In Name Only
She sighed as she dropped her briefcase on the sofa. It had been a long and arduous day, and right then even the weight of the small bag was enough to make her feel exhausted. She kicked off her shoes and collapsed on the seat beside her bag, groaning as she pulled her legs up to rest on the coffee table. Looking around guiltily, she suddenly realized that there was no one around to notice her lack of etiquette.
For the first time in as long as she could remember she was alone. Totally alone.
She sighed again, but this time it was with a sense of relief. How many times had she imagined a time like this in the last two years? Just herself. No other pressing worries. Sure, there were worries – she could never get rid of them, but then who could? – however, right here, right now, the only thing she had to do was sit and relax. The closest she’d come to this in the past was a long bubble bath after Chris was asleep.
He was with Kevin now – admittedly a whole different set of uncertainties there – and well cared for. Even Nick and Emma had left. They were winging their way to Florida at the moment, and while she did miss the laughter they had shared when she’d returned to Lake George, she didn’t miss feeling like a third wheel. She felt her age too often these days to magnify it by acting like some sort of chaperone to the younger pair.
Kat took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Yep, she was all alone. She could do anything she wanted. Turn the music up loud, dance in her underwear. Eat a whole tub of ice cream for supper. Watch intelligent – or naughty – television, not family-safe programs. Go out and party all night, drinking herself silly. So much fun she could be having.
Right now, just sitting there was the most exciting thing she could think of doing.
She kicked the briefcase onto the floor and stretched out, rubbing her shoulders trying to take the stress out. “You’d have thought they’d have gotten their act together without me,” she mused aloud as she leaned back onto the throw pillows. All day long it had been questions after questions. Depositions and reviews. The whole process seemed to be taking forever. That’s why she’d told Emma and Nick to leave – they’d told their stories about the fire repeatedly and it was clear that, after a few days, the bulk of the work would need to be done by her. Also, until this legal wrangling was over the café wasn’t going to be repaired. No café, no work. So what was the sense of Emma sitting around waiting when she could be shacked up in Nick’s love nest in Florida? Not that they hadn’t created a little love nest of their own where they were…
Kat was particularly annoyed with Dave, the ‘electrician’ who had done the repairs that caused the fire. Even at the time when he was doing the repairs she’d been a little leery of his skills – he seemed more interested in sitting around the kitchen chatting and sucking back as much food as possible than working on the problem. Now it appeared that his work licenses weren’t valid. There was some dispute about that – no one was exactly sure if they were his or his invalid father’s – of the same name. Either way they hadn’t been kept current, a fact that he’d hid from her and which she felt should have been reason enough to get him charged with negligence. But wouldn’t you know it, the jerk had a cousin who just happened to be the local “shark” lawyer. If something didn’t break soon she’d end up sitting here giving depositions well into her golden years.
She missed Chris.
Okay, she loved the quiet – the incredible, all-encompassing quiet – but there was nothing that restored the soul like a patented Chris snuggle. She could call him, but right then the energy it would take to get up and walk to the phone seemed too much effort. Besides, she’d have to talk to Him then.
Gods, what the hell was she going to do about him?
He hated her. She was convinced of that. Sure, he tolerated her presence because it also gave him access to his son, but that was about it. Tolerance. Actually, that was worse than hatred. At least with hatred there was some existence of emotion.
Now with Howie… Okay, she was still wary around him, but there was real emotion there. He honestly wanted to make amends. And she had to admit he was doing a very good job of it. It was just his annoying habit of acting before he thought. That had been a problem before when they were married… and it was definitely what caused the divorce. He didn’t do it often, but when he did – bam!
She was happy that he and Todd had gotten together. Todd was a good person, and she’d always felt a little guilty about hiding Howie’s sexual preference when talking to Todd. Todd’s crush on Howie had been cute at first, and she often teased him about it, however as time went on she felt more and more that Todd and Howie would make a good match. And there was nothing she could do to try and put the two together. Fortunately, fate had stepped in. Unfortunately, the ‘fate’ hadn’t been a good one for her.
And then there was Nick… In just two years he’d grown from the young man she’d been friends with a mature man – admittedly with the occasional immature behaviours. He’d become a man. Not the oh-so-cute blond heartthrob she’d known. He’d come to terms with himself. Accepted who he was and how people saw him. Then he’d cut through all the crap and decided to be who he wanted to be. She was proud of him.
