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Authors: Monique Polak

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BOOK: So Much It Hurts
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“She's fine. We're fine. She's busy with her business. She designs closets.” That sounds better than saying she helps people get rid of their junk.

“That's good to hear.” He doesn't ask me to send his regards. He must know I haven't told my mom about today.

He's right about the color of the tissue paper. I'm careful not to tear it. Inside the box is a silver ring with a dragon on it. The dragon looks ferocious. Maybe because it has two red stones for eyes.

“It's a Thai good-luck ring,” my father says. “In Thailand, the dragon is a symbol of strength.”

He watches as I try on the ring. Lots of girls at school wear rings on their index fingers, but it slides right off that finger when I try it on. It's loose on my middle finger too.

“She'll have to have it sized,” Mick says.

My ring finger has always been a little fatter than the rest, so I try it there next. It's a perfect fit. “Thank you,” I tell my father. He'd probably like me to call him
Dad
, but I can't bring myself to do it. Not yet anyhow.

I do manage a stiff goodbye hug. “I'd like to try and be more of a father to you,” he murmurs into my hair. “If you'll let me. About the acting, Iris. Go for it. Really go for it.”

Back in the Jeep, I slump in my seat. Mick waits to turn on the engine. He runs his palm up and down my thigh. Gently. “You okay, Joey?”

I nod. It's hard for me to speak. There are too many feelings churning inside me—and they don't all make sense or fit together. I'm angry and I'm sad at the same time. I don't care if I ever see my father again; I want to know him better. He's a loser; he's not so bad. He's selfish; he's a dreamer. But he said he's proud of me—he said I should go for it. That counts for something. That counts for a lot.

Suddenly a memory comes back from a time I thought I had forgotten. I am a little girl, sitting on my father's lap. We're on the same corduroy couch that's still in our living room at home. He is singing to me. I can't remember the music or the words. Only the feeling of being happy.

I cry a little. For the things I once had and cannot remember, for the things I lost. And for Mick, because I'm so grateful he's here for me now. What would I do without him?

When he strokes my shoulder, I cry harder.

“That couldn't have been easy for you,” Mick whispers. “But you did good, Joey.”

When we're back on the highway, I twirl the dragon ring around and around my finger. The red stone eyes look flat until I turn my hand. When the light catches the stones, the dragon's eyes shimmer.

“That ring, by the way, has got to be the creepiest thing I've ever seen,” Mick says.

I leave the ring on for a while. It's all I have from my father—that and the green tissue paper in my pocket. But Mick's right. The ring is creepy.

Before we cross back into Canada, I slide the ring off and drop it into my purse. It falls to the bottom without making a sound.

CHAPTER 12

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't.”
—HAMLET
, ACT 2, SCENE 2

I
can hardly believe this is my life! It's too perfect!

Two weeks after our trip to Plattsburgh, Mick gave me the keys to the loft! Now I can go there whenever I want to, even if Mick is out. Mick wants to share his life with me. Why else would he have given me the keys?

I had to stop myself from jumping up and down like some little kid. The keys—there's a small silver one for the lobby door and a bigger gold one for upstairs—mean as much to me as that beautiful, beautiful poem Mick wrote for me. Even if he hasn't said out loud he loves me, I know he does, since he said so in the poem. Now I know for sure he loves me as much as I love him.

Though I've never been religious, I'm so grateful for Mick that I'm starting to think there really is a God. Yesterday when I was alone in the loft, I actually dropped down on both knees and thanked him.

Thank you for making my heart glad. Thank you, God,
if you're really up there, for bringing me Mick. Please help
me try to be good enough and loving enough to deserve
him
.
And God, while I have your attention, there's one
more thing: please please stop me from saying or doing
anything dumb that might make Mick angry with me—
because I don't know what I'd do if he ever stopped loving
me. I need Mick the way I need oxygen and food and a
place to sleep.

Afterward, I just stood for a while in front of the windows, taking in the view of the city and feeling grateful. We'd had our first snow, and Montreal looked as if it'd been dusted in icing sugar.

The days end earlier this time of year. It's only four thirty now, and it's already getting dark. Mick is still at school, meeting with Ms. Cameron—I mean, Isobel— about
Hamlet
. He's put together a list of ways to make the production more relevant and edgy. I've noticed
edgy
is another one of Mick's favorite words.

I pick up some groceries on the way to the loft after school. I want to try and cook a romantic dinner. When I let myself in, there is still a little light coming in from outside, which makes me notice dust I haven't seen before. So I drag the vacuum cleaner out of the closet and get to work. I even find the power nozzle so I can get into the corners.

It might not be cool to tidy up your boyfriend's loft, but I'm enjoying it. It makes me feel grown up, and like the loft's mine too. How amazing is that? To be seventeen and sharing a loft with your super cool, super sexy, edgy older boyfriend?

I turn off the vacuum cleaner when I see the movement of my phone vibrating on the table. Katie is texting to say she wants to meet up at Starbucks.

No can do, Kates, I text her back. Wrtng wrld hsty es-y.

Loser
,
Katie writes in her next text. Any news from Pop? Besides Mick, Katie is the only one who knows about my father. She thinks it's cool he contacted me, but she was ticked off when I told her I took the bus alone to Plattsburgh to meet him. “I can't believe you'd do that,” she said. “That is so totally what a best friend is for. Plus we could've gone shopping together afterward. Makeup's way cheaper in the States.”

No news
,
I text her. Since Plattsburgh, my father has sent me a couple of Facebook messages. Mostly he says how excited he is about the deal he's working on.

Katie doesn't text me back. When I start vacuuming again, I remember how when we were little, Katie and I sometimes played house or pretended we were in school.

