Considering Kate Page 36

"Sometimes they can't because it's not the best thing, or the right thing just then. And sometimes because they just can't. When your little boy cries and yells and stomps his feet, it makes you mad for a while. But it also hurts your heart."

Jack lifted his face, all big eyes and trembling lips. "I didn't mean to."

"I know. And I bet if you tell him you're sorry, you'll both feel better."

"Did your dad ever yell at you?"

"Yes, he did. And it made me mad or unhappy. But after a while, I usually figured out I deserved it."

"Did I deserve it?"

"Yes, I'm afraid you did. There was this one thing

I always knew, even when I was mad or unhappy. I knew my dad loved me. You know that about your dad, too."

"Yeah." Jack nodded solemnly. "We're a team."

"You're a great team."

Jack turned his apple slices around, making pictures and patterns. She was pretty, he thought. And she was nice. She could play games and read stories. He even liked when she kissed him, and the way she laughed when he pretended not to like it. Dad liked to kiss her, too. He said he did, and he didn't lie. So she could maybe marry his dad—even though Dad said she wasn't going to—and then she could be Dad's wife and Jack's mother. They'd all live together in the big house. And maybe, sometime, they could all go to Disney World.

"What are you thinking about so hard, Handsome Jack?"

"I was wondering if—"

"Oops." She smiled, rising as she heard the doorbell. "Hold that thought, okay? That must be your grandma."

She gave Jack's hair a quick rub and hurried out to answer. With her hand on the knob, she took a quick bracing breath. Silly to be nervous, she told herself. Then opened the door to Mr. and Mrs. O'Connell.

"Hi. It's good to see you." She stepped back in invitation. "Jack's just in the kitchen, having a snack."

"It's good of you to watch him for Brody." Mary

O'Connell stepped inside, tried not to make her quick scan of the entrance too obvious. She'd fussed with her makeup, too—much to her husband's disgust.

"I enjoy spending time with Jack. He's great company. Please come on back. Have some coffee."

"Don't want to put you out," Bob said. He'd been in the house plenty. When you fixed people's toilets, you weren't particularly impressed by their doodads and furniture.

"I've got a fresh pot. Please, come in—unless you're in a hurry."

"We've got to—"

Bob broke off as his wife gave him a subtle elbow nudge. "We'd love a cup of coffee. Thank you."

"Brody's going to be remodeling the kitchen for my mother," Kate began as they walked back. "My parents love the work he's done in the rest of the house."

"He always was good with his hands," Mary commented and gave her husband a quiet look when he folded his lips tight.

"He's certainly transformed the old house I bought. Hey, Jack, look who I've got."

"Hi!" Jack slurped his chocolate milk. "I've been playing with Kate." Like father like son, Bob thought sourly, but his heart lifted as it always did at the sight of Jack's beaming face. "Where'd you get the chocolate cow, partner?"

"Oh, we keep her in the garden shed," Kate said as she got out cups and saucers. "And milk her twice a day."

"Kate's got toys. Her mom has a wholestore of toys. She said how on my birthday we can go there and I can pick one out."

"Isn't that nice?" Mary slid her gaze toward Kate, speculated. "How is your mother, Kate?"

"She's fine, thanks."

Mary approved of the way Kate set out the cups, the cream and sugar. Classy, but not fussy. And the ease with which she handed Jack a dishrag so he could wipe up a bit of spilled milk himself. Good potential mother material, she decided. God knew her little lamb deserved one. As for potential wife material, well, she would see what she would see.

"Everyone's talking about your ballet school," she began, flushing slightly at her husband's soft snort.

"You must be excited."

"I am. I've got several students lined up, and classes begin in just a few weeks. If you know anyone who might be interested, I'd appreciate it if you'd spread the word."

"Shepherdstown's some different from New York City," Bob said as he reached for the sugar.

"It certainly is." Kate's voice was smooth and easy—though she'd heard the snort. "I enjoyed living in New York, working there. Of course it helped considerably that I had family there as well. And I liked the traveling, seeing new places, having the opportunity to dance on the great stages. But this is home, and where I want to be. Do you think ballet is out of place here, Mr. O'Connell?" He shrugged. "Don't know anything about it."

"It happens I do. And I think a good school of dance will do very well here. We're a small town, of course," she added, sipping her coffee. "But we're also a college town. The university brings in a variety of people from a variety of places."

"Can I have a cookie?"

"Please," Jack's grandmother added.

"Can I please have a cookie?"

Kate started to rise, then let out a gasp as she saw Brody through the glass on the back door. With a shake of her head, she walked over to open it. "You gave me such a jolt."

"Sorry." He was a little out of breath, more from excitement than the quick jog around the house. "I tried to call you," he said, nodding in greeting to his parents. "To head you off. You must've been on the road."

"Said we were coming to pick the boy up at three," Bob said. "Got here at three."

"Yeah, well. I had a little change of plans." He looked at his son who sat with his eyes on his plate and his chin nearly on his chest. "Did you have a good time with Kate, Jack?" Jack nodded his head, slowly looked up. His eyes were teary again. "I'm sorry I was bad. I'm sorry I hurt your heart."

Brody crouched down, cupped Jack's face. "I'm sorry I can't take you to Disney World. I'm sorry I yelled at you."

"You're not mad at me anymore?"

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