Slow Is Good


peyton_icon.gif russo_icon.gif

Scene Title Slow Is Good
Synopsis Peyton and Brad's fledgling friendship finds its wings.
Date October 24, 2014

Toronto, Winslow-Crawford Academy of the Gifted

Time is relative. For Peyton Whitney, the past three weeks have been torturously slow — between watching and worrying over the news of the tribunals, dealing with legal paperwork, and the various threats and slurs thrown at herself or her school, there hasn’t been a lot that’s made use of the “time flies when you’re having fun” adage. But today might be one of those exceptions.

“I’ll pick you up at the airport” was offered the last time they talked, and now she’s driving slowly in the “arrivals” lanes at the airport, squinting at the dozens of people milling about, to find a particular arrival’s form. This is her second pass-by — if she misses him this time, she’ll have to circle around again in that fun game of ring-around-the-airport.

He’s there somewhere — she cheated and looked through his eyes for a moment at the last redlight, but orienting her location exactly to another’s point of view is a trick she never did manage to pick up. She knows about where he is — it’s just a matter of picking him out from the other people looking for their Uber cars.

Peyton’s cheating finds easy reward when she manages to catch the once-celebrity between many of the pick-ups. Brad’s suit, has been slightly rumpled from the travel, seems nearly standard fare for him. It’s a wonder if he ever really wears anything else.

A smile quirks across Brad’s lips as the car pulls up to retrieve him. He lifts a single hand in a wave with his shoulder bag, rather precariously, slung across his body. There’s little question he’s a minimalist when it comes to travel. “Hi, Peach! Thanks for the lift.” He slides into the passenger’s seat and shoots her an easy smile that turns nearly shy when he removes the bag, relegating it to the back bench before leaning towards her to brush a light kiss to her cheek. His own face begins to hue pink while he distracts himself by doing up his seatbelt.

Moments of courage these days feel few and far between. And after he clears his throat, he notes: “A true friend is one willing to navigate airport traffic so you don’t have to take a cab. Or an uber. I’m not always sure which is worse.” He smirks, “Unless you are an Uber? In which case, this ride will have to stop at a bank as well. I have no Canadian on me today.” His smile turns downright playful.

“Hey, stranger,” Peyton says when he gets into the car. Her lashes dip when he leans for that kiss, and she takes a little bit more time than necessary maybe to consult her rear and sideview mirrors before pulling back out into the moving lanes, before glancing back at him with a smirk.

“Things aren’t quite so dire that I’ve had to resort to that,” she says, before she shakes her head. “I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with it.” The old Peyton wouldn’t have thought to add the qualifier, so she’s grown as a person. Right? “Honestly, I’d be the worst person. Traffic circles are like something out of a horror movie for me, I swear to God.”

She glances at his bag, and then back at him. “Not one for checking luggage, huh? I think I carry the same amount in my purse.” Her purse isn’t overly big, but she is a mother, and there are graham crackers, bandaids, dinosaur figurines, baby Tylenol and other things in there, along with her own personal effects.

Brad lifts his hands defensively, “No judgment! People make their living how they make their living,” he winks and then shrugs as he settles into the seat. He rubs his face and shakes his head, “I’m a New Yorker— there’s no way I could negotiate traffic circles. I knew how to drive before the War, but driving? It’s not like riding a bike. It was a huge learning curve. Use it or lose it.”

He actually grins at the observation about his bag. “I’m back and forth enough I don’t really want to have that much baggage anymore. Besides, I’m not on-screen these days, getting full-on pretty isn’t a necessity.” He casts her a crooked grin. “And, by virtue of my sex, no one cares if I shave or just show and go. It’s within the norms and rules. So yeah, you carrying the same amount in your purse? Reasonable.”

He hums softly. “So. I don’t have anywhere to be for awhile. I was wondering…” the thought is made slowly “…if you might oblige an old friend… and take me on a tour of your school? Always looking for good causes to invest in.” With a chuckle he adds, “And, of course, I’d like to take you to dinner. We can go somewhere child-friendly if you’ve got Jonah.”

Peyton glances at him through the corner of her eyes as she drives, shaking her head a little. “Full-on pretty,” she repeats with a smirk. “And yeah, that’s a whole lot of unfair. If I show up to work without makeup and my hair in a ponytail, I get asked ‘What’s wrong?’ Like not putting on makeup means someone died.”

