Miss Fortune Cookie
by Lauren Bjorkman
Expected publication: November 13th 2012 by Henry Holt and Co.
Meet Erin. Smart student, great daughter, better friend. Secretly the mastermind behind the popular advice blog Miss Fortune Cookie. Totally unaware that her carefully constructed life is about to get crazy.
It all begins when her ex-best friend sends a letter to her blog—and then acts on her advice. Erin’s efforts to undo the mess will plunge her into adventure, minor felonies, and possibly her very first romance.
What’s a likely fortune for someone no longer completely in control of her fate? Hopefully nothing like: You will become a crispy noodle in the salad of life.
I am the author of two YA novels, MY INVENTED LIFE and MISS FORTUNE COOKIE. I also contributed a short story to the anthology THE FIRST TIME.
Though I grew up on a sail boat and loved traveling the world as a kid, I'm still afraid of the ocean. I much prefer other modes of transportation these days--plane, train, or car. Walking is best.
I love books with multi-faceted, intriguing characters. The best one make me laugh, cry, and turn the pages long past my bed time.
When I'm not reading or writing, I spend time with family and friends, talking about everything under the sun. Add in some good food to the mix, top it off with chocolate, and I'm truly happy.
CHAPTER ONE EXCERPT:
You will have much luck and little hardship.
Or the other way around.
My friends and I were riding home from school on Muni, clinging to an assortment of slippery handholds, when Linny almost blew my secret identity. Intentionally.
“Listen to this one,” she said, reading off her iPhone, a faint but smirky glint in her eyes. “‘Dear Miss Fortune Cookie. My cousin thinks I’m chasing her boyfriend. Her boyfriend and I never flirt, but sometimes we text. What can I do to make her believe me? Just Friends.’”
In fact, I—Erin Kavanagh, alias Miss Fortune Cookie—had posted this very letter on my anonymous advice blog, and Linny happened to be the only person in San Francisco to know that, the only person in the whole world, except for some random administrator at WordPress. She takes every opportunity to harass me about keeping my blog a secret. “What advice would you give, Erin?” she asked, winking this time.
I kept my face as neutral as possible. Luckily Darren and Mei were only paying attention each other. As usual.
Personally speaking, I think nano-deceptions are a good thing. I regularly use them to protect my friends from unpleasant truths. Should I tell Linny that her favorite knit hat makes her head look like a furry meatball? Or nudge Mei whenever Darren winces at her hyena laugh? Should I have cautioned Darren that taking AP physics would wreck his grade-point average? Absolutely not. Sincere lies keep everyone happy.
I blew the hair out of my eyes. “The cousin will never stop suspecting the two of them,” I said to Linny, “so Just Friends has to stop the texting. She could get her own boyfriend. Or move to somewhere far away like Moldavia.”
Muni, a sort of bus powered by electric wires overhead, jerked to a halt. A seat opened up, and Linny took it. “Exactly!” She had the happiest smile ever, so big it barely fit on her face. Metaphorically speaking. “Mei, don’t you think Erin is a natural at giving advice?”
“Hmm?” Mei said. She was somewhat entwined with Darren and therefore distracted.
“Nothing.” I jabbed Linny in the ribs to get her to stop talking. Gently of course. The three of us—Mei, Linny, and me—made an enviable friendship trio. I was the lesser third, maybe because Mei and Linny were gorgeously Chinese-American, while I was just Boring-American. A Person of Irish.
Mei knew nothing about my connection to Miss Fortune Cookie. We used to be best friends, and by best friends I mean we spent every afternoon and weekend together until eighth grade, when things fell apart between us. The truth is, Mei dumped me. Then Linny brought us together again during freshman year, inviting us both to eat lunch with her, forming a little group. A few months later, I mustered the courage to bring up the dumping incident with Mei, except she didn’t want to talk about it. So we became friends again without dealing with the past. Pretty much.
Except I didn’t trust her like I used to.
And she didn’t share as many intimate details about herself with me.
Linny beckoned me closer to whisper in my ear. “I have a question for Miss Fortune Cookie. A very personal one. But you can’t tell Mei.”
