Chapter 20

Kat woke up to a feeling of warmth and the smell of cookies, chocolate chip. For a moment, she basked in the illusion of sheer comfort; but then all was shattered by the sledge hammer of truth. Her dad was dying.

She sat up and placed a hand over her eyes. Tears threatened to fall once more, but she held them back. What would crying solve? Kat brought her hand back down to her side and steadied her pulse. What she needed to do was go see her dad. She felt as if she was wasting time, somehow. How much time was even left? Hurriedly, she began gathering up things from around her room, her purse, her keys, a bottle of water. She was finger-combing her hair on the way out the door when someone stopped her.

"Where're you going?" It was her mother. She turned, but wasn't too surprised to find her mom snuggled into the papasan chair that was in the corner of her room. In her rush, Kat vaguely recalled seeing her, but had felt no need to stop. Time never waited. And she needed to see her dad before it was too late. She told her mom just that. Mrs. Jones's eyes softened, but as she rose from the seat, Kat felt a binding tension growing in her stomach.

"Honey, I can't let you go just yet. Not in this state." Kat's mom cautiously walked to her daughter's side. "And we need to talk."

Kat immediately took a few steps back. She hadn't been angry beforehand, but in those few wasted seconds, a painful rage had escalated out of nowhere. "God, Mom! So now you wanna talk? Just when I find out that my dad could croak any second?" She hadn't meant for the words to come out. She hadn't meant to sound so harsh. She hadn't meant any of it, but she felt so pressured, and she didn't have much time. Every second she wasn't with her dad was a second wasted… Her mom was keeping her from him, just like she had been for all those months. Sure, Kat had visited her dad, but not like she would have if she had just known. She should have gone to see him every day instead of every week. She should have done so much more for him…but she hadn't, and once time was lost, you could never get it back.

Her mom tried to reach for her hand, but Kat drew back. All at once the room seemed too small. Her mother's hazel eyes were boring into hers painfully. She felt like she would be sick. The green window curtains seemed too bright, and the sun coming through the windows was making her dizzy. Her heart was beating several times too fast… everything was in excess, and she needed to get out before she fainted, before she did something she would later regret. She shot one final glare at her mother before fleeing out the door. She raced down the hallways, ignoring the calls of her mom. She nearly tripped as she stumbled down the stairs, but she kept on going. The walls flashed by her in a blur as she raced down the hallway. She flung open the door to the garage and shot into her car, barely thinking.

She struggled as she tried to fit the key into the ignition. Her hands wouldn't stay still. She cursed with every failed attempt until she heard the car start with a groan. She slammed the car into reverse and shot her foot down onto the accelerator. The car sped backwards and Kat was swamped with relief. But then she heard a crash and felt her body shoot forward with the impact of a collision. Her head banged hard on the steering wheel and she saw stars. It hurt…

Kat stayed immobile, head resting on the steering wheel between her two hands.

I give up, she thought to herself. She refused to muster the will to move. She was utterly effete. What was the point of even trying? And her head really hurt. What was wrong with her, anyways? She was doing just what they had thought she would do. And all at once she understood why they hadn't told her her dad was dying. She really was in too volatile a state. She hadn't even known for a full day and already she'd gone and gotten in an accident. She banged her head against the steering wheel and regretted it immediately afterwards as a knife of pain ruthlessly sliced her head.

It felt as if the world was against her, and she briefly wondered what she had done to make God so angry. But then everything was too much and she blanked out. She was still conscious, but she may as well not have been. The door to the car opened and she felt someone shaking her, heard them calling her name. She just stared at the ground, concentrating on breathing. She was afraid to let her thoughts stray elsewhere. If she could have seen herself, she would have been wholly ashamed. She was acting like a child.

Arms wrapped around her torso and dragged her out of the car. She felt her feet on the ground for a fraction of a second before she was lifted, bridal style, into someone's arms. Her eyes didn't register anything, partially because of her pulsing head, and partially because of her state of mind. If she had been able to see, she would have noticed that she was still in her garage. Everything would have looked the same, the shelves would have still been stocked with miscellaneous doodads, the lawnmower would have still lain dustily in the corner, and the overhead light would have still been glowing minimally. The only difference would have been the destroyed garage door, which she had unknowingly backed into. For in her haste to escape, she had forgotten to let the door up. Had Kat known that that was the "accident" she had gotten into, she would have been tempted to find the situation comical. But as it was, she just needed to rest.

She was taken to the family room and laid onto the soft cushions of the couch. She felt as if the sofa was hugging her, as if the sofa was the only sympathetic thing in the world, and she welcomed its embrace with the will of a soul spent. Moments later, a warm cloth was laid on her forehead. She heard whispered conversations and then she felt the rim of a cool glass touch her lips. She eagerly drank what she found to be water, and slowly, her mind began to defog. Objects began to take form in Kat's vision and she, at last, found herself looking at her mother. There was an unspoken apology on both parts, and then Kat embraced her mother. She felt a surprising relief, and a piece of her slipped back into place.

Later that day, the entire Jones family entered hospital room 504, where rested a dying father and husband. They had all gone to the facility earlier to make sure that the impact of Kat's head on the steering wheel hadn't given her a concussion. She was deemed injury-free, although she suffered a lingering headache. It was no matter to her, though. She felt as if she deserved it. After her examination, they had all proceeded to their father's room where they had a short, but sweet visit. Before they left, Mr. Jones had kissed every one of them and told them that he loved them. They returned the sentiment before they left the room. However, Kat stayed behind a few seconds longer. Her father looked over at her and said, "You look a little different, Kit Kat." He smiled slowly. "So, is it that Josh boy that you're always hinting about?"

Kat blushed and gave her dad a quirky smile.

"Bring him in one day," her father said. "I'd love to meet him."

Kat nodded her head quickly, slightly teary-eyed before she left.

The next day, Kat came back to the hospital with Josh in tow. To say he was nervous was an understatement, but Kat assured him that her father was a nice man. When he gave her a disbelieving look Kat surprised herself in joking, "Well, it's not like he's gonna spring out of his hospital bed and wail you, is it?"

Somehow, Josh didn't believe it, but when he entered the room he immediately felt at ease (that is to say, he felt as comfortable as anyone can when visiting someone whose days are numbered). "Hello, sir," he said, shaking the man's hand.

Kat's dad looked at his daughter with a twinkle in his eyes. He stage whispered, "I like this guy. He's got a nice, firm handshake." Kat laughed honestly and gave Josh a proud once over.

'You're right, Dad," she said, "I think he'll do."

Visiting hours passed by in too short a time, and the duo departed reluctantly.

As she was walking out the door behind Josh, Kat took one last look at her father. He nodded towards Josh and gave a wink of approval. Kat positively beamed and shut the door behind her.

"You know," Josh said, taking Kat's hand as they walked out of the building, "Your dad's good people."

"I know," she said. "Where else would I have gotten it from?" Josh smirked mockingly. Kat scowled, kissed the expression off his face and then walked away with a swish to her hips. Josh bit his lip and rolled his eyes heavenward. Such a tease.

Such visits to the hospital became normal occurrences in the following weeks, and Josh began to know Kat's father as a boyfriend should. It was heartbreaking, however, to see how every visit showed more weakness in the man. Josh felt himself becoming attached, and he could only imagine what Kat was going through.

It was after a particularly difficult visit that Josh took Kat out to dinner at a local café. Just his presence managed to bring Kat into a good mood, and they chatted about nothings until their food came. But as they waited, Kat kept thinking of just how attractive the guy in front of her was. Without even realizing it, she began sending signals his way, signals that he definitely picked up on. Her teeth fiddled with her straw coquettishly as she gazed at him through lowered lashes. She gave him these cute smiles that he swore had underlying meanings, and she kept touching him. Maybe those touches weren't intentional, but he definitely felt the gentle brushes of her skin against his. They burned…but in a very good way. He was sure he was dying and was flooded with relief when his food arrived. Katherine Jones, he thought to himself, that little minx. Oddly enough, that was the first night he told her he loved her…

She'd said it back.

The days continued to progress, and Kat spent much of her time with her best friend and boyfriend. Becca was extremely supportive during Kat's time of need, and accompanied both Kat and Josh on many of their visits. Oftentimes, Kat and Josh would head to dinner after visiting hours, while Becca would head back home. On one of these nights, the sky was darkening by the time Josh was taking Kat home, but instead of pulling into Kat's subdivision, he kept straight. Kat asked where they were going, but he gave her a strange look that said little, but provided many more questions. Minutes later, they pulled into the back parking lot of Creston Falls High.

"You're taking me to school?" Kat questioned incredulously. Josh flashed her a grin that made her insides squirm. "Okay," she squeaked.

