Evergreens

Evergreens

It’s the first smell that kind of hits me as I come home and roll down the windows of my car as I pull into the yard.

I’m home and that’s saying something really because it’s been a long, long time and the last few times that I was home were enough for me for a long, long time.

Collingswood is a tiny little town and it’s never really had a huge amount of things going for it while I was growing up. A decent sized greenhouse operation that supplied a lot of places and it did the few usual things like roses all year long and tulips and daisies and well in the winter they did poinsettias as the main things. Then there was a Stanfield’s plant that was for t-shirts and underwear and there was a foundry but that had closed up before I was even a teen and then there was the McCain’s plant and well if you’re Canadian you might know the name but they’re the French fry people.

Add in a tiny handful of businesses that sort of catered to the plants and that was home in a nutshell.

You never got a good job there unless you were one of the in crowd families and they were like the plant owners or the greenhouse owners and their inner circle and so on. All of the other jobs like the ones that were the ones that were foremen on shifts and the non-break your back labor jobs went to all of their kids and the friends of said kids so basically if you didn’t kiss ass or you were different or unpopular then you ended up doing manual labor jobs on the dumping and sorting lines and things like that.

Heck the greenhouse was considered one of the cushy jobs in town even if you were just one of the workers there.

There’s a huge difference in de-thorning and pot knocking to unloading pallets of potatoes and here turnips and potatoes and onions off of the trucks to the sorting belts.

Oh the McCain’s freezing plant did more than just their stuff they froze all local in province stuff and processed it for others too so if you’ve had No name frozen peas and carrots the plant home is one of those places that does all of that stuff for other name brands.

But I didn’t stop in town I drove through and out through the familiar road home out three miles from town to Collingswood Junction where home really was.

I haven’t been here for nearly twenty years.

Being gay in a town like this is one thing because where I grew up here that was it…we had like two gay kids in school and I wasn’t one of them and we didn’t have any of the others. Heck we only had the whole LGBTQAI+ rainbow as a handout thing in health class at the back of the classroom and then you could get the same thing at the guidance office.

Which was a big no thanks because the guidance counselor was a minister and he was one of the bad ones that you heard about.

No he never touched me but there were kids and that all sort of came out after I’d graduated and all.

But being trans, being trans wasn’t an option.

Hell it wasn’t even called trans and we didn’t know of he-she’s until cable came around our way with Jerry Springer and all of that. I’m actually not that old it’s just home was pretty backwards and stuff. If you lived in places like Ontario we were an easy ten year to fifteen years behind in most things.

So like I said it wasn’t an option to be out and it led me and likely a whole lot of other kids quietly leaving town for that reason.

I park the car and look across the road at Tracy’s house.

She’s why I left.

We grew up together and we were best friends together and we dated too…we dated in the worst and best of ways too. I was her safety her rebound and when she found some guy that she wanted and stuff she’d “want to see other people.” And we’d stop dating even though we still sort of hung out.

Honestly I don’t blame her. Tracy grew up raised by her grandparents and he dad had left and walked out when she was three and her mom Susan was a flit from man to man to man and was the same with her jobs and she left Tracy with the same people that raised her so…cause and effect.

Then Tracy had gotten pregnant with Matt Ormond’s child and he and her took off to Ontario and lived on welfare while he dealt hash and after a while up there she gave her baby up for adoption and having enough of Matt and his bullshit she left and came home.

And that was like two years total and while she had been gone I’d been alone…well I sort of had the few friends I had and I still was partying to cover up what I was going through but it was still two years of no Tracy and me going through all the stuff I have always lived with in my head.

And when she came home she was the scarlet woman…two years out of school and unwed mother that gave her child away and her ex was a drug dealer.

No one wanted anything to do with her and me…

Well I was pissed and hurt because she came back and instead of just trying to be herself she came home and she was all I lived in Toronto…you’re all a bunch of hillbillies.

Yeah…even with me and then when no one would date her and her attitude went over like a lead fart she went crying to me.

And I had, had two years of not wanting to play second string to be the leftovers and all of that.

So we fought.

We had this huge fight and that’s when I came out to her.

She freaked and then she made fun of me all in the same fight and it didn’t end there because everything went sideways in that last six months of school with Tracy mad enough to out me.

Now no one got violent but there was stuff like people smashing our mailbox off with a bat in the night or bags of poo throw or lit and then of course was people talking and not just about me but my family who were all far from perfect themselves but this, this just tossed me and everyone else under a microscope.

So I left…I left when things were still fresh and hateful and I went away. Just with a poor kids resume and a diploma and one back pack and a used hockey bag full of my clothes or the clothes that I always had worn and the little bit of savings that I had from over the summer and I left Collingswood.

There was a hump yard that ran lumber over on the other side of the junction and I grew up there as much as home playing with friends and cousins and the old guys there helped me get out of home for free offering me a ride in the caboose while I was at the station looking to get out of there and go to Moncton.

I had just enough to get a crappy, crappy studio apartment in Moncton and I got a job right quick once I was there. Those were the days when you could get a job that easy with just walking into a fast food place or a gas station and pick up a job and shifts.

I had three jobs actually all part time and one was a fry cook at Deluxe fish and Chips the other was at an Irving gas station where I was pumping gas and then I had a paper route. It was about seventy hours a week back then and a lot of it was evening shifts and I needed the money.

Rent was and as far as I know abysmal there and then I was saving for a car and other things and I ended up getting after three years there a small truck with a cap on it and left Moncton and headed across the country.

I lived in Montreal for a while with it just sort of happening because of my truck breaking it’s transmission and then getting that paid for I needed a job and ended up working at a diner doing short order cooking and that’s when I sort of met some of the night life…and some of the Montreal alternative crowd and the gay and lesbians and the few trans people that would come into our diner at about three in the morning looking for post club foods.

That’s when things changed for me…I made friends and I came out and I started to party a little more and I also started my transition. Of course that was when it wasn’t still that known and things and harder to get into the clinics but I still managed.

But after four years things were stalling out because of the share house I was living it was draining my money, too much partying and for me it was getting old and I was almost twenty two and it was just getting to me.

So I knew a few others that had left the scene and one girl Giselle was also in transition and she and I talked one night on the phone and I moved in with her in Quebec City and I went back to school and I got my ID changed and everything and Alana became official.

I took cooking at L’Academie Culinaire and after I graduated from there I worked a few places in the city and then took the job that I stayed at for most of my life and that was cooking for Diavik Diamond mines in Yellowknife.

That was a job that was really, really high paying because you worked in a compound and they searched you and your things going out but that wasn’t actually that bad because well…I could get why they did that but you lived two weeks on at the site and one week off.

It was hard to get a life doing that but it was super good money and because I stayed and really likely more for that than anything else I was running the kitchen after six years.

I’d just got that when dad died.

That was the first time that I was home and it was hard because Mom was okay…well she was that poor country girl that means well but all of her knowledge about trans people was Springer and Povitch.

It was the other relatives that were total shits my aunts and most of my cousins and it was almost funny how the guys were either avoiding me or calling me fag. And then there were the girls who were catty as all get out except for a few really distant cousins. They were really pissed at the stuff I had and was wearing. Honestly it wasn’t that much but still home was still home and while I wasn’t an amazing beauty I kind of sort of “passed.” I still had lots of my arms and shoulders from all the work that I did growing up and my transition couldn’t get rid of all of it. There’s a few other things too at the time but actually compared to some of my relatives and people in town who really just let themselves go.

I’m not going to judge too harshly because being poor takes your resources, it eats motivation and it adds so much to all of the other hardships in life.

Heh... Yellowknife isn’t exactly a spa place either.

Mary-Jo was okay because she was deaf and that had turned into her reading a lot and we struck it off okay because I’d picked up some ASL while working and while not that fluent I could fingerspell what I didn’t know. She wasn’t anywhere near as redneck as some of the others.

I was told that they’d pray for me a lot.

I didn’t stay too long home either enough to get really sick of the place.

Eight years seems like a long time but really it’s a drop in the bucket and so often not enough time for people to change.

Most of them didn’t.

I get out of my car and walk around the property there’s no houses here where I lived both my house and my grandparents houses are gone, tore down.

Not that I blame whoever had bought the property before me. I lived in a three bedroom shack. And I do mean a shack with gravity feed well water from down the hill with no filters and wood stove heat and just a frost wall keeping the house off the ground.

The living room was twelve by twelve and a six by ten kitchen led to the back porch and bathroom and then there where the three bedrooms that were really not much more than room for a bed or two beds and a dresser that’d be shared. My parent’s room was a little bigger but not much.

And my grandparents’ house was a bit better built but not by much.

Neither was in good shape when I left home and after the second time that I was home well it was right on the edge of falling apart.

The second time was more bearable with me not being home long enough for the place to really get to me and the assholes in town were frankly a little older and more caught up with stuff in whatever their lives were to really bother with me.

And I’d changed even more.

It’s been only two year but in those two years I’d had enough from being here that I did some changes. I had my nose done, it was one of the things that really had bothered me because it just never really fit my face and with that my voice changed a little and I had actually started to get into shape joining a fitness club in Yellowknife on my days off and I bought a mountain bike and a at home bike and even started skiing too on occasion.

It wasn’t even showing them it was more like not wanting to be like them or most of them…it’s about having hope and taking the chance to do the work.

Transition is so often about survival but it can be about hope too.

But the second time I was home it wasn’t so bad, but mom couldn’t take care of the house anymore and she wasn’t with it or healthy enough to lug pots of water and carry firewood and all of that so we sold everything and that caused a whole fight between my older brother and sister who hated the rest of us for being poor but they still fought mom over the sale all for a share of the money of course.

We really were ripped off honestly with the land that we had and it went quite far back and there was a lot of wood on it, a lot of old wood and lumber but honestly it would have been too much for her to see it to being cut, to not get ripped off by the guys she’d have to hire and then to tear the houses down and then there were the rest of the stuff.

We had a small barn and we had a garage and woodsheds…they’re all gone now as I’m walking around.

Grandfather was a pack rat too with that great depression WW2 era thinking of never ever throwing anything away. Hauling that would have been an exercise in barely breaking even with the cost of hauling to the scrapyards.

Life sometimes is just a lot of compromises sometimes you have to cut losses because sometimes things aren’t worth fighting over.

Now it’s all fields, someone had bought it and they dozed things over and put in what looks like real drainage ditches and the low felid out back is all dried up from the sort of swampy area it used to be and it’s all just yard or field now all rounded off and everything.

It looks nice.

So after so long why am I back here again?

Honestly I don’t really know, it’s home…I missed it as much as I hated parts of it.

And even though the property is changed it’s still home, it’s where I wandered as a kid, where I baled hay and snared rabbits and went for snowshoe walks with my grandparents and cut wood all summer.

I wasn’t planning on it.

But I just saw it up for sale while I was looking online through properties that I was thinking about buying.

One of the things was looking at things home to see who’s homes were going up for sale and I seen ours.

And it had Dr. Bruce Filleter’s property on it too as one thing and that was the thing that decided me on it.

He owned the property next door and he was one of those hippy doctors right into all the environment and everything and he bought it when I was just a tweenager and it was a logging cut and he had put in all these evergreens and a lot of them pines both white and red and now these trees are over twenty years old.

