“Hello?” I answered the phone as I entered my front door. I didn’t look at my caller ID before I picked up the call, but I didn’t think I needed to! Based on the timing, I assumed it was one of my fellow teachers calling to say they would be late, which would have turned into a huge hassle for me since I would have had to contact everyone else to postpone our plan. I crossed my fingers that no one would cancel, that would have ruined idea completely! I bristled at the thought of that event! Another student went missing today, and each delay could cost another kid their life! Or at least their freedom, I wasn’t sure exactly if they had actually died! A small part of me dared to hope that it had been Lilith frantically trying to reach me to immediately stop me from signing those divorce papers because she had changed her mind but based on her lack of communication during our separation and the paperwork that had come without any sort of personal touch, I finally accepted that it was unlikely that she would ever crawl back to me! I supposed that it was still vaguely possible, but I no longer let myself count on it. After I already entered the conversation, it occurred to me that a telemarketer might have randomly decided to give my number a ring right then, and normally, I would be nice to salespeople after my experience in that industry, but I didn’t have much time to entertain anyone that day. I had already readied myself to hang up on them when…
“CONNOR!” my mother’s voice shrieked so loud that it hurt my ears! Her volume had gotten so booming that I felt compelled to hold my phone away from my head in order to save my hearing! “Why the hell didn’t you tell me you sold your house?”
My eyes grew extremely wide when she said that, and I was glad that she hadn’t initiated a video chat for this discussion! I hadn’t given out my new address to my family members initially due to my assumption that Lilith would return and we would go back to Philadelphia before the next instance where a relative would visit me, it’s not like that happened so often, but I now realized what a grave error that had been! I could tell my mom had went over to my old penthouse only to find me not there, so I didn’t blame her for getting angry with me! I just hoped that I could say something that would calm her down enough to forgive me quickly! “I never used to tell you about every single sale I got, so I figured why should this time be any different?”
I chuckled at my joke with the intention of having her share a laugh with me, but she hadn’t found that the least bit funny! She scolded me, “You didn’t think it was important to tell your parents that you made a major decision like that? We came over to surprise you with dinner since we hadn’t seen you in months, and some Italian businessman answered the door. He didn’t speak much English, so he didn’t understand our confusion about who lived there! He almost called the cops on us! How is it that neither you or your wife thought to tell us about such an important event?”
“Uh…” That would have been difficult to explain under regular circumstances, but I could see my colleagues arriving at that very moment! How could I thoroughly go over the facts of my situation in the, like, thirty seconds I had? I knew I would pay for this later, but I decided to hastily rattle off a summary for them before I ended the call, “Lilith left me ‘cause I paid more attention to my job than her, so I quit Novak Neander, moved to Terrible, I mean Terra-Belle, and became a substitute teacher to try to win her back. I have an important meeting to go to right now, so I’ll have to give you more details later! Love you! Bye!”
“Wait, what? Hold on, don’t-!” My mom tried to persuade me to divulge more, but I hung up. I felt terribly guilty about doing that, I mean, I just unloaded so many bombshells on them! I knew that they had so many questions for me, but I couldn’t spare the several minutes it would take to properly describe everything that happened! In a way, I much preferred going this route since I didn’t have the chance to overthink about how to reveal this stuff to my folks, but I knew I would get punished for my abruptness later! Yes, I’m forty years old and I still worry about getting in trouble by my mom and dad! But once I could tell the world how important this mission was, I knew they would forgive me. For the time being though, I put my phone on silent and hoped their ire wouldn’t grow too much as I joined my vampire league outside.
As soon as I approached the rest of the crew, Fletcher greeted me with, “There you are! Are you gonna hurl every time we do this?”
I responded, “I didn’t get sick today, believe it or not! My parents called, so I told them that I couldn’t talk ‘til tonight.” After fibbing about why I bolted inside yesterday, it felt so good to be honest with them today! “Okay… Did we decide who’s pairing up with who?”
