The caterers disassembled their equipment and left, followed soon by each of her teammates. A few hours later, Annie was alone in the kitchen, sitting on a high stool and eating a large bowl of orange sherbet, having ignored (with a plaintive but accepting sigh) the seductive call of the ice cream upon opening the freezer door.
The sound of stocking feet padded from the dining room, footfalls too quick to be from her parents. “Hey Si,” her greeting spoken before her brother came into full view.
Sierra waved quickly without looking at her, his eyes fixed on the refrigerator, his actions intent on unveiling its contents.
“Chicken was pretty good tonight,” Annie addressing the back of her brother.
“How’s the pasta?” Sierra opened the refrigerator door and scanning its contents, like an action movie hero opening a treasure chest.
“Too much salt.”
“Sounds good to me.” Sierra pulled a tin pan from the refrigerator, Annie watching silently as he opened a cupboard and retrieved a plate, heaping it high with pasta, the capers and seasoning barely recognizable in the smothering cheese sauce. She was reminded of the pleasure on Rex’s face as he had quickly devoured a similarly large plate earlier that evening.
“Rex asked about you tonight.” Annie wondered if her brother would respond.
Sierra did not look up at her. “I was in my room.”
“I know.” His fork clinked against the plate. “I don’t understand why you feel the need to hide like that.”
Sierra stopped, looked up at Annie, his face spiked with indignation.
“You want to have a party for your little fencing team, that’s fine,” Sierra’s voice rising indignantly. “But in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not into sword fighting.”
“They’re weapons, not swords.” Annie frowned. “And you know Double-J and Rex better than I do, from before you started going to the Academy, you’ve been hanging out with them ever since you got back on break.”
“So why didn’t you come down this evening?”
“Why do you care?”
“I don’t care.”
“Then why are you asking?”
Annie sighed, audibly but soft. The refrigerator compressor started, its electric hum filling the kitchen, causing Annie to raise the volume of her voice. “I’m worried about Rex. I see how people treat him at school, hear what people say about him, about his family. I know it bothers him, I’m amazed he never fights back. I’m afraid – afraid that if his friends don’t support him, he’ll crack some day, give in to that anger he feels.
“Si, you’re not only one of his oldest friends, you’re one of his only friends. You’re not bothering to come down this evening when he was here – I’m just concerned he’ll get the wrong message, see it as you ignoring him.
“That’s why I asked about where you were tonight. Not everything’s about you and me – what we do has an effect on a lot of people.”
The refrigerator compressor continued its white hum. Sierra looked at Annie, softness having returned to his face as she spoke. Finally, he nodded. “I’ll call Rex tomorrow.”
“How are you going to do that?”
Sierra raised his eyebrows, opened his mouth slowly, embarrassment creeping onto his face; Rex’s family didn’t have a phone.
Sierra looked down at his plate, began eating the pasta covered in clumps of white cheese. Annie tapped the plate’s edge – “Don’t you want to heat that up?”
Sierra shook his head slowly as he chewed, then swallowed. “Leftover Italian always tastes better cold. Like pizza.”
“Isn’t that what people eat when they’re hung over?”
Sierra looked up at Annie, offered what seemed to her an attempt at an evil smile.
“You win an award tonight?” Sierra then resumed eating, a thin strand of cheese attaching to the bottom of his fork, connecting the rising metal and stationary plate until it finally broke, settled back to the rest of the plate, as his mouth enclosed over the fork.
Annie shook her head. “No. I mean – well, I guess you could call it that.” Her face suddenly lit up with a broad smile. “I was asked to be fencing team captain tonight.”
Sierra nodded while looking down, clearly more interested in the contents of his plate than the substance of her words. He swallowed – “You accepted, right?”
Annie shrugged. “Yeah. Why not?”
“Oh please,” Sierra turning to the refrigerator and opening its door. “Knock off the aw shucks routine.” He retrieved a pitcher from the fridge’s interior, closed the door, grabbed a tumbler from the drain board next to the sink. “Modesty isn’t one of our family’s strengths. We’re at our best when we’re openly ambitious. Of course you accepted, not because it ‘sounds like a good idea'”, raising his hands awkwardly as he continued holding the pitcher and tumbler wh8le signaling quotation marks with his fingers, “but because that’s what you want. You’re a Hutchinson – we take over things. That’s what we do.”
The electric hum from the refrigerator ceased, the compressor having cycled down. Sierra resumed eating. Annie’s arms circled her legs as she brought her knees up to her chin, the heels of her feet landing on the front of her seat. Finally, she raised her head – “Everyone seemed happy about me being captain.”
Sierra giggled. “Even Double-J? Was he happy?”
“Is Double-J ever happy?”
Sierra nodded agreeingly, laid his fork on the plate in front of him clink, drank quickly. “You shouldn’t worry about what Double-J thinks, or any of them for what it’s worth. People like them, they need people like us, to show them what to do.”
“You’re full of it,” Annie’s voice slashing from behind her knees. “I’m only the third, maybe fourth best fencer on the team. I look up to Rex and Double-J.”
“But do you respect them?”
Sierra smiled. “As fencers, or as people?”
Annie grunted, turned her face away from him.
Sierra drank again, hurrying the empty tumbler down to the table when he finished. “They say they’re happy for you, and yeah, they probably are. But they also know they need you, and you can bet they’re not happy about that. And sooner or later, they’re going to resent you for making them recognize their inadequacies.”
