Living with Katrina Ch. 10byLaRascasse©
Here is chapter 10, starting off right where 9 ended. This chapter is the most important of the series, in my opinion. Try as I might, I couldn't find a place to squeeze in sex into this chapter. If it's any consolation, I do believe the next couple of chapters will have lots and lots of the good stuff ;)
I'm also writing a separate story involving Katrina (Madness in the Method).
As always, I am indebted to my editor NaokoSmith who has the unenviable task of going through my horrendous rough drafts and getting them into some sort of order.
"I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night."
- The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
The staff at Johns Hopkins was unusually busy. The world's best hospital had its fair share of difficult cases from around the globe. This particular case was from Baltimore itself, but carried as much weight as a foreign head of state. Her sole dependant paced the corridors outside the ward, surrounded by a melee of subordinates and lackeys.
A doctor came out and waited outside the door. The entire mob lurched in his direction.
"I need to speak to Ms Gallagher."
The bodies parted, revealing the slender frame of the woman dressed in pure white emerging from the throng. Everybody else took several steps back.
"Ms Gallagher, I am afraid your aunt isn't going to be with us much longer," said the doctor in a sombre tone.
A hush fell over the whole entourage. Brittany stiffened, her mind slowly taking in the words. If she had known how to show emotion, this would have been the time for her to break down.
But she had long forgotten what feeling felt like.
"She would like to have a word with you privately."
Slowly, in a trance-like state, Brittany entered the sliding doors. The white glare of the fluorescent lights hurt her eyes. Everything she touched was metallic and so cold. The only warmth in the room came from the frail, wrinkled form on the bed.
Claire Fitzgerald was stronger than most. She was strong enough to survive an abusive marriage, a tragic miscarriage and even raise her deceased sister's children on her own.
But even the strongest are no match for breast cancer.
She had put up a good fight, enduring a double mastectomy, but her body just gave in when the cancerous growths returned for the third time.
Her niece moved Heaven and Earth, pulling every string she could to find a cure. Unfortunately, all of her 27 billion dollars could not convince the rapidly metastasising carcinoma to stop. It spread to the surrounding tissue, defying the bouts of chemotherapy, radiation and even the more experimental treatments. Finally, Claire Fitzgerald just wanted to die in peace.
She would soon get her wish.
Brittany tentatively approached the bed, a strange feeling of heaviness within her. She saw her aunt smile at her as she came closer.
"Sit here, Brittany," her aunt said in a hoarse voice.
Brittany walked over to the chair near the bed and sat down. She held her aunt's arm in her palm. This was the last human connection she had.
"Are you in pain?" she asked her aunt, her face betraying nothing.
"Excruciating," was the weak reply from the bed.
"It's going to be okay," said Brittany placidly. "I will see to it they make it painless."
Anyone else would have gone into hysterical tears assuring the patient she would be okay. Brittany was more evolved, eschewing emotional wallowing for logic and rationale. Logic made it painfully clear to her that her dear aunt's remaining lifespan could be counted in hours.
She hovered around the bedside, looking at the woman who was too weak now to wipe her own chin. Empathy would have made her reach for a tissue to wipe the spit away, but logic told her it would only happen again. There was nothing she could do now. All her money and power counted for nothing in this situation.
"I'm not scared of dying," Claire said in a barely comprehensible tone, "but I'm terrified for you."
Claire had a hard time drawing breath. She gasped and wheezed, letting several words slip in puffs of air. Her body struggled against the effort she was expending with her last words.
"Yes, Brittany. I'm scared for what will happen to you," she managed to say semi-coherently.
"Why?" asked the formidable billionaire, puzzled and shaken in equal measure.
"Look around you, Brittany. See how many people are here when I die? Only one," sighed Claire, forcing out each syllable through the dull haze. "... but you will have none."
"I don't need..." began Brittany, only to be cut off by the light pressure of her aunt's hand.
"I thought so too. Now I see how wrong I was. Brittany, you don't want this to be your future."
"What are you saying?" replied Brittany, attempting to use every ounce of her colossal IQ to decipher this puzzle.
