I am in the kitchen now, the phone on speaker as I get myself a drink. There’s a can of beer and week-old takeout in the fridge. I crack open the can, hoping the satisfying pop-then-hiss goes unnoticed. It does. She talks and I drink.
“Are you listening to me?”
I allow myself the satisfaction of two heavy gulps. They echo loud enough in my ears that I don’t hear the annoying shrill her voice has adopted. The beer is cold and bitter and tastes like victory.
“I’m listening, Jess,” I tell her. I’m not. I fish a word out of her prattle.
“Your coworker is a bitch. You won’t believe what she did the other day. No, really—,” and off she goes again.
I log onto Facebook. The first post on my timeline is a video of a sneezing cat. It has twelve thousand likes. Why am I on Facebook? I hit refresh. I have a friend request, bright and red and juicy. It’s the girl I met on the train. I’d helped her with her bags and made a rubbish joke about luggage. She’d laughed. God knows why. I remember liking the sound. I told her my name and she curled her foreign tongue around it. I stared at her mouth after that till she bounded off at her stop.
“Tom.” A distant call, muffled. “Tom.”
Shit. I’ve been silent for too long.
“You know what I think, Tom? I think you’re not listening to a word I’ve said.”
“Jess,” I go. The girl, Claudia, is pretty. A warm kind of pretty that you want to wake up next to and indulge in before your alarm clock blares. She is smiling with her eyes in her profile photo. “I’m tired. Don’t start this.”
It’s the wrong thing to say. I don’t think I care. Claudia likes The Strokes. She posts statuses in French that I paste into Google translate. She curses in them a lot. Merde. Merde. I think I’m smiling.
“What does that mean?” She starts this.
“Nothing,” I tell her.
“Do you love me? Tom, do you hear me? Tell me. Tom. Do you love me?”
“I love you,” I go, but it lacks conviction. It sounds tired. I’m tired. I’m met with silence and say, “I love you, Jess.”
There. The trick is to sound breathless, sincere. I can tell she believes me. I believe me. I accept Claudia’s request.