Main Welcome to the Dark Side

Welcome to the Dark Side

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I was a good girl.
I ate my vegetables, volunteered at the local autism centre and sat in the front pew of church every Sunday.
Then, I got cancer.
What the hell kind of reward was that for a boring life well lived?
I was a seventeen-year-old paradigm of virtue and I was tired of it.
So, when I finally ran into the man I'd been writing to since he saved my life as a little girl and he offered to show me the dark side of life before I left it for good, I said yes.
Only, I didn't know that Zeus Garro was the President of The Fallen MC and when you made a deal with a man who is worse than the devil, there was no going back...

This is Daddy Zeus Garro's story from Lessons In Corruption. A standalone in The Fallen Men Series.
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Copyright 2018 Giana Darling

Proofed by Michelle Clay, Olive Teagan and Marjorie Lord

Cover Design by Najla Qamber

Cover Model Jack Greystone

Cover Photographer Patricia McCourt

Formatting by Stacey at Champagne Book Design

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This book is a work of fiction. Any similarities to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Table of Contents

Title Page


















































Lessons In Corruption

Thanks Etc.

About Giana Darling

For everyone whose lives have been affected by cancer. You are strong, you are brave and I am in awe of your courage of conviction and continual hope.

And for my dad, who always encouraged the rebel and the writer in me, and who succumbed to his own battle with cancer in 2011.

“An overflow of good converts to bad.”

—William Shakespeare, Richard II. Act V. Scene 3.

I was too young to realize what the pop meant.

It sounded to my childish ears like a giant popping a massive wad of bubble gum.

Not like a bullet releasing from a chamber, heralding the sharp burst of pain that would fo; llow when it smacked and then ripped through my shoulder.

Also, I was in the parking lot of First Light Church. It was my haven not only because it was a church and that was the original purpose of such places, but also because my grandpa was the pastor, my grandmother ran the after-school programs and my father was the mayor so it was just as much his stage as his parents’.

A seven-year-old girl just does not expect to be shot in the parking lot of a church, holding the hand of her mother on one side and her father on the other, her grandparents waving from the open door as parents picked up their young children from after-school care.

Besides, I was unusually mesmerized by the sight of a man driving slowly by the entrance to the church parking lot. He rode a great growling beast that was so enormous it looked to my childish eyes like a silver-and-black backed dragon. Only the man wasn’t wearing shining armor the way I thought he should have been. Instead, he wore a tight long-sleeved shirt under a heavy leather vest with a big picture of a fiery skull and tattered wings on the back of it. What kind of knight rode a mechanical dragon in a leather vest?

My little girl brain was too young to comprehend the complexities of the answer but my heart, though small, knew without context what kind of brotherhood that man would be in and it yearned for him.

Even at seven, I harbored a black rebel soul bound in velvet bows and bible verse.

As if sensing my gaze, my thoughts, the biker turned to look at me, his face cruel with anger. I shivered and as his gaze settled on mine those shots rang out in a staccato beat that perfectly matched the cadence of my suddenly overworked heart.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

Everything from there happened as it did in action movies, with rapid bursts of sound and movement that swirled into a violent cacophony. I remembered only three things from the shooting that would go down in history as one of the worst incidents of gang violence in the town and province’s history.


My father flying to the ground quick as a flash, his hand wrenched from mine so that he could cover his own head. My mother screaming like a howler monkey but frozen to the spot, her hand paralyzed over mine.



Men in black leather vests flooded the concrete like a murder of ravens, their hands filled with smoking metal that rattled off round after round of pop, pop, pop. Some of them rode bikes like my mystery biker but most of them were on foot, suddenly appearing from behind cars, around buildings.

More of them came roaring down the road behind the man I’d been watching, flying blurs of silver, green and black.

They were everywhere.

But these first two observations were merely vague impressions because I had eyes for only one person.

The third thing I remembered was him, Zeus Garro, locking eyes with me across the parking lot a split second before chaos erupted. Our gazes collided like the meeting of two planets, the ensuing bedlam a natural offshoot of the collision. It was only because I was watching him that I saw the horror distort his features and knew something bad was going to happen.

Someone grabbed me from behind, hauled me into the air with their hands under my pits. They were tall because I remember dangling like an ornament from his hold, small but significant with meaning. He was using me and even then, I knew it.

I twisted to try and kick him in the torso with the hard heel of my Mary Jane’s and he must have assumed I’d be frozen in fright because my little shoe connected with a soft place that immediately loosened his grip.

Before I could fully drop to the ground, I was running and I was running toward him. The man on the great silver and black beast who had somehow heralded the massacre going down in blood and smoke all around me.

His bike lay discarded on its side behind him and he was standing straight and so tall he seemed to my young mind like a great giant, a beast from another planet or the deep jungle, something that killed for sport as well as survival. And he was doing it now, killing men like it was nothing but one of those awful, violent video games my cousin Clyde liked to play. In one hand he held a wicked curved blade already lacquered with blood from the two men who lay fallen at his feet while the other held a smoking gun that, under other circumstances, I might have thought was a pretty toy.

I took this in as I ran toward him, focused on him so I wouldn’t notice the pop, the screams and wet slaps of bodies hitting the pavement. So I wouldn’t taste the metallic residue of gun powder on my tongue or feel the splatter of blood that rained down on me as I passed one man being gutted savagely by another.

Somehow, if I could just get to him, everything would be okay.

He watched me come to him. Not with his eyes, because he was busy killing bad guys and shouting short, gruff orders to the guys wearing the same uniform as him but there was something in the way his great big body leaned toward me, shifted on his feet so that he was always orientated my way, that made me feel sure he was looking out for me even as I came for him.

He was just a stone’s throw away, but it seemed to take forever for my short legs to move me across the asphalt and when I was only halfway there, his expression changed.

I knew without knowing that the man I’d kicked in his soft place was up again and probably angry. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and a fierce shiver ripped down my spine like tearing Velcro. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I started to scream just as the police sirens started to wail a few blocks away.

My biker man roared, a violent noise that rent the air in two and made some of the people closest to him pause even in the middle of fighting. Then he was moving, and I remember thinking that for such a tall man, he moved fast because within the span of a breath, he was in front of me reaching out a hand to pull me closer…

A moment too late.

Because in that second when his tattooed hands clutched me to his chest and he tried to throw us to the ground, spiraling in a desperate attempt to act as human body armor to my tiny form, a POP so much louder than the rest exploded on the air and excruciating pain tore through my left shoulder, just inches from my adrenaline-filled heart.

We landed, and the agonizing pain burned brighter as my shoulder hit the pavement and my biker man rolled fully on top of me with a pained grunt.

I blinked through the tears welling up in my eyes, trying to breathe, trying to live through the pain radiating like a nuclear blast site through my chest. All I saw was him. His arm covered my head, one hand over my ear as he pulled back just enough to look down into my face.

That was what I remember most, that third thing, Zeus Garro’s silver eyes as they stared down at me in a church parking lot filled with blood and smoke, screams and whimpers, but those eyes an oasis of calm that lulled my flagging heart into a steadier beat.

“I got you, little girl,” he said in a voice as rough and deep as any monster’s, while he held me as if he were a guardian angel. “I got you.”

I clutched a tiny fist into his blood-soaked shirt and stared into the eyes of my guardian monster until I lost consciousness.

Sometimes now, I wonder if I would have done anything differently even if I had known how that bullet would tear through my small body, breaking bones and tender young flesh, irrevocably changing the course of my life forever.

Always, the answer is no.

Because it brought me to him.

Or rather, him to me.

“He’s going to prison for this,” my daddy yelled from the hallway.

We were in the hospital. I knew this because I woke up in a white bed in a room with white walls and white floors and there were white tubes stuck into my arm. There were no loud noises, no blood or bodies or biker men around so I knew that everything had calmed down and I was safe.

At least, everything had calmed down except for my daddy. I’d never seen him so mad because Lafayettes weren’t supposed to let anyone else know what they were thinking or feeling.

Everyone in the kids ward of Saint Katherine’s Hospital knew what my daddy was thinking and feeling right now. I woke up to a foggy head, a dull pain in my shoulder and the sound of him saying a lot of really bad words. That was five minutes ago and he still hadn’t stopped.

“Benjamin, you are making a scene,” my mum said.

“I mean it, Phillipa,” he shouted just outside my slightly open door. “That piece of scum is going away for this!”

“I understand your sentiments, Mr. Lafayette, and I can assure you that Zeus Garro will go to jail for his crimes.” The staff sergeant hesitated. “But he has a solid shot at a reduced sentence and early parole for saving your daughter—”

“HE DID NO SUCH THING,” Daddy bellowed. “He is the reason that my daughter is drugged up and lying damaged in a fucking hospital bed. He is the reason that Entrance is known as the hometown to a violent, drug-trafficking motorcycle gang. We are fucking lucky that water real estate is at a premium in the province and our education ranking is so high or else no one would ever live here. And do you know why that is, Harold? Because of fucking Zeus Garro.”

Oh no.

No way.

My daddy was so not going to send my biker man to jail. I didn’t really know what he was talking about except that drugs were bad and so was violence, but I did know that my biker saviour was not a bad man. Bad men just didn’t throw themselves in front of seven-year-old girls to take a bullet for them.

I was young but I wasn’t dumb.

“Daddy,” I cried out, but my voice was weak in my dry throat.

“If you would listen to what I’m telling you, Benjamin,” staff sergeant Danner tried again. “I’m telling you, Garro is going away for this. He killed a man in front of my fucking officers, shot him right in the goddamn head before we could even take stock of the situation. He’s going away. What I’m also telling you is that the man he shot in the head was the man who put a bullet in your daughter, the same bullet that went through Garro’s own chest before it landed in hers. You want to talk about the damage that bullet could’ve done if it hadn’t lost speed going through that barrel of a man first?”

My daddy was silent after that.

“Benjamin,” my mum said in her special soft voice that made him listen to her. “He deserves to go to prison but think of the silver lining. If Louise wasn’t hurt like this we wouldn’t know there was something wrong with her.”

My ears stung to hear it, but I wasn’t surprised. I’d been sick for a long time now even though no one believed me when I said I felt bad because I didn’t have a runny nose or anything.

“We don’t know anything yet, Phillipa,” my daddy told her sternly.

“We do. The doctors are concerned, honey. It took her too long to stop bleeding, she lost consciousness for two days. That is not normal. And then there’s the fact that she has been complaining about pain for a few months now—”

“She’s looking for attention, Phillipa, that’s all.”

“Whether or not that may be the case, the doctors are running tests and it is not looking good.”

“Being stubborn again, are we, son?” The wheezy old voice of my grandpa came through my door and I straightened automatically in my bed. Grandpa was stern, but he was also super nice to me and he always gave me lollipops if I recited Bible passages correctly.

