“Well? What do you think?” Joanne asked.

“Hmm….” Jacky began and then paused.

“What? Not a good idea?”

“Hmm….”

Joanne slapped his left shoulder with her right hand. “Stop with the ‘hmmm’ thing already. I want some real feedback.”

“Little one, are you asking for help or threatening people?” Mr. Tseng asked.

Joanne looked toward the front counter where Mr. Tseng was and then back down at the magazine she had spread out in front of her and Jacky before answering her father. “Ba! I’m trying to make some progress here. Not sit around to hear Young Master Chu do his ‘hmmm’ thing.”

“You’re putting pressure on him. He won’t be able to look at your ideas with his most objective perception.”

“Ba, you’re supposed to help me.”

Mr. Tseng smiled and shook his head at his impatient daughter before resuming his tasks at the front counter.

“You know what?” Jacky spoke up finally.

Joanne snapped her head back to look at Jacky. “What?”

“Maybe we should create a little misunderstanding between James and Caitlin so they would separate. Great or what?”

Joanne wrinkled her face at him.

“I was just kidding!” Jacky said quickly when he saw Joanne’s expression.

“I thought you came up with a way to help me decorate the flower baskets for Valentine’s Day,” Joanne returned.

“It’s Valentine’s Day already?”

“Zhu da ge, it’s a month away.”

“Why are you asking me now then?”

“It’s called being prepared. I can’t let the other shops get all the attention this year.”

Jacky could see the challenging sparks in Joanne’s eyes. He couldn’t help but laugh. Yup, that’s Joanne all right.

“And besides…” Joanne continued.

“Hmm?”

“You won’t be around when it comes so…it would be a good time to ask you now.”

Jacky stopped flipping through the magazine and reached his right hand toward Joanne’s face. “Are you going to break down and cry because of that?”

“Of course not!” Joanne exclaimed, her expression stern. “Who do you think I am? Some whiny, clingy girlfriend?”

Jacky stroked her face briefly with his right thumb before pulling his hand away, “That’s my girl.”

“But I won’t guarantee that I won’t hook up with someone on that special day!” Joanne declared mischievously, giggling.

Jacky reached over to strangle Joanne as she turned away from him. Her giggles echoed throughout the shop as they continued to struggle with each other. Jacky finally won as he managed to grab hold of both her arms and hugged her to him. Just then, they could hear the chime jingling. They turned around to see while Jacky was still holding onto Joanne. Who else, but Joyce walked in?

Joyce said a greeting to Mr. Tseng before heading toward the center table. “It looks like you two are getting along just fine. And I thought someone is going to cause a ripple in your relationship.”

“Are you looking for me or her?” Jacky asked.

Joanne shoved her left elbow back toward Jacky’s left side. Jacky finally let go. She grabbed the magazine she and Jacky had been looking at and held it up in front of Joyce. “Xiao Qiao! Tell me what you think.”

“What is it?” Joyce asked curiously, taking the magazine from Joanne. “Flower baskets?”

“Yes. These are samples. I need to come up with my own combination so I can beat out the other flower shops this year.”

Jacky leaned toward the center of the table. “And you know what else? She’s preparing for Valentine at this time. I swear she’s too aggressive. She’s better off being a loan shark or something.”

Joanne turned to give Jacky a dagger look before turning back to Joyce. “So…what do you think?” She smiled eagerly at Joyce.

“You know what? How about this?”

The girls engaged in conversation as Joyce began to give Joanne her suggestions while Jacky was being abandoned once again. He smiled to himself, feeling silly that he should be abandoned once more. He left the area, heading toward the front counter to talk to Mr. Tseng.

*****

Jacky and Joanne left the shop after the girls were done with discussing plans for possible flower baskets and whatnot. Joyce was just there to buy some flowers for her cousin, which turned out to be a two-hour conversation with Joanne. Jacky teased Joanne about always putting him second for flowers and other guys.

“Where do you want to go?” Jacky asked.

“How about the amusement park near my house?” Joanne suggested.

