Better Love

By: Daisy Prescott

To all the men who rock a little salt with their pepper.

FOR A FULL minute, I stared at my phone like I had no idea how to operate it.

My finger hovered over a number I hadn’t called in years. A number I should’ve deleted five years ago when I walked away from my so-called perfect life and everything I thought I wanted.

I told myself this was business—helping out a friend who found himself in a mess. The kind of nightmare only the best could handle, turning a shit-storm of negative attention into a shiny rainbow.

Even as the phone rang, I told myself I could hang up at any second. My finger hovered over the screen to end the call.

“Hello?” she answered.

The impulse to hang up grew stronger. I wondered if she could hear me breathing like some sort of creeper. I hadn’t made a prank call since I was in junior high . . . about thirty years ago. With smart phones, did anyone still make prank calls? I had no idea.

Surely she wouldn’t still have me saved in her contacts.

“Daniel? Daniel Ashland?”

She hadn’t deleted my number. Or she had it memorized. My pulse picked up its pace at the idea of either of those things being true.

“Hello?” Her voice sounded farther away. “Hello? Of all things, I get butt dialed by Asshat Ashland. Are you fucking kidding me with this day? Like I need more crap sprinkles on top of this shit cupcake of a day.”

Then she hung up on me.

I knew with certainty that the feeling settling over me was one hundred percent junior high boy anxiety. Out of nowhere, and without even speaking to her, she’d reduced me to an awkward, nervous boy calling a girl. Only I wasn’t asking her out on a date.

I ran my fingers through my hair. Silver streaked the thick dark mane I’d been so vain about in my twenties and thirties. No, I wasn’t a boy calling a girl he liked in social science.

This was impersonal business, something I used to excel at.

A former colleague calling in a favor.

She might enjoy working on cleaning up Erik Kelso’s image. Even if everything else had changed, I didn’t doubt Roslyn still loved a challenge.

Putting personal feelings aside was something I mastered years ago. I could do this.

I hit call again.

“Seriously, lock your phone—”

“Did you call me Asshat Ashland?” My voice rumbled in my chest, halfway between annoyance and amusement. “I haven’t heard my old nickname in years.”

A single soft, feminine gasp came through the speaker. My mind conjured up the image of her full lips forming an O to make the sound. I wondered if her pale skin still blushed or if time had jaded her too much.

“Hello, Roslyn.”

“I, I . . . no words. I have, no, wait, why, uh, I.” She fumbled through a random collection of sounds. The sharp PR shark I remembered was always perfectly composed and never flustered. “Nope, nothing.”

I chuckled at her inability to form a complete sentence.

“Don’t you dare laugh at me, Mr. You’ll Never Hear from Me Again. I’m in shock.”

She was right. With one phone call I’d broken a promise I’d made to myself. When I sold my house in Bellevue, I swore to leave the past behind me. All of it.

“I’m not a ghost. Despite rumors and wishes, I’m not dead.”

“I never wanted you dead. Except maybe for a week. Then I got over it.” Clearly not for my ears, she whispered the last words so softly I barely heard it. “And you.”

This was a perfect opportunity to apologize for a myriad of sins committed by a man who didn’t exist anymore, but how could I apologize for saving my own soul?

“I didn’t call to rouse the ghosts of the past.”

“I never figured you for Ebenezer Scrooge. You always hated your money.”

I barked out a laugh. “It might shock you to know that I didn’t give it all away to the most destitute in some desolate village somewhere.”

“Just most of it.” Her admission hung in the air between us.

“Now how would you know that?”

Her heavy sigh confirmed her next words. “There’s something called Google.”

“Keeping tabs on me?”

“It’s my business. When one of Seattle’s most eligible bachelors goes off the grid, it’s a fascinating story. Everyone loves a good story.”

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