The Color of Twilight


nicole_icon.gif pippa_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title The Color of Twilight
Synopsis It's not perfect, but it's coming together.
Date June 20, 2020

Bay Ridge: The Miller Residence

“Are we making the right choice?” Nicole looks over at Zachery nervously, then looks back at the wall in front of her. It’s white with primer. A perfect canvas. A blank slate. There are white sheets laid out across the floor of the room to protect the carpet, and a gallon bucket of paint sits not far from her.

A hand rests on the swell of her stomach as she frowns, brow creased with concern. She holds up a paint swatch in her left hand, envisioning the color on the wall. “I read somewhere that purple makes people go mad.” Again, Nicole’s head swivels so she can look to Zachery for assurance, a little note of panic creeping into her voice. “Do you think that’s true?”

Pregnancy has really only heightened the neurosis that plagues Zachery Miller’s wife. And, by extension, him.

“What if I drive our children insane because I thought purple would be the perfect color of twilight?”

"That must be why I keep reading about lavender growers going non compos mentis," comes a non-answer from the other side of the room, where Zachery stands with both hands on the edge of one of two wooden cribs.

He pulls the crib he's holding onto further away from its counterpart a few feet away, then wrinkles his nose down at the paint bucket. "Do you want me to go back for the mental institution green?"

At first, there’s a look of full offense on Nicole’s face at the chiding. Then, she relaxes a bit when she realizes he’s just trying to get her to notice how utterly ridiculous she sounds right now. She shakes her head and moves over to where he stands so she can drop a kiss on his cheek. “No. We’ll be needing that soothing hospital green for our bedroom in just a couple of months.”

The other crib gets tugged just a little bit further away from the wall in the hopes that it will help avoid it getting paint spotted. “Do you think we should pull them out into the hallway?” she asks, another worried glance spared his way. It doesn’t take more than a second for her to know how he’s going to react to that. “Okay, okay.” Nicole holds up her hands in immediate surrender. “It’ll be fine,” she insists in her best impression of Zachery’s affect, then grins.

There is no question that Zachery's patience and mental fortitude has been tested over the past few months, and the spent expression on his face when he opens his mouth to answer is a clear demonstration of exactly how much.

But it hasn't all been stress. And there's certainly some enjoyment in the smirk he's unable to hold back at Nicole's impression. "Very good," he says instead. "And if we do get paint on them, we'll just paint them too, and no one will ever know."

Nicole nods her head. “You’re right,” and then again, “you’re right.” She presses another kiss to the opposite cheek. “Well, I suppose this room won’t paint itself.” She tugs down on the hem of the oversized tee shirt she bought from the thrift store for just this occasion.

“Pip!” Nicole moves to the doorway and leans out into the hall. “Sweetie, if you wanted to help paint, now’s the time!” She doesn’t even wait for a response before slipping back in and padding over on her bare feet to the can of paint waiting patiently on the floor.

Pippa’s excited footsteps thump down the hallway while Nicole pries open the can.

Zachery simply stands and watches as Nicole moves away from him, gaze lowering with a restless tap of fingers against his side.

For a moment, he seems content just to stand and to watch her, before lifting his face as a silent greeting to Pippa once she comes into view. "Alright, so, you two looked into how to do this. Pippa, what can I do that isn't putting this dresser together?"

He motions to a flatpack behind him, opened and promptly abandoned a few minutes earlier.

Pippa, in a pair of grass-stained jeans and a hand-me-down tank top from Jonah, puts on a thoughtful expression that would look just as home on her mother’s face. “Yooou could hold me up so I can reach the ceiling?”

Nicole closes her eyes heavily. Zachery knows well the prelude to the exasperated sigh, even though she manages to hold it in this time. “We aren’t painting the ceiling. The room would be too dark,” she insists.

“You said it’s supposed to look like the night sky!” Pippa protests. “How is it gonna do that if the ceiling’s the wrong color?”

The lid to the paint can comes up with a hollow and metallic poping sound. “Good thing it’s not the actual sky then, isn’t it?” Nicole glances over her shoulder to her daughter, who just scrunches her face up with scrutiny, but ultimately lets it go.

She, too, is becoming adept at handling her mother’s moods. “Were you this grouchy when I was in your belly?” Pippa asks, shooting a glance Zachery’s way, though she’s well aware he doesn’t have the answer. She expects he’s able to speculate as well as anybody, however. He’s quite smart.

“I’m gonna get grouchier if you ask me that again,” Nicole warns without any real edge to it. This is driven home by the way she closes in on her daughter, still crouched, and starts assaulting her ribs with tickles.

“Noooooo!” Pippa squeals, squirming and writhing and trying to get away. “Help!” she calls to Zachery.

"Unfortunately, studies have shown your mother has no weaknesses," Zachery replies, dryly, with just a hint of something pulling at a corner of his mouth as he leans forward into a slow saunter toward mother and daughter.

