"Nita!" The screen door got thrown back with a bang, and he came rushing into the kitchen at nearly top -speed, successfully jumping the stack of shoes by the door out of habit, but, not having counted on Nita's father being in the line of fire, nearly bowled him over, before managing to keep both of them on their feet by grabbing Harry's shoulders and spinning in a kind of awkward, 2-second, momentum shedding waltz. Nita choked on her peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and Dairine, attracted from the living room by the noise, hadn't even made it into the kitchen, but was clutching at the door jamb and laughing so hard she was bent double.
"Sorry Mr. Callahan!" Kit exclaimed, breathless. "Nita!"
"What, Kit, what, what!?" She answered, raising her eyebrow and keeping her seat. She could swear his face was glowing, split by the kind of smile normally only seen on sugar-high children or tooth-paste commercials. Still grinning, he grabbed her hand and dragged her out of her chair without and kind of explanation, saying only: "Come on, Nita!"
Father and younger daughter traded bemused looks as, while Nita's body was being dragged forcefully out of the kitchen by her suddenly manic looking partner, her voice floated back and they could just hear her say "Kit, are you high?" before the door snapped shut with another bang behind them.
Pulling her down the porch steps after him, Kit was so excited he almost didn't notice that his pace had nearly made his partner trip. Nita had never seen him like this. Enthusiastic, yes. Happy, of course. Joyous, even, she'd seen, but it had been a lot quieter than this, not to mention a lot less of a strain on her shoulder joints.
"Neets, I finished it! Check it out."
He finally released her wrist, only to turn around and very nearly bowl her over with the force of another megawatt grin. She tried to ignore how, disturbing as this new, spastic, Kit was, he still managed to look handsome to her, even in a ratty T-shirt with grease still under his fingernails. He must have rushed straight there without bothering to change. She craned her neck to look around him, and finally understood what this visit was about.
Kit's father had towed it into the Rodriguez driveway on Kit's 16th birthday, and told him that if he could fix it, he could ride it, ignoring the look of absolute horror on his mother's face. Since then, it had been his primary obsession. Kit had made time only for Nita, errantry, and, grudgingly, schoolwork, in order of the importance he placed on them. He had used his savings to buy spare parts, often haggling in part-shops and junkyards, broke his fingernails and stained them black with oil, and had tanned darker then his normal summer hue because he now spent every spare afternoon moment outside trying to repair his birthday present. Much as she has hated to admit it, Nita had begun to feel a little bit neglected. She couldn't hide from herself that, as used as she was to having him popping in at all hours, in his absence she's been spending a lot more of her own time popping over to his house, and then just sitting there in the shade, watching as he did complicated looking things with a wrench and babbled happily about the progress he thought he'd made. Much as she tried to show enthusiasm for his sake, if she was honest with herself she found herself disliking more and more the lump of metal that seemed to have stolen her partner away.
So when it sat there in her driveway, complete from the reupholstered double seat to the goodwill tires, Nita had decided mixed feelings. On the one hand, she felt no real fondness for it. On the other hand, she was pretty fond of Kit, and now maybe he'd be spending some time with her again. So in responses to the eager, approval seeking look on his face, she manages a fairly honest, "Wow! Did you drive it here?"
"You bet! I got my license in last week." There it was again; that glowing look; Nita couldn't decide if it made him seem as if he'd caught a glimpse of Timeheart, or swallowed a light-bulb, and he didn't give her time to decide. "Get on!"
"Get on! We're wasting time, let's go!" And, pulling a helmet on his head, he threw one leg over the side and then looked back at her, as if he was wondering why in the world she hadn't moved yet.
"Kit, are you serious about…?" she began dubiously.
"Don't you trust my repair job, Neets?"
Damn. He had her cornered, and he knew it. There could be no question of not trusting him. Still, she attempted it from one last angle. "Of course I trust you, you idiot. But, I don't have a helmet."
"Oh yeah. I forgot." And, awkwardly dismounting, her threw open the seat and, to Nita's disbelief and slight dismay, he pulled out another. "I bought you one, too." he said, tossing it to her.
"You bought me one? Kit, don't these things costs at least a hundred bucks each?" She asked incredulously.
"What's it matter? Nita, GET ON, already!"
Nita didn't have much choice. She got on. Kit revved the engine almost as soon as she was in place, and she had to resist the urge to squeak as it rumbled beneath her. If she's had more time to think about it, Nita might have been embarrassed by the fact that she would obviously have to hold on to him tightly from that point on to keep from becoming so much pancake on the highway, but before she could even consider it they were moving and her arms, faster on the uptake than she was, had already wrapped around his stomach and her fingers had tangled in his shirt.
Kit went fairly slow through the suburbs, looking around eagerly and coming to a lazy halt at stop signs. Nita had to admit that, even though it had been apparently inoperable yesterday, the bike showed no immediate sign of breaking down or falling to pieces while they were riding it, and she began to relax and have fun. Kit's obvious pleasure was infectious, for one thing, and for another, it wasn't everyday she got to take a joyride on a motorcycle. His ungloved hand squeezed hers suddenly, still wrapped around his waist, and Nita became aware that they'd slowly been gaining speed, and were about to hit the highway.
Trust your partner, Nita. Trust your partner. Trust your- OH SH-!
Kit was laughing now, long and delighted. They swung around a long curve, gaining speed coming out of it, and Kit wove the bike between cars whenever the opportunity arose, steering with the confidence of somebody who'd been doing this a lot longer than he had, and seeming to relish the speed. After her initial burst of panic, Nita had relaxed again, her usual trust in Kit not to do anything stupid reasserting itself, and laughing at his sheer audacity. He'd never even driven her anywhere in a regular car before, but she'd always known there had to have been a good reason he clicked so well with the Lotus all those years ago. She put her head on his shoulder and watched the faces go by in the cars they passed, guessing at expressions and listening to her own, faster-than-normal, heart rate.
Finally they reached a red light, and Kit pulled smoothly to stop, laughing with softer exuberance this time. Easy girl, he whispered in the speech as the engine growled.
She says she's a girl. Who am I to argue? Nita stifled a laugh. Hey Neets, care to relax your death-grip a little? His hand was on hers again, pulling at fingers she forgotten she'd laced so tightly. Not that I mind, but you know how easily I bruise…
Nita discovered how difficult it was to punch someone when you're riding on a motorcycle just behind them. She settled for sticking her tongue out, knowing that even if he couldn't see it, he'd know. Sorry. By the way, do you have an actual destination in mind, or are we just going to drive in circles for a couple of hours?
You'll see. And just then the light turned green, and they were off again.
After another twenty minutes or so of borderline reckless driving, Kit pulled off the road and cut the engine, letting it die. Nita slid off the seat somewhat stiffly, surprised at how even such a short time on a motorcycle could make the inside of her legs sore. I guess I better get used to it. She thought to herself. Kit not going to give this up any time soon. Out loud she said: "Where are we?"
Kit grinned at her again, but this time it was one of his normal ones; teasing and inviting at the same time. He looked to have burned off most of the excess adrenaline that had caused him to perform badly turned ballet moves in her kitchen. "C'mere." he beckoned. "My mom used to take me to a park nearby when I was real little. She'd sit there and chat with the other moms, and I'd sneak off. I found this place and I used to play here, whenever I got the chance. Drove her crazy, and I always got an earful on the way home, but I liked it better that the monkey bars. I haven't come here in a really long time. It's back away from the road a bit…" he trailed off as he went over a guardrail and pushed on into the brush.
"And why did you decide to drag us back here today, again?" Nita called ahead, amused.
She heard him laugh as he answered, still walking in front of her. "Well, I had to take you somewhere, didn't I?"
"I mean, who just drives around in circles? we're supposed to slow the death of the universe, not speed it up with unnecessary toxin emissions…"
"Kit!" She pretended to tackle him, crashing into his back and almost causing them both to take a nasty fall into a pile of old bricks. Catching both Nita and himself and making sure they both had their footing, Kit let go of her slowly and said, "Look around." sweeping his arm like he was the ringmaster at a circus.
"You used to play here? And you never had tetanus as a child?"
"One man's trash, Neets." Kit replied sanctimoniously. It was a small clearing in the middle of the woods, with the foundation still laid out of what might have once been a house. Broken bits of brick and old plumbing were all that remained now. Off on blocks to the side were the scaly rims and rusted shell of some old car, gone far beyond repair, or even recognition of make or model. "This was my first car." He said, looking half-serious and patting what was left of the hood gingerly, as if patting it too hard might make it collapse in on itself. Nita privately thought it probably would, and sat some feet away on a pile or still-standing foundation bricks that seemed to be more or less safe. She looked around and after a moments thought she said softly:
"This place looks kind of sad to me. I mean, entropy has pretty much had it's way here, huh? It's all broken and rusting… Kit?"
"Hmm?" He glanced at her, and Nita noticed that his expression had become a little abstracted. "Dunno, really. I never though about it like that. I mean, I was only seven or so, and I was like my own world, you know? In my imagination, I could make whatever I wanted here, back before Ponch started doing it for me. I had a house, a cool ride…" the faraway look faded from his eyes and he grinned at her again, gesturing at what once, in some far past life, must have been the interior of the car. "Wanna take a spin in my old hot rod?"
"No thanks; I prefer my upholstery un-molded."
As if he hadn't heard her at all, Kit abruptly began with "You know, I was thinking…"
Nita waited, but he had trailed off, and nothing else seemed forthcoming. "Yes? You were thinking? Well, some girls do find that attractive in a man…" When even this failed to get a rise out of him, Nita's last strand of patience snapped. "Seriously Kit, what's gotten into you? You haven't been yourself all day." Nita was frowning now. His behavior over all had been so erratic she almost felt like he was trying to hide something from her, like someone desperately throwing up a smoke screen. The feeling only increased as he met her eyes with the first wholly serious look she'd seen him use all day, and then ran his fingers through his hair and sighed slowly; always a potential warning sign. He crouched in front of her and folded his hands over his knees, meeting her eyes gravely.
"OK. I admit, I did have one- scratch that- three reasons for bringing you here today. Firstly, make no mistake, I wanted to show off the bike." Nita rolled her eyes, and Kit flashed a quick mischievous smile before continuing. "Secondly, 'Mela is not here." Suppressing a small laugh, Nita arched her eyebrows enquiringly. "It makes sense when you hear thirdly." Kit muttered, suddenly looking embarrassed.
"Alright, hit me. What's thirdly?" She prompted him when he didn't seem likely to continue on his own.
He sighed again and looked back to where they'd left the bike. "It really wasn't easy to fix, you know. It had been through a lot, and even when I got it in decent enough shape that it got it's voice back, for a long time it wouldn't talk to me. I wasn't sure I'd be able to actually do it." Nita, who'd heard most of this before, only nodded and waited for him to continue. " I made a bet with myself." He made a face. "You know, extra motivation for a tough job and all that. If I couldn't fix the bike, I'd have to try out for the next school play."
"Kit, the next play is Twelfth Night, and you love Shakespeare. What kind of punishment is that?"
"I didn't want to be to hard on myself." He said with a shrug. This time Nita did laugh.
"Alright, well, you really have fixed it, so now what do you have to do?"
He sighed again, and Nita realized that at some point in the conversation he'd folded her arms over her legs instead of his own. She decided not to mention it. He glanced down briefly, and then back up again. He met her eyes and said: "I have to convince the girl I like to go out with me."
"Oh." It sounded hollow even in her own ears. "Oh." He was looking up at her seriously, and suddenly his arms on her knees felt heavy. She had to think of something to say. "But, Kit," she managed. "You don't even like… cheesy date movies and giving people obligatory dead flowers, and…You never wanted to go before!" She winced, noticing the almost accusatory tone in her voice. As if making that one part of his statement true would negate the whole.
"True." He said steadily, "I have absolutely no interest in any of that stuff. I just want to be with her. If she really wants to do any, or all, of those things , it'll be worth it. He paused. "Although I don't think she's a roses and chocolate kind of girl." Here he smiled again, and the sight of it was like a clamp in her chest, that squeezed harder when she saw the look in his eyes. There was something there she'd seen before, only rarely, but once or twice directed at her. A warm, indefinable something that pulled her in, that she'd always pretended not to notice, but kept stored like a favorite memory. Was it for her? Was that look still for her, or was it now for some other…?"
"She must be pretty special." Nita hazarded.
"Yeah." He half-smiled as he said it, and there that expression was again, growing, as he looked straight up at her. Almost against her better judgment, Nita felt her panic lessen: surely he wouldn't look at her like that if he didn't mean what she thought he meant. Still… Licking her lips, she decided that if there was a worst to know, it would be best to know it at once before she chickened out.
