Cat burst from her office, fighting back the tears already glossing her eyes, ready to cry. In the same moment she careened into Chrissy swigging back a big gulp from her coffee cup which inevitably flew away from her, splashing its contents all over the reception desk. Chrissy stood from her chair to face off to the crazed hooligan, expecting to see Tony. Her anger faded immediately when she realised it wasn’t him. One look at her dishevelled colleague told her everything she needed to know. Solidarity took over and without saying a word, she reached inside her handbag, pulled out her cigarettes and handed them to Cat who accepted them with apologetic grace. Still no words were uttered between them. Chrissy gave Cat’s arm a comforting little squeeze and scowled through the wall at tony before gesturing her away. Cat offered a puffy eyed and tight-lipped, trembly smile before practically running for the back dock, tears already streaming. As she punched through the door, she faintly heard Chrissy voice on a radio inside. All manager carried a walkie talkie to allow for easy communication throughout the hotel.
“Dis is staff announcement. Vinny please to come back to reception. That’s Vinnie please to come back to reception. Coffee everywhere again. Thank you.”
Under normal circumstances the visual image of poor Vinny being tuned into communal janitor would have amused Cat, but not today. As soon as she met the outside air, she lit the first cigarette. Fortunately, the docking bay was vacant; no one around to spoil her self-indulgent, pitiful loathing. The pained girl needed to decompress, to register the events of the morning. Mostly, she just needed to cry. These were tears of frustration, tears of sheer hurt and not just for what had happened minutes earlier. These were tears pent up from a year of tragic emptiness; tears for every lonely moment, for the reality of her single life trials and failings, for the struggles of the hard days and the long nights of solitude; tears cried by women the world over for something they so desperately wanted but couldn’t and, apparently, shouldn’t have. They were tears for the promise of something fulfilling, something good, however wrong the situations; however empty the promise of hope.
She felt simply wretched. She despised herself for being so pathetically overwhelmed with emotion, for being so weak. Her self-loathing and regret—almost willing to break her own integrity and crossing the line with Tony—devoured her insides. How dare she not be stronger, not resist temptation and pull away from that arsehole. And for what? For his solid, sculpted shoulders? His artistically chiseled jaw? She hated herself. She hated him. She was furious at him, at every man who had ever made her feel so broken, so hollow. In fact, FUCK THEM ALL, every goddam one of them. Fuck every man that had ever lived. She’d been letting her emotions pull her into the depths of the dramatic again.
She exhaled a feeble cloud of smoke that she’d had trouble sucking in in the first place. She took a deep breath of fresh air and unleashed the full force of her remorse, soaking her sleeve as she sobbed into her elbow. She’d even started making that noise she makes when she cries uncontrollably, which she probably wouldn’t have if she’d noticed one of the cooks stepping through the loading dock doors with two bags of rubbish, stopping in his tracks when he saw her and reversing back out of view where it was safe.
Minutes passed before, the storm finally started to calm. The bottled up tears had bubbled out all over her and the concrete. She felt almost drained of them and now that sweet, post-cry euphoria began filling the void they’d left behind.
Poor Cat stubbed her depleted fag-butt out on the wall and flicked it at the nearby drain. She eased herself down onto the edge of the dock, sniffling. She hated the tears but the magnitude of today’s events had officially made her ‘ugly cry’. Oh how she wished to be a pretty crier like the heartbreakingly beautiful women in movies, instead of some grotesque swamp monster with a lucid nose in desperate need of Kleenex. A quick rummage through her pockets confirmed the distinct lack of tissues. Her sleeves would have to do. She didn’t care.
Why was life so damned complicated? Did it really need to be this hard? Ironically, in times like this she would normally turn to Tony for unsympathetic advice. Cat could always rely on him to say something amusingly unhelpful along the lines of ‘Cat, go grab a big fat pint of man-the-fuck-up juice and sort yourself out’. While his words were usually harsh, his hugs were warm and comforting. She knew, deep down, he did have a soul and he did care, however shite he was at expressing it. So it was made all the worse that this time he was the trigger of this biblical flood of tears and not the one to wipe them away.
She sparked another cigarette, this time taking in a full, glorious drag. As she exhaled, still whimpering, she considered the prospect of spending the rest of her life alone. Maybe it was time to accept her entire existence was going to be one long quest to somehow find the strength to be alone, to die alone, to manage the magnitude of raising two wonderful but exhausting children alone. She quivered a teary tremor in the realisation that somehow, for the kids, she was going to have to find the strength to master single life.
