Nosy Neighbors


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Scene Title Nosy Neighbors
Synopsis The arrival of new neighbors in Providence does not go unnoticed. While the welcome might not be the warmest, the newest settlers aren't run off.
Date May 15, 2019

An abandoned homestead in Providence

“Never thought we’d be back to this,” Benjamin Ryans admits as he leans back against the old, rundown, butter yellow truck, stacked with boxes and household things. “I’m gonna miss the suits. I forgot how much I enjoyed wearing them.” A strange admission from the old man. He spent a lot of years wearing suits, because nothing says you mean business like wearing one. “This….” He motions to the where they are, “This brings back its own memories,” he offers the woman next to him a faint smile. Drafty castles and safehouses, he probably means.

A cowboy hat is pushed back further on his head so he can look up at the rundown home that Nicole Varlane was looking at for her and Pippa. “Sure you want to look at this one? I mean, we can fix up anything we find; but this one looks a little…” what word were the kids using? “…sketchy?” He didn’t look anything like an agent, his jaw was already scruffy with a mix of dark and gray hair. His clothing a flannel and jeans. His feet clad in work boots that had seen better days.

Pushing off the truck he turns to look across the street, though in truth he is getting a good look around them. “Looks like there is a small place nearby and there is enough land around for us to contribute.” He preferred to be close if need be, though all of this would need work.

Right on the heels of that, he adds, “I can almost feel the eyes on us,” Ben rumbles quietly, looking over at Nicole, not letting the anxiety show about their daughter. It was like an itch in the middle of his back, instincts screaming at him. That sensation had been since they entered the city limits, especially knowing who might be on the welcoming committee and the fact they might come loaded for bear.

It was especially hard not to search the trees or look at any bird that flitted by with suspicion.

“It’s charming,” Nicole insists, nudging Ryans’ shoulder gently with her own. “Look at that porch. Pippa can play with her toys out there.” She holds up her hands to make a frame, like she’s looking at a snapshot, “It’ll be pretty as a picture with a little work.”

Her voice drops to a hush. “Small, tight-knit community like this? I’d be more concerned if they weren’t watching us.” Nicole tugs on the hem of her moto jacket, worn over an old Nirvana tee shirt. That and the skinny jeans are a far cry from her previous office attire.

A little blonde head pokes out the driver side window of the truck. “Is that our new house?” Pippa asks, glancing between both of her parents and the dilapidated house curiously.

“I told you to stay in the truck, honey,” Nicole reminds the little girl in a gentle tone.

“I’m still in the truck,” Pippa fires back.

Nicole lifts her brows. The Mom Look. Pippa immediately flops back into the driver’s seat and scoots over to the middle of the bench, folding her hands in her lap. See? Definitely still in the truck, just like she was told.

There is a tug up at the corner of Ryan’s mouth away from his daughter and her mother, at the little girl’s comment. She wasn’t wrong, but he couldn’t say that outloud. Nope… Just gonna stand there and say nothing.

Since the newcomers to the community are busy talking and staring at the fixer-upper, they probably don't hear the rhythmic plod of hooves on the ground. Or the creak and jangle of tack. Which suits Chris Ayers just fine. It gives him a chance to make his approach at his own speed and size up the strangers with a measure of distrust. Which includes that smaller one half hidden inside the truck. They're all outsiders as far as he's concerned right now.

Jester lets out a quiet snort when he gets a whiff of the lingering vehicular exhaust. The paint tugs on his bit to remind the rider of something or other. Perhaps the machinery smell that's accompanied other trespassers. Not that this family group is being labeled as trespassers. Not yet anyway.

Chris gives a short whistle, partly to actually draw attention from the two adults standing near the truck. Mostly it's a cue to the horse to mind himself. Jester tosses his head slightly, but the tugging ceases for now.

Nicole glances at Ryans out of the corner of her eye, a small grin forming. Yes, she knows the two are amusing when Pippa tests her boundaries and Nicole has to remind her that they’re not to be disobeyed.

The sound of the horse catches Nicole’s attention first, then the whistle. Sliding a pair of dark sunglasses off the top of her head to settle on her face, she turns around to face the source. “Hello,” she greets warmly. “I’m Nicole.” She juts her thumb in her partner’s direction, “This is Ben.” She pointedly does not introduce the girl in the truck, who gets a quick glance from her mother just as she’s about to crawl back to the window to peek out.

