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And All The Roads Are Blinding

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1999-2002: Nobody Lingers Like Your Hands on My Heart

 

The breakup had been horrible, of course. With the benefit of hindsight, Kat knew that they had both been at fault -- too young, too dumb to navigate a long-distance relationship as eighteen-year-olds -- but at the time, Patrick had seemed entirely to blame. He had been so insecure, so thoughtless, so him.

On the other hand, it should be remembered: while they had broken up and gotten back together and broken up and gotten back together half a dozen times during the spring of her freshman year, the ultimate break-up -- the one that had stuck -- had involved Kat breaking up with Patrick via AOL Instant Messenger.

Afterwards, she had written a lot of shitty poetry. Gotten really into running. Dated mostly girls for a while.

And time passed, and after a year, Kat discovered that she could think about him without feeling a stab of anger straight in her solar plexus. After another year, her lingering feelings of guilt and regret had drifted away as well. It was like her memory of high school. While she knew that those four years at Padua High had been terrible (she had a summer of LiveJournal entries to prove it), she no longer felt the old galvanic kick of emotions when she remembered them.

Increasingly, she found herself telling friends about Patrick because it made a funny story. "Can you believe it? My first boyfriend dated me because some horny teens bribed him!"

 

2007-2008: Steam From A Cup And Snow On The Path

Five years later, he friended her on Facebook.

She had been scarfing down a protein bar and checking her email when Facebook dinged in the other tab of her browser. She had stared at the little notification -- and then, before she could let herself think about it (and spend the rest of the day mulling over what it meant), she clicked her teeth together and hit "Accept."

With some trepidation, she clicked on his profile, but it contained no real information: no picture, no favorite movies, no posts. He had only a handful of friends associated with the account, and Kat recognized most of the names as belonging to his extended family.

She opened up the chat interface and took a deep breath and wrote: Hello, Patrick. Are you really the last human being to join Facebook?

An hour later, he responded: hi kat yes that is my sad fate but my cousins bullied me into signing up

I'm honored to join your cousins in welcoming you to the twenty-first century.

i am in sydney right now and my niece tells me that to welcome me to facebook you should post a cat meem but she wont tell me what a meem is

I'll see what I can do.

plz kat what is a meem dont get me in trouble with the cops or my mom

Kat posted a picture of a cat wearing a helmet made from a lime to Patrick's Facebook wall. She tagged him in it, and then she went off to the morning meeting. She spent the next two hours staring intently at PowerPoint slides about the new year's fundraising strategies, but she didn't take in a single word. Instead, her brain was buzzing Patrick Patrick Patrick, and she couldn't tell if she was excited or afraid.

When she got back to her desk, she saw that he had written her another message (thx kat) and made the lime-wearing cat into his profile picture.

And that was...that. He didn't write her again, and she didn't write him. He never posted anything, and after a few weeks, her sense of buzzing anticipation faded.

"It was pretty anti-climactic," she told her sister on the phone. "When an ex-boyfriend reconnects with you, aren't you supposed to feel something? Hear trumpets in the background? Maybe some vindictive triumph that you were so right to dump his sorry ass, or such regret that you didn't stick with his now-famous multimillionaire-genius ass?"

"Hmmm," Bianca said. "Most of my ex-boyfriends just reconnect with me so that they can send me 'you up?' texts at three in the morning." She huffed into the phone. "As if I'm going to pick sex over fucking sleep."

Kat laughed. "How's that first year treating you?"

"It's still kicking my ass, but I'm starting to get pretty fond of my cadaver," Bianca said. "So what's up with Patrick? Did he gain a bunch of weight? Does he have a supermodel wife?"

"Who knows? There's no info on his Facebook profile. All I know is that he's in Sydney and he's never figured out where the Shift key lives."

"Huh," was all that Bianca says, and then she let the subject drop -- but Kat couldn't help but notice when, two days later, Facebook let her know that "Patrick Verona and Bianca Stratford are now friends!"

I bet you think you're being cute, Kat wrote her in an email.

"Hey," Bianca wrote back, "Patrick and I were friends too. But if you want, I give you permission to friend any of my exes."

Which is why Kat Stratford and Cameron James became friends on Facebook.

Hello Katarina! Thanks for connecting with me! I see you're still in New York. How's life treating you these days?

Hi Cameron,, she wrote back, feeling a flicker of guilt. She had meant to jab at Bianca by friending her first boyfriend, but she hadn't thought about the actual tedium of reconnecting with the quiet, serious young man whom Bianca had brutally dumped during her sophomore year at Stanford. (Like sister, like sister.) Yeah, still in NYC, working at a non-profit. What about you?

I'm actually back in Padua! Teaching high-school English, if you can believe it! Tomorrow, we're discussing iambic pentameter!

Bianca sent her a series of texts that were just the ;p emoticon repeated over and over.

