The Wrong Side of the River
Is the news good or bad, answer to that.
Mom seemed to have grown at least a foot taller in her anger. She towered over me, over Sage, over everyone else who didn’t agree with her as she stamped and slipped her way down the middle of the street outside the hall. Shaking her fist in the air, she shouted, “The time has come to show that sad excuse for a mayor that the Northsiders will not be pushed around!”
An excited roar rose up from the crowd as it moved closer and closer to the park.
“Mom!” I shouted, pulling hard enough on her sleeve to prove that designer fashion is built to last. “Please, you have to stop this!”
She shook me off as if she didn’t even recognize me. “To the bridge! We will stand our ground there!”
“It’s freezing. People can’t stand around in the cold. Let it go, it’s just a stupid park!”
It was like she could not hear me. I was grateful that Dad had grabbed Sage as we left the hall, because she might have been trampled and no one would even care. The crowd pressed in around us and pushed us on toward the bridge, the yells all mixing together into a loud mess of words that hurt my head.
When we reached the Northside entrance to the bridge, I hurried ahead and turned to face Mom, walking backward and waving my arms.
“Wait. All of you wait! Listen to me!”
Mom stopped then, and stared straight at me. “Move out of the way. You are a child, Rosemary. This has nothing to do with you.”
“Yes, it does. It’s everything to do with me. Our school is half red, half blue. We can only be friends with people who wear the same color! This is not how clothes were meant to be used, you know it isn’t right.”
Mom’s eyes grew hotter, until I could see her anger boiling behind them. “Go to your room.”
I glanced around me, “I’m on a bridge, Mom.”
“Justice for Northside, Justice for Northside!” She yelled as she fist pumped the air, her voice raised high above all the others.
She led half of our town onto the bridge like an extremely well dressed pied piper. The crowd swallowed her up in seconds so that all I could do was hurry along ahead.
That’s when I saw the rest of the town, heading for the opposite end of the bridge with Julian at their head. Like me, he waved his arms and shouted but no one listened.
They had a chant too, “We won! We won!”
The noise made my head spin and I clamped my mittened hands over my ears as the two sides reached the middle of the bridge.
The two chants got all mixed together until they were nothing but one nasty roar.
“Stop it, please just stop it!” I shouted, but no one could hear me over the noise. No one except Julian.
He left his crowd behind and ran over to me. “Are you okay?”
I shrugged and kept my hands pressed hard against my ears.
“I’m sorry. We tried.”
He hugged me, then. The least Julian-like thing he had ever done in the least likely place for him to do it. Right there, in front of our whole town and both of our parents, he hugged me tight.
Mom’s shriek cut through all of the other noise. “Rosemary Madison!”
This time, just this once, I ignored her. Julian hugged me for a few more seconds while Mom burst out of the crowd and charged for us. She yanked us apart by the scruff of our necks and the entire town went silent.
“I told you not to talk to that boy. I told you not to be friends with him. How dare you disobey me?”
I opened my mouth to answer her, but Julian beat me to it.
“Mrs. Madison, we are friends, and someone told me once that friends are the most important people in the whole world.” He smiled at me, and I smiled back, remembering the day I said that to him in rehearsal. “Mr. Goodwin gave this town all his savings because he wanted to do something that everyone could enjoy, something that would bring us all together, and instead you are all turning this into some sort of a war. Who would even want to go to the stupid park after this? None of you will let your kids play with kids from the opposite side anyway, so what is anyone even going to do there? It just doesn’t matter!”
Something happened to Julian when he spoke. He got taller, the sparkle in his eyes got so bright that everyone could see it even behind his glasses. Everything he said came out so clear, so sure, that no one could listen to it and not feel something.
Even though my face had frozen stiff in the icy wind, I managed an enormous smile.
“I would rather have my friend than a park,” I said.
No one moved or said anything.
A loud squawk of a sound cut through the sound of the wind. Beep. Beep!
Mrs. Gunderson’s bicycle horn kept sounding over and over as a path opened up through the middle of the Southsiders. She pushed her walker forward through the crowd, a bright orange scarf wrapped around her neck and wearing the same purple bathrobe with the yellow ducks on it, she’d worn the last time I’d seen her. She kept right on blasting and muttering until she reached Julian, Mom, and I.
“Mayor Griffin, are you here somewhere?” she called.
The mayor held up his hand from the middle of the crowd and they let him through to join us on the bridge. Mom’s nostrils flared like she was some kind of angry pony as she stared at him. When she opened her mouth to speak, Mrs. Gunderson hushed her.
“I’ve done nothing but listen to this town moan and gripe at each other for weeks. Now I want you to listen to me, for once.” She stared at Mom so hard, Mom actually backed off a little. “Now, I am the only one here who really knew George Goodwin. We played poker twice a week, every week since college, and I can tell you what he really wanted.” She nodded at Julian and me. “And these kids are completely wrong.”
I felt like my stomach finally froze solid and dropped to my toes. This was not going to help us at all.
Whispers swept through both sides, so Mrs. Gunderson gave her horn a good squeeze again.
“Let me finish! These kids are wrong because that old fool liked nothing better than an argument, and if he’s watching this from wherever he ended up, why, he’ll be rubbing his hands together and laughing. And that just ain’t right. So this is for you, George Goodwin, God-rest-yer-soul.”
“God-rest-his-soul,” the crowd mumbled.
She shook her fist at the air, which made the walker wobble and the orange flag wave madly about. “I see your life savings, and I raise you mine. That’s right! I am giving my savings to this ridiculous town filled with crazy people so they can build another park on the opposite side of the river with a footbridge connecting them.”
Julian and I stared at each other, then stared over at our parents.
“But... Mrs. Gunderson...that’s so generous,” Mayor Griffin said. I never heard him stumble over his words like that before.
“Don’t you thank me, you miserable excuse for a mayor.”
Mom laughed loud at that, but Mrs. Gunderson stopped her dead with a glare. “Don’t make me tell the world what it is you are, Mary-Rose Madison.” Mrs. Gunderson cleared her throat. “Truth be told, I could not give a hoot about this town, or any of you. Although these two kids here may prove there is a little bit of hope. I care about making George Goodwin spin in his grave. Two parks, one footbridge, called ‘Reunion Park and Gunderson Bridge. Do I make myself clear so there is no room for arguments when I’m gone.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Mayor Griffin said.
Now that she had nothing left to argue, Mom just nodded. It didn’t matter to me what she said now, anyway. My stomach was back where it belonged. I couldn’t feel my face to know if I was smiling, but I bet I was.
“If I hear of so much as one town meeting over this, I will cancel the check,” Mrs. Gunderson added.
Julian reached out for my hand and we squeezed our mittens together, as the whole town waited in silence for the next thing to happen.

Keep Reading

Chapter 33

Did my heart love till now? Julian

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