Summary: When David suddenly passes away, Buster returns home to comfort his childhood friend and his family. When he sees that Kate is having a hard time, he connects with her. Soon a relationship blossoms. Will the two find love from this tragic situation?
Can also be found here.
Buster parked at the street and looked up to the Read household. It had been several years since he’d come to the house, but this time, it was for a reason he didn’t want to be here. Cars cluttered the driveway and street as others made the unexpected visit, and Buster could see crowds of people through the home’s open front windows. All of them were there to console Mrs. Read, now a widow.
Buster got the news from Arthur the night before. His father had suddenly collapsed at work that afternoon, and though the hospital worked for hours to stabilize him, there was nothing they could do. He was gone in an instant, turning Jane into an overnight widow. Buster could see her through the front window, her body rocking with sobs as people sat solemnly around her.
The only fresh face was Kate’s. She sat on the porch, her long legs leaning on the railing of the porch. She’d grown considerably since Buster saw her last, but she was only sixteen then. She was twenty-one now and he was twenty-nine. And since so much time had passed, he almost expected her not to recognize him. He walked up to her, testing the theory. She immediately looked up from her novel with a smile.
“Arthur told me he called you. I figured you’d come for visitation tomorrow and head back out again,” Kate smiled, standing up and hugging him tightly, “but I’m really glad you’re here. Everyone’s a wreck. Don’t they know how normal death is? It happens to everyone.”
Buster had forgotten the part about Kate become slightly strange. Around the age of eighteen, he guessed, their grandparents died within months of each other. First was Grandpa Dave, falling at the nursing home and never recovering. Then Thora told the family she had cancer and would be dead within days. The family was stunned, but Thora didn’t want to disturb them with her ailments. She’d hidden her condition for years, but it caught up to her. The family was in turmoil, all of them grieving in various ways. DW took to the bottle and needed rehab, David overworked himself, and Jane took up cleaning other people’s houses because hers was too spotless to satisfy her.
But Kate took the strange route. She took up new beliefs and had new theories on the world. Buster was across the country with his father’s new family, so he didn’t know until now what exactly Arthur meant. As Kate took her seat again, he realized she was reading a classic novel he remembered from his college days. It was still banned in several places due to the graphic murders showcased inside.
Buster sat beside her, not really knowing what to say or do. This was very new to him still, even though it wasn’t his first death experience. It was just the first one that had hit so close to home, and he really didn’t know how to get through it. He ran his fingers through his facial hair while staring at the packed street.
Kate eyed him carefully, “You know, my mom is inside. Everyone is going up to her and saying how sorry they are. That is such a strange tradition, but whatever. I didn’t make the rules in this backwards society. But that’s what you should be doing right now, not disturbing my reading time.”
Buster knew she was right, so he slipped inside. He found Jane’s spot empty as family and friends sat around in silence. Arthur had gone with her into the master bedroom, and Buster could hear Jane sobbing. DW stood in the kitchen staring at the counter top, now cluttered with the food that neighbors had delivered. Though he was supposed to be here consoling the widow, he moved back outside to the front porch, taking his seat next to Kate again.
Kate flipped a page before marking her spot with a twig. She turned to him, twisting to look behind him. She pointed to the neighbor’s house, “That’s where your mom wanted to move to. I’m glad she didn’t get the house now. The people who live there are Buddhists with some really cool belief systems. I’ve been meaning to ask them about death, but I don’t know. What do you think I should do?”
“I don’t know. What exactly do you want to know from them?” Buster asked. Kate shrugged, laying back in her seat again. She stared up at the sky complacently. Buster sighed, “Look, I don’t think I should be here. Maybe you can tell Arthur and Jane that I came by but couldn’t stay.”
“I won’t lie for you, Buster,” Kate said firmly. “I know you have plenty of time to stay. You drove all night from Virginia, right? You’re staying with your mother, and other than obligatory dinners with her while you’re here, you have nothing else to do. Just wait her out. She goes in waves now, crying herself out then starting again later. That’s the tragic part of all of this. She needs to do more than sit.”
“She doesn’t know what to do with herself. It’s not every day that you lose a husband, and I think you should be more sympathetic to that,” Buster said firmly.
