THIS IS A WORK OF ORIGINAL FICTION
It will be serialized over the next several days, and the finale will be marked with the traditional…THE END
“I don’t want this. I want US.”
“I can’t let you forfeit a scholarship to stay with me.”
“So…then I’ll go to Western and you go to State, like we planned. But we’ll stay together…LIKE WE PLANNED.”
“I can’t be apart from you.”
“Then I’ll transfer…”
“No. I just feel like…we’ve only been with each other all this time. You should be able to see whatever’s out there.” Aaron made a unilateral decision after three weeks of what he could only describe as unadulterated bliss, to call things off with Charlsie before he was sure she would. He couldn’t conceive being happier, or even maintaining any level of satisfaction after experiencing that euphoric last month before college. So instead of trying for the fairy tale, he wrote a tragic last page instead. Immature blindness made him rely on fate to write another chapter to reunite them.
“Am I supposed to think you’re all noble and shit now? You’re opening my small world up to shining opportunity by dumping me? Is this your bullshit heroic justification? ‘If you love something, set it free,’ or whatever? You’re not setting me free, Aaron. You’re breaking my heart. That’s what you’re doing. Just so we’re clear.”
“You feel that way now, but…if we stay together…even if we survived, there will always be a part of you that wonders if you settled on me. I can’t live with that. That you could have done better, had more, been happier, but you stuck with the kid from across the street. Because I’m comfortable and easy.”
“You kidding? You are NOT EASY. All this waffling between inferiority and swagger can wear a girl out. Difference between me and you is I think you’re worth it.”
“Don’t make this harder for me than it already is.”
“Oh? This is HARD for you? Just don’t do it. Problem solved.”
“Only my boyfriend can call me Chuck.”
“So we’re done? Not even friends now?”
“Yeah, done. I can’t be friends with you. How can I be friends…? You’ve seen me naked. That’s not ‘friends.’ This is it unless you wanna change your mind right now. It’s ‘goodbye and good luck.’”
“Goodbye and good luck, Chuck.”
“LAST TIME you call me Chuck. Don’t ever do it again.”
“I won’t. I’m…sorry.”
“Yeah…’sorry.’ Hope you’re sure. I walk away from you now…I’m not coming back. If you want me EVER…you have to stop me from walking away NOW.”
Changing global technology, local economics, and personal philosophy left the sensation of her lips on his, her smell, and the heat of closeness alive and unaltered in the empty blacktop lot. He’d seen her face with every woman he looked at since. He had no conscious recall of any day in his life he didn’t think about her.
He took a deep breath and finally stepped into the booth, shaking away the stinging pangs of nostalgia. It seemed smaller on the inside, which was counterintuitive. Without Charlsie sharing the enclosed space, he should have sensed more room, but her presence always drew comfort from the uncomfortable.
He laid the worn phone book open to “A.” He singularly turned pages, prolonging the march toward “Anderson” until he landed on the correct column. He ran his index finger over the toasty, sun-bleached page until he found it. “Anderson, Charlsie…”
“That must be her,” he stated aloud to himself in a moment of gratitude for the uniqueness of her name. He hung the heavy, black receiver on his shoulder and listened to the drone of the dial tone. He punched the sequence of silver keys, and temporarily stopped breathing, just as he had as a kid.
There was no immediate voice recognition this time. “May I speak to Charlsie, please?”
“This is me.” The answer she always gave when asked for herself on the phone turned his demeanor abnormally rose-colored. He pretentiously assumed she’d already made him, as if she was waiting for his call, and just as it had years ago, anticipation overpowered his trepidation. He launched into a series of questions meant to steer her toward a prized end.
“Are you married?”
“No,” she answered casually, believing she was now caught in a survey, as her caller ID flashed an unfamiliar number, but from her own area code. She rolled her eyes and cursed herself for picking up. At the onset of questioning, though, she masked her annoyance, and decided she’d be kind and complete the benign interrogation for the sake of the poor soul working in the call center.
Her nonchalance to his blunt question confirmed to him that she knew it was him, so his tone became even more relaxed. “Divorced?”
“No. Never been married. No committed relationship of any kind at the moment. I’m twenty-nine. I’m not comfortable giving out my yearly income, but I’m a college graduate. Now do you wanna know what magazines I read? TV shows I watch? Laundry soap I use? Or what political party I usually vote for? Let’s just cut to the chase. I have shit to do,” she said, teasing and snappy, but still friendly and free of hostility.
