In Name Only
"NO!" he repeated with a stamp of his foot. "I don't want to."
"Chris, you have to. He'll be here any minute. Come on, please. Just put the shirt on."
"I don't want it. And I don't want to see him," Chris pouted petulantly.
She didn't get it. Last night the two had been inseparable. When Kevin had swept Chris into his arms it was all she could do not to burst out crying. Chris hadn't bothered restraining himself; he'd just flung his arms around Kevin's neck and started crying and laughing happily. He spent the rest of the night on Kevin's lap, unwilling to be separated from his father for even an instant. He even fell asleep there and she'd felt so cruel taking him back from Kevin so that she could go back to the hotel and put him to bed.
Kat sighed and rubbed her eyes. This was not what she needed this morning. A temper tantrum from Chris was not going to help her headache go away. He'd been fine earlier; he'd eaten breakfast with only the usual amount of mess, and been happy to watch television while she took a shower. Actually, he'd turned off the television and was happily colouring in one of his books when she returned from the bathroom not five minutes later. He's been smiling and bouncy; exuberant about going to DisneyWorld and seeing that annoying Mouse...
Until she had told him that she thought it was best that he and Kevin go without her.
One minute he'd been listing off the things he was going to do with his Dad, the next he was ripping off his shirt saying he wasn't going.
And he was doing it all at a hundred decibels.
She groaned. Maybe she should have taken more aspirin. Or maybe she just needed earplugs.
He was lying on the bed now, kicking the covers and pounding on the pillows. Sort of like what she had been doing all night. Yep, a full-fledged temper tantrum. He’d never done that before. And on a day when she really didn’t need it.
His tossing and turning was oddly reminiscent of her night in that bed. Had she really thought that coming face to face with Kevin and Howie again after so long would be easy? Okay, so she hadn't been that stupid, but she'd thought she'd at least be able to sleep afterwards. Instead she'd pitched and rolled, hashing and rehashing the evening, analyzing and reanalyzing every thing said, every gesture given.
And if she'd expected answers from any of it she hadn't found them.
She knew as soon as the knock sounded who it was, but nothing could have prepared her for the surge of anxiety that ran through her at the sound. She stopped suddenly, standing up from the bed, and all else faded from her mind. There was no Chris wailing, no television blaring, no sound at all except the echoing of that knock in her head.
Kevin was here.
Kat wasn’t sure how long she stood there, just staring at the door not knowing what to do. She couldn’t move. Couldn’t think. Was scared even to breathe. He was here, just outside that thin slab of wood, and all she had to do was pull back on the handle to let him in. To let him back into her life. Or rather to let him into Chris’ life and to stand on the periphery looking on. Gods, how was she supposed to handle that?
The knock sounded again, shaking her out of her trance. Chris had stopped crying and was staring at her. His eyes, so like Kevin’s, seemed to know exactly what she was thinking.
"I guess I’m going to answer that," she said, trying to keep the tremble out of her voice, and Chris nodded silently in return.
She turned the handle and there he was. She’s been afraid to really look at him last night, but now she had the time to. His hair was longer, face a little gaunter, but gods, he was still so beautiful. So commanding in his masculinity, with that strong jawline, firm mouth and emerald eyes. She gulped quickly, then said, "hello."
Kevin seemed to be having an equally difficult trying to figure out what to say, then settled on a "hello" back.
Now what to say?
Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, Chris decided to enter the conversation. "I don’t wanna go."
"Chris," Kat warned.
"No! It’s not fair. I don’t wanna…" He started kicking the bed again, and she sighed as she turned back to Kevin.
"We seem to be having a difference of opinion this morning. This may take a few minutes."
"What is the problem?"
"I want Momma to come too," Chris piped up.
Kevin looked at her curiously, eyes hooded. What was he thinking? She wished she knew…
"I thought it would be better if the two of you spent some time alone together. Get to know each other," she shrugged apologetically.
He saw red. After all this time… she still didn’t want to be anywhere near him. God, he’s prayed for this day for so long. To finally be able to be with the both of them, to tell her that he was sorry for everything, to beg her to never leave him again, to forgive him for being such an asshole, and here she was, looking for the first way out of it. He was going to…
"Momma said that me being with my dad is ‘pair-a-mountains importance’ cos I haven’t seen you for so long," Chris’ voice interrupted his thoughts.
"’Paramount’ importance, Chris," Kat sighed. "And you shouldn’t be listening in on my phone calls."
"Sorry," the little boy mumbled, with a quick grin at Kevin, which he had to return. Chris was obviously not sorry, and doing everything he could to keep him informed.
"Don’t you want to spend time with Chris?" she asked worriedly.
Are you kidding? To spend time with his son after so long? Of course he wanted that. He didn’t know what he wanted more. To spend time with the two of them or just Chris or just her or…
"Of course I want to be with Chris." He left the rest unspoken. He was afraid that if he said it now, he’d never stop, he’d say the rest. He’d rage at her, he’d beg her, he’d...
She sighed and ran a hand through her hair, and he noticed the dark circles under her eyes. It didn’t look like she had slept much either. He hadn’t been able to sleep a wink all night knowing that they were here. Hell, he’d spent most of the night in his car in the hotel’s parking lot, just watching the door, watching the car she’d been driving, making sure it didn’t disappear.
