Eric Knight glanced at the clock on the wall and sighed. Maybe it was time to give up this job, because for the last few weeks the six hour shift seemed to drag on forever. A light tapping sound drew his attention back to the large window that separated him from Shannon, his engineer, and she pointed to the phone. He saw the light flashing on line two and nodded, then adjusted his headset and readied his finger over the mike button on the console. As the last few chords of the song faded, he leaned forward. "You're listening to The Knight Shift, on KLOL, and we've got a caller on the line. Who are ya, and whattaya want?" His trademark line still pleased his listeners, but to him the thrill had gone.
"Hey, man. Name's Joe, and I got a question," a smooth male voice replied.
"Hit it, Joe. I got all night."
"You gonna get Ladybug back or what?"
Eric shared a glance with Shannon and shook his head. "Topic Ladybug is closed," he said into his mike. "It's Friday night, stud, and since you're here with me I doubt if I should take your advice on the ladies. You have a request or what?"
"Awright, I got one," his caller answered. "But I still think you should - "
"Ten seconds," Eric interrupted.
"Okay, okay," the young man laughed. "I get it."
"Play me that new Coldplay."
Eric's fingers picked at his keyboard as his listener described the song, and before he could finish Eric had it cued and hit 'enter' with a flourish. "That the one?" he asked as the music began.
"Yeah, man, thanks."
"That's what I'm here for." He had a few seconds to fill before the lyrics started. "Friday night is request night, anything goes. You know the number." He switched off the mike and took off his headset, running his fingers through his hair. He needed a haircut. Heck, he needed a nap. He hadn't had a decent morning of sleep in a while, and it was getting old. The door opened and Shannon leaned against the frame, coffee in hand.
"They aren't gonna let you off the hook, are they?"
"Doesn't look like it."
"Why don't you just tell 'em what happened and get it over with?"
Eric scowled at the desk so he wouldn't have to scowl at her. "Because it's none of their business. Or yours, for that matter."
"Hey, don't blame us," she said with an indifferent shrug. "You're the one who fell in love and proposed on the radio. We just followed along."
"I didn't propose!" he protested, wishing it was four a.m. so he could go home. But no. Just past one. Hours to go. Maybe the stupid clock was broken.
"Okay, fine. You didn't propose. But everybody knew you wanted to. Everybody was waiting for it, including Ladybug. Half the city was listening after that write-up in the paper."
"Don't remind me," he groaned, slumping back in his chair, checking his song time remaining out of the corner of his eye. "Being dumped in front of half the free world isn't exactly my cup of tea either, you know."
"She didn't dump you, Eric. You blew it."
"I KNOW, OKAY?" he shouted, then rubbed his hands roughly over his face. "Can we please drop it? First this guy, now you..."
"Okay, sorry." Shannon retreated, sticking her head back in the door. "Twenty four, twenty three..."
Eric slipped his headset back on and waited, then introduced the pre-recorded news update. A few sly remarks about some of the local headlines, then he took another request. "Can you play Purple People Eater?" the perky female voice asked.
"I would love to. It's about time somebody requested that song. I've been waiting for weeks for that particular song. One of my favorites, right there next to 'She Bangs'." He was stalling, since his fingers couldn't seem to manage the word 'people'. It kept coming out 'popple, or 'poople', and he shook his head and smiled to himself. "But first, a pop quiz. Answer this right, and I'll set you up with a KLOL Knight Shift t-shirt in the hideous color of your choice. And the question is... spell 'people'."
The girl giggled, and Eric sat with his fingers poised, waiting. "Um, p-e-... um, o..."
"You're fired," Eric joked, as his brain finally clicked and he typed the darn word. The song began. "Sorry, no t-shirt for half answers. A half t-shirt maybe. And if you're over eighteen, I get to decide which half." He clicked off the mike again as the probably-long-dead singer started telling the story of the big purple alien, and he sat back in his chair and took a slow swig from his bottle of Coke. He screwed the cap on and set it down, and stared at it without seeing it. "People," he sang softly to himself, his thoughts still focused miserably on the whole failed love-life thing. "People whooooooooo... need people..." He let his head fall back and flung his arms wide as he belted out the next line. "Are the luuuuuuuuuuuuuckiest peeeeeeeeeople... innnnnnnn theeeeeeeee worrrrrrrrrrld!"
He stood so fast his chair rolled away and he paced around, as far as he could being tethered to the console. He didn't need people. At least, not some people. At least, not one particular person known to half the city as Ladybug.
He took a reflexive look at the song time, then leaned against the wall and stared out the high window. "I didn't mean it, you know," he whispered to the lights sparkling below him, wishing she could hear him. Another song whispered its way into his head. Her song, the one that became their song. It was almost a year ago now that she had first called, funny and sweet as she requested the Beatles' "If I Fell". He enjoyed the call so much he kept her on the line for almost twenty minutes and invited her back any time. After that she was one of his regular callers, one of a group of four or five favored enough to earn stupid nicknames, the ones that kept him sane in the early morning hours. Other people would call in just to comment on his conversations with Ladybug. When one guy asked her out right there on the air, he hung up on the caller and gathered the nerve to ask her out himself, and she had giggled and said yes.
