Third Time's a Charm
Steps for Surmounting a Problem:
Admit that there is a problem lurking around that is detrimental to your sanity as well as your social life.
The realization that change is within your horizons should not cause shivers to run up your spine but allow a content feeling to surface.
Withdrawal is not easy; it will take strength and a bit of tackling from your friends' part to overcome this ordeal. (That's right, you have to tell others of your problem—vocalize, darling, vocalize.)
Walk away—no matter how hard this is, it is up to you to do the last part. Walk away from temptation, ignore the tingling sensation in your fingertips, the shaking of the arm that is pushing you towards your downfall—ignore all of this and you will be the winner.
My fingers gripped the pamphlet tightly causing the edges to curl under as I took a deep breath. My eyes skimmed through the steps again, taking in the words that would soon encompass my life. I could do this, I thought, watching the words blur under my unblinking eyes. I could change, I could become a winner. No, that isn't a competitive streak surfacing but the conclusion that I could overcome this ordeal. Oh hell, I sound like the damn pamphlet.
You wrote the damn pamphlet.
I ignored that thought, even though it echoed in my brain. So what? I wrote the stupid thing, it's not like they have a self-help guide to get rid of my problem. I should know I harassed enough of the clerks at the bookstore trying to find it. I saw the twelve step guide to becoming sober, to quitting the nicotine rush, even how to overcome stalking. I had various reading choices all about moving on with life and how a man isn't going to solve all problems. But was there a guide to triumph over random dialing?
No one cares that I have a problem, a problem that is engulfing my life and causing my phone bill to skyrocket….! Okay, that might have been a little over the edge, but seriously if you saw my phone bill, you'd be pretty worried as well. A change is a must.
I glanced at the phone sitting on my desk, staring at those small little buttons that are urging me to press on them. With my eyes closed, I took a deep breath, trying to ignore the feeling. I pictured the phone floating in the air—away from me—and towards my gas stove which some how ignited and burned that pesky demon to hell. I wiggled my nose—hey, I'm no genie but I can hope right?—and opened my eyes.
The phone was still there, taunting me.
Nahnahnanah! Nahnahnanah! Nahnahnanah! Nahnahnanah!
I stuck my tongue out in a childish gesture and rolled my eyes. I blew my hair out of my face and slumped further into my chair, glaring at the object. Nugget, my lazy black lab, was lying on the couch, staring at a piece of strand that was being blown by the fan. Relaxing on the headrest, his brown eyes moved back and forth with each sway. I rolled my eyes though I knew I couldn't argue. Nugget tends to have a problem with laziness, but when it came to walking he was ready as ever. Just goes to show that change isn't that hard. As if we were on the same wavelength he raised his head and barked. He could vocalize. Why couldn't I?
"I have a problem," I said out loud, my forceful tone disrupting the silence which enveloped the apartment since I first walked in. I gave Nugget a pointed look as if to say 'so there,' but his response of rolling out of his tongue ruined my momentary happiness.
The first step is done; I admitted that there is a problem detrimental to my sanity—and my social life, I thought as I realized it was a Friday night and I was home alone staring at my phone. Was I waiting for a boyfriend to call and apologize for being late? Nope. I wasn't even going to get a phone call from the Chinese Take-Out down the block to confirm my order. Nope. I was alone.
It only took seven sinful numbers to change that…
I shook my head at the thought as I pushed my chair away from my desk. I stared at the phone one last time before getting up and walking away. I was seconds away from leaving the room when I heard the sound of a vibrating phone. I paused in motion, arguing if I should glance back or walk away. Stupid pamphlet. I glanced back to see my phone lighting up and spinning around. I sighed; a change didn't happen over night. I walked back towards the desk, my fingers already stretched out as I grabbed the now-silent phone. Flipping the cover open I saw 'missed call' on the screen. Going through the motions of checking who called, I stilled when I saw an unknown number.
I felt as if fate was urging me to make the call.
You want to dial…you want to dial…
Evil. Pure and utter evilness.
