Jacky tossed his keys on the nightstand next to the bed before taking off his heavy coat. He brushed off some ice fragments that still managed to stick to his coat. Then he settled down on the bed as he reached for the phone and began to dial the numbers. The phone rang a few seconds before someone picked it up.

“Hello?” A girl’s voice came across the way.

“Hello, stranger,” Jacky teased.

“Jacky!” The girl exclaimed with much excitement.

“You sound like a little girl waiting to be given some candies,” He teased again.

“I miss you so much, that’s all,” The girl replied defensively.

“Oh? Is that so?” He asked in a half-amused voice, smiling to himself.

“Of course,” The girl replied in that excited voice still.

“That means you’ve been staying out of trouble?”

“Hey!” The girl called out in a somewhat anguish tone. “What are you talking about? You made it sound like I’m a five-year-old kid.”

“I didn’t mean to sound that way, hon. But maybe…”

“What?!” She asked in a threatening voice.

“Nothing,” He said innocently.

“Smart answer, Young Master Chu.”

“Seriously though, I call to tell you something else.” His voice had changed to reflect the seriousness of the situation.

“You’re being delayed again?” She asked 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 said in her cheerful voice again.

“Okay. I’ll call you when I come back so you can come and 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 hung up at the same time. Jacky still stared at the phone, smiling for a bit before getting ready for bed.

*****

One week later…

The girl had 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 prayed silently that there wouldn’t be any more delays. Ten more minutes went by. Her father was getting distracted by her pacing routine.

“Qiao Qiao, could you stop pacing?” He asked. “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 stopped in her pacing to face her father.

“Ba, you’re not helping,” Joanne whined, glaring at him with a hurt look because of his unsupportive behavior toward her.

“You’re not helping my business either,” Mr. Tseng joked.

Joanne resumed her pacing again, but this time she took it to the back of the shop, so it was not disturbing “business” as much. But her father still looked toward the back once in a while, his expression mirrored her anxiousness. Another ten minutes passed by. Her father couldn’t help but speak up again after their latest customers left.

“Qiao Qiao, are you sure he’s coming home today?” Mr. Tseng asked.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Joanne replied, looking toward 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 approached the counter where her father was standing behind, calculating away while talking to her.

“Ba, could you stop making me nervous?” She asked.

“You’re the one making me nervous here,” He reminded her, looking up from his calculator.

“Do you want me to leave then?”

“Do whatever you want, little one,” Mr. Tseng replied, going back to his calculations.

Joanne walked away from the counter and toward the back of the store to retrieve her handbag. Just then, her cell phone rang. She retrieved it from her pocket and answered it right away.

“Hello?” Joanne said anxiously.

“Can you come now? Is the store busy?” A guy’s voice asked.

“You’re back?!” Joanne asked 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 hung up after he gave her the location.

“He’s back?” Mr. Tseng asked from the counter.

“Yes!” Joanne replied cheerfully as she passed by the counter to retrieve her handbag. She suddenly remembered that she had 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 informed him.

“Them?” Mr. Tseng asked curiously.

“Xiao Qiao’s with him, Ba.”

“Oh…his other lover.”

“Ba!”

“Just kidding, little one.”

“All right, I’m going.”

She left through the front door after that. Her father looked after her, smiling and shaking his head at the same time. Young people, he thought.

*****

Joanne ran toward the gate after having parked the car. She was late and she knew that they were 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 took her another ten minutes or so before she got past all the security checks. But a smile lit on her face as soon as she spotted a guy and a girl standing to the far left of Gate Nine. She ran toward them. Her excitement got the best of her, and she couldn’t stop in time, causing her to run smack into the guy’s arms.

“Whoa!” The guy exclaimed, 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 said, smiling also.

“Actually, I thought you wouldn’t come at all. I was about to call my other girlfriend to pick us up,” Jacky explained.

Joanne jabbed him in the rib with her right hand.

“Your other girlfriend?” The girl asked, 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 defended herself. “How should I know?”

