S&C 27“UM…HI. BILLY?”

Billy actually took the phone away from his ear and stared at it, which had always seemed like something that had been made up for the movies. Now, he got it. It was what you did when you really couldn’t believe the voice on the other end.

“How are you, Jenna?” he said, dropping his keys into the bowl by the front door. He wished he had sprung for caller ID. He wasn’t really ready to talk to much of anyone yet, let alone her.

“I’m fine. Really good, actually. I, um…I hope you don’t mind me calling. I wanted to see how you were.”

Jenna sounded exactly the same as she always had. Sweet. Sexy. A little breathless. It made his stomach twist. He wondered if Florencia was listening in the background. Oh Jesus. She wouldn’t have told Jenna, would she?

“Of course I don’t mind,” he said, feeling like he might throw up.

What is wrong with you? Harlequin piped up in his mind. It’s Jenna! Your one true love! Ask her if you can come visit. Tell her you love her! I bet she’s tired of those Hollywood pretty boys and ready for something real!

Harlequin talked in a lot of exclamation points.

“Quiet,” said Billy sternly.

“What?” asked Jenna. He could hear the startle in her voice.

“Not you,” Billy hurried to say. Idiot, he told himself, plopping down on the couch. He should beg off, call her back in a month or two. Or not at all. He dropped his head into his free hand and sighed. “I’m okay. I guess your mom told you?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t call you before,” said Jenna, and the words came out in a rush. “I meant to, and then I meant to write, and I just didn’t know what to say. And then my mom told me you got out. How are you Billy? Really?”

Billy stared out the window. The lawn needed mowing already, and the Ginkgo tree in the front yard was starting to leaf again. Spring. New growth and all.

Shit.

He opened his mouth and closed it again. All those nights in the meadow, Jenna fitted perfectly in the nook of his arm. She used to chew a cheap watermelon gum that perfumed the air with candy-sweetness. She tasted like it when they kissed, at least for the first minute. He had hated that gum, but not on her mouth. On her mouth, it was just fine.

And now she wanted to know how he was. Really.

“Jenna, would you mind if I called you back?” he finally said.

“Oh.” She was quiet for a long time. He heard sounds in the background, someone calling directions and a lot of banging. “Sure. Of course you can.”

“It’s just that…” He tried to find something to say that could possibly finish that sentence. It’s just that I don’t know who I am anymore, and you remind me of that?  It’s just that I’m exhausted in a way I couldn’t possibly describe? It’s just that I’m still in Rose and you’ll never be again? It’s just that you really, really don’t need this in your life. 

He stood up and paced as far as the phone cord would let him, back and forth, and searched for an easy lie. More noise from Jenna’s side of the phone. “Where are you?” he asked.

“Oh, God, sorry,” she said. “I’m on set. It’s a little loud.”

On set. The reality of Jenna’s new life slammed him. There was no place for him there, not even as a phone call. “It’s just that I have to go pick up Breanna, and I’m already late,” he said.

What the fuck, said George. That’s the best you can do? Red Cross is having a blood drive. You want an excuse, there’s one for you.

“Tell her hi for me,” said Jenna, and he could tell she was trying to sound as though it didn’t matter. “God. I can’t believe she’s sixteen.”

It figured that Jenna would know exactly how old Breanna was. She probably still remembered everyone’s exact birthday and that the only kind of cake Andi would ever eat was ice cream cake. “Yeah,” said Billy. “Well…okay. Good talking to you. I’ll call you back.”

“Okay,” she said, and he knew she didn’t believe him. He wasn’t surprised. Jenna could always tell when he was lying. “Take care of yourself, Billy,” she said softly, but not as softly as the click of the phone hanging up.

Billy hadn’t planned to go out again, but now he was antsy, jittery. He grabbed his keys and practically jogged to the truck. Maybe it was time to find a job.

Jenna leaned her head against the wall for a brief moment after hanging up, but then remembered that her hair was pinned into a messy, just-rolled-out-of-bed up-do that had taken two people over an hour and thirty-five safety pins to create, so she sat up again. Behind her, the set for the restaurant where her character Bootsie worked was falling over; someone hadn’t propped the wall up correctly and now it was sagging into the tables and stools. Jenna loved the crew on this show. They were four hours into overtime, but still everyone seemed in remarkably good spirits.

She smoothed her hand over her waitress skirt.

She ran over her lines in her head.

It was a funny scene, like most of them, and repeating the lines brought her back to now, to the present. To where she belonged. She smiled at one of her costars, a ridiculously adorable guy who didn’t talk much off screen, and blinked against the sudden, sharp sting of tears.

“You okay?” asked the ridiculously adorable co-star in a spectacular show of verbiage.

“Actually,” said Jenna, carefully wiping under her eyes as to not disturb her layers of eye makeup, “Yeah. Thanks. I am.”

And although she was, herself, slightly surprised by that, it was, in fact, the truth.

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