Katie was lying in the bathtub with a giant glass of pinot grigio in her hand when she heard Brandon walk in the door. She had been here ever since she got home. Right now the water was close to cold. She knew she should get out, but she could not find the motivation to move.
She heard Brandon calling out her name as he entered. She didn’t answer. He would find her eventually. Right now she just wanted to enjoy the solitude and the numbing effects of the wine. Besides, the master bathroom door was wide open. Yes, he would find her soon. As confirmation to her thoughts, Brandon walked through the door less than a minute after he entered the house.
“Katie,” he said.
“Hi,” she mumbled. She knew she looked like crap. Her face was puffy and red from crying. Her lips felt parched due to dehydration. Despite that she had a full glass of wine in her hand and a bottle sitting next to the tub. Sure, it wasn’t the smartest thing she’d ever done and she knew she’d regret it later. But right now it’s what she wanted.
“You’re drunk,” he stated.
“Not yet,” she replied, “but I’m working on it.”
Brandon ignored the last part of her statement and went to kneel next to the tub. He wrapped his hand around the glass of wine and pulled it away. She did not fight him. “How long have you been in there?”
“Almost an hour,” she whispered. “The water must be cold.”
Katie nodded then started to cry. Without hesitation, Brandon lifted her from the tub, wrapped her in a towel, and carried her to the bedroom. He sat down on the bed and held her close as the tears streamed down her face.
Katie knew she was getting him wet, but he didn’t seem to care. And if he didn’t care, then neither did she. He held her close while she cried. He did not question her or even speak. He just held her head to his chest and rubbed her back while she poured her pain out. They sat there for a while, although she did not know the exact amount of time. Finally, with her tears all cried, Katie closed her eyes and fell asleep.
Brandon tucked Katie into bed then left the room. He would get the answers to his questions later. Right now she needed her sleep. He quietly changed out of his work clothes, emptied the tub, then carried the wine out of the bathroom. Finally, he shut the door and went to the kitchen.
Katie was in shock; he could tell. He had dealt with cases of shock plenty of times as a rookie. Even now he occasionally had to help witnesses through the initial stages of it. The fact that she had been drinking was only going to make things worse when she woke up. With that in mind, he set about making a simple dinner that would be easy for her to digest.
He thawed out a couple of pork chops and fired up the grill outside. It was a nice day, perfect for grilling. While the grill was heating up he filled two pots with water and put them on the stove. For the next hour he alternated between the grill and the kitchen until the pork, whole potatoes, steamed green beans, and applesauce was ready and waiting. He even made some chocolate mousse just in case she wanted dessert. This was one of Katie’s favorite things to eat when they lived together—a comfort food of sorts. Hopefully she would find comfort in it right now. Once the table was set he walked back into his bedroom. He was surprised to see Katie sitting up in bed, the towel still wrapped around her.
“I got your sheets all wet,” was all she said. “It’s okay. They’ll dry.”
“Okay,” she whispered.
“Dinner’s ready. I made your favorite.” He smiled. “Do you want to talk first?”
“Only if you’re ready.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be ready,” she whispered, “but you deserve to know what I told Chief Holmes. You’re much more important to me than she is.”
“Let’s get some food in your stomach then we can talk for as long as you need.”
“Okay. Let me get dressed,” she replied then walked to the guest room and closed the door.
A couple of minutes later Katie emerged from the room and headed to the kitchen. She was silent as she filled her plate with food. Finally, she got herself a glass of water, sat at the table, and began to eat.
“Does it taste good?” Brandon asked once he sat down. “Yes. Thank you,” she replied and continued to eat.
The meal passed in a deafening silence. Katie stared at her plate while she ate. Never once did she make eye contact with him. He had seen this reaction before at work. She was ashamed of something. Usually he would press the person he was with for answers, but this was different. He would wait until Katie was ready.
“I made chocolate mousse for dessert. Would you like some?” he asked once both of their plates were clean.
“Not right now. I’m pretty full. Thanks though.” “No problem. Are you ready to talk now?”
Katie nodded. “Let’s sit in the living room, please. It’s more comfortable there.”
“Okay,” he said then followed her out of the kitchen.
Katie sat down on the oversized armchair. They had bought it two months after they moved in together—their second big purchase together. The first was the bed that Brandon now slept in. She snuggled deep into the chair and wrapped a blanket around herself. Brandon sat across from her on the couch.
“Are you cold? I can turn on the heat.”
“No. The blanket is fine.” She wasn’t really cold, but the blanket hid her and made her feel safe.
