A/N: A years-later tag-end for Juno which I just finally saw tonight, because I wanted to at least see one thing that was nominated at the Oscars. About fifteen minutes after I got home, I'd scribbled this out on two sheets of unlined with a stolen pen, mostly because I was diabolically curious about whatever happened to Mark.
So, she's twenty-three and it sort of sucks. Not in any specific way, just a more general type of suckage that presumably emanates from the near-constant feeling of waiting for her life to start, from the fact that latent post-teenage angst seems to be lurking around every corner and can inexplicably and at-will jump out and grab her by the throat with a triumphant yell. That kind of thing.
God knows the temp job, which has so far been more than temp, is sort of sweet, and oddly appropriate in that surprising lick of poetic justice that life liked to spring on her every now and then. This was a fat suit that she liked. Not that being fat was fun, as a matter of fact that was totally the opposite message from the one kids were supposed to be picking up on, but this fat suit definitely won out over the other one in the important aspect that she could take it off. Which she was headed to do, if she could find a reasonably private john, when she turned the corner and he was standing there, bold and deeply wrong, like a getting a Valentine from your brother. She guessed: another of life's little ironies that it liked to surprise her with. Well, color her frickin' surprised already.
He looks at her belly before he looks at her face, so apparently recognizes her from the contours of said area. He looks as shocked as she feels and this should be but isn't a comfort.
Oh God oh God she has to scrabble through her mental Rolodex for his name, which apparently she's misfiled because its not coming up so she settles instead for a noncommittal, "Hey!"
He's got that slightly bewildered grin on his face that makes him look like an endearing halfwit, that makes people underestimate him. "What— what are you doing— here?" He glances around to ensure that here is still, yes. Dancing Elk High which, yes, it is. "Are you—"
"Still a student? Yeah, don't worry about it, they say if you flunk the 11th five years in a row they'll go ahead and bump you up anyway." He gives this sort of half-laugh and she rolls her eyes at him.
"No, that's not what I was going to ask."
"I have a job here," she tells him, to save him from obvious trouble and deep heartache of coming up with a likely question so he didn't look stupid. She kind of doubted he'd find one. She didn't want to wait around. "Just got done for the day, actually. What about you? I didn't even know you were still in town."
He's polite still, sort of, after all this time, so he glides over the fact that she hasn't really answered his question and says, "Well, yeah, I've been sort of music tutoring— in my spare time. I'm here to pick up, well, I imagine you know Thomas Olenso? He's a student of mine."
"Wouldn't know," she says frankly. "I'm not exactly here all the time."
"Oh." He's nodding slightly, he doesn't want to press, and his eyes are fixed on her belly. She waits for him to snap, and he does shortly. He points in a slow and gradual motion to her midsection and says, "You're not—"
She seems to be finishing a lot of his questions, but really, they're so idiotic she's doing him a favor by not letting him complete 'em. "No," and she laughs but it comes out more like a snort, "like I'd ever go through that again. It's—" She glances around the hallway to make sure no impressionable kids are around. Even though she knows that even high schoolers aren't stupid enough to think that she's actually pregnant for years at a time. Then she lifts her shirt enough to show him the latex fat suit and joins him in looking down at it.
"Its— surprisingly lifelike," he manages. At this point he cannot fathom for what deeply twisted reason she is wearing it.
"That's what I think! Every time I put it on I'm like, Wow, this could almost be the real thing." She puts her shirt down again. "I'm a sex ed class in myself. Anti-coital, pro-abstinence, but-if-you-really-gotta, then-use-a-rubber, safe sex ad. I go around to schools all over, prostitute my stomach out, tell horror stories." She pauses. "Most of them are made up, but, y'know. Its still the voice of experience."
"Wow," he says, and its that smile, back again for a visit, so she can't help smiling back and thinks briefly, fleetingly, of a time when she liked this man enough to lean into him, to let him hold her. Trusted him enough.
He says, "You look— how old are you now?" He bends slightly to the right to look at her from a new angle. "If you don't mind me asking."
"Twenty three," she says, because she's never minded, her age has always and only been her own.
"You— wow." He shakes his head, sucks at his teeth. "You haven't changed at all. Juno. You look exactly, look exactly the same." He glances down at her protruding belly and seems to find this amusing, even if she doesn't. "Exactly."
