After the failure that was Friday night, I decided to focus all of my energy into work. Sean called a lot over the weekend but I didn’t have the time or the willingness to deal with him. The exhibit was on Wednesday and we had to make sure our garden was in good shape and help set up the temporary stalls.
The day before the exhibit, I had a little chat with a few of the professional gardeners that were going to attend. One of them even liked my idea of setting up permanent stalls at the park.
Of course, I had to give my disclaimer that the Mayor didn’t endorse it yet and it was still just an idea. I was hoping to take the good feedback to her and hope that she will see how much people really want something like this. Then she’d have no choice but to agree.
Just as I was coming back from my mini-meeting with one of the gardeners, I noticed the planter box containing the daisies were missing and so were Kyleigh’s tulips. “Where did the two planters go?” I asked, more like yelled. If Kyleigh decided to shuffle around the planters then she picked a bad time to do it because I already sketched out the layout of the spread of crops onto a little diagram for the exhibit.
“Your friend told Kyleigh to get rid of it.” Steve answered. “He said we needed the room for more vegetables.”
“My friend? Who are you talking about?”
“Didn’t you hear? Apparently, he’s our new boss now.”
“New boss?” I asked. Steve was obviously confused. I was the one in charge of this project. If anyone was the boss then it had to be me. Then I saw Darnell walking up to me wearing one of our t-shirts. What was he doing here? “Darnell?”
“Hey Olive, nice of you to finally grace us with your presence.”
“You’re late and we have a lot of work today with the exhibit tomorrow and all.”
I was not late. I was the first one here, as usual. I just left to get coffee and then I was chatting with one of the gardeners. Nevertheless, who did he think he was to tell me I was late anyway?
“Where do you want these signs?” Kyleigh asked as she approached him. Her tone wasn’t as bubbly as usual and she gave me a look like she didn’t even know what was going on either but was just doing as she was told.
“Set one up by the tree over there and one in the front by the entrance.” He answered.
“Darnell, what the fuck?” I growled. “Why are you here barking orders at my team and…why are you wearing one of our t-shirts? Where did you get it?”
“Mayor Patel gave it to me…after she decided to put me in charge of the Green Initiative.”
“What?” He had to be high on drugs. There’s no way she would even do that. She doesn’t even know him and even if she did, she’d have to be crazy to demote me and put him of all people in charge when he’s the worst person to put in charge of anything! “This little joke isn’t funny, Darnell. Now, seriously, what are you doing here?”
“I told you, Olive, I’m in charge now. Go on, ask her yourself.”
“…but, why would she…?”
“You got me thinking after the other night. You were right. I should be working with the system if I want to make any real kind of change. I have tens of thousands of followers on social media and I know how to organise a picket line. I made sure to mention that to Patel when I asked her to give me your job.”
“But that’s…she wouldn’t…”
“I told you not to trust her.” He smirked. “She doesn’t care about this program – or you. All she cares about is good publicity, which I can provide. She was just using you because you’re a legacy heiress but even a legacy heiress like you doesn’t have the kind of following I have.”
“So you weaselled your way into my job?!” I growled. “What kind of a friend does some shit like that?”
“Hey, you should be happy. With me on board, I can get her to make all the changes that you want and then some.”
“I don’t need you!”
“Oh, I think you do.” He chuckled. “This sad little garden is gonna get a major upgrade. She even okayed the funds for it, thanks to me.”
“What?” I was shocked. I had to put forth a lot of my own money to keep things afloat because she kept saying we were over budget. “How did you…?”
“She knows I’m a better investment than you. All I have to do is type one post and it will destroy her. See, I’m more passionate than you are and I won’t take no for an answer, plus I might be in possession of some information she doesn’t want the public to know.”
“Blackmail? Is that it? That’s your brilliant tactic?”
“And you judge me for – what did you say – being online and jerking off all day? What I really do is gather information. You underestimate me, Liv.”
“You underestimate me if you think I’ll let you get away with this after everything I did for you!”
“Everything you did for me? What have you ever done for me? Huh, tell me! What have you done besides break up with me for no damn reason and insult my activism every chance you get?!”
Was he still holding on to that? I thought we were over that bad patch we were in after I broke up with him. It was years ago and I thought we were friends. “I paid you for that mural. Me. That was MY money. I gave your lazy ass a job and now you decide to steal mine!” I was so angry my hands were shaking. “And for the record, the real reason why I broke up with you is the same reason why you did this!”
