Jacky stopped them as everyone was about half a block from the new flower shop.

“What?” Joanne asked, looking impatient.

“Let’s go in pairs or at least separate into groups,” Jacky suggested.

Joanne wrinkled her face.

“If we go together, they might get suspicious.”

“You’re paranoid.”

“I agree with Jacky this time,” Joyce jumped in.

“See?” Jacky rattled out smoothly.

Joanne gave Jacky a dagger look as he sent her a “proud” smile.

“Guys, are we going or not?” Gino asked, sounding as impatient as Joanne a minute before. “We’re crowding the street.”

“You and Xiao Qiao go first,” Jacky directed. “Then we’ll follow in a bit.”

“All right then,” Joyce said.

Gino and Joyce walked away from the group. Jacky must give Joyce millions of points for her natural act. She looked like a tourist who just happened to pass by the area and was looking anxiously at the shop, trying to edge in and participate in the excitement.

“I think Xiao Qiao should switch to acting instead of being a business agent,” Jacky commented, laughing.

“But Gino doesn’t know how to play along,” Charlene criticized. She had been standing next to Jacky since Joyce left.

“That’s perfect then,” Jacky said, smiling. “‘Cause he’s an honest guy. Her anxiousness and his reluctant nature complement each other. Can’t you see? He’s trying to pull her back and she keeps edging forward. They’re great as a team.”

Joanne gave Jacky a weird expression. “I thought you don’t like Gino. How come you have to compliment him like that?”

“Oh, please. Qiao, do you think I’m that petty?”

“You never know.” Joanne had been putting her hands in her jacket pockets, but now she took them out of the pockets to shield her face from Jacky’s attack.

“I’m not going to do anything to you. Don’t you trust me?”

Joanne hit his left arm. “Sure. Whatever you say, Young Master Chu.”

“I’m going to yell ‘boyfriend abuse’ soon if you don’t quit it.”

Joanne stuck her tongue out at him.

“And you were saying I’m childish?”

“Can we go yet?” Charlene asked in an impatient tone.

“Whenever you want,” Jacky told her. “I didn’t say you can’t go. Qiao and I are last.”

“But…” Charlene objected.

Kenny pulled Charlene forward.

“Ge!” Charlene whined. “What are you doing?”

“If we don’t go now, when do you want to go?” Kenny asked, still pulling her forward. “Come on.”

Charlene couldn’t object, so she walked side-by-side with her brother toward the flower shop. Kenny turned around to give Jacky an “okay” sign before turning around to face front again.

Jacky turned to Joanne in time to see her staring at him. He wrinkled his eyebrow. “What are you staring at, Miss Tseng?”

“Nothing,” Joanne replied, smiling.

“I know that smile. What’s going on?”

“It’s just that…”

Jacky nodded, prompting for her to go on. However, the sound of a car honking nearby interrupted them. They both looked around to see what was going on.

“Qiao!” Jacky called out, realizing who the person was.

Joanne turned to where Jacky was pointing.

“Oh,” Joanne said, recognizing the person also. “He’s binging over the tickets for us.”

Joanne waved to Calvin’s car as he came up to them. While they were waiting for Calvin to park, Jacky turned to Joanne.

“Qiao, I got an idea.”

Joanne still had her eyes on the street. “What?”

“How about we give the tickets to Xiao Qiao?”

“Since we can’t go anyway?” She turned to look at him again.

He smiled and nodded.

Calvin already got out of his car and was walking toward them now.

“Hey!” Jacky greeted him. “How’s it going?”

“It’s going,” Calvin responded.

“I’m guessing everything’s the same then?”

“It’s not like we get to travel around like you and Xiao Qiao.”

“True. Oh yeah, I heard Qiao said you have movie tickets for us?”

“Yeah.”

Calvin reached into his shirt pocket to pull out the tickets. He handed them to Jacky.

“It looks brand new to me,” Jacky commented, studying it carefully.

“Of course it’s new,” Calvin said as if they should already know it.

“Like you just bought them for us or something.”

“No. I’m not that rich to toss money around like that.”

Jacky handed the tickets to Joanne.

