Mark closed his eyes, breathing in the unique scent of newborn baby. A small smile came to his lips as he pulled away, looking down at the infant he held in his arms. He hadn’t held a baby so small since Hazel was born, nearly twenty-four years ago. And now she had a baby of her own. Where had the time gone?
His grandson wriggled gently in his arms, blinking up at him with his big blue eyes. He was only a few weeks old, but little Zayne already had the entire family wrapped around his little finger – and his grandfather was no exception.
He’s perfect. Mark thought happily.
He returned the wriggling baby back to his bassinet just in time to hear the opening of the nursery door.
“Hey, dad.” Hazel smiled. “Sorry to interrupt… Lucas says dinner’s gonna be ready in a few minutes.” Her eyes flicked down at her son and her smile grew. “And this little guy will be wanting his dinner soon too.”
Mark returned his daughter’s smile. He could take a hint – He knew she’d want a bit of privacy. “Alright, I’ll head down. Though I’m wondering whether or not I should prepare myself… You said Lucas did the cooking, right?” He teased.
Hazel laughed brightly. “He did! He’s been so good about it, ever since he got home. I don’t think I’ve lifted a finger in the kitchen in a month.”
Mark was relieved to hear that his daughter was being taken care of – though with Lucas as his son-in-law, he knew he had nothing to worry about. Florian and Lucas had timed their latest tour so that they returned just in time for Zayne’s birth. And from the sound of it, Lucas had been waiting on Hazel hand-and-foot ever since.
“So no need to have the Poison Control center on speed dial?” Mark asked with a small laugh. “I mean, you seem to have survived so far…”
“Dad, please. You’ve eaten my cooking and lived to tell the tale. You’ll be fine.” She rolled her eyes, but kept her smile.
“Fair enough… I’ll go see if the chef needs some help.” He gave his daughter one last smile, then headed downstairs to join his son-in-law.
Lucas was standing by the stove, stirring a large pot of sauce as his father-in-law entered the room “Hey, Mark.” He smiled.
“Smells pretty good in here…” The older man drew closer to the stove, intrigued.
“Thanks! But we’ll see… Hopefully it tastes as good as it smells… I mean, I made this for Hazel last week and she said it was pretty good.” Lucas shrugged.
Mark’s voice was teasing. “Well, now that I’m living here in Windenburg, maybe you two should start inviting me for dinner more often!”
“Shhh! Keep it down or Hazel might hear!” Lucas scolded playfully. “She’s already threatening to invite Onkel Stefan and Grandpa Josh for dinner next week.”
Mark’s smile flickered for a moment. “Oh… Your family’s visiting, then?” Mark tried to keep his voice as casual as he could.
His son-in-law nodded as he transferred the hot food to a serving platter. “They’re flying in tomorrow, I think. We’re so excited for them to finally meet Zayne.” He beamed.
Mark nodded. “So… just your uncle and grandfather? They aren’t bringing… the kids or anything?” Mark knew that his tone of voice would give him away instantly.
And sure enough, the smile vanished from Lucas’ face. “I know what you’re trying to ask.” He sighed. “And no… She’s not coming. You know she never does.”
The older man’s face fell. He dropped his cheerful façade almost instantly.
“How is she?” Mark’s voice was very small. “Is she… okay?”
It was the first time he’d mentioned Jocelyne to her brother since well before the wedding. And that was already over a year ago. Mark winced inwardly at the thought. The memories of that night still pained him, and brought back so much guilt and shame. It had been months before he’d even been able to face Hazel and Lucas again, let alone mention Jocelyne.
But he still thought of her, still wondered about her, every single day.
Lucas simply shrugged at Mark’s question, his discomfort apparent on his face. “I guess she’s fine?” He said uncertainly. “I mean, it’s not like she talks to me. The most interaction we have these days is ‘liking’ each other’s posts on Facebook.” There was a sudden bitter edge to his voice as he spoke.
Mark knew he’d hit a sore spot – Hazel had told her father all about Lucas’ countless attempts to contact his sister and apologize. Dozens of emails and letters, all left unanswered. Phone calls sent straight to voicemail. Conversations Jocelyne practically ran from during the rare moments he saw her face-to-face.
He was quite persistent for the first couple of years, but his sister refused to budge. It wasn’t until after he’d finally given up on apologizing that Jocelyne had been convinced to accept his Facebook friend request. And after what had happened at the wedding… Well, Mark knew it was a huge setback to what little progress they’d made.
Still, he could not help himself… He needed to know more, if he could. “Do you know if she’s still working at the restaurant?” Mark asked softly. “How are the babies doing?”
Lucas sighed in frustration. “Y’know Mark, if you really want to know, you can pick up the phone and call her. Or send her an email. Or hell, even hop on a plane and go visit if you want. There’s nothing stopping you!” He cried. “Definitely not me or Hazel. We’ve talked about this…”
And it was true – They’d had this conversation more than once, long before the disastrous wedding last spring. It was the same conversation Lucas had been trying and failing to have with his sister for years.
It took some time for them to come around… especially his son-in-law. But at long last, Hazel and Lucas had apologized to Mark for the way they’d behaved when he and Jocelyne were together. They’d acknowledged their part of the blame in the breakup. They’d expressed regret at how they’d handled things. They’d promised not to interfere if Jocelyne and Mark ever tried to get back together.
It was an apology Mark gratefully accepted.
But he knew they’d never have to make good on their promise. Because he and Jocelyne would never be together again. It was too late.
Mark shook his head. “You know I can’t do that. You know why I won’t.” It was another conversation they’d had too many times. “Especially not after… what happened.” He cleared his throat uncomfortably. It was the first time he’d referenced the night of the wedding in months.
How could he ever face Jocelyne again after what happened? What was he to her now, but a painful reminder of her past mistakes?
He’d broken her heart. He’d rejected her not once, but twice. He’d been responsible for her breaking up with Elliot. He’d caused her so much pain.
Jocelyne had a life in Willow Creek now. Three beautiful babies. A job. A home. A future.
One he didn’t deserve to be a part of.
Lucas sighed, calling Mark back to the present. “It’d be so much easier if you did…” He muttered. “Maybe she’d forgive me. Maybe she’d finally start talking to me again.”
Mark shook his head. “I don’t think it’s that simple.” He said softly. “You know Jocelyne… She’s a stubborn one.” For a moment, he almost laughed.
“She didn’t used to be.” Lucas’ voice was pained. “She was never like this before…”
“I know she wasn’t…” Mark shrugged helplessly. “But people change, Lucas.”
“Yeah… I know.”
His son-in-law was silent for a long time. Mark couldn’t help but wish he were able to see inside the young man’s head.
At last, Lucas broke the silence, his demeanor so different than it had been a few moments before.
“Well, like I said, I don’t know much first-hand, but if you’re looking for an update on Joce…Clara told me she got promoted to assistant manager at the restaurant a few weeks ago.” He smiled softly. “And last night she posted this super cute video on Facebook. The babies are taking their first steps, I guess.”
“They’re walking?!” Mark cried excitedly, remembering how small and sweet the triplets had been at the wedding. Time really flies, doesn’t it?
Lucas nodded, his smile widening. “Poor Joce… Those rugrats are gonna give her a run for her money. But I guess if anyone can handle it, she can.”
Though the young man smiled, Mark felt a strange sadness wash over him at the sight of Lucas’ face. He misses her so much… He realized. Just like me.
Lucas retrieved his phone from his pocket, beckoning his father-in-law closer to him. “I can pull up the video… Do you wanna see?” He offered.
Mark nodded eagerly. “I’d love to.”