House Mouse and Peacock


eileen_icon.gif leonardo_icon.gif

Scene Title House Mouse and Peacock
Synopsis A chance meeting at Chinatown's Canal Street Market turns into a discussion about world travel, the laws of attraction and aversions to intimacy.
Date February 1, 2010

Canal Street Market

Day or night, Canal Street is busy in Chinatown. Perfumes, purses, produce, pork, and poultry are all sold side by side in busy open storefronts. One entire portion of the street is dedicated to nothing but jewelry stores catering to various price ranges. Box vendors sell all manner of sizzling foodstuffs to passing pedestrians, some of it identifiable, some of it better left unexplained. The ambiance is one of business and pleasure.

With no meetings or anything until later in the day, Leonardo finds himself walking through Chinatown, simply deciding to waste a bit of time, try new food, buy things. His 'bodyguard' isn't with him, his long shin-length dark-blue trenchcoat flowing in the cold air, snuggly buttoned up with the strap tied in the middle. He has his hands in his pocket, a thin black scarf tied around his neck, occasionally stopping to look at someone's wares.

Leonardo isn't the only one perusing the market this morning. Dressed in a dark gray pea coat worn over a paler sweater, a knee-length black skirt and knit stockings is a young woman whose profile appears familiar. She wears her hair up, exposing the back of her pale neck and the delicate ridges beneath her skin, each vertebrae clearly defined — even if he doesn't recognize her face at a glance, there's no mistaking the shape of her spine or the poised manner in which Eileen carries herself.

The handle of a wicker basket sits in the crook of her bent elbow, one hand resting on its lip to steady it while the other turns over an unripened starfruit between her fingers. Canal Street Market is where she goes shopping on Mondays for her groceries. So far, she doesn't have much in the bottom of the basket except for a small bag of dark-coloured rice and half a chicken wrapped in light brown paper, which oozes grease and steam from the package's flimsy seams and will be cold long before she makes it home.

Leonardo only watches the woman from afar, even before recognition sets in. There's something to be admired about a woman with good posture. As he's approaching, possibly wondering if he's gonna take her to Paris or just get her into a very expensive restaurant. He finally realizes who it is… and repeats the same thoughts very briefly anyway, before approaching about a foot away from her side, offering a casual smile. "Hello, Eileen, or perhaps I should say Dahlia. I never noticed your posture before. How are you today?"

It takes Eileen a few moments for recognition to settle over her features, but when it does, her mouth softens and her green eyes grow warmer. She knows him — where she knows him from, however, is less clear to her than the neutral feelings his presence inspires. While Leonardo might not be a friend, he isn't an enemy either. "Cold," she offers, the corners of her mouth turning up around a cautious smile as she places the starfruit back amongst its green and yellow brethren.

"I'd say I'm bored. I actually considered leaving the country for a few hours, until my meetings start, or at least the city, but I can't figure out who to take with me." Leonardo doesn't quite say it as a hint, but he does watch for a reaction. Always a good way to learn about someone's priorities and desires. "Summer Meadows seems to be going well, except the occasional setback. I can't say I trust the government with Staten, given recent developments my people have discovered and are looking into, but I've yet to think of what I'll do about that." He doesn't talk like business as, well, business, it's all casual to him, as if he didn't have a hint of stress or weight on his shoulders.

If it's a reaction that Leonardo is looking for, he may be disappointed although unsurprised. In the brief time he's known Eileen, she's always maintained an impartial mask during her interactions with him. Today isn't any different in this respect — there's a slight upward lift of her brows accompanied by a breathy murmur of what sounds like it might be laughter, and that is all. Her mouth smoothes back out, lips pressed flat, and she continues down the aisle at a leisurely pace, inviting Leonardo to follow. "Where would you go?"

"There are plenty of places to choose from, for plenty of reasons." Leonardo does indeed follow, never removing his hands from his pockets as he keeps his pace with her. He seems to have a bit of amusement in his general demeanor at her mask, knowing full well she's all business. He just poke poke pokes at it, that's nothing new. "In Paris, one could have dinner on a rooftop and just enjoy the skyline, in Italy, it's nice to go to a modest villa, then find a family owned restaurant and see what they have to offer. I quite enjoyed China as a child, but for obvious reasons, I won't be going there."

