Black Coffee, White Lies


emily_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Black Coffee, White Lies
Synopsis Neither Emily nor Zachery are the best at interpersonal interactions… but they both try.
Date July 9, 2019

Sheepshead Bagels and Beans, Sheepshead Bay

Human nature, one might reflect, has the tendency to work in contradictions. There was a sign posted on the door stating there was an issue with supply and there was no fresh coffee, but the line went almost all the way to the door anyway. The already mediocre coffee is made subpar, watered down and instant-brand given business must go on, even if shipments of fresh beans are nowhere in sight. However, for the neighborhood around Sheepshead Beans, there is the very real concern that the supply may not come through any time soon, and even the instant stuff may run out. They might have to get their caffeine fix elsewhere. Maybe they want to continue to show support for the local coffee shop in this period which would otherwise be a struggle for them.

For people like Emily, she stands in the queue simply because she's clinging to routine. She comes here for coffee on her Tuesdays she interns at SESA. So despite the line, she's here today.

For her, it's that simple. She needs that sense of normalcy.

Bleary-eyed, she waits halfway to the door with her gaze fixed down on her phone, thumbing through the news until she pulls open a game of Snake. Her reaction time sees she lowers the difficulty level, and even then, she still ties the block in a knot much sooner than she would have hoped — there's no easy dopamine fix for her this morning.

Frustrated, she clicks the screen off as she shuffles another step forward, looking up to check how close she is to getting her shitty instant-coffee latte. Her eyes lose the unaware glaze to them, water sharpening closer to their usual ice as she notes a familiar form a few heads forward from her. Blinking, she wonders, and blurts out before she thinks twice about it, "Zachery?"

There is no immediate response to the name. The man it was meant is for leaning on the doorframe a few paces in front of Emily and does not stir, head low, shoulders high. He's looking down at his own phone, held in both hands like it's a precious jewel and the rest of the world is lost to him. And it might have continued to be, had something not finally registered from somewhere behind him.

Zachery looks up, then casts a look sideways - Emily falls in his blind spot, at first, until he turns further and his eye finds her face. There is a twitch of movement to his tired expression, something more akin to a sneer than anything else, before he shifts his weight and steps out of the line.

Immediately, without question, those behind him start to move forward to fill the gap, and - stuffing his phone in his pocket - he begins to lazily saunter over to Emily's side. Once a space has been freed up behind her, he gestures for her to move forward.

"Mh." It's a sleepy sort of noise, but not much else. Hi.

Emily sidles a step to the side to allow for somewhat easier facilitation of conversation, brow creasing in quiet amusement. Try as she might to keep it from being visible, she's not had her coffee yet either, and her filter is minimal. "You're probably shit out of luck this morning," she remarks, a tinge of teasing curving the edges of her voice. "I don't think they have anything near the strength of your 'usual' today." She lifts her head and tilts her chin in the direction of the register indicatively.

There's a beat after the initial stabbed attempt at a hello, the facade of being able to carry on a conversation thinning out quickly. Her expression slacks as she breathes out long and slow from her nose. With far less enthusiasm, she asks in a near-drawl, "You doing all right lately?" with her gaze still cast forward.

His attention fixed squarely in the direction of said register, Zachery doesn't seem particularly willing to take control of the conversation. With a good amount of slack to his posture where he takes his spot just to the side and behind Emily, he half stifles a yawn into sluggishly lifted knuckles. It's too early for filters for him too, apparently, even if his tend to be more behavioural.

The question finally draws out an answer. "I've been doing great, actually." His voice, though tired and a little hoarse, rings a cheerful sort of note that his face seems ill-inclined to match. At least the sneer is gone. "And you underestimate me. Once we get to the front, there," he pauses, for a tilt upward of his head as if in motion to the front of the line, "I'm going to charm us up a brew so dark and sugary you'll still be feeling it tomorrow. I know they're hiding the good stuff behind the counter."

Emily wears her skepticism for the initial answer plainly, even if she doesn't exactly give Zachery any side-eye. No, she directs it ahead at the sad-looking menu board, woe betide its being. She sighs, shaking her head to turn to him when he goes on, and her brow arches curiously.

She's underestimating him, is she?

