The New York skyline was nothing new to Katherine Westmorland. She’d grown up there, graduated, and moved on to bigger things. So her morning jog was uninterrupted by the sights, sounds, smells, and marvels of the city that never sleeps. Bums dug through trash cans, cabbies screamed profanities and flipped the bird to one another, and people went about their daily routines in oblivion.
Kat, as her father had so aptly dubbed her from a young age, was slender, athletic, sexy, and educated. She’d grown up in a modest home, with a dad that was an electrician by trade, and a mother who died of complications from childbirth. As captain of the track team, student body president, and an over achiever that maintained a better-than-perfect grade point average every semester, Kat was surprisingly reclusive in her younger years. Learning and expanding her mind had always been the challenge most intriguing, with boys, friends, athletics, and everything else a distant second.
Every day she took the same route through the city. Running was therapeutic, and the escape where she found zen and balance. The quiet place where she could think the clearest, and contemplate everything from quantum physics to belly button lint effectively. Most days were run of the mill, with construction workers whistling, frat boys staring, and weather that was, for the most part, cooperative. The vibe of such a huge metropolis was always pretty easy to read.
But this day was different. Something seemed ‘off’, and there was a more constrictive tempo than usual. Kat dismissed it as superstition, and trotted into Central Park. The narrow path was littered with walkers, joggers, and winos, all of whom the shapely blonde strategically dodged. Further up she came upon the tables where seniors sat every day and played chess. Slowing, then walking, she caught her breath and approached two old timers locked in a game.
The first, facing her, stared intently at the board pondering his next play. He was an old man, in his late seventies, with wrinkled skin and liver spots on his face and forehead. His plaid jacket screamed ’Starsky and Hutch’, and was worn well beyond it’s usefulness. Atop his head was an obnoxious safety orange ’NRA’ hat, with a bill so flat a beer can could rest on it.
The elder paused a moment, then looked up as the young bombshell walked towards him. She was sweaty, smiling, beautiful, and the stuff dreams were made of for a man of his years. He smiled back, causing the second player to turn, look, and crack a huge smile of his own on the way to his feet.
Kat hugged him, smiling ear to ear, still somewhat out of breath. “Hi Daddy,” she managed to muster. Her father didn’t speak back, instead just embracing her, then sitting again. He was roughly the same age as his opponent, in the twilight of his life, a little worse for wear. His skin was leathery, and what little hair he had left was combed neatly to the side. His teeth were yellow from smoking for decades, and his worn out leather bomber jacket had definitely seen its share of winters.
“Hi, Kat. I’m so glad you made it. I thought you were gonna take off again without saying goodbye.” Kat smiled apprehensively, knowing her father wasn’t going to live forever. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” she replied.“You’re my dad after all, and I love you. I hope you know that.”
Her father smiledand swallowed, a little taken aback. “I know sweetie. I just...see you so rarely anymore. It seems like you’re always gone, and you never call or write. I wonder if you’re okay a lot of the time.”
Kat pondered her reply for a moment, as her dad’s adversary blurted out a retort. “What am I,” he scowled, “Chopped liver? Get over here!.” The opponent across the table stood and hobbled toward her. “Hi, Uncle Louie,” she spoke sarcastically, as the two embraced. The hug prompted warm smiles from both.
Her uncle patted her on the back, then hobbled to his chair and struck up conversation. “I don’t get it. You take off for months, sometimes years at a time, come home a few weeks, then disappear again. Your dad shelled out big bucks for you to go to MIT to get that degree in...what the hell was it, exactly?”
“Theoretical Astrophysics,” Kat touted back.
“Theoretical Astrophysics. Right,” taunted her uncle.“And you do what with it? Catalog decommissioned airplanes out in the desert? What’s that all about?” Uncle Louie had pried before, and always gotten the same answer.
“It’s classified, Uncle Louie,” Kat responded. “I can’t really talk about it. You know the drill.” Uncle Louie, a grouchy old codger at heart, scowled and waved her off as usual.
“Lou, you cynical bastard,” barked Kat’s father with his temple throbbing, “Shut your pie hole and move so I can beat you for the fifth time today!” It warmed her heart to watch her dad stand up for her, but at the same time, Kat felt guilty about having to be so reclusive with family.
“I know what you do has purpose,” her dad said reassuringly,“And I know it’s important. The brass at the pentagon wouldn’t shell out the way they do if it wasn’t. Some day you’ll change the world kitty Kat. I know it. How you do it is up to you. I’m proud of you no matter what.”
Choked up and nearly in tears, Kat leaned over and hugged her father, kissing him softly on the top of the head.
“I know,” she replied quietly.
Uncle Louie, blankly staring at the board a while, finally moved one of his pawns. Kat caught the play from the corner of her eye, as her dad studied the game a few seconds trying to figure out the best counter. Grinning coyly, she whispered in his ear. His eyes darted momentarily, then he moved his bishop and took Louie’s queen.
“Checkmate,” he sassed to his brother.
Louie checked the board, furious, and swatted the pieces off the table. “It was her you prick, not you! Set those pieces up again!,” he demanded. Kat’s laughter was eclipsed by her dad’s smile, as the two waved good bye. She took off down the path, plugged her earphones back in, and jaunted away while the two old rivals argued relentlessly.