[Yes friends, this story now has a title — “Giving Voice’]
Clarence grabbed for the phone quickly, like he was quieting a child in a movie theater. Andrew forget something again? He plucked the device from its folder, hit a button to silence the ringtone, looked at the surface — Mary. He cursed himself silently, remembering his promise to call her when he left campus. That call would have given him cover for the evening, but in his rush to get on the road he’d lost his opportunity.
He turned away from the entry door, relieved to still be the only person outside the club. When he arrived back at the Camry, he answered the call, began apologizing immediately.
“That’s OK.” There was a tart annoyance in her voice, like pungent lemon. “Everything go OK with Andrew?” Clarence relaxed, recalled as best as he could the events since their phone call with her in the dorm room. “He’s going to be fine, dear.”
“Yeah?” Her tone implored him to continue.
“He’s not the naive kid we dropped off at school last year.” A car pulled into the lot, its headlights flashing into Clarence’s eyes; he turned from the glare. “He knows now that if he gets into trouble, he needs to ask for help. And he trusts us now, I can see it in his eyes, how we responded last year really made an impression on him.” The car parked, headlights dimmed, two men exited the vehicle; Clarence stepped off the concrete walkway to let them pass and continued talking into the phone, words coming from some effortless place within that he could not name. “I’m telling ya Mary, talking to him today was like talking to a new man — ” he paused on hearing one of the men swear loudly, turned to confirm that the curse was not aimed at him — “don’t think I ever — ”
“Where are you?” Clarence felt his face drop, turned away swiftly from the two men on the walk. “You can’t be on speaker, your voice is too clear.”
He ran his left hand across the thinning hair on top of his scalp. He began to panic, knew this should be easy but his mind was racing, couldn’t think of a simple way to answer this most basic question. “I — I — ” he stepped out further into the lot, spun around, his eyes scanning the buildings up and down the access road from the interstate, saw an orange circular sign with a blue 76 — “just stopped for gas.”