It Just Is


benji_icon.gif eileen_icon.gif

Scene Title It Just Is
Synopsis Benji and Eileen negotiate topics of kidnapping, trust and, briefly, love.
Date January 6, 2011


Eileen hasn't lived in New York City as long as some of her associates — Gabriel Gray of Queens comes to mind — but she's lived there long enough that there are small enclaves she can claim to frequent. One such territory is a small neighborhood in Brooklyn within walking distance from her old apartment where she used to buy her groceries back when she was still pretending to abide by her pardon. The shop's interior is dimly lit and the wood floors grimy with dirt tracked in from the outside on winter boots, not the sort of place most people would look to purchase something like food, but Eileen is not most people.

She carries under her arm a wicker basket which already contains a plastic bag of dandelion tea measured out from a wooden bin toward the back of the store, and a selection of fresh fruit, including a waxy yellow thing with green ridges that the sign advertised as a balimbing, though Eileen assured Benji it was just an ordinary carambola.

Then, at the end of a short pause: Starfruit. The amendment had been quiet, apologetic, but so has she, and while the name Calvin Rosen hasn't come up yet in conversation, it sours the air. Or maybe that's just the smell of the store. "Did you ever meet Delia?" she's asking now. "I realize I don't know what she likes."

There isn't too much in the way of fresh fruit on Pollepel Island and indeed, the winter time would make that more difficult. Or even being somewhat poor and living in New York City, and an apparent Refrain user on the wrong side of the law might fit that bill, like the fact that Benji is all bones beneath his heavy black woolen coat, loose cotton and denim to buffer, could be attributed to his lifestyle. And the fact that his fingers pick fascinated along the wooden edges of the winter season fruits — the clementines and the cranberries, with their thick skins and sour flesh, and some harvest fruits like dates and pumpkins still limping along in their dwindling availability.

If this place were bigger, and if he wasn't with Eileen, Benji probably would have pocketed a few things by now for the sake of vitamin C. An orange is gripped lightly in one hand, tossed to the other, set back around the time she's talking to him again.

"No. But there were a lot of people to meet," he apologises, own tone rough but that's just because quietness exposes the quirks and flaws of one's voice. He is polite, to a fault. "But everyone likes food. These places have— preservatives. Candles. Oils. Home made things. What's the occasion?"

"She was sick," seems like the simplest explanation and Eileen, who tries so very hard to be straightforward, decides that it's also the best, "but now she's getting better. I thought it might be nice to let her know she's been missed." She stops to take down a box of lentil soup from one of the lower shelves, her back angled in such a way that only Benji will see the bluebird tucked under her collar as it studies the writing from behind the fabric, acting as her eyes while hers, glassy and gray, only go through the motions.

It's taken notice of the young man's frame and maybe some of the wistfulness in his expression when he handles the fruit, if there's any wistfulness to be seen. Eileen should be good at picking it out. They're old friends, she and the dolefuls. "You'd like her," she says, placing the box back on the shelf and opting for a bag of plain lentils instead that can be boiled and fashioned into a soup with fresh ingredients rather than pre-packed ones. "Most people do. She's a bit of robin, Delia is. Hardy build but a gentle voice. Very kind."

"My, in this city?"

That's a little bitter, Benjamin. But it's been a bitter month and a half, can one blame him? His hands link together and he kind of follows Eileen like he's made up of loose parts, a sway in his meander, keeping his eyes on the produce displayed. Turns on a heel in full 360 as they go to take in his surroundings, something made less graceful thanks to the thump thump of boots beneath him. "No wonder she got sick. For Christmas, I bought some nail varnish for a friend of mine and never gave them to her. There wasn't any time. And Nora isn't really that kind of girl. Just a patient one."

That's not an offer, or anything. Just an attempt at conversation. A different one to the one he imagines they might be having, that he imagines she imagines they might be having. But he also isn't supposed to go into Eileen's head.

"Well," says Eileen, "there's time now," and she does not have to consult the pocket watch she carries in her silk-lined coat. "I didn't ask you to come with me because I wanted a bodyguard, you know. You have friends here in New York; see them." Benji might be able to sense that the conversation he imagines she imagines they might be having is being cautiously circled around with the Englishwoman edging closer with each pass.

Confirmation comes in the form of a sardonic sort of smile as she picks out a tin of salted licorice, which is something she knows she'd like and can only hope that Delia will, and puts it in her basket along with the starfruit and bagged tea. "I do worry, though, that at least one won't have very nice things to say."

"Thank you. I will." Again, polite to a fault, but warmed with sincerity this time, and a touch of guilt. As far as Benji is aware, he's the only one of his ~kind~ granted an excursion to the mainland. He moves, then, to step beside her, a curious blue-eyed look following the tin she picked out and deciding it would be unkind, true or false, to assume she picked that out because she's blind. Short but furiously analytical silence falls between them at the end of her last statement, Benji studying the mock-silver buttons at his coat sleeves, and then back to her profile.

