DISCLAIMER: NCIS and its characters are the property of CBS, no infringement intended.
SEQUEL/SERIES: Fifth in the "Corruption of Caitlin" series, following Jesus in a Pacer, A Little Lipstick, Typing One-Handed and Moon Over....
SPOILERS: Dialogue from My Other Left Foot and Kill Ari.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Goth Who Came To Dinner
Nothing good ever came from answering the doorbell in a pair of boxer shorts.
Kate hurried from the bedroom, tugging the boxers from the uncomfortable place they had decided to bunch as she trotted to the front door. "Just a second," she called, pulling a robe over her tank top and underwear. Her ass was still sore from the tattoo she'd gotten the weekend before, the flesh still highly sensitive. She had it padded and taped and, as she'd gotten out of bed, Abby said it looked like she was wearing a diaper. Or at least half of one.
She opened the door, still chuckling at Abby's joke. Her smile faded from view as soon as she realized who was standing in front of her. "Mom," she said, her voice strained. "Hi. What. Are you... doing here?"
"Moving over to NCIS make you forget how to speak, Caitlin?" her father asked, pushing into the room. Kate looked down, watching in horror as she realized he was carrying an overnight valise. "It's hello, Mother. Hello, Father. What a lovely surprise to see you."
She walked over to her dad, kissing him on the cheek. "Sorry, Daddy. Hello, Mom. Dad. What a... lovely surprise."
'Use the fire escape,' she mentally shouted to Abby. 'Use the fire escape, get the hell out.'
Her mother came inside with a suitcase of her own, closing the door behind her. She reached up, brushing her wavy salt-and-pepper hair out of her face as she glanced casually around the apartment. Kate was glad she kept the place in tip-top shape and there was very little for her to disapprove of... just so long as a certain Goth remained in the bedroom. Her mother smiled and said, "I hope we're not imposing, dear. Our flight to Indiana was delayed overnight, so we decided we would pop in and surprise you."
"Oh," Kate said, trying to keep the desperation from her voice. "I... uh, where did you guys go?"
"Your mother convinced me that Italy was a great destination," her father said, dropping into her armchair and declaring it his own for the time being. He was a tall man, his glasses perched at the end of his nose. When he wanted to, he could make Kate feel as if she were on trial for some crime. He toed off his loafers and Kate felt herself deflate slightly. They were staying for a while. "Turns out, she and the Travel Channel know what they're talking about."
"You liked it, huh?" Kate asked, trying not to look too frantically towards the bedroom. Of all the nights for Abby to sleep over, of all the nights for them to spend together. She brushed her hair out of her face and said, "I want to hear all about it. Really. But... I-I was just about to jump in the shower. And if I'm late to work... my new supervisor is a bit of a taskmaster."
"I understand. The Marine, right?"
"Yeah," Kate nodded.
"Who the hell are you talking to?" Abby asked, walking out of the bedroom.
The sun exploded. Aliens invaded the street outside the window. Mercenaries took a shot at the President eight months ago and she'd taken the bullet. She'd have literally traded for anything to not have to stand in her living room as her parents stared at Abby Sciuto. Abby had, thankfully, put her white granny panties and a black t-shirt. Unfortunately, the t-shirt read "Tramp."
The underwear left Abby's legs exposed, the tattooed snake that trailed from her right knee to her crotch out for the entire world to see. The tattoos on her wrists and shoulders, the spider web on her neck, everything on display for her pious parents to bear witness to. Abby pursed her lips and cut her eyes towards Kate before she said, "Oh. I didn't know you had company."
"Neither did we," Kate's mother said, eyebrow raised.
A number of returns passed through Kate's mind. 'Oh, my God! It's the Goth bandit, who breaks into homes wearing only her underwear!' or 'This is my nudist superintendent... we sure are lucky we caught her on a Clothes Day!' or simply jumping out the window. Instead, she cleared her throat and said, "Mom, Daddy, this is Abby Sciuto."
"We work together," Abby said.
"At... NCIS?" her father asked suspiciously.
"Yeah. I'm the forensics geek they keep in the basement."
