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A Familiar Uncomfortable Silence

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Cathy dug around in her purse for a hair tie. The sticky summer heat above ground was bad enough, but the going on twenty minutes of waiting for the Q train in the world's stuffiest station was sending sweat rolling down the back of her neck.

Finally, her fingers grasped the elastic band she knew was among the (surely melted) tubes of lipstick and cookie crumbs at the bottom of her bag. "Aha!" she muttered to herself as she pulled her hand from the too large purse.

She straightened up and lifted her hands to pull her hair back in a messy bun, and that was when she saw him not quite at the other end of the platform. She froze.

It was New York City. Cathy ran into her exes all the time. It was just the nature of the city. However, this was her only ex-husband.

She dropped her hands to her sides. What was she supposed to do? Say something? Turn away and pretend she'd never seen him? If she did go up to him, should she hug him? She looked around to see if there were any women with him, He was alone, and then, relieved, she noticed he was wearing headphones. You don't go up to someone wearing headphones. It just wasn't done, even if you used to make your life with that particular person. It was simple etiquette.

She looked down when she realized she had dropped her hair tie on the ground. It landed in some kind congealed food (god, she hoped it was food) that she had no idea she was standing in.

"Fuck!" She jumped away, and hopping slightly on one foot, inspected the chunky heel of her boot. There wasn't anything sticking to it, and the rubber wasn't eroding, so she was probably going to survive.

Cathy set her foot down on comparatively clean pavement, and when she glanced back up in Jamie's direction, he was looking at her. In fact, a couple people were looking at her, but she didn't care about any of them.

Jamie was taking off his headphones and heading toward her. She wondered if he would be coming if they hadn't made eye contact. Was he panicking as much as she was? Why couldn't they just ignore that they even knew each other?

"Cathy," he said as he neared her. He was smiling, like this wasn't weird. He was going in for a hug, but she held up her hands to stop him.

"Watch out for the... that." She motioned to the pile of goo that was slowly consuming her hair tie. "I stepped in it and I don't know what it is. I'm going to burn these shoes tonight."

He laughed. "I saw the performance."

"Oh, god." Cathy covered her face for a moment. "I looked ridiculous."

"No, you look -- you look amazing." His eyes lingered for a moment on her breasts and she was glad she had worn the good bra today. It would have been embarrassing to run into Jamie while wearing the lime green sports bra under her white tank top (which has been known to happen).

"How are you?" he asked.

"Great, I'm great. So -- very good." She had been working hard to not talk with her hands when she got nervous, but she found herself gesturing with every syllable. "How are you? I read your new book."

Jamie laughed. "Oh, that was you. Good to know. I've been personally thanking everyone who bought it. It hasn't taken long."

Cathy didn't have the heart to tell him that she got from the library. She wanted to read it, but she didn't want it hanging around the apartment either. "The sales weren't that bad. And those reviewers didn't know what they were talking about. I liked it."

"Well, thank you." He seemed genuinely pleased. "I saw you on the Tony's."

"In the ensemble. It's not like I was winning a Tony."

"But you were still on the Tony's."

She smiled. "Yeah, I was."

"And I saw the show," Jamie said, this time a little quieter, like it was embarrassing that he'd gone to see her. "Someone told me you were going on as Ulna for a few shows, so I went. You were wonderful."

"Oh, I..." Cathy suddenly didn't know what to do with her hands, and gesturing wasn't working anymore. She tried to shove them in her jean pockets, but they were the shitty half pockets that cursed women's clothing. "You should have come to the stage door or something. I would have let you in."

His smile faded, but his eyes were bright. "I wasn't sure."

"Do you know how scary it is to be the understudy for a Tony winner in their Tony winning role? It's terrifying. You would have been the least of my worries." In fact, she wished she were going on stage right now.

He started to speak, but the sound of the train rushing into the station and loud, squeaking brakes drowned out his words. There was the typical kerfuffle of commuters piling out of the cars and those getting on.

It probably shouldn't have surprised her that Jamie was right on her heels as she got on the train, but she was a distracted by the relief of the air conditioned car. She slipped into one of the orange and yellow seats and he sat down next to her.

"Is this weird?" he asked, pulling his canvas messenger bag into his lap.

"A little," Cathy said, but acknowledging that helped. He knew it was going to help, that's why he did it. "Is this the part where we ask if the other one is seeing someone?"

Jamie laughed. "I guess so. Do you want me to go first?"

"Sure. Actually, yes, I would feel better if you went first. Then I will know how much to lie."

He laughed again. "I was seeing someone for about a year, and we broke up about three months ago. Nothing serious since."

Cathy nodded knowingly. "Was it the book or the writing process?"

"The book wasn't good enough to justify the writing process."

"It's a tough life, being a muse."

Jamie made a face, but for once, he didn't say anything about her sarcasm. "What about you? And mine's terrible, so you can tell me the truth."

"There hasn't been anyone serious," Cathy replied honestly. She noticed she wasn't gesturing anymore, but that made her aware of her hands again. "The last two years have been workshops and out of town tryouts, and you know all of those guys are gay or already married. I'm so happy to have been with the show for so long and seen all these steps and changes, but it was a lot of work."

He nodded. "Do you ever think--"

"No."

"You don't know what I was going to say."

"Then, say it."

"I don't want to now."

"Then, don't."

He was quiet and Cathy avoided eye contact with the other people on the train for a couple stops. This was a familiar uncomfortable silence. It was so easy to fall back into these patterns, even just for five minutes. It had to end right now.

"Jamie, you're thinking about what could have been because things suck right now and I make you think of a time when you were on top of the world. It was awful when we broke up, but now, I know it was for the best. I don't think about what ifs anymore."

Times Square was the next stop and Cathy was sure that wasn't where he was going. His publisher was further uptown, she remembered. They might as well get this done now.

"I have to think about what ifs," he said. "I have to consider every option and avenue. It's my job."

"It's not mine." She adjusted her bag on her shoulder and stood up. She grabbed onto the center bar before the train could stutter to a stop. "I thought the book was good, but I didn't have to read it. And you didn't have to come to my show. It's a good thing, Jamie. It really is."

"It was funny," he said, though his tone suggested anything but humor. "I always thought I'd see my name in the Playbill when you finally got to Broadway, you know, in the thank yous. I half expected to see it there when I looked up your bio. I knew you'd get there someday."

Cathy braced herself as the train slowed. "Well, I'm thanking you now. If we hadn't divorced, I wouldn't be there. Something good came out of that shit storm, don't you think?"

"For you," Jamie said.

"It'll come for you, too," she replied. The doors opened and she smiled. "It was good seeing you, Jamie." Was it? She didn't know, but it seemed like the right thing to say.

He didn't move, but he smiled, too. "It was. Goodbye, Cathy."

Cathy waved over her shoulder as she stepped off the train and onto the next stuffy platform.

Maybe it was unfair to say she never would have made it if they were still together. He'd always been supportive of her career, but it would it be different now that his latest book had failed? Would he resent her the way he accused her of resenting him? Would she have been able to focus as fully on the work if he'd been by her side?

They would never know. She didn't want to know.

As Cathy walked up Eighth Avenue toward 45th, the questions faded away. Jamie was nothing but a moment in time. Whatever problems he was having with his writing, with his love life, it didn't matter anymore. She had moved on.

This was her moment, now.