“I guess you will have to pay closer attention then.”

“By the way, what happened to you?” Joyce asked, turning to Joanne.

“Sorry, you two,” Joanne apologized 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 Tseng is here now,” Jacky said with a teasing smile on his face.

“I guess it serves you right for waiting this long,” Joanne commented, brushing his left hand off her shoulders.

“Come on, Xiao Qiao,” Jacky said, attempting to slip his hand around Joanne’s shoulder again.

The three walked out of the gate and toward the exit as Jacky and Joanne continued to fight. Joyce smiled at them, contributing once in a while and trying not to take sides. Joanne helped Jacky and Joyce carry some of the smaller bags that the two brought back but continued to give Jacky the cold shoulders regarding his “smart comments.”

*****

Jacky was still drying his hair while walking back to the living room when he spotted Joanne asleep on the sofa. He wrinkled his face, observing more closely if she was just closing her eyes to rest or asleep for real. A moment later, he smiled and sat down next to her. Coincidentally or not so coincidentally, her head fell onto his right shoulder as he leaned his head back on the sofa. He couldn’t help but smile at this little incident. He waited a bit more to see if she would react or not. Then he slipped his hand around her shoulders and adjusted her head, so it angled better on his shoulder. He sat back again and tried to relax a bit until he figured out what to do next or wait for Joanne to wake up. Jacky was so deep in thoughts that he almost jumped when the phone rang. He fidgeted around with Joanne’s handbag but couldn’t find her cell phone in it. He looked around the sofa some more before seeing a red string dangling out of the left pocket of her shorts. As he reached into her pocket to get the phone out, he glimpsed the screen briefly to see the person calling in was recognized as “Lao Ba.” Jacky shook Joanne lightly to wake her up. She stirred a bit and brought her left hand up to defend herself. His reflexes kicked in as her hand almost hit his face, catching her hand on time.

“Qiao, your dad’s calling,” He said, trying to wake her up at the same time.

Joanne made some grumbling sounds and stirred a bit.

“I’m not kidding,” He tried again.

Joanne finally snapped her eyes open. She yawned and stretched a bit before realizing that she was in Jacky’s arms—not to mention that he was still holding onto her left arm.

“What happened?” She asked, surprised.

“You’re so violent, even in your sleep,” Jacky teased.

“You were probably trying to do something…” She started to say and stopped.

Jacky gave her an encouraging look for her to go on. Joanne ignored him and took the phone from his hand. She got up and paced around the room instead.

“Ba…” She answered finally.

“So…how did it go?” Mr. Tseng asked 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 talked with her father for a few more minutes before hanging up. When she placed her cell phone back into her pocket, she caught Jacky staring at her from the sofa. She wrinkled her face at him. “What?!”

“I like to stare,” Jacky replied smoothly, pasting on a cunning smile.

Joanne walked toward the sofa to retrieve her bag. Then she grabbed her keys from the coffee table before heading for the front door. “So stare. I’m leaving.”

Jacky got up and followed 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 asked, turning around and staring at his current attire.

“No,” Jacky replied, smiling. “Not decent enough to appear in front of my future father-in-law.”

“Whatever,” Joanne mumbled, turning around to leave again. Although she was saying that, but she could feel her face burning hot.

“Okay, I’ll be back in ten,” Jacky said, making his way to his room.

Joanne didn’t say anything more. She stood by the door to wait for him.

Like promised, Jacky came back in ten minutes all dressed “properly” and ready to go.

“Don’t you have anything else aside from black?” Joanne teased.

Jacky slipped his left hand around her shoulder and used his right to open the door. “No. I look good in black.”

“You look better in white,” Joanne commented.

“Are you hinting something?” He asked, locking the door.

“What?” Joanne asked back, confused.

Jacky turned to face her again as they were walking out to her car. “White. A wedding. Get it?”

“Zhu Fan Gang!”

Jacky laughed and increased his pace along with Joanne. He opened the door for her and got in on the passenger side. After she backed out, they headed straight for the grocery store to buy some fruits for her father before going back to the flower shop.