A few months passed. The leaves began to change color. Kat went apple-picking upstate with some people from work, and while she remained skeptical about the general principle of recreational apple-picking (Is there anything more bourgeois than a bunch of people participating in agrarian rituals for fun? she texted her boyfriend, Nathan), she did have fun. As the sun beamed down on her, as the wind nipped at her fingers and ears, as she twisted a perfectly heavy apple free from its branch, she felt a moment of absolute contentment.

"It was so dumb," she told Nathan that night. "But even though I knew it was so dumb, it was still great?"

"Sounds like quite the existential quandary," Nathan said sleepily.

"No," Kat said, staring at the ceiling. "It definitely wasn't a quandary. It was one thing in my life that wasn't a quandary."

Which was why, when her coworker Rhonda posted images of that Saturday to Facebook and tagged Kat, Kat didn't automatically untag herself. (As a rule, she ruthlessly curated the images that she allowed of herself in Facebook -- partly out of paranoia that Facebook was building a facial-recognition database, but mostly out of vanity.)

The next day, she saw that Patrick had commented on an image of her carrying a basket of apples: does this mean there will be pies?!?!

She responded: If you're volunteering to make them, then definitely.

He responded: hold on checking airline tickets

That night, as Nathan was stirring a pot of risotto, he casually asked, "So who's that Patrick guy?"

"Patrick?" Kat tilted her head as if she were trying to remember the name. "Oh, Patrick Verona? I went to high school with him, and he just found me on Facebook. He lives in Australia," she added.

"Ah," Nathan said, and his calm stirring never altered. "It's always funny when people want to reconnect on social media, isn't it?"

A few more months passed. On Facebook, Patrick changed his profile picture. Instead of a lime-hatted cat, now it was just a picture of him. His hair was shorter and more sun-bleached than Kat remembered, but his smile was still a wide, sharp triangle of white teeth, and his eyes were crinkled up into familiar slits. The photo was black-and-white, and there had obviously been a person standing with Patrick who had been cropped out of the photo's left-hand side.

So professional, she wrote in a private message.

yup thats the goal my marketing team vetoed the photo of me dressed as a creepy clown

Kat wasn't quite sure if he was joking about the marketing team or not, but she didn't want to give him the satisfaction of asking. She still didn't know what he did for a living.

"Patrick looks fucking great," Bianca said immediately when she called up Kat for their weekly talk.

"I think he's probably got a portrait in his attic somewhere," Kat said.

"What?" Bianca said, and then Kat had to explain the reference, despite her full knowledge that Bianca would roll her eyes so intensely that it would be nearly audible.

"Well, okay, whatever," Bianca said in the middle of Kat's exegesis of Dorian Gray. "All I'm saying is that he looks great, and he wants to bake you pies."

"Oh, come on," Kat said with irritation. "You know I'm dating Nathan."

"Yeah, yeah," Bianca said. She didn't think much of Nathan. "I'm just saying."

The next week, Facebook let her know that "Patrick Verona is in a relationship!"

She clicked on the name that Facebook offered, and whatever she had been expecting -- some impossibly tall Australian beach bunny? -- this woman was not it. In her profile picture, she was halfway up a rock-climbing wall, and there was a giant tattoo swirled across her left bicep. After peering at it for five minutes, Kat thought it might be a tattoo of an squid.

Kat didn't know what she was supposed to feel in this moment -- disappointment? depression? relief? -- but what she actually felt was amusement. Oh Patrick, she thought. You have such a type.

In the following few months, Kat saw Patrick pop up again and again on her feed, because his girlfriend posted selfies of them together at music shows and beaches and cafes. In several of the photos, Patrick was winking at her camera.

A few months later, Facebook told her that Patrick Verona was now "single."

She sat on the knowledge for a day or two, and it ate away at her self-control until she finally broke down and sent him a message. Hey, I'm just checking in to make sure you're okay?

He responded almost immediately:

yup yup

it was amicable on all ends

but thx for checking on me

Kat held her chin over the steam from her mug of tea and wondered if there was any hidden sarcasm, any suppressed animus in those lines. Was it amicable -- unlike their break-up? Had Patrick rolled his eyes over her message? Was she being too nosy?

Then her notifications dinged again, because Patrick had sent her a link to a Youtube video entitled "Best Street Party Ever – Parents Yet to Find Out" and the message more importantly have you Yanks heard about this guy in the sunglasses yet???

"Okay," Kat said. "Okay."

 

2009-2011: The Stone of a Home You'll Know

The next year, Kat broke up with Nathan for the usual reasons: he had a new job, she didn't want to move with him to Michigan, he didn't want to do a long-distance relationship.

They were very adult about it, and everything was relatively fine until one evening, three days after Nathan moved out, when Kat drank a bottle of red wine and watched several Ryan Gosling movies and ended up sobbing brokenly into multiple boxes of tissues. (Weirdly, this happened not during The Notebook but during Lars and the Real Girl.)

When she woke up the next morning, she had a murderous hangover and an oppressive feeling of guilt and shame. "Did I send an e-mail last night...?" she whispered to herself as she struggled into a sitting position. "Did I send an e-mail last night...to Patrick...?"

With a rising sense of horror, she checked the Sent Messages folder of her email.

