On Pawning Children


colette2_icon.gif grace_icon.gif judah_icon.gif

Scene Title On Pawning Children
Synopsis Teenagers.
Date January 22, 2009

Le Rivage — Judah and Colette's Apartment

Early evening finds Judah Demsky seated at the desk in his home office, cordless phone cradled in the palm of one hand while the other holds a business card. He's been putting this off for weeks, reprioritizing in a feeble attempt to keep delaying the inevitable. Having procrastinated long enough, he lets out a long sigh through his nostrils and begins punching in the number at the bottom of the business card, moving his thumb from one button the next with deliberate slowness. Despite having worked as a police detective with local law enforcement for almost a decade, meaningful interactions with other people — over the phone or otherwise — are something he continues to struggle with.

The creak of his leather chair fills the empty apartment as he leans back, head tipped to the side, phone pinched between his jaw and shoulder so his hands remain free. He should probably invest in a newer model with speaker phone built in, he knows, but he uses the house line so infrequently that it's almost never an issue.

It rings.

And it rings.

It's somewhat after the hour that Grace would reasonably expect a call on that phone, so it takes her a little bit to get to the point of answering it. Namely, descending three flights of stairs at something just shy of a run, feet pounding heavily due to the skipping of every other step. It's not exactly an unfamiliar sight or sound in the Hangar. Fortunately, no one was wanting to go upstairs at right that very moment. Grace picks up the phone from the shelf where it usually lives in off-hours, and eyes the caller ID askance; one more obnoxious, answer-me-now ring sounds while she wonders what the girl wants today.

It never occurs to her that it might actually be Judah Demsky calling.

"Bit by Bit Computer Consultants, Grace Matheson speaking." The chipper, textbook greeting is thoroughly mangled by the hoarse, rasping tones of the woman's broken voice. Which is exactly why she uses it.

Outside of the office, the noise of the front door opening, followed by the distinctive sounds of claws on hardwood floor is a solid indication that Detective Demsky's often wayward daughter has returned home. A clatter of keys striking the small table near the door, then one by one a loud clunk as Colette sheds her heavy boots. The office door nudges its way open, followed by the clearer sounds of claws on hardwood as Jupiter makes himself quite at home barging into the office, panting and heavy breaths escaping from the dog as he heads directly for where Judah sits at the chair, nose sniffing all along his ankles and up one side of his leg, trying to wedge his arm beneath the armrest of the office chair to lay his head down on the detective's lap.

Colette's awkward and thumping footfalls go right past the door, towards the kitchen where the first thing raided clearly is the refrigerator, bottles clinking and cartons sloshing as food is scavenged. Without much concern to whether or not Judah is on the phone, Colette begins either having a conversation with herself, or is trying to have one through the wall, "I'm home, if you're awake. Jupiter tried to chase a cat into a storm drain today, almost got his big fat head stuck in it. I swear, he's like the goofiest thing on four legs, like, ever."

There's a short pause as Judah is slightly taken aback by the voice on the other end of the line, and then by the dog trying to shove his head into his lap. One hand goes to steady the phone — the other is placed on the back of Jupiter's neck, fingers buried up to the knuckle in the dog's fur. Of all the times for Colette to return home, this is one of the worst. Deciding that this conversation will be easier if Colette assumes him to be asleep or otherwise preoccupied, he neglects to answer her and focuses on Grace instead, his tone low, hushed. As if afraid of being overheard.

And in a way, he is.

"Ms. Matheson," he greets, voice a little stiff-sounding as he gently pushes Jupiter away. "This is Judah Demsky, Colette's ah— guardian. I hope I'm not interrupting anything." Not that he'd care if he was.

In her turn, Grace is also taken aback by the fact that her assumption was not the correct one. What possible reason could he have for calling now? "Hm. No, it's fine," she replies, wandering over a few feet to sit down in the nearest chair. Who knows, this might take a while. "Can't say I expected to hear from you at all. What can I do for you?"

The noise from the kitchen continues without interruption, but on the same token so does the girl's ramblings, "So I was down at Piccoli's today, right? I think I saw Kaydence walk by, did she go blonde or something? It totally looked like her, but I haven't seen her in like a bajillion years. We should give her a call sometime, you know, invite her over for dinner or something." A clunk from the kitchen, a few clicks, gurgling water, another clunk, and then the percolating sounds of a coffee pot.

"You really do need to get out more often, you know, friends n'stuff? You don't get out enough." A thoughtful mm-hmm sound emanates from that direction, following more noise in the kitchen and the click-click-click of the pilot light on the stove igniting, and then a clank of pans. "You're always here, moping around. you need to maybe like, get a hobby? Hobbies are good, keeps you from thinkin' about stupid stuff and moping. Or sleeping all day!" She raises her voice a bit, perhaps beginning to presume she's being ignored — or that Judah is asleep.


