The Rising(11)

“Whoa,” he said, “that was nice.”

Sam nodded; it had been nice for her too. Because she’d been thinking of Alex as she kissed him.


Cara’s iPhone started buzzing and she checked the text that had just come in. “Huh?” she asked, having forgotten what Sam had just said.

“Never mind.”


“So you’re not worried?”

“Oh, about Alex? Of course I am. But he’ll be fine.”

“You can’t know that.”

“Yes, I can. I’m psychic. I can tell the future. Like the whole CatPack acing the AP bio exam next week. Right, Sam?”



ALEX SAW HIS PARENTS slip into the curtained-off cubicle in the midst of his initial examination, their heels clacking against the floor ahead of them. He smelled the light, sweet familiar scent of his mother’s perfume, making him feel better immediately.

“The preliminary news is promising,” a doctor with a shock of ash gray hair reported, as he continued his poking and prodding. “He has full use of his limbs, no sign whatsoever of paralysis, and no evident spinal compression or swelling.”

He heard his mother sigh, his father mumble something in Chinese under his breath, sounding like anything but a now tenured professor at San Francisco City College.

“I’ve scheduled a CT scan just to confirm the initial diagnosis,” the doctor continued, “and we’re going to keep Alex overnight for observation. But if everything checks out, he should be able to go home tomorrow.”

Alex’s father was nodding up a storm, the way he always did when stressed. His mother was steadying herself with short, shallow breaths, the picture of calm and repose.

“Will I be able to play next week?” Alex asked, finding his voice.

The doctor seemed reluctant to meet his gaze. “Let’s just take one step at a time, shall we?”

“Yeah, but could you just tell me what you think?”

“I think we should take one step at a time, starting with that CT scan.”

“So you’re not sure.”

“Alex,” his father began, but his mother silenced him with a tight squeeze of his arm.

“That you’ll be able to play football next week?” the doctor resumed. “No, I’m not. Not yet, not until we’ve had an opportunity to do a full work-up and see how you respond in the next twenty-four hours.”

Alex turned away, looking back at his parents. They seemed smaller to him today. And how was it he’d never noticed how tired his father looked or the patches of gray beginning to dot his mother’s hair at the temples? Could have been the hospital’s harsh fluorescent lighting. Could have been. Or …

Or what?

Or his parents were getting old, worn down by life in large part because of all the sacrifices they had made on his behalf. He’d never been much of a student, having gotten through St. Ignatius’s top-flight, demanding curriculum the past year thanks to the tutoring administered relentlessly by Sam Dixon to keep him from failing out. Alex had always figured his parents forked over the money to her out of guilt, blaming the mismatched household for his problem with keeping hold of lessons in his mind. Indeed, while American families were wiping Chinese hospital infant wards clean, it was almost unheard of for a Chinese family to adopt a Caucasian boy. His parents had always been vague on the specific circumstances of the adoption and Alex never pressed them, accepting their droll tale to spare them the toil of sharing any further truths. It was what it was and that was good enough for him.

Because the truth of the matter was, Alex Chin was positive he loved his parents more than other kids loved theirs. Other kids, after all, didn’t have to contend with what he did, like the time an old-fashioned traveling carnival set up shop in Golden Gate Park.



AS A LITTLE BOY, Alex recalled the carnival as an annual attraction, but it hadn’t returned to the sprawling grounds, larger than New York City’s Central Park, in years. Those lavish grounds included a flower conservatory, a botanical garden, and a Japanese tea garden along with several museums, stadium facilities, and various venues for cultural events of all sorts. Alex wondered why the carnival had stopped coming and couldn’t recall where on the site it had actually been situated, as if what had transpired the last day his parents had taken him there had stricken the setting from memory.

He was eight at the time, already taller than An and fast catching up with Li, the family renting the bottom floor of a two-family tenement at the time. They were hustling through a fairgrounds called the Big Top that proclaimed itself to be the world’s largest traveling amusement park. Rushing to get in line just after sunset for the carousel, which Alex desperately wanted to ride. His parents pulling him along and Alex fighting to keep up.

It must have appeared differently to some other carnival patrons, who thought they were witnessing a kidnapping. The police were called. Black-and-white police cars descended on the carnival, an army of San Francisco cops rushing toward the perceived criminals. Back then, and now, to an extent, his parents reverted to Chinese when anxious and nervous, and the sight of the police converging did something to them Alex had never witnessed before.

“Hurry!” he heard his mother blurt to his father. “They must know! We must run!”

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