Kate shrugged, “I know this isn’t a typical situation, but death is so normal. His body gave out, okay? I get it. But we can’t kill ourselves by not eating, but letting the pain take over. We just have to move on, even if it did happen yesterday,” she said, staring at the street. Buster could hear a hint of skepticism in her voice. Was she doubting her own beliefs? Kate sighed heavily, “I just don’t know why all these people showed up at once. Don’t they know we need our privacy? Mom shouldn’t have to cry in front of a bunch of near strangers,” Kate said angrily. “Everyone should leave, even you. Nobody should be here right now, only us!” Kate cried.
“Calm down, Kate. It’s not your place to kick everyone out. Jane will when she’s ready, or Arthur will do it. You just…sit and read or whatever,” Buster said, eying the book with a disgusted expression.
“You know what the book is too,” she murmured. “Miss Turner came by earlier and huffed at me. So I was doing some school reading when this happened. I can’t help what my teachers want me to read. I’m a literature major, you know. I have to read whatever they tell me to. I can’t look at summary notes either. It has to be the real thing, and Buster? I hate this book so much. It’s so terrible. Why didn’t it stay banned?”
“I’m glad you think that way. I was beginning to worry about you,” Buster admitted. Kate sat up suddenly, standing up and pacing the porch. “Are you okay?” he asked.
Kate shook her head as the tears began to pour, “No, Buster, I’m not okay! My dad is dead and everyone but you is avoiding me because they think I’m some kind of death fiend! I’m just trying to stay normal, okay? I’ve gone through this before and it helped to be normal. It helped to wake up and say ‘Death is natural and unavoidable,’ but now everyone thinks I’m some kind of freak! If I wear black, people stare at me. I can’t even wear dark clothes because people think I’m some kind of witch! People keep dying in my life! What else am I supposed to do?” she cried.
Buster could tell she was getting attention from people inside. He gently guided her to the backyard, where many of their playthings were still scattered around the yard. The only addition was a small playhouse David built for the girls once Kate was old enough. They could still fit inside, so the two sat in together. Kate was still crying, and after a moment, she fell against him. He wrapped his arms around her, trying to comfort her, but he knew she needed this. She needed to grieve no matter how much it hurt. She had to grieve.
The funeral was an interesting day. After the ceremony and funeral procession, Arthur and Buster met up at the rebuilt Sugar Bowl. They were alone while Jane and the girls went home to deal with extra food and flowers. It was the first time they’d been alone since Buster arrived, and the distance showed.
“I was hoping we’d meet up again at the Bionic Comics Convention in Metropolis next year,” Arthur whispered, taking a sip of his milkshake. He swallowed hard, “But things don’t ever work out to plan. I’ve got so much on my plate right now, and having to watch DW around the bottles isn’t a fun experience. I’m afraid she’s going to relapse, and Kate? I just don’t understand her at all.”
After her outburst, she went straight back to her normal disposition. Buster knew it was a front, something that she couldn’t escape from now that she’d started it, but he remained silent. She told him that in confidence, so he couldn’t blow her cover now. But he was making himself look back to Arthur. He needed to explain himself.
“Look, she’s been through a lot in the last few years. You were in your twenties when this started for you, but she was a teenager, and it’s not over yet. Her childhood is now marred by death, so she’s reacting strangely. I worry about her too, but we have to be understanding too,” Buster explained.
Arthur shook his head, “Well I’m overly concerned for her. Miss Turner told me what she was reading-”
“It was for school. She told me,” Buster said firmly.
“Well she could take a sabbatical or something! Buster, I want her to get professional help or something. She really needs it, but I just don’t think I can ask her that. She’s always liked you, so maybe you could talk to her on my behalf.”
Buster hated that idea, but he knew how he could spin it to make sure he wasn’t the bad guy. He promised to talk to her as soon as he could. That night, the Read family went to bed fairly early, leaving Buster alone in the living room with some of the food they needed help clearing out. Kate joined him, grabbing up a large bowl of cobbler and sitting near him on the couch.
“Arthur is acting really weird around me,” Kate announced, her mouth still halfway full of food. She swallowed it slowly before continuing, “He must be like everyone else. What did he say about me at lunch today?” she asked. Buster took too long to answer and Kate jumped up slightly, “I know he talked to you about me. You hadn’t been alone before then, so yeah, I know. What did he say?”