“Even you can’t find absolution for Zeus Garro, Dad,” my daddy said.

“Maybe not, but I can find it for him in this situation. Without this incident, how long would it have taken you to realize that Louise is seriously ill. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it one hundred times, just because someone is not who you want them to be, it does not mean they are incapable of good.”

My daddy snorted. “I will not thank a felon for saving my daughter, not least of all because he did not even save her! She’s laying in a hospital bed with a bullet wound through her shoulder! How am I the only rational person here who sees what a monster that man is? He shouldn’t even be allowed to rest in the same hospital as my daughter after what he and his gang have done.”

“Benjamin, that is enough,” my mum said. “People can hear you. Think what they might say?”

“No, you’re right. We need to spin this just right and I’m too furious to think with a level head right now. We’ll go home and talk about what to tell the press. Harold, I don’t want any of those vultures in here trying to get to my daughter. Lord knows what she’ll say to them.”

“Benjamin.” My grandpa tsked. “She’s just a girl.”

“A girl who needs to grow up. What in the world she was doing running away from her parents and into the fray, is beyond me.”

Their voices faded as they walked down the hall away from my room. I lay stiff even though it hurt my arm, because whenever my parents made me want to cry, I told myself to be still and be calm. Crying was for babies like my little sister, Bea. Not for me. I was a Lafayette and Lafayettes didn’t cry. Not even when they got shot, not even when they got sick and not even when their family left them all alone in the hospital. I lay there for a long time until Nanny came in with Bea to check on me. They both smiled and laughed when they put cartoons on the little TV on the wall but I didn’t feel like smiling. The only thing that made me feel better was the Snickers bar that a super nice nurse named Betsy snuck in for me.

Later, Nanny was somewhere talking to the doctors because they never did that kind of stuff in front of me. Our neighbor, Mrs. Brock, already picked up Bea and took her home. I was alone but I was happy because I was mad at Daddy for hating my guardian monster and Nanny wouldn’t stop touching me and saying stuff in French that was supposed to be nice, but I didn’t understand.

I was supposed to stay in the kid part of the hospital because they were keeping me overnight but I didn’t like it there. There were a lot of kids and a lot of them cried. It was sad and it was even sadder that the nurses and staff tried to cover it up with bright colours and lots of toys. It wasn’t a happy place and it kind of freaked me out.

If I stayed in my room like I was supposed to, it was even scarier and sadder because grandpa said I had a good imagination and I did, so it was easy to picture all the monsters crawling around outside, just waiting for me to fall asleep, so they could eat me.

Besides, Daddy had mentioned that my guardian monster was in the hospital too so maybe I could find him and tell him to run away.

My arm really hurt when I moved but it wasn’t too big a deal because my body had been hurting for a while, like my blood was on fire and I was a volcano about to erupt. I winced when I pulled the needle out of my hand and saw the really purple bruise there. It didn’t scare me though. I bruised really badly really easily.

It wasn’t busy that night so no one noticed me when I walked down the halls and checked out what everyone was doing. People don’t really notice kids unless they’re in the way.

I searched my floor then the one below me and I was super tired by the time I checked the emergency room, but I made myself keep going because the thought of my hero being hurt made me frightened. I didn’t like to see all the blood and chaos in the huge room but I was determined to find my biker man.

I was just pulling back yet another curtain to peek inside when a voice said, “Whatcha doin’, kid?”

I froze.

“Just ’cause you stopped movin’ doesn’t mean I don’t see you anymore,” the same deep voice told me.

It was the voice of a monster, really dark and rumbly like there was something wrong with his throat. He didn’t sound mean though, it kind of sounded like he wanted to laugh.

“I’m not supposed to be down here,” I told him without turning around.

“Figured as much. What’s a little girl doing in the ER all by herself? Not that I’m not stoked to see you walkin’ around after what happened. How’s the shoulder, kid?”

I turned around to look at him through my hair and took a step away because I’d forgotten how much he looked like a monster. He was humungous like a Titan or a giant but in real life. He was lying in a hospital bed, kinda leaning up against the pillow but I thought that if he stood up his head would hit the ceiling. He had a bunch of really long, crazy hair that was blond and brown and his big arms and sides were covered with drawings. There were pictures on his arms that looked like feathers, like those giant arms were really wings like on an angel.

“Are you an angel?” I asked.

I was closer to him than before, but I didn’t remember moving closer to his bed. I reached out to touch his skin because the feathers looked so real and I wanted to know what they felt like.

He made a weird noise like he was choking. “No, kid, I’m no angel.”

“I thought maybe you were a monster because you’re really big, but you have wings and you saved me from all the bad guys,” I explained.

My fingers touched the feather curling over his arm. They didn’t feel like real feathers except his skin was smooth like when you pet a feather just right.

“Does it hurt?” I asked.

“No but it hurt like a bitch to get ’em.”

“A bitch?”

“Damn, sorry, kid. Don’t say that, it’s a bad word.”

“Then why do you use it?” I frowned. Angels didn’t say bad words. My grandpa was the pastor, so I knew these things.

His lips twitched like maybe he wanted to smile. “That’s a good question.”

I crossed my arms. “So, are you going to answer it or what?”

He laughed this time but I didn’t think it was in a mean way so I let him.

“Don’t have a good answer for ya. My dad cursed, my mum cursed, so I curse. Grew up with that shit.”

“My grandpa says that if you do bad stuff like curse, then bad stuff happens to you.” I pointed to the white bandage that covered half his chest. “Maybe that’s why you got hurt.”

“I got hurt savin’ a little girl who needed savin’,” he reminded me gently.

I bit my lip and scuffed my heel against the floor. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you got hurt because of me. Do you want me to kiss it better?”

He choked again, like he was swallowing laughter. “I’m good, kid, but thanks. I’ve had worse, trust me.”

There was a thick rope of weirdly smooth and mangled skin on the right side of his neck. I pointed at it. “Like that?”

“I did something a lot worse than curse to get that,” he told me and then winked.

I giggled.

He had really big eyes like a wolf, really pale and grey.

“What did you do?” I leaned heavily against the side of his bed because I was really tired.

He looked at me for a long time before he said, “I found a guy that did some bad stuff to a friend of mine and I did some bad stuff to him. Before I got ’im, he got me with a blunt machete.”

He made a chopping motion against the junction of his neck and shoulder where the scar was.

“For real?” I breathed.

He nodded.

“Wow. If you got him because he chopped you, what did you do to the bad guy that shot us?”

“Smart girl.” His lips twitched again and he lifted one of his huge hands to show me his bloody knuckles.

I nodded. “You’re definitely big enough to kill someone with your bare hands.”

He tilted his head. “Don’t seem that disturbed about it, kid. You close to death?”

I mimicked his pose and squinted my eyes at him. “You mean do I know him or something?”

“Yeah, somethin’.” He grinned.

“I guess so. I’m dying, probably,” I told him. It was dramatic but I wanted to see what he would do if he thought I was really dying. He was an angel so I figured he would know if that was true or not. Besides, my mum always said it was a lady’s right to be dramatic and it was the only one of her rules I actually liked.

My feet were cold on the plastic floor so I pushed the bedside chair closer to him and climbed onto it.

“Dyin’?” His body got tight. I watched his face screw up and to the left like a twist cap on soda pop.

“Why are you making a funny face?” I asked.

“Don’t think any person finds out a little girl is gonna die is going to smile at it,” he replied.

“That’s a nice thing to say.”

He shook his head, studying me really hard. “I got a son older than you and a little girl ’bout your age. Hope like fuck that they turn out to be as cool as you, kid.”

“Are you sure you aren’t an angel?” I asked him, because he was being really nice and it made me feel like I was standing in the sun.

I wanted him to be an angel. My grandpa told me that God could save a person from death if they were pious and faithful, and I was a good girl so I was both. He was the town pastor so I think he knew what he was talking about but I never really believed him. What did God care about me?

But if this man was a real angel maybe it meant that I didn’t have to die. Maybe this angel man would wrap me up in his winged arms and make my bones stop hurting.

“Nah, kid, I’m no angel.”

“That’s too bad. I was thinking you could be my guardian angel or something cool like that.”

I stared at him while he laughed at me. One of his big hands pressed to his chest just above his heart where the bandage was wrapped, so I could tell laughing hurt him. But he did it anyway, and he wasn’t quiet about it.

“I’d be a shit guardian angel. I’m not a good man, kid.”

I stared at him, squinting as I looked at his messy hair, all the dark and twisting images on his really tanned skin. At first, I’d thought he looked like a monster, all big and dark and scary because I didn’t understand him.

But, “You have nice eyes. My grandpa says that kind eyes don’t lie.”

His face relaxed in a way that made something flutter in my tummy.

“What’s your name, kid?”

“I’m a Lafayette,” I told him because that was the important bit of my name.

He frowned. “Yeah, got that kid. Your dad is one of the guys rootin’ for a life sentence and it’s safe to say he hates my fuck—freakin’ guts. I wanna know what you call yourself.”

I didn’t want to tell him so I bit my lip. My name was stupid and I hated it. Louise was an old person name and I wasn’t old. It was also a boring name and I really, really didn’t want to grow up to be boring like my mum with her parties and my dad with all his work stuff.

So, I said, “Loulou.”

No one had ever called me Loulou before even though I’d tried to make it stick. Mum and Dad said it was a common name, which meant they didn’t like it, which meant I couldn’t have it.

“Cool. I’m Zeus.”

“Zeus,” I squeaked. “For real?”

His mouth twitched. “I got a name my parents gave me but don’t like it much so, yeah, Zeus.”

“That’s the coolest name I ever heard,” I told him, bouncing up and down in my seat. “Do you know who Zeus is? He’s like the king of all the gods on Mt, Olympus. He throws lightning!”

“Smart girl,” Zeus rumbled in his super cool, super god-like voice.

I stared at him, having a moment because mum told me girls are allowed to have moments and I was pretty sure this man was the absolute coolest man on the planet.

“I’m pretty sure you are the absolute coolest man on the planet,” I told him.

His eyes danced at me and got all crinkly in the corners. Suddenly, it was harder to breathe.

“I’m damn sure that you are the absolute coolest girl on the planet too.”

“Cool,” I said, pretending that wasn’t the nicest thing anyone had ever said to me ever.

He smiled again.

After a minute, it faded and he said, “You should probably head back to bed before someone worries about ya.”

He was right but I really didn’t want to go. Zeus was big and strong and I was pretty sure he was half angel, half monster, which meant that all the other monsters in the hospital wouldn’t hurt me if I stayed with him.

“Will you stay here all night and fight the monsters if they come to get me?” I asked him, looking around his little curtained room. “Do you have your lightning bolts with you?”

“I got the bolts. You don’t worry, kid. I’ll stand watch.”

