School Orientation


elisabeth2_icon.gif peyton_icon.gif

Scene Title School Orientation
Synopsis It's way more harrowing for the parent than the child…
Date March 12, 2019

Winslow-Crawford Academy, Peyton Whitney's Office

Peyton’s office at the school isn’t a large one, but it does have a lovely view of the lawns and the brick buildings of the college proper. It’s through the windows that Peyton has been staring, but not truly seeing — not because she’s looking through anyone else’s eyes, but because her mind has been a distracted circus of what ifs and regrets and imagined scenarios that always seem to end badly.

She’s already tidied her office twice this morning — as if it needed it. The mahogany desk sits at the center, with three plush chairs across from it. Another bench sits in the corner, in case more seating is required. Behind her looms a large bookshelf lined with books on pedagogy, SLC-E rights, SLC-E powers, and child development. A bulletin board has artwork from various students pinned to it, including one with a dinosaur and the name Jonah on the lower right hand corner. The artist, of course, has a photograph on Peyton’s desk as well.

Many people have come to this office — children, parents, teachers, volunteers, and benefactors — but no appointment has made the young dean and founder of Winslow-Crawford Academy as nervous as the one scheduled to arrive any moment.

When the receptionist sends her in, Elisabeth is still polite enough to knock a couple of times before simply opening the door. Her blue eyes seek out and settle on the headmistress of the school and she pauses for a long moment before closing the door behind her.

"I didn't want to just blindside you like I did the last time," she says quietly. There's a hesitance to her, too. An uncertainty of how to navigate the years between them. "Hello, Peyton…."

The blonde looks much the same as the last time they saw one another before the Community day — Peyton hadn't been in a frame of mind to note the details that day. She's still willowy, though like most women, having her daughter seems to have given her a bit more curve to hip and bosom. Hardship has rendered some age lines in her features, perhaps an even more watchful kind of look than even the soldier that Peyton once knew sported. She could probably come across even more intimidating than she used to, but the reticence to her demeanor seems to indicate she doesn't intend to. She's dressed casually enough, in a pair of khaki pants with copious pockets and a black jacket, unzipped over a green blouse, sturdy boots on her feet. All of it appears reasonably new.

"I, uhm…" Liz's shoulders roll uncertainly. "I figured maybe we ought to talk before I just… assumed Aurora will be welcome." It appears that Peyton isn't the only one nervous.

The knock turns Peyton’s head, and she bites her lower lip when Liz enters the office. She stands and moves toward her visitor, an uncertain smile curving her lips as she listens to the greeting.

“I’m sorry I was… whatever I was that day,” Peyton murmurs. She’s dressed more professionally today, no jeans but one of those Jackie O-style dresses she’s always had a penchant for. “Come in and sit,” she says, reaching to take Liz by the hand with a smile that’s warm, if tentative, and leading her to the seats across from the desk, taking one of those for herself as well rather than returning to the “dean’s chair.”

“Aurora — is a lovely name. She’s the little girl I saw you with?” she asks, other questions obviously crowding that one in her mind, but that’s the one she chooses to ask. “Of course she’s welcome here. I’m flattered that you want to enroll her, really. I would understand if you didn’t.” The last is said a little softer, her dark eyes glancing away, before they return to Liz’s face. “I can’t believe you’re here.”

A flicker of relief eases Elisabeth's expression and she takes the proffered hand, squeezing gently. "Well… that pretty well makes it unanimous," she admits. "There were… a lot of times I didn't think I would be. Ever." Pulling in a breath and letting it out slowly, she moves to sit in the chairs, relaxing a little.

The smile at talking about her daughter lightens her expression. "Yeah…. given the way we sort of landed and stuff, it seemed… appropriate." Then she's a bit more solemn. "Never apologize for that, Peyton. I wish…. so many things, but one that I've wished from the start was that I'd seen how much you were hurting. That we could have given you whatever it was that you needed that he… understood so much better than we did." The regret in her eyes is deep. "We have all made some real doozies of mistakes along the way — I'm not immune either. I am grateful to get home and find that you have built a wonderful life. Your son seems…" She grins slightly. "A great kid. The rest? It's just the past. Let it stay there, hmm?"

