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New Year’s Eve
Snuggled in bed in her teal fleece pajamas, a glass of white wine on the nightstand, and an aloe sheet mask on her face, Cecily Chang flipped through the TV channels. It was almost 9 p.m., which meant the ball was about to drop in Times Square. Thank God she lived in San Francisco and could go to bed soon. Normally, she’d find the news coverage hokey and cheesy, but some traditions were meant to be observed. So, she’d spend the next half hour watching TV hosts try not to freeze while making inane small talk. She took a glance at her watch. Twenty-three minutes to go. She was getting too old for this shit.
The timer she set on her phone went off. Cecily dutifully got out of bed, went to the bathroom, and peeled off the mask. After chucking it in the trash can, she took stock of her face in the mirror. “Do these things even really work?” she mumbled. As far as she could tell, she looked exactly the same as she did thirty minutes ago when she put the mask on. Maybe it took a day or two to see results. She made a mental note to do more research into the product and ingredients. Even if it didn’t give her face a “glowing rejuvenated look” there was still something to be said for self-care and pampering yourself every once in a while. She yawned and padded back to the bedroom, got back in the queen-size sleigh bed, and readjusted the blankets.
Eighteen minutes to go. Damn. As hard as she tried, Anderson and his antics weren’t keeping her attention. Maybe some traditions were meant to evolve. Cecily flipped through the channels and saw an old rerun of Memphis Medical.
“Oh, this is a good one. Stacey with the plane crash!” She sat back and prepared to soak in the genius of Chandra Rivers for the umpteenth time. She rubbed her hands together in glee. Her phone buzzed, and she opened it to see a selfie text from her best friend Adrienne Arroyo. Who looked like she was having the time of her life, dancing at a rooftop party at Rosemont with a flute of champagne in her hand. Under the picture Adrienne texted:
Ringing in the New Year RIGHT! Wish you were here. Xo
Typical Adrienne. She’d tried to drag her to the party, but Cecily had pleaded exhaustion and a pressing work deadline. The first part was true, the second not so much. She needed some peace and quiet, and a loud raucous party sounded like the last thing she wanted to do. But instead, she was now home alone, and bored out of her mind.
When had she become so dull? It seemed that lately, all she did was wake up, go to work, come home, sleep, rinse and repeat. She had no life to speak of. What a depressing rut. It was time to shake things up.
A loud bang from the TV screen made her jump and pay attention again. Bye bye, Jared. “A hell of a way to go,” Cecily muttered with a shake of her head. It was kinda pathetic when the most exciting thing to happen to her in weeks was watching a fictional hot EMT guy get blown up on TV.
“So, do something about it.” Cecily sat back on the bed, leaning on the headboard. Inspiration struck. “Of course!”
Maybe what she needed was The Year of Cecily. It was going to be Jan 1 in a matter of minutes, what better time for a list of resolutions and a fresh start? And what better inspiration than Robyn Morgan’s Your Best Life. She wasn’t normally a fan of self-help books, but she hadn’t been able to resist grabbing it because it was on sale. Robyn gave great practical tips on setting goals, peppered with personal anecdotes to bring her points home. Mostly, it encouraged women to pursue what made them happy, and not let doubt and fear get in the way. She was definitely here for that.
She nibbled her bottom lip. If she was going to do this, she was going to do it right. She went into her living room to get her new planner from her purse, then a detour to the kitchen to refresh her glass of sauvignon blanc.
Cecily got back in bed and swore to herself she wasn’t getting out of it again for the rest of the night. It was 9:05 now according to her watch. She raised her glass of wine in a silent toast to her family back in Brooklyn.
“Happy New Year’s, guys. And thank God I’m all the way out here.” She loved her family but firmly believed in the adage that absence made the heart grow fonder.
Okay. Back to the task at hand. The first resolution came easily.
- Avoid drama. Not your circus, not your monkeys.
Spicing up her life was one thing, unnecessary drama was another. Her life was busy enough without dealing with the cray-cray. Blocking her cousin Molly’s number would be a great first step. That way, she didn’t have to hear about Molly’s on-again off-again relationship with her boyfriend Brian every week. On the other hand, that would just mean her mother and Auntie Marcia would be calling and giving her hell ninety seconds later, which seemed counter-productive. Damn. She’d figure something else out.
Right then and there, Cecily also vowed to stop reading the comments when reading the news online. “Do not feed the trolls.” They thrived on the outrage and the clicks. Now that one was going to take some self-discipline, but it’d be worth it. Her blood pressure would thank her later.
