Monday, December 27, 2010

Season 1 - Episode 9 - Act IV

            There was a menorah in the center of the table, which was meant to honour Jay’s mother, even though she was just a secular Jew.  Still it was surprisingly thoughtful of Aunt and Uncle Clueless to think of her.
            “You think you have it bad in Montreal?  That’s nothing!”
            It was so irritating the way everyone outside of Quebec pronounced the O in Montreal. 
            “How can you even complain about traffic?”
            “I don’t like sweet potatoes!”
            “Do you know how long I sit in traffic every day?”
            “They’re orange!”
            “Every day!”
            “And you’re complaining about a half-hour commute?”
            “Try an hour!”
            “They’re like carrots!”
            “There’s always construction!”
            “There’s always construction everywhere!”
            Jay and Amy ate their turkey in silence, mindful not to respond to any of the chatter around them, lest they get sucked into an inane conversation.
            “I want normal potatoes!”
            “It takes me two hours to get to work every day!”
            “So have normal potatoes then, god!”
            “The potholes alone.”
            “They’re lumpy!”
            “You’re lumpy!”
            Jay waited for Amy to take a long drink of her milk and before she could swallow he pointed to his cousins and made a funny face.  Amy spit out her milk as she burst out laughing.  Awesome.

            Ok, so that cottage cheese had gone bad.  Everything in the whole kitchen had gone bad or was never good in the first place.  Karine sighed and picked up the phone.  She had a pizza place on speed dial.

            Shauna’s hand was dangling out her window.  It was snowing lightly and she was mesmerized by the sight of snowflakes landing on her cigarette and instantly melting away.  She wondered if the cigarette would ever be extinguished, like maybe if it snowed harder.  She heard her mother yelling for her from downstairs but ignored her.  She called again, saying dinner was ready.  Shauna let the cigarette drop out of her fingers and fall to the snowbank below. 
            “Dinner’s ready, freak.”
            Shauna turned to see that her brother had barged into her room.
            “I’m coming!” she said in irritation, closing the window.
            “So get off your fucking ass then!”  He was about to leave but then smelled the air.  “Were you smoking in here?”
            “No, fuck off!”
            Shauna knew for a fact that Malcolm was a smoker too so where the hell did he get off accusing her of doing it?
            “What did you fucking say to me?”
            Malcolm strode across the room and grabbed Shauna by her hair, yanking her away from the window.  She ran to keep up with him as he dragged her downstairs, releasing her only when they were about to enter the dining room. 
            Terry would always choose his mother over his father but he still preferred spending time at John’s house.  For one thing he liked Vicky a lot better than Rémi and he loved Brittany.  His little sister sat at the dinner table between him and Vicky, while his brothers sat across from them.  John was at the head of the table, which Terry resented because of the hierarchical implications. 
            Joey was playing with his PSP and John had to tell him about forty times to put it away and finally just ripped it out of his hands.  Vicky was trying to talk to John about New Year’s, trying to convince him to go to a party at one of her friends’ houses but he wasn’t into it since all her friends made him feel old.  Terry didn’t bother mentioning that this was because John was old.
            Every once in a while Terry stuffed some food in his mouth but he was mostly concentrating on feeding Britt.  She was old enough to feed herself but she still tended to get more crap on her face than in her mouth so he had to watch her to make sure she actually ate.  She had a good appetite though and if he kept piling food on her plate she’d keep eating it so he also had to be careful not to give her too much.  She was only two but it was already clear that she was going to grow up to be tall and strong.  She was also pretty fearless, just like he’d been at that age.  There was no doubt in Terry’s mind that she could be a hockey player one day.  Not that he’d force her into it the way he’d been.  But she was a girl so she’d never have to face the sort of athletic pressure he did.  In about a year he’d teach her to skate and if she liked it then he’d teach her to play.  By the time she was a teenager he’d be an old man and he could coach for her team.  If she was on a team.  She could do whatever she wanted.  Even if she turned out super girly and not into sports at all that’d be cool too. 
            She was smooshing her hands into her mashed potatoes and Terry was trying to get her to put a bit into her mouth when Vicky chuckled in amusement and stroked her daughter’s hair.
            “You’re so good with her,” she said to Terry.  “You know she looks like you.”
            “Yeah, you both look like little girls,” snarked Evan.
            Terry sneered at his brother and returned his attention to his sister.  It was true, they did sort of look alike.  They both had hazel eyes and blonde hair.  Evan and Joey looked more like their mother, with dark hair and brown eyes.  It was nice to look like someone in the family other than his dad.  Growing up he’d always been told he was the spitting image of his father.  Gross.
            They were all surprised when they heard John’s cellphone ring.  Terry glanced over at Vicky and she was clearly upset, though trying to hide it.
            “Who calls on Christmas?” asked Evan.
            Terry glared at his father as he wordlessly scooped his phone out of his pocket and left the room to take the call.  What a colossal fucking prick. 

