Chapter 17

Jacky and Joyce’s plan do not carry through until two weeks later since they have to finish their last project with the company before they could go. Arrangements are made along the way and Joanne has agreed to let Joyce come to the flower shop to help her while searching for a more suitable job accordingly. Jacky and Joanne promise not to spoil the surprise for Joyce since Joyce plans to tell Gino upon the last day when she has the final letter as proof. Jacky, on the other hand, could fend for himself and decides to take a break for a while before resuming his job searching task.
On their last day of work, their co-workers gather around to send them good words of well wishing as well as engage in some random conversation. They continue to talk happily until they reach the parking lot.
“I always knew that you guys will quit one day to get married,” A long time co-worker says to Jacky and Joyce.
“That’s right,” Another guy chimes in. “After all, you’re always inseparable. Might as well get married.”
“You guys are always too much,” Jacky says, shaking his head and signaling for their friends not to say more.
“All right,” A third guy interferes. “Let’s not argue on your last day, okay?” He turns his attention to Jacky and Joyce again. “Remember to tell us what your new plans are.”
“That’s right,” The first guy agrees. “We should keep in touch.”
Jacky and Joyce nod in unison before walking away from the group. With a few more words exchange among themselves, Jacky and Joyce part ways also. Jacky pulls out after Joyce and they turn in opposite directions at the corner of the street.
Joyce arrives at Xing Fu Flower Shop an hour later – thanks to traffic. She parks carefully behind Joanne’s car before approaching the entrance. The chime jingles as Joyce opens the door to enter. Mr. Zeng and Joanne turn from the counter to greet her. With a bright smile on her face, she holds up a white envelope to them. Joanne meets her halfway to take hold of the letter.
“You really are fast,” Joanne comments, smiling.
“Well, what’s the point in talks? It’s better to just do it, don’t you think?” Joyce returns, shrugging her shoulders.
“True,” Joanne agrees, raising the envelope high above. “To a courageous girl who’s willing to sacrifice her bright future for love!”
Joyce attempts to snatch the envelope away from Joanne. “Stop it! Don’t wrinkle it!”
Joanne runs towards the center of the shop while still holding the envelope in her right hand. Joyce chases after her. Since she’s taller than Joanne, she manages to snatch it out of Joanne’s hand – undamaged. Joyce waves the envelope in her hand with a victory smile on her face. Joanne’s eyes brighten with mischievous intents.
“Oh no…you don’t,” Joyce warns, putting some distance between them.
They run back to the front of the shop.
“Girls, we’re running a flower shop, not a Daycare Center,” Mr. Zeng shouts from the counter.
Both girls laugh with excitement before straightening up again.
As Joyce tugs the envelope into her handbag, her cell phone beeps. She takes it out of her bag to see an incoming text message. She presses several keys to view the message. After two minutes, she looks up at Joanne with a happy smile.
“I don’t have to guess, huh?” Joanne teases.
“He wants to meet me at the park,” Joyce informs Joanne, smiling.
“Oooh…it’s the final moment!” Joanne shouts 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 turns to Mr. Zeng. “Ba, I’ll be back later.”
Mr. Zeng nods.
The girls make their way to the entrance.
“Let’s take my car since I know you’re too excited to drive safely,” Joanne says, half-jokingly and half-excitedly.
“What are you talking about?” Joyce asks.
“Oh come on. We know how you tend to get carried away.”
And that was the last Mr. Zeng hears of the girls as the door finally bangs closed.

