No one was particularly surprised when Howie announced that he needed to get some help with his songwriting – and that the only help he could get was in Los Angeles. He and Kat had another long talk just before he and Todd left, and while things were still tense they were at least still on speaking terms.
What was a surprise was AJ’s announcement that he was going to go too. However, when he blushingly admitted that he and Tina were back together, and that she had work to do out of her LA office… the pieces came together quickly.
Besides, Nick had decided that he was going to go and work on some of his writing and production stuff too – though for some odd reason he was choosing to do that in Upstate New York.
Brian was suddenly left with time to spend spoiling his family rotten, and trying to rebuild things with his old friend Kat. The former was easy and a joy to do. The latter was prickly at best. As he noted when he was having a three-way chat with AJ and Nick, she just wouldn’t open up.
“Open up in general, or just about one particular subject?” Nick asked.
“You noticed it too?” Brian sighed.
“What?” AJ grunted.
“She’ll talk about almost anything, with the exception of Kevin. Hell, I know everything that Chris has done over the last few years, all about the restaurant and so on. Not a damn thing about how she feels about Kevin. And believe me, I tried everything,” Nick replied with an exasperated tone.
“She talked to me about it,” AJ shrugged.
“Yeah, but what did she say?” Brian asked.
“She said… okay, she didn’t say much. Just that she didn’t think that things there could be fixed or even that she wanted them to be. But she talked.”
Brian snorted. “So much for the charming Bone-boy routine. He got about as much as we did, hunh Nick?”
“Well, like I said, other than that one time with the video, she barely acknowledges his presence. I mean Chris can get her to talk some, but she always just answers his direct questions and not much else.”
“Even when the three of them are over her, she spends most of her time with Leigh or me and hardly even talks to Kevin. Not that he’s much better. The two of them are the Monosyllable couple. I swear, they never say anything more than “yes,” “no,” “please” and “thank you” to each other.”
AJ muttered something.
“Louder AJ, couldn’t hear you,” Nick said.
“I said that Brian shouldn’t be swearing, and that at least they are polite to each other.”
“I can swear all I want, as long as it’s in the Bible, you goofball,” Brian retorted. “And polite is right. They are so damn polite it gives me a headache. Hell, I’d give anything for the two of them to start throwing things at each other. Anything. Just DO something!”
“I hear you,” AJ sighed.
“I can’t remember a time when they were ever like this. Even at the beginning when they couldn’t stand each other there was at least some energy. Now,” Brian groaned. “It’s just annoying. They are so lifeless around each other…”
“Even with Chris?” Nick asked
AJ muttered again, and Brian cleared his throat inquisitively. “Would you two clean your ears out!”? AJ shouted. “I said, it was better when his name was CJ.”
“That’s a baby’s name,” Nick chuckled, using a childish voice.
“Oh stop it, Frack. You’re making him pout.” This time when AJ mumbled the other two ignored him. Brian continued, “Chris is always trying to get them to talk. I don’t even think the kid knows he’s doing it, but he’s always “what do you think, Dad?” and “isn’t that right, Momma?” About the only thing they do talk to each other about is Chris. But even he can’t get them to talk about themselves. If anyone even tries that the walls come slamming down and that’s the end of the discussion.”
“Don’t you just love stubborn people?” AJ groaned. “I wish we could just knock the both of them upside the head or lock them in a room together or something. Either they’ll clear everything up and get back together or it’d be a bloodbath. Whichever, it’d be something!”
“Tell me about it.”
There was a companionable, but frustrated, silence.
“So how things going on your end, AJ?” Nick finally asked.
“Good. Getting lots done.”
“And Tina?” Nick started making kissing noises over the phone.
“Shaddup, Kaos,” Brian laughed. “We all know that you have some mystery woman tucked away up there with you.”
When Nick started stuttering, AJ chuckled. “Busted! Good guess, B-Rok. Think he’s gonna spill about it?”
“Yeah, Nick. What’s going on?”
“Yeah, right. She must be a real hottie if she’s enough to get you to come to her,” AJ teased.
“She couldn’t get away from her job!” Nick protested. “I was more free than she was.”
“And you couldn’t convince her to quit her job and come down to Casa Carter Love Shack? You are so slipping, bro.”
“I asked her to…” Nick started, then stopped. “She just couldn’t. Not right now.”
“Yep, he’s losing the Carter charm. Better hang it up or pass it over to Aaron. Nick’s toast,” Brian chuckled.
“Would you two just…”
“Methinks we hit a sore spot, Rok. After all, Kid Nicky’s already losing magazine covers to Aar…”
“Well he is the cuter Carter,” Brian ribbed. “Those brown eyes and those sculpted abs… Oh so gorgeous.”
“Hey! That’s my brother you’re talking about! Shut up,” Nick shouted.
“So you gonna spill, Kid Nicky? Who’s the bimbo?”
