“Hmm… Know what?” Clara looked down at the large brown box she’d just finished sealing up.
Jocelyne glanced up from her book, staring at her aunt curiously. “What?”
“I think I’m finally done! That was the last of it!”
Jocelyne forced a smile. “That’s great.” She said, hoping she sounded sincere.
In truth, the thought that Clara would be moving out in less than twenty-four hours made her almost want to cry. Jocelyne had spent nearly two months on her own back in Falkenburg, and now, less than a week after she came back home, the one member of her family she could still stand was leaving her.
As it was, Clara was the only reason she even bothered leaving her bedroom anymore. In fact, her aunt had insisted on it. “If you’re going to wallow,” Clara had said, “At least give me a little company while you do.”
So Jocelyne obliged. And honestly, she was grateful not to be cooped up all alone in her bedroom. She liked the company, even if most of their time together was spent with Clara in front of her keyboard and Jocelyne’s nose in a book. It was comforting just to have her aunt nearby.
Clara crossed between the moving boxes to sit beside her niece on the bed. “I can’t believe it snuck up on us so fast… I’m really gonna miss you.” She said seriously.
Jocelyne nodded. “Me too.”
Now that she thought about it, Clara was the only member of the family whom Jocelyne had never lived without. Even back when they lived in separate dormitories during their first years in Falkenburg, they’d always lived within walking distance of each other. It would be so strange without her now. So lonely.
“But hey,” Clara continued, smiling, “Florian and I have that spare bedroom in our new place… And a big couch too. I know things are still rough around here…” Her face fell slightly. “So any time you wanna escape, you know who to call.”
“Thanks, Clara.” Jocelyne smiled. “Seriously.”
“Hey, what are friends for?” The purple-haired girl replied warmly as she spoke.
Before Jocelyne could reply, the sound of heavy footfalls in the hallway reached the girls’ ears.
“Oh… The guys must be back for the last round of boxes.” There was something unusual in Clara’s voice that Jocelyne could not quite place. But she said nothing.
Florian, Jonas, and Tobi had been driving back and forth with the moving van all morning while Clara watched the babies and packed up the last of the boxes. It looked like this would probably be the last trip. Jocelyne glanced up expectantly at the sound of the opening door, waiting to see Florian or her father or grandfather stepping through the doorway.
But it wasn’t them.
The look on Clara’s face said it all.
“What the hell, Clara?!” Jocelyne snapped. “Did you invite him here?!”
“I-it’s not what you think.” Clara insisted. “I just had Florian ask him to come help us move the last of the boxes. That’s all.” She sounded anything but convincing.
Lucas sighed. “We don’t have to lie to her, Clara.” His eyes turned toward his sister. “I just wanted to talk to you. Is that so terrible?”
Jocelyne said nothing. None of them did.
It was Clara who finally broke the silence. “I’m gonna take this last big box downstairs for when the guys get here. We can get the small stuff in the morning…” Her eyes flicked between her niece and nephew. “Do you mind keeping an eye on the munchkins for a few minutes?”
Jocelyne rose to her feet immediately in reply. “Why don’t I help you with the box?” She suggested. Her voice was almost pleading.
Her aunt shook her head. “Stay. I’ve got it.” She said firmly.
Clara grabbed the small handtruck, slid the box onto it, and left the room as quickly as she could.
As soon as they were alone, Lucas stepped toward his twin nervously. “Joce, look, I… I’m sorry. I really am. I just…”
Jocelyne’s entire expression darkened the moment he opened his mouth. “Can you please cut this fucking ‘guilty’ act?” She practically snarled at him. “I know why you’re here.”
His eyes went wide at her words. “Oh yeah? And why is that, exactly?”
“To gloat.” Jocelyne narrowed her eyes at him. “To remind me how you won. Just like you always do.”
“What the fuck, Joce?!” Lucas cried.
The girl just shook her head. “Don’t even try to deny it! You just wanna rub it in my face. Just admit it!”
“That’s not what I’m doing at all! Will you just listen to me?!”
“I’ve heard enough already. Just get out of here, Luc.”
“Do you even hear what you’re saying?!” He threw his hands up in exasperation. “I knew you’d be like this. I knew it!” Lucas paused, a heavy sigh passing his lips. “You’ve changed so goddamn much, Joce. It’s like I don’t even know who you are anymore! But you’ve gotta cut this shit, okay?! Shutting us out, being such a bitch all the time… This isn’t you!”
“YES IT IS!” Her shrill cry echoed throughout the empty room. Remus and River stirred in their bassinets at the sound. “This has always been me, Luc! You just never saw it… Because I was too damn afraid to actually let myself FEEL anything! So instead it was sweet, innocent Jocelyne who sits there and smiles while her whole fucking family WALKS ALL OVER HER! Poor little Jocelyne who stands by and watches while Luc gets EVERYTHING HE WANTS!” She pointed an accusing finger in his face as she continued.
