A Taste for Love: Chapter 21


The next day, I’m startled awake just before ten by a series of back-to-back texts. As I unlock my phone with half-open eyes, it rings. I yawn before answering.

“Hello?”

There’s crying on the other end of the line. I bolt up in bed.

“Grace? Is that you? What’s wrong?”

Crying turns into full-on sobbing. I hear shuffling on the phone, and then another voice comes on.

“Liza? This is Mrs. Chiu. Do you mind coming over? I hate to bother you, but I can’t get Grace to tell me what’s wrong.”

I’m out of bed and changed by the time she finishes talking. I had planned on inviting Grace to spend the night with me after what happened, but she rushed out of the bakeshop without even saying goodbye. When she didn’t respond to any of my texts, I assumed she’d gone to sleep.

Mom and Dad are already at work, and Jeannie is out with Nathan again, so no one’s there to question where I’m going. I hop in the car and head a few miles down the road. I pull into the driveway as Mrs. Chiu opens the door.

“That was fast.”

It’s said with concern, not accusation. I throw her a grin before toeing my shoes off and launching myself up the stairs to Grace’s room. I knock twice and then barge right in. Grace’s room is as familiar as my own. Ballet-pink walls are covered in canvas prints of glittery inspirational quotes and elaborate paper flowers. Her desk, positioned directly below a picture window, is cluttered with fashion magazines, and a bow-shaped chair is tucked against it. I turn toward her bed, where pink and cream throw pillows have been tossed to the floor.

“Grace? It’s me,” I say softly.

She’s curled up in bed, surrounded by a mountain of used tissues. Her face is blotched and stained with tears, and dark circles rim her eyes. I climb into bed beside her.

“Grace . . .” I brush the strands of hair sticking to her cheeks to one side. “Tell me what happened.”

She hands me her phone, too choked up to explain. “Read the text.”

I open up her messages, instantly drawn to the one on top. It’s from Ben, sent right after midnight. I brace myself.

I don’t think we should be together anymore, Grace. I’m sorry.

“That’s it?” I say, more to myself.

I scroll up and skim through dozens of saccharine declarations and random conversations between the two of them. The last one of those was sent yesterday before the baking began.

“I saw it when I woke up this morning. I . . . I don’t understand,” she says. “What did I do?”

I toss her phone aside and grab her gently by the shoulders.

“Nothing. You’ve done nothing wrong, Grace. Didn’t you say James wouldn’t even let you talk to Ben yesterday?”

Grace nods and wipes her nose with the tissue I hand her.

“I think this is his doing,” I continue. “Ben would never break up with you otherwise.”

“You . . . you think so?”

I nod. “I know so. Ben’s liked you since the moment you guys met. There’s no way he would change his mind just like that.”

A knot forms in my stomach. I wanted so badly to believe that James was better than this, that Nathan was lying all along. But now? After what he’s done to Grace?

She sniffles. “What am I going to do?”

“You’re going to relax and get some sleep. I’ll take care of this.”

I roll off the bed, hell-bent on making James pay. She grabs my wrist as I’m about to head out the door.

“Liza, no. I don’t want you to have to see James. Not for me. Maybe you can just text him or something.”

I flinch at the stab to my chest. I’ve already tried that, and he completely ignored me.

“If James did this, he won’t admit it unless I’m standing right in front of him. Besides, I’m just going to talk to him.”

More like beat him into submission, but close enough.

“But you don’t know how to find him,” Grace reminds me.

This gives me pause, but then I remember something very important and grin.

“Mom has his address on file. It’s on the application form. All the contestants have to fill one out.”

After tossing all the dirty tissues into her trash can, I lean down to give her another bear hug.

“Get some sleep. I’ll bring you some boba in a little bit, okay?”

“Thanks, Liza.”

I shut the lights off and close the door. Downstairs, Mrs. Chiu is anxiously waiting in the living room. She perks up as I appear in the doorway.

“How is she?”

“She’ll be okay. I have to take care of something at home, but I’ll be back later if that’s all right.”

“Of course it is! Come back whenever you want.”

I drive home as fast as I can without risking being pulled over. I might want revenge, but Mom will kill me if I get a ticket. Once I’m in the house, I go straight to the study. Piles of paper are strewn around the room, both on the floor and the desk, burying it beneath them. I can’t believe Mom and Dad harp on me for not cleaning my room when it looks like a bomb went off in here.

I square my shoulders and begin on one end of the desk, flipping through the stacks of papers as carefully as I can. Most of them are receipts or bills for the restaurant or bakery, or letters from family back home in Taiwan. My graduation photos are also lying on the desk, missing the one Mom ultimately used.

