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I sat in the barber's chair at Shampoodle's. Today was the day of my regular haircut. I relaxed against the leather seat and stared around the shop as Harriet prepared her tools. The barber shop had been open in town for a long time. It was one of the first businesses to come to Airedale. I remember people were very excited to have a barber's shop coming to town; no longer would they have to travel farther for regular haircuts or grooming. I stared out of the window and could see snowflakes gently drifting towards the ground. My thoughts drifted off like clouds. Harriet sat down alongside of me and began fiddling with the shavers and scissors.
"So what's new with you, Stefan?" she asked. "I hope you're not too frozen during this cold weather." she asked. I shook my head.
"It's okay. I'm used to it." I watched some wind lightly blow down the street and affect the path of the snowfall. I just hoped that too much snow wouldn't fall. It would seriously impair travel and commute. The weather channel said we might get another inch or two tonight but I prayed they were inaccurate. Harriet asked me what cut I wanted. I shrugged. "Eh, I don't feel like straying much from my usual path. I'm good with the same old undercut. Maybe have this top part a little bit more spiked." Harriet nodded and went to work. I felt her shave off the hair that grown towards the nape of my neck. The low buzz filled the room as the shaver worked its way towards my ears.
It almost tickled.
The television that was mounted above my head began to show the news. Harriet turned it up so she could hear the weather forecast. However, we didn't hear the weather right away. Instead the news forecast flicked right to the breaking news part. A white rabbit stood in front of the Airedale town hall, clearly shivering and uncomfortable from the falling snow. Her shrill voice ran through the speakers, filling up the small room of the barber's shop. "We are located in front of the Airedale town hall, waiting for word from anyone in Mayor Stefan's administration! Isabelle has expressed that Mayor Stefan is holding a press conference in approximately one and a half hours. It is rumored that he is planning on running for another term but we are unsure. Nothing definite has been confirmed or denied. We are hoping that this press conference will be him giving us an answer once and for all. When Mayor Stefan comes outside in this snow, we will absolutely show you live coverage. Only here on WKBV 7 news! Back to you, Phil!"
Yep, that's right. I'm the mayor.
I could hear Harriet chuckle in my ear. "Do you really have to taunt the people like this? We all know you're running again." I shrugged and looked up at her with a smirk.
"You never know. I could have found a nice girl and want to get settled down with her. Have a few kids, a nice picket fence, and a beautifully decorated home and yard by the HHA..." Harriet snorted as she laughed.
"Somehow, I doubt that. I'm one of the only people that has known you since you were younger. Y'know, before your politician days. You were a partier and I don't think that's ever left you. You're probably never going to settle down with a guy OR a girl." I nodded in agreement.
"I can't accuse you of slander on that one, Harriet." Harriet squirted some hair gel onto her fingers and ran her paws through my head. The top of my undercut was now very spiky and assertive. What a perfect ensemble for a day like today. In Airedale's society--well any society in Animal Crossing really--it was rare for a human like me to have such a good, strong relationship with an animal. My relationship with Isabelle wasn't even that good. But I've known Harriet for years; she's a family friend. Something with us two...we had chemistry. Nothing of the romance kind, but we just had a compatibility that I knew would last for eternity. Harriet spoke up as she finished spiking my hair and shaving the ends.
"Have you heard the rumors? The Populists are planning to pit a candidate to run against you. I don't know who, but what I do know is that he's got a lot of popular support." I pursed my lips and didn't say anything. Harriet sighed. "We're not Bloomington. We don't have electors; our votes are popularity-based. I'm not trying to upset you. I just want you to be realistic about things." I scoffed.
"I've had candidates run against me before. They think that they're being all cool by challenging the establishment incumbent, but I win in a landslide every time." I rattled. Harriet thinks that just because she's older that me that she has the right to play Moral Coral. By now, Harriet's tools were put away and she was done. She opened her mouth to quip back but I refused to let her win this argument. "Do you think I'm stupid? I've been the mayor of Airedale for years now. I think I know how these politics work. I am not about to lose to some...animal." That last part couldn't help but slip out. When I was around Harriet, I never thought of her as a dog. As some greasy, gross animal. She seemed human to me, but that was the only animal who I thought of like that. Harriet visibly cringed and I regretted allowing my anger to grow so quickly.
She couldn't say anything against me, because I was the mayor. Plus I was a human. Sure, we were close but there were still social levels and hierarchies in our society. Those didn't just disappear. Harriet sighed and pointed to the door. "I think it is time you leave. I have other customers to tend to." I gulped and pulled my black pea coat on nervously. My fingers were shaking but it wasn't because I was cold. I hurried to the door. As I pushed it open and allowed a gust of cold air to temporarily enter the shop, I could hear Harriet's voice lightly see me off. "Have a good day, Stefan."
I'm surprised she let me have my haircut for free like usual after my offhand comment.
My black loafers crunched in the snow that had settled along Main Street. I left the awkward scene at the hair salon and spotted my limousine waiting for me on the side of the road. The sleek black car idled, exhaust pouring out of the back windpipe. I ambled over to the limousine and peered into the drivers' seat. A brown anteater sat in the seat, staring blankly across Main Street. I tapped on the window and grunted inaudibly at him.
"Olaf, open up and let me in." I said. The anteater, upon seeing me outside the car, hurriedly scurried out of the car and opened the door for me. I slid in, happy to escape the cold and snow. Olaf shut the door quickly and clambered back in his spot. I cleared my throat, brushing some ice off of my pea coat. "Take me back to the town hall, Olaf." The anteater nodded and began to drive away. I settled into my seat and enjoyed the warmth.
I could only imagine what those news reporters were going through, waiting for me to make an announcement. Olaf glanced in the rearview mirror like he was going to ask me something, but refrained from opening his mouth. Olaf has been my limousine driver ever since I became mayor; however, we didn't develop a very close relationship. I told him what to do and he did it. That was pretty much the relationship between any human and animal. My dealings with the anteater were no different.
As Olaf drove over the train tracks, I could see more and more evidence that there was media presence in Airedale. There were vans and reporters everywhere. People with cameras were standing around, filming other people talking. Clearly, they were speaking about me. When the limousine passed by them, they immediately realized it was me and crowded around the car. Some took pictures and others filmed the car now slowly moving towards the town hall. Olaf rarely honked at reporters but I heard him mumble under his breath that we were running late.
My cell phone rang. I glanced down at the screen to see that Isabelle was ringing in. I answered and her frantic, shrill voice sounded through the speakers. In some odd way, it calmed me. "Mr. Mayor! Where are you right now? Is Olaf driving you back into Airedale? You're running late for your announcement speech. I had told the press that you would be speaking in two minutes, but you're already over fifteen minutes late!" she exclaimed.
"I'm sorry, Isabelle. Things got a little tied up at the hair salon and traffic was difficult getting back into Airedale. I'm within the village limits now, but with all the press, it's hard to make our way through without killing someone. I'm doing the best I can, but I'll be there soon. Don't worry." I abruptly hung up the phone and leaned forward to stare out the windshield. "C'mon Olaf, can't you go any faster? Isabelle is getting antsy. Find like a backroad or something. Run over some flowers. I can always replace them." Olaf didn't acknowledge that last part of my command.
"I'm going as fast as I can, Mr. Mayor. We don't need the press suing and reporting any liabilities due to me running someone over." The anteater said nothing. We had slowly crept through for about five minutes, until there was finally a break in the crowd. Olaf gunned it and the limousine jerked forward. I could see the town hall from here. The Airedale flag fluttered lightly over the building, the wind blowing it gently. Snow was still falling as Isabelle paced around the front stone plaza. When the dog saw the limousine approach, her ears perked up and she rushed over to us. Olaf eased the car to a stop and Isabelle whipped the door open.
"Mr. Mayor! Finally, you're here!" I pulled my pea coat tighter around me and slowly got out of the car. Loud voices soon drowned out Isabelle's as news reporters swarmed around me, asking multiple questions. Lights flashed as people tried to improve the surrounding lighting and take my picture. Isabelle pushed them back forcefully. "Mayor Stefan will speak in a matter of moments, folks. You all can ask your questions in the special Q&A session, after the initial speech." Isabelle gestured for me to walk up to the podium in the middle of the plaza. I strode forward, staring at the crowd. It consisted of a mixture of people and animals, news reporters and villagers. I couldn't really decipher how they were feeling about me or the whole thing in general. Some people looked neutral. Others looked anxious. A few...just looked downright flustered and angry.
I swallowed down my anxiety and stepped in front of the podium. The surrounding noise immediately quieted down. The only sounds I heard were the rustling of papers and the clicking of cameras. Isabelle walked up alongside of me and stood there loyally. I cleared my throat and leaned into the microphone. The hush that lay over the entire crowd was mesmerizing. If I wasn't the person they were mesmerized over, I would be quite in awe myself.
"Thank you all for coming out tonight. I know it must be a lot to endure the cold and the snow. I appreciate all of those who came to hear my announcement and support me through my decision." I paused for a moment. The suspense these people were dealing with! I could just see it in their eyes. "I've been a part of Airedale politics for a very long time. I think this year will mark my...tenth year as mayor. I'm no stranger to the process and I'm no stranger to the people. I know what the villagers want; I provide it. They appreciate what my administration and I do for them and they vote for me. It's the way it has worked, it's the way it's always worked, and it's the way things continue to work."
"I have seen Airedale make remarkable progress in the last ten years. A whole decade has completely changed the face of a town. And I had a role in creating that change. I have enjoyed my position and I have enjoyed watching Airedale grow. To me, this town is like my child and my constituents are my family. I have watched the people of Airedale and the town overall achieve amazing things. People that I was acquainted with as teenagers and children are now growing into adults. Older adults have stabilized their lives and are very happy and financially successful. Our economy right now is the best that it's been in ten years, since I enacted the Bell Boom Ordinance back last March. Nine months later, Airedale is thriving and, no pun intended, booming."
"I can pass Airedale on to some other prospective candidate, raring to get a jumpstart on his political career. I can pass Airedale on, confident that Airedale is in a stable position and will be in good hands. It could be the best thing that ever happened to Airedale. Someone else can step in, just like I did, and get his hands dirty. He can change Airedale and possibly be continuously elected for the next ten years and progressively advance the town further than I already have. But I just love Airedale too much." The eyes of everyone bulged out, threatening to hop out of their sockets. "I love this town too much and I love the people too much. I refuse to leave Airedale when the town development is clearly climaxing. I'm an optimist; I solely believe the only way to go from this point is up. And I want to carry Airedale up." I scanned the crowd. Some looked excited and happy for me to officially say the words. Others looked like they were going to vomit.
"I will be running for mayor in the 2016 election. If you support my principles and if you support what I have done for this town, then I am confident that you will not make a mistake on Election Day." Mostly people were cheering. A majority of the people were cheering. Only a handful of animals were genuinely clapping. Most of the animals were hanging in the back with a sour expression on their faces. The reporters were now going crazy. Isabelle signaled for her aides to do something in the back. A girl with pink hair in the back pulled on a string. A banner rolled down. My face took up the entire left of it. On the other side it read "Vote for confidence. Vote for stability. Vote for comfort. Vote Mayor Stefan. #Airedale2016." As the cheers calmed down, Isabelle leaned into the microphone.
"Now, Mayor Stefan will be accepting questions from the media. Please keep your composure as you ask questions and remain quiet as the questions are asked and answered." A light blue frog raised her hand. Isabelle pointed at her. "Yes? The frog in the front. You may ask the first question." The frog nodded, smiling and clearing her throat.
"Thank you. Mayor Stefan, you had pledged in the 2012 election that you would not raise taxes for the residents. However, when you signed the Bell Boom Ordinance in March 2015, you did exactly that. Taxes spiked for residents, forcing many to move or foreclose on their homes. How do you justify directly going back on your election promise and asking the people to trust in you again?" Jeez, they're coming out with the bullets. I nodded, my ten years of political swagger clearly helping me in this moment.
"With every policy decision, I have costs and benefits to analyze. With the Bell Boom Ordinance, a clear cost was, exactly as you stated, a tax hike. I didn't want to do it, as I stated back in March when this exact same question was posed to me. However, I am obligated to examine every policy and bill and proposal that the Airedale committee puts before me. That's just the way politics works, and while I could see the costs to the ordinance, I could also see the benefits to the ordinance. I saw what the committeemen and committeewomen who passed the ordinance through saw. I realized that the ordinance would improve the economy, stimulate it, and continue to benefit the people. These overwhelming benefits outweighed the cost of a small tax hike, so I passed the ordinance. I wasn't wrong. The Bell Boom Ordinance has helped the Airedale economy and has allowed us to expand in so many different ways. I wouldn't take back my decision." Isabelle winced at my last sentence, but hey, the people knew they were voting for a confident guy. They bought the cow with the farm.
Isabelle pointed to another reporter who had a question. This time, it was a white eagle. The man cleared his throat. "In May, it was announced that you made a business deal with the corporation Mario Karting Enterprise to build a race track in the village limits of Airedale. Despite the loud vocal protests of villagers who would be living by the race track, the deal was still approved. These people signed petitions. They came to town meetings and spoke their hearts out in front of you and other committee members. Why didn't you listen to their pleas and cancel the deal?" Ugh, the barrage wasn't ending. Isabelleeeeee. I had to approach this carefully because I knew they were going to try to corner me somehow.
"I don't back out on business deals. That affects the town's reputation. I want Airedale to expand commercially and the addition of a brand new race track opens up so many opportunities. It introduces a flurry of new jobs to the economy. It allows other corporations, vendors, and chains to come in Airedale and express interest in having a business here. It's all an economy within an economy, like how ecology works together. Supply and demand determines everything. A car mechanic/performance shop might want to open nearby due to the race track. A burger place might want to come in to rival the concession stands within the race track. A hotel might decide that they want to build near the race track. These are all opportunities for economic advancement and stimulation that I couldn't pass up. It's all in the best interest of Airedale. It's the first step to building a bigger, better, stronger, more stable town that will attract both residents and tourists."
Isabelle pointed to a bull in the back. "We only have time for one more question. The black bull in the back." The bull had a sinister gleam in his eye as he stood up and cleared his throat firmly.
"It has been floating through the news sources that the Populist Party is prepping a candidate to run against you for mayor. We don't know who yet, but there are speculations of who. And those speculations are all animals. If this candidate has a successful campaign and wins the election, this would be the first time an animal has held office in Airedale since 1995. With the recent events of your term, including the lowest approval rate that your administration has ever had during your tenure, and the current animal discrimination that is still strong despite being abolished in other towns, are you afraid?" Isabelle pushed my shoulder aside, ready to intercede. I however blocked her access to the microphone, smiling just as evilly.
"I am not afraid. I've had people run against me before and they barely have put a budge on my campaign. They receive some steady approval and a strong radical grassroots support due to their running against the establishment incumbent, but the fact of the matter is that I win in a landslide every single time. I know this town and I know what's best for it. I understand the politics and I understand the inner workings of everything. I stand for stability and improvement. A wild card that flaps around and has no idea what he's talking about or facing is not a good choice for Airedale. Allowing a newbie into Airedale politics, a complete stranger in all sense of the term, is no way to expand Airedale economically. I am confident that this challenger, just like all the other ones, faces no chance against me. So I'll say these parting words: by all means, run. Whoever you are. Try to beat me. Try to find something wrong with me and pick at my flaws, but I will win. I'm not afraid of whatever you have to come to the table with. In fact, bring it on."
I backed away from the podium and walked inside the town hall, signaling that this Q&A was over. As voices clamored to ask more questions or called for me to come back, Isabelle worked frantically to close off the barriers and make everyone leave.
Mayor Stefan's speech was a success and a disaster. Just like everything else he does.
I fixed my pink hair which was wrapped up in a ponytail and watched Isabelle as she hustled around the office. I had just helped her push the media back and secure ourselves with Mayor Stefan in the town hall. As Isabelle's aide, it was my job to...well...aid her. Normally, humans aren't in inferior positions to animals, but given the fact that I was basically an intern, I answered to the dog. It doesn't matter to me though; these are all just society standards and norms. Which are gross. Isabelle was a nice girl. I enjoyed talking to her. She always had something positive to babble on about. Right now, Isabelle was filing some papers around while Mayor Stefan was on his computer at his desk, scrolling through social media feeds.
I walked over to Isabelle and sidled alongside of her. "Do you need any help with anything, Miss Isabelle?" I asked. The dog shook her head.
"I don't need your help with this paperwork but I do need you to do something else for me." She stated. I waited for Isabelle's orders expectantly. The dog pointed to a piece of paper near her paw. "Run this permit down to the Happy Home Academy; give it to Lyle." Simple curiosity pestered me to ask what the permit allowed, but that would be out of place. It was my job to follow Isabelle's orders, despite the fact that it wasn't typical for a human. I had to show her and other animals the utmost respect (even though other humans would look down on me for stooping to such a position). I nodded vigorously.
"Yes, ma'am." I grabbed the permit and stuffed it in my pockets. Mayor Stefan let out a loud yell of victory and pointed to his computer screen.
"Ladies, I've officially trended on social media! News outlets everywhere are headlining my campaign in articles. Everyone is talking about me running and everyone is commenting on my speech!" he exclaimed. Isabelle walked over to the computer to peer over Mayor Stefan's shoulder. I started to follow her over but the dog waved me away, ordering me to go to the HHA now. I sighed under my breath and trudged out of the town hall. The last thing I heard was Mayor Stefan exclaiming wildly, "Everyone is going to know my name soon enough!"
I wasn't privileged to be driven around in fancy town cars. I pushed my way through the lingering crowd to head towards the train station. Copper and Booker were still pushing some reporters and cameramen backwards, away from the town hall. The stern brown and white dog stared at me as I made my way out. "Ambrosia, where are you going?" he asked.
I took the permit out of my pockets and waved it lightly. "The HHA. Miss Isabelle sent me on a mission." The dog nodded and cleared a path for me, although it was filling up quickly with snow. I crunched through the town, shivering as I proceeded along. I was relieved once I reached the train tracks. It was only a short jog up the cobblestone hill--thank goodness there were stairs for pedestrians! When I entered the medium-sized building on Main Street, I was relieved to feel heat wash over my body. I relaxed once I was inside and stared around. Lottie, Lyle's niece, was sitting on a corner box couch holding a consultation with a customer. She waved at me when she saw me and pointed to a human boy sitting at his desk.
"Hi Ambrosia! Uncle Lyle isn't in right now. You can deal with Austin." I knew Austin quite well. We were childhood friends all through high school. After we graduated, we went our separate ways. He went to community college to get his business degree with a specialty in home design while I went to an out-of-county university for a political science degree. I came back, able to get an internship opportunity with Mayor Stefan. Austin meanwhile jumped right into the workforce with HHA and now was just promoted to district manager. The man with shaggy red hair gestured me over to his desk. I sat down in a chair and smirked.
"I've seen you before with the red suit on but now that you have the gold sign on your desk, you seem different." I noted. Austin chuckled.
"Trust me, Ambrosia. I'm no different. The only thing different with me is my salary." The boy added with a wink. I laughed and handed him the permit. He eagerly took it in his hands and set it off to the side. "Ah, perfect! I've been waiting to receive this. Lyle and I are very excited to expand the HHA building upstairs and next door." I nodded. So THAT was what the permit was for. Austin leaned forward, raising his eyebrows at me curiously. "I wanted to talk to you about something important, Ambrosia." he said seriously.
I smiled. "Are you finally mustering up the courage to propose to me?" Austin scoffed.
"No, not yet. I have a different type of proposal for you." I narrowed my eyebrows. Austin cleared his throat. "I know that you are an independent woman with great initiative. I've known you since we were kids. The moment you punched me in the shoulder during tag, I fell in love with your brusque personality." I laughed. "You're being stifled at town hall. Serving as Isabelle's lackey is humiliating and degrading. You're better than that." Ugh, is this seriously where this conversation was going? Austin grinned. "Having to serve under a dog and call her Miss and ma'am like she's your master has got to be so gut wrenching and disgusting. It sickens me that you put up with that." Austin cleared his throat again.
"Come join the Happy Home Academy, Ambrosia. We would be happy to have you. Heck, you're like family already. I want only the best for you and you're not getting it right now. Join us and we'll treat you the way you deserve to be treated." I looked down and pursed my lips. This isn't the first time that Austin has asked me this question. I appreciated the offer and I understood why he was poaching me, but I didn't want to leave my position. I enjoy politics and I enjoyed what I did. And honestly, I knew deep down in my heart how lucky I was to receive this opportunity in the first place. It's not every day that people just become Isabelle's intern/assistant. I stood up and pushed the chair back where it was.
"I'm going to reply the way I always reply when you ask me such a stupid question, Austin. No way in a freezing tundra during the Hunger Games." Austin scoffed and stood up. He opened his mouth to say something but I cut him off. "You are the most specist snob I've ever met in my life. Times have changed. We're living in 2015. You need to get with it." Austin rolled his eyes.
"It could be 3015 for all I care. Animals have always been disgusting, filthy, vile creatures. Some of them are fine, but for the most part, they aren't nearly as intelligent or civilized as we are. You can dress them up in clothes, you can slather makeup on them...you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig." We heard a gasp in the corner. Lottie was standing there with her client looking at Austin with an aghast expression. I bit my lip and threw the nearest thing I could at Austin's head.
A thick HHA catalog bounced off his head and landed on the desk with a loud thump. Austin winced in pain, holding his head. I walked forward and kicked him in the shins. "You're despicable. Animals are people. Just. Like. Us." Austin grinned at me through his pain.
"Let me guess. You're an animast. You believe that animals deserve equal rights. You don't care about humans. You think that humans should just roll over and let filthy greasy animals claim all the glory and the dominance, right? What about humanism? We need some more of that in our world. We ARE the minority." I didn't feel like winning anymore. His vile tone and talk was making me sick. I groaned and shook my head.
"You're hopeless. How can you expect to work in an office as district manager over animals? How do you expect them to respect you? You're a terrible, rude man that doesn't deserve a single thing given to him." I snapped back. I walked backwards and stared at Lottie and her client. She was slowly getting up with him and moving towards an office in the back. I felt so bad for them but I didn't honestly know what to say. What could a human say to them about discrimination from humans that would make them feel more comfortable?
