Kate honestly wasn't sure why she was so freaked out.
Really. Ben Grogan was not scary. He was an idiot—the most idiotic kind of idiot, although, truthfully, not necessarily in a bad way—but he definitely wasn't scary.
Or so she would have said less than twelve hours ago, anyway.
Kate glanced at her clock and sighed. Even with working late and waiting for what seemed like an eternity to talk to an actual person to give her tech support for her record converter, it was only just after 10 p.m. Lauren was far from being a night owl, but she hardly ever went to bed before eleven, and the last thing Kate wanted was to have to explain to her stepmother why she'd felt the need to stay at the office so late to do something that, quite frankly, could've waited till morning. At least here she could ignore Lauren's calls and use them to judge when the best time would be for her to go home.
Kate's phone lit up, filling the room with the strains of the Batman theme Ben had jokingly assigned as her ringtone for him. Kate groaned loudly, dropping her head into her hands and barely resisting the urge to throw the phone across the room. All she wanted was for her life to be simple and uncomplicated. Was that so much to ask?
All of a sudden there was a loud thud, and Kate jumped up, startled out her self-pity. It only took her a moment to figure out the source of the sound—her phone, still buzzing and playing Ben's ringtone, had vibrated itself right up to the edge of her desk and fallen over the side. Kate scowled. She was going to kill Ben. Or at the very least, key his car.
It's just dinner, Katie.
In retrospect, it was the 'Katie' that did her in. Until she'd read that, Kate had been planning on staying at Justin's until he kicked her out, then going to the restaurant and just…seeing how things went.
But Katie. God. The only person in the world who ever called her that was her dad, partly because he was the only person from whom she would actually accept the nickname. (Lauren had tried it once, back when she was still trying to get Kate to like her, but she had backtracked very quickly when she'd seen the look on Kate's face.) Since his death, not a single person in her life ever even hinted at the fact that she had ever been called anything but Kate by anyone, and she liked it that way. What right did Ben think he had?
Slowly, careful not to move the bed too much so as not to wake up Justin, Kate pushed herself up out of bed and started putting her clothes back on. She almost thought she had made it when she heard Justin's voice, still rough from sleep. "Stay." He touched her arm lightly as he spoke, but she pulled away automatically.
"I can't," she said, as softly as she could manage. I think I've sabotaged myself enough for one day. "I have to change for work tomorrow." She located her jacket and pulled it on, drawing it closely around her, like armor. As if she could use it to block out Justin's image and thereby forget that she had done something so stupid. And for what, really? She was so afraid of falling, of really falling, that she wouldn't even go to the edge to see what might happen if she let herself go.
As she left, Kate heard Justin say, quietly, "Don't ever change."
She didn't have the energy to tell him how much she wished she could change, so she could at least give Ben a chance.
Lying in bed restlessly, Ben turned from his side to his back in order to be able to stare at the ceiling and sighed loudly. Jesus Christ. What the fuck had he been thinking?
You were thinking you'd give anything for a chance to kiss Kate, reminded the little voice in the back of his head that sounded disturbingly like Leo. You just weren't thinking of what would happen after you did.
Ben rolled his eyes. Insane. He was absolutely fucking insane, because no sane person would ever try to get Kate Reed to take a chance on a guy like him. But God help him, he was in love with her. He had to try.
As he lay there watching his ceiling, Ben remembered something his mother had told him when he was about thirteen. "I'm not going to tell you opposites don't attract, Benny," she'd said, "because they do, your father and I are proof of that, but it makes for one hell of a difficult marriage. You mark my words." And she was right. She and Ben's father loved each other madly, but they drove each other up the wall on a near daily basis.
The problem was, Ben wasn't like his parents. He was 99.9% certain that if he married a girl who was more like him than not he would end up in a well-negotiated but unsatisfying open relationship which, more likely than not, would involve him raising kids who shared none of his DNA. That was the whole reason he had left his fiancé at the altar; he forgave her, he really, truly did, but he didn't want any of that. He wanted Kate, despite the fact that he hadn't even known her at the time. He wanted naïveté, cuteness, sweetness…innocence. Someone who genuinely believed in the good of humanity, who could counter his cynicism without getting caught up in it.
So yes, maybe he was crazy. And maybe he was a fool, but if Kate really had been with Justin tonight…well, maybe it wasn't Kate he wanted. Maybe it was just someone like Kate.
Maybe, just maybe, quitting was the right option this time.