I gave into the urging. With my eyes closed, I randomly pressed seven numbers, waiting to see who would pick up on the other end at the same time dreading the thought. Nothing is ever perfect, I thought. When I heard the ringing, I sat back down into my chair, pushing it back to lean against the wall as I propped my feet up onto the desk.
"Charlie's Pizza? This is Riley, how may I take your order?"
I hung up the phone at those eleven words. One rule was established when I first started random dialing. I know, I know, who need a rule for this, but at the age of nineteen I knew that it was important.
Has five years really pass since I started this?
You'd think by now I would have given up on this adolescent game, but for some reason it was interesting to talk to complete strangers. You never know what to expect. Sometimes I was met with the dial tone; other times I could spend hours talking to an elderly on tips of knitting. I learned so much by seven numbers. Of course, there were times when I wanted to disregard that one rule and actually take a risk, but something always stopped me from doing that. I couldn't argue that I was afraid of taking a chance, throwing caution to the wind and all that jazz. I went bungee jumping two months ago—something I thought I would never do—but was somehow talked into. I spoke my mind even when I knew there was a possibility of hazardous repercussion that might follow. I was a risk taker in fashion; I took risks at work by trying new ideas out that could fail. I was always open to new things, except one. I never took risks on with random dialing, maybe because that was a risk itself. Never knowing who would pick up on the other end, never knowing if you were talking to liar and a fake. The whole thing was veiled with secrecy all because of that one rule.
Never reveal your identity.
Can you picture it? Talking to a random stranger only the stranger turns out to be a deranged serial killer looking for the next victim to fall straight into his lap. Hello? A phone call from a random twenty-four year old female is the perfect scenario of a killing spree. Although my overactive imagination tends to get the best of me I still couldn't give up the random phone call. Who knew I might meet my perfect match—on a Friday night? Yeah right, I thought with an undignified snort.
I closed my eyes again and started pressing numbers. Using my shoulder to hold the phone next to my ear, I walked out of the living room and into the kitchen. It only took five measly steps—the wonders of an overcharged apartment. As I opened up the refrigerator to see what was inside, I listened to the soft rings.
Ketchup. Mustard. Mayonnaise.
A bottle of water. Two cans of Pepsi. One container of orange juice.
Yesterday's batch of Chinese take-out. A leftover slice of pizza from Wednesday.
With a sigh I grabbed the lone slice of cheese pizza and a can of soda. Maybe my empty fridge is telling me that I should learn some culinary skills. I closed the door with my hip when I heard the tired voice echo through the phone. "Look Jesse, I really don't care that you slept with her. We're through."
I scrunched my nose and closed my phone. "I'm betting that would have been a good story," I said in the empty room. Somehow the pizza, can of soda, cell phone, and a napkin in my hands, I wondered into my miniscule living room. Opting to sit on the couch instead of at the desk, I leaned back into the cushions, staring my broken television set. Nugget turned around from is spot and made his way towards me. I smiled at his pitiful excuse of a bark as he laid his head in my lap. With a grin and a quick scratch behind his ear, I started dialing again.
"Third try is a charm, right Nugget?"
I didn't even get a bark for an answer.
"Leslie?" the voice asked; impatience mixed with concern echoing in his voice.
"Sorry," I muttered, getting ready to close the phone.
I heard the slight sound of shuffling, followed by, "No it's my fault. Look, I'm not interested in low interest rate or a cheap trip to Florida."
"What about a radio survey about the music you listen to?" I asked, trying to lighten his mood. He sounded tightlipped, not exactly the person I pictured talking to on a Friday night, but beggars couldn't be choosers.
"I don't listen to the radio," he said, the lie resonating past his low tone.
"Oh that's too bad," I said with a grin. "I was hoping you would be my last call and I would finally be able to go home. I would lie and say that I filled my survey quota of the day, but I have a problem with lying."
Nugget raised his head as I said that. I rolled my eyes, who knew I would get caught my own companion? What a sad day this world is coming to.
The man sighed. "I listen to the radio," he muttered.
I laughed. "That's nice to know but why did you tell me that?"
"But didn't you just ask—I'm too tired for this," he griped with confusion.
"Sorry, I couldn't help it. I'm not taking a survey nor am I an annoying telemarketer," I paused dramatically before declaring, "I'm a random dialer."
