A Secret Chord


emily_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title A Secret Chord
Synopsis Zachery looks for something in Emily he can't easily put to words, and what she thinks she hears in him may not be quite what she thinks it is.
Date September 7, 2019

Zachery Miller:
Coffee? Beans tomorrow. 8 am.

7. I've got work.

Sheepshead Bagels and Beans, Sheepshead Bay

Familiarity is a strange thing, and so are patterns. Sheepshead Beans was a staple of Zachery's daily routine for a good while, and though basically all other items of his schedule have changed since he was last here… he still finds himself now - for the first time in what might be months - sitting in the very corner of the coffee shop, taking up at least three seats with how he's melted back into the L-shape of the padded bench he's on, one foot up on the seat of a chair, his face half hidden away in a grey hoodie that may not have seen a wash in a while, and has definitely seen better days.

At least he matches it, sort of. Unshaven, tired, early for the time he was meant to be here. At least this place seems to have had an upswing in coffee supply, which might explain how he's already managed to order and drain the two cups in front of him. Another's still in his hands, halfbalanced on his stomach, while he idly watches other patrons present. His prosthetic eye's not in again, the asymmetrical nature of his glaring daggers all the more unpleasant.

He could almost be mistaken for a corpse if not for the fact that he does, still, occasionally breathe a sigh at a newcomer when they're not who he wills them to be.

It's with a similar grumbling that Emily Epstein finally makes her appearance five past seven, bleary-eyed as she takes one look at the counter and its precious offerings and then more reluctantly looks away to scan for the person she's meant to meet. It's with slight incredulity that her gaze alights on Zachery, expression otherwise inscrutable. She nods his way to acknowledge him, but first makes her way to a barista to put in an order.

At this hour? Black coffee, minimal room left over for the self-service bar. It's fast, which means she gets maximum caffeine intake with minimal effort, but it's also fast, which means she doesn't have to leave Zachery hanging for much longer.

And let's face it, he looks like he's slept here.

It's in putting fixings in her coffee, the slightest dollop of milk dumped on top of the open-topped coffee, that she glances his way and addresses him quietly from their distance of a few tables. "Are you back to not sleeping?" she asks instead of saying hello. "Because for all the negative things I've ever said about Richard Ray, he probably doesn't look favorably on his employees being sleep-deprived."

It's a nice shift of focus. 'You look like shit' sounds better when it's cased as being someone else's problem, instead of a thing you are now mildly concerned about. She pauses after ripping open a single sugar packet, delivering the one-eyed man a pointed glance to drive home her comment before she looks back to her drink to make sure she doesn't miss the cup.

Hoarsely: "Richard Ray can kiss my ass." It's almost 'arse', but not quite.

Zachery clears his throat as he pulls himself up to be slightly less horizontal, lifts his chin and follows Emily's movements. Expression bitterly amused, even if it seems isolated to the lower half of his face. "You haven't heard, then. Good." In the same breath: "How was your birthday?"

Slumping right back down again, he lifts a hand. "Throw me a sugar?"

It lands square in his palm with with a lob, Emily casting a glance his way darkly before she reaches for something to stir her coffee mixture with. "Oh," she expresses blithely, internal thoughts surfacing without filter. Her voice falls flat. "So you got fired."

She sighs as she grabs a to-go top off the station, affixing it to her cup in case this ends up being a short conversation. Her shoulders sag in a way involuntarily indicating she's not upset, particularly, just disappointed. Lips press into a firm, thin line as she checks the seal before turning back to him, working on stowing her feelings and displaying something more neutral. It only partially works. The coffee is not yet ingested, after all.

She makes it as far as not laying into him about whatever shitty circumstance played out in relation to Raytech. "Sorry about the text again." she mutters on her way over.

"Birthday was fine," Emily shares lightly as she settles in opposite him at the table, muttering airily, "Lot of leftover cake, even with Joe there." She delicately places the cup down, fingertips resting on the lid in much the same way. "Better than most I've ever had in my life, so—" Despite herself, she smiles briefly at the memory of it. Her tone verges honest, lifting to a more easily heard volume. "It was good." She glances back up, the warmth in her vanishing.

Coldness doesn't replace it, just… a lack of warmth. Her gaze is piercingly sharp as she seeks in his appearance— his reactions— what he might not tell her himself. Emily juts her chin at Zachery mutely, indicating it's his turn to contribute to the conversation. Or perhaps— even tell her why he wanted to meet.

It's a good thing Emily's aim is good. Zachery appears momentarily stunned the sugar packet's hit bullseye, then fidgets to open it with unwarranted precision. A straight tear would be nice. Her indication for him to talk is caught, summarily ignored until he's pushed the torn-off bit of packet close to the center of the table.

"One," He starts, after that pause, words spilling out in a messy sort of rhythm, "I did not get fired. I think. There may have been a termination, I'm actually not sure since I've… I'm -" And he stops, mouth open, brain stalled, staring at the opened sugar packet in one hand, coffee in the other. About as close to lying down as he can get while sitting. A few slow blinks later, his attention snaps back to Emily with an angling of his head, like he's trying to do a quick calculation required in order to finish his sentence.

