Inside the courtroom, I sniff and wrinkle my nose at the musty smell of one hundred years of old wood floors steeped in human sorrow. The dark wood from the floor creeps up the stand, surrounding the interrogation hot seat and raised judge’s podium. The judge’s chair, a giant-sized, heavily cushioned black leather seat, sits empty now, but I can almost picture a jowly, white-wigged man pounding his gavel, meeting out justice to the criminal offenders.
A line of folding tables for the council members, also empty, are set up on the main floor in front of the stand. I count thirteen chairs and frown. That seems an excessive number of politicians for our little town. No wonder this project has taken so long. Getting that many people to agree on something probably takes forever.
I search for my parents. They sit on the side of the courtroom designated for defendants. Ms. A and another man— Ky’s dad Mr. Muto, judging by the olive-toned skin and resemblance to his son—sit to their left in the short row of chairs. Mr. Duke enters and takes his seat in the prosecutor’s area. I hold back a laugh.
This isn’t a trial, but the lines have been drawn. And the council’s penchant for meeting in a courtroom shows exactly how important they think they are.
Piper sits in the crowded seats behind my parents, straight-backed and a muscle twitching in her jaw. Game face on. For once, her beauty doesn’t intimidate me. It sends warmth into my belly and I take a step toward her. But the council members file into the room so I slide into the nearest seat to my left and wait.
After the call to order, and the pledge, and the roll call, and a hundred-thousand other formalities, they discuss everything but what I came here for. Liquor licenses, finance reports, playground equipment for the park, new appointments for positions that sound made up or, maybe created to give a job to a committee member’s best friend’s son’s girlfriend’s dog walker.
As I’m about to say forget it, grab Piper, and run, Mayor Himmel, sitting in the center of the group, picks up the paper outlining the minutes of the meeting and exhales loudly.
“Final item on the agenda, number eighteen, the proposed construction project for the new library.” She lifts her chin. “Mr. Duke, you have the floor. Again.”
Piper’s gaze follows her dad as he crosses the room to stand before the mic. She purses her lips.
Mr. Duke clears his throat. “Good evening, Ms. Mayor, council members.”
He takes a moment to glance down the table at each of them like he does to us in class. I know from experience his steely gray stare can snap the most reluctant listener into line. The council has almost the same nervous-tic reaction as us students. Even the Mayor puts her pen down and folds her hands together on the table in front of her.
“I know you’ve all heard my speech about why we need the new library. And why we need to take advantage of the incredibly generous offer of the anonymous benefactor.” He raises his eyebrows. “But tonight, I thought you might want to hear from someone else.” There’s a rumble among the crowd. He turns and his teacher eyes find me.
By the smug look on his face, he thinks the win is in the bag. But if he thinks he’s going to control me, he’s in for a surprise.
“Zaidyn Mitchell is a student in my AP English class and represents the students at the high school. He would like to speak in favor of the library project.”
I stand and walk to the mic. It takes about a year to trudge down the aisle, but then I face the table of council members. Piper closes her eyes and rubs her forehead. My parents look at me though. Dad furrows his eyebrows and shakes his head. Mom purses her lips.
(Note to self: At least I’m not about to screw them like they have me.)
I adjust the mic and static echoes off the walls. Laying the folder and flattening the wrinkled paper of my speech on the podium before me, I take one last deep breath then address the council.
“Good evening.” The council members nod. Mayor Himmel looks at me, but the rest shuffle papers, yawn, or write on their notebooks. For a moment, my mind goes blank. The speech sits forgotten. What in the hell am I going to say?
What do I think about this project? What do I think is important? I look to my left and catch Piper staring at me. With her mouth set in a grimace, she crosses her arms and leans back in her seat. Her clear silvery eyes unlock the words in my throat.
“I agree with Mr. Duke, we need a new library.” The men and women behind the table give a collective, frustrated sigh, but I keep going. “The walls in the current library are crumbling. The heating, air conditioning, and internet don’t work half the time. The basement fills with water every time it rains more than an inch. The roof has so many holes, the stock for buckets has gone up enough to finance the retirement of the last custodian, Mr. Parker.”
Some people chuckle, but not Piper.
“We know this, Mr. Mitchell.” The Mayor taps her pen on the table. “Several inspections have been made by men far more qualified than you. The disrepair of the current building is not a secret.”
I quirk an eyebrow. “No, I suppose not. And I’ll bet there isn’t a single person in here who disagrees.”
“If that’s all then we’ll move on. I call for a vote—"
“No.” I hold up a hand. “I’m not finished. Without a doubt, we need a new library. But that isn’t the issue up for debate tonight. Is it?”
A hum fills the room. Mayor Himmel’s half-smile turns to a full frown.
“For weeks, you’ve met here, listening to both sides argue their case. Should we build the library? Should we not? But even with your degrees and credentials which make you much more qualified than me, nobody has thought to ask the most important question.”