Austin shook his head. "You're such a traitor to humankind. If you were a true human, you wouldn't have to ask me that question. You should realize that it's my privilege, not my attitude that wins respect and fear. I don't expect them to respect me. I KNOW they'll respect me." An awkward silence hung in between us for a few moments. Austin licked his lips and pointed to the door. "That was the last time I'll ever ask you to join HHA. Clearly, an animast like you has no place in our company anyways. You can leave now...and scurry back to your master."
I didn't even have the energy to throw anything else at his specist, pompous face. I huffed loudly and stormed out of the office.
As much as I don't want to make excuses for Austin, I understand why he is the way he is. Austin grew up in an ultra-conservative human family. His parents and grandparents had grown up in an age where animals were subservient and had no privileges or equal rights in society. The Vanders were an elite, old town family that rarely changed as the times changed around them. As Austin and I grew up, animals were active in pursuing a civil rights movement. They petitioned for the right to vote. They petitioned for the end of "separate but equal" facilities. They petitioned for the desegregation of public schools.
When Austin and I turned 12 years old, the final political battle was over. Open animal discrimination by people, businesses, workplaces, governments etc. was beginning to be outlawed in Animal Crossing. I remembered the day fondly because it was celebrated by all of my neighbors. Austin and I didn't understand what was going on but we tried to grasp the meaning of it in our own ways.
Neighbors were lighting up small fireworks and radios blared KK music. Animals were celebrating what seemed to be the beginning of the end. Animal Crossing towns across the continent were beginning to end open animal discrimination. Already human mayors were embracing change and progress. They were willing to accept animals as equals and move forward in history. News stations couldn't stop talking about the recent bill. Both civil rights activists and conservative political pundits couldn't keep their mouths shut on national television.
I sat on my back porch, staring into a neighbor's backyard. They had a bunch of people over and were loudly conversing. They were celebrating. The host family had invited my parents over for dinner. They were going to have a nice barbecue with fresh vegetables and fruits and marvelous desserts. They were a nice family--there was a young girl my age that lived there. I think her name was Daisy. I had been playing with her for a little bit, but while we were playing, I had accidentally let a word slip out that I had heard at Austin's house: slurry.
Slurry doesn't sound like a terrible word, but it was a specist slur for an animal. I wasn't sure where it originated from or what it even referred to. It had slipped out and Daisy had screamed. Things got chaotic. Daisy was crying. Her parents were hanging over her, consoling her. My parents turned and looked at me. And it wasn't anger I saw on their faces. It was disappointment. My father grabbed my ear and walked me across the yard to our back porch. He sat me down on the back porch and brusquely told me I was to sit here for the rest of the night under timeout. I was to sit there until they returned at the end of the party.
Now that the flashback within the flashback is over, so I was on the back porch.
For most children, the psychological effects of the timeout would be working. I would yearn to rejoin the party and cry out to my parents for hours until they let me return. As for me though, that wasn't my style. I stayed on the porch, brooding for about forty-five minutes. I heard a rustle behind me. A lanky kid with red hair and freckles stumbled out of the bushes and stood awkwardly next to me. I smiled and started talking to him.
"What are you doing out on the porch? Want to go back to my house and play some video games?" I shook my head.
"I'm on a timeout. I'm not sure if I can."
"Oh." There was an awkward silence before Austin spoke up again. "Why are you on timeout?"
"I called the neighbor a slurry by accident." Austin shrugged indifferently.
"My parents and grandparents call animals slurries all the time. They allow me to say it but we don't really say it in public. That's a joke that your parents have you on timeout for it." I scoffed.
"I know but you know...PARENTS." Austin 'mmed' and we stood there for a moment. My father had spotted us alone and stormed over. He yelled out at Austin to get away from me and leave me alone. Austin staggered backwards a little and held his hands out in a surrendering gesture. He didn't leave though; I stood up and tried to hold my dad back. "Dad, please! Austin's just talking to me!" My dad didn't shove me viciously but he definitely pushed me out of the way.
"I don't care. That boy is a bad influence on you and I will not have him poisoning your mind." My dad grabbed Austin by the shoulders and yanked him towards the edge of our front yard. "You stay away from my daughter." The party vibe ended rather quickly. My parents came home from the neighbor's and ushered me into the house. My mom told me to sit at the table so they could talk to me. I clambered into a chair. My dad grabbed a chair and sat down in front of me.
That evening, my family explained to me about the concept of animal discrimination.
That conversation changed my perspective of my life: past, present, and future. I realized that the Vanders were specist and that due to the strong specist sentiments in their family, the beliefs had imprinted onto Austin. My dad told me that Austin's family was close-minded and weren't raising Austin to establish his own opinion. My parents said that they were open-minded with animals--more than happy to treat them as equals--and encouraged me to do the same. However, they also encouraged me to seek my own opinion. Needless to say, my parents' style worked. I established my own opinion: a progressive opinion. I don't look down on animals or treat them as inferiors. I realized they were people and deserved the utmost respect and kindness.
Austin's behavior stemming from childhood up to his temper tantrum in the HHA was inexcusable but explainable. He was raised that way and he took on that belief for himself, without truly examining multiple points of view. I continued to speak to Austin, much to my parents' dismay. We maintained a firmly platonic relationship through middle school and high school, but I did keep my distance when it came to Austin's specist attitudes. Growing up in the era of the animal civil rights movement, where every other news headline pertained to animal civil rights, I saw Austin's specist side coming out frequently. I chose to ignore it, mostly because I knew I couldn't do anything about it. I never wanted to get into arguments or debates with him about things because I knew he would only fight back harder. I knew it wasn't worth my time. After high school, I tried to keep in touch with him but we ended up fading out. Until recently anyways.
I knew Isabelle didn't care if I came back right away or not. Based off of her current tone, I could tell she just wanted me to stay out of her way. I had the perfect places to retreat to when Isabelle was acting like this. One of those was the ice skating rink in the town center. Wintertime was the perfect season for people to visit the ice rink. They can be all cute, skate around, and swoon their lover. I had seen a man propose once to his girlfriend in the middle of the rink. It was absolutely adorable and everyone had cheered.
I owned a pair of ice skates but obviously didn't have them on me. Luckily, the rink had a booth where people could rent skates and have lessons from an instructor. I approached the medium-sized booth. A teenage cat was slouched inside on a chair. She spoke to me through the glass speaker in the window.
"What can I do for you today, miss?"
"I just need to rent a pair of skates. Size 7." The girl nodded, digging in the nearby bin for some skates. She slid apart the glass to hand them to me. "Thank you." I said. She nodded.
"Have a good time, miss." She could barely throw together an ounce of enthusiasm in her voice. At least the booth was heated. The girl could have it worse. I sat on a bench, slipping on the ice skates. They fit snugly and I tied them tightly. The ice rink wasn't too crowded, but there was a good amount of people skating. I guess the atmosphere attracted people to the rink today. By now, the snow had stopped but it was still pretty chilly.
I carefully made my way onto the ice and began to skate around. I was no pro but I knew how to balance myself without looking like a fool. I glided easily, doing a couple turns and feeling the light wind against my face. It made me shiver but at the same time, the feeling of skating on the ice warmed me up. There was something about ice skating that relaxed me. I noticed there were the different types of people skating tonight. There were families with young and middle-aged children. There were young couples ranging from teenagers to young adults on dates. There were older people. There were single people. It was amazing how all these people with all their differences could unite in one place to do something they enjoy.
It made me wonder how animals and humans could eventually do the same.
The brutal sound of someone falling on the ice aroused my thoughts. I heard someone wince and whine loudly. "Hey, you did that on purpose!" A childish voice cried out. I had looked over to see a small mouse lying on the ice, staring up at two humans. It was a man and a woman, I presume, out on a date. The mouse clenched his fists and slowly picked himself up. "You've been pushing me around this whole time. Quit trying to trip me! It's not nice!"
The boy skated away. The man and woman laughed to themselves and whispered something. The man grinned evilly, ignoring my judging glare, and skated alongside the retreating boy. The human grabbed the young child by the neck and wrenched him to the ground. The boy screamed out as he was wrestled down to the ice. That was it. I couldn't take it anymore and no one else was choosing to intervene. I made my way over to the human and pulled him off of the child.
"Leave him alone!" I yelled. The man turned around, expecting to see an animal. His face paled when he saw I was a human. He huffed under his breath and skated backwards.
"What's the big deal? He's just an animal. A filthy, slimy rat boy. Why are you defending him?" he asked me. I folded my arms and skated in between him and the boy, leaning down to help the boy stand up. The boy mumbled a 'thank you' timidly.
"He's a child, whether or not he is an animal. He's just a little boy, trying to have some fun at the ice rink. He wasn't bothering anyone." The man spit on the ice alongside of my skate and glared at me.
"Whatever. You animast." I wasn't the most familiar with the term and I didn't really know the extent of what it meant. However, this was the only time I had been called the label in such a degrading, demeaning term. The couple skated away and I was left with just the boy. An older woman with grayish-black hair skated up to me with a grateful look on her face.
"Thank you so much for helping my son. Those humans were bullying him for a while and I was too afraid to stand up for him." Her eyes were red. Had she been crying? "There's not a lot of humans like you out there, but I'm thankful you were brave enough to help my son." Before I could even stammer out a 'you're welcome', the woman grabbed her son by the hand and was gone. I don't even know where they went; they just disappeared.
I had enough of ice skating for today. I wanted to just get back to the village and see what else Isabelle had for me to do.
Backlash was already fermenting in the media.
This was the type of drama I enjoyed. There wasn't much work for me to get done besides silly meetings. Isabelle mentioned something about a fighting arena wanting to open in Airedale, and I had to meet with my National Security Director regarding the election. He said it was important but wouldn't tell me what he meant. I would be apparently meeting some representatives from the fighting arena in fifteen minutes. Isabelle was hustling around, preparing papers and cleaning the meeting area. She ushered me into the conference room and told me the men would be in momentarily.
I sat in the leather chair staring at my phone. The news outlets were blowing up. "Mayor Stefan Tells Animal Opposition to 'Bring It On.'" "Mayor Stefan Challenges Challenger to Find Something Wrong With Him." "Mayor Stefan: Confident or Pompous?" "Mayor Stefan Insists He Will Win." I lathered in the love. Or the attention anyways. It showed that I have an impact on society's culture, media, and politics whether or not they like me. Everyone may hate me, but they're talking about me, so it kinda means I still win the battle.
The door squeaked open and Isabelle stood there with three men. I immediately stood up and strode over to greet them. Isabelle introduced them as Mr. Wu, Mr. Yasuo, and Mr. Simon. Two Asian men and one Caucasian man shook my hand firmly and sat down across from me. It never took me long to analyze someone. Mr. Wu seemed like the quiet type, Mr. Yasuo was more of the fun one, and Mr. Simon was the businessman. While the first two simply sat back and stared, Mr. Simon descended into the spiel I am sure he prepared for hours. They came from Smash Melee Corporation and were interested in expanding their empire by building a fighting arena in Airedale. They had heard I had already made a deal with Mario Karting Enterprise to build the race track and wanted to have an advantage from the commercial growth here.
Mr. Simon pulled out charts with bars and graphs and pies explaining the current success of their corporation. He wanted to persuade me through numbers and Bells. I can't lie and say it didn't work, but I already knew what I was going to do before they even stepped into my office. That's the ENTJ part of me; I'm decisive and I know what I want. I don't have to think about it too much. Mr. Simon droned on and on (I know because I kept a close eye on the clock in the room) about their multiple investments and bulging capital. I didn't care about the financials; I didn't care about what they already had going for themselves. I could tell they were a successful company. The Rolex on Mr. Wu's wrist told me enough. I needed to know what they were going to do for me.
"So what do you think, Mr. Mayor? Are you interested in making a deal?" The middle aged blonde asked me. I scratched my chin and leaned forward. I had to put off an aura of mysteriousness. These three guys couldn't just think I was sold to their idea. They needed to work for it.
"I'm impressed by what you three have certainly done to the company. But tell me, how is it useful for me? You've convinced me how you will benefit by the partnership, but how will I benefit? How will Airedale benefit?" The pale man wasn't expecting my question. I nearly laughed when his face scrunched into one of confusion. The scrunch only lasted a few moments before the man composed himself.
"Imagine the amount of revenue that'll be pouring into Airedale. People will come from all over to train and to watch fights. New fighting teams and solo fighters could emerge from Airedale, attracting sports media, sports marketing companies, and dozens of new companies and opportunities. The addition of a fighting arena to Airedale will open up your town to a brand new world of sports, business, marketing, and media. Countless doors that you didn't even know existed will be opened."
Now that's what I want to hear. I stood up and held my hand out to shake.
"Brilliant. You got yourself a deal." I keep a majority of my deals closed off and intended on doing the same with this one, but I couldn't wait till the world discovered what I had just done for Airedale. After some small talk and light conversation, Isabelle escorted the men out of the conference room. The dog turned her head over her shoulder to tell me that my National Security Director would be in momentarily. She wasn't kidding. A tall, muscular man with a military fade haircut strode into my conference room. The multiple medals and ribbons affixed to his dark green suit reminded me of the man's brave accolades. His military service was a primary factor to his current authoritative position now. The director saluted me at the door and then sat in the chair. I nodded firmly.
"Connors, you demanded a meeting saying it was an emergency. What's going on?" I asked. The director pulled some papers out from inside of his jacket and unfolded them carefully.
"No doubt you've heard the talk about the animal opposition. They're calling themselves the Populists. If you're brushed up on history, it means they're referring to themselves as the Party of the People. Pretty broad claim, if you ask me. They're rising quickly and I know you showcase yourself as the non-fazed, confident candidate, but I have key intelligence. They are recruiting a very strong candidate that will give you a run for your money. I am here to advise you to do one of two things, Mr. Mayor." I gulped and allowed Connors to proceed. "You have two options. You can either abolish animal discrimination and vow to work towards a more equal, tolerant environment in Airedale, or stay firm and risk losing the election." I clenched my fists.
"Are you calling me stubborn, Connors?" I asked slowly. The esteemed general carefully chose his words.
"I'm telling you that the world is changing. If you don't change with it, you're not going to be reelected. It's as simple as that." I opened my mouth to say something but Connors cut me off. "The animals are growing dissatisfied and specist humans aren't helping. They're planning to vote in blocs and if you're not going to show them that you are with them, they're going to be against you." I shrugged.
"I have my own ways of convincing them." I said sternly.
"Telling the animals that you're creating jobs and stability isn't going to do a thing this time around. The animals want more than that. They want tolerance and acceptance. They want a world where their children can feel safe at school and not have to worry about bullying." Connors cleared his throat and stared at me. "If you want to be reelected, I am telling you that abolishing discriminatory policies will be the only way you can assure the vote. Otherwise, the battle will be uphill."
I folded my arms. Who was he to step in here and tell me what policies I had to abolish? It's not that I was openly specist; I had to deal with a bunch of animals every day, Isabelle included. I wasn't specist, no. However, I did have endorsements from human conservatives who could be considered specist. They have funded my campaigns and my efforts. They have helped me win the human vote and their vote was valuable to me too. I couldn't just lose that by granting animals what they wanted. Besides, Connors didn't know what he was talking about. He was just a director of security; he didn't know politics if it hit him in the face with a frypan.
"You know abolishing discrimination in Airedale won't accomplish anything. There can be loopholes. People can still have opinions." I said. Connors shrugged.
"You and I know that, but it's symbolic. These animals will feel like they've made progress. Like they've won. If you appease them now, they might not be so hard on you. You can always make an excuse and blame it on the committee if no more progress is made. They can believe that. They can't believe that you won't even try to propose abolition." Connors explained slowly. I huffed.
"I'll think about it but no promises. You know how these animals get. Give 'em an inch and they take a yard. Give 'em the yard and they take the town. You know there's nothing wrong with separate but equal. Years ago, I think animals got carried away and started asking for too much. We know they overpower us in sheer numbers so mayors got scared. Otherwise, I don't know if animals would have made all that progress with their little "civil rights" movement that they did make." I cleared my throat. "Me? I'm not scared. I'm not going to let them stomp all over me. They're good with what they have now: the vote, desegregated schools, affirmative action in college admissions...what else do they want or really need? You know what I'm saying?"
Connors nodded. "I see, Mr. Mayor, but these animals are always pushing for more. They want equal opportunity in the workplace...in real estate...the current norm is never enough. You've been in politics enough to know that. I'm just advising you that if you want the animal bloc to lean towards you with a more favorable view, you should heavily contemplate abolishing discrimination from businesses and government." The tall man stood up, hovering over me. "You don't have much time until the Populists kick off their campaign with their candidate. Once he's on the trail, the animals will unite behind him quickly. You won't have much time to scramble what's left, and when you are scrambling, don't come crawling to me."
Before I could say anything else, Connors left the conference room. I sighed and leaned back in the chair. I groaned. I knew Connors had a point but I knew that there would be quite the uproar from humans if I appeased the animals. The consequences were double-edged and it wasn't just as simple as signing some bill in the name of progress. Isabelle opened the door and entered the room, lightly shutting the door behind her.
"Mr. Mayor, is everything alright? The director looked like he was leaving in a hurry. How did the conversation go?" she asked. Isabelle was asking out of concern and I appreciated it, but I couldn't tell her the full truth of our exchange. She wouldn't understand and I couldn't expect her to understand. She was an animal first and that identity couldn't be stripped away from her, no matter how closely she worked with me. I stood up from my chair and gestured Isabelle to leave the conference room. She stared at me curiously and obeyed. I licked my lips nervously.
"Ah, as long as there's nothing else major that needs to be taken care of today, why don't we just take the day off? I'm tired and I need to just relax. I'm sure you need a break too." I straightened my shoulders and gathered my things. "Call up Ambrosia to relieve her and close the town hall for the day. I'm going to go home and then set up Olaf to take me somewhere." Isabelle nodded as I grabbed my pea coat. It had stopped snowing by now but it was still windy and cold out.
Isabelle smiled and waved. "Certainly, Mr. Mayor! I'll do exactly that. Have a nice night, sir. I'll see you tomorrow!" I tightened my coat around my shoulders and with a light grin spread across my lips, I exited the town hall. I was hoping the day wouldn't get any worse.
I had just received a call from Isabelle. Apparently, there wasn't any other work to be done, so Mayor Stefan told Isabelle town hall could close for the day. I was happy because I could just do whatever now. After the incident at the ice rink, I just wanted to go home. I walked past the Able Sisters' clothing shop and for some reason, I stood still in front of the marquee. I heard something...was it light crying? I stepped towards the alley and peered into the darkness. I swore I could have seen a figure lying in the snow, huddled against the side of a dumpster. I walked closer and pulled the person to their feet. It was...Lottie? She barely had any clothes on. Some were on her; other articles were strewn carelessly on the ground.
I helped Lottie to her feet and immediately wrapped my coat around her. Poor girl was freezing! I tried to ask Lottie what happened. How did she get here? Why was she here? What happened to her clothes? Lottie wasn't really keen on answering though. I didn't know where to take her that would shield her from the cold. The closest thing to me was the marquee. I rushed both of us inside and was relieved when the warm gusts of heat poured from the vents. The emcee stared at us curiously but I didn't know where else to go. I directed Lottie to sit down on a bench by the front door. She did obediently without a word peeping out of her mouth.
I had never seen Lottie act like this. I hurried over to the Able Sister's shop to pick up the girl some decent clothes. Sable and Mable stared at me as I quickly grabbed a coat, pants, and other pieces of clothing off of the shelves. I had no time to talk though; I had no time to explain. The sisters thankfully accepted that I was in a hurry and sensed that I couldn't speak now. They didn't ask a single question. I grabbed the bags of clothes and sped out of the store. When I went back in the marquee, Lottie was still sitting there. Now though, the emcee had exited her booth and stood hesitantly alongside of the shivering girl draped in just my coat.
"Uh, miss..." the young emcee trailed, "I don't know what's going on here but--" I shook my head and cut her off.
"I'm sorry! I just had to get my friend out of the cold. I'm not really sure what's going on either, but I just have to ask you. Do you have a bathroom we could use so my friend can change?" The emcee pointed to a door just a few feet away. I nodded. "Thank you. I promise you that as soon as I get her changed into proper clothes, we'll be out of your hair. Sorry and again, thank you!" I grabbed Lottie's hand and dragged her into the bathroom. I thought she was going to be quiet the entire time. As I changed her into some warmer, more comfortable clothes, I wasn't expecting a fun, back-and-forth conversation.
That's why I was so shocked when tears began to stream down Lottie's cheeks and she spoke up. "Ambrosia... thank you so much for helping me out." she began. I rubbed her shoulder calmingly and smiled.
"It's my pleasure. But what were you doing out there? You could have frozen to death. What happened?" Lottie shook her head and sighed.
"It's a long story. Can we...can we head to your apartment?" I nodded. Despite working in the village limits of Airedale, my apartment was actually above a Chinese restaurant only a few blocks away. I nodded and we made our way out of the bathroom. As we left the marquee, I nodded a silent thank you to the emcee. She returned my nod with a light smile. My apartment was spacious and clean so I wasn't worried about the sudden visitor. I just had no idea what my roommate was doing or if they were even home right now.
My roommate Pax is a trans human. I have no idea what's going on underneath the surface, and I don't need to know. It's seriously none of my business and I have no problem with it. All that Pax told me was that the preferred pronouns were they/them and that they would really prefer if I used those pronouns. I immediately said I had no problem with it and that I would be considerate. Pax and I don't talk all the time--we aren't the closest--but we respect each other's boundaries and stuff. Maybe it stemmed from my upbringing. My parents raised me to be a tolerant, accepting girl and that affected my perspective on a lot of different things in life.
The fragrant smell of Asian spices reached my nose. We were right outside my apartment. I led Lottie up the cold metal stairs and we were outside my door. I pulled the key out of my pockets and slipped the door open. We were both embraced with warmth. My apartment seemed light and airy. I gestured for Lottie to sit down on my couch. She did so and I asked if she wanted anything to drink. Lottie timidly asked for some water. I nodded and headed into the kitchen. I almost bumped right into Pax. They were digging some orange juice out of the refrigerator when I burst into the kitchen. They stood up and lightly brushed some short blue hair out of their eyes.
"What's up Bro?" they greeted with a wink. That was always the biggest joke of the house. I put up with it for two reasons. Firstly, because Ambrosia is very long to say and I understand not everyone can always put up with pronouncing it. (Pax does call me Ambrosia regularly, but sometimes slips into the nickname.) Secondly, because I don't mind being called 'Bro'. They leaned their head to peer into the living room. "Who's the friend?" they asked. I went to the counter to pour me and Lottie water.