When I looked his camp was included too in this. He built it the year I left and he fixed the road all the way back to Weatherhead Lake and he had built a really nice log styled cabin out there with all the amenities that he could buy at the time and it was really fancy if I remember right.

But stuff happens and no one wants a property out in the middle of nowhere even with a lake and a cabin and everything. No one can really afford it and those that can by places down by the Northumberland Strait on the beaches.

Okay the thought of the beach makes me smile too. It’s been ages really since I’ve been and it used to be something we did a lot as kids even if it was close to an hour’s drive from here.

I walk up the hill, I know I could have drove it with there being a road for that too that looks like it’s seen some work done at least…it’s in the same place as the old path grandfather took for the tractor and everything only it looks like when they logged our property they needed a real road so they fixed this one up.

I stop at the far left corner where the lower field meets the hill and go and walk in and check on our old well. It’s still there and it’s surrounded by water now with it being spring fed and with no one to use all that water it’s overflowed and I can see where it’s made its way into the drainage ditch.

I shake my head and walk up the side of the hill. That’s the way that grandfather had made the road by cutting into the side of the hill and going up and across. I stop as I’m walking and smile when I see tiny little flowers and berries of wild strawberries in the grass here and there.

I remember being little and picking them with my grandmother, we did a lot of things together as there was family instead of daycare.

And now I want homemade lemonade with wild strawberries mashed into the sugar.

I pick them and put them in the pockets of my jacket and keep walking and no one’s touched the back field really, it wasn’t actually that big a place and all just sort of where grandfather would plant odds and ends and the berries and grandmothers’ berries.

I pick my way through the patches and fill my pockets and then just walk to where the tree line used to be and it’s all cut and cleared even stumped by those big machines. Ten to one whoever had the place when it was cut had turned it over to Irving and they came in a cut it and did the stumpage and burned it all just paying out a percentage in what the lumber was worth.

With that kind of amount of work I still don’t blame whoever did it.

It’s all field now sloping down until it hits the Doncaster property or what was the Doncaster property. I kind of have a lot of field now and I think I might know what I might do with it. The lowest field I might keep to plant a garden with I’m not sure yet but this is blueberry country and I can lease these fields to the blueberry producers here and they can do the work and they can just cut me a percentage check.

Which would be really great if it would pay for the property taxes.

I stop at the top of the hill’s peak on my way back and look out over the area, it’s a big hill and there has always been such a nice view up here and it’d be a great place for a house if it wasn’t so far.

I’m actually a ten minute hike from here to my car.

And once I get there I’m being watched.

There’s someone in the yard at the Ruston house across the road. I get down and I take off my jacket and wave and he waves back. I smile a little at the whole thing since he’s got that sort of who in the hell posture? I get in the car and I drive out and just like forty feet down the road to the other land and drive back towards the cabin.

The guy though…It’s not a Rushton, Albert would be too old he’s mom’s age and it’s not Rick because Rick’s enough of a skirt chaser that he’d been over here and it’s not Mike who’s their youngest and one of the kids I grew up with because Mike looks like Albert did and this guy wasn’t one of them so maybe a neighbor that I don’t know.

Well that’s more than likely actually.

The road’s in really good repair, there’s been more added to it since I was last here with shale and gravel by the look of it and big ditches and after that half mile I see why, there’s a new road.

See before this just went back to the cabin and that’s it but now it looks like there’s a road that goes back and all around the lake to all the other places and with a quick drive I’m actually right and I find the lane for my place pretty easily and after about a thousand feet I clear the trees to my cabins area.

It’s so lovely…most of the area still with all of its stands of trees with enough cleared for a good breeze and it’s all spruces and firs here and then there’s some pines too but they’re planted here as are the few blue spruces and the cedars trees I recon and everything is just so…

I take a huge deep cleansing breath as I get out and it’s just perfect.

I walk up to the cabin and really it’s a house. It’s a prefab log home with two stories and a huge patio that’s made of half logs planed smooth and finished and there’s weather shutters on all the windows and the patio doors and it’s actually the nicest place that I’ve ever lived.

And I haven’t been inside yet.

There’s a series of stone walks that lead to the different sheds that are here with what looks like a baby barn for things and another one that I have no idea what it is…strike that there’s two of those and little sheds and then there’s two raised bed gardens made with logs and it’s about a foot and a half tall and an easy ten feet or so by thirty there’s dirt in them but that’s about it and a lot of weeds growing in there like they’ve not been tended to in a long time and then there’s another stone path down to the lake and the dock.

That’s good, it’s a nice lake for swimming if you don’t mind deep…I grew up here so I’m used to it and here it’s about a four foot shelf then it goes down like eighty feet. It’s just a really deep lake not a really big one maybe a mile across by three long but it’s still deep all the way around.

I can remember that it used to scare us sometimes swimming here as kids. Now I can remember that it’s go fish in there and that it was pretty decently free of leeches with several spring fed currents keeping the water from getting too stagnant.

I get my keys and open things up and head inside.

It’s still really nice with actual wood floors and white pine walls and there’s a gas fireplace and one of those living rooms that is off of the kitchen and with a dining area set in front of the patio doors so there’s a view. They left the appliances here and most of the cooking things and it’s that mixture of things really that you’d expect to see at a cottage and a few good things. There’s several great cast iron pans I have now so that’s a bonus and a nice old school pancake griddle. These will work until I can shop for my own things in Truro.

It takes going down to the basement to get the power on at the breaker and then a check of the things that need plugged in and pipes turned on and all of those things and I’m then wandering around and looking things over as the taps and pipes hiss and spit as the water starts running and the toilet needs flushing after filling and it’s nice that the realtor left one of the bathroom tablets to put in the tank.

It’s quiet here and I like that honestly.

I’m not an outgoing person. I will never really be that kind of person really I’m not unfriendly or anti-social it’s just I’ve had my fair share of bullshit in life and shitty acts by shitty people and I find that I just get along better sometimes just by myself…okay I’m online and things but by myself is safe.

And lonely…well I’m used to lonely.

It’s pretty bad that one of the things that part of me is liking about this place is the solitude to cry.

Well it can get pretty bad honestly though, and sometimes it feels like it’s always been bad.

And sometimes crying can be good.

I’m really going to try and do that have some good tears and some happy ones and maybe healing ones too.

The place smells, it’s just musty and things so it’ll have to do some cleaning and everything too but first thing is first and that’s getting all of my things out of my car.

Yes all of my things.

It’s suitcases and suitcases and suitcases and the car is pretty full and there’s a lot that I don’t have. There’s a lot that I never had really. See once I was out west in the Yukon all the places were fully furnished and stuff and the few bit of furniture I gave away or sold like my bed and my exercise bike and all of that otherwise it’s me and several bags of knick knacks from the places I’ve lived and worked and then it’s clothes and my knives.

Everything else is things that I’m going to buy since I have the money.

And how much money?

A lot, when I said I was paid well I meant it. It was insanely good money and I went by the hour…salary is nice and all but when you usually end up running a kitchen and getting into fourteen hour days they had best be paying me right and salary would have been a rip off.

That’s actually more common than not out that way.

And with housemates and part of my living space free part of the time and the rest was either sleeping and resting and the share house being fully furnished and all there wasn’t a lot of expenses past my nose job and traveling back and forth the few times here.

Add in a few investments and I’m doing really well…even after buying all the property I’m still doing really well.

Work will not be an issue for quite a while and honestly if I really wanted to I could actually retire.

But retired at thirty eight after working so much isn’t me.

But I really don’t know what I’m going to do yet.

I mean work wise, other than that I need to head into town for essentials and the like so I close up the house and go and get in my car and drive into town.

I won’t say that I’m still not nervous about showing up in town even after all of these years and part of me really doesn’t want to be read but part of me is toying with the idea of fuck it like a cat with a ball of yarn.

It’s still really strange even driving there it’s me driving into my hometown and I feel like an utter stranger in a way, it’s kind of like feeling like a stranger having déjà vu. I drive into town and all of the landmarks are the same except there’s a few new things like there’s a Tim Horton’s by the highway and there’s a larger gas station there as well and it’s an Irving station at that with the little store attached and those I slide by and head into downtown as much as you can call it that.

There’s the old Co-op store that closed down I remember that it was a staple here until actually Tracy’s aunt took it over and ran a co-op owned business like her personal bank and into the ground.

It’s an auto-parts place now.

And then there’s the liquor store…well technically it’s the NSLC but we just call it the liquor store and it hasn’t changed a bit and from there there’s the McCain’s plant and then Gordon’s Greenhouses and then I’m passing the medical clinic and the seniors center and the old hardware store that the Woods family apparently still owns according to the sign and just a bit more and I’m downtown.

It’s pretty underwhelming as I pull into the side parking lot for the Save-easy. Swan’s is a small store but it’s got a monopoly on groceries here and you’re kind of screwed unless you want to drive forty minutes to Truro which has like actual malls and stores and is a really large town. I won’t say it’s a city but it’s close.

But for now Swan’s Save-Easy it is.

I’m getting looks as I get out and people are looking at my car and me and then both again. I’ve sunglasses on and I’m not taking them off either and my hair’s long and I have a ball cap on as well as a pair of tailored jeans. And what I mean by tailored is their guys jeans but tailored for my butt and hips which I do kind of sort of have…and I mean both my hormones have filled out the backside a long time ago and I’ve always been on the girl side of the hips thing. I had them tailored and hemmed to fit so my butt looks okay but they fit because I like having pockets.

No I’m not intersexed it’s just normal sort of body variation and all of that.

I’m wearing a Kodiak Mining Company tee-shirt (That’s a bar) and work boots.

Well I was out and about up at my place so I was wearing them because it was smart to and I wasn’t going to change to just come here.

So maybe I’m not doing myself any favors by dressing like this maybe but maybe not.

Trans isn’t clothes.

Now if I could get that through the heads of like half the people that I meet and find out that I’m trans that would be lovely.

Actually I kind of suck at the fashion stuff, I like what I like and that’s never been the popular girly stuff.

Well I like it, I might even coo over something pretty and all but there’s a difference in something being pretty and being something that I could see myself wearing or being comfortable in.

My few concessions are a few rings, a ladies sports watch and my earring which are diamond studs (I got them really close to cost through work.) and a little lipstick.

Really there’s not a lot that I’ve ever really spent to pamper myself without arguing about it first with myself.

I head inside and it’s still sort of laid out the same as it used to be, I guess with only so much floor space there’s not a lot that you can do. The prices are better than I thought but I’m used to steeper for some things and the selection’s not too bad for things and I start to get some of the things I need mostly cleaning supplies for the house and then I buy some meat with some of the packages labeled with sticker and there’s Simpson’s Brother fish out of Pugwash which is about a thirty minute to forty minute drive and it was one of the place we used to go to as kids. But Old Mr. Simpson was the fish man with a truck that had a cap and a box liner and was filled with ice and then had trays of fish and he used to drive all over the countryside selling it and my house, well my grandmother’s house was always one of his stops.

There’s a few family names that I know that are products now being sold here too I get a four flats of the local strawberries because I missed these, they’re local here there two families that have farms and I even picked those fields as a pre-teen.

That means they are really ripe and fresh and I check them too, move some berries and look underneath so they look okay and not picked to green or too old and they look good and I get some things to go with them too like for baking which is a lot when you need everything even the pans…these are temporary pans, they’re nothing that I really want to own long-term… and a case of mason jars and some Gladware dishes and those sorts of things.

