In Name Only
Kevin shook off his daze. He wasn’t sure how to react. The last few weeks had been a rollercoaster and he was only just starting to find his feet again.
He had been planning to shut it out, close that chapter of his life and get on with it. As he’d always done when he finally decided to let go, he’d retreated into himself, pulled his head into the shell like the turtle the others called him. He was going to put it all back together in his mind. Not drown his sorrow and guilt in wine and women. Get back to being Kevin.
He knew the others wanted that process sped up – he wasn’t slow, just methodical – especially as it related to the group. He wished he could make them understand that he didn’t hate Howie. Resented him, treasured him, was infuriated by him, cherished him, want to kick his ass… He really did love him – Howie understood him better than the others did. How could he not? They had been through too much together over the years. He’d been the only one he could turn to in the early days. And for unconditional love when he’d needed it. The sex hadn’t been bad either.
So he understood what Nick had been up to this evening. He just hadn’t been prepared for the turn it had taken. And judging from Howie’s shaking hands neither had he.
God. He’d wanted to have her back. To have her here where he could beg her forgiveness… prostrate himself in front of her. Now she was here and he was so damn scared. And angry. He’d known that would happen, but he wanted to shake her and shake her and shake her and rage at her for daring to leave him. For taking his son away…
That was it. He needed more time. It seemed ridiculous to want it now when all he’d ever hoped for was sitting there in front of him, but he needed it. He had to be sure. He had to be certain that the Kat who was here now was the one he had ached for every night since she’d left. He had to protect himself. He had to use a shield. The only one he could think off.
He took a deep breath. Those years of football in high school had taught him one thing: the best defense was a good offense.
"Well, I guess that explains this," he said snidely, flinging the picture he held down on the table. "How long have you been covering this one up, Carter?"
Kat reached across and picked up the picture. It was one she hadn’t seen before, but he must have taken it while he was in Lake George. Chris was asleep, holding Stomper, the name he had christened the dinosaur toy with, tightly in his arms. Very much like he was doing in the other room at this moment. She narrowed her eyes and turned on Nick. He flinched and receded deeper into his chair.
"I took it… well, I need something… some insurance… just to make Kev feel okay…" he babbled nervously.
"Damn you, Nick. I told you ‘say nothing.’ I told you I’d make up my own mind about this. You promised," she hissed at him.
Nick squared his shoulders and sat up. "I promised I wouldn’t say anything and I didn’t. I didn’t tell anyone I find you. Not till tonight. And I only did that ‘cause you said you were on the way."
"Found her? Or hid her?" Kevin interrupted.
"Kevin! Nick wouldn’t do that…" Howie’s voice trailed off as he looked at Nick, his eyes begging him to tell them that he’d had no part in Kat’s disappearance.
"Damn right I wouldn’t! I found her. It took me years and it only worked cos I followed a weird hunch, but I found her damn it. I found her for you," Nick yelled.
Kevin snorted derisively.
"Listen to me you asshole…"
"Nick, shush," Kat interrupted, then looked all three men straight in the eyes, each in turn. "You want to yell and scream at me or him, you can damn well do it tomorrow or the next day. But you are NOT going to wake up my son. So keep it down."
"He’s my son too," Kevin replied petulantly.
Kat took a deep breath and released it slowly. "If I wasn’t aware of that I wouldn’t be here now," she said softly.
Nick leaned forward. "To answer your question, no, I didn’t know where Kat and Chris were until two weeks ago. That’s where I was; with them. I stayed there for almost a week, until Brian started leaving those messages telling me to get back here pronto. I was going to tell you when I got back," he grimaced at Kat. "Sorry Kat, but I was going to break that promise I made you. I had every intention of doing that. Even when I made it." He shrugged. "Family first."
He turned back to Howie and Kevin. "But I walked back into that mess, and there was no way I could tell you all the truth then. I wanted to let things calm down. I wanted to try and talk her into coming down here. Do it that way. I just couldn’t say anything right away."
"It could have solved a lot of things," Howie pointed out, still afraid to actually look at Kat.
"Or made things worse. You tell me, Howie. Do you really think that me walking into the studio that day and saying, ‘yo, Kat and Chris are doing okay and living in New York. You should go stop by," would have been a good idea?"
Howie glanced at Kevin, remembering everything he’d said that day, and shook his head. He was about to say more, but just shook his head again and subsided.
Kat turned to Kevin. "He likes to be called Chris. He says CJ is a baby’s name."
Nick giggled. "Can’t wait to tell AJ that one."
"Chris’ll take care of that on his own, Nick." Kat was not about to forgive him right away. Sure she believed him when he said that he hadn’t shown Kevin or Howie the picture until that evening, but he’d still taken it. He’d still planned on showing it to them… oh whom was she kidding? She was surprised he’d managed to hold off as long as he had. What the hell had gone on when he came back to Orlando?
"As Nick said, we have been living in New York. The state, not the city." She looked away. "Never the city," she murmured. "I have a business there and Chris goes to kindergarten. Things were going okay and then Nick shows up."
