A Late Start


avi_icon.gif emily4_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title A Late Start
Synopsis Better late than never to have tried at all.
Date August 2, 2019

Mistake or not, some things can't be erased, like Emily's voicemail to Avi several weeks ago. Like her silence ever since, or her attempt to make up for it now by inviting him out to talk.

You know, somewhere he'd probably be more comfortable than … her place, or even a nice restaurant.

The address she texted him isn't wrong.

A bar. She's invited him out to a bar.

And she's thirty minutes late.

Dirty Pool Pub

August 2, 2019

6:35 pm

“She’s thirty fucking minutes late!” Avi grouses to the man sitting beside him at the bar. “So no, I wasn’t going to drink but one,” he raises a finger, “she invited me to a fucking bar, and two,” another finger comes up, “she’s late. So like, I’m entitled to a drink or two, right?”

“Isn’t that your third?” The man beside him says, motioning with his beer bottle to the Jin & Tonic in Avi’s hand. Avi looks down at the glass, shrugs, and cracks a crooked smile.

“You’re a motherfucker,” Avi says with a fingergun at his drinking partner, “but whatever, yeah. Three. Maybe I should get food…” he mumbles to himself, looking around the bar as if something like a menu exists in a place like this.

From somewhere behind Avi, there is a grunt of a chuckle, followed by a derisive exclamation of: "Food!" This is clearly an idea that should be mocked, and mercilessly. "Bruce! Bruce d'ya… hear…"

A held glass half filled (or drained of) Guinness is pushed in between Avi and his drinking partner, maybe as a heads up for what's to come — before Zachery comes barrelling after it with blatant disregard for the people at either side, shoving himself at the bar to slide his elbows onto it, and to look for the bar's owner. The weight he places on the surface easily gives away what he's been doing ever since he walked out of work earlier today. His glass is lifted halfway to his face as he scans the area behind the bar like somehow it might be hiding a very large man behind a bottle, somewhere, before he simply mutters, "Where's Bruce gone? He always does this."

A biker off to his next stop now that he's finished pregaming leans into the exit door so hard it slams open, nearly into someone outside. "Excuse you," the thin blonde on the other side scoffs, issuing a glare at the man who only looks over his shoulder, giving her the stink eye as he swaggers away. Other days, she might have a follow-up verging on a lecture for his rude behavior,

but today she's running very very late.

Emily Epstein floats from one side of the threshold to the other, the evening light catching the blue of her eyes as she passes over and enters into the relative dark of the bar. Her eyes adjust quickly, even though she has to squint for the first few moments, scanning tables … tables … with a sinking feeling in her stomach.

"This is the last time I try and ever get anywhere right on time," she swears under her breath, gaze settling to watch her father at the bar shoot fingerguns at someone she's almost sure is a perfect stranger. Her hand comes up to touch her brow as her head ducks down, silently cursing the traffic jam that lead her to being however-many-drinks-late she currently is. Fuck whoever it was that got in that car accident. She hopes they broke their leg, or something happened there that was worthwhile to hold the bus up for as long as it did.

The moment of wallowing ensures she misses seeing just who it is that stumbles between Avi and his New Bar Friend. What it looks like to her is a break in the conversation, though, so she wastes no time in trying to seize the moment. No hesitation, just leans right into the brisk walk of someone with somewhere to be. She should say 'hi', maybe.

But instead, looking from his glass back to him, the only thing that leaves Emily is a wary, "How much have you had to drink?" as she closes in.

Thirty minutes worth,” is Avi’s slow response as he blinks a look away from Zachery and over to Emily. He leans just a little to the side, giving the one-eyed doctor a little breathing room and showing a measure of patience and civility that more than thirty minutes of drinks may not have afforded.

Avi’s drinking buddy slides off of his stool, angling a look across Zachery’s back to the old spy while mouthing who is this guy? While pointing exaggeratedly at Zachery’s back. Avi just waves a hand dismissively and motions to Emily with a go fuck off expression to his drinking buddy.