“Promise?” I asked and my voice was stupid and small like a baby.

Zeus held out his pinky. It was four times the size of mine and for some reason, I thought that was really cool. I linked mine onto it.

“Pinky swear,” he swore.

Then he hooked his thumb over our tangled little fingers to shake it against my thumb. I giggled and for the first time in a long time, when I went to sleep, I didn’t dream of monsters, I dreamt of him.

The next morning, I ran down to the ER in my hospital gown, clutching my uneaten green Jell-O from the night before in my hand. I wanted to share it with Zeus because he’d kept the monsters away all night.

“Fuck this, Z, you’re gonna go to prison for this, ya know,” a scary voice growled from behind Zeus’s curtain just as I was going to push it aside.

I froze.


“There’s no maybe about it, dipshit. You got kids at home and you’re pullin’ this crazy-ass stunt without your brothers at your back?”

“I don’t know who my brothers are at the fuckin’ moment, Bat, otherwise wouldn’t be in this fuckin’ mess in the first place. You rather Crux put a bullet in you ’fore I put a bullet in him? He killed our brothers and he went through a motherfuckin’ kid to get to me.”

“Gonna lose half the brothers over this and half of ’em are gonna wanna back you as Prez now he’s gone.”

“A Prez in prison isn’t the best call for the club.”

There was a really awkward pause, like when I heard my mum and daddy fight.

“Farrah’s gonna flip, you go to prison and leave her with the kids,” the angry guy said. “She can’t handle that shit on her own.”

“Yeah,” Zeus said, soft sounding like he was sad. “But this is good, Bat. We needed a change in the club and now that rat bastard is gone, we can move forward.”

“Hard to change the norm when the fucking leader of our revolution is goin’ to prison for manslaughter.”

Manslaughter didn’t sound good. It sounded like Zeus had probably killed someone with his bare hands for real. I shivered but I wasn’t actually scared, not of Zeus. I was scared of what kind of monster that man had been that my angel slayer had to kill him. It didn’t occur to me to think it could be a man who shot a little girl in the chest.

“The pigs are sniffing around but I’ll hold ’em off until you get out of this place. I brought the truck, bring it round front and meet you there in ten, yeah? Won’t buy you much time but I figure you can say goodbye to yer kids.”

“Yeah, brother. Thanks,” Zeus said.

I quickly ducked away from the opening just before a tall, scary-looking tattooed man blew past me. Before the curtain could close, I slipped into Zeus’s space.

He was sitting up in his bed, really dark against the white sheets and way too big for such a tiny bed. They hadn’t changed the Band-Aid on his chest because I could see blood on it like a pink flower blooming underneath. His thick brown eyebrows hung low over his eyes as he stared into the distance at something that made him unhappy but as soon as he saw me, he smiled really big.

“Hey there, kid. Come to say goodbye?”

“No,” I told him primly as I walked over to the chair beside his bed and climbed onto it. “I don’t want to say goodbye.”

His lips twisted, and I noticed they were pretty lips, almost like a girl’s. “Don’t have much of a choice here. I’m goin’ away for a while.”

“Because you killed that bad man?”

“Yeah, ’cause I killed that bad man.”

“So…” I twisted my fingers in my lap and thought really hard about it. “I’m the reason that you have to go away, then. Because you had to save my stupid life?”

“Hey,” he barked so suddenly that I jumped a little. His voice softened as he leaned forward to snag my eyes with his. “Don’t want to hear you talk like that, yeah? Innocence is always worth protectin’. If a baby needed your help, are you tellin’ me you wouldn’t help ’em?”

“I’m not a baby,” I told him.

“No.” He smiled at me and it made me forget to be annoyed at his comparison. “But babies are sweet and innocent like you. They haven’t learned about all the bad stuff in the world yet.”

I twisted my fingers in my lap again. “I don’t want to be like a baby. I want to know about the bad stuff. If I don’t know, what am I going to do when it happens to me when I grow up? Wait for some stupid prince to come save me now that my guardian monster is going away?”

Zeus laughed a great big laugh. “No need to grow up too fast, kid. You got lots of time and once you lose that innocence, you can’t get it back. Trust me.”

“I do,” I told him eagerly. “That’s why I don’t want you to go away and never see me again. Can I visit you where you’re going?”

“No, absolutely fuckin’ not.”

I thought about being hurt for a second and then I guessed, “Because bad people go to where you’re going?”


“But I want you to be my friend,” I tried to explain, reaching forward to put my little hand on top of his giant one resting on the bed.

He stared at our hands for a moment with gentle eyes and then looked up at me with a nice smile. “We are, kid.”

“Hurrah!” I whispered, because I was excited, but it felt like too important a moment to ruin with a shout.

“What are you doing in here?” Nurse Betsy said in a really high voice like the one my mum used when I was doing something gross or stupid.

She pushed back the curtain that separated Zeus’s bed from the rest of the big room and ran over to me, checking me over with her hands and glaring at my new friend.

“What is she doing in here with you? You’re in enough trouble as it is,” she hissed at him.

I tried to pull away from her, but she pressed me close to her chest, tucking my head into her neck as if that meant I couldn’t hear what they were saying.

Sometimes, adults are so dumb.

“Relax, Bets, she was wandering around down here and decided that I looked like a fuckin’ angel. She took a seat and we shot the shit for a minute. Nothing else.”

He didn’t seem that concerned about how angry Betsy was and it was kind of weird that they seemed to know each other. Betsy was tiny and pretty and soft. She didn’t look like she had it in her to be friends with Zeus.

“You never think,” she continued to hiss. “If someone else had come in here and seen you talking to a cute little girl, what do you think they would have done? You’re already going to freaking prison for manslaughter. Do you need a molestation charge on top of that?”

I couldn’t even see him but the air got weird and heavy and I knew without looking that Zeus was mad.

“Don’t even fuckin’ say that out loud. I’m a father for fuck’s sake, Bets. I’d never hurt a kid.”

Betsy relaxed a little against me and pet my hair. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “I’m protective of this one. They think she’s got Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She’s been in here a lot and she’s curious, likes to roam.”

“Fuck,” Zeus said, soft and angry at the same time.

I wanted to reach out and pat him like I did when my dog growled. My grandpa had always warned my mum that I was attracted to dark and damaged things. I was just a kid but I was a smart one and I knew Zeus was both of those things.

A fallen angel. A monster, but a good one under all the scary.

I didn’t want someone like him to feel sad for me like everyone else.

“Told you I was dying,” I grumbled loudly enough that he could hear me even though my lips were up against Betsy’s boobies.

Her arms went loose and I pulled away to see Zeus staring at me with that soft face that made my tummy strange.

“You’re not gonna die, kid. Let’s stay positive, yeah?”

“You don’t know. You’re not a doctor.”

“No, but I’m Zeus. I throw lightning bolts and I’m king of all the gods. I know you ain’t gonna die and now all you gotta do to get better is believe me. Yeah?”

I stared at him. He had really pretty eyes with lashes thick and dark like a lady.

“I don’t wanna die,” I whispered.

Betsy squeezed me really hard but I didn’t take my eyes off Zeus.

He leaned as close to me as he could. Without meaning to, I reached up and put my hand on his fuzzy cheek. He flinched like I’d hurt him but then he said, “Bad things happen to good people, kid. Sucks that you’re sick at all. Tellin’ you now, you’re gonna get through this and even though I won’t be around to see it, I promise you, I know it. You said you trust me, right?”

I nodded mutely, stuck somewhere in his silver-dollar eyes.

“Then believe me,” he ordered.

“I believe you,” I whispered.

“Mr. Garro, we’ve been told you are healthy enough to be transferred to provincial detention,” a voice said over my shoulder and I jumped around to see three uniformed police officers come into our small curtained space.

My daddy followed.

“Daddy, no,” I cried out as the men came into the room and one of them began to tell Zeus something in police-talk about his rights. “Daddy, NO!”

“Louise, what in the world are you doing out of bed and with this man?” he demanded, jerking forward to grab my arm in a painful grip and tug me toward him. “Jesus, you never listen. Why can’t you do as you’re told?”

“Daddy, he’s my guardian monster,” I tried to explain. “You can’t take him away to a bad place or else no one will look after me.”

“Don’t be a baby, Louise. You have Nanny looking after you. Your mother and I pay her a very fine salary to look after you and Beatrice and teach you French.”

“Je deteste le francais!” I screamed. “And I’ll hate you too if you take Zeus away. He saved my life, Daddy!”

“He put it in danger in the first place,” my daddy yelled right in my face and I was so shocked that I stumbled backward and fell. Only my daddy’s hard grip on my arm kept me hovering over the floor. “I will not hear you defend him. Now, this nurse is going to take you back to your room where you will stay until I say otherwise. Do you understand?”

“Please, Daddy,” I whimpered because he was hurting my bad shoulder by holding me like that, and especially because I didn’t want my guardian monster to go away.

For the first time in my life, I felt like I had a champion.

“You’re hurtin’ her,” Zeus told my daddy from behind me and even though his voice was calm there was something mean in it that made me scared for my daddy.

Daddy sneered at him. “Mind your business. You seem to have more pressing matters at hand. How do those cuffs feel, Garro? You better get used to them.”

I gasped as I turned around to see Zeus’s big arms behind his back locked up in silver handcuffs.

“Daddy,” I cried again. “Please, don’t do this.”

“S’okay, kid. It’s not your dad that’s done anythin’, it’s me. When you do somethin’ bad, you have to pay penance for it, like in church, right?” I nodded. “Right. Well it’s the same with the law only you pay penance by going to prison.”

“Shut your mouth,” Daddy ordered him then turned to Betsy. “Take my daughter to bed and do your fucking job. Make sure she stays there.”

“I won’t forgive you, Daddy,” I told him as Betsy gently ushered me toward the curtain. “Ever.”

“I can live with that,” he said, then he ignored me and stalked right up into Zeus’s face. He was a lot smaller because every man was a lot smaller than Zeus, but he still threatened him. “If I ever see you anywhere near my daughter or this family again, I will personally see to it that your life is ruined beyond all hopes of repair. Understood?”

Zeus looked down at my daddy as if he were a bug that landed on his boot, easily crushed but not worth the bother. “You threaten a man like me, Lafayette, be prepared to reap the fuckin’ consequences.”

Then with his head high and his body at ease despite the handcuffs, Zeus led the officers out of his curtained room and through the emergency room to the waiting police car outside.

Betsy let me watch as they drove away, tucked under her arm and against her breasts so that my tears got caught in her pink scrubs.

That was the last day I called Benjamin Lafayette “Daddy”.


Zeus is 26 and Louise is 7.

Dear Mr. Guardian Monster,

I hope you feel better now. Daddy told me you went away to a place where bad people go. Does that mean you are in hell? Can I visit you there?

