She poured herself more wine while he put pizza on their plates, and he quirked his eyebrows at her.
“My glass is empty, too, you know.”
She shook her head and took a sip.
“None for you until you eat something. I’m not going to have you collapsing on me here from stress and too much wine and no food.”
He started to argue, but the look on her face made him realize it was futile. He dove into the pepperoni, sausage, and extra cheese pizza and had finished two slices before he reached for his wineglass again. This time, she filled it up.
“I’m sorry I descended on you without any warning,” he said. “I just . . . I just needed to see you. I should’ve called, but . . .” But he hadn’t wanted to call; he hadn’t wanted her to say that she had plans or was too busy and he shouldn’t come.
“It’s okay.” She put her plate down and poured herself more wine. “I would have just finished this bottle on my own if you hadn’t come. Glad you could join my pity party.” She lifted her glass to his and he toasted her.
“Why were you having a pity party? What’s wrong in Alexa world? I thought things were going well after the meeting on Saturday?”
Alexa took another sip of her wine and fought the urge to lay her head on his shoulder. Then she wondered why she was fighting it. She curled up against him, and he put his arm around her.
“Yeah, so did I, but Sunday there was another meeting and it was . . . different.”
He rubbed his hand up and down her arm.
“That doesn’t sound good. What happened?”
She attempted to not sound as defeatist as she felt as she told him everything.
“Monroe, this is just one group of people. You don’t know that they represent everyone in the hills,” he said when she was done. “Plus, now you know exactly what you’re up against, and this will make you all the more prepared for battle.”
She smiled, buoyed by his confidence in her. Maybe she should have called him on Sunday night.
“I know, it’s just . . .” She took another sip of her wine and put her glass down on the table. She twisted her fingers together and didn’t look at him.
“What is it? Tell me.” She finally looked up. He smiled at her, with such a tender, open expression on his face that she reached out and touched his cheek. He turned his head and kissed her palm. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
Drew had always known there was something about this program that she wasn’t telling him. He hadn’t pushed her, hadn’t wanted to push her. But now he needed her to trust him like he trusted her.
She took a deep breath and grasped his hand.
“This program, the whole idea of this program . . . it’s a pretty personal one to me.” She looked up at him. “You’ve probably figured that out.” He nodded. “I . . . We . . .” She sighed. “I don’t know where to start this story.”
He lifted their joined hands and kissed the back of hers.
“Wherever you want to start. We have all night.”
She laughed, but it came out half like a sob.
“Okay.” She turned so that she was facing away from him, but he didn’t let go of her hand. “My sister, Olivia, and I. We’re only two years apart. Growing up, she was my . . . my idol, my everything. I read books because she read them, I took ballet because she did, I played soccer because she did, though that one I was terrible at.” He laughed. She looked up at him and laughed, too.
“It’s true. I was. I would pick flowers in the outfield during the game and make little flower crowns for myself.” They smiled at each other, and then her smile dropped away. “When I started high school, I was so excited to be back at the same school with Olivia. And, unlike my friends, I wasn’t worried about starting high school, because I knew I had my sister there to watch out for me.”
She got quiet. He waited for a moment, before he asked, “What happened?”
“One weekend night after a few months of school had gone by, Olivia and her friends got in trouble. They all got high and then drunk, or drunk and then high, and broke into the high school and stole some stuff. Someone heard them and called the cops. They got caught as they were on their way out.”
She splashed more wine into both of their glasses and took a long sip of her own before she continued.
“And you have to understand, I was a good kid, a very never-get-in-trouble, obey-all-the-rules kind of kid. And I was so shocked that my sister, who I looked up to so much, who I thought was perfect, would do something like that. And then everyone found out, and I was so humiliated. I thought everyone would think badly about her now, and badly about our whole family. That my teachers would think less of me, that everyone would make fun of me.” She glanced in his direction but didn’t meet his eyes.
“Why was it such a big deal?” He set his wineglass down. “That sounds like typical teenage stuff. I did stuff like that when I was a teenager and never really got in big trouble, other than with my parents.”
She raised her eyebrows and let go of his hand. He felt colder without her touching him.
“I know, but Drew, you’re a white guy. Life is different for you. You were born with a benefit of the doubt that black kids never get.”
He put his hand on his knee.
“That’s true, but . . .” He didn’t really know how to finish that sentence.
She took another sip of wine and didn’t look at him.
“Come on, Drew. What would have happened if you’d gotten drunk and broken into your high school? What did happen when you did stuff like this? Someone yelled at you and told your parents, you maybe got grounded and got your car taken away, but the school didn’t do anything big. Possibly a suspension, but probably not, because you were a golden boy; you were one of the smart, charming ones who everyone loved and everyone could see would eventually make it to medical school. Because you were a white kid. So they got mad at you but always with that smile behind their eyes, to let you know they didn’t really mean it and they actually thought it was a little funny, and boys will be boys. Even if someone called the cops on you, which they probably didn’t, the cops wouldn’t arrest you; they would just give you a lecture, and then maybe tell a story about the time they did something bad when they were a teen like you. Right?”
That was frighteningly accurate. He flashed back to the time that Mrs. Mann had caught him and his buddy Toby stealing the principal’s car for a prank, and had just winked at them and pretended she didn’t see anything. They’d gotten the car up to the roof of one of the outbuildings of the school, and the principal went ballistic, but no one ever told him who did it. Would Mrs. Mann have done the same thing if it had been Malik, who was in his AP Chemistry class, she’d seen in the driver’s seat instead? He wanted to think so, but too much in the world had told him otherwise. What would have happened to him?
He felt like he was tiptoeing through this conversation right now. He wanted to ask questions, he wanted her to keep talking, but he didn’t want to say or do the wrong thing, and he had no idea what the right thing was. While he thought, he slid another slice of the now lukewarm pizza on her plate. She smiled her thanks but didn’t pick it up. And she still didn’t look at him.
“Yeah,” he finally said. “You’re right. That’s exactly how it happened with me. I should have . . . I should have thought of that. What happened to your sister?”
To his relief, she answered.
“She was arrested, along with all of her friends. It was . . . it was a pretty terrible night. I . . .” She started to say something else and trailed off.
“Did she have to go to jail?”
She shook her head. “In Oakland then, there was a pilot program sort of like TARP.” Her voice went back to her chief of staff cadence. “It only lasted for a year, but it was just at the right time for Olivia, so instead of having to serve a sentence or have it on her record, she did the program. And since I know what a difference it made for her, I feel like it could . . . it would make a difference for teens in Berkeley today. Olivia got to achieve everything she wanted to, because people gave her a chance.”
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