Chapter 24

Just like how Jacky and the others already predicted, Elisa becomes a permanent character of their group. In fact, a key character because James soon asks her out like a month later. The phrase ‘march marches forward’ holds true that year – like any year that had came before – but it is anything but boring for them. Tennis gatherings soon turn into a fading blob because of work and other seasonal activities. The last of the renovation for the flower shop has already wrapped up so they’re 100% back in business, and not to mention how the other shop has opted to compensate them for the losses. Moreover, that other shop also has to face other additional charges because of the seriousness of their so-called pranks had caused. The accident did not just cause some major impact for their flower shop but also for the neighboring shops and the security concerns it brought forth.
One day in April, Joanne comes in late and witnesses a scene that she has to backtrack at the door, not wanting to disturb the moment. What she saw was not some incident that should be feared of. It was just Joyce talking to Derek at the table in the middle. Like Joanne hadn’t witnessed their conversation in the past before or their interactions at those tennis games. Yet it is different this time. They are more than regular friends – or tennis partners. They are…close. Too close for comfort. Too close for any types of personal space. Then a smile lights up on her face upon the recognition. She resumes her step inside, pushing the door in and allowing the jingling sound to announce her arrival.
“Hey, look who got together without telling the rest of us,” Joanne teases both.
It is then that Joyce and Derek stop talking and turn to look at Joanne. But just briefly since Derek decides to exit stage left – also known as browsing the shop to take care of the plants rather than face Joanne’s teasing smile. Joyce, on the other hand, gives Joanne an annoyed look yet turns it into a smile as well. She makes her way towards the counter as Joanne places her handbag behind the counter.
“So…” Joanne prompts, checking on inventory around the counter as she waits for Joyce to begin.
“So what?” Joyce returns, not missing a beat of the banter.
“Nice…” She stops fidgeting with the items around her and gives her full attention to Joyce again, flashing on a smile. “I knew something would happen.”
Joyce shrugs. “So what? You want some kind of prize for your accurate deduction?”
Joanne smiles, playing along. “I might.”
After that, both girls resume their tasks for the day. Joanne knows she doesn’t want to disrupt the current stability of Joyce’s relationship, so she doesn’t meddle into their business much more than the initial teasing. Though Jacky is more aggressive in his teasing when he comes in to meet them for lunch and upon learning of the news about the two getting together and becoming a couple. But Joyce isn’t affected by it, fending Jacky’s attack quite gracefully herself. Soon after, Jacky knocks off the teasing and suggests to the others about some picnic. The others agree, wanting to invite the rest of their family members also. However, the planning will have to continue later since they are pulled back to work again when lunch ends.

