In the end, it took Riley two days to pluck up the courage to call the number in the ad. There was a delicate balance between hunger for interactive sex and shame at the thought of paying for it. He was still debating with himself when he stripped naked and crawled into the middle of the bed sometime after eleven p.m., phone in hand, the bedroom door firmly closed to keep his beloved but inquisitive Samoyed, Bella, from interrupting. Once he’d entered the number slowly and carefully, checking every digit three times, Riley lay back, closed his eyes, and pressed the device to his ear.
The answering voice was one part professional, one part exasperated, and one part sarcastic, and Riley frowned. Call him paranoid, but this did not seem like a good start. Weren’t phone sex operators supposed to ease you into the conversation and make you feel comfortable? Riley felt like a teenager caught masturbating by his mother.
“Um, hello. I’m calling in response to your ad . . .”
In response to your ad? What was he thinking, speaking so formally? There was something in the voice that compelled it, perhaps. It was a nice voice, but it didn’t sound at all like he’d imagined a phone sex voice to sound.
“I work for an advertising agency—I deal with hundreds of ads every week. Did you have a specific one in mind?” Yeah, definitely sarcasm now, and Riley had a horrible feeling he might have dialed the wrong number. But he’d checked so carefully . . .
“The . . . phone sex one?” he questioned, voice small. Maybe the guy only moonlighted as a phone sex operator?
Maybe not. The sigh that drifted back down the line in response was the most aggravated Riley had ever heard.
“Look, buster, that ad is not for a phone sex service; it’s my vindictive asshole of an ex-boyfriend’s death warrant. If you want to get your rocks off, you desperate, horny freak, go find yourself a fucking rentboy, but don’t call this number again.”
The dial tone cut across any apology Riley might have made, and he stared at the phone in disbelief. How rude! So maybe that was a fairly sucky situation, but was it really so hard just to say “sorry, wrong number”? Without stopping to think it through, he hit redial, sitting bolt upright and dragging the comforter over himself.
“Look, I told you—” the voice answered, sounding as pissed as Riley felt, and Riley let him have it.
“No, you look, you judgmental bastard! Where the hell do you get off yelling at people and calling them freaks for one tiny, innocent mistake? It’s not my fault you have issues with your ex—”
“Innocent? Yeah, I like that, when you’re calling a phone sex line—”
“Shut up! Shut the fuck up! You know nothing about me! You have no fucking idea why I’m calling a phone sex line; if you’re not one, the least you can do is politely tell me I have the wrong number.”
“You think I haven’t been doing that? How about I advertise your cell phone number as a sex line? Call me back when you’ve fielded thirty-nine disturbing phone calls from horny assholes insisting they have the right number and begging for all sorts of fucked up shit and tell me you’d be polite to lucky number forty!”
“Believe me, if I had forty people queuing up to have sex with me, I’d be sending ‘lucky number forty’ a fucking bouquet!” Riley shot back honestly with a stab of pain.
“Well good for you, slut! They don’t want—”
“Don’t call me a slut, you fucking, uptight prick! You know nothing about me!”
“So enlighten me, why don’t you? Tell me what’s so magical and special about phone sex that you think you need to be treated like royalty!”
“Fuck royalty; I’d settle for human!” Riley was vaguely aware that his voice was shaking. “Look, Cameron or whatever your name is, whatever issues you have with your ex, you’ve got it easy, believe me. Just change your number, write him an apology or get a restraining order, and just chill the fuck out, okay?”
Cameron should have resented being told to chill the fuck out by the man who had phoned him back to yell at him, but the truth was he felt better now than he had since that first phone call forty-eight hours or so earlier. Arguing with a complete stranger had given him an outlet to vent about the situation, and he felt some of the tension seeping out of him.
“What’s your name?” he asked impulsively, calming his tones, and he could almost feel the surprise radiating off the stranger as he replied.
“Your name,” Cam prompted. “If you’re going to try and slap me in the face with reality, or whatever it is you think you’re doing, I’d at least like to know who I’m talking to.”
A pause, and then the stranger’s voice sounded again, much more pleasant now the anger was fading out of it.
“Riley. My name is Riley.”
“Hi, Riley. I’m Cameron.”
“I gathered.” Riley’s voice crackled with dry amusement. “So, you want to vent some more about this bastard ex of yours? It sounds like you need an outlet.”
Cameron laughed. “I guess I do, though I didn’t realize until right this minute.”
“So? You gonna tell me the story, or do I need to turn it into Twenty Questions?”
“His name’s Chris,” Cam found himself saying. “We were together for four years, and it was good, most of the time. He didn’t like the hours I work though; that’s what we fought about, mostly. He wasn’t clingy, exactly, but it was like . . . By the end, he was desperate to settle down in a house in the suburbs, maybe start talking about two-point-four kids and a partner who’s around most of the time; farmer’s markets and craft fairs on the weekend . . .”
“And that’s not you?”
Cam ran a hand through his hair, thinking about that one. “Well, I don’t think I’d hate it—the farmer’s markets and shit, I mean. But the suburbs and two-point-four kids? I’m not trying to say that my job is more important than Chris’s was, but the idea of living farther than an hour away from the office . . .” He shuddered. “I’m not ready to live like that yet.”
“So it was a difference of opinion? Like, wanting different things, growing apart as a consequence, eventual break-up inevitable kind of thing?”
“With hindsight . . . yes, that’s exactly what it was. It was comfortable, it was safe . . . it wasn’t fireworks, but it was working, and I was content for things to stay the same. I should have realized that Chris wanted more and let him go a long time ago. Maybe he should have let me go a long time ago, but I think he kept hoping if he stuck around long enough, he could change me, make me want the same things. Hindsight’s a bitch.”
“Okay, so let me get this straight . . . you know now that it was doomed to failure because you wanted different things? And back then . . . what happened?”
“With the break-up?”
“Yeah. It just seems to me that if you want to live in the city and work twelve-hour days, and he wants to live in the suburbs with a nuclear family, a split is what’s best for both of you, what makes the best sense. So, in theory, that kind of break-up should be fairly amicable, right? So I’m curious about the whole vengeful bastard thing. Either he was a closet psychopath, in which case good riddance, or you must have done something really shitty. How on Earth did you get from ‘comfortable’ to having a break-up so explosive that he advertised you as a sex line?”
“I may have deserved it,” Cam confessed, flushing at the memory. “It was pretty much a case of disastrous timing. We had a systems failure at work and lost pretty much everything we had for a pitch the next morning—the intern we had at the time was supposed to have backed it up, but someone gave him another order right when he was going to do it, and he got distracted by that. I haven’t delegated that task since. There was a caricature pinned up in the break room for weeks of me with smoke coming out of my ears.”