She’s driving in the direction of the hotel he’d said he was staying at, but at his request, she puts her signal on so she can make a U-turn. “I wasn’t going to bore you with that, or I would have offered,” she says with a chuckle. “Fair warning, there are teenagers and they might be a little starstruck and try to get you to take selfies. Even up here in the great white north.”

Her fingers tap the wheel a couple of times as she weighs the merits of dinner with and dinner without Jonah. “We can do either or. You’re sure you want to eat with a toddler? Our choices will be limited. I don’t think the chef at George will accommodate Jonah’s need for chicken tenders cut in star shapes.” She grins but adds, “It’s up to you.”

“Well, as I understand it, Jonah is kind of a huge piece of your life, so I’d hate to not include him if you’d like to. I also don’t want to pressure either way,” Brad shrugs at that and lifts his hands. “Heck, if you let me, I’d cook you both dinner. I bet I can get a toddler to eat gourmet. Star-shaped gourmet grilled cheese might be just what the doctor ordered.”

He chews his bottom lip. “I hope it’s okay I called you between the last time I was here and now.” He shrugs. If it wasn’t, he’s not actually asking. “You’re always welcome to tell me you have to wash your goldfish. I know how they can get dirty from time to time.”

He laughs at the thought of teens taking selfies. “I’m not sure I’m much of a star these days,” he chuckles, “but sure. Selfies are fine. Besides, if I can brighten some teeny-bopper’s day, I’ll have won something.” There’s an easiness he has in Toronto that he hasn’t felt for some time, and he basks in it, even if it might be inappropriate. “Besides, I think I’m getting old for teen-celebrity-status. Like Sean Connery. I still don’t really understand that one. Not that I’m— I’m not attracted to men in general, but I can appreciate when a man is attractive. Sean Connery just doesn’t hit the mark for me. Except as Bond. Probably always as Bond.” He’s blushing again.

“That’s probably not a topic I should be bringing up,” if he wants to have any game. He laughs again, shaking his head.

“Star-shaped grilled cheese sounds amazing, actually,” Peyton murmurs, cheeks coloring just a little. She shakes her head at the mention of the calls. “Of course I don’t mind. And goldfish are filthy things, I’d never allow one in my house.” Her lips curve into a smirk. She turns onto a less busy street, one lined with tall trees and houses with large lawns.

“You’re hardly too old. I mean, they still swoon over Johnny Depp, right? But you’re cooler now than before because of all that ‘war stuff,’” she says. “To a few of them anyway. Not everyone is political. I certainly wasn’t at that age.”

She turns up a long driveway to a large estate, a gray brick sign declaring it the Winslow-Crawford Academy of the Gifted. “Mi casa es su casa,” she says. “We’re currently just at 150 students, with about 50 of those boarding. I have a vacant faculty room if you’d prefer to stay after dinner instead of going to a hotel. It’s not fancy by any means, but the price is right.”

“Do they?” he asks incredulously about Johnny Depp. “He’s an oddity to me.” Depp. “Although, I gotta say, it takes a secure man to wear that much eyeliner.” Brad leans forward as they draw closer to the school and the smile tugs across his features unbidden, “I’m not sure just does it justice. That’s a lot of students,” maybe not from a K-12 perspective, but to a man who has no children? That’s a lot of students.

“I’d love to stay if I wouldn’t be too much trouble. I could do a piece on it— “ he lifts a hand “— with your permission. Sorry. I get excited about stories. People need to know there’s good places for people like us.” He shrugs at that. “It’s easy for many to focus on the bad. True on both sides, I suppose.”

His face scrunches at that. “So do you live here then?”

“We just started last year. I billed it as a homeschool co-op to get us started, but now we’re a fully operating school. It’s just ages 12 to 18. Hogwarts, I guess,” Peyton explains, pulling the car around to a separate garage building that has a couple of vehicles. “I do, yeah. I can’t really justify renting when we have all this space. We have a little suite on the ground floor. The dorms are up on the top.” The building is just four stories.

She pulls her keys from the ignition and glances his way, a little shyly. “A story? I’m… not sure.” There’s something shy there, but something else — something darker, more afraid.

