As we all know, skateboards and pies don’t mix. And as Chef Kim says, “It’s bad luck to drop a pie.” Unfortunately, Winston has to learn that lesson the hard way in this exclusive chapter excerpt from Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies.
Read on and discover how one wrong turn can change the direction of your entire life. . .
Dad used to say that qi, like the Force, ran strong in our family. That if we nurtured this life energy, we could heal a broken bone, even change the flow of water. Bet he never thought I would use the Chu family qi to bake the most gooey-licious shoofly pie on the planet.
Balancing on my skateboard, I slid back and forth past the windows of the San Francisco Cooking Academy. On the pastry box containing my still-warm pie, Mav had added IS A WEINER after my name, WINSTON CHU. He was getting back at me for writing IS A MEATHEAD on his box, after MAVERICK MCFEE.
Mav finished tying his shoelace. A bit of flour dusted his thick brown hair, which had a natural wave that looked styled without his having to do anything to it. He scooped up his pie from the sidewalk and got to his feet. Nearby, an elderly woman waiting for the bus shook her fist at a too-fast truck sweeping down the busy boulevard.
“Excuse me, ma’am.” Mav held out his box to the senior, one foot on his own skateboard. “Would you like a pie?”
The woman’s deeply lined face lost its scowl. “Why, thank you, son.”
Good ole Mav. Even if his dad wasn’t a millionaire, Mav was the kind of guy who’d swap his designer headphones for your brownie and call it even.
The door to the San Francisco Cooking Academy swung open, blasting us with warm air. Out marched our baking instructor Chef Kim, her lime-colored clogs bearing her toward us like pet crocodiles. For someone who made dessert for a living, you’d think she’d look happier, not like a stocky tyrant with Caesar-short black hair who could rip the wheels off my Volt 500 skateboard with her teeth.
Her niece Dani followed her, a cello slung on her back. In class, I had admired how Dani’s sleek black hair draped down one side of her face and the careful way she had dried her mint leaves, as if they actually had feelings. But the only words I’d spoken to her were Is this your butter?
Chef Kim glanced up at me and Mav, both of us towering over her barely five-foot frame by a head—Mav because of his grandmother’s Senegalese roots, and me because of my skateboard.
After four weeks of putting up with us, she was probably celebrating the fact that she would never have to see us again.
She frowned at my wheels. “Hold on tight to that box, Mr. Chu. It is bad luck to drop a pie.”
“Er, right. Thanks, Chef Kim.” She had no need to worry about me skating home with it—I was an ace boarder. And I needed this pie to commemorate the anniversary of Dad’s death—three years tonight. Pie was Dad’s favorite dessert.
Chef Kim grunted and continued marching down the sidewalk toward the intersection. Dani glanced at me, but her eyes lingered on Mav. Whatever. Girls were always noticing him with his puppy-dog looks—and the good hair, of course. Girls were not into floppy-haired weaklings who wore size-ten pants even though they were almost thirteen years old.
Dani hurried after her aunt, who was already halfway across the street. I checked to see if Mav was watching Dani. No, he was busy zipping up his hoodie with its embroidered logo of his exclusive school, the Towne School for Boys, where he took classes like Intuitive Trigonometry and prepared for a career in the United Nations.
He jerked his chin at my box. “Sure you want to skate holding that?”
“Why not?” The bottom of the box was already starting to feel sticky, but I wasn’t going to abandon it. Unlike his megarich family with its real-estate-tycoon dad, mine watched our pennies, especially now that Mom had been out of work for two months. Besides, I had a lot riding on this pie. Sometimes it felt like Philippa and Mom avoided talking about Dad, and I needed them to remember. Coco hadn’t been born yet when he went on duty, so she was excused.
Mav strapped on his helmet. We always skated with helmets. Not only was it the law, we didn’t want to be hit by the hissing squirrels that had been dropping out of trees for the past few months, the latest sign that Mother Nature wasn’t happy with us. He shot me with a finger gun. “Boba or bust.”
With a primordial grunt, I pushed off away from Dani and toward Chinatown, my Hulkbuster key chain swinging from my belt loop and my big toe poking out of the hole in my sneaker. Mav’s skateboard grinded the cement behind me. I stayed in front, just far enough that I wouldn’t have to talk to him. I was being petty, but why did everything always come so easily to him? He’d come out of the oven grade A—smart, chill, and ready for any ball life threw him, which is why he was our soccer team’s best goalie. Well, I skated better than him, even on my secondhand board while holding a shoofly pie.
The summer-afternoon sun was only for show. Anyone who’s been to the foggy city in the summer knows to bundle up. I was wearing two T-shirts under an army sweatshirt.
The streets grew more colorful as we drew closer to my neighborhood, which had seen five generations of Chus. A rainbow of awnings overhung storefronts. Strings of red lanterns were draped across the streets. People darted in and out of shops, plastic bags ringing their wrists.
Mav finally caught up with me on the descent. “Hey, Win, why didn’t the toilet paper roll cross the road?”
I sighed. Of course he had no clue I’d been throwing myself a pity party. “Dunno. Why?”
I slowed to avoid crates of lychees, mangoes, and oranges by the curb. Mah-mah, my paternal grandmother, had said we should buy oranges to commemorate the third Dad-iversary, but Mom thought all those rituals to honor the ancestors were nonsense. Still, I thought we should do something instead of just sitting around feeling sad, like usual.
“It got stuck in a crack.”
I groaned, shaking my head.
The familiar purple awning of Boba Guys with its aardvark logo appeared a hundred feet ahead. Our teammates and best buds, Bijal and Cassa, were already standing in a long line of mostly teenage customers that snaked out onto the sidewalk. Cassa was trying to whip Bijal with her grubby blond braid—probably in response to one of his wisecracks—while he defended himself by twisting from side to side. Those two had been bickering ever since we met in soccer class when we were all four.
Two men in bright Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses were peering into the round front window of a brick store next to Boba Guys. Both were linebacker big, but one was shorter, putting me in mind of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street. Their noses were covered in zinc sunscreen. They looked out of place—two coconuts on a field of soccer balls.
The next few moments happened in slow motion.
Something solid and wiggly plopped on my helmet, then slid off. The pie box flew out of my hands like a pink meteor. The Volt 500 skidded out from under me, giving me a flash of the ACTIVATE WONDER sticker on the underside.
As a solid, wiggly thing—a cat-size squirrel—scrabbled off with a hiss, my pie box arced toward Bert and Ernie. Bert’s long face, directly in the line of fire, stretched even longer. The yellow flamingoes on his Hawaiian shirt pulled in one direction, then the other. Ernie dabbed. Well, he wasn’t trying to dab, just trying to dodge the pie that was hurtling toward his friend. The box dropped away from the pie like boosters from the space shuttle. Then bam! The impact was gooey. Crumby. Crusty. Buttery.
Intrigued? Hungry? Both?
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