Champagne And Chill


sf_yi-min_icon.gif sf_zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Champagne and Chill
Synopsis A strange but necessary conversation about an elephant in the room.
Date October 15 2020

Upper West Side, Manhattan: Vanguard Wine Bar

Fate, it seems, is fond of dispensing irony into distant corners of the universe. Just around the corner from Nicole's high-rise apartment, in a world where the Vanguard had never existed, Yi-Min is at her favorite haunt in this neighborhood: the Vanguard. The cozy wine bar, with its French-influenced menu and mood lighting turned down to just the right level of dimness, is one she frequently comes to relax at with Nicole.

Nicole isn't here today, though. Nor was she expected to be. In her stead, Yi-Min had invited her lover's husband to come and shoot the breeze with her for a change over the prospect of cheese and champagne.

On that front, it seems she has gotten started early. Maroon capelet coat draped on the chair back behind her, she reclines at a little table which affords her a clear view of the door, the light of a square candle lending illumination to the already half-finished champagne float in front of her. Her ringed hand drifts back up to it only inattentively; it looks like she's browsing something on her phone.

The door opens with a start, and the man who wanders through nearly walks into a server who happens to be walking by on her way to a different table.

"Oh hello, sorry about that," the newest arrival, Zachery Miller, offers with cordial cheer before saying to no one in particular, "I'm…"

He calmly casts a look around the bar, before starting in Yi-Min's direction with a thin smile. His dark grey overcoat is shrugged off, folded neatly, and then draped across the back of a chair, so he can lay a hand lightly on top. He looks almost immediately slightly out of place - dressed in a thick, comfortable cable-knit sweater that's clearly too big for him, over faded jeans that look like they might be literally decades old. It's more living room attire than wine bar, but here he is either way.

"Didn't make you wait, did I?" He asks with curiosity lifting his tone, after a quick look at the table. "My days off, they're a bit… off, but — by design, I suppose. Bit of a mess."

It apparently takes a moment for Yi-Min to notice and look up, occupied by the screen of her phone in the way she is. Once she does though, a small, cheerily focused smile spreads onto her face as she allows herself to absorb Zachery's appearance. She also sets the phone down on the table.

"No, do not be sorry. You didn't make me wait at all." Her slim hand gestures to the pink-hued drink before her in its pleasingly curved glass, and she laughs as though that's enough of an explanation for anyone. Perhaps it is. "Are you doing alright? I appreciate you taking the time for me. I do not imagine that a surgeon has much of it to spare."

It's a rote exchange of pleasantries, to be sure, but it also doesn't feel ungenuine. In particular, 'bit of a mess' seems to cause her expression to take on a light slant of concern as she continues to look him over.

"I'm doing really well, actually," Zachery answers gladly, taking his seat across from Yi-Min and meeting her gaze with a read of her expression widening his smile.

He raises both hands in a gesture as if to say, imagine this. "So. I've got two proper days off every month - really off, barring any especially tragic emergencies - and you're catching me on one of them. Problem is, without a schedule, it's almost like my brain just gives up and I end up sitting, not checking my phone for the time or for business, doing so very near to nothing, until I go back to bed."

He looks across the table, chin lifting. "It's absolutely perfect. And lucky you - you get to do absolutely nothing right along with me."

Two whole days off in a month. Yi-Min's brow sweeps low in a second of mildly incredulous sympathy. It's a look that doesn't vacate her face straight away again, either, as she tries to reconcile having such limited off-time with doing really well. "That really isn't much, is it?" Rhetorically asked, of course. "I have never understood how you surgeons do it. But with such a workload, I can only imagine the simple allure of just having days to do nothing at all."

With that said…

Yi-Min's smile lightens with a serene sort of waggishness. "With that said, I hope rosé and a meat and cheese tray won’t cut too much into your nothing time. The mileage on your ‘nothing’ might vary, but those are things I know I intend to have.”

The question of quantity has Zachery leaning forward, both elbows on the table so he can loosely fold his arms over one another, smile widening as if it's a matter of pride that he should work so much.

