“Mom, you know how you love me?”
Abby smirked, not even bothering to look up from the stove when Clarke entered the kitchen. “I had a great day too, sweetie, thanks for asking.”
Clarke pecked her mother on the cheek. “Oh, nice. Stew. But you didn’t answer my question.”
“I remember something to the general effect of loving you, yes. Why do you ask?”
“Well, I had an idea for something fun that we could do together, but I want you to promise to actually think about it.”
Abby glanced up at Clarke, raising her eyebrows. “Will I regret it?” Her daughter said nothing, and Abby sighed. “I promise.”
“Remember how Bell’s been working for Wells’s dad at the theater?”
Clarke hopped onto the patch of counter nearest to her mother. “He’s going to be stage manager for the theater’s next play, and Mr. Jaha’s probably going to let him try his hand at directing too. Auditions are next Saturday.”
Abby huffed. “Please tell me you’re kidding.”
“I haven’t even told you what the play is.”
Several moments of silence passed between them as Abby stirred the stew once more. Then she cut off the gas and looked up at Clarke. “What’s the play.” Her tone was dry, and it was a statement, not a question.
“Much Ado About Nothing.” Clarke’s lips quirked up. “And a little birdy told me that if you’re up for it, you’re a shoe-in to play Beatrice.”
Abby opened her mouth and closed it again, numerous times, before: “Oh, fine. I’ll think about it.”
Clarke’s smile grew wider.
Over the course of the next week, Clarke and Abby spent their evenings immersing themselves in the world of Much Ado About Nothing. When Clarke was younger, Abby had introduced her to the play through the Kenneth Branagh film, and Clarke had seen numerous other productions and read the play in the years since. For her part, Abby had read the play more times than she could count.
Neither of them, however, had approached the work from such a practical lens. Clarke was planning to audition to play Hero, and although she had plenty of thoughts about the character as a contrast to Beatrice, she now had to devote energy into figuring out how that would manifest in a performance. She and Abby had countless discussions about Hero’s agency and about how they could glean further information about her character through her relationships with Claudio and Beatrice.
“Bellamy’s told me that he’s determined to find a Claudio who doesn’t make the role wimpy,” Clarke told her mother one evening as they discussed the wedding scene at the beginning of Act 4.
“Good boy,” Abby murmured. She squinted at a line in the text and processed it before pulling a pen out of her ponytail, underlining some words, and scrawling a thought in the margins. “I wouldn’t have done it if Claudio weren’t played as an absolute asshole.”
Clarke chuckled to herself, quietly enjoying the fact that her mother had gone from resisting the play to making assertions about each minuscule detail of its production. “Careful, Mom, you can’t exactly walk into your audition wielding a list of demands.”
“Right, my audition. Speaking of, have you asked Bellamy about the direction they’re thinking of taking Benedick? I want to know what to expect on Saturday. Of course I understand them wanting us to read together but… what’s the point of being well-connected if I can’t have a few helpful hints about what to expect?”
If Abby were looking up, she would have gotten a glimpse at the hesitation on Clarke’s face, and she might have asked about Clarke’s frown. But Abby was not looking up.
“They’re still undecided.”
The audition was a class reunion of sorts. Like Clarke, many of the younger folks auditioning were Bellamy’s age, students who’d come home from college for the summer and been bribed in various ways to try out for his directorial debut. Clarke left Abby’s side almost immediately to catch up with Raven Reyes when she caught sight of her.
So much for using the play as an opportunity to spend more time together. Abby chuckled and shook her head, taking in the theater for a few moments before spotting Thelonious Jaha chatting with Jacapo Sinclair. She wove her way through seats to reach them. “Hey Sinclair. I didn’t know you’d been roped into this.”
He grinned. “Abby, hey. Yeah, Bellamy stopped by the school earlier this week claiming that he just wanted to visit his favorite teacher… and then he happened to slip in that I would make a stellar Don Pedro.”
“I love you for Don Pedro!” Abby exclaimed, beaming at him. “Although you’re making me wonder whether there are any parts that anyone is even actually auditioning for. It sounds like Bellamy already has the whole cast in his mind.”
Thelonious laughed good-naturedly and glanced back at the stage, where Bellamy was discussing something about the lights with John Murphy. “He practically does. I was initially thinking of doing Much Ado as the winter play, but Bellamy insisted that I hold off until summer, and I’m beginning to understand why. It seems that he’s been daydreaming about this production for some time.”
“Yet he still hasn’t decided who he wants for Benedick?”
“What?” Thelonious frowned almost imperceptibly. “Did Clarke not tell you? Beatrice and Benedick were the first characters Bellamy made up his mind about. He just wanted to make sure that you two had a good energy.”
Abby scoffed and raised her eyebrows. That would explain a lot—it had felt as though Clarke was keeping something from her. But why shouldn’t she know that there was a potential Benedick in place? “It must have slipped her mind. Why? Who’s going to be my Benedick?”
Thelonious was about to speak when he caught sight of someone behind Abby. He grinned, waving them over. “Speak of the devil. Hi Marcus. I thought you said you were going to be late.”
Sinclair also shifted to look at the new arrival, but Abby found herself frozen on the spot.
“I thought I would be, but my mom and I ended up getting an early brunch, so I was able to leave earlier. Hey Jac.” Marcus arrived at Abby’s side and looked between them all, his eyes landing on Abby last and lingering for just a millisecond before he looked down at his shoes. “Abby, good to see you. It’s been a while.”
“Yeah, it has,” she agreed, looking in the space between Sinclair and Marcus’s arms, toward a spot on the wall.
Abby said nothing for about thirty seconds while the three men discussed the plan for the evening. She hardly heard a word; she was too busy counting in her head.
Thirty-six. Thirty-seven. Thirty-eight. Thirty-nine. Forty. Forty-one.
“I’m sorry, I just remembered that I had a question for Clarke. I’m going to go find her. We’ll… talk later,” she trailed off, not looking at Marcus as she nodded goodbye to them all.
Clarke was still chatting with Raven in front of the stage. Abby had to work very hard not to storm over to her daughter, and when she said, “I’m sorry, Raven, would you might if I pulled my daughter away for a second?” any onlooker would have thought that nothing was amiss.
But Clarke only had to glance behind her mother’s shoulder to know what they would be discussing.
Abby and Clarke moved over to the nearest corner. Clarke dropped onto the floor, and after a moment’s consideration, Abby joined her. This was for the best, perhaps. Maybe this conversation would feel less confrontational if they were both criss-cross applesauce on the floor of Thelonious’s theater.
“You would have said no,” Clarke said before Abby could say anything.
“We don’t know that.” Not true. Abby knew that Clarke was probably right. But she still didn’t like being misled by her daughter.
“Chances were high,” Clarke amended, and this was accurate enough that Abby didn’t bother to dispute it. “I hated keeping it from you, Mom, but I just… I knew you’d love playing Beatrice. And I figured that if you had a chance to get excited over the role, you wouldn’t be as likely to refuse once you found out.”
Abby let out a long breath. She leaned her head against the wall and surveyed the theater, trying to pretend that she didn’t catch the way Marcus abruptly looked away from her and Clarke’s corner as she skimmed her eyes past him.
“He’ll probably be a great Benedick,” Abby muttered.
Clarke smiled tentatively. “Bell knew that you’d think so. Also, just so you know, I wasn’t… quite sure what to tell him when I said that you might need some time to warm up to the idea. Last time he saw Marcus was at my graduation party, so he didn’t…” She trailed off, but Abby could fill in the blank.
He didn’t know that Abby and Marcus were no longer friends.
And Clarke had never asked for a full explanation about why, so Abby could imagine that to everyone else in town, it was probably quite confusing.
Some moments of silence passed between them. Clarke wasn’t trying to provoke an answer out of her mother, but Abby didn’t know quite how to clear the air, either. Thank Clarke for performing damage control yet again? Apologize for being difficult?
The best approach, she concluded, was to brush past it. “You’re cooking dinner tonight.”
“I was expecting something like that.”
Abby chuckled and pulled Clarke closer, kissing the crown of her head.
Bellamy and Thelonious began the audition process soon after. It was rather informal—it became increasingly clear to Abby, as various actors were called to the stage, that Bellamy truly had little question in his mind about any of the roles. Very few characters had more than one person vying for the part. This was partially the product of a small-town community theater acting pool, but there was no question in Abby’s mind that more people would have come out for the big roles if Bellamy truly wanted to open it up to auditions.
She looked on proudly as Clarke got up on stage and read across Nathan Miller, whom Bellamy had selected to play Claudio. It had been years since Abby last saw Nathan—he and Clarke had always been friendly, but not close, so Abby only really saw him when she and Jake attended dinner parties at the Millers’. But after Jake…
Well. She hadn’t been by the Millers’ in quite some time.
Nathan had grown up well, though. He looked handsome and sweet enough to give off an appropriately gentle energy for Claudio’s initial scenes, but as he shouted and Clarke feigned sobs through the first scene of Act 4, Abby smiled and nodded to herself.
“Bellamy sure knows what he’s doing.”
The low whisper made Abby jump slightly in her seat, and even though she recognized the voice immediately, she glanced back at Marcus in feigned surprise. He was sitting in the row behind her, leaning forward and resting his arms on the back of a nearby chair.
“Yes. He clearly knows the play well,” she murmured.
“I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts on Beatrice,” Marcus said carefully. “I remember you liking Much Ado, but I don’t think we ever really discussed it. We always spent more time on—”
“The tragedies. Yes, I know,” Abby finished the sentence for him, and her tone was sharper than she intended, but she was reluctant to apologize. Still, she tried to sound gentler as she said, “I definitely have some strong opinions about it.”
Marcus hummed. “Color me shocked.”
She twisted to look at him. His eyes were on the stage, not on Abby, but she saw a little upturn to his lips that confirmed that he was teasing her.
A twinge in her gut reminded her that it had been some time since she saw that little hidden smile. She tried to picture the last time, and her brain immediately summoned an image of Marcus and Jake chuckling together as Abby griped that it was too late to be driving through a residential neighborhood blasting the punk radio station.
“Abby, Marcus, can we have you next?”
She cleared her throat and rose to her feet abruptly. “Yes.”
Bellamy had not told Abby which scene he’d want them to read together; according to Clarke, he’d still been undecided as recently as the day before. So she’d looked over both Beatrice and Benedick’s reunion at the beginning of the play and their declaration of love in the wake of Hero’s shaming.
Now, she found herself emphatically praying that they would not have to read the latter scene. She could play Beatrice across from Marcus’s Benedick, but she’d like a bit more time to process this before she would feel comfortable showing any outward signs of affection for him.
“Let’s start at the beginning, I think,” Bellamy said lightly. “The exchange in the first scene. Marcus, go ahead and start with, ‘If Signor Leonato.’ Whenever you’re ready.”
Marcus nodded. He blinked down at his copy of the play for a few moments, rolling his neck and shoulders. Then, as though he was calling after someone, he mused, “If Signor Leonato be her father, she would not have his head on her shoulders for all Messina, as like him as she is.”
Abby was going to try to suppress the smirk threatening to spread across her features, but she realized that it would be perfectly appropriate for the moment, so she played it up more by rolling her eyes. “I wonder that you will still be talking, Signor Benedick. Nobody marks you.”
“What, my dear Lady Disdain!” Marcus leaned back, looking her up and down and crossing his arms. He was smiling in much the same way he had before, but it didn’t feel playful anymore—it seemed just slightly derisive. “Are you yet living?”
“Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signor Benedick?” Abby gestured to Marcus as she spoke to emphasize her point. “Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence.”
Marcus scoffed loudly. Or at least, it would probably sound like he was scoffing to anyone in the audience, but Abby could see in his eyes that he was much closer to laughing. “Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I am loved of all ladies… only you excepted,” he mumbled this as an amendment of sorts, delivered with a hint of a frown. “And I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart, for truly, I love none.”
Abby jolted at the sound of Bellamy’s voice echoing through the theater. As simultaneously cliché and frustrating as she found it, she had quite literally forgotten that anyone else was there. She longed to finish the scene, at least, to see how his Benedick would react to her Beatrice’s assertion of, “I know you of old…”
“That’s… that’s all you want?” Marcus asked, a bit incredulous, and Abby couldn’t blame him; everyone else had read through at least a couple dozen lines.
Bellamy chuckled and gave them both a shrug. “It was exactly what I expected. We can talk about some of the nuances of your delivery once we get into rehearsals, but for now, I’m happy.”
Abby felt very self-conscious as she left the stage and returned to her seat. Clarke was waiting there, scrutinizing Abby with her arms crossed. To Marcus, though, she cast a smile. “Bell knows what he’s talking about,” she said. “You’re perfect for Benedick.”
“Thank you, Clarke. You’ll be a lovely Hero.”
Clarke nodded, but her eyes had returned to Abby. “Both of us are done. Can we go home?”
Abby bit the inside of her cheek; she found herself feeling nervous for seemingly no reason. “Mhm.”
Clarke held her tongue until she was preparing dinner back at home. Abby mused that it was likely so Clarke could hold their food hostage if she felt like her mother was being evasive.
“Did you date him while I was at school?”
Abby considered playing dumb. Then her stomach growled and she decided against it. “No, I didn’t date him.”
Clarke stopped chopping vegetables so that she could lean against the counter and look at Abby. “So why was there a vibe?”
There were a million things Abby could say. Most notable among them was that she could point out that both she and Marcus probably knew that scene like the back of their hands. Which was true. They both knew the tension that needed to linger beneath that interaction, and to some degree, they were putting on a show.
And she was about to say it, but when she opened her mouth, she blurted: “Today was the first time I’ve spoken with Marcus in over a year.”
Clarke’s jaw dropped just slightly. She had always assumed that her mother and Marcus’s newfound distance meant no longer calling each other on the phone, going for coffee, grabbing dinner… She couldn’t imagine her mother and one of her father’s best friends going total radio silence. It made her more curious about what had happened between the two adults, although she did not express this curiosity.
