No Pretty Lies


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Scene Title No Pretty Lies
Synopsis Avi delivers news to Emily.
Date January 13, 2019

“You’re sure?”

It isn’t uncertainty in Julie Fournier-Raith’s voice, it’s distrust. Standing by the front door to her apartment, jacket on and keys in hand, there’s a trepidation in her every movement as she stares down at the guest seated in the armchair by the sofa. Dim afternoon light turned a slate gray color by the cloudy skies casts Avi Epstein in muted, contrasting values of light and dark. Avi nods wordlessly to Julie’s question, then lifts a hand to brush across his forehead.

“I’ll send you a text or something when we’re done.” Avi says quietly, tension in his voice that reminds her of her father. “Don’t go outside of reception, she’ll… need someone when we’re done.” That tone and delivery causes Julie’s spine to stiffen and her lips to press together in an expression that restrains a frown’s formation.

“When was the last time you visited dad?” Is Julie’s diversion from the topic at hand. It strikes like an unexpected knife in Avi’s side, causing him to flinch and level an uneven stare at her over the frames of his dark sunglasses, belying the awkwardly artificial nature of his glass eye’s askew focus. He doesn’t answer her, and Julie doesn’t care much to hear his answer anyway. Instead she unlocks the deadbolt and opens the door, stepping partway out into the hall. “Don’t fucking ruin her with more of your bullshit,” is what she says in parting to Avi.

“Love you too,” is what he manages to get out before she firmly shuts the door.

Emily and Julie’s Apartment

Elmhurst, NYC Safe Zone

January 13th

7:17 pm

Keys turn in the lock, a jingle heard out in the hall. As the apartment door opens, it projects a slice of yellow light into the otherwise dark apartment, casting Emily Epstein’s narrow frame in silhouette. It had otherwise been a good day, a cathartic day, visiting with Raquelle over lunch. There’s no sign that Julie is home, which isn’t unusual for her to work odd and unexpected hours, even if it’s a Sunday.

But when Emily flips the light to the living room on, she isn’t alone. Her father is seated in the armchair, hunched forward with his hands clasped together and mouth hidden behind them. His sunglasses sit on the coffee table in front of him. He hadn’t called, hadn’t so much as even texted her since before Wolfhound set off on an assignment a few days ago.

Apparently, he’s back.

It had been a good day, actually. The alarm that comes from seeing an unfamiliar shape take form just as she turns the lights on cuts into that severely. Emily starts, already taking a step to the side of the door for the baseball bat resting in the corner before she gets enough of a look to realize the figure isn't a stranger.

Her emotional state goes through a rapid initial adjustment, alarm at the surprise quickly mellowing to something more stable, something less aggressive. She loosens her grip on the bat and rights herself, looking off from him. "Jesus Christ," she finally whispers, trying to exhale away the adrenaline. Him being here, aside from being a frustrating shock, comes as an unexpected relief. It's good — she doesn't have to worry about how he's doing. She can see him now, whole as he is.

She means to ask him how long he's been sitting there, that he'd be there in the dark instead of with the lights on like a normal person, but Emily's rushing mind has begun to focus on how odd this situation is.

Why was he here? He wouldn't just show up unannounced unless—

The light in her eyes dims as realization dawns. Something she suspects and doesn't want to give any ground to and yet—

"Dad," Even Emily's voice is at arms-length, her eyes wary. Her brow knits as she slides a step away, like the distance is going to help. "Dad, why are you here?"

Avi hadn't called, and yet — she'd not gotten a call from Devon either. Her father is here and she's not yet gotten a call from Devon.

"What's going on?"

For a man who spent the majority of his life as a spy, Avi lets his emotions play on his face more often than one would expect. He nods to her question, which in and of itself is both incongruent and wrong. Scrubbing both hands over his mouth, he motions to the sofa at his side. “C’mon and… come sit.”

In spite of everything, Avi doesn't avoid eye contact with Emily. What's there in his eyes is pain, tempered by a clearly exerted will, and it only gets worse the longer he looks at Emily. “Shut the door and… and yeah, come sit.”

Later, she might reflect on just how quickly the dread sinks its claws into her. She shakes her head to deny it, or whatever it is he means to say. Automatically, her head swivels to the door and she steps to it, pushing it shut with a nudge of her fingertips before turning the lock. It takes only seconds, not nearly long enough for her to figure out her reaction to him.

Between the way she'd entered and the way she carries herself now — entirely unassisted — the news she'd wanted to share with him is visually made plain.

Out of not knowing what else to do, she walks tentatively for the sitting arrangements, stopping by the coffee table. She can't bring herself to sit with the panic that's starting to eat at her, but she slings the small shoulderbag off her torso and settles the heavy bag carefully on coffee table, the object inside thunking against its surface.

