A crowd had gathered in the gardens, watching the removal men carrying boxes and various items of furniture into Number 43. Jack paused on his journey home from the Minute Mart, joining the group who were craning their necks to get a clearer view of the situation in the hopes of spotting the new residents of the Square. They watched as box after box was carried into the building. The new residents had expensive taste, judging by some of the larger pieces of furniture that were being taken in.
While they were watching, a dark car drew up outside the house, partly hidden from view behind the removal van. A woman climbed out of the driver's seat, her coat collar lifted to fend off the cold. She moved around the other side of the car, unstrapping a child from a car seat as another slipped out of the door closest to the gardens. The residents watching tried to get a better look at their new neighbours, but they were immediately hidden from view behind the removal van.
Karen, completely ignoring everyone else's silent appraisal of the situation, called out cheerily to the new resident, looking incredibly put out by the reaction. Shooting a rude hand gesture at the woman's back, she crossed to stand next to Denise, Kim and Kathy on the opposite side of the road.
They watched for a while longer as a sofa and then a dining table were carried up the path and into the house. The woman didn't leave the building, but a taxi drew up and a second figure emerged with another two children. They hurried inside as though they were purposely avoiding allowing anyone to catch a glimpse of them.
Jack paused in his jog around the Square, leaning against the entrance to the gardens and taking the chance to stretch. Denise merely shrugged when he asked if she knew who was moving in, but Karen was quick to jump in and offer what she knew.
"Right stuck up cow, she is." The woman informed him, jerking her thumb towards the house. "I were just being friendly and she told me that she didn't need to be shown round because she probably knew her way round this place better than me."
"She a local, is she?" Kathy asked, intrigued by the other woman's words. "We probably know her, then?"
"Gobby blonde with about five kids by the looks of it." Karen continued, unimpressed. Privately everyone thought that the comment was a bit rich coming from her, but they said nothing.
"Gobby blonde covers about half the Square." Linda pointed out with a shrug, arriving in time to catch the comment. "What are we talking about?"
"Yourself included?" Jack teased her before answering her question. He shook his head and sighed, nodding towards the men unloading the van. "Apparently whoever's bought number 43's from around here."
"D'you reckon it's the same person that's bought The Albert?"
Kim nodded. "Yeah, it's been sold alright. There's men round there now gutting the place."
"Right... It's freezing out here. I'd better get back to the pub." Linda rubbed her arms, a thoughtful expression on her face.
"Yeah, I'd better get back to the kids," Jack agreed, "let me know if you find out who it is, eh?"
"We're out of milk." Glenda informed her granddaughter, shaking the empty bottle at her as she entered the kitchen.
Katy sighed. "Already?" When Glenda just shrugged, the young woman nodded and grabbed her purse off the counter. "I'll go and get some, then. You alright with the kids?"
"Course. Are you going to the Minute Mart?"
"No," Katy shook her head vehemently. She wasn't ready to walk out onto the Square and bump into anyone yet. She also thought that it would probably be best if she went to see Jack in person before he found out she was there from someone who wasn't her. "I'll go down the High Street. Do we need anything else?"
"We could probably do with some more bread." The older woman said, wrinkling her nose. "The kids will probably all want toast in the morning."
"OK. I'll be as quick as I can."
"Take your coat." Glenda ordered, sending her granddaughter a stern frown as Katy made to leave through the backdoor without it. "It's freezing out there. I'm not dealing with another month in hospital because you were stupid enough to catch a chill."
Rolling her eyes fondly, the brunette grabbed a jacket and her hat. Instinctively, she pressed a kiss to her grandmother's cheek as she made her way outside. She would never admit it, but she was grateful for Glenda's fussing. Not only did it go some way to filling the gap that her mother's death had left behind but it also reminded her that, somehow, they had built their way up to they place where they were now. They were almost a normal family. Almost.
