Win­ner Takes All

This job had come along at just the right time, but Ellen could see it wasn’t go­ing to be plain sail­ing . . .

The People's Friend - - Contents - by Jan Snook

ELLEN shuf­fled for­ward two steps, nudg­ing her bags ahead of her with her foot. All around her peo­ple were do­ing the same thing, the strain of get­ting up at the crack of dawn to get to the air­port etched on their faces.

The queue snaked ahead of her for what seemed like miles. Ellen opened her bag and checked her pass­port and ticket – yet again.

“You’ll be here for hours,” a fa­mil­iar voice said be­hind her and Ellen’s heart gave a lurch be­fore she re­mem­bered that things had changed.

She turned to look into Ed­ward’s brown eyes. Ed­ward, prospec­tive MP for a safe seat in the south of Eng­land. Her ex-boyfriend.

“What are you do­ing here?” she asked, ir­ri­tated.

“I’ve come to see you off. This is a big step, I thought you’d like com­pany.”

“It’s a six-month con­tract, Ed­ward. I’m hardly em­i­grat­ing.”

The queue inched for­ward.

“You don’t have to go, you know.”

Was he be­ing de­lib­er­ately ob­tuse?

Ellen had taken the job on a whim. As­sis­tant Cam­paign Man­ager for some­one run­ning for Congress. She had the qual­i­fi­ca­tions they spec­i­fied and more.

She imag­ined New York, Wash­ing­ton DC and the cut and thrust of gov­ern­ment. City lights and bus­tle.

The last e-mail had sounded less city, more small-town Amer­ica, but any­thing would be bet­ter than what she was leav­ing. And, as she said, it was only for six months. Any­one could sur­vive that.

Ed­ward was still ex­pect­ing an an­swer.

“I do. This job is tai­lor­made for me.”

“I thought you weren’t in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics?”

“My de­gree is in Mar­ket­ing and Pol­i­tics!”

“But you acted like a typ­i­cal woman when I said my ca­reer was the most im­por­tant thing in my life!”

Ellen took a deep breath.

“First, I am a woman, and sec­ond, if you re­mem­ber, you had just asked me to marry you!”

She’d spo­ken louder than she in­tended, and was aware of a sub­tle shift of at­ten­tion in the pas­sen­gers around them.

“I’d stand a bet­ter chance in the elec­tion if I had a wife, a lo­cal girl!” Ed­ward hissed, then paused. “OK, I didn’t put that very well. It’s just that I have to give this elec­tion all I’ve got. You must see that?

“Any­way, you said you needed time to think it over, and you were right. No-one can make lifechang­ing de­ci­sions that quickly.”

“I gave you my an­swer, Ed­ward, and this is hardly the place to dis­cuss it.”

The woman be­fore them in the queue was so en­grossed that she hadn’t moved when the queue shuf­fled for­ward. Ellen leaned over.

“I think we’re mov­ing,” she said sweetly.

The woman gasped be­fore hur­riedly mov­ing up.

“But you didn’t mean it!” Ed­ward whis­pered. “I didn’t give you enough time. Of course you’re the most im­por­tant thing in my life. I’ve just got to get this by-elec­tion over with, that’s all.” He sighed.

“Can’t we just get en­gaged? Joe Pub­lic loves en­gaged cou­ples. You can al­ways change your mind later. You don’t need time to think about that!” Ellen stared at him. “You’re right. I don’t need time to think.” “Thank good­ness.”

“I don’t want to marry you. I’m flat­tered that you should ask, but I can’t com­mit to some­one who doesn’t re­gard an en­gage­ment as a se­ri­ous un­der­tak­ing!”

“I’ve said I’m sorry. I’ve come to see you off, haven’t I? You must un­der­stand I’ve other things on my mind . . .” Ellen looked at her watch. “Hadn’t you bet­ter go? You’ll get caught in the rush-hour traf­fic.”

He opened his mouth to speak, but was sud­denly con­scious of the in­ter­ested spec­ta­tors. He swal­lowed.

“Think about it.” He turned on his heel.

Bar­bara looked around the bed­room and sighed. This task should have been done a cou­ple of weeks ago, when she first agreed to wel­come an un­known girl into her home.

Why had she said yes? It was typ­i­cal of Cindy Ward to make de­ci­sions with­out think­ing things through. She had hired some over-qual­i­fied English girl to do a job any col­lege stu­dent could do, with­out con­sult­ing any­body.

