Jocelyne took a slow, deep breath. Don’t yell. She told herself firmly. Don’t make it worse.
Unfortunately her father was making that task much easier said than done. “It’s not hurting anyone, Jocelyne.” Tobi repeated. “I’ve told your mother. I’ve told my mother… You’re all making this so much bigger than it is. So please, just mind your own business, okay?!” He snapped at her.
“It is hurting someone, Papa.” Jocelyne fought to keep her voice steady. “You. And for your information, it is my business. It’s my business whether my children see their grandfather like this! This needs to stop.”
“Don’t tell me what to do!” Tobi narrowed his eyes at her. “I am your father. And I’m telling you, I’m fine.”
Jocelyne turned away from him, disgusted. “You’re not.” She headed back to the entryway without another word.
“Alright, who’s ready to go?” Jocelyne smiled brightly at her children, quietly tucking away her sadness and discomfort.
Charlie pouted slightly. “I guess Opa’s not comin’…”
“’Course he’s not.” Alex shook her head. “You heard how mad Mommy was…”
“Alright girls, let’s get you ready to go.” Jonas cut in, his voice a bit louder than necessary.
Jocelyne sighed to herself. She’d planned on inviting her father to join them on their outing to the carnival that afternoon, but when she’d found him with a beer in his hands, things went downhill rather quickly.
If it was anyone else, a single beer at 2:30 in the afternoon would be nothing. But Jocelyne knew immediately where that one beer would lead. She’d seen it too many times before.
“Have fun.” Mari smiled gently at her great-grandchildren. “Tell your Tante Clara we say hello.”
“We will!” Tony promised.
Jonas bent down to give the girls hugs. “And bring back some popcorn for Onkel Gus, okay? That’ll be a nice surprise for when he gets back from work tonight.”
“See you tonight, Honey.” Jonas smiled at his granddaughter as he pulled her into a tight hug. “And try not to worry about your father, okay?” He whispered. “We’re working on him. I promise.”
Jocelyne sighed. “I know.”
Jocelyne and the girls did not have to wait long at the carnival’s entrance before finding Clara, Florian, and the twins running over to them. Thankfully, Mark happened to arrive with Zayne at around the same time.
“Nice timing.” Florian smiled as Mark drew closer to the little group.
Charlie raced forward excitedly at her cousin’s approach. “You… fun… with grandfather weekend?” She asked Zayne in slow, broken German.
The little boy nodded excitedly. “Yeah! We went to the movies and played lotsa games an’ we went to the park and I played on the playground! I climbed ALL the way ‘cross the monkey bars ALL by myself!” Zayne beamed at her.
Charlie just stared blankly at him. “Um…”
River stepped forward, smiling. “He went to the park and saw a movie.” She explained slowly.
“Oh!” Charlie smiled in understanding. “Fun!”
Jocelyne laughed softly to herself. She loved seeing her girls adjust to speaking German. If only Zayne could learn to slow down a bit so his cousins could keep up.
“No Elliot?” Clara asked, looking around for a moment.
Jocelyne shook her head. “I invited him, but he had a project he was finishing up for work. He’s really loving his job.” She smiled. “But it’s a lot of work too.”
Her aunt nodded in understanding. “I had a feeling he was busy. I know Auggy is too… Oh well, more overpriced carnival food for us, right?” She winked.
The other woman giggled, glancing down at the children. The mention of sweets had their eyes lighting up already. “Yes, more for us… Assuming we can fight these little rascals for it.” She teased.
All of the adults watched in amusement as the children raced forward, eager to begin their evening of fun and games.
Their first stop was the carousel. After a bit of drama over finding the right spots, all six of the children had their mounts and were ready to ride.
“Hi Mama! Hi Papa!” “Grandpa, look!” “Mommy, Mommy!” Their cries mingled in the air with the shouts of the other children every time they made the trip around. They were practically bouncing in their seats, giggling and waving and trying their best to show off. The adults laughed heartily, waving and blowing kisses to the children until their arms grew too tired.
Next they stopped for ice cream in one of the overpriced little cafes the park had to offer. Jocelyne felt it was still too cold for ice cream, no matter how unseasonably warm the evening was. But how could they say no? The answer, of course, was that they couldn’t.
As the children raced off to explore the pirate ship, the adults stood back and watched, finishing their ice cream cones. Jocelyne’s eyes lingered on Zayne’s scarred little face, smiling and laughing without a care in the world. It had been a long time since she’d seen him so happy. Too long.
“It’s great seeing them like this, isn’t it?” Jocelyne asked the others with a smile. “We’ve gotta get them all together more often.”
Clara nodded in agreement. “We really do. I promise we haven’t meant to be so MIA lately… things have just been so busy getting ready for the new munchkin.” She placed a hand on her belly for a moment as she spoke.
