Autumn refused to settle. The days were deceptively cool with low-lying fog in the morning stretching into languid heat. Rachel began her mornings wearing her versatile autumn-winter coat and by noon, she was sweating more profusely than she could have imagined.
One such afternoon, Rachel was wearing her coat, grateful to at least have found a handkerchief in her pocket. She mopped her brow, and slid the sticky cloth back into her coat. If only the heat were the least of her problems…
She approached City Hall, returning from her lunch with Milly Pidgin. She was willing to make a campaign donation to Rachel if she would come and have lunch with her first. Milly wanted to pick her brain.
Ms. Pidgin had been overzealous with the air conditioning, and Rachel had found herself shivering in Milly’s dining room, hence the coat. Yet now she wished she was back in the frigid home of one of her constituents for she was not only overheated and bothered, but now she was faced with a small protest gathered outside her work building.
They had been protesting for a few days now, a local loosely organized group calling themselves Barefoot-in-Arms was upset with the town government about the funding for the space program.
Of course, the military received precedence. Rachel knew this. They always did. The Sims in Arms military base had been selected to house the new recruits program, overflow from Roaring Heights.
Barefoot-in-Arms particularly felt the government should focus on helping the poor and homeless citizens of Twinbrook before sending more starfighter pilots to space. As much as Rachel agreed, she knew how important the military was even in peacetime. Unfortunately, this was the way of the world.
This was the third straight day of protests. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except Rachel noticed a newcomer to the Barefoot-in-Arms members – her nephew by marriage, Shark. She sighed heavily. It is just one of those days.
Last night, Rachel had trouble falling asleep. Dennis and Silver were arguing again. Their son had decided to “renounce” his wealthy ties and had been camping in the Town Central Square with some of his friends from school. Silver was enraged Dennis was doing nothing to stop him. Dennis was undoubtedly concerned, but he had been busy trying to balance the books to worry about his teenage son’s latest antics. Bill had finally stomped down the hall and demanded they “shut the hell up.”
Hope had awakened screaming at midnight last night. She had a fever. Both Rachel and Bill had full dockets today so Rachel had agreed to work from home in the morning while Bill went into the office and then he would come home around noon so she could go to her lunch and then the office. When Rachel would return home in the evening, Bill would go into the office and work late. It was a trade off, she knew, and the price they paid for being full-time politicians and full-time parents. Marigold had offered to sit with the babe while Rachel got in a hot shower before her working lunch.
Milly hadn’t wanted to make a contribution until she knew for certain Rachel could improve conditions for senior citizens in Twinbrook. During lunch, Rachel had spilled blackberry jam on her white blouse. Milly had served peanut butter and jam crustless sandwiches. Another reason to wear her coat. Rachel hoped she had a spare blouse in her office closet.
Now Shark had joined the protesters… shirtless too.
“Send the space rats home! Give our citizens a home!” Shark chanted.
“Shark, what are you doing here?” Rachel approached and asked calmly.
She could feel a headache settling like an unwelcome guest behind her eyes.
“Send the space rats home! Give our citizens a home!” Shark repeated mindlessly.
“Shark, you have a home,” Rachel responded, irritation lacing her tone.
“Yeah,” he waved his picket sign with a picture of an astronaut crossed out in bold red marks. “But the masses are suffering at the hands of a corrupt and evil government who thinks only about the ways they can pack their fat wallets. We, the people…”
“Shark,” Rachel cut him off and grabbed the picket sign. “Stop this! It’s pointless!”
Shark stomped his foot and angrily tossed his picket sign onto the nearby lawn. He growled, actually growled, and balled and unballed his fists.
“Seriously! You’re just another one of those mindless drones working for the corrupted system. When are you going to wake up, open your mind, and breathe in the same air as the populus you serve?”
Rachel blinked rapidly. Had Shark actually just said those words? She tried to smother a laugh.
“Shark, I believe in the government and I believe in the people. The two are not mutually exclusive,” she began softly.
“Sure whatever,” he grunted, crossing his arms.
