The cat meowed a soft complaint as she lifted it up, but made no move to scratch her. It let her carry it into the cottage, bundled with her purse.
Once she was inside, with the door shut and the sound of the rain muffled, Cairtney slid down to the floor and huffed a lock of frizzing hair from her face. She looked down at the cat, curled up in her arms and batting at her purse with a half-hearted paw.
“Somehow, still not the worst part of today,” she told it.
It meowed and gave the purse a deft smack.
Twenty minutes later, she had a cup of steaming tea and the cat was lying in a laundry basket lined with towels. Her legs were bleeding where she had fallen on them, with bits of gravel stuck to her skin with damp and congealed blood, but she sat in her inherited chair at the inherited table of her inherited kitchen, and stared across the room at a cross-stitch her grandmother had seen fit to frame.
Peroxide and plasters sat in her future, but as they were all it held for her, she decided to let herself savour them as moments to look forward to.
Without Gran, the kitchen was small and cramped, rather than cosy. All of her things were still where she had always kept them. Where she had left them.
Cairtney grasped the mug of tea so hard that she couldn’t tell if her fingers were sore or burning. Her hair had begun to dry, crinkling into a stereotypical ginger mess of kinks that stuck to her running mascara wherever they touched her face.
“I’m single, jobless, and seeing visions of naked men,” she told herself, gaze fixed on the varnished tabletop. “Most women just deal with breakups by eating too much ice cream. I go in for erotic hallucinations.”
“Ooh, erotic is it? I’m flattered.”
Her fingers spasmed, two of them catching painfully in the handle of the mug. She twisted to face the voice, nearly spinning the mug to slide free of her lingering grip.
A naked man, ragged and lithe as a frayed ribbon, sat in the laundry basket, hugging his knees to his chest. His back curved in a natural, easy posture, as though he were leaning forwards to share a whispered secret with his toes. Steam, just barely visible outside of the realm of imagination, rose from his pale, freckled skin.
Cairtney screamed a proper scream at last.