Not Awkward at All


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Scene Title Not Awkward at All
Synopsis Two recent acquaintances collide in the park and discuss New Year's plans — or rather, the mutual lack thereof. Laura twists Hagan's arm until he consents to plans that in no way, shape, or form resemble a date.
Date December 31, 2008

Central Park

Central Park has been, and remains, a key attraction in New York City, both for tourists and local residents. Though slightly smaller, approximately 100 acres at its southern end scarred by and still recovering from the explosion, the vast northern regions of the park remain intact.

An array of paths and tracks wind their way through stands of trees and swathes of grass, frequented by joggers, bikers, dog-walkers, and horsemen alike. Flowerbeds, tended gardens, and sheltered conservatories provide a wide array of colorful plants; the sheer size of the park, along with a designated wildlife sanctuary add a wide variety of fauna to the park's visitor list. Several ponds and lakes, as well as the massive Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, break up the expanses of green and growing things. There are roads, for those who prefer to drive through; numerous playgrounds for children dot the landscape.

Many are the people who come to the Park - painters, birdwatchers, musicians, and rock climbers. Others come for the shows; the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Delacorte Theater, the annual outdoor concert of the New York Philharmonic on the Great Lawn, the summer performances of the Metropolitan Opera, and many other smaller performing groups besides. They come to ice-skate on the rink, to ride on the Central Park Carousel, to view the many, many statues scattered about the park.

Some of the southern end of the park remains buried beneath rubble. Some of it still looks worn and torn, struggling to come back from the edge of destruction despite everything the crews of landscapers can do. The Wollman Rink has not been rebuilt; the Central Park Wildlife Center remains very much a work in progress, but is not wholly a loss. Someday, this portion of Central Park just might be restored fully to its prior state.

It's cold. It's snowing a little, but Hagan's been full of energy since Abby cured his lungs. Once upon a time, back when he was a teenager, he used to run. So, naturally, when he's feeling this good, he's decided to try it again. He has a brand new pair of runners and a running jacket. The problem is, his pants are too bulky as is the light sweater he's wearing under the coat. He's a wimp when it comes to the cold, but he's forgotten how warm jogging gets. He's only been at it for about ten minutes, but already the Irishmen's steps are slowing. It takes more than healthy lungs to jog, after all.

Laura, on the other hand, has been jogging for closer to half an hour, and the film of sweat on her skin proves it — perhaps especially on this chilly morning. The drifting snowflakes all but vanish where they land on her hair, conversely forming white spots that melt into dark blotches on the light blue shirt and charcoal-gray sweats. It takes her a little while to recognize the slower-moving Irishman as she approaches him, but eventually the features click. "There's a face I didn't expect to see again," the woman greets, in a cheery tone that is probably the very last thing Hagan wanted to hear this morning. "Nmmm… Hagan, wasn't it?" It's an unusual name. It stuck.

Hagan is doing a lot better than you'd expect a chain smoker to do. In fact, better than any smokers in general. He may be slowing, but he's not wheezing or ready to double over. He does a little stutter-step when he hears his name, but manages to keep it even. "Yeah, 'tis. You were in the bar. With the shots." He doesn't remember her name, clearly. But then he was rather in his cups when they met.

Sufficiently so to not even ask her name in the first place. "Yeah, that's me. The name's Laura," she replies with a bright smile, slowing her own steps to keep pace with him. She doesn't even attempt the whole handshake thing that might go along with introductions. "If it matters. You know, this is probably like the first time I've run into anyone in the park that I knew. But then, the people I know in New York are a distinct minority, and most of them don't do parks. Or jogging." Which might beg the question of what they do have in common with her.

"Laura," Hagan repeats back by way of trying to remember it. Hey! He remembered her. It's the hair, probably. "I don't usually do parks, but I've been…" he takes a deep breath, "…feeling some pep lately." Whuff. Getting hot. He reaches down to unzip his jogging jacket.

It's always the hair. "You know, that kinda doesn't surprise me," Laura admits after a moment's thought. "Given how we met." Bar. Alcohol. Smoking, on his part. Discussion of the effects of alcohol consumption on one's liver. Inherently incompatible with the whole 'exercise for health and fitness' concept. "Make a New Year's resolution or something?" That seems to be her translation of 'feeling some pep'.

"In a manner of speaking, I suppose. I used to do this all the time." Talking and jogging means that Hagan's got to slow down even more. Speaking screws up his breathing rhythms which he hasn't quite got automated yet. "Smoking and being out of shape are not mutually exclusive."

And so Laura slows down again. But the novelty of someone to converse with this morning is worth it. "I never said they were! More the opposite, actually. A point the educational system loves to beat to death," she observes. "At least indirectly."

"I know athletes who smoke and drink. Maybe not professionals, but bloody good ones just the same. And I don't know them personally. Know of them." Then Hagan has to shut his mouth for a moment to get his breath back on track so he isn't forced to stop.

