"Did I tell you the Blakes are coming for Easter tomorrow?"
Clarke frowns at her mother, trying to decide where to start with the statement. No is technically the answer, but as far as Clarke's concerned, it's sort of beside the point. "Which Blakes?" is what she finally settles on.
"You remember Bellamy, don't you? Aurora's son?"
"Yeah, I remember," says Clarke, smiling a little. She still thinks of him as Octavia's hot older brother, but it's not like she wants her mom to call him that. Octavia was her first connection to the Blake family when they bonded in fourth grade, but Abby didn't get close to them until she befriended Aurora a few years ago, so she probably is their most relevant touchpoint. Clarke hasn't seen Octavia since high school graduation; from what she can tell from Facebook, she's perpetually backpacking across Europe with her yoga instructor boyfriend. "I think I know the whole family tree."
"Then you remember Bellamy has two children."
"It's spring vacation week, so they're visiting Aurora for a few days, and they were upset to find out that there was no community egg hunt here. Her yard is too small, so I said we'd host."
Clarke nods. "That answers my second question, which was what coming for Easter even meant." They're culturally Christian in the way that a lot of Americans are these days, celebrating the candy-and-present-oriented parts of the big holidays without ever stepping foot in a church except for weddings and funerals. "Just an egg hunt?"
"And then they're staying for lunch. Aurora's been having a hard time lately."
Her mother's friendship with Aurora Blake had been a surprise, to say the least, and one that had annoyed Clarke at first. After all, Abby had always been silently but pointedly disapproving of Clarke spending time with Octavia, for no reason other than classism. Octavia wasn't the kind of friend Clarke was supposed to have, and Abby knew that Clarke would never listen to that, so she was just as unencouraging as she could be while maintaining plausible deniability.
She got to know Aurora because of her medical issues, which seems kind of shady in Clarke's opinion, but it's one of the realities of small-town doctors, and they bonded over being widows with rebellious children and not a lot of other friends. If not for her mother's hypocrisy, Clarke would consider it an unambiguously good thing, and she's still most of the way there. Her mother is lonely, and if she likes spending time with Octavia's mom, more power to her.
"I'm glad we can help out. So it's Aurora, Bellamy, his wife, two kids?"
"No, he got divorced last year. I didn't tell you?"
"You probably did and I just forgot," Clarke lies. She doesn't want her mother knowing she collects pieces of information about Bellamy like shiny stones any more than she wants her knowing he's Octavia's hot brother. He was a perfectly good first crush, but one she would have forgotten about if her mother didn't talk about his family from time to time. She's not carrying a torch for him so much as sometimes Abby will, unknowingly, shove a torch at her and she throws it on the pile of other torches and forgets about them until Abby brings him up again.
"It was amicable," Abby says. "She got a job somewhere far off, Australia maybe? And Bellamy didn't want to uproot his life and the kids' lives, so she gave him full custody and left."
"I don't know if I'd call that amicable. It kind of sounds like he got dumped."
"Well, I think they were both happy with the outcome. They only got married because she got pregnant the first time."
Clarke rubs her face. "Actually, let's not speculate on Bellamy's relationship, okay? We don't actually know what his marriage or his divorce was like. So it's just him, Aurora, and the kids coming?"
Abby looks like she's thinking that speculating on Bellamy's relationship is an excellent use of their time, but she lets it go. "Yes."
"How old are the kids?"
"Julia is six and August is three."
Bellamy was in ninth grade when she met Octavia, so he's around four years older than she is, thirty-two now and twenty-six when the first kid came along. Clarke's not opposed to the idea of having children, but she's never been in a position to even seriously think about it, and she has trouble figuring out the mindset that would lead to it. Maybe Abby's right, and the pregnancy came first for Bellamy and his ex, but it's still kind of boggling that at her age he had at least one kid and another on the way. At twenty-eight, Clarke only feels mostly capable of taking care of her cats, and they're pretty low maintenance.
"And we have eggs for them?"
"I hard-boiled four dozen yesterday," says Abby, because she never does anything by half measures. "First we'll dye them, then we'll have lunch, then we'll hide the eggs after lunch. Aurora and I will do that so you kids can look for them."
