Can a lie ever not be a lie?
If you ask me if I'm lying, then technically yes, I am. I'm not being truthful and honest. But I don't have any malicious intent. Au contraire, I think I have great motives for a festive Christmas surprise for Charlotte. However, that means I have to be purposely misleading about what's going on in the days before the big holiday.
So does that still count as lying?
I'd be a little less concerned about the blurring of lines if I knew she'd like it. I know she will, but at first she'll either be feverishly mad or incredibly surprised. Or a deadly combination of both. And when I say deadly, I mean that she may kill me. If I'm acutely aware of this, then maybe I should just call the whole thing off, but it's already December 22—making it impossible to pull the plug. Everything's already underway.
Besides, it's been planned to a T, perfectly and strategically orchestrated. Charlotte very well knows that I'm not known for my subtlety and discretion.
The "lie" I told her was that I was going to host a team get-together at my house before everyone left for the short break we got for the holiday. There isn't a game on this particular Tuesday, and it's the day before her flight back to Chicago. I bought the plane ticket for her as her Christmas gift; I told her that if she had to go back to spend the holiday with her atrocious family, that she should at least go in first class. Initially, she refused it, but I can be persuasive. The flight departs from the Pittsburgh airport around six tomorrow, so Gina is driving her to the airport when she's finished with work. I have a game tomorrow, so I couldn't be the one to see her off. Which is why this is happening today, and why I got her here under false pretenses.
Charlotte's dressed in that little black dress I like so much, with the addition of a red cardigan for the spirit of the holiday as well as to combat the slight chill in the air. Her hair is swept up away from her face, except for a few deliberately curled tresses which frame her face. She looks gorgeous in the way that only she can.
"What time is everyone supposed to start showing up?" she asks me as she arranges the plates of food in the kitchen. She eyes the clock, which reads quarter after five.
"In fifteen minutes. Why are you so anxious?"
"I'm not anxious. I just want this little shindig to get underway. Do you think there's enough food?"
I look at all the food we have: the kitchen counter lined with trays, as well as two additional tables' worth. There's no way all this is going to get eaten tonight, and most of it will end up going to waste. I sigh, "There's a reason I wanted to just get this catered. Don't worry about it."
"But you guys are like human vacuum cleaners. It's not too late for me to run to the store or something."
I open my mouth to tell her, yet again, that everything is going to be fine, but my phone rings before I can reassure her. It's Flower, and I need to take this call. "Charlotte, stop worrying. And don't you dare go anywhere," I tell her as I put a few more feet of distance between us and answer my cell. "Où êtes-vous?"
"Presqu'arrivés. Nous sommes à peu près à dix minutes de chez toi," he responds.
"D'accord, c'est bien. Parfait. Je vous vois dans dix minutes." I hang up and look back at Charlotte. "Flower and Véro—"
"Will be here in ten minutes," she gladly informs me with a smile.
I grin back at her. "Oui. Ton français s'améliore."
"Not bad, considering my teacher is horrible," she teases, her eyes sparkling. I feign offense, and she sticks her tongue out at me.
I grab her and pull her toward me. "Keep that up, and I'll lock the doors and turn everyone away."
"Don't you dare," she laughs as I kiss her neck, gently slapping my arm. "Not after I spent two days helping you prepare for your party, decorating and baking."
I roll my eyes, thinking about how that was the one fluke with my plan. Charlotte insisted on helping with the planning and preparation for this huge party, which wasn't even going to happen. She won't be happy when she figures out how much of her effort is going to waste. I told her repeatedly that I was just going to get it catered, and that it was pointless to decorate since I was going home to Montréal for Christmas, but she very stubbornly wouldn't listen. But if I wanted to keep up the charade, I had to play along.
"I didn't want you to think you need to play hostess. I want you to relax and have fun with everyone."
