The Fortune Cafe

By: Julie Wright & Melanie Jacobson & Heather B. Moore

Tangerine Street is a must-see tourist stop with a colorful mix of one-of-a-kind boutiques, unique restaurants, eclectic museums, quaint bookstores, and exclusive bed-and-breakfasts. The Fortune Café, situated in the middle of this charming collection of shops and cafés on Tangerine Street, is a Chinese restaurant unlike any other because, well, to be honest, the fortunes found in the cookies all come true…

Emma cringed as she tugged her apron ties tight at her waist and moved to the computer to clock into work.

“You’re late,” Nate said. He wiped his hands on his apron, though his was not nearly as clean and pressed as Emma’s. Nate’s apron looked like it had been the victim of an intense food fight, which made Emma wonder what purpose it would serve to wipe his hands on it. Didn’t that just make his fingers more dirty than they’d been before? He clicked the clock-in icon on the computer because he’d distracted Emma enough, she’d forgotten what she was doing.

She pulled her hair into a ponytail because no customer wanted long strands of dark brown hair in their meals. “I’m not that late,” Emma insisted and then offered a grudging “Thanks” for his help in clocking her in.

“Late enough. He’s already asking about you.” Nate took out a red handkerchief and wiped his bald head with it. The back kitchen was always a little overwarm due to the ovens and grills.

She tsked. Waitressing for The Fortune Café wasn’t exactly a dream job, but it was a good job— especially in a touristy town like Seashell Beach where people visited expecting to pay higher prices and leave larger tips. She’d been there for four years, pretty much since she quit school two years into college, and loved her boss. He didn’t mind that she sometimes needed weekends off so she could go to comic conventions. He was a fair boss, and funny besides. But he hated the perpetually late.

Nate frowned deeply and put out a wagging finger in exact imitation of their grandfatherly boss. He then spoke in imitation of Cái’s accented English. “When one of you is late showing up, the gears of The Fortune Café’s clock moan in distress. You tempt fate to pass us over and take away the magic.”

Emma smiled. Cái really believed in his magical restaurant. His parents opened The Fortune Café when they arrived in America from Hong Kong when Cái had been a little boy. It had become an immediate success and stayed that way. Emma believed the little business survived the takeover of the new generation only because Cái loved the place as much as his parents had. Years later, the restaurant remained the success his parents had originally created.

Jen, an older waitress, came to the back to pick up an order and laughed at Nate’s impersonation. “You pegged Cái right on!” Jen never seemed to say Cái’s name right. The name was supposed to sound more like the word sigh. Her tongue always looked tangled when she used the boss’s name. When she said it, it sounded more like she was saying say-ee. Emma tried to tell her to picture him sighing and pronounce his name like a sigh, but she couldn’t do it. They’d all given up correcting her. When he was around, she had simply taken to calling him sir.

Cái showed up at exactly that moment. Nate hurried to straighten his face before Cái figured out they were messing around. Her boss’s gaze fell on Emma immediately. “Did you hear my restaurant cry out in her sadness, Emma?” Cái said, his white hair seeming to float as he shook his head in despair.

She smiled again. “Oh, I heard all right. But I think it’s because the door needs to be oiled.”

He frowned and lifted a finger to give her a lecture on magic, but she stalled him. “I better get out there. No reason to disturb your restaurant’s voodoo by being late and avoiding my work. Someone’s already seated in my area.”

Cái cracked a smile even as he said, “It is not voodoo. It is my ancestors smiling on me. You open a fortune cookie, Emma, and you will see magic in your own life.”

“You do know fortune cookies aren’t even Chinese, right? But nice try. You keep your magical cookies to yourself.” She grinned at him on her way past. She really did adore the old guy. He always treated her like a much loved granddaughter.