            “I’m in the backyard.  Over,” Jay spoke into his walkie-talkie. 
            It was super warm out and the kids had decided to play a game of spy.  He and Amy were the spies and they had to coordinate their efforts to locate all the targets, consisting of their younger cousins.  It was basically hide and go seek with walkie-talkies. 
            “Roger that.  I’m in the neighbour’s yard.  Over.”
            “I thought the neighbour’s yard was off limits.  Over.”
            “I think you’re the only one playing this game by the rules, Jay.  Over.”
            “Roger that.  I’m on my way.  Over.”
            Jay stood up and looked around suspiciously.  He crouched down and covertly crossed the yard.  He did a gratuitous somersault to enter the neighbour’s yard and ducked behind some bushes.  He could hear giggling not too far off.
            “I think I’ve spied a target.  Over.”
            Angela wasn’t much of a cook but vegetarian lasagna was one of her staples.  So when Julie poked the dish and asked what it was, she was clearly beign snotty on purpose.
            “It’s vegetarian lasagna, Julie,” Angela sighed.
            “For Christmas?”
            “We had turkey yesterday.  And André is a vegetarian.”
            Angela’s boyfriend was over for dinner.  It was rather disturbing to think of her mother as having a boyfriend but Cerise had to acknowledge that parents were people too.  As gross as that was.
            “My daughter Trista is a vegan,” said André.
            He was a slow talker.  Everything he said took about fourteen years to come out of his mouth.  It was super annoying. 
            “Ok,” said Julie, expertly conveying her lack of interest in the subject of André’s daughter. 
            “What are you studying at school, Simone?” André asked Cerise.
            “I’m Cerise,” she replied as politely as possible.
            “I’m Simone,” Simone smiled tightly.  “I’m in Creative Arts at John Abbott.”
            “Oh.  Trista is in Fine Arts at John Abbott.”
            “Oh yeah?”
            “Do you know her?  Trista Barber.”
            “No, sorry,”
“She’s a very talented sculptor.  Do you sculpt?”
“I paint.”
“Trista paints too.  But she’s concentrating on sculpture at the moment since it’s a much more tactile medium.  So sensual.”
Simone exchanged a look with Cerise, letting her know that she too thought it was repulsive that this dude had just used the word ‘sensual’ when speaking about his daughter.
“Trista is your age, Cerise,” offered Angela.
“Yes.  She graduated from high school a year early.  She’s very bright,” nodded André as though in some sort of slow-talking trance.
“Cool,” smiled Cerise.
Julie was chewing her lasagna loudly with her mouth open, looking at André as though he’d just fallen off the short bus.  Cerise would never act so rudely but she was pleased that Julie had the guts to do it.  This guy was a serious wanker.

Classical music wafted out of the stereo while Shauna and her family ate Christmas dinner.  The table was decorated with poinsettias and two candelabras.  Shauna was forced to wear another dress even though there was no one here except her parents and brother. 
“Lovely wine,” said her mother.
It was the first thing anyone had said in over fifteen minutes. 
“1993,” said her father, reading the wine label.
Shauna cursed herself for not going to the bathroom before dinner.  She really had to pee but they weren’t allowed to leave the table until their parents were finished eating.  She wished her father would stop blathering about the loveliness of the wine and finish his stupid meal.  It wouldn’t be so bad if she was allowed to have wine.  Shauna didn’t particularly like the taste but it was better than nothing.

The family was gathered in front of the TV and Vicky was passing out After Eight mints.  For some reason it was tradition that they could only eat After Eights on Christmas.  Britt eagerly reached for the chocolate mints and stuffed one in her mouth but then made a face and brown goop dribbled down her chin.
“Disgusting,” laughed Terry as he cleaned her face with a Kleenex.
“Ugh, speaking of disgusting,” said Evan.
Terry turned to see Vicky and John kissing.
“Ewww,” agreed Joey, momentarily looking up from his PSP.
“Would you guys?” Terry asked in annoyance.
“I can’t help it if I love your father,” smiled Vicky.
Terry really liked his step-mother a lot but it was seriously pathetic the way she hung all over his father like some schoolgirl with a crush.  Especially considering how badly he treated her. 
            “Shall we go make Britt a little brother?” smarmed John.
            Vicky laughed and Terry and his brothers gagged in horror.
            “Sick!” yelled Terry.
            “Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!”  Joey covered his face with his PSP.
            “Trauma, trauma!  Life in the ER!”  said Evan.
            “Twauma!” screeched Britt, bouncing on Terry’s knee.
            Terry covered Britt’s eyes, counselling her not to look at her parents, lest she go blind.

            Karine sighed when she saw Steve’s name on her cell phone.  She put down her Midsummer Night’s script and answered the phone.  His Christmas was going well, he wished her well, she wished him well, said she was doing well, everything was hunky-dory.  As he went on she picked up her script and went over her lines.
            “Yes I’m listening, god what do you think?”
            She flipped the page.
            “Ok, love you too.  Bye.”
            She snapped her phone shut and closed her eyes, reciting her lines aloud from memory. 