Clearing her throat, she does look a little abashed. "I hope you'll forgive me the paranoia, but… I really would like to send Aurora here. She's really looking forward to coming. I just…. I need to be sure you can handle the aftermath of our arrival. She's… seen a lot."

Peyton chuckles softly, glancing down and cheeks coloring a bit. “Well, I meant just now that I was sorry for the day at the tile painting event, for what happened with my ability, but I am incredibly sorry for much more than that. I just haven’t begun to put the words together yet for that,” she says, voice soft. “I am sorry and I can’t justify any of that, but I’ve tried to make something meaningful in the… ” she repeats the word that Liz has used, “aftermath.”

Her eyes move to the picture of her son and she seems to grow strength from it. “Jonah,” she fills in, for the name that Liz likely already knows. “He’s phenomenal and I try to be worthy of him.”

She looks back to Liz and shakes her head. “No need to apologize for paranoia when it comes to our kids. And I can’t promise we’re perfectly equipped since she’s a unique case, but we have wonderful teachers and the college is a wonderful resource when we come up with something we need extra help, so I can promise we’ll do our best. We’re a small school so it’s pretty easy to keep track of our students’ needs and work to find solutions as soon as we see problems.”

Well! There's a faint flush as Elisabeth starts to laugh quietly at their mutual misunderstanding. "I guess we both know where my brain has been at, worrying about how to … even face you, after all you went through," she comments ruefully. She relaxes a bit more and leans back in her chair, breathing a little easier. "Jonah," she repeats quietly. "He seems really wonderful, Peyton. It's clear you've done a great job." It's a compliment that most of us, especially single mothers, need to hear sometimes. Focusing on that and on Aurora's needs seems to be easing Elisabeth's own uncertainties with Peyton for now too. It's easier to talk objective things than to deal with all the water under their personal bridge.

"Well… her learning, I doubt you'll run into too many problems. She's smart. Ela—" She cuts off. "Several people and I spent time reading to her as well as teaching her letters and numbers and what have you. When she was 4, she was diagnosed with synesthesia — she sees sounds as colors. A cross-wiring of her perceptual sensors, I guess. So… you might need a little studying up on that one. Mostly it doesn't seem to impact her, though. Aside from a unique perspective on the world." She shrugs a little. "I worry a lot more about the fact that we're… coming from somewhere else and she's seen far too many horrors. You have good child psychologists on staff?" Elisabeth asks a bit anxiously. "She's seeing a therapist, but…"

“What I went through,” whispers Peyton with a shake of her head. “Please… I can’t imagine what happened to you, and I won’t ask, unless you want to tell me. I just… I am sorry. And it wasn’t anything you did. It was my own fault. I know Richard still thinks he’s at fault somehow, but… well, he can’t fix everything, no matter how much he thinks he can, and what was wrong wasn’t something he had control of.”

On to the children. It’s an easier topic by far. “I have a wonderful staff, and one of our teachers is in fact also a psychologist as well, though we’ll bring in experts when we need to. It’s a small school, so we don’t have a dedicated psychologist yet, but it’s in the plans for next year,” explains Peyton, sounding much more sure of herself as she speaks as the dean, rather than the older version of the confused woman with so many regrets. “There’s a larger version of the Academy up in Toronto, which basically funds this one, and a wonderful child psychologist there I can bring in if we need to — or we can contract with someone local to come in now and then.”

Her smile returns. “Synesthetes are often wonderful musicians, so with your genes, I’m sure she’ll be amazing even without the extra sensory input. We do have music classes for all students — the little ones are mostly percussion and vocal classes, but we add in strings and winds for the upper grades.”

