It was a girl. Of course it was a girl. It was always going to be a girl. Two guys, a nasty falling out in high school, lifelong enmity: the entire Western canon demands a girl at the root of it all. Marianne Lecorbeille was that girl, a beautiful, blonde Frenchie with a broken heart for whom Duke and Nathan blamed each other.
Nobody talks to or about Marianne. She got the fuck out of Haven that one summer, then her BA at the University of Montreal on some weird ass church scholarship and a job with the goddamn Habs. If you get out of Haven and get a happy ending, nobody talks about you, because they're torn up with envy and bitter about the goddamn Troubles.
But anyway, here's how the story went:
Duke was a fuck up in high school, but a hot kind of fuck up. He only stayed around the high school long enough to sell cigarettes and weed, tell people where to go to look for harder stuff, if that's what they were into. (Not many were.) He threw parties in his house, because his pop was always gone. His mom sent him money sometimes, but mostly it was the cigarettes and the weed that kept the lights on, kept the McDonald's flowing.
Nathan, on the other hand, kept himself on a pretty short leash: school, sports, Scouts, gardening. It wasn't that Nathan couldn't do other shit, hang out with friends, get the proverbial after school dock gig, talk to pretty girls. He was just…bad at it. Never quite got the rhythms of hanging out with other people, enjoying the company of others. Honestly, the Chief sometimes asked what he was doing, reminded him of his curfew in this weird hopeful tone, as if just reminding Nathan that a rule existed would give him the courage to break it.
Marianne met each of these boys in different places.
Duke wanted to learn French, wanted to see if there was any profit in bringing Tylenol 3 back over the border. He started giving discounts to the francophone girls on cigs, started hanging around with them at lunch, started standing closer to the prettiest one, started talking alone with Marianne when she left hockey practice, started touching her hand, started kissing her at parties, started calling her ma blonde. (That's 'my girlfriend', for the cheap seats.)
Marianne smiled and smoked Duke's weed and drank his liquor and brought him around home for dinner sometimes.
Nathan, for someone who didn't smoke tobacco or marijuana, spent fucked up amounts of money in Haven's one and only head shop.
He bought incense, mostly, single sticks of myrrh and sandalwood and ocean breeze and summer heat. He usually went on Tuesday afternoons; practice was Monday, Wednesday, Friday and the troop meeting on Thursdays. The blonde girl was usually behind the counter. Marianne started setting aside sticks she thought her best customer would like. Then she pointed him at a new incense holder that actually helped the incense burn longer and neater. They got to talking, and Nathan explained that he really liked scents, liked to collect them, but didn't want to spend the money for nice perfume; she pointed out that some of the rolling papers were interesting, and they all burned well. She told him about her grandmother, who made soap for tourist shops. She brought him home, and her grandmother spoke in French. He didn't understand it, but he eventually realized that when grandma said, "Ton copain, Marianne," she was talking about him. (Yeah, cheap seats, you probably guessed it: copain=boyfriend.)
Neither boy asked Marianne if she wanted to go steady. Hell, neither of those chuckleheads asked her out on a real date. They just assumed an understanding. Marianne was seventeen years old. She liked kissing and cigarettes and talking about smells, and her mother had told her that the best way to handle a man was to nod and smile and do as you please.
It all worked out fine for her, until Mama and Grandmere both asked if her boyfriend should be invited. Mama asked Duke and Grandmere asked Nathan, and both boys blushed and flushed and said yes quite sweetly. And even then shit didn't get bad, it got weird.
Nathan and Duke were a testament to their home training at the Lecorbeille table. (Especially Duke, who practically had no home training and had learned all of his manners from tv and reading a dusty, ancient copy of Emily Post in the middle school library.) Grandmere enjoyed that Duke was able to speak with her fluently, and Mama was very interested in Nathan's Eagle Scout project with the boats and the children and something that, honestly, Marianne could never give her full attention to.
Everyone had dessert and ooh'd and ahh'd over the dress and the sneakers and hockey stick Marianne unwrapped and cradled in her lap. But eventually it was time to go to the party out on the point. It was not a party for Marianne exactly, but a bunch of the French kids getting together to light a fire and drink and talk about how they were going to get out of this town de merde, make it big in Quebec or Montreal or even fucking Paris, why not.
