Fiction / September 2016 (Issue 33)


Collisions

by Peter Chen

When Yu-Ling dumped three bushels of nearly rotten peaches on him, Wei-Fan knew that he was in love. He never would have guessed that love would strike this way: suddenly, without reason, while at work and in the midst of a small disaster. He suspected nothing when Yu-Ling begged him to let her drive the harvest truck. He was oblivious when, motor running, he stepped out of the cab and rounded the bed toward the passenger side to help Yu-Ling jump down. He never saw her slide over the gear shift, slip, knock it into reverse and somehow also pump the clutch and accelerator.

She had almost killed him, it was true. Backed the truck up with a jolt. Hit him hard on the left flank and sent the peaches on the flat bed tumbling after him. But, lying on the ground, feeling Yu-Ling's hand on his chest as she leaned over him, Wei-Fan did not think to remonstrate. A lock of hair had fallen free from Yu-Ling's bun, brushing Wei-Fan's face and he followed it up to discover the narrow curve of her chin ending at a small, perfectly formed earlobe.

Just looking at it, he could feel its softness, how it would yield to the slightest touch, bending upward to reveal, underneath, a secret part of Yu-Ling's neck, warm and firm, nestled between her supple jaw and the fine tufts of hair at her nape. Wei-Fan took in a sharp breath. He felt Yu-Ling's closeness as if she had been created at that moment, something new and entirely different. He wanted to hold her, to envelope her strangeness, to press against the femininity of her small features and smooth, pale skin. The light touch of her hands on his chest acted as an anchor, holding him to a stillness that he would rather have suffocated in than disturb, if only he could prolong the connection.

Wei-Fan shuddered. He said this: "Let's reload the truck."

They had peaches to deliver. More specifically, Wei-Fan was responsible for bringing hand-picked, properly sorted, 50lb crates of peaches to either the food processing plant, the Safeway depot or to his friend Johnny Lee, who delivered fruit to vendors in Oakland Chinatown, 80 miles east of the Central Valley farm. Fortunately, the overripe, insect bitten peaches strewn on the ground were Grade 3, destined for the food processing plant—it mattered little that they had been somewhat mashed up. Spilling the Safeway bound peaches would have been more serious—Americans, Wei-Fan had learned, disdained fruit with the smallest of blemishes, to the extent that his team of crop hands had been trained to pick the best looking peaches still under ripe (and thus firm enough to arrive at the supermarket in perfect, tasteless, form). With a sense of pride and appreciation of the irony, Wei-Fan noted that Chinese happily accepted the remaining middle grade, awkward looking, too-soft peaches with the short shelf life that were, nevertheless, tree-ripened to the sweetest taste, and sold for half the price.

Wei-Fan was diligent in carrying out his responsibilities. After four summers on the peach farm, he was a chief crop hand, noted for his keen eye, quick picking stroke and careful administration of the harvesting process. At the end of each season, the owners of the farm would offer Wei-Fan a permanent position, but he always turned them down. Wei-Fan had not come to California for the fruit.

He was born in Kaiding, a small village in Sichuan province, Western China, the son of an unlucky man. His father, a peasant farmer, won admission to study engineering at Beijing University, but found his train to the capital blocked by a poster. The poster showed a group of men and women carrying pots and bags of grain, marching behind a large red flag. Their strides were impossibly long, meant to look purposeful, but gave them the appearance that they were bracing themselves, as if hunched forward against a strong wind. There was a caption that read, "Use steel as the key link, leap forward in all fields."

This slogan, with the help of the local Communist party comrades, reminded Wei-Fan's father of his patriotic duty to attend, not a backward looking university, but a forward leaping commune. There, he could use his technical skills in the service of the steel producing engine of Mao Zedong's imminent economic miracle.

After five years of smelting scrap metal into nearly worthless pig iron, Wei-Fan's father returned to his village. His parents were among the one in ten who had perished by famine. Newspapers blamed drought and floods.

Thereafter, Wei-Fan's father battled fate. He consulted a numerologist, who extolled the virtues of the following year, 1962, which would "flow doubly with long-lasting prosperity." Galvanised, Wei-Fan's father hired a matchmaker, and within two months found a bride with an appropriate birth date. He paid a child born in the Year of the Dragon to roll over on his bed eight times before sleeping in it. He rearranged furniture. He prayed. He burned incense sticks and paper money. Then, on August 8, 1962, Wei-Fan was born.