“Was it really?”
Abby nodded. “So I suppose that tense reunion… I suppose it felt pretty real.”
Clarke hummed low and returned to her vegetables. She seemed genuinely sympathetic, for which Abby was appreciative.
They remained in a comfortable silence for some time, Abby skimming the newspaper while Clarke cooked. Clarke had a CD playing in the other room, and both she and Abby hummed along absent-mindedly when a song came on that they both knew.
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?”
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.”
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.
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.”
There was one thing that Abby had to say about Much Ado: it gave her and Marcus an excuse to initiate conversation that didn’t feel forced. Bellamy scheduled numerous Beatrice and Benedick scenes for the Wednesday immediately following the table read. Consequently, Abby was not surprised to wake up to a text from Marcus that Sunday morning.
Are you free tonight to talk about our scenes? We’ll be better prepared to bully Bellamy into agreeing with us if we come in with a united front.
She smirked at these words and was about to respond in the affirmative, but she hesitated over the send button for several seconds.
Placing her phone back on her bedside table, she rolled out of bed and strode down the hallway, checking to see if Clarke was in her room. When she found the bedroom empty, Abby went downstairs and found her daughter sitting at their kitchen table, eating a bowl of cereal and skimming the news on her computer.
“Morning, Mom. How’d you sleep?”
“Fine, I suppose,” Abby mumbled, although she had to pause briefly to yawn. “I watched two more episodes of Parks and Rec after you went to bed, and I think I’m paying for it—I’m still pretty tired.”
Clarke hummed sympathetically. “Maybe you’ll be less tempted to make a late night of it if I’m not around. Raven, John, and Emori have recruited me for a trivia night at some new bar a few towns over. I’m probably going to sleep over at Raven’s afterward.”
“Oh. Okay. So… don’t factor you into my dinner plans,” Abby offered.
Abby nodded vaguely before zeroing in on the sink. She filled a glass with water and faced away from her daughter as she said, “That’s a shame, because Marcus wants to jump into Much Ado tonight and I was thinking that if he came here, the three of us could have a bite.”
“Bummer!” Clarke exclaimed, and she sounded quite sincere. “It’ll be fine, though, you two can just hang out. It’s not like you need a chaperone.”
Abby scoffed, although not for the reasons that Clarke likely imagined. In all honesty, despite their very good, very important conversation the day before, Abby didn’t know what sort of comfort level she and Marcus were falling into. Clarke could have easily served as a buffer if things felt awkward.
“No, of course not. But it would have been nice.”
“You two will need to do this a lot, though, right? So count me in for another time. I wanna hear all about his new job.”
Consequently, instead of inviting Marcus to their house, Abby suggested that they work at Indra’s. Knowing that Clarke would be gone, the prospect of not cooking a meal that evening was quite appealing.
Great. I’ll pick you up around 4:30.
Abby nearly asked him how he knew that she could use a ride before she remembered that he’d been one of the first to know that her car was pretty much kaput.
Not long after lunch, Clarke planned to go over to Raven’s to get ready for the evening. Before she left, though, Abby asked her, “How much creative license is Bellamy actually planning on giving me and Marcus?”
Clarke beamed at her mother. “Not nearly as much as I’m sure you’ll easily talk him into giving you.”
Marcus arrived at 4:30 on the dot. Abby had expected this: whenever he made plans, he was always slightly ambivalent about his timings, but she could probably count on one hand the number of times that he didn’t get somewhere exactly when he claimed he would. It was a sort of time management for which she had great respect.
When she climbed into his truck, he was on his phone, so he greeted her with only a smile and a nod. He listened to the other line for a few moments before saying, “Yes, Mom, I understand that you’re frustrated, but if that didn’t work, I can’t help you much more over the phone. If you’d like, I can come by tomorrow and give it a better look.”
He fell silent as he put the truck in drive and started off down the street. Then: “Sure, noon sounds fine.” His mouth curled into a small smile as he murmured, “Mhm, love you too.”
“Computer?” Abby offered as soon as Marcus hung up.
Marcus laughed and shook his head. “Printer. She probably needs a new one, but I didn’t want to break that to her over the phone.”
Abby chuckled. “Clarke pulled that with me over winter break. I’d been complaining to her about my phone battery for nearly a month, then she came home from school and just told me that I needed to upgrade.”
She was reminded, then, of why she’d been so reluctant to take Clarke’s advice: she still had a voicemail from Jake recorded on that old phone. Even before Clarke pointed it out, Abby had realized that she would be able to keep that phone, tuck it away into a drawer. But there was something about carrying it around with her, and a new phone would be letting that go.
Her expression must have betrayed a shift in her mood, because Marcus’s expression was far more subdued when Abby met his eye again.
“I reread the entire play this morning,” he said. The change in subject did not go unnoticed by Abby. She was deeply grateful. “That’s why I texted you—I was reading the party scene, and I was really curious about your thoughts on Beatrice’s conversation with Hero and Leonato. Then it occurred to me that I could always just ask.”
“And that we might as well talk about the rest of the play too. Of course.”
Marcus grinned at the road. “Right. I’ve already got a fair number of notes in my script… I imagine you do too.”
“Am I really so predictable?”
“Forgive me, but I think that I’m allowed to assume after seeing your notes on Macbeth, Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra, King Lear, Julius Caesar, Othello—”
“I get it, I get it!” Abby exclaimed, laughing. “You know Beatrice is one of my favorite characters, so of course I have some notes.”
They arrived at Indra’s quickly, and as they stepped out of Marcus’s car, they were already in the middle of discussing the first scene of the play.
“Of course their feud is partially a performance, Marcus,” Abby exclaimed as they strode through the door. “But I don’t have to tell you that the first scene of Act 4 is enough to show that they’re both reluctant to shut that off, even when they’re alone. Why can’t this first argument be private, too?”
“If it’s in public, it sets up more of a contrast between their public and private interactions. It shows that they bring out a different side of one another when they’re alone.”
“Yes, which they’re terrified of at first. But you can still see that shift in their comfort levels from one private conversation to the next.” Abby rolled her eyes and finally looked to Indra, who was hovering at the counter and watching them with some amusement. “Can you believe him?”
Indra shook her head. “Absolutely not,” she said dryly.
Marcus grinned. “Hi Indra, sorry. Can I have my usual, please?”
“Of course. Abby, same for you?”
“Great. You can go ahead and sit; Octavia will come by with your drinks soon.”
Abby made a beeline for her favorite table by the window, with Marcus following in her wake until he was intercepted by David and Nathan Miller, who were at a table nearby.
While they chatted with Marcus, Abby surveyed the café, taking in the other customers. On any given day, a few strangers passing through town might stop into Indra’s for a snack and a cup of coffee, but chances were much higher that Abby would walk in and find that she knew every patron’s name and face, at the very least.
This was the sort of small-town dynamic that she’d become quite accustomed to, although she hadn’t been fond of it at first. She’d grown up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and after attending Northwestern for undergrad and University of Michigan for med school, she’d become quite attached to the particular energy that each of these college towns could boast.
But then, at Michigan, Abby met Jake. When he first told her that after graduating, he wanted to return to Arkadia, she thought he’d been out of his mind. Their first Thanksgiving as a couple, he brought her home with her, convinced that she would immediately fall in love with the town.
He was wrong. She liked his family, but she found it unnerving that he knew everyone. She felt like she was an unwelcome character coming into a story halfway through.
It took two years for him to convince her to apply for residency at the hospital nearby when she graduated, and nearly a month to convince her to take the position once it was clear that they were going to offer it to her.
When Jake died, and Abby was flooded with condolences in the worst possible places (Indra’s, the grocery store, her damn operating room), a part of her had longed for the anonymity of a bigger city. But a larger part of her was comforted by the thought that she was in a place that he loved so much, and that she’d grown to love too.
So she stayed. By this point, she’d been in Arkadia so long that she couldn’t really imagine living elsewhere, nor did she particularly want to.
“I’m assuming the decaf’s for Marcus?” Octavia asked, pulling Abby’s attention away from the chess game that Jacapo and his daughter were playing a few tables away.
“You got it,” Abby said. Looking up, her eyes widened, and she grinned. “You’ve dyed your hair again!”
“I did! I just went in and got it done this morning.”
“It looks wonderful. Does Bellamy hate it?”
Octavia rolled her eyes. “He always does. I think he’s being a bit ridiculous—like, yes, it’s purple, but it’s dark enough that it looks black in a certain light. You’d think he’d be more bothered by the tattoos and the piercings, but I think he just likes being unpredictable.” She shrugged. “Luckily it’s not his head. Thank you, though, I’m glad you like it.”
“Let me offer another vote in the hair’s favor,” Marcus said as he slid into his chair. “You look great, Octavia.”
Her grin grew wider. “Thanks Marcus. Hey, you two aren’t here to go over play stuff, are you? Because I know Bell was kind of hoping that you…”
“Wouldn’t plan scenes without him?” Abby offered.
“If it helps, we’re mostly just unpacking character motivations,” Marcus said.
Octavia looked between Abby and Marcus, scrutinizing them. “I still don’t know how much he’d like it, but as we’ve already addressed, he sometimes has no taste. If he asks, though, I had no clue what you two were doing over here.”
She retreated behind the counter, where she and Indra promptly began bickering about who had last taken out the garbage.
As Abby took a sip of her chai latte, Marcus said, “I’ll… begrudgingly admit that I see why you want to make Beatrice and Benedick’s exchange in the first scene private.”
Abby nearly choked. “Yeah?”
“Mhm. But I don’t think that we can decide what works best for our Beatrice and Benedick until we’ve talked about other parts of their relationship. Like, of course I have to ask—”
“Yes, they have a history,” Abby said before he could finish. “I’ve always liked to imagine it as a sort of, y’know, ‘engaged to be engaged’ situation, something that Leonato and Hero don’t even know about. Beatrice probably initially wanted to keep it quiet because she was a bit embarrassed about her feelings for Benedick, and then, once he abandoned her, she just continued to keep it to herself.”
Marcus was staring hard at his script as he flipped through the first scene. “But unbeknownst to her, her initial secrecy was probably one of the things that gave Benedick pause in the first place. If she was embarrassed about her feelings, maybe he figured that their relationship couldn’t work.”
This comment gave Abby pause, and she stared at Marcus’s hands, reluctant to chance eye contact. She’d spent plenty of time imagining Beatrice and Benedick’s history, imagining Beatrice’s inner conflict and the pain that she must have felt when their relationship went bad. But she had never thought of what might have prompted Benedick to leave. She’d always figured that he was young and foolish, and left it at that.
She bit her lip, then she nodded. “Right. Perfect.”
Marcus took a large gulp of his coffee. “So what does that mean about the vibe between them at the beginning of the play?”
Abby considered the question, aware that she was holding her breath. Finally, she exhaled. “Scared. Neither of them knows how the other feels about the relationship, and they don’t know what to say to each other…”
When she fell silent, Marcus didn’t say anything for some time. “So they just pick things up where they left off,” he murmured at last. After another beat, he added, louder: “You’re right. That would work well if they’re alone.”
“Really?” Abby perked up in her seat.
He gave her a ghost of a smile. “Yes, but don’t feel too smug. I still think that could come through in a more public argument, too. We’ll keep talking about it, but I am tentatively won over. Um, let’s see, moving on to Claudio, Benedick, and Don Pedro’s discussion about Hero… Would you mind if I just went over my thoughts on that scene?”
“I’d be delighted,” she said, feeling a rush of warmth through her that had nothing to do with her chai latte.
Marcus and Abby lingered at Indra’s well into the evening. They saw what seemed like half the town filter through the café during that time, and several people stopped to chat with them. More than once, Abby noticed slight confusion on people’s faces at the sight of her and Marcus sitting together.
And it wasn’t as if she could fault them for it—she’d avoided him for a year, yet there they were, sitting together and carrying on an in-depth conversation that strayed from Much Ado About Nothing after approximately two hours. He described his job as city councilman, which was far from new, but the last time they’d discussed it, he’d only just gotten his name on the ballot. She described some of her recent trips to medical conferences around the world, and she told him about her eventful spring break trip to Disney World with Clarke.
Finally, Indra came over to their table. “I hate to interrupt the party, but I want to close up soon. Octavia’s leaving in fifteen minutes, so I’m probably going to kick you two out then, too.”
“What, already? It’s only…” Abby glanced at her phone. “Oh, shit, it’s nearly 8. We haven’t even eaten yet.”
Marcus looked up at his friend with a wide grin and gentle eyes. “Indra, would it be too much trouble…”
“Yes, it would. The kitchen’s closed. Don’t turn on that politician charm with me.” She cocked her head to the side. “Are you still good to come over for dinner tomorrow?”
Indra gave him a thumbs up. “Great. Now please go home.”
A few minutes later, Marcus and Abby left the café. They reached Marcus’s truck, but they hovered on the sidewalk, glancing up and down the street.
“Nothing’s open this late,” Marcus murmured. “Do you want me to just take you home?”
Abby examined him for a few moments. They’d been having such a nice evening; it would be nice to hang out for another hour or two. “No, don’t be ridiculous. You can come over. I’ll make something.”
For a moment, it seemed as though Marcus was going to say no. But he glanced down at his phone, and when he looked back up at her, he said, “Okay, sure.”
Marcus had been in the Griffins’ house plenty—hell, he’d even helped Abby and Jake pick it out once they decided to settle down in Arkadia. But as Abby led him inside, both of them were so aware of everything that had changed. Most notably—
“Christ! I forgot you’d mentioned a dog,” he exclaimed as Scully barreled into him. Rather than irritation, though, he was expressing his delight; he knelt to the ground almost immediately, petting the dog quite eagerly.
“Yeah, this is Scully,” Abby said, fondly gazing at her pet. “As you can see, she’s all lab—Clarke insisted.”
