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            On the afternoon of the table read the following week, Abby and Clarke found themselves running incredibly late. It appeared that everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong.

            Neither of them had remembered to turn on their alarms as they went to sleep that night. When Clarke finally stirred, she rushed into her mother’s room to wake her. While Abby prepared their breakfast, Clarke took their dog, Scully, out for a walk, but what should have been a ten-minute trek around the block became a nearly half-hour excursion. It turned out that they had woken up to one of the first truly beautiful days of the summer, and squirrels, rabbits, runners, and other dog-walkers were out in full force, vying for Scully’s attention.

            Clarke then returned home to find that, while preparing omelets, Abby had forgotten to open the windows on the first floor and had, consequently, set off the smoke detector, which she had been trying to shut off for at least five minutes to no avail. By the time Clarke found the sense of mind to just pull the batteries out – “Is that really what your father always did when this thing wouldn’t shut up?” – their eggs were cold and neither of them had much of an appetite, but they knew that the table read would last for a few hours, so they rushed through their meals anyway.

            If that had been it, then fine—both Clarke and Abby could have lived with it.

            But then their car wouldn’t start.

            “Fucking hell,” Abby muttered. She tried the key once more, and the engine still did not turn. Out of irritation, she got out of the car and began pacing back and forth. “I just took this in a bit over a month ago.”

            Clarke also got out. She hesitated for a moment before saying, “I’m going to call Bellamy. Someone can come get us.”

            Phone service had never been great in Thelonious’s theater, so when Bellamy answered, there was a fair amount of static over the line. “Clarke, has something happened? Everyone else has been ready to start for nearly fifteen minutes.”

            “I’m so sorry, Bell. We’ve had an awful morning, and I can tell you about it later, but suffice it to say that our car won’t start. Is there a chance anyone can pick us up?”

            “Sure, I can—it’s Clarke. … Yeah, their car won’t start.” Clarke listened patiently to what she could only assume was someone speaking to Bellamy for a few seconds, although she could only hear vague mutterings. Then Bellamy said, “Okay, Clarke, Marcus is coming.”

            Clarke bit her lip, glancing across the driveway at her mother. “Sounds good. Again, I’m really, really sorry for making you all wait. I know it’s probably hard to do much without Beatrice or Hero.”

            “Hey, don’t worry about it, alright? Maybe I’ll make everyone do a team building exercise… not that they need it. Do you think trust falls off the stage would be too much?”

            “Goodbye, Bell,” Clarke said with a chuckle. To her mother, she said, “Our ride will be here soon. Why don’t we wait on the porch?”

            Abby nodded absentmindedly. As she followed Clarke toward their house, she sighed loudly. “I wonder if Sinclair would come over after the table read to check it out. He still owes me for that time I redid his stitches.”

            “Now that’s a story you’ve neglected to tell me,” Clarke exclaimed, grinning. She perched on the top step, patting the wood next to her for her mother to sit down. “When did that happen?”

            “Did I really not tell you? Funny, I could have sworn I did. It must have been… this past January. He was getting some beakers or test tubes or something from the store room when he tripped. The glassware went flying, and some of shattered on the ground… and then some of it lodged into his arms and forehead when he landed. Not too deep,” Abby rushed to add at the sight of Clarke’s nauseated expression. “But he went into the emergency room, and they gave him some stitches on his forehead and on one of his forearms.”

            Clarke blinked at her mother for a few moments. “And how do you play into this, exactly?”

            “Well, he never would tell me exactly what happened,” Abby said slowly. “But somehow, he split open the wound on his arm that same day. He must have called me at nearly midnight, griping about how he’d just had to pay a big vet bill for his cat and how he really couldn’t afford to go back to the emergency room for a few stitches.”

            “Incredible,” Clarke murmured. “And I thought house calls were a thing of the past.”

            Abby shook her head. “Not in a town like this. Half of the residents must owe me favors by now for checking for concussions, helping them to wrap sprained ankles… Part of it, though, is that it’s gotten worse these past few years. I think people feel less guilty calling me at all hours since they know I’m the only one home.”

            Clarke furrowed her brow and glanced at Abby. Instead of replying, however, she reached over and rubbed her mother’s arm gently.

            But Abby’s mind was already off and running, because at that moment, she saw Marcus’s truck round the corner onto their street.

            She rose to her feet at once, looking down at Clarke. “Why’d he have to come?”

            The more appropriate question – which Clarke knew very well was actually on Abby’s mind – was, Why did he have to come in that specific vehicle?

