Catherine Henson smoothed back a strand of hair from her face. The wind whipped and tossed the brown-blonde locks, creating a wild silk fray. Her fingertips tapped lightly on the steering wheel to the whining guitar playing on her car radio. There's nothing like some real ACDC. She thought, squinting her eyes slightly as she pulled the Mustang to a stop at a red light. The groceries in the back seat crinkled as she turned sharply, making her way down Newbarr Road.
Gravel crunched and cracked as she pulled into the long driveway, the sequoia's on either side of her giving much needed shade not readily available on the dusty country roads she had just been on. After about two minutes, the house came into view, it's vast green lawn gleaming in the afternoon sunlight. Cat's house was an old plantation mansion, and she prided herself that it held the same white grandeur that it had been built as. Humming to herself, she stopped the car under a grand oak next to the garage and began unloading some of the plastic bags.
Ryan Henson was kneeling under the front step, hammering away at a loose nail on the underside. Brand new oak steps had been required because the old ones, at least thirty years and counting, had finally succumbed to decay and rot. The slightly damp man stood and removed his gloves, using the back side of them to wipe his forehead. Placing his hands on his hips, he watched as his wife for two years walked towards in the garage and out again.
“Hey babe!” he said finally, once she had come out for her third grocery-retrieving trip. Stretching his tan arms over his head, he sidled in behind her and planted a chaste kiss on the back of her neck. Cat turned, and smiling, began talking in a quick pace.
“Hi sweet thing. So I got some of those potatoes you wanted, the golden ones? So we can have that steak dinner. And oh, Miss Riley says hello...and to tell you that your order of cement came in yesterday.” Cat busied herself with loading as many bags as she could over her shoulders before retracting herself from the Mustang's back seats. As soon as she did, Ryan lifted the entire load with one hand and began walking behind Cat into the house.
Cat Henson was only nineteen years old, and was a natural born country woman. Mature, good looking, and kind. She had grown up in southern Kentucky, and her parents had been your average good-to-do mom and pop. Cat loved her horses, loved her music, and loved her....well, loved most things. Her current hometown was a bustling Georgia village, just south of the capital.
Ryan had bought her this house. These 54 acres of unspoiled Georgia land. The stables, five cats, her new lab mix Mavis (Mavy, for short, and occasionally Miss Mav), and just about every other thing that had crossed either of their minds. And it should be mentioned that Ryan Henson hated the thought of even getting on top of a horse, petting a cat, or any of the things that Cat loved to do. Why? Some could say he was dumb dead stricken with those blue jean clad hips of hers, or that witty smile and sparkling aqua eyes. But in reality, Cat knew it was because he loved her.
Cat had graduated high school at seventeen, and promptly married her sweetheart. Which was of course Ryan. He was wealthy, good looking, loved his land, and was just about everything her parents had wanted. Why, he was everything Cat had wanted. And Ryan's “catch” had been the supreme envy of almost all of the male high school student body. Uncomplicated. Sexy. Gentle. “Trophy Wife”.
But, Cat enjoyed many things that a girl of her status usually didn't. They hadn't really known her. None of them. For instance, her passion for photography was unequal to none. She loved her oils, and once she picked up a microphone she would sing for hours. And not country. She would never say it, but she hated the long drawls of country men who sat around and howled about whiskey and trucks. Catherine loved water and late night talks underneath the stars, she loved watching baby birds peep and absolutely quivered at the sight of a horse in full run. But she kept these things to herself. What did it matter, anyways?
Important to mention, though...Cat was not a lamb of God. No, she certainly didn't go around delving in sin and such, as some would say, but she was an atheist. Which was saying a lot, considering where she lived, and whom she had lived with her entire life. So, she had never told anyone. The most reasonable answer. Ryan of course was a good Christian boy, and she attended service with him every Sunday, without question. Besides, she enjoyed singing in the songs, so what did it matter?