It all seemed to work. China's Three Years of Natural Disaster ended that same winter. Wei-Fan, like his father, proved to be exceptionally bright, and he, too, gained entrance to a highly competitive university. However, unlike with his father, history cooperated. The same month Wei-Fan took the train to Shanghai to study physics, Deng Xiaoping took a plane to the United States to open channels with their peanut farmer president. Soon thereafter, a Modernising Foreign Study program was born, and then Wei-Fan obtained the most golden ticket of all: a state-approved opportunity to attend graduate school in the US, to study physics at UC Berkeley, in the state of California.

And so, for all his twenty-six years, Wei-Fan floated on the river of his life in one smooth, straight path, protected, through careful predetermination, from the eddies that had sent his father crashing against the rocks and undertows. The point was not lost on him. He fully appreciated the delicate balance that held his life's trajectory. How much depended on the steppe where the stone began to roll, the bank where the leaf left the shore. The microscopic twist that separated the lucky from those caught in the avalanche or overturned in the flood.

After five years balancing on the tightrope, cautiously moving forward, wary that any jiggle could send him tumbling down into the peril that always surrounded him, Wei-Fan was one giddy leap away from the opposite platform. Classes passed, experiments finished, he would defend his dissertation in the fall, and then return to China, triumphant, consummated, the destiny conjured into him from birth fulfilled.

Thus, Wei-Fan took a deep breath and stilled the egg-beater churning up his heart. "I'm not hurt," he told Yu-Ling. "It's OK." They began to gather the spilled peaches.

Wei-Fan worked quickly, ignoring the growing ache in his ribs where he had been struck. The delivery was scheduled for later in the evening. No plan changed. The quivering arrow grew silent.

And yet, there she was. Yu-Ling. Every day, under his supervision. She was the newest member of Wei-Fan's team, in her first summer on the farm. She came from Hong Kong and studied business administration at San Francisco State University. She lived with her aunt in Oakland and took the dusty bus ride to Modesto on Mondays, stayed in the dormitories for seasonal workers during the week and then returned to Oakland with the last bus out on Friday. She had the carefree attitude of an F-visa student, a long-term stay guaranteed by her resident sponsor. A migrant worker tourist, unlike the other crop hands who depended on the job for their families or immigration status.

Wei-Fan had talked to her before. He found her a lively companion, whose curiosity, so unlike his own, skitted freely from one topic to the next. She nibbled on thoughts, leaving trails of morsels for Wei-Fan to digest; he often rushing to the fields the next day to complete their conversation. In this fashion, he thought they had passed, like a new cap, through the thrill of first acquaintance into an inconspicuous friendship. But now he saw things that hadn't registered before. The sway in her walk. The way she tugged at the fruit. Her laughter at dropped peaches. All of her inefficient, languorous, distracting movements. Finally, watching her casually struggle with a high branch, he couldn't stand it any longer.

"Wait," he said. "Let me show you."

Yu-Ling stood still on the top of her ladder. Wei-Fan stepped up to join her.

"Use your fingers, like this. Pull straight off the branch."

Wei-Fan demonstrated, plucking a rosy peach into his palm. He kept his arm up, holding the peach just above Yu-Ling's head, as if offering it to her. His chest touched her back. His mouth almost brushed her bare neck. Yu-Ling curled her head toward her shoulder, looking down. Her lashes, jet black, fluttered once, then twice.

Wei-Fan discovered that his other hand was resting on Yu-Ling's hip, and he started. Down came the hand, down came the peach. The ladder trembled as Wei-Fan stepped off.

"That was a good technique," said Yu-Ling. "Thank you for showing me."

"It was nothing," said Wei-Fan. "That's just how I do it." He folded his arms, then unfolded them, then folded one arm, making it appear as if he clutched his side.

"You're still hurt," said Yu-Ling. "I'm sorry. I was so clumsy. Please excuse me."

"No, no," said Wei-Fan. "I'm fine. It doesn't feel bad."

Yu-Ling climbed down the ladder. They stood for a moment, not looking at each other.

"Do you like potstickers?" asked Yu-Ling.

"Yes," said Wei-Fan. "I do."

"My aunt and I are going to wrap potstickers on Saturday. Would you like to come to my house to eat dinner? It's the least I could do."

"I'd like to come," said Wei-Fan. "Very much."

"OK. I'll meet you again on Saturday."

