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“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a mother in possession of great wisdom, must be in want—nay, in need—of a daughter who will listen.”
The neon letters mock me from the plaque’s smooth black surface. Surely, Mom hasn’t twisted the words of one of my favorite authors. My jaw swings open, but the curse never quite leaves my lips. Instead, I squeeze my eyes shut and wish for the words hanging over my desk to disappear. I pry one eyelid open.
Nope. It hasn’t changed.
Jane Austen, give me strength.
The corner of Mom’s mouth twitches as I swivel to look at her.
“So, what do you think? Sharon was running a sale, and I thought this would be the perfect addition to your room.”
Of course it came off Etsy. I wish I’d never introduced her to that hell site. It’s like Pinterest for people with insomnia and money.
“It’s clever, right? I came up with the quote myself,” she continues, eyes glinting. “By the way, I don’t know why you love that story so much. If I were Mrs. Bennet, those girls would have been married off in half the time.”
I cringe. If fictional characters aren’t safe from her meddling, what chance do I have? I can’t even remember a time when Mom wasn’t bossing me around. I’m pretty sure Jeannie and I were barely out of diapers when she taught us the two most important things to have in life:
1. A useful college degree, so we can take care of her when she’s old.
2. A good husband, so he can take care of us.
Not one to leave things to chance, the minute we hit puberty, Mom also gave us her cardinal rules for dating:
1. No dating while you’re in school.
2. Only Asian boys allowed. The more traditional, the better.
2.5. The best type of Asian to date is Taiwanese, then Chinese. There are no others.
3. He must be tall. At least three inches more than you.
4. He has to be smart and choose a stable career like doctor or engineer.
5. He must be Asian (this point is so important, it’s stressed twice).
Jeannie, my older sister, is the poster child for obedient Asian daughters. She followed all but the first rule to the letter, something Mom easily forgave. To make matters worse, everyone loves her.
“She’s so graceful and well spoken!”
“Jeannie is the nicest person! She’s always smiling.”
“I love her style. I’m always stalking her Insta to see what she’s wearing!”
Jeannie’s so pretty a modeling scout chased after her for weeks to sign her. In fact, we have one of her first pictures sitting on the mantel. Whenever we have guests, Dad always jokes it’s the one that came in the frame.
As for me?
I’m the rebel—or if you ask Mom, the troublemaker.
“Watch where you’re going, Liza! I can’t believe you just walkedinto a parked car.”
“Why did you have to say that in front of Mrs. Zhou? I’m so embarrassed!”
“Stop slouching. It looks lazy.”
And let’s not forget one of Mom’s favorites:
“You act too smart. Boys don’t like girls who are smarter than them.”
She had a million of these—advice for how to make a boy like me. Not any boy, mind you. Only the ones who fit her list of rules. It didn’t take long for me to realize what she really wanted was for me not to be . . . me.
Like that was going to happen.
So I broke her rules. Not to annoy her, though it was an added bonus. I just didn’t see the point. Why make myself something Iwasn’t just to convince a boy to date me? Especially when there wereguys out there who already wanted to.
I hid it from her, of course. I didn’t have a death wish.
The first time Mom caught me, I was at the movie theater with my first real boyfriend, Jeremy. We met shortly after he moved from Ohio with his family. He had sea-green eyes and a mop of chestnut curls, and I was convinced we’d be together forever. My cousin Mary spotted us two rows ahead of her. By the time I got home, Mom was livid. A two-hour lecture on boys and the only thing they all want followed. I also got a bonus lecture on why all non-Asian boys should be avoided.
Three hours of my life I’ll never get back. I still have nightmares about it.
After six straight months of house arrest, Mom decided I’d been punished enough. So long as I followed her rules, I could hang out with my friends again.
Did I turn into a law-abiding citizen?
Not even close.
She still wanted me to date only Asian boys. I was going to give her everything but. Jeremy was just the first. He turned out to be a total weeb, by the way. We broke up when he found out I wasn’t Japanese. Mario, I met in gym class, but it didn’t last long. He got tired of how clumsy I was. After Isaiah, who dumped me because I hated sports, there was Mason, who obsessed over being shorter than me.
Eventually, Mom changed tactics. Suddenly, I was subjected to a never-ending string of matchmaking attempts. Some were blatantly obvious, like the time I came home and found a complete stranger sitting at our kitchen table.
“Liza! I want you to meet Zhang Wei! He’ll be staying with us for the next two months as our new foreign exchange student!”
Mom put him in our guest bedroom. Every morning, he paraded past my door in nothing but tighty-whities and a grin. He couldn’t leave fast enough.
Then there was Wang Yong. He was her coworker’s nephew. We ran into him at the pharmacy where he was shadowing for the summer. Mom had smiled innocently as she pointed in his direction.
“Go ask him where the tampons are.”
“But we could just check the aisles . . .”
It was the most cringeworthy convo ever. I left with burning cheeks and the determination to never go back.
Other times, it was a crime of opportunity. Like Tony, the delivery boy who worked at our family’s restaurant.
“He was studying chemistry, Liza. He’s probably going to be a doctor one day.”
Let’s not forget the son of Mom’s best customers, who happened to attend my school—Li Qiang.
“Doesn’t his name remind you of that captain in Mulan? You like him, don’t you?”
Yeah, well, Li Shang was hot. Li Qiang reminded me of a dumpy tree frog. Hard pass.
It’s been two years, and Mom hasn’t let up. It’s become like a game between us. She sets me up with a snobby jerk or fobby nerd. I dodge them with an excuse or two. I’ve leveled up so much, I could take on the big boss.
At least, I hope so.
Recently, Mom’s found other things to focus on. She’s pressured me about college, which is fine with me. Scholarship deadlines and class rankings are ideal distractions to keep her from finding out about Brody. We’ve been dating for two months, but my heart still pounds every time I see him. Tall, blond, and with the whitest teeth I’ve ever seen, Brody is the definition of all-American. He’s the captain of the basketball team and has a full scholarship to play for UT–Austin next year. He’s also everything Mom hates about the guys I date. If I can make it to graduation without another one of her well-meaning matches, I’ll be set.
Now Mom clears her throat, drawing me out of my thoughts.
“Just remember. Life is the sum of your choices.” She glances pointedly at the plaque. “And it’s my job to teach you how to make good ones.”
With that, she walks off toward the kitchen. I go back to staring at the abomination on my wall.
That’s not a reminder.
It’s a declaration of war.