"I'm saying," said Claire heavily, the toll of talking almost proving too much for her weary body, "I want you to make peace with Jake. He is the only relative you have left."
"No," Brittany said forcefully. "Not Jake. Not after what he did."
"Brittany, you are so smart," sighed Claire. "Why can't you see it for what it was -- an accident? Jake had nothing to do with it."
"If it wasn't for him, they wouldn't have been there."
"Listen to yourself, Brittany. You're blaming a little boy for something he had no control over. Why do you keep holding onto that?"
"Because..." started Brittany. She desperately wanted to finish that sentence, but she couldn't. There was no logical end to that sentence and she knew it.
"You're the smartest person alive, Brittany. Somewhere your need to make sense of everything through logic has killed your ability to feel. You must find that again."
"I don't ..."
"Yes, you do. You need to let go. You need to remember how to feel and the best way to start is by reconnecting with your brother, Brittany. That's all I ever wanted."
Brittany blinked, conflict raging within her. She had no idea where to start in a quest to feel.
"That's my last wish, Brittany. Don't be alone. Let Jake be a part of your life."
Claire curled her fingers around her niece's and held on tightly.
"Do you have anything you want me to tell your parents?"
"There is no afterlife," smiled Brittany, stroking her aunt's palm softly.
"You're probably right," sighed Claire. "But what's the harm in believing?"
Sometime late that night, Claire Fitzgerald finally succumbed, painlessly as promised. There was no fanfare or tears, just the stoic demeanour of a niece finally coming to grips with what it felt like to have no one left who cared about her. Her aunt's last wish was for her to rectify that situation.
In the silence of the ward, she gingerly held the cold palm of her aunt. With her other hand, she called up a number she thought she would never want to contact. It wasn't saved on her phone, but it took a fraction of a second to retrieve it from memory. A few rings went by before the person on the other end finally mustered up the courage to pick up the call.
"Hello?" he said tepidly.
"Jake, I'm coming to New York on Saturday. We need to meet."
Katrina blinked as the recollection ended. Brittany had told her the entire story without showing a shred of emotion. At one point, Katrina had reached out and placed her palm on top of Brittany's, but Brittany swatted it impatiently off, clearly disliking the idea that she might need emotional support.
"That's why I came to New York," she said blandly. "To make peace with Jake."
"Well, you have a funny way of making peace," Katrina said sarcastically.
"Katrina," came the reply. "When you've hated someone all your life, that's all you know how to do."
"I'm sure you'll figure it out with all your brains," said Katrina.
"I'm afraid I won't. That's why I need your help."
"What do you mean?"
Brittany continued in her detached tone. "You need to help me make peace with my brother. You're the only one who knows how. I wouldn't go to you if there was another way."
Katrina sat back, bewildered at what was happening, but within that haze of confusion, she saw a chance to bring two people together. She knew she cared for one of them enough to give it a shot.
"Let's get a snack somewhere and talk further," she suggested.
"This was hardly what I had in mind when I said 'snack'," remarked Katrina as they settled down.
"Not a fan of French cuisine?" asked Brittany.
"Big fan, but never thought I'd get into Ducasse."
"Well you have," came the short reply. Brittany tapped her tablet a few more times, then put it in her purse.
"So, where should we start?" asked Katrina, genuinely wanting to be helpful.
"Tell me about Jake," Brittany replied, crossing her arms on the table and leaning forwards. "Everything you know."
"You fucked him up," Kat said, shaking her head. "He's been alone most of his life. It's almost as if he's afraid to get into a relationship."
"How's that my fault?"
"After his parents' death, he wanted to lean on you," snapped Katrina. "Not only did you push him away, but you blamed him for the biggest tragedy of his life. What did you expect would happen?"
For once, Brittany was silent. She knew about every conceivable topic, barring human emotions. This was virgin territory for her.
"How do you know this?"
"You won't believe how much I know about him," said Katrina, starry-eyed. "I am the only one he has ever opened up to."
Brittany observed the expression on Katrina's face minutely. The wheels turned in her mind and she allowed herself a smile. Katrina noticed it.
