This is the story of Crescent Lane, an arc of cement insignificant except for the fact that it's carved into the highest point of the Vancouver. It sits at the crest of the British Properties and as such holds the rest of the city in its sway both in the metaphorical and the literal. Along that lane are five different homes, in stone or cement or wood they rise to the sky as beautiful and free of cracks as the road itself. There are always cracks though; they're just hidden from plain view. The oaks that line each side are over a hundred years old; as tangled and twisted as the people they shelter.
This is the story of five families, bound by proximity if not temperament. It is a narrative of their children's competing wants, needs and desires told without the benefit of hindsight or even foresight. It is a social experiment with the application of wit; a looking glass into the effects of too much money and too little parental involvement. It ought to be taken as an adage, a warning of what could be. If you take it as an example to follow, then that says more about you than it ever could them.
The story doesn't start on that street though, it starts across a bridge and through a mile of forest. It begins at five years before the present, in the moment before everything perfect broke to pieces and everything simple became endlessly complex.
November 7, 2004
The moon is high in the sky but the light isn't enough to light all the darkened corners of the forest. The black crawls all around them, thick branches that block out moonbeams, create patterns against the pine-needle dusted floors. The darkness crawls through Margaret as well. That is the why they have a roaring fire; crackles outdoing the distant snaps of wood as small creatures scurry from under overturned trees. A blanket covers the building dew and provides a layer of comfort for the two twelve year olds huddled in the middle. Maggie is on the right, thick brown hair cascading across stripes of red wool. The natural waves lay too close to the fire but neither of the kids notice because Blake is too intent on forming constellations with his fingers and Maggie too involved in following his teachings. He spreads a pale hand across the sky and she laughs, tries to differentiate one star from another, decide which is the larger and which is the smaller. She puts her own arms up once she settles upon her answer.
"That's nothing," he teases as he takes her fingers and shifts their position to the correct point. "That's Orion," he corrects with his grey eyes twinkling. It isn't a trick of the darkened skies; Blake's eyes truly are grey. They are other colours at other times; sometimes blue or green or hazel but mostly they're as grey as the ash that sully both of their still childlike fingers.
"How do you know all this?" Maggie asks. She uses his hand to pull herself upward, crosses slender legs below and bats at her hair even though the blanket kept it clean.
"My mom loves all that stuff." Blake answers as his phone chimes. The tiny bell has him jumping upward, tottering over to the pile of sticks that had once been distributed between four nearly teenagers and their twenty year old chaperone. Blake and Margaret are the only ones still awake, Keith and Kathy having long gone to sleep under the watchful eye of Thomas Hollyburn. Thomas is Maggie's brother, a student at the University of British Columbia. Blake had convinced her brother to take them away to celebrate Maggie's birthday and then volunteered to stay up with her when her fear of the dark had nearly undone the entire adventure before it'd begun.
"What are you doing?" she asks as he threads a marshmallow on a stick, leaving a line of sticky white at the tip. He shushes her with a mischievous smile, puts the stick into the fire. "I thought you had enough," Maggie questions further. They'd all had enough, the four teens and Thomas nearly finishing the entire bag that first night. Well, everyone except Maggie because she didn't eat nasty stuff like that.
"I have," Blake promises, but it doesn't stop him from turning the stick. It piques Maggie's interest enough to lean forward but not question. "Look," Blake pushes his watch at the girl, holds it at the right angle to be lit by the campfire. The smaller hand has inched past the twelve, proving their revelry has pushed into the next morning. It's enough to make Maggie smile. "Happy Birthday" Blake offers along with the browned marshmallow.
Maggie stares at it a long time before she accepts. Her nose wrinkles as she takes it, white cream mingling with the ash in one hand to turn it to a muted grey. "Is this the only gift I'm getting," she asks suspiciously.
"If I say yes will you eat it?"
"You'd have more luck if you said no."
Maggie studies him as intently as she had his gift, tries to measure whether he's telling the truth. In the end it doesn't matter and she takes the first bite, nose wrinkling deeper as the sugar coats her tongue. "It's too sweet," Maggie decides. She falls back onto the blanket and hands the remnants of his gift back. Blake tosses it into mouth and matches her again, putting one hand behind his head and kicking his hiking boots into the dirt. "You know you didn't have to do that."
