Man Up

Nathan breathed in slowly, mustering his confidence. He held the breath for a few heartbeats then pushed the air out in a rush. “Alright,” he said. He picked up his phone and stared at the inert face for a moment, then slid his thumb under the lid to flip it open.

Just as the spring-loaded hinge approached the point of no return, Nathan froze. His thumb slipped out and the phone snapped closed. He dropped it on the coffee table and snatched his hand back as though burned. He wasn’t ready yet.

Nathan stood up from the couch and ran his hands through his messy black hair. His heart pounded in his chest and his fingertips tingled.

            She said you should call. You’ll be fine!

Driven by the nervous energy, Nathan strode down the hallway towards the bedrooms. He paused in front of the hall closet, clenched his fists, and commanded his body to calm down.

            Stop being such a coward.

Nathan punched the closet door. The cheap, hollow metal was perfect for the occasion, making a resounding CLANG. Pain bloomed across his knuckles, releasing the tension.

“Let’s do this!” he said to nobody.

Nathan strode back to the living room and threw himself onto the couch. He snatched up the phone, flipped it open, dialed. He almost made it, but the momentum ran out with his finger poised over the final digit. Panic ensued. Nathan wavered, then slammed the phone closed and slapped it down on the table again. “Dammit!”

            For the love of . . . JUST CALL!

            What the hell do I say? I just call out of the blue and ask?

            It’s not out of the blue. She told you to call!

Nathan squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his teeth. At least he wasn’t talking to himself out loud. Yet. He concentrated on his racing heart, willing it to slow down. A wet, warm feeling under his arm made a liar out of his antiperspirant’s commercial.

            Stop acting like a child! You have a brand new college degree and everything. Man up and make the call!

            What does that even mean? Do women say “Woman up?” or “’Grow some ovaries,” perhaps? Maybe softball players. Huh, that was kinda sexist. Or was it?

            FOCUS!

Nathan shook his head to dislodge the distraction from his brain. He reached for the phone again, but his hand only made it halfway before he snatched it back.

            What do I say? ‘Hi, this is Nathan Crowley. I wanted to know . . .’

He grimaced. That was way too casual. He needed a good first impression here.

            Maybe, ‘Good morning. This is Nathan Alexander Crowley calling to inquire . . .’

Nathan let out a sharp bark of a laugh. Maybe what he needed was a script.

            Are you kidding?

            I just need to work out the beginning. Avoid awkward silence.

This seemed like a good plan. Nathan went to the kitchen to find some paper.

 

            Okay. You’ve got your script. You’re dressed nice. Call!

Nathan sat at the kitchen table, phone laid out in front of him, script in hand. He shifted in his seat, trying to get comfortable in his khakis. His father had told him it was easier to act classy when you dressed classy. Nathan needed every bit of help he could get.

            I’ve got this. Hmm, how many things does ‘got’ mean? Possession. Readiness. Understanding. Acknowledgement that one has marked a member of the opposing team and is defending . . .

            Dear God! CALL!

The firm smack of palm to forehead echoed through the kitchen. Nathan blamed his English degree for his inability to focus. Any language oddity sucked him in. He hadn’t had this hard a time making a call since working up the nerve to tell his parents he’d switched majors.

            And did they cut you off? No! Now get going!

            Okay. I’ve got this.

Nathan flipped his collar up. It made him feel like a jackass and he flipped it back down. He took a deep breath. All he could do was stare at the phone.

            For Christ’s sake! What are you afraid of? If you managed to call up Jenny Lloyd, you can manage this.

            That relationship ended in fire and pain!

            You shouldn’t have used gasoline. The prom pictures would have burned fine on their own. And that’s not the point. Even if this call turns into a fiasco, what’s the worst that can happen?

            Humiliation. Rejection.

            As compared to the humiliation of being unable to make a simple phone call?

Nathan gritted his teeth and nodded. Failure would only preserve the status quo.

His hand still wouldn’t move toward the phone. He stood up.

