© Kat Morgan 1999/2000
In Name Only
Chapter 54: Starting to strain
"CJ, come here. Come sit on Mommy’s lap."
Kat grunted as the toddler threw himself into her arms. He’d grown so much in the past year and a half. He didn’t talk much, but boy could he whip around a room! If you could harness his energy... well, Orlando wouldn’t need to worry about any power shortages anytime soon.
"What doin’?" he asked, peering curiously at the computer screen. It wasn’t showing the usual colours and patterns that he found so fascinating. Sometimes, when she thought he’d gotten lost somewhere in the big house, she’d find him in the study, just staring at the screen.
"I’m writing a story."
"Like Poodle Dog?"
Where Howie’d come up with Poodle Dog Kat could never figure out. But the continuing adventures of the small dog, all made up on thee spur of the moment, had a big impact on CJ. So much so that a month ago Kevin had given up on creating his own stories and followed D’s lead. Kevin could still keep the child enthralled with tales of growing up in Kentucky, but Poodle Dog was CJ’s hero.
Brian thought it was particularly funny because CJ would follow Tyke around, mesmerized, hoping that he would have the same kind of adventures that Howie described. AJ and Nick weren’t as thrilled. Neither the pugs nor the shih tzus were used to all the attention, and usually ended up getting overexcited.
Probably why AJ had decided that Chris wasn’t a good name and insisted on calling the boy CJ, until it stuck.
"Sort of. Only my stories are about people, not puppies."
"Like Kethy." CJ had not fully mastered ‘v’ sounds yet.
Kat frowned a little. It hurt her that CJ didn’t call Kevin Daddy. It hurt him too, she knew. She was wary of pushing the point though. Children had a nasty habit of saying something they shouldn’t at exactly the wrong time. The only consolation was that he didn’t call Howie dad either. After a few unsuccessful tries, CJ wasn’t adept with ‘w’s either, they’d compromised on Hody.
"Yes. Like those."
"Oh." He was silent for a moment. "No Poodle Dogs?" he asked seriously. The look on his face was so Kevin-like Kat had to work hard to repress a laugh. CJ was definite about one thing: he did not like to be laughed at. "Not right now. But maybe I can add one. What would Poodle Dog do?"
"I dunno." CJ said as he started to fidget. He had Nick’s attention span sometimes. Kat let him slip off her lap and watched as he scampered across the floor, back to the small pile of toys in the corner.
She sighed and adjusted the mirror on the desk. It helped her keep an eye on him and left her free to write. They’d managed to do some work done: Kat a few draft pages, and CJ a huge pile of building blocks that corresponded to something he was particularly proud of, when Howie breezed in.
"Hody!" CJ shouted enthusiastically, scurrying towards him, only to re-direct himself when Kevin walked in too. It was somewhat comical: CJ hugging Kevin’s legs and crowing for Hody. Howie just bent down and tousled CJ’s hair and said hello, a wide grin on his face. Kevin also smiled, and lifted CJ into his arms. But it was the same bittersweet smile that Kat had seen increasingly often on the tall man’s face.
She had to make this right. How?
The media frenzy that had come about as a result of CJ’s birth, and then Brian and Leighanne’s daughter Bryleigh, had put the Backstreet Boys back into the spotlight. Just when that died down a little the album was released. You could hardly turn on the radio or the television without something about them coming up. Everything they did was news.
Having Kat leave Howie for Kevin, and admitting that CJ was his, would have been devastating.
And then there was CJ. He was still at the age where he didn’t really care who was his father. He loved both men to distraction and was equally at home with which ever was giving him attention at the time. That wouldn’t last though. He was starting to clue into the fact that Bryleigh had only one dad. Kat had noticed him giving Howie and Kevin, in turn, a thoughtful gaze. Maybe she was just imagining it, but it was getting closer and closer to that time.
Maybe if the three of them sat down and formulated a plan. Something they could present as a fait accompli to The Firm and Jive. But every time they started to do that something came up. Bryleigh’s birth. The short tour across Australia and New Zealand. Howie’s break up with Daniel.
That one had been the worse. Kat knew that Howie’d only gotten involved with the other man because he was tired of being alone, but he’d been determined to make it work. Daniel was not as equally committed. Their breakup had been loud and furious: Kat seeing that side off Howie again for the first time since he’d found out about Kevin and her.
And it didn’t help that CJ was both teething and sick with a cold at the time.
Nor that Kevin was in Kentucky with his family, lavishing affection on his nephew Will, and champing at the bit to tell them all that CJ was his. Something he couldn’t do because Howie still hadn’t told his family the truth.
Kat felt like a man at the mark with an whole army against her. Howie stomping around angry, guilty and miserable. CJ sniffing, sneezing and his little mouth hurting like fire. And Kevin pushing Howie, and her, complaining the whole time.
