Cynthia was a very, very tired woman. And who knew why.
For one, not very long ago, she had been laid off from her current job. Rather, demoted. She wasn't sure what she had done. But one day, her boss had come up to her with a very stern face and told her that she was now to work in a lower, less important and less strict department. She still had not understood why, because all her coworkers had crowded around her and asked her questions and demanded to know what she had done to anger the boss, instead of knowing and helpfully informing her.
She hated Fridays now, which had been her havens of peace. Now they were just a reminder of what she had been, busy and hankering away and thinking of her next breaktime. Now they were a time where she had nothing to do except for smoke cigarettes in a sleazy pub and glare at anyone who offered a drink. The once ever-busy, efficient Cynthia who coldly refused marriage offers and went off to down a nice, chilled beer later after finishing her report was now replaced by a Cynthia whose hair was in a messy bun and sat bleary-eyed, completely out of the mood to finish her drink.
"What's wrong, Cynthia?" a gentle voice asked as Ernest walked up to her.
That was the absolute worst question to ask her now. Frowning, Cynthia stubbed her cigarette on the ashtray and rather annoyed turned around on the barstool to face him. This made several people surrounding them raise their eyebrows surprised, as usually she never faced anyone in a bar. It was an unspoken rule.
"What is it, Ernest?" Cynthia asked in a voice that was tired and had given up. Ernest himself raised an eyebrow, and looked closely at her in a way that suggested that he found her odd today. Then again, Cynthia winced while reaching back to scratch her nape with her cigarette stub hand, she usually used cold politeness as a barrier between them or sent him loathing death glares.
"I was just about to ask what is wrong. Is it too much work that's affecting you these days?"
Cynthia groaned and her head fell forward into the crook of her elbow. She pushed away her drink and rested her chin on her arms. "Not exactly," she mumbled.
Ernest looked even more taken aback. "What do you mean, not exactly?"
Cynthia sighed and squinted, trying to sent him a powerful glare like old Cynthia could, but it had no success. "I've been demoted," she admitted in a voice that was much more miserable and emotional than she had intended.
Ernest now looked absolutely shocked. "Blimey," he murmured, "you aren't joking."
Cynthia just wanted to sink through the table crying, but she could only sigh and mumble "I'm not, Ernest."
His mouth was open for a second, but he noticed it and closed it quickly, just not enough for Cynthia to miss it. "I can't believe it."
Cynthia now really wanted to drown her sorrows in her own tears, just cry a gallon and die in a gallon. But tears hadn't come for several days, maybe they never would. They used to come so naturally and spontaneously...she once cried after carrying twelve boxes to her new apartment effortlessly, but the pen she let go of fell and hit the ground. She had burst into tears spontaneously, right in front of the shocked moving men, and then wiped her red face and gotten back to work hauling heavy items.
"I don't know. It's real, it's not real, I don't want to believe it...but I got to a new department, and they haven't given me any work," she mumbled.
Ernest's brow furrowed. "How is that possible? They didn't hear of your prize for Most Excellent Journalist? Haven't they read any of your reports? Or your book, what was it called, Collections of Thoughts?"
Collections of Thoughts. It seemed so far away. Cynthia had long ago compiled all her favorite reports together and created a book she published of all the most fancy words, realistic landscapes, droves of information and current events she had once covered in her old department. Originally she wanted to publish an original novel but her boss had discouraged the idea for her career. It had been a wild, pretentious success, with lots of highly intelligent editors and journalists who covered topics like civil wars and bio-engineering sending out rave reviews that praised her harsh realism and coverage of difficult topics. But Cynthia wasn't a hard-working, confrontation-ready woman, no. Those reports could have been written by the put-together looking madam in the mirror. Cynthia was a romantic little girl who ran away from everything; her home when she was six, her homework when she was eight, her mother when she was twelve, her father when she was eighteen. Those reports might have been fact-checked and accurate, but they were less real than the image she cast over a bowl of water.
"That book was a disaster in my book," Cynthia growled, and in spite of herself was pleased with the ironic wordplay. She herself, though she hid it, excessively enjoyed arranging words in any possible way, alliteratively, in rhymes, or even puns. When she felt like it...or, maybe also when she didn't. "Anyway I don't like it when people talk about that stuff."
"Oh?" Ernest asked. "Then what do you like people to talk about? You seem to rebuff everyone no matter what they try."
