Chapter 2

Jacky tosses his keys on the night stand next to the bed before taking off his heavy coat. He brushes off some ice fragments that still managed to stick to his coat. He settles down on the bed as he reaches for the phone and begins to dial the numbers. The phone rings a few seconds before someone picks it up.
“Hello?” A girl’s voice comes across the way.
“Hello, stranger,” Jacky teases.
“Jacky!” The girl exclaims in excitement.
“You sound like a little girl waiting to be given some candies,” He teases again.
“I miss you so much, that’s all,” The girl replies defensively.
“Oh? Is that so?” He asks in a half-amused voice, smiling to himself.
“Of course,” The girl replies in that excited voice still.
“That means you’ve been staying out of trouble?”
“Hey!” The girl calls out in a somewhat anguish tone. “What are you talking about? You made it sound like I’m a five years old kid.”
“I didn’t mean to sound that way, hon. But maybe…”
“What?!” She asks in a threatening voice.
“Nothing,” He says innocently.
“Smart answer, Young Master Chu.”
“Seriously though, I call to tell you something else.” His voice has changed to reflect the seriousness of the situation.
“You’re being delayed again?” She asks in a disappointed tone.
“Yes. But don’t worry. I already got a surprise for you when I come back next week.”
“You know I don’t care about those stuffs.”
“I know. I just don’t want you to be sad, all right?”
“Okay.”
“Don’t sound so down.”
“I’ll be waiting for you then,” The girl says in her cheerful voice again.
“Okay. I’ll call you when I come back so you can come pick me up.”
“All right. It’s late over there, right? I should let you go.”
“It’s all right.”
“I have to go too though. The shop’s busy today.”
“All right then. I’ll just turn in early since there isn’t much to do.”
“Sweet dreams.”
“Hmm…”
“And say hi to Xiao Qiao for me too.”
“Will do. See you.”
They both hang up at the same time. Jacky still stares at the phone, smiling for a bit before getting ready for bed.

*****

One week later…
The girl has been constantly pacing back and forth, causing her father to be quite concerned. He’s coming back today, she thought. Mixed with excitement and nervousness, she prays silently that there won’t be anymore delays. Ten more minutes go by. Her father is getting distracted by her pacing routine.
“Qiao Qiao, could you stop pacing?” He asks. “Daddy’s getting dizzy here. Besides, with that look on your face, you’re going to drive away our customers. We’re selling flowers, not…”
Joanne stops in her pacing to face her father.
“Ba, you’re not helping,” Joanne whines, glaring at him with a hurt look because of his unsupportive behavior towards her.
“You’re not helping my business either,” Mr. Zeng jokes.
Joanne resumes her pacing again, but this time she takes it to the back of the shop so it’s not disturbing “business” as much. But her father still looks towards the back once in awhile, his expression mirrors her anxiousness. Another ten minutes pass by. Her father couldn’t help but speaks up again after their latest customers leave.
“Qiao Qiao, are you sure he’s coming home today?” Mr. Zeng asks.
“Yes, I’m sure,” Joanne replies, looking towards her father again. “He said so.”
“You better check again or my floor’s going to have a hole in it. You know how expensive repairs can be.”
Joanne approaches the counter where her father’s standing behind, calculating away while talking to her.
“Ba, could you stop making me nervous?” She asks.
“You’re the one making me nervous here,” He reminds her, looking up from his calculator.
“Do you want me to get away from here then?”
“Do whatever you want, little one,” Mr. Zeng replies, going back to his calculations.
Joanne walks away from the counter and towards the back of the store to retrieve her handbag. Just then, her cell phone rings. She retrieves it from her pocket and answers it right away.
“Hello?” Joanne says anxiously.
“Can you come now? Is the store busy?” A guy’s voice asks.
“You’re back?!” Joanne asks mixed with anxiousness and excitement.
“No, I’m still in New York and I’m just calling just for the sake of it.”
“Jacky!”
“Okay, okay. I’ll stop. So…can you come?”
“As soon as I get my handbag.”
“All right. See you then.”
She hangs up after he gives her the location.
“He’s back?” Mr. Zeng asks from the counter.
“Yes!” Joanne replies cheerfully as she passes by the counter to retrieve her handbag. She suddenly remembers that she has tossed it back there this morning – and not placed it in the backroom like she usually would.
“All right. Have fun then.”
“I’m just going to pick them up and drive them back to their houses since their cars aren’t at the airport when they left,” She informs him.
“Them?” Mr. Zeng asks curiously.
“Xiao Qiao’s with him, Ba.”
“Oh…his other lover.”
“Ba!”
“Just kidding, little one.”
“All right, I’m going.”
She leaves through the front door after that. Her father looks after her, smiling and shaking his head at the same time. Young people, he thought.

