Ringer

Published October 21, 2011 by Christa Maurice

Want to start at the beginning?

 

 

Sonya found Colleen at her desk Tuesday afternoon doing paperwork. “Do you know why the ringer on our phone is turned all the way down?”

No,” Colleen lied. She’d spent almost every moment of the last two days hiding in her bedroom, under the covers. She hadn’t even managed laundry. Just washed up some undies and called it a day.

I wondered why it hadn’t been ringing oh, ever so I looked at it this morning and it was all the way down. I mean I don’t have any kind of social life, but you get calls all the time lately and I haven’t heard the phone ring at all for a couple of days. Speaking of which, you got a call.”

Mike or Dan?’ Colleen asked.

Neither. It was some guy named David. He just said to tell you that he’d called. So where did you meet this one?” Sonya smirked, but it melted into a frown. “What? What’s the matter with David?”

I met him in college.” Colleen could hear the lack of strength in her voice.

In college? Back in Ohio?” Sonya sounded aghast. “He must have it bad for you if he tracked you all the way out here. Is there something wrong with him?”

Have it bad. He must have it bad. So maybe he did really love her and maybe she should give him another chance. But what if she gave him another chance, lost Dan and Mike and he hurt her again? Did it matter if she lost Dan or Mike because she might never be able to trust them either?

What’s the matter, Colleen?” Sonya asked.

Colleen shook her head. She couldn’t have explained what the matter was if she had a month and lots of coffee. Someone paged her and she picked up the phone. Sonya waved, still frowning as she walked away.

Colleen, there’s someone here to see you at Main Info,” MaryAnn said.

Who is it?” Colleen’s stomach knotted.

A guy,” MaryAnn said sarcastically.

Thanks, that narrows it right down.” Colleen shot back. “Is it a customer?”

She listened for a moment while MaryAnn asked. “No, he said he’s got a nice shiny badge if you’d like to see it. Colleen, have you been trafficking illegal pandas again?”

Illegal pandas? Only a Chinese history scholar would pop off with that. But if he had a shiny badge it would be Dan. Bad enough, but not catastrophic. “Very funny. I’ll be right out.”

Mike, not Dan, leaned on the Info desk grinning. He had a shiny badge too.

Hi. I tried to call you at home, but nobody answered so I figured I’d stop on my way home.”

Oh, sorry. I guess I haven’t been around much.” Lying was getting easier all the time. “Do you have time for a cup of coffee?”

I don’t have to stay if you’re busy.”

Colleen glanced at her watch. She was off in about an hour and because she’d spent the better part of the day hiding at her desk, all her office work was done and there really wasn’t much for her to do on the floor. Dennis wouldn’t mind if she sat in the ebar drinking coffee either. He was still embarrassed about magnanimously giving her the day off on her day off. “I’m not busy right now. What have you been up to? Anything interesting come through over the weekend?”

Mike launched into a story that involved a kid, a drainpipe and a terrier that had her laughing before she’d even gotten their coffee. Waiting for their order, she noticed a police car slide past the windows. She really had to tell Mike about Dan. It wasn’t fair. It hadn’t been fair before either of them knew. Now that Dan knew, it was really unfair to Mike.

I was wondering what you were doing after work. You get off soon, don’t you?” Mike asked as she sat down.

She smiled. He knew her schedule. “In about an hour. What did you have in mind?”

Well, we never did get to that Thai place and a buddy of mine was telling me about a great new disco that just opened up.” He glanced out the window. “It’s a little late to go snorkeling for your first time, but I do know a guy who runs night dives if you’re up for it. That could be fun.”

Fun, she thought. All Mike thought about was fun. It was refreshing. She lowered her eyes to her cup as if considering his options, but let her eyes linger on the open neck of his tan shirt. Would he consider sex fun? Sonya was closing and she was suddenly feeling a little warm. She could picture him in swim trunks, wet, in the dark water. She patted her cheek to hide half her blush. “I haven’t been dancing for a while, but I’m not really dressed for it either.”

That’s okay. I thought I could pick you up at your place for a late dinner and then we could go to the club.” He sipped his coffee. “What do you say?”

Colleen opened her mouth to agree and heard her name paged. She sighed. “Hold that thought.” She walked over to the phone thinking how easy things were with Mike. If she had told him she had plans tonight he would have just suggested tomorrow. He would not have asked what she was doing or probably even wondered. He was perfectly okay with not knowing. She dialed the phone.

Hey,” Gary said. “There’s a Dan on office one for you.”

Oh, good. Thanks.” She groaned. Perfect Dan timing. He had promised to call today. She supposed she should have guessed that he would call at exactly the worst possible time. She ducked into the kitchen and picked up the office line. “Hi Dan.”

Hello Colleen. You’re about to get off work, aren’t you? I thought I could come by and pick you up for dinner.”

I can’t tonight.”

Oh?”

There were volumes in that mild question. “Yes. Oh.”

Let me guess. The paramedic beat me to you.”

Does it matter?”

I guess not. You open again tomorrow, don’t you?”

Yes.”

Can I get dibs on dinner tomorrow then?”

Trying to keep things even?”

Dan chuckled. Even with Mike waiting for her, the sound was thrilling. “I’m doin’ my best, darlin’. So, tomorrow night?”

Yeah, tomorrow night. You can pick me up at my place about five. How’s that?”

Perfect. Just out of curiosity, does he know about me?”

Colleen grimaced at the receiver. “Not yet, but he will by the end of the evening.”

And you think I’m a Boy Scout. I’ll see you tomorrow night and you can tell me how he reacted.”

Because no doubt you’ll get it out of me.”

Why does it bother you that I’m so interested in you?” He didn’t sound defensive or annoyed, simply curious.

I’ll see you tomorrow night, Dan.”

Five sharp.”

Goodbye.”

Bye darlin’.”

Colleen hung up the phone. She wasn’t sure why she was so bothered by his interest either, but it seemed to have become part of her natural reaction to his questions. She walked out of the kitchen. Mike caught her eye and smiled. He didn’t ask any questions. He wouldn’t even ask who called. She sat down across the table from him. “Listen, I have to come clean about something.”

Okay.” Mike said easily. He leaned forward without a trace of nervousness. “Shoot.”

I’ve been dating another guy.”

Okay.” Mike nodded. “So you don’t want to go out to dinner?”

No, I want to go out with you. I just wanted you to know I was going out with someone else at the same time.” Colleen frowned. She expected him to be at least concerned. Dan had been concerned enough to grill her.

Oh.” Mike leaned back in his seat. He looked into his coffee cup thoughtfully.

Is that…okay?”

Okay?” he repeated. “Sure. It’s a free country, isn’t it? I mean, I’m glad you told me. You’re a great girl. I guess I’m surprised there’s only one other guy.”

Really?”

Sure. You’re a lot of fun, Colleen, and I really like you. And it’s not like we’re in a serious relationship. We’ve only been out a couple of times.”

I just wanted you to know. In case it changed things for you.”

He grinned. “Not a thing.” He drained his coffee cup. “Listen, I’m going to head home and change. I’ll meet you at your place about six. Is that good for you?”

Perfect.” She smiled as he stood.

He leaned down and kissed her cheek. “See you in a little while.” He walked away whistling.

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