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Short Story - Family Fortunes

Another story set on the streets of London, although maybe not the one we know. This one tells the tale of two sisters, and the type of rivalry that perhaps only siblings can appreciate. 



Family Fortunes


This is not a mistake.

This is on your terms.

Min Pan had been repeating those two phrases back to herself all afternoon.

Now she was about to face the reality of her bold choice.

Taking your suitor to meet the family on the third date, let alone without him knowing, was about as far out of her comfort zone as she could imagine. 

It was a risk whichever way she thought about it, but this time he might just be worth it. Besides, maybe this time it might be her choice. People always told her she should be more pro-active. That was what she was telling herself as they sat side by side on the tube.

She tried not to stare too much. There was something about his smile. Something about those deep green eyes that drew her in. The jaw line certainly didn't hurt either. Usually she just ignored the meatheads in the gym that tried to chat her up, but Aaron was different. She couldn't explain why yet, he just was.

 He seemed worth the risk.

It wasn't like she could just have a relationship with anyone, let alone someone who wasn't Chinese, without her father finding out. She had been down that road before, and it wasn't pleasant. Sometimes she hated her family. Traditions that weren't hers, and the family business that came above all else.

Of course when your family runs one of the most expensive and famous Chinese restaurants in London, she couldn't deny that it did come in handy for possible date venues.

"I can't believe you got this table." Aaron said as they made their way up from the Piccadilly Circus and wandered down towards Gerrard street, slipping their way between the hordes of summer tourists intent on their pictures of the famous billboards. "You know they say that even the fortune cookies here are worth the price of admission alone. Urban myth even holds that the missives in those cookies have been behind a few real fortunes!"

"So they say," Min smiled.

"How did you get this table? I heard the waiting list was months long."

"Well, I did have an advantage there." Min admitted, "in getting the table I mean. Listen, if I tell you something do you promise not to freak out?"

"Uh oh," Aaron laughed, "that's rarely a good way to start a date! Go on, I promise. As long as you aren't an axe murderer I'll consider myself ahead."

Min really liked that he was easy going; hopefully he wasn't easy to panic either. "The thing is, there is a reason that I could get this table. You see, well, my family run the place. It's ours, we own it. My father still works the kitchen each and every night."

"Really?" He looked a little taken aback, but promisingly not too scared, “you kept that quiet! So let me get this straight. You are taking me to meet the family for a third date? Bold move!"

"I'm sorry, we can still bail." Min looked down at the pavement, afraid of what those green eyes of his might be telling her.

"No," he laughed, squeezing her hand, "listen, it's fine, and if you turn out to be a psycho I have a good story to tell the guys at out next poker night."

"I'm not sure I want to go down in your poker folklore as the crazy Chinese chick who took you to meet her family on the third date." Min smiled.

"Then let's make sure we have a good night then!" Aaron smiled, and then laughed, almost to himself, "at least it wasn't the first date. I didn't put you down as the risk taker. Guess it's true what they say about the quiet ones."

"Listen, I'm sorry, we won't really meet them, father will be working after all. He just gets to see you."

"Check I'm not an evil boyfriend monster? Do you do this to all your dates?"

She laughed a little nervously, "eventually I guess, yes, family is important."

"but not usually on the third date?"

"No," Min shook her head firmly, "usually later. Sorry this is a bad idea, I've ruined it now."

"Stop apologising and maybe we will enjoy ourselves. Besides, if I am going to be dragged to meet the family of a crazy Chinese chick, it may as well be at the best restaurant in town. Maybe even see someone famous!"

She smiled, daring to relax a little, he was still obviously a little thrown, but was trying to appear calm and charming.

"Do you think we will see anyone famous?" he asked, "Who is the most famous person that has eaten there?"

"Depends on who you consider famous." Min shrugged, "we get the prime minister quite a bit, and a lot of footballers. Actors. City types all the time, in search of a good fortune cookie."

She really hoped that Yu Heng had been right, and that her sister was not working this evening. It was high season, more customers, which took its toll. She had been told that Sunday had been particularly taxing on her sibling and she would have to rest. That was what Min was counting on.

Something told her that she was going to be disappointed, this was all going too well.

They came to the door as Aaron continued to list off the names of sports stars she had never heard of, in the hope of seeing even a flicker of recognition in her eyes.

"Sorry," Min apologized again, "not very much into sports."

"That's ok," he smiled again, "I'll enjoy the meal and the company anyway."

She was coming to really like that smile.

They skipped the queue of hopefuls that liked to linger in the hope of cancellations. There were always some, rain or shine, alongside the occasional paparazzi, hoping to catch a soap star or some such on a romantic rendezvous. Aaron seemed a little bit excited. It was always hard for her to rationalise that this place, of all places, was somewhere that others would be excited to visit.

