Disclaimer: And so anyway, this story was written for anonymous posting/voting in Academy of Bards Challenge #12. For that reason I'm disclaimin' everything. Do not blame li'l 'ol me. It's an Alt/Orig. adult content kinda thingie, since kids won't understand the shameful sexual innuendoes. I don't wanna corrupt them or give 'em any ideas for phone fun. (They haven't paid their dues yet and don't deserve the laughs). Well I'll save the coders the trouble of cutting off my contact info, so ya can't complain 'till later, (hee).
It all began innocently enough in mid-December. It was one of those "happy girl finds an advertisement in the back of Cosmo" kinda thingies. So everyone knows that ads are meant to be read, pondered, acted on, and then regretted later. Pretty normal, especially near the holidays, right? Well this ad, (and here the author bites her lip and galvanizes her resolve to swallow her embarrassment in the interest of journalistic candor), was promoting that modern techno-Cupid, the adult phone line, "Intimate Connections". I was trying to do my Christmas shopping, and being bored at the time, naturally I read on.
Now for starters, the ad promised that callers would make hundreds of new friends from all over the US, using their "private message" and "one-on-one connection" services. The more adventurous callers, (i.e. those who liked to swing), could hustle up some discrete encounters, (of course, this claim brought a bashful blush to the author's face, not that she's a square or anything?). But also there was the hinted implication that maybe, just maybe, a caller could snare that long-awaited Mr and/or Ms Right. I mean it had seemed so positive and straightforward, and so I read on about the technical parts.
All I had to do was dial the toll-free 800 number, tell the operator that I'm a woman (duh!), and record a personal announcement the other callers could hear. What a piece of cake! Four years playing catcher for the company's incoming 6-line network had taught me all I could learn about phone systems, right? On the job as a receptionist I was like a pitcher, slinging calls to sales rep Brian Donner, (who has a belly like a kettledrum). I transferred whiners to customer service rep "Grumpy" Al Halitosis. I sent irate creditors to the head accountant "Dopey" Dennis Dasher. I even have the honor of paging our fearless leader, (that flaming prancer), CEO Miguel "Jock-Strap Mike" Timpani. (Well that's what my friend Effie, Ephiny Margolias in accounting calls him, though she's never 'fessed up about why). So naturally I thought, phone-based dating I can't fail, and no one will ever know if I've scarfed down garlic knots or had a bad hair day.
That night, after settling the apartment and cursing my neurotic cat, I rechecked the ad. I wrapped myself in a blanket on the couch and relaxed, then plucked my cordless phone off the charger, and dialed the 800 number for "Intimate Connections", my gateway to the "babble of the sexes". The operator who answered was rational probably the last voice of reason I was ever to hear that night. She warned me about giving away my personal information and about the adult content I might encounter. Not to worry, I assured her, I've been an adult before. So then after recording a "descriptive" announcement about li'l 'ol me, I settled in to listen to the other people's announcements as the frigid north wind blew sifting snow against my window.
Well, right from the start I knew something was up! The very first one I listened to was in a deep, gravely voice, obviously male, affecting a warbling falsetto and claiming, "Hi, I'm Brittany, a hot, curvy 19 year old Valley Vixen, 5'4", 115, blonde hair, blue eyes, looking for a stern, sexy mommy ". I pressed the #1 key and went on to the next.
This time I heard soft jazz in the background and then a breathy female voice dripping with copious sexual suggestiveness asserted that, "Hey, it's Comet Blue, teen pornstar princess, hot, wet, and waiting for you. Let's do the pussy polka with my boyfriend and The Beach Boys watching, out in the back yard, in the rain, covered with automatic transmission fluid and blindfolded. C'mon, let's connect."
What the hell, I thought, she does sound hot, but if we're both blindfolded, then where's the fun in that? I'm a visual girl. Oh well, maybe she's just into acting out, and besides, automatic transmission fluid is really icky. Now 10-W-30 I could see, but ...? I clicked the #1 key again and continued on my journey.
