San Diego-Men in Black
The men withdrew to the library, leaving us to natter on about nothing. "I almost expect Alistair Cooke to pop up," I said sardonically.
"This talk was long past overdue," Rachel explained with a polite smile.
"Oh, really? What gives them the right to discuss me like I'm a piece of meat?" I snapped, knowing exactly why the men had retreated to the lion's den.
"Walter has his doubts, and Patrick needs to show him there are no worries," Rachel pointed out.
I clenched my fingers around a frying pan and put on my best mad scientist face. "Wanna make a bet?"
She laughed nervously. "Perhaps we should retreat to the parlor for tea and dainties."
My fingers pretended to hold out my skirts and curtsy. "The help's gone home, and I'm fresh out of dainties. Would you settle for some coffee?"
"Sounds perfect." Rachel followed me and the coffee pot out to the veranda.
I sipped at my coffee and stared at the setting sun. "You and my Dad are great together."
Rachel's cheeks flushed with pleasure. "He makes me happy."
"I noticed he put away his wedding ring." My knowing glance made her blush even more.
"Yes, about two months ago. It was entirely his decision."
It was about freaking time. "It was way overdue."
She looked at me thoughtfully. "So you're really OK with us together?"
"Sure, why wouldn't I be?"
"Well, I know you miss your Mom, and then there's our rather close family connection…" Her voice trailed off uncertainly.
I laughed. "You two were knocking boots way before Patrick and I reconnected, so if anything, we're the ones overcrowding the love shack."
Her blush returned. "It's not what you think."
"Of course it is," I replied with a grin. "And if you're anything like Patrick, then my Dad has his hands full."
"About that…the living together thing was my idea, so please don't take him apart over it."
"Why not?" Someone needed to knock some sense into him.
"Because," a voice interrupted. "I've asked Rachel to marry me."
I looked over my shoulder at Dad's happy face and rather enjoyed the shock emanating from Patrick. "And?"
Rachel stood up to join him and that's when I noticed the rock on her left hand. "I said yes."
"Wow," I said, jumping to my feet. "I'm so happy for you both."
Dad seemed rather surprised by my exuberance, but he hugged me back without hesitation. "Thank you, Kat. The nuptials are in January."
I looked between them like they were crazy. "Why?"
"Because that's the only time we could book the Hotel del Coronado," Rachel replied. "And it gets even better. We've decided to hold the wedding on Inauguration Day."
Patrick stayed in the background with folded arms and his perpetual smirk, clearly enjoying the show now that he'd gotten past his shock.
I rolled my eyes at him as Dad and Rachel made goo goo eyes at each other. "What if your candidate loses?"
"Who cares? It's a Monday, and we got a great price," Dad said smugly.
"Cool, does Bianca know?"
He shook his head. "We wanted you to hear it from us first."
Patrick rejoined me and slung his arm over my shoulder. "Anything we can do to help with the planning?" Without saying the words of congratulation, I sensed he was totally on board with this.
Rachel said, "Well, there is one thing you can do for us."
"What's that?" Patrick asked.
"Stand up with us. I can't think of anyone I'd rather have as my attendant," Rachel gushed.
Patrick and I exchanged confused glances. "Don't you have that backward?" I asked with a quirked eyebrow.
"Not at all. I think you'd make a great best man." Dad was totally deadpan as he stared me down.
This was so messed up that it almost made sense. "OK, on one condition. I get to pick the monkey suit."
"Kat, there's no need, I've already made the arrangements." Rachel pulled a crumpled paper from her pocket and flashed a hideous bridesmaid dress at me.
With a grin, I pointed at Patrick and declared, "That's totally your color, and those ruffles will totally complement your curls."
He nudged me in the side and murmured, "You're so going down for that."
"Can't wait," I said as I elbowed him back. "Patrick and I would be honored to attend you, in clothes of our choosing."
Dad shot me one of his looks before finally nodding. "Very well, but if you show up in alien spacesuits, I'll have you deported."
As they moved off, I had a sudden epiphany and whispered three words to Patrick.
His answering smile blinded me for a second. "Genius."
The moment the door closed behind them, she let me have it.
"How dare you discuss our future without me?" Kat cocked her head and her dark eyes snapped with irritation.
I took a deep breath. "Look, your Dad was expecting something, so I had to throw him a bone."
"Do I look like a femur?" Her lips formed the word idiot and she sighed.
I longed to soothe the savage, cranky beast that told me she was exhausted, but she needed more than that from me. "More like a well-shaped humerus," I commented dryly, and was rewarded with a quiver of her lips.
"You're not getting off that easy." Kat imitated her father's classic pointing finger, and I seized the moment and kissed her hand.
"Aw, is that any way to talk to Prince Charles?" I put my hand to my chest and displayed my most charming smirk.
She flipped me the bird with a smirk of her own. "No talking required, Chuck. So, Wally and Rachel forever."
"Think they'll nullify each other?"
"Naw, Dad doesn't stand a chance against Rachel. She's already figured out that he's a pussycat."
"With fangs." That earned me a glare, and I added, "Hey, maybe we can sic C.O.P on him."
Her eyes dropped from mine and she laughed uneasily. "About that…I sort of tipped them off about Comic-Con."
I groaned. "Mind telling me why?"
"Because they're picketing me," she complained. "I'm sick of the Yoko comparisons, and being vilified at every turn."
"And you expect that to change?"
She shrugged. "Look, at least it will be a draw, and your game sales should be off the charts."
I bumped fists with her and Kat kissed my cheek. "Don't worry, Chuck, I'll protect you from your evil minions."
My arm caught her around the waist and I whispered, "Only if you carry that sexy stun gun."
I located amazing black suits and white shirts at a vintage clothing store, and some cheap Raybans at a downtown kiosk. For shoes, I dragged Patrick away from his songwriting and we both got fitted with shiny black shoes.
"What's the hurry?" Patrick asked as we scurried to the last table at a sidewalk café. "The wedding's not until January."