“You have ALWAYS come first… Back when we were little kids, back when you started that stupid fucking band… And I was too much of a goddamn coward to speak up about it.” Jocelyne shook her head in disgust. “And now guess what?! Maman and Papa picked you again! They ALWAYS pick you over me! And now the ONE TIME that mattered most of all, they did it again!” Her throat ached and burned with every word. “And now I have NOTHING because you just HAD to win! And I am SO FUCKING SICK OF IT!”
It was a few moments before Lucas could find his voice. Jocelyne’s chest heaved with every breath and her heart raced in her chest from her outburst. She clenched her fists at her side as she waited for her brother to say something – anything.
“Joce.” He said at last. For a moment, his voice was strangely calm. “You aren’t… well.”
“All this shit you’re saying… It’s not normal. It doesn’t make any sense!” Lucas cried. “You’re delusional! It’s like you’re… unhinged or something!”
Jocelyne didn’t even bother trying to deny it. “Yeah, maybe I am!” She replied venomously. “And whose fault do you suppose that is, huh?!”
“Mark’s!” His deep voice boomed. “This is Mark’s fault! We didn’t force him to do anything, okay?! You’re mad at the wrong people!”
“Do you REALLY think he would have done this to me if weren’t for you and Hazel? Or Maman and Papa?!” Jocelyne shook her head. “You brainwashed him!”
“We didn’t do shit, Joce! Yeah, okay, maybe we didn’t keep it a secret how we felt about you guys being together, okay?” He admitted. “But… But we just wanted what was best for you. For everyone!” He cried desperately. “And we NEVER made Mark do ANYTHING. This was his choice. No one else’s.” Her brother paused for a moment. “I’m sorry you got hurt, Joce. I really, really am. But… I think it might be better this way. For all of us.” Lucas admitted. “You have to know that, right?! Obviously Mark could see it… So why can’t you?!”
Jocelyne felt her entire body trembling. How DARE he have the gall to stand there and say that to her, after everything she’d been through?! How could he be so cold? So selfish?!
“I cannot believe you! You said you don’t know who I am anymore?! Listen to yourself! My Luc would never be such a selfish fucking asshole! My Bruder would never talk to me like I’m some kind of helpless child!” Jocelyne shrieked.
“Well it’s hard not to when that’s what you’re acting like, Joce! Jesus!”
“Why don’t you just leave me alone, okay?! You’ve said what you wanted to say, now get the fuck out of here!” Jocelyne pointed toward the door.
Lucas narrowed his eyes at her. “If you’re gonna keep acting like some kind of fucking psycho-bitch then yes, gladly.”
“FUCK YOU, LUC!”
As though on cue, the bedroom door swung open, just in time for little River to start screaming.
“I’m pretty sure I asked you to keep an eye on my kids, not fucking traumatize them.” Clara sighed in annoyance as she crossed to the bassinet and lifted her daughter into her arms.
Lucas just shook his head. “Yeah, whatever. I was just leaving anyway.” He shot his sister one last glare and left the room without another word.
“So…” Clara began nervously as she returned River to her bassinet. “I’m guessing it didn’t go well…”
“What the hell were you and Florian thinking inviting him here?!” Jocelyne snapped.
Her aunt shrugged helplessly. “It was a mistake, okay? I admit it, I just…” Clara sighed. “I’m worried about you.” She admitted. “I know you’re hurting. I know everyone was unfair to you, but… They’re still your family. And they’re my family too. I can’t stand seeing you hate them like this. And I thought maybe if you talked to each other, you could…”
Jocelyne’s eyes widened. “You’re just as bad as they are!” She snapped. “It’s none of your business how I feel, Clara!”
“I know, I know!” Clara raised her hands almost defensively. “It’s just killing me to see my family torn apart like this. Can’t you understand that?”
Her niece said nothing for a few moments. Give her a break. A small voice in the back of her mind seemed to say. She means well. She’s on your side. At last, she opened her mouth to speak.
“I get it. I really do. And I’m sorry you’re caught in the middle of this whole thing.” Jocelyne said seriously. “I’m… I’m sure things will get better someday.” She lied. “It’ll just take a while.” Probably forever.
“I know. But you’ll get there, Jocelyne.” Clara smiled gently at her. “And I really should have told you I invited Lucas over. That was so shitty of me, and obviously it just made things worse… I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I know you were just trying to help.” Jocelyne tried to return her aunt’s smile. “Look… I’m not exactly feeling the best right now…” Her voice was apologetic. “So I’m gonna go lay down for a little while, okay?” She asked softly. “Unless you need more help in here…”
Clara nodded in understanding. “Nah, I’ve got it covered. You go rest.”
With a tiny, forced smile, Jocelyne headed for the door.