Cathy loved the red Christmas dress she'd found on clearance the year before (a money saving tip for any aspiring actress), and it still fit her perfectly, hugging her curves. It was a soft velvet with a full skirt, and ten small buttons down the side instead of a zipper. It was a pain in the ass to get into because of it, but the result was worth it.
The result being the way Jamie's gaze was pulled from the window and to the deep V of the neckline. It was low enough to be sexy, but also not too inappropriate for a family dinner. She couldn't have asked for a better find.
She stepped out of the bedroom and struck a pose, with one hand behind her head and her opposite hip jutting out, leaning dramatically against the door frame. "How do I look? And if you don't think I'm beautiful, lie to me."
Jamie got up from his seat and closed the space between them. He cupped his hands around her face and pulled her out of her pose and close to him. "You look amazing," he mumbled before he kissed her.
Cathy smiled against his lips. Yes, the buttons were worth it, especially as Jamie began flicking them open, exposing her skin to the air. He dropped to his knees, grinning up at her, and kissed the exposed skin above her hip before pulling open the last three buttons. Cathy shimmied out of the dress, leaving it in a puddle around her ankles, dry cleaning bill be damned.
Jamie ran his hand up Cathy's thigh, as though he couldn't touch enough of her. He looked up at her, brown eyes pleading with desire.
She stroked a finger down the side of his face and cuffed him gently on the chin. "You want me?" she asked with raised eyebrows.
He kissed the inside of her thigh. "What do you think?"
"I don't know." She smirked. "You're the genius, or so everyone keeps telling me."
"No, you became the genius the second you put on that dress." He shuffled closer to her, her shin now tucked between Jamie's legs. "And even smarter the second you took it off."
Cathy grinned and pulled away from him, backing into the bedroom. "Well, come on then, boy."
Groaning, Jamie crawled after her.
It took nearly an hour to drive to Newport, Kentucky, but the promise of civilisation was too much for Cathy and Richard to resist. They were no longer in the vast nowhere of southeastern Ohio, but were surrounded by restaurants, bars, and an impressively large multiplex showing a dozen different movies. After two months in the woods, it might as well have been New York City.
"Who knew we had to come to Kentucky for culture?" Richard asked, and Cathy laughed.
"Who knew Kentucky had culture?"
Richard chuckled and bumped his shoulder against hers as he reached for the Irish pub's door with one gangly arm and pulled it open. "After you."
Summer stock in Cincinnati (okay, barely Cincinnati) was great for resume-building, but at the end of the day, it was glorified theatre camp, right down to the crappy food. The pub's menu alone made Cathy's mouth water.
"I can't believe no else wanted to come on our last free night before previews," Cathy said after the server took their drink order. Richard was driving, so she ordered the largest beer they offered.
He smiled warmly. "I think they may have thought this was a date."
Cathy laughed, but tried not to be unkind. Maybe coming out with him alone had been unkind, now that she thought about it. As gently as she could, she said, "I'm married."
"I know that, but most of them haven't ever met Jamie. He's never here -- he missed Sound of Music completely."
"He's working," Cathy said, and even to her that sounded like a lame excuse. She tried again. "If I'd been Maria, he would have shown. I was a background nun. It wasn't worth it for him to fly all the way out here for mediocre child actors."
Richard held up his hands in mock surrender. "Hey, I'm just saying what other people are thinking."
"Other people?" Cathy repeated. "Are you sure you don't think this is a date?"
"No way," he replied, but in the dim light, she was pretty sure his face was reddening. "I just needed out for a night. It's our last show of the year. After a while I get... too in my own, head, you know?"
She smiled a thanks to the server as she brought their drinks. Cathy picked up her beer and took a sip. "Oh, I know."
After dinner, they walked around in the humid, but otherwise pleasant August evening. Cathy enjoyed the sound of traffic, and Richard's chatter, and people laughing, and anything that wasn't cicadas and someone in the distance working on their solo.
They went into the bookstore for the coffee shop inside, but as they passed the table of new releases, Cathy paused. She picked up the book, feeling the weight of the hardcover in her hands, studying the sedate cover and the formal looking words across the bottom, JAMIE WELLERSTEIN.
Richard must have noticed she was no longer right behind him, as he was by her side a few moments later. He didn't say anything as she flipped through the pages, and finally settled on Jamie's photograph on the back inside sleeve. He was giving the camera a charming smile, but a little mischievous, like he held a million secrets.
"All things considered," Richard said slowly, "I guess you don't have to buy it."
He was probably right. Jamie hadn't shown up for the last show, and hadn't even sent her a copy of his book. That should have stung, she realized, being somehow forgotten in the flurry of his new release. She glanced back down at the picture, and the little blurb about Jamie's previous works and accomplishments, and there it was, the final line: Jamie lives with his wife in New York City.
Warmth flooded Cathy's body. She hadn't been forgotten. She simply wasn't home. She knew where she belonged, and it wasn't theatre camp. She looked up at Richard, and clutching the book to her chest, she smiled.
He frowned, and she knew he realized that he couldn't even compete with a book.