"An acquaintance of mine that works at the HHA. I found her in the alley...I don't really know what happened to her. Mind giving us some space?" I asked. They nodded and smiled warmly.
"Absolutely. I'll give you guys all the space you need. If you need me, I'll be in my room zoning out to Youtube." Pax waved and strolled into their bedroom, shutting the door lightly. I grabbed the glasses of water and brought them out to Lottie. She gratefully took one glass and drank it. She thanked me and leaned back on the couch. I took a sip out of my water and sat down next to the girl on the couch.
"So Lottie, tell me what happened to you." Lottie took a deep breath and began to recap everything to me slowly. At first, her memory seemed a little foggy but as she recuperated in my apartment, her memory regained its balance and Lottie was able to recount more and more of the story.
"Shortly after you and the customer I was dealing with had left the office and Austin had his temper tantrum about animals, I approached Austin about it. I was so embarrassed and shocked about the whole ordeal but I knew I had to bring it up tactfully. Technically Austin was the district manager. Therefore, he was my superior. I basically told Austin that it wasn't cool for him to go off like that about animals, especially in front of customers. I told him it was okay if he was specist or had certain beliefs that related to specism, but I said it wasn't okay to express them openly in the workplace. In a workplace where it was his job to oversee animals..." Lottie sighed and lowered her head. "I asked him to promise that he wouldn't have such outbursts again. If he wouldn't promise, I said that I was going to tell my uncle..." she trailed.
Oh jeez. I could see where this was going. "I couldn't even control my words before they were coming out of my mouth. I threatened to tell my uncle Lyle about the incident if Austin wouldn't promise to keep his composure about animals. As you can probably imagine, Austin didn't take well to that statement. I wasn't expecting it but he had slapped me across the face and spat at me. He told me I was stupid, worthless, and idiotic. He asked me how I expected to squeal on him when I had already told him my plans. I could barely defend myself before Austin began to..." Lottie choked on some tears and I rubbed her shoulder again.
"Hey, I'm so sorry you had to go through all of that." I said. Lottie sniffled.
"He dragged me out of the office and slammed into me out in the alley. Blow after blow after blow. He just pummeled me and beat me up mercilessly. It almost felt like it was never going to end. Until finally...FINALLY...he got up and said to me that if I told him anyone about what just happened, he wouldn't leave me in the alley to suffer next time." Lottie sniffled some more. I stared at Lottie with a different perspective. My eyes scanned over her body. The bruises, the blood, the aches that I could see rolling through her muscles. I licked my lips nervously and reached out to Lottie.
"Lottie...did Austin...hurt you any other way?" Lottie looked down in shame and blinked away tears. I didn't want to believe anything. She nodded. I almost wanted to throw up. I knew Austin was a despicable man who was raised by a despicable specist family but to do that to an innocent young girl was sick and twisted and...oh my Gog. I stood up and gripped Lottie's wrists comfortingly. "We need to take you to the hospital. A professional has to look at all of your wounds and examine you." Lottie's face turned a deep pink.
"Ambrosia...I can't. They'll ask why. What am I going to tell them?"
"The truth!" I exclaimed. "People need to know what Austin did to you! He needs to pay for what he's done!" Lottie looked down on the ground and moved her hands out of my hands.
"I appreciate the help, Ambrosia. I really do, but I can't tell anyone. He'll kill me for sure. He might retaliate and hurt Uncle Lyle and the rest of my family. I can't have that happen to them...they don't deserve to suffer because of me." My mouth hung open; I was aghast.
"Lottie, we can get Austin arrested. Once he's behind bars, he'll never hurt you or your family again. I swear, I can help you. You can get through this. We--" Lottie stood up abruptly and made her way towards the front door.
"Ambrosia, I thank you so much for helping me. For getting me out of that cold alley and...getting me in warm clothes. For bringing me back here to give me water and get me in the heat, but...I have to go now. I'll see you around." I had no chance to run to the door. To stop Lottie. The girl was already out of the apartment. I dashed to the window and could see Lottie's retreating figure hurry down the icy sidewalk. I groaned loudly and plopped on my couch.
This was nothing shy of a nightmare.
Olaf immediately took me into the limousine and drove me to my mayoral mansion on the other side of town. Technically, it wasn't mine. Technically, it wasn't supposed to be touched or renovated for historical purposes. Nevertheless, several years ago, I had taken it upon myself to make modern improvements to the house. Isabelle told me multiple times that, due to the cold fact that the mayoral mansion was the official house of the mayor and nothing more, I wasn't allowed to do anything. I ignored her and proceeded with no caution at all. I installed marble floors, beautiful tiles, stainless steel kitchen appliances, granite countertops, custom cabinetry, and more. I turned what was a generic house for a mayor--what was supposed to be similar to a parsonage--into a custom palace fit for a prince.
The prince being me and me alone, that is.
Olaf dropped me off at my doorstep and quickly scrambled to my side of the car to let me out. I crawled out of the seat and exited the car. Thanking the anteater with a gruff nod, I made my way into the house. The three story house towered over me by now, it wasn't intimidating to me. Maybe to others, but certainly not to me. The first thing you walk into when you enter my home is the beautifully ornate foyer. Fit with dracaenas and marble busts of myself, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Julius Caesar. I chose those two men because they both were ENTJ's just like me. I felt like we shared a common bond and reminding myself constantly of that bond would only strengthen me and my hold on Airedale.
I passed the foyer and strode right upstairs. I needed to change. I was in my work clothes right now. For what I currently wanted to do, this attire wouldn't wash. I entered my huge closet and slipped out of my clothes. My dress shirt, my tie, my slacks...they fell to the floor. I was usually a formal man for business related endeavors, but this pastime had nothing to do with business and everything to do with pleasure. Velour is my favorite hangout spot. It's relaxing for me. My brain is usually always on the go and always planning something. At Velour, I can let all the stresses of the day flow away. I put an Armani Exchange polo on and some dark jeans. Versace sneakers topped the look and I was ready to leave.
I hadn't grabbed my money yet though. Having an ABD in my home was so much more convenient than constantly running to the bank or the post office. My money was literally accessible to me 24/7. I withdrew 30 full Bell bags. Approximately 3 million Bells jingled in my pockets, begging to be spent. I wasn't going to disappoint them; I never did. I went to the front door and tapped my butler on the shoulder. I didn't really know his name; he's worked for me for quite some time but I never took much time out to know him. He was a loyal, obedient animal and that's all that really mattered to me. The ostrich turned around and asked me what I needed.
"Tell Olaf to ready the car. I would like to go to Velour tonight." The ostrich nodded, not missing a beat.
"Yes, Mr. Mayor. May Copper and Booker escort you into the club, sir?" he asked. I nodded as well.
"Yes. After I've announced my campaign, I will need the additional protection." The ostrich saluted.
"I will get on that right away, sir. How soon are you ready to leave, sir?" I felt the bulge of the Bells in my pocket and smiled mischievously.
"Whenever Olaf is." The ostrich left me on a salutation of "something something, sir" and hustled outside. I grabbed my pea coat off of the coat rack and hung it, waiting for the ostrich to come back inside. Within seconds, the butler came back in and told me we could go now. "Perfect, thank you." He opened the door for me and watched as I walked down the brick steps and walkway towards the limousine. Olaf, as always, exited his warm spot in the driver's seat to brave the cold and open the door for me. I slid in without a word to Olaf and Olaf returned to his seat.
Olaf adjusted the mirror slightly and looked back at me. "Cranston said you wanted to go to Velour tonight, Mr. Mayor?" I grunted, confirming my intentions. So that was the ostrich's name! Olaf nodded and began to pull away in the limousine. As my mansion on the edge of Airdale slipped away from direct view, the anteater spoke up again. "Booker and Copper will be meeting us in a separate car. Don't worry, as always, we will be throwing the paparazzi off your track as much as possible." I nodded in agreement. I mean, what am I supposed to say when all these animals make everything the most convenient for me? What do I say when some even go completely out of their way for me?
Our limousine took different twists and turns through Airedale. The white and black vans and large SUV's that tailed us were soon gone. I found us entering the downtown district. Not the good side either. As I passed people smoking, people hanging out on corners, and people who plainly looked up to no good, I knew we were getting closer to Velour. I settled back in my seat and stared at the different, neon colored signs that greeted me. They screamed out to the night and provided light in a part of the city that morally (and almost literally) was plunged into darkness. Instead of parking or stopping in front of the greasy nightclub with vague signs and advertisements, Olaf made a sharp right and maneuvered the limousine down a narrow alley. There already was a dark GMC Yukon sitting in the alley with no lights on. I knew it was Copper and Booker. Olaf abruptly stopped the car and let me out. Copper and Booker exited the SUV and approached us. Olaf lightly pursed his lips at me.
"I'll have the limousine waiting behind the dumpster. I'll pick you up when you come out, Mr. Mayor." I nodded and followed the brawny dogs. They led me to the side door and opened it for me. I slid into the illegitimate entrance and found myself thrust into the middle of a dark, exciting, pumping, throbbing atmosphere. A giant bar lined the perimeter of the space. There were booths and high top tables scattered all around the club. In the center were runway-esque stages. Poles extended from the ceiling. They were barely visible if it weren't for the strategically placed lights. And of course, there was the free entertainment.
Copper chose a hightop in the back for us. Booker sat next to me and Copper nudged my shoulder. "I'll get you a drink, Mr. Mayor." I nodded lightly and the serious dog was gone as quickly as he came up to me. Booker quietly sat alongside of me and merely scanned the entire bar. It was Booker's job to scan for any shady characters and keep his eye on them. If someone got too rowdy or too close, Copper stepped in to defuse the situation. It wasn't my job to make sure if things were safe around me; I had people that did that for me.
Copper returned with my drink and some waters for him and Booker. I eagerly took the drink and began to sip at it. Copper told me he ordered us wings and nachos. We could nibble on them while we relaxed in the bar atmosphere and of course, watched the live entertainment. A few minutes after Copper told us he ordered food, a nervous waiter basically plopped the food on our table and scurried away. I couldn't help but stifle a laugh as the young man could barely look me in the eye. In Velour, I always felt so comfortable. Everyone here knew my secrets, especially the people who worked here. However, they never snitched. They never told the media that I constantly frequent Velour. They stay loyal.
As Booker, Copper and I were finishing up our appetizers, a short balding man waddled over to our table. I already knew who he was; I didn't even have to narrow my eyes to take in his bushy mustache. Mort Waldson was the owner of Velour and was one of the few people who intimately knew that I always frequented the club. He smirked and sidled alongside of me at the table. "Mr. Mayor! Pleasure to see you here again. I'm presuming that you're here for your VIP package, right?" asked the fat human with a wink. I always thought Mort was shady but he had something that I wanted. And I always get what I want. I just had to deal with his mug constantly. I nodded.
"You know me best, Mort." Mort squealed and rubbed his hands together.
"Beautiful, beautiful! Well, I certainly will not delay your pleasure any further. If you are ready, sir, I can prepare the velvet room for you." I glanced down at my food. I was pretty much done. I didn't need to sit here any longer. I wanted my experience to get more personal. I nodded and got up numbly, following Mort down the familiar lane. Towards the back room. Mort opened a black door and made me sit on a red velvet couch. As I gently lowered myself on the couch, Mort grinned cheekily. "I'll send Lucky right in." I rolled my eyes as the stodgy codger made his way out of the little room. Copper and Booker weren't inside with me, but I knew they had followed. They were standing outside the door, making sure things were secure.
Within a few minutes, the door slowly opened. A tan human with toned muscles and nice abs strolled in the room. His spiky buzz with sharp fades was the first thing that stood out to me. I always looked at people from the hair down. "Lucky's" eyes were blue and they never hesitated to stun me. I don't really need to refer to him as Lucky though; I knew him as Jesse. And things with me and Jesse? Well...they were complicated. Jesse leaned forward and put his hand on my shoulder.
"What brings you back so soon, Mr. Mayor?" he asked. The sweet croon in his voice made my shoulders instinctively shake. Jesse chuckled and smiled. His teeth were so perfect they should almost be illegal. That smile...that could not have been natural. Some orthodontist had to have been responsible for those beautiful teeth aligning so perfectly. "You know, I love when I make you squirm. However, I'm asking you a serious question." I shook myself out of my trance and tried to play it cool.
"I'm stressed. Things have been tough at work lately," I admitted with a shrug. Jesse climbed into my lap and grinned.
"Well, if there's anyone that knows how to relieve stress, it's me." I took the leap. Leaning forward, I captured Jesse's lips into a kiss. We stayed like that for a few moments before Jesse pulled back. He stared at me passionately and grinned. "I love you so it doesn't matter, but I'm going to ask anyways. Are your pockets bulged and loaded?" I scoffed and nodded.
"Of course. Thirty full Bell bags deep. You act like I've come empty handed before." I grabbed the back of Jesse's head and pulled him into a kiss again. I could feel things getting more heated. The chemistry between us was undeniable and almost unbearable. I wanted to go further, just like we always do here. Suddenly, Jesse pulled back. Usually, I expected a smug look on his face. Jesse would want to take this to the next level too. He would have no problem taking US to the next level. But now, I saw a distraught look on his face. It was too real. I frowned. "Jesse, what's wrong?" Silence. "Did I do something wrong?" Silence. I was desperate to find some fault with what I had done, just so we could move on from it and continue elevating our blood pressures and hormone levels. "Jesse, I swear, if I grabbed you inappropriately or something like that, I didn't mean to. I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable in any way. I--." Jesse shook his head and rested his finger on my lips to shush me. My voice died down instantly.
"Stefan, I love you. You know that. I know that. I want to be with you, but I'm just tired of--this."
"Tired of what?" I asked hesitantly. I pointed at our current intimate position on the couch. "This? Am I not enough for you anymore? I mean, you deal with tons of people every day but--" Jesse cut me off.
"It's not like that. I have...a lot of fun with you. It's just that--I'm sick of being your dirty little secret. You hide me like I'm so terrible and don't deserve to be with you. You act like the public shouldn't know we're a thing. I mean, are we even a thing? Or am I just your toy?" The mood was fading fast. I groaned and gripped my head in frustration.
"Jesse, you're not my toy. Things are just really complicated right now and me running for re-election isn't helping matters." I said sternly. Jesse didn't hesitate to quip back.
"So you're ashamed of me." I threw my head back, hitting the couch. It wasn't like that! I...I didn't know if I loved Jesse. He was hot. He was fun. He made me feel comfortable and he made me feel like myself. With Jesse, I didn't have to put up a certain air that everyone else expected. He didn't care if I was the mayor. At least, not that I knew of. All that I'm saying is that Jesse made me feel like I didn't always have to play Mr. Mayor. With him, I was just Stefan. All those things contributed to me having strong emotions and feelings for Jesse, but I just didn't know if I loved him. My life was rough. Needless to say, admitting to loving someone was a huge thing for me. It just didn't come easily. I wasn't one of those people that spouted off those words like they were curse words. "I love you" had a deep meaning to me and I wasn't about to abuse them anytime soon. Not that using them on Jesse WOULD be abusing them; I was just confused right now.
Jesse's actions interrupted my pensive thoughts. He climbed off of my lap and was sitting next to me on the couch. "Stefan, I'm not going to make myself any clearer. I love you so much, but the only way I can continue to be with you is if you can take this...us...seriously. I need to know that you feel the same and I need you to show me." I clenched my fists.
"What do you want me to do, Jesse? My image is a tough thing to maintain right now. Do you expect me to just...propose to you in the middle of Airedale's town square?!" I exclaimed, my voice rising in volume. I could tell Jesse was getting flustered and angry.
"I just want you to prove to me that you're willing to commit and take our relationship to the next step!" he said. I couldn't take this anymore. This pressure. With Jesse, I just wanted to let loose and not worry about the world around me. I wanted to have fun. But now, Jesse was bringing the world to my doorstep with his realistic, "serious" conversation. I stood up. I dug through my pockets and dumped all of the Bells on the floor. I'm sure he just wanted his money anyways. Ignoring Jesse's calls and cries out to me to sit back down or take back the money or come back and talk to him, I stormed out of the velvet room.
My name is Cobb Huxley and no, I am not running for mayor of Airedale.
My brother Hugh Huxley is doing that. We just haven't announced it yet. It was difficult to come to the decision of WHO could rival Mayor Stefan and give him a run for his money and obviously, win. There were tons of men and women who thought they had what it took. There were others who wanted to do it for the power trip and the thrill alone. We had enough of politicians who wanted to have the mansion and the authority; we needed someone who was willing to do the right thing and serve the people. Mayor Stefan has wronged us for so long. He's continued to shroud our town and our generation in animal discrimination and on top of that, he does things that the public doesn't even want him to do.
Did the people ask for a tax hike? Did they ask to get a race track built right by all of their homes? Did they ask for the economy to be jilted so much that they would have to foreclose on their homes?
No, and the people tried to tell Mayor Stefan that numerous times. We've held rallies. We've signed petitions. We've done as much as we possibly could, including electing an animal to the committee. Hint, he couldn't last more than one two-year term. It was a blow to all Populists the day that our committee member was voted out of office for a human. Some of us even wondered if the polls were tampered with. We could never prove it, but in the back of our minds, it was something we all thought about. The people have tried to be patient about things and they've tried to give Mayor Stefan multiple chances. The clock is running out though and the Populists desire change.
That's how I had found myself sitting in on a Populist convention. It was being held at the local hotel eight months ago. I wondered why I was invited. What did I have to contribute to the party? I was a good lawyer, sure. I fought for the people specifically, sure. But did that deserve me being invited to this convention? I didn't think so. My brother Hugh would have more knowledge about the situation; after all he was the committeeman that was elected for only one term. However, I was quite surprised to be the go-to man. The other men and women told me they valued my opinion and wanted me to have a key role in determining who would be the mayoral candidate. In return, I would be named the campaign manager.
It was a hefty return that I was willing to bank on. We reviewed a lot of potential candidates. Some had more political experience than others. Some had more grassroots approval than others. Even though our entire political party could be considered grassroots, there were some aspects of it that were more radical than others. We wanted to avoid that as much as possible. We wanted to appeal to all people so we needed a likeable person who was a household name. I held no bias when I voted for my brother Hugh to be made candidate for mayor. I knew that Hugh really did have what it took to be a genuine mayor and a strong challenger. Everyone else agreed with me. For quite some time, we were thinking about choosing Walker Berns. The tall dog was quiet and reserved. He had a clean record, good experience and a solid stance on issues. The convention and I worried that Walker wouldn't be able to stand a chance in the televised debates. We ended up deciding that Walker could be the deputy mayor on the Populist ticket.
We already knew that Hugh had the ability to win the people over. He had done it before.
When the convention came to a decision, we knew we made the right choice. We told Hugh. All of us were all ecstatic. Now, all that we had to do was prepare for the announcement and prepare the campaign. As the campaign manager, it was my job to oversee everything about my brother's mayoral campaign. Stemming from the slogan right down to the image that my brother had to show the people, the pressure was also on me to pull through. I knew that Hugh had to announce his running soon. Time was running slim and we needed to get the necessary funds together and get more funds coming in. We needed to get Hugh's name out there (which wasn't hard) and rally the people towards a single cause. Long story short, there was a huge to-do list on my iPhone but there wasn't anything I could do about it at this exact moment.
The convention--comprised of much more powerful and prominent people than myself--commanded me to announce Hugh's running exactly six hours after Mayor Stefan announced his reelection campaign. Because we all knew he was running again. Who was he kidding? We all knew that he was a selfish human with every desire for power and no desire for approval. This year would mark the tenth year of his tenure. All of us knew that he is grasping to reach twenty. He wants to almost be the permanent ruler of Airedale, but he has to learn that Airedale doesn't work like that. It can't work like that and it won't work like that. The time was approaching. Exactly six hours was coming soon. I let out minor hints. I called news stations. I rented out a space in the park.
It was all happening so sudden and, soon the news was spreading like wildfire. On the tail of Mayor Stefan's anticlimactic announcement was our announcement. The Populists were finally announcing who would be carrying their party to victory. Everyone in Airedale has heard of Hugh Huxley, even the humans. When Hugh was on the committee, he made quite the name for himself. He openly challenged the humans. He attempted to expose their scandals. He even tried to prove that one committee member was being bribed to vote a certain way. Everyone will certainly assume that Hugh will be out to do the same this time. So at this exact moment, I was prepping the stage.
People were filing up to the spot in the park. They held cameras, lights, notepads, and tablets. This was going to be the biggest moment in Airedale's political history. It was going to shape the society and culture of the next entire year. Some people were wary that the Populists were choosing to announce their candidate right after Mayor Stefan announced his running. They wondered why. But I looked at it this way--we were upstaging Mayor Stefan. We were shoving him off to the side as old news. Our entire campaign is basically symbolic; one just has to squint to really get it. I set up the speakers and the curtains. We had already stationed Hugh behind the curtain in a box before anyone could even see him step in. I just had to give the speech first.
I glanced down at my watch. We were seconds away. I stepped on to the stage. Assistants flashed bright lights at me. Cameras blinked on and the reporters stood in awe and nervousness. I was here to change all that. I gulped before clearing my throat and greeting the crowd. "Thank you everyone for coming out on such short notice. I congratulate you all on being able to tolerate the cold just to hear me make a very important announcement. I, Cobb Huxley, am representing the entire Populist Party on this fine winter evening. The Party of the People has heavily deliberated who to make mayoral candidate for Airedale. I am pleased to announce that we have finally come to a conclusive decision." I stared out into the crowd. Gauging the energy was so fascinating. All of the reporters were wide-eyed and eager to hear who. It's not like I couldn't blame them. This could change everything that these people have ever known.
I stepped a little to the side, still gripping the microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen, please help me welcome to the stage......Hugh Huxley." A burst of applause rang through the park at this semi-late hour. Cameras flashed and people's voices were finally bubbling out as my brother strode confidently out onto the stage. The blue pig pushed the curtain aside and came out, grinning warmly. His grin was a grin different than what the animals and humans of Airedale were used to. Mayor Stefan's smirk was a pompous one that reeked of fakeness and entitlement. My brother's smile was genuine and exuded an air of reputability and kindness. It was what Airedale needed at this time in its "life." Hugh grabbed the microphone and waved to the crowd of news reporters.