“Your small dick!”
I heard Kyleigh trying to stifle a giggle while Steve whispered an ‘ouch’.
“You…that’s not true! You’re just saying that now because…” He stammered.
“I can’t believe you would do this, D. This is really fucked up!”
It hurt a lot more than it angered me that he would go over my head like this. I asked him in the very beginning to help me and he didn’t because he thought the whole idea was ridiculous. And now, just because of a falling out, he decides to take my job to prove a point.
And even worse, Mayor Patel allowed him to do it. I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Darnell told her some shit about me. I wouldn’t put it past him to lie about me or even lie in general. Maybe she didn’t put him in charge after all. I mean, she wouldn’t do that and not tell me, right?
I tracked her down that afternoon. Her assistant said she went to the golf course by Skyward Palms for a meeting so I showed up to discuss this with her.
“Oh, Olive, I’m surprised to see you here.” She said, cheerfully. “I want to discuss something with you.”
“You mean discuss how you demoted me and replaced me with Darnell? Yeah, I came to talk to you about that too.”
“Oh.” She grinned awkwardly. “You know.”
“He showed up this morning and started giving orders so, yeah, I know. How could you do this ma’am?”
“Look, I’m really sorry Olive but you weren’t supposed to find out like this. I wanted to tell you myself. He was supposed to take over after the exhibit. I thought he would be discreet until then.”
“Obviously, you don’t know him at all.” I rolled my eyes at her. It might be disrespectful to do that to my boss but she was lucky I wasn’t making a scene. I hadn’t calmed down at all since morning. “This is really messed up. I deserve an explanation, Madame Mayor.”
“I don’t blame you for being upset. I would be upset too if I were in your shoes.”
“I’m more than upset.” I said. “I feel blindsided and betrayed. If you weren’t happy with my work then why didn’t you say so?”
“It’s not that I was unhappy with you Olive. You are doing a fabulous job. I just feel like Darnell could offer something different and that if you both worked together, you could accomplish so much for this cause.”
“You want us to work together so you put him in charge of me and my team?”
“He’s a tough negotiator.” She said with a chuckle. “He would only accept if I made him the team leader, but he only has the title. Olive, it’s still your ideas. I still want you to be my eyes and ears out in the town. You are a very valuable part of my team and you always will be.”
“I call bullshit on that.” My eyes narrowed on her, and she flinched a little in surprise at my tone. “If I was so valuable, then I would’ve gotten a heads up. You’re talking as if you sought him out but I know he’s the one who approached you because he’s got some dirt on you.”
“He…what has he told you about me?” She asked nervously.
“As the mayor, I didn’t think a woman as powerful as you would give in to some cheap online troll’s blackmail attempt. No one cares if you’re sleeping with your gym instructor!”
“Shh! Keep your voice down!” She ordered in a hushed but firm tone. “Optics are important. I can’t have people thinking any weakness in my personal life will reflect on my abilities in the office.”
“People in this town are not as conservative as you think. You getting elected is proof of that. You were the most liberal candidate this town has ever had. Your voters aren’t going to care about what you do in your personal life so long as you keep your campaign promises and you’re not going to do that with someone as erratic and radical as Darnell in charge of the Green Initiative!”
She eyed me for a moment and then smirked. “Child, you are so naïve!”
“You have no idea how this whole thing works do you?”
“I guess not, so enlighten me.”
“Fulfilling campaign promises is not what politics is about. It’s about furthering your own agendas. You think I really care about planting trees and organic gardening? No. But I do care about getting approval to build that recycling plant outside of town, close to S.T.A.R Labs. Know why? Because my husband is a silent partner on the board.”
“But that’s a conflict of interest!”
“So? It’s not illegal here in Oasis Springs.”
“But…but it’s still unethical.”
“Politics requires you to be unethical from time to time but it’s for the greater good. That recycling plant insures we keep lower our carbon footprint and keep our town clean.”
“And you also get to benefit, right?”
“Why shouldn’t I benefit? Besides, these big picture ideas are what this town needs. Not some little garden in the town park.”
“A little garden that would have created jobs!”
“Please, those gardeners do just fine. They can always apply for permits to set up their stalls on their own. They don’t need this programme to do it.”
“So the Green initiative was just, what, a smoke screen?”