This time I heard background music that I recognized as the Tennessee Waltz. A gruff male voice from the Old West said, "Howdy pardner, I'm Cowboy 'Doc' Carl from Two-Step, Texas, lookin' to rope me some cute li'l doggies an' bring 'em in fer a visit to my dirty doctor's office. Lemme take ya'll in the back where ya 'ken say 'ahhh' an' worship my hard, throbbing ..." (CLICK) Thank the gods for the #1 key.
Before the next person's announcement played I heard the recorded operator's voice telling me, "Here's a private message just for you."
Someone had sent me a message? Then I realized that this was normal, that another caller had heard my announcement and was trying to contact me. Now forgive me if I seem a bit naive, but I'd never called "Intimate Connections" before. I actually allowed myself to become hopeful. I thought that now I'd get past the lying I'd heard in the first three announcements. Perhaps I'd find a doorway to real romance, or at least a hot roll in the sack. Silly me, I entertained the hope of finding some honor amidst the dross and depravity...HA! The message went...
"Hey baby, you sound like a sexy girl. I'm 57, calling from the East Coast. I'm looking for a young chica for a short affair while my wife is vacationing in Spain. That's right, Daddy needs you for some quick adultery...you are an adult, aren't you? If not, it's okay. I'll take care of you, heh, heh. I've got a time-share on the beach in Kakapo, Mexico where you can go topless. Send me a message to let me know your cup size and when we can meet. Now, what are you wearing? Wanna get naked?"
I stared at the phone seeing red while the recorded operator listed my response options. I could, "Press 2 to send this person a message", "Press 3 to ask for a live connection", "Press 4 to hear this message again", "Press 5 for other options", or "Press 1 to go on to the next announcement". Well, duh! I mean, I'd always wanted to spend December lounging on a beach in Mexico, but I didn't wanna share "Daddy's" time or anything else. The last thing I needed to do was get caught up in a love triangle without the love. I'd be too tempted to murder the sleazy old goat. Then again maybe I'd be doing his wife a favor. Somehow though, I didn't feel altruistic. At least he'd been up front about it, if a bit of a pig, and who knew what his wife was like. (Oink!) I pressed the #1 key.
For the second time in a row I got, "Here's a private message just for you." Oh god, I thought, not again.
"Hi, my name is Brooke...ummm, I guess I'm a little self-conscious about this since I've never called one of these lines before. I found an ad in the back of Cosmopolitan and uhh...I was curious; I didn't know what went on out here. I heard your outgoing announcement and you sounded nice so I thought I'd send you a message. Most of the people here are three chimes shy of a tango and anyway...you probably think I'm an idiot or something 'cause I'm babbling. Is it always like this out here?"
She finished with the most endearing groan of exasperation. I loved her voice!
As the recording offered me my response options I stared at the phone in shock. Brooke sounded like a normal person! She even sounded like she was in the exact same situation I was...a virgin caller. I looked over at the fireplace where the electric logs glowed, then up to the mantle where I left the stuffed bass I'd bought at a garage sale to collect dust.
I think I was in shock. What was she doing out here? Brooke sounded really nice, and though she could be in France for all I knew, at least I might be able to talk with her. It would make the earlier travesty worthwhile.
The response options recording played through again. I shook myself and looked down at the phone. If I didn't respond it would automatically shift to the next announcement and I'd have to listen to another Bozo with a distinct psychosexual twist.
I had to answer Brooke before I missed my chance! I clamped down on the phone in a panic and pushed the #3 key! Oh fuck! I'd meant to push the...what was it, the center button, the #2 key, to send her a message! The #3 key was...
"To request a live connection, record your message to this caller after the tone"...
AHHHHHH! Now what do I do? Now what do I do? OMG!
(BEEP) "Duh-uhh, thanks for your message Brooke...umm...I've never called this line before either and yeah, everyone I've heard out here sounds psycho. It's actually kinda scary! I found the ad in Cosmo too...just this afternoon, waiting in line to check out at Wal-Mart. You don't want to hear that stuff. I feel like an idiot. I pressed 3 by mistake. I meant to press 2. Not that I don't want to talk to you! You sounded nice. You're the only person I've heard out here that I would talk to so...(BEEP)
Huh? It cut me off!
