More Than Gossip


nicole_icon.gif peyton_icon.gif

Scene Title More Than Gossip
Synopsis Nicole reaches out to Peyton for support.
Date May 10, 2019

Bay Ridge: Nicole's Brownstone

“Run along and play with Jonah now, honey. Show him your coloring books or maybe your horses.” Not that Phillipa needs any instructions on how to play with her best friend, but tossing out a couple ideas makes for great encouragement.

“Come on! Aunt Cole got me a chestnut horse for Christmas! I haven’t named him yet.” Pippa grabs on to the other child’s hand and starts to head down the hall toward her bedroom. “Maybe you can help me!”

Nicole smiles as she watches the two friends disappear down the hallway, a cup of coffee clutched in her hands as she sits across the table from her own friend. “Thanks for bringing him over. She really does love when they have a chance to play.”

Her head tips to one side, spilling dark glossy hair over one shoulder, expression apologetic. “I wish I could say I only asked you over for a playdate and gossip, though.”

“Is it a race horse? They have weird names,” Jonah says, his own hand on the one toy he was allowed to bring with him, a dinosaur of course. He doesn’t name his dinosaurs, though, choosing to respectfully call them by their scientific names. He happily lets Pippa lead him down the hallway, leaving the grownups to their boring talk.

Peyton’s dark eyes follow the pair until they disappear, then the woman turns to look at Nicole, a small smile of something like resignation gracing her lips — abilities like hers mean she gets called upon at times, and that may be what she expects.

“That sounds ominous. And I could use a bit of frivolous gossip these days. No one tells me the fun mom things but only the important administer things at school. I totally want to know what Becky with the good hair said at the bake sale,” she says lightly, hands wrapping around her own coffee mug to bring it up for a sip.

Fortified with caffeine, she adds, “What’s up?”

“I got let go from my position as presidential liaison.” That’s not left to hang long before Nicole qualifies it. “They transferred me to field work, which means I need to leave town for at least a little while. And… I’m taking Pippa with me as part of my cover.” It’s clear she’s not entirely happy about doing it, but she’s resolute all the same.

“I wanted you to know what’s going on because Ben and I want to make sure we can keep her up to date on her studies, so when we come back, she can pick right up with the other kids.” Nicole frowns faintly, taking a sip of her coffee. “And, so if something happens… Someone knows.

“I’m searching for Adam Monroe.”

The mention of taking Pippa with Nicole on field work has Peyton’s brows lifting beneath her dark bangs, and she casts a glance to the hallway, before looking back to Nicole. “Are you sure? There could be other covers, other things you can do. She can stay here, if you needed a place for her to stay — not that she doesn’t have her aunts and sisters to look after her.”

Though those people tend to get into trouble too — perhaps not the best of babysitters. Maybe Ingrid.

The name Adam earns a soft sigh from Peyton — not the tremulous shiver it might have had once upon a time, when she was so much younger. “I haven’t heard that name in a bit,” she says lightly. “Are you asking for me to look?”

“I wanted her to stay with you. Or with her sister, but… Ben’s right. No one would believe both of us left the city without her.” Nicole sighs quietly, shoulders sagging. Resolute, but still unhappy. “We’re just doing a bit of recon for now. If things are going to get dicey, we’re working out an exit strategy for her. Likely we’ll call Lucille in.” Lucille has the resources (see also: firepower) to protect her baby sister if things go sideways.

Her mouth tugs upward in a wry smile. “I’m not asking… I wouldn’t say no, but I won’t ask you to do anything you’re not comfortable with.” Nicole’s aware of what kind of bogeyman Monroe is. “If we could pinpoint him, that’d make things easier for sure. But…” One hand comes away from the coffee mug, palm up in a gesture of uncertainty.

“Where to?” asks Peyton, both worry and curiosity warring in her expression. “Unless you can’t say. But… you know I can find out if I want to, anyway,” she says, lips tipping up at the corners in a smile.

She takes another sip of coffee before setting it down and resting her hands on her knees. It doesn’t take the most concentration to do what she does, but years of using her ability has taught her it’s safer not to hold anything hot because she never knows what she might see.

Her eyes study the floor in front of her, before the pupils widen, blacking out the dark brown rings surrounding them. Almost instantly, though, Peyton’s eyes narrow as she winces, a sharp intake of breath accompanying the expression. Her pupils flare in and out a few times before she brings her hands to her eyes, closing them and pressing her palms against them.

