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Miss Lena Waskovski looked at Miss March over her manila folder.
The clock above the door showed ten minutes past two. Ten minutes past the time her father should have been here for the conference.
Lena cleared her throat and put the manila folder down.
The note on Miss March's father said in the smooth handwriting of Mrs Thursday that "Mr March is notoriously late, drinks and smokes, a sleazebag".
She had hoped - for Miss March's sake - that it was an exaggeration.

Miss March kicked her sneakers under her chair, staring at the door, as if she could make her father appear out of thin air, if she just believed in it hard enough.
"Miss March?"
A thin, blonde eyebrow lifted over Miss March’s blue eyes, but she didn’t turn her face away from the door. "Yes?"
"Your father said he would be here?"
"Yes." Gritted teeth and the balled fists of a stood-up fourteen year old girl.
Lena wanted to hug her.
"Maybe we can re-schedule?"
"No. Parent conference day is today."

Miss March stopped kicking her feet, rubber soles scuffing over the floor for a moment, before they stilled.
Outside one of the hallway doors slammed, and rubber soles squeaked over the floors.
Lena looked at the door expectantly, but Miss March just blew a strand of hair out of her face.
Somebody knocked on the door and Lena called a confused "Yes?" towards it.

The door swung open and a man poked his head inside, dark hair greying around the temples, an ungroomed beard covering his round cheeks.
"Sorry, I’m late."
Lena rose, a frown and a smile warring on her face. "Mr March?"
The man laughed and Miss March hopped down from her chair, grinning.
"Christ, I’d be damned. Jackson Healy, nice to meet you."
His hand was huge, warm, a bit sweaty.

Miss March collided into him, arms stretching around Mr Healy’s thick middle.
"Hi, Healy."
"Hey there, Holly sprig."
Mr Healy let go of Lena’s hand to hug Miss March fully to his side, one palm cupping her head, the other rubbing over her back.
"Where’s my Dad?"

Lena felt like an intruder as they shared a moment, Miss March resting her chin on Mr Healy’s gut and Mr Healy looking down at her.
So she turned around and sat down at her desk, writing a note in her MARCH folder: "Mr Jackson Healy, person of interest".

"I left your Dad at home, in his bed."

Miss March scoffed and stepped away from Mr Healy, sitting back down on her chair.
"Hey, kid. He’s got the flu. Fever, snotty nose, the whole shebang. Cut him some slack."
The blue leather jacket creaked as Mr Healy sat down, Miss March giving him a reduced stink eye. Not her normal level of glare.
Mr Healy turned to Lena, smiling at her apologetically.

"Sorry, Miss. I’m March’s business partner, and since he’s sick I’m covering for him."
"Lena Waskovski, please excuse my manners." They shook hands again and Miss March readjusted her crossed arms over her chest.
Lena twiddled her pencil between her fingers and pushed her glasses up her nose. This was decidedly not what she had expected for today.
"Erm, are you related to Mr March?"
"Only by association, Miss Waskovski. We work together, that’s all."

Miss March grinned, chest pressed to her chin and hair almost hiding her mirth. Almost.
Mr Healy very unsubtly shoved Miss March with his elbow.
"So, what’s this about? March couldn’t tell me more than that I should be here at two. Holly didn’t get into trouble, I hope."
He glanced with steel eyes at Miss March’s innocent face and then smiled firmly at Lena.

"No, Mr Healy! God forbid! It’s just a yearly meeting to talk about Miss March’s progress in school and a good opportunity for me to get to know the parents of my students." She smiled and shifted her manila folder on the desk. "Well, normally."
Mr Healy grinned and settled fully into his chair.
"You’ll get to know March soon enough, trust me."
Miss March chuckled and started kicking her feet again, looking more like a girl her age than ever before.
Lena thought to herself that it suited Miss March.

"I already heard he is quite the man. Mrs Thursday was so kind to leave me a few notes on my students, before she started her pension."
Another look shared between the two people on the other side of Lena’s desk. It made her a bit nervous.
"I thought you said she died, sweetheart."
"I thought she did." Miss March shrugged her sun burnt shoulders and looked out of the window. "Dad thought so too."

Mr Healy rolled his eyes and smiled at Lena. "Sorry. Don’t think too highly of the notes she took on March. They weren’t exactly on speaking terms, as far as I’m aware."
Lena laughed nervously and shuffled her papers a bit. "Oh, no, of course! It’s just good to have some kind of base to work from."
"You tell me, Miss, you tell me." Healy shook his head, looking as if he was thinking back to something very distinct.

Lena forced hersef not to pry.
She instead busied herself with report cards and notes from Miss March’s other teachers, even though she’d already done that twice already, while waiting for Mr March.
"So, how’s Holly’s scholarly progress been?" Mr Healy folded his hands in his lap and Miss March looked out of the window again.
She didn’t see the fond look Mr Healy regarded her with.
Lena squirmed and shuffled her report cards a last time.

"Overall? Very good. Her grades have been improving steadily over the last year and she’s participating actively in class. The teachers are quite happy with the test results especially."
Lena looked up just in time to see Miss March look at Mr Healy as if it was all his work and Mr Healy was looking down at his hands, folded in his lap as they were. He looked almost bashful.
She felt bad for having to knock that happiness over.
"There is one small thing, though..."
Miss March sighed and Mr Healy looked at her with a raised brow, before looking at Lena.
"Attendance and punctuality, is it?"

