Cerise was happy to skip past her house and follow the boys into Jay’s place. His house was nice, if a bit quaintly decorated. They all trudged down to the basement, where there were two old couches flanking a wooden coffee table. One sofa was plaid while the other was floral and the walls were covered in wood panelling. It was very ‘70s, very tacky and borderline creepy. Clearly the basement was where they relegated all the household junk, which apparently included Jay and his friends.
,” Karl swept his arms around the room. Vermont
“Check it out,” said Vani, pointing out a shelf lined with animal figurines. “Little farm animals.”
Cerise noticed that the cow figurine had mounted the goat figurine.
“Maple syrup,” Willy announced, indicating a few tin cans stacked up against a wall along with some preserves.
“Are you like, actually from
?” Cerise asked Jay with a giggle. Vermont
“No!” Jay insisted. “Made in
.” He picked up a can of maple syrup and pointed out the label. Quebec
“More like made in the Tdot,” snickered Karl.
Cerise asked for clarification and while Jay rolled his eyes in annoyance the boys told her that Jay was from
. All his extended family was still there and he’d only moved to Toronto when he was in primary school. Montreal
“He’s a total Torontonian,” Karl said in a conspiratorial whisper. “He was even born there.”
Vani joined in. “Sometimes at night the homing signal activates and he gets a craving for Tim Hortons and a Leafs game.”
“That’s why we have the restraints,” said Willy, pulling a woollen scarf out from under a couch cushion.
“When he starts to yearn for traffic jams and gangster rap we have to tie him down,” explained Karl.
“Oh my god!” Cerise said in mock shock. “You’re practically
“Exactly!” Karl nodded.
“Are we done?” Jay sighed and reclined on a couch.
“It’s ok, Jay,” Cerise sat next to him and patted his knee. “We’re here for you. If you start to feel the Big Smoke calling you home, just let us know and we’ll help you through it. You don’t have to go through this alone.”
Karl snickered and Vani patted Jay’s shoulder, assuring him there was probably a twelve step program he could join. “We won’t let the Tdot take you away from us!”
Vani grabbed Jay’s shoulders and shook him violently. Karl and Willy joined in and they all shook Jay like a rag doll while insisting they would protect him. Cerise jumped out of the way while the boys tussled on the couch.
While they rolled around in a big mass, Cerise sat on the floor and examined the room. On the table were some dice and a few books with cover art depicting monsters and robots. They were all titled Rifts, with various subtitles. Cerise flipped through one of the books and realized it was a role-playing manual. Hence the dice. Wow, old school. Totally ‘80s.
Suddenly Cerise realized that the boys were no longer fighting. They were all staring at her with horrified expressions.
“What?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Jay said slowly.
“Let’s write down some more SOIF ideas,” suggested Karl, gently taking the book away from Cerise. “Can I use this to write on?” he asked.
Vani was slowly removing the books from the table and hiding them under the plaid couch. Willy was stuffing the dice under the floral couch cushions.
“Very subtle you guys,” Cerise smiled in amusement.
She scooted over to Vani’s side and reached under the couch. His leg shot out, trying to push her away but she overpowered him and pulled one of the books out.
“It’s a table-top RPG? Like Dungeons & Dragons?
“No!” Karl yelled much too loudly. “Not like Dungeons and frakking Dragons!”
“Only losers play D&D!” Vani pouted.
“Rifts is different,” Jay insisted. “It’s not like dragons and wizards and swords and crap.”
“Yeah,” Vani nodded. “It’s like guns, and body armour and… guns and crap.”
Cerise chuckled and said it sounded cool. “Can I play?” she asked.
The boys all peered at her suspiciously.
“Well it’s not like we even play that much,” Vani shrugged.
“Yeah, we were thinking of giving it up.” Willy looked worried.
“You actually wanna play?” Jay smiled eagerly.
“Why not?” Cerise asked.
Willy asked if she didn’t think it was stupid but she said it sounded fun.
Jay beemed happily. “See? I told you guys she’d be cool about it.”
Once home, Karine flopped down in front of the TV and turned to MuchMusic. They were repeating one of those contests where you got to win the chance to meet the Jonas Brothers. Karine didn’t even like the Jonas Brothers but it was still annoying that residents of
weren’t eligible for MuchMusic contests. They could only participate in the MusiquePlus contests, which was good she supposed since the chances of winning were higher in a smaller population but still, she wanted to apply for the English versions. She was much more Anglo now that her dad was gone. Quebec
Karine’s father had been Francophone and pretty hardcore Quebecois at that. He’d even voted Yes in the referendum of ’95. Karine was of course too young to remember it but her dad had spoken of it often, always disappointed that
hadn’t achieved sovereignty. He’d often ranted about how Anglos and immigrants were ruining their culture. It was only now that Karine was older that she realized her dad had been kind of racist. But she still missed him. Quebec
She wondered what her life would be like if her father was still alive. She’d done all her primary schooling in French and he’d been very angry when Karine had opted to go to English high school, but since her mother had gone to school in English, Karine was legally allowed to do the same. She was in French Immersion of course, taking half of her courses in French but that hadn’t been enough for papa. He’d always wanted her to switch to a French school and maybe she eventually would have for his sake. She’d always been closer to papa than to her mother.
