It was one of those fresh, crisp autumn mornings and the day perfectly mirrored Cat’s positive outlook. She assumed it must have had something to do with the effortless school run and the possibility of another amusing exchange with Nick—if he ever messaged her again. Fortunately, her futile attempts at selfies hadn’t completely destroyed the banter, instead appearing to strengthen it. His sense of humour and light-hearted reaction to the hideously ugly mum bra was winning him extra brownie points. The night had ended in a stream of laughing emojis and promises to catch up later today. Even the unavoidable prospect of having to share office space with Tony ‘Dick’ hadn’t cramped her hopeful disposition.
She was greeted at the Hotel reception by a giggling Christina, fluttering her long fake lashes at Vince. Everyone flutters their eyelashes at Vince, fake or otherwise. They couldn’t help themselves. He was a sub 30 beast of a man with an innocent charm and contagious laugh. There was a warmth to Vince that drew you in; ladies either wanted to screw him or mother him.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t particularly bright, though it made him adorably naïve—probably why Cat leaned more towards the mothering.
The admin office was tucked behind the main reception desk. Vince, having noticed Cat from his perch behind the desk, threw open the office door for her. Cat appreciated the gentlemanly gesture, particularly as the door itself swung directly into Tony, knocking the cup of hot coffee from his hand and drowning his bright white shirt in scolding brown liquid. Tony’s fury halted her emerging chuckle. She didn’t envy Vince right now.
“For fuck’s sake Vin!” he said at angry-dad volume. “What’s the bloody emergency?!”
“Sorry, boss. Was just opening the door for Cat, didn’t know you were in there,” he said, noticing Tony glaring at Cat now.
“Yes, I was in there listening to you two gossiping for the last half hour. Haven’t you got any clients?” It was more of an accusation than a question, especially now that Cat had been pinned for Christina’s insolence. His eyes narrowed while he shook coffee from his fingers.
Vinny was looking desperately remorseful. “I’m really sorry… I’ll grab the mop. Hope your shirt’s alright!”
Tony raised his eyes and stared at Vince. “Hope my bloody shirt’s alright? It’s a shirt. I’m sure it’ll get over it, unlike me who will have to spend the rest of the morning nursing burns and stinking like a Starbucks stock room!”
Vince, still holding the door, caught a supportive wink from Cat, now sidling her way past Tony.
“Let’s be honest, there are worst things you could smell of,” Vince said, knowingly throwing fuel on the fire.
In an attempt to defuse the situation—and her about-to-explode boss— Cat chimed in “And anyway, you’ve got a spare shirt hanging out back.”
With that she gently clamped onto Tony’s elbow and led him through the door into the small room. The closing door did nothing to stifle the echoing giggles from Christina, nor Cat’s mental images of poor Vin rushing around, frantically searching for a mop-bucket.
“Great. Just bloody great. Look at me!” he said, gesturing towards the offensive stain, causing Cat to focus on his broad shoulders and solid chest. She felt an uncontrollable grin slipping from the corner of her mouth.
“I don’t know why you’re making such a fuss,” she said, putting those mothering skills to use. “You always have a change of clothes lying around. This place is practically a walk-in wardrobe.”
Cat opened the storage cupboard at the back of the office, knowing full well Tony kept his possessions there. She could hear a rustle of clothes behind her and knew he was slipping out of his jacket; the buttons rattled as it carelessly hit the desk. She lingered in the cupboard’s dim light, hearing the rub of silk as he slid off his tie, huffing at the sheer inconvenience of it all. Locating a pale blue cotton Hugo Boss shirt, Cat grabbed the hanger and turned to hand it to him. Tony was fiddling with his top button, oblivious to Cat’s eyes watching his fingers as they tugged in frustration. She wanted to offer a helping hand but resisted the urge, amused by his futile attempts. Thinking better of it, she lay the shirt on the desk.
Straining his neck and glaring directly at the ceiling light, Tony finally popped open the button. Undoing the remainder of them was comparably effortless. Cat stood transfixed, watching as, inch by inch, Tony’s bare chest exposed itself. She became acutely aware that his eyes were no longer on the light above—they were now on her. FUCK!! She felt the heat rise in her cheeks, knowing she must be blushing and cursed her hungry eyes for not looking away in time.
Never in her life had she been so relieved to hear the beeping of the phone hidden in her bag, granting her the perfect excuse to busy herself and ignore Tony’s ingratiating face. She played with her phone, glad for the distraction.
