Chapter 25

“This is what I’m talking about,” Kenny narrates, looking at the trees surrounding them. “A little harmless picnic and then some more.”
Yes, the day of the picnic finally arrives and they manage to gather quite a crowd for the event. The location of gathering is actually a little further into the woods than some local park. They prefer a change in altitude this time around. Though a June day, but they manage to grab a day that isn’t too hot for their purpose.
“Might want to help us set up, Little Bro,” Joanne commands, taking out a quilt from her sack.
“Sure,” Kenny says, dropping his own sack on the grass. He turns to Calvin who is next to him then. “Hey, want to set up a place for ourselves?”
Calvin nods. “After I help my pop set up his though.”
Kenny shrugs and proceeds to helping with his family’s quilt as well. About twenty minutes or so later, they manage to finish with their setup tasks. What is left is waiting for the rest of the guests to arrive. Interestingly, Charlene is not with the group because she claimed she had to go check on her grades before joining them about several hours later.
The next group of guests to arrive is the Chu family, and then Derek and Joyce. Jacky, Joanne, Derek, Joyce, James, and Elisa end up setting up a quilt for themselves as a group after helping the Chu family set up.
“Is SCTN coming later?” Joanne asks, turning to Joyce.
Joyce shrugs. “Lacey might want to go do something else.”
“Oh.”
They settle down on the quilt as at that time.
“Why do you guys call Stephen SCTN?” Derek asks suddenly.
Joanne has to laugh at that though she has on her apologetic look then as Derek turned a few shades – out of embarrassment. “Sorry.”
“I know SC is Stephen Chou,” Derek attempts to fix his own ignorance image. “But what’s TN?”
“The nerd,” Joanne answers, finally regaining herself. “I wasn’t laughing at you but was just remembering the time we pinned that name on him.”
Derek finally laughs as well, nodding in agreement to their assigned nickname to Stephen. “He’s a nerd all right.”
“Definitely.”
“Frisbee time?” Kenny says, walking by them at that time.
Joanne gives Kenny a look like he’s crazy.
“What?” Kenny asks, still looking innocent. “Can’t have a picnic without some fun, right? And we don’t have to do it the traditional.”
Joanne crosses her hands together and has on one of her smart smiles. Her rare smart smile since it’s not really in her nature to tease others, except perhaps her siblings. And Kenny sure falls into the ‘siblings’ category. “What do you suggest then?”
Kenny doesn’t seem affected by his sister’s taunt though. He looks like he’s used to it. “Whoever drops it first when it’s being passed to them has to confess their darkest secret.”
“You’re on,” Jacky says before the rest could object or rethink the matter.
Joanne turns to Jacky and gives him a look but he just shrugs as he gets up from his spot.
“You’re that bored?” Joyce asks, getting up also.
“Hey, come on, help the poor kid who’s trying hard to entertain us,” Jacky returns, his smart smile on.
“Haha,” Kenny murmurs sarcastically as he continues towards an empty spacious area where it would guarantee some fairness in the coming game. “We’ll see about it after you drop the Frisbee.”
After another round of taunting looks between Jacky and Kenny, they start the game. Though the others look reluctant from the start but they end up participating anyway. Even James and Elisa join in. It is not about the activity but more like they need to kill time while they wait for the rest of the parties to arrive. And it indeed lessens the wait because Kristy soon shows up with some desserts for them. She also engages in conversation with Elizabeth, catching up also – since they haven’t seen each other since Elizabeth returned from her latest trip.
“I wonder what in the world Charlene’s up to,” Kenny says suddenly when he tosses the Frisbee towards Joanne.
“Why?” Joanne asks, tossing it towards Joyce. “It’s not like she’s not coming.”
“She’s been disappearing for strange reasons lately, you know.”
“Like studying?”
“Haha, sis.”
“Like you don’t disappear out of nowhere at times,” Jacky reminds Kenny of his bizarre on the brink of stalking behaviors in the past.
Kenny has on his annoyed look again. “Another haha.”
“What do you suggest then?” Joyce asks, attempting to rescue Kenny from the others’ grasps.
“Like she’s…uh…I don’t know. I just know something’s wrong.”
Jacky, Joanne, and Joyce exchange a look then. They seriously wonder what Kenny’s really up to since he’s usually not the type to stutter or hesitate. Joanne almost drops the Frisbee since she’s also thinking about Kenny’s words, wondering if she has missed what Kenny saw during these past days.
“You’re slipping, sis,” Kenny says again. “Prepare a secret already.”
Joanne scowls and tosses the Frisbee back towards Kenny though he just passed it toward her.
“Nice…”
Though they seem to be having some sort of disagreement, but they continue to participate in the brainless game. It is actually a good game for the day because they are given a chance to stretch their muscles. When Charlene finally arrives, she surprises everyone into speechlessness. The reason is because they could see a guy around her age walking with her.
