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Women of Good Fortune  by Sophie Wan

Set against a high-society wedding, a reluctant bride and her two best friends, each with their own motives, forge a plan to steal all the gift money on the big day.

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Chapter One

10 months to the wedding


Sometimes, Lulu considers whether life would be better if she’d been born as a cockroach. Survival would be her only aim in life. She could adapt to anything, even being headless for a week.

And her brain would be tiny. So, so tiny that she wouldn’t feel the unease of choosing a wedding dress under her future mother-in-law’s watchful gaze. She assumed they’d casually browse racks, not sit so close together on a blush pink velvet couch, ensconced on a private floor as a team of three caters to them with sample booklets and designs and keeps their champagne glasses full.

Only two months ago she’d been blissfully balancing a life of work, friends, and the occasional date to appease her mom, with no intention of getting married. And now she is engaged, pulled from one appointment to another, still barely able to process how she got here.

A well-dressed older woman with a gold measuring tape around her neck, addresses Peng Ayi. “Peng Jie, you said you wanted four dresses?”

She flips through the booklet of beautiful dresses. “Yes, there’s the tea ceremony, the Western ceremony, the dance, and the banquet. Let’s design a fifth, just in case.”

Just in case of what? Lulu wonders. Will there be a secret ceremony where her mother-in-law takes her blood and sends a prayer up to the gods for sons?

Peng Ayi notices her mind wandering. “Lulu, why aren’t you giving your opinion? Be more assertive, ah.”

Lulu looks down at the booklets of smiling brides strewn on the table. Among the photos of frothy dresses with ballooning skirts, she spots one that looks relatively simple to put on, with a scoop neck and fabric that falls right below the ankle. “I like this one.”

Peng Ayi tsks. “That looks cheap. Lulu, you must discard your old mindset. There is no budget, so think bigger! How about this one?” She points at a dress with a train so long that the dimensions of the photo aren’t enough to contain it. “Harv told me to get you the dress of your dreams. We can’t let him down, ah?”

The tailor giggles. “Wah, your fiancé must love you very much!”

Lulu’s not sure love describes what they have. Her first date with Harv had been like all the rest, pleasant but unexciting. She usually went out with men once, then never saw them again, returning to her perfectly content single life. When her mom demanded recaps, Lulu would come up with excuses for why someone wasn’t a good fit.  She’d lied and said Harv had made them split the bill, assuming that was the end.

When Harv asked her out for a second date, it should’ve been enough for her mom just to know her daughter was wanted, especially after all the reminders that she’s twenty-seven and officially a shèngnǚ by popular definition. But her mom had encouraged her to accept. What’s the harm, Lulu? she said. Don’t you want to be with someone? Just give him another try. It would make me so happy. She’d been gentle, pleading.

Besides, Harv was kind, polite, and easy to be around. Harmless. It never occurred to Lulu, a restaurant hostess with nothing to her name, that Shanghai’s most eligible bachelor wasn’t just having his fun with her. Her mom had been kinder too in the months they dated, calling to check in on her without asking for money, telling her how proud she was. Lulu was more than glad to keep her off her back.

Until six months later, when Harv proposed in grand fashion in front of all their friends and family, and Lulu knew she’d started down a path impossible to turn back from.

Peng Ayi clicks her tongue, bringing Lulu back to the room. “All these dresses are so uninspiring. Perhaps we can revisit the option of getting you something custom-made…”

“I’d be perfectly happy with any of the dresses here,” Lulu says quickly.

Peng Ayi sighs. “You’re right. If we wanted something haute couture, we should’ve gotten started over a year ago.”

The staff disappear to fetch sample fabrics, and Peng Ayi sets aside her glass of champagne. “Lulu, ah.” Her unwrinkled face, which her mother claims must suck up thousands of yuan worth of skin products, is serious. “I want my son to have the best. He is determined to have you as his wife, so I will make sure the entire world knows you’re worthy of the title. You wouldn’t want us to do anything that makes us lose face, ah?”

Her tone is light, but the warning is clear. Peng Ayi might consider herself worlds apart from Lulu’s mom, but on this matter, they sound the exact same. Always whispering warnings in Lulu’s ear, like only her actions bring embarrassment and disrespect.

“Besides,” Peng Ayi continues, “You aren’t working anymore. Thinking about this wedding should be your sole priority.” She smiles benevolently. “You are going to be my daughter, and that means you will never work again.”

She should thank Peng Ayi for freeing her from the drudgery of labor, but she can’t bring herself to fake it. Right now, Lulu would give anything to be back at her old hostess job, welcoming guests and secretly smoking cigarettes with the fellow staff. “I’m going to use the restroom.”

In the candlelit restroom with lace toilet covers and expensive-smelling soap, she calls her dad. He always has a way of calming her, even from hundreds of miles away.

Instead, her brother’s hawkish face appears on the screen. He’s chewing on a chicken leg, unkempt hair brushing his shoulders.

“Ge,” Lulu greets him in their village dialect, hiding her disappointment. “Where’s Ba?”

“He’s out.” Lulu’s about to hang up when he says, “I hear you’re getting married. Ma keeps telling everyone it’s a rich guy and we’re set for life. How’d you manage that?” He looks utterly unimpressed.

“Ah Tang!” His wife chastises him from off screen. “That’s rude. Lulu, don’t listen to him. We’re all so proud of you. What an achievement!”

Her brother shrugs. “I could help the family too, if there was any good work out here.”

“I sent you some job listings in Shanghai,” Lulu reminds him. Although she doesn’t want to be in the same city as her brother, it would be worth it if he could help with their family’s finances.

“Those places just want to use me for my body!” He flexes a scrawny arm. “You think now that you live in the city and hang out with rich people, you know better?”

“Of course not.” This is why Lulu avoids going home. Because anytime she talks to her brother or her mom, they mock her supposedly lavish city life, even as she sends all her money to them, keeping enough only for rent, her phone bill, and a weekly hotpot dinner with her best friends. Shanghai has shown Lulu a world of luxuries she could never afford. But living here, she’s found her Shanghai: a place of streetside skewer carts, rundown bookstores, and glittering lights. This city has given her friends, independence, the space to escape her family and breathe—

Her brother scoffs. “Unlike you, I won’t settle for any old job, even if I’d get hired in a heartbeat.” To punctuate this, he spits out a shard of chicken bone and begins picking at his teeth.

Lulu’s heard enough. Even Peng Ayi’s demands are preferable to this conversation. “Someone’s calling for me,” she claims, edging toward the bathroom door.

“You’re shriveling up like a shrimp again!” Her brother cackles. “Seriously, what does anyone see in you?”

She hangs up before she has to listen to any more.

Back in the lounge, Peng Ayi gives Lulu’s wrist an experimental pinch, her fingers doubling as calipers. “We’ll keep track of your weight these next few months. These wedding photos will be the only ones you have, and you want to make sure you’re happy with how you look in them.”

Yes. Life as a cockroach would be infinitely better.

Excerpt from Women of Good Fortune, Copyright © 2024 by Sophie Wan. All rights reserved.

Women of Good Fortune will be available in bookstores across Canada and online on March 5, 2024

Enter for your chance to win a copy of
Women of Good Fortune  by Sophie Wan

Enter for your chance to win a copy of Women of Good Fortune  by Sophie Wan