I don’t get any meat since I know where there’s a couple of local butchers around here and I think I’ll drive out there for those and I know a few other places too now that I come to think of things and people that I heard of that do things.

George Patterson does the meat, he butchers and wraps beef and pork and game for people around here and he’s done it forever. His dad did it and George was one of the guys that was in my dad’s generation so he should still be around. Then there’s Roger Cotton for honey and he’s in the same area and he’s one of the guys my brother went to school with and he’s a blueberry producer last I heard but his family always had bees and I heard that his wife was doing stuff with the honey and the wax last time I was home.

It’s the same for a lot of people really it’s in our heads really especially if we’re around rural areas or from them and we know the places there’s always been people that did stuff like this. Now I actually learned as I worked and traveled about really getting to know the local producers and back at the mine I had locals bringing in stuff for orders all the time.

I will say this about Swan’s grocery there’s still a checkout boy and they still have all the shipping boxes set aside and they still ask paper or plastic or boxed.

Getting Ma’am’d was nice too.

He’s fifteen or so and yeah I’m not in the miss age range for a teenager. And I let him do the carry out for me too and pack the backseat for me and everything and I tip him a five for doing it and he gets a big smile.

No tipping’s not a big thing here it never really was unless you go out to eat and stuff and I know five bucks isn’t much when it comes to buying anything but still…I do it and hopefully some other’s might get the hint.

I get in my car and I head out to Patterson’s first.

It’s out towards Windham hill which is farm and blueberry country and sort of that local back roads kind of area and I remember to watch out for the dump trucks. This used to be a bad road for them when I was a kid and there were accidents here usually with people not paying attention.

Sure enough I pass one as I’m driving up there and yep…there’s the ping off my car as I catch a piece of gravel somewhere. Thankfully it’s not the windshield and the car’s a rental for now so I’m not too worried about it.

The shop was actually easy to find as they have a sign now by the road that looks all professional and I see an actual shop with a store front here and everything and getting out I smell smoke, good smoke too apple wood and maple.

And I’m not the only car here either there’s two others and I go in and it’s really nice. They have a couple of big coolers with things in there and then the rest is a counter with an open view of the portioning cut room and on the other far wall is a freezer cooler with the sliding doors.

Oh…this is nice and they ship things too? I see they have a price list for that on the wall. I smile the internet age and all and places like UPS and Fed-Ex will do cold cargo. It’s nice though to see things here catching up.

And if you can send tastes of home away to loved ones that’s a thing now.

I get some steaks and pork chops then some ground beef and I get some ground lamb and pork and some lamb chops and short ribs of beef and then I get several kinds of the sausages to try and some of the bacon. That should fill my freezer and I bought some head cheese and pate and some pot head that they had.

Pot head is a local thing it’s like a pork head cheese but there’s a lot of the summer savory herb in it and a lot of onions.

And there’s a few others that I get done in these tiny jars that are like headcheese with liver bits and rosemary or like with red and yellow currants and they’re just the right size to try and I can tell they’re house or local made and it’s not a box store or chain stuff so I buy a lot of them to try there’s even potted chicken and the like and I’m looking forward to actually trying the potted chicken drums with lemon and pepper…which just look like there’s bright bits of zest in there and peppercorns and maybe some herbs…marjoram would be good in that.

I get a lot of things here including some milk and cheeses here. They have a waver to sign with it but it’s local milk with the cream barely skimmed and it’s in glass bottles and they have homemade cheese here too so I get my milk and there and I buy that and a bottle of cream too.

And some goat’s cheese that’s local and some ricotta that’s in house made and I head home having bought the honey there as well.

And it was Roger Cotton that was selling it.

I load the things into the fridge and freezer of the fridge and I look for a few pots to get started on the jam and I get some scrub water done and I use a fabric mop and I go through the place with Murphy’s oil soap and I open windows and kind of realize then I need to get bedding and things if I want to sleep tonight.

I go through the strawberries first though with the ones I want to eat and then the ones for the jam and I remember to take the small wild ones out of my pockets and put them in the fridge in a dish and once the berries are done I put the jamming ones in a pot with some raw sugar and a pinch of salt and a vanilla bean and I leave and lock up letting it all marinade together. I’ll cook it when I get home.

I do a stop for gas and my usual one shot for the road. A small chocolate milk which I have as I’m getting gas and then a medium coffee from Tim’s and I head to Truro.

It’s a short drive really only about forty minutes on the highway and I don’t really go in too far into town really just out to the malls which are close to the highway. I know Truro just a little bit enough to get around like to the rail station and the park and a few places from when I was younger but it’s never really been a place I spent a lot of time at.

I go to Wal-Mart and yeah I’m not a fan of them and all of that for all the usual reasons and stuff but Target’s closed up shop and they replaced Zellers and there’s no K-mart up here anymore either so it’s there and Sears which I go to both places and I get bathroom things and bedding and some sleepwear just because I found some pajamas that I like. That’s going to take a big bunch of room in my car really but do a detour to Future shop and buy things that I want there too like a new computer for the house and a flat screen wall TV and a DVD player and a DVR recorder and a lot of DVD’s that I want.

I had a collection but they were way too much of a pain in the ass to ship so I donated them all along with my collection of books…not a serious collection but all of those to the Whitehorse public library.

And then a quick stop at the NSLC there and I will my trunk with stuff since it’s way bigger than the one home and a better selection and no…I’m not a drunk but I do like being stocked so couple of cases of beer and some rum and vodka and whiskey types and some gin as well and some liqueurs that I like and a few things to cook with and then I get four cases of assorted wines to have in the house for drinking and cooking with too.

It’s late but not dark when I get home and the place smells nice with the lemony-pine scent and the undertones of the strawberries and I go to my washer and run a load of water through it with some cleaner first before I use it and I start to unload the car.

I get to that nice point of busy too…I stop just long enough to unpack my laptop and set it up on the counter and my speakers for it and I start playing some of my music and I play it really loud too since I can actually and I have a beer while doing that and then I get back to unpacking and cleaning and washing things.

I always wash things I have bought before I use or wear them.

Just like washing off produce you buy it’s just smart really.

I get the strawberries on to cook too and let them cook and simmer away and the scent drifts through the house and that has my cheffy brain going and I whip together some scone like biscuits for shortcake.

Actually my shortcake biscuits are close to shortbread in that I use coconut cream from the can with the liquid instead of some of the milk and you get that hint of coconut flavor and the oil adds to that too as well as acts as a sort of shortening but I add in some vanilla and some butter and just a little of the milk and cream and some sugar then I roll it out thin and try to be gentle doing it and then it’s folding the dough over in on itself like you would for puff pastry I do it fast too adding in some ice chips I crushed up using a rolling pin and a towel and I sprinkle the layers with the ice while I’m folding and a gentle press together when I’m done and I put it in the freezer.

See those ice chips will cook off turning into steam and give the biscuits loft as they cook and they’re be all fluffy. I actually learned this folded dough trick up in the Yukon from one of the ladies I worked with who said her mom used to do it with snow.

Then it’s getting everything done and set up and there’s still things that I need but I end up with me cooking another steak while having another beer and then using some of the jam cooking to have strawberry shortcake.

I settle in on my couch with my laptop and DVD’s and I watch The Gilmore girls for the first time on DVD now that I have the time to.

Okay it’s dated but still sort of fun and even though the main character’s a single mom there’s this running narrative of her being that and choosing her own life over that of the one her parents wanted that speaks to me a lot.

Yeah it’s a sort of home alone and lonely thing.

And I don’t mind that as there’s just some interaction you don’t want.

The first night is different and the biggest thing is the quiet. I like peace and quiet and all but this is me being very not used to being this far removed.

It’s that too quiet at first.

*……………….. It’s settling in after that with me slowly getting things done like getting Tony Diaz the father of a boy I went to school with who’s like a good and fair contractor to build me a real garage on a concrete slab.

Then getting the car returned and a truck bought along with a car. Both are used and I bought a Honda Accord because I had one in Montreal and it lasted me forever, but my truck’s a 2014 Dodge Ram extend cab with a cap on the back and a sprayed in box liner.

I want the truck because it’s useful and it’s good for bad weather.

I get tools too, not a huge amount of things but stuff for the garden boxes, two good hammers a few saws, wrenches and vice grips and those kind of things.

Something I learned though out in Whitehorse… Buy the things you need the tools for. Nails and spikes and screws and even a heavy staple gun and staples, duct tape and black electrical tape, plain white string, nylon rope and a ladder and a step ladder for inside… You’d be surprised how when you need these things you won’t have them.

I get the lease signed for Tom Bragg to plant blueberries on the old fields and have that all set up and I turn down five offers for the pine and spruces I have now.

Christmas trees, wreaths…and the older stuff for stuff for lumber.

Nope, I like my trees. It’s like a park sort of. And I love that smell. I’m keeping them.

My little raised gardens are coming in nice with some general stuff like lettuces and chards and some beans and carrots and a few potatoes. My peas are actually in flower planters on my deck along with some strawberries and tomatoes in those upside down hanging planters.

I’ve always liked those. I bought one that I ordered on TV in Yellowknife and hung it in the patio door’s to get light. It worked actually pretty good so I have a few of them now.

And I’m actually trying a native thing walking with a hand spade and a bucket of potting soil and I’m planting things in the woods. Squash and melons and cucumbers and other things and it’s not even really that it’s important it’s just one of those whim things.

I’m actually on my knees planting when I see this shape move by pretty fast at a run on the road that is leading to my house from the main one that goes around the lake.

It’s a running man, well jogging.

“Uhm…hello! Excuse me!”

I say it loudly so that he can hear me over his headphones.

And he stops and he looks around and he sees me.

You know those times when you meet someone and it’s not the way that you want to meet someone?

This is very much one of those times.

He’s in sweat pants and good running sneakers and he’s wearing a gym styled sleeveless shirt and it’s showing a bit of skin and abs and his arms and he’s tanned and he’s in great shape and he’s dang.

Yup just dang…as in makes part of your brain go dang.

And yes I’m straight.

And while I wasn’t mind cracklingly dysphoric I was in a whole other state of me after I had my surgery.

It took me a couple of years actually to get to where things actually worked in my head. When you only kind of sort of have the edges of an attraction that’s been slammed and beat down by your pre-transition lived experience it’s kind of hard to wrap your head around being a girl that likes guys.

And not just post op, but when you hit that whole tipping point in transition when you’ve really flushed the T out and your real hormones are settled in and you get past the blahs.

That blahs are hard.

You lose the old sex drive and you are flooded with hormones that unlock doors inside that you’re not generally ready for and then there a funk that kind of goes with it a lot too.

And then you come around that hill and then you start feeling other feelings.

Like this guys really excellent frame and the nice smile that he has and the white hair.

I do a double take sort of and he’s got white hair and he’s not old, heck he might…might be thirty.

And it’s not bleached, it’s legit white and it’s sort of messy long too not like really long like an 80’s hair band but like sort of grunge cut?

Just a couple of inches off of his shoulders.

He smiles.

“Hey, sorry I was just running and I usually go in here.”

Cue me in my old jeans and sneakers with mud and dirt on my knees and a baggy t-shirt from out west and my hair’s in that I ran a brush through it after my shower but I haven’t touched it all day and I’ve been doing actual stuff messy….and no make-up.

