In December, as an early Christmas present, Thérèse surprised Anthony with a weekend in Montreal. They went Christmas shopping in the Quartier Latin, rummaged through Bonsecours Market and strolled along the riverfront near the Old Port.
Immersed in the culture of the city and the memories of Thérèse’s childhood, they seemed to be living in one of the daydreams they’d shared when they first met. Thérèse was brimming over with excitement and Anthony was relaxed and affectionate, humouring her as she dragged him from one place to the next. They were happy together.
The next morning, he asked her to marry him. They were having breakfast in their hotel room, and he just blurted it out. He was so stunned by his own bravery that Thérèse burst out laughing. “Oh, don’t look so frightened, darling!” she said. “Of course I will!”
It didn’t take long for them to tell their families the news. Thérèse’s father seemed surprised, but her mother was lost in dreams of lace and roses and couldn’t be happier. Anthony’s parents were delighted.
As for Alicia, her voice over the phone sounded amused and resigned. “Well, you’re in for it now,” she said. “Heavens, Thérèse, what if the Pattersons don’t like you!” (“Little did we know,” she would say later.)
In those glowing weeks leading up to Christmas, Thérèse didn’t spare a thought for the Pattersons. She’d always suspected that Anthony was dissatisfied with his old life, and this proved it. He didn’t want to be stuck with the Milborough crowd anymore – he wanted to be with her.
She would deal with the moustache later.
The first sign of trouble appeared on New Year’s Eve. Thérèse and Alicia had planned a big party for their friends at UWO, as they’d done every year since they’d met. This time Thérèse also hoped to make it an informal engagement party and introduce Anthony to everyone. So she was rather disappointed when he told her at the last minute that he couldn’t be there.
“Why not?” she said.
“Dad’s throwing a fancy party with his business associates, and he insists I come along. It’s going to be dull, dull, dull.”
Thérèse rolled her eyes. “We’re grown-ups now – we don’t have to go. Say we’ve got other obligations. Or would you like me to talk to him?”
“No, I’d better go,” Anthony said quickly. “If I don’t, he won’t forgive me. But you go ahead with Alicia. I don’t want to spoil your tradition.”
So she attended the party in London, and Anthony stayed in Milborough. The next Monday, Thérèse went back to work. As she approached her desk she saw Hubert talking to Joe the Project Manager. Hubert seemed angry, if his lobster-red face was any indication.
They went quiet when they saw her.
“Good morning,” she said. But Hubert only mumbled something and scurried off.
Thérèse gave Joe a mystified look. “What’s the matter with him?”
Joe shrugged and looked guilty.
“Have I done something wrong? I know I’m running a bit late, but....”
“It’s not you,” said Joe. “He’s just ... he’s pissed off at Anthony.”
“Oh dear,” she sighed. “My poor boy. What expectation has he failed to live up to this time?”
But Joe didn’t smile back. “Do you know much about this Patterson girl he took to Hubert’s party?”
“Elizabeth?” For a moment, Thérèse was genuinely startled. “He invited her?”
“So you didn’t know,” Joe said.
“Anthony’s told me about her. She’s an old friend.”
“Yeah, well, they looked a little too friendly to me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“He was slow-dancing with her for much of the night, for starters. Then he left early with her and didn’t come back.”
Again, Thérèse felt thrown off her balance. “He did?”
Joe busied himself with his computer. “Look, boss, I don’t want to stir up trouble between you two. Maybe he just got tired and went home after he dropped her off. All I know is that he wasn’t back by the time I left, and that was five in the morning.”
When she asked Anthony about it over dinner that night, she was more embarrassed than hurt. “Can you imagine what that must have looked like?” she said. “We’ve only been engaged a few weeks!”
“I know,” said Anthony. He looked so sincere that Thérèse was sure Joe must have been exaggerating. “Elizabeth and I were just catching up on old times, I promise. I had no idea how late it was.” He leaned across the table to squeeze her hand. “I’m really sorry, honey. You know you can trust me, don’t you?”
