The Bertucci’s was warm and felt welcoming compared to the freezing rain outside. Rick shivered, but not because he was cold or because his football team had come up short in a close game. He shivered because he had checked his email before he left home for the game that morning. Among the myriad of spam offering him ways to “get rich quick” or “increase his size by 4 inches” was an email from Frankie, his currently estranged girlfriend. They were having some trouble in their relationship and like any rational teenager would do Rick was ignoring the trouble and Frankie in hopes that it would go away by itself. The email was simple and to the point. “Call me” was all it said. No name or number to go with it, but none was necessary. Rick knew the number by heart, having dialed it so many times, often in the dark.
He was in Bertucci’s now, the football game was over, and the smell of fresh bread rolls and pizza filled his nostrils. He and his family, who had come to the game to watch him walk up and down the sideline cheering on the starters and only play on Special Teams, stood in the waiting area while their table was prepared. Looking to his left, Rick saw stairs leading down to some place underneath the main seating area. A sign on the wall next to the stairs held the universal male and female stick figures that were found in all public restrooms. Beneath it, written in someone’s neat block handwriting, was the word “Telephone.” Seeing the word made him shudder, he couldn’t even think about making that call, the call that would probably end his four-month relationship with Frankie. Three months really he thought. He was right. The fourth month so far had been a drawn-out breakup disguised as a separation. It was annoying, painful, and embarrassing. Especially when Rick would see her at high school dances hugged up on some dude he knew. The laughter of his friends from watching him go through the whole affair still rung in his ears and stung.
“Hey idiot!” Rick’s little sister said as she punched him in the arm.
“Our table is ready, didn’t you here the hostess?” She continued.
“No, sorry. I wasn’t paying attention” Rick replied. His sister rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“Man, you never pay attention. You’re such a Nunka!” She finished and walked off following their parents who were following the hostess to a table near the brick ovens that made the restaurant famous.
Rick shifted in his chair and tried to focus on the menu in front of him. It was no us. The margarita pizza didn’t hold his attention today. “Call me” he replayed the image of the email over and over in his mind. The more he thought about it the larger the knot in his stomach became. He gulped down his glass of water, spilling some on his shirt and causing his sister to giggle.
Rick shifted again, and glanced towards the waiting area and the hint of stairs that led to the restrooms and telephones. His mother caught him looking.
“You okay Honey?” she asked. She was concerned that he was depressed about the game.
“You played well Sweetheart. It was bad weather; you can’t blame yourself for that” she finished. Rick looked up and shook his head.
“I… I know. I’m just a little sore is all” he lied. “I’m not looking forward to film on Monday.”
“You did fine, I was watching. Now, Pat, Pat Conroy… I know you like him but he’s not doing the team any favors by throwing four interceptions” she replied. Rick flashed a lopsided grin and chuckled.
“You haven’t liked Pat since eighth grade year. He’s not a horrible quarterback. He just had a bad day.”
“More like a bad three years” his mother countered. Everyone at the table laughed.
“Whatever”,” Rick said. “I gotta use the bathroom anyways.”
Rick got up smiling and walked back towards the waiting area. One he was out of earshot he exhaled and let the smile drop. The knot in his stomach was back and bigger than before. Slinking down the stairs he came to an abrupt stop. Across from him were two doors each with a symbol that marked which sex was to go through which door. Between the doors was one payphone. It looked old and beat up, as if it had been dropped multiple times. The wall on which the phone was mounted was smooth and held scrawled writing from the many people who had been to the bathroom or used the phone.
Rick studied the phone from the bottom of the stairs working up the courage to approach. Exhaling again, he crossed the small foyer in three quick paces and put his hand on the receiver and then removed his hand. Looking away he spoke out loud to himself.
“I can’t do this, not now. I’ll call when I get home.” An old lady exited the woman’s restroom as Rick was talking to himself. She smiled and shook her head at the odd behavior of young kids. Rick paced some more stopping to stare at the phone occasionally. This is ridiculous. He thought. Just call her. Stop being a fucking baby! Rick grabbed the receiver and pulled it off the cradle, then hung it back up. He looked away and shook his head. Turning back, he picked up the receiver again, deposited two quarters in the slot and dialed Frankie’s number. While it rang he began to tough himself in preparation for the conversation ahead. He expected yelling and didn’t want to be caught off guard like the last time they spoke on the phone. She had called him at home during dinner and yelled at him for something he had said to a friend of his, a guy that she was “seeing” at the time even though he and Frankie were still dating supposedly. Rick didn’t really get a chance to speak during that “conversation.” The phone rang twice. Frankie answered in a light tone.
“Hey” Rick responded. Despite his best efforts his voice softened.
“Hey” Frankie responded. Her tone had dropped.
“Um… yeah so you emailed me to call you. What’s up?” Rick asked.
“How are you?” Frankie asked evasively. The pleasantries bothered Rick. She was being too nice. It let him know that whatever was coming was not going to be pleasant. The knot tightened.
“I’m fine. A little tired, I just had a football game.”
“How’d it go?”
“Fine… We tied. Coulda won though. We came up short.”
“Too bad” she replied.
“Yeah, I guess. So what’s up?” Rick asked again. He didn’t want to get of subject.
“Yeah, so I wanted to talk to you… about us” she started. This was what Rick knew the conversation was really about.
“Look, Rick, I love you, I really do, but I’m not sure if we’re good together.”
“I mean you’re not the same guy that I fell in love with back in June.”
“What do you mean?” Rick was confused. He knew they would break up but he wasn’t expecting this.
“Back in June you were sweet and caring and attentive. It was a joy to be with you. I loved talking to you on the phone and when you’d come see me at home during your lunch break. But now…” she trailed off.
“What about now?” Rick countered. He was beginning to get upset.
“Now, I don’t know you. You’re like a completely different person. No one, no friend of mine would say what you said about me. How could you betray me?” Frankie was beginning to cry. Rick hated that. He couldn’t stand to hear her cry, it broke him up inside. However, the pain flashed to anger when he thought about what she had just said. Betray you? She can’t be serious!
“What about Alex?” Rick hissed into the phone. “Do you love him too? You’re gonna talk about me and what I did? You cheated on me!”
“Because I wanted your attention!” She cried. Rick jerked the phone away from his ear in shock at her volume. Calming himself he returned the receiver to his ear and spoke quietly.
“Look, we’ll talk about this later. I have to get back to my family.” Frankie was crying softly into the phone. Rick could barely hear her. She sniffed and answered him.
“No, we won’t.” She hung up the phone before Rick could say anything. Rick stared at the wall with all the writing on it still holding the phone to his ear. All he could focus on was a heart drawn with a permanent marker. Inside the heart someone had scribbled the initials “MF + HK” and the date “’97.” Rick spit on the hem of his shirt and wiped at the heart smudging it. Turning, he trudged up the stairs and back to his table. His parents looked at him and wondered about his long absence. He laughed it off claiming that he had a habit of using the bathroom after games. Rick was quiet the rest of the meal. He was still in shock over his last words with Frankie. “No, we won’t.” He couldn’t believe that after four months it was over.