It wasn't until Yu-Ling climbed back up the ladder that Wei-Fan realised: he had no idea how he would get to Oakland on a weekend with no buses running.

***

"Whoa, Nelly. Ha, ha. Whoa, Nelly. These trucks aren't built for speed, huh. Have to keep it under 60, or we'll start to feel the shakes. Don't worry. We won't be too late. I'll drop you off first."

Johnny Lee wore a sports coat with large gold necklaces, imitating, more or less consciously, a combination of BA Barracus and Dr. Frasier Crane. He learned his English, in addition to his fashion sense, from watching rerun television at the YMCA, and so had the habit of mixing his Mandarin with quotations from former prime-time shows. Originally on a student's J-visa, he had taken a leave of absence and obtained a sponsorship from a Chinese-run grocery store. This gave him more time to figure out how to stay in the country—a delivery driver in America earned much more than a computer engineer in China. In the back of Johnny's company truck were lumpy peaches, wrinkled oranges, spotted grapes and small avocados, all of which he brought to Chinatown, three times a week, to the people who would appreciate them most.

"Who is this girl you're seeing, anyway?"

"She's a friend from work," said Wei-Fan.

"From the farm? A young, ripe peach from the farm, huh. Have you tasted the juice from this young peach? Is she sweet?"

Wei-Fan reddened. "She's just a friend."

"Enos, you idiot! You have the wrong way of thinking, huh. Let me give you some advice. You be nice, care about her, never say anything. Get you nothing! You've got to give the girl some wow. Talk her up. Make the big move. Like me. I meet a girl I like, I say 'Your lips look so lonely, would they like to meet mine?' Make her laugh, huh. Then, after the wow comes the pow. Got it? First the wow, then the pow."

"No pow," said Wei-Fan. "She's a nice girl. Respectable. No pow. Just potstickers."

Wei-Fan leaned against the door. The jostling of the truck aggravated his sore flank.

Yu-Ling's directions led them to a one-story house with dark salmon stucco walls and a large bay window opening into the living room. A narrow trellis separated the house from the adjacent two-story Craftsman; there was no driveway or garage. As Johnny Lee and Wei-Fan pulled up to park on the curb, Yu-Ling was taking a bag to the trash.

"Yowza, yowza, yowza," said Johnny Lee, under his breath.

Wei-Fan pulled his door latch. Johnny Lee jumped out of the truck.

"Whoa, Nelly. If I could describe you in words, you'd be fine print. Hello, angel. I'm Johnny Lee."

Yu-Ling smiled. "Thank you for giving Wei-Fan a ride. You have had a long drive. Would you like to come in for a rest?"

"He has a delivery to make," said Wei-Fan.

Johnny Lee grinned, put his arm around Wei-Fan and walked with him to the front door.

"Don' be reedeekulas, cousin Larry," he said.

The living room was small. In the corner was an engraved rosewood chair with a yellow cushion. There was a white couch with a floral print design, covered in clear plastic. Watercolour scrolls hung from each wall.

Yu-Ling led Johnny Lee into the kitchen, but her aunt stopped Wei-Fan before he could follow.

"Please sit," she said, waving her hand over the couch.

"Thank you, Mrs. Su," said Wei-Fan. He could see Yu-Ling and Johnny Lee behind the kitchen counter.

"You are graduating from UC Berkeley," said Mrs. Su. "Very smart. Smart young man."

"No, not so smart. Really not very smart," said Wei-Fan. Yu-Ling chopped cabbage and mixed it with ground pork while Johnny Lee grabbed a rolling pin from a cupboard.

"Ah, you are too modest," said Mrs. Su. "You have a PhD in what? Physics? That's very good. Very difficult."

"Physics, yes. But I'm still writing my dissertation," said Wei-Fan. "I don't have anything, yet." Johnny Lee rolled a piece of dough. He squashed a round wrapper against his nose, looked up to his left, and then to his right, as if he were searching for something. Yu-Ling pointed at his face.

"You must have studied very hard to get here. China is still quite closed. Not too many students can come. It's not like Hong Kong."

"My father always wanted me to have the best opportunity," said Wei-Fan. "He sacrificed a lot." Yu-Ling hunched her shoulders, smiling. Johnny Lee threw flour up in the air.

"And no girlfriend yet? No one waiting for you in China?"

