Smoke Trail [Original Short]

2009 August 28 § 1 Comment

Title: Smoke Trail
Prompt: Cell Phones
Word Count: 2,874

Frustrated, she frowned, looking a little uncertain when her thirty-minute search yielded nothing from the library. How could she left her cell phone here?

Tired from crawling underneath tables and carefully sifting aside books in the library, Joanna collapsed in a chair and let her forehead thud on the cool tabletop. Damnit. It wasn’t like the phone was anything special or particularly sentimental to her, but it was going to be a pain to run down to the Verizon store, and pick out a new phone-

Do, do, do… do…

Joanna raised her head abruptly, hearing the familiar beginning notes of the Mario Kart Love Song. What in the world…

You be my princess and I’ll be your Toad, I’ll follow behind you on Rainbow Road…

That was her ringtone! Where was it… it seemed to be coming from the direction of the bookshelves. Getting up so quickly made her bang her thighs against the underside of the table.

“Ow! Shit, shit, shit…” Thank god it was the day after the last set of finals – Saturday afternoon. Everybody in the university was already gone, or in their dorm room packing up the last of their belongings before they headed home. Her last final had been on Thursday – that’s when she’d noticed that her cell phone was missing. Packing and cleaning up her room on Friday hadn’t left her time to hunt for her cell phone, so that’s what she’d spent today doing, retracing her steps all the way to the library where she usually studied.

For sure, nobody was in the library, where her phone was ringing. Loudly.

No one will touch us if we pick up a star, and if you spin out you can ride in my cart…

This aisle… no, it was coming from the next one. Joanna’s shoes skidded on the carpet as she rushed down the second aisle. She came here often, to look at the oversized collection. All of her favorite photobooks were here – the ones with pictures of the sky, of the universe, of the stars.

When we slide together we generate sparks in our wheels and our hearts…

It was a good thing Mary hadn’t hung up yet. Just where was her phone?

She walked past, and the guitar from her ringtone softened. Stepping back, Joanna quickly grabbed her phone, propped up underneath her favorite photobook. “Mary, thanks! I found it.”

“That’s good.”

This wasn’t Mary. This deep, low, amused voice definitely was not Mary’s voice. Quickly, Joanna pulled the phone away from her ear, as if she’d been stung. She stared down at the screen, puzzled. An unfamiliar number – no match in address book.

“Who is this?”

A soft laugh. “Bye, Joanna. See you later.”

She frowned when the caller hung up, then checked through her address book again, on impulse. And felt a quick rise of panic when error messages came up.

No messages in your inbox.

No contacts in your address book.

Quickly, she went into her call history. His was the only one there – she called, and waited.

“What is it?”

“Um, I’m the owner of the cell phone you found.” She said it reluctantly.

He laughed. “I know. I already saved your number.”

“All of my contacts are gone.”

“I deleted them.”

“W-why?!” She was confused, and irritated. What in the- why would he do something like that?

“Did losing their numbers upset you that much?” His calm, unflappable answer surprised her into silence. She blinked, unsure of how to answer that.

“If the person really wants to talk to you, they will definitely call you,” he murmured, not seeming to be concerned with the notion. Her anger deflated – he was right. Only a few people on the phone ever even called her. She wouldn’t miss their absence, though she didn’t like to admit it.

.

Home. The feeling of home and comfort, of a familiar childhood routine and of her parents’ unfailing affection, always made Joanna glad for the few days that she got to visit, when she was home from college.

She was halfway through her bowl of rice and chewing in great satisfaction on a piece of her mother’s home-made karage chicken when her phone rang, a cheerful piano piece that announced the arrival of a text message.

Did you find your cell phone?

It was from Mary. Joanna smiled and quickly sent back a reply.

Yes. I’ll call you later.

Of course it would be Mary who called her first.

She picked up her chopsticks, then paused. Her bowl was empty. “Carrie! There are plenty of pieces on the plate!” Joanna accused her older sister, who was even now chewing on the piece of chicken Joanna had had earlier.

“Yours looked better.”

The argument that ensued was familiar, and comfortable, until it was broken up by their mom and dad coming to the table, laughing at the antics of their high-school and college-age daughters.

.

When her phone rang again that night, she was sleeping. It was the delightful lyrics of the Mario Kart Love Song that penetrated her fog of dreams.

Protect you from red shells wherever we go, I promise…

Groaning softly, she groped around in the darkness, trying to find her cell phone as it danced on top of the night table.

“Hello.” She wanted to go back to sleep. Who called people this late?

“It’s me.”

Him again. It took a moment for his voice to register. She’d never had a boyfriend and never dated, all through high school and her first year of college.

“W-what do you want?” She struggled to sit up in her bed, yawning and rubbing her eyes.

“Did you go sleep already?” He sounded slightly apologetic.

Then he chuckled.

“Your sleepy voice is really cute, Joanna.”