“He wants you to seek professional help, maybe take some time off from school,” Buster said flatly. Kate scoffed, rolling her eyes as she leaned back into the couch. Buster sighed, “Look, I don’t believe him, but I know the truth. He doesn’t know the truth. I figured you should tell him, but I told him what you’d been through. I’m willing to help get your point across-”
“No, let them be confused. Listen, I do need away from here, but where am I supposed to go? Most of my friends still live nearby, and I don’t know anyone outside of town except you. Maybe you could help me?” she asked.
Buster thought it out. Having Kate with him would be strange after living alone for so long, but she did need help. He felt he had an obligation to the Read family, and in this time of need, he needed to exercise it as much as possible. So, he decided that she could come home with him, and Kate eagerly accepted.
Jane wasn’t happy to see her daughter leave, but it had been a week since David died. Everyone needed to attempt to get back to normal, and since Kate seemed to be struggling, she didn’t mind her daughter traveling with Buster. He promised to take good care of her as the two departed the Read household, and soon they were on the road back to Buster’s home.
Buster lived in a small Virginia town several hours from Elwood City. Kate enjoyed the semi-scenic drive through major highways and state routes. It took her a while to get used to Buster’s driving, but she was happy to be getting away from her family and from school. They granted her extensions on her major assignments at the university, but she’d have to continue her course work online. Buster assured her that he had working internet, but what would she do all day? What did he even do?
When they entered town, Kate immediately realized what he did for a living. A magic shop was located right on the town’s square, a giant sign detailing its various tricks and props that were for sale. Buster must’ve used his business degree to take over the business, she thought, looking over the town carefully. When he pulled in front of a tax shop, Kate was confused. Was there an ice cream shop or a burger joint in the back? Buster immediately noticed her confusion.
“I guess Arthur never told you what I did for a living, huh? After business school, I took a few accounting courses. I thought I was going to stay in Elwood City and work with his mom, but then I met up with this guy. Come on in, you’ll love him,” Buster assured her, gesturing her out of the car. Reluctantly, Kate followed him into the building.
Buster was greeted like a bar patron. A heavy-set guy came out of a back office, a wide grin on his face, “Baxter, my man, I was wondering when you’d make it back! You told me there were some diversions, but I didn’t expect you to be away a whole week. Come on in, sit down. Tell me more about this Elwood City place and your friend and whatever.”
“First, let me introduce you to my friend’s baby sister. This is Kate Read, and Kate, this is Bill Meyers. He’s my boss. This is his business and he’s kind enough to let me work here,” Buster winked, watching as the two shook hands. Buster knew Bill would want to get right to business, so he told him everything. He didn’t leave out any detail, just as Bill would like. Even though the parts about the distraught Jane were hard to tell about and to listen to, Bill wanted to hear it. And since a family member of the deceased was there, he wanted to know about her too, but Kate remained nervously silent. She was eager to get settled, not talk about her home life.
Bill was understanding, “Well, it looks like you just got off the road. Why don’t you take tomorrow to show her the area? I’m sure she’d love it. And then you can come back to work the day after. Bring her if she wants to come. I’m sure there will be plenty for her to do,” Bill nodded, waving to them as they left.
Once in the car, Buster sighed gently before driving her two blocks over. Buster lived in a small one-bedroom house not far from town, but that meant he could walk to work. Kate liked the look of things as they journeyed into the small house. It was cozy and uncluttered, something Kate could live with. It was nothing like her childhood home or the home of any of her friends, and that made it so much more worth it.
After resting for a while, Buster had some Chinese food delivered to the house. They ate cross-legged at the coffee table while watching some local kids’ cartoons. Halfway through their meal, Buster decided to question Kate about her silence earlier. Kate was reluctant to answer at first, so she shoved bites of food into her mouth for a distraction. Buster noticed and pulled the carton away from her.
Kate finished chewing, giving Buster a dirty look with her eyes. She swallowed and looked up to him, “So I was quiet with someone I don’t know. I’ve always been shy, you know. Either way, he didn’t need to know any of that. I get that he’s your boss and he’s curious to know what you’ve been doing, but hearing about my family’s hardships is just…you shouldn’t have said so much. Why would you even tell him all of that?”
“Bill is just one of those people. I just figured you’d say something is all,” Buster said, exhaling slowly. “I…I feel like there are things you haven’t said to me. Why were you so eager to leave? I know your professors are being nice to you, but I figured you wouldn’t want to run away right now. Your mom could’ve used you.”
