The Day Before

the World Shattered


by Barbara Handshy Anderson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catherine Chandler was having a hard time paying attention to the conversation. Dinner seemed to drag on. Looking up from her chocolate mousse, she realized that Tom hadn’t stopped talking all evening, but for the life of her she couldn’t recall a single thing he had said.

 

“…And don’t forget the banquet for the Planning Commission is tomorrow night. I need you to be there for me, Cathy,” he said.

 

She winced. She hated hanging on his arm at his business events. It made her feel more like an ornament than his girlfriend. “I’m sorry, Tom. Jenny Aronson called me today and wants to get together for dinner tomorrow night. I haven’t seen her in ages.”

 

Tom looked irritated. His voice took on a tone of authority. “Cathy, I need you to be there for me. I’m counting on you. You can see your little friends any time you want. This is important to me.”

 

It always is, she told herself. Shaking her head, she replied, “I’m not really in the mood for a party, Tom. Can’t you go without me this time? It’s not like I really have anything to offer. It’s you they are there to see. What do you need me to be there for?”

 

“I ‘need’ you there because they will see you as proof that I can deliver what they want.”

 

 “Proof?” Cathy was confused. “I don’t understand. What do you mean, ‘proof’?

 

He rolled his eyes, miffed that she didn’t understand. “Are you serious? Do I have to spell it out? Because you’re Charles Chandler’s daughter, that’s why. Don’t you realize the power your father has in this town? He has been successful at everything he has ever put his hands to. There aren’t many people in this town who haven’t heard of Charles Chandler, not anyone that matters anyway. He’s got the Midas touch, Cathy, and you my dear, by virtue of being his daughter, have it too. Just seeing you standing by my side will tell them that Charles Chandler trusts me with his most valued possession, and so should they.”

 

His words took her by surprise. “Most valued 'possession'? I am not a possession, Tom.” Her voice seemed to raise an octave as she realized the meaning of his words. “Is that all I am to you, a tool to seal the deal with the City Planning Commission? I must say, I don’t find that very flattering. I thought I meant more to you than that.”

 

Tom laughed indulgently, but his voice sounded insincere to her as he tried to placate her, “Of course you do,” he said. “I do care for you, Cathy… very much. But is it so wrong to recognize that the beautiful daughter of one of this city’s most successful corporate attorneys can help me in my business dealings as well?”

 

She wasn’t ready to dismiss her new insight so easily. The lawyer in her needed clarification. “So you’re saying… that if I was the beautiful daughter of a window washer, you wouldn’t need me to come to this party with you?”

 

Tom laughed again. “That’s absurd, Cathy. Why would I ever have a girlfriend who was the daughter of a window washer?”

 

The revelation stunned her. “So you’re admitting that if I was the daughter of a window washer, you wouldn’t have any interest in me?” She had to know the truth. “Tom… are you dating me because of who my father is?”

 

Tom was beginning to feel as if he was walking on dangerous ground. “You’re twisting my words, Cathy. I only meant that I met you because I knew your father. I don’t move in the same circles as any window washers, or their daughters… at least as far as I know.”

 

Seeming to change the subject, she asked. “What did your father do for a living, Tom?”

 

Tom looked at her askance. “What does that have to do with anything?”

 

“Nothing, really, it’s just that I suddenly realized I’ve never asked you that. For all I know, I could be dating the son of a window washer.” She chuckled at the thought. “Wouldn’t that be funny?”

 

Tom reached to loosen his shirt collar. She was not far from the truth and it was making him very uncomfortable. Unable to keep the rising anger out of his voice, he declared, “This conversation is getting tedious, Cathy. Can I count on you to be there or not?”

 

She sighed. What’s the use in arguing? she asked herself. He always gets his way in the end.

 

“Fine, Tom. Yes, you can count on me. I’ll be there with bells on,” she said with a flourish of her spoon.

 

He didn’t catch her sarcasm. Smiling at his triumph, he replied, “That’s my girl. I knew you would come through for me.”

 

As they left the restaurant Tom asked, “Should we go to your place or mine?”

 

Lost in thought, she didn’t hear his question. She was wondering why everything he said seemed to rankle her these days. Even the scent of his aftershave irked her tonight. She just wanted to get as far away from him as she could.

 

“Cathy?” he asked impatiently. “I’m waiting…”

 

“For what?” she asked.

 

“What is with you tonight? I’m waiting for you to tell me where we’re going… your place or mine?”

 

“Neither.” Cathy shook her head. “I’m tired, Tom, and I need to be on top of my game for a settlement conference tomorrow. I think I’ll just go home and call it a night.

 

He reached possessively to pull her close. He had a smirk on his face as he raised his eyebrows. “That sounds good to me. I’ll come with you,” he said suggestively.

 

 “You’re not listening, Tom. That’s not what I meant,” she said, pushing him away. “I meant I want to go home… alone.”

 

“Have I done something wrong, Cathy? Are you angry with me? What is it?”