“Fuck,” she hisses, keeping her eyes closed for a long moment, before she looks up at Nicole, squinting a little. “Not useful. That’s, um, only happened a couple of times before… with Gabriel and Teo.” The implications there are made in the weight of the names.

“Shit,” Nicole is up from her seat and standing beside Peyton’s with a steadying hand on her shoulder once it becomes apparent that things did not go as they are supposed to. “You’re okay?” Worry creases her brow and brings her down into a crouch next to her friend.

“What? What does that…” Blue eyes close as recognition dawns. “Multiples. Can’t pin down multiples.” Nicole nods and squeezes Peyton’s shoulder briefly, expression apologetic. “That at least proves the theory. That’s something to start with. Thank you.”

Nicole steps away from the table and into the kitchen to pour a glass of water and grab a bottle of aspirin from a cabinet above the stove. She sets both down in front of Peyton, in case she needs them.

Peyton reaches to squeeze Nicole’s hand, shaking her head. “No need to be sorry,” she says, voice faint, like if she speaks too loudly it will hurt. “You didn’t know. Or, well, maybe you might have.” She grins a little, then waits for Nicole to come back with the water and aspirin.

“It’s fragments and too hard to piece together, when it’s multiples. Like looking at a flash of a jigsaw puzzle — there are images, but they’re a jumble, and I can’t make sense of them, and then it blacks out, back to me,” she explains, reaching for the aspirin to shake out a few into her palm, dropping them into her mouth before she chases it with the glass of water.

“My power’s changed a little, but apparently not enough to work with that,” she adds, looking apologetic as she leans back to rest her head against the back of the sofa cushion. “Is there anything I can do to help, though? Aside from this?” she gestures to her eyes.

The explanation of what it’s like when Peyton uses her ability receives a slow nod. Nicole can’t imagine trying to piece together so many fragmented visions into something that makes any kind of sense. “You’ve given me something to work with. It’s a big help.” She can’t be disappointed that her friend can’t force it to come together.

“You can help me connect with Pippa’s teachers. Maybe I can get some books and try to keep up on her schooling?” Nicole settles down again with her coffee, tapping her nails against the ceramic mug. “Pop in to check on the house once a week?” she gestures to the living space. “I want to make sure I have a place to come home to when this is all over. Beyond that… Just know that you’re the only person I’ve told about this.” Ryans has his own confidants. “As far as anyone’s concerned, SESA sacked me. If you can help me keep that lie up, that would be a great help.”

“Oh, of course. We’ll get you a copy of the curriculum for the rest of this year and next, though I certainly hope you’ll be back in time for next year,” Peyton says, brows drawing together with concern for one of her school’s students, on top of the concern that comes with being close friends of the family — well, Nicole and Pippa.

“For all of your sakes, and also ours. Jonah will miss her terribly — he’s gotten quite used to seeing her every day.” Peyton reaches for her coffee, taking a sip while her free hand rubs her eyes. “And I can certainly head over or have Hollis come by if I can’t.”

She tips her head curiously, not repeating the question that she’s now noticed never got answered. “Just be careful, Nic. Field agent… you never really did that, did you? Not that I doubt your ability to do anything you put your mind to,” she adds, lips tipping up into a weak smile. “But Ben’s no spring chicken, even if he’s still younger than he should be, and Pippa needs you. So just be careful.”

“The last thing I want to do is leave my little girl alone.” Even though Nicole’s always consoled herself with the fact that Pippa’s family is so large, she can never truly be alone, no matter what may happen to her parents.

She smiles faintly. “We’ll see if this works out. If this case goes well, then maybe it’ll stick. If it doesn’t, I guess I’ll be finding something else to do.” The smile grows a little broader as Nicole grants, “It’s campaign season. There’s always someone out there who needs someone with my skills.” Always looking on the bright side.

“We’ll, ah…” Nicole takes a moment to consider whether or not to give more detail to her friend. It isn’t that she doesn’t trust her, but doesn’t want to give her any information that might put her at risk. “We’ll be in Providence. We’ve got a lead in the Pine Barrens, so we’re setting up home base there. As far as anyone’s concerned, we’re just looking to get away from the city and focus on Pippa.”

