Well, tonight, Gus finally did it – He brought Noah over for dinner, and introduced him to us. Up until now, he’d been nothing but a name… “Who are you … Continue reading 4.46: Grateful
I’m not sure how much longer I can do this. Keeping this secret is killing me. Every time I call home, every time I chat with Luc… I feel terrible. … Continue reading 4.45: How Much Longer?
Well, things are finally calm and quiet around here again. But somehow, it doesn’t feel as nice as it did before. I guess it’s like this every year around Christmastime. … Continue reading 4.44: Going Well
Nothing’s ever easy, is it? Especially for me. I’m finally happy – truly, truly happy – for maybe the first time in my life, and the universe just has to … Continue reading 4.43: Easier Said Than Done
“Merry Christmas!” Lucas cried happily as he pulled Hazel into a warm embrace. “I’m so glad you guys made it.”
“Me too!” Hazel laughed as she pulled away from him. “Traffic was a total nightmare.”
He turned to address her father, his smile widening. “Mr. Bright, it’s so nice to finally meet you.” The young man said sincerely.
“Thanks.” Mark managed a small smile. “It’s great to meet you too… And ‘Mark’ is fine.” He assured him.
Lucas turned back toward his family, smiling. “Guess we should try some introductions.” He laughed. “Hazel, these are my parents, Tobi and Colette… Maman, Papa, this is Hazel… And her dad.”
Hazel pulled Colette into a hug without hesitation. “Ahhh! I’m so excited to meet you! Lucas told me so much about you guys.”
“We’ve heard a lot about you, too.” Tobi stepped forward then, smiling warmly. “Mark, I can’t say we’ve heard quite as much about you.” He added with a laugh as he shook the other man’s hand.
Mark’s smile faltered. “No, I guess you probably haven’t…”
“Hey, where’s Joce?” Lucas looked around in confusion as he spoke.
Florian furrowed his brow in confusion, noting that his fiancée had also vanished. “Must’ve run off with Clara…”
“Well, go find them!” Hazel teased Florian. “I was really looking forward to meeting the famous Clara… And Lucas, your sister sounds really wonderful.”
“She is.” He beamed.
“Hey, let’s go find Auggy.” Lucas continued. “We can catch up with Joce and Clara later.” He took her by the hand then, and whisked her away down the hall.
“So, Mark, can we get you a drink?” Colette offered kindly as she watched her son and his girlfriend vanish into the study. “Beer? Wine? Coffee?”
“Willow Creek sounds so lovely.” Hazel was beaming as she spoke. “Lucas showed me some pictures from the last time he visited.”
Josh nodded. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Especially in the fall.” Liana agreed with her father. “Maybe the next time Lucas and his family visit, you can come too.” She suggested.
“I’d love that!”
“Hey, sorry to bug you guys…” Gus approached the others uncertainly.
Hazel smiled. “Long time, no see!” She teased, having just spoken with him a few minutes before.
He returned her smile. “I was just wondering if any of you have seen Jocelyne or Clara?” Gus turned toward his brother. “Florian’s been looking for them.”
The four adults shook their heads. “Sorry, Auggy.” Josh shrugged. “We’ll let them know you and Florian were looking, if we see them.”
“Make sure you send them our way if you do run into them.” Lucas laughed as his brother turned to head back toward the doorway. “Poor Hazel’s dying to meet them!”
Just as he was about to cross into the hallway, Gus felt a small tug on the edge of his sweater. He looked down to see his cousin Cierra smiling up at him. “They went upstairs a little while ago… All sneaky-like. I saw ‘em!”
“So… he never mentioned having a daughter or anything?” Clara asked for what felt like the tenth time.
“No!” Jocelyne cried. “Let alone one who’s my age… Or who’s dating Luc! Oh my God.” She held her face in her hands for a moment. “This is so messed up.”
“Fucked up.” Clara corrected her. She paused for a moment, shaking her head. “I don’t know what his excuse is for not telling you about Hazel, but… Maybe he really didn’t know about the whole Lucas-thing?” She suggested.
“How could he not know?!”
“I dunno… I mean, when you were with Elliot, how much did your parents know about him?” Her aunt asked. “His last name? How many siblings he has? Their names?”
Jocelyne just shook her head.
