Too Big for a Basket


colette4_icon.gif pippa2_icon.gif tasha2_icon.gif zachery2_icon.gif

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Scene Title Too Big for a Basket
Synopsis Zachery takes action when he realizes the safest place for his step-daughter is no longer with her mother. Colette and Tasha have to face the upheaval from that.
Date January 31, 2021

64 South 4th Street

With a plan as haphazard as his state of dress and dishevelment is, Zachery Miller stands in his black peacoat and mismatched grey sweatpants, in front of a door in the middle of the god damn night, his hand up in front of it and his head down as he waits.

For what, he's not quite sure.

He could have called, but he didn't. It's not the way of impulse decisions. Besides, he would have needed to actually use his words, to link an explanation to impetus.

Words won't be held off much longer, though. His knuckles hit Colette's front door, five shave-and-a-haircut times. Then, two more, considerably louder.

Pippa was roused from a rare sound sleep in the middle of the night and told to pack a bag. Zachery handled the clothes. That was the easy part. The girl is shuffled around so much from sibling to sibling that she already has a suitcase half-full at all times anyway.

Packing the backpack was much harder.

Things that would bring her comfort. Things precious to her. Things she would miss if she couldn’t come back to the house any time soon.

A small blue blanket that’s been a comfort to her since she was half the age she is now, from Bedelia. A stuffed panther from Hooma. A fashion doll from Goose. A sketch book with pale blue forget-me-nots painted on its cover from Iggy. A book with a worn cover, burnt orange framing a cartoon depiction of bears in Halloween costumes. Popcorn, it’s called. A gift from Cole. Something Pippa’s mother used to read to her when she was younger than Pippa is now.

Choosing something from Mom was harder. Ponies, coloring books, a dollhouse that can’t fit in a backpack. Ultimately, it’s a small kit of child’s make-up she adds to the bag.

What she couldn’t find was something from Z. That’s what had broken the dam she’d constructed around her panicked emotions. She’d cried quietly, but without abandon. Begging him to help her find it.

In the end, she had to settle for a promise that he would look later, and bring it to her once he did find it. An empty drawing pad and her big box of colored pencils would have to suffice for now.

Now she stands on the steps of the house she knows well. Her tears have dried, but they’re still evident in red rims and puffy bags. Pippa is exhausted, physically and emotionally. But she stares up at the door in anticipation of her aunt or one of her partners.

“She’s probably going to have a gun,” Pippa warns her step-father as though answering a door with a loaded weapon is an innocuous thing that anyone should be expecting. “It’s not personal.”

A light blooms in the upstairs window, but it isn’t from a lamp. It moves out of view the way a flashlight might, then vanishes entirely. The downstairs is dark when Zachery and Pippa hear thudding footsteps making a quick trek to the front door, and there’s no hesitation or surveillance that comes before it opens.

Colette Demsky doesn’t have a gun. She also doesn’t look to care for the hour of night this knocking is happening at. Her hair is disheveled, flannel pyjama pants creased and loose sweater thrown on backwards. Her eyes are shut in a look of perpetual tiredness when she asks, “Do you… have any idea what time it is?”

It isn’t a question that is required answering, though. Just as quickly she steps to the side, not surprised by Zachery and Pippa’s presence but clearly not prepared for it either. “Go’n inside Pip, you can stay in Tamara’s room.” The other lady of the house must be out.

“Get inside ‘fore y’let the cold out,” Colette says to Zachery, jerking her head into the foyer.

A moment after the door opens, Tasha can be seen over Colette’s shoulder; her hands twine a hair band around her thick, dark hair to get it up and out of her face, looping it into a lazy bun of sorts, though the shorter wisps fall free around her face as she peers at Pippa and Zachery.

She beckons to Pippa, opening her arms for a hug, trying to mask her worried expression with a smile for the little girl, though she knows Pippa’s bright enough to know better. “Hey, chipmunk. You need anything first or you just want to sleep?” she asked, squatting down a little to bring herself to Pippa’s level. She’ll help distract her or get her out of hearing range if she needs to, but giving Pippa some agency seems important at this moment.