            Clarke had not been in Marcus’s truck for nearly two years, but he’d had it since she was quite young, so she knew it well. She rode in it often with Marcus and Jake when they took her to Brewers games on warm summer days. Countless times, he’d picked her up from after-school activities, summer camp, and guitar lessons when her parents were busy. She also had a particularly distinct memory of the color guard practice when she sprained her wrist and called Marcus, asking him to bring her to the ER because she knew how her mother would fuss if she heard about it first.

            It was, quite genuinely, an iconic part of her childhood.

            And it only had a bench seat.

            This had been delightful in her youth, when she felt cool and comfortable and protected sitting in between her father and Marcus. But since, for whatever reason, the relationship between Abby and Marcus was so tenuous, Clarke wasn’t exactly looking forward to sitting in between them, no matter how short the drive.

            Even so, warmth rushed through Clarke as she climbed into the cab. She couldn’t shake the feeling of pleasant nostalgia that engulfed her. “Thank you for rushing over here,” she said brightly.

            “It’s no trouble at all. I was getting tired of listening to Bellamy and Octavia argue with Thelonious over costumes anyway.”

            Clarke examined the dashboard as they pulled away from the house. The clock, which had always been chronically slow, now appeared to be stopped completely—it was stuck at 9:52 pm. A tape stuck out just slightly from the cassette player—she imagined that it was probably the same They Might Be Giants Apollo 18 cassette that had been stuck in there for as long as she could remember.

            “I’m surprised city council lets the Great Marcus Kane drive around in this piece of crap,” she mused.

            Marcus smirked down at Clarke. “Two seconds into our drive and you’ve somehow managed to make fun of my job and my car.”

            “Clarke’s nothing if not economical with her insults,” Abby murmured, a hint of pride in her voice.

            At this, Marcus laughed, and Abby quickly followed suit. Both sounded a bit hesitant, but their shared amusement was sincere.

            They reached the theater in what felt like an instant, and all three of them rushed inside. Marcus excused himself to run to the bathroom before the table read, so Clarke and Abby went ahead of him.

            “So that global warming’s getting pretty bad.” Abby glanced at her daughter, incredulous, and Clarke decided not to wait to elaborate. “Didn’t you notice? When we were driving over here, I totally heard some ice break.”

            Abby rolled her eyes, although Clarke detected a hint of a smile. “Glad you feel comfortable making light of humanity’s greatest plight for the sake of a cheap pun. Jake would be proud.”

            “Mom…” Clarke began. She was not quite sure what she wanted to say, but after giving her daughter a moment to figure it out, Abby opened the door to the green room, and they joined the rest of the cast without another word.

            Once Marcus was also seated, Bellamy claimed the cast’s attention.

            “Hi everyone. I wanted to thank you all again for setting aside your Saturday afternoon for this table read. If you haven’t really done any theater before, I know it might seem a little silly to sit around and read the play to each other. But today is really important – for me and Thelonious, of course, but for everyone else, too – because it’s kind of our first glimpse of what our production is going to be. After today, we won’t have many full-cast rehearsals until the end of July, so it’s important that we take advantage of this opportunity. I’ve already let various cast members know about some lines that we’ve decided to cut, but we might omit some more based on today’s read. I… think that’s the big thing,” he said slowly, looking to Thelonious.

            When Thelonious gestured him on, Bellamy smiled slightly. “Cool. Then before we get started, I figured I’d give everyone a sense of my vision for the show. When doing a production of Shakespeare, there’s always a fair amount of discussion about how it should be adapted. Thelonious and I debated for quite some time—neither of us wanted to do a Renaissance production, but we wanted whatever we did choose to really add something to the play.”

            “Any time, Bell.” Octavia’s voice came from a corner of the room, where she, John, and Raven were all sitting apart from the actors. A few of the cast members chuckled appreciatively.

            “Ruining my suspense, O,” Bellamy muttered, but he smiled at her good-naturedly. “Fine. Everyone, for our production, we’re going to space.”

            The room filled with murmuring, a few “Oohs,” and Nathan Miller saying, “Shit, that’s cool.” But Abby found herself glancing at Marcus and noting an expression of calculated indifference that she suspected was on her face as well. Relief then filled her when, after a few attempts at speech, Marcus finally spoke loud enough for the entire group to hear.

            “Bellamy, I will say that I’m intrigued, but I’m just…” He hesitated.

            “How are we going to make sure it’s not tacky?” Abby offered. Her interjection took everyone, including Marcus, by surprise, but Bellamy smiled and took it in stride.

            “Thank God someone asked. I thought I was going to have to bring it up myself. So I definitely want this to be an ongoing conversation among all of us, even leading up to the performances in August. For now, though, I’ll just explain myself a bit, and maybe you’ll warm up to it eventually.

