Authors: Kevin Kwan
“Well, hopefully the exposure will be minimal. Thanks, Dadâthank you for doing this,” Astrid muttered in relief.
“Oh I had nothing to do with thisâthank your husband.”
had it taken down?”
“Yes. He bought the company that owns this infernal website and put an end to all of the nonsense. It's probably the first useful thing Michael has ever done to protect you. Which is far more than I can say for Charlie Wu!”
Astrid sat back in her chair, feeling her face flush with anger. This was all Michael's doing. He must have alerted her parents to this gossip column in the first place, and of course he was only too happy to alert them that he'd saved the day. Hell, he was probably Leonardo Lai's “Singapore insider,” relishing his chance to sabotage Charlie, to sabotage her.
Cathleen Kah Leong, the wife of Harry and Felicity Leong's eldest son, Henry, takes great pride in her thrift. A partner at Singapore's most esteemed law firm, she takes the public bus to work every day. A granddaughter of the late banking tycoon Kah Chin Kee, she uses a plastic bag from the local neighborhood gourmet grocers to transport her legal briefs when she could well afford to buy Goyard. (Not a nice Goyard leather tote bagâI mean Goyard, the company.)
19 WEST FOURTH STREET, NEW YORK
Rachel was in her office suite at New York University, splitting a piece of German chocolate cake from Amy's Bread with her suitemate, Sylvia Wong-Swartz, when her mother called.
“Hey, Mom! How's Panama?” Rachel answered in Mandarin. Her mother was on a Chu family reunion cruise through the Panama Canal.
“I don't know. I haven't left the ship,” Kerry Chu replied.
“You guys have been cruising for four days now and you haven't docked once?”
“No, no, the ship has docked but we've never gotten off. No one wants to leave the boat. Auntie Jin and Auntie Flora want to get their money's worth, so they just sit and stuff their mouths at the all-you-can-eat buffet all day long, and of course Uncle Ray and Uncle Walt aren't speaking to each other again. So they're both at the casino, but at opposite ends. Walt is at the blackjack tables, and supposedly Ray is losing his shirt at baccarat but won't stop playing.”
“Well, Uncle Ray can afford it.” Rachel chuckled. She was so glad she decided to skip this family reunion.
“Ha! Yes. You should see that wife of his! She changes outfits four times a day, and every night it's a different ball gown and different jewelry. I don't know where she thinks she isâthis is a cruise ship, not the Oscars.”
“Auntie Belinda is just doing what she loves, Mom.”
“She's trying to rub it in all our faces, that's what she's doing! And of course, your cousin Vivian has to ask her what she's wearing every time, and Belinda always says something like, âOh, this one I bought in Toronto at Holt Renfrew, or this is a LiberaceâI bought it on sale. It was $7,500, marked down to $3,000.'â”
“Liberace? I don't think he ever designed clothes, Mom.”
“You know that Italian designer, the one that got shot in Miami.”
“Oh, you mean
“Hiyah, Liberace, Versace, it's all the same to me. If it's not on sale at Ross Dress for Less, I don't care what the brand is.”
“Well, I'm sure Auntie Belinda appreciates Vivian's attention. She's
the only person on the cruise Auntie Belinda can talk to about high fashion.” Rachel took a bite from her share of the cake.
“You and Nick should have come. All your cousins would have enjoyed spending time with you. You know this is the first holiday Vivian's taken since Ollie was born?”
“I would have loved to see everyone, Mom, but the dates just didn't work with my teaching schedule. I couldn't imagine Nick on a cruise ship, thoughâI think he'd jump overboard before the ship even left port.”
“Hahaha. Your husband only likes those private yachts!”
“No, noâyou got it all wrong. He'd much rather rough it than be on some luxury cruiseâI could see him on some sort of expedition frigate going to Antarctica or on a fishing boat in Nova Scotia, but not on any kind of floating palace.”
“A fishing boat! All these rich kids who grew up with everything just want to live like they are poor. How is Nick anyway?”
“He's fine. But you know what, his grandmother had a heart attack last week.”
“Oh really? Is he going to go back to Singapore?”
“I don't know, Mom. You know how sensitive he gets about anything having to do with his grandmother.”
“Nick should go back. You should convince him to go backâthis might be his last chance to see the old lady.”