What kind of crazy per­son ad­ver­tised a job in an in­ter­na­tional mag­a­zine be­fore she was sure they needed some­one? Or could af­ford some­one?

The same sort of per­son who changed her po­lit­i­cal al­le­giance ev­ery two min­utes! If Bar­bara had her way, Steve would never have ap­pointed Cindy as his cam­paign man­ager.

How could you trust some­one who’d only recently been work­ing for the op­po­si­tion?

Now this girl, Ellen, would be ar­riv­ing in a few hours.

Bar­bara looked at the mess in front of her. Since her daugh­ter Pat­tie got mar­ried, over three years ago, this bed­room had be­come a dump­ing ground. The bed was cov­ered with scraps of fab­ric for quilt­ing, books on the sub­ject, and sum­mer clothes des­tined for the thrift shop.

Bar­bara started on the clothes. If she put them in a plas­tic sack and took them to the thrift shop this after­noon she wouldn’t be able to change her mind again. They’d be gone.

She’d made it clear to Cindy that she was putting Ellen up very re­luc­tantly.

But there hadn’t been much choice: this English girl would hardly be able to af­ford the lo­cal rents for the low wages the party was pay­ing her. So the room had to be tidy.

Tidy­ing it should take her mind off her daugh­ter’s prob­lems, Bar­bara thought, gath­er­ing up the books.

How could two chil­dren be so dif­fer­ent? Tyler had never caused her a mo­ment’s worry. Clever and stu­dious and, though Bar­bara was bi­ased, good-look­ing, he al­ways seemed to land on his feet.

His younger sis­ter was a con­stant worry. Bar­bara had hoped things would im­prove when Pat­tie got mar­ried, but what with her hus­band Steve’s po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties, and what­ever else was wor­ry­ing her, Pat­tie al­ways seemed stressed.

Bar­bara was cer­tain some­thing was wor­ry­ing Pat­tie more than usual at the mo­ment. It couldn’t be her mar­riage – Steve idolised Pat­tie.

Were they try­ing for a baby? Un­likely, since the elec­tions were only a few months away. If Steve was to make Con­gress­man this time round he’d have no time for any­thing else.

Maybe that was the prob­lem. Pat­tie would be thirty-six next birth­day. She must be aware of her bi­o­log­i­cal clock tick­ing.

Bar­bara shouldn’t be spec­u­lat­ing. Still, she knew when one of her chicks wasn’t happy, and there was def­i­nitely some­thing Pat­tie wasn’t telling her.

A cou­ple of days later Ellen fol­lowed Bar­bara up the rusty ex­te­rior fire es­cape which led to a shabby room over the lo­cal hard­ware store.

“It’s not much to look at,” Bar­bara said, “but this is Cam­paign Head­quar­ters.

Ellen kept her dis­ap­point­ment from show­ing on her face as she walked through the door. Ev­ery­thing she’d seen of Amer­ica so far had been clean and bright.

She’d ar­rived at the week­end, and had set­tled into Bar­bara’s com­fort­able home. Bar­bara her­self couldn’t have been more Fol­lett. We’re sure glad to have you join us. I’m Cindy Ward, the Cam­paign Man­ager, and over here we’ve got . . .”

She started to in­tro­duce the var­i­ous peo­ple in the room, mostly vol­un­teer stu­dents, by the look of it.

Cindy pointed out Ellen’s desk and handed her a sched­ule cov­ered with col­umns and ar­rows, which she started to ex­plain, all at break­neck speed.

Ellen felt panic ris­ing in her throat, but Bar­bara in­ter­rupted calmly.

“Your main area of re­spon­si­bil­ity is to help Cindy with fund-rais­ing, but the big event isn’t un­til the mid­dle of Septem­ber. That’s a fancy din­ner.

“Be­fore then we have a good old Amer­i­can bar­be­cue com­ing up next Satur­day, but all you need to do is show up. Cindy will ease you in gen­tly.” She gave Cindy a brit­tle smile. “Won’t you, dear?” Ellen frowned. “Sorry, but if the elec­tion is in Novem­ber, isn’t Septem­ber late for the main fund-rais­ing event?”

Bar­bara and Cindy ex­changed looks, then both spoke at once.

“You are so right,”

ts ar St y! da to

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