Stranger

By: Megan Hart


“No kidding.”

“No.” He laughed again.

“Did you have a reason for waking me?”

“I was thinking about you, that’s all.”

“I’m thinking about hanging up.”

“Don’t. Please,” Sam said, and I sighed but didn’t.

I listened to the sound of his breathing. I closed my eyes and wished I could make myself believe he was breathing beside me, in my bed, but no amount of imagining would convince me. The plastic of my cell phone pressed too hard against my ear and though I could hear his breath, I didn’t feel it on my face.

“I got a call from Phil. My agent,” he said. “He says if I can get to New York, he’ll get me some studio time. Book me a few shows. See if he can get me on the radio or something.”

The way he said it, like it didn’t matter, meant it did. Very much. “Good for you.”

“I’m going next week.”

“I’m happy for you, Sam.” With my eyes closed, it didn’t matter if my vision blurred with tears.

“Can I come over, Grace?” A crackle of static would have stolen his words, spoken in a tone so low, but the connection was clear and without interruption.

“Yes. You can. But will you?”

His breathing shifted. He was drinking or weeping, and I didn’t want to imagine him doing either. “No. I guess not. It’s late.”

“Send me a copy of your album when it’s finished.”

“Don’t cry,” Sam said. “Please don’t cry.”

“I don’t understand,” I told him. I buried my face into the pillow and bit down hard, to force away tears. “I don’t understand you, Sam. I let you in, and you don’t want to be in. Why?”

Misery painted his words, but I had little sympathy for his sorrow. “I’m sorry. I know you hate me.”

“Goddammit, Sam! I don’t hate you! That’s the problem!” I punched the pillow this time. “I wish I did.”

“I wish you did, too.”

I smiled into the softness of my poor abused pillow. “You sneaked in under the radar, you know that?”

Sam’s soft chuckle tickled up and down my spine the way it always had. “You didn’t want a boyfriend.”

“Yeah.” I sighed, thinking of what Mr. Hoover had said to me. How he regretted nothing, not even the pain of losing the one he loved so much, because his life had been made so much richer for knowing her. Knowing Sam had made my life richer.

“I should have left you alone,” Sam said. “You wanted me to.”

I opened my eyes, finally, to the light of dawn creeping through my window. “No. I took a chance on you because I wanted to, Sam. And I don’t regret a minute of it, because knowing you has made my life better. And maybe next time I won’t let being afraid of what I might lose keep from appreciating what I have.”

“Next time?” His voice sounded thick, but he didn’t clear his throat.

“I used to think I wanted to spend my life alone, but not anymore.”

“But—” He stopped. Breathed. Sighed. “No more rentboys?”

“Maybe one or two.”

“You’re killing me, Grace. You know that.”

“They have phones in New York, don’t they?” I asked him. “Call me.”

And then I hung up.



Sam did not call me from New York.

I’d only half expected him to. I’d only half wanted him to. As each passing day put more time between us, I could step back further and further from my thoughts of him. We’d spent less time as a couple than we had together. Love had sneaked up on me out of the blue. I’d watch out for it better, next time.

There didn’t seem to be a next time now that I was open to the idea. I met men here and there, when I went out with friends. At the gym I’d started frequenting, now that Jared could oversee more of the business without my supervision. Even, heaven forbid, on a few blind dates set up by my mother with sons or nephews or grandsons of her friends. The world had become a wonderland of possibilities, and though I had fun and met a lot of nice guys, I couldn’t picture any of them making the sort of difference Sam had.

Jared and I began switching our on-call weekends and taking time off during the week to compensate. It was the best arrangement for both of us. Though we jokingly referred to each other as “work spouses,” and we had more than one knowing smile sent our way from people who assumed we were dating, nothing awkward reared its ugly head between us. Though sharing my business with him had its ups and downs, I didn’t regret asking Jared to be my partner. Jared, with his sense of humor and steady commitment to making Frawley and Shanholtz a success, had made my life better, too.

Despite what I’d told Sam, I didn’t go back to hiring any of Mrs. Smith’s gentlemen. Playacting had lost its appeal when held up against the memory of something real. I had Sam to thank and curse for that, and some days I did both.

He didn’t call me, but I looked him up on the Internet now and again. I read reviews of his shows and of the CD he’d made. Both got good press, even if it was only in the small independent bar magazines. He didn’t seem to be making it big, but he was making something, anyway.

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