(2018-12-04) Doubling Up
Christmas is discussed as everyone has some nice, warm coffee.
Players:
julian..katherine..nina..xavier..

It was bound to happen eventually. Katherine and Julian are pretty much siblings (which oddly doesn't transfer over to the younger Stone girls, who are treated more like the 'kids') and despite their roller coaster relationship of arguments and making up, bringing together their respective significant others was as certain as the sun rise. However, with the craziness going on with Julian's workload, as Calaveras' Warden, he's been a ghost for the most part. Thankfully, Tuesday has been a quiet day for him and an opportunity to bring the four together for coffee.

"I really don't think it's necessary to get dressy, it's just coffee." Julian had complained to Nina earlier when he stopped to pick her up from her job in his jeep. (A jeep that is still riddled with bullet holes, if that is any indication to how crazy his job as been lately.) But as it seems to be the case, Nina has this way in which she levels that mysteriously unreadable gaze of hers on the man until he finally gives in.

As it were, with the way things have been going lately, it seems like the ranger's wardrobe has steadily become more accessible from Nina's studio so it doesn't take much for him to change into something at least -he- considers decent. A flannel and jeans (anything more is pushing it). He keeps his utility belt with his firearm and radio on hand, but at least he's not wearing it, rather, it sits in the jeep, with only the radio making the trip from the vehicle to the coffee shop in the mall he's currently waiting for Katherine and Xavier to arrive at.


Katherine opens the door to the coffee house, smiling at Xavier as he opens the door for her. "Thanks." She murmurs, glancing around until she spots Nina and Julian. She's dressed casually, just jeans and flannel, several bags in one hand. Perhaps they stopped somewhere to pick up a few things? Regardless she loops her arm around Xavier's as she leads him toward the other couple, leaning in to quietly speak to her companion as they move. When they get to the table where Nina and Julian are settled she puts a bright smile on her face. "Hey you two, you look cozy." She sets down her bags and gestures to Xavier. "This is Xavier Westin." She turns to smile up at him before she nods to Julian and Nina. "This is Julian Walker, I told you about him a few times, and this is his delightful girlfriend Nina Zhuo."


Dressy? Nina gives Julian a blank look, then gestures at herself; her attire can best be described as "winter chic": a black Zara longcoat is worn over a black sweater, skinny denim jeans and most strikingly, thigh high black boots. Completing the ensemble is a statement belt and a long, gray scarf that is half-wrapped around her throat. Oh, and do not forget the Gucci bag hanging from her left shoulder. "No, I wasn't planning on dressy." She states simply. After all, this is probably casualwear for the ever orderly and ever professional Nina. Of course, Julian's flannel and jeans do get a mysterious smile from Nina, but otherwise she doesn't comment on his fashion sense.

When the other couple arrives, she and Julian are already seated at a corner table waiting. Looking up at the introduction, Nina also politely rises to her feet and is all smiles. "Miss Katherine, good to see you again. And Mister Westin, it is a great pleasure to make your acquaintance." A dainty hand is offered towards the man as well.


Xavier is overdressed, so situation normal. He's in a full three-piece business suit, in grey-green, with a silk tie, and a long, black wool overcoat. The effect is somewhat ruined by the healing bruises on his face, and the healing gash high on his forehead, but he's moving less carefully than he has been. He also looks a bit skeptical about this whole thing as he joins arms with Katherine and moves to greet the other two. He smiles, warmly at Katherine, and a bit more professionally at Julian and Nina. "Good day to you both." He takes Nina's offered hand in his gloved hand, and gives it a brief, firm shake. When that's done, he moves to pull out a chair for Katherine, before offering his hand to Julian in turn.


There's a moment where Julian spots Xavier and his suit, with a brief self conscious glance down at his own rather normal outfit - which, it is important to note, Katherine totally copied. They may as well be twins with their similar fashion sense. Though the ranger's choice of clothing is (mostly) for comfort, he fills it out pretty impressively. A solidly built man, he rises to his feet as the two approach, offering Xavier a very firm handshake, and a brief hug for his flannel counterpart.

"It's good to put a face to the name." Julian remarks, his eyes carefully flickering between each of the noticable healing injuries on Xavier's face. There's a tick along his eyebrow as he notes them and a brief glance at Nina, (which is always a waste of time since the woman is a marked professional at the stone neutral face).

Julian has the poker face of a six year old and it shows now as there is clearly a tense vibe there, despite his smile and warm greeting. He glances at Katherine, gauging her carefully before settling back down into his seat.

"I'm sorry it's taken this long for us all to get together. It seems like we've all been through some bad days."


Katherine gives Julian a kiss on the cheek when he hugs her, settling down in the chair that has been pulled out for her. If she notices the tense feelings, she's not showing it, turning to smile at Nina. "I brought some cookies from home. I have the next week off of the morning show, and I've been baking and cleaning. I hope you like chocolate chip." She glances between Xavier and Julian, nodding before she quietly notes. "Bad days just help us realize how good the good ones really are. Right?" She meets Julian's gaze, still smiling. "I brought you cookies too. Thumbprints." She watches Xavier settle into his seat, patting him gently on the leg.


