As yet another deep rumble of thunder echoed through the air, Jocelyne reached into her pocket and pulled out her cellphone. “Ugh.” She muttered under her breath. It was only 4:13. But hadn’t it been 4:10 an hour ago?
Her eyes roved around the deserted library. There was no one there – literally no one. I can’t really blame them either… Jocelyne thought. Who would want to walk or drive through these torrential downpours just to check out a book?
She glanced sideways at her coworker, who was busy playing some kind of stupid puzzle game on her phone. How is she not dying of boredom right now?
Jocelyne wished she had something – anything – she could be doing right now. But she’d finished everything that Mark has asked her to do already. I can’t just sit here doing nothing. Jocelyne knew that if she sat around for much longer, her mind would start to wander. And if her mind started wandering, there was one thing she knew it would turn to right now…
After the night they’d laughed and baked cookies together in the wee hours of the morning, Jocelyne had begun to hope that things were going to get better. But they didn’t. Clara rarely seemed to leave her room anymore. And what was even worse – she was ignoring Florian.
He’d even texted Jocelyne a few times over the past week, asking if Clara was okay. And that’s when Jocelyne knew that something HAD to be very wrong. She felt awful lying to Florian, but she didn’t want him to worry, so she just said Clara had been really overwhelmed with school work. But honestly, Jocelyne was pretty sure Clara had been skipping most of her classes lately…
I just wish I could talk to someone about this. She thought miserably. The only one she’d been able to confide in about her fears had been her journal. And as nice as it felt to get her feelings down on paper, there wasn’t very much the little blue book could do to help her.
She’d tried talking to Elliot about it, but he always just gave her one of those sexy little smiles and said “Babe, you worry too much.”
But how could she not worry?
“Hey Theresa?” Jocelyne’s voice broke through the silence. “Do you mind covering the desk for a bit? I need to go find Mark and ask him something.” The lie came out so easily. In reality, she was just desperate to get away and find something to do. Anything to take her mind off Clara.
“Sure, whatever.” The other girl shrugged, then went back to her phone.
About twenty minutes before, Mark had said something about rearranging some books, then disappeared up one of the tall wooden staircases. Maybe he could use a hand.
The old wooden stairs creaked with every step as Jocelyne headed to the next floor, relishing in the smell of old books that seemed to fill the air around her. Hardly anyone ever visited the second floor – the titles up there were so outdated, and almost every copy was so ratty and worn from years of use. But it was Jocelyne’s favorite section of the whole library. And, as he’d once told her, it was Mark’s too.
She found him surrounded by piles of books, down in the philosophy section. Jocelyne stood silently and watched how carefully and almost tenderly he held each book as he rearranged them on the shelf in front of him.
He really loves this. She smiled softly to herself and watched for a few more moments as he ran his large hands over the cover of each tome. The sight sent a strange rush of warmth through her.
At last, she cleared her throat and made her presence known.
“Oh, Jocelyne!” Mark smiled brightly at her. “You snuck up on me.”
“I’ve been brushing up on my ninja training.” She teased, returning his smile and drawing closer to him. “Need any help up here?”
“Sure! If you’re willing, I could always use an extra pair of hands.” He nodded toward one of the piles of books behind him. “Why don’t you start down there and we can meet in the middle?”
A feeling of relief washed over Jocelyne at his words. She couldn’t bear another minute downstairs with Theresa. “Sounds good.”
Jocelyne traced her fingers gently over a worn copy of Plato’s Republic before returning it to its rightful spot on the shelf. Being with Mark was nice, but the silence was starting to get to her. Not because it was uncomfortable (it was quite the opposite, actually). But because it had allowed some of her worried thoughts to return.
“So…” She said at last, her voice cutting through the steady pouring of the rain on the library roof. “What did you think of the new Moonlight Massacre trailer I sent you last night?” Of course, she knew he’d enjoyed it – he’d written back telling her as much. But it was the first topic that came to mind when trying to find something to talk about.
Her boss laughed. “It looks much better than I expected, but I still can’t believe they’re remaking it so soon! Didn’t they already try to reboot the series with those godawful sequels a few years back?”
Jocelyne nodded. “Moonlight Massacre III… My friend Joel loves that one!”
“Seriously?” He shook his head in disbelief. “As if it could ever hold a candle to the original…” Mark chuckled and appeared almost wistful for a moment. “Y’know, I was about your age when it came out, actually… God, I must’ve watched it a dozen times.”
“That wouldn’t happen to be the slasher flick you took that girl to, would it? The one that puked all over you?”
“Actually… It was!”
“Clearly her taste in men was much better than her taste in movies.” He continued, smirking slightly. “Wow, I just can’t believe they’re trying to remake it already. It just seems… wrong.”
Jocelyne chuckled. “You know who you should talk to about lame remakes? My Tante, Clara.” The words came out before she even realized what she was saying. “She could go on for hours about how pointless movie remakes are…” Her voice trailed off slightly. So much for not thinking about Clara.