Playing stupid feels like a fruitless activity to him, even if he doesn't have enough ego to imagine it's beneath him. "Is there a good word you'd like Nora to put in for you?"

"I don't expect you or Nora to lie on my behalf. Say what you feel deserves to be said, but know that I don't approve of the way the situation was handled." If Benji isn't going to be play stupid, then neither will she. "I apologize for Mr. Fulk's behaviour, and if it's any consolation he and his friends dragged me out of an alley a few years ago, knocked me out by hurling me against a wall and muscled me into the back of their car so they could hold me prisoner in the basement of an abandoned psychiatric hospital for the next ten days."

It could have been worse, in other words. "He means well. Not all of us can differentiate between honey and vinegar."

That gets a little bit of laughter, breathy, understated. "With all due respect, Miss Ruskin, those two things are very, very different. Whatever he did to Mister Rosen, I'm sure, was whatever he intended. But what can I say?"

Benji lifts his gaze up to watch their path they slowly move down, tilting his head to shift hair out from his eyes. "He did rescue us, with as much subtlety as it sounds like he treated you." Arms fold, shoulders going up like a defensive coyote and its hackles. Swallows, then, a hand seeking out the scarf that drapes around his neck loosely, feeling its weave between index and thumb. "And what you're telling me is that your— circle was not perfect, once?"

It will take the bluebird to see his sharp glance, accompanying softly spoken question, "Why?" Maybe he's super curious. Or he's making a point.

Eileen finds herself wishing that she'd made this expedition by herself, but just as she'd argued to Brian that Benji and Nora finding out about what he did to Calvin was inevitable, the same can be said of her circle's imperfections. Members of a clandestine organization or not, the Ferrymen talk. "It isn't perfect now," she tells Benji. "Before I formed the council, and before I even considered myself a part of the network, I was an informant for another group. Maybe you've heard of it, maybe you haven't. You will."

She drifts down the aisle, ghosting, and seeks out a meandering path around squat baskets of dried mushrooms, kumquats and gnarled roots of some variety with prices scrawled across yellowed cards. The kumquats attract the bluebird's attention, and in case Delia doesn't have a taste for starfruit, she begins to pick out the healthiest-looking specimens from the bin, turning them between her fingers and pinching to test for ripeness. Those that pass inspection find their way into a plastic bag not unlike the one with the dandelion tea in it. Those that don't are returned.

"I don't have many friends," she says, "and some of the ones I do weren't always. Times change. People, too, on occasion."

Benji goes silent for a few moments in careful consideration, coming to a halt as he patiently waits out Eileen's strange method of inspection over her stranger still choices of gift giving, studying the weave pattern his fingers make together where they hang linked in front of him. "Calvin was sympathetic," he says, after that prolonged silence, offering explanation before it has to be asked. "In his own way. Unconventional. Someone who would understand why I decided to try to disappear. Whatever friendship I have with him, and the others, it's not harmful. No more than mine is with Nora, or Howard and Hannah."

A knobbly piece of ginger is picked up to turn over in squirrely fidgets, turning to stand side on to her, chin tucked in. "I don't want our decisions to get in his way. And I wouldn't like my connections to get in mine."

"You don't have to convince me," says Eileen. "We like to pretend that we have a choice when it comes to making friends, but the truth is that our circumstances dictate who we associate with and who we're truly close to. People grow together, learn from each other. If there's any good at all to be said about our situation, it's that hardship makes people see and treat one another like human beings when we wouldn't otherwise, reinforcing pre-existing bonds and creating new ones."

She twists off the top of the bag into a tidy knot. "Telling someone they shouldn't be friends with a person they've already embraced is like telling them not to love, and telling someone not to love is like demanding they not breathe. I don't mean to be overdramatic, it just is."

"Love isn't interesting unless it's overdramatic," is said with a smile in his voice and a slight bodily sway, before Benji Cuts That Out and squares his shoulders some, two-handedly placing ginger back upon its unidentical kin. Even sobers that smile when he resumes. "The others will be glad to know that what happened to Calvin was one man's mistake rather than, say, marching orders. Can I carry that for you?" It's a gentlemanly offer, Benji imagines, a hand hovering out towards the wicker basket.

And maybe also to not feel so useless about gift-giving for someone else's friend, or. Diplomacy.

Eileen surrenders the basket to Benji. Kumquats, too. "Thank you," she says with some reluctance, like she's not entirely comfortable with him taking it — not because she doesn't trust him, but because there's empowerment in doing things for herself. She isn't carrying her cane today. "I read a pocket book by Cummings when I'm feeling romantic. Sometimes I buy myself flowers for my lapel or my hair because no one else will, and that doesn't make it any less interesting. Love can be understated. Private.