Charlotte shrugs and purses her lips. She reaches out and straightens my tie, which I left loose around my neck. The top button of my shirt is undone, and I'm wearing jeans. She fusses over my appearance for a moment more before she goes back to teasing me. "I will relax and have fun. I may even get drunk and let you take advantage of me once the guys leave." She switches out of her playful mode and turns serious again. "Should we put some Christmas music on?" she asks, pulling away from my grasp and heading for the living room.
"Uh, I'll do that," I say, cutting her off. I don't want her to look outside yet—not until they get here. "Why don't you go pick something out from the wine cellar?"
"You know I don't know a thing about wine, Max. I know there's white, which I hate, and there's red, which I like."
"Then go get a bottle of red," I suggest, pointing her in the right direction and giving her a tap on the ass. She jumps a little and gives me a pointed look, but she heads into the makeshift wine cellar, my pantry. "After all, I need to get you drunk!" I rush into the living room to close the curtains. I don't want the surprise to be ruined. I don't want to see what will happen if Charlotte figures out what's going on beforehand. Perhaps a little alcohol will make this easier.
I walk back in the kitchen as she reenters, too, a bottle of something in her hand. "I hope this is okay. Will you open it?" She holds it out in front of her.
"I thought you were the master at opening bottles of wine," I laugh at her, thinking about the time she used screws and the claw of a hammer in lieu of a corkscrew one night way back when.
Charlotte squints at me. "I cannot spill a drop of red wine on Gina's dress. Although, I don't even know why she doesn't just give it to me, because I wear it more than she does."
I grab the bottle from her and find the corkscrew. As I work at the cork, I hear Flower's SUV pull into the driveway. I see that Charlotte notices too, so I jump into action before she can. "Here, can you finish? I'll go get the door." Before she responds, I leave the bottle on the counter and leave the kitchen.
Flower knocks on the door but opens it without waiting for me to greet him. He lugs a suitcase in behind him into the living room, and my parents are right on his tail. "Allo!" he calls out, not noticing that I'm approaching.
"Maxime! On est là!" My mother announces into the house, then rushes up to hug and kiss me.
I keep my voice low but still greet them warmly. "Maman! Papa! C'est tellement bon de vous revoir. Comment était votre vol? Je suis désolé de ne pas être allé vous chercher."
My dad steps up next and we embrace. "On sait que tu es occupé, mon gars."
I respond, "Je ne suis jamais trop occupé pour ma famille." Véro, Will, and Will's wife Sylvie file in right behind them with their bags, adding to our little group, but a few people are still missing until the Talbot family is complete. "Où est Frank?"
My mother answers, "Juliette et lui ont décidé de louer une auto puisqu'ils ont le bébé avec eux."
I was hoping they would all show up at once, so I could do this in one fell swoop. Oh well. "Mais j'ai une surprise pour vous!" I gesture to them to make themselves at home, which they are already doing. They've visited me often enough to be comfortable here, and even if they hadn't, it's not like they're shy.
Quickly, I run back into the kitchen, where Charlotte's still struggling with the corkscrew. Apparently, she's better at opening bottles with a hammer than doing it the proper way. "So was that, like, Pascal's wife? I don't recognize the voice."
I wrap my hand around hers, stopping her progress on uncorking the bottle. "Why don't you come see?"
"Don't you want something to drink?"
Clearing my throat, I say, "Come on. It's a surprise." She looks interested yet suspicious. Taking her hand in mine, I nudge and pull her toward the other room. I lean down and whisper in her ear, begging forgiveness for what I'm about to do. "Pardonne-moi."
"Why?" she asks, looking up at me inquisitively and not noticing our guests until she hears me address them.
"Maman, Papa, je veux vous présenter l'amour de ma vie. Voici Charlotte. Charlotte, I'd like you to meet my parents, Lucie and Serge."
