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“I’ve gathered you all here today for a very important reason.” I pause and look each family member in the eye, failing to calm the nervous energy that’s trying to climb its way out of my throat.
“You’re joining a religious cult?” Meera asks with a smile. I shoot my sister an annoyed look and ignore her.
“You’re ready to start your journey into medical school?” my dad asks.
I roll my eyes and let out a huff. “That ship has sailed. I’m in finance, Papa. You’re going to have to accept that at some point.” He frowns and crosses his arms. “And if you don’t like that, you sure won’t like what I’ve got to say next.”
“Dear God, she’s pregnant,” my mother says.
“Would everyone please be quiet and let me talk!” I shout, throwing my hands into the air. Their shocked expressions stare back at me, finally silent. I inhale deeply, filling my lungs and letting it burn there for a few seconds before releasing the breath. My sweaty hands scrub themselves clean on my thighs.
“Well?” Meera asks.
“This isn’t easy. I know that you may not agree with my lifestyle choices, but it is my life. It’s not just a phase. It’s not experimenting. This is who I am. I’ve been struggling to come clean and it’s about damn time. This is real, and I need you to treat it as such.”
“Out with it, Sundia,” my mother says.
I take a deep breath and exhale quickly, letting the words spill out of my mouth. “I’m going to be a chef.”
Meera is not impressed; I assume she was waiting for something juicier. My mother smiles at me while my father presses a hand to his chest.
“You are breaking my heart, Sundia. I thought you were going back to your finance career,” my father says. “It’s time to choose a path.”
I sigh and look at the ceiling, making it easier to speak. “After being on a cooking competition show and seeing how well I did, I’d be dumb not to explore cooking. I’ve been offered an internship at one of Chef Delgado’s restaurants and I’m going to take it.” I spit out the words as quickly as possible before meeting my mother’s eyes. She’s my safety net here, my support. Mom nods for me to continue. “It’s only an hour’s drive from here, so I can commute. He’s a world-renowned chef with Michelin stars. It is an amazing opportunity. Not in a million years would I have dreamed I’d ever get this chance. I can’t pass it up.”
“So you are just giving up your career?” my father asks. “Throwing away your degree?”
“Papa, I’m not giving up or throwing anything away. I love cooking. And I’m good at it. I want to see if this path is right for me.”
“Cooking is for recording your little videos in our kitchen that you upload to the Tube. It is not a career path,” Dad says. “I thought you were happy doing that?”
“I am happy with that, Papa. But now I want to see if I can make it as a chef. Don’t you see it will only make my videos better?” I ask him. “I want to know if I’m cut out for the professional kitchen.”
“I say good for you,” Meera chimes in.
My father crosses his arms over his chest and frowns, but he stays quiet. This is going better than I had expected.
“And while I’ve got you all here, there’s one more thing,” I say.
“Oh, this is going to be good,” Meera says. I shoot her a look to keep quiet. I clasp my shaking hands together. My pulse thunders in my ears as I take a deep breath to try and calm myself.
“You’re by what?” my father asks. “You’re by the coffee maker. You’re by the sink. What do you mean?”
“I’m bisexual,” I say very slowly. “I like boys and girls. Equally. Well, I wouldn’t say equally. It really depends on the person, you know? I mean, the point is I’m open to dating either one.”
“You’re bi?” Meera asks. “This is amazing. There’s no way you’re the favorite child now. It’s gonna be all about me!”
“Meera,” my mother says, bumping Meera’s shoulder to shut her up. “It does not matter to me who you love. As long as I get grandchildren.” She gives me a warm smile and my heart sighs in relief.
My father stands and throws his hands in the air. “My brother gets a business attorney and a dentist. Me? I’ve got a bisexual chef and a party girl with no major yet. To the heavens, what did I do to deserve this?” He stomps off toward the garage.
“Let him go,” my mother says. “He just needs some time to process. You know he loves you. He just wants what is best for you, a secure future.”
“Did Dad just call me a party girl?” Meera asks with a frown. “There’s more to me than just partying. I like to shop too.”
“Oh yes, you’re so deep and multifaceted,” I deadpan.
“Said the bisexual chef,” Meera responds. I stick my tongue out at her and she does the same.
“Girls,” my mother says. “I’m going to check on your father.” She places a hand on my shoulder and pulls me in for a tight hug. “I am proud of you, Sundia, for always being true to yourself. It takes courage, darling.”
Once my mother is gone I take a seat at the kitchen counter next to Meera. She throws an arm around my shoulders and squeezes tight.
“It’s going to be okay, Sundia,” she says.
“You’re just saying that because this shit show is all about me.”
She releases me and shrugs. “He called me a party girl. I’m not completely off the hook. But hey, he seemed so focused on the chef thing, he barely noticed you like girls.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I pictured that going a lot differently.”
I sigh and lean my head on her shoulder. “It’s like he only sees us in the simplest way, with the most basic labels. I’m more than what he sees. So are you. Hell, I’m funny, and determined, and an optimist mostly. And you? You’re really good at reading people and so extroverted. I swear you’ve never met a stranger.”
Meera nods. “It’s something I grew into,” she says. “Don’t forget that we are both devastatingly beautiful. Me with these eyes and you with those curves? Please, girl.”
Sitting up tall, I stretch my arms over my head before resting my hands on my lap. “It’s true. I’m all about that bass.”
