“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.