Grace can undoubtedly hear Colette's voice in the background, though not as well as Judah, who has to slump forward in his seat, elbow resting against the desk as he cups his forehead in his free hand and squeezes his eyes shut. He's not good at multi-tasking, even if one of those tasks is as simple as keeping an ear out for what Colette is doing in the kitchen. "Hnn—"

A deep breath. "I had some questions," he says into the receiver, "regarding the circumstances under which we last met. What is your relationship to Ms. Nichols, exactly?"

There's a brief pause on the phone line as Grace contemplates Judah's remarks. "They must not have been very urgent questions," that ruined voice points out, dry as dust. "I don't think," the woman continues, "that I'd go so far as to call it a relationship." She's quiet for a beat, the silence pensive. "Happened across her one day, directed her to the Cathedral since she'd looked like she could use a place to crash. Ran into her a couple times since. Can't say I'd give it much more weight than that, though I guess she reminds me a bit of me at her age or so."

Boiling water, that's definately the sound coming from the kitchen. Followed by thumping footsteps that grow closer and closer to Judah's door. A few knocks on the door frame, and Colette slides in, the door still open from Jupiter's nosing. "Hey! Are you still sleeping, it's almost— " She cuts herself off when she sees Judah hunched over and on the phone, trying to manage with Jupiter's head in his lap. She lets out a muffled squeak, covering her mouth with one hand as she ducks her head down in some pantomimed apology.

Shuffling and socked footsteps take the girl across the office floor, where she crouches down quietly by the old dog's side, curling her fingers around his collar. "Sorry." She whispers, giving the collar a tug to get Jupiter up and walking, moving to lead him out of the office.

Though once she's crouched down and giving that tug, her bangs swish to one side, revealing a red and purple bruise on the right side of her forehead, about the size of a silver dollar, slightly swollen. It looks like she hit her head pretty good against something, and now finally seeing her in a bit better light from the desk-lamp as she rises to guide Jupiter back, her eyes are set with dark circles, like she's hardly been getting any sleep; or maybe she's sick.

When was the last time Judah got a good look at her? Usually it's the back of her jacket as she leaves the apartment every morning when Judah wakes up, and she's been coming home after he goes to bed. There's never enough hours in a day. "I'll take him out." Colette whispers, backing out of the office as politely as she can.

Judah darts a sharp glance in Colette's direction when she appears in the doorway, his facial features adopting a vaguely guilty expression rather than one of quiet reproach. Unusual — though not nearly as unusual as what he sees when the girl's hair is brushed aside, exposing the bruise on her face. The circles under her eyes, too, get a lingering look. If he wasn't feeling like shit before, you can bet he is now. Some guardian he is.

"You were in the right place at the right time, to have brought her home in one piece," Judah says to Grace, his voice equally try, though not quite as confident as he was a few moments ago. It was a fair observation on her part. "What is it you do, if you don't mind me asking? Bit by Bit Computer Consultants sounds like it should be fairly self-explanatory, but your business card piqued my interest." It isn't a lie. Not a big one, at any rate. He glances at the aforementioned card, now discarded on the surface of his office desk and frowns, perturbed.

The quiet chuckle that is given in response to Judah's words is recognizable mostly by its context. "The card's a little out of the ordinary, yes," Grace agrees. "I wear quite a few hats, but mostly I troubleshoot and fix things that go pear-shaped. That's what I'm good at. I actually do a lot of freelance; Bits just has an official retainer. And every now and again, when they're desperate and the wire looms close, I get sucked into actual design and implementation work. More typical programming jobs."

Either it's the answer Judah was anticipating, or it isn't — and he's comfortable with it anyway. Regardless, he gives a slight nod even though he knows Grace can't see it from where she is. "Are you hiring?"

Another question Grace had not expected. She doesn't start or stammer, which means silence is Judah's only cue; the perplexed frown that has settled upon her face is as invisible as his nod. "I, no. Bits…" In this momentary pause, the detective can probably fill in the image of her head bobbing back and forth. "They really don't have room for a permanent hire — not with the way things are; another reason I'm more freelance than not — but they might take a temp. Why do you ask?"

"I think Colette could use some positive role models in her life. In a year or two, she'll be ready to start applying for university, and it would probably help her chances if she had some… experience under her belt. Even if it's just volunteering, helping around your offices…" Judah trails, lips pursed tightly together in thought. He doesn't know what Colette is doing when she's out of the house, or who she's spending her time with — he learned that the hard way when she brought Trent home the other day. "She needs something productive to do with her free time."

Leaning against the wall just outside of the office door, Colette's shoulders slouch slowly, looking down to her socket feet as one crosses over the other. She pulls one hand up from her side, looking down at her bare hand, then to the dirt under her nails. Teeth lightly tug at her lower lip, eyes casting to the side towards the open door. Is that really what Judah thinks? The idea of it sinks into her bones, like a cold winter chill, one that no amount of heat or layering can draw out.

But the guilty thoughts don't drive her to speak, or raise her voice from the eavesdropping. She just stands there, slouched against the wall, looking to the open door expectantly, waiting to hear what the voice on that other end of the phone will say; what a presumed stranger's opinion of her will be.