“Again?”

“Come on. I have something to show you.”

“You can’t show me here? Not now either?”

“Come on.”

Jacky couldn’t hold back his laughter.

“What?” Joanne asked, wrinkling her face at him.

“You look like a desperate little kid, nagging her parents to take her to the park.”

Jacky ended up choking in laughter as Joanne stared at him with a dagger look. Joanne patted his back while he calmed down, but she still had on an annoyed look.

“Okay,” Jacky said finally after regaining himself again. “I’m just kidding. Let’s go.”

He slipped his right hand around her shoulders, leading her to his car.

Jacky and Joanne arrived at the amusement park within twenty minutes. As they were heading into the park, Jacky noticed Joanne’s strange behavior. He couldn’t help but laugh at her actions.

“What are you doing?” He asked, studying her actions.

“Making sure no one we know is here,” She answered, still looking around the area cautiously.

“Like we’re going to do something illegal,” Jacky joked. Then he turns to look at her. “Are we?”

“Uh…somewhat,” Joanne confessed.

“Really?” Jacky asked again, shocked. “That’s it. I’m outta here.” He turned to leave.

Joanne grabbed hold of his left hand and yanked him back toward the entrance. Jacky pretended to give in to Joanne as he was being yanked back toward her. He slipped his left hand around her shoulders again.

“So…what are you really up to today?” Jacky whispered, looking around cautiously also.

“You’ll see,” Joanne said, taking his hand off her shoulder and laced her hand with his. “Come on.”

She yanked him past the ticket stands and toward the center of the park.

“Are you going to auction me off or something?” Jacky asked.

“Yeah right. Who would…”

“You wouldn’t believe it. A lot of girls will.”

“Arrogant, are we?”

“I’m sorry, Miss Tseng. But it’s the truth.”

“Yeah, sure.”

Jacky smiled, feeling like he was really home again.

Jacky thought that Joanne was going to lead him to the ship ride in the center of the park, but she led him past it. “Where are we going?”

“Impatience, aren’t we?”

“I’m serious!”

“I’m serious too, come on.”

Jacky allowed himself to be dragged through the park again.

Just as Joanne was turning toward a path that led towards the circus, they heard a mocking voice from within the crowd. Joanne stopped in her tracks. Jacky’s face wrinkled.

“It’s my imagination, right?” Joanne asked, still holding Jacky’s hand and darting her eyes back and forth.

“It must be,” He agreed. “Let’s go.”

“It seems like you both need your ears checked then,” A girl’s voice says.

“Ignore her,” Jacky whispered to Joanne.

“You’re actually hearing a girl’s voice? I didn’t hear anything. Let’s go.”

“Will you two quit it already?” A guy’s voice spoke up this time.

“I think I’m starting to hear someone, do you?” Jacky asked Joanne.

“Not sure,” Joanne answered.

Jacky and Joanne both turned around at the same time to see James and Caitlin walking hand-in-hand.

“Don’t you have a restaurant to manage?” Jacky asked James.

“I don’t have to be there 24/7, you know,” James reminded Jacky. “What about you two?”

“We’re on a treasure hunt,” Jacky said. “Why are you hanging around with the old woman? What happened to your wife?”

James wrinkled his face at Jacky.

“I guess you’re busted big time then,” Jacky continued casually. “I have to tell Kristy jie next time I see her.”

“That’s enough,” James said sternly. “Stop with your jokes.”

“What’s your problem anyway?” Caitlin asked, annoyed.

“You,” Jacky and Joanne replied at the same time.

Jacky turned to Joanne and gave her a warm smile. He grabbed hold of her right hand with his left again. It was no doubt they were on the same team.

“You two are such jokers,” James commented, ignoring their answer completely. “Seriously, is there really any treasure to hunt? Or is it at a different location?”

“I would tell you what’s up if you were with your wife,” Jacky said. “But since you’re only with your mistress…”

“Jacky,” James said sternly. His expression had turned intense.

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” Joanne interfered. “You two want to join us?”

