A late-twenty-something in a blue pregnancy blouse and a long slate-coloured skirt looked down at her younger sister from the top of a flight of stairs, "Where are you off to?"
"I moved out from under our parents's roof for a reason," came the haughty reply. I hate what he's done to you.
Meg's older sister took a half dozen steps down the stairs and gave her sister a better look. "Let me rephrase: what's her name?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Meg, blushing. But what she did know was that she didn't want to be around her sister, or her fiancé, any longer until after they'd been fed. They were like Mandarin ducks; once their nest was built, they lost their affinity for one another. "Four thirty-three, I gotta run."
"We're going to talk about this later, okay? In the pink room," said her sister. "I must be vicarious these days. Y'know I can't drink."
Meg nodded and smiled, winter scarf wrapped around her neck. I should really go now. I won't be able to live with myself, either, if I'm late.
They had just learned that he never bothered them in the pink bedroom. It was set aside for the baby. He steered clear because the walls were allegedly slathered thick with estrogen. Of course, that would have to change once the baby arrived.
Outside, walking to the local subway station, Meg's mind began to remember last winter, the last time a woman had made her feel remotely close to the way the guy on the subway did.
I can't believe we met on The Steps of all places. That's what the twinks call it. I swear to gawd, kidding not a soul, it's where silent gay hook-ups happen. And by hook-ups, I mean benefriendships and one-night-stands. In fact, I don't think there's any friendship involved, just benefits.
Anyways, it was at the corner of Church & Wellesley, the beating heart of Toronto's LGBTQQ village. Church, how ironic a name is that, eh?
I didn't learn the significance of The Steps until afterwards. Looking back, I suspect she knew all along, but I'm too polite to ask. Whatever. It explains why some guy in a tight coat was eyeing me like he wasn't sure if I was a crossdresser or not. Thank gawd I just happened to look feminine enough for him to lose interest. It's tough for a dyke like me, or like I was then, to look girlish in Canadian winter. I really should've thrown my eyes to the side and raised two spread fingers to my lips. That'd send a message.
I remember sitting down on The Steps. Looking at the cars, and some lady walking her toy greyhound. No, it wasn't a puppy. I'd seen her before and asked. Just seeing that tiny dog made me feel larger than life.
"Good luck," I'm sure I whispered to nobody in particular.
I had a hot chocolate in hand, sipped it gently and watched the snow fall. My hair was mostly longer, in a mohawk, the last vestige of which is now my rat-tail.
Someone I didn't know then sat down beside me. I looked over. She had dark brown hair and skin that was as pink as the inner ears on her fleecy cat-eared white-toque.
She put her hand on mine. Half-glove to mitten. Rainbow hand warmers. Purple fingernails.
I didn't know what to do.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" she said. Sweet voice. Not so sweet now.
I didn't imagine it was deliberate. I would never. Now I'm the one being deliberate.
Too deliberate, Meg concluded as CJ spotted her for the second time. Looking away, her hands began to shake within the pockets she'd shoved them into. Blake's companion had such an icy gaze. Fear welled up in her.
It was 5:17 PM.
"I just feel so numb. So fickle. But there's nobody else," said Blake, walking through the Eaton Centre with his friend alongside him.
"I hear you," said CJ. "Look, there's a- uh..." He looked over his shoulder.
Meg had ducked behind a very young couple just in time. They were barely tall enough to hide her.
"Nevermind," said CJ. They kept walking. "I thought I saw something."
"Are your anti-depressants giving you hallucinations again?" asked Blake.
CJ snorted, "Hah, more like paranoia at this exact moment. But no, I'm not on the wellbutrin anymore."
Her cover fled into a La Coste outlet. Its mascot reminded her of her favourite song on Sainthood, the newest Tegan & Sara CD she was obsessed with. Its second single, Alligator. The mascot was an alligator; one she could picture crying, like in the song.
Meg scooted after them.
"Gimme a minute to leak," said Blake as he paused outside a men's public bathroom, before disappearing inside.
CJ sighed and perched his tush against the wall. He leaned his head back, closed his eyes, propped up one leg and smiled to himself. This young man was six feet tall, an inch taller than Blake, with long dirty blond hair that reached the base of his pecs.
Meg didn't know what to make of him. When she thought he wasn't looking, she sat down on the other side of the entrance to the hall of bathrooms.
"What's your deal?" he asked, without looking in her direction.
She turned her head.
His eyes pounced, his body still.
Meg feigned ignorance by looking the other way.
"I asked," he said to her, "why have you been following us?"
Meg had been exceedingly lucky to spot Blake getting off the subway. Since then, she'd been on their tail for three subway stops a small part of a very large shopping centre. So, she really didn't want to answer.
CJ began to walk toward her.
Her palms grew sweaty.
He walked past her. Then caved against the wall and slumped into a seated position in a single fluid movement. Part of her half-expected his hand to fall on hers accidentally, or to cat ears poking out of his head.
"Gawd," he muttered, "how long does it take him to empty that thing?"
An awkward laugh caught in her throat.
"Out with it," he said pleasantly.
"Crush," was all Meg could manage. At first. "On him."
It sounded like instructions, but he seemed well aware they weren't. To her, though, the word 'crush' had sent vivid images of a red-haired indie rock starlet wailing into a microphone. Meg had a far-off look on her face and a craving for her iPod to her moist hands. Her mind, at that moment, was filled with Paramore lyrics.
"Ah," he said, letting his mind process it. "He's g--"
"I know," interrupted Meg. "Blake is gay." I was gay just the other day, wasn't I? she tried to rationalize it. "This crush, I've stopped trying to make sense of it," she lied.
"Allow me to," said CJ with a wink that pulled him to his feet. "Keep watching carefully." He moved to a new spot, quite close to the door, and leaned against the wall again.
She looked over at him and tried to say something but--
A finger at his lips hushed her.
Blake Bourne walked out of the bathroom looking flustered. "Is it too early to get something to eat?"
"Never," said his friend. And as they began to walk away, Meg stretched and soon sauntered into their wake, bag over her shoulder with a pink feather that refused to lose its shape.