Lena nodded, teeth in her lip and hands clenched around the sheet of paper that had a list of dates on it. Sometimes minutes behind it, sometimes hours.
"There are too many instances where she’s late. And I don’t mean five minutes or ten minutes. I mean half hours and sometimes even half a day! Mr Healy, I am aware that you’re not responsible for getting Miss March to school on time, but please, can you talk to Mr March about this? It would be very sad if Miss March would be held back, just because of her tardiness."
Mr Healy sucked his lip between his teeth and nodded, arms crossing over his chest again.
"I’ll make sure that she gets here on time. Sorry."
Miss March was looking out of the window again, brows furrowed and a thousand yard stare turned over the city. It looked well practised.
"Holly, stop trying to get out of this."
"It works for Dad."
"Doesn’t. Not with me."
Miss March snorted and tossed a glare over her shoulder at Mr Healy. "I meant he lets me get away with it."
"Hm." One of his broad hands rubbed through his beard. "Might be true."

Lena put a note down behind "Mr Jackson Healy: person of interest, very close to the March family, business associate of Mr March, pleasant man".

"You still have to be on time. If you miss the bus or don’t want to take your bike or whatever. Ask me, sprig."
Mr Healy sat turned to Miss March on his chair, one hand gentle on her shoulder and looked painfully earnest.
"I’ll even try to pick you up on time, okay?"
Miss March laughed, voice a bit thick. "Okay, Healy. I’ll hold you to that."
"You do that, kiddo."
He leaned over and pressed a kiss to Miss March’s forehead, stroking her hair for a moment.

Lena looked down at her notes, something hot thrumming in her throat. He behaved like her father. Or step-father; maybe a very close uncle.
But business associate? Bullshit.
This was something else entirely.
Mr Healy turned back to Lena, sighing through his nose.
"Sorry. As I said. I’ll make sure she gets here on time." He nodded, as if to promise himself that he would do just that.
And Lena trusted him. Believed him that he would.
Thank you.""

A few minutes after three Miss March left the classroom, her hand held securely in one of Mr Healy’s paws, her backpack dangling from his other hand.
They were talking with ease about the different qualities of diner pancakes.
Like father and daughter might, on their way out of a parent conference day.

 

"Miss Waskovski! There’s a weird man sleeping in a banged up car in the yard!"
Two of the eleven year olds she taught the finer points of the english language to stood before Lena, panting, their hands pointing out of the window and towards a, indeed banged up, Mercedes convertible.
Parked smack in the middle of the school yard.
And across the backseat lay a man in a peach coloured suit, wearing sunglasses.

"Oh, bother. You two go to your class, I’ll deal with this. And thank you for telling me!"
The last part called after them, as the two already rushed down the hall, shoes squeaking over the floors.
Lena sniffed, pulled her sleeves down and waved the concern of Mr Olson away. As if she couldn’t deal with some sleazebag, thinking a school yard was a good place to take a nap.
Her kitten heels were loud on the yard.
Her fist knocking on the door right where the head of the sleazebag rested was louder.
"Excuse me!"

The man sat up with a shout, stirring the air around himself, so that Lena could smell the day-old sweat clinging to his suit and the distinct scent of burnt rubber.
He sat there, with his back to her, hair at the back of his head sticking up in a static way.
Then he turned around, looking at her over a pair of blue sunglasses. He had an ugly moustache, watery eyes and unshaved cheeks.
Under his half-open mouth a triangle of untended beard.
He looked half like a kid and half like a man far beyond his prime.
"This is a school yard!"
"I know!"

He stood on the floor of the car, towering over Lena, who made a step backwards, looking up at him, heart in her throat.
He looked erratic.
The man frushed one hand through his hair, making it look simultaneously better and worse.
Then he jumped over the closed door, landing heavy on the concrete.
Making Lena step back again.
With a practised fumble he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and lit one behind a cupped hand. Still looking at Lena over his sunglasses.
There was something about those eyes. As if she had seen them before.

Ah. Sleazebag.
"Are you Holland March?"

The man blinked, breathed out a puff of smoke and frowned. "And you are? Didn’t know I was so famous already."
"Lena Waskovski. I’m Holly March’s homeroom teacher."
"Jesus fuck." Holland March pushed his cigarette into the corner of his mouth and extended a hand for Lena to shake.
Sweaty, cold, and after the handshake Lena’s fingers felt as if she had eaten a plate of fries with her fingers. Salt and grease.

"Nice to meet you. Healy told me all about you." A short pause. "Only good things, of course, don’t worry."
He laughed nervously and smoothed his hair out of his forehead, dropping ash on his left shoe.
"What are you doing here, parking in the middle of the yard? There’s a designated parking lot at the back of the school."
Holland March leaned against the car in his back, crossing his legs at the ankles and pocketing his blue sunglasses.

