Back to the Good Fortune Diner
January 2013, #1828
"I really, really enjoyed this story....
It's very thought provoking, beautiful, and very, very well written."
—Sarah Wendell, Smart Bitches Trashy Books on Back to the Good Fortune Diner, picked for the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books Sizzling Book Club, January 2013
Tiffany Cheung has always felt like a stranger in Everville. Being part of the town's only Chinese family who runs the Good Fortune Diner, Tiffany endured a lonely and fraught youth with her overbearing parents, a brother she could never compete with, and only one boy she ever considered a friend. Fifteen years after she left to chase her dream, she's unthinkably laid off and evicted from her New York City apartment. Up to her eyeballs in debt, she has no choice but to go back to Everville to face her disapproving family.
Farmer and single dad Chris Jamieson could never forget the girl who helped him earn a scholarship. Now he needs her to do it again and tutor his troubled teenage son. But getting involved with a woman who's sworn to leave at the first opportunity is not what he needs, no matter how beautiful she's become. Chris and his son have both suffered enough at the hands of his self-centered ex, and he doesn't want someone in his life who could never settle with a simpler life on the farm.
Tiffany has only one goal, and that's to get back on her career path and away from Everville. But being around Chris, the old high school crush she never got over, is starting to make her see there's more to her hometown than she once thought. Can Chris give her enough to make her give up her dreams?
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If you want a sweet romance about a very stubborn heroine and a sweet and hard working hero that is always thinking family first, then this story is for you.
—4 Hearts, HarlequinJunkie.com
4 Stars from RT Book Reviews
"Tiffany and Chris' challenges are a perfect depiction of the modern relationship troubles many of us face in this lighthearted, charming story about growing up and the realization that what we think we want doesn't always live up to the hype."
—4 stars, Alexandra Kay, RT Book Reviews
TIFFANY KNEW THE EXACT MOMENT when her family arrived in the E.R.
“Say joh may-ah?” Poh-poh’s voice creaked.
“No, Grandma, she’s not dead.” She heard Daniel reassure in that too-smooth voice of his. Tiffany grabbed the edges of the pillow and stuffed them against her ears. With her family hovering on the other side of the curtain, the pleasant buzz of the painkillers evaporated, and her stomach churned.
Shadows streaked into her cubicle from beneath the partition. “Tiffany?”
For a moment, she considered pretending to be comatose, or ducking away and hiding somewhere until they left. But there was no avoiding the inevitable. Sighing, she propped herself up in the hospital bed, smoothing the blanket over her knees. “I’m here,” she called in a rusty voice.
The rings on the curtain railing clattered as the partition was yanked aside. Mom, Dad, Daniel and Poh-poh took her in with dark, wide eyes.
“Ai-ya!” Her grandmother began speaking rapidly in Cantonese, waving her hands.
“Bah, she’s fine. I told you she was fine,” her father said impatiently, giving her a cursory once-over. His stained white kitchen apron still clung to his narrow hips, the front dangling to his knees, and he smelled strongly of fryer oil. “You’re fine, right?” he asked.
She didn’t reply, knowing any answer apart from “yes” would cause only more trouble.
“What were you doing driving so fast in the rain?” Her mother placed her dry, papery palm against Tiffany’s forehead as if she had a fever. Her fingers brushed the bruises along her cheek and jaw and Tiffany flinched. “It’s that car, I bet. I told you not to buy used.”
“There’s nothing wrong with used cars,” her dad said. “She’s just a bad driver. She should have learned from me instead of paying for those classes. ‘Defensive driving’—bah.” He snorted in disgust. “Daniel learned from me, and now he teaches driving.”
Poh-poh cycled through relief, exasperation and hysterics as she berated her only granddaughter in her native tongue. She was reckless; drivers today were careless; the weather had cursed her; her face was all bruised and now she wouldn’t be able to find a husband and why hadn’t she stayed in Everville with the family instead of moving to New York City?
“I’m sorry, Poh-poh.” She felt bad for making her grandmother worry.
“Sit down, Grandma. Don’t work yourself up.” Daniel pulled the cubicle’s lone chair next to the bed, but their grandmother argued that her dad should sit after his long day in the kitchen. Tony insisted his wife sit. Rose insisted Daniel sit. Tiffany closed her eyes as they argued, voices rising until a nurse asked them to quiet down. Grudgingly, Poh-poh sat.
The E.R.’s attending physician interrupted to talk to the family about Tiffany’s condition. Dr. Frewer was a nice-looking middle-aged man with salt in his dark hair and a fat gold wedding ring on his finger. Tiffany bet he was wondering the same thing she did whenever her family got together: How did four people manage to make such a racket? He greeted each family member and ran through the list of Tiffany’s injuries: a few bruises, a sprained wrist, but nothing serious.
“Sounds like nothing she can’t sleep off,” her dad said once the doctor finished speaking. “You don’t need to stay here, right?”
“For God’s sake, she was in an accident,” her mom said in exasperation, adding in Cantonese, “Have some compassion. The doctor will think you’re cruel.”
“No point coddling her if she’s fine.” Tony folded his arms across his chest. “They didn’t have to drag us all out here for a few bruises.”
