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            Bellamy had no plans to work on scenes that included Beatrice or Hero during the first rehearsal. Abby was pleased to have the chance to stay in before she became an integral part of many upcoming rehearsals, but Clarke was eager to sit in and watch the play unfold, so with Bellamy’s blessing, she went anyway to watch him and Thelonious work on blocking and script discussion.

            During the first half of the rehearsal, she stuck close by Bellamy’s side. He was talking dialogue and character motivations with Marcus, Nathan, and Jacapo, and almost as soon as she sat down, she realized how eager she truly was to hear Nathan’s thoughts on Claudio’s dynamic with Benedick and Don Pedro. The men discussed several scenes that either two or all three of them had together, but they dwelled the most on the first scene in Act 5, during which Benedick challenges Claudio to a duel at Beatrice’s request.

            “The main thing I’ve been trying to decide,” Nathan said, “is whether Claudio’s attitude toward Benedick is new. Because I could see the argument for it either way—after shaming Hero, he could get this new sense of power and feel like he’s grown past his mentor.” He gestured vaguely toward Marcus. “But maybe it’s always been there a little bit. I feel like either one could work.”

            Bellamy nodded thoughtfully and looked to Marcus. “I have some thoughts, but I’d be curious to hear Marcus’s opinion first. Especially since he looks ready to give it either way.”

            Clarke turned toward Marcus and couldn’t help smirking: he was leaning forward in his seat with an eager grin on his face, clearly itching to speak. “I think it’s probably a little bit of both. You look at Benedick and his… one of his greatest fears is that people don’t take him seriously. A lot of that’s because he wants Beatrice to think well of him – you see how upset he is when she criticizes him in the first scene of Act 2 – but Don Pedro and Claudio’s opinions are also certainly important. And part of the reason why it nags at him so much is, I think, because Don Pedro and Claudio do see him as a sort of comic relief. And they have seen him that way, pretty consistently.”

            While Marcus had been speaking, Nathan had also grown increasingly excited, and at this point, he interrupted Marcus, sitting up straight in his seat as he said, “So after Act 4, Claudio doesn’t have patience for that. He feels like he’s grown past the point where he can get anything more out of Benedick’s friendship.”

            “Exactly.” Marcus nodded excitedly. “But Benedick sees Claudio differently after Act 4, too. He’s realized that his friend can be cruel. That wasn’t enough for him to feel right about challenging Claudio right away, though; when Beatrice asked him, he couldn’t agree at first. So I think that, for Benedick, Claudio’s greeting in this scene is crucial. Look at Claudio’s line, the one that starts at 140. He doesn’t take Benedick’s threat of violence seriously, and he tells Benedick to entertain them…”

            “It’s a confirmation of everything that he’s always suspected his friends think of him.”

            The observation came from Clarke, who found herself staring at Marcus in awe. She’d always known he’d had a fondness for Shakespeare. As a child, she’d seen Abby and Marcus bickering over character development and the intended meaning of lines at least a hundred times—sitting on the floor in the living room while Clarke and Jake watched a game of soccer, or walking down the dairy aisle in the grocery store, and even at Clarke’s graduation party.

            But she’d never paid attention before, and now, she was bowled over by how easily he got to the heart of the characters.

            Marcus’s smile got softer as he looked at Clarke. “Right.”

            “Well, I’m convinced,” Bellamy said with a firm nod. “So let’s talk about delivery. How are we going to get that across?”

            They wrapped up the scene soon after, at which point Marcus, Nathan, and Jacapo had a little break before having to go down to the stage to begin working on blocking with Thelonious. As they strode away, Clarke twisted her chair around so that she could talk with Bellamy more straight-on.

            “You’re doing so well,” she said immediately.

            “Do you think so?” His brow was furrowed. “I’m not sitting back too much?”

            Clarke raised her eyebrows. “Did you disagree with anything that you didn’t call them out on?”

            He shook his head.

            “Then no. You’re letting them figure out their characters. It’s great. No offense to Mr. Jaha, but…” She glanced up toward the stage—he was just wrapping up a scene with Dogberry and the rest of the Watch. “I think he’d have felt a bit threatened by Marcus already having such confidence in his interpretation of the play.”

