Living with my choices, as I vowed to do, seemed almost laughable by the next morning.
Jenny was as obstinate and juvenile as ever, and Kat was the same as she'd always been too. Only now I noticed absolutely everything about her. I noticed the way she walked and the way she
self-consciously held herself in large groups. I noticed the genuine and surprised smile when someone complemented her, and how she always seemed to know when one of the men needed something,
whether it was a new napkin or a refill of whatever drink we had at that particular meal. I noticed that no matter how many times she shoved that one lock of hair behind her ear, it always managed
to escape and fall in her eyes, and I notcied her unconscious half smile when she listened to the men monopolize the conversation, probably never dreaming of actually doing that herself.
Mainly though, I noticed how hard it suddenly was for her to be around me. She would barely even look at me, and when she did, I saw that same hurt in her eyes that I'd seen so plainly the night in
the kitchen. Only now, it seemed more pronounced.
She started avoiding me whenever possible, and she looked pained when it wasn't. That look of longing was always present when she did finally meet my eyes. Something I guessed that she did without
thinking, since she would always hastily glance away after a few seconds. I knew that it probably didn't help seeing that particular feeling reflected in my eyes, but I couldn't seem to help
She was hurting and it was all my fault, but there wasn't a thing I could do about it. More than that, I knew that if we'd just had that talk sooner, things could have been so very different. I
wanted them to be different. I was realizing that I didn't just find her attractive - although I definitely did - I also loved her. And not like a sister as I always thought.
I didn't have any siblings, so maybe that's why I didn't see the difference for so long, but I knew that what I felt for Kat wasn't even close to a sibling relationship.
I got to know and love Kat, long before I entertained any kind of romantic feelings for anyone, and then Jenny just sort of blindsided me. It was shallow and immature of me, but I confused my
attraction for her with actual love.
I had always liked Jenny, of course, but I didn't even know her the way I knew Kat. With Jenny, it was as if I loved her in spite of who she was. All the things that were so hard to take now,
didn't matter very much then. I didn't dwell on the unpleasant things because I didn't want to see them. But I loved Kat simply because of her qualities. Until that night in the kitchen, I hadn't
even realized that I was attracted to her. But she was my best friend and probably the first person, other than my parents, who I actually loved. And after wracking my brain, I couldn't come up
with even one real flaw in her that I might wish away.
With Kat, I could guess her mood just by looking in her eyes. I could tell if she was genuinely pleased by something or if she was only pretending to be. I never seemed to know what to expect with
Jenny. Partially, that was because Jenny liked to shield her emotions. She liked to play games, pretending to be angry when she wasn't or acting happy when she was seething. But a large part of why
she was able to confound me so often, was that I just didn't know her that well. I knew her likes and dislikes, her favorite color and flower and those kinds of things, but I was clueless about the
deeper things. The important things. The things that hadn't seemed to matter before.
I realized the reason that I didn't have to wonder for more than a few seconds if things would have been easier if I'd married Kat. It was because we already had that sort of companionable
relationship that I craved with Jenny now.
My first few months married to Jenny had been pure bliss, for both of us. The next few, a little less so, and the next few, even less. And I didn't have to wonder why anymore. Now I knew it was
because our relationship had been based mainly on the physical, and it wasn't as exciting any longer. Now, after so much time, we were supposed to be in the more companionable stage of our
marriage, but there were several things that I didn't even like about Jenny. Several things irritated me, quite frankly. And I guessed that she felt the same way.
But I knew that if it had been Kat, we wouldn't be having this problem. It would still be total bliss. I guessed that it would have been for several years. Possibly forever.
That one thought was worse than anything else - knowing what could have been. Or, perhaps more acurately, what should have been.
"John!" Larry waved to get my attention. He'd just been to town for supplies and was heading into the barn.
Changing course, I jogged over to meet him.
"How did it go?" I asked, once I entered the barn to find him unloading crates from the wagon.
"Pretty good." He didn't pause in his work. "Got a special deal on feed this time."
I nodded and began lifting things down from the wagon. No one could barter like Larry, which was why I left this particular job to him.
"Got a letter," Larry said, fishing around in his pocket once everything was transferred to the floor.
