Joyce sat back down at the bench as Gino took a step toward her. He sat down next to her. They stared at each other for a minute before either one spoke up.

“What have you come back to say?” Joyce asked in a passive voice.

“I want to start over,” Gino announced as if that was the most relevant thing to say at the moment.

“I’m sorry?” Joyce asked, 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 accidentally 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 reached out his right hand to take her left hand.

Joyce withdrew her hand in time before he could touch it. She shook her head. “No. I’m not strong enough for it. I don’t know if my heart can endure another wound.”

Joyce got up at that time. Gino did the same.

Joyce looked 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 left for real. Gino was too numbed to stop her from walking away. As she was walking, tears were falling down her face.

*****

They opened bright and shine at 9:00 A.M. for business again at Felicity Flower Shop. It was two days after the run-in incident with Gino. Joyce seemed to be recovering slowly. Mr. Tseng and Joanne always took turns to keep watch of her. Jacky visited them regularly at lunchtime and after work like usual these past two days.

They were carrying out their usual opening tasks after Mr. Tseng unlocked the door to the shop. After turning on the lights and machinery, Mr. Tseng resumed his normal post at the front counter while Joanne was making coffee in the break room. Joyce was making her usual round around the shop to check on the flowers. As she was almost finished with her round, she heard the chime in front of the store jingling. She could hear Mr. Tseng saying his usual welcome to the customer. However, he stopped in the middle of the sentence. She looked up in time to see Gino walking in. At the same time, Joanne was 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. Tseng interfered before Gino could continue further toward Joyce, stepping out from behind the counter.

“Ba, let me handle this,” Joanne said, walking toward the front counter.

Mr. Tseng looked at Joanne with a worried expression before resuming his post again.

“If you’re here to buy flowers, you’re welcome,” Joanne began. “But if you’re here to cause trouble, then sorry.”

“Qiao Qiao, I…” Gino hesitated.

“Save it,” Joanne said sharply, slicing through Gino’s words.

“Could you at least let me explain first?” Gino asked, looking quite pitiful.

“Did you let us explain the first time around?” Joanne asked 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 looked toward the center of the shop—where Joyce was pretending to tend to some plants nearby.

Joanne followed his vision line with her eyes. “Don’t make this harder than it is.”

“I just want to…”

Joyce turned to them at that time. She walked toward them, her hands still holding a water bottle. She stopped next to Joanne. “Let me take care of this.”

Joanne nodded and brought her coffee tray to the center table.

Joyce turned to Gino after Joanne walked 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 tried to take hold of her shoulders with his hands.

She shrugged him off. “Give up. I already did.”

With that, she turned to leave. She joined Joanne at the center table as Gino stared after her. Gino turned to look at Mr. Tseng. Seeing that Mr. Tseng was not going to help put in a good word for him, he walked toward the door to leave the shop.

After seeing that Gino was not going to return, Mr. Tseng left his post to join the girls at the center table for morning coffee before the morning crowd piled in.

The rest of the morning passed by without any other run-in with unwanted characters.

At around 12:15, Jacky came into the shop.

“Lunchtime, everyone!” Jacky shouted cheerfully, clapping his hands together for attention. “Put everything you’re holding down or else!”

Joanne walked up to him with a mischievous smile on her face. “Want me to drop this too?”

Jacky could see she was holding a small box in her hand. He lowered his hands down. “What is it?”

“Guess.”

“I’m not up for games right now.”

Jacky attempted to wrestle the box out of Joanne’s hand as he was heading toward the center table. Joanne hid 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 Tseng.”

Mr. Tseng joined them at the table after putting up the sign “Lunchtime” and locking the door. While Jacky and Joanne had been bickering, they’d also set out the food for everyone.

“Where’s Xiao Qiao?” Jacky asked, looking around.

“Break room,” Joanne replied.

“Coffee again?”

“No.”

“Crying?”

“You’re the one who’s crying.”

“Then what?”

Joanne could see Jacky’s concerned expression, so she pointed toward the break room door. Jacky turned around to see a smiling Joyce carrying out a tray full of cool drinks to them.

Jacky was both surprised and relieved to see Joyce in this state. Has his Xiao Qiao finally returned? He walked toward Joyce with a smile. “I see that you’ve decided to poison us all today with your…” He stopped and gestured toward the tray she was holding.