“So anyways, I was showing Max my newest films, and you know what he said?” Cat said, as she chopped up a salad for her lunch. The knife went clat clat clat, and then a impatient swoosh as she swiped the green pieces into a bowl. Ryan sat at the large pine table, reading a newspaper and only half listening.
“He said, 'I never saw such amateur photos from you. They're down right childish!'” Cat's eyes began watering. She took this very seriously, and for someone to say her work was 'childish' hit right home. She aspired for them to look simple, beautiful... like a love letter with only three words. Maybe The Georgia Post wasn't ready for her photo's yet. That's all. And besides...all she really shot were children and animals. Not very “grown up”...
“And, I know Max is your brother and all, but he can be such an ass.” Cat mumbled, ashamed that she had used a swear word almost before it had come out of her mouth. She pouted, and gently wiped the counter clear of wet lettuce pieces. Her softly sloping shoulders sagged and she wiped a stray piece of hair behind her ear. Ryan looked up at her, mouth set in a disapproving line. But his eyes were kind.
“Cattie, just forget him. You know how stuck up he's gotten since he landed that fancy manager job at the newspaper.” And that was the end of that conversation. So Cat
went about her business, making her husband the nice steak dinner he had been looking forward to all day.
“Okay Christina, just a little to the left. And smile!” Cat coaxed, kneeling excitedly with her camera poised and ready. The eager five year old did as she was told, of course trying to look her most glamorous while doing so.
Cat was babysitting for Max. Christina was the older of her two nieces, and the most eager to be photographed. So Cat used this opportunity to take all kinds of photo's in the back yard. Miss Mav, as wiggly and golden as ever, had decided to join them. Yellow was Cat's favorite color, after all. Christi giggled as she got a thorough licking to the face as Cat changed lenses. Today had been a good day. After watching a movie with her niece, they went for a pleasant trail ride, and then ate supper. Ryan had been at work, so there were no interruptions. And with Christi around, Cat never felt lonely in the huge, quiet house.
The air was warm and there was a small breeze. It was late afternoon, almost evening, and the lighting was perfect. Catherine loved this kind of time, when the light was almost shadowy some places, but a golden syrup yellow in others. Perfect for the winsome, nostalgic emotion she was constantly feeling for in her photographs. It was like old home movies, where everything has a Holga-ish feel of quiet and happiness.
“Daddy's here,” Christina said suddenly, face both remorseful and content. She got up and petted Mav one more time as Cat watched. Cat smiled wistfully and bustled up the small girl in her arms. She tried to ignore the coughing pick-behind her in the driveway, the crunching of Max's boots in the gravel, the...the...sound of someone coming to take Christi away.
As she hugged the little girl tightly, she took a deep breath and tried to slow down time. The air got a heady quality. She buried her face in the girls neck and felt her thin cotton dress against her knees. Her tiny heartbeat and frail youth stretched taunt within her boundless, happy body. Cat held tighter. Children were so gorgeous and perfect. Individual sparkling souls still innocent from the burning hands of the world. Especially little girls. They were the sweetest. The most honest.
Why was she denied this? Was there a real reason?
“Okay girl, let's go,” Max said awkwardly as Christina politely pulled away and took her daddy's hand. “'Kay, buy Aunt Cattie.” Crunch, step, dust, drive, gone. Gone.
And that was it. Cat wasn't allowed to have Christi much less like the devil a nice day in church. She wasn't allowed to have anything like Christi, anything the same age as Christi. Any. Children.
Part of why she was an atheist. All of why she refused to tell Ryan. He didn't need to know. Maybe that was selfish or unfair. Or maybe that was how Cat dealt with it.
The couple sat in their large bed. Cat wore a white tank top and a pair of boxer shorts, her hair let down and smoothed back with clips. Her shower had left the thick locks wavy and tumbled. Half-naked Ryan lay against a pillow, watching the evening news with half-closed lids, remote in one hand, another on his stomach. The only light was the flicker of the large television vertical from the bed. Their big, white sheeted bed.