A letter? Who'd be writing to me? Everyone I knew, lived in the area.
"It's fer Kathryn." He finally retrieved the letter and held it out to me.
Taking the white envelope, I swallowed the bitter lump in my throat. I knew without looking at the scrawl on the front, who it was from, and suddenly I despised him.
The letter was from Andrew King, the man who'd been smart enough to see what I didn't, and the man who Kat was probably going to marry.
I'd always liked Andrew. He was a good man. The kind of man who would be good to Kat. And there wasn't any doubt that he loved her. He had for years.
I used to wonder why Kat never seemed to want to commit to courting him or getting engaged. I'd always encouraged it, thinking that she deserved to be happy and that Andrew would make her happy.
But now I understood. It was because of me. Kat hadn't wanted to commit to anyone without being able to give him her whole devotion.
Would she do it now just to get away from me? Had she already?
I didn't doubt that Kat could forget about me and fully love Andrew if she let herself. Actually, it was amazing that she hadn't already, considering how idiotic I'd been.
But, I remembered, he'd been away since Jenny and I were married. Maybe she'd accepted his proposal since then and was waiting for him to actually be here to announce it. Maybe he was writing to
say that he was on his way here. She might, very well, be gone within the month.
Leaving Larry, I started for the house, thinking decidedly uncharitable thoughts about Andrew, and knowing that I had no right to do it.
Kat wasn't hard to find once I got inside. She was sitting in the front room, reading. She hadn't heard me come in and for just a moment, I allowed myself to watch her. She held herself gracefully,
even while alone and reading. She twirled a stray lock of hair around her finger and bit her lower lip, clearly interested in her book.
I found it hard to tear my eyes away from her lips, remembering how it felt to kiss her. I wanted to do it again. My body practically ached with the need to hold her again.
Shaking my head, I strode the few steps toward her, remembering why I'd come in the first place.
"This just came for you." I stuck the letter between Kat and her book.
Kat took a second to examine what I'd shoved in her face before looking up at me.
"Thanks," she murmured, taking the letter.
She just sat, staring up at me and I had to clench my hands into fists to keep them to myself. The desire to just brush her cheek with my fingers was so powerful, I nearly gave in. Before I could
so much as move my arm, she lowered her head, staring at her book again.
As always, my nails were short, but I could feel them digging in to my palms, as I restrained myself.
I wanted to say something, at least. It was a rare opportunity since we were alone, but I was undecided. I wasn't sure what I should say, or if it would even do any good. Should I apologize? Would
that make it worse? Besides, deep down, I knew I wasn't sorry. I was only sorry for everything I was putting her through. I'd kiss her again in a heartbeat if it were only myself I had to worry
As if she could read my thoughts, Kat spoke without taking her eyes from the page in front of her.
"Don't, John." Her voice was soft, but her tone unmistakably definitive.
And then in a much more pleading voice, "please."
Heaving a frustrated sigh, I turned to head back outside. Maybe if I threw myself into my work wholeheartedly, I could forget all of these aggravating feelings.
Well, that worked well, I thought sarcastically.
After leaving Kat, I rejoined Larry and a few of the others who had already started building that new corral. I was glad when I remembered the project and jumped into it enthusiastically.
Unfortunately, it was impossible to get Kat and my frustration over the whole situation, out of my head, and it showed.
I'd yelled at Tim, one of the younger men on my staff, for something stupid, and then I proved to be more clumsy than I accused him of being. After hammering a few fingers and actually breaking one
of the boards in half, narrowly missing someone's head, Larry shoed me away, ordering me to "figure out whatever foolishness was rattling around my brain before I killed someone".
I grumbled over the dismissal, but I couldn't argue. He was right, after all. He usually was when he called me out for something.
It was after lunch by that time, but I couldn't go to the house. I didn't want to run into Jenny, and I didn't think I could afford to run into Kat. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to go for
I'd only been in the woods for a few minutes when I knew where I was going. I wanted to be in the place I'd always been happy. The spot I always felt relaxed, no matter what was going on in my
life. It was the one place in the world that had been mine and Kat's.