Katie noticed the expectant look on his face. He was ready for his answers. She took a deep breath then spoke. “I was raped by my boyfriend, Hunter Green, my freshman year of college. I never reported it, never even told anyone until today. Afterwards I did some things that I’m not too proud of.”
Brandon just stared at her.
“After it happened I tried to convince myself it hadn’t happened and forced myself to move on. We broke up a couple of months later. After that I was very wary around men. But my friends noticed my change of character and started asking questions. Instead of telling them the truth I took the coward’s way out and started dating again. I never stayed in a relationship for long. I slept with quite a few men. I convinced myself that if I never said no then I could never be hurt again. I also poured myself into school. A year after it happened I chose to do a dual major and started taking more literature classes. By day I was an overachiever, by night I was a slut. You changed everything for me. You removed me from the dark path of self-destruction I was heading down. I know you probably don’t realize it, but it’s true. I should have told you this, but I was afraid of how you would react. I didn’t want to lose you.” After she finished her speech, Katie waited.
Brandon remained silent. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I need a minute.” He did not wait for Katie to respond before he stood up and walked to his room, shutting the door behind him.
Katie stood up from the chair and went to her room to begin packing. She had seen the look in his eyes. He was disgusted with her. He wouldn’t kick her out—he was too polite for that—but there was no way he would ever respect her again. She had just told him that she had lied to him. Sure, it had been a lie of omission, but it was a lie nonetheless. Once her clothes were packed she put her laptop and chargers into her satchel. She would get a hotel room for the night then get a flight back to New York tomorrow. If the police needed any further information they could contact her by phone. Her presence was no longer needed here.
Katie pulled up the internet on her phone, found a vacant hotel room, and booked it. Once the room was booked she called up a taxi service and arranged for a ride. With those chores done, she went to say goodbye to Brandon.
Brandon left the living room and Katie behind. It probably wasn’t the smartest decision, but he needed a moment. He had no desire for her to see him cry. She had shed enough tears for them both.
Raped. He never would have guessed that about her. She had always been so confident, so strong, so happy. There had been plenty of times he had leaned on her, used her strength. Never once had she complained. He never considered all that he had taken from her. He wondered, had he caused her pain?
He sat on the bed and cried big silent tears. He had only shed tears like this once before in his life, when his father died of cancer two years ago. That thought made him cry even harder. He thought about how Katie had helped him through that nightmare.
She took time off work and sat at the hospital with his father. Many times, especially towards the end, Brandon found himself incapable of visiting his dad for long. It was far too hard for him to see his dad—his hero—hooked up to breathing tubes, feeding tubes, and every other manner of tube that existed. Callum had a hard time with that as well and his mom just seemed disinterested. But Katie stayed, talked to his dad during the day, telling him about his absent sons.
When it was evident the end was near, Katie made sure to drag both he and Callum in. She told both of them to suck it up, swallow the tears, and be by their father’s side; just like she’d been doing for the past few weeks. Her brusqueness had been a shock at the time, but he appreciated what she said and followed her instructions; Callum did the same. When his dad finally took his last breath, Brandon had been so wrapped up in himself and his grief that he never once asked Katie how she felt. She had never complained, never guilt tripped him. She just stayed strong and held everyone up with her. Now that she had told him about her rape he understood where that strength came from. But he also knew that dealing with everyone else’s problems probably took a huge toll on her; not that she would ever admit it.
He carefully wiped his tears and left the room. He knew his face was red, but that couldn’t be helped. Right now his appearance didn’t matter. He needed to speak to Katie.
Katie was standing in the kitchen when he walked out of her room. Her bag was packed and she clutched a thick packet in her hand. When he stepped closer he noticed the University of Missouri letterhead on it. He walked towards her and pulled the packet out of her hand. When he looked down he noticed it was an application for the PhD program at the J-School.
“Why do you have this?” Had she been considering coming back? If so, why was she packed?
“It’s nothing,” she whispered. “A professor gave it to me. I figured it was easier to take than try to argue with him.”
He looked down at the application. She was lying. If she’d only taken it to satisfy a professor then why had she started filling it out? “Katie, it’s partially filled out.”
She shook her head but did not respond.
“Do you want to come back?” God I hope so, he silently added. He needed her here and she needed to be here.
“I don’t want to talk about this,” she sighed. “Katie...” He started.
“I know you’re too polite to ask me to leave, so I made the decision for you,” she stated, interrupting his sentence. “I’ll be staying at a hotel tonight then leaving for New York tomorrow morning. I’m sorry for any pain that I caused you.” Katie turned and walked towards the door before Brandon could say anything.
Brandon quickly followed her. “Katie, wait.”
She did not look back at him. “Brandon, I can’t stay. You don’t want me to stay. I could see it in your eyes. You’re disgusted with me.”