            “Trista is very active in the environmental committee at John Abbott.  Are you Simone?”
            “Oh no?  Are you concerned about the environment?”
            “Of course.”
            “Right now they’re protesting genetically engineered foods.”
            Simone couldn’t help sighing heavily but she’d managed not to roll her eyes, which made her stronger than Cerise, who was literally clutching her hair with her left hand in an effort not to scream.
            “It’s horrible how the government is so willing to play with our health so haphazardly.”
            “The spinach in this lasagna is organic!” announced Angela.
            “That’s why it tastes so good,” nodded the slow-talker.  “Although it could use more garlic.”
            “Oh, I just followed the recipe,” said Angela sadly.
            It did not need more garlic!  Angela needed to smack this loser in the face for daring to say so!  Where the hell did he get off criticizing her cooking?  Sure, she wasn’t exactly Julia Child but there was nothing wrong with her lasagna. 
            “You know the whole organic food industry is a scam, right?” said Simone, clearly trying to suppress her irritation.  “They still use pesticides and non-organic fertilizers.  There isn’t that much difference between organic and regular food, I mean besides price.”
            “Which is why it’s so important to have stricter health regulations on what we eat.  All this genetic engineering…”
            Simone didn’t have the patience to let him finish.  “Genetically modified foods aren’t that different from foods that have been grown through breeding.  You do realize that everything we eat has been bred selectively.  GM-ing is just the next step.  Look, I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but don’t assume that just because something has been achieved through technological means it’s automatically evil. Nor is something natural automatically good.”
            “I don’t think André is saying that,” Angela gently pointed out.
            “Well actually, our society is growing increasingly dependant on technology.  Soon we won’t know where the machine ends and the human begins.”
            “Oh my god, I think I’m getting flashbacks to the BSG finale,” said Cerise and Simone giggled.
            “You know, André used to live in a self-sustained community where they didn’t have any electricity.”
            “Why doesn’t he go back?” asked Julie.
            “Trista is making an installation of rotting food to protest genetic engineering.”
            They all looked at André in confusion. 
            “After all, we all know what happened to Dolly,” he concluded.
            “Dolly Parton?” asked Julie, stunned.
            Simone blinked in disbelief.  “I think he means Dolly the sheep, although I’m at a loss to see how cloning is relevant to the current discussion.”
            Cerise gripped her seat tightly and reminded herself that if her mother ever married this man, she could always escape through suicide.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Season 1 - Episode 9 - Act III

            Terry was seated around a large table in a Benihana’s with all the important women in his life.  Karine was there, along with Louise, Vicky, his little sister Brittany and Cerise was there too.  For some reason Sarah Wong was also there, but she was the waitress and even in his dream Terry recognized this as sort of racist.
            He was feeding Cerise orange sorbet and she was really into it, licking the spoon all sexy.  Karine was sitting next to Vicky and they were very engrossed in their conversation about Terry’s performance in his hockey team this year.  Karine was disappointed that Terry wasn’t trying hard enough but Vicky said he was too busy taking care of Brittany to concentrate on hockey.  Britt was wearing skates.  Louise was sorting laundry.  Cerise wanted more sorbet and Sarah brought her a tray with various flavours.  She chose cherry and Terry felt really guilty about this. 
            “Wake up, wake up!” Joey bounced up and down on Terry’s bed.
            Terry snapped awake and groaned as he pulled a pillow over his head.  He could still see Cerise choosing the pink sorbet.  Evan pulled the duvet off of Terry’s bed and the cold air struck his bare torso cruelly.  Joey kept jumping and insisting Terry get up.  Evan tugged at Terry’s jogging pants.
            “Fuck, what time is it?” asked Terry from underneath the pillow.
            “We let you sleep ‘till 7 so get over it!  Come on!  Mom won’t let us do anything until we’re all there!”
            Terry forced himself to sit up and he pushed Joey’s legs out from under him, causing him to crash down onto the bed. 
             “Kill me,” Terry muttered as he picked a t-shirt up off the floor, smelled it to make sure it was reasonably clean and pulled it on, groggily stumbling out of his room.

            Aunts, uncles, grandparents and about a million cousins were bustling about, including six-year-old Victor who kept crawling up Jay’s back and yanking at his hair.  He’d had to push the kid off like a dozen times already.  Amy opened a gift from their grandmother.  It was a hand-knit sweater about twenty sizes too small.  Jay opened his identically wrapped gift and it was an identical sweater, similarly tiny.  His grandmother apologized, saying she hadn’t realized how big her grandkids had gotten recently.  It was decided they’d give the sweaters to their younger cousins.  Their grandmother spoilered that she’d knit them scarves next time.  Jay didn’t feel the need to mention he already had a kajillion homemade grandma scarves at home. 
Everything else Jay received was similarly useless.  On his Christmas list he’d asked for very specific video games and RPG books, even providing visual aids and stores where they could be purchased.  He’d gotten nothing he asked for.  His parents even went so far as to buy him Monopoly.  Like really.  A fucking board game from the 20th century.  Was it ignorance or a deliberate attempt to change him?  If he believed his parents were clever enough to get irony he’d have thought the gift was meant to be a joke.  But they really were retarded enough not to know the difference between an ancient board game and a real game.  Jay’s only solace came in the fact that Amy had been similarly shafted.  She’d asked for concert tickets to Feist and had gotten a Katy Perry CD.
            All the kids sat around the fireplace in the den, digging through their stockings.  Terry pulled a clementine out of his and began eating it.  It always amused him how his mother insisted on putting baby oranges into their Christmas stockings each year.  Like he couldn’t just go to the fridge if he wanted one.  Evan and Joey tossed their clementines aside and Terry ate those too.
            Once Louise and Rémi joined them they retreated to the living room, where the tree and all the real presents were. 

