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08 January 2014 @ 09:30 pm
[shared 'verse: jazz remix] the reason i sing  
title: The Reason I Sing
rating: G
word count: 1907
community: writerverse + [community profile] rainbowfic + runaway_tales
prompt: Phase #09: Challenge #16: January Prompt Table (dead and buried, a walk in the park, affirmations) + bittersweet: #06: old photographs + rocky road #23: a grave
pairing: (eventual) Mariel/Tristan
summary: Tristan talks to his mother and father about proposing to Mariel. (His father died when he was four.)

“She’s a pretty girl,” said Mrs Delacroix, conversationally. She stood with her back to her youngest son while she washed last night’s dishes. “I wouldn’t mind a pretty thing like her in our family in this house full of boys.”

“Mh,” said Tristan to his oatmeal, rather despondently. The problem wasn’t that he disagreed with his mother. Mariel was a very pretty girl, and intelligent, and Tristan found her deliciously clever and he hadn’t slept better than that night, curled up with her in his childhood bed, at least until she woke in a panic, afraid of what people would say if they knew she had spent the night, unchaperoned, with her boyfriend in North End.

“And you two seemed so cozy last night,” said Mrs. Delacroix, with a glance over her shoulder.

Tristan couldn’t argue with that, either, and so he took a long sip of coffee instead.

Undeterred, Mrs. Delacroix continued, “and you know, Thanksgiving to New Year is very romantic time for wedding proposals. All of the other girls will be coming back from vacation with a ring.”

Tristan winced. He slammed down his mug, sending coffee sloshing over the edge. “I’m aware,” he said, tight lipped.

“What a mess you’ve made, Tristan! Clean up after yourself,” said his mother, snapping a kitchen towel at him.

Tristan mopped up the spilled coffee, relieved that his mother let the subject rest. He couldn’t speak about Lawrence and Mariel in the same breath. His heart twisted at the thought. Standing over the sink, he wrung out the sopping wet towel with more force than strictly necessary.

“You wouldn’t want her to feel left out now, would you, dear?” asked Mrs. Delacroix.

“Mother,” he said, struggling to keep his voice even. “Mariel didn’t mention where she’s from because she lives on Brookline, near the park, in one of those big old houses.”

“Nothing to be ashamed of,” said Mrs. Delacroix. She was not referring to Mariel’s address. She turned to face her son, who stood staring out of the kitchen window with his jaw clenched, teeth grinding together. “Your father worked hard to give you this,” she said, gesturing expansively to indicate the little apartment and the tailor shop downstairs. “He did the best he could to make sure you were safe and sound, him coming down from Maine with nothing and your bisnonna on a boat all of the way from Italy with even less.”

Tristan bit his lip to stop himself snapping at his mother. She was right, and they were well off, for an Italian and French-Canadian family from the North End, well off enough to spare the youngest son so he could go to high school and university and learn from his Harvard peers all of the things he couldn’t afford, like marrying a clever redheaded girl who translated poetry and played the violin only when she thought no one could hear her.

“Maybe his best wasn’t good enough.” Tristan struggled to sound cool and disaffected like his classmates but he couldn’t help the bitter note that crept into his voice, nor the return go his drawling accent that he fought so hard to hide at school.

“Tristan Giuseppe Delacroix, you ungrateful bastard.” Mrs. Delacroix folded her formidable arms and frowned thunderously at her son.

He looked away, shamefaced, though he winces at the use of his provincial middle name. Staring down at his shoes (polished, carefully, to hide their age), he mumbled an apology. He pushed his hair out of his face; already, he had strands of grey at his temples, which did not inspire much confidence. He sighed and sagged against the countertop. “I love her, Ma, but her bedclothes likely cost more than I will ever make in a year.”

“You’ve seen Miss Aldreich’s bedsheets, now have you?” asked Mrs. Delacroix, pursing her lips. It was one thing, in her mind, for the two lovebirds to spend the might under her roof, but quite another for her youngest son to go peeking or sleeping in some rich girl’s bedroom.

“No!” Tristan shifted uncomfortably, not wanting his mother to get the wrong idea about Mariel. “But I’ve seen her house, the kinds of clothes she wears.”

“And you think she would rather marry a rich doctor who never comes home but buys her a diamond necklace?” asked Mrs. Delacroix. “If that’s the way you feel, Delacroix, you need to ask yourself if you want to marry your girl after all or if you ought to go find a pretty young thing who will marry a tailor’s youngest son with grey hair before he’s twenty five.”

Mrs. Delacroix - having met Mariel and finding her a pleasant, if shy, young woman - didn’t think that would be the case, but she wanted her son to think long and hard about it. She eloped with Tristan’s father at sixteen, to the chagrin of her Italian family.

“No,” said Tristan, immediately. “No, that’s not it. She isn’t like that. I want to keep her comfortable.”

