Carefully, I dialed, depressing each number with a steady finger. On my mobile, I could simply press his photo and it would ring him, easy as pie. But I didn’t want to, because that photo was a selfie we took while tipsy and wearing straw hats in the middle of a vineyard. To see the photo would bring the rush of memories attached to it. By contrast, this was just a series of numbers pressed in a particular order. Impersonal. Logical. I was a mathematician; I dealt with numbers every day. And if I took my time, let my fingers press each key without deliberate thought of sequence or pattern, there’d be no trace of it in my memory. So I couldn’t accidentally call him any time of day, or let the numbers unscroll in my mind, uninvited.
I entered the last digit, bringing the receiver up to my ear with a shaking hand.
My heart hammered so hard I was breathing with great effort.
Another ring—but it was cut off halfway.
Bloody cut off, as if he’d looked down at his phone, seen the UK number, and rejected the call.
There had to be another explanation, but my brain wouldn’t find a grip on any.
He’d seen I was calling. He’d declined the call.
I paced my flat. Maybe during work hours he had set his phone to go to voice mail after a single ring. Maybe he was in the middle of a dinner meeting and had automatically declined the call.
I put on a movie, thought too much, fell asleep on the couch. When I woke, the sky was still dark, and the clock over the fireplace read 3:07 a.m. The first thought in my head was of Jensen.
It would be just after ten o’clock at night for him.
Fumbling to my bedroom phone before my brain cleared, I dialed the number from the sheet again—not quite as carefully as before—listening as it rang once. Twice. And then partway into the third ring, it went to voice mail again.
He really had declined the call.
I told myself to hang up, felt the muscles in my arm tense as if to pull the phone away, but couldn’t do it, hating myself as I listened to the greeting, jaw tight, eyes wide.
“You’ve reached the voice mail of Jensen Bergstrom. I’m either away from my phone, or I am driving. Please leave your name, number, and any relevant information, and I will return your call.”
I gasped into the line, eyes burning inexplicably, before slamming the phone back down in the cradle.
I moved back home to the Mums’ two weeks after returning from Boston. Coco cleared out her sewing room—which had once been my bedroom—and with Lele working at the law firm all hours and Coco painting in the attic, it really felt like my childhood was being rebooted.
I had job interviews over the phone with six different people, and follow-up calls with another three firms. I went on two dates: one with a bloke from the R-C offices who I’d been talking to for ages—but only as a friend, and now that I was single . . . well—and another man I’d met on the Tube and whose shoes were polished, and who wore a suit, and who made me think of Jensen. Each date was fine, pleasant even. But in both cases, I’d declined a good-night kiss and gone home alone.
I’d always heard that distance makes the heart grow fonder and scoffed at it. Distance away from any of my previous blokes had only made my eye wander. But here, even only a few weeks after I’d seen him last—and even though part of me wanted to punch him in the stomach for declining my call—it was as though I could think of no one but Jensen.
The two sides of him warred in my head: the man who could be so tender, so funny, so attentive, and the man who could forget when I was leaving town, decline my call, make love to me only when I was conveniently in front of him.
“You’re awfully distracted,” Coco said, sitting down beside me on the piano bench in the front room.
“I’m waiting to hear back from Turner in Boston,” I said, depressing the middle C key with my index finger. Although what I’d said was true, it wasn’t why I’d been staring at the piano for the past ten minutes. But fuck this, and that, and everything if I was going to mention Jensen aloud. “They said they’d like to bring me out for a face-to-face.”
She took my hand and held it between hers, rubbing gently. “You’re not going to look for a local position, just in case?”
Shrugging, I told her, “I don’t want a just in case.”
It had started to rain—a thick drizzle that threatened to turn to snow—but in trying to remain optimistic, I’d packed my workout gear and running shoes anyway, hoping the weather would clear enough that I’d be able to squeeze in some time on the track.
My head always seemed to clear after a good run, and after days of subpar sleep and zero concentration, a clear head sounded pretty fucking great.
Could a brain become congested? I briefly considered asking Hanna the next time we were together, knowing she’d either (a) roll her eyes and suggest I wouldn’t know my brain from my ass, or (b) launch into some unnecessarily detailed scientific response. And although neither of those options sounded particularly helpful right now, they were both preferable to the situation in which we’d currently found ourselves: we hadn’t spoken in more than two weeks.
In essence, I had managed to screw things up with everyone.
Friday morning, I decided to drive to work, to listen to music and mull things over and have some space to myself. One weekend without talking to my sister was fine. Two felt terrible. I wasn’t sure I could do a third, and I wasn’t sure why I should. I didn’t exactly want to apologize, but I didn’t want to blame her for everything, either. The entire thing just felt shitty.