“There you are!” Both girls jumped at the sound of Gus’ voice and the opening bedroom door. “Florian’s looking for you, Clara… And I know Lucas’ really excited for you guys to meet Hazel.”
The girls exchanged a brief glance. They couldn’t hide forever, could they? “We’ll be right down.” Jocelyne said at last.
Her little brother eyed her uncertainly for a moment. “Are you okay?”
She nodded, knowing that he would remain unconvinced. “Yeah. I’m fine. Let’s go.”
“Jocelyne!” The sound of her father’s voice calling from the kitchen filled her with dread.
Maybe I can pretend I didn’t hear him…
But when he called her name a second time, she knew she had no choice.
Clara turned around and gave her a small look of pity before being whisked away into the study to meet Hazel.
And Jocelyne, resigned to her fate, took a deep breath and entered the kitchen.
Colette beamed at her daughter. “Jocelyne, look who it is!” The woman laughed as she nodded toward Mark.
The girl felt an unpleasant wave of nausea. What is she talking about?! How does she know?!
“Mark’s your boss, isn’t he?” Tobi said. “The one we’re always hearing so much about.”
“Former boss.” Mark corrected the other man kindly. “Hello, Jocelyne.” His tone was oddly stiff and formal. “Small world, isn’t it?” He tried to smile.
Jocelyne couldn’t bring herself to do the same. “Very.”
Her parents exchanged a look. “Jocelyne… Is everything okay?”
“There you are!” Clara appeared in the doorway over her niece’s shoulder. “I lost you! Lucas’ been looking all over for you. He wants you to meet Hazel.” She grabbed Jocelyne by the arm with a bit more force than necessary and physically pulled her from the room.
“Could you hold that thought for a second?” Florian said quickly. “Sorry, Sofia. I’ll be right back.”
He crossed the hallway in a few quick strides and intercepted Clara and Jocelyne, guiding them into the now-deserted music room.
“Okay.” He sighed heavily, his eyes darting back and forth between both girls. “Can one of you please tell me what the hell’s going on?”
“What are you talking about?” Clara replied.
“I’m talking about the fact that you two were all excited to meet Hazel one minute, then the next you go off and hide in Jocelyne’s room without so much as a ‘hello’!” Florian shook his head as he spoke. “And the look on your face when your Papa called you into the kitchen… What was that?”
“It was nothing.” Jocelyne insisted. “I’m just not feeling very good. I went upstairs to lie down for a few minutes, and Clara went to make sure I was okay.”
Florian raised an eyebrow. “Really? Because that’s not what Auggy said he heard when he went up to find you…”
“What did he hear?!” Jocelyne’s eyes went wide. “W-what did he say?!”
“Nothing. But thank you for confirming that your story’s complete bullshit.” Florian turned his gaze toward his fiancée. “Clara, I thought we agreed. No more lies. No more secrets.”
“It’s nothing, Florian. Okay?” Clara insisted. “We… We can talk later. But I promise, everything’s fine.” She seemed to have a hard time meeting his gaze.
“Joce! I finally found you!” Lucas called out, appearing in the doorway with his girlfriend at his side. “I almost thought you were avoiding me or something.” He laughed. “Hazel, this is Jocelyne… ‘Joce’ to me.” He added with a little laugh. “Joce, this is Hazel.”
Hazel reached out and pulled Jocelyne into a warm hug. “I’m so happy we finally get to meet! Lucas talks about you all the time!”
Oh yeah? Well your Papa never talked about you. Ever. She wanted to say. “It’s nice to meet you too.” She managed to choke out instead.
Jocelyne barely paid attention to the rest of the conversation, especially when it turned to Hazel’s father, and what a “funny coincidence” it was that Jocelyne knew him from school. “Yeah.” Jocelyne said weakly. “Really funny.”
Thankfully the conversation didn’t last very long – soon, Stefan’s daughter Alaina appeared in the doorway and beckoned her aunt and cousins into the living room. “It’s time for presents! Come on!”
As the rest of the family packed into the large living room, Jocelyne hung back, eager for a moment to herself. Her head was still spinning as she tried to process what was going on. Mark is Hazel’s Papa… And Hazel is dating my brother. The mere thought was enough to make her feel ill.
After taking one last moment to collect herself, Jocelyne finally made her way toward the doorway when she was stopped by a large, rough hand on her arm. She didn’t even have to turn around to know who it was.
