A Taste for Love: Chapter 9


On graduation day, I wake up before my alarm and throw on the dress Mom bought me. I can’t get away with saying it doesn’t fit this time because she double- and triple-checked the size before buying it. Thankfully, I was able to skip giving the salutatorian speech since we ended up with two valedictorians this year, so no one will have to see the obnoxiously loud floral pattern peeking out from beneath my robe.

The ceremony is held in our school auditorium. I’m shocked when Principal Miller introduces Mrs. Lee as our commencement speaker. We were expecting Mayor Turner, but he must have canceled. Mrs. Lee is dressed in a well-tailored, dove-white pantsuit, and her hair is pulled up in a chic chignon. Eye-popping diamond studs hang heavily on both earlobes, and a diamond-encrusted three-leaf clover, identical to the one in the Van Cleef & Arpels ad I saw in Cosmo earlier this month, hangs around her neck.

I don’t remember much of her speech, save for one thing. As she stands tall at the podium, her eyes seem to bore into mine.

“Find your passion. Figure out not just what you’re good at, but what you really love to do. What’s something you would give up your free time or sleep for?”

My eyes flutter closed. The smell of fresh pastries fills my nose, and the open oven door blankets me in heat. I give myself a shake.

Give it up, Liza. It’s never going to happen.

My hands clench in my lap as Mrs. Lee continues.

“Do what you love. If you do that, it’ll all work out.”

Afterward, Mom and Dad head back to Yin and Yang for the rest of the day, while I meet up with Grace and her family at Ramen Time. Then we head to Sarah’s graduation party at Boba Life. She’s been obsessed with boba ever since we introduced her to it.

We’re there until almost ten o’clock. I would stay longer, but I forgot to ask Mom to extend my curfew. She’s ready with a lecture when I step in the door, so I end up packing for New York while she paces around my room complaining about how irresponsible Mrs. Lee’s advice was. It takes until almost one in the morning before I finish, and it’s almost one thirty when I finally pass out.

The next morning, I wake up with a tea hangover. Dad pokes his head into my room. His shoulders relax at seeing me already awake.

“We’re leaving in fifteen minutes, so get ready.”

After one final check to make sure I have everything, I drag my suitcase out of the room. Both Mom and Dad are waiting at the breakfast table.

“You need to have some breakfast before you leave,” Mom says.

I groan. “It’s too early to eat. I’m not hungry.”

“By the time you get to the airport, you will be, and airport food is too expensive,” she insists. “Eat something now.”

I grumble but plop down into the chair to make a breakfast bun. I split a mantou down the middle and add shredded pork and strips of egg. I chase it down with a glass of soy milk and move to put on my shoes.

Mom stops me. “Wait a minute.”

She leaves the room and returns with a light jacket. “It gets cold on the plane. I don’t want you to get sick.”

I accept it without protest. “Thanks, Mom.”

“Do you have your plane ticket? Did you print it out like I told you to last night?”

“It’s on my phone, Mom. They have an app for that.”

“You should have a printed copy just in case.” She points toward our study. “Go print one.”

“Mom . . .”

“If we don’t leave now, Liza will be late,” Dad interjects. “I’ll make sure she prints one from the airline kiosk. She’ll be fine.”

I smile gratefully at him. I stiffen when Mom abruptly wraps her arms around me.

“Text me when you get there. Promise me.”

“I promise.”

I didn’t expect the idea of me flying alone for the first time to worry her so much. My arms tighten around her for a brief moment before letting go.

I fall asleep almost immediately in the car and startle awake when we pull to a stop in front of the departure gate. Dad gets out and helps me grab my luggage from the trunk. We stare at each other for an extraordinarily long second. Then he steps forward and pats me firmly on the shoulders.

“Don’t forget to print your boarding pass.”

I smile. “I’ll remember.”

An hour later, I walk down the ramp onto the airplane. My Kindle, headphones, and phone are tucked tightly under one arm. Once I stick my bag in the overhead bin, I settle into my seat and send Mom and Dad a text.

Boarded plane. Waiting for takeoff.

Almost immediately, Dad’s reply pops up.

Good. Text us when you land.

On a whim, I type out three words and hit send.

I love you.

Three dots blink for almost a minute before Mom’s reply pops up.

Be safe.

I sigh. With my phone tucked into my pocket, I lean back and close my eyes.


“Liza! Liza!”

When I finally step into the main terminal of LaGuardia, I spot Jeannie waving frantically at me from her spot by the doors. Between college and modeling, she hasn’t had a chance to come home for almost a year. I’ve missed having my sister around. No one else understands what it’s like to deal with Mom all the time. As luck would have it, though, she’ll be coming back to Houston for a bit during the summer, and I can’t wait to have her home again.

I want to launch myself toward her, but hesitate when I grow near. She’s always been thin, but the pallor and dark circles are new. When she hugs me, I’m afraid I’ll break her.

She takes a step back to look at me. “Oh my goodness, Liza. You’re so tall now.”

