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A Taste for Love: Chapter 11

Joe’s Pizza definitely lives up to the hype, as does everything else Jeannie takes me to over the next few days. My Instagram account, previously full of memes and food pics, has doubled in size. We’ve done all the touristy stuff, including the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Empire State Building, and the World Trade Center. Yesterday was a whole day at the Met, followed by dinner and Aladdin on Broadway. By the time we got home, I went straight to bed and passed out.

Today, we’ve been taking it easy. I’m reading in bed when I hear a knock at my door before it swings open.

“Get dressed, Bunbun,” Jeannie says.

She bounces into my room unexpectedly and throws herself onto the bed. She must have just walked in the door, though I didn’t hear her come in. I put down my Julia Quinn novel and look her over. Jeannie’s long black hair is pinned back into a twist, and she’s dressed in another fitted white T-shirt and skinny jeans. On closer inspection, there’s just enough makeup on her face to highlight her features.

Jeannie pokes me in the arm. “Come on, or we’ll be late.”

I check the time on my phone. How is it six o’clock already?

“Late to what? Where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise.”

I arch an eyebrow. “Uh . . . am I going to like this surprise?”

“Of course you are. In fact, I bet you’ll say this is the best part of the whole trip.”

That’s a bold statement. Everything we’ve done so far has been pretty spectacular.

“Well?” She eyes me impatiently. “Are you gonna get moving or what?”

“This better be worth my getting dressed,” I quip as I climb off the bed.

“Have I ever steered you wrong?”

A certain unfortunate hairdo in middle school comes to mind. Jeannie swore spiral perms were in, but I just looked like an overgrown poodle. She must guess what I’m thinking because she interrupts as soon as I open my mouth.

“About something other than fashion.”

“Fine. I’ll get changed,” I relent, opening the closet door.


Jeannie flounces out the room. A second later, I stick my head into the hallway.

“One more thing.”

She turns back to look at me. “What?”

“Don’t call me Bunbun!”

Despite my best efforts, Jeannie adamantly refuses to give me any hints as to where we’re going. It’s a bit brisk when we step outside the building, so I put on my jacket. When we reach the corner, Jeannie hails a taxi. A few minutes later, we’re headed downtown. As we make our way past Rockefeller Center, traffic slows down enough that I’m able to grab a few pics of the gilded gold statue and beautiful fountains.

Jeannie taps me on the shoulder when we reach Bryant Park.

“Look! Right there. It’s the New York Public Library.”

Twin lions flank the steps leading up to the light stone edifice I’ve only seen in movies.

“It’s beautiful!”

Jeannie smirks. “Wait until you see the inside. Remind me to take you before you leave.”

We continue past the Empire State Building, though I don’t recognize it immediately from ground level. Then, we come up on a distinctive triangular building next to a small park.

“That’s the Flatiron Building,” Jeannie informs me without being asked. “They call it that because it’s shaped like one.”

I tilt my head to the side. “I guess it is.”

“How would you know? You’ve never used one.”

Jeannie dodges the slap I aim at her arm before turning to direct our driver. He pulls to the curb a few feet away and lets us out. Jeannie leads me through the doors of Patisserie Chanson, a sleek French bakery. The decor reminds me of an airplane, with glinting aluminum squares jutting from the ceiling and white tile along both walls. My eyes flutter closed briefly as butter and sugar beckon to me from the clear glass cases on the right. I turn to her.

“This is the surprise?”

She grins. “Not quite.”

Before I can ask any more questions, a blonde woman dressed in all black approaches us.

“Good evening. Do you have a reservation?”

“Yes,” Jeannie answers. “Party of two for Jeannie Yang.”

The hostess checks her computer, and then nods. “Follow me, please.”

She leads us down a set of stairs into a dim, cozy room. Above us, exposed brick slopes across the ceiling and down to form the wall of a long bar. Oval booths line the opposite side, and colorful star-shaped tiles decorate the floor. The hostess brings us to two stools about halfway down the bar, where five other people are already seated.


I perch myself on the seat to Jeannie’s right. When she’s settled, I lean over and whisper in her ear.

“You know I’m not old enough to drink, right?”