"Who cares about that? These are for Comic-Con." I ordered an ice tea and Patrick followed suit.
He snorted. "No way I'm wearing that to a convention."
"Why, you afraid I might upstage you?" I countered mischievously.
"As if," Patrick replied.
I took one of the suits out of the bag and modified a quote from one of my favorite films. "You know the difference between you and me? I'll make this look good."
His eyes crinkled and I knew he got the reference. "No doubt about that, sweet cheeks."
I took out my Taser. "You want some of this, Chuck?"
"Sure, what else have you got for me?"
My can of pepper spray rolled into my hand. "Just say the word."
Patrick chuckled. "This is just like old times."
"Keep laughing, Hannibal. I got your number."
Comic-Con loomed on the horizon, and I got no closer to keeping my promise to Wally.
Kat continued to badger me (Detective Columbo reincarnated) about my clandestine meeting with her father, and I kept putting her off with platitudes.
"Are you trying to drive me insane?" she complained.
"Why bother? You're already certifiable."
That earned me another smack to the shoulder. "Don't make me hurt you!"
"Boyfriend abuse," I joked.
"Can we please focus? I have less than a week to get these photos into the publisher." Kat was referring to the coffee table book that had lured her onto the tour in the first place.
We were sitting side by side in my office and her gallery was up on the big screen. She was way too close and smelled intoxicating. Kat walked me through her top choices, and I agreed to most of them. "Not that one," I pointed to the shot of me and Selina arguing.
"Sorry, that one stays," Kat replied in a tone that brooked no argument.
I made a face. "Why am I here if you've already decided?"
"Because that shot is part of the story, and taking it out destroys the sequence."
In rapid succession, she displayed her picture story and I quickly saw her point. "OK, that makes sense. Anything else?"
She picked 5 shots out of the lineup. "These are for Pitchfork."
"Good choices all around. See? I'm easy."
"And I'm uneasy," Kat quipped. "Are the guys joining us at the con?"
"What about your disguise?"
I shook my curly mane and decided I'd visit someone in town to tame it back to a manageable hedge. "Forget it."
"Not even at the cocktail hour?"
That wasn't asking too much, so I finally caved. "OK, but if you bug me again, then I'm burning the damn thing."
"Only if you can find it, Sherlock."
12 of my poems became full blown songs over the two weeks leading to Comic-Con. Patrick and I sometimes worked through the night, and by the weekend before the con, we had laid down a baker's dozen for our Katrick album.
It would be self-released on Patrick's label and his distribution channels were already gearing up to release it in August. I'd drawn some simple sketches that he seemed to like, and we settled on a charcoal sketch of Blacks Beach.
"This is perfect," he said as we sent off the master to the production house for printing.
We were in town for another reason he wouldn't reveal to me. "What are you up to?"
I gritted my teeth in frustration and finished my shrimp salad without another word. "Keep it up, and I'll make you watch Almost Famous another dozen times."
"OK," Patrick said agreeably. "But only if I can rewind the scene where Kate Hudson takes off her clothes."
"That is borderline harassment," I said, knowing he'd remember our matching T-shirt exchange, and his mind-melting strip tease.
Patrick recognized his cue. "Only borderline? Guess I'm not trying hard enough."
"Try a little harder, and I'll alert the media," I said mockingly.
He snatched the only pen from my fingers and dangled it out of reach. "What would Miss Manners say about this?"
"Who cares? She kicked the bucket."
"And someone actually noticed?"
I tried not to laugh. "You live for this, don't you?"
Patrick's smirk morphed into a real smile and my throat went dry. "The trips down memory lane, or our usual witty banter?"
"All of the above."
His only answer was a smirk, which faded when I grabbed the check from the waiter's hand. "My turn," I intoned, throwing down some cash and getting to my feet before Patrick could attempt his gentleman come lately routine. With a frown, he followed me to the door and sighed when I insisted on holding it for him.
"What bug crawled up your ass?" Patrick muttered as we walked toward his Lexus.
"A dead ladybug."
"Huh, and here I thought it was a hissing cockroach."
I kicked at his foot with mine. "Quit pretending to be someone you're not."
"Huh?" Patrick leaned against his SUV and seemed genuinely confused.
"I can pay my own way, and I'm perfectly capable of opening and closing doors."
"Noted. Anything else?"
"You didn't answer my question."
He took my hand and squeezed it. "Ah, yes, our witty banter. I revel in it."
"Now you're being sarcastic."
Patrick laughed. "No, really?" When I didn't laugh back, he put his fingers under my chin. "I'm Prince Charles, the patron saint of foot in mouth disease."
I leaned against the car. "We never talk."
"Sure we do."
"You know what I mean. Every time we try to discuss anything, we end up in bed."
His eyes smoldered at me. "Are you complaining?"
"Don't turn this back on me."
Patrick twirled my hair around his finger. "Actions speak louder than words."
He sighed and noticed a few people staring at us. "We can discuss this later."
The ride to our destination was a bit strained. "You know I'm right."
"Absolutely," Patrick said easily. "Follow me."
We'd arrived at a nondescript home near the Scripps Institute. "You trading down?"
"Not today." He knocked at the door and a tanned woman with dark blonde hair came out.
"Hey, Patrick, how's it shaking?" They high fived each other and she looked around him at me. "You must be Kat."
"Last time I checked. Who are you?"
The woman laughed and held out her hand. "I'm Jess's cousin Lee. Didn't Patrick tell you?"
My laugh sputtered out of me. "Nope."
"That's our Patrick," Lee said with a laugh. She walked over to the garage and pulled up the door.
My eyes adjusted to the dark interior and a moment later, I spotted a gorgeous blue Honda motorcycle. "Why are we here?"
"You still don't get it." Patrick pulled me toward the bike. "It's yours if you want it."
My fingers ran over the shiny chrome and leather seat. "2020 Interstate if I'm not mistaken."
Lee nodded. "The girl knows her bikes."
"Why are you selling it?"
"Because I'm pregnant, and I need the money."
God, I hoped it wasn't catching. "Explain." I eyeballed Patrick and folded my arms.
He ran his fingers down my arm. "You're always borrowing mine, so I figured you should have your own."
I'd gotten my motorcycle license a few years ago, and I liked borrowing his BMW to run errands in town. 'What's the occasion?"
Patrick leaned over and whispered, "Call it an early engagement present."
WTF? My eyes opened wide and I stumbled slightly as his comment registered. I gazed between my ring and his earnest face and was completely speechless. When I finally found words, I leaned in and said, "You could have asked me first."
I handed Lee a check on the sly and promised to pick the bike up on a different day. By that time, Kat was halfway down the street and apparently intent on walking home. I pulled up alongside her and pointed to her ballet flats. "You want a mess of blisters?"
Kat shook her head and got in. "So that's what your big secret was."
We stopped at a light and I peered over my sunglasses at her. "You know you love the bike."
She sputtered, "Are you insane? You can't pull this crap on me and expect me to be OK with it."
She was like the nasty adult who popped all the balloons at a kid's party. "I gave you a ring. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"Of course it does! But damnit, we haven't even had the discussion about our living arrangements. How the hell do you expect me to react when you bring up an engagement that doesn't exist?"
Wow, this was going downhill faster than a Porsche on steroids. "I thought you'd be happy."
"Hardly. Why don't we start with my guest status at your house? Am I moving in permanently, or am I just your fuck buddy for the summer?"
I was deeply stung by her words. "Haven't I proven myself to you and your father? How much more ass kissing do I have to do before I get the green light?"
"Red light," Kat screamed, and I braked so hard that her head almost hit the dashboard. My hand darted out to catch her shoulder and I let go when she glared at me.
My throat was tight with emotion as I watched the light turn green. "Are you OK?"
She laid her head in her hands "Not even close."
"How can I make it better?"
"Talk to me straight. No jokes, and no trying to charm your way out of it."
That was the way I had always operated. "I'll try."
We got back to the house and she stared at me. "Do more than try, or this will never work."
Kat disappeared into the house and a short time later, she headed out the door in running gear. "I'll be back by dark."
I watched her until I couldn't see her anymore, and felt all my hopes and dreams dissipate, sinking like the stone I threw into the surf.
Bryan Ferry's drug is love; mine is running. It's my sweat soaked nirvana, a place that only I inhabit.
No one could touch me as I flew along the busy beach, ignoring the beachcombers and sunburned kids with their pails. I was miles away from Patrick's private domain, and I ignored the sun sinking into the drink.
It was full dark when I came back to town, my demons fully exorcised from my mind. I pulled out my phone and saw half a dozen messages from Patrick. I sent him a single text that said, "I'm OK. Stop texting me."
The phone stayed silent and I put it back in my pocket. I was thirsty, hot, and bone tired, and I suddenly realized that I craved the creature comforts of my new home. "Damn," I swore, shaking my fist at the sky.
I loved this place: its people, the sun, the surf, and the impossibly beautiful cliffs of La Jolla. I adored the cool sea caves, and the sea lions barking their lungs out at the Children's Pool. And the gorgeous prince with the tarnished crown? I loved him most of all, with his amazing talent and breathtaking retreat that topped the hills of this rich artist's colony.
And there was no doubting he loved me more, even as he tripped over his good intentions and proposed to me on a handshake from my Dad.
I wanted nothing more than to head home and say fuck it, let's get married. Be my husband and I'll be the best damned wife a man could want.
If only it were that simple.
But we weren't kids anymore, and I had a life on the East Coast that I also loved.
How did I reconcile that with this carefree California existence?
Nat Geo was calling me every day, but the time might come when they'd stop calling, and I'd be nowhere.
Rolling Stone was all hot and bothered over the possibility of a cover shoot with the Monkeys, and could I make it a reality?
I've always believed in striking while the iron was hot, and the heat was coming at me from all directions.
It seemed like hours before I got to the gate, which was locked for the night. It would be so easy to call him and he'd buzz me in, but I decided to take the long way around.
I picked up my guitar and music flowed through me to my hands. The melody was bittersweet and strongly reminiscent of NMA's Marry the Sea. As the surf crashed on the rocks below, I jotted down words that nearly burned into the page as my pencil dug down.
Three pencils later, I had a song. Then another one tugged at me, and I started winding my way through that one too.
On the third song, Kat came up the steps and sat quietly on the rock wall. She listened actively, and at one point, her hand dropped to my shoulder and she left it there, anchoring me even as she kept her distance.
I put the guitar down and was awed by her silvery beauty, backlit by the rising moon. "Let's talk."
"I didn't mean everything I said." Her words held no apology.
"What are we, Patrick?"
I wound my fingers through hers. "Lovers," I said passionately.
Kat's breath caught at that admission, but her gaze was unrelenting. "Friends?"
My eyes closed for a moment before I said, "You're everything to me."
Insecurity from such a beautiful, accomplished woman still caught me up short. "How can you doubt it?"
She moved closer and sat on the edge of the table, dark eyes taking me in as I mused over our fate. "There's so much I don't know."
Kat had the knowledge, but her doubts pushed it out of reach. "How can I help?"
It was a strange conversation, but it seemed to work for both of us. "Tell me where we'll live."
"Here. Boston. Wherever you want." I loved it here, but I would ditch it in a heartbeat and follow her anywhere.
Her breath shuddered with emotion. "And my work?"
"Let me help you. Teach me about your art." There was so much I could learn from her, and if I was pulled to the far reaches of the globe, I'd be with her at the end of the day.
"And will you teach me as well?" Her hand touched my Ovation and I caught the faint shimmer of a smile cross her lips.
"Always." A ghost of my own smirk almost came out of hiding, but I put it away for safekeeping.
Kat put her hands in my hair and touched her cheek to mine. "No more gentlemen's agreements."
"Are you always this easy?"
"One of us has to be." She pulled my hair and I sat up straighter as I rubbed my head.
"What about prenups?"
Oh, we were stepping into deep water with this one. "They suck, but if you want to protect your own assets, I won't be offended."
Kat's mouth opened and closed and it was clear she wasn't expecting my left field answer. "What about your holdings?"
I shrugged. "It's only money."
"Easy to say when you're loaded."
"Look, my lawyers will advise me to draw up a prenup, but I won't force you to sign it."
"I don't want your money," Kat replied.
"Then it must be the incredibly hot sex."
"About that…" Kat was veering back to unchartered territory.
I kissed her cheek. "How can I be of assistance?"
She moved into my lap and I tasted the salt of her tears. "We aren't using protection."
"I figured you were taking care of it." The tiny part of my brain that actually pondered such thoughts had pushed it way into the background. "You're not…?"
"No, but what if I was?"
I leaned over and kissed her slightly exposed belly. "It would be part of us."
Kat took my breath away with her sudden hug. "There was this doctor in college who said I'd never conceive."
"Let's prove him wrong," I said as my hands started lifting up her shirt.
"We're doing it again," Kat murmured as the shirt left her body.
"So we are." I dipped my head and licked the newly exposed valley between her breasts. "But we talked first."
Kat moaned when my fingers made short work of her sports bra. "I prefer talking with my body."
"So do I." I pulled her onto me and the air was soon filled with our savage and wordless passion. It stretched well into the night and moved from the porch to the sand and ended on the table in our greenhouse.
We brushed dirt from our bodies and laughed all the way to the shower, where we once again succumbed to the love drug. Sleep finally claimed us at 3 in the morning, but by 7, Kat was all over me.
She dominated me to the point where I was gasping for mercy, and that only ended when I gave her what she wanted. I barely came down when she surrounded me once again and murmured, "So, think you can keep up with me?"
"If I don't die first."
This wasn't my first visit to the craziness of Comic-Con. I'd stopped by a few times during college, mostly to ogle some of my favorite comic book artists and stalk the cute guy from The Middleman who seemed to show up every year.
No, Patrick was the con virgin, if ever such a word could be applied to someone like him. He looked almost fearful as we plunged into the crowd, but there were so many celebs that he melted into the background.
I know this would change rapidly, for once word got out that he was in the building, lady vamps of every shape, size, and color would descend on him with fangs bared. As for me, I was dressed to the nines in my MIB gear, complete with expensive (prescription) sunglasses and a silk dress shirt. My shoes were spit shined, and my weapon of choice was standard issue from the MIB toy collection.
"Remind me why I agreed to this?" Patrick muttered as we pushed past a particularly noxious group of fen, whose definition of hygiene didn't include soap or deodorant.
"Breathe through your mouth," I advised.
"Airborne pathogens?" he countered.
I spotted a few members of C.O.P. and pointed. "Take a few tips from your undead friends. No breathing required."
We stopped at the sight of hundreds of caped women, and they stared back at us. "OMFG," one of them shouted, and an avalanche of black and red boiled toward us.
"Run," I yelled, and we dove straight through the stinky, overstuffed fans and rolled under a table.
As booted feet and spiked heels passed by at top speed, I crawled under a vendor's table and peeked out, only to find my sight assaulted by a skanky 'ho with a leather skirt and no underwear. She looked way too much like Selina, and I managed to escape her notice as I shoved Patrick under the next table. "This sucks."
"Only one more, Captain Intensity, and we're home free."
"What did you call me?" His voice was mixed with laughter and frustration.
"Nothing." I had some surprises of my own, and I wasn't about to take that particular trip down memory lane with him.
"Finally," he said as we pushed through to an area that was completely devoid of vamps.
We straightened up, only to find ourselves completely surrounded by a sea of walkers, canes, and white hair. The cloying smell of talcum powder and cheap cologne competed with the B.O. crowd for the smell most guaranteed to knock you unconscious, but that wasn't the worst part of it.
No, even worse than all that was the sight of that old lady from the night of the fire. Her eyes were sharp with recognition and I knew she remembered us---vividly. "Christ, can this get any worse?" I muttered to Patrick.
"Umm, that would be a yes." Each of the old ladies had a fiery red T-shirt with Patrick's face emblazoned on it.
"This is an honor," she crowed, grabbing his hand and pumping it at least a dozen times.
"Do I know you?" Patrick asked with an innocence that was fooling no one, especially the old lady.
"Don't patronize me, sonny. I remember both of you from the night of the fire, and I'm mighty glad to see that this young lady followed my advice."
I flashed my best fake smile. "What was your name again?"
"Verna, and these fine ladies came from all over the state to see your boyfriend."
"Really? But he's not even on the schedule," I trilled, ignoring Patrick's elbow digging into my side.
"It's all over the Internet, and since I'm the chat room mistress for his local fan club, I hear all the dirt."
"Isn't that the sweetest thing you've ever heard, Patrick?" I cooed, enjoying his strained expression way more than a good girlfriend should.
"Sure is." He leaned in and whispered, "I'm going to roast you over an open fire."
"Sounds appetizing," I retorted. "So how can Patrick help his fans today?"
A hundred women held up Sharpies and CDs. "Autographs," they screamed in unison, and Patrick resigned himself to an hour or two immersed in a sea of blue hairs and bad dye jobs.
Jess joined us shortly after the old ladies ganged up on me. He and Kat were laughing over her costume, and I smiled as they started quoting some gems from Men in Black. Jess was a particular fan of the movie, so he pulled out one of my favorite lines.
"We are the best kept secret in the galaxy. We monitor, license, and police all alien activity on the Earth. We're your first, last, and only line of defense. We live in secret, we exist in shadow."
Kat reminded him, "And we dress in black."
"If you two are done fooling around, maybe you can get these lines moving."
"Sorry, it's my day off," she joked.
I rolled my eyes. "You know that security detail you so desperately wanted?"
She did something with her fingers that made my hair stand on end. "Where the hell did you pick that up?"
"Here and there."
Verna made it to the end of the line and beamed at us both. "You make such a cute couple."
"Aww, that's so sweet," Kat drawled. "You told me to seize the moment, and by God, I did just that. Did you know this evil boy lured me up to the roof?"
I wanted to sink straight into the floor. "Do you mind? I'm trying to sign."
Kat took Verna's arm and they moved to one side, but still well within earshot. "Tell me all about it," Verna said as she rubbed her hands together gleefully.
"It was our first kiss," Kat said in a stage whisper.
"I knew it. When you were sitting on the stairs, your lips were rather swollen. He must have kissed you good."
"And more than once," Kat said in a hushed tone, as if the crowd of buzzing hearing aids could pick up her chatter. In another universe far removed from my overly devoted fans, I might find this funny, but I was ready to string them both up.
"With tongue?" Verna shouted, and this time the throng of gray hairs giggled like school girls. And to make matters worse, C.O.P chose that moment to descend on us.
Kat linked Verna's arm with hers, and the last thing I heard was, "He puts Gene Simmons to shame."
I was enjoying this immensely, and rather liked Verna and her group of crones. They seemed to like me as well, which was the whole point. My anti-Yoko campaign was aimed straight at his most ardent fans, who had declared war on me. The Golden Agers were squarely in the Katrick camp, but the vamps were out for blood—preferably mine.
But right now, they were more interested in shoving their way to the front of the line, and I wouldn't stand for it. As it was, this was an unauthorized gathering, and it wouldn't take long before someone noticed.
Sure enough, one of the security goons from Central Casting came lumbering along the instant I conjured him up in my mind. His doughy torso was encased in a standard navy blue blazer, white shirt (turned gray from too many wash cycles), and tan slacks that rode up his legs. He spotted the growing crowd and I clearly heard him call for backup in a fearful voice. The guy had the pasty white complexion of a bottom feeder who lived on Coke and Krispy Kreme donuts, but I had nothing against him.
I walked over and pointed at my watch. "My friend needs to get to a panel. Any chance you could cut him loose from this crowd?"
He looked over his shoulder and shrugged. "I'm only one guy."
"Ah, but you have me," I said sharply.
"Are you Jay or Kay?" he asked as he eyed my costume.
"Definitely Kay, and I'm packing heat." I showed him my official merchandise and he whistled.
"You pick that up on eBay?"
"Naw, found it at a rummage sale." Which was the whole truth.
"So how can you help, Kay?"
I showed him my dog whistle. "Think it will work on this pack?"
"Only one way to find out."
I blew on it as hard as I could and was stunned to see the vamps covering their ears. A second blast sent them reeling, and provided enough of a diversion to grab Patrick and hand him into the waiting hands of his publicist and Jess. They whisked him through the onlookers and I followed in their wake, only turning back once to see the vamps battling it out with outraged senior citizens. My last vision was of an upraised cane about to descend on someone's unfortunate head.
My panel with the gaming guy started at 1, and they'd roped me into a charity auction with some of the actors from Star Trek 20. They looked like castoffs from Madame Tussaud's, and I had nothing in common with any of them. A blow up doll of William Shatner would have made a better stand-in than these people with their capped teeth and implanted hair.
Kat came to my rescue at the 11th hour with several large cartons. "What the hell?" I muttered as she and Jess started tossing red T-shirts on the table.
"Just go with it," she said through gritted teeth.
She moved over to the emcee and commandeered the mike. "Fellow fen, I have some rare treats for you. Come a little closer and behold these one of a kind Captain Intensity tee shirts."
Girls and a few stray guys rushed forward and practically wet their pants at a silkscreened version of me brooding with a superhero cape and a guitar. I held one up and had to admit the likeness was excellent. "Is this your work?"
"Nope. Don't you recognize our fellow vandal out there?" She pointed to the front row and I saw Mandela and Holly waving at us.
"God, I suppose half of Padua is here too?"
"Not quite." Kat looked to the left and I saw Keith lounging against the wall with his brother. He grinned at me and my attention wandered over to a red-faced guy with a chrome dome who looked unimpressed.
"What the hell is Wally doing here?"
"Keeping an eye on things."
That's the last thing I needed right now. I looked once more at my silk-screened image and managed to suppress a smirk when the bidding started at 50 dollars. It climbed to 100 and ended at 150 for the first shirt. The remaining shirts fetched an average of 100 dollars a pop. "Are they crazy?"
Kat smiled. "Probably."
She had saved a bunch of shirts for us to divide up among our family and friends, and as Kat hugged Mandela and Holly, I suddenly remembered that first day on the quad when Kat had first encountered Mandela. I'd been carving away at some wood and that's when I first heard her call me Captain Intensity. In fact, the expression on that T-shirt exactly matched my mood on most days at Padua.
I gave Mandela a hug. "I have you to thank for this?"
"It was all her doing. We came up with a sketch in New York, and the rest kind of fell into place."
Brad and Luis showed up and got a huge kick out of the T-shirts. Brad came over and commented, "That girl really has you by the short hairs, Verona."
"Yeah, it's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it," I joked.
Brad looked over at Kat and there was a hint of leer in his eyes. "She might go down like sandpaper, but damn, she's one sexy broad."
In Brad's limited world, that passed for a high compliment. "Don't I know it."
Luis looked at my face and laughed. "You look like shit, 'bro. That girl keeping you up at night?"
"Oh, yeah." I wasn't a kiss and tell sort of guy, so they left it at that—for now.
"Better watch out for that pal of yours," Luis warned.
I looked over at Jess leaning over Kat, and I couldn't possibly miss the look in his eyes. He was a player, and once long ago, he'd threatened to take Kat away from me. But he was also my friend, and when he caught me watching, he suddenly realized what he was doing and threw me a sheepish smile. With an apologetic look, he backed away from Kat and found another victim in the form of a shapely member of C.O.P. who was flaunting her wares under a see through blouse.
Kat worked her way around to me and rubbed her face against mine. "Any chance I can get you alone?"
