Quit Playing Games
"Is this seat taken?"
Kat looked up at the man who stood over her table and shook her head. The coffee shop was always packed on a Saturday afternoon; she’d been lucky to get the table to herself for so long.
"Thanks. It’s nuts in here," he sighed as he sat down, then took a sip of his coffee and pulled a magazine out from underneath his arm.
Kat smiled slightly and turned her attention back to the paper she was reading. This had become her regular weekend ritual. Just sit in a crowded, but comfortable, spot and slowly sip her tea as she caught up on the news of the world.
Ever since her return she had kept her head down and concentrated on the things that were important. She’d ghostwritten a few articles here and there; nothing much, just enough to keep her hand in. For the most part she’d been meeting with the lawyers and bankers and getting that other mess taken care of. Almost finished now. Just a few more papers to sign, and then she could figure out what to do with the rest of her life.
And the visits to the psychologist had helped a lot.
That was Mitch’s idea. When she’d headed back to her hometown for a short visit, just trying to clear her head, he’d suggested it. He knew how hard her parents’ death had been on her: who better? And she had to admit it helped. There was so much baggage there. So many things she had just bottled up and continued on as if they hadn’t affected her. After the fire she’d closed in on herself, then ran away to the city to try and remake herself. That had just been another attempt to bottle things up.
And then on the tour… She’d wanted to tell someone the truth. Hell, she’d wanted to tell Howie. Even Leighanne some days. But Howie… thank god, she hadn’t. And Leighanne? That girl’s life was just too, well, golden. How could she possibly understand?
No, it was better to talk with the professional. At least you knew that they were obligated not to tell anyone else.
"Do I know you from somewhere?"
The question jarred her out of her thoughts. "Pardon?"
"Sorry. I know that sounds like some sort of line or something. But you look familiar and I am trying to place you. Have we met?"
Kat looked at the man across the table from her. Taking in his brown eyes and his short brown hair. He had a long, square face, and thin lips. Not an overly attractive man, but not unattractive either. And he was somewhat familiar to her too. "I’m not sure. Who are you?"
He smiled and offered her his hand. "David Collins. And you are?"
"Kat Morgan. Nice to meet you."
He frowned. "That name isn’t familiar. But your face… Are you an actress or something? I know that I know you from somewhere."
Kat laughed. "No, not an actress. I am a writer. And you seem familiar too."
"What do you write? Have I read any of your books?"
Kat shook her head. "No. I haven’t published a book yet. I write articles mainly. I used to do some entertainment writing in town. Are you involved in that?"
"No. I’m a financial planner. But I am really into the local theatre scene. Maybe I saw you at a show or something."
They nodded to each other and went back to their reading.
Kat sat back in the chair at the doctor’s and looked around for something, anything, to read. She groaned and grabbed the paper that was on the table beside her, "tabloid time."
She was just starting to chuckle at the article about the couple who were happily adjusting to life as the adoptive parents of a child from Alpha Centauri, when the doctor called her into her office.
The session went by so quickly. Kat was surprised. Usually it felt like the hands on the clock were stuck in molasses, as the doctor had to pull every admission out of her. It was hard talking about things that she had repressed for so long. This time it seemed to be easier. Maybe she was just getting used to this process. Or maybe it just didn’t seem to be as hard now that she’d started opening up. Maybe she was starting to heal.
Or maybe it had something to do with tonight’s third date with David.
It had been somewhat strange bumping into him again. After that brief conversation at the coffee shop they’d ended up at the same bar later that week. Kat had stopped by because one of the groups she had loved back when she was in high school was playing. They hadn’t been as big as the Backstreet Boys back in their time. Just very popular in the area. And she’d never had a chance to see them, and now she did. It was fun. Hanging loose and just floating adrift on a memory bliss. So, when she’d turned around on the dance floor and walked right into him it had been been quite a surprise.
They had chatted for hours, even had a chance to talk to the band afterwards. It had been interesting talking to "celebrities" on the way down rather than on the way up. It had given her some story ideas and she’d managed to talk the lead singer into some sort of "where are they now" article. David had seemed very keen on the idea. As he said, that style of music was coming back. Old school he’d called it. Maybe it would spark some new life into the group.
When he’d asked her to accompany him to a play at the local theatre she had been reticent. Dating, she’d told him, was not something she wanted to do right now. It wasn’t a date he’d insisted. He had an extra ticket and no one else wanted to go with him. He was supposed to go with his cousin but she’d met some new girl and was off on some romantic weekend. She had expressed some interest in the subject matter, he reminded her. She was duty-bound to go with him.
And the play had been good. And David had been a perfect gentleman. He’d agreed to meet her at the theatre and hadn’t pressed her when she’d gotten her own cab home after they had gone out for a quick drink when the play was over.