            Shauna, her parents and her brother, Malcolm sat on the sofas flanking the Christmas tree.  It was Shauna’s turn to open a present.  She unfolded the wrapping paper carefully.  Her mother didn’t reuse the paper but she disliked a mess. 
            A pink blouse.  Shauna thanked her mother and held up the shirt so her mother could take a picture. 
            “Push your hair out of your face,” instructed her mother.
            Shauna obeyed and tried to smile for the picture while Malcolm grabbed a gift and started ripping into it.
            “No one told you to open that,” said their father irately. 
            “Can I open it?” asked Mal.
            “Wait for your mother.”
            “I need to take a picture!”
            “We have a system, Malcolm,” said their father.  “We open our gifts in an orderly manner.  If everyone opened whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it…”
            “What?  It would be chaos?  It would be Christmas anarchy?” Mal couldn’t disguise his sarcasm.
            “Don’t be smart, Malcolm,” said their father.
            “As if he could,” Shauna muttered under her breath.
            “Shut up!” snapped Malcolm.
            “Watch your mouth!” yelled their father, smacking Mal on the head.
Malcolm flinched but took the hit.  He glared at Shauna, who avoided his gaze. 
Their mother held up her camera.  “Ok, open it now, Malcolm!”

            Cerise and her sisters cleaned up the gift-wrapping debris in the den while Angela cooked breakfast in the kitchen.
            “So you think they’re getting back together?” asked Julie as she stuffed paper into the recycling bin.
            “No,” said Simone.
            “So no.”  Cerise shook her head.
            “You don’t think?” Julie pouted.
            “He would have stayed if they were,” Simone pointed out.
            Their father hadn’t even spent the night.  Right after dinner he’d gotten up and drove off.  He had seriously driven a 3 hour trip twice in one day.
            “Still though, maybe,” shrugged Julie.
            “It was just for Christmas,” said Cerise.
            “Yeah but…”
            “No,” said Simone.
            “Maybe though.”
            “No!” Simone and Cerise snapped in unison.

            Terry put a few gifts into the trunk of his car while Evan climbed into the passenger seat and Joey got into the back.
            “Have fun,” said Louise as Terry slammed the trunk closed.
            “K,” he nodded, walking to the driver’s side door.
            “Make sure they eat some vegetables,” she said, indicating his brothers.  “That woman does serve vegetables doesn’t she?”
            “Her name is Vicky, and yes, she serves vegetables.”  Terry had always felt it unnecessary to mention that Vicky was a way better cook than Louise.
She held out a small gift bag.  “Here, for the child.”
            “Her name is Brittany,” said Terry as he took the gift.
            “Of course it is,” nodded his mom.

            The ringing of the phone woke Karine.  She rolled over and looked at the clock.  Noon.  She’d been dreaming of her father, which was always rather depressing.  In her dreams she always felt like she needed to tell him something but never could for whatever reason. 
            She reached over to the phone and placed it to her ear.  “Hello?”
            She listened while her mother wished her a merry Christmas and told her how beautiful Florida was and how her latest boyfriend was so wonderful and blah, blah, blah.  When asked about her gifts she told her mother she hadn’t opened them yet but assured her she would soon.  After hanging up she debated whether or not to get up.  Apparently this internal debate had lasted an hour because it was nearly 1 when she finally strolled downstairs for breakfast.

            They only ate bacon twice a year in the Laframboise household.  Once for Easter brunch and once for Christmas brunch.  It wasn’t a deliberate attempt to avoid fatty foods; it was just the way things had worked out.  Angela didn’t necessarily avoid meat but it was always an afterthought in their meals.
            “So yesterday was fun wasn’t it?” asked Angela pleasantly as her daughters loaded up on pig fat.
            “Yep,” they agreed.
            “Well um… I’ve invited someone else for dinner tonight.”
            “Our other daddy?” joked Simone.
            Cerise snickered but Julie didn’t seem amused.
            “A man I’ve been seeing.  His name is André.”
            All the girls looked at one another in surprise.
            “André?” scoffed Julie.  “What is he, a seal?  Since when are you dating someone?”
            “It’s been a few months.”
            “And you never told us?”
            “Well it wasn’t a secret.”
            “Then how come I didn’t know?  Did you guys know?”  Julie looked at her sisters accusingly.
            “Like I pay attention to mom’s love life,” snarked Simone.
            “Seriously, eww,” Cerise frowned.
            “And this loser is coming here tonight?  Thanks for the warning, mom.  God!”
            “I wasn’t planning on inviting him.  It was a last minute thing.  His daughter is going to her mother’s so he has no one to be with.  I thought it would be a good opportunity for you all to meet him.”
            Julie snorted in disgust and Cerise and Simone shrugged indifferently as they sopped up their egg yokes with toast. 