“We were just trying to figure that out,” Ginger let me know. “I think the final verdict was that Aleck could ride with Fletcher, Phoebe can go with Ellie, and you can come with me.”
“No, you didn’t wanna go with him! You’re gonna ride with me, remember? Connor and Phoebe will have to go together!” Ellie differed with Ginger in a way that suggested that she strongly wanted me to ride with Phoebe.
Ginger hadn’t picked up on her hints, so she puzzled, “You said you never wanted to go in my car again ‘cause you despised my taste in music!” Ellie gave her a reproachful stare, and then Ginger caught on to what her objectives where with that statement. “Oh! You’re right! In that case, you can choose the station we listen to!”
Awkward! As Aleck headed to Fletcher’s truck and Ellie followed Ginger to her vehicle, I wondered why Elle had so firmly insisted that Phoebe and I travel together! Had I made it too obvious that I had feelings for her? I mused myself with the concept that perhaps Phoebe harbored some affection for me too and that maybe Ellie was trying to hook us up, but I didn’t see how someone so ideal could have that kind of emotion about me! I was surprised enough to have her forgiveness after yelling at her about my ex, but I couldn’t imagine that a smart woman with her life put together could ever develop passion like that for a chaotic mess like me! I worried that she had requested a session with me because she had detected my yen for her and wanted to turn me down gently, but when I gazed at her beautiful face, she radiated total sympathy, so I reasoned that they had all deciphered that I had been concealing a vast amount of inner turmoil and made the decision to have Phoebe offer me words of comfort. Out of all them, Phoebe seemed like the most compassionate, so if they elected anyone to do that, it would have been her! I got a little disappointed to think she wouldn’t be confessing her adoration for me, but t felt a little satisfying to have someone care about my well-being like that!
“Ready?” Phoebe queried.
“Let’s do it!” I cringed at the way I phrased my reply. It really bothered me that I may have made everything more uncomfortable by not choosing a better response! She didn’t say anything about it though, and I lumbered over to her passenger seat wishing for a smoother interaction for the rest of our excursion!
It’s funny, as often as I fantasized about having a moment alone with this goddess, I never pictured myself moping when I had the opportunity! As I stared at the mist drizzling down the window, I couldn’t rid myself of all the grief I endured recently! I abandoned a job I loved, sold my beloved home in the city, moved away from my family, took a position in a stressful field, bought a house I couldn’t take care of, and faced a murderous vampire all for what? I went through so much for my wife, and she didn’t even have the courtesy to speak to me! If I hadn’t caught her screwing that guy, she wouldn’t have even conveyed why she walked out on me! I really thought I was meant to live the lifestyle we had together, and now that it started to sink in that I may not ever get it back, it made me wonder where I did belong! I never imagined myself staying as a substitute teacher long term, especially since I had to fight these ghoulish monsters in the process! And I wasn’t even good at it! I wouldn’t’ have minded considering the possibility of pursuing Phoebe, but I could hardly lift my head up right then, so how could I have even tried to flirt with her? I regretted that I couldn’t have been more cheerful for such an opportune juncture, but as my luck would have it, I was in a position where I didn’t even want her to see me in such a state! I blew it! I bitterly wondered if I would ever get a chance like this again when I felt better…
Phoebe kidded, “You’re not telepathic, you know!”
“Huh?” Her quip shook me out of my torpor, and it instantly reminded me that I hadn’t gotten placed in this car just to brood! “Oh, sorry! I haven’t seen anything yet!” That wasn’t a lie, but guilt now swirled around inside me! I had been so preoccupied with all of my grievances that I hadn’t paid attention to my surroundings! If I overlooked a detail vital to solving our conundrum, I never would have forgiven myself!
“What’s wrong?” Phoebe probed.
