Authors: Emmy Laybourne
The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you for your personal use only. You may not make this e-book publicly available in any way.
Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author's copyright, please notify the publisher at:
There she was. Sitting at her desk, one skinny leg crossed over the other, expensive jeans tucked into scuffed knee-high boots. A ratty Indian tunic, supposed to make her seem earthy somehow. Texting some boy on her phone. Li Jing could catch the side of her face and see her mouth was twisted in a clever smile. They all took such pains to be clever, the English majors.
the door and Penny jumped, her feet coming down square.
“Jesus, what's your problem?”
There was a brief hitch in her roommate's expression of remote distainâa second of fluster. Penny noticed the loaded file box in Li Jing's arms. Her research.
“Why did you tell?!” Li Jing yelled. She stomped into the room and set the box down by the window.
“I didn't!” Penny answered. Then a pause, as she set down her phone, “And anyway, if I had, that was my right. Carolann showing up here all the time. In the middle of the night? It was creepy!”
“They expelled me!”
Li Jing should never, never have told Penny about her research.
It was in a moment of stupid pride, back in the second month of the school year when they were both trying to make the best of their mandatory freshmen roommate assignment.
Penny had won an award in poetry and was boasting about it. An award in
Li Jing must have rolled her eyes, because Penny had said, “You know, Li Jing, poetry does just as much for people as medicine.”
Li Jing couldn't help herself. “The compound I am working on,” she had boasted, “will change millions and millions of lives.”
And when Penny had snorted in disbelief, Li Jing had told Penny everything. About the natural sweetness of the compound. About the obese mice that were losing weight with no organ damage, no loss of appetite, and no brain damage or dehydration or muscle loss or any other negative symptoms usually associated with rapid weight loss. About the fact that her thesis advisor, the pinched-face Professor Hewitt, who never got excited about anything, had told her to keep her project very, very secret. Penny had flounced out of the room, saying that Li Jing just didn't get it.
That was the end of the friendly time. Li Jing spent most of her time in the lab, anyway. She didn't need to have friends over. She didn't need a place to sit and daydream and make doodles of flowers and cubes while “waiting for the words to come”. Li Jing returned to the room only to sleepâand Penny often slept elsewhere with one boyfriend or another.
It had been an uneasy truce, but they had almost made it to the end of the year. Then Carolann had started showing up at the door. Li Jing's test subject, Carolann.
“Well, I'm sorry, Li Jing.” Penny always over-pronounced the J and G, making it sound like the first syllable of the word “jingle.” “But I don't care how genius your research is, you can't test some drug you are making up on an actual human being!”
“She was desperate for it. She was happy to have it.”
“People are desperate for crack cocaine, but we don't go selling it to them!” Penny had returned to her texting. Li Jing wanted to smack the phone out of her hands.
“She has lost sixty pounds in just over six weeks! With no side effects.”
Penny stopped, her mouth open.
“You've been giving her that stuff for
HowÂ â¦ how big was she before?”
Carolann was a morbidly obese, middle-aged manicurist from the strip mall a few blocks off campus. Li Jing had been stocking up on ramen at the convenience store when she had seen Carolann for the first time. Carolann had bought an Arizona iced tea and a pack of strawberry Zingers. She had thinning hair, wore too much makeup, and was obviously a townie. Li Jing's first thought was that she'd make a perfect test subject.
So she had followed Carolann out of the store and watched her go into Supreme Nails.
Li Jing had never had a manicure in her life, but she went right in. Eight dollars, plus two for a tip, but whatever. Carolann had tutted over Li Jing's short, brittle fingernails and her cracked fingertips.
“I wear latex gloves almost every day,” Li Jing had explained. “For my work in the lab.”
Carolann had expressed only a mild, polite interest, but it was a start. For three weeks after, Li Jing had gone to get her nails done. She'd learned that Carolann lived alone and watched a lot of TV. She didn't seem to have many friends. And when Li Jing started talking about the compound, and the effects she was seeing in the lab, Carolann got very, very interested.
Li Jing had started her on twenty-five milligrams three times a day, but Carolann had taken it upon herself to increase the dosage, which meant that her weight loss accelerated and she kept running out of the packets of the compound, then coming around, asking for more.
Penny hadn't liked that. Not one bit. She hadn't liked people seeing a fat, working-class loser showing up at the door of their dorm room.
Li Jing fished out the dusty suitcase from under her bed and started emptying dresser drawers into it.
“I can't believe you were testing something you made up in a lab on a real, actual person. I mean, there have to be laws against it, Li Jing. Really, you brought this on yourself.”
Penny was eying Li Jing's dresser thoughtfully. Li Jing could almost see her planning how to redecorate the room. The school would doubtlessly let her play out the last month of the semester with no roommate.
Penny would migrate her pretentious poetry slam posters and her art prints over to the blank walls on Li Jing's side of the room. She would take the two twin beds on iron bed stands and push them together into a double. She'd have boys over. Meanwhile, Li Jing's life was ruined.