Her father was lurking by the kitchen doorway as they entered. She could feel his eyes burning almost as soon as they had taken off their jackets.

"That's your old man isn't it?" Aaron asked quietly as they were shown to their table.

Min nodded as they took their seats. Good seats at that, which was an unusual gesture on her father's behalf.

Then she knew why.

She felt it almost as soon as they sat down. Her sister was undoubtedly hard at work. She could see it in the faces of those that had eaten. Those that had read the fortunes. You could always feel the vibe when those magics were at work. If you knew what to look for it was unmistakeable.

"Excuse me," she said, "I know we just sat down, but I need to go and attend to one thing. Sorry."

"No problems," Aaron smiled, "Stop apologizing. I'll just happily sit here alone under the watchful gaze of your father."

Min wasn't sure if he was joking.

"Sorry, I'll be back as quickly as I can."

She made for the wide double doors at the far end of the restaurant. She was sure her father was moving to intercept her, but he wouldn't make it.

Her sisters keeper, Yu Heng, was outside her room, as he always was when she was reading. Min swore at the elderly old monk in Chinese and pushed past him, pushing through the three layers of red curtain that separated her sisters reading room from the patrons. She took a deep breath, prepared to compensate for the overbearing amount of incense that was usually allowed to burn inside.

Her sister's infamous reading room. A long thin room, that stretched the length of the dining room, separated from the customers by a thin, traditional wall.

Min hated this room. To her it represented this little kingdom in which her sister ruled unchallenged. It had taken years for her sister to stop referring to it as a prison, but they would never see eye to eye on that.

"Sister, how unexpected." the quiet, shallow voice came from the end of the room. A new curtain of black transparent lace had been hung in front of her antique chaise longue since the last time Min had visited. Her sister lay across it casually, her thin frame blending into the curve of the furniture. The lace casting her as no more than an elusive shadow to any passing glance through the parted curtains. "It has been some time, almost a year now?"

"You were not supposed to be working today." Min replied.

Her sister rose, and pulled the lace curtain aside. She was dressed only in the long red sleeveless robe that she almost always chose to wear when reading. Min never doubted that it was intended to ensure their father did not forget the guilt he should be feeling. The marks on her sister's arm testament to a miserable childhood. "I was weary yesterday yes, it is true, but today's delivery brought with it some of that Tibetan spring water. Father made one of his famous tonics ... it did the trick. You have come with a man again?"

"You know full well I have."

"Just making polite conversation sister."

"Please, don't screw this one up for me. I like this one, and I'm quite happy to find out for myself whether he is a bastard or a saint."

"When have I ever interfered?" her sister smiled with a mischievous grin Min knew all too well.

"Fuck you."

"I can't help it that the fortunes reveal the true desires of those that seek them. It is the family curse remember. Besides, you bring them here, you don't have to do that."

Min bristled, "You know full well that father would find a way to torpedo any relationship that I tried to have if I didn't bring them here. Hiding them is kind of pointless."

"Don't hold your daddy issues against me," her sister shrugged, "and secondly, you need to let go a little and not be so fucking frigid. How the hell is a guy supposed to know you like him when you bring them to meet the damn parents before you've even kissed him."

"I am not like you."

"Really? I never would have guessed."

"Listen, all I am asking is that you don't do the reading. Just tell Yu Heng that my latest suitor is a damn frosted soul or something, tell him that you can't get a reading."

"Too late. You know full well that I read him as soon as he set foot over the threshold. How could I have resisted? Not like I can lie to Yu Heng anyway now is it?"

"You're a fucking selfish bitch, you know that?"

"Don't blame the messenger Min. I don't pick your dates for you."

"Can't you just give him something neutral to scrawl? Don't pull anymore of your shit on me, please."

"Are you begging sister?"

"I like this one. No, I really like this one. Can you not just leave me alone this one time, let me find out for myself."

"I don't think I'm unfair on you."

"Bitch," Min spat, "What was it you had him write on the fortune of the last guy I brought around? Oh wait, yes, that was it, you had them write ...


SHE WILL NEVER SLEEP WITH YOU

... that's hardly being fair now is it?"

"You wouldn't have slept with him!"

"You don't know that!"

"Oh trust me sister, I know. I know you my dear sister, and you wouldn't even begin to comprehend the kinky crap that guy was into. You'd have run screaming. Reading him almost felt like peering through the dirty dishwater after a dinner party thrown by the Marquis de Sade."

Min sighed, "Would it hurt to let me decide that for once? To find out on my own?"

"Again, you could choose to not bring them here to the restaurant you know. He does not have to rule your life like he does mine."

"He is our father, last time I checked you didn't get to choose your family. Also you weren't supposed to be working tonight, that's why I came tonight. So I could still placate father and avoid you being able to read Aaron."

