"I told you I was an only child. Well, I started to but you fell asleep."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm a dumbass. Keep going."
She took another gulp of the water that Nick had given her and cleared her throat.
"It wasn't because my parents couldn't have more children; it was because my mother wouldn't. She refused. Said that it would kill her. She was like that: once she got an idea stuck in her head she wouldn't let it go. So another baby would kill her and there was no arguing with her about it."
"Must have put quite a dint in their love life."
Kat elbowed him. "Some guys don't think with their crotches, Nick." She sighed, "but yeah, it didn't help. I mean, they obviously figured it out somehow because they were happy. I remember that growing up. They were happy together. It was really only in my teens when things started to fall apart."
"Dad ran the local paper. The family had for a few generations. That was a big deal in our small town. It made him one of the local leaders, you know? Mom didn't work. She was Little Mrs. Organization Queen. If there was something going on with a local charity or organization she was the one involved. Well, except for the business ones, but you get what I mean."
"When I was about 15 things ran into trouble. The recession hit our area hard. People were out of work all over and even the paper was forced to cut back. It didn't make Dad very popular. It wasn't his fault - it was all bad - but he was seen as Mr. Moneybags and that didn't help. Actually we weren't that rich - we were just a big fish in a small pond. But in a small town, with a sort of legacy, it really hurt."
"Mom took it worse than Dad. Suddenly the committees she used to chair didn't need her help. She got pushed aside and her ego was really hurt. She started blaming Dad for all her troubles too. And after she had her accident it got worse."
"Yeah. See we'd had this local woman who came in regularly. Just to help out, you know? But Mom was so fussy about it. 'Can't have them thinking we live in a dungheap,' she'd say. She was big on 'appearances.' So she'd do this massive clean up just before Mrs. Johnston was supposed to come over. It was stupid; she'd polish the knick knacks, dust the furniture and wash the floors. And then Mrs. Johnston would come over and do the same thing." Kat shook her head. "Had to 'keep up appearances.' Mom was big on appearances," she said again.
"She was washing down the back steps to the kitchen - we had this huge old house. I think it was a farmhouse originally but then the town had grown around it - and she slipped. Down about ten stairs and onto the kitchen floor. Broke her leg in two places. It would have been okay, but I was at school and Dad at work and she was so sore she couldn't get help. I found her when I got home a couple of hours later and called an ambulance."
"She was in a body-kind of cast for a few weeks in the hospital and then at home for almost two months. We had to put her bedroom downstairs and she was pretty much housebound. Mrs. Johnston came in everyday and a nurse checked in regularly, but Mom was so ashamed about it. It upset the hell out of her having to be dependent on them. Here she was, the Grand Dame, only she wasn't. She was an invalid. And because all her committees were still going on without her she was even more out of things."
"She got hooked on pain pills."
"I don't think she intended to. She really was in a lot of pain: it was a bad break. But I think the worse part was the emotional pain. She was sort of ostracized from town. Couldn't even get out there to try and get folks to see her and get over it. She was apart from Dad because he didn't move his stuff downstairs too - the bedroom we made in the parlor was just too small for both of them. She was totally out of control and the only thing she could control was herself. And she was in pain and wanted to be out of it. So, there were the pills."
"Things got better in town slowly. Dad was the first one to hire everyone back as soon as there was a slight upturn. Nearly beggared us to do it, but he wanted to do 'the right thing.' Unfortunately only a few folks clued into how close it had been for us too. So even with all he did folks were slow to come around. Oddly, Mom was welcomed back quickly. But while she accepted that she was still bitter. Bitter to her friends, to me - 'cause I'd found her - and to Dad. And still popping pills."
She straightened and took another sip of water. Nick jumped out of bed and got her another glass and then curled back around her, pulling up the covers.
"Thanks." He nodded, and she started her story again.
"I sort of knew what was going on. I mean you do clue in when your Mom finally moves back upstairs, but keeps a separate bedroom from your Dad. And the constant snide comments to me didn't help. I was in my teens for Christ sake! As if I needed someone else telling me I was a loser. I felt like one all the time. I was this gawky kid with no breasts, pimples and braces. Sucked to be me."
Nick chuckled. "I know what you mean." She glanced at him. "Try doing it with thousands of people watching you all the time. I may not have had the breasts, but I got the pimples all right. And had to put up with that damn retainer at night. My teeth had to be straight and perfect, but I couldn't have braces. Not in public. It made being in private hellish."
"I didn't know that," she said softly.
"No one does. Well, except for the guys and my Mom." He grimaced. "I have some stories for you on her…"
"What she didn't know your 'heart and soul'?" she teased.
