Blood, Sweat, and Tears


nicole_icon.gif sharrow_icon.gif

Scene Title Blood, Sweat, and Tears
Synopsis Nicole picks up a stranded motorist outside of Providence.
Date May 17, 2019

It’s been raining more often than it hasn’t. Today isn’t an exception.

Several hours after sunrise, the skies over Providence are a pillowy field of gray clouds. A drizzling rain has been falling all day and the smell of wet soil fills the air alongside freshly cut grass and wildflowers. Along one of the side roads that winds through the Pine Barrens toward the settlement a truck has been abandoned, its blue paint flaking away from the rusting body. Its right tires are stuck in the mud, front fender pressed up against a post and beam fence cordoning off an old pasture. The driver has long since walked into town to get help getting the vehicle unstuck and hasn’t returned.

Lingering by the pasture, the dark silhouette of Charles Sharrow stands out among the rural splendor. His coat is too nicely tailored for this place, thick black wool in a British naval cut, shiny buttons on his faux epaulettes, down the double-breasted front. He is an old man, surprisingly tall and thin, possessed of a long and dignified face that hangs a sullen look on it as though it were laundry hung out to dry, limp and listless.

In the misting rain, Sharrow leans against one of the upright posts of the fence, gloved hands laced together and eyes focused out on the dark treeline beyond the overgrown pasture and the rusting farm equipment sitting in it. He has nowhere else to be for the moment, his driver had left for the town to help pull the truck out of the mud, and he’s too old to make a several mile walk back to the center of town. So he chose to wait here, among the crowing birds, among the sound of falling rain.

He chose to wait.

Providence Outskirts

May 17th


The weather has been miserable. Pippa’s been cooped up inside the rundown house with her toys. She hasn’t even asked to go outside to play in the puddles - the little girl doesn’t like to get muddy. Not unless she’s playing with one of her friends and trying not to look too prissy. The best change of scenery she gets is to walk a few houses down to where her father is staying. It’s driving Nicole a little stir crazy as well, and so she delegated Ryans in charge of watching their daughter while she drove out toward the Safe Zone to try and get a better cell signal. She promised check-ins. She’s on her way back now.

The yellow pickup truck comes to a stop on the dirt road alongside where the other vehicle is stuck. Normally she wouldn’t stop for more than a moment, but her cursory check to see if anyone is around yields that, yes, there is. Putting the truck into park, Nicole slides across the bench seat to the passenger side so she can crank down the window. “Hey,” she calls to the old man in the rain, “You need a ride?” She wouldn’t offer that either, but this is the middle of nearly nowhere and the weather is dismal and there’s something paternal about the man that makes her feel the need to offer.

Sharrow hadn’t turned at the noise of the truck, but does when he’s called to. Tearing himself away from the view of the fields, he momentarily eyes the truck he’d been in, then looks back up to Nicole in the passenger window. A smile, gentle and grandfatherly, crosses his face as he approaches the side of her vehicle. “Normally I would decline,” he says in a voice that may have been more commanding when he was younger, but now informs her of the frailty of his age in spite of the deep tone, “but days like these are not as kind on me as they once were.”

He’s British, too, Nicole notices as he approaches the truck, but doesn’t immediately make a motion to open the door. Instead, he reaches inside of his jacket and produces a weathered old leather wallet. “How much will I owe you?” He asks, as if this isn’t a charity.

“Not a dime, sir.” Nicole assures, pulling up the lock on the door and pulling the handle to pop the door open as an invitation before sliding back across the bench and to the driver’s side of the vehicle. “Grab the handle,” she lifts her chin to indicate the hand-hold at the top of the frame. “The deck might be a bit slick from the rain.”

She sits poised to lend a hand up, should it be necessary. Her dark hair is damp and drying after having been outside for a time. There are beads of moisture that have rolled off the shoulders of her moto jacket. The old band tee shirt beneath is mostly dry, but feels cool in the places where it sticks to her skin. Faded jeans don’t show signs of tough work just yet. She’s betrayed as a recent Safe Zone transplant.

“My name’s Nicole,” she offers warmly, once her passenger is settled into the vehicle. “I’m headed into Providence, but I’ll get you wherever you need to be.”

“Providence will do just nicely,” the old man says as he very slowly makes his way into the truck, looking to be as fragile as a man of his apparent age would be. “And my name is Charles,” he says, closing the door with a resounding metallic clang. “Charles Sharrow… it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Nicole. It’s also a pleasure to know that neighborly concern isn’t something lost on all Americans.”

