Joanne tapped furiously on the counter with the pen in her hand, looking at the door once in a while. She has been here all morning—more like an hour or so ago. It seemed like the day wasn’t going by any faster. She sighed in and out again. Jacky was sitting at the center table, writing his report. He couldn’t help but look up from his folder.

“Qiao, would you stop sighing? It doesn’t help at all.”

“I’m waiting for lunchtime.”

“We just got here like an hour or so ago.”

“Why does it feel like forever then?”

“I thought I’m the desperate one. Why are you acting all anxious today?”

Joanne sighed again. As she was about to get up from the chair, she could see Joyce’s car pulling up outside. “Oh goody.”

Jacky had returned his attention to his report already, but he looked up again. “What?”

“Xiao Qiao’s here!”

“She was here yesterday too.”

“Look who’s here with her though.”

Jacky turned his attention to the entrance of the shop. He wrinkled his face at the sight of the guy who was opening the door for Joyce.

“Turn that expression off,” Joanne warned. “You’re being mean.”

“I’m not saying anything,” Jacky said defensively.

“You’re implying something.”

“Am not.”

Joanne was halfway to the center table where Jacky was, so she had to double back to greet Joyce. “What a surprise! I didn’t expect you two to come together.”

“My car’s in the shop so I’ve been getting free rides from Xiao Qiao,” The guy explained.

“Oh…really?” Joanne said, turning to Joyce. “It’s been like two days or what?”

The guy scratched his head, not knowing what to say.

“Maybe you should charge him, Miss Zhao,” Jacky said casually.

“Thanks for the input, Young Master Chu,” Joanne said, turning to Jacky.

“Hey, I’m just trying to be helpful.” Jacky was back to writing his report, so he couldn’t see Joanne’s expression.

Joyce walked toward the center table and sat down to Jacky’s left. “You’re writing your report already?”

“I like to get a head start.”

“Care to write mine for me too?”

Jacky looked up at her. “Sure.” He turned on his sweet smile at that time before continuing. “If you want it to end up in the trash along with mine.” He turned his smile off after saying that.

Although Jacky was talking to Joyce, he could still hear Joanne’s conversation.

“Oh yeah, did you find a job yet?” Joanne asked the guy.

“No, not yet,” The guy replied. “Actually, I’m thinking of setting up my own place.”

“Sugarcane shop?” Jacky jumped in.

Joanne wrinkled her face. “Where did you get that idea?”

Jacky shrugged. “Not sure.” He began to rustle some papers on the table, trying to find some notes. “I’m just guessing, okay?”

“Gino, just ignore him,” Joanne said. “He’s kidding.”

“Sure, ignore me,” Jacky muttered under his breath.

“I smell something sour,” Joyce whispered to Jacky as she was leaning toward him.

Jacky shoved Joyce aside gently. “Go home and wash your hair then.”

“Hey!”

“I’m kidding,” Jacky said, looking up finally. Then he put on his charming smile again.

“That wasn’t funny.”

“Was it funny that you were stabbing me in the back?”

“When?” Joyce asked, confused.

“Like five minutes back.”

“What?!”

Jacky leaned toward Joyce and whispered, “Bringing him here.” He straightened up again to continue his writing after that.

“Ooohhh…” Joyce oozed, finally realizing what was going on. “I sense some jealousy!”

“What happened?” Joanne asked, turning to Jacky and Joyce.

“It looks like he’s going to quit his job soon,” Joyce said.

Joanne rushed over to them, wrinkling her face. “What? Jacky, are you still thinking about what Kristy jie said last night?”

Jacky looked up at Joanne. “No. Don’t listen to Xiao Qiao, she’s…you know, weird.”

Gino had somehow made his way over to the table also, sitting down at the seat facing Jacky. Joanne had settled down on Jacky’s right when she was waiting for him to answer her.

“What kind of shop are you going to open then?” Joanne asked, turning to Gino again.

“It’s not a shop. It’s more like a fitness center,” Gino replied.

Jacky’s head snapped up from his paper again. “As in?”

“As in martial arts training place.”

Jacky looked back down at his paper. “More like some training class than a fitness center.”

“Have you decided on the location yet?” Joyce asked.

