Chapter 25: Meet the Press
"How could he be used to this?" Kat wondered as she sat listening to the constant shouts and flashing of camera bulbs. The heat from the television lights was started to get to her and she shifted nervously in her seat. Howie put his arm protectively around her waist, and whispered, "I’m right here. It’ll be over soon."
She smiled at him, and shook her head. "No, it won’t. It’s only just started."
He sat back, knowing it was true. He had lived with this life, being in the spotlight, for years. But Kat had always avoided the limelight, even when the world knew they were dating. Having her face run across the internet didn’t help, well, except for helping him find her again. Being the person who helped to clear up Nick’s dilemma had put her firmly in a place she didn’t want to be. He looked at Kevin, on the other side of Kat and flashed him a look of concern.
Kevin caught the look, and glanced worriedly at Kat. She’d been through a lot in the last few days, hell in the last hour. He, like Howie, longed to take her away from this, and just talk to her. His friend. The one who had disappeared and he hadn’t had a chance to speak to. He knew that her dialogue with Howie had to come before any with him, and then the one with AJ. That had been an unanticipated conversation, but one he also had to let go ahead of him.
He reached over to her, squeezing his hand, trying to give her strength. Kat nodded, acknowledging the attempt, but still couldn’t look up. She had just done the hardest thing she had ever had to do. She loved AJ and hated hurting him. But he had to understand, that as much as she loved him it was as a friend, not more. They had had a rocky friendship, and that night hadn’t helped any. Gods, it had been good. She never thought he could be so tender, so considerate. There was still a part of her that wanted him. Wanted the way he’d been that night.
But all Howie had to do was look at her and thoughts of every other man on the planet disappeared. She never thought she’d ever love anyone that deeply. It warmed her and terrified her all at once. But she’d never run away from it again. It had hurt too much. She’d be with him for as long as he wanted her, forever if need be. Despite it all she still couldn’t totally believe that he wanted her. She was a nobody, just a woman, and not a great looking one at that. Her nose was still crooked, her chin chubby, her head given to the occasional gray hair. And he said he loved her. He….
"Miss Morgan? What was it that you said to convince the authorities in Canada?"
A direct question to her. Ye gods! She took a deep breath, hoping her voice didn’t crack. "I just told them what I remembered. It confirmed what Nick and the others had told them."
"But there must have been more?" the reporter said, trying to lead her on.
"There was some evidence that I was able to shed some more light on. I am afraid that I can’t say more because the investigation is ongoing. Nick is, however, cleared of all charges and that is what is important."
"Miss Morgan, you were dating one of the Backstreet Boys at the time…"
"Yes," she replied, glancing at Howie who grinned.
"How can we be sure that your testimony wasn’t faked?"
She was starting to get annoyed. "If the Prosecutor’s office in Toronto verified it and judged it true who are you to call me a liar."
"Come on, Miss Morgan. This case has dragged on for months, then you suddenly appear and poof, it all goes away," the journalist insisted.
"As soon as I heard about the charges I came forward. The authorities knew where I had been in that time, and confirmed my testimony."
"This has been world-wide news. Where were you? In a loony bin or something?" chimed in another reporter.
"Let me guess. You’re from the National Enquirer or something?"
The man flushed, and Kat knew she had gotten him.
"Tell me. Mr. Tabloid. How do you know that aliens didn’t abduct me? Maybe I was with Elvis? Maybe I was on an eat nothing but radishes diet and couldn’t move?" Kat leaned in, "I realize that you are looking for some sort of titillating secret tale of woe, but the truth is I was out of the country on an extended study program. When I returned I found out about this incident and came forward. Nick was exonerated. There’s your story. Now go write something real for a change," she finished dismissively.
"Bravo," Kevin said.
"Right on, Kat" Brian concurred.
Nick laughed, and shot her an admiring glance and then turned back to the media circus in front of him. He tried to make light of the situation. "I think that pretty much sums it up. Thank you very much for coming."
"Wait!" AJ said. "I have to agree with the gentleman," he indicated the tabloid reporter. "There is more to this story."
