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            A few weeks passed, and before the cast of Much Ado knew it, they were drawing upon 4th of July weekend. The town of Arkadia celebrated the occasion with an Independence Day Festival, which drew crowds from all over the state. They always had a craft fair, a massive farmer’s market, and book and clothing trading posts, in addition to what was, apparently, an iconic fireworks show to close the festival.

            Clarke had always heard stories about the festival, but she’d never been, because that same weekend, for as long as she could remember, her family had taken their annual trip to Boulder Lake to celebrate Jake’s birthday, leaving on Friday, before the fair was up and running, and not returning until the following Monday, or after the 4th—whichever came later.

            Marcus had also accompanied them on this trip for as long as Clarke could remember. It was on one of these weekends that he’d helped her learn how to kayak, and one of these weekends that her parents and Marcus had chuckled over her accidental discovery of poison ivy.

            As she and Abby drove up to the lake, Marcus trailing behind with much of their equipment, Clarke found herself running over many of these moments in her mind.

            “I thought you’d grown past the moody teenager stage,” Abby joked at last. “You haven’t said a word in at least half an hour, sweetie.”

            Clarke smiled lazily at her mother. “Sorry, Mom. Just reminiscing.”

            “I see.” Abby smiled too. Her gaze remained on the road, but Clarke still couldn’t help but notice her mother’s sad eyes. “Would you mind finding another CD?”

            “Out of your thrilling CD collection?”

            “Don’t make fun, there’s gotta be something in there that you like.” Abby looked over as Clarke grabbed the box of CDs that lived on the floor of the back seat and began to sift through them. “Marina’s in there, I think. And The 1975.”

            Clarke considered this. “Sure, I’m okay with Marina.” She traded out CDs. “Remember how much everyone hated me when I introduced you to this album? Dad knew all the words, Bellamy, Wells, Raven, and Lexa didn’t even want to come to the house… just because it was always on.”

             “It’s a good album!” Abby exclaimed. “And you and your father went through some annoying CD phases yourselves…”

            Clarke scoffed, rolling her eyes and swatting Abby’s arm, and her mom chuckled.

            Their conversation stagnated again, although, to Clarke’s amusement, Abby sang along to the music under her breath. But then Clarke glanced in the mirror, taking in Marcus’s truck a way’s behind them, and she blurted out a question that she’d been trying to suppress all day. “You’re honestly okay with him now, aren’t you? You were weird for a bit but you… you actually seem excited for this.”

            “I am, yes.” Abby looked over to her daughter and smiled. “And not just because inviting Marcus meant we didn’t have to lug our tent, food, and hiking gear in our trunk.”

            Clarke giggled. “If that was your reason, I’d understand. Small sacrifice to make.”

            Abby also snuck a peek at Marcus in her mirror, biting her lip as she thought of what Vera had said to her. “Honestly, though, Clarke, it’ll be good, don’t you think?”

            “Yeah, I think so.”

 

--

 

            They arrived at the lake in the late afternoon, so they used up much of their remaining light selecting a nice campsite and setting up their tents. Marcus had designated himself as cook for the trip, so he prepared dinner while Clarke and Abby hovered around the fire, chatting idly. After a long day of driving, all of them were rather sleepy, so, after mapping out their hiking path for the next day, they turned in for the night—Clarke and Abby crawling into their own tent, and Marcus into his.

            He woke them bright and early. To some degree, this was one of the traditions of these camping trips; Marcus and Jake always used to rise before the Griffin women, making coffee and breakfast before waking Abby and Clarke. And there was, indeed, food and coffee waiting when they crawled out of their tent.

             “Most updated forecast says there might be a bit of rain,” Marcus told them as they were nearly ready to head off. “I was thinking we might want to eat lunch a bit later than we were planning so that, if we need to, we could eat under that little overhang by that fork in the path.”

            “Good thinking,” Abby said. “Thanks for mentioning it, or I might have forgotten to check for my raincoat.”

            After a slight pause, during which she combed through her bag, Abby said, “And I guess this means I’m going back to the car. You two can go ahead, though, I can catch up.”

            “You sure, Mom?”

            “Definitely, go on. I’m spritely, I can chase you down.” Abby waved them onwards.

            Clarke looked to Marcus, waiting for his reaction. Finally, he shrugged. “If you’re sure.” As Abby nodded and jogged off, he chuckled and shook his head, muttering, “Spritely.”

            Nearly as soon as Abby was out of earshot, Clarke looked to Marcus and asked, “Do you want to test her on that a little bit?”

            He laughed eagerly. “Sounds like a plan. Let’s hustle.”

            With their gear, they weren’t about to run off, as Clarke knew Marcus and Jake would have suggested a lifetime ago. But they began to walk quickly together, rushing along the path with more attention paid to their distance than to stamina. After they got some ways away, however, they arrived at a nice, flat rock, and Marcus paused in his tracks. “Wait here?”

            “Yeah, I think so.”