I wondered if that was the reason I'd always been happy and relaxed there. Because it was hers.
The journey took a little longer than I expected, since I hadn't actually made the trip from the ranch before, but as soon as I was in view of the lake, I felt myself relax a little.
Of course, that was before I realized that I wasn't the first one to have this idea. Kat sat on a blanket, hugging her knees and staring out at the lake.
I should leave, I thought. She obviously wanted to be alone, but this almost felt like a sign. Maybe not from God, since I couldn't imagine that he'd be encouraging this sort of thing.
Then again, maybe it was. We needed to talk. As hard or uncomfortable as it might be, we couldn't go on this way. And I didn't want to. Kat was my best friend. I despised all this tension between
Making the decision, I continued on, not bothering to try to walk quietly.
I could tell the exact moment that Kat became aware of my presence. She stiffened slightly and tilted her head, listening, but she didn't turn around.
Coming out of the trees, I walked into the small clearing and stood beside her. She still didn't move.
She had to know it was me. No one else even knew about this place, but she wouldn't look up.
Gazing down at her, I saw that her small hands were balled into fists and she was nervously biting her lip, staring at the river like she might get up and jump in it just to get away.
She was afraid. But of me? Over the last few days when she wouldn't look at me, I thought it was mostly for Jenny's sake. She didn't want Jenny noticing anything strange between us. But right now
Jenny wasn't here, and she still couldn't look at me. It made me angry. She was the one person in the world who knew just about everything about me. My best friend.
"I've never known you to be afraid of anything, Kathryn," I said. "Since when are you afraid of me?"
"I'm not-" She finally turned her face toward me, ready to deny it, but changed her mind.
"You know since when," she said instead. "Did you follow me here?"
No, I definitely hadn't followed her, but I wondered if I would have, had I known.
"I had no idea you left the house," I said. "I came here to think. It's interesting that we both came to this place, don't you think?"
It was interesting, actually. Usually I spent all day, apart from meal times, working on the ranch, and to my knowledge, Kat almost never went out. Certainly not for picnics by the lake, alone. But
for some reason, we both decided on coming here today.
"Stop it, John." She glanced away and I couldn't tell if she was angry or still afraid.
I let out a loud breath, again feeling frustrated.
"Kat, you can't avoid me forever. We need to talk."
She nodded, keeping her eyes fixed on the lake again. But at least she didn't fight me on the point. I suppose she didn't have a choice. We couldn't continue like this for much longer.
"Can I sit down?" Normally I wouldn't have thought twice about joining her on her blanket, but it seemed as if everything had shifted now and I didn't want to risk scaring her away.
When she looked up, I could see the caution and worry plainly in her eyes. Did she honestly think I was going to attack her?
But then, my conscience whispered, isn't that what you did before? She never asked to be kissed. She never asked to be touched at all.
"I'll be good." I smiled, hoping to diffuse some of this wretched tension.
Thankfully, it seemed to work and she granted me a smile too.
"Alright." She scooted over, allowing me plenty of room on the blanket.
Once I was next to her, I wasn't sure what I should say. How was I even supposed to have this conversation?
I would apologize, I decided. She undoubtedly deserved that much.
"I'm sorry about the other night. I was wrong to do that."
Kat nodded again, but didn't look as though she was glad to hear it. Was I wrong to do this too? Was I just making everything worse?
"I just..." I decided to push on, wanting her to understand. "All these feelings just came out of nowhere, you know? I never knew they were there. I always thought I saw you like a sister. I never
Kat closed her eyes, and still, I wasn't sure if I was making things better or not. I'd already started though.
"But that night, I realized that I didn't really see you that way. And after fighting with Jenny again." I sighed, angry just thinking about Jenny. "I was frustrated and totally unprepared. And
then, there you were, beautiful and sweet and saying that you loved me."
Remembering how she looked then, and being so near to her now, made that overwhelming urge to touch her rise up again, stronger than before. I had to ball my hands into fists again, to keep them
"John, we can't..." Kat's voice was soft and unsteady. "We have to forget this."
How in the world were we supposed to do that? It had only been a few days since that kiss, and already I felt like ripping someone's head off. I knew it wasn't much better for her, either.