But then he’d died when Karine was only thirteen. Killed by a drunk driver on New Year’s Eve, as though her life were a Degrassi episode. Everything had been darkness for a long time. She’d taken a whole month off school and when she’d returned everyone was weird with her. Only two of her friends had stayed by her side, Terry and Steven. Steve had encouraged her to talk about her feelings and he listened to all her complaints about how her mother had shut down and was like a ghost in the house. But Terry had been even better. He just sat with her for hours, listening to music or sometimes complete silence. He never made her talk about it but every time she cried he held her and never asked her to stop. Steven would always shush her and say it was ok but Terry let her cry it out.
Terry had always been such a good friend and he was still the person she felt closest to, next to Steven. She could have so easily ended up dating Terry instead of Steve. But one night, about six months after her father’s death her mother had disappeared for two whole days. Karine had called Terry but he was away on a hockey tournament so Steven was the one who’d come over to comfort her. He’d slept over that night and even though they hadn’t done anything, in the morning it was somehow clear to them both that they’d become a couple.
What if Terry hadn’t been away playing hockey? What if he’d come over that night? Would they have started dating? Would he still be her boyfriend? Steven was unwaveringly loyal; they’d been a couple for over two years now. Would Terry have lasted that long? Probably not, judging by his track record.
But now it seemed he wanted to go out with her. All she had to do was break up with Steven and give him a try. But what if he screwed her over like he’d done to Christina? Terry was a good friend but could she really trust him? He wasn’t exactly known for his commitment to relationships.
Karine walked to the kitchen and fixed herself a snack. Her mother had eventually returned from wherever the hell she’d been that night, but she’d never been the same after losing her husband. She poured herself into her work and now she always went away on extended business trips. And even when she was home, which wasn’t often, she was somehow absent. Karine knew she was the envy of all her friends, constantly having her house all to herself but it was a big space for just one person. And she got tired of always having to do the groceries and make her own meals and do her own laundry and shovel the walk in the winter and rake the leaves in the fall. She’d even had to deal with some city official when it was decided that a tree in her backyard had to be cut down because of expanding roots.
Karine knew her mother’s bank passwords so she could pay the bills from her online account and she also knew her mother’s credit card numbers. She’d bought a few things online before and her mother never said anything about it but Karine still kept a part-time job at the mall. It was nice to get out of the house a few days a week and interact with people.
As she looked out the kitchen window she saw Steven biking down the street. He jumped off his bike and dropped it onto the grass, bounding up the walk to Karine’s house. There was a knock at the door and then she heard it open.
“Hey,” Steve called out.
Karine went to join him in the hall and she fed him the remains of her pop tart. They walked to the TV room together and collapsed onto the couch.
“Why were you guys trying to hide this from me?” Cerise asked.
“It’s our secret shame!” Vani exclaimed.
Cerise giggled but Vani insisted that he was quite serious. She couldn’t go telling anyone about it. Cerise assured them that no one would care and it’s not like she had anyone to tell anyway.
“What about that girl who’s always following you around?” wondered Karl.
Everyone looked at Karl in confusion.
“You guys didn’t notice?” Karl was surprised. “That girl. I don’t know what her damage is but she’s like, always lurking around us. She’s always looking at Cerise.”
“You mean Shauna,” Cerise guessed.
“I don’t know her name. She has stringy brown hair that’s always in her face. She’s like Willy’s twin, except less fat. Still kinda fat though. And gross. She smokes.”
“And she’s following me? Are you serious?”
“She’s like always around,” Karl shrugged. “Hiding behind trees and crap. It’s insaniac. Like we can’t see her. She’s not exactly stealthy. I think she’s gonna have to give up her dream of joining SD-6.”
Vani laughed. “Whoa! You have a stalker? Cool! I wish I had a stalker.”
“She’s not stalking me!” Cerise spurted. “She’s just like, out of it. She thinks we’re friends. But I mean I don’t even like her.”
“Oh we know the pain,” said Vani. “Losers are always trying to be friends with us.”
Like Jojo,” frowned Willy.
“Yeah,” noddd Karl. “I bet he plays D&D.”
“I have practice tomorrow. You wanna come watch?”
Karine looked at Steven incredulously and asked what he was talking about. She never went to his practices. He said that it might be fun and she complained that it was bad enough she went to his games. Watching his practice would just be lame.
“What the hell is so lame about it?”
