Chapter 3

When Jacky and Mr. Zeng come back to the shop, it’s getting dark. Joanne should close the shop already, but the lights are still on and the sign “Open” is still greeting them as Jacky opens the door for Mr. Zeng. Jacky flips the sign to “Closed” as he closes the door and makes sure it’s locked.
“Qiao Qiao, where are you?” Mr. Zeng calls out.
Joanne isn’t behind the counter. Jacky circles around the other side to see if Joanne’s tending to a last minute customer. He meets Mr. Zeng at the table in the middle of the store where they sat during the afternoon tea, but there’s still no sign of Joanne. Both Mr. Zeng and Jacky look beyond worried by now. Jacky tries to keep calm for Mr. Zeng’s sake. He approaches the backroom. He hears voices coming from there. He stops to listen carefully and realizes that Joanne’s talking to someone. Possibly she’s on the phone with someone and couldn’t stop to talk to them. Jacky turns back to Mr. Zeng to signal that he found Joanne. Mr. Zeng sighs out in relief and makes his way around the store again to close up.
Jacky turns back to the backroom. He steps into the room to see Joanne and a guy standing by the coffee maker in the corner, talking and laughing. Jacky had never seen Joanne this excited when she talks to someone before – except to him. Who is this guy? His back is turned to Jacky, but the guy does look familiar. However, Jacky couldn’t remember where he’d seen the guy. How come no one told him about this guy before? Is Joanne seeing someone else without his acknowledgement? Jacky decides not to be paranoid. He takes in a deep breath before approaching the two.
Joanne smiles brightly upon seeing Jacky. Her eyes sparkle. Jacky feels a bit reassured since he’s the only receiving that response.
“We’ve almost call the cops because we couldn’t find you,” Jacky says in a half-teasing and half-serious tone. “Lucky I looked in here first and signaled to Uncle.”
“Very funny, Young Master Chu,” Joanne returns, meeting him halfway.
Joanne takes a hold of his left arm and hauls him back to the corner where the other guy’s standing. The guy had turned to observe Jacky when Jacky spoke up, but Jacky was too busy studying Joanne’s expressions to notice. He finally turns to look at the guy as Joanne’s about to introduce them. Jacky’s expression turns from curiosity to surprised as he recognizes the guy.
“This is my boyfriend, Jacky,” Joanne says to the guy. “And Jacky…” She has to poke Jacky in the back to wake him up from his little dazed trance. “…this is one of my long time friends from high school, Gino.”
Jacky extends his hand before he realizes that this guy doesn’t like handshakes. “Nice seeing you again.”
Gino shakes Jacky’s hand this time. “Yeah. Didn’t expect to see you here.”
“You two know each other?” Joanne asks, looking from one guy to the other.
“Yeah,” Jacky answers, nodding. “We’ve met at the bank. Actually, he sort of saved my life.”
“Don’t put it like some action movie,” Gino says, letting out a nervous laugh. “I just happened to be there at the right time.”
Jacky and Gino take turns telling Joanne what happened earlier. When they’re finished, Mr. Zeng steps in.
“Ba!” Joanne exclaims. “Guess what happened?”
Jacky then fills Mr. Zeng in that Gino is actually the guy that saved him earlier. After they’re done with the whole catch up stories, Mr. Zeng invites Gino back to the house for dinner.
“Great idea!” Joanne says excitedly. “We can catch up some more on what you’ve been up to.”
Joanne’s so excited that she forgot she had grab hold of Gino’s arm in the process. Jacky and Mr. Zeng exchange a look. Mr. Zeng clears his throat twice before Joanne takes the hint to let go. After that, they all help Mr. Zeng clean up the backroom before heading to the Zeng resident for dinner.

*****

On the way back, Joanne has been chatting away excitedly with Gino that suddenly Jacky and Mr. Zeng have plenty of time to do some bonding – unlike all those previous times that Mr. Zeng had to fight with Joanne to investigate further about Jacky. Of course Jacky is driving with Mr. Zeng in the passenger seat while Joanne took the backseat with Gino.