I am worried that if you are away no one will look after me. Mum and Daddy are too busy because they are super important people. Nanny doesn’t speak English real good. My little sister Bea is okay but she cries a lot because she is still a baby.

I am still really sick. I had a Christmas play last week and I threw up all over the Baby Jesus. Mrs. Peachtree tried to pick me up, but I threw up on her too. I had to go to the hospital again and I hate the hospital. Nanny told me the doctors told her that there is something really wrong with me. When Mummy came to visit, she cried.

Do you think I am going to die? If I do, can I come stay with you in hell?


Louise Margaret Lafayette


Not gonna die, kid. Anyone ever tell you, you got a dark imagination? Little kids get sick all the time and then they get better, yeah? Wasn’t gonna write back but I had to tell you to cut that shit negative stuff out. Now, don’t be sad or anythin’, but we can’t write to each other. You don’t get it now but I’m a grown man and it’s fuckin’ feckin’ weird to write a seven-year-old little girl from prison. That’s where I am, prison. And yeah, Lou, it’s a lot like hell, only worse ’cause I figure there’s women in hell and a whole lotta sinning. Only thing I do here is read and do prison labor on a feckin’ farm.

You’ll get it when you’re older, but this is goodbye. Have a good life, kid, and keep outta trouble, you hear? I may not be there to look over ya, but I’ll be able to tell if you stay good.


Dear Mr. Guardian Monster,

I know you said that I couldn’t write to you anymore but I thought I should tell you that I am not going to get better so I will probably see you in prison in a little bit. See, I got cancer. Nanny told me it’s in my blood so they can’t even do an operation or anything. Daddy got really mad and he said he’s gonna get me a doctor like Super Man to help me get better. Betsy told me that lots of kids get cancer but she looked scared. I wouldn’t tell anyone but you, because you are my guardian monster, but I’m scared too.

I hope you write me back but if not, maybe see you soon.


Louise Margaret Lafayette

P.S. Do you believe in God? I do but I don’t know why he made me sick. I promise, I pray every day.


Jesus Christ, Fuck me, God fucking dammit.

No, Lou, I don’t believe in God. How can a man believe in an all-powerful nice guy who lives the high life behind pearly gates while the rest of us suffer down here on earth? How can a man believe that a little girl sweeter than sugar freakin’ pie deserves to get cancer?

You are goin’ to get better, kid. I know it. You know how I feckin’ know it? ’Cause you are a little warrior. You didn’t cry in the face of a huge biker with a gun pointed at your heart and you ain’t gonna cry ’cause of this, you hear me? You are strong and you are gonna fight this.

It’s still a feckin’ stupid idea for me to write to you, but Jesus, how can a guardian monster abandon his girl when she needs him?

Here still. Tell Betsy to write me a letter with more detail about the cancer, yeah?


Dear Mr. Guardian Monster,

Betsy wrote you a letter about the cancer. I tried to read it, but I don’t understand any of the words. Betsy told me to tell you what I feel like because I don’t know the doctor words for it. I have to stay in the hospital most of the time now, for medicine that makes my head really hurt and my heart skip rope in my chest. My bones really hurt, kinda like if dogs are chewing on them. I drew a picture of hellhounds biting on my legs, but it made my little sister cry and my mummy’s voice got really high and tight when she called me disgusting. Mummy threw it out but Betsy saved it and I gave it to her to send to you. Do you like it? That’s you, the big man in the clouds with your thunderbolts so you can save me.

Are you going to come and save me? Or is prison too far away to get here before I die?


Louise M. Lafayette

P.S. I am worried about you in prison. Do they at least have lollipops there? I love lollipops, especially the cherry kind.

Little Loulou,

Yeah, kid, I got the letter from Bets. You have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I looked it up in the prison library. The bad news is, it’s gonna suck to fight this and you’re gonna get real tired doing it. Good news? Those docs really know how to treat this shit. There are stages to cancer, kid, four of ’em and you are stage 2. This is really good, yeah? The odds of a kid beatin’ this thing are high and the odds of you beatin’ it? Even higher.

Really like the drawing, Lou. I got a few from my kids in my cell and now I got yours here too. Makes the place a little brighter. And I don’t got any lollipops, but gotta say, I don’t have a hankerin’ for them and straight up, kid? Those things will rot your teeth right out.


Yeah, before I forget again, cut it out with the Mr. Guardian Monster, yeah? Just call me Zeus.

Dear Mr. Zeus,

My hair is falling out. Betsy told me it was going to happen and a bunch of other kids in the cancer ward don’t have hair but I’m really sad. My hair was really pretty. Do you remember it? I think there was blood in it last time you saw me but mostly it’s gold and thick and long. Nanny used to brush it for me before bed and it felt really nice. Nanny shaved the little bit I had left off so I’m bald. Now, my head is super cold. It doesn’t matter really, I got to stay in the hospital right now and it’s always warm in here. I’m fighting, Mr. Zeus, really I am, but I’m super duper tired and even though you told me I was too strong to cry, I cried last night.

I haven’t seen my parents in three days and Nanny only brings Bea sometimes because she’s too little to see me all sick. I’m really lonely and I know you are in prison but if you could get maybe a Christmas break or something, could you come visit me? It’s really sad in the hospital but I think you could make me smile, maybe.


Little Loulou M. Lafayette

P.S. I’m happy you don’t like lollipops so now I don’t have to share. Betsy told me that in prison you don’t get a lot of stuff. What do you miss most? Maybe I can send it to you!

Little Loulou,

Listen to me now. You don’t need your parents. They ain’t there, good feckin’ riddance, yeah? They’re too busy to sit with a girl like you, sweet and kind even sick as a dog? Gotta say it, Lou, they don’t sound like good parents. Now, on top of everythin’ else you got goin’, that straight up sucks. Good news is, you got Nanny, Bea, and Betsy over there in your corner. You need to cry, you go to one of them and you tell ’em to get you a damn cherry lollipop or you get ’em to give you a hug. And I might be stuck in prison, little warrior, but you still got me, your guardian monster, keepin’ an eye on you from hell on earth. You feel sad, you write me one of your letters or make me a pretty picture, yeah?

Don’t miss nothin’ so much as I miss my kids. I told you before, I got a son who’s just two years older than you and a daughter round about your age. King and Harleigh Rose. They’re stayin’ with their mum and you know how your parents suck? King and H.R.’s mum sucks even worse. She’s not a nice lady and she’s a feckin’ crap parent so I get worried about them. Worried about them, worried about you… a guardian monster can only do so much from prison.

Stay strong, little warrior.


Betcha look pretty even without all that golden hair. You’re too young to get this, maybe, but sometimes a person’s got a soul so pretty it makes ’em glow prettier than anythin’ else. You got that kid, trust me. About the cold head, I asked Betsy to get you one of those knit cap things from my garage. Wear it inside out, yeah? Don’t need your dad crawlin’ up my butt about writin’ you.


Zeus is 28. Louise is 9.

Dear Mr. Z,

Merry Christmas! I don’t know if Santa comes to prison, so I got Betsy to send you a present. It’s not really big or anything because I don’t have a job yet. When I grow up and become a famous ballerina, I can buy you something even better. Betsy and I looked up what I was allowed to send you in jail and it’s not really a lot…Do you like it? I spent my whole entire allowance on it and Betsy took me IN DISGUISE to the biker shop to get it. It was super fun. I wore the toque you gave me but not inside out, so people could see Hephaestus Auto on it. Betsy gave me sunglasses too! I looked just like a biker girl. One of the ladies in the shop even asked me if my daddy was a biker just like you! Don’t worry, I didn’t tell her that you are my guardian monster, but I did lie and tell her yes. Lying is a sin so I had to go to the hospital chapel and pray for forgiveness, but it was worth it.

Anyways, did you know it’s my birthday in one week? The nurses are going to bring me a cake because I have to go in to get my medicine that day. I hope it’s chocolate! I CAN’T WAIT to be 9 years old! I asked Mummy and Daddy for tickets to the Nutcracker ballet in Vancouver but they say I might be too sick to go. I hope not. I tried to tell them that I’m feeling better and I am. I think the chemo thing is working!

I don’t want you to send me anything like last year. It was too big. I looked it up on the internet and when you work in prison you don’t make really any money so I don’t want you to waste it on me. Maybe you can buy King that dirt bike he wants! And then for my present you can send me a picture of him riding it. I think that would be really cool.


Little Loulou Lafayette


Don’t care if you’re mad. Betsy told me your feckin’ parents didn’t get you those tickets, so I did. You accept the present graciously, like the little lady-in-trainin’ that you are, and you get Nanny or Betsy to take you to the ballet, yeah?

I didn’t get presents from Santa but in my experience, Lou, Santa doesn’t have much to do with adults so enjoy ’em while it lasts. Did get a visit from my kids though. Their mum brought ’em in, dressed in dirty clothes with their hair all tangled. Feckin’ killed me to see ’em like that. Killed me more to hold my little girl in my arms and breathe in her scent. She smells like flowers. Don’t know how, given her mum probably washes her in cheap crap but she still smells like a meadow. Not gonna lie to you, Lou—not that I ever would—but I felt that shit in my chest. Miss the way my daughter smells and holdin’ her in my arms.

You don’t get much love and comfort in this hell on earth, Lou. Wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Grateful for the magazine subscription, don’t like you spendin’ your money on some old man in prison but gotta say I missed readin’ about bikes.



Zeus is 29. Louise is 10.

Dear Mr. Z,

The doctors told Nanny today that the medicine is working, and it looks like I am going into remission… it means that I won’t be sick anymore.

I cried. I know you don’t like it when I cry alone but this time, it was good. I hugged my pillow and I cried so much my eyes were swollen nearly shut. But it felt really good. Can you believe it, Z? In a little while, I will be healthy again. I can go to the playground and swing on the monkey bars with the other kids. I can have sleepovers! I don’t really have any friends yet who would ask me, but now I can make some! I can even take dance lessons again. Not right away or anything because I still get really tired and dizzy, but the doctor said I could start again in six months or something. How cool is that? Mummy cried when she came to visit, and she told me Daddy was really happy. My sickness kind of embarrasses him and he’s running for mayor, you know, so now I can stand with him on stage.

My hair will grow back. I think it is probably vain to miss it so much, but I do. And when it grows back in, I am never, EVER going to cut it again. It’s going to be long like Rapunzel’s and no one will ever be able to tell that I was bald once.

It was a really happy day and I wish you could have been here, so I could tell you in person. Thank you for being my guardian monster and making me healthy again.