I kissed the corner of her mouth and desperately wanted to find a quiet corner where I could show her exactly what I was feeling. Frustration at the sea of fans had turned to gratitude when I saw what she was doing, slowly winning points with even the staunchest anti-Kat contingents. By the end of the auction, C.O.P was high fiving her right and left and Verna's army of elders was singing her praises for anyone to hear.
I pulled her backstage and found an unoccupied handicapped bathroom with a lock that worked. "Will this do?"
"Yeah, right up to the point where someone threatens to run us over with their wheelchair."
"I'll risk it." The door locked behind us and we went to town.
Verna cornered me outside the ballroom where Patrick was doing the gaming panel. "You missed a button," she pointed out with barely concealed amusement.
"Oh, thanks." My fingers fumbled at my shirt and finally set it to rights. Feeling a flush of heat in my cheeks, I tried to step away but she was still intent on continuing our association.
"I hear they call you the Kat Lady." Verna wagged her finger at me. "Didn't I say what would happen to you?"
"You did, but as you can see, none of that is true."
She laughed. "How many cats are living with you?"
I thought back to the strays in Boston. "Umm, five?"
"Only five? You must be one of those reformed cat ladies."
My smile was bittersweet, for I really missed those furry little fellows in my cozy Boston townhouse. "I foster them for one of the no kill shelters in Boston."
"Oh, is that what they're calling it these days?" Verna joked.
"So, what's your deal?" I asked, spotting the letters H.O.L. on her wristband and hoping to change the subject.
"You mean this?" Verna looked down and announced, "Horny Old Ladies, at your service."
I did a double take and had to ask, "At your age?"
"I'm 95 years young, and damned proud of it. Don't need a guy when my right hand works just fine, thank you very much."
"TMI," I said.
"Life is short, sweetie. Go get your man and do it up right."
That was great advice, but it would have to wait. The general admission panel was starting up, and the vamps and the gray hairs were buzzing like wasps thrown out of a hornet's nest. They circled each other warily and then there was a mad dash for the front seats, which ended with kicking and screaming. A bunch of security dudes came running in, and in the middle of it all, I saw my red-headed friend from Balboa Park getting shoved down the aisle with her friend.
My last appearance was at the cocktail hour, and I'd agreed to don the monkey suit. We had a room assigned to us, and I stood there staring at it hanging on the back of the door.
Kat took that opportunity to throw us into full Men in Black mode. She eyed the suit and my faded jeans and T-shirt. "Let's put it on."
"Put what on?
"The last suit you'll ever wear."
"I bet you waited all day to say that," I commented as she watched me change.
"You betcha. Need help with that?" She pointed to the tie, which I was attempting to knot and failing miserably.
"Do your worst."
"Which is still ten times better than your sad attempt." Kat's deft fingers quickly sorted things out.
"That old lady really got your fired up." I still couldn't believe we'd run into her.
"Maybe, or it could have been the clandestine sex."
"Always a plus."
We finally were ready, and I had to admit we looked smashing. Perhaps this idea of hers to pimp out in full MIB mode at Wally and Rachel's wedding was worth entertaining.
The cocktail hour was your standard fare at any con, full of overeager fans and drunken celebrities and the usual bad music. I met some nice college girls from LA who'd driven down just for my panel (I could probably count the people who didn't know on one hand) and an older couple from San Diego who were longtime fans. Some of the old ladies wandered through, and the inevitable vamps who wanted nothing more than to C.O.P a feel. I evaded their predatory fingers and finally made it out of there in one piece. But my tiny moment of triumph was soon extinguished by the maddening crowd of waiting females, hands and claws extended to rip any little piece of me that they could get.
Kat looked a bit alarmed when we got separated, and I finally got a hold of her and headed toward the elevator. As we waited, the crowd formed around us and I hugged Kat close to me. She smelled like vanilla and lavender and I wanted to bury myself in her and hide from all these strangers. Some strange whim prompted me to whisper two words to her, but her answer was lost in the deafening roar that erupted around us when the elevator finally arrived.
San Diego to Boston
What the hell?
Yeah, that was my response. What was I supposed to say, I want you, I need you, oh baby, let's get hitched?
Yes, maybe someday, but not this week, or even a month from now.
Patrick and I were in a great place right now. We'd finally talked and were in accord. I didn't want to upset that balance by introducing a new variable.
When the time was right, we should take that next step, and do it on our own terms and not let our families turn us into puppets.
I tried to frame this in a conversation, but every time I started, my words got stuck in my throat and I lost my courage. And each time I opened my mouth to speak, Patrick looked over at me like an eager puppy and I felt like a complete shithead.
So I let it founder, and we finally returned to our familiar patterns.
Summer turned to fall, and we flew back East just after Labor Day.
My baby cats were half grown, and the shelter had already placed three of them in permanent homes.
I asked the pet sitter to stay on and house sit and wrote her a large check to cover the costs. "I'll be gone till next spring."
Patrick smiled enigmatically as he walked by us and made himself at home on my…our…sofa. This sharing business would take some getting used to.
"So, you ready to ride off in the sunset with me?" he asked with his smirk firmly in place.
I heard the real question he was asking, and knew it was time to pay the piper."Four months."
Patrick raised a single eyebrow. "Only in Lapland."
Yeah, right, land of the sun that never set. I rolled my eyes and said, "Let's see what happens between now and my Dad's wedding."
He quipped, "Ooh, are we all going to turn into pumpkins?"
"Haha. Wrong story, and you're not that prince, Chuck."
Patrick held up his hands and made a scary gesture. "Then maybe I'm a vampire after all, and I've waited 15 years to come out of the closet."
"Can we be serious for two seconds? I want to give this…us…time to settle in, without a 24/7 media circus surrounding us."
Patrick searched my face and finally nodded. "OK, four months it is."
"I'll make all the arrangements. Any preferences for our final destination?"
He shook his head. "Makena Cove."
