“That was delicious, Mari.” Mark said sincerely as he returned to his seat. He’d just finished helping clear off the table and load the dishwasher. “I don’t think I’ve ever had chicken made like that before.” He confessed.
The woman smiled. “An old family recipe.” Mari explained. “Very old… We still have some old cookbooks lying around from my great-grandfather. He owned a restaurant back in Newcrest.”
Mark nodded. “I’ve read your Vater’s book… I guess it wasn’t entirely fictional, then.” He smiled as he spoke.
“Definitely not.” Mari laughed brightly. “Maybe even less than you think…”
Jocelyne tried and failed to join in her family’s laughter. How’s he doing it? She wondered. How can he sit there and act like everything’s okay?
Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by soft pressure on her right leg. She could feel Mark’s foot rubbing gently against her calf. Under any other circumstance, she’d probably roll her eyes at the thought of him trying to play footsie with her under the table. But she knew what he was doing… He could tell she was nervous, and that was his way of being there for her. It’s not like he can reach out and hold my hand, I guess.
Still, it was a pretty big risk, wasn’t it? Jocelyne almost laughed at the thought of Mark accidentally caressing the wrong person’s leg. Oh my God, that would be hysterical and horrific at the same time! The image certainly helped relieve some of her stress. The girl lifted her eyes and caught Mark’s gaze for a moment, nudging back against his foot with her leg. Thank you.
“That really was delicious, Mrs. Klein.” Hazel smiled sweetly. “Lucas, you don’t know how good you have it. Do you have any idea what I had to grow up on?” She smirked playfully at her father as she spoke.
“You underestimate the art of the perfect cheese sandwich.” Mark winked at Hazel. “A true culinary masterpiece.”
She laughed. “Uh-huh. Sure, dad.”
The idle chatter continued for a few more minutes before Clara finally rose to her feet. “Does anyone mind if we move to the living room?” She suggested. “It might be more comfortable in there.”
Jocelyne felt her stomach drop. Her aunt had promised ahead of time to be the one to get the ball rolling for them… But did she have to do it so soon?
Tobi narrowed his eyes at his sister. “The living room, huh? Oh, come on, Clara. I’ve been in this family long enough to know that that never leads to anything good.” He smiled slightly at her as he spoke, but his look of suspicion remained.
“Can’t your pregnant whale of a Schwester go sit somewhere with a decent cushion?” Clara laughed. “My back is killing me.”
“Little Jaime and Cersei not being cooperative today?” Jonas teased.
“Oh my God, Papa! That was a joke!” She giggled. “Florian would murder me if I called them that.”
With that, she headed to the doorway and led the rest of her family into the living room.
Jocelyne hung back a bit from the others, Mark at her side. As they crossed the threshold into the hallway, he reached out for her hand, and gave it a small squeeze. “I love you.” He whispered before releasing her hand from his grasp. “It’s gonna be okay.”
When they joined the others in the living room, Jocelyne was the only one who did not take a seat. She could feel the rest of her family eyeing her curiously as she shuffled her feet awkwardly on the white and blue carpet.
“Um…” She muttered at last. How had her throat suddenly become so dry? “I… I guess while we’re all in here… I, uh… Should probably share some… news… with everyone.”
“What is it, honey?” Colette asked kindly, though Jocelyne did not miss the flicker of uncertainty on her mother’s face.
Maybe Papa has a point…These types of ‘family meetings’ rarely end well, do they? And everyone knew it, too.
“Well, I just w-wanted to let everyone know, that… I’m seeing someone.” The words spilled so awkwardly from her lips. “We’ve been together for a few months now, and… it’s getting pretty serious.”
“Ha! Go Joce!” Lucas cheered loudly for his sister, earning a few disapproving looks from the older members of his family.
“Hopefully he’s more interesting than that Elliot guy…” She heard Gus mutter under his breath. Jocelyne almost smiled.
Colette beamed at her daughter. “That’s great! We’re so happy for you, sweetie.”
Her father nodded in agreement, but eyed her curiously. “But… How come this is the first we’re hearing about him?” Tobi asked uncertainly.
Jocelyne’s stomach turned. “Uh, well… We just, um… decided we both wanted to wait a bit. To tell our families, I mean. And… there was a… complication? So we ended up waiting even longer…”
“Complication?” Colette’s brow furrowed.
“Y-yeah, um, I…” Oh God, how do I even explain this?!
In the end, she didn’t have to.
No one said anything for a long time.
“Ha-ha, very funny, dad.” Hazel was the first to finally speak. “Quit trying to mess with us.” Her laughter sounded so forced. “I can’t believe you roped poor Jocelyne into this one.”
“It’s not a joke.” Mark said seriously. “Jocelyne and I… We’re together.”
Jocelyne bit her lip. “We had no idea you and Luc were dating when we got together.” She assured the other girl. “We didn’t find out until Christmas… And by then… I guess it was too late.” She tried her best to smile.
Hazel did not return the gesture.
