This Far West


emily_icon.gif lance_icon.gif

Also featuring:


Scene Title This Far West
Synopsis For the greater good, Emily braves a trip west to see her mother. Lance comes with her on her mission, far more enthused about it than she is.
Date July 12, 2019

Almost the entire flight, Emily Epstein has been stock still in her assigned seat, shoulders tensed, hands clasped tightly around the cell phone that rests in her lap. Her eyes have not left the window to her left, the oval to a tiny world that's gradually reappearing now that they've descended back below the cloudline.

She can't help the staring. She's never flown before.

Kansas City, MO

July 12, 2019

4:45 pm local time

Passengers, this is your flight captain speaking. We are on schedule to land in Kansas City at 5:04. The local weather is currently reading at 90 degrees, with a breeze of about 5 miles per hour. It’s been a pleasure flying with you today, and on the behalf of…

The sound of the announcement overhead doesn’t exactly startle Emily from her torpor, but it’s enough to pull her out of it. Her gaze is flitting all over the cabin suddenly, every bit of it she can see. They’re here. Her heart has resumed the same rapid beat it took up leading up to takeoff, though now for entirely different reasons.

“Lance,” Emily murmurs, asking a question that probably should have been aired days ago. “You ever been to Kansas before?”

“I’ve never even been on a plane before,” Lance repeats, not that he hasn’t expressed this - in excitement - several times since the beginning of the trip. He’s already leaning over past Emily to peer out the window, grinning broadly as he tries to get a view of the ground below, “Is that it? Is that Kansas? It’s the capital now, right?”

He’s going to be like this the whole time. One hopes Emily likes tourist traps.

What the fuck was there to see in Kansas City, anyway? You know, besides the new capitol buildings and so on. Emily isn’t sure what’s going to be worse — Lance insisting Kansas City is great, or her mother insisting on it.

She leans back to let him get a look at the ground, swiping the screen of her phone on so she can snap the best picture she possibly can of approaching land. Who knows, maybe it’ll be the last picture she takes on her phone because the landing brakes fail and the plane tumbles and explodes into flame with all of them still trapped inside, killing those who don’t die on impact from smoke inhalation instead.

Emily’s definitely not anxious about flying, no.

“It’s the capital,” she finally says, echoing his statement if only to feign she’s not a nervous wreck. She looks away from the window finally to peer at Lance more directly, her pupils still dilated from staring at the very-bright outdoors. “Hey,” she urges him. “Don’t forget we’re here for a reason.” She knows he knows, and that neither of them have forgotten, but it’s better than focusing on what happens after the plane touches down.

Which is any second now, judging by how quickly the ground is coming at them.

“I know, I know,” Lance reassures her as he drops back into his seat, feet bouncing a bit as he waits impatiently to land, “We’re here on business and all. But, I mean, we will have some free time, you know? I’m sure there’s all kinds of stuff to do here. But I’m focused.”

Sure he is. He flashes her his most charming grin, “Don’t worry. I know why we’re here, and I’m not going to let that fall to the wayside. Just exciting, you know?”

A look at the window, “Never been this far west before.”

Emily tries to share his enthusiasm, forcing a smile as she looks to the window, too. "Me neither," she admits.

She only jumps a little when the wheels hit the tarmac.

27 minutes later

Face in her phone while she texts updates and reads accumulated messages, Emily almost walks into the person in front of her when they abruptly stop. Her blank look at her phone turns into a glower as she sidesteps them to continue onto the escalator leading to baggage claim.

They'd traveled light, so no baggage of theirs needed claiming, but just outside is where they'd agreed to meet. Assured steps take her and Lance past the carousels to the doors, and they part automatically on approach. It's warmer than New York, but at least it's not muggy here.

Clicking her screen off, she looks up to scan for the vehicle she's been told to watch for, and the person it belongs to.

Rachel isn’t hard to pick out. For Emily, it’s like gazing into a mirror—if that mirror also reflected the future back at her. She has crow’s feet and a thinning mouth to look forward to, but the years will otherwise be mostly kind; in spite of the loss of her son, the divorce, and all the stresses of war, Emily’s mother retains a halo of flyway blonde hair and a youthful glow that subtracts a decade or two from her real age.