Keeping her head down, she strode up Bridge Street in the direction of the tube. A quick ride down to the High Street and she'd be back without bumping into anyone she knew. Katy smiled tightly at the night attendant on the platform, before stepping onto the train and swinging herself into a seat in the empty carriage.
Katy had phoned Ritchie Scott in the summer and asked her to keep an eye open for any commercial or residential lots coming on the market in Albert Square. She decided that they'd been away from Walford and their family for long enough and it was time to invest some of the money she'd been left. Combining what she'd received in the wills of her mother and Roxy, Archie and Peggy, she was more than able to buy the house and The Albert when Ritchie had told her about them.
As she'd hoped, Katy managed to make it to the supermarket and back to the house without bumping into anyone. She smiled at her eldest daughter as she entered the kitchen, laughing when Ruby gabbled excitedly about their new home.
"It's so cool. Granny has got her own bit down here and we've got a whole huge bit upstairs!"
"I know, angel." Katy laughed, tapping her gently on the nose. "I did buy the house, you know."
After spending the past two years on top of each other in their tiny three-bedroom cottage, Glenda and Katy had decided that the layout of Number 43 would work perfectly for them. Katy and the children would have the larger, two-storey flat upstairs while Glenda would live on the ground floor. They would be close enough to spend as much time together as they were used to, but have a bit of privacy as well.
"Does Dad know about our new house?" Ruby asked innocently, leaning both her elbows on the kitchen table and watching her mother unpack Glenda's shopping.
Katy stiffened. "I sent the address to Grandpa Eddie."
"When can we see Grandad Jack and Amy and Ricky?"
"Soon, baby." She promised lightly, turning and pressing a kiss to the top of Ruby's head.
Picking up the rest of the shopping, she held out her hand to her eldest daughter. They made their way up to their flat where Glenda was looking after Matthew and the twins. Sending her granddaughter a fond smile, Glenda stood up and took the bags out of her hand.
"You sit down, darling." She ordered, handing her the glass of wine that had been poured ready. "All three bathed and already in bed. Ruby, off you go; pyjamas and teeth."
"But I'm not even tired!" The seven-year-old complained.
"Only if you promise I can see Grandad Jack in the morning."
Katy sighed deeply. "Fine. I promise."
With a beaming smile, her daughter bounced away, leaving her mother and great-grandmother alone. Glenda looked at Katy carefully, shaking her head when she realised what the young woman was planning to do.
"Katherine, you can't–"
"I knew I needed to speak to him soon. If he finds out we're here before I tell him he'll be devastated." She glanced towards the stairs. "How long d'you reckon we can keep those four under wraps before he realises we're back?"
"It's late. At least wait until the morning."
Katy shot her a look. "It's not that late, Gran. It's better to get it over and done with. At least it'll give him the chance to calm down before tomorrow if he kicks off."
It was a dark, blustery night and Katy would much rather have taken Glenda's advice and waited until the morning, but instead she found herself crossing the Square to stand on the doorstep of a house she hadn't seen for the best part of two years. Somehow, though, even the inviting glow from behind the drawn curtains of the front room wasn't enough to make her feel any less uneasy about actually knocking on the door.
When the door opened, Jack stared at her as though he'd seen a ghost. "Ron?"
In the dim light cast on her from the hallway, the resemblance between the young woman and her late mother was startling, especially with Katy's bleached hair. Jack reached out and took a strand of the blonde locks between his fingers, gazing at it in confusion.
She swallowed thickly. "Actually, it's Katy… Hi, Dad."
Jack stared at her for a long time. It was painfully awkward and Katy was starting to regret her decision to come. She'd been thinking about making a trip to visit Albert Square for months, but kept finding reasons to put it off and stay far away. Now she had run out of excuses.
"I'm sorry, I… it's been so long." She told him, rubbing her upper arm anxiously. "I thought maybe it would be better if I stayed away."