"It was just a marshmallow."
"I mean stay up with me. All night."
"Why wouldn't I?"
Maggie never answers the question. She's not exactly sure why. It was just too much to ask.
"I'd do anything for you. You've always been my best friend."
The truth reflects in her smile, in the hand that inches progressively closer to his. "I love you Blake," she admits easily because the truth is meant to come easy.
"I love you too Maggie," he promises and takes her hand, sugar and ash blending against pressed palms, binding them together with eyes staring into the sky again.
October 1, 2009
The truth of location is in the cigarette smoke that swirls despite a municipal ban over five years old. It coats every inch of the bar, twisting between wood railings that encircle the crooked dance floor. It clings to every thread of Margaret's brunette hair as if to remind her that she is in a seedy bar in East Vancouver. She doesn't belong here, wouldn't be here except for the music. The clanging noise is far from her taste, but it's not passion that brings her here. Margaret Hollyburn has a fascination for things old, from music to the pearls that dangle from her slender neck. The only thing to her taste was the lead singer but not in that way. Her boyfriend Keith is beside her, has an arm protectively over one shoulder. The boy on the stage was her closest friend except, of course, he couldn't be that because he was a boy and she was a girl and sooner or later that screwed everything up. So two years ago Margaret had recast the role of friend to the petite Asian on her left. It just fit better. The only problem with the recreation was that everyone else knew that Margaret and Blake were still as close as they had been at five.
Kathy Wu is the girl whose arm was threaded through Margaret's, pristine alabaster skin woven through a more freckled hue. Kathy is emptying her fifth martini, alcohol slowly flushing her skin enough for Margaret to notice. The heat against her cool makes the brunette pull away, leaning deeper into the broad shoulders of her boyfriend as she shifts. Margaret doesn't pull away for the temperature but the contrast. She hates the light dusting of brown on her otherwise flawless skin. She hates a lot of things. She just doesn't mention them aloud. She runs a finger along the rim of her glass. It is the symbol of her other flaw. Margaret Hollyburn lives her life according to an series of unwritten rules. One of those rules limits her to Diet Coke. She could have a single glass of red wine but this bar has nothing worth imbibing, so she exchanges for the Coke, sipping slowly while the other two drink freely.
Keith runs a finger down her arm and then holds his empty beer bottle high as the band's set ends in a rising cacophony. Kathy laughs loudly into her empty glass, raises it to chime against Keith with her face turning red. Margaret takes another sip while her boyfriend orders another round for the table. Her glass is still nearly full but it doesn't bother her. Neither does the moment when Keith leans right across her to whisper something into the smallest girl's ear. It's all nothing because Keith Lawson is her best fit. Margaret couldn't have created a better boyfriend if she tried. Their only differences are in the externals; in his sandy blonde hair to her brown or his hazel eyes to her blue. In desires, beliefs, values and achievements they are the same. He is her exact male counterpart: captain of the boys swim team as she is captain of the girls, the top boy in their grade eleven class to her position as top girl. Even their houses sit exactly opposite one another. They are the accomplished.
Blake Anders is the opposite. As evidenced by the glass of clear liquid in one hand, the only thing he could accomplish is a healthy state of inebriation. He dangles at the edge of the stage and the small collection of girls in front hint at his other talent. He'll toss the black guitar behind his back and wink at the right moment. He doesn't actually play that guitar. It's a prop. Everything is a prop in Blake's world but don't imagine him some tortured artistic genius. He might be tortured but he is no genius. The only lyrical brilliance Blake can demonstrate is an uncanny ability to write metaphors for sex. That's fine. He never claims to be talented. In fact, he'll admit to the opposite after a few more. He only plays the stage for attention and he's good at attracting that. He has a presence, can play corners and make love to a microphone in a way that can make more than a few girls forget the fact that they ought not become entangled with him. He gets a few for that display but it's not his only attraction. In his ripped jeans and ever present t-shirt, always black and never loose, Blake is the only one that could have fit into the bar's usual clientele. He could have except for the tags in his clothing, the ones that proved he was playing at being something other than he was. He was the richest of all, new money but enough of it to make it old. He also had a face that you wanted to stare at, not because he was traditionally handsome though from some sides he was but just because there was so much in that face. It was like an artistic masterpiece, with lines and angles crafted to create intrigue. It was the kind of face you could study for hours without arriving at a single conclusion.