“Then take me back,” Kate said sarcastically, scoffing, “I wanted to get away for plenty of good reasons, Buster. I’m an adult now. I should’ve left so long ago, but I kept letting people tell me that I was needed. Yeah, Mom needs me now, but she didn’t need me before, and Dad didn’t either. He was always so busy with work. I knew this would happen, but I can’t tell people that. I can’t tell people how I see things without getting dirty looks. And you might not give me dirty looks, but you must agree with Arthur about me. I’m troubled or whatever. I need help,” Kate said flatly.
Buster shook his head, “Arthur and I disagree on a lot of things. I think you’re coping as best as you can. Are you a little dark? Compared to us, yes, but it’s working for you, or at least it seems to be working for you. I just want you to be okay, but I feel like you’re still playing with fronts. Aren’t you too old for that?”
“Why do you think I came here? It’s time for me to grow up, and…I always felt older around you. You always made it a point to include me, even when you didn’t have to include me. I was your best friend’s little sister, his baby sister at that, and even though you know my age, you don’t allow it to be a hindrance. I was hoping to reconnect with you, to let you help me grow up,” Kate said softly. “Can’t you help me grow up?”
“Everyone grows up at their own pace,” Buster said, cracking up, “Just look in my refrigerator. I still buy juice boxes and character-related foods. I’m just as immature as I was ten years ago, probably twenty years ago depending on who you ask. It’s okay to be the baby, to let things come as they need to. Growing up too fast is just as miserable.”
“Well I want to experience it for myself,” Kate said firmly. “I know it’s better to let things happen as they should, but maybe I should do more to help myself. I let my parents hold me back, and Dad’s gone now. I should honor him by doing something with my life, by getting a job. I don’t really like your boss, but if he can find me something to do, maybe he’ll hire me one day. And I’ll keep up my school work,” Kate added firmly. “I know you care about school and whatever, but let me do this.”
“I won’t tell you what to do, but I don’t want you to use me to end your childhood. I’d feel guilty-”
“For putting adult responsibilities on my shoulders? There are so many things we could do together that should make you feel guilty,” Kate laughed, raising an eyebrow until Buster realized the innuendo she’d implied. “Yeah, see, it could be a little different. I don’t know if you see me like that or not, but that’s not the adulthood I’m here to find. If it happens, whatever, but I’m here to grow up in a business sense.”
Buster agreed to help her, but he blushed at the ideas she brought up. She was Arthur’s baby sister, a girl he’d watch grow up before his eyes. She’d grown up so much more since he last saw her, but he never said things like that to her because he did want her to feel equal to him. But a romantic relationship? He didn’t think he liked the idea of that. He wondered what even made her think it up, but he dropped the subject. If she wanted a new normal, he would provide it, and that meant going to bed at a reasonable time so they could both get to work on time.
Bill put Kate to work in the business’s file room. She was responsible for putting away the contracts and other business files they needed her to put away, an extremely limited job that she quickly finished. When she was done, he decided to have her help reorganize the storage room, a job that lasted three days. Buster watched over her, helping her make some decisions but also encouraging her to do her school work on her breaks. Kate obeyed him, following any of his orders, but she noticed a change in herself since starting this new life of sorts.
Kate had also thought about what she said a few nights before. It was just talk—she didn’t know any of her friends that ended up with any of the boys or girls that Arthur and Buster went to school with. The age gap was noticeable at this point in their lives. Kate was barely in college and still had a few years until she finished. Arthur and Buster were out of college and working in real-world jobs, many of them already married and in their own houses. DW’s generation was in the gap in between, making the gap between Kate and Buster even more noticeable.
But was it a bad gap? Kate thought about the luxuries that being with an older guy could give her. He already had a job, a house, and everything they would need to start a life together. He was semi-mature and knew how to treat women. Kate knew he’d even had a few girlfriends, so he knew a little about relationships. Buster was a good choice, and her heart seemed to notice. After years of not even thinking of Buster, she found herself thinking about him almost constantly. He’d even showed up in her dreams, and one of them was even romantic.
