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Authors: Sheree Fitch

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One More Step

Sheree Fitch

Orca soundings

Copyright © 2002 Sheree Fitch

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.

National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication Data

Fitch, Sheree

One more step

(Orca soundings)

ISBN 1-55143-248-X

I. Title. II. Series.

PS8561.I86O63  2002  jC813'.54  C2002-910693-1

PZ7.F562On 2002

First published in the United States, 2002

Library of Congress Control Number:
2002107490

Summary
: Fourteen-year-old Julian's parents separated when he was a baby and he is still angry and hurt. On a road trip with his mother and her new beau, Julian finds that love—and happiness—come in many forms.

Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP), the Canada Council for the Arts, and the British Columbia Arts Council.

Cover design: Christine Toller
Cover photography: Eyewire
Printed and bound in Canada

IN CANADA:
Orca Book Publishers
PO Box 5626, Station B
Victoria, BC Canada
V8R 6S4

IN THE UNITED STATES:
Orca Book Publishers
PO Box 468
Custer, WA USA
98240-0468

04  03  02  •  5  4  3  2  1

For D. & G. & J. & B
.
SF

Chapter One

Purple condoms. My brother got purple condoms in his Christmas stocking. Mom must think things are heating up between Chris and Becca. Not likely. I got a diary.

“She gave me one when I was fourteen, too,” said Chris. “I used it for about a week. Then I forgot about it.”

Mom made a face at him.

“Well, don't forget to use the condoms, okay?”

Mom's pretty quick. We laughed. Well, the three of us did. Jean-Paul doesn't understand our sense of humor. Or maybe he doesn't understand period. He's French.

“I learn more English in two day with your mother than I did in one whole year,” he said, the first time I met him. I believe it. My mother is, among other things, a non-stop talker.

“Yes,” he teased in his broken English. “We get along well. She talk, I listen.” I guess it was his idea of a joke. Ha. Ha. I didn't laugh.

They've been going out for about six months. At first, I didn't think it was serious. I was wrong.

“Jean-Paul is coming for Christmas,” Mom chirped one morning in early December.

So. This
was
different. My mother gets twisted about tradition and family rituals. This was the first time I ever remember there being an extra on Christmas morning. An invitation like this meant something was up.
I wasn't cool with the idea, but I didn't have a say in the matter.

Jean-Paul arrived on Christmas Eve with meat pies, eggnog and presents for all.

“An egghead with eggnog,” I whispered to Chris.

“Be cool,” said Chris.

“I am.” I said.

“Liar,” he said.

“Hello, Julian,” said Jean-Paul. To Chris.

“Merry Christmas, Chris,” he said to me.

“Hell-
oooo
!” I said. “I'm Julian. The tall one. Blonde, brown-eyed smart-ass, remember? Chris is the oldest. The short little twerp. Brown hair, blue eyes. The saint. One more time? Me, Julian. Him, Chris.”

“Julian!” said my mother.


Pardonnez-moi
.” said Jean-Paul.

On Christmas morning, there was this real intense moment when Jean-Paul handed Mom a present. She opened it to find a jewelry box. Great, I thought, he is going to propose. But
Sheree Fitch it was a pair of earrings. If my mother was disappointed, she didn't show it.

“They're beautiful,” she said. Then she oohed and aahed and kissed Jean-Paul. No tongue, just a peck on the cheek. Thank God. Still, Chris rolled his eyes. I stuck my fingers so far down my throat, I almost gagged for real.

To me, those earrings looked like hunks of banged up metal hanging from her ears.

And they didn't go with the necklace I got her.

Then I found my diary.
The diary is for getting out your innermost feelings
, Mom had written on the inside cover.
To learn to talk to yourself. In the end, you have to make friends with yourself and life will be easier
.

When she says things like that I want to barf. In the end? Like what does this mean? When I'm ready to die?

“It's really so you won't have time to go your bedroom and jack off,” whispered Chris.

“What was that?” asked Mom. I swear she has a sonar implant in her ear.

Jean-Paul heard just fine.

“You don't want to know,” he said, winking at me.

I guess some things are the same in any language.

My parents divorced when I was a year old
. That's always my opening line when I have to write about myself in English class. If nothing else, it'll put the teacher on my side from the start. English is not my best subject. No subject is, for that matter. That line works okay with girls, too. They make little mouse-like squeaking sounds. Their eyes turn into puddles of pity. That's all the information I give about that.

First, because it's none of their business. Second, because I don't really know that much. Chris tells me I'm the lucky one.

“That means you don't have any memories, bad or good.”

He says he remembers too well a lot of late night angry noises. Not voices. “Just doors
Sheree Fitch slamming and the spin of tires on gravel in the driveway. Mom bawling her eyes out.”

He's only ever told me this in the dark when I couldn't see his face. It means he's the one who has a history with our father. Weekend visits, Christmas and summer vacations. That's what I've had.

So now there's Jean-Paul, another in a line of strange and stranger men my mother's tried out over the years. Sometimes, I think she sees it as taking a new car out for a test run or something.