“She is NOT a bimbo, Bone. She is great, and she likes me not the damn Nick Carter persona. She is smart and beautiful and fun and…” Nick ran out of superlatives.
“And you are really nuts about her,” Brian supplied.
“Yeah,” was Nick’s dreamy response.
“Damn! Another one bites the dust!” AJ groaned.
“Excuse me?” Brian mocked. “Does the ‘Tina and I are just old friends’ man want to say something?” He chuckled at the sound of AJ’s teeth gnashing. “So Nick, why can’t you get her to come here?”
“She’s… She’s kind of looking after Kat’s café.”
“Emma?” Brian piped in. “You better watch it, bro. Chris says he’s going to marry her when he grows up.”
AJ started to cackle. “I’ve heard of stealing candy from a baby, but girlfriends? You are so bad, Nick.”
“Ha. Ask Chris. He said its okay for us to see each other,” Nick retorted.
“You asked his permission?” Brian laughed. “Oh yeah, Nick’s a goner.”
“Shut up,” Nick mumbled, with a deep blush on his face. He was sure they could see the rosy hue from where they were.
He was getting used to the monotone grey-ish tone of the walls in their hotel room. Hadn’t he spent enough time there? Not that Kat or Chris knew that – he was always careful to make sure he never moved anything. Heck, he was able to negotiate through the room in the dark now. Just had to watch for dropped toys.
Every day the same thing: he’d arrive to pick up Chris around 9. Sometimes they’d have breakfast together, sometimes not. They’d spend the day together more often than not, usually with Brian. Then she’d take off for a few hours in the late afternoon to do whatever it was she was doing. She wouldn’t say and he couldn’t ask. No matter how hard he wanted to. He’d drop Chris off again at around 6 or 7 and then leave.
And come back at around 2 a.m. to watch her sleep for a few hours.
Then he’d go home and finally crash until it was time to get up again.
Every day for almost a week now. Same thing.
It had become his new drug. Better than all the alcohol he had been consuming (Tina’d be proud), but still not able to help him deal with the problem. After all, he still couldn’t talk to her. Didn’t know what to say. Even when he watched her, curled up at night with Chris snuggled in her arms, he couldn’t figure out what it was the he wanted to say.
So everyday they continued with that saccharin, cloyed politeness, and every night he watched her, trying so hard to figure out what to say.
Man, was he ever a loser!
“Momma, can’t I wear the blue one?”
“Toffee, you wore that yesterday. And its got stains all over it, remember?”
“Oh yeah.” Chris thought for a second. “The orange one?”
“You mean the one with the orange on it?” Chris nodded. “Okay. I think that’s still in there.”
Kevin leaned up against the doorframe as Kat rifled through the drawer looking for the t-shirt that Chris wanted. He had to say something. Today he was going to say…
Instead he stepped back as she turned, so that she couldn’t see him. Chris had, though. He exchanged a glance with his father, and checked to see if Kat has seen him. Didn’t look like it. He gave his father another quick glance then asked the question that had been percolating in his mind for days now.
“Momma? Why couldn’t Daddy be with us before?”
Kat pulled the t-shirt over Chris’ head. “We talked about this, Chris. Your daddy has a lot of work to do and is always away performing. He loves you very much, as you know, and it just made more sense to be apart. Do you want your baseball cap?”
Chris nodded and grabbed it from the bed beside him. “That’s not what Daddy says. He says that he always wanted to be with us before, but we couldn’t.”
That had Kat’s attention. “What else did he say?”
Chris shrugged. “He said I should ask you. So I’m asking you.”
Kat sat back on her heels, trying to think of what to say. She looked at her son – a miniature version of Kevin, the stamp of his father’s features so deeply imprinted on him.
“Chris, you and I always agreed to tell each other the truth, haven’t we?” Chris nodded. “Well, when I told you that it was the truth, but it also wasn’t. You see, it is awfully hard to explain all of this and I was afraid you wouldn’t understand. But if you really want to know what happened, I’ll tell you. And I’ll try as hard as I can to make it easy for you to figure out. Okay?”
Chris nodded vigorously. “And you definitely want to know?” He nodded again, glancing over her shoulder to where his father hovered in the doorway.
Kat didn’t notice. She was too busy trying hard to decide how to go about this.
“Okay… No, that isn’t going to work,” Kat muttered to herself, then finally looked up at Chris and started.
“You know your uncle Howie? Well, you see, I used to be married to him…”
“No Toffee, not to your daddy. I was married to Uncle Howie and I loved him a lot. But Howie is kind of like, umm… You know Gary and Paul, mommy’s friends on the Town Council?” Chris nodded. “You know how they love each other, but they don’t love women.”
Chris thought for a moment. “Mrs. McGillicuddy says they are evil cos they kiss each other.”
“Well, they do kiss each other, but I don’t think they are evil. You see most times women and men love each other, but every once in a while there are men who love men and women who love women. Do you understand?”
“I think so. And it’s not bad?”
