Cathy was dealing with a classic case of imposter syndrome simmering under her skin every moment of every day. She teetered precariously on the edge of worrying about reality being a fantasy or a dream she was bound to wake up from eventually. The only time she could ignore those nagging doubts was when the curtain was up, the lights bright, and her wig securely on. Then she was no longer Cathy Hyatt, wannabe star. She wasn't even Cathy Hyatt, debut Broadway actress. No. She was Bea Bottom, wife to Nick Bottom, Renaissance playwright and contemporary of William Shakespeare.
The show was Something Rotten, and Cathy was a part of it.
Two weeks in, she was glad to let the performance high every night overtake every moment of doubt and self-conscious thought in her mind. That high from performing on a Broadway stage was hard to shake, and she didn't want to. She wanted to capture this feeling, bottle it up, and have it available to her forever and ever, for those moments when she was in full 'I'm not good enough' mode. She never wanted to forget how this felt.
That night, after the curtain fell and the cast bowed and she had rubbed all of the make-up off of her face and morphed back from Bea into Cathy, she slipped out the stage door and smiled widely at the handful of audience-goers and fans waiting for an autograph for their playbill. Sure, she wasn't the biggest name (or even a name at all, really) in the cast, but she was always happy to chat and sign and linger near the theater for a few more minutes before catching the train uptown.
As she reached the last of the small crowd, a figure leaning casually against the outside wall of the theater, a few feet away, caught her attention. She looked over to find Jamie watching her. At once, Cathy felt a jumble of emotions. She wasn't sure how schooled the expression on her face was either, her mouth twisting into a surprised grimace, a near-smile, and finally a blanked frown. She stepped around the metal barrier and walked over to him.
"Jamie," she greeted, keeping herself an arm's length away. Her fingers gripped the side of her peacoat to keep from reaching out for him. Yes, he wrenched her heart in half and left her there to fend for herself, and yes, their five years together had been rife with red flags and problems and everything, but that didn't mean her love for him had ever gone away.
"The show was great, Cathy," he said, not moving toward her but also not moving away. "You were great. I haven't laughed that much in a long time."
This time, she couldn't keep the surprise off her face. "You saw the show?" Summer after summer of summer stock that he didn't see. One off performances here and there that he never attended, at least not toward the end of their relationship, once she was working steadily and he was - he was what?- sleeping with publishing associates.
A smile twisted at the corner of Jamie's mouth. "I did, yeah," he told her. "I really liked it."
She couldn't help but return his smile, though she still kept her distance. "Well, I'm really glad to hear that, Jamie," Cathy told him. "Thanks for coming. It means a lot." When she said it, it felt like the truth. After all, he had been the one to leave, not her. She'd spent the last year and a half recovering from how much he hurt her. It did mean a lot to her that he saw the show. It meant that, maybe, he was still hurting too, somehow, someway. Or at least that he was seeking closure. She couldn't be sure.
He hesitated a moment. "Would you like to get a drink?"
How easy it would be to say yes. The word hit the tip of her tongue and she bit it away. Yes, she tended to stay up and have a drink or watch a movie at home or something after a show, when she was still on her performance high. But no, no she didn't want to do that with Jamie. "No," she said politely. "I should get home. Again, thanks for coming to see the show. I'm glad you liked it."
And just like that, Cathy gave her ex-husband a very pleasant smile, a quick nod of her head, and walked right past him without looking back. She hardly breathed again until she had descended into the subway and her uptown train was rumbling into the station.
In a city of this many people, it was at the same time unlikely and inevitable that exes would run into each other in the most random of locations. Like Trader Joe's.
Jamie hated grocery shopping, but he knew it had to be done. He used to order all of his groceries online, had them delivered direct to his apartment, but it just wasn't economically sustainable. And it wasn't like he lived too far from the store - only two blocks. That's how he found himself pushing a shopping cart through the narrow aisles and shoulder-to-shoulder people on a somewhat rainy Saturday morning.
That was also when he spotted Cathy, there just across the mound of apples from him. She hadn't noticed him yet, and given how their last meeting had gone (everyone he knew told him it was a bad idea to see her show and he hadn't listened), he thought it might be easier to just duck away and hope they didn't run into each other again at the store.
Of course, it was unavoidable. He hastily finished shopping, probably missing one or two (or twelve) things from his list, and got into the check-out line. He leaned forward over his cart to push aside some items while he tried to see if he actually remembered the milk he knew he needed when he heard his name exclaimed behind him.
He turned to find that Cathy had stepped into line behind him. He smiled. "Hey, Cathy," he said. "Small world, huh?" He pushed a hand back through his hair.
She nodded. "Only in a city like New York, right?"
They'd gone over a year without crossing paths. Had he opened the coincidence floodgates by seeing her show and waiting for her at the stage door after? He used to think a lot about fate and coincidences and things happening for a reason, but he didn't know what to make of this.
"How's your next book coming?" she asked him, sounding genuinely interested. He wondered if she was feeling guilty for completely brushing him off the week before when he asked her to have a drink. Or maybe she realized that they would probably be standing here next to each other for at least twenty minutes and small talk was better than awkward silence.
