Joanne and Kristy arrived at the Chu resident around 7:30 P.M. Jacky came out front to greet them.

Jacky’s face lit up when he saw what Joanne was wearing.

“Wow!” Joanne exclaimed upon seeing Jacky.

“What?” Jacky asked, smiling.

“You’re not wearing black,” Joanne replied.

“Very funny,” He said, wrinkling his face.

Joanne smiled.

Jacky turned to Kristy at that time. “Kristy jie! How have you been?”

“I see that you haven’t changed at all,” Kristy commented.

“It’s only about a month or so. How could I change that much?”

“That’s true.”

“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s head in.”

Jacky led Kristy inside as Joanne tagged behind.

As Jacky opened the front door, Joanne could see Caitlin already inside. James was probably in the kitchen—cooking. Joanne could see Caitlin’s happy face turned into an alarmed one when she saw Kristy. Jacky let Kristy and Joanne passed first before going in himself and closing the door behind him.

“Hi, Caitlin,” Kristy greeted her in a sweet and friendly tone, smiling also. “How have you been?”

“Hi, there,” Caitlin returned, pasting on a smile. “Great. I see that you’re alone.”

“Kristy jie, let’s go into the kitchen,” Jacky urged, ignoring Caitlin.

Jacky had to hold back his tongue as not to mention James.

Joanne gave him a pat on his left shoulder as she walked by him. Jacky gave her a look but smiled as soon as she whispered something to him—possibly an inside joke.

“Hmm…smells good,” Kristy complimented, turning to Jacky. “You’re cooking today?”

“Thanks for the compliment, but I can’t take the credit,” Jacky said.

Kristy looked to the far right of the kitchen to see James at the sink, rinsing some veggies.

“Hi, there,” Kristy said, walking to James. “I see that the Great Chef is at work today.”

“Hey,” James muttered, turning to greet Kristy. “What brought you here?”

“Your brother invited me for dinner,” Kristy explained. “Something about a reunion.”

“Oh really?” James said casually, turning to Jacky.

Jacky turned to Joanne.

“Sorry, James ge,” Joanne jumped in. “I invited her on Jacky’s behalf. I wanted to surprise Jacky. I mean he hasn’t seen her like a month now and we’re having dinner together tonight, so I thought I invite her. If you mind, I will…”

“I can’t kick out a guest, can I?” James said to Joanne before turning his attention back on Kristy again. “Especially a very beautiful one.”

Jacky and Joanne were practically celebrating inside while Caitlin was pouting nearby.

“You two sure are brothers,” Kristy chided, turning to Jacky again. “Always like to joke.”

James turned back to the veggies he was tending to. “If you like to hear such words, I could come up with some more.”

Kristy walked away from James. “No, thanks. I’m not used to those flattering words.”

Jacky leaned over to Joanne and whispered, “Something happened between them while I was gone?”

“If it did, I wasn’t informed,” Joanne whispered back to him.

Kristy was standing in front of Jacky and Joanne at that point.

“Are you two up to something?” Kristy asked suspiciously, staring from one to the other.

“NO!” Jacky and Joanne shouted in unison.

“Why are you two reacting so strong?” James asked, turning around to look at the two. “You’re both guilty, right?”

Caitlin strolled into the room at that time, heading toward James.

“Are you done with the veggies yet?” Caitlin asked, clearing her throat for emphasis. “It looks like it’s going to squash soon if you don’t stop rinsing it.”

Jacky and Joanne gave each other high-fives behind each other’s backs. Because they were standing so close together, the others couldn’t see it. Kristy sensed something going on from the smile on their faces.

Kristy turned to James and Caitlin by the sink. “You two need my help setting up the table or anything?”

James turned to Kristy. “No. Just wait in the living room or something. You’re the guest.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Actually, you can help us,” Jacky jumped in.

Kristy gave Jacky a warning look.

“How about helping Qiao Qiao and me?”

Kristy let down her guard and dug in to help the two with setting up the table—even though James told her not to just seconds before.