She opened a picture message from Jay. It was a photo of the fanciest looking eggs-on-toast Cat had ever seen, garnished with a generous portion of parsley.
Jay: Dinner and Breakfast lol!!!
She laughed, knowing Insommnia77! was likely alluding to the fact that he’d gotten lucky last night—and the lucky lady had stayed long enough to deserve eggs. The distraction gave Cat the moments she needed to compose herself.
“Oooooooh… New fella, eh?” he nosed, his shirt still undone and hanging temptingly from his shoulders. Why haven’t you changed, already???
“What makes you think it’s a man?” rebutted Cat. “Could be my mum. Or the girls.”
He raised his perfect eyebrows. “No one laughs like that when it’s their Mum. The way you’re grinning it’s definitely a fella.”
Was she grinning? Possibly—with sheer relief at being distracted from the increasingly awkward tension in the room. She wasn’t blushing anymore at least, but still couldn’t bring herself to look him in the eye—or any other of his body parts for that matter. Would you just get changed already!!
Tony moved towards her and perched next to the monitor, ankles crossed and arms folded. Jesus Christ his pecks bulged. The hairs on his arms only boosted his natural, manly magnetism. As the shirt hung from his partially naked frame, Cat was close enough to smell that familiar Armani aftershave she so adored. She forced her eyes to stay glued to the phone. Why was he sitting so bloody close? Why did he have to smell so damn good?Why was it getting so hot in here…
She tugged at the shirt lying on the desk. Tony was sitting on the sleeve, forcing him to shift position and stand up.
“Hadn’t you better get changed and stop being so bloody nosy?” Cat was clearly agitated. “Surely, you have better things to do than wind me up for the rest of the morning.”
“What?!” He’d spit out his coffee if he had any left. “It’s not my fault Vince threw the bloody door at me!”
“You’re such a princess.”
“It was really bloody hot, actually!” he whined, slightly more than she’d expected him to. “Seriously, I’m fucking wounded and it’s all your fault.”
“Err… what?” she shot back. “How’s it my fault?! Explain.”
“That boy goes all soft when he sees you. His attempts to win your approval almost cost me third-degree burns!” Now he was being dramatic.
”For fuck’s sake, there’s…” Tony’s naked chest caught her off guard when she finally looked up again. “Nothing there…”
“I’m not making it up,” he said, sliding the rest of the shirt completely off his shoulders and freeing the cuffs. He was now completely naked from the midriff up and as hard as Cat tried she couldn’t help but take in every perfect inch. This was far too intimate; he was far too close. Surely, Tony could hear the crescendo of drums building in her chest. His torso was sun-bed tanned and Cat’s eyes scanned his naked flesh from rippling ab to rock solid peck to those heavyset deltoids and… Oh feck it… there actually was a mild red blemish on his right shoulder; maybe he was, in truth, ever so slightly wounded. She felt a pang of guilt over her assumption that his ranting was nothing more than petty attention seeking. With difficulty, Cat collected herself.
“Looks like you’re gonna need a skin graft. Hang on…” she joked, shaking her head and standing up to grab a cooling pack from the first-aid box. Unfortunately, the box was next to Tony’s gym bag, stuffed in the back of the storage cupboard, with a semi-naked Tony stood between her and it.
Her intentions were genuinely innocent. But now she stood facing her topless boss, close enough to touch if he didn’t move out of her way. He looked mildly surprised by her advance; he’d clearly been teasing her with his half open shirt but wasn’t expecting to find himself in such a compromising position. It was too close. She could feel his breath on her face, neck. Their eyes momentarily locked, Cat’s breath stuck, burning in her chest. Why was he not moving? Why was she not moving. WHY THE FUCK WAS NOBODY MOVING?!
Fortunately, a flustered Vince fell through the door with a mop and bucket, focused on the job at hand and clearing up the earlier spillage.
Tony blinked his dark eyes, still locked on hers. He didn’t jump at Vince’s sudden intrusion. He remained where he stood, motionless, stalling her escape. Cat broke from their mutual gaze first. Putting her hand out to balance as she manoeuvred herself past Tony’s naked frame, her hand planted itself on his skin. The hurried action caught Cat off guard, though Tony grabbed her resting hand in an attempt to steady her. And he didn’t let go, not until she was fully past him and reaching for the doors behind. He released her hand allowing her to open the doors in search of the first-aid box.