"Oh no, drinks and charcuterie, my only weakness." He chuckles, and shakes his head, looking around the room for a moment. "No - if not for you, I'd probably be horizontal on the couch, halfway down a can of Pringles and staring into the abyss of daytime television. This way, I get to pretend to be halfway sophisticated — speaking of."

His eyes land on Yi-Min again, studying her face with amusement playing on his own. "I assume that's why we're here? The subject of my more sophisticated half, that is."

"Yes. But also, no." Idly picking up her champagne float, Yi-Min takes her time with a drink before elucidating what she actually means by this. "Your more sophisticated half is one of the most important people in my life. That makes two of us, as I would imagine. So, I hope I am not too blunt when I say that makes me all the more curious about you." She glances off, squinting as though trying to decipher one of the posters that adorn the farthest wall.

"Are you sleeping with anyone else?"

Rather than an accusation, or anything that would carry that same edge, Yi-Min just sounds utterly perplexed when she asks the extremely sudden question and looks back at Zachery. The bottom of her glass lands on the tabletop again with a soft thump.

The question takes Zachery by surprise — so much so that his first response is a stunned silence, smile still on his face. The second? Is a startled but hearty laugh, which is interrupted only when a server walks near enough to get his attention.

He waves a hand at them. "Excuse me, can I have— a red, something nice," with a tone of voice that implies he means less to impose and more that he's just utterly oblivious about what a 'nice red' actually is- following it up with a curt addition of, "thank you."

"No," is his answer when he aims his attention back on Yi-Min, looking her over a little more closely now. "Not at the moment." Another laugh still threatening on his words, he asks, "Looking at you, I'm not quite sure which answer you were hoping for."

Yi-Min is still incredibly distracted when she passes her own order to the server (a bottle of Planeta Rosé, a charcuterie sampler to share)— and once they've departed, she resumes her train of thought with but one shake of her head. Her lips press primly together just before she speaks up again.

"I do not care if you choose to do either. In truth, I had almost hoped you were, because at least then I could easily understand." Driven by impulse rather than active thought, her fingers crook daintily about the base of her near-empty glass. "I know that you know about Nicole and I. So, to me… that means either: you are lying and you are fucking someone else, or you are telling the truth, and are somehow at peace with this utterly lopsided situation in a way that no man I have ever known would be."

There it is.

Similar to before, if there is an accusation in that, it is only of obfuscation of truth in the here and now and not really of general fault. For the most part, she just seems completely baffled. With extra sharpness lent by confusion, her gaze slips over Zachery again, probing every corner of his expression for telltale clues.

"… I'm… sorry?" Zachery replies cluelessly, brow knitting though his smile remains. He's puzzled, that much is clear, but there's something else in his eyes, deepening crow's feet - something keeping him engaged as he is, observing her in turn. He breaks eye contact to look around the room for a moment, and when he levels a look at his conversation partner again, he considers her anew. Kicking a leg out under the table. Getting comfortable.

"Lopsided is an interesting word you've used, there." His voice is a little quieter, a little lower, but no less confident in rhythm. "Explain?"

"What do I need to explain, Dr. Miller? Most men don't just choose to share their wives." That's not how this works. That's not how any of this normally works, Zachery. Yi-Min remains sitting quite still, immobilized by an inner war between fascination and deepening skepticism.

"You've heard of the word 'adultery,' correct? Well, forget men. Most people I have ever met would be at least mildly upset by the prospect of this going on with their partners."

Zachery's expression doesn't change, frozen on entertained. "I didn't love it," he admits with his eyebrows ticking up. "And I still don't, but I'm also not actively bothered by the idea."

He stops, angling his head to one side as he thinks. His hands find each other, and he leans forward as if to get physically closer to the truth of the matter, eyes narrowing. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to be under the impression that I'm losing something."

That's something that actually makes Yi-Min pause and think, as well. It's not an observation she had been expecting to hear.

At last, she just exhales through her nose, releasing some of the tension left from her scrutiny. None of her dubiousness is gone. In fact, the exact opposite is true, but at least now it seems like she's willing it to come from a place of greater internal acceptance. Relaxedly, slowly. It is a struggle. "I suppose if you feel you are not losing anything, that is the… most important thing out of all of this."

