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            Clarke gave up on her ideas of waking up to see the sunrise as soon as her alarm went off, rolling over to sleep longer instead. When she did wake, she spent nearly ten minutes lying in a comfortable, half-awake haze before realizing that her mother should have been sleeping beside her. She rose quickly after that, jolting up and looking around in bewilderment.

            “Mom?” she called, peeking out of the tent.

            The rest of the campsite, though, was empty. Almost as soon as this registered, she heard footsteps coming from behind the tent, so she crawled outside, preparing to greet Abby. But when she rose to her feet, she saw that it was Marcus, not her mother. His eyes were tired, his hair unkempt, and as he came into her view, he just barely suppressed a yawn.

            “I thought I heard you calling,” he said, giving Clarke a tentative smile. “How’d you sleep?”

            “Alright. I’m… I’m confused, though.” Clarke glanced around them. “Where did my mom go? She never gets up before me.”

            Marcus chuckled. “No, she doesn’t, does she?” He looked down at the ground, and his face fell slightly. “But she… she left. They apparently needed her at the hospital. It was pretty urgent, but she didn’t want to wake you, so I told her to go ahead.”

            “Oh, wow.” Clarke frowned, and her eyes widened as a thought occurred. “Do you know what happened? Is everything alright? It must have been something big for them to call her and ask her to drive all the way back so soon.”

            “Yeah, I guess it must have.” Marcus’s eyes widened slightly too. “I think she said something about… some of the on-call doctors getting food poisoning at the festival? So I don’t think it’s anything you need to be incredibly concerned about, or anything.”

            Clarke swallowed and nodded. “Right, okay. Good.” She glanced around, and for the first time, what should have been an obvious question occurred to her. “Does that mean we’re leaving?”

            “We probably should,” Marcus said gently. “I made some eggs and sausage, so go ahead and eat, but then we can leave whenever you’re ready.”

            At the news of food, Clarke immediately returned to her tent to get dressed. She sat down with Marcus on the ground and they ate together, Clarke chatting away, but she noticed that he was quite subdued.

            “I feel like you’re not getting a word in edge-wise.”

            He smiled down at his eggs, but his amusement didn’t reach his eyes. “I’m just tired. Go ahead and keep talking, though. I’m enjoying these stories about your friends from school, you should tell me some more.”

            She did, although she found his silence a bit unnerving. He laughed, smiled, cringed, ‘aww’ed in all the right places, but it felt like he was putting on a show for her.

            Both Clarke and Marcus quickly finished eating and packing away their things, and after surveying their campsite one more time, they made the walk back to the parking lot. Without Abby, they were more heavily laden with gear, but neither complained.

            With everything loaded into the bed of the truck, Clarke made to walk over to the passenger door, but Marcus stopped her. “Clarke, I… really didn’t sleep well. Is there any chance you could drive? At least for a little while.”

            For a moment, Clarke thought that he was joking, and she was about to laugh. She was pretty sure that he'd never even let her dad drive that truck. But then she took another look at him, noting how exhaustion lurked behind his expression and in his posture.

            “Y-yeah,” she stammered. “Sure I can.”

            So Marcus tucked the key into Clarke’s hand.

            Almost as soon as they were on the highway, Marcus’s all-nighter hit him with a force. After Abby left, he’d stayed awake for several hours—convinced, at first, that she’d just gone walking in the forest, and then, as time dragged on, that she’d gone out for a drive to clear her thoughts.

            When that didn’t seem like a possibility anymore, he’d walked to the parking lot, only to see confirmation that she’d left.

            He’d called her a few times, and it killed him that, after the first time, she sent him directly to voicemail, not even bothering to let it ring through. Finally, he’d given in and left her a message:

            “It would be so much easier if I hated you right now. But I can’t do it. All I want is for you to come back. All I want is to have the conversation that we should have had last year. I shouldn’t… I shouldn’t have left your house that night. I shouldn’t have given up trying to talk about this. And I shouldn’t have let you run away again. But I can’t force you to talk to me. I… I would never want to force you to talk with me.

            “So as much as I want you to just come back here so we can finish this camping trip… I’ll understand if you don’t. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll just… bring Clarke home. I’ll make something up to explain why you’re gone, and… leave it to you, I guess, to decide whether to tell her anything else.”

            He didn’t say goodbye, didn’t sign off in any way… In part because he didn’t know what to say, but in part, he knew, because he was hoping that she’d actually call back. That it wouldn’t be a goodbye.

            Instead, Abby had texted him about five minutes later. Tell her on-call doctors got food poisoning at festival.

            Marcus had tried to go to sleep after that.

            Clarke’s alarm had gone off not long before sunrise, and although she’d rolled over and gone back to sleep, Marcus had gotten up. They were fairly near a decent east-facing outlook over the lake, and Marcus sat there well after the sun rose above the horizon. It was when he was returning to the campsite that he’d heard Clarke call for Abby.

