Catherine’s standing by the corner, a cigarette in her mouth, pacing back and forth and staring up the street. She smokes? He can’t imaging his little sister smoking, but then again, he doesn’t know her anymore. Five years is an eternity for anyone, especially someone her age. She looks like she’s calmed down some, though he can’t tell if she’s hiding her anger now that she’s more public. “Cat?”
Wheeling toward him, the rage which had started to subside is back in full force. Her face turns red and her eyes go wide. “No, you do not get to call me Cat. You don’t get to call me anything.”
“I just want to talk.” Tears force themselves into his eyes again. He can’t fight them anymore as they roll down his face. “You have every right to hate me, but please at least listen to me for a minute.”
Shaking her head, she throws her hands up. Her eyes somehow go wider. He was never much of a crier. He doesn’t remember ever doing so in front of her. He doesn’t even remember crying after finding out about his parents. Later he cried a lot in private but when people are watching he can usually control himself. He didn’t cry at their funeral as he tried to comfort her, knowing he could never really help her when he couldn’t even help himself. “I’d have listened to you five years ago. Or four years ago probably. Maybe a little later. Not now though. It’s not fair. You come up here and cry and now I’m the jerk if I don’t listen to you.”
“I don’t want you to feel like a jerk. I’m not playing a game or trying to use this. These are real.”
She nods. “I believe you. I just don’t care. You probably feel a lot of guilt. You should after what you did. You’re a coward and you lost the right to speak to me a long time ago. Go back to wherever you’ve been hiding. Or don’t, I don’t care.”
A car pulls up to the side of the road, the stickers of several ride share companies plastered in their windows. Catherine turns to walk toward the car. Zach says, “Please give me five minutes. I don’t deserve them but if you listen to me and don’t like what you hear, I promise I won’t bother you again.”
Her shoulders tighten but she pauses. When she gets to the car and opens the passenger door she says something to the driver Zach can’t make out but the man behind the wheel nods and drives off. She turns back to face him. “I’m listening. I won’t promise to say anything, or not to say anything. If you have to get anything off your chest you’d better speak up. This is the last time you’re going to speak to me.”
He slowly nods, trying to sort out his thoughts. There are so many words to express in such a short time. He wishes he could say he’s rehearsed this speech a million times over the last five years but that would be a lie. He did a little at the beginning but for most of that time he’s given her as little thought as possible. During the rare times the thought of her and how she was doing popped into his head, he pushed those thoughts back out. He thought about doing an internet search for her a few times but never did. The less he thought about her out here, abandoned by the one person she had left at the time she needed him most, the easier he slept.
“You’re down thirty seconds. I started the time when the guy drove off, not when you start talking.”
That snaps him out of his self pity. He made a bargain to gain this chance, he needs to use it. “Look, you have every right to hate me.”
“You have every right, but for what it’s worth, I do love you. I was a mess after what happened. I’m still a mess. I’m trying to put things back together but it’s a process. That’s why I hadn’t reached out to you yet. I wasn’t planning to any time soon. I wasn’t ready. I’m not ready now. I couldn’t let you walk away today thinking I didn’t care though. I care a lot. I messed up. I couldn’t be there for you though because I couldn’t even hold myself together.”
Nodding, she puts her hands on her hips. “Ya, I’m not stupid. I put that much together. I knew you were messed up before you took off.”
“You figured that out? At your age?”
“I was fourteen, not five. So ya, I put things together. That didn’t matter though. I was a mess too but I didn’t take off. I got therapy, I cried, I acted out, but I didn’t run and leave you alone. I would never have done that. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I did.”
She needs to understand things weren’t so simple. “I probably should have done some of that, but there was so much pressure. You, the business, everyone fighting for a minute of my time. All the pity.”
Her face gets angrier at this. She closes the distance between them and shoves him. “You think I didn’t deal with that? After you were gone that got worse. I had to take all of the responsibility for both of us. Linus tried to help but he could only do so much. You weren’t facing anything I didn’t face too. I still never left you.”
What excuses are left? His shoulders sag. He wagered everything that he could get through to her and he’s failing. “You’re right, what I did wasn’t excusable. I messed up. I was broken and I hurt you when you needed me. If you don’t want to see me again, I understand. I just want you to know I truly am sorry and if I could go back and change what I did, I would.”
There’s a pause but after a moment the car from before pulls back up. She nod but looks back at the vehicle. “I believe you. I just don’t care. I guess apologizing’s nice and if you’d done so a few years ago it might have meant something. It doesn’t now though. I cared for a long time and eventually I got to the point where I couldn’t manage anymore. The pain was too much. I honestly never thought I’d see you again. Look, I don’t wish anything bad on you. I hope you pull yourself together and live a decent life. I just can’t be part of it. Good luck.”
Turning away from him, she walks toward the car. He searches for something he can say which will stop her but can’t find the words. “I’m so sorry Cat.”
She doesn’t turn around. “I don’t care, and don’t call me that. Or do, you won’t get the chance again so I guess it doesn’t really matter.”
Climbing into the back of the car, she says something to the driver before slamming the door. He wants to fall to his knees but manages to stand. He wants to run to the car and beg her but that won’t help. She’s made her decision and she’s standing by it. All he can do is watch the blue car speed off and disappear around the corner at the end of the street.
The easy thing to do would be to leave. He wants nothing more than to go back to his apartment and fall into bed. He doesn’t want the beautiful loft apartment though. He wants the studio in the terrible building where he spent the last five years. He was safe. He didn’t have to deal with bank robbers, or attempted murders, or his past. That apartment’s no longer an option though. If he goes back to even the loft now, there’s a good chance he won’t leave for another five years. Instead he forces himself back into the side door, back down the steep staircase into the Cuban restaurant with the wonderful smells.
When he returns to their table in the dark corner, Linus is already halfway through his sandwich. Zach’s is still waiting for him. The man eyes him up and down, pausing on his slumped shoulders and wet face. “It went that badly huh?”
What can he say? Slumping into his seat, he grabs for his food and starts stuffing it into his mouth. In less than a minute half of his sandwich is gone and he moves on to his side of plantain fries. He sees why Linus likes this place.
They eat in silence. When Linus’ food’s gone, he tries to catch Zach’s eye but they don’t leave his plate. “Look, she’s still living with me and despite this, I doubt she disappears. I’ll talk with her tonight, try to ease things. Maybe get her to give you another chance.”
“She said she never wants to see me again. I promised if she heard me out I’d leave her alone. I’ve broken enough promises to her, I don’t need to break another one.”
Laughing, Linus leans forward. “Now who doesn’t know her? She lashes out but she calms down too. It’ll take time but she will eventually give you another chance. Besides, if I talk to her that’s not you bothering her, that’s me doing so. I bother her all the time. It’s kind of my thing.”
Fighting the urge to hope, he decides for now he must assume he just said goodbye to his sister. At least this time she got one. The second half of his sandwich sits untouched. He was so hungry but now he feels nothing. “Why didn’t you tell me she was staying with you? I had no clue what happened to her.”
“Eat your sandwich. She had to go somewhere after you were gone and Amy’s around the same age. Things worked out. Besides, I was happy to take her in. I love you guys.”
His face’s starting to turn red. The vein in his neck pulses. He should never have been set up like this. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You had enough to deal with right away. It’s been a few months though and I figured it was time. I spent five years telling her I didn’t know where you’d gone. I protected you because I thought that was best. Now I feel the best thing is to push you. You’re both too stubborn to make the first move. That’s done. It was hard and it hurt but now you can move forward.”