"It's sitting together in front of the same fire whether or not you're touching. Realizing that the sound of their breathing is an adult lullaby. Appreciation in smiles and eyes." None of which are particularly important when it comes to Calvin Rosen, which is why she ends up cutting herself short with a demure, "I am sorry. I asked you to accompany me, not listen to me needlessly wax philosophic. Is there anything you wanted while we're here?"

Doubt has Benji pursing his mouth some, but he's certainly not going to debate love with someone who clearly has it going for them right now. But he smiles at her demuring, and shakes his head. "Not at all. Philosophy is only needless if you major in it." The wicker basket swings a little as he follows her with it, uneasily tightening and loosening his grip as he thinks on the worthiness of whatever is on the tip of his tongue. He takes a breath, and his voice holds doubt when he finally speaks.

"I was going to ask you if Howard could be let off the island, if he wanted. But I have no idea if it's a good idea. I just know it would make him happier. Hm," is a hopelessly affectionate sound, fingers fidgeting with the slightly frayed wooden handle.

It was only a matter of time before one of them asked. Eileen has her answer ready. "I think that would be allowable," she says, "provided you believe he's capable of keeping secrets. He doesn't seem the type, but you know him better than I." At the front counter, the shopkeeper takes a look at the basket and tallies the total not on a machine but on a pad of paper he keeps next to a broken register. Her bluebird steals a glance at the number he circles at the bottom, and Eileen's hand dips into her coat pocket to retrieve the clip of money she keeps there, corners folded in such a way that she can identify the proper amount without having to look.

"If Nora wants to go with him, she's welcome," she adds. "I don't know whether or not there's any chance of having her sight restored. I do, however, know a doctor or two who can provide her better treatment than what's available at the infirmary."

Wicker basket out of his hands now, Benji steps back enough to allow Eileen to finish the transaction and then take her purchases herself — they are, after all, separating ways in not too long, so that she may see her friends, and he may see his. "Eventually, he's going to have to leave the island. Whether it's tomorrow, or a month away, or six months." A beat, and then: "He didn't take the news we received about Calvin as patiently as some. I had to tell him no."

And this was, apparently, very unpleasant.

"And he listened, but I— hate it. I'd like him to have the option, now that everything's okay again. As okay as it can be, anyway. He— " And Benji abruptly stops talking, as if catching himself opening up to the strange woman he came here with, mouth shutting almost audibly. "Thank you. I'll talk to him. And Nora. I'd like to remain."

Change tinkles in Eileen's gloved hand, and she slips the coins along with the clip containing her remaining money back into her coat pocket. The bluebird is studying Benji now rather than the basket even as she's taking it back and placing a scarf down that had been lining its bottom on top of her purchases, presumably to protect them from the snow. She'll pick up a paper bag for them before she visits Delia.

"I'm glad," she confides in a tone that suggests by saying this he may have passed some sort of test, but before she lets him go she decides to ask: "One last thing?"

Even under the beady scrutiny of a bluebird, colour rises up along Benji's throat, detouring to his ears before pooling blood beneath his skin pushes blush beneath his freckles, having begun at a mid-point during his last piece of dialogue. His hands fidget with his own scarf, in preparation for going into the exposed street and the snow that comes down in light flakes, to dot in black hair and sting overwarmed skin.


Eileen busies her hands with tucking the edges of the scarf into the sides of the basket. It isn't until the man behind the counter has wandered into the back room where the sounds of a football game can be heard drifting out from beneath the door that she lifts it by the handle and addresses Benji again, this time without turning to face him. "You wouldn't happen to know anyone who can see into the future, would you?"

"No." The delivery sounds honest and crisp, no weighty hesitations, no telling stammers. There is a frission of puzzlement, but Benji doesn't chase down why she's asking either, allowing for weird questions — these are, after all, weird times. He glances off towards the shopkeeper's retreat, once more towards the rubbled terrain of harvest vegetables and winter fruits, before he makes for out, with the expectation that Eileen is following.

She does. Follow. What she doesn't do is ask him if he's sure. She says instead, "There must have been some sort of miscommunication," and leaves it at that. The door swings shut behind them with a muted jangle of brass bells above it on the other side of the glass.

"I won't see you back at the boat," serves as her good bye, "but I will again the next time I visit Bannerman's. Keep safe, Benjamin."

Benji doesn't have much to say in response to that first part. Yes. There must have been. And he's only looking at her again as she makes her goodbyes, subtle surprise in the tilt of his head by no argument. He tucks his hands into his coat pockets, swallows, and nods. "Have a good day, Miss Ruskin." He waits a second, and then, with a small amount of warm humour, "It's 'Benji'."

And he flows back a step, twists in a half pirouette, and pushes off down the street in a kind of definite direction.

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