“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.”