"You don't need to be afraid of father."

"I'm not afraid of him, and that's easy for you to say. You aren't the unnecessary twin, the one without the fucking superpower, the one who doesn't have the ability to see all things about everyone."

"I'd swap you."

"To hell you would, you love the fucking attention."

Her sister just sighed and shook her head, "you have no idea Min. At least you have a chance with men."

"You can have any man you want!" Min argued, "Literally!"

"I won't deny there is some fun to be had. It isn't the same thing though sister. I hate to break it to you. Men don't have a choice but to love me. Trust me, it's hollow." her voice trailed off, "It's not the same thing at all."

"Cry me a fucking river." Min shrugged, "Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?"

"No, I don't expect you'll change the habit of a lifetime sister."

"Don't be like that."

"I have long reconciled any bitterness that I had to entertain, due to my unique abilities, and the conditions that they have inflicted upon my life," She glanced down at the scars on her wrist, almost instinctively, then turned her gaze back to Min, "I won't deny I have come to enjoy sex for the sake of sex, and I know you all call me a slut for it. But I refuse to be caged by what I cannot control. if sex is all you can have, then one may as well enjoy it. Despite what father would love to believe, I am still human. You though, You can have more. Believe it or not my dear sister, I just want for you to be happy."

"By screwing up my love life?"

"The right one will come along eventually. Then you will thank me."

"He could be the right one," Min argued, pointing out towards the restaurant floor, "you think that just because your freaky all seeing eye can 'read these souls' that everything is predetermined? No. Fuck that."

Her sister made to reply, but Min just raised her index finger and touched it to her sisters lips. "Don't you dare answer that one, and try not to have the fortune totally screw up my night."

With that Min turned and headed back into the restaurant. Her father was remonstrating animatedly with Yu Heng just inside the service door, undoubtedly about to scold her for distracting her sister while they were open. Min just stormed past them both, again raising her finger, avoiding eye contact. Both men thought better of stopping her. Her father, sighing loudly, wandered off back into the kitchen shaking his head. Yu Heng scuttled off towards her sisters reading room, presumably happy there was to be no more commotion.

"Are you ok?" Aaron asked as she sat back down at the table.

"Yes, I'm fine, just family stuff, don't sweat it." she nodded, "please, let's enjoy dinner. Tonight we eat for free."

"Really?"

"Father insists." she smiled.

"He doesn't mind that ... well ... he doesn't mind that I'm not Chinese?"

"Maybe, but he knows better than to voice that type of a concern. Wouldn't be particularly politically correct for a London restaurant owner." she winked. "They sat us at a good table, so you must have passed the first test."

Aaron seemed to relax a little, and they enjoyed their meals. She knew she hadn't been entirely fair on Aaron, and how it must have seemed from his side, but he if he was thrown by her curveball he was coping well. She smiled to herself as she wondered if that would still be the case if he knew what this place really was.

The Peking duck was exquisite, better than she remembered.

They talked, he smiled. Their first two dates had been fun, but this was their first opportunity to talk at length. For a solicitor he wasn't as boring as she had feared. She learned more about his life, they laughed, and she nimbly dodged anything that might reveal a little too much about hers.

That was a challenge for another day.

She knew she was still getting the edited version, his highlight reel as it were. Witty, charming, ever so slightly sporting, but happy to admit his enthusiasm there had lapsed beneath the weight of work. He had so much potential, and she loved the way his eyes sparkled while he listened.

The fact that he listened was a good start in and of itself.

Min had almost relaxed completely by the time the meal drew to a close, and the fortune cookies arrived. She couldn't avoid it. The cookies were, after all what, made the restaurant famous. If she made an issue of it Aaron would just think she was strange.

"Ladies first." He smiled, passing her the plate. She nervously opened hers before Aaron cracked his open with enthusiasm. "Wow, high class," he beamed, "authentic little scrolls, these can't be cheap."

She carefully unfurled the tightly wrapped scroll inside her cookie and read the words slowly.


THE FEELING IS MUTUAL


Her sister chose now to be cryptic? Min couldn't help but fear her sister was playing with her. She mutually disliked her, or was she saying that he liked her, or some other unrelated feeling that was being invoked just to screw with her head. She fought the urge to sigh, or worse.

Aaron was reading his.

"I like it." he smiled, and excused himself, asking where the rest rooms were. Min pointed towards the black curtain beyond the kitchen. He didn't seem freaked out, that was a good sign.

It was too much to resist.

She reached over and lifted up Aaron's scroll gently, hopefully he wouldn't notice if she peeked. These words couldn't lie. They were always a form of truth.

She looked.

Min almost laughed out loud, but held herself.

Then she sat back and smiled.

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