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That was it, as far as Jimmy was concerned. He was about to charge them, about to curse and yell and fight if he had to. And I—well, I held his hand tighter. Even as he started to pull away, I held on, dug in. He was surprised, but he didn’t let go. I pulled him forward a little. He resisted. Then the pastor looked at us and said, “Let’s keep walking. Just keep walking.” Brushing the juice off his jacket, asking if we were okay.

I wondered if anyone else had noticed. Then I got my answer: Janna and Mandy started singing “Amazing Grace” again—and this time it was loud, meant to be heard. The golden thread turned into a banner. People all around us started to sing along. The Decents yelled louder, but they couldn’t break the melody and the harmony.

“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved.

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed.”

The pastor could tell that I was still shaken and Jimmy was still enraged. Even Elwood looked ready to go back and make some trouble.

“Don’t let them get to you,” the pastor told us. “All they have is hate, and in the end hate is worthless. They want for us to become hateful, too, and to forfeit His love in our anger. When faced with such hate, we can only embrace love tighter. As Paul said, ‘Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.’”

I had not let go of Jimmy’s hand. But now I tried to let my grip ease, to get us back to level. In this way, we passed the corner where the last of the Decents shouted, and made our way into the area in front of the Kansas statehouse.

Hearing that there were over half a million people hadn’t prepared me at all for the sight of it—the enormity of it. There were people as far as my eye could see, and I was sure there were people beyond that as well. Bodies and banners and signs, clothes of all colors, faces of all ages. Children on their parents’ shoulders, people in wheelchairs. Hot-thrumping guys and journal-scribbling girls, picnic families and motorcycle gangsters. Holy Ghostwriter fans with bad haircuts and I’M 4 STEIN 2 B PREZ buttons. Proud Kansas voters for Stein, identifiable by their PROUD KANSAS VOTERS FOR STEIN

T-shirts, with Don’t mess with my vote written on the back. I couldn’t stop taking it all in.

There were still about two hours to go before Stein would speak, so there was no focus to the crowd, no direction that we all faced. From above we’d look like a gigantic mass, but under a microscope we’d be divided into our own cells, talking and eager with anticipation.

Once again, it felt like history. But this time our piece was even bigger.

Our group had managed for the most part to stay together. Virgil and Flora and Mrs. Everett were fueling themselves on stories from the past, stopping every now and then to compare aches and pains. Sue kept largely to himself, searching the crowd around us from his singular place within it, considering each face before moving on to the next. A few feet away, Gus had planted himself and Glen on an old sheet he’d brought, and was regaling him with tales of his own misadventures.

“…and then—no lie whatsoever—I found myself on the shore, drip-dry nude, and I thought to myself, Only a foolio like myself would break up with a vengemeister before going skinny-dipping. I never got the clothes back, la, and had to swindle-borrow this cape from a noodle of a seven-year-old in order to make my way homeward. You wouldn’t believe the major-wrong tan line I got that day. I can be such a void when it comes to boy issues.”

“Aw, don’t be so self-deprecating,” Glen said, clearly charmed instead of alarmed.

“If I don’t deprecate myself, who will?” Gus asked playfully.

“How ’bout I appricate you instead?” Glen offered.

“I’m ultra open to apprication.”

A kiss immediately followed.

A long kiss.

An epically long kiss.

“They’re going to need some oxygen when that’s over,” Mira observed from the side.

But neither Mira nor Jimmy nor I could really criticize—we’d all been like that, even if we might not have been quite so public about it. I had one of those momentary fantasies—one of those imagination side trips that last a little longer than a hope but a little shorter than a daydream—that Jimmy would lean into me now, whisper something snide and sexy like, Hey, darlin’, how ’bout you and I appricate each other, too? and lead me into the same kind of kiss.

But Jimmy didn’t seem to be paying too close attention to what was happening with Gus. I felt, in fact, that his attention was still back on the gauntlet we’d walked, stuck in the jeers and provocations that had been hurled at us.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Just moody, I guess. I know it’s not really in accord with God’s love, but I seriously wanted to set some things straight back there. I know it’s a free country, but nobody should say those things. For whatever reason. Somebody needs to tell them that.”

“Do you really think they’d listen?”

“No. But it would make me feel better, I guess. To know I didn’t just let them get away with it.”

“They only get away with it if we let it get to us.”

“Not really, Dunc. I mean, think about their kids. They’re going to teach them to be just like they are. How do you stop that?”

“By getting the world around the kids in better shape, I guess,” I said. “I mean, if everyone was just like their parents, your dad would be just like your grandparents, and you’d be just like them, too. Which, I’m happy to report, isn’t the case. I would have a really, really hard time making out with your grandparents.”

Jimmy smiled slyly. “I’m sure they’ll be relieved to hear that.”

I was smiling now, too, because somehow I’d managed to bring him back to me. We might have gone on for a little longer, but Mira said, “Hey, take a look at this!” and gathered us around her screen.

