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Authors: Stewart Lewis

The Secret Ingredient

BOOK: The Secret Ingredient
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ALSO BY STEWART LEWIS
You Have Seven Messages

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2013 by Stewart Lewis
Jacket photograph (girl) copyright © 2013 by Linda Brownlee

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

Visit us on the Web!
randomhouse.com/teens

Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at
RHTeachersLibrarians.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Lewis, Stewart.
The secret ingredient / Stewart Lewis. — First edition.
pages cm
Summary: “After a chance meeting with a psychic, Olivia, a teen cook living in Los Angeles with her two dads and misfit brother, finds a vintage cookbook with handwritten notes inside and pieces together a story that turns a normal summer into a search for her birth mother”—Provided by publisher.
eISBN: 978-0-449-81001-9
 [1. Self-realization—Fiction. 2. Mothers—Fiction. 3. Cooking—Fiction.
4. Los Angeles (Calif.)—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.L5881Se 2013
 [Fic]—dc23
2012027203

Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

v3.1

 

for steve, my secret ingredient

 

Food is our common ground, a universal experience.
—James Beard
If you see a fork in the road, take it.
—Yogi Berra

Contents

Cover

Other Books by This Author

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Epigraph

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Acknowledgments

About the Author

CHAPTER 1

Every day is sunny in Los Angeles, but it’s not exactly paradise. Yes, there are movie stars and palm trees, but there’s also an area downtown called “skid row” where people live in a city of cardboard boxes, and it looks like some sort of war is going on. Bell, who is one of my dads, owns a restaurant, and sometimes we drive by skid row on our way to get the flowers that go on the tables. He named the restaurant FOOD, following the somewhat annoying trend of creating simple one-word names for places. It’s sandwiched between a bookstore called Book and a coffee shop called Bean. A different approach might have been more interesting, like a Laundromat called Not Responsible for Lost Socks. There actually is a Laundromat near the restaurant, where I’ve been doing my whole family’s
laundry since I was eight. It doesn’t have a sign, just a big brown triangle with a box of what looks like vintage detergent painted on it.

Bell’s been letting me cook the special at FOOD every Saturday, and lately, as I’ve been expanding my palate and my menu, my dishes have become more popular. Some customers only come in on Saturday, and although Bell’s definitely proud, and doesn’t do much of the cooking anymore anyway, I think he’s a little jealous of my success. The current chefs don’t really mind—in fact, they get a kick out of it. One even asked me for my coleslaw recipe (shh, it’s the jalapeño).

Bell has loved cooking his whole life, but he’s been struggling with the restaurant for some time now. After the recession, people lost their taste for fine cuisine and, due to financial necessity or lingering prudence, are continuing to choose quantity over quality. The In-N-Out Burger on Sunset always looks like a rock concert, while you can hear crickets in the little boutique eateries. I’m not sure how bad the situation really is, but the other night I went into FOOD to prepare a marinade and it seemed like no one was there except the janitor. I realized I needed basil, so I headed for the walk-in cooler, opening the heavy silver door to find Bell crying on top of a crate of potatoes.

“Dad?”

“It’s the onions,” he said, both of us knowing that was a lie—the onions are prepped in the morning by the dishwashers. I took Bell’s hand and walked him out of the cooler, sat him down at the chef’s table, and poured him a
glass of the cheap cabernet I was using for my marinade. I knew things were pretty bad, because even though he isn’t rich by any means, Bell rarely drinks cheap wine. By his second sip I caught a hint of a grin. The thing about Bell is, he hardly ever says what he means, and I’m beginning to notice this pattern in other people as well. Everyone seems to have this duality about them: how they feel as opposed to what they’re saying. Sometimes words are only clues—you have to put them together while reading the maps of people’s faces. I’m pretty good at it when it comes to my family.

After he finished his wine, Bell stood up and held out his arms. I put down the lemon I was zesting and let him hug me, breathing in the musky scent of his cologne mixed with a hint of garlic—home.

“Are they going to take it all away?” I asked him.

He looked at me with his big brown eyes and shook his head, as if everything was fine, but I knew that was not the case. I had heard my dads fighting about the mortgage more than once, and I knew the bank people had come into the restaurant. For the first time in my life, I didn’t know if Bell could make everything good again, if he could protect us from the world.

My name is Olivia, but everyone calls me by different nicknames. The only time anyone in my family uses my real name is when they’re serious, or mad at me, which is
not very often. I’ve always gotten good grades, and I’m not one of those teenagers who act out.