Little Loulou Lafayette


Fuck, are you old enough now for me to curse when I write you? Because this is cause for some serious cursin’ and I mean that in a shout-at-the-top-of-your-lungs kinda way like FUCK YEAH! So fuckin’ stoked, kid. I shouted for joy in my cell, I kid you not. My cellmate, Dixon, asked me if I’d won the lottery. Feels like it, Lou, it feels like I won the lottery knowin’ that you’re gonna get well and soon. I didn’t have anythin’ to do with gettin’ you better though. You did that all on your own, little warrior, and I am so proud of you. Never met a stronger lady and you’re only ten years old. I can’t wait to see what kinda woman you grow into now that you got the chance to do it.



Zeus 30. Louise is 11.

Little Warrior,

Gonna get outta here, kid. Can’t fuckin’ believe it but I’m up for parole after two and a half years. I got a good lawyer but it’s my “good behavior” that’s done it. First time in my life anyone ever commended me for “good behavior.” I nearly bust a gut laughin’ when they told me. Think they thought I was crazy. My guess is, I got you and my kids to thank. Spent so much time in my cell writin’ to them and, mostly, you that I was too busy to cause trouble. Been causin’ it all my life, so yeah, Lou, can’t fuckin’ believe it. If I get out after two and a half years instead of eight? I can see my fuckin’ kids grow up. King’s twelve years old now, almost a man. I can teach ’im how to be better than me. Kid’s smart as a whip, I’m tellin’ ya. He’s headed to university for sure, first person in the family. H.R. is ten like you and she’s too smart, too bull-headed like her father to stay with her mum any longer. She’s run away twice and the staff sergeant and his family are keepin’ her and King for now while my soon-to-be ex-wife gets clean again. You probably don’t know what that means ’cause, Christ, I’m talkin’ to a kid about matters way beyond her years. You don’t need to worry about my shit. You just worry about stayin’ healthy, yeah?

So, I gotta thank you ’cause this is you. This is you remindin’ me about goodness. I lost sight of it for a while… But before you get excited, fuck if it’s too late for me to reform or some shit so don’t preach it, you hear? I’m just…happy. I’m happy and that’s a rare thing in the life of a convicted felon, in the life of a man who fucked it up real early for himself. So thanks, kid, for givin’ an old man hope.


Dear Mr. Z,



Little Loulou

Dear Mr. Z,

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I’m sorry I haven’t ever sent you anything before but you didn’t tell me when your birthday was so this year I asked Betsy and she told me so HA! I got you another biker magazine subscription, this one is called RIDE and I did lots of research so I think it is probably the best one. Do you like it? I know you don’t have much to do in there but exercise and work on the farm. I can’t believe you are 30! That’s super old. Do you have grey hairs and stuff already? I wish I remembered better what you look like. I tried to look you up on the internet but there aren’t any pictures of you. How is that possible? I looked myself up too and there are a few articles with pictures of me because Daddy’s mayor now. Happily, there are none of me bald. My hair reaches my shoulders now, just barely but still, I can do a hair flick and everything.

When is your meeting with the hell warden people to find out when you can go home? You didn’t answer me last time but when can you come and visit me?


Little Loulou

Little girl Lou,

Meeting was yesterday. Lou, I’m getting out. I leave at the end of the month. Got to tell you, it feels fuckin’ great to know I’ll get to see Main Street again, clap my brothers on the back and feel my bike beneath me, roaring down the hot stretch of road leadin’ from Entrance to Whistler like a windin’ biker’s paradise. Can’t wait to live again.

Wish I could visit you, Lou, I do. That said, I won’t. You don’t get this yet but me writin’ letters to a little girl is seven degrees of fucked up. Me and ethics ain’t ever been that close and don’t even get me started on morals, but still, a man has gotta draw a line somewhere and for me, that’s movin’ this strange pen pal gig we got goin’ into the real world. I debated not even writin’ you anymore and, if you push me on this, I won’t. Be happy with this ’cause it’s all you’re gonna get. And before you go whining on me, that’s the truth of the way life works, Lou. Know you got a hard knock with the cancer but your parents spoil you somethin’ rotten and you need to know real life is fulla pain, disappointment and dark deeds. I’m here to help you through the crud but only as a voice written in ink on paper, yeah?



Been home a week now and I don’t know what the fuck I’m doin’ talkin’ to a kid about somethin’ like this but there it is. Somehow, you’re the only witness I want to this. ’Cause the thing is, I should be happy to be home with my kids, my brothers, workin’ in the garage on bikes I loved all my life. You know what I feel, kid?

Weird, fucked up as all get out.

I can’t sleep ’cause my mattress is too soft. Yeah, too soft after the crap mattress I rested my weight on for two and a half years. So, I’m sleepin’ on the floor. Harleigh Rose came in yesterday mornin’ looking to cuddle and I nearly bit her head off. Just touched her old man on the shoulder, innocent like any ten-year-old kid, and I nearly clocked her head clean off her slip of a body. You don’t touch in hell. You don’t smile, and if you laugh it’s a hard laugh that’s meant as a threat. My daughter doesn’t get this, I don’t want her to have to get this. Which means I got to man the fuck up and get over this shit. But fuck if it isn’t hard.

I know I’m swearin’ too much, I know I shouldn’t talk to a ten-year-old girl with her own problems (you still havin’ problems at that prissy ballet school?) but I figure, I’ve got to talk about it to someone and it sure as hell ain’t gonna be a shrink. You cool with that, little Lou, bein’ my little warrior again so I can rest some of this weight on you for a spell and catch my breath?


Dear Mr. Z,

I think I need to teach you two lessons because even though you’re an adult and I’m just a kid, I’m pretty sure I know these two things better than you do.

One thing, you don’t apologize to friends for needing them. I don’t know this because I have a lot of friends, you know that with the cancer and missing school and stuff I kinda lost all my friends. I know this because in all the really good books and movies, friends do everything and anything for each other. Obviously, you would do anything for me seeing as how before we were even friends, you saved my life by taking a bullet for me, and I’m trying not to be mad that you don’t know I would do the same for you. You want to curse? You want to talk to me about your kids? Or the hell you went through in prison because of me? It’s my duty as the girl you saved, my pleasure as your bff (best friend forever) and my honour as a girl who respects you more than she even respects her parents and whole family, to listen to whatever in the world you want to say to me.

The second thing is harder to teach but I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I got out of the hospital. We all have scars. Some of them, like the one you and me share, you can see with your eyes. Some of them, you ink, like you do, on your skin so that they tell the story like a picture book. Like a badge of honour that you overcame something really bad. Then there are others, like the scar that stays in your heart when you’re left alone in a hospital room for a week without anyone visiting you, or when you sleep on a metal bed in a concrete prison filled with bad men or weak men who only touch each other to sin in one way or another. I think it’s harder to talk about those scars and it’s harder to get over them because they wrap around you like poison ivy, making it hard to breathe and pump blood through your heart in the normal way. At least, that is how it is with me. I feel my heart skip when I talk to my friends now at school and they talk about boys they like and what they want to be when they grow up, and I know that sometimes, a lot of the time, kids don’t even get to grow up. They die.

I think bad things happen to everyone, not just bad people. My grandfather is the pastor, you know? And he says all the time that religion will absolve us of our sins and lead us to heaven if only we follow all God’s rules. I don’t think you are the kind of man to follow rules, even if they are the Almighty’s, but I do know that you definitely deserve to be happy so I think there must be special exceptions for men who are good but whose lives went bad. I think sometimes God sends us bad stuff, like cancer and prison and crappy ex-wives and too-busy daddies to see how we hold up. If we are strong and we endure, we are rewarded.

I don’t know if that makes you feel better, to know that I kinda know what you are going through, that our scars make us different and they make us hurt all the time and feel a little lonely. Only, we are lucky because we are bffs so we have each other. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, I got you, Mr. Z.



P.S. Harleigh Rose won’t care if you don’t want to snuggle or you flinch when she touches you. You’ll get used to it again and I bet you she’s just happy to have you back. I know I am.


Zeus is 32. Louise is 13.


Tell me another story, a good one where the hero is kind of the villain and the happily ever after isn’t easy coming. I want to hear about adventures and bravery and living life outside of the lines. I read On the Road like you recommended and I loved it. The Zen of Art and Motorcycle Maintenance was good too and I really loved Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Our housekeeper found my copy under the bed and turned it over to my mother who immediately threw it into the fireplace and informed me that I would be going to church camp for the summer again. I hate church camp. Remember last summer when those girls told me I was impure because I was wearing coloured lip chap? I know you said that they were dumb, but it still really bothered me, and I know they’ll be there again this year. They go to my school and I bet you when I go to EBA for high school, they’ll be there too. They call themselves “the angels.” How self-righteous can they get?

My life is so boring. I can’t seem to stop thinking about it. It feels like I’m a Barbie, dressed by someone else’s hand in sensible shoes and sweater sets (did you know I have fourteen different strands of pearls, one for every occasion? Did you even know there was more than one occasion to wear pearls!?). Living the life someone else wants me to live. I’m good at it. I got honours with distinction again this year, which was cool but honestly, kind of easy. Apart from the angels, who are mean and don’t like me because I don’t pretend they’re cool, I have some friends. Not good ones, not like you. I dance five times a week, I do my homework, I obey my parents, volunteer at the Autism Centre, and I go to church on Sunday and whenever else I need absolution (a lot, I admit, and it’s getting worse). I’m a normal thirteen-year-old girl. A woman officially. And I still feel like such a dumb, dull girl.

So, tell me something exciting. I know you are probably driving through the California hills on your bike, drinking beer in some bar or flirting with some really pretty girl because who wouldn’t want to flirt with you?




Sure, kid, I’ll tell ya a story. Once upon a fuckin’ time, there was a princess named Lou with a shit ton of golden hair and a smile that lit a person’s heart up. She was sweet and kind but curious. The Queen and King kept her in a big tower away from the rest of the world and only let safe, boring folk through to see her. The princess grew fuckin’ tired of that shit, as anyone would but ’specially a girl as curious, as wild at heart as Lou. So, she made a plan. Instead of runnin’ away, she staged a quiet rebellion in her soul. She made friends with the dull boys and did her duties, so her parents would be happy with her but inside, she worked away at becomin’ the kind of woman she wanted to be when she got old enough to do things her way. She listened to rock and roll, read copies of banned books by the light of her fish tank light late at night, and doodled in the margins of Gideon’s Bible. She was a good kid, a good girl, and when the time came that she turned eighteen, she was ready to take off into the sunset, no man, no rules, just a rucksack filled with booze and jerky, a head fulla crazy dreams and a heart brave enough to do ’em.


P.S. You aren’t dumb and next time you say somethin’ like that, Lou, I’ll stop writin’ ya.


You always threaten to stop writing me… Is it because you don’t want to anymore? I get it. Betsy doesn’t deliver my letters for me anymore. I drop them myself on the way to ballet every Sunday. But she asked me if we still wrote to each other when I saw her a little bit ago and when I said yes, she looked unhappy and told me I was probably bothering you. Am I? You’re my best friend in the whole world but I get that you have kids and a life and a job because you’re an adult and I’m just a girl with like zero real problems. So if you want to stop writing me… I’ll deal with it.