*****

Joanne runs towards the gate after having parked the car. She’s late and she knows that they’re waiting for her. She would have been here earlier if she hadn’t got caught in the middle of an accident on the road. It takes her another ten minutes or so before she gets past all the security checks. But a smile lights on her face as soon as she spots a guy and a girl standing to the far left of Gate Nine. She runs towards them. Her excitement gets the best of her and she couldn’t stop in time, causing her to run smack into the guy’s arms.
“Whoa!” The guy exclaims, catching her at the same time and smiling at her. “I know you’re excited to see us, but you don’t have to do this. I feel so special now.”
“Jacky and I thought that you were going to let us wait since we’re back after two weeks, not a week like planned,” The girl with him says, smiling also.
“Actually, I thought you wouldn’t come at all. I was about to call my other girlfriend to pick us up,” Jacky explains.
Joanne jabs him in the rib with her right hand.
“Your other girlfriend?” The girl asks, raising an eyebrow. “Who is she?”
“You mean I didn’t tell you? You mean Miss Zhao didn’t find out on her own?”
“You’re always so mysterious,” Joyce defends herself. “How should I know?”
“I guess you will have to pay closer attention then.”
“By the way, what happened to you?” Joyce asks, turning to Joanne.
“Sorry, you two,” Joanne apologizes since she already caught her breath. “I was delayed in traffic.”
“It’s all right. So…we’re ready to go?”
“I guess so since Miss Zeng is here now,” Jacky says with a teasing smile on his face.
“I guess it serves you right for waiting this long,” Joanne comments, brushing his left hand off her shoulders.
“Come on, Xiao Qiao,” Jacky says, attempting to slip his hand around Joanne’s shoulder again.
The threesome walk out of the gate and towards the exit as Jacky and Joanne continue to fight. Joyce smiles at them, contributing once in awhile and trying not to take sides. Joanne helps Jacky and Joyce carry some of the smaller bags that the two brought back, but continues to give Jacky the cold shoulders regarding his “smart comments.”