Cat picked at her nails, ignoring the drawl of the TV. She bit them only sometimes, but picking at them meant she was thinking of something she only sort of wanted to say. Her long legs were curled up against Ryan's waist, her head supported by one hand. She thought over the days events. She always thought over a lot of things.
“Ryan?” she inquired gently. He enjoyed watching the news in silence. But it was almost over, wasn't it?
“Hm.” He grunted, turning down the volume a few notches. He put the hand that was once on his stomach behind his head, so that he could glance at Catherine from the corner of his eye. Ryan was a very muscular man, with short brown hair and a square jaw. He had dark cobalt eyes and a rounded chin. Age and maturity had thrown his pretty boy looks away like yesterday's old trash, and at a mere 23 he already looked like any other weathered, handsome cowboy under the southern sun.
He severely contrasted the smooth, pale, soft Cat who had a woman's body and a teenage girl's face. “What is it?” he said lucidly, giving a slight yawn as he turned off the television and turned to face her laying down. Cat smiled slightly at him. He was such a good husband.
“Do you really think my photo's look bad?” She said quietly, enjoying the new found silence that turning off the TV had brought. With the numerous windows thrown open, the crickets and cicada's created a beautiful cadence to have a conversation to. At least she thought so. Ryan gave a charming smile, eyes crinkling at the edges as he did so.
“Honey, you are the best photographer I have ever met, seen, heard of, or known. There ain't nobody does photo's like you do. Especially 'round here,” he said sincerely. He really did mean it with all his heart. Cat smiled warmly at him in response.
“Thanks babe,” she said, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Ryan stared at her, quiet, smiling. In the darkness, only the pale half-moons of her cheekbones and straight nose could be seen. “I love you,” he murmured, still smiling so hard it almost hurt.
It did hurt Cat, though.
… .There were lots of little chasms within Catherine, like tidal pools left empty with the retreating sea.
“I love you too, Ryan,” she said evenly. And Ryan saw those plush peach lips push into a smile, and he felt as if he was on top of the world.
Cat wore a form fitting sleeveless pink top, with a peter pan collar and daisy buttons, along with some white sandals and a dark brown skirt that came just above her knees. Her hair was swept up into a fashionable bun with a few black clips and such. She thought she looked nice. Ryan said she had looked nice. She hoped she looked nice.
The car ride there was very quiet. Ryan kept the windows up, radio off, and talk non-existent. Catherine kept her eyes to the road, expressionless. Maybe this morning was not the best time to have told him.
They were going to Atlanta. To pick up a child. Her child. A child. Her child.
Cat had filled out the adoption papers herself. She hadn't bothered to tell Ryan, which was a large leap to say in the least. But Cat did what she wanted when it came to such things. When she wanted to. Because in her mind she knew when and what was best, for herself at least. But now, this was her opportunity to show that she could know what was best for both of them.
Ryan had always wanted children. Lots of children. Oodles. A whole herd. And they had to start somewhere, didn't they? Cat tried not become cross as she thought about it. He had yelled and spit, cursed and lamented, all morning long. He wanted them to have his child. Not some half-Jap sixteen year old from the city! Cat could tell the entire thought disgusted him. “At least get a baby,” he had pleaded, “then we can raise it together.”
But Catherine was making herself be selfish about this. This was her child, not his. It would never be his. This was her life, and she wanted to spend it with someone she could actually learn to love. A child. And if this boy was the youngest available, then so be it. And after reading the papers about his childhood...she had to. It would be a crime not to take him in. And his picture had just been so cute; it was of him as a 11 year old. He couldn't look so different now, could he? Cat smiled.
This boy was not a child. She realized it within the first three seconds of walking into the child service's office. Ryan sat down immediately, shaking hands and chatting it up with the balding man behind the desk.
His name was Aaron. That's what he said. Cat heard it, but the words whipped right past her ears. Like they were already full of something else too loud to let anything else in. She wanted to run. She wanted to hide. Catherine Henson could not become the mother of this boy.