"It would take someone who has a heart and soul to know if someone else had one," he sighed. "So that would be a no."
"Nick?" Kat put a hand on his t-shirt clad chest, trying to offer some comfort. "You wanna…"
He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. "Your story first. We'll save mine for later, 'k?"
Kat nodded, sighing heavily. "Where was I? Oh yeah. Mom hated me and made growing up hell. So I knew something was up, but I had school and friends and stuff. I guess I got off best out of the recession stuff. The kids told me why their parents hated us and I said 'so what?' Then they'd say 'so what?' and we'd fight and then it was okay. I had a really good left hook, though of course I didn't know what that was at the time. I just knew that if anyone tried to jump me I could take them or at least give as good as I got. Kids respected that so I was okay. And because Mom was making life miserable at home I just stayed away as long as I could. If I didn't have clubs or swimming or something I just started hanging out with Dad at the paper."
"Dad knew about the pills and managed to get Mom some help. I was away at college by then, so I didn't know a lot about it. I found out later. It took a while. She was in and out of rehab a couple of times. Everyone thought she was off on trips - I don't know, seeing Europe or something. Surprisingly, no one figured it out."
"Like I said, I was at college. All that hanging around with Dad made me want to be a journalist, so I was doing that. Pissed the hell out of Mom. She wanted a little lady for a daughter, and here she got this tomboy who was good in a fistfight and wanted to be a war correspondent. I mean, what did she expect? She made being around her horrible and her charity ladies were just as bad," Kat broke off as the whine in her voice got bad. "At least Dad wanted me."
Nick rubbed her back, letting her get her wits about her again.
"I was close to graduating when all hell broke out. Mom was drinking by then. She and Dad had been apart for so long it was starting to be noticed by others. Small town gossips are pretty bad. Then Dad made it so much worse by having an affair with his secretary."
"Yeah. I'd gone to summer camp with her - she was about a year older than me. That hurt too. I think it was only a quick thing. You know, once or twice. But like I said, small town gossips… Somehow folks got wind of it and then it was all over town. Mom found out by accident, overhearing some ladies at one of her meetings. That just made her go ballistic. Here everyone knew but her, and they were all talking about it. The embarrassment was more than she could take. She hit the pills again only it was worse because she was boozing heavily too."
"It was awful. She thought she was the town joke and she got toasted and headed down to Dad's office to 'take on the hussy.' The hussy was long gone by then - Dad had come to his senses quickly and hustled her away - but that didn't matter. Mom made quite the scene. They both ended up in the hospital: him with scratches and bruises and her in a straightjacket."
"I quit school and came home. I mean, what else could I do? My family had disintegrated. Others thought it was because of Dad, but I knew it had been happening for a long time. Anyway, Dad was ostracized for a while and someone needed take care of things. I was really just a front - Dad ran things from home and I just followed his orders. Folks knew that, but they were able to accept that. And Mom was in rehab for a short while - for the first time as far as people knew - and then they were in counseling together. That's when I really busy. I looked after Mom when she first came out and couldn't handle seeing Dad. So he got an apartment and I ran back all over between the house, the apartment and the paper. Just trying to keep things going while they worked things out."
"It was almost two years before I could got back to school. And there was still a lot of shit going on. Mom never forgave Dad and the bitterness was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Dad was miserable - he really did love her and he knew he'd screwed up. He hated himself for being so weak and was willing to do anything to make her happy again. But, now, I don't think she was interested in being happy. I think she'd stopped being happy a long time ago."
"I finished school and instead of going off to some foreign war zone I came back to my personal one. Mom was going to a psychiatrist and they were both going to a marriage counselor. Dad had aged so much in the year I was away finishing things up. It was all a big fuck up."
"I started working on the paper. Writing, not running things. I liked that better. And after a little while they all stopped treating me like the boss' daughter and just one of the other writers. It was great. We even expanded. Dad bought another paper in the region. Mom appeared to get better and things seemed to be going well. She was back in her charity swirl only now she had more reach across the region. Dad was working hard and they were once again the supreme couple in the region. She still drank, but no one seemed to care. And if she was occasionally cutting to Dad in public they just accepted it. After all, he just seemed to laugh it off so why shouldn't they? Amazing what people can mask, hunh?"
"I was doing okay. I had work and loved it. I'd outgrown my fighting days and was actually embarrassed by it. I guess that was what made Mom start going to work on me. She was going to turn me into a lady, dammit or die trying. At that point it was just easier to give in and put up with her fussing. So I was 'star reporter' during the day and becoming 'society princess' at night."