"Nothing. Go on."
"Anyway, you need to go the extra mile if you really want to make amends. It won't be easy. I don't even know if it's possible."
"Aunt Claire wanted it and I intend to keep her dying request."
The cold conviction in Brittany's tone took Katrina aback. It was the closest thing she had shown to emotion.
"Does Jake know she passed away?"
"No. I haven't told him yet," said Brittany, dipping her baguette in the consommé. "He hadn't seen or spoken to her in months."
"Because I told him not to," Brittany said brusquely. Katrina gaped at the simple statement.
"You cut him off from the woman who raised him? How could you?" she hissed.
"I didn't want him or any part of him in my life. Aunt Claire included."
"Until now, when you realize that all your fucking money can't buy you family who care about you," retorted Kat. "You really are a piece of work, you know that?"
"Humans are so difficult. They don't make sense. They are rarely consistent. They are irrational. They act in ways that defy reason."
"It's called the human condition," said Katrina, smirking. "Those imperfections that you pointed out -- they make us human. The heart has reasons..."
"That reason knows nothing of," completed Brittany. "Pascal. Pensées, 1670, section 4, number 277. It still doesn't make sense."
She paused for a moment and exhaled.
"Computers are so much easier. They don't think, they do."
"Brittany, I think you have become dehumanized."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
"Not even close," Kat said, taking another bite of her own baguette.
"Why do I need to feel?" Brittany argued. "Feelings take away objectivity. Why can't I make peace with Jake unless I feel?"
Katrina paused for a moment. The answer to that was more complex than words could describe.
"Come with me," she said, holding out her hand.
"Where are we going?"
"We are going to learn what it means to be human."
The Reventon cut through traffic, Brittany's driver doing an excellent job of negotiating the freeway commuters. Brittany leaned back into her seat. She idly registered the greenery outside her window.
"Don't you feel anything?"
Brittany smiled derisively, more to herself than anyone.
"The last real bit of emotion I felt was when I saw my parents' bodies. Since then, not much. When Aunt Claire passed, all I felt was disquiet. It's heavy and it weighs me down, but I don't think it qualifies as textbook emotion."
"What about beauty or love?" probed Katrina. "Have you ever appreciated beauty or felt love?"
"Beauty is an appreciation of aesthetic, Katrina. The pre frontal cortex of our brains looks for symmetry in whatever we see. It triggers a pleasurable rush of endorphins, leading to an enhanced state of consciousness. Therefore, I understand beauty, but don't appreciate it.
"Schwarz and Winkielman have published work on the theory of processing fluency and aesthetic pleasure. They say that our cognitive perception of beauty is proportional to how easily or fluently our mind can process an external stimuli. Variables that facilitate fluent processing include objective features of stimuli, like goodness of form, symmetry, figure-ground contrast, as well as experience with a stimulus, for example repeated exposure or prototypicality."
"What?" was the flabbergasted reply. Brittany continued, undeterred.
"The impact of fluency is moderated by expectations and attribution. On the one hand, fluency has a particularly strong impact on affective experience if its source is unknown and fluent processing comes as a surprise. On the other hand, the fluency-based affective experience is discounted as a source of relevant information when the perceiver attributes the experience to an irrelevant source. This helps explain the inverted U-shaped function often found in research on the effect of complexity on preferences; very complex patterns are not judged as beautiful because they are disfluent, and patterns are judged as more beautiful when they become less complex. When viewers perceive a simple pattern, they are often able to detect the source of fluency - the pattern's simplicity - and do not use this experience of ease for judging the beauty of the pattern."
Katrina was stunned. She had never imagined beauty could be so coldly quantified. Brittany paused to laugh before she resumed.
"As for love," continued Brittany. "Love is an evolutionary prerogative. Subconsciously, we are wired to seek out potential mates to breed with. Our minds are meant to find mates who are aesthetically pleasing, healthy and would be a value addition to the gene pool. So you think you are attracted to someone's looks or personality, but your genes are just attracted to his. Nothing more, nothing less. Simple."
She smiled at the artist's blank expression. She knew she had this effect when talking.
