“Hmm…” Hazel peered uncertainly at the half-empty canvas in front of her. She wasn’t entirely satisfied with how her painting was turning out… But it was too late to make any drastic changes now.
Maybe I need to wait. She told herself. Maybe it’ll be better tomorrow, when I can look at it with fresh eyes. That was the advice her father had always given her about her artwork.
Hazel had been terribly distracted all day anyway, dreading what was to come that evening. She pulled her cellphone from her pocket, glancing at the time. Oh God, any minute now… Where had the hours gone?
She headed toward the bedroom, trying to smile. “Lucas?” She called. “Did you check the casserole?”
“Yeah, babe. It was fine.” He set his guitar down and joined Hazel in the living room, smiling warmly at her. “Smells delicious.”
“You are the worst liar on the planet.” Hazel couldn’t help but laugh as she planted a soft kiss on his cheek. “But thanks for the encouragement. Good thing Dad already knows not to expect much…”
The smile on Lucas’ face wavered at her words. “I’m still not sure if inviting him over was the best idea…”
As much as she hated to admit it, Hazel couldn’t help but agree. She’d spend the entire day worrying about it, and questioning whether she should have invited him in the first place.
“He’s my dad.” She said at last. “We can’t ignore him forever just because…” Hazel left the thought unfinished.
“Because he’s banging my Schwester?” Lucas suggested. He did not smile as he spoke.
Hazel shook her head. “Don’t. Please.”
“Sorry. That was super shitty of me.” Lucas sighed sadly. “I just…”
Lucas was still struggling, just like she was. He’d tried so many times to talk to Jocelyne. To apologize for his outburst. To try to explain himself.
But she refused to speak to him. And that just made things worse.
Her boyfriend was silent for a moment. “Hazel.” He said at last. “What are we gonna do?”
Hazel bit her lip. It was an excellent question – one she was still unsure of herself. “The same thing we’ve been doing, I guess.” She shrugged. “Let them know what we think, and hope one of them comes to their senses…”
The young woman couldn’t help a small twinge of guilt. It had been years since her father had been in a serious relationship – let alone one that made him as happy as being with Jocelyne did. Hazel loved seeing her father so happy. She just wished it could be with someone — anyone — else.
What did her dad think he was doing with a girl half his age? Didn’t he realize all the risks? Couldn’t he see what it could do to his reputation? His job?
Didn’t he care how this affected his own daughter?
Sometimes she wondered if it would feel different if Jocelyne were Lucas’ older sister. Would it change anything? Make it less awkward? Or what if Jocelyne wasn’t even related to Lucas at all? Which was worse? Jocelyne’s age? Or her connection to Lucas?
Hazel would never know for sure.
The sound of the doorbell called the girl back to the present. “He’s here.” She muttered. “Shit.” Hazel took a deep breath, then turned and opened the heavy front door.
Hazel couldn’t help smiling as her father pulled her into a warm hug. She hadn’t seen him since that horrible evening at Lucas’ parents’ house. She’d missed him. Terribly.
“Hi, Daddy.” She replied softly, pulling away from him.
Mark’s smile faded as he turned his gaze toward the young man at his daughter’s side. “It’s good to see you, Lucas.” He said.
Lucas nodded uncomfortably. “We’re glad you could make it.” His voice and body language exuded anything but happiness.
“Traffic was tricky.” The older man admitted. “I would have left a little earlier, but Joc –” Mark cleared his throat suddenly. “I was busy.”
An uncomfortable silence fell over them then. And so it begins… Hazel had really hoped they could go at least a few minutes before things started getting awkward. They’d barely even made it through one.
Beep… Beep… Beep…
Hazel had never been so relieved to hear the kitchen timer in her life. “Dinner must be ready.” She said, forcing a smile. “Dad, do you mind helping set the table?”
Mark’s smile was just as forced as hers. “I’m on it.”
As predicted, the taco casserole was not very good… But it wasn’t completely inedible either, so Hazel counted it as a win.
Her father and Lucas teased her about it, of course… Something for which she was actually quite grateful – Seeing the two of them laughing together warmed her heart, and eased much of the tension at the dinner table.
For a little while, things felt so normal. She was just a normal twenty-year-old having a normal dinner with her two favorite people in the world.
Too bad it couldn’t last.