Perhaps unexpectedly, the man in the leather jacket tips his head in a nod to Emily on his way past, giving a flinty “Ms. Epstein,” with a lopsided smile and a rise of one brow as he makes his way out. Avi watches him leave, then angles a look at Emily, then up and over to Zachery.

“You’re in the lady’s way,” Avi says to Zachery, patting him on the shoulder with the back of one hand and indicating to the now vacated stool on Zachery’s opposite side. He too gets the same go fuck off expression.

With Bruce nowhere in sight, Zachery is in the middle of stretching half sideways and reeeaaaaching over the bar, to refill his glass all by himself - familiar as he is with this place - when he's patted on the shoulder. The glass falls with a CLAnK and a splatter of the stout that was still in there, and he turns with a start.

His eye falls on Avi first, a little blearily, shoulders squaring back as if in idle unrelenting response to the expression he's being given, before his gaze slides off to the person whose voice he should have recognised… if he weren't so busy stealing half a Guinness. "That's no lady," he responds, with a grin and a slightly stronger accent than usual in the face of trying not to slur his words, "That's an Emily."

And he's not in the way! See. Look at him sitting his ass down on the freed up barstool, looking, for whatever reason, pleased as punch. "That figures!"

When the stranger slips past her, flinging her name at her, Emily glances sharply at him just for a moment before she slants her gaze away instead. Her grip on the bag that hangs from her shoulder tightens, but she holds her ground, waiting for him to be off. A slow exhale follows him leaving her periphery, along with a small shake of her head. Only then does she shift her weight in her flats, the denim of her jeans somewhat uncomfortable in the humid heat of the bar. Better a nice shirt and jeans than a blouse and a skirt in a place like this, though. She took advantage of Casual Friday when planning her outfit this morning.

Avi shooing away the man fishing for a beer brings her to glance back up finally, expression blank. She blinks. Her deadpan slides slowly to shock, the hair on the back of her neck standing on end. When he slurs out her name, Emily starts, too.

Ohhhh shit. There's two drunks now. One's doing 'better' than the other. No guesses as to who. (Spoiler: It's the one who's in her seat.)

"That sure fucking figures," she agrees in a mutter, shoulders starting to slope. Introductions, maybe? Oh god. Emily finds herself shaking her head, still working through what to do with this development. She sounds far more certain than she feels. "Yes; I'm Emily, you're Zachery, this is—" Her eyes dart to her father for a moment and then back to the slumped doctor, "this is Avi."

Avi slow turns his entire head to look over at Zachery, then just moves his eyes from Zachery to Emily. “Jesus Christ, really?” His brows go up and he nearly says something else, but then doesn't and waves his hand in Zachery’s direction while he steals half a pint. “I mean… I don't— you're an adult.”


“So how long' s you two been…” Avi looks from Emily to Zachery and tips his drink back, finishing the last of it as the ice all collapses to one side of the glass with a clatter. He narrows his eyes slowly, really straining to see through the situation.

“I'm not reading this right am I?” Avi mutters over the rim of his glass.

As he's getting looked over, Zachery just cranes his neck, and reaches to rub at his left eye - or the one that isn't technically there anymore. It's in the middle of him fidgeting with something that he realises what subject matter is on the proverbial table.

"Oh — ah-," he starts, somewhat nervous chuckling turning to less-nervous laughter. His left eye is pressed shut over slanted eyebrow when his hand lowers to reach out to Emily, closed fist. "Ohh NO. No no, Emily - could do - so, so much better," this is said in a tone smack dab in the middle of glee and surprise, like he's only just realising it to be true. Without skipping a beat, he adds, "Devon's - maybe not better, maybenotworse? Certainly younger! Hold this for a second."

Whether or not she obliges, his fist opens, fingers splayed, for a white, acrylic half-sphere comes tumbling down from his grasp. Slightly moist!

Emily's look falls, her gaze tracking back to Avi with nothing short of sheer horror in it. "N…" Except sound doesn't come to properly explain just how wrong he's reading this. She's flummoxed, wishing she could turn invisible about now. "Dad, are you fucking kidding me?" She's the picture of every embarrassed teenager ever.

