Picnic In The Park


sf_faulkner_icon.gif sf_nova_icon.gif

Scene Title Picnic in the Park
Synopsis Not all of life is lived in the shadows.
Date September 5, 2020

Central Park

The flat, lush lawn of Sheep Meadow isn’t the prettiest spot in Central Park, but it’s not a far walk from the Park Avenue West entrance on the southern end of the park. That makes it the ideal locale for a Julliard student looking for a quiet spot between classes. At noon, if it weren’t for the green grass, perimeter of trees, and the looming skyscrapers, it’s almost like being the shore, with people lying on blankets and in canvas lounge chairs across its fifteen acres.

True to her word, Nova’s made herself easy to spot with a bright pink blanket that contrasts with the turquoise color of her sundress. September is still warm and often humid, but today’s perfect for catching an hour in the sunshine. She’s already kicked off her shoes (white Converse, for rushing from class to the park), and sits with her eyes closed, tipped up toward the sky, basking a bit like a cat.

True to his word, Isaac Faulkner is here, striding across the green. He's dressed casually, for him — white polo shirt and dark slacks, round framed sunglasses, a bright smile, and a picnic basket in hand. "Hey," he says.

Nova’s eyes, blue and wide, open and she smiles when she sees him looming above her. She hops up in a fluid motion that comes with both nimble youth and probably years of gymnastics or dance classes.

“Hey, yourself,” she says, smoothing the skirt of her dress — futilely as they’ll just sit down again in a moment. “Is this spot okay?” Her gaze darts around — there’s the tree line closer to the street, or a walk north would bring them toward the lake. “We can find shade or a bench or whatever. Do you need some sunblock?” One of her bare feet nudges the nearby book tote, indicating she has some within.

"This is fine," Isaac says, still wearing his best grin; maybe it widens just a bit when Nova hops up as agilely as she does.

Then, after a moment's pause, his smile takes on a slightly more sheepish look. "I'll take you up on the sunblock, though," he says, glancing around a bit out of habit — the better to make sure no paparazzi are in the area. There don't seem to be any; good.

"And," he says, grinning, "I brought sandwiches." Not ones he's made himself — he's fairly sure he couldn't make a sandwich poisonous, but… why take chances?

Her smile widens when his does, and she drops back down to sit, legs folding like a pretzel. She grabs the striped bag and rummages through it, coming up with the sunblock which she hands to him.

“It doesn’t even smell like cupcakes or mojitos or anything,” she says with a grin. It’s very likely she does own sunblock that smells like those things, so the unscented brand was deliberately chosen.

“Oh, good. I’m famished. The concerto I’m working on is exhausting. I was going to text and see if you wanted me to pick something up, but figured we’d grab a hot dog and ice cream if nothing else,” Nova says, making a face. “Not super classy, admittedly. Are you horrified? I can pretend I only eat foie gras and caviar if it’ll impress you more, but I don’t think I could commit to following through on that to make that lie convincing. I lack that sort of commitment, I’m afraid.”

Faulkner nods gratefully as he settles down beside her, taking the sunblock and setting down the picnic basket. He's pleased that she brought the plain sunblock — he isn't opposed to mojitos, but smelling like them might not make the best impression, and impressions are something that he takes great care with.

He grins a bit as he dabs a bit of the sunblock on his face, a bit on his arms. "Caviar and foie gras are nice now and again, but if you ate them exclusively, I'd have serious concerns," he says wryly. "Not really a balanced diet."

He hands the sunblock back to her and reaches to open the picnic basket. "I brought turkey and cheese and egg salad," he says… then his grin returns. "No caviar or foie gras, though."

Nova laughs, tucking the lotion back into her tote bag. “Sounds like a recipe for gout or scurvy or some other disease you get when you don’t eat a salad once in a while,” she says.

She tips her head thoughtfully, before she settles on “Turkey and cheese, please!” with a bright smile. She watches as he pulls the food out of the picnic basket, and bites her lower lip. She looks away, reaching to pluck a single blade of grass.