 

She didn’t want to discuss it with him. The truth was that the vague dissatisfaction she was feeling, was something she was unable to put into words. Shaking her head she answered softly. “No, you haven’t done anything wrong. I’m just feeling a little off lately, that’s all. I just want to go home, have a good long soak in the tub, and go to bed… alone.”

 

She emphasized the last word to make herself clear.

 

“Well, if you’re sure, then I will at least see you safely home,” he insisted gallantly.

 

She smiled at his thoughtful gesture. It was the first of the evening as far as she could recall.

 

The truth was that he was hoping that between the restaurant and her apartment, he might be able to change her mind. He had learned it usually didn’t take much effort to persuade her to see things his way.

 

As the taxi pulled up to her apartment, Tom jumped out and ran around to her side to open the door. He paid the taxi driver and sent him on his way.

 

“What did you do that for?” Cathy asked.

 

“I said I would see you safely home, Cathy, and that’s what I intend to do. I can get another cab when I come back down.”

 

She was beginning to think his thoughtful gesture might have had an ulterior motive. She stood aloof from him in the elevator.

 

Finding that they were alone in the small space, Tom tried to take advantage of the time it would take to reach the 18th floor. He slipped his arms around her and kissed her. She didn’t resist, but he didn’t seem to notice that her response was less than enthusiastic.

 

So much for his thoughtful gesture, she thought. I should have known this was what he wanted.

 

She pulled back from him as the elevator doors opened. “We’re here,” she stated simply and wriggled free of his arms to head for her apartment.

 

After unlocking her door, she turned to find him uncomfortably close. “Thank you for seeing me home, Tom. I think I can manage from here,” she said firmly.

 

He kissed her again and pulled her closer to him.

 

“Good night, Tom,” she said as she pulled away.

 

“It’s rude not to at least invite me in for a nightcap, Cathy.” His smooth charm didn’t have its usual appeal for her tonight.

 

“I’m sorry, Tom. I appreciate you seeing me home, but I already told you that I want to be alone.”

 

His expression hardened as he realized he wasn’t making any headway. His voice sounded cold as he spoke. “Get a good night’s sleep then. I certainly hope it helps improve your mood by tomorrow night. I’m counting on you to be more charming than this with the planning commission.”

 

She smiled and said, “Well… I do hope no one on the planning commission wants to crawl into bed with me, Tom. I do have my limits, after all.”

 

Before he could reply, she slipped into the apartment and closed the door on him.

 

He stood there stunned until he heard her bolt and chain the locks on the door.

 

***

 

Catherine leaned with her back against the door. What is wrong with me? she wondered.

 

For weeks now she had been depressed and unsatisfied with nearly everything in her life, her job, her social life, and particularly her love life. Everything seemed pointless and empty. Nothing seemed to excite her anymore. Her growing dissatisfaction was beginning to wear on her, not to mention that it was affecting her work.

 

Lost in thought she dropped her jacket over the back of her couch and slipped off her expensive Italian pumps. She jumped, startled by the phone ringing. She didn’t feel like talking to anyone else tonight so she decided to let the recorder pick up for her.

 

“You have reached 555-8291. Please leave a message after the beep,” the impersonal message droned.

 

“Hey, Cathy, it’s me, Jenny, are you there? I just wanted to touch base with you about--”

 

Cathy rushed to pick up the phone when she realized who it was. After all, Jenny wasn’t just anyone. Cathy and Jenny had been the best of friends since they were children. If anyone could understand what was happening to her it was Jen. “I’m here, Jen. It’s so good to hear your voice.”

 

“Is everything okay?” Jen asked, instantly worried about her friend.

 

Cathy sighed, reluctant to dump all of her troubles on her good friend. “Yes, everything’s okay.”

 

“You haven’t convinced me, Cath. Come on… tell me what’s wrong.”

 

“Oh, Jen, I’m not really sure,” she breathed as she dropped onto her overstuffed couch. “I just got home from a date with Tom. I think we had a fight.” She reached behind her and began to massage the tense muscles in her neck.

 

Jenny laughed. “You think? That sounds like something you would be sure about.”

 

“He wants me to attend a banquet for the City Planning Commission with him tomorrow night. I hate those things. I told him I had plans with you, but he insisted. He knows I always give in.”

 

“So I guess our dinner is off?” Jenny sounded disappointed.

 

“I was really looking forward to seeing you, Jen. I need to talk to someone… someone who really knows me. But I don’t think I can get out of this party.”

 

Jen could hear the desperation in her friend’s voice. “You want to talk? I can be over there in twenty minutes,” she offered.

 

Cathy laughed. “You don’t need to do that, Jen. I don’t want you running around New York City this late at night. Do I really sound that desperate?”

 

“Yes, you really do, Cathy. I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. We can at least talk on the phone. Now tell me what’s wrong.”

 

“I’m not sure I can put it into words, Jenny,” she sighed. “It’s just that lately…” She heaved a great sigh as her voice trailed off.

 

“You can’t leave me hanging. Lately… what?” Jenny prodded.

