Maddie couldn't sleep and that was a problem. She had fallen asleep a few minutes after her little talk with her father, but less than an hour later something inside her had stirred, prying her out of her peaceful sleep. Now she could do nothing except lay between her tangled sheets, twisting and turning as worry churned inside of her, tying her stomach into tight knots.
A small groan escaped her lips as she turned to face the alarm clock resting on her bedside table. The bright red numbers on the clock's face pierced through the darkened room to tell her that it was already four in the morning and the family would be waking up in a few hours to head off to Sunday morning Mass. (Well, the whole family except for Dad, who hadn't set foot inside a Catholic church since their baptism.)
Maddie sighed, kicking off her sheets and groping through the darkness to retrieve the pair of glasses she had set down on the table beside her. She decided then that lying in bed worrying about all the horrible things that could go wrong today (Gilbert showing up late, Gilbert saying something stupid, Gilbert getting killed by Dad for showing up late and saying something stupid) she should take a quick walk toward the bathroom and splash some water on her face in order to clear her mind.
She gently eased her bedroom door open, mindful of the other occupants of the second floor that would most likely be still asleep. Maddie had barely taken two steps into the hall when she noticed something odd. It was silly to notice something so minute, but the sight of the door to her parents' rooming resting half jar caught her attention. Creeping over towards the master bedroom, taking each step as lightly as she could, she held her breath as she peeked inside.
There was currently only one lump lying underneath the rumpled sheets of the king sized bed and even without taking a careful look, Maddie just knew that Dad was the one who had gone missing.
She knew that she should have shrugged this off and gone back to bed, but something pulled her onward, leading her to tip toe down the stairs and into the living room. It was there that she found her father, fast asleep on the couch. For a moment Maddie wondered if Maman had been so furious at Dad for the talk he gave them to send him to sleep on the couch, but she instantly dismissed the idea. There were no blankets or pillows to be found and from the way Dad's sleeping form was hunched over, resting heavily against on one arm of the sofa in a sitting position, it was obvious that he had not meant to drift off.
Curiosity got the better of her then and, against her better judgment, she tip toed over to her father's sleeping form. His breathing was deep and even, so Maddie felt assured that he wouldn't be waking up anytime soon. Still, what she found draped across his lap was a bit surprising. At first glance it looked like nothing more than a large, leather bound book, but on closer inspection, Maddie was able to make out the metal prongs and glossy pages that gave the photo album away. She smiled, grabbing the edge of the plastic paper and inspect a few of the pictures facing her.
She wasn't able to make out much in the darkness of the living room, but what she could spot were pictures of her and Abby when they were just babies. The sight was enough to cause a warm smile to tug at her lips as she carefully leaned over to press a feather light kiss against her father's cheek. He mumbled something to himself, but showed no other signs of stirring from his sleep.
It was hard to suppress the laugh bubbling up in her throat, but she managed to do just that before carefully making her way back upstairs, deciding to spend the rest of the night considering what she would pray for in the morning.
"I think I look better in the white one," Maddie said, holding up the white sundress to her body as she inspected her reflection in the full length mirror carefully. She felt certain that the ivory dress with its modest cut and knee length hem would look perfect on her once she added a black belt around her waist.
"White?" Abby echoed, coming up behind Maddie to frown distastefully at the chosen dress. "What are you talking about? You look way better in red!" As soon as she spoke, Abby pried the first outfit out of her sister's hands and instead draped another one over her body. The red dress now resting across her front had more of a baby doll like shape, held up by thin spaghetti straps with a faint floral pattern etched into the fabric by maroon stitching. "Look at that. It's perfect! Aren't you glad you have a sister?"
Maddie had to admit that at the moment she was thankful to have her twin to swap outfits with and bounce ideas off of, but a small part of her was still clinging to the less revealing ivory dress. "I don't know," she muttered. "I feel kinda... bare."
"You're such an old lady," Abby chided. "Here, just put this sweater on top of it." Abby handed her a gray cardigan with golden studs decorating its pockets and after a few minutes of studying the outfit in the mirror, Maddie finally saw its full potential and relented.