"You're so strange," said Katrina. "I've never met anyone like you before."
"Again, that wasn't a compliment."
Katrina resumed looking out of the window. It was going to be a harder task than she had anticipated.
"You know ice cream is bad for you, right?"
"Just let me have it in peace," retorted Katrina, taking in the scenery around her.
The mismatched pair sat on a bench at the edge of Stuyvesant Park. Sunday morning was family time. Families had come for picnics. The kids laughed and played while the parents laid out the food. A menagerie of birds chirped around them. The sound of Katrina's phone ringing startled her.
"Hi, Jake... No, I'm fine... Something came up, so I got sidetracked... Nothing you need to worry about.... Could you get the groceries?... Sure, that would be great. Thanks."
She put the phone back in her purse.
"Must be nice having someone to care about you."
Katrina turned towards the reclining figure of Brittany and smiled.
"Look at all these people around you. Look at how happy and carefree they are," she said. "It's all because they have people in their lives they love and who love them back."
"That's their big secret?" asked Brittany incredulously, sipping away on her Coke.
"Yup," replied Katrina. "That's how people stay happy."
A red ball bounced towards the bench. It slowed down and rolled to Katrina's feet. She bent down and picked it up. A little boy, not older than seven, followed on its heels.
"Excuse me, miss," he said. "May I have my ball back please?"
"Of course you can, little guy," she said, ruffling his sandy hair. "What's your name?"
"Andy," he said, blushing when Katrina held his cheeks.
"Well, Andy, has anyone told you you're the cutest guy in Manhattan?"
"No," he said shyly, trying to look away.
"What do you think, Brittany?" asked Katrina. "Don't you think he's the cutest guy ever?"
Brittany leaned forwards and ran her eyes up and down his body. She took off her glasses and let them dangle off her fingers for a while before putting them down.
"Sure," she said with a nod. "Here, take your ball."
"Thank you," he beamed, taking the ball from Brittany before sprinting back towards his parents. They sat beside the fountain. A sheet was spread out under them. The woman was laying out the food and chatting with her younger son while the man took photographs of the scenery.
"See, that's what family should be like," said Katrina.
"Somehow I doubt it," said Brittany disdainfully.
"What do you mean?"
Brittany put her glasses back on. Her interaction with the world was done for the time being. She put the Coke down and began.
"Notice how Andy has a small limp. Every right step takes a little longer than his left. It's not a fracture, but probably a bruise on the inside of his thigh. Also, did you see how he took the ball from me? He took it with his palm, without using his thumb. It hurts to bend his thumb, likely because it was forcibly bent backwards."
Katrina stared at her in awe. There was not so much as a flicker of emotion from behind those tinted shades.
"Look at how the family sits," she continued. "The woman and her son sit close together, separated from the husband by some distance. She doesn't show it, but she is terrified of him. That's why she holds her younger son so tightly, to keep him safe."
Katrina gulped as Brittany took a sip from her Coke and continued.
"The man is wearing an original Tramonte suit. See how cheap fabric has been used to patch parts of his sleeves? That means he's not able to afford another suit of the same quality, but he feels the need to keep up appearances. He's wearing grey socks to go with the colour of his pants and suit. He thinks they make him appear taller and that helps shore up his low self esteem. Probably an investment banker who lost everything in the crash except for his gambling habit. His Rolex is too glittery to be real, probably he pawned off the real one to his bookie. He checks his phone once every fifteen minutes, the average time between races at The Aqueduct. Based on his expression each time he checks his phone, his luck hasn't been good. You can also see a small spasm of fear flit across his wife's face every time he gets a race result because he will be taking all that bad luck out on her and the older kid when they get home."
"No, it can't be!" interjected Katrina forcefully. "You're wrong. They are a happy family who have come out to enjoy their Sunday."
"Yes, it would appear so," said Brittany thoughtfully. "Appearances are very important to them. The man is careful not to leave bruises in visible areas and his wife is grateful for it. She even tells Andy to be thankful and not tell anyone at school. Andy doesn't have many friends at school. He probably remains withdrawn from the other kids."