"So, you invited me out here to ask for advice somewhere that Carmela couldn't hear?"
He blinked, and then frowned as though puzzled. He ran his fingers through his hair again, and Nita realized for the first time that the reason he'd been resting his hands on her legs the whole time was to hide the fact that they were shaking. "Well, I guess that answers that." He muttered so low that she almost didn't hear. "I guess it's Shakespeare for me after all." And she felt a brief, abrupt pressure on her legs as he pushed himself up to a standing position. Slightly stunned, Nita felt like something had just gone sailing over her head, and judging by the strain in his voice and the set of his shoulders, she had about two-seconds to catch it before it broke a window. She sprang up.
"Kit wait! Who were you talking about?"
He turned and stared at her incredulously. "Who did you think I was talking about?"
Nita stared back, feeling her face heat up, and mumbled helplessly "Well… I don't really…" And trailed off, not really knowing how to continue.
Kit's face was starting to approximate the shade of deep maroon her own had probably reached already. "I thought… I thought you knew. I mean, I haven't been exactly hiding it lately, and…"
Nita couldn't swallow. She tried to stop it, but her mind ran pell-mell through every recent memory she had of Kit interacting with, talking to, or even mentioning another female in her presence for the last couple of months. Nothing stood out. Trying to quell the flood, she said desperately, "Look, can we start this conversation over, or something?"
Kit opened his mouth, shut it, and suddenly looked a frustrated. "Dammit, Nita, do you know how hard it was for me to get this far? Did you think the bike was really that important? More important than spending time with you? Why did you think I was so happy to finish it? Didn't it ever occur to you that I had a reason for working so hard on it?"
"No, actually, it didn't. I thought…. I don't know what I thought, I…" gulping, Nita felt as though strings of tension had been cut all over her body, and that she would probably be relieved as soon as the numbness wore off, but she couldn't think about that right now, because there was still at least four feet of loaded air between them, and one of them had to bridge it…
As it turned out, that one was Kit. Looking grimly determined, he stepped forward and took her face in his still shaking hands, drawing her eyes up to his. "Look… I want to be with you Nita. You. I love you. That's it. So just… just tell me yes or no, please, because I don't think I can go another round of this."
Nita was so amazed by the vulnerability in his face and the soft plea in his voice- so touched that he was showing these things to her- that she almost forgot she hadn't answered him yet. In a half-second she saw a flicker of defeat in his eyes, and his hands began to slide from her face, and without thinking, she rushed forward and kissed him.
It was awkward. Her hands had been at her sides and she hadn't braced them on anything, so she bumped noses almost painfully with him before she found her lips, and he hadn't been expecting it, and stumbled back, grabbing her waist and barely managing to keep them both from falling, nearly twisting his ankle on one of the loose foundation stones littering the ground. By the time they were both upright again their lips were no longer touching, and Nita wasn't entirely sure she had actually managed to kiss him at all. But her heart was pounding so hard it was physically painful, she was gasping, there were strings of heat tying themselves in knots in her stomach, and she was fairly sure that her face was so red a mirror would've reflected heat back. Kit didn't look much better. In fact, he looked like someone had hit him over the head with a very large blunt instrument. Their faces were still only inches apart, and when her eyes refocused she found herself staring straight up into his. Finally, Kit cleared his throat and managed in a thick voice: "Umm, let's not count that one."
She couldn't help it. Relief was washing over her in waves, and she knew joy was coming as soon as it got the memo, and so she laughed, almost hiccupping, yet crying a little bit, too, as she said: "Oh yeah? What one should we count?"
Kit took a deep breath, and a ghost of his earlier grin flickered across his face, which she could feel easier than she could see. "Let's count this one." Nita's heart almost froze in it's frantic pounding as she felt him begin to lean in, and, carefully this time, close the distance between his mouth and hers. They met cautiously, both of them just a little scared to be the one who moved first, torn somewhere between fear and delight, and then relaxing and just letting it happen, so that when they parted his arms were around her waist and her fingers were in his hair, and they didn't remember putting them there, but only that it had been right.
It felt like a promise.
Drawing back just enough so that his features swam into focus again, Nita smiled at him gently and said "OK, that one'll work." And Kit laughed.