Chapter 23

It is indeed a sign for a brand new start because Derek Chen soon becomes 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 have somehow get together to do more sports activities during the weekends. They invite Stephen Chou and his girlfriend, which Stephen forces Derek to tag along with them, claiming they do not have enough people. Yet it is just an excuse to gather a crowd and see the show as they play. Stephen Chou is actually one of the Zeng’s long time customers but ends up becoming friends. Derek, they learned from Stephen, just moved back there recently. He’s quite good at tennis and is often forced to team up with Joyce since she seems to be the odd one out at games. Though there’s always Calvin or James but they are pushed to be teammates without other options. But they do not mind. It is just fun in the game – and then some more.
That spring promises to be a good season because they soon learn of the news regarding the fire that occurred before last Christmas. It is delivered one day when the same officer who they met at the hospital comes to the shop one afternoon. This time, most of the Zeng clan members are there with Joyce while Elizabeth has gone on another trip.
“We got them,” The officer announces as soon as he gathers them around the center table.
“Who?” Kenny jumps in.
“Zhi Rong,” Mr. Zeng scolds his son, a routine too familiar to the officer by now since it is not his first time visiting the shop.
“One of the employees confessed,” The police officer replies, ignoring Kenny’s smart words on purpose, knowing Kenny’s harmless – for the most part.
“What took him so long?” Kenny asks.
“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. Zeng utters 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 continues like Kenny and Mr. Zeng haven’t spoken up at all.
“How long will it take, officer?” Mr. Zeng asks, using his respectable tone now.
“Several days.”
The others exchange a look, wondering if it is like one of those spy movies. Or maybe those detective dramas. Yet they have to trust in the officer to do his job.

*****

That weekend, they are in unusually high spirits because of the solved case. So they are meeting up with Stephen and Derek for tennis again. This time, Stephen’s girlfriend doesn’t want to come because she’s meeting up with some of her girlfriends for a relaxing shopping trip. If shopping trips are supposed to be relaxing.
“What will it be today?” Stephen asks – as they’re standing at a court.
“How about switching teams this time?” James suggests.
“Good idea. It’s getting boring with seeing similar results.”
“Like you losing and us winning?” Joyce teases.
Stephen points his racket at Joyce. “No personal attacks.”
Joyce still has on her teasing smile. “When you’re losing.”
“You’re just like him.” Stephen meant Jacky.
“Thanks,” Jacky says, 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 turns to Joyce. “You in?”
“Sure.” Joyce concurs.
“Then I’ll take Derek,” James jumps in before anyone could claim the best player among their group.
“I’ll take Calvin then,” Joanne follows.
Calvin turns a few shades at that time but regains himself since he knows very well she means it for the game and not…
“But that means I won’t have anyone to switch with,” Stephen protests.
“Kenny!” Joanne calls out from the court.
Kenny has found some time to come this time around. Charlene, on the other hand, never cares to come since she’s not that into sports like the rest of them. What’s more, she’s mad busy recently with preparing for exams. Though Kenny also has exams and should be preparing but he doesn’t want to pile his mind with too much information. He likes to approach it slow and easy, one at a time.
“What’s up, sis?” Kenny asks, walking towards them. He’s still dressed in casual clothes because he’s just here to see the games, not participate.
“Go change and team up with Stephen,” Joanne orders.
“Why me?”
“We’re short one.”
“What did you guys do the last few times?”
“Lacey was here those last few times.”
Lacey is Stephen’s girlfriend.
Kenny shrugs. “Why don’t you guys….”
“I don’t want to sit around and watch while they’re playing,” Stephen jumps in.
“Come on, Kenny,” Joanne urges.
Kenny scratches his head and then nods in agreement.
“All right!” Stephen says excitedly, clapping Kenny on the shoulder. “Go change while we take care of the rules.”
Kenny does as told and comes back fifteen minutes later.
“You guys are creamed,” James declares, pointing at Calvin and Joanne when they finally get into their places within the court.
Jacky and Joyce are carrying out their issued challenge by competing against Stephen and Kenny. They have nothing against Kenny but he just happens to be Stephen’s teammate.
“No hard feelings, okay?” Jacky says to Kenny before they begin.
“We’ll see,” Kenny returns, his voice taunting them.

