Last chapter! I can’t believe we’re about to finish Diana’s story, it’s been so long in the making. After this I’ll start working on the three POV chapters for each of the kids, and I’ll release them over the course of the week, so hopefully the heir vote will be ready by next Saturday. Let me know if you think that’s a bit overkill to release them all within a week, because honestly I’m not sure and I’m worried about it being a bit overwhelming, although the plan is they’ll be shorter than regular chapters. But for now, enjoy!
– FIVE YEARS LATER –
“Pancakes for you, Madam Mayor.”
I rolled my eyes at my husband as he slid a plate of freshly-made pancakes onto the counter in front of me, torn between disapproval and amusement at his antics. “I’m not the mayor yet,” I reminded him.
“But you will be in three hours,” Luc countered, grinning as he slid into a seat at the breakfast bar beside me.
“Yeah…” I swallowed the lump in my throat and picked at my pancakes, hoping to replace the butterflies in my stomach with something more solid.
Noticing my unease, his smile faded. “You okay?”
I nodded. “I think so. I’m just a little nervous. I feel like this has been building for so long, and I really don’t want to mess it up.” I bit my lip, memories of my previous political blunders drifting to the forefront of my mind. I knew firsthand how vicious the press could be, and how easily they could turn public opinion and destroy my career and credibility. The higher I climbed, the farther I had to fall.
But there had been a time when I had thought I would never even make it onto local council, and yet here I was. I couldn’t let the what ifs get to me. If there was one thing being with Luc had taught me, it was that I couldn’t control everything that went on around me, no matter how much I wanted to. I could only do my best, and if the world decided to implode tomorrow, well, that was the world’s decision.
“I’m okay,” I said confidently, managing a smile. “I’ve worked hard. I deserve this, and I plan to prove it to them.”
Luc nodded. “That’s my girl.” He watched me with a mixture of love, admiration, and pride, and I felt my heart swell under his gaze. Luc always made me feel strong, like I could do anything. Unbreakable. Unstoppable.
The tender moment dissolved when two teenagers entered the room. My eyes widened when I noticed Gabriel, who had apparently ignored the buttoned shirt and dress pants I had left on his bed. He wasn’t planning on wearing a singlet and jeans to the ceremony, was he?
I started to get up, hoping to convince him to change, but Luc put a hand on my thigh to stop me. “You eat,” I said. “I’ll talk to Gabe.” I smiled gratefully and went back to my pancakes, while Luc got up to talk some sense into our eldest.
Hope had entered the room behind her brother, and was now at the stove helping herself to leftover pancakes. Her outfit, while not as bad as Gabriel’s, was not quite what I’d envisioned either. “Is that what you’re wearing to the ceremony?” I asked her, in what I hoped was a friendly, casual tone.
She turned, caught my eye and giggled. I must have looked as worried as I felt. “Don’t worry, mum,” she said. “I’m going to change in a minute. I just put this on to give Ash a bath before we leave.”
The cat in question meowed loudly at the mention of her name. She walked over to Hope and rubbed up against her outstretched hand, purring contentedly. Ash was getting on in years, and while she had grown up under Luc’s care, she had since formed a very close bond with his daughter.
Even so, I wasn’t too sure that now was the best time to be bathing pets when we needed to be at City Hall in just over an hour. But Hope was fiercly passionate about caring for the animal and would have considered it a personal affront if I had suggested she postpone it for even a few hours. Still, my worries were not baseless. My daughter was never very punctual at the best of times. “Try to be quick,” I advised her, nodding at the clock on the wall. “We don’t have much time.”
Hope frowned, but didn’t reply. She scooped Ash into her arms and gently stroked the cat’s ears. “We’re going to get you nice and clean, okay?” she murmured. “Don’t worry, we’ll be done before you know it.”
As she brushed past my on her way to the bathroom, I couldn’t tell whether her final remark was directed at me or the hydrophobic cat.
Twenty minutes later, she still hadn’t emerged. I was trying to be understanding, but I was getting more anxious the closer we got to the ceremony. Besides, knowing Hope, it was likely she had lost track of the time. I knocked loudly on the bathroom door. When there was no reply, I opened it and found Hope, with her long hair clipped on top of her head to keep it dry, still bathing the cat.
“We have to leave in ten minutes,” I told her – somewhat testily, I’ll admit. I was anxious and impatient and she should have been ready to leave by now. She hadn’t even gotten changed as she’d promised.
“I’m almost done,” she snapped. Her quick temper was always at its quickest when it came to the animals she loved. “It takes time to do it properly.”
“We don’t have time, Hope!” I cried in exasperation. “You need to be out the door in ten minutes. Hurry up!” I tapped my foot until Hope, huffing angrily, pulled the plug out to drain the bath, then I left to check the progress of her brothers. One would think that a seventeen-year-old and two fifteen-year-olds should be able to get ready for an important event on time without me having to be on their backs constantly.
When we all finally – finally! – made it to the Town Hall half an hour later, the rest of the family left to sit in the audience while I took a different door which led to the stage. I was to be seated there until the point in the procedings when the current mayor would officially pass his title on to me.
As Mayor Mills gave his final address, I sat as straight and as still as I could in my chair, with an expression of polite interest affixed to my face. I was acutely aware of all the camera lenses pointed at me from the back of the room where the reporters and journalists were gathered – so much so that I was barely listening to a single word being spoken.
“… your newly elected mayor, Diana Hunter!”