 

“I’m just not happy, Jenny. Isn’t that crazy?  I have the perfect life… everything a girl could ever want… and I’m justnot… happy.”

 

Jenny waited. She knew if she was patient, her friend would get to the root of her problem.

 

“Are you there?” Cathy asked.

 

“Yes, I’m here. I was just waiting for you to pour it all out, Honey.”

 

Cathy began to cry. She knew that Jenny was the only one who really knew her and what she needed. When she got control of herself she was ready to speak.

 

“I just feel so lost lately, Jenny.” She sniffled loudly. “I’m almost thirty and what have I got to show for it?”

 

Jenny laughed. “Thanks for reminding me how old we are, Cathy… like I needed reminding!”

 

Cathy laughed through her tears. She could always count on Jenny to make her laugh. “Sorry.”

 

“What do you mean, ‘What have you got to show for it?’ You’ve got a great job, an apartment most people would kill for, and a handsome, charming and successful boyfriend. What else do you want?”

 

“That’s just it, Jenny. Do I really have all those things? I only have that job because I’m the boss’s daughter, and I only have this apartment because of my job. Sometimes I even wonder if I only have Tom because of my father. Is there anything at all that I have because of me… because of what I’ve personally accomplished… because of who I am? Lately when I look in the mirror, I’m not even sure I know who that is?”

 

“Well, I know who you are,” Jenny assured her. “You are CatherineRoseChandler, one of the kindest, funniest, most beautiful people I have ever known.”

 

Catherine sighed. “Thanks, Jen, but I think as my best friend, you have to say that.”

 

“No, I don’t, Cathy. I promise you, I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true. I don’t see what the problem is. If your job doesn’t make you happy, then get another job. If Tom isn’t Mr. Right, then dump him and move on.”

 

Cathy laughed. “It isn’t that easy, Jen. Daddy has always had this master plan for my life. He expects me to take over for him someday. I don’t want to break his heart. And he approves of Tom. He practically hand picked him. Tom Gunther is one of the firm’s best clients.”

 

“Love isn’t a business deal, Cathy. My mom has always told me ‘You have to follow your heart or you’ll never be happy.’”

 

“I guess I need to figure out how to do that,” Cathy acknowledged.

 

“You’ll figure it out, Cathy. I know you will.”

 

Cathy could feel herself beginning to relax. Jenny always had that affect on her. “Thanks for listening, Jen. I can always count on you to help me put things into perspective.”

 

“No problem, Kiddo. Hey, I have an idea, why don’t you take a vacation? Drop out of sight for a week or two so you can think and recharge… somewhere away from your job, away from your father and especially away from Tom. Jamaica or the Bahamas sound nice. When was the last time you sunned yourself on the beaches of Nassau?”

 

Cathy smiled at the thought. “That’s actually not a bad idea, Jen.”

 

“Hey, if you do go, let me know and I’ll go with you. But the first thing you need to do is get some sleep,” Jenny declared. “You sound exhausted.”

 

Cathy chuckled wryly. “Thanks, I think I will.”

 

“I’ll call you next week, okay Cath? And we can reschedule our dinner date. Now good night.”

 

“Night, Jen.”

 

Cathy heard the click on the other end and stared at the phone. She’d never had a sister, but she imagined if she had, that there couldn’t have been a better one than Jenny. Her dear friend had seen her through thick and thin, and her love had never wavered. Cathy had no idea how she would have ever gotten through her mother’s death or an untold number of break ups without her friends Jenny Aronson and Nancy Tucker. As children, their parents had called them “The Three Musketeers.” Cathy sighed as she considered how they had drifted apart after college, as they embarked on their separate careers, and in Nancy’s case, her marriage. But they were still always there for each other when they really needed support.

 

After a long luxurious bath, Cathy sat at her vanity going through the motions of her nightly ritual. She brushed her freshly washed hair and carefully applied the sinfully expensive facial cream that promised eternal youth. She stopped and gazed into the eyes of the woman looking back at her. She leaned a little closer to the mirror to examine her face. Even close up she could see that her skin was flawless, a gift of genetics. She had to admit that Jenny was right, she was beautiful. Nature had been kind to her. Even as a child, her beauty had always been a secret source of pride. Now she wondered… Is it really such a gift? What if I was ugly? Would my friends be as true? Would Tom still love me if I wasn’t beautiful, or if I wasn’t the daughter of Charles Chandler? Is that really any kind of love at all?

 

She shook her head, as if to shake off the doubts that were plaguing her. What does it matter, Cathy? You are rich and you are beautiful, so you’ll never know. Everybody loves you. Does it really matter why?

 

She fell asleep wondering what she should wear to Tom’s business dinner. She would have to look her best, he would expect that. And besides, one couldn’t take the chance of having a bad picture in the paper.

 

Maybe I’ll go shopping before I go to the office tomorrow, she thought as she drifted off to sleep. Maybe a little retail therapy is all I need…

 

 

 

~

 

 

 

 

Illustration supplied by the author


 

 

 

 

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