Dear Patrick, I'm writing to you because this week somebody broke my heart, and it made me realize how horrible I was to you back when we were dating.

And it continued from there, unspooling a long litany of the reasons that Katarina Stratford was the Living Embodiment of a Trash Fire, and Patrick should immediately erase her name and legacy from his memory.

"Ugh," Kat said. "Why did you do this, past-drunk-self?"

She stumbled down the street to the bodega to stock up on purple Gatorade and goldfish crackers, and when she returned, she saw that her phone had recently received several calls from the same unknown number.

"No," she said to the bag of goldfish crackers on the counter. "Surely not. He doesn't even have my number."

The goldfish crackers remained silent, but the giant goldfish on the packaging seemed to give her a knowing look.

Fifteen minutes later, the same number called again. With a feeling of approaching doom, Kat answered it.

"Heeeey, girlie! How's life as a living trash fire?"

"Patrick?" Kat said, wincing. "How...how do you have this number?"

"Bianca gave it to me." His voice sounded a little funny and touched by static, but it was still recognizably Patrick. "I persuaded her that it was a matter of life or death."

Kat slumped into her sofa. "It's not that serious. I'm not going to harm myself. I was just being drunk and melodramatic."

"Good, good, good," Patrick said. "Also, somewhere in paragraph seven, you offered to let me murder you to make up for all the pain you've caused me, and it seemed like a figure of speech, but I thought, hey, if something happens to Kat in the near future, are the feds going to be interested in this? Am I going to be a homicide suspect?"

"Ah ha," Kat intoned flatly. "You've cunningly detected my final revenge."

"I'm very deductive," Patrick said, and then there was a noise, and she heard Patrick, more distantly, say, "Dammit, do not get on that table."

"Sorry," he said a moment later. "I have a badly behaved dog, and he is too curious for his own good."

"Oh," Kat said. She cradled a bottle of Gatorade against her chest. "What kind of dog is it?"

"An absolute mutt," Patrick said cheerfully. "I got him after Tanya dumped me. I highly recommend it, by the way. Quickest way to get over a bad breakup is by taking care of a child-like monster-beast who likes to eat your house plants and bark at small children."

"Ah," Kat said. "Look, Patrick, I'm really sorry that I sent you that e-mail, but you don't need to worry about my welfare, and you don't need to...cheer me up. I'm sure you're very busy." A suspicion suddenly struck her. "Are you...are you calling from Australia?"

"Yes," he said. "It's the miracle of Skype, man. But, hey, I'm not just calling because you sent me that e-mail. I'm calling because, well, I've been thinking. I have meant to get your phone number for a while. I think we should stay in touch. And be friends."

"Ah," Kat said again, rolling the Gatorade bottle across her forehead. "Friends."

"Yeah. Look, I'm sorry that you feel so shitty about our breakup. You shouldn't. We were just kids, and we hurt each other because we didn't know any better. But I don't bear you any ill-will for that stuff. A lot of time has passed, and we're grown-ups now, and I...I miss you and Bianca and everyone. It would be good to re-establish contact, Kat. Maybe in a form more permanent than silly Facebook messages and memes."

Kat closed her throbbing eyes. "Okay," she heard herself say. "Let's do that. Let's be friends. It would be nice if something good came out of my sad, crazy, drunk e-mail."

"Something good absolutely will, because I'm going to send you so many inspirational images. So many! Have you ever heard of Courage Wolf?"

In the months that followed, Kat and Patrick began regularly e-mailing one another. Their emails were casual and held little substance: just jokes they'd heard or gripes about co-workers or very important current-event updates.

kat did you hear they're making a movie about facebook??

Their ten-year high-school reunion was that year, which Kat knew because she kept getting mass e-mails from old classmates with names she did not recognize who wanted to include "everyone" in the "planning."

Patrick didn't get any of these e-mails. maybe they think im back in prison, he responded after Kat forwarded a particularly exclamation-filled missive.

wait

are you sending me these emails because

you want to go????

Ugh, Kat wrote. No. Why does a ten-year reunion even exist? If I wanted to see those troglodytes, why would I wait ten years to do so?

to show them the miracle of kat stratford successful career woman

"Oh, look, it's Kat Stratford, I hear she's still a bitch."

i see what this is

i know what you want me to do

you want me to go to the reunion and tell everyone you are an international spy

roger wilco

Do. Not. Do. That.

a wink is as good as a nod to a blind bat

Kat held firm; she stayed in New York during the weekend of the reunion. Patrick surprised everyone by flying to the United States to attend.

On Facebook, he appeared tagged in the photos of other attendees: standing at the registration desk, sitting at a banquet table, posing with a group in front of a row of lockers. Everything looked about as cheesy as Kat had expected it would.

Patrick also posted one photo himself that weekend, though it was not taken at the reunion. It featured Patrick and Cameron James, both sitting in what appeared to be a bar. Both looked blissfully drunk in the photo.

"So," Kat said a few days later. "Was it fun?"

She was standing in her New York kitchen, drying dishes and speaking on her phone to Patrick, who was sitting in an airport terminal in Seattle. He had some time to kill before his flight back to Australia.

