Chapter 7

Joanne taps furiously on the counter with the pen in her hand, looking at the door once in awhile. She has been here all morning – more like an hour or so ago. It seems like this day isn’t going by any faster. She sighs in and out again. Jacky’s 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 lunch-time.”
“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 sighs again. As she’s about to get up from the chair, she could see Joyce’s car pulling up outside. “Oh goody.”
Jacky has returned his attention to his report already, but he looks up again. “What?”
“Xiao Qiao’s here!”
“She was here yesterday too.”
“Look who’s here with her though.”
Jacky turns his attention to the entrance of the shop. He wrinkles his face at the sight of the guy who’s opening the door for Joyce.
“Turn that expression off,” Joanne warns. “You’re being mean.”
“I’m not saying anything,” Jacky says defensively.
“You’re implying something.”
“Am not.”
Joanne is half-way to the center table where Jacky is, so she has 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 explains.
“Oh…really?” Joanne says, turning to Joyce. “It’s been like two days or what?”
The guy scratches his head, not knowing what to say.
“Maybe you should charge him, Miss Zhao,” Jacky says causally.
“Thanks for the input, Young Master Chu,” Joanne says, turning to Jacky.
“Hey, I’m just trying to be helpful.” Jacky’s back to writing his report, so he couldn’t see Joanne’s expression.
Joyce walks towards the center table and sits 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 looks up at her. “Sure.” He turns on his sweet smile at that time before continuing. “If you want it to end up in the trash along with mine.” He turns his smile off after saying that.
Although Jacky’s talking to Joyce, but he could still hear Joanne’s conversation.
“Oh yeah, did you find a job yet?” Joanne asks the guy.
“No, not yet,” The guy replies. “Actually, I’m thinking of setting up my own place.”
“Sugarcane shop?” Jacky jumps in.
Joanne wrinkles her face. “Where did you get that idea?”
Jacky shrugs his shoulders. “Not sure.” He begins to rustle some papers on the table, trying to find some notes. “I’m just guessing, okay?”
“Gino, just ignore him,” Joanne says. “He’s kidding.”
“Sure, ignore me,” Jacky mutters under his breath.
“I smell something sour,” Joyce whispers to Jacky as she’s leaning towards him.
Jacky shoves Joyce aside gently. “Go home and wash your hair then.”
“I’m kidding,” Jacky says, looking up finally. Then he puts on his charming smile again.
“That wasn’t funny.”
“Was it funny that you’re stabbing me on the back?”
“When?” Joyce asks, confused.
“Like five minutes back.”
Jacky leans towards Joyce and whispers, “Bringing him here.” He straightens up again to continue his writing after that.
“Ooohhh…” Joyce oozes, finally realizing what’s going on. “I sense some jealousy!”
“What happened?” Joanne asks, turning to Jacky and Joyce.
“It looks like he’s going to quit his job soon,” Joyce says.
Joanne rushes over to them, wrinkling her face. “What? Jacky, are you still thinking about what Kristy jie said last night?”
Jacky looks up at Joanne. “No. Don’t listen to Xiao Qiao, she’s…you know, weird.”
Gino has somehow made his way over to the table also, sitting down at the seat facing Jacky. Joanne has settled down on Jacky’s right when she’s waiting for him to answer her.
“What kind of shop are you going to open then?” Joanne asks, turning to Gino again.
“It’s not a shop. It’s more like a fitness center,” Gino replies.
Jacky’s head snaps up from his paper again. “As in?”
“As in martial arts training place.”
Jacky looks back down at his paper. “More like some training class than a fitness center.”
“Have you decided on the location yet?” Joyce asks.
“Sounds like he’s still dreaming here,” Jacky mumbles.
Both Joanne and Joyce kick Jacky under the table at the same time. Jacky brings his head up again, looking from Joyce to Joanne.
“Being attacked by both girlfriends at the same time,” Jacky says. “Not bad.”
Joyce hits him on the arm. “You wish!”
“Are you serious?” Gino asks.
“What?” Jacky asks back, turning his attention to Gino.
“Two girlfriends,” Gino repeats.
“We’re kidding,” Jacky clarifies in a passive tone.
“They’re always like that so don’t mind them,” Joanne reassures Gino.
Gino nods.
Joanne looks at her watch for the umpteenth time that morning as Jacky goes back to his report.