“…Olivia Butler is the fourth Kansas election official to resign in protest of the governor’s recount, and the ninth person directly involved in the elections to allege tampering on the governor’s part.

“‘If you have an honest recount, I bet you’ll see that Stein won by more than a thousand votes in this state. What’s happening is politics, plain and simple. The governor promised his party the state, and he’s doing everything he can to deliver it.’

“The governor’s spokesman has labeled Butler as a ‘Stein supporter’ whose own motives are political.

“‘That’s just not true,’ Butler says. ‘I actually voted for the governor in the last election. But never again. What he’s doing is wrong.’”

“Isn’t this enough?” Mira asked. “I mean, how can anyone believe him now?”

It was Virgil who answered, shaking his head.

“It doesn’t matter what you or I believe,” he said. “It’s about what they can get away with. That, I’m afraid, is the ultimate measure of a man: how he acts when he’s wrong but knows he can get away with it anyway. Now, I have no doubt that the governor and everyone else on his side thinks they’re doing the right thing. I’m sure they’ve managed to justify it in their minds. But the more people know they’re wrong, the harder it will be to ignore it. The question is: When it’s perfectly clear that they’re up to no good, what will they do?”

There was a cheer from the front of the crowd, like an echo before the noise, which caused those of us farther away to pay attention. Thinking we were in the back of the rally, I turned around and found that, no, we weren’t in the back at all—more and more people had arrived, and now the crowd was spilling out in every direction. Speakers and screens had been set up all around town, and most of us had our phones out, too, to see what was going on up front. The speeches had begun, with politicians and movie stars and musicians and authors coming up for their minute of spotlight to say that Stein was and would be the next President of the United States. We were here, they vowed, to make sure of it.

People cheered, but never all at the same time. I think we were still distracted in the daylight, too busy taking in the situation to fully be a part of it. While Mira talked to Jimmy, Virgil, Elwood, and Sue, I noticed that Keisha and Sara had strayed from our group. I looked around and finally found them having a heated conversation about a hundred feet away from us, just in front of a group of dog lovers holding leashes and PUGS FOR STEIN banners. Both Keisha and Sara were crying and, from what I could tell, Sara was trying to argue Keisha out of what she was saying. It was unclear whether or not her arguments were working. But what was clear—shockingly clear—was that whatever they’d done wasn’t just a stupid fling. Sara really cared about Keisha, to the point of pain.

Sara tried to come forward, to wrap Keisha back up in her arms, to embrace the conversation into being over. But Keisha shook her head, pulled back, said something else that made Sara step away and reply with something that clearly wasn’t as pleading as before. Keisha rallied, pointing, telling Sara to go. And Sara did. She said one last thing to Keisha, then picked up her bag and pushed into the crowd, disappearing in a matter of seconds. Keisha just stood there, looking like a buoy in an empty lake.

Nobody else from our group had noticed. They were too busy paying attention to one another or to the speeches. I could have gotten Flora or Janna or Mandy, told them what had happened. But for some reason I felt I needed to go there myself, to finally talk to Keisha, to see what I could do to make things better—or, if not better, at least bearable.

It was funny—I’d never really thought of myself as Keisha’s friend or as Mira’s friend. I’d thought of myself as Keisha-and-Mira’s friend, because I’d always thought of them together. Now that they weren’t, I hardly knew where I was.

When I got over to Keisha and said hey, she took one look at me and actually laughed.

“Damn,” she said, “I thought I was the one who was supposed to be miserable.”

She only found it funny for about three seconds, though. Then she was back inside herself, and I was somewhere else.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“I’d say it’s pretty gone.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

“I have a lot of wants right now. That might be in there somewhere. You’re brave for coming to talk to me, you know.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m the bad guy. There always has to be a bad guy.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. It wasn’t exactly wrong. But it didn’t feel exactly right, either.

She continued through my silence.

“I’ll give you some advice, Dunc. Whatever you do, try not to fall in love with two people at the same time. While it’s happening, you’re haunted by knowing it’s never gonna work out. And then it doesn’t work out.”

I tried to imagine being in love with someone else at the same time as being in love with Jimmy. But I couldn’t, and told Keisha that.

“Believe me, I thought it was impossible, too,” she said. “It wasn’t like I was looking. I was more than happy with Mira. But then I met Sara and there was just this charge. I couldn’t choose whether or not it happened—it was there, and the only choice I had was to deny it or admit it. And I couldn’t even manage denial. It would be like trying to say I don’t hear you to someone screaming in your ear. I know it won’t make sense to you, and I’m pretty sure it won’t make sense to Mira, either, but it wasn’t either/or—it wasn’t like I had to fall out of love with Mira in order to fall for Sara. Yeah, those were supposed to be the rules—but feelings don’t follow rules. Guilt does. Fear does. But attraction? No way.”

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