Who'll she's going to be pawned off to next.

Offices. This is almost funny. Grace leans forward to look out the door of her shared bedroom, gazing into the hall, refecting upon the home that is the base of operations in all aspects of her life. Colette, volunteer here? Maybe some distant day, but Grace isn't about to trust her with that now.

She can't even keep her own secrets, much less those of strangers.

Grace settles back into the chair, finally breaking the extended silence which was a product of her internal distraction. "I can ask. I'll tell you right now that I don't expect a positive answer."

"Thank you, Ms. Matheson. I appreciate the gesture." And he does. If he can slip Colette in with Grace, maybe she can point them in another, more promising direction. Judah picks up the business card again and slides it inside his shirt pocket. "Do you have my number, or do I need to give it to you?"

"You're welcome," Grace replies, her bemusement faintly evident even in the raven's voice. "I have it," she affirms. "I'll call you in a few days, then — unless you have any other questions?"

"No," Judah says lowly, "no questions. Have a nice evening." With nothing else to say, entirely uncertain how else to end this conversation, he pulls his head away from the earpiece and hangs up, placing the phone down in his lap with a sense of finality that isn't quite satisfied. That was hard. Harder than it should have been, now that he thinks about it. He has a difficult time believing that Grace was anything like Colette when she was her age. If he didn't know better, he might think she was making fun of him.

Colette's re-emergence into the doorway is immediate once the phone has hung up. Shoulders rolled forward, head a bit drooped, one hand raised to rub at her opposite arm that hangs down straight at her side, "If — " She fights back a scowl, "If you just — If you wanted to pawn me off on somebody else, you could just say so." From her perspective, this doesn't sound ridiculous.

Unfortunately for Colette, she's the only one in her perspective.

"Pawn you off?" Judah swivels in his seat, raising both his dark eyebrows at his ward. "Is that what you think?" He can see how she might, but that doesn't take any of the sting out of her words. "I can't be around all the time, Colette. Apart from Felix and Kaydence, whose schedules are just as busy as mine, I couldn't think of anyone else you might want to spend time with."

She leans to one side, brows furrowing, slouching against the door frame, "It's what it is isn't it?" When she looks up, there's obvious misunderstanding in the amount of hurt she shows. "I want to spend time with you, I — " She hates how that sounds, swallowing back her words. "I just thought — When… I thought we'd be more like a family." Her eyes drop to the floor, lidding halfway. "You got a dog to take care of me, or to keep me busy… I dunno." Her teeth tug slowly at her lower lip, one arm squeezing the other in an awkward half-embrace of herself.

"I thought you wanted me here, but like — I just — You don't talk to me, I… I have things to say, but I just — It feels…" She can't articulate her feelings, frustration growing from each moment she takes trying to. "I feel like I'm in your way." The words hurt her as much as they probably hurt Judah. "It's like — I just — It's like I don't belong here. Like you're only keeping me here because you feel guilty or something."

Judah is silent for a time, saying nothing. He watches Colette the same way a warier man might eye a wounded animal, but does not open his mouth or attempt to approach in spite of the sheer amount of pain she appears to be in. They'd asked him if he was sure he knew what he was getting into when he filed the paperwork to adopt Colette. He'd told them he did. Now, he isn't so sure.

"What the hell happened to your head?" Divert.

There's a snort, derisive and emotional, "What does it matter, I'm fine." Is her all-too-hasty response, "I've had it since yesterday." Her eyes narrow now, not just drooping, but squinted as she looks up, lips pursed to one side. "Didn't you — " He didn't, "Did you just now notice?" Accusing tone, tension rising up from her back to her shoulders. "Pfft, whatever."

The girl rolls one shoulder and turns from the doorway in one emotional attempt to brush off the whole conversation, brows lowered and creased in a frustrated look. As far as she can see things, Judah just doesn't understand her and doesn't want to listen. If only she'd stop and think a little more.

The fact that Colette hasn't had the bump on her head more than a day is a small comfort to Judah. Miniscule, really. He doesn't attempt to stop Colette from leaving, though he knows in his heart that he should. Rooting him to his seat is the fear that anything he says will only make the situation worse.

Do they have parenting classes for single fathers with overemotional teenage girls?

He doubts it.

He really, really doubts it.

Turning away from the door again, he leans forward until his forehead is resting in the crook of his elbow, arm laid out across the desk. Judah can deal with what he's feeling — he only wishes he knew what it was.

Outside of the office, a clunk, a thump, and a rustling sound of moving cloth. "Come on." A muffled voice, followed by the clicking clatter of claws on wood, all the while the sound of a pot of water boiling unwatched continues to rumble from the kitchen, the coffee pot long having finished percolating with no one to drink it.

The next sound are jingling keys scraping up from a table, a quick click of a lock, and then the slam of a door. Then, the only sound that lingers in the apartment is silence, and the sound of an unwatched pot boiling down to nothing.

January 22nd: How Bad
January 22nd: The Ol' Reacharound
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