Jocelyne smiled excitedly as the front door swung open and a trio of sweet little faces came into view. Right on time. She thought as they raced toward her, each one eager to give their mother a hug.
It had been a pleasant surprise when Elliot told her he’d be swinging by with the kids that morning. He’d offered to give up his weekend so she could spend her birthday with them, but Jocelyne was scheduled to work that afternoon anyway – she simply couldn’t justify asking for the extra time off. Money had been extra-tight recently.
“Happy Birthday, Mommy!” Tony practically leapt into Jocelyne’s arms. “Guess what?! Alex drew you a picture and Charlie made you a teapot! And Daddy took me to the store and helped me pick out some really pretty perfume for you!”
“Shhhhh!” Alex scolded angrily. “It’s ‘posed to be secret!”
Charlie just beamed. “Surprise!”
“Alright, next stop, SuperKids 3!” Elliot smiled warmly at his children. “Go wait in the car and I’ll be right there, okay?”
“I love you, Mommy!”
The triplets’ cries of goodbye mingled together into a cacophony of sweet voices as they raced out the door.
Jocelyne beamed as she watched them go. They’re growing up so fast… God, I feel old! Chuckling to herself, she turned her attention to Elliot.
“Thank you.” She said sincerely. “Seriously, you didn’t have to do this.”
“It was nothing.” Elliot shrugged. “It seemed like the right thing to do… It just feels wrong for you to not get to see the kids on your birthday.” He explained. “And you know I would have let you have them this weekend, right?” For a moment, he looked almost guilty. “I’m sorry you couldn’t take the time off…”
Jocelyne shook her head. “It’s fine. ‘No rest for the weary’, right?”
“Yeah… I guess.” Elliot’s smile seemed so forced. “Well, Happy Birthday, Jocelyne. I hope it’s a good one.”
“Thanks.” She replied softly. “Have fun at the movies.”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “Fun? Did you not hear the title? SuperKids… 3! Because two 90-minute long torture sessions were clearly not enough…”
“See you Sunday, Elliot.” Jocelyne smiled at him as her laughter finally died away.
Jocelyne glanced down at the clock on her phone. She still had another hour to kill before she had to leave for work.
She knew better than to pick up a book – she wouldn’t be able to pull herself away in time for her shift. Of that she was certain. Maybe there’s something good on… Jocelyne turned on the television and began flipping through the channels.
As predicted, there was nothing good. Long, droning news broadcasts. A baseball game she had no interest in. An old rerun of her favorite sitcom.
Jocelyne felt her stomach drop as she flipped by an old familiar scene from Moonlight Massacre. Even after all these years, she couldn’t stand any mention of that film. With a small sigh of annoyance, she turned off the TV.
Well that was a bust. The woman thought bitterly. What now? How else was she supposed to kill time before she got ready for work?
As though on cue, Jocelyne felt a gentle vibration in her right pocket. For a moment, she wondered who it might be. A telemarketer? Elliot? Her boss? Or maybe it was Gus or her parents, calling to wish her a happy birthday…
She pulled her phone from her pocket and glanced down at the caller ID.
Jocelyne felt a rush of emotions at the sight of her twin’s name – Curiosity. Anger. Guilt. Fear.
She couldn’t even remember the last time he’d called her. Definitely not since she’d first left home all those years ago. At first, he’d been relentless in his attempts to contact her. He wanted to explain himself, Clara had told her. He was trying to apologize. Make amends.
But she’d had to take her aunt’s word for it. Jocelyne never listened to a single voicemail, or read a single email. She’d deleted them all. It wouldn’t have changed anything, would it? The damage had already been done.
Still, a part of her always wanted to know what he’d said. How had he tried to explain himself? What did he think he could say to make her forgive him? She’d never know. But she’d always wonder.
Against her better judgement, Jocelyne touched her finger to the screen and lifted the phone to her ear. “Hello?”
“Hey, Joce.” Lucas said softly. “I hope this isn’t a bad time… This timezone thing still fucks with my head.” He laughed.
“It’s fine.” She replied uncomfortably. “W-what’s up?”
“You don’t know? Wow, I hope you haven’t forgotten what day it is…” His cheerfulness sounded so forced. “Happy Birthday!”
Jocelyne almost laughed, despite herself. How could she not have guessed? Still… he’d never called her on their birthday before. “Thanks, you too.” She replied at last. “I guess I’m just a little surprised. I figured our generic ‘Happy Birthday!’ messages on Facebook were a tradition or something by now.”
“Well, we don’t turn thirty every day.” Her brother replied. She could hear the smile in his voice. “How the hell did we get so old?” Lucas wondered aloud.
“No clue.” Jocelyne said softly. She fell silent then.
This was the part she hated – the uncomfortable, forced small talk. Exchanging pleasantries. Pretending everything was okay. At least during the holidays she had time to prepare herself for the awkwardness of speaking to her twin. Today, she didn’t have that luxury.
“So… Any big plans tonight?” Lucas finally broke the silence. “Florian and Clara are taking me and Hazel out for drinks while maman and Papa watch Zayne… Kind of celebrating for Clara, too.”
Jocelyne nodded. Their aunt’s own 30th birthday was in less than two weeks. “Sounds fun.” She replied uncomfortably. “Nothing special planned around here though… I’m actually leaving for work in a little bit. Elliot’s got the kiddos this weekend.”
“Oh.” Lucas’ own discomfort was apparent in his tone. “I didn’t mean to bug you while you were trying to get ready or anything…”
There was a beat of silence. “I guess I’d better let you go, then.”
“Yeah.” Jocelyne replied lamely. She said nothing for a few moments. God, this is so fucking awkward. “Um… Well… Thanks for calling. That was nice.”
“Yeah.” Lucas agreed.
Neither one of them spoke for a long time.
“So… I kinda need to go.” Jocelyne mumbled. “Bye, Luc.”
“I… I just wanted you to know… That I love you, Joce.” Lucas’ voice was pained. “And I miss you. So much.”
There were so many things Jocelyne longed to say in return. She wanted to tell him how much she missed him too. How sorry she was for shutting him out for all this time. How much guilt she still carried with her for ruining his wedding six years ago. How angry and hurt she still felt at him and Hazel, even after all these years.
And how much she still loved him, despite it all.
But she didn’t.
“…Happy Birthday, Luc.” Jocelyne whispered.
She could hear him take a slow breath, as though bracing himself for something. “Joce, look. I –”
Jocelyne hung up before he could say another word.