The statement caught him off guard. He was disgusted, but not with her. “Katie, I’m not upset with you. You did nothing wrong. Please, I don’t want you to go.”
Katie was still for a moment. “You sent me away once,” she whispered then turned and looked at him. “I’m saving you the trouble this time.”
“Katie, what are you talking about?” Her statement didn’t make sense. He had never sent her away. He never wanted her to go.
“You told me to go to New York, to take the job with The Times.”
“You wanted that job. You’ve always dreamed of writing for The Times.”
“I have lots of dreams, Brandon. The Times was just one of them. Besides, The Times was only temporary. I always intended on coming back here. I just needed some space. We both needed time. But I never meant for us to break up.”
“Space? You took the job in New York because you needed
space?” He shouted. “I didn’t need space, I needed you!”
“Yeah right. Let’s face it Brandon, after your dad died you weren’t the easiest person to be around,” she shouted back. “But I still stayed. I stayed despite the fact that you continually put me down. I knew that you didn’t mean it, that you were hurting, but you were so wrapped up in yourself. Did you ever once consider that I was hurting too? No, you didn’t. I thought maybe some space would give us both time to heal. Besides, if me being your proverbial whipping post was you expressing need then I want no part of it!”
“So, you left me because I was being difficult? Honestly, Katie. I’m sorry I was grieving but that’s no reason to ditch me!” “Oh, don’t make me the villain, Brandon Adam Hughes!
Sure, maybe I made some mistakes, but you were not faultless. Believe me, I know what it’s like to lose someone close to you. I had to deal with it over a decade before you did. So cut the bull! I understand the stages, but I also understand that you never push away someone who wants to help. A weaker woman would have left you long before I did. And I didn’t even permanently leave you. I made it perfectly clear that I still wanted to be together despite the distance. It’s not like you made any effort to join me. No, you just dropped me off at the airport then dumped me over the phone.” Katie was livid. All the hurt, all the suffering was pouring out of her. “Besides, you never really indicated that we had a future together.”
“We had a future together. I thought you knew. I’m not in the habit of having a long-term relationship with someone and moving in with them if I don’t intend to be with them. I thought you felt the same way too,” he shouted. “Or was I just another fling?”
“You damn well know you weren’t,” she shouted back. “How dare you say that? Honestly Brandon,” she whimpered but did not say anything. Tears started streaming down her face.
Brandon mentally kicked himself. Of all the stupid, cold, prickish things he could have said he had gone and decided to challenge her past. The tears falling down her face hurt him more than any amount of yelling could have. He took a step towards her. “Katie, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
Katie’s heart broke. Memories of the past flooded her mind.
Memories of how much she had hurt for this man. Memories of taking his pain so he could function day to day. “You never asked,” she whispered. “Never once did you ask how I felt; how you could help. Let’s face it, you didn’t care. I was there because you needed someone to prop you up. Did it ever occur to you that I needed someone to hold me up? Did you ever once think about that?”
Brandon took another step towards her. “Katie, I didn’t know. I’m sorry. You were always so strong. It never occurred to me that you needed more—that you needed help. I was blind and I’m sorry.” Brandon wrapped her in his arms. She was stiff but she didn’t pull away.
Katie wanted to melt against him, to sink into him, but she couldn’t. “I want to believe you. You have no idea how much I want to believe you. You pushed me away and broke my heart, but I still loved you. I still love you. But I’m not sure I can trust you,” she whispered.
“How can I earn your trust back? Tell me. Anything you want and I’ll do it. I’ll pack up my things tonight and we’ll go back to New York if that will make you happy. Just don’t push me away. Please.”
Katie was silent. The offer touched her, but she wasn’t sure that they could make it in New York. She knew for a fact he wouldn’t be happy. His life was here. Then again, her life had been here too. Her best friend was still here. The paper she had made her name at was here. Most of her pleasant memories were here. “No,” she whispered. “You wouldn’t be happy in New York.”
“My life is with you. As long as you’re there, I’ll be happy,” he whispered.
“Brandon, I can’t be the one you lean on. I can’t be the one solely responsible for your happiness. I want to be a part of your happiness, but not the only reason for it. You have friends here; family here.”
“Katie, they’re a plane ride away,” he stated. “I’m not giving everything up. I want you. I regretted that phone call the moment I hung up. I didn’t know how to ask your forgiveness.”
Katie was silent. He’d said he wanted her. He didn’t say he loved her. “Wanting is not enough, Brandon. Wanting is physical, primal. It’s not something you build a relationship on. Believe me, I’ve wanted plenty of men in my life. I’ve only loved one.” She pushed away from him. “I need some time to think.” She turned and walked into the guest room.
