For the rest of the day, Katie and A.J. both had to act normally, as if nothing had happened, to reduce suspicion. Although their "relationship" was over now, they both knew that Kevin would still be angry with Katie if he found out about it. However, as usual, Katie couldn't hide the fact that she was feeling down from Kevin, and he asked her about it that night when she came to say goodnight to him.
"What's wrong, sweets?"
"Nothing," she lied.
"Come on, you can tell me," he reassured her.
Katie sighed. "I don't know...but you know what tomorrow is," she mumbled.
Kevin frowned. "What is it?"
"May 15th? Daddy's birthday?" she reminded him.
"Oh, yeah," he remembered. "I was trying not to think about it," he confessed, putting an arm around his little sister. "Why don't you come in, sweets?"
Katie did, and the two of them sat down on the couch in his room. They were quiet for a moment. Then Katie spoke. "I know that it's been awhile..."
"Nine years," Kevin mused.
"Yeah...but I still miss him some times," she murmured, sounding guilty.
"Katie, that's okay. I miss him sometimes too. So does Mom. So does Brian. So does everyone."
"But...I don't know. Daddy was such a...a man's man," she said, smiling slightly. "You and Jerald and Tim and Daddy were so close, always doing guy stuff together, and I feel like..."
"Like Dad and I had a special connection?" Kevin finished for her. She nodded. "Katie, it's true that we had a connection that no one else had. We were father and son. But you and Dad also had a connection. It was different, because you and I are different, but it was just as strong."
"I don't know, Kevin. He spent so much of his time with you," Katie pointed out.
"So?" Kevin returned. "Sweets, you were his baby girl."
Katie smiled slightly.
"Don't you remember how you would just casually mention how you wanted...I don't know, a Barbie or something...and the next day it would just mysteriously appear?"
"I kind of forgot about that," Katie admitted.
"Or the way he would always come in and read to you at night when you were little?" Kevin continued. "He would always stay there after you fell asleep, just watching you."
Katie smiled wider. "He did that?"
"I never told you?" She shook her head. "Yeah, I would be coming from a party or something when I was sixteen and you were eight or nine, and I would see him just sitting there by the side of your bed, watching you sleep."
Katie rested her head against her big brother's shoulder, and there was another minute of silence. "What's your first memory of him?" she suddenly asked.
Kevin frowned. "Oh, G-d, that's a hard one. Um...I think it was him and Mom dancing in the living room. Remember how they used to do that?"
Katie smiled wistfully and nodded.
"But you know what I remember a lot better?"
She shook her head. "What?"
"The first time I saw you," he said.
Katie sighed. "Oh, G-d, here we go..."
Kevin laughed and tightened his arm around her shoulders. "It was at the hospital. You were about...oh, half an hour old. I was eight, and miserable."
"Why? You didn't get enough attention?"
"Well...not really, because our brothers and Brian were there...but it was mainly that I wanted you to be a boy."
Katie giggled. "Really?"
"Yeah, I wanted a little brother to play with. So I was sulking..." He pouted, imitating his expression from that day. "But Mom and Dad made me come in and see you anyway. I went into her room and stood there next to her bed, and she showed you to me."
"What did I look like?" Katie wanted to know.
"Pretty disgusting," Kevin replied. Katie hit him on the arm. "No, you were just waking up from a nap, and you were beautiful, of course. You were always beautiful." Katie felt her eyes well up with tears as he continued to speak. "And Mom asked me, 'Do you want to hold her?' And I said, 'No!' all stubborn-like. And then do you know what you did?"
"You reached up with your tiny little hand and sort of patted me on the arm, like you were saying, 'It's gonna be okay, Kev. Get a grip!' And then I looked at Mom and I said, 'Well, maybe I'll hold her a little.'" Kevin's voice broke, and he lowered his tone a little. "And then I took you into my arms..." His voice was filled with so much emotion now that he broke into his old thick Kentucky accent. "And from that second on, I knew that my life would never be the same. It would be so much worse and so much better all at the same time..." By now Katie was crying into his chest, and tears were rolling down his face too. "Katie, you always tell me how, if it wasn't for me, you wouldn't have gotten through Dad's passing. But I feel the same way about you."
"But Kevvy, you were the one who took care of me because Jerald and Timmy were awayŚ"
"And if I hadn't had you to take care of, I wouldn't have made it. You know me. I might have bottled up my feelings, gone through denial...G-d only knows."
Katie held her big brother as tightly as she could. "Kevy, I love you."
"I love you too, sweets," he murmured, kissing the top of her head. He happened to glance at the clock just then. "Now, it's getting late. We should get some sleep."
"Can I stay in here tonight?" Katie asked in a small voice.
"Of course. I'll call for some extra blankets and a pillow, and you can sleep on the couch, okay?"
Katie nodded and hugged him again before he got
up and went to make the call. She sighed and lay her head
back on the cushion. No matter what, she knew that Kevin
would always be there, even if he wasn't always on her
side. She took another deep breath and drifted off to sleep,
only to dream of A.J.