"Just making an observation!" Laura points out, undeterred. She even meets Hagan's rebuttal with a smile. Then she also falls quiet for the moment, though the woman seems to still be handling the whole talking, breathing, and running matter reasonably well.

There's curious focus that flits over Hagan's face as he tries to find his rhythm. He might seem like a rather manic guy, but he is capable of focus. His career wouldn't be where it is if he wasn't. After a moment he asks, "Big plans for New Years?"

Laura doesn't answer immediately, but is distracted by a flake of snow that landed in her eye and the instinctive reflex to brush it out. It's ultimately a moot point, but she does it anyway. "Mm. Plans? Not really! Never done much celebrating on New Year's. Christmas's usually plenty of chaos, even for me."

"The people in my building are doing a thing," 'ting' in his accent. "…but they're all snobby bastards who don't like me anyway. So I might just go for one drink." Hagan jogs along and momentarily veers into her path to avoid a patch of ice. "Sorry, watch the…" and then he does a half-jump over a bit of a puddle.

There's a bit of difference between 'being dextrous' and 'having good reflexes'. Laura is the former. So when Hagan swerves into her lane, she can't avoid colliding with his shoulder. "Oof!" It knocks the slighter woman off her stride, and a couple of stuttering steps over to the side, but there's no more harm done than that. "Hah-hah." Catching back up isn't too difficult either, and the collision dampens Laura's good-natured amiability not in the slightest. "Oops," she quips with a grin.

"Sorry, sorry. The alternative was snapping an ankle. Aren't they supposed to salt these paths?" Hagan's paranoid now. He squints up ahead for signs of the light bouncing off frozen puddles. He's starting to show signs of strain and his pale Irish cheeks have turned bright red from the cold and exhertion.

Laura waves a hand dismissively; already forgotten. "Oh, probably. You know how it is, though. Everything's a mess. I guess they don't salt half the streets they used to — so they say, anyway — so the park's probably a wash." She's quite unconcerned about the whole thing, it seems. A sidelong glance at Hagan considers the color of his cheeks. "You look like you're going to spontaneously combust or something," is her terribly tactful, but ever-cheerful, observation.

"I'm not…used to it." Hagan grits his teeth and then finally is forced to slow until he's walking briskly. He then leans over and braces his hands against his knees. He coughs roughly. "Augh. Why did I do this?"

Laura, possibly to Hagan's irritation, simply jogs in place beside him as he hunches over and coughs. "Um… Pep? Resurrecting old habits? Getting in better shape? Y'know, all that stuff?" she supplies — just in case he's really forgotten.

Hagan finds an icy park bench. He doesn't care that it's dusted with snow. He flops down onto it and holds his side, wincing up at the sky as cold snowflakes bounce against his cheeks. "Fuck resolutions," he mutters.

Hagan's pronouncement earns him a peal of laughter from Laura, as silver-bright as the new dusting of snow being laid down upon the old. "That's why I don't make them," she informs the Irishman, as she finally stops to stand still amidst the slowly falling snowflakes. "So, if you're not hanging out with the rest of the people in your 'building', do you have any other plans for New Year's?" the woman prompts.

Hagan closes his eyes. When he speaks, his voice is hoarse. "You mean aside from getting shitfaced?" He coughs and winces at the pain in his lungs. Overdid it. But he couldn't quit with a woman jogging beside him!

"Well, yeah," Laura affirms, in a dry 'you really had to ask' tone that any teenager (or parent thereof) would instantly identify with. "No parties you do want to go to?" One pale eyebrow arches at the wince that follows his cough. "You sure you're okay?"

"Fine. Fine. Just need a…" wheeze. "…minute." Then Hagan slowly sits up. Because otherwise his pride is going to be very bruised. He still looks red-cheeked, but his breathing is slowing. "I'm not invited to any parties."

"If you're sure," Laura replies, the words almost delivered sing-song, implying her dubious opinion. Or maybe just a teasingly mock-dubious opinion. The difference is largely irrelevant. "Hm. That's too bad. I got invited to one, but I'm not going. Though, you know, I'm not really sure if that's any better," the woman muses aloud.

"Why aren't you going then?" Hagan continues to regard her from the horizontal position. His sneakers are bright and shiny new, barely soiled by snow, dirt and salt. The sweat that beads on his forehead freezes. Heat comes off his head in waves, though it's not cold enough for that to be seen. He opens up the inner sweater under the jacket and lets the cold air hit the t-shirt beneath. Ahhh.

"Fft. Well." She looks down at the reclining Hagan, and shrugs haphazardly. "Most of my work associates — they're the ones holding the party — at least the ones in town here… eh, I'd rather stay home, watch bad movies and harass all my old friends on the phone. Which is probably what I'll wind up doing." Unless she goes out to practice breaking and entering, but he doesn't need to know that.

