In Name Only
The stone skipped once, twice, three times before finally plopping in the water. In each spot it had skipped small waves moved outward, spreading ripples through the calm water. She tried again. Five skips this time. Better than last time, but not as good as the ones she'd done earlier. Probably better to give up now: she was out of rocks anyway.
She ambled back to the bench near the car and sat staring at the placid waters. Orlando had lots of little ponds - this one had always been her favorite. Larger than most, surrounded by trees with a view of the downtown skyline in the distance. Enough to make you feel like you had gotten away from it, but close enough to civilization to make you feel protected. The swan boats gave the pond a peaceful and romantic feel.
Probably not the sentiment she needed right now, but it an old friend was an old friend. Coming and sitting here at this pond had helped her through difficult times in the past; hopefully it would help her through this one.
If she didn't love him so much she could easily hate Chris for what he'd done to her this morning. Oh sure, he didn't know what he was doing - he was just being his usual curious self. But he'd made her think about and admit things she wasn't really ready to. It was okay to know in her mind that she still loved Kevin. But saying it... that was a whole other ball of wax. And then to have Kevin show up soon after her admission to her son...
“Hard to face things when you have to come face to face with them,” she muttered. Poor man probably didn't know what hit him. She'd been so quick to get Chris together and push the two of them out of the hotel room she hadn't even made any arrangements for picking Chris up later. And had Kevin really been staring at her as intently as she thought he had been? Perhaps. She had been acting kind of frenetic. She just couldn't stand being in the same room as him, knowing that her feelings for him hadn't changed even though his for her had.
She just needed to sit here, and get things back under control. Push the genie back into the bottle. Get her equilibrium back.
“Mind if I join you?”
She looked up, surprised.
“I'll take that as a yes.”
He sat down beside her, not too close, and looked out at the water. “This was always your favorite place. Your “thinking” place. I always knew that if you were working on a particularly tough part of one of your books and I couldn't find you anywhere else that you'd be here.” He took a deep breath. “I even came here myself a few times when lyrics weren't working out the way I wanted them too.”
“Is that why you are here now?”
He ignored her question and pointed across the pond to another street. “And over there... That was where I would sit and watch over you when you came here after Chris was born. When things started to go so bad so fast.”
She gave a small gasp. She hadn't thought anyone knew about that.
“Yeah. You'd come almost every day. Sometimes you'd sit here on this bench. Sometimes you’d stay in the car. And you'd cry.” He shook his head. “And I'd sit over there and wish I could come over and hold you. Try and make things better. But I couldn't, could I? I was part of the problem.”
“But...” she started.
“You mean you never figured out why there was always a full box of tissues in the car? I guess I was better than I thought.” He turned and looked at her, searching her face. “You're not crying now, but you look like you think you should be.”
She chuckled drily. “And what does that look like?”
“Confused. Uncertain. Dry-eyed but pushing it.”
“Maybe I am just trying to figure out whether this is all worth it.”
“No. That's the strange thing. You KNOW it is worth it. If anything you look like you want to stay and fight, but have no idea what to fight with.”
“I'm all out of weapons, I guess.”
“Maybe. Our maybe you just don't want to use the ones you have.” He was silent for a moment. “Or maybe you don't know who it is you want to fight with.”
“Should I fight with you?”
“If you want. If it will help. But you know it won't be much of a fight: I was wrong and I admit it.”
“Simple as that?”
“Yes. And no. I was wrong. I hurt you deeply because I was a selfish idiot. I used to sit there across the lake and watch you cry, wishing I could make it all better. Wishing you would turn to me and ask for my help. Wishing you would just turn to me. Only that never made sense, did it?”
“There was a time it would have.”
“And that time past really quickly. If there was ever an opportunity, well… It wasn’t when I tried to take it,” he said sadly.
“No. It wasn’t.”
“Do you understand why I did what I did?”
