Jocelyne rubbed her eyes for a moment as she stared at the softly glowing computer monitor in front of her. One more application down… She thought to herself, clicking the ‘submit’ button. As soon as the children were put to bed, Jocelyne had spent the rest of her evening working on job applications.
In a strange way, it was her ‘gift’ to herself – continuing to be so miserable with guilt and regret was painful enough. Spending yet another year of her life in the food service industry was something she simply could not do to herself. Not anymore.
Jocelyne had hoped it would be the only gift she’d receive that day, but she knew just how unrealistic that hope was. The girls had all made her cards, and Elliot helped them pick out a beautiful locket for them to give her. Inside was a picture of the girls, taken at Christmas.
“Maybe you can add a picture of Zayne to the other side.” Tony had suggested. “Daddy thought it was a nice idea, but he didn’t have a picture of him.” She explained.
A small smile came to her lips at the memory. The girls were so sweet, and their gift was so lovely. I guess it was nice to have a little happiness today. Jocelyne decided. Even if it feels wrong…
Still, she was grateful the rest of her family had honored her wishes of not having a party. Jocelyne wasn’t even sure if they’d want to. Despite the girls’ cheerfulness, it had been a quiet, somber day in the Rosebrook house.
Jocelyne wondered whether she’d truly be able to celebrate another birthday ever again. It was the anniversary of the last time he’d spoken to her. The last time she’d so cruelly pushed him away and refused to forgive.
And how could she be happy about growing another year older, when she knew her brother never would?
It was so strange to wrap her head around – with any luck, someday she’d be fifty. Or sixty. Or seventy. Maybe eighty. She’d get wrinkles. Her hair would turn gray.
But not Luc.
The rest of the family would move on and grow old without him. Someday even Zayne would be older than his parents were when they died. That thought was even worse.
Poor Zayne… Her heart still broke for him. Zayne had so many good days now, it seemed. But he was still hurting. Jocelyne could see it in his eyes, every day. And, despite her own pain, she still tried her best to take some of his away whenever she could.
Jocelyne thought back to what had happened earlier that afternoon. What had come so close to turning into a meltdown quickly turned into something unexpected.
Zayne had drawn Luc a picture for his birthday, and was eager to show it to the rest of his family. But the little boy quickly grew distraught when he realized he had no way of giving it to him.
“Papa’s all the way in Heaven.” The little boy had cried. “How’m I ‘posed to give him his present?”
Jocelyne discovered the answer much quicker than she’d expected. “I think I know a way.” She’d smiled softly at him. “Come on.”
She stopped by the store to pick up the supplies she needed, then drove straight to the park. It was just the two of them. It wasn’t often Jocelyne had one-on-one time with her nephew – most days when Elliot had the triplets, she was stuck working. And, much as she loved spending time with her girls, it was a nice change to have a few moments alone with Zayne.
When they arrived at the park, Jocelyne carefully rolled up the little boy’s drawing and tied it to the end of a balloon.
“Now when you let it go, it’ll fly all the way up to Heaven.” She’d told him, fighting back tears. “And Papa can see it.”
“Promise, Tante Joce?”
It was the first time she’d seen him smile all day.
Jocelyne nearly jumped as the sound of soft knocking from the front door reached her ears. Who could possibly be visiting so late? She quickly shut off the computer monitor and headed for the door, eager to investigate.
Mark was probably the last person she expected to find on the other side.
“Happy Birthday.” He smiled warmly as he crossed the threshold.
“Mark? What are you doing here?!” Jocelyne almost shoutrd at him. “I’m sorry.” Her voice was much gentler this time. “I just… I wasn’t expecting you.”
For a moment, he appeared almost guilty. “I probably should have called first or something. Is it a bad time?”
She shook her head. Her eyes glanced downward for a moment, and she noticed the large paper bag he held in his hands. “What’s in there?”
Mark’s smile quickly returned. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
She followed him uncertainly into the living room, wondering what he could be up to. Her confusion only increased as he sat her down on the couch and began pulling a large pile of old DVDs from the bag.
“Alright.” He rubbed his hands together, smiling. “We have the original Moonlight Massacres I through III, Sims of the Dead, They Came with Tweezers, House with No Doors… Take your pick!”
Jocelyne just stared at him. “What are you talking about?”
“The Midnight Movie.” He shrugged. “We’re a few hours early, but… It’s tradition, isn’t it?”
Her eyes widened. “You know about that?”
“Of course! Lucas and I did it every year.”
Jocelyne swallowed against a sudden burning in the back of her throat, and blinked against the stinging in her eyes.
Long before she’d met Mark, Lucas was the only other person who shared her love of old, cheesy horror films. And when she and her brother were younger, their parents did not approve of the twins’ usual taste in movies.
It was a tradition they’d started on their fourteenth birthday. Jocelyne couldn’t even remember now whose idea it was. But every night, when their birthday celebration was over, they would wait until the rest of the house was fast asleep. Then together they would sneak downstairs to watch a scary movie — the older and campier, the better.
As they got older, the tradition continued as something of a joke between them — until the year Jocelyne moved to Willow Creek. She never watched horror movies after that — on her birthday or any other day. It was a painful reminder of Mark… and of Luc, too.
“He still did it?” Jocelyne’s voice trembled as it broke the silence. “Even after I was gone?”
Mark nodded. “He needed a new person to share the popcorn with, of course… But he always said it felt wrong to stop. So every year, after Hazel went to bed, he’d call me and I’d head over.”
“I never knew that.” She whispered. “I stopped years ago.” Jocelyne never realized until that moment how much she’d missed it.
There was a sudden heaviness in her chest that she could not shake, no matter how hard she tried. The guilt and shame had snuck up on her yet again. Luc’s words seemed to echo in her ear all over again — “I love you, Joce. And I miss you. So much.”
He loved her and missed her enough to keep up their silly birthday tradition, even after all they’d been through.
But not her.
“Jocelyne…” Mark’s voice was pained.
She felt his body shift closer to her on the couch. Jocelyne hastily choked back the rest of her sobs and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She fought to compose herself as best as she could before he managed to put his arm around her.
Thankfully, she was successful. His arms remained at his sides.
“Sorry. I’m fine.” She muttered. Jocelyne paused to wipe away a few more of her tears. “So… What about Moonlight Massacre?” The suggestion passed her lips before she even realized what she was saying. “Kinda for old times’ sake?” She asked almost hopefully. “Luc always loved that one too…”
His lips curled into a soft smile. “Sure.”