"As my brother Cobb has said, I really appreciate you guys coming out to listen to this announcement in the cold. It's awfully bitter out there. I won't keep you long with my little speech." Hugh cleared his throat. "I've grown up in Airedale. I was born and raised here. I've watched this town grow and thrive, but I've also watched it struggle and fail. Every setback hurts me to the core because Airedale is my home. Right now, our town is failing. Mayor Stefan wants to do nothing but credit himself for tiny successes. Sure, this town has made steps forward. But for every step forward, our town continues to take numerous steps backwards. It's come to the point of no return--it comes to the point where someone needs to step in and do something about it, because the current administration isn't. I intend to be that person. I intend to change Airedale. For the better."
Cheers and claps rang out through the park. Hugh pursed his lips. "We need to foster an environment of tolerance and equality. The first thing I plan to do is abolish animal discrimination once and for all. This step will truly progress Airedale towards a better place. Other towns around us have made this sweeping progress a reality, while we sit in the past. Mayor Stefan's administration stands for shadows and secrecy. I not only plan to expose all of those secrets but also I plan to release Airedale from the bondage of darkness. Eliminate the crime. Eliminate the fear. Eliminate the terror. I humbly ask that you support me on my journey. I will attempt to convince all of you that I am the best choice for mayor and for the next nine months, I will work to earn your vote. Thank you and good night." Hugh stepped backwards and made his way off the stage. Reporters lunged forward, attempting to ask questions. I stepped in between my brother and them, holding my arms out.
"No questions! We'll be planning more appearances soon and questions can officially be asked and answered there. Thank you!" A black SUV pulled up conveniently right in front of us. I gestured Hugh to climb in and I followed him inside. I slammed the door and the driver took off down the road. I glanced back to see the reporters. Some were standing there, snapping pictures and videos of the retreating car. Others were rushing to their vehicles to follow us. I sighed and leaned back in my seat.
This was going to be one heck of a campaign. I took out my phone and logged into the official campaign Twitter account. I had in my head for a while what my brother's "slogan" was going to be. I was ready to tweet it finally. I began to type in the small 160-character maximum box.
"Toleration for our children. Hope for our future. Hugh Huxley. #Airedale2016."
Copper and Booker intercepted me at the exit. They knew better than to ask me what was wrong. Copper simply told me that there was sudden news. The Populists had announced their candidate. I glanced around the bar. All of the sports broadcasting networks were currently airing the announcement. They were in Airedale Memorial Park. Camera flashes took up the entire screen and could have given someone an epileptic seizure. I could barely see the figures on the screen who were speaking but the voices were familiar. I gasped and looked at the flashing headlines on the screen.
No. It couldn't be.
"Hugh Huxley Is The Populist Candidate for Mayor"
"Hugh Huxley Is The Populists' Choice"
"Hugh Huxley: Pushing For Control of Airedale"
I was quite familiar with Hugh. He was a likable politician and had even been voted to the committee for a short time. He strived to make things go his way and he didn't understand that that just wasn't the way Airedale politics worked. He was promptly switched out for a human. I and some other human committee members made sure of that. Hugh isn't a bad guy but he has his demons. He just doesn't let those demons show when it's convenient for him. He came from an animal family that was remarkably successful for their species and class. His father Spork Huxley was a shrewd businessman with an eye for politics. He never was able to pursue it because in his day, it was still forbidden for animals to hold political positions.
Spork Huxley merely used his business to push his own agenda. He teamed up with other strong animal families to push for an end to animal discrimination. It only partially worked. Several assassination attempts were made on Spork's life by humans but all were unsuccessful. I knew that Spork had pushed his son Hugh into politics just like he had pushed his other son Cobb into law. Hugh eventually made politics into his thing, but I knew initially that Hugh was barely interested. I wasn't going to let that lie under the rug during this campaign. Hugh Huxley was popular and well-known due to his name and his personality, but I wasn't going to be easy on him.
My bellicose rhetoric earlier today implied I was going to take down any candidate. I have every intention of doing the same with Hugh. Some animals in the bar, including a few dancers, were cheering and applauding the announcement. I growled under my breath and pushed my way through the crowd. Copper and Booker hurried hastily in my wake. I stormed out of the club, out of the side exit door. Olaf was waiting behind the dumpster with his car. When he saw me and the dogs, the anteater pulled out of his hiding spot and lingered in the alley without his lights on. I didn't even wait for Olaf to let me in. I got in myself and the anteater clearly was flustered about the whole thing. I ordered him to pull away.
I didn't even care to see if Copper and Booker got out alright. I was quiet the whole way home. Olaf knew better than to ask me what was wrong too. We stayed in complete silence until Olaf pulled up outside the mansion. It was freezing cold and I basically rushed inside and slammed the door. Without a 'goodbye' or 'goodnight' to my driver, I just wanted to be away from everyone else. In times like this, I had stashes of things hidden throughout my house just for me. People had different names for it, but for me, I just called it Fruity Delight. It had a scent of pear juice and a citrus taste, but the enduring effects were more than just the aftertastes of a fruit snack. I went upstairs and entered my closet.
I had some baggies hidden in my drawers. I pulled them out and walked into my bedroom. I had a small coffee table at the end of my bed for decorative and practical purposes. I set one down gently on the table and sat crosslegged on the floor. I needed this. I opened it and poured the contents onto the table. I immediately knew what to do next; my body was on a declining crash and needed a boost. I lowered my face. My nostrils burned. My eyes twitched. My mouth itched. My teeth involuntarily grinded into one another. Several moments later, the room started to spin. Soon enough, everything went black.
A pounding on my bedroom door awakened me. My head ached and my muscles felt sore. I could feel Isabelle's shrill voice from the other side of the door. I jolted myself upright and looked at the scene around me. I needed to clean now. I told Isabelle to hold on (I used an excuse that I wasn't decent) and hurriedly cleaned up the disheveled room. I didn't remember a thing that happened after I got home. I was mildly glad that I was merely confined to this room and not out anywhere. Once the room was tidy enough to be okay for Isabelle, I opened the door.
The yellow dog was standing there looking very tired and exhausted. I asked what was wrong. As usual, she burst into a flurry of explanations without actually being clear. So the result was a dog whimpering, whining, screaming, and nearly crying. I grabbed Isabelle's shoulder and shook her. "Get a hold of yourself!" I yelled. She squeaked and became quiet. I narrowed my eyes. "Now....slowly and calmly explain what's going on. I know that Huxley is running so you don't have to break that news to me. I heard last night." Isabelle nodded.
"Okay, good. I was worried. Copper and Booker said you stormed out of Velour last night." Yes, Isabelle was one of the other few people who knew of my habits. "I didn't know if everything was okay or not. Olaf said you just went in the house without a word, so I wanted to check on you." I bit my lip, feeling a tiny bit guilty.
"Thanks for that. I was fine. I just needed...some time to myself after hearing Huxley's announcement." I trailed. Isabelle said she understood. "Sorry for not letting anyone know I was okay. I went through a lot of different things last night and I just wanted to be by myself."
"Of course, Mr. Mayor! Everyone needs downtime. Even me." The dog added with a wink. "But anyways, I wanted to let you know a few different things. The committee contacted me and said they want to plan the televised debate as SOON as possible. Within the week. How does next Tuesday sound?" Today was Wednesday. I was game. I agreed to the date. Isabelle grinned. "Great, okay! Next thing I wanted to go over with you...this isn't going to be your typical election. It's not going to be easy and we're going to have to work a lot harder to win. I'm going to arrange a stance session so you can address some issues that the people have had, plus establish your stance on current hot-button issues. Does that sound good?" I nodded. Isabelle beamed. "Great! I'll get to scheduling that right away, Mr. Mayor. We need to establish you as the incumbent with a progressive mind."
Before I could say another word, the dog hustled away. I sighed and shut the door. I just needed some time to myself. Usually, this would be the time where I would take a nap so my body could recover from the different toxins that were in its system. As I tried to sober up though, I couldn't help but think about Jesse and our conversation. I understood what he was asking but I didn't honestly know if I could provide it. It was no secret to both the animals and humans of Airedale that I could be attracted to men. However, I do know that it's a controversial topic and, especially within politics and my career, I needed to be careful. It was something I had to dance around, as stupid as that sounded. I wanted to be in Jesse's life and I wanted him to be in mine, but I didn't know if that was possible. Particularly because of the upcoming election.
Isabelle and I had even discussed a few weeks ago about me coming out and saying that I was dating Ambrosia. It would have been a cute, concocted love story of lies and falsehoods. She was the meek, mild mannered maiden. I was the macho mayor who she saw a different side of. I was attracted to her from seeing her around the office all of the time. We secretly dated. We eventually come out to the media. Isabelle was planning on coming up with all of these little details to make the scheme perfect. I just wasn't into that and I didn't know if Ambrosia would have been either. However, Isabelle did convince me that that was the only way the public could truly have trust in me--if I committed and attempted to settle down.
I can't even do that to the real person I love; how did Isabelle think I could do it with a fake lover?
I pursed my lips and sat down on my bed, sinking back into my pillow. Isabelle seemed very sure that after things get underway, I could admit I've been "dating" Ambrosia for eight months. Then four months after the announcement, I would make a huge proposal. Ambrosia says yes and we live happily ever after. I tried to poke Isabelle for more information about how to END the fake relationship. She never really talked about that part. She would nonchalantly say that either one of us could break off the engagement after a few months or so of secure tenure on my part. She sounded like she was leaning more towards Ambrosia being the bad guy.
"We could say Ambrosia cheated on you with another man! Or a woman...whichever she prefers, I guess. And then you get so enraged and hurt by her betrayal and infidelity that you cut things off."
Isabelle would be the best writer ever.
But on a serious note, she can't just run our lives like a puppeteer. I have a say in this too and I don't personally like it. Half of me doesn't like being this dishonest with people just to win an election. And that's saying a lot considering that I would do crazy things just to get my desired result. I'm also uncomfortable with the fact how much it involves Ambrosia too. I don't like her that way and I'm sure she feels the same way towards me. We're different people under the surface and Isabelle is merely pairing us together because of our species. Reverse specism, I guess? It happens to everyone, I presume. Another half of me feels like I would be severely cheating or hurting Jesse by partaking in this "scheme". It didn't feel right to me and I knew that I was a bad person and a "shady, suspicious mayor", some would say. However, I didn't want to hurt Jesse more than I had to.
I glanced over at my cell phone. I felt the urge to call him. I knew that I needed to apologize for last night. Hopefully he would accept me back like he always does. Mostly, I would go back to Velour the next night to get alone time with him that way. Kill two birds with one stone. However, I wanted to do this a different way. The right way. I picked up my cell phone and sent a text message out to him.
"Hi it's me. I'm sorry for what I said and how I acted last night. I want to meet with you in person to talk to you about some stuff. Our place?" I sent the text. Within a few minutes, I got a reply back.
"OK. Sure, see you at 6:30."
I groaned out loud.
Lottie shouldn't have to undergo this. It wasn't right and most importantly, it wasn't her fault. It was Austin's fault for initiating it and being the specist idiot he was. After Lottie left, I got kinda depressed and barricaded myself in my room. Pax understood and they left me to my own devices. Every now and then, they'd come in with a few snacks and bottles of water and retreat. Moments like that really made me appreciate having a roommate. Several hours later, I was channel surfing through the television when I saw the announcement. The Populists chose Hugh Huxley to represent them. I was no stranger to Hugh Huxley. He seemed like a nice man with a good heart. I didn't know much about him, but I did know that he could give Mayor Stefan a run for his money. He was a tough politician with an attitude. He wasn't afraid to tell people the way it was.
Even though I don't approve of Stefan's handling of animal discrimination, I'm not going to just hop on the Populist bandwagon and ride it to the ocean. I wanted to learn things about the candidates before just filling out a ballot. I felt like that was my civic duty. Voting to vote was pointless to me. Pax, on the other hand, wasn't as impartial. I don't know if they were a Populist or not; I never considered their political leaning or stances any of my business. However, I could gather that they definitely were more on the liberal side. We were both sitting on the couch when we saw the announcement together. Pax pumped their fist and grinned widely.
"Alright! Glad to see Hux is running." They said, taking a large sip of water. "We need more animal representation in Airedale and this certainly is the way to get it." They brushed some hair out of their face. "Hux never got the credit he deserved in the committee. Those humans wanted him out the second he won in a landslide. They knew it was a mistake and were determined to not let it happen the next year. That was totally rigged." They cocked their head and looked at me. "What do you think, Bro?" they asked. "Or...is that private, confidential information that you can't share since you're Isabelle's aide?" they added with a smirk. I rolled my eyes and shrugged.
"I don't really know anything about it, so I can't comment. Don't quote me officially for a soundbite though." I joked. They laughed. "But on a serious note, do you know a lot about Hugh Huxley? What's he like? Is he really a good candidate?" I asked. They shook their head.
"Hux is kind of a private guy. He keeps to himself but tries to point out everyone else's bad business. He seems like a decent guy. Anyone is better than that slob we have in office now. I don't understand how that guy keeps getting voted back in year after year." They said. I wasn't a huge fan of Mayor Stefan either, but I kept my opinions to myself. I wasn't as loud or outspoken about him as they were. I wanted to change the subject but it was hard to do that when Hugh Huxley was the biggest news taking up every channel in Airedale. Thankfully, Pax changed the subject for me. "So what happened to that friend of yours that was over here? Did you two get into it or something? You seemed out of it after she left..." They trailed.
Could I tell Pax? I didn't see why not. It's not like I was going to keep what happened a secret; I just felt awkward having Pax being the first and currently only person who knew the truth about what happened. I knew they weren't going to say anything. They certainly weren't the gossipy type but I preferred the police to know as soon as possible.
I sighed heavily. "Yeah, well it's complicated. I think she was attacked in an alley. I tried to get her to go to the hospital to get checked out and possibly process it with the police, but she refused. We kinda got into it and she stormed out of here." Pax bit their lip.
"Ouch. Sorry about that." They furrowed their eyebrows. "Do you know who did it possibly?" they asked. I nodded vigorously.
"Yes. And that's why it makes things a thousand times tougher." I said. Pax pushed for more information and clarity. "It was my childhood friend Austin. He works at the HHA too." Pax stood up abruptly from their seat on the couch.
"Austin? That juice bag? I have some friends who know of him. He's a real slob; that wasn't the first animal he's attacked." I narrowed my eyes now, asking them what they meant. "What I mean is...that Austin has attacked animals before. I know some of those people who are victims; they're my friends." Pax paused and then continued to speak. "Austin is a specist jerk who always has something to say and nothing better to do than torture animals." Pax huffed in annoyance. "He shouldn't get away with attacking someone else." I nodded in agreement.
"I would like to tell the police but it's not my place. Lottie needs to do it herself." Pax fell silent and didn't say anything. I shrugged. "I do really want to help Lottie, and trust me, I don't believe Austin should get away with it either. I just don't know if I should be the mouth the accusation comes from." We didn't talk. My phone dinged. I glanced down and saw it was a text from Isabelle. She was simply telling me the first debate between Hugh Huxley and Mayor Stefan is taking place next Tuesday. She wants to have the stance session the day after tomorrow so Mayor Stefan can set down some boundaries and stances on ideologies for the election. She wanted me to come down to town hall in the morning to plan the stance session. Things were only going to get busier for me and this Lottie drama certainly wasn't helping my workload.
I groaned and stood up. Pax stared at me in confusion. I pointed to my phone, explaining I needed to report to Isabelle for work-related stuff in the morning. It was late. Pax looked up at the clock. "You're right, Bro. I'm going to hit the sack too. Good night." We stood up and prepared to go to our rooms. Pax rested their hand on my shoulder. "And hey, don't let this stuff with your friend get you down or distracted. She's an adult and I KNOW that you're just looking out for her, but if she wanted to report it or get herself help, she would do it on her own. Right?" I nodded.
"Yeah." I said meekly. "Thanks." I grabbed my things and headed to bed. I needed all the sleep I could get to concentrate tomorrow.
I hurried through the snow to get to work. It wasn't snowing now, but there was about an inch on the ground. Not all of the plows or storeowners had gotten to it yet, so it lingered on the streets and the sidewalks threatening to cause icy traveling and slipping. Cars passing by me on the roads made their way slowly. I glanced at my watch. It was 7:45. I knew Isabelle expected me at work at 8. I was barely in the village limits yet; I needed to hurry. I trudged as fast as my feet could rush through the snowy sludge. Brisk winds chilled me but it was nothing close to the weather yesterday. I pulled my coat closer around me and wandered into Airedale village.
There were still news reporters scattered around. They were taping themselves giving news updates. Some even noticed me and tried to ask me a few questions. I ignored them. My main goal was to make it to town hall on time and unscathed. When I saw the Airedale flag fluttering in the breeze, I knew I had succeeded. I pushed my way through the door to find Isabelle sitting at her desk alone. She looked up when she saw me, ears perked in alertness.
"Ah Ambrosia! Thank you for coming in so early! I wanted to plan the stance session with you so we can have it all prepared for tomorrow. Take a seat at your desk!" she exclaimed. I obediently obliged. She handed me some blank pieces of paper. "I plan on some committee members moderating so it stays calm and collected. The main things that Mayor Stefan needs to clarify is his foreign and domestic policy with other villages, his stance on taxes, andddd how he plans on helping small businesses. Can you think of anything, Ambrosia?" she asked. I bit my lip.
"Uhhh how about his stance on animal discrimination? You know, that's certainly a widely-spoken about issue right now." I trailed. Isabelle blushed and nodded quickly.
"Right right!" she exclaimed. Isabelle scribbled some notes down on a scrap of paper. "That sounds good. We don't have to cover all the topics; that can be done in the debate. I just want the people to understand the main things that will be pivotal in this election." Isabelle bit her lip and glanced over at me. "Now I have the day down but where should it take place? I don't want it to be super official but at the same time, the stance session needs to take place in a professional place."
I pondered the thought for a moment. "Hmm. It's too cold to have it in an outside location. The weather is probably going to be very snowy and cold. So definitely have it an indoor location. Town Hall is too small; why don't we have it in the courthouse?" I suggested. Isabelle nodded.
"That's not a bad idea. If the courthouse doesn't have enough room or availability tomorrow, we can have it at the local hotel. They have all sorts of convention rooms, meeting rooms, or banquet rooms for this sort of thing. Do you mind calling the courthouse for me?" Isabelle phrased it in such a submissive way, but I knew it was a command. There was no way I could oppose her passive demand.
"Not at all, Miss Isabelle." I nodded curtly and reached for the telephone.
I stood in the foyer of the diner, waiting for Jesse. I was too nervous to step into the actual restaurant yet. Yeah, I could go in and stand there by the hostess area and be escorted to a table. Jesse could have been directed to my table. But something inside of me compelled me to stay in the neutral foyer area and wait for Jesse to come in. Every time I saw a car or a person in my peripheral vision, I perked up. My mind would instantly think "is it Jesse?" It never was. I inwardly worried that Jesse would stand me up. He never had before but I thought about it in the back of my brain. I deserved to be stood up. I was a jerk to Jesse, and even though I supported him monetarily, I just didn't have it in me to support him emotionally. I wasn't the man he wanted and I'm sure I wasn't the man who he dreamed would sweep him off his face.
All of these thoughts were running through my head but when I finally saw a muscular, medium-sized man approaching the steps of the diner, I couldn't help but grin. He decided to show up after all. He wore a pea coat as well; I only dressed him in the finest clothes. The bell above the diner entrance dinged as he finally entered the foyer. He brushed some snow out of his spiky hair and lightly smiled. "Hi, Stefan." He came in for a side hug. I hugged him back and kissed him on the cheek. He tensed up and pulled away. "Have you just been waiting here?" he asked. I nodded, slightly embarrassed he pulled out of my embrace. "Alright, let's go in and get a table." I followed Jesse into the diner. The hostess smiled warmly and held out two menus, asking if it was just the two of us. Jesse nodded and the woman led us down the aisle.
She sat us at a booth near the window and set the menus down gently. "...Have a good meal, Mayor Stefan." she said graciously, before turning on her heel and walking away. The staff at the Trident Diner also kept my secret, just like how the people at Velour kept my secret. Jesse and I always went to the Trident Diner; the hostesses and wait staff never squealed to anyone that I went there with him. It was relieving to know that some people in this world were still loyal. Every day, I always waited for some scandal about me to hit the news press. For some anonymous staff from the Trident to release info about me. For someone to say I always went on dates with my boyfriend there. Was Jesse even my boyfriend? Ugh, Gog, I can't think about this so much. It made things awkward in the present moment.
A tense silence hung between me and Jesse. I had invited him out though; I needed to man up and speak. I leaned forward and sighed. "Thank you for coming out with me. I wanted to talk to you about some things." I gulped and swallowed down some fear. "You had a lot of good points and I was too stubborn to acknowledge them. I'm sorry for being obnoxious the other day." Jesse nodded and smiled lightly.
"I appreciate you apologizing. I was too demanding that night. I had been thinking about all that commitment stuff for a while and it just kinda came all out when you were at Velour. You said you were stressed and I wasn't thinking. I'm sure I didn't help with the stress..." he trailed. I shook my head.
"It's not your fault. I needed to be more sensitive to your feelings." I paused and stared down at the sugar packet that I was fidgeting with in between my fingers. "But you also have to understand where I'm coming from. I'm not ashamed of you and I do care for you a lot. It's just always been hard for me to commit or say that I love someone. I can't expect you to relate but I just hope you can understand." I took a deep breath. "I promise to commit to you but it's just going to take some time." I bit my lip and leaned back in my seat. Jesse's lips curled up and he took my hands in his.
"I appreciate you being honest with me. I'm not going to rush you but I just needed to know for myself that you were serious." I reiterated that I was. Jesse smiled warmly. "I want to work towards this with you, but you can't fault me for giving you a deadline." Oh Gog what's this? Jesse leaned back and let go of my hands. "If you haven't in some way committed to us and our relationship by the time of the election, then we're over. Do you understand?" I sighed deeply. I was being given an ultimatum. The most powerful man...the most powerful human in Airedale was being given an ultimatum. I nodded slowly.
"Yes, I understand." Jesse grimaced.