Brandon sighed as she closed the guest room door. She was staying, for now, which was a small victory. He sat down at the table and looked over Katie’s application. Had she done this on a whim? Or was it something she’d been considering for a while?
Did she think about it before she left? If so, why didn’t she mention it?
He replayed the conversation they’d had over a year ago, right when she returned from New York. Had he missed some cues? She’d always been open with him. Katie was definitely the communicator in the relationship. At the time he’d thought she had one foot out the door the moment she got back from New York.
But maybe he’d missed something.
He shook his head and sighed. She was right, he’d pushed her to take the job. In all honesty, he probably didn’t even listen to anything else she had to say. He knew writing for The Times was her dream. Never once did he consider that maybe she had others.
A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. He quickly walked to the door and opened it. A short, scruffy man was standing there. “Can I help you?”
“I’m here for a Katie Quinn,” he replied in a thick accent that he couldn’t quite place.
“I’m sorry, but she won’t require your services anymore.” Brandon replied then shut the door before the man could respond. He shook his head then turned and headed towards the kitchen to clean up.
Katie plopped down on the bed. Her mind was a jumble, but that was nothing. She could handle a scrambled mind. No, it was her heart that was the problem. Her heart was telling her one thing, her mind the other. She wanted to listen to her heart, but emotions were unreliable. Thoughts, on the other hand, could be trusted. Thoughts were simple, easy to manage. Emotions were not. Still, she needed to figure things out; not for Brandon, but for her. Katie pulled her phone from her pocket and dialed Rebecca’s number. She answered on the second ring.
“Hello?” Rebecca mumbled. She sounded like she’d been sleeping.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I woke you up. Go back to sleep. We can talk later,” Katie said in as even a tone as she could manage.
“Katie, what’s wrong?” She sounded awake now. “You’ve been crying, tell me what happened.”
Katie sighed; Rebecca could always tell what she was feeling. “What hasn’t happened?” she nervously chuckled. “Brandon and I had a fight.”
“I see. Tell me about it.”
Katie spilled her guts, recounting the fight nearly word for word. She did not include the story of her rape. By the time she was done she was bawling like a baby. “I don’t know what to do. My heart wants one thing, my brain tells me to do the opposite. He hurt me once; how do I know he won’t do it again?”
Rebecca thought for a moment. “Katie, I understand your reservations. Let’s think things through together. Take Brandon out of the equation for a moment. What do you want? Are you happy in New York, or do you like it better here? Don’t think about Brandon, think about you.”
Katie was silent. It was hard for her to remove Brandon from her mind. He was a big part of her life here. Still, she forced herself to forget him for a moment, just as Rebecca suggested. “It’s hard because there are certain things I love about both places. I love writing in New York. I’ve met some good people there. But Columbia…well, Columbia feels like home. I just don’t know if I can go back to the way things were. I’ve tasted the big time.
Everyone would think I’m crazy if I just gave it up.”
“Katie, there’s more to life than a career. Granted, you need to be happy professionally, but don’t mistake a career for your life.
I love my job, but it doesn’t make me feel whole. I need more. So don’t stay some place just because you fear what others would think. This is your life. Not your parents’, not your siblings’, not your friends’. I would hate for you to look back in twenty years and regret missing out on life while you chased your career.”
“So, what should I do?”
“I know this is hard to hear, but Katie, this time you need to listen to your heart. Get that genius mind out of your way and feel. Do what you feel is right.”
“That’s easier said than done,” Katie whispered.
“I never said it would be easy, but it’s what you need to do,” Rebecca instructed.
“Okay. Thanks,” Katie replied. “I’ll talk to you later.” “Okay. Goodnight, Katie. I love you.”
Katie felt a tear fall down her cheek. “I love you too.” She hung up the phone then lay down on the bed and allowed herself to feel.
The Killer stood in the middle of Katie Quinn’s posh New York apartment. It was messy—far messier than usual. She knew from past experience that Katie usually kept her place tidy and clean. Between the sleepover she’d just had and her rushed departure two days ago, she could understand its untidiness. It was a shame all of this had to be destroyed. She really enjoyed this apartment; enjoyed the woman that lived in it. Without a second thought, the woman turned on the gas burners, flicked a match, then walked out through the front door.
The Killer made it to the street without incident. She was just turning the corner when she heard the wail of sirens heading towards the now flaming apartment building. A small group of people were gathered outside. She allowed herself a secret smile. There was no way Katie would come back now. Now it was time to enact the final plan. The Killer hailed a taxi. She had a plane to catch.