“Let’s listen to what the doctor says,” her brother interrupted. That was Daniel. Always coming to the rescue.
“Of course, of course.” Tony switched back to English and said to the doctor, “My kids are strong. They heal fast. Tiffany doesn’t heal as fast as her brother, though.” He turned to Daniel. “Remember that time she broke her arm? She had that cast on for six weeks. You only had it on for five.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “You guys stay here with Tiff. I’m going to talk to the officer out front and see about Tiff’s car.”
Rose looked at her. “Why didn’t you tell us you were driving up?” she asked.
“It was a last-minute decision.”
Concern became suspicion, and small lines appeared around her mother’s dark eyes. “Last minute? With no phone call? What happened?”
Tiffany didn’t want to get into it while she was wearing nothing but a hospital gown. She sat up and forced a smile. “Can I be discharged?” she asked the doctor to stave off her mother’s interrogation.
“There’s nothing to keep you here,” Dr. Frewer said, shrugging, “though I would recommend you see your family doctor if anything gets worse. He or she can prescribe you physical therapy, in case you have any difficulties with your wrist. In the meantime, I’ll write a prescription for some painkillers.”
“We have Tylenol at home,” Tony said. “She doesn’t need a prescription.”
“Of course we’ll take the prescription,” Rose insisted, shooting a look at her husband.
Tony growled in Cantonese, “It’s a waste of money.”
“No one asked you to pay for anything.”
Their glares locked over her bed. Tiffany closed her eyes and sank into her pillow. Please, not here, not now, and not over me.
“I’ll make soup.” Poh-poh’s declaration broke the stalemate, and Tiffany’s parents withdrew to their respective corners. No one would argue with the respected elder. After all, her grandma’s soups could cure anything.
An hour later, they were all packed into her dad’s old minivan. Tiffany sat alone in the middle row of seats while her mother and grandmother breathed down her neck and her father glanced at her over his shoulder from the front passenger seat. Daniel’s gaze met hers in the rearview mirror, and the interrogation resumed as the van got up to speed.
“What happened out there?” her mother demanded. “How did your car end up in the ditch? Why were you driving out of the city on a Monday night?”
“Maybe we should wait till we get home to discuss things,” Daniel said as he methodically checked all his mirrors. Tiff knew he hated it when his passengers distracted him.
“She could have been killed,” her mom exclaimed. “I want to know why she put herself in such danger.”
“It was an accident, Mom. I’m fine.” Tiffany couldn’t suppress her irritation. Her body ached, her arm was in a sling and she’d just had the worst day of her life, so she figured she had a right to be cranky.
“The cops said something about your rearview mirror being blocked by garbage bags in the backseat.” Daniel picked his words carefully.
Dammit. Why’d he have to bring that up? “That had nothing to do with it. The road was slippery, and I lost control.”
“You haven’t come to visit since Christmas,” Mom said. “Why drive up now?”
Tiffany wished she could have pleaded exhaustion, waited until morning to tell them the awful truth. But the last of her strength left her and she gave in. “I...I lost my apartment.”
Stunned silence crowded into the vehicle, but only for a second. “Why did you lose your apartment?” her father asked slowly.
“I...didn’t pay my landlady in time.”
Tony’s jaw clenched so hard she could hear his teeth grinding. His fingers curled around the armrest.
“So, you got evicted?” Daniel’s tone wavered. He knew she was standing on thin ice with their parents. “Why didn’t you stay at a friend’s place?”
“You could have stayed with Jennifer,” Poh-poh added helpfully.
Tiffany’s eyes burned. Reality had slammed home today. She didn’t want to humiliate herself further by describing all the doors that had been shut in her face, how her cousin Jennifer must have moved without telling her. But then, they’d never kept in touch. “I didn’t want to impose on anyone.”
“Well, how are you supposed to get to work?” Mom asked. “Are you going to drive three hours every day to get to the city? I hope your insurance will cover a rental.”
“That’s not going to be a problem—” she took a deep breath and took the final plunge “—because I was laid off.”
“You were fired?” her parents cried simultaneously.
“Laid off,” she emphasized. “The company was restructuring, and there isn’t that much room to cut out fat. I was a junior assistant to the publisher, so—”
“If you were worth keeping, they wouldn’t have laid you off.”
Her father’s proclamation was as final as the fall of an ax. She’d done the unforgivable and come home in disgrace, homeless and unemployed. He snorted and grumbled, “Moh gwai young.”
She straightened her shoulders, despite the ache that shot through her bones. “I did my job well. Really well,” she said, echoing her employer’s words from the exit interview. “It was a budgeting decision. It wasn’t personal.”
That, at least, had been what her boss had told her. But since none of her colleagues would let her crash at their place, she wondered if he was just trying to be kind.
“Well, what’s done is done.” Her mother said it with a touch of asperity. “Your room’s still empty. We’ll change the bedsheets and move the sewing machine....”
Tiffany tuned out as her mother listed what needed to be done to accommodate her daughter’s return to the household. She stared at the black road ahead, watching the night rush toward her.
She was going home to Everville, the last place she wanted to be.
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