A Ray of Sunshine


colette_icon.gif tamara_icon.gif

Scene Title A Ray of Sunshine
Synopsis Colette receives a phone call from someone believed lost; although a blessing, as rays of sunshine go, this one brings very little happiness.
Date March 04, 2011

Ruins of Midtown

Three years ago, a high-school-aged girl purchased a canary yellow cell phone on the advisement of a stranger; garish, sunny, reminiscent of the coloration of a newborn chick. It was stolen along with her purse one and a half years later.

The phone was used by a young man smuggling drugs into New York City from New Jersey, a point of contact for buyers and sellers. It was lost in the debris of the Manhattan Municipal Building when it collapsed onto the street due to the actions of rogue Moab prisoner Norman White.

The phone, along with other personal effects retrieved from the rubble, was kept in a Department of Homeland Security evidence locker, shuffled around between one storage closet to another as the case it was related to was shuffled from department to department.

On November 8th, 2010, the phone was in transit along with a collection of other long-term pieces of evidence from Evolved crimes to a storage facility in Langley, Virginia. It never made it out of the city. The truck carrying the phone was caught up in the swell of the riots, boxes looted, contents redistributed.

That it wound up in the hands of the Ferrymen is unsurprising. Scavengers by necessity, recyclers by habit, the old yellow phone — battered as it is — proves to be just as resilient as the network it has since been adopted into.

Finding out whether it works or not, is the responsibility of a young courier. One who has been shirking her duties, in pursuit of more ignoble pursuits as of late.

The cracked LCD screen is still largely readable, showing the image of a single bar of signal. Disposable phones like these rarely have strong services, and in the heart of New York where riots, earthquakes, and nuclear explosions have damaged telecommunications infrastructure, that detracting point is highlighted.

Fingerless gloves almost aren’t necessary with the weather warming up like it is, but too many sharp edges and rough surfaces on the way down below the streets has found Colette Nichols wearing them by necessity. Grubby fingertips sweep a little grime off of the screen, scrutiny placed on the clock as if in wonder that the time is correct.

Colette can’t remember for the life of her when daylight savings time is, or if it’s even already come and gone without telling her.

With its new battery, it’s clear the phone can power up, and even one bar is a testament that it can get service. The yellow cell phone is tucked away into the pocket of Colette’s jacket as she settles down to perch on the edge of a twisted metal railing that once ascended a flight of concrete stairs to an office park south of Midtown Manhattan.

Now it’s like a piece of mangled modern art, when viewed in the most positive light. Phone forgotten in her pocket, Colette takes out another from her courier bag, flipping it open and pressing down on the power button, finding no response from the phone. It’s thrown over her shoulder, to clatter into pieces on the concrete steps.

Not all tasks in the Ferry are adventurous ones.

Sometimes, adventure comes looking for you anyway. In the strangest places and at the strangest times.

It might be less of a surprise, if Colette remembered what day it is.

The phone, worn and battered but cheerfully Easter-yellow in spite of its travails, has been powered up for the first time in a very long time. Awake, the device seems to object to its renewed confinement — no sooner does the clatter of discarded phone subside than another arises, only minimally muffled by the cloth of Colette's pocket, guitar and percussion turned tinny by terribly inadequate speakers.

The chorus that plays is moderately appropriate to the cold but clear morning. The rhythm and melody are of the kind that stick in the mind for hours if not ended quickly.

Now I'm walking on sunshine, who-oh
I'm walking on sunshine, who-oh
I'm walking on sunshine,
And it's starting to feel good, hey

…maybe it should've stayed a dead, forgotten phone.

Tense at the sound, Colette’s posture remains as rigid as the metal of the railing as one hand uneasily reaches into the pocket. A phone that’s been powered down as long as this one has shouldn’t be receiving calls, let alone in the moments of first awakening.

