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Chef Showdown: A Romance by MJ Post (1)

Prologue

Townsend Harris High School, April 2011

The gym was lavishly festooned with banners and ribbons for the senior dance. A platform was set up under the basketball hoop opposite the entrance. DJ equipment and speakers were crammed onto its narrow surface.

Jeff Chang, known in the senior class as Old-School Jeff, climbed up to take his thirty-minute shift as guest DJ. He leaned into the mike and announced in flutelike tones, “Okay, bitches — it’s time for Old-School Jeff’s 80s throwback!”

The assembled kids groaned as their 80s-obsessed classmate put on the first synthesizer-dominated dance track. It was their time to stop moving to the music and start milling around chatting and gossiping.

One kid called, “Play something modern!”

Jeff fake-laughed into the mike and boosted the volume.

Yookyung Lee, known to her friends and cooler teachers as Kacie, was happy to hang by the drink table. She was tired, but her friends Grace and Nicole had dragged her there anyway. She had come dressed for something other than a dance, had left her apprenticeship as a prep cook at an area Korean restaurant in sloppy street clothes. She was wearing black slacks, a gray sweatshirt with a picture of a chef’s hat and the legend ‘Cook It Up,’ gloves without fingers, backward pink baseball cap. It was hot in the gym, but she was so used to working over hot pots or manning a flattop that sweating didn’t bother her.

Complaints aimed at Jeff had failed to change the young man’s choice of music, so the kids formed into knots at different spots on the heavily scuffed floor. Grace and Nicole came over, along with Nicole’s boyfriend, Kwan, known as Skip.

“Jeff is so lame,” said Grace.

“Why didn’t you sign up?” Nicole poked Skip.

“Cause I want to be with you, baby,” Skip answered. He wasn’t looking at her, but looking around, probably at other girls. He was a selfish horndog; Kacie had told Nicole that a bunch of times, and he knew it, too.

Nicole noticed and tugged at his hand. He turned, took out his phone, and began looking at an app.

“Hey, Kacie,” Grace said. “Who would you give it up to?”

“Give up what?”

“Your virginity. Who would you give it up to?”

“My dad would kill me,” Kacie said.

“Suppose no one knew, your dad didn’t find out?”

“Don’t be stupid. I don’t have time for that anyway.”

Nicole chimed in. “Always in the kitchen, right? Come on. You’ve never had a boyfriend. You never go out. Half the kids say you’re a lesbian.”

“Does he say that?” Kacie pointed at Skip, who was oblivious to all but his social media. “What do you listen to him for?”

“She’s right,” Grace joined in. “You have to break out of your shell, Kacie. There’s more to life than studying and fixing dinner.”

“And if I tell you who I like, then what?” Kacie had had a crush on a certain boy for over a year, but she hadn’t told anyone. It was hopeless; he was rich and only went for white girls.

“We’ll do our magic.”

“No thanks.”

“Oh, come on!” Nicole gave a dirty look to her distracted boyfriend.

“Okay, okay. But you can’t tell anybody. I’ll tell you just because I trust you, okay?” She had known these two since freshman year, when they’d listened to K-Pop like 2NE1 and BAP through shared earbuds. “If I was going to give it up, I’d give it up to Brian.” She pointed to a cluster of kids a few yards away.

Brian Loomis was a six foot two, half-Korean half-white kid, rangy and lean, with flowing curly black hair and a jutting chin. He looked like a rock star with his slim hips and big boots and swaggering carriage.

“Brian? But he’s so arrogant,” Grace said.

“We’ll I’m not really doing it. He’s just hot. I think he’s hot.”

Kacie realized that she was alone with the two girls. Skip was sauntering toward Brian Loomis.

“No, Nicole! Stop him!” Kacie shivered even in the stuffy sweatshirt and felt like puking. Skip was a total asshole. He knew she didn’t like him. That was why he was being so rude.

Old-School Jeff was now playing a song about a dancing queen, whatever that meant. She lowered her chin as Nicole ran to stop her boyfriend. Grace criticized Skip in her ear; Grace also thought he was an asshole.

Finally Kacie realized someone was leaning toward her. She looked up into the eyes of the much taller Brian Loomis. Dark brown, sexy eyes, warmer than the smirk on his full and kissable lips. He wasn’t a nice kid, she knew that, but … what if this time was different? What if he had actually noticed her, too? Guys liked girls that could cook, right?

“Hey, Cookie,” he said.

That was a mean nickname she thought she had gotten rid of after freshman year. (Like to cook? You’re a cookie.)

“I hear you want to fuck me? Is that right?”

“Not really,” Kacie said.

“Then what?”

“We were just bullshitting, Brian. Don’t worry about it.”

“No, I think it’s true. I think you do want to ride on the Loomis Express. Don’t you?”

“Not happening.” Kacie was mortified, wanted to turn away. But what if it was all a setup? What if he was about to say yes after all? Would she have the guts to go through with it?

“Well, let’s talk about it,” he said. He fingered her sweatshirt. “What kind of outfit is this? It’s so unsexy. No wonder everyone says you’re a lesbo. And what the fuck is this?” He tapped on the pink baseball cap.

Skip was doubled over laughing. Nicole smacked him hard in the face, and he straightened and looked at her sheepishly.

Brian Loomis continued. “You don’t dress like a girl. You don’t look like a girl. And here’s something else.”

“Shut the fuck up.” Kacie turned away.

“No, I won’t. You talked behind my back. You said I have a sexy body.”

“I never said that! Skip was lying!”

“Skip’s my bro. He wouldn’t lie. Now, it’s my turn. Notice, I’m talking to your face, not behind your back. Listen up, Cookie. You have no ambition. I like to surround myself with people who are going somewhere in the world. What are you doing? Fucking culinary school? Low-paid bullshit. That makes you a negative person, and I don’t like negative people.” He stared down at Kacie, and his lips curled into a vicious grin. “Okay. I’m done.”

Kacie was blinded with rage. She threw off her hat, pulled off the sweatshirt. Underneath was a white tank top which showed her swelling, shapely breasts and her soft, rounded shoulders. “How do you like this? Huh? You’d be lucky to have someone like me!” She spat on him. “So fuck you!” She moved to the gym center and began to sway to the music. Cheesy 80s music, whatever. Pulled off and tossed aside the gloves. Moved faster and faster, swung her hips, shook her head till the bun came undone and her long silken hair spun around her.

“All right, Kacie!” Old-School Jeff called into the mike. “Now you’re MY dancing queen!”

Brian Loomis slunk off to the sidelines to admit privately he hadn’t realized she was smoking hot, but she was still a dumb bitch, and Nicole broke up with Skip and knocked his phone out of his hand, and, a few at a time, the Townsend Harris seniors circled Kacie and began to dance.

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