She shushes me. “Just wait and see.”

After a few more groups fill in the remaining open spots, a trio of chefs appears to join the bartenders. The tallest of the three, a stocky man with brown hair shaved along the side and blue eyes, begins to speak.

“Welcome, everyone, to the Chanson Dessert Bar. Tonight, we’ll be preparing a six-course menu meant to delight your senses. If you’ve never been here before, get ready for a one-of-a-kind dessert experience.”

He goes on to explain that each course will be prepared tableside from beginning to end. My eyes widen as they meet Jeannie’s.

She winks. “Surprise!”

I don’t stop grinning until the tasting begins. After the first course of olive oil gelato, the chefs move on to yuzu parfait with honeycomb. I’m enthralled by their use of liquid nitrogen, flame torches, and even Himalayan salt blocks. The chefs demonstrate techniques I’ve never seen before, and I take videos of them on my phone for later. The menu alternates between sweet and savory, but everything blends together like magic. During a lull in the courses, Jeannie cocks her head at me.

“So, are you excited about starting at Rice in the fall?”

I shrug. “I guess. I originally wanted to go out of state like you, but Mom nearly had a heart attack when I asked.”

“Have you decided on a major?”

“Not yet.” I play with the stem of my glass. “They want me to do accounting so I can help out at Yin and Yang.”

“Is that what you want?”

I say nothing, but she reads the answer in my eyes and sighs.

“Why don’t you tell them? They were totally cool with me still modeling in college.”

“That’s because you’re the golden child. They’d support you even if you joined a cult.”

She takes a sip of her wine before answering. “I doubt that, Liza. They’re strict with me too.”

“It’s not the same,” I tell her. “As far as Mom’s concerned, I can’t even make my bed right. You’re good at everything.”

“That’s not true. I can’t bake worth a damn.”

“You’re right. The last time I tried one of your cookies, I almost cracked a tooth.” I press a hand to my cheek to emphasize my point.

Jeannie pokes me in the arm. “It wasn’t that bad.”

“My molars disagree.”

She rolls her eyes and waves me off as the next dish appears in front of us.

When the tasting concludes for the night, we emerge onto the street outside the bakery, stuffed and happy. As we stroll along the sidewalk, Jeannie hooks her arm through mine.

“That was amazing,” I say, glancing at her. “I wish I could bake like those pastry chefs.”

“You could totally be as good as them,” Jeannie insists.

“Maybe . . .” I answer, my voice trailing off.

She stops short. “I have an idea! Why don’t you enter the contest? You’ll win for sure, and maybe that’ll help change Mom’s mind.”

I shake my head. “She’ll never let me enter, Jeannie.”

We keep walking. Despite what I said, her words echo through my mind. What if she’s right? I can bake circles around those contestants, even the ones who’ve competed before. I have the trophies to prove it. What’s the worst that could happen?

A few minutes later, I’m busy planning bakes in my head when I hear Jeannie yelp.

“Liza, watch out!”

She yanks me away just in time to avoid colliding with a couple.

“Hey! Watch where you’re going!”

I open my mouth to apologize, but the words die in my throat. The girl I nearly bumped into looks like she could walk the runway with Jeannie. Tall, slender, and dressed in a gold bandage dress and five-inch stilettos, the only ugly thing about her is her expression.

“What is wrong with you?! You almost stepped on my shoes!”

“I’m sorry,” I mumble, staring at the ground. “I didn’t see you.”

“Didn’t see—”

“Let it go, Nina. She didn’t do it on purpose.”

I shift my attention to her companion, and I stiffen immediately.


He tips his chin. “Liza.”

“You know her?” Nina asks.

“You know them?” my sister parrots.

“We met in Houston,” James explains to Nina. “We have . . . mutual friends.”

His dark eyes drop down and linger on the front of my T-shirt. I belatedly remember what’s on it—a fox wearing glasses and foxy nerd written across the bottom. He presses his lips together as if trying to hide a smile. Nina, on the other hand, looks down her nose at me. Tomorrow’s newspaper headline flashes in front of me.

Teenage Tourist Bludgeons Terrified Model with Own Stiletto

I chuckle out loud before I can stop myself. Nina scowls. As she starts to say something else, James interjects.

