After the call from Celia, I returned to the dining room to share the good news with my family.
“What’s up?” Luc asked me, picking up instantly on my change of mood the moment I re-entered the room.
I allowed myself a small smile. Even if I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be yet, winning the election was a victory no matter how I looked at it. “We won,” I announced. “We won the election!”
Grinning widely, Luc took me in his arms and kissed me happily. “That’s great, babe! I knew you could do it.”
“What does that mean?” Hope asked.
I laughed happily, and bent down to kiss her cheek. “It means Mummy gets to keep her job, sweetheart.”
But later that night when we were lying in bed together, I felt safe enough to confide in Luc how I was really feeling.
“Luc, there’s something I want to tell you.”
He raised an eyebrow at me, but nodded. Go on.
I took a deep breath. “I don’t want to work for Amelia anymore.”
Understandably enough, he seemed quite taken aback. “But… why? I thought you loved this job. You worked so hard to get to where you are.”
“I know, but… it’s not enough. I want to aim higher.”
Luc made a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a sigh. “Ah, Di. My little genius. You and your insatiable ambition!”
“Don’t tease me,” I pouted. Then I sighed too. “I’ll try to explain. The thing is, I don’t want to spend my life working for someone else. Working for Amelia was a valuable experience, but I want to go a step further. I want be where she is. I want to run for local council.”
Luc smirked playfully. “Babe, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you just missed the elections.”
I slapped his arm lightly. “There’ll be another election in two years time, which is just enough time to get my campaign up and running. I was thinking of asking Celia to help me.”
He frowned. “Are you sure about that? Isn’t she meant to be Amelia’s personal assistant?”
“Yeah, but she’s been working there a long time. For all I know, she’s ready for a change as well. And I’ll never know if I don’t ask, will I?” I glared at him, determined. “I’m going to talk to her tomorrow.”
Luc sighed again. “I would try to talk you out of it, but we both know I’d be wasting my time.” He yawned. “Goodnight, Di. I’ll see you in a few days when you come home from the office.” He rolled onto his side, and within a few moments was asleep. Annoyed, but unswayed, I followed a few moments later.
In spite of his quips, he was there to see me off before I went to work in the morning, for which I was immensely grateful. I was already feeling sick with anxiety over whatever Celia might say.
“Bye, babe. Let me know how it works out,” Luc murmured sleepily, giving me a tender peck on the lips.
I nodded and attempted a smile, but found myself too nervous to form words. Instead, I squeezed his hand for a moment before heading out the door.
I had decided not to talk to Celia until the end of the day. That way, whatever happened, it would be over right away. I spent the first seven and a half hours of my shift working quietly and diligently, knowing it might be the last day I ever spent in that office. If I was going out, I wanted to go out with dignity.
Finally, just before the end of the day, I re-entered the office after a bathroom break to find Celia packing her things to go home.
“Hey, Celia? Do you think I could talk with you for a moment?”
“Of course, Diana. What’s up?”
I decided the best strategy was to be direct. Just come out and say it. “I want to quit this job.”
She looked shocked, and a little hurt. “What? What for? I’m so sorry, is it something to do with me?”
Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best approach after all. I hurried to reassure her. “No, not at all. In fact, I was hoping you might come with me.” She stared at me in silence, which I tentatively interpreted as a signal to continue.
“The thing is, I want to run in the next council election, and I feel it would be inappropriate to continue working for Amelia while planning to run against her. You’re my closest friend in this field, and someone I both trust and admire. I would be honoured if you would work with me in the next election.”
I waited anxiously for her answer, worrying that I had oversold myself and wondering for the umpteenth time what I really had to offer that could trump good money and job security. So when her answer finally came, I was so surprised I thought I had heard her wrong.
“Okay, I’ll do it.”
I blinked. “What?”
“I said I’ll do it. To be honest, I’ve started to feel a bit stuck in this job. Maybe getting some more experience managing other campaigns will expand my repetoire and help me land bigger jobs in the future.” She smiled reassuringly. “I would be happy to come work with you, Diana.”
I couldn’t help the huge smile that spread across my face as her words sunk in. Impulsively, I reached out and hugged her tightly. “Thank you so much, Celia. You won’t regret it.”
She seemed surprised, but after a few moments tentatively extracted her arms to hug me back. “I believe you.”
I gave my notice to Amelia the next day, and Celia a few weeks later. We had agreed not to resign at the same time so it wouldn’t look too much like we’d plotted to abandon her together. Every spare moment of the next eighteen months were spent theorising and strategising, designing and printing fliers and conducting preliminary surveys, so that by the time the lead-up to the elections began, we were ready to launch our campaign at full throttle from the get-go. The first major step, according to Celia, was to host a campaign party for everyone who had expressed interest in my cause thus far, either online, in person or through the surveys we’d carried out. The party was an opportunity for them to get to know me personally, become more familiar with the campaign so they could decide whether they were willing to support it financially. It was my job, therefore, to make as many friends there as possible so that they would leave feeling like they (and hopefully, their donations) were in good hands.