Kate read her father's raised eyebrows to say 'looking like that, it's no wonder you're kept in the basement.' Aloud, he said, "And you and Caitlin were just... comparing outfits before heading into work?"
"No, I spent the night here," Abby said.
'Dear God, I've been a good Catholic for most of my life. So... Kill me. Or kill her. Or kill my parents. Someone will have to die for me to leave this room.' Kate was about to speak when Abby continued.
"A bunch of us were having dinner over here last night, celebrating that Kate had closed a case for us. So we were having a great time and I had a little too much wine and was feely tipsy, so Kate let me sleep it off on the couch."
"Oh!" Kate's mother said. "Are you feeling all right now?"
"Yes, ma'am. I don't get hangovers, Kate just didn't feel right letting me drive intoxicated."
"I'd have given her an earful if I'd found out about it," her father said, winking at Kate. "Good girl. I taught you well."
Kate smiled self-consciously and said, "Yeah, well, having your car keys taken away every other weekend kind of ingrains the driving rules in your mind." She blushed slightly and motioned at Abby. "Would you mind helping me get breakfast?"
"Don't go to any trouble for us!" her mother said.
"Nonsense," Abby said. "I'm treating all of you to my special Sciuto Salsa Omelets."
"Daddy can't have anything too spicy," Kate said.
Abby snapped her fingers and said, "Right. We'll find something to substitute for Papa Todd."
"Eugene," he said, rising and extending his hand. "Pleased to meet you, Abigail."
"Abby," she corrected. "The only person who calls me Abigail is Ducky."
Her parents exchanged looks and Kate ushered Abby into the kitchen. Waiting for the swinging door to stay shut, Kate hissed, "This is a nightmare."
"I thought you didn't have nightmares."
"Well, I'm making up for lost time this morning." She pushed past Abby and started getting the materials for breakfast. "God, we're going to be hours late. Gibbs will kill us."
"I'll call Gibbs and explain it," Abby promised. "What's your mom's name?"
"Trudy," Kate muttered, searching her fridge for eggs. She found a carton and opened it, wrinkling her nose at the contents. "How do you tell if these are about to hatch?"
Abby looked at the carton and said, "The eggs chirp while you're cooking them."
Kate groaned and moved to the oven. "This is not funny."
"It's kind of funny," Abby said.
"Not in the slightest." Kate sighed and said, "Thank you. For... you know... the lie."
"I'm not going to force you out of the closet," Abby promised. "I could tell from your expression that you weren't quite ready."
"I was that obvious, huh?"
"My parents were deaf, Kate. I'm fluent in body language. Like right now, you're about as tense as I've ever seen you. Or any other human being."
Kate sighed. She turned around and whispered, "My very devout parents are in the living room when, five minutes ago, I had my legs wrapped around your head!"
"That was fun," Abby smiled, revisiting the scene in her mind.
Kate slapped her shoulder. "This is not funny!" she repeated.
"Come on. How bad could it really be?"
"I don't know. I'm... scared."
Abby rubbed Kate's shoulders and felt the other woman relax under her touch. She bent down and kissed the back of Kate's neck and said, "If you're that worried, I'll stop making jokes. Now, go take a shower. I'll finish breakfast and call Gibbs to tell him you'll be late." She eased Kate to one side and took her position in front of the stove.
Kate blinked at her and said, "Wow."
"What?" Abby asked, cracking a few eggs into a mixing bowl.
"Nothing. It's just, I... never figured you for being so domestic."
"You think I'm domestic?" Abby asked.
"I didn't mean..."
"No, I'm not insulted," Abby assured her. "June Cleaver was such a MILF."
Kate squinted and asked, "Do I really want to know?"
Abby pressed her lips together, debating, then said, "No."
Kate nodded and said, "Right. Shower. Thank you, Abby."
Abby bent at the knee, giving Kate a modest curtsey without using her hands. Kate smiled and returned to the living room. "I'm going to go take a shower. Abby's cooking breakfast... I'll be right back."
"We're not going anywhere," Eugene promised from his armchair.
As she ducked into the bathroom, Kate muttered, "That's what I'm afraid of..."