“Well, what do you know?” Joyce says after they recover seconds later – and Joanne has dropped the Frisbee for real. “Our Kenny is right this time.”
“This time?” Kenny repeats, sounding almost offended by Joyce’s confidence in him.
“You have to admit you’re not that observant, you know,” Calvin jumps in.
Calvin has been quiet for the most part, concentrating on passing the Frisbee back and forth. Now that the game seems to halt, he finally dares to speak up again.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence then,” Kenny snarls, apparently still annoyed.
“Let’s see what Charlene has to say for herself then,” Joanne prompts, making her way towards her family quilt where Charlene is making her way towards it with their father looking at Charlene and the new guy.
“Hey, sis,” Kenny greets Charlene with his teasing smile on. “Look who you brought. A surprise indeed, eh?”
Charlene looks annoyed as always – since she’s always easily riled up by Kenny’s taunting. “Ge…”
“You know I’m kidding,” Kenny says. Then he turns to the new guy. “Hey, how’s it going? I’m Kenny, your future bro-in-law.”
“Kenny!” Joanne interferes, giving him a look.
Kenny shrugs, backing up – literally – to give the others space to greet the new guy.
“Hi, Uncle,” The new guy speaks up, not daring to stare at the others as Charlene shields him from the others. “I’m Miles.”
Mr. Zeng nods and shakes the guy’s hand before speaking up. “Nice to meet you.”
“Dad, this is my…uh…” Charlene stutters, getting nervous because of the others glaring at her.
“Yes?” Kenny prompts, his smart aleck smile still on.
“Ge!” Charlene yells, getting really annoyed by now – and could only attack her brother.
Mr. Zeng could see Miles getting nervous as well so he gives Kenny a look. “Zhi Rong.”
Kenny salutes and backs off another step, standing next to Joanne by now. Though Elizabeth and Kristy are equally curious about the new guy, but they just turn toward the quilt’s direction to witness from afar of the upcoming developments – unlike the others who are actually stationing themselves right next to Mr. Zeng’s quilt to wait for the answer.
“This is my boyfriend,” Charlene finally rattles out, her nerves on the edge.
Mr. Zeng smiles then, possibly having already guessed the correct title for this new guy.
“Welcome to the family!” Kenny shouts out before Mr. Zeng could react though.
“Zhi Rong…” Mr. Zeng warns again. Then he turns to Miles again. “Don’t mind Zhi Rong. Just go ahead and make yourself comfortable.”
Miles nods with much respect he could muster out towards Mr. Zeng before scurrying away with Charlene by his side.
“Interesting development,” Kenny remarks after they are out of sight – and possibly earshot.
“Zhi Rong…” Mr. Zeng calls out again, his warning tone still intact.
“Aww…come on now, Pop. I can’t make a comment?”
“You’re better off quiet,” Joanne tells her brother with her ‘know-it-all’ tone in place.
Kenny – as if remembering something – turns to his sister at that time. “And look who we have here! The first person to confess about her secret!”
It doesn’t take much. Joanne’s already chasing Kenny around the area. It doesn’t matter if they have a fair share of the supposedly respected elders present. And it doesn’t matter that her future in laws are witnessing the scene either.
“Talking about being mature!” Kenny manages to yell between his escape attempts from his sister.
The others could only laugh at the siblings’ interaction, except for possibly Miles who is still looking confused and fearful at what he just signed himself up for. Yet all of those feelings seem to extinguish itself because around twenty minutes later, Joanne has settled down and is helping the others prepare foods since it seems whoever else that wants to come decides to bail out on them already.
“Good to know that it’s over now,” Kenny says as he’s passing around utensils and napkins to the people present on their quilt.
Yes, Kenny and Calvin have moved their own private quilt and merged it along with Jacky and the others’ around ten minutes back, wanting to join in on the so-called excitement.
“What’s over?” Calvin asks, confused.
“Get with the program, will you?” Kenny returns. “Charlene’s silly crush over my future bro-in-law.”
Calvin still has on his confused look. He directs his eyes towards Kenny then, abandoning his current task altogether. “Huh?”
“You know Charlene has always held some kind of torch for Jacky since he joined the family, right?”
“Really?”
Kenny scoffs at Calvin’s overly surprised reaction. “Where in the world have you been, man?”
“Don’t mention it anymore,” Jacky interferes. “If you talk any louder, Miles will hear you and misunderstand.”
“You knew she liked you all along?” Calvin asks, turning to Jacky.
Jacky nods. “I just pretend I don’t know.”
“It’s the reason why she always clings on to him each time he comes back from trips,” Kenny explains.
“Oh…I don’t hang around with you guys all the time, you know,” Calvin defends himself.
“Now you know.”
“Okay, moving on,” Joanne interrupts their little conversation. “How about telling us when you’re going to graduate, Little Bro?”