"A what?" he asked, baffled by my announcement.
"I have a tendency to randomly call people. Spur up life and all that interesting stuff."
"You touch my life, I'll touch another?" he asked.
"Oh goodness, no. I'm not asking for you to call someone else. I just do this, well, because I can."
"Good reason," he quipped.
I groaned at his smirking tone. "This isn't coming out right, is it?"
"I've never been randomly called," he answered. "Are there some sort of rules I'm supposed to follow?"
"You're laughing at me," I said woefully.
"No, I'm really not." His conviction was ruined by his muffled chuckle.
"Hardy har har," I miffed as I opened up my can of soda.
"So mystery woman, how did you get into random dialing?"
"You make it sound like a dirty profession," I muttered.
"I'm sorry, but you have to admit that this is odd. Why can't you just write a letter to a stranger or send an email to a random address?"
"Because this keeps a person on his or her toes. With letters or emails the receiver has time to think and respond, but with a phone call that's not possible."
"Interesting theory, one that can be detracted if I don't answer," he quickly replied.
"But you did, thus proving my point," I answered with a smirk.
"Maybe I'm a witty on my toes type of guy," he retorted.
"A guy that happens to be home waiting by the phone?"
"Who said I'm waiting by the phone?" he asked.
"You answered within the one and a half rings, you're desperate," I chortled.
"I have the power to hang up right now," he threatened.
"And forever be known as the man who made me quit random dialing," I said sadly, shaking my head.
"You're going to stop?" he asked, surprised by this statement.
"I've entered a four step program earlier today," I said happily. I had the odd ability to change moods within seconds, it drove people crazy.
"They actually have help for this? I never would have expected it, though I have to say this phone call isn't setting a good example to your change."
"Another thing you'll always be known for, your presence destructed my chances of change," I answered deciding not to mention the fact that I was the only participant in Random Dialing Anonymous.
"I feel tears coming to my eyes," he quipped before asking, "Why does everything that is remembered about me involve you? How do you know I'm not some genius inventing a cure for dying flowers?"
"Dying flowers, interesting choice of words," I answered breezily. "Anyway you don't want my imagination to be involved in this profession—and my imagination would be needed to picture you as a genius."
"I'll ignore all the comments except one."
"Which would be what? Choice of words? Profession? You not being a genius?" I asked, settling farther into the contours of the couch, a small smile gracing my face. Maybe this conversation wouldn't be as bad as I expected it to be.
"No to all. What do you picture me as?" he asked carefully.
"You're voice doesn't sound old—" I started to say, but he interrupted to ask, "Doesn't sound old?"
"Will you hush—"
"Hey you're the one who called me, not the other way around."
I sighed in frustration, discounting all previous thoughts about him being an interesting person to talk to.
"Continue," he ordered with a superior tone.
I glared at the phone as I thought about hanging up. My fingers moved to close the phone but Nugget brushed my hand away with a playful whimper. I smiled, dogs knew best right?
"You're not the first person I've called, though by the way this is going, you might be the last. And no interruptions," I instructed when I heard him start to say something. "I've gotten used to guessing what a person looks like. Judging by your voice, I'd say you're somewhere between your late twenties and early thirties."
"Twenty-eight," he meekly answered.
I groaned. "Don't reveal you're identity," I said quickly, slightly rising from my spot as he divulged his age.
"Is this a rule?"
"It is the one and only rule that holds a great importance in this whole conversation. Random dialing is supposed to be about secrecy—well at least that is the way it works out in my mind. I get to know you, you get to know me, but that's it. I don't tell you who I am; you don't tell me who you are."
"Doesn't that take away from the whole getting to know you spiel?"
"Do you always voice questions?" I asked, frustration leaking into my intonation.
"With an attitude like that I can understand why you're sitting alone randomly dialing people because no one wants to talk to you," he sneered into the phone.
I leaned back into the couch, my mouth hanging open at his words. He didn't know me, he couldn't judge me, I thought even as tears began to make arrival known.
"Thank you sir and have a nice day," I said politely before hanging up and tossing the phone down on the couch next to me.
