Dale released a string of angry curses out loud when he saw the Missed Call icon flashing on his phone. Of all things to do, he'd left his phone on vibrate, and had missed Esme's call.
Pushing down the distinct urge to hit something, he settled back against the couch cushions, waiting for his voicemail to start up.
A moment later, and Esme's voice filtered through.
"Hi, Dale," she sounded excited, and he could almost picture the soft, happy smile she'd be wearing, "I am honestly so thrilled you called me! I was worried you'd forgotten about me."
Her voice took on a softer tone. "Honey, it's okay that you didn't call me, and you're not a stupid idiot. It's hard to be away from someone important, isn't it? I am doing alright, but I'm bummed I missed your call. Hopefully we can catch each other soon. I miss you, and love you, alright? Bye-bye, Hon!"
For the first time since Esme had left, Dale felt a large smile crawl up his face, genuinely excited about the prospect of talking with her, even if it was over the phone.
He didn't care, at this point. He'd take whatever he could get.
Another month on, however, and Dale had discovered he couldn't get all that much.
He'd been promoted at his workplace, which meant longer hours and less sleep, which also meant playing a game of chase with Esme.
They were constantly missing each other; she'd leave a message, but by the time he tried to call her back, she was already working. It was an exhausting cycle, and Dale was sick of it.
What kind of cruel joke was the universe playing?
He ran his hands over his face wearily, eyeing his apartment with a critical eye. He'd wanted to tidy up a bit, but he couldn't even find the will to stand. It was his first day off in what felt like forever, and he and Esme had promised to finally get in touch. He'd already tried twice, though, and it was mid-afternoon.
The cynical part of Dale's mind was hissing about how she had better things to do, and why would she contact him, of all people?
To which his heart griped back, Esme literally tells you all the time how much she loves you, so why won't you stop doubting her?
Dale really hated his conscience sometimes.
Somehow finding the will to clean up the spare room (Jacob had moved in with his girlfriend, and Dale no longer needed a roommate after his promotion), Dale only stopped when it looked neat and tidy.
Every bit the guest room, with not an ounce of personal touch. Dale's heart stung at the thought of how it used to look, with Esme's many pictures and posters.
Throwing some leftover Chinese into the microwave, Dale glanced at the clock one more time.
Esme must have been busy, or something, and forgotten.
It was alright, he decided eventually, tapping his fingers against the counter idly. After all, she often got called in at the last minute, and it wasn't really her fault, was it?
The microwaved beeped, but Dale didn't go to it. He was frozen, eyes stuck in his phone.
His buzzing-with-a-call phone. Esme's name flashed on the screen, and he grinned dumbly. Fumbling with the buttons, he practically slammed the small object against his ear. "Esme?"
Her laughter came through, and he relaxed instantly. "Hey, Hon!" she greeted brightly, her voice loud over the chatter coming in through the background.
I was right: she must have gotten called in.
As if she could hear his thoughts, Esme continued: "Sorry I didn't call earlier, Dale. Something came up with work, and I couldn't exactly leave."
"Hey, no worries," Dale settled on his couch, "How was your day?"
As she chattered on about what had happened and, "Can you believe that, Hon? I was in shock!" Dale's grin never left, because this was how it was supposed to be. Long calls with the woman he loved; if he could hear her voice, he could picture her expressions, and it truly felt as though she was there with him.
Things got better, after that.
It was easier to find a routine with Esme, and they spoke on the phone at least once a week, but texted almost constantly. It was still hard, not seeing her in person, but at least he heard her voice, and it was better than nothing.
His love for her continued to grow, however, and eventually he couldn't hold it in any longer.
"Hey, Esme?" he interrupted her story about work, his voice hesitant.
"What's up, Dale?" she asked, instantly concerned.
"Nothing bad," he was quick to reassure, "Just . . . okay, uh, bear with me." He swallowed, "I love you, Esme."
"Okay?" she was confused, now. "I love you too, Dale. What's going on?"
Dale ran a hand through his hair, the frustration growing. Why couldn't she get it? Surely she realized how freaking perfect she was, right?
"No," he insisted, "I love you, Esme. Like, really, truly love you."
A clatter, then silence, followed by the dial tone.
Dale called in sick to work the next day, feeling absolutely no desire to leave his bed.
God, he was pitiful.
A stupid, pitiful idiot.
Of course Esme didn't love him back. She was too good for him, and hadn't he been through this before?
They couldn't agree on coffee, for God's sake. Much less anything else.
We wouldn't have worked out for long, anyway, Dale tried to tell himself.
The stupid organ called his heart argued, like usual. Except you probably would have. Gotten married, had kids, the usual.
With a groan, Dale rolled from his side onto his back, staring at the ceiling morosely.
He was considering just trying to fall asleep and forget everything, but he heard the front door creak open.
Oh, God, Ryan had come to check on him, since Dale had been ignoring the other man's texts.
The bedroom door opened, and Dale blew out a sigh. "Leave me alone, Ryan. Let me wallow in misery in peace."
"Can we do it together?"
Dale snapped up so fast his head almost fell off. Esme – Esme – stood in the doorway, hands clasped together, a sheepish smile on her face. "Hi, Honey."
"I – uh – what, what the Hell are you doing here?" Dale hadn't meant for it to sound so aggressive, but he couldn't help it. Because, really, what was she doing here?
"Well, um," her eyes darted around, and then she was fumbling in her pocket, pulling out the remains of her iPhone. "When you told me that you, uh, love me, yesterday, I dropped my phone. And it shattered, so it doesn't work anymore. And then I figured you would think I didn't want to say it back – not true at all – so I bought a plane ticket, and here I am!" It all came out in a rush, and she sucked in a deep breath when she was finished.
Dale blinked three times, then: "I realize we're basically a romcom, but can I kiss you now?"
She smiled, that bright, beautiful smile that was all Esme, and chirped, "Yes, please!"
He kissed her, and she tasted of coffee beans.
Dale had never loved the stupid flavor so much.
*sniffles* It's so hard when a story comes to an end, isn't it? Makes me feel like I just sent a child off to college or something.
Elise Rosemary: You're right on all counts! Thanks for the editing help; when I reread my work, I miss the weirdest things. *shrugs* Oh, well. Thanks for the review!
Dawness: I was originally going to name him Dake, you know (jk, jk). Hope this wrapped up the story all nice and neat for you, with a little bow on top. :) #desme for the win.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed!
Till next time,