Outside the barbed wire and crudely built brick walls, parents were waiting. Cars, motorcycles, a few tricycles and bikes, feet, feet, feet. At Hebei No.7 Experimental High School, we had one weekend off every month. For the rest of the days, we studied and slept on campus. When the college entrance examination ended, half of our graduates would be accepted into top universities in China, defeating rivals from Beijing and Shanghai even with the preferential policy for residence.
Students flooded into the hallway as soon as the last class ended. Chen Ben was waiting outside my classroom. As usual, we chatted about his girls. “She flew all the way from Hong Kong,” Ben said, “just to see me.”
“What a pilgrim.”
“Her name is Spring,” he continued. “I bought her lunch. That’s all. My girlfriend at the time was mad at me. I don’t get it. Would you be mad if you were my girlfriend?”
He was waiting, so I lingered a little before I answered.
“You know,” I said, “you are not that innocent.”
“What do you mean?”
“It is not good for boys to be pretty. You get spoiled so easily.”
His laughter was drowned out by the tower bell. It was the last notice for students to leave. Startled pigeons flew across the wine-colored sky. Roofs and bricks were dyed rosy in the sunset. I watched Ben’s reflection in the blazing glow on the glass window behind him. He had long and curly eyelashes, casting shadows under his eyes with a subdued softness.
In ten minutes, the school gate would be closed. Whoever stayed behind would wait for another thirty days. Dad didn’t have time to pick me up. Ben asked if I needed him to walk me home.
“Next time.” I tilted my head. “I have a companion today.”
Near the iron gate stood a short girl, slouching under the loose school uniform, shifting from one foot to another. The school committee went out of the way to make us less attractive, and we ended up with the most hideous uniform. With ochre jackets and sweatpants covering her curves, the girl looked like a bag of potatoes.
Her name was Swallow. As I walked towards her, she opened her mouth, gasped, then closed in silence like a goldfish.
“Let’s go,” I said. “I’m starving.”
We walked past the gate. “Was that Chen Ben?” Swallow asked. “Are you guys close?”
“No,” I denied, giggling. “Not at all.”
“What were you talking about?” she asked.
“Oh, he wanted to walk me home. I said I was going with you.”
“Oh,” she said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know – I wasn’t –”
Swallow was always apologizing. I didn’t stop her. When we got on the bus, Swallow said, “I wish I could be more like you, Jade. You’ve got everything.”
“Trust me. You don’t want my life.”
I studied her expression as I spoke, trying to find a trace of something. She had a face like dough, pale and plain. Normally I didn’t mingle with girls not my kind, but Swallow and I lived in the same building. I wondered if she had heard something from my household. Noises or rumors. Something from last year, about my suicide attempt.
In the elevator, we said goodbye to each other. I took the silver bracelet off my left hand. The scar was visible. I didn’t cut too deep back then, but when it started to scab, I smeared red chili over my wrist to make the color last.
Mom was sitting by the plastic folding table when I entered. Dad carried steel plates out of the kitchen. “You’re cooking?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he said. “You only come home once a month.”
“No cilantro?” I asked as I looked down at the table. Dad said we had just run out. The kettle whistled and I poured tea for my parents. When I bent my wrist, the scar showed.
“How’s school?” Mom asked.
“Same.” At No.7 High School, students were divided into three different classes: average, advanced, and experimental. I was in the science experimental class. During midterm, I ranked second out of over one thousand.
“Your class advisor called,” Mom said. Teacher Tao would never leave me alone.
“What does she want?”
“Your hair,” Mom said. “Teacher Tao said every other girl in the experimental class cut their hair short. She made good points. Think about all the time you can save in showers.”
I used to practice tucking my hair in front of the mirror. I lifted my elbow, let my fingertips slide from the top to behind my ear, all the way down until I touched my collarbone. Sometimes I closed my eyes. I took time to enjoy my delicacy.
“I had the best grades among the girls,” I said.
“You are still the second, aren’t you?” Mom asked. “What’s his name, the boy who always ranks first? Li Jun? With extra time, you could have beaten him.”
I chewed, swallowed, and put down my chopsticks. I joined the theatre club and I wrote for the school newspaper, while Li Jun faked coughing in physical education class so he could sit aside to do his math homework.
“Let the kid eat,” Dad said. “No man’s marrying her for her grades.”
I told them I was going out tomorrow to help Chen Ben with his biology.
“Isn’t he from an average class?” Mom asked. “Teacher Tao said you hang out too much with the grassroots.”