"And the fiancé?" Nick asked.
"Oh yeah. Him. I'd met him at college and we'd stayed in touch. We had this distance thing going. Nothing heavy, but still there. He was from a similar kind of set up: small town, well off folks. Anyway, when things just didn't seem to be working out for him in the city I guess he thought that maybe being in a small town was a good idea. Suddenly it wasn't a distance relationship. He was at home, working his way up - he was a lawyer - and we were a couple. Both sets of parents approved. His family was from another state but his parents had come to visit and he was 'of good stock' as Mom put it. Everything went along tickedy-boo for a while. Then he asked me to marry him. I think deep down I knew I wasn't in love with him, but I'd seen what love could do and I didn't want to end up like my parents. Plus everyone kept saying what a wonderful couple we made. So I said yes."
"But he was just after you for the money and stuff, right?"
"No. Well, probably. But that's not what happened." She stopped; not being sure how to go on.
"And?" Nick asked impatiently.
She took a deep breath. "I sort of left something out, I think. Well, maybe not. See, I didn't know until later. It just all sort of fell into place around then. And I…"
Nick swallowed his curiosity. "Look, you've told me enough. If you want we can forget this for now."
"No. It's okay. It's just.. It's getting to the hard part, right? I mean… this is where I have to tell you… It just… Please don't hate me, Nick. I hate myself enough already. I can't help it. It's in my blood. It's not my fault. Really. It's just… it's in my blood."
Nick held her as the sobs started again, wracking his brains trying to figure out what the hell she was saying. 'In her blood'? What the hell did that mean?
"I won't hate you, Kat. I promise. Come on. It can't be that bad. Just tell me."
"It's bad…" she sniffled. "God! It was so bad…" She wiped her eyes and then glanced at him. "I got your shirt wet again," she said, pointing at the water stains.
"Its just water."
"Yeah," she replied quietly. "Just water." She was silent, staring at his damp t-shirt, and Nick knew she was screwing up the courage to continue her story.
"I can't remember how, but somehow I found out that my grandparents, Mom's parents, had died in a fire. It happened before I was born, so I'd never even thought about them. They were just dead and that was it. But I guess through all her going to a shrink Mom started talking about her parents. She started having memories… like of her father…" Kat took a deep breath. "He's been abusing her when she was a child."
"Yeah. It just… She was just totally freaking, you know? Falling apart right left and center. She'd just get a handle on stuff and then something else would happen. I mean, the stuff with money and then Dad - that was one thing. But this just blew her apart. She didn't know who the hell she was… It actually brought her and Dad closer together. They were a real couple for the first time since my childhood. Not sleeping together and all, but he just came to her side immediately. She needed him and he was there. See? I always knew he loved her no matter what."
"I kind of thought it would all make it better. And it did for a while. But something came up… I have no idea what. I was off in my own little world, with Fredrick and work and all. Anyway, Mom started getting weird again. Started with those ideas that would pop into her head and she'd fixate on them. And she fixated on this on. Big time."
"She decided that my dad had… He'd abused me."
"W-what?" Nick’s jaw dropped.
"Well, actually, more that Dad and I'd had an affair."
"Yeah. She started getting things all mixed up. The abuse she'd had was suddenly not her but me and she'd discovered it. And then, over time - a very short time - she somehow decided that the affair that Dad had had was not with his secretary but with me. I told you she was an alcoholic. And a drug addict. And then there was the incest. I guess with all that she'd become delusional. She started hinting to us at first. Directing the conversation to when I was helping out at the paper when I was still in high school. Then drawing conclusions that fit her belief. Twisting everything we said. We didn't get it until one day she just up and said it at the dinner table. Dad and I were stunned. First she accused him of sleeping with me as a kid - after she had been 'forced' to throw him out of her bed because he was trying to get her pregnant thus killing her. Then she accused us of having an affair under her nose. An affair she was sure we were still having. It was surreal."
"We tried to make her see that it was nonsense. Even got the shrink in for some family counseling, and though she finally said she'd been wrong and that it was just all the other stuff… She hadn't. And I found out the hard way. The night before my wedding."
Nick's eye widened, seeing where the tale was going. "She told your fiancé that you were fucking your dad?" he squeaked.
Kat nodded. "She told him and he believed her. I don't know what she said but he decided to confront me the night before the wedding. Told me that no wife of his was going to carry on with her father. I was to stop immediately. He'd forgive me - obviously it was something that ran in my family and he'd see to it that I'd get counseling for it. Kept saying something about it being in my blood."
Nick started at the phrase. Kat has used it before, though the way she said it so blithely now made him see that she hadn't realized it.
