Things My Mother Taught Me



Scene Title Things My Mother Taught Me
Synopsis Berlin sees a vision of what might have been.
Date January 09, 2019

The Bunker

The shooting range is empty this afternoon, save for one lone figure. Berlin has been spending a lot of time behind a desk lately, but with word that she is being put on a team for the next mission, she's been putting aside time to practice. She has a selection of guns with her, laid out on the counter in front of her. She hasn't forgotten how to use them, of course, but she hasn't been feeling exactly herself. She hasn't been feeling exactly steady, either.

She's keeping that to herself, though. She doesn't want to be relegated to a desk forever. Even if she should be.

And she definitely should be.

Her pistol barks out shots, aiming at a little paper man in the distance. She's ignoring the target at center mass. Instead, she's mentally calling shots to herself. Shoulder. Heart. Arm. Left eye. Her aim is still good, but Berlin just wishes she knew if she should be reassured by that or worried. Is it really her aim? Is someone else guiding her hand? Is her skill a collection of experience she hasn't earned?

She takes aim at the target's torso, where concentric circles lead her to center mass. Guns are easier. She focuses on the weight in her hands, on steady, even breathing. Letting everything around her fade away, except—

“No, and if you take that tone with me again I’ll have an executive order misfiled and you’ll spend Christmas in Guantanamo Bay.”

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Sarisa Kershner is a woman who lives her lives two lives. Standing in the middle of her kitchen, rays of morning sunlight shining through tall windows, she works a metal whisk through a mixture of eggs and cream to form an airy froth. At the same time, Sarisa shouts into a bluetooth headset. “No, I’m not sure you understand Mister Secretary. That wasn’t a joke.”

Seated upon a stool at the island across from where Sarisa is whisking eggs, Nathalie Leroux waits for her morning breakfast before school.

Nathalie lifts her eyes from a carton of orange juice as she pops it open, watching the back of her mother's head while she talks. Her head tilts and she pours herself a glass without having to look. A skill cultivated over countless similar mornings.

"Mom," she says, her voice quiet enough not to be picked up by the bluetooth, "the doctor says that the threats aren't good for your blood pressure." Always a little too precocious, Sarisa's daughter. By virtue of being Sarisa's daughter. She pours a glass for her mother, too, before setting the carton back down.

“Well, we’ll just have to see what General Autumn has to say about that.” Sarisa flicks a blue-eyed Starr over at Nathalie and makes a yapping hand-puppet motion with the hand holding the whisk, “good day, Mister Secretary.” Whisk left in the bowl, Sadie's plucks her headset out and carries herself over to the stove where a cast iron skillet is set on a low heat.

“For the record,” she states with a look back to Nathalie, “my blood pressure is fine.” Sarisa whisks the eggs into the skillet, then sets the bowl aside and grabs a metal spatula, scrambling the contents as they cook. “Cheese,” she says without context, then motions with her head to a plate of shredded cheddar near Nathalie.

"Alright, but I'm supposed to keep an eye on you," she says, picking up the plate and coming over to the stove. Her role as Sarisa's watcher is probably self-appointed, but she seems to be serious about it. She tosses some of the cheese into the skillet, a bit at a time while she stirs.

"You know, not everyone's mom gets to yell at people in ranking political positions," she notes, looking at the eggs instead of her mom. "I think my teachers are scared of giving me a bad grade." Not that she's earned a bad grade, but she's pretty sure all the same.

“Good,” Sarisa fires back, scraping the spatula against the cast iron, folding the cheese into the egg, “because every single little Senator’s son shit is getting the same treatment. You've got it twice as hard as them because you're a woman, and I'm not going to let them take a single inch from you.”

Sarisa’s stark blue eyes level on Berlin, her jaw set and brows tense. “Peppers,” she requests, a motion of her chin over to a small cutting board with long, sliced red bell peppers laid out on it.

Nathalie tries not to grin— she hasn't mastered her mother's intensity, but few have so she doesn't mind when her expression turns to a crooked smile. "And if I ever think I've made it, they'll move the goalposts," she says, just to prove that she listens. And that she won't forget. She picks up the cutting board to slide the peppers into the eggs, too.