“So…” Nova begins, raising the wide piece of grass up to straighten it between both of her thumbs, like she might whistle with it. Her lashes fan her cheeks as she studies the blade, before she speaks again.

“I Googled you.”

She looks back up at him, one brow lifting. “Senator.” She shakes her head a little in disbelief, her tawny hair swinging with the motion. “Impressive. I figured maybe you were a Wall Street broker or something.”

"Artisanal greens," he agrees, with a somberness that almost immediately gives way to a chuckle as he hands her the requested sandwich.

At her revelation, though, Isaac goes still for a moment, considering… then he laughs. "Google, huh?" he asks wryly… then he grins ruefully. "Yeah. Senator," he says, giving a tiny shrug. "I… wasn't a hundred percent sure on whether you knew or not," he says, peering down at the picnic basket as he pulls out his own sandwich.

He falls silent for a moment, studying the sandwich, then looks back to Nova, his expression intent. "Does it make you think differently of me?" he asks.

She unwraps her sandwich, laughing at his first quip, but looking a little embarrassed when he repeats the word Google.

Nova’s downcast eyes come back up to study his face when he asks that more serious question. Her head cants to the side, her eyes narrowing a little as if she’s trying to decide her words — or maybe find the answer in his boyish face.

“I didn’t know at first. I thought you seemed familiar, but couldn’t put my finger on it. My roommate said I should make sure you weren’t, you know, a serial killer or something.” She grimaces, teeth gritting together. “Not that I thought you were.”

That doesn’t answer the question. “It doesn’t change how I feel about you, no,” she finally says. “I think it’s pretty impressive and commendable, to do so much for other people. If anything, it made me think more highly of you.”

Nova looks away, letting the bright colors of a kite in the sky draw her attention for a moment, before her blue eyes slide back to Faulkner’s face. “I just feel a little…I don’t know. Ignorant, maybe? In comparison. Like, what in the world would you see in me?

She waves at the air as if she could erase that last sentence. “Don’t answer that. Really. Is there dill in the egg salad?” she wonders, trying to change the subject. Quickly.

His eyes widen a bit, humor dancing in them. A serial killer? Really? Of course not. Serial killers murder people in dark alleys.

Faulkner has people to do that for him when the need arises, as men of wealth and taste do. It's an important distinction.

The amusement in his eyes fades a bit as she speaks, though, replaced by a look of attentiveness — as though, at this moment, she is the only thing in all the world that he is truly noticing.

His smile slowly returns as she asks what he sees in her… but as requested, he doesn't answer. "If you reaallly don't want me to answer that question, I won't. But ask me again sometime," he says, that smile of his slowly widening, his dark eyes intent on her blue ones.

He holds her gaze for a second longer, then looks back to the basket, pulling out the egg salad sandwich. "It does. Would you rather go halfsies on both? Or are you hungry enough for two sandwiches?"

Nova’s smile broadens, impossibly it seems, at his laugh and softens when he looks so intently at her. She tips her head and lifts her brows, as if to say what? before he speaks. His answer draws a tinge of rose to her cheeks and she breaks the gaze first.

Luckily there’s a sandwich to look at. She pulls the two halves of hers apart and offers him one, looking up to meet his eyes again.

“Let’s make a dill.” Yes, a pun.

Halfsies accomplished, she finally takes a bite of the first sandwich she’d asked for, and once she’s swallowed that first bite, nods to him.

“So what did make you want to be in politics?” She asks. “Being a CEO so young, you’d think that was plenty to keep you busy. I feel like such a slacker all of a sudden. All I do is school. And I even slept through my morning class because I forgot to charge my phone.”

Isaac laughs despite himself at her pun. "A done dill," he responds in kind, trading off half of the egg salad for half of the turkey and cheese.

At her question, though, the humor fades from his expression, leaving him with a distant, almost melancholy look.

"The CEO position was… an inheritance," he says quietly. "Which isn't to say I didn't work for it," he adds hastily, giving a faintly rueful grin. "It had to be earned… but even so," he says, that distant expression settling over his face again. "I had hoped with politics that… maybe I could do something on my own, to build on that legacy. Use what I'd been given to make a difference."

