Grocery Run



Scene Title Grocery Run
Synopsis Zachery brings the twins with him on a run to the grocery store, juggling the safety of both children during an unfriendly encounter with faces both familiar and not.
Date March 16, 2021

Whole Foods, Upper West Manhattan

Even without being at work, life doesn't stop. There's still activities that need done that take up just as much time, if not more. Mundane things, like grocery runs to make sure there's more food and diapers for the children he's keeping sustained and entertained without help anymore from the babysitter.

Harvey is sitting in a blue child's seat on the cart pushed before him, strapped in with a ring in one hand, shaken fiercely. It's tied to the placed seat to prevent it from disappearing at first throw, accidental or purposeful as it may be. Zachery learned his lesson on that already.

Avery is snug to his front in a kanga, far more subdued, observing the world around her with wide blue eyes.

Late morning such as it is, the store is quiet, other patrons in solos and pairs; few of them overall. There's, thankfully, no well-meaning old women who've approached him intending to pinch the cheeks of children who aren't theirs to praise him for his involvement in their rearing.

No need this morning— or at least yet— to swallow back a thought of yes, yes, fuck off.

"This is ridiculous," Zachery mutters under his breath, back straight but brow slanted as he peers at rows upon rows of assorted baby food. "Why are there seventeen brands of what is essentially just mushy peas?"

He scrubs a hand over his face, looking down the aisle for a moment as though someone else might be able to help him recall which one of these was the one he was supposed to have written down on a shopping list he left at home, anyway.

But nothing's had the good manners of being that organised lately.

Out of place and with nerves frayed, he lets go of logic and takes a chance - grabbing two of his best guesses before holding one in front of him for Avery to look at, and handing the other wholesale to her brother. "Was it this one? Or this one? Which one did you not spit up?"

Based on the level of interest demonstrated by either baby, it's a tough call. Harvey holds the object he's been presented with with sticky if curious fingers, the small jar of baby food awkwardly turned over. His little eyes turn up to his father, wheels silently turning. Avery is only just beginning to paw at the jar offered to her for examination…

When Harvey, very helpfully, attempts to throw the jar back at his father.

It doesn't nearly have the clearance or force needed for that. In fact, it barely makes it out of his hand at all, almost rolling off the sides of his fingers.

The tiny glass jar, which has so many things it could collide and shatter with on its way down, begins to fall.

"I can't remember the last time I turned down food. Are we sure you're Millers?" Zachery asks with a sharp sort of impatience, returning the jar Avery was looking at to the shelves only to catch sight of the other jar on its way to an imminent demise.

"Shit," he breathes out in a hiss, sinking down to catch it and bringing Avery lower with a start as he does so.

As with seemingly all things lately, one good brings with it another ill.

The sink down to save the thrown dropped jar prevents it from shattering itself to bits and pieces and mush all over the ground and possibly on his feet, but at the expense of jarring the being strapped to his being. One not a particularly big fan of the sudden drop and short stop she's subjected to.

The little cry Avery gives out is sudden and startled before it devolves into the first little wail of overwhelmedness, very quickly threatening to turn into a full-on squall. Someone at the end of the aisle, turning over a head of cauliflower on a produce island, glances that way with a reproachful corner-eye glower.

It is met with a wince from Zachery as he rises, smiling as part of an expression turned apologetic purely by design.

"Yes I'm sure you'd have done much better," he says, words dripping with sarcasm but quiet enough to where they won't carry to the recipient, breaking eye contact to put the jar into his cart. He lifts a hand to Avery's small body and leans his head forward as if he's delivering some words of reassurance, but instead continues— "I'm sure you're very experienced and do all of your own shopping, working a low skill job that leaves plenty of time for menial tasks like touching every single piece of veg your grubby hands can find. Shh…"

He continues to shush the infant, all while grabbing and shoves a dozen or so different jars into his cart before yanking it away to start toward the next item on his mental shopping list.

The warbling cry from Avery dies down into a note of confusion, and then nothing. She's entranced by the ring Harvey is shaking from his seat in the cart, who is delighted, on his part, at the jolt that comes from when they get started again. The twin lets out a giggle, both hands lifting.

As Zachery turns away, from the corner of his eye, the man looking his way somehow changes, something happening to his eyes. By the time he processes that they seemed to be glowing gold and perhaps looks back, there's no one there at all.

There's also, blessedly, no one in the next aisle over, either. No one to judge him for taking an eternity to decide what size of diaper to buy, or what wipes are best.

The only company, at the moment, is the presence of the twins and the sound of some stale late-nineties hit playing over the Muzak.