"You should visit the Parisian cemeteries the next time you go," Eileen suggests, trailing her fingers along the edge of a vibrant silk scarf hanging from a pole on display. She teases the fabric between her nails, drawing the attention of the stand's owner but shakes her head when he moves to bring it down for her with a metal hook at the end of a long wooden stick. "l'Ossuaire Municipal. The Jardin du Luxembourg is worth seeing as well, if you ever get the opportunity. Picnic at Medici Fountain in spring."

"You want it?" Leonardo asks with a nod to the scarf, raising a hand to inspect the quality and possible value of such a thing one could find in Chinatown. "And you sound like you've been around, or perhaps you simply read a lot? But I'll certainly visit those places the next time I leave the country."

Whether or not Eileen wants the scarf is irrelevant. She lets it slip from her fingers and flutter uselessly back into a stationary position, flimsy material rippling in the same breeze that catches the wispiest stands of her hair and blows them across her cheek. There is only so much room in the steamer trunk she uses to store her clothes back home, and although there's extra storage she hasn't yet utilized in her bedroom's crawlspace, her pragmatic style of dress suggests that she has a minimalist's tendencies as well.

"I have more scarves than I know what to do with," she says, and it probably isn't a lie. "My caretaker was very fond of me when I was in my teens. I went wherever he did, and his work took him everywhere. Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona. It's been a few years."

"I've grown far too used to impressing a woman with trips overseas. There goes my crutch." Leonardo playfully shrugs, chuckling lightly as he leaves the scarf where it is and slides his hands back into his pocket, following again. "You didn't have any parents? Or perhaps you were simply raised by a nanny? I experienced my share of that, though my parents were around when time permitted."

"Nanny? No." Her path leads them past a stall selling fresh fish on ice, mussels and oysters scattered between long slivers of gutted sturgeon, rockfish with glassy eyes and red snapper the colour of Eileen's rouge blush. Either she's not into seafood or it isn't compatible with her budget this week — she walks right on by, sparing only a glance at the crabs on display in an adjacent glass tank, their claws fastened shut with elastic lengths of baby blue rubber band. "My da left when I was six and my mum—

"My mum didn't take well to it."

"That's too bad. I wish I could relate, though I was adopted. I know virtually nothing about my birth parents. Rich, poor, happy, unhappy, I simply don't know them. But I'm happy for the parents I did have." Leonardo walks up a bit faster to catch up again, after stopping to linger on the crab. "You know, if you want anything, you can just ask. I've yet to see anything I want, but I'm in the mood to shop."

"I'm not a teenager anymore, Mr. Maxwell," Eileen says, and it isn't until his name leaves her lips that she's aware she even remembers it. There's a short pause, a momentary awkwardness that she covers by looking away to adjust the basket at her arm, green eyes hidden behind the fringe created by her lashes. "I'm capable of making my own purchases, but thank you. Do you often throw money away on things you don't need because you have nothing better to do with your time?"

"Independence, I admire that." Leonardo once again simply brushes the declining of his offer off, looking over at a row of small metallic cat figurines. He holds a hand up to stop her, then leans in to give them a closer look. "That does seem to be the general pattern of my day to day activities. But don't worry, I do have a budget, I just rarely hit it. And I apologize for any apparent lack of modesty, that's simply my personality. I don't consider myself egotistical, but I am indeed a show off, especially with a woman who has great posture." Again with the posture.

Kazimir would be pleased to know that all the breath he expended telling Eileen to sit up straight has not been wasted. She squares her shoulders at Leonardo's comment, either more self-conscious or aware than she was a few paces ago, and directs her attention toward the cat figurines. "You're quite the peacock," she agrees. "That's not necessarily a bad thing, if you're looking to attract someone who appreciates flashiness in a mate."

"The ironic thing is, you come off as a woman of class and modesty, yet I can't help but do the exact opposite of what I would think you'd like." Leonardo laughs, picking up the little metallic cat statue; a lucky cat holding up its paw, and hands the man a five dollar bill from his pocket. "Psychology is a tricky thing. But I've always been one to get a woman on my own merits, instead of being something I'm not. And I'm definitely not modest."

