"And this is my room? And I can make as much of a mess in here as I want?”
Kat snorted. “Out of the mouths of babes…”
Chris stomped his foot angrily. “Not a baby!”
Kat shoot Kevin a glance as he tried to stifle his chuckle. “It’s a saying, Chris. I wasn’t calling you a baby. You’re a big boy and I know it. That’s why I have so many back problems.”
Chris laughed, wrinkling his nose. “You need to work out more. Just like Daddy does.”
Kevin blushed with joy. Just like he did whenever Chris called him Daddy. Kat looked him up and down quickly. Chris was right: Kevin had been working out. And damn, but it looked good on him.
Gods! They hadn’t even been in the house for five minutes and already she was having trouble dealing with his nearness.
“Why don’t you call him Daddy one more time? Just to see how red he can get,” she said teasingly.
Chris looked back and forth between his parents, then started jumping around Kevin shouting “Daddy” over and over again. After about two circuits he stopped and stared at his father, then turned to Kat with wide eyes. “Wow. He really does get all red when I do that. Cool. Does that mean I can mess up my room and get away with it if I call him Daddy?”
Kat started to chuckle and Kevin laughed out loud. He shook his head and turned to his son. “You have definitely been spending too much time around Bryleigh. She has her father so tightly wound around her finger poor Brian can’t see straight. No, Chris, you can’t trash the room. It’s your room, yes, but I expect it to be cleaned at least once a week. More if we have people over.”
Chris kicked the doorframe lightly. “Phooey. I never get to do anything,” he complained with a small grin on his face. He’d achieved what he’d intended: he’d gotten his parents to laugh together. It was a start.
Kat leaned down and grabbed Chris’ suitcase. “So what do you say, sport? Want to christen your room?”
“Yeah!” Chris grabbed the case and dragged it into the room, then sat down on the floor and proceeded to throw his clothes all over the room. He then rose and carefully placed Stomper, the dinosaur toy that Kevin had gotten him, in the center of the bed. “There. All settled,” he announced with a wicked grin.
Kevin turned to Kat. “I may have to amend my statement about your parenting skills.”
“I...” Kat didn’t know what to say. It was an offhand remark, she knew, but it hurt so much.
“Just kidding,” he reassured her quickly, then wanted to kick himself. He wasn’t sure what for: hurting her feelings or revealing his. Either way he’d have to be more careful. Slow and easy, that was the plan. Stick to the plan.
“I have to pee.”
Kat giggled at the interruption. “Well then Chris, I suggest you find a bathroom.”
“Second door on the left. You know where it is,” Kevin replied and Chris sped through the door.
“Well.” Now what was she supposed to say? What the hell was she doing here? Staying in the same house as him… was she nuts? She should have just bought the first house she saw and moved them in there. Expensive, yes. But much easier on her. The last thing she needed was an ulcer and she was sure she was going to get one.
“I like what you’ve done with the room,” she said, trying to think of something, anything, to say.
“Not much really. Just got it all cleaned up and replaced some of the older toys with newer stuff. I also thought he’s outgrown the Winnie the Pooh sheets we… I used to have in here.”
She nodded. “He’s still a Tigger fan.”
Conversation drew to an uneasy end.
“Maybe you can show me where to put my stuff.”
“Good idea,” Kevin replied shaking off his reverie. He couldn’t tell her where he really wanted her to stay. And what the hell was she doing wearing that same perfume? She knew it always drove him nuts. She better get downwind of him soon or his ability to control himself would be overtaxed. He was having enough trouble trying to keep his body from showing his desire…
He opened the door to the guest room nearest Chris’ room. “I thought you’d best be in here. It’s the smaller room, but it’s close to Chris. And it has its one bathroom so you don’t have to worry about disturbing anyone.” Especially him. The thought of her naked was… God! Why did he even let his mind go there?
Kat looked around. It was the room they had once talked about putting a nanny in. Back in the days when they actually thought they’d make it. What a joke! At least it made it clear to her how he saw her. And he was right; the idea of bumping into him when she returned from a shower… Well, she’d be hard pressed to not drop the towel and beg him to take her. Better this way. A little distance, no matter how small, was something she had to cling to.
“It is a good choice. I always liked this room. So much sunlight,” she replied quietly. “And it will only be for a short while. Until I can find us a place.”
She was so eager to get away from him…“Good. Then it’s settled.” He cleared his throat awkwardly. “You can have the run of the house. I can even arrange for a phone line in here.”
“It’s okay, Kevin. You don’t have to…”
“It’s no trouble. And it will be easier on both of us if we keep our lives as separate as we can.”