Nina's handshake is gentle, but without hesitation. Releasing Xavier's hand, she retakes her seat and lifts her chin to smile at Katherine. "I love chocolate chip. Thank you. I wish I can bake and cook, and someday return the favor, but some things are simply not meant to be, I'm afraid." Settling in, she brushes her long hair back over both shoulders, then glances around the table. "Should we all order something to drink first?"


As Xavier excuses himself for an important business call, Julian settles back into his seat, glancing curiously at Nina as she admits her love of chocolate chip. Mental note. And, of course, Katherine knows the key to Julian - her baked goods. So he's already leaning forward at the table, eyebrows up as he looks around for these 'supposed' mythical cookies. "Aw, Kitty Leigh, you didn't have to go through the trouble." There's, of course, a note of awkwardness there. After all, the last time they talked things were strained at best. It seems like the pair are professionals at bouncing back from an argument.

Nina's suggestion about drinks seems to be the catalyst as a waitress shows up right at that moment, notepad and pencil in hand. "I'm good with just coffee - black." Pause. "Do you know what Xavier likes?"


Katherine leans down and pulls a holiday plate from one of the bags, thumbprint cookies safe under a layer of plastic wrap. "If I don't bake, I'll go insane. It's pretty slow at the B&B right now, and I'm not doing the morning show." She sets the cookies in front of Julian, the hershey kisses looking like they have pieces of candy cane in them. "He likes his coffee the same way." She murmurs, turning to smile up at the waitress. "I'll have coffee, with a little dark chocolate in it if you have any handy." If she feels awkward around Julian right now, it's not showing. She does look at him when the waitress moves off. "I saw Frank yesterday, he mentioned he was up to see you recently."


Meanwhile, Nina allows a brief look of delight to flash across her face at the sight of the cookies, before she takes her turn towards the waitress. "Would you happen to have Yuangyang?" She asks, hands clasped together against her chest, looking like she's preemptively begging for forgiveness for even asking. When the waitress looks lost and shakes her head, Nina hurriedly adds, "Well then, may I have an espresso with a mix of tea milk? Thank you." There, all set.


Julian's eyebrow goes up as Katherine makes the remark about the coffee. Sheesh, now the guy likes the same coffee as him? The thought draws Julian's gaze Xavier's way as he paces back and forth on the phone with whatever business he's attending to. He quickly looks back at the mention of Franklin, leaning back in his chair and nodding. "Yeah, our monthly cribbage and scotch night up at the cabin." This elicits an amused chuckle from Julian. "He's lucky we don't play for money." He briefly turns as Nina places her order, and as an afterthought produces his wallet from his back pocket, followed quickly by his credit card, handing it over to the barista. "Put it all on me." With the waitress out of ear shot now, Julian levels his gaze back on Katherine, though he takes a moment to grab the cookies and draw them to -his- side of the table - no take backs! "What was he up to?" Absently, he reaches the foot or two of empty space separating him and Nina, briefly brushing his hand over her knee and sparing her a quick look of acknowledgement.


Katherine blinks and reaches out with the intent to tell Julian that she'll get it, but he's pretty quick and she's not in the mood to argue. She reaches out to unwrap the cookies, stealing one of the thumbprints before she settles back in her chair. The hum of quiet conversation next to her isn't going to distract her, she's used to Xavier in business mode by now. "He came to talk about Sarah. I don't know if he was in touch afterward, but…something came up the other day, she's definitely hiding something." She bites into the cookie, hesitant to say anymore at the moment, this is supposed to be a relaxed and happy outing. She shoots a look at Nina, her head tilting toward the plate of cookies encouragingly.


Nina doesn't seem to mind the subtle show of affection by Julian, but the girl herself is clearly even more subdued than that. Casually she crosses her legs at the knees, sitting back all primly but refrains from patting him back. She smiles again when Katherine signals towards the cookies, and she dutifully reaches for one to nibble on. And she indeed nibbles: just tiny little bites, because clearly that's the polite way to eat. She is otherwise content to listen to Katherine and Julian talk about their family issues for now.

——

If there is ever a polar opposite of Nina Zhuo, it's Julian Walker who, while she nibbles at a cookie, has already inhaled two of them - the second while the first is still stuffed in his cheek. Blink. Blinkblink. "What?" Gerbal Julian chews for a minute before again speaking up, this time with an eyebrow arched at the mention of Sarah. "Sarah? Yeah, tell me about it…" He takes a deep breath, eyes flicking left, then right, then he turns questioningly toward Nina. Then back to Katherine. The expressive man finally, with lowered voice, speaks up. "What happened?" A good, neutral response.


"Overheard her on the phone to someone back in Pennsylvania, I assume. She said she's looking for a doctor, a neurologist." Katherine looks like she might want to say more, but she gazes down at her cookie, breaking it in half. "She's been hiding out, Lynn-style since. She won't answer her door or talk to me…yet." She stuffs half of a cookie into her mouth, it keeps her from going on about it. She only hopes that Julian wasn't listening to the dispatchers when they sent the ambulance to the B&B that afternoon. After swallowing she leans back in her chair. "Maybe you should give it a shot? I don't know. I told Franklin that I can't force her to talk, and I can't, but maybe I'm too close to things for her to open up to me."


Nina continues to nibble, and doesn't interject. But that doesn't mean she's not interested in the discussion; her dark eyes shift betwen Julian and Katherine as they talk family, curious and attentive. But it is a family topic, one that she has little knowledge of, and the least anyone needs now are opinions from the cheap seats.