“No, sweetheart, its just how things are. Do you think Gary and Paul are evil?”
“No! I like them. Mrs. McGillicuddy is nasty cos she is mean to everyone, but Unca Gary always lets me sit in the big chair in the meeting room. And he always tells me funny stories. Unca Paul tells me all about how great you are and how I am lucky to have a mommy like you. So I KNOW they aren’t bad.”
Kat chuckled. “Yeah, they are good people. It’s just that they love each other, and some people don’t like that. Well, you see, your Uncle Howie is the same way. He falls in love with men. And just like Mrs. McGillicuddy is mean about it, so are lots of people. They don’t understand. They think that just because you love someone of the same sex that you are bad. But we both know that if you are a bad person it has nothing to do with who you love – it has to do with not loving everyone.”
“I think I understand.”
“Good. So you see, because Uncle Howie was a singer a lot of people thought that he should only love women. And he was afraid that people wouldn’t like him if told the truth…”
“People are stupid,” Chris snorted.
“Maybe. But because of it, he asked me to marry him. And because he was my best friend I said okay.”
“Oh.” Chris frowned. “What about Daddy?”
Kat chuckled. “I’m coming to that. Now, you know that Uncle Howie and your daddy are in the same group. And so I got to meet your daddy. And we didn’t like each other,” she said with a wrinkle of her nose. Chris laughed and ran a finger over her nose scrunches.
“Daddy was mean?”
“No. We just didn’t understand each other. It took some time, but we finally did start to like each other. And then we started to love each other. And that’s when you came along.”
“Yeah, there was the problem. I was married to your uncle Howie and everyone though that we were a family. Only we all knew that wasn’t true.”
“Oh.” Chris looked pensive. “Not good.”
“No, it wasn’t. And we all started to fight. A lot. And we all said and did some really mean things to each other. And those things hurt a lot. And when it hurt me too much, I left your uncle Howie and your daddy and you and I went away so we could be alone. You see, I knew that you could hear all the fighting and I was afraid it would hurt you. And Chris, the one thing that all of us always felt, no matter what else we said, was that we all loved you so much.”
A lone tear trickled down Chris’ face. “Really?”
Kat pulled him into her arms. “Oh yes, Toffee. Just because we couldn’t get along together had nothing to do with you. We all agreed that we all loved you so much.”
Chris looked up at his father and Kevin nodded his agreement, then mouthed “I love you.” The little boy smiled then hugged Kat tightly.
“So is uncle Howie still your husban’?”
“No, honey. We got a divorce. And he tells everyone that he loves men, now. It was hard for him to do that at first, but he does it because hiding it the way we all did hurt us all too much.”
“Chris, your daddy loves you so very much. What I did was wrong – I was so angry at him that I took you away from him. I didn’t let him know where you were so that he could see you. And I told you he was always busy because, well he was. But more as an excuse. That was so very wrong of me. Can you ever forgive me?”
“He did want to see me?”
“Of course, darling. Why do you think he is with you every chance he gets? He loves you so much.”
“Like I said, we hurt each other a lot with the things we said. And I was so angry with him. And so scared that he would take you away from me. So I took you away from him. It was wrong and I shouldn’t have done it, but I was so scared and I love you so much,” Kat started to cry softly, the emotions she’d had a plug on for so long starting to seep out.
“Don’t cry, Momma. I know. Its okay,” Chris hugged her tightly.
Kevin stepped back to brush the tears from his eyes and to regain his composure as Kat and Chris clung to each other.
“I got one more question.”
“You HAVE one more question,” she corrected.
“Yeah. Do you still love my daddy?”
Kevin’s eyes bugged out. Now that what the million dollar question! And trust the boy to ask it where days of trying to get up the nerve to himself had failed.
“Chris, when you look up at the sky at night, what do you see?”
Chris frowned. “Stars?”
“Yep. How many of them are there?”
“Hundreds and hundreds.”
“And remember when we went to Cape Canaveral? What did they say that stars were?”
“They are lots of suns. Just like our sun.”
“Right. And if they are suns, they probably have planets around them, don’t they?” Chris nodded. “And if they are planets they probably have people on them. They may not look like us, but they are people.”
“Yeah,” Chris’ eyes glowed. “And they probably have tentacles and weird fur and googly eyes and stuff. They might even breathe smoke or water or fire or something. And look like blobs.”
Kat chuckled. “Could be. So, guess what? Out of all those people, no matter how funny they look, on all of those planets that circle all of those suns, which look like stars to us… Out of all of those millions and millions of people in the whole universe… there is only one person that I love more than your daddy. Can you guess who that is?”
“CHRISTOFFEE!” Chris crowed with a humongous grin on his face and flung his arms around her again.
“You got it, baby,” Kat chuckled as he squeezed her.
Chris looked up at Kevin over Kat’s shoulder with a questioning smile on his face.
Kevin just wiped his eyes again, answered Chris’ smile with one of his own and mouthed, “thank you.”