It’s a point that she has no wish to argue, for what good could possibly be achieved by that? One more point to that she tacks on, though. "It's all very, um." Her brow furrows as she searches for the right word. "Altruistic? Of you."

As Yi-Min relents, there is a relaxing of Zachery's posture, as well - in the sag of his shoulders, and in the way he he casually jabs a finger in Yi-Min's direction to say, "See, that's what I thought."

Their drinks arrive, but he pays it little mind, too caught up in explaining - both hands up to gesture as he speaks. "But it's not that. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm not perfect…" He wrangles down another laugh, the effort of it leaving him instead in one of his hands lifting so he can run it up the side of his neck. "But actually, before I finish that thought, that's a fair point - do I seem perfect to you? You know, at a glance."

Whatever he expects the answer to be, he can't even finish his question before smiling a little brighter in anticipation.

There is a notable squint from Yi-Min. "I do not know if you are just fishing for compliments now, but regardless, know my answer is yes. Yes, you do seem perfect. Too much so. Too altruistic, too… good to be true." Like Zachery, his conversational partner totally ignores not only the arrival of their drinks, but the person behind them until they go away.

"See, this is everything from my point of view. Like an angel in white, you swooped down and saved Nicole's life on the operating table when she lay close to death. Then: not only do you marry her, but you allow her to stray from you afterwards as she pleases due to what I can only imagine is helplessness to do otherwise, or some base desire to see her happy. Both, perhaps."

Some interest rekindles in her eyes as she leans a little, narrow-eyed, waiting to hear what side of this newest spectrum he lays claim to.

For the first time since their meeting, Zachery does not immediately have a reply ready. He reaches slowly to pick up his glass, now filled without acknowledgement from either of them.

"An angel in… pale green, really." It's an obvious attempt at humour, but all it does for Zachery himself is drain more of his smile away. He swirls the liquid calmly in its glass, staring into the wine as he leans back. "I am many things, but helpless? Altruistic?" He considers both as he does his drink, then shakes his head, then concludes, "I have duties. I enjoy doing them well. They keep me so busy that, most days, I barely have time for a conversation, let alone - well."

They both know the end of that sentence, he hopes. But it's not the reason both his eyebrows and voice lower when he muses aloud, "The way you phrased things, though…" He pauses to take a sip from his glass, finally. "I 'allow her'. To 'stray'. Like you would an animal. I'm beginning to think that, maybe, the person to worry about, here…"

He levels a stare back up at Yi-Min. "Is you."

The trickle of goodwill that had been pooling lazily and softly into the surface of Yi-Min's expression vanishes. Every last bit of it. She removes her elbows from the table, the look in her eyes turned to the coldness of ice. "First of all, English is not my first language," she says in a tone clipped by sudden harshness. "How dare you insinuate I would ever talk about Nicole in that way? I have known her for far longer than you have, and she has a strength that most men, you likely included, could never hope to match. My words were mere reiteration that most couples alive would not be comfortable with an arrangement like yours— with only the one sleeping around as they pleased. That is not opinion; it is fact."

"Second of all. Once again, how dare you. What precisely is it you would like to say about me?"

Again, Zachery's words come with some delay. As Yi-Min's words find him, they do so with a growing amount of unease, vanishing the rest of his facade of polite pleasantry. He attempts to recover some of his composure by draining some wine from his glass, but he sets the whole thing back on the table too quickly, as if it's soured in his mouth.

"… Too much and too soon, evidently," he concedes, tearing his gaze away from Yi-Min's face and off to the side, at a decoration of no particular importance.

When either the silence becomes too much to bear, or he starts to miss the sound of his own voice a little too much, he adds with forced restraint slowing his words, "I appreciate your attempt to figure out my motives for her benefit, for what it's worth. Which…"

He smirks, but it sits awkwardly on his face. Apologetic does not become him, even if it's trying its best to overtake. "Which might be nothing, at this point."