Leaning into the seat, Sharrow looks out at the road ahead and the way the rain collects on the windshield. There’s a faint smell of smoke around him; woodsmoke, not cigarette smoke. He looks to Nicole’s hands on the steering wheel, up to the windshield wipers, then at her more directly. “So…” he says before they’ve even pulled away from the derelict truck, “…to what do I owe this hospitality?”

“Gotta look out for each other, right?” If Nicole is offended at all by the comment about the decline of American civilization, she doesn’t let on. “It’s nice to meet you, Charles.” She waits until he seems situated before she puts the vehicle in gear.

His question draws a bemused smile. It’s shaken off, a softer expression offered in its place. Nicole understands the expectation of ulterior motives, having dealt in them so long herself. “I like to help people,” she responds simply. “I can’t pull your truck out of the mud,” without pulling the bumper off her own, she expects, “but I can at least get you out of the rain.”

“Yes,” Charles agrees quietly, looking to Nicole’s hands again, then back over to her. “I suppose we must protect our own.” Everything he says has a thoughtful edge to it, ponderous in ways. It may be a projection of expectations, given his accent and his grandfatherly appearance. As they drive off from his truck, Sharrow rests his hands in his lap and quietly watches the greenery of Providence’s outskirts pass them by along the muddy road. The pasture to the left stretches on for more than a half mile, untended grass grazed on by a half dozen cattle, contentedly enjoying the cool weather.

For a time, the ride is peaceful and silent. But there’s an undercurrent in the air, unspoken questions and uninitiated small talk that usually fills the void in situations like these. When Sharrow does talk again, there’s nothing small about it.

“Who are your people?” Sharrow asks, looking from the road over to Nicole. “Or, should I say, are ours the same?” His bushy gray brows rise at that inquiry. “I’ve seen many Evolved here,” not Expressives, “and it is nice to see their kind able to flourish so.” Their kind.

Nicole glances over to Charles when he speaks again. She offers a polite smile in exchange. “My people are the ones we fought a war for.” That’s only slightly ambiguous. It’s not hard to extrapolate that she means she’s SLC-E herself.

“I’m happy to see everyone flourish here,” she continues. “It’s nice to see people coming together to help one another get along.” While she may miss the Safe Zone and all its comforts terribly, there are things Nicole likes about Providence.

“Of course,” Sharrow says thoughtfully, his focus out the windshield, watching the wipers streak left and right. “Unity is important, but so is leadership. I’m not certain that this settlement would have survived without the right person in charge, without the proper perspective, without her wisdom.” It’s clear that he isn’t speaking in generalities, either.

“But the war,” Sharrow steps aside from the topic of Providence, looking from the windshield to Nicole, “did you?” He asks, one brow raised. “Fight in it.”

“I did.” Nicole is usually cagey about her background, but something about the grandfatherly demeanor makes her feel slightly more comfortable being honest. Besides, many people fought in the war. The fact that he hasn’t recognized her as one of the so-called heroes of said war means it should be safe enough to admit to this much.

“It was an awful thing,” she says simply, gaze fixed on the road ahead as the rain pelts the windshield and gets swept away by the wipers.

“Necessary things sometimes are,” Sharrow admits as the truck jostles through a couple of potholes in the dirt road. “I can’t say the plight of people with abilities would be much improved had the war not happened. Had the country been allowed to continue a descent, not only into fascism but into genocide…” There’s something in his tone that sounds like guilt, but it’s faint.

“I was twelve years old during the London Blitz,” suddenly puts Sharrows age into immediate contrast. “I lost my mother and my father because of fascism, because of fear. I didn’t understand the lesson as a boy, and I feel I failed to properly understand the lesson as an adult either. But I came around… unfortunately too late for some.” Sharrow looks over to Nicole, smiling in apology, as if to say sorry for the weight of this old man’s words.

“But things are better now. Here.” Sharrow goes on to say. “Freedom was won by, as the quote goes, watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants. I was not here when all that happened,” he softly admits, “but I’m here now. These old bones may yet be useful for something… “ he says as he looks back to the windshield. “The war isn’t really over, after all.”

Nicole glances over frequently. It feels like he deserves her attention almost as much as the road does, for the seriousness of what he’s saying. Her look is one of sympathy. She lost people important to her during the war as well.

But his words bring an interesting question to mind. Putting her attention squarely ahead again, she asks the man in her passenger seat, “What is it you’re here to do, Charles?” This is the part where she half expects to hear he’s a preacher of some sort. But something tells her that’s not the case. What could his intention possibly be?