Especially the way he was around Emma. After all, Emma would be the first to admit that she is not a beauty in the classic sense. She had a mixture of features that worked so well for her, but her beauty came mostly from within. Kat wasn’t certain that the “old” Nick would have thought of her as anything more than a friend. But the mature Nick had gotten to know her as a friend, and when he realized that all the qualities she had made him want her as more than that he hadn’t hesitated. No thoughts about how it would look in public… about any media spin… He’d followed his heart.
And if the fans didn’t like it, ‘screw them.’ His words exactly. Yes, the three of them had talked about it before he and Emma had left for Florida, and it had been Emma who had broached the subject. Kat had stayed out of the discussion for the most part, just describing, when asked directly, a little bit about how she, as a Backstreet wife, had been treated. She hadn’t passed judgement or tried to scare Emma. She’d just talked plainly, outlining the pros and cons. Then Nick had just swept through saying that as far as he was concerned he loved Emma and if people couldn’t accept that then to hell with them. Sure there might be nasty comments and whatever, but as long as they loved each other what did it matter.
Nick loved Emma… Well, Kat had suspected that, but clearly that declaration had floored Emma. He’d said it before apparently; she’s figured that out from the tears and whispering. But obviously Emma hadn’t realized the depth of his emotion and commitment.
Kat was laying odds there’d be another Backstreet marriage within the year.
Poor Chris would be devastated. Fortunately he worshipped his Uncle Nick, so she hoped that losing his first crush to him wouldn’t be too bad.
Maybe Chris had moved on already… he did seem to be very attached to Bryleigh. Brian had been making mock-annoyed comments about how looks like the two were going to give them all a bad name – them being cousins, and the Kentucky aspect and all. He adored Chris, he said, but he was NOT going to let him run off with his little girl. Kat had almost peed herself laughing as he’d gone on, doing impressions and mock interviews of what would happen once Chris’ and Bryleigh’s ‘kissing cousin’ relationship was revealed. It was all they could do to contain themselves when Bry had come running in to see what all the fuss was about, then shrugged and said she was going back to ‘her’ Chris.
It was amazing how her friendship with Brian hadn’t been affected by the time apart. Sure there were times when there was an uncomfortable silence – usually when he brought up Kevin, but for the most part they’d slipped right back into it. Leighanne had teased them about it a lot. She seemed to understand Kat’s reticence to talk about ‘the emotional stuff’ as she put it, and had egged them on when they talked about other things. Kat sighed. Those two were perfect for each other. Sure they had their fights and misunderstandings – heck, every couple did – but the love they had for each other, that shined through in everything they did.
Oh, to have a love like that…
Nope, not gonna go there. She’d managed to avoid thinking about Him for this long; she was damn well going to keep on avoiding it. What else could she think about? AJ… she’d already been through all of them (but one)… so it was time to think about AJ.
Who was doing very well, by all reports. Of course, those reports usually tended to come from him. Sure Tina always threw in several comments – usually caustic ones which got the three of them laughing (thank the gods for three-way calling) but it was AJ who did most of the talking. In a way she thought she’d missed him the most. Next to Howie and Kevin, he was the one she talked to most about her writing. AJ was wild and impulsive, but also highly intelligent and quick-witted. He ‘got’ stuff, usually right away, and was able to help her synthesize it into words when she was stuck. He also cut through the crap and just told it like it was. She hadn’t managed to steer clear of talking about Kevin – with one exception. Sure, she hadn’t said much but what little she had said, she’d said it to Alex. And he seemed to know what she was thinking without saying it. He’d call and just say, “don’t worry, things will work out,” and then hang up. Usually at a time when she was feeling so overwhelmed…
Damn them all! They were breaking down her resistance. Just by being themselves they were making it harder and harder for her to continue to keep the walls up. Didn’t they realize? Those walls couldn’t come down! Not until she and Kevin reached some sort of détente. And he seemed to be uninterested in making things any easier.
She sighed again… damn thing always came back to that tall, handsome man that she…
The jangling of the phone interrupted her thoughts, and not a moment too soon by her reckoning.
“I think we got him,” the voice on the other end said triumphantly. “I think that sonovabitch has finally hit the dust.”
