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Authors: Katie Lynch

Confucius Jane

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For my Jane

 

A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS

I finished my first novel at age seventeen: an epically melodramatic work of fantasy, featuring a protagonist with every possible superpower and dialogue containing far too many exclamation points. My parents nurtured this hobby, and one indulgent English teacher, along with a few of my closest friends, were generous enough to help me revise and edit parts of it for inclusion in a school project. They encouraged me in what was then a nascent passion for storytelling.

Now, seventeen years later, that passion has become a profession, and I am fortunate enough to have the best possible team supporting my work. I am deeply grateful to everyone at Jane Rotrosen Agency for their efforts on my behalf. My agent, Meg Ruley, has been a tireless advocate and champion, and I cannot thank her enough. Her belief in me has been a beacon during times of self-doubt. I am likewise grateful to Chris Prestia for her wisdom and advice.

As a seventeen-year-old, my bookshelves were filled with Tor titles, and it is nothing short of a dream come true to now find myself a part of the Tor/Forge community. Kristin Sevick not only took a chance on
Confucius Jane
but also shepherded me through a collaborative and rewarding editing process. I am a stronger writer for having had the opportunity to work with her. I am also grateful to Bess Cozby for her assistance and to Edwin Chapman for his eagle eye during the copyediting process.

*   *   *

JUST AS I HAVE
the best professional team at my back, I am also fortunate enough to have the love of a diverse family of choice: the unwavering support of my Dartmouth family, the encouragement of friends and colleagues from Wisconsin and New York, and the shared purpose fostered by the global community of LGBTQ authors. I am particularly indebted to Radclyffe for her role in helping me to develop and hone my craft.

I am also privileged to be the mother of a wonderful son, whose creativity and love of a good story will, I suspect, one day come to fruition in a book of his own. Most of all, I am deeply grateful to my wife, Jane, who is also my muse. I am at once humbled and inspired by the gift of her passion. Our love story will always be at the heart of everything I write.

 

C
HAPTER
O
NE

J
ANE WOKE TO THE
clickity-clack of her cousin Minetta's fingertips skittering across her laptop keyboard. The noise sounded like a herd of mouse-sized elephants. If there was a Hell and she ended up there, being forced to listen to this for eternity would definitely be her punishment. Gritting her teeth, she tried to burrow deeper beneath the covers and ignore the persistent sound, but to no avail. There couldn't be all that many eleven-year-old touch typists in the world. How had she ended up with one of them for a roommate?

Opening one eye, she glanced at the clock on the nightstand between their beds. Six forty-five. Jane groaned and threw one arm over her face.

“Oh, stop,” Min said without a break in her typing. “You should be awake already.”

“Have I mentioned that I can't wait until you hit puberty and start wanting to sleep all the time?”

“Be quiet. You're stifling my creative flow.”

Jane struggled not to smile. Anyone listening in on this conversation would probably think she was the preteen and Minetta the twenty-three-year-old. An “old soul,” that's what everyone called Min. And “precocious.” And sometimes “annoying.”

She sat up in bed and ran her hands through her short hair. “What are you writing?”

“Blog post.”

“A blog post. Of course. What about?”

Minetta was what the media called a
kid-blogger
. She had even been interviewed once for an article in
The New York Times.
Jane tried not to let it rankle that Min's writing career was, by pretty much any measure, more successful than her own.

“The quality of the produce in our cafeteria. It's appalling. Not to mention the fact that we might even be eating GMOs without knowing it!”

Jane swung her legs over the side of the bed and slid her feet into the slippers waiting on the floor. How had she gotten roped into a conversation about the genetic modification of fruits and vegetables before seven o'clock in the morning?

“Aren't there laws about that?”

“The American laws suck. Europe is really strict about genetic modification.”

“I see.”

Jane shook her head as she padded out of their room and down the hall. Minetta was a crusader for social justice and environmentalism at the tender age of eleven. As Jane brushed her teeth, she tried to remember where she had been at that age. Italy? She paused and stared at her toothpaste-besmeared lips, counting on her fingers. No, Sweden. She had just turned eleven when her father was transferred to Stockholm, where she'd had to adjust to strange umlauts and lutefisk and seeing the sun for only an hour or two each day during the depths of winter.

