cw: mild graphic material and brief mention of physical violence
If you were here right now, you’d tell me this is a bad idea. You’d take away my phone and remind me that you can’t make someone stay who doesn't want to. You’d have saved me from creating yet another shame-inducing memory I’d end up cringing at five years later—while I’m pumping gas into my car, slicing a tomato, skimming the dead leaves from the pool we used to swim in.
While I’ve tried to forget, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that I can recite your number by heart. I’ve memorized it unintentionally, of course, the same way someone memorizes timetables, the Pledge of Allegiance, or the lyrics to Hey Ya! It just happened, becoming a part of my long-term memory over time. It's an inevitable byproduct of growing up in a decade of address books and corded telephones, I guess, and it has placed our generation at the mercy of self-discipline to stop ourselves from reaching out to those who no longer care for us.
I keep track of the number of times the phone rings as I dissect a scab on my knee with tweezers. The left side of my face sweats against the glass phone screen, and I wait with tense shoulders for the rings to morph into your voice. When my scab bleeds, a voice breaks through. Your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice messaging system.
The first digit the prerecorded voice dictates is our lucky number. Her voice is clinical and distant, taking on the same tone you spoke in during our last few phone calls. But since seven is our lucky number, I convince myself by some far-fetched superstition that it's a sign you will call me back.
I have many friends, but only one whom I can tell the following secrets to: I once made out with myself in the mirror. My mom beat me with a hairbrush before our middle school graduation. Sometimes I touch doorknobs three times before opening the door because, if I don’t, my house will catch on fire, my family will die, and you, the one person in the universe I can tell these things to, won’t be my friend anymore.
The automated voice overly annunciates each digit of your phone number, like our mean math teacher from ’09. The divorced one who’d slowly and aggressively dictate long sequences of numbers until I felt nervous and stupid, and you’d delude me into believing she’s just mad because I’m the smartest mathematician the world has ever known.
It’s a fact of life—when two girls spend too much time together, people start to think they’re lesbians. According to the student body, we’re lesbian besties who can’t stand to be apart. At our core, we understand these people just haven't experienced that sacred of a friendship yet. They’ve simply never met a person who lets them speak their internal monologue out loud.
We spend our summers together switching between my pool and the mall, talking about everything and nothing all at the same time. When the water wrinkles our fingertips, I can’t help but imagine we’ll still be friends when time wrinkles them too. We eat our ice cream sundaes while floating on translucent green inflatables. Our ice creams are those prepackaged ones that come with the wooden spoons you can tase more than the ice cream itself.
Later at the mall, with our chlorine-drenched hair, we guard one another from the mall perverts who look a moment too long as we shove soft-baked pretzels dripping in hot cheese down our throats. We know how to spot the weird ones after spending our spring break on Omegle and seeing pixelated dicks from far-off continents we swore would scar us for life.
The mall smells like Cinnabon and fresh-out-the-factory clothes, and that Education Connection commercial is stuck in our heads as we aimlessly walk through Sears. That Sears will eventually be boarded up, but, like the faded digits of your phone number on my old keypad, you’ll still be able to make out the shape where the letters used to be.
It's at this strange liminal space between childhood and adulthood that I realize we’re practically women but without the mortgages, babies, or credit scores. This moment feels like a moment I’ll long to revisit a an adult, a place I one day won’t be able to return, no matter how hard I try. This place will become vaulted, like our inside jokes that we've guarded to stop anyone else from entering. We mark our faces with the free blush samples on display before we leave, like war paint for the battles we didn't know we had ahead.
In November, the sun sets by six, and we spend our nights talking outside my house where no one will eavesdrop. We sit cross-legged on the cold cement, wearing those denim shorts that make our toxic mothers accuse us of asking for it. We swear that when we have daughters, they’ll wear whatever they want, and no matter how strappy or nonexistent their clothing is, we’ll tell them they look nice.
That’s the extent of your responses these days. The longest text message I've seen lately spanned six words.
When we met for dinner just a few weeks before, you feigned sympathy with a high-pitched oh no! when I told you that the left side of my chest has been hurting. You swirled your greasy plate of angel hair on your fork, bored, as I informed you that I planned to visit my doctor. I have an HMO plan with my new position at this new company that I don't think you caught the name of. Maybe it’s a vitamin deficiency or maybe it’s a fractured rib or maybe it’s because the only person who’s ever seen every facet of my personality, fears, and history is now pushing me away.
Yes, I’ve put two and two together. I know what is happening.
I text you often, but your response time averages at eight hours these days.
You were right. Maybe I am good at math.
It’s been three months since I’ve heard from you. And now it’s been
7 . . .
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Disclaimer: The phone number used in this story does not belong to a real person and has been used for fictional purposes only. If you do call this number, you will be directed to the Hall & Oates hotline—a free phone line that lets you press a number to hear your favorite Hall & Oates song. You will not be charged for calling or using this number.