“I’m not sure we’re welcomed.” James eyed Jacky suspiciously.

“Well…” Joanne paused to look at Caitlin. “…I guess it’s hard to tell. Double dating isn’t bad. Maybe it’ll be fun?”

Jacky tightened his grip on Joanne’s hand, feeling anxious.

Joanne smiled before saying, “But if you both have something else to do, then we’ll just go alone.”

Caitlin looked at Jacky and Joanne suspiciously before speaking up.

“I don’t think we should go together,” Caitlin said coldly. “Since I can’t figure out why we’re double dating anyway. I mean there are three guys among us here and a girl, so…”

Jacky’s eyebrows came closer together.

“At least, I still look young!” Joanne retorted.

“How dare you?!” Jacky shouted at Caitlin at the same time as Joanne’s outburst.

“You started it!” Caitlin fired back, staring at Jacky.

“Excuse me, who was the one taunting us in a mocking tone while we were walking by here?”

“Everyone! Stop!” James shouted above their voices.

The others stopped arguing and turned to James.

Caitlin’s face had already turned red from anger.

“Can we ever have peace between us?” James asked.

“Sure. When you dump her!” Jacky replied without thinking.

“You’ve gone overboard,” James said, looking at his brother sternly. “Stop acting so immature. I’m going to be with Caitlin…” He stopped to tighten his grip on Caitlin’s hand. “…whether you like it or not.”

“Fine,” Jacky snapped. Then he turned to Joanne. “Let’s go.”

Joanne led Jacky into the path ahead toward the circus, leaving James and Caitlin behind.

“You both are too hot-headed!” James yelled after them.

“I don’t care!” Jacky yelled back.

Jacky and Joanne stopped in front of the entrance of the circus to catch their breaths.

“You all right?” Jacky asked Joanne.

“Of course,” Joanne replied, smiling.

“I can’t believe she called you…”

“Forget it. You shouldn’t get worked up because of her. And besides, you started it after all.”

“Qiao Qiao!”

“You did too. Don’t deny it. I know you’re frustrated with Caitlin, but you shouldn’t have put James ge on the spot. It’s not worth it.”

“Qiao, I…”

“I don’t care if I get insulted. But I don’t want you to get mad over those little things. You can attack her all you want, but don’t make it worse with James ge. You don’t have to be so direct, you know.” She stopped suddenly and put on a mischievous smile. “I got a better plan. Let’s have dinner with them tonight and apologize. Then we can…” She left the sentence hanging on purpose.

“Oooh…you cunning girl,” Jacky said, recognizing her expression.

“Hey, I’m not known as the cunning Zeng Zhi Qiao for nothing.”

“All right. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

Joanne grabbed Jacky’s hand again as they walked past the circus.

*****

Jacky and Joanne finally made it to the back of the park without other unwanted “run-ins.”

“Are you ready for this?” Joanne asked, smiling.

“What are you up to?” Jacky asked back, studying her face carefully.

“You’ll see,” She replied with a secretive look on her face.

Jacky smiled, knowing he couldn’t get it out of her. “Well, I guess I’ll have to wait and see, huh? Where are we heading now?”

Joanne pointed toward a tent straight ahead. “That way!”

“I guess we’re heading that way then,” Jacky teased, smiling.

“Are you mocking me?” She asked, turning to him again.

“I wouldn’t dare to mock Miss Tseng,” He said innocently.

Joanne pulled Jacky toward the tent.

As they entered, Jacky could see it looked like some sort of gift shop. He turned to Joanne to see if she would reveal her secret yet.

“You’ll see. Come on.”

Jacky allowed himself to be pulled toward a table set up with a man sitting behind it, tapping away on his calculator.

“Hi, Mr. Wang,” Joanne greeted the man.

The man looked up from his calculator. As he recognized Joanne, he gave her a warm smile. “Qiao Qiao! What a surprise! How have you been?”

“Fine,” Joanne replied, smiling politely at him. “Uh…”

“Oh, I have it here with me,” Mr. Wang said.