"Oh gods. He wouldn’t!" Kat turned frantically to Howie, who was looking at his friend in shock. AJ had elected to sit as far away from the couple as possible, and had said as little as he could. He couldn’t leave; they needed a united front. But he was not going down without a fight.
"Kat and Howie were dating at the time, and though she’s been away, I think they have something to say," AJ looked down at the nervous couple, eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses.
"What do you mean, Bone?" Howie asked lightly.
"Don’t you two have an announcement to make?" AJ insisted. He was positive that Kat had lied, that she was willing to say anything to keep him at arms length. Sure Howie may have proposed, but the rest, no way.
Howie glanced quickly at Kat, she gave him an apologetic look. "I had to. He wouldn’t listen," she explained quietly.
Howie knew how stubborn the other man could be when he wanted to and nodded. "Yes, actually, AJ. Thank you for reminding me."
All attention had turned to their end of the long table.
"Kat and I are engaged."
"Omigod!" Kevin jumped out of his seat and gave Kat a huge hug. Nick and Brian were not far behind, both shaking Howie’s hand. AJ was the only one left sitting.
The man from the National Enquirer looked at him curiously, sensing there was more to this.
"Howie? You and Kat took a long time to get here from Toronto. Kevin was back two days ago, just before the news broke. What took you so long to get here?" he asked bluntly.
"Weren’t you listening? They were getting engaged," Brian said.
"Your flight didn’t even come in from Toronto. I came in from," he looked at his notes. "Las Vegas."
"We had trouble getting a flight out of Canada," Kat said smoothly, hoping that this would be the end of it.
Kat locked gazes with Kevin, as Howie had with Nick, signaling that they weren’t going to say anything more in public. The two men firmly stated that the press conference is over and hustled the group out of the room.
"Okay, what’s going on?" Brian said, as soon as they were in private.
"AJ, how could you?" Kat said angrily, turning on him.
"I told you. I don’t believe you. I love you and you’ll just say anything to try and keep me away."
Kat looked nervously around the room. "We knew," Brian said silently.
She looked at Howie, then back at the other man. "AJ. You are my friend and I care a great deal about you. You were there when I needed someone."
"Kat…" Howie started, but she put up her hand stopping him.
"I appreciate it, AJ. I do. But, for me, there wasn’t anything more to it than two friends helping each other."
"It was more than that," he insisted.
"No, AJ. It wasn’t." she said firmly.
He stood silent.
"AJ you say you love me, but then you go and betray my confidence in you. Publicly. I’m sorry that doesn’t cut it. I offered you my friendship again and then you do this," she shook her head. "I want to rebuild, AJ. But I love Howie. There is no room for anyone else in my life."
Howie came up behind her and hugged her, kissing her neck. "I guess we better come clean," he said.
He turned to the others. "Kat and I aren’t engaged. We just said that because we wanted to make plans and everything with our family and friends. We got married last night."
"And you didn’t say anything?" Nick squeaked as he flung his arms around the two.
"Didn’t have a chance, Frack," he smiled as the blond man landed on him.
"Mrs. Dorough?" Kevin asked with a huge grin on his face.
"Yes, Mr. Richardson?" Kat smiled.
"Sounds good, hunh?"
Kat looked at Howie, all the love she felt for him shining on her face. "Yeah."
Brian laughed and pointed, "look, she glows!"
"Shut up B-rok or I’ll sic that dog of yours on you. Tyke and I have a special understanding; he’d do it."
"So, Mrs. Dorough? Want to go home?" Howie whispered in her ear.
She turned and gazed into his deep brown eyes, falling in love with him all over again. She reached over and ran her fingertip along his firm jawline, "yes, Mr. Dorough."
She glanced around the room. AJ had left. Brian noticed her look. "He’ll come around. It’s okay. Just give him a little time."
"I hope, B," she sighed. "Whatever else, he’s a good friend. And I don’t want to lose that. Howie doesn’t either."
"We’ll talk to him, we’ll get through," Howie assured her, kissing her cheek.