“You are such a dork.”
“Don’t judge me. I thought we were a united front here?”
She pats my knee and slides off her barstool. “We are. But you’re my older sister. You’ll always be a dork to me.”
Meera leaves me there, alone in the kitchen, wondering what my next move should be. While things could have gone worse, they certainly could have gone better. I knew my mother wouldn’t have an issue with anything and would only support me with her never-ending kindness and encouragement. Now, all I can hope is that she can talk my father down off of his “what did I do to deserve these kids” ledge.
I retreat to my room and plop down on the bed. My head swims with thoughts and worries and I try to filter and categorize them into neat little folders in my head. It doesn’t work. So, I do the next best thing. I call my boy Ryan.
“Sundia!” I can practically hear his smile over the phone. “Long time no chat, chica. What have you been up to?”
“Hey, Ryan. I just missed you.” I search for something to say next, but everything seems too heavy to start a conversation with.
“Oh, no. Red alert, hunny. I know a problem when I smell one. Spit it out,” he says.
“It’s just that, well, I finally told my family that I’m going to do the stage with Chef Delgado and it was a mess. My dad thinks I’m a failure. He called my sister a party girl. Oh, and I also came out as bi. I mean, why not just get everything out in the open, right? And frankly, my dad was so stuck on the chef thing, that he didn’t even comment on the bisexual thing. Which may be good? I’m not sure. Anyway, he’s pouting in the garage and my mom is pressuring me for grandkids and my sister thinks I’m a dork. That about sums it up.”
Ryan chuckles and gives a long sigh. “Okay, that’s a lot to process. Give me a minute.”
I blow my hair out of my face. “I know. I’m sorry to just dump all of this on you.”
“Don’t be sorry. I’m glad you called.” I hear another voice in the background and some whispering. “That’s Miguel. He says hi.”
“Hi, Miguel! Man, I wish you guys were closer. We’re on opposite coasts now and I hate it.”
“I hate it more,” he says. “I miss our days of being secluded in a hotel together and shooting episodes of The Heat. That was so much fun. So, what I think you’ve got to do first with your family is decide if you want to make them happy or make yourself happy. Do you want to be true to your goals or do you want to let them choose your future?”
“I want what I want,” I say, finding a slow and soft kind of strength growing in my gut. I sit up on the bed and stare out of the window at my father jogging down the sidewalk. He’s got his earbuds in and his arms are pumping hard as he runs.
“And what is that? What do you want?” Ryan asks.
“Long term? I want Zendaya to myself with nothing but time between us. Short term? I want to do the stage with Chef Delgado. I want to see if I can hold my own in a professional kitchen. I want to know if I have a future in the culinary world.”
“Then go out and get that, Sundia. If anyone can do it, you can.”
I smile and straighten my shoulders, holding my head high. “Thanks, Ryan.”
“Girl, anytime. Now, the new tables for the restaurant are being delivered and I’ve got to make sure they are set up like the chart I provided. You know Miguel won’t check.”
“I know. You can’t get that boy out of the kitchen,” I say. “Bye, hon. Let’s chat again soon.”
I end the phone call and immediately notice the smile on my face. Ryan is right. I need to stay true to myself and what I want for my future. My dad is just going to have to deal with a party girl and a bisexual chef. At least it’ll make for a fun family reunion, right?
At 7 p.m. I slowly drag myself toward the dining room. I haven’t seen or heard from any of my family since outing myself earlier. I slide into my chair and look over to find Meera wearing a huge smile. She raises her eyebrows at me before popping a piece of naan into her mouth.
“What are you so happy about?” I ask.
“This dinner is going to be so awkward. I find it amusing.”
“Now who’s the dork?” She rolls her eyes and sticks out her tongue. Mom sees her and swats her on the shoulder.
“Behave at the dinner table, you two,” she says, taking a seat.
My father is the last to arrive. He kisses the top of my mother’s head and gives Meera a nod, but doesn’t make eye contact with me. Great. He says a quick prayer for the food and everyone digs in. The sound is clinking silverware and crunchy samosas, but no conversation. I want to say something, but I don’t want to say anything that may be disrespectful to my father. He has been a wonderful dad and a great role model. He has provided such a beautiful life for my family. I don’t know how to approach this and not seem ungrateful.
Halfway through the meal, I feel like the silence is a ticking bomb. Tension blooms in my chest and starts to fill my body with dread. It’s like I’m waiting for the worst. My father clears his throat and puts down his fork.
“Sundia,” he says. My eyes go wide as I swallow my bite and turn to him. “It’s not that I am disappointed in you. I only want what’s best for my girls. I want a secure future that is sure and trusted. But your mother has made me understand that you cannot be forced onto the correct path by my stubbornness. So, if you must try a few paths before finding your future, so be it.”
A smile splits my face and all the tension fades away as I exhale. “Thank you, Papa.”
“But I expect you to go into this adventure with everything you have. You must give it one hundred percent effort. All I ask, is, if you fail, you return to your finance career without argument.”
The smile falls off my face and I chew on my lower lip. My mind goes over so many scenarios, so many options, but they all lead to me becoming a chef. I can’t fail. I won’t fail. I’ll show my dad just what I’m made of and that I’m not a little child who needs his guidance anymore.
“You have a deal,” I say.
End of Excerpt