"I enjoyed myself immensely," Patrick said. "You would have hated it."

Kat smiled. "Good."

"I also had the chance to hang out with Cameron for a bit," Patrick said. "He's a cool guy, you know."

"Really? Is he still teaching English at our high school?"

"Yeah, but he enjoys it, I think. And he's clearly the 'cool' teacher for his kids. We ran into some of his students when we were looking for a place to eat, and they acted like he was a rock star."

"Huh."

"He recited some Shakespearean sonnets from memory."

"Oh boy."

"He's still in love with your sister."

"Did he put it like that?"

"Nah," Patrick said. "But he kept bringing her up. Which is a little weird, since I don't think they stayed in touch after the breakup?"

"No," Kat said. "It was a pretty bad breakup. It made our breakup seem like a party."

"I think one of our breakups actually happened at a party," Patrick said. "Do you remember that night we went to that thing with Stephanie?"

"Oh, god, that party. Why did we ever go to that thing?"

"Because we were open-minded," Patrick said, "and super-excited to see if there was going to be a keg."

Kat laughed. "Didn't we get back together during the beer pong that night?"

"I've always found beer pong to be a very romantic sport, Kat."

A few months later, Patrick started to date someone pretty seriously, and Kat started a time-intensive volunteer gig at a local women's shelter. The frequency of their communications lessened but never totally disappeared. Every couple of days, either Patrick or Kat would send the other a message or an e-mail or a comment on a Facebook post.

It was like a constant stream of friendly digital affirmation. Kat came to think of Patrick's messages to her as a series of high-fives telegraphed from a distant planet.

A year passed. Then another.

Patrick adopted another dog. (twice the monster beasts twice the fun). Kat received a promotion at her job, which meant that now she got to herd the interns. (It is a fate worse than death.) Patrick got dumped again and started posting pretty regular images of his dogs wearing silly outfits to Facebook (the trick is to bribe them with a lot of cheese). Kat reluctantly got a smartphone, (R.I.P. dear flip phone, I loved you not wisely but too well.) and soon her digital high-fives started coming through Instagram and Whatsapp.

Along the way, Bianca announced that she was getting married.

 

2012: Hurting Runs Off My Shoulders

Kat tapped her fingers restlessly along the steering wheel of her rental car. "Why did I agree to do this?" she asked herself.

Then she saw Patrick coming through the entrance of the terminal. It was the first time she had seen him in maybe a decade, and maybe the heavens should have opened up, maybe a choir of angels should have risen up in song, maybe Kat should have felt an explosive glow of affection and nostalgia at the sight of his lanky frame -- but mostly she just felt relief that she wasn't going to have to circle the airport pick-up circuit one more damn time.

She honked her horn for a sustained burst. His head whipped up, and a smile burst across his face, and he broke into a mock-run down the line of cars.

"Kat!" he cried as he opened the rear door and threw his suitcase into the backseat. "Kat!" he cried again as he flung himself into the passenger's seat. "Kat!" as he leaned over and gave her a half-hug. His shoulder, as it slammed into her shoulder, felt firm and familiar, and Kat smiled in spite of herself.

"Hey," she said, pulling into the traffic lane that would allow them to escape the airport. "You made it."

"By the skin of my teeth," Patrick said, leaning back into his seat. "Turns out that the delay in Los Angeles was due to some kind of mechanical failure? But thanks for agreeing to come and get me on such short notice. You look great, by the way. Also, I apologize in advance for speaking very rapidly and sweating like a crazy man. I'm seriously jet-lagged."

"No problem," Kat laughed. "How long have you been in the air?"

"Ugh," Patrick said. "Something like nineteen hours? After a while in an airplane, though, I feel like time ceases to have any meaning." He stretched wearily in the seat. "But, seriously, thanks. I don't think I could have navigated a taxi in my current state."

"No worries," Kat said. "You're going to pay me back by coming to tonight's rehearsal dinner with me."

"Oooh," Patrick said. "I...why? I mean, does your sister even want me there? Isn't that thing really intended for family?"

"It's for all out-of-town guests, and you are an out-of-town guest," Kat said absently as she checked her mirrors and shifted lanes. "And also I'm hoping that you'll be a buffer between me and the rest of the family."

Patrick groaned. "Oooh, Kat, come on. I just want to curl into a dark room and sleep for twelve hours and be in a semi-human state for your sister's wedding tomorrow. I'm in no shape to be around humans right now." He sniffed at the inside of his shirt collar. "I mean, I must smell awful."

"You smell like a late-night gas station," Kat said, "but in a good way."

Six hours later, Patrick leaned over and whispered, "You owe me big time, Katarina Stratford."

Kat continued smiling at her Uncle Alec, two seats down the table, who had just asked Patrick if it was true about Australians and criminal natures and that earlobe-thingamajig, but she patted his knee under the table. "I know, Patrick. I know. Now shut up, because my future brother-in-law is about to make a speech."

At the head of the table, a pleasant-faced young man was rising to his feet. A radiant Bianca sat beside him.