“I heard jie said you invited her to dinner last night?” Calvin asked casually.

“Yes,” Jacky admitted. “Too bad things didn’t work out.”

“You mean she stopped you from putting some ‘special’ ingredients into Caitlin’s food?”

“She told you?”

Calvin shook his head. “No. I guessed.”

“You want to join us tonight then?”

“You guys hanging out again?”

“Actually, no. More like helping James with something. But we can arrange some events in between.”

“Nah. Maybe another time.”

“How about when my parents come back?”

“We’ll see. What’s with the crowd?”

“Competition.”

“Oh.”

Jacky nodded. “Talking about that, Qiao and I are heading there now. Want to join us to see what all the craze is?”

“Umm…”

“If you’re in a hurry…”

“I guess a few minutes more won’t kill.”

“All right then.”

They walked together toward the flower shop. As they were pushing their way through the crowd, Jacky scanned his eyes around for the others. When they were finally inside, Jacky spotted Joyce with Gino at the far-right corner of the shop, looking at a flower basket. He grabbed Joanne’s hand and yielded her in that direction. Calvin joined them seconds later as he managed to break free from the crowd.

“Buying her a Valentine’s Day gift already?” Jacky teased, smiling.

Gino and Joyce turned toward Jacky and Joanne.

“We’re trying to help here,” Joyce reminded him, turning to Jacky and Joanne. “Wow! A reunion? What is today really?

“He’s just here to drop off the movie tickets for us,” Joanne explained.

“Oh.”

“So…” Joanne said, gesturing toward the gift basket still in Joyce’s hand. “…what have you two found out?”

“This place sure is glamorous. It’s more of an elegant gift shop than just a simple flower shop.”

“Does that mean we’re doomed?”

“Not necessarily.”

“I see Miss Zhao’s mind is zooming one million mile-per-second right now,” Jacky pointed out upon seeing Joyce’s smile. “What’ve you got?”

“I’ll tell you all later.”

“Keeping secrets from us?”

“Like always.”

Jacky and Joyce shared their usual secret smile.

Calvin turned to Joanne. “So…are you going to double date tomorrow night then?”

“Oh yeah. Almost forgot,” Joanne said, realizing something. She took out the tickets that she just tugged safely into her pants pocket. She turned to Joyce and handed it to her.

“What is this for?” Joyce asks, taking the tickets from Joanne.

“Tickets to the movies,” Joanne replied.

“We’re passing the tickets around just like that?” Calvin jumped in, flashing out an amused smile.

Joanne smiled. “You just happen to give them to me at the right time.”

“It’s from him?” Joyce asked, still looking at Joanne.

Joanne nodded. “He can’t make it, so he passed it to us. We’re passing it to you. Great or what?”

“Two?” Joyce looked confused.

“Come on, Miss Zhao,” Jacky quipped. “You’re a smart person. You know what I mean.”

“What?” Joyce asked innocently, looking at him.

Jacky looked at Gino real quick before turning back to Joyce.

“Oh…are you thinking of quitting your job and opening a matchmaking agency of some sort?”

“It’s called…” He put his hands up to emphasize the quotations before continuing, “…‘friends connection’ agency.”

“You guys going to browse or stand around here?” Calvin asked suddenly.

“Almost forgot our purpose here,” Jacky said. “Let’s go then.” He grabbed Joanne’s hand.

Calvin followed them, leaving Joyce and Gino behind.

After about half an hour or so of browsing the shop, Jacky, Joanne, and Calvin headed back outside. They walked back to Felicity Flower Shop together. Calvin seemed like he was not in a hurry at all although he said he was supposed to go somewhere earlier. As they entered the shop, they realized Kenny was back already. What was strange was that Gino and Joyce were still somewhere in the shop. Did they get tempted by all the luxurious offers from that brand new shop already?

“Where are the others?” Jacky asked, somewhat taken aback.

“Charlene left when we’re only halfway through our investigation of the shop,” Kenny answered. “I’m not sure about Gino and Xiao Qiao jie though.”

