An unlikely friendship is tentatively formed between a spiraling ex-operative and a frightened young girl on a secluded park bench in New York- A friendship that could have lasting effects; both for the loner, and his anxious young companion. Pre-Series.
Location: New York City, March 2011
When they had first met, he had only just recently arrived in New York City after journeying to New Rochelle and learning of Jessica’s death...
Still dressed in the now crumpled suit he had been wearing since his return, John Reese sat on a park bench in a quieter area of central park, nursing an open bottle of spirits; a brown paper bag concealing the bottle and its brand name from sight. He had been following the same routine for days now, but for Reese – time no longer moved as it once did. The operative part of his mind was aware of the passage of time, and what went on around him; but with Jessica – his last physical connection to the part of him that was still human, now gone – it all seemed inconsequential.
Today, however, the operative part of Reese noticed a disturbance to the routine that was being unconsciously maintained – an anomaly detected in the periphery of hazy perception that caused the drunken fog Reese had fallen in to dissipate just enough for him to notice. The park bench Reese had claimed was hidden partly from view, offering the ex-operative the privacy needed for him to drink himself into oblivion. But this apparently didn’t dissuade the figure who had set off the operative’s internal proximity alarm, which caused his body to tense in preparation for an attack. But an attack never came; instead, all Reese heard was the sound of slightly hitched breathing and small hiccups as the bench creaked and another person – smaller, Reese noted absentmindedly – sat down a few feet away from him at the opposite length of the bench.
Turning glassy eyes toward the other end of the wooden seat, the operative found his ‘companion’ to be a child who didn’t look a day over ten, if that. The girl was dressed in a pair of faded jeans with rips in the knees; a worn pair of sneakers, and light hooded sweatshirt – something Reese found odd, as even though New York was on the cusp of spring, it was still cold: not the season for light hoodies. A curtain of what looked to be dirty blonde hair was tucked into the sweatshirt’s hood, which gave the older man a clear view of pale cheeks glistening with faint tear tracks and a trembling lip. In fact, the girl’s whole body was trembling; but as to whether the trembling was from the cold or the crying, Reese could not be sure.
As if she knew someone was watching her, the girl’s body tensed in a similar fashion of Reese’s when she had first arrived. Reese’s alcohol dulled mind lessened his coherence, but that didn’t stop instinct from kicking in as his body language shifted from someone being on high alert to becoming someone the child had no reason to fear. Despite the pit he was drinking himself into, Reese would never hurt a child – he would die first. Staying as still as possible, Reese watched the girl’s head turn stiffly toward him; her arms unconsciously crossing over her chest with hands fisting the sleeve material covering the opposite arm – as dull, glassy eyes slowly turned in his direction.
Reese’s breathing unconsciously hitched as the girl’s glassy gaze tentatively met his; her breathing was shallow as she found the older man with a slightly greying beard watching her. The girl took in the man’s smart attire; but she could smell the faint stench of alcohol around him as he sat in the crumpled suit which suggested he had been wearing the suit for quite some time. As her eyes met his, the girl noticed the sadness hidden beneath the glassiness, brought on by the alcohol- it was strange, however, that she didn’t feel afraid of him; as she had come to relate alcohol with violent episodes. Realising that she had been staring for too long, the girl quickly averted her gaze to the bench space between them; tentatively loosening the grip on one of her sleeves so that she could rub her eyes and nose.
Reese blinked as the girl broke eye contact, and instead became interested in the bench between them.
While a slither of tension had left her upon her scrutiny of him, he could still see the trembling in the girl’s limbs as she dried her eyes and nose. Something had upset the kid, that much was clear – but Reese’s reactions had been dulled due to the amount of alcohol in his system, so it took him a few moments to notice the fading bruise on her wrist that was exposed after her eyes were dry. He frowned at the sight of the mark on the small wrist; a more coherent part of his mind catching the slight indentations of what looked to be from a large hand holding on tighter than necessary.
The realisation brought with it a sick feeling fuelled more by the large amount of spirits he had been trying to drown himself in. That, in turn, caused the bottle he had been resting on his knee to unceremoniously crash to the ground – causing the girl to jump a foot in the air and the silence to be broken rather spectacularly. Reese’s now empty hand opened and closed a few times, as his mind cleared enough for him to realise that he had spooked the girl, if the worn sneakers that had been tucked beneath her hitting the floor was anything to go by.
“Wait,” Reese spoke, a slur under cutting his attempt to create a soothing tone. “I-I’m sorry... If I- If I scared you...”
Looking up to the now standing child, he could see her trying to decide whether or not the smart looking drunk was crazy or not. Her fight-or-flight instinct seemed to be at war beneath the surface; but Reese couldn’t help but secretly admire the fact she hadn’t bolted yet – when most would have, despite their lack of anything to truly fear. But of course, those fears would have been correct concerning him – after all, he was a monster who had failed to protect the one person he cared for most in the world.
