Zayne’s breaths were slow and even as Mark carefully rose from the bed, taking great care not to wake the little boy.
He hesitated for just a moment as he reached the bedroom door. The moon’s soft glow crept in from the window, bathing the large portrait of Zayne and his parents in a dim light. Mark’s eyes traced his daughter’s figure, pressed so closely to her husband and looking down so lovingly at her son.
I love you, honey. I miss you so much. He closed his eyes for a moment. And I’m doing the best I can for Zayne. We all are. I promise.
“Is he asleep?”
Mark was surprised to find Jocelyne pacing back and forth outside the bedroom door when he emerged. How long had she been out there?
He nodded. “It took a while, but he calmed down and let me put him to bed.”
“And… how was he?” She asked nervously. “Once he’d calmed down?”
A soft sigh escaped Mark’s lips. “He feels terrible…. Wouldn’t stop apologizing… He thinks he ruined Christmas.”
Jocelyne dropped her face into one of her hands. “Jesus. The poor kid. This was all my fault. Every year Elliot and I tell the girls to ‘write’ to Santa… I just wanted Zayne to be included too.” She shrugged helplessly. “It was just a bunch of scribbles. If I’d known what he’d written, I would’ve –”
“I know.” Mark interrupted gently. “Don’t beat yourself up over it, okay? Zayne’s been unpredictable these past few months. There was no way to know this would happen.”
It was still painful to remember Zayne’s meltdown from earlier that evening. It was probably one of the worst he’d ever had. Christmas had been painful for all of them, and they’d known Zayne would be no exception. But when the little boy discovered that Santa did not grant his Christmas wish of bringing his parents back, everything fell hopelessly apart. He cried, he screamed, he threw things, and finally sprinted up the stairs to hide in his bedroom.
“Thank God for you, Mark.” Jocelyne said seriously, breaking the silence. “I don’t know what we would have done without you. You’re the only one he’d listen to.”
“Yes… And I haven’t the slightest idea why.” For a moment, he almost laughed.
Jocelyne, Mari and Jonas, Colette, Clara and Florian, Gus… They’d all tried so hard to get through to Zayne, but he simply would not listen. Not until Mark sat with him. He couldn’t help but wonder if he’d simply gotten lucky. Maybe by the time I got in there, he’d started calming down on his own. He wondered.
But no matter what the reason, Mark was just grateful it was over.
“Did everyone else clear out while I was in there?” Mark continued.
Jocelyne nodded. “Oma and Opa helped Elliot tuck the girls in, then headed off to bed. Remi and River were getting tired, so Clara and Florian took them home. Noah has to work tomorrow so he went home with Gus a little while ago. Elliot left a few minutes ago…” She paused for a moment, sighing. “And maman’s helping put Papa to bed.”
Mark’s face fell at the mention of Jocelyne’s father. By the time Zayne had his meltdown, Tobi was in no state to help. He’d been throwing back drinks all day, from what Jocelyne had told him. And as the evening wore on, it became clear that she was not exaggerating. The thought both saddened and worried him… In all the years he’d known him, Mark had never seen Tobi have more than a beer or two at dinner.
“Jocelyne… someone has to talk to him about this.” He replied softly. “I mean… This isn’t the first time, right?”
Jocelyne shook her head. “It’s only been a handful of times, but… yeah. There are bad days. And believe me, we’ve been trying to talk to him. But you know my Papa.” She sighed. “You know he won’t listen.”
Mark nodded. Unfortunately, she was right. “Well, I guess this won’t be topping any of our ‘best Christmas’ lists, huh?” He managed a small smile, trying to lighten the mood.
To his relief, it seemed to work. “Yeah, definitely not.” Jocelyne returned his smile. “But I guess it could have been worse, all things considered… We knew this would be a hard one.”
“Yeah, we did…” Mark shook his head. “Y’know, all night, I just kept waiting for the doorbell to ring. Something in me just kept expecting them to show up at the door…”
Jocelyne’s smile faded. “Me too.”
She reached forward with a small white hand, her fingers almost coming to rest on Mark’s shoulder. But before they could, she pulled away, clearing her throat softly.
“It’s getting pretty late.” She continued. “And we’ve all had a long day. You’ll probably want to head home soon…”
He nodded slowly. “You’re right… But… I did have something I wanted to give you first. I didn’t get a chance to before.” He beckoned for her to follow him, then headed back downstairs to the living room.
“It’s nothing special.” He assured her as he watched her open the box. “Just some old books I thought you might like. Back when you were at school, I remember you mentioning a few classics you hadn’t had the chance to read…”
Jocelyne laughed softly as she examined the covers of the books in front of her. “I remember… And I also remember almost giving you a heart attack when I told you.”
Mark’s smile widened. “Hey, there are some books it should be a CRIME not to read, Jocelyne.”
“Yeah, according to you.” She teased.
“And countless scholars around the world.” Mark insisted.
“Seriously though… This is very sweet. Thank you.” She smiled at him for a moment. “But I’m not sure if I can really accept…”
Mark’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”
She bit her lip before speaking again. “I just… I think you need to stop this.”
“I know what you’re trying to do. You’ve been doing it ever since I moved back home…” Jocelyne shook her head slowly. “But it’s not that easy. We can’t do this, Mark. We can’t go back to how things used to be.”
There was a sudden heaviness in Mark’s chest. Had he truly been that obvious? Had he really managed to reveal his feelings so easily? There’s no point in denying it now, is there? Still, she had it all wrong. And he needed her to understand.
“Jocelyne… I don’t want us to go back to how things were before.” He explained gently. “We shouldn’t. And we can’t. We’re not the same people we used to be. I know that, you know that…” Mark paused for a moment. “What I want is a chance to start over.” He said at last.
He nodded. “Back to square one. No expectations. No rushing into anything. Just… a second chance. For both of us.” His voice shook nervously as he spoke.
It felt like an eternity before she replied. Mark felt his heart racing in his chest as he waited for her to say something – anything.
At last, she opened her mouth to speak. “No.”
“W-what?! But… Jocelyne, I –”
“It’s too late now. You know that.”
“Jocelyne, it’s never too late.” Mark replied almost desperately. “Just one chance. That’s all I’m asking for.”
Jocelyne shook her head slowly, her expression suddenly darkening. “And what the hell do you think you’re doing anyway? What, now that Hazel and Luc are out of the way, I’m fair game again?”
“WHAT?!” Mark felt his neck burning as a rush of anger bubbled up inside of him. “How can you even SAY that?!”
“Well it’s true, isn’t it? Six fucking years you could have picked up the phone, Mark. But you never did. And now that Luc and Hazel aren’t standing in our way – now that it’s convenient for you – you come crawling back to me?!”
“It’s not like that at all!” Mark cried. “I wanted you to move on, okay? I knew I hurt you. I knew I didn’t deserve you, so I tried to let you go. But when I saw you again at the memorial… That night we spent together…” He left the thought unfinished. “You can’t tell me you didn’t feel it too.”
“It doesn’t matter how I felt!” Jocelyne threw her hands up in frustration. “I don’t have time to play these games with you anymore, Mark. You’re right. I am a different person than I was. I’m not a little girl anymore.” She shook her head. “You’re Zayne’s grandfather. You’re going to be part of my life now. I’ve accepted that. But I won’t let you pull this shit with me. I won’t let us fall into the same mistakes all over again.”
“B-but I –”
“Look, it’s been a long day for both of us. We’re tired. We’re stressed.” She interrupted him abruptly, her voice curt and cold. “You need to go before one of us says something we’re going to regret, okay?”
“Goodbye, Mark.” She rose to her feet, turning away from him. “Merry Christmas.”