“We were just leaving dinner.”

I expect him to ask a question, but he just stands there and stares. A beat passes, and I square my shoulders.

“In that case, don’t let me stop you. Good night.”

I spin on my heel and walk off without checking to see if Jeannie’s following. I’m halfway down the block when James calls out to me.

“Liza! Hold on a minute!”

I’m tempted to ignore him and keep going, but Mom’s voice pops into my head.

Don’t make a scene, Liza. Remember, everything you do is a reflection of our family.

My jaw clenches, but I turn back to face him as he jogs up to me. Jeannie moves to join us, but gradually enough it’s obvious she’s giving us some privacy.

I glare up at him. “What do you want, James?”

“Oh, uh, I wanted to apologize . . . for Nina,” he answers after clearing his throat. “She can be . . . a bit demanding.”

I have a different word in mind, but nod anyway.

“Sure. Whatever.”

He rubs the back of his neck. “Um, so, I didn’t realize you were in Manhattan.”

“I’m here visiting my sister,” I answer.

“Ah, right. You said that . . . before.”

Jeannie finally stops beside me. She smiles warmly and offers her hand.

“I’m Jeannie. It’s nice to meet you.”

He takes it and gives it a gentle shake. “James, and likewise. Were you two having dinner?”

“Actually, I took Liza to the Chanson Dessert Bar.”

“Oh, it’s one of my favorite places,” he says with a faint smile. “Did you enjoy it?”

I start to answer, but Nina is barreling toward us, and she looks positively murderous.

I make a face. “You might want to get back to your girlfriend. She looks pissed.”

“My girlfriend?” James glances over his shoulder. “Oh, Nina’s not—I ran into her at the restaurant. We know each other from school. She was alone, so I offered to walk her home.”

I’m taken aback. James, who can’t be bothered to be nice to a server, offered to walk someone home? He must really like her. Something about that makes my heart twinge, and I shove the thought aside. There are only a few seconds before Nina descends on us, and I don’t want this to ruin my otherwise perfect night.

I look at him pointedly. “You should probably tell her then, because she seems to think otherwise.”

Right on cue, Nina threads an arm through his elbow and tugs lightly at him.

“Come on, James. We should get going.”

I glance over at Jeannie. She takes note of my clenched jaw before turning to the others.

“Us too.”

A small crease appears between James’s brows, but he ultimately nods.

“Good night, Liza. I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip.”

“Good night.”

He escorts Nina down the street, while Jeannie hails a cab. By the time our taxi merges onto the street, they’re gone.

With two days left before I’m due to fly out, Jeannie and I make the most of the time we have left. After the trip to Patisserie Chanson, I’m inspired to try my hand at something new. She’s all for it, and she takes me to a nearby Japanese supermarket once I settle on an idea—agar jelly cake. We pick up some kanten, canned lychee, and fresh fruit. Since I’m baking, Jeannie offers to make dinner in exchange, and we set up in different areas of the kitchen.

The mangoes, strawberries, and kiwi get diced first. Then I dissolve the kanten powder into cool water. Once the lychee juice is strained, I add it in before bringing it all to a boil. As soon as I pour the first layer of jelly, I spread the fruit evenly through the pan. The rest of the liquid jelly is poured over that. I put the cake aside to set and hop over to check on Jeannie’s progress.

“What are you making?”

“If you must know, nosy girl,” she states while setting the oven temperature, “I’m baking some sea bass and basting it with miso. I’ve already made some stir-fried spinach and a small pot of rice for you.”

“Mmm. Smells delicious!”

She glances back at my pristine station. “Are you done baking already?”

“What can I say? When you’re good, you’re good.”

She narrows her eyes at me, and I laugh. “Fine. It was a no-bake recipe.”

“That’s what I thought. What do you still have left to do?”

“I’m trying to figure out if I want to add a couple more layers to the cake.” I chew on my lower lip. “It’d probably taste even better with some mango and coconut milk.”

“Let’s skip it. Less calories to worry about.” Jeannie catches me mid-frown. “What?”

I grit my teeth. I’ve been trying to figure out how to broach the topic, and it’s now or never.

