Monday, June 25, 2012
CHAPTER FOUR: THE PRESENT
Dawn pulled the sheet over her head. Outside, the sun rose higher and higher, casting more and more light
into her bedroom. She tried to steal a few more minutes of sleep and then gave up and pulled the sheet down. She stretched lazily and looked around. Her room was that of a normal teenage girl—or at least that of a normal teenage girl who was actually a cosmic entity and whose sister was the Chosen One. But Dawn had dealt with those issues, and after Willow almost took over the world, Buffy promised that she and Dawn would have a whole new relationship.
At the moment, however, Dawn was content to lie back and relax. The beginning of summer vacation only came once a year, and it was something to be cherished. No classes, no homework, no teachers, and best of all, no tests. She contemplated the day ahead of her: some television, maybe a walk to the swimming pool, bumming around the mall for a few hours. But all in good time, she thought, stretching again. And maybe I should go see Willow too. She and Tara were always there when things went nuts with Buffy and the Key and everything. She also idly considered looking for a part-time job to help out Buffy, who was dipping french fries at the Double Meat Palace to help make ends meet. But Buffy had wanted to give Dawn the same life she would have had if their mother had lived. And besides, since she couldn’t drive, getting to work would be hard for Dawn and probably cause more stress than a minimum-wage job was worth.
She lay on the bed and let her mind wander for a few more minutes and then got up and went about her morning routine. Just as she stepped out of the shower, she heard the phone in her bedroom ring. Hastily wrapping a towel about herself, she dashed across the hall and caught the receiver on its third ring. On the other end she heard the voice of her friend, Jamie Swinson. Dawn had had a hard time making friends, what with her own insecurity and her sister’s reputation as a violent weirdo. Jamie had been kind to her, however, and towards the end of this last school year they had begun to hang out from time to time.
“Rewind that and hit play again,” Dawn said into the phone. Jamie had the somewhat annoying habit of spontaneously launching into veritable monologues where all the words started to run together because she spoke too fast.
“I said Brian Carmichael’s going to be there,” Jamie repeated, summarizing the last thirty seconds.
“At the rally,” Jamie said again, slightly exasperated. “So he’s only like the cutest guy in the whole class. And he likes me. I think. So are you gonna go with me or what?”
Dawn didn’t have to think for long. That was the beauty of summer vacation—you didn’t have to make plans, things just sort of popped up and you went along with the flow.
“I guess,” she answered. “But if Tommy Huston is there I’m leaving.”
“’Cause he’s a jerk.”
“You only say that ‘cause you like him. Anyway, I’ll see you at the park.”
After breakfast, Dawn watched MTV for a few minutes and then got ready to leave. She locked the door securely behind her—Buffy wasn’t home, and because she seemed to work a different shift every day, Dawn could never remember when she’d get back. When she reached the sidewalk, Dawn noticed a large moving truck slowly backing into the driveway of a residence a couple of houses down the street. The park lay in that direction, and Dawn walked towards it.
She saw a middle-aged couple and their little daughter standing on the front lawn, looking at the moving truck with expectant looks. They had light brown skin and dark hair. The woman wore a headscarf, but otherwise they were all dressed in typical clothing for Sunnydale. Dawn gave a half-wave and said “Hi” as she walked past. She tried to be friendly with her neighbors, but she wasn’t the sort to spend time chatting with them. The man nodded and smiled in reply. Dawn looked up at the house after she had passed them and noticed a young man, her own age, staring at her from a second-story window. He seemed somewhat sad. Must be their son. Maybe he didn’t want to come here, Dawn thought as she walked away. Considering it’s the Hellmouth, I can’t blame him.
When she reached the park, she saw that ten or fifteen people were milling around near where a microphone and some speakers had been set up. Most of the people were college age, but some were her high schoolers and there was also a scattering of people from older generations. Dawn didn’t see Jamie or anyone else she knew, so she walked over and sat on the grass near the others.
A hand was suddenly thrust in her face. Dawn looked up to see a petite blond with a wide smile. Dawn stood up and shook her hand tenuously.
“Michelle O’Rory,” the woman said. “Are you here for First Principles too? Great!” she continued, without waiting for Dawn to reply. Chipper was the only word Dawn could think of too describe her. And annoying. “Here’s your name-tag—so glad you could join us!” she finished excitedly after Dawn had written her name on it and, as per directions, attached it to her shirt. The blonde college student then rushed off to accost another newcomer.
Dawn sat back down. When she saw Timothy Huston entering the park from the other side, she knew she had a good excuse to leave. She stood up and started walking in the opposite direction. He is a jerk and I don’t like him. Jamie’s just psycho. Even if he is does have long dark hair and looks a bit like Gavin Ross from Bush and smiles at me whenever I walk by. I still don’t like him. Not one bit.
She stopped when she heard her name being called. Jamie. She sighed and turned around to see her friend rushing towards her. Jamie was short and slightly overweight, but she had more energy than most of the athletic girls Dawn knew from high school. Dawn waited with her arms crossed over her chest as Jamie jogged towards her.
