Enjoy an excerpt from Linda G. Hill’s “Wasted” featured in our new anthology ON TIME.
What if your time was not wasted?
Phyllis mulled the question over as she washed her breakfast dishes and stared out the window at the dismal February day. A damp squirrel ran across the back lawn, scavenging for food on the unseasonably warm morning. Even the squirrel had more of a life than Phyllis. Since the kids had flown the coop, and her ex years before that, she’d existed. Afternoons filled with soaps and the occasional hike to the grocery store and the pharmacy to fill her prescriptions. The meds that made her hallucinate if she took too many.
Depression was a bitch.
But last night, a new guy had joined her Facebook depression group. He’d made enough of an impression that she’d reached out to him, inviting him to private message. Not as much for him as for her.
There, they’d clicked. She had been reluctant to admit to him that she was fifty-three years old. His profile pic was so handsome. So young.
What he could possibly want with an old bag like her?
The squirrel came closer, hopped up onto her deck, and looked her in the eye as it nibbled on something with its dexterous front paws.
The beginning of their conversation was still clear in her mind, starting with her first stupid question. But in her defence, it wouldn’t have been the first time.
Phyllis: Are you going to show me your dick?
Him: LOL Why? Do you want me to?
Phyllis: No. Just asking.
Him: I just thought you sounded like you needed a friend.
Phyllis: Hell yeah. Haven’t got many of those. Don’t even have pets. Am allergic.
Him: That’s too bad. Do you work?
Phyllis: Nope. Disability.
And on it went, just getting to know each other. He was a retired soldier. He didn’t say why he’d left the service, and she didn’t want to pry.
After an hour or so, she’d taken her meds. Her memory was patchy after that. He’d asked her to go on camera, and that was when she’d confessed her age. She remembered him telling her she was beautiful.
She remembered setting a date for tonight.
Most of all, she remembered the question.
What if your time was not wasted?
The squirrel turned its back on her. Its mange was in the exact shape of a map of the US. Florida was there, and yeah, even Alaska. Strange for a Canadian squirrel; she did something she hadn’t done in years, not before last night—she laughed.
Phyllis sighed as she reached to drain the water from the sink. Her toast floated in it.
“Well, that was wasted,” she said.
She plucked the soggy mess out of the sink, wiped her hands dry, then sat at the kitchen table and opened her laptop, hoping to find him in the Facebook group.
Him. What a shame. She couldn’t remember asking his name. She couldn’t very well call him Chr6n65 when she met him in person.
Another long-time member of the group, Helen, was online. She hadn’t been around for a year. Phyllis clicked on messenger: Oh my God. What happened to you?
Helen: Long story. And what about you last night? You disappeared from the group.
Phyllis: You were there? I didn’t see you. I was talking to that new guy, and we ended up on a video call.
There was a three-minute pause in the conversation, then Helen came back with: He’s pretty messed up, eh? I was talking to him a couple of days ago.
Phyllis didn’t want to say he’d been mighty fine last night. He’d told her she made him feel better than he had in years, and she didn’t want to piss Helen off, so she just said: Yeah.
Then, she had another thought.
Phyllis: Hey, you didn’t catch his real name, did you?
Another long pause.
Phyllis: He only joined our group yesterday. Where did you meet him a couple of days ago?
Helen: Oh, just another group I belong to. I invited him to ours coz he seemed so sad.
Huh. Should she mention she was going to meet him tonight? Probably not. Helen might get jealous.
There was another long pause. Three dots that told her that Helen was typing something. They lasted so long, she almost closed the computer.
The message came through.
Helen: Don’t g
Five minutes later, Phyllis typed in: Hello?
She gave up after fifteen minutes of playing solitaire and went shopping for a new blouse. Something she hadn’t done in five years.
Phyllis didn’t know what she’d expected, but the bar’s address took her down a flight of stairs off the sidewalk of a deserted street. She hesitated, facing a plain steel gray door with her heart in her throat, and hurried down the stairs before she could change her mind. Behind the door was a dim room. The atmosphere of a 1920s speakeasy held a scent she hadn’t smelled in years: cigar smoke.
She spotted him in a corner booth, and he stood as she hurried over. He was much taller than she’d expected. And more muscular. But he was just as handsome, if a bit older than he’d appeared on the camera last night. He took her hand and kissed the back of it.
“Hello, Phyllis,” he said.
“Hi.” Too embarrassed to ask his name, and he wasn’t offering it.
“Are you feeling better? You seemed very sad last night when we parted company.”
“Did I?” Her sternum tightened. What else had she forgotten?
“Yes. I’m afraid I upset you when the conversation turned to your breakup with your ex. I apologize.”
Phyllis never thought about that stuff, let alone talked about it. She must have been wasted on her meds.
“I’m okay now.” She’d brought her pills with her; maybe she’d skip the dose tonight.
He gestured to the bench seat, and she scooted across to sit opposite him.
“I’m sorry I didn’t pick you up. My car’s in the garage getting fixed.”
“Oh, that’s okay.” Should she offer him a ride home?
A waitress, a young brunette in a proper uniform, rescued Phyllis with the menu and asked what she wanted to drink. Phyllis eyed his beer and thought she’d better join him.
“White wine, please.” Even as she said it, she hoped he was paying. This dinner would be her last one this month if he wasn’t.
She drew the line at ordering the most expensive thing on the menu, even though he did.
The meal progressed amidst the tinkling of piano keys and the lingering weight of the cigar’s rich scent. Although she hadn’t taken her meds, she found herself talking to him like a lovesick teenager wishing only to impress him with all her tales: of happiness, of woe, of sexual encounters, of fears, of hopes and dreams, and finally, of her fear that she carried out her days waiting to die of ennui. And there, finally, he commiserated.
“It’s easy to get into such a rut. In the end, only you can help yourself.” And he’d offered, once again, the line he’d uttered last night. “What if your time was not wasted?”
The remainder of the night was a blur.
Handing him her car keys, going back to her place.
Charming him into her bed.
As the sky outside the window turned to deep indigo, confessing the one thing she thought she’d never think of again: the swingers’ club.
Sometime before the sun came up, he dragged her out of bed, giggling, to find the people involved, to join their group online.
Afterward, they crawled back into bed. Curled up in his arms, as content as she’d been in more than a decade, she felt younger than she had in years.
“Was your time wasted?” he asked.
“No. What is your name?” How could it hurt to ask now that she’d been as vulnerable with him as an innocent?
“I’ll tell you if you promise to never speak of this.”
“I promise,” she said.
“I’ll tell you when you wake up.”
Linda G. Hill is a stay-at-home mom of three boys and the guardian of one beagle and two kitties. She concocts tales in her head 24/7 and blogs at lindaghill.com. Linda’s upcoming release, The Magician’s Soul, is the third in a series of Gothic paranormal romances. Also available on Amazon, Apple, Nook, and Kobo are the first-in-series romantic comedy, Saddled, and her novelette, All Good Stories. She lives in Southern Ontario, Canada.