“So I’m organising a party,” Lisa explained, sitting on a pillow at the base of the spiral staircase, “For Johnny’s birthday. Can you come?” Shiny black boots covered her from her feet almost to her knees, and clipboard was sitting across her crossed legs.
“When is it?” Claudette asked, perched on the seat across from Lisa.
“Next Friday at six,” Lisa told her mother. “It’s a surprise. You can bring someone if you want.”
“Well, sure, I can come. But…” Claudette grimaced, clasping her mug of coffee in both hands, “I don’t know if I’ll bring anybody.” She gasped, a thought occurring to her. “That jerk Harold,” she hissed. “He wants me to give him a share of my house. That house belongs to me. He has no right.” She leaned forward, as if sharing a conspiracy with Lisa “I’m not giving him a penny. Who does he think he is?” she demanded, settling back into her chair, her argument settled, as far as she was concerned.
“He’s your brother,” Lisa reminded her mother, putting her own steaming mug of coffee to the side.
“He is always bugging me about my house,” Claudette whined, as if she had not been interrupted. “Fifteen years ago, we agreed that house belongs to me,” she continued. Lisa sighed and rolled her eyes. She had heard this story many times before. “Now the value of the house is going up and he’s seeing dollar signs. Everything goes wrong at once. Nobody wants to help me, and I’m dying.” Claudette took a deep sip of coffee, as if trying to drown her last few words. It was too late. They were out there now, hanging in the air between her and her daughter, far too soon. She wasn’t ready to have told Lisa yet. She wasn’t ready to have told anyone yet. She wasn’t ready.
“You’re not dying, mom,” Lisa sighed, used to her mother’s melodrama.
Claudette steeled herself. She couldn’t take back what she had already said. It wasn’t the time she would have picked, but now was the time to tell her daughter the truth. All she could do was keep herself together, stay as calm as possible to reassure Lisa. “I got the results of the test back,” she started, as if it didn’t bother her one whit. “I definitely have breast cancer.”
For a moment, Claudette wondered if her stoic nature had cushioned the blow of her words a little too much. Her daughter looked taken aback by the news, but only a little, and only for a moment. “Look, don’t worry about it,” she responded. “Everything will be fine. They’re curing lots of people every day.”
Claudette nodded. That part was true. The list of treatment options her doctor had gone over didn’t exactly sound pleasant, but they had a high success rate. Unfortunately they also had a high cost. Paying for them would almost bankrupt her – if she didn’t have to deal with her brother trying to lay a claim to her house. Now, it all seemed beyond reach. “I’m sure I’ll be alright,” she conceded, agreeing with Lisa to reassure her. “Oh,” she raised a finger, thinking of another topic, a distraction, “I heard Edward is talking about me. He is a hateful man.” Claudette took a sip of her coffee, a sneer of distaste working its way across her features. “I’m so glad I divorced him.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Lisa insisted. “You just concentrate on getting well.”
“Well, at least you have a good man,” Claudette sighed.
It was the one thought she had to cling to. She might not survive for long, and she might not be able to put much aside to leave to her daughter, certainly not enough to provide the life she deserved. Johnny was her best hope for Lisa’s future. The best thing she could do was encourage her daughter to stay with her future husband, and she’d never have to worry about money.
“You’re wrong,” Lisa spat. Claudette tilted her head in confusion, unsure what her daughter could be talking about. “Mom, he’s not what you think he is,” Lisa told her mother. “He didn’t get his promotion. And he got drunk last night.”
At the first bit of news, Claudette rolled her eyes – it wasn’t exactly an earth-shattering, end of the world development – but at the second she focused on her daughter. It still wasn’t the worst thing to hear, but it was unexpected.
Unsatisfied by her mother’s response, Lisa added, “And he hit me.”
“Johnny doesn’t drink,” Claudette pointed out, her daughter’s words making little sense. “What are you talking about?”
“He did last night,” Lisa maintained. “And I don’t love him anymore.”
Claudette sighed, her daughter’s future well-being slipping away right in front of her. “Johnny is your financial security,” she reminded Lisa. “You can’t afford to ignore this.”
“Yeah, okay, mom,” Lisa sighed, defeated. “Can I just talk to you later?”
“You don’t want to talk to me,” Claudette groaned, throwing her hands up in the air.
A slight smile tracing her lips, Lisa leaned forward. “I just got done talking with a client, and now I have to get ready to meet him,” she told her mother, before repeating, “Can I just talk to you later?”
“Okay,” Claudette agreed, setting aside her mug of coffee and retrieving her purse. “I will see you later.” She planted a small kiss on her fingertip before tapping her daughter’s nose. Lisa grinned and crinkled her nose at their customary goodbye, and then watched her mother let herself out of the dimly lit condo, her smile disappearing as soon as she knew she was alone.