            “Merry Christmas!” Vicky greeted her step-sons as they walked into the house. 
            Terry returned the greeting and placed the gifts under the tree.  Vicky was cool but she could be a bit fastidious and their tree looked like it was straight out of a catalogue.  It was all colour coordinated with matching ornaments and stuff.  The tree at his mom’s place was a mess, all haphazard tinsel and decorations they’d made as kids.
But his dad’s house looked a bit lived in now.  Judging by the mess, Brittany had already opened a few things.  She was banging a Fisher-Price piano and squealed when she saw her big brother.  Terry picked her up and twirled her around in the air as she laughed in delight.  Evan and Joey disappeared into the TV room.
            “Oh, look at all these wonderful gifts,” Vicky beamed. 
            “This one’s for Britt,” said Terry, indicating the gift bag with his foot.  “It’s from my mom.”
            “Oh how nice,” Vicky said politely.  “I suppose I should write her a thank-you note.”
            “Terry!  Go get some firewood in the garage,” bellowed John as he entered the room.
            “We’re having a fire?  It’s not even cold out.”  Terry put Britt back down and she kept smashing her piano.
            “But a fire would be so festive,” said Vicky.
            “I guess,” shrugged Terry.
            “Just do it!” ordered John.
            “Jawohl mein Kapitan!” shouted Terry, saluting his father and walking towards the garage.

            Karine never bothered putting up a Christmas tree.  Her mother simply left her gifts on the piano in the den.  Karine grabbed them and sat on the couch, turning on the TV.  She opened the larger gift and found a pair of fuzzy slippers made to look like cows.  She put them on and opened the small gift, which was a necklace.  It was very pretty but Karine sighed in annoyance and stuffed it back into its box.  Would her mother ever stop giving her necklaces?  She could tie them end to end and string them around the globe by now.  Her mother knew perfectly well that Karine wore her locket exclusively.  Why the fuck did she keep trying to make Karine forget her dad?  Or maybe it wasn’t deliberate.  Maybe she really hadn’t noticed the locket.  It’s not like Karine had ever shown her the picture inside.  And her mother certainly had never displayed any awareness of what was going on in Karine’s life.
            Whatevs, it was a cute piece of jewellery, Karine could totally regift it.
            “Clothes?” said Joey in disappointment as he took a pair of slacks out of a beautifully wrapped box.
            “They’re nice.  You don’t have any dress pants,” explained Vicky.
            “Gee, I wonder why,” frowned Joey.
            “I think you meant to say: thank you, Vicky,” said John.
            “Thanks Vicky,” shrugged Joey.
            Vicky smiled and shrugged apologetically in response.
            “Whoa!” exclaimed Terry as he read a card he’d just opened.
            “It’s from your father and I,” smiled Vicky.
            “That’s pretty cool, thanks.”
            “What is it?” asked Evan.
            “They’re gonna fix up my car.  New tires and stuff.”
            “How come I never get the car?” asked Evan.
            “’Cause you can’t drive, moron.”
            “You two will share the car when you get your license,” said John.
            “What?”  Terry was shocked.  “When was this decided?  I thought it was my car!”
            “It’s my car,” said John.  “You just use it.”
            “So then this isn’t really a present for me.”  Terry waved the card.  “It’s for you.”
            John sighed and looked at his wife.  “I swear I was never this ungrateful when I was that age.”
            “Of course they have an overblown sense of entitlement.  They’re white, middle class males,” Vicky smiled at John sardonically.  “Just like their father.”

            The girls were loading the dishwasher when the phone rang.  Julie picked it up and handed it to Cerise.  The caller ID indicated the Darren residence.  At first they’d let Shauna’s calls go to voicemail but she wasn’t leaving messages, just calling over and over again.  Cerise sighed and answered.
            “Hello?  Yeah hi, Shauna.  Yep, got lots of good stuff.  You?  It’s Christmas, Shauna, obviously I can’t do stuff.  I’m going to my dad’s in Quebec City, remember?”
            “Cerise!”  Simone yelled.  “Cerise!  Come on Cerise, we need you over here, get off the phone, it’s the end of the world, oh my god!”
            Julie laughed and joined in.  “Cerise, we need to go, everyone is gonna die if you don’t get off the phone right now!”
Cerise tried to contain her laughter.  Shauna was asking what was going on. 
Simone grabbed the phone and yelled into it.  “Ahh, static, ahh you’re breaking up!”  She slammed the phone back onto its bed.
“Simone, that was so mean!” laughed Cerise.  “I can’t believe you did that!”

