I sat at the wood-finished kitchen table over a morning cup of coffee on hold, waiting for the operator to pass me to billing. The news played on the large television above the crackling fireplace. I could see the anchor’s lips moving but gleaned no sound. Images of wars and rumors of wars flashed on the screen. I gave brief prayers over thoughts for the people soon to be in early graves.
Thick clouds left no room for the sun to peek through. The concern of snowdrifts had authorities close the Yakima Highway. I can’t grocery shop, so I’ll be having leftovers. I sighed. Leftovers of everything I once loved turned to white wine and check marks on a bedpost. I run through women who won’t commit to a night, let alone a life.
“Hello, sir,” the operator said with a hospitable, sweet southern draw. “I understand we’re having problems getting you to the right department.”
“I’ve been waiting for ten minutes!”
“Okay, sir. We’re not talking to each other like that.”
“Please tell me this is the correct department,” I said, ruder than my usual self, running my free hand through my thick, dark hair. My new computer continued to crash for no damn reason. Mental note: don’t buy refurbished computers, not online, not from anyone.
“Well, Happy New Year to you, too,” the woman said in a tone that reddened my cheeks with shame.
I rolled my eyes. “Look, I’m sure you’re a nice person, but the two previous operators transferred me to a fax machine. You’re number three.”
The woman’s giggle crackled through the receiver.
“I’m glad you think this is funny.”
“Well, you know what they say—”
“No. What do they say?” I played along and let out a sigh I didn’t know existed.
“The third time’s a charm. Let’s knock on wood and hope I’m your last,” the woman said.
The words pulled at something in my hopeless romantic complex. The way she said it gave me a flirtatious vibe. Maybe I was reading too much into it.
“And you are?” I said, breaking the silence between her fingers, pecking on a keyboard.
“I’m trouble, but my parents call me Bella.”
I smiled. Was she trying to butter me up? “Bella is a Hispanic name, right?” I arched a curious brow.
“No one has a monopoly on names, dear.” Bella gave a polite chuckle, still pecking on the keyboard.
My mind drifted back to the woman’s southern accent. Thirty years ago this September, my high school sweetheart, Ana Davison, headed to Virginia for college — a long way from Seattle. Ana moved here from Texas in the eighth grade. Mr. Becker gave Ana extra credit to tutor me after school. Ana taught me more biology than the teacher intended. I’d never been happier to need a tutor. Ana had long, red hair that dangled below her shoulders. And I was sure Ana’s busty chest helped with her grades.
We did everything together. We’d skipped school to make love near Ashford Creek in the backseat of her ’88 Subaru. It was a stick shift, and she drove it well and rode me even better. Ana’s unique, dark sense of humor tickled me to cackle. Whenever I’d get upset with my foster parents, Ana told me to breathe, or she told me a knock-knock joke with a morbid twist. Or we’d play Would You Rather for hours. We’d come up with more problems than solutions. My solution existed in the love’s hope we had—the hope for a lakeside cabin where we’d raise a family — that is, if happily ever after were possible.
I still remember the day Ana’s mother found out we’d taken each other’s virginity. Mrs. Davison’s emotionless stare told me she wasn’t happy. But she didn’t raise her voice either. I was standing there, listening to her mother tell me she didn’t hate me because we slept together. It was an out-of-body experience I hadn’t felt. Mrs. Davison didn’t want to push Ana away, especially when her dad wasn’t in the picture.
We’d promised to stay in touch, and we did for a while. Then one week’s missed phone call became two, then three, then five months. Four years after Ana left, I sent her a Facebook friend request. Ana sent a quick message. She told me she’d found a life partner; then blocked me. I deleted my Facebook but kept my Twitter account. We both moved on with our lives. Still, the temptation to create a fake account to see how she was doing crept even me out. I divorced a woman I’d met on a blind date. We’d signed the divorce papers five years ago.
“Fletcher. Where did I hear that name before?”
“It was one of my foster parents’ last names. The family invited me to—”
“What was your name before that?”
“Okay, this is getting awkward,” I said. “Do I know you?”
“It’s… I had to change my name because of an abusive ex-husband.”
“Wait, you’re sure you’re the same—”
“Yes, we fucked in the Subaru. It’s me.”
“I thought you went to law school and met your soulmate?”
“I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in science and a teaching certificate.”
“Biology?” I grinned.
“You got it, buddy.”
“Why are you answering calls at a computer office?”
Ana giggled. “I own the shop. We’re training the new girls.”
“I can’t believe this is happening.”
“I’m sorry I blocked you on Facebook. My ex cut me off from the outside world. I was so in love that I looked past his flaws.”
“I’m glad you came to your senses.”
“I found you on Twitter. I added you, but use my dog as a profile picture.”
“Can I be your last?”
“Third time’s a charm.”
The tears in her voice mended my broken heart.
(© 2022 AC)