“He’s Ming’s cousin,” I said.
“Can’t you just let him copy your homework?” Mom asked. “So you don’t have to waste time on explaining.”
Later that night, Dad came to my room, asking if I needed pocket money. I nodded reluctantly, pouting my lips. He pulled his wallet out. “Have fun,” he said. I hugged him.
“We have never wanted you to do anything big,” he said. “We just want you to live a comfortable life. Safe, and happy.”
He closed the door and I pulled out my phone. I texted Chen Ming, my boyfriend. Puppy love was strictly forbidden in most Chinese high schools, but my parents liked the idea of me being with Ming. He was an upperclassman and studying computer science at UC-Berkeley. With a good diploma, he would have a good salary, a car, a house, and hopefully my hand. Ming texted back. I didn’t reply.
* * *
“To prevent polyspermy, a cortical reaction is triggered when the first sperm reaches the egg. The release of calcium ions will cause the cortical granules inside the egg to fuse with the plasma membrane, which produces the enzymes to digest the zona pellucida, making it unable to bind more sperm.”
“You know,” Ben said, “when you said we are going to study biology, I didn’t really expect us to be studying biology.”
“What were you expecting?” I asked.
“I thought it was one of the excuses you told your parents,” he said, “to get out.”
“I’m not a liar like you,” I said. Ben leaned forward, laughing. My phone buzzed and I reached into my pocket. Ming tagged me under a love song video. I replied, telling him I fell asleep last night. After all, we were twelve hours apart. You sleep a lot, Ming replied. I told him I had to. I’m still growing, I said.
Which part? Ming asked.
You’ll see when you come back in the summer, I said.
Across the round wooden table, Ben smiled at his phone screen. He played the video and moved it closer to my ear. His wrist touched my hair.
“Cousin Ming,” Ben said. “I do miss him sometimes. How’s he doing?”
His voice was soft, almost humming the tune. When we talked of relationships, it was always about Ben: his girlfriends, dates, admirers. For most of the time I smiled, allowing him to go on and impress me. I kept my past to myself, and Ben brought up Ming’s name more frequently, enthusiastic about our match. “When you and he get married,” Ben said, “I’ll pick a wedding gift for you. What do you want?”
“I want more than you can give,” I said, turning my head to the French window. We were sitting in a café right across the street from campus. Why did we pick a place so close to school? I was not sure, but we were both good-looking, we dressed nicely, and we almost wanted to be seen together, to have our coexistence questioned by our acquaintances.
Until we were officially introduced at Ming’s family party, Ben and I had never spoken to each other even though his classroom was next to mine. Many times Ben had passed my window with a basketball under his arm, panting in a black shirt and a white headband, holding energy drinks some girls handed him. Many times his teacher had printed my essays as samples, asking students to read out loud in class, and I could hear my own words being spoken on the other side of the wall. Perhaps if either of us was less than what we were, we would have nodded or smiled. At No.7 High School, ranking was the one and only law. Ben didn’t have the grades to talk to me, even though he was tall, robust, walking against the light like a young god.
It was all about competition. Every month there were exams. All students’ grades were listed on the bulletin board from highest to lowest. Every point could result in our places changing. Classes started at 7AM and ended at 10PM. No one left their seats during breaks. All we could hear was the rustle between pens and paper, like silkworms devouring the last mulberry leaf. Every year, at least one student jumped off the school roof, splattering onto the empty yard at the heart of the campus. It became part of the No.7 experience to hear the ambulance siren soaring through night.
“It has something to do with Feng Shui,” Ben said. He pointed at the school buildings outside the window. I asked him to explain.
“You see how those four buildings are arranged?” he asked. “They are in a square, and in the middle is the yard. If you look down from above, the buildings will look like a character: mouth（口）. With students in the buildings, we put people（人）in the mouth（口）, and we have the character of prisoner（囚）. Can’t you see, Jade? We are trapped.”
For a moment he stared at me, searching in my eyes for something I couldn’t give. My phone buzzed again and I quickly pulled it out. It was not Ming, but an unknown number:
How did you do it?
I frowned. I was going to delete it, but the second message showed up on my screen:
The Ally said you succeeded.
The Ally. I stopped, and the third, the fourth, the fifth messages came in: Teach me your ways. I’m running out of time. How did you get rid of it?
* * *
“The best gift a wife can give her husband is her virginity.”
On the projector, Teacher Tao played video lectures. The theme of our weekly class meeting was Virtue. I doodled in my textbook. Just when I was adding moles to Confucius’ face, Teacher Tao called my name.
