A pudgy young man sporting what he hoped was a goatee cast a shadow over the alcove, blocking light and, thankfully, wind.
“Goddamn it, it's Friday, it's practically the fucking weekend,” Rachel grumbled, squatting in the sparse snow that had blown in before her friend Raoul had taken up wind breaking duty.
Tisha snorted. “It's only four-thirty. Your dad was later than this yesterday. My mom gets at least as much slack. Rush hour.”
“Fuck rush hour. The whole world's changing, and we're not out there! If we can get to the station before six, we can be in New York by nine, U.N. by ten.”
“So your dad said yes?” Tisha looked sidelong at Rachel, and Rachel squirmed.
“I didn't tell him Wayne was going.”
“Hey,” Raoul interjected, “how come he gets invited, but I don't?”
“Cause you've still got a shot at valedictorian,” Tisha answered. “We wouldn't want you caught in a riot and killed. Or worse, arrested. Keep you out of the good colleges.”
“What makes you think there'll be riots?”
“Cause I'm fucking cynical. Not as cynical as Rachel, but I know how the world works. Even though making them was wrong, lots of people will still want the Defenders to stay American.”
“No, man, no one will want to fight. They'll all be with Terstein; they'll all be trying to help the EHUDs. The ones who bother enough to go to the U.N., at least.”
Tisha shrugged. “Well, I'm fine with you going. We can't exactly stop you, either. What do you think, Rach?”
There was no reply from deeper in the alcove.
Tisha turned. “Rachel?”
Rachel sat flat in the snow, back against the wall, staring out at the packed schoolyard. “A riot.”
“A motherfucking riot. That's how we'll do it!” Rachel jumped up and grabbed the fringe of Tisha's jacket. “We show how serious we are, how we're not letting all this shit get us down, how we're not going to take illegal imprisonment, how we're not going to let the government do all this again. We stage a rally, right here, right now, and we say, 'Let us go!'”
Tisha raised an eyebrow. “All three of us know that's a bad idea.”
“No!” Rachel let go and flashed puppy-dog eyes at Raoul. “C'mon, it's just like when Latterndale stood up to Merv! Us against the school!”
“Okay, first thing,” Tisha said, getting a firm grip on Rachel's shoulder and turning her around, “You can't pull the 'scary EHUD' card, alright? We're on their side. Second, it's too soon. Someone died Wednesday.”
“That was bigger, and someone had a gun! Who has a gun here?” She looked to Raoul for support, then back to Tisha. “C'mon, you always say you want to make a difference. Going to the U.N., that's great, that helps the bigger picture. But what about this small stuff? Who takes care of this if not us?”
Tisha let go and narrowed her eyes. “You just want to fuck Wayne sooner.”
Rachel raised her eyebrows.
Silence stretched out for several long moments before Raoul cleared his throat. “I say we do it. What they're doing here? It's wrong. Our parent's haven't done anything about it, and the school board hasn't listened to us so far. No one defended the Defenders when their rights were violated. Who'll defend us? Fucking no one but ourselves.”
Rachel smiled and started to perform a victory dance before Tisha stared her down. Rachel cleared her throat and gestured to the yard beyond Raoul. “Okay, let's think this out.”
They peered around the edge of the alcove. At the far edge of the schoolyard was the main gate, guarded by the school's four full-time security guards, six off-duty police volunteers, and a handful of teachers who looked just as uncomfortable as the hundreds of students milling around in front of the gate.
“Okay.” Rachel pulled back and retrieved her mobile. “I'm going to organize a protest online. Raoul, Tisha, you go and drum up some people. Try to get the popular bitches: Amanda, Sahara, maybe Jewel. We'll meet in front of the gate in fifteen, okay?”
“Now it's just a protest?”
Rachel shrugged. “We'll start there and see what happens.”
“Have you thought about what happens if they try to shut us down?”
Rachel shrugged again. “They can't catch all of us.”
Fifteen minutes later the crowd of students trapped in the yard began to contract, a solid nucleus coalescing in front of the gate.
The off-duty officers noticed. One stepped forward, raised his hand and waved to the students. “Hey, kids. Gonna need you to step back, please. Cars are still coming.”
The students didn't move. “Let us go, man!” Raoul called.
The officer shook his head. “Can't do that. Have to stay here until your parents pick you up, or until your bus gets here.”
“This is illegal!” Tisha yelled. “Detainment without just cause!”
Her words seemed to break something in the crowd, and a chorus of “Yeah!” and “Nazis!” echoed off the school’s bricks.
“This is what happened to the Defenders!” Raoul yelled. “They held them, they tortured them! What's keeping you from torturing us?”
The officer, sensing that police interference wouldn't help the situation, stepped back and gestured at one of the teachers. The teacher stepped forward and tried to diffuse the situation, but her words were drowned out by the student's enraged chanting.
“It's the fucking weekend!”
“Let us go, you Nazis!”
“Illegal imprisonment, man!”
Rachel stood off to one side, watching as her plan became a reality. Beyond the gate, she saw a minivan pull up, and felt the thrill of success as the guards noticed the van, then concluded that they couldn't let it in. A parent had come for their child, but as soon as the gate was opened the students would rush out, would overrun guards and break rules.