"What are you going to wear?" Maddie asked as she began peeling off her house clothes to slip into the dress that now laid spread across Abby's bed. Maddie hated changing in Abby's room, because there was nowhere to sit and hardly any space to stand since she always allowed the mess of clothes, school supplies, and sports equipment to grow wild and unchecked, but she didn't have much of a choice. As soon as they'd gotten back home from Mass, Abby had dragged her upstairs and started demanding that they pick out their clothes for dinner right away.
"This little number," Abby answered, pulling out a navy blue knit dress. Its deep v-neck, above the knee cut, and the firm black sash that would no doubt emphasize Abby's ridiculously small waist made Maddie's cheeks flush. "Don't worry, I'm gonna wear leggings so I won't steal your boyfriend away," she laughed teasingly (although Maddie felt like asking her to put on more).
Wriggling out of her lounge pants and into the selected dress, Maddie tried to think calming thoughts, but found that her stomach was too busy doing back flips. Ever since waking up that morning after managing to gain a few blessed hours of sleep -- the day had felt like a countdown to disaster. She'd called Gilbert before leaving for church -- not at all surprised when he didn't pick up -- and left him a message reminding him once again to come at six and once again to be on his best behavior. During the service she had asked Abby to pray with her (because she had a stake in this too) that Dad wouldn't hate Gilbert and that no one would end up in the hospital. As Maman would say, it was all in God's hands now.
She sighed as she looked at the time. Five thirty. Only thirty minutes left before Gilbert showed up. "It's too quiet downstairs, don't you think?" Maddie said, smoothing out the front of her skirt before slipping the gray sweater over her bare shoulders.
"Well, Mom is cooking," Abby pointed out, adjusting the black spandex clinging to her calves. "That's gonna take her full attention."
"And what could Dad be doing?" Maddie wondered.
Abby thought for a moment, before her face slowly went pale. She and her sister were clearly thinking the same thought. That wasn't a good sign. "Uh, I think I'm gonna go downstairs to check on something," she said. "Why don't you go fix your hair?"
Maddie frowned as her sister quickly retreated from sight. Touching a self conscious hand to her long hair, Maddie decided it wouldn't hurt to give her locks a quick brush while there was still some time. As soon as she stepped foot into her own room, however, she was distracted by the sight of her cell phone lying prone and undisturbed on top of her dresser. According to the display screen there had been no new calls or messages (text or otherwise) since she had last checked and Maddie was starting to feel disheartened.
Picking up the phone, she dialed Gilbert's number and waited, holding a desperate breath that she didn't release until her ears were met with the sound of Gilbert's voicemail. As the automated voice informed her that the mailbox was full and would not hold anymore messages, Maddie felt her stomach twist. According to her alarm clock, it was already five forty-five, only fifteen minutes until dinner, and Gilbert still hadn't contacted her. For all she knew, he hadn't even gotten dressed yet and since their houses were only ten minutes away.
She sighed, trying once again not to let anxiety eat away at her as she decided to focus on her hair. Looking into the mirror mounted above her dresser she briefly considered putting her hair in pigtails before rejecting the idea completely. Gilbert always said her hair looked better loose, so she'd wear it loose for him, but a ribbon or two wouldn't hurt. Rummaging through her supply of hair accessories, Maddie pulled out a single white ribbon, deciding it would be go nicely with her dress.
By the time Maddie had finished brushing her hair and was ready to affix the ribbon to one side of her hair, she found herself distracted by the sound of muffled yells coming from downstairs. She couldn't make out what was being said, but soon after the yelling started it had ended, only to be followed by two sets of angry footsteps pounding up the stairs. A door slammed somewhere down the hall as the screaming started once more and Maddie realized the obvious: her parents were having another fight.
"What happened?" Maddie asked as soon as Abby appeared in the doorway.
"Uh, Mom and I found Dad in his den chanting and making creepy Blair Witch dolls," Abby explained. "Mom got pissed that he was trying to do witchcraft on a Sunday so she threw Holy Water in his face."
Maddie gave a casual hum. That sounded like her parents.
"Hey, you know what would look really cute with that outfit?" Abby asked, changing the topic suddenly as the sounds of a heated argument quickly turned to mere background noise in their ears. She disappeared into Maddie's closet for just a second before pulling out a thin brown belt. "Here, wrap this around your middle. It'll make your waist look really tiny."
She gave a tired groan as she did as he sister instructed, frustrated that Abby was dressing her up like a doll. At least Abby wasn't putting her in skin tight, revealing outfits. The last thing she wanted for tonight was to dress like... well, Abby.
