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So many stray animals come to the park every day that sometimes it feels like a pound or animal shelter. Not that there is even anything close to an animal shelter in this town anymore. The only one in town closed some years ago. I think the person in charge was arrested on a drug charge, or something like it. Seeing an animal whimpering in hunger just breaks my heart. That’s why I always keep a bag of dog chow in the trunk of my car. I even put down a couple of food bowls and top them up every day so any animal that’s hungry can have something to eat.

I would take all of them home if I could. Sometimes, I tempted but Mom is still allergic to pets and only puts up with Shiloh because she’s a hypoallergenic breed. Mom would OD on allergy medicine if I brought any of these little ones home, even if I kept them in the yard. I can only do so much for now. Even though some of them aren’t as grateful as the others.

Still, I wish I could do more. Some of them are so cute. They don’t deserve a life on the streets. They deserve to find good home, with people who can love and care for them. People who can provide them with meal so they don’t have to get dirty digging through the garbage to find food.

But right now I’ve got to get this garden ready for the exhibit and I also have a mural to work on.

The three of us made some good progress in only a few days. We’d start to work around three in the afternoon and go on until late at night. It was exhausting for me, since I had to get up at four every morning but I knew it would be worth it. I was confident we’d get to finish the mural way before the deadline next week.

I was looking forward to hearing what Darnell thought about the garden. He rarely came to the park before I hired him to do the mural. He’s more of an indoors kind of guy. The first few days when he came to work on the mural we got so caught up in working and hearing Carly talk about the new guy she’s dating that I didn’t get to show him as yet.

“What do you think? Do you like it?” I asked. “It’s still a work in progress but…”

“It’s a waste of time, period.”

I sighed heavily, not sure why I expected a different response from him. “Darnell…”

“This shit is pointless, Olive. So you plant some pretty flowers and a few vegetables in a corner of the park. Big deal. My grandma had a bigger garden than this in her backyard.”

“I know it’s not big but we were only allowed a small segment of the park due to space and we don’t have a lot in the budget to expand anyway.”

“That’s exactly my point!” His voice raised. “Patel doesn’t give a shit about the cause. If she did then this lame-ass garden and a mural wouldn’t be all that the Green Initiative has to offer.”

“It’s not all we have to offer.”

“Oh, it’s not?”

I scoffed, feeling myself getting angry by this attitude. “It’s not! We just can’t do a whole lot at the moment because the budget…”

He rolled his eyes. “The budget should be way bigger. Then you’d have a greenhouse or something. There’d be professionals working on this instead of a bunch of temps. Something that shows that the city actually cares about organic farming or the environment! This here is nothing, and you’re no better if you think it’s acceptable!”

“This isn’t all it’s going to be. I’ve been talking to a few gardeners in town and they’re interested in participating. I’ve proposed setting up stalls to allow some of those gardeners to sell their organic products here in the park.”

“Like food stalls?”

“Yeah, like the ones in Brindleton Bay and San Myshuno. We can have designated days with set hours or something. A real long-term solution. Believe me, this was the end goal all along, not a pretty garden and a mural.”

“That’s…that’s not gonna happen!” He yelled. “Patel would never agree to something like that. She doesn’t want to make any real impact. She’s just using you for good publicity so people will forget all about her affair with that gym instructor!”

That was the rumour going around town but it was just that. There were no pictures, no videos, just rumours that were probably started by disgruntled staff members or her political opponents. Whether she was having an affair or not, Mayor Patel would have no reason to try to distract the public from a scandal when there really wasn’t one to begin with. Darnell was just being negative. He’s always negative. Another reason why he and I couldn’t work as a couple. “Do you have to be such a dick all the time? Can’t you be a little supportive and try to see the big picture?”

“The big picture? The big picture lies out there, not in this park.” He grumbled, waving his arms around like a lunatic. “They’re still cutting down trees in Granite Falls. There’s landfills filled with non-biodegradable items sitting in a landfill outside of town, polluting our environment and possibly polluting our water! And you’re here planting mushrooms and setting up stalls!”

“At least I’m doing something instead of trolling forums and jacking off on the couch all day!”

He jumped back, probably surprised that I actually guessed correctly about how he spent his days.“E-xcuse me?”

“You heard me!” I was riled up and I was so fed up of his attitude. “Sometimes you have to work with the system in order to get things done. Shitting all over it all the time is not the way. All you ever do is complain about what I’m not doing, but you do nothing!”

He was seething. He looked at me like I was that frat boy he got in a fight with in uni for bringing non-vegan beer to his BYOB party. “Go fuck yourself!”

“Right back at you!” I responded.

“Finish your fucking mural yourself. I quit!”

Then he stormed off all dramatically and I was left standing there thinking…at least it was almost complete. Carly and I could finish the rest on our own.

I honestly don’t know why I sought out his approval or opinion in the first place. He would always criticize me just because I’m not as anarchistic in my methods of outreach as he is. He didn’t have to be so mean. To shut down my efforts as worthless just because it’s not what he would do is a total dick move.