It was a beautiful beach and one of the top wedding destinations in Hawaii. Not only did I know it, I had photographed a wedding there back in college. "Hmm, popular, but in the off season, should be easy to arrange."
"Then we're good?"
I smiled. "We're awesome."
Kat and I arrived on Coronado Island with only minutes to spare.
Wally's uptight doctor friends looked down their noses at us, and Rachel's gal pals pointed and laughed.
"I can't believe you talked me into this."
Kat held up her toy gun and pointed at the door. "The aliens await."
And a particularly nasty specimen was bearing down on us, his face even darker than his tomato red cummerbund. "Explain," Wally said flatly, looking between our matching suits with distaste.
Kat was visibly trying not to laugh. "He's J and I'm K, at your service."
"This is a wedding, not a masquerade ball."
His florid cheeks were approaching a Kat approved purple. "Dad, I thought we agreed…I'd be the best man and Patrick would be.." She choked on her words and I felt the vibration of her laughter as she hid her face.
Wally's eyes narrowed at the grin I failed to hide. "We did warn you."
He moved closer and shook his finger at me. "Don't push your luck with me, young man."
I caught a glimpse of Rachel drawing her hand across her throat and knew it was time to act my age. "Sorry I got carried away."
"Apology accepted. Now, if you'll both take your places."
We lined up at the door and the rest of the ceremony went off without a hitch. Rachel was dressed in a gorgeous silk dress with a circlet of flowers on her head, and Wally wore the standard, boring tux with a carnation that matched her ensemble.
Kat and I stood off to one side and surveyed the crowd. Bianca waddled to the front row with one hand resting on her belly and the other resting against her lower back. Cameron helped her sit down and she heaved herself down with the grunt heard round the world. Lola snickered at her mother's ungainliness and made a face when she saw me watching. "When is she due?" I whispered to Kat.
"Two weeks ago," Kat murmured back.
"Another set of twins?"
She held up three fingers and I nearly burst out laughing. "Poor Cameron."
Kat cupped her hand over my ear. "All boys."
I covered my face. "It runs in your family."
Kat nodded toward a tall, dark haired woman sitting next to Bianca. "That's my mother's twin sister."
Wally frowned at our chatter and both of us piped down as they exchanged vows. The priest (Episcopal) asked us if there was any reason for my new uncle/future father-in-law and Rachel not to join in holy matrimony. I could think of a few hundred, such as Rachel's misadventures at The Tit, but mum was the word.
I cringed a little when they swapped spit, but joined in the clapping when they turned and beamed at us, and a tiny part of me realized I'd never seen Rachel look so happy. "There's hope for us yet," I muttered to Kat as we followed them down the aisle.
Kat took my hand and I looked down at the gorgeous solitaire I'd given her a few months back. She'd designed it herself, choosing an array of perfectly cut diamonds and amethysts, and it suited her. Her ever present bracelets were replaced with pearl cuff links and a silver Navajo bracelet that I'd bought her in New Mexico.
We approached the happy couple and Kat hugged her Dad and Rachel. I extended my hand and nearly had my fingers surgically removed by his grip. "Say uncle," Walter said with a grin that widened when I grimaced.
"Uncle Wally," I exclaimed. "Where have you been all my life?"
Rachel lowered her chin in that way that told me to behave. "You both look great. Congratulations," I offered, knowing they'd both appreciate my rather hefty contribution to the children's cancer center at Wally's hospital. And they'd probably like the songs Kat and I had written especially for this occasion.
I put my arm around Kat and we headed straight to the bar. She ordered a non-alcoholic drink and shook her head when I offered some champagne in a crystal flute. "You going all Carrie Nation on me?"
"Still hung over from the party last night," Kat said through a mouthful of popcorn.
We headed for our seats and watched the new couple do their first dance (Just the Way You Are), and then we were called up. The music shifted to something more contemporary (15 vs. 500 years old), and my ears pricked up at the tune. "Hey, I know this," I crowed. "Our first dance."
"Carry Me On."
"You weren't such a bad dancer, for someone who stomped on my feet at least a dozen times," I joked.
"Hey, you're the one who forced me to dance with you." Kat punched my arm lightly.
"Aww, you know you loved it."
"Maybe a little."
I tweaked her nose. "C'mon, cop to it. That night is burned in your memory."
"Not for the reasons you think, Chuck."
The music ended and I smiled. "C'mon, Norma, let's get some food before your sister eats it all."
I touched Bianca's shoulder as she plowed into her appetizers. "How are you holding up?"
She whined, "How do you think? I've gained 80 pounds and I'll never be a size 0 again."
"Neither will Kate Moss. What does the doctor say?"
"They're inducing me in the next few days if I don't go into labor."
"That sucks," I said with real sympathy.
"What, you're not going to lecture me about being directly responsible for global warming?"
"Naw, and I might even loan you my boat when a tsunami takes out your house."
Bianca rolled her eyes. "Glad to know you have my back."
"So how's the addition going?"
My sister's house was a shambles, and the contractor that my father had recommended turned out to be a shyster that ran off with their money. So now they were scrambling to put together a nursery before the boys arrived on the scene to wreak havoc in my sister's carefully mannered life, one that had started to become sane now that her girls were older.
"I guessed you missed the lecture about not poking a stick at a hornet's nest," Bianca said tartly.
"Anything we can do to help?"
"Unless you can pull off some Habitat for Humanity miracle…then no."
I looked over at my personal miracle worker and knew that if anyone could pull off the impossible, it was Patrick, who knew a zillion people and could call in a bunch of favors. "Let me see what I can do."
Bianca got distracted when my ring flashed in the sun. "Have you set a date yet?"
"Not exactly," I said with my best Mona Lisa smile.
"Kat, what are you up to?" My sister was never fooled by my rather lousy acting skills.
Part of me was sorely tempted to spill my news, but I restrained myself at the last second and hugged my sister. "Hope your labor is smooth sailing."
"Aren't you going to be there to greet your nephews?" Bianca sounded rather upset, but between Dad, Cameron, his mother, and all his sisters, she would be well taken care of.