Kat chuckled. Her lawyer, Nicole Leclare, had had a run in with both the electrician and his lawyer – or as she called them “Wired and Wacko” - before, and was very keen on getting at least one of them shut down. Kat probably would have taken the insurance money and let the rest of it go days ago if it hadn’t been for her. Hmmm… Someone to blame… Nah, as much as she hated the time she was stuck unable to clean up her burnt and soaked café, Kat had to agree that Dave had to be stopped. Emma and Nick had been lucky – the next time someone could be serious injured.
“Enough to get him behind bars?”
Nicole sighed. “Probably not. But enough to make sure he never picks up a pair of pliers again. And there isn’t anything that huckster of his can do about it.” Her voice dropped to a conspiratorial level, “I’m gonna go after him too. It may take a few years, but I’ll get the bastard disbarred. I’ve been collecting the dirt and sooner or later something’s gonna turn up.”
“I don’t doubt it. I told you about how he was there at the airport offering to represent me. What a moron! As if I didn’t know who he was really working for.”
“Don’t worry, hun. I got that on my list too. That little practice of his is gonna be the stuff that hangs him out to dry. I just know it.” She cackled wickedly. “I just want to be the one who does it.”
“Nicky, you’ve been watching too much CSI.”
“Kat, you can never watch too much of that show.”
Kat smiled. “I suppose. So does this mean I can start rebuilding the café?”
“Do you really want to?”
Kat knew that Nicole was asking that on more than one level. They had become good friends over the last few years and Nicole was the only one in Lake George who had known Kat’s real identity. She had to; she was the one who took care of all of Kat’s legal work regarding the café and the house. Kat also knew that she could rely on the ‘client-lawyer’ confidentiality practice.
She’d never talked about who she had been and Nicole had never asked. Nicole was a closet BSB fan; Kat’s walked in on Nicole grooving to one of their early CDs once – even doing the dance steps. Nicole knew who Kat was, and Kat knew that Nicole knew who she was, and that was the end of any conversation about it.
“It’s my restaurant, Nicole.”
“But is your life still here?”
Kat took a deep breath.
“I really don’t want to talk about this, Nicky.”
“I know. Known that for a long time. That’s why I’ve never brought it up. What I am saying right now is that you can start on the repairs to the café; that’d be a good idea no matter what, but are you so sure that you want to keep it?”
“I am sure that you don’t want to open up much now but your old life has come back to roost, Kat. And I am not so sure you are as willing to walk away from it as you were back whenever.”
“I can’t just walk away from the café either.”
“Those sort of things are movable. Sell this one you can set up another one anyplace you want. Just have to get all the licences again, and that would be easier now. And the staff, of course. You could stay, but heck, I doubt you could get Emma back here now.”
“I can hire someone else.”
“True enough. What I’m saying is just this: rebuild the place. And while it’s being fixed up, think about it. Once its fixed, you can come on back or you can sell it. You are starting to deal with your things now. Being here may not be good for all that.”
“Maybe. But it may be good for my psyche,” Kat responded with a wry chuckle.
“And for Chris?”
Damn her, Kat thought. Fool woman knew exactly which button to push. “Chris is happy wherever he is. He knows he’s loved. And his father’s in his life and that won’t change.”
“True enough,” Nicole said again. “Well, I’ve said my piece. Not going to push on it. I’ll start going on getting the place back in shape. I figure that’ll take a few weeks, maybe a month, so you go on back to that little darling. I’ll keep you posted on how things go.”
“Thanks Nicky. I appreciate all your help. And even your interfering advice.”
Nicole guffawed. “Well, you know us lawyers. Always sticking our noses in.”
“True enough,” Kat replied.
Nicole laughed again.
“So how can I thank you for all this, Nicole?”
“Honey, I got to have that hunky Nick Carter locked up in my office for hours on end. I should be thanking you.”
It was Kat’s turn to laugh. “Watch it. I think he’s taken.”
“I saw that and all I can say is darn! Things just don’t work out for me, do they?” She sighed. “Guess I’ll just have to settle for getting Wired’s wires clipped.”
“That is not a bad thing.”
“True en---. That’s right. Ha, thought you’d get me that time, didn’t you?” she teased, then said seriously. “Just one more thing, Kat, then I’m off. I meant what I said about restaurants being things that you can set up anywhere. Hearts just ain’t always as adaptable.”