"Hey, the shouting stopped," Abby pointed out, a note of worry in her voice. "Let's get outta here before they start having really loud old people sex."
"Okay," Maddie said quickly, nearly scrambling out of her room as she followed Abby downstairs.
The second her foot touched down on the last step her nose was greeted by the aroma of the meal Maman had spent most of the day crafting. It wasn't all for show, not really, as Sunday dinners were usually a big production in their household, but it was all more than enough to get Maddie's stomach rumbling in anticipation.
"Man, I am starving," Abby whined, collapsing on the couch as if she were suddenly too weak to stand. "When's Gilbert getting here? I wanna eat already!"
"Abby, you at a whole bag of chips and a bowl of pudding less than an hour ago."
"Yeah, a whole hour ago!" she pointed out indignantly as her stomach gave a loud rumble. "I'm hungry."
Maddie sighed, checking the wall clock for the time. "Six o'clock," she muttered, dread creeping up and down her spine. "I hope Gilbert's not late."
Abby's response was to utter an indifferent snort as he picked up the remote and flipped on the television. "I think Mom and Dad are a little too busy being involved with each other to notice that Gilbert's a minute or two late."
Maddie wished that she could believe that but she knew it wasn't true. Dad had a habit of taking in every detail when he was irritated and Gilbert certainly couldn't afford even one small mark against him when Dad had already been privy to so much negative information.
It was then that a sound pierced the air, grabbing the twins' attention and drawing them towards the window. The calm serene of the Sunday evening was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a worn down motorcycle whose engine needed more attention than its owner could afford to give it heading their way.
Abby gasped, her eyes widening in a mixture of shock and glee. "He brought the chopper?" she breathed.
Maddie winced, feeling very much like grabbing a bottle of maple syrup and hiding in her room the rest of the night because the evening was now official ruined. Darn it Gilbert, why couldn't you just borrow your dad's car?
The two girls were up and at the entry way in a second, pulling the door open before Gilbert could even make his way up the pavement. "Gilbert, where have you been all day?" Maddie half whined, half chided. "I called, I texted, I... Did you know your voicemail's full?"
"It is?" Gilbert asked, glancing at his pocket skeptically. It was only then that Maddie noticed the worn leather jacket currently wrapped around his upper body and a part of her wondered why he'd even shown up at all. "Sorry Maddie, I don't use the phone when I'm on the hog. It'd totally suck balls if I wiped out while answering a call. The world will never recover from the loss of my awesome."
"Hey Gil, little piece of advice for your future girlfriends," Abby chimed in. "When you go to meet a girl's crazy overprotective dad for dinner, it's best to be more Richie Cunningham and less Fonzie."
"Ay," he began and although his voice had taken on an authoritative tone, his poor choice of words was enough to send even Maddie into a fit of giggles. "Alright, alright girlies, that's enough," Gilbert grumbled as he pulled out a brown package that he had been holding behind his back the entire time. "Keep laughing and you won't get any of my super thoughtful gift."
"Oh my God! Gilbert brought food!" Abby practically screamed the words as she yanked the box out of his hands, ripping open the lid to peek inside. "Oh snap! It's a chocolate cake! Gilbert you rock so hard I wish I had six other sisters for you to date."
Gilbert gave out his usual, confident laugh as he finally stepped inside the house. Once through the door, he began peeling off the leather jacket to reveal the midnight blue dress shirt and charcoal gray slacks that had been overshadowed by the beaten up leather. Suddenly Maddie felt relieved and dared to hope that this may all work out. "Not just chocolate, German chocolate," he corrected, hanging his jacket on a nearby hook. "I had my brother make that for tonight. Figured I should bring a gift to help me win points."
"You have my vote," Abby giggled as she took the cake towards the kitchen, presumably to put it away and not eat it.
Once Abby was gone, Maddie stiffened, feeling Gilbert's hand come to rest on her hip. "You look really pretty," he told her and even though she wasn't looking, she could feel his warm smile on her.
"Thank you," Maddie whispered. Her cheeks turned bright red as the thought that Gilbert was actually in her house began to sink in. She could feel her heartbeat quicken as she laid a hand on his chest, smoothing away an imaginary wrinkle as she enjoyed the feel of his warmth against her. "You... you look very handsome."
