Help Line, this is Benny.” He thought he heard soft sobbing. He also felt that this call was more serious than any he’d had before. It was a gut feeling, almost as if waves of despair were coming through the phone.
“Benny, I don’t want to be alone right now. Can we talk? It won’t take long.”
A chill washed over Ian. “Sure, we can talk all night if you’d like. What’s your name? Do you have something you’d like to talk about?”
The voice was tired, subdued, and lacking emotion. “I’m Colby. It won’t take all night. I don’t want to be alone right now.”
“Okay, Colby. But we’ve got all the time you want. You sound sad. Tell me what you’re thinking at the moment?”
“Do you believe in God, Benny? Do you think someone like me can get into heaven? I’m afraid, Benny. I guess that’s why I don’t want to be alone.”
“Colby, there’s more to the universe than people. Yes, I think there’s something bigger than us. I don’t know what to name it, but God is as good as any. I’d like you to be honest with me. Are you thinking of dying now? Have you done anything?” Ian’s heart was pounding.
Colby’s voice was so gentle, sounded so vulnerable and totally lost. “Yeah, Benny, I took some stuff so I probably won’t be around much longer. I’m so tired. It seems to go on and on but never gets better. Do you know what I mean?”
“I want you to tell me what you took, and when. Please? I want to help you get past the pain you’re feeling, but we need to have more time. If you know the name of the drugs we can get help.” His mind raced, trying to find a lifeline he could offer.
The chuckle was soft, mirthless. “Benny—I like that name. I had antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds. I told you I was messed up. My dog died, I lost my home, can’t find a job, and my family shuns me because I’m gay. I don’t think there’s any help for me.”
Ian got angry, not the way he felt in Sheila’s office, not angry at his caller. “Okay, Colby. I get it that things aren’t good. In fact, the whole fucking mess sounds like the makings of a country song.” He heard a sharp intake of breath, both on the phone and in the room. “Sometimes people can take the pain and hurt they feel from life and express it in songs. Like country songs. Others paint, write stories, or poetry. Hell, there are many outlets to channel it. I wasn’t making a joke about those things that cause you to feel the way you do. I’m trying to find a way to reach you, so I can help.”
Ian’s mind raced as he tried to find something good for his caller to grab. “Tell me about your dog. What breed was it? Tell me about it, how old, what name did you give?”
“Nipper was a Scottish terrier and he was beautiful and loyal.” Colby sighed. “He was my best friend.”
“When did you lose Nipper, Colby? How old was he?” Ian hoped the love of his dog might be enough to give this man something pleasant to remember. Fuck, unless he was squashed by a semi. Maybe this topic isn’t such a great idea.
“Nipper was twelve. He got so tired he couldn’t go on. I took him to the vet. Do you think he’s waiting for me? I’d love to see him again.”
Ian tried to put levity into his voice. “You realize Nipper was almost seventy in dog years? He only lived that long because you obviously loved and cared for him. He may be waiting for you, but I’d bet he’d rather you adopt and love another pup. Anyone who loves an animal the way you loved Nipper has a lot of good in his heart. Can you try to find any of that good for yourself? Maybe find a way to love yourself?”
Colby sounded weaker. “Do you know how sexy you sound? You’ve got so much compassion in your voice. I’ll bet you get people calling back all the time to hear you. If I wasn’t so tired I’d probably be aroused. Do you think I’m a good person and could care for another dog? I don’t have a job and I can only afford a room.”
Ian heard a big sigh followed by soft sobs again. “Please, Colby. Let me get someone to help you. You’re a good man and there are things in this world that need you.” He listened to dead air before the phone clicked when his client disconnected.
Sheila had been standing nearby after David called her. Ian sat still for a moment, silent tears rolling down his cheek. He looked up when Sheila placed a coffee on his desk. Delores looked shaken and David shook his head as he turned to take a call.
“I’d never be able to work with kids. The agency would need to know why I wanted to volunteer, and when they learned it was a condition of the court to avoid a drug conviction, I’d likely be run out of town. So even though I like the little buggers, somewhat, I’d never get clearance to work with them.”
