Katherine Winters gazed at the family across the room. Around her, she could barely make out the sounds of dinners served: clinking glasses, a dropped utensil here and there, murmurs of menu selections recited to various servers, whispered conversations. Her dining companion’s voice was hushed, low and husky, barely audible through the rush of blood in her ears.
The father was telling a joke as the family looked at him, each one’s face showing an expectant grin. When he hit the punch line, a cacophony of laughter spilled from all of them. The boy nodded rapidly, a grin plastered on his face, eyes wide with wonder. The father’s eyes twinkled with love when he looked at his daughter, making Katherine’s heart squeeze with thoughts of her own father. She looked at the mother and nearly swooned at the resemblance to her mother. Perhaps that was why they captivated her so much. The little girl tipped her head, a giggle escaping her lips. “Ugh,” Katherine moaned as her eyes filled with tears at the close resemblance to the five-year-old Katherine of her past. Drawn to the little boy, her eyes slowly and painfully made their way back to him. Had fate stolen from her the pleasure of a little brother?
Katherine jumped at the loud bang that came from beside her. Her heart began to palpitate as her body went cold with perspiration. A vision flashed before her eyes, a young woman lying on the sidewalk, her beautiful, long blonde hair splayed across a pool of blood. A little girl, hair as golden as her mother’s, standing next to her, eyes wide with fright, the remnant of a scream lodged in her throat. She looked around, fear-filled eyes looking for the source of the noise, but it was only a careless server dropping a tray of dishes.
John’s voice suddenly came to her, even as her eyes stayed focused on the family. “…and then Damien kicked her under the table, but it was too late. Old man Walker had already heard the comment and… Katherine, are you listening to me?” John followed her gaze to the family seated three tables over. “Katherine,” he said, sharply.
“What? Oh, I’m sorry, John.” Her gaze slowly returned to her friend. “What were you saying?”
“I was talking about the meeting this afternoon.” He shook his head and frowned. “I was telling you about Brenda’s suggestion that we work on Saturday. Just because she’s a workaholic doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t have a life outside the office.”
Katherine’s eyes wandered back to the family at the table.
John’s lips formed a straight line as he tapped the table. He cleared his throat. “Would you rather eat with that family?”
She sighed and looked back at John. “Of course not.” She gave him her full attention. “She’s not a workaholic. She has a thing for Mr. Bailey and wants to get on his good side.”
Katherine shook her head and laughed. “You don’t even see what’s right under your nose half the time, do you, John?”
She looked up as a waiter approached the table. “Will there be anything else?” he asked.
Katherine smiled with forced enthusiasm. “No thank you, Henry, just the check please.”
John swept his hand through the air. “Just like that without asking me. I was hoping for some chocolate cake.”
Katherine grinned from one side of her mouth. “You don’t need chocolate cake.” Her eyes traveled to his midsection.
“What! I’ll have you know I’m the perfect weight for a thirty-two-year-old male.” He patted his midsection, pulling it in a little. “Even my doctor agrees.”
Katherine grinned widely. “Didn’t he also say you have the cholesterol level of a fifty-year-old? I might add, you’re way too young for high cholesterol, which means your diet is all wrong, and when’s the last time you hit the gym?”
“You act as if we’re married or something,” he complained, blushing. Why would that make him blush? It was only Katherine, after all.
The waiter fidgeted, looking exasperated. “You two go through this same routine every week.”
“Yes, we do,” John agreed, frowning.
“Well, somebody has to look after you. It may as well be your best friend.” She smiled, tipped her head sideways, reminding John of the old Katherine from law school when she always would have the right answer, and he would have to admit defeat.
John scowled. “I really want the chocolate cake.”
She sighed and looked at the waiter. “Bring the cake.”
She looked at the family again. They also were eating the chocolate cake. The children were giggling and slapping their father’s hand as he tried to sneak the cake away from them. The mother looked embarrassed at their playfulness.
A sudden image of her mother, long gone now, flashed through her mind. The memory kicked up her maternal instinct. She was thirty-two years old and childless. Biologically speaking, she should have been a mother long ago.
“Are you going to stare at that family all night?”
She snapped her eyes back to John. “I’m sorry.” She paused, looking down at the napkin in her lap. “Do you ever regret not having children?” she asked, her eyes misting slightly.
“We’re lawyers. We don’t have time for children.” He said this with nonchalance, playing with his tablet, checking his stock for any signs of instability.
Katherine put her hand over John’s, staying his attempt to surf the web. “I know plenty of lawyers with kids.”
