A Chat With Peyton Cabot from Valerie Fraser Luesse's The Key to Everything

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We are pleased you stopped by today.

Thank y’all for having me. I ’preciate your time.

Tell us something about where you live.

I guess that oughta be an easy question to answer, but for me it’s kinda complicated. I grew up in Savannah, Georgia—that’s where my daddy’s whole family lives, and they pretty much decide what’s what—or at least they used to. But ever since I spent a summer with Mama’s Aunt Gert down in St. Augustine, that feels more like home to me than Savannah. I really loved it there. Aunt Gert has a little bungalow on the San Sebastian, and she taught me how to drive her boat, the Madame Queen. Her best friend, a fisherman named Finn, showed me how to handle myself out on the Atlantic. Flying’s my favorite thing, but a boat on open water comes mighty close to being in the sky.

Is there anything special about your name? Why do you think you were given that name?

Yes. And I hope you’ll forgive me—I don’t mean to be rude—but . . . well, I just can’t talk about that. I guess it’s a little too soon.

Who are the special people in your life?

My parents, of course. Both of ’em are heroes of mine—for different reasons. Lisa. She’s everything. If we can get married one day—well—the rest would take care of itself, but nothing I ever do will matter much without her. Then there’s Aunt Gert and Finn. They made me feel welcome and taught me what I needed to know when I was in a real bad place. I never woulda made it to Key West and back without the two o’ them. Bonnie and Jasper showed me how much kids need to be put first and how awful it is for ’em when they’re not. Gina and Mama Eva at Cubano’s fish camp showed me what a real family looks like; Will became my friend on a Daytona race track and came through for me just like he promised; Aunt Jack got me well when I was hurting so bad I thought I’d die; Ginger, the best nurse in the U.S. Navy, helped me recover from something you woulda had to see to believe; Millie showed me what’s what on the islands and helped me find work—they’re all friends I made trying to get to Lisa—all the people who got me through.

What is your heart’s deepest desire?

To marry Lisa and fly airplanes—and be a good man like my dad—a good husband and a good father.

What are you most afraid of?

Anything that would take Lisa away from me.

Do you have a cherished possession?

I have two. One is the map my dad took with him when he rode his bicycle from Georgia to Key West—he was fifteen like me. I musta studied that map a million times before I finally figured out that I needed to find my own way. It’s hard to get where you wanna go if you’re following somebody else’s directions—you know what I mean? The other is a pair of aviator sunglasses that a pilot gave me. I can see everything a whole lot clearer through the aviators.

What do you expect the future will hold for you?

After everything I’ve been through, I don’t think it’s smart to expect anything. You can hope for it, and you can work for it, but you can’t really expect it. I hope to marry Lisa and have a family like Gina’s—honest and loving—not like Daddy’s clan. And I hope to become a good pilot.

What have you learned about yourself in the course of your story?

That we all have a “true us,” if that makes any sense. We have to find it and hold onto it if we ever wanna be happy. Nobody else—not even the people we love—can tell us who we are.

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better!

Thank y’all. It was real nice to meet you.

Peyton Cabot’s fifteenth year will be a painful and transformative one. His father, the reluctant head of a moneyed Savannah family, has come home from WWII a troubled vet, drowning his demons in bourbon and distancing himself from his son. When a tragic accident separates Peyton from his parents and the girl of his dreams seems out of reach, he struggles to cope with a young life upended. 

Pushed to his limit, Peyton makes a daring decision: he will retrace a slice of the journey his father took at fifteen by riding his bicycle all the way from St. Augustine to Key West, Florida. Part loving tribute, part search for self, Peyton’s journey will unlock more than he ever could have imagined, including the key to his distant father, a calling that will shape the rest of his life, and the realization that he’s willing to risk absolutely everything for the girl he loves. 

Valerie Fraser Luesse is the bestselling author of Missing Isaac and Almost Home, as well as an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently senior travel editor. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse received the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society for her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana. A graduate of Auburn University and Baylor University, she lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband, Dave.

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