Chapter 5

“Well? What do you think?” Joanne asks.
“Hmm….” Jacky begins and then pauses.
“What? Not a good idea?”
“Hmm….”
Joanne slaps his left shoulder with her right hand. “Stop with the ‘hmmm’ thing already. I want some real feedbacks.”
“Little one, are you asking for help or threatening people?” Mr. Zeng asks.
Joanne looks towards the front counter where Mr. Zeng is and then back down at the magazine she has 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. Zeng smiles and shakes his head at his impatient daughter before resuming his tasks at the front counter.
“You know what?” Jacky speaks up finally.
Joanne snaps 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 wrinkles her face at him.
“I was just kidding!” Jacky says quickly when he sees Joanne’s expression.
“I thought you come up with a way to help me decorate the flower baskets for Valentine’s Day,” Joanne returns.
“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 continues.
“Hmm?”
“You won’t be around when it comes so…it would be a good time to ask you now.”
Jacky stops flipping through the magazine and reaches his right hand towards Joanne’s face. “Are you going to break down and cry because of that?”
“Of course not!” Joanne exclaims, her expression stern. “Who do you think I am? Some whiny, clingy girlfriend?”
Jacky strokes 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 declares mischievously, giggling.
Jacky reaches over to strangle Joanne as she turns away from him. Her giggles echo throughout the shop as they continue to struggle with each other. Jacky finally wins as he manages to grab hold of both her arms and hugs her to him. Just then, they could hear the chime jingling. They turn around to see with Jacky still holding onto Joanne. Who else, but Joyce walks in?
Joyce says a greeting to Mr. Zeng before heading towards 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 asks.
Joanne shoves her left elbow back towards Jacky’s left side. Jacky finally lets go. She grabs the magazine she and Jacky have been looking at and holds it up in front of Joyce. “Xiao Qiao! Tell me what you think.”
“What is it?” Joyce asks 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 leans towards 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 turns to give Jacky a dagger look before turning back to Joyce. “So…what do you think?” She smiles eagerly at Joyce.
“You know what? How about this?”
The girls engage in conversation as Joyce begins to give Joanne her suggestions while Jacky is being abandoned once again. He smiles to himself, feeling silly that he should be abandoned once more. He leaves the area, heading towards the front counter to talk to Mr. Zeng.

