Chapter 17: Hidden secrets

Kat didnít think she could sleep, what will all that had gone on that day, but as soon as her head hit the pillow she was out like a light.

Kevin looked at her, as she lay curled on her side, one arm thrown over her head, almost defensively.

"Are you going to say anything to her?" he asked Howie. "You havenít said a word all day."

"I donít know what to say."

"God, say anything! Having you here, watching her but not speaking is killing her."

Howie felt a surge of anger. "She left me. She slept with my best friend and then walked out. THAT killed me."

"And sheís been running away from it ever since."

"Whose side are you on, Kev?"

"Both. Neither.í He sighed, "I am supposed to be her best friend, remember?"

Howie smiled quickly. "Yeah. Iím the one who decided that. But she walked away from you too, Kev," he reminded him.

"I know. But I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt until she is ready to talk."

Howie laughed tensely, "she could have done that months ago."

Kevin swung his arms around, gesturing wildly, trying hard not to let the anger he felt spill over. "Do you see this? Do you see one ounce of Kat in here? There are no pictures. Where are her stuffed animals? The dragon collection she is so proud of? You walked into her old apartment and it felt like a home. This place: Iíve seen more life in a funeral parlour."

"So?"

"Look, we donít know what happened between her and AJ. Just what he said, and that wasnít good." He sighed, "itís like it broke something in her."

"Sheís run away before."

"But never anywhere we couldnít find her. Okay, once she asked us to give her some time alone, but you found her anyway. And that was at the beginning. Since then sheís always stood her ground. Retreated a few times, but always been willing to work things out together."

"We could have worked this out," Howie said stubbornly.

"Yeah, sure." Kevin mimicked Katís softer voice, "Oh Howie, I know weíve been fighting a lot recently, but I just wanted you to know AJ fucked me." He snorted, "yeah, that would have worked."

"Fine. So sheís been in the country for two weeks. She could have called."

Kevin gestured around the room again. "Hello? Are you seeing this? D, think about it. She may not have been ready to face us yet, but the instance she finds out one of us is in trouble she dives on the phone offering her help."

"For NICK."

"And she would have done the same for you or me or Brian. Probably even AJ, despite everything. She knew Iíd be there Ė even if she did try and use that girl as a shield Ė and she didnít back out."

"Hey, that girl got us here."

"For all the thanks you gave her. Lindsay is probably telling everyone she knows what a jerk you are. You can kiss that "sweet" D image goodbye," Kevin said derisively.

"Why are you yelling at me? None of this is my fault."

"Its not all hers either. Dammit, Howie. Sheís a good friend and she has been hurting badly for months. All my friends have been. It makes me feel helpless."

Howie knew how much the big man hated feeling powerless. "So what do I do?"

"Talk to her. Yell at her. Scream at her. I donít care Ė just do something. If its over between you two, fine, just donít let it end with this whimper."

"íThis is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.í"

"Hunh?"

"T.S. Eliot. Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Itís a poem."

Kevin was silent for a moment, then suddenly announced, "Iím going home."

"What?"

"Iím going home. Nick is going to need support and I am not needed here. You are. You stay. You talk to her."

"I donít know what to say."

"What do you want to say?"

Howie looked out the window at the darkened street. "I love you."

"I love you too, D," Kevin said with a cheeky smirk on his face, trying to keep his joy at Howieís statement in.

Howie threw him a dark look. "I love you, KAT. But how could you leave me? Why couldnít you talk to me?"

Kevin nodded, indicating that he should go on.

"And did he feel good inside you?"

"Not a good place to start the conversation." Kevin leaned forward, "thatís what you are most afraid of, isnít it? That she wants AJ more than you?"

Howie didnít answer.

"Itís a question youíll have to ask her. Itís a question youíll need answered so you can get closure. Just donít ask it right away. And donít hate her for whatever her answer is." Kevin rose. "Iím out of here. Itís a long drive back to Toronto."

Howie shut the door after him and went back into Katís bedroom. She was still asleep; one arm stretched out the other clenched under her head. He sat on the edge of the bed, watching her sleep, drinking her in. Her hair was longer than he remembered, still dark auburn, but with a few sun streaks. Her skin was sallow, tan starting to fade. The gray winter half-light did nothing for her, but he still had to hold himself back from touching her.

He looked around the room, seeing again what Kevin had seen. Plain, utilitarian dresser. Nothing on top. Even her clothes were put away neatly; something that had never happened at her old place. She hadnít been messy then, the clothes had always been organized in piles, but piles nonetheless. Even the closet was sparsely populated. The clothes all new, plain, the colours muted blacks, browns and grays. None of the blues, purples, and jewel tones she used to wear. The suitcase at the bottom of her closet contained some of her summer clothes; obviously things sheíd worn in Cuba, but even those were plain.

The compulsion to snoop was on him now and he headed for the kitchen first. The plates, cutlery and pots and pans had obviously come with the place. The food in the fridge and cupboards was basic. The only things that said, Ďhey, Kat was hereí was the jar of wildflower honey, the bottle of the hot sauce she loved, and a box of her favourite tea.

The living room was even sparser. A few books, all from second hand stores and most of them apparently unread. There were a couple of romance novels beside the laptop on the table. They were marked up, with little sticky notes on them; clearly research for her next book. The laptop was password protected and he couldnít get into it.

It was in the bathroom that he found it. Tucked in the back of the cupboard under the sink, behind the pipes, was a thick white binder. He almost missed it, only just noticing it because of the way the light bounced off it. He pulled it out carefully.

It was all there. A matchcase from the restaurant where they had gone on their first date. Even the ticket stub from the movie. Cards, letters, anything that showed the progression of their relationship. Flowers pressed, even a printout of some of their online chats. All the Backstreet Boys cdís including one of the shaped cdís Ė of him. Copies of all the articles that had been released after the promo tour, his first visit to her place. Backstage passes and concert tickets. Photos of the group, he and she together, of him. Even one she had taken as he slept Ė he hadnít even woken, didnít even know she had taken it.

There was even the backstage pass from the MuchMusic show that fateful night. The rose heíd dropped in her lap from the stage pressed beside it. And a napkin from the club that they had gone to that night. It was wrinkled, tearstained, and he realized that she had put those things in after the group had flown back to Orlando, as she was making her decision to leave.

There was nothing of her in the apartment. Nothing of the life sheíd turned away from three months earlier, but she still couldnít bear to part with this. He crept back into the bedroom, tears streaming down his face. She still slept, but was now twisting restlessly, lost in a bad dream.

"No," she murmured as she tossed, her hand unclenching. A small object fell out and Howie picked it up. It was the small pewter dragon figurine that he had given her, knowing her love for the mythical beasts. Out of her entire collection this was the one she had chosen to keep with her.

He put the figurine back in her hand and closed her fingers around it. He stroked the hair away from her face, pushing it behind her ear. She stopped thrashing around almost immediately, as if unconsciously realizing that he was there, that she was safe.

He walked briskly into the living room and grabbed the armchair, dragging it back to the bedroom. Then settled into it, determined to watch over her for as long as she slept.

Chapter 18