"Figured you couldn’t run anymore?" Kevin asked harshly.
She looked directly at him, praying that the effect of seeing him again wasn’t showing on her face. "I stopped running a long time ago. There was nothing to run away from any more. Wasn’t there Kevin? All over, right?"
She turned to the other man. "It’s not as if I had anywhere else to go. No one else to turn to. Right, Howie?"
Both men just sat there, staring dumbly at her.
"Oh what’s the use? Same old, same old here I see." She returned to her story. "Nick showed up and suddenly Chris had an uncle. And he liked it. It made me realize that he was at that age; the age when he needs a male role model…."
"He ALWAYS needed that. He ALWAYS had that," Kevin said sharply.
"Good. Because he needs it. And Nick is not it."
"Hey!" Nick protested.
"He needs his father," Kevin asserted.
Kevin sat back. He hadn’t expected that. For her to just agree like that. For her to open the door for him to be with his son so easily… He opened his mouth to say something when he noticed a small movement over Kat’s shoulder. His jaw dropped even further as he saw Chris walking hesitantly into the room. He just stared.
It was like looking at himself at that age. Of course Chris’ eyes were brown, or was that green? Hazel, must be. And his nose was a little more like Kat’s than his – just a little fuller. But that square jawline, with only a bit of baby fat left… And that thick dark, almost black hair… God.
Howie was doing the same thing. Staring fixedly at the child he’d always considered his son. He knew that truth – had always known, but it was so hard to shut off the love he’d always had for him. To stop the wishing that he was really his son. God, look at him. He was so perfect. So tall…
Kat hadn’t noticed the silence – she was trying to figure out exactly what she was going to say. Ha, hadn’t she been doing that since she’d finally given into Chris’ constant barrage of questions and decided to bring him to Orlando? The whole flight he’d been hopping around like crazy; "I’m going to see my dad!" the whole plane had known that. He’d been so excited. She’d been so scared. It was one thing to build a life with Chris without Kevin in it… but one with him involved? Being there, but still knowing that he didn’t care about her, only his son? He’d made it pretty obvious that he still felt that way…
She jumped when she felt a hand on her arm, then turned to see Chris’ apprehensive face. "Hey, little man. Woke up did you?"
Chris nodded his head, trying to peer at the other people in the room out of the corner of his eye.
"Come on up." She patted her lap and he scrambled up quickly, putting his head on her chest and trying to hide. "Hey, no need to hide. Look, there’s Uncle Nick. Surely you haven’t forgotten him all ready, have you?"
"Hi Toffee," Nick said softly, giving Chris a big, and reassuring, grin.
Chris returned the smile, twisting around a little more, finally settling in a position that let him see everyone, but keeping himself closely tucked into her arms.
"Did you have a good sleep?"
Chris nodded, glancing around quickly, then slowly grabbing hold of Kat’s necklace – a long gold chain with the ring that Kevin had given her at Chris’ birth strung through it -- and started to play with it nervously.
"Don’t do that, Chris," Kat admonished him quickly, tucking the ring back inside her shirt. Nick rolled his eyes dramatically at Chris and the child started to giggle.
"Do you know where we are, Toffee?"
Chris frowned and shook his head.
"You’re at my house, Chris. In Orlando. Remember we talked about it?" Nick said with a smile.
"Where are the doggies?"
Kat chuckled. Trust the kid to do that – drive her nuts demanding to see his dad and then forget about it all except for the dogs. Nick must have also thought the same thing, because he laughed too.
"Actually they are at my other house. With my brother Aaron, but I can get him to bring them back here in a few days so you can see them. Would that be okay?"
Chris shrugged and snuggled closer to Kat. She hugged him tightly, knowing that, in his own way, he was just as scared as she was. He didn’t like that much and started to twist away, then realized that he really had nowhere to go…
"Chris honey, we are here at Nick’s house because you asked me to bring you here. Do you remember? You said that you wanted to come to see Uncle Nick and to see someone else. Do you remember who?"
"Yes," Chris whispered.
"Who was that, sweetheart?"
"My daddy." If anything Chris’ voice had gotten softer.
"I can’t hear you. Who did you want to see?"
"My…" his little voice cracked nervously. "My daddy."
"Well, he’s right there. Sitting on the couch. Aren’t you going to go and say hello?"
Chris shrank back into her arms again and Kat leaned down to whisper to him quietly. The three men watched nervously as Chris shook his head a few times, eyes darting around frantically, then finally nod.
He slipped down from Kat’s lap, biting his lip worriedly. Then started to walk slowly towards the couch where Howie and Kevin sat.
Nick realized as Chris tottered forward that he’d never really told the two men anything. That he hadn’t told them what he’d discovered when he’d gone to Lake George. About all the knowledge that Chris had, that they didn’t know he knew…
Chris finally stopped in front of one of the two men transfixed on the sofa. He held out his hand. "Hello Daddy. My name is Chris," he said timidly.
Kevin gave a joyful cry and gathered Chris into his arms, hugging him tightly, tears flowing down his face.