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Chapter Thirty Seven

After returning from the lab, A Li lay on her bed propped against the headboard, watching the blue digital numbers on her clock mark the progression of time. Her body cried out for sleep, but her brain would not allow it—too much had happened.

The events in the lab played in her mind like a movie. The attack by the Bai Hua Bing ran in slow motion. She watched in exquisite detail and relived her panic. As he came at her, she swung the thermos and then stabbed him. He collapsed on the floor of the lab, red foam on his lips, and died at her feet. The slow motion terror dissolved and a love scene played through a soft-focus lens as Tanay entered the lab. In the darkness of her bedroom, A Li again felt his first gentle kiss on her lips and their second, more exciting kiss. Soon, her sister joined in, expressing her anger. A Li wanted to stop the movie, savor Tanay’s kisses and skip everything else, but it was a loop and the images started over again with the Bai Hua Bing coming after her.

A Li reached for her laptop on the nightstand. She switched it on and the glow of the screen cast a small circle of silver light around her. She looked at the titles of the dozens of scientific files she had copied and thought about what this information would be worth in China.

You can’t do this. It’s wrong, and you can’t come back if you do.

She turned off the computer and returned it to her nightstand.

The first hint of light appeared in her window at 5:45 a.m., three hours after she crawled into bed. Before she finally dozed off, she thought about Pa Lags and A Ma, and how lonely she had always been as a child. A Li wondered how her life might have been different if she had a real sister.

It was only 11:00 a.m. A Li’s flight to Beijing didn’t depart for another four and a half hours, but Professor Chen wanted to take her to the airport early. A Li felt like she had sand in her eyes. She struggled to stay awake in the car while the Professor conducted a one-sided conversation. Usually a man of few words, her host had a special message for her before her departure. Driving down the freeway to LAX, he spoke with enthusiasm about China and America, about how both countries were great, expressing his pride as a Chinese living in America. A full professor in the Chemical Engineering Department, he told A Li she should be proud to be attending CU, a center of research and learning with a worldwide reputation. He told her she should be especially grateful to be working with Dr. Murray, the famous genetic researcher.

Just as she was about to doze off, Professor Chen asked, “When do you expect to return?”

A Li yawned. “It depends on Pa Lags’ health.”

“I’m sure Dr. Murray wants you back as soon as possible.”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

A call on Professor Chen’s cell phone interrupted the conversation. He listened for a moment, and then said, “I’ll tell her.” He put his phone in his shirt pocket, slowed the car and moved into the right-hand exit lane. “That was my wife. You’ve forgotten your laptop, it’s in still in your bedroom.” He looked at his watch. “We have time to go back.”

“No, it’s OK. I don’t need it,” A Li said. “I can do without it untilI return.”

Professor Chen moved into the left lane and sped up.

When they stopped at the International Departures terminal, Professor Chen took A Li’s small suitcase out of the trunk and helped her shoulder her backpack. “I hope for the best for your father,” he said and clasped her hand. “Let me know when you are returning. I will try to pick you up.”

“Thank you,” A Li said. “You and your wife have been very kind. I’ll be back as soon as I can. I have so much to do.”

She didn’t watch Professor Chen drive away. She was anxious to check in and call Tanay.

Sister, I have found someone. Do not be angry. We will share him.

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