“You learned Swedish at eleven,” she muttered at her reflection. “That has to count for something.”

When she returned from the bathroom, Min was zipping up the backpack Jane had given her this past Christmas made from recycled plastic soda bottles. Dressed in a pink-and-purple striped sweater and skinny jeans with flowers stitched along their pockets, she looked the part of a normal fifth-grader. Which just went to prove that people should never judge books by their covers.

“I'm going downstairs.” She paused in the doorway. “Are you really mad?”

Jane ruffled Min's straight black hair. “Nah. Don't worry about it, kiddo.”

Left alone in the room, Jane wistfully eyed her inviting bed before turning to the stack of milk crates currently serving as her dresser. As she chose her clothes for the day, she was careful to keep her head ducked well below the steeply sloping roof beams. During the first month after she'd moved in with her aunt and uncle, she had nearly brained herself far too many times.

After pulling on a pair of olive cargo pants and a vintage Joe Camel T-shirt, she pocketed her notebook and pen. When she stepped out of the room, she paused to wave to Cornelia, who was currently doing her best imitation of a zombie shuffle toward the bathroom. The poor thing had an eight o'clock lecture course this semester. There were a few parts of college life that Jane would admit to missing, but early morning bore-fests certainly weren't one of them.

As she descended the rickety stairs past the second-floor landing, the scent of
luo bo gao
made her mouth water. She would never tell her mother, but Aunt Jenny made the best turnip cakes she'd ever tasted. Upon entering the kitchen, she found Min and Uncle John seated at the wooden table, sharing the Chinese newspaper delivered daily to the doorstep of his fortune-cookie company.

“Good morning, Jane,” said Uncle John.

“Hungry?” asked Aunt Jenny.

“What are you wearing?” shrieked Min.

Jane grinned. “G'morning. Smells great, Aunt Jen.” She took the free seat next to Min. “This shirt is a classic. Don't knock it.”

“You're a walking tobacco ad! Corrupting America's youth!”

“I think you'll do just fine. You're way too smart to take up cigarettes.” Jane accepted the steaming plate of
luo bo gao
and reached for the soy and hot sauces at the center of the table.

“The tobacco industry is powerful enough,” Min persisted. “They don't need your help.”

Uncle John lowered his paper. “Minetta, enough. Leave Jane alone.”

“It's okay.” Jane patted Min's shoulder. “You're entitled to your opinion, but as far as I'm concerned, this shirt is a work of art.”

Min sighed, shot her a baleful look, and went back to reading. As Jane shoveled down her breakfast, she glanced at the sea of intricate characters on the paper in Min's hand. A few familiar symbols jumped out, but mostly the page looked like a jumble of two-dimensional stick insects. By now, six months after having moved down to Chinatown, she was decent at understanding and speaking Mandarin. Her Cantonese was a little worse, though she usually managed to get by with the help of hand gestures. But reading was another matter altogether. Her natural aptitude wasn't going to help her learn an entirely foreign way of writing down language.

Maybe, she thought as she took her last bite, she should take some lessons. She would have asked Aunt Jenny, who had taught first graders before marrying Uncle John and joining in to help with the family business, but Jane didn't want to be more of a burden than she was already. At the thought, she pushed back her chair and went to the sink, waving off Aunt Jenny's protests that she would do the dishes later. After washing her plate and setting it in the drying rack, she headed toward the apartment's front door.

“Thanks for breakfast. I'm off to do the locals.” She paused to glance over her shoulder at Min. “You, be good.”

Min stuck out her tongue, and Jane left the room smiling. Three flights of stairs later, she turned away from the short corridor leading to the outside world and instead used her key to open the side entrance to Confucius Fortunes Company. Bypassing the main office, she walked down the hall and used a different key to access the warehouse, where boxes upon boxes of cookies were stored, waiting to go out to restaurants across the tri-state area.

Each day, she began her work by doing a circuit through Chinatown and dropping off cookies to all the venues with standing orders. By now, Jane had developed an efficient route through the neighborhood, and she worked quickly to load up the dolly with boxes. Before venturing outside, she reluctantly grabbed the company jacket with her name on it off a hook near the door. She hated jackets of any kind, but her uncle had insisted.

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