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Chapter 1 - Primates a.k.a Men

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Chapter 1

AS A PH.D. STUDENT, NATURALLY, I HAD THANKSGIVING DINNER AT MY MENTOR'S HOUSE. It didn't even occur to me, two years into my work (sequencing the DNA of African gorillas) why I would spend Thanksgiving anywhere else.

That was how much the program had absorbed me — body and soul.

My mentor was Dr. Ramona Alexeev-Weston. Yes. Dr. Alexeev-Weston, the famed scientist who is practically a deity in the field of primate anthropology, but we called her Dr. Alexeev in our lab. She was our mentor, but to the rest of the world; she was also the ex-wife of Samuel Weston, the billionaire medical tech producer who supplied computers and electronic supplies to every hospital in the United States.

Dr. Alexeev left the marriage twenty years ago with nothing except her career and her baby daughter. She now resided in a two-bedroom colonial house in the suburbs of Queens, New York. She lived by herself. On Thanksgiving, we — her Ph.D. students — were her only family.

It was a potluck. I made a fruit salad. Everyone hated it. Joey Bose, the post-graduate with who I shared an office, brought kati rolls, and everyone devoured those like they were laced with crack. I had a feeling that everyone looked at me and thought to themselves, "that's why she's still single; she can't even cut up fruit."

My name is Scarlett Rong because my family liked Gone with the Wind a little too much. My grandmother based her entire life around it because that was all they watched in Beijing in the years after the second world war. Never call me Scarlett. Ever since I was a kid, I preferred Scar.

In fact, I had a scar on my left thumb in the shape of a curved scratch. I liked to think of it as a smile.

A snapping turtle gave it to me in the Bahamas when I was in high school. That was when I first realized; I loved the conservation of endangered animals. Scars are funny in a way — they exist to remind you of the experiences you had. Even when I forgot the details of that trip, including the exact temperature of the water and the precise feeling of the sunshine on my sandy skin, the scar still existed. It still insisted that these things happened, that the turtle was real, even after the memory slipped away like water.

Joey brought me a glass of apple cider because Dr. Alexeev made it. She insisted we all sip on a cup while she recounted a story about her trip to Tokyo during the last conference she attended. She even had a row of Harajuku dolls sitting on her fireplace mantle.

As we listened to her tell yet another story about how quaint Japanese culture was and how much she enjoyed eating cooked sushi, a call came on her cell phone. I expected it to be another one of the other professors, calling to ask for help writing a grant. Either that or a poacher from a rival university who wanted to offer her a generous stipend to come work for them. She got those all the time, and she made sure we knew it. She didn't need a man in her life to be happy.

She didn't laugh into the phone as she normally did. This was a serious call. I hoped it wasn't something one of us did. Did we forget to submit some university paperwork on time? Leave a machine on in the lab? Forget to close the ice bin hatch?

Dr. Alexeev's knuckles completely drained of color. She nodded into the phone. I just knew it! It must be someone who was calling to tell us we lost our grant because one of the college interns was smoking weed in the computer room again. I had found two half-smoked blunts before the yearly lab safety inspectors came, and I quickly and quietly disposed of them. Who knew how many others there were lying around?

"Is he awake?" Dr. Alexeev asked. "Thank goodness he's alive."

There was almost a sarcastic tone to her voice. I can't imagine who she was talking about. Although Dr. Alexeev had an estranged daughter, as far as I knew, Dr. Alexeev didn't have any other relatives she cared about. And all her loved ones, her lab workers, were gathered in that living room eating kati rolls at that minute.

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