"I want Chris with me."
Well, it wasn't as if she hadn't figured that was coming. But still to hear it so baldly...
When Kevin had asked if they could get together for dinner Kat knew something was up. Lord knows he wasn't going to profess his undying love. That stuff only happened in fairy tales, and she was sure she'd used up any fairy princess points she'd had the first time around. It could only be about Chris.
Chris who was at this moment being spoiled rotten by his Uncle Howie and his family. Kevin hadn't liked that much, but what was she supposed to do? There weren't many people around she could ask to babysit: Nick was off with Emma, AJ in Lustville with Tina, and Brian and Leighanne had too much with two rambunctious kids of their own to worry about. The look on Kevin's face when he'd seen Mama D pick up Chris in a fierce hug as Howie'd looked on beaming... Well, she could understand it, but the Doroughs had thought they were Chris' grandparents for a long time before they learnt the truth. Nothing was ever going to change the love they had for the little boy - not even the truth.
"I can understand that," she replied carefully. "I am just trying to figure out how we can arrange that."
"There is nothing to arrange. Chris moves into my house immediately."
She stared at him, then snorted. "There is a lot more to arrange than just that. He has been through a lot of upheaval recently. Having him move in there without easing him into it will be difficult. Also we have to figure out what happens when we head home. I can understand him spending the rest of his vacation with you, but after that..."
"He doesn't go back. He stays here. There will be no going back. I want my son and that is final."
Somehow she knew this would happen. Once again, Kevin wanted his son and only his son. No room for her at all. Hadn't this been what started all the pain before? Gods! She hated men with one-track minds! Once they got off the usual one track they were normally on, they fixated on one other thing and never let go.
"Does that make sense in the long run, Kevin?" Kat asked cautiously. "You have your career to think about. Even if Chris were here you wouldn't always be. It may be better to have him continue to be based with me and with you whenever it is convenient for you. As long as it doesn't interfere with his schooling."
"And run the risk of you disappearing again? Never seeing him again except when it is okay with you? I don't think so," he replied belligerently.
"It wouldn't be that way. Before we head back you and I can come to some arrangement. Legally if need be. I want him to spend time with you. It is obvious that you both love each other deeply. I admit I was wrong to take him away for so long before, but there was extenuating circumstances. Things have changed. It will be much easier for this to work out now."
"Extenuating circumstances? You stole my son away from me! You wouldn't tell me where he was! Just sent me a few pictures and stuff. Not good enough. Not good enough by a long shot."
She sat back in her chair silently.
He charged on. "Look, you are doing the same shit again - turning him over to Howie and his family without so much as a second thought..."
"Is that what you are so angry about? What was I supposed to do? Leave him with some unknown sitter?"
"You could have left him with Brian. At least he’s family."
"Brian has been spending lots of time with Chris. He was at the Littrells today. Don't you think it might be nice if Brian and Leigh had a night to themselves?"
Kevin looked away. It was true; they did deserve some time to themselves. He’d been so uncertain how to behave with Chris that he’d come to rely quite heavily on his younger cousin. But Brian had kids of his own he wanted to spend time with....
He didn’t know why he was acting this way. He’d had the whole night planned. First, ease into asking if she and Chris could stay in Orlando. Then ease into the idea of spending more time together - all three of them. Ease into trying to get her to admit to him that she still had feelings for him. Ease into telling her that he still had feelings for her too. He wasn’t like AJ - he couldn’t just say "I want you back" and BOOM, have them be together again immediately, the way it had been for AJ and Tina.
And he knew Kat was the same way. They’d done a lot of damage to each other - even before she left - and he was sure that no matter what she’d insist they take some time to get to know each other again. He’d need the same thing. And once that had happened, well, then BOOM.
Then, when he’d arrived at the hotel, he’d seen Howie with Chris and all those plans had flown out the window. Good bye ease-in Kevin, hello jealous and pissed off Kevin.