Clarke has to smile. "I don't think me and Bellamy count as kids anymore."
"You can still look."
The worst part is that it does sound kind of fun. As an artistic type, Clarke always got way too into dyeing eggs, and once they were dyed, it just made sense to hide them. The last time she did it, she was a sophomore in college and everyone was extremely drunk, but it had been a good time. And she can probably keep from getting too competitive with kids under ten.
"I might not," she hedges. "But that sounds fun, yeah."
The nice thing about not knowing about the Blake visit in advance is that Clarke couldn't stress about it. Her visit had been fairly last-minute when she remembered she didn't want to be in town for the marathon, and she basically just threw a bunch of clothes in her bag and made sure that a neighbor was willing to feed the cats for a couple days. She doesn't have enough options that she can really worry about what to wear; it's t-shirt and jeans or nothing.
"He's probably not even cute anymore," she mutters, checking herself in the mirror. The weather isn't great but could be worse, and her pale green top is appropriately seasonal and cute enough. Her hair is in a loose braid and her glasses are flattering. Bellamy's a single dad with two kids who will probably think she's the hottest thing he's seen in weeks. Not that she cares about that. But it's better than him thinking she looks like something the cat dragged in.
She helps Abby get the egg-dyeing station set up, which means she pretty much takes over entirely because has some control freak tendencies. But she also worked at a children's museum for a few years, so she has plenty of experience with setting up activities for kids aged three to six. And she's more artistic than her mother is. It just makes sense.
Abby's phone pings at 9:50. "Looks like they're almost here."
There's no good reason for Clarke to be nervous about it. The last time she saw Octavia was also the last time she saw Bellamy, high-school graduation, and he gave her a quick hug and told her congratulations, and then they chatted a little about her college plans and his post-graduation plans and it felt like sort of a nice bow tied on their relationship. A good way to finish off high school and move into adulthood.
Now she feels twelve again, and she absolutely hates it.
Bellamy's daughter is the first out of the car, shooting out like a rocket, all energy. Abby opens the front door and Clarke follows her onto the porch in time to hear Julia exclaim, "It's so pretty up here!"
Her brother follows her out at a slower pace, taking things in with wide eyes. They both take after their father superficially, dark-haired and dark-eyed, and Clarke can see what look like freckles on Julia's cheeks.
It's easier to look at them than to watch the car, waiting for everyone else to get out.
"Hello," says Abby, smiling at the children. "Do you remember me?"
"Mrs. Griffin," says Julia, polite and serious now.
"It's good to see you. This is my daughter, Clarke."
Clarke waves. "Hi, I was friends with your aunt Octavia when we were just a couple years older than you."
"Yeah. We moved here when I was nine and as soon as we met we were best friends."
"They were terrors," says Bellamy's rough, amused voice, giving Clarke an excuse to turn her attention to him.
Of course, it would be too much to ask that he'd aged poorly. If anything, he looks better than she remembered, tall and broad with a wry smile and black hair tangling in the wind. His t-shirt is fitted enough that she can tell he's maintained a good workout routine, and he's got a flannel shirt rolled up to his elbows, like he somehow knows she's reblogged tumblr posts about what a good look that is on guys. And even if his glasses are just the basic black plastic hipster frames, they suit him.
"Hey, Clarke," he adds with a wave. "Good to see you."
He goes around to the passenger side of the car to help Aurora out, supporting her until she gets her cane. She already looks a little worn out, but her smile is real as she looks at Clarke and Abby. "Thank you for hosting. You have a much better house for egg hunts."
"Of course," says Abby smoothly. "Come inside and have a seat. Clarke has the egg dyeing all set up, she'll be able to tell you what to do."
Clarke takes the cue and leads the group inside, showing the kids to the seats she set up for them at the table. She raises her eyebrows at Bellamy. "We have twelve for you too."
"There are four dozen total, my mom said all of us got a dozen."
"Sounds like if I don't do them, no one will." He takes the seat between August and Clarke and accepts a carton of eggs first for his son and then for himself.
Clarke gives Julia hers and nods, satisfied, once everyone is set. "Okay, so we have six colors. Blue, green, yellow, orange, red, pink. Two of each, so we'll have to share. Egg dyeing takes patience," she says, looking between the kids. "The longer you leave the egg in the cup, the darker the color will be. And if you want to use two colors on one egg, you need to let it dry first, so the colors won't get mixed up."