“Huh. Is there even anything out there?” Peyton asks, before she chuckles at the question, flapping a hand off the side of her coffee mug as if to wipe away the question. “I guess Adam, thus all of this, right?”

She glances down the length of the hallway, to where the two children play in Pippa’s room, before glancing back at Nicole. “Just be careful,” she repeats, quite the broken record. “I’m not sure if anyone’ll buy you leaving the city by choice to go live out in the middle of nowhere, with no lattes or top-shelf martinis.” It’s a gentle tease, and one that’s aimed at herself as much as her friend, as she adds, “anymore than they would me.”

Her cup is set down again, and Peyton reaches a hand across to squeeze Nicole’s. “I hope you’re a better actress than me, I guess. When do you think you’re supposed to be back by? So if you’re not… I can take a look to make sure you’re all right.”

“Not much,” Nicole admits with a smirk. Her brows lift a bit at the mention of Adam. Yeah, there is that. “Maybe they won’t buy it, but… I figured a mental breakdown and a fuck this city was my best shot at making it seem reasonable… ish.” Or maybe there’s nothing that will make this seem reasonable, but at least an attempt is being made.

“I’ll check in with you once a week,” she promises. “If you don’t hear from me… Contact Director Choi at SESA, I guess. She and Deputy-Director Voss are the only ones who’ll know I’m still gainfully employed.” Nicole shrugs. “And if I ask about your mother when I check in, tell them something’s gone sideways.” It’s a serious thing she’s suggesting, but she smiles anyway, dismissive of the notion that anything might go that far off the rails. “But I’m sure everything’s going to be fine. Monroe’s… crafty. I’m not even sure there’ll be anything to find out there.”

“Right. If you do, just know I’ll be looking to see what’s up and where you’re at, so make sure you’re not looking at Benjamin Ryans’ bare ass or something when you talk to me, because I really don’t need that in my repertoire of things that can’t be unseen,” Peyton says flatly, clearly worried, but not about to tell someone she loves not to do something dangerous. It would be hypocritical, and she still doesn’t believe she’s earned back that right to begin with.

“I’ll gather up some supplies for you for Pippa,” she adds, finishing her coffee and setting down the empty mug on the coffee table. “I’ll have a backpack full of this and next year’s curriculum for you, but obviously wish we weren’t losing her as a student. She’s well loved by everyone and there will be quite a hole with her gone.”

Her dark eyes flit to the hallway again. “For Jonah especially, but he’ll get used to it. They’re resilient.”

Nicole laughs at Peyton’s request. “I promise I would not do that to you,” she assures, then adds the caveat after a beat, “on purpose.” She knows she’s being serious. To be honest, so is she. The situation is less than ideal, to say the least. But humor is a good coping mechanism.

She smiles gently at the assertion that Pippa not being at school will be a loss. It makes a proud mother of Nicole to hear that her child is thriving. It gives her pangs of guilt as well to be taking her little girl out of that environment. But Pippa is, as Peyton says, resilient. “I’ll try to have her back before the fall. We’ll see how things go. I’ll throw those two the biggest pizza party two kids could ever want when we get back.”

“Oh, so you’ll be looking on it on accident?” Peyton quips back, appreciative of the chance to lighten up the topic. It’s been some time since she’s been aware of her friends knowingly putting themselves in danger on missions — aside from Brad — and she could do without it, to be frank.

“I’ll throw in the sundae station,” adds Peyton, regarding the party. “Though I won’t be able to watch the lurid concoctions they come up with. At Lonny’s party, I saw Dallas put sour worms and hot tamales on rocky road ice cream topped with pineapples. What is the matter with kids these days? The worst I remember doing was putting a little of every soda choice in my cup. I hope my palate’s refined a bit since thinking orange soda, grape soda, Cherry Coke, Mountain Dew, and Dr Pepper was the finest of cocktails.”

“Girl’s got needs,” Nicole jokes. The chances of her staring at Ben Ryans’ bare ass are slim these days. Slim, but not none. She grins and chuckles quietly. “I remember doing that,” she says of the soda cocktails. “I’m so grateful Pippa hasn’t gotten into soda yet.” Not at home anyway. When she’s out with Dirk, on the other hand… “That kid is positively manic when exposed to caffeine.” Thank goodness for coloring books as an outlet.