Nugget brushed his tongue against my cheek, taking away the path of tears with his own slobber. "Lovely, just lovely," I whispered as Nugget barked. "That's why I have a four step program; no longer will I have to deal with idiots like him." Nugget barked again, staring up at me with his brown soulful eyes. "It's a good thing I hung up on him; you would have to if you heard what he was saying." Blink. "Don't look at me like that, he deserved it."
The phone started to vibrate on the couch, distracting me from the one-way conversation I was having with Nugget. Nugget jumped towards onto the other cushion—a shock for me because I never seen him move that fast unless I had a leash in my hand—and pushed the phone closer towards me with his paw.
"I'm not going to answer it," I declared but my hand didn't seem to follow that command.
I grabbed the phone during the third ring and answered. "Hello?"
"I'm an idiot, a complete fool. I shouldn't have said that to you, can you forgive me?" he quickly said.
"You're not supposed to call back," I stated with a grin.
"Is this another rule?" he asked.
"Well not really. I've never had someone call back before."
"Let me guess? Another thing I will always be remembered as?"
"You can't choose what you want to remembered for. That would be leaving specific footprints in the sand instead of taking a regular stroll. But enough about that, whose Leslie?" I asked. The pain that came from his words slowly receded because of his apology.
"I'm surprised your number wasn't blocked."
"Excuse me?" I asked, wondering where he was going with his statement.
"I just assumed with random dialing that you would block your number so that no one could call back. After you hung up I checked my previous incoming call list and there was your number-no name-but there was a number. Doesn't that also detract from the obscurity?"
With a laugh and a shake of the head, I started to explain. "After I printed out my pamphlet for quitting, I decided my first step would be unblocking my number."
"So I was unplanned?"
"An accident waiting to happen," I agreed.
"Why does this make me feel like an unwanted pregnancy?" he asked out of the blue.
I laughed until there was a stitch in my side. "How'd you get that?"
"Stupid condom broke," he exclaimed ruefully.
"Did you start this conversation to avoid another one?"
"The one about Leslie?" he asked. I nodded my head, a gesture that I didn't realize he couldn't see. "Why would I do that?" he said gaily.
I smiled at his playful tone, knowing that there were no hard feelings left from previous conversations. "You know you want to tell me," I cajoled.
"Should I lie down on my couch and tell you woeful tales of my past, Doctor?" he retorted.
"Since this your first time—I am right on this assumption, right?" I asked and he voiced his agreement. "Well then it'll be free but only this once, you hear me?"
He chuckled in amusement. "At least I won't have to worry about doctor-patient confidentiality since you don't know my name."
"So tell me about Leslie," I encouraged, ignoring his statement concerning his name.
"I doubt that you will give up anytime soon so I might as well get this off my chest. She's by ex-girlfriend."
"What did you do?"
"Why do you think it is my fault?" he questioned raising his voice in anger. "Don't even bother to explain, I already know what you are going to say. I'm sitting by the phone on a Friday night," he said in a falsetto voice.
"I don't sound like that," I scoffed.
"She thinks I spend too much time at work and before you even ask, I do."
"Well is there a reason for that?" I asked. I had the same problem in my life; I spent too much time at work, though I doubted me and my lucky Friday call stayed for the same reason. I have a slight—and I do believe it to be slight no matter how much my friends voice their disagreement—crush on my boss.
I know how cliché is that? A crush on my boss, how sad is that.
A few months ago I decided that a career change was a must and went through that horrible month of trying to find a job. This entailed rejection after rejection. The excuses: I either had too many skills or not the right ones. Didn't people understand that I could learn? Hypothetical question no need to answer. I finally had an interview for a job as an assistant; however, one of the men I would be working with was known to be a complete ogre. It's pretty sad when I don't even know anyone who works for Franklin, Scotts, and Weber Advertisements but I knew that Damien Scotts was known as Demon Scotts. He was known for making his last assistant cry just by glancing at her. Though I believed that was a huge exaggeration I was a little worried because I tended to have faulty watering systems, in other words, I cried at the oddest times. But low and behold I got the job, which I still haven't decided if it was a good thing or not. I finally decided it was because Demon-wait, Damien-was sick the day I was hired.
