By the spring, University was becoming a rush of activity for Thérèse. Her workload was enormous, but she was enthusiastic about it now that the beginners courses were behind her. She was getting into the finer points of management and entrepreneurship, and beginning to imagine a career that appealed to her creative, competitive nature. And in the meantime she was still dancing, still playing music, still taking in as much new knowledge and experience as she could.
Her relationship with Anthony was an unexpected twist, and not many of her friends could understand it. Anthony himself seemed amazed, unable to believe his good luck. But it all seemed perfectly simple to Thérèse. Why shouldn’t they be together, if they wanted to be? It didn't matter what other people thought. They were both young, and nothing could tie them down. And Anthony had made so much progress already. They were on their way to discover something completely new, the lives they'd always wanted.
Years later, when Thérèse was trying to understand how it all went wrong, she often thought back to this time in her life – the headstrong optimism as she rushed toward her final year of university, finish line in sight. Swept up in her hopes for the future, she had been convinced that Anthony would see things her way and become a new person. It had been naive, even arrogant to think that he would give up his old dreams of home and family so easily.
Of course, it was also around this time that Thérèse first heard of the Pattersons.
Over Spring Break, a few weeks after they became an official couple, Anthony and Thérèse took turns meeting each other’s parents – first to Rosedale to visit Jeanette and Martin, who seemed a bit puzzled but welcomed Anthony warmly. “Well, I wouldn’t have thought you were each other’s types, mes chéries,” her mother laughed, “but now I suppose I do not believe in types anymore.”
They went to visit Anthony’s family the next weekend, and Thérèse had her first look at Milborough. From what she saw on the drive over, it seemed like a typical little Toronto suburb – cheerful, quiet, somewhat bland. It was peppered with shopping malls, fast-food restaurants, multiplex cinemas, and little neighbourhoods of pastel-coloured houses.
“While we’re here, let’s go meet Gordon and Tracey for lunch,” Anthony said. “I’ve told them a lot about you, Thérèse. They can’t wait to meet you.”
So they stopped by Mayes Motors, the centre of Gordon Mayes’s growing empire. Thérèse glanced the garage over with a critical eye. It looked like a relatively stable business, successful in a small-town way. A bit outdated, a bit disorganised, a bit understaffed. The Mayes would probably do pretty well for themselves – but the company would never go further than Milborough.
Gordon seemed quite happy with that arrangement. He was only a year or two older than Thérèse, but thanks to pudginess, lumpy clothes and a fast-receding hairline, he already looked middle-aged. He had a chirpy, mousy-haired wife named Tracey, who stared at Thérèse like she was some sort of exotic bird.
Tracey insisted they go out for lunch. “You’ll just love this restaurant!” she said. “It got wonderful reviews in the Milborough Shopper.”
It ended up being a twee French-themed cafe, fortunately with a decent espresso machine. The four of them chatted over coffee and baguette sandwiches, about Gordon’s businesses, and Milborough gossip, and memories of their high school years. Thérèse felt a bit left out as the others reminisced, but it was interesting to learn more about the atmosphere in which Anthony grew up.
Her conclusions were mixed at the end of the visit. The Mayes seemed like pleasant enough people, but Thérèse felt that her suspicions had been confirmed about Gordon. He considered Anthony and his other employees as “part of the family” – meaning, Thérèse guessed, that loyalty was the main incentive and unpaid favours were routine. She suspected that employees who left Mayes Motors would risk being branded as ungrateful.
But as it turned out, the Mayes were still several notches down the pecking order from their own “family,” the Pattersons.
John and Elly Patterson seemed to be something of a legend in Milborough. “There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for them,” Gordon declared. They were regular investors in Gordon’s businesses and often swung by to see how things were going. It was through their recommendation that Anthony got his job at the garage – a fact that surprised and worried Thérèse.
With the younger Pattersons, things got even more entangled. Gordon and Tracey had gone to high school with their son Michael, who was a columnist and freelance writer; they were convinced that he would be famous one day. The eldest daughter Elizabeth was “a great girl” and Thérèse would love her, as they all kept saying; she had gone to school with Anthony, even dated him for a while here and there. And there was a teenage daughter, April, who could always be counted on to babysit the Mayes’ children.