Joanne smiled as Mr. Wang turned around to a table behind him to retrieve something out of a box.

“What’s with all the secrets?” Jacky whispered to Joanne.

“You’ll see,” She said in that familiar secretive tone.

Mr. Wang turned around to face them again after some more rustling in the box. He handed Joanne a small black pouch as Joanne handed him some money. She waited for her change and then smiled, uttering a “good-bye” before tugging on Jacky’s hand to go again. Jacky couldn’t stand all the secrets anymore as they exited the tent.

“Can you tell me now, Miss Tseng?” He asked impatiently.

“All right,” Joanne said with a smile.

She stopped a distance outside the tent. Then she brought his right hand up to level—almost to their faces—with her left hand before pressing into his hand the black pouch she had been holding with her right hand. Jacky looked over to her once before looking back down at the pouch in his hand.

“Open it,” She urged, releasing his hand.

Jacky tugged on the strings to loosen the pouch a bit. He carefully reached into the pouch to pull out its content. His face changed to alarmed as he looked up at Joanne again. Joanne smiled at him.

“Qiao…” He started to say.

“Like it?” She asked, smiling.

“When did you…”

“I called Calvin up this morning so he could meet me halfway to work. He got it done as soon as possible.”

Jacky seemed to have lost his voice. He didn’t know what to do except pulled Joanne to him. She relaxed in his arms, closing her eyes. Jacky had never experienced this overwhelming feeling before in his life. He was so touched beyond words. How did she know? He remembered only mentioning it once—only casually—to her. How did she figure it out?

A full minute or more seemed to pass by before Jacky found his voice again. “You’re just so full of surprises, Miss Tseng.”

“I told you,” She said playfully.

Jacky smiled, knowing Joanne too well. She would never take credit or brag about her achievements. She would always make it sound so light. He finally released Joanne from his embrace. She smiled at him.

“So…what are we going to do for the rest of the day?” He asked.

“Go back to the store to help Lao Ba, of course! What else?”

He wrinkled his face.

“I’m kidding!” She exclaimed, grabbing his left hand with her right again. “Come on! Let’s go on some fun rides!”

Jacky increased his pace along with Joanne. “But I’m afraid of heights!”

“Sure you are.”

They ran the rest of the way back to the center of the park despite many people looking at them and giving them weird looks.

*****

Jacky and Joanne returned to the flower shop just in time to help Mr. Tseng close up. Mr. Tseng was about to step out behind the counter when he saw Jacky and Joanne walking in.

“It seems that I’m not forgotten after all,” Mr. Tseng teased them, smiling.

“Ba…” Joanne uttered.

Mr. Tseng just laughed at the two. They helped him clean up after that.

About half an hour later, they were ready to go. Jacky said his temporary goodbye to Joanne before heading to his car.

“What are you up to, little one?” Mr. Tseng asked as he got into the passenger side.

“What do you mean?” Joanne asked back as she was putting on her seatbelt.

“I can see you two are up to something.”

“It’s called revenge.”

“Qiao Qiao,” Mr. Tseng said in a serious tone.

“Ba, it’s harmless,” She reassured her father.

“Are you sure?” Mr. Tseng asked, turning sideways to address Joanne. “Does this have anything to do with Caitlin again?”

“She called me a guy.”

“Who started it this time?”

“Jacky did.”

“And we know why things got that ugly between both parties, right?”

“Ba…”

“Qiao Qiao, I usually don’t interfere with you young kids’ business, but I must say this.”

Joanne glanced quickly at her father before directing her attention back on the traffic ahead.

“Whether you both like Caitlin or not, it doesn’t matter. As long as she and James are getting along, there is nothing you can do about it.”

“I know,” Joanne said in a defeated tone. “But if I don’t play the role of a bad person, things will get worse between Jacky and James ge.”

“What happened?”