She could probably tell him that she's Wonder Woman and Hagan wouldn't entirely grok it right this second. He's looking a little dazed. "Sounds like what I'm doing. Except for the friends part." He ruffles up his hair. It kind of…freezes into place.

Laura peers over at Hagan. "What, no friends either?" There's a pause as she turns this thought over. She herself doesn't have many friends here, but the ones scattered around the country make up for that. Somewhat. "Well, that sucks." A beat. "You can come watch movies with me if you want." Is she serious? Apparently so. It's not a proposition, either — solely the offer of being antisocial, or at least anti-parties, in company. Maybe she just doesn't expect him to agree.

"I have…friends. But New Years is a couples holiday, you know? Or if everyone's a big gang of friends. I have half friends here and there. Not enough to bring together to make a whole party." Hagan makes vague gestures with his hands as he speaks. Her offer causes him to blink. And before he can stop himself, he says, rather sarcastically, "Now that wouldn't be awkward at all."

Laura snorts. "Since when is it a 'couples holiday'?" she disagrees. "It's 'just another holiday'," is her counter, complete with a roll of blue eyes. At the sarcastic response, the woman just grins, impishly. "Hah. Why should it be any more awkard than this conversation?" Which remark might evidence how much importance she puts on matters like 'personal territory'. Or, for that matter, watching movies with someone else. All perfectly casual things, in Laura's little world.

In Hagan's little world, they're grounds for great social discomfort. He's suddenly fairly alert, though still breathing a bit sharply. He pulls out a cigarette and lights it. "Because it requires sitting quietly in the home of someone else in the semidark while watching a movie." And that's not exactly a relaxing evening in his world. "In short, it's very kind of you but I don't think so, no." He even looks faintly…suspicious.

Laura shrugs again. "So don't sit quietly or in the dark." The white-haired imp grins mischievously. "I'd say it could be your place, but that'd probably make you more awkward." At least it's something that she recognizes that, right? "Hey, whatever. No skin off my nose." The refusal is taken just as casually as the offer was delivered.

"That wasn't…" Hagan starts. He squirms against the bench. "That…" a pause again. Then he blurts out, "What about the pub instead?" Ah, casanova.

Laura eyes Hagan sidelong; her expression is amused rather than suspicious. "Depends. Am I supposed to match your drinking? 'Cause I have to say right now that would be doomed to fail and I ain't even gonna try."

"Only if you wanted. I mean. No. I'm trying to cut back a little." And he starts on New Year's. Brilliant. Hagan doesn't really know what he's saying. "There's an Irish place. Kind of obnoxious but I think they have a band. Or Lucy's. But the women will be dancing on the bar." The only way he could be more awkward is if he were stuttering.

Conversely, Laura knows what she's saying… there's just this whole element of reality and sensibility that's failing to click inside her head. This is not a new thing. "Oh, so you'll match me. Got it." Teasing, that statement; the woman isn't that blonde. "Whichever! Though I have to say I'd rather listen to music than watch people dance. Just a little."

"It's bound to be crowded either way. Especially Biddy Flannigan's." Hagan pulls from the cigarette and coughs. Though this time it's from the smoke rather than because of it. He stares at the cigarette as if it was suddenly a foreign object. That's strange.

The woman shrugs. "I've been in bars before, you know." They first met in one. Remember? Laura looks on as he pulls on the cigarette, her expression surprised at the cough. Or rather, the dubious scrutiny Hagan favors the cancer stick with. "What, did it bite you or something?" Sincerely curious, not sarcastic.

"I think it did," says Hagan. And now he's all suspicious that Abby took away his ability to smoke as well. That would be just like her and her goodness! He snuffs off the end of the cigarette and tucks it back into the pack. Then, with some effort, he stands. "I think I need a very long, very hot shower."

"Huh." Laura shrugs again, markedly less concerned by the development than Hagan. She is, after all, completely unaware of Abby's generosity. "And I should probably get to work," the woman agrees, bobbing her head a couple of times. "New Year's Eve is not a holiday from that. See you later, then — what, six? Eight?"

"Em…s…six would work, yeah. Get in early. Have a place to sit." He's getting twitchy. It might not really be a date, but it's close enough to one to make Hagan very uncomfortable. He's about one step away from scuffing his foot on the ground.

"Okay. Six it is! Biddy Flannigan's," Laura echoes, dutifully informing Hagan that she hasn't forgotten the where. No such luck. "See you then, Hagan!" the imp concludes cheerfully, before jogging off into the park.

Hagan stands there and watches her go. He weaves slightly on his feet and blinks. Then he asks, no one in particular, in a stunned sort of way, "…do I have a date? No. Can't be."

December 30th: The Shape of Things to Come
December 31st: Getting a Jump on the Day
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