“I came to visit a child that I knew, who… appears to have grown into a fine woman.” Sharrow turns to look askance at Nicole. “Eileen.” One corner of the old man’s mouth creeps up into a smile, gentle and passive, before he looks back out the front windows. “Long ago, I worked with her father. I was one of his brightest disciples, in an age of metaphorical darkness. It took he and I different lengths of time to realize that we were the darkness, though.” Sharrow’s brows crease together. “Such as it always is.”

He looks back to Nicole, clearly curious of her understanding and reactions. But it’s clear he isn’t done giving a meandering answer to her question, either. “On the larger spectrum, I came here to remind people like yourself that they are the inheritors of this world, and that no matter how bleak things may look now… one day, the world will be yours.” For a moment, it’s unclear what Sharrow might mean by that assertion, but as Nicole follows his leading eyeline back to the windshield, she sees exactly what he means.

Subtle, blue sparks of static electricity dance across the windshield wipers whenever Nicole’s hands move across the steering wheel.

“What is it you came here to do?” Sharrow asks, looking down to his folded hands.

There’s a surprised glance out of the corner of her eye when he mentions not just Eileen, but also her father. Nicole’s read enough about the history of the Vanguard to understand what that means. The sparks flare in intensity for a moment, then fizzle out entirely. If Eileen could reform, then so too could this man. Innocent until proven guilty, the saying goes.

But what he says, apart from being in stark opposition to the Vanguard’s beliefs, sounds a lot like someone else’s philosophy. Nicole’s interest is captured in an instant. “I came here to find myself, I guess.” That’s the story she tells. It’s not entirely untrue, however. “I’m rudderless. Searching for purpose. I’ve been hoping I’d find it here, in a community like this one.”

“You aren’t the only one, from what I’ve seen,” Sharrow says softly. “Providence is both aptly named and abundant with people seeking it…” shifting on the bench seat to look more directly at Nicole, Sharrow gives her a momentarily assessing look. “If it isn’t too presumptuous of me,” he says with an incline of his head, “I do have an observation of you that I would be willing to share…”

But Sharrow looks down as he makes that offer, humbly. “However, I realize that there may not be much of an audience for observations from a man with my history. We are all as much victims of our own cruel circumstances, and forever reminded of our past fallibility.”

“Oh? Is that so?” Nicole doesn’t seem upset in the wake of what she’s learned about the man in her passenger seat. She’s not in much of a position to judge someone for their past affiliations, even if she might argue the breadth of difference between hers and his.

She smiles faintly, encouragingly. “Go on, then. I’m all ears.”

“You want to be here, but you’re holding on to what you’ve left behind,” is Sharrow’s presumptuous answer. “You sit comfortably in this truck, you seem at ease in your own skin here, but you’ve been painting your nails,” he flicks a look to Nicole’s hands, “even though the work you’re doing here makes them chip and flake. Everyone seems to come to Providence to escape something,” he opines, “but it feels like you came here and found something.”

Turning in his seat just to face Nicole a little better, Sharrow exhales a slow and tired sigh through his nose. “I don’t think you wanted to come here, not originally. But I think now that you’re here… maybe you’re doubting the value of what it is you left behind. The life away from here, and you’re afraid to let go.”

Nicole’s gaze stays firmly on the road ahead, which is telling in and of itself. That she doesn’t glance over as he makes his observations speaks volumes to its validity. “I left that behind because I feel like it left me behind,” she confides, still staring steadily ahead as the wipers push the rain away from the windshield.

There’s a scowl given to her nails. He’s right about her holding on to the vestiges of what she claims to be her past life. She either needs to make a better display of giving it up, or… Nicole’s stare out the window turns contemplative. “And what do you think happens if I let it go?”

“I don’t know,” Sharrow says with a slow spread of his gloved hands, “and neither do you, and that’s why you hesitate. Your type,” he motions toward her, “assertive, determined, focused people are creatures of habit and routine. I have known my fair share of them in my long years. Many of them do not end up happy, because they become locked into the comfort of their routines, to their own detriment. They become prisoners to the familiar even though it makes them unhappy.”

But with a soft sigh, Sharrow turns his tired old eyes to Nicole, showing kindness and a gentle spirit that makes him seem harmless. Sometimes her father had those eyes too. “You are gifted. You possess power the likes of which I can only dream of, the likes of which only one percent of the entire world possesses. With any other talent, would that not be admirable?” His brows rise at the rhetorical question. “If you were in the top 1% of, say, investment banking you would be highly sought after in professional fields. Instead, you hold the power of myth in your hands… and have had to fight for scraps with it.”