She's going to leave whatever she went through in the background for now… there's time enough to have those kind of talks some other place and time. Elisabeth just smiles a little and offers, "Someday we'll have drinks and I'll … fill you in." At least some. "For now…" She sighs and then admits, "The things I'm mainly worried about are the fact that she watched an execution happen in front of her several months ago… and she's lived a number of months in a Terminator world." Peyton will understand the implications of that, but for now it's as much as she's going to really elaborate on. "She's doing really well, but there may be some times where it hits hard. She has a stuffed dog that she carries with her pretty much everywhere. And I gather her father has promised to give her a radio to have in her backpack." Loooooord.

She does smile just a little, though. "I don't know if she'll have an actual talent for playing music. And I don't want to push her any one direction, but it sounds like the school just has a really strong policy for letting them explore for themselves, which I like very much. Harmony and Richard speak very highly of the school and… well, given that you run the place and given that the people we both know have nothing but good things to say, Peyton, I'm really thrilled that she'll be with you."

She trusts the other woman to take the best care of her daughter as can be taken.

“Oh, my God,” Peyton murmurs to the horrors the child has seen. “I am so sorry. I can’t even begin to imagine. Jonah…” she smiles and shakes her head. “He’s a bit sheltered. A bit spoiled, I have to confess, but he somehow is no worse for it.”

She’s quiet for a moment, though she looks pleased at the praise from Richard and Harmony. “They’re great kids, too.”

The next question is a little direct, but she asks it softly enough. “Richard’s her father? Given the timeline, but if that’s too personal, I understand. It doesn’t matter to me except to know the dynamic — if the twins are siblings, if Richard’s supposed to pick her up at the end of the day,” she says, a small smile for the potentially personal question. “I hope the transition is an easy one, for all of you. We’ll do what we can here to make sure the school part of it’s a pleasant experience, at least. And if it’s not working out, for whatever reason, you don’t have to worry about hurting my feelings. We want what’s best for our students, even if it means not having them be our students anymore.”

"I don't have anything to hide from you, Peyton," Elisabeth says gently. "Richard's her father, yes. She's taking well to the twins, and she's adjusting to having Richard and Harmony around as well. It's…" She pauses and then laughs. "Well, we've never been exactly conventional. As far as who can pick her up, there's a list. Myself, Harmony, Richard, Felix Ivanov. Kaylee Thatcher. My father. A couple of others. I'll make sure their names are on the list for you." Kain's alias and Cassandra's alias won't likely mean anything at all to Peyton anyway. As to pulling her out of the school, Elisabeth admits softly, "Peyton… if I have to pull her out of school, it's going to be because the world has gone to hell in a handbasket again. Aurora is… she's missed a lot. She didn't get to start kindergarten like everyone else she grew up with. The past two years have been literally living on the run from horrors that I think you have some inkling of with just the small amount I've said. I want normal — or at least what passes for it — for her. She loved the feel of your school, she loved the kids she met. She needs the support system of having a routine with people she trusts. Richard's told her he trusts you to keep the robots away… she may cling a little to you to start out because she trusts him to know who can be trusted here."

It's perhaps a telling statement about the little girl's mindset — she can trust. So Elisabeth's managed to keep at least some of that innocence intact. But Aurora doesn't automatically trust, she sought out someone local whose opinion held weight about who could be trusted. It betrays a level of caution that's not the norm.

Shoving a hand through her hair, Elisabeth grimaces slightly. "She's…. Just heads up. When you put her and Ricky and Lili together… you're dealing with Richard-spawn." Then she grins. "God help you."

Peyton smiles at the list of trusted adults in Aurora’s circle. “That’s quite a support network. I’m glad you have that. Both of you,” she says, and she gestures to her office, but of course, she means the school in general. “And hopefully this will become a part of it. I really am… well, touched. That you trust me to look after her.”

Her voice cracks a little, and she glances down, taking a quick, shaky breath.