            Bellamy snorted. “Why do you think he and I agreed that I’d have this job? He knows Marcus by now. And your mom. They’ve formed their own opinions already, and he knew that would frustrate him.”

            Clarke couldn’t help laughing. “But you’re letting that be an asset. I don’t see a problem with that.”

            “Good point. And it sure did save us time.” Bellamy paused for a moment. “Octavia mentioned that Marcus and your mom came by Indra’s for a few hours the other night. Were they—”

            “Talking about the play? Yeah. They were both excited. And they trust each other with Shakespeare. But also…”

            She trailed off, her eyes falling to the floor, and Bellamy gave her a few seconds before gently prompting, “Also?”

            “I don’t even know, not exactly. I guess I wonder if they were using the play as an excuse to see each other. I still don’t know why they stopped talking, but I know my mom’s missed him. If he’s missed her, too… Maybe they needed an excuse like playing Beatrice and Benedick to break this silence that both of them were tired of.”

            Bellamy blinked down at Clarke, considering her words. Considering his response. “We’re not talking about Shakespeare anymore, Clarke. Things might not be so neat and tidy.”

            “Yes, I know that,” she sighed. “But I also know that, before coming here for auditions, they hadn’t talked in over a year. And now they’re going to Indra’s for hours and texting again and next week, Marcus is taking my mom to Home Depot so that she can find a new showerhead and finally start showering in her own bathroom again…” Clarke rolled her eyes, but she quickly pushed this thought away. “I don’t know. They’re talking again, and I’m happy about it. I’ve missed him too, so it’s… it’s nice, Bellamy. It just still feels weird. I know I shouldn’t expect to understand it, but—”

            “But you do. Yeah. I’ve known you for long enough to get that this would bug you.”

            He stopped, then opened his mouth, as though he was about to say something else. But he stopped himself at the last second.

            “What?” Clarke smiled slightly. “I know you too, remember? Say what’s on your mind, I can take it.”

            Even so, Bellamy didn’t speak right away. “How do you feel about them becoming friends again, though? And I don’t mean you wondering what’s going on with them. Marcus was a big part of your life growing up. You must feel something about the fact that you suddenly have license to talk to him again.”

            “Of course I do,” Clarke murmured. “He was around so much that I practically had three parents growing up. And after the accident… having him there made me feel like maybe I hadn’t lost quite so much. I think my mom felt the same way, even though we never really talked about it.”

            She fell silent, turning her gaze downward and staring at her hands for some moments. Bellamy got the impression that she wasn’t finished, though, so he refrained from breaking the silence.

            “I want things to go back to normal. I want him to come to dinner at our house again, I want him to come with us on our annual camping trip again. I want to feel like I can invite him to my graduation next spring, or call him up over the weekend when I’m bored and missing Arkadia and wanting to talk to someone from home who’s not my mother. But I’m scared that whatever happened before is going to happen again.” Her lips quirked up into a sad smile. “Does that answer your question?”

            “Pretty much. And you said just about what I expected, too.”

            She scoffed as she finally met his eye once more. “We’re still not analyzing Shakespeare.”

            “I know that. If this were Shakespeare, we’d either have a lot more murder or a lot more cross-dressing going on.” He titled his head to the side. “I don’t think either of those will fix your problem, though.”

            “What will?”

            Bellamy considered the question. “This will sound hypocritical, coming from me—”

            “That’s a great sign,” Clarke mumbled.

            “But I think you should let yourself enjoy it,” he continued, ignoring her snark.

            Clarke nodded slowly. “I wonder if I could talk Mom into inviting him on our camping trip. He always came with us, even that first summer after the accident. I think it would be nice.”

            Quite suddenly, the door to the theater opened behind them, and Clarke spun to see Marcus, Jacapo, and Nathan all coming back in. She glanced at Bellamy and grimaced, wishing that their conversation could have come to a more natural close. But as they all strode past her and Bellamy on their way to the stage, he allowed himself to say, “Sure. What’s the harm in trying?”

