A moment after the beep, in a well-conditioned pavlovian response, he began:
"ThankyouforcallingRiseWirelessmynameisMiles. How can I help you today?"
"I need to go over my bill. It looks like there were some roaming charges that just don't make sense. I was hoping you could help me clear it up," the woman on the other end answered distractedly.
"Certainly. I'll be happy to help you with that today. Can I get your name and the last four digits of your social?"
"Yeah. Lily Haber. Last four is 9046." A few breaths later she said "Hello? Are you still there?"
"Yes. I'm sorry. Just one moment."
Miles struggled to reorient himself. He rubbed his eyes and nodded.
"Yeah. I'm here. I'm sorry, something just distracted me here. What were those last four digits again?"
She sighed. "9046."
"Right." He swallowed and tried not to shake as he brought up her account information. It was her all right. Right name, right place, right age. He knew quality control could be listening. He knew he was supposed to give this one to a supervisor. But, after all, there was no need to mention how or why he knew this person.
"What can I help you with today Lily? Oh, right, excuse me, the roaming charges. Let me just bring your bill up here."
Five years experience had its advantages. He managed to bring up her latest bill without losing track of what he was doing.
"Do you have your bill out right now?"
"Yes. By the way, you guys have got to do something about the hold times. That was just ridiculous."
"I do apologize, ma'am. We do try to serve you as quickly as possible. Now, uh, can you tell me just where the problem is?"
She walked him through the bill. He followed along. The charge didn't make sense, but it was a problem he had seen once or twice. They had sent out a memo about it last week; a bug in the billing system easily remedied by a credit to the customer. No need to call for a supervisor. No drama. Just a few clicks and he would be done.
"Okay. Ma'am I see what the problem is here," his heart raced as he considered his next words. "Unfortunately it's going to take some time. Can I take a moment to handle this and I'll give you a call right back?"
"Uh, sure. I guess that's fine."
"Should I call your wireless number or do you have another line you'd like me to call?"
"Uh, yeah. I have a dead spot in my apartment, so you better call me back on my landline. It's 503-555-7046."
Miles struggled to keep up with the numbers as he jotted down her home address from the information he was seeing on the screen.
As he closed the call he made a point of skipping the part of the script that dictated that he remind the caller of his name.
"Thanks so much for calling Rise Wireless. You'll be hearing from me soon."
QC would probably not look twice at that since this was an unconventional call. Then again, they would wonder why he didn't simply resolve the issue.
As much as he tried to evade the fact that he was playing roulette with his job, that's precisely what he was doing.
He tucked the small note into his pocket, looking around as though he had just pilfered a candy bar.
The rest of the shift passed in a blur of call after call, and he nearly forgot about Lily. But just the presence of her name and number written down and in his pocket brought back the old feelings, good and bad. On this particular night it turned out that he and Jill got off their shifts at the same time. He trailed her out of the building. Her dark hair brought Lily back to his thoughts and suddenly the tiny piece of paper in his breast pocket glowed and warmed up in his mind's eye.
Driving home in the dark his mind stayed hypnotically fixed on her. A familiar cocktail of feelings and thoughts rushed through his brain and his body like a drug he'd been sober from since high school. She was back in his system.
The heady mix was a blend of the thrill activated by her proximity to him and the sick feeling of desperation and fear that had kept him from talking to her before she moved away and it was too late.
He only knew what city she had moved to from eavesdropping. She was still there, in that city. And now he knew precisely where she was.
He thought of getting rid of the paper. After all, it had been a relief when she had left and he had a chance to move on. She had been a terrifying obsession for him since the sixth grade.
And why shouldn't he have been obsessed? Can't fault me for my taste in women, he thought to himself. She was pretty in such a way that he could almost convince himself he was the only one who thought so, but it was more than looks that he had watched. She chose good friends; nice people he was nevertheless terrified to talk to because of their mere proximity to her. She had many developing talents, doodling beautiful landscapes during bored moments that found full flower in the painting class he had cooincidentally taken with her. She liked to wear flowers in her hair, and her smile made him want to weep. She wore white keds that she had personally decorated with stars and stripes.
When he arrived home and his room mate had not yet returned, he flipped on the television to forget her and had a drink. A few more drinks later, and after the room mate had gone to bed, he pulled the paper out and looked at it. Just a collection of numbers scrawled in his own frenzied hand. He thought of calling her, but realized it was too late.
He thought of moving to her city. He thought of putting himself on her street from time to time, hoping for a glimpse. No, he assured himself, she still had her name, so she was unattached. No boyfriends. No children. No exes. Only her waiting for him.
"Why didn't you say anything?" she would ask him after he worked up the nerve to talk to her.
He would smile and push back her hair and kiss her softly in reply. And she wowuld yield to him. And he would be happy, and get a new job in the new city and take care of someone.
He fished out a lighter from the spare kitchen drawer and went to the back porch. He simply stood there in the dark cold, holding up the lighter and the tiny note in a long hesitation, like a suicidal man contemplaying a long jump from the side of a bridge.
The flame almost surprised him, leaping from the gas vent and licking at the edge of the note. He dropped the flaming thing and Lily burned on his back porch.
He was half way to work the next day when he realized that he had promised to call her back to resolve her issue. He would not and she would grow frustrated and lose confidence in the service provided by Rise Wireless. She would call again, exasperated, and talk to someone else, another stranger, in another call center far away.
She would threaten to break her contract, cancellation fee be-damned, and they would transfer her to retention where they would bribe her and woo her and butter her up. But she would say no and hang up and that would be that.
He had let a customer down and might lose his job, but nothing could be done.
It was much too late.