Chapter 14: Cat
Jersey City, NJ - 1994
The money was in the bank. How about that? Cat Wilson, a bus person from Jersey City, had $4,300 in a real-life bank account with her name on it, and an actual check-book in her pocket. When Aunt Livvy had first met her Australian, she’d told Cat that the feeling of joy she got when she was with him felt like floating. She wasn’t kidding. Cat took little hopping skips to test if she would land on the pavement or if her feet would stay in the air. She was almost sure she could fly all the way home.
She had a plan now. A good one. The bank line had been long, and the waiting room so full, she’d had time to think. The other night her dad had said he would go to rehab and his time she was sure he meant it. Without the apartment, they were lost. Like, at the bottom of the barrel with nothing left to scrape. He had few choices other than to listen to her and straighten up. It was that or go live under a bridge without her. And Mr. Hanna? Well, the important point in that situation was she had the upper hand, right? Mr. Hanna needed her. Okay, she needed him too, but he didn’t know how badly. As far as he was concerned, she was just cruising along happily on her poverty level bus-person salary.
She’d decided she would not go to The Bahamas. She couldn’t leave her dad. What she would do, though, is work for Mr. Hanna at his New York City parties. If she taught Mr. Hanna and his friends the signs and kept the player group small enough, they wouldn’t need any other team members. She could serve and count at the same time and act as the ditzy waitress, and no one would suspect her. She’d work his games in New York and save her winnings. As soon as she had enough, she would pay the deposit for the best rehab they could find and keep her dad there until he was better. When he was better, she’d quit counting. Sure, it wasn’t technically illegal, but it was a constant reminder of who she was and where she’d come from. It was dirty. She wanted, no needed, to feel fresh and new, and hopeful.
They’d move, maybe to Florida, and she’d get a job in a beach bar somewhere and start saving for her hotel. She’d start small with a tiny guest house. It would have whitewashed rooms, fresh flowers on the bedside tables, and perfect breakfasts delivered to the guests on trays. She and her dad could stay in a cottage in a back garden with little bistro tables for the guests scattered around a sandy lawn. Their cottage would have three bedrooms, one for her and one for her dad. The extra one would be her office, where she’d work in the evenings on her plans to expand into something bigger. Eventually, she’d have a luxury hotel like no other. The hotel of her dreams where people always felt at home and wanted for nothing. She’d give people everything she never had because she knew exactly what was missing.
She heard her father screaming before she saw him. A small crowd of people had gathered on the sidewalk in front of her apartment. A few were laughing and pointing, but most were just looking on dispassionately. This kind of scene wasn’t unusual in her neighborhood. And what a scene he was making. Her dad appeared in the open doorway and from the top step, he tossed a stack of her clothes. Hangers clattered to the dirty concrete. Clothes were flying everywhere. She spotted her fuzzy Old Amy sweater lying like a crime victim, lifeless, arms spread wide, atop a stack of ripped jeans. Speaking of Old Amy, where was she? And why wasn’t she stopping her dad?
“Cheating, lying, worthless daughter!” Her dad screamed and disappeared back into the house.
Cat picked up her pace and jogged over before pushing her way through the spectators.
“Dad! Stop! What are you doing?” She scooped up the pile with the Old Amy sweater and turned toward the door, but her dad was coming down with an entire drawer filled with her underwear. She took a step back to avoid a painful collision, and he dropped the drawer. It barely missed her right foot and the cheap wood shattered on the ground.
“You’re out, girl! Out!” She checked his eyes, always a dead giveaway for his current mental and physical state, and saw two tiny slits above puffed purple cheeks. He was drunk alright. Not a surprise given he hadn’t been home all night, but it also surprised her to see he was crying. There were streaks of dirt across his cheeks from his wiping the tears away, but they kept falling.
“What are you talking about, Dad?” She put a hand up to his chest and felt it heaving. “Out where?”
He shoved her hand away. “Out of this house. Forever. I raised a daughter, not a whore and a thief.”
A few members of the watching crowd laughed at that one.
“Dad. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Amy’s son explained it all to me. Explained it like I was some kind of idiot. That’s what you’ve made of me, girl. An idiot.”
“Amy’s… what?” He wasn’t making any sense. If only she could get him inside, she’d be able to calm him down. But when she raised her hand to his chest again, he pushed her away. “Dad, what did he say?”
“You came home in a limousine last night. A limousine! While your poor dad spent the night wandering the city trying to find work, you were getting limousine rides and hiding money from me. Me! The one who raised you after your mother ran off and left us both. This is how you treat me?”
Cat tried to ignore the crowd creeping closer and focus on her dad. If she could just get him to calm down, she could figure out what was going on.
“Dad, it was a ride from a friend because I missed the bus. What do you mean, hiding money?”
“He told me what you’ve been doing. Making big bucks from fancy men you meet at that damned hotel. I never should have let your auntie get you that job. I should have realized that any relative of your mother’s could corrupt you. Where are you hiding the money from your extra ‘jobs’, huh? Is your friend Sarah involved in this too? Is she helping you?”
“Dad? What?” Cat was struggling to keep up. Cliff had told him this? That she was… what? A prostitute? Why would he do that? She turned toward Old Amy’s door and moved to rush up the steps, but this time her dad put his hand out and stopped her.
“Oh, run off to your friend Amy as usual. Only this time you can’t. They’ve left. Cliff took on her on vacation.”
Her dad stormed back into their apartment, presumably to gather more of her stuff to throw out. This was her opportunity to get him alone. She ran up the steps, shutting the door behind her.
“Dad, what is this about?” She said.
He was pulling out the boxes from beneath her bed now. The boxes were full of the only other meager belongings she’d barely managed to hold on to in all her moves. A few stuffed animals, some cheap plastic jewelry, a few scrunchies. It was nothing of any value, but she didn’t want to see it spread all over the street.
“Where is it?” He said, pulling stuff out of the boxes and chucking her stuff over his shoulder. “Where’s the money? I know you hide it from me, girl. And I need it.”
“Stop it, Dad!” Cat said. “You’ve found all the money. You know you have. I don’t have any money. What Cliff told you isn’t true!”
Her dad turned and crawled around the grubby carpet, gathering her equally grubby belongings in his hands. Once his arms were full, he staggered to his feet and walked toward her. “Out!” He said.
“Dad, you don’t mean…”
“Out!” He screamed, and his eyes bulged so far out of his head she worried for a moment he might have a seizure.
“Okay, Dad. Okay. I’m leaving.”
Cat ran back down the steps and pushed through the crowds on the sidewalk. People were already picking through her stuff and taking what they pleased. He’d never thrown her out before, ever. Even after their biggest arguments, he’d always fallen back on how much he needed her. How they were a team. Cat had no clue what had just happened. Had Cliff really spoken to her dad, or was he having some kind of mental breakdown? Was her dad the one who saw her come home in a car last night and now he was just too drunk to remember? This was a turning point. Everything she’d planned at the bank now seemed so out of reach. No matter what she tried, it always went wrong. Not this time. This time, her dad was on his own. He didn’t trust her? Couldn’t stay sober enough to recognize the character of his own daughter? Well then, he didn’t need her, did he?
Cat marched on, feet thumping on the very solid ground beneath her, and headed to Sarah’s. Right now, she only knew three things for sure. Her stuff was gone forever, and she wasn’t going home again. She was going to The Bahamas.
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