"I should have listened, really." Zachery decides with his tone of voice dragged low, flicking one more look down at what he can see of Avery while he pushes the cart forward with a concern creasing his brow. "To your— your mother," the word leaves him strangely, jaw rolling forward in afterthought. "About ordering. But no, I had to do my thing, come to the rescue. And this was faster. Just…"

But he does not stop at the diapers, nor the wipes. He keeps going, strolling along and closing in on those vegetables once more, looking down the way as if some undefined anticipation wills him to. The fingers of one hand slip slowly from the shopping cart, his steps slowing as he approaches the corner. "A quick, easy trip."

It was supposed to be, wasn't it.

The entire produce section is void of persons, no activity in it aside from the corner cooling cabinets issuing a round of mist onto the greenery housed within it. A look in either direction past there shows no one either.

A shopping cart sits idle and abandoned by the cauliflower, an unbagged head of it resting on the upper tier of it.

Something, needless to say, is wrong.

"Harvey," Zachery says in a much more casual tone, though firmly, as the cart rolls to a stop at the grocery store equivalent of a crossroads. The baby's name is meant to grab his attention as much as warn him, because the next thing that happens is that he's hoisted out of his seat.

Zachery, now holding Harvey somewhat awkwardly supported at Avery's side, looks around - up, left and right, noting security cameras with sudden, frantic awareness. "Change of plans," he says in clipped words, abandoning his own cart as he starts to move in confident strides forward, looking, now, for the exit. "I think we'll put in that order after all."

Harvey makes a note of protest as the plastic ring he was holding onto slips from his grasp, dangling from the string tied to the cart's chair. This is a huffable moment rather than a tragedy, though, and he adjusts to the new height with relative ease. Besides, Avery's here. Everything is just fine.


Zachery's steps around the cart and out of the aisle come at an auspicious moment, because the shuffle of shifting objects sounds behind him, too numerous to be normal. Objects begin falling off of shelves, because—

The shelf containing baby food on its other side has begun to tip, and in short order falls over with a horrendous clatter of noise, crushing packages and breaking and scattering tiny glass jars. It shouldn't do that— it shouldn't have been able to do that, but the anchoring chain clipped to the ceiling to prevent it from falling entirely has snapped. As it lands, the shelving clips the still-standing one across the aisle and causes it to wobble unsteadily too, bringing a whole new loud, metallic clatter to the aisleway.

Both babies begin to cry.

"You're fine," Zachery says probably to the babies, in a now decidedly less than steady tone of voice, having turned and backed away from the destruction with a mix of horror and confusion.

He frees one arm, keeping Harvey anchored tightly to his side with the other as he looks for but fails to find a cause for all of this. "Alright, you're alright." Regardless of whether the following bob or two of Harvey and Avery's small bodies do anything to comfort or silence them at all, he glances one more time toward the shelves nearest to him— and makes a decision.

The three of them flicker, then blink out of sight entirely.

It doesn't take long to pinpoint the cause of the massive shelf's collapse. It announces itself in the form of footsteps, one after the other, stepping over the collapsed shelving. Inexplicably, it's the man from before, not giving a damn at all about stepping into glass and baby food with the Italian leather of his shoes. He steps around the side of the shelves, seeming to think for a moment before he reaches a hand down like he's about to just lift up this heavy structure to peek under it.

Except that's exactly what he does, demonstrating a strength that's not humanly possible. He looks under the shelving, doesn't see any bodies which should belong to the cries he still can hear. Without so much as a thoughtful hrm, he lets go of the shelving and lets it fall heavily back to the ground.

When he turns around to face the abandoned shopping cart, the judgmental green-grey of his eyes have been replaced with a molten gold, glowing and focused. With a chillingly abnormal stiffness to his posture, he begins to walk toward the end of the aisle.

Toward the cart. Toward the inexplicable sound of children being slowly rocked to silence.

The sound of crying moves away, but steadily, and only just. Careful steps carry the babies back, until Zachery comes to a stop mid-step with one of his heels hitting a food display behind him.

"What do you want from me?" His voice comes suddenly, insistent, no more patience left in him. He stays as he is— out of sight even if not unnoticed. Before there's a chance to answer his question, something round and pale comes into view, already flying with as much momentum as its thrower could possibly afford it.

A sizable butternut squash comes sailing directly for the man's face.

Once at the cart and seeing it's empty poses the approacher some confusion that comes to his face so strangely it almost looks like passing constipation. His feet take him past the cart and in the direction of the sound of the fussing, invisible twins like he's possessed to do so.

His head turns left, right, trying to see just what his golden eyes must be missing. They snap back in Zachery's direction at the sound of his voice, some kind of answer primed.

