Avalanche (30-31)

30.

Early morning found Kathleen sitting at her desk, hunched over a contract she was supposed to hand in, revised and updated, two days earlier. She knew Abbey would always let her off easy, whatever she did, but she hated to take advantage of her friend’s generosity.

Besides, she was strangely alert. Expectant, in a way, but unable to put her finger on any reason for her state of mind.

Therefore, come half past seven she was already sipping her coffee, arranging files on her desk, checking her list of things to do. Her energy level was only moderate, but she woke up with the positive thought that she would enjoy her work that day, and make a good impression on… someone. No one in particular, just someone. Anyone. She wanted to do well, and she wanted to hear praise.

Eight sharp and Abbey arrived with her usual bag of shopping. Throwing her friend a smile, she disappeared behind her office door, leaving Kat slightly disappointed, as the latter was counting on some good girl’s talk. Well, maybe not at eight a.m., she thought, turning her back and slumping down on her chair.

The contract. Some law-firm was ready to pay for the afforestation of ten acres of arid land behind the lake, if the people at Nicodemus were willing to advertise the aforesaid firm. There was always a catch with such offers, and Kat’s task was to find that catch. She frowned over the tightly typed letters, she encircled questionable phrases and sentences with her pencil, until she realized she hadn’t encircled anything for a while. Her mind was wandering and she looked up, a little bored, on the verge of being sleepy.

Walking to the coffee machine, she inserted a coin and pressed the button for decaf and extra milk. She stared at the boots she was wearing, despite the office environment. They went just fine with her jeans.

When she decided it was time to get back to work, her eyes fell on a pretty little bouquet of flowers on her desk, with a note propped to it. She looked around, her eyes searching Michael, but he was not in yet. She looked over at Abbey’s office but her boss was on the phone, she could not have helped even if Kat had begged her to spill. Jim looked like he was half asleep, Morgan was chatting with his girlfriend… She sat down, placed her coffee on a safely empty spot on her desk, and opened the note.

‘Hey Kat, this is for you. To make your day brighter. Hugs, Jake. PS: How about going dancing tonight?’

Jake was asking her out, basically. No doubt about that. Jake had put his shyness aside, he had summoned his courage and after several years of silent admiration and occasional timid hints, he openly asked her out. She turned her head to see if he was still in the office but he must have sneaked in, dropped the gift and note and then left right away.

Dancing? Oh. She had no idea he was a dancing type… the lanky, thin and clumsy Jake was a dancing type. Interesting. What else was there to know about him that his uncouth looks kept secret from her, truth be told, not very discerning eyes?

-Nice –Abbey breathed, checking the note before Kat could hide it. –Jaaaaake? Jake Morris? The one Jake who’s twenty and looks like fifteen?

-He doesn’t –Kat pouted, then burst out laughing. –Okay he does look younger. But he’s sweet.

-Yes. And he could be your son.

-My younger brother.

-Your nephew.

-Shut up –Kat retorted, throwing down the note. –I know he’s young. But I also know he’s intelligent and very gentle. A really good friend.

-A lost sheep, I would say –Abbey said, lifting her eyebrows. –Are you going?

-I don’t know yet.

-Well, you should know. It’s a no no, Kat. A very strong no no.

-Why? Only because he’s younger?

-Because he’s a student. And because he’s much younger. And unstable.

-Like me –Kat snorted, sitting down. –He knows me and I know him. I knew he liked me but I had no idea he liked me this much…

-Didn’t you now…? –Abbey asked, sitting down on another chair, taking the card into her hand and reading the words again. –I’m pretty sure you knew, my dear, and my reflection to this whole thing is that you’re a minx. You worked him for years and I suspect he’s all goo inside by now.

-What?! –Kat looked at Abbey in shock. –What are you suggesting? That I lured him to ask me out?

-Perhaps not intentionally, but yes. That’s what we all do, we hunt for partners.

Kat’s face contorted in disbelief and disgust. Her anticipation of a ‘date’ with Jake was quickly cooled off when she ruminated over Abbey’s words. She was right. All she had done since high school was search for the perfect partner, exchange them for seemingly better ones, dump them fast so that whenever a flicker of doubt arose regarding their personality and the possible flaws in their character, she could get rid of them easily, painlessly. At least for her.

-Alright. Okay –she said, resigned. –That’s what I do. I admit. But… I’m not twenty any more… and…

-I know, honey –Abbey told her in a soft voice. –I know you want to have a nest of your own. Maybe not to have children right away but to share it with someone you can trust and love.

-Sometimes I think none of it will never happen –Kat said, looking blankly at her pencil sharpener. –I have been with so many men… so many of them, Abs. And not a single one of them seems to be even remotely suitable, not even in retrospect. If memories are supposed to beautify the past, then I just don’t want to think about how horrible they must have been back then –she added, burying her head in her hands desperately.

-I can assure you, pretty bad, some of them at least.

-Thanks. You’re a real chum to remind me –Kat laughed. –Ugh. So. Well. Jake here is… young… he knows I’m neurotic… he likes my bad hair days, too… and he seems to be glued to me, which is…

-Exciting –Abbey whispered, as Kat lifted her coffee to her lips. –If you really want my opinion, not a friend’s, but a woman’s opinion, if I were you, I’d run after him this very moment, drag him into the first public washroom and jump him.

Kat choked on her coffee and Abbey had to pat her on the back a few times before air could circulate freely in her lungs once more.

-What?! –she finally looked at her older friend in disbelief. –What?!

-He looks like in need of some fun and you… well…

-I look like a nympho, is that what you wanted to say, Abs?

-Not exactly but…

Kat lifted her hands in mock hurt.

-I want to hear no more. I understood your meaning.

-Seriously though, Kathy –Abbey went on, keeping her voice down. –I know how you feel right now. I know that you’re searching, and I know you need someone to tell you nice things. We’re both aware that a relationship with Jake cannot last, and that if you go into this, you will hurt him.

-I don’t want to hurt anyone any more, Abbey –Kat sighed, looking at her friend. –I really don’t. If I look back at all the guys I kicked out of my house, some of them must’ve got hurt… But I’m hurting too, you know?

-I know, dear –Abbey replied, squeezing Kat’s hand. –But you have to consider yourself and him, and compare which of the two of you is more likely to survive without any wounds, if you decide to start a brief affair with him.

-I don’t want a brief affair –Kat whined. –Why can’t I have a good, lasting relationship with someone? Someone my age, healthy, straight, normal?

-Did you just call me? –Michael appeared from behind them, sending a smile of two hundred volts toward the two women.

-Someone who doesn’t freak me out by eavesdropping on conversations that don’t concern him –Kat retorted, not in the least feeling humorous.

-Someone who brings you your favourite children’s book from the second-hand shop around the corner –Michael beamed, placing a first edition copy of Anne of Green Gables before Kat.

She gasped and grabbed the book, feeling the weak paper almost crumble between her fingers. She lifted it to her nose, smelling in the scent of the past, of a hundred hands touching the pages, or perhaps just one pair of hands, lovingly leafing through the chapters and gleefully reading the delightful adventures of an obstinate but charming red-headed orphan.

-Oh my god –she whispered, looking at the man who watched her face eagerly. –This. Is incredible.

-I was lucky –he shrugged, trying in vain to sound impassive. She knew he wanted to impress her and he succeeded. –An old lady came and dropped it and I snatched it before they had a chance to put a price tag on it –he laughed.

-How did you know I wanted this? –she looked at him with her eyes wide open.

-Eavesdropping can be useful, too, you know… –he winked, and walked to his desk, placing his suitcase down, giving her a smile before he settled on his chair.

Kat stared at the book, then at Abbey, who was watching the scene with muted interest.

-He really wants to please you, dear –she whispered. –He asked me about the book’s title because all he caught was the words old book and Canadian. Nothing else.

-But… why…? –Kat asked dumbly. –Why does he want to please me? Why does anyone want to please me?

She looked at her friend for answers, but Abbey only smiled and gave Kathleen a loving kiss on the cheek.

-That contract, if it doesn’t arrive on my desk before two, I’ll consider firing you –she said in a strict tone, at the same time playfully pinching Kat’s cheek. –And once you’re done deciding between the boys, I want to hear all about it.

31.

It was her lunch-break and she was sitting alone at her desk, with her sandwich unwrapped, staring at the old, crumpled paper of her first edition treasure, and the tiny, pretty flower decoration. Her glance travelled from one gift to another, silently congratulating herself, enjoying the irony of the situation: when buisness started…

Two men, well, one man and a boy was interested in her. One was sweet and innocent, the other was mature and slightly boring. Both were extremely eager to make her happy, for reasons she could not fathom. The situation was intersting, to say the least. She could not tell them both to beat it, of course. Neither could she say yes to both. Nor could she say yes to either of them for God’s sake. Get a grip, Kat.

She turned the bouquet and looked at the silly, untamed writing Jake put onto the little card. To make your day brighter. Wasn’t he sweet. And the book, smelling of ancient libraries and early twentieth-century lofts and dresses that reached below the ankle and puffed sleeves and majestic hairstyles- purchased for her. She had no doubt it had cost Michael a smaller fortune, and she knew for a fact that he was not as wealthy as to afford such gifts. Why did he resort to such drastic measures? Was there anything wrong with him, and no one else wanted him, or what? But no, he was handsome in his clerk-lawyer way, his shirts were always ironed, and he was sometimes funny. He was alright.

Jake… was so young. And so vulnerable. How could she say no to him without breaking his heart into pieces? She could never look herself in the eye if she did it.

-Hi Kathleen –she heard that exact same Jake right beside her and she turned suddenly to face him, wishing he hadn’t seen his gift under her nose. He may think he has a chance, she thought, but it was too late. He had noticed it and a wide smile crept across his freckled face. –I saw you read my card… so… have you thought about it?

She smiled uncertainly and motioned him to sit next to her on the chair Abbey had used earlier.

-Thank you, Jake –she said, leaning forward a little to give emphasis to her words. –Your interest in me is so flattering I can’t tell you.

His face darkened and he cast his eyes down.

-I know what’s coming. There’s always a but –he said bitterly. –All the girls are like that: they tell you how nice you are, what a great friend you are, but.

Kat bit her lip, rolling her eyes while he was busy staring at his fumbling fingers. She noticed he was picking his nails and around his left thumb, she saw a dark circle of clotted blood where he had been too merciless with his own skin and flesh.

The way he sat in front of her, dejected and hopeless, she had a flash of insight into his feelings. She knew he had liked her for years now; she recalled instances where he had left her wondering, but she was too stubborn to acknowledge the facts. All those years when she thought no one cared for her really, there was Jake, whom she never thought good enough to consider. Despite his age, despite his sometimes infantile innocence, he was a kind person and she knew he was crazy for her. She always suspected it, but his downcast, stubborn eyes and clumsy fingers confirmed it now.

Kat looked over her desk, checking if Michael was watching them, but he was apparently too busy fighting with a client, and had his back turned to her. Thank God.

-Listen here –she broke the uncomfortable silence, making Jake look up hopefully. –Don’t get your hopes up high so fast, alright? –she gestured impatiently, wishing to stifle that silly glimmer in his eyes. He was such a baby. –I’ll go with you to dance. Today or another time. But just once, okay?

-Yeah. Sure –he replied quickly, braving a thin little smile.

Kat smiled back at him and they shared a moment of sweet bonding together; his eyes expressed an endless wish to be with her, or that’s what she thought she saw, and that’s what her heart, against all odds and prohibitions wished they were expressing. It felt wonderful to be cared for, a feeling she had not had the luxury of relishing too often, and she was ready to take it now. Even from Jake.

-Where do you wanna go? –she asked him indifferently.

-Hot Bird… the guys told me evenings after ten the music was really acceptable –he shrugged. –I don’t care much for today’s trendy crap.

-Me neither –she perked up, wondering if he wasn’t such a bad choice, after all. –Shall we have dinner before that?

He looked at her in disbelief. Like the idea had never occured to him. He was so sweet she almost squeezed his lanky body.

-I’d love to –he replied in a serious tone. Maybe his brain was processing the information only now. Maybe it only just dawned on him: Kat, his flame for several years now, was going on a date with him.