It gets worse when Zachery tries to hand off his eyeball, or what passes for one. A startled note flies from her, hand quickly drawing in close to herself while she huddles away from the bar and closer to Avi. She only narrowly avoids actually touching the false eye. "Zachery, what the—"

Avi angles a look over his shoulder at Emily, then shifts his position on his stool to better regard her. His expression is a flat, wearily patient one, as if she is the one being exasperating. That same look is angled first at Zachery’s glass eye, then the spot it's supposed to go.

“Man, I feel ya. You ever get a piece of like,” Avi reaches up and curls a finger at his own eye, “grit back there? I had a fucking toenail clipping once that— ” he waves a hand dismissively, and even at this proximity Zachery can tell that up until very recently Avi Epstein was held together with duct tape and spite. But a lifetime of war injuries that trace up one side of his body and down the other — including a once-lost eye — are all miraculously gone.

“So,” Avi’s smile becomes more canine, “how do you know my daughter?”

Of course the injuries are gone. Of course! This is the way of things, and Zachery has learned this, and it would have been infuriating any other day, but not today! Today, it just brings his shoulders up in a helpless sort of half shrug at no one in particular, and takes the air out of his lungs in something that is part laugh, part baffled snort. An accumulation of possible responses to several new pieces of information all at once.

"Of course, of course. Your daughter. Your daughter who I knoooww fromm…" His attention drifts back to Emily, and a smirk turns to slowly widening grin. The sort of grin one drunkenly adopts as a very bad idea bubbles up. "Does it… really make a difference? In the end?" A gleefully delivered hypothetical question, probably, because he leaves no room for an answer before immediately tacking on an answer in the form of: "We went to clown school together, and it was great, aaaannd she found boyfriend while we were there!"

With that, he leans back over the bar again, ineffectively waving a hand to try and get the attention of the barkeep at the other end. "Fuckin' honk honk. More Guinness pleeeaaaAAASE."

Avi's expression flattens, not entirely, but enough that his smile looks more like he's holding in gas now more so than anything. It's after an awkwardly long moment of silence staring at Zachery that he just slowly looks across him to Emily and fixes that same wordless stare at her.

What the fuck, the look says. It's very clear.

God, if only she had anything to offer other than the exact same expression.

Emily would make the honest-to-god effort of trying to fill in the blanks that Zachery leaves hanging wide open with his non-answer, but she has a feeling that would not help here. He’s drunk, and maybe he just needs left to his own machinations. All she can do is say, “Um… enjoy your drink, Zachery. See you around, maybe.”

And then hooking her hand around the crook of her father’s arm, tries to drag him off the barstool and head somewhere else to theoretically engage in any of the conversations she’s played out in her head the whole day today. Even the most out there of them did not compare to the experience they’ve had so far, and she feels woefully underprepared to handle any other complications here.

"What drink," comes a dismayed halfquestion from Zachery, who may have been cut off, seeing as the barkeep keeps looking pointedly not in his direction. With nothing to show for his gesturing, he shifts his weight to peer at Emily again, brow furrowing.

"Yes absolutely see you around, because you're supposed to teach me how to… how to…" he pauses, drunk brain searching for some exact words before they come tumbling out with doubled energy, "How to be good, perfect little Emily! Remember? Whoever raised you, no judgement if it wasn't you," he puts his hands up and shoots an unsteady look of amusement at something or another at Avi, "did it well."

Should they still want to go, well, the way he's leaning on that counter implies he's not able to stop them even if he wanted to.

Avi slides his tongue across the inside of his cheek as he is escorted by Emily — drink in hand — to another corner of the bar. With a look over his shoulder to Zachery he offers, “She was raised by wolves!”

With that feigned cheer aside, he levels a look back at Emily with a glower that seems less drunk than she expected him to be. “What — and I cannot stress this enough — the fuck is going on?”

Still in the process of hauling Avi away, Emily can’t help but look back when Zachery hollers after her, footsteps failing. Her mouth opens, but no words come. Yes, she remembers, she was supposed to help him do that. And then Avi has to holler back. Great. Right now, she’s too exasperated to deal with that, though, Zachery’s words striking something at her core and setting a small flame.