Charlotte's pretty mouth falls open in wordless shock, but my mother doesn't notice because she's too busy enveloping her in a hug. I can see as Charlotte searches for her tiny French vocabulary, lost somewhere in her brain due to her surprise. I know that if we had waited until February to do this, she would have made herself so nervous and worked up about it that she would have psyched herself out of it. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and invite my family down for Wednesday's game against the Senators, and introduce everyone to each other. It's a flawless plan, except for the fact that she still doesn't know a whole lot of French.
"Ça me fait plaisir de vous rencontrer," she finally ekes out. I smile, knowing how hard and how often we practiced that particular line, because Charlotte was so concerned about the initial impression she was going to be making in my parents.
Before my mother smothers my girlfriend, I gently pry them apart. My mother's chatting away, gushing about how it's so nice that I'm finally introducing a girl to the family, and I'm glad that Charlotte doesn't understand. I continue with the introductions, and Charlotte shakes my father's hand and repeats the same sentence to him, too. Next, I move to introduce her to William and Sylvie.
Francis and Juliette bust through the door and join our happy little group, and with their bags they bring in their brand new bundle of joy. The Talbot Clan is back together, and things are about to get loud and confusing. I begin that set of introductions, "Charlotte, this is my oldest brother—"
"Francis, but Max calls me Frank," he cuts me off. He notices Charlotte's relieved expression. "I speak some English."
"Thank God," she chuckles with a smile. "My French sucks!"
Frank looks up at me, slightly confused, and I just laugh and shake my head. "This is my wife, Juliette," he continues, gesturing to his wife. They shake hands, both smiling politely. "She does not speak English. And this is our new baby, Paul," he adds, scooping him up from his seat and holding him up so we can see him better. "He doesn't speak English either. Then again, he can't speak at all."
"It's only a matter of time before he's talking like his namesake. He's named after our grandfather," I laugh and explain to Charlotte. It's the first time I've seen my nephew other than in a picture.
"C'est beau," Charlotte whispers, smiling broadly. I think her big grin is partly from seeing the my nephew as well as coming up with a French expression on her own.
"You wanna hold him?" Frank asks her, not waiting for her response.
She shakes her head quickly. "I'm not sure that's a good—" Frank doesn't give her a say in the matter. He steps in front of her and holds Paul out to her so she's forced to raise her arms and accept the baby. "Or not," she adds with a giggle, looking down at Paul. "How old is he?"
"Three weeks," Frank and I reply at the same time.
"So tiny," Charlotte mumbles, bringing one hand up to his face and lightly brushing her index finger against his cheek. "He looks like an honest-to-goodness Cabbage Patch doll." She looks up at me and smiles, and then laughs at my expression. "He looks like a doll."
Juliette steps beside Charlotte and leans down to plant a kiss on Paul's forehead, and my mother swarms around those two and begins chatting away. Véro steps in and translates as needed as Charlotte sits down on the couch, still holding Paul, with the rest of the Talbot women and Véro surrounding her. Even though she barely speaks the language and can't follow along with the conversation, she somehow looks like she fits right in. She does look overwhelmed—which my family is very good at doing—but she's smiling.
As the women chatter and talk over each other, my dad, Will, Frank, and Flower gather around me. Frank smiles at me and claps his hand against my back, and I know what's coming. The oldest brother has to have his fun, and I think that maybe that dress was a bad idea after all. It shows off all her fleshy curves, which I love. Which all Talbot men love. "C'est une nana. Une fille chaude!"
I groan and wait for it, for him to ask what she sees in me. He's going to razz me about her, all in good-natured fun. My dad stops him, also aware of where this conversation's about to head. "Arrête!"
That stops Frank, for now, but I know that he'll only come at me later and rib me even more, especially since Dad butted in and stuck up for me, the baby brother. Sure, Frank's going to do it playfully and not mean-spirited, but I'm still not looking forward to it. I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. I walk into the kitchen and reach for the bottle of wine still on the counter. I have a feeling that both Charlotte and I are going to need this.