About fifteen minutes later, Jacky and Joanne were sitting in the living room with Kristy. While Jacky and Kristy were having a “catching-up” session, Joanne leaned back on the sofa to rest. Jacky slipped a hand around Joanne and let her lean into his shoulder instead. She closed her eyes to rest—only half-listening to the conversation.

“I see that you two haven’t changed at all,” Kristy commented.

Jacky shrugged lightly so he didn’t disturb Joanne. “I guess not.”

“Have you ever thought of quitting your job?”

Jacky wrinkled his face. “What brought this on?”

“This has nothing to do with me,” Joanne murmured.

Jacky looked down at a very sleepy Joanne. “I know. You don’t have to react so strong.”

“Am I?” Joanne asked with a half-yawn.

“What did you do last night anyway?”

“You mean after dinner? Talked to some whiner.”

Jacky poked Joanne lightly on the right side with his right index finger.

Kristy laughed at the two.

Jacky turned his attention back on Kristy. “Seriously, why did you ask me that question?”

“I mean…don’t you two want to get married one day?” Kristy asked in a serious tone.

Jacky turned back to Joanne. “Qiao, care to get married tomorrow?”

“No, you?” Joanne returned in that same tired tone.

Jacky turned back to Kristy. “Not that I could think of. What does that have to do with me quitting my job though?”

“You’re rarely around. It might not be good if you want to start a family.”

Joanne turned sideways to lean more comfortably into Jacky.

“Are you sure you don’t want to head home and sleep instead of sticking around here?” Jacky asked Joanne, sounding more concerned than before.

“I’ll be fine in a bit,” Joanne reassured him.

“Sure. Don’t drool though.”

That comment got him a poke on his right side.

“That doesn’t make you right,” Jacky said, laughing. After that, he turned to Kristy again. “I’ll think about it one day.”

“Are you avoiding the issue?” Kristy asked.

“Seriously, what’s going on today? I mean you didn’t even bring all these up before. Why now?”

“I don’t know. It’s just that you’ve been dating for several years now. I thought that…”

“I want to get married soon? And then you jump ten steps in your mind?”

Kristy nodded.

“Come on, Kristy jie. We promised, remember?”

“We promise not to talk about me, not you.”

As Jacky was about to say something, James and Caitlin walked into the room.

“What’s going on?” Jacky asked, turning to James. “You’ve burned the kitchen and want me to come to the rescue?”

Joanne jumped up—literally—in alarm. Jacky had to grab her and sit her back down again. He calmed her by patting her back. Everyone in the room could see that she was turning pale and was sweating somewhat, like she was having a seizure.

“It’s okay, Qiao,” Jacky said in a soothing voice. “It’s okay. Relax. Breathe. It’s okay. Nothing’s going to happen. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t.”

Jacky continued to speak in a soft voice to Joanne.

“Qiao…” Kristy called out.

Jacky shook his head, indicating that Kristy shouldn’t say anything now.

James looked worried also but remained silent. It was one of those rare times when Caitlin wasn’t putting in a word or two of mockery.

Jacky could feel the burning feeling of being stared at. He turned to James and Caitlin, “You two can go eat first. I’m going to make sure Qiao’s okay.”

James nodded, taking Caitlin’s hand and leading her into the kitchen.

Jacky turned to Kristy. “Kristy jie, you can go eat too if you want.”

Kristy knew Jacky didn’t want Joanne to feel uncomfortable with all the staring, so she nodded. She joined James and Caitlin at the dining table. She made sure to sit down as far away from James as possible. She knew Jacky and Joanne better than anyone—even James. She couldn’t take a risk.

About five minutes later, Joanne was back to her normal self again. She straightened up and looked at Jacky. “I’m sorry, I…”

Jacky brought her chin up to face him again since she had looked down at the ground as she said those words.

“I should be saying sorry,” He said. “I didn’t mean to mention it.”

“It’s all right.”

Jacky smiled. “How about dinner?”

Joanne got up from her place. “Let me go wash my face first.”

“Yes, I need to go change my clothes too.”

“I’m sorry!” Joanne exclaimed upon seeing the wet spot on his shirt.

“I’m kidding.”

Jacky gave her a reassuring smile and led her past the kitchen and down the hall toward the bathroom between his and James’ room.