I jumped a little – hopefully imperceptibly – at the sound of my own name. Knowing that I was expected to speak, I rose from my chair as gracefully as I could manage and walked calmly towards the lectern. Mayor Mills stopped me with a hand on my arm before I stepped onto the platform, but still within microphone range so the audience would hear what he was saying. “Congratulations, Ms. Hunter,” he said, and his genuineness showed in the warm smile he offered me. “I wish you the best of luck in office.”
“Thank you, Your Honour.”
As my predecessor, Mayor Mills was the one to swear me in as the new mayor of Starlight Shores. As I repeated the oath, I took a moment to reflect on the enormous responsibilty that was being placed on my shoulders. My career would never be only about me. I was now a servant to the people, and I did not intend to disappoint them.
When I had completed the oath, Mayor Mills congratulated me for the second time and then returned to his seat, while I stepped up to the podium to speak.
As I delivered my prepared inauguration speech, I scanned the audience I was addressing, most of whom seemed friendly and interested in what I was saying. My gaze was drawn in particular to the front two rows, where all my friends and family were seated. My heart warmed at the sight of so many beloved familiar faces – Mandy, Pat, Celia, my mother, my children, and finally my husband, who gave me a small smile and a wink when I caught his eye. They were the reason I had the strength to get to where I was, and I made sure everyone in the room knew it. Although I now had a sacred duty to the people of Starlight Shores – a duty I took very seriously, and intended to fulfil to the best of my considerable ability – I never wanted to forget the people who had always had my back and without whom I would never have come anywhere near as far as I had.
After the ceremony was over, I found a crowd of familiar faces waiting outside to greet me on the front steps of the Town Hall. Patterns was the first to approach me with an enthusiastic hug of congratulations.
“I’m so proud of you, Diana,” he said, in a voice thick with emotion. “I always knew you were destined for great things.”
I squeezed my old friend tightly. “Thanks for being here, Pat,” I said in his ear. “It means a lot to me.”
Next to greet me was a very pregnant Mandy. I gaped when I saw her belly.
“Again? How many is that now?” I teased.
She giggled. “Only number four!”
“I’m joking. Congratulations.” I smiled as I patted her stomach. Given how I had neglected our friendship somewhat in favour of my career, I was glad to see that my old best friend was still happy. That, and that she cared enough about me still to come support me on such an important day.
“Thanks, and same to you. I’m really happy for you, Di. I know this is what you always wanted.”
As I turned away from Mandy, I noticed Celia standing beside her. She beamed at me. “You did it!”
I shook my head. “We did it,” I corrected her. “Thanks for always having my back.” I hugged her tightly, hoping to convey some small portion of my gratitude in the gesture. Even after I had lost the first election, Celia had refused to give up on me, and had coached me tirelessly through my second council campaign and the first half of my mayoral campaign. She, too, had recently been elected to local council, along with our former boss. Amelia had held onto her council seat with an iron grip for many years now, but somehow had never managed to climb any higher.
Speak of the devil. As I released Celia, I heard a familar cough behind her and, sure enough, there stood Amelia Jefferson, virtually unchanged from the last time I had seen her. Her youth, like her seat on council, was something she had managed to retain a firm grip on.
“Congratulations, Diana,” she said. Her mouth wished me luck, but her eyes wished me a painful death. Amelia had always been spiteful and petty, but it seemed she had not yet gotten over the fact that her once-subordinate had thoroughly surpassed her. But now was not the time for a confrontation, not with so many cameras and curious eyes still watching.
“Thank you, Amelia.” I said simply, hoping my smile at least appeared genuine.
She wasn’t finished. “I do hope it lasts. It wouldn’t be the first time a Mayor is deemed unfit for office and ends their term prematurely. You’re still very young, Diana. And inexperienced. Being Mayor isn’t as easy as it seems, you know. There are so many terrible mistakes you could make… Just a friendly word of warning.”
She certainly looked concerned, but I strongly suspected her words were anything but friendly. “Thanks for the advice,” I said with a small smile. I had long ago become immune to Amelia’s barbs. Nothing she said could phase me anymore.
The same could not be said for my hothead of a husband, who apparently had overheard our conversation. He was glaring daggers at Amelia from a few feet away, and for a moment I thought he was going to yell at her when he approached us. But Luc, while as easily angered as ever, was much better at controlling it than he used to be.
Grinning easily, he put a protective arm around my waist and drew me close. “I’m terribly sorry,” he said to Amelia, “but I just couldn’t wait any longer. I desperately require some time with my incredibly successful and very intimidating wife. Please excuse us.” He turned his back on her and tugged on my waist, so that I lost my balance and stumbled into his arms. He caught me easily and spun me around to face him. Before I could protest, he had pulled my mouth to his and kissed me fiercely.
I caught the shocked expression on Amelia’s face out of the corner of my eye, and smiled against his lips. Camera flashes went off around us, but I didn’t care. What was the worst they could do? I’d just become mayor, emotions were running high, my loved ones were all expressing their pride and wishing me luck. I was about to devote the next four years of my life to serving the people of this town. I could kiss my husband if I damn well pleased.
I had never felt so fulfilled in my life, and the best part was, this was only the beginning. The mayorship had me over the moon, but I wanted the stars, and I wouldn’t stop climbing until I had reached them.
Today, Starlight Shores was enough. But tomorrow… the entire Free World awaited.
Aaaaand that’s a wrap! I hope you all enjoyed reading Diana’s story as much as I enjoyed writing it. Stay tuned for the introductions to Gen 4, as well as the heir vote which should be ready this time next week.