When they’re halfway from the Zeng resident, Jacky’s cell phone rings. He answers when the song gets to its second verse.
“Hello? Yeah. We’re heading home now. No, Qiao Qiao’s house, not mine. My parents aren’t home until next week. Yeah, James’ around but he’s always out somewhere with…um…the fifty years old lady. What?! What am I supposed to call her? What? You mean Miss Zhao doesn’t have anyone to eat dinner with? Are you kidding me? What happened to your boyfriend? Okay, hold on.” Jacky turns to Mr. Zeng at that time. “Uncle, can I invite a guest to dinner?”
Mr. Zeng takes a quick glance towards the backseat. Then he turns back to Jacky.
“You mean your other girlfriend?!”
He had said that a tad too loud although Jacky’s right next to him.
“Yes, sir,” Jacky answers, knowing Mr. Zeng’s intention.
Mr. Zeng rubs his beard before answering. “Since my Qiao Qiao doesn’t seem to mind, I guess that’s fine with me too.”
“Thanks, Uncle,” Jacky says, smiling before addressing Joyce again. “Uncle said you can come.”
“I know. I heard him,” Joyce says.
“You’ll know why when you meet us at the house,” Jacky says, laughing.
“What’s with the mysterious behavior?”
“Nothing. You know the direction, right?”
“Yes. Of course. I’ve been there numerous times already, remember?”
“Just testing you. All right. Can’t talk anymore. I’m driving right now. Bye.” He hangs up and tosses his phone in the compartment below the CD & Radio slot.
Jacky continues to drive and talk with Mr. Zeng. Once in awhile, he would glance in the rearview mirror and catches Joanne chatting happily with Gino.

*****

They arrive at the Zeng resident to find Joyce standing at the front door waiting for them. She chips in to help them with dinner for the most part and talks away with Jacky for the majority of the time since Gino occupies most of Joanne’s time during the last few hours. It is around 8 P.M. that they’re about to sit down at the dinner table to eat.
“Thank you so much for helping, Xiao Qiao,” Mr. Zeng says.
Joyce smiles. “No problem, Uncle. I’m glad to help. Besides, I don’t want to be here and just eat without helping.”
Mr. Zeng chuckles. “Our Qing Qing isn’t home right now, so it’s good that you came by or the house would feel empty.”
Joyce is setting the table while the others are transferring the foods to the dinner table from the stove. Gino and Joanne are still talking but they are also helping. Jacky and Joyce have been working together as a team mostly because he seemed to be a “third-party” somehow along the way. Actually, since he came back to the flower shop with Mr. Zeng. Fortunately, Joanne has paused from her “conversation” long enough to introduce Gino and Joyce somewhere along the way.
“You okay?” Joyce asks as she’s walking by him.
“Splendid,” Jacky replies half-heartedly.
“Don’t look so awful. Look on the bright side. At least your girl is popular, right?”
“I’m not jealous.” His tone has indicated defensiveness.
“Did I say you were?”
Jacky gives her a look and changes the subject. “I think that’s all of it. Let’s get ready to eat.” He raises his voice a bit as he says the next words. “If Miss Zeng is okay with it.”
Joanne turns at that time towards Jacky. “What?”
“We’re done. Let’s eat,” Jacky says innocently, gesturing towards the dinner table.
Mr. Zeng sits down at the head of the table while Jacky sits to his right. Joanne ends up on Mr. Zeng’s other side with Gino next to her. Joyce sits next to Jacky after seeing Joanne taking the seat across the table from Jacky.
“Uncle, should we wait for Kenny and Charlene?” Jacky asks, turning to Mr. Zeng.
Mr. Zeng glances at his watch. “They’re probably out somewhere again. Let’s eat first. We’ll just save some for them.”
Jacky nods and digs in as Mr. Zeng did.
“Eat this,” Joanne says to Gino from across the table. “I made it.”
“We know, Miss Zeng,” Jacky mumbles from his side of the table. “We were all here when you made it like an hour ago.”
Joanne wrinkles her face. “What are you getting at?”
“I think your boyfriend wants you back,” Joyce teases, smiling.