Faulkner shakes his head slowly, coming back from whatever distant place he'd been to dwell once more in the present. "That is… harder than it seems, sometimes," he admits. "But. One does what one can," he says, shrugging.

"So… your turn, now," Faulkner says, grinning brightly. "What got you into music?"

She watches as his expression shifts from laughter to something more somber. Her eyes flick left to right, as if she could read behind his expression and the surface. When he returns to the present, Nova’s smile returns, though a softer one than the pun-proud smirk.

“See,” she says, leaning to nudge him with her shoulder lightly. “That’s even more amazing. A lot of people would be happy to have what you have and not do something more with it — just build it up for their own benefit. Not that that’s bad — a business can help a lot of people, provide goods, services, jobs. It’s not selfish in and of itself, but I think a lot of people get so high up they forget why they were in it in the first place.”

Nova takes a bite of sandwich, thinking as she chews, before she answers his.

“Music… I don’t know. I just couldn’t imagine anything else, I guess. It makes me feel whole. And,” she says, dropping her voice, glancing around as if she’s about to confess something awful, “it’s //entirely selfish, honestly. People might like to listen to me play, but I would play if no one else was there, anyway, so it’s not about other people. But that helps, too. It’s nice to share something you love so much with other people.”

A sparrow lands nearby and Nova tears off a bit of bread to toss to it, before looking back at Isaac. “Do you have a favorite composer?”

Faulkner takes a bite out of his sandwich to avoid looking too amused at her confession. As if choosing the direction of your life selfishly is a bad thing…

Her followup question draws a frown to Isaac's face, though; he swallows his bite of sandwich, but the frown remains as he thinks about it. "I haven't really made a study of classical music enough to have a favorite, no. I have some composers I like, but not really a favorite. Let's see… I like Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin, from what I've heard."

He looks over to Nova, curiosity visible on his face. "What do you like to listen to? And what do you like to play?"

His list draws a wider grin from Nova. “That’s a pretty eclectic group, so I’m impressed. It suggests an open mind, I think. All very good choices.” Suddenly, her eyes widen and she snaps her fingers. “Oh! Hold on. There’s a silly article we were looking at the other day, let me see…”

Nova reaches into her tote bag to pull out her phone, keying in a few words and swiping the screen until she finds what she’s looking for. “What your favorite composer says about you — we’ll put an asterisk on ‘favorite,’ since you just said you don’t have a favorite. Say yea or nay to each of these statements so we can find out if there’s actual science behind any of this. Then I’ll tell you mine. Spoiler: I’m super boring.”

She scrolls a bit before reading, “Tchaikovsky: You enjoy horses and Christmas too earnestly.” Her brows lift as she waits for his indication as to truth or fiction, before reading on. “Rachmaninoff: You believe tea is superior to coffee and cats are superior to dogs, regardless of what you drink or own.” Her head tilts and she shakes her head. “I don’t see that, but I’ll let you self diagnose.”

The last makes her laugh aloud. “Chopin: You believe in love, but not being in love, and you play the ukulele.” Her brows draw together in an exaggerated worried look as she waits for his yea or nay.

Faulkner raises an eyebrow… then laughs. "Nay, nay, nay. 0 and 3, I'm afraid. I've nothing against horses, but I've never really cared much for riding, either." Christmas… how long has it been since he actually did anything for Christmas? Since Dad died. He'd always liked to cook for Christmas…

One more thing that died with Daniel Linderman, Nicole would probably say. He feels the stab of old bitterness at that, but pushes it aside — he doesn't have time for it now.

"I do like tea now and again, but coffee is my more usual drink, and I'm fond of cats and dogs. And I definitely don't play the ukelele… though that might be something to pick up," he says, grinning with actual amusement at the image that inspires. "Might get some attention at campaign rallies."