“No one will take me for a PhD now,” Li Jing said. “Because you tattled on me, my career is through. I want you to know this.”
“You don't know that I was the one who told!”
Li Jing had insisted that Carolann not come on campus. She'd explained that what they were doing was against the rules and they could get in trouble, but when Carolann began to drop weight, she kept wanting to talk to Li Jing about it. To show off. She went from 251 pounds to 240 within two weeks. Then she showed up, knocking at the door, maybe a week later at 227. Then she came to the dining hall looking for Li Jing at around 191 pounds, her clothes hanging off her, along with folds of loose skin.
Penny had obviously put it together.
“Yes. You did it. You're the only one who knew.” Li Jing glared at her as she threw the few clothes she had hanging in the closet into the suitcase and zipped it shut.
“Oh, God! Okay, I did it! I told Professor Stead, okay? Carolann was scary. I was worried she might attack me!”
“You're a liar! And a coward! Don't you knowâ¦”
“Don't I know what?”
Li Jing's fists were in balls. “Don't you know that if you're going to do anythingÂ â¦ anything great or important or new, that you have to take risks?!”
Penny stood. She tossed her mass of fluffy, wavy hair over her shoulder. “Risks? You could be killing that woman. Maybe you need to be a little more concerned with people than you are with achieving great things, Li Jing. Maybe
what you need to learn from this.”
“Yeah, yeah. Go write a poem about it,” Li Jing muttered.
“Maybe I will!”
Then there was a sound at the door and Li Jing's father walked in.
Li Jing saw his grim expression, his silent rage, and tears sprang to her eyes. She felt herself trembling. For a second, she thought about the glass in the window. She thought about breaking it and jumping out. But they were two floors up. That was stupid.
Chang Wu had brought empty boxes. He was a liquor deliveryman and always had them in the back of his van. He always had liquor in the van too, and now there was liquor on his breath.
Penny stood there awkwardly, eyes darting between the father in the door and Li Jing, near the window.
“I'll give you guys some room,” Penny said politically. “I guess I'llÂ â¦ see you around.”
Penny pocketed her cell phone, grabbed her purse, and slipped out. The door closed behind her.
“Father,” Li Jing said in Chinese. “It was a misunderstanding. I will be able to get into another program, I promise.”
He stepped to her and grabbed her arm. He dug his nails into the soft skin of her upper arm. Li Jing cried out.
“Too proud!” he said in Chinese. He turned his head and spat on the floor. “Too much ambition! You've always thought you were so much better than everyone else and look where it gets you: expelled!”
His nails were cutting into the skin of her arm. He was shaking with anger and lifting her up. Her body hung at an angle, all her weight borne by her shoulder joint, which seared with pain.
“Pa! Please!” Li Jing cried.
“After what I did to get you here! How hard I work! Expelled!” He threw her down onto her bed and her head cracked against the wall.
Her vision swam with stripes and blotches of light. The pain hit her a moment later.
“I can get into another school,” she said. “My research is working. I've discovered what might be a cure forâ”
“I am glad your mother died when you were born! She would be so ashamed. She would curse your name!”
Her father threw the first box at her. Then the second. Li Jing brought up her hands to shield her face.
“You pack, Disgrace,” he said, as if this was her new name. He picked up the suitcase she had already packed. “I will wait in the parking lot.”
Li Jing lay there, crying for a few minutes. Her forearm was swelling. Crescent-shaped welts marked the red, bruising flesh of her arm. Two were seeping blood.
She set one of the boxes upright, trying to push out the dent in the corner from where it had hit her.
She started to put into it the miscellanea from her top desk drawer. There were dorm notices, calendars, pencils, a broken eraser in the form of a gorilla she'd been given at a Secret Santa gift exchange. A bottle of nail strengthener she'd bought from Carolann back when she had been researching her as a possible subject. Some sticky coins and just a bunch of trash. She didn't need any of it. She closed the drawer. Let Penny throw it all out.
There was the hot water kettle, used for tea and ramen. Li Jing couldn't afford the meal planâdidn't want to pay so much for it. It was another thing Penny had hated about her. Let Penny throw them out.
Gingerly, Li Jing shouldered her backpack, which contained her cell phone, wallet, computer, and power cord. The weight of the backpack pulling down on her shoulder made her vision swim. Then she picked up the only other thing in the room that mattered to her, the box containing her research.
The evening was mild, the campus as beautiful as a fairy tale. In front of the Stonehouse dormitory were three blooming cherry trees, their petals just beginning to drop in the warm, April breeze. Li Jing had never felt like she belonged at Clayton University. Now, it was official.
She trudged around the building, toward the parking lot in back.
“Hey!” she heard behind her. “HEY! LI JING!”
She didn't need to turn to know who it was.
She heard footsteps, flip-flop footsteps, and a sweaty palm was on her arm.
Li Jing turned, “I can't talk right now.”
“I'm at 181! One hundred and eighty-one pounds!” Carolann crowed. “I've lost almost seventy-five pounds, Li Jing! My mother said she's worried about me, I'm so thin! Ha!”