He hummed cheerfully. “I imagine you’re going to try to pin her name on Clarke, too.” He directed this comment more to Scully than to Abby. He continued his murmurings to Scully alone, although Abby still caught it: “Yes you are, yes you are.”
In fact, Clarke had suggested Scully, an idea that came to her during a marathon of The X-Files with Abby. But Abby felt no inclination to defend herself to Marcus. She just smiled and said, “Looks like she likes you.”
“Dogs always like me. Besides, it’s hard to not impress a lab.”
“You know what would impress her even more?”
Marcus’s hands stilled on Scully’s back, and he squinted up at Abby. “Where is this going?”
Abby briefly considered how shameless she was willing to be.
Entirely shameless, she decided.
“Would you mind walking her while I get our food started?”
He rolled his eyes, but he rose to his feet. “Alright. Where’s her leash?”
“In the kitchen with the plastic bags. C’mon, I’ll show you.”
Scully trotted after Abby and Marcus as they moved to the kitchen. Abby’s eyes fell on the dining room table as they passed it—Marcus had made it for her and Jake as a wedding present.
But his eyes were elsewhere, evidently. “Is that a new sofa?”
“What?” She spun to look into the living room. “Oh, yes. I, um, I got it about a year ago.”
He nodded vaguely, but Abby found that, quite suddenly, she couldn’t look him in the eye. So she directed her attention back to the issue of dog-walking. “Just a quick trip around the block would mean the world to me. And to Scully, probably.”
“You got it.”
The second she heard the door close, Abby sat down at the kitchen table and let out a long sigh.
Perhaps she shouldn’t have invited him over. It was one thing when they were sitting at Indra’s, talking about Much Ado About Nothing. Now, though, back in her house without Indra to act as chaperone, Abby was distinctly aware that this was peculiar. If conversation faltered or became stilted, there wasn’t an easy exit.
Even so, Abby wanted Marcus there. She’d missed him exceedingly—it took two hours of bickering over Much Ado to remind her just how much. After Jake passed away, Abby had felt happier with Marcus around, and as she ran over the evening in her mind, she felt that same sense of joy.
“Things don’t have to be weird,” she muttered to herself.
By the time Marcus returned, Abby was hard at work. She called to him as soon as she heard the door open. “I figured I’d just go easy and make some pasta, does that sound alright?”
“Pasta sounds perfect.”
He came into the kitchen and busied himself with Scully’s leash, then he sat down. He surveyed the room, inspecting everything now that he had a chance to look without Abby watching him.
A collection of photos was scattered on the wall above the table. The Griffins had been constructing this collage for as long as Marcus could remember. One, in particular, caught his eye – of him and Jake standing over Clarke at her fourth birthday as she blew out her candles – but he was surprised to see just how many he was in. He’d never noticed before.
“Hey Abby,” he said.
She stopped mixing the sauce so she could turn to look at him. “What’s up?”
Marcus hesitated. “Scully’s really great.”
Abby smiled, nodded, and returned her attention to the stove.
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.”
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.
“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?”
“I’ll make sure to pack plenty of bug spray.”
His laughter rang in her ears long after she left the stage.
“Can we go look at the paint swatches?”
Marcus stopped in his tracks, and another customer just about to walk into the store had to step around him. He blinked skeptically down at Abby. “Are you planning to paint your house?”
“No, I just want to look,” she shrugged. “Didn’t you say we’re not really in a hurry?”
“I did…” Marcus hesitated. “But the sales people over there can be pretty pushy. Isn’t that how Clarke ended up with a green bedroom? You just wanted to look and then they talked Jake into ‘treating his little girl?’”
Abby laughed eagerly. “I’d forgotten about that. Well, I think you’re being a bit dramatic, but if you’re really so worried, we’ll run the moment they try to speak to us.”
“Very reassuring,” he murmured, but he couldn’t help smiling as she pointedly strode toward the paint section.
“You know, I actually have been thinking about painting my kitchen,” Marcus mused once they’d reached the swatches.
She shushed him and whispered, “Careful, they’ll hear you and take advantage of your weakness.”
“Now who’s being dramatic?”
Abby shrugged. She reached for a swatch of yellows, holding it up for his inspection. “I’ve always thought that a yellow kitchen would be beautiful. Yellow walls, white cabinets and counters… It would be so cheerful, don’t you think?”
“But you’re just looking,” Marcus said with a chuckle.
“It would be too much hassle to do anything with my kitchen. I like it how it is, it’s just one of those things that I used to imagine when I was young, y’know?” Abby returned the swatch to its place and moved to examine some nearby blues and purples. “But what’s your vision for your kitchen? I can’t even picture what it looks like.”
“Doesn’t surprise me—I don’t think you’ve been to my place since I moved.”
She remembered, abruptly, that he’d moved only a few weeks before they stopped talking. And in the time since reuniting through Much Ado, they hadn’t had any occasion to go to his house; Abby and Clarke’s house was so much bigger. It was customary.
“Right, good point.” She hesitated, then looked up at him with a tentative smile. “Paint me a picture?”
Marcus smiled too while he considered the request. “It’s a bit bigger than my old kitchen. For the first time in my life, I have a dishwasher, which is great. The walls are a sort of… blue-ish gray, I guess? There’s a window over the sink that looks out on the backyard. Um… white tile floor, dark wood cabinets.” He squinted at her. “Is that enough?”
“Yes, yes, I’ll put you out of your misery,” Abby laughed. “That sounds nice, though. What color ideas have you been toying with, though?”
He shrugged vaguely. “A milder gray or cream. Like an off-white sort of… thing.” Marcus trailed off, his brow furrowed. “Why do I feel like you’re trying to sell me paint?”
Abby scoffed and crossed her arms, speaking in a monotone: “You caught me, I secretly work for Home Depot.” Rolling her eyes, she swatted at his arm. “I’m just curious. You must have helped everyone in Arkadia paint, or put in flooring or cabinets or refrigerators or washing machines… It’s nice to hear about your own remodeling hopes and dreams.”
“They are few and far between,” Marcus said, chuckling. “I’d much rather just help you sort out your life. Like by getting you a new showerhead, for example.”
“No, no, that can wait.” Abby reached for a few swatches sporting varying shades of white and cream. “We’re planning your new kitchen.”
Marcus groaned. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Cooperate?” she offered with a playful grin. She held up a swatch for his inspection. “Thoughts?”
But he was saved from having to answer when his phone began to ring. He scrambled to reach into his pocket immediately, unable to conceal his surprise when he looked at the caller ID. “It’s my mom.”
“Oh, tell her I say hello!” Abby exclaimed eagerly. “And that you’re painting your kitchen…” She squinted down at the label on the swatch. “Dutch White next week.”
“Hi, Mom,” Marcus said. He took one look at the color that Abby was holding up, and he made a face and shook his head.
Abby continued to shuffle through the swatches as Vera said, “Marcus, dear, I need your help. My washer’s stopped working.”
“Your washer’s stopped working,” he echoed. “What’s wrong with it?”
“It doesn’t spin.”
Marcus hummed thoughtfully. Abby held up another swatch for him, and he nearly started laughing as he shook his head again and mouthed God, no. “Last time I opened it up, I noticed the drive belt looked a little worn—I wonder if it’s given out. Otherwise, it might be the transmission. Either way, I think I should be able to fix it. You’re in luck, too; I’m at Home Depot already with Abby, so I can be at your house in less than half an hour if she’s alright with tagging along.” Abby nodded agreeably. “Yeah, half an hour.”
“Oh, wonderful! I can’t wait to see you both.”
As he hung up, Marcus rolled his eyes at Abby. “She said she can’t wait to see us, like we’re making a social call or something.”
“Like she loves her son or something,” Abby countered.
“She mentioned you too.”
“Well, who wouldn’t love me?” She smirked up at Marcus, but she didn’t give him time to reply before she turned to return the paint swatches to their places. After a moment’s consideration, she held onto one, turning back around and setting it in Marcus’s hand. “Don’t say no to this one right away,” she instructed.
He sighed, but he obediently tucked the swatch into his back pocket. “Why don’t you start looking at the showerheads? I’ll go and find the stuff that my mom needs, then I can come meet you and help you pick between whatever two you’re inevitably going to be dithering over.”
Abby didn’t even bother to feign outrage. “Good call. I’ll see you in a few.”
Marcus got ahold of everything that he would need for Vera’s washer regardless of the problem, figuring that he could return whatever he did not use. When he found Abby, she was, indeed, vacillating between two showerheads, so he pointed out the one that he liked more and she grabbed it. Soon enough, they were out of Home Depot and in Vera’s driveway.
She was waiting for them when they arrived, sitting on her porch with a book. As they stepped out of Marcus’s truck, Vera jumped to her feet and rushed to greet them at the top of the steps. “You made such good time,” she marveled, pulling Marcus into a quick hug.
“I promised we’d be less than half an hour,” he chuckled. He laughed a little harder at Abby’s surprise when Vera released him and immediately went in to hug her as well.
“Yes, yes, I should believe you by now.” Vera rushed to her door, looking over her shoulder to say, “Abby, while Marcus is fussing over the washer, I have some cookies that I made for my book club that I have yet to sample, if you’d like to help me taste test them.”
Abby grinned and said, “That sounds great,” at the same time that Marcus asked, “But your favorite son doesn’t get any?”
“My favorite son can have as many as he likes once my washer works again.”
He scoffed, but he leaned down and kissed Vera’s cheek before ducking through the basement door. “With any luck, this won’t take long,” he called.
After grabbing a plate of sugar cookies – which, Abby had to say, smelled delicious, and still had steam rising from them – Vera offered Abby a glass of water and led her back out to the porch. Abby had only been to Vera’s house a handful of times, and she was fairly certain that Clarke had still been in middle school when she was at Vera’s most recently.
Vera still lived in the house Marcus had grown up in. It sat right at the outskirts of Arkadia, and its backyard was woodlands which spread out for about two miles. Jake and Marcus had spent plenty of time there with Clarke on weekends and over the summer, but for whatever reason, Abby rarely joined them on these visits.
It wasn’t that she disliked Vera; indeed, of all her friends’ parents, Vera was one of her favorites.
But deep down, it had always felt a bit like she was intruding on a part of Jake and Marcus’s childhood when she accompanied them to Vera’s. She’d heard so many stories about those woods from Jake when they were still at school, when the woods felt like an intangible, imaginary world that she’d never have any reason to step into. Stories of hide and seek and tick scares and first kisses and school-wide bonfires against Vera’s wishes and…
And it was still an intangible world to her, at least a little bit. Enough so that she was happy to see Vera whenever they all spent time together elsewhere around Arkadia, but that she usually took the chance to hang back and take some time to herself whenever Jake suggested that he take Clarke to visit Vera some Saturday.
“Thank you for dropping everything to come out here,” Vera said once they’d sat down.
“It was nothing,” Abby said. It was reflex, but she meant it. “Like Marcus said: we were at Home Depot already, so it worked out very well for you. And we weren’t in any hurry.”
“What were you looking for?”
“New showerhead. I’ve had to use Clarke’s shower for about a year. Which doesn’t matter much when she’s at school, but she’s starting to hate it now that she’s home again.”
Vera laughed. “Good of Marcus to help you out. I’m assuming he’s going to install it for you?”
“Yep. I wouldn’t bother otherwise.”
Lurking in the back of Abby’s mind was the thought that she hadn’t fixed it thus far because she couldn’t ask Marcus for help. But if that possibility occurred to Vera, she didn’t say anything about it.
Because Vera had mentioned that the cookies were meant for her book club, Abby asked her about what they’d been reading, and they spent some time discussing some of the books that the club had read recently. But then Vera derailed the conversation entirely.
“Abby, before Marcus is finished…”
Though struck by the drama of the statement, Abby leaned forward. “Hmm?”
Vera considered her words carefully before speaking, leaving Abby imagining all sorts of serious confessions.
“It’s just so wonderful to see that the two of you have begun to spend time together again. I don’t know what… happened between you two, but I know that Marcus has been happier lately than he’s been for a long time. Your friendship means a lot to him.”
Abby swallowed hard. She did her best to ignore the twinge in her gut. “It means a lot to me, too.”
Footsteps within the house made both Vera and Abby jolt. When Marcus appeared, he was wiping grease from his hands with a spare cloth. “I was right, it was the drive belt. I checked the transmission too anyway, but it looks to be working fine for now.” Looking between them, he frowned slightly. “Why do you both look so serious?”
“We were just having a good heart-to-heart,” his mother told him with a smile. “Would you like to join us out here?”
“I could, but I was actually going to say that I just saw you had some steaks in the freezer. If you two are up for it, I can grill them up real fast. Maybe some of those peppers in the fridge, too?”
Vera chuckled. “I don’t want you to feel obligated to stick around, dear.”
“That sounds really good,” Abby interjected. She looked around them thoughtfully, taking in the birds chirping in the nearby woods, the clouds rolling by. As much as she loved her house in town, she found herself marveling, for the first time, at the solitude of Vera’s house on this empty road. She sank back into her seat. “But why don’t you sit with us, Marcus? We can eat in a while.”
He looked down at Abby rather curiously for a moment, but then: “Sure, that would be nice.”
“I can’t believe we’re still talking about this,” Bellamy muttered. “I thought you two said you’d discuss it and make up your minds together before today’s rehearsal.”
“We tried.” Marcus frowned at his script. “We must have argued about it for an hour last night.”
Bellamy huffed loudly. “We’ve put off finalizing the blocking of this part of the scene for a week, now. I don’t even care whether they kiss anymore; I just need you both to decide.”
Marcus sighed. “The more we talk about it, the more I have trouble imagining that Beatrice would want to kiss Benedick in a moment so fraught with negative emotion.”
“Except that’s exactly why this positive confession hits her so hard,” Abby exclaimed, exasperated. “The man she loves has finally acknowledged his feelings for her, and she needs to express her joy in that moment somehow.”