“Jade, what do you think of the lecture?”
Always. Whenever we talked about virginity and self-respect, my name was mentioned. I remembered the days when I used to blush. “It was interesting,” I said.
“Do you agree with the lecture?” Teacher Tao asked.
“No, not really,” I answered.
“Why is that? Don’t you plan to give this gift to your husband?”
“Oh, I just thought it’s a little unfair,” I said. “Virginity is like a one-time thing, right? It’s like a disposable gift. If I were the husband, I’d want something everlasting, like diamond rings.”
Some boys giggled. The rest of the students didn’t know how to react, so they sat in silence. I watched Teacher Tao’s face turning red. Too bad she could not kick me out of her class. At No.7, a teacher’s performance was measured directly through the college admission rate of the class. Since I was one of the best students at No.7, losing me would be a great deduction in her bonus.
Deep in my uniform pocket, my phone buzzed. Phones were not allowed on campus, but I carried it anyway. At No.7 there was no tattletale. No one would even wake me up if I fell asleep on the desk. The less time I spent studying meant my classmates had a greater chance to get ahead of me.
As soon as the meeting was over, I reached for my pocket, sliding the phone into my loose uniform sleeves. Was it another message from The Ally? Before I left their group chat, I did brag about mission completed. I should have known better, but I was too young last year. Now I regretted showing off. People were coming for free advice, and I had no time for them.
But the text was from Swallow. She asked if I could introduce her to Chen Ben. If it was not too much trouble. A movie was coming out next month. She could get three tickets. And popcorn.
I put the phone aside, letting her cool down for a couple of hours, or days, but it buzzed again. Gosh, Swallow. I glanced at the screen, ready to be impatiently amused, but it was not her. It said:
How did you do it? Did you drug your Mom? Did you push her down the stairs?
I blocked the number. There. No more hauntings. The scar on my left arm stung a little. A part of me wished that I could have said yes to these questions. It would sound so much cooler than cutting my own wrist.
I remembered the date I joined the group chat of The Anti-Secondborn Ally. It was one week after the Shame Day, October 29th, 2015, when China announced the ending of the one-child policy. From that day, each family could have two children.
All members in The Ally were firstborns, mostly teens. The first message I saw after I joined the chat was a picture of a bulging belly. “Four months now,” said littlecherry530. “She is 47, but my dad knelt, begging her to bear a son.”
Someone named endofsky replied immediately, “You can do it. She’s old. It’s easy to cause the miscarriage. Argue with her every day, make a scene, keep her mad. If that’s not working, shove her in the heat of an argument. Just make it natural.”
Every day we talked, asking for advice, pumping each other up. Where can I get mifepristone? Put a camera in their bedroom. Does it taste different if I add it in her tea? I’m eleven. Break in when they are doing it. Shock can cause impotence. Can I get away if I smother someone by accident?
“You can do it,” said hellokittyxoxo, the organizer of The Ally. “I did it. When I found out that my mom was pregnant, I told my parents as soon as the baby was born, I would throw it out of the window. They beat me, of course, but I repeated the same sentence every morning for five months and 17 days, and they gave in. My mom got an abortion.”
Never let the second be born. They took away what belonged to us. A share of love when our parents lived, a share of inheritance when our parents died. My mom brought up the topic over breakfast, informing me that I would have a younger sibling in eight months. She talked while chewing. I said I didn’t want siblings. She said she didn’t want my opinion.
For a whole month, I read every single word of the group chat, weighing the consequence of each suggestion. In the end I sat in the hot tub, staring at the ticking of the clock. Ten minutes before my dad got home from work, I cut my wrist open. I closed my eyes, submerging myself in the scarlet and tumbling water.
Dad must have been terrified. He held me tight as he pulled me out of the tub, so tight we were almost inseparable. He drove me to the hospital. No ambulance was called. Suicide was fatal for a family’s name, so I kept it quiet and decent. No screaming on the windowsill. No sound of gunfire. It was just me: wet, bloody, naked.
Not all the red color came from me. Most was chicken blood from the farmers’ market. I kept my eyes shut and listened. The doctors said it was lucky that I missed the main artery. After opening my eyes, I didn’t talk for days. Whenever Dad approached me, I tugged at his sleeve, staring at him with silent tears.
Mom told me it was enough. “You need to get normal again,” she said. “I’m tired of making excuses to Teacher Tao about why you are not at school.” I glanced at her, then tucked myself into the blanket. She had some notion about what I was doing, and I wanted her to know she was right. From her, I learnt about every mistake a woman could make in marriage: complaining, yelling, cursing, smashing fine china and cleaning up the mess later, alone.
