Two Proposals (Sort Of)


peyton_icon.gif russo_icon.gif

Scene Title Two Proposals (Sort Of)
Synopsis A long-distance conversation on a dark day leads to something more optimistic
Date November 8, 2017

Toronto and New York

It’s the very end of a very bad day.

All November 8ths are bad. This one is only bad because it is a day of remembrance, a day she can’t escape the ghosts of her past. She’s tried in the past, but no matter how far away she tries to get, they catch up to her.

Today Peyton isn’t trying. She hasn’t avoided the news or newspapers; she hasn’t stayed in bed to hide from the world. She worked. She spoke to students. She had lunch with a friend. She played with Jonah.

It’s only now, at the end of the day, she’s allowed herself to cry. It doesn’t make her feel better. And, followed by a glass of wine, it’s given her a headache. She glances at the clock and decides it’s not too late to call Brad. A thumb slides over her phone’s lock screen, and then to her favorite contacts. She takes a sip of wine as the phone rings.

It rings twice and then, breathlessly, the familiar voice resounds through the phone, “Hey Peach!” Brad gasps again. He definitely ran for that phone. It’s become a thing as of late. She can virtually see his smile as he collapses on the couch of his apartment. “Sorry, I…” his eyebrows knit together “…did it ring long? I was…” staring at a bottle of whiskey on his kitchen table while trying to convince himself not to drink it.

He really ought to call Lynette.

“…just busy,” he finally finishes. “I thought about calling but didn’t want to wake Slugger up,” Slugger. “I’m so glad you called.” There, that’s a good start.

The breathlessness makes her smile — it happens more often than not, it seems, and that she’s important enough to be the reason he runs makes her heart pound just a bit faster.

“Hi,” she says softly. Fondly. Smiling despite the salt stains on her cheeks.

“You don’t have to be sorry.” Peyton takes a sip of the wine, something she usually doesn’t drink in his presence, despite his telling her it’s okay. “It’s… you know. It’s just a day. You have work. We’re busy people.”

It’s just the anniversary of the deaths of Jonah’s father — that much Brad knows — and Elisabeth and Magnes, as well as so many other people who died that horrible day.

“I just needed to hear your voice,” she adds, her voice just a little shaky.

It’s pretty much the worst day. It’s the anniversary of his mother’s death. The start of that terrible cycle of addiction. “I needed to hear yours too,” Brad offers in return as he sighs and settles at the kitchen table. “I know it’s a rough day,” he notes lowly with a quiet groan.

Does he ever know.

“How you holding up?”

“I know it is for you, too,” Peyton says quietly, turning the wine glass on her knee and watching the light from the fireplace flicker through the pale fluid.

She’s quiet for a moment. It’s easy to lie, and say she’s fine. But the fact she doesn’t want to, that he means more to her than just a friendly voice — that’s also a frightening thing. Even after three years.

“Not great. Jonah’s asleep. I made him listen to a whole extra chapter than usual just because I wasn’t ready to be alone yet,” she confesses with a soft chuckle. “It was a long chapter. I think he fell asleep in the middle of it.”

“Poor kid,” Brad offers with a chuckle of his own. “A good kid, that one. When he’s up tomorrow, tousle his hair for me?” A smirk follows. He really does like that kid. “You know, this job isn’t giving me a lot of leeway.” He quietly groans at that. “I miss you both. I should’ve booked some time and come up there. Then I could’ve happily fallen asleep while you read an extra chapter.” The smile in his voice is unmissable.

“We miss you,” Peyton says, and that’s enough to find the hairline crack that’s been splintering in her voice, breaking it completely on the last word. He can hear the sharp intake of breath that accompanies the onslaught of tears.

“We could come during winter break, maybe,” she suggests, her voice a whisper now. It’s the first time she’s offered to go there. “Or you can come here for the holidays.” Toronto is beautiful at Christmas — as New York once was, too. “I just…”

Peyton swallows and reaches up to wipe the tears from her face, closing her eyes in exasperation at herself. He doesn’t need to hear her cry on this day, she tells herself. “I miss you.”