“We love each other very much.” Mark added. His voice was so stiff and formal. “And we finally felt ready to share that with the rest of you.”
For a moment, the silence returned.
Then Tobi rose to his feet, closing the distance between himself and Mark much quicker than Jocelyne had expected. “What the hell do you think you’re doing with my little girl?!” He cried in the other man’s face.
Oh God. “Please, Papa, I –”
Tobi ignored his daughter. “What kind of SICK FUCK are you?!”
Jocelyne’s eyes went wide. She’d never heard her father speak like that in front of her – ever. The girl opened her mouth to defend Mark, but was cut off by a sudden cacophony of sound. Cries of alarm and indignation filled the air from all sides.
“Let’s just calm down, okay?!”
“HEY!” Hazel practically leapt from the couch, her voice crying out louder than all the rest. “Don’t you dare talk about my dad like that!”
Mark’s expression softened slightly at his daughter’s words. “It’s okay.” He assured her. “He doesn’t mean it.” Mark looked Tobi squarely in the eyes as he spoke.
“You wanna bet, asshole?!”
Hazel stepped forward, gently nudging Tobi out of her way as she did so. “Dad… You can’t be serious about this. You can’t.”
Mark smiled sadly. “I am.”
“Jocelyne, honey…” Colette bit her lip. “This is just so… wrong. You see that, don’t you?”
She wasn’t even sure how to respond. Jocelyne felt like she was going to scream. Or burst into tears. Or punch someone… Maybe all three. She’d kept telling herself she was ready for her family’s reaction… But nothing could have prepared her for this. It was already so much worse than she imagined it would be.
“Mark, you’re a great guy… But we aren’t comfortable with this.” Colette continued seriously. “At all. This isn’t right. You can’t do this.”
“I don’t understand what everyone’s problem is!” Gus called out from his seat on the couch beside his mother. “Yeah, it’s weird. Really, really weird… Sorry, Jocelyne.” He added quickly, smiling sheepishly at her. “But why is that anyone else’s business?”
Jocelyne smiled gratefully at her little brother. “Thanks, Gus.”
“We love you, honey.” Colette addressed her daughter gently. “That’s why we care so much.”
“If you really love her, you’ll leave the poor girl alone!” Mari snapped at her daughter-in-law. “I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not entirely comfortable with this either.” She flicked her eyes toward her granddaughter apologetically for a moment. “But how is ganging-up on them like this helping?!”
“Thank you, Mama!” Clara cried. “I’ve known about this for a while…” She confessed. “And I swear to God, this is the real deal. Mark loves Jocelyne, and he makes her so happy… That should be all any of you care about!”
“I care about what’s right for my child!” Tobi replied, narrowing his eyes at his sister. “I mean, Jesus, think about how WRONG this is! Think about what people will say!”
Jonas sighed softly. “Everyone just needs to calm down, I think.” He said seriously. “This is… unconventional, to say the least.” He admitted. “I think everyone just needs some time to process this… But we’re all on your side, Jocelyne. No matter what.”
“Yeah, speak for yourself.” At last, Lucas seemed to have found his voice. “What the hell is this, Joce? Some kind of fucked up fetish or something?!”
“WHAT?! Oh my God, NO!”
“This has gotta be the most fucked up thing I’ve ever heard in my life… I mean, what happens when Hazel and I get married, huh? Does she start calling you ‘Mama’?”
“Luc, come on…”
“Yeah, dad. What are my kids gonna call you? Uncle Mark? Or Grandpa?” Hazel shook her head. “This is so messed up! You can’t do this!”
“This man is older than me, Jocelyne.” Tobi seemed to have cooled down a bit after his initial outburst, but his voice was still cold. “He could be Lucas’ future father-in-law! I’m sorry, but I can’t allow this. I won’t.”
Mark cleared his throat softly. “With all due respect… We weren’t asking for permission.” He said. “We just thought you all had a right to know what was going on.”
Jocelyne was suddenly aware of the wet warmth of tears running down her cheeks. How long had she been crying? “I can’t believe you!” She cried out to no one in particular. “I can’t believe any of you!”
Mark walked toward Jocelyne and wrapped one of his arms around her shoulders. “Jonas is right. Everyone needs some time to… process this. But I think maybe now would be a good time for us to go?” He suggested, pressing his lips gently against her forehead for a moment.
Jocelyne felt herself calm sightly at his touch. She nodded eagerly. “Let’s get out of here. Please.”
“You can’t just drop that on us and leave, dad!” Hazel cried as Lucas rose from the couch and rushed to her side.
“We’ll talk more about this later. I promise.” Mark’s voice was pained as he guided Jocelyne toward the door.
Speak for yourself. Jocelyne thought. She was done talking. Done. What was the point in trying to talk to a bunch of judgmental assholes who wouldn’t listen anyway? Who refused to show her and Mark any shred of respect? Who treated her like she was still some helpless child? Who talked about Mark like he was some dirty old man?
The thought made her sick. What kind of family could treat her this way?
They can all rot in Hell for all I care.