So the minivan had to wait outside. It honked, and somewhere in the school yard a girl yelled, “C'mon, my mom's out there!”
And as the tension mounted, as the guards and teachers and off-duty officers pulled closer together, as the students pushed forward to create a greater presence, Rachel saw what was needed to make this work. She crouched, picked up a handful of snow, balled it, and let fly.
“The fuck?!” Tisha looked around, trying to see who had hit her in the head with the ball of slush.
“They're throwing shit!” Rachel yelled, waving her arms and gesturing at the guards.
That was it. A phalanx of students rushed forward, swinging backpacks and skateboards, ready to let out a decade of pent-up rebellion.
For their part, the off-duty police kept their heads. They fell back into defensive postures, making sure they held nothing that could be construed as weaponry; none of them wanted to be the next Shaun Wendleferce. It was the teachers who panicked and tried to fight off their attackers.
More students pushed forward, there was a scream as a canister of pepper-spray was emptied, and the riot began in earnest. The police now had no choice but to defend themselves.
The angry yells, the prospect of easy victory and peer acclaim excited Rachel, and she found herself pulled forward into the throng. She moved until there was a gap around her, slung off her backpack, felt inside for anything to throw into the melee.
Folders flew, loose paper floated through the still air, books fell like deadly rain.
Seconds—minutes—hours later, Rachel heard sirens. She looked up from the basketball coach, his face bloody as he succumbed to the savage beatings of three teens, and saw sirens flashing behind a curtain of snow. Metal screeched as police cruisers crashed through the gate.
The student's didn't run. They abandoned the teachers, the staff, the guards, and swarmed over the newly arrived police. Rachel rode the wave, swept up in the ecstasy of tension released. She saw blue uniforms before her, heard amplified shouts—
Felt pressure in her back, felt a blossom of pain across her face as she hit the concrete. Someone knelt on her back, wrenched her arms behind her. A plastic loop was slipped over her wrists, pulled tight, and then she was alone, lost at the bottom of a sea of humanity, trying not to drown in the flood she had unleashed.
Rachel lay on the examining table, cut off from the rest of the ward by a thin paper curtain. She ignored the screams and curses of the busy emergency room. How had it all gone so wrong? One minute, they were rallying, about to make their break, the next they were dispersing, huddling around the building as thirty-odd kids were being dragged off to lock-up.
On the upside, she wouldn't be spending her whole weekend in jail. She touched her nose and winced. Her fingers came away bloody. On the downside, she wouldn't be spending her weekend in New York, supporting the Latterndale Plan.
The curtain was ripped aside and her father stormed into the imagined hospital room. He looked, in Rachel's considered opinion, pissed. "What the hell happened out there?" he demanded.
"You, uh, you got a little blood..." Rachel pointed at his shirt.
"Gunshot wound, squirter. Forget it. What the hell were you thinking, starting a riot?"
"Dad, I didn't--"
"Bullshit. Tisha told me."
Reggie sighed and leaned against the table. "Sixteen kids in hospital, Rachel. One critical. What were you thinking?"
She sat up, blood and mucus oozing down her face. "Who?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. Heavyset kid."
He shrugged again. "I don't know. Look, Rach, I'm... I'm proud that you stood up for what you believed in. That's admirable. But it was also stupid, okay? But... but there's something else I need to talk to you about." He pulled a rolled-up sheaf of paper from his pocket. "The blood test Perry ran when you got here."
Rachel slumped back on the table. "What? Did I get hepatitis during the whole two hours I was in jail?"
"Too early to tell. The thing is... God. Rachel, you're pregnant."
She sat up again.
Reggie didn't look up from the scuffed linoleum floor. "About two months."
"No way..." September 12th loomed in her mind, the day after Lemlin, the day after the world had changed forever. She was supposed to be at Tisha's, studying. In reality she had been with Wayne, staying up late into the night, discussing the future, coming to terms with the fact that they might very well die in the coming days as the Defenders took their righteous revenge. At the height of fatalistic release, they had thrown consequence away and made love like there was no tomorrow. But there had been a tomorrow, and another, and another, and it looked like there would be more tomorrows in the conceivable future.
"Obviously, considering that your youthful instincts just started a riot, I doubt you're mature enough for a child at this point, and would recommend you terminate the pregnancy--the sooner the better." He turned to look at her, then rested his hand atop hers. "I would recommend speaking with your mother first, let her have her say."
She didn't hear him. The ring of green paper hanging from the curtain track above her seemed to stretch into infinity. It felt as if she were falling, as if the new life inside her might burst out of her stomach, then proceed to devour her old life.
She felt incredibly young, incredibly stupid. What was she thinking, starting a riot? Edgar had been bold, had stood up to the nation and declared what was right. That was all she really wanted... She just wanted to do right...
Reggie sighed. "Yeah, I can tell you're not listening. Okay, so I'm going to patch up your nose, get a couple x-rays of your back, then John's going to pick you up."
Tisha was right, Tisha was always right...
Reggie pulled on a pair of rubber gloves and began to feel his daughter's nose. "Good, doesn't feel broken... Damn it, I'm too old to be a grandfather."