“There’s one right there, you know!” Caitlin yelled as they walked by.

“Inconsiderate!” Jacky shot back.

“Cait…” James spoke up before Caitlin could fire something back at Jacky.

Caitlin turned to see James’ disapproving look. She felt the need to defend herself. “I’m just trying to decrease the intensity here.”

“You’re not really that good in the comedy department. Leave it up to Jacky, okay? It’s his girl after all.”

“Why are you picking on me tonight?”

“I’m not picking on you. I’m just telling you that Jacky can deal with it.”

“But I’m trying to help too.”

“I know. But you’re not familiar with the situation.”

“Then tell me.”

“I want to, but I can’t.”

“Why not?” Caitlin asked in a whiny voice.

“Because it’s…” James stopped himself before revealing anything.

“Qiao…” Kristy began.

“Don’t!” James exclaimed, cutting Kristy off.

Kristy turned to James, alarmed.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” James said, softening his voice. “I just don’t want you to say it without Qiao’s permission. It’s her personal matter after all.”

Kristy nodded.

“So she knows but I don’t?” Caitlin asked, looking from James to Kristy.

“I told you already,” James reminded her with a stern expression on his face. “It’s Qiao’s personal matter. You have to respect her.”

Caitlin knew she was not going to get an answer out of it, so she went back to eating.

Jacky and Joanne appeared in front of them at that time.

“All right?” Kristy asked with a bright smile.

“All better,” Joanne replied, grinning mischievously.

Jacky pulled out a chair for Joanne before circling around the table to sit down at Kristy’s right. It was strange that they were eating dinner together, but James and Caitlin were on one side of the table while Jacky, Joanne, and Kristy were on the other side.

Jacky put some food on Joanne’s rice bowl before speaking up. “Wow! So…which one of you is the head?”

“What are you talking about?” James asked, raising his left eyebrow.

“You and Kristy jie are both sitting at the head of the table—just on the opposite ends. So…”

It was clear that James was sitting at the head of the table according to the setting, but Jacky just had to rub it in for Caitlin.

“Jacky, you promised…” Kristy interfered.

“I didn’t say anything.” Jacky started to eat after that.

James swallowed his latest bite before saying, “You guys want to meet up tomorrow and do something together?”

“James, tomorrow we’re…” Caitlin interrupted.

“Qiao?” James asked, cutting Caitlin off.

“Can’t,” Joanne replied. “Have to help Lao Ba manage the shop. I was out half of the day today.”

“I have to make sure someone doesn’t wander into the shop when I’m not around,” Jacky mumbled.

“What?!” James asked, surprised and confused at the same time.

“Some high school flame came back,” Jacky clarified, his eyes traveling toward Joanne when he said that.

“Hey!” Joanne protested and stopped eating at the same time.

“Just kidding!” Jacky said, smiling.

“Something you want to tell us about?” Kristy asked curiously.

“Yes and no.”

“Kris, what about you?” James asked causally.

“I have to work, Young Master Chu,” Kristy reminded him. She stopped herself in time before she could flash James a teasing smile. She pretended to cough and took in some water.

“I guess we’re back on for tomorrow, huh?” Caitlin said, flashing on her satisfied smile.

“Says you,” Jacky mumbled under his breath.

Kristy heard that. “Are you up to something again?”

“No, you heard wrong,” Jacky answered quickly.

James tapped on the table with his chopsticks without noticing it.

“What are you doing?” Caitlin asked, wrinkling her face.

“He’s in a thinking mode,” Jacky answered in his brother’s place.

“I didn’t ask you,” Caitlin snapped, giving Jacky an annoyed look.

“I didn’t need your permission as to when I can speak up,” Jacky retorted.

“James,” Caitlin called out, turning back to James for help.

“Told you,” Jacky jumped in again.

Caitlin turned back to give Jacky another annoyed look.

“Try snapping your fingers in front of him,” Jacky suggested, smiling.

Caitlin ignored Jacky but did what he said anyway.

“What?!” James exclaimed, sounding somewhat annoyed and somewhat alarmed also.

“You were tapping on the table and zooming out on us,” Caitlin said.

“Correction—he was tuning you out,” Jacky clarified.

