Hard Times


lene_icon.gif pines_icon.gif robyn_icon.gif

Scene Title Hard Times
Synopsis Walking around
With my little rain cloud
Hanging over my head
And it ain’t coming down
Where do I go?
Gimme some sort of sign
Hit me with lightning!
Maybe I’ll come alive

Robyn makes a long overdue trip to see Jolene, and discovers they're both coping with hard times.
Date March 4th, 2018


The WSZR Building is a refurbished mill located on the west end of Elmhurst, bordering Newtown Creek. The structure was a textile factory at the turn of the century, but was refitted into and used as a Cold War-era listening post through the 1960s. Much of the old radio equipment remained behind after the structure was subsequently refitted into a shipping warehouse. Following the war, the building sat in disrepair and was purchased by settler Martin Pines with his resettlement grant. The building remains a four story mill structure, but Pines spent two years refitting the broadcast equipment and — with the help of his sole employee Jolene Petrelli — managed to connect the station to surviving broadcast antennas nearby in Elmhurst. The lower floors of the building are equipped with diesel generators to provide electricity during power outages of the the delicate Safe Zone grid. The upper levels of the mill building are personal living spaces for Pines, though the majority of the open-concept structure is dedicated to the radio station.

This was something that had, somehow, become routine over the last few months. Ever since she had first heard WSZR go live almost a month ago, she has been enamoured with the idea of having a radio station to listen to again. Without a reliable CD player and harder access to tapes, she often found herself relying on an old iPod, but with power at a premium solution, radio and vinyl were much preferable options.

If that hadn't hooked her, the sound of a familiar voice would have. It wasn't, at first, not after so many years and through the static of a low power AM band. When she had recognised the voice of Jolene Petrelli on the other end, it had made listening to the radio that much more of a common ritual.

But the music selection?

Well. What could someone expect out of a radio station broadcasting from the ruins of a city. That was how this ritual had begun. For the past few weeks, she had dropped off boxes at the radio station, anonymously. Within were various CDs, cassettes, LPs, vinyl singles - a wide assortment of what she could get ahold of through buying, trading, from her personal collection, or from scavenging outside the Safe Zone.

And so, as the beginning of March rolls in, Robyn Quinn carries another crate in hand, late this week - being in Rochester more than NYC had made stopping by hard. This week's box is an assortment - Set Yourself On Fire by Stars, a Bad Reputation by Joan Jett single, Let It Be by The Beatles, and much more stuffed in side.

This time, it wouldn't be anonymous, though. She had learned much in the last few months - the least of which that it was time to stop isolating herself. It had been a slow process, started by running into Elaine Darrow, of all people. So, this box includes something special, relics from another life - things she had never intended to pull out again, to keep in storage - in her vault, as she had always jokingly called it. Things that barely survived the war.

Now seems as good a time as ever to pull them out. She can only hope they're appreciated.

Normally, the crates are just left at a side access door. This time, it would be different. Robyn knocks several times in slow, heavy succession, hoping to get someone - rather than just leave and run like she used to. She waits, dressed in black, frilly clothes that dominate her wardrobe these days, her black band pulled down across her face and over her eye. She waits, quiet and hopeful.

The door opens almost as slowly as time had passed before anyone realized there was knocking. But when it does open, Jolene isn't there. “You don't look like a solicitor.” The extremely old man on the other side of the old metal door has a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, tired eyes, and a rail thin frame.

He squints, just a little, then looks down at the records in hand. “Oh, you must be Leenie’s friend with the records. Oh, see, I wasn't sure if you were real.” There's a lot to unpack in that sentence, Leenie and Robyn possibly being imaginary among them. But regardless, the old man steps out of the way and hurriedly waves Robyn in.

“Come on, come on. We ain't got any heat to worry about lettin’ out, but it's windy as the Dickens outside today.” That may explain why he's in an overcoat and bundled up with a scarf and gloves.

“Name’s Martin,” he explains cheerfully.