There's a moment of thought given to his declaration before she shuffles another step forward, only persons away now from placing their order. "I don't think I believe you," Emily remarks slowly. "But I'm curious enough to let you go first, now." After all, if she can also get her hands on the good stuff by manner of association…

"Alright." Zachery steps to the side again, now beside Emily. "I'll go first. Get ready to be impressed." lifting a hand to rub a palm at the stubble on his jawline. His head turns with the motion, and he catches a quick glimpse of Emily's face, before he follows suit and his eye darts to the menu. A little absently, like he's not really looking at it so much as just justifying its existence as an object to focus on.

He inhales sharply through his nose, lets his hand drop back down, and then asks dryly, "Your boyfriend not with you? Devon, was it?" The latter is asked with a little too much confidence to his 'guess' to be a genuine inquiry.

The twitch of her brow is more prominent than she'd like for it to be, involuntary as it is. He should remember, she knows, given he looked into his medical history and his medical present. She lets out a long breath, expression cool.

Emily can't put her finger on what bothers her about the inquiry, but it's threatening to spoil her appetite, whatever the sour-natured feeling happens to be.

"We're dating; not conjoined twins," she informs flatly, guarded and unexpectedly defensive.

Again, Zachery's attention drifts over to Emily. This time, it stays there. Something about that answer. He gives her face a searching look, eyebrows raising while something pulls ever so slightly at the corner of his mouth. Alertness returns to his features in bits, like he's trying to solve a puzzle.

"I can't decide," he starts, his words now leaving him a little slower, more calculated, "if you he'd be more or less interesting as one half of a conjoined twin." He takes a step forward without shifting his focus, as another patron leaves with their excuse for a coffee. "Of course, you'd be sharing blood with him. I'd rather, at this point, you didn't."

Blinking slowly, Emily lets her attention track Zachery's way, unmoving from her spot at first. The hair on the back of her neck spikes, eyebrows jutting down into a harsh furrow as she looks at him. Rather than linger on the what the fuck of the question, she lets her head tip forward a little pointedly as she states, "Be a little fucked up if we were conjoined twins and dating, wouldn't it?"

She slides the step forward to come back to his side, the tension in her unleaving with the act. "Are you saying you saw something in his blood you didn't bring up before?" Emily asks, rolling right on as if the hypothetical hadn't been broached at all.

As if he can't help himself, whatever was threatening before now turns into a slightly lopsided grin, crow's feet deepening ever so slightly as he meets her gaze. It's not a hard stare, but persistent nonetheless.

He opens his mouth to answer the first question, but after a brief inhale - closes it again. Emily's continued inquiries have him gain a little bit of height on her as he straightens properly and grits his teeth. The grin ebbs away almost completely.

He takes a moment, rolls back his shoulders, and finally answers, "Not yet," he replies curtly, "I promise, if I knew anything else, I'd tell you. You'll have to trust me on that."

There's definite uncertainty as to the not yet nature of the response, and Emily takes a long moment to weigh if she wants to challenge it. "You're lacking specifics, maybe," she ventures, "But not suspicions. You'd not have passed the comment otherwise." She shakes her head, phone rotating in her palm absently while she thinks it over. Glancing sidelong at him, even if she has to slightly tilt her head to keep him in sight thanks to his height and the veil her hair makes, she arches an eyebrow, thoughts present in her expression.

But she doesn't say anything else. It's her turn this time, to turn away with a huff. Her free hand comes up to push her hair from her face properly. "If I had to guess, he's at work today. It's where I'm headed after this, myself. I'll catch a bus out to the ferry docks." Emily shrugs after saying as much. She turns the phone over in her hand again to check the time. Her nose wrinkles at it, off-handedly muttering more to herself than anyone else, "This is still better than the coffee out at Fort Jay."

Implying it must be worth the wait, somehow.

A silence falls between both Emily and Zachery, while the background noise of what's around them continues to drone on. He eyes her after she turns away, still, jaw tensed in idle thought.

Only when yet someone else walks past him, leaving him as the first in line, does he dart a brief glance forward. He rummages around in his pockets. "Emily," her name is spoken in a lowered, insistent tone of voice. "If it weren't for you, I'd have left him to whatever fate awaits him without even wondering if I could help in figuring out the details. And whether this whole thing could end badly for him. But you being - figuratively - attached to him? Lucky Devon."