The quiet creak of a stair alerts Tasha to Hugo’s presence, perched on the top step of the stairwell, dark eyes wide. He’s not trying to be stealthy, as he could just disappear if he wanted to go unseen. He lifts a hand to solemnly wave to Pippa.

“Hugo, go on to bed, sweetie. It’s okay,” Tasha murmurs. He sighs with childish melodrama, shoulders rising and falling, before he stands up and turns to head back to his bedroom.

The moment the door opens, Zachery's head lifts. He stands, frozen, until the invitation comes his way. "No thank you," he replies, offering both Colette and Tasha the sort of brief, budget smile often afforded to strangers on the street. "I'm alright out here. I…"

He comes up short on the rest of his sentence, swallowing dryly while stepping aside to make way for Pippa, reaching a hand for her shoulder to urge her inward without breaking eye contact with Colette. "I wasn't sure where to go," he admits, expression unchanging but his words forced out with tired determination. "But I think, in you not being my first choice, you were perfect."

“Not tired,” Pippa insists as Zachery has to all but push her across the threshold into the house. It’s a baldfaced lie, of course. The girl desperately needs more sleep, but also desperately needs to know what the adults in her life know about her situation that she doesn’t. What they know about her mom that she doesn’t.

But she stops first to wrap her arms around Colette’s midsection from the side before continuing on to accept the hug offered from Tasha. Over her aunt’s shoulder, she waves back to the older boy on the stairs. “Hi, Hugo,” she greets him quietly before he’s told to retreat. She’ll see him soon enough.

“You were my first choice,” Pippa confides in a whisper, following Zachery’s statement. Of all the family members to rouse in the middle of the night, Colette and Tasha are the most likely to understand. They know Nicole better than any of Pippa’s siblings. They know her volatile moods.

Colette eyes Pippa with a hesitant smile, then looks up to Zachery with a where the fuck is my sister expression in her blind eyes. She gives Tasha a quick look that wordlessly says she’ll only be a moment before stepping out barefoot onto the cold porch, closing the door behind herself to isolate Zachery with her.

“The fuck’s going on, Miller?” Colette asks in a hushed, tight voice as she upturns her chin to him. She doesn’t need to ask all the other questions, because her set jaw and the tension in the muscles of her tattooed forearms already demand enough.

Though he lowers his voice, severity renders 'hushed' too generous a descriptor for Zachery's words. "Your sister was standing at Pippa's bedroom door, barely cognisant, with a loaded gun." Blind eyes or no, he stares into them with the only one he has on offer in return.

A sharp exhale escapes him as if in amusement, even if it isn't accompanied by a change in his strained expression. "She can't stay there. And Nicole wouldn't expect me to bring her here."

Tasha shares a quick rolled-eye look with Pippa, more to make her laugh than that she’s irritated with where Colette and the rest of the household rank in Zachery’s hierarchy of qualified adults. “You’re always welcome here,” she says firmly. “But go ahead and do what Aunt Cole says and head up to bed. One of us will come check on you soon, okay?”

She rises, turning Pippa in the direction of the steps that lead to the bedroom, then moves to join Colette at the door. “It’s cold outside. You sure you don’t want to come in to discuss this, Zach?” she says softly, having missed the reason for the visit.

But sensing the tension, she glances at Colette, then Zachery, and she steps back. “I can also leave you two alone to discuss it,” she offers, looking over her shoulder to see if both of the children have followed her directions and gone to bed — of course, Hugo could be floating in molecules right next to her and she wouldn’t know.

The look in Colette’s eyes when Tasha opens the door is fraught, she’s only seen it a few times. The color is drained out of her face save for the red of her nose from the cold. She doesn’t have words for Tasha, barely has them for Zachery. When Colette looks back up to him she steps barefoot across the porch to close the distance.