But instead, shortly after that, his eyebrows pop up and he forces an ill-fitting smile in her direction. "Two, bullshit. What's wrong with you?"

Up goes the sugar packet, between two fingers, poured directly into his mouth. Then, the rest of the coffee he's holding is tipped up to follow it down.

"You've not been, so you don't know." Emily interjects when he stalls out, a bit pointedly. Her brow pops high, daring a contradiction. Not showing up is another way people get fired, Zachery. Her coffee is lifted for a drink with the affect of someone spiking the ball in the end zone. She feels like she's hit the nail on the head.

Victory drink is stopped short though when he dumps the sugar right in his mouth, right after challenging that she didn't actually have a good time. She can't decide which flavor of taken aback she is, but at least she didn't spittake. The cup hits the table again with a thud, a splatter of coffee finding its way through. Emily mutters and swipes it away with one hand.

"I'm not the guy," she boldly declares, "who just made an IKEA-style drink in his mouth. I think you're disqualified from doubting my sincerity for a bit."

Zachery's fixed gaze narrows on Emily, the empty socket trying its best. The concoction is swallowed down with a ponderous roll of his jaw.

"… An IKEA —" He echoes, before his mind takes him elsewhere, shoulders creeping slowly upward. "I'm - this is more of a - my therapist would probably call this, ah - … a Regressive Downswing-style drink, more like. I actually haven't been there in a while, either. I wonder if he misses me. Do you miss me?" He splutters out a chuckle, but the amusement quickly cools back down to nothing, and nothing of it remains when drags a hand down the side of his face, fingertips pressed hard into skin. That was probably not a question he expected an answer to. "Sidenote: drunk and highly caffeinated? Unpleasant, I'm finding."


Something, all right. Something Emily doesn't have words for. The conversation suddenly has her sharply awake, though, and she's barely touched her coffee.

"What happened?" she demands to know suddenly, the hair on the back of her neck standing on end. Because something seems off— incredibly off. "You were fucking like this before, too," the last time they chanced to be in the same space. "Something— happened."

It must have. Why else would he be like this?

"What's wrong?" Emily asks again, insistence to it. Everyone had their moments— times they were broken. Times they weren't well. She'd thought he'd moved past his, the way she'd moved past hers. Enough seemed different, with his new job, his seemingly stable situation. But maybe not. It seemed… maybe not.

Meanwhile, Zachery's still staring into Emily's face with the same exhaustion as before, slumped still against the seat. Though… he does, at least, finally take a moment to think before he speaks. Nose wrinkling, fighting back a word or two until others manage to make it through.

"Everything's a little too bright," he speaks more slowly than before, words clipped and quiet, like any sincerity might make them ring out too loud otherwise. "A little too much. Even people. Especially people. Ever since a few weeks ago. When…"

When he was literally inhabiting someone else's body, and they, his?

He sets his empty cup out onto the table - where it immediately tips over - to drag a hand over his brow and eye while he slides the rest of the way down with a loud scrape of the chair he's got his foot set against, and a less-than-kind look from a shop employee nearby.

"When… I nearly killed a friend. Halfway on purpose." That'll do.

Emily sits still, jaw tight. People didn't just lead with that. It's an exaggeration? He's drunk, but maybe he's feels guilty. Halfway on purpose, he said. Her gaze sharpens. What's become alarmingly clear is maybe even he doesn't know what he's called her here for. She would like very much to snap that she's not a therapist, much less a confessional, and yet…

He likely doesn't need told he fucked up. He seems to already know that. she thinks to herself. So what does he want? Don't just vaguebook and cackle, drama king. is another thought wrestled down.

Emily bares her teeth while she tries to organize her thoughts, different angels on each shoulder as she works through deciding what she means to say. She breathes out, audible, but perfectly still.

"How the fuck is drinking supposed to help with that?" is what she finally ends up asking.

"Well, you know what they say." The phrase leaves Zachery like it doesn't want to leave his throat, dead weight he can't even feign to believe in. A follow up is almost swallowed back down, but a tired look cast in Emily's direction helps to kickstart it back up. "If one kind of drinking doesn't work, don't give up, try another."

He weakly throws a hand up in what might've been a dismissive gesture. "You're probably too young to have heard that one."

Emily sits deadpan, like he'd not spoken at all and she's still waiting for him to respond in the first place. Because she repeats, "And how is that supposed to help?" She leans forward in her chair just so, emphasising she's looking for a clearer answer. Her head shakes slightly.

"Poor you, Zachery," does not sound very compassionate at all. "You can't drink your way out of feeling what you're feeling. Have you tried apologizing?" she asks with a lilt of her voice. It falls flat again. "Or is the 'halfway on purpose' part of you preventing that?"

She must think it is, because she sits upright again. The question is left behind, made rhetorical as she opts for a possibly more productive one given in the wake of the first: "What are you going to do to fix this?"