*****

That night, they gather at the Zeng resident for dinner like always. The difference with this dinner gathering involves Derek, James, and Elisa. Derek, of course, has to come with Joyce since it’s her habit of dining with them after so many months working at the shop. Apparently, Joyce has found the life of running a flower shop more comforting than the aggressive environment she has been in all these years working as a business agent for such a large company. She has decided to turn this temporary job into permanent and the Zeng clan has accepted. They even welcome her with open hands since she and Joanne would have even more time to come up with brilliant plans for the shop. Moreover, leading such a slow and simple life allows Joyce more time to see for herself the many things she has missed over the years with all the traveling and the fast pace schedule the previous job carried. As for James and Elisa, it is just one of those times when James comes over for dinner – like from time to time. It is indeed a full house for them that night. But the Zeng clan does not mind. They’re always ready for any unexpected occurrences. In fact, because it is Mr. Zeng’s first time meeting both Elisa and Derek, he especially cooks some additional dishes for the gathering. And because Elisa and Derek are the guests this time around, they aren’t allowed to help in any other way. That means that Joyce and James have to stick by their dates in the living room, chatting away while the others are helping in the kitchen.
“So, how is it going with you two?” Jacky asks, settling down at the left edge of the sofa – having been shooed out of the kitchen already. He’s actually looking at James and Elisa at the moment – though he might as well be asking Derek and Joyce as well.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” James asks, his mind on-guard.
Jacky has on his innocent smile. “Nothing…can’t I socialize with my future…”
“Cork it,” James shushes Jacky, knowing too well his little brother is up to no good again.
Jacky shrugs and puts his hands up in surrender. “Okay…whatever…” Then he turns to Derek and Joyce. “So, what about you two?”
“Haven’t you teased us enough since lunch?” Joyce returns, not convinced that Jacky’s just being friendly.
“This is great, I just got kicked out of the kitchen and now I can’t even socialize either.”
“Maybe you should reflect on your actions and behaviors,” Joanne suggest, walking toward them at that time.
“And who are you to talk, missy?” Jacky asks, his teasing smile making an appearance once again.
Joanne ignores his smart aleck attitude and settles down at a chair nearby. She turns to James and Elisa before asking, “Did he tell you about the picnic we planned yet?”
James shakes his head while Elisa remains silent to hear about the so-called plan.
“Well, the picnic’s going to be some sort of celebration. Or maybe just an excuse to get everyone together.”
Jacky finally takes it into his hands to explain the details of the events to James and Elisa. He speaks loud enough so that the parties in the kitchen could hear them as well, making it convenient for all parties to consider about it.
“Wait until Qing jie comes back,” Kenny says, walking into the living after Jacky’s done.
“We’re just planning now,” Joanne reminds Kenny.
Kenny is actually chewing on an apple at that time. Jacky eyes him suspiciously but he just shrugs, not caring if he’s spoiling his appetite. Before anyone could add in more inputs regarding the picnic though, James’ cell phone rings. He picks it up and talks into it while the others wait. Joanne has grabbed a magazine at the corner of the coffee table and is leafing through it casually. Even though everyone’s pretending to be doing something and is not really eavesdropping on the conversation, but they could detect some trouble with James’ words. Jacky, Joyce, and Derek could see clearer that James and Elisa’s expressions are lined up with worried.
“What’s going on?” Joanne asks as soon as James’ off the phone. She didn’t miss a beat of the phone conversation either. She places the prop magazine back onto the coffee table and turns her attention to James and Elisa. “Anything the rest of us could help?”
The others nod in unison after hearing Joanne’s offer. Elisa looks at James to see him nod before actually turning to the others.
“Actually…” Elisa says, tucking some hair behind her ear. It’s an indication of nervousness but quite strange on her because since the moment they met her, she has never hesitated about anything. Her spunky personality has amazed many of them. It’s a mixture of grace and cleverness. Perhaps it’s just too strange for her to ask for help, considering how strong of a personality she possesses?
“Go on,” Joanne urges, speaking up for everyone’s anxiousness.
“Um…” Elisa begins again. “It’s the apartment I rented recently. The owner wants me to move out in the next several days…so…I’m just trying to find a new place right now. And James has been helping me.”
“You got kicked out of your apartment?” Kenny asks, pausing from his chewing marathon for a second – or two.
“Kenny!” Joanne yells, giving her brother a sharp glare.
“It’s true actually,” Elisa admits, still playing with her hair. “I guess it’s just my luck, being new around town and all.”
“That’s outrageous,” Jacky comments. “Where are you renting at now? Maybe we could pressure the owner into letting you stay.”
“You mean negotiate,” Joanne corrects him.
Jacky shrugs. “Whatever works.”
“I don’t think she’ll listen though,” Elisa says. “She’s selling the building to some people for their business expansion or something like that.”
“Hmmm…” Joanne mumbles, tapping on her chin and thinking to herself.
“What are you up to, sis?” Kenny asks, recognizing his sister’s scheming nature rising.
“Don’t tell me you’re really going to that owner and…” Jacky jumps in, gesturing his hand.
“No,” Joanne replies, cutting him off. “I’m not playing that game. I was thinking…since Qing jie’s not here now, maybe Elisa could move into her room for the time being.”
“Good idea!” Kenny exclaims, looking proud of his sister.
“But…” Elisa objects, feeling unease. “I mean…I’m grateful for your offer but I only met everyone recently. And tonight is my first time coming to your house.”
“Hey, we’re friends, okay?” Joanne says, not wanting Elisa to back down.
“Or would you prefer to stay at our house instead?” Jacky inputs, a teasing smile making its appearance again.
“Hey,” James says, his warning tone apparent.
Joanne doesn’t wait for James to carry out some punishment towards Jacky but turns to him and shoves her left elbow into his right sides. He has switched to sitting on the edge of the armrest of Joanne’s chair hence receiving the blow.
“Ow…” Jacky howls, possibly yelling louder than usual for dramatic emphasis.
“Knock it off then,” Joanne warns, turning to Elisa again after giving Jacky a sharp glare. “So, what do you say?”
“If you guys don’t mind,” Elisa says.
Joanne smiles. “Of course we don’t.”
“Now that’s all set, let’s continue with our picnic planning,” Kenny prompts.
“You and food,” Joanne chides her brother.
“Hey, that’s what a picnic is for, sis,” Kenny returns.
“Dinner time,” Mr. Zeng calls out from the kitchen.
Everyone in the living room gets up and makes their way towards the kitchen then. They continue to discuss more about the upcoming picnic, assigning tasks and making other preparations. The guest list becomes quite extensive because of how many people they end up wanting to invite. However, that doesn’t guarantee the number of parties coming because of other possible commitments.