She always wanted to ride bikes or skip, but even back then, I was more into pretending. Maybe I was getting an early start on my acting career.

Vacuuming Mick's apartment and planning our romantic dinner (baked chicken with wild rice and a small green salad, like in a restaurant) feels like playing house again. Only now, it's real. Every time a dustball flies up from the floor and gets swallowed by the nozzle, I feel triumphant. Death to you, dustball!

I have to hurry. I want to put the vacuum cleaner away and get the chicken in the oven before Mick comes home. Mick keeps bringing me irises. The latest bouquet is in a glass milk jug on the table. The flowers are so pretty, I take a picture of them with my cell phone; I'll post it on my Facebook wall later. Maybe I'll even make the shot my profile picture. Irises for Iris.

I brush my hair away from my face. I don't want Mick to see me looking gross and sweaty. If I work quickly, I'll have time to shower and fix my makeup.

Mick bought me a toothbrush so I don't have to keep bringing mine over. Just seeing our two toothbrushes together in the bathroom, in the same cup, makes me want to sing or something.

By the time I hear Mick's key in the door, I am sitting on the couch, updating my Facebook page.

“Smells amazing in here,” Mick calls out. I'm relieved his voice sounds happy. The meeting with Isobel must've gone well. I'm so tuned in to Mick's feelings, I can tell his mood just from his voice or the look in his eyes. If he's been arguing with his lawyer or someone from his Australian theater troupe, his voice and eyes turn steely. But I'm learning how to deal with him when he gets like that. I know it only makes things worse if I ask if there's anything I can do (and it's hard for me not to ask). No, the best thing is to take careful steps around him—it's like looking out for land mines in a war zone. You never know when you might step on one, but you get used to the not knowing and then it becomes a habit to step more carefully. Just in case. Mick is worth the trouble though. I'd be bored if I was with a guy whose mood never changed—who wasn't edgy the way Mick is.

Mick doesn't say anything about how clean the apartment is or how nice the table looks.

He does something even better. He kneels on the floor in front of where I'm sitting and starts kissing my knees. At first, it's just little kisses, but then the kisses get harder. “I'm starving,” he whispers, and I know he's not talking about chicken and wild rice.

He's starving for
me
. With one hand, he pins my wrists against the wall; with the other, he tears off my underwear. Then he's straddling me, pressing all his weight against me. It's a little uncomfortable, but I don't complain. I want to be in the moment with him. Besides, this is another way of feeling close to Mick. Everything about him is smooth. His skin, his touch, every move.

“Say your lines,” he says. His voice is rough now, and I know it's because he's so excited.

He's remembering that first time we made love. I laugh because I know just what he wants. “ ‘My lord,' ” I whisper, “ ‘as I was sewing in my closet, Lord Hamlet with his doublet all…' ”

Even the little hairs on the outside of Mick's ears are standing up. He kisses me so hard, it makes my neck hurt.

I kiss him back. I want to bring my hand to my neck, to show Mick I need him to be gentle, but he's still got both my hands pinned against the wall. I'll try to forget the soreness in my neck.

“We shouldn't make too much noise,” I whisper, suddenly aware of the wall behind us and of the sound of the
TV
coming from Mrs. Karpman's apartment. “We don't want to bother your neighbor.”

“The old girl is deaf as a post. Besides, she could use a thrill.”

When we're done, we snuggle on the couch, my head on Mick's shoulder. If I only lean in one direction, I don't feel the crick in my neck. I wish Mick would say he loves me, but I know I shouldn't ask him to. If I did and he did…well then, it wouldn't count, would it?

Mick never asks me how
it
was, the way Tommy did that time. In a way, I'm glad he doesn't, because I'm pretty sure I still haven't had an orgasm. Not that I care. I know I'll have one eventually. All that matters is that Mick and I are together.

Mick reaches for my laptop, which I've left open on the coffee table. “I like the picture of the irises,” he says. His voice sounds relaxed and his face looks relaxed too. The tension I sometimes see around his eyes is gone. I love knowing I'm good for him. With Tommy, I never cared about stuff like that.

I should boil the water for the rice, but I don't want this moment to end. Ever. I wish Mick and I could stay like this forever. Mellow and happy, just the two of us.

Mick is scrolling down my Facebook wall. I know something's wrong when I feel his shoulder muscles get taut under my cheek. “What the fuck were you thinking, Iris?” It's the first time I've heard Mick swear. The word
fuck
, which always sounds ugly to me, sounds even uglier coming from him.

“What's wrong?” There's a sick, sour taste in my throat. I don't understand what could be making Mick so angry. I didn't see this land mine. All I did was change my profile picture.

“It says here you're in a relationship!” His voice is booming; it's as if he's acting in a small theater and he wants his voice to project. I need him to calm down. I need us to go back to how we were just two minutes ago. Mick is overreacting.

“I am in a relationship,” I say quietly. “We are,” I add.

“And what do we have here?” I've heard Mick shout before, but this is the first time I've seen him sneer. The sneer makes his nose look even longer, like a fox's snout. “Here it says you can't believe how ‘tuned in' you feel to your new guy,
M
!” He sneers again when he says the words
tuned in
. I can tell he thinks it's a corny expression. Why did I ever write that?

“I didn't say your name.
M
could be…” I'm so rattled I can't even think of a guy's name that starts with an
M
. “Matthew!” I sputter. “Or Mark!”

“Iris! I can't believe you could be so reckless…so stupid.” He spits out the word
stupid
. Mick is right. I am stupid. So what if I get good grades in every subject at school? In real life, I'm stupid! The stupidest girl who ever walked the earth! I should've known Mick would be upset.

BOOK: So Much It Hurts
2.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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