Then the gourd hits him in the face.

The passive expression of the man changes, a sneer taking him over. He lunges forward to take hold of the base of one of the produce displays, hurling it across the aisle the thrown squash came from with an audible snarl.

Then he listens, waiting, unseeing that the thrown display failed to hit his quarry— one he suddenly can't pin as the twins have been startled into a timorous silence. One lip curled back, the stranger prowls around slowly, listening, watching closely for signs of Zachery or the children. He's intensely uninterested in fixing his tie which flew over his shoulder when he overturned the produce stand.

It's quiet, for a moment. Zachery's lack of movement is calculated, if informed by the shock that's also invisibly on his face as he looks at the cracked display that's only just managed to miss where he stands.

But he does, eventually, move. One carefully placed step at a time, every one quicker than the last, taking him from vegetables to the fruit section of the store. One singular, shiny red apple escapes sight for a few seconds as he picks it up and then lobs it across an empty aisle.

When the sound of it landing breaks the silence, he turns, breathing a quick and hopeful "Shh," before laying Harvey down amidst the fruit and stepping swiftly away from the now visible child in a small crater of red. Keeping his eyes on the attacker now, he moves not toward the exit, but swiftly toward a different aisle all together with a hand placed lightly over Avery's head and another question leaving his mouth. "Did Asami do this to you?"

The sound of the music overhead did vanish— somewhere around the time the display was thrown, like the world itself is listening closely in for signs of Zachery's invisible presence. When the thrown apple lands, the man standing in the aisle turns his head instantly, body slowly rotating to follow after when he walks in its direction.

Curious, implies the tilt of his head, then the lift of it to look around for the thrower.

The sound of Zachery's voice brings with it only a sudden, too-quick snap of head in that direction, complete with footsteps heading that way. The man says nothing, tie still over his shoulder— but moves quickly. The gold in his eyes has lost none of its intensity…

But he strides in a completely focused silence.

"Shit," Zachery hears himself hissing, half turned to watch the attacker with a growing look of panic on his face. The cogs are turning, but it's not making sense. Is this like the time in the elevator? The time that didn't happen?

He turns, suddenly, to pick up his pace down the aisle with audible footfalls. Knowing full well that he might not be able to outrun his opponent, he keeps an arm braced against Avery's form, clicks two straps free, and on his next step pulls another loose enough to tip and lift Avery out of the harness she's been confined to. "I'm sorry," he utters in a rush, grits his teeth, and lowers her to the ground.

Then, she is visible, sitting by some breakfast bars. She's barely shimmered back into being when Zachery's steps sound again— not only faster, but rapidly back where he came from as adrenaline guides him shoulder-first into an attempted - and possibly unwise - tackle.

Avery lets out a sound of distress as she's lowered down, when Zachery slips out of sight in a horrible perversion of peek-a-boo. She lets out a scree of baby chatter, wondering where he's gone.

Meanwhile the man down the aisle looks down and catches sight of her, fascination rippling through otherwise empty eyes. Single-mindedness on his task doesn't prevent that. His hands ball into fists when he hears the footsteps, bracing himself to grab at the invisible man when he tries to slip past.

But that's not what happens. Instead, his diaphragm meets a transparent shoulder, and then caves to it. He wheezes, staggering back and then comes to a knee, hand flinging to his side to brace himself against the nearest shelving. His hand crunches the metal from the force he catches it with.

And the stagger is something Zachery intuits the stranger will soon recover from.

Just off to the side, cereal boxes go tumbling off onto the ground around invisible legs. Zachery, crouched down awkwardly and holding a hand where his shoulder meets neck, looks distinctly like a man who isn't quite sure what his plan was.

Emphasis on looks, because with his concentration lost, he now pops fully back into view as he rises to his feet and takes one step forward to say with a mixture of anxiety and determination forcing the word out, "Hi."

And then, eyes fixed on his target, he swings a tightly held can of condensed milk for the other man's face.

Right as the man's getting his feet back under him, Zachery reappears. The look on his face freezes, and he ignores the baby now crying in the middle of the aisle some yards away from them in favor of re-evaluating his situation with Zachery. His hand tightens around the shelving, like one does to get a better grip on something they mean to hurl in short order, but

Zachery speaks

And then the man suddenly takes a fiercely-swing can to the brow, stars scattering in his view as he hears the bone surrounding it crunch—

Just before the man sees nothing any longer, eyes rolling back into his head and his head hitting the ground from the force of the hit. His grip on the shelf loosens to nothing with his sudden unconsciousness, a final note of shifting occurring from where the metal snaps back, mostly, to where it should be.

