As Clopin finished setting up the live stream equipment, Noelle sat down on the couch beside him. She had her hair tied into a side ponytail and put on a little make-up. It was the most put-together she’d looked in weeks. Though she still looked comfortable in her loose-fitting jeans and navy, striped top, her outfit marked a transition period. Gone would be the days where she’d toss her hair up with one of those weird, spirally hair bobbles and throw on a random t-shirt, usually one from a fandom she liked that she would never buy for herself. Clopin loved surprising her with those. Soon she’d be back to work in her professional button-downs and tight hair buns. Aw well, it wasn’t as if evenings and weekends didn’t exist and he had to admit, he did love helping her take those off at the end of the day. Besides, we can always have another.
“You look nice,” he commented, leaning back onto the couch.
“Well, it’s the first time we’ve been on camera for a while. I wanted to look presentable.”
Clopin let out an amused breath.
He smirked. “I just remember when the last thing you wanted was to be on camera.”
“I was really stressed out then,” she admitted.
“You aren’t stressed now?”
She smiled and glanced up the stairs. “Not the same way.”
Clopin’s gaze followed hers and he rested his hand on her leg. Things certainly were different now, in the best ways possible. His eyes turned again to the time displayed in the corner of his laptop screen. “Okay, it’s time. You ready?”
He leaned forward, hit a few buttons on his laptop, and the live stream began.
“Hey, we’re back!” he announced as he watched the viewers pour in. Messages of excitement and congratulations filled the chat box. He smiled. It was nice to know they’d been missed.
“So, for the people who didn’t know, Noelle and I took a little hiatus, but we’re back at it now. I’ll start vlogging regularly again next week and I’ll get a film analysis as often as I can manage. Those take a little more time and as you guys know, I’ve got bigger projects going on right. For now, we’re doing a welcome back Q&A to catch up and just sort of remind you guys we still exist.”
“We’ll have to keep it down, though,” Noelle added, “so no bongo playing contests or ‘who can jump the highest?’ We can have plenty of fun right here on the couch.”
Clopin smirked. “Fun on the couch is why we had to take the hiatus.”
“You don’t have to tell them that.
“Right, sorry.” He leaned in to the camera and cupped one hand beside his mouth. “It wasn’t on the couch.”
“Stop.” She tried to look indignant but laughter in her voice betrayed her.
“Don’t you think the fans want to know the whole story?”
“Then they can leave their questions in the chat,” Noelle argued. Comments started filling the chat box like machine gun fire. “I’m not answering that one though.”
The chat box lit up.
Scientist_fox: I want to hear the story!
CelloPro: Tell! Us! Tell! Us! Tell! Us!
Pistachioprincess: Oh! I’d love for this to turn into a love story live stream.
Googlemaster: I’d love to hear the whole tale. Congratulations btw. Hope you got enough rest.
“Okay, I guess we’re taking questions about our relationship,” Clopin said. He leaned in to read the chat box. “Let’s see. This looks like a good place to start. ‘Where did you two meet?’” He sat back and thought for a moment. “Hmm, you know what? I don’t think we ever formally introduced ourselves to each other. I guess maybe when we were babies our fathers held us up to each other said something like ‘Son, this is Noelle, your future wife.’”
“For those who don’t know, our fathers have been friends since they were in school,” Noelle clarified. “We happened to be born around the same time and played together a lot when we were kids.”
“And thus began an epic romance.”
“You ever been to a wedding?”
They jumped in another puddle, sending the water flying up in the air. Clopin liked to watch as it fell back to earth and left a new pattern on the ground. It had rained that morning and the day was still gray, but their mothers decided to take them to the park anyway. He looked over to where they sat chatting on a bench, umbrellas resting close beside just in case.
Clopin jumped in a new puddle, giving his arms an extra swing. He liked his raincoat. It was blue and purple and it had the genie from Aladdin on it. It felt different from all his other clothes and made a swishy sound when it moved. His blue rain boots were also perfect for stomping in mud.
Noelle’s raincoat was blue too, but it was a lighter blue and had ladybugs all over it. She stomped her red boot in the water and watched it splash. “I have to wear a poofy dress,” she complained, “but Mama says I can change into a different dress for the party.”
