Thérèse still hadn’t had time to meet the Pattersons by the time the autumn semester was underway. Between her studies, her social life, and occasional contract work with Mr. Caine’s firm, she simply didn’t have time. But she had already learned more about this strange family than she cared to know. Ever since their first visit to Milborough, Anthony wouldn’t stop talking about them.
“I’ve been friends with them ever since I was in school,” he said. “They’re such wonderful people! They’ve always accepted me. They’re kind, and funny, and friendly, and they care so much about their community, and....”
At first, Thérèse tried to take an interest, but after a while his enthusiasm began to grate on her nerves. She would much rather have learned more about Anthony’s family – his barely-mentioned sister, for example. Instead, she got more lavish descriptions of Michael’s recent wedding, or silly anecdotes about Elly’s bookshop, or John’s bizarre fixation with model trains. But perhaps the most irritating thing of all was the way Anthony expected her to worship them without question, when in fact, she was becoming less impressed with them by the day.
“I’m sure they’re very nice, honey,” she said carefully, “but don’t you think you’re idealising them just a bit?”
Anthony frowned. “What are you saying?”
“It’s just ... well, you have a difficult relationship with your own parents, and you see John and Elly as this perfect couple....”
But Anthony refused to consider it. “You don’t understand, Thérèse. You don’t know them like I do. Wait until you meet them and then you’ll see.”
Thérèse vented her annoyance to Alicia, who found the whole thing hilarious. She listened to each new story with such unbridled glee that Thérèse couldn’t help but laugh too. It was hardly mature behaviour, but there was something about the never-ending saintliness of the Pattersons that made mockery irresistible.
“I love these people!” Alicia laughed. “It’s like Leave It to Beaver on crack!”
Thérèse frowned in mock disapproval. “Now now, Alicia, it’s not all sunshine and giggles in Milborough. Have I told you about the time April almost drowned?”
Her friend’s eyes went wide. “Oh, please tell me.”
“Well, it turns out that there’s a little river in a ravine behind the Pattersons’ house, and it has a tendency to flood. Once when April was little, she was playing alone in the back yard. She’d figured out some time ago that she could use a stick to open the latch of the gate, so while her mother wasn’t looking....”
“Whoa, let me get this straight. There’s a dangerous river behind the house, and they leave her out in the back yard without supervision?”
“And they know she can open the gate?”
“Please stop fussing with silly details, I’m telling a story.”
“So anyway, she got the gate open and went down into the ravine, and nobody noticed that she was gone for a good twenty minutes. But luckily for her, their dog went....”
“There’s a dog?”
“Oh, settle down. Their dog went with her, and when she inevitably fell into the river, he jumped in after her and kept her from drowning until her parents finally noticed that something was wrong. They got there just in time to save April. But sadly....”
“What?! Don’t tell me the dog died!”
“He’s still with them in spirit,” mourned Thérèse.
Alicia nearly toppled off her chair. “No way! This is unbelievable! Even the dog’s a saint! He’s a saintly Patter-dog! Ha ha ha! Oh! I’m a bad person.”
After a while, Thérèse started to feel guilty about it. She loved Anthony, and the Pattersons were his friends; and after all, everyone had peculiarities of one sort or another. She resolved to stop gossiping and be nice.
Then Anthony emailed her a link to a short story in a local magazine. It was written by Michael Patterson.
Thérèse promptly forwarded it to Alicia.
“SWEET HOLY CRAP,” Alicia wrote back. “I’ve seen stuff on FanFiction.net that’s better than this! How the hell does he get published? I tell ya, Thérèse, there’s no justice in the world.”