He promised to call. echoes in Emily's mind, the thought dizzying. And then suddenly she is seated, against the edge of the table and with a dazed expression. Her eyes wander the apartment frantically, seeking a silver lining. "How… how bad is it?" she asks, knowing she doesn't want the answer.

She can't stop herself, though. From hoping.

"He's going to be all right, right?" Emily turns back to Avi, holding his gaze now. What she sees there brings a sting to her eyes.

Avi sighs through his nose, slowly shaking his head and once more scrubbing his hands over his face. “The um… the operation in the Dead Zone. We were ambushed. Machines.” Avi’s brows knit together as he stares down at his hands, jaw set and neck muscles tense. “Dev… Dev was— he didn't make it out.”

When Avi looks up to Emily after delivering that news, he wonders how many times he's made this situation happen with other families. With the parents, siblings, husbands, and wives of all the people he's killed in his line of work. “I'm sorry. There wasn't anything anyone could do.” Then, because he doesn't know how to put a silver lining on this but feels responsible to he adds, “I don't think he suffered any.” Even Avi hates the way that sounds after it leaves his mouth.

It's that last part that puts cracks in the dazed look she has. Her expression starts to crumple, brow knitting and eyes narrowing in defiance. No. The anger behind it gives way, slipping into disbelief. She watches him, her head starting to shake while her vision swims. No.

He was direct. There's no misunderstanding it. The news is clear. She's just having a hard time wrapping her mind around it.

Emily remembers to breathe again in a sudden heave, heel of her hand grinding along her pantleg. She starts to speak several times, all the consonants of the phrases dying uncompleted while her posture degrades with each failed attempt. "He's dead," she finally manages to say, layers of emotion in it. It almost sounds like a question, but the heart of it is angry — a direct reply to the notion he died without suffering. What did it matter, if he's gone regardless?

The anger washes into hurt immediately as she acknowledges the terrible fact, though. Saying it makes it heavier, more real. Tears stream freely down her face, head lolling to the side as she closes her eyes hard. "Dad, no." she pleads, voice trembling. The hand on her leg curls, nails biting into her palm as Emily tries to keep from … well, she doesn't even know.

“M’sorry,” Avi grumbles as he rises up from the chair he'd been sitting in for hours, walking over to where she stands by the coffee table, and perhaps most confounding of all of this is the embrace that finds her. Big arms, the smell of whiskey and cigar smoke, a faint hint of gasoline and engine grease in there somewhere too.

“I tried,” is all Avi can muster as a response, the words containing an unexpected weight of emotion to them. He tried hurts to say, hurts to think, and hurts to reflect on. Avi's face betrays his uncertainty in that statement. He tried, but he's not convinced he tried enough.

Now, all he can do, is try for her.

"He can't've." Emily reasons abruptly, more driven, almost angry in that moment. "He promised. He promised to call. He said he wouldn't… h-he wouldn't…"

She suddenly wants something to throw and almost does the handbag but reconsiders, given what's inside. The spastic fit of frustration expires before she finds a suitable object, her arm curling back into herself, lying diagonally across her chest and crushing into her like it'll numb the pain that's taking root. Like somehow, it'll take her shattering heart and force it to stay together, even with this new, large knife that's stuck through her and seeping agony from it.

When he embraces her, she's still focusing all her energy on trying not to break down and the unexpected attempt at comfort rattles her. Words continue to rush out of her in a panic.

"He said he was going to make it all up to me. That he wouldn't fuck up again. That he wanted to be together." Devon couldn't be gone. They had too much left to do together. Reason slips in to remind Emily of reality and her shoulders collapse, chin tipping toward her chest, face burrowing in Avi's shoulder. "He sa—id he wouldn't abandon me." Her hand lifts from her heart to clasp around her mouth instead, trying to stifle the rest of her sob.

What Avi says — that he tried — somehow makes it worse. She can hear what happens to him as he speaks, and hears the pain he feels for once instead of shoving it away out of hand. Emily has no way to know if he tried enough or too little, but she can hear that he knows it wasn't enough either way. She's incapable of acknowledging it, even if it's just to question him.

Instead, her other arm lifts, shaking fingers curling around his sleeve with an iron grip. She sobs openly, her palm failing at quieting her cries. What she does is far from shoving him away for any perceived failure.

Avi Epstein is the closest thing in the room to a comforting presence, and it's him his daughter clings to.

There’s a litany of things Avi wants to say, but doesn’t. A host of possibilities in his mind, of reassurances he has no understanding of how to explain. At the end of the day, Avi chooses silence rather than words. They’ve only ever been weapons in his hands, used to lie and hurt. Instead, he tightens his embrace around Emily and leaves those weapons sheathed.

There are no pretty lies with which to decorate Devon Clendaniel’s empty coffin.

There are no pretty lies today.

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