A Taste for Love: Chapter 4


Six words. Six words are all it takes to turn my life upside down.

“You should date nice Chinese boy.”

We’ve all gathered at Yin and Yang for Sunday brunch, our family tradition for the past ten years. Dad shuts down the restaurant one Sunday afternoon each month and invites close friends to join us for a five-course meal. It’s his chance to have fun and cook dishes you’ll never find on the menu. Usually, he makes some sort of big speech beforehand, but today, he flashed me a strange look before disappearing behind the curtain.

Too bad I just figured out it was a warning.

Auntie Chen—no actual relation—leans forward. Probably in her sixties or seventies, she has dark, tattooed brows and a powdered face that make her a dead ringer for a Kabuki mask. Even the bright red lipstick adds to the effect, the color cracking as she smiles brightly.

“I help find you good one.”

My jaw hits the table. “Excuse me?”

“Your mama say you date American boy.”

If looks could kill, I’d be behind bars for the one I send Mom. Instead, she plucks a steamed pork dumpling off the plate and carefully balances it on her chopsticks. Could she know about Brody? I sneak a longer look at her. No, she’s far too relaxed. I turn back to Auntie Chen, lips pressed together in the semblance of a smile.

“That was almost a year ago, ˉa. I’m focusing on graduating now.”

Auntie Chen shakes her head, and my hope for an end to the conversation evaporates faster than the steam off the bamboo baskets in front of me.

“American boy not good. Chinese boy good. They have respect for elder.”

I glance at Dad for support. He’s gulping his way through the corn and crab soup as if it’s the most delicious thing he’s ever eaten. No one else at the table is of any help either. Both Mom and Uncle Chen are busy pretending not to listen with rapt attention.

“Ready for your next course?”

Our waitress freezes as all eyes land on her. Grateful for her interruption, I grin winningly.

“Yes! I’m starving!”

The rest of lunch passes like any other meal. Dad’s experimental dishes go over spectacularly, and by the time we reach the third course, I’m nearly stuffed. That doesn’t mean I’ve let down my guard, though. Auntie Chen is a notorious schemer. When she sets her mind to something, all anyone can do is get out of her way. Sure enough, she starts waving enthusiastically at a family of three who arrived just before Dad closed up for the day.

Mèimei! You here today too? Come, come! Come sit with us. Plenty of room.”

The couple looks to be around my parents’ age, and they’re with a boy I recognize from school. I realize what’s about to go down the minute our eyes meet.

It’s a setup, and a very public one.

I should have figured this out sooner. The minute she arrived, Auntie Chen insisted we sit at a larger table than usual. Not to mention Mom fussed over my outfit before we left the house. The woman eagerly tugs her mortified son toward our table and shoves him into a free seat. She and her husband settle into the other two before the former dips her head slightly.

“Thank you for being kind enough to include us, dàjieˇ.”

“What a lovely surprise running into you, Mrs. Lim,” Mom greets warmly.

“Yes. Good surprise,” Auntie Chen chimes in. “With your husband and son too.”

Mrs. Lim starts. “Oh, how rude of me! Let me introduce my husband, Mr. Lim, and my son, Reuben.”

“You’ve already met my husband, Mr. Yang,” Mom replies, and gestures toward me. “And this is my younger daughter, Liza. Liza, say hello.”

“Hello, Lim āyí, Lim shūshu,” I offer automatically.

I’m rewarded for my obedience with a jab to the ribs. I scowl at Mom, whose eyes shoot daggers while her lips stay curved.

“You forgot to say hi to Reuben.”

I drag my gaze over to my fellow victim with a blithe smile.

“Hello, Reuben.”

His face reddens. “Hi.”

Oh, he doesn’t stand a chance. Lucky for him, I’ve got no intention of being roped into this. I slip my phone out of my purse and text Grace. Then I prepare to play the game.

When the next course arrives, Reuben’s hand grabs hold of the rice pot before anyone else can react. He dumps a big scoop into his bowl, and then proceeds to use his own chopsticks to pick through the other dishes. It’s hard to say who’s more appalled—Mrs. Lim or Mom. The corner of Dad’s lips twitch as our eyes meet across the table.

Mrs. Lim transfers some vegetables into Reuben’s bowl. “Baˇobèi, you need to eat more vegetables.”

He promptly picks them out and—to everyone’s horror—puts them back on the communal plate.

“I don’t like vegetables. I only eat meat.”

She tries again. “It’s important to eat a balanced diet. That’s what Dr. Dang said, remember?”

He pushes his bowl away. “Screw him. He said I was fat.”

“Reuben, language!” She smiles apologetically at us. “And Dr. Dang didn’t call you fat. He only said you should watch your weight.”

He glowers. “Same thing.”

I’ve decided Reuben would be the first to go in a zombie apocalypse. He’d probably demand they leave him alone because he’s too important to die. The thought makes me giggle, but I swallow it when Mom glares in my direction. The table falls silent. That is, except for Reuben, who spends the next ten minutes chewing with his mouth open. I should feel bad for Mrs. Lim, but it’s too much fun watching Mom’s matchmaking going up in flames. Others at the table, however, are not so quick to give up.