"And as for second thoughts about leaving him with Howie, I have those. I have third and fourth thoughts too. But Howie has been trying very hard to regain my trust. And he has made it clear to Chris that he is the doting Uncle Howie, and you are the father. It seemed like a good opportunity for me to let him know that his attempts have been making an impact."
"Cool," Kevin said snidely. "So, you gonna marry him again?"
Kat looked at him, no discernable expression on her face. "Howie is gay."
"Didn’t stop you before," he shot back, even though his brain was shouting at his mouth to just shut up.
"And it ended badly."
"Maybe. So was that really the first time you two fucked or was it just the first time you said no?"
There was still no expression on her face, but now there was no colour in it either. Kat cleared her throat, then calmly placed her napkin on the table. "I think I have had enough of this conversation." She put her hands back under the table so that he couldn’t see how badly they were shaking. "Perhaps we can continue it at another time. When you are going to be civil." She rose quickly, grabbing her purse and left before Kevin had a chance to react.
When she was gone he gulped back the remaining wine in his glass. Then refilled and emptied it again. "Nice going Richardson. Way to screw that up totally. You are such an asshole," he muttered to himself.
Driving around the city for a while didn’t help. And picking Chris up early would just hurt the Doroughs. So she finally gave up and headed back to the hotel. At least there she could have a hot shower to try and help her stop shaking. It helped a little. So did the shot from the mini-bar that she sipped after she’d crawled into bed.
"Cheers, Kat. You knew that he’d never forgive you and you were right!" She said as she chugged the last drops of alcohol. Then burst into tears.
It had all been too much. She’d known it was going to be bad, but not like this. And there was no rest for her. There was so much anger in her towards Howie; she was always on her guard around him. And Brian, well, they had always been such close friends, but she wasn’t sure where his loyalties lay. He said he was still her best friend and a shoulder to cry on (and that his cousin was a dumbass), but really, wasn’t blood thicker than water? If it came down to a custody fight between her and Kevin, whom would Brian side with? She was sure that person wouldn’t be her.
And Nick was off with Emma, so she couldn’t turn to him. AJ was on her side, so he said, but he was reconciling with Tas and that was a priority. She had other friends, some of whom she had spent time with over the last few days, but a huge gulf had opened there - her disappearance and refusal to contact anyone had hurt them. And after keeping Backstreet secrets for so long, the idea of turning to people who weren’t really on the "inside" still felt strange to her.
She wished she were back in Lake George. It wasn’t home but it felt more like it that this place did. And at least there was her work. Here it was almost an endless chore just getting through the day. She had started scribbling things down in notebooks - story ideas, pieces of dialogue, stuff like that - but it never took her away from it all the way her writing had before. Probably because her mind knew that she had too many things to resolve before it could take flight again.
A knock on the door startled her and she rose to answer it. Probably Howie dropping off Chris, even though it seemed early for that.
"Hi," Kevin said quietly.
He sighed, and ran his hand through his hair. "Look, I don't know what it is about Howie, but when I see him around Chris I go nuts," Kevin said sheepishly.
"You are going to have to get over that."
He sighed. "I know. I just wasn’t prepared. I didn’t even know he was home and suddenly he was there."
"You shouldn’t need to prepare yourself to see him with Chris."
"I know that too. But I still need to. I think that maybe it’s too soon. I think I still need to feel that Chris is there for me and me alone. That he is my son and that there is no one else in the way," he sighed. "And I am sorry I took it out on you."
Kevin apologizing to her? Maybe there was a God... "We both have a lot of baggage to deal with. From before," she said carefully.
"True. Kat… Umm, can I come in?"
She hesitated for a moment, then nodded and stood back to let him in. He glanced around quickly, then sat down on the sofa. "Chris isn’t back yet?"
"No. Not yet." Kat looked at him expectantly.
Kevin took a deep breath then let it out slowly. "That’s good. The Doroughs are probably spoiling him rotten. They always used to do that to all of us. Mama D loves having people to fuss over and she adores children."
"She’s a good woman."
"Look, I know you don’t want to talk to me and I can understand that. What I said to you earlier was unforgivable. I KNOW that you and Howie hadn’t… that it was…" He looked down.
