Chapter 19

Joyce sits back down at the bench as Gino takes a step towards her. He sits down next to her. They stare at each other for a minute before either one speaks up.
“What have you come back to say?” Joyce asks in a passive voice.
“I want to start over,” Gino announces as if that’s the most relevant thing to say at the moment.
“I’m sorry?” Joyce asks, still maintaining that same passive tone and expression.
“I want to start over with you. I know my actions have caused you great pain. I thought things over and I know that no matter what, I shouldn’t have said the things that I said. Could you give me another chance?”
“So you think this is a game? When you’ve gone down the wrong path, you just press ‘Reset’ and start over? Or when you accidently made the wrong move, you just wait until the screen goes back to the ‘Main Menu’ so you can choose the option to ‘Play Again’? So this is what it is all about?”
“No. That’s not what I mean. I just… Xiao Qiao…” He reaches out his right hand to take her left hand.
Joyce withdraws her hand in time before he could touch it. She shakes her head. “No. I’m not strong enough for it. I don’t know if my heart can endure another wound.”
Joyce stands up at that time. Gino does the same.
Joyce looks at Gino with a cold stare, holding back her tears. “I thought you would have come up with something better to say than this. I’m sorry. I can’t live through another storm.”
With that, Joyce leaves for real. Gino’s too numbed to stop her from walking away. As she’s walking, tears are falling down her face.

*****

They open bright and shine at 9:00 A.M. for business again at Xing Fu Flower Shop. It is two days after the run-into incident with Gino. Joyce seems to be recovering slowly. Mr. Zeng and Joanne always take turns to keep watch of her. Jacky visits them regularly at lunch time and after work like usual these past two days.
They’re carrying out their usual opening tasks after Mr. Zeng unlocks the door to the shop. After turning on the lights and machineries, Mr. Zeng resumes his normal post at the front counter while Joanne is making coffee in the break room in the back. Joyce’s making her usual round around the store to check on the flowers. As she’s almost finished with her round, she hears the chime in front of the store jingling. She could hear Mr. Zeng saying his usual welcome to the customer. However, he stops in the middle of the sentence. She looks up in time to see Gino walking in. At the same time, Joanne’s carrying a tray of coffee out to them. Her face displays the same shock as her father’s. She regains herself in time not to let go of the coffee tray.
“Shang Fu, what are you doing…” Mr. Zeng interferes before Gino could continue further towards Joyce, stepping out from behind the counter.
“Ba, let me handle this,” Joanne says, walking towards the front counter.
Mr. Zeng looks at Joanne with a worried expression before resuming his post again.
“If you’re here to buy flowers, you’re welcome,” Joanne begins. “But if you’re here to cause trouble, then sorry.”
“Qiao Qiao, I…” Gino hesitates.
“Save it,” Joanne says sharply, slicing through Gino’s words.
“Could you at least let me explain first?” Gino asks, looking quite pitiful.
“Did you let us explain the first time around?” Joanne asks back, giving him a stern look. “We’ve known each other since little and you didn’t believe me. Why would you expect me to…”
“I know I wasn’t thinking clear the first time around, but I…”
“You weren’t thinking at all.”
Gino looks towards the center of the store – where Joyce’s pretending to tend to some plants nearby.
Joanne follows his vision line with her eyes. “Don’t make this harder than it is.”
“I just want to…”
Joyce turns to them at that time. She walks towards them, her hands still holding a water bottle. She stops next to Joanne. “Let me take care of this.”
Joanne nods and brings her coffee tray to the center table.
Joyce turns to Gino after Joanne walks away from them. “If I wasn’t clear two days ago, I want to say it straight out now. No means no. I don’t want to start over or whatever you call it…ever again.”
“Xiao Qiao, I…” He tries to take hold of her shoulders with his hands.
She shrugs him off. “Give up. I already did.”
With that, she turns to leave. She joins Joanne at the center table as Gino stares after her. Gino turns to look at Mr. Zeng. Seeing that Mr. Zeng’s not going to help put in a good word for him, he walks towards the door to leave the shop.
After seeing that Gino’s not going to return, Mr. Zeng leaves his post to join the girls at the center table for morning coffee before the morning crowd piles in.
The rest of the morning passes by without any other run-in with unwanted characters.
At around 12:15, Jacky comes into the shop.
“Lunchtime, everyone!” Jacky shouts cheerfully, clapping his hands together for attention. “Put everything you’re holding down or else!”
Joanne walks up to him with a mischievous smile on her face. “Want me to drop this too?”
Jacky could see she’s holding a small box in her hand. He lowers his hands down. “What is it?”
“Guess.”
“I’m not for games right now.”
Jacky attempts to wrestle the box out of Joanne’s hand as he’s heading towards the center table. Joanne hides it in her pocket again before Jacky could touch it.
“If it’s not for me, don’t bother.”
“Is that sarcasm I’m detecting, Young Master Chu?”
“Whatever you want it to be, Miss Zeng.”
Mr. Zeng joins them at the table after putting up the sign “Lunchtime” and locking the door. While Jacky and Joanne has been bickering, they’ve also set out the food for everyone.
“Where’s Xiao Qiao?” Jacky asks, looking around.
“Break room,” Joanne replies.
“Coffee again?”
“No.”
“Crying?”
“You’re the one who’s crying.”
“Then what?”
Joanne could see Jacky’s concerned expression, so she points towards the break room door. Jacky turns around to see a smiling Joyce carrying out a tray full of cool drinks to them.
Jacky’s both surprised and relief to see Joyce in this state. Has his Xiao Qiao finally returned? He walks towards Joyce with a smile. “I see that you’ve decided to poison us all today with your…” He stops and gestures towards the tray she’s holding.
“I guess I have to do something to show my gratitude,” Joyce admits, shrugging her shoulders.
“By poisoning us?” Jacky asks, shocked. Then he says in a sarcastic tone, “Am I glad we’re friends.”
They walk back to the center table together. Joyce puts the tray on the table and sets the glasses down in front of everyone before setting the tray aside at an empty chair nearby. They all sit down. Jacky’s sitting in between the girls while Mr. Zeng is sitting on Joanne’s left.
Jacky gestures towards the general direction, but his eyes are still on Joyce. “So…what brought on this? A miracle?”
“Always teasing, huh?” Joyce asks, putting on a teasing smile of her own.
“He couldn’t live a day without it, you know that, Xiao Qiao,” Joanne chimes in.
Jacky turns to look at Joanne. “Ouch!” He brings his left hand up to where his heart is. “I feel like I’ve been stabbed.”
“Too bad!” Joanne exclaims.
Jacky smiles at Joanne’s carefree tone. He’s so glad everyone’s back to normal again. He turns his attention back to Joyce.
“Well…you didn’t answer me yet,” Jacky presses, looking at Joyce intently.
Joyce swallows her food before answering. “I don’t know what happened. But after what happened two days ago, I went home and take a long nap. Then I feel much better since then.”
“What? That’s it?” Jacky asks, surprised.
“What else do you expect?”
“It’s just hard to believe,” Jacky says, scratching his head out of habit.
“I know. I couldn’t believe it either. But that was what happened.”
Jacky still looks at her dumb-founded.
“What? Don’t look at me like I’m lying.” Joyce’s cheerful smile turns on again. Then she gestures to the food in front of him. “Eat!”
Jacky smiles finally, knowing the old Zhao Hong Qiao has returned.