“Yes, but how much time do they spend with them?”
“Mitzy Parker has three children,” Katherine said.
He put away his tablet and smirked. “Yes, and they’re all dregs of society. I rest my case.”
The waiter returned and set the cake down between them. There were two forks resting on the sides of the plate.
“What’s this, Henry? I didn’t ask for cake,” Katherine said.
“You need it,” Henry said, “The chocolate, I mean. Chocolate elevates your mood. I cut an extra big piece for you to share.”
“I’m not in a bad mood,” she protested.
John and Henry both shot her a look. Then Henry ever so slightly shook his head. She picked up one of the forks and jabbed it into the cake.
“You know, I could report you to the manager,” she said. Her resolve melted as the decadent taste pierced her tongue. She swallowed. “This is inappropriate behavior for a waiter.”
Henry grinned. “Yeah, you could, but how long would it take you to break in a new waiter?”
Katherine couldn’t help but chuckle. She felt her mood lighten a little and put a second bite of cake into her mouth. Who cared about her figure tonight? She would run an extra ten minutes on her treadmill tomorrow to make up for it.
She looked again with longing toward the family, her eyes becoming unfocused as they filled with tears. They were getting ready to leave. The father helped first the mother and then the daughter on with their coats. The son pushed in their chairs and guided his sister, his arm slightly touching her back, to the front of the restaurant—the perfect little family. Katherine sighed.
Henry waived the bill in front of Katherine. “I believe it’s your turn.”
John looked up but continued eating his cake. Katherine reached for the bill, but Henry pulled it back. “Do you ever go on any real dates, or is that who this to go order is for?” he asked, setting the steaming package down beside her.
“Hey! I’m offended here,” John protested. “What am I?”
Henry scowled. “I mean the kind that pay.”
“I pay…every other week.”
“What is it with you two, anyway?” Henry asked. “You’re in here every week, you order the same thing, and you take turns paying, although I like it much better when it’s Katherine’s turn. She tips way better than you, John.”
Katherine and John regarded each other for several seconds. Simultaneously they shrugged and declared, “Best friends.”
Henry shook his head and laid the bill down in front of Katherine.
They both stared at it as if they expected the numbers to change in front of their eyes.
“Do you want me to get it?” John asked, suddenly self-conscious about Katherine paying.
“Don’t be silly, it’s my turn.”
“Is it true about the tipping? Are you a better tipper than I?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. What do you give him?”
“He deserves twenty.”
He smacked the side of his head. “You do give more than I!”
“If it weren’t for Henry you would be killing that beef yourself. He keeps those chefs straight. He knows his customers and makes sure they get what they order.”
John blushed. “So that explains it.”
“Why he always tries to hand you the bill first.”
She stopped and considered and then shrugged. She reached for her purse, whipped out her American Express card, placed it inside the little black folder, and signaled to Henry that it was ready.
After she had paid the bill, John gave the parking ticket to the valet, and they waited for him to bring the car around to the front of the restaurant.
Winters in San Francisco could have brutal winds, and they were not about to wait outside in this weather. Despite being inside, Katherine shivered and pulled her coat closer around her. John reached over and put his arm around Katherine’s shoulder. The same thing he’d done a million times, but tonight it felt different. He blushed, feeling the searing heat rise to his face. He put his arm back at his side. Katherine looked at him quizzically, but he just shook his head.
They saw the car and ran to it. The valet had Katherine’s door open before she arrived. John held out two one-dollar bills. Katherine shook her head at him. He reached back for his wallet and exchanged the bills for a five-dollar bill. Katherine nodded. He handed the tip to the valet and ducked inside.
The valet thanked Katherine.
“Gee whiz,” John complained as he drove off, “that’s gratitude for you.”
Katherine smiled. “Oh, John, you need a woman to keep you straight.”
He laughed. “I have you.”
She giggled. “Put down the top.”
“So what. Why not live it up a little.”
He frowned. He wasn’t exactly in the mood for acting like teenagers tonight. “Okay.” He pushed the button and watched with longing as the roof folded back into its storage compartment. The cold night air immediately bit his face.
Katherine raised her hands in the air, waving and crying out, “Hello, San Francisco!” They laughed as John sped up Taylor Street, slowing to pass a cable car. He honked, and they waved to the cable car full of people brave enough to face the cold winds for which San Francisco was famous. Many of them wore tee shirts with various designs boasting about San Francisco. Others had binoculars or cameras around their necks. Still others pointed excitedly at buildings they passed.
They looked at each other and laughed. Both said, “Tourists.”
