Hey everybody! I'm really sorry I haven't updated in, well, forever. It usually happens - I lose interest in a story and then pick it up again. Don't expect regular chapters because I'm deeply unreliable with that, haha. But I hope I can update every so often. This chapter is mostly about Katy and Howard which I know a lot of you like :) And I've started writing some stuff on FictionPress so check it out.

"Where the hell's my little sister?" called Howard through the throngs of people standing around in the airport. He pushed through the crowd and spotted Katy and Rob, standing by the side. He chuckled to see them so separated from the other people. They were two of the same, both liking their space and their freedom, with no tolerance of the city life.

Katy, who had heard Howard's shout, saw him and squealed, running forward. She flung herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck and giggling hysterically. "Jeez, what has my being gone done to ya?" said Howard, who had dropped his carry-on bags to hold on to Katy. The truth was, he would be giggling hysterically too if his sister hadn't just knocked the wind out of him.

Rob was slower to come forward, as was his style. He smiled at his son and whacked him on the back before bending forward to pick up the bags. "Baggage claim?"

"Not yet!" said Katy. She gave her brother a final squeeze before letting go. "I missed you!" she said as Howard slung an arm around her shoulders. She looked him up and down, trying to see any injuries he didn't previously have. All she noticed, however, was his clothing. "What are you wearin'?"

Howard looked down at his clothes. "It's what normal people wear!" he said defensively. "Just coz you ranchers are living in the stone ages of fashion."

"Since when have you cared about fashion?" said Rob, a smile on his face. Despite his uneasiness to share feelings regularly, it was evident he was overjoyed to have his son back.

"It's just what people wear," said Howard. "I'm sure I'll get used to my country kicks again in no time."

"Kicks? What are kicks?" said Katy.

"Shoes," said Howard. "You know, kicks?" At her bewildered glance he sighed. "Okay, I don't know why they're called kicks. Maybe coz you kick with them? Shut up Katy," he added, because she was laughing at him.

They collected his bags and headed out to the truck. Katy took the back seat, something she wasn't quite used to since Howard had left. She sighed and leaned back. Despite everything that was happening with Rick and Miranda, she was surprisingly content having Howard back. Her brother had that air about him – he was calming. It was like he could solve any problem.

"So how's college?" asked Rob as they left the airport car park. "Jesus, it's a madhouse in there," he added, glancing back in the rearview mirror.

"College is good. Good classes, interesting people. Hard sometimes," said Howard.

"Ah well, you need a bit of a challenge now that you've left the tough old ranch," said Rob jokingly.

"Hey Howard," said Katy, feeling somewhat left out sitting up the back. "I know somebody who can't wait to see you."

"Oh yeah? Who?"

"I hope you're kiddin'. Who do you think? Miranda."

Howard seemed to tense a little bit. Only Katy noticed – Rob was watching the road. "Uh, does she still… come around a lot?"

"Yeah, why? Miranda's cool, we've been hanging out," said Katy, watching Howard closely. What was going one? Before Howard had left he'd been head over heels in love with Miranda, and now he was acting all uncomfortable about her. It was odd.

"You'll have to be the messenger," said Rob, grimacing. "I doubt Rick will come by too often now that it's all out in the open. But I think he likes you. Miranda certainly does."

"It's an excuse to spend more time with your giiiirlfriieeend," Katy said in a high-pitched, lovesick tone.

Howard shifted and cleared his throat, something Katy knew Howard did when he was nervous or anxious or uncomfortable.

The long drive home was spent chatting about easier subjects. It was dark by the time they reached the ranch. Nell was pacing on the porch and ran down the steps when the truck came to a halt. She grabbed Howard as he got out of the car and started kissing him all over his head. "Baby, I missed you so much!"

"Of course you did, it's me," said Howard, giving Katy a wink.

They went inside, Rob lugging the bags. Jack and Gus greeted Howard from their positions on the couch in front of the television, too exhausted from the day's work to get up.

"Dinner'll be ready in about fifteen," said Nell. "You can put your bags up first."