"Thank you," she replied quietly.
"And I know how angry you still are with him. I… Even I can see that. So what I said to you tonight was so… wrong."
Kat shifted uneasily, trying to figure out what to say. Finally she settled on another "thank you."
"But I think you need to understand some of what I’m going through. I finally, after years, have my son with me. And you can still take him away from me at any time. We both have baggage, yes. But you have the trump card. You get angry enough with me and I lose my son. Again."
"Kevin, I have offered to make arrangements. I am not trying to take Chris away from you again. I thought I was making that clear from my actions since we returned."
"I also see Howie, who you are supposed to be angry with, taking off with my son for the evening." Kevin ran another hand through his hair as he tried to find the words he wanted. "And even then, you can still walk away with him."
"And you don’t think that everyday, when you come to collect him, that I don’t worry that you’ll disappear with him?" Kat pointed out.
"Hard to do. I am not as famous as I was, but tracking me would still be fairly easy."
"And you have resources I wouldn’t be able to match."
"And I could never take care of him the way you have. Even I can see that. I may not have seen him, but he knows all about me." He gulped. "Just the way he came to me that first night…" His voice broke and he was silent for a moment. "You are a good mother. You always were and the years away haven’t changed that."
Kat pretended to straighten her eyebrow while surreptitiously brushing a tear from her eye. "I…"
"That is why I still want Chris with me. I want him to move into my house. And I want you to come with him," Kevin continued.
Kat’s eyes went wide. What he really saying what she hoped he was saying? Was he really asking her back into his life?
"I know it will only be until you can find a house down here," he continued. "It just makes more sense for you two to move out of this hotel. Chris can live in his own room, and you know that I have a few extra guest rooms. You can take your pick of which one you want." He leaned forward. "I want to be a real part of Chris’ life. If we can start with this… I can help you find somewhere down here…"
Kat choked back her reaction. Gods, of course… He didn’t want her, he wanted Chris. Kevin wasn’t asking for him, he was only concerned about his son. She didn’t even really enter into Kevin’s plan. Stupid fool! How could she even imagine that he might feel anything for her? He’d made it clear years ago that it was over. It was only her own stupid wishing…
"What makes you think we will move here?" she asked icily.
"I know. I am assuming. Hoping, maybe. You were right - I am not always here. I thought it would be for the best…" Kevin’s tone was becoming a touch desperate as he tried to convince her.
"It would be better for us to return to the home that Chris is used to," Kat replied. She got up and turned away, looking out the window, trying hard to repress her anguish. Kevin didn’t love her. That one thought just kept repeating itself over and over in her head.
"I… I’m not doing this right, again, am I? Please Kat. Please give me a chance to spend more time with my son. We can figure this out – argue it if we need to – later. We aren’t going to come to any big agreements tonight, I know that. But please… move into the house. Give me a chance to see Chris first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Please."
As angry as she was, that got through. Kevin was begging her. He never begged. It was just something he never did. Not like this.
"Please. Even if it is only for a little while. Until we can come to an arrangement."
"Oh would you stop saying that," she snapped angrily. "Fine. We’ll move in. Just for a while."
Kevin let out a whoop of joy and grabbed her in a tight hug. Kat’s mouth went dry as he held her. She could feel the strength of his arms. The softness of his skin. The smell of his scent; the scent that was imprinted on her soul. Gods! If he held her much longer she’d fall to pieces. She’d be the one to beg.
She pushed away from him. "I’ll make the arrangements in the morning."
"Thank you." Kevin said as he quickly left the room. God! The feel of her. In his arms… If he’d held on one second longer he would have broken. He would have told her it wasn’t just Chris he wanted in his house. That he wanted her there too. Wanted her there forever.
However he couldn’t do it. Not yet. He had to ease into it. He’d hurt her so much before… If he overplayed it too soon she’d never forgive him. He had to show her he was sincere.
But, damn, it was going to be hard knowing that she was going to be just down the hall from him.