“I…I live here.”

Smooth…Alana no duh.

“I can see that…sorry I used to swing by and check the place for Scott.”

“Scott?”

“Filleter the Doc’s son.”

“Oh okay.”

He looks me over in that way that guys do with women and I’m getting self-conscious even when I shouldn’t be…I mean…I feel all of my differences really sort of acutely at the moment and it’s like all my hiding in my work and things sort of becomes…this way too focused thing.

And his dang is activating my ‘I like cheese.’

That’s that thing where when you have all these sexy and smart lines in your head from TV or books and stuff and you are feeling all sort of sexy and smart and then you meet someone and your brain shuts itself into this whole pre-teen level of suaveness that I call ‘I like cheese.’

“I’m Mike.”

“Oh…Mike what?”

“Robertson.”

“You’re not from here.”

“Not originally I moved here though with my parents when I was eight….so I’m pretty much from here.”

Dry mouth…. He’s under thirty…Dang…dammit.

My nipples are getting hard and I don’t want to do the crossing my arms thing because that’s going to draw attention to it happening and I don’t want it to happen because I am like way older than he is.

I mean he moved here since likely I’ve been gone and that just sort of says.

That kind of age gap that I’ve never dealt with.

“So…gardening?” He asks gesturing with a nod at my bucket and hand spade.

“Uhm…sort of. I was just planting stuff in the woods to see how they’d do?”

“Do you need some help?”

“Uhm…” And here’s where I’m torn between the fact that I actually don’t need help, the age thing and the dang.

The dang is powerful.

And I’m despite all my talk about me being good with quiet and good with independence and all of that. I’m still kind of lonely.

“Sure?”

“You don’t sound sure.”

“I’m sure okay.”

He holds up his hands in that I surrender gesture and I sort of smile a little and offer up both hands. “Shovel or bucket?”

“Oh…I think that I’m quite used to shoveling things.”

Okaynofair, no adding to the dang.

I offer him my hand shovel.

Mike steps up and he takes it and I shift the plastic bucket in front of me for nipple coverage.

I know that he know why and he doesn’t say anything and he doesn’t make a face even.

Okay polite is nice.

Not polite in that kind of you should know better is one of my biggest turn offs.

He looks at me and his head tilts slightly and I sort of kind of want to touch his hair and get it out of his eyes and…yeah that’s it out of his eyes.

“So where to?”

“Uhm…I wanted to sort of try over by this big damp and sort of mossy area and try some squash there.”

“Okay then.”

We do that and we go over a few places and plant some other things and kind of just sort of talk.

Mike lives out over at the junction which is about a mile from my house and across a small bridge where the C.N. train yard is and he bought the old Miller house.

“Bought?”

“I have money.”

“I see that.”

He chuckles as we’re actually digging up some of these raspberry bushes and then digging a planting ditch to actually replant them and to make the patch bigger.

“I’m a carpenter by trade and I made a lot of cash out west at Fort McMurray building houses and then I came home and got in with my cousins and they do cottage work down at the shore and that’s all foreign money now mostly so between that and my side business.”

“Side business?”

“I do cabinets and some furniture and sometimes carved things or lathe work and sell it. I have a shop in town now actually.”

“Really? Where at?”

“Near the Bridge on Water Street.”

“And you can afford the rent?”

“Water Street’s kind of always been steep.”

“I sell and ship stuff online too and that’s a big help.”

“So you work alone?”

“Not really I have a couple of students usually and my sister does the day to day stuff.”

“Not the wife?”

Mike turns and he looks at me. “I’m from here remember, so really not the wife.”

That made me snort and cover my mouth. “Oh I so get that all of the people that are in the dating pool around here that I know are all really terribad.”

“Terribad?”

I nod and then make a face. “I didn’t come home for beer bellies and tenth grade I made it to provincial’s hockey stories.”

“So…why are you back?”

“Serendipity. I was looking to get out of where I was at and I had money too from my job and I used to live down in front of here and just next door.”

“Oh…I seen the sold sign.”

“It was going for pretty cheap and I had the money so I spent it coming home and buying the land that I grew up in and everything.”

“Home’s powerful like that sometimes even if you hated it.”

I nod and sigh. “Yeah home and me was a bad fit a whole lot of the time, I’m almost just waiting for people to figure out that I’m me and that I’m back.”

Mike stopped and he looked at me.

I bite my lip and look back and now I’m hugging the bucket more than holding it.

I screw up my courage. “I left here to go and transition and be me?”

“Oh…yeah I can see how there’d be some people that would be kind of shitty about that sort of thing. My sister left town for a few years because she had come out as a lesbian in high school and the people…some of the people were extraordinarily shitty about it.”

I nod but part of me is really in that emotional jaw-dropped state.

“And that doesn’t bother you?”

He looks back at me and he wipes his hands off on some ferns to get the mud off. “Nope, not a bit does it bother you?”

“Sometimes.”

We actually share a look.

Not a stare but a look like a connecting as people look and he walks over to me and I’m swallowing and he puts the hand spade in the bucket and then he takes the bucket from me and now I’m defenseless from my feelings and sort of out there and vulnerable and he steps up and he hugs me.

(Sniffle.) “Dammit Mike nofair.”

“No fair what.”

“Just nofair, I’m in no way used to guys being decent and stuff without like other things attached?”

“Well a hug’s just a hug and you look like you needed a hug.”

(Sniffle.) “I did.”

I’m shaking a little and I think I’m having a dang overload.

Because being held in a hug really is hitting a place that I didn’t think needed it so much and Mike’s very nice and decent and he smells good.

Cleanish sweat and dirt but also he smells like his soap and some hints of deodorant and well he smells like a guy.

I back off from his arms before I get caught up too much in my own head fantasy of what actually might be going on as opposed to what is likely really going on and Mike’s good and he let’s go and takes a step back giving me space.

“Thanks for that Mike it helped.”

“Anytime……….” He lets this silence hang like a question and it takes time before I clue in.

“Oh!...Alana.” I’m cringing inside that we spent all of this time together and I never told him my name.

‘Hello I like cheese…’

I’m so bad at this.

No really I am Jamie Lee Curtis from the scene in True Lies with the bedpost and the falling down while trying to be sexy.

I can tell that I’m blushing too.

“Sorry Mike I should have said something sooner.”

“That’s okay, I never asked before this either and besides.”

“Besides?”

“I like your name.”

“I…uhm…well…I do too.”

“I’d hope so you picked it right?”

“Yeah…I mean no I mean I like your name too, I’ve always liked Michael.”

He’s actually grinning now.

“Good, I like it that you like it….so…can I have your number?”

“My number?....why?”

“So I can ask you out sometime?”

“Ask me out?”

He nods still smiling.

“Like actually out, like on a date?”

“That’s pretty much what I meant.”

“Uhm…okay…do you have your phone?”

“I do have my phone.” He takes out his smart phone and I give him my number and t6hen he’s smiling.

“What?’

He lifts his phone and he asks. “Can I take your picture?’

No is my first response because I’m really camera shy and then there’s the fact I’m dirty and I’m sweaty and frankly not looking my best.

And I hate that part of me is wanting to be the best all the time too. I used to play the triple standard when I was younger.

The triple standard is that part where girls have to look good without looking good , okay well that’s the double standard and some women can and do get pasted that and some can be excused from it.

Unless you’re trans and then it’s perform or be fake. But if you perform you’re propping up the whatever that crowds phraseology de jour is.

I take a breath…screw up my courage. “Okay…but I want a couple two person selfies and you can send me copies to my e-mail.”

He nods and we take some pictures just a couple and he gets my e-mail and he sends them to me from there.

We have a cell tower and stuff back here now with all of the changes with the other cabins and the road so that’s not a problem.

“I’ll give you a call later Alana.” Mike says as he’s getting ready to jog off.

“Okay that’d be nice.” It honestly would and I’m nervous since I have crap for dating history with a lot of my experiences being hook ups when I was younger and a few short relationships based from those hook ups.

Twenty some years and maybe, maybe a dozen actual dates.

I wait and I watch him leave and it’s…okay it’s a very nice thing watching him leaving and he’s running and he’s going at a good speed and if he lives over at the junction then he’s got a half dozen miles to go.

A cute guy with endurance who seems really nice and actually not an asshole…even after knowing about me.

I’m happy and scared to death the whole walk back to my house and I’m scared because that’s really, really a lot of too good to be true.

I’m not a boozer but I have a really, really stiff drink when I get back to my place and then I grab some pork chops that I have and I pour salt out on a tray and put them on it and salt on top of them and then I get a bowl with apple juice and some honey and lots of black pepper and some rosemary and put the marinade in the fridge and leave the chops in the salt and I go and get changed into my swim suit and go for a swim.

See the salt will season the chops sure but it will wick out a lot of the water in the chop. I want the cells of the meat thirsty so when I brush off the salt and put the chops in the marinade the meat will pull in that moisture and that flavor.

I prep a potato for baking and then I go for a swim.

My dock’s a nice one actually and I remember when the doc had it made back when I was a kid and because there’s not and real shore side bottom so they cast a big block of concrete and they put two telephone poles in it and they built the rest of it using the poles as the frames.

From what I can see I think the idea had caught on as there’s several other nice looking docks here in places and I can see some nice house cabins too. Some are as nice as mine or better. “Looks like I’ll have some company around here.”

I take a dive off the dock and I swim staying close to my place and the depth isn’t bad enough to freak me out since I’ve know this lake from being a kid and it’s some brown trout and perch in here so there’s no real unknown grabby thing in the water here and there’s never really been that many leeches here either but it’s still a pretty big lake and I’m not in practice of swimming either.

But for a half hour or so it was nice to just feel suspended in water and to relax. I kind of have a smile getting out and having to do the little top pop to let the water out. It’s still amusing really because boobs in a bathing suit trap water and if you’re in the wrong suit then all sorts of interesting can happen.

I stop and I actually sit on the edge on my dock and just take in the view and look around at the other places and then I lay back and let my knees dangle and look up at the sky some and stay like that for a while.

It’s really easy to think of Mike.

And that whole thing and being scared and turned on and kind of happy because he spent a good three hours or so with me and he was nice and he was friendly and he wasn’t being a dick.

Three hours and he asked for my picture and just didn’t take it and that’s kind of rare.

And three hours…usually I can tell if a guy’s chasing or being an asshole by then.

“Sigh…Dang boy, you’re dangerous.”

I lay there awhile now that the figuring out passed my first fear bout is over with and it’s kind of nice to actually just have had a day like this happen. I mean I really don’t ever get to have days like this and while my transition wasn’t anything about me being a certain way sexually this was all just kind of sort of icing on the cake.

It made it a good day I think.

I stop at the deck to get the grill on and going and I put my baked potato on it in foil and I switch out the salt with the chops for the marinade and I go for a shower.

It’s always a good idea to wash the lake off, to wash any lake off actually and once I’m good and soapy I take a little me time…well me and this version of Mike in my head time.

No I’m not going overboard it’s just I met someone that got my motor running and people can have sexy time thoughts and personal time without going overboard.

It’s been awhile since I’ve really had the rev to that a lot either. Honestly sometimes it’s a thing that sort of gets lost in the real life surviving and things and honestly avoiding it too even after bottom surgery.

Sex even alone means feeling things sometimes and when you’re in a bad place like that then you’re kind of worse off than not thinking about it at all.