"You just left." Jack reminded her, angrily. She nodded, hanging her head and knowing that she deserved whatever he threw at her. "You packed your bags while we were at the funeral and you just left! We had no idea where you were. You never answered our calls? If it wasn't for Glenda we wouldn't have found out that you were still in the country at all."
"I know." She agreed with a weak, apologetic smile. "I just… I was so angry about Mum and Aunty Roxy that I couldn't bear to even look at you. And the funeral? I love Mum, god knows I do, but what about Rox? It was like she didn't even exist? How could you be so cruel?"
"Jack?" A voice from inside the house reminded the pair that they were not alone and everyone in earshot was probably listening to their increasingly loud conversion. "What's going on?"
"I'll only be a minute." He called back over his shoulder, pulling the door closed behind him.
Jack pushed his hands into his pockets, looking a little guilty for a moment. Then he frowned and held his hands up, palms facing his daughter, fixing her with a defensive scowl. "Mel. She's… you can't expect me to be a hermit, especially after you abandoned me and the kids."
"Abandoned?" Katy laughed incredulously, her anger rising at the accusation. "I never abandoned them. They had my number… I speak to Amy and Ricky every week." When her father looked surprised she frowned. "You didn't know?"
"No, I didn't know!"
"They used to give me messages from you…" Katy murmured, her heart sinking slightly as the truth dawned on her. She'd thought that Jack would be pleased to see her, from the comments her brother and sister had made, but now was starting to fear that wasn't the case. "When I was ill–"
At once Jack lurched forward, gripping her upper arms tightly. Concern was written all over his face as he stared into her eyes. "The cancer? Are you alright? How bad was it? Why didn't you tell me?"
"I thought you knew… Amy said…"
"We've already established that Amy wasn't exactly telling either of us the full story." Jack pointed out bluntly. "So? How are you? You should have phoned me."
"I'm sorry, I… I thought you didn't…" Katy said with a shrug. "I spent all of last March in hospital with an infection and then… in September they thought the cancer had come back."
Jack ran his hands through his hair. "Katy… why didn't you phone me? Why didn't you come home?"
She shrugged, not meeting his eyes. "I… I couldn't."
"So, the cancer? Is it back? How are you? Katy… talk to me!"
Katy shook her head, pulling her coat more tightly around herself. "No. It was a false alarm. They were talking about the possibility of me needing a transplant and Gran insisted on being tested, but she wasn't a match anyway. They pushed for finding a familial match, but I refused to get the kids tested… I don't want any of them going through that… especially as I'm clear."
"At the moment." He frowned at her. "I'll tell the hospital I want to be tested, just in case. Surely we'd be a match? I mean; I'm your dad. Katy, I want to be your donor if you need one."
"That's not why I came here." The young woman said, frowning and stepping backwards. "I can't ask you to do that."
"I know." Jack's eyes slipped closed at her words, rubbing his forehead tiredly. "I want to. If I could help you get better… I'm glad you came, sweetheart."
Katy looked so unsure of herself that her father felt something inside him shatter. He stepped forward and gathered the young woman into his arms, holding her tightly against his chest and resting his cheek against the top of her head. Katy balled her hands into fists, resting them against his back for a moment, before her resolve cracked and the damn inside her broke. One soft, unintentional sob escaped her, before she broke down in tears.
Patiently murmuring soothing nonsense into her hair, Jack waited until her tears had subsided before pulling back and looking at her seriously. "How bad would it be, love?"
"Pretty bad." Katy replied softly, finally meeting his eyes. "There was a lot to take in and I… Gran had to come to my appointments because I just couldn't… they said that if the cancer did come back, chemotherapy only had a small chance of curing me again. Having a transplant isn't a guarantee, either. If they managed to do the transplant successfully, but it didn't cure me or I relapsed again…" She trailed off, taking a deep breath. Letting her eyes slip closed for a moment, she opened them and fixed Jack with an almost pleading expression. "I want to come home. Please. I'm sorry."
