Please excuse the unexplained outfit change at the start. The earliest pictures were taken before the move between computers, and I lost some CC clothing in the process, so continuity in this case was impossible.
Before long, I was back on my usual busy schedule. The final few weeks leading up to the election were a whirlwind of speeches, flyers, interviews and public appearances, such that I almost forgot about my unexpected run-in with my sister entirely. The weekend before polling day, the Autumn festival was in town. I was at the festival grounds all morning, striking up friendly conversations with those who came to vote and handing out flyers to anyone who would take them.
Celia had gone to the trouble of having a temporary lectern set up with a microphone, complete with signs and banners advertising my campaign. Although it made me feel a little self-conscious, I felt obliged to use it to my best advantage, considering all the effort – not to mention funds – it must have cost her. Surprisingly, there were very few hecklers, and some people even seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say.
Until they weren’t.
“Hey!” someone called suddenly. “Is it true that your sister is on trial right now for grand larceny?”
If I hadn’t been so shocked by the question, I might have taken a moment to shake my head over the serious criminal charges Emily had apparently landed herself with. As it was, all I could manage was to gasp, “W-What?”
“I read it in the paper this morning.” The man who had spoken was looking at me expectantly, grimacing as if to say let’s see you talk your way out of this curveball. “Is it true?” he demanded.
“I… don’t know,” was all I could say.
The man raised his eyebrows. “You don’t know?”
I turned to face him and faked a reassuring smile. “I have no contact with my sister. We haven’t spoken in years.”
“That’s not what it said in the paper. Apparently, you were dismissed from the jury for the case, and then you were spotted later that night chatting with the defendant in a public park.”
“We weren’t… how did you…” For the first time in my career, I found myself lost for words. I needed to get out of here. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. Maybe Emily was right. Maybe I had made the wrong decision. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Politicians didn’t do ‘maybes’. They were confident in everything they said and did, so that everyone else would feel confident in them.
“Excuse me,” I mumbled, not-so-confidently. I stumbled off the stand, catching a brief glimpse of the concerned look on Celia’s face as I rushed past her on my way to the car. I had to get home. Had to find out if what the man had said was true. And I had to talk to Luc.
Luc would understand. Luc always understood.
I paused momentarily on my way inside to collect the local paper from where it was lying innocently next to the front gate.
Once I was inside and safely seated at the dining table, I unfolded it to read the front page. My heart sank into my stomach as I read the headline.
KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY: LOCAL CANDIDATE SHARES SISTERLY BOND WITH CONVICTED CRIMINAL
I scanned the paragraph underneath, feeling sicker with every word.
Diana Hunter, a previously forerunning candidate in the upcoming local elections, took time this week out of her busy campaigning schedule to serve as a juror in the trial of none other than her own sister. The defendant was on trial accused of grand larceny. She has previously served time in county jail on convictions of fraud and burglary. (Story continues on page 3.)
‘Previously forerunning’, huh? That sounded promising. Against my better judgement, I flipped open the paper to page 3 and read what was printed there.
Fellow jurer, Jeremy Bathorn, was witness to the brief but tense interaction between the siblings and Ms. Hunter’s subsequent dismissal from the trial. “[Hunter] told the judge that the defendant was her sister,” he said. “What a crazy coincidence! They seemed very distant for sisters. I doubt they had much of a relationship. I didn’t think it was fair to dismiss her from the jury, and I think she agreed with me.”
A crazy coincidence, indeed. Could Ms. Hunter have wished to remain on the jury in order to manipulate the outcome of the trial? Is it possible that she gained her place there, not through random selection, but through her network of contacts? While Bathorn may have held the view that the sisters were not close, the evidence tells a different story.
Photographs taken mere hours after the trial show the two sisters engaged in a heated discussion in a nearby public park. Was her sister upset over Ms. Hunter’s immediate dismissal from the trial? Perhaps they had planned to use her influence to secure a favourable verdict? Whatever the case, it is clear that there is more to this encounter than meets the eye.
I reached the end of the story, but continued to read over it again and again, picking it apart obsessively, fixating on every false claim and unflattering implication. The page blurred suddenly as angry tears welled up in my eyes. I blinked, and they streamed down my face, dripping from my chin into my lap. My hands were clenched and shaking so badly I was in danger of ripping the paper in half.
“You’re home early.”
Luc’s voice beside me made me jump. I nodded, and continued to stare determinedly at the paper, not wanting him to see that I was crying. As always, however, nothing got past him. He gently pried the paper from my hands, and guided me to my feet with one hand around my waist. I was glad when he didn’t force me to turn around. I wasn’t ready to face him just yet.
“What’s wrong?” he murmured in my ear.