“You…” Caitlin gritted her teeth.

“People, we’re eating here,” James interfered.

“Fine with me,” Jacky said. He turned to talk to Joanne and Kristy instead.

“Hmm…” James started his trance again.

Jacky took that opportunity to turn back to James and Caitlin. “Okay, he tuned us out again. Let’s argue some more.”

James gave Jacky a look.

“Just kidding, ge.” Jacky had turned on his innocent smile. Then he turned serious again. “What were you thinking about earlier though?”

“I was thinking maybe we should do something after Mom and Dad get back,” James responded, tapping his chopsticks on the table again.

“What? There’s no special occasion coming up.”

Joanne gave him a look.

“Valentine’s Day isn’t until next month.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“Your eyes said it all.”

Joanne wrinkled her face. “You’re paranoid.”

Jacky laughed.

“Aren’t you out of town that day?” James asked his brother.

“Unfortunately.”

“Another trip?” Kristy asked.

“Yes.”

Kristy sighed out.

Jacky turned to Kristy. “What’s wrong? Missed me? I thought you have a lot of pursuers. Find one for Valentine’s Day.”

“Oh…really?” Caitlin asked, her eyes lighting up.

“None of your business,” Jacky snapped without looking at her.

“Jacky…” James warned.

Jacky pretended not to hear James. Joanne placed some food into Jacky’s rice bowl to wake him up from whatever trance he was in since he was chewing on his chopsticks and looking toward the ceiling at that moment.

“I wonder if…” He began.

“What?”

“If I can take some time off next month.”

“Maybe you should,” Kristy agreed.

“He sounds like he’s up to something,” James commented.

“Nah…” Joanne jumped in, smiling.

“Thanks for your support, hon,” Jacky said. He stopped chewing his chopsticks and went back to eat normally again.

“Do you usually do that to every single pair of chopsticks in the house?” Caitlin asked, wrinkling her face and feeling unease at the same time.

“I could if you want,” Jacky muttered.

“Cait, we usually wash ‘em afterward,” James reassured her.

“Still…” Caitlin said, looking at her own pair of chopsticks.

“Maybe you shouldn’t come by anymore so you wouldn’t have to fret over it,” Jacky suggested.

“Are you sure she could understand what you mean?” Joanne whispered from across the table.

“Oh…fret means worry,” Jacky explained to Caitlin.

“That wasn’t funny,” Caitlin said with an annoyed expression and tone.

“It is to me,” Jacky mumbled.

“Jacky…” James warned again.

“Qiao started it.”

“Still…”

Jacky shrugged and went back to eating again.

They finished the meal about ten minutes later.

Jacky, Joanne, and Kristy cleared the table while James and Caitlin headed toward the recreational room down the hall for some time “alone.” Jacky volunteered to do dessert since he had “nothing better to do anyway.” Kristy had excused herself to the living room to make a call after she helped clear the table.

“I’ll call you two when I’m done,” Jacky said to James as James was leaving the kitchen.

“Go first,” James said to Caitlin. “I’ll catch up in a bit.”

After Caitlin left, James turned to Jacky.

“Remember, don’t put hot pepper in the dessert,” James warned his brother—yet again.

“What?” Jacky asked, putting on his innocent look. “How can I put it in the dessert if it’s supposed to be sweet?”

“You did it last time. Don’t pretend.”

“Qiao probably handed me the wrong recipe last time. We all know how careless Qiao is in the kitchen.”

“And Qiao will be so careless as to put some vinegar in your cake too,” Joanne blurted out sarcastically as she walked by them.

“Hey, how should I know? Maybe someone switched the labels?”

“The point is, don’t do anything else this time, okay?” James pressed Jacky.

Jacky saluted. “Yes, sir!”

James ignored him and turned to walk down the hall.

Jacky made sure James was out of earshot before turning to Joanne. “What will it be this time? Vinegar or cinnamon?”

“You don’t like cinnamon either,” Joanne reminded him.

“Hey, I could put it only for hers.”

“What if James ge makes you taste it before giving it to her?”

Jacky wrinkled his face upon the thought. “True.” Then his eyes sparkled with mischief again. “Vinegar?”