Go home, Zachery. You’re drunk.”

Perhaps unexpectedly, Zachery has an immediate rejoinder: coupled with arm-sweep that nearly hits another patron in the face, he says “I AM home.” More or less. And look how pleased he is about it. Take that, Emily.

She can’t fucking tell if he’s serious, because what even is going on right now. Her shoulders shift while she bristles. “Well, then sober up!

Her voice goes up in volume, and in return, so does his, as he pushes himself away from the bar and exclaims with a sudden conviction threaded through his words, “Ffffffine, then, I WILL!

Good!” Emily declares, hoping that’s the end of it. She’s shouted it, after all. That’s usually how these things end, right?


"I KNOW YOU ARE," Zachery has already turned to walk, except his legs seem to have a different plan. "But WHat am I OOooOOPH-!" Aaand down he goes, after slumping into a group of disgruntled pubgoers who nevertheless help him back to his feet and out of sight toward the back of the pub. Maybe just so he won't throw up on them.

Emily starts to breathe in through her nose to center herself, slow, steady, but it sharpens and nearly turns into another frustrated string of words, probably profane. Except.

Well none of it really matters at all, does it?

It’s a realization she suddenly comes to, and it’s oddly enough very freeing. It lets her turn back to Avi with a shake of her head, the frustration expelled away with a short scoff. “Who knows,” she tells him blandly, starting to reach for his glass to take it from him, but a glance reveals it to be empty. Emily shakes her head, hand turning palm up instead in a shrug gesture. “Zachery lives somewhere in the area. He worked at Elmhurst Hospital before, he works at Raytech now. He helped with looking into what happened with Devon. That’s how I know him, for the record.” Her brow lifts as she makes that pointed comment, looking him right in the eye.

“It’s enough of a fucking trainwreck enough as it is with Devon, why would you even think I’d complicate things worse by cheating on him?”

“It’s not cheating if you dumped him,” Avi admits with a casual shrug, regarding Zachery’s Groucho Marx exit with a momentary furrow of his brows. There was something about the doctor that seemed familiar to him, but he couldn’t quite place it. His attention is drawn from that thought by Emily, and Avi sets his empty glass down on a nearby table with people already sitting at it. When they look up, offended at him, he just clicks his tongue and makes a fingergun gesture, then motions with his head as he starts to lead the conversation and their direction toward the door out of the bar.

“Dev’s a good kid, but I wouldn’t blame you if this shit was too much. I’m not sayin’ it is, I’m just— if you get judged for your relationships it ain’t gonna be on my watch anymore. You’re a grown-ass woman and you can fuck up and clean up like the rest of us.” Angling their path toward the door, Avi looks back over his shoulder to where Zachery disappeared to, then back to Emily. “The fuck’re we doing here?” He asks her in a tone that implies she wants something from him. It isn’t accusing, more resigned.

Emily at once disapproves of her father's drink disposal method and admires it. And … his take on how she handles her relationships is surprisingly sound. Refreshing, compared to other judgement she might receive on the topic. She follows along after him, hands finding the pockets of her jeans as they head for the door.

Completely without inhibition, she tells him, "I wanted to talk, and I didn't want it to be someplace you felt like you needed to run away." With a look to Avi out of the corner of her eye, her pace lags only so he can get to the door before she can to nudge it open.

She hears the what do you want and regards it only with a furrow of her brow. "I just…" she fumbles finally for wording. "Wanted to catch up."

That bomb of a sentiment dropped, Emily can't bring herself to look Avi's way. Standing still or walking, she tries to put on a nonchalant air. Whatever burst of nihilistic fuck-it-ery in her straightforward approach is fading, and quickly, though.

“I don't ever need to run away,” Avi explains as he pushes the door open with his shoulder and holds it for Emily as she follows, “I do it because the alternative is turning into your uncle Kevin,” who up until this exact point she didn't even know she had. “That bar’s shit anyway,” he continues, letting the door swing shut as he steps out behind her, squinting up at the evening sky as he tugs his sunglasses out of his breast pocket.