She exhales in faux relief, hard enough to blow a lock of her tawny hair off her face. “I don’t know if I could take you seriously if you played the ukulele, though,” she says teasingly. “I mean, it’s fine for the, uh, Tiny Bubbles guy, and whatever you can use to make music is good, just, you know. Not sure it fits with your whole…”

Nova gestures at him — his trousers and white polo shirt, and cracks a broader smile. “Aesthetic.”

Looking back at the phone, she finds the line that describes her best to read aloud: “No matter what your relationship status actually is, you have a compulsion to list it as ‘it’s complicated.’”

She rolls her eyes and lifts a single finger. “I only did that once and I was thirteen.” With a smile, she looks down to scroll through her phone, and then the familiar, bobbing notes of Cello Suite No. 1’s Prelude begin to play quietly, peaceful and tranquil at first but building with each measure. She gestures to it, then looks back up at him.

“Bach, for my favorite. At least of the ones on that list. Honestly, whoever I’m playing at the moment is my favorite, but Bach stays with me… Bach always feels personal, emotional. There’s something about it that I think is just … speaking about the shared human condition. Sad sometimes, frightening sometimes, but often hopeful.”

She reaches up to tuck a strand of her hair behind her ear, looking away for a moment, before her blue-eyed gaze returns to him. “And then Morricone for more contemporary stuff. He’s just amazing for cello. As far as what I like to listen to — really eclectic. Classically, not super into chamber music to listen to but big symphonic works, almost anything. Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky — I do really like Christmas and horses, I do confess.”

Faulkner smirks at her point on his aesthetic. "True enough," he concedes. God, it'd be even funnier if he was wearing a suit… but no. Can't do anything that might damage the brand.

Luckily, Nova has a musical distraction on hand. His gaze goes distant as he listens, his head tilting as he concentrates on the music being played. "Idyllic," he concludes.

He gives a crooked grin. "Nothing wrong with Christmas or horses either one," he says, shrugging… then, as his mind turns to the future, a thoughtful expression steals over his features. "Who knows. Maybe this year I'll make time to have a nice Christmas celebration." Even Daniel Linderman had made time to cook for Christmas, after all.

Nova nods in beatific agreement at the word idyllic. “I love it. It can be more fun to play the big dramatic things — your Rachmaninoff, for example, or, God, this Prokofiev piece that’s basically unplayable and ridiculous — you get a major workout and don’t have to go to the gym those days. But something like this, I don’t know. You feel it in your chest,” she says, touching her own.

His thoughtful expression makes her tip her head and smile a little wider, and she nudges his leg with her bare foot. “You should. Doing good for other people doesn’t mean you can’t make time to do good things for yourself, Isaac. What would be your ideal celebration? Small dinner party, glamorous fete, cozy barbecue in the frozen backyard?” she wonders, eyes sparkling a little at the thought. “I bet you look amazing in a tuxedo. Or would it be an ugly Christmas sweater?”

Her eyes widen and she reaches for her phone again. “There’s gotta be a picture of you on here in a tux…” she says, fingers tapping against the glass to scour the Google images.

"Ugly Christmas sweater," Isaac laughs, but there's a distant quality to his gaze. "Yeah. Just that. Ugly sweaters. Sweatpants," he says, and laughs again. "Somewhere far away. No… pressure. For awhile."

He lets that sit for a moment, that odd distant look in his eye, as though he's trying, trying so very hard to visualize it… but then he shakes his head, coming back to the here and now. "Maybe in December," he says, but there's a faintly dismissive note at the back of his voice. December is a long way away, and he has obligations.

Her expression grows solemn as she watches him with that wistful expression — if that’s what it is — and eventually she nudges him with her shoulder, hard enough to jostle but not hurt.

“December is the perfect time for a Christmas party, I find,” Nova says lightly, to try to bring at least a small smile back to his face. “I can’t imagine you in an ugly Christmas sweater, but I think I’d like to.”

She drops her gaze at that, cheeks coloring a little — as she essentially admits she’d like to still be seeing him in another three months.

Holding up the phone, she shows him a picture she’s found of him at some fancy fundraiser, tuxedo and all. “Definitely amazing, but I think you’d rock the hell out of itchy green and red wool, too.”