"There's nothing wrong with being proud," Eileen says, "which you are." She observes the exchange, her gaze on the vendor's hands as he counts out the appropriate amount of change and empties it into Leonardo's palm. "Confidence is an appealing trait, but I think there's a difference between being self-possessed and being self-absorbed." It's a fine line, too, and the Briton is careful to keep her tone as mild as possible in an attempt not to offend. She accepts the compliment without verbally acknowledging it, showing her gratitude with an upturned chin instead as she lifts her eyes from the figurine to Leonardo's face. "I take it you aren't married."

"Self-possessed and self-absorbed I definitely aren't. I'm aware of my flaws, and I have a great deal of them, I've just quite literally gone to school for hiding them. No, I'm not so much self-absorbed as I simply like to bask in the glow of life." Leonardo holds the metallic cat out to her as he takes a deep breath, inhaling the cold air. Ahh, life! "And I'm not married, no. I don't have much time for marriage, or even serious commitment for that matter."

With a rueful sigh, Eileen takes the cat and places it in her basket. It will make a good gift for one of the Lighthouse children if she can't find a better use for it. "You can learn a lot about someone by observing where they place their priorities," she says. "I find it interesting that you have time for rooftop dinners in Paris overlooking the river Seine but don't feel justified committing to the person sitting across from you at the table." She's moving again, stepping around a puddle of stagnant meltwater rather than walk through it. Either she isn't entirely without vanity herself, or she's more worried about how uncomfortable it would be if she got her feet wet. "I don't mean to criticize," she adds. "You aren't dishonest about it."

"Commitment entails far more than dinners and going out. There are very few women in the world who will understand that you have to suddenly cancel a date for an important meeting, or miss an anniversary, or even a holiday with them. The simple fact is, I'm not in a place where my commitment to a woman can be greater than my commitment to my job." Leonardo sounds more as if he's trying to explain the situation, than be defensive about it, as he's still smiling and looking quite understanding of her words. "And it's perfectly alright to criticize, it means you're not afraid to be honest. It's not as if I wouldn't perfectly consider a committed relationship, I simply don't think it would end very well. I'm twenty-seven and the president of a multi-million dollar company, I have a lot of weight on my shoulders, despite my casual attitude."

"I don't think you give our fairer sex enough credit," Eileen chides Leonardo, though there's nothing truly reproachful about the quality of her voice. "Men aren't the only ones who value their careers more than the benefits of having a spouse, and that's not to say you can't have a partner. Plenty of women enter exclusive arrangements with individuals such as yourself with no expectations of being your sun and moon." Then; "Would you mind if I asked why you bother pursuing us at all? Is it the companionship or the sex?"

"I'm well aware of career-minded women. But to answer your question, I suppose it depends on the woman." Leonardo looks down at his shoes, his casual look replaced with one of somewhat deep thought. "Take a particularly attractive secretary for example. She's certainly nice to have fun with and spoil for a while, but rarely do they turn out to be my type, for a companion. But a career-minded woman, or just a particularly classy and intelligent one, someone I can discuss the world with, who can truly appreciate the finer things in life, even if she's never had them, that is a companion, for me."

As Leonardo discusses the finer points of his philosophy, Eileen politely keeps the majority of her attention on him as she selects several blood oranges from a nearby fruit stand, giving each a brisk squeeze to check for ripeness before wafting them under her nose. It's easier to smell one something is going bad or just about to turn. "Canal Street Market seems an odd place to look for such a woman," she says as she reaches into her pocket, retrieves a clip of worn-looking cash and counts out enough bills to cover the cost of her purchase. "I would think you'd have better luck scouring the lobby at the opera before a performance."

"I didn't come here looking for women, I just always think they sell interesting things here, and have unique food. I find the contrast in Chinese-American food and actual food from China to be fascinating." Leonardo reaches for one of the oranges himself, offering the clerk the rest of the change he got after buying the cat. "But I saw you standing there, and I thought 'What is a woman of such good posture doing, standing in the middle of Chinatown?' So of course I walked over, and realized it was you. You can be a strange one, or perhaps simply mysterious. There's no designated place to look for women like you." He snickers at that, then taps his forehead. "That line was a bit cliche, even for me."