“Oh.” He jumped again. “Why do you have to wear the poofy one?”
“Because I’m the flower girl.”
“I walk down the aisle in front of the bride and sprinkle flower petals in front of her.” She made another splash.
“Because it’s a wedding.”
“Oh.” He hopped three times forward through the puddle.
“Would you ever get married?”
He gave the question some thought. “Nah.”
“But you get cake.”
“I think any kind you want.”
“Oh.” He climbed onto a low step and jumped into another puddle. “Maybe I will get married then. How about you?”
“Maybe.” Noelle switched from stomping in puddles to gliding her foot along the surface and watching the ripples trail behind. “I might if he gets me a giraffe.”
“I like dinosaurs better,” he answered.
“What kind of dinosaurs?”
He considered this. “I like Long Necks, like Little Foot.”
“I like Cera the best.”
“Yeah, Cera’s good. My favorite is Ducky, but I’d like a Long Neck because I could probably ride on one.”
“He’s a brontosaurus,” Noelle clarified. “I have a book about dinosaurs. They were really big so you could probably ride one.”
“Yeah I know and Cera is a triceratops,” Clopin said. “You could ride on those too.” His mind quickly switched gears and he pulled Noelle up onto the step. “Let’s jump off at the same time.”
They stood on the step, hands clasped, toes eager to spring them over the edge. “Ready? One…two…”
A group of three older kids sped by on their bikes. They rode through the puddle, splashing the two children. Clopin laughed but Noelle didn’t look happy. She huffed and crossed her arms. “I’m tired of puddles,” she said, getting down from the step.
Clopin frowned. He felt bad that the splash made her upset and he wanted to make her happy again. Something red flew past his eyes. He abandoned the jumping plan and chased after it. It landed on a nearby wall and he could finally see what it was. A ladybug! “Noelle, look,” he said as she ran up behind him. He put his finger on the wall and let the ladybug climb on. “It’s just like the ones on your jacket.”
“Neat.” Noelle leaned down to get a closer look. “If you count the spots, you’ll know how old it is.”
Clopin brought his finger up closer to his eyes. “One, two…”
The ladybug flew away and the kids chased after it. They followed it across the playground where it landed on the ground near the bike kids. Clopin was watching the ladybug, and not where he was going, when he crashed into one of the boys.
The boy looked down at Clopin and scowled. He was older and had a mean face. His friends peered at them from over their bike handles.
“Uh, what are you doing?” sneered the girl on the left. “This is a no-babies zone.”
“We’re not babies,” Clopin protested.
“Whatever, babies,” the boy on the right said. “Why don’t you go play in the sandbox or something?”
“Uh, because it’s too wet,” Noelle snapped back.
“We were playing with the ladybug.” He pointed at their new bug friend.
The mean-faced boy in the middle smirked. Clopin didn’t like the look of it. “Oh, this ladybug?” He raised his foot.
“Stop!” Noelle screeched, pushing him. “That’s nature! You can’t smash nature!”
The boy pushed her back. “I can’t?” He stomped his foot down hard on the poor, little ladybug. “Looks like I just did.” He started scraping the bug’s guts on the pavement.
Noelle’s mouth fell open. Her face turned red and her eyes filled with tears. She turned away so the big kids wouldn’t see.
“Aw look, she’s gonna cry now,” The boy said.
The girl snickered. “Told you they were babies.”
“Go on and cry, baby” the mean-faced boy teased. “Cry, baby, cry.”
Clopin looked at the bug’s splattered remains, Noelle trying not to cry, and the mean kids teasing her. His hands balled into fists and his face felt hot. Something inside him snapped. He ran at the mean-faced boy. “Stop it!” he screamed, pushing the boy as hard as he could. “Say sorry.”
The boy stumbled back a few steps. His face screwed up with anger. “Make me!” The boy pushed Clopin back and he fell hard on the ground. His whole side hurt where he landed. He wanted to get up and hit the boy back, but Noelle reacted first.
She gasped then turned back to the bullies, skin still red, tears still in her eyes, but her face was twisted up with fury. “You’re not nice!” Her leg drew back and she kicked the mean-faced boy in the stomach. The boy clutched his gut and doubled over.