"Like when you're painting," Bellamy supplies. "Drying the eggs is like cleaning your brushes."
Clarke nods. "Exactly. You want to keep the colors clean so the eggs come out how you want. But if you want to do more complicated stuff than just all single colors, I can show you how."
"Stuff like what?" Julia wants to know.
Clarke selects one of her eggs and puts it into a cup of pink dye. "Patterns. Polka dots, stripes, flowers, that kind of thing. You can do that with paper or with crayons."
Julia is very interested in paper and polka dots, and Clarke shows her how to use wax paper to cover whatever she doesn't want dyed in the first pass. Together, they get Julia's patterns done, Clarke aiding in the precision work Julia isn't quite steady enough for, while Clarke monitors August and Bellamy out of the corner of her eye. Bellamy is holding one of his eggs halfway submerged in one of the blue cups while August draws a pattern on one of his eggs in crayon before dunking it.
"So you're just here for the weekend?" Bellamy asks, catching her eye.
"Until Wednesday. My job's fully remote now so I'm just working from here and spending some time with Mom. What about you?" She frowns. "I don't even know where you're living right now."
"Uh, Watertown, actually," he admits, looking away. "Pretty close to you."
"I don't think my mom mentioned that. Last I heard you were in Virginia, I think?"
"Yeah, we moved at the end of the summer so Julia could start the school year here," says Bellamy. "I wanted to be closer to my mom, just in case."
Clarke nods. "I get that, yeah. I had no idea you were so close."
He smiles ruefully. "I did think about getting in touch with you, but I was bad at that before I had kids. The whole, like, calling someone and asking if they want to catch up thing always seems so weird to me, even though when other people do it I'm always grateful."
"Well, we should catch up," she says. "Here and back in Boston. What are you doing for work?"
The eggs take about an hour and a half, all told, but they end up with 48 eggs of varying colors with varying designs that will be fun to hide and look for, and Clarke finds out that Bellamy edits history textbooks and writes historical fiction on the side, which is kind of amazing for someone who's also a single dad, but apparently writing the historical fiction is how he relaxes.
He's also definitely single and getting cuter by the second. Not that Clarke was fishing for his relationship status or anything.
Lunch is ready by the time they're done, and Abby takes point on conversation then, carefully drawing first Julia and then August into conversation, finding out how they're liking first grade and pre-school respectively, what their favorite places in their new neighborhood are, all the good questions Clarke didn't think to ask. On the other hand, the kids are clearly in talking to adults mode with Abby and Aurora in a way that they weren't with Clarke, and that's kind of cool too. They did like her.
"Are you sure you don't want me to hide the eggs?" Clarke asks Abby, once lunch is over.
"Of course not. You and Bellamy will have much more fun helping the kids find the eggs than hiding them."
Clarke still thinks she could be good at giving hints or something, but her mom looks so excited she can't bring herself to argue. Clarke's favorite part of Easter was decorating eggs, and Abby's was hiding them. It was Jake who liked looking for them, and now that he's not around to do that, Clarke can instead.
"That does sound fun," Bellamy offers. He looks at the kids. "What do you two think? Do you want Clarke to look for eggs with us?"
To her mild surprise, they're in favor--in her place, she wouldn't want the competition--and Clarke would struggle to say no to one Blake, let alone three.
"Okay," she says, unable to keep a smile off her face. "Let's do this."
Abby's backyard is admittedly ideal for hiding eggs. She lives a few miles away from the main town, without any very close neighbors, and the yard is large and sprawling enough that boundaries must be defined for where the eggs could be, but even within that smaller space, there are trees and flowerbeds and even some small structures, all kinds of secret places for forty-eight eggs to be tucked away.
Once Abby's done hiding, everyone goes out to the deck to survey the landscape. There's a nice chair for Aurora to settle in with a prime view of the arena, but Clarke is already looking around, sharp-eyed, catching sight of a few of the more obvious eggs in the grass and on lawn chairs.
"Clarke, why don't you tell everyone the boundaries," says Abby. "I used the same ones as always."