"Of course." Jack nodded, dragging her into tight hug and pressing several kisses to her temple. "You don't need to ask. You never need to ask." He continued to whisper muffled assurances and promises into her hair as fresh tears soaked the front of his sweater. Finally, pulling away gently, he looked at her carefully. "Come in for a cuppa?"
Nodding, Katy followed him into the house. She tensed at the familiarity of it all, the photographs of her family catching her eye and reminding her of everything they'd lost.
"Where's your friend?" She asked in a biting tone, accepting the mug that he passed her.
"She's gone home. I told her you were here and that we needed to talk."
"So? Is it serious?"
"We're friends." Jack emphasised. "Mel's been through a lot lately."
"Dad, I didn't expect you to stay single. Mum's… if Mum's gone…. I do want you to be happy, you know."
"I know that, sweetheart. I just… Ronnie was…"
He smiled weakly, taking a long drink from his mug before turning back to face his daughter with a relaxed smile on his face. "So, how long are you staying for? Where are Tyler, Glenda and the kids?"
"They're at home… here, on the Square. I bought Number 43."
Jack looked stunned for a moment, before he grinned delightedly. "Ahh, so you're the gobby blonde."
"Eh?" Katy looked offended.
"Karen Taylor said she spoke to a gobby blonde while you were moving in."
She grinned. "Not me, must have been Gran. She'll be thrilled with that description." Then she frowned. "Who's Karen Taylor?"
"Her and her kids live in 23B." Jack said. "To be honest, gobby blonde is a pretty accurate description of Karen."
Katy laughed. "Glad to see nothing much has changed around here. Anything else I should know?"
Jack rubbed his forehead thoughtfully, before dropping his hand and looking at her sadly. "Abi…"
"I know." Katy nodded. "Lauren told me."
"Someone's bought The Albert." He announced, pulling himself out of his brooding and changing the subject abruptly. "Kim said they're gutting the place. Apparently whoever's got it is planning on stamping their mark on the place."
Katy grinned at him. "I am indeed."
"You bought it?"
"Yeah, I finally put the money Archie left me to good use. I'm gonna rebrand and reopen it as R&R." She told him decisively. "Whit told me that the club was under new management and called something else. We've got to move on, but I don't want Mum and Roxy to be forgotten, Dad."
He considered her for a minute and then smiled proudly. "You are definitely your mother's daughter."
"So, how can I help? What d'you need? Money?"
"We're fine, Dad, but thanks." Katy grinned at him. "A bit of babysitting every now and then would go down a treat, though. I feel bad asking Gran all the time."
"Of course. I bet you and Tyler could do with a bit of time on your own."
"Tyler… we split up." Katy informed him bluntly, clenching her jaw. "He left…"
"He did what?"
"He met someone else out in Spain when he was visiting Eddie. I don't blame Tyler really; between working and four kids I didn't have much time for him. When I got ill he decided he was going to stay and support us. Then I told him about my plans to come back here and open the bar." Katy shook her head. "He told me everything. I couldn't be angry with him and I couldn't stop him leaving. I'd rather he was happy with someone else than miserable with me and the kids."
"If he ever shows his face round here–"
"Dad, I'm OK." She promised, smiling weakly. "I promise."
Sighing, Jack wrapped his arm around her shoulders and Katy tucked herself into his side, wrapping her own arm around his waist and hugging him tightly. As he rested his chin on the top of her head, Jack wondered whether returning to the Square was the best thing for the young woman, no matter how pleased he was to see her.
"Dad, I can't–" Amy broke off as her eyes fell on her older sister. A broad, delighted smile appeared on her face and she rushed forward, throwing herself at the older woman. "Katy? What are you doing here? Are you coming home?"
"We are, angel." She agreed, meeting Jack's eyes over the little girl's head. "We're home."
AN: So... after seeing that Sean Slater is returning and has a fight with Jack by the graves this idea popped into my head.
Watch this space.