“Have you ever had the feeling,” said Thérèse, thoughtfully skewering a wedge of brie, “that entire sections of your life were lived by someone else?”
“Mm,” Alicia agreed. “My Anne Rice phase was a bit like that. What in God’s name was I thinking.”
It was early September, and the evenings were still warm. Thérèse and Alicia were having drinks at La Buvette, an edgy little bistro in Kensington Market. They loved the place for its hip, worldly atmosphere and great wine. On weekends they could often be found on the ivy-twined patio, sharing a bottle and talking.
They met up a lot these days, making up for lost time. It could still be difficult, but Thérèse was glad she could discuss the divorce, calmly and in public. Not too long ago, she would have broken down in tears, or even avoided her best friend completely.
Alicia poured them each a generous second glass of wine and stretched out contentedly in her chair, brushing her short red hair from her eyes. “I’m glad you’re back, Thérèse. You look happy. Do you feel happy, most of the time?”
“Most of the time. It’s strange. I’m still sad about how it ended, but the feeling is like waking up from a dream and half-remembering it for the rest of the day.”
“A nightmare, more like,” said Alicia. “To be honest, I don’t understand how it happened to you in the first place.”
Thérèse hid a wry smile behind her glass. “I guess you could say j’ai perdu la voie.”
Before the collapse of her marriage, there had been very little tragedy in Thérèse Lavoie’s life. Her childhood, for the most part, had been happy. She’d never wanted for anything, and her parents had been good to her. If pressed, she would only admit to a vague frustration, as if she grew up waiting for her life to get started.
Her father Martin was a manager in an accounting firm. He was a sturdy, likeable fellow, cheerful and practical to the core. His equally cheerful wife, Jeanette, was the creative one of the couple. She had been studying art in Montreal when they met, and had plans to become a painter. But in the end, she dropped out of school to get married and support her husband.
They had been together less than two years when Jeanette gave birth to Thérèse, their only child. They stayed in Montreal until she was seven. Then Martin found a new job, and took his family to Toronto.
Thérèse was a bit of a puzzle for her father. He had always dreamed of having a son who would go into business with him, and he never quite knew what to do with the daughter he got instead. But she was clever and stubborn, and he was proud of her. He paid for her piano lessons, horseback riding, ballet classes, almost anything she asked for, on the condition that she worked hard and kept her maths scores up.
By the time she graduated from high school, Thérèse was an intelligent, ambitious young woman. Elegant and slender, with sleek dark hair and a crisp Quebecoise accent, she stood apart from most of her classmates. On the surface, she was every inch her father’s girl, heading straight to university on a business scholarship, followed by a job at his firm if she wanted it.
Only those who knew her well realised how spirited she was. She had inherited her mother’s love of art and music, and immersed herself in any creative hobby she could find. She watched films; she read books voraciously; she played the piano. In the last year or two she’d begun to read about different countries, and daydreamed of travelling the world.
Now, preparing to leave home for the first time, Thérèse began to think about the future her parents imagined for her. She would be successful and reasonably well-paid with her father’s company. Or she could marry, as her mother hoped, and get a nice house and a few children. Either way, life would be comfortable.
The trouble was, none of the people she most admired could be described as “comfortable.” They took risks and suffered hardships and found rewards in unexpected places. Marriage and children were another sticking point. Her mother had given up on most of her old dreams to marry her father; and while they were fond of each other, they seemed more like business partners than lovers, marching patiently through their quiet respectable life.
Thérèse adored her parents, but she wanted something more than that. As she went away to university, she was determined to live a life of passion and adventure. No matter what, she would hold on to that part of herself.
The University of Western Ontario, while somewhat old-fashioned, was a good place for Thérèse to stretch her wings. For a small college town, London had a lot going for it – certainly more than the prim little suburb where Thérèse grew up.
In her freshman year, Thérèse plugged away at Economics, Leadership, and the loathsome Accounting, but she spent every free moment exploring the thriving arts scene of the University. Music clubs gave her the chance to keep up her piano playing and learn how to sing. She also joined a Thursday night book club, and connected with a group of French-Canadian students. For the first time she began to think seriously about national politics, and was surprised to find out that she was actually quite liberal in her views, and passionate about her Quebecoise heritage.
That year, Thérèse lived next door to Alicia, a computer science major and self-proclaimed sci-fi/fantasy geek. They quickly became friends. At first glance they were practically opposites, but while Alicia teased Thérèse for being an art snob and Thérèse made fun of Alicia’s Star Wars comic book collection, the two women wanted the same essential things – an independent life and a fulfilling career.
“It’s ours for the taking if we want it, sister,” Alicia often declared – particularly when she was drunk. “Times are changing. We don’t have to follow the old rules of get married, settle down, pop out a kid or two. Just think – in our lifetime, we could see women taking charge. Making scientific breakthroughs! Exploring the galaxy!”
“While wearing skin-tight bodysuits,” said Thérèse.
“Yes. And fabulous high-heeled boots.”
The semesters went by quickly, and the more Thérèse experienced, the more she wanted to try. After her second year she spent a summer abroad in France, and for all the teasing she got from the French, she loved every minute of it. She came back to Canada more determined than ever to see the world, and began to take foreign language classes along with her business studies.
But the all-encompassing hobby of her third year at UWO was ballroom dancing. She had tried it at a nightclub in France, and it was so much better than the usual mindless techno, she was hooked at once. Her first order of business on returning to London was to join the university dance club.
It suited her, and she learned quickly. Before long she was going to local dance competitions, with tango and Viennese waltz as her specialties. She practiced several times a week, and went to parties every Friday.
It was through the dance club that Thérèse met Anthony Caine.
To be continued...