Jacky kicks Joyce under the table while Joanne stares at the two. Gino looks puzzled, but is starting to get it.
“Um…Jacky, right?” Gino asks casually.
“Last time I checked, yes…that’s my name,” Jacky shoots back.
“Sorry. It’s just that we have a lot of stuffs to catch up on.”
“It’s all right. Don’t listen to Xiao Qiao. She’s just being sensitive.”
This time, it’s Joyce’s turn to kick Jacky.
“Lucky you’re not wearing high heels today,” Jacky says, turning to look at Joyce.
“What?” Gino asks with a puzzled expression on his face.
“Nothing. Let’s eat.”
They eat in silence for ten minutes before they hear the door – the one in the kitchen – opening. Everyone turns to see who. A very wet Charlene steps into the dining room seconds later.
Mr. Zeng stops his chopsticks in midair upon seeing the sight. “What in the world happened to you?!”
“It didn’t rain, did it?” Jacky asks, looking outside through the kitchen window.
“You went to the water park?” Joyce guesses.
“You fell into a fountain?” Joanne joins in.
“Very funny,” Charlene snaps, wrinkling her face. “Are we playing the guessing game here? ‘Cause there isn’t any prize for the one who gets it right.”
“What happened?” Gino asks, sounding a little more concerned than the others.
“Finally someone who cares for my well being,” Charlene blurts out before looking at Gino more closely. “Who the world are you?”
“Don’t you remember him?” Joanne asks her sister. “He used to come by all the time. He left for Hong Kong to further his studies there after high school.”
Charlene wrinkles her face, trying to remember. Then she exclaims out, “Ooooo…I know! Your ex-boyfriend!”
Jacky’s chopsticks almost fly out of his hands, but he catches it again in time. Everyone’s attention turns to Joanne.
“What are you talking about?” Joanne asks, her turn to wrinkle her face. “You remembered wrong. He’s Gino, not Dino.”
“Oooo….oops,” Charlene says, slapping her left hand on her forehead. “How should I know?”
“That’s not the point,” Joanne says, attempting to divert attention away from herself. “Why are you so wet? What happened?”
“Uh…” Charlene hesitates.
“Did you do something wrong again?” Mr. Zeng asks casually.
Mr. Zeng’s unusually calm words aren’t surprising to everyone present since they know too well of Charlene’s abilities to encounter trouble all by herself without any help. Mr. Zeng even yawns sometimes when Charlene tells her tales. The initial shock usually gets Charlene started without having to ask for the details.
“Ba!” Charlene whines. “You make it sound like I’m always running around looking for trouble.”
The others go back to eat dinner as Charlene pouts. She finally gives up after a full minute and leaves.
“Where were we before?” Joanne asks, turning her attention to Gino again.
Gino swallows before talking. “I was telling you about what happened during my 3rd year at the university.”
“Oh right.”
“Here we go again,” Jacky mumbles under his breath.
“At least they’re not ex-bf/gf like Charlene said, right?” Joyce reassures him, tilting her head towards him as she talks so others couldn’t hear them.
Jacky turns to Joyce and gives her a murderous look.
Charlene comes back ten minutes later – all changed and freshen up again. She’s approaching Jacky’s side of the table and is about to sit down next to Joyce when the door opens again. This time, nothing “excited” like the previous incident happened.
“Hey, Kenny,” Jacky greets him.
“Hey everyone!” Kenny says cheerfully. “Guess what happened?”
“You won the lottery?” Joanne guesses.
“No, he probably found out some underground band’s hideout,” Jacky jumps in before Kenny could respond to his sister.
“How did you know?” Kenny asks excitedly.
“After about six times, it becomes quite predictable, you know,” Joyce comments.
“Xiao Qiao jie jie, could you stop bursting my bubbles?” Kenny asks, looking somewhat down – like he has been slapped in the face by an unknown force.
“Your point?” Jacky asks.
“Why are you two sitting next to each other?” Kenny asks, suddenly realizing the table setting.
“Your future bro-in-law just got demoted,” Joyce responds.