She folds her arms over her chest, because its cold in the hallway and she really doesn't want him to take that the wrong way.
"How 'bout me? I've changed, huh? Got old— I mean, got even older." The forced laugh again. He does look older though, but she's not sure if this is actually him or just her new vantage point. He must be in his early forties now, she would guess, if she had to guess, and the endearingly boyish charm is even more out of place and he's fading before her eyes from a vivid memory into the kind of eternally hopeful man who listens to the classic rock station and hits on young women because when he looks in the mirror he never sees himself.
"No," she says, despite the evidence, "you haven't really changed, either."
He bites his lip, stares at the ground but her belly keeps getting in the way. "You know I still see Vanessa. Every once in a while," he offers.
She shifts her weight. This makes her uncomfortable, the tenor of this conversation and where it could be headed. She folds her arms tighter.
"Always has the— has him with her." He nods. Affirmation to himself. "Its— its weird, you know, because, ah— he was almost mine, too." She can tell by the studied way this comes out that he's thought about this more than once, more than many times. That he's gone over this in his head and tried to find a word for the child he almost adopted once upon a time— and she can tell because he doesn't say it that he never did find the right term. She's grateful for this because she doesn't want to learn it— the child was almost hers once, too, although Mark got much closer than she did. But still, its a link, a connection. Infant by association.
The pause has gone on long enough for him to grow uncomfortable in it, even as he shifts around trying to make it fit. He tries a laugh again. "You know, its the funniest thing. You'll never guess." She doesn't want to. "She married this guy from England, right? Two years ago. Bang!" He snaps his fingers. "Pregnant right off the bat. Twins. No less." He grins a little hopefully. "Guess it really was my fault, huh?"
"Maybe. Maybe not." She tilts her head, looking at him, thinking. "Maybe it wasn't time. Maybe you really just weren't ready— I mean, really. Both of you."
He puts his hands in the pockets of his manufacturer-frayed jeans, hunches his shoulders, acknowledges her untold and almighty wisdom, her artful clairvoyance. She thinks of Bleeker, and timing, and some genetic virility, and how even on the pill and even with the rubbers it still feels like there's life straining to get out and get even for the pain, every time.
Mark rubs at his eye. "I feel like I should apologize. For flaking out on you."
"Maybe I didn't have a right to expect perfection." She shrugs. "Sure as sin didn't have a precedent."
"All the same, maybe in retrospect if I had done something differently—"
She realizes suddenly that he is not apologizing for what she thinks he is apologizing for; he is apologizing for something else and hoping she doesn't notice. This puts her back up, kind of.
"Look, you have no idea how much I was not expecting what you were headed towards, that day. How much I didn't think of you the way you thought I thought of you, and—" She wants to use the brotherly Valentine analogy on him, but she's aware by now that not everyone has such a rich internal monologue as she does, and he probably wouldn't understand, and she needs him to keep up with this conversation so instead she says, "That day in the basement."
He sucks at his teeth again, scratches at his chin. Even without the endearingly half-witted grin he can still look childish sometimes. "I don't— I don't want to talk about that."
But she did, so she said it anyway. "I didn't ever think you would— well, I can't say I wasn't warned. My step-mom did warn me, but I thought she was just full of crap like I usually thought so I ignored her and— I guess what I mean is, I owe you an apology. I should be just as sorry for that— misfire, misunderstanding, miscommunication— as you are. Should be." She pauses. "Even though I was only sixteen at the time. And you were—"
She waits, eyebrows raised, but all he says is, "Old," so she knows he hasn't accepted her apologies; he heard it, but it didn't mean anything. He no longer speaks her language, and the brief window of time they'd had to communicate had been sadly misused.
He was going to stand there till she made him go away, so she stepped forward to say goodbye and pressed a kiss to his cheek, soft but solid, the last time she'd see him, the last time he'd touch her, and his hands were at her waist like they were dancing in different time periods, and there was still something, more than one thing, between them.
She was hoping he was thinking about smarts, getting them, and rude awakenings, and how time passes and how time flies, and being solid.
But he was leaning a little closer to her now, and thinking, This, this too, was almost mine, even though there are no words for a person like her.
Some people refuse to learn.