Maybe the aviators she wears are a sly attempt at humour, or maybe they were the closest pair of sunglasses at hand when she walked out the door earlier that morning. Although the ink on the paperwork has long since dried, she still keeps a few of her ex-husband’s possessions squirreled away in the darker corners of her Kansas City condo.

Her convertible hugs the curb, top rolled down—and just in case Emily doesn’t immediately recognize her, she gives the horn two shrill blasts with the heel of her hand.


Lance always travels light; today it’s just a small rolling suitcase that’s small enough to be a backpack if it were oriented differently, being pushed along with a steady rumble of wheels. He only swerves it back and forth a little at first to have fun with it before putting his game face on. He doesn’t want to make a bad impression on Emily’s mother.

Not yet anyway.

The honking and call bring his gaze over, and then he slants an amused look to Emily, teasing, “…Emma, huh?”

To which Emily furrows her brow and swats him in the chest with the back of a curled hand. "I will leave you here, I swear to god," she threatens halfheartedly, under her breath. She tries to smooth her expression out, but the tension clings to her stubbornly.

She attempts a smile, strained, posture perking as she approaches the vehicle. "Hey, Mom," is filled with an attempt to inject her voice with a mild enthusiasm. And admittedly, seeing her Mom is a relief, a joy, and also a dozen other things. Also, Lance is there.

"This is Lance," Emily explains to that effect, jerking her head back his direction. Door opened, she pulls forward the passenger seat and gestures he climb in the back with his bag. She's not risking him in the front seat, apparently. "Flight was good," she adds to that, trying to make small talk while they get settled. No spontaneously exploding planes today, thank god.

Lance, huh?” Rachel fixes her daughter’s traveling companion with a skeptical look that doesn’t last. He’s young, attractive, and there’s nothing about his demeanor or easygoing expression that reminds her of Emily’s father.

She doesn’t ask any more questions — at least not about Lance.

“Blue skies,” she agrees with Emily instead. “Summer’s a great time to fly. Great time to visit, too. We should swing by the Ozarks while you guys are here. There’s this darling little house on the lake that I’m looking at. Two bedrooms. Gorgeous view. Vintage, hasn’t been touched since the seventies. You’d really like it.”

She drums her fingers — freshly manicured, Emily notices — against the steering wheel while the pair settles in. The convertible’s seats are a dark, plush brown leather. They smell new.

So does the rest of the car.

“Lance Gerken,” is the introduction offered as the young man climbs into his back, setting his bag beside him, “Appreciate the ride, Miss— ” There’s a brief pause, and he attempts, “Epstein?” They’re divorced, and he forgot to ask which surname she kept.

The mention of the Ozarks brings a smile crooked to his lips, and he looks out the window, “I don’t think we’ll have the time, but it does sound nice. Sounds kind of like the house I grew up in up in Canada, just less people in it.”

There’s so much for Emily to cringe at that she can’t help but do it as she settles into the rerighted seat, gingerly pulling the door closed. Thank god it actually seals, because she’s not sure she could handle the embarrassment of juggling until it properly shut. There was a stupid TV show she’d watched at some point, one where the main character brightly proclaimed just take it ten seconds at a time! as a way of getting through life, but suddenly she’s seeing a very real use case for that line of thinking.

She looks sidelong at her mother, taking in the details in what she says, in everything about the situation while she adjusts her bag between her knees. Her brow begins to knit. Emily, for her part, is dressed deliberately casual, but with clear effort put into the coordination of her outfit, the colors and angles all aligning to put together the message of: she’s doing just fine without overstating it. But her nails are uneven on her non-dominant hand, the result of nervous peeling of keratin, faint but dark color beneath her eyes from where she didn't sleep well the night before, or in the weeks leading up to it. Those eyes narrow, and she leans back into the seat with a slouch to her posture.

