When he joins us, we can all see he’s nervous as hell. He’s pacing, shaking his hands back and forth at the wrists, like he’s going to loosen them up for some great physical task ahead of him.
“You know what’s stupid?” he asks me, because I’m still his best friend, even though that means something different now. He smiles, foolish. “I couldn’t stop thinking last night about my Civic. About how I’m going to miss just getting in and driving it.”
I smile encouragingly back at him while loading my pistol. “You’ve been pressed into greater things, Rafe.”
“I’d rather be pressed into my Honda,” he says, and we all laugh, because we need it.
Outside, the crowd is loud, screaming and shouting, waiting to see Raphael. They’re waiting for his State of Union address, even though all of them know the State of the Union is Crap. Raphael watches me shove the magazine back into my pistol. He looks tired and way older than just a few weeks ago, back when we were just juniors at Boston College. “They’re going to kill us, aren’t they?”
“Don’t be stupid,” I say. “You’re worried about the audience? They’re just impatient.”
“Is it an audience, or is it a mob?” His runs his fingers through his brown mop of hair again and again, leaving tracks of anxiety behind. “This is crazy. I’m nineteen. My dog won’t even listen to me.”
This is such a lie that we all jump in to correct him. Jules’ voice is fond: “Raphael, everyone loves you. Everyone listens to you. That’s why you’re here.” What she doesn’t say but means is: Raphael is the only thing that keeps us from being a bunch of armed teens. We need him. More than his Honda needs him.
The door opens. It’s the oldest person I’ve seen in the past two days; some guy in his late thirties. The oldest person alive, anyway. He looks at Raphael and smiles a tight smile – he’s nervous too, but like everyone, he loves Raphael. He’s probably read his blog. The world has. “Mr. President?”
“It’s time to roll,” says Cayden, who never could tell when someone needs a second to friggin’ catch their breath and get used to the idea of addressing a crowd of fifty thousand.
Raphael looks at me, and his expression contains the pain of every single life that’s been lost over this. “Are we terrorists or revolutionaries, Matt?”
I hold his gaze for a long moment. “Something had to be done. People were dying. Someone had to do something.” I holster my gun with a soft snick.
Raphael bites his lip and I wonder how I could’ve ever thought he looked old. But there’s no turning back. We lead Raphael to the balcony doors and as we stand inside them, the sound of the crowd outside is deafening. Raphael shakes hands with me, really formally, because he knows just like me that he might be going out to his death. And he knows I’m going with him, either way.
Thirty-something guy pushes open the balcony door and I walk out first, in front of Rafe, just in case someone’s got a gun out there. The crowd goes quieter when they see me. I survey their faces. They’re young, young faces everywhere – teens like us. Maybe there aren’t any older people left.
Raphael steps out from behind me and leans into the microphone set up for him. He smiles as if he’s not afraid. “Hi, America. Did you miss me?”
The crowd goes absolutely wild. Old America is dead.
Photo courtesy of mockstar.
Author’s Note: Blame this one on being on the campaign trail with my dad.