“It's a nice gesture,” Avi opines, sliding his dark sunglasses on even though he's standing in the shadow of an adjacent building, “but this isn't you. This isn't a 2 am drunk dial. This isn't a holiday or, far as I can fucking tell a trap set by one of your well-intentioned friends. So,” his brows rise up, “you're asking me to believe you just wanted to catch up?”

Avi’s brows go higher. “With me?

With half the shit Avi says off the cuff, Emily doesn't so much as blink when he brings up the uncle she didn't know she had. Maybe he's a reference she doesn't understand because there's some nugget of pop culture not relevant to her generation she's missed out on.

After all, she barely knew who Heart was.

His question summarily catches her off-guard. "This isn't me?" she asks, too taken aback for it to be said in a scoff. Fight or flight kicks in at the back of her mind, both powerful reactions vying for dominance. Neither wins, exactly. She looks away from him, ahead as she keeps walking.

"Have you ever seen me try before?"

You know, a genuine try, not one where she gets overwhelmed at the first inconvenience or challenge and decides maybe it's better off just leaving things the way they are lest they get worse.

"Think of it as a belated birthday present," she suggests. "Yours or mine, doesn't matter." Emily realizes something after saying it, her brow threatening to knit together and bring a halt to her cadence. But she takes another step. She keeps walking. Momentum keeps her from faltering. "…Whenever yours is."

Avi makes a sound in the back of his throat, brows furrowing and the downward cast of his eyes hidden behind his sunglasses. He wasn’t expecting that reaction from Emily, and the belated way in which he starts to move means he’s got a few hustling steps before he’s caught up with her. “I told somebody you were twenty yesterday,” he says with a hand running through his hair, “so— I’m not good with dates. It runs in the family I guess.”

That noise comes from him again as he looks over at Emily, then around at the nearly non-existent traffic, a common sight in the evening hours in this neighborhood. “Look I’m— ” he stops, restarts again. This isn’t easy. “It’s November. Eleventh. I’m a Scorpio,” he says with a feigned sing-song tone of voice and a rise of his brows. Then, expression flattening, he sighs softly and looks back out to the street, wishing there were more cars on the road to swallow up some of the silence between them.

"Eleventh." Emily winces, knowing that should have been easy to remember. Eleven eleven. It's just never been a focus for her before. "Same day as mine." It's idle chatter to fill the air. A beat, before she offers up with interest, "Your birthday's the same date Skyrim came out." Out of non-sequiturs, the conversation lags again anyway.

But then she laughs, belated, at his astrology quip. "Scorpio?" Emily looks askance at him. "I thought, like, Scorpios were supposed to be down to earth." She chuckles at it. Not him, just it. "Way to go breaking stereotypes."

Her hands slide from her pocket as she takes wider steps, arms swinging by her side. This is awkward, for sure. It's hard.

But maybe it's progress?

"I've… I'm setting up classes for the fall," Emily murmurs, much quieter than before as she picks up the conversational thread again. "I already had them picked before, but I'm swapping one. I'm keeping with the internship." Her next step is more a kick, foot scuffing at the ground. Her momentum doesn't falter. "One of the other interns, Jac — my friend — she's… still missing."

Suddenly she's scrubbing one hand at her face in frustration. The further they get from the bar, the more emotive she's becoming again. "It's why I went out to KC," she explains, weary and apprehensive to out herself, but she does it anyway. She gestures with her hand as it pulls away from her face. "Mom had wanted me to go visit her for I don't even know how long, and I only said yes when I did because it was an easy way to help… look for her, using this thing."

It's a complicated thing, though, and she's trying to keep things uncomplicated at the moment, so Emily doesn't actually elaborate that one.

"I'm hoping something happens soon. That we can find her. That she's okay. It's— it's hard." Caring, that is. Seeing how it impacts others. Absently, Emily lets her hand fall to hang off the side of her neck. She keeps walking.