"Aww, so cute~"
Maddie felt her throat clench and her stomach flip at the sound of her mother's voice. She quickly pulled away from Gilbert, putting as much space as possible between them in fear that Dad would not be far behind. However, when she turned to look towards the stairs she was startled to see that he was nowhere to be found.
"Bonjour Gilbert," Maman chirped as she approached the two, extending her soft hand towards him. "I am Madeleine's mother, Francoise."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Kirkland," Gilbert greeted, accepting her hand and grasping it firmly in his own. "And may I just say, your boobs look amazing this evening."
Whatever part of Maddie that had been under the impression that this evening still had a chance to go off without a hitch crumbled away and died the second the word "boobs" escaped from Gilbert's mouth. Too stunned to remember the power of speech, Maddie merely stared at her (now ex) boyfriend in silent horror.
Less than a second passed before Maman responded by letting out her usual pleased laugh and Maddie suddenly realized she should have expected as much. "What a charming young man," Maman tittered. "Thank you. And here I was feeling a bit self conscious wearing these rags."
The rag in question was a form hugging designer cocktail dress with a rose pattern accenting the left should that drew the eyes attention to the deep v-neck cut of the dress and a deep violet hue that brought out the color of her eyes. The outfit was made all the more opulent when combined with the string of pearls wrapped around her long neck along with the matching set clinging to her earlobes and the Chanel perfume caressing the air around her. Not for the first time in her life, Maddie wished that she had a normal mother.
"No way, ma'am, you look amazing," Gilbert went on. "I can totally see where Maddie gets her hotness from now."
The urge to go outside and crawl underneath the deepest, darkest part of the back porch and wait to die was enough to cause Maddie's insides to ache and tears to sting her eyes, a fact that only increased when the sound of Gilbert's and Maman's unique laughs mingled in the air. She sincerely prayed that Gilbert stopped talking this way before Dad came downstairs.
As if summoned by the very thought, Maddie's ears perked up as the stairs creaked as her father descended the steps, an air of irritation already clinging to his ridged frame as he worked to adjust the half Windsor knot on his black tie. A deep shudder passed over her as Dad turned his green eyes towards Gilbert, his gaze akin to the one that usually appeared on his face when he was about to squash a bug. They were doomed, utterly doomed.
"Well, if it isn't the infamous young Mr. Beilschmidt, we meet at last," Dad greeted, an insincere smile tugging at his lips as he extended a deceptively friendly hand towards Gilbert. "I'm Arthur Kirkland, Maddie's father."
"'Infamous,' huh? Awesome," Gilbert smirked, accepting Dad's hand and giving it a firm shake. Maddie wanted to tell Gilbert that being 'infamous' wasn't a good thing, but decided against it. "It's nice to meet you Mr. Kirkland. I was just admiring your awesome home."
"Yes, it is a wonderful house, isn't it?" Dad beamed, his smile too wide and his gaze too intense and was he still shaking Gilbert's hand? "And I've taken the time to memorize every little thing in it, so let's make sure those sticky fingers of yours don't accidentally take anything they shouldn't."
"Hehe, that's real funny Mr. Kirkland," Gilbert laughed, his red eyes darting towards the hand still held firmly in Dad's grasp and noticing that their fingers were starting to change color from the vice-like grip. "Uh, how long do these handshakes usually take?"
"Arthur," Maman chided as she pried Arthur's fingers off of their guest's sore palm. The tick in Dad's brow clearly didn't go undetected as Maman pointedly gripped his trembling hand in hers. "I think it's time for dinner. Arthur, why don't you come help me in the kitchen."
It took Maman a few forceful tugs to finally remove Dad from his spot in the entry way, but once they were both out of sight, Gilbert allowed himself to cringe as he flexed his reddening hand. "Yeesh, your dad's got a strong grip for a nerdy old guy," he grumbled.
Maddie sighed, massaging Gilbert's hand with her own tender fingers. "Just be on your best behavior during dinner," she pleaded. She smiled a bit when she felt Gilbert's hands relax at her touch. "No more talking about my mom's breasts or how hot she is."
"Well, she is pretty hot," he teased only to have his shoulder greeted by Maddie's fist.
"Abigail!" they heard Maman shriek from somewhere within the kitchen. "Put that cake away right now! We're about to eat dinner."