“And what about Benedick?” Marcus crossed his arms and directed his gaze toward the floor. “Why would he want to kiss her when she’s so distraught?”
Abby looked between Marcus and her script, bewildered. “He told her that he loved her out of the blue. Why shouldn’t he kiss her?”
Marcus sighed again, more emphatically this time. “They’re talking to each other for the first time in this scene. They’re not bickering, they’re not making jokes. Beatrice is exposing herself to Benedick, and he tells her that he’s in love with her to reciprocate. It’s not out of the blue at all. But a kiss sure as hell would be. It wouldn’t feel right, not when Abby’s just finished crying over her cousin and when she’s about to start talking about murder…”
“You mean Beatrice,” Bellamy offered, tentatively.
“Right, Beatrice,” Marcus echoed. “But that doesn’t matter. The point is that a kiss just feels forced. You know how much I respect Abby’s opinions on this play, Bell.” He glanced toward her and gave her a small smile, which she returned. “You know I’d have to feel strongly about this to fight so hard. I’m willing to put a kiss in if it feels right, I just don’t see yet why it would feel right.”
Bellamy looked between Marcus and Abby, appraising them carefully. Then he glanced over his own script. “We’re going to block it with a kiss,” he told them at last. “I see where you’re coming from, Marcus, but I agree with Abby, and we really shouldn’t put it off any longer. If you win her over, we’ll figure it out, but I don’t want to waste any more time on this right now.”
“Sure, I understand.” He nodded graciously.
“Great. Then Abby, why don’t you go back to your mark from the end of the wedding, and we’ll start blocking from there.”
As Bellamy walked them through the scene, they stopped a few times at various marks for John to make small adjustments to the lighting programs. While they were standing together, Abby looked up to Marcus and murmured, “I see where you’re coming from, too. Benedick’s finally gone out on a limb, and it probably feels a bit like she’s punishing him by asking him to kill his best friend. A kiss certainly makes that worse.”
Marcus hummed. “Yes, it does.”
Then, after a moment’s hesitation, Abby said, “But don’t you think that it’s the first thing you would do in a moment like that?”
He swallowed hard, blinking down at Abby for a few agonizing moments. But then he looked away. “I don’t know what I’d do in a moment like that.” Raising his voice, he said, “Bellamy, I left my water bottle offstage, mind if I get it?”
Abby watched after Marcus as he jogged away. She couldn’t shake the feeling that, somewhere along the line, he’d begun to argue about something else.
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.”
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…”
“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.
A year and a half earlier
“Y’know, I feel like I haven’t given this city enough of a chance,” Marcus mused. He gestured vaguely around them, as though the restaurant was enough to illustrate his point. “Now, keep in mind that I’d still pick Milwaukee for the usual weekend outing—”
Abby snorted in the middle of a sip of water. “Put it more formally, I dare you.”
He continued as though she hadn’t interrupted. “Because… the parking is cheaper. The restaurants are cheaper. There’s less traffic. It’s a much closer commute, obviously. But I do feel sophisticated coming to Chicago, in an absurd sort of way.”
“Now, would that be because of the four hot dogs that you gracefully shoved into your mouth during lunch, or because of the scene you made in the Art Institute when a teenager got in front of you while you were trying to have your Ferris Bueller moment in front of that Seurat painting?”
Marcus smirked at her. “Okay, well obviously it’s mostly because of this evening. This is restaurant is so fancy they have a coat check, for God’s sake.” He lowered his voice to a near whisper. “And it felt pretty mandatory, coming in here wearing what looked like parkas. The servers would have had to squeeze around us.”
“We could have always asked for a table for four and treated our coats to a nice dinner,” Abby offered.
He giggled and shook his head. “And now we’re going to the symphony… It all just feels very…”
“Yes, exactly. Not that I’m not thrilled that your boss offered you the tickets, and that you invited me. Did I mention that I played Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in college?”
Abby leaned forward eagerly. “You certainly didn’t.”
“It was during my last concert before graduation. I’d honestly forgotten about it until you sent me the program notes and I looked up all the pieces. I played in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto once, too, although I don’t like to think about it—I hated the soloist.” At Abby’s questioning look, Marcus sighed and added, “She was in a lot of my philosophy classes, and she was always so insufferable. Plus, right before we started practicing the Mozart, she started dating this guy I’d been trying to seduce all semester, so I might have been…”
“A little biased,” Abby smirked. “Right.”
“No such negative connections to the Serenade, though. That was some of the most fun I ever had in orchestra.”
“And then you graduated and packed your cello away in perpetuity.”
Marcus looked down at his water, spinning it uncomfortably on the table. “Pretty much. I stopped listening to that sort of music, too. So this’ll be… nice. It’ll be really nice.”
“Good, I’m glad you think so.” She smiled gently at him. “If you’re nearly finished, I think we’d be able to make the pre-concert lecture. I know you mentioned being curious about it earlier.”
He considered this. “Or, alternatively, we could get some of that chocolate lava cake that we saw at that other table as we were coming in.”
Abby laughed. “Would you mind splitting it?”
“Do I ever mind?”
She smirked. “Good point. Sure, let’s have some cake.”
Even though Marcus and Abby left the concert in good time, and even though the drive out of Chicago was far less arduous than the drive in, it took a few hours to get back to Arkadia. Abby offered to take the wheel, because she was far more of a night owl than Marcus, but he was protective of his truck. She’d never heard of anyone else driving it, not even Jake.
“Just talk to me and I’ll stay awake just fine,” he told her.
So she did. He listened and dutifully ‘Mhm’ed as she expressed exasperation about her parents, who were complaining that she, once again, had not set aside vacation time to visit them with Clarke over the summer. She talked about the new interns at the hospital, and mentioned that she was particularly fond of Eric Jackson, whom she hoped her boss would hire at the end of his residency. She told him that Clarke had officially declared an art history major the other day, and that even though she wanted to be excited for her daughter, she couldn’t shut off the part of herself that was concerned art history wouldn’t be a viable option post-graduation.
“I was always so determined not to be one of those parents who insisted their kid go into a profitable field,” Abby said. “But you and I both know that Jake was the low maintenance one, especially when it came to Clarke’s future. He was so convinced that she would be able to find a place for herself wherever she looked, but it’s hard to have that optimism when she’s settled on art history.”
For the first time in what was probably about half an hour, Marcus spoke. “What does she want to do?”
“That’s part of the problem: she has no idea.”
“Does that worry her?”
Abby opened her mouth reflexively, but then she paused. “I don’t know.”
Marcus glanced over at her, although Abby could hardly see his face in the darkness. “I’d bet you anything it does.”
“Why are you so sure?”
“Imagine how she feels—her dad was an engineer, and you’re a doctor. There’s no way it hasn’t occurred to her that her life will be nowhere near as comfortable. Besides which… she’s your daughter. I’ve spent the past 20 years watching her make decisions just like you do.”
Abby smiled to herself and reached over to the gear shift, smoothing her thumb over the back of his hand. “Thank you, Marcus. You’re probably right.”
“Of course I am. So just… try to let her be happy. Get excited over her classes when she wants to talk to you about them. Don’t say ‘I told you so’ when she has a crisis about her future.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
He laughed. “I think you underestimate yourself.”
Something in Marcus’s tone made Abby’s breath catch in her throat, and she fell silent for a few moments, at a loss for words.
“I still need you to help me stay awake,” he reminded her quietly.
“Right. Okay. Sorry.” Abby didn’t point out that they were nearly home; that if he was still so cognizant, he would easily make it back to Arkadia. Instead, she said, “I have some ice cream at home that I’ve been thinking about for the past hour.”
Marcus hummed. “Cherry Garcia?”
“Yep. I think there’s still half a pint of Strawberry Cheesecake left from the last time you came over, if you want it.”
“I really, really do.” After a pause, though, he said, “But I probably shouldn’t. I need to get to work pretty early tomorrow.”
Abby was taken aback by how disappointed she was. “Right, makes sense.”
They pulled off the highway in good time. They parked in Abby’s driveway, and, after considering it for a moment, Marcus cut off the engine. At the same moment, Abby got a text from Clarke.
“My daughter thinks it’s funny that I didn’t like the Ligeti,” she scoffed.
“I told you she’d say that,” Marcus chuckled, shaking his head. “Have you seen the sort of stuff she listens to?”
“I know, I know.” Abby shifted in her seat, turning so that she could look at Marcus. “I’m more surprised that you liked it.”
He looked over at her bashfully. “I thought you were done making fun of me for that.”
“I’m never done making fun of you,” Abby said, nudging his arm. Marcus looked over at her briefly, but he didn’t say anything, and Abby swallowed hard as she unbuckled her seatbelt. “Sure you don’t want any ice cream?”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s…” Marcus glanced at the broken clock on the dashboard out of habit and flinched before checking his phone. “It’s nearly 2, Christ. I guess the drive home took longer than we thought it would.”
“Okay. Well, thanks for coming with me. I haven’t been able to see you as much since you started campaigning and I started taking more night shifts. It was…” Abby looked down at her lap. “It was really nice to hang out for more than an hour or two in one go.”
“It was, yeah.”
“We’ll talk tomorrow?”
Marcus nodded. “Yeah, sounds good.”
“Great. Have a good night.” Abby leaned across the seat to give Marcus a quick kiss on the cheek, but in the dark, she couldn’t see his face as well, and she ended up catching part of his mouth.
She pulled back, freezing with only a few inches between them. Her hand was on his shoulder, and she was distinctly aware of Marcus’s fingers, which were settled close to her thigh on the seat.
“I’m—” Abby started.
“Sorry,” Marcus said at the same time.
But neither of them budged. Neither of them took a breath.
Abby tilted her head toward Marcus slightly, her gaze drifting down to his lips, back up to his eyes. She saw a question there.
She answered it by leaning in again, capturing his lips in a full, eager kiss. Abby crawled across the seat, closer to Marcus, and her heart leapt when she heard the click of Marcus’s seat belt that allowed him to shift away from the steering wheel. In one fluid motion, he reached for her waist, and Abby followed his lead, crawling into his lap.
Marcus trailed a hand up Abby’s side, settling at her neck so that he could pull her closer, kiss her harder. She sighed into his mouth, a long and shuddering breath that sent goosebumps up Marcus’s arms.
Then she shifted in his lap, grinding against his pelvis just slightly, and he groaned. Abby smiled against his lips, peppering a few more kisses around his mouth and cheeks before pulling back to take a quick breath.
“Is… is that offer of ice cream still on the table?” Marcus mumbled.
“Fuck yes,” Abby breathed.
He giggled eagerly as he fumbled for the door handle, and they stumbled out of his door one after another, Abby only barely remembering to grab her coat and purse.
“Stop laughing, you’ll wake the neighbors,” Abby whispered as she pulled Marcus toward her door.
“Will not,” Marcus muttered. “We’re being quiet as mice.”
Abby rolled her eyes and shushed him again, tugging at his arm with greater determination.
They practically fell across the threshold. Marcus glanced toward the kitchen, and for a moment, Abby thought that Marcus legitimately did want to come in for ice cream. But then he pulled her into another kiss, and they took clumsy steps toward the sofa instead.
Marcus’s head buzzed as Abby pressed her hips against his, as she traced her fingers down his chest, undoing the buttons of his shirt and trailing kisses along his skin as she went.
Somewhere around the time that Marcus found himself itching to reach for the zipper of Abby’s dress, it registered to Marcus that Abby had become more guarded; her touch was light, timid, and he could feel her torso pulling away, as though she were subconsciously straining to get out of his reach.
Immediately, he leaned as far away from her as possible, looking into her eyes – trying, desperately trying, to not stare down at her pink, pink lips, swollen from kissing him – as he asked, “Abby, is… is this alright?” And, after a brief pause, “Are you alright?”
For a moment, the question didn’t even seem to register, not entirely. Abby stared at Marcus blankly—he felt as though he was being appraised. She’d never looked at him like this.
He wasn’t sure he liked it, having her size him up so thoroughly. It didn’t feel like a good thing.
And then she was out of his lap, off the sofa, and on her feet in front of him, cast in little more than moonlight to give Marcus a hint at her feelings.
“No, no, it’s…” she mumbled to herself. “I want it to be, I really do, but it’s not alright. I don’t think it is alright.”
Marcus bit his lip and looked up at Abby sadly. If her tone was anything to go by, she was not simply talking about the kissing – the easily-almost-more than kissing – that had been happening between them. “Okay, that’s fine. We really… we really could go eat some ice cream,” he offered.
But she hardly heard him. “No, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’ve spent months wondering about you, trying to figure out if— why I was attracted to you.”
“Why?” Marcus echoed, bewildered.
“Sure,” Abby mumbled. “‘What if Marcus just reminds me of Jake?’ ‘What if it just feels like it couldn’t go somewhere with Marcus?’ ‘What if Marcus just feels safe? Maybe it’s not about him at all.’”
Marcus’s eyes widened, but he found himself speechless.
“And, I mean, you were… you were Jake’s best friend. You were his best friend,” she repeated, quieter. “And that’s why I… that’s why I can’t—”
Both of them were taken aback by the tears that seemed to be building in her eyes, and under any other circumstances, Marcus would have immediately moved to wipe her tears away. As it was, though, he simply rose to his feet, leaving so much space between them.
An unbearable amount of space between them.
“I’m my own person,” he offered, quietly. “I’m not just ‘Jake’s best friend.’ I know you know me well enough by now to know that. It’s been years since you saw me like that.”
She shook her head. “That’s not what I mean. I just…” Abby squinted at Marcus. “Sometimes I lie awake at night and I… and I still ache, wondering if he might still be here if it weren’t for you. You were his best friend, yet…”
Marcus’s breath caught in his throat. “Abby—”
“No, no, think about it, Marcus. You were the one who invited us out that night. You were the one driving. Who knows what might have happened if you hadn’t… if you’d just…” Abby fell silent, staring at him. She looked pained, and what hurt Marcus the most was that she looked at him, in part, like it hurt her to say these things to him. Like she knew, even as she fretted over these anxieties, that it would kill Marcus to hear them.