A hush falls over the room.
The Mayor narrows her eyes. “And which question is that, Mr. Mitchell?”
“Where should we build the new library. What’s really the best thing to do? Not for the library, but for the future?”
Each council member stares back at me, mouths closed, brows furrowed. A few cast sideways glances at Mayor Himmel.
“We have decided what’s best for this community. To use the wooded area on the north side of town.” The mayor holds up a stack of papers. “We have the backing of a very wealthy benefactor and have recently secured the right to purchase the property under the jurisdiction of eminent domain.”
A not-so-low murmur breaks out at this announcement. The mayor pounds her gavel on the wooden block in front of her to call everyone back to order and the murmur stops.
“Yes. But some,” I meet Ms. A’s gaze, “for reasons of their own, want a different area. We don’t need to tear down trees and displace wildlife for this project to be successful.”
Ms. A closes her eyes. She probably didn’t expect me to figure out the magical connections of this project so soon.
“Mr. Mitchell we’ve heard the argument for the birds and the bees.” Mayor Himmel straightens the papers on the table in front of her, chuckling with the other members. “If you can’t contribute any new information, the council is prepared to vote tonight on this matter. Do you have anything new to offer?”
I crumple my speech paper in my fists. Another adult waiting to dismiss me. Thinking my voice doesn’t matter. Thinking our voices don’t matter. Another adult trying to make decisions based on their needs, not for the generations that follow. Not this time.
“Yes, I do.” Throat tight, I open the folder. “I am asking for an extension of time to consider alternate locations for the new library, based on community input. I have a signed petition from over a thousand voters who feel the same.”
From the corner of my eye, I see Mr. Duke stand.
I lift the pages of signatures Iggy and I collected. “They’ve signed asking for—”
“I think that’s enough, Zaidyn.” Mr. Duke steps toward me, reaching for the pages. “You said you had student support—”
“I do. Some are eighteen and eligible to vote. The rest are community members.” I slide the pages back into the folder.
The murmur returns, echoing in the room like a bunch of snakes. I glance behind me and the tightness in my chest eases with Piper’s grin.
“Gentlemen,” Mayor Himmel says, narrowing her eyes. “Please sit, Mr. Duke, Mr. Mitchell has the floor. Young man, bring me your petition.”
Mr. Duke gives me the look. I raise an eyebrow, pressing my lips together.
(Note to self: I can kiss my 5.0 goodbye.)
He re-takes his seat and I walk my petition to the Mayor. She takes the folder, looking down her nose and through her reading glasses. She flips through the pages of signatures and passes the stack down the table, mumbling to the members as the rest of the room holds whispered conversations.
Standing back at the podium, I focus on the head table and resist looking at my parents and Mr. Duke, and especially Piper. My hands shake, my throat is dry, and enough magic flows through my skin to send me to Mars. Seeing her excitement that I’m on her side would cause lift-off.
The mayor clears her throat into the microphone and the room goes quiet. “Mr. Mitchell, thank you for your time. I call for a vote on tabling the new library project until alternative locations can be discussed as reflected in the desires of the community. All in favor say aye.”
The aye’s take the vote and a few people cheer. I take a deep breath and blow it out.
“We will reconvene in two weeks to re-examine the information… again. Thank you, Mr. Mitchell. You may present your alternative locations with the appropriate financial information at that time. I call for a vote to adjourn?”
Mayor Himmel ends the meeting and there’s a rush of sound as everyone starts talking and moving at the same time. My parents make it to me first.
“Thanks, Zaidyn,” Mom says as she hugs me. “How did you get so many signatures in a day?”
“I didn’t. I started Tuesday. And Iggy helped me.”
“But when we spoke about this you never said—”
“You never asked me what I thought.” Harsh but sometimes parents need tough love, too.
Mom presses her fingers against her lips.
Dad meets my gaze. “You were already questioning it, weren’t you?”
“Of course,” I say. “I may not be a tree-hugger, but I do have the ability to think for myself. It’s obvious that they haven’t looked anywhere else for a location and I don’t think that’s right.”
“I’m sorry,” Mom says. “I guess we should have given you a chance to talk to us.”
Dad lays a hand on my shoulder. “We were unfair. We should’ve known you would try to learn the truth.”
I make eye contact with Piper across the room and she nods before she slips out the door. Her words come back to me. “…. too full of yourself to care or listen to the truth.”
And I didn’t listen. I never gave her a chance to defend her actions and used my hurt as an excuse to push her away. Like my parents, assuming they had to tell me what to do instead of asking me what I thought. How can I be mad at my parents for doing the same thing I did? I hug Mom.
“It’s alright. Nobody’s perfect I guess.” They laugh, and I say, “But I need to catch someone before they leave. I’ll see you at home.”
Before they can argue, I rush through the shuffling crowd and out the door after Piper
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