The next few days passed by in a blur as they tried to research and come up with a unique idea for Valentine’s Day, plus running the shop in monotone. Joanne readily volunteered to look over the shop so Mr. Tseng could take a few more days off. He couldn’t be happier to see Joanne dedicated to helping him. However, he had no idea what they were facing. Kenny somehow became actively involved also. He mostly stationed himself near the new shop to spy on the neighbors. It was quite peculiar, but someone had to do the dirty job—as he’d put it. Jacky and Joyce still visited but more or less since they had to attend meetings and get ready for their upcoming trip. Calvin came in sometimes to help Joanne since he was also very curious about the shop’s well-being. It wasn’t until the end of the week that they finally found a way to save their shop—or how Joyce had put it.

“What do you think?” Joyce asked, sitting back in her chair again as she was done presenting her plan to them.

“Brilliant,” Joanne complimented, flashing Joyce a smile and a thumbs-up sign.

“Hmm…” Jacky mumbled, still looking at a drawing on the table.

“Young Master Chu,” Joanne drawled out. “Stop doing that or I’ll strangle you.”

“I can’t think out loud?” Jacky asked, turning to Joanne.

“No,” Joanne replied sharply.

“I guess a guy can’t think around here at all,” Jacky teased, still displaying his playful smile.

“Are you helping or not?” Joanne asked, turning on her disapproving look.

“All right, all right, Miss Tseng,” Jacky said, putting his hands up in surrender. “Let me go take a walk first though.”

Jacky got up from his seat without needing any “approval” from both ladies. As he was walking to the door, he saw Kenny loitering in front of the shop. Curious, Jacky stopped at the door to observe Kenny more closely, trying to figure out Kenny’s motive. Seeing that Kenny didn’t take any actions at all after a full minute—except for pacing, Jacky opened the door and stepped outside.

“What are we up to now?” Jacky questioned, eyeing Kenny carefully still.

Kenny let out a cry—as if startled by Jacky’s presence.

“You scared the world out of me!” Kenny exclaimed, still having a hand over his heart.

“What are you up to then?” Jacky asked. “Why are you pacing in front of the shop? Don’t tell me you’re spying for the neighbors now.”

“No!” Kenny exclaimed in his ever-so-defensive tone. “Of course not!”

“Just in case you’ve decided to switch sides,” Jacky said with an underlying threatening tone.

Kenny flashed on his little kid smile. “I wouldn’t even dare.”

Jacky couldn’t help but laugh out loud since Kenny tried too hard to be innocent. It honestly only works for girls, Jacky thought silently to himself.

“Since you’ve finally remembered your place,” Jacky said out loud. “How about joining us for a little discussion?”

“Sure,” Kenny agreed, sounding glad that the conversation was steering away from him. “I’ve got the greatest plan to tell you guys.”

We’ll see, Jacky thought as he continued to keep careful monitoring on Kenny while they were making their way back to where Joanne and Joyce were.

Upon hearing the chimes, the girls looked up out of habit.

“Well, how was your walk, Young Master Chu?” Joanne drawled out in her usual challenging tone.

“I found a lost soul—if you want to know,” Jacky replied, settling down at his seat between the two girls again. “I almost thought he decided to switch sides and betray his own family for a few dates with the sales reps over there.”

“I did not!” Kenny exclaimed defensively, his face turning red.

“You still think they’re cute,” Jacky continued, ignoring Kenny’s hostility.

“Are you trying to divert attention away from yourself by using my brother as a shield, Young Master Chu?” Joanne interrogated, her sharp glare on him.

Jacky smiled. “I was just considering all possible angles. Stop being so sensitive. I guess it runs in the family?”

“Wipe that smile off,” Joanne said with a disapproving look. “You just insulted my father.”

“I didn’t say any of that.”

“You said it runs in the family so that must mean my father is…”

Jacky pointed at her. “Hey, how did you interpret it that far?”

“You started it.”

“Guys…” Joyce interfered. “We’re supposed to join forces to defeat the neighbors, not chewing at each other and let others benefit.”

“That’s right,” Joanne said, turning back to the plan on the table. “It was his fault.”

“Hey, I was just analyzing the situation.” His turn to sound defensive.

“Enough already,” Joyce jumped in again. “What’s with you two today?”

“Nothing,” Jacky and Joanne replied at the same time.

“Let’s get back to our plan then,” Joyce said quickly before the two could start another argument. “Qiao just suggested that we do flower bracelets, what do you think?”

“Flower bracelets?” Jacky asked, wrinkling his face.

Joyce pushed the paper toward him so he could see the full plan.

