Just like how Jacky and the others already predicted, Elisa became a permanent character of their group. In fact, a key character because James soon asked her out like a month later. The phrase “march marches forward” held true that year—like any year that had come before—but it was anything but boring for them. Tennis gatherings soon turned into a fading blob because of work and other seasonal activities. The last of the renovation for the flower shop had already wrapped up so they were 100% back in business, and not to mention how the other shop had opted to compensate them for the losses. Moreover, that other shop also had 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 on the neighboring shops and the security concerns it brought forth.

One day in April, Joanne came in late and witnessed a scene that she had to backtrack at the door, not wanting to disturb the moment. What she saw was not some incident that should be feared. 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 was different this time. They were more than regular friends—or tennis partners. They were…close. Too close for comfort. Too close for any type of personal space. Then a smile lit up on her face upon the recognition. She resumed 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 teased both.

It was then that Joyce and Derek stopped talking and turned to look at Joanne. But just briefly since Derek decided 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, gave Joanne an annoyed look yet turned it into a smile as well. She made her way toward the counter as Joanne placed her handbag behind the counter.

“So…” Joanne prompted, checking on inventory around the counter as she waited for Joyce to begin.

“So what?” Joyce returned, not missing a beat of the banter.

“Nice…” She stopped fidgeting with the items around her and gave her full attention to Joyce again, flashing on a smile. “I knew something would happen.”

Joyce shrugged. “So what? You want some kind of prize for your accurate deduction?”

Joanne smiled, playing along. “I might.”

After that, both girls resumed their tasks for the day. Joanne knew she didn’t want to disrupt the current stability of Joyce’s relationship, so she didn’t meddle into their business much more than the initial teasing. Though Jacky was more aggressive in his teasing when he came in to meet them for lunch and upon learning of the news about the two getting together and becoming a couple. But Joyce wasn’t affected by it, fending Jacky’s attack quite gracefully herself. Soon after, Jacky knocked off the teasing and suggested to the others about some picnic. The others agreed, wanting to invite the rest of their family members also. However, the planning would have to continue later since they were pulled back to work again when lunch ended.

*****

That night, they gathered at the Tseng resident for dinner like always. The difference with this dinner gathering involved Derek, James, and Elisa. Derek, of course, had to come with Joyce since it was her habit of dining with them after so many months working at the shop. Apparently, Joyce had found the life of running a flower shop more comforting than the aggressive environment she had been in all these years working as a business agent for such a large company. She had decided to turn this temporary job into permanent and the Tseng clan had accepted. They even welcomed 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 allowed Joyce more time to see for herself the many things she had missed over the years with all the traveling and the fast pace schedule the previous job carried. As for James and Elisa, it was just one of those times when James came over for dinner—like from time to time. It was indeed a full house for them that night. But the Tseng clan did not mind. They were always ready for any unexpected occurrences. In fact, because it was Mr. Tseng’s first time meeting both Elisa and Derek, he especially cooked some additional dishes for the gathering. And because Elisa and Derek were the guests this time around, they weren’t allowed to help in any other way. That meant that Joyce and James had to stick by their dates in the living room, chatting away while the others were helping in the kitchen.

“So, how is it going with you two?” Jacky asked, settling down at the left edge of the sofa—having been shooed out of the kitchen already. He was actually looking at James and Elisa at the moment—though he might as well be asking Derek and Joyce.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” James asked, his mind on guard.

Jacky had on his innocent smile. “Nothing…can’t I socialize with my future…”

“Cork it,” James shushed Jacky, knowing too well his little brother was up to no good again.

Jacky shrugged and put his hands up in surrender. “Okay…whatever…” Then he turned to Derek and Joyce. “So, what about you two?”

“Haven’t you teased us enough since lunch?” Joyce returned, not convinced that Jacky was 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 suggested, walking toward them at that time.

“And who are you to talk, Missy?” Jacky asked, his teasing smile making an appearance once again.

Joanne ignored his smart-aleck attitude and settled down at a chair nearby. She turned to James and Elisa before asking, “Did he tell you about the picnic we planned yet?”

James shook his head while Elisa remained 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 took it into his hands to explain the details of the events to James and Elisa. He spoke loud enough so that the parties in the kitchen could hear them as well, making it convenient for all parties to consider it.

“Wait until Qing jie comes back,” Kenny said, walking into the living after Jacky was done.

“We’re just planning now,” Joanne reminded Kenny.

Kenny was actually chewing on an apple at that time. Jacky eyed him suspiciously, but he just shrugged, not caring if he was spoiling his appetite. Before anyone could add in more inputs regarding the picnic though, James’ cell phone rang. He picked it up and talked into it while the others waited. Joanne had grabbed a magazine at the corner of the coffee table and was leafing through it casually. Even though everyone was pretending to be doing something and was not really eavesdropping on the conversation, they could detect some trouble with James’ words. Jacky, Joyce, and Derek could see clearer that James and Elisa’s expressions were lined up with worried.

