“Hello?”

Short fiction for guests of the WordFeeder.
Sunday, July 17, 2011

Even from their bathroom, over the sound of the shower, “Benny” could hear her phone ringing, the cell phone she’d left on their sofa in the small… no, tiny city apartment she shared with her friend, Denise. (“Benny” was short for “Benjamin,” her mother’s maiden and her middle name.)

“GET THAT!! If it’s Marc,” she shouted, “tell him I’m in the shower, ..naked, ..alone, ..thinking about touching myself, but saving myself…

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll get it,” Denise yelled back. “…How long,” she thought to herself, “can she stay in the shower? No wonder people in the building complain about not having any hot water. Maybe she’s…,” her eyebrows went up, her head angled slightly, her eyes looking around while she thought about it.

“Oh, and Jackie said she gave my number to some guy. I don’t know his name. Says he’s even smarter than he is good looking. ..I suppose,” she mumbled to herself, “I can fake the smart part.”

A few steps later, wiping off her hands on the dish towel she was holding, Denise reached down to pick up her roommate’s phone, spinning and plunging backward against the two soft pillows they kept in the corner. “Hello.”

“Maybe that’s him.” Benny was going out tonight, but then Benny went out almost every night. She was an ambiance chaser, hell bent on getting to the newest club, restaurant or bar – that her boyfriend du jour could afford – ahead of everyone else. Denise would be home, eating something from white cardboard boxes with wire handles, still working on getting enough credits to graduate.

No response, just the faint sound of someone clearing his throat, of someone mustering the courage to speak.

“Hello??” She tried again.

“Hi.”

“Hhiii,” Denise answered cautiously, as if the little word had two syllables, not knowing what else to say.

“My name is, uh, Alan, with one “l,” Coo,” he stopped to swallow, “-per. May I please speak to Nancy?” Nancy was Benny’s first name. He obviously didn’t know her. He was polite, though. Nervous, with a slight break in his voice, like he was just coming out of puberty, but polite which, for Denise, was a pleasant change of pace from the jerks who hit on her at the office and the rare occasions when she’d gone bar-hopping with Benny. His voice sounded good, with a hint of the a confidence that would grow the more they talked.

“Just a minute..” Denise covered the phone, taking a moment to watch Benny rubbing her hair dry on her way from the bathroom to the bedroom they used on alternate months, the other one sleeping on the couch.

“Hi. I’m…” She was about to tell him her name, and that Benny couldn’t come to the phone, too busy getting ready to go out with someone else.

“Hi, Nancy.”

Nothing.

“Nancy?”

“Actually, it’s ’Benny.’ It’s a nickname. But, …”

“Oh. ..Great. Benny. I’m not sure if you remember, but we met at the division meetings last month. I, uh, got your number from Jackie Majors. She said she works with you.”

“Of course. Nice of you to call. What can I..”

“I.. I don’t often just call someone out the blue like this, but I thought, ..I thought maybe we should talk first.”

“First? Before what?”

“Well, I guess, uh, before, you know,” he was stumbling, “before one of us asks the other out.”

“I didn’t know I was thinking about asking you out.”

“Well, you weren’t. I didn’t mean it that way. I just thought we’d talk for a few minutes to see if we get along. If we don’t, then we blew a few minutes on the phone. On the other hand, who knows, I could ask you out. Maybe we could get some dinner, nothing fancy, just some great burgers, steak fries, maybe some homemade cherry pie for dessert, cold…”

“Cherry pie? Is that some not so subtle code for…”

“No. Oh, no.” Alan was on the edge of panic. “I just like pie. We can have cannoli, I don’t care. Whatever you like. ..Forget I mentioned dessert. Just great burgers, fries, cold draft beer, maybe a light beer, if you drink. If not, an ice tea.. I know a place that makes fresh lemonade which is.. delicious. Reminds me of summers at the beach.”

“Alan..”

“I don’t have a Facebook page. I don’t really like the idea of Facebook, but I can email you some references if you like. Everybody likes me, so far as I know. No pretense, but then I guess you can tell. Honest. I’m honest. I believe in being honest in my personal relationships. I haven’t had many, but they…”

“Alan?”

“..ended well, as well as one of us dumping the other can. ..What?”

“Alan. To be honest, and we both agree that honesty is important.”

“We do.”