As it seems, Julian wasn't paying attention to dispatch - or just isn't mentioning it. The mention of the neurologist does bring him pause and he glances sidelong at Nina, exchanging a profound look with her. His eyebrows are scrunched down as he seems deep in thought in that moment. Finally he just shakes his head, holding his hands out helplessly. "I can give it a shot, but the only Stone girl that seems to listen to me is my favorite and even she's keeping her distance right now." He flashes Katherine a playful smile - batting his eyelashes as he once again lists the youngest girl as his favorite in typical Julian fashion. "I'll reach out." He confirms in all seriousness. "So…" Another noted glance Nina's way. "What's the 411 on the walking punching bag over there?" Of course Julian noticed the injuries on the other man. The gaze he levels on Katherine is meaningful and his voice has noticably quieted while questioning her.


Katherine tries to politely not overtly stare when Julian keeps looking to Nina when something is revealed. She manages to hide the smile that threatens as well, but it's a near thing. "She's been going to some birthing class that her therapist recommended. I think she's been taking Sarah with her. Small victories." She rolls her eyes at Julian, not saying anything about Lynn being his favorite. Arguments will happen, it always does. "Thank you. If she does confide in you, and needs help, just let me know how I can assist, but.. I'm not going to push." Her gaze slants toward Xavier, talking emphatically and quietly on his phone, a smile tugging at her lips. "Car accident. The roads are slippery this time of year, and I don't think he's had a lot of experience with them." She turns to gaze at Julian, keeping her expression blank. "Though things should be easier for him now, not having to constantly travel up and down Oak Ridge for business now." She takes a deep breath and turns to Nina. "Nina, what are you going to be doing for the holidays? I don't want to put any pressure on you, but we'll be having dinner and opening presents, and I'd really like it if you joined us."


Nina turns the subtlest of frowns at Julian's question, an expression that straddles "mildly accusing" and "slightly amused". "Julian!" Her voice is quiet. "The man was in a car crash!" She even lightly whacks him on the arm. "How would you feel if I called you a walking piece of human toast after the last incident?" Shaking her head, but with a barely suppressed smile on her lips, Nina turns back towards Katherine. "Oh! Not at all. Julian was telling me how you all always spend Christmas together. If you don't mind a stranger in your midst, I'd be very happy to join you." A sidelong glance is spared at Julian. "I was originally planning on flying back to San Francisco for Christmas, but my cousin and his wife just had a baby, so I wanted to leave them alone for the holidays…" Nina trails off and looks up, as the waitress returns with the drinks.


Xavier finishes up his quiet phone call, and returns to the table with an apologetic grimace. "Sorry about that, Kate, Julian, Nina. It's wretched manners but some things must be done." He arches his eyebrow at the group as he retakes his seat. "What did I miss? Other than 'everything interesting', I'm sure." He smiles, a bit warmly.


There's a mischievous glint in Julian's eye as he reflexively holds an arm up to block Nina's playful swat. "I would probably take it as a compliment." He returns, staring at Nina with a smile, exchanging a silent little moment with her before he turns back to Katherine. "Car accident, huh?" He doesn't look convinced as he spares another glance in Xavier's direction. "Well, that's some shit luck." The man lets it go though as the conversation shifts and he slips a hand over the back of his neck sheepishly. "Yeah, I meant to call you to see if we could throw Nina's name into the secret santa hat. We're pulling names this weekend, right?"

It seems as though Xavier has good timing because as soon as he returns, so does the barista with their orders, the girl voicing each out before handing them over to the appropriate receiver.


Katherine just blinks at Julian when he asks about the accident, nodding slowly. "Not all of us drive up and down a mountain almost every day, Jules." She gently teases, turning to smile at Nina. "Thank you, Nina. Whip him into shape." She grins and leans in, pouring cream into her coffee. "I would really like it if Nina joins us for the holidays. I was going to ask.." She turns to gaze at Xavier, flashing him a grin. "..if you wanted to join us too. Family dinner, some presents. Nothing really fancy." She gestures toward Julian. "We do a secret Santa thing every year, keeps us from going overboard on gifts."


"Thank you." Nina tells the barista, as she accepts her mug while she carefully holds with both hands. The mix of espresso with "tea milk" makes for a distinctly non-coffee appearance, but Nina seems pleased with the presentation. She grins slightly between Julian and Katherine, but as Xavier returns to the table her attention is on him. "It's quite alright, Mister Westin. We understand how tied to the phone we all are, in this day and age. At the price of $30 a month, the company has us on-call twenty-four-seven." She muses as an experimental sip of her drink is taken.


Xavier takes his coffee with a grateful smile at the barista, and nods. "Car accident," he agrees, serenely. It sounds like he's said that a /lot/ of late. He takes a sip of his coffee, and eyebrows go up as the invitation is issued. He offers her a warm smile. "I…suppose so, yes. I usually use the holiday as a chance to get caught up with work accounts, but I can't say there's harm in taking a break for dinner and fellowship." A glance at the rest of the table. "But if there's a family tradition, I wouldn't want to intrude, of course." He smiles and nods to Nina. "Precisely. Although, technically, I suppose I could tell them not to bother me, but I feel that if they're putting in the effort on their end, I need to respect that by giving them the time to work through problems as they come up." A beat. "And please, call me Xavier, both of you. I'm getting 'Mister Westin'ed out, of late."