Not so little warrior,

Don’t be like that, Lou. I get that you’re turnin’ into a woman so this passive aggressive, emotional shit is gonna come up but I’m tellin’ you right now, that kinda insecurity is fuckin’ poison and it’ll eat away at you if you let it until you become a bitter, hollow shell of the cool kid you once were. You’re the shit, Lou. We’ve been writin’ for near on five years now (fuck) so you should know by now that I don’t do anythin’ I don’t want to.

I want to write you. It’s fucked up but yeah, we’re friends. As long as it stays like that, we keep this thing to paper and pen, I’m not goin’ anywhere.

Now, tell me more about these “angel” bitches so we can game plan how you’re gonna win ’em over.



Zeus is 33. Louise is 14.


Okay, so can I ask you something kind of weird? I would ask someone else only I don’t really have anyone else… Dad wouldn’t know what to say, Mum is never around, you know they got rid of Nanny last year and Bea is too young to get it. The angels don’t know anything so I can’t go there. Which leaves you.

Okay, I’m just going to go for it here.

Over the summer, I, well, I “became a woman” or whatever. Late bloomer and all that. So now my body has erm, changed, and all the boys at school are suddenly talking to me! It’s super weird and I don’t know what to say to them. They tease me and tug on my hair or call me fat and stuff like that. It’s mean but I can see the way they stare at my, like, private areas so I know they like me, I mean I think they do. I don’t like any of them, though. They’re all stupid little boys and I just want them to leave me alone. What do you think I should do?



Jesus Christ, Lou, there has to be someone fuckin’ better than me to ask about this shit. I’m a man. You obviously don’t get this yet but men talk about three things: booze, sex and sports. For me, that would be whiskey, sex and bikes. Each man’s got different preferences but we all stick mostly to that strict rule. Remember that, Lou, booze, sex and sports.

That said, I get that you got no one else to go to, which sucks. So, kid, I’ll talk to you about this but only this once so relish it and NEVER ask me again.

Listen, it’s simple because men are simple. A guy likes a chick, he needs to get her attention. There are a coupla ways to do this. The dicks, they do it by bein’ a dick to the girl, insultin’ her hair or her makeup or somethin’ totally made up just to start a conversation. Best thing to do is ignore ’em. The better ones, they’ll try an’ be your pal, buddy up to you about somethin’ they think you might like even though they definitely fuckin’ don’t. These guys are harmless, Lou, just friend zone ’em for long enough and they’ll give up.

Then there are the best kinda men, yeah? The ones that man up and claim a woman the way a woman wants and needs to be claimed. He sees somethin’ he likes, he goes up, lays it out and asks her out. He does what he needs to do to get to know her, listenin’, spendin’ the money and, better, the time to know her mind so he can rock her world. Somethin’ fucks with her, that man is gonna throw down to make it right again. She wants somethin’ he can’t immediately get her? That guy’s gonna work his fuckin’ ass off to get it for her just for a chance to get some more of her sweetness. That’s the kinda man you’re gonna get yourself one day, Lou. Not now, you’re just a kid, so be patient. Ignore the dicks that will be ignored and throat punch the idiots that won’t. Make friends with the pussies who let you do that to them. And wait.



I think I know what kinda guy you’re talking about…

Also, I wanted to throat punch one of the dicks that wouldn’t take no for an answer but good girl Louise Lafayette wouldn’t do that, so I spit in his Coke when he wasn’t looking at lunch and watched him drink it after. It was nearly as satisfying.




Zeus is 35. Louise is 16.


It’s my sixteenth birthday today. Mum threw me a massive Sweet Sixteen party with like four people I actually like and one hundred people I actively can’t stand. They were all hoards of plastic Ken and Barbie dolls littered around our backyard like a kid’s playroom. Only, I didn’t have fun with them because I refuse to play with them. I stood in the middle of all the pastels and polo necks listening to my parent’s friends talk about politics and vacation homes and I was more than the usual bored. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and honest to God, I think I was having a panic attack. Suddenly, I couldn’t stand my own life anymore. I wanted to rip off my double strands of pearls, tear the Tiffany charm bracelet from my wrist and run away. Do you know whom I wanted to run away to, Z?


All I could think about was racing to you, finding you already straddling your great metallic dragon, the rev of the engine like a warrior cry as we took off into the night. Not sunset. There are no sunsets for men like you and women like I am at the heart of me. Only inky night that clutches at you as you tear past, moving through the darkness like we own it, like we are only free inside the shadow vortex of it.

I’m being nonsensical. I snuck a few extra glasses of champagne and my head feels like it’s filled with helium. What I’m trying to say is that I want to run to you. It doesn’t have to be away with you. You’ve got kids, really great ones from the looks of things, so I get that we probably have to stay here. I get that it’ll be hard because you’re a mechanic and I’m the Princess of Entrance, because you’re nineteen years older than my sixteen. But I know it’ll be okay just as long as I can get to you. I’ll leave whenever you want me to. Just say the word. And Z, say it soon.

I love you,



Can’t write you anymore. Don’t ask me why or try to change my mind about it. It’s not cool, a grown ass man writing to a teenage girl and it’s my fuckin’ fault that you got confused and you think you’re in love or some shit. You don’t love me, little girl. Fuck you don’t even really know me. Happy to have been here for you through the cancer, through your growing into a seriously cool young woman. It was my fuckin’ honour to be your guardian monster. But truth is, you don’t need me anymore. You’re good, healthy and grown. So, I’m gonna duck out here, tell you to keep livin’ true and free. Forget your parents and their bullshit, forget what anyone else expects from you. Life’s too short and you know it, little warrior, so live while the goin’ is good.


May 2017

No matter how devout you are, Sunday service is never fun.

Trust me, I’d been the pastor’s grandchild and the mayor’s daughter for long enough to know what I was talking about. I’d tried counting backward from one million, naming every important figure in the Bible in order of the gravity of their sins, conjugating French and Latin verbs until my eyes crossed. Anything, however tedious, was better than listening to my grandpa read yet another passage from the Bible.

I had tried for years to be pious, good and strong in the face of all the evils Christians believed to walk the earth and tempt the weak. I had tried and I had succeeded so well, I was a kind of paragon of virtue in Entrance, BC, an example that mothers used to teach their little girls how to grow up right, the ideal wife for young men who stayed true to the path of righteousness. Louise Lafayette was a pillar of the community just as her mother and father were, just as her grandparents had been.

All that goodness, all that trying so hard and how did God repay me?

With cancer. Again.

I’d lived through an entire two-year period in my childhood with it running hot and corrosive through my blood and yet, now that it was back, I still wasn’t used to the taint of it, how it blackened my vision both literally sometimes and metaphorically. It was hard to believe in the things I was supposed to believe in when I felt so miserable, so beyond the help of prayer.

They’d just diagnosed me as stage two and the possibility of chemotherapy loomed on the horizon.

I’d lose my hair again.

It was such a vain thing to be concerned about but even though my parents were Sunday churchgoers, they were human enough to practice pride and superficiality. Heck, they were the King and Queen of Entrance; they lived for those things. Mum had been more devastated than I when they said I’d lose the thick mass of pale blond hair I’d had since birth, hair that I’d inherited from her. She’d cried and clutched big handfuls of it in her fists, wiping her tears in the strands. I would have been grossed out if I weren’t devastated myself and trying so hard to hide it.

It was the end of my grade eleven year of high school, less than twelve months from graduation and all that entailed, including prom. And I was going to be bald for all of it.

Mum said they’d get me a really good wig but everyone would know it wasn’t my hair and that was somehow worse than rocking a naked scalp.

My friends were nice people so they wouldn’t make fun. They would just ignore it, as we all ignored the ugly things in life, and move on.

I was so tired of hiding the ugliness. It lived inside of me now. It was impossible to ignore its presence in everyday life.

Worst of all, I couldn’t tell Zeus about it.

I’d gotten through my first bout of cancer because of him and now that I was sick again, I couldn’t imagine doing it without him. Each letter I’d received written in his surprisingly cool graphic script had been a balm to my ragged soul. A little girl needed a champion, someone to believe in and someone to believe in her. He’d been right in saying that I’d grown up but he’d been wrong to assume that I no longer needed him. I’d learned that women needed a champion maybe even more than little girls did. Men forget to treat women with tender affection and platonic encouragement. Lust was no worthy substitute for pure care.

I wanted to send him a letter anyway because a part of me knew that he would come back if only he knew I was sick again. It was that exact reason that I left well enough alone. Did I really want a pity pen pal?

My mother reached over to quell my fidgeting hands. We were in the first right pew, front and center for everyone to look at. She didn’t want me to look bored or inelegant. So, I stopped twisting my fingers even though my body ached all over and it felt good to distract myself by tracing each digit. I smoothed my sweaty palms over the demure length of my pastel pink skirt and tucked my modestly heeled feet under the bench.

Mum patted my thigh.

Good girl, it meant.

I gritted my teeth.

Thankfully, the service wrapped up soon enough. Unhappily, the next half an hour would be dedicated to mingling, my least favourite part of the entire ordeal.

“Benjamin,” Tim Buckley boomed out in his loud, sport’s announcer voice as he ambled up to my father and did that shake all men did, the one with a hard clap on the back. “How is our mayor doing this fine Sunday morning? It was an excellent service, as per usual.”

“Thanks Tim, I’ll be sure to pass that along to Dad. Life is good, can’t complain about a thing,” my father said.

It wasn’t surprising that he didn’t complain about my illness. My parents may have informed everyone about what they liked to call “my condition” but they felt it was tacky to talk about it, to draw attention to the poor little sick girl.

My younger sister, Beatrice, gently bumped her shoulder into me before her hand found mine and held it fast. We were used to the song and dance of Sunday service but neither of us liked it. The pageantry that was our lives had fused us together from an early age and even though Bea was three years younger and at an age when girls are pretty screwed up by hormones, boys and insecurity, we were still thick as thieves. The only time we argued was about who had it worse, her or me. Bea liked to argue that our parents didn’t care what she did. She was right, at least to a certain extent. As long as she performed well in school and kept her nose out of trouble, Mum and Dad were pretty oblivious to her as a human being.

I argued that being their super-star was harder. There wasn’t a moment of my day they didn’t want to plan, a nuance of my person that they didn’t want a hand in forming. Mum liked me because I was pretty, just like she felt she was. Dad liked me because I was brainy in a bookish kind of way but also charming, just like he felt he was. Their interest in me was relatively recent, as of puberty when my good looks descended and my intellect was noticed. They liked me because I was a useful tool to them.