"What is this dude's name again?" Patrick whispered, his mouth close to her ear.

"Chadwick Worthington," Kat said.

"Of course it is."

Chadwick was saying, "...and let's hear it for my amazing future father-in-law, who has been so welcoming..."

"You smell super nice, by the way," Patrick whispered.

"It's just my shampoo," she said. "Shhh."

"And not to mention," Chadwick said, "my amazing future sister, Kat, who has been so much fun to get to know!"

Everyone applauded, and Patrick mouthed the word fun? at Kat.

"Hey, I can be fun," Kat whispered. "Also, Chadwick has a pretty weak understanding of fun. He gets excited about potential revisions to the tax code. Which is why he and I get along so well."

"Kindred spirits," Patrick murmured.

They made it through the rest of the dinner with only a few more eruptions from Uncle Alec ("Now, when I think back to the film Crocodile Dundee..."), and then Kat seized Patrick's knee so tightly that he winced.

"C'mon," Kat said. "They're bringing out the coffee. Bianca said I was allowed to escape when they brought out the coffee."

"Well, I think you should still be semi-subtle about it," Patrick said, winking down the table at Uncle Alec. "How about you casually get up as if you're running to the restroom, and I'll get up five minutes later, and we'll meet at the car."

"Deal," Kat said.

Five minutes later, back at the car, they high-fived one another.

"So what's on the docket for the rest of your night, Miss Stratford?"

"I'm supposed to go spend some quality time with Bianca before she goes to sleep. Braid her hair, gossip about Chadwick, you know. But I don't think she's going to escape the grip of wedding obligations for at least another two hours."

"No bachelorette party?" Patrick asked. "Surely not!"

"Oh, that already happened," Kat said. "Two nights ago. It was what you would expect. They got me to wear a pair of penis earrings."

Patrick laughed. "You? I'm shocked they got you to attend."

"Are you?" Kat snorted. "I just thought about how we were continuing the traditions of ancient Greece. To celebrate Dionysus, they used to parade a giant phallus around. I appreciated the ways in which we were just performing a modern celebration of a very old ritual." She paused. "Also, appropriately, we got very smashed that night. I haven't had a hangover that intense for...a couple of years. Anyway. What are your plans for the rest of the evening, Patrick?"

"I'm supposed to go get a drink with Cameron," Patrick said. "I mean, I figured I might as well, since I'll have a chance to see everyone else I want to see at the wedding tomorrow."

Kat glanced at him. "Oh, you'll have a chance to see Cameron tomorrow as well. Bianca invited him."

"What? She invited her high-school ex-boyfriend?"

"Man, Bianca invited everyone. She even invited her old bestie, Chastity, and they have not spoken in forever." Kat frowned. "It's kind of weird, actually. I ran into Chastity at the grocery store yesterday, and she was so excited to see me, and then she asked me all these questions about Russia and China and the Middle East. And I've never been to any of those places, you know, and I told her as much, and then she just winked at me. It was surreal. I think she must have been drunk."

"Uh huh," Patrick said blandly. "Hey, do you want to come with me and see Cameron? Get a beer? Reminisce about old times?"

"I'll skip the nostalgia, thanks," Kat said, "but I'll take you up on that beer."

Which is how, an hour later, Kat found herself squeezed into the booth of a newly established "gastro-pub" with Cameron and Patrick.

"So, you're coming from Bianca's rehearsal dinner?" Cameron asked with studied indifference.

"Yeah," Kat said, trying not to think about how firmly Patrick's leg was pressed against her own in the narrow confines of the booth. "It was the expected degree of 'WASP horror show.'"

"It was kind of nice," Patrick offered. "Two families getting to know each other. Lots of good food. Lots of good drink."

"Wait until you see the wedding tomorrow," Kat said. "They spared no expense on the victuals, or the arrangements, or the harpist, or the venue. Every time the question of price came up, everyone just shouted 'But it's tradition!' I'm surprised only that my sister's bride-price won't be delivered in the form of oxen."

"Kat, I detect the faintest insinuation that you might frown upon the institution of marriage," Patrick said.

"Of course. It's a patriarchal institution. And the traditional wedding is just the misogynistic cherry on top. I mean, the bride wears white, for fuck's sake. And the father gives her away. Tomorrow, Bianca is going to promise to love, honor, and obey. She insisted on the wording!"

"Sounds like Bianca," Patrick said. He glanced at Cameron, who was looking a little pale, and said with forced heartiness, "So Patrick! What kind of wedding do you prefer?"

"Oh," Cameron said faintly, while Kat savagely kicked Patrick under the table, "I don't know. I think any wedding that involves the union of two people who love one another is automatically beautiful, you know? It's just necessarily good. Especially if life has thrown adversity in their way, and they may have parted for a time, but they managed to realize their mistake and come together before it was too late."

Patrick and Kat exchanged a worried glance.

"But I guess, if I had to choose," Cameron said, "I'd pick a field of wildflowers at sunset in a national park somewhere, surrounded by all my families and friends."