“Don’t worry, I still need you to reach the high shelves,” I joke.

When Jeannie smiles, her face lights up like it always has, so I trade my concern for a grin. We walk out of the terminal and toward the ride share area together. Jeannie requests a car before guiding us to the numbered spot to wait. I pull out my own phone to text Mom and Dad before I forget. As soon as I do, it rings.

“Hello?”

“Is Jeannie with you? Put her on the phone,” Mom demands.

I sigh. How was your flight, Liza? I miss you already. I hope you have a good time.

Jeannie bumps her shoulder against mine. I shrug and pass the phone over.

She takes a deep breath. “Hi, Mom.”

“Jeannie! Why haven’t you called us? It’s been almost a month since we talked to you. Are you okay? Is there something wrong?”

“I’m fine, Mom. I told you. I’m just super busy with school and modeling.”

Our car arrives, and Jeannie waves the driver over. The middle-aged woman pops the trunk and helps me get my bag inside. Jeannie slides in behind the driver’s seat, while I settle into the other side. She keeps the phone to her ear while confirming her address with the driver. As we pull away from the curb, Mom shouts into the phone.

“Are you listening, Jeannie?”

Jeannie cringes. “Yes, yes, Mom. I was just talking to our driver.”

She finishes the conversation as I stare out the window. As the Manhattan skyline appears in the distance, Jeannie squeezes my hand.

“This is going to be so much fun,” she squeals. “Oh, Mom says she misses you already.”

I chortle. “No, she didn’t.”

“How do you know?”

“The same way you do,” I remind her, turning my attention back to the window. “She’s Mom.”

“So maybe she didn’t say it out loud, but I know she does,” Jeannie insists.

No matter what I say, she’ll never accept that Mom doesn’t treat us the same. So I change the subject.

“Is the traffic always this bad?”

Our driver’s been squeezing herself into spots barely big enough for her car, and every last-second swerve sets my teeth on edge. Jeannie is unfazed.

“This is actually pretty good for the city. It’s even worse when it’s rush hour.”

I’m ready to call it quits and walk the rest of the way when we finally bank around Columbus Circle. Jeannie suddenly leans forward and points at a building in the distance.

“Right there,” she instructs the driver. “You can drop us off after this intersection.”

I heave a sigh of relief once my feet hit the pavement. With my luggage in tow, I follow Jeannie across the street to where a row of brick and stone buildings stand sentry over Central Park. We stop in front of a pair of glass doors, and I admire the intricate, swirling design of the metal overlay. Jeannie pulls out her keys, and we step inside. The elevator takes us up to the fifteenth floor, where she unlocks her door and lets me in.

My jaw drops immediately. “This looks expensive.”

Jeannie laughs. “It belongs to one of Dad’s friends. Remember Uncle Tam, the real estate guy? He needed someone to watch the place while he’s out of the country.”

Heavy black curtains have been tugged aside to reveal large picture windows overlooking the lush green trees of Central Park. Sunlight softens the edges of the industrial furniture spread throughout. The condo is unmistakably masculine, yet somehow Jeannie’s made it her own. Plants line the windowsills, potted in colorful ceramics that offset the navy painted walls. A collection of her old animal figurines lines the shelves and side tables nearby.

I make my way down to Jeannie’s room. Just like mine back home, fairy lights hang above her bed. Books on positive thinking and building self-confidence are stacked on her bedside table, including one she gifted me a copy of last Christmas. A small vanity holds all her makeup and jewelry; exposed bulbs ensure she has the best lighting. Down the hall are the full bath and a guest bedroom.

She opens the door. “This will be yours while you’re here.”

I throw myself onto the mattress and wrap myself in the plush white down comforter.

“I can’t believe I get my own room,” I say, my voice muffled beneath the blanket.

“What did you think was going to happen?” Jeannie asks, plopping down next to me and swinging her legs up onto the bed.

“I don’t know. I thought all New York apartments were supposed to be overpriced closets.”

Jeannie scrunches her nose. “You really think Mom and Dad would let me move here if that were the case?”

“Fair point.” I stretch my arms out and make a bed angel. “So, what’re we doing today?”

You can take a nap or watch TV for now. I have a casting call this afternoon.”

My stomach grumbles loudly. “What about lunch?”

I give her my best puppy look. Jeannie doesn’t give in, instead hopping up and motioning toward the kitchen on her way out of the room.

“There’s food in the fridge. We can go out for dinner when I get back.”

“Ugh, fine,” I mutter, trailing behind her.

Back in her room, Jeannie touches up her makeup. I marvel at her ability to make it look like she has nothing on. She changes into a plain white T-shirt and skinny jeans and throws her hair up in a messy bun. I walk her to the door.

She pulls me in for a hug. “Okay, I’m off. See you in a bit.”

“Bye.”

She waves as the elevator arrives, and I head back inside and lock the door. I drag myself to my room and pull the curtains closed with a yawn. My clothes come off, and an oversized T-shirt and sweatpants take their place. Then I slip between the covers and close my eyes.

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