Her flippant manner encouraged him, so he did as she wished. “I wanna take you out.”
“You wanna take me out!?” she asked, quizzical and mildly offended. Her unknowing emphasis on those specific words fed his sanguine attitude. “I think you might get fired.”
“What? How would I get fired? I work for myself.”
“You do? I suppose you’re independently wealthy.”
“I wouldn’t say wealthy, but I’m doing alright on my own. I assume you’re doing alright, too. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna ask for your yearly income.”
“So…you called for…?”
“A date. Do you not know what ‘take you out’ means anymore?” He considered calling her ‘Chuck,’ in a brief moment of doubt, but didn’t. He remembered her categorically forbidding it the last time they spoke.
“You’re SERIOUS?!” She’d moved beyond minor trespass to consternation.
“This ever worked for you before? Calling a girl up out of the blue and asking to take her out?”
“Once.” Shameless to the point of ‘completely out of character,’ he believed he was playing his hand expertly.
“Uh-huh. Couldn’t have ended up well…”
“I did screw up with her. It was the dumbest move I ever made,” he said, referencing her in the third person; a strategic move for storytelling effect.
Charlsie Anderson was taken aback by his original approach and his stark honesty. Her instinct to hang up and forget about the strange event evolved into a form of curious acceptance. “What the hell?”she thought to herself. “Carpe diem, right?” After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, she finally answered, “Alright. Let’s do it. But you can’t ‘take me out.’ I wanna meet in a crowded, public, neutral location.”
“Afraid of losing self control?”
“What a funny guy! I’m afraid you’re a serial killer.”
“Looks like I’m not the comedian, here. I admit to some criminal social blunders, but I’m incapable of murder. Or any violent crime. Damn.” His feelings were hurt at the seriousness she conveyed in her concern. Had he lost that much of her trust?
“OK. I sure don’t wanna make you uneasy. I want ya to like me and everything. Where do you wanna meet?”
“Let’s do Starbucks. Tomorrow morning around ten too early?”
“Nope. Which one? They’re everywhere.”
“I’ll be there.”
“How am I gonna know it’s you?”
“You’ll recognize me. I’m sure I’ll recognize you.”
“A man of extraordinary faith. Intriguing. Can I at least get a number in case the place is so packed we can’t get by on faith? This number alright?”
“No. This number’s from the pay phone outside the old showcase on Matchbox Pike.”
“Are you a fugitive from justice?”
“Told you…not a serial killer. I promise.” He felt discouraged his mention of the location failed to elicit a more resounding sentimental response.
“Well, it’s creepy that you’re at a pay phone in the digital age. AND it’s in the run down parking lot of a vacant movie theater. If you aren’t running from the law, are you conducting some weird social experiment? I don’t wanna be part of somebody’s psychological research paper. This is a real date, right?”
“This is one hundred percent sincere. I’ll email you my number. What’s your address?”
“WimbledonCharlsie@email.com…you know how to spell Wimbledon?”
“Yeah, I got it.” She obviously retained her love of tennis. The interpreted satirical insult of his intelligence caused a smile, and he pictured her playing on some public court, her designer-original legs completing graceful footwork to return a serve.
“What’s YOURS? You know…so I can rescue it from the spam folder if it lands there.”
“I was expecting something way more entertaining than that. Where’d the ’45’ come from? You’re the 45th Aaron Silverman on email? Dull.”
“My high school baseball number,” he said, slightly let down that detail escaped her.
“That’s a little more individual. Better. I like baseball.”
Thinking her droll, he returned assumed jesting with irreverent redundancy, and wryly told her something well within her awareness. “Do you? That’s a lucky turn my way. Baseball is a religion for me. It falls right behind my family, friends, and career in order of importance in my life.”
“I like it almost as much as tennis,” she honestly replied, detecting no farce in his statement, and including none in hers. “My two favorite sports to watch.”
“Why those two?” he asked, hopeful that she’d give a reason regarding the two of them.
“No time limits. I like to watch people control their own destiny.”
“Best answer ever.”
She smiled in spite of surreality. “Well, on that note, I’ll look forward to getting your number. Don’t stand me up.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Guess I’ll see you tomorrow morning then, Aaron Silverman.”
“I can’t wait.”