“I get it,” Brad returns. “I’m pretty sure if I had a school like this, I’d stay on site too. Plus it has added benefit of being able to oversee everything.” But he doesn’t miss the awkwardness about the story, and his eyes narrow slightly. “I… sorry?” he’s not entirely sure where he overstepped this time.

Normally he’s keenly aware when he does it. But at this moment? He asked first. Kind of. And then in the vein of too-old-for-games, he asks, “What’s going on? You okay?”

Her eyes drop to where she holds the keys in her lap, studying them for a moment before she takes a breath to speak.

“I’m afraid they may subpoena me for the Tribunals,” she says finally. “I mean, I’m not hiding — people know where I am. But I guess… so far nobody’s said my name and I wonder if it’s a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ and if something gets aired talking about me, it might remind them. Where I was. Who I was with.”

She swallows, the sound audible in the quiet, tense space of the silent car, now that the radio’s off and the background music gone. “I keep expecting someone to show up to take me to Albany.”

“I don’t thiiiiiink,” Brad starts slowly, “you’re likely to get subpoenaed. You’re not Colonel Heller,” he suggests softly, hand slowly reaching towards hers to give them a squeeze. “You didn’t actively hunt and kill people. I doubt…” his cheeks hue pink. “Look, I’m happy to leave it well enough alone. I just know you’re doing good work. You are.”

He swallows around the growing lump in his throat. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up.” His eyes cast back towards the dash. “I’ll try to be,” he can’t even figure out what he should try to be, and instead falls into silence, wholly unsure.

She tips her hand beneath his, curling her fingers around his, staring down at her slimmer fingers against his broader hand. “There’s a thing I remember reading once… about World War II?” Her voice lilts up, making it a question. “Something about bad things happening not simply because of the actions the bad people took, but because good people stood by and did nothing.”

A tear slides down from her downcast eyes, but she doesn’t reach up to push it away. “I didn’t realize I was on the wrong side until it was far too late. I mean, I was a little shielded from the truth for some of it. But I should’ve left once I figured it out, you know?”

A breath is taken. Held. Released. She squeezes his hand and then lets go, reaching for the door. “You didn’t do anythiing wrong. You don’t have to try to be anything but what you are,” she says, stepping out of the car.

“I think that there are moments when we can make decisions and moments when we can’t. Sometimes we don’t have all of the info and sometimes, when we do, we’re too caught up in everything else.” Brad’s lips purse lightly. “When I tanked my show— like officially tanked the show— I’d been sitting on that interview for months. I was fact checking it. I had to have verifiable sources. Real sources.”

“Should I have aired it sooner? Maybe. Maybe allegations of that nature needed to be aired sooner without fact-checking. But it seemed so ludicrous that so much could have gone royally wrong.” He levels his gaze at her. “So I think we’re all in those places sometimes. And a person can only resolve to do better.” He motions to the building, “Which you have. Obviously.”

Peyton listens, her eyes still downcast, like she can’t quite bear to look him in the eyes. She doesn’t know exactly what he knows — what anyone knows who wasn’t in Alaska. But he’s a journalist and a good one, at that. Her gaze raises and looks to the building, then back to him. “I’m trying,” she agrees.

Then, suddenly and without warning, she steps closer to him — it’s not too much of a stretch for the willowy woman to tip her head up, grazing his cheek with her lips. “Thank you. It’s nice to have someone see it. And for the record… you did good. You did the ethical thing in waiting… and the ethical thing when you knew you couldn’t wait anymore.”

She steps back and turns to the building across the way, then. “Shall we? Any classes you want to spy on in particular?” she asks, a smile returning to her face.

The brush against his skin causes Brad’s eyes to lid while his gaze turns down, nearly shy. The vague edge of his lips turns nearly shy while he can feel warmth of flush spread over his cheeks. “I can see change as well as the next guy. Peach, you’re doing good work,” his voice has that same gentle cadence, warm but still quietly correcting as he speaks.

He chuffs softly, “I don’t know that it was the ethical thing, but my principles didn’t really let me fire that gun sooner. I do what I can to follow the few things I do know— including the importance of following what I know.” His eyebrows lift at that. He knows he, like her, is doing the best he can.

His own smile finds confidence as he nods. “I’m just keen to see what you do here and how. I really do believe that we need more of this. These initiatives make a world of difference to kids. Good starts? Big deals.”