I’m sixteen going on seventeen, like the song. When I was little, Bell and I used to watch
The Sound of Music
all the time, and I always thought my mother, who gave me up when I was two days old, might have looked like Julie Andrews. I have reddish hair and blue eyes like her, but I’m definitely not an actress. Bell says I’m like a fine wine. If you want to get to know me the right way, you have to let me breathe first.

My older brother, Jeremy, is the opposite, very in-your-face. We’re not blood related, but Bell adopted us from the same agency one year apart from each other. At the time, same-sex parents couldn’t adopt as easily as they can today, but he got approved pretty quickly both times, as one of his former employees ran the agency. Bell moved in with Enrique, my other dad, soon after he adopted Jeremy. Enrique is not always the most reliable person, but he has many wonderful qualities. When you live in an imperfect, mismatched family like mine, you understand that love is about more than just blood. My dads raised me, took care of me when I was sick, taught me to walk, and read me to sleep every night. They are in my bones, a part of who I am. I can’t imagine loving my birth parents any more.

Still, lately I’ve started to feel like something’s missing. I’ve found myself wondering what would have happened if my mother hadn’t given me up. It’s hard to picture not being with my family, but it’s easy to imagine myself in
another life, in a more conventional household in the suburbs of some city where the lawns are manicured and I go on mother-daughter excursions with Julie Andrews. Bell always says we don’t choose our family, and even if I had a choice, I’d choose Bell, Enrique, and Jeremy. But if I could change one thing, I would add a mother, even if only for short periods of time—someone who could, I don’t know, take me to get my hair cut or something. Instead, the closest thing I’ve had to a mother is Enrique.

Even though he’s technically a man, Enrique is very nurturing. When I was five, I stepped on a stingray at the public beach in Malibu, and it changed my life. I haven’t been in the ocean since, and it sort of formed the person I was growing up: shy, a little different, and slightly removed in a city in which the ocean is such a big part of everyone’s lives. Bell didn’t seem to understand and took a passive approach to the Stingray Trauma, as it came to be called, but Enrique knew instinctively what I was going through and what to do. And not just because he grew up on the sea in Mexico and had a similar experience with a sand shark. From then on, whenever we went to the beach, Enrique would come up with all these elaborate games to play, none of which involved swimming. And he would take me to his friend’s pool in the Hollywood Hills as a gateway to get me into the ocean again. It didn’t work, but I did learn to swim well, and those afternoons in the pool with Enrique, nothing could touch me. Watching the valley below, sipping iced tea, floating on the inflatable
rafts … I usually felt a little left of center, but being there with Enrique and the way he would look at me with pure, open love made me feel like the center of the world, which I guess is what mothers do.

I just finished my junior year at Silver Lake High. It’s the first day of summer and, I hope, the day I finally get a job. In the past, I’ve waited tables for Bell, but business isn’t exactly booming this year, so he doesn’t need the extra help. I’ve been interviewing at different retail places, since I figure I should get something to put on my résumé that doesn’t involve food, but I never seem to be a “good fit” for them. Maybe because my only work experience has been in Bell’s restaurant. I have this feeling, though, that today is going to be different. Today, I have an interview that Enrique set up, at a casting agency his friend runs.

I get out of bed and walk over to the window. This morning my room has an orange glow to it. When the ball of red sun peeks over the horizon line east of our hill, it tends to wake me up—especially when I forget to shut my blinds. I slide the window open and hear the familiar sounds of birds and cars whizzing by in the distance, on the 101 freeway. A strange juxtaposition, but they seem to balance each other out. If someone asked me what L.A. sounds like, I would say birds and traffic.

I walk over to my dresser, slip on my vintage dress with the little blue flowers on it, and grab the champagne-colored
sunglasses I bought at the Gas N Go for $3.99. They’re a little indie rock for me, but I do look very Silver Lake, the area between Hollywood and downtown where we live. It’s an offbeat, mostly Hispanic neighborhood that has a certain beauty, like a colorful but shabby real-life version of a montage from a hipster film. With the crazy mix of musicians, leather queens, yuppies, Mexicans, and bohemians (and some people who are all these in one), there’s a feeling of acceptance. And Silver Lake is just known as being a
cool
place.

I go downstairs and find Enrique sleeping on the couch, which makes me a little uneasy. He was a dancer for the Mexico City Ballet, and his mangled feet are sticking out of the blanket. People think dancers are so elegant and graceful, and they are, but there’s an underbelly to it all. He’s had two operations on his knees, and his feet, well, let’s just say they’re not too pretty. I cover them up and quietly shuffle toward the kitchen.

BOOK: The Secret Ingredient
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