“Precisely.” She smiled confidently. “Look, this going green agenda is great. All you young folks eat it up with a spoon. Darnell is the right kind of man to have in my corner to keep getting that support. I thought you could give that to me but you haven’t been doing much for me publicity wise. You’d rather do grunt work when you could use your status in this town to our mutual advantage.”
There it was – the truth about why she hired me for this. I thought she really liked my ideas. I thought she saw potential in me to do great things. But she just wanted to use me and my family name to make herself look good.
And I fell for her sales pitch hook, line and sinker!
“Excuse me, Olive dear, I have to take this.” Then she excused herself to take a phone call. I stood there looking out into the lake. The golf course was pretty this time of the year. The gorgeous view helped calm me down to where I was no longer angry. I was still disappointed but I couldn’t do anything about it.
She made her decision. She chose Darnell over me. She gave him my project not because I wasn’t doing a good job but because he could give her better publicity than me. If I was talking to him right now, I’d call him up and blast him for being a hypocrite and a sell-out but that would only make me feel better temporarily.
The truth is our friendship was over. There was no coming back from this for me so there was no point in even having the final word. Then again, I didn’t need to actually say anything to him to have the final word.
“Aren’t you supposed to be at the park already?” Mom asked me the following morning. She and Dad must have slept in because they are usually up at the crack of dawn and it was almost 8 am.
I was about to answer when I noticed the contents of her plate. “Why are you eating lobster thermidor for breakfast?”
“Because it’s delicious!” She enthused. “And because there’s a lot leftover from dinner last night and Poppy’s at Everett’s and I didn’t think you’d be here this morning so I had no plans to cook anything for breakfast.”
“Isn’t the exhibit this morning? How come you’re not there?”
“I’m not going. I quit.”
“What? Why? What happened?”
I told her the story about Darnell and all the things Mayor Patel said and at the end of it, she agreed that I made the right decision to quit. “…and when I told Steve and Kyleigh that I was leaving, they decided to quit too. Now Darnell’s gonna have to do everything on his own today. He already started blowing up my phone. I switched it off.” I couldn’t help but laugh at my genius plan for revenge. He wanted to be the boss so bad, fine, he can do it all himself.
“I’m sorry this didn’t pan out the way you wanted it to but look at the bright side.”
“The bright side?”
“Now you can start your own thing.” She said all excitedly. “I think it would be perfect for you to go out on your own and start your own cause. Now you can help these gardeners all on your own.”
“I already did. I kinda rallied one of them to start her own farmer’s market. She’s gonna section off part of her property and charge a rental fee to other gardeners so they can sell their stuff on her land. No permits necessary, no approval from the mayor.”
“Oh, that’s great sweetie!”
“Yeah, it’s something she always wanted to do before but she didn’t really have the money to implement so…I gave her a loan, ten grand.” I hoped Mom wouldn’t mind that I used money out of our funds. It’s like an unspoken rule that I have to run any large expenses by her since she was the previous heiress. “I’m sorry I didn’t run it by you first but I transferred the funds last night and it was late…”
She shrugged and said, “At least it’s for a good cause. I hope you got it in writing though.”
“Of course, I’m not stupid.” I’d been working at City Hall long enough to know every agreement should be in writing if you don’t want to get screwed. “I know Carina is good for it. She’s honest and I’ve developed a good relationship with all of the gardeners so much that none of them are going to show up today out of loyalty to me.”
“So Darnell’s going to fall flat on his face? Good!”
“I didn’t have to ask them either.”
“That’s because you’re a good leader. You know what I think? I think you should consider running for office someday. Darnell might have more online followers but you, sweetie, people trust you. That’s why they listen to you and believe in you.”
“Nah, I don’t want to run for office. Politicians are the worst. I know that first hand now. I do like working for a cause though. It felt really good giving that money to Carina to start her farmer’s market. Maybe I can get into that – like a charity organizer or something.”
“That’s a brilliant idea!” She beamed like she was more excited about this idea than I was. “What’s your cause?”
“I don’t know yet but I’ll figure it out.” I started to feel a little hungry so I got up to go see what I could find in the fridge.
“Just remember one thing going forward, sweetie.” She said as she followed me.
“First rule of fundraising – you don’t use your own money!”
I knew the loan bothered her more than she let on. I guess she can’t help being fiscally cautious, as a business woman and all. Our family has worked hard for six generations to earn the money that we have. I can’t come along and give it all away to charity. Gotta leave some for the next generation, right? “I hear you, Mom. I hear you.”