“What’s going on?” Joanne asked as soon as James got off the phone. She didn’t miss a beat of the phone conversation either. She placed the prop magazine back onto the coffee table and turned her attention to James and Elisa. “Anything the rest of us could help?”

The others nodded in unison after hearing Joanne’s offer. Elisa looked at James to see him nod before actually turning to the others.

“Actually…” Elisa said, 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 had never hesitated about anything. Her spunky personality had amazed many of them. It was a mixture of grace and cleverness. Perhaps, it was just too strange for her to ask for help, considering how strong of a personality she possessed?

“Go on,” Joanne urged, speaking up for everyone’s anxiousness.

“Um…” Elisa began 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 asked, pausing from his chewing marathon for a second—or two.

“Kenny!” Joanne yelled, giving her brother a sharp glare.

“It’s true actually,” Elisa admitted, still playing with her hair. “I guess it’s just my luck, being new around town and all.”

“That’s outrageous,” Jacky commented. “Where are you renting at now? Maybe we could pressure the owner into letting you stay.”

“You mean negotiate,” Joanne corrected him.

Jacky shrugged. “Whatever works.”

“I don’t think she’ll listen though,” Elisa said. “She’s selling the building to some people for their business expansion or something like that.”

“Hmmm…” Joanne mumbled, tapping on her chin and thinking to herself.

“What are you up to, sis?” Kenny asked, recognizing his sister’s scheming nature rising.

“Don’t tell me you’re really going to that owner and…” Jacky jumped in, gesturing his hand.

“No,” Joanne replied, 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 exclaimed, looking proud of his sister.

“But…” Elisa objected, 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 said, not wanting Elisa to back down.

“Or would you prefer to stay at our house instead?” Jacky inputted, a teasing smile making its appearance again.

“Hey,” James said, his warning tone apparent.

Joanne didn’t wait for James to carry out some punishment toward Jacky but turned to him and shoved her left elbow into his right side. He had switched to sitting on the edge of the armrest of Joanne’s chair hence receiving the blow.

“Ow…” Jacky howled, possibly yelling louder than usual for dramatic emphasis.

“Knock it off then,” Joanne warned, turning to Elisa again after giving Jacky a sharp glare. “So, what do you say?”

“If you guys don’t mind,” Elisa said.

Joanne smiled. “Of course, we don’t.”

“Now that’s all set, let’s continue with our picnic planning,” Kenny prompted.

“You and food,” Joanne chided her brother.

“Hey, that’s what a picnic is for, sis,” Kenny returned.

“Dinnertime,” Mr. Tseng called out from the kitchen.

Everyone in the living room got up and made their way toward the kitchen then. They continued to discuss more about the upcoming picnic, assigning tasks, and making other preparations. The guest list became quite extensive because of how many people they ended up wanting to invite. However, that didn’t guarantee the number of parties coming because of other possible commitments.

*****

Sometime in May, Elizabeth came back with gifts for everyone, her spirits high. They guess she was quite satisfied with her latest novel since she hadn’t been that excited about her work in a while. Though she claimed every single novel was her baby, they could tell which one received more favoritism. Of course, Joanne had 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 was still staying with them because Mr. Tseng had 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 came home, Mr. Tseng instructed 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 bailed out on Kenny, claiming something about being bombarded with exams so she had to study. That also meant that Joanne ended up helping Kenny clean up. Elisa also chipped in after realizing what Mr. Tseng was up to.

“You don’t mind staying up here, do you?” Joanne asked after they were finished cleaning the attic.

“Of course not,” Elisa replied, smiling.

After that, Elisa seemed to have her own personal space without hesitation like how she had been careful with staying inside Elizabeth’s room. Having Elisa around meant that they saw more of James, which they all didn’t mind.

“I was just gone for a while and here we are with a new family member,” Elizabeth joked when she settled down on the sofa—the day she came back.

Joanne nodded. “That’s right. It’s cool though since we have one more family member when you’re missing.”

Elizabeth nodded, turning to Elisa. “So, I heard from Qiao that you’re a musician.”

Elisa had on her shy smile. It was like she was 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 chimed in, offering Elisa a worshiping smile. Yes, Kenny had been getting along with Elisa more than fine, considering his past obsessions with some of the musicians or celebs who were along the line of “being serious about music”—as he put it.

Elisa had on her gratitude smile toward Kenny, having no idea that he was proving to his sisters that he was actually on the right path when he was supporting underground bands and more along the lines of under-rated artists.

“Oh yeah,” Joanne spoke 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 said, nodding. “But why does it take so long?”

“We decided to celebrate Kenny’s graduation as well.”

“I still have another quarter,” Kenny jumped in, feeling the heat of the deadline all of a sudden.

“We’re not rushing you, can’t we celebrate?”

Kenny shrugged. “Whatever.”

Yes, they hadn’t held the supposedly planned picnic yet. They had been planning for the most part and decided to hold it off in the end. As of this month, Jacky and James’ parents decided to go on one of their usual traveling trips again—since life seemed to be back on track at home. They promised to be back in time for the picnic gathering, which was sometime in June. They actually left a week before Elizabeth’s return.

© Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Posted: Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

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