“Sounds like he’s still dreaming here,” Jacky mumbled.

Both Joanne and Joyce kicked Jacky under the table at the same time. Jacky brought his head up again, looking from Joyce to Joanne.

“Being attacked by both girlfriends at the same time,” Jacky said. “Not bad.”

Joyce hit him on the arm. “You wish!”

“Are you serious?” Gino asked.

“What?” Jacky asked back, turning his attention to Gino.

“Two girlfriends,” Gino repeated.

“We’re kidding,” Jacky clarified in a passive tone.

“Oh…”

“They’re always like that so don’t mind them,” Joanne reassured Gino.

Gino nodded.

Joanne looked at her watch for the umpteenth time that morning as Jacky went back to his report.

“Where is Uncle?” Gino asked, looking around the shop.

“He’s not coming in today,” Joanne answered.

“Oh.”

“Kenny’s coming in today at lunch to take over for us so we could…”

“Qiao…” Jacky jumped in, cutting her off.

“What?” Joanne asked, turning to Jacky.

“It’s our secret.”

“Here we go again,” Joyce said, smiling.

At that time, the chime jingled.

Jacky looked up out of habit. His passive expression turned into surprise. What in the world is today? A reunion?

“What are you doing here?” Jacky asked.

“James ge!” Joanne exclaimed, getting up.

James walked toward the group. He sat down at the seat in between Gino and Joanne.

“Are you guys having a party here?” James asked. “And I thought you said you were busy.”

“We are,” Joanne replied, sitting down at her place again. “We’re looking over the shop.”

“Looks more like a gathering while Uncle is away.”

“What happened to the old woman?” Jacky asked, looking outside.

James didn’t bother to correct Jacky. “She went shopping with her girlfriends.”

“I guess your plan failed?”

“Pretty much.”

“I’ll call Kristy jie for you.”

“Knock it off already. And stop trying to matchmake me with her.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s nice.”

“You sound like you’re describing your pet. What’s wrong with her?”

“Nothing. It’s just…”

“She’s too boring for you, right?” Joyce jumped in.

Jacky wrinkled his face. “You’re that vain?” Then he turned to Joyce. “And what are you hinting at? I have poor taste?”

“Come on. Face it. James ge will probably dump the old woman within three months anyway.”

“Xiao Qiao, you too?” James asked, surprised.

“Sorry,” Joyce apologized, shrugging her. “I’m your brother’s best friend. Have to support him.”

“Thank you,” Jacky said as he was writing something in his notebook again.

Gino had been looking from one person to the other, half-confused and half-shocked. Now he found an opportunity to speak up. “If you guys are talking about some inside stuffs, I can leave, you know.”

“Sure,” Jacky muttered.

Joanne kicked him under the table.

“What?” Jacky asked, looking up at Joanne with his innocent face. “I’m kidding.” Then he turned to Gino. “We’re just talking about my brother’s girlfriend. You’ll catch on soon enough.”

“You guys are brothers?” Gino asked, looking from Jacky to James.

“Problem?” Jacky asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No, I mean…”

“Stop scaring him already, will you?” Joanne chided, slapping Jacky’s shoulder in the process. “Turn off that cool look.”

“Are you new in town?” James asked, looking at Gino. “I haven’t seen you around before.”

“He’s my friend from high school,” Joanne explained. “He just came back recently from Hong Kong.”

“Oh,” James said, turning to Jacky. “The old flame?”

Jacky looked down at his paper again.

“Want to have an early lunch?” Joyce asked.

“I want to finish this first, you guys go.”

“I’m waiting for Kenny,” Joanne responded.

“I can go buy some food and bring it back here,” Joyce offered.

James uttered a laugh.

“Oh…how could I be so ignorant?” Joyce said, feeling foolish. Then she turned to James and spoke in a sweet voice. “James ge…”

Jacky snapped his head up to look at Joyce. “Don’t tell me you want to be my future sis-in-law.”

Joyce hit his hand before turning to James again.

“All right,” James said. “You always manage to get me with that smile.”

James took out his cell phone to call his restaurant.

