To say that Torin was tired after the first night back to school wasn’t merely an understatement; it was a gross underestimate, and an even worse judgement of character. First days back were always the most tedious. Aside from sorting hundreds of teenagers and teachers alike into different classrooms, he had to review lesson plans, lunch menus, hold meetings and make public appearances, all with a smile on his face. Simply put, it washell. And his time back home wasn’t faring much better, either.
Curled on his couch in front of the TV sat Torin, disgruntled, a cup of chamomile in hand to calm his nerves and a furled copy of New Beijing Times in the other. The heavy red drapes were drawn on every window in the den to keep the night out, and the clock read after midnight, every tick reminding him that he should be asleep. But he couldn’t close his eyes. Weary, he traded the newspaper for the remote on the coffee table, and turned the volume up on the newscast that worked tirelessly to keep him awake.
The fire pulsed beneath the mantle and the mounted flat-screen that hovered just above it. A trick of the night, the muted, electronic flames crackled softly below the voice of the announcer on-screen.
“In yet another daring leap for his re-election campaign, Mayor Blackburn made an appearance at this month’s city board meeting, where many inner-city leaders were in attendance to discuss pressing matters on the fate of public and private education in New Beijing. As a major patron and supporting parent of the Lunar High School, the Mayor gave a few words on what he believes should be done about the impending elimination of one of the city’s leading college preparatory schools.”
The scene changed, and Torin groaned when he caught a glimpse of the Blackburn insignia emblazoned on a mic-adorned podium. “It is no secret that the two youngest members of my household are enrolled at Lunar,” Mayor Marrok Blackburn began in an old news clip, one Torin had viewed and scoffed at many times earlier in the day. To the common eye, Blackburn looked the part of a mayor with his broad shoulders, fine-tailored suits, slight smirk and gelled back hair. But to Torin, he was an imposter, and a mockery of his predecessor. He had never been so glad to see that his critiques about the official still stood—his body language was sloppy, and his goatee was in definite need of a trim.
After the flash of a camera and a twitch of his chin, Marrok continued on. “Despite this simple truth, I am still doing all I can to keep all other institutions running for the time being. This is not about academic performance, opinions, rivalries, or appearance. This is about education. If making the decision to further the funding of Lunar High is the best promotion of it, then that is the decision that I’m willing to make in regards to the betterment of this city.”
Torin could not keep his scowl from coming, so he let it rule his features. His reaction spilled out of him in the form a low grumble. “Ingrate.”
A laugh came from behind. “Ingrate indeed.”
He flinched, nearly spilling his tea.
Torin whirled around to make eye contact with Kai, who was in his pajamas with his hair all over the place. He squinted at him over the couch, fumbling with the remote to pause the broadcast. “My stars, Kai, what on earth are you doing awake?”
“Watching the news,” he said simply with his unfathomable nonchalance. Just the way the boy leaned in the doorway with his arms crossed over his white t-shirt and his baggy sweatpants untied around his hips was enough to annoy him.
“Kaito, you know that you are not to be up this late. You have a curfew in this house for a reason, and I expect you to follow it without question. Are we clear?”
“Well, yes, but…” the boy began to worry his bottom lip, and Torin sighed, his resolve melting as soon as Kai drew his brows together. “I have to know. Why weren’t you there today, Torin?”
“Me?” he asked, pulling his now lukewarm mug closer to his chest in defense. “At the meeting? It was the first day of school, Kai. I’m the principal. I had to be there for my school.”
“But you also had to be there for the meeting,” he pointed out, which made Torin’s left eye twitch. He hated it when he did that. He was too much like his father sometimes.
“You should have gone,” Kai continued to prod, the thin lipped pout he always conjured up for situations like this making a brief appearance. “Priya could have covered for you. What’s the point of coming to a dying school everyday if you could be out there saving it instead?”
“My job comes first, Kai,” he stated, keeping his voice firm as he glared at him from his awkward, twisted position. As his temper rose, so did his senses—which led him to ignore the eerie glow of the television that cast shadows over Kai’s face, giving him the temporary appearance of his father. “You know that. Your father knew that. I am a principal first and an advocate for the preservation of the school second. You know as well as I do that it’s my duty to keep things running now before the mayor runs us all into the ground.”
Kai put his hands up in surrender, brows raised, mouth upturned. In an instant, he was a teenage boy again. “Alright, I understand, no need to get testy. But I’m just saying,” he gave Torin a pointed look, “that since you’re so ‘dedicated’ to your occupation, you should consider changing it. Put all that effort into a different field, and you won’t have to worry about the Blackburn administration anymore.”
The teen was absolutely absurd, he swore to God. “For the last time, Kai, I am not, under any circumstances running for the mayor’s office.”
“But you shouuuld,” Kai sing-songed with a growing smirk, shooting him finger guns in encouragement.
Torin laughed, incredulous. “Go to bed, child. You have school in the morning.”
“As do you.” Kai bowed with a flourish, a grin on his face. “Goodnight, Torin. Don’t forget to think about what I’ve said.”
“Stop pestering me about it,” Torin called after him as he turned back to the TV and listened to Kai’s footsteps as he ascended the staircase, “and we might just have a deal.”