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“Oh, so this is about your weekend plans?”

“That’s not what I’m saying, and you know it.”

I hadn’t lost sight of the fact that I loved him, but I wasn’t feeling any of it now. Or I was only feeling that part of love that can be misshaped so easily into anger and sadness and pain. He seemed as impervious as always, and that made it worse.

I knew I was the wrong one. The weak one. The coward. But at the same time I wanted Jimmy to forgive me for that. I wanted him to let me be who I had to be. I resented that he wouldn’t, almost as much as I resented myself for not being able to go with him.

Finally he broke the silence with a simple “Fine.”

“Fine?”

“What else do you want me to say? Fine. Don’t come. I’ll send you some textcards. But don’t worry—none of them will say, Wish you were here. Clearly you wouldn’t like that.”

“And that’s it? You’re just going to go to Kansas.”

Now Jimmy was officially angry. “What? Do you want me to be afraid and stay home, too? I don’t think so.”

I closed my eyes, slowed things down, said, “That’s not what I meant.”

Then I opened my eyes and saw Jimmy’s expression had softened a little, too. “Look,” he said, “I had to beg my parents not to come with me on the bus. That’s the way my family is—they’ve always been breaking down walls and doing what they believe in. I guess that’s not always the way it goes.”

“You know I believe in this, Jimmy.”

He nodded. “I know. But what are you going to do about it? That’s the question, isn’t it?”

I put my hand on his arm, moved my thumb against his bracelet. “I don’t like fighting with you. You know that.”

“Believe me,” he said, moving his hand to hold my elbow, “I’m not liking this conversation, either.”

Okay. This felt better.

“Look,” I said tentatively, “maybe I am afraid.”

“Of what?”

“Of things going wrong. Of it turning into a riot. Of getting hurt. Of failing. Of losing you.”

Jimmy shook his head. “You’re not going to lose me.”

“I don’t mean like losing you as a boyfriend. God, I hope not. I mean like losing you in a crowd.”

He tightened his grip on my arm. “I won’t leave your side.”

“But the other things—”

“That’s why it’s called ‘taking a stand’ instead of just ‘standing’—there are things trying to stop you from being there, so you have to fight for it. And I don’t mean getting into a fight. I mean simply getting there and holding your ground. Millions of us, Duncan. It’s going to be millions. Yeah, it won’t matter whether or not two of us are there. But how often do you have a chance to be a part of something so powerful?”

The only thing clear to me was that nothing was going to be clear to me. I wasn’t going to feel like I should go. And I wasn’t going to feel like I should stay. Whichever choice I made, I would regret it. Whichever choice I didn’t make, I would regret it.

We walked a little more and arrived at my front yard. Both of my parents were at work.

“Give me an hour,” I said.

“To get your stuff ready?”

Jimmy’s relief was so obvious that I almost said yes.

But instead I said, “No, to decide.”

He looked at the ground. “Oh. Okay.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, really—it’s okay.”

But I was sorry. To be disappointing him. To be disappointing myself.

I hugged him and he hugged me back.

“Go and decide,” he said. “Turn on the news. See what’s going on.”

I promised him I would. But even in promising, and not deciding, I felt I was disappointing him again.

I had no idea what this meant or what to do about it.

I was glad he hadn’t brought up missing his birthday.

thirteen

The question became:

What are you willing to do for something you believe in?

I turned on the news. People were already starting to arrive in Kansas.

Stein was there. Martinez was there. All the congresspeople and senators from their party were flying in for the rally.

The governor again insisted the election had not been decided.

Two more people came forward expressing doubts about the governor’s “investigation.”

There was a woman from Topeka on the news begging people not to come.

“We’re just not ready for this kind of thing,” she said.

I realized if I wasn’t going to go, I had to call Virgil, Flora, Keisha, Mira, and Gus to tell them I wasn’t coming.

I didn’t want to.

I realized if I was going to go, I had to call at least one of my parents to say I was going.

I didn’t want to.

A half hour passed.

I started to pack.

Five minutes later, I stopped packing.

I asked myself:

What would you give to have Stein as President?

Your weekend?

Would you be willing to stand up to your parents?

To people who hated you?

I told myself:

The answer to the last question is yes.

Even if I didn’t believe I was the kind of person who could stand up to the people who hated me, I wanted to be the kind of person who would.

I called my mother.

“I have to go,” I said.

There was a long pause on her end of the line. In the background, I could hear people talking and keyboarding.

Finally she said, “I know.”

Now it was my turn to pause. She continued, “I want your phone on at all times. I want the numbers of everyone else on that bus. I want you to stay out of trouble, do you understand me? If it looks like there’s going to be a riot or a fight or even just a rough spot, I want you to get out of there.” Then she started crying, just a little. “Sorry,” she said. “It’s not easy letting you go, you know.”

“I know.”