Jacky still felt a sense of loyalty within since Kenny didn’t go as far as calling Gino “Gino ge” yet. Although he had every right to, but Jacky was glad he didn’t—YET.

They all sat at the center table again. Jacky, Joanne, and Kenny resumed their place at their original spots from earlier while Calvin took the seat next to Kenny.

“All right, what are we going to do now?” Jacky asked, looking from one to the other.

“It looks like they’re running some warehouse store, not just a regular flower shop,” Kenny analyzed. “I swear, half of the stuffs in there aren’t even flower-related. How could they call it a flower shop?”

“Complaining about it won’t help. We got to come up with a plan.”

“Valentine’s coming,” Joanne pointed out. “This might be our chance to show them what we’ve got.”

“Jie, this could also be their chance of proving to us their capabilities,” Kenny reminded her. “Actually, they already did.”

“Honestly, if you take away all those girls, they’re hopeless,” Calvin jumped in.

“Talking about that, we should bring in all the female customers,” Joanne said, her eyes lighting up.

The guys turned to look at her, waiting patiently for her to continue.

“Most of the ones coming into the shop are male customers,” Joanne reminded them. “Only young female customers came in out of curiosity. So our aim is to bring in all the female customers—especially those men’s wives.” She flashed on her mischievous smile after saying that.

Jacky smiled also. “I get your drift. Counterstrike? If we can hold the wives, the husbands will follow?”

“Come on, jie,” Kenny nagged. “Who are you kidding? Like they listen to their wives.”

“They would if they don’t want to be sleeping on the couch,” Jacky defended Joanne. “Or how about some family crisis? Which of those men would want to get caught getting smooth with those girls?”

They heard a jingle at the door again. Out of habit, they looked up to see Gino and Joyce walking in.

“Well, well,” Jacky said sarcastically, but smiling at the same time. “I see that the traitors have finally came back to confess their crimes.”

“What in the world are you talking about now?” Joyce asked, wrinkling her face.

“We’re already back and discussing some plans and you’re still over there having fun?”

“I’ve come up with a plan already. After talking to a certain group of people.”

“Let’s hear it then.”

“Not now. I need to go and check something first.” She turned to Joanne. “I’ll discuss it with you later, all right?”

Joanne nodded as Jacky put on a strange look.

“What?” Joyce asked, her face still passive.

“So you’re not going to tell me?” Jacky asked back, sounding almost hurt.

“What difference does it make? She’s going to tell you anyway.”

“That’s true but it seems like I’m not included for some reason.”

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

With that, Joyce turned to leave the shop. Gino followed closely behind her. After they were out of the shop—and earshot, Jacky turned to the others again.

“Could you believe it?” Jacky asked them.

“What?” Calvin asked back, still puzzled.

“I just lost my best friend to some fitness trainer.”

“Martial arts instructor,” Joanne corrected him.

Jacky turned to Joanne. “Must you go out of your way to correct me?”

“Just thought I keep you in line.”

“Hmmm…”

Calvin smiled at their expressions.

“Can we get back to the subject at hand?” Kenny asked, somewhat annoyed. “Our shop is at a threat here.”

Joanne cleared her throat. “All right. Aside from relying on those female customers, we also have to change our Valentines basket and offers to attract customers. We’ll have to come up with something soon and get the information out to the crowd.” She sighed. “So much for a relaxing Valentine.”

“We should definitely come up with something special, like those jewelry stores doing lovers’ bracelet or whatever,” Jacky suggested.

“What should we do? Flower bracelet? Oh please. It won’t last the day.”

“Patient, Miss Tseng. We’ll come up with something.”

“Easy for you to say.”

“It’s just their first day. I don’t think they can still keep up with their old gig. Just wait and see. People will get bored soon.”

“It took us awhile to tour around that shop. Do you think others will get bored of it that soon?”

“Be more optimistic, will you?”

“Sorry to leave you guys stranded, but I have to get back,” Calvin announced, looking at his watch. “Old Pop is probably looking for me right now.”

“All right,” Joanne said, standing up. “I’ll walk you out.”

“No need.”

“All right then. Thanks for the tickets.”

“Anytime.”