Duke was coming to the party of course, Duke was always coming to the party, but when Marianne watched Nathan turn to slump off gently into the night, she couldn't help saying, "Hey." Say, "Come with us." Say, "It'll be fun."
The boys were pretty chill at the party, too. Duke was never going to deliver an ultimatum, knew that making someone choose was just an invitation for them to not choose you. Nathan was there on sufferance, and he knew it, was content to keep quiet and drink amidst a soft flow of words from which he could pick out maybe one in five. Marianne stretched out, comfortable with her legs on Duke's lap and Nathan's arm around her, keeping her back warm.
They stayed, too long, until the sky started to lighten and the fire died out. Duke was fucked up and Nathan was half passed out and Marianne was remarkably still sober, enough caught up in a minute discussion of the Nordiques' betrayal—Fuck. The. Avs.—that she'd only had three shots in three hours.
She did what she'd already done, three, five, eight times that year, drove to Duke's house, secure in the knowledge that no grownup would be waiting to yell and question them about the hour and their activities. She wasn't drunk but she was tired, so she worked her way through the house on autopilot, setting the coffee maker, putting the condoms out on the bedside table, stripping before she crawled under Duke's pile of quilts and snuggled up to him. She just didn't think about what the morning would be like, when she felt Nathan snuggle up behind her.
The whispering woke her up, the boys trying to piece together the who, what, where, and why just above her head. The angle Duke was leaning at put his nipple right at her mouth, so she sucked on it, hard but no teeth, the way he liked. And Nathan choked and Duke whimpered, but eventually they fucked and had coffee and brushed their teeth and fucked again and took cold fucking showers, because Duke didn't have the boiler going.
So now Duke bought rolling papers at her head shop (she convinced Burt to give him a volume discount), and Nathan kept saying, "Dit-moi en français," to her whole family, and the three of them disappeared to Duke's big bed (his dad's bed really, but his dad was never there) for hours and nights and weekends.
It wasn't love. They were too young for love, and they were headed in different directions. Nathan belonged to Haven; the Chief had made that very clear for all his life. Duke was going to get out, going to hustle or connive or just plain steal his freedom from this shithole, whatever needed doing. And Marianne was going to make something of herself, be smart enough for college, for a city job, for the money to get her family out in time. (It was only years later, at Grandmere's funeral, that it occurred to Marianne that she'd been working on a deadline all of her life, but she didn't know what the deadline was for. And it was only at her littlest sister's wedding to one of them, her mother in tears, did she learn what her mother had feared. She didn't believe it, not until her littlest sister called looking for a way out, away from the them that she'd married into, given birth to.)
But they had something like family, these two lonely boys, lonely in profoundly different ways—Nathan a bit odd, a bit distant from everyone around him and Duke who was friendly with everyone but friends only with them—and the girl who let them adopt her because they didn't ask too much.
Their triangle balanced easily through the cold Maine winter and into the wet Maine spring. The boys grew closer together in that time: Nathan appreciated Duke's perspective, focused outside the limits of the town, the county, the state, and Duke learned the fine art of appreciation from Nathan, how to revel in sensual pleasures and really stop and smell coffee before you drank it, the taste of a lover on your tongue, their warm breath misting your skin. Marianne turned to the boys as sounding boards, sketched out with Duke what she needed to do to be good enough to leave Maine, talked to Nathan about how she would keep her family close while she was so far away.
It turned out, though, that Marianne had been talking to hear herself talk, because when she told the boys, a few scant weeks before graduation, that it was time, that she was going, that there was a summer camp in Quebec eager for bilingual instructors, that she wasn't looking back…they flipped.
Not at her, never at her, the boys were sweetness and light with her. They kissed her and helped her sort through the clothes she was packing, promised to ship her skates and pads to the university come fall. To her they were kind, and wistful, and loving.
But they turned on each other. Duke whispered that Nathan's weirdness, his quiet, his devotion to rules had brought down their trio. Nathan hissed back that Marianne was just following Duke's map out of town, that she was running away to avoid getting arrested with her dumb criminal boyfriend, that she'd finally seen the rot at the core of Duke's being.
The words hurt, tore at both boys in the soft, vulnerable spots that they'd exposed to one another: in bed, in the shop, on the water, at the dinner table. And it made Duke offer to drive Marianne to Canada on his way to…Russia, Macao, Dakar…not here.
The last time Nathan saw either of them for five whole years was at their high school graduation. He missed them both.