Avi’s momentary pause in stride has less to do with most of what Emily said and everything to do with whatever a Skyrim is. He presumes it’s a band and will frustrate himself later trying to find their music in second-hand record stores. The rest of it isn’t a surprise to Avi, but he tries his best not to belie that truth. Making a noise in the back of his throat, Avi catches up the two missed strides to be back at Emily’s side. Somewhere along the way she took over leading their walk.

“Childs.” Avi affirms his understanding. Rachel, as a topic, is stepped entirely over. He knows better than to even come close to that topic, lest he talk about it. “Yeah we— Wolfhound got a quick visit from some folks at SESA, seeing if we had any intel that might point them in the right direction. Nothing concrete. They— ” Avi shakes his head. “Nothing for sure.”

Uncertain of how to be reassuring, Avi instead continues to be factual. “SESA’s not entirely full of idiots,” is a glowing recommendation from Avi. “They’ve got Quinn and she’s alright. Not that I’d tell her that to her eyepatch-wearing face. But. Whatever. It’s…” Avi breathes in deeply, to hold in facts about survival rates of kidnapping victims gone longer than a week. He exhales them in a sigh rather than words. “I’m glad you went out. Sounds like you… took care of yourself out there. You go alone?” He already knows the answer. But now he’s testing her.

The silence, the unspoken, she knows it even if he doesn’t say it. It’s not like she’s not pored over that information, obsessing over it and how chances of her friend coming home shrink to even smaller margins as the days go by. Emily lifts her head a touch, posture bracing. She looks his way for a moment, solemn before facing ahead.

His question merits no visible reaction, the phrasing of it lingered on. Why would she go with anyone? Emily’s almost always alone. But she didn’t go alone. Finally, she looks down. “No,” she answers simply. “A friend talked themselves into going with me.” She doesn’t look over at him, not certain how she feels about the return fire on the questions. Sharing is one thing — being asked to hand over any details is another entirely, apparently. She’s figuring this out as they go.

“It…” It’s a topic she can’t go any further on, apparently. She clears her throat. “Anyway,” Emily murmurs dismissively. “How’ve you been, anyway?”

Avi makes a small sound in the back of his throat, nodding a little belatedly to her answer. “Could be better, some internal shit going on with the job. Hana’s Houdini act not-withstanding. We’re not out of business, at least. Francois’ negotiating a contract for some other security gigs. It’s not flashy or exciting, but it’s a living.”

Tucking his hands into his pockets, Avi hunches his shoulders forward and furrows his brows. Something eats at him, gnaws at the conversational corners of the words gone unsaid. “So,” he looks askance at Emily, “how’s your mom doing?”

It's a question without an easy answer. She meets his glance look for look before her attention darts forward again. A moment passes before she takes in a breath and sighs out, "I don't know." It's only half-true. Her head drops for a moment, brow knitting thoughtfully.

"She misses us," is a quieter admission, slightly more true.

"I think she's trying to figure out how to cope. She raised me for 17 years, thinking I'd not make it this far at certain points, and it's not like I'm gone now," not in the way her brother is, "but at the same time, I'm gone from her life now." It's an uncomfortable topic, but she doesn't shy from it. There's just a tightness to her expression, a thinning of her mouth. She looks a lot like her mother in that moment. "She keeps…" Emily struggles with outing the action, head dropping as one hand finds her pocket again. "Trying to get me to move back with her again. The worst part is is she's got really great reasons she pulls out for it, about why there is better than here, but here is where I want to be. New York is home. Hell, Providence was more home than Kansas-fucking-City is." The furrow of her brow deepens its angle before she shakes her head.

"… She's working. She's good." Emily proclaims absently. "But I dunno if she's happy."

“Provid— ” Avi stops in mid stride. Maybe that’s the only word he’d heard in the sentence. “Providence is— fucking— sixty miles away and a fucking Amish ghost town or something. What the fuck are— ” he tries not to spin out of control in paternal concern, but as he curls his fingers into fists at his side and the tension crawls up from his elbows to his shoulders and to his neck he just can’t hold it anymore. “The fuck are you even doing going anywhere outside of the Safe Zone around here? Are you out of your fucking mind?