My eyes land on a box holding at least a hundred more contest flyers. I have to physically hold myself back.

Grace first. Arson later.

I resume my search. Thirty minutes later, I finally find what I’m looking for in a small filing cabinet filled to the brim with this year’s applications. They are alphabetized, but before I can search in the Ws, my phone goes off. It’s a text from Sarah.

Can we meet up somewhere? Need to talk.

I think back to my conversation with Edward. Maybe a break wouldn’t hurt. My first instinct is to suggest Boba Life, but the last thing I want is to run into James or Ben right now.

How about Juiceland?

Sounds great. See you there in thirty.

I put everything back mostly in place and stand up to stretch my aching muscles. With my purse and phone in tow, I drive over to Juiceland. A bowl of mango shaved ice sounds amazing right now. As I pull into the plaza, a grand opening across the parking lot catches my eye. It’s another new tea place—Tea Bear. I glance at my watch. Sarah probably won’t get here for another ten minutes. Might as well go check it out.

As I near the door, a familiar figure freezes me in my tracks.

It’s James.

I duck behind a pillar. How the hell did we still end up in the same place? He’s standing in line with Ben, and a pair of girls is chatting with them. Ben is polite but doesn’t really seem interested. James, on the other hand, laughs at something the taller girl says. I hate the pain that rips through me and makes it hard to breathe. My plan to confront James suddenly feels insurmountable, an Everest-size hurdle more likely to conquer me than the other way around.

“Liza?” Sarah says from behind me. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, yep,” I answer, the words coming out in a rush. “Everything’s fine. Totally fine. Let’s go to Juiceland.”

Not giving her a chance to answer, I loop my arm through hers and drag her away. As we step into the shop, we’re greeted by clear acrylic tables spread across a room with bright yellow walls and painted navy concrete floors. We put in our orders—mango shaved ice for me, strawberry for her—and once they’re ready, we bring our bowls over to a table in the back. I shove a bite of mango and ice drenched in condensed milk in my mouth before peering at Sarah.

“So, what did you want to talk about?”

She swallows. “Okay, I’m just going to come out and ask. Do you like Edward?”

“What? No!” I sputter. “Not in the least.”

I hadn’t noticed how tense she was, but it melts off her face with my answer. She fiddles with one of her auburn curls, and her green eyes dart up to meet mine.

“Well, he seems to like you a lot. He’s always talking to you and baking things to impress you.”

“That’s not because he likes me. It’s because our moms have been trying to set us up.”

Her mouth hangs open. “What? Why?”

“It’s a long story,” I say after shoving another spoonful of mango into my mouth, “but you know how my mom feels about my ex-boyfriends.”

“Wait, is this one of those arranged marriage deals?” she asks, waggling her eyebrows. “I saw a documentary on Netflix about it the other day.”

I laugh. “It’s not, and I don’t want you giving my mom any ideas.”

Sarah giggles. I eat more of my shaved ice, savoring the sweet flavors. When I look up at Sarah, she’s lost in thought. On a hunch, I lean forward, my arms on the table.

“Wait. Why are you asking? Do you like him?”

“I . . .” She flushes scarlet. “Maybe? We’ve been talking a lot during the breaks, and he’s really sweet. We’ve even hung out and listened to opera.”

“Opera?”

Her eyes sparkle with excitement. “Yeah! In fact, he showed me some videos of Taiwanese opera, and it was . . .”

Weird? Creepy? Annoying?

“Really interesting! The elaborate costumes, the sets, and the singing! It’s so unique.”

I guess opera really does transcend culture, though I’m still not a fan. Since it’s clear Sarah’s gearing up for a full-blown analysis, I quickly pull us back to the topic at hand.

“Look, the point is Edward doesn’t like me, and I don’t like him.” I wave my spoon at her. “Also, he listened to opera with you. And then showed you more opera. No guy does that unless he likes you.”

Sarah starts to speak, but I cut her off.

“Even Asian guys.”

She balks. “That’s not what I was going to say!”

I smirk.

“Liza! I wasn’t!”

I throw my hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay, I’m kidding. But not about this. I have it on good authority Edward only likes girls with curly hair. Actually, just one in particular.”

The color floods back into her cheeks. As if on cue, her phone pings. Sarah gasps.

“It’s him.”

“Well?”

Her eyes move across the message, and she lets out a squeak. “He asked if I’d like to see a movie with him later.”

A wide smile spreads across her face. I nudge her arm.