“I’m mostly just an administrator, but I put together a great staff,” says Peyton, her own expression a little shy, her own cheeks a little pink. She’s about to say more when whatever it is falls away, thanks to a sudden call of “Mommy!” from across the lawn that separates the garage from the main building.

“Caught,” Peyton whispers with a smirk, before turning around.

The little boy is running across the yard with what must be his nanny hurrying after — their expressions are opposites. Jonah looks immensely pleased with himself, beaming as he hurries toward his mother, while the young woman following looks horrified.

“So sorry, Ms. Whitney, we came out for a walk and he-”

Peyton waves a hand, bending down to scoop Jonah up and onto her hip. “He’s fast, I know. Baby Longlegs,” she says fondly, letting the child throw his arms around her neck for a hug. She turns so that he can see Brad. “Say hello to Mr. Russo, Jonah,” she says softly — to which the boy looks at Brad, then buries his face in Peyton’s shoulder shyly.

Despite himself, Brad’s lips curve into an easy grin. “Hey buddy!” Even as the little guy turns away Russo remains steadfast in his greeting. “Your Mommy is just showing me around.” He glances towards the woman chasing after the toddler. “Any chance you might like to give me a tour?” he asks the toddler. It may be hilarious and unorthodox, but Brad has had other run-ins with toddlers before.

He casts Peyton an apologetic shrug and then turns to the woman who’d been watching Jonah. “Hey, I’m Brad. Peach is just giving me a tour of the place.”

“Hi,” the woman says, eyes widening just a little when the name clicks in place with the face — Peyton wasn’t wrong about the fact he’d be recognized.

The little boy peeks over his mother’s shoulder, then gives a very deliberate shrug — it’s not a no, at least. Peyton laughs, and turns to the young woman when Brad does. The woman is lifting a brow at the name ‘Peach,’ which makes her boss sigh just a little, shooting the man a bit of a look — still, it doesn’t erase the smile pulling at her cheeks.

“We’ve got it, I think, Allison. You can take the rest of the day off,” and in case that’s bad news for what’s probably a poor college student, Peyton adds, “on me.” This earns a bright smile, and Allison gives a wave to Jonah, and a quick “nice meeting you” to Brad, before heading for the house.

Peyton bends to let Jonah to the ground, taking his hand. “Mr. Russo wants to see where we live and where the big kids go to school,” she says. “What should we show him first?”

“The farm!” Jonah declares, looking up at Brad with a grin. His shyness is apparently short lived.

Brad’s lips hitch up on one side into an excessively boyish grin at the look. “You have a farm?!” he looks incredulously at Jonah. “You are so incredibly lucky! I can’t believe you are that lucky!” His hands clasp lightly in behind him and he falls into easy step with Peyton.

“You must be a real help around here, hey Jonah?” Brad offers.

“We have a vegetable garden and some pygmy goats. Calling it a farm’s a bit generous, but it’s shorthand,” corrects Peyton with a smirk.

Jonah, on the other hand, nods vigorously. “I feed them!” he announces, before pulling his hand out of his mother’s and running ahead. “I show you! Come on, Mr. Roosey!” Close enough.

“It’s not too late to back out,” whispers Peyton conspiratorially, though she looks happier in that moment than she has since she picked him up from the airport, her eyes fairly shining as she watches her son’s awkward toddler run from behind.

A laugh follows the whisper. “I dunno, I think I won something right there,” Brad says in turn as his head tilts slightly. “And dude, I wish I had goats! You have, basically, the best pets,” because that’s what pygmy goats count as, right? “And you get to feed them? You’re so lucky!”

He laughs again and turns his head back to Peyton, eyes alight and smile consuming his face. His lips part to say something and he thinks better of it, instead opting to keep his hands clasped behind his back. “Were the goats your idea or someone else’s? And do you make cheese with the milk?” His blue eyes slant towards her, “Because if you don’t you really should. Goat cheese is amazing. I had a friend who once cultivated cheese as a hobby. She told me it would’ve taken off more if she could have goats in the city. Obviously this is incredibly important information.”

The vegetable garden also earns a large grin. “You guys cook the veggies or is it more of an agricultural exercise?”