Kate was concerned that she was falling for him, but it was only because he seemed so off-put by the idea of them being together. She knew he felt responsible for her since she was in his charge, but they were both adults. What if they did want to pursue a romantic relationship? Kate didn’t know how he would feel, and she honestly didn’t know how she felt. Her only other crushes were on classmates, all of them her same age or slightly younger. She’d never liked an older guy before, and since her crushes on guys her same age never worked, she doubted this one would either.
Kate sat on the idea, letting a week pass and then two. They had a routine together, and Kate felt much better now that she was away from home. She even helped cook and clean, something she rarely did at home because her parents preferred those chores. She was growing up slowly, but she wanted to see if she could do that next step. She had to see if a relationship with Buster could actually work, and she had a plan to make it happen.
Kate complained of a stomach ache, so Buster let her stay home. She was also working on a research paper, so he liked the idea of her staying home to work on it. Bill wasn’t even concerned with her absence, and both men went on like always.
But Kate was in game plan mode. She decorated the house after giving it a good cleaning, and after a trip to the grocery store during the middle of the afternoon, she began to cook a romantic dinner. She was going to woo him with food and romance, and she prayed it would work.
When Buster stepped into the house, he immediately dropped his briefcase. His face read like a distressed animal, and Kate immediately had to sit down. She felt as if she’d messed everything up as Buster moved around the living room. He definitely noticed the decorations, and his nose definitely noticed the cooking food. He knew exactly what this was, and he seemed horrified by it.
“Look, Buster, I need to explain-”
“No, you don’t have to explain. I know what this is,” Buster said softly, looking around the room before turning back to her. “Look, I think this is a time thing. You’re going through a tough time in your life, and you’ve fixated on me. You should’ve told me how you felt sooner, but listen to me—these feelings aren’t true. You only like me because of the situation we’re in. You just need to go back home and-”
“I am not going back home!” Kate exclaimed. “Look, I know it probably is something from the moment, but I don’t want this to end. I want to stay here with you and have a real life. I can’t have that in Elwood City. Please, let me stay here and let this happen.”
“I can’t,” Buster said firmly. “Your mother wants you back home so that you can help her pack things up. She’s moving to another city to be near to her family. Arthur just called to tell me while I was at work earlier. He wants you back home tomorrow afternoon, and Bill gave me the time off. You have to go back home.”
Kate was distraught. Couldn’t they try a little longer? She was an adult now. She didn’t have to run back home to her mother, even if she did need her. Why couldn’t Kate have what she wanted for once?
She was upset, but Buster tried to make it up to her. They ate the dinner, which was quite delicious, and they spent the evening in separate rooms. After contemplating the idea on her own, she realized Buster was right. Her mother did need her in a way that Arthur and DW would just mess up. She’d have to go back to Elwood City, then to wherever her mother needed her. That was the real adult decision here, not running away. She agreed, reluctantly, to go back, but she refused to stop liking Buster. Just because her dream was ruined didn’t mean she had to get over each part of it. She’d try to win him later when things were calmer in her life, and she knew she’d succeed.
Jane was grateful to have Kate back home. She looked several years older now that David was gone, but deep down, she was still the same person. Kate eagerly helped her in between classes at school. It was almost over, and as soon as her finals were submitted, she and her mother would make the move two states over to a house near Jane’s sister, Jessica. The entire time, Buster would be away—he dropped Kate out at the Read house and never went inside.
The distance didn’t ease her heart’s yearning for him. Despite being busy with classes, final papers, and moving preparations, Kate was still in love with Buster. She dreamed of him, and she thought she saw him in places he couldn’t be. She wanted to see him again soon just to be with him, to smell his cologne and hear his jokes. She wanted to be by his side always, but she knew to wait.
After a month, Kate had helped her mother settle into a new house just three doors down from her aunt’s house. Jessica had several kids now that Jane helped to watch, and the town eagerly provided her with work to do. For Kate, however, the small town offered nothing. She had her eye on another town instead, the small town where Buster lived. There was a college just thirty minutes away, and without telling anyone, she applied…and they accepted.
With fall semester approaching, Kate had to get her living situation in order. After getting Buster’s phone number from Arthur, she called him. He answered and she told him about the college. Then she asked the ultimate question: “Do you think I could live with you while I go to school? It’ll only be for a year, and I promise to pull my own weight.”
Buster sighed heavily, his breath making a rattling noise in the background. After a long pause, he came up with the only response he could think of, “I’ll really have to think about it, and I want you to ask someone else what they think. I want to make sure you’re making the right decision.”