But every once in a while it can be really good.

Even if it’s all fantasy, even if like it was last time this really handsome and sweet guy the bought me a coffee and a Cinnabun at the Edmonton airport. He’d made for a nice emotional yay from being nice to me and then there was that physical yay from personal time.

I’ve got that so going on right now and I crank *I Saw The Sign* By Ace of Base as I’m dancing around naked and getting dried off and doing the blow dryer lip synch.

Once I’m dry and the majority of my hair I head downstairs and take my flash drive out of my stereo and plug it into my computer and keep playing the tunes and I take my chop and give it a quick rinse off so the sugars are off the surface and take it out to the grill and put it down fat side first.

I like fat on meat, I like fat on a pork chop, yes I know it’s bad for you in a steady diet way. But I’m a chef and that’s part and parcel it’s the way it tastes and the way that it makes you feel that’s the thing.

I get a couple of my frying pans and some peas and beans from the fridge since mine aren’t in yet and I take the marinade and pour it into a pan t turn it into a sauce and I put the veggies on the grill for just a few minutes for the char kiss and then they go in the sauce pan with a cup of water and I move them to a lower heat section.

It sounds like a lot but really it’s not I move the chops to a meat side and cook it long enough on each side for nice grill marks and by that time the marinade has reduced a lot and once there’s a good grill cook I take them off and put them into the sauce and after a turn in the sauce to coat I leave then to finish as the sauce cooks down some more.

I go and get some wine and then the water on the veggies is almost boiled away and I add a dollop of butter and toss…the take-off the chops so they can rest and the sauce thickens a little more and then it’s baked potato opened and dressed with a little butter than the chops on the plate beside it and I plate the veggies still hot and turn off the grill and take my wine and head inside and eat and watch Season 1 of *Lost Girl*

It’s all really good and all and it’s a great after personal time meal but it would still be nice to have this with someone. It feels sometimes like if I cook something really nice it’s a waste.

It’d be nice to do this for a date or for friends.

“Sigh…”

But it was still a nice night even after everything is said and done and cleaned up and in my own bed.

Pleasant dreams are nice for a change.

……………….. It was about three days before I heard from Mike and I was actually outside and listening to the radio and laying on a few blankets and a comforter on my deck and thanks to it being pretty well cleared off around me and there being good air flow and some citronella bucket candles I’m pretty much bug and mosquito free and I’m able to read and sit in the sun.

Yes I’m wearing sunscreen and no I’m not really wearing anything. My shorts are close and so is a handy tee-shirt but I have never sunbathed nude before in my life and I have the privacy. I’ve never really had it before and it’s really nice to be able to just feel that safe.

Okay a peeker could do it with a telescope of binoculars or something but honestly if they’re going to try that hard then go ahead and get an eyeful.

I looked at my phone to see who was calling since I only hear from my mother once in a while and the few other people I really know aren’t really the calling types.

I am smiling as I lazily hit the speaker icon. “Hello?”

“Hello Alana how are you doing today?”

“Great actually I’m actually catching up on my reading for the first time in forever and listening to the radio and working on my tan.”

“So you’re still in vacation mode?”

“More like semi-retired mode.”

“Really, you made that much?”

“Actually I kind of did and invested decently too and I worked a lot more than I lived.”

“Yup…I remember doing that, kind of like working for myself now.”

“It sounds like it.”

He hums a little. “Uhm……Alana?”

“Yes?”

“You remember when I said that I wanted to take you out on a date?”

“Definitely…..”

“You doing anything tonight?”

“I’m plan free, what did you have in mind?”

Mike sounds a little nervous/awkward. “Well would dinner and a movie be okay?”

“Sure, that’d be nice…what’s playing?”

“That Eat, Pray, Love’s playing?”

“Is that because I’m a chef?”

“No…but my sister said it was good.”

“Okay, I don’t mind Julia Roberts.”

“She’s in it?” He sounds like he didn’t know. It’s cute because I’m not sure if he thinks that’s a good or a bad thing.

“Yes, we could see something else.”

“Not really there’s nothing else playing.”

“Oh yeah I forget it’s Collingswood we only have one theater with just the one screen.”

“And the one horse.” Mike quips.

“We could do something else if you don’t want to go.”

“I think I’ll be okay.”

“So are we meeting there?”

“I can pick you up.”

“If you want I’ve never been that kind of date.”

“Really?” He sounds surprised. Gosh that’s kind of cool that he thinks that I’m that kind of girl that haves normal dates. I’m finding there’s a smile starting on my face. “Then I’ll definitely pick you up.”

“I’d like that Mike.”

“Supper after or before?”

“After I think, I kind of want room for popcorn.”

He laughs. He has a nice laugh, warm and very much adding to the dang. “Good I like popcorn too.”

“So I’ll see you at?” I have no idea when the theater opens anymore.

“Six thirty?”

I look at the clock on my phone, it’s quarter after two. “That works it’ll give me time to get ready.”

“That much time?”

“You’re my first date in a long time Mike so yeah there’ll be a lot of me being pre-date dysfunctional.”

“You’ll look fine Alana.”

“Oh it’ll not be the thoughts in my head though.”

He chuckles. “Okay, okay whatever you’ll be good with.”

“Gee thanks.”

He laughs again. “I live with my sister Alana I know when to leave well enough alone.”

“Well that’s good then. I’ll see you then?”

I swear I can hear the smile he has through the phone. It’s a very great feeling. “Okay later.”

“I’ll be ready.”

I end the call and then look online and find M&M haircutters and that’s an old place that were moms of two girls I went to school with. I see on their page they do a whole lot of things and that Julie and Jessie both were actually not shitty people.

What I mean is that Julie was one of the girls basketball stars and Jessie was a prep but both had sort of stuff going on that didn’t quite fit them in the preppy circles. Julie was thin, lanky and freckled and she was kind of this tomboy that never dated anyone from our school. (Not that I blame her…) Then there was Jessie who was really great looking but ad her dad’s nose…George was Greek or something and that was not a thing here so it took Jessie out of the running for Miss most white bread and then there was her dad again who was in and out of prison all the time with him being a drug dealer.

Both were popular but so not judgey.

I call.

“Hello M&M’s how can I help you?”

“Hi, I was wondering if I could get a quick appointment with a style and shampoo?”

“You want that today right?”

“It would be really cool if I could.”

“Can you be here by four?”

“I sure can.”

“Great and your name?”

“Alana Porter.”

“Porter…any relation to a Chris Porter…our maybe a Christina or Christine Porter?”

“Uhm… I actually went with Alana….”

“………………..” There’s silence.

“It’s Julie…can you come in early?”

“Okay…are we…okay?”

I honestly had no idea, Julie and I were kind of friendly and everything but we didn’t hang out and we parted ways after school with her with no things between us.

“Oh shit yeah it’s just I actually want to like see you….nothing bad promise.”

“Okay…I’ll be there soon, I just have to shower.”

“Okay…”

It have a quick shower and cap my hair and kind of fret through the whole thing and get dressed in capris and simple summer canvas runners and a scoop necked yellow shirt that is kind of summery and I drive to town…

I stop at Tim’s and get a tray of iced caps and four medium coffees and a big box of Timbits and then I head to the shop.

Oh iced caps are what they call Ice Cappuccino’s and Timbits are like doughnut holes but they treat them like the whole doughnuts even with jellies and all the different coatings.

The shop’s in the same place and it looks like they expanded into the rest of the building and the have a sign for this side spot for customer parking and I park and get my things and head inside. I’m nervous. I still don’t know really why I bought the coffees and things. Maybe an open and defensive offer?

It’s nice inside with this spa stuff shop with shampoos and soaps and things for sale and cosmetics from what I think is locally made producers and some things that I’ve seen in other places like some of the high end consignment things.

I ring a hanging bell on the door by just coming in and there’s a few people looking over it’s about half full between customers and staff and I see Julie.

You know those people that you went to school with that hadn’t changed really? Julie’s like that. She might have put on a little over the years weight but it looks good on her and it’s still not enough to really change who she is. She’s still skinny for our age and she still freckled and she is still friendly looking.

She smiles when she looks over. “Alana?”

I smile back a little. “Hi…”

She comes over. “Wow look at you!” and she says it kind of excitedly. Which still has me nervous since I’ve been on the side of the excited ally/friend thing.

I sort of shrug and offer my arms out. “I…you sounded like you weren’t going to tear me a new one so I thought I’d bring coffees and iced caps.”

“Oh…that’s actually perfect because I was wanting one of these but didn’t really have time to go.”

She takes an ice cap and she starts drinking for a few parched seconds and then she looks at me. “Chill Alana we’re cool.”

“We are?”

“Yeah we are it’s just that ever since you were here last you’ve kind of been on my mind with people that we both know treating you all kinds of shitty.”

“Really?”

“Yeah becoming a big sister to a little sister does that.”

“Big sister…Jason was like me?”

She nods. “Jennifer now.”

“Jennifer’s a good name I like Jennifer. So how’d your mom take it?”

“Actually pretty well since after Jenn came out she came out.” Julie’s blushing and I think I…but I’m not sure. “So are you and Jessie sisters now?”

She nods. “Yeah that’s sort of been one of the town’s worst kept secrets hasn’t it.”

I nod and I take an iced cap and offer the rest of things to the shop with a “Help yourself.”

A few people come over and Julie leads me over to a chair at the sinks. I ask as she capes me. “So is in you here and Jessie?”

“No Jessie’s in the states living in New York I just kept the name.”

“And your sister?” The last time I seen Jennifer she wasn’t and she was in the seventh grade when I was graduating.

“Jenn’s in Toronto going to school up there.”

“That’s nice what’s she taking?”

“Film and computer effects she wants to get into animation for movies and special effects and to work in video game design and that sort of thing.”

I laugh a little. “I like to watch that stuff and that’s kind of about it.”

“But I heard you were like a big time chef or something?”

“Company chef at the end of things. Nothing like for a restaurant per say but we did a lot of food.”

“Oh like catering?”

“Sort of more like a company cafeteria or like how things would go on like a cruise ship except for the corporate dining area.”

“Corporate dining?”

“All the company heads and staff and visiting VP’s.”

“All the time?”

“Oh yeah, usually about ten to thirty a day.”

“Really like what kind of food?”

“Just about anything but steak, lamb and game were really popular there and so was anything Italian that I put on the menu.”

Julie starts to wash my hair and she’s using this stuff that smells remarkably like avocado leaves and citrus and it has that nice tingle. And I sigh as she starts in with the lathering.

She smiles. “That good is it?”

“It’s been a long time, being in the kitchen is hell on a hairstyle.”

She chuckles. “I never thought of it like that but yeah. So what’s going on that you’re home again?”

“Home to stay actually I bought the family land back.”

“Oh there’s nothing there is there?”

“Not really some fields and I’m getting those leased and seeded with blueberries but I also got Bruce Filleter’s place right beside it and all of his woodland and his cabin out at Weatherhead.”

“Oh…I hear that’s nice out there.”

“It is but a lot nicer now there’s been a lot of work done to the property and I think all around it.”

I hear one of the girls in the shop ask. “That’s a lot of cash out that way how could you afford it?”

“With the better part of twelve years pay. I made some good investments with companies up north and I was making really good money.”

“How good?”

“Very good but I was earning isolation pay and I had a contract that was salaried plus I earned a large extra wage for special events I had to cook for which was a lot actually.”