            “At the beginning of the play,” Bellamy said slowly, “Don Pedro has just led Benedick, Claudio, and the other soldiers into a war. They’ve stopped at Leonato’s on their way back home to celebrate their victory. Leonato’s the governor, so the estate is pretty independent from outside legal influences—except for the Don Pedro, of course, since he’s the prince,” he amended.

            “I’ve always thought it’s cool how that probably affects the characters’ sense of justice, especially Claudio’s. Coming back from a war, where everything seems so black and white… That’s the part of the play that I think can really be brought out by putting these characters on a space station. It makes the setting even more isolated.”

            Everyone absorbed this.

            “Wow. Okay.” Abby gave a slight nod.

            “Sounds good,” Marcus agreed.

            Clarke smirked and nudged her mother, whispering, “I told you Bell knows this play like the back of his hand.”

            And as Bellamy briefly drew the cast’s attention to each of the characters in turn, Abby had to agree that Clarke was right. He made note of Claudio’s power-hungry nature; mentioned Beatrice and Benedick’s place as cynical, jaded foils to the young lovers, Claudio and Hero; speculated briefly about the choice to leave Don Pedro uncoupled at the end of the play—which had never interested Abby much, but she found herself wanting to track the prince’s development through the play like she never had before.

            Eventually, he paused to take a drink of water. “Okay. I think I’m done preaching for now.” Thelonious laughed into his own glass, and he tried to pass it off as a cough as Bellamy continued. “Let’s get started with the read. Thelonious and I are thinking we’ll place the intermission after Act 3, scene 2, so we’ll take a fifteen-minute break then.”

 

--

 

            Aside from a brief interruption when Bellamy had to remind the cast that this first trip through the play needed to be read, not acted (as prompted by Monty Green, who was a bit too excited when he delivered his first line as the Messenger), the first half of the table read passed without incident.

            The cast scattered almost immediately to run to the bathroom or get water, but Abby had spent the past twenty minutes staring at her empty travel mug and waiting to run down the street for more coffee.

            Clarke was about to make a beeline for Raven and Bellamy, but Abby stopped her to ask, “I’m headed to Indra’s. Can I get you anything?”

            “Yes please.” Clarke’s eyes brightened. “Just my usual, I think. Thank you.”

            Abby had barely made it out of the theater before she heard footsteps rushing after her. She figured it must be Clarke, rushing to ask her for something else, but when she turned to look—

            “Oh. Marcus.” In the back of her mind, she’d wondered if it would be him, a fact which she didn’t quite process until she saw him walking toward her.

            “I heard you ask Clarke if she wanted anything from Indra’s, and I was thinking of getting some coffee myself, so…”

            He looked at Abby like he expected her to send him away, but she bit her lip and nodded. “Right, of course. Let’s get going, though—I’d hate to be the reason that we start late again.”

            They walked nearly half a block together in silence, and Abby was beginning to worry that neither of them would say a word the whole time. Luckily, Marcus found a topic to get the ball rolling. “My mom told me that you ran into each other on Tuesday.”

            “Oh, that’s right!” Abby was stunned that she’d forgotten; the two of them had chatted for at least fifteen minutes. “I ran into her at the lobby of the hospital, but she wouldn’t tell me who she was there to see.” She looked down at her feet. “Should I be worried about her?”

            Marcus let out a delighted laugh, which took Abby by surprise. “I’m sorry if she scared you. She’s been complaining for months about how much her joints hurt, and I finally talked her into going to see a rheumatologist. But she’s in absolute denial about possible arthritis, so…”

            “So she probably didn’t want to acknowledge it. Of course.” Abby smirked. “I should have guessed—you were the same way with that… ‘twisted ankle,’ I think you tried to call it?”

            “No, no, no,” Marcus exclaimed. “That was different. I was just—”

            “Trying to walk around on a shattered ankle for an hour. I know.”

            He exhaled loudly through his nose but said nothing, not at first. Then, after a few moments: “Luckily Jake was sensible enough to talk me out of climbing any more walls.”

            “One of the few times that he was the sensible one.”

            Unlike most people in town, saying Jake’s name, sharing stories about him, didn’t feel strange with Marcus. Even so, she felt strange reminiscing right there, in that moment, because it had been so long since Abby and Marcus had carried on a conversation about… anything.

            At least, though…

            Well. She would be lying to herself if she didn’t acknowledge that it felt like they were returning to a conversation, rather than starting one.

            “I hadn’t thought about that in ages,” Marcus murmured. “Was that Clarke’s… tenth birthday?”

             “Eleventh.”

            Marcus hummed. “That’s right.”