The last thing I wanted in that instance was to lose my vampire hunting position! No, I didn’t really want to confront Damon or any of his potential cronies again, but I couldn’t have let the other teachers take this on by themselves knowing what they were up against! Even if my contributions were small, I still had a clear conscious lending a hand to find these missing children! It was my last shot at having a role of importance, and I had to make sure no one doubted my ability to keep carrying on! “Everything’s fine! I can do this, don’t worry! Hey, do you think that vampires do well in the rain? I haven’t heard anything about them not being able to get wet, but still…”
I fully expected her to react to the topic I just raised, but instead, she parked her sedan and asserted, “You know, everything doesn’t have to be fine! It’s okay to not be okay sometimes!” I opened my mouth to say something about the point she brought up, but I couldn’t’ come up with a proper way to articulate my bafflement at her sentiments! I had never heard of anyone encouraging someone to fully experience their negative emotions! She went on, “Life doesn’t have to be peachy-keen all the time! Sometimes things just suck, and it’s okay to acknowledge that! You’ll never be able to concentrate if keep everything bottled up, so spill it!”
It floored me when I realized how right she was! At Novak Neander, we were always in the mindset that positive thinking yielded positive results, so it didn’t occur to me until she mentioned it that I had been ignoring all of my unhappy feelings in an effort to achieve success! That probably wasn’t healthy, and obviously that didn’t work out anyways, so I thought that I should, but ow could I do that for her? Not just because I was out of practice! Seriously, how could I tell a woman I liked about my pining away for another girl? She gazed at me expectantly, and I gathered from her expression that she would have let me go without discussing this, so I assessed that if we were to continue collaborating in any kind of endeavor, I needed to clear the air eventually! I took a deep breath and confessed, “Lilith sent divorce papers in the mail yesterday! One day, we were happily married, then the next thing I know, she wants nothing to do with me! I’m sure it probably doesn’t make sense to you to get so hurt by a cheater, but-.”
“No, I get it! You spent several years with her, and she blindsided you with her sudden departure,” Phoebe surmised.
“Yes!” I felt so relieved that she understood and didn’t judge me so much for my viewpoint! “After more than twelve years of us being best friends, all of a sudden, she can’t stand me anymore! Like our marriage meant nothing! I know I kind of deserved it, but-.”
Phoebe cut me off, “No, you didn’t! No one deserves that kind of betrayal! You may not have been perfect, but all relationships have issues! She didn’t even try to talk about your problems, did she?”
I had blamed myself for our split for so long that I hadn’t even thought about reflecting on anything she did! Phoebe’s logic made too much sense not to though, and I couldn’t help but to get a little riled up about everything Lilith did wrong now! “If she had ever mentioned how I was hurting her, I wouldn’t have continued with anything I was doing! But she said she shouldn’t have had to bring it up…” I recalled the counterpoint she had argued, and I began to doubt myself again. “… I should have automatically known what the matter was, I guess! I felt horrible for not seeing her warning signs sooner…”
After clicking her tongue in annoyance, Phoebe indignantly raved, “I’m sorry, but Lilith sounds incredibly childish! You can’t always know what’s on another person’s mind! Psychologists spend years studying people’s brains, and they still have to have long sessions to learn more! She contributed to your relationship failing, but she’s putting all the blame on you! You did the best you could with the information you had, don’t let her convince you that you’re a bad guy! ‘Cause you’re not! You really aren’t! You’re sweet, smart, and you go out of your way to help others, do you know how rare that is? You’re a good guy, and you don’t deserve to get treated like that!”
Her kind words really struck my heart! I could have practically soared from how much she lifted my spirits! I received so much flack lately that I started to esteem myself as a terrible man, but she made me think otherwise! I nearly got a happy tear in my eyes from how moved I felt, which hadn’t happened to me in, like, a decade! I couldn’t remember the last time I cried from happiness recently! I didn’t know how much I desired some compassion during that ordeal until she gave it to me! She was so amazing for showing me consideration right when I needed it the most! She put a sympathetic hand on my shoulder, and her warmth made my pulse race wildly! She smiled at me, and suddenly, her lips were so inviting! Without thinking about it, I leaned in a little closer…