She let out another sigh as she laced Gilbert's fingers in her own, leading him towards the other side of the house. "We'd better get to the table before my Dad and Abby destroy the kitchen."
The already awkward shuffle that went along with adding an extra occupant to the dinner table was made even more complicated as Maddie attempted to situate herself close to Gilbert while Dad made sure to keep the two as far from each other as possible. They eventually ended up arranged so that Gilbert sat on one side of the rectangular table, while Maddie and Abby shared the other, with Dad and Maman occupying their usual positions at the ends.
Dinner started out calmly enough with only the sounds of forks and knives clinking against ceramic dishes and the aroma of roasted chicken breast and sautéed potatoes filling the room. Maddie was just fine with this, because an uncomfortable silence was better than having Gilbert shove his foot into his mouth.
"So Gilbert," Dad began, cutting through the silence and crushing Maddie's hopes that nothing else would go wrong tonight, "I understand that you were recently suspended from school."
"Uh, I was actually expelled," Gilbert corrected, his voice absent of even a note of embarrassment or remorse over this fact.
"Oh, I see," he went on. "So that would mean you won't be going back to school, is that right?"
"Well, not that school. I can still appeal to the board to get into other schools."
"And I am sure you have been looking for another high school to attend, yes?" Maman asked helpfully. Hopefully.
"Yeah, but I haven't had much luck," Gilbert admitted. From the dull tone of his voice he was having more fun mashing his potatoes than focusing on the conversation. "I'm probably just gonna get my GED so I can apply to a community college."
"Oh, so you want to go to college," Maman beamed. "Isn't that nice, Arthur?"
Dad grunted, the dull look in his eyes clearly stating that he still didn't have high expectations for the young man in front of them. "Yes, wonderful," he muttered. "What do you plan on studying?"
"Well, I wanna work with animals," Gilbert told him. "I like birds cause they're awesome and they can make their own music. Birds rock."
"He likes animals," Abby prompted eagerly. "Isn't that nice, Daddy? And he brought a cake. That was really thoughtful, huh?"
"Yeah, I'm real thoughtful and shit," Gilbert boasted, only to wince as he received three different shoes pounding into his shins.
Not that it mattered as Dad had heard Gilbert's slip of the tongue and was currently staring at him with all the contempt that he could muster. Maddie suddenly felt like she had brought home a stray dog that had just made a mess on the carpet while she begged her parents to allow her to keep him. The worst part of it all was that she knew that Gilbert was trying. It wasn't just the nice clothes or the cake, it was the fact that he had listened to everything she'd told him over the past few days. He'd shown up on time, he'd tried his best to be polite, and he was sitting up straight and eating with a fork and knife. The problem was that this was all coming from Gilbert's interpretation of what it meant to be polite and presentable and whatever concepts that he had created for himself would always fall flat against Dad's standards.
Maddie watched as Gilbert cut into his chicken breast, fumbling with his utensils as he struggled to maintain his posture as he ate. She suddenly wished that she could grasp his hand in hers and tell him that he was doing a good job. "You know, Gilbert really is good with animals," Maddie put in, filling the lull that had settled on the dining room. "He breeds canaries and volunteers at an animal shelter on the weekend."
"Ay, Maddie I told you not to tell anyone about that."
"Oh, canaries?" Maman swooned, her hand flying to her chest as if to still the flutter of her heart. "I love canaries! I had one when I was a girl... then Arthur killed him."
"Are you still blaming me for that?" Dad snapped. "I was twelve!"
"You were a mean, brutish little boy and you killed my poor little Pierre!" she sniffed, dabbing at the corner of her eyes with her napkin. "He was the sweetest little birdie and he twittered only for me until Arthur shot him with a bee bee gun and silenced his song forever!"
"I was twelve," he reminded her. "And it was an accident."
Maddie glanced over at Gilbert to see a crestfallen look on his face. From the devastated expression in his red eyes, it would have been easy to assume that it was one of his birds that had been shot. "Well, I have a bunch of birds at my house," he put in. "One of them even laid eggs. You can have one of the chicks after they hatch."
Maman offered Gilbert a watery smile as she reached across the table and placed one of her hands on top of his. "Oh, Gilbert," she whispered. "You are such a sweet boy. That would be lovely."
"Well, I'm not dead yet. Does that mean I did good?" Gilbert asked, his eyes focused more on the gloom of the darkening horizon than the half eaten dessert in his lap.