The waitress returns with not three, but four glasses. The last is placed between Margaret and Kathy, announcing the imminent arrival of their fourth. He jumps from the stage once the last chord dies, weaves through the crowd, jumps again, this time onto the table of their booth without a second thought. Blake drops himself unceremoniously between the two girls, barely giving them enough time to make space. He runs a hand through his dampened locks and Margaret recoils at the sight. "You know you sweat when you sing," she says with protective hand up.
It earns her a smile and a slight lean closer. "I sweat at other times too," he promises and she puts the hand a little closer to his face, palm covering his rising merriment.
"You're sounding better," Keith offers as the other boy sips. The suggestion is enough for Blake to snort the clear liquid up again. The laughter comes next, rich and throaty. It builds up and then breaks apart.
"We sound like crap."
The honestly restarts Kathy's laughter to match. Except rather than joining in chorus, Kathy's giggles quickly overtake the others and Blake stops laughing entirely. He stares instead. "Wow," He takes in the raven-haired beauty's bloodshot eyes, spies the hint of black underwear as Kathy crosses her legs unevenly, hiking her too short skirt up in the process. "You truly went all out tonight."
"She's had six martinis." Margaret supplies with her matter of fact voice.
"Aww, you would keep count wouldn't you?" Blake offers with his best attempt at a puppy dog face. It suits his boyish face perfectly but the sight still makes Margaret rolls her eyes in agitation. Blake raises his own glass. "How much have I had?"
"I'd have to wake up with you to keep count."
"Well," Blake threw a hand over her shoulder, purposely inching a fingertip beneath her lace capped sleeve. "That could be arranged." Margaret shoves his whole hand away, dressing her eyes with a flashing warning. He never was good at heeding them. Nevertheless he doesn't put his arm back but drapes it over the Kathy instead. "I'll take her home."
"I don't think so," Margaret interjects before her best friend can put her will forward. "Keith will," she starts but one look at her boyfriend made her change the words. "We will take her home."
"Come on," Blake teases. "It's not like she's my type."
"You have no type. Unless type can be defined as drunk and willing."
"Well I'm drunk and willing," Blake counters. The arm is back then, the squeeze of her shoulder and the slow look premeditated. She knows both but it won't stop the instinctual curling of her lip, downward to form the counterpoint to his upward movement. Her hand is again the usual method of repulsion. This time she presses it to his cheek, holds through two seconds and then shoves with enough force to play with the division between teasing and genuine disgust.
"That makes one of us." Margaret promises.
"One day," Blake hides his smug smile behind another sip of vodka.
"Hey," Keith finally interjects. He might be used to their banter but there were still lines.
"Just playing around," Blake offers with a disarming smile. It probably did the trick but if it didn't then the guitarist sashayed up at the right moment with a better distraction dangling off his right arm.
"Blake," Marcus gives the redhead a little push. "This is Megan."
"And that's my cue to leave," Blake offers as he steps onto the bench seating, taking the same route over the table that brought him there. He has an arm dangling naturally to the girl's waist the moment he drops. "From school right?" he asks as he pulls her to the other side of the crowded club.
Margaret rolls her eyes at the display, taking a deeper sip of her Coke than she intended. It burns a small line of aspartame and carbonation down her throat. The noise seems to swell around and for the twelfth time that night she wonders why they're all there. None of them fit in, not even Blake with his confident swagger and ripped jeans. They are all underage and if the crowd didn't have millions between them than the club owner would never risk it. It makes her dip a finger into her drink, shove it away in disgust. She feels the heat of her boyfriend's breath before the touch of his lips, the small bite on her shoulder that's meant to entice. "Why don't we get out of here," he whispers next, touching his nose to the side of her ear.
"Now is as good a time as any."