*****

They arrive at the park fifteen minutes later. Joanne’s driving isn’t any safer than Joyce, but both girls manage to make it in one piece. They get out of the car after Joanne parks. Joyce just takes the white envelope out of her handbag and stashes the handbag below the backseat.
“Too free-spirited to carry any other possessions?” Joanne teases.
Joyce smiles.
After Joanne locks the door, the girls make their way to the meeting place – the bench in front of the park. As they’re getting closer to the bench, they could see Gino waiting there. Joanne is standing a distance away from Joyce – as promised. What’s surprising is that Clara is also there. What’s the purpose of her being there? To ruin the scene? Joanne brushes the negative thoughts out of her mind, knowing after today, things will only get better.
Joyce walks slowly towards Gino with a bright smile on her face and the envelope in her left hand. She stops when they’re just inches from each other. They take in each other’s image before speaking up.
“You’re early,” Joyce says, still smiling.
“I want to get things over with as soon as possible,” Gino mutters.
“That desperate to share the news with me?” Joyce teases. “I have something to tell you too.”
“Let me say it first.”
“All right.”
She could see his face troubled, but she decides not to be too paranoid. He’s probably just tired from work. She waits patiently for Gino to speak up again.
“Xiao Qiao, let’s break up.” Gino says quickly, but clearly.
Joyce’s bright smile fades.
Joanne couldn’t hear the words being exchanged from the spot she’s standing, but she could see the hostility from Gino’s face. She could see Joyce’s left hand wavering as the envelope seems to drop from Joyce’s hand. Before the envelope could join the dusts on the ground, Joyce tightens her grip on it again. She regains herself.
“Are you kidding?” Joyce asks, 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 says in a cold voice.
“What are you talking about?” Joyce asks, 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 raises her left hand up, displaying the white envelope in front of Gino.
Gino diverts his eyes away from Joyce towards 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 turns back to face her after saying that.
“What are you talking about?” Joyce asks, wrinkling her face. “Jacky and I are just friends. Best friends. Everyone knows that. You obviously know that.” Her left hand has dropped to her side again.
“Don’t kid yourself. It’s the reason why you don’t want to quit your job.”
Joyce grabs hold of Gino’s left shoulder with her right hand. “Gino, I…”
Joyce’s practically near tears. She couldn’t believe how things have turned out. She thought Gino trusts her. After all, she has been honest with him throughout the time they’ve known each other. What brought this on? As thoughts after thoughts float through her mind, Gino delivers the final blow by brushing her hand off and stepping back, putting yet even more distance between them. Joyce’s speechless for the first time in her life. She swallows a lump forming in her throat, trying to speak up again. However, no words come out. With images after images of a possible future slipping away slowly with Gino’s continued cold stare, tears finally flow down her cheeks. Gino still maintains that same cold face, watching silently as drops after drops of tears form into a long, continuous line rolling down her cheeks. It’s only part of the act, he thought.
As time seems to stop, Joanne unfreezes from the spot she’s standing at and rushes forward towards Joyce. She directs her cold stare towards Gino as soon as she sees Joyce’s distraught face.
“What are you doing?” Joanne demands, 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 says, still in that cold expression. “I’m just merely exposing a scheme and preventing myself from getting hurt anymore than I already am.”
“What?!” Joanne asks, wrinkling her face.
“Ask your Jacky. He should know about this too.”
“What does Jacky have to do with anything?” Joanne asks with a confused look on her face. She turns to Joyce. “Didn’t you…” She stops in mid-sentence as she sees a tearful Joyce shaking her head. She turns 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 feeds you.” Joanne’s eyes move towards where Clara’s standing as she said the last few words.
“Qiao Qiao, you’re wrong,” Gino says in a determined tone.
“What am I wrong about? Her being a skunk?” Joanne asks, pointing her right index finger towards Clara while her eyes still stay 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 leave that building.”