She showered as quickly as possible, unable to keep her mind from thinking about Abby being in the same room as her parents. What if she pulled out the dog collar? What if she started talking about... God, almost anything! She dried her hair and hurried to her closet, grabbing a suit and squirming her way into it. By the time she stepped back into the living room, Abby was serving breakfast.
"Hi. I'm sorry, I can't really stay. Are you guys sure you don't want me to hang around?"
Trudy smiled. "Caitlin, we've been in D.C. more than enough times to find our way around without you."
Kate kissed her mother on the cheek, giving her father a hug. "Have a good day." She straightened and said, "Come on, Abby... shouldn't you be getting ready?"
"I'm not going in today," Abby said, dropping into the seat that Kate usually occupied.
"What?" Kate asked, the panic starting to rise again.
Abby smiled up at her. "I asked Gibbs for the day off. I don't have anything pending and he said he'd give me a call if there was a case."
"What are you going to be doing?"
"Hanging out with Gene and Trudy."
Kate couldn't find any words strong enough to tell Abby what a horrendous idea this was. She swallowed the brick at the back of her throat and forced a smile. "Okay. Um... I-I'll... if it's slow enough, maybe Gibbs will let me slip out early..."
"We'll have our cell phone with us," Eugene said. "Give us a call if you come looking for us. Abby has all kinds of interesting places to take us."
Kate bit her lip. Abby was still beaming across the table.
"Well. Okay. I'll... leave you guys to it. Have a good day."
"We will!" Abby promised. "Bye, Kate!"
Kate glared at Abby, a patently 'I will make you pay for this' look, and eased towards the door. "I'll see you guys in a few hours."
"Go!" her mother said, laughing and waving Kate towards the door.
Kate reluctantly took her purse and coat, finally leaving the apartment.
The elevator chimed and Tony looked up, craning his neck to see who was arriving. When he spotted Kate, he rose from his chair and walked towards her desk. She said nothing as she passed him, dumping her purse on the floor and shrugging out of her coat. "What are the odds that Gibbs will let me beg off today?" she asked.
Tony said, "Good morning, Tony. How was your night? Oh, it was great. Hey, Kate?"
She glared at him.
"How come Abby is calling in late for you?"
Remembering Abby's own cover story, she said, "We had dinner together. She had a little too much to drink and decided to sleep on my couch rather than drive home."
Tony smirked. "Abby doesn't overdo it with drinking. Really... why was Abby at your place this morning?"
"Safety and consideration isn't a good enough excuse, DiNozzo?"
Tony's entire body went rigid at the sound of the voice directly behind him. "Morning, boss." Jethro Gibbs stepped out of Tony's shadow, placing a cup of coffee on Kate's desk. Tony saw it and said, "Oh, wow, boss. Did you get me anything?"
"No," Gibbs said simply.
Kate took her coffee and smirked at him, taking a slow sip before turning her chair to face Gibbs' desk. "Gibbs, I was wondering..."
"Your parents are in town and you want to take a sick day."
Kate glanced at Tony, uncertain whether Gibbs' guess was a good thing or bad. "Um... yes..."
"Your parents are in town," Gibbs repeated, looking up at her. "I'm surprised you're here now." He looked back down at the file in his hands. "Finish up any reports you've got going and then get the hell out of here. Say hello to your mother for me."
Kate smiled. "Thank you, Gibbs."
"Hey, boss, I was just wondering if I--"
Gibbs slowly raised his eyes to Tony's.
Tony cleared his throat, cowed by the look in Gibbs' eye. "I-if I could get you something for lunch, since it's just going to be you and me for most of the day today. Because," he chuckled nervously, "I'm not going anywhere."
"No, you're not," Gibbs confirmed.
Kate grinned as Tony went back to his desk, dropping into his seat. The question of why Abby was at Kate's apartment so early had apparently been dropped, so Kate called up the report on their latest case and began working to finish it before lunch.
Kate shut off her computer, thanked Gibbs again for letting her off the hook and hurried to the elevator. She dialed her mother's cell phone, checking her watch as she listened to the ring tone. A gruff voice answered. "If you want to see your parents alive again, follow my instructions to the letter."
"What?" Kate said, her voice echoing off the elevator walls.