"No one," said Wei-Fan. "Not yet." Now the two of them threw flour at each other. Yu-Ling held one hand over her mouth, laughing. Her eyebrows and lashes were powdered white.

"Maybe you will find someone soon. You never know when someone will impress you." Mrs. Su leaned forward and patted Wei-Fan's shoulder. "Something wrong? Are you hungry? Don't worry, we eat soon."

Johnny Lee stayed for dinner, telling jokes the whole night. After one or two, Wei-Fan smiled, but did not laugh. It hurt his side too much.

In the worker's dormitory, Wei-Fan lay on his cot and stared at the ceiling. It resembled a military style barrack, with curtains separating each bunk. Wei-Fan's were drawn against the dice game being played in the central hallway. On his chest lay his dissertation, along with a black pen. In the closed space, the heat of the summer night concentrated the smells of sweat, crushed peach and insecticide.

Wei-Fan contemplated the wood ceiling, allowing its dark whorls to transform themselves into shapes from his life. A pagoda on top of a mountain. Dark clouds, foretelling thunderstorms. A sloping, black tile roof—his father's house in Kai Ding, the house of his childhood. Two cranes carved into the latticework on the front door. A central courtyard with a mulberry tree. Calligraphy by his grandfather, hanging over an altar.

Wei-Fan sat up and flipped through the pages of his dissertation. The figures and graphs showed good data, meticulously collected and interpreted. Every red mark had a corresponding black answer. The revisions, inspected again, seemed cogent. Wei-Fan twirled his pen between his fingers, then stopped its motion. He made a final check mark on the last page.

He could not sit still. Without the distraction of work, the ache in his bruised ribs resurfaced, propelling him up and out into the night. He walked around the dormitory, then along a dirt path leading to the orchard.

He had not written many letters in the past five years. These, too, had been mostly progress summaries. A sprinkling of salutation in the middle of a report card in prose form. Wei-Fan hardly thought of himself as away, since the purpose of return was woven so firmly into the fabric of his journey. It was as if a web of predestination stretched all the way from China, its shimmering cords connecting each dot of Wei-Fan's life to the next.

Wei-Fan could not imagine living any other way. He was amazed at the undergraduates in his lab, jumping like eager crickets from one major to the next. They felt no obligations or limitations, whereas Wei-Fan could not imagine anything of substance being created without first passing through the slow, meticulous cocoon of tradition. As he had himself, Wei-Fan thought.

And now the shell was cracking open …

The next morning, after a fitful night, Wei-Fan saw Yu-Ling standing at the top of her ladder, shaking a peach tree.

"Hi, look," said Yu-Ling. "Look. Is this right?"

Wei-Fan walked to the base of the ladder. He put one foot on the lowest rung.

The tree seemed to encircle Yu-Ling. Sunlight streamed through the leaves. Wei-Fan raised his hand to shield his eyes.

A branch thrashed and peaches fell to the ground. Yu-Ling laughed. "Wei-Fan, are you still there? Did you see? I'm so clumsy. Come show me again how to pick the peaches."

"I could not see," said Wei-Fan. "The sun is very bright today."

"Then come up where you can see better. There is another peach here that looks very good. Grade 1, I'm sure of it. But what do I know? You should judge. Come look."

Wei-Fan put his hand on the ladder. He leaned forward.

"Did you like the potstickers on Saturday? My Auntie has a good recipe. I just mixed the ingredients. Your friend Johnny Lee helped, too."

Wei-Fan paused, his foot on the lowest rung. "It was a very nice dinner."

"We had a good time, didn't we? I'm glad you came. We all laughed so much. Your friend Johnny Lee is very funny."

"Yes," said Wei-Fan. "Johnny Lee is very funny. He makes all the girls laugh." Yu-Ling, high in the tree, did not see the sour expression growing on Wei-Fan's face.

"I'm leaving," he said.

"What? But what about this peach? Should I pick it? Stay for a minute before you get back to work."

"No," said Wei-Fan. "I mean that I'm leaving. Here. I'm returning to China. This fall, after my dissertation."

Yu-Ling stopped shaking the branches.

"I know," she said.

"My father expects me to return, immediately. As soon as I finish my training. There will be a good opportunity for me in Chengdu. My father's classmate is a professor at the university. He has written many letters."

"A professor at the university," said Yu-Ling. "Very respectable."

Wei-Fan kicked the dirt. Back and forth, he rubbed his heel in the ground.

"Do you want me to look at the peach?"

