Chapter 9

The next few days pass by in a blur as they try to research and come up with a unique idea for Valentine’s Day, plus running the shop in monotone. Joanne readily volunteers to look over the shop so Mr. Zeng 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 are facing. Kenny somehow becomes actively involved also. He mostly stations himself near the new shop to spy on the neighbors. It is quite peculiar, but someone has to do the dirty job – as he’d put it. Jacky and Joyce still visit but more or less since they have to attend meetings and get ready for their upcoming trip. Calvin comes in sometimes to help Joanne since he’s also very curious about the shop’s well being. It is until the end of the week that they finally find a way to save their shop – or how Joyce has put it.
“What do you think?” Joyce asks, sitting back in her chair again as she’s done presenting her plan to them.
“Brilliant,” Joanne compliments, flashing Joyce a smile and a thumbs-up sign.
“Hmm…” Jacky mumbles, still looking at a drawing on the table.
“Young Master Chu,” Joanne drawls out. “Stop doing that or I’ll strangle you.”
“I can’t think out loud?” Jacky asks, turning to Joanne.
“No,” Joanne replies sharply.
“I guess a guy can’t think around here at all,” Jacky teases, still displaying his playful smile.
“Are you helping or not?” Joanne asks, turning on her disapproving look.
“All right, all right, Miss Zeng,” Jacky says, putting his hands up in surrender. “Let me go take a walk first though.”
Jacky gets up from his seat without needing any “approval” from both ladies. As he’s walking to the door, he sees Kenny loitering in front of the shop. Curious, Jacky stops at the door to observe Kenny more closely, trying to figure out Kenny’s motive. Seeing that Kenny doesn’t take any actions at all after a full minute – except for pacing, Jacky opens the door and steps outside.
“What are we up to now?” Jacky questions, eyeing Kenny carefully still.
Kenny lets out a cry – as if startled by Jacky’s presence.
“You scared the world out of me!” Kenny exclaims, still having a hand over his heart.
“What are you up to then?” Jacky asks. “Why are you pacing in front of the shop? Don’t tell me you’re spying for the neighbors now.”
“No!” Kenny exclaims out in his ever-so-defensive tone. “Of course not!”
“Just in case you’ve decided to switch sides,” Jacky says with an underlying threatening tone.
Kenny flashes on his little kid smile. “I wouldn’t even dare.”
Jacky couldn’t help but laugh out loud since Kenny tries too hard to be innocent. It honestly only works for girls, Jacky thought silently to himself.
“Since you’ve finally remembered your place,” Jacky says out loud. “How about joining us for a little discussion?”
“Sure,” Kenny agrees, sounding glad that the conversation is steering away from him. “I’ve got the greatest plan to tell you guys.”
We’ll see, Jacky thought as he continues to keep a careful monitoring on Kenny while they are making their way back to where Joanne and Joyce are.
Upon hearing the chimes, the girls look up out of habit.
“Well, how was your walk, Young Master Chu?” Joanne drawls out in her usual challenging tone.
“I found a lost soul – if you want to know,” Jacky replies, 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 exclaims defensively, his face turning red.
“You still think they’re cute,” Jacky continues, ignoring Kenny’s hostility.
“Are you trying to divert attention away from yourself by using my brother as a shield, Young Master Chu?” Joanne interrogates, her sharp glare on him.
Jacky smiles. “I was just considering all possible angles. Stop being so sensitive. I guess it runs in the family?”
“Wipe that smile off,” Joanne says 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 points at her. “Hey, how did you interpret it that far?”
“You started it.”
“Guys…” Joyce interferes. “We’re supposed to join forces to defeat the neighbors, not chewing at each other and let others benefit.”
“That’s right,” Joanne says, 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 jumps in again. “What’s with you two today?”
“Nothing,” Jacky and Joanne reply at the same time.
“Let’s get back to our plan then,” Joyce says quickly before the two could start another argument. “Qiao just suggested that we do flower bracelets, what do you think?”
“Flower bracelets?” Jacky asks, wrinkling his face.
Joyce pushes the paper towards him so he could see the full plan.
“Lover’s Bracelets,” Jacky reads out loud, stealing a glance at Joanne before continuing. “Made according to the preferences of customers.”
Joanne and Joyce stay silence and wait for Jacky’s input.
“How are we going to preserve the flowers for the whole day though?” Jacky asks 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 nods. “Not bad.” Then he turns to Joyce. “Wait, what was your plan again?”
“Special flower baskets decorated by yours truly,” Joyce replies, 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 apologizes. “I just got distracted, I guess.”
Joanne reaches out and grabs his hand, squeezing it. He turns and gives her a reassuring smile.
“I thought you said you have a plan.” Jacky turns to Kenny.
“Um…” Kenny hesitates.
“Just say it,” Joyce urges. “Maybe it will help us more than you think.”
Kenny shifts 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 knows he has to say something or they’re going to give him a hard time for it. He clears 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 stay silent while he takes a pause.
“Whoever wins will get a year’s supply of flowers for their dates.”
“No deal!” The other three exclaim out as soon as he’s finished.
“But you said…”
“It costs too much,” Jacky points out.
“Not to mention wasting time,” Joanne continues.
“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 rounds out with a lengthy explanation that almost caused Kenny to have a nervous breakdown.
“I told you it wouldn’t work,” Kenny says, his head looking down at the table.
“It’s a start,” Jacky reassures him, trying to make up to Kenny after what he’d done to the poor kid’s confidence.
“Try again,” Joanne follows. “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 asks, looking from his sister to the other two.
“We’re going to start with Qiao Qiao’s plan first,” Joyce clarifies. “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 asks, shocked.
“It’s just an extra holiday that people stick in so we could drive in more business,” Joanne says, getting up from her seat – and finally letting go of Jacky’s hand.
“You sound like some loner, jie,” Kenny notes, getting up also.
“How may I help you, sir?” Joanne greets their latest customer with a bright smile.
Jacky and Joyce take the time to clean up the table and file away their plans. It looks like their meeting is finally over – and they’re dismissed for the day.
“You okay?” Joyce asks suddenly, bringing Jacky back to reality and out of his wonderment.
Jacky nods.
“Does it have to do with Valentine’s Day?”
Jacky shakes his head.
“Then…”
Jacky finally peels his eyes away from Joanne long enough to turn around and face Joyce again. “I’m all right.”
Joyce knows that Jacky doesn’t want to talk about it at that time, so she nods.