*****

Several days later, James is seen at Drizzle Away talking to Kenny.
“You sure you heard right?” James asks Kenny, waving the CD in his hand.
“Of course,” Kenny returns, offended by James’ distrust.
“Okay then.”
Kenny takes the CD from James and begins to calculate it along with some other items already on the counter.
“When will Tainted Soul be available?” A girl’s voice asks from behind James.
James turns around to see her trying to get Kenny’s attention so he steps aside and waits.
“It’s already here, Miss,” Kenny replies. “I need to take that sign off. Third aisle to the left.”
“Thanks,” The girl says, giving Kenny an appreciative smile.
“Who’s she?” James asks Kenny when the girl’s out of earshot already.
Kenny shrugs. “I only work here, not live here.”
“It’s a small town.”
Kenny shrugs again, placing James’ purchases in a bag. He hands it to James before opening the small door that separates him from the customers. “I need to take that sign out.”
“Okay then. I’ll see you around.”
Kenny waves.
When James makes his way to his car, his cell phone vibrates so he stops and steps aside to take the call.
“What’s going on?” He asks the other person.
“Nice answer,” Someone returns.
“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’ll try someone else?”
“Thanks, Wilson.”
“No problem.”
James hangs up after that and continues to his car again. He’s so distracted that he hasn’t looked to the sides to see if anyone was coming. Before he knows it, he bumps into someone. He turns around to see the same girl he saw at the music store. Acting on reflexes, he drops down and helps her pick up the contents spilled out from her bag after muttering words of apologies.
“Sorry about that,” James repeats after having retrieved his own bag as well.
“It’s okay,” The girl reassures him, smiling. “You looked distracted enough.”
James couldn’t help but smile. It’s like she expects people to go out of their way to sabotage her. But is glad he’s convincing enough in the ‘distracted’ department. He gestures and tells her to go first because he wouldn’t want to be ‘distracted’ again – to which she lets out another smile. Not a teasing one this time, but one he couldn’t quite comprehend. However, she still doesn’t continue. She pulls him aside as someone’s trying to get past them. They’re by the wall now.
“I overheard you need someone for a gig?” She asks, getting straight to the point.
James nods, not minding that she had heard. “Yes.”
The girl tucks her hair behind her ears before continuing. “I might be able to help if you trust me.”
James finds 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 surprises James. But he waits 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 disappears then. Instead it is replaced with a wry smile. “Can I get a ride then?”
James returns the smile with his usual friendly one. “Sure, come on.”
“I’m Elisa, by the way,” She says as they’re making their way towards his car.
“James.”
So they end up at James’ restaurant and soon he has to call Wilson back to cancel on the search. Yes, this girl sure has style.

*****

That weekend, James invites Elisa to their usual tennis gathering. That causes quite a few reactions, especially the silent exchange of glances between Jacky, Joanne, and Joyce. Though Elisa seems oblivious to their strange behaviors.
“Don’t even think about it,” James whispers to Jacky and Joanne as he walks by them as they’re preparing for the games.
Jacky holds his hands up in surrender, the innocent look on his face. “Wouldn’t think of it.” Then he exchanges a grin with Joanne and Joyce behind James’ back.
The games begin then. They’re actually back with their original partners, except for Stephen and Kenny since Lacey is out and about with her girlfriends again. They switch partners after a game, and stops to take a break by the end of the second game. It seems that Elisa isn’t just good at music, but also tennis. She and James make quite a good team. In fact, it ends up with the others watching James and Elisa competing with Derek and Joyce by the last game before they call it a day.
© Saturday, April 23rd, 2011
Posted: Wednesday, August 10th, 2011