The other woman smiled. “I get it.” She replied. “And I know things with the blog have been busy too…”
To her surprise, Mark chimed-in. “I noticed the new site layout the other day, Clara.” He said kindly. “It looks great.”
Clara’s eyes widened. “You read my blog?”
“Doesn’t everyone?” He laughed heartily.
Jocelyne watched with great amusement as Clara’s cheeks reddened. She’d always been rather shy about her celebrity.
“He’s got a point, babe.” Florian nudged his wife playfully. “How many Twitter followers do you have now? Like a million?”
“Two million.” Clara mumbled, much to the amusement of the others.
“I won’t even ask how many hits your blog gets every day.” Jocelyne teased.
She paused for a moment then, thoughtful. She could still remember a time when she’d scoffed at Clara’s ‘silly blog’, and believed that she was the one destined for fame and fortune one day. Yet here she was – single, raising four children, working at a restaurant, and living in her parents’ home. And Clara? Married to a rockstar, happily expecting a new baby, running a famous blog, and living in the lap of luxury.
You never know where life will take you, I guess… Jocelyne sighed. For a moment, she thought of Luc. She did her best to will her sadness away.
Jocelyne soon found herself called back to the present by the appearance of an unfamiliar figure approaching the group, smiling happily.
“Mark? Hi!” The older woman waved cheerfully in his direction. “Long time no see!”
“Hey Angela!” Mark laughed. “Fancy meeting you here!”
“I’m here with my niece and her son.” She explained. “They’re over on the bumper cars… And that must be little Zayne over there?” The woman nodded toward the redheaded boy on the pirate ship.
He smiled warmly. “Yup, that’s him. Playing with his cousins.”
Jocelyne eyed this “Angela” curiously as Mark continued speaking with her. She was mature and confident. She held herself well. And the way she was looking at Mark…
“Well, I’ll let you go.” Angela said at last, finally stepping away from them. “It was really nice to see you, Mark.”
As the woman left, Jocelyne stepped toward Mark, raising an eyebrow at him. “Angela?”
“Oh, uh, yeah.” A small nervous laugh escaped his lips. “Sorry for not introducing you…”
“Who is she?” Jocelyne’s tone was much more accusatory than she’d intended.
Mark shrugged. “Just a friend I hadn’t seen in a while.”
Before Mark could reply, Jocelyne felt a sharp tugging at her elbow.
“Um, Jocelyne? Could I talk to you for a second?” Clara asked through clenched teeth. She dragged Jocelyne away before the other girl even had a chance to argue.
“Jesus, Jocelyne! Will you leave the poor guy alone?” Her aunt sighed in exasperation as soon as they were out of earshot.“This has been a really fun night. Don’t ruin it by getting all jealous, okay?”
Jocelyne’s eyes widened. “Jealous?” She shook her head. “Why would I be jealous?”
Clara rolled her eyes. “Because Mark obviously banged that lady.” She spoke slowly, as though addressing a small child. “And you’re insecure about it because you still have feelings for him.”
In an instant, Jocelyne felt as though her entire face was on fire. “Banged her?! You really think they slept together?!”
The other woman shrugged, smirking. “How the hell would I know? But thank you for confirming the second part of my statement.”
“B-but… y-you… I…”
Clara just giggled.
Despite her frustration, Jocelyne had to laugh too. “You bitch.”
“And proud of it.” Clara confirmed. She paused for a moment, her expression softening slightly. “Look, all I’m saying is play nice, okay? I know things between you guys are still weird or complicated or whatever… But can’t you put it aside for one night and just have a little fun?”
Jocelyne sighed softly, but smiled. “Okay.”
“So…. No House of Mirrors for you either?” Jocelyne asked with a smile as she sat beside Mark on the bench.
He shook his head. “Those things always give me headaches.”
“Me too.” Jocelyne agreed.
They sat in silence for a short while after that, taking in the sounds of children’s laughter and cries of excitement that filled the night air around them. It was loud and chaotic, but strangely calming too. Jocelyne couldn’t quite explain it.
At last, Mark broke the silence with a soft clearing of his throat. “I know you were wondering before… About Angela. We dated about two years ago.” He said with a small shrug.
He was right – Jocelyne had been wondering. And now part of her was dying to know even more. How did they meet? How long had they been together? Why didn’t it last? But she held her tongue.
Beside her, Mark looked up at the sky, smiling. “It’s a nice night.” His voice was barely above a whisper.
Jocelyne nodded in agreement. “It is.”
“And y’know, this was a lot of fun.” He continued as he turned to face her. “It’s been a while since I’ve laughed so much.”
“Me too.” She nodded again. “I think I really needed this… We both did.”
“We definitely did.” Mark’s smile widened. “I’m really glad you invited me tonight. Thank you, Jocelyne.”
Even in the darkness, she could still make out the soft crinkles at the corner of his eyes.