He’d swing by the coffee shop that weekend, just to say hi, and asked her out to dinner. She’d reiterated her unwillingness to date anyone but some how he’d managed to charm her into agreeing. The fact that they had spend most of the night talking about books, writing and all the things she found interesting made things a little easier. She’d continued to shy away from questions about her past. And he hadn’t seemed that determined to push. He’d been pretty flippant about his background too. Mostly he told stories about the people he worked with. The way he described them they were a very strange collection of people, and given to weird behaviour on a daily basis.
"And I am sure that you never do anything offbeat," Kat laughed.
"Who me?" he replied innocently. Then he smiled. "I have some quirks." He took a sip of his wine. "I’m interested in theatre and music. Not the usual sort of things for an accountant to follow. Some of them think I am gay or something."
She gave him a quizzical look.
"No, I’m not. I just, I don’t know… I guess somewhere inside me is an actor or a singer dying to get out. Only I can’t hold a note and get stage fright." He chuckled again. "So I watch and yearn. Then go back to my cubicle and tally my numbers. It keeps a roof over my head and enough cash in my pockets for me to indulge my interests."
Kat nodded. "It sounds like a good life. I must admit that I am more of a "watcher" myself. I observe life and then write about it. I wouldn’t want to be the centre of attention, but I am attracted to it." She smiled wistfully. "Like a moth to a flame, I guess."
He raised his glass. "Here’s to us. People who know what interests them and aren’t afraid to admit it."
She smiled and clinked glasses with him. "Aren’t we a sad people? We bumble along in our little lives and just hover on the outside?"
"Maybe. But at least we know what we can achieve. I know what I love, and realize my limitations. I still try. I help out with community theatre, and help some of the local bands with their financial planning. It’s my way of staying involved without having to undergo the heart-stopping terror of being on a stage."
Kat thought back. She’d seen AJ’s sudden rushes to the bathroom before he’d gone on stage. And knew that Brian needed the reassurance of Leighanne’s kisses or, when she wasn’t around, the back pats that he and Nick exchanged. Howie’s private prayers and Kevin’s meditation sessions. "Even hardened professionals get stage fright, David."
He looked at her curiously.
"I mean, I’ve interviewed people in the entertainment industry. And they still get nervous before a show. They just transmute that energy into their performance."
He leaned back. "Tell me more."
She shook her head. "I can’t explain it. They’re just nervous. But they still get up and do their performance. It may take them some time before they can do it without collapsing or anything. But eventually…"
"So maybe I should keep trying?"
He nodded thoughtfully. "Maybe next time out I’ll volunteer to be, I don’t know, guard number two or something when the Community Players do Shakespeare."
"Start out small," Kat nodded supportively. "Sing in the shower or something."
He groaned. "No! Believe me, you don’t ever want to hear that."
Kat laughed. "It can’t be that bad."
"Let’s just say I’ll never be a Backstreet Boy or anything."
It was an offhand comment but Kat blanched and put her wineglass down with shaking hands. David had turned and gestured for the waiter to come over and didn’t see her initial reaction, though he did notice her pale face.
"Are you okay?"
She took a deep breath. "Yes. Must have swallowed something wrong."
The waiter came over and took their order for coffee and tea.
"I hope it won’t make you turn me down when I ask if you can come with me to the Symphony next Thursday?"
"What?" Two shocks in as many minutes was not something she needed.
"I have Symphony tickets. Nothing heavy, they are doing themes from the movies. I’d like you to come with me."
"Kat, look, I know that you like music and movies… This is just a combination of both," he said convincingly.
"You have other plans?" He sighed. "I guess I should have realized that."
"It’s just…" He sighed again. "You are the first person I have met in a while who shares some of my same interests. And who isn’t in a big rush to hop into bed or anything. I know I am old-fashioned, but I want to be with someone who is willing to take the time to really get to know each other."
"I’m sorry if I have…"
"I’d love to go with you."
David broke into a wide smile. "Thank you." He chuckled. "I am so glad. I swear I could conquer Broadway right now!"
Kat swallowed then smiled nervously. "No, don’t do that. Not if you are as bad as you said."
"Maybe I’ll just sing…" He reached across the table, took her hand and softly warbled a few lines of ‘I want it that way.’
Kat felt faint. Why her? Why couldn’t she just get away from them?
"Why that song?" she asked quietly.
"I don’t know. I heard it on the radio before I got here." He shrugged. "Who is it by anyway?"
"The Backstreet Boys."
"Oh them. They are always on the radio. I guess that’s why I mentioned them." David smiled. "What? You don’t like them?"
"No. It’s just… I know them."
This time it was his glass that crashed to the table. "You do?"
(c) Kat Morgan