Tentatively, Michelle pushed the unlocked door to the condo open, holding a textbook in one hand and her boyfriend Mike’s hand in the other. Mike trailed behind, more unsettled by the appropriation of the condo than his girlfriend. Michelle’s confidence bolstered him, and he soon relaxed, although he didn’t loosen his grip on the small box of chocolates he carried, now clutched in his hand like a comfort blanket. As the door closed behind them, Mike scanned the room, appreciatively taking in the romantic setting – the red walls, the candles, the ornate columns decorating the doors. Michelle had been right. This was the perfect place for them to enjoy each other’s company.
Michelle turned, smiling as she pressed herself to Mike, one hand against the thick wool of his sweater. “How much time do we have?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Mike stammered, still peering into every corner of the room, trying to reassure himself that they were alone. “Uh, a couple hours?” he guessed, nodding with false bravado. “At least.”
Her smile widening, Michelle turned away, practically skipping towards the couch. “Well,” she said, sitting down in the luxurious pile of pillows and sheepskin blankets, “Let’s have some fun.” Sprawling out, her long legs enhanced by her skin-tight jeans, her black tank top exposing her arms and cleavage, she posed invitingly.
Sitting down next to her, Mike flipped open the top on the box of chocolates. “Did you, uh, know,” he started nervously, taking out a piece of chocolate as a visual aid, “That chocolate is the symbol of love?” he asked, before letting out a short laugh.
Warmly, Michelle giggled in response, Mike’s sincere if clumsy attempt at seduction proving genuinely endearing. “Feed me,” she commanded, relaxing against the soft furs covering the sofa.
Obediently, Mike put the open box of chocolates aside, on the coffee table, before leaning forward. He popped the chocolate in Michelle’s mouth, and she clutched it between her teeth. Mike wasn’t sure how to respond, until Michelle rose up to meet him in a kiss. He opened his mouth to receive it, and for a long moment they explored each other, warmth and the sweet taste of chocolate mingling between them. Overcome, their hands raced across each other’s bodies as they became hopelessly lost in the moment.
Finally they parted, each savouring the lingering taste of chocolate. Eager to begin the experience again, Mike snatched another candy from the box and held it out to Michelle. Pursing her lips, teasingly, she kept her mouth closed, instead arching her back, tilting her head to offer her neck and chest. Quickly getting the idea, Mike rubbed the chocolate against her throat, and lower down on her upper chest, letting some of the smooth, velvety sweetness melt against Michelle’s skin before he placed the rest of the chocolate on her neck. He put his mouth against Michelle’s chest, licking and sucking the chocolate from her body as a small moan of pleasure escaped her lips.
“Yum,” she groaned seductively.
“It’s delicious,” Mike agreed, his mouth full of chocolate. Michelle guided his head back down onto her chest, relishing the feel of his mouth against her bare flesh.
After another few seconds she pushed him back up, so they both sat upright on the couch. “Arms up,” she directed.
With a grin, Mike complied, raising both arms straight above his head as if he was declaring a touchdown. Michelle grabbed the bottom of his sweater and rolled it up, over his arms, throwing it aside impatiently before shoving Mike down.
Mike watched Michelle, ready for any further cues, when she grabbed another piece of chocolate. “Chocolate is the symbol of love,” she reiterated, dropping the treat into her boyfriend’s mouth. She kissed him, tasting some of the chocolate for herself, before she began to move lower, tasting first Mike’s neck, then his chest, then his stomach as she loosened his belt.
Still chewing on the chocolate, Mike’s eyes went wide.
Mike and Michelle had just gotten dressed and were still sitting on the couch when the door opened and Lisa entered, followed by her mother. Instantly, Mike threw his sweater on over his t-shirt and he and Michelle hopped to their feet, grabbing their box of chocolates. The tag of Mike’s sweater hung just under his chin, the sweater inside-out and backwards, and Michelle’s clothes were rumpled in some places and pulled taut in others. Unable to contain herself, Lisa burst out laughing, although her mother adopted a look of the greatest offense.
“What are these characters doing here?” Claudette asked, inadvertently breaking the fourth wall.
Still laughing, Lisa replied, “They like to come here and do their…” she trailed off, not sure she wanted to complete that thought, instead thinking of a proper excuse, or at least a euphemism. “Homework,” she finally finished.
“What homework?” Claudette demanded, raising an eyebrow.
“Mom, this is Michelle’s boyfriend Mike,” Lisa said, attempting to diffuse the situation through a round of introductions. “Mike, this is my mother.”
Mike stiffly held out his hand to shake. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he tried awkwardly, his hand still hanging in the air. When it became clear Claudette was not going to take the offered hand, in fact was not even going to deign to look at Mike, he let his hand drop and fled the condo.
“Bye,” Michelle said quickly as she followed, in so much of a rush she forgot to even close the door behind her.
Lisa gave her a little wave as she left the room, but all Claudette had was an annoyed scoff before she made her way to the sofa, only vacated moments ago. She sat down, exhausted from her hours of shopping with her daughter. “All that shopping wore me out,” she groaned, more to herself than to Lisa.
“Hey, Lisa,” came a voice from the entranceway as Denny burst in through the open door.
“Hey, Denny,” Lisa answered, returning the greeting. “Denny, this is my mom,” she continued, restarting the introductions. “Mom, this is Denny.”