*****

After work, Joyce joins Jacky at the Zeng resident for dinner like usual. It seems to be an unbreakable habit for all of them. It’s a full house that night, since Elizabeth is back home once again after being gone for these past weeks with her promotional events. Kenny and Charlene are actually home on time for dinner – one of the rare times too. They talk and joke normally like in the past. It seems like the horror they lived through these past weeks had all been a dream. Jacky and Joanne take turns to study Joyce from time to time, making sure she’s really all right. After dinner, they talk for another hour before Joyce leaves with Elizabeth to some night event that Elizabeth persuaded Joyce to attend. Kenny and Charlene head back to their rooms to do homework – another one of those rare times after dinner also. Only Mr. Zeng is left at the table while Jacky and Joanne are doing dishes in the kitchen.
“I’m so glad our Xiao Qiao’s back to normal,” Joanne says in a relief tone.
“I’m wondering if it’s just on the surface though,” Jacky says, somewhat troubled.
Joanne looks over at him. “Are you doubting her or your judgment?”
Jacky shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know. It just seems too good to be true for me, considering the rocky situation these past weeks.”
“I don’t know. Maybe she’s tired of it all and just wants to forget it?”
“Hard to buy.”
“Maybe she’s disappointed in him,” Mr. Zeng inputs.
Jacky and Joanne turn to Mr. Zeng – not realizing he has been listening in on their conversation.
“Ba…” Joanne calls out.
“I’m not just guessing. You both said that he came back to apologize, right? And the way he’s carrying on today when he came to the shop, it’s like he lost it. I mean he acted rashly and now he regretted it. But he can only say such words like ‘Let’s start over’ when he brushed away everyone’s words so coldly a month ago? Hard to believe.”
“That makes sense,” Joanne agrees.
“Same here,” Jacky seconds.
They turn back to their tasks.
“I guess that’s the most relevant explanation so far,” Joanne says, handing yet another dish to Jacky for rinsing.
“We’ll just have to watch over her more carefully to see if she relapses again.”
“Let’s hope not.”
“I hope not too.”
They excuse themselves to go outside after finishing their tasks.
Jacky and Joanne both breathe in the fresh air as they step outside. They turn to look at each other, smiling. Then they look up at the night sky, seeing stars glomming above. It’s finally an enjoyable night. Jacky barely remembers the last time outside, watching stars. It was at his house. Before he realizes it, Joanne tugs on his hand and places something into it. He glances down to see a small box – the box from that afternoon. The same one he was trying to wrestle out of Joanne’s hand. He looks up at her before looking down at the box again.
“I didn’t want to steal Xiao Qiao’s moment since she has finally recovered today,” Joanne explains.
Jacky opens the box and sees a watch inside. It’s an old watch – the one that was broken that day out of frustration after the failed attempt talking to Gino. Jacky smiles at the familiar object, realizing Joanne still remembers. It was a good idea to wait for this moment too since they didn’t want to test Joyce’s feelings too much – like reminding her the reason why his watch broke in the first place. Though Joyce only came in when he was done recounting the conversation to Joanne and only witnessed the moment that his hand connected with the table and smashed his watch’s face but he did not want her to question him any further than that.
Jacky looks up at Joanne once again, taking her left hand into his right. “Sometimes I wonder what other tricks you have in that brain of yours.”
“If you don’t want it, I’ll keep it,” Joanne jokes, smiling.
With that, she pretends to snatch it from his left hand with hers.
Jacky laughs, knowing she’s just joking, but still jumps out of the way to avoid her attack. She ends up helping him put it back on his left hand. When she’s done, she inspects it several times before looking up at him again.
“So…Miss. Zeng, what are we going to do now?” Jacky asks.
Want to play a game? How many stars do you think are up there?”
“Very funny.”
Joanne laughs.
© Monday, May 5th, 2008
Posted: Saturday, May 7th, 2011