After leaving Brevard Kathy Bennett had so many feelings and emotions racing through her mind. There was still a ache in her throat when she remembered how happy she’d been just twenty four hours ago. She needed time to think about that day, to figure out exactly what had happened. Yes, it was his fault but was there anything she could have done differently.
Was something she had or hadn’t done driven Greg away. Ultimately was it her fault? Did he have needs she hadn’t met that she was she supposed to? And what happened next?
When she had been in college her friend Amy had found out her boyfriend Frank was unfaithful. They’d reconciled and married. When they divorced last year Amy discovered Frank had been cheating on her from Day One. What if Greg convinced Kathy to take him back?
Right now Kathy was hurt, but how would she feel later? He was a doctor— could she do better than that? What if it was mostly Jenny’s fault? Would that make a difference? And what would their families say? Sure they loved her but Frank was a great prospect. And how would — how could— she admit he was cheating on her?
Oh, this was so embarrassing. Maybe she could get The Company to give her an overseas assignment. At least them she wouldn’t have to face her family. Or Greg. He had a practice in the DC area. He went to their church. Who would the church side with? Greg was a valued member of the congregation, he even led a Sunday school class. On the other hand The Company had her out of her town so much it was actually a rarity for her to be in her  Sunday School class. What did the church members think of her? Oh my, so much to think of.
Kathy wanted to retreat back into the cocoon of conscious darkness she had enjoyed on the way up from Charlotte. But she needed to know about John Parker. Knowledge was power and right now that knowledge would be easier to get than later. She took a deep breath and was thankful for the coffee she’d had at the Parker’s house.
Actually she was grateful for the time spent at his house. It had been a good time spent with good people. Even though his mother and sisters didn’t know anything her they welcomed her into their home and conversation. It had been good to be accepted like that. They were people she would enjoy being around.
She had seen had they were happy and content. His father, Walter didn’t mind his wife interrupting his conversation to introduce Kathy. The brothers had been more than to get up and go in the living room so the girls could have the kitchen all to themselves. Calvin had noticed little Reagan needed to be changed. He’d taken the child with him so Natalie could stay and chat. She didn’t even have to ask him.
Yes, of course, Kathy knew the reason the family had welcomed her so warmly. But she was still a stranger. They’d found her sitting in the dark, cold car and brought her into the warm, bright kitchen. They’d given her all their attention during her time there. They’d considered her important. For that short period of time she’d had a connection with them.
They’d only given her a cup of coffee but it had full of more than coffee. It had been full of warmth and love. Kathy had dined at some very nice restaurants but she knew that coffee was the best thing she’d had for a very long time.
Now she needed to get more information from John Parker. She needed more information about his family. She needed to know his temperament, what he valued and what he wanted to do.  She needed to be able to gauge their relationship. For the next day or two Kathy Bennett would depend on John Parker a lot more than she wanted to. But it was her job and she had to do what she had to do.
Now she took a deep breath. They’d gotten off on the wrong foot and she knew it. She’d let emotions from her phone conversation spill over onto this strange man. He’d responded rather well, considering. She still felt compelled to apologize, but didn’t. First off, he had been rude and hadn’t apologized. He was going to leave her in the car alone. And of course men wouldn’t have apologized so she wouldn’t either. Now she looked across at her driver.
“So, you’re from Brevard?”
“Yeah, Mom and Dad moved here after he got out of the Navy. I’ve lived here all my life.”
So his Dad was a Navy man too. Must have been nice not to have to move from base to base. Kathy looked out the window as they crested a hill and entered a wide valley. It would have been nice to grow up here.
“Did you like it here?”
He shrugged. “I’d say so. It wasn’t Asheville or Charlotte but Brevard was big enough to give us everything we wanted.”
“You have a nice family.”
“Thank you. I think so.”
They both smiled. The family reminded her of the her own in Virginia. They were hard working, respectable. A Navy daughter herself, she’d realized Walter was a Navy man when she saw the Navy clock on the wall of the dining room. Pulling herself back to the present Kathy broached a subject she’d hesitated to.
“So you’re the only in your family without a significant other?”
He sighed. “Ah. You noticed.” He grinned in the darkness. In the light of an oncoming car Kathy thought it was a nice smile. “Yeah, everybody else has hooked up.”
“Why not you?” Internally Kathy cringed at her forwardness but his response to the question was critical to their relationship.
He shrugged. “Money, time, fate. I dunno.” The smile was gone now and the edges of the mouth pulled down. “Truth be told I only started seriously thinking about it recently. Before that I was getting a career. Then I was getting established. Now I think I’m as far as I’m going to go. I don’t have the job I’d hoped for but I figure it’s the job I’ll have to make do with.”
He thought for another moment then smiled again. “Wow, that was depressing. So, how about you, any ‘significant other?’”
Kathy let herself start breathing again. That was what she needed to know. His question redirecting the conversation back toward her, had been a quick, polite one. It hadn’t been tinged with embarrassment or awkwardness. Which was important.
She stuck to her cover story as she responded. “Separated.” Only now did Kathy realize how ironic her cover story was. She smiled as it struck her as some sort of giant cosmic joke. The cover story had been designed to keep John Parker from prying into her fictitious love life. It worked. He redirected the conversation to where she had grown up and she fed him her cover story.
But his answer had shown her he was unaware of the dynamics of his own family. The family had literally loved her. As Natalie hustled her in from the darkness the women had surrounded her and the men smiled welcomingly. Kathy hadn’t been that welcome since she’d rendezvoused with a downed Navy flier in Somalia. She’d been offered cake and coffee. She took the coffee, but declined the cake.
The women had cloistered in the kitchen with her and chatted away for half an hour. Kathy had felt a twinge of guilt as she answered their questions. But this was her assignment. To get into Mexico undetected she had to play the role of John Parker’s love interest in front of his family. And he didn’t realize a thing.
To maintain her cover the twenty seven year old hadn’t tipped John off to what was going on . She was still annoyed at his attitude and she still hurt just enough at Greg to let her annoyance at John Parker show itself. What a pickle he’d be in when he showed up at home without his girlfriend.
She’d done nothing to correct his family‘s perception. She’d played the faithful girlfriend to the hilt, without actually saying anything to spoil her cover. Maybe this was her way of spiting Greg, to be seen as dating another man. And maybe, just maybe she John Parker was growing on her. Maybe she liked a guy who would take time from a deadline to come home for the birthday of a woman he cared about. Maybe.