Joanne sat back down after Calvin turned to leave.

“Are you two still going to carry out your evil plan today?” Kenny asked, looking from Jacky to Joanne.

“No need,” Jacky answered. “The old lady is out shopping with her friends today. We can delay our plan until further notice.”

“All right then,” Kenny said, nodding his head, looking somewhat disappointed. He got up and went back to the front counter.

They resumed the little of business left until closing time. Joyce came back as promised earlier. This time, without Gino. Joanne had left to do some clean up for the break room while Jacky and Kenny were making their last round around the shop.

“We’re closed, Miss Zhao,” Jacky announced in a passive tone upon seeing Joyce.

“What are you up to now?” Joyce asked, wrinkling her face.

“He’s still sore that you left with Gino earlier,” Kenny explained, walking over to them.

Joyce glanced at Jacky briefly. “Lame.”

“What?” Jacky asked innocently.

“Never mind that. Guess what I found out?”

“What?”

“After driving around and asking various people, I finally came to a conclusion.”

Jacky put on his half-amused face.

“Stop being mean!”

Jacky laughed and turned off his amused expression—as requested.

“Anyway, you know how many flower shops around town are planning to do a Valentine’s special this year?”

“How many?”

“Three.”

“Out of all the twenty shops, only three are planning to do something special? Are they still planning to stay in business?”

“Three already got bought over by that new shop and the rest are at a stable position. They don’t want to risk it.”

“Why are they even in business then?”

“Beats me, but that’s where we come in. If we can come up with a Valentine’s special that could attract customers, then we can win this game and show those big shots what we got.”

“I thought you said you would tell Qiao first, why are you telling me?”

“Like I said earlier, does it make any difference?”

“Guess not.”

“You didn’t say that earlier when Xiao Qiao jie insisted on telling jie first,” Kenny pointed out.

Jacky gave Kenny an evil look. Kenny got the hint and went back front to lock the door.

Joanne came out from the break room at that time. “Everyone ready to go?”

Jacky turned to see her jiggling her keys in her hand. “Yes, Miss Tseng.” Then he turned back to Joyce. “We’re leaving by the backdoor today since someone’s being paranoid.”

Joyce smiled. “I know. That’s why I circled around back and parked there.”

“How did you know?” Jacky asked, wrinkling his eyebrows.

“No cars out front, sounds suspicious? So I circled around once and saw everyone’s cars there.”

“Clever, Miss Zhao,” Jacky complimented, giving her a thumbs-up sign.

“Thanks.”

Kenny turned the light switch off before walking back to them. Joanne waited for the other three to walk past her into the break room before turning off the light near the back also.

“So, what’s your grand plan?” Joanne asked Joyce.

“We have to go back to the drawing board first,” Joyce told her. “Make sure we don’t clash with any other designs before regrouping to discuss.”

“All right, let’s go,” Jacky urged.

He was holding the back door open so the girls could pass through. Kenny had already gone to his car, excusing himself first—claiming he needed to prepare for the upcoming battle.

When they were outside, the girls were chatting away about the plans while Jacky listened in, half-amused and half-amazed. Sometimes he wondered if it was a mistake introducing these two after all. They seemed to get along very well—ignoring him half of the time even. I should be glad they are, he thought. No dramas.

Finally, the two separated when they stood in front of Joyce’s car.

“I’ll call you up later if I find something,” Joyce said.

“All right, thanks again!” Joanne exclaimed with much gratitude.

“No problem. We’re friends, remember?”

Joanne waited for Joyce to pull out before turning back to Jacky.

“I’m glad you remember I’m still around,” Jacky muttered.

Joanne wrinkled her face. “What are you talking about? Jealous with your own best friend?”

“Am I that petty?”

“Maybe…” She walked to her car after that.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jacky challenged, following her.

Joanne didn’t answer but continued to her car, deactivating the alarm as she got closer.

Jacky stopped in front of Joanne’s car. “We’re still on for tonight, right?”

“Definitely.”

“All right then. Bye.”

He waited for Joanne to pull out before getting into his car, doing the same.

© Thursday, May 8th, 2008

Posted: Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

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