Title: Happy as can be

Author: k4writer02

Recipient: moosesal

Summary: It begins and ends with questions about happiness. Juno has a life after her junior year; part of that life is running into Mark Loring again.

Notes: Disclaimer: I don't own Juno or Mark or the witty words, but I borrowed them briefly. I didn't profit at all—really, it's just a Yuletide present!

Rating: PG-13

Fandom: Juno (2007)

Characters: Juno MacGuff; Mark Loring

When she's telling the story of her junior year of high school, she begins and ends it with a chair—the living room set on the lawn and Vanessa's rocking chair, and the little baby snuggled in the mama's arms, that picture that goes out to the world every single Christmas. She doesn't tell it often—just a few times at various "Schools for Girls"—places to send knocked up teens so the rest of the world doesn't have to look at them.

Bad as it was to be the cautionary whale, Juno is glad she wasn't sent away like a dirty secret or a character in a 50s melodrama. After telling her story to a bunch of pregnant girls, the ones who don't go to Women Now or Havenbrooke or whatever the county/state/regional version is, the audience asks certain predictable questions:

What happened with her baby daddy? (they rarely remember Paulie's name) After getting the question enough, Juno starts ending the story with playing "their song" on the front lawn, and says that he's the cheese to her macaroni, which teenagers get, but adults make faces at. The adults think she's romanticizing it, that she's giving the girls false hope that their boyfriends or one night stands will come back, when most of them are long gone. She's just telling the truth, though. As far as boyfriends go, Paulie is boss.

The next, inevitably. Did it hurt? (Sometimes "it" means labor. Sometimes "it" means letting go of the baby. Sometimes "it" means the whole year) The answer is always the same. Yes. It hurt. Yes, it will hurt you. Next question.

Does she ever hear about the baby? See him? Doesn't she want to? Juno explains that it was a closed adoption, but Vanessa sent Bren the address to a website where she uploads photos of her son once a month. Juno looks at it sometimes, but they don't have any contact beyond that. It's more than she thought she wanted; she thought she could just have the kid and forget it, but, since she's talking about it at events like this, well, that goes to show that it's not totally over.

Usually, a parent or adult steps in to ask: What are you doing now? Did you go to college? Yeah, eventually. She does graphic design. At the moment, she's scored a sweet internship at Kamorra, the independent record label in town.

Did unwed underaged pregnancy ruin her life? (Usually asked by the bravest or boldest or most rebellious girl, with a look angled at an accompanying parent, as if to say, see? This isn't an automatic fail) No. It's something that happened, like breaking a leg. You go to the doctor a lot, and you can't go play and only your real friends visit you, but you heal. (She's never been invited back somewhere after answering that way)

Is she happy with her choice? (Here, the frightened face of the questioner seems to dig into her, begging to know: what should I do?) And she answers the only way she can. Happy as can be. She layers the speech with sarcasm and clever comments and little jokes. Some appreciate the humor. Some don't.

Only a few people ask her about Mark. She has a little monologue worked out, all about seeing him only once more, at a video store with Leah.

And it's true, she saw him that once. It was so quick, she couldn't ever tell what movie he was holding up. Sometimes in her memory, it's something awesome like Suspiria (Argento's masterpiece, though Deep Red runs a close second). Other times, it's something cool-but-not-THAT-cool like This Is Spinal Tap or Evil Dead II. And on bad days, when she sort of pokes at her stomach with the soft skin which still shows a stretch mark or two, and she feels permanently marked because she got bored one afternoon when she was sixteen, she thinks it was probably some lame Woody Allen movie like Manhattan, which she only saw because Leah was obsessed with it, and okay, the music didn't make her puke. But the movie itself is all about whiny rich people worrying about having sex, and an older guy and a girl who is still in high school.

That's part of what she doesn't tell.

Here's another.