It took a moment for that to register, too. When it did, heat rushed into her cheeks. “I’m awake!” Indignation, but they both knew that she’d been woken by the phone call.

“Is my phone number listed first?” He asked. The area between her eyebrows wrinkled slightly. He called her in the middle of the night for this?

“No.” She hung up and curled up underneath the covers again.

.

Thursday afternoon found Joanna lazing on the couch in her bedclothes, a white tank top and flannel pajamas bottoms decorated with a collage of stars. When her phone rang, she didn’t even have to look at the number to know who was calling.

“Is there a point in calling me every single day?”

Her mother hummed, then shooed her to the side. “You’re in the way, Joanna. Go into the other room.”

The laugh on the other end surprised her. It was unrestrained and lively, nothing like the amused chuckles he usually favored her with. “You should move. She said you were in the way,” he teased, obviously amused.

“Don’t you have any other friends?” She asked irritably, getting up to go to her room.

“Joanna’s mom always seems to be home. Does she work?” He inquired.

“Are you even listening to me? And stop saying my name so much.”

“Why? It’s okay, isn’t it? After all, we’re friends.”

Joanna wanted to glare at the phone, but she liked this guy, even though he was playing this game with her. “Then tell me your name. And what year and major you are. You know all about me, so tell me about yourself.”

That warm chuckle put another slight tinge of pink in her cheeks. “Aah~ So you’ve started to become interested in me?” Joanna started; she hadn’t expected that, and tried to cover up her interest.

“N-no! I just feel like it isn’t fair. Since I don’t know anything about you.”

“Oh, okay.”

She listened.

“My name is…”

Joanna waited expectantly, staring across the bedroom at her mirror.

“SECRET~!”

His laughter made her scowl. She pulled the phone down, staring at the number and the entry she’d put into the address book. There was no name – only Secret.

Hitting the red power button, Joanna ended the call and sulked, taking another bite of the warm curry bread.

.

Outside, snow fell. “What about your eyebrows?” It was two weeks deep into winter break – almost Christmas, and the New Year.

“They’re thick.”

Seated in the window alcove, Joanna idly drew in a pair of thick eyebrows on the face she’d sketched in her sketchbook.

“Your mouth?”

He grinned. She could have pictured it, if she knew what his face looked like. “Sexy lips.”

“Sexy…?” Joanna laughed, but she drew those, too.

“Are you done yet?” He’d been describing his looks to her, and she’d been trying to draw his face. Of course, that was difficult, given that she had no idea what he looked like, and she’d drawn him in the manga style. It was a hot bishounen that graced her page, but… whatever.

“It doesn’t matter what you look like.”

“Huh?”

“Tell me about what’s on the inside. What kind of personality do you have?”

“Inside? I’m a kind man.” He sounded sure of himself. “I even helped return your cell phone.”

She tried to hide her laughter. “You liar! You erased my address book.”

“You’re smiling, aren’t you?” He was laughing, too.

“What kind of things do you like, Joanna?” A few days later, he called while she was in the bath. Keeping one arm out of the water, Joanna sighed as steam dewed on her skin and damp hair, the heat soaking slowly into her bones. Her whole body felt indolent and languid.

“Piano. An empty library at school… What about you?”

.

“I’ve heard that a ghost lives in BML. The Biomedical Sciences Library.” Hair wrapped up in a towel, Joanna opened the refrigerator door and hunted for something to eat. She grabbed a water bottle, and spotted the tub of strawberries as she took a sip of her mom’s home-brewed barley tea.

“You believe that too? Joanna, you’re so cute!”

He chuckled, making the heat intensify in her cheeks.

When she didn’t answer, he stopped chuckling, though the amusement was still warm in his voice. “Are you mad?”

She tried not to scowl. “Of course not.”

“Then why did you get quiet all of a sudden?”

She twisted the cap back on the water bottle. “I’m really plain, you know – not cute at all,” she explained frankly. Joanna had no illusions about her beauty – she wasn’t ugly, but she didn’t care all that much about makeup or fashion, and she didn’t hold a candle to Mary.

“What else are you eating?”

She paused in the middle of pulling out the plate of cream puffs hiding behind the strawberries.

“Try not to get fat.”

She pouted, and immediately shoved both plate and plastic Tupperware back into the refrigerator, blushing at his knowing laughter.

.

“Are you ever going to tell me your name?” Christmas and New Year’s had come and gone; he’d called her especially on both days to wish her happiness and a great year. There was only a few more days until she left to fly back to school.

“I already said it was a secret, didn’t I?” He sounded too patient, like he didn’t care if she found out who he was. Problem was, she wouldn’t be able to find out until he told her, or unless one of her friends had his number. Somehow, she doubted the latter was true.

Lifting the phone from her ear, she stared down at the number pad speculatively. Without mercy, she held the speaker area up to her blow dryer, subjecting her mystery caller to the loud roar of hot air.

“What the fuck! Stop it, that’s noisy!”