"Your message has been sent."
You've got to be kidding!
Just kill me now! I hadn't been so mortified in decades, not since I'd been forced to play the xylophone in a grammar school play while some of the other kids stumbled through a ballet recital like a bunch of drunks. Thank god I hadn't been a dancer! The performance had gone south from the start. One little girl had actually thrown up, hurling from center stage because of the stress. She'd plastered the cymbals and...I couldn't remember ever sounding like such an idiot on the phone. I'm a receptionist for Christ's sake! Brooke would hear me and just hang up. I knew it. It's what I'd do if I'd heard me.
"Your connection request has been accepted. Get ready for your live connection."
Wadda ya mean get ready? Ya mean chew my nails down really fast? My heart started pounding like a set of cheap percussion instruments. (BEEP)
It's her! Say something...anything...whatever comes to mind!
"I'll bet everyone on this line gets ready for their live connections by ditching their clothes." OMG...Did I just say that?
"Whaaaat?" Yup...guess I did.
"Huh? Oh, I was talking to myself...sorry..." Well that apology sounded pretty lame.
"You seem excited. Am I making you nervous? I know this is a strange situation."
"It's really strange...I mean, not about talking to you...I mean, I talk to people all the time. I'm a receptionist," I explained, as if that would redeem me.
"I see," Brooke said, sounding a bit unconvinced, "are you upset from talking to some of the other people here?"
"Yes. I mean, no! I mean, I wasn't talking to them. I'd only just started listening to them and then some old guy sent me a message and wanted me to go topless with him to Mexico and cheat on his wife and the cowboy doctor wanted me to say 'ahhh' and worship his...the pornstar wanted...." I was babbling pathetically.
"Your announcement was only the third one I heard. The first one was from a sleepy man who was calling from work and was bored to death. The second was an evangelist harping about heathens worshipping false idols. He messaged me claiming that the covetousness of our leaders would drag us into a war. He was hung up on foreign oil."
"I heard about transmission fluid..."
"Nevermind. All the people I heard out here were pervs. I mean, between the two of us I think we heard blasphemies against all 10 commandments reduced down to one word each. I'll keep 'murder' for myself. I kept pushing the #1 key. Next, next, next, reject, reject, reject. It was like The Gong Show...remember that?"
She laughed at my comment; a light happy sound like sleigh bells. I found myself smiling in response.
"I guess it had me flustered, and then you messaged me and you sounded sane and nice. It was a surprise since I'd figured no one out here was real."
"I'm glad I messaged you," Brooke said, "I think you're nice...or at least you're awake and you're not a religious fanatic."
She was silent for a while and I listened hard, my ear squashed against the phone. I could hear faint sounds in the background. To make conversation I asked about them.
"Brooke, what am I hearing in the background? It sounds almost like tribal music."
"You can hear that? It's the club downstairs. There's a salsa fusion band...maracas?"
"And guitars and bongos, right?"
"Yes! And congas and a tambourine. The theromin player must be on a break."
Even as she spoke I heard the unearthly electronic wailing of the instrument kicking up in the background. The notes bobbed and wove like a welterweight. It got really loud. The other thing I noticed was that it echoed faintly.
"Brooke, do you hear an echo?"
"No," she replied, "you have an echo in your phone?"
"This would be the first time," I said. Then I thought of another possibility, something IÍd encountered at work while wearing the system's headset. "Can you hold on a sec?"
I unwrapped the blanket and got up off the couch, then walked to the window that overlooked the street. Two floors below I noticed a theft in progress, a confederacy of boy-criminals stealing the radio from a car. Around them, the wind drove loose swirls of snow across the sidewalks. I heard it press its icy fingers against the panes, testing their integrity and slipping it's nails through the weather-stripping. Cold radiated in from the air outside, like the rays from a TV in a darkened room. I reached out and clicked open the latch, then braced myself against the frigid December night and pulled the window up a few inches. It screeched in protest.
It was just as I'd suspected. The echo in my phone immediately became more pronounced. I looked a block uptown towards a storefront club called Primary Colors. A couple came out reliving their dances, turning a few steps in the snow before spinning each other into an embrace. A cab beat a traffic signal that was just turning yellow and disgorged another couple who hurried inside.
"Are you opening windows? Aren't you freezing?"
Her comment made me shiver with awareness of the 20-something degree air washing over me. I slid the window closed with another screech and latched it tight. The echo diminished and my teeth started chattering to make up for it.
"Y-ye-yessss," I stuttered, hugging myself with one arm as I held the phone against my ear with the other to stave off frostbite. "Th-the c-cold's bl-bli-blitz-en me."
"Huh? Blitzen? Like Blitz-Krieg?" She giggled again and that made me feel warmer. The Brooke innocently asked, "What are you wearing?"
I gagged on that one.
"Did you just gag? Are you sure you're all right?"
"Uhhh, s-sweat pants and a tank top?" I answered belatedly. And so why did I want to say, I'm naked, how about joining me?
"No wonder you're freezing! It's the middle of December," she reminded me. Then after a pause, "Are you hot?"
Hot for you and we've never even met, I thought in a giddy brain spasm.
"Actually I'm w-warming up now." Uhhh-huh, yeah.
"Good. I like you being warm, even if you're shivering a little," Brooke said softly.
Somehow she said this in a way that could be taken out of context so easily. Like maybe hearing those words tickling my ear as she drew her nails up my thigh to make me shiver? I honestly have to admit that I was finding my imagination being triggered by her words and her voice. Was I becoming enamoured of phone sex...I shook my head to settle my brain back on track within its compass points.
"Actually, I'd opened the window to check something," I told her. "The echo thingie."
"What echo? Oh, that's right. The echo you were hearing in your phone. Did it go away when you cold-shocked yourself?"
"No, actually it got worse," I told her.
"Next to the club downstairs, is there a barbecue restaurant that has a neon outline of the Liberty Bell on the front?" I had to ask this just to be sure.
"Well, yeah," she admitted hesitantly, "the Liberty Bell BBQ Pit...you know the place?"
"I get carryout there a few times a month," I told her. "Actually, ummm...I think we're neighbors," I concluded.
I heard a distinct gasp on the other end of the phone. Then silence. Then a giggle that grew into a full laughing fit. As it went on I felt a smile on my face answer it. Finally she trailed off.
"Maybe we could meet," she suggested, "I like the baby back ribs even though the portions are soooo big."
"That's a great idea," I gushed, "meeting, I mean...and well, I could share your ribs baby." Hell, I'd eat ribs from reindeers. Continuing enthusiastically I claimed, "I can be there in ten minutes!"
For a moment she was silent and I wondered if I'd scared her away by being so eager to confederate. It was so forward that I'd actually astonished myself, but that had become a habit during this call...being astonished that is. In fact, this was the most chaotic experience I'd ever had with a phone. It easily outclassed getting four simultaneous incoming calls at work and finding that three were for "Jock-Strap Mike". I bit my lip and looked at my hand, calculating how much I could gnaw at my nails. If the silence lingered much longer I'd have to say something, posit some sort of tactical retraction and give her some space. After all, she didn't know me from Sneezy of the 7 Dwarfs. Even so, I hoped she was a brave girl. I really would fly out the door to meet her. There was just something about her voice that sent tingles up my spine and made me get stupid.
"Uhhh, I don't think I can meet you in ten minutes," she finally said.
I knew then that I'd blown it by pushing too fast. She'd backpedal, reclaim some distance, and I'd be lucky to even talk to her again. Instead, Brooke explained...
"Ummm, you see..I'm naked."
I honestly believe I blacked out for a second when I heard that. When I came to, she was saying, "Hello? Are you still there? Gods, I just realized how that must have sounded. You must think I'm another psycho. I'm so sorry, I'm actually sitting in a bubble bath with my cell phone on speaker. That's probably why you could hear the band downstairs. Hello?"
"It's okay. I'm lightheaded...I've gotta finish coming to..." I stopped dead in the middle of my sentence, realizing how it must have sounded. I was mortified...again.