"Yeah, yeah," Patrick said, trying to surreptitiously tuck his feet out of Kat's reach. "As for me, I think I'd prefer a big-ass barbecue, with all the people I love, and all my dogs, and a keg, and a beer-pong table." He winked at Kat. "Because it's the most romantic drinking game."

Kat rolled her eyes. "You'd play some Neil Diamond, of course."

"Would I?"

"He's an institution in wedding-reception dance playlists."

"Neil Diamond?"

"Nothing gets the young people pumping their fists in the air like 'Sweet Caroline.'"

Patrick looked at Cameron. "Is this for real?"

Cameron grinned at Patrick. "Oh, yeah. But I've mainly seen it happen at New England weddings. I think it has something to do with the Red Sox and Fenway."

"Luckily for your cultural enrichment," Kat said, "Chadwick's family has lived in New England since the Mayflower. They insisted on 'Sweet Caroline.'"

"Neil Diamond," Patrick whispered to his beer. "What a world."

Cameron laughed. "So how's life been treating you, Patrick? How are your dogs?" 

"Monstrous," Patrick said. "I ask myself daily why I continue to shelter and feed such ungrateful beasts. They're staying with my cousin while I'm in the States, and she sent me an e-mail this morning telling me that, apparently, either Lano or Woodley consumed the better half of a jump rope. Everyone is waiting for its reappearance with bated breath." He gave a weary sigh. "They cause destruction wherever they go. But weirdly enough, my boss really likes them, and he keeps telling me that I should bring them into the office, and I keep telling him that bringing them into the office would only lead to corporate devastation and ruin." 

"Are you still at that same job?" Cameron asked. "How's the hectic life of a 'social media manager'?" 

Kat swiveled her head slowly to regard Patrick. "What?" 

"Indeed," Patrick said, taking another swig from his bottle. "Young Master Cameron here speaks the truth. You look upon the splendor of a bonafide social-media manager." 

"How did you manage that? You don't even know what a meme is." 

"Well, I know what it is now. Really, the job just fell into my lap, because I'm the youngest person at the company, you know, and thus the only person who understands how computers work. I was hired as a temp, but on my second day on the job, my boss was so impressed that I knew how to banish the talking paperclip in Microsoft Word that he offered me a full-time position on the spot."

"Clippy?" Cameron said. "I haven't thought about that dude in a while."

"He's like a terrible ghost from the past that haunts us still, because I'm pretty sure most of our software dates from the mid-nineties," Patrick said. "And, frankly, it's kind of absurd that my company even cares about their 'social-media presence,' because what we are is a dairy company, and I am not convinced that our milk-drinkers are driven to make their purchases based on what I'm retweeting on Twitter.  So occasionally I fall into bouts of existential despair about the meaning of my life, but mostly I watch a lot of videos on Youtube and come up with silly cow images, and I can't say it's a bad life." He shrugged. "I go on a lot of hikes with me and the dogs. And I'm thinking of maybe getting into brewing my own beer. So it's okay." 

Under the table, Kat squeezed his knee, and Patrick flushed a little and grinned down at her. 

"So, Cameron," Kat said, feeling a rising flutter in her chest and wanting to change the subject, "what are you teaching the young minds these days?"

"We're reading A Tale of Two Cities," Cameron said with a smile. "We're nearly at the climax of the novel, and I'm pretty excited, because it means I'll get to perform my dramatic Sydney Carton monologue for them." He straightened, and his voice took on a deeper tone. "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

Kat and Patrick exchanged another worried glance.

Later, in the parking lot, Cameron gave her a hug. "Hey, you know that I'm always here for you, right, Kat?"

"Sure, man," she said. "I know."

He pulled away. "Seriously, Kat. If you ever need to come in from the cold, I'm here. Don't forget."

Frowning, Kat climbed into her car and shut the door. "I'm not sure we should be letting Cameron drive. I think he might be slightly drunk."

"He was only drinking Sprite at the bar, so I'm pretty sure he's fit to drive," Patrick said.

"Very strange, then," Kat said. "And look, man. I'm going to need you to sit near him during the ceremony."

"Happily," Patrick said. "We'll pass each other little notes and stuff. Maybe hold hands."

"No, I mean it," Kat said. "When the minister says 'speak now or forever hold your peace,' and you see any sign of movement from him, I need you to shut it down."

"Your wish is my command," Patrick said. "I will do my utmost to prevent a re-enactment of The Graduate."

She dropped Patrick off at his hotel. "See you tomorrow, Verona."

He grinned at her as he shut her car door. "See you tomorrow, Stratford."

When Kat got home, her father was already in bed, and Bianca was wearing pajamas and watching The Princess Bride.

"Hey," she said sleepily as Kat came into the living room. "You're just in time for the best part. Buttercup is about to throw Westley down that hill."

"I do love that part," Kat said as she plonked down next to Bianca. "I'm sorry I didn't get back sooner."

"No worries," Bianca said serenely. "It gave Dad the chance to have a couple more cries about losing his baby girl. He doesn't like to cry in front of you, you know."