“Did you see Brian?” Jamie said as soon as she was in range. “I haven’t seen him yet but if I do I’m just gonna die. Do you know I talked to Laura last night and she said he told Kyle he liked me?”
“This is so seventh-grade,” Dawn replied, rolling her eyes. “Get a grip!” She would have been even more dismissive of Jamie’s immaturity, except she knew even Buffy and her college-age friends often acted downright silly when they were in love, or at least thought they were. Sometimes Dawn wondered if she were the only sane person in all of Sunnydale.
“I don’t care!” Jamie said with a pout and then a smile. “And you know who else is here?”
“Exactly!” Jamie said, grabbing Dawn by the arm and pulling her towards the group of people, which had gotten larger. Now there must have been about thirty people milling around. “Don’t forget you promised,” Jamie reminded her.
“I promised to leave if I saw him,” Dawn shot back.
“Close enough. Now c’mon!”
Dawn couldn’t help but giggle. Jamie just had a way about her that made it hard to say no.
“What is this thing anyway? They gave me a stupid name-tag.”
“It’s called First Principles. It’s like a civic group or something. Helping clean up litter and entertaining old nursing home people and stuff like that. Every day they do something for a couple of hours and then meet here for a rally. It doesn’t really matter though—we’re not here for it.” Suddenly she stopped and shrieked “There’s Brian! Do you see him? I think he’s looking at me. How do I look?”
“Like a dork,” Dawn replied. “Calm down. He’s not even looking over here. He’s busy talking to that guy in the suit.”
Dawn grimaced as Jamie pretended to talk with her but spent the whole time glancing over and watching Brian. He was a high school senior and wore the preppy clothes and attitude that marked him as a future fraternity pledge. Dawn couldn’t see what Jamie saw in him.
“Who’s he talking to?” Dawn asked, more to bring Jamie back to the real world than out of any curiosity.
“That’s Mr. Wittingstone. He’s like the leader or whatever. He gives the speeches everyday. I think he’s getting ready.”
“Is he any good?”
“I don’t know—I don’t really pay attention. I only started coming because I heard Brian was coming. He must be okay though—more people show up every time I’m here.”
Michelle, the blonde woman who had given Dawn the name-tag, walked over near the microphone and clapped her hands in the air a few times. She gave the crowd a big smile and yelled for everyone to gather around. Her perkiness was getting on Dawn’s nerves.
“I don’t like her,” Dawn said as she and Jamie edged closer to the crowd.
“Neither do I. Have you seen the way she’s been looking at Brian?”
The man Jamie called Wittingstone walked up to the microphone holding a small slip of paper. He wore a conservative dark suit and his short black hair was carefully combed to the side. He was one of those austere looking men whose age was hard to place—he could have been anywhere from his early thirties to his late forties.
He tapped the microphone twice and then spoke into it hesitantly. “Thank you for coming to First Principles. This morning, due to your hard work, we collected . . .” he looked down at the piece of paper, and then back up “. . . eighteen boxes of food for the needy and the unfortunate right here in Sunnydale.” There was a scattering of applause in the audience. Wittingstone waited stoically until it was over before speaking again.
“When our people are well-fed, they are healthy. And when our citizens are healthy, America is strong. Through working together, we can make this great nation of ours a better place. All it takes is some hard work and attention to what we like to call the First Principles: courage, determination, strength, vigilance, and most importantly, a sense of community.” Dawn agreed with Jamie that he wasn’t much of a speaker. He spoke in a virtual monotone, and seemed uncomfortable in front of the microphone. Still, he makes sense, Dawn thought.
She tuned out the rest of what he was saying as Jamie grabbed her by the wrist and maneuvered her through the crowd. Within moments, they were standing right behind Brian. Jamie’s grip on Dawn’s wrist tightened with excitement.
“Let’s get this over with,” Dawn whispered. “Tap him on the shoulder and say hello.”
“I can’t. I don’t know what to say!”
“I just told you! Say hello.” Dawn put a hand to her forehead as if to say “why me?”
She tuned back in as Wittingstone was finishing his speech. “This country has been through a lot over the past few years,” he was saying. “You all know what I mean.” Several people in the audience nodded their heads vigorously. “And it’s going to get worse before it gets better. We need each and every one of you to come back tomorrow and every day after that. And bring a friend with you. Together, if we work hard and pay attention to the First Principles, we can make America great again.”
The crowd applauded loudly as Wittingstone left the microphone. Michelle shouted that refreshments had been set up on the nearby picnic tables. Dawn watched as the crowd slowly dissipated, including Brian. She was relieved that she didn’t see any sign of Timothy, but this didn’t hide her irritation at her friend’s behavior.
“Why didn’t you talk to Brian?”
“I was about to. I will next time. I’m gathering up my courage,” Jamie said. “He is hot though, isn’t he?”
“So what are you doing tomorrow?”
“Good. Then you can meet me here again tomorrow.”