“What the fuck is going on?” Colette asks through her teeth, getting in Zachery’s face. “She hasn’t been straight with me about any of this shit,” she says with a quaver in her voice. “The fucking plane crash, her trip to the hospital. I’ve been trying to give her some goddamn space but you bring my fucking niece over here in the middle of the night—” her voice tightens so much she can’t finish her sentence, tears welling up in her eyes.

“Is it coke?” Colette asks under her breath. “Painkillers?”

Zachery darts a look to Tasha, but fails to actually respond before Colette steps closer. He flinches, hands reflexively lifting in front of him before he sighs out a noise of frustration, eyelids falling. After the second of recovery time he allows himself, he only looks more exhausted. "No," he forces out, now looking past Colette at nothing in particular. "That's not, ah— I don't know. I don't know what's wrong with her."

With flat affect, he admits, "I don't know where to start. I don't know how to take care of this. Of her," he motions toward the door. "Of either of them. I don't know what answer to give you to… fix… this."

And yet, he takes a step back anyway, turning partially as if in preparation to leave. "I just need your…" He pauses for a beat, jaw clenched as his eye lands on Tasha instead, before amending, "Some time. A month."

Tasha moves forward again when neither of them tell her to leave, stepping forward so that the front of her shoulder lightly touches the back of Colette’s in silent solidarity. She can see how frightened and nervous both Zach and Colette both are — it makes her nervous too, but she strives to be the grounded one at this moment.

“I didn’t hear everything,” she says softly, “but if she’s a danger to herself or Pippa maybe you need to bring her to the hospital.” Her glance darts to Colette, then back to Zachery. “She’s been through a lot, this last year.”

Tasha looks back over her shoulder to where Pippa should have headed. “They both have,” she adds, turning back. “Where’s Nicole now? Still at home? Did she see you take Pippa out or no?” she asks.

Colette’s aggressive panic is tempered by Tasha’s level-headed concern and sensible questions. She bites back increasingly erratic questions to allow Tasha’s to remain at the forefront. They’re all things she wanted to say and assembled with far more deliberation and poise. Colette steps back against Tasha, leaning subtly on her for support. Tasha can feel Colette’s arms trembling, but not from the cold.

"You've met her, yes?" Zachery asks Tasha, terse and almost too quick for the sarcasm to settle into his words. "You know as well as I do that she can talk herself as well as most anyone else out of thinking she needs help. She's been through the song and dance before, and she knows the steps so well she could lead with them."

He swallows dryly, moving on as the corners of his mouth twitch outward with unease. "She's asleep, the gun removed from the house. Doesn't know I'm here, and that I've taken her daughter." As if anticipating a response from Colette, his gaze falls on her, but all at once both it and his voice seem to lose its edge. "She'd have stopped me."

Tasha lifts a hand to rest on Colette’s shoulder as she considers the situation. “If you want to go to her, you can,” she tells her partner softly. “I can handle Pippa and get her to school tomorrow with Hugo, or we’ll take a snow day, maybe.” None of them are getting good sleep tonight.

“I don’t know if I’d recommend you going home tonight — you might want to try a phone call first, and see how that goes,” she tells Zachery a little wryly. “We have a couch if you want to stay here.” Her squeeze of Colette’s shoulder tightens — Zach and Colette clearly aren’t all that fond of each other, but he’s family by extension in Tasha’s book, and she subscribes to the Lilo and Stitch philosophy.

“We do need to let her know where Pippa is and that she’s safe so you don’t get rung up with kidnapping charges when she wakes up. The fact that you have a cop and a lawyer here is probably in your favor in that regard. But if whatever this is … dementia for lack of a better word — if it’s not a one-time thing and not something that can be handled medically, we may have to consider getting either Nicole or Pippa a court-appointed guardian which is, um. Not going to go over well.”

She glances from Zach to Colette, then back to Zach. “You — they have no idea what might be causing all of this?”