“Jeannie . . . are you eating enough?”

Her head jerks up. “What?”

“You’ve lost a lot of weight. Plus, you barely had any bites of the dessert at Chanson. I’ve seen you diet before, but this is different.”

For a second, it looks as though Jeannie won’t answer me. Then she puts a hand on my arm.

“It’s not what you think, Liza. It’s my job to look a certain way. Designers expect you to fit their sample size or risk not being booked. Once you’re hired, your weight has to stay the same until the show is done.”

My eyebrows shoot up, and I cross my arms over my chest. She sighs.

“Ask Nathan. He’ll tell you the same. It’s just part of the industry.”

I don’t know what to say to that, so I take a different approach.

“Do you even like modeling?”

Jeannie bastes the fish with another layer of miso before turning to me.

“I’ve never thought much about it. Everything happened so fast, you know?” She cocks her head to the side. “I do love the clothes and the traveling. Plus, I’m good at it.”

“You’re good at other things too,” I insist. “You’re way more talented than me.”

“No, I’m not. Not really.” She pauses to stick the bass in the oven. “In fact, don’t tell Mom and Dad, but I still haven’t picked a major.”

I gasp. “But you’re about to be a junior!”

“I know! That’s what I’m talking about. At least you’re passionate about baking. I have no idea what I want to do. I guess that’s why I keep modeling.”

I lean my hip against the counter. “But do you actually want to make it your career?”

Her expression turns pensive. It’s several minutes before she comes up with an answer.

“Honestly? I don’t know. Part of me wants to walk away, but a bigger part wants to stay. I’ve worked really hard to get to this point. Plus, models only have a few years before they age out.”

I reach over and take her hands in mine. “At least swear to me you won’t get hurt.”

“What are you talking about?” she asks, perplexed.

“I’ve seen the documentaries, Jeannie. I don’t want you to do unhealthy things to stay thin. You don’t deserve that.”

Jeannie tugs me in for a quick hug. Her eyes are suspiciously shiny when she pulls back.

“When did you get so mature? You’re like my personal Asian Oprah.”

“Yeah, right. If anyone’s good at listening to people’s problems, it’s you. Besides, you already have all those self-help books lying around,” I joke, waving toward the bookcases.

“Don’t sell yourself short,” she retorts. “I know you don’t always believe you’re good enough, but trust me, you are. Just think about how great a baker you are.”

“Yeah, and what am I going to do with that? Change the world, one cake at a time?”

“Why not? You can turn people’s bad days into great ones with a single perfectly baked pastry.” She gestures at herself. “I mean, look at me. I’m happy just thinking about taking a bite of that jelly cake.”

“Oh! Speaking of which, I need to go check on it.”

The top layer sloshes ever so slightly when I give it a nudge. It’s not quite ready yet. Jeannie takes the moment to tend to the fish, so I plop down on the couch and pull up Instagram. My New York pics have gotten a lot of likes, especially the ones from the dessert bar. As I’m scrolling past one of Grace’s memes, a picture of Brody and Melissa pops up. They’re sitting by the pool, her arms wrapped around his waist while he kisses her on the cheek. My heart clenches.

“What’s wrong?”

I didn’t notice Jeannie standing over my shoulder. I toss the phone onto the cushion next to me.

“It’s nothing.”

“Liza. You know you’re a terrible liar, right?” She sits down. “Talk to me.”

“It’s really not a big deal. It’s a pic of my ex with his new girlfriend.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Jeannie reaches over to squeeze my hand. “How long ago did you guys break up?”

“Almost three weeks.”

Her eyebrows shoot up. “And he’s already dating someone else? That’s kind of quick.”

“Not if you consider he was cheating on me with her.”

“Oh, Liza.” She presses me against her. “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t tell Mom, okay? She doesn’t know I was dating him.”

“Why not?”

I raise my head to look at her. “You know how she is. She’ll just tell me it’s because he’s not Asian.”

“Then why don’t you date someone Asian?”

“Uh, I think I’ll pass. The ones Mom picks are the worst,” I inform her with a grimace.

“Maybe the next one will be good. Keep an open mind. There’s a lot to be said for having the same background.”