She lowered her voice more. “You just can’t, ’kay?”
I nodded. Linny usually let both of us in on every detail about her life, although lately she’d been secretive about her new boyfriend. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t be boring. I turned my back toward Mei and said in my quietest voice, “Go ahead. I’m listening. What is it?”
Linny shook her head. “Not now.”
Just then, the Muni driver made the sharp turn into Chinatown, and three things happened almost simultaneously: a bicyclist veered into the road, the driver slammed on the brakes, and I fell into another passenger. We came to a halt fifty feet from the stop, and the bicyclist escaped unscathed. I could tell by the vigorous way he flipped off the driver. Then I caught sight of Mrs. Liu, bundled against the fog, among the passengers waiting to board.
“Your mom!” I whispered to Mei. “She’s getting on!”
Mei’s eyes widened. “What the what?”
Which demonstrates a problem with sincere lies—in this case, Mei’s lie to her mom about not having a boyfriend. They can be found out. Darren dropped his arm from around Mei’s waist and grabbed his backpack. “Bye,” he mouthed before zipping to the back and catapulting out the rear door. He’s considerate like that.
Mrs. Liu’s grocery bags thumped against the handrail as she marched up the steps. She has sharp, high cheekbones and is tall like her daughter. She and Mei both have blunt-cut hair that reaches their shoulders. Our favorite salon in Chinatown sometimes offers two-for-one specials.
Mei hurried to the front to take the two largest bags. “Ma, let me.”
Mrs. Liu stretched her swan neck toward the window. “Who is that with you?”
Mei shook her head nervously. “No one. Just Erin and Linny. I invited them to help with the turnip cakes.”
“No. I see boy before.” Mrs. Liu believed with every sinew in her heart that a boyfriend would distract Mei from her schoolwork, ruining her chances of getting into the number one university in the country, Harvard. So when Mei fell in love with Darren last spring, she kept it a secret from her mom. For thirteen whole months. Which showed amazing ingenuity and skill on her part, but once you start a lie, it’s hard to escape it.
“Who is boy?”
“Oh, him,” Mei said. “Someone from AP chem. We were discussing the homework. Chemical reactions.” She blinked fast. “And stuff like that.”
To be fair, most people have trouble lying to Mrs. Liu. Her eyes bore right through your skull and read your thoughts as if you accidentally uploaded them onto Facebook. It’s her superpower.
Linny stood up to offer her seat to Mrs. Liu. “Mr. F assigned loads of homework over the weekend. He wants us in top shape for the AP test.”
Mrs. Liu ignored the seat. She had just turned forty and didn’t appreciate the senior-citizen treatment. “Very good. Homework make you smart.”
“Ma, please sit down. Ni shi lao.” That means you are the elder, a show of respect. It also means you are old.
“I am comfortable,” Mrs. Liu said.
Mei continued arguing politely. Though most Chinese immigrants to San Francisco speak Cantonese, a dialect common in the south of China, Mrs. Liu emigrated from the north, where they speak Mandarin. I was fluent enough to follow their conversation.
“Ma, ni zuo.” Ma, just sit.
“Gaosu wo ta de mingzi.” Tell me his name.
Before they resolved anything, the driver pulled into the stop by Mrs. Liu’s restaurant, and we all got off. Hay Fat occupies a prominent street corner in Chinatown. Mrs. Liu’s heightened culinary sensibility has turned it into a legend, luring in the more adventurous tourists and fussy locals. She serves authentic dishes with ingredients such as fermented bean paste, whole fish with eyeballs intact, and lotus. Her menu also includes beef broccoli in case people with less sophisticated palates wander in by mistake.
We entered the kitchen through the alley. The dinner rush had yet to begin, which meant we had the place to ourselves. After setting me up with the grater and Mei with the bacon to steam, Mrs. Liu tossed a handful of sesame seeds into sizzling oil at the bottom of the wok. I closed my eyes to better appreciate the scrumptious smell.
“What should I do?” Linny asked. I looked at her appraisingly, wondering about her secret. Not that we could talk here in the kitchen.
Mrs. Liu handed her a bowl. “Cut mushrooms. Very small pieces.”