“Uh…”

“What are you two doing putting your heads so close together like that?” Kristy asked out of nowhere.

Both Jacky and Joanne reacted at the same time, causing their heads to bump together by accident. They rubbed their heads furiously as they turned to Kristy.

“Nothing,” Jacky said quickly. “We’re just figuring out something.”

Kristy looked from Jacky to Joanne. “Why do I have a feeling like you’re coming up with some ways to spike Caitlin’s food again?”

“You’re just sensitive,” Jacky said with a nervous laugh.

“You know what? Let me make the dessert then. You two go out to the living room and wait.”

“But you’re the guest!” Joanne blurted out anxiously.

“Yes, that’s right,” Jacky agreed.

“You didn’t treat me like one when you told me to help earlier,” Kristy reminded them, studying their faces carefully.

“Uh…we’re feeling bad for making you work hard, so we’re trying to make up for it now?” Jacky explained, uttering another nervous laugh.

“That’s right,” Joanne chimed in.

Kristy began to take out a pan from one of the drawers below the sink. She then circled to the other side toward the fridge to take out milk and eggs. She set them down on the center counter before getting some ingredients from the cabinet above the sink. Jacky and Joanne couldn’t object anymore. They were just amazed at how she was gliding around the kitchen with ease.

“It seems like you know your way around here pretty well,” Jacky commented.

“Of course. I’ve been here since…” Kristy stopped herself in time.

“Forever?” Jacky offered.

“Something like that.”

“Even better for you to join the Chu family.”

Kristy stopped what she was doing.

“We promised not to talk about it in front of James,” Jacky clarified to her of their terms. “He’s not here.”

She resumed her tasks after that, knowing she couldn’t argue with Jacky.

Jacky and Joanne sat down at the stools in front of the center counter to watch Kristy. Kristy knew better than to let Jacky and Joanne help. Jacky was too tempted to sneak something into Caitlin’s portion. Jacky and Joanne ended up putting their heads on the counter with their hands as cushions—Jacky’s right, Joanne’s left—as they were waiting for Kristy. Jacky kept tapping on the counter with his free hand as Joanne sighed. Their heads were actually really close together right now, just facing the opposite direction.

“You two seriously know how to keep me company,” Kristy muttered.

“We were looking forward to some excitement, but you spoiled the fun,” Joanne whined, yawning.

Kristy smiled. “You’ll thank me later.”

“Yeah, sure,” Jacky said sarcastically.

Joanne let out another yawn.

Jacky stopped tapping and turned toward Joanne, switching his hand in the process. As he lays his head on his left hand, he tugged at Joanne’s ponytail with his right. “Qiao.”

Joanne turned around, switching her hands also. They’re facing each other at that point—with their heads still down.

“What?” Joanne asked tiredly.

“Let’s go outside and watch the stars.”

“Stars?” Joanne asked, wrinkling her face. “Are you kidding me? We can watch the moon. But we can’t see any stars from here.”

“Doesn’t matter, let’s go.”

Jacky sat straight up again, grabbing Joanne’s left hand with his right as he was getting off the stool. Joanne couldn’t object, allowing herself to be dragged by Jacky to the front door. Jacky finally spoke up when they were outside.

“Okay, change of plans,” Jacky informed her.

“What?!” Joanne asked, wrinkling her face.

“Don’t tell me you’re giving up already.”

“How about we continue it tomorrow?” Joanne suggested, smiling. “After all, they’re not at the restaurant tomorrow, right?”

“You clever…”

“Of course.”

Jacky looked up toward the sky above at that time.

“It’s interesting that the moon’s still this bright tonight.”

Joanne nodded although Jacky couldn’t see her. She slipped her left hand around his waist as he slips his right hand around her shoulders.

“Are you going to be really disappointed if I couldn’t take some time off on Valentine’s Day?” Jacky asked in a serious tone.

“It’s no big deal. You just have to bring back some…”

“I knew it!”

Joanne giggled.

“But for real,” Jacky said, looking at Joanne.

“Of course I don’t mind. You know that.”

Jacky smiled, looking up toward the sky again.

© Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Posted: Sunday, April 24th, 2011

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