“Be sure to pack at least two days’ extra underwear and socks.”

“I already did.”

“And take some food, just in case you get stuck.”

“I already did.”

“And keep some extra money—”

“—in my toiletry kit. Check.”

“I guess you have been paying attention, haven’t you?”

“It’ll be okay,” I told her.

“Go out there and save this election,” she said. “Then come right back home.”

“Thanks, Mom.” That was all I needed to say. The rest—that she would talk to my father, that I would call her every night, that I would take care of myself and try to take care of my country—was all understood.

“You show ’em, Dunc.”

Before she hung up, she made sure to say she loved me, and I made sure to say I loved her back.

Just before my promised hour was up, I called Jimmy to let him know I was coming. I think part of me was expecting a parade, or at least a firework or two in response. But all he said was, “Good,” and got off the line so he could finish packing. He said he’d see me at the bus.

Janna’s mom drove Janna and me (and our bags) to Stein headquarters. The bus was outside waiting—clearly Gus had arrived early to decorate it, using the large magnetic words that had been in fashion for cars a few years ago to spell out some good slogans: THE TRUTH WILL SET US FREE and HAVE FAITH and THIS LAND WAS MADE FOR YOU AND ME. Finally he had written KANSAS WILL NOT FALL, with the first word spelled out in individual letters.

I looked to find Jimmy as soon as I got there, but Virgil told me he hadn’t shown up yet. So I waited, and was perhaps too relieved to see that when Jimmy arrived the first thing he did was look to find me. I ran over and hugged him close, a beat longer than our hugs usually lasted, an extra moment to encompass all the apologies I was feeling and all the doubts I feared he still had.

We stored our suitcases in the bottom of the bus as Virgil explained that Sara had found us a house to stay in—the best friend of one of her roommates lived in Lawrence, twenty-one miles from the state capitol in Topeka. It was going to be crowded—there were sixteen of us—but sleeping on floors was the least of our worries at this point.

The bus wasn’t full—Flora said it was possible we’d pick up more people along the way. Inside, it looked like any old kind of public transportation—the muted seats, the narrow aisle, the windows stained by years of dried rain. But once we were all on board, it felt like something extraordinary. Jimmy sat next to me and I felt like the world was starting to fall back into place, that we all had a purpose and we were all on the road to that purpose.

Before we left, Virgil stood at the front of the bus and told us he wanted to say a few words.

“I wish Stein was here right now to talk to you,” he began, “because that man has a way with words that I’ll never have. But since he’s busy at the moment, you all are left with me. I know you’ve stopped your lives on twenty-four hours’ notice to go on this journey. I have to tell you—I have no idea what’s going to happen, or what it’s going to be like. You’d think that a man of my age would have some idea. But honest to God, I can’t see which way this one’s going to go.

“This is what I know: I know that Kansas came into existence in part because a number of people were willing to put their lives on the line to defeat slavery. I know that wasn’t easy and I know that in the end the right side prevailed. I know that a hundred years after that, a black girl named Linda Brown and her family fought their way through the courts so Linda could go to a school seven blocks from her home in Topeka—a school that until then had been for whites only. I know that her case went all the way to the Supreme Court and led to the abolition of school segregation in America. I know that more recently Kansas was the home to a lot of people who liked to use Jesus’s name to be unkind and uncivil to people unlike themselves. But I also know that there were always more people around who stood by Jesus’s message of love and kindness. It’s been a good forty years since I last went to Kansas, and I imagine it’s changed like this country’s changed—sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. I know that of all the great shifts that have occurred in America—the freedom of the slaves, the rights of women, the equality of g*ys and lesbians—none has happened easily, and certainly none has happened instantly and without serious attacks and backlash. But the reason we have these things is because the fair-minded people who came before us would not give up. In my life, I have seen elections stolen—either outright or through the electoral college. I have seen wars fought for no real reason, and I have seen wars fought because there was no other way to get to peace. I have seen the rich get richer and I have seen the poor get poorer. I have seen facts get harder and harder to hide—and easier and easier to manipulate. I have been angry and I have been frustrated and I have been ecstatic and I have been proven right and wrong and back again. I have given up on some things, but I have refused to give up on most things. And I can honestly say that all of it—all of it—seems to have led me to where we are, here and now. I’m not saying we’re going to change everything. Heck, I don’t even know if we’re going to change anything. But there are moments—either in your own life or the life of the world around you—when an event looks you right in the eye and says: This is important. What are you going to do? And our answer—right here, right now—is that we are going to take a stand. We are not going to give up. We are not going to let things happen because we don’t want to get involved. We are going to intervene, because it’s our right—if not our duty—as citizens to intervene. Good doesn’t triumph because anybody tells it to. It triumphs when we push it and carry it and shout it and embrace it until it triumphs. That’s what we’re doing here. That’s why we’re going.”

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