“Like I don’t have better things to do?”
“Oh, well excuse me for interfering with your busy life. For some reason I thought we were going out but I guess not.”
Karine rolled her eyes impatiently and assured him that she loved him but she was working tomorrow anyway so she couldn’t go his practice even if she wanted to. And it wasn’t that she didn’t want to, it was just that she had a lot of responsibilities since she had to keep the house clean all by herself and pay the bills and whatnot.
“Hey, if you need help all you have to do is ask,” Steven said with concern.
“I know,” Karine smiled.
“What can I do?”
“You could make spaghetti for dinner,” she suggested. “I’m in the mood for pasta.”
Steven nodded happily and rushed off to the kitchen to boil some water.
Karl was the Game Master so he ran the game while the others were players. He was showing Cerise how to roll for her attributes, which were to be her player’s characteristics. She had to roll 3 die 6 and then add up the total for each attribute.
While the boys enjoyed the tactile sensation of real dice, when at school they used the dice rolling feature on their ipods or smart phones to play the game. Cerise didn’t have an ipod or a cell phone but Jay assured her she could use his for rolling purposes. Cerise was surprised to learn that now that she was being initiated into the secret cult, she’d have to spend a lot of her time playing the game. At least half an hour during lunch and an hour after school. On weekends they often had marathon sessions, stopping only to eat and play the occasional video game. If Jay’s mother was paying attention she usually forced them to go outside for some exercise at some point during the day but they could easily continue the game outdoors. They were clearly pretty intense about it.
Cerise wasn’t having much luck with the dice. All her attributes were low. Jay wasn’t very impressed and suggested she roll again. She couldn’t pick and choose her scores but if one rolling session produced inadequate results she could roll for everything all over again.
“What does PP stand for again?” she asked.
“Physical prowess,” Jay answered.
Cerise rolled and wrote down her scores on a sheet of loose leaf. She had chosen to be a Coalition power armour pilot, and while she didn’t exactly know what that meant, it sounded cool and the boys had seemed impressed.
“Man, my attributes suck,” Cerise complained. “What’s PB again?”
“Physical beauty,” Jay said.
“This sucks,” Cerise whined. “I have a high IQ but low PS and low PB. That’s no fun. It’s just like in real life.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Jay nodded while examining Cerise’s score sheet. “You can roll again.”
Nice of him not to disagree with her, thought Cerise. She decided not to roll again and simply accepted her crappy scores. Obviously it didn’t matter how many times she rolled, she always got bad scores, because it was always her rolling.
Karl gave Cerise a quick run down of what had happened in the game so far and Cerise was stunned to learn that they’d been playing the same campaign since grade 9. The storyline was rich and complex but she caught on quickly because they’d integrated Stargate aliens into their imaginary universe so the context was familiar to her.
Vani was obviously the star of the show and he often got up and acted out his character’s physical movements. Cerise had expected the storyline to be violent but was surprised to find that violence spilling over to real life. It seemed the boys didn’t need much of an excuse to roughhouse and slap each other around. Fortunately they never tried to include her in any of their melees, though in the game her character was fair play and thanks to some bad rolling on her part and good rolling on Vani’s part she got her ass kicked.
It was fun to play with the guys but eventually the game wore thin. It consisted mostly of shooting people and blowing things up. The boys all seemed to love it and Jay was completely caught up in the action, ignoring her unless her character was doing something significant. She wondered why she’d been so eager to hang out with the boys after school. Had she known they mostly used the time to beat each other up, she might not have bothered. Looking at her watch and making the excuse that she had homework to attend to, she excused herself and let herself out.
Willy watched Cerise walk away and wondered aloud if she had been freaked out.
“Yeah, of course. She’s a girl,” reasoned Vani.
“I dunno, she seemed pretty into it,” thought Jay.
“Why’d she leave then?” Willy looked out the window, managing to catch a glimpse of Cerise’s legs walking across the lawn of her house.
“Maybe she had to keep an appointment with her stalker,” mused Karl. “I hear they can be real sticklers for scheduled meetings.”
“She thinks we’re losers!” wailed Willy.
“No she doesn’t,” insisted Jay.
“How could she not? She’s a girl!” Vani insisted.
“She’s not like other girls. She’s cool. She’s normal. Or, I mean, not normal. You know what I mean. She’s like us,” stammered Jay.
“I guess so,” said Karl. “I mean she did pick a pretty cool character.”
“She didn’t play much,” noted Willy.
“How could she get the chance?” Jay scoffed. “Vani always takes over the game!”
“Hey, just ‘cause I have more dedication than you is no reason to get all pissed off. If you can’t keep up that’s your damage!”
This prompted Jay to push Vani’s face down into the couch, at which point Willy jumped on his back and Karl smacked Willy repeatedly with the book Machinations of Doom.