Peyton laughs at the question — she’s much more at ease here on her property than she is out in town, and she can’t seem to help but smile as she watches Jonah. “Have you met me? No, I don’t make cheese,” she says with a shake of her head. “We have a great cook, though, and she does. We use the vegetables when we can, too. We’re not self sustaining by any means, but we try to do our part. It’s good for the students to grow things. Anyone who wants to can get a little square.”

Jonah turns at that. “We made tomatoes!” he exclaims, and Peyton nods solemnly at Brad.

“Yes, we made tomatoes. From scratch.” As they near the “farm” that takes up the lot behind the main building, little pygmy goats, just four of them, can be seen frolicking, partitioned off from the garden — of course barren in the fall. “It’s amazing, right?” she says, wryly. “Definitely a must see.”

“Oh man, I gotta talk to your chef! I would love to get my hands on some to cultivate cheese. Peach, you have no idea what you can do. We could make berry-infused goat cheese. It would divine on a nice spring mix salad with a balsamic vinaigrette!” Brad makes a kissing motion like the wannabe chef he is. “Along with some pecans, berries, and arugula. Oh oh oh! And candied pecans. I could just make that the best salad you’ve ever tasted.”

He beams at the notion of making tomatoes. “You have a talent, my friend! You and your Mom are pretty impressive, huh?” His lips purse lightly and he can feel his cheeks warm. “I bet we’ll get you acing the kitchen though, little man. As my mother used to say, if a man wants to be successful at anything in life, he better learn to cook. I’m pretty sure if I’d been her daughter instead of her son, I wouldn’t have had to learn.” He quirks an eyebrow at that.

Peyton purses her lips as she watches Brad get excited over goat cheese, but she manages not to laugh. It isn’t laughing at him, but because of him, which is altogether different. “I am very good at reheating and at ordering take-out, myself. Some might call it my specialty.”

She looks at Jonah, who is jumping up and down at the gate to mimic the antics of the goats. He looks back over his shoulder when Brad praises him, and beams again. “Impwessive!” he agrees.

“Modest, too,” Peyton murmurs, eyes sliding to Brad. “Don’t you dare give him an ego. I’m trying really hard to avoid that.”

If he only knew. Or maybe he does.

Brad will not be deterred from his deep abiding love of food and cooking. “Ordering and reheating takeout can barely be considered eating. We need to have a healthy relationship with our food, my friend. And I’m telling you, touching vegetables in the market, finding the perfect ingredients, smelling them before buying. There’s some simple pleasure in that.”

Passions will not easily die. A civil war and the deaths of most of his friends have not stamped out Russo’s deep abiding love of food. He chuckles at the lack of modesty. “I’m not doing anything besides praising something good.” And he leans towards her to bump his shoulder against hers, “I was actually trying to make friends.” He swallows hard. “I know this probably should wait until tinier minds are tucked into bed, but I’d like to come here to see you again.” He watches her expression carefully. “I could make up some bogus work thing, but AA and rehab have me resolved to… well.” He flushes. “Be honest when I can be.”

“I understand if you only want my friendship and nothing more.” He glances towards Jonah. “And I don’t know whether Jonah’s Dad is in the picture at all. But Peyton,” not Peach for once, “I like spending time with you. If you just want a friend, I’ll happily be your friend.” He flushes. “But honestly?I haven’t felt this alive outside of work in the better part of five years.” He shoots her a lopsided grin before letting his chin drop again. “It’s silly — we live far away from each other, but I’d happily come up here to see you.”

“I think I remember this speech. The peach speech,” Peyton says with a smirk, recalling their first meeting — it wasn’t that long ago, but feels like a lifetime.

When suddenly the talk turns from food and cooking to friendship or more, she glances down, then toward Jonah, watching him as she bites her lip — her cheeks color as well, before she looks back up at him.

“I like spending time with you, too,” she murmurs, her dark eyes hooking onto his blue, studying them as if she could see the truth within them. “And if he’s not a dealbreaker… I mean, I’d understand if he were, but I’d rather know now, of course. I don’t want him to make attachments if…” she shakes her head. She’s getting too far ahead of herself.

Her eyes slide toward Jonah again, but he’s enraptured by the goats, little fingers clinging to the wire in the fence. “His father’s gone,” she says simply. There’s a matter-of-factness to the sadness wrapped around the sentence. “There’s no one else. Just me and him, and you know, 150 teenagers.” She smiles at that.