"Don't worry. I won't let them take an inch, either," she says, looking over to Sarisa for a long moment. She doesn't usually bother to hide the admiration she has for her mother, and today is no different. Even when her mom can be embarrassing, Nathalie can't help but hope that she'll be more like her one day.

Good,” Sarisa says of both the peppers and her daughter’s convictions. But there’s a rawness in Sarisa’s tone, a tightness and an uncertainty that for only a moment haunts her eyes. She scrambles the peppers and eggs vigorously, then chops through everything with the spatula. Lifting the skillet off of the stove, Sarisa brings it over to a pair of plates waiting on the counter, each with a slice of toast on it. She scoops the pepper and egg scramble onto the plate and partly onto the toast, then sets the skillet in the sink.

It’s at the sink where Sarisa lingers for a moment, hands on the edge and head down, as though she was suddenly beset upon by a weight. Eyes closed, she takes in a breath, then turns to look at Nathalie. “Table,” is her quick instruction, smoothing out her own emotional wrinkles as she picks up her plate and goes to the stool-flanked island in the middle of the kitchen rather than the simply never used dining room table. This was their table, this was their space.

Sarisa settles down on the stool, looking down at her plate for a moment, then over to the space Nathalie always takes. There’s a weight in the air now, something unsaid.

Nat watches her mother, her head tilted slightly as she leans against the counter. Times like these, she isn't always sure if she should acknowledge the moment or let Sarisa have the cover. She is always on the verge of getting herself to speak up.

That's when her mother pulls it together.

She moves to her spot at the island, her stool, her routine with her mother. There's a comfort in it, right until she senses that weight. Her fork digs into the eggs, picking up a precise bite before she looks over. "Something's on your mind," she says. Not what's wrong, not an accusation. An invitation. And a hint.

Whatever she isn't saying, it's obvious she isn't saying it.

Setting her own plate down on the island, Sarisa joins her daughter, seated across from her. “Just… the would-haves,” she says with a nervous threading of an errant lock of hair behind one ear. “I just regret… “ she exhales a short sigh. “I’m just— having a hard time reconciling the things we have here and now, with the fact that I don’t deserve any of it for the…” It goes unsaid, but Sarisa’s implication doesn’t need vocalization for Nathalie to understand it.

Sarisa moves her scramble around on the plate with a fork, eyes unfocused and stare distant. “I wish your father was more involved with your life,” she says quietly, “but I understand why he isn’t.” Because he’s an asshole also doesn’t need to be said. “But he’s not the one who abandoned you,” is Sarisa’s harsh choice to describe adoption. “He’s not the one who… who…” Sarisa brings her free hand up to her forehead, eyes closed and expression pained.

As Sarisa talks, Nathalie sets her fork down, her hands moving to rest in her lap. She looks down at her plate at first, but her eyes lift as words start to fail her mother.

"He's not the one who tracked me down, either." Her response is careful, her own feelings about her early years buried for the moment. "And he's not the one who fought to make sure I had a good life. And," she adds, her tone turning wry, "he's not the one paying my therapy bills, either." Her hand reaches over to put her hand on Sarisa's arm. "You're the one who taught me that no one gets what they deserve. They get what they fight for." Good or bad, no one gets what they deserve.

Pulling her hand back again, Nathalie picks up her fork, to build herself a carefully constructed bite. "You could always buy me a Porsche, if you're really feeling bad," she says, her smile playful.

For a moment, Nathalie can’t see what’s behind Sarisa’s eyes. She looks down at the hand and then up to her daughter with the expression that has carried her through her career, an impenetrable steeliness. It only takes a beat for that facade to crack, for the tension in her jaw to relax, for the look in her eyes to convey emotion where they never had before. Blinking away tears, Sarisa smiles down at the island, threads an errant lock of hair behind one ear, and then looks back up to Nathalie. Silence, for a time, but then in that silence there’s a smile and a slow shake of her head.

“I’m not getting you a Porsche.”

It means I love you.

Berlin drops her gun and backs away from the target. Wet eyes leave her with watercolor vision and she steps back until she feels the door behind her. Sliding down against it, she pulls her knees to her chest and curls herself around them. She reaches for steady breaths and steady hands, but finds them harder to conjure without a gun in her hand. Her head falls against her knees and she lets herself do something she hasn't done since she was a kid. It comes in quiet sobs and hot tears, mourning the family she could have had.

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