Brad has that deep sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He stares at the bottle on the table again. He’s turning into a mess. A sigh escapes his lips. “Hey, hey, hey,” he soothes softly. “We’ll make this work. It’s been working for years, it’s just the job.” He swallows the growing lump in his throat at that. “I could quit,” he offers. “I could. Figure out… some other way to make a difference. I’m just so tired…” she’s heard him wax poetic before about ineffective government agencies with easily swayed yes-men. Change only comes with people willing to fight for it, he’d said.

He’s been feeling a lot less willing lately.

“”I’m tired of not being in the same city. I am. I mean… every night. Not just now.” Russo’s eyes turn glassy, but he manages to keep the would-be tears from his voice, clearing his throat instead. “I desperately miss you. Peach, I’m so damned lonely without you here. Or me there.” His eyebrows knit together.

And then, more honestly, he adds, “I’m sitting at my kitchen table with an unopened bottle of whiskey. I’m not going to drink it. But I definitely bought it. And it was such a bad idea.” He rubs his forehead. “I just… it’s just hard.”

She shakes her head and sniffles, her brow drawing together as he confesses his own feelings. It’s a heady mix of fear, relief, and regret that combine, on top of the wine. That he has whiskey makes her cry a little harder, though she manages to keep that hidden — it’s easy enough on the phone, though she does have to cover her mouth to keep the sob from reaching his ears.

She reaches to set the wine glass down, away from herself. That pang of guilt for drinking while he can’t adds to the emotional cocktail.

“Don’t quit,” she says, and she sits up, straighter. “We can do this. And in the same city. My team runs this place pretty much without me anyway. And I can fly back for board meetings or special events.” She swallows, but keeps speaking, the words rushed, like if she doesn’t say them fast enough, she won’t get them all out. “Let me wrap up this semester and get some things in order and maybe after the New Year…”

The sudden proposal of sorts is out there, and she bites her lip, unable to pull back at all, to play it cool. “If you want,” she adds, tentatively.

Russo’s eyes cinch shut as he listens attentively. He tries to keep up. And he can’t help the relief in his voice when he says, “I want you here. Both of you. I miss… Peach I’m missing watching him grow up. I’m sorry I’m such a damned mess.. I should, I should be able to handle this, but I’m falling apart at the seams. And I’m not drinking. I haven’t drank. I haven’t used. I’m on track. I swear I’m on track.”

He emits a long sigh, and then curses again. “Look. I know it’s pretty bloody hard to pack everything up. We’ve been at this three years and it was so much easier when I just was freelance and doing whatever I wanted. We can… we can find a place for the three of us here? Make it safe for Jonah,” not Slugger or kid this time, “and,” he licks his lips, almost tripping over his own presumption, “be a family.” Pause. “If you want.” He blinks hard. “I have a ring. For you. When we were going to be in the same city. But it’s been three months and we haven’t… ugh. I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to tell you and am flubbing this big time.” A pause. “I’m going to propose to you. I am. Just. In person. Because phones are crap.”

“I believe you,” she whispers, barely audible, when he promises he hasn’t been drinking or using. The mention of Jonah brings a fresh wash of tears to her eyes and her face contorts. She’s not a pretty cryer.

There’s a small gasp at the mention of a ring, and then she chokes out a small laugh.

“You’re not flubbing anything. I love you, Bruce.” Her nickname for him, a portmanteau she made up on the fly once. “I want that. The family, not the ring. I mean, the ring, too, but I don’t need a ring. I just need you.” She rolls her eyes at herself, and laughs again, before she adds, “And yes, this is not the official proposal day, because that’s just weird.

“I’m pretty sure discussion of rings on November bloody eighth merits flubbing it,” Brad replies dryly. “But thank you. As usual you’re too charitable with me.” He rolls his eyes at himself and scrubs his face. But he does smile at the bit about the family, “Good. I mean… good,” he laughs. “I feel like we just created a family like a business deal over lunch. This is not at all what I’d had in mind. But I want you here. I need you too. I do. Both of you.” There’s a pause. “I know he’s not my son, but, Peach, he’s my son.”

He sighs at that. When this had all started it was supposed to be uncomplicated. And now it’s all complication. But he doesn’t really mind. “So end of the semester then? And then you’ll be here? For real?”

With a chuckle he adds, “I swear when I talk about you at least one of my coworkers is convinced you’re a blow up doll and not a person. I must drip desperation for your company or something.”