Ever a fan of chivalry, Josh got out of his car and walked around to open the door for Kat. He held out a hand and she took it eagerly as he pulled her out. When he bent his head to kiss her hand she rolled her eyes and swatted him away. "Oh don't be silly!" She cried, and then lowered her voice to whisper suggestively against his ear, "It's better this way." Josh felt his pulse travel to his throat as Kat stepped closer to him, pressing her warmth against his. She wrapped her arms around his waist, fitting her hands into the back pockets of his jeans, and leaned up to give him tender kisses around his neck, jaw, and finally his lips. Josh returned the kiss eagerly, cupping her neck to bring her closer to him. She smelled of honey, and Josh bet she tasted of it as well. He was about to deepen the kiss when Kat pulled away. She peered at him, suddenly shy, before stepping away and grabbing his hand.

"So, what are we doing here again?" she asked, her voice a little raspier than its usual tone.

Josh's heart beat harder as he vaguely replied, "You'll see."

They were in the back of the school and the first of the stars were beginning to peep out into the blanket of darkness. The air felt thick and warm, and the smell was sweet. In the background, frogs and crickets chirped their night songs, setting a mood of ease and tranquility. A thick line of trees was seen straight ahead, and to the left was the football field. This was where Josh led Kat. They hopped the fence surrounding the field with ease and walked to the center, where Josh promptly sat. Kat soon followed and peered at her boyfriend curiously. He wrapped an arm around her and lay back in the grass, bringing her down with him. Kat scooted closer and leaned her head against his sturdy chest. She heard his steady heartbeat which, over the course of their relationship, had come to be her favorite sound. Together, they watched the stars appear in the sky, not bothering to figure out any constellations, but just…being. It was peaceful, wonderful, really.

Kat stored the memory in her heart and kissed Josh's cheek in thankful affection.

He turned his head and pecked her lips once, but as he was pulling away, Kat gently rolled over until she was halfway atop his chest. She pressed her lips firmly against his, getting a slightly heady feeling. Whispering her thanks against his mouth, she began to tease his lips with her tongue until she was granted entry to his warmth. Her chest burst with fire as their tongues engaged in a smooth tango. She brought her hands up to rub against his chest and didn't hesitate when she felt Josh's hands creep up her shirt. She wanted this and she felt oddly empowered when she felt a pressure against her thighs. But then, just as suddenly, it all tempered down and their kiss continued slowly, enticingly until it trickled down to an end. When they pulled apart, there was nothing to be said. They shared a deep, enchanting look and then sunk back into silence.

Kat continued to listen to Josh's heartbeat, savoring the moment. For, somehow she knew that when she got home, things just wouldn't be the same. As she looked at the sky, one star seemed to shine a bit brighter than the rest. She, for some reason, thought of her father, and realized that things would really change once he was gone. But that was okay, she thought, because she had so many people in her life to carry her through: a best friend who knew her in and out, a family whom she loved and who loved her in return, and a boyfriend with whom there were endless possibilities. And, of course, she knew her father would always be looking down on her. She smiled to herself and drifted off in thought. Beside her Josh felt as if he was being bathed in serenity, and he was glad that he could share this moment with Kat. They'd come a long way, the two of them, and he was glad that they'd been able to overcome all that they had. The peace around him was like the lullaby of the natural world. He felt heavy, languid, and utterly happy. Without even realizing it, he drifted off to sleep, the girl beside him following soon after.

When they both woke up, Josh was surprised to find that it was morning. The smell of summer was thick in the air, the sun was just waking up, and the sky was pink with its morning flush. It was quiet, serene. Everything was just right, from the early chirpings of the birds and the sweet smell of moisture in the air to the way Kat's hand fit into his. It was perfect. Everything was perfect.

They were sharing a sunrise, their first. The air was sticky, but it felt good. Everything felt good. He was happy, yes. But how long could it last? He didn't know. But he wouldn't dwell on those thoughts. He was with Kat, his Kat, that very Kat that turned his world upside down, and the very one who put it back in its rightful place. Yeah. She was the one. That Kat…

Author's Note: Wow, guys. I didn't even know that the end was coming, so it surprised me when I suddenly was like "Hey, this is it." But wow. I feel so good that I was able to complete this! And I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out. There were of course some (okay SEVERAL) weak spots, but I guess that's what happens with your first to .baby, SouledChampion, youdontknowmyname, and lil-dreamy-eyezfor your reviews last chapter. They were all fantabulous. Thanks also to anyone whose ever takentheir time to review, especially to those who have been here from the beginning. I really wouldn't have continued so far if it weren't for you guys. I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it! Thanks again, guys.