Jacky kicks Joyce again. This time, Joyce’s prepared. Jacky ends up kicking air and losing his footing. His foot ends up swinging a full motion, kicking Gino before he regains himself. Gino looks at him. Jacky mutters a “Sorry” before turning back to give Joyce a murderous look again.
“Did I miss something?” Kenny asks, looking from one person to the next suspiciously.
“If you join us, I’ll fill you in,” Joyce offers.
“You got a deal, Xiao Qiao jie,” Kenny said mischievously. He pulls out the chair next to Joyce and settles down.
“Hey! That’s my spot,” Charlene protests, still standing nearby.
“I don’t see your name paste on it,” Kenny says, pretending to inspect the chair he’s sitting in at the same time.
“Uh…ge! You’re so mean,” Charlene whines, turning to Mr. Zeng. “Ba!”
“Zhi Rong,” Mr. Zeng says, still in a calm tone but there’s some firmness in it.
“Dad, I sat down first,” Kenny argues.
“She’s the youngest. You should know better.”
“If you can answer my trivial question, I’ll let you sit. Fair?” Kenny negotiates, turning to Charlene.
Charlene stomps her foot at that time. “Ge!”
“How old are we here? I think I should get you a baby strap and the high chair,” Kenny suggests, standing up. “I think Dad put it in the closet. Let me go check.”
Charlene uses this opportunity to gain the seat instead while Kenny’s walking towards the closet next to the kitchen sink. He smiles as Charlene takes the seat, proud of herself. The others understand too well of his intention. Although he seems cruel, bullying his little sister, but he knows his limits. A little harmless teasing is all he cares for.
“Victory!” Charlene exclaims proudly.
“Can we all eat peacefully now?” Mr. Zeng asks them all.
Charlene nods happily as she picks up the rice bowl in front of her that Joyce has already scooped earlier when it was supposed to be Kenny’s seat. Kenny comes back to the table and sits next to Gino. He sets down a soda can that he had taken from the fridge.
“Soda, anyone?” Kenny offers, tapping on the can.
The others shake their heads since they’re busy eating. Gino waves his hand politely while Joanne has no clue what Kenny just said. On the other hand, Charlene has reached over to Jacky and puts into his rice bowl some of the chicken piece that she has picked up with her chopsticks.
“What for?” Jacky asks, surprised.
“I just know you love to eat this dish, that’s all,” Charlene replies, smiling sweetly at him.
Joyce edges back further in her seat and leans against the backrest while observing Jacky’s expression at the same time.
“Uh…you remember wrong. I don’t like chicken. That’s…uh…James. He was here for dinner the last time, remember?”
“Oh…sorry,” Charlene says, her face turning red from embarrassment.
“It’s all right. At least I’m not allergic.”
Charlene edges back to her side, giving Joyce back her personal space.
Joyce leans sideways towards Jacky, whispering, “Since when did you hate chicken?”
“Since you had your hair done this afternoon,” Jacky whispers back.
Joyce sits straight up again, kicking Jacky under the table again.
After that, the table becomes quiet again. Another ten minutes pass by. Everyone at the table – excluding Kenny and Charlene, who arrived home late – stands up and begins to clear the table, only leaving the still half-full dishes for Kenny and Charlene.
While Jacky and Joyce are washing dishes and drying them, Gino and Joanne proceed to the living room and continue their “conversation.”
Mr. Zeng excuses himself, but says that he’ll be back in a few.
As Jacky hands Joyce yet another dish, Joyce speaks up. “Looks like you’re going to be in ‘exile’ for a while.”
“When did that guy come back anyway?” Jacky asks.
Joyce shrugs her shoulders. “How should I know? I came back today with you, remember?”
“I think he just came back today and looked Qiao Qiao jie jie up,” Kenny answers from the dinner table. “‘Cause he wasn’t here before. I mean he used to hang around here a lot. So if he came back earlier, he would have been around here already.”
“How could you be so sure?” Joyce asks, turning to Kenny.
“I’m just here for about ten minutes or so and I can tell. You guys should catch on already.”
Joyce realizes what Kenny’s hinting at. “That’s right. They’ve been going on for the last hour or so.”
