BY MICHAEL JOLL
Copyright is held by the author.
MONICA WAS ticked. She should never have let her sister choose the matinée movie, some black and white, art house crap in Czech or Polish or something with unreadable subtitles. Damn her sister’s weird taste. What a waste of eight bucks.
She and Petra pushed through the foyer doors of the air-conditioned Capitol theatre into a soggy wall of heat.
“God, it’s hot!” Petra muttered as she glanced up the road at the Tim Hortons doughnut shop.
“Timmie’s for an Iced Capp?” she asked as she squinted at her sister in the glaring sunlight. Perspiration already beaded her hairline. Monica knew her sister lived in perpetual hope that her sweet and fat craving would be a cream-filled dream fulfilled but she was not about to cave in to her sister twice in one afternoon.
“Anywhere but there,” she said, pulling a face. “Coffee & Company serves gourmet java. Their butter tarts are to die for. And it’s downhill.”
Slipping on her sunglasses, Monica started down Princess Street, leaving her younger sister little choice but to follow.
“I don’t think it’s ever been this hot,” Petra puffed and panted, her flip-flops slapping the sidewalk with each step as she kept up with her sister. Monica did not dignify her sister’s comment with a reply but huffed her annoyance: Petra scuffed and shuffled her feet; always had, always will. At that moment Monica regarded being seen with her fat, slobby sister as her life’s greatest embarrassment.
Waiting for the light to change at King Street, Petra grabbed Monica’s arm.
“Know what I can smell?”
Monica swore under her breath and shuddered: it wasn’t coffee.
“Shangri-La beckons, Mon. The heaven of Sweet Ambrosia hails.” Without looking, Petra stepped off the sidewalk and lumbered across the road, a heat-seeking guided missile obeying her chip wagon homing device.
With a sigh, Monica followed and caught up with her sister in the weed-choked parking lot beside the boarded up windows of the old S&W department store. Beneath the building’s
limestone wall hunkered the hand-painted, green chip wagon, heat shimmering from its slender, shiny chimney. The cloying aroma of vinegar and deep fat frying lingered in the stagnant, steamy, Kingston August afternoon.
Petra’s eyes gleamed with bliss; “Extra large fries with poutine, please,” she ordered from the pimply-faced, paper-capped teen behind the ketchup-spattered Formica ledge.
He raised his eyebrows at Monica. “And for you?” he asked.
Monica shot him a withering look. “I’ll have one of hers.”
Backing away from the wagon, with a delicate thumb and forefinger Monica snared a naked French fry from Petra’s cardboard tray and bit tentatively into the hot potato. A hard nudge on her elbow sent the greasy chip flying from her fingers onto her shirt front. She jerked her head around, seeking the culprit.
“Surprise!” The narrow face grinned at her.
She backed away. “You little…”
“Go on, say it,” he dared.
“… Rat, Troy.” She glared at the skinny figure with the lank, dirty blond hair dangling from beneath the faded cherry red Habs tuque. Her nose twitched as the smell of stale marijuana smoke drifted up from his grubby Canadiens hockey sweater. She glanced down, past the faded, ragged jeans to the mismatched, laceless rental bowling shoes and shook her head.
“You haven’t changed,” she said. “Still on pogey or is this what the well-dressed rink rat’s wearing this year? And where’d you steal the sweater?”
“You’re not being very nice to an old friend.”
“You’re not my friend. You never were.”
“Not even that time on the couch when your mom was at work?”
Monica’s stomach lurched. “Don’t go there, Troy, I’m warning you.” Her eyes flashed red.
“Well, you’ve sure changed since the last time we…”
She held her hand up. “Stop right there.”
“I was going to say, since the last time we saw each other, what, 10 years ago? You were 14 and had a nose full of studs, half your head shaved and the other half dyed blue. I guess your mom never knew about the nipple ring, did she?”
Monica’s face turned crimson. Her nostrils flared as she tried to cool her anger. The vivid memory had refused to fade with time. Damn Troy for bringing it up.
“Fuck you, Troy! Why do you have to be such a fucking asshole?”
“I’m sorry, Monica,” he mumbled, staring at the ground. “I shouldn’t have said that.” He looked up, his pale face and unshaven cheeks infused with embarrassment. “So what are you doing these days?” he asked.
“None of your damned business,” she was going to say but checked herself. It was obvious that Troy was not about to end the conversation and she had no intention of prolonging it with a reply. Stalemate. If Petra ticked her, then Troy did it 10 times over, minimum.
“Law School. Why?” she demanded. Damn it! Why did you have to say that? You should have turned your back and walked away. How is it you know how to push my buttons, Troy?
I’m happy for you, Monica, that’s all,” he replied. “You’ll do well. We could have…”
“No, we couldn’t,” she interrupted. “I only… It was only because my mom forbade me to see you.”
“And because you were curious to know what it was like, remember?” Monica set her mouth in a hard, narrow line, refusing to rise to the bait on Troy’s hook.
“But we had a good time, eh?” he added.
“I’ve had better,” she snapped.
Troy winced, his face crestfallen as the well-aimed barb nailed him.
“Mom was right,” she continued. “You were a loser then. You still are. Nothing’s changed.”
“Nobody deserves that, Monica,” Troy shot back. “When did I ever put you down? I know I never got your education and I admit that was my fault, okay? But I’ve never hurt anyone. So you’re right. Nothing’s changed. Least of all you. It’s not in your nature.”
Monica turned away, livid. Troy had got to her. She had ceded the upper hand, the high ground. She had just scored an ‘F’ in litigation. Worse, she knew Troy was right.
Her eyes focused on the grease stain on her shirt front. Grasping at any excuse not to look Troy in the face she grabbed a Kleenex from her purse and rubbed at a mark, only to make it worse. Now she was really ticked. The stain was Troy’s fault. And he should never have mentioned the couch, not in front of Petra. That was being a real jerk. She would make him pay for that remark. He deserved it.
Or did he? That time on the couch? They had both known enough about… It was too late now and she could only blame herself for what had happened, for letting him into her life all those years ago, if only once. Too scared to go on her own, two months later she had bullied 12-year-old Petra into going to the clinic with her and had sworn her to secrecy under penalty of a painful, lingering death. Only the two of them had ever known. And she knew that Petra had never forgiven her for robbing her of the last days of her innocence, of that remnant of her childhood.
Monica took a deep breath. She brushed Troy’s sleeve with her finger tips and tried to smile. Thank God I’m wearing sunglasses, she thought. I couldn’t bear it if he could see my eyes. She hesitated. I don’t need Brownie points. I don’t need for Troy to like me, for God’s sake. He’s nothing, a nobody. Okay, so I’ll be nice to the little creep, just this once. It couldn’t hurt, could it, even if it is a lie? He’ll never know, right? Then all he has to do is turn his back and walk away and out of my life forever. Deal?
“That time on the couch?” she said, resting her hand on his forearm and looking into his eyes with all the practiced sincerity of a televangelist. “It was the best.”
Troy’s sad face said he wasn’t buying it.
“You’re such a bitch, Monica,” he said. His eyes glistened as he turned on his heel and hurried away across the parking lot.
Petra threw her empty chip tray into the garbage bin and licked her fingers. “You had that coming to you, Mon,” she said. “I could have told you the same thing years ago but sisters don’t do that.”
Monica turned her back on Petra and dabbed at the tears beneath her sunglasses. “I’m sorry, Troy,” she sniffed. “You didn’t deserve that. You’re a decent person. And you’re right. I am a bitch. I can’t help myself.” She hesitated for a second. “It’s who I am.”