And it did kill him, a little bit.
It certainly killed him enough that he didn’t bother to argue with her anymore. Marcus buttoned his shirt in a rush, not bothering to fix it when he realized the sides were uneven.
Before he strode to the door, Marcus held Abby’s gaze for long enough to murmur, “Please don’t hide over this. I…” He looked down at the ground, staring at his feet bashfully. “I can’t lose another best friend.”
With these words, Abby’s face crumbled, and she turned away immediately.
This, Marcus supposed, was his cue.
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?”
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?
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?”
The kids had been hard at work on costumes for nearly an hour when John Murphy voiced the question that had occurred to many of them. “I don’t get it. If Leonato’s so wealthy, why are their clothes ratty?”
“Not everyone’s, John,” Lexa sighed. It sounded as though she had explained this one too many times to cast members already. “Just the servants. Their station’s pretty isolated, so they wouldn’t get that many shipments. What they do get goes to Leonato’s family first. That’s why Leonato, Hero, Beatrice’s costumes are nicer. And the soldiers’ first costumes are disheveled since they’re coming back from war, but they’ll get new clothes for their next appearance.”
He rolled his eyes and looked to Emori, who sat beside him on the floor, sewing a patch onto a shirt. “You do know this is exactly why I became a booth guy, right? So I wouldn’t have to deal with this crap.”
Rather than answer, she smirked and leaned over, kissing him on the cheek.
Octavia was less eager to let this sort of grumbling slide. “Lexa and I need all the help we can get right now, Murphy. We’ve only done fittings with a third of the costumes, and Bell is starting to get antsy.”
“Which explains why he’s also elbows-deep in fabric… Oh, hang on.” John glanced around Raven’s apartment, feigning surprise when he did not spot the elder Blake sibling. “He’s not, is he?”
“Calm down, Murph. He’ll be here as soon as he’s done with Mr. Jaha.” Clarke said. Nearly ten minutes earlier, their dinner had been delivered, and Clarke and Wells had taken it to the kitchen, to get all the food out where there was no threat of staining costumes. Now, she stood in the doorway to tell them all, “In the meantime, the food’s ready.”
Everyone discarded their respective tasks immediately, jumping to their feet and rushing to get into a line and squeeze into Raven’s miniscule kitchen.
John Murphy was not the only one who was cognizant of the fact that they had little legitimate reason to be so hard at work on the costumes. But Clarke had tired of hearing Bellamy and Lexa complain about how slow-going the costume-making was, and the three of them combined had little trouble strong-arming their friends into helping to move the process along.
“No food near the costumes,” Lexa instructed them all as they filtered through the kitchen. “I don’t want any stains that we could have avoided.”
That said, costumes were spread throughout Raven’s living and dining rooms, which limited the area in which the kids could eat. So they huddled close in small areas, remaining on their feet as they chatted over their food. Clarke, Lexa, and Raven found themselves cramped in a corner of the kitchen.
“Has all this helped you and Octavia to make enough of a dent?” Clarke asked.
“It has, yes.” Lexa smiled gently. “Bellamy will be thrilled. I think we’ll be able to send everybody home by 9.”
Raven looked between them. “Are you guys still planning to stay overnight?”
“Oh, you couldn’t get rid of us if you tried,” Clarke grinned. “I think Bell and Octavia are still planning to stick around, too.”
“Good, I’m glad. It’ll be fun.” Raven nodded toward Octavia, who was busy shooing Nathan and Eric away from Nathan’s wedding costume. “Maybe we can even get their minds off the play for a few hours.”
Clarke sighed and shook her head. “Not likely. When my mom and I went into Indra’s last Saturday, Bellamy was in there to talk about some costume idea that Octavia apparently had while cleaning the espresso machine. They didn’t even want to wait until her break to discuss it.”
“Was that when she figured out how we could reuse Hero’s wedding dress in Act 5?” Lexa asked. “Because that really was brilliant…” At the sight of Clarke’s raised eyebrows, she faltered, looking somewhat abashed as she concluded, “But obviously she shouldn’t be fretting so much.”
“Right.” Clarke smirked. “You could probably sound a little less half-hearted, but I know it’s just because you want to be done too. Which, y’know… will be soon. We’ll be finished with the show before we know it.”
“That’s probably a bit of a relief to you too, right?”
Clarke’s brow furrowed just slightly. “What do you mean?”
“Um, I just meant…” As soon as Raven began to stammer, Clarke knew she wasn’t going to like what her friend was trying to say. “Because it seems like your mom and Marcus are… fighting… again, so it’ll probably nice for you to… not have to be in the middle of that,” she ended lamely.
“Oh.” Clarke did not frown—her expression remained vacant as she quite pointedly looked around the room. “I don’t know where you’d get that idea.”
Raven bit her lip, glancing to Lexa for assistance, which she received. “It’s not so much the fact that they don’t seem to talk anywhere near as much as they were…”
“Even though that’s true,” Raven muttered.
Lexa continued, “But they don’t… they don’t talk about each other, Clarke. Even when Mr. Jaha and Bellamy give them comments on scenes together, it’s like they’re… like they’re even scared to say each other’s names.”
Clarke swallowed hard. It had been about a week since Abby came to Clarke and revealed the grittier details of her history with Marcus. Although Clarke agreed that all of Lexa and Raven’s observations were true – and although she was quietly thinking herself that it would be a relief not to watch Abby and Marcus dancing around each other anymore – she wasn’t sure whether she should really acknowledge Marcus and Abby’s discord to anyone.
But she had tired of this secret and tired of not being able to talk about it with anyone aside from her mother.
“I suppose they have been a bit distant. I’ve just been trying not to think about it much.” Which was true.
“You? Stifle your feelings about a personal conflict?”
“Never would’ve seen that coming,” Raven chimed in.
Clarke scoffed and rolled her eyes, taking a large bite of her sandwich that rendered her mute. She was saved from further discussion of the topic when they heard Raven’s front door open and peered into the living room to see that Bellamy had arrived.
He responded to the chorus of greetings with a lighthearted, “Hey you guys. Did I miss anything important?”
Octavia laughed. “Nope, we’ve been saving the most boring job just for you.” She and Bellamy shared a quick fist bump as he strode into the kitchen. “You get to fold everything. And mind the creases on those military costumes, the asshole director would kill me if anyone messes them up.”
“I bet he would,” Bellamy agreed. Shaking his head sadly, he mused, “That guy really sounds like a dick, O.”
“Aren’t you tired of making fun of yourself yet?” Raven asked.
“Never.” He nodded toward the platters that still sat on the kitchen counter. “Can I partake, or will Murph bite my head off for eating when I haven’t done anything yet?”
From the other room, they heard a shout of, “What do you think?”
Bellamy rolled his eyes, but he smiled fondly. “Right. Okay, I’ll hold off on dinner for a bit.” He was about to head back into the living room, but he stopped almost immediately and looked over at Clarke. “Oh, could you let your mom know that Thelonious wants to stage the Act 4, scene 1 kiss later this week? I honestly think we could put it off until tech week, but he really thinks it’s important to make sure that it’s well-executed.”
Clarke stammered for a moment before saying, “Yeah, of course.”
“Great. Maybe she can let Marcus know too?”
This time, Clarke couldn’t even bring herself to speak, so she just smiled and nodded, trying her best to ignore the pointed glance that Raven and Lexa were exchanging from either side of her.
As soon as Bellamy left the kitchen, Clarke cleared her throat and said, “Well, I think I’m going to get back to work,” before devouring the rest of her sandwich in one large bite.
Clarke, Raven, and the Blakes had their fair share of sleepovers growing up, and when Lexa moved to Arkadia as a freshman in high school, she gradually became a part of this tradition as well. It used to be customary for them to stay at the Griffins’ house. They would all fall asleep on the floor in the basement in the middle of watching some movie, and they wouldn’t emerge until the smell of Jake’s cooking wafted down to them (helped along by Abby, who, Clarke later learned, would open the door to the basement just a crack and talk somewhat loudly in the hopes that the kids would stir).
It didn’t feel quite right to have them stay at her house again once Jake was gone, and, although she never discussed it with them, she got the sense that her friends felt the same, because Raven’s apartment became an inevitable replacement when everyone else came home for Christmas and summer vacations.
Sometimes they woke up and prepared their own breakfast together, but after so much time spent on costumes – and a spontaneous Lord of the Rings marathon that died off when Bellamy realized at the end of Fellowship that he was the only one still awake – none of them were up to cooking.
Which was what prompted them all to filter into Indra’s at 9am, sleepy but cheerful as they ordered coffee and food.
It wasn’t until they were all seated that Clarke looked around the café and spotted Marcus, sitting alone and reading in a secluded corner that was partially concealed by the counter.
He was too consumed by his coffee and book to see her, and for nearly half an hour, she didn’t want him to. She didn’t want him to feel obligated to greet her.
But Clarke found it increasingly difficult to ignore the thought of Abby’s tears as she described the tumultuous moments of her history with Marcus, as she thought of the anxiety and uncertainty that she knew her mother was feeling at the thought of him.
Moreover, she thought of Raven and Lexa’s teasing about her inclination to ignore conflicts, which had nagged at her all night. Because her first instinct had been to point out that she simply did not feel it fair to discuss the particulars of her mother’s romantic life without permission, but as she’d drifted off to sleep, she found herself acknowledging the aspect of this entire conflict that she had been ignoring.
Looking down at her mug, she saw that she’d finished off her coffee, and with a glance toward Marcus’s corner, she made a split-second decision. “I’ll be back,” she said to the table.
“Hi Indra,” she said as she reached the counter. “Could I do a refill, please?”
Indra nodded and gave Clarke a small smile. “Of course. I can bring it back to your table if you like.”
“No, I’m actually going to… bother him for a little bit,” she said carefully, nodding in the direction of Marcus’s corner.
“You don’t say.” Indra looked toward Marcus, her jaw set, and Clarke found herself wondering whether he had confided anything in her. Then: “Good, I think he could use a bit of company. Why don’t you wait for your drink here, then? And I’ll give you some coffee for him, he’s probably ready for some decaf by now.”
When Clarke slid Marcus’s coffee onto his table, he didn’t even raise his eyes from his book at first. “Is it 10 o’clock already?”
Then Clarke put her drink down and sat across from him. “Not quite, but nearly.”
He snapped his book shut and looked up quick after that. “Clarke. Hi.”
She gave him the gentlest smile she could muster. “Hi.”
Neither of them said anything for a few moments, but it didn’t feel quite as awkward as Clarke expected. Finally, Marcus nodded toward her friends. “Did you guys get some work done on the costumes like you were hoping?”
“We did, yeah.” Clarke’s smile grew wider. “We made a lot of progress. Eric was so excited by how useful it was that I think he’s going to drag us all into finishing the set, too.”
“I’m glad it went well.”
Marcus did not look back at his book. He was not glancing around the café. Clarke got the overall impression that he wanted her there, but as he fidgeted with his mug and spent too long stirring in his sugar, she could tell that he didn’t know what to say to her, either.
So Clarke decided to put him out of his misery. “She told me.”
His mouth fell open just slightly. “Wh– Abby?” When Clarke nodded, he asked, “What did she tell you?”
“She told me about Chicago. And about what happened on the camping trip that made her leave.”
“Does it…” Marcus frowned down at the table. “Is it rude of me to say that I’m surprised?”
“So am I.” When he glanced up at her with raised eyebrows, she rushed to add, “Not about you, I mean. That didn’t… that didn’t surprise me at all. I’m surprised that she talked to me about it.”
Marcus leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms, exhaling slowly. “Are you here to try and talk to me for her?”
“God no,” Clarke exclaimed. The immediacy of her response drew a sincere chuckle from Marcus, which made her smile just a bit. “She told me what happened between you two, but I don’t know what she wants. I don’t think she knows. And I hope that she figures it out, because she’s… she’s not happy right now, and I hate to see her like that. But I… I wanted to talk to you about something else.”
He gestured her on, although he eyed her cautiously. “Go ahead.”
“Last time you and Mom stopped talking, I was totally in the dark about why. I imagined so many reasons for what could have happened so abruptly, these ridiculous things that I kind of laugh at now that I know better.” Clarke cocked her head at Marcus and squinted as she said, “But I didn’t care nearly as much about that as I did about why you stopped talking to me.”
Marcus’s features immediately softened, and such distress shone in his eyes as he said, “Shit, Clarke… I just wasn’t sure… I didn’t know what you’d want or if you’d… feel weird…” He ran a hand through his hair. “It feels so lame saying it out loud.”
“I’m not upset about that anymore, though,” she rushed to reassure him. “I kind of figured it was a concern about, like, picking sides. It probably felt easier to just do it for me.”
“Yes,” he murmured. “Something like that.”
“But imagine what it was like for me to grow up with you around all the time, and then to just… not hear from you anymore. Hell, you were practically my dad. Which… feels a bit strange to say now, given the circumstances,” she said slowly, frowning down at the table and chuckling slightly as Marcus laughed into his mug. “But it’s true. It… it sucks that my dad is gone, but that first year, all I could think about was how much harder it would have been without Mom and you. It was nice to know that we could all kind of take care of each other.”
Marcus smiled to himself. “It was, yeah. But what…” He hesitated. “What are you getting at, exactly?”
“Just…” Clarke sighed. “You and my mom might not talk for the next week, or for the next 25 years, but I’d really appreciate it if you don’t convince yourself that I’m on anyone’s side this time. Do you think you can do that?”
“I think so.”
“Good. Because you’re important to me.”
He swallowed hard before giving her an earnest – albeit shaky – smile. “You’re important to me, too.” Glancing over Clarke’s shoulder, Marcus said, “If you want to go back to your friends, now, though, I won’t be offended.”
