It was nearly three in the morning. Outside my windows, the city was as quiet as it ever gets. I was stretched out on the sofa in the dark, wearing my silk boxers with the tropical fish print, sipping chocolate milk and watching an old M*A*S*H episode. It was one of the early ones. The good ones. Hawkeye was working himself into quite an emotional lather over a newly-arrived nurse. She was an old flame of his, played by guest star Blythe Danner. Love her scratchy voice.
I was still awake, because I was unhappy with myself. I can’t sleep when I’m unhappy with myself.
I’d made a poor decision at work. It had cost us business. I wouldn’t be laying anyone off, but we’d have to work hard to fill the revenue gap for the quarter. And it was on me. Damn.
My mobile buzzed. I ignored it, but it kept buzzing. A phone call, not an email. At this hour?
The screen showed country code 44, and a number I recognized. I sat bolt upright. Elizabeth Watson. Bane of my life. Horrible little woman. Bossy, arrogant, stubborn, loud, contentious and emotional. Crazed English aristocrat and professional know-it-all. Professor Elizabeth bloody Watson!
My phone continued to buzz. No way. No way was I going to take her call. We’d broken up again, and it was final this time. Screw her.
The buzzing stopped and I put the phone down, pleased with my resolve. Look forward, not back. I wasn’t going give that woman the slightest chance to get her hooks into me again.
But then I had a worry. Why would she be calling so late, New York time? Was something wrong? Was she in trouble? What if, God forbid, it was something to do with her elderly parents, who had practically adopted me?
I picked the phone back up and hit the green button twice. I got her voice mail, damn it. Elizabeth’s posh accent commanded me to leave a message.
“Elizabeth?” I began in the wrong tone. I cleared my throat and lowered my voice. “Uh, yes, Elizabeth. Saw you called. Missed you, unfortunately. Do hope all’s well on your end. Best to your parents, and all that. Yes. Well, goodbye, Elizabeth.” I hit the red button on my phone. And stared at the ceiling.
What the hell did I just say?? Christ on cracker! I’d aped the ridiculous clipped speech of Elizabeth, her family and her whole inbred class. I’d sounded like a squadron leader in some bad British war film. Why didn’t I go ahead and offer her a Pip pip, cheerio?
I was holding the stupid phone to my stupid forehead, considering just how big an anus I’d made of myself, when the device buzzed again. I almost dropped it.
Just one buzz. I had a voice message. Oh. Okay. Dueling messages. Fair enough.
I was about to dial into my voice mail when the infernal thing buzzed yet again. Another live call. I steeled myself. Tried to remember what “nonchalant” sounds like.
“Hello, Elizabeth. How are you?”
“No, not Elizabeth, actually,” said an unfamiliar, but equally plummy voice. “It’s Felicia, Elizabeth’s friend. Have I got you at a good time?”
Felicia? Who the hell is Felicia? “Er, yes, Felicia. How can I help you?” Wait… Felicia… I know that name.
“Super,” said Felicia. “Now, this is just a tad awkward, but you see Elizabeth’s asked if I’d call you to see what you’d like done about some of your things. Things you’d left at her flat.”
And the penny dropped. Felicia was Elizabeth’s ex. They’d lived together. I’d met her once at brunch in London. My ex-girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend was calling me. In the middle of the night. About my things.
“My things,” I said, cleverly.
“Yes,” Felicia continued rather gently. “Elizabeth wondered if you’d like them shipped, or… or whether she should hold onto them for awhile.”
“I… wait, so nothing’s wrong with Elizabeth? Or her folks? She just told you to call me at 3 am… to get my clothes out of her place?”
“Oh, dear,” said Felicia. “I am sorry. I hadn't realized you were in America. Elizabeth was under the impression you were in Africa or somesuch. No, Elizabeth and her family are quite well.”
“I see. Well, that’s good. And yes, I was in South Africa last week,” I replied. “But why the… why didn’t she just call me herself?”
A chuckle on the other end of the line. “She’s in the bath.” Felicia pronounced it as bawth. “She instructed me to ring you up. Quite imperiously. You know how she is.”
Yes, I do know how she is. Issuing commands from the bawth, indeed.
“Well,” I growled, “You can tell Princess Elizabeth that if she’ll box my things up, I’ll arrange for a courier to come collect them.”
“Mmm,” said Felicia. A pause. “If I may… I shouldn’t be quite so hasty, if I were you.”
“Felicia, it may be the late hour, but I’m just not following you,” I said.
“She hasn’t thrown your suits into the street, you understand. I was to ask whether you’d like them returned… or whether she should hold on to them for awhile. Do you perceive a subtle message?”
I didn’t. Subtlety is not always my strong suit.
She sighed. “May I call you Duff?”
“Elizabeth was quite distressed when you parted last,” she said. “It’s why she called me, you see. To—“
“Sure, I see,” I said irritated mightily. “I understand exactly why she called you. That woman is about the horniest little—“
“---hormones out of control---“
“---and you call me in my fish boxers from her place and she’s naked in the tub---“
“Will you stop talking, please!” she said, sharply.
“Listen,” she said. “I wasn’t in the bath with her, for goodness sake. Though you’re welcome to imagine what you like, if that excites you.”
“I…” actually, the thought was just a little titillating. “Uh, what’s your point?”
“My point is that in asking if you’d like her to keep your clothing for now, Elizabeth was leaving a door ajar, so to speak.”
I thought about that for a moment.
Felicia continued. “She still speaks of you. I believe she was quite happy with you. And if you two hotheads---“
“I am NOT a hothead!”
“No, clearly not,” she said, drily. “At all events, I believe were you to send her a note – a polite note – you could expect a favorable reply.”
“And why would you think that? And why should I care?” I demanded.
“Because she had a pregnancy kit last week.”
I stopped breathing. Then, with some effort, started again. Carried my chocolate milk to the kitchen and poured it in the sink.
“Are you still there, Duff?” Felicia asked.
“Yes,” I replied, pouring something stronger into a tumbler.
“Now… the test was negative.”
“Negative,” I said.
“Yes, but now listen carefully, Duff. When she thought she was pregnant – with your child - she was not displeased.”
I leaned against the kitchen counter. Put a hand to my brow. “Not displeased,” I nodded, and took a gulp of Scotch.
“It’s entirely up to you, of course. But it seems to me you two hotheads may have a matter or two left to discuss. Beyond your suits.”
I took a deep breath. “I believe you’re right, Felicia. Thank you for this call.”
“You're most welcome, Duff. Do try to get some sleep, won’t you?”
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