Long Distance–Chapter 4: A Brief Fiction

by jimowensjr

Author’s Note:  If you haven’t read chapters 1-3, scroll back and you’ll find them in the three preceding posts.  


Ian didn’t sleep that night.  Haunted by the wraiths of what if, he kept turning the events of the last few days over in his head.  What if I don’t call?  What if I do?  What if this is a scam?  He kept trying to solve for all the variables, find the most probable outcome, and minimize his risks.  His mother had called it wrestling with God.  Only he wasn’t Jacob and come the dawn there would be no blessing.


Spreading a thin layer of shaving cream across his face, Ian saw a much older man than he’d seen in the mirror a week before.  “You look like hell,” he said to himself.  But somehow he managed to drag a razor across his face and remove the stubble along with a bit of his fatigue.  He splashed his face with cold water after he finished and slapped at his cheeks, coaxing some color into them.  When he finished dressing, he poured himself a second cup of coffee into his favorite mug and headed for work.


He had told himself he would call the Alethia during his morning commute—just be done with it.  But he was rationalizing why he should wait a little later in the day when his cell phone rang. He knew it was Mike because he had assigned his friend with Vader’s March as a ringtone.  The bom-pom-pa-pom, pomp-pa-pom, pom-pa-pom of the dark side roared through his speakers.  He spilled half a cup of hot coffee into his lap.


“’Sup dude?” asked Mike.


“Well, if you must know, I’m cursing you at the moment.  I spilled hot coffee in my lap when the phone rang.”


“Don’t be a hater, bro,” said his unfazed friend.  “We still on for racquetball tonight?”


“I dunno, Mike.  I didn’t sleep at all last night.  Not any.  I’m exhausted.  I look like a Bassett Hound with a case of chronic fatigue syndrome.”


Ian hadn’t expected it, but Mike actually showed some genuine concern for his condition.  He told Ian he had been worried about him.  He knew Ian hadn’t been sleeping.  But he hadn’t wanted to mention it.  It was part of the man-card thing.


“Are you still wondering about that phone number?”


Ian paused.  He was in no mood for any of Mike’s tough love.  But Mike’s faint compassion gave him enough courage to take the chance.


“Yeah.  I am.”


“Look, I know you’re gonna do whatever you gonna do, no matter what I say.  And that means you’re gonna call her.  So just do it.  Get it over with and see if you can’t get some peace about this thing,” Mike said with an unfamiliar restraint.


“I will.  I was thinking about it when you called.”


Inbound traffic was worse than usual that morning, moving like a sloth through the trees of Atanta’s asphalt jungle.  The congestion boxing him Ian, both on the highway and within his own thoughts.  So he picked up his phone and punched up his contact list.  He pressed Alethia. 


She wasn’t in his list of favorites.