"Between the two big trees on either side," she says, pointing them out. "And the hedge in the back."
"What's a hedge?" asks August.
"See those tall bushes in a straight line like a fence?"
"That's called a hedge. Mom's neighbor planted it to keep their yards separate."
"Can you show me the trees, Augie?" Bellamy requests, and the boy dutifully points to them. "Good. Don't go past those, that's someone else's yard."
"Can we go?" asks Julia. Judging from her line of sight, she's spotted one of the same eggs Clarke did and is ready to spring for it as soon as she's allowed.
"Mrs. Blake, do you want to count us down?" Clarke offers, and Aurora smiles.
"Of course. Three, two, one--go!"
Julia and August take off running, Julia to the egg Clarke thought she saw, August to a likely looking flowerbed. Clarke and Bellamy exchange a look, Bellamy's mouth tugging up at one side in a lopsided smile that's frankly unfair. Boys who were as attractive as he was in high school shouldn't also be handsome adults. There should be a rule.
"After you," he says, gesturing her forward, and Clarke makes for a bush where she spotted an egg nestled in the branches, making sure to move slowly so one of the kids can get there before her, if they notice. No one does, so she collects her first prize, dropping it in her basket. Bellamy is going even slower than Clarke is, looking intently at clearly empty patches of grass, then looking high in trees where Julie and August and possibly even Abby couldn't reach.
It's adorable, and gets even cuter when Julia yells, "Dad! You're not even trying!"
"It would have been really sneaky to hide one up here," Bellamy shoots back. He actually climbed halfway up one of Abby's small apple trees and is sitting on a broad branch, surveying the yard. "I can see three from here, you know. You better get to them before I do."
"I bet I have plenty of time," says Julia, rolling her eyes, and Bellamy jumps out of the tree and plucks an egg out of a patch of daffodils, holding it up for Julia's inspection.
"Two left. Better get going, kid."
He gets less obvious about not trying after that, but more than once Clarke sees him walk past an egg without claiming it, going instead for a more obvious one, leaving the difficult-to-spot prizes for August and Julia. It's probably for the best, if she's honest; Clarke is naturally competitive, and if Bellamy was really trying, she'd probably want to beat him. As it is, spotting eggs that Julia and August miss isn't exactly challenging, especially given her homecourt advantage, but taking them does feel a little unfair. She can participate, but if she wins, she won't actually feel good about herself.
She's checking another bush when a soft voice at her elbow says, "Um, Clarke?"
She turns to see August watching her nervously. "Hey, what is it?"
"I see one, but it's too high up. Can you help?"
Bellamy's on the other side of the yard, so it makes sense that she's the adult he came to, but it still makes her stomach flip. "Yeah, of course. Where is it?"
August leads her to a small tree with a bright red egg tucked between the truck and a branch just a little too high for a three-year-old boy. Abby must have misjudged his height. "I tried to climb up, but it was too slippery."
"Yeah, it's good you got me, we wouldn't want you to fall." She glances at him, trying to measure him by sight alone. "Do you want me to get it for you or pick you up?"
"Pick me up," he says, somber. "Or it's your egg."
Clarke has to smile. "You spotted it, so it's yours no matter what." But she puts her basket down and waits for August to do the same before she lifts him up by his armpits, letting him grab the egg and returning him to the ground. "That was a hard one to spot," she said. "Good job."
"I have nine," he says proudly. "How many do you have?"
"You can have this one. Since you helped me get it."
He doesn't sound enthusiastic, but even at three, Clarke can recognize the stubborn set of his jaw, the same one Octavia and Bellamy got when they were determined to do something and damn the consequences. "No, it's yours," says Clarke. "But thank you for offering."
"You're welcome," says August, automatic and well-trained, and scampers off to look for more eggs.
Clarke smiles after him for a moment before looking around herself. Her goal is finding somewhere to fruitlessly search for an egg, but what she finds is Bellamy, watching her with an odd expression on his face. Guilt swoops immediately in her stomach, and she makes herself cross the yard to him, offering him a smile. "Was that okay? Sorry, I should have asked before I picked him up."