That was not true, Cynthia wanted to argue. She did have a heart-she hid it, for her sake, of course, but she did have one. She used to have a dog when she was younger, but it had died long ago and she had been very heartbroken when it left. She was very sad when her father and mother had separated, she had cried when she was alone behind the couch for an entire hour because she feared her father would die if he was left alone. She had once seen a girl with her mother placing a bandage on her knee and kissing it and ran away as far as her legs could take her, not sure if the snow or tears were stinging her eyes. She had cried when her mother had gotten angry at her and her father defended her, because he had been the first person to ever do so. She had cried when she saw a picture of her parents holding her as a baby, and the shock at not being able to recognize her father because he had a full head of hair. But the kids had laughed at her when she was young for crying, and she had once told a boy she liked him and he acted cold and shook her off whenever possible afterwards. So yes, she had a heart. She did have one before.
"Or am I wrong?" Ernest crossed his arms, leaning forwards with a challenging, defiant look in his eyes.
Cynthia rose to his challenge, meeting his stare, but she found she could not say anything. If there was one person who could redeem her and yell back at this annoying young man that she could be a very kind and friendly person indeed, she could not pull their name to her mind at the moment. She gave a sigh of defeat and lifted herself up onto her elbows. She had not necessarily actively tried to push away everyone, but now that she did think of it, she had not had a confidante or someone she at least enjoyed talking to for a long time.
"Alright then, Ernest Brighton," Cynthia said coolly, "I, Cynthia Cyneburg Cyrene, am the coldest person to ever breathe air. What do you want?" she asked, looking at her cigarette. Her head hurt, but all she really wanted was a little pull. When had she stubbed it? Damn. Groaning, Cynthia used a sticky hand to pull back long strands of hair from her forehead and realized she had not changed clothes since yesterday. She had just collapsed onto her bed fully-clothed, tried to read a book, and pretty much stayed up until three in the morning unsure of what to do with her life and without a single motivation to continue living.
Ernest frowned. "Well if you're so busy," he edged closer, just as Cynthia leaned back uncomfortably, "how about a date?"
Cynthia glared at him. "What the hell? Ernest, you better be bloody joking, this is not funny."
He made a lunge at her as if he was going to kiss her. Cynthia jerked back, wrapping her loose coat around her shoulders tighter, shaking.
"You're one of those women who has built walls around herself, but now they've completely collapsed, and you're rather down on your luck because you haven't an idea how to get back onto your pedestal. But all you need is some time, and support. And then you'll be right back on your feet, no doubt about it."
"Bugger off," Cynthia snarled, but she couldn't help it. "It's not like we could ever work together, anyway."
"You say that, but are you sure? We've known each other for so long. I've seen the way you look at me from across the room. You used to have a big crush on me, too," Ernest smirked, crossing his arms and lifting his eyebrow defiantly.
"Oh heavens. Just because we can spend hours talking hotly to another anyway doesn't mean I'm going to jump into your arms and it'll fix everything," Cynthia groaned and rubbed her tired, sticky eyes. "Besides, I'm hardly in a good shape to be talking of such matters. My hair's messy, my makeup's smearing, I'm wearing my ugly glasses, my clothes have not been washed-"
"Well, people say love can make anything work," Ernest replied confidently.
"Hmph," Cynthia smiled amused, leaning on her elbow with one arm and holding a cigarette in the other. Darn, when did she stub it? She reached instead for her beer and sipped it delicately. "I can't see you as the romantic type."
"I'm sure I could be," Ernest said determined. Cynthia suddenly burst into laughed so hard she started hammering with one first on the bar countertop. The bartender sent her an odd look and she put a hand to her mouth, suddenly giggle-hiccupping. The feeling was so comical she couldn't stop. Her shoulders rose and fell and shook as she hiccuped and giggled at how Ernest looked so serious.
"Anyway," Cynthia said coyly, fishing for compliments secretly, "what would you want with a person like me?" Her negative tone, though underlying with ulterior motives, was not entirely fake.
"Well, I get bored around other people," Ernest said, his eyes flickering wearily as he leaned his head on his arm. "First, this woman I talked to wouldn't stop using fancy talk instead of her real thoughts and it annoyed me. Then I talked to a university student and she kept talking so quietly and she was too shy to even look at me in the face. Sure, in middle and high school it's cute, but at a certain age people should really be able to summon the courage and get over it. Then this girl who I talked to would annoy me because-"
Those are all legitimately normal people who wanted to talk to you but didn't know how to! Cynthia wanted to scream at the pretentious pretty boy. You should be a lot nicer, they are pushing themselves just to talk to you, who treats everyone based on their intelligence and status! They tried their best because they like you and you idiot just perceive them as annoying, like magically some perfect woman will just WALK UP TO YOU.