“What?!” Joanne asks again, her face even more wrinkled.
Joyce finally finds her voice.
“That was a joke,” Joyce clarifies, her voice hoarse from the choked up tears. “Every one of us knows it’s a joke.”
“You’re getting worked up over an old joke?” Joanne asks in disbelief, her face displaying a disgusted look towards Gino. “You’re beyond medical health. You know clearly that…”
Gino puts his right hand up to stop her. “Enough! I don’t want to hear it anymore.” He pauses and lowers 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 warns, 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 exclaims above their voices.
Both Gino and Joanne stop their argument, but their eyes still display a challenging look towards one another.
“Let him believe whatever he wants to believe,” Joyce says in a passive voice.
“But he…” Joanne argues, turning to Joyce. She stops herself as soon as she sees Joyce’s desperation face.
Gino turns to look at Joyce one last time before turning to leave. Clara gives them a challenging smile before following Gino. Joanne gives her a sharp look before turning to Joyce. Joanne could see fresh tears forming in Joyce’s eyes. She hugs Joyce to calm her down, not knowing what else to say. She feels a lump forming in her own throat.
A trip full of hope, filling with the only intention to bring good news upon two people becomes a journey towards desperation. The two girls stand there – frozen in time – as the sun shines down at them in mockery. Joyce’s left hand has finally released the white envelope she held so high value of when they arrived at the park. Joanne swallows back yet another lump forming within her, trying to stay strong for Joyce as the wind picks 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 has 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 lies carelessly at the compartment below her car radio.
Joanne sneaks a glance at Joyce once every while as she’s driving back to Xing Fu Flower Shop. She’s 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’s replaying the scenes of the past hour through her mind.
They make it back to the flower shop around 2 P.M. As they step into the store – with Joanne guiding Joyce in with her hands on Joyce’s shoulders, they could see a smiling Jacky standing at the counter. He seems to have been there for a while now. He and Mr. Zeng have turned to look at them upon hearing the chimes jingle.
“Well, well,” Jacky says, his voice full of tease. “Miss Zhao is finally back. I see that…”
Jacky’s smile fades as he sees Joanne shaking her head from behind Joyce’s back. Jacky follows the girls to the center table, observing their expressions in silence.
When Joanne finally sits Joyce down at a chair, Jacky speaks up.
“What exactly happened?” Jacky asks.
“A big mess that involves a skunk and a dumb-bat,” Joanne answers.
“I thought it’s dingbat.”
“Dumb-bat because he is the dumbest person I’ve ever met in my entire life.”
“He?” Jacky wrinkles his eyebrows, confused.
“I’ll be back,” Joanne says, standing up from her place.
Jacky stares at Joyce’s blank face as Joanne makes her way to the break room. Joanne returns about five minutes later. Jacky and Joyce seemed to have frozen in their earlier pose. Joanne sets down three glasses of water in front of their places before sitting back down on Joyce’s left again.
“Drink some,” Joanne dictates, placing her right hand on Joyce’s left shoulder.
Joyce absent-mindedly picks the glass up with her left hand and takes a sip before setting it back down. Joanne looks over to Jacky as she slowly slips her hand away from Joyce’s shoulder.
“So…about that dumb-bat,” Jacky says casually.
“It’s a long story,” Joanne comments.
“Does it tie back to the other long one?”
“If you meant the one involving the jealous skunk, yes.”
Jacky turns to Joyce and takes her right hand into his left. “Giving up so soon?”
Joyce brings her head 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 we’ve been through so much?”
“A couple…no matter how devoted they are to each other, 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 pauses 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 looks down at the water glass in front of her again, thinking to herself. Jacky lets go of her hands, giving her some space and time to think things over on her own. Joanne places her right hand on Joyce’s left shoulder again, attempting to comfort her once more.