“Where is Uncle?” Gino asks, looking around the shop.
“He’s not coming in today,” Joanne answers.
“Kenny’s coming in today at lunch to take over for us so we could…”
“Qiao…” Jacky jumps in, cutting her off.
“What?” Joanne asks, turning to Jacky.
“It’s our secret.”
“Here we go again,” Joyce says, smiling.
At that time, the chime jingles.
Jacky looks up out of habit. His passive expression turns into surprise. What in the world is today? A reunion?
“What are you doing here?” Jacky asks.
“James ge!” Joanne exclaims, getting up.
James walks towards the group. He sits down at the seat in between Gino and Joanne.
“Are you guys having a party here?” James asks. “And I thought you said you were busy.”
“We are,” Joanne replies, 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 asks, looking outside.
James doesn’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 match-make 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 jumps in.
Jacky wrinkles his face. “You’re that vain?” Then he turns 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 asks, surprised.
“Sorry,” Joyce apologizes, shrugging her shoulders. “I’m your brother’s best friend. Have to support him.”
“Thank you,” Jacky says as he’s writing something in his notebook again.
Gino has been looking from one person to the other, half-confused and half-shocked. Now he finds an opportunity to speak up. “If you guys are talking about some inside stuffs, I can leave, you know.”
“Sure,” Jacky mutters.
Joanne kicks him under the table.
“What?” Jacky asks, looking up at Joanne with his innocent look. “I’m kidding.” Then he turns to Gino. “We’re just talking about my brother’s girlfriend. You’ll catch on soon enough.”
“You guys are brothers?” Gino asks, looking from Jacky to James.
“Problem?” Jacky asks, raising an eyebrow.
“No, I mean…”
“Stop scaring him already, will you?” Joanne chides, slapping Jacky’s shoulder in the process. “Turn off that cool look.”
“Are you new in town?” James asks, looking at Gino. “I haven’t seen you around before.”
“He’s my friend from high school,” Joanne explains. “He just came back recently from Hong Kong.”
“Oh,” James says, turning to Jacky. “The old flame?”
Jacky looks down at his paper again.
“Want to have an early lunch?” Joyce asks.
“I want to finish this first, you guys go.”
“I’m waiting for Kenny to come,” Joanne responds.
“I can go buy some food and bring it back here,” Joyce offers.
James utters a laugh.
“Oh…how could I be so ignorant?” Joyce says, feeling foolish. Then she turns to James and speaks in a sweet voice. “James ge…”
Jacky snaps his head up to look at Joyce. “Don’t tell me you want to be my future sis-in-law.”
Joyce hits his hand before turning to James again.
“All right,” James says. “You always manage to get me with that smile.”
James takes out his cell phone to call his restaurant.
Joanne looks at Jacky closely, trying to see what he’s up to while James is making the call. Jacky catches her staring at him out the corner of his eye as he’s looking around for some notes on the table again. He turns his full attention to her before speaking up.
“Nothing,” Joanne says innocently.
Joyce tugs on Jacky’s sleeve. “Hey.”
Jacky turns to Joyce. “What?”
“When your parents come back, want to have a reunion dinner?”
Jacky looks over to James and then back to Joyce. “James just suggested the same thing last night.”
“He did?” Joyce asks, surprised.
“Are you sure you don’t have something going on behind my back?”
Joyce hits him on his hand again. “You should change your occupation and open some match-making agency or something?”
“Hey, if you want to secure your spot, you better tell me now. Since I’m towards 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 brings 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 have been talking in a low voice while James is on the phone, but now that Jacky raised his voice a bit, it caught everyone’s attention too.
James snaps his cell phone shut. “What’s going on again? Are you two still arguing over Xiao Qiao’s lastest boyfriend?”
“Xiao Qiao has a boyfriend already?” Gino asks, shocked.
Jacky stares at Gino. “What does that supposed to mean? She’s not attractive enough to have a boyfriend?”
“Stop it,” Joanne warns – again.
Jacky turns 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 asks.
“No,” Jacky replies. “He left me his shop…and his daughter.”
Joanne hits his hand.
“I’m serious.”
“Don’t mind him,” Joyce tells Gino. “He couldn’t be serious for two seconds.”
“So…what did you order today?” Jacky asks James, closing his folder at the same time.