"I'm sorry to have to do this to you, Stefan. It's just that I have no choice. I love you but I need to know that you're serious. If you can't show me that in the next year or so, I have to move on." Jesse's cell phone suddenly beeped. He glanced down at it and frowned. "I'm sorry. Waldson needs me at work early." He leaned forward and kissed me. "I wish I could stay but I can't. I'll talk to you later." Before I could say another word, Jesse swept his coat from the booth and slipped it on. He slid it over his shoulders and left the restaurant. I remained at the table to smell the sweet aroma of coffee and baked goods. The waitress sidled up to my table, confused to see two menus but only one patron. She greeted me warmly and asked me what I would like. I cursed in my head for Jesse ditching me at the table and requested my usual. The animal hustled away after I gave her my order.
I glanced over at the television near the diner bar counter that was playing the news. Something was breaking. Something urgent. The hostess turned up the volume, attracting the attention of the small amount of patrons in the restaurant. Hugh Huxley was on the screen. He must have held an interview with a talk show host earlier today. The main headline was panning down on the bottom of the screen: "Huxley Promises To Pursue Alternative Energy in Airedale." I could hear a few animals around my booth murmur that it was about time, that 'Mayor Stefan' needed to stop siding with big businesses and start working with smaller businesses to fight global warming. Ugh, I wished I hadn't already ordered so I could just leave. The waitress returned, silently setting my coffee in front of me and walking away. I listened to Huxley's voice, streaming through the speakers.
"For too long, Airedale has been relying on traditional means of energy such as natural gas, coal or oil. We haven't even looked into measures like solar, wind, or water power. There are all sorts of energy sources out there that we haven't tried or have refused to consider. To me, that isn't acceptable anymore. I want Airedale to be the best it can be and I can accomplish that, while reducing Airedale's carbon footprint. Other towns have had no problem with slowly transitioning to solar panels, wind turbines, or hydroelectric dams. I intend to do the same thing with Airedale."
The interviewer's voice calmly interceded for a few moments. "Mayor Stefan for a very long time has sided with the large oil, gas, and coal companies. As a result, these corporations have had heavy influence in the politics and growth of Airedale. By promising to purse alternate forms of energy in Airedale, do you fear losing the support of those companies? Do you fear the potential JOINT wrath that the CEOs could harness towards you?" he asked. I watched Huxley shake his head.
"Absolutely not. These major corporations have been allowed to grow too much in Airedale. They're treated as people when they aren't people at all. They're businesses and assets created by greedy men who want to wield their power in the town and accumulate money. They're not acting in the best interest of the overall population. I don't fear them at all and I certainly don't fear what they could do to me. I only fear what they've done to Airedale so far." I could hear a few claps and whistles ring out in the small diner. The waitress came by my table and placed my plate down. I had ordered a club sandwich.
The broadcast panned out of the interview soundbite and was now showing the news commentators commenting on Huxley's words. The hostess turned the volume down a tad. I proceeded to eat a part of my dinner. I could hear animals conversing about Huxley. They were happy. They thought he was so brave. Did these people not realize there was a reason why I never pursued alternative energy in Airedale? No, because they just always assumed I was siding with the rich humans and being greedy. I watched as animals began to glare at me and jeer. They were sneering and talking loudly about how poor my choices were and how stellar Hugh Huxley was. They were talking about how Huxley for sure would win the election and that I would be run out of town with nothing but an extra pair of underwear tucked in my arms. Usually I wouldn't feel threatened by anything an animal would have to say, but Copper and Booker weren't here to defend me.
Olaf was outside in the limousine but he wouldn't be able to help me if animals ganged up on me. My appetite vanished. I called the waitress over and told her I was ready for a box. The Trident Diner had a running tab for me so asking for the check was unnecessary. The woman nodded and hurried to grab a box for me. In the corner of my eye, I saw a young horse with a mohawk stand up and begin to approach me. The waitress dropped the styrofoam box in front of me. "Have a good night, Mayor Stefan." she said curtly. I nodded, grunting and stuffing the rest of my sandwich in the box. I dropped about 400 Bells on the table as a tip and stood up. The horse was walking towards me more quickly. I clenched the box in my grip and grabbed my coat. I didn't like the way this horse was approaching. I put on my coat and tried to walk down the aisle. I felt a hoof grip my shoulder. The adolescent stood there; he towered over me due to his height.
"Mayor Stefan, can I ask you a question or two?" I shook my head.
"I'm sorry--I have somewhere to be--" I stammered. The horse cut me off.
"Oh come on! Surely you can stand to answer a few questions. It won't take too long." I tried to pull out of his grip.
"I'm sorry but I'm already late as it is. I need to go now." I finally broke away. "Now if you'll excuse me, young man, I apologize but I really have to go." I was free. I basically sprinted out of that diner. The horse tried to follow me, but I was too quick for him. I slid through the foyer and almost thought I was going to do a slip-and-fall on the icy steps of the diner. Thankfully, Olaf saw me and I was one step ahead. He came out of the car and opened the door for me. After the anteater did his usual duty, he could sense the tension and my rush and ran back to the driver's seat. As we peeled away, I looked back up at the stairs of the diner. The young horse was looking down at me with a strange expression on his face. I would expect him to be sad, distraught, or offended. Even angry! He had this strange mischievous smile on his face. Like he was expecting me to run away.
Like he wanted me to run.
Today was the day of the stance session.
Isabelle did a fantastic job of setting it up for me last minute at the courthouse. Isabelle told me it was just a small little session where a few moderators would ask me a couple of questions and then there's a small Q&A portion at the end. I dressed formally for the occasion. I had learned early in my tenure that it was better to be overdressed than underdressed. I straightened my tie and hurried out of the mansion at the urging of Cranston. The ostrich wanted to make sure I wouldn't be late. I hustled downstairs and made my way outside to the limousine. Olaf as always was waiting for me. Some cameramen and news reporters were huddled outside of my house, filming me and taking photos of me leaving the mansion. Olaf drove me silently to the courthouse. I hadn't really been there in a while. There was no need for me to be there. However, it was a perfect indoor location for this event Isabelle set up.
I glanced out of the window. It was early December so people were prepping for Christmas (or Toy Day for some) all over Airedale. Town workers were erecting stringed lights and decorations. Trees, bells, and wreaths were common light decorations hanging from electric poles. Cedar trees were being decorated with colored lights and wreaths were being attached to street lights and town clocks. It was an operation that I always endorsed and never really took a part of. Stores along the Main Street drag were sprucing up their front windows for the occasion too. All to attract little children who would point at the shiny new toys and beg their parents or Jingle for them for Toy Day. The local mall was setting up their Meet Jingle displays so kids could also tell the reindeer what they wanted for the big day. I'm sure Christmas carolers were preparing their routines as I drove towards the courthouse.
Speaking of the courthouse, the official building loomed in front of me. The Airedale flag billowed lazily. There were reporters and news crews there too. I straightened up in my seat, ready to confront and be the dashing politician. Olaf slowed down and looked back at me in the rearview mirror. "Are you ready, Mr. Mayor?" asked the anteater. I nodded and Olaf stopped the car in front of the courthouse. Isabelle hustled down the marble steps and opened the door for me.
"Mr. Mayor, you're finally here! Perfect!" She stood aside to let me climb out. "The weather is holding out for us but I see some clouds at the edge of town so we should hurry inside." Copper and Booker instantly appeared to form a path for me. Isabelle led me through the crowd and into the warm courthouse. They screamed questions at me but Isabelle told them to hold their questions until the end of today's stance session. Respected lawyers and judges watched me walk through the courthouse. They nodded at me courteously and a few even winked. I knew that they supported me in my campaign. Some openly and some not so openly. Isabelle led me into a side courtroom where she gestured for me to stand on a podium. The reporters filed into the courtroom and sat in the rows of pews. Some stayed towards the back and others rushed to the front. Isabelle sidled alongside of me and the moderators sat in front of me. I recognized the human men as esteemed members of my committee. Sometimes we didn't always agree on topics but I knew they weren't going to be too stern with me. In the back of the courtroom, I noticed Ambrosia leaning against the wall. She stood by Copper and Booker at the now-closed door of the courtroom. She stared at me with a blank expression; I never could read that girl or her perceptions of me.
I cleared my throat and leaned into the microphone. The reporters stared at me eagerly. Isabelle gave me permission to commence the session. I smiled warmly. "Thank you for joining me for our stance session. It's a first for my tenure. Isabelle has done a wonderful job of arranging it last-minute. The basic point of today is outlining my stances on certain contemporary issues. I have no idea what those issues are going to be or what questions are going to be asked. So in no way are my answers rehearsed or planned. Without further ado, let's get this session started. Committeeman Paulson," I trailed, pointing to the older white man with graying hair, "you may start us off."
Paulson stood up. He was a respected man of the committee. He was repeatedly voted to the Airedale committee by a predominantly human electorate. He was old-fashioned and stood for conservatism. While animals didn't like him, humans certainly did. Paulson cleared his throat and read off of a piece of paper gripped tightly in his hands. "Mr. Mayor, with the impending danger of nuclear warfare and the presence of a power vacuum in the adjacent now-province of Silas, how do you plan on combating these outside threats and keeping Airedale safe?" he read.
Ah, they were asking about foreign policy. Nuclear warfare has always been a growing threat in this technological age but the danger in Silas was a new one. Silas started as a small town, newly started in a particular strip of no-man's-land. The mayor had been killed in a mysterious accident and humans and animals were struggling for power in Silas. Both sides had valid points and no one has really gotten involved in the conflict. In the gap, a gorilla named Cesar took power for the animals and has annexed other no-man's-land parts of the surrounding forest. What used to be a little village town named Silas was now a violent, growing province. A county authorized peacekeeping force had been deployed to the issue to protect the innocent civilians and to defuse the tension in the province. It has been mildly efficient but not game changing. Blood is still being shed. So far, despite the violence being just next door, I haven't done anything about it on my end. I knew a lot of people were terrified of the prospect and the danger. Cesar was much more snappy than me, and would have no problem challenging me or attempting to annex any of my territory. There have even been rumors that Cesar has nuclear weapons. All this didn't add up to a good scenario.
"We need to expand our military. We need stronger soldiers, more durable drones, tougher ships, and more efficient weapons. I refuse to let Cesar push us around and he needs to know that any rough rhetoric from him will not be taken lightly. I intend to have the best intelligence and to always be in the know. If Cesar is planning any funny business, I plan on knowing. I want to squeeze Cesar out. Hopefully the county authorized peacekeeping force will be enough to maintain order and establish a balanced authority in Silas. If they cannot do that though, I am determined to take further action. Power and strength is always in numbers. If the neutral force can't do a thing, I want to ally with others to knock Cesar out."
A few claps rang out in the crowded courtroom. Paulson cleared his throat and nodded. "If the rumors are proven to be true and Cesar does in fact possess nuclear weapons, would you move on military action against Silas more quickly?" the man asked briefly. I had to handle this bullet tactfully.
"I would have to consult with my advisors to ultimately make the best, smartest decision. However, I would be much more inclined to take quick, decisive action if Cesar possessed nuclear weapons and posed a direct threat to the safety of our citizens." I managed to spit out. Paulson nodded again and smiled slightly, saying that would be all. The paper in his hand was passed to the next moderator: a committeeman named Rogers. Justin Rogers was a younger member of the Airedale committee but his family was old-town. His father Simon was well-known in politics and was on the committee for years, decades ago. Justin's family name got him places first. His charisma and legal practice skills mattered second.
Rogers brushed some curly hair out of his face and nodded curtly. He glanced down at the piece of paper now in his hands. "Mr. Mayor, since you enacted the Bell Boom Ordinance in March, taxes have risen and families have been forced to foreclose. While some are growing richer from this economy, others are being stuck or descending into poverty and the gap is only growing. How do you plan on helping out families who have been suffering?" Ah, yes. This is certainly a popular issue. One that would strike the hearts of animasts due to animals being main victims of this 'crisis'.
"Creating jobs is the main solution. The key is to provide stable, good-paying jobs. I have plans to expand our economy to do that. So that's point number 1. Point number 2 is cutting taxes and providing credits for families so they have more expenditure to put back into the economy. So they can afford more things and can have more money in their pocket. These two things will allow the economy to drive itself back to a place where middle-class residents can comfortably handle their finances. They won't be burdened by taxes or mortgages. They don't have to worry about the debt their homes are accumulating. The lower the interest rates, the better when it comes to repaying loans."
Rogers nods when I finish. "You propose all that to help the working class. But how do you propose to help small businesses? Cutting taxes and creating more jobs is good, but what else do you plan on doing to support the growth of small businesses, not just huge corporations?"
"One of the main things I want to do is lessen the regulations. I've wanted to do that for a while but never have been able to do as much as I want, due to the committee. I want to lower the fences and make things easier for small businesses. I want them to be able to thrive and function. That's the Animal Crossing dream. I want to encourage residents to create businesses and I want to encourage residents to patronize those businesses. That type of growth is what feeds our economy and feeds our children. Lower regulations will make operations easier all around."
Rogers handed the paper to the last moderator, a newly elected young politician named Ambrose. Miles Ambrose was elected to the committee after Hugh Huxley. He had limited experience but a starry gaze. His vision for Airedale may never be accomplished but he's one of those people that's always going to try. Ambrose took the paper from Rogers and stared at it intently. I knew these were the last two questions and that I was going to ace them.
"Mr. Mayor, the surrounding towns have chosen to abolish open animal discrimination. They choose to make steps and bounds and leaps and strides in the animal rights movement. The mayors are embracing equal rights and are promising to work towards a brighter future. Airedale remains one of the few towns left who refuses to do so openly, by government recognition. As it stands now, Airedale has the same rules that were put down fifteen or so years ago. There are still many underlying issues of specism and discrimination--what do you plan on doing to fix these issues?"
Or so I thought.
It was the last issue.
It just so happened to be the issue that I suggested to Isabelle. Oh Gog, why did she use it? She didn't have to listen to me! I didn't want to be the one who botched up the stance session by my silly but seemingly harmless suggestion. It was going to be all my fault if Mayor Stefan said something stupid about animal discrimination and got lower poll results. I knew what hasn't been done in Airedale and what needed to be done. However, getting it done was a completely different story. It would be a huge jump to attempt to achieve equality. But I know there were people out here who would die for it. I watched Mayor Stefan's face pale as he proceeded to answer. I could have sworn beads of sweat dripped down his cheeks.
"I realize that there are animals who are suffering and I see the truth behind their words. I see the suffering in their eyes and I understand the still-existent specism and discrimination. I have thought over the issue and have considered the possibility of abolishing animal discrimination, but I have not come to a conclusion yet. There is so much more to the issue that needs to be considered and analyzed. I haven't examined those parts yet but plan on doing so."
When Ambrose realized that Mayor Stefan was done talking, he began to ask the last question. An animal abruptly stood up in the back. He pointed at Mayor Stefan accusingly. "What's stopping you? Why are you so reluctant to help out animals? Are you a specist too? You ARE a human after all. You're no better than the rest of them!" A low murmur in the courtroom grew into a clamor. Copper and Booker and I worked to calm down the crowd but by now, there was no calming. People were surging forward, trying to talk and get questions out and take pictures.
That's when I heard the gun shot.
It echoed off of the courtroom walls. Copper immediately tackled the culprit: the same animal who had stood up before and challenged Mayor Stefan. Booker tackled the man as well and he was unable to escape. Isabelle told me to call for backup security while she rushed Mayor Stefan out to safety. I dashed into the hallway and screamed out to anyone. Anyone who would listen...lawyers, judges, cops. Someone who could help cure the calm chaotic crazy. Men sprinted into the courtroom and helped. Some helped Copper and Booker subdue the shooter and get him to a safe, secluded area. Others helped Isabelle and me get Mayor Stefan and the other reporters OUT of the courthouse. Whether we escorted them merely out of the room into the general forum area or we escorted them outside onto the marble steps, Isabelle and I had to ensure that no one was injured. Or worse.
Thankfully, no one was hurt. I think the shot was so poorly aimed that it hit above Mayor Stefan's head. Everyone else was sitting and had ducked when they heard the shot. I was grateful Mayor Stefan had the smarts to duck too. The reporters were shaking a bit but they were merely frazzled. The police soon arrived and were able to provide some stability. The shooter was taken away by officers back to the station. Other officers remained to question the reporters. They needed a breakdown of events. Everything was spinning around me; I was startled when I felt a paw rest on my shoulder. Isabelle stood there, panting. "Ambrosia, are you okay? Is everyone alright?" I nodded.
"Yes, Miss Isabelle. Thank you for asking. As for everyone else," My eyes pulled away from Isabelle's to scan the crowd of reporters either talking to their cameramen, broadcasting back to the news station, or talking with police officers, "I can only hope they're alright. No one was hurt so that's really the best we can pull for." Isabelle nodded.
"Absolutely. Mayor Stefan isn't hurt so that's the ideal end result. I've talked with Copper and Booker and they're going to have agents and officers heavily investigate this incident. They want to ensure that Mayor Stefan is safe and they want to make sure that this isn't some type of assassination conspiracy. That means expanded security for the mayor and a lot more inconvenience for me and you." she added with a chuckle. At my silence, Isabelle rested a hand on my shoulder again. "Don't feel like this is your fault or anything just because you suggested we bring up animal discrimination. It was an important topic that needed to be brought up. Through the shroud of fog and mist of this crazy day, people will remember what Mayor Stefan said." I narrowed my eyes, not sure of what she was speaking about. I opened my mouth to ask for more clarification but Isabelle cut me off. "Mayor Stefan basically said maybe."
I laughed out loud. "I'm sorry, but do you think that'll comfort people?" I asked. Isabelle looked confused. "I'm just saying that Mayor Stefan didn't commit to anything. People can't get their hopes up like little kids in a toy store just because he implied 'maybe.'" Isabelle pursed her lips. I waved my hand and pulled away. "Never mind. I'm going to go now. You don't need me for anything else, right?" Isabelle said no. "Perfect. Have a good day, Miss Isabelle." I turned on my heel and strode down the marble steps. I hailed a taxi cab and looked back defiantly. Isabelle stood, looking slightly defeated, exactly where I left her. I directed the car to take me home. Within about fifteen to twenty minutes, the cab pulled up outside the familiar Chinese restaurant.
When I walked in the door, Pax was sitting on the couch staring at the television anxiously. They were startled into a standing position when I shut the door. They stared at me momentarily and then rushed over to embrace me in a hug. I was bombarded with frantic questions. Was I okay? Where was I? Was I hurt? Is everything else okay? I managed to calm Pax and led us both to sit on the couch. I appreciated their concern, I really did. Most of the time, Pax always let me do my own thing and never really tried to pursue a friendship or any sort of correspondence with me. It was always a "fend for yourself" type of deal. I calmed Pax down and explained that I was unharmed. When they heard I was fine, they were certainly relieved.
Pax got up to make themself a platter of cheese, Nutella, and crackers and returned to sit down on the couch with me. They still were a little shaky though. "When I saw the news at work, I was terrified. My mind didn't even stay calm to process the full details of everything. I wanted to rush right to the courthouse to make sure you were okay. My coworkers convinced me that I probably wouldn't be allowed to go there at all though." they said, their lips curling into a smirk. They began to eat some food off of the platter. "I'm just glad you're safe..." they trailed.” I could care two craps about the incumbent slob though." they added with a wink.
I jostled them with my elbow. "Very funny, Pax." I said taking a deep breath. "I couldn't believe it happened myself. This is going to be serious and it's going to change the scope of the election. There will be more security and there's probably going to be an investigation." I noted. Pax shrugged and slumped back against the couch.
"Yeah, and the Populists are going to be blamed for it." they said. "Hux had nothing to do with that animal but all those animals are going to be bunched together in one group by these conservative jerks. All those news pundits will be yapping their trap about this and the Populists will have to be serious damage control when it's not even their fault." I didn't say anything. Pax sighed. "Whatever. This is just a bump in the road. Things will be better soon." They said with a smile. Pax picked up a cracker with a piece of cheese on it and offered it to me. "Take it. I know you're hungryyyyy." they said with a wide grin. I chuckled and took the cracker, biting a huge chunk out of it.
"You know me better than I do sometimes, Pax." Pax laughed and dipped another cracker in Nutella.
"That's my job, Bro." Pax said nudging my shoulder. "To remind you to take care of yourself." I smiled lightly. Pax grabbed the remote and switched the channel. "We don't need to sit here and watch the news all day. How about a movie? Choose something on Netflix, Bro." I nodded and set up our TV. We had similar movie taste so it wasn't difficult for me to find something. A new comedy with some action and adventure always is a movie after my heart. I knew Pax felt the same about films.
Quite a few days have passed since the shooting. It was almost time for the official debate and things were only getting worse. Hugh Huxley was quickly gaining tread and the people were rallying behind his cause. I saw t-shirts with his name on it EVERYWHERE. People were making banners and painting wall length murals, pushing for change. It was a strange time for sure. I didn't remember things being this turbulent since I was a little kid. I've seen radical people do drastic things in the name of change, but this is the first time that I witnessed a unified movement. This is the first time in a long time that I've seen the people unite towards a cause.
If it was stressing me out, I could imagine what it was doing to Mayor Stefan.
Every day, it seemed like there was something new happening. Something that attracted major media attention. The newspapers and the news channels kept themselves busy with all the news that the Populists were creating. Some were even starting loads of trouble. The radical side of the Populist Party has been making itself more obvious and open lately. There have been protests. There have been marches. There have even been a few riots that the police have had to shut down. While some were relatively peaceful, others bordered or even became violent. Police had to get involved there and I felt somewhat bad. The media, especially the specist, human side of the media, was taking the ball and running. Hugh Huxley officially wasn't running any type of smear against Mayor Stefan, but other aspects of the Populist Party were. The more radical parts of the movement were certainly raising their ugly heads now.
It was keeping the town hall busy. Mayor Stefan was currently in a meeting with the police about the investigation. Isabelle was drowning in paperwork (which really meant I was drowning in paperwork) regarding different things. Ranging from the shooting, the smears from the radicals, and actual election-related things we needed to worry about, our workloads were staggeringly high. I was stumbling through some paperwork about uprisings occurring in the city part of Airedale, when the door suddenly opened. Isabelle was in the meeting room with Mayor Stefan. I was alone in the town hall. I looked up and was relieved to find it was just Lottie. The girl walked tentatively inside the town hall and stared around.