*****

Jacky and Joanne leave the shop after the girls are 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 teases Joanne about always putting him second for flowers and other guys.
“Where do you want to go?” Jacky asks.
“How about the amusement park near my house?” Joanne suggests.
“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 asks, wrinkling her face at him.
“You look like a desperate little kid, nagging her parents to take her to the park.”
Jacky ends up choking in laughter as Joanne stares at him with a dagger look. Joanne pats his back while he calms down, but she still has on an annoyed look.
“Okay,” Jacky says finally after regaining himself again. “I’m just kidding. Let’s go.”
He slips his right hand around her shoulders, leading her to his car.
Jacky and Joanne arrive at the amusement park within twenty minutes. As they’re heading into the park, Jacky notices Joanne’s strange behavior. He couldn’t help but laughs at her actions.
“What are you doing?” He asks, studying her actions.
“Making sure no one we know is here,” She answers, still looking around the area cautiously.
“Like we’re going to do something illegal,” Jacky jokes. Then he turns to look at her. “Are we?”
“Uh…somewhat,” Joanne confesses.
“Really?” Jacky asks again, shocked. “That’s it. I’m outta here.” He turns to leave.
Joanne grabs hold of his left hand and yanks him back towards the entrance. Jacky pretends to give in to Joanne as he’s being yanked back towards her. He slips his left hand around her shoulders again.
“So…what are you really up to today?” Jacky whispers, looking around cautiously also.
“You’ll see,” Joanne says, taking his hand off her shoulder and laces her hand with his. “Come on.”
She yanks him past the ticket stands and towards the center of the park.
“Are you going to auction me off or something?” Jacky asks.
“Yeah right. Who would…”
“You wouldn’t believe it. A lot of girls will.”
“Arrogant, are we?”
“I’m sorry, Miss Zeng. But it’s the truth.”
“Yeah, sure.”
Jacky smiles, feeling like he’s really home again.
Jacky thought that Joanne was going to lead him to the ship ride in the center of the park, but she leads him past it. “Where are we going?”
“Impatience, aren’t we?”
“I’m serious!”
“I’m serious too, come on.”
Jacky allows himself to be dragged through the park again.
Just as Joanne’s turning towards a path that leads towards the circus, they hear a mocking voice from within the crowd. Joanne stops in her tracks. Jacky’s face wrinkles.
“It’s my imagination, right?” Joanne asks, still holding Jacky’s hand and darting her eyes back and forth.
“It must be,” He agrees. “Let’s go.”
“It seems like you both need your ears checked then,” A girl’s voice says.
“Ignore her,” Jacky whispers 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 speaks up this time.
“I think I’m starting to hear someone, do you?” Jacky asks Joanne.
“Not sure,” Joanne answers.
Jacky and Joanne both turn around at the same time to see James and Caitlin walking hand-in-hand.
“Don’t you have a restaurant to manage?” Jacky asks James.
“I don’t have to be there 24/7, you know,” James reminds him. “What about you two?”
“We’re on a treasure hunt,” Jacky says. “Why are you hanging around with the old woman? What happened to your wife?”
James wrinkles his face at Jacky.
“I guess you’re busted big time then,” Jacky continues casually. “I have to tell Kristy jie next time I see her.”
“That’s enough,” James says sternly. “Stop with your jokes.”
“What’s your problem anyway?” Caitlin asks, annoyed.
“You,” Jacky and Joanne reply at the same time.
Jacky turns to Joanne and gives her a warm smile. He grabs hold of her right hand with his left again. It’s no doubt they’re on the same team.
“You two are such jokers,” James comments, 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 says. “But since you’re only with your mistress…”
“Jacky,” James says sternly. His expression has turned intense.
“It doesn’t matter anymore,” Joanne interferes. “You two want to join us?”
“I’m not sure we’re welcomed.” James eyes Jacky suspiciously.
“Well…” Joanne pauses to look at Caitlin. “…I guess it’s hard to tell. Double dating isn’t bad. Maybe it’ll be fun?”
Jacky tightens his grip on Joanne’s hand, feeling anxious.
Joanne smiles before saying, “But if you both have something else to do, then we’ll just go alone.”
Caitlin looks at Jacky and Joanne suspiciously before speaking up.
“I don’t think we should go together,” Caitlin says 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 come closer together.
“At least I still look young!” Joanne retorts.
“How dare you?!” Jacky shouts at Caitlin at the same time as Joanne’s outburst.
“You started it!” Caitlin fires back, staring at Jacky.
“Excuse me, who was the one taunting us in a mocking tone while we’re walking by here?”
“Everyone! Stop!” James shouts above their voices.
The others stop arguing and turn to James.
Caitlin’s face has already turned red from anger.
“Can we ever have peace between us?” James asks.
“Sure. When you dump her!” Jacky replies without thinking.
“You’ve gone overboard,” James says, looking at his brother sternly. “Stop acting so immature. I’m going to be with Caitlin…” He stops to tighten his grip on Caitlin’s hand. “…whether you like it or not.”
“Fine,” Jacky snaps. Then he turns to Joanne. “Let’s go.”
Joanne leads Jacky into the path ahead towards the circus, leaving James and Caitlin behind.
“You both are too hot-headed!” James yells after them.
“I don’t care!” Jacky yells back.
Jacky and Joanne stop in front of the entrance of the circus to catch their breaths.
“You all right?” Jacky asks Joanne.
“Of course,” Joanne replies, smiling.
“I can’t believe she called you…”
“Forget it. You shouldn’t get worked up with 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 stops suddenly and puts on a mischievous smile. “I got a better plan. Let’s have dinner with them tonight and apologize. Then we can…” She leaves the sentence hanging on purpose.
“Oooh…you cunning girl,” Jacky says, 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 grabs Jacky’s hand again as they walk past the circus.