I shook my head, unable to speak. Instead, Luc picked up the discarded paper and held it up in front of him. I could hear his angry growls and huffs of breath every few seconds as he read the article. When he was finished, he threw the paper aside and pulled me into his arms. There was nothing in that article that he didn’t already know – I had, as promised, filled him in the following morning on everything that went down on the day in question – but I still felt inexplicably ashamed as I sobbed into his shoulder and he rubbed my back in soothing circles.
When my sobs had quietened, though the tears continued to fall, he pulled back to look at me with a small, reassuring smile. “You don’t really care what that idiot of a reporter says about you, do you?” he asked. I nodded, still sniffling. “You do? Why?”
I shrugged. “It hurts to read things like that… and know that they’re lies… but also that no one else is going to know that. Everyone who reads that story is going to think that I have no sense of justice or integrity. It’s going to ruin everything I’ve worked for these last two years.” I couldn’t look him in the eye. I felt stupid for being this upset over a newspaper article, and disappointed in myself for not knowing how to handle it better. Maybe if I hadn’t totally lost my head at the festival today, I could have limited the damage somewhat. It was too late now. At that realisation, a fresh wave of tears began to fall.
“Di,” Luc said quietly, “look at me.” I turned my head a little towards him, and he reached up to gently wipe the tears from my cheek with his thumb. I managed a small smile in return, which seemed to encourage him.
“I want you to realise,” he said slowly, “that you can’t change what that reporter wrote. And you can’t change how people react to it.” I scowled. Did he think I didn’t know that? Why did he think I was crying right now? Undeterred by my change in demeanor, he pressed on. “What you can change, my darling, is how you respond. This campaign has been rough on you, and I know how much all this means to you, but I need you to know that your career is not everything. You need to know that you are worth more than your polling numbers.”
Luc pressed his hand against my mouth. “Not finished.” I glared at him. The moment he removed his hand, I opened my mouth to tell him off, but he grabbed me unexpectedly and swung me around, catching me in his arms as he kissed me deeply. I was so surprised, I was rendered speechless for a good minute.
“You are beautiful,” he murmured against my lips, then pulled away to add, “and incredibly intelligent”. He kissed me again. “And fierce.” And again. “And ambitious.” And again. “And everyone is going to forget about this in a couple of weeks.”
I avoided his seeking lips and protested, “But the election-”
“… Is not the centre of the universe,” he interrupted. “You are stronger than a single obstacle.” He kissed me again. “And you.” Kiss. “Will.” Kiss. “Get.” Kiss. “There.” He covered my face in a flurry of little kisses until I couldn’t help but laugh. He grinned, looking entirely too pleased with himself. “There she is. Feeling better?”
“For now,” I responded hesitantly. “You can put me down.”
I rolled my eyes, but I did feel better. Luc always made me feel strong. Like nothing could ever hurt me as long as I was with him.
Which is why I wasn’t too perturbed when I received a call from my old employer two weeks later, just before the election results were due to be announced. I hesitated to pick up the phone, but eventually reasoned that it might be something important.
“Hello, Diana. It’s Amelia Jefferson.”
I adopted my most professional tone. “What can I do for you, Amelia? I hope there are no hard feelings about the election race.”
“Oh, none at all! In fact, I was just calling to share some happy news.”
“Yes. I won, again.” My stomach dropped. I’d lost? Amelia prattled on in my ear, but I barely heard her. What was she going on about now? “I’m sure you’d agree that the voters made the right choice, choosing the more experienced candidate. Forgive me for saying so, but you were a bit of a wildcard. And after that public fiasco a couple of weeks ago, well…” she paused, allowing her words to sink in as a fresh wave of embarrassment washed over me. Just when I had begun to hope that the whole thing was fading out of sight. I should have known that someone like Amelia wouldn’t let such potent ammunition slip past uncollected.
“Anyway,” she went on, “I actually wanted to thank you for all that. If you hadn’t made such a mess of things, I really think you might have beaten me. Better luck next time!” She hung up without waiting for a response. Apparently she had dropped all the bombs she intended to.
Although I allowed myself the small hope that she had simply been trying to mess with my head and was not actually privvy to the results of elections before they were announced, the news the following day confirmed her story. I wish I could say that I was able to let go of failure as easily as I latched on to success, and the news of my loss, while obviously saddening, did nothing to quench my ambition.
But the truth was, I was crushed.
I couldn’t help but feel like all my hard work had been for nothing. For weeks, I was inconsolable. It was a long time before I was able to pull myself together, pick myself up, and try again. If nothing else, I reminded myself, I had gained some valuable experience.
This time, maybe, things would be different.