Okay, that hurt. Kat sighed inwardly. They were never going to even get along, were they? “That makes sense,” she nodded.
“So you’ll understand why I am making this rule in particular.” She looked at him quizzically and he took a deep breath. “Like I said, you have the run of the house. Except for one room. You are not allowed in my bedroom. I don’t care what your reasons for it - you are never to enter there. Do you understand? Am I making myself clear?”
There was such fire and resolve in his voice that all she could do was nod mutely.
Having Kevin go back into the studio was almost a relief after the first few days of rigid tension. It meant that Kat didn’t have to either hide in her room or vacate the premises as quickly as she could.
As much as Chris enjoyed having a room his could trash at will – he was just as bad at home – he was still her little angel. Every night, after tossing and turning for a while, she’d finally fall asleep and then wake to discover him snuggled up next to her. He’d done that for a few weeks after they’d moved into the house in Lake George. He might pretend he was a big strong boy, but he was also a little child who needed the reassurance of his mother. Who knows, maybe he sensed she needed the reassurance as much as he did? He was way too perceptive for a kid his age.
After she’d tickled him awake they’d go down and have breakfast with Kevin. He was his usual grumpy self first thing in the morning and while she realized that was just Kevin, it did help her create some distance in her mind. Then there would be that uneasy atmosphere until either she went out or he did. Finally back to the house around dinner for more angst.
If it had continued she’d end up with an ulcer. Thank gods for overanxious record companies!
Now if Chris would just cooperate…
None of the houses they looked at were right. If she couldn’t find something that she didn’t like about them he was bound to. He’d even suggested bring the house at home down here at one point; she was getting frustrated enough to start seriously thinking about it. Here she’d been overjoyed to have her son back for a while, and now he was driving her crazy and she was beginning to wish Kevin wasn’t at work.
So when Kevin suggested he take Chris to the studio with him, she had acceded to his request with only minimal objections. And once they were gone had headed through the almost forgotten gate at the end of the garden to Howie’s.
“How’s it going?”
“Tense. Annoying. Aggravating. And that was just this morning,” Kat replied as she accepted the glass of lemonade. “There’s no alcohol in this, is there?”
Todd made a shocked face. “Kat! Really! It’s not even ten in the morning! You can have alcohol in the next glass.”
She chuckled. “Funny man. Or should I say funny girl?”
“Hey, stop teasing my umm… girlfriend?” Howie laughed as he looked up from his book, then ducked as Todd tried to swat him.
Todd went into full drag-queen mode. “Well, I never!”
“Not what I heard,” Kat retorted.
“Keep this up and your next lemonade will be on your head.”
Kat flipped her hair back with a flourish. “But I just washed it!”
Chris was dead to the world when they got back late that afternoon, so Kevin just tucked him into bed. He’d probably wake up cranky in an hour or so, but it couldn’t be helped. Kevin yawned. He was going to head to bed for a nap too soon. But he had better search out Kat and tell her they were back. He knew she was around; her car was still in the driveway, but he wasn’t about to start calling for her. He didn’t want to wake up Chris.
He searched the house quickly with no luck, and was about to give up and crash when he heard her laugh from outside. Or rather outside, over the wall, at Howie’s.
It never failed. Look for Kat, and she was with Howie. Always it was Howie.
He stalked over to the gate, not at all surprised to find that it had been cleaned and oiled, then pushed through it with an angry thrust.
Kat sat in a lounge chair, dressed in a scanty bikini, chattering animatedly with Howie, Todd and most of Howie’s family.
“I thought I’d find you here,” he said through clenched teeth.
“Kevin!” Kat grabbed a shirt from beside the chair and pulled it over her. “You’re back. Where’s Chris?”
“Asleep.” He turned to the others and smiled sweetly at Mrs. Dorough, giving her a quick peck on the cheek.
Kat and Howie glanced at each other quickly. While Kevin was making small talk and talking amiably with everyone, the two of them could read the signs: he was furious. And they both knew he was going to explode soon.
“Umm… Well, he shouldn’t be left alone for long. He may wake up and then there is no telling what kind of mess he’ll get into,” Kat said warily as she stood up.
“Can I..?” Mrs. Dorough asked, her eyes lighting up at the thought of seeing Chris again.
Kat glanced at Kevin’s set face. “Not right now, Mama. How about I bring him over on Saturday and you can spend the day with him?”
“Oh wonderful!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands together.
The walk back to the house was quiet, but the volume of it was deafening.