She's 90% sure that Mark was in the audience one night, when her band performed at a club in St. Paul. It's an obscure little place, tucked in where the street aren't laid out in a neat grid, like Minneapolis. Parking's nearly nonexistent. And okay, Iggy and the Stooges probably never played there, but supposedly Soul Asylum and the Replacements did, before they got big. It's not First Avenue or Seventh Street Entry, but it is a real gig, with an audience that isn't just Leah.

The guy who looked a lot like Mark slipped in three measures into the first song and out during Paulie's guitar solo/finale (Tino quit the band, but they recruited a new drummer at school).

Juno KNOWS it was Mark, even though he didn't talk to her or anything. The way he listened and watched left her tingling in a way she remembers tingling when she played Doll Parts with him on Kimber, the magnificent mahogany Les Paul. At the time, she thought she was giddy because she was actually touching an instrument she'd only fantasized about. (To be honest, she probably had more fantasies about the guitar than she had about Bleeker). But now, she wonders if it wasn't (unconsciously) Mark's attention that left her with that little shiver.

Back in the days of Roosevelt, the Harmony. Now, she's rocking a used and abused rosewood Martin Dreadnought she affectionately calls Bartleby—it's been through hell. New, it would retail for something like 4000 bucks. She got it on ebay for $378, and got it repaired for a sum she won't ever confess to. Bartleby was worth it.

It's neither Gibson nor Fender, which seems a bold move. She sometimes feels more lust and envy over a beautiful Stratocaster (Strat) or a Les Paul (LP) than she did over Katrina and Paulie and prom. Someday, she believes she'll be able to afford a Gibson; for now, she's squirreling away every penny she can, thinking about maybe leaving the Twin Cities for a summer in Chicago or New York or even Tokyo. She'd like to get her own copy of Most Fruitful Yuki.

Anyway, so she saw Mark that night. It counts.

And then, once, while she was at Kamorra, she would swear that she felt his eyes on her, but there wasn't anyone in reception when she checked, so she got another intern to cover her so she could drink a cup of coffee and calm down. As it turns out, coffee doesn't really calm you much. After her third conversational gambit, her supervisor sent her to Marketing with a poster concept and album art proof. Having lived with Bren and Liberty Bell, Juno knows what a "get out of my hair" errand looks like.

She asks around, casually, trying to find out if anyone has seen him. It's just possible, this being a record label and all, that he's still trying to turn himself into a rock star. Or an indy star. He has the floppy hair and Mr. Cool and Sensitive act down.

So it's not really a surprise a few weeks later when she sees him leaving a conference room with her boss's boss. And Mark is a good looking man—hasn't aged a day, though it's been a few years. She isn't sure whether she should make eye contact or hide.

Then, her boss's boss makes the choice for her. "Juno, I want you to meet Mark Loring; he's going to do some composing for us; I need you to take him down, introduce him around. Mark, Juno. Graphic design intern. Good girl."

Honest to blog, her first thought is 'She knows who I am?' Second thought: 'Phucket, Thailand.' Mark is staring at her, and she can't even guess what's going on in his brain. Is he just shocked? Is he evaluating? This may be the only time he's seen her in the light of day when she isn't pregnant. She thinks it may be a sign of maturity that it occurs to her to try to imagine what's going on in his brain. "I—this way." She starts walking.

"Wait," Mark says, so Juno pauses. He directs his attention to her boss's boss, "Caroline, we're going to make beautiful music together." There's so much charm and insincerity in his voice, Juno wants to gag.

Caroline smiles a little, but there's a brittle quality to it. "A pleasure," Caroline demurs. She leaves, tapping on a Blackberry like she can avert nuclear war if she sends this message fast enough.

The hallway is empty, and it's kind of depressing that she already delivered the materials she had to hand over because she has nothing to do with her hands, nothing to hide behind. Her outfit doesn't have pockets, so she sort of clenches her fists and starts walking. She hears him fall into step next to her.

Her hair is loose today, so she steals a glance at him through a sweep of fine, dark hair. He's studiously not looking at her, which irritates her as much as anything else would have. "So you still want to be a rock star?" She can't even figure out the emotions in her voice. Mostly deadpan, a little hostile, and a shade curious.