*****

The shop was quite peaceful right now. The only sound was coming from Mr. Tseng’s constant tapping at the calculator at hand. Once in a while, he would hum a tune or two to pass the time more easily as he tried to finish his calculations. The silence was suddenly broken by a jingling sound as someone entered the shop, causing the wind chime to react.

“Welcome to the shop. How can I help you…”

Mr. Tseng didn’t finish because when he looked up, he recognized the couple who just entered.

“A dozen of roses for the little lady, please,” The guy said, smiling.

“I don’t think a dozen would do,” Mr. Tseng pointed out, smiling also. “Although this young lady is small in size, her stubbornness makes up for it. I think you ought to take about two or three dozens to make sure.”

“Fair enough,” The guy said, chuckling. “I’ll take four dozens just to be sure.”

Mr. Tseng laughed loudly and energetically. He reached his hand out to clap on the guy’s shoulder as the guy approached the counter.

“How did your trip go, my boy?” Mr. Tseng asked.

“Both good and bad,” The guy replied. “As you already know, the bad part is the weather.”

Mr. Tseng nodded. Before he could go on asking more questions, the front door opened again. The three turn to look. A girl about eighteen years old walked in. Her expression turned from passive to excited. She ran toward the counter.

“Jacky ge, you’re back!” The girl exclaimed, clutching onto Jacky’s arm.

“How are you, Charlene?” Jacky asked politely.

“I’m good,” Charlene responded cheerfully, turning to Joanne. “Jie, why didn’t you tell me he’s back today? I could’ve come with you to the airport.”

“I wasn’t sure,” Joanne said.

“That’s right,” Mr. Tseng verified. “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 turned to look at Joanne while Mr. Tseng was talking. Joanne avoided his eyes and looked around the shop, pretending to be interested in some flower pots dangling in the back corner. Charlene—either didn’t get what Mr. Tseng’s implying or lost interest—changed the subject on them. (Of course, she had already released Jacky’s arm a long time ago—like during Mr. Tseng’s little “act.”)

“Ba, what are we doing today after work?” Charlene jumped in.

“I have to go to the bank after I’m finished with calculating all these,” Mr. Tseng replied. “You and Qiao Qiao can look after the store while I go.”

“I’ll go with you, Uncle,” Jacky offered.

“Good idea,” Mr. Tseng agreed, nodding. “I want to know what’s going on with you lately too.”

“You’ll be okay here, right?” Jacky asked, turning to Joanne.

“I don’t think I would get lost,” Joanne teased.

“You know what I mean.”

Joanne nodded.

“All right, then,” Mr. Tseng said. “Give me about twenty more minutes. Feel free to explore.”

Jacky, Joanne, and Charlene walked away from the counter and toward the center of the shop where there was a circular table. They sat down and talked. Actually, more like Charlene firing away questions at Jacky while Joanne sat and listened. Joanne got up to put her handbag away after five minutes of Charlene’s questioning session. Jacky looked after her—only half listening to Charlene.

Joanne came back a few minutes later, carrying two drinks. She handed one to Jacky and sat down to drink her own.

“Where’s mine?” Charlene asked, eyeing Jacky and Joanne’s drinks suspiciously.

“You have hands and feet,” Joanne replied indirectly.

“Jie! You’re being unfair,” Charlene protested, wrinkling her face.

“I’m teaching you independence here,” Joanne said, shrugging.

“Ba! Jie’s bullying me,” Charlene hollered to Mr. Tseng.

“Go prepare your own drink, Tian Tian,” Mr. Tseng hollered back.

“Ba! You’re being unfair too!” Charlene protested, 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 got up to go get her own drink.

“Thanks, Ba!” Joanne yelled toward the front, standing up in the process to show her gratitude.

“Anytime, Qiao Qiao.”

Charlene—upon hearing the exchange between the two—felt even more disappointed at her father. She walked faster into the backroom to get away from this injustice place that she felt so strongly against at that time. She had no idea that Mr. Tseng wasn’t taking sides. He was merely trying to rescue Jacky and Joanne from Charlene’s curiosity.