“We are plenty comfortable, Tristan Delacroix,” said his mother, and he was glad for the temporary disappearance of his middle name. “We might not be fancy like your school friends, but we are comfortable, and if you play your cards right, you could be quite cozy indeed even if you weren’t born on Brookline with a view of the Commons from your front window.”

Mrs. Delacroix understood her son’s frustration and helplessness; little ones always wanted more than their fathers and mothers could give them. Tristan had a lifetime of hand-me-downs and always dreamed of better things. He had already been unlucky in love, poor little duckling, which is why that morning she tucked a little box into her apron pocket and pulled it out now. Tristan gaped. “If I were you, I’d give this to your girl before some other boy gets to her with a big old diamond ring,” she said.

Tristan flipped open the plain little box, although he already knew it contained. He had spent hours as a boy admiring it. Inside, his mother’s rosy gold engagement ring glittered with tiny garnets. His father saved up for it for years and gave it to her after the birth of their fourth son, him. They married suddenly, and she never had an engagement ring until then, just her simple gold marriage band.

“Ma?” he asked, delicately tracing the ornate design, one ruby for each year of their marriage at the time, twelve. He colored with shame at his outburst.

“Worst that happens, you return it to me,” said Mrs. Delacroix. “We don’t have much to give you, Tristan. Pietro has the shop and the twins…” she trailed off. “I’m getting old, Tristan. I want to know you’re happy, all of my boys.”

“Don’t talk like that, Ma.” Like a toddler, he hugged his mother and hid his face. She patted his back, though he stood taller than her and had since he was sixteen.

“God, you look so much like your father,” said Mrs. Delacroix, shaking him sternly. “Go down and talk to him.”

Tristan kissed his mother’s cheek before he shrugged on his coat and stepped outside into the cold wind. He kept his hand clenched around the little box in his pocket as he stepped onto the trolley. He knew his way from innumerable Sunday visits in his childhood.

Unlike his brothers, Tristan had never really known his father and remembered him mostly by a faded photograph of his parents wedding. By now, he was a man older than the boy his father had been when Peter was born. He walked the familiar path to his father’s plot. He sat with his back against the tombstone and, once he was sure that he was the only living soul in earshot, Tristan talked to his father.

He told the late Francois Delacroix about school, about arguing with his mother, about polishing his shoes and turning down invitations to go drinking and riding and dancing because he didn’t have the money or the clothes, but mostly Tristan told his father about Mariel.

“You’d like her. She’s funny, and she’s French, Mariel, but she has a German last name. She’s pretty,” he said, “with red hair like autumn or something. Poetry is her field, not mine, and she’s so clever at it, or I think she is but it’s in French so maybe she’s bollox at it but I don’t care, because she’s wonderful and she smells like these expensive cigarettes she smokes and I slept better last night with her in my bed - at home, right near Ma’s room, same place you put my cradle, don’t worry - and,” Tristan finally paused to draw a breath, “and Papa, you know I think she slept better, too. She always looks so tired but last night she slept like a baby, at least until she woke up scared of what the neighbors might say.”

Tristan stopped again and sat for a moment with his chin on his knees. “And when I thought about it, about what people might say to her and if anyone hurt her, I wanted to kill them to protect her, but mostly I just want to sleep next to her for the rest of my life.” He laughed uncomfortably. “That’s all,” he insisted, quick to defend his sweetheart’s honor even to his father’s ghost in an otherwise empty graveyard. “We just slept and woke up together and I want to do that every day until I die. But what if she wants to sleep on silk sheets in a big bed in one of those old houses by the commons and go to Paris?”

He ran his hands through his greying hair. “Don’t tell her I said this, but Ma’s right. Mariel’s isn’t like that. Still, I wish I could take her on an airplane and we could visit the Louvre, not because she’ll ask but because I love her.” He chewed his lip thoughtfully, and added, “I guess that must be how you felt about Ma when you met. But I’m not like you. I can’t make something from nothing. I can only study the works of better men, and say I do get a teaching post but it still won’t be fancy as her family. But I know she likes books. Perhaps we could write one together.”

The longer Tristan went on like this, the more self-conscious he felt, until eventually the spell was broken. Perhaps his father’s nieces and nephews needed his attention, protection from scraped knees or spilt milk, or it was baseball practice in heaven or whatever angels did to pass tine time, but Tristan knew it was time to go. He cleared his throat awkwardly and stood, stiff from sitting for so long on the frozen ground. But he was young and strong and turned to walk away from his father’s grave. He touched the tombstone superstitiously, and he was off, walking back home with his hands jammed in his coat pockets.

There was no epiphany, no sudden ray of sunlight through the clouds, just a low, persistent feeling of gentle encouragement. His brothers and mother remembered Francois Delacroix as a patient man, but although Tristan remembered him only has an old photograph, he liked to come here. As he passed the wrought-iron cemetery gates, he thought that someday, he might take Mariel here, too. His father always wanted a daughter.
♥: melancholymelancholy