During the period where Celia and I had been hard at work planning the campaign, Luc, Mum and I had decided to rebuild the house. I had lived in the same place since moving to Starlight Shores as a little girl, and we all agreed it was time for a change. Luc especially was keen to live in a house that we could really call our own, instead of always feeling like we were visiting my childhood home (his words, not mine). While the house was being remodelled, Celia had kindly offered to host my entire family in her home, which apparently was much larger than one might expect from a young, single woman still working her way up the career ladder.
Although my initial instinct was to refuse, thinking I couldn’t possibly impose such a burden on her for so long, I was eventually convinced when she reminded me that living together while working on the campaign was the most practical and time-efficient solution. Luc thought it highly amusing and totally predictable that I would be won over by such an argument, but he didn’t understand. We were on a deadline, and time was of the essence!
Through a combination of email, doorknocking and social media events, Celia and I had managed to secure about thirty guests on the day of the party. Not as many as I had hoped for, in all honesty, but at least it was a start. I had to remind myself that I was still relatively unknown, and could not rely on prestige or hearsay to get voters.
Luc had taken the kids out for the day to keep them out of the way, so while Celia kept guests fed and entertained I schmoozed like my life depended on it (which, professionally and financially, it did).
It wasn’t something that came naturally to me, so it felt weird knowing that I had an ulterior motive in getting to know someone, and we both knew it, yet pretended it didn’t exist. But political success was my life’s ambition, and I knew that this kind of thing came with the territory. So I sucked it up and worked my hardest, the way I had done all my life.
By the end of the party, I was exhausted. I heaved a huge sigh of relief after Celia closed the door behind the final guest. She turned to me, looking concerned. “Are you okay, Diana?”
I nodded. “That just took a lot out of me,” I explained. “How am I ever going to make it in this field if I can’t stay on my feet for a few hours of social engagement? How do mayors and presidents manage it?”
She patted my shoulder consolingly. “They do it just like this,” she told me. “They put on a brave face in public, and then as soon as the cameras turn off, they collapse. Don’t beat yourself up too much, Diana. You’re only human.”
I shook my head. “That’s no excuse.” I set my shoulders, and straightened up. “Next time, I’ll do better,” I assured her.
She grinned at me. “That’s the spirit. But for now, consider this a success. We did it! We hosted a fundraising party and didn’t screw it up!” She bounced up and down a little, seemingly unable to contain her excitement.
I laughed. “Speaking of fundraising, how successful was it, actually?”
“I’m glad you asked,” Celia smiled and skipped over to the front door where she had left the donations bucket. It rattled promisingly when she lifted it up, groaning a little under its weight. “We may not win this election, but if we don’t it’s not for lack of funding.”
I blanched, ignoring the good news about the money and honing in on the first half of her sentence. “You don’t think we’ll win?”
“Well…” she hesitated, and my heart sank. “It’s not impossible. This is your first time running, after all.” She must have noticed my expression, because she quickly continued, “But let’s not think about that. You’re not going to win if you don’t think you can. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will, yeah?”
I nodded and smiled, but inside I was an uncertain mess.
As was becoming my habit, I didn’t reveal my true feelings until I was alone with Luc that night, while the two of us were relaxing on the bed in one of Celia’s guest bedrooms.
“What if I don’t win?” I asked him. Quietly, afraid of the answer.
“Huh?” He had been lying back against the headboard, but sat up at my question.
I turned my head to face him. “What if I don’t win the election?”
Luc shrugged. “Then you’ll try again in the next one, I suppose. What’s the big deal?”
I knew it was unreasonable to feel hurt, but the fact that he hadn’t immediately protested that it was impossible made my heart sink even further. “I’ve never lost at anything,” I whispered.
“Never?” he repeated, incredulously.
I shook my head, biting my lip. I felt unsure of myself. Vulnerable. I needed him to reassure me that everything was going to be fine.
He grinned slightly. “That’s impossible.”
Now he said it. I shook my head again. “It’s the truth.”
His grin widened. “Never? At anything? And I thought you were an overachiever before…”
I groaned, and lay down on the bed with a huff. “You’re fixating on the wrong thing!” I cried, exasperated. Tears prickled behind my eyes. I forced them back, but Luc knew me better than to be fooled by that. He could always tell.
The grin disappeared, and he shifted closer to me with a serious expression. “I’m sorry, babe. I didn’t mean to be insensitive.” He sighed. “Honestly, I don’t think it’s likely. You’ve proved time and again that hard work will get you anywhere, and no one I’ve ever met has a work ethic that could hold a candle to yours.”
I smiled slightly. Even when he was a jerk, Luc always knew just what to say to make me feel better.
“Here’s the thing, Di,” he continued. “Worst case scenario, you lose the election. What’s going to happen then? It would suck, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. You’re not going to give up. Not the Di I know. You’re going to keep trying, and you’re going to win the next one. I guess what I’m trying to say is it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, because it’s only a matter of time before you get where you’re going.”
I paused, considering his words. He wasn’t wrong… I just didn’t know how I would handle it in the short-term if I lost.
He reached out and gave my hand a squeeze. “I believe in you, Di. Nothing’s going to stop my Genius.” I smiled. “Think you can go to sleep now?” he asked.
I nodded, turned off the bedside light, and slipped under the covers. Luc wrapped an arm around me from behind, and I snuggled against him, feeling secure – if not in my career, then at least in the knowledge that the people who mattered would be by my side, no matter what.