It was indeed a sign for a brand, new start because Derek Chen soon became a part of their group. Or more like a casual customer who would come and go from time to time many days to come after the celebration of Lunar New Year. In fact, they had somehow got together to do more sports activities during the weekends. They invited Stephen Chou and his girlfriend, which Stephen forced Derek to tag along with them, claiming they did not have enough people. Yet it was just an excuse to gather a crowd and see the show as they played. Stephen Chou was actually one of the Tseng’s long-time customers but ended up becoming friends. Derek, they learned from Stephen, just moved back there recently. He was quite good at tennis and was often forced to team up with Joyce since she seemed to be the odd one out at games. Though there was always Calvin or James, they were pushed to be teammates without other options. Though they do not mind. It was just fun in the game—and then some more.

That spring promised to be a good season because they soon learned of the news regarding the fire that occurred before last Christmas. It was delivered one day when the same officer who they met at the hospital came to the shop one afternoon. This time, most of the Tseng clan members were there with Joyce while Elizabeth had gone on another trip.

“We got them,” The officer announced as soon as he gathered them around the center table.

“Who?” Kenny jumped in.

“Zhi Rong,” Mr. Tseng scolded his son, a routine too familiar to the officer by now since it was not his first time visiting the shop.

“One of the employees confessed,” The police officer replied, ignoring Kenny’s smart words on purpose, knowing Kenny was harmless—for the most part.

“What took him so long?” Kenny asked.

“Her actually. She said she thought it was just a little sabotage but didn’t realize someone was in there. Or how the fire spread so fast and…”

“Agreeing to participate in it is already despicable, but trying to edge out of the responsibility?”

“Zhi Rong…” Mr. Tseng uttered once more in his warning tone.

“What will happen next is setting up a trap for them and confronting them about what happened,” The police officer continued like Kenny and Mr. Tseng hadn’t spoken up at all.

“How long will it take, officer?” Mr. Tseng asked, using his respectable tone now.

“Several days.”

The others exchanged a look, wondering if it was like one of those spy movies. Or maybe those detective dramas. Yet they had to trust in the officer to do his job.

*****

That weekend, they were in unusually high spirits because of the solved case. So they were meeting up with Stephen and Derek for tennis again. This time, Stephen’s girlfriend didn’t want to come because she was meeting up with some of her girlfriends for a relaxing shopping trip. If shopping trips were supposed to be relaxing.

“What will it be today?” Stephen asked—as they were standing at a court.

“How about switching teams this time?” James suggested.

“Good idea. It’s getting boring with seeing similar results.”

“Like you losing and us winning?” Joyce teased.

Stephen pointed his racket at Joyce. “No personal attacks.”

Joyce still had on her teasing smile. “When you’re losing.”

“You’re just like him.” Stephen meant Jacky.

“Thanks,” Jacky said, not offended with the accusation.

“That wasn’t a compliment.”

“I know.”

“If that’s the case, how about we team up to beat you then?” Then he turned to Joyce. “You in?”

“Sure.” Joyce concurred.

“Then I’ll take Derek,” James jumped in before anyone could claim the best player among their group.

“I’ll take Calvin then,” Joanne followed.

Calvin turned a few shades at that time but regained himself since he knew very well she meant it for the game and not…

“But that means I won’t have anyone to switch with,” Stephen protested.

“Kenny!” Joanne called out from the court.

Kenny had found some time to come this time around. Charlene, on the other hand, never cared to come since she was not that into sports like the rest of them. What was more, she was mad busy recently with preparing for exams. Though Kenny also had exams and should be preparing for them as well, he didn’t want to pile his mind with too much information. He liked to approach it slow and easy, one at a time.

“What’s up, sis?” Kenny asked, walking toward them. He was still dressed in casual clothes because he was just there to see the games, not participate.

“Go change and team up with Stephen,” Joanne ordered.

“Why me?”

“We’re short one.”

“What did you guys do the last few times?”

“Lacey was here those last few times.”

Lacey was Stephen’s girlfriend.

Kenny shrugged. “Why don’t you guys….”

“I don’t want to sit around and watch while they’re playing,” Stephen jumped in.

“Come on, Kenny,” Joanne urged.

Kenny scratched his head and then nodded in agreement.

“All right!” Stephen said excitedly, clapping Kenny on the shoulder. “Go change while we take care of the rules.”

Kenny did as told and came back fifteen minutes later.

“You guys are creamed,” James declared, pointing at Calvin and Joanne when they finally got into their places within the court.