            Shauna hung up the phone and sat on her bed.  She reached under her pillow and pulled out the razor blade.  She pulled up the sleeve of her pink blouse and ran the blade over the inside of her arm.  She didn’t push hard, just scraped the dead skin off.  She watched the flakes fly into the air and drift down onto her pants. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Season 1 - Episode 9 - Act II

            Shauna couldn’t quite remember exactly what she’d done when Cerise had come over the other day.  She’d gotten pretty drunk and it was a bit of a blur.  She was pretty sure they’d had fun.  And Cerise had promised they’d hang out again.  If Cerise didn’t want Shauna to hang out with her new friends that was fine, Shauna couldn’t blame Cerise for wanting to hide their friendship.  No one would want to publicly hang out with Porta-potty chick and Shauna didn’t particularly want to hang out with anyone besides Cerise anyway.  But Cerise was her friend.  Of this she was sure.  Yes, Cerise had tried to distance herself from Shauna at the beginning of the year but they were friends again.  They had to be.  They just had to be.  If they weren’t then Shauna would kill herself.  She really would.
            It would be a lot easier if it were spring or summer.  She could go to Cerise’s house everyday and see if she was available.  But since it was winter it was a bit more annoying to hang around outside her house.  It was getting pretty cold and Shauna hated the snow.  The snow made everything white and quiet.
            Shauna was only allowed to use her cellphone to contact her parents.  So she picked up the landline to call Cerise.  One of her sisters answered and a moment later Cerise took the line.  Shauna tried to make plans for that day but Cerise said it was Christmas Eve so obviously she had to do family stuff.  That was true enough.  Shauna tried to get her to commit to doing something after Christmas but she said she had to visit her dad in Quebec City and she’d be gone for the whole break.  She tried to make plans for January but Cerise was vague and then her mother started calling for her and Cerise had to go.
            It was possibly true that Cerise would be visiting her dad over the holidays.  But maybe just to be sure Shauna should go by her house once a day to see if it seemed empty. 

            The guys were complete assholes for constantly making fun of Jay for being from Toronto but they did kind of have a point.  It was a pretty pointless city.  Just as sprawling and xenophobic as an American city but devoid of any character or coolness.  He’d always deliberately neglected to mention that his extended family lived in Etobicoke because he knew the silliness of the name would be enough to garner even more mocking. 
            As they drove south, the snow disappeared.  It never snowed in Toronto.  What was the point of winter without snow?  It was like an ice-cream sandwich without chocolate chips.  Why even buy the non-chip kind when the chip kind is right next to it?  No, that was a stupid analogy because even non-chip ice-cream still tastes good.  A snowless winter doesn’t even qualify as a season.  You can’t have snowball fights with dead leaves.
            As they pulled up to Jay’s paternal uncle’s house, Jay could see there were actually a few patches of grey snow here and there, but not enough to do anything with, just enough to be depressing.  It was so unfair that all his friends got to stay home for Christmas and hang out together and he had to go to lametown and hang with his stupid family.  Jay braced himself as they stood on the front stoop of the house and he exchanged a look with his sister, Amy.  She too dreaded these annual family reunions. 
            Aunt Moira opened the door and a moment later Uncle Bill was there too.
            “Hey, it’s the frogs!”
            “Ribbit, ribbit!” laughed Jay’s father.
            It didn’t matter how many times his dad and uncle told this joke, it was always just as painful. 
            They were ushered into the house and Jay’s cousins came crashing towards them.  Uncle Bill and Aunt Moira had three boys and one girl and Jay’s father’s sister was there too with her two kids, who were girls but you wouldn’t have known it from the way they punched.  
            “Amy, you cut your hair.  She cut her hair.”
            Amy pulled away from Aunt Sylvia’s long acrylic nails.
            Jay’s mom nodded.  “I know, I tried to tell her it looks better long.  Does she listen?  Of course not!”
            “Jay, on the other hand!  You look like a mop!  He looks like a mop!”
            Jay recoiled in horror.  If Aunt Sylvia touched his hair her nails would probably get stuck and he’d have to spend the whole week with her hand on his head.
            “Get a haircut and get a real job!” Uncle bill laughed as he grabbed Jay and pushed him into a headlock, giving him a noogie.   
            If the guys had taught Jay anything it was endurance.  He could survive this.  It wasn’t even a full week, just five days.  The trick was to take it day by day.  Minute by minute if need be. 
            “Winter wonderland, winter wonderland!”  Cerise chanted as she watched the snow fall.
            “Would you shut up about your fucking winter wonderland?!” ordered Julie.  “Winter can fucking suck my ass!” 
            “Walking in a winter wonderland…” sang Simone. 
            Cerise and Simone joined hands and danced around Julie, taunting her with Christmas carols.  Neither one of them knew all the words to any holiday songs but their random humming was enough to elicit the desired level of irritation from their little sister.
            “Shut up!  You guys are such losers!”
            Cerise and Simone laughed and ignored the doorbell when it rang.  Julie huffed and pushed past them to answer the door.
            Cerise and Simone exchanged surprised looks and went to join Julie at the entrance.  Sure enough, there was their father, Robert standing at the door with snowflakes on his shoulders and an armful of wrapped presents. 
            “Julie!  How’s my girl?”
            “What are you doing here?” asked Simone as Angela joined them.
            “I invited him,” answered their mother, ushering Robert into the house.
            The girls took the gifts and placed them under their small Christmas tree in the den as their father took off his coat and shook the snow out of his hair.  When they’d been young they’d always gotten a real tree and they’d decorate it with homemade crap that always made the tree super ugly.  Now they had an artificial tree and Angela had stuffed it with all the old decorations; things they’d made as kids.  It was a truly hideous sight.  But kind of comforting.
Julie hugged Robert and he hugged her back.  So weird.  Cerise couldn’t even remember the last time she’d hugged her father.  Both she and Simone sat on the couch opposite the one he and Julie settled into.  Angela went to the kitchen to get some snacks. 
            “Merry Christmas, girls,” Robert smiled.
            “Yep,” said Simone.