Two weeks later, my parents went to the hospital. The pregnancy was ended. When they came back, I ran to hug my mom. “I love you so, so much,” I said. She pushed me aside. I backed off. After I closed my door, I sent the first message in the group chat:
I did it.
* * *
Half of the students in the experimental class had stomach illness. There was never enough time to eat, so we either wolfed food down or skipped meals. As soon as the lunch bell rang, students flooded to the dining hall like a locust plague. It was hard to outrun the starving boys, so I brought snacks. During the 6th class break, I chewed a red bean bun in my seat, letting my taste buds savor the sweetness.
Teacher Tao showed up from behind, grabbing the bun from my hands. “No food in the classroom,” she said. “The smell will disturb your classmates.”
She threw the bun into the trashcan. I lay my head on the desk. The acid burnt inside. The hunger was eating my stomach. I reached under my desk and held onto the iron stand. When the next break came, I turned around, asking if I could borrow a jacket.
Li Jun stared at me, mouth half open. I had hardly ever talked to him, although his seat was right behind me. “Please,” I murmured, “I am cold. Feel it.”
I leaned my fingertips on his cheek, then moved away, gentle like the landing of butterflies. Li Jun gave me his jacket. I curled under it. When another class ended, he came to my desk, asking if I felt warmer. I shook my head.
“It doesn’t feel that cold to me,” he said.
“Guys are stronger,” I said, gasping a little. He asked if I was okay. I told him my stomach hurt. “Oh,” he said. “My mom always says that brown sugar is good for the stomach. You should ask your mom to cook brown sugar and ginger soup for you, you know?”
I touched my lips with an index finger. He quickly stopped, almost blushing. I grabbed his hand and put it against my stomach. He blushed more. I closed my eyes, lying on the desk again, holding his hand. He tried to swallow saliva without making sound.
Teacher Tao broke in. At No.7, there was a peek-hole on every classroom door for teachers to get hold of students’ behavior. She pointed her finger at me, trembling, and Li Jun flinched away. When she finally caught her breath, Teacher Tao asked, “How dare you?”
I told her I didn’t understand.
“What were you doing?” she asked. “You and Jun –”
“My stomach hurts when I skip meals,” I said.
“You think you are smart,” Teacher Tao said, “but I saw through you long ago. I could smell the sluttiness in your bones, no matter how hard you hide. I can’t imagine what you will end up being in your life.”
“Who knows,” I said. “Maybe a high school class advisor.”
The whole classroom was dead quiet. “Don’t you ever go near the boys,” Teacher Tao said. “Don’t you dare distract them again. They have a future.”
“I have a future too.” I stood up from my seat. “I am tired of your double standards. How about this? If I rank first in the final, you will apologize to me.”
She didn’t answer, and I continued, “If not, I’ll cut my hair short.”
I sat down. Beneath two layers of uniform jackets, my heart pounded. Teacher Tao didn’t know how to react, naturally, but I had rehearsed the face-off in my head many times before. The adrenaline rush was addictive.
At dinner break Ben found me. “I heard about your little bet with the class advisor,” he said. With the routine life at No.7, any news could be breaking.
“Which side are you betting on?” I asked.
“You are family, Jade,” he said. “All I can say is: you will look good even with short hair.”
Defeating Li Jun was something that had never been done. Although our rankings were close, his scores were way above mine with full points in almost every subject. He was the gold trophy in Teacher Tao’s collection.
“You are such a gambler,” Ben said to me. I was never a gambler. I always calculated the risk. With a curling index finger I beckoned to Ben. He leaned forward, breathing slowly over my head. I pulled out my phone to show him Swallow’s text. “What do you say?” I asked.
He pulled back. The residue of warmth in my hair quickly vanished. “It depends,” he said. “Is she cute?”
* * *
Mom was out for the weekend. “Business trip,” Dad said. He cooked spicy beef tendons with lots of cilantro. It was my favorite three years ago. I pushed my plate away.
“Can’t Mom go some other time?” I asked. “I thought she would miss me.”
Dad said he was sorry. Of course Mom missed me.
“Do you need pocket money?” he asked.
I shook my head gloomily but he insisted. Just when I was about to give in and accepted his generosity, we heard a knock on the door.
Swallow was knitting a scarf for Chen Ben, and she came for advice on the color. “White,” I said. “The color of sleeping lotus reminds me of you.”