“Seniors then. You can be a caller at their bingo nights and once a month you could do pole dancing at the old folks’ centre.” She dropped that bombshell as the cute waiter returned with their drinks.
“Oh my God, my grandma would so be dropping cash into your G-string. She might even put me back into her will if I told her I knew the dancer. And all those old guys, they wouldn’t have to give them Viagra every night so they don’t accidentally roll out of bed in their sleep.” He flashed that brilliant smile once again.
Ian glared at the man. “I’ve got to do volunteer community service because of a huge misunderstanding. Stripping for the aged is not community service.” He raised his hand, palm out, to cut off the protest from the man. “You’ll have to find some other way of getting back into your granny’s good books if that is even possible. I’m sure my assistant would be glad to give you many ideas.” He glanced at Janet holding out her empty glass, gently swinging it from side to side requesting another, and shook his head.
She giggled as the rush of the hastily downed vodka got into her system. “I think you’d be a hot pole dancer. So, no kids and no seniors. Maybe you could do something like meals-on-wheels or work at a food bank. They must always have a demand. We could book you in here at Chaps to do fundraising, as well. I have a few ideas for that.” She giggled once again.
Their meals arrived, along with Janet’s vodka containing barely enough pop for colouring. Once again that magnificent smile was flashed at the pair when he asked if they needed anything else at the moment.
Janet took a large drink, set her glass on the table and leaned forward toward the waiter. “Two things—first, we have to find a volunteer gig for Ian to do his community service, so we need ideas. The second is much easier. I’ve watched gay porn but my goal before I die is to see it live and in person. I love seeing hot men in action with all that testosterone and sweat and parts that go from soft to throbbing in the bat of an eye. And those orgasms are mind-blowing, so you two come to my place after we eat and…” She gave a slight hiccup. “S’cuse me. You two come to my place and get down and dirty. I want to watch from the first kiss to sensual strip to roll-over and sleep. You’ll have to do a flip fuck—in the movies that’s where both guys take turns topping.”
The waiter grinned at Ian when he groaned and put a palm over his face. “I’m Brody and I already heard your name. I take it this isn’t a typical conversation when you’re out with the nice lady?”
Ian split his fingers and peeked through with one eye. He lowered his hand, sat back and straightened his shoulders. “The words “nice” and “lady” do not belong in any sentence about Janet.” They glanced over to see her doing obscene things involving her mouth, tongue, and the long, thick wrap. She took another drink from her glass and looked at both men with as innocent an expression as the daughter of the devil could muster.
Ian glared. “Stop playing with your food, you’re arousing the other guests. Brody and I will not be putting on a live sex show for you now or at any point in this lifetime. We need to concentrate on finding a place where I can volunteer my time and pay my debt to society.” He looked over at Brody. “Janet produces and directs plays at our centre. Now, imagine the pair of us naked on a bed, about to do the nasty while she watched. Can you even begin to picture how that would play out?”
Brody nodded knowingly. “She’d be adjusting angles, positions, telling us to start or stop. It would be like working on the set of a porn shoot. I see your point, but I do like her idea of us two guys getting it on.”
The waiter left and Janet drained the rest of her drink after making short work of her lunch. Ian finished his and sat back to contemplate many things. He had been surprised at his friend and assistant’s request to watch him make out with another man. He wondered if maybe they should spend less time together so she could meet potential boyfriends. He also worried about Rene. He was still pissed off at the man, but he was absent longer than he’d ever been before. He made a note to check hospitals and would follow-up with someone at the police station as well. His thoughts were interrupted when Brody approached and asked if they cared for dessert. Ian whispered, “If she asks for a banana, or anything else resembling a phallic symbol, tell her you’ve run out.” He raised his voice to a normal level. “I’ll take a coffee, black.”
Janet said, “I’ll have another drink, and maybe a banana split. Put the nuts at one end and all the whipped cream at the other. I don’t think a cherry would be appropriate, and don’t cut the banana in half lengthwise. I prefer mine uncut.” She grabbed a drink menu and began fanning herself. Her fantasy was apparently getting her hot and bothered. She giggled again and Ian figured the liquor didn’t help.