Bellamy's face cleared as soon as he saw her coming, but now the smile he'd put on falters into confusion. "What? No, that's fine. I'm just, uh--I'm not used to it. We haven't made a lot of adult friends in Boston, it's weird to see them with other people. But not bad. Honestly, Augie's kind of shy, I'm glad he actually asked you."
She checks his basket so he won't see her flush of pride, and luckily, his basket is distracting. "I saw you pick up four eggs," she says, giving him a look.
It's his turn to flush. There are only two in his basket, and even if Clarke wasn't sure he'd gotten four, she definitely saw him get one of hers, pink with blue and yellow flowers on it, and that one is nowhere to be seen. "As long as I end up with around six, Jules will be happy. But I want her and Augie to get most of them."
"Hiding them again."
Clarke can't help a delighted laugh, but she covers her mouth so maybe the kids won't notice. "Seriously?"
"The more they find, the more fun it is for them," he says, gruff. "And the more they find, the more fun it is for me. I'd rather see them get them than me."
"Good thing I'm not a parent, I'm too competitive."
Bellamy snorts. "Uh huh. I've seen you walk past half a dozen of these. You're not fooling me."
"These are your kids, I'm being polite. My kids would know I'm ruthless."
"So you're taking it easy on them because they're my kids? Trust me, they can take some competition."
"Julia seems pretty cutthroat."
That makes him grin. "Yeah, absolutely. O's her role model."
"Yeah? How's she doing? Still in…I think last time I saw it was Portugal."
"Fu--" He starts, and cuts himself off with a cough. "Funny if I know."
"Thanks. I think they're in Spain now, but she mostly just sends postcards every few weeks. We've got a corkboard and map at home so we can keep track of them." His smile is wistful. "Don't get me wrong, she's happy and I'm happy for her. But sometimes I wish we saw her more than twice a year."
"No signs of settling down?"
"Not from what I can tell. And, hey, why should she? Nothing wrong with roaming around if you can do it."
"But you can't."
He flashes her a smile. "Are you kidding? I would hate that. I remember when I was a kid, I really wanted to be that kind of person. Like, I'd have a motorcycle and drive around, no home, no obligations, just total freedom. But the older I get, the more I realize I'm not that guy, and I don't want to be. I just felt like I was supposed to be for a while."
"But you're the kind of guy with two kids?"
"Even before that. Somewhere around junior year of college I realized I didn't actually like parties and hooking up that much. It's fun, but, yeah. Not really me. Me and my best friend figured out we were both hiding our nerdy interests from each other because we wanted to look cool and it was just so stupid. We got drunk and admitted we both thought Dungeons and Dragons would be a lot of fun."
Clarke dissolves into helpless giggles. "Wow."
"And, hey, we were right. We got into a campaign and that's where he met his husband."
"Do you still play?"
"When I can. We both have kids so it's hard to make time, but we've got a monthly zoom game that meets more than it doesn't."
"That's cool. It's nice to have stuff like that to keep in touch with people."
"Yeah." He clears his throat like he's going to say something more, but Julia's voice rings out from the hedge.
"Dad! You're not trying again!"
Bellamy shakes his head, his grin wide and bright as he laughs. "We're catching up!" he calls back. "Adults do that when we haven't seen each other for a while."
"You can catch up after."
Clarke grins. "That's true. Come on, I think I see one over there."
In the end, Clarke has a respectable ten eggs, while Julia ended up with eighteen and August sixteen (thanks to a few hints from Clarke), leaving Bellamy with only three, and one egg missing in action.
"I have no idea which one you didn't find," Abby swears. "I hid forty-eight of them, I didn't take pictures of them. You found all the ones I can remember hiding."
"It's not a good hunt unless there's one left over to be found six months later," says Clarke. "I dug one up in the garden in July once, it was really gross."
"I think an animal must have found it and buried it," says Abby. "But I don't know where I hit it first."
"Still, finding forty-seven is really good," says Clarke. "We did awesome."
"Except for Dad," Julia puts in. "But he still wasn't trying."
Bellamy ruffles her hair. "Maybe I'm just really bad at it."
"You didn't have to take it easy on us," she huffs.
"I appreciated you taking it easy on me," says Clarke, making him laugh.