Looking up from the floor and nearly finished with his janitorial duties, Vince noticed topless Tony. “Mate, if you can’t find a shirt I got a spare in the Instructors Office.” He was still trying to make amends for coffee-gate.
“Nah, you’re alright,” Tony said, still fixated on Cat. “Just getting one now.”
Cat found the pack and passed it to Tony. His exposed torso didn’t bother Vince. Working around the gym meant you quickly became accustomed to a certain level of nudity. Besides, it wasn’t the first time Cat had found herself in the cramped office with a scantily clad instructor. They were always rushing around from class to PT session, using her office to change into fresher clothes in the interim. Sometimes she wondered if they all considered her office an extension of their changing room. This time, however, was the first time she’d borne witness to her bare-chested boss.
Tony was seated at the opposite desk, ice-pack resting on his increasingly less impressive burns.
Vince noticed the pack. “Shit, you alright?”
“Yeah Vin, don’t worry,” Tony replied, feeling less sorry for himself. “Cat’s just making a fuss is all.”
BLOODY men, now it was her making a fuss. Only moments before, Tony was bitching about third degree burns. His testosterone-heavy alpha male gene had obviously kicked in, defending his need to attend to the mild—but still apparently existing—burn. Whatever!! She switched on her computer, desperate to find something to think about that had nothing to do with the last few minutes.
Tony reached for the clean shirt, carelessly tossing away the cooling pack and finally getting dressed. Cat pretended not to notice his every movement. He didn’t bat an eyelid at her. Instead, he snatched up a bottle of disinfectant and some blue roll from the side, then assisted Vince in cleaning up the last of the coffee from the door. Tony wedged the door open for the floor to dry and Vince disappeared, returning with a bright yellow warning sign.
With the floor gleaming, and any evidence of the earlier crime now covered up, Tony turned to Cat. His face was tight and his eyes troubled. He attempted a smile but it was awkward and uncomfortable. He left the office to catch an update from Christina. Cat could hear them discussing today’s duties at the reception desk.
She felt numb.
Notes from me: Cat has just found herself in a rather compromising predicament. Things have been getting uncomfortably close with a old friend she works with, only problem is… hes married!
WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK WAS THAT?? The question tumbled round her head. So much was wrong with the last five minutes. Her mind was jumbled. She tried desperately to untangle the mess, mentally listing all the issues she had with it, in an attempt to make sense of the feeling that something fairly significant had just transpired between her and her friend-slash-boss-slash-married-man-slash absolute dick!
a) He was her friend: crossing the line between friendship and anything sexual was usually always complicated. Naturally, this lead to a question: can you ever really be friends with someone from the opposite sex? Doesn’t it all just get convoluted at some point? Until earlier she truly believed that intersex friendships were absolutely possible. Now she wasn’t so sure.
b) They worked together: interoffice relationships are usually a disaster as you rarely have any escape from the other person. They become suffocating, conversation becomes limited and the relationship evolves into nothing but work.
c) He was her boss: Cat was certain that that made it practically illegal, according to the company policy work book. Thou shalt not shag boss under penalty of death and your P45 being issued immediately. OK, maybe she was being a touch dramatic now; probably grafted by her recent, frantic binge of the latest GOT season.
d) He was a dick: he was a complete, self-assured bastard who clearly thought Cat had ulterior motives towards him. He didn’t deserve her time or attention. Like, ever! e) And most importantly… HE WAS FUCKING MARRIED! This was, by far, her biggest issue. She had morals and a girl code and believed to her very core that if a guy wore a ring, back the FUCK off! She grabbed her mental highlighter and circled the last point several times in luminous pink.
No matter how many points and rationalisations there were as to why she shouldn’t have anything to do with Tony though, there was one factor she just couldn’t get around; one, simple factor that made all the other very valid points really kinda blurry:
a) Chemistry That fucker blew holes in any reasoning and complicated the shit out of her now apparent situation.
Maybe she had been in denial or slightly naive to the growing closeness between them. But it was staring her in the face now. There was only one thing to do: sell her house, run away, leave the country and pledge her allegiance to the Night’s Watch. Because there was no way she was EVER going against her integrity. He was married—equals: OUT OF BOUNDS. End of. Even if Beth was a Lannister-worthy epic bitch. Still, no. Logged in and set up, Cat waited for the ridiculously slow internet connection to display her Outlook messages. With the office door wedged open she could hear the conversation coming from the front desk. Christina’s Slovakian tones had obviously moved on from the day’s objectives. She had a talent for taking conversations from important issues to complete nonsense in a heartbeat.