“We ran into them at the park today. You know, the one near our house. She was mocking Jacky and me about running into us. We pretended not to hear her at first. But James ge stopped us. So we have to acknowledge their presence. And things went downhill around the same time that Jacky made jokes about her being old again. And she fired some things back. James ge got stuck in between us. He was mad, called us a bunch of hot-headed people.”

“Sounds serious.”

“I know. James ge is usually very patient.”

“So…”

Joanne knew that her father was fighting the urge to ask. She knew he was just concerned for them, not a busybody like some other people around his age. “I’m going to taunt her a bit tonight. But I won’t go overboard. I’ll make it casual. Who knows? Maybe Kristy jie will save Jacky once again.”

“You’re inviting Kristy over for dinner?”

“Actually, I’m going to invite myself and Kristy jie over for dinner. Luckily, Uncle and Auntie are out of town, or they’ll be troubled.”

“When are they coming back?”

“Maybe in a couple of weeks.”

“Hmm…”

They stayed silent for the rest of the ride home. After Joanne parked, she helped Mr. Tseng carry in some boxes before heading to her room to get ready for that night.

As she was stepping out of the shower, her phone rang. She picked it up after retrieving it from her nightstand.

“Ready?” Joanne asked before Jacky could speak up.

“Bad news,” Jacky said dejectedly.

“What happened?”

“I can’t reach Kristy jie.”

“Voicemail?”

“No, service disconnected.”

“That’s strange. Let me call her.”

“Okay. Call me back if you get through, okay?”

“I have to call you back either way, Young Master Chu.”

“Oh, right,” Jacky said, feeling foolish.

Joanne hung up before dialing Kristy’s number. She walked toward her closet to find appropriate attire for the night while waiting for someone to pick up. She almost gave up when someone finally picked up.

“Hello?” A girl’s voice said.

“Kristy jie!” Joanne exclaimed in relief.

“Yes, you sound excited. What’s going on? How have you been?”

“Good. Uh…do you happen to be free tonight?”

“Yes. Aren’t I always?”

“I guess no pursuers lately?”

“Stop it, Qiao. What’s going on though?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I just want to invite you over to Jacky’s house for dinner tonight. Jacky was going to call you, but he was having problems getting through so I’m calling you on his behalf.”

“Are you two trying to set me up with James again?”

“We could if you want us to.”

“Qiao…”

“I’m just kidding. Jacky’s back in town—of course. So we just want to invite you over for dinner. A little get together after like a month of not seeing each other.”

“We met last week, Qiao.”

“Not as a group.”

“All right. But I’m warning you, no more tricks.”

“We wouldn’t dare, Miss Wang.”

“I sense a conspiracy going on here.”

“I promise, all right? Don’t worry.”

“You promise, but not Jacky, right?”

“I’ll pass the word along. If we as much as say something to indicate it at all tonight, you get to punish us, all right?”

“All right. Deal. What time are we meeting?”

“I’ll pick you up in twenty minutes.”

“All right.”

Joanne hung up after that and pressed Jacky’s speed dial number.

“Well?” Jacky asked as soon as he picked up.

“Nice greeting,” Joanne teased.

“Come on, no time for games.”

“I got her to come tonight, but I had to make a deal with her.”

“You sold me off to her?”

“You’re funny.”

“What then?”

“You sound disappointed. It’s like you want to be sold off or something.”

“Maybe.”

“Anyway, I promised her we won’t try to set her up or even drop any hints of setting her up with James ge or our fates will be in her hand.”

“What?! What’s the fun in tonight then?”

“We don’t have to be all out. We can be subtle, you know. After all, we’re trying to apologize to James ge here. Having Kristy jie there is torturing enough for Caitlin already.”

“You always find a loophole out of things. Why didn’t you study to become a lawyer then?”

“I would have if someone didn’t imply that I have skills in art designs.”

“Who was that?” Jacky asked innocently.

“Zhu Fan Gang!”

Jacky laughed. “Okay, I’ll stop.”

“Okay, see you later then.”

“What are you wearing tonight?”

“Trying to match?”

“No, I’m just curious.”

“Guess.”

She hung up on him.

© Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Posted: Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

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