It was almost two weeks later that she confided in me.
Things had been going well between us. In fact, my main worry was how I’d manage to keep seeing her during the summer.
And then, at lunch, on a Thursday, she sat down and said, “My father is gone.”
Actually, she sat down and didn’t say anything for a long time. She hadn’t brought lunch. She waved away my sandwich.
I asked what was wrong, and that only made her look more as though she would cry.
Then, finally, she told me.
“What do you mean, gone?” I asked.
I knew her father traveled sometimes—to conferences in Providence, or Vancouver, or Berkeley. He could hardly afford it, but activists in a town would raise enough money to pay his expenses and a bit more, to hear him speak. Sometimes Ti-Anna would go along, helping translate, but often he went on his own. So his being away was nothing unusual.
“He’s disappeared,” Ti-Anna said, almost without expression.
She looked around as if someone might be eavesdropping, but of course there was no one. It was a normal sunny day on the track-and-field bleachers.
I waited for her to explain, and gradually she did, in bits and pieces.
Two weeks earlier, she said, her father had flown, much to her mother’s dismay, to Hong Kong.
This was news to me.
“I know, I know,” she said. “I didn’t tell you. My dad is totally paranoid about the agents keeping tabs on him, and it’s just easier if I can answer honestly when he asks, ‘You haven’t mentioned this to anyone, right?’ And it didn’t seem like such a big deal.”
I nodded. I believed it wasn’t that she didn’t trust me.
“So what was he doing? I thought he wasn’t allowed to go back to China?”
“He’s not,” Ti-Anna answered. “But he thought Hong Kong might be different.”
Hong Kong, I knew, is a gray zone, part of China but with its own government and more freedom. It was a British colony for a hundred years, and when Britain gave it back in 1996, China promised not to impose its Communist system. So far they’ve kept the promise.
“Even so, he wasn’t sure if they’d let him in once he landed.” “So why did he go?”
She shook her head. “I’m not sure. He’s always looking to get in touch with people on the inside. Like I told you, he believes China is just a spark away from a democratic revolution, and nothing will ever stop him from thinking so. He must have gotten some news from someone he trusted that a meeting could be arranged or something like that.”
“Your mother has no clue?”
She shook her head again. “She’s practically catatonic.”
Her dad had called once to report that the immigration people in Hong Kong had let him in. Ti-Anna and her mother didn’t know where he was staying, but he’d bought a SIM card and told them he’d call to let them know he was all right.
He had called once more. And then nothing. Radio silence. Not a word.
“Maybe he’s really busy,” I suggested. “Maybe his phone died and he forgot his charger.”
Ti-Anna gave me one of her little half smiles. “My father doesn’t leave things like that to chance,” she said.
Then she did start to cry, big, almost silent sobs that shook her narrow body. “Something is wrong. Something has happened.”
I wanted to put my arm around her hunched shoulders, but I didn’t. After a minute the sobs stopped. She wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand.
“We called the Hong Kong trade office here, and they claim not to know anything—said they didn’t even have a record of his landing, which is odd, since we know he landed.”
She’d emailed her father, even though before he left he’d told them not to, and gotten no reply. The people at the embassy despised him, there was no point in calling them, but Ti-Anna had called her father’s friend on the China desk of our State Department. He had made inquiries, and the Chinese claimed to have no information.
“My mother is paralyzed with fear,” she said. “She was furious at me for making any calls. She thinks if we call any friends in Hong Kong we’ll get them in trouble and make things worse for my dad.” She sighed. “Short of going to Hong Kong, I don’t know what else to do,” she said.
I’d say that was the moment when the trouble started.
Excerpt copyright © 2013 by Fred Hiatt. Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved.