Kat blinked rapidly, her hand moving up to stroke her throat. It was still sore and raw from being pushed against, and for a moment she was afraid that her larynx was broken. Oxygen must have finally hit her brain because it occurred to her that if it was broken she'd more likely to be dead, not having bizarre inner conversations…
She glanced over at Howie as she slid up in seat, trying to get more comfortable. He was frowning deeply as he drove, muttering away to himself, though her movement made him glance over at her.
She nodded, not sure whether to try her voice yet.
"Good. Then tell me what the fuck is going on?"
Kat's eyes went wide as she stared at him. "Tell you?" she rasped before breaking off in a coughing fit. "Tell you?" she repeated, her voice a little stronger. "You should tell me what the fuck is going on!"
A grimace of shame passed over his face. "I am not sure I know anymore." He took a deep breath. "Everything is so fucked up. Things that made sense, even five minutes ago, don't seem to anymore."
He turned the car swiftly onto another road. A busier one that Kat knew she knew, but couldn't place. Where the hell were they going?
"I mean, for years I've been the one who looks after things. And now it is like all I've done means nothing to everyone. What's up with that? I don't understand…"
"Don't understand?" She glared at him. "Are you out of your mind? You weren't protecting anyone. You were getting your jollies at your friend's expense. Your BEST friends! What the fuck kind of protection is that?"
"I was doing it to help!"
"You are so fucking full of shit, Howie. So some of the girls the others saw were hose bags. It doesn't give you the right to use them like that. And as for doing it for the others… you think they can't take care of themselves?"
"Nick is, was, young. So he may not have made great choices originally, but he's not an idiot. He's not doing that anymore. But you… you haven't stopped."
"It's hard to," Howie whimpered. "I take care of things. It's what I do."
"That's bullshit and you know. For god's sake, Howie! You can't even use that excuse properly. Marissa told Nick that she was the first one you sleep with. AJ's Marissa. So don't give me any of that "I did it all to save Nick" shit. You did it to all of them."
Howie blinked. "He talked to Marissa?"
Kat nodded. "He looked me up. Found me when I so did not want to get found. I told him what you'd said to me. How you were willing to sell Kevin to me. Just so you could get to Lana." She sneered at him.
"And he believed you?"
"Are you nuts? I'd just told him one of his best friends; a guy he'd admired for years, was fucking around with his and his other friends' girls. He went ballistic. I don't think you have any clue what it did to him. Kevin's all the 'dad' figure, but you. He worshipped you. And you did this shit."
He glared at her. "YOU did it. You told him. If you had kept your fucking mouth shut."
"Yeah right. You first, you fucker," she growled. "He didn't believe me anyway. Otherwise he'd have kicked your ass right away, the way he almost did me. If he hadn't bumped into Marissa you would have gotten off scot-free. And I'd have just been that psycho-bitch fan who said shit about his best friend."
The car slid into the slow lane, slipping quickly around a car in the fast lane that Howie obviously felt wasn't going fast enough. He swerved quickly, pulling back into the left lane, narrowly avoiding another car.
"Turn around, Howie. Stop this fucking car and turn around. I have to go back to him."
"He hates me."
Howie's voice was devoid of emotion, but Kat could sense all the feelings that were being tightly held inside.
"He'll get over it. For god's sake, Howie. He has been so screwed up over this for so long, but he still loves you. He's spent months hoping that it was all a bad dream. That what I said was bullshit. That Marissa and Tina - even Helen - were just saying it to cause trouble. You can't just leave him there. Not like you did."
"I hit him. I've never hit him before." Tears started to roll down Howie's cheek. "I've done such terrible things…"
"He could be hurt, Howie," she pleaded. "Really hurt. We have to go back. Please."
For a moment she thought she'd won, that Howie was going to turn the car around and they could go back to take care of Nick. But he shook his head. "No. No, I can't. Not now. Not until this is fixed."
Kat wasn't going to give up: the memory of look on Nick's face before she'd passed out was still flashing in her mind. "The only way to fix it is to talk to him. You know that," she said persuasively.
He ignored her. "What did you do? Why did you pretend to be Jeanne? It doesn't make sense."
"Jesus, Howie. None of this makes sense," she sighed. He swerved around another car and she knew that the only way to convince him to go back was to tell him everything. "Leighanne," she finally said.
He turned to look at her. "Leighanne? What about her?"
"You slept with her too, remember? And she wouldn't marry Brian because it." He gaped at her.
"She was afraid that even if she didn't tell him, and married him anyway, that you'd tell him. She never wanted him to find out. Figured the only way to do that was to not marry him."
Howie was still staring at her eyes wide.
"So when Nick found out about your damn 'games' and about what had happened with her… he came up with this plot so that we could catch you and force you to never tell Brian either," she summed up.
A car honked, and Howie quickly straightened the car. "I slept with Leighanne?" he whispered.
The absurdity of the question hit Kat like a ton of bricks, and she started to laugh hysterically. It took her a few minutes to regain her composure. "Yeah. You did. Back when he had his heart surgery, apparently. And Leighanne couldn't tell him. But felt she couldn't not tell him either. Nick promised he'd fix it. Make sure you'd never tell."
"But I wouldn't anyway. God! If two people were meant for each other, its those two. I'd never do anything to hurt that."
"Gee, that's great Howie. So, sleeping with her wouldn't hurt that. Good to know."
"Fuck you. I don't even remember sleeping with Leighanne! And even if I did, I'd never tell. That happened years ago, for crying out loud! I've never needed to protect Brian again. I just never even thought about it."
"Yeah? And what about any of the others? What if one of the other girls turned out to be the loves of one of the guy's lives, hunh? What would you have said? 'Whoops! Let's just forget it happened, ok?' Jesus, Howie, you knew how Nick and I felt about each other and you were still gonna rape me!"
"Shut up! I wouldn't… None of them were good enough. Not for my guys. They didn't matter. And you were going to leave him. I had to protect him."
"I was fucking leaving because I couldn't take it anymore! I love him so much but you were always in the way. Couldn't settle anything until you made some goddamned move. But you were so nice one day and freaky the next! And you never got around it," she snorted at the irony. "Not until it was too late. Fuck you very much, Howard."
"I couldn't decide…"
"What? Decide whether to rape me or not? Gee, thanks for small favours."
Traffic started slow as they approached a construction area and Howie did too. "Look, I was fucked up on drugs. I was all over the place. Wasn't sure whether to trust you or not.. You seemed so great… and you two were great… I mean, if I'd known it was you I might have even tried earlier." He glanced at her. "You sure it's Nick? I mean you were in love with Kevin."
Kat rolled her eyes. "I was in lust with Kevin. Didn't even know the guy. Nick I got to know. And he is…" She didn't even need to say it. The love she felt for him just sung through her words. "Kevin's nice and all. But Nick… I love him."
Howie nodded. "See? I thought I saw that. But I had to make sure. Protect him."
"Oh shut the fuck up with that whole 'protection' shit! You weren't protecting anyone. You were getting off on screwing the others over by screwing their girlfriends. It was a power trip. Don't you try and make me believe it was anything else."
"It was! I was…" Howie's voice dropped off. "I am sure I was…"
"Earth to Howie. You were NOT!"
"I was…" He blinked. "I don't feel so good."
"Truth hurts, hunh?"
"Fuck you! You don't know what the truth is."
"Sounds like you don't either," she retorted.
"Listen bitch, none of this would have happened if you…" "Me?" she yelled. "You're the fucking freak who started all this. I just told Nick the truth. I never expected any of this! I never expected to have to pretend just so that Leighanne and Brian were safe! I never expected to be so fucking scared of you I didn't know where to turn! I never expected it to get this out of hand! I never expected to fall in love with him!"
Howie opened his mouth to respond, but another car tried to take advantage of his momentary distraction and pull into his lane. Its rear bumper hit his front one, pushing the car into ongoing traffic. And it was oncoming at fast pace. He swore, spinning the steering wheel, trying to regain control of the car, and get out of the way at the same time. There was only one place to go and that was across the lanes of traffic and try to stop on the curb on the opposite side.
The only problem was that there was a pile of construction material there. Material that the Corvette bumped against then lurched away from, over the side of the hill.
Kat was shrieking now too, as she watched Howie try frantically to gain some form of control over the car as it careened down the embankment. She also knew the exact moment when he gave it up, when he decided to just let fate decide. Because that was when he turned to her, flicking her seatbelt off and reaching across to open her door.
"Tell him I'm sorry. That I love them all," he said as he pushed her out the door.
Kat hit the ground hard, screaming his name. Rolling against the hard ground, her hands clawed frantically, trying to get some purchase. Her head thumped against a rock and she saw stars as her body continued to flop down the hill, finally coming to rest with a hard smack against another rock.
She shook her head, trying to get the roaring sound out of her head. She wasn't sure if it was from banging her head, the roar of Howie's car engine or the shouts and yells from people at the top of the hill. None of that mattered anyway. What mattered was getting to Howie…
She clambered to her feet, trying to chase after the car. It was starting to slow, mainly because it was almost at the bottom of the hill, and if she could just get to it... Kat'd only gotten a few feet when she fell again, coming down on her shoulder. The sharp pain told her that she'd hurt it bad, and the way her arm swung loosely as she tried to climb to her feet again let her know it was dislocated. The pain was blinding but she had to get up. She had to get to Howie…
She turned her head, seeing Nick sliding down the hill towards her. She had no clue how he'd gotten there, but just seeing him gave her a surge of hope.
Nick's face was battered and both hands were bleeding from multiple cuts he gotten during his scurry down the hill, but she had never been so glad to see someone. Over his shoulder she could see Jay moving briskly, but gingerly, down the hill. He ignored them, focused instead on the car.
"Howie! You have to get Howie," she pleaded as Nick skated to a stop next to her.
"Jay will," he replied quickly. "Are you…"
They both turned at Jay's sudden roar. The car has almost hit the bottom of the hill, but before it had it hit a large bump. Large enough that the abrupt jerk threw Howie out of the car. He flew up a few feet, landing in a crumpled heap.
Jay lurched to a stop, then bellowed again and started running. Nick looked at her and she nodded that she was okay, pushing him to go. He scrambled to his feet, also sprinting towards Howie, before tripping and falling heavily. His leg was splayed at a strange angle, making it clear he'd broken it, something Kat already known having heard the snap from where she was also trying to clamber down the hill, her injured arm clenched against her body.
This time it was her sliding in next to him as he shrieked in pain. "Nick!"
And it was also now him saying, "get Howie" through clenched teeth.
She tried, but the car had finally hit bottom - and had as much as it could take. The explosion wasn't loud, but the dirt and pebbles it tossed around like shrapnel were enough to knock her onto her back. She lifted her head delicately, but couldn't see anything through the dust cloud. Nothing, expect the look of horror on Nick's face.
Then, for the second time that day, she passed out.