Poor Bea had pretty bones but she hadn’t grown into them yet and she was smart but not in a showy way. She worked hard and was driven to succeed, which in my mind was even better than being naturally gifted. Plus, she was sweet as sugar pie and funny as all get out.

She was the only one who cared for me when I woke up from nightmares about death or when I was too run-down to get out of bed in the morning. Even then, she didn’t like to talk about why that was but she was there and that was good enough for me.

“I heard tell that your girl got into UBC, U of T and McGill. You must be proud of her,” Tim continued, his attention now on me.

His gaze was appreciative but in a way that wasn’t strictly about praising the intelligence of his good friend’s daughter. He liked my curves even though they were dressed down in the conservative shift and sweater set my mother made me wear.

“I never doubted her. She’s her father’s daughter,” my dad crowed, tugging me closer so that he could beam down at me, pretty as a picture.

I wanted to let Tim know that it was all for show, that at home neither he nor my mother had time for us, but I knew Tim wouldn’t really care so I kept my mouth shut.

My bones ached. I was tired of standing for two hours singing dumb hymns that didn’t mean anything because I didn’t think I believed in God anymore and I just wanted to go home.

“Of course, of course. Now, do you have a minute to come talk to James and me about the strip mall proposal?” Tim asked.

“All the time in the world for you, buddy,” he replied with a super charming smile.

I rolled my eyes at Bea who giggled behind her hand.

“Dad, you have to drive Bea to her dance lesson, remember?” I reminded him with a smile so that he wouldn’t see how frustrated I was with him for forgetting.

Normally, I would have just taken her myself but I was going to a youth cancer support group after service and, as much as I wanted to skip it, my oncologist had insisted to my parents that I attend. Something about how two bouts of cancer in ten years could lead to depression or something. I didn’t know about depression but I was sure as hell angry, and growing angrier by the day.

Dad frowned but extended his hand to Bea, flicking his fingers for her to follow behind him.

“You good?” Tim asked, having already started to move away.

“I’ve got to take Beatrice to ballet but she can be a bit late,” he said before following Tim to the other side of the church, already talking about his ideas for the project, Bea trailing behind dutifully like his shadow.

Benjamin Lafayette had been mayor of Entrance since I was eleven years old and he hadn’t lost his love of it. I was actually proud of him for the work he did for Entrance. I just wished he worked half as hard at being a good dad.

“Louise, darling, you look so well today,” Mamie Ross crowed as she swept up to my mother and me.

She pinched my chin to give me two smacking kisses on each cheek. I knew she left red lipstick on my skin but before I could wipe it off myself, she licked her thumb and rubbed it against the marks with a little giggle.

The woman wasn’t a day under fifty-five. She should not have been giggling.

A year ago, having such a spiteful thought would have made me sick to the pit of my stomach. Now, I was always sick to my stomach so I didn’t have as hard a time with the evil thinking.

“She does, doesn’t she?” Mum demurred, smoothing a hand down my hair. “A little too brown though, maybe.”

There was no maybe about it. She had almost blown a gasket when I’d come in from sun tanning the other day. Peasant brown, she’d called me. I had inherited her platinum hair but I had my dad’s golden skin. She didn’t mind when his tanned, which it did because he loved to golf and he loved to fish. She minded with me because I was supposed to be a little lady.

What my skin tone had to do with that, I’d never know except that her family had come from England and parts of British Columbia were still behind the Tweed Curtain.

“No, she looks lovely. And so thin! Have you been dieting?” Mamie continued.

Everyone in Entrance knew I had cancer. When my parents found out, they had put out an announcement in both the Entrance Herald and the parish newsletter. Still, no one out and out talked about it.

Which I found, increasingly, frustrating as hell.

What were they going to say when I lost my hair?

Oh darling, what a fashion-forward statement you’re making!

Such bullshit.

I smiled widely at Mamie. “No diet, just trying to stay healthy.”

She nodded sagely. “Wise girl. I yo-yo dieted for years and now my skin doesn’t fit quite right.”

“She’s sick, Mother. She isn’t on a fucking diet,” Reece Ross sneered at her as he stepped up to our little grouping.

He was wearing a suit, as was proper for Sunday service, but the tie was loose around his neck and the top three buttons were undone. He was one of the handsomest boys at Entrance High and in most of my classes. We didn’t talk much though, mostly because he was cool in a burgeoning bad boy way and I was a good girl.

So, I was surprised that he’d come to defend me.

Especially against his own mother.

I’d wanted to do that countless times with my own mother but never found the gumption. It made me look at Reece Ross, who was known around town as a hotshot basketball player and all-round player, with new respect.

Mamie’s mouth opened and closed uselessly.

My mother glared at Reece, disgusted by his lack of decorum.

“That said, you do look pretty great for a sick girl,” Reece added, his gaze roving languidly over my modest dress, the curves beneath it.

I’d been blessed when puberty hit with an abundance of breast and ass and a small waist that, with my blond hair, made me look almost like a Barbie. It was ironic and cruel given the family I was born into. I was a Lafayette and as such, I was to be defined by certain qualities such as piousness, generosity and grace. Not sexuality, wickedness and beauty.

Anger burned clean through the murkiness in my blood, purging me clean for one glorious second before I remembered myself and became boring again.

“Thank you,” I said, idiotically.

My mother smiled, as did Mamie.

Reece glowered at me.

The older women bent close, cutting us out of their heart to heart. Reece took the opportunity to step closer to me, his cologne strong in my nose.

“You dying?” he whispered harshly.

Anger again, a brief flare. “You care?”

“Do you?” he bit back. “I watch you live your pretty life, Louise, and it looks fucking dull. Worse than death, some might say. If you’re truly dying, don’t you think it’s time you lived a little?”

“Let me guess, you’re volunteering to show me how?”

His grin was a slim slice across his face. “Interested?”

“Why are you suddenly so into me? I don’t think we’ve spoken ten words to each other and I’ve known you all my life.”

Reece stepped back slightly, crossing his arms and affecting that teenage boy stance that spoke of artificial bravado and casualness. “I was hoping you’d be more interesting now. With the cancer and all.”

“Are you trying to be a massive asshole or does it come naturally to you?” I snapped.

My hand flew to my mouth to cover my gasp. It wasn’t that I never swore. I just never did it in public or even anywhere outside my head. I’d never said an ill word to anyone and yet at the slightest provocation, I was being absolutely vile.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“Don’t be.” He lunged forward into my space again but not so close that the busybodies in the congregation would titter about it. “Doesn’t it feel good to be mean?”

“It shouldn’t matter if it feels good or not. Meanness is not something to aspire to,” I preached.

He rolled his eyes. “You’re so boring, I’m surprised you don’t put yourself to sleep with talk like that.” Suddenly, my hands were in his. “Look, let me help you here. You’re a seventeen-year-old girl with absolutely no life experience and you could die soon. Doesn’t that scare the pants off you?”

“You wish,” I muttered darkly before I could censor myself.

His eyes caught fire with humor and I realized just how pretty he was. “There, doesn’t that feel good? Saying what you really think.”

I swallowed because it did.

Triumphantly, he grinned into my face. “Listen, you can think about it, yeah? I’m not asking you to do a line a coke or anything. I’m just urging you to live a little while you got the chance.”

“Why do you care?” I asked again, this time softly because what he said was under my skin.

“I care because I’ve got half the crap you’ve got to deal with and I hate it.” He indicated his mother, who was still gabbing away with my own. My parents were King and Queen of Entrance society and Mamie Ross was firmly on the fringe despite years of trying to be otherwise. I couldn’t count the number of times I’d seen Reece dragged to the same boring events I was forced to attend.

“I’ll think about it,” I whispered, afraid to even have the words in the air.

The rebellion that was churning hot and slow under my skin had always been just a feeling, a rumbling heat that growled sometimes but never erupted into words or actions. I felt the release of my promise to Reece, felt the crack in the shell of my hardened exterior. It was both ominous and entirely beautiful.

I hadn’t felt so free since Zeus had stopped writing to me.

So, when my mother returned to my side and excused us by saying that we had an important meeting to get to instead of just saying that she had to take me to the Youth Cancer Support Group in Vancouver, I decided to dip my toe in independence.

“I’ll drive myself,” I said, firmly.

Mum hesitated as we crossed the parking lot, surprised by the iron in my voice. She’d molded me to be her ideal child and her ideal child was supposed to be a pushover.

“You’re so busy with all your charity work and there’s the dinner with the Anholt’s tonight so you have to make sure Chef isn’t serving anything with dairy because of Mrs. Anholt’s lactose intolerance… You have so much on your plate and I can easily drive myself down to Vancouver.”

I waited, holding my breath, for my mother’s response.

She took her time thinking about it and, by the time she answered, I was probably purple in the face. “Fine, but be home by dinner.”

“Will do,” I said behind a curtain of hair so that she wouldn’t see my enormous smile.

It was such a little thing, driving myself an hour both ways to Vancouver, but it felt like a massive triumph because my mother dictated almost every aspect of my life and I spent most of the time with her when I wasn’t in school.

“Use the slow lane and watch out for those idiot motorcyclists who think that road rules do not apply to them,” Mum said as she ducked into her sleek black BMW.

“Of course,” I said.

I watched her pull out of the parking lot before making my way over to the silver Mazda hatchback I’d named Optimus Prime. It wasn’t anything to write home about, but it was a zippy little machine and it was my very own. I absolutely adored it.

I was pulling open the door when I felt him behind me. I knew it was Reece before he said, “So, where are we going now that you got rid of mommy dearest?”

“The Youth Cancer Support Group in Vancouver,” I deadpanned, turning my head just slightly so that I could watch his expression fall out of the corner of my eye.

Strangely, he didn’t look disappointed. “Cool, let’s hit it.”

I watched him round my car and open the passenger door. “You’re actually going to go with me to group?”

He crossed his forearms over the roof of the car and leaned toward me. “If that’s where you want to go.”

I pursed my lips. I hated the support group. It was utterly depressing, especially given that of the nine kids in it, four were terminal and three had fought the good fight more than once to get to remission only to slide back into its clutches years later. Everyone there tried hard to be open and optimistic but the second came hard and struck a discordant note. They got something from the morbid camaraderie the group provided for them but I didn’t.

I was tired of pretending to be happy and group was just another stage for me to act out my false contentment.

“Not really,” I admitted. “Did you have something else in mind?”

“Yeah, friend of mine is having a kegger out in the boonies. You down for a party?”

I’d never been to a party before. My girlfriends hung out with a group of guys sometimes but we never partied. We hung out at Mary’s house mostly because her parents had an awesome home theatre bigger than most actual theatres, or at Joe’s because his family had an Olympic sized pool with a three-tiered diving board. None of us drank because we were all athletes and scholars. Well, I’d been an athlete, a dancer, before the cancer decimated my energy.

“I don’t have anything to wear,” I said.

