|three thousand five hundred
It's not that Kay's the first person in her high school - or hell, even her family - to have gone to college. Plenty of people she knew went to college after high school, even if it's just Western Maryland or Salisbury or one of the community colleges; her mom went to Salisbury, got a teaching certificate, before she came back to the same town she'd lived in all her life and married Kay's dad.
But most of them don't pick up and move all the way across the country for college; most of them can't tear themselves away from the water long enough to even consider it.
That's what Kay was running from - a future she couldn't escape unless she escaped - which is how she ended up at UCLA on scholarship, living on a sunny quad with the smell of ocean salt still on the air, sharing a room with a blond ex-cheerleader from Santa Barbara.
Her roommate rushed Kappa Kappa Gamma the first week they were there. She was a legacy, she told Kay, tossing her shining sheet of hair over her shoulder. She was a shoe-in. Her mom had been Kappa at UCLA, back in the 60s.
Her roommate took Kay to a party with her that first week, and it was full of petite girls with the same shining hair and tiny sundresses. Kay stood out like a sore thumb, with her mane of bright red everywhere hair. These girls were the daughters of CEOs, of movie producers and rock stars, and Kay was the daughter of a Chesapeake Bay waterman.
You can take the girl away from the Bay, but you can't take the Bay from the girl.
After 20 minutes nursing the same warm beer, Kay walked home without telling her roommate. She stood in the bathroom with a pair of scissors, and she cut all her hair off. When she was finished, 18 inches of red hair had fallen in the sink and what was left stood up all over her head, spiky and soft. It didn't suit her face at all.
Weeks later, it was still soft and spiky, her head still too light without her curtain of hair to hide behind, when she tried to tune the television in the lounge of her dorm to a station showing the Redskins game. When the Colts had left, her father had cried - her father had cried, and that was stranger and sadder to her than the Colts not playing in Baltimore anymore ever could be - but he had started to watch the Redskins, not because he liked them but because football was comforting, even if you were watching football with a hole in your heart the size and shape of Johnny Unitas. So Kay watched the Redskins, too, because her father had.
She was curled up in an armchair, watching the Redskins get the shit kicked out of them by the Pats, when three guys she sort of knew from upstairs wandered in, two cases of beer in hand. The short one and the fat one grunted at her and popped open their beers, and the tall one looked at her closely before he said, "Didn't you used to have a lot more hair?"
"Yeah," Kay said.
"You look good without it," the tall one said. "You want a beer?"
And that was how Kay Howard met John.
She slept with John for three years, six months and two days, counting from the Sunday afternoon when the 'Skins lost to the Pats 37-6. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in criminal psychology, no honors, and the day after graduation she drove out of L.A., the sunrise spilling out in front of her, without saying goodbye to him.
She'd never been very good at leaving, and she's always been worse at saying goodbye. Her hair was long again, falling across her face like a curtain she could hide behind. He'd met her short-haired, when her face was open and unguarded, but she had a barrier again.
He called her dad's place a couple of times that summer, but she never called him back.
Kay moved home. Not home to Crisfield, but home to Maryland at least, and with the windows of her Fells Point apartment open, it smelled familiar, and different. The salty muddy smell of Bay, that was always the same, she could smell it in her dreams three thousand miles from home, but the salty sweet tang of blood, that was new. There was always blood in the streets in Fells Point; it was stronger than the smell of the Bay.
She sat for the Academy exam and passed, and then she walked a beat in Hamden. It was mostly quiet, the neighborhood trying to rebuild its image. She got a citation from Schaefer for breaking up a hostage situation in Haussner's, off-duty, having dinner with her father. She found her first body three days before her third Christmas in Baltimore, in a dumpster behind the block with all the famous holiday lights. It was a kid, a little girl, and it turned out that it was the girl's stepfather who killed her.
Two days after New Year's, Kay told her Lieutenant that she wanted a transfer.
And that was how Kay Howard met Al Giardello.
Beau was her third partner on Homicide - her first partner retired, and her second partner got married and moved to Denver. He went into private security; he sent her a Christmas card every year, only signed by him, never his wife. His wife was why Dan was in Denver, really. She never liked Kay, even though Kay and Dan never slept together, even though Kay never even wanted to. So that's why she was flying solo when Beau transferred in from Gangs over on the west side of the city, and that's why Beau was her third partner.
Gee would never say it, but he knew that Kay was better with men than with women - Kay and Megan Russert went out on one case together, and they solved it, but it nearly came to blows between them. Too much alpha female, Megan shrugged, and Kay hated to agree but she kind of did.
So Beau was her third partner. He kept one of those toy trucks on his desk, like a Hot Wheels truck. A Mayflower moving van, little metal Mayflower moving van and the paint was flaking off the sides like it wasn't new anymore, and hadn't been for a long time.
Beau's from South Baltimore, and Kay doesn't get that truck. Beau was from this city even more than she was from here, and Mayflower only meant one thing in Baltimore: heartbreak. It was like putting a framed picture of Bob Irsay on your desk, right between the one of your mom and your dad and the one of you and your little brother. It was a recipe for nothing but disaster, Kay thought when she saw Beau take it out of a box his first day sitting across a desk from her.
She told him so. Beau laughed, and said, "I had it since I was a kid. I can't, you know, I can't hate Mayflower. I should, I know, it's the ultimate betrayal. But I remember sitting on the floor in front of the television when I was a kid, playing with this truck, watching Unitas throw touchdown passes. I just can't, you know?"
And Kay knew. Three weeks after Beau became her third partner, he threw his Mayflower moving van through the window on Gee's office door, shattering glass in delicate patterns all over the floor, after he couldn't pin a suspect down. Later he apologized, took her out for too many beers and mediocre crab cakes, and Beth didn't like her from this start.
And that was how Kay Howard met Beau Felton.
Kay marks her life in the men who have bookmarked it; her father, her brother, John, Gee, Beau - she shouldn't, she is a minority enough in the squad room without judging her own worth by men who've loved her, in whatever ways they have. When she's sitting, thinking on an open case, she counts the things that make her Kay backwards in her head: woman, UCLA graduate, daughter of a waterman, homicide cop, Kay. The first is the least important - when Beau opens doors for her, she passes through first because she is a good cop, not because she is a good woman.
He apologizes for that later, too, twisting Meldrick's stupid stuffed giraffe in his hands and then pressing it into hers - but Kay is never sorry, not about that. She walked through that door first because she is a cop, not because Beau is too chivalrous.
And that is how Kay Howard got shot.
Author's notes: 1500 words. For Rocket, who gave me Kay. Title and summary from Counting Crows, "Raining In Baltimore".