“I vatched this amaaazing documentary last night, Blue Planet,”Christina regaled.
“Love that shit! It’s well relaxing but some of them fish look proper evil—you know them weird ones that live right at the bottom? Look like aliens…” Vince was obviously client free and bored. Cat was surprised Tony hadn’t sent him back to the gym for a deep clean already.
“I tink I vould love to be a fish, just svimming all day, no clients making stress at me…” Christina wistfully romanced, in as close to english as she could manage. “Tony if you vere a fish, vhat fish vould you be and vhy?”
Cat was inwardly grinning, she knew this was the type of mind-numbing chit-chat that drove Tony mental. She wished she could see his face right now.
“Actually Chrissy, I’ve never thought about being a fish, thanks,” he said , sounding as unwilling to participate in Christina’s fishy fantasies as Cat suspected he would. “Nor would I! I imagine it’d be bloody cold and you’d spend your whole life trying not to get eaten by bigger fish…”
Christina, not perturbed by Tony’s curt response, addressed the question to a more accommodating Vince. “Vhat about you Vince, vhat fish vould you be?” Vince put some serious thought into his answer. “Errr… hmmmm… crocodile.”
A rather enthusiastic Christina agreed: “You vould be a great crocodile.”
“Uhh… hello?” Tony chimed in, suddenly ready to shoot the poor idiot down again. “I hate to put a dampener on your fantasies, Vince, but a crocodile isn’t a fish.”
Christina ignored Tony’s cutting interruption, and carried on. “Tony, I Tink if you ver a fish you vould be a killer vhale. You’d be a gooood vhale, very strong. Eating all the little fishes.”
Cat openly laughed and couldn’t wait for Tony’s reply in the full knowledge that this entire conversation would be grating against his overinflated ego. Of course, his reply was dry and sarcastic:
“Thanks. It’s great to know you think I’d make a good whale, Christina, but…” he paused, probably trying to control his escalating frustration, “a whale—isn’t—a fish.” His voice had risen an octave higher.
Vince and Christina were enjoying the discussion too much to let their grumpy manager shit all over it. In fact, his grumpiness only made it more entertaining. Christina called through to Cat who was on the verge of giggling hysterically. “Vhat fish vould you be, Cat?”
Without hesitation Cat replied. “A dolphin, sweetie.” She had every intention of fuelling Tony’s fiery temperament.
“Ooohh, good vone! I looove dolphins,” Christina declared, her Eastern-European accent sounding thicker than ever. Tony’s response was quick:
“Did you just say a dolphin?! Caaat, seriously… a bloody dolphin?! You’re all idiots. A DOLPHIN—IS NOT—A FISH… sweetie.” Vince weighed in.
“What fish would you be, Chrissy?” There was a pause. Everyone waited in silence for her.
“Hmmm… a mermaid.”
“Fuck me! Are you… are you actually joking?” Tony stammered in defiant indignation. “Chrissy, a crocodile is a semiaqutic reptile and—and not a fish. Whales and dolphins are mammals so, again—not a fish.” He took a breath before continuing, apparently trying not to lose his mind over the ocean of nonsense he was currently drowning in. “And I’m fairly certain that a sodding mermaid is also not a fucking fish! Not to mention the inescapable fact that mermaids aren’t even real. Not real and therefore not fish. And if they were, they’d probably, technically, be a mammals! Although, seeing as they can apparently also live on land, according to every bloody film ever made about mermaids, they’d probably reside in the amphibian category!”—he was caught in an argument with himself, now,—“On the other hand… if mermaids had gills and could breath under water, possibly laying eggs rather than giving birth to whole merbabies, then… maybe they would be fucking fish. Christ, why am I encouraging a conversation about the genetic makeup of a mythical bloody being and … and, and… now I’m fucking confused as to whether a fucking mermaid is a fucking fish or not‼”
He was beaten. Beaten by his own ‘superior’ intellect, more than anything. “I … I can’t do this, you lot are driving me bonkers. I’m done. Chrissy if you want to be a mermaid, be a mermaid. You’d probably make a very lovely one. Vince, go and sort out the Instructors Office, it’s a bloody mess. For fuck’s sake… fucking mermaids…”
He stormed in to Cat’s office, semi-slamming the door behind him. As he scrunched the bridge of his nose between is fingers, taking a deep breath in and letting it out with an elongated woooooph, Cat tried to compose herself and wipe the giggly-grin off her face. It disappeared completely when it dawned on her that Tony was in her office again. And the door was closed.