"Geez, Kate, relax," Abby said.
Kate sighed. "Where are you guys?"
"National Air and Space Museum. Gibbs let you off the hook early?"
"Yeah. You guys want to meet up for lunch somewhere?"
"Bartleby's is close," Abby said.
Kate nodded and stepped out of the elevator. "Bartleby's sounds good. I'll be there in... 45 minutes."
Returning to the gruff voice, Abby said, "45 minutes it is. And not a moment later... unless you want to get your parents back one... piece... at a time."
The phone clicked off and Kate glared at the "Call Ended" display. "I left my parents with that woman. On purpose." She shook her head and hurried to her car.
Kate headed into the restaurant, scanning the tables for her parents. They were in the back of the restaurant, sitting with their backs to the door. Abby was facing front and spotted Kate immediately, raising her hand and waving. Kate made her way over, tugging out of her coat and draping it over the back of the booth. She dropped next to Abby... and winced in pain as the bandage pressed against her tattoo. "Ah," she hissed, instinctively moving a hand to her hip.
"Are you okay?" Eugene asked. "What's wrong?"
"I... my hip. I fell on a crime scene a few days ago and it's still a little sore."
"Oh," Trudy said, patting Kate's wrist. "We'll have to get that checked out!"
Kate smiled. "I'll be fine, I promise." She covered her mother's hand with her own and looked at Abby. She was relieved to see Abby had decided to wear her hair down, covering the spider web tattoo on her neck. There was nothing to be done for the tats her parents had already spotted, but the less they knew the better. She had also forgone the studded dog collar that was a regular part of her ensemble. "So. Uh, has Abby been showing you a good time?"
"Fantastic," Eugene said. "Quite a little docent you have here!"
"Oh, yes," Trudy agreed. "We've been to the Air and Space Museum before, but Abby showed us a whole new side to it."
Kate looked at Abby. "You didn't break into any exhibits, did you?"
Abby scoffed. "She doesn't trust me."
"Your friend is very knowledgeable about history," Eugene said. "You should have a look around the museum with her sometime."
"Yeah, Kate," Abby said, smiling brightly. "I would love for you to take me out sometime."
Kate tried to hide her crimson cheeks by burying her face in the menu. "The meat loaf here is really good, Daddy."
"Is it," Eugene said, his attention diverted to the menu. He was a meat load connoisseur, often bragging that he'd found the best product from all fifty states. He was always challenging the title for each state, so he was constantly searching for places that served meat loaf when on vacation.
"Any great meat loaf in Italy?" Kate asked.
He made a face and said, "Hardly."
Trudy laughed. "Listen to him! From the sound of his whining, you'd never know he finished off three courses at every meal, including dessert most nights."
Eugene smirked and shrugged. "Well, you know... beggars can't be choosers." He sniffed and looked back at the menu. "Speaking of which, do they have any tiramisu here?"
"Seriously," Trudy said. "He fell head over heels for mortadella."
"Ooh," Eugene said. "Do you think someone could make a mortadella meat loaf?"
"It'd be the best in all of Italy," Abby proclaimed.
Eugene laughed and started scanning for the waitress. Kate closed her menu and said, "Mom, could you order the pork chops for me? I have to run to the bathroom."
As she slid out of the booth, Abby said, "I'll go, too. Fill her in on all the great stuff we've been doing today."
They got to the back of the restaurant, behind the partition to the bathrooms, before Kate said, "Tell me everything."
"About what? I thought we were going to the bathroom."
"No, that was just to get away from the table."
"Well, I have to go!"
Kate rolled her eyes and went into the bathroom with Abby. She leaned against the sink as Abby disappeared into one of the stalls. "Your parents are very cool," Abby said through the door. "Your mom kept asking me about my tats. I think she wants to get one herself."
"Oh... my God, Abby, don't even joke about my mother getting a tattoo."
Abby chuckled in the stall. "I don't think you give them enough credit. They're very cool to be around."
"I got my fill the first eighteen years of my life," Kate sighed. "They're great, I love them, but... sometimes..."
Abby flushed and came out of the stall. "Sometimes?"
