1 Chapter 1

Zora knew she should have said no when her mom asked her to come home for the Fourth of July.If I had stuck to my guns, this dark chocolate cutie could have been in Charlotte enjoying a cookout and making eyes at the currently unattached graduate student next door, she thought, wiping her forehead with the back of her plastic-gloved hand. Instead, she was selling shrimp burgers and French fries in a hot ass food truck back in the town she had called home for the majority of her life. Damn that sense of family loyalty.

“I’m so glad you decided to come down and help out. Your father would never say it but it means so much to him that you want to help promote the restaurant. It’s always so much fun when the family works together and we rarely see you anymore since you moved so far away for your job,” her mother said, bustling around the cramped space like an over-caffeinated humming bee. Zora took in her current situation. The sizzle of grease, the languid whirl of an ineffective fan, and the chatter of the crowd building outside the bright robin blue and white kitchen on wheels came close to drowning her mother’s Jamaican lilt. Yep, this is how I wanted to spend my day off, she thought to herself. Zora could think of at least five things she’d rather be doing than stuck in a mobile kitchen with her mother, father, and older sister, but when duty calls, she realized, you can’t just send it to voicemail.

Watching her whippet-thin father drop a basket of his namesake Connors Crispy Crustaceans products in the fryer, Zora replied, “Sure, anything I can do to help. But I would say I wish you would have given me more than a twenty-four hour warning you needed me to come home to help out.”

Zora did not feel that her tone was disrespectful, but judging by the pointed stares from her parents, it seemed the intent was lost in translation. One thing the daughter of immigrant parents doesn’t do is challenge a request from the ones who gave you the gift of life, provided your food and shelter, and taught you right from wrong.

Hurriedly, she clarified she didn’t have an issue with coming home to help. Rather, she explained, if she had known they needed help, she would have made plans to stay longer than just for the day. Satisfied with the answer, her parents resumed preparing and selling various fried seafood products. Refocusing her attention on assembling the food truck’s most popular item, Shelby’s Shrimpy Sandwich, Zora reflected that despite being only three years from her thirtieth birthday, she would always be her parents’ baby girl.

Thanks to good connections with the Fourth of July planning committee, her father had snagged a perfect spot for his food truck. Stationed at the corner of West Moore and South Howe streets, the business was between the waterfront and most of the town’s antique shops. Most visitors to the small Brunswick County town came to either hang out on the pier or pick through someone else’s former items. Add in the fact the food truck was stationed a few yards from the parade’s starting point and one of the mobile ATMs provided by one of the local banks, and the food truck would get patrons from both directions.

Zora took pride in the fact that her hometown of Southport was known as the official home of the North Carolina Fourth of July Celebration. For years, the first official duty of Miss North Carolina was to appear during the city’s event. Over fifty thousand people crammed into her hometown for the holiday. Usually the population capped at three thousand regular citizens, give or take a few hundred who lived there during the winter months. Most of the attendees hailed from throughout the county, but judging from the way Zora’s body kept twisting and turning to keep orders flowing, they all seemed to enjoy a good hot steaming plate of fried seafood.

During a break in the chaos, Zora quickly glanced at her watch to see only fifteen minutes remained before the Fourth of July parade kicked off at ten A.M. She had pulled out of her driveway forty minutes before daybreak to make the three-hour trip to help her parents prepare for the onslaught of hungry Fourth of July attendees. Her arrival an hour ago had coincided with the first plates being sold and demand hadn’t slowed yet. After a few minutes of shuffling around, she, her parents, and her pregnant older sister had developed an effective rotation. Her mother stood behind her, battering the various objects that she laid ready for her father to drop in the fryers. Zora’s duties were assembling orders and taking the money. Her sister managed the cash register which allowed her to sit near the open window and stay off her feet. Zora’s business analyst mind couldn’t help but be thrilled to be a part of an actual supply chain.

Next chapter