanded, slipping her left hand around Joyce’s shoulders. “What have you done to her?”

“Don’t blame me when I’m not at fault,” Gino said, still in that cold expression. “I’m just merely exposing a scheme and preventing myself from getting hurt any more than I already am.”

“What?!” Joanne asked, wrinkling her face.

“Ask your Jacky. He should know about this too.”

“What does Jacky have to do with anything?” Joanne asked with a confused look on her face. She turned to Joyce. “Didn’t you…” She stopped in mid-sentence as she saw a tearful Joyce shaking her head. She turned to Gino with a sharp expression. “Listen up. Xiao Qiao just quit her job because of you. You should stop getting worked up with whatever that skunk over there fed you.”

Joanne’s eyes had moved toward where Clara’s standing as she said the last few words.

“Qiao Qiao, you’re wrong,” Gino said in a determined tone.

“What am I wrong about? Her being a skunk?” Joanne asked, pointing her right index finger toward Clara while her eyes still stayed on Gino’s face.

“No. She quit her job because she and Jacky are getting married soon. I saw them talking about it to their co-workers before they left that building.”

“What?!” Joanne asked again, her face even more wrinkled.

Joyce finally found her voice.

“That was a joke,” Joyce clarified, her voice hoarse from the choked-up tears. “Every one of us knew it was a joke.”

“You’re getting worked up over an old joke?” Joanne asked in disbelief, her face displaying a disgusted look toward Gino. “You’re beyond medical health. You know clearly that…”

Gino put his right hand up to stop her. “Enough! I don’t want to hear it anymore.” He paused and lowered his voice a bit, sounding somewhat sympathetic. “Qiao Qiao, perhaps, you should reconsider your situation with that Jacky also.”

“Don’t bring Jacky into this,” Joanne warned, irritation apparent on her face. “You know what? You’re just insecure if you can’t take a harmless little joke. “

“You need to wake up and face reality!”

“You’re a dumb…!”

“Enough!” Joyce exclaimed above their voices.

Both Gino and Joanne stopped their argument, but their eyes still displayed a challenging look toward one another.

“Let him believe whatever he wants to believe,” Joyce said in a passive voice.

“But he…” Joanne argued, turning to Joyce. She stopped herself as soon as she saw Joyce’s disheartened face.

Gino turned to look at Joyce one last time before turning to leave. Clara gave them a challenging smile before following Gino. Joanne returned it with a sharp look before turning to Joyce. Joanne could see fresh tears forming in Joyce’s eyes. She hugged Joyce to calm her down, not knowing what else to say. She felt a lump forming in her own throat.

A trip full of hope, filling with the only intention to bring good news upon two people became a journey toward desperation. The two girls stood there—frozen in time—as the sun shone down at them in mockery. Joyce’s left hand had finally released the white envelope she held so high value of when they arrived at the park. Joanne swallowed back yet another lump forming within her, trying to stay strong for Joyce as the wind picked up its speed around them.

*****

Joanne finally managed to direct Joyce back to her car after a full ten minutes of standing still at that exact same spot where Gino left them. She also managed to bend down and pick up the white envelope that had slipped from Joyce’s hand after Gino left. She had secretly stepped her left foot on the dropped envelope while she was comforting Joyce and retrieved it from the ground before leaving with Joyce, pretending to be tying her shoe. That white envelope now lied carelessly at the compartment below her car radio.

Joanne sneaked a glance at Joyce once every while as she was driving back to Felicity Flower Shop. She was so glad that she had offered to drive earlier although she would never expect such things to happen. She found her comments reek of mockery as she was replaying the scenes of the past hour through her mind.

They made it back to the flower shop around 2 P.M. As they stepped into the shop—with Joanne guiding Joyce in with her hands on Joyce’s shoulders, they could see a smiling Jacky standing at the counter. He seemed to have been there for a while now. He and Mr. Tseng had turned to look at them upon hearing the chimes jingling.

“Well, well,” Jacky said, his voice full of tease. “Miss Zhao is finally back. I see that…”

Jacky’s smile faded as he saw Joanne shaking her head from behind Joyce’s back. Jacky followed the girls to the center table, observing their expressions in silence.