"I never park in the back."
Lena wanted to eat a shoe. Or make him eat a shoe.
"You need to park in the back. And why are you here in the first place?"
"To pick up Holly, duh. And she won’t know I’m here if I don’t park right here. It’s my pickup spot."
"Your daughter still has two hours of classes to go."
"Oh, fuck. Seriously? Jesus, that’s long." March dropped his cigarette and crushed it under his heel, lighting another one in the meantime. "Any chance I can get her out now? I thought she was coming out in what? Ten minutes?"

Seriously, what was wrong with this man?
"Are you drunk?"
March spluttered, crushed his cigarette aggressively and put his hands on his hips, looming over Lena.
"Hey, lady! I’m not! Wish I were though, the way you keep nagging me. And I’m going to pick up my daughter now, thank you very much!"
With a clang he pushed away from the car, stepped on his own foot and stumbled against Lena.

She screamed sharply and slapped him across his bearded cheek. "What are you doing?"
Holland March cradled his red cheek with two hands, staring at her as if she were the devil herself.
"Jesus! Woman!"
Lena’s ears rang from the high-pitched squeal.
A window in the school building opened and Miss March poked her head out of it.
"Dad!"

March whipped around on his heel and waved loudly. "Holly! Sweetheart!"
"What the fuck are you doing here?"
"Watch your fucking language, young lady! And I’m here to pick you up, get some ice cream and pick Healy up from his gig at the optometrists!"
"I still have like two hours to go!"
"Fucking skip! Family’s more important than school, sweetheart!"

Lena gasped, scandalised into action by that sentiment.
"Mr March!"
He turned around with a sparkling smile, looking boyish and even a bit handsome all of a sudden. It threw Lena off her game a bit.
"You can’t just..."
"I can and I will, thanks." With a wink he turned to the school building and skipped up the stairs.
"Oh, I guess I better talk to Mr Healy about this then!"
"Aw, come on, live a little, lady!" March opened the doors and strode into the school building.
A moment later he walked out again, his arm slung around Miss March’s shoulder.
"Bye, Miss Waskovski!", Miss March said cheerfully, sliding into the passenger seat.
Her father put his sunglasses back on, grinned at Lena a last time and they sped off the yard.

 

"March household." Mr Healy’s gruff voice made Lena sigh.
She hadn’t really hoped to reach him under the number Miss March had left with her.
"This is Lena Waskovski, Holly March’s homeroom teacher."
"I know who you are." In the background something clattered. "Holland, for fuck’s sake, don’t kill yourself!"
A muffled "Shut up" and Mr Healy apologized.
"It’s quite alright. I’m sorry to call so late, but there was an incident at school today..."
Mr Healy sighed again and Lena was sure he covered the reciever up for a moment.
Because she heard that someone spoke, but couldn’t understand what was said.

Then: "I know. Sorry for that. March gets a bit excited sometimes, but he doesn’t mean anything bad by it. They just wanted to do something nice for me. Bad planning. Won’t happen again."
"Just, the students were scared, my colleagues were scared, frankly I was scared."
Mr Healy laughed and Lena heard March ask a high-pitched "What?" In the background.
"Nothing, Holland, stir that gently. Miss, you needn’t be. He’s just an idiot. I talked to him already. As I said, won’t happen again."

Lena smiled, stirring her tea and tucking her socked feet under the comforter on her couch.
The phone reciever was stuck between her ear and her shoulder and a record spun quietly in the background.
"Thank you Mr Healy, that means a lot to me."
Mr Healy chuckled, his deep voice rumbling fetchingly in the reciever and Lena blushed.
Good God, the man could be her father, probably!
But he was handsome.
In a much more stout, settled manner than the erratic, boyish Mr March.

"Just call again, if March needs his head washed, it’s what I do."
The shrill "Hey!" in the background could have come from either of the March’s and Lena laughed.
"Thanks, I’ll keep it in mind! I don’t want to disturb your night further. So, sorry for calling so late and good night."
"Good night, Miss Waskovski."
Mr Healy hung up, but not before Lena heard Mr March squawk a loud "Asshole" in the background.
God, that man was unpleasant.

 

"Merry Christmas, Miss March."
"Merry Christmas, Miss Waskovski."
Holly rolled her eyes and Lena was hard pressed to snap at her for it. The girl had been difficult all day and Lena’s patience was thinning.
She smiled instead, squeezing Holly's shoulder gently.
"Now, what is it, Miss March?"
"It’s not yet christmas, so why do I have to keep saying Merry Christmas to everyone, when it’s hardly the what? Fifteenth?"
Her smile strained and Holly shrugged Lena's hand off of her shoulder.
"It’s just to be festive."
"There’s nothing festive about this stupid party. Not with palm trees out there and a sunny sky."
It sounded like a sore topic. Lena smiled at her again, vaguely apologetic, and wandered off to a pair of parents that were waving her over.

Sometimes she was overwhelmed with Holly March.
She had just delved into a pleasant conversation about Marianne’s outstanding performance in the christmas play, when the doors opened with a bang and a surprisingly sophisticated voice started singing "Deck the halls with boughs of Holly".

Surprisingly sophisticated for Holland March.