            They reached Indra’s Café, then, at which point their conversation came to an abrupt halt. The moment they stepped over the threshold, a loud voice said, “I’ve already sold you two cups today.”

            “I’m not the one who’s here for caffeine, Indra…” Marcus rolled his eyes at Abby and explained, “I told her once that I sometimes get a headache when I haven’t had coffee, and she refuses to forget it. She’s lucky I like her brew so much.”

            Abby frowned. “How long has that been happening?”

            He looked down at her sternly. “You’re not my doctor, Abby. Nor are you my local coffee shop owner, who, for some reason, also has a say.” When they reached the counter, Indra was already waiting for him with a to-go mug in hand. “You do know that decaf still has caffeine in it,” he muttered as he handed over a single.

            Indra feigned deafness and looked to Abby. “How are you? It’s been a few weeks since you came by.”

            “I’m doing alright. Better now that this past week is over—one of my coworkers had to go on paternity leave early, so the rest of us were scrambling to cover his appointments.”

            “Oh God.” Indra hummed sympathetically. “And Clarke’s back home, isn’t that right? Octavia mentioned that you’d both been recruited to play some of the characters in her older brother’s play.”

            Abby’s eyes widened slightly. “Speaking of which, we should probably get back. We’re on a break right now.”

            “Right, right, of course. I don’t mean to hold you up. Your usual?”

            “Mhm. And Clarke’s, please.”

            Abby rifled through her wallet for bills as Indra busied herself with Abby’s order. She was hyper aware of Marcus, who was humming a tune that she vaguely recognized as he scrolled through his phone.

            God, was it familiar.

            “Here you go, Abby.”

            “Thanks, Indra.”

            Marcus stowed his phone back in his pocket and waved at Indra. “See you tomorrow morning.”

            “Doesn’t she know that you could easily get caffeinated coffee at the store?” Abby asked as they stepped outside.

            “Of course I could,” Marcus said carefully. “But that would feel like such a betrayal, don’t you think?”

            “See, that right there is why Starbucks can’t get a foot in the door here. Indra’s got everyone whipped.”

            He laughed appreciatively.

            Then, there he was, humming again.

            Abby placed the song quite abruptly. It was something by David Bowie. She couldn’t remember the exact title, but she’d recognize that hook anywhere—it had been Jake’s ringtone for Marcus from the moment he could figure out how to set up custom ringtones.

            She stopped in her tracks. Marcus didn’t even notice at first, so he was a few paces ahead of her when it finally registered that she was no longer with him. He turned to look back at her, and his eyes were full of concern. “What’s up? Did you forget something at Indra’s?”

            “No, no, it’s not that.” Abby swallowed hard as she held his gaze. She didn’t even know what she wanted to say, not quite. Hell, she didn’t even know precisely what was going through her head. “It’s just… I mean…”

            Marcus moved closer—his eyes grew softer, his frown even more pronounced.

            “I’m so sorry,” she said feebly.

            His expression crumbled in an instant. “Abby… you don’t need—”

            She put up a hand to stop him. “No, I do. That night, when we went to Chicago, I said… I said such awful things to you, Marcus. I regretted it right away but I didn’t…” Abby thought to herself, vaguely, that this was a shitty time to get into a conversation of this magnitude, and that they were in a place far too public for her to talk as openly as she should. It was enough to make her withdraw just slightly into vagueness. “I knew there was a part of me that believed every word. Sure, maybe it took over a year for me to say it out loud, but I’d been thinking it the whole time, and I—”

            “Abby.” Marcus reached out his free hand and rested it on her arm, delicately holding her, and it surprised her enough that she fell silent. He took the opportunity to continue. “You didn’t say a single thing that I hadn’t thought myself. And I know that you didn’t mean to hurt me. I forgave you a long time ago.”

            For a few moments, this sank in. Then: “Then why… why haven’t you talked to me?”

            Marcus considered her question. “I guess because I also figured that the things you said had come from a place of truth. And I wasn’t sure if you still believed them. So I’m sorry too, alright?”

            Abby squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head before looking up at him. “No, you don’t… You don’t have anything to apologize for. It wasn’t your fault. None of it was your fault.”

            He held her gaze for quite some time, appraising her words.

            “Okay.”

            Neither of them seemed quite certain what to do next. Abby would’ve easily gone in for a hug, but her hands were full with her and Clarke’s coffee and Marcus was still holding her arm… Which he seemed to realize at that precise moment, because he stepped back and let his arm drop to his side dumbly.

            But before the moment fled, before they returned to Much Ado and fell into their roles as consummate jokers, Abby murmured, “I’ve missed you, Marcus. So much.”

            He smiled, genuine but a little bit sad. “I’ve missed you.”