"I get exhausted around them. Being the good little Catholic girl, being... Caitlin. I feel like I put on an act whenever they're around. And being around them now, I can't help but wonder what they would think if they... knew what I was doing lately. The tattoo, what we did online... riding a bus wearing a pair of panties and an overcoat."
"You think they would stop loving you because you're exploring your sexuality?"
"You don't know my parents."
"I know them a little," Abby said. "I did spend the whole morning with them, Kate." She washed her hands at the sink, running her fingertips through her hair before turning to look at her lover. "Maybe they're not the ones you're putting on the act for. Maybe you're so scared to finally discover who you really are that you're using them as an excuse."
"My mother would die if she knew you and I were..."
"Don't sell them short!"
"You're the one wearing your hair down," Kate pointed out. "Conveniently covering that spider web on your neck."
Abby shrugged and looked in the mirror, brushing her hair aside to look at the artwork. She let her hair fall back into place and said, "All I'm saying is that you don't have to choose. You don't have to be all these different people. Caitlin, Kate, Mistress Todd..."
Kate blushed deep red.
Abby smiled. "They're all a part of you. We just have to find the balance."
Kate rested her forehead against Abby's, reaching up and clasping her hand around the other woman's wrist. "You really think they'd understand?"
"I do," Abby nodded. "But I won't force you to tell them. Do it in your own time, when you feel ready."
They stepped apart and headed for the door just as it swung open, admitting Trudy. "Oh, hello, girls," she said.
Kate hesitated, then walked past her mother and out of the bathroom. When Abby joined her, she asked, "How much do you think she overheard?"
"What do you mean?"
"My mother has this habit of... hesitating, I guess would be the word. She walks past whatever room I happen to be in and pauses to eavesdrop on what I'm saying."
"Oh," Abby said, looking at the bathroom door. "So she could have been standing out here while we were talking about..."
Kate whined and stepped forward, pressing her head against Abby's shirt. "I want to die."
Abby petted Kate's head and said, "Now, now. Let's get back to the table before your Dad gets lonely."
Kate sighed and stepped back, then quickly pecked Abby's lips. "I've been wanting to do that all day. I haven't had a chance before now."
Abby smiled and they headed back to the table. Eugene was looking at the placemat, which detailed a history of Bartleby's Family Dining Restaurants. He looked up when they returned, smiling and taking a sip of his water. "So, Caitlin," he said. "Judging by Abby, I think we can assume NCIS is a little different than the Secret Service."
Kate laughed. "Just a touch, yes."
"Well," he said, indicating with a wave of his hand that she should continue.
She glanced at Abby, unsure of where exactly to begin. She cleared her throat and said, "Okay. Well, you have to start off with Gibbs..."
After lunch, during which Eugene declared Bartleby's meat loaf to be the District's Number 3 meat loaf, they headed out to the Union Station shopping mall. Trudy gaped and cooed over the arches and vaulted ceilings as she did every time she visited the building. Eugene separated from them at a dog-centric store charmingly called GuGuGaGa. Kate explained to Abby that their golden retriever got more Christmas presents than the kids at the Todd household. He promised to catch up with them later and the three women headed for Appalachian Spring, a beautiful shop filled with hand-crafted jewelry, bowls and wind chimes, among other things.
Trudy absconded with Abby, headed down one aisle where she saw a set of wind chimes. Kate hung back, going down a separate aisle and watched her mother and her lover. Trudy seemed to really enjoy Abby's company, holding up prizes for her new acquaintance's perusal.
She felt a bit sad, watching her mother interact with Abby. She had spent her whole life hiding a part of herself, of who she was, from her mother. Could Abby be right? Was the problem all in her head? She came around the aisle and joined her two favorite women, resting a hand on the small of Abby's back. "Wind chimes, Mom?" she asked.
"I think they would add something to the back deck, don't you?"
"Yeah. Noise," Kate smiled.
Trudy laughed and put them back. "Well, maybe a bird feeder then."
"Birds rule," Abby said, following Trudy down the aisle. "We used to have this bird house that was shaped like a little log cabin. The thing was awesome, but squirrels kept getting inside. They're the vandals of the animal kingdom."