Julian's radio fires off suddenly but he is quick to turn the dial down, not before making sure it's not something he needs to pay attention to. A glance at Nina as she describes her own job and he's nodding. "That's the truth." His own mug of coffee is nursed slowly enough for it to last at least a portion of the conversation - this place is to expensive for him to be drinking coffee at his usual pace! "Well, that's settled then. We're two plus for this year. Works for me, ups the chances that I don't get Sarah again this year. I can't figure her out to save my life." He turns now to Xavier, leveling his attention on the other man now that he has settled in at the table. "So, what exactly do you do? You're not exactly from around here, from the looks of it." Julian Walker, ever the diplomat.


Katherine groans softly, but she knew this was coming eventually. She reaches for another cookie, she's going to need the chocolate in a few moments. She stirs her coffee and takes a sip, glancing toward Xavier, eyebrows raised. She bites into the cookie and laughs, turning to speak to Julian. "Used to be that you bought her fabric and she was happy. I guess she doesn't sew very much anymore. Watch, I'll get her, and I'll just buy her a few hundred dollars of cosmetics from Sephora. That should work." She takes a sip of her coffee and then offers Nina a crooked smile. "Lynn usually ends up with my gifts, one way or another."


Nina also casts a glance towards Xavier, curious about the man as Julian asks the obvious question. Until then, Nina's attention is distracted by Katherine's mention of Christmas gifts, which brings a thoughtful look to her face. "There will be you and your sisters; I suppose cosmetics are a good choice. Eye cream, facial cream, lipsticks… unless I end up with either of these gentlemen. In which case, I guess they will look pretty for the holidays." She deadpans, but smiles serenely at both men.


Xavier blinks at Julian, then gives a sidelong look to Katherine. "I thought you knew. I'm sorry, although it does explain the friendly reception," he says, with a self-depreciating chuckle. "I'm a land developer and architect. I own a firm headquartered in Chicago; with various business concerns moving in, we feel the time is right to acquire and develop a fair amount of land, help promote the growth of Calaveras, and make a tidy amount of profit on the way." And then he waits, blue eyes steady on Julian, studying the man, or perhaps his response, as he nurses his coffee. He does say, as an aside, "I don't believe I've ever done a Secret Santa before. You'll have to explain the rules to me, Kate."


"I think maybe I'll put my ear to the ground and see about getting Lynn-butt a car." Julian thoughtfully states, canting his head and gauging Katherine's response as he tries to bite back his grin. Though he couldn't resist, Julian is quick to settle his attention on Xavier while he responds. "Oh, so you might know something about all the interest in buying up the land up on the southside of the San Juan. They keep sending their people up there to my door. They don't stick around very long. No idea why." He smirks, laying his hands out with a helpless shrug. Nina draws his attention to her and he cannot help but smile, "I do look pretty." Chuckling, he finishes off his coffee, sighing in satisfaction and even presenting the table with a genuine smile that wasn't coaxed out by the amusement he might get at the expense of others! "It's pretty simple," Julian explains, shifting his attention back to Xavier. "Everyone throws their name into a hat, each person draws a name. If you draw your own, you do it again. Christmas Eve night, we have dinner and exchange gifts."


"A car?" Katherine turns to gaze at Julian, clearly distracted. "What kind of car?" She seems happy that the developer thing isn't going any further, nodding at the ranger. "She could probably use one. Once Mister Malone moves out of the garage, she's mentioned that instead of moving into town, she'd rather move in there. I was going to see about hiring someone to do some basic renovations." Turning to grin at Nina she shrugs a shoulder. "I think everyone can use facial cream, especially in the winter. It's good for the skin." She looks at Xavier then, smiling as she leans in to bump her shoulder against his gently. "I always get Lynn, so I'm pretty excited at the inclusion of new names. I love to go shopping for presents."


Well hold your horses! Maybe Julian isn't that interested in the developer thing, but Nina certainly is. The Chinese girl lifts a delicate brow as Xavier explains what he does for a living, studying the man briefly while sipping her drink, then carefully put it down so that she can fold her arms on the table. "Chicago." She repeats thoughtfully. "You are the CEO of Westin Institute?" Leave it to Nina to keep up with financial matters. "You were involved with the East Riverfront redevelopment in Detroit, then? I was impressed with how the project managed to get the City Council to agree to waive an environmental assessment, which would've been both expensive and hugely time-consuming." She smiles knowingly and pauses for a moment, glancing briefly at Julian and Katherine both, but Nina's interest is clearly piqued. "Calaveras' economy has been struggling for the past ten years, ever since the mining industry took a downturn. You are expecting a turnaround in the real estate market, Xavier?"


"Well, it is beautiful country up that way; hasn't been any of /my/ people - I'm doing the primary purchases in this area - but I can't fault them for giving it a go," Xavier says, easily. His voice shades dry, "And I'm certain they find the hospitality to be impeccable, of course." To the rest, he listens, with a nod of thanks to Julian for the explanation. His expression softens as Katherine bumps him with her shoulder, although he does look a little puzzled. "Doesn't it seem more efficient to just…choose who you want to give a gift to?" He flashes a grin at Nina, his eyes lighting up with interest. "Yes, and yes again. The East Riverfront was one of our more recent projects - it's my hometown, and you're right. The environmental assessment was entirely unnecessary, as there was still valid data on file, and we were, thankfully, able to get the City Council to see reason. Otherwise, I'd probably still be there." He shifts in place. "And I think it's a possibility, yes. I don't want to encourage rampant speculation, of course, but our researchers have seen some promising indicators. Certain news events are, of course, a bit concerning with regards to property values, but hopefully the police will have those in hand. What is it that you do, Nina? Most people have never even heard of us."