The knocking of day is no different than the norm, except this time it is playing outside his skull rather than within. It builds and Blake rolls towards the source, touching warm flesh instead of a coherent thought. It makes him flinch even though it ought not to. It was too much the norm to be unsettling. Blake's eyes burn when he opens them, lash by lash, until the blinding morning light is imprinted to clarity. It bleeds through the floor to ceiling windows that dress the entire southern wall. There are curtains. Blake never remembers to close them but he always remembers the glass of water beside his bed. It's lukewarm as it drips down his parched throat, manicured nails announcing that he has awoken his companion. They trace a pattern along one thigh before Blake grabs the hand and throws it back. His feet are beneath him before the redhead can try again, robe around his frame before he bends to pick up her discarded dress. He tosses it back towards the bed without a look. He stared at enough of her yesterday. "Get dressed and get out."
Blake hears the gasp but doesn't look towards the source. He waits for the curse or the insult. Sometimes there are nails or thrown pottery. He's learned to place his favourite art pieces on the far side of the room. Sometimes he orders a cab but not for this one. She's a local. Three streets down and two over. She can walk. So he ties his robe and considers staying in the shower until she's gone. The knocking changes the plan, reminds him what alerted him to day. It echoes through the box he calls home. It wasn't actually a home. The Anders house was one hundred feet from Blake's front door, a modern masterpiece with tiled flat roofs and a balcony at every corner. It was a thirteen million dollar home that Blake moved out of at fourteen. He stays in the guest house. He calls it his glorified box more for the shape than the size because it is expansive. His king bed barely covers one corner, a small kitchen that he never cooks in another. Through the middle he's constructed an enormous entertainment centre with pool table to one side and makeshift dance floor and seating area with five different leather couches to the other. He manages to fill every available inch when the need to party outdoes the fear of his father's reprimand.
There are only three doors in the space, one to the bathroom in the back, another to the patio and the last to the front door where his feet move unsteadily. Blake opens it without a look to see whether the girl has covered herself or not. That's not his concern. Keith is standing on the other side, sandy blonde hair hidden beneath a varsity pullover, jeans kicked out below. "Is this a bad time?" Keith arches a brow at the movement behind.
"She'll be out in a minute," Blake promises. He says it softly, not loud enough for the nameless to hear. He only ever asks them to leave once.
This one is more resigned than the usual. She neither yells nor makes an offer but just collects her belongings in silence. She doesn't even acknowledge Blake until she's at the door. Then she puts a hand to his chin as she moves to pass, lets it linger long enough for the bile to climb to the base of Blake's throat. He knows it's wrong for him to feel this way when he always feels so totally opposite in the night. Then every touch is a kick upward, a chase to final completion. The morning brings the opposite, the drop downward, each fingertip a stain that he can't help but avert his chin from. He'll stare at the door frame until the stilettos hit the tile. Then he'll look again. When she's a silhouette against the garden wall he'll stare, he'll smile at the red hair and the perfect curve of a hip. Then for a moment he'd nearly chase them all again. He'd drag them back and beg them to stay. Except he never does.
Neither will he sleep in the bed until the housekeeper has stripped it clean.
Blake's friend is the only one to wear the grin when the door closes. It splits the varsity athlete's face in two. Blake is pretty sure he's the one who's supposed to be smiling that full, but he lets the strange envy disappear somewhere in his foggy thoughts. Keith bounces on his feet but Blake drags a hand through his hair, heading for the kitchen on instinct.
"How was she?" Keith asks as Blake grabs the bag of coffee beans from the freezer, tosses a handful into a grinder.
"She was..." Blake winces at the whirl. One day, one day he swears to himself that he is going to buy pre-ground coffee. Then he remembers that he did that once before and it just wasn't the same. It lacked the bite to diminish the biting in his head. "She was..." Blake opens the stainless fridge before the thoughts pulled clear through, catching the word between flashes of skin and coquettish smiles, between rivers of red hair and perfectly rounded lips. "She was pretty," he decides with a private smile and bottle of amaretto in hand. He spikes one cup before the coffee is poured, pushes the virgin to his friend.
"You live a blessed life."
