Ok so I’m basing this on the idea that Max makes decisions that favor Kate e.g taking Kate’s call in the diner or stepping up to defend Kate from David.
I can see Kate having gay panic at first tbh. Whether or not she chooses to even ID as gay in the future, she would probably freak out in the moment bc suddenly she’s finding herself in a situation that she never expected to find herself in, one that she’s only heard negative things about. Everything was going so badly for her, and then she found a light in all the dark, and it seemed like things might turn around. But that light turned out to shine far more brilliantly than she ever expected, and feelings came easily. Things got worse.
That really scared her. So many people at Blackwell had made fun of her for what she believed in, but along came Max, someone who didn’t judge her no matter what she believed in. She felt safe with Max, safe enough to open up to her. But now these feelings had, in her mind, ruined that security bc they directly conflicted with everything she’d been taught. The one place she thought she could feel safe could no longer be a haven for her, and she was alone again.
I could see Kate withdrawing again once she realized she had feelings for Max. Since her religious beliefs happen to promote heterosexual relationships, she became fearful of what her family and church would think of her. She had already seen condemnation from close family members, and she couldn’t bear to experience that again. She tried to distance herself from Max as a form of denial. Kate believed that if she stayed away for long enough, the feelings would disappear, and everything would return to normal.
Max kinda zoomed in on this when she tried to talk to Kate bc she got very short responses, and they lacked the warmth that Kate’s voice usually had. This worried Max bc she assumed that Kate was struggling with depression again. Like she had done many times before, Max tried to reach out to Kate in an attempt to help her, but she was met with a surprising amount of resistance. But tbh, I think Max would eventually figure it out.
But anyway, I think Kate would end up overcoming this herself. Max didn’t feel like it was her place to tell Kate how to feel, so she kinda just watched from the sidelines all worried and such. The more Kate distanced herself from Max, the worse she felt. Her depression worsened to the point where she almost became a recluse again. Eventually she just realized that people wouldn’t always like her for who she was, but there would always be people who would. It kinda just clicked, and Kate realized that Max was a big part of her life that made her happy.
I think Kate would approach Max after she accepted this. She would pour out her feelings bc she knew Max would listen. She was scared, but Max understood. Max got why Kate was so freaked, and she stressed that Kate didn’t need to decide anything in the moment. Max believed that Kate’s comfort took precedence, and the last thing she wanted was to make Kate feel as though she was being pushed into something. That understanding was the final piece of the puzzle, and in that moment, Kate willingly took her first step into the unknown.