© Kat Morgan 1999/2000
In Name Only
Chapter 55: Another promise
Walking through the house was like walking through a minefield. Kat was almost relieved that the limo would be there soon to take them to the airport.
The last few days had been hellish. Howie was backed into a corner and he knew it. The pressure for him to come clean with his family was so high that he could barely stand to be in the same room as Kevin. The others had clued into the situation. Maybe not the basis, but certainly the cause. Even CJ felt it. He had stopped asking Hody where Kethy was, and vice versa.
"Damn," Kat muttered. ‘He’s too young to be in the middle of this." And I’m too old; the not-so-silent voice in her head chimed in.
The strain truly was starting to get to her. That inner voice was getting louder and louder, and she would find her hands starting to shake on occasion. She had managed to keep the crying jags hidden: only breaking down in the shower or on the rare times when she was alone. There was a parking spot down by one of Orlando’s prettier ponds that had become her regular stop whenever she was out running errands. The wastebasket there was overflowing with the sodden tissues she’d wept, sobbed and wailed into. And she wanted to send a huge thank you card to whoever had invented Visine. Heck, they owed her one: she’d been giving them a lot of business recently.
CJ at least didn’t know what was going on. Kat was all too aware.
Stuck between two men she loved deeply. Two men she wasn’t sure loved her anymore.
How could they? She was the cause of the all troubles. If she hadn’t married Howie… If she hadn’t fallen in love with Kevin… If she’d realized she was pregnant earlier she could have… NO! She’d have never done that! So maybe if she’d left… If she’d never told them the truth… If she’d never thought up this stupid balancing act… If… If… If…
God, she was going to lose them both.
Kevin was still sleeping in CJ’s room and avoiding her. Now Howie was doing the same. What did it really matter? She wasn’t sleeping anyway.
She dropped her bags by the door next to Howie’s and headed back upstairs to get CJ. He had fallen asleep early this afternoon. She had no idea what Nick and Brian had done to the boy – probably tried to teach him to play basketball. God help Bryleigh, she thought, when she got old enough to hold a basketball. Brian’d have her dribbling balls before she stopped dribbling drool.
Still, CJ had been happy, and exhausted, when they’d dropped him back at the house. She’d all ready gotten his things ready and after a quick snack just tucked him into bed for a few hours until the car was scheduled to arrive. He’d get some rest, and be grumpy until they got on the plane. Then – watch out! This kid loved planes as much as his father and Kat knew that the plane would have only just leveled off before the two would be pestering the flight attendants to visit the cockpit.
But he was here, and this was going to be the only time she’d get to spend alone with him today. Maybe snuggling in with him for a while wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Only Howie’d obviously had the same idea and gotten there before her. Damn him.
She hadn’t even heard him come in. He must have come in through the back, trying to avoid her. Or maybe she’d just had another of those blanking out episodes again. She’d had a couple this week, when the tension got extreme. She’d just sit there; mind working so furiously that it put her into a semi-hypnotic state. The first had lasted only a few minutes. The worst almost a quarter of an hour. She frowned. No, there was no missing time in her days. He must have just come in when she was elsewhere.
Howie was perched on the bed next to CJ, watching him sleep and talking softly to him.
"I wish this mess never happened, little guy. I am just so afraid of losing everything. I’ve never really regretted any of my choices until you came along. But there you are, and I love you so much, and he’s going to take you away."
Howie sighed. "Mama says you are just like I was at that age. How can I tell her you’re not mine? It will break her heart. And Papa’s… They love you. You should see their eyes light up when they see you. How Papa’s chest swells with pride when he tells people about his beautiful grandson. He carries so many pictures of you around. It will kill them."
Kat’s heart ached as she listened to him, know that it was true. His family was so attached to CJ. Telling his family would be robbing them of their pride and joy. God, they would hate her so much. Howie they would never be disappointed in. But her…
"I want you to do something for me, CJ. I want you to always remember me. I want you to remember who loves you’re the most. I want you to call me Daddy, CJ. Can you do that? Not Hody, Daddy. I’m your Daddy, CJ."