Every conversation in the assembly hall seemed to crash to a stop, eyes turned on the green be-suited Mr March and his red tinsel-crown.
Next to him Mr Healy stood silently, his ever present blue leather jacket over his arm.
He was wearing a red button down and a tie.
He looked outstanding.
"Dad!"
Holly March bounced over to her father, overalls a shade of yellow that clashed daringly with the green suit.
Holland March picked his daughter up and buried his face in her hair as if he hadn’t seen her for days.
Mr Healy reached over and put one of his paws over Holly’s back.
"Hey there, Holly sprig."
Lena caught an edge of Holly’s brilliant grin and had to smile herself. If only the elusive Mr March would make his daughter happy more often.
She excused herself out of the dead conversation to greet Mr March and Mr Healy.

"Merry Christmas!"
"It’s not christmas. It’s the sixteenth or something."
"Fifteenth. Merry Christmas, Miss Waskovski."
Mr Healy’s hand was warm and dry as Lena shook it and Mr March rolled his eyes in much the same way as his daughter.
Peas in a pod.
They looked very much alike, especially so close together, Holly sitting on her father’s hip and eyeing Lena with the same casual distaste that seemed ingrained on her father’s face.

"The room looks lovely. It’s my understanding that you and your class decorated it, yes?"
Lena was shaken out of her March-observation by Mr Healy’s pleasant voice and nodded, cheeks heating very quickly.
"Yes! Did Miss March tell you that?"
"Tell? Hell, this little demon made us cut out paper stars."
"Oh, stop complaining, Dad. You got super competitive over it."
Holly looked smug when her father snapped his mouth close and muttered something intelligible.
Mr Healy sighed and smiled carefully at Lena.
"Sorry about that. He lost and gets cranky about it. Holland, don’t even think about kicking me."
Lena looked at March’s lifted foot and then at his disappointed face.
"Okay, down you go, Holly. I’m gonna kick him either way and don’t want you caught in the crossfire."

Holly darted to Mr Healy’s side as soon as she had ground under her dirty sneakers.
And then March kicked Mr Healy in the back of the thigh.
Lena gasped, March cackled and Mr Healy grunted. Then he turned around and casually pulled March into a headlock.
It looked very well practised.
Holly was cheering.
Other parents, teachers and children were staring. Someone was crying.

"Now, now, please! No violence! There’s children here!", Lena laughed despite herself.
"Uh, duh. I hope there are, this is a school."
March managed to sound snide, even with Mr Healy holding him like some drunkard at a bar. Then he whistled sharply and gave Mr Healy’s gut a small slap.
"Okay, Jackie, let go."

Lena swallowed. Holly snickered. And Mr Healy did not move an inch.
"Jack, please."
A drop of sweat rolled down March’s pointy nose and his tinself crown fell down.
"Close."
"Oh come on, Jesus, Jackson! Stop playing your games with me, for fuck’s sake. We partners or not?"
"Sure. You could still be a little bit more respectful."
Mr Healy grinned, winking at Lena and Holly. His voice was still perfectly flat.

"You’re aware I can feel your whole body shake with your dumb laughter, Jackson, right?"
Now Mr Healy let out a guffaw and let March go. Who straightened himself with a grunt and a mumbled comment no one but him heard.
"Thanks so much, Jackie."
"Careful there, old boy." Mr Healy was still laughing and adjusted his jacket over his arm.
Holly picked her father’s crown up and pressed it into his chest so hard that he stumbled half a step back.

Lena thought silently to herself that, the longer she watched the three of them interact, the more she understood why Holly March was the way she was.
"Thank you, Holly-dear."
"Stop sulking, Dad. Let’s go eat some cake."
At the mention of cake the two grown men lifted their heads, grinning like boys.
"Holly sprig, lead the way."
Mr Healy nodded at Lena, one hand on Holly’s blonde head, the other taking March by the shoulder of his green suit and dragging him along.
Lena was left breathless.
The Marches were a whirlwind and Mr Healy seemed to be the eye of the storm.
The quiet center they turned around.
Well, she could get behind that, she really could. Lena watched him cross the room towards the cake, steps measured and heavy.
He looked fine from all angles, despite his size.

"Hmm, Lena? Liking the look of him in a tie?"
Lena turned around and found the little smirk of Mary pointed directly at Mr Healy’s behind.
"Mary! Stop that!" She giggled and gave her friend a small shove. "I’m just making sure that Mr March is behaving. I don’t trust that man an inch."
"Mhm. He’s kind of hot, but I don’t dig the moustache. And he seems a bit..." Mary made a wavy gesture with her hand, before taking a generous sip of her coffee. "Queer."
Lena looked at March by the cake.

Licking whipped cream from his thumb, teeth flashing in a dazzling grin.
Holly laughed about something and added a slice of apple pie to her plate. Which already had two slices of cake.
March leaned in towards Mr Healy, one hand on his shoulder and said something into his ear. The curve of his spine looked like a dancer‘s and Lena pursed her lips.
"Now that you said it..."
"He does, doesn’t he? The suits, the hands, the beard, the whole vibe... I say he’s queer." Mary finished her coffee and pointed at the cake. "I’m going to get a slice. You want anything?"
"No, thanks. I have to finish my rounds, say hello." Lena smiled, shrugged and Mary waved with her fingers.
"Then I’ll catch you later."