John stopped in front of the Towers, a pricey, high-rise condominium building.
“Here you are, Madam, safe and sound.” He waved to the door attendant as he stepped over to open the car door for Katherine.
“Good evening, Tony,” John said and waved.
“Good evening, Mr. Wheaton.”
Katherine accepted the offered hand and allowed him to guide her out of the Jaguar. She reached in, retrieved the bag, still warm from the restaurant, and handed it to Tony.
“Oh, Miss Winters, you are by far the best tipper in the world.”
John scoffed, yanked the passenger door closed and sped off.
She laughed and headed for the lobby. Tony followed, close on her heels.
“Your father’s here.”
She stopped and turned, pulled up one side of her mouth in a sneer. “Oh, shit. Not tonight.” She was in too good a mood this evening to have her father’s wistful musings bring her down. “Thanks for the warning. Enjoy your dinner.” She waved and ran off.
“Hey, hold the elevator,” she shouted.
She saw a long leg stick out and stop the door. When she caught up, she was breathless from running.
“Thanks so much. This thing would take forever to come back down.”
“Yes, I know. I wish the owners of this building would do something about that. This apartment costs a fortune to live in. You’d think they would have the decen…” He broke off, recognition setting in. “Oops. You own the building, don’t you?”
She smiled apologetically. “Actually, my father does, and don’t worry, I agree with you. I’ll speak to Daddy about it.”
She extended her hand. “I’m Katherine Winters.”
“Chad Simon. I live in 1073.”
“I’m in—” she began, but stopped herself.
He nodded and chuckled, taking in her tailored suit, designer shoes, matching handbag, and manicured nails. They looked like the fancy clothes in the Cosmopolitan Magazine his mother used to read—the ones that talked about things like ‘women’s sex lives’, and ‘how to get the man of your dreams.’ “I know. You’re in the penthouse. Even if the wardrobe didn’t give you away, I recognized the name.”
She blushed. “Sorry.”
“Hey, don’t apologize for being who you are. You were born with a silver spoon. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
The elevator dinged and the doors opened. “Well, this is me.” He stepped out of the elevator. “Have a nice night, Miss Winters.”
She waved as the doors closed again. She felt a slight sting from his words.
As she inserted her key card that would take her to the penthouse, a wave of guilt washed over her. She pushed it away. Why should she feel guilty? She worked hard for her money, as did her father.
Katherine Winters lived a golden life by anyone’s standards. She had it all. She was beautiful, rich, charming, intelligent, healthy, witty, and kind at heart. She was her father’s pride and joy. Yet, she would trade it all if she could go back and change the past.
One would wonder why, then, at the age of thirty-two, she still was unmarried and childless. She knew that the minute she walked through the doorway, this argument likely would ensue.
As the elevator doors opened, she took a deep breath and stepped into the private corridor. She inserted her key into the lock and felt her knees shake. A slight perspiration broke out on her forehead. It was always this way so close to the anniversary. Dealing with her own grief was hard enough, but trying to be brave for her father was something else. She put on a smile and swung open the grand doors that would take her to her luxurious living quarters.
“Daddy,” she cried, flowing gracefully into the room.
Peter Winters turned from the expansive window, where he had been admiring the beauty of the wonderful city he had called home for so many years, and regarded his daughter.
She was a beauty, just like her mother. Her long legs brought her to him in seconds flat, and he wrapped his arms around her. He stroked her long, silky, blonde hair, closed his eyes, breathed in her sweet fragrance, and thanked God for her.
“You look more like her every day,” he whispered.
“I know, Daddy. You tell me every time you see me,” she said, with a slight tartness in her voice.
She looked up into his misted eyes and was sorry for her words. “She’s been gone a long time now,” she said. As if this apology would absolve her of her rudeness.
“I know, Kitten, too long.”
Amber Winters had been the love of Peter’s life. Both had grown up on Iowa farms, and both had been eager to escape said farm. They married in haste after graduating high school. They worked hard night and day, saving everything they could to pay for their move to California.
Peter studied hard, earning every scholarship imaginable for an Iowa- farm boy. He swept floors in a deli and rented a small apartment above it where he and Amber lived.
Amber was a graceful dancer and earned money for food and rent by teaching dance steps to toddlers. Peter used to tease her about becoming a professional dancer, but she would just blush and wave him off. Then one day it happened. A scout for a ballet troupe discovered her while she performed in a community theater production of Swan Lake.
She and Peter were ecstatic. She signed a contract with the ballet company and began touring around the world. She didn’t make much money at first, but as her popularity grew, so did their bank account.