But speaking of aforementioned needs. “The timing on this is garbage,” is an understatement. “I think I’m finally… I might have finally met somebody? I’m supposed to try and organize a dinner date with a guy.” Nicole shakes her head slowly. “Maybe this is the universe telling me I’m supposed to be alone?”

The mention of a potential date has Peyton’s brows drawing up in curiosity. “Oh? Interesting,” she says, before she laughs a little at both of the last two comments.

“What do you mean, ‘try to organize a dinner date?’ It’s not a charity event or a wedding. Just text him a time and a restaurant. Done. In fact, I have upcoming reservations Brad made but he’ll be out of town again. I was going to keep them and take you or someone instead, but you can have them instead. Done. Don’t overcomplicate things — therein lies the temptation to make excuses, Nicole,” Peyton says, lips curving into a smirk before she takes another sip of coffee.

Setting down the cup, she looks a little more sternly at Nicole. “And no, you’re not supposed to be alone. Unless you choose to be. In which case it’s a perfectly respectable choice. And you may as well go to dinner once before you leave — don’t make any promises to one another, but see if he’s even worth thinking about while you’re away. If he’s still single when you come back, the universe is on your side.” The smile returns. She clearly doesn’t really think the universe cares one way or the other.

“How did you get so wise?” Nicole asks, warm amusement and affection in her tone. “If you want to give up your dinner reservations, I won’t argue. It would be nice to go somewhere that doesn’t have chicken fingers as a menu staple.” Dining out with a child gets to be a lot of the same after a while.

“His name is Zachery, and he’s… a doctor, I guess? Or used to be one. He runs a free clinic and seems to know what he’s doing.” Far be it from Nicole to judge someone for operating under the radar. “I can’t even say he seems nice. He likes to tease me, but…” She smirks faintly, sharing a secret, “I kind of like it. He makes me laugh.”

Peyton rolls her eyes at the word ‘wise,’ because that’s rarely been one that has been used to describe her. Usually the opposite, really. “You can have them. I’ll text you the time and date,” she says lightly, smirking a bit at the description given of the man.

“Well, you know the drill. Be careful. You deserve someone … if not nice, at least that makes you laugh,” she says, reaching out to squeeze her friend’s forearm lightly.

“But nice isn’t bad, either, even though it sounds boring. Boring means safe, and safe is excellent. We’re not twenty years old anymore, after all.” Peyton sounds like she’s about eighty instead of just thirty, but the ten years between twenty and thirty for her were long and difficult.

Nicole relates all too well. She squeezes Peyton’s hand with a reassuring smile. It was long and difficult, but she came out the other side a strong and capable woman. “Thank you… It’s not always easy to convince myself of that.” There are times Nicole doesn’t think she deserves companionship, when she resigns herself to single motherhood. It’s good for her to hear otherwise.

“He’s no John Logan,” is promised with a quiet laugh. Then again, there is no one else quite like John Logan. It’d be hard to compare. Nicole relents, a smile transforming into something a little more rueful. “Pippa deserves safe.” Above and beyond whatever it is that Nicole deserves.

“Trust me, I understand,” Peyton says. “I’m still not convinced about myself, really, but it’s so much work to argue sometimes.” She smiles a little wryly.

The mention of Logan makes her chuckle. “Well, John Logan and safety don’t really go hand in hand. I hope this one’s a keeper, though, and hopefully the timing won’t mess up a potentially great thing. I mean, Adam Monroe has enough to account for without adding responsibility for the failure of your relationship on to his rap sheet.”

Nicole can’t help but laugh again at that comment. “No kidding,” she muses with a shake of her head. Adam Monroe is a serious problem, but making light of her serious problems is a coping mechanism that’s served her well so far.

“Thanks, Peyton. I’m really glad you have my back. With everything.” Friendship, love life, and the professional mess alike.

There’s a fond look for her ‘comadre” and Peyton clinks her coffee mug against Nicole’s as if they were drinking champagne instead.

“Sure. Just remember your promise — I really don’t need to add Benjamin Ryans’ to my list of images that cannot be unseen.”

She nods down the hall. “Let’s go gather our hellions and find a place for lunch. My treat — God knows what you’ll be eating out in Providence. Pinecones and elderberries or something.”

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