-Me too –she nodded with a smile. She felt better with every minute passing by. –Houdini’s? It’s two blocks from here.

-I know that place… okay, sounds great –he replied. –I’ll pick you up at… six?

-Six is good –she smiled at him as he stood up to go.

It was safe. She could handle it. She could handle him. He thought he wanted her but all he wanted was someone, anyone who would settle for him; she would need to tell him, in the appropriate moment. All these thoughts swirled around inside her head, when Jake surprised her by gently touching her face with his hand. The hand she had so often watched plant a tree, dig the dirt around it and tag it for future reference. The hand that never shied away from picking up garbage from around treetrunks and on burnt down clearings. That hand was on her cheek now, lingering there with the softest touch she could remember since…

He went away without goodbye and she looked after him, feelings of fear and curious anticipation mingling inside her.

~~~

-Have you read it yet? –Michael asked her, appearing out of nowhere, as was his custom and that of most men in her life. They emerged like mushrooms after rain and the next time she walked by, they weren’t there any more.

-Read what?

-The book.

-Oh, I have… not this specific copy, but the novel itself, several times when I was little –Kat said, pushing the book affectionately on her table.

-Can I ask why this book is so important to you?

She swallowed and was on the verge of telling him, but then decided they were not close enought. Not yet.

-It’s my favourite children’s book –she smiled, looking up at him and standing up to stretch her legs. –Do you like to read?

-Me? Apart from car magazines and law publications… –he pulled a face. –I don’t have the time.

She acknowledged his reply, walking to the vending machine, aware that he was discreetly following her. The fact that he was at her back made her slightly uncomfortable, but not much, which fact annoyed her. She grabbed the Snickers that fell through the slot, and turned to face Michael, who was looking at her in a way that made her blush. No way. He’s talking business, he really is, she thought, tearing the wrapping of her chocolate open.

-I do like hiking, though, and going to concerts –he said, again out of nowhere.

She nodded, wondering what he was expecting of her. From the corner of her eyes she saw Abbey follow the scene from behind her half-closed blinds and she had to force herself not to grin at the curiosity of her boss.

-Listen, I…

-Is it okay if…

Embarrassed and more importantly, justified grinning followed on both parts as she bit into the Snickers to hide her merriment.

-I was thinking of going round the hills above the lake this weekend –Michael said, folding his arms, then letting them down. –I know you like being outdoors, so… if you’d care to join me, I’d be honoured.

She almost choked. Honoured? Honoured, to spend a day with her? There was something seriously wrong with him, after all.

-Those hills are nice –she replied, swallowing the sweet caramel and peanuts. –Did you know there was a hidden cave at the foot of the neighbouring mountain?

-No –he frowned. –I’ve been there dozens of times and I had no idea.

-Well, it takes female instinct to discover hidden treasures –she said and playfully stuck her tongue at him. Then, seeing his fallen face, she laughed and took pity. –And a lost dog who sniffs his way into every nook and cranny available.

-You have a dog? –he asked, surprised again.

-No, it was a friend’s pet. She’d gone to Italy for a week and asked me to take care of Mumsley.

-What kind of a name is that? –he laughed, finding his way back into normal talk.

-She’s a toy bear fanatic and named her dog after one of those plush things –she shrugged. –I never liked toy bears. Only the ones that were lifelike. You know, like a miniature bear made of plush.

-I had a toy bear once –he said, frowning as if trying to recall those times. –I was ten and I had broken my leg, falling off a bike. Dad gave it to me, and…

-You kept it for years –she smiled, finishing her chocolate and throwing the paper away.

-I think I actually still have it –Michael replied, lifting his glance at her a bit sadly. –It was the only toy he ever gave me and of course I cherished it for ages.

She smiled, folding her arms, trying to share the tiny happy moment with him, failing when she bitterly juxtaposed her own childhood with his. Her dad never gave her anything, only advice on what to do and how to do it.

-Yeah, anyway… –he took a deep breath, pulling himself back to reality. –I don’t know how we got there –he laughed. –It seems you have a way of pulling secrets out of people…