Yu-Ling turned back to the branches. "I already picked it. If it was the wrong peach, then too bad. Too bad, peach. Wrong peach, right peach. Too bad. Already gone."

On Friday, the peaches were the best of the best, cradled in 10 x 10 eggshell cartons, stacked in protective crates, 750 lbs of pure Grade 1 treasure. Wei-Fan heaved the last of his load into the truck, then tied up the rope and bungee cords which secured the contents of the flat bed. He opened the door to the cab and then chastised himself. Laying on the passenger seat, on top of a large manila envelope, was his edited dissertation.

He had planned to mail it that morning—an undergraduate in his lab was helping him with word processing. However, after walking all the way to the mailbox, he realised that he hadn't addressed the envelope. On the second trip, no postage. On the third, he decided registered mail would be safer. By that time, he was almost late for work and had to postpone his errand until the evening.

Now, he would have to rush to the post office before delivering the peaches. Wei-Fan pulled his seatbelt over his shoulder and punched it closed with an irritated click. He slid the key into the ignition but didn't start the engine. There was something else he had put off that he wanted to do.

"Where is Yu-Ling?" asked Wei-Fan. He hadn't seen her among his crop team. The first worker didn't know. The second told him she had already left for the weekend. Not too long ago, they thought. No, the bus hadn't come early. She must have gotten a ride from a friend.

Wei-Fan didn't have time to think about this. He returned to the truck immediately and stood by its side, thinking. Yu-Ling always took the bus at the end of the week. Wei-Fan often gave her a ride to the bus stop. There was only one bus. The schedule couldn't have changed.

A disquieting thought was forming in his mind. He shook his head, climbed into the truck and made his way out of the farm. Wei-Fan kept the windows open against the heat of the afternoon, slapping his hand lightly against the top of the door. He ruminated on a possibility. A distracting possibility. It quickly grew into a suspicion, and then a genuine concern.

Wei-Fan passed by the post office without stopping. He missed the turnoff to the Safeway depot. He put both hands on the wheel and kept driving until arriving at the on ramp for I-580 West.

Now, the web of predestination which had protected Wei-Fan all his life began to stretch. At 60mph, it held the tension well, clinging to Wei-Fan confidently. A telephone rang back at the Safeway depot. It was about the manager's daughter. Threw up at school? A fever? Oh, she would pick her up immediately. Wei-Fan could still make it. If he turned around now, no one would notice the late delivery.

At 70mph, the web was drawn taut. Still, it parted cars as Wei-Fan began to weave through traffic. It kept a path open to each passing exit. All he had to do was take one. 30 minutes before the end of the shift, 20 …

At 85mph, the threads began to break, each one emitting a multicoloured puff of light. Red, blue, yellow. The web used the lights to distract the motorcycle cop hiding behind the GAP billboard. Wei-Fan sped past The Denim Jacket, unnoticed.

At 90mph, the truck rumbled violently. The web trembled, then snapped free. If Wei-Fan could see his own karma, he might have looked into the rear window and seen a fluttering rainbow rise high into the sky before floating off into the distance.

But Wei-Fan was not paying attention to his fate. Initially, he had focused on keeping a straight course, despite the drift that seemed to pull him toward the off ramps. Now, as he roared westbound, Wei-Fan struggled just to keep the truck stable. The engine shuddered. Shocks squealed. A hot wind blew into Wei-Fan's eyes and made him blink and tear.

So, Wei-Fan did not notice when the vibrations undid a careless knot in the back of the truck. He did not see the ropes and bungee cords unravel, the crates tip, the eggshell cartons spilling their contents onto the flat bed.

The peaches, rolling off the truck, took one cheerful bounce each, protected for a moment by their unusual firmness. They, too, had been preselected to resist misfortune. However, after crushing against the asphalt, they soon wobbled. As much as they caromed in every direction, they could not avoid striking against the hoods, windshields and front grilles of approaching vehicles. Eventually, each peach would roll under a tire and thus meet its final, irresistible fate, as road jam.

Wei-Fan drove on. Oblivious to the screech of brakes, the honking of horns and the cars reflected in his mirrors which slalomed on the highway behind him trying to find a clear lane. He saw only the road ahead. He heard only the wind in his ears. The same hot, blinding wind that swirled in the cab, lifted the pages of his dissertation off the passenger seat, glued them to the door, edges flapping, and then sent them flying out the window.

