Chapter 12: Cat
Jersey City, NJ - 1994
Cat was sitting on Sarah’s living room floor with Georgie. They were tackling the same dinosaur puzzle he’d been stabbing at the day before, Cat’s hand guiding the chubby fingers. He was a gorgeous baby with Sarah’s blond curls and Kevin’s chocolate brown eyes. Sarah had told her that looking at Georgie every day had made her want another one right away. So…!ello baby Lea! Cat had the opposite reaction to babies. Georgie was adorable and she loved him, but the thought of being trapped inside this steamy apartment with him, or her own toddler, hanging from her leg while she tried to cook someone else’s dinner was enough to make her guard her virginity like the damned Holy Grail.
“So you got what, two more weeks before you need to skedaddle from that skeevy apartment?” Sarah asked.
Cat heaved herself up from the floor, the heat sucking at her like a leech, and went to help Sarah with the cokes she’d just poured with one hand, the other gripping Lea to her hip. They pressed their backs against the front door, sank to the cooler tiles on the kitchen floor and sipped. Georgie toddled over and Sarah lifted his cotton candy hair and pressed the icy glass against his neck. He squealed.
“I have to tell you something,” Cat said.
Sarah dropped Georgie’s hair and turned to her raising an eyebrow.
“Sounds serious.” She said.
Cat started at the beginning and told Sarah everything. The way Mr. Hanna had saved her job, the invite to serve cocktails, the money on the table, the counting, the winning, then she pulled the fat envelope from the pocket of her shorts. She’d changed into the baggiest pair she could find when she’d gotten home last night, stuffed the envelope in the pocket and hadn’t taken them off since. She needn’t have worried because her dad hadn’t come home last night. Around two or three in the morning, she’d been roused from her sleep, convinced she heard him yelling on the stoop. But she’d been so exhausted she dropped off again. In the morning she check his bed. It was clean and pristine. She must have dreamt it all.
Cat handed the envelope to Sarah. “Mr. Hanna wants me to come to The Bahamas. He wants me to count cards.”
Sarah put down her coke, pushed George from her lap, handed Cat the baby and took the envelope. She opened it and her eyes rounded.
“Shit! How much dough is this, Cat?”
“Five thousand, three hundred,” Cat said.
A high pitched giggle burst from Sarah’s mouth, spit flying from her lips. “Shit!” She said. “Holy Shit! Are you sure the only thing you did was count cards?”
Cat thumped her shoulder and laughed along. What the hell was she going to do with all this money? She couldn’t even put it down for fear she would lose it.
Sarah closed the envelope and stuffed it down the front of her bra with a wink. Her smile dropped.
“But seriously though. What’s he like? This Mr. Hanna.”
Cat paused. Time to be careful here because truthfully, she didn’t actually know what he was like. She had only spoken to him a few times and it was possible, no, probable, that her attraction to him and everything he represented was narrowing her vision.
“Well. Actions speak louder than words, right? I mean I know he must be kind. He stopped in a hallway to help a staff member. I’m telling you, Sarah, most of these rich people don’t even look at you unless they want you to fetch them something. Sometimes, it really is like I’m invisible, you know? But he saw me. And he helped me. He’s got friends, right? I mean horrible people don’t have friends do they? He paid for a car to bring me home when I missed the bus. Also… I don’t know…I…”
“Yeah?” Sarah prompted.
“Well, the only thing that’s messing with my head is this “trash” thing. But I don’t know… I feel like…Well, like I said, actions speak louder than words. His friend says he said it, he says he didn’t say it. And from his actions, I would say… I don’t believe he said it. I mean if he thought I was trash he wouldn’t have saved my job, right? He wouldn’t care about people like me.”
“Okay then, so you’re telling me he’s a decent, kind guy. Is he hot?” Sarah smirked and Cat flopped back against the door.
“Oh my God, so hot!” Cat said. “He’s all tanned like he’s been down the shore for a week. He’s got this thick, black hair, and Sarah, the most amazing blue eyes. He just oozes class, you know?”
“So…you’re going, right?” Sarah said. “To The Bahamas? I mean shit that’s even better than Florida. This is insane!”