Kat was stunned and couldn’t believe what she was hearing, and it was only made worse by CJ stirring in his sleep and murmuring "Daddy" in response.
"Howie!" she whispered furiously and he looked up at her, the smile on his face at CJ’s words turning to guilt and shame when he realized that Kat had heard it all.
"Shush. Not here."
He followed her, head down, up the hallway away from the door to CJ’s room.
"How could you?! Dammit, Howie, he doesn’t need this!"
"I’m just… I don’t want to lose him. I just looked at him and had to try. I just had to hear it, if only once," he was gulping back tears.
"Oh Howie," she pulled him into her arms, hugging him fiercely.
"I’m going to lose him," he sobbed. "No matter what. Kevin’s going to take him. No matter what I do, what I say. CJ’ll always call him Daddy. I’ll be no one in his life."
‘That’s not true, D. You know that. CJ loves you. You two will always have that special bond. You are the first person that he saw," she reminded him.
Howie smiled wistfully. "He opened his eyes for the first time, looked at me and cried."
"Come on: he’d had a rough day," Kat tried to joke.
"He won’t remember it. I will, but he won’t. If I’m lucky Ill be his favourite Uncle Howie. After Tim and Jerald and Brian and AJ and Nick and…"
"Stop it, Howie!" She shook him. "You’re driving yourself nuts. You know that’s not true. Kevin would never shut you out like that."
"Wouldn’t he? I don’t see him spending much time with you recently," Howie replied viciously.
Kat was rocked back by the accusation. By the truth.
But Howie didn’t notice; he was too incensed. "All he talks about is taking CJ home to Kentucky. To his family. It’s like I don’t exist. I just know that once I let him go I’ll never get to see him again. I’ll be lucky if I get to see him as his birthday or at Christmas. Kevin wants his son. And he doesn’t want me to have any part in his life."
"That’s not true," Kat repeated, a little less certainly as before. "He just – he wants CJ to know his family so much. He just can’t see anything else but that right now. Once that happens things will calm down." She sighed, running a hand across her forehead, trying to brush the headache that was forming away. "He goes home and sees everyone coo over Bryleigh and it is killing him that he can’t say, ‘hey! Look at me! I’m a father too!’ It will take some adjustment, Howie, but he’d never shut you out like that."
Howie looked at her. "How can you promise me that? How can you be so sure?"
The pain in his voice was raw and Kat didn’t know how to answer him. Kevin had shut her out so much recently. How could she reassure Howie when she couldn’t reassure herself?
"Howie? Have you ever done that before? Talked to CJ about calling you Daddy?"
He looked away quickly. "Yes," he replied. "Just once. But Kat…"
"Don’t Howie. Please, don’t," she sighed. "You can’t do that, D. Please. Please, promise me you’ll never do it again!"
"Promise me, Howie!"
He let out a short sob. "I promise."
Kat hugged him again and he clung to her. "Sweetheart, I know how hard this is for you," she whispered. "I wish I could take all the pain away. Honest, I do."
"He’s so beautiful. So perfect. He’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a son. It’s so hard to let him go," he wept.
"He is, I know. Howie, believe me. If you keep your promise to me, I promise you I will do everything I can to make sure Kevin never takes him away from you."
"You will?" he begged, hope tingeing his voice.
"Kevin will never be able to shut you out of CJ’s life. I promise."
"Oh Kat," he pulled her tightly to him, kissing her spontaneously.
It was something they’d done for years. Something they’d done often. But was also the first kiss that he, or Kevin, had given her in months. God, it felt good. And Kat had to work especially hard to repress a groan when he pulled away.
Whatever it was that had happened during the kiss hadn’t just affected her. He looked bewildered and was about to say something when the doorbell rang.
"The limo," Kat sighed, thankful for the interruption. "I’ll get the door. You get CJ."
Howie nodded, smiling, happy that she’d trusted him with the task.