But then…maybe I did take it too far as well. I decided to give him a few days to cool off before talking to him again.

The next day, Mayor Patel decided to drop by to see the progress we’d made. Contrary to Kyleigh’s freakout on Friday, she was really impressed by what we’d done so far.

“This looks amazing, you all.” She beamed. “I’m very proud of your work. This is the fruits of hard work and diligence. Look at this – this is impressive!”

I mean, I was glad she liked it and all, but did she have to speak like a politician all the time? “Thank you Madame Mayor.”

“What did you think about the tulips?” Kyleigh asked, excitedly. “They’re just buds right now but when they bloom they’re gonna be so gorgeous! They’re purple you know, and I know how much you love purple Madame Mayor…”

The girl went on and on like, dude, you don’t really need to brown-nose this hard!

“…Madame Mayor,” I interrupted, fully expected a glare from Kyleigh in response. “I need to talk to you about the gardeners.”

“Gardeners?”

“You know, the organic gardeners who will be at the exhibit?”

“Oh yes, I recall now. What about them?”

“Well, I was thinking that if all goes well next week – as in the programme is well received – maybe we can make it a more permanent arrangement.”

“You mean, like turning the park into a market or something?” Kyleigh asked. “The purpose of the exhibit is to educate, not to turn the town’s only park into a market place.”

“Yes, but the supermarkets and bodegas around town only sell imports. These gardeners supply produce to a few of our restaurants and to nearby towns. They could supply to the people of our town. If we make it more convenient for people to go organic then they will. It might even push the supermarkets to carry more local produce. That’s why I thought…”

“It is a brilliant suggestion Olive but it simply won’t work.”

“…why not?”

“Because, like Kyleigh said, we don’t want to turn the Desert Bloom into a marketplace.” She said. “They’ll need long-term permits, supervision and the works for something like this and the city simply doesn’t have the budget…”

“What if I cover the costs?” I suggested. I didn’t mind paying out of pocket for the sake of this project. I had put in so much work as it is.

“It’s actually not a bad idea.” Kyleigh confessed, much to my surprise that she actually agreed with me. “It makes a lot of sense – Olive’s idea. If we put in certain controls…”

“The exhibit is next Wednesday. It’s much too late to consider it now.”

I was a little disappointed until she said, “However, I do like this idea. Perhaps we can look into it later on?”

“I guess…sure.” I mumbled, feeling deflated.

“Great. Now just focus on the presentation and we’ll be all set.”

The presentation was already done. It wasn’t as important to me as establishing something long-term. I mean, this was the whole point of the exhibit, wasn’t it? To promote going organic and supporting locals. If the end goal for this is just an exhibit then…wouldn’t it really be a waste of time?

She was the Mayor and if she gave the go-ahead, the vendors could easily get the permits they’d need and city council will have to approve it on her influence. Maybe Darnell was right all along when he said she didn’t care about the cause.

“For what it’s worth, I really do think it’s a great idea.” Kyleigh said to me shortly after Mayor Patel left us.

“Thanks.”

“She should have said yes.” She bit her lip, as if she was nervous about what to say next. “I didn’t want to say anything before but I’m a little worried about this programme.”

“In what way?”

“I mean, I’m only doing this because I’m hoping she’ll give me a permanent job at her office as an aide or something that pays more than what we make now. I don’t see her having any interest in this garden after next week when the exhibit is over and the press leaves.”

“That’s not true.” I insisted. “We’ve started something good here.”

“We have,” Steve joined in, “but Kyleigh’s got a point. I’m beginning to think this is all for good publicity so people forget about those rumours.”

Could Steve and Kyleigh be right about Mayor Patel? I’m not naïve to not know that public opinion matters in politics. I knew good publicity is fuel for any politician to remain in power and have the people’s support and this exhibit would promote a lot of it. I just didn’t want to believe that this was her sole purpose for supporting me and my ideas.

“Hey…um…this is the only one of the roses in good shape.” Steve mumbled, then I noticed he had a beautiful red rose in his hand.

“Oh, it’s so pretty!” She squealed. “I told you, Olive. I told you my potted roses weren’t a complete waste.”

We discovered the rose bush wilted this morning. The weather was too warm for that type of rose to bloom – except for one single rose, it seemed.

“I thought you should have it,” Steve said as he handed it to her. “…you know…since you like roses.”

“Thanks! You’re so sweet!”

Then they started smiling and blushing at each other in a super corny kind of way that managed to give me the feels. I was a little bummed after talking to Mayor Patel. Disappointed, actually. But after witnessing those sparks fly, how could I remain in a funk?

But I had a lot to think about. If indeed, Mayor Patel had no real interest in securing the Green Initiative for the long term, then I would have to find a way to convince her otherwise. I couldn’t let all of our hard work to go to waste. This was important, and beneficial to our town and to a lot of the people in it.

Plus I can’t say it wouldn’t be a bonus to rub it in Darnell’s face that I was right and he was wrong.

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