She probably should have cried years ago. Trying to be strong all the time just didn’t allow for it, according to the Rule Book For Modern Women which, if it had existed, Cat thought, would probably have been written by a man. She felt pride for making it as far as she could, but sadness for not being able to hug herself better. It’s okay, Cat… It’s okay… You’re allowed to cry in front of me… I won’t judge…
So she allowed them to trickle, just a little more. Just enough to satisfy the aftershocks, still rumbling around her gut. Her racing, jumbled thoughts were steadying, clearing. These were tears just for her now.
Cat took another long, hard, minty pull. She knew she would regret it later but that was later’s problem. Right now her desire for clarity and the rush of nicotine outweighed her common sense and fear of cancer…. Hell, she’d made some seriously bad decisions today, so what difference was one more?
She looked at Chrissy’s lighter. It was a black zippo with the words ‘zero fucks’ on the front. It reminded her of Chrissy’s first week at the hotel when she’d announced she didn’t like hearing people saying ‘zero fucks’ all the time because she liked foxes and couldn’t understand why people were still so adamant about ridding the countryside of them. After much mutual amusement from the rest of the team, it was eventually broken down and explained to her. Vinnie had the lighter made and they’d been pretty much best buds since. Cat chuckled through her puffy eyes and remembered the kindness she’d just been shown. She figured she might need to go and ask if Chrissy had a shirt she could borrow too. And she definitely wouldn’t be changing in the office.
Nearing the end of this second cigarette, ‘later’ reared its ugly head. Rational thought was slapping her in the face. The decision was hers to smoke or not to smoke; the decision to burst into tears in public; the decision to get hot under the collar with Tony. She could tell herself that each decision wasn’t really a decision at all but an uncontrollable impulse she couldn’t fight, a succession of events that all started when Vinnie spilt that fucking coffee. She could tell herself that, but that was the easy way out. Maybe it was time to take control of her decisions, to actually be smarter about things, to be better at being strong; to know what true strength really was. It was time to take her life back. Sure, life can be complicated and cruel and paint you into corners you actively try to avoid. You can’t control the shit life throws at you, only the decisions you make on how to deal with its constant trials. But the path you choose should be yours and yours alone. Right now, Cat accepted that her emotions were winning and a smoke fuelled epiphany wasn’t going to suddenly make her the pillar of strength she needed. It was a start though.
Past experiences flashed before her, reminding her that all this self-pity wouldn’t last. It didn’t come naturally to Cat. It was time to collect her thoughts, be awfully British and pull herself together. But what would really help right now would be a bloody good distraction. She wanted something positive to help focus her energies.
The universe must have been listening and finally taken pity on this ridiculous, drenched swamp monster. As if answering her prayers, her phone pinged. She snatched at the device in her pocket, fumbling the cigarette and lighter in the process. Finally, she retrieved it and opened the message:
Nick: About bloody time! I thought you’d never ask 👍
Cat: You mean my exotic underwear hasn’t frightened you off?
Nick: TBH I didn’t know ‘exotic’ came in prison grey! Personally, I’m more into avocado green.
She giggled. It felt good to giggle. Well, it was more of wobbly snort than a giggle but it was just what she needed. Thank you, Universe! Maybe a night with this attractive man was exactly what the universe wanted for her. A reward for her struggle. Of course it could be a test to see if she’d actually learnt anything but, again, that would be later’s problem.
Cat: That actually made me smile 😊
Nick: I like the idea of that, you smiling. Think I’d like it even more in the real world. So when you free?
Cat: How about this weekend?
Nick: Perfect. Shall we say Saturday night? Somewhere local? I always like to stay local on a first date. you know, for safety. For all I know, you could be a creepy weirdo who only wants to get in my knickers! I might need a quick escape!
Cat rolled her eyes and chuckled again. It was probably prudent to think about safety but she didn’t feel threatened enough by this silly, charming boy. All she really wanted was something positive and fun and Nick seemed the perfect outlet to tap into for that. She’d processed enough, cried enough. And enough was simply enough. So she took a deep breath, fed on his positivity and attempted some amusement of her own.
Cat: Great. 8pm? and bring your dancing shoes 😉
Nick: Ballet or tap?
Cat: Surprise me
Nick: OK I’ll bring one of each. And don’t forget your prison grey underwear. Or beige! Nothing sexier than beige 😂
Maybe she should have given more thought before answering but, so caught up in her need to forget about Tony, to be anywhere and with anyone that could push him out of her head entirely, she had taken the leap and couldn’t wait. Nick was the desperately desired distraction she so craved. With one more cheeky impulse, she typed a final reply:
Cat: Who says I’ll be wearing any underwear at all?
And with that, Cat had sealed the deal: she was going on an actual date. Oh fuckity-fuck.
Enjoyed this chapter and want to catch up with the story so far Adventures with Cat