“Some new dishes,” James answers.
“You mean we’re lab rats again?”
“Call it sacrificing for creativity.”
“I call it stupidity,” Jacky mutters, getting up. He has already gathered up all his paperwork and is walking towards the break room now.
“He’s leaving?” Gino asks.
“No,” Joanne replies. “Just putting his stuffs away.”
“As we were talking before, so do you need help in looking for a location to open your martial arts place?” Joyce asks.
“You know martial arts?” James jumps in, turning to Gino.
Gino nods.
The chime in front jingles again.
“That was fast,” Joanne comments.
She stands up from her spot and walks towards the delivery guy. James is right behind her.
“Charge it to Jacky’s account,” James says as Joanne takes the boxes from the delivery boy.
“Yes, sir,” The guy responds.
Jacky comes out from the break room at that time and hears that. “What?! I thought it’s on you.”
“There’s no free meal in life, Little Bro,” James teases.
“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 asks, confused.
“Of course charge it to my account, what else?” Jacky clarifies – though he might as well not.  “You’re paying?”
“Sir?” The guy turns to James for help.
Jacky takes the boxes from Joanne and walks back to the center table again. Joanne takes out her wallet and hands the delivery boy some bills. He still looks confused.
Jacky turns to see the situation. “Take it, man.”
“Go ahead,” James reassures him.
“Yes, sir,” The guy obeys. He still looks confused, but takes the bills. He’s about to turn towards the door again when James stops him.
“Is Cait back at the restaurant yet?” James asks.
“What in the world is she doing there?” Jacky asks, alarmed. “Trying to…” Jacky stops himself in time.
“No, sir,” The delivery boy replies to James’ question. “We haven’t seen her since this morning.”
“All right,” James says. “You can go back.”
James and Joanne make their way back to the center table. Jacky and Joyce have been setting the food out.
“Is he new?” Jacky asks, sitting down at his seat again.
“No,” James responds. “He’s just confused.”
“Of course he is. He’s not that fun to mess with like…”
Joanne sits down next to him again. “What’s with you and playing jokes on newbies?”
“It’s fun?”
“Oh grow up already,” Joyce jumps in.
Jacky turns to Joyce. “What does that have to do with anything though?”
“Forget him, let’s eat,” Joanne says to Joyce.
“Repeat that,” Jacky urges, taking the food away from Joanne.
Joanne takes the food back and ignores him.
Joanne does a little semi-bowing gesture.
“Unbelievable,” James jumps in.
“What?” Jacky asks. “Jealous?”
Joyce sees the awkward look on Gino’s face. “As I was saying before, don’t mind them.”
“It seems like…” Gino begins.
“Careful,” Jacky warns.
“Stop scaring him already,” Joyce interjects.
Jacky turns to Joyce. “Can you guys stop protecting him?” Then he turns 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 asks, looking at the girls.
Gino looks more confused than ever.
“Whatever you do, don’t kick me,” James says.
Joyce turns Gino. “You don’t need to know this part. We’re just trying to keep Jacky in line.”
“Reason?” Jacky asks.
“No reason,” Joanne replies.
“We just have to,” Joyce continues.
“You girls are getting along quite well,” Jacky comments.
“Don’t we always?” Joanne asks.
“He must have missed all the times we went shopping together and…” Joyce begins, her enthusiasm high.
“Enough of story time already,” Jacky says, cutting her off. “Save it for bedtime.”
The chime in front jingles again. Everyone looks up at the same time this time. They see Kenny walking in.
“Wow!” Kenny exclaims, seeing the crowded table. “I should have come out here earlier.”
“You mean there’s no food at home?” Jacky asks.
“Qiao Qiao jie is out here already,” Kenny says. “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 exclaims 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 races to the door and changes the sign again. “Who did that?”
“I don’t know,” Jacky teases. “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 asks with his mouth wide-opened.
“When you passed through the door, everyone look 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 puts on his proud smile after that.
“I think I’m going to head back to the restaurant,” James announces, looking at his watch. “It’s going to get crowded soon.” Then he turns to Joanne. “Qiao, give this to Uncle when you see him.” He hands her an envelope before getting up. “All right, everyone. See you all later.”
“Are we still up for tonight or no?” Jacky asks.
“Don’t pull any more tricks,” James says sternly.
