“These late-night talks are probably exhausting for you.” Phil’s voice was low and soft. Chrissy sensed hidden meaning behind his words.
“I like talking to you,” Chrissy said. She flopped onto her bed wrapped in a terrycloth robe and her wet hair tucked up in a bath towel. She held the phone to her ear and rolled onto her back. “All day long I look forward to talking to you.”
“What else do you do during the day?” he asked. Classic avoidance tactic.
“Well, I go to classes, I work, I hang out with my roommates, go to Institute class, you know, the usual.”
“Not really,” he said. “I’ve never lived a usual life.”
“Why not?” She sensed they were getting closer to the heart of what he wanted to tell her, and she let the silence hang in the air.
“I joined the Army right out of high school and figured I’d someday retire from there… or die.”
“Did you come close?” Chrissy whispered.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not really.” His breathing pierced the silence on the other end of the line.
Chrissy shifted in her bed, staring at the ceiling illuminated only by the light coming in the window from the streetlights that flooded the parking lot outside her apartment complex. She wasn’t sure how long she should wait before pressing on or changing the subject.
“Scott says I need to tell you more about me.”
“I’m pretty messed up in the head,” Phil admitted.
“I called you my boyfriend today.”
“That’s… unexpected.” There was a smile in his voice.
“And I want to meet you,” she said.
“I tell you I’m messed up and your answer is to declare you’ve decided to make things official and meet IRL?”
“Yes, you want to meet? Or yes, you want to be my girlfriend?”
“Yes, and yes.” Chrissy giggled and decided to admit the reason. “I looked at Scott this evening when I was handing over your pancakes and realized I’d been associating his face with your voice. And then he spoke, and his voice wasn’t right. So, I know now that I need to meet you in order to associate your face with your voice.”
“If you’re expecting me to look like Scott, you will be sorely disappointed.”
“I’m not expecting you to look like Scott,” Chrissy said. She pulled the towel off her head and shook out her still-wet hair, letting it hang down her shoulders. The ever-lingering odor of pancake syrup temporarily replaced by the fragrance of coconut shampoo. “I’ve decided. I’m ready to take that next step. You promised me once I’d decided either I like you or I don’t, you’d show me what you looked like.”
“You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into,” Phil grumbled.
“And I won’t until I see you for myself,” Chrissy said. She sat up and reached for her comb sitting on the dresser beside her bed. “There will always be this separation between us until we can get past this obstacle.”
“When do you want to meet?” His voice was so soft she almost couldn’t hear him.
“Tomorrow,” she said definitively.
“Yep. I don’t work tomorrow night, so we’ll have the evening to ourselves. I’ll come to your apartment and you can cook me dinner.”
“No way,” he snapped. “I’m not ready for that.”
“Okay…” Chrissy backtracked, realizing her determination was overwhelming him. She paused her hair combing. “What would you suggest?”
“Let’s meet in the clearing where we first spoke,” he said. “We’ll make a campfire and sit and talk. No pressure. Either of us can walk away if it gets to be too much.”
“That sounds fair.” Chrissy resumed pulling the comb through her long, brown hair.
“And it needs to be late at night, so we don’t see anyone but each other.”
“You’re taking this pretty seriously, aren’t you?” She asked gently.
“It’s the only way I can handle this situation.” His terse answer encouraged her to lighten the mood again.
“Consider it a date.” Chrissy tried to tuck some playfulness into her tone.
“Can’t believe I’m saying this out loud, but…” Phil took a shaky breath. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”