"Is it okay for me to come in here?" she asked. "I won't be long." I nodded and set the papers aside. I gestured for her to sit down in a nearby chair. Lottie accepted. She clenched her hands over her stomach and her complexion looked a little more pale than usual. I furrowed my eyebrows in confusion. Was she just nervous because of our prior fight? I didn't think it was wise to bring it up, so I chose to stay quiet about that. I simply asked if everything was okay. I slid forward in my seat and pointed towards the water cooler in the corner of the room.
"Do you need some water? You don't look so hot." I said. Lottie waved me away.
"No thanks. I just came because I had some news to share with you." The girl swallowed nervously and took a few deep breaths before continuing. "I'm pregnant."
The investigation into the attempted assassination is currently ongoing. Isabelle and I have been keeping up with the police station, talking with Copper and Booker about their findings. I just got out of a meeting with them. So far, the Airedale Police Department and the bodyguards that work with my personal Secret Service have not come across any incriminating or new information. The police department had just told me and Isabelle that they would keep us informed of anything they find. At the moment though, they couldn’t find anything. It frustrated me to no ends but I knew I had to be patient about it.
Rome wasn’t built in a day so I certainly couldn’t expect a crime to be solved in a day either. Booker and Copper were working as hard as they could. My National Security Director Connors was the head of the specially designed task force to handle the investigation. I had talked to him shortly before about the findings, but since our meeting regarding animal discrimination, Connors has kept the talkative attitude to a minimum. That was okay with me. I was an all-business type of guy.
The debate was coming up in only two days. Time was running out and I still had loads of work to do before the debate. Huxley was gaining tread and I seriously needed to consider my every step. I haven’t forgotten about possibly abolishing animal discrimination but something inside of me made me hold back every time. I can’t describe it but I can’t promise that my personal convictions will prevent me from doing what is right by the people. I just needed time to think about it.
Every day, it seemed like I saw Huxley’s name and face everywhere. Whether his image and slogan was plastered on t-shirts, banners, flags, or murals, Huxley was the main man in Airedale and certainly standing as the symbol of change and progressivism. I felt like the young people were rallying behind this pig for a movement towards liberality. It was terrifying and awestriking all at the same time. I tried to keep it out of sight, out of mind, but it was so hard when the media did nothing but portray the radical side of the Populist Party.
The radicals were getting rebellious and violent. Protests occurred every day and it was only increasing the danger of Airedale. Crime rates were rising and there was nothing I could do about it. Connors had enough work as it was ensuring that nationally and domestically, Airedale was safe. Being the head of the task force to investigate my assassination attempt didn’t help matters. There was nothing I could personally do to change these radicals’ mind. These animals wouldn’t listen to reason. Anything I said probably would just make things worse. Every day, the prospect of a terror threat just seemed closer and closer.
I strolled out of the now empty conference room to see Ambrosia and a female otter conversing silently by Ambrosia’s desk. A look of concern washed over Ambrosia but when the girl saw me, she stiffened her shoulders and scrunched up her face to ridden the sad expression. Could I really describe it as sad? I didn’t want to be nosy and ask what was going on. I walked over to my desk and sat down, pulling out some notecards and other papers that required my attention. With the debate coming up, I had to prepare as much as possible.
Of course, I have a terrible attention span at the moment. Ambrosia’s body language was just too off-putting right now. It was distracting. The otter awkwardly said goodbye to Ambrosia and left the town hall. I felt too strange to ask what that was all about, so I attempted to keep my nose buried in my paperwork. It all revolved around boring stuff so I couldn’t keep pretending to read them. I placed the papers down on my desk and clicked around on my computer. When I went to my news feed, the most shocking news flashed across the screen at me.
“Newest Airedale Scandal – Residents’ Suspicions Confirmed. Mayor Stefan Has A Boyfriend.”
My stomach pitted and I groaned inwardly. Who found out? How did they find out? I didn’t want to find out more, but I had to. I clicked on the link, which immediately took me to the news article. I swallowed my nerves and read tentatively. It was written accordingly:
In the latest tumultuous wave of political sparring in Airedale, it seems like Mayor Stefan cannot be given a break. This situation is no exception. Recently, a new scandal has erupted from an anonymous source of credibility. At first, it started from a worker at the Trident Diner, who refused to list their name for anonymity purposes. They revealed that Mayor Stefan regularly has come into the Trident Diner with another man. It has been said that Mayor Stefan has had intimate contact with this man while they are at the diner.
“It could be something small as staring into each other’s eyes or leaning towards each other…or something big like kissing or holding hands. Sometimes hugging. It may not look obvious on the surface but you can definitely tell the two are an item.” The anonymous source reported.
When asked why the source would keep Mayor Stefan’s involvement with this man a secret for so long and then reveal it, they replied “For as long as I could remember, Mayor Stefan has been a huge part of Airedale politics and the formation of the city. Even though a lot of people may not have liked him or approved of what he did, I think everyone just accepted it. We had some sort of sick respect for the man, so when we could see that he had a secret aspect of his life, we would look over it because of who he was. We would be okay with it and accept that he had a private life because we were inwardly condoning his behavior and actions in office.”
“However,” the source continued, “times are changing. Now that we have a strong competitor for the mayor position in Airedale, I think a lot of people are sick of Mayor Stefan and his games. People don’t want to deal with it anymore and they just want to be done with him. Myself included. After seeing more of Mayor Stefan in the public eye, I can’t personally stand him. People want change and people want to see honesty and integrity. It’s clear to all of us that Mayor Stefan lacks all of those qualities. I’ve been talking with people at work about Mayor Stefan’s continuous usage of the [Trident] diner as his meeting spot with his boyfriend, and we’ve had enough. He’s sneaking around like a teenager and it’s ridiculous. A bunch of us have agreed that Mayor Stefan’s secrets need to be revealed to Airedale, and this is one of them. I don’t want to be looked upon as a whistleblower, but I just want to be the voice if no one else wants to.”
The anonymous source from the Trident Diner was the only source for a few hours. However, after the news went viral, a handful of sources from the Airedale nightclub Velour also spoke out anonymously. Whether it was the Trident Diner Source that inspired people to be braver is unknown. However, the credibility of these sources are also strong. Multiple sources corroborated a similar story.
“Mayor Stefan comes in all of the time especially when he’s stressed and talks to Mort Waldson, our boss.” One source claimed. “Waldson had a special ‘VIP package’ just for Mayor Stefan. It always involved him going into the velvet room and getting Lucky. Mayor Stefan never asked for anyone else once, just Lucky. Sometimes it would offend us but after talking to Lucky, we realized why. Lucky would never out-and-out tell us, but we could guess.”
Another source talked about how Mayor Stefan has been able to evade discovery this whole time. “He splits up cars and sneaks into the side entrance from the back alley. His body guards are always with him and he keeps a low profile when he’s in there. He doesn’t pop bottles or get too crazy. Usually, Mayor Stefan is in and out. As quickly as you realize he’s here, he’s gone. Just like with the diner, I think we all kinda knew that Mayor Stefan was doing it but we never wanted to be that one to squeal. We knew everything he did inside and outside [of Velour] was wrong, dishonest, and immoral on all sorts of levels but we just accepted it because of his status and importance in town.”
A final anonymous source talked more about Lucky. “When Lucky first started working at Velour, he was an amateur at best. The rest of us were much more experienced at our jobs than he was, but for some reason Mayor Stefan wanted him and him alone. I don’t remember the first time Mayor Stefan came in and got Lucky. It always was more of a ‘that’s just the way it is’ type of thing. I feel like Mayor Stefan has always come in Velour, gotten Lucky, and stuck with him. Since Mayor Stefan became Lucky’s sole patron, we’ve all noticed that Lucky’s look has…improved. His hair is always coiffed, his clothes are brand-new designer, and he’s gotten fitter. I mean, Lucky’s always been in shape but you can’t help but notice if someone gains fifteen-twenty pounds of muscle in the course of a couple months. We’ve always joked that Lucky is being sugared up, but when you see the clothes and the car this kid rolls up in, you wonder if it’s a reality.”
We reached out to Mort Waldson, owner of the Velour nightclub, but he refused to comment. Through other sources, we’ve determined that “Lucky” is a code name. The real name of Mayor Stefan’s alleged boyfriend is Jesse Bryson. We’ve attempted to reach out to Bryson as well for comment, but he’s declined as well. This isn’t the first or the worst scandal to rock the Airedale Town Hall, but we wonder if this will finally be the iceberg to sink the Titanic. How will the people react to this new scandal? In the revolutionary world of liberality and progressivism, this may not be a big deal. However, to others, this could be the beginning of the end.
I felt nauseous, but I couldn’t let this affect me. There’s a way out of this. There’s a way out of everything, right? I noticed Isabelle enter the room. Ambrosia and she were conversing quietly and glancing over at me every now and then. I couldn’t take it anymore. I picked up a mug that served as a pencil holder on my desk. I chucked it towards the nearby wall (nowhere near the two girls.) The pencils flew out of the mug and scattered everywhere. The mug crashed into the wall and exploded, sending pieces of glass all over the room. I panted in anger and glared around.
“Yes, you two…sit there and talk about me! Whisper about the article and the news, but don’t do anything to help!” I bellowed. Isabelle held her hands out cautiously, attempting to calm me down.
“Mr. Mayor! There’s nothing we can really do. The scandal has already hit and there are numerous credible sources verifying it…” she trailed. “The only thing we CAN do is say that you and Ambrosia are an item, as I had suggested before. However, I’m not sure how well it will work—“
I lunged forward and grabbed the collar of Isabelle’s shirt. “Try it! We have to!” I exclaimed. “I cannot allow everything that I’ve worked for to fall apart like this.” I said on the verge of tears. Ambrosia opened her mouth, her face contorted in an expression of confusion and opposition. However she closed her mouth as quickly as she opened it. I gripped my hair and turned towards the computer screen, gesturing at it wildly. “I’m going to be ruined…”
A ding from my phone distracted me. I huffed and glanced down. It was Jesse.
“As I’m sure you’ve heard through the news, poop has hit the fan. We need to meet at your place. Clearly no public area is safe for us anymore.”
I knew I should have been shocked, but for some reason, I wasn’t shocked. I expected this. It killed me inside though. Lottie and I weren’t the closest, sure, but she didn’t deserve all of this to happen to her. Everyone coped differently with things and I didn’t know what Lottie was thinking. She had a distraught expression on her face and her fists were clenched. I reached out to Lottie and helped her sit down in the chair. I needed to pick this girl’s thoughts. I needed to determine what she was thinking and planning. I asked her what she was going to do. Vague yet pressuring, I know. Lottie bit her lip and shrugged.
“I’m not sure. I can’t tell anyone. Not Uncle Lyle. Nobody. Uncle Lyle would be so angry at me…” she trailed.
“Not if you explain yourself.” I explained calmly. Lottie shook her head.
“I can’t!” she yelled out. “Uncle Lyle wouldn’t take my side. Neither would my parents. They’d only yell at me and kick me out of the house. Uncle Lyle would flip…especially if they find out the truth.” Lottie paused for a moment and exhaled outward. “I can’t tell anyone whose child it is. I’ll have to quit my job with the HHA and move somewhere where no one knows me,” she concluded.
My mouth hung open in shock. Why was she so afraid? Sure, Austin was a terrible person but she couldn’t just let him get away with what he did. People need to know so Austin can be put in his place. I wanted to be the voice of reason, but I was just afraid Lottie was too far gone to understand reason. I cleared my throat and rested a hand on Lottie’s arm.
“You need financial stability. Whether you keep the baby or not, you need to have a job and you need to be able to provide for yourself. You can’t quit.” Lottie’s resolve weakened and she tore her gaze away from my own. She knew I was right. I knew I was right. I pulled backwards and sighed. “I can’t tell you what to do or what not to do, but I just want you to be smart and make the right decisions.”
Lottie smiled weakly. “I appreciate your concern, Ambrosia. I really do. I’ll be smart about things. I know I need medical attention.” Lottie stood up and started walking slowly towards the door. “I’m going to head to the doctor’s. If anyone asks about how it happened…well…I’ll just lie. Thanks for everything, Ambrosia.” The otter hurried out of the office before I could say anything more. Isabelle came in the same door, glancing lightly at Lottie but not saying anything.
Isabelle approached me and poked me in the side. She asked if I heard the news. I narrowed my eyes in confusion and asked her what she was talking about. Isabelle whipped out her cell phone and showed the news article to me. It read “Newest Airedale Scandal – Residents’ Suspicions Confirmed. Mayor Stefan Has A Boyfriend.” My stomach pitted. I had heard rumors. People had whispered things to me, but I never knew for sure. Something in the back of my head wanted me to deny it and not think it was true.
But now? It seemed like I would be proven wrong. I didn’t read the article fully, but I could tell some basic details. Mayor Stefan’s true romantic life was being exposed. I couldn’t make myself read the whole thing. I pulled my eyes away but I understood the gist of the article; sources were going anonymous to rat out Mayor Stefan. I exhaled sharply and turned to Isabelle.
“What is this?” I asked in a hiss. I knew it was. I just wanted to hear it from her mouth. Something in my mind needed the girl to verify this nightmare for me.
“An anonymous source from the Trident Diner went out and told the press Mayor Stefan meets his boyfriend Jesse there. Other anonymous sources from Velour proceeded to out Mayor Stefan and reveal some of the dark sides of his personal life.” I glanced over at Mayor Stefan. It looked like he was reading the article now. His face was growing paler by the second. Isabelle looked over at Mayor Stefan. “He’s probably reading it now, if he hasn’t already. This isn’t going to be good…” she trailed.
Mayor Stefan’s head flipped up and I could tell he was glaring at us. Before I could yell at Isabelle to warn her, I saw the mug flying towards a wall. It wasn’t going towards us, but it still was sailing across. Glass shards flew and scattered across the room.
“Yes, you two…sit there and talk about me! Whisper about the article and the news, but don’t do anything to help!” Mayor Stefan screamed at us. I winced. Isabelle held out her hands, attempting to calm Mayor Stefan down.
“Mr. Mayor! There’s nothing we can really do. The scandal has already hit and there are numerous credible sources verifying it…” she trailed. “The only thing we CAN do is say that you and Ambrosia are an item, as I had suggested before. However, I’m not sure how well it will work—“
Wait what? Suggested before? What on earth was Isabelle talking about? An item? I would never even think about going with Mayor Stefan. He wasn’t my type. I can’t believe Isabelle would even think about pairing me and him together. She could try to tout we contracted an in-office relationship all she wants; it could never be genuine. I couldn’t even believe what I was hearing. I closed out what Isabelle and Stefan were saying.
I wanted to say something. I really did. I opened my mouth to say something but I looked at Mayor Stefan. His hair was disheveled. His eyes were bulging. His veins were popping out of his forehead. He looked bad. And I felt bad FOR him. I shouldn’t have pitied him. There was no reason to, but I just felt it in my heart. It wasn’t like I was dating anyone right now. Was I confused and opposed to the whole idea? Yeah, but I needed to just let it slide for now. If I had to take one for the team, then maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing. I could always ask Isabelle about it later. I couldn’t say the consequences would hurt me.
Mayor Stefan lunged forward and grabbed the collar of Isabelle’s shirt. “Try it! We have to!” he yelled. “I cannot allow everything that I’ve worked for to fall apart like this.” I never thought I could feel sorry for Mayor Stefan before. Was he a terribly nasty man sometimes? Yes, quite often actually. But only a select few of people know his history and know the immense efforts he had to reach to become the mayor. Mayor Stefan wasn’t a “silver spoon senator”; Isabelle and I are quite aware of the work he put in to become the man he is today. Isabelle may not admit it but those crucial moments may have ruined him forever and he can’t even help it.
Mayor Stefan seemed distraught and emotional. Being set up to look like his girlfriend was far from my ideal situation, however I knew there were reasons I stayed by his side. For more platonic reasons than others. But still. At the moment, Mayor Stefan seemed distracted by his phone. After he stared at it for a bit, he pulled his head up and mumbled that he needed to go home for something. Isabelle and I watched as Mayor Stefan, without another word, hurried out of the town hall. The girl sighed and I turned towards her, curious to know more about these “scandalous” details of Stefan’s and my relationship since he was now gone.
I poked the dog in the shoulder. “I love how you talk to the mayor about a potential fake dating scandal between me and him, but you don’t let me in on it.” Isabelle smirked.
“I never thought we would have to use it. It was only for an emergency type of situation. However, I guess this classifies as an emergency, huh?” she asked. I nodded slowly. Isabelle sighed. “Half of me thinks Mr. Mayor brings this on himself and the other half says that he doesn’t deserve to be prodded like an animal in the slaughterhouse. If he just came out and was open and honest about himself, this situation wouldn’t be this crazy.”
“On the other hand…” I trailed, “our society may be accepting towards animal integration, but we aren’t ready to raise the rainbow flag. I understand why Mayor Stefan is being hesitant. This could ruin his career.” Isabelle crossed her arms.
“It’s only ruining his career because he’s letting it. He’s making it out to be a much bigger deal than it really is. No one really cares about who he loves or who he’s seeing romantically, but since he’s being so secretive about it, of course it’s going to raise eyebrows.” Isabelle looked out the window. Her face grew pale and she nudged me lightly. “There’s another protest group outside. I can’t read their signs. What do they say?”
A medium-sized group of animals was gathering outside the town hall. No doubt they were some more radicals, preparing to scream at us. They were holding giant white card signs; I could barely make out the lettering since they were still approaching and moving about. However, when they began to sit still and settle into position, their bluntness shocked me.
“The Moral Majority Is Calling for Resignation”
“Sick of Stefan’s Denies; Fed up with his Lies”
“Kissing Guys will lead to Stefan’s Demise”
“Stefan has a special place saved for him underground.”
“LIST OF THINGS WE CAN’T TRUST STEFAN WITH:
There’s the right to protest and then there’s this. A woman from a news crew team was hustling over towards the animals. A man with a camera followed in her wake. I recognized the channel logo and launched myself over towards the television. Isabelle dodged out of the way as I turned on Channel 6. We were immediately greeted with a frontal view of the woman in front of Town Hall.
“I’m Veronica Waldrey and you’re watching WKBV news. Breaking story from outside of Airedale Town Hall! Shortly after the anonymous whistleblowers came forward about Mayor Stefan secretly meeting his alleged boyfriend in public places, the animast critics, especially more grassroots sects, have taken the ball and run with it. A denomination of the radical animasts, who call themselves the Moral Majority, have taken up camp outside Town Hall and prepare for the siege. I’m here with various members of the Moral Majority to get their side of the story.”
The woman walked towards one animal and held out the microphone. Ironically it was the one holding the sign about the list of things Stefan cannot be trusted with. “Why are you out here tonight? Why are you out here with your children?” the newswoman asked, pointing to the small children by the mother’s feet.
“I’m out here because I want to take a stand. I want to take a stand against a man who has been dishonest and immoral for his entire tenure in office. Stefan is not fit to run Airedale. Not only does he lack the natural characteristics necessary to be a good leader but also he is not a good role model that should have all this responsibility. His track record is slowly declining as it is. It’s scandal after scandal after scandal. Before you know it, something new will be popping up! My children are here with me because I want to show them that I am trying to make a difference in this town for THEM.”
The mother cleared her throat and continued. “I want my children to feel safe in this world and not have to feel like they are singled out, prejudiced or discriminated against. I want them to be able to walk down the street after school and not feel like someone is going to hurt them. I don’t want them to feel in school like they are not good enough. I don’t want their lives and their wellbeing to be determined by this impulsive man.”
“What will the protesting do? How will this solve the issue?” the newswoman asked. The mother didn’t hesitate to answer strongly.
“Protesting will raise awareness quickly and it will get the word out. Stefan is sneaky and cunning and will stop at nothing to get what he wants at the expense of others. Do we really want a man like that as our mayor? We need Hugh Huxley in office and we need him now.”
“How do you think Hugh Huxley would feel by your organization’s personal endorsement when your signs’ meanings are so harsh?” The mother narrowed her eyebrows sharply.
“I believe Hugh Huxley would be glad that he has more supporters. The signs have nothing to do with the fact that he has another bloc willing to vote for him in the election.” The newswoman stepped backwards and smiled at the camera.
“Coming live from Airedale Town Hall! We’ll be back with more news later on. Back to you, Chet!” The TV switched to a different news broadcast and I turned down the volume. This wasn’t good, but I wasn’t sure how we were going to approach this without angering the conservative spiritual constituents that Mayor Stefan had attracted in the past.
The debate was in two days.
I was focused on setting up a gameplan with Hugh. I told him we needed to focus on the hot-button issues, especially animal discrimination. At the moment, the people seemed very progressive in the social spectrum. In order to win this election, we needed to play to that side. Everyone wants to hear about what answer my brother has for the economic woes most are facing, but they also want to know what’s going to change on the social front.
I’m going to ensure that Hugh says the right thing.
The current news breaking revolved around, who didn’t know, another scandal with Mayor Stefan. Apparently, some anonymous whistleblowers from the Trident Diner and the nightclub Velour teamed together and revealed Mayor Stefan has a boyfriend who he has been meeting at both locations. I mentioned the people are seeming more progressive in the social spectrum but if there’s one issue that ISN’T on their mind, it’s LGBT issues.
I can’t personally describe why a majority of people don’t mesh with it, but I can’t discredit them for not doing so. That’s their own choice as well. It has to do with a handful of factors. Many people are still very religious or spiritual. Others say their dissension stems from their opinion that it isn’t family friendly. A few just say it’s abominable. Either way, some may seem okay about the whole thing, but there are still a lot of people who are against it.
I personally discovered that when I was sitting in my office watching WKBV news. Veronica Waldrey, a good friend of mine through some mutual colleagues, was reporting a gathering of “Moral Majority” animasts outside the Airedale town hall. Many of them were holding up inflammatory signs and screaming their support for Hugh’s win. It pleased me to see that there would be more people on our side and not Mayor Stefan’s. Technically the Moral Majority was not affiliated with the Populist Party at all. We didn’t specifically endorse or recognize them as a group or anything like that, but if they want to vote for us, hey. Who are we to stop them? This IS a free place. I was personally a little shocked to see how blunt these people were, but I couldn’t blame them. They were firm on their beliefs and they were firm on their dislike of Mayor Stefan.
That’s a good thing for us.
The door to my office squeaked open. My secretary peeked her head in. “Cobb? Hugh is outside in the lobby. He said you wanted to meet with him about something.” I turned down the volume of my television and nodded.