"This means you must adapt. Maybe with a nice carapace? But — just this once, while you're still growing it, I suppose…" Bending down, he yoinks Pippa away and to the side, before grabbing her more securely and lifting her up and over his head, setting her down on his shoulders with a noise of effort that sticks in the back of his throat. When he stands back at his full height with his hands on her knees, he aims a pleased grin aimed at Nicole. "She can get the corners."

Pippa squeals when she’s lifted off her feet, gasping for breath after she’s settled upon her step-father’s shoulders. She rests her hands on the top of his head and gives her mother a wide grin.

Which makes Nicole’s heart utterly melt. For all the grief they’ve dealt with the past few months, it’s good to see her daughter having a moment of normalcy. Fun, even. “Okay. The corners. But do not touch the ceilings, or I’ll take your brush away. Got it?”

After a moment of consideration for the terms presented, Pippa nods her head and gives a thumbs up.

Nicole rests a hand on either of Zachery’s biceps and leans in to drop a kiss on the tip of his nose. “Have fun washing paint out of your hair for the next several days,” she tells him, before breaking off again to grab a paintbrush, dip it in the newly opened can, and handing it off to Pippa after she’s cleared away most of the excess.

Now it's time for Zachery to breathe all the way in and restrain himself on what might come next, swallowing back whatever profanity is ready in the queue with the first syllable already loaded— "Shhhyyeah, that's fine," he says instead, even managing to make it sound halfway to convincing save for the fact that she knows the slightly higher tone of voice to be anything but.

"I'm not worried." He assures, again, eyebrows lifting at Nicole and fixing her with an unblinking stare. "Do you want to know how not worried I am?" With the grip of one hand tightening a little, he sticks an arm up, presenting it out to Pippa. He didn't think to get changed, but the crisp white shirt he's wearing will, apparently, now serve as sacrifice. "Pip. Purple me."

I’m not worried has Nicole tilting her head and fixing Zachery with a oh come the fuck on look for poking at her own worry. He avoids being admonished for his near-swear. It’s a work in progress, and he caught himself. And Pippa almost manages to avoid snickering about it.

They’re all adjusting.

But when he makes his true declaration of fearlessness, Nicole’s eyes get wide. Pippa’s face is a mirror of that expression as she looks to make sure her mother isn’t going to start getting shrill about it, as she often does with things that cause her stress. When she doesn’t, she slowly turns to look at the offering given. Then she makes a swipe across the back of Zachery’s hand with the brush, rather than on the sleeve of his shirt.

“There!” The little girl proclaims. “Now you’ve been purpled!”

"Thank you, Pippa." Pulling his hand down to check the work, Zachery next turns it out to Nicole to look at. "She really does take after you though, doesn't she. Just the one stroke, nice and tidy."

It's almost a compliment, if he weren't teasing her with it. Maybe a little of column A and B both. He takes a step aside, closer to the wall, continuing smugly, "This is why you're painting and I'll be yelling at the missing bits and bobs of furniture."

“That and you told me I’m not allowed to lift anything heavier than a jar of pickled herring,” she reminds him of why he’s handling putting the furniture together. “Shoot,” Nicole mutters under her breath, “now I want herring.” She frowns and tries to shake off the craving with a swivel of her head.

Pippa applies her brush to the wall with a big smile and starts spreading the paint on its surface. “Daddy taught me not to be wasteful,” she says of the single neat and tidy stroke to the back of his hand. She got traits from both of her parents, after all.

Nicole isn’t sure which one of them is to blame for the fact that her daughter managed to speak of her late father without tears, because it can’t possibly be her. She hides her swell of emotion by busying herself with pouring paint into a tray so she can prep a roller to join in Pippa’s efforts. “That’s right.” She manages to lift her voice without it wavering. “And you learned very well.”

With that combination of Ben’s efficiency and Nicole’s conservative application, Phillipa Ryans could make a hell of a project manager someday.

Or a president, if her mother has anything to say about it.

Zachery stays standing where he is, both hands resting against Pippa's legs and weight shifting with her movements before his gaze is drawn elsewhere, somewhat sharply. A spot on the wall that doesn't particularly stand out, yet holds his attention anyway.

No one expected him to have kind words for the person whose last name Pippa still carries with her, but neither has he said a single negative thing about her father either. As always, the subject has him looking impatient at best, disengaged from present activities at worst, leaving him unaware of the finer points of Nicole's reaction.

"That's funny," he breathes without thinking, barely loud enough to be heard, "Sure did nearly waste the two of you."

Pippa doesn’t seem to catch what was said, or not the meaning behind it anyway, tongue stuck out between her lips as she does her level best to paint the space where wall and ceiling nearly meet without getting any color on the latter.