Julie asks. “Like what?”

“Like one of them getting a caribou and calling me in to both butcher it and process it and then go to his house that weekend and cook a big roast dinner from it for him and his buddies.”

“I’d charge them too.”

“Ninety an hour, because the only way I was doing that was off the job site and that was during my time off.”

They’re looking at me.

“It’s out west and north the money’s very different out there and this was just about double time pay for me.”

Julie shakes her head. “I can imagine that.”

I sigh as she’s rinsing. “Well imagine two weeks at a time with a week off in between two sometimes if you need and put in for it and you’re working twelve hour shifts unless you’re me and heading the kitchens up and that means deliveries, and stores and then dealing with staff issues and the baking kitchen so it was close to fifteen hour days and that was salaried so regular hours and overtime don’t mean much.”

Julie nods. “I know some guys that we went to school with doing that on ocean rigs. The pay’s good but the rest sucks.”

“Yeah I kind of didn’t really have that much of a life other than my trip to Thailand.”

She towel wraps my head and she looks at me and I look at her and she knows why I went there.

“How was the food there?” Julie asks diverting the question.

“Actually really good, it had turned into a research food trip too while I was there and I learned a lot of things.”

“Well that’s pretty cool.”

“The beaches were kind of meh though.”

“Really I’d think they’d be pretty good you see them on TV a lot?”

“Yeah well way too many tourists for me.”

Julie laughs. “Yeah I went to the states a few times visiting and the beaches there compared to the ones here are like really packed, I kind of hated it.”

We get over to the chair and she starts. “So just a trim right?”

“And maybe a style too a little nothing too fancy just something other than the thing I’ve been having for the last few years.”

She’s running her fingers through my hair. “Oh yeah I can tell.”

I blush. “Yeah a lot of just wash and wear.”

“Well it’s not too bad really, I’ve seen worse.”

“Well I’ve been out of a professional kitchen for a while so no more blaring heat or blast freezers and keeping it all bound up under wraps.”

“Well that’s good at least for your hair, so what are you going to do now?”

“Live, I’ve seriously put my life on hold enough Julie.”

She leans down so I can see her face in the mirror. “Hence the date.”

I smile and blush a little. “Yes, hence the date.”

“Who are you going with?”

“Mike Robertson, he’s really kind of nice, white hair that’s gone white early or something.”

Several of the girls stop and stare at me and Julie is too. “Bam-bam? You’ve got a date with bam-bam?’

Oh that makes me giggle. “Bam-bam does he know you call him that?”

“Yeah it’s his nickname from when he was in high school and Bam-bam doesn’t date.”

“Really he asked me?”

They’re staring and I’m all self-conscious. Julie shakes her head. “He had a fiancée and she died in a car accident years ago but he’s never dated in town.”

“Oh…”

And now I’m wondering why me?

“It’s really not for lack of trying too.”

“Oh?”

“Definitely Mike’s a catch, he’s got a great job and owns like his own house and he’s good looking and stuff so he’s like a ten times the local guys y’know.”

“I know I went to school here I know a lot of the treasures here from then.”

Julie snorts. “Treasures…fuck I want a refund.”

I look at her in the mirror. “Dougie?”

She nods. “Yeah.”

I pull a face. And it’s not because Doug hart was bad looking he was okay looking really but he was one of the local basketball gods and worse his dad was the P.E. teacher and coach. Dougie was in short very privileged even among all of the well-off jock privileged kids and worse he got it in his head because a lot of that stuff mattered to the girls in school that he was god’s gift to women when in reality he was a petty nasty little asshole.

He would have been a bully too if he was bigger instead he was that lean and fast runner type. But he was still an asshole.

Julie see’s my face and she laughs. “I keep forgetting you knew all the dirt on those guys.”

“Not all of it I stayed well away from that social circle but just being in some of the same classes and changing rooms back then it was pretty bad.”

She snorts and I laugh too and it feels kind of nice to have this whole kind of getting it moment where we both get why those guys were so much less than great really but from like two different angles.

She’s clipping and trimming and doing her thing with my hair and she asks. “So…who was okay to you back then if you were like y’know?”

Hmmm… what were the decent guys?

“Dan Souflette.” Dan was tall and blonde and built and kind of a sweet guy that never bothered anyone even though he was a jock.

Julie nods. “Married, three kids hot wife and lives up in Mount Pleasant.”

“Arthur Scott?” Good looking and another polite non-bullying guy.

“Gay living with Chris Mosher.”

Okay I knew Chris was gay because we were in tenth grade when he came back to town after having graduated a few years ahead of us and he came back really camp.

“Kevin Daken?” No…not a play on the actor though he got that in school. Kevin was cute in spades even though he was definitely upper middle class and stuff.

“Divorced two kids but he’s living in Nashville.”

I laugh and we sort of do the back and forth and it’s just sheer gossip really and stuff but it’s something that I never really did before and it’s sort of fun to find out all of this stuff.

No, I’ve never been to a single reunion.

By the time we’re done I’ve lost a good six ounces of hair and it actually still has lots of length and at the same time it looks nice and neat and cleaned up with just enough curl in the right places. Not really curl but some wave and nothing really over the top it just looks nice.

I sigh with a happy sound. “Thanks Julie that looks awesome.”

“Feel better?”

“Actually a lot this was really nice.”

I take out my wallet and she waves me off. “No, you brought coffee and timbits so we’re even and this was a catching up freebie.”

“Thanks!” I actually step over to hug her. I’m not a hugger but this really did call for a hug. “And thanks for extending the olive branch and making me feel welcome.”

She gives me this warm smile. “Hey, no problem Alana like I said I really wanted to do this ever since I heard that you came home.”

“It’s seriously a big deal though.”

We hug again and we exchange phone numbers and I do the invite her and her boyfriend to come out sometime to the camp sometime and we can do the BBQ thing and all hang out and Julie thanks me but we’re not planning it yet.

Because honestly you know what happens when you make plans in advance in real life right?

I head home not in too much of a hurry but I do go right home because I want to go through my clothes and my looks and find the right look for me and a date.

Yes that’s way stereotypical but I’m a girl, a woman going on her first stereotypical date to the movies…so I don’t care.

Actually as nerve-wracking as it is I kind of like how kind of normal it is too.

I settle on some of my comfortable black panties and a black satin bra that’s nice looking but not like brand new and uncomfortable. I have a few sports bras and I do like them somewhat but I’m not a fan of them either they make you kind of feel squeezed after a while so I usually go for comfortable and worked in but not to the point where the underwire’s trying to stab me in the heart.

I just go with tube socks and my tailored jeans with actual pockets and a red top with a bit of a v-necked plunge to it…yes I kind of want to have that going on at least if not being blatant about it and i did a little spray of deodorant and a little spray of one of the local perfumes that I got the other day when I went to the butcher place and it smells nice it’s lavender and clover but there’s just this hint of spruce. It’s actually kind of strong so I just use a little and for my shoes I actually go with sneakers.

I get my purse and double check stuff in it like compact and lipstick and chap stick and stain pen, tampons, a pad, Band-Aid pack, Midol and Advil travel toothbrush and paste, floss and emergency panties and mini flashlight and a small motion flashlight…the ones that you shake and a few other odds and ends.

Yes there is a wallet in there.

Living in the Yukon and getting stuck a time or two you really get in the habit of having just in case things. I have winter survival kits in each on my vehicles and a big one in the house in case of blizzard and the power going out.

And I make sure that I have condoms and lube…in its own bag but just in case.

No…I’m not planning on sex tonight.

I’m just hitting that it’s almost time and I was thinking about checking everything one more time and I hear an engine and I see Mike pulling up in a green and white GTO.

Okay…okay I know guys and cars are a cliché and all that but I like old cars, and I like muscle cars. It’s a generational thing and will always like those kinds of things even if I kind of didn’t care for the guys that had them back then a whole lot.

He gets out of the car after he turns it off and he comes to the door and he has things in his hands.

So much yes.

No seriously I’ve seen this whole thing of guys pulling in music blaring and honking the car. Mike didn’t have music going that I could hear and he turned off the car and got out.

Big yes.

Soooo adding to the dang.

I meet him at the door and he smiles and he knocks politely and he has some flowers in his hand and I don’t know what they all are I just know that they’re pretty and they’re local and he has them actually wrapped in a little bit of what looks like contact paper made into a cone and I think that he actually went off and picked these somewhere.

Which is actually a nice touch since it’s a fair size bunch and it looks like it took time to do.

“Flowers…thank you.”

He smiles. “I know it’s a little old fashioned but I kind of like old fashioned…and…”

Mike passed me a box of Willow Crisps. They’re like little bite sized bit of Crispy Crunch bars in little squares I like them even if the peanut toffee bits sort of tend to stick in your teeth.

Hand-picked flowers and a box of cheap candy could say cheap but to me it says uncomplicated.

I take both and I go and I put the flowers into water and the candy in the freezer for later and I grab my coat and we head out and I lock up.

Mike actually opens the door of the car for me.

I look at him. “Going all out?”

“No just making sure that you know that I value your company. In my head the whole chivalry thing isn’t dead it just needs a tune up. The old fashioned stuff to me is more trying to respect you and sort of as a kind of appreciation?”

He looks like he’s having a hard time explaining it.

“That’s okay Mike old school still works with me.”

He sighs and wipes his brow in that joke faux worried thing. “Good I was hoping I wasn’t coming across all patronizing or something. I get to hear a lot about guys from my sister.”

“I though you said she was a lesbian?”

“And the way that guys always seem to act is one of the reasons why.”

I look at him. “That doesn’t bug you?”

“Nope, honestly some stuff’s reactionary and a little OTT for me but most of the stuff I hear her and her friends complain about is kind of legit when I try to look at just what they have to put up with all their lives.”

I nod and he blushes. “I just don’t want to be one of those guys.”

I smile at him. “So far so good.”

We start driving and it’s not that far of a drive from here to town about a mile for the road to the lake and three and a half into town but then there’s parking and heading to the theatre and getting tickets and popcorn. The popcorn is worth it though one of the few places that sell mushroom kernel instead of butterfly.

The Star Theater is an indie theater one of those few that has the fold down stage for plays after they do whatever to the movie screen. It’s really small but there’s a balcony and the concession stand is all vintage and cute and there’s even those old tin molded ceilings like they used to have in the old days.

On the bad side is the seats are old and sort of small and kind of hard on the butt. We’re getting our stuff and it’s the big shared bucket of popcorn when I’m aware of the fact that we’re being watched and I see more than a few girls, well other women looking at me and then at Mike.

Sherry Allen’s one of those looking and watching and Sherry still looks the same but with a different haircut and she’s with what looks like Nicole Powel and neither one of them were ever friends of mine.

Sherrie was one of those pretty girls that had a lot of issues and rather than face them or work on them she turned them into issues that had he sleep around.

And I’m not one to shame anyone for that but Sherry was that girl and she was a social climbing preppy and anyone that didn’t fit the view of normal well Sherry was the first one in line to tear than person down to make her feel better.

And Nicole was well one of her terrorizing little buddies that was always there to help drag someone down.

And yep bitter.

Both made my life kind of shitty because I never fit in with people here that much and while I wasn’t a big target back then I was fully under fire when I’d been home the first time from them.

Sherry’s staring at me.

