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
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. Quebec City
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
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. Toronto
As they drove south, the snow disappeared. It never snowed in
. 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. Toronto
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
,” said Julie. West Island
“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.