            They sat down in sync, Marcus leaving a conspicuously large portion of the rock for the conspicuously small Clarke, but she took it and sat back until her feet could barely touch the ground. Both took long, deep gulps of water in silence before Clarke began to giggle at last.

            “Stop, I was trying to be serious for when she showed up,” Marcus exclaimed, but Clarke’s laughter had made him light up.

            “It’s so stupid that we even find it funny,” she said. “She’s going to be out of breath once she finally gets to us, and then we’ll just have to sit here longer and eat lunch even later.”

            Marcus glanced at her, eyebrows raised. “But it’s funny.”

            After a moment, Clarke grinned and swatted his arm. “It is.”

            He sat back and took another sip of water, evidently quite pleased with himself, and the two fell into a companionable silence.

            “Not to put you on the spot,” Marcus said eventually, “but I’ve kind of been itching to ask you about what’s next. After this year, I mean. It’s been a little while since I got to hear about your plans in much detail.”

            Clarke took a deep breath. “Et tu, Brute?”

            “I know, I know, I’m sorry,” he mumbled, and from the way that he cringed, he really did look it. “I’m sure you’re getting that from pretty much everyone.”

            “Just about,” Clarke agreed. Her eyes fell as she turned her gaze downward and stared at her wringing hands. “I don’t mind telling you about it, though. I, um, I was thinking about grad school for a bit. One of my professors was really pushing for me to apply to his old program and to a few others that he thought might be a good fit. And I really liked the idea of it, but I felt like I couldn’t justify it. Art history’s not really a booming field, you know?”

            Marcus nodded carefully. “So you put that on the back burner.”

            “Yes. Which is a bummer, because I really was curious about some of those programs.”

            Silence. It took a minute for Clarke to feel brave enough to look up and gauge Marcus’s expression, and he was glancing at her out of the corner of his eye. “Go ahead,” she told him at last.

            “What if…” He paused. “Wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to just apply to a few anyway? Not even because I think you should go, but because it would give you more time to figure out whether you want to.”

            Clarke didn’t say anything; she just watched him carefully.

            He took this as confirmation that he was, at least, welcome to continue. “I’m sure you’ve thought about it a lot, and I’m glad that you’re not just jumping into it. But… even when we were young, your dad had a bit of a tendency to decide that one choice was probably right, and it was like he became deaf to all other opinions after that. Your mom does her fair share of that, too.”

            “Very true,” Clarke agreed, chuckling.

            “And I feel like it’s fair to say that you’re apt to do the same sometimes.”

            “Maybe occasionally.”

            If he was surprised that she agreed so readily, he concealed it well. “So here’s my thought about grad school—your instinct very well could be right. If jumping to conclusions is a Griffin family trait, then being annoyingly right about most of them could also run in the family.” This made Clarke giggle. “But if you applied to a few, and let yourself weigh your options some more, you could always just refuse any offers if you decide it’s really not the right move right now.”

            She didn’t answer for some time, but Marcus had no interest in pushing the subject any further. So, once again, they shared a stretch of silence.

            “I’ll think about it,” she told him.

            Quite tentatively, he patted her shoulder, but he loosened up when smiled at him.

            This, Clarke thought to herself, was exactly what she’d missed about Marcus. He never expected her to defer to him like her parents did, but he still wasn’t afraid to get real.

            So Clarke murmured, “Thank you.”

            Marcus very well could have missed it, but judging by the way that he squeezed her shoulder once more, she figured that he heard her.

 

--

 

            Once Abby caught up to Marcus and Clarke, the three had an enjoyable hike. As the weather had predicted, they were briefly caught by a spot of rain, but otherwise, the day was pleasant, and they arrived back at their campsite that evening feeling pleasantly worn out.

            Again, Marcus prepared their meal. Clarke planned to get up early to see the sunrise the next morning, so she turned in not long after, mumbling that Abby and Marcus shouldn’t stay up too late so that they, too, could get an early start to their day.

            “It’s like she thinks she’s my mother, not the other way around,” Abby muttered.

            Marcus chuckled. “She’s just looking out for you.”

            However, despite Clarke’s warning, Abby and Marcus were still awake over two hours later. For a while, they sat, reminiscing together about past camping trips. They giggled about the time that Jake tipped over into the water in his kayak, the time that Marcus got a severe farmer’s tan when he took an accidental nap.

            Then Marcus said, “Want to run some lines?”

            “What, now?” Abby looked around them. “I can hardly see you in this light, let alone my script.”

            He shrugged. “I’ve got a flashlight. And it’s an opportunity to see how much we’ve memorized.”

            Abby nodded thoughtfully. “Alright, you’re on.”

            So they dove in, sitting close together so they could use one flashlight between them. It was competitive at first; both were eager to show off the number of lines that they already knew, and for Beatrice and Benedick’s first few interactions, in particular, their energy suited the tone of the scenes quite well. They didn’t only run through their shared scenes—Marcus was eager to take a stab at the rest of his lines from the first scene of Act 1, so Abby prompted him with his cues, and they continued in this fashion going through the play.