The smile spreads across Blake's face before disappearing behind a sip. The fogginess starts to clear as the alcohol layers his tongue. He knows it's a trick of the mind, one sip can not undo a night of consumption but that trick of the mind works enough so he holds it as truth. He still needs the shower though, so he tells Keith to rack them up while he disappears into the back. Within fifteen minutes his skin is scrubbed raw and then covered in jeans and a loose tee.
Keith is halfway through a set by the time Blake returns. He pulls the balls back to restart before Blake hits the edge of the table. Blake digs through his jean pocket, emerges with a rumpled hundred dollar bill. He tosses it on the table, waits for his pressed friend to do the same. Keith pulls his wallet from pressed khakis, pulls a pristine bill to cover the first. "Your break or mine?"
"I say yours," Keith admits with a drag of the cue against the floor. "You're the one who's good at breaking, wills at least."
"Couldn't convince Maggie to spend the night?"
"I couldn't even get her to come into the house. She knows my parents are in New York." Keith glares at the set up, runs off a couple balls with only half concentration. "It's like she has virgin radar. Oh no, must not do that. I might just end up having sex."
"It can't be that bad."
"Need I remind you that I bought candles? Thirty-two of them."
"She would'a loved it."
"I'm at my wits end." Keith admits with a fist to his mouth. "Can you talk to her?"
The suggestion was enough for Blake to miss another easy shot. "What?"
"For whatever reason Margaret listens to you."
"It's not my place. Besides, you shouldn't rush into things," Blake says as he stubs the end of his cue into a socked foot.
"This coming from the boy who had sex at twelve."
"Three weeks before my thirteenth birthday," Blake argues as he usually does; the distinction insignificant except within his own mind. He'd recast himself a teenager, the rest still saw him as a seventh grader.
"Do you really want Maggie's first experience to be something she feels pressured into?"
"At this point I'm not sure I care."
"You don't mean that."
"We've been dating over two years and I've done everything right. I buy her nice things. I never forget important anniversaries. I let her pick what we are going to do way too much."
Blake presses two fingers to the bridge of his nose, continues that hand through his hair before he can agree to the request.
"Thanks," Keith smiles as he sinks the eight ball. "Not just for the game," he promises as he takes the bills in parting.
The pain comes on the fifth lap. It's the evidence that she's pushing more than she usually does. It's always the seventh lap that the ache returns to her side. She ignores it, lets the warm water rush through her arms until the temporary discomfort is replaced by numbing calmness again. She knows every inch of her body, when she can push harder, what pain is genuine and what is manageable. It's never genuine. She can always chase it away with a harder kick, a deeper breath so she ignores it. Margaret counts the seconds in her mind, they blend into the rush of water in her ear, forgotten as soon as remembered. She pikes without looking, kicks the cement wall with all her might, throws her body the opposite way. She hardly opens her eyes in the water, even though the goggles let her see. She doesn't need to, she's memorized every detail of that pool from the foot where the dividing rope always hangs crooked to the rough edges of cement at one corner. She knows the distance without needing to open her eyes, knows when to turn and when to push hardest. She counts out the seconds in her mind and she knows she's ahead. There is freedom in the water, in practice where you challenge only yourself. Margaret likes to challenge herself, to push harder and higher while everyone else is content to be good enough. She needs to be better, smarter, quicker than acceptable.
She loves swimming because she is the best. Not even Keith can better her and he's captain of the boy's team. She is, in the words of her coach, a phenomenon. It could have been blind praise except she has a wall to confirm it: photographs, trophies, ribbons and newspaper clippings. It's in her father's office except it's not her father's anymore. When he left them he gave up ownership to every inch of their family home. The wall still stands. Margaret refuses to touch an inch of his domain. The flash of thought has her kick harder at the cement, push far enough that the eighth lap is half done by the time her arms break the surface. Her eyes flicker open long enough to see places where the red lines are faded to a muted pink One day she's going to drain that pool. The day she graduates she's going to repaint those red lines to erase the pink. She never did like pink even though she wears it enough to be a favourite. She has to. The colour fits who she aspires to be. But in truth she prefers red. She's more blood than cotton candy.