Et tu, Jeannie? I scrutinize her face.

“What about you? Have you dated anyone recently?”

She plucks at an invisible thread on her shirt. “Actually, I haven’t dated much since I moved here. I’ve been busy.”

“Busy pining after Nathan maybe?”

Jeannie reddens. “Liza!”

“You know, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” I waggle my eyebrows at her. “I hear oysters and chocolate work really well.”

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.”

I make kissing noises at her. She looks ready to throttle me, but the oven dings, so Jeannie leaps up to check on her food. At the same time, the doorbell rings. I grin when I see who’s on the other side.

“Nathan! Are your ears burning?”

Jeannie glares at me from the kitchen. “Stop joking around, Liza.”

I’m serious, I mouth to her. Her eyes nearly pop out of her head. Nathan cocks his head to the side.

“Um, can I come in?”

“Yeah, of course.”

He reveals a bouquet of calla lilies from behind his back. “These are for you.”

“Thanks,” I say, handing them right to Jeannie. They’re really for her anyway. While she moves to give him a hug, I check the jelly cake once more. This time, it’s set properly, and I slice it into six pieces before putting it into the fridge.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you’d be coming for dinner,” Jeannie bemoans. “I only cooked enough for two.”

He frowns. “I texted you. You didn’t get it?”

Jeannie picks her phone up off the coffee table and checks her notifications. She grins sheepishly.

“I did. I forgot I put my phone on vibrate.”

He throws an arm across her shoulder. “Well, don’t stress about it, babe. I’m actually meeting some people in a bit anyway. I just remember you mentioning Liza was leaving soon, and I wanted to stop by and say goodbye.”

“Are you sure it’s not because you heard I was making dessert?” I joke.

“I had no idea,” he says with a hand over his heart. “But . . . if you happen to have extra, I wouldn’t say no to taking some with me.”

I roll my eyes, but go in search of a reusable container. I transfer two slices of jelly cake and hand it to him. Nathan holds it up and peers through the clear bottom.

“Is this one of your famed recipes?”

“Actually, this is the first time I’ve made it, so I hope it tastes good.”

“Then let’s find out.”

He opens the box and takes a big bite of one piece. I hold my breath as he chews.

“Oh, oh yeah. This. This is amazing,” he moans. “It’s so light, and not too sweet. It’s way better than some of the stuff my mom makes, but don’t tell her I said so.”

“She’s got a gift,” Jeannie tells him.

“Your mom bakes?” I ask.

He nods. “She used to bake all the time but not anymore. She’s too busy with work.”

Nathan gestures at me with the slice of cake in his hand. “Now that I know your secret, I insist you stay for a few more days so I can gorge myself on your baking.”

“Sorry. Plane ticket’s been bought. You’ll just have to come to Houston if you want any more.”

Nathan pops the rest in his mouth in two large bites before nodding.

“Done deal. I’ll make it happen. Especially if I can find an easy class to take while I’m down there.”

“Good. Then Jeannie can show you around,” I say. “Since she’ll be back all summer.”

Nathan flashes a brilliant smile at us both. “Dessert and a personal tour guide? This is sounding better and better.”

Jeannie’s face flushes. I swallow a laugh. Now she knows how I feel whenever Mom tries to set me up.

“Well, I guess this is goodbye for now, Liza.”

Nathan wraps his arms around me. I scrunch my nose at the smoke and sandalwood of his cologne before pulling away.

“Bye, Nathan.”

With a parting smile, he leaves and shuts the door behind him.

“The fish!” Jeannie suddenly exclaims. “Oh no. It’s cold.”

She throws it back in the oven for a few more minutes. Then we sit down and have dinner in companionable silence. When Jeannie scarfs down a whole slice of my jelly cake, I’m thrilled.

“Nathan’s right, Liza. This is stunning. You should make it for Mom.”

“You know what? I will,” I tell her. “She did ask me about some ideas just the other day.”

“See? I know you think Mom doesn’t believe in you, but she does. That’s why I think you should enter the contest. Show her what else you can do.”

I don’t reply, but a seed of hope sprouts within me. Maybe I can do this.


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