Under the Tree on Freedom Hill

The revolution had not been peaceful. Lazlo had been clear about his one condition for lending the weight of his fame to the cause. He supposed now that he had been naive. Nothing changed without pain. It applied to him as much as it did to the government, and if he was different now, well, he hadn't much enjoyed the process. Outside the broad window of his living room, Lazlo could see Freedom Hill, where a crew wearing the revolution's colors were assembling a temporary stage for the first anniversary of the revolution. He watched it come together around the tree where he'd once loved to sit. Where he'd once addressed a nation.

A TV actor, movie star, bestselling author, and playwright. All that and a common disgust with the oppression had brought him to the movement's attention. He'd participated in meetings, talks, debates, and so on. He never spoke for armed insurrection, always against. But when the time came, he'd let himself be broadcast to all the country, telling any who could hear that it was time to rise up.

They were putting up streamers and bunting in white, blue, and red. The red streamers hanging from the winter-bare tree made him sicker than anything he could remember, and he'd been more alcohol than man at a few points in his life. Lazlo looked away.

He had never meant the revolution should be truly bloodless. He was naive, not stupid. Revolution at the point of a sword will have its resolve tested, and that sword will have to spill blood. But he had been clear that he would not sponsor a revolution of retribution. He wanted a new order that would be just in a way the old had not.

A knock came. Lazlo wheeled himself over to the front door and opened it. He knew who it would be, and he wheeled himself back to the living room without looking. "Come in, Chavela."

"Am I that obvious?" The woman laughed and closed the door behind her.

"No. Yes. I don't know. Would you like a drink?" Lazlo went to the counter where he kept alcohol and looked at her expectantly.

"Be honest. You'd rather I leave." She didn't look any less cheerful for the belief.

"I would. But if you're going to be here, I might as well be a good host. You're a bourbon drinker, if I recall." He reached for the Bulleit and, when she didn't say anything, poured her a healthy dram.

She put it to her nose, closed her eyes, and inhaled deeply. "Oh, my, yes. This is hard to find nowadays. I'm surprised you still have any."

"I don't drink it, and I don't have company these days." His eyes were wary as he watched her.

Chavela leaned against a counter. She opened her mouth, but Lazlo spoke her first three words simultaneously and she stopped to let him finish: "We'd like you to speak tomorrow."

She opened her arms. "You got it."

"No." In a TV show, Lazlo would leave the room and the scene would shift to the B-plot. In a movie, the camera would focus on Chavela's reaction, then on him leaving. In a play, he would turn around dramatically until the next line called him back. Here, in the world, Lazlo just sat and looked at her, impassive.

"Please. You lit the fuse on the revolution. Everyone wants to hear from you." Despite her words, neither her tone nore her expression showed any great concern over his response.

He had had a voice, once. Before the revolution, people had listened, watched, heard him. Once the fighting started, they had been too busy hiding, occupying, and all too often dying to pay him any attention. That was fine with him. He'd planted the seed of a better world. He was still waiting to see if it would grow.

This time he did turn away. "You don't really want me up there."

She sipped her bourbon and shrugged. "I don't care, personally. But it'll look good. Listen. You can come up and say whatever you want. Speak out against the reprisals, condemn the transitional government, it's all fine with me. Help us change for the better."

She knew. She knew what he would say and still wanted him to say it. Lazlo tightened the fist she couldn't see. Her words felt like acid in his ears, hissing as they burned a channel to his brain.

"Get out."

"Come on—"

"Get out." He spun back to face her. "Get out." He moved close into her space. She stepped back. "Get out, get out, get out."

"C'mon, Lazlo, this—"

"Get out." He slapped the glass from her hand and it shattered on the floor. "You can make me stare at that god damn tree every day but you can't make me speak under it." He pushed her. "The only way you'll get me under that tree ever again is if you god damn hang me from it!" His yells chased her out the door. Lazlo saw some younger folks out front, reporters or Chavela's aides. They'd heard him.

He went back to his living room and watched the banner go up. "Freedom Day," it read. He wiped tears from his face but couldn't stop them from running down his cheeks. Maybe he'd be under that tree sooner than he thought.