“Part of me does. Part of me is making excuses for you. And part of me hurts so much because I trusted you above all others and you betrayed that trust in the most vile possible way.”
He chuckled humorlessly. “At least you are talking to me.”
She glared at him.
“Sorry. Nervous habit. Runaway mouth.”
“Why don’t you tell me why? Make me understand it.”
Howie sighed, and searched for the words. Finally he said, “you and I… Our relationship has always been a jumble of friendship, love, lust, and one hell of a lot of confusion. You were my best friend. The one I loved more than anyone else. And the one and only woman I really wanted. Physically. But you were also the one who was there when the man I wanted most… well, he twisted my heart this way and that. Then you took him. Talk about the love triangle from hell. Add Chris to the mix… You know how much I want children… Then suddenly you and Kevin seemed to be falling apart. And instead of wanting him again, which, in a way, I expected to be the thing that would happen, I couldn’t take my eyes off of you. All those years of being around you – loving you – wanting you – it all just hit. Hit hard. And when he said what he did, I thought ‘here it is – my big chance.’ My time to tell you, show you, how I felt. And I botched it up. Big time.”
“You could have talked to me, Howie. You could have told me what you felt. You didn’t have to…”
“No. But at the time… I wasn’t thinking straight.” He laughed grimly, “or I was thinking too ‘straight’ – I don’t know. I just… we’d never made love. We’d avoided it. And I thought that it was the only way to really show you… Only it wasn’t making love… and I just wouldn’t stop. I just kept thinking ‘she’ll understand finally. She’ll know what I’m feeling.’ Stupid, hunh?”
He glanced at her. “Not going to cut me any slack, are you?”
“Not about that. No.” She sighed. “Look, Howie… I would have turned to you anyway. I always did. It was one of the things that he hated the most – if I had a problem I went to you first and him second. I needed you. I needed my best friend. Instead I got… well, he was no friend of mine.” She glanced at him. “But that is my side of it. I do understand why you were doing what you were doing. Really, I do. You went too far. And I don’t know if I can ever forgive you for that.”
“I don’t think I can forgive myself.”
They sat in silence, watching a swan boat go by.
“At least we are agreed on one thing,” Kat finally said. “But what does it get us? When Nick convinced me to come back it wasn’t only to reunited Chris with his father.”
“So there is a chance that you can… okay, so not forgive me, but at least give me a chance to try and make amends.”
“Maybe. If you promise to make constructive amends. Not just stare at me with puppy dog eyes the way you are doing now.”
“Sorry,” Howie replied as he hung his head. After a moment, he raised it again. “Bad move, hunh? No sulking is what you are saying, right? Time to try and mend the fences, but not spend all our time moaning about the breakage?”
“It would be a start.”
“So what do we do now?”
“Well…” She thought for a minute. “First, you are going to have to put up with my temper. Directed at you. Whenever it strikes. You hurt me bad, Howie, and I have no idea when it is going to lash out again. I am not saying just take it, but definitely understand it.”
“I can do that.”
“Second, I’d like to see your folks again. I really missed Hoke and Paula. And I want Chris to see them too.”
Howie grinned widely, “They have been asking when you could come over, but were afraid to say anything.”
“Third, you get me away from this damn lake. It may be my thinking place, but it is also my moping place. And if we are going to take steps forward we might as well start there.”
He laughed. “Now that I can understand. Shall we?” He rose and offered her his hand.
Kat stared at it for a moment, and then accepted it. As soon as she stood he moved to wrap his arms around her, then hesitated. “Is this okay?”
Kat wavered for a moment, then nodded uncertainly. Howie pulled her into a warm, but short hug.
“We’ll work up to those. We used to be great huggers, but I have work to do before you are comfortable with me doing that,” he said decisively.
She smiled. “You’re learning.”
“Takes me a while. And I screw up. But I am willing to take the time to try and make things right.”
Kat took a deep breath and let it out. “Then maybe there is hope after all.”
On to Chapter 91