            “I was watching that!” screeched Joey as Danielle changed the channel.
            Terry was in the den with his brothers Evan and Joey and his step-siblings Danielle and Olivier waiting for dinner to be ready.  They were watching some lame Christmas cartoon from the ‘70s, which Terry was pretty positive Joey didn’t really care to keep watching but it was the principle of the thing.  Their bratty step-sister was constantly trying to assert her dominance over all the boys of the house and this usually manifested itself in control of the television.
            “I wanna watch Télétoon!” she screeched.
            “We were watching a cartoon!” snapped Evan.
            “I wanna watch French cartoons!”
            “French cartoons are retarded!” insisted Joey, trying to grab the remote.
            “You watch Totally Spies!  That’s French you know!”
            “Yeah!” said Olivier, automatically taking his sister’s side.
            “Yeah but it’s made to look Japanese and it’s set in the States so that just goes to show that even the French know their shit is retarded!” said Terry, holding Danielle’s arm while Joey snatched back the remote.
            “Don’t make me get the Vaseline!” screeched Danielle at such a high pitch that all the glass in the house was probably about to break.
            Terry dropped Danielle’s arm and sighed in annoyance.  Joey was just starting to develop teenaged boy skin while Evan and Terry were already well aware of the toxic influence of petroleum jelly.  It was a standard weapon in Danielle’s arsenal to grab a gob of Vaseline and smear it on their faces if they didn’t comply with her demands.  Even if they washed right away there was no avoiding its effects.  They would instantly become riddled with zits and no amount of Proactiv could work fast enough to clear it up.
            Terry was of course physically strong enough to dominate all of his siblings and if he wanted to he could simply sit on Danielle or something to get her under control but his mother simply refused to let him have a lock on his door so Danielle could sneak into his room at night and attack him in his sleep.  He knew this from experience.  The most effective tactic was simply to spend more time at their father’s house, which always irritated Louise enough into scolding Danielle for bothering her step-brothers.
“Dinner!” called Louise.
            Terry snatched the remote and turned off the TV.   They all sullenly gathered in the dining room where Terry’s step-father Rémi was already seated.  A huge turkey sat in the middle of the table, surrounded by sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, cranberry sauce and gravy.  There was wine for the adults and cranberry juice for the kids.  Terry noticed that his mother had put a wine glass in front of his plate.  Nice. 
            Growing up, they’d always had assigned seating.  Louise was at the head of the table with John to her right.  Terry sat at his mother’s left and Evan was next to him, with Joey next to John.  Now the seating was different.  Louise still took the head of the table but now Rémi sat on her left.  Evan and Joy sat on her right and Olivier and Danielle squeezed in next to their father.  Terry sat at the tail end of the table.  He didn’t mind the new placement; it didn’t really matter where he sat since it had no effect on how much food he got but it still felt weird somehow.  He still tended to automatically drift towards his original childhood seat.  Seeing his step-father in that chair always made Terry feel a little bit uncomfortable.  Rémi was a nice enough guy; he mostly left Terry alone and he seemed to make Louise happy enough but everytime his ass plopped down in that chair it was like a little slap in the face. 
            Evan and Joey were loading their plates up with food and Terry reached towards the turkey to do the same but Danielle stopped them with a dramatic floorish of her arms.
            “Wait, we should say grace first!”
            “What?” asked Evan incredulously.
            “Since when do we do religious shit, I mean stuff?” asked Terry.
            “Terry, please.  Can’t we just have a pleasant meal?” asked Louise.  “It won’t kill us to…”
            “Pretend we believe in god?”
            “You’re so totally going to hell,” said Danielle matter-of-factly.
            “Vas-y Danielle,” said Rémi.
            “Ok.  Cher bon dieu, merci pour la bouffe sans doute délicieuse.  Ça va nourrir nos estomacs pendant que vous nourrisez nos âmes.”
            Terry smirked while Evan mimed hanging himself and Joey mimed shooting himself in the head.  Olivier shot them death glares.
            “Et nous vous remercions pour cette nouvelle famille even though it kinda sucks and please make Evan stop hogging the remote and make Joey stop putting his dirty socks in my bed and make Terry stop saying bad words and being a bully and sneaking girls into his bedroom when he thinks everyone is asleep even though we’re totally not…”
            Louise clipped her off.  “Alright, thank you, Dani.  I think we get the point.”
            “Well it’s true!” she snotted.
            “I thought Terry only banged girls at dad’s house!” said Joey in surprise.
            “Eat your dinner!” insisted Louise.
            Terry poured himself some wine and took a gulp.  Louise glared at him and he smiled back, lifting his glass.  “Merry Christmas!”
            “You’re hot then you’re cold, you’re yes then you’re no, you’re in then you’re out, you’re up and you’re down…”
            Karine dranced through the kitchen in her reindeer pajamas and got a tub of yoghurt from the fridge.  She used her spoon as a microphone.
            “You’re wrong when it’s right, it’s black and it’s white, we fight we break up, we kiss we make up!”