“I wouldn’t dare,” Jacky returns, both hands raised above his head.
James ignores him and makes his way to the door.
As soon as James is out of earshot, Jacky turns to Joanne. He reaches his right hand towards the envelope. “Care if I take a look?”
Joanne yanks it away from his reach. “It’s none of your business.”
“Says you,” Jacky argues, reaching further with a mischievous smile on his face.
“It’s not funny.”
Jacky’s phone rings at that time so he has to release Joanne’s hand to pick it up. “Hello?”
“Is Qiao Qiao with you?” A guy’s voice asks.
“Who is this?” Jacky asks, wrinkling his face.
“It’s Calvin.”
Jacky diverts his eyes to Joanne. “Oh. You sound different today for some reason. Hold on.” He hands the phone to Joanne after that.
She mouths a “Who?” towards his direction as she takes it from him. He mouths back to her the answer.
As Joanne’s taking the call, Kenny has managed to sit down in James’ spot.
“Hello?” Joanne says into the phone.
“I have two tickets to the movies, you want…” Calvin begins.
“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?”
“Yeah, bye.”
They hang up after that.
“Well? What did he want?” Jacky questions.
“He’s giving us two free tickets to the movies,” Joanne answers, smiling. “Great or what?”
“Yeah. Great.”
Joanne hands Jacky his phone back.
“And he didn’t call your phone because?”
“How should I know?” Joanne responds, shrugging her shoulders.
While Joanne’s talking on the phone, half of them are already done eating. Joyce is getting up to clean the table. As she’s about to dispose the boxes, the chime jingles again. Everyone looks up like last time.
“What is this?” Jacky asks in wonderment.  “Why is everyone coming in today?
“Charlene?” Joanne calls in a surprised voice. “What are you doing here? I thought you said…”
“I called you several times already,” Charlene blurts out, somewhat irritated. “I couldn’t get a hold of you so I came here in person.”
Joanne wrinkles her face. She reaches 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 guesses.
Joanne nods.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you our Qiao. Always so clever yet always so careless,” Jacky says casually to everyone in general.
Joanne shoves him away as she’s making her way to the break room.
“I’m just telling the truth!” Jacky hollers, looking after her.
Charlene walks towards the break room to join Joanne. It seems like they need to take care of some “business.”
Jacky turns back to the others. “So…what do we do now?”
Joyce, who just came back from the break room, turns to the front door. Jacky follows her vision line to see if anyone’s coming in again.
“This is just beyond weird,” Jacky says.
“No customers coming in at all?” Joyce joins in.
“Yes. There was 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 offers.
They wait for Kenny to come back and report to them. But Kenny doesn’t come back until five minutes later. The others somehow are playing cards right now. It’s from Joyce’s handbag. Joanne and Charlene are still in the break room. Everyone looks up again as Kenny rushes in – breathless.
“What happened?” Jacky asks. “You got chased down by a pack of lions?”
“Worse,” Kenny responds, still trying to catch his breath.
“There are worse things than being chased by a pack of lions?” Joyce asks.
“Our business is being threatened here,” Kenny says in a serious tone.
Jacky drops his cards on the table and stands up, walking towards 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.”
“They stationed two attractive females in front to pass out flyers.”
“How attractive are they?”
Joanne clears her throat.
“I’m just wondering how aggressive the competition is,” Jacky explains, turning to Joanne and slipping his right hand around her shoulders.
Joanne has walked up to join them while Jacky and Kenny are talking. It seems that she and Charlene are done talking since Charlene’s standing nearby, listening in.
“How about we go outside to check it out?” Jacky suggests to them.
“Who’s going to watch over the shop then?” Joanne asks.
“Lock it up. Like anyone’s going to come in any time soon.”
“Jacky ge is right,” Charlene chirps in. “Let’s go check it out.”
“Don’t you have somewhere to go?” Joanne asks, turning to her.
“I’ll just stick around a bit more. What’s the harm?”
“Okay, then.”
“You two coming?” Jacky asks, turning to Gino and Joyce.
Joyce smiles. “Sure. Who can miss the excitement, right?”
“That’s the spirit. Let’s go.”
They all head towards the entrance. Joanne locks up the shop before they cross the street and walk to the “new” flower shop.
© Wednesday, May 7th, 2008
Posted: Monday, April 25th, 2011