Lena looked at Mr Healy’s broad back again and he turned around, fork in his pie standing up at an angle.
He tilted his head, a curious little frown on his face. A lock of hair had slipped out of his hair-do and fallen over his forehead.
Lena smiled and inclined her head, ignoring the warmth of her cheeks.
Mr Healy nodded back, frown deepening a bit.
She turned away to greet Timmy’s parents.

 

March was sitting on the windowsill, dangling his feet and eating his seventh slice of pie.
Lena had kept count.
His daughter’s head was pillowed in his lap, the edge of his jacket in an iron grip. Holly was asleep.
Mr Healy stood infront of them, his leather jacket folded next to March. His hands were on the edge of the windowsill, left and right of March’s thighs.
He was talking to the lanky man in a low voice.

Lena started to blow out the candles on the desks.
There were hardly any people left, some mothers still sharing recipes by the cake, or collecting leftovers in their cake tins.
Fathers putting coats on their children by the doors.
Teachers already starting to tidy up.
A warm laugh from the windowsill and Lena looked up. It wasn’t the nice baritone of Mr Healy.
It was the normally shrill tenor of March. Now so soft and warm that she suddenly understood the charm he had been attributed by many a other teacher.
He tilted his head to the side, long neck glowing gold in the light, a necklace glinting around his throat.
Mr Healy lifted one of his big hands and smoothed a bit of hair down at March’s temple.
Lena felt like she needed to turn away from such tenderness, but her eyes were glued to the family by the window.
Because that’s what they were.
A family.
She swallowed around a lump in her throat and smoothed her hands over her skirt.

"Bye, Miss Waskovski!" Someone called loudly from the door and she twirled around, waving cheerfully.
"And Merry Christmas, Sandra!"
When she turned back to her candles, she caught March lifting Holly off the windowsill in the corner of her eye.
Mr Healy said something that sounded like "I can carry her."
March shook his head and carefully cupped Holly’s lolling head in a long-fingered hand.
"I’m still her dad, Jack."
"No one said any different."
"And I don’t want you to throw your back, old man."
Mr Healy snorted and flicked March’s ear. "Jerk."

They passed Lena, Mr Healy pulling his jacket on and smiling at her. "Good Night, Miss."
"Merry Christmas, Mr Healy."
March rolled his eyes, but smiled at her. There was whipped cream in his moustache. He looked like an overgrown school boy.
"Merry Christmas."
Mr Healy laughed and put a hand between his shoulderblades. "See? Didn’t hurt, right?"
"Burned the skin right off my tongue. Bye, teach."
His smile was thoughtless, eyes on Holly, and Lena smiled back.
"Drive safe."
"Jack’s driving, we’ll get home safe."
"I believe that." Lena smiled at Mr Healy and twirled her fingers together. Mr Healy looked almost shy, but a pleased smile hung around the corners of his lips.
"Good Night."
They left the room together, arguing back and forth about some thing or other.
Lena sighed and finished blowing out the candles.

 

March was parking on the yard again. His banged up Mercedes stood at an angle by the corner of the school building.
Lena saw it from the window of her classroom.
It was parent’s evening and March was surprisingly early. Only the Underwoods and Mrs Meyer were already here, with fifteen minutes to go.
The car doors opened on both sides and Mr Healy got out of the passenger seat.
Lena’s heart skipped a beat and she smiled down at the yard.

Mrs Meyer scoffed.
"Parking on the yard. That’s March, isn’t it? That Holly-girl’s father."
Lena smiled at the elderly woman. She was so sweet with her grandson, so warm with him. But the rest of the world? No love lost.
"Yes, it’s Holly March’s father. He doesn’t seem to understand the concept of a parking lot."
Lena shrugged and turned away from the yard, ready to finish the circle of chairs.
A car door slammed loudly and then voices clamored. Hard heels on concrete and she looked down again.

March was standing a few steps away from the car, hands on his hips and voice loud, but intelligible.
Mr Healy stood on the other side of the car, hands on the roof and face unreadable in the bad light.
Mrs Meyer scoffed again and the door opened. A group of parents piled in and a big hello was exchanged, hands were shaken and Lena all but forgot about the shouting in the yard for a moment.
Or at least for as long as it took March and Mr Healy to step into the room.

"-Can’t believe you sometimes, Jackson!"
March lit up a cigarette behind a cupped hand, lighter snapping shut with a loud noise in the otherwise quiet room.
Mr Healy took the pretty silver thing out of March’s limp fingers.
Nodded towards the room as a whole. His face was pale, sweat making his hair limp on his forehead.
"Evening."
Lena smiled. "Hello, Mr Healy, Mr March."

"Are we late?" March blew a plume of smoke out through his nostrils, a hand in his hair.
There was blood on his sleeve. He wasn’t wearing a suit jacket for once. Only a dove grey pair of slacks and a white shirt with blood on the sleeve.
Lena smiled again.
Blood? Her ears were ringing.
"No, a bit before time, even. Come on in, have a seat, we haven’t started yet."
She extended a hand towards the loose circle of chairs and Mr Healy nodded. Pocketed the lighter in his jacket. There was a dark patch on the thigh of his jeans.