“Jocelyne.” Mark whispered. “Can we talk for a minute? Please?”
Something told her it would be anything but a pleasant conversation… But it was one they most definitely needed to have, sooner or later. Still, was now really the best time?
“Won’t they notice we’re both gone?”
“Just give me two minutes.” He was practically begging now. “Please.”
“Okay.” She said at last, hesitating for a moment before deciding which way to go. “Follow me.”
Jocelyne shivered slightly in the cold night air, regretting her decision almost instantly. She hadn’t realized it would be so bitterly cold. I should have taken him upstairs… Oh well. Too late now.
Mark reached out, and tried to wrap an arm around her. She pulled away from him, shaking her head.
“Sorry.” He muttered awkwardly. “You looked cold.”
Jocelyne ignored him. “Mark, I just want you to answer one question for me… When the hell were you planning on telling me you have a daughter?! Who’s my age! And dating my twin brother!”
“Well…” He replied softly. “To be fair, I didn’t know about that last part until tonight… Just like you.” He promised her. “Hazel started telling me all about his family on the drive over… And when she said his last name… God, I’m surprised I didn’t run the car off the road.” For a moment, he almost laughed.
But Jocelyne looked anything but amused. “That doesn’t change the fact that you never told me about her.”
“I know… And I’m so sorry.” Mark held his face in one of his hands for a moment. “I was going to tell you after Christmas, once Hazel came home. I swear to God, I was.”
“But why wait? Why not tell me sooner?” Jocelyne sighed. “I’ve known you for four months… How have you never mentioned Hazel before now?!”
Mark said nothing for a moment. “You’re a smart girl, Jocelyne.” He said at last. “You know why. Be honest with me. If you’d known about Hazel… Would we ever have gotten this far? Would we be together right now?”
Jocelyne did not immediately reply. What would she have done, had she known? Would she have looked at him differently – done things differently – if she’d realized the truth? He wasn’t just old enough to be her father, he was a father. To someone almost the same age as she was…
“I don’t know.” She confessed. “I really don’t.” Jocelyne paused for a moment. “But what I do know is that I can’t believe you kept this from me. If you really love me, you’re supposed to trust me, Mark.”
“I do love you.” He insisted. “And I trust you, too. I was just…” Mark shook his head, leaving the thought unfinished. “I’m so sorry. God, this is such a mess. Even more of a mess than I thought it was…”
“I know.” Jocelyne shook her head slowly. “This is awful.”
She couldn’t even imagine how her brother or Hazel would react if they learned the truth… When they learned the truth. They’d need to know eventually, wouldn’t they? But how the hell are we supposed to tell them?!
“I know you’re mad at me. You have every right to be.” Mark’s deep voice finally broke the silence. “I just hope you can forgive me, Jocelyne… But I understand if you can’t.”
She nodded in agreement. “I am mad… I think I will be for a while.” Jocelyne admitted sadly. “But I still love you, Mark. We just have a hell of a lot to figure out right now.”
“We do.” He agreed. “And we will. We’ll get through this together, and everything will be fine. I promise, Jocelyne…” Mark smiled softly at her. “Okay?”
In that moment, Jocelyne wanted nothing more than to trust him… To believe that everything really would be okay.
So, against her better judgement, she did. “Okay.”
“Gus?” Tobi opened the bedroom door slowly and stepped inside. His son was sitting on the edge of his bed, seemingly lost in thought. “Aren’t you coming downstairs? Everyone’s been asking for you.”
“Yeah.” He replied softly. “I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
With a heavy sigh, Tobi drew closer, taking a seat on the bed beside his son. “Come on, Gus. Talk to me.” He said seriously. “I thought… I thought things were back to normal between us now.” The man bit his lip uncertainly.
He still felt so much guilt and shame for the way he’d reacted to learning the truth about Gus… But they’d worked through it, and he’d finally earned his son’s forgiveness. Or at least, he thought he did.
Gus shook his head slowly. “They are, Papa.” He assured him. “I’m not mad anymore, you know that. But… this isn’t about that.”
Tobi nodded in understanding. He knew exactly what Gus was afraid of. “You don’t have to tell any of them, you know.” He replied softly. “There are a heck of a lot of people downstairs who love you, Gus. You’re still the same person you were the last time you saw them… Nothing’s changed. Just be yourself.”