"See? Someone knows how to say thank you." He kneels down to wrap his arm around his daughter's shoulders. "Speaking of which, you should definitely thank Clarke and Mrs. Griffin for having us."
"Thank you!" the kids chorus in unison.
"It was really, really fun," Julia adds. "Way better than last year."
"What happened last year?" Clarke asks.
"It was boring."
"We were in Virginia," Bellamy says, when Julia doesn't seem inclined to elaborate. "And they had something at the youth center. But their outdoor space was basically just sports fields, so it was a bunch of eggs out in the open, no strategy, just, uh--cut throat. I didn't think it was boring, I thought she was going to get a black eye. August couldn't even do it because I thought he'd get trampled."
"All I had to do was be fast," says Julia. She really is Octavia's niece. "I liked getting to look for them a lot more."
"Well, any year you're here for Easter you're welcome," says Abby. "Or any other time. It's always nice to have you visit."
"We really do appreciate it," says Bellamy, giving them a butter-melting smile, his eyes all crinkled up. Dating him isn't quite an impossibility, but it's only a couple steps down. Just because he's cute and local doesn't mean he's a real option. He's got kids. Bellamy Blake isn't someone she can be interested in in just a casual way. She can't just revive her childhood crush because she's an adult now, and he is too, and they have real lives. There's something supremely annoying about the fact that Bellamy might actually be kind of flirting with her after ten years, but it can't go anywhere, but it is what it is. "It was good to see you, Clarke," he adds, like he can read her thoughts and wants to twist the knife.
"We should get coffee or something in Boston," he adds, and Clarke nods.
"Yeah, that would be fun."
He nods too, like he might say something else, but decides against it. "Okay, say goodbye," he tells the kids, and they both chorus goodbyes and wave as they head for the car. Abby and Aurora are talking softly as Abby walks her to the passenger seat, getting the door for her, leaving Clarke and Bellamy alone.
"You should give me your number," she blurts out. "So we can get that coffee."
His smile goes lopsided. "Yeah, that would be smart." She gets out her phone and he gives her his number, even waits for her to text him to make sure he has hers too. Then he glances over his shoulder. "Okay, looks like they got loaded up. I have to go check seatbelts." He wets his lip, turning back to her. "It was good to see you."
"You already said that."
"So you know I really mean it." For a second, she thinks he might hug her, but all he does is wave over his shoulder as he walks away.
Abby comes back to join her, putting her arm around Clarke's shoulders, waving herself as the car pulls out of the drive. "Did you have fun?"
"Yeah." She pauses. "You definitely didn't tell me he was in the Boston area."
Clarke slants a look at her. "Are you not giving me Bellamy Blake updates on purpose? Why?"
"You always say you don't like me meddling in your love life. Did that change?"
"Telling me that people live in Boston isn't meddling in my love life."
"Hmm," says Abby. "And if I'd told you he was divorced and living in Boston, would you have told me that I shouldn't try to set you up?"
"Yes," she admits. "And you still shouldn't! I'm not going to date him. But I can still want to hang out with him. He's a good guy."
Clarke's jaw works. Abby wants to set her up. This is all part of some weird plot that Clarke hasn't figured out yet, a long game that isn't going to work because Bellamy probably isn't looking to date, and even if he was, he probably isn't looking to date her, and she's not ready to be a stepmother.
But they can get coffee. They can be friends. Clarke could use more friends.
"He did grow up handsome," Abby says, and Clarke groans.
"Well, he did."
The car is out of sight, so it feels safe enough to say, "Yeah, I guess he did."
Bellamy: I know you said you're working from your mom's so no pressure
But we're going to the park after lunch and August wanted me to invite you
I already prepared him for disappointment so don't worry about saying no
Clarke was idly thinking about taking the afternoon off already, mostly because she doesn't have much to do and enjoying being in the sunshine and out of the city sounded a lot more appealing than figuring out a project for the rest of the day. On the other hand, if she does it now, it feels like it's because Bellamy asked, not because she wanted to already, and that seems kind of pathetic.
On the third hand, the most pathetic thing would be working all afternoon just to avoid Bellamy and his kids, so she texts back which park? and goes to make herself some lunch.
