The damn phone was ringing again. Sometimes Fallon wished he didnâ€™t have a phone; he wouldnâ€™t have to decide whether to answer it then. It depended on who it was, whether or not he answered it, but this time he knew who it was. He let the phone ring while he put ice in his drink.
The answering machine cut into the line on the fourth ring. â€œHello caller,â€ the message droned, â€œthis is Fallon. Leave a message and Iâ€™ll call you back.â€ Dial tone, so he checked the caller ID and shook his head.
Before he had time to settle down on the couch and take a taste of his soda, the phone rang. Fallon tensed, making the motions of getting up, but waited, instead, for the answering machine to answer for him. It was probably only Lynne again anyway. Ever since he and his wife had separated, Lynne wouldnâ€™t quit calling. It was his own fault, he knew. After Nikki left, Fallon had allowed Lynne to ease the rancor of his loneliness. It didnâ€™t help that Lynne was having troubles in her own marriage. Now she held on to the affection Fallon had showed her. She called him in the middle of the night when her husband was asleep, and knocked on his door unannounced when she was supposed to be out grocery shopping.
Fallon dragged himself off the couch and crossed the room when he heard the machine beep to see if Lynne would leave a message this time, but the call was from his wife. â€œAre you there?â€ she said. â€œIâ€™m bringing Jessie over. Pick up the phone if youâ€™re there. Iâ€™m calling your cell.â€
â€œHi, Nikki,â€ Fallon picked up the phone and answered.
â€œAre you screening your calls?â€ his wife asked.
â€œNo, Iâ€™ve just got the ringer on the phone turned down,â€ he lied, â€œso you canâ€™t hear until the machine comes on.â€
â€œWell what time do you want me to come over?â€ Nikki asked. Her voice was vibrant even in such mundane conversation.
â€œWhenever youâ€™re ready,â€ Fallon answered. â€œDo you want me to order pizza or something so we can eat when you get here?â€ he asked.
â€œAre you still trying to fatten me up?â€ Nikki said playfully. She was five foot ten, superbly proportioned with long blond hair and Mad Men curves, but still never spent a waking moment without worrying about what she saw in the mirror. Apparently it wasnâ€™t the same thing Fallon saw. â€œBesides, I canâ€™t. My first history homework is due tomorrow. I was going to go to the library to work on it and I want to go work out, too.â€
â€œOkay,â€ Fallon said. He hadnâ€™t really expected she would stay. He tried not to see some sort of gesture or symbolism in everything she said, but it was hard. He was always careful of what he said or did because he didnâ€™t want to give her a false impression. He expected her to do the same, but he knew she didnâ€™t. â€œIâ€™ll be here all afternoon,â€ he said.
Nikki opened the door to Fallonâ€™s apartment about an hour later without knocking. Jessie preceded her mother into the room. Jessieâ€™s baby pictures looked just like Fallonâ€™s, but every time he saw her now she looked more and more like her mother, except for the straight, black hair.
Fallon was stretched out on the couch watching television. He looked like a slide-rule â€œsuitâ€ from the fifties with his close-cropped hair and dark, horn-rimmed glasses with half wire frames. Only the baggy basketball shorts and Nike t-shirt betrayed a modern era.
â€œDaddy!â€ Jessie squealed when she saw him on the couch. Her smile was a sparkling star. Fallon smiled, too, and held out his arms. Her hug had all the purity of a two-and-a-half-year-oldâ€™s love. â€œI want to hold you, Daddy,â€ she said, and Fallon sat her on his lap.
â€œWell it doesnâ€™t look like Iâ€™m going to get to go to the library,â€ Nikki started as she closed the door behind her and headed for the kitchen. â€œThe library at Quad-C isnâ€™t open. Can you believe that?â€
Fallon didnâ€™t say anything. He wondered what she expected at six oâ€™clock on a Sunday evening in the middle of the summer. But Nikki always had to be doing something, like going to the library when she could study at home, working out, going out to eat or to the mall, anything. Even the whole going back to college thing was just something for her to be doing.
â€œDo you have anything to drink?â€ she asked with the refrigerator door open. â€œAnything diet,â€ she corrected herself.
â€œJuice,â€ Jessie said as she watched Nikki rummage through the refrigerator.
Fallon got up to get Jessie some juice and his daughter ran in front of him in anticipation.
â€œDo you want me to order pizza, and you can do your homework here?â€ he asked Nikki again when he got to the kitchen.
â€œIâ€™ve got to work out,â€ she said.
â€œIâ€™ve got a coupon for two medium two-topping pizzas for ten bucks,â€ Fallon tried to entice her. â€œHalf price.â€
â€œI canâ€™t eat pizza,â€ Nikki protested, but then she hedged. â€œDo you know who Confucius was?â€ she asked.
â€œConfucius say,â€ Fallon answered in his best oriental accent, â€œpizza good for figure, Grasshopper.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s Daddy doinâ€™?â€ Jessie asked with a laugh at the Jerry Lewisâ€™ Japanese face Fallon made.