Wei-Fan's web sailed on, bravely, but it still trailed far behind the speeding truck. The web did not undo the sheets of paper stuck to the windshields of startled drivers. It did not cushion the peaches as they thumped against Saabs, Audis, Mercedes and BMWs. The web couldn't stop. It flapped desperately to catch up, because it knew what lay ahead, at the inexorably approaching end of Wei-Fan's wild ride.

Johnny Lee's truck. Parked on the curb outside of Yu-Ling's home.

Wei-Fan stopped in the middle of the street. He faced the other truck, engine hissing, as if they were rivals preparing for a joust. He leaned forward against the steering wheel. Sweat rolled down his forehead. He was panting.

Finally, Wei-Fan straightened. He blew a long, slow breath through pursed lips. He took his foot off the brake and then drove forward. He intended to pass by and return to the farm.

But fate had something else in mind.

It had actually started two weeks ago, when a tiny blood vessel in Wei-Fan's side ruptured, spilling thousands of red blood cells into the skin, creating the dark stain of his bruise. This river of refugees triggered a massive march of the immune system, an army of white cells sent to munch up their wayward brothers.

But one red cell survived longer than his comrades. It lay hidden, tucked between pillars of connective tissue, a happy gremlin, until the jostling of Wei-Fan's truck kicked it into the extracellular sea. By chance, it brushed against a B-cell sentinel, and the loud mouth trumpeted for the return of the White Army.

The red cell hid among a bundle of nerves, but not for long. Found, caught and chomped, it gave birth to a hemosiderin son, who then met a cute membrane receptor. Finding the entropy right, the two of them put their pieces together. It was electric and contagious jolts soon raced each other along the myelin highways which innervated Wei-Fan's injured flank muscles.

At that exact moment, Wei-Fan thought he saw flashing red, blue and yellow lights. For a millisecond, he felt an urge to stop. Wait. Something was coming. Shouldn't be doing this right now. Then the spasm gripped his side, and the truck lurched forward, to the left, and buried itself into the side of Johnny Lee's door.

The police had seen everything, of course. Following the trail of paper and splattered fruit, lightbar activated and radio squawking out updates from new angry callers, they caught up with Wei-Fan just as the two trucks collided.

Sitting on the curb, after the breathalyser test, Wei-Fan could see everything as well. The smashed headlight. The folded hood snuggled into the nook of Johnny Lee's crushed door. The empty flat bed. The lonely manila envelope on the passenger seat. In the grey light of the darkening sky, they blinked at him to the rhythm of the spinning patrol car lights.

A police officer stood by Wei-Fan, notebook in hand. Next to him were Yu-Ling, Mrs. Su and Johnny Lee, each wearing various expressions of puzzlement and disbelief. Wei-Fan hardly knew what to say, so he decided upon the truth. All of it. From the beginning.

"So sorry, Officer. My English is not so good. You see, I was born in China, the son of an unlucky man. My father and I, we tried everything to change fate, and it seemed to work. Then, at the peach farm, there was an accident …"

***

Yu-Ling took a scoop of ground pork and rolled it into a ball.

"Will you go back to the farm?" she asked.

"I stole their truck, lost their peaches, smashed up their customer's truck and almost got arrested" said Wei-Fan. "Their insurance company is still tallying up the damages from the other cars. Right now, I think they may not be so enthusiastic about me."

"So what will you do?"

"I could work at a restaurant, pay off my debts. I'll have to postpone my dissertation defense—that will keep my student's visa active. There may be other jobs. I've almost got a PhD."

Mrs. Su sat by herself in the living room, on the floral couch, drinking tea. Warm rays from the afternoon sun streamed through the bay window.

"You really don't know what's going to happen at all, do you?" asked Yu-Ling.

Wei-Fan paused to consider this as he rolled a piece of dough. "No, I don't," he said. "I have no idea."

He shook his head. "What about you? Will you return to the farm?"

"I think so. I mean, I feel obligated. It's my job for the summer."

Wei-Fan pressed down on his rolling pin, flattening the dough with rapid, squeaky strokes.

"But," said Yu-Ling, "from now on, I'll take the bus. It's so much less trouble."

Wei-Fan laughed.

"Well, one thing's for certain," he said.

"What's that?" asked Yu-Ling.

Wei-Fan spread flour on the counter. He made a squiggly, random trace with his finger.

"I'll be staying for awhile."

 
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