When Joanne finally sat Joyce down at a chair, Jacky spoke up.

“What exactly happened?” Jacky asked.

“A big mess that involves a skunk and a dumb-bat,” Joanne answered.

“I thought it’s dingbat.”

“I don’t care for technicalities right now, but he is the dumbest person I’ve ever met in my entire life.”

“He?” Jacky wrinkled his eyebrows, confused.

“I’ll be back,” Joanne said, standing up from her place.

Jacky stared at Joyce’s blank face as Joanne made her way to the break room. Joanne returned about five minutes later. Jacky and Joyce seemed to have frozen in their earlier pose. Joanne set down three glasses of water in front of their places before sitting back down on Joyce’s left again.

“Drink some,” Joanne dictated, placing her right hand on Joyce’s left shoulder.

Joyce absent-mindedly picked the glass up with her left hand and took a sip before setting it back down. Joanne looked over to Jacky as she slowly slipped her hand away from Joyce’s shoulder.

“So…about that dumb-bat,” Jacky said casually.

“It’s a long story,” Joanne commented.

“Does it tie back to the other long one?”

“If you meant the one involving the jealous skunk, yes.”

Jacky turned to Joyce and took her right hand into his left. “Giving up so soon?”

Joyce brought her head up to face Jacky. “What else am I supposed to do?”

“Confront that skunk.”

“I told him many times already. We sorted it all out. At least, I thought I was clear on it. How could he have misunderstood me after all we’ve been through?”

“A couple…no matter how devoted they are to one another, gets torn apart by the stupidest thing in life. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been through major obstacles together. It only takes one small thing to tear them apart. You know why? Because even though it’s small, it’s the thing that gets to them the most.” He paused to grab her left hand also with his right, bringing her hands together. “And people like Clara know clearly how to pull the right strings to create such disasters. She’s the type of person who knows exactly what gets to someone, especially Gino. So are you going to just give it up like that?”

Joyce looked down at the water glass in front of her again, thinking to herself. Jacky let go of her hands, giving her some space and time to think things over on her own. Joanne placed her right hand on Joyce’s left shoulder again, attempting to comfort her once more.

*****

Jacky returned to the flower shop around 5 to help Mr. Tseng and Joanne close. Joyce was still around, but was sitting in the break room, sipping a cup of coffee. She had calmed down somewhat already and had managed to help Joanne rearrange some new delivered flowers. Joanne let her help, wanting to distract her away from any other negative thoughts threatening to form in her mind again. Business had been slow the rest of the afternoon after the girls came back to the shop, but at least nothing relating to the “personal” department happened.

As Mr. Tseng was finished with the last customer at the counter, they headed out since Jacky had already helped Joanne clean up for the most part. Joanne had managed to flip the sign in the front after Jacky walked in minutes ago.

Jacky and Joanne turned to check on Joyce as they were heading to their car. Joyce seemed fine comparing to before. Her face only showed some fatigue from the day’s work. Jacky and Joanne knew that they shouldn’t probe. If Joyce wanted to tell them, she would.

Jacky volunteered to drive Joyce back to the Tseng resident since James had borrowed his car after he came home earlier. He managed to haul a Taxi to the flower shop in time to join them there for closing. Joanne drove Mr. Tseng back home like earlier that morning.

A planned celebration from that morning turned into a drag as Joanne pulled out of her spot, joining the rest of the traffic. Jacky made sure to drive slowly as to not disturb Joyce. They made it back to the Tseng resident around 6:30 at that excruciatingly slow rate.

*****

Dinner was eaten in silence for the majority of the meal. Kenny and Charlene seemed to take the hint as not to question about their behaviors.

After dinner, Jacky took Joyce home while Joanne did the dishes.

Charlene couldn’t stand it anymore. She got up from her seat and walked to Joanne who was turning on the water in the kitchen sink.

“Jie, what happened?” Charlene asked impatiently.

“It’s a long story,” Joanne replied tiredly, feeling the bitterness of the words she had to repeat.

“Are you and Dad going to be silent for these upcoming days?”

Kenny, who was sitting at the seat to Mr. Tseng’s left, spoke up in Joanne’s place. “Sis, stop being dramatic. Something must have happened. They just don’t want to talk about it now, okay? Show some respect for Xiao Qiao jie.”