Immediately the jovial atmosphere created by Chrissy’s amusing inquisition was shattered by the clunk of the door as it swung shut, cutting off Cat’s blood flow in the process and sapping all the oxygen out of the room. Tony backed up against the wall, obviously flustered with the morning’s antics until he noticed Cat watching him. She had truly believed that the compromising flirtation before Vince’s intrusion had passed, hoped it was something to be laughed off and forgotten. Tony’s expression suggested something e
For the second time today she was struggling to breath. The already small office seemed to be shrinking around her. Her mind raced. Had she suddenly developed claustrophobia for no apparent reason? Only there was a reason. A perfectly good, and equally bad reason: it had just burst into the office, angry and frustrated.
Her desperation not to giggle at his scarlet flushed cheeks was almost unbearable. She wanted laughter’s sweet relief, wanted to brush the last twenty minutes away under a blanket of chuckles and forget all about the ever-growing tension in the room. Tony glared at her but she didn’t sense anger. It was something else; something she couldn’t put her finger on.
Someone needed to say something, anything. Before she had the chance to think up a decent tension breaker, Tony was already coming her way, manoeuvring around the desk. Was it frustration, pure testosterone or something else driving his advances? Fuck, what was he doing?! Cat’s heart waspalpitating now which didn’t help her newfound claustrophobia. For a fleeting moment she considered that it could be the menopause making a sudden strike and almost prayed that it was; she couldn’t bare the thought of these hot flushes and explosive hormones having anything to do with this arrogant, undeserving, married prick.
And now he stood towering over her, inches away, fixed and predatory. She was frozen, caught in the gaze of those dark, sultry, shamefully wanting eyes. The heat rose in her cheeks, uncontrollably. Her lip stung; she hadn’t realised that she’d been biting it hard, transfixed and waiting for Tony’s next move. She could no longer deny the desire, the ache growing between her thighs. And still he stared her down, motionless. Please, God, let this be menopause!
Her eyes swept across his body, the thought of his beautiful torso corrupting her senses; his earlier, playful grin now replaced with something more hungry. She prayed he wouldn’t get any closer. Yet, with each passing second his power over her grew until she found herself praying that he would get closer, that he’d take hold of her, sweeping her desk clear of discarded stationary, giving her room to perch so she could wrap her legs around him as they embraced. She prayed for something deeply passionate and immoral. She craved it.
Her moral compass spun rapidly but despite the overwhelming temptation, she couldn’t
allow it. It felt like an eternity since the bloody door had closed.
Like his grin, Tony’s surprise at her unintentional advances only minutes ago was substituted for a masculine determination. His gaze oozed of suggestion but he was clearly conflicted himself. He wouldn’t really go through with it, would he? Here? In their office? Now? Where had this sudden change come from? Earlier they were playing, yes; flirting, absolutely; teasing, for sure. But nothing could ever happen between them. That would be so wrong. So gloriously wrong. So wrong it was making her wet trying not to think about it. Shit, she wanted him to kiss her. Her inner turmoil and undeniable longing was making her dizzy and she was still no closer to knowing what the fuck was actually happening. Should she slap him? Would that only stoke his coals? Should she kiss him? Just a little kiss, just enough to quench her thirsty curiosity—and then slap him?
Her eyes continued scanning his body, scrolling over his chest, neck, chin and beckoning lips before finally resting on those lashing, brooding, hypnotic eyes. And still he didn’t budge. What had come over him in the eighteen seconds that had passed since the door had closed? Cat had expected an angry Tony, reeling from his braindead chit chat with Vin and Chrissy. She was prepared for a self-assured, piss-taking Tony, wanting to reinforce his superior intellect regarding dolphins and mermaids. She had hoped for him, her friend, to simply laugh off the morning’s mind-numbing antics and somehow rationalise his behaviour over the last few months.