The phone is flipped open, scrutinized at the blocked call showing nothing but a string of zeroes across the incoming call area. Dark brows furrow, and Colette’s lips quirk into a confused smile. Mismatched eyes sweep left and right, even as that obnoxious ringtone continues. How many rings before it goes to voice mail, she isn’t sure.

She doesn’t find out.

“Hello?” It’s an expectant way to answer the phone, a tongue-in-cheek manner to which Colette couldn’t much be associated these days. But the harm in answering an errant call on a lost cell phone seems minimal, when the most damage that could be done can be remedied by removing a Sim card and chucking the phone into some yawning Midtown abyss.

There's a moment's pause between challenge and answer — for the greeting is a challenge, a whim, a test. One that brings a smile to the face of the caller, unseen, but heard in the warmth of her voice. A voice as foreign as it is familiar, unheard for nearly four months; a voice not usually encountered over the remove of digital transmission, jarring in unexpected strangeness, sweetly agonizing in its nonchalant good cheer — as if nothing was changed, as if they hadn't been separated since November, as if she hadn't nearly died at Colette's hands.

"Hello, yourself."

It could still be thrown into a Midtown abyss. But the sybil on the line's other end doesn't consider this likely… not just yet.

The silence on Colette’s end of the phone is an expected one. An outside observer would be able to tell that something is wrong, simply by the way color drains out of Colette’s face, the way she stops blinking, the glassy quality that mists those mismatched eyes. Colette tries to talk, lips even move in emulation of words, but no sound comes.

A hoarse, croaking noise does in words’ place, however.

Gripping the phone tightly for fear that her trembling hands might fumble it, Colette slides off of the warped railing she’d been sitting on. Boots clap against concrete, zippers and buckles on her clothing and courier bag over her shoulder rattle noisily. Her heart races, pounds behind her ribs, reminds her that she’s alive. This isn’t a figment of a dying mind.

Where are you!?” As if expecting to see the Sybil, Colette whips around, back and forth, left and right. Mismatched eyes dart to the shadows between slouching buildings, to the noise of a toppling piece of concrete or a distant car honk beyond the ruins. Her plea is a desperate one, offered on cracking voice and strained composure.

Where, indeed. On the other end of the line, Tamara shakes her head, a motion Colette could perhaps infer if she weren't otherwise preoccupied. "You knew where," she answers, a soft downturn to her voice — tenor somewhere between regret and reminder. "More or less. There's a garden. Not too much white."

At least she sounds well — speaks without difficulty, no weakness in her voice or catch to her breathing. There's not much else to listen to on the line — no cars, boat horns, music, or even chirping birds in the background. No beeping monitors, either, which might imply something. Or might not. Just that soft, long-missed voice.

"Didn't stay long. There was a lot of road left to cover; I wished there wasn't. But I could have a gift; better I give one. Just remember, yellow wasn't your color."

Failing to notice the white-knuckle grip she has on the phone, Colette only realizes how firm her grasp is once her hand starts trembling. She hunches forward, elbows on her knees, eyes wrenched shut and listening to the other end of the phone as intently as she can. It takes her a moment to figure out what to say, how to speak.

Colette’s breathing hastens, evident over the phone as much as it is in her own ears. Legs unsteady, she wobbles and leans against the railing. Her eyes blink back the presence of tears, one shaky hand moving up to her temple, fingers unconsciously tangling with short hair. “Tam—” she usually doesn’t shorten Tamara’s name. It wasn’t intentional, her throat tightens at the attempt to say it. When she follows up, she doesn’t correct herself. “When—when’re you coming back? I—I can’t—you need to come back.” I need you back goes unsaid. Implied. Words otherwise understood across possibilities. Then, after a beat. “Did they hurt you?” The threats of violence on those who would, also implied. Always the cat with claws.

Unseen, the seer closes her eyes, her lips curving in a lopsided, rueful smile. Weighs her silence, the things she wants to say, the things she cannot say. There are chances, choices, opportunities; she could take them. Could tell Colette what the other girl wants to hear and mean it, make it real.