At least Abby is at work, so she doesn't have to explain where she's going. If she stays out too late, she might have to explain where she was, but if she's lucky, no one will ever find out that she went to the park with Bellamy and his kids.
"God," she says, putting her head down on the kitchen island. "This is so stupid."
But she's not going to let that stop her.
She doesn't have a car, so when Bellamy offers to pick her up, she's not in a position to say no. Western Massachusetts isn't the best place to catch a Lyft, and even if it was, it would be a waste of money just to avoid being in a car with a cute boy.
And his cute kids. A whole stupidly adorable family.
The car ride itself isn't too bad, at least. Bellamy arrives a few minutes after she finishes lunch, and once she's settled into the passenger seat, Julia wants to hear stories about Octavia and Bellamy when they were kids. Admittedly, Clarke doesn't have a lot of great Bellamy stories, but the Octavia ones are just as big a hit, and Bellamy usually has a supporting role in those as the person who told Octavia her plans weren't going to work or who came to pick them up when they got stuck somewhere. Admittedly, it's probably a better role for him to play in these stories than co-conspirator, even if Julia's main takeaway seems to be that he's always been boring.
Once they're at the park, though, the awkwardness sets in. The kids immediately rush off to check out the slides, swings, and other structures, leaving Clarke and Bellamy alone to watch from the sidelines. It's the standard parental position, but Clarke's never been on this side before, and she's too aware of all the heteronormative assumptions people make when they see two people who look like they could be a mother and a father.
"Thanks for inviting me," she says, trying to ignore the prickling sensation of nonexistent eyes watching her.
"August is a big fan."
"Really? I didn't know I made much of an impression."
Bellamy shrugs. "You were nice to him and you took him seriously. A lot of people talk down to kids. Especially him. He's quieter than Julia is and younger, so some people think they have to really dumb stuff down for him. And he's a sweet kid," he adds. "It doesn't take much to get him to like you."
Clarke grins. "As long as I didn't do anything special." She sobers. "He is a good kid. They both are."
"They are, yeah."
"Do they miss their mom a lot?"
He shifts, not quite uncomfortable, but not easy either. "It's hard to tell. Obviously they do, but I think Jules is worried that if she talks to me about it, she'll hurt my feelings. Augie wasn't even two when Roma left, he doesn't really remember her that well, but it's harder for Jules. But she's got a therapist, so I think that helps."
Clarke smiles. "What about you?"
"I had one in Virginia, but I'm feeling pretty okay these days, so I haven't found one up here yet."
"I meant the divorce. How are you doing with it?"
"Fine. Better than I should be, probably." He gives her one of his lopsided smiles. "I'm not saying I regret any of it, because I don't. I wouldn't give up Jules and Augie for anything. But if not for them, Roma and I wouldn't have gotten married, and when she left, she said she married me mostly because she thought I'd be a good husband and she couldn't think of a reason not to."
"It's kind of how I felt about her too, we had a good talk about it. She got pregnant, we both wanted to be married with kids…" He shrugs. "Being a single parent is tough, but I'm better off now being single and not being married to someone who wasn't really happy being married to me. And vice versa. Honestly, the worst part was everyone hearing about it and having opinions. It felt like suddenly everyone I ever met was telling me that the kids would never recover and we shouldn't have broken up without at least six months of couples' counseling."
"If it helps, I honestly hadn't even heard about it until my mom told me you were coming for Easter."
She glances at him sidelong, but he's watching Julia push August on one of the swings, his expression giving nothing away. "What?"
"My mom tells me you're single so often it was starting to feel like a part of your name. Clarke-who-is-single."
He shrugs. "I did move to your city. She was excited."
"My mom didn't tell me about you because I told her I didn't want her trying to set me up anymore. I think she was deliberately withholding information so that when I found out, I'd have to admit I was interested in knowing."
He snorts. "I think people you know moving to your city are generally interesting. It doesn't have to be personal."
"No." She chews her lip, mulling over her options. Her mother would be smug if she asked him out. His mother would be smug. Octavia would probably call her from Spain or wherever to tease her. She'd have to figure out if she was ready to be a step-mother, which had literally never occurred to her until she saw him again, and Julia and August probably wouldn't be as welcoming if she was a potential parent and not just a random adult.
