I walked across the room and kissed Dad’s cheek. “Morning.”
“Morning. Did you see the papers?” he asked.
“Yes. At least no one died this time.”
“Thank goodness for that.” Those were the worst, the ones where people were left dead in the street or went missing. It was terrible, reading the names of young men who’d been beaten simply for moving their families into a nicer neighborhood or women who were attacked for trying to get a job that in the past would not have been open to them.
Sometimes it took no time at all to find the motive and the person behind these crimes, but more often than not we were faced with a lot of finger-pointing and no real answers. It was exhausting for me to watch, and I knew it was worse for Dad.
“I don’t understand it.” He took off his reading glasses and rubbed his eyes. “They didn’t want the castes anymore. We took our time, eliminated them slowly so everyone could adjust. Now they’re burning down buildings.”
“Is there a way to regulate this? Could we create a board to oversee grievances?” I looked at the photo again. In the corner, the young son of the restaurant owner wept over losing everything. In my heart I knew complaints would come in faster than anyone could address them, but I also knew Dad couldn’t bear doing nothing.
Dad looked at me. “Is that what you would do?”
I smiled. “No, I’d ask my father what he would do.”
He sighed. “That won’t always be an option for you, Eadlyn. You need to be strong, decisive. How would you fix this one particular incident?”
I considered. “I don’t think we can. There’s no way to prove the old castes were why the waiter was denied the promotion. The only thing we can do is launch an investigation into who set the fire. That family lost their livelihood today, and someone needs to be held responsible. Arson is not how you exact justice.”
He shook his head at the paper. “I think you’re right. I’d like to be able to help them. But, more than that, we need to figure out how to prevent this from happening again. It’s become rampant, Eadlyn, and it’s frightening.”
Dad tossed the paper into the trash, then stood and walked to the window. I could read the stress in his posture. Sometimes his role brought him so much joy, like visiting the schools he’d worked tirelessly to improve or seeing communities flourish in the war-free era he’d ushered in. But those instances were becoming few and far between. Most days he was anxious about the state of the country, and he had to fake his smiles when reporters came by, hoping that his sense of calm would somehow spread to everyone else. Mom helped shoulder the burden, but at the end of the day the fate of the country was placed squarely on his back. One day it would be on mine.
Vain as it was, I worried I would go gray prematurely.
“Make a note for me, Eadlyn. Remind me to write Governor Harpen in Zuni. Oh, and put to write it to Joshua Harpen, not his father. I keep forgetting he was the one who ran in the last election.”
I wrote his instructions in my elegant cursive, thinking how pleased Dad would be when he looked at it later. He used to give me the worst time over my penmanship.
I was grinning to myself when I looked back at him, but my face fell almost immediately when I saw him rubbing his forehead, trying so desperately to think of a solution to these problems.
He turned and instinctively squared his shoulders, like he needed to act strong even in front of me.
“Why do you think this is happening? It wasn’t always like this.”
He raised his eyebrows. “It certainly wasn’t,” he said, almost to himself. “At first everyone seemed pleased. Every time we removed a new caste, people held parties. It’s only been in the last few years, since all the labels have officially been erased, that it’s gone downhill.”
He stared back out the window. “The only thing I can think is that those who grew up with the castes are aware of how much better this is. Comparatively, it’s easier to marry or work. A family’s finances aren’t capped by a single profession. There are more choices when it comes to education. But those who are growing up without the castes and are still running into opposition . . . I guess they don’t know what else to do.”
He looked at me and shrugged. “I need time,” he muttered. “I need a way to put things on pause, set them right, and press play again.”
I noted the deep furrow in his brow. “Dad, I don’t think that’s possible.”
He chuckled. “We’ve done it before. I can remember. . . .”
The focus in his eyes changed. He watched me for a moment, seeming to ask me a question without words.
“Are you all right?”
He blinked a few times. “Yes, dear, quite all right. Why don’t you get to work on those budget cuts. We can go over your ideas this afternoon. I need to speak with your mother.”
“Sure.” Math wasn’t a skill that came to me naturally, so I had to work twice as long on any proposals for budget cuts or financial plans. But I absolutely refused to have one of Dad’s advisers come behind me with a calculator to clean up my mess. Even if I had to stay up all night, I always made sure my work was accurate.
Of course, Ahren was naturally good at math, but he was never forced to sit through meetings about budgets or rezoning or health care. He got off scot-free by seven stupid minutes.
Dad patted me on the shoulder before dashing out of the room. It took me longer than usual to focus on the numbers. I couldn’t help but be distracted by the look on his face and the unmistakable certainty that it was tied to me.
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