"Oh, it's - fine," he answered, lying. Fibbing, really. (A fib wasn't as bad as a lie, was it? He told himself that was the case, especially after all of his much bigger lies to Cathy during their relationship.) "Just plodding along with it." Jamie hadn't written a word in close to six months. His manuscript was eight months' past due to his editor. That wasn't something he wanted to spread around. He only blamed himself for it. Who else could he blame?
Cathy smiled. "That's great. I can't wait to read it."
She sounded so sincere with that too, and Jamie hated himself in the moment. "Thanks," he said. "I'm sure you'll like it," he added, even though that couldn't be further from the truth. What was it about talking to Cathy that got him lying to her like this?
After that, they did settle into a (somewhat uncomfortable) silence while they both waited for a register to open. Not even two or so minutes later, Jamie was motioned down to the end of the line of registers, and he turned to give Cathy a smile and a wave. "Nice running into you again, Cathy," he told her.
She looked up from her phone and refocused on him. "Nice to see you too, Jamie." Cathy gave him a small wave as he pushed his cart forward and she went back to her phone.
After he was done checking out and had his slightly-too-heavy bags jumbled together in his arms, Jamie glanced back in hopes of spotting Cathy again. He almost wanted to try asking her to have a drink with him again. In the end, she was nowhere to be seen and he walked the two blocks back to his apartment rewriting their brief conversation in his head.
Most of Jamie and Cathy's mutual friends knew better than to invite them both to the same party. Most of their mutual friends preferred not putting themselves, Cathy or Jamie, or anyone else into that awkward situation. For some reason, this holiday season was different. It was inevitable that the two of them might run into each other at a gathering at some point.
Cathy hadn't been popular at parties in years. During her relationship with Jamie, he was the center of attention and she tended to slink behind him or not attend at all. Yes, sometimes that even meant with their friends. She could stand on a stage in the spotlight just fine. She enjoyed it even. But Jamie had always taken that spotlight, especially since his first book came out and he was riding high on accolades and five-star reviews. Cathy pretended to be content with that, though that wasn't to say that she didn't often think that she could do better.
She honestly hadn't even noticed that Jamie was there too. She flitted from one group to another, was peppered with questions about the show, about her debut, about what's next for her. She had never been so flattered by so much attention before.
In a break between conversations, Cathy ducked away, seeking out the bathroom for a moment to herself. The window in the bathroom was open, and she enjoyed the chilly breeze sweeping in. After a light knock on the door jolted her out of her own thoughts, Cathy called out a quick, "In a sec!" and washed and dried her hands before leaving again.
In the narrow hallway back into the party, there stood Jamie.
It shouldn't have surprised her. They'd found each other several times over the last two months, including times when she spotted him across the street and changed directions without him seeing her. It was like their time apart since the divorce had finally caught up and the city was pushing them back together.
"Hey," she said first, rubbing her still damp hands on the sides of her trousers.
"Hey," Jamie said right back. "You look nice." His gaze drifted over her, not quite in the same way it did early on in their relationship, but good enough. She felt a blush creep up the back of her neck as she mumbled a thank you.
Cathy looked at him, took in the fact that he was holding two wine glasses, one in each hand, and then looked past him, expecting to see some gorgeous whomever hovering past his shoulder. There was no one there.
"I saw that you didn't have a drink," Jamie said, noticing her gaze. "I got you a Riesling. I know red wine sometimes gives you a headache." He offered one of the glasses to her.
After a small hesitation, she took it from him. "Thanks. I set my drink down somewhere about a half hour ago. I wouldn't even be able to find it again, I'm sure."
Jamie smiled. "How's the show going?" he asked.
"Well," she answered. "Really well. I love it. I never thought that I'd make it, you know? But here I am. It's really, really great."
"I always knew you would," Jamie said.
She could hear his unspoken continuation, that he always knew she could do it even when she was so sure she never would. That he always knew better than she did and that was why he couldn't be with her anymore. Couldn't watch her beat herself up over it any longer. It was an oversimplification of their entire relationship, but it wasn't something she could easily shake.
"Yeah," she said. "I guess I finally did it." Cathy sipped the wine and glanced around. "Did you have a nice Hanukkah?"
He nodded. "I did, yeah. Quiet. Do you have any plans for Christmas?"
She shook her head. "Not really. I'll probably order in and binge-watch something on Netflix." Christmas day they didn't have a show. But that didn't mean she had enough time to go home. Her mother mentioned maybe coming in to the city, but Cathy wasn't sure she wanted that added stress in her life right now.
"That sounds like a good Christmas day," Jamie said.
"I know," she agreed.
They didn't have anything to talk about. She knew that. He knew that. Small talk was just that - small, inconsequential, tired. Yet neither of them was any good at ending the awkwardness and moving on.
She turned when she heard her name called from across the room. Cathy held up a hand to let them know she'd be right there. "It was good to see you again, Jamie," she said. "Good luck with your next book. Let me know when it's out so I can get it." Cathy gave his arm a squeeze as she brushed past him and walked across the room.
This time, she glanced back over her shoulder at him and smiled when she spotted him watching her walk away, smiling right back at her.