Kat shuddered. "The feeling is mutual, because I hate it when he cries. It is the stuff of nightmares."

Bianca snuggled closer to Kat and rested her head against Kat's shoulder. "Kat, you know what? Tomorrow, at this time, I'm going to be a married woman."

"I know," Kat said, tenderly rubbing the small of Bianca's back. "You will be."

"It's a real accomplishment." 

"I'm proud of you, baby, but I hope you won't be offended if I say that I'm going to be a whole lot prouder of you when you finish your residency." 

"Yeah," Bianca said, "I will grudgingly and reluctantly agree that becoming a doctor is an actual accomplishment, but planning a big wedding is no small task. But I did it. I survived to see the big day." She sighed contentedly. "You've been very patient with all of this, Kat, even though I know you think it's ridiculous."

"I do think it's ridiculous," Kat said, "but I also know it makes you happy. And if one must uphold the unhealthy rituals of an oppressive system, then I suppose happiness is the best reason to do it."

"Just pretend tomorrow that we're doing some more Dionysian rituals," Bianca said, yawning.

"I will," Kat said, pressing her nose against the top of Bianca's head and breathing in the scent of her clean hair. "I'll spend the whole ceremony waiting for you to murder the harpist in the middle of a drunken orgy."

"I'll have to talk to our photographer first," Bianca said absently. "Dana will want to be in the right spot to capture that magic. Also, you and Patrick were thick as thieves tonight."

"Yeah, he's a good guy," Kat said. "I'm glad he's my friend."

Bianca wiggled a little bit against Kat. "Is he just a friend?"

"Yes," Kat said, smiling. "Really. And that's enough."

"Sure," Bianca said. "It's nice to have friends. But I think it's nicer to have friends whom you can bang."

Kat jiggled her arm. "Says the woman about to commit to a single sexual partner for the rest of her life."

"Hey, that's because I found the friend I want to bang for the rest of my life," Bianca said. "I merely wish that happiness for you as well, dear sister."

"Thank you for your concern," Kat said. "But, frankly, I think my friendship powers deserve some credit. I'm not only friends with my exes, but yours as well. I had the weird pleasure of seeing Cameron tonight."

"Oh, Cameron," Bianca said sadly. "Is he still in love with me?"

"All signs point to yes."

"How unfortunate. I hope he gets over it. He was a good boyfriend to me, but we weren't a good match. But I'm glad you're friends with him. Is he doing well?"

"Yes, actually. You know, I used to look down on him a little? I thought it was kind of pathetic to return to our old high school and become an English teacher. But he seems to really dig it. It clearly just fulfills him. So now I feel a little ashamed about my past-self being so contemptuous about this pretty difficult and pretty selfless vocation he's undertaken."

"You should never be ashamed of a past mistake if you've corrected it," Bianca said primly.

Kat laughed. "Okay. What time do I need to take you over to the hairdresser tomorrow morning?"

"Eeeearly," Bianca said. "Oh, that reminds me. On the way, you should stop by the Rite Aid and pick up some Kleenex. My wedding planner told me that the maid of honor should always have tissues, so that your eye makeup doesn't run much when you cry during the ceremony."

"I love you dearly, Bianca," Kat said, "but I am not going to cry at your wedding."

Fourteen hours later, Kat found herself blinking down into her bouquet and cursing her past-self's cockiness.

"...and do you, Chadwick Worthington, take this woman..."

To distract herself, Kat glanced back into the crowd. There was her father, weeping helplessly. There were Chadwick's parents, icily expressionless. There, several rows back, were Cameron and Patrick. It was too far away for her to make out the expression on Cameron's face, but it was not too far for her to see the thumbs-up that Patrick gave her.

"...and do you, Bianca..."

Kat looked back down at her bouquet. Think about happy things, she thought. Kittens or strings or some shit. Happy things, happy things.

She thought of Patrick, smiling down at her in the narrow confines of that booth last night, and she suddenly felt as if something had risen in her chest and was knocking against the bottom of her throat.

God dammit, self, she thought in both exasperation and resignation. This is why we can't have nice things.

At the reception afterward, she made it through most of the toasts (including her own) without crying, but for some reason, when Uncle Alec got up to give a toast ("Why is he standing up," Bianca had hissed in alarm as he started waving for the mike), Kat totally lost it and started sobbing, and the rest of the wedding party all mutely passed her their napkins as she tried to mop up the tears.

At the first opportunity, Kat fled to the ladies room and cleaned herself up. "Keep it together, Stratford," she hissed at herself in the mirror. "Keep it together."

She found Patrick waiting for her in the hallway outside the restrooms. "Heeeeey," he said.

"Hey," she said. "On a scale of 1 to 10, how much of a mess did I look like out there?"

"Which direction are we going on this scale?" Patrick asked. "Is ten the good direction? Or the bad direction?"

"Patrick."

"You smeared your mascara very artistically," Patrick said judiciously. "You looked very punk-rock."

"Okay, I can live with that. Thank you."

"Any time," he said with a bright smile, and Kat had to look away, because suddenly it was like looking into the sun.