At that shoulder bump, he glances back to her… and at that admission, a smile does indeed spread slowly over his face, a gleam in his dark eyes. "Well," he says, regarding her slyly. "If that's the case, I'll have to see if I can't make it happen." He'll have to see if he can't slide some appointments around, block off a weekend and some travel reservations. "That way you won't have to imagine it," he says, his grin broadening.

The grin turns to a laugh as he sees the picture she's pulled up. "That one! I remember that one. It was shortly before I announced my candidacy," he says, grinning fondly. His eyes narrow for a moment as he assesses the picture… but nope, his tie's straight. Excellent. "I do try to present myself well. Image is important in those circles…" he admits. Then his gaze flickers to Nova, his smile broadening. "For what it's worth, I think you'd rock the hell out of just about anything. Including itchy green and red wool," he says, that bright grin returning.

Her smile broadens when his does, and she cants her head. “I’ll look forward to that.”

She nods as she looks back to his photo on her phone, then laughs at the returned compliment regarding theoretical Christmas sweaters.

“It’s not the same, but with orchestras and symphonies and recitals, we always have to wear black. Well, sometimes, if it’s your recital, your solo, you can get away with something in white or red, if you have a progressive conductor,” she says. “But that’s pretty rare. Classical music has its elitists and gatekeepers, so you have to keep to a certain image to stay in the club — especially as a woman. I push that a little bit, but I worry it’ll bite me in the butt one day.”

Nova presses her fingers against the glass of the phone, then swipes. “Totally going to save that one as your call screen photo,” she says, with a grin up at him. “

Take a selfie with me? I promise not to post it unless you want me to,” she says, holding up the phone and leaning into him to capture both their faces and the expansive green lawn full of picnickers and loungers in the background, the green trees and looming skyscrapers behind them.

"Sure," he says, leaning in. He smiles, and for a rarity he doesn't have to work to make himself look happy to be there. "Cheese!"

Nova grins, and takes a series of snaps — one looking directly at the camera with a toothy smile and the second glancing up at him flirtatiously through the corner of her eyes, and the last with a quick kiss on his cheek. She glances back down to her phone, and a few more swipes and his phone dings with the alerts of the photos in his inbox.

Looking back up, she laughs, and reaches up to rub the faint lipgloss mark from his cheek. “Scandalous, Senator,” she says with a shake of her head in mock disapproval.

Isaac blinks in surprise, but the grin on his face is pure delight as he looks back to Nova. "Only a little scandalous," he says. "And if it's only a little scandal… well. Scandal's like variety — the spice of life," he says roguishly, waggling his eyebrows at Nova.

Then he laughs. "Said my publicity manager never," he adds dryly. Even that thought can't quite manage to ground the butterflies he's feeling, though. He holds still and lets her rub away the lip gloss. He thinks about saying something for a moment… but instead, he just smiles. For the moment, at least, there's no need for words; he's just… happy.

She bites her lower lip, watching him for a moment. “I like that smile,” Nova says quietly. “It’s different than the one in your photos. Sweeter.”

Her hand drops back down to the blanket, and she tips her head, blue eyes scanning the sky for a moment, as if searching for something from her memory to appear in the clouds. “Who was it — Oscar Wilde said that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. I guess that’s true in both our chosen professions. The trick is to have just the right amount.”

Her smile widens. “You have people for that,” she points out. “Do you have to get their approval for your personal life, or do you go rogue there?”

Isaac chuckles, looking up to the clouds with her. "No publicity is bad publicity," he agrees. "Though some are more desirable than others…"

Nova's question draws another chuckle; his dark eyes flicker to her for a moment, if only to see that smile of hers, before returning to the clouds. "I do have people for that."