Clarke didn’t even give this suggestion consideration. “Don’t worry about it. They’re not going anywhere. We can chat for a little bit longer.”
She didn’t miss the fact that he became even more relaxed after that.
It did not escape Abby’s notice that the entire cast and crew of Much Ado seemed to come to each rehearsal expecting the tension between her and Marcus to come to a head.
She wanted to be annoyed about it, but she had to acknowledge – at least to herself – that a part of her expected it too. She did everything that she could to prevent the conflict between them from negatively impacting the way that she played Beatrice, but that didn’t mean that she could shut off the ache in her gut and the stopper in her throat each time she so much as looked at him.
And that… well. That was enough to make her feel fairly certain that if she couldn’t sort out a way to resolve things with him on her own, maybe the entire cast and crew was right.
“You know the way to avoid that,” Clarke muttered over dinner, the one evening when Abby voiced her anxiety. “Just talk to him.”
“I… I can’t. Not yet.” Abby grimaced and fixed her eyes on her fork. “I still don’t know what to say to him, if he even wanted to talk to me.”
“He does,” Clark mumbled.
Clarke looked down at her plate, pushing her food around her plate absent-mindedly. “I just… I feel like he does. He’s got to.”
Abby gave her daughter a resigned smile. “I love you, sweetie.”
“Love you too.” Clarke cocked her head to the side and raised her eyebrows. “Although I’ll love you more once you’re willing to acknowledge that the problem isn’t that you don’t know what to say to Marcus.”
Abby stopped chewing abruptly and stared at her daughter in genuine bewilderment for several seconds before swallowing. “Wh- what do you mean?”
But it seemed like Clarke was not interested in talking about Marcus anymore, because she shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. You’re both adults. You’ll get through the last few weeks of this play just fine.”
“Right, of course we will.”
Clarke nodded definitively, then glanced down at her phone. “What do you say we go to a movie tomorrow? Eat some popcorn and think about someone else’s drama for a change.”
Abby laughed dryly, but she said, “Sure, sweetie. A movie sounds great.”
Much to Abby’s relief, Bellamy had talked Thelonious out of spending non-dress rehearsals on Act 4, scene 1 with the full staging of Beatrice and Benedick’s kiss, but she had not thought much about what would happen once the first full dress rehearsal rolled around.
As Bellamy sat on the edge of the stage, delivering his pre-rehearsal notes, he directed his attention to Abby and Marcus only long enough to say, “Your Act 4 kiss is in today. We’re really going to try to go without stopping, so if it doesn’t work quite right, that’s fine, we’ll just move on.”
“Fine,” Abby mumbled. She heard a similarly vague response from Marcus further down her row; although she longed to get a glimpse of his expression, her view of him was entirely obscured by Clarke, Nathan, and Jacapo.
And she really, truly did think it was going to be fine.
They ran through their confrontation in the first scene and it was fine.
They bantered in the first and last scenes of Act 2 and it was fine.
She was curled on the floor of the stage, feigning tears over Hero’s shaming, and Marcus crouched down beside her and—
And then he said, in an unimaginably gentle voice: “Lady Beatrice, have you wept all this while?”
“Yea, and I will weep a while longer.”
Quite tentatively, he moved to smooth his hand over her back, although his hand hovered in the air for a few seconds, as though he expected their touch to shock him. “I will not desire that.”
Abby looked up at Marcus, and her heart plummeted into her stomach. For just an instant, all she could see was Marcus’s face in the firelight again.
In that moment, she was deeply grateful for her blocking, and she scrambled to her feet to retreat, crossing her arms and crossing the stage as she replied, “You have no reason. I do it freely.”
Behind her, Marcus took a few steps toward her, but she was so aware of the feet that stretched between them. “Surely I do believe your fair cousin is wronged.”
“Ah, how much might the man deserve of me that would right her!” she exclaimed, just barely allowing herself to glance back at him.
“Is… is there any way to show such friendship?” Again, he took a few timid steps.
She turned to look at Marcus, although she couldn’t bring herself to take in the expression on his face—she spoke to his stomach, instead, as she said, “A very even way, but no such friend.”
“May a man do it?”
Abby shook her head slightly. “It is a man’s office, but not yours.”
He waited a beat, as he always did, so that he could size her up before Benedick’s big declaration. “I…”
But instead of finishing the sentence, Marcus said nothing, and the word hung in the air.
Abby’s eyes shifted to his face, and she was shaken by how vacant his expression was as he said, once again, “I…”
Under any other circumstances, she would have fed him his line, but she knew he had not forgotten it.
She stared at him desperately, willing him to keep going so that they could just get through this scene and get on with rehearsal.
“Fuck,” Marcus said at last, taking a few steps backward and shaking his head. “I… I’m sorry, Bell, I just… can’t. I… I can’t.”
And then he was backstage and out the door.
Everyone in the theater seemed afraid to break the silence. Then one of the chairs in the house creaked as someone got up and strode down the aisle.
Bellamy came to stand at the bottom of the stage and said, “Abby.” Quiet and un-menacing, but that didn’t stop Abby from feeling like a child in trouble with her parents as she crossed the stage to him. He beckoned her closer, still, so she knelt down onto the floor.
“I’m so sorry,” she rushed to say immediately. “Don’t be mad at Marcus about this, it’s entirely my—”
“I don’t care.”
Abby squinted and cocked her head at Bellamy. “What?”
He spoke measured and low. “I don’t care what’s wrong. I don’t care whose fault it is. But I don’t want you or Marcus back on this stage until it’s fixed. We’ve put too much into this play for it to be derailed by two grown adults who can’t talk about their fucking feelings. We will finish rehearsal without you if we need to. Okay?”
Abby swallowed and nodded. “Okay.”
Bellamy gestured in the direction that Marcus had retreated, and Abby scrambled to her feet. As she rushed out the door, Bellamy shouted, “Act 4, scene 2, let’s go! Murph, I want those lights ready in 30 seconds!”
Octavia, Lexa, Clarke, Nathan, and Eric were in the break room on the other side of the door, and all five of them turned to look as Abby came in. She didn’t even have to ask before Clarke pointed toward the hallway and said, “I think he went out into the back alley.”
“Right. Okay.” She was nearly to the hall when she stopped in her tracks, turning to look at her daughter. “Clarke, sweetie, can I ask you something?”
“Of course.” Clarke didn’t move at first, but then Abby glanced pointedly at Clarke’s friends, sitting around the table with her, and she took the hint, jumping to her feet and rushing over.
Abby bit her lip and frowned at the floor for a moment, then she murmured, “The other night, you said… you said that the problem isn’t that I don’t know what to say to Marcus.”
“Yes, that sounds like me.”
“What… what is the problem?”
Clarke’s eyes shone with sympathy as she sized her mother up. “Mom… It seems like you’re just scared to hear what he’ll say back.”
Abby said nothing. She blinked at Clarke for a few seconds, then she brushed her hand down her daughter’s arm by way of thanks before continuing on her way. She did not rush—she felt a strange need to prolong this final moment of…
She couldn’t call it peace. She hadn’t felt at peace for a long time.
But if she wasn’t talking to him yet, there was no chance of him rejecting her, even though, by this point, she felt very strongly that she deserved it.
Just as Clarke predicted, Marcus was outside. As Abby eased the door open, she saw him sitting on the steps a few feet away, facing out into the alley. Away from anyone who might chase after him.
Wordlessly, she sat down beside him. She left space—it felt like so much space, but it couldn’t have been more than a foot and a half.
“I honestly wasn’t sure whether you’d even be the one to come out after me,” he told the ground.
“I don’t blame you,” Abby whispered. “I’ve been…”
“Stubborn? Opaque? Difficult to be around for more than a few minutes at the time?”
Abby swallowed hard. “Yes. To all of those things.”
He sniffed, which, she suspected, was the closest she’d get to a laugh. “I’m tired of this, Abby. You can’t tell me that you think we can go on doing… whatever the fuck it is we’re doing.”
“No, I don’t.”
“See, but if that’s true… I don’t understand what’s been going through your head. Because you… you must have realized that the longer we let this hang in the air, the harder it would be to… to talk about it.”
“So why have we let it hang in the air?”
The irony did not miss either of them that Abby let this question, itself, hang in the air for some seconds.
“Because it scares me, Marcus.” Abby hesitated. “It scares me so much I can’t even think.”
“Christ, Abby, me too.” He sat up a bit higher and, for the first time, he turned his torso just slightly to look at her. “I need you to know that I’ve been scared out of my mind trying to understand- trying to figure out everything that’s happened between us. Not just this summer, but…”
“Since Jake died,” she mumbled.
This, it seemed, was not what Marcus had expected—he leaned back so that he could look at Abby full on, although she couldn’t bring herself to return his gaze, even to gauge his expression. “Well, I was just going to say since last winter…”
“I know, I just… I’m trying to explain myself, Marcus. So many of the things that I said last winter were uncalled for, but most of them trace back to the fact that… part of me is scared to let myself truly move on from Jake, and part of me is scared to think about what it would mean to move on with you. Those things were nagging at me long before we went to Chicago.”
Marcus took a deep breath. “That stuff about me… reminding you of Jake…”
His question hung in the air, implicit.
“I can’t even tell you how much I thought about that,” Abby said, chuckling low. “But no, that’s not really what I worry about anymore. It’s more…” She hesitated for quite some time, piecing her words together, and Marcus waited dutifully. “Jake has been a part of our lives for so long. Our relationship has literally always existed around him. And even though you are… you, what if that’s not enough? What if a relationship between us can’t stand on its own long-term? That’s where I’ve gotten stuck every time I’ve considered calling you these past few weeks.”
Abby chanced a glance at him. “Oh?”
Marcus grimaced. “I’ve wondered about that too. I… I hate to think about how awful it would be for you to finally open yourself up to anyone, only to find out that a relationship with them isn’t sustainable. After thinking about it for a long time, though, I guess I just figured…”
He didn’t speak at first. He rung his hands in his lap, and glanced over at Abby, then back at his hands…
“Jake is a part of who you are,” Marcus began carefully. “And he and I grew up together, so God knows he’s a part of who I am. And… honestly, he’ll probably always be a part of our relationship. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t build something together that’s… that’s good and different and ours. I don’t want you to feel like you have to sacrifice your past with him for that.”
“I don’t want that either,” Abby sighed. “I don’t think I’d be so scared if I believed that we could still be around each other platonically if things didn’t work out, but it feels like I…”
“Forgot what hanging out platonically felt like a long time ago?” When Abby actually caught his eye and allowed herself to smirk, he couldn’t help smiling a bit, himself. “Me too.”
Neither of them spoke. Abby kicked her heels against the steps beneath them, and Marcus continued to wring his hands together. “Can we talk about a theoretical for a second?”
Marcus sat back and held his hands up, as though displaying his words in front of her. “If imagining a long-term relationship is too much… Don’t. Just for a minute. Just… Where do you want to be next month? Or next week? Or tomorrow? Whatever span of time you can comfortably imagine.”
“I… It’s not as easy as you’re making it.”
“But it’s not as difficult as you’re making it, either, Abby.”
She looked down at the ground bashfully. “I suppose there might be a middle ground somewhere, yeah?”
“Seems to me like there’s gotta be,” Marcus said gently.
Abby furrowed her brow at a spot above him on the wall, and then she met his eye. “I couldn’t tell you when I started to develop feelings for you, yet I remember the exact day that I started trying to convince myself that I couldn’t fall in love with you.”
“Care to share with the class?”
She rolled her eyes and smiled slightly. “Yes. It was the Thanksgiving right after our accident. When I still couldn’t drive because of my cast, but Clarke didn’t want take a bus or train home, so you drove all the way to get her because you thought it was so important that she and I be together… You showed up that Wednesday night, all exhausted from driving in the snow for hours, and I looked at you and thought, ‘Whoever marries him is going to be so lucky.’”
“And then you spent your days convincing yourself that you didn’t want to be that person.”
Marcus leaned closer to Abby, and she realized, somewhat abruptly, that much of the gap between them on the steps had been closed. “But you don’t have to want that.”
He shook his head and quietly asked, “Do you want to fight with me about Shakespeare?”
“Do you want me to fix your house and cook your dinner whenever possible?”
“Do you want to…” Marcus leaned just a hint closer, though it felt to Abby as though he’d just crossed an ocean of space. “Throw in some kissing, maybe? Just for good measure, of course.”
Abby could hardly breathe as she said, “Yes.”
“Then go on a date with me. Please. Because I’m happiest when I’m doing those things with you.”
“We haven’t done that last bit too much, though,” Abby said. “Can you really say for sure that it makes you quite so happy?”
Marcus’s hand settled against Abby’s waist, and she closed her eyes and took a long breath as she felt his bangs tickling her forehead. “I suppose I’m making an educated guess. But I’m anticipating quite a few opportunities to figure it out for sure.”
“You’ll have to keep me updated on your findings.”
Her last words were muddled as Marcus gently pressed his lips against hers, but judging by the way that she opened her mouth to his kiss, she wasn’t particularly concerned.
Marcus and Abby assumed, at first, that they would not be able to have that date at least until after the play was over. Their jobs kept them busy enough outside of rehearsals that neither of them had much more than an hour at once to spare for anything, even something that felt so very important.
But only the day after their reconciliation, Abby was out in the theater house with Clarke, Nathan, and Jacapo before rehearsal, discussing some last-minute changes to the post-party scene in Act 2 when Marcus appeared, leaning on the back of the empty chair beside her.
Abby’s lips quirked up into a small smile, and she didn’t look up, but she reached her hand over and put her hand gently over Marcus’s. “Councilman Kane.”
“Guess who no longer has a business dinner tonight,” he murmured.
“I don’t know, I give up,” Abby replied, more to her script than to him. It was only after she spoke that it occurred to her what he might be suggesting.
Marcus leaned further forward and looked down, sighing. “The same person who would really like to spend more than five minutes at a time outside of this theater with you. If you’re still free.”