*****

Jacky and Joanne finally make it to the back of the park without other unwanted “run-ins.”
“Are you ready for this?” Joanne asks, smiling.
“What are you up to?” Jacky asks back, studying her face carefully.
“You’ll see,” She replies with a secretive look on her face.
Jacky smiles, 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 points towards a tent straight ahead. “That way!”
“I guess we’re heading that way then,” Jacky teases, smiling.
“Are you mocking me?” She asks, turning to him again.
“I wouldn’t dare to mock Miss Zeng,” He says innocently.
Joanne pulls Jacky towards the tent.
As they enter, Jacky could see it looks like some sort of gift shop. He turns to Joanne to see if she would reveal her secret yet.
“You’ll see. Come on.”
Jacky allows himself to be pulled towards a table set up with a man sitting behind it, tapping away on his calculator.
“Hi, Mr. Wang,” Joanne greets the man.
The man looks up from his calculator. As he recognizes Joanne, he gives her a warm smile. “Qiao Qiao! What a surprise! How have you been?”
“Fine,” Joanne replies, smiling politely at him. “Uh…”
“Oh, I have it here with me,” Mr. Wang says.
Joanne smiles as Mr. Wang turns around to a table behind him to retrieve something out of a box.
“What’s with all the secrets?” Jacky whispers to Joanne.
“You’ll see,” She says in that familiar secretive tone.
Mr. Wang turns around to face them again after some more rustling in the box. He hands Joanne a small black pouch as Joanne hands him some money. She waits for her change and then smiles and utters a “good-bye” before tugging on Jacky’s hand to go again. Jacky couldn’t stand all the secrets anymore as they exit the tent.
“Can you tell me now, Miss Zeng?” He asks impatiently.
“All right,” Joanne says with a smile.
She stops a distance outside the tent. Then she brings his right hand up to level – almost to their faces – with her left hand before pressing into his hand the black pouch she has been holding with her right hand. Jacky looks over to her once before looking back down at the pouch in his hand.
“Open it,” She urges, releasing his hand.
Jacky tugs on the strings to loosen the pouch a bit. He carefully reaches into the pouch to pull out its content. His face changes to alarmed as he looks up at Joanne again. Joanne smiles at him.
“Qiao…” He starts to say.
“Like it?” She asks, 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 seems to lost his voice. He doesn’t know what to do except pulls Joanne to him. She relaxes in his arms, closing her eyes. Jacky has never experience this overwhelming feeling before in his life. He’s 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 seems to pass by before Jacky found his voice again. “You’re just so full of surprises, Miss Zeng.”
“I told you,” She says playfully.
Jacky smiles, knowing Joanne too well. She would never take credit or brag about her achievements. She would always make it sound so light. He finally releases Joanne from his embrace. She smiles at him.
“So…what are we going to do for the rest of the day?” He asks.
“Go back to the store to help Lao Ba, of course! What else?”
He wrinkles his face.
“I’m kidding!” She exclaims, grabbing his left hand with her right again. “Come on! Let’s go on some fun rides!”
Jacky increases his pace along with Joanne. “But I’m afraid of height!”
“Sure you are.”
They run 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 return to the flower shop just in time to help Mr. Zeng close up. Mr. Zeng is about to step out behind the counter when he sees Jacky and Joanne walking in.
“It seems I’m not forgotten after all,” Mr. Zeng teases them, smiling.
“Ba…” Joanne utters.
Mr. Zeng just laughs at the two. They help him clean up after that.
About half an hour later, they’re ready to go. Jacky says his temporary goodbye to Joanne before heading to his car.
“What are you up to, little one?” Mr. Zeng asks as he gets into the passenger side.
“What do you mean?” Joanne asks back as she’s putting on her seatbelt.
“I can see you two are up to something.”
“It’s call revenge.”
“Qiao Qiao,” Mr. Zeng says in a serious tone.
“Ba, it’s harmless,” She reassures her father.
“Are you sure?” Mr. Zeng asks, turning sideway 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 glances 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 says 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 knows that her father is fighting the urge to ask. She knows he’s 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 weeks.”
“Hmm…”
They stay silent for the rest of the ride home. After Joanne parks, she helps Mr. Zeng carry in some boxes before heading to her room to get ready for that night.
As she’s stepping out of the shower, her phone rings. She picks it up after retrieving it from her night stand.
“Ready?” Joanne asks before Jacky could speak up.
“Bad news,” Jacky says 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 says, feeling foolish.
Joanne hangs up before dialing Kristy’s number. She walks towards her closet to find appropriate attire for the night while waiting for someone to pick up. She almost gives up when someone finally picks up.
“Hello?” A girl’s voice says.
“Kristy jie!” Joanne exclaims in relief.
“Yes, you sound excited. What’s going on? How have you been?”
“Good. Uh…do you happen to be free tonight?”
“Yes. Am 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’s having problem 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 hangs up after that and presses Jacky’s speed dial number.
“Well?” Jacky asks as soon as he picks up.
“Nice greeting,” Joanne teases.
“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 asks innocently.
“Zhu Fan Gang!”
Jacky laughs. “Okay, I’ll stop.”
“Okay, see you later then.”
“What are you wearing tonight?”
“Trying to match?”
“No, I’m just curious.”
“Guess.”
She hangs up on him.
© Tuesday, February 19th, 2008
Posted: Saturday, April 23rd, 2011