“Six hours plus and counting,” Jacky corrects her.
“Thanks for the record, Young Master Chu,” Joyce says, turning back to Jacky.
Seeing Jacky’s annoyed expression, Joyce doesn’t want to push it. They continue with the dishes until the sink’s clear. Then they come back to the dining table to sit and chat with Kenny and Charlene. This time, Jacky and Joyce sit on Kenny’s side of the table. Jacky makes sure not to sit directly across from Charlene.

*****

About fifteen minutes later, Mr. Zeng comes back with a photo album in hand. He sets it on a corner of the dining table and resumes his spot at the head of the table. Jacky moves over a seat to sit next to him. Charlene’s eyes sparkle as she sees a spot empty. Of course she has finished eating about five minutes ago and is done clearing the table. Kenny has left ten minutes back, claiming he needs to make a call.
Jacky, seeing Charlene’s expression, turns to signal to Joyce before turning his attention back to Mr. Zeng. Before Joyce could make a move, Joanne zooms in out of nowhere and sits next to Jacky. Her right hand slips around his shoulder with a cheerful expression on her face. Jacky, alarmed – knowing it’s not Joyce, turns to see who. Seeing it’s Joanne, he smiles back at her, slipping his left hand around her waist.
“Guess what?!” Joanne asks them, still in her cheerful tone.
Although still looking at Jacky, her question is meant for everyone at the table.
“Don’t tell me we’re playing the guessing game again,” Joyce teases.
Joanne turns to Joyce with her hand still on Jacky’s shoulder. “Not exactly, but you can guess if you want to.”
“What is the prize then?” Jacky asks.
“Two free tickets to the Amusement Park near our house,” Joanne says, turning back to Jacky.
“Jie, that’s nothing,” Charlene says, wrinkling her face.
“Hey, I’m not some multi-millionaire that can offer you much more than that.”
“Why don’t you just tell us then?” Jacky interferes.
“All right,” Joanne comments, quivering her lips a bit. “No fun, but better than being robbed of two tickets.” She smiles again before continuing. “Gino said that he’s going to hang around here for a while.”
Jacky, realizing that Gino has been standing behind him all this time, turns to face Gino. It seems that everyone has turned to look at Gino also, not just Jacky. Gino grins at them.
“Actually, I’m back for good this time,” Gino informs them. “I’m going to try and find a job around here also.”
“That’s great then,” Jacky mumbles half-heartedly.
“Just splendid,” Joyce chimes in.
“What’s so splendid here?” Kenny asks, walking into the room at that time. He looks from one to the other. “I missed something?”
“You’re always late,” Joyce points out.
“Does anyone want to take a look of some old pictures I just found in my room?” Mr. Zeng speaks up, trying to change the subject to lessen the subtle hostility all around.
Joanne turns her attention back to Mr. Zeng. “Ba, are those photos from our childhood?”
Mr. Zeng continues to flip through the album. “No. More like your high school years. Look for yourself.”
Mr. Zeng slides the album into the center for the group to see. Gino takes the seat on Mr. Zeng’s right this time while Charlene sits next to Gino. Jacky, Joanne, Joyce, and Gino all end up standing and hovering around the album while Charlene tries to get in a few words in between. Kenny’s munching on some snacks he found from the fridge. They’re chatting away as they’re browsing through the album. Joanne still has her hand around Jacky’s shoulder all the while, but Jacky has to remove his hand from Joanne’s waist so he can flip the pages of the album.
“You look like an assassinator in this picture,” Jacky jokes.
“You want me to carry out my plans on you?” Joanne warns him.
“At least that means you’re paying attention to him,” Joyce points out.
Jacky couldn’t kick Joyce for that comment, but he gives her a dagger look instead.
“I think we have some of Shang Fu’s picture somewhere in there,” Mr. Zeng says.
“Really, Uncle?” Gino asks, surprised. “I can’t remember taking pictures here.”
Mr. Zeng scratches his moustache. “It must have been when Zhi Rong was into being a photographer so he kept snapping away rolls and rolls of films.”