Sharrow smiles faintly, looking out the windshield to the road. “There is a Chinese goddess, Leizi… goddess of thunder and lightning.” He briefly looks at Nicole out of the corner of his eyes, then back to the road. “Can you imagine a goddess asking for something? Let alone scraps?”

Nicole is quiet for a long moment. Providence isn’t much further up the road now. “I’d like to be a benevolent god,” she muses, a small upward quirk to the right side of her mouth that suggests she’s seriously considering the thought. “Not having to fight for scraps would be nice…”

The half smile falls away from her face. “You know, I’m here because I was removed from my job. I’m damn good at what I do, and they just… tossed me out.” The bitterness about her old position being abolished isn’t feigned, even if she’s leaving out the part where they put her into a different position. “I should be highly sought after.” The agreement comes in a voice filled with aggravation for her situation. “Instead, I’m here.

There’s a chuckled huff that leaves her as she shakes her head, glancing sidelong to Charles again. “But I suppose that brought me to you. And I’m glad I’ve been able to help you out. One tally for the benevolence column.”

“I am not benevolent, though,” Sharrow says with a spread of his hands. “I am a killer. Somewhat out of practice, but if anything, you are a shepherd of the sword. But that is poetry, and beauty can only take us so far.” His hands come back to his lap, even as a peal of thunder sounds overhead. Distant, but timely.

“You can be many things, if you so will it,” Sharrow opines, “but the important matter is to not let others tell you what that should be. Especially not old men with old ideas. It is you and your kind who will lead humanity into the future. Is it not?” His brows rise in challenge to the ideal. “In time, fossils like myself will be a memory. The Neanderthal of old, but perhaps better remembered. Though,” he shrugs and looks to the approaching, though minimal, lights of Providence's more densely populated region, “given the depth of history? Perhaps not.”

This should be more unnerving than it is. Maybe she’s spent enough time in the company of unapologetic killers that the thought of a repentant one is a novel idea. In her lifetime, Nicole has been both. “You’re right,” she offers vaguely. Whether she means the comment about poetry or the sword is left purposefully ambiguous.

“We all just want to be remembered, don’t we?” Nicole smiles faintly. Or maybe that’s what she wants. “I suppose that’s what people like Pure Earth are fighting for. To be remembered in a world that looks like it might be poised to forget about them.” Empathy for her enemy has always been something of a strong suit for her. Or maybe a point of weakness, depending upon who’s asking.

“The rabbit resents the snake,” Sharrow says with a shrug of his shoulders, “so too did Neanderthal resent Homo Sapien.” Watching the dim lights approaching through the haze of falling rain, Sharrow cannot help himself but wax poetic in the moment. “Nature has an order, and that order is evolution. The term Evolved may not be in vogue these days, but it is no less apt. Perhaps just less… polite.”

Sighing, Sharrow looks from the lights to Nicole. “You do not need to agree. Nature does not need for you to believe in it, any more than God does. All I would ask of you is to consider how often you have been set aside for someone else…” he looks away, down to his hands, “how often have you been the second choice? The third choice? Or no choice at all?” His words have a bit of a sting to them, even if Sharrow doesn’t intend them to. Personal things always do. “Then ask yourself, why not me?”

And as if to protest Nicole following up on the topic, he raps his knuckles on the passenger side door. “Here will do, my residence is not far.”

The words do sting. It shows in a subtle tension that coils through the muscles of Nicole’s shoulders, causing her to sit a little straighter. How often has she been passed over? And how often has it been for her genetics? For the misfortune of being born a woman even before the manifestation of her ability. Her gaze lowers to the dash for a moment before refocusing back on the road.

The truck slows to a stop and Nicole shifts into park, turning in her seat to face her passenger. “This has been… Very illuminating,” she says without sarcasm or guile. “I’ve got a lot to think about.” She smiles and holds out her hand to him. “I don’t live too far from here myself.” Her head tilts toward the windshield to indicate a cluster of houses somewhere down the road. “If you ever need something, let me know.”

“I will be sure to come by and visit you and your… partner, sometime.” A loaded word like husband seems too large a jump for Sharrow to make, having not seen a ring. He opens the passenger side door to the scent of wet soil and the sound of heavily falling rain. “You will find what you’re looking for here,” Sharrow opines, sliding out of the seat and stepping out of the truck and into the muddy street, “or as Providence is meant…”

He smiles, knowingly.

“…what you need will find you.”

And shuts the door.

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