"I mean, I tried to talk with them all for weeks, and some for at least two months," Ernest scratched his head, "but it never got anywhere."
"Of course you did," Cynthia crossed her arms. "You thought you tried it for weeks, but really you just did for a few days."
"How did you know that?"
"It was pretty obvious," Cynthia ignored him and took a drag on her cigarette. Damn! Why was it stubbed? Seriously! She shook it angrily.
"I mean, I did kind of break up with one and start a relationship with another the next day-"
"Heavens, what a nice boy you are," Cynthia sighed, trying to take a drag on her worn cigarette. It was just barely there, now mutilated and coming apart in her hand.
"But at least I try to be honest about it. I know a guy who keeps on leading them on and he doesn't even break it off with them before he starts another, and sometimes he just circles back. I just hate it when-"
"Uh-huh," Cynthia said, trying to smoke again. Stupid thing wouldn't work. Frustrated, she angrily stubbed it in the ashtray.
"What I'm trying to say," Ernest said, "is that I would like to ask you out."
"Yup," Cynthia said, her eyes feeling heavy-lidded. A nap would be nice. A nice, long nap to drown all her boredom and forget her demotion.
"Because I'm concerned about you."
"Oh, are you?" Cynthia asked, feigning surprise. She couldn't exactly think clearly anymore, her brain was feeling a little tired and woozy and soft around the edges.
"You're really not how you usually are."
"Am I really?" Well, true, but it wasn't like she had been through some traumatizing event, really, it was just life. Nothing she'd really present to her psychiatrist. Ha, ha.
"Are you not listening to me? This is not particularly easy to explain," Ernest frowned.
"Oh, yes, I'm with you," Cynthia answered. She crossed her arms, with not anything to do with her hands anymore. "I'm listening," she nodded curtly at Ernest. He frowned at her.
"You look like someone I knew from a long time ago," he said.
"Oh? Do I?" Cynthia felt a flush return to her cheeks as her head began to hurt. Her chest began to hurt, too. She winced and rubbed it, hoping all it would take was to loosen her bra. Oh, goodness, she hated wearing tight suits and sitting up straight for hours.
"I like you," Ernest bit his lip and spoke forcefully, like he was a frantic pole vaulter trying to get over the hurdle as quickly as possible.
That was it.
"I'm sorry," Cynthia pushed her stool back and stood up. "I can't help you."
"I want to have you as a girlfriend."
She didn't like it. Didn't like it when people could just make her sad, happy, angry, or whatever they wanted whenever. Never liked it when she felt her heart move. He was right; she was a snow queen. She simply didn't like losing control of her emotions, didn't like to let go of her pride. It was all she had, the only thing she could protect herself with.
"I'm sorry Ernest, but I can't help you."
"And why ever not?" he demanded. She turned around to look at him wearily. He used to be an inch shorter than her, that was how things were when he had rejected her, all those years back, when she was a little girl. She had never forgotten it.
"I'm sorry, Ernest, but I don't like you," the words came out easily, much to her surprise. She was lying, lying through her teeth, she was sure of it, but she only felt a very faint heartache of guilt, not of loss. Adults must lose their sense of feeling as they grow older, Cynthia thought.
She turned away from the taller boy. She had to force herself to not think of him and to walk away as if he was not there. Her legs were not shaking, her heart was not beating, she felt no guilt or any of the symptoms she expected. Just a faint, hot, wet tear on one cheek. But not much else.
She crossed her arms and pushed the door to the bar open and gazed outside blearily. A woman much older than her with a man holding onto her smiled at her gratefully. Cynthia didn't have the heart to fake a smile back.
It's going to be another long way home, Cynthia thought to herself. She reached into a pocket for another cigarette and sadly put it right into the corner of her mouth like a piece of chocolate, hoping it would make her think of something better, and trying not to wish it was a soft kiss. The rain that hit her when she stepped out onto the sidewalk felt good, like it could wash the tears right off her face. She could hear Ernest yelling that she was in no state to go home alone, but she didn't care.