"Thanks. Holland, sit down."
March scoffed and pointed at the nearest chair. "You sit down first, Mr Punch, I’m fine."
"Holland." A tight pause. "Please, we talked about this."
A dramatic tilt of the head and a gesture that Lena knew from Holly March. "Excuse me? You talked! I don’t remember agreeing, so sit the fuck down, or I’ll have your neck, Healy."
Mr Healy smiled tightly at the pale faces around the room and took March by the shoulder. Turned him away from the room and stuck their heads together.
The room was so quiet that everyone heard their whispered conversation just as good as before.

"Holland, stop making a scene. If you’re fine, then I’m fine too and it’s childish. So sit your tiny ass down and stop complaining."
"You almost got shot!"
"Almost, you said it. It’s hardly a graze. I got shot before. Hurts way more. So please. You got a knife to the arm"
March scoffed and grabbed Mr Healy’s elbow tightly. Like this Lena saw that the blood on his sleeve reached all the way up to his elbow, to a tear in the fabric.
"Jackson. If it weren’t for my dumb luck you’d be dead. And I hardly need my arm to stand."
"If it weren’t for your dumb luck Holly would have no one now."
"Fuck you. I’d do it again. Now sit down, you were shot."

Mr Healy shook March’s hand from his elbow and then grabbed his wrist. He reached around it with two fingers.
"Partners."
"Partners."
They looked at each other for a long moment and Lena felt like she was intruding.
Someone cleared their throat in the group of parents and Mr Healy lifted his head from where it almost rested against March’s temple.
"Can I help you?"
His eyes were steely.
The man that had cleared his throat coughed and shuffled his feet. "It’s time to start."
"A moment, please."
He turned back to March and squeezed his wrist. March looked at him and licked his lips. His free hand formed a loose fist and he punched Mr Healy’s shoulder.
"Let’s sit down?"
"Jesus, yes. Holly will kill us."
March and Mr Healy turned back to the chairs and picked the two where they could see both windows and door. Mr Healy was still holding on to March’s wrist.
The bloodied sleeve in his hand and the dark patch on his jeans spreading.

"Mr March, your cigarette."
Lena pointed at the burning stub, and March just so avoided having his fingers burned. Mr Healy did not take his wrist again.
But he looked at Lena with his warm, honest eyes. She smiled at him and invited the other parents into the circle with a shaking hand.
Guns and knives, good lord. What did these two work as?

A few late stragglers squeezed into the room and the mood shifted to the happy, slightly annoyed hello’s of a typical parent’s night.
Lena was glad for it, but couldn’t shake the subtle feeling of intruding whenever she looked at March and Mr Healy.
They weren’t participating, but neither did they disrupt the circle. March was taking haphazard notes in a small notebook and Mr Healy was listening intently. Tapped his shoe against March’s when he found something noteworthy.
They were good partners.
Lena swallowed and soldiered through her topics.

 

Lena hefted her basket a bit deeper into her elbow and blew a strand of hair out of her forehead.
She had almost everything for her planned party. Only the olives and she was set for the register.
Double checking her list she walked into the preserves aisle and connected with the shoulder of a man.
"Oh! Sorry, Sir." She smiled up at the man, brushing a bit of her powder off the orange suit.
Looked idly up and met watery blue eyes.
Stopped when she recognized March.
Gasped faintly and then finished wiping powder off his shoulder.

"Sorry, Mr March, I wasn’t paying attention."
He blinked down at her, an unlit cigarette hanging off his lip, a small bruise in the corner of his mouth, as if he had been punched.
His eyes widened comically and he slapped his thigh, as if he were a movie character.
"Oh! Holly’s teacher!"
Lena laughed and nodded. Shifted her basket again.
"Yes, yes it is. Lena W-"
"No, no! Please! I know your name, please let me try." March sniffed and turned to face her fully.
He had a cut on his eyebrow and needed a hair cut.
Lena smiled and took a half step back. "Okay, go ahead."

"Miss Lena..." A pause. Some finger wiggling, a nervous tongue bobbing the cigarette from left to right.
He was probably a good kisser, with a tongue that flexible.
But Lena would still rather kiss Mr Healy. He was much more handsome.
Hello inappropriate thoughts, nice to have you back.
Lena sighed and shifted her basket for the third time in as many minutes.

"Miss Lena Waskovski, right?"
"Right. Mr Holland March." She nodded at him and he nodded back in a very private manner that reminded her of detectives she had seen in movies.
She pursed her lips and stood shoulder to shoulder with March.
"Can I ask you something, Mr March?"
"Shoot." He was looking at her, one hand on the shelf.
"What do you work as? I don’t mean to pry, but it never came up, and I wondered."

March grinned and put the cigarette behind his ear. Plucked a glass of green olives from the shelf.
"I’m a PI. Me and Jackson Healy, we’re the Nice Guys. You might have heard about us."
Lena smiled and shrugged. "Sorry, no."
A private eye. She wouldn’t have guessed it, rather something more illegal. Con-artist maybe, or something with insurance. But it fit somehow.
And it explained the guns and knives and Holly's stories.
Some of them at least.