It seems like the whistle draws Ryans’ attention, the old man turning to study this new person across the hood of the truck; but in truth he had heard them coming… possibly known he was coming during the glance. Ben doesn’t say anything at first, letting Nicole be the people person. Knowing that his scrutiny might not go over well, he at least rests arms on the hood, showing he is no threat… In fact, the man is missing a hand after all. Though there might be a glock tucked at his back under his flannel.

When introduced, there is a dip of Benjamin’s head, fingers moving to touch the brim of his hat. Finally, he does speak up, he asks forcing a bit of a smile. “You the welcoming committee?” his voice rumbles with curiosity, a glance going past him. This guy wasn’t who he had expected to show up, but it is a start.

One of the welcoming committee, anyway. Down the road, a quad noisily putters along, a cart practically overflowing with brush and debris towed along behind it. As soon as it nears, the sound of the engine dies down, cognizant of the obstacles in the machine's path. Its driver releases the throttle entirely and lets the quad roll to a stop near the truck and horse, using their now-free hand to brush flyaways from their dust-covered face. Kara Prince looks between the familiar (hi, Jester) and unfamiliar faces with similar regard for them all. Currently, they're in her way.

"Afternoon," she greets stiffly, her gaze traveling to the newcomer missing his hand, to the small shock of red hair that hides in the truck, presumably belonging to the daughter of the woman. "Friends of yours?" she asks, turning her gaze to Chris finally.

“Something like that.” Chris’ voice is clear, and carries across the space he's still taking his time in closing. It happens eventually, sooner rather than later, with a slight easing of reins and a horse who's more interested in whuffling breaths at Ben and Nicole. The rider’s eyes flick to the truck again, drawn by the movement and nothing more. Just an awareness, an alertness to his surroundings.

He half turns toward the sound of the quad, holding back in saying anything further until the vehicle has come to a stop. He swings a leg over the saddle and slides down to the ground. Jester’s head is turned with a small tug on the lead, and he lets the horse wander a few steps away alone.

“Just met,” he supplies to Kara first. Then to the newcomers, “I'm Chris. This is Kara.” After a beat he points toward the paint who's browsing at a bit of grass. “That's Jester. You folks moving in or passing through?”

“Hoping to move in,” Nicole confirms. “Got my eye on this fixer-upper.” Her head tilts to indicate the apparently abandoned home at her back. “Unless someone else has it spoken for, ‘course.” Her smile is warm as the hand that moves to rest at Ryans’ back. “Nice to meet you both.” Her posture shifts to allow her to rest her hip against the truck.

Behind the sunglasses, faintly glowing blue eyes regard Kara and Chris evenly. So far, so good. “Beautiful horse. Haven’t ridden in a while.”

The little blonde head appears in the open window of the truck, but doesn’t poke out. In the truck, her mother said. Well, she’s still inside. “Can I see the pony, Mommy?” Pippa asks in a quiet voice. She looks down at the chestnut toy horse on the seat beside her, then back up between her mother and father hopefully.

“Same,” is Ryans answer following on the heels of Nicole’s answer. There is no reaction to the hand on his back, his full attention is on the strangers, though Nicole, may notice a tension in the muscles of his back. “Though I’m eying a place over yonder, once they are settled..” Not staying with the woman and child clearly.

Pippa’s voice cuts through the tension and briefly pulls the old man’s attention. “Not right now, honey,” her father turns her down gently. Ryans didn’t want her out of the truck until he was certain it was safe and he was certain Nicole would agree.

Beyond that, Ben falls quiet again, observant.

Well, Chris doesn't seem to hate them. So Kara acknowledges the introductions with an incline of her head, leaning forward on the quietly-puttering quad to rest her forearms against the body of the vehicle. Despite the apparent relaxed gesture, there is no less intensity in her. "You're better off moving to a city," is her curt advice.

"New York Safe Zone's a hundred miles that way," she says with a vague gesture north, pushing back up into a proper sitting position. It's clear at first sight they came from somewhere like it, though. They don't have the roughness to them to them to indicate it, for the most part. They know when to be cautious but polite, but as far as she's concerned, that's only good common sense.

At least they had that going for them, if they're serious about this.