They spent almost all their time together after that first amazing date, and she was wonderful, everything he wanted. And yes, he'd been thinking about proposing. But he hadn't. Because when that stupid newspaper article came out and the ratings went through the roof, the pressure of their relationship going so public had scared him. And what did he do? Blew it. Utterly and completely blew it, on the air. Embarrassed her. No, publicly humiliated her with some stupid macho remarks about women and their desperation to get married. And they'd had a big hurtful argument right there on the show until Shannon cut it off. And since then, nothing.
He closed his eyes, aching as he let himself remember her face, her smile, the way she felt in his arms, then realized what he was doing and shook his head violently. No. Not going there. I don't miss her. I'm not dying here from missing her. Nope. He retrieved his chair and sat his butt in it, then with an exaggerated push against the wall he rolled back to his spot, clicking back on in the nick of time. "Goodbye, purple friend, and we've got a caller on line one. Who are ya and whattaya want?"
"It's T-Man, and I want to never hear that song again in my life." Eric smiled. Travis, a.k.a T-Man, was his roommate, and he couldn't agree more. "And I've got a request for you."
"Bless you, my child. Enlighten me, won't you?"
"You said anything goes, right?"
Okay, this could be bad. Who knew what Travis would spring on him? He called often enough with his outlandish requests that he was well-known to Eric's audience. Everybody liked T-Man. He decided to risk it. "That's what I said."
"Good. I want 'If I Fell.' Maybe you've heard of it." Eric's hands sagged over the keys. Travis was a dead man. "The Beatles. You know, the four British guys?"
"Yeah, I've heard of it," Eric sighed. In fact, he'd heard it in his head just a minute ago at the window. And Travis knew exactly what he was doing.
"So, play it, dark Knight," Travis nudged him in his ear. "You know you gotta play it some time. And we're all here for you."
Eric swallowed hard and dared a glance at Shannon through the glass. Her eyes were sympathetic, but she nodded. He closed his eyes, and his fingers typed the letters by touch. "Okay. Here goes nothin'." He hit enter and the very first familiar word made him ache. After the first line, his throat constricted. Five more seconds and he groped for his headset and yanked it off, then sat there just trying to breathe. How could it still hurt so bad? What kind of wuss still hurt so bad over a woman after three whole weeks? Three endless weeks? "Oh, hell," he moaned. "I can't..."
He could still hear the tinny sound of the music coming from the headset and he dropped it onto the desk, then covered his ears with his hands, trying to block it out. But it was inside his head too, and it wasn't going away. He couldn't do it, couldn't listen to that song, not yet. He reached out desperately and hit a key, and dead air reigned. The cardinal law of radio – no dead air, ever – had just bit the dust. Long silent seconds ticked by. "Oh god, Beth, I'm sorry. I miss you so much," he moaned softly. "Come on, just call. Just once."
A tentative tapping on the window, and Eric opened his eyes. Shannon was signaling, pointing. His mike was on. So what. His mike... uh oh. He grabbed his headset and jammed it on, hitting at the keyboard and "If I Fell" started up again. He smacked it off wildly. "Uh... yeah. Hang on. Technical difficulties. Aw sh-... uh. Somebody call in a request. Quick. Please. Save me." He let his forehead sink back down onto the desk and stayed there. He'd be lucky to have a job tomorrow. In the quiet he could hear the faint trilling of the phone from Shannon's side of the glass, and he reached out blindly for the button that put the call directly through to him. "You're listening to the Knight Shift. Save a drowning man, request a song. Or two. Two for a quarter, one night only. Who are ya and whattaya want?"
"Well, sometimes they call me Ladybug."
Eric stiffened, and sat up slowly. His wide eyes met Shannon's, and she raised her eyebrows as a faint smile came onto her face. She twirled her hand. Get moving. Talk. Do something.
"Uh... hey, Ladybug." He swallowed hard. "Back by popular demand."
"You stopped the song. Bad deejay."
He knew her voice better than any song. The words were teasing but the tone was cautious. "Yeah, you got that right. Bad deejay will be appearing live at the unemployment office tomorrow, bright and early."
"I doubt it," she said. "You know, we're all just waiting to see what happens next."
Eric's mind was blank. He barely noticed Shannon struggling to keep up with the phone as all the lines started lighting up, one after the other. "Are you now?"
"Maybe you should start by playing a song," Beth hinted.
"You're probably right about that," Eric mumbled, staring at the computer keys but seeing her face. "But I seem to have forgotten how."
"Then can I make a request?"
He looked at Shannon, who shrugged and answered another line with that pleased little smirk of hers, and he took a deep breath. "Absolutely. Whattaya want, Ladybug?"
"How about.... the Jackson 5. You know, 'I Want You Back'?"
Eric's gut twisted. "Beth..."
"I love you, Eric. I'm sorry I said those things."
He slumped back in his chair and rubbed his hands over his eyes, pushing back the tears that threatened to form. More dead air, but he couldn't help it. "It was my fault. And I love you too."
"So, maybe you could come by after work tomorrow night. We could talk, if you want."
"Really? Oh man, Beth, that'd be great."
A silence. "Eric?"
"You might want to play the song now."
"Oh yeah." He sat up and typed it in fast, then hit enter with a joyous bang, and as the song started he pushed off with his feet and spun around in his chair. "YESSS!" he cried out happily. "Yes! Yes! Yes!"
"Um, Eric?" Shannon's voice over the intercom. He stopped spinning and looked at her, surprised, and she was grinning at him. "You might want to turn off the mike now."
A/N: Short and sappy, I know. It's, like, my specialty. I hope you liked it, let me know!