The fact that the book she’d finished before CJ’s birth had made the bestsellers list only made matters worse. Sure it was only the bottom of the list, but here she was, finally really getting somewhere with her career, and she couldn’t even enjoy it The pressure from her publisher to go on a book tour was incredible. But how do you explain that you can't really truck your sick son around with you, and you can’t leave him with his father, because he isn’t really his father and he’s an emotional wreck right now anyway. And CJ’s real father can’t some back and deal with his son without a hell of a lot of explaining, which he cant do right now. The fact that they were all celebrities (Kat only a minor one of course), just made it worse.
Then Howie and Kevin were flying all over the place preparing to record the next album... How did Leighanne manage with only one man around?
Thank god for the Dorough family, who were always willing to help if Kat needed it. But that made her feel so guilty...
Something had to give. Soon.
"Guys?" Kat smiled, trying to take the heaviness out of her next words. "We really need to talk about some things." Her eyes flicked to CJ, who was fiddling with one of Kevin’s earrings. Kevin nodded, looking hopeful. Howie also nodded, looking scared.
"Tonight? After CJ’s bath?"
"Not going to," Chris pouted.
"Oh yes, you are," Howie replied. "Though if you are lucky and get really squeaky clean, I might tell you about what Poodle Dog did today/"
CJ looked at him with that serious look on his face again. You could almost see the wheels turning in his head. On the one hand he hated the thought of taking baths, though he seemed to enjoy them once he was in there judging from the puddles on the floor. On the other... Poodle Dog.
"Kethy give bath?"
Kevin smiled. "Sure thing, buddy."
"Hody tell Poodle Dog?"
"What? I don't tell Poodle Dog as well as he does?" Kevin joked. Now that serious look was on his face. Damn, the two looked so alike, even at CJ’s young age.
Chris frowned, knowing that somehow this was a loaded question. "You better bath and people stories," the little boy concluded.
"I can accept that," Kevin chuckled, and Kat gave a small sigh of relief.
"And let me guess: I’m better with getting supper?" She asked, trying to steer the conversation away to safer topics.
"Sun tines," CJ replied. When did he start wrinkling his nose like that when he was being silly? And was he really trying to wink at her?
"All the time." "Depends, what’s for supper?" Kevin and Howie said in the same breath.
She looked at them, raising an eyebrow. "I don’t know. What are you making?"
CJ leaned over and whispered in Kevin’s ear. Kevin chuckled again. "CJ voted for pizza."
Kat had a few choice words to say to Nick the next time she saw him....
Kevin was drenched by the time he finally got CJ to finish his bath. Kat smiled and handed him a towel as he watched CJ run down the hall to his bedroom, squeaking loudly to prove he was clean and ready for a story. He took it, nodding distractedly, dried off quickly, then followed Howie into the room.
Kat was glad for some down time. It gave her a chance to think. Unfortunately she didn't know what to think. The key to the situation was to get Howie to finally admit his sexuality to his family. If he could do that, if he could take that final step, then surely the three of them could come up with an answer to this situation.
She sat there, thinking herself into loops, getting more and more nervous. So much so that when Howie came in and sat beside her, kissing her cheek, she let out a little shriek of surprise.
"Is he asleep?"
"Almost. Kev’s singing him a lullaby."
"Good. How are you, D? I haven’t seen much of you recently."
Howie knew that. He’d been avoiding her. Hard to do when he also wanted to spend as much time as possible with CJ, but he’d managed. Only home for dinner and bedtime, then skipping out on "business" before Kat could corner him. He would have done the same thing tonight but Kevin was on to him. As hard as he tried to avoid this conversation…it was coming.
"There’s been so much lately. The album, Polly’s album. And with the real estate market being as crazy as it has been I’ve had to spend far too much time down at the development company," he replied, knowing they were feeble excuses.
Which Kat naturally saw right through. "You know I don’t want to pressure you, Howie. But it’s been over three years. We have to tell them. We both know that if it hadn’t been for CJ we would have told them ages ago."
"And you want to be with Kevin," he said sadly.
Kat was quiet. As much as he didn’t want to reveal things to his family, she didn’t want to reveal to him that she and Kevin had been growing apart recently. He was angry and jealous that she’s continued, as he saw it, to take Howie’s side. More often than not when she and CJ stayed at Kevin’s house they slept apart. He’d stay with CJ – almost afraid to leave his son for even a moment. And she’d lay alone in what had been their bed.
"He wants his son, Howie," she finally said.
"He’s my son, too! You said… we agreed." He hung his head. "He’s my son, too."
"I wish he was, D," she said quietly. "But as much as we try and pretend, it’s not true. He looks more an more like Kevin every day. Sure, he’s got some of your mannerisms. But Howie… He’s not your son."
"He’s my son. And I want him," Kevin said softly, but firmly, from the doorway. "I have a son, and I want to be able to take him home with me. Introduce him to his family. He’s never met his grandmother or his uncles... This has gone on too long. I want CJ."
Kat tried hard not to let out the sobs that echoed within her. Kevin had made it very clear. He wanted CJ. He’d never said anything about wanting her.