Sorry, Cathy thought as she hurried to the front of the store to pay for it, but you never had a chance.
Cathy lay on the bedroom floor, staring up at the ceiling, her gaze flickering on the spiderweb in the corner. She'd never seen it before, but she also hadn't lain on the floor of this room before.
What a strange thing to focus on, she thought. Her face was hot and red from screaming and crying. Her vision was a little blurry, but that bit of silk and dust was somehow crystal clear.
It was impossible to tell what the argument had been about when it began. It turned, quickly, to the same flurry of accusations and insults, most of which Cathy already regretted. How had it become so impossible to talk things out reasonably?
No, she couldn't be reasonable. He was cheating on her and she knew it. He wouldn't admit it, of course, but she wasn't an idiot. Maybe she had been, but she wasn't now. Was it reasonable to still try and work things out? Or would she be better off leaving him before he left her? When would that be? How long did she have? Despite everything, she still loved him, and she hated him for it.
The door opened with an annoying creak. With what they were paying for this goddamn apartment, they should be able to get bedroom doors that didn't make a noise. After the first month, they had begun sleeping with the door open just not wake each other up in the middle of the night.
She closed her eyes tightly, mentally trying to will him away. She wasn't sure if she could handle another post-blowout apology followed by nothing changing. They spun wildly on the same cycle, again and again, faster each time between fights and silent resentments. Jamie so sure Cathy couldn't stand his success, and Cathy just wanting more Jamie to give her more. They would try for a day, even a week, and they fell into the same routines building up the cycle again.
She listened to the sound of Jamie breathing, some breaths coming out loud like a sigh, but he waited for her. He waited.
"Down here," Cathy said, her voice hoarser than she expected.
She could feel the vibration of Jamie's footfalls through the floor as he walked around the bed to tower over her. "Can we talk now?"
What the hell had they been doing? She took a deep breath and held it. He was trying, so she could try. "I don't know, can we?"
Sometimes, Cathy wasn't very good at trying.
Jamie shoved his hands into his hair for a long moment, and then sighed. He lowered himself onto the floor at her feet. "How about let's not be jerks and have a real conversation. Just fucking talk to me."
"God, Jamie, I don't know if you can hear me over the sound of your rushing ego." Cathy immediately regretted snapping at him. Before he could retort, she sat up on her elbows and looked at him. "Fuck. I didn't... I meant it, but I shouldn't have said it. I shouldn't have said a lot of things."
His shoulders dropped and he looked tired in the exact same way she felt. "Then can we not talk?"
She felt like crying all over again. Not trusting her voice, she nodded. She lay back on the floor, and Jamie crawled toward her, and rested his head on his ribcage. He wrapped his arms around her body, his fingers pulling the fabric of her t-shirt into his fists.
Cathy rested her hands on his head, and together on the bedroom floor, they were quiet. Every time she thought it was over, he gave her a little bit of hope that they could work it out.
Maybe it had to get worse before it could get better.
Cathy wiped the dust the last box retrieved from storage. They had been stored away through a whirlwind of sublets and summers in Ohio. Now, five years later, they had seen the light of day again.
She had cried over the boxes' contents more than once, touched with the memory of some items as she held them in her hands, like they were happening all over again. There had been so much bad there at the end, but there had also been good. Both hurt, but at the same time, Cathy felt detached from her former life. She'd moved on from Jamie a hundred times.
"Wait, could it be? Are you done?"
Cathy looked over her shoulder and grinned at Richard. "One box left."
"And then we can actually put guests in our guest room," he said, sitting down next to her on the floor. "I felt weird putting them in the box room."
She elbowed him in the side, but laughed. Life was funny sometimes. Richard hadn't been to summer stock in years, and then she ran into him coming out of an audition. He'd just moved to the city to take his career to the next step, and after a few dates -- real dates -- Cathy was enamored by the easygoing smile she once thought was goofy and the way he listened to her when she spoke. Five months later, Richard asked her to move in with him. She accepted.
Her history stayed in storage until Richard insisted that they didn't need the extra bill every month and there had to be things in there she wanted. Their careers were becoming more stable and money was less tight, but he had been right about her things. It wasn't just the bill. It was letting go.
"I'm just glad to be done with this. It's been... cathartic, but looking through all these things it's like it happened to someone else and I'm going through her stuff."
Richard pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "Do you want me stay with you? Finishing this... it's big. I get it if you want to do it alone."
"You can stay," Cathy said. She nodded toward the sofa, an ugly green thing they both fell in love with at a flea market. "Just over there, okay?"
He reached over and squeezed her hand before rising to his feet. "You know where I'll be if you need me."
After he was settled on the sofa, Cathy used a knife to cut through the plastic tape, and opened up the flaps. On the top was a red velvet dress she wore for Christmas one year. Her mother had admonished her for the low neckline, but Jamie had loved the dress. Cathy had loved it, too. She used to love a lot of things.
She pulled the dress from the box and smoothed the fabric back and then tossed it in the Goodwill box. It was someone else's turn to love the dress, along with Jamie's books and even the old apartment with the creaky door. She had new things to love.