The Way We Live


colette_icon.gif pines_icon.gif

Scene Title The Way We Live
Synopsis For some survivors, the civil war never ended.
Date April 12, 2018

Church of the Ascension


"I ah… I still think about them. The ah, the families that were on the highway."

Fluorescent lights shed a pale ambiance across old, crumbling brick. The concrete floor is dotted with dark discolorations, spots of grimy decades-old gum, and in some spots cigarette ashes.

"We— I was up in the chopper, we were trying to find a spot to land to get to the triage center."

Twelve strangers sit in a circle of metal folding chairs, each of them focused on the middle-distance rather than one another. Only a single person is seated forward, an elderly man with wispy gray hair and a long, creased face. Martin Pines listens to this story intently, hands clasped together and gray brows furrowed intently.

"We ah… I saw them. They were just… all in a line, horns honking. We were low enough that I could see their faces through the windshields. Families. Kids, pets. Packed to the roof with their possessions."

Sargent Karl Olson, 30 years old, was just 23 when the Civil War ignited. He is a rail thin and haunted young man, with deep-set eyes hollowed by dark circles and bags showing his sleepless nights. His knee jitters up and down as he talks, hands wringing together. Pines sits directly across from him, listening intently.

"This… this jet scrambled overhead. Dropped a payload right on the triage center. The fireball— it rolled up and licked the underbelly of the chopper. We… it was napalm. They dropped napalm on a civilian target. All those cars, the entire street just… it was just gone. All that was left was fire."

Pines' eyes are welled up with tears as he listens, hands clasped together in front of his mouth, elbows on his knees. Sargent Olson exhales a ragged breath, scrubbing a hand over his reddened face before he finally doubles over and begins sobbing. A man at his side leans over, rubs a hand at Olson's back and rests his other hand on his shoulder supportively. These people may have all survived the war, but they left a part of themselves there.

One Hour Later

Empty paper cups litter the folding table by the coffee pot, and the soft clank of metal chains accompanies the final clean up after the session. Despite being three times the age of most of the veterans in his group, Martin Pines doesn't mind the physical labor of the cleanup. It makes him feel young again. Though as he hangs up the chairs on hooks, one by one, he catches sight of a dark silhouette in the doorway.

"You going to eventually come to one of these?" Pines asks with one brow raised, regarding the hooded woman stepping in from the hall. Boots scuff across the ground, and Colette Demsky slides in with furrowed brows and downcast eyes. She draws back her hood, running a tattooed hand through dark, messy hair.

"I was here," Colette admits with a touch of wryness to her tone, though only barely. She walks over to the coffee pot, pouring herself a cup. "It didn't feel right t'intrude today. Olson had a lot t'talk about… dunno if I've ever heard him say's much before."

Pines eyes Colette with furrowed brows, then looks to the chairs. "You can help me hang chairs, if you'd prefer." She takes a sip of her coffee in response, then leaves it to cool on the edge of the table and crosses the floor to the remaining folding chairs. "And, for what it's worth… you wouldn't be an intrusion. Carla might appreciate not being the only woman talking here. You know her, right?"

"Yeah," Colette admits, folding up a chair and bringing it over to the rack on the wall. "Yeah she uh, I think she was in Connecticut when Epstein and I came through toward the start of the war." She hesitates, chair hung but not released, and looks over at Pines. "She's doing better."

Pines nods in reluctant agreement. "She's got her daughter back, so that's helping keep balance. The FitzRoy woman's charity did good work there." When Pines offers that detail, Colette pulls her hands away from the hung chair and looks momentarily distant, nodding slowly, before moving to grab another chair.

"What happened in Connecticut, anyway? If you don't mind my asking." Pines retrieves a chair, slowly folding it and ambling over to the wall. Colette hesitates, hand on the back of her next one, and watches Pines with an unfocused stare of blind eyes.

"Nothing worth talking about," Colette dismisses the question, and Pines stops mid-hang and sets the chair down on the floor, just resting it against the wall. He makes a face, shaking his head and comes walking back over to Colette. "I'm serious, it's just some stuff. On a scale of One to Utah, Connecticut is somewhere in the Two range."