*****

Jacky returns to the flower shop around 5 to help Mr. Zeng and Joanne close. Joyce’s still around, but is sitting in the break room, sipping a cup of coffee. She has calmed down somewhat already and has managed to help Joanne rearrange some new delivered flowers. Joanne lets her help, wanting to distract her away from any other negative thoughts threatening to form in her mind again. Business has 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. Zeng’s finished with the last customer at the counter, they head out since Jacky has already helped Joanne clean up for the most part. Joanne has managed to slip on the “Closed” sign after Jacky walked in minutes ago.
Jacky and Joanne turn to check on Joyce as they’re heading to their car. Joyce seems fine comparing to before. Her face only shows some fatigue from the day’s work. Jacky and Joanne know that they shouldn’t probe. If Joyce wants to tell them, she will.
Jacky volunteers to drive Joyce back to the Zeng resident since James has 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 drives Mr. Zeng back home like earlier that morning.
A planned celebration from that morning turns into a drag as Joanne pulls out of her spot, joining the rest of the traffic. Jacky makes sure to drive slowly as to not disturb Joyce. They make it back to the Zeng resident around 6:30 at that excruciatingly slow rate.

*****

Dinner was eaten in silence for the majority of the meal. Kenny and Charlene seem to take the hint as not to question about their behaviors.
After dinner, Jacky takes Joyce home while Joanne does the dishes.
Charlene couldn’t stand it anymore. She stands up from her seat and walks to Joanne who’s turning on the water in the kitchen sink.
“Jie, what happened?” Charlene asks impatiently.
“It’s a long story,” Joanne replies 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’s sitting at the seat to Mr. Zeng’s left, speaks 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 turns 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’s plate?”
“Maybe they’re silently competing with each other through Xiao Qiao jie?”
“No one is that immature like you, sis. And don’t you find it strange that Xiao Qiao jie is unusually quiet tonight?”
Charlene looks from Mr. Zeng to Joanne for an answer – if any.
“This is so frustrating,” Charlene blurts out before stomping off to her room.
“Good night, Ba. Good night, jie,” Kenny says, standing up.
Mr. Zeng nods and gives Kenny an appreciative smile. Joanne just nods without turning to look at Kenny.
Joanne returns to the kitchen table and sits down next to Mr. Zeng – to his right – after she’s done with the dishes. “Ba, what a day, huh?”
“What did Shang Fu do?” Mr. Zeng asks.
“He’s a dumb-bat,” Joanne says, sighing out.
“You said that many times already, little one.”
“Ba…”
Mr. Zeng looks up from the book he’s 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. Zeng puts 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. Zeng returns his hand to the table. Joanne sighs out and puts her head on the table with her left hand as cushion. Mr. Zeng goes back to his book.
“Ba…” Joanne utters out in a tired voice.
“Hmm?”
“Nothing,” Joanne mutters, 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 turns her head towards her father, but still has 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 turns 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 says, sighing out. “It’s just so frustrating, that’s all.”
“That’s life, little one.”
Joanne sighs out again, closing her eyes to rest for a bit before heading to her room. She almost drifts off to sleep when her cell phone rings. She sits upright again, knowing it’s Jacky from the ringtone. She retrieves her cell phone from her pocket and answers it. “You’re home?”
“Yea,” Jacky confirms. “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 Zeng?”
“Uh…hold on,” She tells him, then covers the mouthpiece. “Good night, Ba.”
“Take care, little one,” Mr. Zeng returns. “Don’t think too much.”
Joanne gives Mr. Zeng a smile before turning to walk down the hall to her room.
“I’m heading to my room now,” Joanne says into the phone.
“You make it sound like some kind of major secret,” Jacky says, 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 Zeng.”
Joanne finally reaches her room at the end of the hall. She closes 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 sighs out.
“Honestly, what’s wrong?” Jacky asks 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’s 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 Zeng.”
“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’s 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 hang up after that.
Joanne tosses her cell phone loosely at the end of her night stand and crashes back down on her bed. She stares absent-mindedly towards the ceiling, lost in thoughts. How in the world are they going to get past this one? Her confidence has gone back down to zero again. It’s 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’s even more frustrated at Gino, who fails to believe in their friendship. She expects more of him than just this. Sure, he’s an honest, un-scheming person, but his blind stubbornness makes 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 falls asleep after tiring herself out thinking all of those thoughts.
© Monday, May 5th, 2008
Posted: Thursday, May 5th, 2011