"Bonjour, Martin," Robyn says with a bit of a faux chipper tone in her voice, offering him a weak smile. "Pleasure to meet you." She dips her head in lieu of being able to offer an actual handshake, the crate taking up both hands. "I'm real," she offers back. "Heard the radio go live. You got a fan," she states as the door shuts behind her. "Figured I'd help out with some music." The crate is held up - a plain wooden one, like others left before it on their doorstep.

"Robyn. Hope I haven't offended." With the records, motioning with the crate a bit for emphasis. "I apologise. For not introducing myself before." Her eyes look from Martin, before looking around as she takes in a deep breath. The last time she was in a radio station - of any sort - it was much, much different from this. She thinks she likes this a bit better, all things considered. "Didn't mean to be a phantom," is said with a small laugh.

"Thank you," is offered next. "For the radio station. It's a joy to have music again." That doesn't involve her turntable or some overly expensive electronics.

Martin’s face lights up at nearly every word that escapes Robyn’s lips. He shuts the door behind her and waves one weathered hand dismissively. “Oh, think nothing of it. I’ve got plenty of phantoms in my life, and they don’t leave a copy of Rumors in a bin for me.” There’s a fond smile at that, and Martin shuffles along as if to lead Robyn through the mostly vacant mill space. For the prodigious size of the building, very little of it is actually used for the radio station.

“Leenie is in the broadcast room studying,” Martin explains, motioning toward a walled room in the far corner of the open space. The mill building looks to mostly contain old milk crates, cardboard boxes, stacks of old newspapers, and a simple folding table with a few metal chairs set around it. Overhead industrial lights and tall windows make the space beautifully bright, but it is equally cold and lonely feeling.

Music, though, filters through the air in muffled quality. Right now it’s the notes from Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk thumping against the walls.

It really takes Robyn back, being in a place like this. Back to house shows, to raves, to DJing. It brings a brief, fleeting smile. That smile is offered to Martin too, a fond smile to reflect his. "The broadcast room. Right." Robyn knows broadcast room etiquette - which largely consists of stay the hell out of the way. The consoles at Studio K were all digital, so something was lost a bit compared to what Robyn would've liked.

In another life, this would've been the most perfect place she could have ever wanted to be.

"Thank you," she offers again. "I would love to talk music. Before I leave." Her smile turns into a small grin. "I don't get to these days." She tilts her head to the side a bit. "If there's anything you'd like for the station…" She looks around, blinking. "Maybe I can get it."

Studying earns a bit of amusement. She had heard from Gillian some of what Jolene has been up to these last years Despite that, studying is a strange sort of comfort. "I'll find you after." After she talks to Jolene, at least. It's quietly she makes her way towards the broadcast room, trying her best not to let her trepidation show. She has kept in touch with Gillian - even been to see her. Jolene… not so much.

So, it's with a deep breath that she reaches the door to the broadcast room, and knocks softly on the door. Tusk is a great choice, and that it's playing means that it likely safe for Robyn to set the crate aside, and crack the door. She doesn't push it fully open, instead waiting for an all clear or something,

Inside the small, analog-tech broadcast room, Jolene is sitting with perfect posture in a duct-tape patched old office chair, with a copy of The Bride of Takezo Kensei open on the desk next to the microphone. She’s writing in a notebook in her lap, teeth toying with her bottom lip and hair pulled from her face in a messy bun. When she looks to the door, spots Robyn, her expression lights up in absolute shock.

Quinn!” It’s been that long.

Slapping down her notebook on top of her textbook, Jolene reaches for one of her crutches and pushes herself up to her feet and awkwardly shuffles a few steps from her chair to greet the long-lost old friend. One arm hooks around Robyn’s shoulders, and Jolene’s embrace is surprisingly weak. When she relaxes, there’s a flutter of a smile across her lips and a look back at the record that’s playing.

“It’s a long album,” Lene hastily explains, as though she’s in no rush to change it. “What are you doing here?”