Charlene turned to look at her brother. “Ge, how did you know it’s Xiao Qiao jie and not Jacky ge and jie’s problem?”

“If it was their problem, would they take turns piling food on Xiao Qiao jie’s plate?”

“Maybe they’re silently competing with each other through Xiao Qiao jie?”

“No one is that immature like you, sis. And didn’t you find it strange that Xiao Qiao jie was unusually quiet tonight?”

Charlene looked from Mr. Tseng to Joanne for an answer—if any.

“This is so frustrating,” Charlene blurted out before stomping off to her room.

“Good night, Ba. Good night, jie,” Kenny said, standing up.

Mr. Tseng nodded and gave Kenny an appreciative smile. Joanne just nodded without turning to look at Kenny.

Joanne returned to the kitchen table and sat down next to Mr. Tseng—to his right—after she was done with the dishes. “Ba, what a day, huh?”

“What did Shang Fu do?” Mr. Tseng asked.

“He’s a dumb-bat,” Joanne said, sighing out.

“You said that many times already, little one.”

“Ba…”

Mr. Tseng looked up from the book he was reading to give her his full attention.

“How could Gino not believe me? I mean we’ve been friends since forever. Like I would lie to him.”

“Love is a strange thing, little one. It makes one blind—deaf even.”

“He doesn’t love Xiao Qiao. He only knows how to say those words with his mouth. What have he done for her? He doesn’t even trust her.”

Mr. Tseng put a comforting hand on Joanne’s left shoulder. “You can’t change how he thinks, but you can be supportive to Xiao Qiao.”

“It goes without saying, Ba.”

Mr. Tseng returned his hand to the table. Joanne sighed out and put her head on the table with her left hand as cushion. Mr. Tseng went back to his book.

“Ba…” Joanne uttered out in a tired voice.

“Hmm?”

“Nothing,” Joanne muttered, sighing out again.

“If it bugs you so much, little one, why don’t you go and confront Shang Fu later? I mean without having Xiao Qiao or anyone around.”

“Like he would listen to me.”

“Maybe he cares about you too, that’s why he actually said those things about Jacky.”

“All he does is being dumb. He doesn’t know Jacky. How could he judge Jacky like that? And that Clara isn’t his real cousin, why does he have to believe her so much?”

“Then let me ask you…”

Joanne turned her head toward her father but still had it on the table.

“Why do you support Jacky and Xiao Qiao so much, but not taking sides with Shang Fu? After all, you know Shang Fu longer.”

“Because I know they’re not that type of people. I’ve been around them long enough to know.”

“That’s right. Shang Fu is thinking he knows Clara too. That’s why he believes her and trusts her like that.”

“He must be blind to trust her like that.” She turned her head back to the other side, resting it on her left hand again.

“Maybe Jacky’s right.”

“Huh?”

“Because Clara knows how to pull the right strings, that’s why she could be successful in creating this obstacle. She knows how to play with people’s feelings. That’s why no matter how you reassure Shang Fu, there’s always that unsure feeling in him. And she could see it so she’s using it to her advantage.”

“That’s why I’m saying Gino’s dumb. Who cares? I mean doesn’t he have friends of his own? What about all those girls that come into the fitness center? He’s such an insecure freak.”

“It’s hard to get past those things, little one. You shouldn’t blame him too much.”

“Who should I blame then?”

“Maybe you should try stepping into his shoes to know what he’s thinking.”

“I don’t want to be a dumb blind bat.”

“Qiao Qiao…”

“I know, Ba,” Joanne said, sighing out. “It’s just so frustrating, that’s all.”

“That’s life, little one.”

Joanne sighed out again, closing her eyes to rest for a bit before heading to her room. She almost drifted off to sleep when her cell phone rang. She sat upright again, knowing it was Jacky from the ringtone. She retrieved her cell phone from her pocket and answered it. “You’re home?”

“Yeah,” Jacky confirmed. “How are you doing? You sound tired.”

“I am tired.”

“I’m in my room right now. Care to tell me the details now, Miss Tseng?”

“Uh…hold on,” She told him, then covered the mouthpiece. “Good night, Ba.”