Pines clears the distance to her, his look disapprovingly angled up at her. "Demsky," he urges in a deep sigh. "Y'know, just because it doesn't hurt as much, doesn't mean there ain't a good reason t'talk about it. I did what you're doing, back when I was younger than you." She looks away, hand slipping from the back of the chair.

"I didn't talk a lot about what happened in Germany when I got back. Put a lot of that away, deep down." Pines moves his hand to where Colette's was on the chair, steadying himself. "But I never forgot. Not once, the faces, names, people. Genevieve, my first wife, she never asked about it. Said, men deal with pain different." Pines furrows his brows and frowns. "Was a different time, men weren't allowed t'feel hurt. Maybe not so different from now, but… there ain't no shame in crying. Ain't no shame in needing somebody."

Drawing in a deep breath, Colette steps away from Martin and runs a hand through her hair. "My therapist says the same thing…" shouldn't sound like an argument, but it does. Pines stays where he is, watching her walk away with worry in his eyes. She returns to her coffee, picking it up and taking sip from it. They both let the silence hang for a while, before she finally speaks again.

"I had a… moment, over the weekend." Colette looks down into the dark surface of her black coffee. Pines remains silent, brows lifting as he listens. "Full-on flashback, just… fucking awful. You know how some of the people from the tribunal got reduced sentences or just walked?" Looking over her shoulder, Colette's expression is twisted in emotion. "Somebody who— I just thought she was dead. But there she was, like nothing ever happened. Like she didn't…" she cuts herself off, eyes glassy.

Moving his hand from the back of the last chair, Pines walks over to Colette. "Lot of the folks that come to these meetings experience post-traumatic stress too, y'know." Pines smiles, bittersweetly. "Some of the folks in this room, even." More wryness, then, but just a touch. "They've all got their own methods of coping. An' maybe you'd learn something from them… maybe they'd learn something from you."

Colette laughs, bitterly, and finishes her small cup of coffee. "Learn what? How to flip out and hurt someone?" Pines gives her a level expression and shakes his head.

"Did you?" Pines asks, pointedly. "Hurt anyone?"


Pines doesn't respond, because Colette already knows what he'd say. She crumples up her paper cup and throws it in the trash, then steps around Martin and picks up the last chair, folding it closed and walking it to the wall rack. "Not this time, no. I… people were there t'stabilize me."

"How'd they do that?" Pines follows her across the room with a steady gaze. Colette turns, wiping the palms of her hands off on dark jeans. She isn't really sure how to answer that, and instead gets to the root of the issue.

"Look," she says with a huff of breath. "I just… I don't know if I'm ready for this." Pines makes a face, head bobbling in something between a nod and a shake of his head.

"None of us were when we started. I've been coming to these meetings a long time. They practically built the church around me," he adds with a coarse laugh. "It's never easy to start. It hurts, but… it can be a good hurt. Because everyone here? They understand." Pines smiles, faintly. "They've been through their own hell, lot'f them are still in it, looking out. They see someone like you… war hero, good stable family, good job The see a role model."

Before Colette can balk at that, Pines interjects. "Maybe not a good role model," has a toothy smile to it. "But… sometimes we gotta take what we can get, you know? That's just the way we live." The notion has Colette's shoulders slouching, and she stares off into the distance for a moment, before scrubbing a thumb at one of her eyes and nodding slowly.

Colette then reaches up, unzips her jacket partway and pulls out a check from inside. She hands it over to Martin, managing a weary smile. "I'll be back next month," she says to Pines with the certainty of someone who is always back. Pines looks at the check, nodding appreciatively.

"This means a lot," Pines admits, as he does each time she makes a donation. "Maybe next time, you'll at least sit with us?" Colette considers the offer, eyes cast to the side and shoulders hunched as she zips her jacket closed again. As the jacket is zippered, she ripples at the edges like a heat mirage, and then fades out of sight as though she were only ever an illusion.

"Maybe," her disembodied voice acquiesces. It's enough to give Pines a small amount of satisfaction.

"I'll have the coffee ready."

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