“Oh, Anthony, of course I do,” Thérèse sighed. “I’m sorry if I overreacted. I just want you all to myself.”
Anthony beamed at her. “You’ve got me, don’t worry,” he said. “And you really need to meet Elizabeth. She’s such an amazing girl. You’ll love her.”
The truth was, Thérèse wanted to love Elizabeth. She hoped to get on well with anyone who was important to Anthony, and it would be nice to have a friend in Milborough who could help her feel at home there. So when Anthony suggested they join Elizabeth, Gordon and Tracey for lunch one weekend, Thérèse thought it was a good idea.
On the way to the restaurant, Anthony swung by the Pattersons’ house to give Elizabeth a ride. The house was as generically suburban as the rest of the street. The only thing that set it apart was the legendary model train set that Thérèse could glimpse in the back yard.
Elizabeth came bounding down the porch steps as they drove up – a perky girl in a blue tee shirt, with a wide headband holding back her blonde hair. “It’s so nice to finally meet you!” she exclaimed as she climbed into the car. Then she laughed – she ended most of her sentences by laughing, Thérèse soon discovered – and waved at her parents standing in the front door. Anthony waved too, and nudged Thérèse with his elbow until she sheepishly joined in. “That’s John and Elly!” he said. “Maybe they’ll come over and say hi.”
And they did, walking down to the driveway to poke their heads in the car windows. John wanted Anthony to tell him all about how business was going at Mayes Motors, and Elly was very curious about Thérèse. She asked all sorts of questions about who her parents were, where she grew up and what plans she had made for the wedding so far.
“Anthony is such a fine young man,” Elly declared, peering over her glasses. “He’s like a son to us. You are so lucky, dear.”
“Yes, I think I am,” said Thérèse. Elly seemed nice enough, though a bit too nosy and pushy with someone she’d just met. Thérèse could tell that Elizabeth would look just like her mother in twenty years – overweight and a bit frumpy, with lines around her mouth and bags under her eyes. She sighed at the thought, then scolded herself for being snobbish.
The Pattersons kept them chatting for so long that they were twenty minutes late meeting Gordon and Tracey. The big family restaurant was crowded and it took a long time for their food to arrive. They had to shout a bit to hear each other over the noise.
For a while they kept talking about Gordon’s business, and then Elizabeth turned to Thérèse.
“Anthony tells me you’ve been to France,” she said.
“Yes,” Thérèse replied, “a few summers ago. It was wonderful.”
“Did you like the people there? I’ve heard they can be really rude.”
“I suppose there are rude people in every country. But the people I met were very welcoming. I made some good friends.”
Elizabeth shrugged and scooped up a handful of fries. “Well, I bet the shopping was fantastic.”
Thérèse smiled. “I was more interested in the museums, myself.”
“My passion is First Nations culture. Strange, isn’t it, how we can travel the world and yet pay so little attention to this amazing diversity that’s right in our backyard.”
The remark sounded vaguely insulting. Thérèse sipped her water and shrugged it off.
“I want to teach in a school up north someday,” Elizabeth continued. “That would be a real adventure. Just imagine being out there among the natives, far away from modern conveniences! You could learn so much about who you really are.”
“Yes, that’s true,” Thérèse replied. “Though learning who the native people really are is the important thing.”
It was the wrong thing to say. Elizabeth went bright red. “I would,” she sputtered. “I mean, of course.”
“It must be so exciting for you,” Thérèse said hastily, but the damage had already been done. Gordon and Tracey were looking at her in surprise and disapproval, and Anthony jumped in to change the subject, peppering Elizabeth with questions about how her studies were going. The rest of the lunch felt awkward, and when Anthony and Thérèse drove Elizabeth home they barely said a word.
“That could have gone better,” Anthony said once Elizabeth was out of the car. There was an anxious note in his voice. Thérèse had a sudden vision of Elizabeth describing the whole thing to Elly – and Elly telling everyone else.
“It was just a misunderstanding,” she said wearily.
“Well, don’t worry. Elizabeth won’t hold it against you. She’s very forgiving.”
“Yes,” said Thérèse, “of course she is.”