Chapter 8

Jacky stops them as everyone’s about half a block from the new flower shop.
“What?” Joanne asks, looking impatient.
“Let’s go in pairs or at least separate into groups,” Jacky suggests.
Joanne wrinkles her face.
“If we go together, they might get suspicious.”
“You’re paranoid.”
“I agree with Jacky this time,” Joyce jumps in.
“See?”Jacky rattles out smoothly.
Joanne gives Jacky a dagger look as he sends her a “proud” smile.
“Guys, are we going or not?” Gino asks, sounding as impatient as Joanne a minute before. “We’re crowding the street.”
“You and Xiao Qiao go first,” Jacky directs. “Then we’ll follow in a bit.”
“All right then,” Joyce says.
Gino and Joyce walk away from the group. Jacky must give Joyce millions of points for her natural act. She looks like a tourist who just happens to pass by the area and is 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 comments, laughing.
“But Gino doesn’t know how to play along,” Charlene criticizes. She has been standing next to Jacky since Joyce left.
“That’s perfect then,” Jacky says, 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 gives 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 has been putting her hands in her jacket pockets, but now she takes 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 hits 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 sticks her tongue out at him.
“And you were saying I’m childish?”
“Can we go yet?” Charlene asks in an impatient tone.
“Whenever you want,” Jacky tells her. “I didn’t say you can’t go. Qiao and I are last.”
“But…” Charlene objects.
Kenny pulls Charlene forward.
“Ge!” Charlene whines. “What are you doing?”
“If we don’t go now, when do you want to go?” Kenny asks, still pulling her forward. “Come on.”
Charlene couldn’t object, so she walks side-by-side with her brother towards the flower shop. Kenny turns around to give Jacky an “okay” sign before turning around to face front again.
Jacky turns to Joanne in time to see her staring at him. He wrinkles his eyebrow. “What are you staring at, Miss Zeng?”
“Nothing,” Joanne replies, smiling.
“I know that smile. What’s going on?”
“It’s just that…”
Jacky nods, prompting for her to go on. However, the sound of a car honking nearby interrupts them. They both look around to see what’s going on.
“Qiao!” Jacky calls out, realizing who the person is.
Joanne turns to where Jacky’s pointing.
“Oh,” Joanne says, recognizing the person also. “He’s binging over the tickets for us.”
Joanne waves to Calvin’s car as he comes up to them. While they’re waiting for Calvin to park, Jacky turns to Joanne.
“Qiao, I got an idea.”
Joanne still has her eyes on the street. “What?”
“How about we give the tickets to Xiao Qiao?”
“Since we can’t go anyway?” She turns to look at him again.
He smiles and nods.
Calvin already got out of his car and is walking towards them now.
“Hey!” Jacky greets him. “How’s it going?”
“It’s going,” Calvin responds.
“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 reaches into his shirt pocket to pull out the tickets. He hands them to Jacky.
“It looks brand new to me,” Jacky comments, studying it carefully.
“Of course it’s new,” Calvin says 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 hands the tickets to Joanne.
“I heard jie said you invited her to dinner last night?” Calvin asks casually.
“Yes,” Jacky admits. “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 shakes 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 at another time.”
“How about when my parents come back?”
“We’ll see. What’s with the crowd?”
“Competition.”
“Oh.”
Jacky nods. “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 walk together towards the flower shop. As they’re pushing their way through the crowd, Jacky scans his eyes around for the others. When they’re finally inside, Jacky spots Joyce with Gino at the far right corner of the shop, looking at a flower basket. He grabs Joanne’s hand and yields her in that direction. Calvin joins them seconds later as he manages to break free from the crowd.
“Buying her a Valentine’s Day gift already?” Jacky teases, smiling.
Gino and Joyce turn towards Jacky and Joanne.
“We’re trying to help here,” Joyce reminds 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 explains.
“Oh.”
“So…” Joanne says, gesturing towards 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 doom?”
“Not necessarily.”
“I see Miss Zhao’s mind is zooming one million mile-per-second right now,” Jacky points 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 share their usual secret smile.