I consider Hay Fat my second home. Mom and Mrs. Liu met when Mei and I were in preschool and have been good friends ever since. We live one floor below them in an apartment a few blocks from here in a quieter part of Chinatown. Mrs. Liu has always welcomed me into her kitchen, even during that black year when Mei and I barely spoke.
What I know of her life before America comes through Mom. Twenty-three years ago, Mrs. Liu studied cooking at a special school in China that trains workers for American restaurants. After finishing the program, she immigrated to San Francisco, where she met Mei’s dad. He soon left her, and she has remained single ever since. Which could explain some of her gruffness.
“No lollygagging,” Mrs. Liu said. The cloth she wore over her hair fell askew, and my fingers itched to straighten it. I didn’t stop grating for a second, though, because sometimes when I slack off from a job she’s given me, she’ll pinch my arm. Not hard, but still.
Linny held out her cutting board for inspection. “Are these pieces small enough?”
Mrs. Liu took the board and tossed the mushrooms into the wok. “Almost. Watch. This is secret part. Very important. Not in recipe.”
Smoke rose from the hot metal. While Mrs. Liu stirred up a storm, I took the chance to rest my aching muscles. As I was standing there, I noticed that the photographs hanging over the sink had been dusted recently. One showed four-year-old Mei holding a pen and scroll, a minischolar. Next to it hung a picture of me dressed as a sunflower for our preschool play.
The turnip cakes were for a party next week, an event to celebrate Mei’s acceptance into Harvard. Mrs. Liu had planned it out a long time ago. I think she decided on which dishes to serve before Mei started high school. Last July, she bought boxes of scarlet and black decorations. She mailed the invitations a month ago. Harvard’s acceptance emails, though, wouldn’t go out until tomorrow, April 1, at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.
Now Mei just had to get in.
The three of us attend Lowell, a high school for academic types—nerds in the best sense—a rare public school that students compete to get into. At Lowell, we have a popular crowd, hipsters, and partiers like everywhere else, but we worry more about SAT percentiles and college choices than our counterparts. For us, the first of April is bigger than the Academy Awards. Tomorrow, hopes would be mangled and dreams decapitated.
Mrs. Liu spun around to face Mei. “Meihua! That boy on bus. Shi bu shi boyfriend?”
Meihua blinked. “He’s not, Ma.”
Linny and I exchanged glances.
full denial = a lie of omission × 10 3
Mei’s sincere lie had gone bad, turned slimy and evil smelling like leftovers jammed to the back of the fridge behind the sauce jars.
“The stove!” Linny yelled.
Flames shot upward. Mrs. Liu calmly fetched a small broom and beat out the fire in three precise strokes. She’s efficient like that. “You are young. You cannot know love.”
Except Romeo and Juliet were young, and though Darren had not declared his devotion publicly from the alley or climbed a trellis to the window leading to Mei’s bedchamber, Romeo had nothing on him when it came to passion. I’d seen more of that than I cared to, in fact.
Mei laid the steamed bacon on a clean bamboo chopping block and commenced mincing it into molecule-sized bits. Mrs. Liu waved her spatula. “Harvard most important thing. Future more valuable than useless boy. You tell me, Erin. Who is boy?”
My hand flew across the grater, and the mound of turnips grew. “The boy on Muni?”
Mrs. Liu growled with exasperation. “The Master say give elder no reason for anxiety.”
Mei ducked her head. “You’re right, Ma.”
“I am not right,” Mrs. Liu barked. “The Master is right.” By the Master, she meant Confucius, the spiritual grandfather of China, born more than five hundred years before Jesus. Arguing against the Master would be futile. The main dinner chef arrived, and Mrs. Liu dismissed us. “Skedaddle. Do homework. Good-bye.”
Grateful for the reprieve, I slipped out of my apron. Mei planted her feet by the stove and lifted her chin. She looked exactly like she used to long ago when we shoved cooked rice and fruit under the stove to feed the hungry ghost that lived there: scared but determined. She turned to Linny and me. “I’m staying to help Ma. Wait for me.”
Which meant Linny and I would get a little time alone and she could finally tell me what she started to say on Muni.