The large room was filled with people and flowers. Leola's brother stood at the podium, narrating a slideshow, and cracking jokes about their shared childhood. Grace sat in the back, having slipped in a few minutes after the proceedings began. She avoided looking at the screen and picked a piece of white lint from her black suit.
Grace fumbled through her purse to try to retrieve her phone, her heart jumping. She found it and saw that the caller was 'Janus'.
"Oh my god," she exclaimed. She looked up to see everyone staring at her. "It's uh...I've got to take this," she said quickly to everyone. She got up and ran stumbling towards the door.
"That's Grace everyone," said Leola's brother. "Doesn't really live up to her name, does she?"
Grace glanced back at him before going though the door. He winked at her. On the other side, in the relative quiet of the anteroom, she answered her buzzing phone.
"Is this Grace Morneau?" said a woman's voice.
"Yes, it is," said Grace.
"Are you ready for your scheduled retrograde call?"
"Yes," said Grace, her throat suddenly dry.
"Have you read and do you agree to our terms of service?"
"Good. You will be charged the full amount for your call whether we are able to successfully connect you or not. Please realize also that your calling party may or may not answer, even though you've specified the best time to call. Do you understand these conditions?"
"Yes, yes!" said Grace impatiently. "That was all in the terms of service."
"Most people don't actually read it. We have to check. You understand."
"I understand you're taking thirty thousand of my dollars for three minutes," said Grace.
There was a brief pause.
"Well not me specifically. If you want, I can upgrade you to the five minute plan for only an additional ten thousand dollars. That's a fifty percent savings. We're running this deal through the month of March and you may combine it with other offers. Would you like to do that?"
"Just connect me please," Grace sighed deeply.
"Okay, Grace. After your call completes, please stay on the line to complete a brief survey to tell us about the quality of your call and our service."
Grace clenched her hands and bobbed down and up, looking at the ceiling. She silently mouthed the words 'oh my god'. There was a click, followed by static. There was a low, vibrating groaning sound, then a series of rapid clicks. Then there was a ringing tone. Grace leaned into a wall, her knees suddenly weak.
"Grace! Why are you calling at this time of night? Is everything okay?"
"Leola," said Grace, her face contorted. She held her hand up to her mouth. Tears poured down her face.
"What's wrong sweetie?" said Leola, concerned. "Why are you crying? Is it Josh again? Do you want me to kick him in the nuts for you?"
"No, Josh is fine," said Grace, as a sob turned into a chuckle. "There's no need to beat him up."
"You know I've always got your back," said Leola. "Alway's sweetie."
"I know." Grace looked at the doors.
"So what's up? Why are you crying?"
"I'm at a, um, funeral," said Grace, wiping her cheeks.
"Seriously? At eleven at night? What is it, a funeral for a vampire?"
Grace and Leola laughed together.
"Come on, seriously, what's going on?" asked Leola.
"I just felt a bit lonely I guess. I needed to talk to someone. I wanted to hear your voice."
"Isn't Josh with you right now? I thought you two had gone out tonight."
"Yeah, we did, but uh, he had to go home early. Had a meeting in the morning or something. I mean, he has a meeting in the morning."
"Oh, well we could still go for coffee, or go get a drink or something. Have a double with me. I don't know, maybe alcohol is a bad choice if you're down. Coffee then?"
"No...I can't," said Grace. "I uh...I just can't."
"Fine, fine. We can talk. I was just watching a Kurt Russell movie but I can finish it later."
"You and Kurt," she said.
"Forever and always," said Leola. "I know he's not everyone's taste these days, not all of us have our Josh's if you know what I mean."
"Hah! I'm not sure I do. Not to change the subject or anything, but I'd like to say something before--well there's no time like the present. I uh..."
"What is it?"
"All the time we've spent together...uh...I'll always, always remember you. I love you, Leola."
There was pause.
"Leola?" asked Grace.
"This isn't...is this one of those...oh God it is. It's going to be within a week. Oh holy hell. Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. Just tell me, will it be gruesome or peaceful?"
"We're best friends. Tell me. For the love of God, tell me."
Grace started sobbing again.
"You're my joy!" she yelled. "And you're gone now. You're gone! Why did you do that? Why?! Why did it have to happen?"
"Grace, sweetie, listen to me...it's okay. Go live a good life for me. Will you do that?"
The line cut to static.
"Leola? Are you there? Leola?"
The static faded into a muzakked pop song.
"Please hold for your survey. It will take only a few minutes to complete--"
Grace ended the call and threw the phone to the floor. She pulled up her legs and cried deeply into the hem of her skirt.