The shift and sweater set weren’t exactly party clothes.

Reece cast a critical eye down my body and came to the same conclusion.

“Hudson has an older sister. She’s smaller than you but you could probably squeeze into something of hers.”

“Gee, thanks,” I muttered.

He laughed. “I meant in the chest region, Lila is a lot smaller than you.”

“Oh,” I said, less offended because that was a fair assumption.

“Lila is cool. You’ll like her.”

“Will she like me?” I couldn’t help but ask. Most of the kids at Entrance High thought I was a snob.

“They’ll like you,” he reassured me in a soft voice.

I wasn’t sure why he was being so nice but I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I was too much of a coward to do any of this by myself so I was grateful for his bad influence.

“Okay, let’s do it,” I decided with a firm head nod, proud of my decision and my conviction.

“Cool,” Reece said before ducking into the car.

“Cool,” I echoed softly, a little deflated at his lack of enthusiasm, and then followed him into Optimus.

“So,” he began after we pulled out of the parking lot. “Let’s go over the basics, yeah?”


I saw him grin in my periphery.

“Have you ever done drugs?”


“Not even blazed?”



“I don’t know what that means,” I admitted.

There was a short, stunned silence.

“You mean to tell me, you were born and raised in BC and you don’t know what blazing means? What about taking a bong toke, getting high, greening out, doing dope, smoking grass, hot-boxing a car, rolling a joint?”

“Are you talking about marijuana?” I guessed.

I knew it was the leading albeit underground industry in British Columbia but that didn’t mean I knew anything else about it. Most people in high school smoked marijuana but I wasn’t most people and it kind of annoyed me that Reece was being condescending when he knew that. I was a paradigm of virtue. A paradigm of virtue did not know drug slang and they certainly did not do drugs.

“Yeah, Louise, I’m talking about Mary Jane,” he said, again, like I was a moron.

I figured Mary Jane was another slang term.

“You can’t even call yourself a British Columbian if you don’t know a thing about BC bud. Our weed is the best in the world.”

I shrugged.

“Fuck, you really are a good girl,” he said, echoing my thoughts.

“Yes,” I said, with a proud chin tilt.

Then I realized that being a good girl kind of sucked. I had friends, sure. A group of girls that called themselves the angels of Entrance High because they all came from established and, mostly, good Christian families, but more so because they were pretty, wealthy and they knew it. They weren’t bullies to the rest of the kids but there was a lot of in-fighting about who was prettier, brighter and better liked. Ironically, the angels did not support one another’s successes. Instead, they used guilt, manipulation and lies to hold each other back. I knew this because they had been my friends since birth just as our mothers had been. Old stock, I had come to learn, did not mean good stock.

I got good grades because I was, thank God, born smart and even if I didn’t try hard, which I did because I was a good girl, I would have done well.

I volunteered at the Autism Centre. It started out as an obligation because my mother made me pick a charity organization to patronize when I hit twelve years old, but now, I loved it, and I wished that I had more time to dedicate to both it and other charitable organizations. I loved the kids at the center even though some of them were really hard to love because they didn’t have the cognitive ability to discern social cues. One such kid, an adorable ginger-haired boy named Sammy, was one of my best friends. I still remembered the day that he informed me of our best-friends-for-life status. He’d written me a letter and asked me to sign it, officially making us bffs. I’d burst into tears.

So the volunteering was great, it made being a good girl worthwhile.

But the part where my parents showed me off like a prized pony and pretended that my illness didn’t exist because it didn’t fit in with their ideal life was beginning to consume me. I was fed up and repressed in a way that made me sick of spirit as well as of body.

I was seventeen years old. I was basically an adult; a fully formed human being. And I had no idea who I was outside of my parents expectations, outside of the mirror Entrance society held in front of me, more a painting of their own making than a true representation of myself.

“I don’t even know who I am. How cliché is that?” I whispered.

“Pretty fucking cliché,” Reece agreed easily.

We were silent as I chewed over my suitably teenage brooding thoughts and Reece stared out the window thinking about whatever Reece thought about.

“You know what else is cliché? Rebelling against your parents,” he finally said, leaning over the console so that he spoke right into my ear.

I shivered but my thoughts had led me down the same path. “Yeah.”

He grinned at me. “It’s going to be fun, Louise. You’ll like normal teenage life and all the bad decisions you get to make when you don’t give a fuck who you’ll disappoint.”

I frowned because that didn’t sound like fun. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. In truth, I was angry with them for a variety of reasons and all of them had to do with their response—or lack of one—to my cancer.

I didn’t want to let myself down by making stupid decisions that could harm me or someone else.

Reece put a warm hand over mine on the gearshift, his voice gentle when he said, “I’ll watch out for you. I want you to have fun, get into just enough trouble to taste life, not end up dead in a gutter somewhere.”

“Okay,” I agreed, as if I wasn’t terrified.

“Okay,” he repeated.

The bass pulsed like a musical heart beat beneath my bare feet as I stomped them to the rhythm of the Kygo song that blasted through the massive speakers set up throughout the main level of the house. There was a red Solo cup in my hand filled with warm beer Reece had tapped from a massive keg of Blue Buck in the corner and the contents sloshed over my fingers as I tossed my sweaty hair back and forth over my exposed shoulders. I’d already had a few cups of beer as well as two shots of vodka that Lila, Hudson and Reece had poured for me to start the evening off.

Reece was right, I liked Lila and she liked me.

She was three years older than us and back from UBC for summer break. I’d never met such a graceful, willowy woman but her classic beauty and the good humor in her huge hazel eyes enthralled me. She had me laughing before I could remember to be awkward and when she had offered me clothes, she’d only laughed a little bit at the absurd fit of the jean skirt and crop top I’d tried on. Lila was maybe five foot four and one hundred and ten pounds soaking wet. I was five foot nine and curvy.

After we’d both had a good laugh, we’d improvised. Now, I wore the fragile camisole that I’d been wearing under my shift and a stretchy black skirt that on Lila went to just below her knees but on me came up to mid-thigh. I wasn’t wearing shoes because my sensible, low heels were not party shoes. Lila had done my makeup, taking the time to teach me how so that I could do it in the future.

I didn’t know when I’d have the opportunity to wear red lipstick ever again but it looked pretty cool with all the blond hair I had, mussed with a bit of styling goop that smelled like coconuts. When I’d come downstairs to join Reece and his friend Hudson in the kitchen both of their mouths had fallen open like the hinges broke.

When the rest of Entrance Bay Acad—and it really seemed like the entire school minus my squad of preppy kids was there—showed up, they had similar reactions to my presence. Shock, awe and finally, laughter. Apparently, it was amusing to see Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes dressed like a teenage tramp, drinking warm beer and grinding up against the masses. I wasn’t insulted because sometimes I was so saccharine that it made even my teeth ache and because it was pretty funny and became funnier as the night grew long and I grew drunk.

The sun had set a long time ago but the air was still warm so a bunch of us were hanging in Hudson and Lila’s backyard. Reece, true to his word, hadn’t left my side all night and he made sure we always had booze. He was super handsome and actually pretty fun, always telling jokes and sharing stories so as the night wore on and he grew closer, a hand on my shoulder then an arm around my waist with his fingers settling intimately over my hip, I didn’t protest.

For the first time ever, I was having fun.

He brushed my hair over one shoulder and leaned into my neck, his breath hot on my exposed skin as he whispered, “Want to go inside, find a little quiet?”

I wasn’t really surprised by his question. I wasn’t totally naive.

Part of me didn’t want to go with him. I liked Reece but in the easy way of friends and partners-in-crime. I didn’t think I wanted his tongue in my mouth, let alone his hand down my pants. But I told myself I was being snobby and a little unreasonable. I’d never had a tongue in my mouth or a hand down my pants, so how could I know that I wouldn’t like his?

The answer was, I couldn’t.

I’d loved one person in my life thus far and I’d only ever seen him twice. What was I going to do? Cling to the idea of my childhood prison pen pal for the rest of my life? Pine after someone who didn’t want me and, I was fairly sure, wouldn’t be good for me even if he did?

No. Absolutely not.

So, reaching my drunken conclusion, I answered him by grabbing his hand and tugging him inside.

I saw Lila watching with a concerned frown and even Hudson looked a little wary, but I smiled sloppily at them in reassurance as Reece took the lead, ushering me inside and up the stairs to an empty bedroom.

As soon as the door was closed, he was on me.

The tongue that I’d been curious about was in my mouth and it tasted like yeast and hops. It was warm and slick, ickier than I’d expected as it thrust between my lips and ran over my teeth.

His hands though, I liked. One pressed between my shoulders so that I was tight against him and the other trailed down my back so that he cupped my butt. It felt good to have his large, hot hands on me. Even better to feel his response to my body in the groan that worked its way into my mouth from his. I could definitely get used to a man’s hands on me.

Slut, the conservative Louise cried.

The new me, an entirely new person without a name or family, without a care in the entire world but for what pleased her in that very moment, grinned at the name calling and kissed Reece back.

He had me pressed to the bed, his long body on mine and his hands under my shirt, palming and squeezing both of my breasts with unabashed fervor when the nausea hit me smack in the middle of my gut.

“Oh, no,” I mumbled against Reece’s lips.

He hesitated, pulling away slightly to ask, “You okay, sweetheart?”

I was scrambling away from him before he had even finished speaking but I only made it to the edge of the bed before I was throwing up.

“Shit,” I heard him curse over the sounds of my ceaseless vomiting.

I was mortified but so sick that my entire body ached with it. Belatedly, I realized that drinking was a terrible idea. Even though I’d just been diagnosed and hadn’t started any treatment yet, my body was worn down and I’d never been intoxicated before.

On the heels of my embarrassment, self-loathing came snapping.

“Idiot,” I managed to breathe between heaves.

“Okay, wait right here. I’m going to get Lila,” Reece said.

I groaned and he must have taken it as confirmation because he ducked out the door.

A minute or two later, I was puked out.

I lay there panting for what felt like ages but must have been only a few minutes because Reece didn’t return. My stomach had settled but I was still drunk as a skunk and probably just as stinky so I decided to head back outside to get some fresh air. My legs were surprisingly steady as they carried me down the crowded stairwell, past my peers who smiled and called to me with caution, maybe worried that I was a tattle-tale or that I was just a good girl playing bad. I ignored them, pushing through the front door and gulping in deep lungfuls of clean air.

There was nothing like the air on the coast of British Columbia. I’d been on a lot of family vacations across the globe and there was nothing as sweet as the air I breathed in after getting off the plane when I was back home.

I closed my eyes, leaning against the wall beside the door so I could figure myself out. There was still a heavy tread to my thoughts like they waded through thigh high swamp water but the urge to be sick had retreated.

I was almost asleep against the side of the house when the low rumble of approaching motorcycles rouse