Chapter 3.17 – Balance

In the days that follow his  birthday, Mark makes the decision to begin his career in law enforcement. He had considered it in the past as well, but he would have done it for all the wrong reasons then. Mark has come a long way since his early teens, and he feels like his mind and heart are in the right place for this. He knows his father will be disappointed that he did not choose a medical career, but Jacob and Deirdre are much better suited for medicine than he is.
Mark gains his first promotions easily as the weeks melt away and become a blur. At some point during his many hours of work, his baby sisters celebrate their birthday and start attending school with Jacob, Deirdre and Claire. Mary and Elizabeth both adore Mark, and he has two instant fans whenever he is home long enough for them to pounce him with requests to show off his ‘ninja’ moves. His visits to China have become less frequent, but he manages to keep in constant contact with Mei by phone. The tone of their conversations become serious as they talk about what lies ahead for them. He knows in his heart that Mei is the one, but her hesitation about leaving China is causing some friction between them.
When the time comes for Deirdre and Claire to celebrate their birthday into adulthood, he is struck with the realization that it has been more than a year since he has seen Mei. Mark forces himself to accept that he has again fallen out of balance. He knows that Mei is the key to regaining it, but he does not know how to convince her to relocate to Sunset Valley. He takes a few days from work to refocus and help Deirdre and Claire move to their new apartment closer to town.
Jacob and Yasmeen have continued to secretly see each other. Yasmeen often comes sneaking over after school and on weekends, and is present during Deirdre and Claire’s party. It is then that Mark notices that something is not quite right with Jacob’s young girlfriend. But before he can ask, Deirdre announces that she has taken a job at the science lab. Claire has gone on to continue her painting and photography as a career. Claire is already as good as their grandmother Bebe ever was, and her paintings are fetching large sums from private collectors. Some argue that she is an extension of her famous grandmother.
It is late when the last party guests leave. Mark crawls into bed and begins to drift off, thinking about Mei. But a commotion outside by the street wakes him abruptly. When he hears a woman scream, Mark grabs his service pistol and dashes outside in his underwear. He runs across the lawn and sees four people in some kind of altercation. Mark runs to the source of the trouble and recognizes immediately that it is Jacob and Yasmeen fending off Ali, who has also become an adult. He is with a robed, heavily bearded man. Mark shouts for the men to drop to the ground.
Jacob and Yasmeen run toward Mark as the two men glare at him; and if looks could kill, he would already be sporting a gravestone. Ali takes a threatening step toward Yasmeen while spitting an insult toward her in a foreign language. Mark intervenes by taking steps of his own toward Ali, leveling the pistol toward his old enemy, and warning him not to make another move. Then the bearded man, who he assumes to be their father, Atta Zalne, mumbles something to Ali in the same foreign language. A shiver makes its way up Mark’s spine when he sees the cold, almost inhumanly evil glare Atta directs his way.
Ali grins his malicious grin, and tells Mark that his father has indicated the three of them are now dead to him, and that they have chosen their own fate; only the time and place remain to be decided. With that, the two men pile into Atta’s car and speed off. Mark slowly lowers his firearm, wondering if his life has just been threatened.  Mark comforts the two teens and brings them inside. He knows there is no way that Yasmeen can go home safely now, so he invites her to sleep in the guest room until they can figure out how to sort this out.
Sleep comes in small doses as Mark continues to see the faces of Atta and Ali in his troubled mind. When morning finally arrives, he spends it helping Deirdre and Claire move into their apartment. They enjoy what remains of the day relaxing by the pool. His worries from the night before slip away as the trio play in the sun and water,  like they had done countless times as children. Claire, who seems to have some kind of personalized window into Mark’s mind, asks him about Mei. Deirdre comments that he is an idiot for not having already gone to marry her. And while Claire is less blunt about the criticism, she agrees with her sister, commenting that they both can see how different Mark is with Mei in his life. Claire suggests he call Jiang Xi and make plans to visit, since he has a few days off from work.
Mark speaks with David, who agrees to let Yasmeen stay as long as she feels necessary, or until her parents ask for her to return. So early the next morning, Mark departs on his fifth visit to China. But during the flight to Shang Simla, Mark feels an awful, sinking feeling in his gut. Atta Zalne is not the kind of sim to be dismissed lightly, and Ali is either stupid or crazy enough to willingly be used as an instrument of revenge.
He drifts off to sleep somewhere over the ocean, praying that his absence from Sunset Valley is not ill-timed.

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