"We've had issues with nearby militia stretching their legs. Not the best time to be settling in, especially not if you have kids." Kara warns, assuming they are, in fact, serious.

“No.” The house is empty. Chris’ gaze shifts to the movement in the truck. The question from the little girl gains no significant reaction, he follows it with a silent, indifferent look at the child’s parents. “Don’t let his looks fool you. Compliments’ll just go to his head and he’ll think you like him.” Which, by the deadpan of his tone, may or may not be a good thing. It’s difficult to know if he’s joking or serious.

A look slides over his shoulder when Kara speaks up. He agrees with her, most likely. After the warning he fixes his attention on Ben and Nicole again. “Rough country out here,” he adds after a moment. “The weather’s nice for now, and it’ll get better before it gets worse. Wild animals range through, and that includes the militia. Autumn is going to be soggy, winter cold, and time’s running out to get a good crop ready.”

A half turn lets him look back at Jester, who’s still browsing at some dandelions. “But that’s everywhere these days, and if you’re fixing to move in then move in. That’s what I say.” Chris chirps a sharp whistle, and the horse starts picking his way closer.

“We appreciate the warning,” Nicole offers with a nod toward Kara, then Chris. “We’re not afraid of a little hard work, though. We’d rather avoid the city if we can.” It may only be a matter of time before someone recognizes who they are, but for now, they can maintain the illusion of a small family looking to settle somewhere new.

Inside the truck, Pippa looks surprised to get an answer that isn’t ask your father. It turns out that asking him wouldn’t have yielded the result she wanted. “Mommy?” she chimes hopefully. After all, she asked her, not Daddy.

“Listen to your father, Pipsqueak,” Nicole’s tone is gentle, but in a way that brooks no argument. The little girl sits back against the seat with her arms folded across her chest, just this side of pouting.

“Been rough country for years, pretty sure, we know what we’re getting into,” Ben offers up, his rumbled words calm and not even balking at the idea of a militia knocking on the door, nor does her just yet volunteer to help with the issue either. There is a demeanor to him, one lacking in emotions. They don’t even reach his eyes when he smiles.

He slowly nods his head towards Nicole. His tone flat and matter of fact, “Besides, like she said, we’d rather not be in the city. They call it the Safe Zone, but is anyplace really safe? We’ll do our part here, don’t you worry.”

Kara, on the whole, is unconvinced. While the quad patters away underneath her, she swivels a look at Chris, and after lets it slide past him to his horse instead. Hell, the way animals reacted to people was as good an indication of a person's qualities as people reacting to people. Her gut didn't sit entirely well with her about these ones.

Folks to keep an eye on, for sure.

"It's not us you'll need to impress," Kara informs, because she's firm in her stance that the Remnant remain only so long as the community allows it, and therefore it's whatever the community wants that comes first. Providence had its own pecking order. "Though if you're looking to make a good impression, talk to the preacher." Her head cocks to the side as she makes the suggestion, hands resettling on the steering back before she rerights herself. The look she issues is somewhere between both of the strangers, seeing as they are separate even though they're currently together.

“Never said you were afraid. Just stating fact.” Chris raises a hand to take hold of Jester’s halter once the horse has gotten close enough. “There’s danger everywhere, can confirm, but the danger here is not the same as the danger in the Safe Zone or even the danger you’ll find out west. But if you’re like the others who’ve settled here, which I’m supposing you are, then it don’t matter to you. Danger is as danger does and you’ll do what you do.”

And hopefully not wind up a smear or worse. But those details aren’t spoken on.

“Church is that way.” Chris points in its general direction with his free hand. “Preacher can usually be found there when he isn’t mooching off us.” The second half of that sentence is more an aside to Kara. “I’m curious though. What made you decide on this settlement?”

“The preacher?” Nicole echoes, brows lifting in polite question. “We’ll do that, then. Thank you both.” Her hand slides a little lower down Ryans’ back. It’s unsurprising that the pair of them can’t manage to be entirely convincing, but she had hoped for less of a tough crowd. The man seems to accept that they are what they say they are, but Nicole can tell Kara is less ready to do the same.

“We’re looking forward to getting settled,” is actually a true statement. Even if they aren’t planning to settle for very long. Nicole flashes a smile. “I hope we’ll be seeing more of you. We aim to be good neighbors.”