Nicole, on the other hand, heard and understood perfectly. There’s a quiet pop! of electricity that gives away the immediate flare of anger that comes from his casual disdain. It isn’t that he doesn’t like Benjamin Ryans. It isn’t that he sees no need and has no desire to honor a memory of a man who, in his experience, only caused pain to the woman he loves. It’s that he’s doing so in front of her daughter. Who, by Nicole’s reasoning, deserves to hold on to her good opinion of her father until she’s old enough to understand what happened, and decide how she feels from there.

She expects Pippa will always love and revere Ben, and that suits her just fine. At least one of them should have love for their parents.

There’s not so much as a glance of annoyance or warning given to Zachery by Nicole, however. She merely pushes herself back to her feet with her roller in hand and starts applying the color to the wall in front of her. “You don’t need to get too close to the ceiling, Pip,” she instructs her daughter. “I have a sponge for that when we’re ready for it.” Only then does she glance over her shoulder at her husband and shake her head faintly.

Not again.

It's a warning that arrives as loud and clear as a silent warning might, with Zachery already looking over at her from the first audible sign of something being wrong.

It isn't the first time he's overstepped boundaries, and though it takes him a few seconds, he does eventually dip his face in a single, resigned nod.

"What if we did some clouds?" He elects to ask, even if the words are poor fit for how remnant frustration sinks its claws into his voice and drags it graveside low. After looking up to see whether Pippa's got her brush near anything that shouldn't be purple, he leans slightly to the side and adjusts his grip with a jostle of the person perched atop him. "Up by the edge of the ceiling, so there's a… a thing where the sky meets them. Then it would be like the sky, right. Is that anything."

Pippa hums thoughtfully, squinting at the canvas in front of her to envision what Zachery’s suggesting. She shifts her brush to one hand hastily to brace the other on the top of his head to make sure she holds her balance. Fortunately, she doesn’t grasp at his hair to do it. It’s just assuring to have something solid beneath her palm to feel like she could lean into it if she had to.

“Fluffy ones? Or those stringy ones?” This is important to the young blonde.

Her mother takes a moment to consider this without actually glancing around or ceasing in her application of paint. “I could accept this compromise.” She’d prefer if they were storm clouds, but those aren’t white, and therefore won’t blend with the ceiling. Plus, most people wouldn’t understand the comfort she takes from a good electrical storm. It’d just look like it’s setting the exact wrong tone for a nursery. “Fluffy, I think.”

“Mmm.” Pippa seems uncertain. “What do you think, Zachery?”

"I think you're heavier than I anticipated," Zachery answers without pause, though with a bit of levity back in his voice. The sensation of the hand on his head still has his face scrunched up like a cat might when you put a hat on it for the first time.

He shrugs - shrugging all of Pippa along with him - and peers upward with doubt still clear on his face. "And I think the big ones are probably easier to pull off without making them look like we just ran out of paint. Your mother might be onto something."

“Well,” Nicole glances over to Zachery with an amused smirk. “I did stop carrying her like that myself a whole five years ago. So.” But she’s also smaller and slighter than he is.

The girl on Zachery’s shoulders adjusts her weight this way and that to maintain her balance while he shrugs. “Maybe you should put me down?” she suggests. Not because she really wants to lose her vantage point, but because she doesn’t want to hurt him, and she doesn’t want to fall over and hurt herself.

But he raises very valid points about their art, and so she nods her head, passing a definitive judgement. “Big and fluffy it is!” Her paintbrush is relinquished to her mother when she reaches for it and offers an arm out to help steady her child so Zachery can lower her to the ground. Nicole would just lift her off the man’s shoulders herself, but Pippa definitely weighs more than a jar of pickled herring.

"Alright, well, maybe 'being a ladder'" Zachery leans forward, and then down, steadying himself with a hand against the floor as he sits crouched and waits for Pippa to jostle him right back, " isn't one of my greatest talents."

He aims a look sideways, awkwardly, "Maybe carrying ladders is. Apart from, evidently, interior decorating and saying the wrong thing at the precise right time."

With help from her mother, Pippa manages to dismount without kicking Zachery in the head. She gives him a brief hug around the waist. “Thanks for the lift.” Taking the brush back from her mother, she dips it in the bucket again, wipes the excess off on the lip, and starts painting anew, lower than where she began.

“Go change your shirt,” Nicole tells Zachery, nudging him toward the door to the hall. “It’ll give me one less thing to worry about.” Glancing quickly over her shoulder to make sure Pippa is focused on the task at hand, she surreptitiously reaches down to grab her husband’s backside before shooing him out.

The hug is met with a knitting of Zachery's brow - as if he doesn't quite know what to do with it yet. He's too slow to respond before Pippa's attention is elsewhere already.

His own focus goes on to Nicole again for obvious reasons, with eyebrows raised over mismatched eyes. Moodiness successfully shaken off through distraction, he aims a lopsided grin in her direction, and puts his hands up while he backs slowly out of the room. "Alright, then. For you."

He probably owes her, at least, that.

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