Howard took over from Rob and dragged his bags upstairs. Katy followed like a puppy dog, eager to spend time with her brother after so long apart.

"So how's Flicka?" he asked her once they'd gotten to his room. He collapsed onto the bed, spread-eagle.

"Wonderful. Beautiful," said Katy, sighing and sinking into the armchair in the corner. "You should see us together."

"I have." Howard sat up and ran a hand through his hair. "I noticed something downstairs."

Katy looked at him. "What?"

"Did you see Jack?"


"Yeah, Jack. You know, tall, dark hair, the kind of swoon-worthy good looks the city girls would kill for. That Jack."

Katy watched him apprehensively. "Yeah I saw him. Why?"

"Did you see him see you?" Howard asked, his eyebrows raised.

"Okay, what is this? Either tell me what you're getting at or don't," said Katy, impatient as always.

"I think he likes you."

Katy snorted. "Right! Jack likes me. Uh huh. Next thing you'll say Gus likes me." Then, thinking back to when Gus had called Katy a "flicka", a young, pretty girl, Katy put up a hand to stop Howard from saying it – his mouth was already open to form the words. "Don't go there!"

Howard rolled his eyes and lay back down on the bed. "I'm just sayin'. He was looking at you differently. I'd say you're too blind to notice. And Gus may have thought you were pretty but it wasn't like that. He's too old for you anyway."

"Oh, and Jack isn't?" said Katy.

"Jack's younger than Gus," said Howard.

Katy sighed. "Shut up Howard. And anyway, speaking of love! What's with you? You tensed up when I mentioned Miranda in the car."

Howard shot up. "I did not!"

"Yeah, you did." Katy watched him squirm under the pressure of her gaze. "Well?"

Howard sighed and looked to his hands. "So I might have started seeing a girl in the city."


"Hey, don't shout!" said Howard. "And don't judge."

"I wasn't judgin'."

"I can hear you in your mind," said Howard. "What's the problem?"

Katy leaned forward, counting on her fingers. "Well let's see. You two are perfect together, you both think the same way, you're both from the same background. I mean, you get each other. You both totally love each other."

Howard frowned at Katy. "You seem to know a lot about a relationship that isn't even yours."

"I thought you were gonna give long distance a try!" said Katy.

"It's hard Katy. I'm so busy, she's so busy. It's hard to get a chance to web chat or IM or email. Beth, she was just there."

"Beth? Her names Beth? Uh, I bet she's a total slutty city girl," said Katy. She felt betrayed, not that she really understood why. It wasn't like Howard's relationships were any of her business. She supposed it was because Howard had never told her on the phone or online. He had never mentioned anybody called Beth. Sure, he'd mentioned his "wild" friend Colin and the gay guy Artie who had hit on him (Katy had laughed about it for a long time), but never Beth. Not even a friend Beth, and now there was a girlfriend Beth.

"Hey, don't," said Howard.

"Have you told Miranda? Because last time I saw her it didn't seem like she had the slightest clue," said Katy.

"Uh, no…" said Howard.

"Howard! That's basically cheating."

"It's not cheating! Miranda and I have barely spoken since I went away. I'd hardly call that a relationship."

Katy glared at him and stood. "I'm going to go see if dinner's ready."

Howard sighed and rubbed his forehead with his hand. "Katy, come on. What's wrong?"

"Nothing!" She stomped downstairs.

But deep down she knew what was wrong. It wasn't like Katy made friends so easily. She was a headstrong girl and most people couldn't handle her spirit or her tough determination. But thanks to Howard's relationship, Miranda had become quite a close friend to Katy. What happened if or when Howard and Miranda broke up? Miranda would probably never come around to the ranch again. She would probably blame all of the McLaughlin's for the break up, even Katy. Or she wouldn't, but it would be too difficult to come to Howard's home, despite Howard never being there.

Katy hated to admit she was like any other teenager, but the truth was she was. She needed social stimulation as much as the next person. Not that she'd ever admit that to Howard.

I hope you liked it. More soon hopefully. Like I said, I'm not exactly reliable. Plus I just entered Year Eleven and the homework load is unbelievable. Comments accepted :)