She made a choice, once. Remakes its echo with every day, every hour, every passing breath. Especially now.

"It was a long road," Tamara repeats at last, soft-spoken, regretful; every word sounds like something she really doesn't want to say. "Not until the tide rolled in… The key went to a different castle." Words that to one audience might be no more than cryptic mysteries, aside from the obvious connotation of not soon — and that for the benefit of her other listeners are shaded just so, hinting at potential and promise.

They are a promise, that much is true.

Clocks tick, water flows. The sybil is all too aware that she can't keep Colette on the line for too long; what most needs to be said in the time that remains? "The mirror is," she continues, circling back to the question that is not likely to be allowed to pass unanswered.

There — potential pivots, words rising out of endless permutations and snapping into sudden focus. Words that have the best chance of communicating the truest — albeit far from most satisfying — answer to Colette's worries… without plainly revealing it to others… if only the girl will correctly decipher the subtext.

That part, the sybil has zero control over. She can only weight these figurative dice by so much.

"Pretty as a lark, if larks had cocoons. Ten years, kitty. A third step on the road."

“W — What?” Is the stammered response Colette breathes into the phone. She’s accustomed to Tamara’s method of speech, but even now it still baffles her when she isn’t prepared. Right now, emotions high, the time for puzzles is behind her. She whispers “What” one more time into the phone, looking lost where she’s slouched onto the concrete steps. Sniffling carries over the phone, uneven breathing flagging behind a few more ragged noises. Colette wipes at her eyes, looks around in the hopes that something in the ruined landscape will fill in answers immediately. Nothing is ever immediate.

It’s only after Colette realizes that she’s been silent nearly a full minute that she swallows noisily and tries to speak again. Puzzles are pushed aside, problems for clearer days, when the anger has subsided and the confusion abated. When her heart stops twisting. “I miss you,” Colette whispers into the phone, clutching it with both hands now, as though she were afraid it would fly away had she not.

I love you,” seems like something she’s had a hard time telling anyone, let alone herself. A cat pretending she’s a dog with two bones.

I’m sorry,” covers so much context. Colette finds only small comfort in understanding that Tamara already knows. Already knew. Will know.

On the other end of the line, Tamara breathes out softly, a faint murmur of relief. That — could have gone a lot worse. She smiles again, now with unadulterated warmth and affection, though that expression can only be lost upon its instigator.

"Sorry goes both ways." Another exhale, this one with the timbre of a sigh. "Much more the other way."

Quiet falls then, albeit only a brief silence. Tamara lifts her free hand, curls her fingers in and then out, finally settles for just tucking her hair back behind her ears. That doesn't really need doing… but it is all she can do. Touch does not pass through a telephone line, no matter how much she might wish it could.

Time. Tamara summons back her smile, lets a hint of playfulness color her voice, no matter that it pains her to do so. "You wanted to know," she says, more brightly than their situation really warrants, "Jupiter was barking up the wrong tree. You need the ice, not the ground inside the fence. That's where to chase the buffalo."

A moment's pause, and then: "Until later, kitty," she finishes, and closes the line.

Her regret, the seeress scrupulously keeps from coloring either voice or expression.

The noise that escapes Colette is a strangled one, a mixture of grief, regret, and frustration. “Tamara!” Her shout isn’t transferred, the line has already gone dead. Colette sits there, cradling the phone in her hands, jaw trembling and eyes wrenched shut. A small, ragged sob breaks past the attempt at stoicism, past the walls life makes her erect. She hunches forward, cradling the phone between her palms, shoulders slouched and head bowed. The ruins of Midtown have nothing to say about tears. They’ve endured their fair share, and will yet endure more in the days to come. But for now, the tears in the ruins are Colette’s and Colette’s alone.

She weeps and the city listens, silently and without judgment.

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