            Once he and Clarke were on the road, he texted Abby again. We’ll be back before dinner.

            Fifteen minutes later, he checked their conversation, only to see that she’d read his text and not bothered to respond.

            Looking over toward Clarke, he said, sleepily, “You’re my favorite Griffin.”

            She laughed at the road, unable to look over at him for long enough to see that he wasn’t even really smiling.

            Marcus wondered whether he’d ever speak to Abby and Clarke again. Not backstage during Much Ado, but actually speak to them. He wondered whether he’d just welcomed them back into his family again to lose them a month and a half later.

            “You know what I miss?” he said to Clarke.

            “What do you miss?”

            “Hearing you sing. Jake used to egg you on more than your mom does.”

            Clarke chuckled. “Are you asking me to sing?”

            “Perhaps.”

            She sang “Blackbird,” but Marcus didn’t hear much of it before he’d fallen asleep against his window.

 

--

 

            Neither Marcus nor Abby braved so much as a quick text over the next few days. At first, it was easy to pretend that nothing was wrong—Marcus spent the rest of 4th of July weekend with Vera, and Abby and Clarke enjoyed the festivities in Arkadia for the first time ever. She was too eager to spend time with her friends to question the fact that Abby had stopped speaking with Marcus again.

            But then the holiday was over. As Much Ado rehearsals started up again, Abby knew that it would be impossible to conceal that something had changed between them. She didn’t even care about most people; if they started talking, then so what?

            Clarke, though…

            Abby knew that it had been strange enough for Clarke to see her and Marcus sever ties a year earlier. Once Clarke got a glimpse of the tension between them – and thanks to Abby’s hasty retreat, tension seemed inevitable – Abby doubted that she would be able to get by without acknowledging to Clarke that there was something between her and Marcus.

            The problem was that she couldn’t articulate quite what that something was. The fact of the matter was that between Jake’s death and her and Marcus’s first fight – could she even call it a fight when she’d simply talked at him? – they had shared so many small moments—lingering looks, tentative touches, words that just barely hinted at flirtation.

            It would have been easy enough to ignore, but, at first, Abby didn’t want to. It gave her a sense of normalcy, made her feel alive to be wanted again, to… to want again. It had felt so innocent, coming to see Marcus as someone she could… perhaps love one day. When her heart was ready.

            But, somewhere along the line, so many questions began to seep into her, and she hated herself for each one.

            She hated herself even more for voicing them aloud to Marcus, because she knew that if she had simply told him that she needed more time, he would have given it to her. Unquestioningly.

            Most of all, though, Abby hated herself because her revelation that a part of her blamed Marcus for Jake’s death had been for her sake, not his. She couldn’t tell anyone else, not even Clarke. But she shouldn’t have told him.

            And this time… It was all of Abby’s other questions that gave her pause. Most prominent in her mind was the fact that Jake was so deeply ingrained in every facet of her relationship with Marcus that it felt like the two of them had little to themselves. Little to justify and build anything new. Everywhere they turned – in conversation, in Arkadia – Abby saw ghosts. What would happen if they tried to start a relationship, only to find that they couldn’t form their own solid foundation?

            He deserved a say, of course, and in the time between Abby’s late-night departure from the campgrounds and their return to rehearsals, she lost track of the number of times that she nearly called him.

            She balked instead.

 

--

 

            “Does anyone know where Marcus is?” Bellamy asked. “We’re supposed to start in five minutes, and he’s never called it this close before.”

            People shook their heads or murmured that they had not spoken with him. Sinclair leaned over to Abby and asked, “Have you talked to him at all today?”

            She knew it was innocent but it felt like the most pointed question in the world. “No, uh, not today,” she said, trying to keep her tone light.

            “Okay. Well, if he’s not here when we’re supposed to start, we’ll have to shuffle around the rehearsal order a bit. How about…” Bellamy skimmed over his rehearsal notes. “We’ll jump to Act 3, scene 1. I’ll confirm in a few. In the meantime, could someone call Marcus, please?” His eyes fell on Abby. “Abby, maybe you could—”

            “There’s no need.” Marcus’s breathless voice came from the back of the theater as he rushed through the door. “I’m here, I’m here. Got caught up at work, I’m sorry.”

            “No worries. I’ll give you a few minutes to get settled, then we’ll start with Claudio and Benedick’s conversation in Act 2, scene 1.”

            Abby’s lungs seemed to be refusing air—it felt like each breath she took could only go so far as her throat, and she wouldn’t have been able to say whether it was because of Bellamy’s assumption that she should be the one to reach out to Marcus, or because this was the first time that she had seen Marcus’s face since she’d kissed him.

            Or perhaps it was because it felt as though he was quite pointedly not looking at her.

            While Abby waited backstage with Nathan for their cue, she tried to think of something she could say to Marcus that could relieve some tension. But it didn’t seem like ‘sorry’ would cut it, and she was not prepared to bare her heart to him.