“I guess I have to do something to show my gratitude,” Joyce admitted, shrugging.

“By poisoning us?” Jacky asked, shocked. Then he said in a sarcastic tone, “Am I glad we’re friends.”

They walked back to the center table together. Joyce put the tray on the table and set the glasses down in front of everyone before setting the tray aside at an empty chair nearby. They all sat down. Jacky was sitting in between the girls while Mr. Tseng was sitting on Joanne’s left.

Jacky gestured toward the general direction, but his eyes were still on Joyce. “So…what brought on this? A miracle?”

“Always teasing, huh?” Joyce asked, putting on a teasing smile of her own.

“He couldn’t live a day without it, you know that, Xiao Qiao,” Joanne chimed in.

Jacky turned to look at Joanne. “Ouch!” He brought his left hand up to where his heart was. “I feel like I’ve been stabbed.”

“Too bad!” Joanne exclaimed.

Jacky smiled at Joanne’s carefree tone. He was so glad everyone was back to normal again. He turned his attention back to Joyce.

“Well…you didn’t answer me yet,” Jacky pressed, looking at Joyce intently.

Joyce swallowed her food before answering. “I don’t know what happened. But after what happened two days ago, I went home and took a long nap. Then I felt much better since then.”

“What? That’s it?” Jacky asked, surprised.

“What else do you expect?”

“It’s just hard to believe,” Jacky said, scratching his head out of habit.

“I know. I couldn’t believe it either. But that was what happened.”

Jacky still looked at her dumbfounded.

“What? Don’t look at me like I’m lying.” Joyce’s cheerful smile turned on again. Then she gestured to the food in front of him. “Eat!”

Jacky smiled finally, knowing the old Zhao Hong Qiao had returned.

*****

After work, Joyce joined Jacky at the Tseng resident for dinner like usual. It seemed to be an unbreakable habit for all of them. It was a full house that night, considering how Elizabeth was back home once again after being gone for these past weeks with her promotional events. Kenny and Charlene were actually home on time for dinner—one of the rare times too. They talked and joked normally like in the past. It seemed like the horror they lived through these past weeks had all been a dream. Jacky and Joanne took turns to study Joyce from time to time, making sure she was really all right. After dinner, they talked for another hour before Joyce left with Elizabeth to some night event that Elizabeth persuaded Joyce to attend. Kenny and Charlene headed back to their rooms to do homework—another one of those rare times after dinner also. Only Mr. Tseng was left at the table while Jacky and Joanne were doing dishes in the kitchen.

“I’m so glad our Xiao Qiao’s back to normal,” Joanne said in a relieved tone.

“I’m wondering if it’s just on the surface though,” Jacky said, somewhat troubled.

Joanne looked over at him. “Are you doubting her or your judgment?”

Jacky shrugged. “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. Tseng inputted.

Jacky and Joanne turned to Mr. Tseng—not realizing he had been listening in on their conversation.

“Ba…” Joanne called out.

“I’m not just guessing. You both said that he came back to apologize, right? And the way he was carrying on today when he came to the shop, it was 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 agreed.

“Same here,” Jacky seconded.

They turned back to their tasks.

“I guess that’s the most relevant explanation so far,” Joanne said, 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 excused themselves to go outside after finishing their tasks.

Jacky and Joanne both breathed in the fresh air as they stepped outside. They turned to look at each other, smiling. Then they looked up at the night sky, seeing stars glomming above. It was finally an enjoyable night. Jacky barely remembered the last time outside, watching stars. It was at his house. Before he realized it, Joanne tugged on his hand and placed something into it. He glanced 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 looked 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 explained.

Jacky opened the box and saw a watch inside. It was an old watch—the one that was broken that day out of frustration after the failed attempt talking to Gino. Jacky smiled at the familiar object, realizing Joanne still remembered. 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, he did not want her to question him any further than that.

Jacky looked 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 joked, smiling.

With that, she pretended to snatch it from his left hand with hers.

Jacky laughed, knowing she was just joking, but still jumped out of the way to avoid her attack. She ended up helping him put it back on his left hand. When she was done, she inspected it several times before looking up at him again.

“So…Miss. Tseng, what are we going to do now?” Jacky asked.

Want to play a game? How many stars do you think are up there?”

“Very funny.”

Joanne laughed.

© Monday, May 5th, 2008

Posted: Saturday, May 7th, 2011

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