On the other end of the phone there was silence. Then a splash...and a chuckle. Then laughter. Finally Brooke guffawed. I was beet red and I couldn't look at the phone. After a few minutes she managed to control herself enough to ask, "does it help you work up an appetite, or will it leave you sleepy?"
"Kill me now," I muttered.
"Oh no," she teased, "you're too much fun. I'll kill you after we eat and hang your hide up with the six flags over Texas in their dining room. I can meet you in twenty...it'll give you time to cum too."
(BEEP) "I'm sorry, but your free courtesy time has expired."
All I could do was stare at the phone. It said?
"If you'd like to make a call, please hang up and try again...to make a call please hang up and try again...please hang up and try again..."
(BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP)
I woke up to my neurotic cat kneading my hair and purring cat food breath into my nose. I was lying on the couch wrapped in a blanket, the phone in one hand. The Cosmo had flopped open to an article entitled, "Understanding BaseballPositions Can Bring New Life To Your Relationship". I groaned and hung up the phone. The whole experience had been just plain weird, even more so since it had all been a dream, and therefore, all in my head. That damned ad must have slipped me a hypnotic suggestion.
All the next day I couldn't get that stupid dream out of my mind. It haunted me and I found myself reliving parts of it off and on throughout my shift. My working efficiency was impaired as a result. I sent the private call from "Grumpy" Al's boyfriend to "Dopey" Dennis, who's his incompatible ex. I bit my lip and winced when I heard the shouting coming out of the accounting office. Effie and Marga would spill the sordid details later and Rhea would never let me live down the gaff. I barely made it to 5:00 pm and didn't escape a lisping tongue-lashing from "Jock Strap Mike".
Naturally I decided to treat myself after what I could only consider a bad day. Consolation could always be found in food and so I drove like a zombie to pick up my dinner at the Liberty Bell BBQ. Somehow I managed to find a parking space only slightly farther from the restaurant than my apartment. I went ankle deep in slush getting out and finally came through the door after a gust turned my hair into a gorgon's mane. I went to the checkout counter to wait for my order.
While I waited I looked around the dining room. There were the flags my imaginary Brooke had mentioned. I stared at them as if I hadn't seen them a hundred times before, wondering how such a detail could have taken on such profound significance passing through my subconscious.
A hand tapped me on the shoulder as a throat cleared to get my attention. The hostess had brought my bagged dinner out from the kitchen.
"One rack of baby back ribs, corn bread, and a baked potato?" A sultry brunette I'd never met asked. "They're my favorite too," she added with a conspiratorial smile.
I gulped as I met her eyes, dead ringer that she was for Tsianina Joelson, who'd played Queen Varia.
"Yup, that's my order," I said, then asked, "are you new here?"
"Yes and no," she told me with a mischievous smile. "I started working here again last week but my parents own the place, so I've been in and out of here since I was in junior high."
"Ahh-ha, that explains it," I said. "I've been getting carryout for the last four years since I moved into the neighborhood. I wonder if I might have seen you in here sometime. You seem familiar."
She smiled at me and laughed lightly. "I'm pretty sure you have. I'd see you coming in sometimes but I usually wasn't out front. I mostly worked back in the kitchen, so I got to recognize the 'double sour cream on the side' request that went with your baked potato."
"Still order it that way..." I checked her name tag and choked, "...uhh, Brooke."
She smiled and offered her hand, "that's me. I don't think I ever knew your name all these years, so I always just called you Gabrielle. You look like her, you know."
I blushed, feeling self-conscious. Effie always said the same thing and I'd gotten looks when we went out clubbing together back when the show was on. It had trailed off the last few years though. "I've had people tell me that," I admitted. "My name's Renee."
This time it was her turn to choke.
"I know, I know," I said, waving my hands dismissively. "But maybe we could go out together sometime and pick out the diehard fans by their reactions to us."
Brooke laughed at the idea and then handed me my check. Beside the total she'd scrawled her name and number.
"Call me?" She asked seriously.
"Your connection request has been accepted. Get ready for your live connection."
"I promise," I told her, and knew I would. Probably later that night. Maybe we'll even make an intimate connection.
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