“See? I told you.”

“I’m going to see if he wants to join us here for shaved ice first.”

As Sarah’s fingers fly over her keyboard, I catch Ben and James walking past the front door. The girls they were with earlier are nowhere in sight. My anger, momentarily forgotten, flares back hotter than the flames in Dad’s kitchen. I’m on my feet and out the door in a flash.

“Liza! Liza, wait! Where are you going?”

I stop short on the sidewalk, and Sarah collides into me with a yelp.

“Sorry! I didn’t . . .”

She trails off, her eyes landing on the subjects of my scrutiny. Ben’s having trouble looking at me, while James delivers a dismissive glance my way. Shoppers brush past us as they make their way along the strip of stores we’re standing in front of, but the two of them remain silent. I’m trying to decide which of my looks is the most lethal when the two girls come bounding over. The taller one takes hold of James’s arm.

“Do you guys want to grab something to eat?”

If I didn’t know better, I’d say I saw a flicker of regret on James’s face. Sarah steps forward, but I warn her off with a subtle shake of my head.

“How is she?”

For a second, I’m sure I imagined Ben’s whispered words over the noise in the plaza. Then he asks again, louder.

“How’s Grace?”

I gape at him. Is he serious? He breaks up with her and now he wants to know how she is? I explode.

“I’d say ask her yourself, but that would require you to be less of a coward. A text? Really?”

James steps forward. “Liza, stop.”

I shift the full weight of my rage onto him. He stills beneath my daggered gaze, while the girls murmur an excuse and run off. Sarah’s still at my side, but she stays quiet.

“Don’t tell me what to do. He broke Grace’s heart, and since she’s too busy crying at home to say anything, I’m going to.”

I drag my eyes back to Ben. “Do you have any idea how hard it is for Grace to trust someone? She finally lets you in, and then you decide to dump her? Via text message? You didn’t deserve her.”

“Well, she didn’t look all that sad when she was making out with Nathan,” James abruptly interrupts.

“Excuse me?”

My outburst startles the elderly lady who walks by at that very moment. I shoot her an apologetic look.

“Before you defend her, I was there,” James states. “I went back for my phone after we left yesterday. I saw Grace and Nathan making out by the bathrooms.”

“I don’t believe that for a second!” Sarah defends. “Grace isn’t that kind of person.”

James looks at her as if noticing her for the first time. Meanwhile, I think back to last night. It wasn’t like Grace to run out like that, but I assumed it was because she was upset about Ben.

I shake my head. “Sarah’s right. You must have seen someone else. Grace would never cheat on anyone.”

“How can you be sure?”

Because her first boyfriend cheated on her, asswipe.

I ultimately say nothing, because it’s not my secret to tell. James takes my silence for confirmation of his suspicions.

“Like I said. It’s not Ben who doesn’t deserve her. It’s Grace who doesn’t deserve him.” His eyes narrow. “And as for you, I would have expected more than Nathan.”

“Oh, so I’m somehow guilty by association? Really? Because from what I hear, you’re the problem, not him. You tried to ruin his life.”

“Is that what he told you? That I ruined his life?”

I flinch at the fury in his eyes. Ben grabs him by the arm.

“James, don’t. He’s obviously still lying about what happened. Maybe we should—”

James cuts him off. “No. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Especially anyone associated with Nathan. Let’s go.”

He drags Ben across the parking lot before he can protest. To my horror, large, fat tears trickle down my cheeks, and I swipe at them angrily. To make matters worse, Edward steps out of the car a few feet away and walks toward us.

“Hi, Sarah! Are you ready—” He sees me and freezes. “Liza? Are you okay?”

Sarah touches me on the elbow. “Maybe we should go back inside. We can talk about it in there.”

I pull away from her and manage a smile.

“You guys go in without me. I . . . I have to go check on Grace.”

I hurry back to my car, slamming the door shut in time for the dam to break.


It takes a few minutes to pull myself together. I end up driving to Boba Life to grab the tea I promised Grace. When I pull into her driveway, I check my reflection in the mirror. A girl with tired eyes and reddened cheeks stares back at me. I take several calming breaths before getting out of the car. I plaster a cheerful smile on my face as Mrs. Chiu answers the door.

“I’m back!”

She seems surprised by the change in my appearance but decides not to comment. I slip my shoes off and climb the stairs, knocking softly on Grace’s bedroom door.

“Hey, it’s me.”

She opens the door from the inside, and I find her still in her pajamas. At least the curtains are open, and there’s more a hill than a mountain of tissues around her.

“I come bearing gifts.”