Her question, though… that question is touching on things dark and deep indeed, and in that land shadows lie. For a moment he remains silent; when he does speak, his voice is slow and quiet. "I go a bit rogue now and again. Ambition demands sacrifice, sometimes— " all of the time "— but every now and again, I think you have to go rogue. In some respect, at least. Otherwise you'll always be living someone else's dreams…"

It's at about this point that his brain catches up to his mouth, which, uncharacteristically, has been free-ranging for awhile now. He blinks, and for an instant he looks startled… then he looks back to Nova and grins. "But hey. If I'm going to go a little rogue… at least I'm in good company for it, hm?" he asks, reaching out to lay his hand over the top of hers.

Her head cants to the side as she catches that look of surprise in his expression, and the look Nova returns is one both curious and charmed.

She turns her hand up so that her fingers can interlace with his.

“Likewise,” she says quietly, solemnly. “A little rogue goes a long way.”

Nova’s grin grows wide again and she laughs, shaking her head, her sunny laughter bursting through the quiet moment. “That was so cheesy. It sounds like a bad cologne name with an even worse tagline. It’d be the kind that middle school boys bathe in before dances and wonder why the girls are always coughing when they walk by. And worse, the kind that middle school girls like and go smell at Duane Reade to remind themselves of their little crushes.”

Nova presses her lips together, eyes sliding over to the side and then back. “Totally not talking from first hand experience or anything.” She grins. “Tell the truth, did little Isaac wear Axe Body Spray for Prepubescents?” she teases, then leans in to sniff his neck, audibly sniffing a little comically. “I don’t know colognes by scent but I’d guess something like Yves St. Laurent or Dior these days.”

"No. That is one particular bullet I dodged," Faulkner answers with a wry grin. He's been beaten most of the way to death, yes, but he can safely say he has never worn Axe Body Spray! He'd possibly consider a quip about it being a worthwhile tradeoff if she knew about that particular incident, but… no. For one thing, Nova does not know about that incident, and Isaac is fine with things remaining that way. For another… no. Even in jest, no. Even for what he'd learned from it, no. It had not been worth it; it had been a senseless blunder, and one that could have been avoided, had he not indulged his own arrogance quite so freely.

His grin widens when she leans in close, and he outright laughs as she sniffs. "Good nose. Yves St. Laurent," he confirms, his grin widening a bit. "Cedar and bergamot. I've always liked cedar."

Nova’s jaw drops and brows lift in exaggerated surprise. “That was a shot in the dark, really, I was just trying to think of men cologne names and I didn’t get very far. But,” her smile turns softer, “it suits you. Bright, a little sharp in a good way. Memorable. Perfect fit.”

She lifts her wrist to her own nose to sniff, then to up to his, that soft smile blossoming again in to her playful grin. “Now I on the other hand am super classy and only buy the best from the boutiques of Paree, darling.” The scene is warmly sweet, a little spicy.

“Brown sugar and fig by Bath and Body Works.” Her eyes sparkle with the jest. “Actually, they retired this scent; now I’ll have to find a new signature scent. Besides rosin and wood polish.”

Isaac's grin at her description of him is bright, his dark eyes sparkling… but as she offers her wrist, his gaze grows more intent, his smile softer. "Well, I think you're classy," he says. "And…" he breathes in. "It suits you. Warm. Sweet. Just a hint of spice to it."

He holds her gaze for a moment, still smiling that smile, his eyes still sparkling; on impulse, he reaches up and touches her shoulder, lightly running his fingers down her arm…

Then he sighs, shaking his head with exaggerated disappointment… although the grin on his lips remains, now with a hint of a teasing air. "Too bad it was discontinued." Though that gives him an opportunity to do some shopping, too.

Her eyes don’t drop from his gaze this time, and when his fingers trace down to her hand, Nova catches his with hers. His joke surprises her a little, and she laughs aloud.

“Hopefully no one wants to discontinue me,” she says wryly. “They probably replaced it with some nonsense like Amber Romance or Midnight Essence or some other thing that sounds like a stripper’s stage name. Maybe it’s a sign to stop using them for anything but hand sanitizer now that I’m in my twenties. Definitely still need the hand sanitizer though. Subways are gross.”

