"Umm..." Nick cleared his throat nervously. "I know I'm being an asshole, but..."
He really didn't want to bring it up. The story Kat had told him so far was enough to give him nightmares, but he just had to know. "I just don't get it. I mean, you said I'd hate you. I can't find a single thing in all that that should make me hate you. You didn't do anything bad, you know?"
Kat closed her eyes, trying to ignore all memories that were hammering inside her head. "I... Maybe I should finish up the story." She laughed harshly. "I feel like some sort of after-school special. 'Watch out children; don't end up like this girl.'"
"I kind of like the way this girl turned out," Nick replied, giving her a comforting squeeze.
She leaned her head against his chest and gave a small smile. "Thanks, Nick." She took a deep breath. "I just hope you feel the same way in a few minutes," she thought to herself.
"The house made one hell of a blaze. Even more after it collapsed. But I wouldn't leave. People tried to get me to - Mitch, my friends, the police - but I wouldn't. Not until the fire was out. I kept telling them that I had to stay so Mom and Dad would see I was okay when they came home. I was convinced they were somewhere else, even though their car was still in the driveway and our neighbor said she had seen them in the house earlier. I don't know; I just couldn't leave."
"Paul - he was the Assistant Publisher at the paper - finally got me back to my apartment. I was in shock, and he and his wife kept an eye on me for the next few days until I... I guess 'came to' is the best way to describe it. They kept the curiosity-seekers and gossips away until I could manage to tell them to fuck off on my own. It took a little while, but I got my equilibrium back."
"And then Mitch knocked me back off."
"He came by to talk to me about the fire. He'd been by several times, asking questions and so on. I mean that's his job, right? I hurt like hell, but I answered all that I could. And then he stopped by to tell me the result."
Kat looked up at Nick. "You have to promise you won't tell anyone this, okay? He could get in trouble for this..."
Nick nodded his head, eager to hear the rest.
"He came by and told me he had to talk to me privately. He'd gotten all the evidence together and was ready to make his report. The fire was set. Purposely."
"Some one killed your parents?"
Kat shook her head. "I wish." She took a deep breath. "The fire was set. Someone had poured gasoline all through the house and then started it. It was an old house so with that kind of accelerant it went up quickly. And the way Mitch figured it.... My mother did it. She'd shot Daddy first and then set the house alight, killing herself"
"Mitch had found both of their remains. And he was the only one who found the bullet she'd used on Dad. According to what he said it was a clean shot: it killed him instantly. I suppose he thought that would give me comfort. He thought Mom had done the same - gone up to her room, set the house ablaze and then shot herself, but he couldn't find a bullet in her remains so he wasn't sure."
"Fuck! He thought that would make you feel better?"
"No. But he thought I deserved the truth." Kat shrugged. "Mitch and I had worked together on a few stories and stuff in the past. We got along well; lots of mutual respect there. He felt I had to know the truth so he told me. Then he told me that he wasn't going to give that report to the coroner though. He was going to tell them that it was forgotten cigarette. Every one in town knew Mom smoked so they'd draw their own conclusions. He thought that she'd probably used a cigarette anyway so it wasn't too far from the truth. That way I could be angry with my mother in public if I needed to - and I needed to - but only the two of us would know the real truth."
"So that's what he did. The coroner accepted it and that was that. We knew but no one else." She chuckled humorlessly. "It actually put a real push behind the town's Stop Smoking campaign. No one dared light up. Especially at home."
"So here I am... an orphan. Daughter of a murderess and her victim. Daughter of an alcoholic drug addict and the guy who pushed her to it."
"You are not..."
Kat ignored him. "What is a person to do then? I did the only thing a really stupid journalist would do. I started researching my past. I don't know, maybe it was because I knew my grandparents had died in a fire too, or maybe I was just looking for some family or something. All I know is that I found out that the fire that killed my grandparents was set too. And with what Mitch helped me find it looks like my mother may have started that one too."
"Shit..." The word exploded from Nick's lips before he could stop it.
"I think it may have been because of what she had been saying just before they died. My parents I mean. She was going on about how fire 'cleanses.' She kept saying that. Cleanses. I think she 'cleansed' her parents because of the incest. And then 'cleansed' herself and Daddy because of her incest fixation with me."
She told a quick deep breath and then wriggled out of Nick's arms, sitting up. "I wish I could say it ended there, but about two months after their deaths I got a letter from Mom. There was some sort of codicil in the will saying I couldn't get it until then. Anyway, it was hateful. She told me she'd never wanted me, that Dad had forced her to have me. Same old bullshit about how he knew that having kids would kill her and that was what he was trying to do. She said that insanity ran in his family. That his grandfather had killed his grandmother, he had an aunt in some looney bin upstate and his brother had killed himself. Then she went on about how she hated having to hear me and Daddy having sex every night in the room next to hers... It just went on like that."