Joanne looked at Jacky closely, trying to see what he was up to while James was making the call. Jacky caught her staring at him out the corner of his eye as he was looking around for some notes on the table again. He turned his full attention to her before speaking up.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Joanne said innocently.

“Sure.”

Joyce tugged on Jacky’s sleeve. “Hey.”

Jacky turned to Joyce. “What?”

“When your parents come back, want to have a reunion dinner?”

Jacky looked over to James and then back to Joyce. “James just suggested the same thing last night.”

“He did?” Joyce asked, surprised.

“Are you sure you don’t have something going on behind my back?”

Joyce hit him on his hand again. “You should change your occupation and open some matchmaking agency or something?”

“Hey, if you want to secure your spot, you better tell me now. Since I’m supporting Kristy jie at the moment. You better make a really good case later if you want to change my mind.”

“Like James ge ever listens to you.”

Jacky brought his right hand to his heart. “Ouch…I think I feel a sharp pain right about here.”

“Stop being dramatic.”

“You expect me not to when you just stabbed me AGAIN today?”

They had been talking in a low voice while James was on the phone, but now that Jacky raised his voice a bit, it caught everyone’s attention too.

James snapped his cell phone shut. “What’s going on again? Are you two still arguing over Xiao Qiao’s latest boyfriend?”

“Xiao Qiao has a boyfriend already?” Gino asked, shocked.

Jacky stared at Gino. “What does that supposed to mean? She’s not attractive enough to have a boyfriend?”

“Stop it,” Joanne warned—again.

Jacky turned to Joanne. “But this is fun though.”

“I know you’re having a blast, but you’re taking it a bit too far.”

“Is Uncle going to come back later today or no?” James asked.

“No,” Jacky replied. “He left me his shop…and his daughter.”

Joanne hit his hand.

“I’m serious.”

“Don’t mind him,” Joyce told Gino. “He couldn’t be serious for two seconds.”

“So…what did you order today?” Jacky asked James, closing his folder at the same time.

“Some new dishes,” James answered.

“You mean we’re lab rats again?”

“Call it sacrificing for creativity.”

“I call it stupidity,” Jacky muttered, getting up. He had already gathered up all his paperwork and was walking toward the break room.

“He’s leaving?” Gino asked.

“No,” Joanne replied. “Just putting his stuffs away.”

“Oh…”

“As we were saying before, so do you need help in looking for a location to open your martial arts place?” Joyce asked.

“You know martial arts?” James jumped in, turning to Gino.

Gino nodded.

The chime in front jingled again.

“That was fast,” Joanne commented.

She got up from her spot and walked toward the delivery guy. James was right behind her.

“Charge it to Jacky’s account,” James said as Joanne took the boxes from the delivery boy.

“Yes, sir,” The guy responded.

Jacky came out from the break room at that time and heard that. “What?! I thought it’s on you.”

“There’s no free meal in life, Little Bro,” James teased.

“Fine then. I’ll just take it up another notch with you know who.”

“Mixing personal and business?”

“There’s no total black and white in life, only gray.”

“So what do I do now?” The delivery guy asked, confused.

“Of course, charge it to my account, what else?” Jacky clarified—though he might as well not. “You’re paying?”

“Sir?” The guy turned to James for help.

Jacky took the boxes from Joanne and walked back to the center table again. Joanne took out her wallet and handed the delivery boy some bills. He still looked confused.

Jacky turned to see the situation. “Take it, man.”

“Go ahead,” James reassured him.

“Yes, sir,” The guy obeyed. He still looked confused but took the bills. He was about to turn toward the door again when James stopped him.

“Is Cait back at the restaurant yet?” James asked.

“What in the world is she doing there?” Jacky asked, alarmed. “Trying to…” Jacky stopped himself in time.

“No, sir,” The delivery boy replied to James’ question. “We haven’t seen her since this morning.”

“All right,” James said. “You can go back.”

James and Joanne made their way back to the center table. Jacky and Joyce had been setting the food out.

“Is he new?” Jacky asked, sitting down at his seat again.

“No,” James responded. “He’s just confused.”

“Of course, he is. He’s not that fun to mess with like…”

Joanne sat down next to him again. “What’s with you and playing jokes on newbies?”

“It’s fun?”

“Oh, grow up already,” Joyce jumped in.