“What else?” She thought about the pile of work in her office.
- Better Work-Life Balance—don’t spend all your time at the office.
These days she was lucky if she got home before 8 p.m. That was just enough time to have dinner, shower, catch the news, watch Late Night, and drop dead of exhaustion. Cecily reminded herself that she was on track to make partner, and that this wouldn’t last forever. There was light at the end of the tunnel. Once the Yardley deal was wrapped up, she’d have more breathing room. She’d be able to get home at 6 p.m. instead. While still getting to the office at 7 a.m. She just needed to power through this crunch time.
“Maybe I can clone myself. Clone Cecily could go to the office, and I can spend a week at the spa. Or drink mai tais at the beach in Tahiti.” She snorted. Keep dreaming. While you’re at it, maybe a cute cabana boy can give you a nice rubdown while you’re throwing back the mai tais.
But if she accumulated some more vacation days, she could probably swing a long weekend in Napa and book herself into a spa there. Considering the hours she’d been putting into the Yardley deal, she had earned a few days of massages, facials, salt scrubs, and lounging by the pool with multiple glasses of wine. It sounded heavenly. And would give her something to look forward to when this was all over.
Her phone buzzed again. It was her sister Gillian.
Mom wanted me to remind you to text a list of goodies you want her to stock up on or make for you when you come home for New Year’s next month. See you in a few weeks! 新年快樂!
Oh shit. Cecily let out a groan. Lunar New Year was coming up and she was going to have to go back home to Brooklyn. Skipping the gathering was not an option. It was the biggest holiday of the year in her family, a huge deal. Her attendance was mandatory.
But at least that helped her come up with her next resolution.
- Remain calm with family. Don’t let them get under your skin.
She better start praying for patience now. To whatever deity would work best or was listening. But maybe not. It was only going to be five days. One hundred twenty hours. How hard could that be? Most of the time would be spent eating and doing other holiday-related activities, and she’d have nieces and nephews to spoil and cuddle. She’d also have the built-in excuse of work and could escape when she needed to. She’d suffered through three years of law school, survived and passed the New York and California bar exams. Surely one hundred twenty hours with her family would be a piece of cake in comparison. It wouldn’t be that bad.
Cecily then did a mental calculation of how many extended family members she’d be seeing. Not just her immediate family, but all the aunties, uncles, cousins, and “aunts” and “uncles” from the neighborhood.
Maybe asking Adrienne to be on standby in case she needed someone to post bail for her would be a good idea after all.
If you run into him, you will DEFINITELY need bail money.
Shut up, brain.
“What else?” Cecily tapped her pen to her lips. “You have no social life. Time to do something about it.” The next two came easily.
- Make new friends.
Just one or two would do. No need to go overboard. God knows how she’d juggle having new friends in her life with her crazy work schedule, but she’d make it work. Even squeezing in regular twenty-minute coffee breaks once a week with a new buddy was better than nothing, right?
- Get out there more. It’s been too long since you’ve had sex.
She didn’t want to think about how long. God she missed sex. A one-night stand held some appeal. Anything to scratch the itch. But she didn’t necessarily want to pick up some random stranger for said one-night stand either. At thirty-five, she’d probably missed the window on that particular experience. It didn’t feel right. She wore suits to work, had a retirement fund, and the teenagers working at the supermarket called her “ma’am” for God’s sake.
That being said, it was high time she got back on the horse. So to speak. However, the idea of dating again, using a dating app, or getting set up gave her hives. Was there a way to have a one-night stand with someone she knew, where she could have some hot sweaty sex with the guy, get it out of her system, but have no emotional strings attached? Some sort of hit it and quit it situation? Unbidden, a face from her past came to mind. Didn’t I just say no emotional attachment? He’s the complete opposite of that. Get it together! Snap out of it. What’s wrong with you?
Cecily glanced at her e-reader. It was loaded up with books that she kept meaning to read. But she never got around to it. She was always too busy or too tired. Maybe she needed some accountability. It was time to tackle the To Be Read mountain.
- Expand your horizons—join a book club or something.
Maybe a knitting class? Wine appreciation club? Who knew? Maybe this could be a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone situation. She could make a new friend with one of the other people in the book club, wine club, or knitting store. Cecily had always appreciated efficiency and multi-tasking. Besides, it would be nice to leave the office at a reasonable hour every once in a while, and this would be a good excuse.
It took some time, but Cecily finally came up with the last two resolutions.
- Come up with an anniversary present for Mom and Dad that she’ll actually like.