I ended up ordering four drinks total, so I place the bag on her desk before removing one and piercing the plastic top with a straw. The rest stay in the holder as I hand a lilac-colored drink to her.

“It’s your favorite. Taro.”

“You’re the best,” she says, managing a weak smile.

Grace settles back onto the bed and pats the spot next to her, gesturing for me to join. I grab my tea and climb next to her.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

She sighs and rests her head on my shoulder. “I really liked him, Liza.”

“I know you did.”

“I thought he was different.”

The ache in her voice matches the one in my heart. I know exactly how she feels. I reach over the tissue box between us and squeeze her hand.

“I’m sorry, Grace. I’m so sorry.”

A few more minutes pass before she tips her head in my direction. “Are you okay?”

I keep my eyes forward. “Yeah. Why?”

“It doesn’t seem like it.”

“What makes you say that?”

Her eyes bore into me. Sometimes I forget how well she knows me. I settle for a shrug.

“It’s nothing.”

“It’s not nothing.”

“Fine. I’ll tell you, but you have to promise not to get upset.”

She nods against my shoulder. Gradually, I recount what happened at the plaza. I pause when I get to the part about Nathan, unsure of how to broach the subject. At some point, I just go for it.

“James . . . accused you of kissing Nathan after we got out of the cake challenge.”

Grace’s eyes widen, and she looks away quickly.

“It’s not what he thinks,” she says eventually, fiddling with her comforter.

“So you two weren’t kissing?”

“We were . . . but it didn’t happen the way James thinks it did. Nathan is the one who kissed me. I went to the restroom and ran into him in the hallway. We started talking, and he said he was sorry about what happened with Ben. I was a little weirded out when he hugged me, but then he tried to kiss me and I had to shove him off.”

Grace chokes up again, and I wrap an arm around her and pull her close.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was afraid to. I thought . . . he’s your sister’s boyfriend. Besides, it was just the one time, and he apologized right away. He said he didn’t mean to misjudge things.”

I clench and unclench my fists. No one has a right to take what hasn’t been freely given.

“Grace, if he made you uncomfortable, then you shouldn’t have to hide it. In fact, I’m glad you told me. Jeannie doesn’t deserve to be with a cheater.”

“What if she doesn’t believe me?”

“Of course she’ll believe you! Why would she think you were lying? Jeannie’s known you almost as long as I have.” I soften my voice. “Look, we can talk to her together.”

“What if she accuses me of trying to steal him? Remember what happened with Everly last year? All I did was work on a history project with Aaron, and she was convinced I wanted him for myself. Please don’t make me tell Jeannie. I . . . I just don’t think I can handle that right now.”

It kills me to say okay, but I don’t want Grace to feel pressured.

“Yeah, sure.”

“Thanks for being here, Liza.”

“Are you kidding me? You’re my best friend. I’m always going to be here for you.” I throw an arm around her and touch our temples together. “Just make sure you give me a heads-up if you need help getting rid of a body.”

She giggles, but the laughter fades as something comes over her.

“Does this mean you and James . . . ?”

I swallow the lump in my throat. “He showed his true colors today. I’m glad we’re done.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“It doesn’t matter. Today’s not about him.” I gesture for her to drink her tea. “I’m here for you, and there are no boys allowed.”

“What about girls?” she asks through a mouthful of boba.

I pretend to be offended. “What am I? Chopped liver?”

“You don’t count. I don’t stand a chance with you.”

“Trust me. In that situation, you’re the one way out of my league.”

“Hmm,” she answers, tapping her chin. “On second thought, I think you’re right.”

“Hey!”

It’s good to see her laughing again. Since she’s done with her tea, I grab both and take them to the kitchen to throw away. When I come back, Grace is staring pensively out the window.

“You know, it’s kind of ironic.”

I sink back onto the bed next to her. “What is?”

“People assume because I’m bi, I get to date all these people. But all I really want is one person to love me, you know? I’m so tired of trying so hard and still getting my heart broken.”

When the tears roll down her face this time, they’re quiet and steady. I tug her against my shoulder.

“I wish I could make this go away, Grace.”

“I’m really glad you’re my friend.”

“Best friend,” I tease, pointing at a picture of us on her desk. “Don’t be downgrading me like that. I worked hard to get here.”

“Shut up.”

“You shut up.”

Grace pokes me hard in the ribs, and I shove her away.

“Keep doing that, and I won’t tell you what happened with Sarah today.”

That grabs her attention immediately. Tears forgotten, she sits up with greedy eyes. I grin.

“Well . . .”

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