“Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.” – Gilbert K. Chesterton
From Tim: Today’s Fiction Friday story is a creative experiment submission from Amy Mitchell. Amy is a family woman, feminist, LGBT ally, reader, writer, and nerd. She does her best writing after 10pm or when fueled by Irish breakfast tea. She likes to think her stories are all part of her evil plan to destroy the world with humor and romance, but they’re really just products of her overactive imagination. You can find her on Twitter at @amyunchained, Facebook, or her blog, Unchained Faith.
After she walked in the door and set her keys on the entryway table, Elisa sat down on the couch in her tiny apartment. She hadn’t been able to solve her computer problems the night before and had needed to wait until she finished teaching for the day to figure out what was going on.
Elisa sighed. She had only just bought her new laptop, and already there were several things wrong. She consulted the booklet and read the fine print. According to the instructions, she was to call the phone number printed on the back rather than returning the machine to the store. She sighed and flipped the booklet over.
She followed the prompts until she heard the light jazz on-hold music. After what seemed like an eternity, a deep, melodic voice said, “Technical support, this is Julian speaking. How may I help you?”
Julian sighed. He really, really hated his job some days. This was not how he had expected to spend his post-college years. He had initially taken the technical support call center job as a means to pay for his student loans. Six years later, he was no better off. He enjoyed the rare occasion that he actually helped someone through a tricky situation, but the majority of the calls were from people who barely knew how to turn on their computers.
When the call came through, he steeled himself for another dull interaction about making certain to plug the cables into the correct ports. He was surprised to see that the call was local this time. Even if it was boring, it piqued his interest that this was someone from right in town. He picked up the phone.
“Technical support, this is Julian. How may I help you?”
The only thing that he heard was a muffled giggle from the other end. He sighed and focused on being polite. If the person didn’t respond to a second attempt, he would put it down as a prank call and hang up. That certainly explained the local area code—they were forever having to deal with kids who knew the location of the call center.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Is there something I can do for you?”
“Oh,” gasped the person on the line. “I’m so sorry. I got distracted. Yes, I’m hoping you can give me a hand with a problem.”
Julian was curious despite himself. He wondered what had distracted the owner of the soft, sweet voice. “All right, lay it on me.”
“Well, I just bought my laptop, and already it’s not working right.”
Julian spent the better part of the next half hour working with the woman, whose name turned out to be Elisa. It took some time, but he hoped he had sorted her out. Before he hung up, he said, “Just give us another call if that doesn’t work.”
“Okay. I will do that. Thanks. Remind me of your name?”
The woman giggled again.
“What’s so funny?”
“I don’t know, I guess I was expecting that you’d be named Steve or Dave or something. Julian is so…classy.”
“That’s me, a classy guy.”
She laughed again and hung up, and Julian replaced the receiver at his end as well. He decided that his thirty minutes with Elisa might just make the final hour of the day bearable.
Elisa found her mind wandering to the mysterious Julian for the rest of the evening. His solutions seemed to be working for the time being, which meant she had no excuse for putting off the various tasks she had waiting. Still, his low, gentle voice echoed in her mind.
She told herself she was being silly. He was just a random guy on the other end of the line at a call center. He probably wasn’t even local, she realized. There was no reason for her to fixate on him; it wasn’t healthy. She determined that it was just a function of the various challenges in her life at the moment and that she was latching onto someone who was in the business of fixing things. She forced herself to put Technical Support Julian out of her brain so she could finish her work and get some rest.
As it turned out, that was easier said than done. Her laptop was still glitchy, and she found herself telephoning the call center for a second time. Rather than having to explain the problem all over again, she requested to speak to Julian.
“Tech support, Julian speaking.”
“Hi, Julian. It’s Elisa. Um, I don’t know if you remember me—”
“Of course I do. You’re the one who said my name is classy.”
He was teasing her, and she felt herself flush. “Um, yes. That was me. Well, the problem is back, and I was hoping you would be able to help.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Okay,” Elisa said. “Well, here’s the thing…”
It went on for about a week. By the end of that time, Julian was convinced Elisa’s computer was working just fine, but he found himself hoping it wasn’t. The guys had started to mess with him over it. Every time Elisa called, they would shout, “It’s your girlfriend!”
Over the course of the week, he learned that she was a Kindergarten teacher, that she played the piano and taught private lessons, and that she lived alone with her cat. He confessed that tech support was his day job, but by night he played trumpet in a jazz band. Elisa’s phone calls always left Julian feeling a little warm all over.