Avi’s hands come out of his pockets, thrown into the air as though he were hurling confetti. There is none. “There’s a fucking reason they have a fence around this city, there’s a reason why the military police are going to squat on Staten Island. I wouldn’t even go to that part of New Jersey before the war and— tell me you didn’t actually go out there. Tell me you have a scrap of self-preservation in that fucking head of yours! Didn’t I teach— ” you better never leaves his mouth.

Because he realizes

he didn’t.

Teach Emily


Because he wasn’t there.

And just like that, Emily's stride is broken. She wears no expression at all while she tries to figure out where the disconnect has happened between her and him. There's a moment where she doesn't seem to hear him at all in the middle of his concerned frenzy, her gaze slightly off of him as she pieces it together and realization finally dawns in her eyes. Even then, she's patient, waiting for him to run out of steam.

"Dad," Emily interjects calmly, tenderly to keep him from starting back up again. There's care put into the words and in the expression she levels his way, caution in her gaze as she looks up at him. "Providence…"

"Rhode Island, Dad."

Where Rachel had moved them during the war.

When Avi wasn't there.

“Right.” Avi mutters, scrubbing a hand over his mouth, deflating from all of his fight and fury like a hot pan dropped in cold water. “Rhode Island.” He looks down and to the side, exhaling a sigh and shaking his head, seeming unwilling to keep moving down the street, at least for the moment. “It’s uh,” he continues, trying to just brush literally all of that aside, “good that she’s… you know, doing well. I called her a couple times.”

He what?

“After Nat fixed me up,” Avi clarifies. “Just— you know— checking in.” That’s how it felt from his perspective of the conversations, at least. “She have a rich husband yet? Because I mean, you really could use a trade-up in dads.”

Emily watches Avi's calm warily, expecting it to fire up again at any moment. He had a habit of knowing things he shouldn't, and she half-anticipates he'll somehow spontaneously learn, despite being flabbergasted by it moments earlier, that she has been to the Providence he was so worried about.

… more than once.

But she keeps it to herself, burying that information deep, somewhere near the clusterfuck that happened at her and Julie's apartment last winter, along with the knowledge she'd nearly called him for help in figuring out what to do afterward.

So she has a pretty placid expression on when he slips in that he's been communicating with her mother again, despite the internal what the fuck it triggers. Her parents had tried to make things work out more than once before, but … nothing recent. To her knowledge. (Was this new? This was probably new. He didn't even know if she was dating.) So what the fuck did they talk about? Her first thought is that calling doesn't mean her mother picked up. The second is the uncomfortable realization they were maybe talking about her.

Emily finds herself frowning at Avi with a scoff when he makes his self-deprecating comment. She reaches out to shove him on his bicep, not hard enough for it to be a truly rude gesture. God, dad. Then she shifts. Her feet begin moving, taking her a few paces from him. She looks back, waiting to see if he's coming or not.

Both eyebrows arch at him. "Even if she remarries," she informs, laconic. "He'll just be some asshole I don't know, either. I'd rather waste my time trying to salvage this relationship than do anything ever again just for the sake of making her happy." Because she's sure, without a doubt, her mother would want her to have a good relationship with this theoretical, rich second husband. She makes a face at that and other thoughts.

"The fuck am I going to do with you," Emily mutters after, more to herself, given the fact it's nearly incomprehensible. She turns away with a shake of her head and begins a very slow walk forward again. "Fucking trade-up in dads. Gotta be shitting me."

“Giving me a chance might be in vogue these days,” Avi says, both quietly and awkwardly, “but it ain't gonna change who I am.” There's a lopsided smile that crosses his face, eyes downcast to his feet before they tick up to his daughter. “I've gotta own that, an’ so d’you…”

Mindfulness isn't something Avi is often known for, but the reputation he intentionally makes and the man he is behind that cardboard standup aren't always in alignment. “As for what you're gonna do with me?” Avi shrugs, stepping sideways closer to Emily.

“How's dinner sound?”

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