“I’m not Benny. I’m her roommate, Denise, but I know who you are. Benny and I work down the hall from each other in research. I saw you at the meetings. ..You’re good looking, in a casual sort of way. Nice smile. I remember that. Not particularly suave, but then…

“I, I can be suave.”

“..but then,” she hesitated, not wanting to hurt his feelings, “I don’t like suave. Not really.”

“So you’re the blonde that was sitting at Benny’s table?

“What? No. ..No, I’m the red head, the one with short red hair. Benny’s the one with…”

“I thought Benny was the red head. ..It was you.” Alan was relieved. “You’re the really good looking one with the glasses, the one I was pointing at when I asked Jackie for your number. She must have must assumed..”

“Yeah, it’s a common mistake. Most guys..”

“Hey,” Benny shouted from the bedroom, “who you talking to?”

It wasn’t often men described Denise that way. Mostly creeps hit on her, because girls like Benny, the ones who looked like models, the ones with the heels, makeup and boobs, wouldn’t talk to them. She had boobs too, mind you. They just weren’t as obvious.

“Jackie says the cute guy works a lot and hasn’t dated that much. Maybe a tad,” she let her voice rise, “just a tad inexperienced,” Denise giggled to herself, pressing the glass top of her favorite perfume to the space between the ample cleavage she was sporting, “but I can fix that. ..Oh, yeah,” she said, her voice dropping as low it could go. “I can fix that,” she smiled confidently at their dresser mirror, looking for any imperfection in her makeup.

“Hold on,” Denise covered the phone again, taking a moment to gather her thoughts. “…Hey. I’m back.”

“Hi.” This time Alan’s voice was relaxed and confident. “Is this not a good time to..”

“No, no. It’s good. ..Tomorrow’s Sunday. How ‘bout lunch? Maybe at that shake place in the park.

“Sure. What t..”

“Great. One o’clock?”

“Perfect.”

“Got to go.”

“Uh, sure. See you tomorrow.”

“Right. Bye. ..Oh, and Alan…”

“Yes?”

Denise took a short breath to slow it down. “It was really nice of you to call.” And she hung up, just as Benny came out of the bedroom, both hands engaged in bunching up her long blonde hair into a wild bun with two chopsticks holding it together – easy to let down later when the effect would have its maximum impact. “So who was that? ..If it’s that new guy, I really don’t have any time open until next weekend.”

“It was nobody. Just some guy taking a survey. You don’t like politics. I handled it. ..No sweat.“

And while Benny turned to check herself out in the mirror over the small table near the door, Denise hurriedly deleted the call history, including Alan number, from Benny’s phone.

“Here,” Denise stood up from the couch and handed her roommate her phone. “I told the guy you were a Republican.”

“Whatever. ..Did he sound cute?”

Denise pretended to think for a moment. “Uh, not really,” and then she changed the subject. “..Enjoy yourself. Will you be coming home tonight?”

“I will, and probably, but late, really really late,” Benny laughed. “Don’t worry,” she smiled, turning back on her way out the door. “You know, in case I’ve never told you, thanks for being my roommate. ..You’re the one person I can count on.”

“..Right,” Denise, bobbing her head in agreement. “Right.. back at you.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to join us?”

“Yeah. I’ve got stuff to do. Besides, my one dress is at the cleaners.”

“You have a dress?” She was kidding. “..Hey. You just need to find someone, someone,” Benny smiled, “who likes t-shirts and jeans.” And she pulled their old, over-painted metal front door shut behind her. On her wait down the stairs to sidewalk, Benny tapped and slid her thumb on her phone to dial Jackie’s number.

“Hey.” ..Yeah, he call called right at 5:30. Perfect timing. I hung out in the shower while they started talking. I feel unusually clean. …Right!” she laughed. “Thanks for helping me fix them up. That trick, pretending to give him my number by mistake, was pure genius. …Right. Yeah, right. I’m telling you, I know her. ..Absolutely. If she knew it was my idea, she’d never have agreed to go out with him. …Yeah, I’ll see you Monday. ..Hey, hold on.” She caught Jackie just before she hung up, “is Alan really that cool a guy?” Her affection for her roommate aside, Benny couldn’t resist wondering what she was missing. Pushing open the outside door and stepping as quickly as her heels would let her down the stoop in front of their apartment building, Benny pressed her phone harder against her ear to hear the juicy details over the noise of the city. “Hm. …Oooo. ..Wow. ..No kidding?!”

-wf

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