            Neither Marcus nor Abby could have pinpointed the exact moment, but, somewhere along the line, there was a shift in the energy between them. Initially, they were putting on airs, running their lines with a dramatic flair that surpassed even the stage inflection that they were honing for the production.

            But they began to let their guard down somewhere around the beginning of the party scene in Act 2, and by the point they reached the wedding scene in Act 4, it was more like they were just talking to one another. Abby had a passing thought that she’d fallen so into it that their words didn’t feel like lines anymore.

            Marcus hesitated before murmuring, “Lady Beatrice, have you wept all this while?”

            “Yea, and I will weep a while longer.”

            He furrowed his brow and leaned close to her, sweeping her bangs away from her eyes. “I will not desire that.”

            Abby frowned too. She could barely see his features, but she noted such sincere affection and concern in his eyes. “You have no reason. I do it freely.”

            “Surely I do believe your fair cousin is wronged.”

            “Ah,” Abby scoffed. “How much might the man deserve of me that would right her.”

            Marcus tilted his head to the side. “Is there any way to show such friendship?”

            “A very even way, but no such friend.”

            “May a man do it?”

            She shook her head slightly. “It is a man’s office, but not yours.”

            He allowed a beat for this to sit in the air before he cleared his throat. “I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?”

            On stage, in this moment, Abby likely would have paused so that she could stare at him, but she found that she couldn’t quite bring herself to hold his gaze, and she looked away instead. “As strange as the thing I know not.” Abby bit her lip. She felt her eyes go soft. “It were as possible for me to say I loved nothing so well as you. But believe me not. And yet I lie not. I confess nothing, nor I deny nothing.” Almost as an afterthought, she turned her body away from him slightly. “I am sorry for my cousin.”

            “By…” Marcus stumbled, and he had to glance down at his script for the first time in the conversation. “By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me!”

            She looked back toward him, frowning, and she muttered, “Do not swear and eat it.”

            Marcus reached for Abby’s free hand, the one not holding the flashlight, and he clasped it between his own. “I will swear by it that you love me, and I will make him eat it that says I love not you.”

            “Will you not eat your word?”

            He shook his head adamantly, sat up higher. “With no sauce that can be devised to it. I protest I love thee!”

            “Why, then, God forgive me.”

            Marcus laughed low, his breath nearly getting caught in his throat, and he stumbled briefly over his words as he asked, “What offense, sweet Beatrice?”

            Abby’s eyes widened slightly. “You have stayed me in a happy hour. I was about to protest I loved you.”

            “And do it with all thy heart,” he pleaded. He was surprised by how desperate the words sounded to his own ears.

            Silence hung between them—Abby was vaguely aware of his thumb brushing her wrist, of her heart pounding in her throat.

            “I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest,” Abby whispered.

            Marcus opened his mouth slightly, evidently ready to say his next line, but he paused for a beat, and they stared at one another.

            Neither one of them would have been able to say who leaned in first, but the next moment, they were kissing. The flashlight and script fell out of Abby’s lap as she turned the rest of her body toward Marcus and moved her free hand to the nape of his neck. He knotted their fingers together, reaching for her hair with his other hand.

            They pressed in close, exchanging breathless, eager kisses.

            And then Marcus’s hands trailed down Abby’s back, lingering at her waist, and he felt her shift away from him just slightly. A moment later, she pulled back completely, staring at him blankly.

            Marcus waited for her to say something, but when she didn’t, he raised his eyebrows and hesitantly murmured, “So um, I suppose I’m a bit more open to putting a kiss after that line.”

            She rubbed her eyes before looking at him, exasperated. “That’s not… I…”

            “Yeah?”

            “This wasn’t…” Abby gestured between them, fumbling for a sentence that refused to come out when he was waiting for a response so earnestly. With so much concern. “This wasn’t supposed to… happen… again.” She trailed off toward the end, so that Marcus only barely heard the last few words.

            He swallowed hard. “Abby…”

             “I told myself this wouldn’t happen again,” she said, more definitively this time.

            Marcus cocked his head to the side, frowning and stammering, “But… Abby… I thought… You said...”

            Before Marcus could get a sentence out, however, Abby was pulling on her shoes and stumbling to her feet. “No, okay, I’m sorry, I need to… I need to go. I… I need to go.”

            Abby nearly tripped as she rushed to her bag, which sat directly beside her and Clarke’s tent. This gave Marcus enough time to jump to his feet too and take a few steps after her. “Abby, please don’t go. We need to…” He sighed helplessly. “We need to talk about this.”

            She stopped in her tracks and turned to look back at him, and the distance between them was littered with a million questions, but both were afraid to be the first one to say anything.

            “No, no, I can’t. I need to think. I…” Abby took a few steps back. “I need to think.”

            In a few seconds, Abby had disappeared into the darkness, Marcus staring after her. He was still at a loss for words.