“So, Reuben. Your mama say you go to school with Liza,” Auntie Chen says.

He shrugs. “Uh, I guess so. It’s a big school.”

Wrong answer. A second later, Reuben lets out a yelp and rubs his arm.

Mrs. Lim clears her throat. “What he means is he doesn’t have any classes with Liza.”

“That’s too bad,” Mom jumps in. “I hear Reuben’s an excellent student. All As and plays the viola. So much discipline. Liza could learn a thing or two from him.”

I grit my teeth. She knows perfectly well I’m a straight-A student . . . and I eat all my vegetables.

“Thank you, but Reuben spends too much time playing video games,” Mrs. Lim insists. “In fact, I’ve been trying to teach him how to cook some basic dishes.”

Auntie Chen claps her hands together. “Maybe Mr. Yang teach Reuben about cooking. This restaurant most popular in Chinatown.”

Dad ducks his head to hide the look of chagrin on his face as he answers.

“You’re too generous, Mrs. Chen. We are just lucky to have loyal customers such as yourself.”

“To be honest, Reuben’s more of a sweets person,” Mrs. Lim admits with a small smile. “He loves his desserts. Every time I bring something home from your bakery, Mrs. Yang, it’s gone in one night!”

“I’m so happy to hear that, Mrs. Lim,” Mom murmurs demurely.

“Will you be running the baking contest again?” Mrs. Lim asks. “I heard it was very successful in past years.”

Mom originally came up with the idea for the contest after we watched a season of The Great British Baking Show a few years ago. She was searching for a way to give back to the local Asian American community while promoting Yin and Yang. The competition includes ten bakers from local high schools. Mom keeps the recipes fairly easy to follow and re-create, and the contestants have five days between baking challenges. The winner gets featured in the Chinese newspaper and on a local cable talk show.

“Thank you for saying so! Actually, I’ve got some very exciting things planned for this year’s competition,” Mom stage-whispers.

“And is there a prize for the winner?”

Mom nods. “First prize is a five-thousand-dollar scholarship.”

“Oh, well, isn’t that lovely, Rueben?” Mrs. Lim’s eyes take on an unsettling glint. “Too bad you don’t know how to bake.”

I cringe. Here it comes.

“Liza’s a wonderful baker. In fact, she’s even won several contests in the past.” Mom peers at me. “I’m sure she’d be happy to give Reuben some lessons. Wouldn’t you?”

I’d be happier dropping dead first, but I bite my tongue. Reuben, on the other hand, doesn’t hold back.

“Baking is for girls,” he tells everyone with a scowl. “Besides, why would I waste time trying to make something I can just buy?”

Oh, this is almost too easy. I prop my chin on my hand, injecting a hint of saccharin into my voice.

“I think all guys should know how to bake. It takes a lot of patience and attention to detail.”

I slide my eyes over to Mom, expecting her to disapprove. Instead, she’s wearing an odd little smile that makes me sit up straight. Meanwhile, Reuben’s eyes are pinned to his lap. Mrs. Lim fumes beside him.

“Reuben,” she hisses. “Your attention should be on the table, not on that phone!”

As if on cue, my cell starts to ring. I hide my grin as I answer it.

“Hello?”

“911 at your service,” Grace chirps. “What excuse are we using today?”

“Hey! I thought we were meeting tomorrow at lunch,” I say loudly.

“Ah, the last-minute project. Got it.”

She raises her voice while I pull my ear away from my phone just enough for Mom to eavesdrop.

“Where are you? We’re all here at Boba Life waiting for you!”

“I don’t know if I’ll make it on time,” I answer tightly. “I’m at lunch with my family right now.”

Dad’s head pops out from behind Mom’s shoulder. “What’s going on, Liza?”

“I was supposed to meet up with a group to work on our final world history project.” I grimace. “I thought it was tomorrow, not today. I must have mixed up the time.”

“This is why I keep telling you to write things down,” Mom mutters with a sigh. “What time do you have to be there?”

I speak into the phone. “What time was I supposed to be there?”

“One thirty,” Grace fibs.

Dad gasps. “But it’s almost two o’clock already!”

I glance at my watch, eyes widening with mock dismay.

“You’re right! Oh, but . . . we’re not done with lunch, and I don’t want to be rude.”

“School comes first,” he answers predictably. “Go. We’ll pack this up and you can eat it for dinner.”

Grace, who’s been listening in on the whole conversation, seals the deal with her parting words.

“Great! We’re waiting for you to start, so get here as soon as you can!”

I hang up, biting my lip so I don’t burst out laughing. Mom and Dad left early this morning to open the restaurant and bakery, so I’d taken my car to meet everyone here. The Four Horsemen couldn’t have planned this better. I politely excuse myself and practically sprint out of there. Once I’m safely in the car, I dial Grace.

“Girl, that was the best! You should have seen the look on Auntie Chen’s face. I think there was legit steam coming out of her ears.”

“Glad I could help.”

“So where are you now?” I ask, turning the engine on.

“At Boba Life. Duh.”

“Wait, you were serious?”

She chuckles. “Why are you surprised? Don’t you need a tea fix?”

“This is why we’re best friends,” I reply, grinning. “I’ll be there in a few.”

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