Calvin turns to Joanne. “So…are you going to double date tomorrow night then?”
“Oh yeah. Almost forgot,” Joanne says, realizing something. She takes out the tickets that she just tugged safely into her pants pocket. She turns to Joyce and hands it to her.
“What is this for?” Joyce asks, taking the tickets from Joanne.
“Tickets to the movies,” Joanne replies.
“We’re passing the tickets around just like that?” Calvin jumps in, flashing out an amused smile.
Joanne smiles. “You just happen to give them to me at the right time.”
“It’s from him?” Joyce asks, still looking at Joanne.
Joanne nods. “He can’t make it, so he passed it to us. We’re passing it to you. Great or what?”
“Two?” Joyce looks confused.
“Come on, Miss Zhao,” Jacky quips. “You’re a smart person. You know what I mean.”
“What?” Joyce asks innocently, looking at him.
Jacky looks at Gino real quick before turning back to Joyce.
“Oh…are you thinking of quitting your job and opening a match-making agency of some sort?”
“It’s called…” He puts his hands up to emphasize the quotations before continuing, “…‘Friends Connection’ Agency.”
“You guys going to browse or stand around here?” Calvin asks suddenly.
“Almost forgot our purpose here,” Jacky says. “Let’s go then.” He grabs Joanne’s hand.
Calvin follows them, leaving Joyce and Gino behind.
After about half an hour or so of browsing the shop, Jacky, Joanne, and Calvin head back outside. They walk back to Xing Fu Flower Shop together. Calvin seems like he’s not in a hurry at all although he said he was supposed to go somewhere earlier. As they enter the shop, they realize Kenny’s back already. What’s strange is that Gino and Joyce are still somewhere in the shop. Are they being tempted by all the luxurious offers from that brand new shop already?
“Where are the others?” Jacky asks, somewhat taken aback.
“Charlene left when we’re only halfway through our investigation of the shop,” Kenny answers. “I’m not sure about Gino and Xiao Qiao jie though.”
Jacky still feels a sense of loyalty within since Kenny didn’t go as far as calling Gino “Gino ge” yet. Although he has every right to, but Jacky is glad he didn’t – YET.
They all sit at the center table again. Jacky, Joanne, and Kenny resume their place at their original spots from earlier while Calvin takes the seat next to Kenny.
“All right, what are we going to do now?” Jacky asks, looking from one to the other.
“It looks like they’re running some warehouse store, not just a regular flower shop,” Kenny analyzes. “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 points 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 reminds her. “Actually, they already did.”
“Honestly, if you take away all those girls, they’re hopeless,” Calvin jumps in.
“Talking about that, we should bring in all the female customers,” Joanne says, her eyes lighting up.
The guys turn to look at her, waiting patiently for her to continue.
“Most of the ones coming into the shop are male customers,” Joanne reminds 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 flashes on her mischievous smile after saying that.
Jacky smiles also. “I get your drift. Counter-strike? If we can hold the wives, the husbands will follow?”
“Come on, jie,” Kenny nags. “Who are you kidding? Like they listen to their wives.”
“They would if they don’t want to be sleeping on the couch,” Jacky defends Joanne. “Or how about some family crisis? Which of those men would want to get caught getting smooth with those girls?”
They hear a jingle at the door again. Out of habit, they look up to see Gino and Joyce walking in.
“Well, well,” Jacky says 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 asks, 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 check something first.” She turns to Joanne. “I’ll discuss it with you later, all right?”
Joanne nods as Jacky puts on a strange look.
“What?” Joyce asks, her face still passive.
“So you’re not going to tell me?” Jacky asks 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 turns to leave the shop. Gino follows closely behind her. After they’re out of the shop – and earshot, Jacky turns to the others again.
“Could you believe it?” Jacky asks them.
“What?” Calvin asks back, still puzzled.
“I just lost my best friend to some fitness trainer.”
“Martial arts instructor,” Joanne corrects him.
Jacky turns to Joanne. “Must you go out of your way to correct me?”