Well. The first call is one Yi-Min can agree with, even if Zachery doesn’t really supply the context behind it. After what seems like an eternity of holding onto an unnervingly immobile stare, with him dead in the center, she allows some of her frostiness to retract like a claw back into herself.

Just a little corner of it.

Just at first.

Then: she lets herself issue a sigh that is impatient in its deepness, reaching out as she does with a flick of her wrist to undo the cap from the full bottle of rosé waiting for her. "I admire you," is another admittance from her, just as curt as everything preceding. Yet it’s different, too. Slightly less acidic, despite the shortness. "At least, I admire your own recognition that you cannot supply her needs. It takes courage to want to see that sort of thing for what it is. And… more so to be open to acting on it."

"Like I said," Zachery replies, his observation of Yi-Min more pointed now. "I've lost nothing, only gained."

His arms fold over his chest, but undo themselves almost instantly when he leans forward again, corrects his posture, and reaches for his glass instead. With it in his hand, his smile returns, practiced and precise. "So. If anything should be glaringly obvious now, it's that I'm not perfect."

Curiosity drives some of the smile up into the top half of his face. "What about you?" His voice is kept casually level, purposefully so, and he lifts his glass toward Yi-Min by way of punctuation.

"What?" Yi-Min wings back scathingly, as though the suggestion hadn't originally come from her. But it feels like the worst of this might be an unfortunate remnant of the spike in the conversation that had just occurred, as opposed to something she's still doing on purpose.

Even as he listens, its grip around her words lessens. Her eyes take on a fainter, flintier cast. Despite her gradual descent back down into her natural, unpracticed impassivity, she does not smile again.

"What about me?" she repeats, replacing a little locklet of hair behind her ear with indolent tension. "Are you asking if I believe I am perfect?"

"In a way," Zachery answers, running his tongue over his molars in thought. "I'm asking you to answer that question, with the knowledge that both of us know full well the answer could never be just, 'Yes'."

He lifts his glass, for a drink, but not before adding dryly, "Or do you just look it."

Yi-Min really isn't attempting to put off answering. Not on purpose. Once again though, before she can begin a real answer to the question, she is halted by a fresh influx of curiosity.

Curiosity, and perhaps also the reintroduction of a bit of skepticism at the intent behind the apparent compliment.

"And tell me, why could the answer never be just, 'yes?'"

"Because people who put themselves forward as pristine almost always have too much to say about it," Zachery answers almost without pause, gaze drifting past Yi-Min rather than at her when he continues to add, "I grew up around too many people like that, my parents included, and their insistence tends to be what undoes their entire argument."

For a moment, it looks like he might have something else to add. But when he looks at Yi-Min properly again, watching her expression, he falls silent and just opts for another sip from his wine.

With some tightness, Yi-Min's fingers curl anew around her glass, but she leaves the drink still resting on the table just for now. "I think," she starts, and when she does it sounds unexpectedly serious. The words leave her with some slowness, even as amusement forms in her gaze at what Zachery had said.

"I think we are all probably quite poor judges of our own selves, so it is an equally poor question to ask. To the best of my ability, however, this is my assessment. I manage to do better than some—" this with the coolest glimmer of her old poise, like a particularly well-concealed crocodile's smile— "However, no. No, I am certainly not perfect, more than anyone else is in this world, and never would I describe myself as such. Is this what you were expecting to hear?"

There's a second's pause, and then Zachery nods. "I think so." He sounds unsure, but sets his glass back on the table with a decidedly more resolute clink, leaving fingertips lingering on glass. "I don't know — I wasn't really aiming for anything except maybe to try to get some better insight into…"

Now it's his turn to look amused, even if it's an expression that's almost immediately warped into something slightly more conflicted, eyebrows slanting upward. His index and middle finger lift from the stem of the glass to go pointing lazily in Yi-Min's direction. "Into you, I suppose." His gaze trails absently to the side, free hand landing on the armrest of his chair. "And trying, somewhat fruitlessly, to figure out why every answer I give feels like it's landing both boots solidly out into a minefield."