Jacky and Joyce were carrying out their issued challenge by competing against Stephen and Kenny. They had nothing against Kenny, but he just happened to be Stephen’s teammate.

“No hard feelings, okay?” Jacky said to Kenny before they began.

“We’ll see,” Kenny returned, his voice taunting them.

*****

Several days later, James was seen at Drizzle Away talking to Kenny.

“You sure you heard right?” James asked Kenny, waving the CD in his hand.

“Of course,” Kenny returned, offended by James’ distrust.

“Okay then.”

Kenny took the CD from James and began to calculate it along with some other items already on the counter.

“When will Tainted Soul be available?” A girl’s voice asked from behind James.

James turned around to see her trying to get Kenny’s attention, so he stepped aside and waited.

“It’s already here, Miss,” Kenny replied. “I need to take that sign off. Third aisle to the left.”

“Thanks,” The girl said, giving Kenny an appreciative smile.

“Who’s she?” James asked Kenny when the girl was out of earshot already.

Kenny shrugged. “I only work here, not live here.”

“It’s a small town.”

Kenny shrugged again, placing James’ purchases in a bag. He handed it to James before opening the small door that separated him from the customers. “I need to take that sign out.”

“Okay then. I’ll see you around.”

Kenny waved.

When James made his way to his car, his cell phone vibrated so he stopped and stepped aside to take the call.

“What’s going on?” He asked the other person.

“Nice answer,” Someone returned.

“Are you going to talk or not?”

“Hostile, aren’t we?”

“Wilson…”

“All right, all right. I found someone who is available on that night, but he wants double the usual gig.”

“Tell him, no deal.”

“I thought you need it fast, like this weekend.”

“It doesn’t mean I would let him get away with it. I rather convince Mr. Chen that it’s better to play the music over some sound system than hire him and I’ll save even more.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”

“I’m not begging.”

“Wait…don’t hang up…how about I try to find someone else?”

“Thanks, Wilson.”

“No problem.”

James hung up after that and continued to his car again. He was so distracted that he didn’t look to the sides to see if anyone was coming. Before he knew it, he bumped into someone. He turned around to see the same girl he saw at the music store. Acting on reflexes, he dropped down and helped her pick up the contents spilled out from her bag after muttering words of apologies.

“Sorry about that,” James repeated after having retrieved his own bag as well.

“It’s okay,” The girl reassured him, smiling. “You looked distracted enough.”

James couldn’t help but smile. It was like she expected people to go out of their way to sabotage her. But was glad he was convincing enough in the “distracted” department. He gestured and told her to go first because he wouldn’t want to be “distracted” again—to which she let out another smile. Not a teasing one this time, but one he couldn’t quite comprehend. However, she still didn’t continue. She pulled him aside as someone was trying to get past them. They were by the wall now.

“I overheard you need someone for a gig?” She asked, getting straight to the point.

James nodded, not minding that she had heard. “Yes.”

The girl tucked her hair behind her ears before continuing. “I might be able to help if you trust me.”

James found it interesting. Blunt girl, he thought. “You performed at weddings before, right?”

If she offered, she must have known what it was about so there was no point explaining.

“Actually…”

Her sudden hesitation surprised James. But he waited for her to continue without interruptions.

“I’ve never tried it before but…”

“How about following me to my restaurant and I’ll listen to your performance real quick before we decide?”

Her hesitation disappeared then. Instead, it was replaced with a wry smile. “Can I get a ride then?”

James returned the smile with his usual friendly one. “Sure, come on.”

“I’m Elisa, by the way,” She said as they were making their way toward his car.

“James.”

So they ended up at James’ restaurant and soon he had to call Wilson back to cancel the search. Yes, this girl sure had style.

*****

That weekend, James invited Elisa to their usual tennis gathering. That caused quite a few reactions, especially the silent exchange of glances between Jacky, Joanne, and Joyce. Though Elisa seemed oblivious to their strange behaviors.

“Don’t even think about it,” James whispered to Jacky and Joanne when he walked by them as they were preparing for the games.

Jacky held his hands up in surrender, the innocent look on his face. “Wouldn’t think of it.” Then he exchanged a grin with Joanne and Joyce behind James’ back.

The games began then. They were actually back with their original partners, except for Stephen and Kenny since Lacey was out and about with her girlfriends again. They switched partners after a game and stopped to take a break by the end of the second game. It seemed that Elisa wasn’t just good at music, but also tennis. She and James made quite a team. In fact, it ended up with the others watching James and Elisa competing with Derek and Joyce by the last game before they called it a day.

© Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

Posted: Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

PREVIOUS CHAPTER | CONTENTS | NEXT CHAPTER