â€œDaddyâ€™s being silly,â€ Nikki said. â€œWell maybe you know who some of these people are. At least we can look them up, I guessâ€ she gave in. â€œLet me go to the car and get my cards.â€
She left and came back a couple of minutes later with her school books and a question, â€œDoesnâ€™t your old boss drive a silver Ford?â€ Fallon nodded even though his heart had stopped. â€œI think I saw her parked out in the parking lot.â€
â€œLynne?â€ Fallon feigned nonchalance, but even he knew the look he gave Nikki was shaky. â€œShe doesnâ€™t even live in Plano. Sheâ€™s in Grapevine or Arlington or somewhere.â€
â€œLook,â€ Nikki said, and went to show Fallon Lynneâ€™s car. â€œAre you having an affair with your old boss?â€ Nikki said in a teasing voice as Fallon came to the window.
A sarcastic, â€œRight,â€ was all Fallon could manage as Nikki pulled apart two of the mini-blindâ€™s slats to show him the car.
â€œItâ€™s not there anymore,â€ Nikki said.
â€œAre you sure it was her?â€ Fallon asked, seeing his chance to downplay the situation.
â€œPretty sure,â€ Nikki answered and looked out the window again. â€œDo you know any of these people?â€ she asked, handing Fallon a stack of index cards out of one of her books.
Fallon looked through the stack of cards. About half of the names were familiar. â€œI know some of them,â€ he told Nikki, â€œthe rest we can look up online.â€
â€œDr. Wright said we couldnâ€™t just use Wikipedia, we have to have some other source, too.â€ Nikki said. â€œThatâ€™s why I wanted to go to the library.â€
â€œWe can look them up in the encyclopedia,â€ Fallon said, glancing out the window again as he handed the cards back to Nikki. He knew the danger was still out there, but surely Lynne had seen Nikki, too.
â€œI forgot you had that encyclopedia,â€ Nikki said as she followed his glance. â€œDo you see her?â€ she asked.
â€œNo,â€ Fallon said, but his nerves jumped as he heard someone walking through the breezeway outside, sure it was Lynne coming to knock on the door. â€œMaybe she came to meet John. Him and Lance were supposed to come over here earlier.â€
â€œWhy would she want to see John?â€ Nikki questioned.
â€œI donâ€™t know, but John said she called him and came over to his house the other night,â€ Fallon explained.
â€œThatâ€™s weird,â€ was all Nikki said as she sat down at the desk in the corner next to the window. The encyclopedia ran across the back between two globe bookends, behind the computer.
â€œGive me the first name and Iâ€™ll look it up,â€ Fallon said. He had just found Confucius when the phone rang. Fallon had four rings to decide. After the first ring he decided to let the answering machine answer, but what if Lynne didnâ€™t hang up this time and left a message instead? He didnâ€™t want Nikki to hear that message.
â€œI thought you said the ringer was off,â€ Nikki said.
â€œI turned it back on after you called,â€ Fallon said, setting down volume 7, COLO-DECI, of the encyclopedia on the desk next to Nikki. â€œI thought you might call again to tell me you were on your way.â€
â€œAnswer it Daddy,â€ Jessie said. Fallon picked up the phone after the third ring.
It was Lynne. â€œIs Nikki still there?â€ she asked.
â€œYeah, sure,â€ Fallon answered cryptically. His voice was flat, full of a suppressed emotion that forced him to talk in almost a monotone.
â€œHow long is she going to be there?â€ Lynne asked. Her voice didnâ€™t suppress any of her emotion, it spilled out with every word she uttered. â€œI want to see you.â€
â€œNikkiâ€™s over. Iâ€™m helping her with some homework,â€ was Fallonâ€™s answer. He could tell Nikki was listening to what he said as she transferred the facts of Confuciusâ€™ life to the index card.
â€œSo I guess I should say goodbye.â€ Lynne said.
â€œThatâ€™s fine,â€ Fallon answered and hung up the phone.
â€œWho was that?â€ Nikki asked before the phone was nestled back in the receiver.
â€œLance,â€ Fallon answered. He had anticipated the question. â€œHe said some chick called his house for John and that John left, so theyâ€™re not coming over.â€
â€œI bet it was Lynne,â€ Nikki surmised.
â€œThatâ€™s weird, isnâ€™t it?â€ Fallon said. â€œLance said he might come over later,â€ he continued as he went to where Nikki was sitting. He reached over her shoulder for the volume with the name of the next person on her index cards.
â€œWhat kind of pizza do you want?â€ he asked. â€œI thought Iâ€™d get one with sausage and mushroom and one with pepperoni and extra cheese.â€
â€œThatâ€™s the kind I like,â€ Nikki said, taking the book from Fallonâ€™s hand.
â€œPizza,â€ Jessie said with her broadest of smiles.
Â© 2012 Wasted Space Publishing