The color of dough. The color of rice. The color of colorless. Swallow blushed a little and smiled. She looked around and asked, “What are you going to do for the final?”
“Study, I guess.”
“What if you lose?” she asked. “Oh Jade, why would you bet your hair?”
I sighed. Swallow clenched her fists. She looked around again, then whispered to me, “Have I told you that my uncle is a chemistry teacher at No.7? I could try to – get his passwords, you know? I might access the tests –”
She really thought of me as her friend. I didn’t have much experience with the kindness from my own gender, and it was overwhelming. I stared at Swallow too hard. She stopped in the middle of her sentence. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I wasn’t –”
“Thank you,” I said softly. “But it’s about my dignity. Sometimes we have to fight wars that we are destined to lose.”
It was such a great line. Swallow must have been worshipping me. After she left, I threw Li Jun’s jacket into the washing machine. He was one of the few who stayed on campus during the days off, and I had offered to wash his jacket since I wore it so often. Before I returned the jacket to him, I sprayed a little perfume on the collar.
* * *
On the last day of the semester, our final grades were out. Students crowded in front of the bulletin board: panting, calling, gossiping, crying. When I walked near, students split automatically to make way for me. I stopped in front of the board, then I reached behind my head, one hand grabbing the ponytail, the other hand taking off the rubber band.
Right at the top was my name. I was the new crowned queen at No.7. Under the gaze of the crowd, I took all the time I needed to flip my hair. I could hear my name whispered by students, over and over again like a chant.
I turned around. I walked across the empty lot, then into the administration building. At the end of the hallway was Teacher Tao’s office. She was sitting behind piles of papers when I entered. Li Jun stood in the corner, head dropped like a child being scolded. His body twitched a little at the sight of me, but I decided not to notice. It was his decision to leave the last page of math test blank, not mine.
“What do you want?” Teacher Tao asked.
“Just to thank you,” I said, “for another semester.”
When the tower bell rang, I grabbed my backpack and suitcase from the dorm. Outside on the steps I ran into Ben. He lifted his fingers, adjusting the white scarf on his neck. “Any plans tonight?” he asked.
Ming made me promise to call him. I asked Ben if he was doing anything fun.
“My parents are out,” he said. “Swallow is coming over.”
“Sounds lovely,” I said. Dad’s car drove into my sight, and I waved goodbye to Ben. When I got in the front passenger seat, I threw my arms around Dad, then I slid down to hold his left hand while his right hand rested on the steering wheel. On his sleeve, I could smell cigarettes and aftershave. I told him I ranked first in the final while playing with his wedding ring. I took it off and tried it on my finger, then put it back on him.
“I’m so proud,” Dad said. I asked him if we could stop at the ice-cream shop on the way home, as a reward. He hesitated, “Not today, Jade.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Well, we actually have news for you, when we get home.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“I guess,” he avoided my eyes, “it’s better for your mom to tell you.”
“Can you give me a hint?” I asked, eyes wide to look innocent, but Dad pulled his hand out of my arms. I sank into the seat with a strong sense of foreboding. Inside the bumpy car, the smell of gasoline made me sick.
We stopped the car, walked into the elevator, and unlocked the door. Mom was bending over the dinner table when we entered. She turned around with hands on the back of her waist. And I saw it. Underneath her blouse, the bulging belly.
“You are having a little brother,” Mom said. “Aren’t you excited, Jade?”
I stared at her, slowly pieced everything together. No cilantro. Business trip. My parents waited until the prenatal examination, when the fetus was grown enough to tell the gender. Doctors were not allowed to reveal the gender in China. If it was a girl, they would say a long list of the sweetest things: your baby was healthy, was strong, well-developed. If a boy, they would simply say, “Congrats.”
Mom walked up to Dad, leaning against his shoulder and smiling radiantly. I tried hard not to shake. “You know how I feel about this,” I said, lifting my left wrist. I felt stupid when I did it, but I could not think of anything else.
“Oh please,” Mom said. “Enough with the drama.”
She looked at me with loving contempt. I was never her rival, just a teenage girl, young, bluffing, pathetic. Her motherhood was finally completed, with a son to bring her power. I turned to Dad. “Please,” I murmured. “I beg you.”
“You are a big girl, Jade,” he said. “You need to understand—”
I understood now. He was her accomplice. The real reason of the abortion last time was the gender of the fetus. It was a girl. They didn’t want a girl. They didn’t want another me. They were liars. He was a liar. I realized I hated him more than her. I was never enough without a penis. It was a war destined to be lost.