“Lover’s Bracelets,” Jacky read out loud, stealing a glance at Joanne before continuing. “Made according to the preferences of customers.”

Joanne and Joyce stayed silent and waited for Jacky’s input.

“How are we going to preserve the flowers for the whole day though?” Jacky asked finally, looking up from the paper. “I thought you weren’t all for that last time. Don’t tell me we’re using chemicals for that purpose because that stuff’s going to cause their health just for a day of fun. And I’ll bet it doesn’t smell nice either.”

“It’s going to be sealed and wrapped in other materials so the scent would reach the air, but the other parts will be protected for a full day.”

Jacky nodded. “Not bad.” Then he turned to Joyce. “Wait, what was your plan again?”

“Special flower baskets decorated by yours truly,” Joyce replied, giving him a suspicious look. “It’s not just flowers with candies and bears but will blow them away with how I do it. Weren’t you paying attention at all?”

“Sorry,” Jacky apologized. “I just got distracted, I guess.”

Joanne reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezing it. He turned and gave her a reassuring smile.

“I thought you said you have a plan.” Jacky turned to Kenny.

“Um…” Kenny hesitated.

“Just say it,” Joyce urged. “Maybe it will help us more than you think.”

Kenny shifted back and forth on his feet before sitting down at the chair next to his sister. He was bluffing before when Jacky caught him outside. He knew he had to say something, or they were going to give him a hard time for it. He cleared his throat quickly before presenting his idea—that he’d managed to come up with while he was standing around listening earlier. “I was thinking if we could start a sweepstake or something.”

The others stayed silent while he took a pause.

“Whoever wins will get a year’s supply of flowers for their dates.”

“No deal!” The other three exclaimed as soon as he was finished.

“But you said…”

“It costs too much,” Jacky pointed out.

“Not to mention wasting time,” Joanne continued.

“It would also divert the customer’s attention away from our main goal and turn us into another typical flower shop seeking for only profit instead of aiming for unique creations,” Joyce rounded out with a lengthy explanation that almost caused Kenny to have a nervous breakdown.

“I told you it wouldn’t work,” Kenny said, his head looking down at the table.

“It’s a start,” Jacky reassured him, trying to make up to Kenny after what he’d done to the poor kid’s confidence.

“Try again,” Joanne followed. “We have a long battle to fight. Look at that big monster down the street.”

“Are we actually going to carry out both plans at the same time though?” Kenny asked, looking from his sister to the other two.

“We’re going to start with Qiao Qiao’s plan first,” Joyce clarified. “Since Valentine’s Day is coming up. Jacky and I are out of town around that time. It would be best to carry out my plan when Jacky and I get back.”

“That means you’re not spending Valentine’s Day with sis?” Kenny asked, shocked.

“It’s just an extra holiday that people stick in so we could drive in more business,” Joanne said, getting up from her seat—and finally letting go of Jacky’s hand.

“You sound like some loner, jie,” Kenny noted, getting up also.

“How may I help you, sir?” Joanne greeted their latest customer with a bright smile.

Jacky and Joyce took the time to clean up the table and filed away their plans. It looked like their meeting was finally over—and they were dismissed for the day.

“You okay?” Joyce asked suddenly, bringing Jacky back to reality and out of his wonderment.

Jacky nodded.

“Does it have to do with Valentine’s Day?”

Jacky shook his head.

“Then…”

Jacky finally peeled his eyes away from Joanne long enough to turn around and face Joyce again. “I’m all right.”

Joyce knew that Jacky didn’t want to talk about it at that time, so she nodded.

*****

They finally closed up around 5:30 since after their supposed last customer stepped in, another group entered. They stayed patiently until everyone piled out and made sure no one else was coming before changing the sign and locking up. They should be glad that there were still supporters for their shop.

“We’re going home, right?” Kenny asked as they were heading for their cars.

“Not yet,” Joanne replied.

Jacky turned to give Joanne a look as he was nodding to Kenny’s question. “We’re not?”

“I’ll meet you guys there,” Joanne said, turning to Joyce and taking Jacky’s hand into hers.

“That’s good enough,” Joyce agreed.

“Come on, kid,” Joyce said to Kenny. “I know you came with Qiao Qiao, so I’ll give you a break.”

“Okay then,” Kenny concurred, following Joyce to her car as he watched his sister disappeared around the corner.

Joyce had parked in front of the shop out of habit, so they all decided to exit using the front door. That was why Jacky and Joanne had to go around to retrieve Joanne’s car.