Instead, she found herself suddenly confronted with a man her loins longed for; a confident, solid, towering statue of a man whose intentions were as perplexing as they were thrilling. There was no hope of Vince saving her this time, no hope at all. Tony had sent him to clean up his room like a berated child. No heroic, stupid Vince. No one to hear her scream. By God, she wanted to scream. Her shallow breaths matched the motionless man’s as the pair stood awaiting some kind of divine intervention.
She encouraged words to come but they’d lodged themselves in her throat. The slightest quiver of her lips as she tried seemed enough to break the spell though. He moved towards her with slow assertion. He looked starved, ready to devour his feast, his intentions finally clear; the tip of his tongue glossing his lips in preparation for the ensuing malevolence.
In that moment, Cat knew that if his lips brushed hers she wouldn’t stop him. In that instant she wanted nothing more than to glisten them with her own soft tongue. His mouth was close enough to taste his breath. His hand moved to steady himself on the desk as he brought himself even closer. She couldn’t endure another tentatively excruciating second of waiting and leaned in towards him, closing her eyes in desperate anticipation. And…
Cat’s lids fluttered open. Tony was no longer looking at her. Instead, his mouth hovered, mere inches away. Lips tight, face screwed up in angst. His head shook in defiance, eyes shut tight. When he opened them again, they’d shifted from Cat to the desk beside her where they remained fixed for a while. Tony thumped the desk with an almost terrifying crash. He was obviously flustered. A second later he had something clutched in his hand.
“M-my… my shirt,” he stammered. “I… left it on your desk.”
Cat’s eyes focused on the hand. Scrunched in a ball was the soiled, coffee-drenched rag that was once his nice, clean shirt.
“I just… came to get my shirt,” he said with sheepish defeat. With that, he turned his back, face buried in his palm and walked away.
What the fuck? What the actual fuck?! She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream and slap him—slap him for real this time, not because he wasn’t behaving himself but because he was. She wanted him with every ounce of her aching flesh now. With knickers on fire and loins throbbing, she wanted him desperately. After everything Cat had told herself, all her rationalising, even the weird willingness for menopause, she wanted to be kissed. The reality of the situation hit her: it wasn’t her that had the strength and sense to pull away. It was him. She had been left wanting and deeply confused.
Tony sat down at his desk, hidden from view behind the monitor. She was grateful for it; glad he couldn’t see the tears now stinging her eyes. His hammering away at the keyboard like nothing had happened was whirling her emotions into a frenzy. The frantic, angry tapping was too much to bare, confined as they both were in that suffocating room. She needed a distraction, something to drone out the noise of the last minute now playing on loop in her brain. Reaching for her phone, lost in thought and in dire need of support, she messaged Jay,
Cat: Shit Day. Totally shit day…
Nothing. No blue ticks. Only a solitary grey one. Not even the message could seem to escape the room. Fuck it. Her next attempt was to Nick. Perhaps Nick could distract her. The rules of dating didn’t concern her right now. She didn’t care that the last message in their thread had been hers. She simply needed something or someone to occupy her headspace.
Cat: So now you’ve seen my uber sexy underwear when we going out?
This time the message had connected; two grey ticks. But they remained grey. As Cat’s desperate search for distraction grew, awareness of the room’s intensity grew with it, the silence so loud it was screaming at her. She couldn’t think straight, consumed as she was with frustrated humiliation. Her fingers continued fiddling with the phone when Tony broke through the deafening quiet.
“Catherine,” he began, as if he was about to offer her the sincerest of apologies which would certainly have eased her plight. “Haven’t you got anything better to do than fuck about with your phone?”
Ouch! His words stung like an open wound doused in vinegar and tabasco sauce. ‘Catherine’? He had never called her that before, never been so rudely formal. Was he really choosing to scold her right now? In their four years of friendship he had never scolded her for anything. Never had his words been so White Walker ice cold. He even used that tone he saves for people he considered inferior. It was just too much; the proverbial straw had broken this very sad and completely gutted camel, legs akimbo, praying for death. She couldn’t dam the silent tears and had to escape. She was wounded, dumbstruck and utterly annihilated. She hated him. And she hated herself even more.
She sprang from her seat, sniffling, making a beeline for the door. Tony looked at her briefly as she went, clearly seeing her red face and puffy eyes. A knowing flush of realisation washed over him accompanied by instant regret for his thoughtlessness. With a pained and remorseful look, he finally offered that apology as she hurtled to the exit, though it was truly pathetic and feeble.
“Cat, hun… look, I’m really… I’m sorry.” But it was too late. She was gone.
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