“Just thought I keep you in line.”
“Hmmm…”
Calvin smiles at their expressions.
“Can we get back to the subject at hand?” Kenny asks, somewhat annoyed. “Our shop is at threat here.”
Joanne clears 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 sighs. “So much for a relaxing Valentine.”
“We should definitely come up with something special, like those jewelry stores doing lovers’ bracelet or whatever,” Jacky suggests.
“What should we do? Flower bracelet? Oh please. It won’t last the day.”
“Patient, Miss Zeng. 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 announces, looking at his watch. “Old Pop is probably looking for me right now.”
“All right,” Joanne says, standing up. “I’ll walk you out.”
“No need.”
“All right then. Thanks for the tickets.”
“Anytime.”
Joanne sits back down after Calvin turns to leave.
“Are you two still going to carry out your evil plan today?” Kenny asks, looking from Jacky to Joanne.
“No need,” Jacky answers. “The old lady is out shopping with her friends today. We can delay our plan until further notice.”
“All right then,” Kenny says, nodding his head, looking somewhat disappointed.  He gets up and goes back to the front counter.
They resume the little of business left until closing time. Joyce comes back as promised earlier. This time, without Gino. Joanne has left to do some clean up for the break room while Jacky and Kenny are making their last round around the shop.
“We’re closed, Miss Zhao,” Jacky announces in a passive tone upon seeing Joyce.
“What are you up to now?” Joyce asks, wrinkling her face.
“He’s still sore that you left with Gino earlier,” Kenny explains, walking over to them.
Joyce glances at Jacky briefly. “Lame.”
“What?” Jacky asks innocently.
“Never mind that. Guess what I found out?”
“What?”
“After driving around and asking various people, I finally come to a conclusion.”
Jacky puts on his half-amused face.
“Stop being mean!”
Jacky laughs and turns 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 points out.
Jacky gives Kenny an evil look. Kenny gets the hint and goes back front to lock the door.
Joanne comes out from the break room at that time. “Everyone ready to go?”
Jacky turns to see her jiggling her keys in her hand. “Yes, Miss Zeng.” Then he turns back to Joyce. “We’re leaving by the backdoor today since someone’s being paranoid.”
Joyce smiles. “I know. That’s why I circle around back and parked there.”
“How did you know?” Jacky asks, wrinkling his eyebrows.
“No cars out front, sounds suspicious? So I circled around once and saw everyone’s cars there.”
“Clever, Miss Zhao,” Jacky compliments, giving her a thumbs-up sign.
“Thanks.”
Kenny turns the light switch off before walking back to them. Joanne waits 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 asks Joyce.
“We have to go back to the drawing board first,” Joyce tells her. “Make sure we don’t clash with any other designs before regrouping to discuss.”
“All right, let’s go,” Jacky rushes them.
He’s holding the back door open right now so the girls could pass through. Kenny has already gone to his car, excusing himself first – claiming he needs to prepare for the upcoming battle.
When they’re outside, the girls are chatting away about the plans while Jacky listens in, half-amused and half-amazed. Sometimes he wonders if it’s a mistake introducing these two after all. They seem 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 separate when they stand in front of Joyce’s car.
“I’ll call you up later if I find something,” Joyce says.
“All right, thanks again!” Joanne exclaims with much gratitude.
“No problem. We’re friends, remember?”
Joanne waits for Joyce to pull out before turning back to Jacky.
“I’m glad you remember I’m still around,” Jacky mutters.
Joanne wrinkles her face. “What are you talking about? Jealous with your own best friend?”
“Am I that petty?”
“Maybe…” She walks to her car after that.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jacky challenges, following her.
Joanne doesn’t answer but continues to her car, deactivating the alarm as she gets closer.
Jacky stops in front of Joanne’s car. “We’re still on for tonight, right?”
“Definitely.”
“All right then. Bye.”
He waits for Joanne to pull out before getting into his car, doing the same.
© Thursday, May 8th, 2008
Posted: Tuesday, April 26th, 2011