"So how long have you and Mr Healy been a team? It seems you know each other so well."
Lena took a jar of black olives and placed it in her basket. Together they slowly walked down the aisle.
"A year? We started working together over that Auto Show case, with that Porno-actress that died. Misty Mountains."
Lena gasped, a hand covering her mouth.
"That was you? I read about it in the paper, but I wasn’t in Los Angeles then."
March laughed and deftly tossed and caught the olives. "Missed nothing, trust me. It was all a bit over the top, but Jackson and me had a great start over it, and it was a good thing for Holly and me both. New house and all that. Fresh start."
He shrugged his shoulders and Lena smiled. Shifted her basket.
"That sounds nice, Mr March. My colleagues told me that Holly seems much brighter now, than she did last year, so as her teacher I’m glad too."

March laughed a bit too loudly and his fingernails rasped over his stubbled cheek. "That’s all Jackson. The man is a saint with kids and old women. A real saint."
He put his olives down by the cash register and the checkout clerk smiled a fake smile.
"Hello, Sir, is that all?"
„Pack of Marlboros and the olives.“
The clerk rang both items up, handing March the pack of cigarettes, and March pulled a handful of wrinkled dollar bills out of his pocket. A photograph fluttered down without his notice.
Lena put her basket on the checkout table and bent down to pick it up.

A polaroid, taken in a dimly lit living room. The colour of the couch could be anything from dark brown to red, there was no way to tell.
The picture showed March and Mr Healy, March’s arm outstretched, vanishing off picture. He had taken the photograph.
His other hand was curled into a loose fist on Mr Healy’s naked chest, probably with his fingers loosely threaded through the generous dusting of hair.
Mr Healy’s hands were both on March. One cupping his cheek, thumb under March’s closed eye, the other hand on March’s undershirt-clad ribs. A gold ring hung around his neck on a thin golden chain.
They both had their eyes closed.
Sat angled towards each other, thighs probably touching.
They were kissing.

Lena looked up from the polaroid and looked into March’s wide eyes a second time today.
"Miss Waskovski..."
A burst of shock hit her like a brickwall to the face. Tears shot into her eyes.
Then that second passed and Lena swallowed.
Blinked the tears away and looked at the polaroid again.

The both of them were smiling, even though they were kissing. They looked genuinely happy.
Lena sniffed and looked at March.
Remembered Mary’s comments she never was shy to share with Lena.
And somewhere between Mary starting and today, Lena had started believing. Had accepted the imagined reality of March being queer.
And accepting whatever that meant for her misplaced crush on Mr Healy and her professional worry over Holly.
She smiled and handed the ploaroid back to March. His hands were shaking worse than Lena’s.

"You dropped this. Maybe take better care of it, it looks important."
She turned to the checkout clerk.
"Sorry for the hold up. Can you start ringing me up?"
The young man smiled. "Sure, Ma’am."
March swallowed audibly and a clammy hand touched Lena’s elbow.
"Miss Waskovski?"
"Mr March?"
"Holland, please." His voice was rough, but he was smiling.
"Holland?"
"Thank you. Holly was right when she said you were okay."
Lena laughed and patted March’s - Holland’s - hand. "You’re okay too, even though it took me some time to think that."

The clerk was glad when she payed and left. Holland March trailing after her like a lost puppy.
"Miss Waskovski?"
"Lena, if you must, Holland."
The doors of the store opened and Lena blinked into the warm LA-sun.
"Can I ask you something?"
She smiled at Holland.
"Shoot."
"Can you stop lusting after Jackson now that you know he’s in safe hands? It drives me crazy and Jackson hates how bratty I get when I’m jealous."
Lena’s cheeks turned a daring crimson and she gasped, groceries almost slipping from her grip.
Holland’s quick fingers caught a tomato before it toppled out of the bag.

"Y-you knew?"
"Pssh, please. You’re not especially subtle, and Holly is an evil monster that likes teasing people to death when someone has a crush on them."
Lena cleared her throat and firmly walked to her car. Holland still coming after her, tossing the tomato and olives in his hands now.
"Sorry about that. I’ll stop. But he is very handsome."
"Is."
"So it will be hard to stop appreciating him so suddenly."
"Will be. But please show some professional distance. He’s basically the father of one of your pupils and you really shouldn’t lust after a parent like that."
Lena put her groceries down in the trunk of her car and slapped Holland’s arm.
"I’m not lusting!"

He barked a laugh, put the tomato into her hand and turned towards his banged up Mercedes. The top was down and Lena wondered now how she had walked past it, without recognising it.
"You tell yourself that, teach!"
And with that he jumped over the closed driver’s door and started up the car.
Honked twice when he passed her and tore down the street.
Lena was left dumbfounded and a bit wiser for it all.

 

A knock on the door of her flat made Lena sigh long and loud.
She had just curled up on her couch, a glass of wine and some snacks and a nice movie rolling, and now this.
It knocked again and she paused the movie.
"Coming!"
She tossed the blanket off her legs and pulled her robe tighter around herself, unlocking the door and opening it.
"Mr Healy! What a surprise!"
Pleasant surprise.

"Miss Waskovski. Apologies for the late visit."
"No, no, it’s alright! Come inside, please."
She smiled and stepped aside, letting Mr Healy step into her flat.
His cologne smelled very nice.
"I heard you met Holland in the grocery store today."
Lena’s smile froze and she swallowed. Closed the door and remembered her promise.
Mr Healy was in a relationship.
"Yes, I did. Is everything alright with that?"