“He’s not a dealbreaker,” Brad returns quietly. “In another lifetime, I would’ve had a son by now,” Kincaid. “If Jonah were a dealbreaker we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he murmurs softly. “I try not to toy with people if I can help it.” And then with a lift of his eyebrows he adds, “Twelve steps basically dictate that.” He can feel his cheeks warm again. “And we can move slowly. Just know that I’m interested in being more than your friend,” and there, he’s said it. The cards on the table.

“But again, I live in the US still and you’ve got a good thing going here,” he shoots her a grin. “So. Slow. Not quick attachments. No burning bridges. I just like your company. And his.” He shrugs. It’s nearly shy. “And I won’t take it personally if you tell me to take a hike. You have him to look out for. I get it.”

Peyton’s dark gaze slides back to watch Jonah for a moment, then back to Brad, as she reaches to take his hand. Hopefully no teenagers are spying on them or it’ll be all over the classroom grapevine in an instant.

“Slow is good,” she agrees softly. And something she’s not used to, so it’s her turn to be shy as well.

“Eventually there are things I should tell you, but…” Peyton bites her lower lip, and her eyes shine as she studies his face. “Right now I like where we’re at. But I won’t lie to you — even if I’m a twelve-step cheater. That was a long time ago.” She smirks at the small joke at her own expense. “If you need to ask things, I’ll be honest or ask for a reprieve. I just want to enjoy this for what it is for now.” She tips her head. “And what it might be.”

“Good,” Brad smiles and lets his chin drop into a nod. “Don’t tell me anything you don’t want to. Honestly, Peach, let’s just see what happen naturally with everything between us.” He chuckles at the notion of being a twelve-step cheater. “Just be honest with me. That includes telling me you can’t tell me something.”

He shrugs and looks towards the pygmy goats. “Even if it’s that I make terrible cheese.” Pause. “It’d be a dirty lie. It’s fantastic. I’m telling you, goat cheese. Fruit. It’s fantastic. Even that guy would eat it. Even if not shaped like stars.”

“I can do that,” Peyton says quietly, her dark eyes solemn as she stares into his blue ones. The little spell is broken by the joke about cheese and jokes, and she laughs, took turning to look over at Jonah who’s bleating at the goats as he jumps up and down.

She shakes her head and turns back to Brad, smile still present. Suddenly she leans forward to kiss him, reaching to take his hands in hers down at their sides. It’s a sweet kiss, with just a touch more heat than a chaste kiss might have, and a couple seconds longer. When she rocks back on her heels, her cheeks are rosy. “Honestly, I have been wanting to do that for weeks,” she confesses.

Brad’s fingers interlock with Peyton’s and he easily returns the kiss while his eyes drift closed lightly. And then the contact breaks, causing him to track her eyes. He beams in return. “Me too,” he admits. “I didn’t want to presume… I really like you. And spending time with you.” He grins brightly. “Good to know we’re on the same page there.”

He glances towards Jonah. “I don’t want… I know you’re his mom— that he needs you to watch out for him. I don’t want to do anything you’re not comfortable with. Honestly.”

She studies him, then laughs and looks away. “You’re much too handsome today, I can’t focus,” she says, letting go of one hand, and keeping the other in his, moving closer to where Jonah stands at the gate. “It’s new. I don’t know how well it’ll go, to be honest. I haven’t dated anyone since he was born. So it’s just been us two for a while, and I’m barely getting the mother thing straight, and the school thing, and… well. We’ll see. I may fail at it miserably, but…”

She squeezes his hand. “It won’t be for lack of trying.”

A laugh follows. “I doubt that’s true,” about Brad being much to handsome. “But… thanks.” He lifts a single eyebrow with clear mischief. His hands lift at the notion of dating. “Don’t worry. I’ve got you. I’m not easily offended and I’m definitely not going to hold it against you if you need me to take a hike. It’s okay. I’m not… fragile.” He smirks at that. Maybe he is. But he won’t cow to it. Not not, anyways.

He returns the squeeze. “Alright, then. Let’s get ourselves situated and I’ll make you both dinner.” He winks. This is a new kind of adventure.

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