It's difficult to interpret the exact reaction this gets out of Yi-Min— she appears to take a few seconds to mull this over, and does not respond straight away— but at least she’s still looking towards Zachery with more shrewdness than sharpness. Her hand continues to rest on the tabletop. "Well. If better insight into me is all you wanted, then ask me what you would, I suppose. Let us start over, hm? I invite you. The field is free. Let us… clear the minefield."

Never mind that one method of clearing a minefield is to simply explode every last one of the buried mines. Ignoring that picture—

"If it helps at all, I can reaffirm that what brought me here was much the same. I was curious about your motives regarding Nicole, but also you more generally." Her eyes glint with inquiry, conscientiously hosting a little less intensity than before.

"How… holistic of you," Zachery comments with a careful lifting of his voice that implies just slightly more than just offhand comment or insult.

Fixing his eyes on Yi-Min again, he adds with a curious angle of his head, "Why would she choose both of us, do you think? Because my current theory is— I feel like it might be because of the very reason we're bumping heads in the first place."

"She is just as fond of both of us?" Yi-Min shrugs away the heft of that question as though it means little to her, sipping at her drink as she does. "I mean, you did save her life, so it makes sense that she would put you on some sort of pedestal for it. Then as for me, of course, I am still one of her closest friends. Make new friends, but keep the old? However it goes."

One is silver and the other gold.

That might be a rather liberal interpretation for either. With a smirk that nonetheless manages to keep her spark of well-meaning intact, Yi-Min glances into Zach's newest expression. "I would like to hear your current theory, though."

Zachery listens to Yi-Min's words the same way one might reread a particularly puzzling paragraph, conviction lacking but focus persisting nonetheless in the furrow of his brow and in the keener stare she is awarded.

But he shakes his head. "We're opposites. I think. No?" He lets that hang between them, fingers creeping up his glass again before he raises it for a drink.

"Are we?" If Yi-Min sounds perplexed, it seems less from doubt than it is a slight nudge of curiosity about what it’s leading to. It isn’t like there will be disagreement from her on the subject of their apparent opposition.

"Is that… your theory, or an observation leading up to one?"

One of Zachery's shoulders comes up, then falls again. He gives himself a few seconds of extra thought, and then drums the fingers of one hand on the table as he says, "You seem… I don't know. Like a sphynx, with its riddles. It's fun, but you're very… how to put this."

He chuckles at his own momentary failing, before offering a curious look with a suggestion of, "Level? And I mean that as a compliment, I assure you. Like a cat, whereas I—"

Cutting himself off with a clearing of his throat, he shrugs with an exaggerated wince. "Let's just say I've chased my share of cars before finding a somewhat more sustainable lifestyle."

"Funny. I suppose I should be flattered, perhaps? And yet, I do hate riddles." It's an exhalation of pure wryness from Yi-Min, who polishes off the remainder of what's in her glass in one long gulp.

It is set back down empty, and only then does she finish. "I suppose that would make you the dog here, then. As you say." Nicole's faithful hound. No, she doesn't say the last tidbit, though she is quite clearly thinking it.

She flashes a smile that is nearly too plain to be polite. Nearly. "I am at least glad to have had the opportunity to meet you. Sampler?"

Those have finally arrived at their table, at least. Potentially a welcome reprieve.

"Let's," Zachery replies, looking Yi-Min over one more time before turning his attention to the newly arrived distractions. "Now that we've found one thing we can agree on, let's see if we can refrain from arguing over the subject of taste. I do like to welcome a challenge."

The pleasant smile he's summoned again does not falter, though he does think to quickly add while leaning forward to peer into a bowl of shiny olives. "Thank you, though - genuinely - for the invitation." He gestures a hand loosely toward the samplers, looking once again more like the more unconcerned person he was when he walked in. Ladies first, apparently. "I think we can consider the ice broken, yes?"


Taking note of the gesture with clear approval and only some surprise, Yi-Min obliges, reaching forward to pluck a shapely little jar of gourmet mustard from its berth. As she does so, she pauses only to grace Zachery with a single, raised eyebrow.

It isn't even entirely hostile.

"Let us start over, shall we?"

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