“Yes. Bring him in here please. Thank you.” She nodded in affirmation, turning and leaving. Shortly after, my brother entered the office and sat down in a chair. I curled my lip at him and punched him lightly in the shoulder. “You know, you’ve been in here enough that you can just walk back here. Why do you have to check with Morgan?” I asked teasingly. Hugh shrugged.
“I don’t know. I just feel weird barging back here like I own the place.” I chuckled and poked to the gold placard that adorned my desk.
“Well, technically your last name is on the sign.” Huxley and Santana was the name of my law firm. I ran the place with another lawyer named Lopez Santana. Good guy but not nearly as smooth with the clients (Or I daresay as good) as me. Hugh’s face broke out into that classic grin.
“Enough with the banter, bro. You wanted to talk to me about the debate?” he asked. I nodded and leaned forward. Hugh cut me off before I was able to speak. “It’s not like I haven’t heard this all before. We see each other practically every day. You give me a pep talk all the time.” I smirked; he had a good point.
“Maybe so, but we haven’t talked since the new developments.” I pointed to the TV where the news broadcast was still airing outside the Airedale town hall and talking about Mayor Stefan. “Didn’t you hear the news?” Hugh stared at me curiously, not saying anything. I cleared my throat. “You’re kidding, right? You had to have heard the news about Mayor Stefan. That he has a boyfriend? A man who works at Velour…?”
Hugh’s eyes lit up in recognition and nodded. “Ah, yes! I didn’t know what you were talking about. Yeah, I heard. Why?” I scoffed.
“What do you mean ‘why?’?”I asked. Was he serious? “Come on, Hugh. Use your brain here. I know you have one in there. Don’t you realize how much you can use this to your advantage?” I pointed to the screen. “These people on TV call themselves the Moral Majority and are ready to just jump into your arms. All you have to do is say the word. Don’t you think there are hundreds of other people who have the same opinion?” Hugh sighed and shook his head, slumping forward in his seat.
“I don’t know, Cobb. I’m glad that this negative attention is taking support away from Mayor Stefan, but I don’t want to really get involved with that. That’s not my place. I don’t personally care who he’s with. I feel like that kind of stuff crosses into the boundaries of “untouchables” in politics. You don’t talk about family and you don’t talk about anything too personal that a person can’t change about themselves.” I rolled my eyes.
“Says the man who lives to expose scandals in political opponents. Did you forget Bribegate? You had an influential part in exposing the committee member for who he really was. A lot of people saw his true colors.” I didn’t want Hugh to forget that. Bribegate was the media-dubbed name for the scandal. One of the committee members was caught being bribed to vote a certain way on an issue. My brother Hugh was able to discover information about this scandal, gathered factual evidence, and called out the people involved. My brother’s discoveries changed the landscape of politics and altered the people’s trust in politicians.
“Yeah, and Justin Rogers is still in office. He’s old town and his family name gets him places, not his character. Daddy Simon just has to swoop in and remind people of his social and financial status and all is vindicated. He was one of the moderators at the stance session. Clearly he’s not in bad water with any of the committee or Mayor Stefan.” Hugh said glumly. I pursed my lips.
“But that’s the mentality we’re trying to erase. We don’t want things to be old town. Merit should be given based off of effort and suitability, not name and money.” I clapped my hand on Hugh’s shoulder. “This race isn’t over. We can win this. And when we do, we can change Airedale for the better.” Hugh looked up at me and smiled lightly.
“Thanks for the beacon of bright light there, bro.” Hugh looked around and shrugged. “My initial point was that there’s a difference between Rogers in Bribegate and Mayor Stefan in this scenario. Rogers is corrupt and is the symbol of everything wrong with this small town partisan politics. Mayor Stefan was just discovered meeting up with his boyfriend; there’s nothing technically bad about that.”
“You’re missing the point, Hugh.” I said sternly. “It’s the secrecy. The lies. The denying. The evasiveness. Why does Mayor Stefan need to hide the fact he has a boyfriend? Sure, many constituents are still conservative and spiritual but he just needs to be open with everyone. It’s silly to lie about something small like that. If he’s going to lie about his relationship status and hide it from the people, what else is he lying to them about?”
Hugh was silent. I knew he was thinking things over, but of course he will realize I’m right. I’m always right. That’s why I’m the stable lawyer with the best persuasion skills in Airedale. I pulled some papers out a nearby file and plopped them down on the desk. Hugh looked down at them and squinted. “What are these?”
“They are papers I encountered about a new deal Mayor Stefan is concocting on the backburner. He met up with some representatives from Smash Melee Corporation. They arranged to make a deal and build a fighting arena in Airedale.” Hugh’s eyes bulged and he asked me to elaborate. I pushed the papers towards Hugh. “Read them over if you want. They’re filled with legal jargon but you should get the point. Mayor Stefan is making this deal without the knowledge of the committee. Is this going to bring commercial growth? Yeah, but in the process, it’s going to also bring the wrong crowd of people Airedale needs. It’ll be bringing in semiprofessionals and aspiring athletes training and fighting. It’ll bring in professionals holding fights for paid admission. It’ll bring in violence and it’ll only encourage kids growing up that fighting is okay.”
I cleared my throat. “I was planning on holding this off so we can build up some more ammo and fire at a more suitable time. However, with this whole Moral Majority thing, now might be a strategic time to release this info.” Hugh flared his nostrils at me.
“How did you even find that out? How did you get these documents?” my brother asked, lightly turning over the papers in his hands. I shrugged.
“Nothing you need concern yourself over. I have people.” I leaned forward and patted my brother on the shoulder. “You just focus on the debate. Kill it out there.” Hugh refused to drop the subject though. He placed the papers on the desk and folded his arms.
“Bro, what are you getting yourself into?” he asked. “I don’t need you getting in trouble for going over your head with something. If you weren’t meant to see those—“ I cut him off.
“I told you to not worry about it. It’s fine. If it makes you feel better about it, nobody will know I did it. I made it look like Berns did it for me. He does have a buddy in the administration…” I trailed. Hugh’s forehead bulged and I think he was getting red.
“Walker?!” he exclaimed. I shooshed my brother, standing up and staring down the hallway. No one was around. Good. I shut the door lightly and turned towards Hugh, ready to tell him off for being too loud. Hugh pinned me against the wall. “What the heck is wrong with you?! I thought you were going to be honest and genuine. That’s why the convention picked you!” Hugh roughly poked me in the chest. “I can’t believe you would go to all these steps just to make Mayor Stefan look bad. That’s just as bad as—“ I pushed Hugh back. He stumbled over the chair in the middle of the room and held out his hand to steady himself against the wall.
“Don’t even finish that sentence.” I growled. “I am not as bad as them and you know that.” I moved myself towards Hugh and smiled. “I just want change and I want Airedale to be a better place.” Hugh looked at me with a disgusted expression, ready to storm out of the room. I called out to him. “Don’t forget why you’re even in this position in the first place!” Hugh stopped abruptly and turned around. He sneered and took a step towards me.
“Is that a threat?” I laughed.
“Never. I just want you to remember that I am your campaign manager.” Hugh’s face burned a deep red. I knew that he wanted this more than anything. He was a player in the palm of my hand. A sudden knock on the side of the door startled both of us. A young horse with a mohawk stood in the doorway, staring at us awkwardly. Gog, I hope he didn’t hear too much.
“Uh, I hate to interrupt anything here. I just wanted to talk to you two really quick. I have a proposition for you.”
I rushed back to my mansion. Jesse told me in another message that he was already there waiting for me. Olaf had to stroll through a lot of traffic. There were news crews everywhere, some even camped outside my home. I prayed that no one knew Jesse was already inside. At least my staff were still loyal; I knew they would never out me to the press. Cranston opened the front door and silently gestured up the stairs. I didn’t need words to know that Jesse was waiting for me. I leapt upstairs, taking two steps at a time. I entered my bedroom to see Jesse sitting on my bed. He was dressed rather casually for his normal attire. I felt so bad. His eyes were red and he looked tired. I slowly approached and sat alongside Jesse on my bed. I don’t know why I felt so awkward. I was in my own home. Something about Jesse always made me feel off-kilter. Was that love? Or at least attraction?
Jesse lightly smiled and exhaled sharply. “Thanks for meeting me, Stefan. We certainly have a lot to talk about.” I sighed and shook my head, trying my best to fight back tears.
“I’m sorry you have to go through all of this. You don’t deserve to be hurt just because I’m a juice bag. This is surely embarrassing for you.” I said. Jesse placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Stefan, I think I’ve said this a thousand times now literally. I love you and I realize you’re a high-profile man. I’m willing to get punched in the stomach every hour on the hour for the rest of my life for you. I don’t care that the press and the people have discovered our relationship. I just care about what we do from here.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know what to do. Nothing’s changed since I talked to you about this last time. You’ve already seen the news I’m sure about the Moral Majority, or whatever they want to call themselves. There go more people that won’t vote for me.” Jesse’s hand abruptly moved off of my shoulder.
“You can’t expect to be Mr. Popular. Not everyone is going to like you. People will hate you for different reasons. Because of your race. Your species. Your gender. Your policies. Your romantic attraction. Stefan, do you really think everyone in Airedale is going to like you or vote for you?” he asked sharply.
“No, but I want to try!” I exclaimed. “Huxley already had the election cinched and this doesn’t help matters.” Jesse bit his lip.
“If people aren’t going to accept you for who you are, then why would you want to represent those people? They need to respect you for who you are. If they can’t acknowledge and be okay with the fact that you have a boyfriend, then there’s no reason that you need to serve them.”
Jesse was right. I don’t like to admit that very often, but then again, lately I haven’t been the pinnacle of reason in my head. So many things have been on my mind, ranging from the campaign, the debate, animal discrimination, the assassination attempt, the radicals protesting, Jesse, now this. I needed this like I needed a hole in the head. Eh…no pun intended.
However, I knew that I needed to stop procrastinating. I needed to face things and my relationship with Jesse was one of them. I still didn’t know if I loved Jesse and that was a huge problem. Clearly, Jesse had no problem professing his love for me. I, on the other hand, didn’t even know if my heart was capable of loving. It had gone through so much coldness and hurt that I felt like it was permanently under the influence of Novocain. My mind helplessly drifted away into a flashback.
When I was 17 years old, I realized that I wasn’t like normal guys. In high school, I never fit in. Guys talked about girls and their “conquests” like they were warriors in the heat of battle. I couldn’t care less and sometimes, the thought even disgusted me. My mind wandered to more muscular figures. Girls just never intrigued me. When I was younger, I was only confused and slightly terrified by it. As I got older, I learned there was a name and a label for me. I felt comfortable somewhere and I didn’t feel as threatened by the heteronormative society surrounding me. When I began to realize that I was normal but in a unique way, I didn’t know where to start.
I was hesitant to tell my parents. I heard horror stories about coming out to family. I feel they were already suspicious of me anyways. My parents weren’t exactly the epitome of loving, acceptable, liberal parents. So I started with a handful of my closest friends. They seemed accepting and some even were willing to hook me up on blind dates. Allegedly, they knew other people who were into guys that liked me.
I was shocked to hear such a thing but I figured, hey. I’ll learn something new about myself in this process. I accepted to go out on a blind date. When I got to the café, I saw that the man was the high school quarterback on the football team. I didn’t know he was like me. He was a jock. He always had girls hanging off of his arms, giggling and stumbling along. He was one of the main guys at school with numerous “conquests.”
He sat at the table. When he saw me, he stood up and kissed me on the cheek. “Hey Stefan! I didn’t think I would be seeing you today.”
“Hi, Mark. Neither did I.” When I was in high school, I was such a shy, introverted kid. However, there was something about Mark that brought me out of my shell. I had admired him from afar for quite some time. To be on a date with him up close was unbelievable. As the date proceeded, Mark pulled me out of my quiet state. During the end, he even offered to pay.
I stood up and thanked him for the meal. I had a really good time. Mark walked me out to my car. He leaned against the hood and told me he wanted to go out with me again. He leaned forward for the kiss. I returned it. Abruptly, in the middle of the kiss, he broke apart from my face grinning wildly. He was laughing. I asked him what was going on. Laughing uncontrollably, he pointed to his left and right. I looked around.
His friends, also football players, had their phones on. They were filming us. I recognized how I knew them so familiarly. They were sitting in the café a few tables away. A sharp flash snapped in my eyes. I blinked rapidly and looked forward. Mark had taken a picture of my aghast expression.
“You should see the look on your face! Wait till this goes viral! The fact that you thought I would go out with you. I’m not into guys. I wouldn’t even give you the time of day if you were straight. You always were a lame geek. Later, loser. See you in five minutes, when our entire date and this….kiss thing….is published on the internet. Prank’s on you, punk!”
Before I could get a word in edgewise, Mark walked away with his friends. Leaving me standing alongside my car. Tears streaming down my face. I think that was the first moment the temperature of my heart dropped a few degrees colder.
“Babe.” I was pulled out of my entrancing thoughts. Jesse was staring at me. “I don’t know what you’ve been through and I can’t pretend to know. But I just want you to know that I’m here to help you through anything. I will be by your side 110% if you can promise to be there for me as well.” I nodded, not saying a word. Jesse reached out and held my hand. “How are we going to do this? You and I are going to come out together, right? I’ve been through this before with you, Stefan. I’m not ashamed to be with you. I don’t care what those filthy press people say about me or you or us. I know what we have together.” The door shot open. Cranston stood in the doorway. The ostrich’s face turned a deep tinge of red and he cleared his throat awkwardly.
“Excuse me, sir. But I really think you should turn on the television. There is breaking news about you.” I scoffed, muttering what else was new under my breath. I reached over Jesse and grabbed the remote. Flipping on the TV, I saw the news. The headline was panning underneath the image in bold print.
Isabelle Denies Mayor Stefan Has a Boyfriend – Claims He Has Been Dating Her Assistant Ambrosia for Eight Months.
Jesse’s face contorted into a sour expression. He jumped off of the bed and scowled. “What the heck is this?!” he screeched. I sighed again. Apparently, Isabelle was going with the plan. I mean, I should know this. I did just give her permission after all. I just didn’t expect the impact to brace me so roughly. Jesse’s arms roughly grabbed the collar of my shirt. “Stefan, if you don’t explain this right now, I swear to Gog I—“
I rose my hands in a surrendering gesture. “Okay! It’s a plan that Isabelle came up with, to combat the news and to make things better PR-wise. It’s fake!” I exclaimed. Jesse huffed loudly and kicked the chest that sat at the end of my bed.
“I can’t believe you would permit something like this, Stefan. I thought things were going to be better. I thought we were going to come out as an item.” He said, turning and looking at me. I couldn’t stand him to look in the eyes.
“Jesse, this is just for the election. I’ve already planned with Isabelle that we’re only going to keep this up for a few months. I’ll pretend to propose to her, keep up the charade for a bit, and then Isabelle says she’ll introduce a cheating scandal on Ambrosia’s part so the engagement is broken off. Things will be fine after that.”
Jesse frowned. “I can’t believe you would go to such lengths, just to appear straight.”
“Jesse, you have to understand. This is my political reputation.” I just wanted Jesse to see things from my perspective.
“This was your chance to take the reins and be assertive! To come out and be proud about who you are in love with. But you didn’t. You’re choosing to stay in the closet. I can’t believe that you would drag Ambrosia into this. She’s an innocent girl that doesn’t deserve to deal with this deception.”
“Jesse, I AM proud of you. You just have to see from all this Moral Majority crap why I can’t ever be public with you.” Jesse bit his lip and I realized the permanence of what I unintentionally implied. “I didn’t mean it like that.” Jesse turned away from me and I sighed loudly. “I just…I’m afraid. I’m afraid of committing for more reasons than one. Commitment makes me feel vulnerable, and it makes me feel like this is intended to be forever…but nothing ever is forever.”
Jesse didn’t say a word. I blinked away tears. “I’ve been through a lot of emotional heartache through my life. I’m scarred and I have been ever since I was little. I just don’t want to hurt you or hold you back. In my mental desire to keep myself from ruining you, I stay distant, but I also don’t want to lose you. You know that, right?” I asked slowly. Jesse didn’t say anything again. My voice cracked and sounded hoarse now. “I do love you.” Whoa, did I just say that? “I just don’t want my love for you to change anything about my life. I know how dangerous I am and I know what a person like me can do to a person like you. I hope you can forgive me. I would never want to hurt you.”
Jesse sniffled and turned away from me, heading towards the door. “It’s too late for that, Stefan. I need some time to think about things.” Jesse left. And there I was by myself on my bed. Of course, the moment I finally confess my love to someone in X amount of years, they leave right after. A creak could be heard from the doorway. I thought Jesse came back.
Instead, it was Ambrosia.
“Cranston sent me up here. Isabelle needs you to come back to Town Hall with me. I don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but we’re having a press conference. The two of us…” she trailed.
Isabelle’s a good soul.
She really is. The poor girl was hustling around, breaking out into a sweat, trying to PR the whole situation. I don’t understand why she was going to such depths to cover up. The people aren’t stupid. They’re going to see right through this. I think, anyways. I’m pretty sure the people are not that dense. But I guess it’s worth a try either way. Isabelle finished typing away on her computer rather stereotypically loudly and slid over in her swivel chair towards me.
“Ambrosia! I need to prep you!” A wide grin was plastered across her face. “I understand how much I’m asking of you, so I just want to clear by you…are you okay with this?” [i]No.[/i] I nodded anyways. Isabelle smiled more broadly, if it was possible. “Great! Okay, so basically it’s going to go like this. You and Mr. Mayor are going to come out as an item. We’re going to spin it that you were working around the office with me and managed to fall in love with the mayor that no one else saw, behind the scenes. At first, your relationship was an office fling but it turned into something more serious. You tried to keep it together but as time grew, it became more difficult to hide.”
Isabelle cleared her throat, taking a break to breathe, and continued to speak. “So now you two are coming out as a thing. To explain Jesse, we’re going to say he’s an old friend and that Mr. Mayor visits him at Velour so they can catch up and relax in the back. How does that sound?” I nodded. It was plausible; no one said the explanations had to be absolute or had to make any sense. “Good. I should probably have that come out soon. Prepare a press conference…the whole nine yards. Now REMEMBER, Ambrosia! You can’t tell anyone that this is planned or prepared. You have to act like this is 100% real, even to your family. Is that clear?” I sighed inwardly. This was a huge commitment, but it was one I was willing to take.
I smiled lightly. “Crystal clear, ma’am.” Isabelle nodded.
“Perfect. I don’t know where Mr. Mayor is.” I just happened to look up. Mayor Stefan was nowhere to be found. He must have snuck out while we were talking. Isabelle gestured out of the door. “He probably went home for something or something. Can you find him for me and bring him back here?” I acquiesced and pulled my coat over my clothes. This would require some video game-esque logic to wander around and ask where Mayor Stefan went.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long to discover what happened to him. People directed me back towards his mansion. I actually never had been there before. As I found myself outside of the mayoral mansion, I couldn’t help but be star-struck. The pure opulence of this place simply oozed into the air. I knocked on the door. A man opened it; I sensed he was the butler. He wore a suit and just had that subservient vibe to him. Obviously, he was an animal. Besides the physical attributes, you could tell that by the way his shoulders slouched and his eyes dragged. They represented an era of constant animal humiliation. Figures Mayor Stefan wouldn’t be the wonderful “owner” he would like to make people think he is.
I waved lightly and attempted to smile, even though I felt like I was going to be sick. “Hi, I’m Ambrosia. I work for Isabelle. She sent me here to retrieve Mayor Stefan…” I trailed. He nodded.
“Ah yes. He’s upstairs in his bedroom. You can head on up there. At the top of the stairs, make a left. It’s the door directly ahead, at the end of the hall. Tell him Cranston sent you.” The man gestured for me to walk. I thanked him curtly and hurried up the stairs. As I walked down the hallway, I could hear voices and choked tears. I didn’t want to seem like I was eavesdropping but I genuinely couldn’t help it.
Once I was outside the door, it suddenly opened in front of me. I stumbled backwards and saw Jesse storm out. At least, I’m pretty sure it was him. I had seen enough images of him on the news to deduce so. If possible, he looked more trimmed and well kempt in person. He basically ignored me and stormed down the hall, descending the stairs two steps at a time. I hesitantly approached the doorway and leaned in. Mayor Stefan was sitting on the bed holding his head in his hands. He looked up when he saw me.
I inwardly cringed. I just wanted to get this over with. “Cranston sent me up here. Isabelle needs you to come back to Town Hall with me. I don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but we’re having a press conference. The two of us…” Mayor Stefan sighed and stood up.
“Right. I saw the news on TV. We’re going to come out as a couple, right?” I nodded. He gathered his things and led the way out of the bedroom. “No time like the present, I guess. Let’s go. I’ll have my chauffeur drive us to the town hall.” I followed Mayor Stefan down the hallway and the steps. Cranston stood there with his arms folded behind his back. He just stared at us. Mayor Stefan gestured towards outside. “Olaf is going to take us back to Town Hall. I should be back later tonight.”
Cranston nodded. “Very good, sir. Don’t stay out too late. The debate is tomorrow.” He nodded.
“I know, I know. I won’t be out too late. Let’s go, Ambrosia.” Cranston opened the door and I could already see glimpses of reporters outside. Mayor Stefan wrapped his arm around my waist, but it didn’t feel right. It felt forced and unnatural. I had to roll with it though. He had to roll with it. We both were pawns but in whose chess game? The limousine pulled up to the front. Reporters attempted to dive forward and question us, but the chauffeur opened the side door for us. We both were able to slide into the car without incident.
As soon as we were inside the car with the tinted windows, Mayor Stefan took his arm away from me. It was weird not feeling it pressed into my sides, but I was relieved. He sighed and leaned back in the seat. “This all is probably just as awkward for you as it is for me. It feels weird. I feel like I’m betraying Jesse. Heck, maybe I am. But we both just have to go with this for a while, so we might as well get used to it now.” I nodded numbly.
“I agree. No time like the present.” Mayor Stefan chuckled, looking down for a moment. The car moved forward as the driver was driving us back to the Town Hall. We were silent for the rest of the ride. It was awkward because we both never were alone with each other before. Usually, when we were around each other, Isabelle was present as well. But now, we were framed out to be a couple. We needed to act like one. It took a few minutes but eventually, the car rolled up in front of the town hall.
