Lucas let out a groan of annoyance as he pulled his hand back from the strings of his guitar. “Stop, stop!” He said angrily, his frustration apparent on his face as he returned his instrument to its stand. “Dude, what the hell is wrong with you today?”
For the third time in a row, Florian had come in a measure too soon and thrown off their entire performance. It was so unlike him – Florian was five years older, which also meant he had five more years of experience too. He was an incredible musician, one Lucas had always looked up to. Usually he was the one calling Lucas out on his mistakes, not the other way around. Something’s definitely up…
“Nothing.” Florian shrugged. “I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not.” Lucas sighed. “What’s going on?”
Florian said nothing for a few moments. “Alright, look.” He said at last. “I really didn’t want to say anything. I mean, it’s none of my business, really… But it doesn’t feel right to keep this to myself…”
Lucas felt a feeling of dread wash over him at his friend’s words. This can’t be good. “What is it?” He asked. “Come on, you know you can tell me.”
Florian rose to his feet abruptly, rubbing a large hand over his face. “Okay, so… For the past couple weeks, people have been… talking, I guess. And I thought it was just rumors at first, but last night –”
“Okay, back up, back up.” Lucas drew closer to him as the feeling of dread deepened. “What have these ‘people’ been talking about?”
Florian sighed. “Clara.”
“They say she’s been hanging out with this guy, Julian. And I didn’t say anything sooner because I really didn’t think it was true, but last night…”
Lucas shook his head, interrupting Florian’s story. “She was at Lena’s last night.”
“No, she wasn’t.” He replied. “I saw her at a party down at my buddy Max’s apartment. And they were right – she was with Julian.” Florian let out a soft sigh. “She was too, uh… ‘busy’ to notice me, if you know what I mean. But I definitely noticed her.”
Lucas did not immediately reply. Clara has a boyfriend?! How long has she been keeping this guy a secret? He wondered. Why would she keep this from us? It definitely wasn’t a surprise that Clara would lie to her parents – she’d always been a bit sneaky about things. But why? Why not tell her parents she was seeing someone? And what the hell was she doing at a party like that?
“So… what’s the big deal about this Julian guy anyway?” He asked at last, trying his best to ignore the uneasiness in his stomach. Lucas was terrified of what the answer might be.
Florian bit his lip nervously. “He’s bad news, Lucas.” He said softly. “Let’s just say he’s got a reputation for, uh… taking advantage of younger girls. Girls like Clara.”
The nausea in Lucas’ stomach worsened. He knew exactly what Florian meant by “taking advantage”. Oh God, Clara. What are you doing? “Y-younger girls?” Lucas asked. “How much younger, exactly?”
“Lucas… He’s 24.”
“Yeah, I know.” Florian bowed his head for a moment. “That’s why I felt like I had to tell you.”
Oma and Opa are gonna FLIP if they find out. Lucas shook his head slowly, trying to calm himself. “And what am I supposed to do about this, exactly? You know Clara. She’s gonna lose her shit if I tell anyone about this.”
Florian nodded. “And that’s exactly why I ended up telling you instead of Mari. Maybe you or Jocelyne need to talk to Clara about it.” He suggested. “I’m sure she’d listen to you guys before she’d listen to me.”
Lucas almost laughed. “Clearly you don’t know my Tante.”
“Not as well as you do.” Florian admitted. “But I care about her. And I just thought someone should know.”
“I knew it!” Jocelyne shook her head, her amazement apparent on her face. “I knew she was hiding something…”
“You did?” Her twin asked nervously. Jocelyne’s reaction to Florian’s news had not been exactly what he’d expected.
The girl nodded. “I caught her lying a few days ago. She’d told me she went to the movies with Lena last week, but it turns out she didn’t… She must have been out with this Julian guy…” Jocelyne paused and appeared to be lost in thought for a moment. “Are you sure Florian said 24?”
Lucas nodded solemnly. “I’m sure.”
She paused for a moment before replying. “Y’know, now that I think about it… I think I might have seen this guy before.”
“Yeah, the night your band played at that cafe, remember? There was this older guy there… He and Clara started talking about halfway through your set. They even missed your last song because they were outside together…” Jocelyne shrugged her shoulders. “You know how Clara is. She talks to everybody! I really didn’t think it was a big deal at the time…”
Lucas was stunned. That was a few weeks ago. Had Clara been keeping this guy a secret for that long? “What was he like?” He asked at last. “Did he seem like a creep to you?”
The girl bit her lip. “I mean, I didn’t talk to him or anything. I guess he seemed nice enough. Just maybe a little too interested in Clara… But I really didn’t think anything was gonna happen.” She shook her head. “This is SO creepy. We’re only 16! Clara HAS to know this is wrong!”
“Of course she does. Why else would she keep this a secret?” Lucas sighed. “So I guess the question now is… What are we gonna do about it?”
“I don’t know.” Jocelyne admitted sadly. “We could talk to Oma or Opa about it… But Clara would probably never forgive us if we did.” She shook her head. “She’ll probably flip out if we confront her about it directly, but that might be our best bet right now…. What do you think?”
Lucas said nothing. Neither option sounded particularly appealing, and no matter what he or his sister did, it was sure to create drama between them and their aunt. Would it really be worth it? “Maybe…” He said slowly. “We don’t have to do anything.”
“What are you saying?”
“I dunno, just…” He hesitated. “Maybe Clara knows what she’s doing. Maybe this guy isn’t as bad as Florian’s making him out to be.” Lucas shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe we should just let it be.”
Jocelyne raised an eyebrow at him. “Okay.” She said softly. “Let me ask you this… What if it was me? What if I was the one dating this Julian guy? Would you just ‘let it be’?”
“Of course not.” Lucas did not hesitate. “How could I?”
Jocelyne just looked at him.
“But that’s different…” He sighed. “You’re my Schwester, Joce. She isn’t.”
His sister shook her head. “We both know Clara’s always been more like a Schwester to us than anything else. And even if she wasn’t, we have to do something.” She insisted.
Lucas closed his eyes for a moment. She’s right. Damn it. “Okay. Maybe we should talk to her.” He agreed. “Or at least, one of us should…”
“And by ‘one of us’, you mean…?”
Lucas just shrugged.
“Damn it. You’re gonna owe me big time for this one, Luc.”