It was a few moments before the boy finally replied. “You’re right.” He spoke at last. “I should at least give it a try.” Gus smiled softly. “Thanks, Papa.” He rose to his feet and pulled his father into a tight hug.
“Alright, let’s go.” Tobi gave his son a warm smile and led the way to the bedroom door and out to the upper landing. The sounds of music, laughter, and conversation filled the air already, carried up the stairs from below. Father and son gave each other one last smile before finally heading down to join the rest of the family.
“Auggy!” Stefan threw his arms wide at the sight of his nephew. “Jesus, did you grow another three inches since the summer?”
Gus laughed softly as his uncle gave him a quick hug. “Maybe two.” He admitted.
“Watch out, Tobi. This one’s catching up to you.” Josh laughed softly as he spoke.
The boy shook his head, smiling. “Hopefully not… Some of us prefer not having to duck to get through doorways, grandpa.” Gus said with a small smirk.
Josh chuckled heartily and opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a loud cacophony of notes coming from the music room. “What the hell?” He muttered under his breath.
“Oh God, okay. Stop, honey. Stop.” Mari’s voice called out over the horrific playing. “Let’s… Let’s try again, okay?”
Stefan sighed, stepping toward the doorway to his right. “Sounds like Austin found the piano… I told Mama it wasn’t a good idea!” He shook his head. “I’ll be right back.”
“Y’know, now might not be the best time for a lesson…” Jonas said gently, smiling down at his grandson. “I bet Oma would love to try again another day… Maybe when there are less people?” He suggested.
Before the little boy could reply, Stefan had appeared at his side. “Opa’s right.” He told his son firmly. “You know what mom and I told you about touching Oma’s piano.”
“But she let me!” Austin insisted. “And I almost have it… I’m SO close!”
Mari sighed softly, but smiled. “Looks like we’re outnumbered, kiddo. We’ll try again another day before you head back home, okay?”
The boy bowed his head in resignation. “Okay.” He hopped off the piano bench. “Thanks anyway, Oma.”
“Any time.” She smiled as she watched him head for the hall.
“My ears thank you for putting an end to that.” Stefan laughed. “He definitely shares your enthusiasm for music, Mama… But he’s got a long way to go before his playing isn’t headache-inducing.” He said with a smile.
His parents exchanged a significant glance. “So… would now be a bad time to mention what we got him for Christmas…?” Jonas asked nervously.
Stefan simply laughed in reply.
A loud burst of laughter escaped Colette’s lips as her stepmother placed the plate of fresh cookies on the counter. “Ich weiß!” She said, shaking her head. “Ich kann gar nicht fassen dass sie mich jetzt so damit überrumpelt!”
Rachelle just smiled. “Deine Mutter war bestimmt nur nervös. Klingt so als wäre das seit einiger zeit mal wieder eine ernsthafte beziehung für sie.”
Colette nodded. “Stimmt! Ich freue mich so für sie. Ich würde diesen Kerl aber echt gerne mal treffen! Ich wünsch mir sie hätte ihn mitgebracht…”
Austin approached the counter curiously. “Your mom’s nervous?” He asked. “And… you said you wanna meet someone? Who?” He looked back and forth between the two women, wondering what they were saying and wishing his father had taught him more German.
Colette and Rachelle just laughed. “Oh no! The spy cracked our secret code.” Colette smiled as she addressed him in English. “Here. In exchange for your silence.” She winked, offering him a cookie.
“Danke!” A deep male voice said, reaching out and taking a cookie from the plate. Florian had snuck into the kitchen nearly undetected.
“Hey!” Austin cried indignantly.
He glanced down at Stefan’s son. “Er, I mean, Thanks!” He corrected himself quickly.
Austin rolled his eyes. “I know what danke means… The ‘hey’ was for the cookie!”
Florian smiled. “Just making sure.”
“Taking a break from all the baby talk?” Rachelle teased as she watched Austin skip out of the room, still chewing his cookie.
The young man nodded, sighing softly. “It’s all anyone wants to talk about! Ugh…” He paused for a moment. “Plus Clara wanted something to eat… Mind if I grab another one?”
“Take two.” Colette smiled. “She’s eating for three after all.”
“So remind us when you’re due again, Clara?” Gabriela asked her niece sweetly.
Clara forced a smile as she took a bite of one of the cookies Florian had brought her. This was the third time she’d been asked within the past hour and a half. “April 18th.” She repeated.
