In Name Only

Chapter 72

"Fine, thanks. I understand you wanted to compliment the chef. This is she," Kat nudged Emma forward with her shoulder. "Emma, this is Nick Carter. Say hello."

"Hello," Emma said mechanically, her eyes still bugged out.

"Hi Emma. Those were great enchiladas. I couldn’t tell the difference between them and the ones Kat used to make," Nick smiled.

"Who’s Kat?" Emma asked, finally getting her wits together. She turned back to Kat. "Rina? Do you know him?"

"Of course, I don’t know him. I just recognize him too. And I have met a few semi-famous people before," she ignored Nick’s snort, "and it is usually better if you just treat them like regular folk."

"There is nothing SEMI-famous about me," Nick replied haughtily.

Kat repressed a smile. Even now, after so long, after so much, Nick could still make her laugh. "See? That is what happens to them if you stare at them bug-eyed. Em, why don’t you just ask for an autograph or something and sent him on his way."

"I’m not going anywhere, Kat."

"There is something going on here and I want to know what it is," Emma said a little angrily.

"It’s nothing important, pookie. If he isn’t going to leave why don’t you pour him a cup of coffee and chat for a while."

"Who’s Kat?" Emma insisted.

"I have no idea, Em," Kat sighed. "Probably someone who died a long time ago." Kat glanced at Nick hoping he’d drop it.

No such luck.

"She’s not dead," Nick replied. "She’s just been hiding."

Kat shrugged. "She probably had a pretty good reason." She turned back to the pot on the stove and started stirring.

Nick clenched his jaw. She was right she had a good reason. But dammit…

"Would you like some coffee, Nick?" Emma asked politely. She’d realized that there was a hell of a lot more going on here than Rina was admitting. And the name Kat… there was something twiggling in the back of her head. She wasn’t sure what it was, but it would come to her. She hadn’t been a Backstreet Boys fan for years for nothing. The important thing was to keep Nick here until one of two things happened: she figured it out, or he fell deliriously in love with her. Either one.

Nick noticed the slightly calculating look that Emma was giving him. He’d gotten that look from lots of women over the years, most recently that thing he’d found in his bed the day before yesterday. But there was a definite difference between the look in her hard, old eyes and in the look that Emma was giving him. She wasn’t trying to figure out how much money he was worth, or how she could maneuver him into a situation that would benefit her. It was simple curiousity. And he wasn’t about to turn down a possible ally.

"I’d love some actually. I was going to order some, and a slice of that delicious looking pie you were serving. Did you make that, too?" He flashed her the famous Carter smile, and was rewarded by a faint blush.

"Yeah. I even picked the raspberries myself."

"Picking raspberries anything like picking strawberries?" Emma looked quizzically at him. "One in the bucket, one in the mouth."

She laughed. "Actually its two in the mouth. Raspberries are smaller than strawberries."

Nick chuckled and sat down at the table as Emma indicated before she went into the pantry to get his pie. Kat hadn’t turned back. She was stirring the whatever-was-in-the-pot methodically, clearly determined to ignore him.

He glanced over, making sure that Emma was as far out of earshot as possible. "Please talk to me."

"I have nothing to say to you Nick."

"Nothing? It’s been over two years. The least you could do is ask if I’ve changed my socks."

He really was determined to make her laugh. That had been a joke between them; she’d once called him a "typical" man who probably never even changed his socks. That had been their form of hello for a while – until CJ had been old enough. Then one of her "wearing clean socks?" comments had been overheard and CJ started taking Nick’s socks off and bringing them to her to check. It had proved embarrassing enough for both of them to make them stop their teasing very quickly.

"Could you please just turn around and talk to me, Kat?"

"No Kat here. My name is Rina."

"I don’t care what you are calling yourself now. Please say something to me!"

She turned, about to answer her, when Paul scurried in. "Sorry, Rina. Hate to do this to you, but we just got a bunch of boaters in. We got enough food left?"

"Damn. Just a sec." She started checking in the oven and the fridge, Nick watching her avidly as she darted around. "Em? We got any more of the soda bread back there? And how many more pies?"

There were some muffled replies from the pantry. Clearly Kat understood them. "Okay, Paul. Just tell them we are getting low on the chicken rolls. Both types. I have plenty of soup left and a little bit of chili, but it won’t be fresh made. We have plenty of desserts and stuff like that. And we are still closing at our regular time whether they like it or not."

Paul nodded and headed back to the main room. Emma came back and smiled as she placed a huge slice of pie in front of Nick, then poured him a cup of coffee. He had a few moments to thank her then the orders started coming in.

He sat back in amazement. It was like a ballet. Kat and Emma weaved in and around each other, pulling food out of every nook and cranny in the kitchen, putting it in bowls or on plates, then sweeping it out to the waitstaff. He knew better than to get in the way. They had a system and no matter how helpful he tried to be he’d be underfoot. If they needed help they’d ask. He remembered those rules from when Kat had been cooking at home.

He did offer a few times, but that was waved off. Kat still tried to avoid speaking to him, but Emma would ask questions about him, singing, but mainly about all the places he had visited. Clearly having him in the middle of a situation that she knew how to deal with had relaxed her. She was treating him like any other friend who had stopped by.

Gradually the rush died off and Kat started to clean up the kitchen, telling Emma to talk to "her friend." Damn her, she was going to avoid him. Even if he was sitting right there.

"Kat? Why don’t you sit down and have a cup of tea with us?" Nick asked politely.