Jacky turned to Joyce. “What does that have to do with anything though?”

“Forget him, let’s eat,” Joanne said to Joyce.

“Repeat that,” Jacky urged, taking the food away from Joanne.

Joanne took the food back and ignored him.

“Nice.”

Joanne did a little semi-bowing gesture.

“Unbelievable,” James jumped in.

“What?” Jacky asked. “Jealous?”

Joyce saw the awkward look on Gino’s face. “As I was saying before, don’t mind them.”

“It seems like…” Gino began.

“Careful,” Jacky warned.

“Uh…”

“Stop scaring him already,” Joyce interjected.

Jacky turned to Joyce. “Can you guys stop protecting him?” Then he turned to Gino. “You were so awesome the other day at the bank with your cool look, what happened now? That was just for show? Or are you just pretending to be innocent today so you can score points with the girls?”

That last comment earned him a kick from both Joanne and Joyce again.

“Girls, who’s childish now?” Jacky asked, looking at the girls.

Gino looked more confused than ever.

“Whatever you do, don’t kick me,” James said.

Joyce turned Gino. “You don’t need to know this part. We’re just trying to keep Jacky in line.”

“Reason?” Jacky asked.

“No reason,” Joanne replied.

“We just have to,” Joyce continued.

“You girls are getting along quite well,” Jacky commented.

“Don’t we always?” Joanne asked.

“He must have missed all the times we went shopping together and…” Joyce began, her enthusiasm high.

“Enough of storytime already,” Jacky said, cutting her off. “Save it for bedtime.”

The chime in front jingled again. Everyone looked up at the same time this time. They saw Kenny walking in.

“Wow!” Kenny exclaimed, seeing the crowded table. “I should have come out here earlier.”

“You mean there’s no food at home?” Jacky asked.

“Qiao Qiao jie is out here already,” Kenny said. “Who would cook anyway?”

“You make it sound like they starve you at home or something.”

“Something like that. Why is it so empty today?”

“Maybe ‘cause someone changed the sign from ‘Open’ to ‘Closed’?”

“What?!” Joanne exclaimed in alarm, jumping up from her seat.

“You didn’t notice it the whole time we’ve been sitting here, and no one came in?”

Joanne raced to the door and changed the sign again. “Who did that?”

“I don’t know,” Jacky teased. “Who was that? The one tapping her pen constantly on the counter for the last hour or so?”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t see it before?”

“Yeah right.”

“No. I’m kidding. Kenny just turned the sign when he came in.”

“How did you know?” Kenny asked with his mouth wide-opened.

“When you passed through the door, everyone looked up—including me.”

“But no one else noticed.”

“Just because everyone chose to give you their 100% attention doesn’t mean I have to.”

“You’re scary.”

“Thanks.” He had on his proud smile after that.

“I think I’m going to head back to the restaurant,” James announced, looking at his watch. “It’s going to get crowded soon.” Then he turned to Joanne. “Qiao, give this to Uncle when you see him.” He handed her an envelope before getting up. “All right, everyone. See you all later.”

“Are we still up for tonight or no?” Jacky asked.

“Don’t pull any more tricks,” James said sternly.

“I wouldn’t dare,” Jacky returned, both hands raised above his head.

James ignored him and made his way to the door.

As soon as James was out of earshot, Jacky turned to Joanne. He reached his right hand toward the envelope. “Care if I take a look?”

Joanne yanked it away from his reach. “It’s none of your business.”

“Says you,” Jacky argued, reaching further with a mischievous smile on his face.

“It’s not funny.”

Jacky’s phone rang at that time so he had to release Joanne’s hand to pick it up. “Hello?”

“Is Qiao Qiao with you?” A guy’s voice asked.

“Who is this?” Jacky asked, wrinkling his face.

“It’s Calvin.”

Jacky diverted his eyes to Joanne. “Oh. You sound different today for some reason. Hold on.” He handed the phone to Joanne after that.

She mouthed a “Who?” toward his direction as she took it from him. He mouthed back to her the answer.

As Joanne was taking the call, Kenny had managed to sit down in James’ spot.

“Hello?” Joanne said into the phone.