Bleugh. The words 'poor you' bestow more energy to Zachery than coffee or sugar together might ever manage, and he jolts upward to visibly shudder. Emily might as well have been standing there with a bucket freshly emptied of ice water for the glare he sends her way, now sitting properly in his seat.

"She doesn't even think it was my fault!" He snaps back, squaring his shoulders and throwing his arms wide. An acidity makes its way into his voice, and it's raised enough to where it catches the attention of a few people waiting in line not too far away. "And maybe it wasn't! Maybe she got herself into this. Because she trusted me, and I trusted myself to figure things out, and then I didn't, so I trusted Richard Ray," said with a baring of teeth, "of all people, and now I'm here, trusting you to—"

Then, all at once, it's gone again. Still sitting upright, chin lifted, but quiet. Whatever prompted his ramble, the only energy he's left with is spent searching Emily's face.

Emily sits unmoving, neither leaning in nor shying away from his behavior or the conversation at all. "Sometimes," she supposes evenly. "It's no one person's fault over the other. Sometimes bad shit just happens. That doesn't absolve you for shit you did that made it worse, but—"

For a lack of quickly coming to the point she means to make, she pauses. Shakes her head slightly. Fuck.


Uncertainty starts to creep in. Even unsaid, she has an idea, vaguely, why he reached out to her. And that he would reach out to her over anyone else… it held implication: The list of people he felt he could trust was small. Whatever this was, it was not lightly done.

"What needs fixed?" she asks quietly but clearly. She almost looks off but refocuses on him. "Or… What is it you need help with?" Anyone around them is soundly ignored, her gaze on Zachery intent. She tries — as hard as it is to — to listen, and consider.

But the answer isn't that easy, and Zachery pulls back in his seat. He, too, ignores anyone but the person ahead of him, though not for anything akin to affection. In fact, something much colder plays out in his expression, distant and defensive.

He grits his teeth, takes a deep breath, and while maintaining eye contact drags his arms slightly closer to himself. An attempt at composure.

"Emily." Spoken calmly, now, though what follows is threaded with the careful impatience of someone holding their hand down on a napkin lest it blow away in a sudden breeze, and spoken with about the same amount of emotion required to do such a thing. "Depending on the next week or so, I might not see you again. I wanted you to know that I'm - grateful," he pauses for a few beats, fingers of one hand curling into a fist before relaxing again, "that there's little shits like you around, speaking their minds. You're a good kid."

That's it, really. That's just where it ends.

"That's bullshit."

That much is made piercingly clear, without even raising her voice. Stubbornly, Emily holds to that opinion, quietly fuming about it.

"You sound like you're about to—" Do something stupid? Skip town? Engage in something dangerous, surely. She doesn't get as far as specifying, though. It's enough to know that she has concerns with it.

"Yeah. You're right, it is." Zachery holds a pensive, narrowed-eye look for a moment, then shakes it off all at once, plants both hands on the table with palms firmly against the surface and pushes himself up with a start and a grin.

"It's bullshit." Said cheerfully and while maintaining eye contact, before he directs his attention toward the door, shifts his weight and starts to move out of his corner. "See you, Emily."

If Emily could stop time, perhaps she could figure out the appropriate thing to say here. Perhaps she could find some way to loop Zachery back to the table, to get him to better explain, and to walk away with the feeling he had something remotely healthy planned for himself. The urge to lean into her ability and plead for him to come back is strong. But who was she to make that sort of imposition on him?

Seconds pass and Zachery breaks eye contact to come to stand. Emily remains sitting, mouth dried. Teeth clench.

"Do you—" comes from her without her knowing, really; thought given voice without due consideration. (Or maybe too much.) "want me to try to change your mind about this?"

This. Whatever this was. Like he wasn't already standing to head out and do it.

The look that's pointed at Emily when Zachery turns around mid-stride is one of two things, but mostly amusement. His grin, previously of questionable sincerity, has flared up with renewed energy. As if she's done him a great favour rather than just ask him a question.

"Knowing you know? That confirmation?" He asks, walking backwards toward the exit while his arms go wide again, momentarily jostled when he backs into someone else who stands aside with an expression of annoyance that he doesn't bother to catch. "I think that's what I wanted."

Those last words have something else threaded through them - to match the other thing his face is conveying despite addled attempts to keep it straight. Relief, but of the bitterest kind. "Take care of yourself."

"You too," Emily replies wearily, sternness in it. "Don't do anything fucking stupid—" Her voice lifts at this point, assuming he might otherwise be out of earshot, "And apologize to your friend, you hear?"

Maybe he does, maybe he doesn't. The door is already swinging behind him.

Emily looks back down at her cup, thumbing the edge of the lid in silence. Knowing she knew… what, exactly? she wonders, all too late to get an answer. Her teeth click as she considers the blank top of her drink, a tension she can't explain easing from her only after she's sat for a good half minute in silence. Abruptly, she closes her eyes and lets out a forceful sigh, coming to her feet already midturn and striding for the door herself.

She had a ferry to catch.

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