Kate smiled and Trudy laughed out loud. "Oh, Abby, you're too much!"
"I think she's just enough," Kate said, brushing away a strand of hair that had been caught on Abby's eyelash.
Abby grinned and said, "Okay, seriously, Trudy. You guys have to come down here, like, once a week and build my ego up again."
Trudy laughed and picked up an ornate bird house, looking it over from all angles before sitting it back down. As she wandered around the corner, Kate turned to Abby and said, "Stay for dinner."
"I... there's no reason for you to stay in the context of the lie. But... I'd really like to spend the rest of the day with you. And my parents."
"I'd really like that, too," Abby said.
Kate smiled and they went in search of Trudy.
When they reunited with Eugene, he proudly displayed his purchases from GuGuGaGa. He'd gotten their dog a leash, a new food dish with a reservoir for gravy-based dishes and... a studded dog collar. Abby and Kate exchanged amused glances, refusing to reveal what was so funny about the dog's new accessory. Abby, rather than making Kate ask, brought up the subject of staying around until dinner. Trudy, of course, gleefully accepted and Eugene was right behind. Kate said, "Wow, Abs, I think they like you more than they like me."
"Oh, come on now," Eugene said, wrapping an arm around his daughter's waist. "We like you both just fine! Put you two together and you have the perfect daughter."
"Really," Abby smirked.
Kate widened her eyes, indicating with a toss of her head that Abby should shush. Eugene laughed and squeezed his daughter's shoulder, guiding her towards the exit. "All right, kiddos. We have a few hours still before we can even think about dinner." He patted his stomach, still full from their lunch. "I don't think I've ever eaten so well on any layover in my life."
"I've gained a good five pounds on this trip!" Trudy bemoaned.
"Half of that is in those bags you have there," Eugene said, finally noticing the Appalachian Spring bags his wife was heaving. "You left something for the other customers, I hope?"
Kate put an arm around her father's waist and smiled, glancing over at Abby. For all the panic and horror that their arrival had started, Kate was really beginning to enjoy the day with her parents. Satisfied that everything was going well, she finally let her guard down and decided she was going to enjoy the afternoon.
"So, Kevin is screaming bloody murder about his bike while Caitlin and Caleb are up in the tree house rolling with laughter."
Abby smirked over Trudy's shoulder, her smile widening when she spotted the mortified look on Kate's face. "It really wasn't that bad...," Kate tried to defend herself.
"Oh, it was that bad. I swear, those two were little troublemakers from day one, ever since they decided they didn't want to wait an extra week to be born."
"I still can't get over that you're a twin!" Abby said. "There's, like, a male you running around out there!"
Eugene nudged Abby and said, "And he's single!"
Kate turned around, allegedly to unlock her apartment door and in truth to hide her expression. "Oh, really? The tats don't bother you, Daddy?"
He shrugged. "Well, normally we'd be horrified if Caleb brought home a girl with so much... artwork. But Abby has definitely passed the hip test."
"Oh, Dad," Kate groaned. "Don't say hip unless you've broken it."
Eugene laughed, stepping past Kate into the apartment. "Oh, Caitlin, I have to say... your friend has really made this visit a treat."
"Gee, thanks, Dad," Kate said jokingly.
"No, no, don't get me wrong. We love seeing you. But Abby!"
Abby curtsied and said, "The pleasure was mine, Mr. Todd."
As Eugene took a seat in his armchair, Trudy said, "Ah, Caitlin..."
"Down the hall, last door on the right."
Trudy smiled and headed down the dark hallway. Kate and Abby headed into the kitchen. Turning on the light over the sink, Abby said, "Left."
Kate turned around. "Hm?"
"Last door on the left. You said right."
Kate thought, sure that she'd said left. "Oh, well... Mom's pretty bright. She'll figure it out."
Trudy turned on the light, seeing Kate's master bedroom. She was about to duck back out when she spotted the bathroom door on the other side of the room. "Oh," she muttered, figuring that was the only bathroom in the apartment. She rounded the bed, humming a song she'd heard in Kate's car, when she spotted something laying on the floor in front of the night stand.
