Tien watched me over the rim of her tea cup. Stan peeled layers from a croissant, slathering each piece with raspberry jam from one of the tiny jars spread before him on the linen table cloth, his earlier disapproval seemingly vanquished with the formal offer. My foot tapped while he decanted a daunting list of to-dos for me: pack glassware, measure the new labs, order furniture and equipment, crate the micro-PET machine, scout out neighborhoods, archive and box up our files.
“Shall I finish your holiday shopping, too?” I asked.
Stan’s lips pursed. Tien rubbed her calf against mine, warning me.
“We all have a lot to do over the next two months,” he said. “The trials need setting up, grant proposals and manuscripts need writing. The move’s a necessary pain in the ass. So prioritize. We'll pack up the Boston lab after the New Year. Now, focus on outfitting the new labs and lining up condos for Tien and I to look at when we return. The weekend was a bust, there’s crap in Mount Vernon. Look into Fells Point, Federal Hill. Maybe Canton. You writing all this down?”
I tapped my forehead. Stan looked dubious.
“Anyway, two days gives you plenty of time to scout out suitable townhouses.”
“Row houses,” Tien said. “That’s what they call them here.”
“Whatever, just find me one with ceilings taller than me and under 500k.” He pushed the basket of pastries across the table. “You’re looking too skinny these days. Eat.”
I poured another coffee from the carafe and disregarded the basket. They babbled about Chicago, Tien nodding at his every word. They were babysitting me; I knew it, they knew it. The whole weekend Tien hadn’t let me out of her sight. I pulled the Sunday paper towards me and pretended to read the sports section.
Stan insisted I accompany them to the airport. The ride was quiet.
We approached departures. Tien patted my knee, then gathered the purse and laptop cluttered at her feet. The cab pulled curbside.
“See you in two days,” Tien said and opened her door.
Two days. The cab rocked as the trunk emptied. No kiss goodbye, Tien was already walking towards the terminal. Outside, Stan peeled off several bills and handed them to the cabbie.
Gone, they’re almost gone. The driver settled into the front seat. My body unfurled in relief. The side front door opened.
Stan leaned into the open window. “Take him back to the Marriott," he said to the driver. "I gave you double fare plus tip.”
The door slammed. Stan wheeled his suitcase, flipped his cell phone. The cab pulled from the curb. I dug into my backpack for my wallet and fluttered a twenty over the seatback.
“Penn Station,” I said.
Once on the train, I crashed, hard. When I woke two hours later, I texted Dinesh again. The train barreled past New Rochester and momentary guilt panged -- I should help my sister pack up my Mother's belongings. But I didn’t have time. It seemed I never had time for the important things.
Excerpted from PURE, a novel under cosmetic surgery. I love this scene because it's the first time Ben rebels against his colleagues.
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