Now don't get me wrong the pay is fantastic as well as the fringe benefits, but having to work everyday next to Damien was tough. And this wasn't because he was a slave driver; no I had the complete opposite reaction. I have to tell myself not to daydream about his pale blue eyes that seemed to take in everything with just one glance. My knees had the oddest inclination to weaken whenever he grinned—luckily that didn't happen to often and if it did, it was never aimed in my direction. Hell, I could count the times I've actually counted with him on one finger. The perks-or in my case-downfalls of technology. And don't even get me started on when he comes to work in his black pinstriped suit and light blue dress shirt underneath, talk about salivating…
"Are you listening?" the man on the phone asked.
"Ivan Pavlov," I muttered under by breath, hoping he didn't catch wind of what I was thinking.
Luck wasn't on my side because he quickly asked, "What does classical conditioning have to do with work?"
"Didn't you say you were a behavioral psychologist?" I asked.
"Uh I don't think so."
"Oh I could have sworn you just mentioned it."
"I work in an—" he started to say, but I quickly jumped to my feet. My hand was stretched out in front of me as if I were able to ward off the words he was about to say. "Don't say anything else," I yelled, wincing on my own part when I realized how loud I was.
"—firm," was the only word I heard before he started to swear.
When he was done my ears were a slight shade of pink. "I do believe that my self-help guide could be beneficial if you ever decide to—how can I put this delicately—change without the use of soap?"
"How can a program about random dialing help with my cursing?" he asked before exclaiming, "I don't even swear that much!"
I glanced at Nugget who was shaking his head back and forth.
"The first step is to admit that there is a problem," I pacified with a serene tone.
"I'm not the one with a problem," he sneered.
"That's exactly what my alcoholic uncle declared the day before he accidentally ran into a parked truck when he was somewhat intoxicated," I said, not bothering to mention that I couldn't recall ever talking to any of my uncles.
"I still don't see how these two problems can be related with the same self-help."
I played with my thumb ring while I tried to think of the best way to answer that question. I couldn't say that I was the one who wrote the pamphlet though I have to admit it was clever. "The guide is pretty vague—but helpful," I finally decided on those words.
"Vague but helpful? At least now we know why you couldn't even go a day without backtracking. Now you'll never get that plastic phone," he offered.
I gritted my teeth. "What plastic phone?"
"Well I know that some gamblers get fake coins and some nicotine addicts carry an empty pack of cigarettes around, so I just assumed that you would get a fake phone. A real one would be too great of a temptation."
"You're theory astounds me," I said with false amazement. "But we're not here to talk about me, this is your conference time," I said, bringing up our earlier conversation about Leslie.
He sighed. "She didn't like the time I spent at work."
"That's already been established."
"Can I continue?" he asked, aggravated by the turn of events. "We've been together for the past two years. Our relationship started off as a way to stem off pursers on both our parts. Since we both circulated the same events, we thought it would be easier if we just faked a relationship instead of having meaningless dates that would bore us to death. It was sort of like a business deal, one that we both agreed upon, but as—why am I telling you this?" he suddenly asked.
I grinned as I sat back down. "It's apart of the charm of talking to a stranger. You have no idea who I am therefore giving you the confidence to disclose your deepest secrets without a second thought. We'll never talk again and if we do ever meet in some serendipitous event we'll never actually know. Are you beginning to understand the enchantment of random calling?"
He laughed. "Maybe," he said before clearing his throat. "Well here it goes, but I should warn you some of the things I say might sound a little corny," he said so softly that I couldn't help but smile at his insecurities.
"I started to have feelings for her. At first I pushed it off as if it was nothing. When I saw her dancing with another man at a banquet, I told myself that I wasn't jealous that he had the chance of placing his arms around her. When I saw her laugh, I forced myself to look away because I knew if I didn't I wouldn't be able to stop myself at staring at how her eyes sparkle with amusement. There were nights when I stayed up, thinking of meaningless appointments that I could bring her to just for the sake of seeing her. It was when she ended up at my door, crying because her father was sick that I saw myself spending the rest of my life with her."