“Is it okay if I touch your tummy again, Auntie Clara?” Stefan’s daughter Cierra asked softly.
The young woman rose to her feet. “Go for it, kiddo.” Her smile came a bit easier this time.
“So Clara, have you decided what you’re going to do?” Amelie asked in her thick French accent. “Colette had her twins by c-section… So much easier, don’t you think?”
“Your Mama had Tobi and Stefan naturally, and it was fine for her.” Lina countered. “You need to do what’s best for you.”
Jesus Christ, can we please stop talking about how I’m getting these babies out of my uterus? What the hell is wrong with these people?! “Heh. Yeah, I guess we’ll see.” She muttered uncomfortably.
“Oh, Florian! There you are!” A familiar voice called from the doorway. “Luc was looking for you.” Jocelyne smiled. “And you too, Clara.” She added quickly.
Clara and Florian didn’t need telling twice. They headed toward the doorway with a bit more enthusiasm than necessary, leaving the women to chat and gossip without them.
“He didn’t really ask for us, did he?” Florian muttered as soon as they were out of earshot.
Jocelyne shook her head. “Nope, this is a rescue mission.” She laughed. “You both looked like you could use some saving.”
“Oh my God, thank you.” Clara laughed. “I was seriously gonna lose my freaking mind if I was in there another minute.”
They found Lucas chatting with Diego in the study, sharing some stories from the adventures he’d had on tour.
“That sounds amazing.” His grandfather said seriously. “Hopefully it won’t be too long before you’re able to do it all again.”
Lucas nodded eagerly in agreement. “We’ll see what happens. Maybe this time next year, once Clara’s had the babies and things are a little less crazy.”
“But until then,” Florian chimed in, “Things might be rough for a bit.” He admitted. “We’re, uh, actively looking for some replacement bandmates.”
“Yeah, good riddance.” Clara said bitterly. “I never liked those assholes anyway.”
A few minutes later, after Diego had excused himself to go find his wife, Clara and Jocelyne quickly got to grilling Lucas about his new girlfriend, who still had yet to make an appearance at the party.
“Are you sure she’s not imaginary?” Jocelyne teased her brother. “I’m starting to get a little suspicious.”
Beneath Jocelyne’s teasing, part of her couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous. No one but Clara even knew she and Mark were together, let alone had the chance to meet him. Someday. She told herself. But when?
“I can vouch for him.” Florian chuckled. “Don’t worry.”
Lucas smiled at his sister. “She doesn’t exactly live in the area.” He explained. “Until we move into our new place, she’s gotta drive a few hours to get here… But she should be here any minute.”
“I still can’t believe you convinced your parents that letting her bring her family with her was a good idea… Isn’t that moving a little fast?” Clara asked.
Her nephew just shrugged. “She’s getting to meet my entire extended family in one go… Seemed only fair for me to get to meet some of hers too, right? And it’s not like she’s bringing a small army with her or something. Just her Papa.”
Jocelyne furrowed her brow in concern. “What about her Mama?”
“She hasn’t been around since Hazel was a baby.” He explained sadly. “Probably not a good idea to mention it to her, actually… Anyway, her Papa seems pretty cool from what I’ve heard though.” Lucas perked up considerably then. “I even got to talk to him on the phone one time. He’s hysterical!”
“That sounds nice.” His sister smiled. “I can’t wait to meet him.”
“Well, actually… You might’ve already met.” Lucas laughed. “I can’t believe I forgot to tell you guys.” His eyes flicked between Jocelyne and Clara for a moment. “Her dad works at Falkenburg University. Isn’t that where you guys go?”
“It is!” Jocelyne laughed. “That’s kinda funny!
“Hopefully I never failed one of his classes, though.” Clara added with a wink.
“Nah, he’s not a professor.” Lucas’ gaze turned toward his sister excitedly. “Actually, Joce, he –”
His words were cut-off by the sound of the doorbell. “That’s them!” He practically leapt to his feet at the sound.
Jocelyne smiled in amusement as she followed her brother toward the front door, eager to meet the mysterious Hazel at last.
Note: A few steamy screenshots in this one, though as usual, nothing explicit and no actual nudity. ———————————- I can’t believe the semester’s over already. Where did the time go? … Continue reading 4.42: Feel It