“I have two tickets to the movies, you want…” Calvin began.

“I can’t go.”

“No. I’m asking if you want ‘em ‘cause I can’t make it.”

“When is it?”

“Tomorrow night.”

“Okay. I’ll take it. How much is it?”

“Don’t worry about it. It was from a friend. I’m just passing it on to you now.”

“For real?”

“Of course. You could go with Jacky.”

“If you say so then I’ll take it.”

“Okay. I’ll drop it off at your shop then?”

“Okay.”

“Bye.”

“Yeah, bye.”

They hung up after that.

“Well? What did he want?” Jacky questioned.

“He’s giving us two free tickets to the movies,” Joanne answered, smiling. “Great or what?”

“Yeah. Great.”

Joanne handed Jacky his phone back.

“And he didn’t call your phone because?”

“How should I know?” Joanne responded, shrugging.

While Joanne was talking on the phone, half of them were already done eating. Joyce was getting up to clean the table. As she was about to dispose of the boxes, the chime jingled again. Everyone looked up like last time.

“What is this?” Jacky asked in wonderment. “Why is everyone coming in today?

“Charlene?” Joanne called in a surprised voice. “What are you doing here? I thought you said…”

“I called you several times already,” Charlene blurted out, somewhat irritated. “I couldn’t get a hold of you, so I came here in person.”

Joanne wrinkled her face. She reached into her pants pocket to retrieve her cell phone. “Oh! No wonder no one could reach me.”

“You shut your phone off by accident?” Jacky guessed.

Joanne nodded.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you our Qiao. Always so clever yet always so careless,” Jacky said casually to everyone in general.

Joanne shoved him away as she was making her way to the break room.

“I’m just telling the truth!” Jacky hollered, looking after her.

Charlene walked toward the break room to join Joanne. It seemed like they needed to take care of some “business.”

Jacky turned back to the others. “So…what do we do now?”

Joyce, who just came back from the break room, turned to the front door. Jacky followed her vision line to see if anyone was coming in again.

“This is just beyond weird,” Jacky said.

“No customers coming in at all?” Joyce joined in.

“Yes. There were like five since we opened, but that was it. I wonder if…”

“Let me go outside and check to see if someone put some hideous picture near our shop again,” Kenny offered.

They waited for Kenny to come back and report to them. But Kenny didn’t come back until five minutes later. The others somehow were playing cards right now. It was from Joyce’s handbag. Joanne and Charlene were still in the break room. Everyone looked up again as Kenny rushed in—breathless.

“What happened?” Jacky asked. “You got chased down by a pack of lions?”

“Worse,” Kenny responded, still trying to catch his breath.

“There are worse things than being chased by a pack of lions?” Joyce asked.

“Our business is being threatened here,” Kenny said in a serious tone.

Jacky dropped his cards on the table and got up, walking toward Kenny. “What happened?”

“There’s a new flower shop at the end of the block. Actually, it’s at the end of the block across the street.”

“No wonder no one’s coming here. What in the world did they do? Distributing gold flowers on their opening day?”

“Much more.”

“What?”

“They stationed two attractive females in front to pass out flyers.”

“How attractive are they?”

Joanne cleared her throat.

“I’m just wondering how aggressive the competition is,” Jacky explained, turning to Joanne and slipping his right hand around her shoulders.

Joanne had walked up to join them while Jacky and Kenny were talking. It seemed that she and Charlene were done talking since Charlene was standing nearby, listening in.

“How about we go outside to check it out?” Jacky suggested to them.

“Who’s going to watch over the shop then?” Joanne asked.

“Lock it up. Like anyone’s going to come in any time soon.”

“Jacky ge is right,” Charlene chirped in. “Let’s go check it out.”

“Don’t you have somewhere to go?” Joanne asked, turning to her.

“I’ll just stick around a bit more. What’s the harm?”

“Okay, then.”

“You two coming?” Jacky asked, turning to Gino and Joyce.

Joyce smiled. “Sure. Who can miss the excitement, right?”

“That’s the spirit. Let’s go.”

They all headed toward the entrance. Joanne locked up the shop before they crossed the street and walked to the “new” flower shop.

© Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Posted: Monday, April 25th, 2011

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