"Long overdue for a visit," is a response that comes slowly. While Robyn can see the difference in Jolene, outside of the covered eye and scar, it probably not until Robyn talks and her accent comes through that some of the changes for her are as apparent. She returns Jolene's one armed hug with a smile, though it's tinged with a bit of sadness. Hearing about something, and seeing it are very different things. The sight of of the crutches gives her pause. The weakness of the hug breaks her heart.

She tries not to show it. She know that she wouldn't want someone to treat her differently if she were in the same position. "An actual visit, not…" As the door starts to shut behind her, she catches it with a foot, turning back to where she sat down the crate so that she could open the door. Picking it it, she smiles as she turns back to the younger woman with it.

"Not just dropping off some records." She steps all the way in, this time letting the door shut behind her. "Not interrupting anything, I hope?" It is a long album, though, and one she would certainly enjoy having playing in the background. She thinks to correct Jolene - she doesn't go by that name anymore - but she decides it's not worth the time… and maybe it's nice to hear from her.

There’s a squint from Jolene as she disengages from the hug, followed by a shake of her head and a dismissive wave at the record player when interrupting comes up. She leans her weight back down on the arm holding her crutch and moves back to her chair, slowly settling down into it with a creak. “I’d… honestly wondered who’d been donating the records. Martin and I had been trying to puzzle it out for a while.”

“Are you— do you live in New York now? It’s…” Jolene’s green eyes unfocus, and she looks to her partly finished school work on the desk. “It’s been years.” Brows furrow together, eyes lift back up and Jolene doesn’t comment about the eye, but does wonder, “Were you always French, and I forgot? I don’t remember you being French, but my— ” Jolene cracks a self-deprecating smile. “My everything isn’t what it used to be.”

There's a hint of amusement on Robyn face, as she scans the room for a second chair - it fades quickly, though. The question is amusing, the answer is not. She finds a chair, and moves to it, picking it up and moving closer to Lene. "Always been half French," she offers in a voice that's quiet against the playing music. The chair is set down, and she gently moves to sit in it. "Mum was French, maiden name Roux." She tries to smile, it comes out weak. "Did work during the war as 'Alice Roux'." She takes a deep breath. "She died in the fighting." Looking back up to Jolene, she cants her head to the side slightly. "So, I honour her." By becoming French apparently - what started as an act became the real thing.

But - for once - this isn't a time for being sad. "I do live in the city," she confirms, looking at Jolene's school work - history? Not her strongest subject. And definitely not EU history from the looks of it. "And it has been years. Too long." This, it seems, is a recurring leitmotif in the musical that is her life as of late, and there's definitely regret in the way the words are said. "Been a bit of a hermit. All work." Her smile fades a bit. "Sorry I waited so long. To come see you." Particularly since she's make a point of keeping in contact with Gillian.

Her eye flicks to the crutch for a moment, but she thinks better of mentioning it - she assumes the last thing Jolene would want is it pointed out, and she's learned how to have more tact than that. "Glad you made your way to school," she says with a widening smile. "How has that been?"

“Hard,” Jolene admits with a look down to the books. “I moved out of mom’s last year and… disability stuff has kept a roof over my head, but,” she closes her eyes and rubs one hand at the side of her head. “School’s been hard to find motivation for. I know I need to like, learn how to live an ordinary life now that everything is over, but…” she eyes the radio room door, just to make sure Martin isn’t listening anywhere. “I don’t know how.”

The assertion is one Robyn’s heard from other former Ferrymen, people who don’t know how to be off now that the war is over. “I’ve tried,” sounds like a plea. “I had a job at a cafe that opened in Red Hook. Couldn’t… stay on my feet. Wound up getting— ” She cuts herself off and shakes her head. “This volunteer work at the radio’s the best thing I have. I just… I don’t know how to be normal. It’s hard. All I ever knew growing up was running, hiding, fighting, and surviving.”

Robyn knows this sentiment well - she feels it herself, though only lately is she really starting to realise the depth of it. She is silent for a bit, listening to Jolene and the music, one in each ear. Considering her response carefully. Fingers drum against her lap, before she reaches down and draws the crate back up into her lap, her smile shrinking to a more serious expression.