Her head still turned from Sierra, Annie laughed dismissively. “There are times I’m really glad you’re at the Academy.”
“And there’s never a time I regret not being at Bark Bay.”
Annie slid her feet quickly off the chair, her eyes now wide, her mouth opening in response when she heard a voice call That’s enough.
Both Sierra and Annie turned quickly to see their silver-haired father standing in the kitchen doorway, his pleasant smile reinforcing his command for his children to cease arguing. “Enjoying your late-night snack?” Carl Hutchinson’s face now pointed in his son’s direction.
“Yeah,” Sierra looking down at the floor as he turned to leave. He had almost reached the doorway when he noticed his father had not stepped aside.
Carl Hutchinson cleared his throat; Sierra looked up to see him pointing at the kitchen table, Sierra’s plate and tumbler lying on top. Sierra apologized, turned back to the table.
“Thank you.” Carl Hutchinson stepped inside the kitchen, paying no further attention to his son as he placed the dirty dishes in the sink, then left quickly, making no attempt to hide his impatience.
“I trust you enjoyed this evening,” Carl Hutchinson sitting across from his daughter.
“Absolutely,” Annie’s pleasant demeanor returning. “What a complete surprise, I had no idea they wanted to make me captain.”
Carl Hutchinson smiled broadly, the light reflecting off his silver hair. “To be honest, I wasn’t surprised at all. If anything, I was relieved to see someone finally realizing your potential. Recognizing who it is that you really are.”
Annie smiled, looked down. She brought her feet up to the seat again, knees to her chin, arms around her legs.
“You look uncomfortable.” Annie realized she was frowning.
“It’s just – I’m remembering some stuff people were saying tonight.”
“About you?” Concern spread on his face like a fire on dry twigs.
Annie shook her head. “About – us. Our family. About – ”
“The election?” Carl Hutchinson leaned back in his chair with a confident smile. Annie nodded.
Carl Hutchinson leaned forward, and in that action underwent a transformation, or so Annie perceived, becoming the man she had seen standing tall at the steps of the Bark Bay City Hall that afternoon in October, announcing in proud terms that he was a candidate for the state Senate, answering questions about his motivations (I simply want to serve the people of this great city), his opponent (After four decades of distinguished public service, it’s time for him to gracefully step aside), his financial interest in the bridge project (Read my lips – I am NOT running this campaign in order to build a bridge).
“Annie,” began senatorial candidate Carl Benjamin Hutchinson, “remember what we talked about over the summer. We talked about what people would say about me, about our family. What you’re hearing now should come as no surprise to you.”
The senatorial candidate waited for Annie to respond. She nodded, he continued. “I understand how painful some of those things are to hear. Trust me, I feel your pain. Over the summer we talked about how difficult this campaign would be, and we all agreed – your mother, Sierra, yourself – that this was a noble ambition, not just for myself, but for our family.”
The severity in Carl’s expression melted as he addressed his daughter in hushed tones. “Our family has lived in this community for six generations. We came from humble beginnings – Jeremiah Hutchinson with his wife and four children in that one-room farmhouse out the back,” waving in the general direction of the decaying building that Annie and Sierra had played in as children. “We rose in prominence, founding the first lumber mill, becoming merchants, ship captains, then moving into the professions – doctors, teachers, lawyers. Our family has done so much over the years, Annie, but there’s one thing we have never done, and that is to lead, not just economic and civic leaders, but political leaders of this community.
“I’m not doing this just for myself, Annie. I’m doing this for all of us, our family as well as our ancestors. I am completing the journey that Jeremiah Hutchinson began nearly two centuries ago.”
Carl Hutchinson stood up, silver hair rising to the ceiling. “People will talk, there’s no stopping that. Just remember, when they do talk about me, they’re talking about Carl Hutchinson, state Senate candidate – not your father.”
Annie looked up at him, saw tears bubbling at the corners of his eyes. “Always remember – no matter what happens in this election – I will always be your father. And you shall remain my daughter, my dear one – my Bunny.”
Annie rose from her chair with a gentle smile, slid her arms around her father’s chest, buried her head into his body. He embraced her warmly, patted the back of her head. A moment later, she stepped back.
“I need – ” She looked down.
“What is it, Bunny?” placing a hand on her shoulder.
Annie closed her eyes, sighed, reached over to her father’s hand and removed his grasp of her. “I need to ask a question of the state Senate candidate,” looking up at him with a steady, expectant look.
Carl Hutchinson opened his mouth in surprise a moment, then quickly composed himself, cleared his throat. “Go on.”
“Do you maintain a financial or controlling interest in the land that the Department of Transportation has identified for purchasing the new bridge?”
The state Senate candidate looked down at Annie Hutchinson. He cleared his throat again, and recited the lines she had heard him rehearsing with his campaign manager the previous weekend. “It is true, the DOT last year proposed building the new bridge on land our family owned for over a century. What is also true is that we sold all that land six years ago, before the DOT even proposed the new bridge. Our family is neither financially invested in nor has representation in any fashion,” his voice rising with rehearsed emphasis, “on the board of directors of the holding company that now owns that land.”
Annie looked up at her father, and nodded with a tired smile. “Thank you.”