“It is insane, Sarah. The entire thing is insane! How can I go to The Bahamas? I don’t honestly know this guy from Adam. I mean he could be like, a serial killer or something. Plus I can’t leave my Dad. And how can I count cards in a casino? At least one of them called me trash? Seriously, Sarah, how could I ever look like I belong in a casino.”
The tears spilled over this time and Sarah pursed her lips in sympathy. She pulled the bottom of her t-shirt up and over her hand and wiped Cat’s face.
“There, there, babes. There’s some Lea spit and Georgie snot to make you feel better.”
Cat laughed through her tears and pushed Sarah and her t-shirt away.
“I’m just overwhelmed. With everything.” She said. “I mean look at that freaking envelope. What the Hell am I going to do with that? I freaking slept on it last night in case my dad came home and found it. Can you imagine if he had?”
Sarah put the envelope on the floor and took Lea from Cat’s lap. “I’ll tell you exactly what you are going to do with it.” She said. “You’re going to open a bank account that doesn’t have your dad’s name on it and you’re going to put it in the bank.” She picked up her coke and downed it in a few gulps, letting out a loud burp that made Lea giggle. “But you’re going to keep back a grand and we are going to go into the city and go shopping tomorrow and make you Bahamas and casino ready. My mother-in-law can watch the kids. You need clothes, and I love shopping. Plus, I already know what rich people wear from watching too many damn soap operas.”
“I don’t need clothes, Sarah. I’m not going.”
Sarah stood and walked to the sink dumping her coke glass then sat directly in front of Cat’s crossed legs. She nestled Lea into her lap and then took both palms and rested them on Cat’s cheeks. Cat couldn’t look away.
“Babes.” She said. “You need to listen to me right now and listen good. This is it! This is what everyone hopes for and never gets. How many times have I told you there’s no such thing as a knight in shining armor? Well, I was wrong, babes. He’s here.” She released one hand and pulled the envelope from her bra into Cat’s line of sight. “He’s here.”
Sarah shook the envelope for good measure as if Cat didn’t get it. As if she didn’t know what kind of opportunity this was. Even if everything went bad. Even if the card counting didn’t work. Cat would get to fly in a plane. She would get to see palm trees. She would get to see a casino. She’d presumably get to sleep in a real bed, with proper air-conditioning. She didn’t need Sarah to tell her this was like winning the lottery. But the thought of doing all that alone. Truthfully she only had two friends, Sarah and Old Amy. Once Sarah had dropped out of high school she’d kept to herself as much as she could. She wanted to graduate. Most girls didn’t. The idea of leaving Sarah made her cry again. Even worse, the thought of leaving her dad alone to his own devices and vices made panic flutter in her throat.
“What about my dad?” Cat said, pushing her knuckles into her eyes to squash the tears back.
“Cat! You know what I think. Your dad doesn’t deserve you. He doesn’t deserve shit. He’s a fucking monkey on your back, and a loser of the third degree. But listen.” She lifted the envelope again. “Didn’t you tell me he mentioned rehab? How do you expect to get him to rehab on your wage? You need this and more. Get him to rehab, he might get a life. Stay here and do nothing? He’s dead, babes, and you know it.”
“I can’t do this, Sarah. It’s terrifying. I’ll fail miserably and we’ll be worse off than ever.”
“How?” Sarah said. “How can you be worse off than right now.”
“But he won’t manage without me.”
“Who cares, Cat? If he can’t last a few months while you save enough money to get him to rehab, then he wasn’t worth it in the first place.”
She didn’t understand. She couldn’t. Sarah more or less hated all men, including her own husband half the time. Men she constantly said, were the root of evil. So how could she be telling Cat to go? How could she trust a man she’d never met? Sarah was blinded by the envelope. And blinded by hope. Hope was a dangerous thing for all of them.
Cat gave her face one last swipe, grabbed the envelope and stood. She dumped her glass of coke in the sink before pulling out a thousand dollars in cash and handing it to Sarah.
“I’ll do what you said.” She said. “I’ll go to the bank right now and deposit the rest. But I can’t go The Bahamas.”
Sarah took the cash, and smiled sadly at Cat.
“Please go, Cat. Please go.”
Cat stuffed the envelope deep in her pocket and left.
I’ll be delivering this book to you chapter by chapter, hopefully, every other day. I’ll also be creating behind-the-scenes glimpses into my creative writing practice, including deleted scenes, character stories, inspiration, etc…
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