Maddie should have expected that Maman would have prepared something herself for dessert and sure enough by the time dessert was served they had discovered fresh baked mille-feuille waiting in the kitchen. Abby was beside herself with glee at the prospect of "double dessert" (although she'd already eaten a sizable piece of the cake before dinner) and happily served herself a slice of each. Gilbert had been polite and took a slice of Maman's pastry, while Maddie had a piece of the German chocolate cake he had brought (although she planned to have some mille-feuille later on), each one taking a glass of milk before sneaking outside to eat their dessert in peace.
After the tense evening that they'd suffered through, it was nice to just be alone. Sitting on the wooden bench on the back porch, they sat side by side in a comfortable silence, watching the sun slip away and the stars twinkle to life one by one.
"I don't know," Maddie whispered, reluctantly answering Gilbert's question at last. "My Dad... he's just one of those guys who thinks no one could ever be good enough for his little girl."
"Yeah, I can tell," Gilbert muttered as he hacked off a piece of his custard filled pastry and shoved it into his mouth.
They were silent for a moment as Maddie picked away at hunks of cake and Gilbert downed most of his milk, before she decided to voice the question that had been sitting with her for days. "Have you ever gone through this with your other girlfriends?"
"What other girlfriends?"
"Come on Gilbert, stop playing around."
"Who's playing around? I mean, I've messed around with tons of girls before..." Gilbert cut himself off, aware that he may say something that he would regret if he didn't stop. "You're my first girlfriend."
She hoped that he was telling the truth, because the thought made her feel warm and fluttery inside. "Gilbert," she whispered, inching closer to him on the bench.
Before Gilbert could react, the back door creaked open, and Maddie quickly pushed herself away. She turned just in time to see her father poke his head out from within the house. "Madeleine," he began, his eyes flickering back and forth between the two of them. "Do you mind if I have a word with Gilbert in private?"
Maddie's heart clenched in her chest and suddenly she couldn't breathe. This was it. The moment she had been dreading. Dad was going to kill Gilbert.
"It's okay with me," Gilbert said, putting his now empty plate and glass aside.
She sighed, realizing that she had no choice but to simply collect their used dishes and leave the two alone. Entering the house once again, Maddie had planned to drop of the plates in the sink and go somewhere to pray for Gilbert's safety, when Maman stopped her.
"Madeleine, come dry the dishes for me," she instructed, handing the girl a dishrag. Before Maddie could protest and point out that it was Abby's turn to put the dishes away, she noticed the way Maman's head was nodding towards the open window. Maddie relented, accepting a dish and the towel as she inched towards the back window.
"I just wanted to have a word with you Gilbert," she heard Dad say. "Man to man."
"I wanted to say... that I really don't like you. It's literally taking everything that I have in me not to punch you in the mouth, and admit it, the feeling is undoubtedly mutual."
"Well now it is."
"But Maddie is obviously fond of you," he sighed, weary and frustrated as he forced his tone to soften. "And you are trying and I respect that." Dad sighed again and Maddie could practically see him pulling at the edge of his sweater vest in discomfort as he spoke. "But if you're going to take my daughter out then there will be rules that you must follow."
"First of all, do you have a car?"
"Uh, my Dad has one that I can borrow sometimes."
"Good, because I don't want my daughter riding on that two wheeled death trap. And when you come to pick her up, you will meet her at the front door. No waiting in the drive way or at the curb honking your horn or calling her on the phone like she's some truck stop floozy. She's a young lady and she deserves to be treated with respect."
"Of course she does."
"And her curfew is eleven. Not midnight. Not eleven-thirty. Not eleven-fifteen. Eleven."
"And if you break any of these rules, or hurt Madeleine, or disrespect her in anyway, I will kill you. I will literally hunt you down and kill you. And then I'll take your little birds and snap their little necks and their fuzzy little yellow bodies will decorate your grave."
"All of my birds?" Gilbert gulped.
"All of your birds."