            So that night, when she returned home, she stuck her head into Abby’s room. Her mother was curled up in bed, happily reading a book and sipping a mug of tea, but at the sight of Clarke, she immediately put the book down and beckoned her inside. “How’d rehearsal go, sweetie?”

            “Good.” Clarke crawled onto Abby’s bed and made herself at home at her mother’s side. “It’s nice to see everyone getting so excited about the play. I never thought I’d hear some of my friends getting so worked up over Shakespeare. As they were leaving, Nathan and his boyfriend were in the middle of a heated argument with Raven and John about Don Pedro.”

            “That’s so great.” Abby grinned. “What were they arguing about?”

            “Whether it matters at all that he was alone at the end of the play. Nathan and Eric are convinced that it does, Raven and John disagree.”

            Abby put her hand to her chest. “Sounds inspiring.”

            Clarke rolled her eyes and bumped Abby’s shoulder with her own. “Don’t tease. Bellamy’s getting people invested. I can’t think of a school play that people ever put this much effort into.”

            “I know, I know.” Abby pressed a kiss to her daughter’s temple. “I’m glad it went well.”

            They sat in silence for some moments. Clarke claimed Abby’s mug and took a large drink of tea, making Abby laugh.

            “Can I ask you something?” Clarke said when she’d returned the tea.

            “Of course, honey.”

            “You’re totally within your right to say no,” she began. And she wanted to believe that her mother would not say no, but she couldn’t be entirely sure. “But I was just wondering… given your recent reconciliation with a certain city councilman…”

            Abby sounded somewhat skeptical as she said, “Mhm…”

            “What if we invited him to come up to Boulder Lake with us next month?”

            Silence overtook the room once more, but it felt much heavier than it had less than a minute before.

            “Your dad’s birthday camping trip,” Abby said at last.

            “That would be the one.” Before an awkward silence could settle over them again, Clarke added, “Marcus always used to come with us. I think he’d appreciate the invitation. And don’t you think we might enjoy his company?”

            Abby swallowed hard, and Clarke was expecting a flat no to come out of her mother’s mouth. Instead, though: “Alright. It would be… just like old times.”

            Her tone was measured, but Clarke couldn’t figure out quite why, because Abby seemed sincerely open to the idea. If Clarke had to put a word to Abby’s expression, it would just be… cautious.

            Clarke worked very hard to silence the part of herself that longed to know why.

 

--

 

            It was a few days later that the larger ensemble first found themselves brought together to begin work on the party scene from Act 2. Blocking for this scene necessitated a very “hurry up and wait” attitude, because the various pairs of actors who had snatches of dialogue had to wait their turn, with little knowledge of how long each conversation’s blocking would take.

            As such, Abby and Marcus found themselves sitting backstage with several of their cast mates, all of whom were reading, or on their phones, or chatting idly.

            Since her conversation with Clarke about their upcoming camping trip, Abby had still not gone out on a limb and invited Marcus to join them. There was a part of her that felt as though this amiability between her and Marcus was doomed to be short-lived, that conversation would dry up and they would find that they had simply hidden from each other for too long.

            This was not the case thus far. In fact, she found herself peripherally aware of the fact that, at this particular rehearsal, she and Marcus had been engaged in the sort of conversation that others seem to struggle to interrupt and contribute to.

            Except Thelonious, perhaps, who claimed their attention when Abby was in the middle of a brief tirade about the health benefits of bananas, to which Marcus had been vehemently opposed for as long as she’d known him. Somehow, she’d forgotten until that evening, when she’d pulled out a banana to eat as a snack after realizing how long they’d be sitting around.

            “I’m finished with Antonio and Ursula, so Beatrice and Benedick are next. Let’s go, let’s go.”

            Marcus called out to the audience as he and Abby strode out onto the stage. “No need to get snippy, Thelonious, we’re coming.”

            “I know, I know. I’m just trying to finish blocking the party scene so that the ensemble members can go home.” There was a little cheer of approval from backstage.

            Abby smirked and instinctually met Marcus’s eye, saw him smirking too as he said, “Right, of course. Let’s do it, then.”

            “Good.” Thelonious looked over his script and his notes. “As with everyone else, you two will be filtering through the crowd upstage until your conversation in the middle of the scene. I don’t care about your exact path, but by the time we reach Antonia and Ursula’s conversation, I want you both upstage right, or on your way there, so that you can start your own conversation before coming forward and jumping into your dialogue.”