"You're married," she reminded me. "You chose Jenny."
"What if that was a mistake?" I couldn't help saying it. I was almost certain that it was a mistake, but I wanted her to know. Maybe for her own peace of mind, so she would know that I would change
things, if I could. Or maybe it was the most selfish thing I'd ever said.
The latter seemed more likely as I watched Kat close her eyes against the tears.
"Don't say that," she said. "Please."
But it was the truth.
"You were right," I said. "I was blinded by her. I didn't see what she was really like until after we were married."
"John, please," she said, but I barely heard her. I was too focused on getting it all out.
"I'm not saying I don't love her. But she's so...she get's me so..." I wasn't sure how to finish, but the idea of ripping someone's head off, came to mind again.
"Jenny's just difficult." Of course she understood. Of all people, Kat knew that particular thing the most. But she was, as usual, being far too kind.
"Sometimes, it's like...I'm not sure she even likes me very much. She can be just so..." Again, I struggled for the right word.
"Jenny loves you," Kat said. "She just needs to grow up some."
That was definitely part of it, but not even close to the real problem.
"No, it's more than that," I said. "I know she loves me, in a way. But it's not the way it should be."
"John..." she tried.
"It's like, I was her shiny new toy, and now I'm not as...exciting anymore. Now that I know how you felt, I feel like she only wanted me in the first place, because you did. She wanted what you
"No. Jenny loves you," she insisted. "She never wanted to hurt me." I could tell that she wasn't entirely sure of that part though. I think we both knew that Jenny never intentionally wanted to
hurt her sister, but maybe she just didn't care very much that she did.
"I know she didn't," I agreed. "She's selfish, not vicious. She just wanted to prove that she could...beat you. That she could do what you couldn't. And I didn't see it." I felt completely idiotic
all over again.
"John..." She shook her head sadly.
"We haven't even...It's been months since we..."
"That isn't any of my business." Color rushed to Kat's cheeks and she slapped her hands over her ears. I hadn't meant to say it, but it felt important for her to know. Why should either one of us
feel guilty when what Jenny and I had couldn't even be called a real marriage anymore?
I was suddenly furious with Jenny. She could have been a decent person and thought about someone else, once in her life. She could have deferred to her sister, who loved her well beyond what she
deserved, and she could have cared just a little about Kat's happiness. Or mine.
Grasping Kat's wrists, I pulled her hands from her ears so she would have to listen.
"You should know the kind of marriage you don't want to get in the middle of," I said. "It isn't even a real marriage anymore."
"It doesn't matter." She tried to wrestle her arms away from me. "I don't want to get in the middle of any marriage."
"It should have been you, Kat," I finally admitted.
At my words, she stopped struggling and looked devastated.
I couldn't help myself any longer. I held her face in my hands.
"You were always there. Always so sweet and gentle." I kissed the tip of her perfect nose.
"John, please," she begged weakly, but I couldn't stop now.
"Always loving me, even when I was such a fool." I kissed her lips, feeling like a drowning man, coming up for air.
"Always putting everyone else first." I kissed her again, before staring into her beautiful eyes.
"I'm sorry I was so blind to you. I love you, Kat. I think I always have. I just didn't realize how much until now." I cursed my foolish, immature self.
"It should have been you."
"John..." she whimpered, and I knew she wouldn't fight me. I kissed her then, the way I'd been dying to do, pouring all my love for her into it and wishing we could have a lifetime of these kisses.
Needing her closer, I pulled her into my arms and against my body as I savored the taste of her lips and tongue. She held me tightly, responding eagerly, and suddenly it wasn't enough. I wanted to
kiss her everywhere. I wanted to discover how many freckles she really had.
Laying her down on the blanket, I covered her with my body, exploring the skin of her throat with my mouth.
And still, I needed more. But I wouldn't force her. I stopped and stared into her eyes, silently asking if she wanted me to stop. I don't know how I would have done it, if she asked it of me, but
somehow I would have.
I didn't have to stop though. Rather than the pain I'd seen lately in her eyes, I saw only joy and love.
Putting her arm around my neck, she smiled and pulled me down to her lips again, and that was the end of my rational thought.
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