“Good question,” Mr. Zeng seconds from the quilt next over. And he has already merged his quilt with Mr. Wang as well since they’re catching up on the latest again.
Joanne has spoken loud enough so the general population present could hear her. That has placed Kenny into the heat on purpose.
“Thanks a lot, sis,” Kenny snaps, annoyed that he’s the talk of the town now.
Joanne has on her teasing smile again. “Just answer the question, Little Bro.”
“Um…” Kenny stutters, scanning all the eyes that are on him.
“I think he’s planning to be a celebrity,” Jacky teases.
“What?” Calvin asks, obviously confused again.
“You know, they stay in school to delay enlistment.”
“Hahahha,” Kenny snaps, his confidence returning. “I’ll probably graduate after the fall quarter, okay?”
“All right then!” Joanne shouts out. “Did you hear that everyone? Now let’s see if he could carry it out.”
Kenny has on his murderous look then. Yet he turns it into an equally taunting one. “Let’s see when you’ll get married then, sis.”
Joanne wrinkles her face and sticks her tongue out at her brother. It’s one of those rare times as well that she has opted for the immature role.
“It depends on your future bro-in-law then,” Joyce jumps in, not wanting to rob herself of the opportunity to poke fun at Jacky.
“Cute,” Jacky mumbles, not meaning it at all.
Joyce has on her innocent smile then. “Thanks.”
“But if anyone wants to see some sort of a wedding soon, I wouldn’t mind obliging,” James speaks up then.
Elisa, shocked, turns to James. But it’s too late since he has gotten up from his spot and changes into a kneeling pose in front of her.
Jacky, Joanne, and Joyce exchange a look then. And if anyone’s looking, Jacky’s actually giving Joyce a bill at the moment. It’s like they have previously bet on the proposal.
“Ice cream money,” Joyce comments to herself – but still loud enough for Jacky and Joanne to hear – before she quiets down to give James the undivided attention he deserves.
Just like any other proposal, the typical question comes forth and they wait – holding their breaths without even realizing it – for Elisa’s answer.
“Yes,” Kenny mutters under his breath – though the others could hear him.
“Yes,” Elisa finally says – because she’s sure of it and not because of Kenny’s persistent urging.
“Congratulations!” Jacky, Joanne, Joyce, and Derek blurt out at the same time.
“Yes!” Kenny yells out – on his own, causing some stares from the others.
“Did you bet as well?” Joanne asks, her voice low on purpose – and staring at her brother accusingly.
“No, but that means I get more chances to eat.”
“The way you say it, it’s like we’re starving you at home.”
“Aww…come on, sis. Drinking happy wine is far from a typical meal.”
Joanne smiles at last. “Just kidding, Little Bro.”
And they turn in time to see James placing the ring on Elisa’s hand – and also witness a heartwarming embrace. After that, James helps Elisa up, and both make their way over to Mr. and Mrs. Chu’s quilt. As for Mr. and Mrs. Chu, they are more than happy to hear the good news.
“So when is it our turn?” Jacky asks Joanne – though he has on his teasing smile.
“I think they stole our limelight,” Joanne replies, playing along.
“How about a double wedding to make up for this stolen spotlight then?” Joyce offers, joining in with the joke.
“You’re on,” Jacky agrees, extending his hand towards Joyce to seal the deal.
“What?” Derek asks, confused – as Jacky and Joyce shake their hands to finalize the matter.
Joanne turns to Derek then. “Get used to it since I think she has already made the decision for you.”
Jacky and Joyce finally let go of one another’s hand and return their attention to their significant other. Though Derek still seems to be in confusion but he soon smiles, realizing if the deal is true then he’s seriously so lucky. It is also the same time that Joanne leans into Jacky and stares ahead at the scenery played out in front of them, specifically at James and Elisa talking to Mr. and Mrs. Chu. It seems like a new page of their life is about to unfold itself, and she doesn’t mind it at all. She would welcome it with whatever it is that will come – without regrets.
“What are you thinking about?” Jacky asks, spotting the expression on her face.
“Nothing,” Joanne replies, smiling still. “Just a bunch of nothingness.”
“You’re not making any sense, you know that?”
Joanne gives him a look then, her typical bossy look. “And you’re with me because?”
“Because you’ve marked me with your rock, remember?”
Joanne couldn’t help but straighten up again, hitting him on the shoulder. She knows he’s still teasing her about what happened during their first encounter. And like many times before, he reaches out his hand to catch hers, pulling her back to him again. Knowing too well they’re both joking, they let out a familiar laughter after that. As they settle down again, they could see the clear blue sky hovering above. Yet this time, it seems much clearer than it has ever had been since they’ve come to know of its existence. They could also see the afternoon’s shimmering light dancing back and forth among the trees along with the softness of the summer breeze.
© Wednesday, November 9th, 2011
Posted: Friday, February 17th, 2012