The Ozarks? "I thought the whole goal was to move back to civilization," she points out lightly as she settles, attempting to see if she gets in her off-handed observation without argument.

It dawns on her in her awkward rush to get seated and get on the road, she didn't properly greet her mother. No peck on the cheek. No quick hug across the center console. Emily glances back at her suddenly, wondering if it's too late for that. Definitely too late, right? It'd be awkward and out of order now, and Lance was there, besides.

“Raith. Epstein. Epstein-Raith.” Emily’s mother rattles off Lance’s options like she’s casually going down a low-priority grocery list. “Let’s make this easy. How about just Rachel?”

It’s a rhetorical question.

To Emily, she says: “It’s nice to be able to get away on the weekend, that’s all. And now is the time to snatch up some property on the water while it’s still cheap. The economy won’t be fucked forever, Emma.”

As she shifts the car back into drive, she snatches another look at Emily in the passenger’s seat but does not allow her attention to linger any longer than the half second it takes for her to confirm that she’s still as healthy as the last time she visited.

The confirmation has her press out a slow breath through her nose, tension ebbing from her neck and shoulders. When Emily first told her that she’d visited a healer, Rachel didn’t allow herself to believe it—not really. And yet here she is, whole and relatively happy.

She has other questions, ones that aren’t rhetorical, but does not ask. Holds them in her mouth instead, only swallowing the unspoken words when the silence becomes too difficult for her to bear.

“How’s your dad?” she tries instead, anticipating common ground. “Has he met Lance?”

The question wasn’t quite pointed at Lance, but it seems that he’s happy to answer it regardless!

“I haven’t seen him recently, but he helped me get out of New York when I was younger, just before the war,” he admits easily, shifting to pull on a seat belt before leaning back, head turning to watch the view scroll back with bright eyes eager to see new vistas, “Saved us a few times from soldiers.”

A glance back to the front, and he notes, “My family just got a new place too, we picked up a big ol’ house while it was cheap and we’re working to fix it up. Never would’ve been able to afford it back in the old days.”

What a dynamic shift. Out in New York they were still dealing with regularly-scheduled power outages and thin pickings at the grocery store, and out here people were considering buying lakehouses just for visiting on the weekend. Emily makes a quiet note at the back of her throat to acknowledge what was said but offers no comeback for it, looking off the passenger side. Her arm slowly comes to lean against the armrest, a vague approximation of settling in and actually getting comfortable.

Because she can't, not truly. This is all too weird for her.

Emily almost doesn't answer the question about her father, but at the last moment before silence would have become pointed, she turns her head back just slightly. Her eyes remain on the landscape. "He's alive. Some of Wolfhound moved from Rochester to New York. I don't know if he moved with them." She's almost sure he moved down, actually, but it's not like she's seen him to know for sure.

The young woman's brow knits unconsciously as she reflects on the answer she's given. "He's… he's fine after what happened in April." she clarifies. Emily had called in a panic after visiting the hospital, for no other reason than she'd had so few people she felt she could talk about something so sensitive with. The conversation had been rough. "He wasn't, for a while, but then…" Her lips draw over her teeth as she hesitates on saying it, but then she shakes her head. "Well, there was a healer." she explains delicately.

"So he's fine now," Emily mutters, squinting off at a billboard bearing an advertisement comprised of some poor-taste humor.

Then that passes, too, like most of the weekend does— a blur.

The only moment that remains sharply in focus comes from that night when she and Lance sat side by side and pulled out the journal composed of living ink. She'd flipped through its pages, coming to a page where there was blank save for a pulsing dot. Emily placed a compass next to the journal for reference, looking at the cardinal direction the dot corresponded to.

It was still reading southwest. Nothing had changed. They'd come all this way and the inklady's direction had remained the same.

Save for that it had shifted just slightly more to the west.

Emily had quickly shut the journal closed again the moment her mother entered the room, forcing a smile and hiding away the real reason she'd ventured this far west. She tried and mostly succeeded in concealing her disappointment that either the ink compass was wrong… or that Squeaks was somehow even farther west still.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License