Her parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary was coming up. The family was going all out, throwing a huge party slash banquet, despite Ma and Daddy’s protest that “they didn’t want a fuss”. That was Asian parent code for: “We want to be acknowledged and fussed over, but it would be unseemly to ask or appear to be expecting it.”
Cecily and her siblings had been planning the celebration for the past six months. But she still needed to come up with a good gift. She was more likely to discover the cure for cancer, but a girl had to try. At least she had until May to tackle this particular minefield.
- Get out of your comfort zone.
She could go sky diving. Or take salsa dancing lessons. Start hiking on the weekends. The possibilities were endless. She’d been in a rut lately and needed to shake things up. She didn’t want to be discovered someday dead in her office on a Sunday afternoon, slumped over a zoning appeal application.
Looking down at the list she’d made, Cecily nodded in satisfaction. Eight was a nice round number and a reasonable amount to tackle in terms of goals. Besides, eight symbolized good luck in Chinese culture, and she was going to take it as a good omen. Even her mother wouldn’t be able to find fault with that.
Confident that she’d killed the resolutions-making game, Cecily put away the planner, turned off the lights, turned the pillow over to the cool side, and slept the sleep of the righteous.
Bring on the “Year of Cecily.”
“This is not how I wanted to start the New Year.” Glaring at his agent through his computer screen, Jeffrey Lee crossed his arms. The light coming through the window in his Los Angeles apartment was in stark contrast to his mood.
“What are you talking about? This is good news.”
“Sure. This is good news, like appendicitis is good news. They both turn me into a ray of sunshine. I said I needed more time.”
Unfazed, Marty Novelli pressed on. “Too late. I already set up the meeting for you. The director and producer are looking forward to meeting you.”
“I told you I’m not who they’re looking for.” He tried not to panic. What Marty was presenting was the opportunity of a lifetime. But was he ready? The script still needed work.
His agent’s voice was tough and unsympathetic. “You have until April. It’s happening.” Leave it to Marty to deliver the tough love like an Asian parent. Is that why he’d signed up with him?
“They’re looking at people who have decades more experience than I do! I’ll look like an amateur by comparison. A film student going up against Spielberg.” He threw up his hands in a frenzied motion.
“The studio is saying they’re looking for a fresh new take for the next installment of the franchise. That means you.”
Despite himself, Jeffrey began to feel a hum of excitement. Writing the next Ian Grey movie would be beyond amazing. If he could land this job, it would be a career maker. This could mean a chance at some career stability. Plus, it might help get his parents off his back about pursuing a Hollywood career, if he could show he was actually succeeding.
“And besides,” Marty continued, “you don’t want to know what I had to do to get you this meeting. You owe me.”
“You already get your fifteen percent. That’s more than enough. As long as it wasn’t illegal or unethical, I don’t care what you had to do.” His lips quirked as his agent’s eyes narrowed.
“You make me regret signing you.”
“You wound me. That hurts, Marty,” he said with a hand to his heart, and a sham forlorn expression on his face. There was a brief pause as Marty looked over his notes.
“But uh, there’s a catch.”
“I knew it. You’re holding out on me.” There was always a catch. Hollywood was the ultimate of the axiom: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“Calm down, it’s not as bad as it sounds.” Marty’s voice and demeanor were far too innocent. Like a mom trying to convince her child that this doctor’s visit would absolutely not involve needles.
“You know they read your treatment and your script for Act I. They want to see Act II at the next meeting.” Marty gave a shrug, like it was no big deal.
“Are you kidding me? I thought I just had to give them a rough idea of the rest of the story, an outline. Now you’re saying they want a full Act II.” Unbelievable.
“What’s the big deal? Don’t you have a draft of that already done?”
“No! It’s barely started. It’s embryonic, not ready to hatch.” Now his palms were sweating and his heart rate was picking up. Could he really do this with this little time left?
“Well, looks like there’s gonna be a lot of all-nighters in your future. And oh, wear something presentable.” Marty wagged a finger in warning.
“Thanks for the reminder, Marty. I was planning on showing up shirtless with raggedy gym shorts and flip-flops. You know directors and producers love the Bohemian beach bum look.” Jeffrey rolled his eyes.
“Sarcasm duly noted and not appreciated.”
“The timing couldn’t be worse.”
“What? You got a job I don’t know about? You holding out on me?” Now it was his agent’s turn to side-eye.
“I have some stuff I’m ghostwriting. Which means I got deadlines that will give me eyestrain, so adding this on top of all that will just be peachy. I’m going home to Brooklyn at the beginning of February so that week is basically blacked out. I’ll barely have any time to prep after I get back.” Being a somewhat successful writer in Hollywood was both a blessing and curse in disguise.