“She and I were supposed to watch Moana tonight!” Clarke exclaimed. When Marcus jolted up to look at her, his brow furrowed, she rolled her eyes and said, “You’re the one who’s trying to have a personal conversation in front of people.”
“Does the other Griffin have any thoughts on the matter?” Marcus asked, his tone light, but just a hint of concern in his eyes.
Abby turned her head to look at him. “I don’t have any plans that can’t be rescheduled.”
Under her breath and a million miles away, Clarke muttered, “I can’t believe my own mother is rescheduling me,” but Marcus hardly heard her through the pounding in his ears as he said, “Okay. May I pick you up at 6?”
He smiled and nodded. “Great.” He grazed his fingers across her shoulder as he made to leave, and he was several feet away before Abby thought to turn around and say, “Hang on, you didn’t even tell me what we’re doing.”
Marcus turned back to her, looking totally unfazed. “I know.”
She looked up at him sternly. “You can’t do that. I need to know what to wear.”
“Fair,” he hummed. After a moment’s consideration, he said, “Wear something nice.”
“Nice,” Abby echoed.
He was already walking away as he said, “Nice.”
Clarke leaned over her and Abby’s shared arm rest, laying her head on her mother’s shoulder. “My mom’s got a date tonight,” she sang.
Abby swatted at Clarke, rolling her eyes as though feigned exasperation would conceal how flustered she was. “We’ll watch Moana next weekend, okay?”
“Right. Because you can’t tonight. Because you’ve got a date.”
“Moving on,” Abby pressed, catching Jacapo’s eye in hopes of eliciting some sympathy and assistance from him.
He took her cue gracefully. “Let’s go back to Beatrice’s exit again.”
For the past few weeks, Abby and Marcus had found rehearsals difficult because of the nervous tension between them. As this dress rehearsal stretched before them, though, a new sort of tension clung to them both—they stood on stage and snuck quiet glances, shared quick smiles, and Abby’s heart pounded with persistent anticipation.
And then the rehearsal was over and Bellamy was done giving his notes and Abby and Clarke were driving home.
Once Abby made other plans, Clarke did, too, arranging to meet Raven and Lexa to go see a movie. Both were almost ready to leave when Clarke finally asked something that Abby had been anticipating.
Standing in the doorway of Abby’s room, her arms crossed, Clarke asked, “Are you scared?”
Abby looked at her daughter in the mirror, and she nearly lied.
“Yes, a little. But in… in a good way, if that makes sense.” She smiled slightly. “What are you seeing tonight? You didn’t mention.”
“Atomic Blonde. Which means I already know more about my date than you know about yours.” Clarke strode across the room and reached Abby, who was just reaching for her comb. Clarke stilled her mother’s hand. “Let me.”
Abby didn’t fight her; on the contrary, she closed her eyes and hummed lightly. “I remember when you used to beg me to comb my hair.”
“Did I.” Clarke already knew this—Abby had brought it up plenty over the years. But she liked hearing about it anyway.
“Mhm. I think it was because your hair was more difficult to brush and you felt like you could ask me to brush yours if you combed mine. Jake—” She hesitated for just a fraction of a second. “Jake used to laugh at how much you planned and schemed, even when you were young. You always knew how to make sure things worked out the way you wanted them to.”
“Pretty sure that’s your fault,” Clarke replied. “I had to learn it from somewhere.”
“Now I’m just convinced you’re sucking up. Are you about to ask me for something?”
Clarke scoffed. “This is what I get for making conversation with my mother.”
“The conversation’s much appreciated, sweetie.” She opened her eyes at last and met Clarke’s gaze in the mirror. “I appreciate you pulling me out of my own head.”
“Of course, Mom,” Clarke breathed. After one final stroke of the comb, she set it back down on Abby’s dresser before ducking down to kiss the crown of her mother’s head. “I’m going to go pick up Lexa and Raven. If you need anything, you’ll text me, right?”
Abby chuckled as she swept her bangs away from her face. “You’re sounding like the mother now.”
She was joking in the moment, but after Clarke left, Abby couldn’t help but imagine how much more prepared she would feel as she sat and waited for Marcus if she had a chaperone of some sort waiting with her. Left alone, her heart pounded with persistent anxiety.
It dissipated as soon as Marcus knocked on her door.
He looked more put together than she’d ever seen him in person, although she knew, of course, that he had to wear suits for his day job. The formality of his outfit was undoubtedly tempered by the heat, because he was not wearing a jacket or tie and his sleeves were rolled up, but she could hardly blame him.
Besides, she rather liked him this way.
As soon as Abby was in Marcus’s truck, she asked him, “Are you going to tell me where we’re going?”
“We’ll be there in less than ten minutes, you won’t be in the dark for too long.”
Of course, she immediately began to consider what was in a ten-minute radius of her house. “Marcus, I swear to God if you told me to get dressed up just for you to take me to Indra’s…”
He burst out laughing, although he did not contradict her.
They drove right past Main Street, which would have taken them to Arkadia’s small downtown, and this surprised Abby enough that she actually blurted, “What?”
Marcus looked away from the road so that he could grin at her. “Just a few more minutes.”
Even though he redirected his gaze toward the road, Abby continued to stare at him—in mild annoyance at first, but then she kind of just… kept looking.
He had such a striking silhouette. She suspected it was his nose; Abby had always liked Marcus’s nose. As she watched him – his lips moving just slightly as he sang along with the radio – she remembered where she was only a week before, and she couldn’t help smiling at how she had moved forward.
From the corner of his eye, Marcus looked at her. “What? What is it?”
“Nothing, nothing, I just…” She swallowed. “I was just thinking that you look good.”
“Oh.” Marcus grinned. “Is that all?”
Abby smirked and looked away, facing forward again. “Yes, but don’t let it go to your head.”
“I absolutely will.” His proud grin remained plastered on his face for a few seconds, but it faded to a gentle smile as he said, “Alright, here we are.”
“Wha—” As they pulled into the driveway, Abby leaned forward, taking in the small house they’d arrived at. “I don’t understand.”
Marcus seemed ready to answer, then he glanced around them. “Hold that thought and… wait right there.”
Abby was so bewildered that she could only laugh. “Marcus, what are you—” But he was out of the cab, shutting his door, rushing around to the other side of the truck.
Then he was opening her door and stepping back, gazing at her bashfully as he murmured, “I’ve imagined doing this too much to… not.”
“You’re such a sap,” Abby chuckled, but her blush was distinctive in the twilight as she climbed out. “A sap who still hasn’t told me why he had me get dressed up just to bring me to… is this your house?”
“And we are here because…”
“Well.” Marcus cleared his throat and inched closer to her as he clutched both of her hands in his own. “After we talked yesterday, I started thinking about everything you said, and about how we… live in this tiny town. It’s been years since we’ve had any new restaurants or bars to check out. But you’ve never been over here, so I thought—”
“You’d give me something different,” Abby offered. Her heart was in her throat. “Something new.”
Marcus nodded slightly. “That was… the idea, yeah. I figured I could just… make you dinner, and we could talk, and I’ve got this nice balcony outside of my room where we could sit with my old telescope if the sky stays clear…”
“That sounds perfect,” Abby told him gently. “Let’s go in and you can give me a tour.”
He showed her the living room and dining room, gestured in the general direction of the restroom, then led her into his kitchen, their fingers still loosely linked.
The moment Abby laid eyes on the kitchen, she stopped in her tracks, making Marcus turn around to see what was wrong. “Hang on,” she said slowly. “Is this… Is this the color that I picked out for you at Home Depot?”
“It… might be, yeah.” Marcus rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly, and Abby was very aware of the blush that was creeping into his cheeks as he said, “The week after the 4th, I was sort of… messed up, I guess, and I wanted to find something to do that could keep me preoccupied for a little while. I still had that swatch that you gave me hanging on my refrigerator and the next thing I knew I was putting primer on my walls.”
“Well, I gotta say, for someone who had never seen your kitchen, I really have a good eye, don’t I?”
“Yeah, yeah, you’ve had your moment. Now sit down and talk to me while I prepare to spoil you with my cooking.”
Abby’s lips curled into a smile. “I think I can do that. Oh, but first—” She tightened her grip on Marcus’s hand as he moved deeper into the kitchen, and he spun back to look at her, a question in his eyes. “Could I kiss you?”
He opened his mouth just slightly, appraising her. But instead of speaking, he just nodded slowly and pulled her closer.
“Thank you for not letting me push you away,” she murmured.
“Don’t mention it.”
She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him, soft and lingering, before pulling away and squeezing his hand. “So tell me about what you’re cooking tonight.”
Marcus had vaguely expected them to eat in his dining room, but they never made it there. Instead, Abby settled back in at the kitchen table as soon as he’d prepared a plate for her, and Marcus was not about to complain. He never ate in the dining room unless he had guests over, so lingering in the kitchen with Abby…
It felt homey. It felt right.
They picked at their practically-empty plates well after they had any intention of eating more, but they were talking and Abby got the sense that neither of them wanted to disrupt that.
Finally, though, he said, “Would you like some ice cream?”
“Then yes, please.”
Marcus made to clear the plates as he stood up, but Abby swatted his hands away. “Let me take care of these, go on.”
“Fine, fine.” He raised his hands in defeat and made his way to his refrigerator, but he hesitated with his hand on the handle of the freezer, looking toward Abby to watch her stand and cross the room to the sink with their dishes.
“Yes?” she asked, glancing over at him.
Marcus swallowed and repeated her words from earlier that night: “I was just thinking that you look good.”
Abby smirked and gestured toward the refrigerator. “Go ahead and get that ice cream out, you need to start scooping.”
“Scooping? You always just eat straight out of the pint.”
“But I can’t finish a whole pint in one go after all that food. This way we won’t have to worry about coming all the way downstairs to put the rest away before it melts.”
“Oh. Right. Okay.” He paused for just a moment longer to watch her turn on the faucet, but then she cast him a look and a raised eyebrow and he busied himself with their ice cream.
He led her upstairs, through his bedroom and to his balcony, pointing out anything on the way that he’d gotten since he moved. Abby was intrigued by it all – the fly ball he caught at a Brewers game, the rocking chair that he built to house a stray cushion he found at a garage sale, the beautiful painting that Vera bought for him while she was traveling around eastern Asia and made stop in Thailand – but she couldn’t help noticing how much of his stuff had been given to him by the Griffins, or had been purchased with them in tow.
Sometimes she forgot that her fingerprints were all over his life, just as his fingerprints were all over hers.
“And here’s my balcony,” he said, stopping just short of the sliding door and gesturing her forward, compelling her to go first.
The balcony overlooked Marcus’s backyard, and it was fairly spacious—Marcus had set up two lawn chairs side-by-side, surrounded by blankets and his telescope perched between them. Abby heard Marcus flip a switch behind her, and suddenly the porch was brighter in the dim twilight as small white lights lit up around them.
She swallowed hard, momentarily speechless as she felt a warmth building in her gut and, for the first time in a long time, as she allowed it to bloom inside of her, filling her head to toe with joy. She looked over her shoulder at him, feeling completely enamored, but before she could tell him how lovely he was, a thought occurred to her. “These are your Christmas lights, aren’t they.” It was not a question.
“They absolutely are.”
“You don’t bother to take them down because they’re not on the front of your house and no one will judge you.”
“Correct.” Marcus raised his eyebrows at her. “But they look beautiful, don’t they?”
Abby nodded. “They do, yeah.”
Marcus took a few steps closer to Abby. “You look beautiful too.”
She smirked and took her bowl of ice cream out of his hands. “I do, yeah.”
Abby sat down, and Marcus sat beside her.
Unfortunately, there was nothing particularly exciting in the sky that night, but Marcus busied himself by showing Abby constellations. They’d done this before, once or twice, what felt like a lifetime ago—in second and third grade, Clarke went through an astronomy phase. This was the part of science that had always intrigued Marcus, and the two of them had really bonded over it. He’d brought his telescope over to the Griffins’ plenty then, and he’d been eager to share the wonders of their galaxy with Abby and Jake, too.
Clarke, though, had been less than eager to share the telescope, so Marcus had only really pointed out the things that they could see with the naked eye.
This was different, of course, and it left Abby feeling light-headed in the best way. She’d nibble at her ice cream while Marcus focused the telescope on a constellation and then he’d pull back – not very far back – to make room for her to peer into the lens. She gazed at the stars as he hovered close, exhaling the myths connected to each star like each story was a secret that only he and Abby could know.
She rested her hand on the cool metal of the telescope each time each time she looked into it, and Marcus’s hand would settle lightly over hers and neither of them bothered to pretend that it was because he wanted to make sure that the telescope was steady.
Their bowls lay on the floor, stacked and long since discarded, and Abby could not remember how long ago she had felt chilly enough to pull a blanket over her shoulders when she glanced up from the telescope and had the abrupt realization that, even as he was rambling, Marcus was silently, desperately searching for some reason to prolong her stay.
But he wasn’t going to say anything if she didn’t.
“Marcus,” she said softly.
He met her eyes and fell silent, furrowing his brow.
“Let’s go inside.”
He didn’t answer at first. But finally, as Abby was beginning to think that she was going to literally have to pull him into his bedroom, he smiled. “Okay.”
They left everything exactly as it was as they rose to their feet, and Marcus barely had time to slide the door shut and turn around before Abby’s hands were at his waist, pulling him close.
“Honey, I’m going to take Scully out and walk to Indra’s if you’d like to come.”
Clarke called out to her mother immediately from somewhere on the second floor. “Sure! I was thinking of walking over there myself.”
Abby found herself waiting at the foot of the stairs for a good minute and a half before she heard Clarke rushing along the hallway and jogging down to meet her. “You caught me while I was dithering over shirts,” she said by way of apology.
