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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 Ever-ville 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 mini-van. 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.
"Laidoff," 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." Useless.
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 bed-sheets 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.
"That's one hell of a wreck."
Chris Jamieson inspected the crumpled hatchback sitting in Frank Konietzko's auto body shop. He'd stopped in to pick up some parts for the tractor when he spotted the mangled vehicle in the garage. It looked like a giant had clapped the car between its hands. The side-view mirrors dangled off both sides like sad bunny ears. Both front air bags had deployed and all the windows had shattered. He hoped the driver was okay.
The dark-haired mechanic stood staring at the little black car. "It looks worse than it is. The engine is fine, but considering the cost for repair, it's probably better off sold for parts. I told Daniel I'd have a look at it, though."
"Daniel Cheung?" The man had taught half of the people in town how to drive. Chris couldn't believe he'd been in this wreck.
"My ears are burning. You guys talking about me?" Daniel strode in, grinning broadly. He didn't look like he'd been in an accident. "Been a while, Chris. How're you doing?"
"All right. We were just talking about—" He nodded toward the car.
"Man. It looks a lot worse in daylight." He rubbed his jaw as he studied the wreck. At Chris's quizzical look, he explained, "Tiffany was driving up when she spun out on the 87 and rolled into a ditch."
Tiffany Cheung. Now, there was a blast from the past. He pictured the girl with the straight, long hair, the big wire-rimmed glasses and the frown that rivaled the sour-faced librarian's at their old high school. "Is she okay?"
"A little banged up, but she's fine otherwise. Got lucky, I guess."
"You don't sound entirely convinced of that."
Daniel blew out a breath. "Well you know my parents. They've always been kind of hard on her."
"They blame her for the accident?"
"No. She got laid off. That's why she was driving up " He clamped his lips together. Chris got the sense Daniel had said more than he meant to and didn't prod further.
Frank gave Daniel the rundown of repairs on the hatchback, and Chris winced when he overheard the estimated total to fix the car. Daniel called his sister on his cell phone. Chris pictured her stony face as her brother relayed Frank's assessment. Getting a smile out of Tiffany had been a real challenge back in high school—he could only imagine how she'd receive this grim news.
"Are you sure?" Daniel asked incredulously. A pause, and he wiped a hand down his face. "Well okay. If you say so."
He hung up and turned to Frank. "Tiff wants you to fix it however you can."
The mechanic shoved his hands into his pockets. "All right. But it's going to take some time. I'll get you a preinvoice. Show that to her, and we can work out a payment schedule."
"Why don't you help Chris out first?" Daniel offered. "I know he's got work to do, and this'll take some time. Wouldn't want your dad to get mad." He gave Chris a sympathetic look.
"Right. I appreciate that."
Once Chris had loaded up his truck with the tractor parts, he headed home. He tried to enjoy the gorgeous June weather and the long, lush country road stretching before him, but as he sped by a monolithic wind turbine, the slowly spinning blades reminded him of the long list of chores ahead. It seemed something was always breaking down, falling apart or being torn to shreds by the local wildlife. And those repairs were on top of all the usual farm duties. Sometimes he felt like that turbine blade, being pushed by the winds, spinning in place, never actually getting anywhere.
He pulled onto the long gravel driveway in front of the main house, which his grandfather had built. Chris's father had added cedar shingles and siding to the two-story brick home, but the place was sorely in need of some TLC. A decorative shutter hung at a precarious angle from a second-story window, and one of the eaves troughs had come loose, swinging off the corner of the house. The roof would need to be replaced soon, too, and the house could use a coat of fresh paint. Unfortunately, fixing up the homestead was low on the priority list.
The storm door banged open. "Where have you been?" William Jamieson demanded, crutches thumping across the veranda.
"I was at Frank's getting parts." Chris didn't look at him as he unloaded the white 4x4's bed.
"For two hours? I could have been there and back in one. Just because the days are getting longer, doesn't mean you can waste time lollygagging around town."
Chris groaned inwardly. Preempting another diatribe, he asked, "Where's Simon?"
"Barn. I assume he's doing his chores."
He ignored the dig. "Did you work those numbers out for me?"
"You mean the ones that say we're going to have to sell our kidneys to make it through the winter?"
Chris closed his eyes briefly. "I mean the numbers for delivering to Greenboro Market."
"I already told you, selling to them's a waste of time and resources. They're too far out. They won't order enough to make the trip there and back worthwhile."
"Do you have the numbers to support that?"
"I don't need numbers to tell you it's not going to work. Greenboro's full of regular working folk who want good, cheap food, not these fancy organic vegetables you want to sell them. You have a hard enough time in the market competing against imports."
Chris tugged off his work gloves and slapped them down on the truck bed. He did not want to drag himself into another argument about market competition. "Look, Dad, I asked you to do this one thing for me. I appreciate your advice—" yeah, right"—but I'm the one in charge."
"You think because you run the day-to-day, you own this place? Back in my day and my father's day, we knew who our customers were and we gave them what they wanted. We didn't try to sell them chichi designer vegetables for rich snobs."
A headache pressed at Chris's temples, and he pinched the flesh between his eyes. "Organic farming isn't chichi, Dad. It's practical business sense."
"It's environmental bullshit, is what it is. It's a way for the government to pull subsidies away from honest farmers. You don't know anything about the farm life, boy. It isn't about numbers and marketing, it's about heart and sweat and hard work, and I haven't seen you give an ounce of that ."
Chris started to walk away.
"Where do you think you're going? Don't you turn your back on me. Just because I'm missing a leg doesn't mean I can't kick your ass, you disrespectful—"
"I'm leaving before I hear something you'll regret. Now, get me those numbers. I want them by the end of the day." He stalked off before his dad could get the last word in.
Posted January 30, 2013
There were so many things about this book that I liked. I loved reading Tiffany's point of view where Chris was concerned. The differences between how she was feeling inside and how that projected to the world (she was freaking out, desperately trying not to jump his bones--he sees an ice queen who isn't at all interested in him that way) was amusing. Chris's struggles with his teen-aged son, and Tiffany's ultimate ability to connect with the teen were well written. I liked Tiffany's issues with coming back home to a small town from the big city and the way that she'd always felt on the outside--at school, in town, and in her family. I enjoyed the characters of both Tiffany and Chris, as well as Tiff's brother Daniel and Chris's son Simon. So far, so good.
This novel had a really strong start and dealt with some pretty heavy issues, but ultimately I thought the ending was too rushed and simplistic. There were some major problems going on here. Tiffany and her family faced some pretty heavy-duty racism and bigotry from a character, and snap! it was fixed. Both Tiffany and her brother struggled with the idea that the rest of their family wouldn't react well to their having serious relationships with people who weren't Chinese--in fact, at one point their mother told Daniel that as long as his girlfriend was "a good Chinese girl. That's all we want" everything would be fine. In the end, though, both characters have committed to their relationships but nothing at all is said about how the rest of the family feels about it--did the issue just go away? Or did it never really exist? We'll never know. As for the biggest issue in the novel--Tiffany believing she belongs in the city working vs. Chris having a life back in their hometown--it just kind of goes away. I definitely wasn't sold on the life change that the character undergoes here.
In the end, I liked most of the book but the resolution left me wanting. I'd be interested in reading more from this author, though, as I did really enjoy much of the novel.