“So, I want to make sure I don’t go into that meeting making a jackass of myself!”
“You’re not going to make a jackass of yourself. And if you do, I’ll come over and beat the crap out of you for embarrassing me.”
“I appreciate the vote of confidence, Marty. And that technicolor impression of my mother.” Despite himself, Jeffrey began to relax. The familiarity of the threat was somehow comforting. Maybe this was going to be doable after all.
His agent’s voice turned serious. “Listen, kid. You gotta stop acting like you’re the new kid on the block. You’ve shown you can write scripts that sell. This is just taking it to the next level. You wouldn’t have gotten this meeting if they didn’t think you’re good. Believe in yourself more. Would I waste my time on you if I didn’t think you had what it takes? Get over yourself and just get it done.”
Jeffrey gave a salute. “Aye, aye, Captain.”
“Anything else?” Marty asked.
“No, but I’m warning you now, I’m going to be working on this while I’m home in Brooklyn. If my parents give me grief about it, I’m throwing you under the bus and siccing them on you. And you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.”
His agent, oblivious to the gravity of the threat, laughed him off. “You need to calm down. You’re going to be fine.” Abruptly, Marty cut the feed and ended the Skype session.
“Damn it, Marty,” Jeffrey muttered.
He paced around his Echo Park apartment, trying to get his bearings. When that didn’t work, he decided to take a thirty-minute jog to clear his mind. He threw on a ratty tank top, gym shorts, put on socks and sneakers, and found the trail near the neighborhood park.
As he did his usual three loops, Jeffrey came up with a game plan. He needed to lay the groundwork now for working while home for New Year’s. There was no way his parents were going to let him get away with that. There would be no end of guilt trips if he kept disappearing. Not without an explanation. And God knew Asian parents didn’t understand the concept of privacy or boundaries—it wasn’t in their vocabulary when it came to their children. He needed backup. Jeffrey decided to recruit the most cunning, strategic, and devious person he knew.
His little sister Bethany.
If anyone could get their parents on board, it was Beth. She could orchestrate a campaign on par with the best political operatives. And she could help make sure Mom and Ba didn’t try to fix him up with someone again. Last time, it was Mr. Li’s niece’s best friend from college. They were really getting desperate and scraping at the bottom of the barrel in their efforts to get him married off and producing grandkids. He was pretty sure his parents wouldn’t be satisfied unless he and his siblings popped out a dozen kids each and they all lived in a compound like the Kennedys.
He could’ve told them to save their breath. Any chance he’d had of settling down went out the window ten years ago when he’d thrown away his chance at happiness. At the time, he hadn’t thought he’d had any other choice, but it still haunted him.
As if to prove that point, Jeffrey turned the corner in the jogging trail and saw a couple in their early thirties at a picnic table with their two young kids. The little girl had chubby cheeks, and her hair was in pigtails. Straight out of central casting. The mother was laughing at her son as he smushed a banana all over his face. The image made Jeffrey smile, even as it hit a pang in his heart.
That could’ve been you and her. Your little girl who probably would be her mini-me. Now you’d be lucky if she didn’t shoot you on sight if she ever saw you again.
The girl, apparently done with her meal, slid off the bench, and made her way to a huge tote bag by her mother. She grabbed a coloring book and crayons. Plopping down on the grass, she opened the book, and started scribbling away. But then a sudden gust of wind blew the crayons away. Instinctively, Jeffrey moved off the path and helped the little girl gather up her things.
With a smile, he handed over the crayons. “There you go. Now you can go back to coloring.”
With a solemn nod, the little girl took the crayons back. Just then the dad came over and gave a quick thanks before taking his daughter’s hand and leading her back to the family.
Jeffrey shook his head and kept jogging. Even after all this time, he couldn’t forget about Cecily, and everything and anything reminded him of her, even random families at the park. She was still there in his mind. He’d screwed things up royally ten years ago, but what was done was done. Even though it had still been the right thing to do, it was time to try to make amends. If she was coming home this year, it’d be the perfect opportunity. He couldn’t hope to ask for a second chance, but if he got her to listen, maybe she’d understand. They could be friends again, the way things used to be. She’d always been the Watson to his Sherlock, Bonnie to his Clyde, the soy sauce to his ginger. Though he could picture her now. “Why do you get to be Sherlock? Why do I have to be Watson? What if I want to be Sherlock, huh?!”
But first he had to find out if she was coming home too.
He’d ask Beth.
End of Excerpt