The last words though make her laugh. “All of them are a handful. And ours… I mean, I’m probably not supposed to have favorites, but those from our people… Richard’s and Delilah’s and Kaylee’s… they’re just such bright sparks. Jonah too, though I’m a bit biased on that front. It’s…”

There’s another small crack in her voice, but she smiles through it. “It’s amazing to see the good that can come out of such a terrible and dark time. To work here… You’re surrounded by hope. Quite literally.”

If it surprises her that Peyton might think she wouldn't trust, Elisabeth doesn't show that. Instead, she says in amusement, "Well, if you can handle Ricky and Lili all this time, I'm quite sure you can handle anything." The blonde pauses and then adds, "I noticed at the community night, she responds well to Walter and to Carl. So… if she has a bad moment, letting one of the twins or one of those two near her might be helpful. If you're… if you think it'd be okay, Peyton, I'd really like to let her start next week, at least for half days? So you can see where she is and see how she does being separated from her adults."

That phrasing is perhaps telling — Aurora hasn't been far from one of her adults in two years. It could be a transition. And not just for the child. Elisabeth herself is uneasy too.

“Certainly,” Peyton says to the advice given by the child’s mother. “Would you like her to be in the same class as Carl and Jonah? Age-wise that’s where she’d be, though she might be a little behind given her history. Being small and private, though, allows us more freedoms in placement. Socially, and emotionally, it might be good for her to be near her cousin, but she may build confidence in the Kindergarten instead of the first grade. We can try her in K and move her up if it seems she’s not challenged enough. You know her best and what she’s capable of, so I leave it up to you.”

Peyton rises to go to the bookshelf where a few rows have been dedicated to the curriculum for each grade, pulling out some of the books. “We also do a lot with technology — all students have their own dedicated ipad or laptop, so a lot of what they do is digital as well,” she says, holding out the books and workbooks to Elisabeth. “These are the first grade and Kindergarten work. You can peruse those and let me know which you feel she can do — or even let her look at them with her and see how she responds.”

Her smile returns. “And as for you, the first few days, I’m happy to set you up in an office so you can be close by in case she needs you. Just don’t tell the other parents — some of them have separation anxiety worthy of a chihuahua, without any real reason. Yours is totally justified.”

"I'm going to leave her placement for you and her teachers to decide — she's got the basics, her letters and numbers. But the rest, I just…" Elisabeth pauses and grins at the mental image of parental chihuahuas. "It's damn hard to just let go like this," she admits readily. "Richard promised her he'd be here the first day. If she needs me here after that day, I'll take you up on itthe first week, but not after that. Honestly, I don't expect there to be trouble. She's dying to start and she's done the daycare circuit before so once she feels settled, I expect she'll be like 'get the heck outta here, Mummy.'"

She's done her best to give Aurora a solid foundation to stand on. Taking the books that Peyton offers, Liz looks thoughtfully at them. "I'll let her take a look at them tonight." When she looks back up, she says softly, "I'm really happy to see what you've created, Peyton. I often wondered… if things had come out all right."

“It sounds like first will be fine, but let me know if you think otherwise. We have a mix of ability, like any school, so there’s always going to be children who are a little behind or a little ahead, and I think she’ll catch up quickly,” Peyton says with a smile.

When the attention is turned back to her, Peyton ducks her head a little, but it’s clear that she’s proud of what she’s made, as well. “The school in Toronto is amazing, and I wanted to bring some of that here, to my own hometown. To make sure these kids know they are loved and important. And, a little selfishly, for Jonah, too. Because I get the excuse to always be somewhere close by.” She grins at the confession. Of course, she does have the ability to check on him whenever she needs to, as well.

“I have a meeting with the dean of the college in a few minutes… of course, that just means walking across this lawn,” Peyton says, with a nod out her window to the expansive lawn between her little building and one of the larger buildings of the college. “I’ll walk you out?” she asks.

Elisabeth stands and smiles. "Sure. I appreciate that you could take the time, Peyton." She needed … maybe to be sure they were okay before she could really let herself take this step.

On their way out, though, she observes, "Just a walk across town isn't what it used to be, huh?" New York's a lot smaller these days. "We'll see you Monday morning."

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