She watches his smile twist to a self-deprecating smirk. "Where'd you get that?" He asks.

"Done with your commercial sell out phase?" She takes the stairs because really, being in an elevator? Too cliché.

"Pays the bills." He shrugs, and she's distressed that she can't rattle him. She clatters down the stairs loudly.

She's about to pull open the door and end this miserable, awkward reunion when he puts a hand on her shoulder. She shakes him off and turns to face him for the first time since he told her he was divorcing his wife. And she glares.

Juno MacGuff, who was named for Zeus's beautiful and mean wife, a goddess of marriage, and one who hated and punished infidelity, turns the whole force of her frustration and fury with broken marriages on Mark, who may not deserve it, but who she trusted. Because really, only the people you trust can disappoint you.

And she loves Paulie Bleeker, but he never churned her up like this. She didn't expect him to stand beside her or come to ultra sound appointments or anything. So when he came through, when he crawled into that bed with her—maybe his presence meant more because she expected so little.

Leah has never disappointed her. No matter what the shenanigan was, Leah was there, giggling and going with it. From moving furniture to doctors appointments to telling Dad and Bren to whacking Katrina's mailbox to holding Juno's knee during labor—Leah was there. But even that's changing now.

They all live in Minneapolis, but Leah married one of her professors, and she goes a little funny when Juno talks about leaving the Twin Cities. Because if her marriage is going to last, Leah needs to stay, but Juno knows that to be happy, she and Bleeker need to go. And Juno doesn't know what this means. Being left seriously sucks (she hates her Valentine's Day cacti collection), and Juno doesn't like the thought of being the one doing the leaving. But that's a thought for another day.

"Wait," Mark is saying, "Will you let me talk to you?"

Juno smolders, but she doesn't open the door and scream either. Baby steps.

Mark takes that for a yes, "After work, let me buy you a drink? I want to make an apology and I think alcohol is the kind of social lubricant we need."

Juno thinks about it. Bleeker's not going to be in the apartment tonight—Carol wanted to make sure her 'Puppy' had a decent meal, and that his laundry is done properly. Leah and her husband have some faculty party, and Juno already helped her pick her clothes. "Okay." She says slowly. "One drink. The apology. And if you try to touch me again, I'll scream so loud you'll never hear right again."

He mumbles something that sounds uncomplimentary, but nods acceptance of her terms.

"I think…" Juno takes a deep breath, "Do we have to tell people we know each other?"

Mark makes a face, "You're the one who can't lie."

"SIlencio." She orders, and then marches out. She introduces him to the graphic designers, explains that Caroline wants her to introduce Mark around, receives the stink eye (what was she doing talking to the boss's boss?), and escapes. She walks Mark over to the marketing people (he already knows most of them), the receptionist who keeps the schedules and calendars, and the other people he needs to know.

She leaves him at the door to the parking lot with a promise to meet him at a quiet neighborhood bar at the end of the work day. She doesn't know for sure she'll get in—they've seen her there for a lot of Kamorra stuff, so they might not card her; she doesn't have an id that would get her into a bar on her. Mark doesn't seem to have put those dots together though. So if she doesn't show up, maybe he'll think she was being petty.

Rather than freak about it for the rest of the day, Juno applies herself to mailings with more diligence than anyone has ever seen. She's getting a lot of weird looks, but she collects her stuff, calls goodbye to everyone at 4:30 (she skipped lunch so she could leave early), and walks out to the neighborhood bar.

They let her in—damn, there's that excuse gone. Mark is sitting at a booth instead of the bar, and he seems to be sipping a clear-liquor-and-tonic concoction. Waiting for her, across the table, is a frosty cocktail glass of amber liquor. She eyes it suspiciously. "What this?"

"Maker's Mark. Up." There's challenge in his eyes as he lifts his lowball and sips.

She picks up the chilled cocktail and takes a sip, and god, it's burning her mouth and throat, but she swallows and doesn't choke. For like ten seconds. Then, she has to wheeze. She has graduated from Boone's, thank you, but it turns out, she's not a whiskey girl.

