The Bad Project

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Chapter 29. Marianne and Liu at the Restaurant/Marianne

I wonder if I can turn Liu on just by how I act, without saying a word, Marianne thought, following up on her late night thoughts after the clubbing about how she really felt towards him. He’s bossy but I’m still attracted to him sometimes. Maybe he and I are really supposed to be together. It’s worth giving a try. I’ll just touch his arm and smile. Maybe look down. He’s waiting for me—the stairs, swing my hips and my hair just slightly as I go up. I hear him breathing now. Let me catch my heel on this little rug at the top and grab his arm. Catch his eye and smile. Ahh. He’s getting that look again. Liu is good looking for a Chinese man; it’s nice to go out with him. What if he was a different kind of guy, one I really couldn’t resist?

He whispers to the waiter in Chinese and we get a great table, near where the Dim Sum carts come out. That’s good, all the food will be hot and fresh. He’s telling me about his Asian history class. Not very interesting. I’ll look down and wait, then smile when he pauses. Oh, here are some shiu mai. I’ll bite down daintily into one, say mmm. It’s exploding with salty shrimp flavor. I think about shrimp swimming and move my shoulders a little. He’s looking hot.

The Char Su Bao are coming out now. I beckon the delivery woman over with a graceful wave. How lucky my folks made me take ballet! Wow, look at those buns. They’re so big and round. Liu bites into his with a king-sized chomp. He’s getting an appetite. A scent of spicy peppers, vinegar, honey, wafts over the table. I take a tiny bite first, just the dough, and put it down. Drink a sip of green tea, savor the fresh taste. I use the chopsticks to bring the bun back up and take another bite, this time reaching the barbeque core. Liu’s watching me hungrily. I put it down with a smooth gesture, chew slowly. I shiver. Liu has finished one and takes another with his chopsticks. He eats almost a third of it with one bite.

We decide not to have dessert. It’s hard for me to turn down the Dan Tarts, but I need to watch my weight. And it helps the image I’m projecting to eat a tiny amount. They bring Liu fortune cookies with the check. He offers me the plate first. Then he gets me to open it. I read to myself, “A plea for help will turn into an enchanting escapade.” I smile and won’t read it aloud to Liu, fold it into my pocket.

Liu reads his aloud, “Things are not always what they seem.” He sat there staring at the table for a minute. The excitement disappeared. Shit, I’m almost sure he’s thinking about Saturday night, when he caught me returning from that club. Oh, no, is he going to try to make me into a Chinese pushover again?

“Things are not always as they seem,” he repeated heavily, throwing a $20 bill on the table and getting up to leave.

She followed him downstairs and out to the car. He opened the door for her, glowering. “What’s wrong with you, Liu?”

“You look Chinese,” Liu said. “But sometimes you don’t act Chinese. Like last Saturday. The question is, what’s wrong with you?”

“Fuck you! I’m not Chinese, I’m American and nothing gives you the right to control my life!” It calmed her to brush her hair, so she got out her hairbrush as he pulled the car away from the curb.

Liu had swelled up; his leather jacket made his muscles look scary. “Nothing?” he said. “There’s nothing between us? What about ‘fuck you’, Miss America? At the Asian American retreat? So long ago you don’t remember back that far, about two weeks ago?”

“So what?” Marianne said. “We’re Americans, Liu. Americans don’t make any fuss over fucking. It’s no big deal. And Sharon said you’re experienced, so don’t act like I ruined your life.” She snapped the brush through her long hair. The strands stood out with electricity.

“Sisters! Sharon doesn’t have a clue. And it’s none of your business what I did before, the question is, what about us?”

“Nothing, there’s nothing to say. We’re not engaged, we’re not going together, we had sex once. Shit, why can’t you understand that? I never said anything else.”

“Marianne, you make me so angry it’s hard to talk to you at all.” Liu parked the car alongside a greenbelt and looked at Marianne. “I don’t feel that way. Let me try to be calm. I feel more towards you than that. I think I,…”

“No you don’t.” Marianne said. “Don’t even say the word. Liu, you don’t know the real me at all. You’re trying to fit me into that cookie cutter image you have of your girlfriend, but I won’t fit. We don’t belong…”

“Yes we do. We all want to grow up all at once, drink, dance, have fun. But once you’ve encountered the motherfuckers out there in the real world, you won’t be able to get back from the brink. You’ll be ruined. You’re so special now, why would you want to do that?”

She looked at Liu and wondered about what he’d said. Had he found out about the Bad Project somehow? Only Crystal knew, and surely she wouldn’t tell Liu, of all people. Crystal didn’t trust him; she’d made that clear. The things he’d mentioned were part of the Bad Project, but they were things he’d seen. That’s all, probably.

His head was bowed. His hands were clasped in front of him almost as if he were praying. Marianne said, “Liu, I don’t feel like that about you. You’re my mentor’s brother, and that’s very meaningful to me. But I don’t want you for my boyfriend.”

“You’re the one who doesn’t understand. Stay with me, Marianne. You always say you’re not Chinese. You need to understand. A lot of bad things come from ignoring Chinese ways. I’m trying to get free from an American gang in Monterey Park. But they don’t want to let me go. Don’t make it harder for me!”

Marianne felt bad for Liu, and she had guilty feelings about using him in her Bad Project. She didn’t want to make it hard for him to quit the gang. She sat silently in the car, looking down. “Liu, I just…” She stopped. There was nothing she could say that wouldn’t hurt his feelings. He started the car and drove her back to the dorm.

He said, “Okay, I won’t press you for an answer now. But Marianne, don’t cut me off. I need you, I need you to help me and I need you to—never mind.”


he squeezed his right hand gently and jumped out of the car, rushed into the residence hall.

Marianne fumbled with the key to the room, finally got the door unlocked, walked in, weighted down with worry. Crystal wasn’t there. She got out her journal and began to write, pouring out her guilt about drawing him in for her Bad Project. She thought back and wondered if he was trying everything he knew, making her feel that guilt, so she wouldn’t break up with him. She hated to think that he was trying to make her do what he wanted, calculating how to do that.

A wave of anger made her write furiously, piling all of her anger at Liu’s probable manipulation of her emotions out onto the pages. But then, she stopped again to think. Was he really like that? Maybe he really cared for her. After ten minutes of pondering, she wrote about her concern for him and the feelings that seemed like possibly something beyond mere friendship to her, a wish that he could succeed in extracting himself from the gang, and do well at school. Her journal entry ended with, “If Liu wasn’t so pushy toward me, didn’t treat me so much like a baby, how would I really feel about him?”

She had no answer to that question.

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