“How many people come in and out of this apartment every day?” Claudette wondered, entirely reasonably, as far as she was concerned. In the past few seconds alone she had seen three different people – other than herself and her daughter – come through Johnny and Lisa’s condo, all clearly uninvited. Denny hadn’t so much as knocked, instead choosing to simply barge in, and from her daughter’s explanation, it seemed as if Michelle and Mike often let themselves in when no one was home. “This is worse than Grand Central Station.”
“I just need to borrow some sugar,” Denny pleaded, not sure what he had done to provoke Claudette’s wrath.
“Help yourself, Denny,” Lisa told him gently, trying to erase the sting of her mother’s words.
Shyly, self-consciously, apologetically, Denny shrugged. “I also need a cup of flour, and half a stick of butter,” he admitted.
Lisa grinned and nodded, amused by Denny’s naïve combination of uncertainty and cheek.
Denny’s bashful charm did nothing to appease Claudette’s mood, or to endear himself to her. “Doesn’t your home have a kitchen?” she demanded. Lisa shot her a look of reproach.
“I’ll come back later,” Denny shrugged, instinctively knowing it was time to duck out.
Lisa watched Denny retreat and close the door behind him, before she stalked over to the couch where her mother sat, slinging her purse from her shoulder and dropping it on the floor.
“Tell me,” Claudette began as her daughter sank onto the couch next to her, “What does Denny do?”
“Johnny wanted to adopt Denny,” Lisa explained. Claudette pursed her lips. From his appearance, she had assumed Denny was far older than her daughter’s words indicated. That said, with the difference in age between Denny and Johnny, even if he was as mature as she had estimated, it was possible that this had happened years ago, well before Denny would have grown out of the age at which he would need a legal guardian. “It’s really a tragedy how many kids out there don’t have parents. When Denny turned eighteen, Johnny found him a little apartment in this building and he’s paying for it until he graduates from school,” Lisa continued, her respect for her future husband radiating from her warm words. “Johnny really loves Denny, even though he doesn’t say it much. He’s like,” she thought about it for a moment, “A father figure to him. I told you mom, Johnny is very caring about the people in his life,” she gushed. “And he gave Denny his own set of keys to our place,” she finished.
“Please,” Claudette begged, the saintliness of her future son-in-law further reinforced by Lisa’s glowing testimonial – despite her newfound loathing that she claimed for her future husband. “Don’t hurt Johnny. If you really don’t love him, so be it,” she conceded, “But you should tell him.”
Suddenly, the door opened, and Mike burst in. He raced over to the coffee table, vaulting over a shopping bag. “I forgot my, uh, book,” he stuttered, coming up with his excuse as he spoke. He fell onto the sofa next to Claudette, practically hip-checking the woman as he reached over and grasped for the textbook on the coffee table.
As Mike picked up the book, Claudette felt something shifting on the couch, something moving against her body. She snatched at whatever was violating her space, seizing a bunch of fabric. At first the material seemed anchored in place, immoveable, but she wrenched it free, holding the bundle up. “What’s this?” she demanded.
A wide, elastic band circled the bundle of fabric, and Claudette held it up by that thick stretchy loop. The shape of the garment became clear as two short legs unfolded, the loose, soft fabric of the boxer shorts untangling out of the ball into which Mike had compressed them. Lisa let out a snort of laughter, and her mother followed suit, too overcome by the absurdity of the situation for the full implications – namely that she probably should have checked for wet spots before she sat down – to seem to matter.
Mike quickly snatched his underwear out of Claudette’s hands before once again fleeing, disappearing out of the condo as quickly as he could run. The sounds of Lisa and her mother’s laughter chased him out, his ears burning with humiliation as he escaped into the bright sunlight outside.
“Homework!” Claudette repeated in exasperation, her hands gesturing wildly at the closed door.
“Don’t worry about it,” Lisa barely managed to get out, nearly overwhelmed with the giggles bubbling out of her.
“If I were a burglar, you would be my best friend,” Claudette said, clapping a hand on her daughter’s knee. For some reason the words sent a sudden shock of realisation, and idea she couldn’t believe had come from her own mind, racing through Claudette. She shook it off as quickly as it had come.
“Look, I don’t want to talk about it,” Lisa shook her head.
Fixing an intense stare at her daughter, Claudette hardened her face, looking as stern as she could. “You know I worry about you,” she told her. The thought she was sure she’d gotten rid of only moments ago flickered back through her brain. “I have to go home,” she abruptly excused herself.
“Okay mom,” Lisa replied, her wide green eyes sad to see her mother go.
For the second time that day, Claudette kissed her finger, pressing it to her daughter’s nose. Lisa mimed a kiss in return as her mother’s finger made contact. “Bye bye,” Claudette said as she stood.
“Bye,” Lisa mouthed at her mother’s retreating back. As Claudette left, carrying a leopard print shopping bag, the door closing behind her, Lisa sank into the sofa in defeat. “Oh my god,” she moaned aloud for no reason in particular.