Nova’s deft fingers interlace with his and she squeezes his lightly. “I didn’t take the subway. Just in case you were worried.” Juilliard of course is just a couple of blocks away, as he knows, local as he is.

Faulkner can't help but laugh at that one, because she's really not wrong. "Discontinue? You? Perish the thought," he says, smiling as her fingers intertwine with his.

Then he composes his face into a politician's smile. "While I'd personally never say anything derogatory about the City of New York's fine subway system…" he says in his Official Voice…

…before breaking back into a grin. "I like you enough that I'd hold your hand even if you had taken the subway," he says quietly, eyes gleaming with amusement.

Her head tips to the side and Nova coquettishly bats her eyes at him. “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me, I do declare. I confess,” her eyes sparkle as she squeezes his hand in hers, “I’d risk the germs of the subway to hold your hand, too.”

The playful banter is interrupted by a sigh as her phone’s alarm goes off. She turns it off with a swipe of her fingers and looks back up at him. “Speaking of possibly holding hands, do you have time to walk me back to school?” she asks. “My rehearsal starts way too soon,” she says, full lower lip jutting out just a little.

Taking this other hand, Nova stands, tugging his hands to get Isaac to rise up with her. “I need to be perfect for the recital because the other cellists are doing the thing where they think just because they’re dudes or older or their great-great-grandfather was an alumni, they should have gotten the gig,” she says with a roll of her eyes, bending down to pick up the blanket and shove it within the tote bag. “So you know they’re just hoping I’ll forget the music or break a string or something.”

Faulkner's grin widens… then, alas, Nova's alarm goes off. Instinctively, his eyes slip to his own watch, as well; he'll need to be taking his own leave soon. He rises as she pulls him to his feet, disengaging to pick up the basket as she gathers the blanket.

Not so soon that he's going to turn down her request, though. "I do," Faulkner answers, nodding.

His grin remains as she speaks about needing to be perfect, but some of the amusement fades, replaced by something… somber. Maybe even a bit sympathetic. "Other peoples' hopes can be a heavy burden to bear," he says quietly. He knows exactly what it's like to have to appear perfect, all the time. To constantly be aware of how thin the ice you're standing on is. To be listening for the creaking and cracking of it starting to give way beneath you, and praying your contingencies are good enough.

"But. The fact that you've got the gig means you're doing a good job of living up to them. Remember that, too, when you think about the pressure," he says, his expression serious… then his grin returns, and he extends a hand. "Shall we?"

Her expression solemn and she looks up at him as he speaks so somberly. Her brows draw together with a look of concern for him. It’s clear whatever she’s said has struck a chord — no pun intended — in his own life. As an elected official, it’s his job to carry the burdens of others at times, and she knows it.

But the return of his sunnier smile brings out hers as well, and she takes his hand, hoisting the tote bag on the opposite shoulder.

“We should definitely do this again before the weather turns too cold.” It won’t be too cold for a few weeks yet, but it might be too rainy or muggy before then.

As they begin to walk toward the entrance of the park, Nova’s hand squeezes his lightly. “When things seem heavy, call me, okay, and I promise we can do something totally ridiculous and not laden with expectations — your own or anyone else’s. I have a whole box full of magazines with dumb personality quizzes in them or we can go to Rocky Horror in Chelsea,” she points to the south where the neighborhood in question is but a few blocks away, “or stay in interviewing each other while eating increasingly hot hot wings. Unlike you, the only thing heavy I have to carry around is my cello.”

The joke is punctuated with a light hipcheck, but then Nova’s smile turns to something softer, less ham and more sincere. “Or I can just listen.”

He glances to her at the hipcheck, his smile broadening a bit further, but that moment of sincerity sees it soften a bit, as well. There are things, of course, that Faulkner will never tell her. Can never tell her, or anyone. The Linderman Group is a tiger, and like all tigers, there's blood on its fangs.

But fangs and shadows and blood in the dark do not make up the entirety of his life, any more than they made up the entirety of his adopted father's. There are things he can never share with her… but there are things he can, too.

"I'd like that," he says, still smiling.

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