"And..." Nick didn't want to ask it. But where there's smoke there's fire... He'd learnt that from his family.
Kat looked at him. "Considering that I hadn't lived in the house for years it was kind of hard for me to be having sex there. Dad's bedroom wasn't even next door to hers. More of that delusion."
"The stuff about my Dad's family was right though. My great-grandfather'd lost control of the car way the hell back when cars were ancient. She died and he walked with a cane for the rest of his life. And Dad's brother did kill himself. He was gay when being gay was not a good thing. He couldn't handle it and hung himself. There was an aunt who was in an institution. I couldn't find out any more than that. It was back in the 50's and she was long dead. Mom must have missed that - she committed suicide too. Jumped off the roof of the hospital."
She moved away from Nick, putting as much distance as she could between them. "That's it. That's all. After that I just said to hell with it. I couldn't stay where I was. So I headed to the city, got a shit job and ended up here."
"Fuck..." Nick said again.
"You see why I have to go. I know I was trying to help but I'll just make things worse. Especially now. Besides I couldn't stay here with you hating me."
He looked at her incredulously. "Hating you? Why would I hate you?"
"Come on, Nick," she snorted. "I'm tainted. Evil. I can't be here."
"What the fuck are you talking about?" He got up off the bed walking over to the where she was pulling clothes out of the drawers and piling them on the bureau. He grabbed her arm spinning her around. "You're not evil."
Tears were pouring down her face again. "Of course I am. Didn't you hear me? It what she said in her letter. It's in my blood. It's going to happen to me. I got nuts on one side and murderer on the other. Of course I'm evil. It's all in me. Even Fredrick saw that. I caused it all. I must have. It's me."
"Oh babygirl, no." Nick pulled her into his arms as she continued to sob. "It wasn't you." He bent and picked her up, carrying her back to bed and pulling her to him. "It's not your fault. Your mom, she was just nuts..."
A fresh outbreak of wails made him smack his head. "Stupid," he berated himself. "That's not what I meant, Kat. I mean it's not you're fault. Shit, you were stuck in the middle."
"I wasn't," she wept. "It had to be because of me. She said it was. And there was all that stuff... it had to have been because of me. It doesn't make sense any other way."
Nick held her as she cried. It didn't make any sense. She couldn't see that. He'd always admired her logical mind, but now it was her bane. She'd been searching so desperately for answers to all of it that she'd ended up blaming the only one left: herself. She just couldn't see that it was a fucked up situation and that was all. No one's fault really, though if he had to make a choice he'd point the finger at her mother. And her father's weakness in dealing with it. And her shit-heel of a boyfriend. Kat was the only sane one in the bunch.
He told her as much when she finally calmed down.
"Really?" she asked tremulously.
"Hell, yeah. I mean look at what you've been doing here. You saw Howie acting like a shit and you told me. You're trying to stop him. I call that smart, not crazy. And if you were predispos... prepissed... Oh hell, I mean if you were gonna kill yourself you would have done it by now. I mean after all that..." he shook his head. "I'd be freaking out too, you know?"
"Hell, yeah. You're not nuts. They were... you aren't. And that whole 'in the blood' thing," he snorted. "That's just something that asshole dude made up to make you feel like shit. Nobody's got that sort of blood stuff. I mean, people get sick and stuff if it runs in their family, sure. But they only do fucked-up things like that if it was done to them, you know. Like those guys who beat their kids and then the kids grow up and beat their kids."
He held his hand up as she was about to argue. "Yeah, I know you kinda had stuff happen to you, but think about it. You knew it was all bullshit when you were growing up. I bet you thought is was all bullshit for ages until all got to be too much, you know. So you just picked the worst shit and decided that was the truth. Sort of like you mom did with that 'kids'll kill me' stuff. She probably didn't think it at first, just didn't like being pregnant or had that post parter depression thing."
"Yeah, that thing. So she thought that one up and then just started believing it. Like you are with the blood thing. So it's not really gonna happen, but you think it will. And maybe it will. But not because it was going to but 'cause you believe it will, see?"
"Sure. And another thing. I bet that shrink you said you were seeing, I bet he...
"Whatever. I bet they said the same thing." He glanced at her face and nodded. "Thought so. See? You aren't nuts. You just needed a second opinion."
Kat chuckled. "What are you? Dr. Carter?"
He beamed. "That's me." Then he leered at her. "I prefer to go by Dr. Feelgood, though."
Kat laughed again. He could hear a tinge of hysteria in it but that soon faded away and he smiled and he hugged her. Maybe she'd listen to him. See that she wasn't what she thought she was. See that she was the cool chick he saw her as. Hell, maybe she could even help him deal with his wacked-out family. Once she'd come to terms with hers.