“Mark.” Lucas said softly as they’d finished eating. “There’s, uh… Something Hazel and I have been wanting to talk to you about. That’s part of why we invited you over, actually…”
Hazel felt her heart sink. Did he have to bring it up so soon? There was no going back now.
The older man simply sighed. “This is about Jocelyne and I, isn’t it.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Well… Yes and no.” Hazel glanced sideways at Lucas, waiting for him to speak.
At last, he did. “Hazel and I are getting married.”
Mark’s eyes went wide. Clearly that had not been what he was expecting.
“Nothing’s official yet.” Hazel assured her father. “There’s no date or anything. We don’t even have a ring. But… we’ve been talking about it. A lot.”
“We know it seems like we’re moving way too fast.” Lucas almost laughed. “But it feels right. We love each other.”
Mark nodded slowly. “I understand. And I’m happy for both of you.” He smiled. “I know you’ll take good care of my little girl.” He said seriously, turning toward his future son-in-law. “You’ve been doing a hell of a good job so far.”
To Hazel’s surprise, Lucas returned her father’s smile. “Thank you.”
A deep breath passed Hazel’s lips. Time for the hard part. “But… Daddy. Before we take the next step, we… we want to… resolve something. Something really important.”
Mark just sighed. Hazel knew she didn’t even have to explain. “We’ve had this conversation so many times already.” He sounded almost tired.
“Apparently not enough.” Lucas’ smile had vanished from his face. “How much longer are you planning on keeping this up?”
Mark narrowed his eyes slightly. “If by ‘this’ you mean loving your Schwester… Until the day I die. Which, with any luck, will not be for many years.”
“Hazel, let me ask you something. You too, Lucas.” Mark paused for a moment. “How would you feel if I asked the two of you to end things? If I constantly insulted your relationship? If I tried to force you apart?”
“Dad, no one’s trying to ‘force’ anything!” Hazel insisted. “We can’t stop you. We know that… We just want you to…” She hesitated, searching for the right words. “Come to your senses.”
Mark opened his mouth, and appeared to be trying to form a reply. But Lucas beat him to it.
“You love Joce.” He said. “I can accept that now, okay? But Mark, just… Just think about this. Think about how this affects you, and Joce… and Hazel, too.”
“I have thought about it.” Mark replied. His voice was almost pained. “Much more than you probably think.”
“Then you get it, don’t you?” Hazel asked sadly.
“Come on, Mark.” Lucas sighed. “How often do these types of things even work out anyway? What happens when you get bored with my Schwester, huh? Or when you realize you’re too different, and you don’t want the same things. Or when Joce decides she wants someone her own age? O-or… Or when it’s just too weird for both of you to keep doing this?!”
“That won’t happen.” Mark’s voice was cold. “I assure you.”
“Okay, and maybe it won’t…” Hazel bit her lip. “But Daddy, don’t you know what people must think of you? Of Jocelyne?”
“Of course I know!” Mark snapped at her. “I’m not an idiot, Hazel!” He paused to collect himself before continuing. “Jocelyne and I have talked about it. And we’ve decided that none of it matters. We don’t care what anyone else thinks.” He said firmly.
“What about me? Don’t you care what I think?”
“Hazel, don’t do this.” Mark rubbed his temples for a moment. “Please.”
“With all due respect, Mark…” At last, Lucas spoke again. “It’s great that you and Joce don’t care. But Hazel and I? We do. We care. And not just for our sakes. What about our future children? Or what if you and Joce have kids someday?” He looked almost disgusted at the thought. “This affects so much more than just the two of you. I wish you could see that.”
“You and Jocelyne love each other. We know that.” Hazel chimed in softly. “But this just isn’t something I can ever be comfortable with….” She shook her head sadly. “I feel like this is all gonna be a mistake. Like you’re gonna get hurt.” The girl said seriously. “And honestly dad, I’m worried about what this while thing could do to you and me. I don’t want this to tear us apart, Daddy. Haven’t you seen what this did to Jocelyne and her family?” Hazel’s voice trembled.
Without warning, Mark rose to his feet. His entire body was trembling, but Hazel could not be sure if it was from anger, or something else. “Thank you for dinner.” He said. His voice was so cold. “But I really should be heading home.”
“Dad, don’t go.” Hazel felt tears welling up in her eyes as she spoke. “We can talk about this, okay? I just… Lucas and I can’t help how we feel, Daddy. This is killing me. And I’m sorry.”
Mark simply turned away from her. “Yeah.” His voice was thick. “Me too.”