Avery's wails neither challenge nor drown out the grocery store music, a sound which remains eerily absent. No sound rises back from the produce section indicating Harvey is in a similar state of overwhelmedness.

For the seconds that follow, that is all that hangs in the air. A strange score to the sudden stillness of Zachery standing frozen, eyes darting over the body, searching for movement that he hopes not to see. Only once the can he hadn't realised he'd dropped to the ground comes to a rolling stop against one of the attacker's legs does he say, quietly, "… I did it."

Whatever mix of relief and some other emotion pulls at the corners of his mouth is immediately swiped away with the firm scrub of a trembling hand over his jawline. He tears his gaze upward, along the shelves and— right, the children.

He turns quickly in Avery's direction, striding back over to pick her small body back up and off the floor. "You're alright," he tells her, holding her at his side and continuing to walk with suddenly brimming confidence that serves to focus still panic-stricken eyes. "Where's your brother?"

Hopefully right where he was left.

The crying child starts when she's picked up, hiccing from her state of overwhelmedness. It serves to break apart the squall in pieces, only sniffling by the time that Zachery steps over the body of his attacker and back out into the produce aisle.

To see that they're once again not alone, in the worst, most bizarre of ways.

Maureen Torrence stands in the middle of the vegetable stands, looking down at the child left squarely in the center of the tomatoes. She has one hand lifted toward Harvey's face, like to brush his hair back or pinch his chubby cheeks—

except she, like the coif-haired stranger crumpled on the ground a few aisles back, also bears blisteringly golden eyes at present.

"What—" Zachery stalls, both in speech and movement, staring first down at Harvey, then at that familiar face hovering above. Any relief found earlier vanishes, his face falling.

Unwilling to put Avery down a second time, he holds her close, jaw setting as he tries to figure out a logical way to continue, to fix this situation, to get both twins to safety. But logic is also the very thing that ends up screwing his shoulders tighter. "What am I supposed to do with this, Maureen?" He asks, as though they're both at the hospital and he's simply asking for advice, voice steady even if desperation slants his brow. "Either all of this is real— or none of it is."

His gaze unfocuses for a moment, for one last, failing grasp at options. He remembers the elevator, remembers things returning to 'normal' when they shouldn't, and remembers just how tired he is with things not having been normal in the first place.

All signs point to option number two. And so, he finds himself saying, standing in the fruit aisle, "Just kill me."

Maureen's head slowly lifts at Zachery's supplication to her, movement toward his child freezing. She just watches him, her hand shifting away so she can turn better to face him.

Harvey lets out a tone of curiosity, turning his head to where he hears his father. Avery sniffles. As if caught in the act of behaving unnaturally when Zachery notes the surreality of his situation, the store music resumes.

Hey there, Mr. Blue
We're so pleased to be with you

The nurse, in a scrubs top and jeans, begins moving in Zachery's direction wordlessly; in purposeful walk that takes its time, given the objective at the end of her trail isn't moving.

Look around see what you do
Everybody smiles at you

Except not today. Not Maureen, not that she ever really does ever. Not the stranger with the knifelike sneer knocked unconscious or worse on the ground fifty feet away.

She continues to walk in Zachery's direction until he makes that suggestion to just kill him. Then she stops in place, almost jarringly so. Rapidly, though— in a blink and you'll miss it whip of a moment— she grabs hold of the nearest long table, boxes of strawberries and individual kiwis sent flying as she picks it up with inhuman strength. A fierce yell later, off goes the table for Zachery and Avery's persons, hurled like a shotput with all the precision and force of an Olympian.

For a second, Zachery perks back up when Maureen moves away from Harvey, as if in spite of the decision he's made, this small thing still counts as a success.

A success that is promptly forgotten when instinct pulls his stance lower, turning Avery inward against his shoulder just as an edge of the flying fucking table hits him in the ribcage, knocking the air out of him before he ever even hits the ground.

But hit the ground he does, landing flat on his back. By the time his eyes snap back open, struggling to control pain-seized muscles, he turns his head to see Avery having rolled out of his grasp at his side. Regret is what knits his brow now, even if something else conjures a humourless, lopsided smirk on the next exhale he manages.

Something's definitely broken. The flying table practically bounced off of him and continued tumbling away, clattering on the ground. It's a miracle nothing hit Avery when he fell, when it fell, when she—

Long, painful seconds elapse, an entire lapse— a fault— of words comes from Maureen. Both children cry, unable to do anything about their upset. A tomato rolls off the stand in the other aisle from where Harvey kicks it. Zachery can't see him, can barely see Avery where she waves her arms. Nurse Torrence continues her slow approach.

Mr. Blue, you did it right
But soon comes Mr. Night

It has to be just like the elevator.