            Shauna stood at the top of the stairs, unable to make herself walk down.  She simply couldn’t face everyone.  If only she could have gone over to Cerise’s house for Christmas Eve.  Not that her mother would have let her but at least knowing she had the option would have made this evening more bearable.  Her parents’ annual Christmas Eve party was more torturous than even a day at school.  At least at school she could wear her own clothes.  Her mother always forced her to wear a dress for these parties.  Tonight she was in a Red dress that zipped in the back and went down to her knees.  There was white lace at the cuffs and collar.  She was even supposed to wear a Santa hat. 
            She didn’t even know these people.  They were aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins but they were all strangers.  She hated them all. 
            “What do you think you’re wearing?” asked her mother as she bounded up the stairs and grabbed Shauna’s arm, ushering her back into her bedroom.
            “You told me to wear this.”
            “Not with those shoes!”
            Shauna looked down at her feet.  She was wearing her docs. 
            “For god’s sake, you didn’t even shave your legs!”
            Her mother rifled through Shauna’s drawers until she found a pair of white wool stockings, which she shoved at Shauna.  Shauna took off her boots and pulled on the stockings, which were itchy and too tight.  Her mother stood behind her and angrily pulled a brush through her tangled hair.  Shauna winced in pain but knew better than to protest.  Her hair was woven into a tight braid and her new black heels were forced onto her feet. 
            “These are hard to walk in,” said Shauna as she stood up and tried to balance herself.
            “You’re not supposed to walk in them.  You’re supposed to mingle.  Now stop trying to humiliate me and go downstairs!”
            Shauna slowly made her way downstairs, holding onto the rail for support.
            “And stop slouching!” hissed her mother, pushing her forward.

            It was just like old times except they didn’t have a dining room in their new house so they ate in the kitchen.  It was a small table so all the food was set up buffet style on the kitchen island.  Robert and Angela were at opposite ends of the table with Simone and Cerise on one side and Julie on the other.  She was going on about her straight A average and status on the field hockey team.
            “Good for you,” enthused their father.  “What about you, Cerise?”
            “Yeah, I’m really into field hockey,” she smirked and Simone chuckled.
            “There’s nothing wrong with field hockey!” Julie pouted.
            “I didn’t say there was.”
            “Just because you’re a big clutz…”
            “How are your grades, Cerise?” Robert interrupted.
            “Fine.  Same as ever.”
            “Care to elaborate?”
            “Do you actually care?” asked Simone, not unkindly.
            “Of course I do, I’m your father.”
            Simone sighed and shook her head in a mixture of exasperation and amusement.  Cerise knew how she felt.  Their father had never cared about their school performance before.  She couldn’t remember him ever caring about any aspects of their lives.  But it was Christmas and he’d come for dinner so they might as well play house.
            “I’m taking some film courses this year but I’m mostly concentrating on Fine Arts.”
            “We’re thinking she should do Fine Arts at Concordia next year,” offered Angela.
            Robert nodded.  “That sounds… not particularly practical.”
            Simone smiled tightly and took a bite of mashed potato. 
            “Well if it’s what you want to do, I say go for it,” he said enthusiastically.
            “And I wanna move downtown when I start University.”
            “That’d be cool,” commented Cerise.
            “I don’t wanna move downtown.  I like the West Island,” said Julie.
            “You would,” smirked Cerise.
            “Yeah, more opportunities for field hockey,” smiled Simone.
            They all laughed good-naturedly, and even Julie’s pout was broken with a twitchy smile.

            Shauna kept her head down and walked towards a corner of the living room.  She stared at a bowl of chips on the coffee table.  She really, really wanted those chips.  She almost felt like she would die if she didn’t eat them immediately.  But Shauna always had difficulty eating in public because eating was another way in which she might draw attention to herself and she couldn’t risk it right now, not in this dress.  She was a giant tomato shining like a beacon of retardation, begging everyone to point and stare at the fat, ugly cow turd.
            It didn’t matter that everyone in the room was family.  They treated her just like everyone else in the world, laughing behind her back or straight to her face.  
            “Hey Shauna,” said a short boy maybe a few years younger than Shauna.
He was one of her dozens of cousins but she couldn’t even remember his name.  He held a pepsi can in his hand and slurped it loudly.  Shauna nodded at him and pretended not to notice as he stared at her.  She could feel beads of sweat gathering at her temples.
            “You have big feet,” he said, looking down at her shoes.
            She ignored him and inched closer to the wall.
            “You have big tits too,” he smirked, openly staring at her chest.
            Shauna’s face became very hot and she knew it was turning red.  She crossed her arms and turned away from her cousin, hoping he couldn’t hear how fast her heart was beating.  It was only 7pm.  People would be here until past midnight.