And then one day, the calls stopped. Julian was sure it meant that Elisa’s issues were resolved. He was both glad and disappointed, which felt a little strange. After all, he was in the business of making that happen, right? Shouldn’t he be happy that she didn’t need him?
After three days without a call from Elisa, Julian was starting to wish something—anything—would happen to make the day go by faster. He missed talking to her and needed a distraction. He was staring at his phone, willing it to ring, when the call came in.
“Hello?” His heart was beating faster.
“Hi, Julian? It’s Elisa. I was just wondering…would you like to get a cup of coffee with me?”
Julian was having lunch with Rob and Steve in the call center cafeteria on Friday. They were still ribbing him about Elisa; he wished they would shut up.
“Saw she called again. I think she likes you.”
“When’s the wedding, bro?”
“Lay off, Rob. It’s just coffee.”
He hadn’t actually meant to say anything. When he looked up from his lunch, the other guys were staring at him.
“I’m meeting her for coffee after work.”
“Bad idea, bro. She’s probably a dog.” Rob made a face.
“Or secretly a dude,” Steve chimed in unhelpfully.
“You guys are assholes, you know that?”
Julian tossed his trash and stalked out of the cafeteria. Only six hours to go until he met Elisa. He could make it until then.
Elisa sat with the other teachers in the staff lounge, but her mind was far away. She finally looked up when Allison poked her in the ribs.
“I asked what your plans are. Geez, you are really spacing out over there.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Elisa’s cheeks burned. “Just…I have a date.”
All eyes were suddenly on her. “Ooh!” Crystal said. “With who?”
“Um, remember the call center guy?”
“The one you kept finding things to call about?”
“That’s the one. We’re having coffee when he gets out of work.”
“Oh my goodness!”
That launched a stream of speculation about the mysterious Julian that Elisa could have done without. Somehow, she managed to tolerate it until she could retreat to her classroom. The day dragged by.
In her bedroom, just before she had to leave for the coffee shop, Elisa looked at herself in the mirror. She made a face. No matter how hard she tried, she never looked the way she wanted to. Her hair was a frizzy mess and a frantic search through her closet yielded a whole lot of clothes she would rather burn.
Eventually, she chose something and figured she would make the best of it. She headed to the coffee shop. Inside, she laid her pink carnation on the table in front of her and waited.
When Julian entered the coffee shop, he looked around until he saw the pink carnation. The woman seated there took his breath away, she was so lovely. She had a sweet, round face and dark eyes framed by thick curls of honey brown hair. He sighed, knowing that once she saw him, she would be disappointed. He was so ordinary compared with her.
When she looked up, he saw her beautiful eyes cloud over. He almost turned around and walked out, but he was determined to see it through. Attempting confidence, he walked to her table.
“Hello,” he said softly as he placed his carnation on the table next to hers. “Elisa?”
The man standing in front of Elisa was nothing like she had expected. She supposed she had anticipated someone halfway between hipster and nerd, but he was neither. He was of fairly average build with sandy hair and gentle blue eyes. Unfortunately, when his gaze met Elisa’s, she saw his face fall. Her heart ached. She knew she was plain, but he was clearly disappointed. She wanted to run to the bathroom and hide until their non-date was over and he gave up.
He had seen her, though, so that wasn’t an option. There was nothing for it except to strengthen her resolve and introduce herself. The worst he could do was tell her they wouldn’t be having another date.
By the time she had collected herself, he was already standing by her table. She looked up at him and smiled. To her immense relief, he grinned back.
Coffee, as it ended up, became dinner; dinner became a promise for another one. Friday turned into Saturday, which turned into a long walk and a tender kiss and an up-all-night conversation. Saturday night melted into lazy Sunday morning and contentment and a new laptop to replace the one that still wasn’t working properly.
On Monday, Julian was prepared for the barrage of questions from his coworkers. Naturally, he was not going to give them details, so he had prepared a statement like a lawyer going to trial.
As expected, Steve accosted him on his way in.
“So? How was she?”
“Well, you guys were right. She wasn’t perfect.”
They were laughing, but they stopped abruptly when Julian continued.
“She was better.” He smiled and walked away, leaving them staring after him with their mouths gaping like fish.
Elisa didn’t get the chance to talk to her coworkers until lunchtime. They were all chattering on about their weekends. At last Martie said, “Elisa, tell us about Mr. Call Center. Was he just perfect?”
Elisa set her sandwich on her folded napkin. “No,” she said.
“Aw,” came a chorus of voices full of sympathy.
She smiled around at them then, enjoying being able to keep them in suspense. “He was better.”