“I’m tired,” Tom said sheepishly, sitting down as the crowd at the local senior center dwindled.

My girlfriends and I had been invited by our first selectman to join him for a campaign appearance at the town senior center; this was a tough crowd for anyone running for our local board of education.  Since we voted on our school budget every year, and since the school budget was the lion’s share of the whole, the constant reminder of the schools being responsible for uptick in taxes was a drumbeat heard weekly at lunches, bingo games and wii tournaments here.  But Tom, a former finance executive until he’d retired to run for our town’s top job, was popular in this crowd for his smart management and fiscal conservatism.  He thought it was a good idea to give us a little face time with this tough crowd with his endorsement.

Tom had been on his game as we’d stood in the back of the room and watched him answer question after question about everything under the sun.  He smartly answered questions about pot holes, unions, police salaries, budgeting and even the stray odd question about things like skunks spraying personal pets.  The girls and I had been meeting with him once every few weeks to get some talking points, some pointers for our own campaigns, and we’d all developed a fondness for him.  He swore like a sailor, he liked his tequila and he was the smartest man I knew.

And he wasn’t well.

Tom had surgery over the summer to remove a cancer recurrence in his lung.  He’d seemingly bounced back quickly; too quickly.  But when we’d met him for a photo session for our campaign literature in August, he’d confessed that he was coming back from the doctor, who was concerned about some spinal pain he continued to have even after the tumor had been removed.  We’d all thought perhaps he would drop out of his bid for re-election, but he solidiered on.  We took this as a positive sign that the doctor visits were precautionary and that he was well on his way back to the fit, healthy man we’d come to know so well.

“Well you don’t look tired,” my friend Kelly chimed in.  “You were on fire with all the old folks.  I think the women all either have a crush on you or wish you were their son.”  She patted his shoulder.

I pulled up a chair.  “Totally.  Tom, I’ve never seen you so ‘on’ before.  All you have to do is repeat that performance tonight at the debate.”

Tonight was the town wide debate between first selectman candidates.  I’d seen him square off against his opponent last week, in front of our Parents’ Council.  It was a shame that only thirty or so people had seen it; Tom had completely buried his opponent.

He sighed.  “I’m going to have to nap in between if I’ve got a shot at this.”

We exchanged worried looks with each other quickly, trying not to be obvious.  The Tom we knew never napped.  He stayed up with us until one in the morning on his sun porch drinking and teaching us the finer points of pension liability and high deductible medical plans for public employees.

“Well do whatever you need to do to be fresh tonight.  Its yours to take, for sure,” my friend Terri said, acting as the cheerleader.

Next to me, I felt Fran touch my arm, a question.  Privately we’d been worrying that Tom couldn’t canvass neighborhoods this time around; it was the key to any small town election.  We’d been privately debating amongst the four of us whether or not we should bring this up to him; could he at least phone some of the people identified as swing voters?  I nodded imperceptibly.  It was October 15.  It was crunch time.  He needed to do whatever it took.

“Tom, have you thought about calling all those undecideds?  I was making phone calls last week for you and there were a lot of people on the fence thanks to all of that negative campaigning the other guy is doing.  I know all they need is a little of the straight talk you do so well to put them solidly on our side.”

Tom shook his head slowly.  “I just can’t.  It’s all I can do to keep up with the job and these campaign appearances.  I’m going to have to rely on the party to help me out on that respect.”

Oh, no.  It was so much worse than I thought. As we’d been working through this campaign, our chief thought had been what if our friend, our leader, the smartest man we knew lost.  But a new worry crept into my head as I stood there, looking at the growing gray circles on Tom’s pale face.

He clearly needed to stop all of this nonsense and get back into treatment.  He was sick.  My friend, my mentor was very, very sick.  What if he won?


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