I shook my head. "Patrick and I are catching a plane right after the reception."
Her face fell slightly, and I felt a little remorse that I wasn't the sort of person who lived and died to serve their family. "Where are you off to?"
"Nowhere special." I was lying through my teeth and she totally knew it.
"Well, when you get back from nowhere, give me a call."
I nodded, and saw Patrick motioning me to the stage. Brad, Luis, and Jess materialized from the direction of the bar and a cheer went up as they picked up their instruments. I frowned at Patrick and asked, "I thought we were doing the songs we just wrote."
"The guys wanted to accompany us…if that's OK."
Who was I to turn down a session with my favorite mechanics? "Let's do it."
And so, my favorite man in black picked up his borrowed guitar (my Martin D-28) and started crooning the ballad we'd written last night as we sat in the hot tub. It was sweet and sensual, all at the same time, and it had a killer chorus where the entire band harmonized. And on the last verse, my voice joined Patrick's and we soared for a few giddy moments.
I looked down and saw my Dad and Rachel, completely entranced by this gift we were giving them. There were tears in my Dad's eyes and his face was bursting with pride. As the last note died away, he gave me two thumb's up.
The rest of the songs went down like a vanilla milkshake, and when the guests were done dancing, they got up on chairs and gave us a standing ovation.
The party was winding down, and it was almost time to unveil my surprise. Kat was hugging and kissing her family and it sure felt like good-bye to me. As she stood chatting easily with Wally, I realized I was no longer the outsider looking in. I was part of this celebration, and this family that welcomed me with open arms.
I would do anything for Kat, and when she'd explained her sister's housing nightmare to me, I said I could help. I'd already called half a dozen people who assured me they could be there first thing in the morning, with a guaranteed completion of five days.
We started moving toward the exit with Wally and Rachel seeing us off. All was moonlight and roses, right up to the point where Wally and Kat spotted the motorcycles parked next to their limo.
Kat's 'what the hell' was drowned out by Wally's 'you can't be serious, son'.
I took Kat's hand and dropped the keys to the Honda in it. "May I present your new ride?"
"I'm going to kill you, if my father doesn't throttle you first."
"You're welcome," I replied easily, knowing she would come around once she got over her shock.
"My daughter is not riding out of here on that machine," Walter said crossly.
"Really, then she better hold out her thumb, because it's a long ride back to La Jolla."
Wally's raised his eyebrows at my temerity, and he was about to dress me down, but Kat beat him to the punch. "His daughter can speak for herself," she growled.
Kat looked at Wally. "In case you haven't noticed, I'm not your little cactus anymore."
He nodded his head. "I'm beginning to realize that."
"I know how to handle a motorcycle, Dad, and I'm a licensed rider."
Wally pointed at me and I stifled a laugh. "This is your fault."
"Blame it on too many reruns of Easy Rider," I said dryly.
"So you insist on riding that contraption?" Wally said in a resigned tone.
Kat eyed the bike and I saw the excitement that came and went in a flash. "Someone has to, I guess."
I looked at the sky and saw the sun was sinking fast. "We have to get rolling."
She suddenly realized that we had a flight to catch. "I know."
We did the hug and kiss thing and I finally broke the spell by moving toward my vintage BMW bike. Kat did a quick examination of the controls and once she knew where everything was, she gave me a thumb's up. Before we could mount our bikes, Walter cleared his throat.
Kat and I whirled around and almost got poked in the eye by his pointing finger. It was aimed mostly at me, but his daughter was included in his admonition. "Helmets," he said with a straight face.
And the last sight we saw before heading off into the sunset was Walter laughing at his own cleverness.
Patrick and I were married at sunrise on a private beach in Maui. Turns out Makena Cove was booked solid through the winter, so one of Patrick's friends offered his private enclave for the week.
It was a gorgeous place with turquoise water and black sand that glistened like diamonds. The lady minister (Unitarian) used our personal words to each other, and it was beyond moving. By the time I choked out my vows, tears were streaming down my face. I couldn't excuse wind or contact lenses, so it must be the overwhelming love I felt for the still mysterious Patrick Verona.
I'd never seen him cry, but I swear he swiped away some moisture from his eyes when we exchanged rings. They were simple gold bands with an intricate white gold pattern that we had picked out in Hana.
And so our married life began with a glorious week of sex, sand, surfing, swimming, and snorkeling. No one knew where we were, and that was the best part of all.
We left the private estate and continued exploring the other Hawaiian islands, and my camera got a real workout. The one time I checked my messages, I received a text from Rachel saying that Katrick had hit the top twenty. I showed it to Patrick and his only answer was a smile.
Bianca set me pictures of her three howling boys (Patrick, John, and Michael) and Cameron, who was asleep in the background. In return, I sent her a wedding photo of me and Patrick with the words, "We eloped."
Her answer was, "I knew it! Congratulations. Want me to tell Dad?"
Patrick and I were sitting on a terrace sipping delicious tropical smoothies when Dad's video call came in. "Should I answer?"
"Naw, it'll keep," Patrick said.
We enjoyed our lunch and then we played back his message. I put it on speaker phone and practically fell out of my chair laughing at the blue streak emerging from it. Dad's face had turned an interesting day glo shade of fuchsia, and his infamous pointing hand was right up to the lens. I heard bits and pieces of 'how could you let us down like that' to 'irresponsible man boy' and 'needs to get a haircut'.
"I guess helmets are the least of his problems," I said after we stopped laughing. "But don't worry, when he hears the latest, all will be forgiven."
My hands patted my belly and I raised my eyebrows knowingly. Patrick's expression changed from confusion to comprehension and he was suddenly hugging me so hard that I was breathless. "Damn," was all he said before falling back into his chair and scrubbing his fingers through his perpetual bedhead.
"Careful with the merchandise. If they send me back to the mainland in pieces, then Grandpa Wally really will want your head on a stick."
Oh, how we laughed and danced that night, poised on the threshold of the next chapter in our story.