“I remember that time,” Gino says, chuckling. “It seems like so long ago.”
Jacky continues to flip through the album as Gino’s talking to Mr. Zeng about the old days. Jacky stops dead at a picture of Gino and Joanne. Gino has his left hand around Joanne’s shoulder while Joanne has her right hand around Gino’s waist. Jacky turns to Joanne.
“Senior year,” Joanne says, smiling still. “End of the year party. Gino used to look so gangster that no girl would dare to approach him, so I took the sacrifice to be his date. Don’t we look cool together?”
Jacky wrinkles his face and forms an expression that said “And he doesn’t now?” to Joanne’s comment about Gino’s past look. Joanne slaps Jacky’s right shoulder, indicating that he’s mean. Only Joyce understands the exchange between the two. She smiles and gives Jacky a look that says: “Serves you right.” Suddenly the room becomes quiet or maybe Jacky didn’t notice before. He looks up at the others across the table in time to catch Gino staring at Joanne. He wrinkles his face and snaps his attention back on the album, edging purposely closer to Joanne by pretending to be flipping the album pages some more. They finish looking at the album ten minutes later and sit back down in their usual place again. Gino excuses himself at that time since he has to wake up early the next day.
Joanne withdraws her hand from Jacky’s shoulder. “How will you get home? I mean you came with us earlier.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll just haul a Taxi or something,” Gino says, gesturing in the general direction.
“I’ll drive you home,” Joanne offers.
Jacky coughs. “What about me?
Joanne turns to him. “Go with Xiao Qiao.”
Jacky sits back in his chair, giving Joanne the look “And let you two be alone?”
“You’re paranoid,” Joanne says, wrinkling her face.
“It’s fine. I’ll just go by Taxi,” Gino says, sensing the tension.
Joyce stops Gino as he’s heading for the door. “Wait. Where do you live?”
Gino tells her.
“No way! I live near there,” Joyce says, surprised.
“Then…can I get a ride with you instead?” Gino asks, trying to edge out of the sticky situation Joanne placed him in a minute before.
“Sure,” Joyce says with a smile, nodding at the same time.
Joyce could see the satisfied smile on Jacky’s face mixed with gratitude when she turns to face him again. However, as if masking passivity, Jacky stands up and pushes his chair in. Joanne and Joyce stand up also, following Jacky to the front door. Mr. Zeng is the only one remaining at the table. Charlene looks after the group, pouting inside. Kenny had left a bit back since he lost interest in their “album viewing ceremony.”

*****

Jacky and Joanne arrive at Jacky’s house around 10:30 P.M. They could see that the majority of the house is dark, except for the tiny light rays coming from the kitchen window. Jacky gets out of the car as Joanne parks in front of his house. He turns back as he’s about to close the door. He’s about to tell her something, but she beats him by speaking first.
“Were you jealous today?” She asks, looking at him intently.
“Whatever gave you the idea?” Jacky asks back, wrinkling his face.
Joanne laughs before answering. “I’m not blind you know. But I couldn’t help it. I haven’t seen Gino for so long that I just got carried away.”
“I’m fine with that,” Jacky says casually.
“Are you? Come on. Don’t lie.” She gets out of the car at that time, shutting the door behind her. She circles around to the other side to where Jacky’s standing. She slips her arms around Jacky’s neck and leans into his left shoulder. Automatically, Jacky’s hands slip around her waist. “Better?”
“You’re always so full of tricks,” He says finally.
“I only treat him as a brother, okay? Dad also treats him that way, so don’t worry. I mean like his son, not son-in-law.”
“Does that mean I still have the son-in-law position?”
Joanne snaps her head up from Jacky’s shoulder and stares at him. “Young Master Chu, you’re quite a joker. Get in the house before the night dew gets to you.” She strides back to the other side and gets into the car.
Jacky smiles to himself, knowing too well of her bizarre nature. He shuts the car door on his side and steps back a little so she could back out of the driveway. He looks after her until her car disappears into the night before going into the house.
© Tuesday, February 19th, 2008
Posted: Thursday, April 21st, 2011