“Take care, little one,” Mr. Tseng returned. “Don’t think too much.”

Joanne gave Mr. Tseng a smile before turning to walk down the hall to her room.

“I’m heading to my room now,” Joanne said into the phone.

“You make it sound like some kind of major secret,” Jacky said, his teasing tone returning.

“Not major, but it could be listed as one of the most shattering events known to mankind.”

“Stop being a drama queen, Miss Tseng.”

Joanne finally reached her room at the end of the hall. She closed the door after her before crashing down on her bed. “Okay. I’m in my room now.”

“Great, can we start now?”

“Yes and wipe that smile off your face.”

“How do you know I’m smiling? You’re freaky.”

Joanne sighed out.

“Honestly, what’s wrong?” Jacky asked in his serious tone again.

“Xiao Qiao didn’t say anything to you on the drive back?”

“No.”

“They broke up.”

“What?!”

“I thought you knew by the way she was carrying on. I mean I thought you knew because the words you said to her this afternoon.”

“I sound like a philosopher because I’m a businessman, Miss Tseng.”

“What does that have anything to do with it?”

“A businessman is a conman in disguise, don’t you know?”

“Stop it.”

“Okay. But what was that about again? Who broke up with whom?”

“Do you have to ask the second question?”

“I guess not.”

“I don’t know what that skunk fed him, but he got all worked up about some joke and yelled at Xiao Qiao for it. As I was saying, dumb-bat.”

“What scheme did she pull this time then?”

“Something about you and Xiao Qiao getting married soon. And he said he saw it with his own eyes. I was wondering which one, but I don’t know why I bother to ponder. I mean he’s already blind, right?”

“Oh…that! Stupid!”

“Did you see him there today?”

“Where was he at exactly?”

“He said he saw you guys talking to your co-workers outside that building, whatever that means.”

“It’s our building. Well…ex-building. He’s a dumb-bat all right. We were joking.”

“That was what I told him. And he still had the nerve to say that I need to wake up and face reality.”

“I’m going to go give him a piece of my mind tomorrow.”

“Oh no, you’re not. Not unless you have Xiao Qiao’s permission.”

“Qiao, she’s my best friend.”

“That’s why you shouldn’t do anything rash.”

“How about I go on my own behalf?”

“You mean you want to actually get it through his thick head again that you guys are just friends?”

“What else?”

“You’ll be more successful if you lock up that skunk first and throw away the key. I swear she’s more annoying than Caitlin. At least Caitlin doesn’t have a brain to think up of such schemes.”

Jacky couldn’t help but laugh at Joanne’s comparison between the two girls.

“What are you laughing at? It’s not funny.”

“Calm down, hon. We both know who is behind all of these silly misunderstandings, but we won’t get anywhere by being frustrated. Let’s go find Gino tomorrow.”

“I want to see you try and sneak past Xiao Qiao’s house.”

“She’s working at the flower shop tomorrow, remember?”

“What if she decides to take some time off? I wouldn’t deprive her of that.”

“I’ll find a way somehow.”

“And who will get rid of that skunk for you?”

“I wouldn’t send out my girl to take care of such business. I mean…touching a skunk, are you kidding me?”

It was Joanne’s turn to laugh this time.

“Good to know you’re still laughing. Get some sleep, okay? We’ll figure something out tomorrow.”

“All right.”

They hung up after that.

Joanne tossed her cell phone loosely at the end of her nightstand and crashed back down on her bed. She stared absent-mindedly toward the ceiling, lost in thoughts. How in the world are they going to get past this one? Her confidence had gone back down to zero again. It was not like her to be so pessimistic, but she couldn’t help feeling exasperated at all the hard work these past weeks coming undone once again. She was even more frustrated at Gino, who failed to believe in their friendship. She expected more of him than just this. Sure, he was an honest, un-scheming person, but his blind stubbornness made him untrustworthy. He could at least cling to defend their friendship and trust in her to see through Joyce’s good nature. What in the world is he thinking? No, wait. He’s not thinking at all.

Joanne fell asleep after tiring herself out thinking all of those thoughts.

© Monday, May 5th, 2008

Posted: Thursday, May 5th, 2011

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