Son’f a bitch,” Colette mumbles to herself after a long, tense, and awkward silence. Tasha can feel how Colette’s muscles tense, that rigidity in her shoulders and her back. She lifts a hand up to her forehead, brows creased together tightly.

Colette opens her mouth to talk a couple of times, but no sounds come out. Only Tasha notices that the brick stoop under her feet has started to desaturate, turning ashen gray as she bleaches the color from around her immediate vicinity.

God, fucking damnit,” Colette continues to curse in a small, whisper-mumbled voice as she twists away from Tasha and turns toward the front door, swiftly opening it and stepping inside. Her footfalls are heavy as she heads into the foyer, though she isn’t really going anywhere so much as pacing around and mumbling to herself.

"If anyone knows anything, they're certainly not in the business of sharing," Zachery argues, after watching Colette turn with what looks like confusion knitting his brow.

He looks to Tasha again, and relief colours the laugh that fails to fully start on his next exhale, even if the wry grin he cracks is a few measures more sincere than the smile from before. "Most days, lately, I'm lucky I know my left from my right, if I'm honest. Plus, with the brain damage both on, ah— on her and my side both, I've…"

As if the mention of it alone is enough to cause him to trail off, he steps back again, and promptly starts a new sentence all together, spoken more confidently: "I'm going home, and I'll let her know Pippa's safe, with someone she would trust. And hope, I suppose, that she trusts me enough, still, to believe that."

When the door opens, Colette is treated to the quiet sound of a child gasping. Rather than run for the stairs, Pippa’s frozen in place where she’d had an ear pressed to the wall, trying to listen to the adults talk and decide her fate. The little girl holds stil as a statue, wide blue eyes fixed on her aunt and knowing better than to think she hasn’t been seen.

The look Tasha gives Zach could be summed up by the words ‘Okay, but it’s your funeral.’ She doesn’t say this, however, but nods. “Good luck,” is the only advice she offers now, before she turns to the door as well to follow Colette inside.

Her brows lift as she sees the child eavesdropping, and she presses her lips together as her brows lift. This one, she’s going to leave to Colette. “I’m going to go check on Hugo, because I’m sure he’s probably doing the same,” she says, quietly, then clears her throat as she turns in the direction of the boy’s room. “You better be in bed by the time I get there, Hugo Boss!” she calls out, having a feeling he might just be floating around them as she speaks.

Colette turns and looks down at Pippa with her brows furrowed, jaw set, and isn’t sure what to do about that. “Please just—go upstairs.” She says with a tightness in her voice and barely maintained patience. “You can use Tamara’s room like last time.” Her eyes wander in ways that has nothing to do with seeing.

“But Cole—” Pippa starts to protest.

Please.” Colette stresses. “We—can talk in the morning.”

She’ll need that long to figure this out.

With a solemn nod and one last look out the door toward Zachery, Pippa finally follows orders and heads up the stairs to crawl into that big bed all alone.

Colette turns to the door, still partly open to the cold of the front stoop. Her blind-eyed stare is fixed on Zachery, brows furrowed together, jaw set. Words can’t convey the look of hopelessness and helplessness in her eyes.

Whatever keeps Zachery lingering near the door does so for a moment longer, his expression worked back into a controlled neutral.

"Give me a month," he repeats, to Colette. "In a few days, I have something coming up that may give us more information as to what… happened, or what's happening, and perhaps some peace of mind for Nicole. If not—" He pauses, searching Colette's face while he finds the rest of his words. "Another project before March. Slightly more desperate, but, I promise you, answers are around the corner."

Habit forces a smile back on his face, even if stale roadkill is a measure warmer than it ends up being as he lifts his hands for one last assurance. "A month."

Colette’s jaw flexes tightly. She’s pulled the desaturation under control, at least for the moment. “A month,” Colette says with a tightness in her voice. Something about there being a deadline makes this extremely bitter pill easier to swallow.

Still, she slams the door on Zachery.

It doesn’t make her feel any better.

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