Simon didn’t stop at the pub after work the next day, but instead picked up a sub sandwich and came straight home. Earlier, he’d contacted The Chief and accepted the mission. He’d leave tomorrow night and he needed to prepare.
The Chief was right, this time it wasn’t about organizing a demonstration, recruiting for a blockade, instructing on civil disobedience or how to craft your message for the media. This time it was shaping up to be a very public battle with Prime Minister Wendy Walters and he was the only one with the national stature to do it.
Simon considered hubris a character flaw, and a dangerous one, but the truth was, next to Wendy he was the highest-profile First Nations person in Canada. This was thanks to a documentary about his work with members of the Red Pheasant Reserve in Saskatchewan and their fight to get justice for a twenty-two-year band member shot in the back of the head by a farmer. The documentary was Mattie’s idea to keep him safe. How could rednecks lynch him with a film crew recording his every move? Though experienced, the indie filmmaker had almost no budget and no distributor. The project would die in the can, except it didn’t. Simon’s presence on screen was electrifying. The documentary was picked up and viewed coast to coast. Overnight, Simon was famous. He hated it.
When he went to work on Wendy Walters’ re-election campaign, his celebrity status was recognized as an asset. His attendance accompanying the candidate to events insured big crowds and lots of media coverage. A private person, Simon endured it for the sake of the cause. He admired Wendy, she was smart, authentic and had a vision for the future of First Nations people that Simon supported. Long days over several weeks in each other’s company and the inevitable began to happen. Simon saw the signs and tried to minimize their alone time, but if Wendy wanted to talk to her chief strategist in private, others left the room.
Simon didn’t like being pressured and coerced. In public, Wendy would stand too close, touch his arm, hands, hair. It gave the public the impression they were intimate. It gave Mattie that impression as well.
When he told Wendy it made him uncomfortable, she changed her tactics and talked about what a great team they made, how one complimented the other and how together they could achieve so much for their people. Simon agreed but continued to resist.
When it became apparent Walters would win her seat by a landslide, she delivered her coup de grace offering Simon the job as her Executive Assistant in Ottawa. The job would mean he’d live most of the year in the capital, three thousand miles away from Mattie. He loved Mattie and wouldn’t do it, but that wasn’t the only reason he declined the offer. He didn’t like the way Walters tried to manipulate him. He sensed something in the woman that wasn’t appealing; self-importance, a personal ambition that didn’t align with her magnanimous message of service to their people.
On election night after the polls had closed, Simon went to her office and waited while she took call after congratulatory call. When the phone finally stopped ringing and she gave him her attention, he told her he wasn’t taking the job. Walters was tough. She didn’t like losing, politically or personally so he was prepared for some drama.
Wendy looked stunned. She stepped toward him, then stopped. “Simon…” She put a hand over her eyes, then turned away, shoulders slumped.
Her reaction surprised him. If he’d realized he was more than a trophy to her maybe he could have softened the blow. He didn’t know how, but still, he didn’t like to hurt people.
When she turned to face him her winner’s smile was back on. “Tell me what you need to make this work, Simon?”
“I’m honoured you offered me the position, Wendy, but over the last few weeks I’ve come to realize politics is not for me.”
“But this will be more an administrative and support role,” Wendy said.
Simon shook his head.
“Simon, this is not the time to abandon our people’s struggle.”
“There are different ways to serve the cause, Wendy.”
Wendy approached. “I need you there, Simon. I can’t do this alone.” She reached for his hand.
Simon kept his hands at his side and retreated.
They were face to face silent. Wendy’s lips trembled. Her eyes glistened and then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the vulnerability vanished.
“Okay, so you don’t want to live in Ottawa but there are still some committees I’d like to appoint you to sit on. You could fly in, only have to spend a few days month–”
“No, Wendy. I’m done.”
“I see.” Wendy moved behind her desk and Simon inched toward the door. “Can we at least get together when I come back to the riding every six weeks?” she asked. Her voice held a hint of desperation.
“Of course.” Simon didn’t want it to end this way. Better if she had told him to go to hell and kicked him out of the office.
“And if I want your opinion, I can I call you?”
“For what it’s worth, sure.”
“Okay then, we’ve got a victory to celebrate. You’re coming, aren’t you?”
“I think not,” Simon said.
That was a year ago, and during that time Wendy’s prominence and power had continued to ascend going from an independent member of Parliament to leader of the Liberal Party, to Prime Minister of Canada. She never called and they’d never met up when she was in town. Though it suited Simon fine and she certainly was busy, he took it as a hardening of her heart toward him.
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