“What’s going on here, Young Master Chu?” Joanne asked as she deactivated the car alarm.

“What do you mean?” Jacky asked, releasing her hand as he was making his way to the passenger side.

They got in and buckled up before speaking up again.

“Is it Caitlin again?” Joanne asked as she was making sure to lock the doors again before pulling out into traffic.

“How do you know?” Jacky asked, giving her a sideways glance.

“Work would not get you down, only family would.”

Jacky couldn’t help but smile. “We’re analyzing me now?”

“You know what the difference between Xiao Qiao and me is?”

“Height?”

“Very funny.”

“Thank you.”

“I was being sarcastic.”

“What is it then?”

“She’s your best friend and I’m your girlfriend.”

“Who’s being comical now, Miss Tseng?”

“Because she’s your best friend, she allows you to have your own space and time to think things over before telling her. But I’m your girlfriend and I won’t allow you to sink any deeper into Morbid-Land than you already are. In short, best friends are understanding while girlfriends are pushy.”

Jacky let out another smile, staring at Joanne intently as she was concentrating on her driving. He must admire her for being able to talk so seriously and so philosophically while she could still concentrate on driving.

“Well? Out with it already,” Joanne’s voice resumed with its calm tone. “What is it this time?”

“How did you know though?” Jacky asked, repeating his previous question.

“Although I know you were joking when we were arguing earlier, there was this strong hostility in the air that I couldn’t ignore. It’s like you want to get some of that anger out along with the nonsense argument too. And I can read lips too. Just because I was focused on the customers did not mean I wasn’t paying attention to you and Xiao Qiao.”

“Remind me not to talk about you when you’re around,” Jacky joked.

“Well? I’m still waiting for the answer.”

Jacky turned serious again, letting out a sigh. “I sense something happening on Valentine’s Day that I can’t prevent.”

Joanne reached over and grabbed Jacky’s hand at the red light. “Whatever decision James ge made, it will be over by the time you come back, so you must remember not to cause anymore ripples between your relationship with him. Even if we all couldn’t agree on that decision, but we have to show some support. I was the lucky one whom everyone accepted, wouldn’t it be fair to show James ge some support after what he did for us?” She let go of his hand and drove on again.

It was a long speech, but she was a fast talker. What was strange was her ability to keep her voice leveled at the same time, making it sound so smooth and slow—full of logic.

“Sometimes I still can’t understand you,” Jacky admitted finally.

“That’s good,” Joanne said, accelerating a bit. “So you won’t be bored with me so soon.”

“Or would I be scared of you thus leading to…”

Joanne couldn’t help but reach over and slap his shoulder real quick.

Jacky smiled. “What happened to the reassuring girlfriend?”

Joanne still had on her hostile expression. “She left the building for the moment.”

“All right.”

When they reached the last red light before Joanne’s house, she made a left turn instead of going straight like Jacky thought she would.

“Why did you turn?” Jacky asked, turning his attention back on her.

“You’ll see.”

He watched in silence as the familiar landscape passed by and then a hint of the seaside coming up. He smiled upon recognizing the scene. It wasn’t until they were standing by the seaside and inhaling the heavy salted air that they spoke up again.

“So, what’s the purpose of coming here this time around?” Jacky asked.

She didn’t reply but dropped down to pick some small rocks pressed into the sand with occasional waves crashing into it. She stood up again after having picked up the right amount. With a smile, she handed it over to him one by one.

“What for?” He asked, half amused and half surprised.

“A very effective cure for anger and frustration,” She replied with a smile, brushing some dirt particles off her fingers at the same time. “Remember what happened the first time we met?”

He pretended to have forgotten so she could recount the story. “What?”

“I was venting my anger by throwing rocks and wasn’t looking where I was throwing. Who would when they’re mad, right? Then…” She let out a nervous laugh.

“Then I just happened to zoom by on my surfing board and received a gift from an angel who just got her wings pulled at by some pranksters, so she decided to take revenge on the rest of us innocent people,” He finished with a teasing smile.

She hit his shoulder with her hand, but he caught it this time around with his free hand.

“You didn’t even get mad at me but ended up asking me if I hurt my hand,” She continued. “And you told me I was only hurting myself by getting mad and not others, so…I’m telling you now…do you want to try it out?” She gestured toward the rocks in his other hand. “Or…”

Before she could finish, he returned the rocks to its sandy home by releasing it one by one, emptying his hand. He took hold of her shoulders and hugged her to him.

“What would I do without you?” He asked after a minute of silence.

“No, what would I do without you?” She asked back.

© Monday, July 7th, 2008

Posted: Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

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