There was no time to drive across town to meet all of them, so Thérèse’s growing curiosity would have to wait. But from the sound of things, she wouldn’t wait long; meeting the Pattersons seemed to be inevitable in this corner of the world.
That evening, Anthony took her to meet his parents at an upscale restaurant and beer garden. Hubert and Sofie Caine warmed to Thérèse at once, particularly Hubert, who seemed impressed with her ambitious career plans. He was a hearty, outspoken man who loved his beer as much as he loved his job, and Thérèse couldn’t help but like him – though she sympathised all the more with Anthony, imagining his shyness against such an overwhelming personality.
Once while Anthony was in the restroom, Hubert gave her a shrewd look. “So how about it, Thérèse? Want a job with Mayes Motors? I bet ol’ Gordo could use a secretary.”
“Oh, surely he can make his own coffee,” she blurted, then gasped and covered her mouth.
But Hubert roared with laughter. “Smart girl! Do me a favour and knock some sense into my son, okay? Tell him that high school doesn’t last forever.”
The semester ended, and the summer stretched out ahead. But Thérèse planned to keep busy. She had details to arrange and studies to finish. And Anthony’s father had arranged an internship for her with his company. For the sake of student loans and her CV, she had accepted.
It was the usual fate for an intern – lots of filing, taking down minutes, typing reports, tinkering with spreadsheets, and going to excruciatingly boring training sessions. But it was solid work experience, and it went pretty well. Her only major complaint was that the men called her “young lady” all the time. Once, Joe the Project Manager even called her “mademoiselle,” and she had to rise to her feet and give him a blistering lecture on cultural stereotypes and gender equality. He called her “boss” after that.
The salary was welcome, at any rate. Thérèse started saving for her student loans, and invested the leftover money in new clothes. She bought her first good suit that summer, cut from charcoal-grey wool and beautifully tailored. It made her feel different, somehow – taller and more assertive. When she found the perfect pair of shoes to go with it, she could have conquered the world.
Sometimes she took Anthony shopping, and tried as tactfully as possible to teach him about fashion sense. She helped him pick out trousers and a couple of shirts, and gave him a silk tie as a present. “There,” she exclaimed as he tried them on. “That’s much better! You look so much older and more handsome, don’t you think?” Anthony seemed to agree.
Then disaster struck.
Going out for drinks with her one evening, Anthony was asked to show his ID. It embarrassed him, and he slouched sullenly in his chair, which made him look downright childish. Hoping to soothe him, Thérèse laughed it off. “What an idiot,” she said, narrowing her eyes at the bartender. “I mean, you look young, but not that young. Maybe if you wore a fedora or grew a big moustache or something....”
Several days later, she leaned in to kiss him and saw patches of fuzz on his upper lip. She was appalled.
“It’s my moustache,” shrugged Anthony. “Or it will be, in a week or so.”
“But ... why would you do that?”
He looked hurt. “It was your idea!”
Thérèse laughed nervously. “Honey, I was only kidding. You look fine.”
But he touched his lip appreciatively. “No, really, I like it. It makes me look professional. It’ll look better when it fills out.”
But it looked even worse. It was scraggly and uneven. Crumbs got stuck in it. It simply had to go. But every time Thérèse tried to bring it up, he would run his finger over it and look so pleased with himself that she had to fight back fits of laughter. “Yes sir, it’s a good one!” he said. “Don’t you think?”
“Sure,” she managed to say.
With Alicia, it was a different story.
“Why has your boyfriend glued a dead hamster to his face, Thérèse?”
“Stop it, stop it,” Thérèse moaned, reaching desperately for the wine bottle. “Oh, god, he looks like my seventh-grade math teacher.”
“I was thinking ‘bad porn movie from the 70’s,’ myself.”
“You imagine Anthony in porn movies?”
Alicia threw an olive at her.