The thoughts distract her enough that she has to put her eyes forward, count backwards rather than forwards to the wall. That's why she catches the movement on approach, a hand dangling inches above the water, finger creating nearly unseen ripples with lazy circles. Margaret is so surprised that she misses the point of pike and her head nearly catches the edge of the pool before she can pull back. She yanks back her goggles as she surfaces, glare exposed with her eyes. "Blake!" she screams without needing to look, tossing her pink glasses at the reclined figure.
The laughter steals away Blake's greeting. He presses one hand to his lips, the other dropping to his side as he nearly falls over. His legs are kicked out along the pool edge, dangling dangerously close to the water as he rolls to one side. Margaret's glare builds but nothing cracks his amusement. Not until she dips both hands into the water and forming a cup, splashes him right across his uniform pants. Then he sits straight up and returns a glare of his own. "What are you doing?" he asks but she undoes the question with another hit, this time across his pampered face. "Didn't you hear," he asks as he wipes the chlorinated water clear. "I'm supposed to be the one making you wet."
"I was working on a best time." she explains and his glare drops into almost sympathy. "What do you want Blake."
"Your boyfriend," He says with a wink and a nod to the far side of the pool where Keith is towelling himself dry. He's away from the side before Margaret can put her palms to the cement to climb upward. She counts to twenty, this time not for a spin but so that she doesn't pull herself up and interrupt the two boys. She counts to forty before Blake slaps Keith across an arm and departs, avoids his wink and his hand by pushing to the other side of the pool, climbing the ladder closest to the boys side.
Margaret grabs a towel from the rack before she saunters to Keith, wraps it around her blue and gold racing suit, pulls all her hair to one side. Keith gives her a kiss as she reaches him and waits in silence even though he always knows what she's going to say. "So what did Blake want?" The delivery is textbook neutral but they both know better.
"He invited me to a party on Saturday."
That's enough for the pretence to drop. "Are we talking a William Preston party or a Marcus Winters party?"
"It's a high school party," Keith promises as he puts the towel to his girlfriend's hair, rubs five times for good measure.
"Don't," Margaret pulls away, pulls her hair to one side again. "You'll make it harder to style."
"He invited both of us but I told him you'd be in Calgary."
"He knew that."
"Yeah. Well. Whatever. Why don't you get dressed and we'll go out for cheesecake." The idea alone has Margaret curl one lip in disgust. "I'll get the cheesecake. You can get a mocha," he promises as he curls one arm around his girlfriend, starting her to the change rooms with a push.
Margaret has three full-length mirrors in her room, one on either side of her walk-in closet and another in her private bathroom. She'd stopped short of adding a fourth, providing herself a full three hundred and sixty degree because it is better to catch sight of flaws in flashes. That's not to say that she has many. Margaret has the body of a champion swimmer, toned arms and legs alongside a powerful core. There are inches she detests but they are easily avoided with a pike to the right or left, a shift of her vantage point or a covering of fabric. She's in front of that mirror now, blue eyes reflecting back critically. It's as much for the two dresses in her hands as anything more fundamental. In the left she has something floaty in aquamarine. It starts with two wide bands that would gather in the centre of her chest before falling away to her ankles. The colour plays off her eyes. The other dress is crafted out of thicker cream fabric, bunching below her breasts before falling to knee length. This dress plays off her pearls and tendency towards the traditional. Margaret is nearly decided when another dress is thrust in front. It is midnight green and very different from the rest. She doesn't have to look at the hand to know her mother has returned.
"I got you a dress," Eva Hollyburn explains with a push of silk.
"I'm not going to wear that."
"It's a perfect colour for you and a great fit for your body."
"It's too revealing."
"You should try revealing a bit more," her mother suggests as she brings the fabric flush to her teen daughters curves. "I'm sure Keith would appreciate it."
"He'll wonder what is wrong with me." Margaret says as she tries to push the fabric away. Her mother is never easily defeated.
"I bet he'd stop staring at your best friend." Her thoughts put to words was like a kick to the stomach. Margaret took a breath to tide the tears. She doesn't accept the dress but she does stop fighting its placement. "I've seen how he looks at her. You should get him to look at you the same way."