“No, I’m serious. I wouldn’t be in politics if I didn’t believe in both, and if I didn’t believe I could make a difference. But protesting in public, shirtless no mind, and disturbing the peace is not the way to affect real change.”
“Well, not all of us are smart like you Aunt Rachel…” he said sarcastically as he rolled his eyes. “Most of us have no way to get through to the power. And it’s time the people take back the power,” he pumped his fists in the air and got a few whoo’s from the gathering crowd.
“Shark, let’s talk about this,” Rachel lowered her voice, trying to avoid showing her embarrassment. “We can go home and talk.”
“Yeah right,” Shark snapped. “You and Uncle Bill are just drones. I won’t listen to mindless drones. I will not be silenced!”
He was practically shrieking. Sweat dripped from his stringy hair and his face turned red as beets as he leaped up on the steps of city hall and continued to pump his fists in the air, inciting the rallying cries.
Before she could stop herself, Rachel dragged her nephew down off the steps with surprising ease. The frustration and anger flowed through her, feeding her adrenaline. Shark whimpered and whined in protest, but he didn’t stop following her, even though he could’ve broken free from her grasp at any point.
“Shark, this is pointless,” Rachel hissed. “Lower your voice and your arms. You look like a monkey. And the police are coming,” she cast a look over her shoulder to the boys-in-blue as they arrived. “Do you want to be arrested?”
“Owwwww! You’re hurting me!” Shark yanked his arm back. “Of course not.”
“Well, then let’s go home and talk about this like civilized human beings and make a plan… an actual plan to help the good people of Twinbrook…” she recommended.
“Fine… whatever…” he sighed, and then waved to another screeching man shoving a police officer. “Barefoot-in-Arms Brothers unite!” He pumped his fist in the air, pounded his chest, and let out a final whoop before running around the corner.
“Shark, you are acting ridiculous,” Rachel caught up with him in the parking lot. “Barefoot-in-Arms Brothers unite?” she repeated incredulously. “You guys aren’t even barefoot… not a single one of you.”
“It’s symbolic,” Shark shrugged, leaning against the hood of her car.
“Well…” Rachel huffed, and tried to collect her thoughts. She pressed her forehead with the palm of her hand. “Symbolism or not… what brought this on? You didn’t just wake up one day and decide to help the homeless.”
He sat on the hood of the car, tucking one leg under the other, and leaned his chin on his knee. “It’s Chase.”
“Chase Bayless? Your girlfriend?”
“Yeah… well… she’s not homeless or nothin’ but she’s got… well…her roof is leaking and her walls are paper thin and her family can’t afford to pay their water bill. Her dad’s been bad hurt… laid up for months…and her Ma… well… she’s been working multiple jobs and shit. Chase’s always watching her siblings and she doesn’t even come to school and whatnot.”
“She’s just sufferin’… they all are… and I think… I got all this privilege and I didn’t do nothin’ for it and well… I can’t just stand by and watch ’em suffer. She’s my girl, ya know.”
A smile encroached on Rachel’s lips. So Shark has an ulterior motive other than annoying the hell out of his parents!
“Have you talked to your dad about this? I mean, maybe we can have Chase and her brother come live with us or something until the family gets on their feet. Or maybe Uncle Bill and I can find a job or something for her parents.”
“I didn’t think of that,” he raked his hand through his hair. “Shit! I’m dumb.”
“Shark you have a brain. You just have to use it sometimes instead of always leading with your heart. It’s an admirable trait, but you really need to think through things some more. That’s all.”
“Yeah, sure, whatever…” Shark slid off the roof of her car. “Hey do ya think you could drop me at home? And not tell my dad about this?”
“I can do the former… and I’ll think about the latter…” Rachel smiled.
“Aw’right… I can live with that I guess… Dad’ll probably just ground me or somethin’.”
Rachel slid into the driver’s seat, wondering if she would ever actually make it into the office. Shark got into the passenger seat as she started the engine, welcoming the air conditioning with his face… quite literally. He pressed his cheek on the dashboard. She smirked as she threw her jacket into the back seat. Screw the stain! She put the car in reverse, and looked over her shoulder as she backed up.
“You know… you’re aw’right.”
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