*****

They finally close up around 5:30 since after their supposed last customer stepped in, another group enters. They stay patiently until everyone piles out and makes sure no one else is coming before changing the sign and locking up. They should be glad that there are still supporters for their shop.
“We’re going home, right?” Kenny asks as they’re heading for their car.
“Not yet,” Joanne replies.
Jacky turns to give Joanne a look as he was nodding to Kenny’s question. “We’re not?”
“I’ll meet you guys there,” Joanne says, turning to Joyce and taking Jacky’s hand into hers.
“That’s good enough,” Joyce agrees.
“Come on, kid,” Joyce says to Kenny. “I know you came with Qiao Qiao, so I’ll give you a break.”
“Okay then,” Kenny concurs, following Joyce to her car as he watches his sister disappear around the corner.
Joyce has parked in front of the shop out of habit so they all decided to exit using the front door. That is why Jacky and Joanne have to go around to retrieve Joanne’s car.
“What’s going on here, Young Master Chu?” Joanne asks as she deactivates the car alarm.
“What do you mean?” Jacky asks, releasing her hand as he’s making his way to the passenger side.
They get in and buckle up before speaking up again.
“Is it Caitlin again?” Joanne asks as she’s making sure to lock the doors again before pulling out into traffic.
“How do you know?” Jacky asks, giving her a sideway 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 Zeng?”
“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 lets out another smile, staring at Joanne intently as she’s 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 resumes with its calm tone. “What is it this time?”
“How did you know though?” Jacky asks, repeating his previous question.
“Although I know you were joking when we were arguing earlier, but there’s 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 jokes.
“Well? I’m still waiting for the answer.”
Jacky turns serious again, letting out a sigh. “I sense something happening on Valentine’s Day that I can’t prevent.”
Joanne reaches over and grabs 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 lets go of his hand and drives on again.
It was a long speech but she’s a fast talker. What’s 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 admits finally.
“That’s good,” Joanne says, accelerating a bit. “So you won’t be bored with me so soon.”
“Or would I be scare of you thus leading to…”
Joanne couldn’t help but reach over and slap his shoulder real quick.
Jacky smiles. “What happened to the reassuring girlfriend?”
Joanne still has on her hostile expression. “She left the building for the moment.”
“All right.”
When they reach the last red light before Joanne’s house, she makes a left turn instead of going straight like Jacky thought she would.
“Why did you turn?” Jacky asks, turning his attention back on her.
“You’ll see.”
He watches in silence as the familiar landscape passes by and then a hint of the seaside coming up. He smiles upon recognizing the scene. It is until they’re standing by the seaside and inhaling the heavy salted air that they speak up again.
“So, what’s the purpose of coming here this time around?” Jacky asks.
She doesn’t reply but drops down to pick some small rocks pressed into the sand with occasional waves crashing into it. She stands up again after having picked up the right amount. With a smile, she hands it over to him one by one.
“What for?” He asks, half amused and half surprised.
“A very effective cure for anger and frustration,” She replies with a smile, brushing some dirt particles off her fingers at the same time. “Remember what happened the first time we met?”
He pretends to have forgotten so she could re-tell the story. “What?”
“I was venting my anger by throwing rocks out and wasn’t looking where I was throwing. Who would when they’re mad, right? Then…” She lets 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 finishes with a teasing smile.
She hits his shoulder with her hand but he catches 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 continues. “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 gestures towards the rocks in his other hand. “Or…”
Before she could finish, he returns the rocks to its sandy home by releasing it one by one, emptying his hand. He takes hold of her shoulders and hugs her to him.
“What would I do without you?” He asks after a minute of silence.
“No, what would I do without you?” She asks back.
© Monday, July 7th, 2008
Posted: Wednesday, April 27th, 2011