That makes Margaret stare into the mirror again, eyes watering just a moment before they're blinked to a neutral calm again. She stares at the line of the green dress. It was far from scandalous, just a slit along one thigh and a neckline that hinted rather than plunged. It could have been beautiful.
"Boys don't like uptight girls. They want the girl who is laid back. Who isn't afraid to have fun," Eva gives a swipe to her daughter's manicured hair. Margaret pulls back on instinct, puts a trembling finger to her string of pearls. She's wearing a longer set, held in place by blue lace. It's tied into a perfect bow at the right side, colour hanging exactly one-third of the way down her white blouse. The blouse has capped sleeves, offering nothing beyond a bare arm for display. "If you keep playing the part of high strung, needy little princess, then he's going to leave you." Eva tries the dress one last time. "So loosen up."
That dress would have been beautiful but the words of offering were far from it. So Margaret shoves it aside and studies her reflection again. A shake of her head and everything is right with her choices again.
"Just give it a thought," Eva tries again, tossing the dress onto her daughter's perfectly made bed. "You should show off your body while you still have it."
Blake knows his Maggie has returned from the turn of the knob. It's in her eyes. They are the clearest blue he has ever seen; like the skyline from the very peak of a mountain. And on some nights that sky has lightning bolts. Her eyes flash when she's truly angry, and even though she tries to play off every arrival with humour, those flashes undo her every time. "No ribbon?" she banters as she passes, tossing her purse casually to the nearest table.
"No one to tempt."
"I didn't realize you had standards," she offers back as she turns, print skirt fanning out over her slender legs. She walks across the space as if she owns it and, in her own way, she probably does. Margaret never could but Maggie always will.
"You'd have to have seen the crowd." Blake says as he butts his cigarette into the granite countertop, crossing the space to retrieve a bag from the side table. Judging by how hard Maggie was thumping her heel, she was going to need it. "What has my little Maggie so perturbed?"
"My mother is a bitch."
"Not a new revelation," Blake quirks his brow as he saunters back. "But a sad one all the same."
"She bought me another new dress. With a slit up to here," Margaret exaggerates on the retelling, runs a finger all the way up to one hip. "Like I'd actually wear something like that."
"Other than later for me?" Blake suggests. It's enough to earn him a light slap across one cheek but also a smile. The smile makes him roll the joint. It's this strange ritual they established years before except at thirteen it had been cigarettes but then Margaret had learned that they cause cancer so they'd shifted to BC bud instead. Blake didn't have the heart to tell her it was all the same. Then again, she was smart enough to already know.
"She doesn't know me at all. And I'm getting sick of her trying to rewrite her history through me. She's such a hypocrite. A year ago she swore that you have to hold out. Telling me that no man will ever appreciate me if I don't value myself. Then dad leaves her for a younger woman and she's all about being more carefree. I don't think she'll be happy until I turn into some slut."
"I don't think that's possible," Blake offers with a laugh and the end of a blunt. He always has one at ready for these little evening visits. It's lit before Margaret takes it. She inhales deeply as she falls to the carpet beside him, shoulder falling into his. She returns it back to him, and for a moment things are silent. The only thoughts caught up in swirling smoke and breaking taboos.
Blake smiles as her blue eyes flash with her thoughts. This is his Maggie, so different from the girl who does everything perfectly. This is the girl who rants and swears and snuggles her shoulder against his until it fits exactly right. There are nights he knows he provokes her to try to see it because she is so much more beautiful with the fire. It never lasts.
"I'm just so sick of being her little project."
"We're our parents projects from birth," Blake says with a deeper drag. "It's the prerogative of procreation. Kids must always make up for their parent's mistakes. They must be that much better."
"I hope her party is a bust."
"I'm sure you could make it that way."
"You could wait until the middle and then have sex on the dining room table," Blake suggests.
"I suppose you're offering your services?" She rolls her eyes before the sentence is finished, fingers absently flattening one side of her hanging bangs. Margaret has thick brown hair that, if left untamed, would explode into messy curls. She never lets that happen. It's cut instead into a long bob, blunt bangs reminiscent of decades past. She'd crafted it months before the look was in vogue, kept it through the curls of fashion history. The bob was long enough to hang below her collarbone, ending dramatically longer at the front than the back. Margaret spends an hour flat ironing it straight every morning, uses enough product to chase away a natural look for something edgier, more picturesque.
