Short Soup

By: Coleen Kwan

A story about best friends, childhood dreams, and the healing power of Chinese food…

Toni Lau and Dion Chan were connected from birth — first via their parents’ jointly-owned restaurant, then via their bone-deep friendship. But children grow up, and Toni leaves their sleepy hometown looking for more than it can offer.

Now Toni is back, raw with the knowledge that not all childhood dreams come true. Dion is on the brink of realising that both his own ambitions and his childhood friend have the power to derail all of his hard work. But loving Toni — and winning her love in return — has always been on his wish list. Can Dion really put her on the back burner while frying up his chef dreams? Or is it possible that together they can come up with a recipe for happiness?


Mum and Dad, this one’s for you. I may not always take your advice, but I know it always comes from the heart.


Special thanks to Margot and Alan for all the trips to Port Stephens which inspired the setting for this story.

Chapter 1

“You’re listening to Port Stephens FM, coming to you from Piper Bay, where it’s a balmy twenty-seven degrees and looking great for the weekend…”

Toni Lau eased her foot off the accelerator as she reached the crest of the last hill before the long descent into her home town. The radio announcer was right about it looking great. The air was warm, the waters of the bay shimmering. A large white vessel edged out of the marina, laden with tourists on a dolphin-watching cruise. On this early summer day the blue water paradise looked picture perfect, but the sigh escaping her lips was heavy rather than carefree.

This wasn’t the trip home she’d envisaged during her years abroad. Half a world away in foggy London, wrapped up in scarves and spreadsheets, she’d dreamed of the warm sea, the clear Australian light, the small town quiet. One day, she’d hoped, she and Nick would take a break from their busy careers and fly back for a visit. Well, she was back all right, but without Nick, her wedding ring, or her job.

“Coming up on the drive show,” the radio announcer warbled, “we ask – is it ever okay to spy on your partner? Can it be justified, or is it a breach of trust?”

Huh. Well, she knew the answer to that. If you got to the point of spying on your partner, then the relationship was already doomed even before you discovered the smutty text messages and photos on your husband’s mobile phone.

A spasm twisted her belly. Damn. Even though she’d been looking forward to seeing her parents again, right now she wasn’t ready to face their well-meaning inquisitiveness. Especially from her mum. She wouldn’t be satisfied until she’d picked over every bone of Toni’s failed marriage.

Her knuckles whitened on the steering wheel. At the next intersection, instead of turning left towards her parents’ home, she hooked right and drove away from the town centre, past the marina and the main beaches, heading east until she pulled up at Fly Point, a small promontory near the lighthouse. She got out and took the steep wooden stairs leading down the cliff face to the beach. Fly Point was rocky, inaccessible, and often deserted, which was why she and Dion had spent so much time here in their teens.

From the last step she jumped down onto the beach. The tide was out, revealing an expanse of smooth sand and weathered grey rock. The heat of the sun soaked into her shoulders. The sunlight was dazzling. Shading a hand over her eyes, she squinted out to sea and saw a man sitting on a rock a short distance to her right, looking out at the horizon. As if he could sense her eyes on him, he turned towards her, rising to his feet at the same time. Against the afternoon glare he was a dark silhouette, his features shadowed, but there was no mistaking who he was.

For a moment the man tensed as he caught sight of her, and then he came bounding towards her, his broad, bare feet kicking up sand.

“Hey, chuckle berry.”

Only one person in the world would call her “chuckle berry”. She peered up at him, a weird constriction crimping her lungs. “Dion?”

He spread his arms wide. “You don’t recognise me?”

Dion Chan. Her childhood buddy. His parents and hers co-owned the Happy Palace, a Chinese restaurant in town, and she’d known him all her life.

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