"Thanks, I’m okay. And don’t call me Kat. My name is Rina."

Nick had a sudden flash about his conversations with and Jake, when Emma suddenly gasped.

"Kat! I knew I knew that name! Kat. That was the name of Howie’s wife. The one that went away." She stared at Kat in bewilderment. "Rina?"

"See? She can get my name right." Kat turned back to the dishes she was washing, ignoring the two at the table.

"Yeah, Kat was Howie’s wife. Then he did something stupid and she left him. Never came back no matter how much he or anyone else begged," Nick replied.

"But Howie was gay." Emma flushed. "I mean he came out and said it was a fake marriage."

"Yes, it was. In some ways. But like Kat always used to say to him, stuff like that doesn’t matter as long as they love each other. And they did. It wasn’t easy, but they loved each other. I think there was only one person that Kat loved more than Howie. And he was a dumbass too," Nick said, leaning back in his chair, his blue eyes boring into Kat’s back.

Kat stiffened, and suddenly found a dish that needed a great deal of scrubbing. "Poor woman, who ever she is. You always such a gossip, Carter?"

"Not especially. Just sometimes." Nick turned to Emma. "So, how long have you known, ah, Rina, did you say your name was?"

Emma was gaping at the two of them. Then shut her mouth and admonished herself. Great, Em, you look like a fish. Sheesh. "Ah... A couple of years. Rina moved to town with her son…" Her eyes went big again as she realized the implications of that.

"A son? How odd. The Kat I knew had a son too. Don’t you think that is odd, ‘Rina’? Nick asked with a smirk.

"Nope. Lots of people have sons. Of course about 50 per cent of them have daughters too. We call this procreation," was the sarcastic response from over near the sink.

"Well, I guess she’s right. So? You were saying?"

"Yeah. Rina came to town and she set up this café. She’s been running it ever since. I started here about year and a bit ago. She started teaching me cooking about six months ago."

"You do it very well," he smiled. He was starting to feel a little guilty about using her to stay her. Emma was nice, and treated him like a normal person. Well almost, but a lot closer to normal than anyone had n a long while. Sort of like Kat used to. He glanced at the other woman. She was hunched over the sink, shoulders set. Dammit, she had to talk to him! He had to get her to open up.

"What else has 'Rina' done since she moved here?"

Emma rattled on about how Rina had gotten involved with some of the things around town; the library and even a town council issue or two. She had clearly settled in, and decided she was here for the long haul. Suddenly that made him very angry.

"Sounds like she never intended to leave here," he said with a bite in his tone. He glared at Kat’s back. "So? She dating anyone?"

Kat gave a short squawk and turned to him with wide eyes. The plate she had in her hand fell with a crash.

"Rina! Are you okay?" Emma ran over and started to pick up the pieces of broken plate from around Kat’s feet.

"Why are you here?" Looking him in the eye this time.

"We’ve been looking for you for years, Kat. All of us. We miss you. We want you back," he replied softly.

She shook her head sadly. "That’s not the way that song goes, Nick." She turned back to the sink.

"Who gives a damn about a frigging song, Kat!" Nick said angrily. "Please don’t do this anymore. Please don’t hide away. I need you. He needs you. Dammit, we’ve been falling apart since you left."

"You already are apart, Nick."

He let out a heavy sigh of frustration. Then turned back to Emma. "You asked who Kat was when I came in. Do you want to know?"

Emma nodded nervously.

Nick sat back down at the table and poured himself another cup of coffee. "Kat was a woman who was married to one of my best friends. She loved him and protected him. She even protected him from us, his friends. When he wasn’t ready to come out and admit to us that he was gay, she worked hard to make sure we never realized it. Sure a couple of us, not me mind you, guessed, but it wasn’t because of anything she did. She was like our den mother and our best friend." He glanced at Emma. "I had a big crush on her."

He leaned back. "I was jealous of Howie because he had her, and when I found out that she and Howie weren’t really married, man, did I ever come on to her. And even then, and I did some really dumb things, she never treated me as anything other than a friend. It was like, the guys helped me grow up, but Kat showed me what it was to be an adult. Things weren’t always good between her and I, but she was always fair to me, and never lied, even when I wished she would."

"Brian misses her a lot too. Other than Howie, he was the first one of us to accept her. Probably what made me so jealous sometimes; they just seemed to click, you know? Things he wouldn’t talk to me about he would discuss with her. Emotional stuff and things that guys just don’t really talk to each other about. They had a bond."

"AJ liked her too. He’s pretty secretive, AJ. He’s not very trusting, but he trusted her. Probably why when Howie came out he was so angry at the both of them. Howie he could forgive easily, but he blamed Kat for them not telling him. But she won him over. Again. She just kept on proving over and over again how devoted she was to Howie, and to us. How she was determined never to let anything bad happen to us if she had the means to stop it. And even if she had to make herself look bad to help them, she’d do it."

"And then there was Kevin…"

At the sound of his name, Kat collapsed. She just slid down the front of the sink, sobbing. Both Emma and Nick ran to her side, trying to calm her. Nick simply picked her up in his arms and sat back down on his chair, hugging her to him. Emma grabbed some tissues and shoved them in Kat’s hands, then noticing the small trickles of blood on her legs from where she had cut herself on some of the broken glass that has remained on the floor, wiped it away gently and got some bandages from the side room.

"Why are you here? Why couldn’t you just have left me alone?" Kat sobbed.

"You know I couldn’t. I mean it, Kat. We need you. Please, come home to Orlando with me."

Chapter 73