****

Sometime in May, Elizabeth comes back with gifts for everyone, her spirits high. They guess she’s quite satisfied with her latest novel since she hasn’t been that excited about her work in awhile. Though she claims every single novel is her baby, but they could tell which one receives more favoritism. Of course Joanne has e-mailed Elizabeth awhile back to inform her about Elisa’s move in, and that Elisa would be staying with them for a while. Elisa is still staying with them because Mr. Zeng has insisted, not wanting her to rush with the apartment hunting task and understanding too well that nothing good would come out of it with rushing it all. A few days before Elizabeth comes home, Mr. Zeng instructs Kenny and Charlene to clean out the attic so they could make another room – in which Elisa could stay at for the time being, giving Elizabeth’s personal space back. Yet Charlene bails out on Kenny, claiming something about being bombarded with exams so she has to study. That also means that Joanne ends up helping Kenny clean up. Elisa also chips in after realizing what Mr. Zeng’s up to.
“You don’t mind staying up here, do you?” Joanne asks after they’re finished with cleaning the attic.
“Of course not,” Elisa replies, smiling.
After that, Elisa seems to have her own personal space without hesitation like how she has been careful with staying inside Elizabeth’s room. Having Elisa around means that they see more of James, which they all don’t mind.
“I was just gone for a while and here we are with a new family member,” Elizabeth jokes when she settles down on the sofa – the day she comes back.
Joanne nods. “That’s right. It’s cool though since we have one more family member when you’re missing.”
Elizabeth nods, turning to Elisa. “So, I heard from Qiao that you’re a musician.”
Elisa has on her shy smile. It’s like she’s not too comfortable showing off her talents. “Yeah, but I’m not popular, as you can see.”
“That means you’re serious about music though and not the packaging,” Kenny chimes in, offering Elisa a worshiping smile. Yes, Kenny has been getting along with Elisa more than fine, considering his past obsessions with some of the musicians or celebs who are along the line of ‘being serious about music’ – as he puts it.
Elisa has on her gratitude smile towards Kenny, having no idea that he’s proving to his sisters that he’s actually on the right path when he’s supporting underground bands and more along the lines of under-rated artists.
“Oh yeah,” Joanne speaks up again. “We’re planning a picnic that would probably take place next month, you’re in?”
“I remember you mentioning it in one of your e-mails,” Elizabeth says, nodding. “But why does it take so long?”
“We decided to celebrate Kenny’s graduation as well.”
“I still have another quarter,” Kenny jumps in, feeling the heat of the deadline all of a sudden.
“We’re not rushing you, can’t we celebrate?”
Kenny shrugs. “Whatever.”
Yes, they haven’t held the supposedly planned picnic yet. They have been planning for the most part and decide to hold it off in the end. As of this month, Jacky and James’ parents decide to go on one of their usual traveling trips again – since life seems to be back on track at home. They promise to be back in time for the picnic gathering, which is sometime in June. They actually had left a week before Elizabeth’s return.
© Wednesday, August 10th, 2011
Posted: Wednesday, November 16th, 2011