“Thanks for calling me,” Irene said.
“We called like all but literally everyone,” Mikaela said.
“Yeah, well, everyone doesn’t always include me.”
“Other than literally,” Iago said, and Drake elbowed him. “Ow. I mean, we’re happy to have you.” He elbowed Drake back. “And that was for you. Because you don’t need a big, beefy man to look out for you patriarchally.”
“Quick,” Mikaela said, “nobody point the irony in that one out to him.”
“Damnit,” he said.
“It was a nice thought,” Irene said, “if confused and convoluted.”
“Though speaking of everyone,” Demi said, looking at a bus pulling up. Keane, their dean, was the first one out.
“We chartered a few buses. It’s not the entirety of the student body- I insisted anyone with conditions that might be exacerbated by viral exposure continue quarantine- but anyone who hadn’t gone home to shelter is here. What do we need?”
“Mostly bodies,” Mikaela said. “Last night, they thought they could intimidate us into silence. So tonight, we have to show them that we aren’t going away, that this problem isn’t getting swept back under the rug this time. They have to deal with us, and contend with the issues animating us.”
“I admire your restraint… but I’m not sure it gets the job done. This is about more than solidarity- every other city in the country has that down. But we represent the greatest congregation of Breed in the world. We need to draw this line unmistakably, and I may have an idea as to how.” Mikaela barely heard the last few words, because she was focusing through the crowd to a man exiting out an aging Taurus.
“Dad?” she asked. “I, I need a moment, okay?”
“By all means,” Tucker said. “We’ll hold down the fort. And probably have to expand the fort to fit all these new settlers.”
Mikaela made excellent time through the crowd, and didn’t question it until she was nearly halfway to her father. In subtle ways, the crowd was parting for her, or otherwise moving out of her way, like someone was coordinating them around her. Mikaela spun on her heels, and Tucker shrugged playfully.
“I’m not late, am I?” her father asked, jamming his car keys into a pocket.
“Dad. I wasn’t sure you’d come.”
“You texted. Of course, I came.”
“I didn’t mean-”
“You did. And it’s okay. I might not always have; but I would have at least called, tried to talk you out of it. But… you’re not going to be talked out of this.”
“I… I like what you’ve done with your hair.”
“Really?” she touched her textured hair self-consciously. Cutting her chemically-straightened locks was still recent enough she didn’t expect the feel. “I thought you’d hate it.”
He smiled. “I might have… but I saw your post about it. I know what went into that decision, what it means to you, and that it wasn’t made lightly. I meant it. I like it like this. You’re more… you; that makes you more beautiful.” He let out a ragged sigh. “I never wanted to deny you that. I thought I could keep you safe from a world that hurt me too often, takes too often. I… I never realized I was binding you with my hopes, that my expectations were another invisible chain. I hope it’s okay, that I’ve been reading your posts.”
“I posted publicly because I needed it said, even if I didn’t think you’d ever read it.” She sniffed. “It’s a little scary; I told myself you wouldn’t, which I think let me be more open, and more vulnerable. But you’re here. And I know you’ve been protecting me my whole life. And I made it to now, healthy and mostly happy, in part because of that. I know you did the best you could, and it’s natural to have some regrets; I wish I’d been more open with you earlier. But this?” she spun, gesturing to the crowd gathering around them, and the police line coalescing opposite the protestors. “None of this is your fault.”
“A little is,” he said with a shrug. “Every day, we get a little more complicit as we go. I wanted to protect you from all of this, from the world, and I was stubborn and naïve enough to think I was pulling it off. But I’ve been reading your other posts, too, the last few days, and you’re right. We don’t need to be protected. We need a better world. We deserve one. And it’s up to us to make it. So of course I came. Maybe if I’d come sooner, I could have actually protected you.” “Dad, this struggle is the work of generations, and possibly might never be done. So don’t worry about how long it took you to get to the right place, just be in that right place, with me.” She took his hand and squeezed. “Just, stay behind me. Because I have the sneaking suspicion things could get pretty crazy before the night is up.”