NO JOKING MATTER

“A priest, a rabbi, and a duck walk into a bar…”
“Stop it.”
“Okay, an Irishman, an Englishman, and…”
“Marv, I mean it, cut it out.”
“I’m nervous. Can’t help it.”
“I should think you’d be relieved.”
Marv gave her his sideways, raised eyebrow, “You serious?” look. “Not relieved, Jules. You know that. That would be you.”
Julie frowned. “I’m not relieved, Marv. Sad. Defeated. Not relieved.” She stopped walking and, turning, sat down on the steps they’d been climbing.
Marv sat next to her. “Why are there so many stairs to climb on the way to a courthouse?”
Julie sighed. “Okay, Marv, I give up. Why?”
Marv looked at her, confusion on his face. Suddenly understanding, he laughed. “No, it’s not a joke. I’m really asking.”
Julie grinned. “Oh. I have no idea. Only exercise lawyers get besides their jaws?”
Marv’s eyes widened. “My dear, you just wrote a joke.”
“That’s strange. I’m not feeling very humorous right now. How do you do that?”
“Do what?”
“Always have a joke, always in a good mood?”
“Julie, my parents named me Marvin. What choice did I have?”
Julie laughed in spite of herself.
Marv shifted, looked out over the people climbing the courthouse steps. “It can be a bit of a curse, though. Sometimes I can’t help it. I try to stop myself and it just comes out as something silly anyway.”
“I know.”
Marv looked at her. “But knowing isn’t enough.” It was not a question.
“It’s not just the joking, Marv.”
It was his turn to say, “I know.”
“We made a hasty decision. You were cute and friendly and you made me laugh. I thought that would be enough.”
“You were cute and sweet and you laughed at my stupid jokes. I thought that was enough.”
Julie looked at him. “There’s a lot more to relationship – to marriage – than that.”
Marv nodded. He cleared his throat. He fidgeted. Julie watched him, frowning. He was acting strangely, even for Marv. When he shifted off the step next to her, repositioning himself below her and looking up, her eyes widened in surprise. Marv was not a direct sort of person, but he took her hand and looked intently into her eyes.
“I’m not going to say this right,” he said, his eyes uncharacteristically serious. “But I’ve been trying to…well, try for a long time.” He cleared his throat. “I’m a fool, Jules, I know that. I’m silly and I avoid the serious and I’m hard to talk to and the stuff that matters gets buried because I’m not willing to put it in the light. I’m sorry. I hate that about myself. But I’m scared.”
His voice caught on the word and Julie felt her heart flip a little. “Scared of what, Marvin?”
Julie watched in shock as his face contorted in pain. She’d never seen him like this and was afraid of what he was about to say.
“I’m afraid that if the wall goes down and the joking buffer isn’t there that you’ll find out the truth.”
“What truth?” Her voice was almost a whisper.
“That I AM a fool.”
“What?”
“When I try to say what I’m feeling or thinking, it just sounds so stupid in my head and I’m afraid of opening my mouth and proving that what you think about me is true.”
“What I think about you?”
“That I’m a joke.”
Julie tipped her head a little, stared at the man in front of her. She’d felt like they were strangers for so long. Now she knew they were. She didn’t really know him at all. Where she sensed indifference, he’d felt fear and insecurity. How different would things have been if… if SHE hadn’t been such a fool?
“You know why there are so many steps on the way up to the courthouse?” she asked.
Confused, he said, “Why?”
“To give people time to think,” she said, squeezing his hand. “For second chances.”
Marv’s eyes widened and mouth opened. Before he could speak, she stood and, still holding his hand, started back down the steps.
They walked in silence for a moment, going against the traffic of people in suits moving up the steps.
“You know what you get when you cross a lawyer with an octopus?”
“Shut up, Marv.”
“Yes, ma’am.”

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