Mr Healy cleared his throat and looked down at his canvas shoes.
"I just wanted to say thank you. And sorry."
Lena sat down on the small bench in her hallway and frowned.
Mr Healy stood there, like a catholic school boy being asked to come up to the headmaster’s office.
"What are you apologising for?"
"Two or three things." He looked at his hands, as if he was seeing something different from Lena. "Mostly for Holland, he can be a real prick, if he puts his mind to it."
"Holland was very nice, though! Quite considerate, he even helped me with my groceries."
Mr Healy laughed softly.
"First name, huh?"
"He started it."
"Seems like him. He’s not good with formalities."
Lena chuckled and Mr Healy chuckled along.

"Call me Jackson, then. And I’m also sorry for not being clear with you, once I became aware of your... feelings."
Now it was her turn to stare at her fingers, avoiding his eyes.
Super embarassing. Like that time in High School with the team captain and valentine’s day.
"I have to apologise for that, Mr He-... Jackson." Lena swallowed and shoved her hair over her shoulders. "That was un-professional from me. And childish."
Jackson lifted his round, big shoulders and let out a huge sigh.
It sounded like something he had pent up for a long time, like a heavy weight falling off him.

"I’m sorry, and it will not affect our relationship any further. You’re a taken man, and I should have had the decency to ask."
"I wouldn’t have told you."
Jackson smirked and put his hands into his pockets, before pushing away from the wall.
"I’m also sorry that I can’t give you what you want."
Lena rose and crossed her arms over her chest.
"Oh no, Jackson Healy. Do not apologise to me for being happy! You have a family and a partner and I’ll find my happiness on my own terms, you rest assured. Don’t put that weight on your shoulders, I dare you."
She sniffed and poked him square into the chest.
"I dare you, Jackson."
He looked at her, frowning faintly. Blinked once, twice and then nodded slowly.
"Alright, teach."

Lena laughed and poked him again.
"You got that right."
Jackson shook his head, smiled and adjusted his jacket.
"Then I’ll say good night here. Sorry for the late visit, Lena. I’ll see you around."
"Next parent’s night or something. I’ll be expecting you!"
Jackson opened the door and nodded at her. He looked a bit lost, but there was a certain happiness in his eyes that she had not seen there before.
Like when he looked at Holly, or Holland, god forbid.
"Good night, Jackson. Greet your family from me."
It stuck a bit in her throat, but there was no other word for it than family.

His smile was decidedly the nicest one she had ever seen him put on. Warm and honest and making her smile right along.
"Will do, will do."
He walked down the stairs and Lena waited to step back into her flat until she heard the door downstairs.
A moment later a car started up outside and she crawled back into her blanket nest.
She had a movie waiting for her.

 

And Jackson Healy his family.
Holland March was smoking chain, and Holly was climbing up the walls when he came back home.

"What took you so long?"
"Yeah, yeah. It’s alright."
Holland stubbed his cigarette in the full ashtray and stalked over to Jackson.
"I told you it’s alright."
He put his hands under Jackson’s jacket and pushed it off his shoulders.
Holly hung it on the knob by the door.
"She’s an alright teacher. The most alright homeroom teacher I ever had. I hope she sticks around for some time."
Her arms came around Jackson from the back and he gave her arm a pat.

Holland sniffed, smoothed his moustache with two fingers and pressed a quick kiss to Jackson’s mouth.
"Can we settle down then? I’m strung as tight as a string."
Jackson laughed, the deep kind from his belly that made Holland squirm close and put his hands on his belly.
As if it were something to be prized.
Hell, he wasn’t about to complain when Holland wanted to be close to him.
Selfish, yeah, but who wasn’t sometimes?

"Couch?"
"Jesus, please."
"He’s called Jack, Dad."
"Same difference. Our Lord and Saviour."
Holland winked at him and Jackson kissed his smile. Pretty as it was.
"Shut up and get on the couch, March."
Holly dislodged and threw herself on the couch.

Holland promptly sat down on top of her and Jackson laughed through the ensuing tickle fight.
He, the Lord and Saviour of the March family?
Hell no.
The other way around maybe.

Jackson kicked off his shoes and took off his wristwatch and sat down on the couch after Holly had conceded her defeat.
There was some movie on the local channel that Holly wanted to see, so that was what they settled for.
Holly was spread out on both their laps, her head on the armrest and feet in her father’s lap.
She fell asleep like that and Jackson carried her into bed.

Holland gathered him into his arms back on the couch and they turned the TV off.
Jackson kissed the line of Holland’s throat and breathed the scent of him in.
Cheap aftershave, always stale sweat and cigarettes.
Disgusting, really.
But he didn’t mind so much with Holland.

"You need a shower, man."
"Scrub my back and I might consider it. Need a hair cut too."
Holland ran an idle hand through his hair, letting it fall over his eyes.
Jackson brushed it back.
"I’m not doing that. But I’d scrub your back, Holland. Any day, really. Got a nice back."
Holland hummed and kissed his temple.
"You too, handsome."

And that, that was something he really could get used to.
Still hadn’t.
Kind of hoped he never really did.