He ends this with what might just be a smile over half-lidded eyes, even if it's a little smug - though it disappears as soon as he steps forward and slaps a crumpled bill onto the counter. Chipperly, he offers the server, "50 of my finest dollars if you make me three regular fucking coffees. Pretty please." Without even waiting for an answer, he throws a questioning glance over his shoulder at Emily, and asks, "What would you like?"

The sound of her name snares Emily's attention, a lack of focus in her expression as she listens intently. Her thumb continues to hover over her screen, only doubletapping it back into blankness after Zachery's slammed the bill on the counter. Her gaze shoots to the bill first, then to him after, keeping him only in the corner of her eye while her arm slowly lowers back down to her side.

What a fucking enigma. she wonders, mouth hardening into a line. It's not a kind thought.

Her sharpened gaze turns to the barista next — sorry about your luck — and she arches an eyebrow. "I'll take a vanilla latte, and I'm paying for it my fucking self. Are we clear on this?" Emily's tone brokers no room for argument, clipped and authoritative. She reaches into the back hanging at her side to pull her wallet free.

Upon hearing Emily's reply, Zachery freezes, his attention still ahead of him and his hand clamped over the bill on the counter.

"I'm sorry, sir," says the barista, tiredly, with about as much cheer as she can muster up doing the job she's currently doing, "but we put that sign up for a reason. We can give you three of what we've got."

Zachery's fingers draw inward to crumple the bill trapped underneath them, and no immediate answer comes, likely much to the dismay of those behind him. When he does speak up again, he meets the cheeriness level of the barista and then some. Just as practiced and just as precise, if not moreso. "No, thank you. I think I'll just be heading to work, actually. Have a nice day."

Stuffing the bill into the pocket it came from, he pulls away to make room for the next customer, but makes a point of looking at her as he sidesteps his way toward the exit, smile bright and friendly and corporate, head high and arms wide to accompany a helpless sort of shrug. "We're clear. Of course. Forget I said anything." He sounds downright delighted, and turns on a heel to walk back from whence he came in a confident stride. "Have a good one, Emily."

When the barista gives the bad news, Emily's wall she's put up suddenly gains slats in it, a flash of oh no visible in her eyes. Her hand tightens around her wallet, gears turning without anything happening.

Then Zachery moves and she bites back a swear. The tired barista looks from one to the other, entirely unaffected, fingertips drumming around the side of her POS terminal. While Zachery heads off, Emily waves urgently at her. "Just… just give me two large drip coffees." she hisses hastily. The twelve dollars in cash is smashed down onto the counter for the simplest version of instant coffee possible, and she snatches them up as soon as possible, gears still turning. She shuffle-sprints to the station with cremes and sugar, taking ahold of the sugar can and pouring it liberally into one of the open cups. Emily doesn't bother stirring, she just snaps the cap on and bolts out the door.

"Zachery!" she calls down the street after him, running delicately in her flats with both cups carefully in hand. By the time she catches up she's already winded, wallet still halfway out of her bag. "They…"

She sucks in a breath to even out her tone, not quite looking at him. "That barista that knows you came up afterward. Told me she had your usual ready." And then she sticks her arm out, holding out the cup bearing black-with-too-much-sugar that's been stirred only by the jog.

If Zachery slows down at all upon hearing his name, it's minimal. By the time Emily is able to look at his face, his expression has gone neutral. Save for his eyebrows, set just ever so slightly lower than usual, which is only exacerbated when she's at his side once more, and he turns his one-eyed gaze to her.

Only once the cup of coffee is offered forward does he slow his pace, a little too suddenly and stilted to be an entirely planned action. His gaze hardens. "Catch your breath." He states dryly, after a few beats of thought, his darker tone of voice a stark contrast to before, matching the way his shoulders have come up and his head's lowered. "Makes lying easier."

He continues forward at his new, slower pace. This, in order to reach for the cup, fingers brushing hers as he lifts the drink out of her grasp.

Caught in her lie, Emily lets out an explosive sigh, the offered coffee drawn back for a moment in hesitation. She can't be caught doing anything nice, after all, not after she just put up such a fuss about not accepting niceties herself. She continues to look off, the cup shoved back out to him more in the behavior now that she's simply getting rid of it rather than gifting it.