Peter, having graduated from college by then with a degree in business, began investing in real estate. He bought a small apartment building, which they moved into and managed. They put every spare nickel into improvements and resold at a sizeable profit. He immediately reinvested the profits in a bigger and more expensive building. They were making money hand-over-fist, but Peter was miserable. Amber loved the dancing, but she was miserable, too. She thought only of Peter and her longing to have a child.
On one of her visits home, she threw in the towel. She stormed into her agent’s office and demanded she be let out of her contract. “Get pregnant,” she had informed her. “It’s the only clause in your contract that will get you out.” So that very evening, she bought a bottle of wine and a sexy nightgown and threw away her birth control pills.
She and Peter were like a couple of kids on their honeymoon. They couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Within a few short months, Amber was beaming with pride as she watched her belly swell. Her agent saw her with new eyes and had her modeling maternity wear by the time she hit her sixth month. She was a beautiful, pregnant model and magazines and designers flooded her agent with contract offers.
By the time Katherine was born, Amber was on the cover of every magazine from coast-to-coast. Fans from all over the globe wanted to know where she bought her makeup, where she had her hair and nails done, and even what kind of baby food she fed Katherine.
Amber took Katherine to all her photo shoots and layouts, and by the time Katherine was six months old, it was apparent that this golden baby would turn out to be a raving beauty. By the time she hit her first birthday, they were modeling together. The mother and daughter team were the highest paid models in the world, and they finally had their fairytale family.
Peter shook himself out of his daydreams, pulled away from his daughter, and cleared his throat.
“Uh, hum, well anyway, Kitten, I came for an answer to my question.”
She regarded her father with a mixture of love and frustration. “No,” she said firmly. “I don’t like him and I’m not going to date him. I told you that when you first asked me and insisted on me thinking it over.” He tried to hold her, but she walked away, waving her hand at him in frustration.
Peter, equally frustrated, held out his hands with his palms up, extended toward Katherine in a plea. “What’s wrong with him, Kitten?”
“Nothing that a mirror wouldn’t fix. Daddy, that man is so stuck on himself that he wouldn’t even notice if Miss Universe were dining with him. He’s shallow, ignorant, way too handsome for his own good, filthy rich, and he knows it all but doesn’t care. As long as he can buy his dates, he’s in good shape.” She threw her hands up in the air and plopped down on the white leather couch.
Rainbow, her gray tabby, saw her opportunity and leaped into her lap. She began to stroke her silky coat. Rainbow rewarded her with a loud purr.
“It’s been a long time since you went out with him. He’s done a lot of maturing since then. He just got back from abroad.” Peter fisted his hand and pumped it through the air in a ‘bravo’ gesture. “He even has his Master’s degree now.”
“You sound as if you’re trying to sell him to me.”
He laughed at the implication, and she couldn’t help but relent a little.
“He does like animals,” she said, trying to find something nice to say about Austin Reynolds. “Rainbow likes him.” As if nodding in agreement, Rainbow lifted her head and meowed at her master.
“He plays a great game of tennis,” Peter added, encouragingly. “Look, Kitten, I want to see you settled down. I won’t be around forever, and I want to know that when I leave this world, you and my empire will be cared for.”
“I’m a lawyer. I can take care of myself. As for the empire, it runs itself, with the help of your excellent management staff, for which I might add, I personally handpicked.”
“Yes, I know. Except for Walter—he’s been with me since the beginning.”
She rolled her eyes. “Walter’s overdue for retirement, Daddy. When are you going to give him his freedom?”
“Walter doesn’t want his freedom, and you’re changing the subject. So what do you say? Can I count on you to do this one favor for your aging father?”
She thought for a moment, indecision tearing at her resolve. “Okay, but it has to be a double date. I’ll get John to go with us.”
He sighed in relief. “You know, you could save us both a lot of arguments by just marrying John. He’s a nice, level-headed young man.”
“John and I are just friends. If we tried for anything more, we’d ruin our relationship. Now go on and get out of here. My favorite show is on.”
She picked up the remote and flipped on the TV. He watched her settle back into the cushions and put up her feet. The cat looked briefly irritated at the shift in her position but snuggled right back down.
The lights of the television set immediately entranced Katherine, who subconsciously stroked the cat.
Peter began his migration to the front door. At the doorway, he turned to watch his daughter. A feeling of immense pride washed over him. He blew her a kiss and whispered, “I love you.”
As his hand turned the doorknob, he heard the opening credits for Law and Order begin and wondered which of the numerous versions she was watching.Start writing here…