Julian's eyebrow goes up as he looks at Katherine, unsure suddenly, a skeptical look crossing over his features. "Wait, you /want/ me to get her a car? Hell, I was just offering to irritate you." And this is followed up with a trademark youthful smile. "But hell, maybe we should start looking around. We can probably find some reliable old vehicle around town. Gunny probably knows some people, I'll hit him up." With that settled, he starts to say something else but as Nina takes over, he just watches her curiously. It's clear this sort of thing is in her wheelhouse and it's way above his pay grade so it's his turn to sit back and ride the wave, glancing meaningfully between the exotic girl and the businessman. He shoots Xavier an innocently wolfish smile, "Oh, I make them feel right at home." He takes a backseat in the conversation though as Nina and Xavier start discussing things way outside of his wheelhouse. He doesn't seem to mind though, Julian is using it as an opportunity to size up the man seated across from him anyway.


"Well it doesn't irritate me, it irritates me to drive her to work three times a week." Katherine mutters, but raises her voice to properly address Julian. "Don't tell her that you're doing it, or you'll get a big list of what she wants and what she doesn't want." She likes when Xavier talks business so she has no problem listening to the discussion, sipping at her coffee as she nibbles on her cookie.


"I try to stay on top of any noteworthy financial news, at least those of a regional level or higher." Nina turns a bit and digs into her Gucci bag, retrieving a couple of business cards which are offered to both Xavier and Katherine. "I work for TechEase as a financial analyst." /That/ might explain things. "Ever since the company announced its move to Calaveras, there has been a number of developers riding our coattails. I think they are all speculating on Mr. Stonewall's success of establishing a mid-Western Silicon Valley; the State and municipal tax incentives and low operating costs are very conductive to the venture, and if TechEase manages to lead a new wave of Tech companies into Calaveras, there is certainly major potential for a real estate boom." At this point Nina stops and glances at the two locals, and promptly smiles at them apologetically. "Sorry, didn't mean to derail the conversation."


Xavier returns Julian's wolfish smile with a thin, sharp one. "I'm certain that you do, Julian." He leans forward to take Nina's offered card with interest. "Ah, I finally get to meet someone from TechEase. I imagine you folk have been receiving the same warm reception I'm finding among some of the locals," he adds, his voice dry. He fishes out his own business card, and offers it in exchange.


Or tries, because his phone goes off again. He puts the card down on the table, and checks it, making an irritated noise at the machine. Bending over to kiss Katherine on the temple, he murmurs, "My apologies, Kate. I have to take this. It may be a little bit." He rises, and nods to the two. "I'd love to talk with both of you in more detail at a later date. It was lovely to meet you." Then he's moving away, to raise the phone to his ears and start a soft, clipped conversation.


Katherine takes the card from Nina, gazing at it with interest. "It sounds like you know a lot about the things going on in Calaveras right now, Nina. You and I might have to sit down for lunch so you can teach me some of the things going on behind the scenes." She tucks the card away, turning to smile up at Xavier when he leans in to kiss her temple. "Don't worry about it, I'll see you later, I'm certain." She clears her throat after Xavier moves off, picking up her coffee to take another drink.


Julian's expression is in stone as he exchanges the strained smile with Xavier. If they were intending on speaking further on Julian's "exploits" involving the suits that try to come to his door to get him to sell his property, it dissolves away with a phone call. The ranger watches as Xavier climbs to his feet and says his goodbyes, respectfully rising as well to offer the man a strong handshake. "Take it easy." Before settling back into his seat and glancing meaningfully at Nina, cracking a little bit of a smile in an effort to clear away the intensity that was probably building up in his demeanor. "So, check in on Sarah…and draw names this weekend, Kitty?"


Nina also smiles amiably at Xavier as the man takes his leave, accepting his card in turn, before she picks up the cup for another, longer sip while Katherine studies her business card. "I'd be happy to discuss this and that, as long as it doesn't bore you to death." She nods to Katherine, then falls silent to watch the display of affection between her and Xavier. "I didn't realize your friend is someone I know." Beat. "Well. I know /of/." A sidelong glance at Julian seems to tell Nina all she wants to know of the ranger's mood, so a reassuring pat is given to his knee before she turns back to Katherine. "I can see why he is in Calaveras personally."


"From what I understand, and I don't understand much about his business, things are ripe for his type of business." Katherine leans back against the chair, her eyes trailing after Xavier as he takes his leave. "Keeps him busy, which I'm sure he appreciates." She nods at Julian, finishing up her coffee and setting the cup down. "Yes, you two are welcome to come for dinner as well, I think I'm making a roast this weekend, and there will be far too much for just me and my guests. I'm down to the three." She leans forward, pulling her coat on. "If you have any articles about his company, Nina, I'd love to see them. I'm shit at using that newsreel thing at the library, and I don't want to be a pest and ask Esme for help."