His words make her laugh again, until they grow serious. “We haven’t been very traditional from the start. It’s okay. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she says quietly, hugging her knees to herself. “And Jonah loves you. He’ll be thrilled to call you Dad. You know, when he’s ready.” He’s gone from ‘Mr. Russey’ to Mr. Brad to just Brad over the last three years. And sometimes Bruce.

“For real,” she echoes, and this time the tears come with a smile, until she snorts at his mention of blow up dolls. “Well, ‘Peach’ is probably throwing them for a loop. How many women do you know named after fruit that don’t work in brothels?”

Brad laughs. “Yeah, I suppose women named after fruit don’t sound real. But I like peaches! And your full name is just so formal. Plus I don’t really use real names much. Peyton.” He wrinkles his nose. “Nope, Peach it is.” He offers about Jonah: “And he doesn’t have to call me Dad ever. I just want to be that for him. I grew up without one. And it was tough for me. Figured out stuff about my birth father after, but it’s just different.”

“I love you,” he says quietly. “I’d start looking for a new place, but really think I’m less equipped than you are there. Especially in terms of what would be ideal for Slugger.”

“And I want you to be,” Peyton says, all uncertainty out of her voice. “I want him to have a man he can look up to. At some point he might learn who his real father was — I’m not sure I can shield him from that. But having you in his life… I can’t think of anyone who would be better. And I bet you anything it takes less than a year. Or we can just call you ‘Braddy.’”

She stands, moving to look out the window across the grounds of the school, the trees bare and skeletal in the late autumn night. “This is the last time we have to feel alone on this day,” she says quietly. “I love you, too.”

“Braddy,” Russo repeats with a laugh in his voice. “I like that. Works for me,” he finds he’s beaming now. “And really, who doesn’t want to be known as Braddy? Just… no one else can call me that.” A smirk follows and he emits a long sigh. “I wish I could do something to make you feel less alone today, but it’s comforting to know this is the last one.”

Peyton smiles, a ghost of her reflection in the dark window reflecting it back at her. “You already have,” she murmurs.

“You’ll be okay?” There’s the question of that whiskey bottle that’s currently keeping him company. “I can stay on the line as long as you like. You’re not alone, either, Bruce. I know it’s hard, but… you’re strong enough to get through this. We can do it together.”

“Probably,” Brad replies. “I shouldn’t have bought it. I should open and pour it down the drain.” He groans at that. “I am okay. I am. Look, Peach, it helps just knowing you’ll be here soon-ish. Even if not soon-soon.” He reaches for the bottle and unscrews the cap. “I’m about to dump it. Stay on the line with me while I do?”

It’s a lot of booze to dump, but it’s better than keeping it in the house. And better than drinking it now.

“Soon. Promise,” Peyton murmurs, reaching up to wipe her eyes as the tears begin to well up again. They have a different quality now — bittersweet. Wistful.

“As long as you need,” she agrees. “I’ll pour mine out too.” There’s no sink in this room, but she won’t drink the rest of it and will throw it out later. Solidarity is important, even if symbolic.

“And that is love,” Brad murmurs softly while the whiskey glugs down the sink. “Willingness to abandon the wine in total solidarity,” he wryly notes before sliding back to the table. “The evil booze is gone now,” his voice turns dry. “I almost feel relieved. Almost.” It’s a good qualifier. An important qualifier. His eyes lid lightly. “I’m sorry I’m a mess. I swear sometimes it feels like it’s getting easier and then out of nowhere it feels hard again. Like today. Today was hard.” But then Peyton knows that.

“I can let you go if you need to. It’s getting late,” Maybe. Is it? He’s not even sure what time it is. “I’ll be okay,” he reassures.

“And yet you’re almost through with it,” Peyton points out, the clock’s hand inching close to midnight. “Tomorrow should be easier.” Should is also an important qualifier — there’s not always a rhyme or reason to addiction. She knows this as well as he does, though perhaps not so intimately.

“It’s just a couple of weeks til Thanksgiving. You should come up then, if you can, and then for Christmas. It’ll be over before you know it. I’ll get in touch with someone for housing tomorrow.” She stifles a yawn. “We both should sleep. We can talk tomorrow.”

She pauses, before adding more softly, Thank you for being here for me tonight. I love you.”

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