Buster ended the call moments later, bothering Kate. She knew he was looking out for her just like any gentleman would, but couldn’t he let her do one thing for herself to make her dream work? She decided to give him time, but she wouldn’t ask anyone else. She knew this was right for her, and if it wasn’t, she’d learn from her own mistakes.
When Kate got up a few mornings later, she knew her mother had found out. Jane gave her a stern look as she poured herself a cup of coffee and sat at the small table in the kitchen’s breakfast nook. Kate said nothing as Jane moved her coffee to the table and gently sat down.
“I think you’re letting your hormones get the best of you. You cannot live with Buster again, even if he says you can. You need to move on with your life, yes, but falling into the arms of a guy so much older than you can’t be helping you, and from what I gather, he isn’t interested either,” Jane said firmly. “Use your head, Kate. I know you’re smart.”
“And you then must know that I want out of here,” Kate said firmly. “I already got accepted to the school. Should I just live in the dorm or something like that?” she asked. Jane nodded. Kate groaned loudly, “I can’t believe this. I made a decision, and if Buster accepts, I’m following through with the decision I made. It’s none of anyone’s business anyway!” Kate spat, leaving the kitchen.
Jane made sure Kate was out of the room, then she picked up the phone and called Arthur. He was the one that told her about the situation, but talking with him again confirmed what she didn’t want to hear: Buster also had feelings for Kate, and if no one objected too fiercely, he’d allow Kate to stay with him.
“Arthur, I just don’t know if I can allow this,” Jane cried. “And her father? Oh, he must be rolling in his grave!”
Arthur thought for a moment, “Well, this could be a good thing. I mean, there’s just too much of an age gap between them, but he could teach her some valuable lessons. Think about it, Mom. Buster is a gentleman, so he’ll treat her right. She’ll learn life’s lessons like you’d want without the risk of a bad boyfriend. I’d rather her be with a guy like him than someone who won’t treat her right.”
“I’m glad you can be somewhat optimistic, Arthur,” Jane sighed heavily. Deep down, she knew this was ultimately Kate’s decision, and she agreed with Arthur that he was a good guy. The age gap caused problems for her, but Jane knew she had to let go. The next time she saw Kate, she gave her the news. Within the week, Kate’s things were packed and she was on her way to live with Buster.
Ten Years Later
Buster and Kate sat together on a leather sofa, both of them staring at a large screen television as commercials overtook the screen. Kate squeezed Buster’s hand. In return, he poked the tip of her nose gently, a loving smile on his face.
“So, we’ve been married five years, and Mom only tells us how crazy we are every two years now. I think we’ve made progress,” Kate smiled. She sat up and looked Buster over, “So you’re almost forty but you still look that good? I need to hire a body guard or two to keep the women off of you,” Kate growled, leaning forward for a passionate kiss.
Buster immediately pushed her away, pointing to the doorway behind her. Young Joseph walked into the room with a sleepy expression, his favorite blanket trailing behind him. The couple let him onto the couch between him, snuggling him closely. Within minutes, his twin sister, Jasmine, entered the room. Both had bad dreams again, but the couple handled it beautifully. The twins were four years old but already the lovely people their parents were raising them to be.
While many people had their doubts, the only obstacles to their relationship came in those first few months. Many assumed she was making a rash decision after her father’s passing, but after a while, Buster knew they weren’t just falling for each other because of circumstances. They were in love, and after five years of dating, they finally married, and people accepted them. The age difference became an issue no one even noticed, and the two lived a happy life together.
Theme 17: Growth Spurt
Theme 137: Funeral
The themes are from my Arthur Infinite Theme List challenge. Let me know if you’d like more info
So, I kind of fast-forwarded through the meat of their relationship together, but I wanted this to be a one-shot. If anyone would like to fill in the gaps, let me know. Considering I’ve added this to the Crushed Hearts collab series I’m doing [let me know if you want more info on those], I think it works. We see the crush and how it ended up, which is the point of that collab series. Either way, I hope you guys like this, and feel free to play with the Buster x Kate pairing on your own. Just make sure you accommodate that age gap;)
Also I think there were supposed to be lines in this but I don’t know if it copied. Sorry about that, and if you find some formatting errors, please let me know.