Nina bobs her head to Katherine's request. "I can bring you the files next time I come over." Yes, that's right - she has /files/ on his company. She probably has files for every company that requires keeping track of. "I assume you are not looking for financial records or annual reports? Only things such as what it was involved in, what investments it has done? That sort of level of detail?" Beat. "But I would love to join you for dinner, if it's not intruding on your hospitality."


"Anything you have, really. I suppose I should start reading the financial records or annual reports if I'm going into business with Xavier." Katherine laughs and shakes her head at Nina. "You're not intruding, if you're involved with Julian, you're pretty much family now, Nina." She wrinkles her nose, looking slightly sheepish. "I promise the yelling and insanity doesn't start right away. We build up to that."


The sheepish look is greeted with a serene smile. "I can't promise anything about insanity, but I /can/ promise you I will not yell. It just isn't something that I do." She takes another sip of her coffee-like drink, then her gaze shifts meaningfully towards the exit, the direction where Xavier left. "You are officially involved with Xavier, then?" She asks, sounding a wee bit cautious as this is personal and potentially sensitive.


Katherine nods, her cheeks getting pink as she gazes down at her hands. "Yes, I suppose it's official now. Offical enough to invite him to the Christmas festivities." She takes a deep breath and smiles at Nina. "Haven't invited any others before, so it's going to be a little strange. Hopefully the girls don't take umbrage to it." She wrinkles her nose, chortling. "I try hard not to yell too, but it doesn't always work out."

——

While Katherine and Nina are talking, Julian's radio starts chattering to life and judging from Julian's shift in demeanor, it probably isn't good news. He gets out of his chair, laying a hand briefly on Nina's shoulder and offering both a brief apologetic look then he steps away, pulling out his phone from his back pocket.


Nina sideglances at Julian again, as the ranger moves aside to listen to his noisy radio. Nina is all gracious about it, flashing him a smile and then leaning forward against the table, to speak to Katherine more quietly. "It's not a bad thing for them. It might remind them that things are changing; that even you, their caretaker, have your own life to live. Sometimes changes are good, because it makes people realize they have to adapt." She pauses a moment. "Also, if you're open to it, I'd offer a list of suggestions of things to do, and pitfalls to watch for, when getting involved with rich and sophisticated men." This is accompanied by a gentle smile. Maybe even a halo hovering over her head.


Katherine blinks a few times, watching Nina with new respect. She already had a ton of respect for the woman, truth be told. She listens to her advice with her sisters, nodding slowly, a thoughtful look on her face. "Adapting is good, I've been trying to adapt lately, and I'm going to be honest, I'm not doing great at it. I get far too .." Her brows furrow and she quietly admits. "I tend to internalize things instead of letting them out, and then I have panic attacks, it's embarrassing." She raises her eyebrows at the last, leaning slightly closer to murmur. "I um, I would /really/ appreciate that kind of information."


Nina's brows arch in turn. Panic attacks? She doesn't voice it, but that's clearly what she is responding to. "Adapting /is/ good, but not always easy." She pauses a beat. "I tend to internalize too, but there are ways to manage it. Have you tried meditation, or yoga? People tend to underestimate how effective those techniques are. I do have a kind of eastern meditation to work off my chi." Wait. "I mean, stress. And negative energy. Again, if you are open to that…."


Katherine nods at Nina, her hands folding in her lap, sitting back against the back of the chair. "I haven't, I'm usually too busy for any of that. Now that I have a week off, I can probably look into it and carve some time out of my day." She aims a smile at Nina, nodding her head slowly. "I'm open to anything, Nina. I'm very open minded." She glances at Julian, watching him talk on the phone, frowning slightly. "I'll do anything to make the stress go away, I don't like to worry people."


Nina watches Katherine and nods sagely. Particularly, she nods when Katherine admits she's too busy with stuff. "Katherine… I am going to stop calling you /Miss/ Katherine." She offers mildly. "I don't generally offer unsolicited advice to people, because I think it is… generally not helpful. Advising a poor person to find a job, for example, is unhelpful to the point of flippancy. But… I feel like I am breaking my own rule here." She sighs wistfully. "You have a lot going on in your life. You have a lot of issues that are out of your control. You are so busy you cannot /breathe/." Pause for dramatic effect. "You have to slow down. You drive your life, don't let it drive you. Be busy because you choose to be busy, not because you have to. It's okay to push some things off, and say, ~I can't deal with it right now. Come back later.~"


Katherine laughs softly, holding her hand up over her heart as she flashes Nina a smile. "Good, because it was quite formal, and I don't think we ought to be that formal anymore." She listens to the rest, at times her eyebrows lifting slightly, and others a smile appearing on her face. She leans against the arm of her chair, resting her elbow on it. "I agree, Nina. Completely, and I have a really hard time saying no, or doing negative things, but lately.. I've had to do both, and I find that it's really not as difficult as it used to be." She wrinkles her nose, gazing down at her lap. "I am hoping, that with the Winchester development, I'll be able to slow down, hand things off and delegate for once, instead of being knee deep in everything."


Nina's smile is still gentle, but also slightly smug. "Then you are already on the path to a happier life." Idly she reaches up and brushes her long hair back, before she tilts her head curiously. "Winchester development?" Nope. Not something that she has heard about, evidently.


