In Name Only
“Hearts aren’t always as adaptable.”
Kat wished to hell that those words would stop echoing through her head.
She hadn’t been able to duck them when she was in Lake George, and they seemed to play over and over again in her head on the long flight to Orlando. Okay, so it wasn’t a long flight, but when a single phrase keeps repeating itself – somehow rhyming with the tune of every song on the headset – it really feels lengthy.
Part of it was that she was scared. When she’d called the house to talk to Chris, and discovered that Ann was there… She wasn’t sure what to say. She hadn’t told Kevin that his mother knew about Chris; they were barely talking - how could she bring it up? And how was he dealing with the fact that she had hidden his son from him, but gone out of her way to let Chris get to know his grandmother? Gods, she wished she could read him! The flat, toneless voice on the other end of the phone told her nothing. No indications of what he was going to say when she got back… and Ann wasn’t saying anything either. “He was surprised,” was not a great answer to Kat’s queries, and the older woman hadn’t been any more forthcoming. Chris seemed oblivious to any undercurrents; he just babbled on about how cool it was having Daddy and Gramma Ann around and that he wanted to meet his other uncles and cousins and could she please bring him some of his favorite toys from his room when she came back?
She’d tried, really tried, to get a little more info out of each other them. Chris just thought of other things that he wanted, Ann just told her not to worry things were fine, and Kevin wouldn’t say much of anything. Of course, his voice sounds worn out, like he was getting a cold, which was highly probable. The one thing he hadn’t gotten used to as a father was the fact that little boys tended to be carriers of every little bug and virus out there, and as the parent was usually the one more worn down (from chasing said child around) they were the ones most subseptible to them. She hoped that was why he was so gruff and shaky on the phone…
That was why she’d spent a few more days than she needed to in Lake George. Cleaning the house and the café like a demon, writing up a storm when she wasn’t knee deep in Comet and soap pads, and basically doing whatever she could to avoid going back to Orlando and facing it all. It didn’t help the situation, but at least she got more sleep (and dishpan hands).
She also got Nicole’s words echoing, no, not echoing – reverberating - in her ears. And getting louder and louder with each passing day. “Hearts aren’t always as adaptable.”
Yes, the restaurant wasn’t all that important. It had been a means to an end – something that would keep her busy so that she couldn’t write and thus give herself away to everyone she was running from. Sure she’d enjoyed it a lot, but it wasn’t her be-all and end-all. Writing was. And she’d certainly gotten back into that with a bang. She was writing all the time now – as if her brains and hands had said, ‘Okay, woman, you have been avoiding us for long enough. We want creative freedom and we are damn well taking it…”
The restaurant could be gotten rid of, yes, but it also provided a good excuse too. She could turn over the management of it to someone else, continue writing and still manage to build a life here for Chris. He could spend his summers with his father, and his life wouldn’t be in too much flux. And she would get what she needed – to be away from Kevin. To be away from seeing him continue on with his life without her. To be away from the constant heartache of knowing that he didn’t love her when she loved him so much it hurt. Who knows? Maybe she would even be able to move on too. Be able to put things into perspective once her guilt over taking Chris away was cleared up. Be able to date and stuff like that. She didn’t need to be in Orlando to do that.
And no matter what Nicky said about hearts, Chris would be happy as long as both of his parents were in his life. It didn’t matter if they were on opposite sides of the country. Yep, that was the best answer.
So why did that stupid phrase keep repeating in her head?
It was after 11 p.m. when the flight got in and she was tired. She wanted some food and a shower, but most of all she wanted to see her son. All this thinking about Chris had reminded her that she hadn’t seen in him over a week. They’d never been apart that long, and while she knew he was in good hands it was killing her not to see him. She needed his soft laugh, his unruly hair and wonderful snuggles. She needed to be with someone who she loved and who loved her unconditionally. She just needed her baby.
Almost all of the lights were off when she arrived at the house. Not surprising considering the time. Chris’ light was still on, and she resisted the urge to go there immediately and instead went to her room and dropped her bags. There was no noise from Kevin and she assumed that he was in his room. The off-limits room. Good. She’d deal with him in the morning. Chris now… she’d waited long enough.
Kat pushed the door open and gazed across the room. Chris’ bed was made, though covered with stuffed animals. Otherwise it was empty. Instead, he was dressed up in his spacemen pajamas curled up in Kevin’s arms as they two of them slept in the big chair in the corner of the room.
Elementary, my dear Watson! They’d dozed off during story time, as evidenced by the book that leaned awkwardly against Kevin’s leg.
She leaned against the doorway and gazed at them as they lay in the golden light of the bedside lamp. Two dark heads inclined towards each other, faces slack. It was so easy to see that they were related. Same aquiline nose. Same jawline, though Chris’ admittedly had more baby fat. Same dark-winged eyebrows, however, Chris’ weren’t as bushy as Kevin’s. “Give it time,” she murmured to herself. They were so alike.
And suddenly it all made sense. She’d understood what Nicole had been saying, but now it was so clear. Speaking quietly, so as not to wake either of them, she addressed Kevin.
“I love my son more than anything else in the world. He is the best thing I have ever done. And I have always tried to give him everything he wants and needs. I never want him to feel like I felt growing up – that my parents didn’t love me. Okay, I know in my case it was only one parent who made me feel that way, but it hurt and its coloured my whole life. I never wanted him to feel that way which is why I have worked so hard to make him feel that you loved him even when I couldn’t handle being around you.”
“That was me. I knew it then and I know it now. It was me who kept you two apart. I tried so hard to make excuses for it – to him and to myself. I tried to overcome it by letting him get to know his grandmother. By letting him know about the family you were always complaining that he didn’t know. I tried to give him that side of his heritage in every way I could – without actually giving him you. Because I couldn’t. If I did that for him, I’d have to see you too. And I couldn’t see you. It would hurt too much.”
“But I was wrong. I do see you. I see you everyday, whenever I look at him. I am reminded every day of how much Chris looks like you. Every gesture, every look. He does things that are so you and I don’t know where he got most of it. But seeing you two together now… gods, how could I have missed so much? I thought I’d realized how like you he is, but there is so much more I never saw until now.”
“What was I doing? What was I thinking? You two love each other so much… keeping you apart was the cruelest thing I could ever have done. I am so sorry, Kevin. No matter what happened between us I should never have done that. I’ll try and make it up to you. I will. I’ll never take him away from you again. I can’t fix the past, but I can do something about the future. You want your son and you deserve to have him. He deserves to have you. I’ll fix as much of it as I can.”
“Just please, don’t take him away from me. I couldn’t handle losing him. He’s my life. Just like you were. Please. I won’t take him from you ever again. Please don’t take him from me.”
She brushed away the tears that were starting to stream down her face, gulping slightly as she tried to regain her composure. Looking up she made sure that never man nor boy had woken during her speech, and sighed with relief that neither had moved.
Kat moved forward, picking up the book and putting it on the bedside table. Then she pulled the comforter off Chris’ bed. She tucked it carefully over the two, not shifting them at all but making sure that they were covered and warm. She gazed down at the two faces, so close together, nestled in the sea of blanket. Slowly she leaned over and kissed Chris lightly on the forehead.
“I love you, Toffee-man.”
She stood and gazed at the other face for a few moments. Then she leaned over and kissed Kevin on the forehead, in almost exactly the same spot she had Chris.
“I love you too, Kevin.”