"So," she said to his feet, "did Cameron behave himself?"

"Oh yeah. Not a peep out of him. Looked kind of chill and mellow during the whole thing, actually."

"That's a relief."

"Yeah," Patrick said. "Listen, Kat, I was serious when I said you owed me last night, and now it's time to pay up. I have only two requirements for this wedding reception: I want to drink liberally at that open bar, and I want to dance foolishly with you to all the uncool music on that dance floor."

Kat wrinkled her nose. "Patrick, do you hear that? That's the 'Electric Slide' they're playing right now."

"I know!" Patrick said. "And we are missing it! So come on, Kat! Don't let me down!"

"Okay," Kat said dejectedly. "I'll do the Electric Slide."

"And the 'Cha-Cha Slide.'"

"No! Patrick, no, there is a hard limit to the number of slides I'll do!"

"Impossible! You've got two feet and a heart, don't you? Come on, let's do this."

And then they danced. At first, Kat felt self-conscious and stiff and intensely aware of how close Patrick was dancing to her, but then the third glass of red wine started to work its magic, and she felt herself loosen up.

She knew she was far gone when she found herself singing along to "Don't Stop Believin'."

It was during back-to-back OutKast songs that they found themselves dancing next to Cameron.

"Cameron!" Kat yelled. "I'm so glad to see you!"

"Yeah!" Cameron yelled back. "Me too!"

"I'm glad you came to this wedding!"

"Yeah! Me too! It was a beautiful ceremony! And I realized how happy I am for Bianca! I feel as if, today, I finally, finally got closure!"

"That's great!"

"Also, Kat! I just want you to know! I don't exactly approve of your career, but at the same time, I'm glad that you're one of the people on our side!"

"What?"

"I know it's must be hard being involved in espionage! But I have to believe that you're fighting the good fight! Hold on, I need to get a drink, I'll be back in ten!"

As Cameron danced away, a horrible realization dawned upon Kat. "Verona! Have you been telling people that I'm a spy?"

Patrick, who had been busy shaking it like a Polaroid picture, shrugged angelically. "Maybe!"

"Patrick!"

"Hey," he said, leaning close to her so that he did not have to shout. "I never told anyone that you were a spy. I just strongly insinuated it. At our high-school reunion."

Kat smacked him lightly on the shoulder. "No wonder everyone has been so weird to me recently."

"I'm sorry about that part," Patrick said. "Honestly, I just told one or two of the more awful people from high school, just to make them splutter. I didn't expect the rumor to spread quite so...comprehensively. But hey, good news, Stratford! If you ever feel like a career change, it seems like people totally believe that you have the qualifications for a life of international intrigue."

"I'll update my résumé post-haste," Kat said. "Oooh! Oooh! This song! It's time for the song!"

"Oh god, is this...'Sweet Caroline?' Why does...why does everyone know the words?"

"I told you, it's like a cult! But I think you can make up the lyrics, if you want, until we get to the chorus!"

"What happens at the chorus?" Patrick asked, grinning sweatily down at her.

"This!" Kat shrieked, and Neil Diamond sang, "Sweeeeeet Caroline," and Kat seized Patrick's forearm and thrust it in the air in time for the "BAMP BAMP BAMP" part.

Patrick looked simultaneously delighted and disgusted. "Holy shit, everyone's doing it, everyone's doing it."

And he was laughing, and she was laughing, and she was standing jammed up against his chest and still holding his limp arm in the air, and he smelled like rum and sweat and good times, and so it was perfectly natural that Kat would choose that moment to pull his head down and kiss him firmly.

He kissed her back.

Around them, everyone thrust their arms in the air and screamed "BAMP BAMP BAMP."

They finally both came up for air.

"This is really stupid!" Kat shouted.

"I can't believe we're making out to Neil Fucking Diamond," Patrick shouted.

"It's probably just all the heightened emotions of the wedding!" Kat shouted. "And all the alcohol!"

"I think we should start dating each other again!"

Kat paused. "I don't know! Our friendship has been pretty great."

Now they could stop shouting, because there was a momentary lull while the DJ searched for his Whitney Houston files.

"Our friendship has been great," Patrick said, resting his hands lightly on Kat's shoulder. "So great that I think we should now expand it to include 'sex' and 'commitment' and the words 'boyfriend and girlfriend.'"

"We've tried that before," Kat said.

"Yeah, but we were infants at the time, and we didn't know what we were doing. Now we're old and wise and it's gonna be easy."

"You live on the opposite side of the world," Kat said.

"For the moment," Patrick shrugged. "It's not like I'm nailed down there. I think my skill-set is pretty transferable. I am capable of moving back to the States. I'm even capable of getting the paperwork done so that my dumb, terrible dogs can also move to the States. And besides," he said with a grin, "you've seen my texts, Stratford, but you've never had a chance to see my sexts."

Kat tried to frown at him, but the corners of her mouth kept twisting upward, despite her best efforts. 

"Okay," she said. "Okay. It's gonna be dumb, but let's do it anyway."