It’s odd. We speak the same language, we share the same Queen, but this country feels like a different planet. Everything is huge. The food portions, the cars, even the people seem bigger. Not fatter, necessarily. We have fat people in England, too. Just… louder. She swears she’s not American, but it all feels very American to me. But I guess it’s the red checkered flannel, the hockey caps, and the mandatory runs to Tim Horton’s that set them apart. Oh, and the lack of guns.
She’s lucky I love her. I left my sophisticated, history-rich country behind to follow her across the Atlantic to settle down in – what do they call it? The Great White North? A country that’s not even as old as the pub down the street from my old flat. It’s cute when she says things are old. I can’t help but point out there’s nothing old in Canada. The soil itself, maybe. But every cookie-cutter building might as well be the great, great grandchild of anything built in England.
Now I’m on my way to my first Canadian holiday dinner. She’s warned me about her family, of course. But everyone thinks their own family is dysfunctional. So far, I’ve met her dad and nan, and they aren’t so bad. She had to sit through a weekend with my parents, so I’m sure I can survive this. Aren’t Canadians notoriously friendly? Isn’t that their thing?
As we walk into the massive house—every house is massive here—we’re welcomed by a huge, slobbering dog. I am not a dog person, but I do really love the girl, so I probably shouldn’t show my true colours to her family just yet. I give it a tentative pat on the head.
“Hi, honey! Come in, come in! John, what a pleasure. We’ve heard so much about you. So funny, my other daughter dated an English guy named John, too. How many of you are there?” A woman, I assume it’s her mum, says with a chuckle.
“A lot, actually. It’s a strong English name.” I say with my best smile. “And you must be Faye. Nice to finally meet you.” Her tiptoes help her grow a couple of inches taller as she gives me a hug. She ushers us in to a warm, festive room. A gaudy Christmas tree impedes the corner. It is not tastefully done. I guess I have to get used to the garish décor these Canadians call style.
“And, how’s my eldest?” Faye says as she envelopes Daisy in another too-big hug.
“Hi, mama. I’m good. Smells yummy!”
Even I have to admit it does. It smells like Christmas. At least the Canadian holiday traditions are much the same as those in England. Except I was told not to expect a minced meat pie. Which is fine by me, who even likes those things anyway?
“Rum and eggnog?” Faye offers, already pouring.
“Yes, please!” Daisy says. “Babe? Rum and eggnog? I’ll be right back; I just need the loo.” She untangles her arm from mine and leaves me in the kitchen, alone with my new Canadian mum.
“The loo! You’ve converted her!” She laughs. “Kate only recently stopped sounding like a Brit.”
I freeze. Kate? It hits me that Daisy and I had never actually discussed our siblings. I knew she had a sister, and that she’d spent some time in London, but I didn’t get as far as learning her name. I would have remembered that name.
“You alright there, mate?” Faye nudges me playfully.
“Oh, yeah, sorry. This is great.” I say as I sip the sweet, creamy drink. “You said Kate? Is that your other daughter?” I ask, hoping she’ll say no, that it’s her aunt or something.
“Yeah,” she says with a funny look. “Daisy never mentioned her?”
“It must have slipped my mind,” I say, hoping I don’t look as nervous as I feel. It can’t be the same Kate. What are the chances that the only other Canadian girl I’ve been with would be the sister of my current girlfriend? Where had Kate been from, again? I rack the edges of my brain, to no avail. Oh man, what a nightmare that would be. Things with Kate had not ended well.
Daisy slinks back into the kitchen and puts her lovely arms around me from behind. “Are you being nice to mum?”
“Oh, yes, we were just talking about Kate.” Faye says, and I cringe again at the mention of the name.
“When’s she getting here?” Daisy asks.
“She’s here! I think she’s just upstairs finishing wrapping her gifts.” Faye turns to me. “You’ll love her. Both of my girls are dolls.”
“I haven’t seen her since she got back! We’ll have so much to talk about.” Daisy grabs her drink from the counter, takes a sip, and drags me out of the kitchen by my sleeve. “Come, come. You haven’t met the rest of the crew.”
I follow her, silently praying to the God I don’t believe in that her sister is not the same Kate. As I exchange pleasantries with her family, I keep sipping the creamy drink. It’s getting stronger the closer to the end of it I get. And that’s a good thing. I might need it.
“So, I guess you are ready for a relationship, after all?” The too-familiar voice cuts through the Christmassy din of the room. My stomach drops.
Daisy twirls around to see her sister, the girl I dumped last year under the guise of not wanting a relationship. Like every single person who uses that excuse to dump someone, I just didn’t want a relationship with her. And her reaction to the rejection was not pretty. Let’s just say it did not make me regret my decision.
“What?” Daisy looks back and forth between her sister and me. “Oh, my god. No. This is not the John.” She’s become very pale.
Kate looks drunk. She actually looks quite a lot like she did on the night I broke it off. She staggers toward me, and I think for a second maybe she’s going to hit me. She doesn’t do that, but what she does do is along the same lines. She throws her thick, creamy, rum-filled drink right into my face.
Mariah Carey’s voice singing that ghastly Christmas song is the only sound for a few, long moments.
Faye comes rushing into the room. “What the hell is going on?” She looks from Kate to Daisy and back to me.
“Oh, no. This is your John?” She stares at the three of us with wide, judging eyes.
“Her John?” Daisy says in a shaky whisper. She turns to me. “Is this for real? You dated my sister?”
I stand there, frozen. No one has even offered me anything to clean my face with.
“I had no idea.” I sputter. I wipe the eggnog from my eyes and turn to Kate. “Look, I really had no idea you were Daisy’s sister. I’m really sorry, Kate. Maybe I should go.”
“No, stay. I’ve said my piece.” Kate stammers. She is not an attractive drunk.
A look of understanding washes over Daisy’s face. “Oh, my god. You knew.” She turns to Kate. Her angelic face was pale. Now it’s turning red. “I sent you a photo of John when we first started dating. Why didn’t you say anything then?”
It’s a fair question. Kate pulls a terrible face. I think it’s supposed to be a sly smile, but it’s more of a grimace, really.
“I thought this would be more fun”, she says with a hysterical cackle.
“Wow. You really are a piece of work”, says Daisy. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard her raise her voice.
“Okay, okay. Let’s take a breather. John, come here, let’s get you cleaned up.” I nod and follow her into the kitchen where she hands me a tea towel. I wipe the sticky mixture from my face.
“I had no idea, Faye, I swear.” My face is still sticky, I can feel every crease as I talk. I wet the tea towel and give it another once over.
“What a wild coincidence.” She says, and I nod. Then there’s an ear-piercing scream from the dining room. I rush in to find Kate and Daisy in a full-fledged hair pulling, screaming, scratching girl fight.
“Whoa, whoa! Cool it, girls!” Faye grabs the two of them and pulls them apart.
“We’re going! Merry fucking Christmas!” Daisy screams. We scramble into our coats and shoes and rush out the door, dodging a pleading Faye.
When we’re alone in the quiet sanctuary of the car, I try to lighten the mood.
“That went well! Do you think they like me?”
She brushes an unruly lock of hair from her eyes. There’s a solid bright red scratch across her left cheek. And to my relief, she laughs.
“Oh, yeah. Should I get my mum’s number for you, too?”
Say what you want about Canadians, but they certainly have a sense of humour. And the next time someone does that thing where they ask you if you know so-and-so from Canada… assume that you do.