The anteater clambered out of the car and let us out. Reporters swarmed us both but Isabelle was there immediately, pulling us out of our seats. She smiled warmly and led us inside. I knew she wanted to debrief us before just throwing us to the wolves. Isabelle gestured us to sit momentarily as she sat in the desk in front of us.
“I prepared a handout for both of you to go over! It’s not long, so don’t worry about that.” She handed both of us a sheet of paper. “On there are the general guidelines for this whole thing and obviously what you are going to say in a few minutes.” I glanced at the handout. It basically was an entire essay—complete with introduction—on what to say and how to act and how to explain things.
I set the paper down and folded my arms. “So basically a script?” I asked testily. Isabelle shook her head.
“No, I would consider it more like [i]guidelines[/i] to help you and Mr. Mayor navigate this process.” Mayor Stefan didn’t seem averse to the whole thing; I needed to follow along. I was in this deep now. My name was all over every news medium I could think of. After reading over the sheet and stuffing it in our pockets on Isabelle’s command, we headed outside. I glanced out the fogged-up window. There was a crew of municipal workers erecting Christmas lights on the cedar trees. Christmas was supposed to be a season of giving and service, so maybe I could just pretend like this whole thing was me giving back…me performing my civic duty and public service.
Some people do it by putting their lives on the line for their country and serving in the military. I’ll just do it by participating in a fake relationship with a high-profile politician to offset an otherwise publicly harrowing romantic scandal.
As soon as we stepped out on the podium, people screamed our names and asked tons of questions at once. Isabelle, who stood in front of us, held her hand up and spoke into the microphone clearly. Gog, I don’t know how she could sound so bubbly and peppy at such a tumultuous time. The stress would ooze through my voice. I hope it doesn’t ooze through my voice now.
“Thank you all for your patience! I appreciate everyone coming out here. I know the news has been swamped with information from whistleblowers about an alleged romantic scandal with Mayor Stefan and another man; however, they are just simply false. I established this press conference to put to an end any lies or falsehood.”
“Without further ado, let me introduce Mayor Stefan and Ambrosia.” People came closer with their cameras and aimed the flash right at us. I winced but Mayor Stefan didn’t seem fazed one bit. Thankfully, he played the politician role and took the lead.
“I want to make this quick for everyone, because I think we’ve all wasted enough time on this nonsense. Jesse and I are not a couple. Now, do I love him? Yes. Do I love him as I love myself? Yes.” What was Mayor Stefan doing? My hands scrambled for the piece of paper we JUST read and unfolded it. This was NOT on the guidelines. Abort abort abort. What was he doing? “I love Jesse from the bottom of my heart like a brother. We are old friends that have gone way back and…I would do anything for that man.”
Aw, he’s doing one of those “plug a subtle message in hopes that X person is watching.” If I could gather vibes though when I saw Jesse storm out of the bedroom earlier, he probably wasn’t watching.
“I see Jesse all the time and visit him at his place of work because I just want to see him. I want to talk to him and share the events of my day with him. Is it inappropriate? Probably. But most of you know that I really don’t care about propriety. I text Jesse all the time when we’re not together, but texting doesn’t do it for me. I want to see his face. I want to hear his voice and feel his laughter. If I didn’t see that man every day of my life, I don’t know what I would do with myself. You cannot prevent me from seeing Jesse as much as I want, because I want to spend every day with my life with him.”
That is so intense and adorable. But totally not helping your case, dude. I think the fur of Isabelle’s face just turned red.
I felt a warm gloved hand rest on my shoulder. “But Ambrosia, there’s a different kind of love with her. There’s the kind of love where I see our future together. I picture us sharing life events, making beautiful memories, and taking on the world as one. I admit that I’ve never said this in front of anyone, let alone Ambrosia…but sometimes, I look in her eyes and wish my children would look just like her.” His other hand wrapped around my waist. “Ambrosia has changed my life so much since she first came into this office, and I can only hope she will continue to change my life in the future.”
I was so shocked by how much of an actor Mayor Stefan truly can act like that. Suddenly, I felt a kiss on my lips.
I kissed Ambrosia right on the lips.
I built up the case of how I care so much for Jesse. I inwardly hoped Jesse was watching so he could see I was at least genuine about that aspect of this press conference. However, I also had to make the case that Ambrosia really was my girlfriend. I established the love, that’s great. How sweet. I enjoy the fact that I can do that falsely but not be able to do it in real life for my boyfriend.
At least Isabelle was looking as angry now. The reporters were staring at me and Ambrosia in shock, awe, confusion and joy all at once. What a wonderful emotion clash. I cleared my throat and pulled away from Ambrosia, but still clinging on to her hand. I literally felt no passion or raw emotion with that kiss or this “gesture of affection.” As I kissed Ambrosia, I remembered why I liked guys in the first place. I stayed close, partially for the outdoors warmth factor, and smiled. “I want all of this nonsense about me being romantically involved with Jesse to dissolve. It’s just not true, no matter what anyone may tell you or insist on telling you. I met Ambrosia some months ago, when she first started working under Isabelle, and she was like no one I had ever met before.”
I stared into Ambrosia’s eyes to make my “point” clear. “She was feisty, unique, creative, funny, and talented. She’s quiet and doesn’t brag about things, but she does put me in my place sometimes. Because let’s face it, I’m a jerk.” Some people laughed at that thankfully. “It was so refreshing to see a girl that saw me through my façade and combatted it accordingly.” Ambrosia smiled lightly. “It was the first time where I felt whole and I never want to lose that feeling.”
“There’s always going be someone out there who wants to badmouth me and say false things about my character. But I just want to prove to them once and for all…that I don’t care what anyone thinks.”
Irony irony irony irony. Dang it.
Ambrosia and I stepped away from the podium and headed inside. People burst forward to ask us questions but I didn’t want to let anything else be subject to scrutiny. Ambrosia and I went inside. Isabelle was beaming ear to ear when she came in the town hall and shut the door.
“That was MAGNIFICENT, Mr. Mayor!” She scurried over and hugged the two of us. “Truly believable and all. I think it shocked them. Now to just deal with these whistleblowers…I have to come up with some way to keep them quiet…” the dog trailed. I held up my hand and shook my head.
“You’ve done enough, Isabelle. Thank you.” Isabelle nodded and hustled away back to her desk. Ambrosia sighed and sat down in the chair besides me. I reached out and touched her on the wrist. From here on out, even when no one was technically around, we would still have to be affectionate. We never knew who was watching, who could have been taking our picture or filming us. “Hey, I really appreciate you going along with this. I understand this isn’t the most desirable situation.” Ambrosia smiled.
“It’s okay. I understand what’s at stake here.”
“And you understand why Huxley cannot become mayor, right?” I asked. I hoped she knew; she was a smart girl. I was hoping she had heard the things I had heard—the things that the people even don’t know or refuse to listen to. She nodded.
“Absolutely. People think it would be so much better. They’re practically rooting for him like the home football team. It’s disgusting. Huxley isn’t all that he’s chopped up to be. He’s a dangerous man and he has dangerous ideas for Airedale.” She said. I nodded.
“Thank Gog someone understands. I’m starting to feel alone with all of this. Like no one else gets what I’m feeling through all of this…”I trailed. Ambrosia smiled and nudged my shoulder.
“Don’t be so negative. There are people out there who want the same things you do. Maybe those people are who you would least expect, but they would just achieve those things differently. Sometimes different is good, right?” I nodded. She yawned and stood up. “If there’s nothing else exciting going on for us, I’m going to head back to my apartment. I’m beat and we’re only going to have a jam packed day tomorrow.”
“You’re right.” I croaked out. “The debate is tomorrow. I need to prepare and rest up for it. And you...?” I asked slowly. “Are you coming out to the debate?” She nodded.
“Of course. Whether our hearts feel it or not, we’re an item now.” I nodded, silently appreciating her support. “Take care of yourself tonight, Mayor Stefan. Don’t stress out too much tonight. If you wig yourself out, you’re only going to make things worse.” I reached a hand out to brush her shoulder.
“Hey. You don’t have to call me Mayor Stefan.” She pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows. “…I mean, I know everyone else does, but if we’re going to be an item, you can’t be so formal with me.” She nodded. “I know it’ll feel weird, but trust me, this is for the best. I’ll have Olaf take you back to your apartment. You can’t be walking home.” My voice tapered off and Ambrosia nodded and smiled.
“Okay then. Goodnight Ma—Stefan.” She turned and headed for the door. She opened it slowly and walked towards the town car. The anteater scurried to open the door for her, just as he does for me. I couldn’t help but picture Olaf doing that for Jesse, or at least anyone else that I passionately loved. For my future children. I needed to have companionship and while Ambrosia necessarily wasn’t THE one, no one said she couldn’t be for now.
Isabelle stuck her head up and glanced over at me. “Sorry for dragging you all the way over here for that, Mr. Mayor. You can go home now. Rest up and prepare for the big debate tomorrow. You have this in the bag, sir!” The dog said with a wide grin. I stood up, thanking her curtly. Oh that’s right. I couldn’t go home; Ambrosia had the car. Wow this strange convenience seesaw setup will take some getting used to. I lingered by the window, waiting for Olaf to return. Meanwhile, I stared out at the Christmas displays that were now prominently set up around Airedale.
I couldn’t help but remember that time my high school had a winter formal a week or so before Christmas. It was a very pivotal night for me.
When I saw the poster for the winter formal, my stomach pitted. It was that time of year again: dance season. Technically there were multiple dances throughout the school year that made awkward high school me fear social interaction. There was homecoming, prom, winter formal, and sometimes even a separate Valentine’s Day dance depending on the budget that year. Girls and boys would do nothing but fawn over each other and gossip about what they were going to wear.
I never really had an interest for that. Last winter formal, I stayed home and totally didn’t cry while watching TV shows on Netflix. My friends (or at least people who I thought were my friends 75% of the time and weren’t frenemies) were occupied with people they had asked to the dance. But this year was different. I was a senior in high school—it was my last year.
And I was out of the closet.
Well…at least to some friends and the school, after the whole Mark incident. One of the people who I had a decent bond with was Eric. He was nerdy and quiet like me. When we were walking through the hallway and saw the poster, he basically grabbed my shoulders and slammed me into the wall to face the poster.
“Eric, what are you doing?” I yelled out.
“You need to go to the winter formal this year!” He proclaimed. I sighed. We had been over this multiple times. “And before you say ‘no’, hear me out. We can all go as a group. I’m going to ask out Stacey and you can ask out some guy you have your eye on. How about the dude from stats class? He always has his eye on you.” I pulled out of Eric’s grip.
“I’m not going to the winter formal. I don’t want to be embarrassed again by anyone. Besides, how am I going to explain this to my parents? I haven’t gone for three years plus. What makes this year any different?”
“What makes this year different is that you are a senior. You’ve been stressed out from college admissions and you need to relax.” I did have college admissions on the brain. Yesterday, I submitted my final application for an Ivy League. So far, I’ve applied to seven schools. Maybe Eric was right. I needed something to loosen me up.
“Okay, you got me there pre-law, but how am I going to tell my parents I’m going out with a guy? I haven’t come out to them yet.” Eric pursed his lips and rested his chin on his hand.
“Hmm. Good point. Welllll….you don’t have to go out with a guy.”
“I’m not going by myself. That’s lame.” I said pointedly. Eric shook his head vigorously.
“No no no! I have a better idea. You know that girl Harriet from calculus? She seems nice and she’s single. You can ask her to go with you as a friend.” I didn’t talk to her too much but she did seem nice whenever I did speak to her. On a weird spur of the moment decision, I decided to listen to Eric. Within the next week and a half, I accomplished so much socially that I never could have imagined I would do. I asked Harriet to the winter formal, I told my parents I was going (NOT ask), I spiffed myself up in a nice suit, AND I rented a limo for me, Harriet, Eric and his girlfriend to ride up in.
It was going to be great.
Until the day of the winter formal.
My parents never knew who Harriet was really, and I didn’t get into description. On the day of winter formal, she came to the house looking beautiful. However, my parents were riled up when they saw she was an animal. My father grimaced and my mother looked ready to faint. My father grabbed me by the ear and yanked me upstairs, practically throwing me into the bathroom.
“Boy, are you insane?” he exclaimed. He slapped me across the face and I cried out in pain. “I’m glad you’re going out with someone that doesn’t have the same parts as you, but Gog zan lit, does it have to be an animal?! Let alone a dog!”
“Dad, quiet! People are going to hear!” I yelled. He slapped me again.
“I don’t care if anyone hears me!” he bellowed. “You’re despicable! Of all the girls in your high school to ask to go to winter formal with you, it has to be an animal! What? Did no other girl want you?” My father huffed and punched the mirror in fury. Glass exploded from the mirror. He yelped and bit his lip, gripping his fist. His hand was now bloody and there were glass shards lodged in it. Glass shards were also scattered all over the floor. My father sighed, ignoring his bleeding fist, and turned back towards me. “You know, I thought you were actually acting like a man for once. I was actually thinking I would be proud of you for going to a school dance with a girl and possibly having normal fun like most 17-year old boys do.” He shook his head. “But that becomes all null and void when you ask out some slurry. A mutt no less.”
I summoned up some courage and kicked my father in the groin. He leaned over in pain and I pinned him against the wall. “Don’t you EVER say those despicable words to me again! Harriet is a nice person! You don’t know her or anything about her. Don’t sit there and judge her with those evil words.” I whipped the door open and stormed downstairs. My father was leaning against the wall moaning.
Harriet could sense something was wrong. So could the others, but I just ignored them. I acted like nothing was wrong. I refused to let my father ruin my night. For most people, it’s supposed to be the best night of their life. We took pictures and did all that fun couple-y stuff, and then headed to the dance.
It was your typical dance, chaperoned by overeager teachers and overrated by lame music and hormones. During the end of the dance, Eric nudged me in the shoulder. “Dude, Chip is hosting this awesome party back at his house. None of his family are home. It’s going to be wild. Come with us.”
Usually I wouldn’t, but this time I did. I went to the party with Harriet. We drank. We danced. We had the time of our lives. It was my first taste of a wild time and after that, it wasn’t my last. That night changed me like no other night up to this point had.
Honk honk. I glanced out the window, snapping out of my trance. Olaf was sitting in front of the town hall.
I wasn’t used to being treated like such royalty.
Olaf drove me smoothly. As the snow gently fell, I realized that I wasn’t walking back home in the cold. I was being transported, rather luxuriously I would like to add, home. I didn’t smell the Chinese food like I usually did every time I approached my home. Instead, I simply saw the blinking neon lights from the restaurant sign. Olaf slowed the limousine to a stop and let me out. I thanked him and struggled through my wallet to pull out some Bells. The anteater’s face grew red.
“Ah, no need to do that, ma’am!” he said. I pulled out 300 Bells and handed it to him.
“It’s fine, really. And please, call me Ambrosia. You don’t have to stoop to authoritative titles.” I said, smiling and heading up the metal staircase. When I entered the apartment, Pax was standing there looking sullen and angry. I tossed my bag and my coat on the couch, basking in the warmth. Pax turned around and glared at me. I furrowed my eyebrows. “What’s your problem?” I asked. Pax cleared their throat and pointed at the TV. The news station just happened to be on. A clip of me making out with Stefan was on replay. A huge headline read “Mayor Stefan Announces Relationship with Ambrosia.”
“That. That is my problem. Bro, how could you?” They asked, glaring at me evilly. I couldn’t explain. Isabelle forbade me to—her strict caveat included Pax. As much as I wanted to tell Pax everything, I knew that I couldn’t tell them the truth. Pax growled, since I didn’t give an answer, and pushed some currently-messy blue hair out of their eyes. “You know what a slob that man is. If you can even call him a man. I would say he’s a pig, but that’s an insult to Huxley and every other animal out there. I hate Mayor Stefan and everything he stands for. He doesn’t deserve to be in power due to the terrible things he’s done to people. In general, he’s just an awful person and I can’t believe you would date him.”
I opened my mouth to say something but Pax shook their head and held their finger out towards me. “No! You don’t get to say anything! You’ve been quiet long enough. Eight months to be exact!” Their yelling had reached a piercing volume and I could swear that the Chinese workers downstairs grew quiet at our argument. It felt like our argument was on display for the world—everyone could possibly be listening INCLUDING news people. “I just want to know why. I thought we were friends. I had hoped you knew you could tell me anything. But apparently, you thought hiding your relationship was the right thing to do…” they trailed.
“Pax, I swear, it’s nothing personal towards you. I—I can explain everything perfectly but I just can’t right now.” I said regretfully. By now, tears were streaming down their face.
“It’s so babyish to be crying over this right now, Bro, but you don’t understand. I’ve seen what that man has done. I know what that man has the potential to do, and he’s just ruining this town and people’s lives. And you two are apparently madly in love. And you hid it from me.” They said resentfully, sniffling and wiping some tears out of their eyes.
“Pax, one day, I’ll explain everything to you. I don’t want to hide the truth from you but I have no choice right now.” I said firmly.
“Is it because of the election? Did Isabelle and Mayor Stefan swear you to silence and secrecy until this whole thing is over? I don’t know how that juice bag swindled you over and sold you land in Kanto, but you seriously need to get with it.” They spat. There was no way for me to explain it. I couldn’t tell Pax it all was a lie; that it all was fake. Their eyes grew cloudy and their lips curled into a light smile. “I’m a smart person, you know that pretty well. I have my ways to find out things and I’m only going to ask you one time. Only once, no take backs.”
I quirked my head curiously as Pax took a few steps towards me. “Is this a lie?” I gulped. I didn’t want to lie to cover up the lie, but then again, I couldn’t tell the truth and expose the lie. Gah this is morally confusing! I didn’t want to ever lie to anyone, let alone Pax. I trusted Pax and I would like to think Pax trusted me. But now this was going to undo all of that, I presumed. Pax squinted their eyes and sneered. “Are you and Mayor Stefan lying about being together? Tell me the truth.”
Why did it matter? Oh my Gog, I didn’t know what to do. I only followed my instinct. I shook my head. “No, it’s not a lie. We’re together. We’re in love. Everything that Stefan said is 100% true.” Pax’s face turned a deep red and their fist recoiled backwards. I winced, expecting pain to encounter me quickly. I heard a crack and a pained cry but I didn’t actually feel anything. I opened my eyes (which I didn’t even realize were closed) and looked. Pax had punched the wall instead of me. They groaned and shook their fist to shake out some of the stinging.
“I gave you a chance, Bro! I gave you a chance to tell the truth and you didn’t. You lied and you know what? That makes you no better than the Mayoral Juice Bag in the supermarket now. I know that you and Mayor Stefan are not a couple. I know that this is all just some concocted scam and I’m going to expose you all for what you really are: dishonest scum.” My stomach pitted, twisting around inside of myself. I felt sick.
“H-how would you know? Who will believe you?” Pax scoffed, leaning against the wall.
“Bro, I thought you were smarter than that.” They cleared their throat and then grinned widely. “I am the anonymous source that worked at the Trident Diner. Didn’t you ever realize where I worked and put two and two together?” Oh Gog, it all made sense now. Pax worked as a waitstaff at the Trident Diner. They were the anonymous source. They blew the whistle on Jesse and Stefan. Oh Gog. Pax shook their head. “Seriously, drink some water or something. You look like you’re going to faint or something.”
“Why would you do that?!” I exclaimed. “Their relationship wasn’t hurting anyone. It’s none of your business to out someone and reveal them to the world!” I said. Pax shrugged.
“I explained myself to the news media but I’ll surely reserve an explanation for you too, I guess. I watched Mayor Stefan and his boy toy meet at the Trident and I never said anything. I figured ‘hey, I’ll stay loyal and keep my mouth shut.’ But after some time, I couldn’t accept that secrecy anymore. Even though it was on more of a personal level, that level of secrecy for a romantic relationship epitomized everything about Mayor Stefan. He’s just one giant ball of secrets.”
Pax shook their head. “I wasn’t going to stand for it anymore. I considered people were just cowardly and too afraid to speak up. I thought maybe they thought the same things but didn’t want to say anything. Well, I wasn’t afraid to say something if it meant I was representing the thoughts and desires of a lot of other people. Stefan is a terrible person who has had this coming to him for a long time; maybe this is finally the nail in his campaign coffin.”
Pax held their hands on their hips. “I’ve watched Mayor Stefan and Boy Toy shuffle together and be all lovey dovey and kiss. I know what I saw. I even saved camera footage of it from the diner when the security and management thinks it was deleted.” They cleared their throat. “I figured you and this whole ‘dating the slob’ thing was just a scam Isabelle made up to make everything seem rosy and peachy. Now, I still like you a lot and I want to strike you a deal…” they trailed. Pax stepped forward more and I stepped backwards.
“I don’t want to make any deal with you. I just want you to never speak to me again. You yell at me for being dishonest but you’re just as sneaky.” I said shakily. My voice didn’t really seem very stern or assertive; I sounded more like a middle schooler trying to make a demand. Pax laughed smoothly.
“I have the videos that prove Mayor Stefan and Boy Toy are more than just ‘old friends’. I won’t release them though if you keep quiet about my role in the whole whistleblowing thing.” Ugh, Pax had me in between a rock and a hard place. I wanted nothing more than to expose Pax for who they really were and have Isabelle deal with them; however, I knew that Isabelle would want me to think of the bigger picture. That bigger picture being the possible reveal that we’re lying about being together. I couldn’t have that happen…yet. I sighed and rolled my eyes.
“Fine. I won’t say anything about you. But how do I know you won’t reveal the videos anyways?” I asked carefully. Pax leaned over to grab their bag.
“I’m not that cruel, Bro. I hope you realize that. You’re taking his side clearly and I understand where you’re coming from. But I just want you to see where I’m coming from. Mayor Stefan still hasn’t done anything about animal discrimination, not to mention all of the other domestic problems in Airedale. Instead of bringing ‘commercial growth’ to this town, he needs to do something to fix the loss we’ve already had. I want nothing more than to see Huxley get in office and undo all the crap that Mayor Stefan has burdened on this town. I want to see Huxley fix the plight of the animals and I will do anything to make that happen. Right now you’re on the humans’ side but I hope you can see the light and join our side.”
Before Pax could say another word, they had grabbed their things and had walked out of the door. I sighed to myself and plopped down on the couch. What just even happened?