"Want to know a secret?" Robyn offers in a low voice, as she begins to flip through the crate of music, one vinyl to the next, past The Fragile and (What's The Story) Morning Glory). "I don't either. Know how." She knows it's not quite the same,since she hasn't had to live with what Jolene has, in any way or sense, but. "Tried. After the war." Still flipping through the vinyl, she gets to almost the back of the stack, where a vinyl with a simple black sleeve sits, a post it note on it reading "For Jolene", and simple white typeface on the front - Robyn Quinn, Glass Wonderland.

"Tried to go back." Her voice is quiet, staring at the vinyl reverently. She'd had three when she'd left home this morning, but she's already unexpectedly parted with one today. "After everything that happened, after… after Pollepel, the gun running, ma mère, the war, the fighting…" She takes a deep breath, tipping the vinyl a bit, a finger over the upper edge to keep the two records inside from falling out the gatefold cover - instead, a small CD-R slips out into Robyn's waiting hand. "It didn't- I couldn't-" Another sigh - she can't really find the words for how it felt. Except… "I felt lost."

Sighing, Lene bobs her head in a small nod. There’s tension in her shoulders, at the corners of her eyes where youth is starting to give way to a few creases. She eases herself back down into her seat, settling crutches up against the desk. The disc in Robyn’s hand earns a look, and as Jolene leans back into the cracked leather of her chair, it creaks noisily. “I know the feeling…” she admits, looking at the record player. “I used to be so strong, Quinn…” her brows knit together, eyes avert into her lap. “Now I have a hard time fighting stairs.” The laugh she gives is rueful, dishonest, and painful. Though, when she looks back to Robyn there’s a faint hint of something less pained.

“What’re you even doing these days?” Lene searches Robyn’s features, the covering of her eye, the sadness in the one she can see. “Have…” she hesitates, it’s hard. “Have you been to the Brick House yet? Or— the wall?” The way she says it, there’s a likelihood that Jolene hasn’t. “I heard they have a room for Else at the Brick House. It… it’s supposed to be nice.” She’s never seen it.

"I tried," Robyn repeats, looking at the disc in her hand, and then over at Jolene. "The Brick House, I mean." A small smile creeps up on her face as she thinks back. "Was the first place I met Else. I couldn't-" A deep breath. "I couldn't make it through. Too many memories. Too many people I left behind, looking back at me." She leans back in her chair, closing her eye. "I should try again. You should come with me. Together, we can tackle it." A nice thought, but one Robyn doesn't dwell on before moving on.

She turns the thin jewel case between her fingers, setting the vinyl that it was kept in on to table. "After the war, I tried to go back," she repeats, looking over at Jolene. "To how things were before. Friends. Music. Books." She shakes her head. "It didn't take. Didn't feel right." She holds up the CD, before offering it over to Jolene. "These are the songs from that session. Just Breathe, Swanmay, The Dying of the Light. Adore, and-" She pauses, giving a small smile. "The Way Back Is Closed. One of Else's last songs."

She offers the disc to Jolene. "Someone should hear them. Play them on the radio if you want." Not her first choice, but. "That was me, after the trials. Lost. Not sure what to do next." She crosses her arms, looking up to the sky. "Until I got a call from SESA." she says a bit more quietly, reaching into her purse and producing her ID and flashing it over at Jolene. Hopefully, she takes it better than most others have. "I'd like to give you some advice, Jolene. If you'll let me." It may not be her place.

There's a long while that Jolene is silent, after she takes that disc in her hands and contemplates what the contents mean to it's creator. She turns it over in her hands, looks a it from every angle she can in that silence. Out in the open mill space, Pines is singing along to the radio in surprising harmony. He's got a bluegrass kind of voice, like a more warbly Johnny Cash. The sound brings a smile to Lene’s face, as she finally sets the disc down beside the microphone.

Green eyes alight back up to Robyn, no mention of the Brick House or going back together. Instead, she just lets the silence hang a moment more, then lowers one of her hands down to Robyn’s. “I'll always take advice from you,” is implicit in the trust she affords her, and the gentle squeeze of Lene’s hand to Robyn’s tells a story lost to time. One words can't convey, and one history will never repeat.