My chest was burning. I bent over and started retching. Mom looked at me from above. For an odd second, her face overlapped with Teacher Tao, every wrinkle, every age spot: You thought you were smart. I saw through you long ago. What other tricks did you have?
The kettle whistled. Dad went into the kitchen. Life went on. Yet I wanted a storm. I wanted a fire. I wanted something to wipe out the future. Mom turned her back on me. I stared at the sharp corner of the table. My hands were shaking. I could hear the air whispering to me: Push her. You can do it. One push and it will be over.
But I backed off. I didn’t do it. I was too much of a coward. I stumbled out of the door, making a lot of noises. No one stopped me. I wandered in the darkness, cold, abandoned. Ming’s call came in and I hung up. He sent texts, one after another. Why aren’t you picking up? You are supposed to call me. Are you taking our relationship seriously?
I took the bus. I leaned my cheek against the dirty glass window. At the thirteenth stop I got off. I walked into an apartment and knocked on the door of 201. I could hear the rustling inside. “It’s fine,” I yelled. “It’s just me.”
The door opened. Ben was buttoning up his shirt. “Jade, why?”
“Did I come at a bad time?” I asked.
He softened when he saw the tear stains on my face. For a second he almost sighed, then he moved sideways to let me in.
“Jade?” Swallow came towards us. She glanced back and forth between Ben and me. Her cheeks were red, eyes watery. Even I had to admit she looked sweet. She had the sort of innocence that I could only dream of.
“Ben told me you two were here,” I said.
Technically it was not a lie. Swallow looked at Ben but he didn’t explain. He asked if I wanted hot water and went into the kitchen before I answered. Swallow sat down near me. She tried to start small talk like a hostess. “Congratulations. I heard you ranked first.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“They said that Li Jun let you win intentionally. I think he has a crush on you, Jade. Sometimes I think you could have any boy you want.”
“Any boy?” I asked, and Swallow quieted down. Ben came back with a mug. He put it in my hands. My fingertips started to warm, then my wrist, my arm. I was breathing normally again.
“So, what do you guys want to do?” Ben asked as he laid on the couch.
“How about a game?” I suggested. “It’s called Truth or Lie.”
“Oh, I’ve played it before.” He laughed. “I call it a relationship.”
“Then you’re a pro.” I turned to Swallow. “We need alcohol though. Will you grab the beer? It’s in the refrigerator. Not the one in the kitchen, but on the balcony.”
I had been here before, with Ming. Swallow said she couldn’t drink. I passed my mug to her. “You can do water if you want,” I said.
Like any drinking game, the rules were easy. One would tell two stories, and the others would guess which was the lie. Ben started first. “Well,” he said, “there was this girl named Spring. She flew all the way from Taiwan to—”
“Lie,” I said. “Hong Kong. Not Taiwan.”
“I’m never gonna win,” Ben said. “You know my life too well.”
He took a sip of beer and I laughed. “Who’s going next?” I asked. “Swallow?”
“Oh,” she said. “I’m not—I’m not ready yet.”
“Take your time,” I said. “I’ll go. The first one is: I once met a talking cat.”
“That’s too easy,” Ben said. “Please, Jade. Give us a good one.”
“Fine, here’s the second one,” I said. “Swallow, the only reason we keep you around is to kill time. We made fun of you all along.”
The room was silent I watched Swallow as she started to shiver violently. She stood up and ran out the door. Soon she would be wandering in the darkness.
“Damn it!” Ben said. “Why would you say that?”
“You never let me finish my first story,” I said. “I did once meet a talking cat, in my dream. That one is the truth.”
“Cut it out,” he said. “You just wanted to hurt her. Are you satisfied now?”
I nodded. He was accusing me, but he stayed here, with me, instead of going after her. Could I call it my victory? I stared at my hands. They were soft and clean, like any sixteen-year-old girl’s.
“Why?” Ben continued. “Answer me.”
I didn’t reply. I stared at my hands more, and suddenly tears dropped on my palms, dampening my curvy lifelines. For a second I sat still, confused, like I had lost control of the water inside me. I tried to hold it back but I couldn’t. My shoulders started shaking. Suppressed sobs came out of my chest like a wounded cub.
Ben sighed. “Come, I’ll walk you home.”
Di Bei is from Beijing, China. She is a first-year MFA fiction student at Boise State University. She holds a B.S in biology from Randolph College in Virginia. Her first Chinese YA novel is coming out in August 2019.