“Mm’not supposed to talk to strangers,” she said in a whispered tone, while she pulled the sweatshirt sleeves down over her hands to try and warm them up.
Reese tried to offer the girl a weak smile. “I-It’s alright, w-we don’t have to talk,” he said, in what he hoped was a reassuring tone. “I-I’ll leave you alone, I-If you sit back down... I just wanted to apologize for scaring you, is all...” he explained, understanding the girl’s apparent need for a place she could mostly relax.
The girl’s biting of her bottom lip seemed to be a cushion for her anxiety, Reese thought, as he observed the girl carefully inch back to her vacated spot. Her expression had become guarded – as once again, her arms crossed over her chest, hands fisting some of the sleeve material between them. A lock of hair had escaped her sweatshirt hood to rest beside her left cheek following the scare he had given her, but the girl didn’t appear to have noticed as she sat down with her body facing away from Reese and toward the park. Turning her head in his direction, Reese was given a glimpse of clearer eyes, which were either blue or grey in colour.
She was scrutinising him again; but this time, upon the completion of her observation, the girl’s eyes lowered until her gaze landed on his side, where a hand rested on the bench beside him.
“You’re bleeding,” Came the unexpected murmur a few minutes later. The voice was small, and the girl’s obvious shyness leaked through into her words.
Reese looked down to the girl’s line of sight and frowned. Using his right hand, he pushed the corner of his suit jacket back slightly to catch a glimpse of the patch of red she must have seen when she had stood. Blinking, he noted that the material of his shirt was stuck to the wound he could neither feel nor recall. It was funny how little you remembered after your sixth or seventh bottle of drink.
“Who-What happened to you?” she asked in a concerned whisper, as her eyes slowly returned to Reese’s face.
Reese’s glassy eyes moved away from his side - which he quickly recovered up with the flap of his dark suit jacket- and back to the girl’s concerned look.
“I think I might have fallen over,” he answered with a lilt of amusement. Looks like Arndt had a better swing than I thought, he mused, as memories of what happened with Jessica’s abusive husband in New Rochelle surfaced from his hazed memory in which Reese had failed to block Arndt’s wild swing of an iron poker he had picked up from the fireplace. “It’s just a scratch.”
Though she didn’t believe him, the girl slowly nodded. She had learnt from a very young age that adults always lied, and so she hadn’t expected the injured man beside her to tell her the truth at all. It took a moment for Reese to realise that the girl didn’t believe his excuse of a fall one bit – going by the scepticism showing clearly in her eyes, as well as the quickly altered question from ‘who’ to ‘what’ had happened. It made him wonder how much violence the kid had seen or been around.
“Aren’t you a little cold out here? With just the hood I mean,” Reese asked softly, after a pause – causing the girl’s brow to furrow, as distrust replaced scepticism in her eyes.
Why he was taking such an interest in the girl, was beyond him. After all, it had been a long time since he had allowed himself to consciously care about someone who wasn’t Jessica. Perhaps it was the drink loosening his tedious control over his emotions. The kid was an anomaly after all – she had broken his self imposed isolation by sitting on this particular bench; so why should her welfare matter to a broken ex-operative who had nothing left other than to drink himself to death? It’s because we’re both anomalies, the logical part of his brain put to him – and you’re both alone.
In the end we’re all alone, and no-one is coming to save you.
That is what he had told Jessica all those years ago during their chance airport meeting – it’s what Reese had been telling himself for over a decade. But with a young girl now watching him with distrust after he had voiced his own question, Reese – for all his wishes to fall into oblivion with no return – realised he was taking an interest because he didn’t want the kid to be alone like he was. She hadn’t known a thing about him, and yet she had been the first person in quite some time to ask him, in her own way, if he was okay. Other than Jessica, Reese couldn’t remember the last time anyone had asked him such a question with genuine sincerity in their voice.
Unaware of the man’s thought process, the girl slowly nodded in regards to his question as to whether or not she was cold. She didn’t want him to be mad at her – even though he had lied to her only moments before.
Most of the adults she had grown up around hadn’t given her much notice – except when a case worker or someone important visited – but his eyes showed an emotion she was rarely accustomed to as he watched her: Concern.
Seeing the nod, Reese offered the kid a shy smile, which she returned hesitantly before averting her eyes to her lap this time. With the alcohol slowly wearing off, the knowledge of the drunken haze clearing alerted him to the fact that he too was cold – the blood loss from the gash on his side was probably not helping matters. Reese shifted his body then, so that his left arm came to rest on his lap – an extra precaution to make sure the wound remained covered - and his body turned to face the kid.
