Olivia’s smile lost some of the animosity.
“Good. Because if you answered that question a different way, I was going to tell you to walk out of this room right now and get your ass back to Los Angeles.”
He laughed again, louder this time, causing the people in front of him to turn around and frown. He muttered an apology.
He turned back to Alexa’s sister.
“She doesn’t know I’m here. So if you could . . .”
She patted him on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry, I won’t spoil your surprise. I wouldn’t anyway, but she doesn’t know I’m here, either, so I’d spoil my own surprise, too.”
He suddenly realized something: if Olivia was here, Alexa must have taken his advice and told her about the program. He couldn’t believe she’d listened to him.
He turned to Olivia to say something else, but she shushed him and pointed to the front of the room.
“They’re talking about it now.”
Alexa had expected to be jittery, but she’d felt a weird sense of calm descend upon her as soon as she’d walked into the chambers. She’d done all that she could do, and whether she won or lost, she knew she’d won in the eyes of her sister, no matter what.
But she still wanted to win.
She spent the first half of the meeting scribbling notes to both the mayor and Theo, and getting scribbled notes from them in return. They’d learned the hard way to always write their notes to one another during council meetings on paper instead of via email or text, since that time a local newspaper had tweeted a picture of the mayor looking at his phone during a council meeting and he’d gotten roundly mocked.
When it was time for her presentation, she stood in front of the podium, all of her anxiety for the week gone. The city council had already gotten her report, so this part was pure theater.
“Mayor, Councilwomen, Councilmen, you’ve all seen the proposal about the Teen Arts Rehabilitation Program, or TARP. At this point, I’ll just go into a few details about the program before alumni of similar programs report to you about the benefits they received from it, and then we’ll open it up to questions and public comment.”
She went through her presentation, pleased that almost everyone on the council nodded and smiled at her, and the only ones who didn’t were the two who’d been opposed to the program from the beginning.
Then came the alumni of various programs, handpicked by Theo: one was a student at UC Berkeley who had done a program like this in East L.A.; another was a recently published author who credited her youth arts and writing program for putting her on the path to where she was. Theo had spent days coaching them on what to emphasize, and Alexa saw him tense up and lean in their direction as they started talking. But after a few initial stumbles, both of them had the council in the palm of their hands.
The council chair opened up the discussion for public comment, and now it was Alexa’s turn to tense up. After that meeting in the hills, she was afraid of who was going to be at this meeting, and what they would say. Sure, they’d reached out to all of the communities who they knew supported the program to encourage them to come, and Alexa could see a good number of them in the audience, but there were also lots of faces there that she didn’t recognize. Who knew what they would say?
The first two speakers were people she knew were on their side. But the next two were people who had been visibly skeptical at the meeting in the hills. And yet, they both spoke in support of the program.
She looked over at Theo, who stared straight back at her, his eyes dancing, and down at Maddie, in one of the front rows. She couldn’t smile, not yet.
But it kept going on like that. Sure, there were a few people who opposed it, who said that kids needed discipline, needed to be punished for their transgressions, that this was soft on crime, and all of those reasons she’d heard before. But the vast majority of the crowd was on their side. She couldn’t believe it.
She looked down at her notebook to doodle something so she wouldn’t grin like a loon. When she looked up, she almost jumped out of her seat. Standing there at the microphone was Olivia.
“Mayor, Councilwomen, Councilmen, thank you for this opportunity. As some of you may know, I grew up right here in the Bay Area, though I live far away now. I spent my time in high school getting in and out of trouble, and finally I went too far. Thank God I got sent to a program very much like the one being debated today. That program opened my eyes to all of the things that I could do, all of the things that I could accomplish, if I moved beyond my teenage rebellion and concentrated on what mattered. Since then, I’ve graduated from two top schools and have recently become a partner at a law firm in New York City. There are many teenagers out there like I was, teens who need someone to help put them on the right track, but who could so easily get pushed onto the wrong path altogether, and never find a way off it. I’m so glad that my arts rehabilitation program showed me my path to success, and I hope you’ll open up those pathways for the youth of Berkeley who need it the most.”
Alexa had tears in her eyes by the middle of Olivia’s speech, and had to look up at the ceiling by the end of it so the tears wouldn’t fall. When she managed to look down, Olivia was looking right at her, and they smiled at each other during the loud applause.
No one was surprised when the council voted to approve the pilot program, not after that speech. Alexa was grateful Theo grabbed her in a big bear hug, so she could hide her huge grin against his shoulder. She was so amped up that she could barely concentrate on the thirty minutes of public debate about the new bike lane on Oxford Street.
Finally, the meeting ended and Alexa jumped to her feet, intent on finding Olivia. She couldn’t get to her right away, because almost everyone on the council walked up to thank her. And then when the council was done, it was the mayor’s turn to wrap her up in a hug.
“You made me proud tonight, Alexa.”
She wiped her eyes as she pulled back. This time, she wasn’t even ashamed.
“Don’t make me cry, sir. Just doing my job.”
He laughed and patted her on the shoulder.
“You’d better not be in the office until noon tomorrow, and that’s an order, you hear me?”
She didn’t even attempt to argue.
“Aye aye, sir.”
He grabbed Theo’s shoulder, hugged him, too, and handed him a few twenties.
“I know your whole crew likely has plans for drinks. You all have fun. I’m going home.” He winked. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
They waved good-bye to the mayor, and Alexa picked up her overstuffed purse. Okay, NOW she could go find her sister.
She walked down into the audience seats of the council chamber, her eyes intent on Olivia’s hair; it made her easy to find.
“Olivia!” She shouted her sister’s name, no longer worried about keeping to her inside voice. When Olivia turned around, the man beside her turned along with her. Alexa took a step back.
He was in front of her in a flash, Olivia behind him.
“Hi. Great job up there,” he said.
She couldn’t believe he was here.
“Drew?” She needed to come up with something more to say than just his name. She wanted to reach for him, throw her arms around him, bury her face in his warm chest and let him hold her for days, pull him into her house and never let him out. “Have you been . . . What are you doing here?”
He crossed his arms, then uncrossed them.
“I came to see your night of triumph. Are you, um, glad that I’m here?”
She smiled. After the night that she’d had, any sort of prevarication was impossible.
“I couldn’t be gladder that you’re here. Although”—she looked around him to meet Olivia’s eyes—“I’m pretty happy to see my sister, too.”
Drew and Olivia looked at each other and laughed.
“We didn’t plan this! We promise!” Olivia said, and pulled her into a hard hug. “I’m going to follow Theo and the rest of your little band. I assume you’re all off for a drink or five?”
Alexa nodded. This might be one of the weirdest nights of her life.