Maddie could practically see the sweat pouring down Gilbert's face as he gave a long, deep swallow against the fear that was undoubtedly welling up inside of him. Surely by now he had realized that Maddie wasn't worth all this, that she was too much trouble to put up with just for a few shy kisses after school. Instead, Gilbert surprised her by saying, "You don't have to worry Mr. Kirkland, I'd never hurt Maddie. She's awesome and I like her a lot. I'm definitely falling for-"
"Shut it!" Dad barked and Maddie felt certain she would have heard that even if the window weren't open. "You shut your punk mouth you little juvenile delinquent. You're just a stupid little boy and you'll never understand what it means to love and appreciate a sweet girl like her. Now we're going to go back inside and you're going to thank my wife for a lovely dinner and you're going to leave, because if you don't get out of my house within the next five minutes, I'll take back everything I just said and you will never see Madeleine again."
Her heart was beating so rapidly that Maddie practically felt it in her hands as the two stepped back into the house, both clearly oblivious to the fact that she and Maman had overheard every single word spoken between them.
"Well, I'd better head home," Gilbert began, trying his best to sound natural as he spoke. "It's late and my dad will probably be worried about me. Thanks for the great meal Mrs. Kirkland. It was delicious."
"Oh, it was my pleasure Gilbert," Maman crooned, wrapping Gilbert into a fond embrace that Maddie suspected he was enjoying far too much. "You can come by anytime you are in the mood for my wonderful cooking. Just do not forget to bring my little birdie next time. I cannot wait to have a new little Pierre to brighten up the house. Let us hope that Arthur will resist the violent urges within his barbaric body to kill it."
"It was an accident," Dad reminded her once again.
"Okay, goodnight," Gilbert said, reluctantly untangling himself from the warm circle of Maman's arms.
"I'll walk you to the door," Maddie volunteered. They walked to the front door, Gilbert retrieving the jacket he had left hooked to the wall and slipping it back on. "I'm really sorry about all this," she whispered. "I understand if you wanna break up."
"Why? Cause your dad is crazy?" Gilbert gave an indifferent snort as he finished zipping up his leather jacket. "Hey, can you come outside for a sec? I wanna give you something."
Maddie nodded, following Gilbert outside and towards the motorcycle parked behind the family sedan in the driveway. It had only been a few minutes since she had been sitting outside on the back porch with Gilbert, but already the night air was feeling a bit too crisp for her, even with the sweater wrapped around her. Still her curiosity was peeked as Gilbert reached into the side pouch on his bike and fished around for something.
"I didn't wanna give this to you inside, cause I figured that your dad would kinda freak," he explained, pulling out a small velvet jewelry box and placing it in her hand. "Here. Open it."
Maddie complied and opened the box to find a small silver ring with a little red maple leaf set in the center. Even in the gloom of early evening, Maddie could see the jewels that made up the leaf twinkling up at her and that fluttering feeling in her chest was suddenly going wild.
"It's not an engagement ring," Gilbert clarified quickly. "And it's not a promise ring either. Those are lame."
"Well then what is it?" Maddie giggled.
"Think of it as an 'awesome ring,'" he said, easing the ring out of the box and onto Maddie's right hand, happy to see that it fit her finger perfectly. "'Cause it's cute and awesome, just like you." Gilbert leaned forward, seemingly intent on kissing her, but pulled back at the last minute. "Uh, I wanna kiss you, but your dad is probably watching us or something."
Maddie turned towards the house just in time to see the curtains shifting as if they had been recently disturbed. She shook her head at the sight, but suddenly found herself too tired to muster up the nerve to care. Instead, she turned towards Gilbert and kissed him, full and hard and daring just enough to slip her tongue out to caress his lips. It was nice to feel him be the one to tremble at her touch.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"For the ring?" Gilbert asked. "It was nothing."
"Not just the ring. For everything. Thanks for doing this. For putting up with me and my family and not being embarrassed to be seen with me in public."
"Hey, you're probably the one who should be embarrassed to be around me," he chuckled, wrapping his arms around Maddie's waist and pressing her against him. "You're probably the only person I know that's too awesome for me."
"Aw, Gilbert. You're being sappy."
"I know. It's your fault."
She kissed him again, quicker this time as the weight of the late hour finally started to settle into her mind, before taking a step back and letting him get on his bike. "Goodnight," she said, just as Gilbert pulled his helmet on.
"Goodnight," he returned, smiling at her before he kicked the engine to life, and peeled out of the drive way.
She watched him go, the deep red lights disappearing down the road and out of sight, before turning back towards the house. At long last the much dreaded evening was finally over and Maddie looked forward to a peaceful night's sleep.