She laughed, and kept doing it.

.

“It’s not fair that you know so much about me.” Three days later, Joanna was sketching again, this time creating her own version of the mythological Orihime.

“Why? Do you want to learn more about me?” He was teasing her again. One corner of her mouth lifted in a smile, as she swept her pencil over the page, creating the wispy edges of a scarf for the weaver, Hikoboshi’s lover.

“Not even a little hint?” She asked.

“No. What are you listening to?”

There was music playing from her stereo. Laughing, Joanna got off the bed and held the phone up to the speaker, letting him listen to her new favorite song – Leona Lewis’ Bleeding Love. He caught the tail end of the chorus, a lull in the song before the heavy, rhythmic beats continued.

“It’s a good song, isn’t it?” She smiled and closed her sketchbook, placing it back on her desk.

“Not bad. She has a good voice.”

Joanna nodded, agreeing with him. It was rare that she liked a pop song, and it had surprised her when she’d first listened to this song.

“Joanna? What time do you think it is? You have an early flight tomorrow.”

“Okay! I’m going to sleep now. Night!”

She turned off the stereo and scrambled into bed, still holding the phone to her ear as she turned off the lights in the room. She’d been about to offer to sing for him sometime – and she never sang in front of people.

“I got yelled at.”

“Sorry. Should I hang up now?”

“No way! I’m not hanging up until you tell me your name first.”

.

“Can I meet you when the spring semester starts?”

“Do you want to meet me?” He didn’t sound amused, so much as… Joanna couldn’t quite identify the tone of his voice.

“That’s not it. I just want to know who you are.”

Silence.

“Hello?”

She heard him smile again. “Look at the sky.”

Joanna crawled out of her covers, which had kept her in darkness most of the night. When she saw bright light filtering through her window, she gaped.

“It’s already morning? I didn’t sleep at all…”

“Just go look at the sky.”

She pulled aside the curtains, then smiled, delighted.

“It’s a smoke trail,” she said, sighing as she stared up at the sky. What would it be like to fly, she wondered?

“Take a picture of it, Joanna.”

She almost dropped the phone in surprise. “Why?”

“It’ll be in memory of our first morning together.”

Joanna smiled. “Okay. I’m hanging up, then.”

“Okay.”

She held her phone up to the sky, and took a picture.

.

Back down at college, she’d already unpacked her belongings in the new apartment she was sharing with Mary and two other girls. “Even though it’s a day late, do you want to celebrate your birthday tomorrow?”

She was stunned into silence.

.

Mary was helping her put on some eyeshadow, just the lightest dusting of blue that brought out the flecks of color in her eyes.

“I’m scared after all. He sounds nice in person, but…”

Unperturbed, Mary continued, making a quick sweep of mascara through her best friend’s eyelashes. Joanna was a really pretty girl, she thought; she would be such a knockout if she wore some skirts and heels now and then, with just enough makeup to make her ‘plain’ features stand out.

“But you want to meet him, don’t you?”

Joanna opened her eyes, staring at the girl in the mirror. Her hair had been curled slightly, loose underneath a newsboy cap and stark against her favorite scarf. It was snowing outside, very lightly; she’d promised to meet her mysterious phone friend on the top of the music building.

“Yes, I do.”

.

Against her better judgment, she’d put on a skirt and a pair of leg warmers over her snow boots. She never wore skirts – but there was something…

She wanted him to think she was pretty. It was the first time she wished she could do her own hair and makeup and clothes, like Mary did, and look as cute or sexy or drop-dead gorgeous as she wanted.

Joanna rubbed her gloves together, and breathed into them, her breath crystallizing in the air before it floated away.

“I didn’t think you would come.”

Her heart was thumping extraordinarily loudly. She turned, her eyes widening at the shock of bleached hair, and the piercing in one ear, currently sporting a small gold hoop. She swallowed, and stammered – he looked nothing like the nice, gentlemanly, perfect-date-to-bring-home that she’d pictured in her head.

“I-I-I think you have the wrong person.”

She started to walk past him, but stopped at the sound of his voice. She remembered it, clearly – the sincerity, the kindness.

“You remember this, don’t you?”

Turning, she saw the photo on his cell phone. The first morning they’d shared together, a smoke trail against a blue sky.

She glanced up at him, blushing when she saw a faint dash of color in his cheeks, and uncertainty in his eyes. “For you.”

Flowers. A bouquet of peonies, in purple and white – her favorite colors, her favorite flower.

“Happy birthday, Joanna. My name is Jonathan. Jon.”

“Thank you.” It came out in a squeak; she swallowed, and tried again, this time facing him properly, the flowers clutched tightly to her chest. Her heart was beating again – faster, insistently.

Nervously, she tucked some curls behind her ear.

“You look beautiful.”

She blushed again, but the compliment had coaxed a breathless smile to her lips. “It’s nice to meet you, Jon.”

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