            “Sure, makes sense,” Abby said with a nod.

            “Excellent. We can run through that once we bring everyone on stage and walk through the scene, but let’s talk about your exchange. Antonio and Ursula will be downstage left, and as they pull back, the two of you will come forward. I don’t want you centered, exactly, more like… here.” He eyeballed the stage for a moment before pointing.  

            Marcus and Abby followed his guidance, stepping forward. Again, Abby caught Marcus’s eye, and she imagined that he was wondering, as she was, why they’d had to sit around so long for what seemed like it would be less than a minute of blocking—if they could even call this succinct conversation ‘blocking.’

            But then Thelonious turned toward the back of the auditorium and called up to the lighting booth. “Okay, John, I’m happy with them. Let’s go ahead and program a spot there.”

            Ah. That would be why.

            “I feel like this is a lot more complicated than it was the last time I was in a play,” Marcus said quietly.

            “Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. That was the stone age, though. Things have changed a bit in the last few thousand years.”

            Marcus’s eyes shone as he laughed. “Speak for yourself. But you’re looking good for a dinosaur.”

            For a flash of a moment, his words gave Abby pause. She blinked up at him and found herself acutely aware of the blush in her cheeks and the pit in her stomach.

            This was it, she thought. This was the moment when things were doomed to get derailed, all because she couldn’t quite tell—

            But then she thought of a joke, and she replied, with an absolutely straight face: “That’s probably the yoga. It really keeps the years off.”

            Marcus chuckled, and the air was clear again.

            Abby stuffed her hands into her pockets and looked down at the ground, thinking back to what she’d said when Clarke had asked if they could invite Marcus on their trip, about saying that it could be “just like old times.” At the time, she’d privately thought that it was quite foolish to expect things to be able to go back to normal.

            But as they waited for John Murphy to get the light positioned, Abby allowed herself to believe that maybe things could go back to normal. Or at least as close to normal as they could be after everything that had happened.

            And at her very core, she knew that she would like it very much for him to join them. She just didn’t want things to go wrong.

            “Clarke and I started planning our trip to Boulder Lake the other night,” she said slowly.

            “Yeah?”

            “Mhm. And she made what I thought was a good suggestion.”

            “Rent a canoe?” Marcus offered. With a quirk to his lips, he continued, “Buy more bug spray?”

            Abby shuddered at the reminder of a particularly unpleasant trip when they’d reached their campsite before realizing that their bottle of bug spray was empty. Jake had insisted that they could stick it out for nearly four hours before acquiescing and asking Abby to go get some more.

            “No, but close. She said we should invite you.”

            “What?” His playful demeanor dissipated immediately, and he stared down at Abby in bewilderment.

            She couldn’t help smiling slightly. “It meant a lot to Jake that you made time to come every year. So it would… it would mean a lot to me and Clarke if you made time again.”

            Marcus hesitated for long enough that Abby was suddenly scared he would say no, which was a possibility she hadn’t really allowed herself to consider. What if this was the reason that things had to get weird again?

            “Great, I’ve got it!” John shouted from the booth.

            “Wonderful. Thanks, you two,” Thelonious said. “Don John, Borachio, Claudio, it’s your turn!”

            Abby left the stage quickly, thinking, vaguely, that she wants to find Clarke and check in on her.

            “Hang on, Abby.” Marcus had rushed after her, catching her right by the door that led to the green room and dressing rooms. “If you and Clarke want me to join you, of course I’d be happy to come. You just caught me by surprise.”

            “Oh. Okay.” She stared at him for a moment before his words really sank in, but then she smiled and nodded. “Good. It’ll be fun. I’m going to go find Clarke and let her know.”

            Marcus returned her smile. “Great.”

            He made to walk over to Jacapo, who was in the middle of getting his arms measured for his costume by Lexa. But Abby called after him as one final thought occurred. “By the way, Marcus?”

            “Yeah?”

            “I’ll make sure to pack plenty of bug spray.”

            His laughter rang in her ears long after she left the stage.