"Xavier wants to set me up with investors to help me appropriate the building and renovate it." Katherine smiles at Nina, clearing her throat gently. "I know that's not going to help the stress, at least until the deal is completed but.."


"Oh, the Winchester Hotel, you mean." Nina inclines her head in understanding. "That's different though. That is a good kind of stress, because it's something you chose to do, nothing something you had to do." Again she folds her arms on the table, and remains leaning in to talk quietly. "Don't forget to meet with the municipal development office. I expect that there are, at a minimum, rebate incentives that can offset some of the renovation and construction costs; depending on how the project is packaged, you may even be able to negotiate for longer term tax incentives. Those can generate substantial savings in ongoing operating costs."


Julian finally makes his way back to the table, his demeanor strained, at best. He circles around to Nina, grazing a hand across her shoulders as he settles down into the chair next to her. Switching his gaze from Katherine to Nina, he smiles, or at least, as best as he can - the call on the dispatch was clearly not good news. "You two can stop talking about me now, I have returned." That last part said in a comically dramatic fashion.


Katherine quirks a brow and nods at Nina, a smile curving her lips. "There are historical things to consider too. Xavier has already been talking to the city council." She smiles up at Julian when he sits back down. "What will we talk about then?" She tilts her head, grinning. "I'm sure you have something."


Nina turns her head towards Julian when he returns, but almost right away she notices the tension in the ranger. "Is something wrong?" She probes lightly. "If there is a work emergency you need to deal with, I'm sure Katherine can drive me home." Right? She looks at the other woman meaningfully. Right?


If there are two women on the planet who can read him like a book, it'd be these two. Sitting at the same table. Suddenly, Julian seems to shift uncomfortably in his seat upon realizing this. He shakes his head at Nina, going so far as to slip his hand down and briefly brush past her's before settling on his coffee mug. "No, it's fine, Kris can handle it." He doesn't seem entirely convinced by that, but it's apparently not so much of an emergency that he is running out the door and leaving Nina with Katherine. So. Turning his attention to Katherine, in fact, he taps his chin thoughtfully while drawing on his thoughts. "So!" He begins, "Have we graduated to the part in the conversation where I drill you about the problem we talked about the other night, Kitty?" Ah, yes, the good ol' Walker tact. Or lack thereof.


Katherine nods at Julian, smiling over at Nina. "If there is an emergency, I can certainly take Nina home for you. Is everything okay Jules?" She leans against the table, letting her gaze shift between the pair. She blinks at Julian and smirks slightly. "Drill away, Julian. I'll answer things if I'm able to do so."


Nina looks somewhat skeptically at Julian's reassurance that 'it's fine', but doesn't push. Instead, she sits back in her chair and lapses back into listening mode, curious as to what the ranger might be asking about.


Julian leans forward in his seat, studying Katherine, gauging her response as he considers his next choice of words. "Well, I think when you approach me and more or less-" He pauses, his voice noticably lowering, "-to whack somebody, I mean, I think it's pretty important to be a little more forthcoming. You know?" Of course, Julian is exaggerating their run-in a little with his own interpretation, but his expression is a combination of concern and firm seriousness. "I wanna know what's going on. I think you owe us a better explanation then the cryptic mess from a few nights ago. If it's as rough as you say it is, then the fact that you told us both something means we're in this for the long haul anyway."


"I didn't want you to /whack/ someone Julian. I wanted you to keep an eye on someone I /care/ about." Katherine exhales slowly, her eyes narrowing before her breathing hitches. "I told you what was going on, best that I could." She folds her arms tightly across her chest, and she takes long slow breaths before she continues to speak. "I asked Xavier to move out, he's living downtown. He's going to have to deal with this himself. He doesn't want to involve the police or anyone else. It's…" She gazes down at her lap and frowns. "..it's really complicated, and scary. Less so with him living elsewhere, okay?"


Nina glances between the two as they talk, like watching a tennis match. Finally, she decides to interject softly. "I think there was a misunderstanding the other night." She notes. "You said something, Katherine, and meant one thing, while Julian heard another meaning. Shall we agree that it was a miscommunication? We should just…" Her words get cut off, as this time, it's her phone that starts ringing with a melodic, but unfamiliar song of a ringtone. "…Sorry, you will have to excuse me." With that, Nina rises to her feet and takes the call.


Julian's expression lightens slightly and he nods, confirming something to himself. "I figured as much, I just wanted to hear it from you, Kitty. Besides, the other night? That wasn't an explanation, that was a frantic mess. I barely understood what was going on." His eyebrows stitch together as he picks his next words carefully. "You aren't exactly on your A game when you're all emotional and girly." As Nina plays the mediator but then gets called away, Julian relaxes a little and takes a deep breath, exhaling slowly. "Break it down for me again, now that we're both chill. Maybe we can figure something out."


Katherine gazes down, keeping her focus on her hands. They clench into a fist and then release a few times, and she breathes along with those clenches. "Xavier is being hunted by someone Julian. That someone forced him off the road. I don't know why it's happening. I just know that it is, and that he doesn't want to involve police and feds. I think …he wants to find out who did it, so that he can stop the source?" She brushes her hair back from her face. "Julian, I like this guy. I want him to live past Christmas, you know?"