There is the barest hint of amusement on the lips of Benjamin listening to the others, but it is ultimately Chris that gets Ben’s full attention. He decides to take a chance. “Once you’ve fought in a few wars, danger doesn’t always sit the same and you learn that walls are sometimes just as much a tomb as they are a defense. Plus, out here feels a bit more like America… the land looks workable and I don’t have to live off the government’s hand outs.”

Finally, Ryans slides a look back to Kara, studying her, even as Nicole’s hand falls lower on his back. “A little hard work is often good for the soul and I’m not beyond picking up arms to protect the community.” Wouldn’t be the first time, either.

Kara glances sidelong at Chris when he makes the comment about mooching, gaze hard for that moment, but it's gone when she looks back to the strangers. It's Ben's comments that pull her attention, a long look lingering on him before her head lifts in a sign of acknowledgement for his offer, as well as his point of view.

She doesn't ride off just yet. "What were your names, again?"

“Fuck you, Ben.” Chris hasn't exactly bristled at the older man’s comments or under his scrutiny, and his tone is casual. “A few wars. You know what I think,” they don't and he doesn't wait for them to answer anyway. “I think there’s only two reasons for a man to say a thing like that. First is to make himself feel important. Second is he's compensating for something, and I suggest you let that marinate for a little bit.”

He shoves a foot into a stirrup and pulls himself up and into the saddle. Jester shakes his head while his rider gets settled.

There’s a quiet gasp from the little girl inside the truck. Someone said a bad word. A really bad word. Nicole spares a worried glance to her daughter, her hand suddenly warmer against Ryans’ back, but there’s no accompanying tingle. Not just yet anyway. And that ire’s not meant for him anyway.

She makes a show of resting her other hand on Ryans’ arm and murmuring some quiet assurance into his ear. “We mean no offense,” Nicole assures the two locals. “I hope you’ll let us prove we’re genuine about wanting to contribute to the community.”

For Kara, Nicole offers a smile, though it’s a little tighter now than it was before Chris’ words. “I’m Nicole, and this is Ben,” she repeats, again leaving off their surnames.

If Chris was looking for a reaction from Benjamin, he might find himself disappointed. A single brow lifts, but that is it. The neutral expression remains. His head tilts ever so slightly to allow Nicole to whisper in his ear, but there is no reaction there either. Maybe, a small nod of his head.

“Whatever you say, Kid,” Is finally rumbled out without malice in Chris’ direction. It wasn’t the first time he’s dealt with someone like that. His girls could get like that too when they were younger. Kara gets an incline of his head, as Nicole speaks for him again. “Anymore questions, we’ll be around.” They were definitely, and stubbornly staying. “Meantime, we’ll see this preacher and see about settling in. Good to meet you both.”

Kara keeps her reaction to Chris's melodrama limited to a mere flicker of her eyelids before she looks off at nothing, likely wondering what possesses him to say half the things he says sometimes.

But, it takes all kinds.

"Nice to meet you; Nicole, Ben—" Kara half-looks back in the direction of the truck. "Pipsqueak." Her hands shift along the controls, putting the quad back into gear. "I'm sure we'll be seeing you around."

"Take care," even sounds close to friendly as the vehicle takes off slowly, trailer behind it clattering on the uneven ground.

“If I was offended, you'd know.” Chris guides the horse backward several steps, maneuvering with reins and knees. He watches the pair of newcomers. The paint eases to a stop and he tilts a look at the truck then over to Kara.

He makes a throaty sound at Ben, at something in what the old man says. It's a disagreement about something. Vaguely annoyed.

“Time for choring.” The decision is half muttered, underscored with a light tug on the reins and a turning of Jester’s head. Chris nudges the horse’s sides to start him moving away, slides another look at Ben. He makes that sound again, slightly longer than the first. A click of his tongue gets the horse moving slightly faster, trailing after Kara.

Only once Kara and Chris are taking their leave does Nicole lift her hand from where it had been resting low on Ryans’ spine. Her smile stays fixed as she turns to her partner, relief palpable that she didn’t need to make a grab for the man’s gun. “Well, that could have gone worse.”

Blue eyes watch the departures with interest, until they are gone from sight. Only then is there a soft grunt of agreement from Ryans and he turns back to look at the fixer-upper house.

To be honest, he didn't think it was over, but for now he’ll take the small victory.

“Alright, Pippa, let's go pick your room.”

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