And keeping mine in the meantime, she thought. She was not really interested in Mike’s secrets, but he seemed to be so happy to chat with her. Damn.

-So, would you like to come, then? –he asked, tilting his head.

Sure. Unless you mind my going out with a teenager at the same time.

-Why not. Fresh air will do me good –she replied with a shrug.

-Great. I’m really glad –he said and smiled at her. His eyes seemed so much more tender than a few days ago; in fact, he looked like someone smitten.

-Okay –she told him and went back to her desk, averting her glance.

Shit! Shit shit. Why? Why did she say yes? Why? First Jake, now Michael… She should have said no to both of them! One was immature, the other was almost too ripe, and neither of them knew what she was like. Let alone what she needed.

-Which boy is the lucky one? –Abbey asked from above Kathleen who literally jumped in her seat.

-Shit, Abs –she whispered, breathing heavily.

-Having a bad conscience, are we? –Abbey teased her on. –Did you send them away, then?

-No! –Kat replied in one of those whispers that sound like screams. –I’m seeing Jake tonight and Mike in the weekend!

Abbey gasped and covered her mouth, then sat down next to Kat.

-Wow Kat. You are certainly burning both ends of the candle!

Kat buried her face in her hands.

-Why? What happeed? –Abbey asked.

-I… I just couldn’t say no –Kat whined. –Jake looked like a heartbroken kid and I told him I would go, just once, tonight. You should have seen his face.

-Compassion is not a good advisor in the matters of the heart –Abbey said slowly.

-I know, dammit! And I’ll tell him tonight. I will.

-What about the other one?

-Oh, he… he asked me to go hiking with him –Kat replied in a calmer tone. –There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t think it’s a date, really.

-And just because you don’t think it is, it isn’t –Abbey smirked. –Listen, I’m telling you, Michael is so in love with you he can’t even make a basic sum. I corrected his figures for half an hour this morning.

-Please don’t –Kat moaned, leaning deeper into her desk and covering her downcast head with both hands. –This is bad as it is, okay?

-Well… why would it be bad? You’ll get the attention of two men at the same time… –Abbey said slowly, staring blankly into space. –Many women would kill for such an opportunity. Just make sure they don’t find out about each other –she added, an evil grin on her face.

Kat stared at her friend angrily.

-But I don’t want to stir shit with two men! I just want one guy, one who loves me and one that I can love.

-And that would be… –Abbey cleared her throat and Kat gasped, knowing what would follow-… we know who?

Kat sighed.

-Okay. I have had enough for today. I really can’t take more talk about men!

-Avoiding the subject… I see –Abbey stood up. –Well, if you want to vent, I’m having lunch in an hour. I know it’s late. Care to come with me?

-Jake is taking me to dinner in three hours –Kat moaned, then couldn’t repress her laughter.

Abbey smirked and stopped to her friend, propping herself on the table.

-I want that contract by tomorrow morning, and I want a detailed report about your evening to go with it.

Kat tried to retort, but words failed her. Thoughts failed her. She could only stare after Abbey, then her glance fell on Michael who was looking at her with those annoyingly tender eyes. It was too much, it was really too much. How the hell would she get out of the mess she had made?!

(tbc)

4 Comments

  1. IntellektuElli
    Posted February 8, 2008 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    O-oh. My senses are telling me there’s a disaster behind a corner…

  2. Alexandra
    Posted February 8, 2008 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    My senses are lost—- where is Josh? Why are two guys (who are not Josh) going after Kat? Maybe since its been awhile, I need to refresh my memory…..

    *hoping Josh steps back into the picture*

    Hi Krisz! *waves* I’ve missed your updates, dear!!!

  3. helga
    Posted February 8, 2008 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Ohhh, this is going to get soooo complicated, I can see it now, loved the chappie. Come on Kat, remember Josh??????? Or is he still sitting at home trying to get Sweeney to make up his mind for him? LOL

  4. Posted February 9, 2008 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    *roaring* haha it’s a delight to shock you guys. sorry but I love it. 😀

    Hi Alex! *hug* I missed you too 🙂

    Helga! *giggle* LOOOOL we don’t give poor Josh too much credit do we?!

    Elli *hug* I will just keep my mouth shut for now. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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