What if she didn’t feel the same way? Maybe there was someone else in her life… God, if there was he’d rip that person apart with his bare hands…
He had to know if the person she was now was the same person he had fallen so deeply in love with. He couldn’t take the heartache again. Losing her the first time had almost broken him.
"Would you prefer not to be around me?"
Kevin’s question hit her hard in the stomach. Not want to be around him? Was he kidding? She wanted to be around him forever, she never wanted to let him go. She hadn’t wanted it before and she still didn’t want it. But he’d made it clear… She was doing this for Chris. He needed his father, and that was what mattered. She’d had two years to get over Kevin, it was her own fault that hadn’t happened.
"It’s just… I know that you only want to be with Chris so…"
Saved by the bell. Or at least by the phone. Kat grabbed it, glad for anything that would stop her from spilling her heart out in front of him. "Hello?"
There was silence on the other end. Then finally a ragged sigh and "Kat?"
Out of the frying pan into the fire. "Hello, Howie."
"Umm. How are you?"
"Fine. Just getting Chris ready."
"To spend time with his father." Had she purposely emphasized that word? She wasn’t sure.
She looked across the bed to where Kevin and Chris were talking softly. "I have to go, Howie."
"Wait! Can we get together? I… can we… I’d really like to talk to you."
"I don’t know, Howie."
"I’ll think about it. I have to go." She dropped the receiver back in the handset.
"Plans with Howie already?" Kevin asked bitterly.
Kat flinched. "He wants to talk to me."
"Then I guess we better get out of your hair." He turned his back to her, shutting her out. "What do you say, little man? Want to do Disney or something else?"
Chris gazed up at Kevin then at Kat. "I dunno. Momma…"
Yep, he didn’t want her around. Kevin was only too good at letting her know his feelings. Gods it hurt…. "Better just the two of you, Toffee. We’ll go and have dinner together later, okay?"
He ran around and gave her a big hug. No one could ever accuse that boy of not picking up on atmosphere. "Pizza?"
She laughed hollowly. He was also very good at using atmosphere to his own advantage. "Yeah, sure thing, sweetheart. Pizza, it is."
Kevin continued to ignore her, just nodding when she asked that they be back at 5, and then they were gone.
She sobbed for a while, then dozed, but neither made her feel better. And it was obviously pissing housekeeping off, judging from the continuous knocking on the door. She took a long hot shower, dressed quickly, then took a deep breath and picked up the phone.
"Howie? I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes."
Kevin tried to listen attentively to everything that Chris was babbling about but it was too hard. He was still shell-shocked. His son was sitting here in front of him. His son knew all about him. His son was actually here.
He tried to shake it off, to not sit there slackjawed and staring at Chris. It was obviously starting to make him nervous judging from the sidelong looks the boy was giving him. But damn it was hard…
"Look CJ – sorry, Chris…" Kevin smiled. "I’m sorry. I am just still so surprised that you are here…"
Chris nodded. "Mamma said you would be. And that I shouldn’t talk too much ‘cos I do that when I get nervous. Or I don’t talk at all. She says it’s cute that I either do one or the other. So I’m probably talking too much. But I am not cute. Girls are cute. I’m just nervous."
How he managed to say all of that in one breath Kevin didn’t know. He just laughed. "Yeah, I do the same thing. Only usually it’s not talk. I just sit and think and not say much. Occasionally I’ll blurt out something."
"Unca Nicky does that too." Chris leaned in conspiratorially. "He can say a lot of silly things."
"Oh yeah, I know that! At least you don’t do that."
Chris beamed at him.
Kevin leaned back, trying to take it all in. "So you like your Uncle Nick, hunh?"
"He’s cool! He played videogames with me, and he took me fishing. Though cleaning the fish was yucky. Momma made me take an extra long bath then. And he taught me all the ways you’re supposed to sing your songs. Wanna see?" Chris jumped up and started dancing, humming along, a little off-key but with enthusiasm.
Kevin chuckled as Chris stumbled through some of their more famous routines, then was taken aback when Chris stopped suddenly and stomped his foot. "Don’t laugh! I’m trying really hard. Don’t laugh at me."
"I…" Kevin sat down facing Chris. "I am not laughing at you. I am just remembering. Do you know that the first few times I tried to do those dance steps I fell over?"
Kevin nodded. "Yep. Flat on my face."
Chris tried hard not to laugh. He even put his hands over his mouth, but he couldn’t keep it in and his giggles spilled over. Kevin joined in, and a few minutes later Chris was sitting in his lap, hugging him as the two of them laughed at each other companionably.
"You know what?" Chris said shyly as he looked up at Kevin. "I like having a Dad."
Kevin blinked back the sudden tears. "I love having a son." He swept the little boy into his arms. "Oh Chris, I missed you so much."
They stayed like that for a few minutes, just revelling in being together, then Chris started to squirm a little. "Umm, Daddy? You’re squishing me."
Kevin wiped his face and pulled back. "Sorry about that. So Chris, how about instead of going to DisneyWorld, that we go and see your Uncle Brian? You can meet your cousins Bryleigh and Thomas."
Chris thought for a moment. "Brian is my real uncle, right? Momma said that I had real uncles not like Unca Nick."
"Yeah, in a way. Brian’s my cousin so I guess that does make him a real uncle."
Chris thought again. Kevin was starting to realize that that was Chris’ way; he needed to think things through for a moment or two. He chuckled inwardly: I wonder who he got that from?
"Okay. I want to meet everyone!"