"Keith really wants to get laid."
"I know that."
"Then why don't you do it?" Blake puts out before he thinks. Once he does, when her lips threaten to open and tell him what he doesn't ever want to know, he retracts. "You know what," Blake pushes his hands together in front of his face and then waves them outward in dismissal. "Don't want to know. Not my business."
"I'm just not ready."
"Then you should wait." Blake swears. There's a flash of relief when Margaret doesn't question him. To her it's alright that he preaches abstinence while living the exact opposite. "I'll come up with something," he promises for the silence. "For your mother's party." The smirk is pulling through before the sentence finishes. "Something special."
Her returning smile makes Blake wish they hadn't finished their shared deviation. He could use another hit to dull the heat building behind his ribs. Blake is pretty sure there is nothing that compares to her uneven smile, the way the curling lip plays against her blue eyes. It's a hundred times more beautiful than any of those perfect smiles, the type that are always paired with simpering politeness. Maggie is the most beautiful for her flaws. When that smile draws closer to his, the heat betrays again. He'll play it off as nothing the next day, as nothing that night because this is just another element to their personal ritual. She kisses him and he kisses her and it never means anything. She pulls back and and he smirks unaffected. He has to hold his breath for five seconds but that's nothing either. He just doesn't need the scent of lavender to build feelings where they ought not to be.
"For helping me," Margaret offers up the justification before she's pulled fully away. She put a finger to his lips, shushes him before he can do the same. Margaret's excuses change with the turning of the moon, some nights are like this one, she kisses him for his help, others for curiosity or humour or even pity. Blake's reason never changes. He kisses her to remember what a kiss feels like. What it means to kiss without it being a step on a longer journey. Its a foggy memory except with her. He smiles beneath her finger, uses a free hand to grab the guitar that always sits at ready in the main space. Once it's in his lap she pulls back, playful humour dismissing the events of moments before as easily as they began. "I'm thinking eighties rock tonight," Blake suggests with brow arching. He picks different decades for her mood, goes further back in history with her building temper. She's not that angry tonight.
"Song?" Maggie pushes her shoulders into the black leather, tosses her slender legs over his and waits.
"Sweet Child of Mine," Blake starts the complicated chords before he completes the sentence. It's not the guitar he uses at the club, nor is it the right sort of guitar for this song but he'll make it work. It's an acoustic with the Union Jack painted in bold strips of blue and red. It's a beautiful instrument that never leaves this space. Most of the school is convinced that Blake can not really play the guitar. The kids on Crescent Lane know better not just because they can hear him practice well into the night but because they all know he took eleven years of violin lessons before he could convince his father to give them up. He has a lovely voice too when it's not caught up more in feigned sneers than leading lyrics.
"So what are you going to do?" Margaret asks as the chords die to nothing.
"If I told you, I'd ruin the surprise."
"That means you're not sure."
"Don't worry, I'll come up with something."
"You always do," Margaret decides as she stands up, brushing her skirt until it hangs perfectly straight again. Blake knew she would go home to three showers, with enough perfumed product to erase what they'd just done. She'd wrap her clothing in a ball where only the housekeeper could find them. She has to. She has as much invested in being perfect as he does in being imperfect. "I don't think I could be quite so good if you weren't quite so bad," she admits when she's halfway through the door, spinning only once, barely catching his response before the door is closed for the night.
"I don't think I could be so bad if you weren't so good."
She's got a smile that it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Was as fresh as the bright blue sky
Now and then when I see her face
She takes me away to that special place
And if I'd stare too long
I'd probably break down and cry
Sweet child o' mine
Sweet love of mine
She's got eyes of the bluest skies
As if they thought of rain
I hate to look into those eyes
And see an ounce of pain
Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place
Where as a child I'd hide
And pray for the thunder
And the rain
To quietly pass me by
~Guns and Roses: Sweet Child O' Mine~
A/N - I'm planning on posting this as I work through the first draft. Once it's done I will delete it as I revise (and consider publishing if I decide i like what I have in the end) but I promise to post everything to the ending first :)