Rachel's radar suddenly went off. “Wait a minuteâ¦you've been talking to Nick's mom, haven't you?”
Kerry Chu paused for a moment too long, before saying, “Noooo. We haven't spoken in ages.”
“Don't lie to me, Mom. Only Eleanor calls Nick's grandmother the âold lady'!”
“Hiyah, I can't lie to you, you know me too well! Yes, Eleanor called. She's called a few times now and won't leave me alone. She thinks only you can convince Nick to go home.”
“I can't talk Nick into doing anything he doesn't want to do.”
“Did you know that Nick was supposed to inherit that house?”
. I'm the whole reason she cut him out of her will. So don't you see I'm the last person to tell him to go back?”
“But his grandmother only has a few weeks to live. If he plays his cards right, he could still get the house.”
“Jesus, Mom, stop parroting Eleanor Young!”
“Hiyah, no Eleanor! I'm speaking as your motherâI am thinking of
! Think about how this house could benefit your life.”
“Mom, we live in New York. That house has no benefit to us except as one gigantic cleaning nightmare!”
“I'm not suggesting you should live there. You would sell it. Think of the windfall you'd have.”
Rachel rolled her eyes. “Mom, we're already so fortunate compared to the rest of the planet.”
“I know, I know. But imagine how your life could change
if Nick inherits that house. It's worth
hundreds of millions
, so I'm told. That's like winning the Powerball lottery. This is crazy money, life-changing money, enough money so your poor mother doesn't have to work so hard anymore.”
“Momâyou know you could have retired years ago, but you love what you do. You've been the top property agent in Cupertino three years running.”
“I know, but I just wanted you to think about what it would be like to have that kind of fortune at your fingertips. I want to see all the good things that you and Nick can do with that money. Like that Chinese girl who's married to that Facebook fellowâthey've given away billions. Think of how proud her parents must be of her!”
Rachel looked over at Sylvia, who was leaning back in her chair precariously as she stretched to reach for the cake on the coffee table.
“I can't talk about this now, Mom. Sylvia's about to fall over and break her neck.”
“Call me back! We need toâ”
Rachel hung up on her mother just as her friend had scraped a nice bit of chocolate-and-coconut frosting off with her finger and comfortably returned to her usual seated position.
“Way to go. Using me as an excuse to get off the phone with your mom.” Sylvia cackled as she licked her finger clean.
Rachel smiled. “Sometimes I forget you can speak Mandarin.”
“A lot better than you, banana girl! Sounds like she was in turbo nagging mode.”
“Yeah, she was fixating on something and wouldn't let it go.”
“If she's anything like my mom, she's going to call you back tonight and try the guilt angle.”
“You're probably right. Which is why I need to see what Nick is up to for lunch.”
A few hours later, Rachel and Nick were seated at their favorite window table at Tea & Sympathy. Nicky Perry, the owner, had been by to share a funny video of Cuthbert, her bulldog, and their lunches had just been placed on the table. It was a snowy January afternoon and the windows had fogged up inside the cozy restaurant, creating an even more inviting atmosphere for Rachel to enjoy the chicken-and-leek pie in front of her.
“This was the perfect idea. How did you know I was craving T&S for lunch?” Nick asked as he tucked into his usual English bacon, avocado, and tomato sandwich.
Taking advantage of his good mood, Rachel got right to the point. “So I spoke to my mom a little earlier. Apparently, our mothers have been talkingâ”
“Oh God, not the grandchildren talk again!”
“No, this time it was all about you.”
“Let me guessâ¦my mother has enlisted her help to convince me to return to Singapore.”
Nick rolled his eyes. “My mother is so predictable. You know, I don't think she really cares about my grandmother dyingâshe's just fixated on me getting Tyersall Park. It's her entire raison d'Ãªtre.”
Rachel broke the thick golden pastry crust of her chicken pie with a fork and let some of the steam escape. She took her first tentative bite of the piping-hot creamy sauce before speaking again. “What I've never really understood is why everyone thinks the house is supposed to go to you. What about your father, or your aunts? Don't they have more right to the house?”
Nick sighed. “Ah Ma, as you know, is an old-fashioned Chinese woman. She has always favored her son over her daughtersâthey were all just supposed to marry and be taken care of by their husband's families, while my father got Tyersall Park. It's this warped mash-up of archaic Chinese customs and the British rules of primogeniture.”