But it's not.

Because this time, as Zachery has a strangled cough wrung out of him, he feels the ground beneath him. In the absence of freefalling, some errant sense of control is returned to him when he manages to pull one knee up to where the sole of his shoe finds purchase on the floor. He shifts, wincing immediately as an attempted inhale pushes against fractured ribs, but still manages to get enough of his legs under himself to rise halfway back up again, still bent forward in a half-daze.

"You're alright," he says again, the words too wet in his throat, before staggering forward and toward his attacker with his head lifting to meet her wretched golden eyes.

Creepin' over

When Zachery begins to come to his feet, Maureen stops— like she's learned the lesson the other man had by getting the shit beat out of him. She waits, but only long enough to see the stagger, to see that she doesn't require to be on the defensive. Her face is void of any of the wide range of negative emotion he knows her to be able to possess, her attention as single-minded as the other attacker.

Her eyes burn gold, and her hand snaps out to grab Zachery by his neck.

Now his hand is on your shoulder

Eyes meeting his, her grasp tightens and she lifts him off the ground, her arm fully-extended. His toes graze the tile.

Never mind

The corners of her eyes tighten from the exertion alone when her hand contracts, squeezing his throat. At last some kind of self-preserving instinct kicks in, automatic, but futile. The light darkens in an encroaching wave across his vision even as his hands move for his throat, trying to pry away the iron grip crushing his windpipe.

I'll remember you this—

Avery is wailing. And then suddenly she's not.

A dozen people walk pristine grocery aisles, every food item in its proper place. A light mist falls over a refrigerated case of greens along the wall. There are no children out of place. Maureen Torrence pauses by a stand of honeydew to collect one into her cart— to the chagrin of a well-dressed man who side-eyes her as he passes, casting judgment over her choice of fruit. A sunny tune plays on the Muzak across the store.

I'll remember you this—

Dorchester Towers Apartments
Upper West Side

Avery is wailing. And then suddenly she's not.


She squeals in Zachery's bob as he dips and brings her back up again in an attempt to distract her from the minor inconvenience that she'd grown upset about. The walls in the nursery cease to echo, and the background music put on by the radio set on the changing station is given way to have its softly-produced noises heard again. Harvey waves a plastic, bead-filled ring in one hand while he jumps in a colorful, toy-adorned bouncer in the corner.

Mr. Blue Sky, please tell us why
You had to hide away for so long (so long)

Where did we go wrong?

Getting time with the twins like this was priceless. He's glad he took the time off of work for this— is relieved that Avery seems to be improving. It feels like she's been in better health the time he's spent with them over the last two weeks than she has been in the last eight months.

It's a weight off his shoulders. And he's getting better with defusing crying spells like the one he just headed off.

Hey there, Mr. Blue (sky)

"See, love?" Zachery soothes, his voice warmed with gratitude and confidence both, a smile on his face. "It's not so bad, is it. Maybe you don't need mum all the time? Maybe we are capable of," he gasps, for effect, "Learning."

He holds Avery against him while pacing forward, her face next to his as he looks over at the bouncier of the twins. "Hello, half-pint." Once he steps up to Harvey proper, he lowers himself and Avery down, carefully, his voice dipping into more serious territory to ask, "Now, be honest. Who d'you like better? Mum or dad?"

We're so pleased to be with you (sky)

The string of delighted gaggle that erupts from Harvey is a pretty unclear response altogether, but he does lose his grip on his most favorite toy all so he can reach for the faces that are suddenly closer to his. And that's got to count for something, right? Every last bit of sound that comes from him is utter nonsense, but it's happily made, his grin showing off the stubs of incoming teeth.

It's piercing, all around, but familiar. Of course it's familiar. Why wouldn't it be familiar?

Harvey's been the bouncing, excitable baby boy for months. Months?

Look around see what you do (blue)

Yes, of course— months. For as many months as he's been alive, minus the ones where all he really did was sit around and stare, eyes incapable of doing much focusing beyond what was mere inches in front of his face.

Of course.

Everybody smiles at you

Harvey lets out another distracting screech, tiny hands clapping together before him. His smile is just as bright and familiar as it was before, his face just as familiar. Zachery's not sure what that moment was, but everything slides back into feeling right in short order.

Just fatigue, probably.

Something every new parent deals with, surely.

Zachery's smile wanes in the quiet seconds that follow, one hand still against a wriggly daughter, his eyes still fixed on his son's face.

Then… he readjusts his grip on Avery to ruffle the boy's wispy hair, his smile returning lopsided, but undaunted. After all, "You're alright."

Spoken, this time, with unwavering certainty.


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