*****

Jacky’s still drying his hair while walking back to the living room when he spots Joanne asleep on the sofa. He wrinkles his face, observing more closely if she’s just closing her eyes to rest or asleep for real. A moment later, he smiles and sits down next to her. Coincidentally or not so coincidentally, her head falls onto his right shoulder as he leans his head back on the sofa. He couldn’t help but smile at this little incident. He waits a bit more to see if she would react or not. Then he slips his hand around her shoulders and adjusts her head so it angles better on his shoulder. He sits back again and tries to relax a bit until he figures out what to do next or wait for Joanne to wake up. Jacky’s so deep in thoughts that he almost jump when the phone rings. He fidgets around with Joanne’s handbag, but couldn’t find her cell phone in it. He looks around the sofa some more before seeing a red string dangling out of the left pocket of her shorts. He reaches into her pocket to get the phone out. The Caller ID recognizes the person as “Lao Ba”. Jacky shakes Joanne lightly to wake her up. She stirs a bit and brings her left hand up to defend herself. His reflexes kick in as her hand almost hits his face, catching her hand on time.
“Qiao, your dad’s calling,” He says, trying to wake her up at the same time.
Joanne makes some grumbling sounds and stirs a bit.
“I’m not kidding,” He tries again.
Joanne finally snaps her eyes open. She yawns and stretches a bit before realizing that she’s in Jacky’s arms – not to mention that he’s still holding onto her left arm.
“What happened?” She asks, surprised.
“You’re so violent, even in your sleep,” Jacky teases.
“You were probably trying to do something…” She starts to say and stops.
Jacky gives her an encouraging look for her to go on. Joanne ignores him and takes the phone from his hand. She stands up and paces around the room instead.
“Ba…” She answers finally.
“So…how did it go?” Mr. Zeng asks curiously.
“I’m still at Jacky’s house. We dropped Xiao Qiao off at her house like an hour ago. Then we went back to Jacky’s place. But he had to unpack and stuffs. We’re coming over to the shop now.”
“That’s fine. Could you stop by the grocery store and buy me some fruits?”
“All right.” She talks with her father for a few more minutes before hanging up. When she puts her cell phone back into her pocket, she catches Jacky staring at her from the sofa. She wrinkles her face at him. “What?!”
“I like to stare,” Jacky replies smoothly, pasting on a cunning smile.
Joanne walks towards the sofa to retrieve her bag. Then she grabs her keys from the coffee table before heading for the front door. “So stare. I’m leaving.”
Jacky stands up and walks after her with the towel he used to dry his hair still in his hand. “What’s the hurry?”
“Dad wants me to go buy some fruits for him.”
“Oh?”
“Are you coming or not?”
“Coming…of course. Give me a sec. I need to change into something more proper.”
“That isn’t proper enough?” Joanne asks, turning around and staring at his current attire.
“No,” Jacky replies, smiling. “Not decent enough to appear in front of my future father-in-law.”
“Whatever,” Joanne mumbles, turning around to leave again. Although she’s saying that, but she could feel her face turning red.
“Okay, I’ll be back in ten,” Jacky says, making his way to his room.
Joanne doesn’t say anything more. She stands by the door to wait for him.
Like promised, Jacky comes back in ten minutes all dressed “properly” and ready to go.
“Don’t you have anything else besides from black?” Joanne teases.
Jacky slips his left hand around her shoulder and uses his right to open the door. “No. I look good in black.”
“You look better in white,” Joanne comments.
“Are you hinting something?” He asks, locking the door.
“What?” Joanne asks back, confused.
Jacky turns to face her again as they’re beginning to walk out to her car. “White. A wedding. Get it?”
“Zhu Fan Gang!”
Jacky laughs and increases his pace along with Joanne. He opens the door for her and gets in on the passenger side. After she backs out, they head straight for the grocery store to buy some fruits for her father before going back to the flower shop.