'That's odd,' she thought, remembering how tidy the rest of the house was. She knelt down, plucking up the object and turning it over in her hands. She had seen something just like this, very recently in fact. It looked a lot like the dog collar Eugene had just bought for Gipper.
She held the ends closed, frowning at the object's presence here, of all places. And it was large! Too big for a dog, but almost big enough for...
Kate handed her father a beer, looking up as her mother returned from the bathroom. "Hey, Mom. Did I tell you left or right?"
"You said right. But I found it well enough."
Kate frowned. "You okay, Mom?"
"Mm-hmm," Trudy said, taking a seat.
Kate, unconvinced, sat next to her on the couch. Abby returned from the kitchen with a bowl of chips and salsa. "Okay, DVDs! Let's see what's in Kate's collection." As Abby went through the stack, dividing the movies into 'Possible,' 'No Way' and 'Get Help' sections, Kate kept stealing glances at her mother. She seemed distracted, miles away. "Seriously, Kate," Abby said, drawing both female Todds back into the room. "You need to go to the video store with Tony sometime. He knows everything about every movie ever."
"Tony," Trudy said. "That's the Italian fellow you told me about..."
"Yeah," Eugene said. "DiNozzo." He gave the name an Italian accent.
Trudy rolled her eyes. "He spends one week in Florence and he thinks he's Casanova."
Kate laughed, seeing that her mother's demeanor had eased back into place. Putting aside the peculiar sensation that something was troubling the older Todd, Kate picked up a handful of DVDs and shooed Abby away from her collection. "Shoo. I'll find something good."
Dusk came and Kate headed into the kitchen before the movie was over, getting dinner ready. She turned on the light over the stove, searching her fridge for food for the second time in a day. She found a few family-sized microwavable dinners and hoped her mother's palate wasn't too offended by such sub-par cooking. When she put the boxes on the cupboard, she caught movement from the corner of her eye and realized she wasn't alone in the kitchen.
"Mom," she said. "Don't you want to finish the movie?"
"I've seen it before," Trudy promised her, picking up one of the TV dinners and looking at the box.
Kate smiled apologetically. "Yeah, um... I don't really have people over all that much..."
"That's fine," Trudy said, smiling. "After breakfast and that huge lunch, I doubt we have much room for dinner anyway."
Kate nodded and opened the box, moving over to the microwave.
"So. Your friend, Abby..."
"She's something, isn't she?"
"She's brilliant," Kate said.
Trudy smiled. "She'd have to be if a government agency hired her, looking like that. All those tattoos!"
"Yeah," Kate chuckled.
Trudy walked across the dark kitchen, laying a hand on Kate's shoulder. "Dear?" Kate turned. "You can tell your father and me anything. You know that, right?"
Kate frowned. "Yeah, Mom."
"We love you. No matter what."
Kate glanced towards the living room. "Mom, why are you and Daddy really here? Is something wrong?"
"No, Caitlin," Trudy said, cupping Kate's cheek in her hand. "It really was just a trip to Italy, the whole overnight layover. I promise. But I wanted to let you know that you can tell us anything and we won't judge you."
Kate looked down at her mother's hand, looking towards the living room. Abby and her father, sitting on the couch and watching a movie together. "Anything?" Kate said.
Trudy rose up and kissed Kate's forehead. "Get this dinner ready, Caitlin. I'm started to get a little hungry." She turned and walked from the room, sitting on the couch next to Abby again. "What did I miss?" she asked, showing no signs of her conversation with Kate.
Kate brushed her cheek and slipped the box into the microwave, blinking her eyes so they would focus enough to read the heating instructions.
The movie over, dinner served and gone, Kate and Abby suddenly realized it was time to say good-night. Abby stretched, sliding off the couch and said, "I had a ball, Mr. Todd, Mrs. Todd."
"Thank you for a most entertaining layover, Abigail," Eugene said, shaking Abby's hand.
"What did I tell you, Gene?"
"Abby, right," he said, eyes sparkling behind his glasses.
Abby hugged Trudy and took her jacket, turning to face Kate. Her green eyes were wide, letting Kate know the ball was in her court. "I'll walk you down to the garage, Abs." They left the apartment, Kate deciding to take her jacket along at the last second.