“But that's so unfair,” Rachel muttered.
“I know, but that's the way things are and my aunts grew up always knowing they would get the short end of the stick. Mind you, each of them is still going to inherit from Ah Ma's financial holdingsâso no one's going to be hurting for cash here.”
“So then how is it that you suddenly got to be first in line to inherit Tyersall Park?”
Nick leaned back in his chair. “Do you remember when Jacqueline Ling came to New York a couple of years ago and summoned me to lunch aboard her yacht?”
“Oh yeah, she had two Swedish blondes kidnap you in the middle of a lecture!” Rachel laughed.
“Yes. Jacqueline is Ah Ma's goddaughter, and they've always been extremely close. Jacqueline revealed to me that back in the early nineties, when my father decided to move to Australia pretty much full-time, it so angered my grandmother that she decided to change her will and disinherit him from Tyersall Park. She skipped a generation and made me the heir to the property. But then after I married you, she supposedly changed her will again.”
“Who do you think is currently in her favor to get Tyersall Park?”
“I honestly have no idea. Maybe Eddie, maybe one of my cousins in Thailand, maybe she's going to leave it all to her beloved guava trees. The point is, Ah Ma uses her fortune to control the family. She's always changing her will according to her latest whim. No one really knows what she's going to do, and at this point, I've stopped caring.”
Rachel looked Nick straight in the face. “Here's the thing. I know that you don't care what happens to your grandmother's fortune, but you can't pretend that you don't still care for her. And that's the only reason why I think you should go back now.”
Nick stared out of the fogged-up window for a moment, avoiding her eyes. “I dunnoâ¦I think part of me is still so angry at her for how she treated you.”
“Nick, please don't hold on to this because of me. I forgave your grandmother long ago.”
Nick looked at her skeptically.
Rachel put her hand on his. “I have. Truly. I realized it was a waste of time to be mad at her, because she never really got to know me. She never gave me a chanceâI was this girl who came out of left field and stole her grandson's heart. But the more time passes, I find myself actually feeling grateful toward her now.”
“Think about it, Nick. If your grandmother hadn't been so resistant to us being together, if she hadn't supported your mom in all her crazy shenanigans, I would never have found my real father. I would have never met Carlton. Can you imagine what my life would be like if I hadn't met them?”
Nick softened for a moment at the mention of Rachel's half brother. “Well, I can imagine what Carlton's life would be like if he'd never met youâhe probably would have wrecked a dozen more sports cars by now.”
“Oh God, don't even say that! The point I'm trying to make is, I think you need to find some way to forgive your grandmother. Because it's clearly an issue for you, and it's going to keep eating you up inside if you don't. Remember what that radio host Delilah always says? âForgiveness is a gift we give ourselves.' If you think you're able to let things go without ever seeing her again, more power to you. I'm not going to force you to get on a plane. But I think you need to see her in person, and I'm guessing she probably really wants to see you too butâlike youâshe's too damn proud to admit it.”
Nick looked down at his cup of tea. The saucer was emblazoned with an image of Queen Elizabeth II, and seeing the gold patterning at the edge of the porcelain suddenly took him back to a memory of Tyersall Park, of sitting in the ornate eighteenth-century French pavilion overlooking the lotus pond with his grandmother when he was six years old, being taught how to properly pour a cup of tea for a lady. He could remember how heavy the Longquan celadon teapot felt in his hands, as he carefully lifted it toward the teacup.
If the butler doesn't notice that her cup needs to be refilled, you must do it for her. But never lift the cup away from the saucer when pouring, and be sure the spout is turned away from her
, his grandmother had instructed.
Emerging from the memory, Nick said, “We can't both take off for Singapore at the beginning of the semester.”
“I wasn't saying we should both goâI think this is a trip you should make on your own. You're on sabbatical right now, and we both know you haven't made much progress on that book you were going to write.”
Nick swept his tousled hair off his forehead with both hands with a sigh. “Everything's so perfect in our life right now, do you really want me to go back to Singapore and open another Pandora's box?”
Rachel shook her head in exasperation. “Nick, look around you. The box has been opened! It's been smashed open and gaping at you for the last four years! You need to go back and repair that box. Before it's too late.”