“Chris?”

I get our pops and a bottle of Aquafina and ignore her.

“Oh My Gawd it’s Chris Porter. It’s Chrissy the sissy.” Nicole titters and so do the three that are behind them. Oh look the hyenas have a pack.

Mike stops and looks at her and Nicole. He looks like he’s going to say something.

“Come on Mike, they’re really not worth it.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure I’m way too old to get into something like this with the likes of her.”

Sherry says. “Likes of her? You’d like to have the likes of me freak, you dressing up and doing all of that to creep on women in the bathrooms.”

I sigh loudly. “C’mon let’s ignore her.”

I start up the gallery steps to the balcony since we paid for the balcony seats and Sherry’s still mouthing off.

“Ignore me… bullshit I don’t feel safe with a freak like you here.”

I leave but her and her friends are stirring up a stink with the people at the front and it gets louder until it stops.

I’m hopeful but no…No I see they might have shut up but they still were let inside and the whole bunch of them are looking for me and shooting me these nasty looks from where they’re at below us.

“Balcony seats from now on then.” I say. The balcony costs an even twenty dollars including the cost of the movie and it used to suck because it cost more when I was younger and all but I kind of like it now and besides if you’re going to have a balcony then you should charge to use it otherwise why bother? I mean it’s not like I see it a lot.

And since Sherry apparently wasn’t going to pay the twenty bucks each it’s got that extra layer of it being nice because it feels safer.

The movie is good and so is the company and the popcorn and I even forget about Sherry and company right up until I have to go to the bathroom.

I see them watching me and as I go into the lobby I just look at the girl that took the tickets. “They’re going to follow me in, can I have you just come inside and stand so they don’t try something?’

The girl looks at me and she nods. “No problem.” Which is a huge relief and she goes in with me and I’m pretty safe with her not being on their side because the concession girls were there too and saw me ask her to come in. it’s not like they couldn’t know they’re not doing anything and the lobby is like really small.

I get inside and I go to a stall and I lock it and I do my business and I hear them coming in.

Sherry… “Hey Chrissy, you’re not supposed to be in here faggot.”

Nicole… “It’s really creepy.”

And I’m… “You know what’s really creepy is you two coming in here to chase after me.”

Sherry…“As if, you might be doing something gross and perverted.”

The ticket girl… “Hey will you two lay off her she’s in here having a pee.”

Nicole… “It’s not a she; it’ll never be a she.”

Sherry… “Are you a freak too kid? Some kind of pervert that some asshole guy can come in and say he’s a woman and you’re good with it?’

The ticket girl… “I’m not cool with bullies and I’m getting why she asked me in here as a witness.”

Sherry… “A witness to what? You know I can put you in your place just as quick you little turd. I mean you were in here making out with the freak and Nicole and I saw you.”

I wipe quietly and pull up my pants and get ready and say. “Wow Sherry you’re that much of an evil cunt that you’d go after a teenager that stood up to you. You haven’t changed one effing bit from high school.”

Sherry… “What the fuck did you say to me faggot!”

Me… “I said you’re a cunt, you’ve always been a cunt and a bully and the only way anyone ever liked you was because you’d sleep with them and well…given how you and Nicole here are with your current entourage sort of tells me that no one was able to take you any more than they could in high school.”

I pull on the roll of toilet paper enough that it makes that paper roll sound and she’ comes in…full force and shouldering the latch open and I’m already standing so I just stand out of her way and she goes right passed me and I yell. “Yaah!” at her as she does and she trips and she falls and her hand and arm go into the toilet bowl.

I hadn’t flushed yet either.

I step out fast when I see the ticket girl in Nicole’s way and she’s yelling. “Clark!”

Clark Steven’s is the owner, or the manager at least his family has owned the Star Theater since they built it.

Clark comes in and he’s looking at me and he’s looking at us and at Sherry with her hand showed in the toilet and she’s screaming. “I’ll fucking kill you Chris you goddamned faggot!”

I step away looking at him and I raise my hands. “Wasn’t me, I just came in here to pee.”

The ticket girl nods. “She knew these too were going to come in here and start something and she asked me to come in and watch for trouble these two came in here and started being really nasty to her and then that one… (She points to Sherry.) said she’d say that I was making out with her and stuff because I told her to stop being a bully.”

Clark’s like. “I’m calling the cops.”

Sherry’s crying and she has her I-phone in her hand and she looks up and screams at me. “You wrecked my phone!”

And I’m like… “I never touched your phone, you charged in the stall breaking the door too and you fell.”

“You screamed at me!”

“You charged into my stall what was I supposed to do?”

Clark’s fuming. “You broke the door? Sherry what the fuck!? I’m calling the cops.”

Nicole’s trying to be as small as she can and is sort of slowly making her way to the door.

Sherry looks at Clark. “Don’t! Don’t call the fucking cops I’ll pay for your fucking door!”

He looks pissed. “No, I’m sick of your shit, you caused all sorts of it when we broke up in junior high. You haven’t changed a damned bit.”

He takes out his phone and sherry’s turning on the waterworks. “Don’t, Don’t c’mon I have kids!”

I look at Clark because he’s looking at me. “It’s your place.”

“Shelly tried to hurt you.”

“She was pissed off; she’s not used to people not taking her shit.”

She’s looking at me with hate then turning to him with tears again. “He called me a cunt.”

“Alana’s a she.” He says. “And okay I really don’t want to deal with the charges and the court appearances and the fact you have kids…god fucking help them…get the fuck out of here Sherry and don’t come back you or Nicole or the other three Heather’s you have out there.”

Heather’s…go old school cult movie reference.

She looks like she wants to complain and fight some more and she gives me a look that would kill and I look at her.

“Sherry.”

“What asshole.”

“You want to flush that for me?”

And that look on her face when she realizes that I didn’t and her hand and forearm and her I-phone were all in this kind of discolored toilet water.

She looks like she’s going to be sick and/or like she’s going to so mad she’s going to be sick. She gets up and she storms out of there grabbing Nicole who squeals. “Yuck not the pee arm!”

And they’re leaving and Clark looks at me. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah I sort of knew it was coming. She’s a bigot.”

“Yeah but it shouldn’t have happened.”

“It does sometimes and here, home I was expecting it. I’m pretty sure it was her and Nicole and friends that threw their Tim Horton’s coffees all over my rental car when I was down for Dad’s funeral.”

The ticket girl… “Wow, she is a cunt.”

“Well I’m banning all of them.” Clark says. “I’m sorry this wrecked your date.”

“I’m sorry for being the shit magnet.” I shrug and then wash my hands.

“Well it was a long time coming really, Sherry’s never really been that nice. And honestly they mouth off while they’re here a lot about anyone they don’t like especially if they’ve been drinking. I’ll be glad to be rid of them.”

“Yeah she wasn’t all that pleasant in school either.” I say.

He nods. “People took her stuff because she was always dating Clayton Gabriel.”

Clayton Gabriel was a hockey player but he came from a drug dealing family and he was like one of the only black kids in our school and the thing was he was so wrapped up in that fact and the fact that Sherry was giving him some that he kind of became her thug.

He beat up a lot of people and bullied others on her say so or that of her friends.

No we never met fist to fist or anything like that but it still happened and she still used that as a weapon in school.

I look at Clark he’d been in a fight with Clayton back then over her… “Sorry.” Yeah Clark lost the fight bad.

“No, it’s okay Clay’s okay and he’s steered clear of Sherry after she fucked him over with Rocky Casey and her saying that she was preggers with Clay’s kid when it was really Rocky’s.”

“So where’s Clay and Rocky now?”

“Clay’s working in Saint John New Brunswick for Irving driving truck and Rocky’s out west fleeing a warrant.”

That sounds like Rocky. He was a case in point of money not equaling class. The Casey family owned a large concrete business and construction one and they were really well off. And Rocky…well he was kind of that guy that graduated but still didn’t do nothing because he didn’t have to like everyone else so he became that guy that drove the hot car and was like in his twenties perving on the high school girls who were into him because he was a bad boy and then there was the cash. He was one of those guys that never really grew up and sort of became the family black sheep. I mean I went to school with other Casey kids and they were okay for the most part it’s just y’know every family has one.

I nod and we’re walking out and there’s people out there too and there’s some complaining going on. I look at Clark who says. ‘Look there was a thing and we had to ban a few people that were being jerks. We’ll start the movie over for those that want to stay and the rest of you will you take two free movie coupons?”

There’s some nods and grumbles and questions and things and I see Mike and he looks somewhere between mad and concerned and he comes over to me.

“Are you alright?”

“I’m okay…it’s just more of the same shit…”

He looks at me sort of like he’s seeing something. “Nope, you’re not okay.”

“Mike…’

“No this whatever it was really wasn’t cool…and…do you want to get out of here/’

“Please…”

I look at Clark. “Thanks for the backup but I think that we’re going to call it a night.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay?” He passes me two movie passes.

“No, not tonight the mood’s kind of wrecked.”

“Okay and again I’m sorry.” He looks it too and the others seem to have even more questions now and are looking at us and at Mike and me as we leave.

Mike already had this figured out as he has our things and jackets.

We walk out together and there’s yelling from across the street as I see Shelly and Nicole in a fight with the Heather’s all in a screaming match with each other and people that are leaving with us are watching too and I just shake my head and go with Mike to his car.

“Where would you like to go?”

“Home…I mean if it’s not too much…I mean if it’s okay.”

“It’s perfectly okay.”

(Sniffle.)… “I’ll cook…” Dammit, dammit, dammit I didn’t want to cry, not like this and not in front of him.

“You do that for a living, how about you vent and I’ll cook?”

(Sniffle…?)… “Really?”

“Yes really just let me stop by at my house.”

(Sniffle.) “Okay…”

We leave town and we’re not too long getting to his place which is past mine going the same way out of town and after about a half mile there’s a turn off and one of those small green painted bridges that goes over the river and then we’re in the junction. It’s just really this two block space that had been around the C.N. Rail yard and the lumber mill that had been there for ages.

Mike’s place is actually the old brick building that was the offices for the lumberyard with like three floors and as we’re pulling in he’s added a great big deck and he has a garage built on and a nice fence and big garden growing really nicely and then there’s the mill which is pretty much all gone now except for the pulp yards where they store all the logs and the rail loading spot for when they put the loads of logs onto or take them off of rail cars.

He pulls in and he looks at me. “I’ll be just a minute did you want to come in?”

“No, I’ll just stay here if that’s okay.” Yes, yes it’s kicking in what happened and I’m starting to feel sorry for myself.

He slips out and I sort of sit and I kind of end up hugging myself as I can feel it all just coming to a head inside of me.

Seriously you spend enough time in your own head and bouncing back and forth with all the shit and the moods and all of the stuff that you have to slog through just to get to be yourself you can sort of feel it coming from a mile away.

Mike’s not long either as he comes out with a cardboard box and some things in it and a bag too with things in it and he’s smiling. It’s not like a forced smile but like he’s…? he’s acting like our date’s not ruined.

(Sniffle.) That’s a new one for me.

He looks at me and I look at him and he says. “You have a deepfryer right?”

(Sniffle.) “Two..”

“Good so are you a fries girl or chips or do you like mashed potatoes?”

(Sniffle.) “That depends on what we’re having?”

“Homemade fried chicken.”

“Oh…oh well then it depends on the sides.”