But she likes Bellamy. Just because he has kids, she doesn't have to be all-in right away. It doesn't have to go anywhere. All she has to figure out is if she can try, and no matter what she's been telling herself, she could do that.
"It is kind of personal, though," she admits.
He laughs softly, a relieved sound. "Yeah?"
She bumps his shoulder. "You were totally my first crush."
"I was really surprised when I went to your graduation and realized you got hot."
It's her turn to laugh. "I did?"
He glances around, making sure that no children are close enough to hear them. "You took off your robe and you were wearing this dress that was really, uh, flattering."
"You were checking out my boobs."
"I was. Not that I really thought anything was going to come of it. Just--" He shrugs. "You seem cool. We live in the same area. I have a good babysitter. I'd love to buy you dinner sometime."
"Already upgrading from coffee?"
"I figure you're more likely to wear a flattering dress to dinner."
"Dresses like that are more of a second-date look," she teases.
"Then I guess I better make sure I get at least two dates."
Clarke has to smile. "Don't worry, I like your odds."
"Okay, you definitely have to try this year."
Clarke flashes Julia a grin. "Are you kidding? I'm still trying to get on your good side."
Julia rolls her eyes, but she's smiling too. "If you really wanted to get on my good side, you'd take me seriously as a competitor. Also you know I like you," she adds, just to be sure.
Clarke does, mostly. It hasn't been the easiest year, and she knows that just because they've gotten past some rough patches doesn't mean there aren't many more in the future. At first, both Julia and August had been thrilled about her and Bellamy dating because they liked her, but the transition from fun adult to parental figure had been as rocky as she'd known it would be, and they both still sometimes have moments of reminding her that she's not really a part of the family. Which she readily admits, and that takes some wind out of their sails.
But they do like her. She moved in with them when her lease was up in February, and if they hadn't been happy about that on its own, they were delighted her two cats came with her. That smoothed over a lot of the resistance there, and the cohabitation has been going pretty well, all things considered.
And she loves them, completely and inescapably. They're hers, as much as Bellamy is, and she's all-in for the rough patches and the growing pains and everything else. This is her family now.
"I do know that." She lets out a deep breath, making a show of thinking it over. "What about Augie?"
"What about him?"
"I don't mind beating you, and I don't think he minds losing to you. But I think he might have less fun if he comes in third. And maybe he won't," she adds, before Julia can say it. "He might beat me. But I grew up here. I know the yard better and I know my mom's favorite hiding spots. Plus, if you and me find most of the eggs, there won't be many left for Augie, and then he won't have as much fun."
Like her father, Julia seems to have internalized being a good older sibling as a core part of her personality. She doesn't always act like it, but there's no better way to get her to see sense than appealing to her brother's feelings.
"Okay," says Julia slowly. "Then we need to have a lot of egg hunts."
Clarke bites the corner of her mouth to hold in her smile. "Do we?"
"It feels bad to lose, but that's just if you only play one game. The more we play, the more everyone gets a chance to find a lot of eggs. And Augie will get tired and need a nap sometime. Then we can do one just the two of us and we don't have to worry he won't have fun. And Dad can hide them so you don't have an advantage."
"And then me and Dad can sit the first one out and finish our coffee," says Clarke. "And you can do one with Abby, that would be fun."
"We could even put some on the deck for Grandma to find, if she wants."
"I bet she'd like that." She takes another sip of coffee, surveying the yard. In a minute, they'll have to go back inside so Abby can hide the eggs for them,but there's something nice about sharing the quiet moment with Julia, making plans for the rest of the family to approve. It's the kind of thing that makes her really feel like she belongs. "That's going to be our whole day, you know."
Julia shrugs. "What else are we doing?"
"I guess when you put it like that."
They head back inside where August has finished his breakfast and is handing his dishes to Bellamy to be put in the dishwasher.
"We've decided we're doing a lot of egg hunts today."
Bellamy raises his eyebrows. "Yeah?"
"I've got a whole plan," Julia says. "It's going to be awesome."
He laughs. "Well, if it's going to be awesome, we better do it."
"Yeah," Clarke agrees, tucking herself under his arm once he's done with the dishes for no reason except that she can and she likes to. "It's going to be great."