Okay, so there've only been three. But that's three too many. Plus, Chris gets confused. Four year's difference and he thinks he's a father figure or something. Like I said, too many fathers. And, oh yeah, I almost forgot. There's Poppie, my Granddad, too.

Jean-Paul better not try to do a Dad routine on me, I thought.

“Let's clean up, boys,” he said just then.

“Let's not,” I said. He just shrugged and gave me this dorky grin.

I turned on the TV and watched him
and Chris stuff wrapping paper into garbage bags. Mom went to fry up some partridge meat. Same as always. With fried eggs and cranberry muffins. This year, though, she served the orange juice in wineglasses. Fancy shmancy.

“Who are you trying to impress, Mom?” I asked.

“Cool, cool.” said Chris quickly. And gave me
the look
.

It's the look that means
watch your step buster or you'll have to answer to me later
.

Chris and I played Nintendo while they started peeling the vegetables for dinner. It had to be an early dinner because we were leaving for Dad's place. We had to eat there, too.

Strange, I thought. This was the first year Mom didn't complain about how impossible squash is to cut.

“Why are there never any decent knives in this house?” she always whines whenever
she's preparing a big meal.

This year, she wasn't complaining about a thing. In fact, she was humming.
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
. Her favorite.

Chapter Two

Nana and Poppie were coming over for supper. This was a good thing, I figured. Maybe that would mean Mom and Jean-Paul would keep their hands off each other. I saw hickeys on my mother's neck when she was in her bathrobe. She's thirty-seven years old, for crying out loud.

“You better wear your turtleneck for dinner,” I told her.

She nearly died when she realized what I was talking about. Then she got in a snit.

“My sexuality is my own affair,” she said. No pun intended, I'm sure. I couldn't help smirking.

So let's not see you groping each other in the kitchen while you're peeling vegetables, okay? I wanted to say. I didn't though.

“Ready to go?” asked Jean-Paul, coming into the kitchen just then.

It was time for our traditional drive while the turkey was cooking. We don't go to church but Mom's always insisted we should mark this as a sacred day. Her words, not mine.

For about four years now, ever since we've had a car, we've been driving out to the same spot. It's by the ocean. We go for a walk in the woods and end up on a ledge of rocks overlooking the sea. It's a wicked spot.

This year though, the weather was miserable. It was snowing, a sort of frozen-spit kind of snow. It didn't melt when it hit the ground. Chris and I had to shovel for at least
twenty minutes to clear the driveway.

“Want some help? I have a shovel in the trunk of my car.” Jean-Paul asked.

I kept my head down.

“Sure,” said Chris.

After about ten minutes, Jean-Paul stopped to rest and lit a cigarette. Real good for the lungs, Bud, I thought. “Are you illiterate or just French?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

I grabbed the package out of his hands.


La cigarette cause le cancer
.” I read.

He laughed, but he only took one puff before he threw it away.

By the time we got the driveway shoveled, the snow had turned to an icy rain, the kind that numbs your face and turns it orange.

Mom came out all spruced up in her snowsuit and funky hat. She had make-up on. The wrinkles under her eyes were gone and those eyes seemed brighter blue than usual. When we started driving, Mom put on the radio.

“Bethlehem was peaceful this Christmas,” said the announcer. This made Mom start sniveling. Then she switched the channel partway through the next item. It was about Christmas at a hospice for AIDS victims.

“It's Christmas Day. I don't want to think about this today. Where's the music?”

That's Mom. Get rid of what doesn't make you feel good.
If it adds keep it in, if it subtracts take it out
. It's sort of her mathematical theory of life she explained to me once. Yeah? More like the process of elimination. Like what she's always done with those other wanna-be Dads.

We drove slowly along the icy roads. It gave me time to play the videotape of one of those dudes in my head.

Candidate Numero Uno for Stepfather and Possible Husband was Winslow Thor-burn the Third.

The Turd. That's what Chris and I called
him. It's all downhill from the moment you're born with a name like that.

Winslow was as stuffed up and puffed up as his name. He was a professor type. Well, he was a professor. A professor of bugs. What's it called? I forget. A bugologist or something. Anyhow, he looked like a bug. A cockroach. His eyebrow hair stuck out like antennae. His eyes were bulgy. I imagined them popping out if he were to ever get surprised. But he never did. Half the time, the guy was in a fog as thick as a cocoon.

Well, there was that one time, the first time we met him. That surprised him all right. Mom announced she had a date.

“Now boys,” she said. “Troy is going to baby-sit. My date is coming at seven. When the doorbell rings, I'll get it and then I'll bring him up to introduce you. I want you to be on your best behavior.”

When Dr. Winslow Thorburn the Turd rang the bell, we settled ourselves on the ledge above the stairs. As they walked up, we counted. “One, two, three!” Then we jumped
on his back. The two of us. Well, we were only four and eight after all. We knocked him flat against the steps. His glasses flew off his nose.

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