Aaron Tatsuki raised his head to stare into her wide eyes. Cat was still standing, and everyone was staring at her. Why hadn't she sat down? Why wasn't she smiling and going through the normal motions of human greeting? Because she was scared shitless, that's why. She had had her expectations, admittedly, and had resolved to face whatever and whomever this child was. She was going to be his mother, no matter what! She would accept him, no matter what! It had become a mantra in her head to delve off Ryan's angry stares and accusatory grunts.
But this...she hadn't asked for this.
“Uh...Mrs. Henson?” The service counselor asked, for probably what was the third time. He motioned nervously towards the felt chair that sat next to Ryan's. She sat, with a plop. Aaron Tatsuki was clad in all blacks and greys, a spot of white or red here and there. Black jeans, grey shirt that was supposed to be tight, but he was so thin it looked baggy. His hair fell over his face in thick strands, and you could tell that he had a habit of hiding behind it. But his pale face was so sharp and intense, it didn't matter. He kept his charcoal eyes glued to his lap. Apathetically.
MR. CLARK was what the child service's officer's little bronze plate read on his desk. He cleared his throat and put a hand on Aaron's shoulder. He promptly winced. “So all we have to do is the last signing? I'm so glad! Aaron's been running around in the system for five years now...” at this, Mr. Clark looked away for a moment, “but we're both so happy that such a nice couple has offered to take him into their home! Aren't we, Aaron my boy?”
Cat's eyes stayed glued to Aaron like a sick gazelle watches a cheetah who may or may not be hungry. Aaron said absolutely nothing, opting to lean back in his chair and fold his hands calmly in his lap. Ryan glanced at Cat, worried, but kept up his usual chivalrous tone. “Uh, yes. We are both...so excited.” And he laughed. Mr. Clark joined in. Aaron's eyes met with Cat's.
“What's your name again?” Aaron suddenly said. His voice was a low, deep pitch like honey and molasses on a hot day. Mr. Clark looked surprised. It was obvious he didn't speak often.
A stunned Cat opened her mouth and then closed it, she blushed and looked at her hands. Picked at her nails.
“Catherine. But you can call me Cat, if you want to sweetheart,” she said warmly, giving him a caring smile.
Aaron didn't buy it.
Neither did Cat.
Cat hated herself right now. She really, really did. She hated herself as all three of them climbed into Ryan's Range Rover. She hated herself on the long ride back home as she tried in vain not to keep glancing at the young man in the back seat behind her. His eyes closed and hands folded behind his head. A worn red and black duffel bag sat on his lap. Thankfully, Ryan didn't attempt to start a conversation. He was still pissed, obviously. Which was probably a good thing.
“Oh, sorry. Sorry,” Cat mumbled, as she awkwardly tried to maneuver past Aaron. They had one of those moments where both person tries to move, but they run into each other every time. Only Aaron didn't move. He just looked down at her calmly. Eventually she got past him and walked up the steps, nervously ignoring Miss Mav's usual display of homecoming affection. She was flustered, confused, and still attempting to be cheerful. It was a horrible combination for her.
Aaron shuffled inside the giant house behind Cat, looking around with slight, damp interest. It was obvious he had gone through the motions so many times that nothing even registered with him anymore. Cat pretended not to notice Ryan stalk upstairs and slam the door so hard she heard the dishes rattle in the kitchen. She smiled apologetically at Aaron. “Oh, he's just not used to new people,” she said, weakly. Clearing her throat, she showed him his room.
“I left it blank, so that you and I could.... decorate together. Or...you could do it yourself. Whichever. Tomorrow we can go shopping for paint and furniture and things,” Cat said softly, folding her hands in front of her and glancing around the white room that only held a bed within it. Aaron walked inside and dropped the duffel bag at the end of it and turned to stare at her.
“Thanks,” he said. He looked beautiful against the pure white. His hair shone brown-black in the clear light. A handsome, living, breathing, thing. With wide open doe-eyes and an hurt stance. A tangent painting against a blank canvas; all fine details and long fingers.
Aaron Tatsuki was waiting for something. He had been waiting for a very long time.
Cat ducked her head and turned around to leave.
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