"New one for you?" He asks.

She shrugs. "Did you really bring me here to watch me drink something I thought sounded cool when I was sixteen?"

"No, of course, you're right." He works something out of his back pocket, now avoiding her eyes. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" She challenges. Hell, she'd like to see someone grovel a little. Sue her.

He appears to be reading from an index card. "I'm sorry that I put you in between me and Vanessa during the divorce, when you were already dealing with a lot of shit for the baby. I'm sorry I forgot that I was the adult in that situation. I'm sorry I danced with you. I'm sorry I made more out of our…" He meets her eyes, then drops them again, "friendship than I should have."

"Shut up." Juno snaps. She takes another sip of the Maker's Mark, and this time, the burn feels better. "Is this part of some 12 step thing?"

"No." Mark says. "It's part of a being a decent person thing." He waits, while her eyes water (from the drink, of course).

"Do you know what a slut I felt like?" She asked, finally. "Bren tried to warn me, but I wouldn't listen. Because you were so cool; just the kind of guy I wanted to know was out there. I knew better, but I ignored that."

He squirms a little in the booth.

"I still think Sonic Youth is nothing but noise. I can't listen to the Carpenters or Mott the Hoople anymore. So you should apologize for taking those bands away from me. But you were right about Herschcell Gordon Lewis."

He nods solemnly, accepting this peace offering for what it is. "We never got to talk about Vincent Price." He offers as an olive branch of his own.

"Genius." She says, to see how he'll react.

A server approaches them, and she asks for popcorn, onion rings, and a Coke.

Mark's mouth twitches, "Still eat like you're sixteen."

"When I was sixteen I was eating healthier than a yuppie in a Whole Foods." She retorts.

He shrugs, and they slide into an argument about the relative merits of Theater of Blood, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, House of Wax, the Tingler, and gimmicks in horror films, until the snacks and coke (with Maker's Mark added) are gone.

And Juno is feeling oddly relaxed in her own skin. Here's someone who knows what she went through—no awkward explanations or dodges—but still likes her. She's still mad at him, still thinks it was an a-hole move to leave Vanessa when and how he did. But the kid she squeezed out has a good life with his ex-wife. It's a situation that's both weird and comfortable.

She asks, eventually, if he saw her set, and he said he was there for another reason (he doesn't say it but she understands he means a date), and that he enjoyed it. He thought her and Paulie's timing was tight, and her vocals were pure. The drummer's rhythm could still use work, but her playing was fantastic.

This leads to a long conversation about Bartleby, how she found it on ebay, what she went through to get it repaired, and what a beautiful sound it gives her. In turn, he tells her about Kimber and messing around, and getting a band going. It's the easiest awkward conversation she's ever had.

There's a lull, around 7:00, and he suggests going somewhere for dinner. Instead, they order nachos. And Juno asks him, falsely carelessly, if he ever sees Vanessa and the kid.

Mark hesitates, then answers, "They came to my dad's funeral last month. Cute kid. Good manners."

And then she sort of understands why he wants to make amends.

She can't help herself; she asks questions. And he explains, in halting words, why he thinks his marriage fell apart. And she can hear that he's sorry he hurt Vanessa, but not sorry he left. He's probably not going to be a rock star; he still composes jingles and commercials. He's doing work for Kamorra for studio time; he wants to put out a little CD, see how it does. But he can play guitar till his fingers bleed, if he wants to, and collect expensive toys and comics, and if that's selfish, well, then he's selfish.

Juno swallows, nods. And then she realizes she's been asking the questions that the girls ask her, after she tells her story. "What happened with this person you loved? Do you ever see the baby? What are you doing now?"

She's asked them all except the important one. So she blurts it out: "Are you happy?"

He thinks about it for a long moment, then says "Happy as I can be."

She toasts him silently. He returns the gesture. And she feels peaceful.

Notes:

I did a little research on Minnesota and Minneapolis-St. Paul and the music scene (where this story is mostly set). So sorry if I got anything wrong.

I really hope you enjoy the story.