I should be working on the first draft of my next book, but a character asked a question I can’t answer. While the back of my brain chews on that problem, I did some productive procrastination and wrote this short, inspired by a song, and having nothing at all to do with the song at the same time.
“Okay. You’re all set. Want me to give it a ring to test it?”
Finally. The Internet has caught up with me.
I don’t care at all about the phone. It’s a useless land line. But I nod at George. I think that’s his name. It’s what is sewn above the pocket of his shirt.
George whips out his cell phone and dials. The huge new phone sitting on my kitchen counter rings. It works. Which means the Internet and wifi work. Hallelujah.
“Are you gonna answer that?” George asks.
“No.” I give him an eye roll.
His smile falls off his face. “Oh. Well. Everything works.” He holds out a sheet of paper for me to sign. “This has your phone number and instructions for connecting to the wifi. Give us a call if you have any problems.”
I watch as George packs up his tools and heads out the door.
Ten seconds elapse before I am on my cell phone, setting up my connection to the wifi. I pull over the information sheet George left behind.
Then I see my new phone number. No way. I didn’t think that was a real number. Why would they do this to anyone? Why would they do this to me?
The phone rings.
“Is this Jenny?”
Weird. No one has my number. Except George. “Yes?”
“I saw your number on the wall.”
A string of giggles and a click. I hang up and drop the phone onto the counter.
Fantastic. I have a phone number guaranteed to draw prank calls.
The phone rings again while I am sliding a pizza into the oven. I glance at the caller ID. UNKNOWN. I ignore it.
Two hours later I am putting my office together. Hanging bulletin boards, arranging books on the shelves, untangling the miles of cable that make my computer work and connect it to the rest of the world.
The land line rings. I answer without checking the caller ID. Honestly, I’ve already forgotten about the morning’s events, about my unfortunate phone number.
“Hello,” I hold the phone between my shoulder and chin as I reach up to add another book to the top shelf.
“Jenny. You ignored my call earlier.” The voice on the other end is rich, rolling, masculine.
“Who is this?”
“Hmm. I don’t think I’m ready to give you my name. Let’s just say I’m someone whose calls you should take.” The words sound like an order, a command, but they feel more like a seduction. His voice is so smooth.
I feel my brows furrow, dig down deep into the flesh between my eyes. I turn from the bookcase and sit down in my rolly- chair. This may be a prank call, but so far it is entertaining, and a lovely break from work. I settle in for a bit of fun.
“Why is that?”
A chuckle. “It’s in your best interests. And mine. We have a lot to offer each other.”
“Tell me what you want. Right now.”
The first thought that comes to mind isn’t one I’m willing to share with him, this man who is only a mysterious voice on my phone. It involves him no longer being on the phone. It involves him being here, with me.
“An idea,” I finally say. I hope he missed the pause.
He chuckles again. A chuckle that says he didn’t miss the pause, that he knows what I’m really thinking, what I really want right now. “Hopscotch,” he says.
The word knocks everything out of my head. It is so random, so not part of any thoughts that had come before. So innocent.
And exactly perfect.
“Oh,” I say, the word little more than a breath.
“You’re welcome,” he says.
“I gotta go.” I hang up the phone without saying thank you, without saying goodbye. I have work to do.
Thirty minutes later I have a complete story board ready to send to my boss. It is probably the best work I have ever done. It is lovely. It is sweet. It is inspired. Inspired by my faceless voice of a man.
I have one tiny flicker of guilt as I press send on the email, sending the story board to New York. I didn’t give any credit to the voice in my ear. No acknowledgment that the idea was not one hundred percent my own.
I sit in front of the computer, tapping my fingers on the light wood surface of my work table. I hope they like it. But it’s not really hope. I know they’ll love it. That’s not what has me nervous. I’m not sure what does.
The phone rings. Not my cell. The land line. Again.
I pick up the phone and don’t say hello. I know who it is. Well, not really who it is. But I know it is the voice that said hopscotch.
“Jenny,” he says as my email pings with a new message. I click it open without answering the voice. A message from my boss. Gushing. Squeeing. Praise for my brilliance.
“It’s my turn,” the voice says.
“What do you mean?” I ask, pretending that I am as innocent as the storyboard I just created.
“I gave you what you wanted, what you needed, really. Now it’s time for you to give me what I want, what I need.”
“And what might that be?” A few fascinating, filthy images flicker through my mind. I’m not sure I would say no to any of them. I’m not sure I would say no to him. I wish I knew what he looked like, if the face matched the voice. I wish I knew if he looked like I was imagining him.
“You underestimate me,” the voice whispers, a rough caress in my ear. It is a promise. It is a threat.
“You can hang up now,” he says.
The line goes dead. I pull the phone from my ear and look at it, as if it can tell me what just happened. He says it’s my turn to give him what he wants, then hangs up without asking for anything. Weird.
My pondering is interrupted by the doorbell.
Every muscle in my body tenses, freezes. No way. It can’t be my mysterious phone man. It could be George, or a neighbor welcoming me to the building. Or a Girl Scout selling cookies.
But I know. I know it’s him.
My heart jumps into action, pounding blood through my body. I can’t get to the door fast enough. Then I pause, one hand on the doorknob, the other on the deadbolt.
Maybe I shouldn’t let him in. This whole thing is too bizarre to end well.
I turn the bolt.
I open the door and there he is. He is more glorious than I imagined. Tall. Dark. Handsome. Yes, I know it’s the cliche, but all those words fit him. They don’t even begin to describe him. They can’t capture the power, the force, that stood outside my door.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, as if he hadn’t just hung up on me thirty seconds ago.
“I’ve got a thing for Jennys.” His mouth tips, turns, curls into a grin. “And you answered my call.”
There is a sudden flare in his eye, a fire bursting into life. It is not desire. It is not lust. It is nothing human.
I shouldn’t have answered the phone.