“I brought frozen corn.”

“Mashed potatoes if that’s alright.”

“Sure and I have frozen gravy too.”

I make a face. “Frozen gravy?...eeew.”

He pulls out and laughs. “Relax master chef it’s frozen chicken jus from roast chickens. My sister goes on these diet kicks and she’ll not eat the skin or want gravy so we end up freezing it.”

“Why if she’s not going to eat it?”

“Oh she’ll go through a break up sometimes or she’ll get into a funk and then it’s poutine city.”

I nod. (Sniffle.) “I like poutine but I only like it by itself.”

“I do fries like that. I’ll do a plate of something but if I’m having fries I’ll have them in a separate dish with like gravy on the side for like dipping.”

(Sniffle.) “Okay that sounds good can we do that instead?”

“Sure.”

And with that we’re actually back at my place and he gets my door and I let us in and I get the lights as he gets the things from the truck and comes in and I’m pouring myself a drink and look at him offering.

“Sure I’m not driving anytime soon.”

I pour us a vodka and soda with lime and I actually get my pitcher our and I look at him. “Caesars?” For those that don’t know it’s vodka and clamato juice but with a few shakes of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce and the glass is usually rimmed with celery salt.

I make mine with old fashioned Tabasco and L&P Worcestershire sauce and I add a dash of onion salt in the mix and after I add the clamato and the vodka…I kill the bottle in it I give it all a squeeze of lemon juice and some fresh ground black pepper and then I buzz it up and pour it all over ice but I actually tossed my ice in the celery salt before pouring the cocktail over it instead of rimming the glass.

I set it aside and wait for the flavors to all marry together and get really cold I take our drinks over to where Mike’s washing the chicken off and it’s just two packs of grocery pack cut up chicken but he’s washing it off from the package before he does anything to it.

I nod and set his drink down and go and set up my deepfryers and they need oil since they’re new and then they have to get up to temp.

Mike says as he’s done and looking for things… “Sheet pans?” I show him where to look and he takes them out and little tubs of seasoning from the box and a big tub called Chicken Coating on the top in black marker…then he says. “I’m sorry things went sideways.”

“It’s okay.”

“No it’s not.”

“Yeah well it happens.”

“It shouldn’t.”

“People aren’t going to change that much Mike…I’m used to it.”

“Don’t be, you don’t have to take it.”

“I didn’t…” I take a drink of my drink and it’s pretty strong and I’m reminded that I tend to pour angry when I’m upset.

He’s actually seasoning the chicken before he’s coating it, with what looks like a salt and pepper mixture with maybe a few other little things.

“Who taught you to do this?”

“My wife…I’m a widower.”

(Sniffle-cough.) “I heard.”

Mike looks at me with this sort of curios look but there’s something else there it’s kind of like the way that you see people have that expression after they’ve been through something.

Sort of like wistful hurt?

“Oh… well this was her recipe and I kind of learned to do it like she did over the years…well sort of. I mean as close as I can ever really get to it I guess.”

(Sniffle.) “Sorry…”

He looks at me and he’s still sort of in that okay mood smiley thing. “It’s okay, it’s been awhile and I managed to pick myself back up…or rather walk out of my workshop and back out into the world.”

I take another drink of my drink and he drinks some of his and makes the I’ve never had this face and he does that little sort of not bad head nod. I sigh and lean on my counter and sort of hug myself.

“I’ve done that a few times picked myself back up.”

“I can tell, I guess it takes one to know one.”

“It’s just I’m tired of it y’know Mike? I just want to be done, to just be able to be me and live a kind of nice and quiet and decent life.”

He looks at me and he blindly is throwing stuff at the chicken and he knows he’s missing and he nods a little too much. “Quiet’s so under rated.”

I frown a little. “Are you making fun of me?”

“Nope.”

“Okay well you’re being…” I kind of wave my hand at what he’s doing and he purposefully tosses a whole handful of the stuff he was dusting the chicken with over the chicken and the sheet trays and the counter totally not looking and he’s got this innocent face.

“Being what…?”

I can’t help it he’s making me smile, he’s making a mess but he’s making me smile. I sigh…there’s no fighting the dang, he’s just got too much of it.

“Being pretty great…thanks for cheering me up.”

“You’re welcome, as long as I’m not the one that made you upset cheering you up is all part of the date.”

“I’ll take that service thank you very much then.”

There’s this definite-maybe thing?

I feel something, there in the distance between our two smiles like something good might be coming to life or something?

I finish my drink. “Do you want me to help?”

“Sure you can go over and set up the Super NES.”

“……………… You brought videogames?”

He grins and he’s cleaning his mess and has finished seasoning all the chicken. “I brought vintage videogames actually.”

I go over to the bag and yep sure enough there’s a Super Nintendo and controllers and games. “Okay…I guess, I’ve never really seen that on a date.”

“Well this isn’t a standard date this is she’s hurting and needs cheering up date.”

“And videogames?”

“And Super Mario and Streetfighter and Donkey Kong Country.”

I’m taking things out and yeah I did play these and yeah they’re fun. I just never really owned a gaming console since I left home because I never had or made the time. I kind of smile as I’m taking it all out and hooking things up and he’s right this isn’t a normal date and he sort of wants me to have fun and I’ll admit it looks like fun.

I haven’t let myself do this sort of thing in what feels like forever.

I stop to turn on the radio and go to Moncton’s C103 which is what I listened to half of my life in one form or another but it’s the old school rock that I grew up with and I go back to setting up the Super NES and I burst out giggling unexpectedly as Mike start dancing and lip-synching with a whisk as Corey Heart’s *I wear my sunglasses at night.* starts up and he’s dancing in that using his socks to sort of move and twist with things.

I’m giggling and laughing and he’s being a complete goof and he’s…I never got to do hand over my mouth happy, I’ve always got to do hand over my mouth hold in the tears and the sound crying thing and I’m almost swamped by happy tears and I’ve the hugest happy lump in my throat it hurts.

I’m saving myself from bawling by hooking up the videogames and testing them. Okay the graphics are old but they still look pretty decent on my flatscreen TV and I’m doing a run through of Earthworm Jim while Mike’s making the chicken and I saw him season the egg wash too that’s one of the keys to really good fried chicken is have season on the bird And all the other things too.

And he’s doing something that I’ve learned and that’s letting the coated chicken rest a minute after it’s done and that lets the coating take hold. “Your wife do that?”

Mike nods. “She used to cook out at the diner in Great River with the motel and gas station near the campground.”

I nod. “Good food that I can remember but I haven’t eaten there since I was a kid. My Dad liked the place. He said they had the best hot hamburger there.”

Mike nods. “Food’s still okay there really they have enough business from the locals and the campground that they’re busy enough to still care.”

I nod and do a few flips with Jim on screen trying to get through the Heck level. I hear the chicken hit the fryer and the sizzle starts and Mike is doing that and then cleaning things up some more and he’s helping himself to my dishes as he’s finding things to make the gravy and bowls for everything and he’s moving with some of the music doing the whole kitchen dancing this and singing along with some of the songs that’s playing on the radio.

He really is cute.

And kind, and funny.

And he’s cooking for me which for a chef is an awesome thing because it’s something that intimidates a lot of people.

And chefs might be one thing but to me they’re rarely sexy in the kitchen. I’ve had to ball-bust too many of them while working with them. Mike is sexy in the kitchen, like he’s at home there and having fun and so not like those other guys.

He’s got the gravy going and he’s grinning at me and he drops something else into the deep fryer and then washes his hands and then starts in on making chips. Like chips and not fries. I like both but chips are fatter and almost fluffy inside when you do them right.

I lost myself playing with my brain needing way more mindless release than I thought and just lost another life and was about to start a new game when I smell the chicken and everything and he’s bringing it all over to the couch and set’s the bowls of chicken down and the chips and a bowl of gravy almost like a bowl of dip and my mouth is watering at the smell.

“No one has actually made me homemade fried chicken in a long, long time.”

“Good, hopefully it’ll do the trick.”

“Smells awesome, you want to watch a movie here before we play videogames?”

“Sure.”

We end up watching *The Mummy.* with Brendan Fraser in it and I have always liked that movie for the action and the humor but also because I loved the whole “I’m a Librarian.” thing. Actually being a librarian and being my right gender was one of those things that I kind of softly dreamed about as a teenager.

And we end up drinking as we’re eating and getting maybe a little buzzed but not drunk and it just sort of makes things fun and enjoyable from the movie to playing multiplayer Super Mario and just being ourselves.

Actually I never really got to this point in my life, it had always been sort of work and party and then it was no more partying and just a lot of work with the odd encounter.

But I never got to do this, just something as simple as this and completely lacking from my teenage years.

Hanging out pre-trans with some guy friends who have no clue who you really are and then compare it to being out and yourself and with a guy that has made it kind of clear that this was a date and not just hanging out…it’s so completely different.

And yes, the chicken was amazing…I have no idea what he did or what the secrets ingredients in the coating mix is but it was amazing spiced and savory and just the right amount of herbasciousness tempered by black pepper but there was this very…other thing to it something that has undertones of something caramelized or toasty and something with layers of sweetness but without being sweet.

To be honest it is my very utmost favorite food now.

And it could definitely have everything to do with the who and the why behind it too.

Heck we don’t eat all of it at once but we do eat a lot of it and I had three pieces for myself then and two drumsticks for breakfast.

Yeah breakfast… we stayed up all night, hanging out and having fun and Mike not leaving me alone and the next thing I know I’m getting Mike a root beer from the fridge and I can see the lake through my patio window and it’s becoming dawn.

He stayed all night.

Keeping me safe, keeping me sane and making me feel better.

There’s a whole host of things that go through my head, making coffee instead, inviting him to my room to stay, going down to the lake for some skinny dipping in the dawn light.

I’m kind of mulling those over when his phone goes off with one of those wake you up ringtone alarms. I start to laugh because his phone is playing *Cotton Eye Joe* and it just is something that just kind of fits Mike actually.

And he’s doing that cute blushing thing too as he takes his phone out and he turns it off. “Sorry, that’s my morning alarm.”

I snicker some. “Has anyone heard that?”

He smiles. “Just my sister….and you.”

I smile. “I think it fits, it suits you.”

“Really?”

I like that expression he’s got on his face that sort of earnest and curious and still a little bit of a rogue. He knows it’s a cute thing or that I think it’s a cute thing.

I go over and I give him his root beer. “I can make coffee.”

“I don’t need it.”

I smile at him again. “Thanks Mike you really made my night, this was nice.”

“Good I was hoping for nice Alana and y’know that goes both ways right? I had a good night too. This was fun and it felt good.”

“What taking care of me and my baggage?”

“Actually yeah…” He gets up and sets down the pop and he reaches out and he hugs me.

“All the drama and things aside…meeting you has been good and it shook me up with how much we clicked and how much I liked you.”

I’m hugging him back but I lean back to look at him. “Shook you up?”

“In a good way.”

“You want to stay?”

“Yeah, but I also don’t.”

“Too soon?”

He nods. “Definitely too soon…can I have another date though?”

“Yes, definitely yes.”

He smiles and we hold each other for a while and we pull away from the hugs and Mike leans down and kisses me for the first time in that first soft sweet kiss with his finger slipped under my chin and it just makes everything kind of alright as the morning sun is coming up and shining through the evergreen trees.



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