            I’ve just got too much energy. Some Xbox will settle me down.

            Dude!

            Half an hour. I’ll just take half an hour.

 

Two hours later, Nathan paced through the hallway, phone in hand, feet dragging on the carpet.

Sure you’ll just take half an hour you idiot. This is getting preposterous. What are you afraid of?

            Complete and catastrophic failure.

It’s a phone call, not surgery.

            I could stutter, or ramble. My voice could crack. I could trip and put my eye out on the corner of the coffee table. What if this is my only chance and I botch it and I live out my life in Mom’s basement serenaded by the roar of my failure until I die alone.

You’re a whiny little boy, you know that? Other chances will come up if this doesn’t work..

            I just need to be in the right frame of mind. I’m not in the right place.

There’s nothing to be scared of!

            I just don’t like calling up strangers.

She told you to call. Get moving! It’s been three days. How long can you really wait?

Nathan stopped in mid-stride. Waiting too long would only make things more awkward. He didn’t know what the time limit was, but calling sooner had to be better. He flicked his wrist to open the phone like Captain Kirk.

If you do the Shatner voice when you call, you deserve a lifetime of misery.

            That’s not helping.

Calm washed over him, he knew he could do it. All ten digits went in. His thumb moved toward the SEND button. He started to push. A hair away from the needed pressure, he noticed the time on the phone’s display: 11:58 a.m. His thumb shot straight up.

            I can’t call during lunch!

            Are you kidding me? Just call you coward!”

            No! Nobody likes the asshole who calls during lunch. Besides, I’m hungry.

            Ugh, fine. 1 o’clock. No excuses!

 

Nathan watched the kitchen clock’s hour hand hit 2 from his seat at the table and sighed.

            Why can’t I do this?

            You can as soon as you decide to act like a grownup.

            Why do I have to call, anyway? It’s the 21st century. Why can’t we do this stuff online? And where’s my flying car? Or my ray gun? Why don’t we have robot servants?

            Jumping Jesus Christ on a pogo stick! Just call.

Nathan pounded his fist on the table, then followed it with his head.

            Twenty-two years old and I can’t make a simple call. My whole life is a sick joke!

Nathan laughed at the thought. The joke seemed a little dark, but ridiculously funny. As he laughed, he calmed down.

            See? You just need to lighten up a bit.

            Yeah . . . yeah, I can do this.

Without thinking, he flipped the phone open. He focused in and dialed. His thumb hovered over SEND. And hovered. And froze. He couldn’t.

“FUCK!”

Nathan slammed the phone on the table. He squeezed his eyes, tears burning in the corners.  Failure crashed in on him. He moaned and opened his eyes, glancing down at the phone’s display. His blood ran cold as he read: CALLING . . .

            Oh shit! I must have hit the button. Hang up! Hang up!

            No! Everyone has Caller ID. He’ll know it was you!

            Shit! Shit!

Nathan’s shaking hand barely got the phone to his ear. The ringtone was cut off by a deep, businessy voice.

“Staley Marketing Associates, Robert Waterman speaking.”

“Good afternoon Mr. Waterman,” Nathan somehow held his voice steady. “This is Nathan Crowley calling. I’m a new college graduate looking for a job and was advised to contact you regarding a possible internship at your firm.” The words kept trying to fly away into babble, but Nathan held on, forcing them into a steady flow.

The voice on the other line turned friendlier. “Ah, Nathan. Your mom told me I’d be getting this call. How’s she doing?”

“She’s doing just fine. Naturally, she’s my biggest promoter.” Nathan’s heart still threatened to explode through his ribs, but he felt otherwise calm. “She’s probably sick of feeding me.”

Mr. Waterman chuckled. “I’m sure she’s not. Thanks for reaching out to me. Let’s see what we can do about getting you started in the world. Naturally, I can’t promise anything, but I can at least get you some info, maybe put your resume on the green pile, so to speak. Let’s talk a bit about what you’re looking for in a career.”

Nathan smiled. He could do this.

            Told you.

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