She hoped Mark wouldn’t notice her sudden discomfort.
But, of course, he did.
“Jocelyne, I don’t mean to pry. I really don’t.” He said seriously. “But I can’t help but notice that you’ve been a little… distracted lately.” Mark paused. “Is everything alright?”
Jocelyne knew she didn’t even have to answer his question. Of course it wasn’t okay. And he knew it, too. Mark had always known her so well… You said you wanted someone to talk to. She told herself. Here’s your chance.
She took a slow, deep breath. “I guess it’s just… I’ve been really worried lately. About Clara.”
“Why? What happened?”
“She just hasn’t really been herself lately, I guess?” Jocelyne’s voice was uncertain. “I mean, she’s been really moody, and sleeping a lot, and getting sick all the time…” The girl hesitated for a moment. “She used to smoke almost a pack a day, but all of a sudden she hasn’t touched a cigarette in weeks! And she’s been gaining weight too, I think…” She bit her lip. It was almost embarrassing to talk about. “At first I thought she was just sad about her fiancé being so far away. But the more I think about it, I really think that maybe… There’s a chance she might be… Pregnant.”
Mark’s eyes widened. “Well, shit.”
“Yeah, I know.” She sighed softly. “Her fiancé’s away traveling until Christmas… And I know she hasn’t told him. I don’t think she’s told anyone. But I’m almost positive she really is…”
“Then you have to talk to her.” He replied gently.
The girl shook her head. “How the hell can I even begin that conversation?! Clara flies off the handle so easily. I know she’d FLIP if I said anything to her…” Jocelyne paused for a moment. “I just don’t understand why she would keep this from me.” There was a sudden bitter edge to her voice that surprised even herself. “Doesn’t she trust me?! I’ve always been there for her, ever since we were little kids! The least she can do is trust me with something like this!”
Her boss nodded in understanding, but said nothing for a few moments. And slowly, Jocelyne felt her unexpected anger begin to fade away.
“You know the funny thing about secrets?” Mark said at last. “I’ve found that they have very little to do with trust… And everything to do with fear.”
Fear? Jocelyne raised an eyebrow curiously at him. “What do you mean?”
“How much you trust someone has nothing to do with whether you’ll keep a secret from them.” He explained. “If you’re scared enough, you’ll keep a secret from anybody. Even the people closest to you. And I can’t exactly speak from experience on this one…” For a moment, he smiled softly. “But the situation Clara might be in sounds pretty damn scary if you ask me.”
She nodded slowly as she took in his words. How had she never thought of that before?
“So don’t think of it as her not trusting you…” Mark stepped closer to her as he spoke. “Just remember that she’s probably scared shitless right now. And that alone is reason enough for you to talk to her, Jocelyne. I’m sure she needs you right now.”
It was so simple, so obvious… But it was exactly what Jocelyne needed to hear. He’s right. She needs me. I can’t keep quiet about this anymore. “Mark… You are, without question, the smartest person I know.” Jocelyne meant every word. “Except maybe my Onkel Stefan.” She added quickly, smiling as she looked into his deep brown eyes. “You’re incredible.”
“And so are you.” Mark smiled warmly at her. He held her gaze for a long time, and Jocelyne found herself unable to look away.
“But, uh, I’m not sure I’m all that smart.” He continued, his jovial tone suddenly returning. “Maybe… wise, I guess?” The man shrugged his shoulders slightly. “Comes with age. You’ll understand someday.” Mark winked at her.
Jocelyne rolled her eyes, amused. Is he seriously pulling the ‘You’ll understand when you’re older’ thing? “Uh-huh… Thanks, grandpa.” She teased.
To her surprise, Mark did not smile at her playful jab. In fact, for one wild moment, he almost looked… Hurt? Upset? Jocelyne wasn’t sure of the right word for it.
“I was just kidding!” Jocelyne said hastily, hoping he’d forgive her. “You’re not that old, Mark.” She smiled. “I promise.”
To her relief, Mark’s bright smile slowly found its way back onto his face. “Not old enough to take a joke, apparently.” He replied, shaking his head at his own foolishness. “Know what? It’s dead as a doornail in here… More than enough for Theresa and I to handle on our own. Why don’t you head home a little early?” Mark offered kindly. “I think there might be someone you need to have a talk with…”
Jocelyne smiled, so grateful for his understanding. No one she’d ever met had a bigger heart than his. She was sure of it. “You’re the best, Mark. Seriously.” Jocelyne hesitated for a moment, then reached forward and wrapped her arms around him.
The girl closed her eyes as he returned the gesture, pulling her close to him. It was so warm, so safe in his arms. In that moment, she truly felt like everything was going to be okay.
And even as Jocelyne walked to the bus stop in the cold and pouring rain, the memory of Mark’s embrace was enough to keep her warm.