"I just…" she starts, her arm swinging back to her side after she hands the drink off. She can only shake her head. "Riddle me this," Emily declares, vestiges of annoyance and discomfort currently colored over by genuine curiosity. "Why should I matter at all in that? I'm not— I'm not saying it's…" a bad thing? Or maybe even a good one? Her expression is troubled. "I just…"

Clearly, she doesn't get it, and she's too lost in that thought to have noted what passed in the simple brush between her and Zachery. On the surface level, there hadn't been anything remarkable about her, save for signs of heightened stress — which she honestly has borne in almost every meeting they've had.

The touch reveals a wild tale living under her skin, something that screams healing in a way he's never heard or seen it before. Damaged nerves made whole light up instantly, their history playing out. The disease stripped from them, from her very DNA is nothing but a memory now. Ghosts of another disease runs through her blood and bones, a fight valiantly made against it to subdue it, before the vibrantly white cleanse that ran through the rest of her system stripped it even from dormancy. Acute photosensitivity — healed. Side effects from years of treatment for her MS, hell, for the cancer — healed. An entire checklist of medical issues and complications, all crossed out.

The fact she's alive at all is testament to her perseverance.

Or stubbornness, in less kind terms.

The rest of it may have definitely has something to do with whatever the hell assaulted her system and corrected it, roughly eight months ago. Before then… well, before then, she'd likely not have gotten around without a wheelchair, or at the very least crutches.

For now, oblivious, she's purposefully not looking his direction, weight shifting from one foot to the other effortlessly as she passes her coffee to her dominant hand and takes a tender sip. She's stopped walking at some point.

Which is for the better, because Zachery, too, comes to a complete stop. Not on purpose, it seems, sort of stumbling forward one last step before both he and Emily hear something hit the sidewalk.

It's the wet splash of piping hot coffee, spilling out over a cup that bursts open from the impact on stone. Zachery's still looking ahead of him, though if he's registering anything he sees is a different matter. The distraction on his face is obvious in his wide-eyed blinks, and revealed all too easily to Emily when he turns around to face her.

"Emily." His mouth is still open, but he shakes his head in utter confusion, brow knitting as he fixes his stare on her eyes, alternating from left to right to left again.

"… What the fuck?!"

Emily jumps back from the dropped coffee as much as she can, startled. Her eyes widen, wondering just what in the hell has startled him.

Then she remembers — all he'd had to do to read Devon's being was shake his hand.

She suddenly looks down at her offending palm, the curves of the insides of her fingers that have betrayed her. "Ah—" Emily starts, but she can't even play it off. Her hand curls closed. She winces as she feels her ears start to color red first, the flush creeping down to her cheeks after. "It's…"


What are you supposed to say to explain that?

Better question, why are you embarrassed about it? she wonders. It probably has to do with the fact she's just been addressed as if she had been hiding something foul. Scrabbling for some kind of response ultimately leaves her without words, least of all to describe the here, you can have mine act of putting down her coffee on a dry spot of concrete. Because why else would she be doing it?

Standing again, Emily keeps her gaze averted, teeth bared as she fights for words that fail to come to her again before she turns away entirely, briskly taking off for the bus stop.

Zachery's baffled state does not ease up. In fact, widening arms and opening mouth and wordless noises seem to suggest matters are only getting worse.

Emily is stared at the whole time she's attempting her response, until finally he realises there's hot coffee on his shoes, peers down, and bends low to pick up the full coffee cup from the floor. Unceremoniously shaking some of the spilled coffee off of himself, he looks back up to see Emily already a fair distance removed from him. Okay.

He blusters a few nothings for a bit, perplexed, until he finally and ultimately manages to offer in a shout, "It's been — a time!"

And then, quieter than she'd be able to hear, lifting the coffee that is now apparently just his, "Take care."

Emily looks back at the shout, brow creased. She's less flustered now that there's distance, but because there's already distance, there's little to no chance she'll actually turn back. She doesn't have an explanation, and she's not sure how to seek one for what just happened.

"Yeah, it's always one of those," she mutters to herself instead, shaking her head as she settles in next to the bus stop pole, putting it between her and him as though it will adequately hide her from any further interaction. Her expression mellows, some distance to it until it's broken by the timely roll of a bus closing in on the stop.

She looks back to Zachery, pensive. Her gaze flickers as she lifts her head, consideration given for her words. "I'm sorry, by the way," is what Emily ends up shouting as a goodbye.

For what, who knows.

She boards the bus without another word.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License