Robyn is silent as Jolene is, watching her once adopted daughter-turned-friend as she examines the CD she's been given, as she listens to Pines sing. Appreciation of both the music, and Pines' own method of appreciation bring a small smile to her face. But it's the squeeze of her hand that draws her back out of the music, and into the moment. And in that moment, Robyn Quinn smiles one of the most genuine smiles she ever has. It doesn't last, Robyn closing her eye and hanging her head a bit. "Probably the last person who should," she says quietly. "Not too good at following it myself."

She holds out her other hand, curling fingers into a clenched fist. She hadn't come here today to give advice, but here they are. "Part of feeling lost was-" she shakes her head, inclining her head a little bit more. "I lost my ability. Burned out. Even today, get told it'll come back." Her experiences don't compare to Jolene's, but it's a starting point. "Nothing felt right without it." Her hand opens back up, placed down on her knee. "Had to learn to live without. To fight without." She huffs up a breath, looking at Jolene.

"Stay strong, Jolene," is the heart of Robyn's advice that she settles on after moments of picking apart her own advice in her head. "Didn't used to be. Still are." She lifts a finger up, pointing at the younger woman's heart. "Different kind of strength now. Strength of heart." She swallows, looking away for a moment. "I can't speak to how hard it is for you, other than I empathise. But I still believe you can do anything." Closing her eye again, a deep frown forms on Robyn's face. "Don't be me. Don't let yourself slip away." Advice, after all, is often born out of lessons learned oneself.

Exhaling a sigh through her nose, Jolene reaches for one of her crutches and pushes herself up out of her chair. Unsteadily, she helps herself over the short distance to Robyn and wraps her weaker arm around her in an embrace. Burying her face in the side of Robyn’s hair, she nods in wordless agreement.

“Thanks,” Lene mumbles into the embrace. “I… don't think I ever told you this,” Lene slowly unwinds from the hug, reaching into a pocket to withdraw a crumpled five dollar bill. She presses it into one of Robyn’s hands. “A long time ago,” that has yet to be, “I asked you what to say to you when I saw you. You… told me to buy one of your CDs.” Lene’s lips upturn into an emotional smile.

Green eyes meet Robyn’s one. “Better late than never,” she says in a small, hushed voice. Then, returning to the embrace she whispers against the side of Robyn’s head, “I love you.”

It used to be hard to render Robyn speechless. These days it's closer to her normal way of approaching the world. But even this sentiment still manages to leave her with fewer words than normal, looking in astonishment at Jolene. Her fingers curl around the five dollar bill, her other arm reaching up to wrap her arms around the younger woman. Her first instinct is to refuse the money - that's silly, after all. She doesn't need it.

But she doesn't like the sentiment that carries. The implication. Whether she dreamed it or not, so many years ago, she doesn't remember telling Jolene to buy a CD. The gesture is regardless appreciated, a meaningful thought that rises above the river of uncertainty she finds herself in lately.

"I'd say you don't have to," she offers, hugging her as tight as she thinks she can, "But I know you want to." So, that $5 will be cherished. "Thank you." The sharp hint of new tears well up in the corners of her eyes. "I love you too." An earnest sentiment, something coming many years later than it should be. Even though their relationship is different now than it might have once been, it doesn't change the timeworn connection she feels.

"And I'm sorry," she says next, quietly. "Sorry I haven't been around." For all the hardships.

Jolene nods, wordless in the acceptance of apologies and appreciation. Her sigh is a small one, both tired and anxious, but the latter smooths out by the end. “It's okay,” Lene opines, not relinquishing Robyn from the embrace. Because to her, it couldn't be anything but ok. “I haven't been around either.”

Shifting away from the embrace, Lene smiles with a faint tearfulness in her eyes. “I haven't been myself for a long time,” she admits, reluctantly. “But that’s ok. It just means I've got time t’figure out who I am now.” Lene sighs, faintly.

“We both can.”

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