Eileen's oranges are loaded into a bag made from the same paper her chicken is cooling in and passed across the space that separates her from the vendor behind the stand. He's happy to take Leonardo's money as well, thanking him with a curt xie xie. "Posture aside," she says. "I'm actually quite common. Poor, undereducated, and plainer than a house mouse sitting on a cast iron kettle. If I'm to be proud of anything, then I suppose it's appearing more dignified than I really am. Thank you."

"I'm not one to judge. You're beautiful, you have a nice personality, and you're world-minded. Also, yes, you do indeed appear very dignified, but one can't appear dignified without being such. You have to understand dignity to feign it." Leonardo starts to walk again, peeling his orange as he continues. "You don't give yourself nearly enough credit. You have a millionare making a pass at you, I don't believe 'plainer than a house mouse' applies."

"I like mice," Eileen says in their defense. She places the bag of oranges in her basket and tucks the rumpled clip of cash back into her coat pocket. "They're very industrious. Scrupulously clean. They can survive almost anywhere on little to nothing and over the course of human history have influenced the economies of entire civilizations. Have you ever heard the story of the Mouse and the Bull?"

"Hmm, well, I can live with mouse, but you're certainly not plain." Leonardo takes a quick bite of his orange, which causes a bit of juice to squirt by her face. "Whoops, that's certainly the trouble with oranges. And no, I don't believe I have heard this story. I'd certainly love to hear, if it gives insight into your character."

Eileen hesitates, uncertainty knitting her brow. She lifts her hand, checks her cheek for beads of citrus, then drops it again when her fingers come away clean. "A Bull was bitten by a Mouse and, angered by the wound, tried to capture him, but the Mouse was able to reach his hole and hide in its safety. Though the Bull dug into the walls with his horns, he tired before he could rout out the Mouse, and crouching down, went to sleep outside the hole."

As she reaches the end of the lane and the market's fringe, she pauses to shift her basket from one arm to the other. It's been a long time since she read the fable, and although she used to have it memorized, the years have frayed its edges and begun to unravel her recollection of it. "The Mouse peeped out," she continues, reestablishing her rhythm, "crept furtively up to his flank, and again biting him, retreated to his hole. Not knowing what to do, the Bull rose up and was sadly perplexed — to which the mouse said, 'The great do not always prevail. There are times when the small and the lowly are the strongest to do mischief.'"

"A very wise moral. Too bad no one remembered that when Google started." Leonardo chuckles lightly, but seems to have eased his casual demeanor, possibly not too worried about keeping it up anymore. She doesn't seem easily offended! "Alright, I'll give you that story, Belle Souris," This is said with quite an accurate French accent. "But I suppose my remaining question is, since we're being so open, how adament are you about keeping this strictly business?"

Eileen slips her hand into the silk-lined interior of her coat, and when it comes back out she's holding a pocket watch in the seat of her palm, small and ornate. Her thumb traces the shape of its face as she angles it to minimize the glare created by the sunlight reflecting off its glass surface, checking the time. "Quite adamant," is her subdued reply, her tone softer than it's been throughout the course of their conversation. Whether he realizes it or not, Leonardo has unintentionally struck a nerve. "I've just lost someone very close."

"Oh, I apologize." Leonardo's look turns to concern, his arm hanging with the orange locked inbetween his fingers. "But we did have a nice talk, all things considered. Well, my foot's firmly planted in my mouth right now, but if you'd like to talk about anything bothering you, I have a few hours." The orange is raised again, and he takes a more careful bite. "I've noticed a lot of loss amongst Evolvedkind, but that'll come to an end soon."

"Regretfully," and that's never a positive sign, "I've other errands I need to run, but yes — it was a nice talk." Eileen replaces the pocket watch in her coat and steps off the curb, moving to cross the street as soon as there's a gap in traffic. Leonardo has nothing to be sorry for; she's hoping he won't take her departure the wrong way, and so says nothing to argue with his parting remark though the solemn expression on her face makes it clear that she doesn't exactly agree. "Have a good day, Mr. Maxwell. And good luck finding something to entertain yourself!"

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