I wanted to ask if he felt this strongly about her why did he spend so much time at work, but I waited as he continued to talk.
"I placed her on this pedestal, one so high that when she fell, every dream I saw shattered. My friends repeatedly told me of her faults, but I had a blind eye towards all of them. Now before you say anything, I'm not placing all the blame on her. Maybe our relationship was doomed to fail. I think we both hyped everything up, when we saw that our agreement was working we thought, why not make it for real. Do you know that I had the engagement ring in my pocket for three whole months, not to work up the courage to ask her out, but because I knew she would want it to be public? I proposed with the currents of society, not because I wanted to. How sad is that?"
He didn't wait for me to answer. "If our relationship was already deteriorating after two years what would be like in a decade? She couldn't understand why I was always at work. I tried to explain that it was an upcoming company, one that needed a lot of work to become established. She thought that a new company should already be raking in the money. We might have talked to each other, but the words never really made any sense."
"Kind of speaking the same language but never really getting passed the regional accents?" I asked.
He laughed. "That's exactly how it was. I knew she would be telling me something important, but I had a blasé attitude. I didn't care about the latest shoe sale or how she found the perfect dress. Our relationship was no longer this perfect affair that I thought it was. Okay, the sex was good—"
I couldn't help but laugh at his nonchalant tone, he was acting like we were having small talk about hour our days were.
"Randomness, remember?" he asked, his voice illustrating a grin I tried to picture.
"Well at least your relationship was healthy," I tried to gain some sort of stepping stone towards normality.
"But liking someone I work with isn't healthy," he muttered.
How does one react to that? "Cold feet?"
"When she first started working at the firm, I already knew that my relationship with Leslie was falling apart. We were going through the motions, acting like a couple when we were in public but as soon as we entered our apartment we would end up sleeping in different rooms. She didn't try to hide the fact she was seeing other men, just like I wasn't trying to hide the fact that work was more interesting than talking to her."
Once again, my mind was blank when it came to a response.
"I'll admit at first I didn't give her a second glance. She was just another worker, one that would probably drive me insane within a few weeks or would be a godsend. She turned out to be a godsend, one that attracted my attention without even knowing it. Do I have a problem with that?"
"Does she like you?"
"I don't think she sees me than anything other than her boss. The only time I've ever talked to her was when I was sick with the flu, not exactly the best circumstances for a meeting. I usually correspond with her by emails."
"You're her boss?" I asked, flabbergasted by the turn of events.
"Please don't start in about how that it wrong because nothing has happened. Maybe I should give this up, just forget about the dating scene for awhile. Hey I might even take up this random calling," he quipped, trying to lighten the mood.
"I can't picture it, knowing you, you'd probably mess up the rules during the first call," I retorted.
"I only know one rule, what's the other?"
"Well there's only one," I answered.
"Don't reveal your identity," he confirmed. "That won't be too hard."
"Are you sure about that?" I asked.
He was silent for a few minutes as if he was mulling over the question. "To tell you the truth, I don't think I am. It's just that I don't understand how you can call a random person and find out his or her whole life story within minutes."
"It took more than a few minutes," I joked.
"You know what I mean. This is probably the first time I've ever really talked about my relationship with Leslie. Sure my friends now about her but I never really just talked about her. Does that make any sense?"
"I thought we established that was one of the advantages to talking to strangers."
"But why do we have to be strangers? Don't you ever want to toss caution to the wind and actually get to know one of the callers?" he hesitantly asked.
My heart pounded in my chest as my hands suddenly began to sweat. I wanted to say yes. I wanted to take a risk, but at the same time I was afraid of the outcome. What if we got to know each other and then nothing happened.
He took a deep breath before announcing, "Hello, I'm Damien Scotts, you are?"
My friends and I were talking one night about the odd things we've done. Random dialing was one of the things I mentioned. I've only done it once and actually had an interesting conversation about extraterrestrials—odd, I know. Anyway this came into mind and I decided to give it a shot. It is a one-shot. I already have enough stories going on so I doubt I will continue with this. Sadly enough the protagonist didn't want to take a chance. Well was this good/bad/really don't care? I'd love feedback...