Julian cannot help but chuckle - of course, the war veteran would find humor in this, as fucked up as his sense of humor is. "Alright, well, I'm a hammer, Kitty. It sounds like you need a scalpel. If you tell me you need me to do something about it, I can give Gunny a call and we can handle this. But it sounds like you need someone who is more…sensitive to this sort of delicate situation." Gunny being Franklin, the man who Julian served under in Afghanistan years ago. "I don't know how I can help you. But I'm glad you asked him to disconnect from the girls, they shouldn't have to be unwittingly exposed to it." He holds his hand up, half expecting Katherine to argue the point. "No matter what you say, the mere presence of the man endangers those girls." He leans back again, glancing over at Nina who is a good ways off, pacing as she talks on the phone. "Hell, if anyone probably understands corporate intrigue, it's her." He reluctantly admits, the grimace on his face could cut rock. "Kitty…this one…it's been so long since Jen cheated on me while I was deployed. I don't want to jeopardize this, or put her in any danger." He's looking at Nina as he speaks, the obvious subject of his current words. "I don't care about myself. Your family though," He hesitates, again looking up and over at Nina. "And she's important to me. So we need to figure out how to deal with this because right now, this Xavier guy isn't earning himself too many cool points in my book. Moving out was a good start, though."


Katherine watches Julian when he chuckles, a wary smile on her face. "Julian, the last thing I want is my family in danger. I count Franklin and you as family. If you think you two can handle whoever is after Xavier, then yes. I want your help." She sits back, folding her arms over her chest, her eyes far away. "He's helped me a lot Julian, and I think that he cares about me. I'm not completely sure, and while I like him? I'm not in love with him yet." She stares over the table at Julian. "I want to keep the girls and Nina safe. From what Xavier has said, if the players don't think someone knows, they're not involved. The moment it's clear that people know, they're in on the game. So you have to decide if you really want to do this. I'll ask, but I won't force you." She glances away, nodding when he says that Xavier isn't earning any cool points. "He doesn't want me involved in this, and I'm breaking his rules right now."


Julian sits back in his chair, chin down and his eyebrows stitched together as he contemplates everything being said. "If I tell Frank, he's going to rain hell on this entire thing. Everyone will get involved. The spotlight will shine and all the roaches will run scurrying. Know what I'm sayin'? Like I said before, we're the hammer. So before I go and bring the thunder in, you better make sure all other options are exhausted." Julian shakes his head as she continues, "You're wrong, Kitty. It doesn't matter whether or not they know. You are involved with Xavier - you are walking leverage. Lynn and Sarah are involved with you, they are leverage. You see what I'm saying? People like this don't care what you know. Every time Xavier breathes in their direction, there's a risk that whomever is after him will go after them. This shit needs to get stamped down. And fast. Because I won't keep this to myself forever. The fact that I've held back from telling Gunny this long is a testament to how much respect I have for you." He takes a deep breath, trying to relax himself and lower his voice. "Kitty," He begins, in a much more controlled, softer tone, "Talk to Xavier. He needs to figure this shit out or you need to dump him. Normally, this shit isn't my business, but this isn't a schoolyard thing here."


Katherine looks steadily at Julian, a slight frown on her face as he speaks. "Well that's precisely what I don't want, because I …" She rubs the back of her hand over her eyes, looking frustrated, her breath hitching into a soft wheeze. "I have talked to him, Julian. Am I supposed to stand back, and just…wait for someone to come to my door and say that he's dead?" She struggles for a moment, her skin clammy and then she manages to shake herself slightly, taking a deep breath.


Julian stares at Katherine for a moment, briefly glancing over at Nina who is across the coffee shop on her phone, then back to Katherine again. He thinks long and hard, choosing his next words carefully as the follow up a heavy exhale. "Yes." He answers simply, climbing up from the table and studying Katherine for a moment as he gathers his things. "That's exactly what you do. You're not a superhero, Kitty. There's no such thing, trust me, I learned that one the hard way. This isn't a movie. You can't save him. The help he needs is so far outside your wheelhouse that it's almost absurd to sit here and watch you dwell on this as if you had any other option." The ranger sighs, shaking his head. "I don't even know if -I- can help, not without bringing Gunny in. Know your limitations, Kitty Leigh. It's the only thing that's going to keep you -and- the girls safe." He looks up at Nina meaningfully, pausing for effect, then looks back at Katherine. "You don't want to live with collateral damage on your soul. Trust me. It's…a price you may be unable to pay."


Meanwhile, Nina finishes her phone call and is just heading back to the table. Chalk it up to her intuition, or her remarkable perception, but even on her approach she catches the vibes at the table — and they are very different than when she left it. Her steps slow, taking a moment longer to assess the expressions and body language of both Julian and Katherine. Eventually though, she arrives at the table. "I apologize, it was my manager." She starts. "He wants me to find a report in the office, and send a copy to him. Do you mind dropping me off, Julian?" She spares another back-and-forth glance. "Shall we plan for dinner soon?" Nina asks, then turns a meaningful gaze at Katherine. "Remember, your own pace. One thing at a time."


Katherine nods at Nina, getting to her feet as well. "My own pace. One thing at a time." She just gazes at Julian, frowning before she quietly says. "You're right. I know that, deep down. I'm sorry, Jules. It's just harder than I thought it would be."


"Remember," Julian adds as he steps up next to Nina, "When you need a hammer, let me know." He leans down, giving his sister a hug, whether she wants it or not, then turns and heads for the exit.

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