Friday, October 5, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #7

Max sighed and rubbed his temples again. Why was math so much harder on Monday mornings?

Maybe it’s just all those beers you had with Mossy last night, a little voice suggested helpfully.

No, he replied, it’s just always this bad on Mondays. Even when you’re traveling Monday mornings are best when slept through.

He flipped back a couple of pages in the hostel’s reservation book and started over one more time.

“Hey Max, whatcha up to?” Caitlin asked as she poked her head around the corner.

And why, oh why, are decisions made after too many beers so hard to follow through with once you’re sober?

Max gave the voice a little kick as he looked up to reply.

“Heya Caitlin, I’m just…”

“You can call me Cate, ya know,” she said with the slightest hint of a smile playing across her lips.

Well. Cate. That’s an encouraging sign, ain’t it?

Max was too busy fumbling for a reply to deal with the voice this time.

“Oh, sure. I can do that.”

Smooth. Real smooth.

“So whatcha doing behind the desk? I never see you there unless you’re checking someone in.”

“Oh, right.” Max had briefly forgotten he was doing anything at all before Caitl – Cate had appeared. This was going fantastically. “I’m just going through the book to check who’s leaving this week to see how many beds we’ll need to fill. And to figure out if and how much they still owe. Plus, with the way things go here, I like to double check with people…”

“To see if they’re still leaving when they said they would?” Cate broke in.

“Right. Yeah, exactly.” Max realized he had been rambling. He never rambled.

Just go on and tell her already, you stupid fool!

Well, either now or never, he decided.

“Speaking of which,” she began slowly, “remember how I booked in ‘till this Saturday when I rucked up?”

“Yeah, of course.”

He had totally forgotten.

Now what the hell are you gonna do? She’s gone at the end of the week!

“Well, I could only stay the two weeks because I had to be back home for the first week of December. And, you know, there is still heaps I want to see here.”

“Yeah, me too. I just kinda got stuck here.”

Nice! Plant the seed, well done. Now you just need an excuse to go with her.

That wasn’t what I was doing, Max thought. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, actually.

“So what’s happening back home that requires your presence? The only thing that could cut my trip short is a funeral.”

“Close. My little bro was getting married.”

“Oh, sweet as! Is he… wait. Was?”

“Was.” Cate suddenly looked as though she might start crying at any moment.

Oh sh-

“What happened?”

“Well,” she took a deep, steadying breath. “The bride to be, just yesterday in fact, called it off. Apparently she’s run off with one of the groomsmen.”

“Bloody hell. I’m sorry.” Max slid a box of tissues over to her – he didn’t know what else to do. “Are you okay? How is he holding up?”

“He’s my little brother, ya know?” Cate sniffed a little and grabbed a tissue. “And I’m way the hell over here. I called him last night, he’s pretty torn up. Didn’t see it coming at all, he was so happy with her. Not much ya can do over the phone, you know?”

“Yeah, that’s hard,” Max told her wisely. He was not giving her much comfort and he was painfully aware of it. He stood up, needing to do something, anything. The movement must have rattled something loose.

“God, where are my manners? Here, sit down. Can I get you anything? Tea? Tequila?”

“The tequila is tempting,” she said, slumping gratefully into his chair. “But I reckon some tea would be best. This morning anyway. Ask me again tonight.”

“Will do. I’ve got some chamomile in my box, that alright?”

Cate nodded while dabbing at her eyes and Max hustled over to the kitchen to put some water on. While it heated up he grabbed his food box off the bottom shelf of the wooden stand at the far end of the kitchen. After a few moments of rustling around he found the tea box and tossed it on the counter behind him. Just before putting his bin back he decided to take the honey out as well.

Good call. Honey cures all.

He grabbed the hostel’s two biggest mugs and placed a tea bag in each, trying to collect his thoughts.

Now doesn’t seem like the best possible time to tell her how you feel about her.

“Thanks, Sherlock,” Max muttered under his breath. As soon as the water was hot enough he filled the two mugs and brought them back to the check-in desk.

“Thanks very much Max.” Cate had managed to collect herself a bit and no longer looked to be on the verge of breaking down. “I’m sorry to dump on you, I hadn’t meant to. I just wanted to adjust my booking.”

“Don’t apologize, it’s no problem. Let me know if I can do anything else,” he reassured her. “So I… I guess you’ll be leaving us a bit sooner now?”

“No,” she sighed and rolled her eyes. “Stu, my brother, insisted that I don’t cut my trip short. Says he’d feel even worse. And seeing as the reason I had to be home early has suddenly vanished, he rather strongly suggested I extend my whole trip. Wants some good to come of it I guess.”

“So, ah… what are you going to do?” Max had to fight to keep his tone neutral.

“I love Stu and I want to be there for him. But he meant it and deep down I know he’s right.” Cate took a sip of her tea and looked up at him. “So is it okay if I stay on a bit longer? Is there room for me?”

“Of course.” Max tried to keep his smile small but he could feel his face ignoring him. He took a sip from his own mug to try to hide it. “How long are you thinking?”

“Right now? Indefinitely, I guess. This place just… feels like a second home. Weird how quickly that happens, isn’t it?”

“Welcome to Mossy’s Backpackers,” he told her, letting loose his smile this time. He leaned down and clinked his mug against hers. “Stay as long as you like.”

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