*****

The shop is quite peaceful right now. The only sound is coming from Mr. Zeng’s constant tapping at the calculator at hand. Once in awhile, he would hum a tune or two to pass the time more easily as he tries to finish his calculations. The silence is suddenly broke through by a jingling sound as someone enters the shop, causing the wind chime to react.
“Welcome to the shop. How can I help you…”
Mr. Zeng doesn’t finish because when he looks up, he recognizes the couple who just entered.
“A dozen of roses for the little lady, please,” The guy says, smiling.
“I don’t think a dozen would do,” Mr. Zeng points out, smiling also. “Although this young lady is small in size, but her stubbornness makes up for it. I think you ought to take about two or three dozens to make sure.”
“Fair enough” The guy says, chuckling. “I’ll take four dozens just to be sure.”
Mr. Zeng laughs loudly and energetically. He reaches his hand out to clap on the guy’s shoulder as the guy approaches the counter.
“How did your trip go, my boy?” Mr. Zeng asks.
“Both good and bad,” The guy replies. “As you already know, the bad part is the weather.”
Mr. Zeng nods. Before he could go on asking more questions, the front door opens again. The three turn to look. A girl about eighteen years old walks in. Her expression turns from passive to excited. She runs towards the counter.
“Jacky ge, you’re back!” The girl exclaims, clutching onto Jacky’s arm.
“How are you, Charlene?” Jacky asks politely.
“I’m good,” Charlene responds cheerfully, turning to Joanne. “Jie, why didn’t you tell me he comes back today? I could’ve come with you to the airport.”
“I wasn’t sure,” Joanne says.
“That’s right,” Mr. Zeng verifies. “Your sister was pacing the shop the whole morning. That reminds me…I need to call and schedule an appointment to re-do my whole floor. There are holes all over the place now. Customers will have trouble walking around the shop. Business will be in trouble if I don’t take care of this matter soon.”
Jacky turns to look at Joanne while Mr. Zeng is talking. Joanne avoids his eyes and looks around the shop, pretending to be interested in some flower pots dangling in the back corner. Charlene – either didn’t get what Mr. Zeng’s implying or lost interest – changes the subject on them. (Of course she has already released Jacky’s arm a long time ago – like during Mr. Zeng’s little “act.”)
“Ba, what are we doing today after work?” Charlene jumps in.
“I have to go to the bank after I’m finished with calculating all these,” Mr. Zeng replies. “You and Qiao Qiao can look after the store while I go.”
“I’ll go with you, Uncle,” Jacky offers.
“Good idea,” Mr. Zeng agrees, nodding. “I want to know what’s going on with you lately too.”
“You’ll be okay here, right?” Jacky asks, turning to Joanne.
“I don’t think I would get lost,” Joanne teases.
“You know what I mean.”
Joanne nods.
“All right, then,” Mr. Zeng says. “Give me about twenty more minutes. Feel free to explore.”
Jacky, Joanne, and Charlene walk away from the counter and towards the center of the shop where there’s a circular table. They sit down and talk. Actually, more like Charlene firing away questions at Jacky while Joanne sits and listens. Joanne gets up to put her handbag away after five minutes of Charlene’s questioning session. Jacky looks after her – only half listening to Charlene.
Joanne comes back a few minutes later, carrying two drinks. She hands one to Jacky and sits down to drink her own.
“Where’s mine?” Charlene asks, eyeing Jacky and Joanne’s drinks suspiciously.
“You have hands and feet,” Joanne replies indirectly.
“Jie! You’re being unfair,” Charlene protests, wrinkling her face.
“I’m teaching you independent here,” Joanne says, shrugging her shoulders.
“Ba! Jie’s bullying me,” Charlene hollers out to Mr. Zeng.
“Go prepare your own drink, Tian Tian,” Mr. Zeng hollers back.
“Ba! You’re being unfair too!” Charlene protests, her face even more wrinkled by now.
“You’re going to mess up my calculations if we continue with this conversation.”
Charlene couldn’t do anything else, but stands up to go get her own drink.
“Thanks, Ba!” Joanne yells towards front, standing up in the process to show her gratitude.
“Anytime, Qiao Qiao.”
Charlene – upon hearing the exchange between the two –feels even more disappointed at her father. She walks faster into the backroom to get away from this injustice place that she feels so strongly against at that time. She has no idea that Mr. Zeng wasn’t taking sides. He was merely trying to rescue Jacky and Joanne from Charlene’s curiosity.
Joanne sits back down next to Jacky and smiles at him. Jacky takes a sip from his drink and flashes her a smile also. After the little “interruption”, they go back to talking about Jacky’s trip – more slowly – this time.