“Well, it’s not warm enough to be out in this weather without a coat, Kid, you could catch something.” Reese found himself reprimanding the girl gently as her trembling continued; even if she appeared to have forgotten about it. The girl nodded mutely; she wouldn’t tell the man that the only coat she owned had been confiscated by her agitated guardian a few days before, because of a minor infraction (throwing away a piece of trash into the outdoor bin). Reese noted the mute nod, before asking softly. “Where are your parents?”
“I-I don’t have any...” was the whispered reply. The girl had decided to be honest; the last time she had lied about not having a real mommy and daddy, her foster brother had not been nice about it. She shivered at the thought.
Reese closed his eyes for a moment, missing the girl’s body shiver. The only downside to his alcohol intake was that he was not in full control of his emotions, which at this point, he needed to be – making him feel out of balance, as he normally kept his emotions under check regardless of the situation he found himself in. She must be a foster kid, he thought with a slight shake of his head, as he opened his eyes to find the girl’s cheeks had gained a small infusion of pink. Whether her flush was from embarrassment, sadness, or both – Reese couldn’t be sure.
“I-I’m sorry...” He said with some awkwardness. Even though he liked – and was generally good with- kids, he had forgotten how to deal with certain sensitive situations; such procedures were not included in the covert handbooks of the CIA.
“It’s ‘Kay,” she shrugged. “My real mommy and daddy never wanted me... and my first mommy and daddy didn’t either when Toby came along, so they sent me away.” She explained in a robotic matter-of-fact tone of voice; a blank mask replaced the sniffles of moments before, as she drew her knees up to her chest.
Why she had just shared that with a stranger she had met less than an hour ago, she didn’t know; but there was something about him she could connect to. She couldn’t explain why.
The girl’s response to his apology set warnings off in Reese’s clearing mind. The way her eyes had dulled as she spoke about her birth and foster parent’s was so off-handed, that it shook what was left of his tattered, emotional core. She had become older in the last few moments; her persona shifting from a shy child to someone apparently resigned to her predicament. To Reese, it looked as if the girl had already figured out something that had taken him several military tours, and a subsequent capture and interrogation to realise – that she was all alone in the world, and no one was coming to save her from it.
No kid should have to figure that out so young, Reese thought sadly. He wanted to tell her that she was mistaken – that she wasn’t as alone as she thought. But Reese would be a hypocrite to suggest that, when he shared such similar beliefs. Instead, he went for a slightly different approach; hoping the neutrality in his voice would bring the girl back- at least a little – from the pit he knew she was close to falling into. It was a pit he had fallen into himself over six years before, and not even Jessica had been strong enough to bring him back before it had been too late. Reese just hoped his words would be in time for the kid.
“It will get better,” Reese offered softly, his eyes rising to her face – even though he appeared to grow distant with his words. His voice, however, was the clearest it had been in weeks.
The girl slowly raised her head from where it had been resting on her drawn up knees. Turning her face toward the man, she sent him a silent glare; even if Reese’s eyes seemed far away as he faced her to truly notice.
“Doesn’t look like it from here,” she murmured, her voice bringing Reese back to the present. Realising what she had said after a beat, however, caused the girl to audibly swallow upon seeing the unreadable expression on the man’s face. “I-I’m s-sorry, s-sir. I-I didn’t – didn’t mean –“
Reese’s eyebrows furrowed as the girls words caught up with him. He couldn’t fault the kid’s spunk. But the deer-caught-in-the-headlights look she was giving him – as her knuckles turned white with the iron grip she had on her sleeves- and the way her chest heaved, suggested that such an outburst from her had not been met well in the past.
“I guess I’m not the best role model for that philosophy,” he agreed with a small shrug, letting the kid know that she had not taken offence.
“Relax,” he soothed gently, as the girl’s breathing continued to hitch. “I won’t hurt you.”
The girl’s fists loosened – her white knuckles regaining some of their earlier colour – as she watched for any sudden movement on Reese’s part. Reese gave her a slight nod in reassurance, before surprising even himself.
“My name’s John,” he offered in his own whispered voice, as he continued to meet the kid’s eyes. He knew she was frightened – he could see as much- but the kid’s hidden strength, which Reese had picked up on earlier, did her credit.
“M-Morgan..” she whispered after a beat. John nodded.
“It gets better, Morgan,” he swallowed. “I know it might not look that way... but, it will... okay?”
“Y-You... You promise?” Came the hitched question. Morgan’s hands moved of their own accord as she said this; one hand had moved to cover the bruise on her wrist, while the other hand moved to her neck, where a chain rested hidden from view.
Reese licked his lips, as he tried to find a way around lying to the girl a second time in their brief conversation. John hated lying to kids – and particularly so in Morgan’s case, as the kid had been lied to enough already.
“I won’t lie to you,” he began gently. “But I think you know already that I can’t make that kind of promise,” he answered with true regret in his raspy voice. As a single tear escaped Morgan’s eye unnoticed, Reese added softly, “What I can promise... Is that you are not alone as you think...”