Trudy took a seat on the couch, taking a chip and dipping it into the salsa. Casually, she asked her husband, "Did you notice how Caitlin and Abby look at each other?"
Eugene kept his eyes on the screen. "Mm-hmm," he muttered. "Just like that other girl... what was her name?"
"Yeah, back in high school." He took a chip and asked, "Do you think she's going to tell this one how she feels?"
Trudy rolled her eyes and scoffed. "I don't know. I hope she finds someone soon... you will not believe what I found on the floor of her bedroom!"
"Your parents are so cool," Abby said, seemingly about to burst with pride. "I'm so glad we didn't get called in." She realized what she had just said and amended, "Well... I'm always glad when I don't have to work... because it usually means no one died. I'm never happy when someone dies..."
Kate laughed and held up a hand to stop her. "Thank you."
"For not being too out there. For playing it cool with my parents."
Abby arched an eyebrow, watching the numbers count down. After a minute, she said, "I really didn't."
"I mean, I wore my hair down, yeah. But my tattoo probably still peeked out." She rocked her head back and forth, demonstrating the way her hair moved. Sure enough, the spider web was visible a few times. "And I didn't change anything about myself when they were around." The elevator doors opened and Abby stepped out, leaning against the lip so they wouldn't close before she was ready. "I think your parents could handle a lot more than you give them credit for."
Kate sighed. "Maybe I'm the one who's not ready to admit it."
Abby pressed her lips together, tacitly agreeing. Kate stepped forward and hooked her hands in the lapels of Abby's coat. "Okay. A parking garage is semi-public."
"There could be people around at any moment."
Kate leaned in, straightening her back slightly to meet Abby's lips. They kissed slowly, a good-night kiss that wouldn't lead anywhere in particular, and then separated. "What an exhibitionist," Abby sighed.
"The things you're doing to me, Abby Sciuto."
"Good night, Caitlin."
"Good night, Abigail."
Kate eased the remote control from her father's hand, kissing his forehead as she silenced the TV. She pulled the quilt off the back of the couch, draping it over her mother's body. The living room plunged into darkness when she turned off the overhead light, walking heavy-footed to the bedroom. She undressed in the dark, crawling under the blankets and sighing at Abby's absence.
She rolled over, finding the studded dog collar Abby had neglected to wear that morning. She clung to the leather strap, running the pad of her thumb over the metal studs that ran along its length. She brought it to her nose and inhaled, smelling leather and Abby's perfume and the scent of her shampoo.
Wrapping the collar around her knuckles, she slid it under the pillow and pressed her face into the pillow.
Kate woke the next morning to find her apartment empty. A note on the fridge, in her mother's precise handwriting, said that the flight was leaving at 5:43 and, rather than wake her, they had gone on to the airport. Kate put the note away and called Abby, getting a busy signal. She sat in her living room in her underwear, oppressed by the solitude, and sleepwalked to the bathroom to take her shower. She'd never felt so alone in her life.
Three Weeks Later,
Trudy walked down the driveway, tugging the sleeves of her sweater down to protect her hands as she opened the icy mailbox. A few bills, a Christmas card from a relative. She paused when she saw a card from Caitlin in the stack. Usually, Kate came up for Christmas and just brought a card with her. Odd how she would change routine like that... unless she wasn't coming up for some reason. Despite the cold, Trudy opened the envelope and slipped the contents out into her hand.
It was a homemade card, with a Kodak picture in lieu of a painting or stock photo. It showed Caitlin with Abby, their cheeks pressed together so they would both fit in the frame. Abby was wearing a dog collar, much like the one she had seen in Caitlin's room during that layover. Their hands were resting on top of one another, both of them holding up the birdhouse they had bought at Appalachian Spring.
Trudy opened the card. Kate had written five words in perfect handwriting, tall letters that hinted at her talent as an artist. "I Really Care For Her."
"Well," Trudy exhaled, her breath rising from her mouth in a puff of smoke. "It's about time, Caitlin." She gathered the rest of the mail and headed up the driveway to show Eugene their daughter's card.
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