*****

After twenty minutes like promised, Mr. Zeng is done. It seems that he’s as punctual as Jacky. He comes out from behind the counter and joins Jacky and Joanne at the table. At Mr. Zeng’s presence, Jacky stands up.
“I’m not in a hurry,” Mr. Zeng says, extending his hand out to stop Jacky. “Go ahead and finish your conversation.”
Jacky sits back down, but Joanne gets up. She comes back a bit later with a cup of tea for her father. Mr. Zeng gives her an approving look as she sets the cup in front of him. The three talk some more before Charlene comes back from the backroom. She glares at Joanne before approaching the table again.
“Tian Tian, take care of the shop for me when I’m gone, all right?” Mr. Zeng says.
“Ba!” Charlene whines.
Mr. Zeng looks at her.
“I have to go somewhere later though,” Charlene explains, wrinkling her face.
“It’s all right, Ba,” Joanne interferes. “I’ll be fine alone.”
“Okay, then,” Mr. Zeng says.
Mr. Zeng takes another sip from his cup and stands up. He signals to Jacky. Jacky gets up also and follows Mr. Zeng to the shop’s entrance. He turns around one last time to motion with his hands before disappearing behind the door. Joanne gets up after that to clear the table before going back to the front of the shop. As she approaches the counter, Charlene speaks up.
“I can’t believe it,” Charlene whines. “Dad’s so unfair.”
“What are you talking about?” Joanne asks, cleaning the countertop with a piece of cloth.
“He always sides with you. I’m the youngest one here. I should get some…”
“You didn’t take the hint before so he had to interfere.”
“What hint?”
“Jacky is still really tired from the trip. You shouldn’t pester him too much. He’ll be around for several weeks before his next trip. You have plenty of time to talk to him. Dad was just cutting him some slacks.”
“But still…Dad shouldn’t have taken sides with you like that. Not in front of Jacky.”
“He wasn’t siding with me. He was just helping Jacky. I just told you.”
“It’s embarrassing to be chased away like that,” Charlene whines again. “Forget it. You wouldn’t know.” She walks away towards the back after saying those words.
“Tian Tian!” Joanne yells after her.
Charlene already left through the backroom door.
Joanne wrinkles her face a bit, but resumes her smile as the next customer comes in.

*****

Jacky drops Mr. Zeng at the front entrance before circling around the parking lot to find a spot. It’s quite crowded since everyone wants to make it in time before the bank closes. When Jacky finds a spot, he has to fight the crowd to make his way inside. Someone pushes him aside as he’s trying to make his way to Mr. Zeng.
“Stop trying to cut, creep!” A man’s voice shouts angrily.
“Get in line before I beat you up!” Another man warns.
“I’m not cutting,” Jacky explains, turning around to face them. “I’m looking for someone. He went in already while I was parking.”
“Sure,” The first man says sarcastically. “I believe you, creep.”
“I’m honest here,” Jacky attempts again.
Before Jacky could continue, the two guys step closer to him. They’re ready to strike at him. Jacky jumps back in time from the first attack. He uses his arm as a shield to protect himself. Another strike comes his way. He steps back again, closing his eyes as he shields himself again. Then he hears some yelling. He opens his eyes again to see a guy around his age standing in front of him, gripping one of the guys’ hand.
“Leave immediately,” The guy warns. “Don’t make me call the security guard over there to come here.”
“Let go!”The first man yells out.
The guy lets go of that man’s hand slowly. The two men take their spots in line again where their other two companions stand. The guy who helped Jacky turns to leave also.
“Hey!” Jacky calls out after him.
The guy turns to face Jacky.
“Thanks,” Jacky says, extending his hand towards the guy.
The guy doesn’t take Jacky’s hand, but just nods and disappears into the crowd. Jacky looks after the guy’s disappearing back before turning to head in the opposite direction.
When Jacky arrives at where Mr. Zeng is, he’s second in line now. Jacky stands next to him, but behind the red string that separates everyone else from the line itself.
“Everything all right?” Mr. Zeng asks with concern. “I didn’t see all. But I saw that one guy helped you so I didn’t call the security guard yet.”
“It’s all right,” Jacky replies. “Lucky the guy was there. I didn’t get his name though.”
“Maybe he’s in a hurry, but saw you so just wanted to help before going,” Mr. Zeng suggests.
“I guess so,” Jacky agrees, nodding.
While he’s waiting for Mr. Zeng, Jacky keeps turning to look for the guy. He wonders who that guy is.
© Tuesday, February 19th, 2008