Before anything else could happen, Clopin found himself scooped up in his mother’s arms. Behind him he could see Noelle being dragged away by her own mother. “They started it!” Noelle cried as their mothers took them back to the bench. “They killed a ladybug and pushed Clopin down.”
“And they teased Noelle and made her cry,” Clopin added.
Noelle furiously wiped her eyes. “I didn’t cry.”
“It’s okay, we saw,” Mama said in her gentlest voice. She sat down on the bench and hugged Clopin to her chest. “Are you hurt, baby?”
“I know, and I’m proud of you for standing up for your friend.” Mama kissed him on the forehead. “But I need you to stay out of trouble.”
“They started it,” Noelle repeated, now sulking in her mother’s lap.
Noelle’s mother sighed and rubbed her daughter’s back. “Maybe we’ve had enough park for the day.”
“No!” Noelle whined. “I don’t want to be done.”
“I wanna keep playing,” Clopin jumped in.
Their mother’s shared a look. “Why don’t you bring Clopin over for the afternoon,” Noelle’s mother suggested. “They can dry off and warm up with some tea…”
“I don’t know,” Mama answered. “I left Adrien home with the baby and Gael is at a friend’s house today…”
“Please, Mama…” he begged, clutching the front of her jacket. “Please, please, please…”
“I can watch him for the afternoon if you need to get things done.”
“Well, if it isn’t too much trouble…”
Clopin and Noelle smiled at each other. They knew their mothers’ permission was only a second away.
“It’s no trouble at all,” Noelle’s mother answered. “We’re happy to have him.”
“Alright, then. I’ll pick him up before dinner.” Mama smiled down at him. “Sound good, Love?”
He threw his arms around her, his delight warming him like sunshine. “Yes, Mama! Thank you!”
Noelle wriggled out of her mother’s arms and his mother set him down beside her. “You be good for Joanna,” Mama said, leaving a kiss on his cheek.
“I will, Mama.” He said goodbye and grabbed Noelle’s hand. Together they ran off down the street. They day was still young, and there was still plenty of fun to be had.
“Wait, I think I have a picture from that day,” Clopin said, getting up from the couch. He took a scrapbook from the bookshelf and brought it back over.
One of their cats had already taken his spot. Cuivre, their orange tabby, took any chance he could to muscle in next to his mama. Taika, their gray shorthair, was probably off somewhere doing the cat-version of brooding. Noelle plucked Cuivre off the cushion and let him down on her other side. She scratched behind his ears and made cooing noises at his while Clopin took his seat again.
“My mother made this for us for our wedding,” he explained, holding the book up to the camera.
He turned through the pages filled with pictures of them in their youngest years. There was one of them sitting beside each other in baby swings, one of them playing together at the beach, one from their first day of preschool… Strange to think their parents may have more memories of them together than they did themselves. Finally, he found the one he was looking for.
“Noelle put her hand on his shoulder and rested her chin on top of it. “That the one?”
The photograph showed them fast asleep together on a couch. Their limbs were tangled awkwardly. Noelle’s hand was in his face. Clopin’s leg was had flopped across her torso. Their hair was a mess and they were drooling… And yet, they looked perfectly comfortable.
“Here we are,” Clopin said, turning the book toward the camera.
The chatbox filled with cooing over the two kids and more and more requests started to pop up.
Green_goblin2286: Tell us more
Wordyresponsezzz: I’d like to hear about the time you adopted your cats.
Freerangegrass: Any stories about grass?
Shaniac2.0: Pics from Clopin’s goth phase please!
Their enthusiasm warmed him. The fans of his vlog channel knew this was a topic he could go on and on about, but he hadn’t expected him film analysis fans to be interested too. Though, he should have guessed. “Clopin loves his wife to an absurd degree” had become a bit of a running joke across his platform.
He turned to Noelle and gazed at her serene smile as she ran her hand across Cuvire’s fur. The heart-eye emojis flooding into the chat didn’t escape his attention. “You want to keep going with this topic?” he asked her.
“Sure,” she answered, scratching Cuvire under his chin. “It’d be nice to talk about, especially after everything that’s happened lately.”
Clopin’s grin grew even wider and he turned back to the chat log, eager to answer the next question. This was a story he was always happy to tell.