The Chicken Sisters by K.J. Dell'Antonia



Dear Amanda,

                The Chicken Sisters sound intriguing. We are wrapping up Rib Wars in Kansas City and would like to come meet you. If everything’s as you say, we’ll start filming immediately. How’s Wednesday at 2?


Sabrina Skelly, Host, Producer, Food Wars

                The Food Channel





AMANDA


            It was one thing to put a message in a bottle and another thing entirely when that bottle came back to you from across the sea with a genie stuffed in next to the reply. She had to rub the bottle now, right? She’d cast the spell, wished the wish, and asked in prayer, and she had received. It would be different if she didn’t believe. It wouldn’t have worked if she didn’t believe. But of course, she did believe. She believed with all her heart and soul that Food Wars had the power to change everything, and she was right.

            Later, she wished she’d been a little more specific.

            It had been fun, sending the e-mail. And honestly, she figured the result would be a few weeks of dreaming, of imagining how Food Wars could make everything better, followed by a letdown when they said no or just never replied. It was a lottery ticket, minus the dollar she couldn’t afford to spend.

            Now she was sitting in her car outside Walmart, idly scrolling, a new habit born of an unreasonable expectation that somewhere in her phone was something that would change her mood, when the reply appeared, a response beyond her wildest dreams that sent an actual, literal chill through her body. She turned her car back on, abandoning her planned shopping trip, and backed out of the parking spot she’d just pulled into, narrowly missing a beat-up Camry. Her foot shook on the gas pedal. Her whole leg was quivering. This is it, she thought. From now on, everything will be different. Different, and better.

            Better. She kept repeating that to herself, and that conviction, really this is going to make things better, helped her squash down any doubts about her mother or about Frannie’s or about what the hell Merinac was going to make of Food Wars and vice versa. It carried her past the two miles of corn and soybean fields between Walmart and Nancy’s house and right through her mother-in-law’s back door, bellowing her name. She stopped short when she saw Nancy, already in the kitchen and looking worried at Amanda’s wild entrance.

            “No, no, it’s good, it’s something good. Food Wars, you know, the show with the restaurants that compete—they want to come here! To do us, us and Mimi’s. Food Wars!” She waited for Nancy’s response, biting her lip, fists clutched, a euphoric and probably goofy smile on her face. Because, Food Wars. Here!

            Nancy smiled back, but it was a confused smile, a little dubious. She did not look thrilled. Why did she not look thrilled? Amanda did not need doubts right now; she needed enthusiasm. She grabbed the older woman’s hands and squeezed them tightly. “They’re going to come here. And film us, and we will win a hundred thousand dollars, and everyone will know who we are and want to eat here, and Frannie’s will be famous.” She let go of Nancy’s hands and let her feet do the little dance they wanted so much to do, waving her arms in the air and shaking her hips. “Here, they’re coming here, they’re really coming here! And we will be huge.” She grinned. “Huge!”

            Once, long ago, that had been the plan for Frannie’s. Back then, the town had been bigger and the world felt smaller, and Daddy Frank—great-grandson of the original Frannie, and father to Amanda’s husband, Frank—was a leading figure in Merinac’s business scene, a restaurant owner and real estate magnate with big ideas. A Banquet chicken dinner in someone’s freezer or the sight of a Tippin’s potpie at Albertsons would send him into a lengthy monologue about his dream of sharing Frannie’s with the entire country, or at least the shoppers at major midwestern grocery stores. They all dreamed big along with him, back when the Franks had been in charge of the business plan, Nancy a capable and steady first mate, and Amanda a mother first, a student second, and a Frannie’s fill-in hostess and waitress only a distant third.