            And then she heard Sinclair say, “The Lady Beatrice hath a quarrel to you. The gentleman that danced with her told her she is much wronged by you.”

            Marcus scoffed, and he delivered his next lines with an aggression that Abby had never seen. “O, she misused me past the endurance of a block! An oak but with one green leaf on it would have answered her. My very visor began to assume life and scold with her. She told me, not thinking I had been myself, that I was the Prince’s jester, that I was duller than a great thaw, huddling jest upon jest with such impossible conveyance upon me that I stood like a man at a mark with a whole army shooting at me.

            “She speaks…” Marcus faltered for a fraction of a second, and Abby could have sworn that he looked over to her, that his tone got just a bit apathetic as he said, “She speaks poniards, and every word stabs.”

            Abby didn’t hear another word—all she could see was the aggravation on Marcus’s face as those words rang in hear ears repeatedly.

            Nathan had to tug her arm at their cue, at which point Abby cleared her throat and shook her head just slightly to clear her thoughts.

            “Look, here she comes,” Sinclair said, gesturing toward her as they walked on stage.

            Marcus hardly looked at Abby before he turned his body away from her, which diverged from how he’d been doing the scene in rehearsals thus far. He, Abby, and Bellamy all agreed that Benedick’s vehement request for Don Pedro to send him elsewhere had more to do with Beatrice overhearing his aggravation with her, rather than a genuine desire to leave. Marcus liked to emphasize that motivation by keeping himself positioned toward Abby.

            It occurred to Abby that it would hurt Beatrice far more to see Benedick so closed off to her in this scene. It could be a powerful move in their relationship development.

            She just wished she could believe that that was why Marcus did it.

            “Will your Grace command me any service to the world’s end?” he pleaded. “I will go on the slightest errand now to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on. I will fetch you a toothpicker now from the furthest inch of Asia, bring you the length of Prester John’s foot, fetch you a hair off the great Cham’s beard, do you any embassage to the Pygmies, rather than hold three words’ conference with this harpy.”

            Abby had to work very hard to keep her face from crumbling. It didn’t matter that Marcus was mustering far more venom for this scene than he probably wanted to direct at her—she could feel genuine anger seeping into her bones through his words.

            When Sinclair shrugged, Marcus asked, “You have no employment for me?”

            “None but to desire your good company,” Sinclair said with a chuckle.

            Marcus huffed loudly and made to exit the stage as he delivered his final line. “O God, sir, here’s a dish I love not. I cannot endure my Lady Tongue.” He strode past Abby, not even bothering to look down at her. Another change from his usual choreography.

            Sinclair smiled gently at Abby. “Come, lady, come. You have lost the heart of Signior Benedick.”

            Abby furrowed her brow and glanced off-stage, but she couldn’t see Marcus anywhere. “Indeed, my lord. He…” She faltered, not because she forgot the rest of her line, but because she couldn’t quite bring herself to say it. “He lent it me awhile, and I gave him use for it.”

            When they were finished with the scene, Bellamy called them all back to the stage so that he and Thelonious could give them some notes, at which point Marcus finally returned.

            “Marcus, we like what you did up there with Jacapo and Abby this time,” Thelonious said right off the bat. “Did you three discuss that at all beforehand?”

            “No, no, I was just… trying something new,” Marcus told them at once.

            Bellamy hummed thoughtfully. “Well, it worked well. And Sinclair, you did a great job playing off of that aggression. You too, Abby—there was a lot of pain lurking beneath the surface of Beatrice’s dialogue, and it worked really well.”

            She swallowed, tried to keep her expression neutral. “Thank you.” She glanced toward Marcus, but he wouldn’t meet her eye.

            Each time they were waiting around for another scene, Abby couldn’t find him. They were backstage for costume fittings at the same time, but Marcus kept a conversation going with Lexa, so that Abby could not get a word in. And the moment Bellamy excused them for the evening, Marcus was out the door.

            Perhaps if she had not texted him, she would have been fine.

            But she did.

            I get it if you need time, but please tell me we’ll be okay. I don’t want to lose another best friend.

            Fifteen minutes later, she checked their conversation, only to see that he’d read her text and not bothered to respond.

            Clarke didn’t seem surprised when Abby appeared in her doorway and joined her on her bed. She was a bit taken aback when Abby sniffled and buried her face in Clarke’s shoulder.

            “No one at the hospital got food poisoning,” Abby told her daughter at last.

            Although Clarke had suspected, she would not have said anything if Abby had not. As it was, though… “I was sort of wondering. Is this connected to how weird Marcus was at rehearsal tonight?”

            “Maybe.” Abby let out a shuddering sigh, then she sat back against the headboard, and Clarke leaned her head on her mother’s shoulder immediately. Abby’s heart could have burst when she felt Clarke slide their hands together. “Do you remember the night that he and I went to that concert in Chicago?”