Joanne sat back down next to Jacky and smiled at him. Jacky took a sip from his drink and flashed her a smile also. After the little “interruption”, they went back to talking about Jacky’s trip—more slowly—this time.

*****

After twenty minutes, like promised, Mr. Tseng was done. It seemed that he was as punctual as Jacky. He came out from behind the counter and joined Jacky and Joanne at the table. At Mr. Tseng’s presence, Jacky got up.

“I’m not in a hurry,” Mr. Tseng said, extending his hand out to stop Jacky. “Go ahead and finish your conversation.”

Jacky sat back down, but Joanne got up. She came back a bit later with a cup of tea for her father. Mr. Tseng gave her an approving look as she set the cup in front of him. The three talked some more before Charlene came back from the backroom. She glared at Joanne before approaching the table again.

“Tian Tian, take care of the shop for me when I’m gone, all right?” Mr. Tseng said.

“Ba!” Charlene whined.

Mr. Tseng looked at her.

“I have to go somewhere later though,” Charlene explained, wrinkling her face.

“It’s all right, Ba,” Joanne interfered. “I’ll be fine alone.”

“Okay, then,” Mr. Tseng said.

Mr. Tseng took another sip from his cup and got up. He signaled to Jacky. Jacky got up also and followed Mr. Tseng to the shop’s entrance. He turned around one last time to motion with his hands before disappearing behind the door. Joanne got up after that to clear the table before going back to the front of the shop. As she approached the counter, Charlene spoke up.

“I can’t believe it,” Charlene whined. “Dad’s so unfair.”

“What are you talking about?” Joanne asked, 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 whined again. “Forget it. You wouldn’t know.” She walked away toward the back after saying those words.

“Tian Tian!” Joanne yelled after her.

Charlene already left through the backroom door.

Joanne wrinkled her face a bit but resumed her smile as the next customer entered.

*****

Jacky dropped Mr. Tseng at the front entrance before circling around the parking lot to find a spot. It was quite crowded since everyone wanted to make it in time before the bank closed. When Jacky found a spot, he had to fight the crowd to make his way inside. Someone pushed him aside as he was trying to make his way to Mr. Tseng.

“Stop trying to cut, creep!” A man’s voice shouted angrily.

“Get in line before I beat you up!” Another man warned.

“I’m not cutting,” Jacky explained, turning around to face them. “I’m looking for someone. He went in already while I was parking.”

“Sure,” The first man said sarcastically. “I believe you, creep.”

“I’m honest here,” Jacky attempted again.

Before Jacky could continue, the two guys stepped closer to him. They were ready to strike at him. Jacky jumped back in time from the first attack. He used his arm as a shield to protect himself. Another strike came his way. He stepped back again, closing his eyes as he shielded himself again. Then he heard some yelling. He opened his eyes again to see a guy around his age standing in front of him, gripping one of the guys’ hands.

“Leave immediately,” The guy warned. “Don’t make me call the security guard over there.”

“Let go!” The first man yelled out.

The guy let go of that man’s hand slowly. The two men took their spots in line again where their other two companions stood. The guy who helped Jacky turned to leave also.

“Hey!” Jacky called out after him.

The guy turned to face Jacky.

“Thanks,” Jacky said, extending his hand toward the guy.

The guy didn’t take Jacky’s hand, but just nodded and disappeared into the crowd. Jacky looked after the guy’s disappearing back before turning to head in the opposite direction.

When Jacky arrived at where Mr. Tseng was, he was second in line at that point. Jacky stood next to him, but behind the red string that separated everyone else from the line itself.

“Everything all right?” Mr. Tseng asked 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 replied. “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 leaving,” Mr. Tseng suggested.

“I guess so,” Jacky agreed, nodding.

While he was waiting for Mr. Tseng, Jacky kept turning to look for the guy. He wondered who that guy was.

© Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Posted: Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

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