"I laughed in his face. Told him that it was all my mother's delusion and that I was surprised he'd fallen for it. He slapped me and told me not to disrespect my mother that way. She was a saint, and I was the evil one. He said he'd put me straight, with God's help. Fredrick was from a religious family - I'd known that, but what I didn't know was that it was one of those 'fire and brimstone' type of churches. I mean, he had spouted some religious claptrap before, but always with a laugh. Only this time he wasn't laughing. Started going on about casting out sin and shit… I dunno. I told him the wedding was off. He told me it wasn't. That he was going to make me honest. And then he raped me."
Nick was as white as she was now. He pulled her to him, trying hard to stop her shivering. "It's okay, baby. He can't hurt you now," he said, rocking her gently. But Kat just laughed hollowly.
"Doesn't hurt. Big deal. He raped me. I wasn't a virgin - I just said no. He raped me and then left. I managed to pull myself back together and left too. And you were wrong. He didn't leave me at the altar. We both did. Here there was this huge church do, something Mom and her little ladies had been putting together for months and neither the bride nor the groom show up. What a joke."
She ignored him. "It was quite the scandal. Fredrick had packed his bags, shoved a resignation letter under his boss' door and taken off. I had locked myself in my apartment and refused to see anyone. No one knew for certain what had happened. But into the breech came dear old Mom. She didn't start with the 'Katherine and her father are sleeping with each other' bit, oh no. That was just for family, or family-to-be. No, she came up with something new. I couldn't have children. I even sort of believed it myself after I didn't get pregnant from the rape. That was the only time Fred and I'd ever not used protection." She shrugged. "Whatever. It was an excuse and it worked. People still whispered, and the pity looks were annoying, but after my self imposed exile I was able to come out and go about my business."
"I never told anyone." Kat chuckled listlessly. "I guess that's not true. I just told you. And I told my shrink in the city. But I never told anyone else. Not back home. I couldn't. I was the idiot that thought he loved me. I was the idiot who thought he'd believe me over my mother's bullshit."
"And for some reason she stopped for a while. She was actually nice to me. I hated her, loathed for what she'd caused, but she was so sweet, so nice. What a pleasant game she played," Kat said dreamily.
Nick was starting to get really worried. He tried to interrupt several times, but it was like Kat was in a zone and couldn't - or wouldn't - hear him. She was telling the story, and like it or not he was going to hear it. All of it. No matter that what he'd heard so far made him sick.
"Life sort of went… well, not back to normal, but it went. After a while I let it slip to Dad what had caused Fred to leave. I didn't mean to… maybe he just figured it out. I'm not sure. But he realized that she was out of hand. So he announced he was going to retire. He started spending more time at home, thinking it would make her happier, less freaky. Which it did for a while. He spend half days at the office, and I started taking on more responsibility. I even started seeing someone casually. He golfed and spent time with Mom."
"Only she never got better. Not really. She was still drinking. She could make the meanest martini out of all of her garden group. And her book club just loved the spiked lemonades and rum balls she made for their meetings. Though Dad was retired he still had all his clubs and what not, and she started going to those regularly, too. I think that was where she started smoking. We hated it, Dad and I, which is probably why she carried on. She was like that; she hated us. Had decided that we had ruined her life and so she made us pay as often as she could. Snide, hateful comments over dinner, smoking like a chimney, drinking like a fish. It was a real laugh riot, let me tell you."
"Then…" Kat stumbled.
"Kat, it's okay. I've heard enough. Come on, babygirl, you can stop now."
Once again, she ignored him. "I was working at the office and someone called in with news about this big fire downtown. I was the only one there - there was some thing going on, I can't remember what, but all the reporters were off doing their thing, so I was left. So I went downtown to see what was happening, to cover the story. And it was our house. It was our house on fire. I looked everywhere for Mom and Dad. I did. Really. There were people all over the place: neighbors, firemen, people just there to watch. I asked them all, no one had seen them. I even tried to get into the house but Mitch, he was the fire chief, and he stopped me. Pulled me away. I fought him. But it was too late. The house collapsed… still burning. With Mom and Dad inside."
"Oh fuck," Nick murmured as he rocked her back and forth. She'd finally dissolved into sobs. Harsh, panting ones. Ones that wracked her whole body. Tears trickled down his face too as he tried to comfort her, mentally berating himself for being such a fucking ass. For forcing her to tell him all this. God! And for putting her through all of this shit with Howie. He could kill Howie with his bare hands for betraying her trust like this. And when he was done with that he'd strangle himself too for being such an ass. Fuck!