“Shirts,” Abby echoed, looking her daughter up and down. Clarke was wearing a plain gray tee-shirt. With Scully straining against her leash to get through the open front door, Abby smirked and said, “Well, it seems you made that crucial decision just in time.”
“I’ll have you know I went on a very extensive journey to decide on this top,” Clarke retorted as Abby allowed herself to be pulled out onto their porch.
“Encountering many trials and tribulations?” Abby offered.
“So many. I might go to Hollywood to offer them a movie deal.”
Abby, whose attention had been focused on Scully nosing at the sidewalk near their driveway, was unable to keep a straight face, and she looked at her daughter with amused bewilderment. “Just Hollywood collectively?”
Clarke laughed. “I’m sorry, I don’t know how movies happen.”
“Neither do I, sweetie, it’s fine,” Abby chuckled. They reached out for each other at the same time and began to walk toward Indra’s with their hands linked.
“Speaking of movies,” Clarke said after a moment, “are you still up to watch Moana tonight after the show?”
“Absolutely. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Oh, you know… I wasn’t sure whether you might want to make other plans.”
Though Abby had a suspicion where Clarke was going with this line of questioning, she feigned confusion. “What plans would I have if not to enjoy a Disney movie in the company of my favorite daughter?”
“You’re making it very difficult for me to tactfully ask about Marcus.”
Abby let out a long, exaggerated, “Oh. Is that what you were hinting at?”
“Sure, okay, pretend to be surprised. I just… it’s been nearly a week since you had your date. You told me you had a great time but literally all I know is that you got home after I fell asleep. Which, like, I don’t have a problem with in and of itself,” she rushed to add as Abby glanced at her with raised eyebrows. “I don’t need a play-by-play of your dates. I guess I’m just wondering what sort of headspace you’re in now. There’s no way that you’re just suddenly over all the things that made you reluctant to date Marcus in the first place. So what… what are you feeling? Honestly.”
“Right…” Abby said slowly. “That’s a good question. Would you… would you mind if I thought about it for a minute?”
“Not at all,” Clarke murmured.
The truth was, much of Abby’s free time that past week – which she didn’t have much of, in between tech rehearsals and work – had been spent focusing on that exact question. But she hadn’t thought about how she would articulate her feelings to someone aloud. Which felt odd—if Clarke had not asked her first, it occurred to her, now, that Marcus would likely check in soon enough.
While Abby searched for words, they walked for nearly a block, Scully occasionally slowing them down by fixating on a leaf or patch of grass.
“I’ve never told you much about my relationships before your dad, have I.”
Even though it was not a question, Clarke shook her head. “Not really.”
“That’s because I never really… had one,” Abby said carefully. “I dated a few people long enough that they probably felt like we were in a relationship, but it’s always taken me a long time to open myself up to romantic relationships. When Jake first asked me out—”
“You said no,” Clarke interrupted, a hint of laughter in her voice. “I’ve heard that part before. Because you were friends and you didn’t want to mess it up.”
“Right. And do you know what he said in response?”
Clarke opened her mouth to speak immediately, but then she hesitated. “Actually, you guys never told me that part.”
“He said, ‘Okay. I’m happy to be around you however you want me, and I won’t ever bring it up again. But if you change your mind, let me know, because I think we could be great together.’”
“Oh,” Clarke breathed. “That’s… wow.”
Abby smiled, even as her eyes were a bit sad. “He meant it, too. We didn’t start dating until almost a year later, when I decided that I wanted to give it a shot.”
Silence for a few moments, then: “Don’t make me ask the crucial question, Mom, c’mon.”
“What does this have to do with Marcus?”
“It didn’t happen right away, but… at some point after the accident, I realized that Marcus was interested in me, and it felt exactly like that year. He was happy to just be my friend and I knew that he had no expectation of anything else. The difference was just… I was scared of different things this time. And like you said, obviously that hasn’t gone away. It’ll probably take a long time for that to happen.”
“Right,” Clarke agreed softly.
“But that shouldn’t stop me from embracing the thing that really matters.”
They turned a final corner and Indra’s was finally in sight—and there, sitting on the front stoop and scrolling at his phone, was Marcus. Clarke scoffed and looked up at Abby, shaking her head, but Abby just smirked and gave Marcus a little wave as he glanced up and spotted them. “The thing that really matters is that I don’t think there’s anyone else who could make me as happy as him.”
“She’s talking about Ewan McGregor, right?” Marcus asked, rising to his feet as they reached him.
“Hit the nail on the head,” Clarke said with a nod.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll hang out here with Scully, I can see where this is going.”
“That’s not what I was going to say!” Abby exclaimed. She glanced furtively toward Marcus, then back at her daughter. “I was going to ask what you wanted to drink. So that I could order it while you waited out here with Scully.”
“Just an iced coffee, please.” Clarke huffed and rolled her eyes at Marcus. “I don’t know what you see in her.”
“So many things,” Marcus replied as he pulled open the door to Indra’s and Abby handed off Scully’s leash. Abby felt herself blushing just slightly.
Marcus traced his fingertips down Abby’s arm and trailed behind her to the counter. “Hi,” he breathed.
“Hi.” His fingers reached hers and she grasped for them immediately, smiling to herself when he squeezed her hand.
“You’ll have to tell me some day what you were actually talking about just now.”
“I will. Promise.” Abby glanced up at Marcus’s face, and her heart flipped at the sight of the small smile that she saw there. The moment ended, however, once they reached the counter and Abby had to raise her voice to speak to someone new. “Indra, hi! How’s it going?”
“Pretty well, Abby, thanks! I’m a little surprised to see you two here, though. I imagine you’ve got some last-minute stuff to do before the play opens tonight.”
“We do, but we’ve still got a few hours before call. And we figured it’d be nice to see your smiling face,” Marcus said, gesturing to her. She looked severely underwhelmed.
“Funny,” she deadpanned. “Well, I hope that it comes together nicely. I’m closing up shop early so that I can come to the opening night performance.”
Marcus’s eyes widened, his expression betraying genuine surprise. “Indra, that’s awesome, thank you.”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t mention it.” Indra shook her head at Abby. “It seems like half the town’s had a hand in this play and still, this sap gets emotional.”
“Downplay it all you want, it still means something.” Marcus glanced outside, where Clarke was still waiting for them. “But I’ll stop making you squirm over it. Abby, we should probably order before your daughter leaves us behind.”
They ordered, paid, and chatted idly with Indra while she made their drinks. When she set everything out on the counter, though, she caught Abby’s eye and said, “Could we chat for a minute?”
Marcus didn’t budge for a second, but then Indra shooed him away, so he took the hint and grabbed his cup and Clarke’s, retreating outside.
“He’s a sap,” Indra said, nodding in the direction of the door. “Normally that annoys me, but he’s one of my best friends. Not that I’d ever tell him that,” she added, making Abby chuckle.
“It would just go to his head.”
“It really would,” Indra agreed, smiling wider and more fondly than Abby had ever seen. “But I think it would be remiss of me to keep this to myself: I never want to see him as sad as he was for the last month. He doesn’t deserve that.”
Abby swallowed sharply and glanced outside. Right at that moment, Marcus was kneeling down on the balls of his feet and laughing as Scully licked his face. “No, he doesn’t.”
“Good. Then you’d understand, if that did happen, that you’d have to satisfy your own coffee needs.”
Indra nodded curtly. “Glad we’re on the same page.”
Abby waited a beat to see if there was anything else, but Indra broke her stony expression to give her just a hint of a smile, and she took that as her cue.
“What was that about?” Clarke asked as Abby emerged.
“She’s going to beat me up if I hurt Marcus.”
“Oh, sure,” Clarke said, at the same time that Marcus said, “Sounds reasonable.”
Abby let out a laugh and gestured toward Marcus. “That’s what I said. That’s… that’s exactly what I said.”
“Soft and fair, friar.—Which is Beatrice?”
Abby had been anticipating this moment since the show began. There was something about it that always made her feel like she was going to burst, and with the adrenaline of doing it in an actual performance… she just knew that it was going to feel exhilarating. Real.
She stepped forward, removing her mask and dropping it to the ground. She allowed her voice to sound slightly tentative as she replied, “I answer to that name. What is your will?”
Marcus quickly glanced around the whole assembly—a great move that he hadn’t started doing until about two weeks ago. “Do not you love me?” His eyes were wide and there was an urgency to the way that he leaned toward her.
And as much as Abby wanted to step toward him, she let Beatrice’s anxiety pull her back and stammered, “Wh- why no, no more than reason.”
Marcus scoffed and shook his head, throwing his hands in the air. “Why then, your uncle and the Prince and Claudio have been deceived. They swore you did.”
“Do… do not you love me?” Abby retorted, resting her hand on her hip.
“Troth, no,” Marcus exclaimed, immediately leaning back. “No more than reason.”
“Why then, my cousin and Margaret are much deceived, for they did swear you did!”
“They swore that you were almost sick for me,” Marcus said, jolting forward a step and pointing accusingly at Jacapo and Nathan.
“They swore that you were well-nigh dead for me,” Abby countered, also taking a step forward.
For a moment, they held each other’s gaze, breathing a little hard and counting to one… two… three… (The agreement was always to count to three, but all through tech week, their counting got slower and slower.)
Marcus broke the stare when he stepped back and waved his hand as if to send her away. “’Tis no such matter. Then you… do not love me?” He glanced back at Abby with slightly raised eyebrows.
“No, truly, but in… friendly recompense!”
“Come, cousin, I am sure you love the gentleman.” Clarke tried to lay a hand on Abby’s shoulder, which Abby squirmed away from.
“And I’ll be sworn upon it that he loves her, for here is a paper written in his hand, a halting sonnet of his own pure brain, fashioned to Beatrice.” Nathan pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket with a flourish and crossed the stage to present it to Abby while Jacapo held a straining Marcus back from stealing it away.
Abby sent Marcus a smug look that quickly faded once Clarke began to stride across the stage as well. “And here’s another, writ in my cousin’s hand, containing her affection unto Benedick.” Abby’s efforts to retrieve Beatrice’s poem were more blatantly half-hearted—she took a few steps forward, but Clarke turned back to give Abby a look, which was enough to mollify her.
Marcus and Abby glanced at the folded paper in their own hands, then glanced over at each other. In unison, they sniffed and unfolded the poems dramatically.
At their first dress rehearsal, everyone sat at a table and got to write something on a piece of paper that would be used as one of Beatrice and Benedick’s poems. Abby had gotten different things on them at literally every rehearsal, and tonight was no different. This time, her poem was a recipe for banana bread that looked to be in Jacapo’s handwriting.
It looked pretty tasty; she’d have to ask him about it later.
But for the performance, he reaction to the page was more… well. Disgust was not exactly the right word, but they had agreed that both Beatrice and Benedick were atrocious writers, and that, in each other’s hands, the poems would provoke something along the lines of amused and light-hearted derision.
So she cringed and shook her head before chancing a look up at Marcus, who was wearing a similar expression as he said, “A miracle! Here’s our own hands against our hearts.” The two of them shared a small chuckle as they folded the papers back up and tucked them away. Marcus sniffed again and looked down at the ground, kicking at the floor and sticking his hands in his pockets. “Come, I will have thee. But by this light,” he added, looking up and holding up a hand. “I take thee for pity.”
“I would not deny you…” Abby inched forward, aimless and toward Marcus at the same time. “But by this good day, I yield upon great persuasion, and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consumption.”
Marcus allowed these words to hang in the air for a beat before shaking his head and laughing, striding forward to close the gap between them even as he said, “Peace! I will stop your mouth.”
She was already reaching for him as he bent down to kiss her.
(This had been very important to them both.)
Abby and Marcus had struggled to figure out how to strike an appropriate balance with this kiss. The whole point was that Beatrice and Benedick were finally embracing their attraction to one another, and they wanted to play it as though the characters forgot about their surroundings a little bit. Nowhere near obscene, but enthusiastic, certainly.
But kissing as Beatrice and Benedick in front of so many people who had at least periphery knowledge and town gossip about the tensions of their relationship… the very idea of it felt oppressive.
So Marcus had asked Abby, in the privacy of his car as he drove her home from his house after their date: “How do you want to play the kisses?”
And Abby thought about it, thought about the scrutiny of their town, and she said, “I think… I think I should just kiss you like Beatrice would kiss Benedick, and say fuck it to how that looks to anyone who reads anything else into it.”
Then she hesitated and said, “Probably no tongue, though, right?”
“On the last night only,” he teased, and Abby had laughed.
How that manifested on opening night…
Abby was on her tiptoes almost immediately, her arms curling around his neck and her hands splaying across his back. Marcus clutched at her waist, holding her firmly and for just a moment, Abby thought he was going to lift her off the ground.
God, there was a part of her that wanted to nibble at his lip or open her mouth to him or something but that was Abby, not Beatrice, and as they exchanged several breathless kisses and the audience applauded she knew that that was enough, that was enough.
Her fingers of one hand traced through his hair on the way to his cheek, where they agreed she would move to touch him when she was preparing to end the kiss. At rehearsal, he had taken this cue and she had felt him slowing down, backing off before she even pulled away, but he just leaned in closer, his fingers dug more tightly into her back.
And then she did pull back and he followed her for a fraction of a second, so briefly that the audience could very well have missed it.
It felt appropriate, it felt like Benedick, but his eyes were dark as they gazed at each other and gasped for breath – choreographed but also absolutely necessary – and Abby knew that it was Marcus, too.
Perhaps it was good that Beatrice had no more lines. Because Abby clung to Marcus like her life depended on it and she could think of nothing else but the fact that she was so immensely lucky to have him.
I'm so happy to see this one done. I honestly am so in love with this universe and the relationships between Marcus, Abby, and Clarke in particular, and I'm glad that I finally got the time to give that the proper send-off.
Somewhere down the line I'll probably write a sexy ending scene that I wanted to write but that would have been contrary to the tone of the rest of the fic, but no guarantees when that'll happen. So for now enjoy this lovely fluff ending.