The voice has a familiar tone. “Uhh, yeah, hi. It’s me.”
“Oh.” Tamara pauses, more at ease now to find out that she is the caller.
“Lindsey. What a surprise. I’m assuming you’ve plucked those suckers out by now then?”
“You bet your ass it's me. Also, fuck you. You don’t have to say it like that!”
Tamara chuckles. The girls’ feistiness was endearing to say the least.
“Ok, what’s the matter?”
“The blackhead cream didn’t work. It only got half of them off me.”
“Hmm, that’s a shame. So what can I do for you?”
Lindsey snaps back, “What you can do is give me my money back! The commercial said that, "If you’re not satisfied with the results you get you get a refund, no questions asked!”
“Oh. Are you sure you used it correctly?”
“Didn't you hear me? You’re not supposed to ask questions!”
“Well, it’s just that I use this cream myself and it always gives me the best results I could ask for. That’s not the business side of me saving face this time by the way.”
“Pff. Yeah right.”
Well she isn’t too far off from assuming that, but Tamara is also being partially genuine at the moment. They aren’t the most prestigious makeup brand in Canada without a good reason.
Tamara continues “Did you read the instructions on the bottle?”
“What’s there to read? You put it on your face, wait for it to dry for fifteen minutes, then pull it off.”
“Well if you read the bottle you’d also know that your supposed to put a damp, warm towel on your skin to open your pores first for better effect.”
“Oh.” Rummaging and murmurs are heard on the line as she presumably looks for the blasted bottle. Lindsey stops for a minute. “Shit.”
“See? Told ya.”
“Well, uhh. The commercials make it look easy to use. I can still accuse you of false advertising!”
“Oh honey, I wouldn’t go around believing those things.”
“Why not? It’s your product you’re selling me.”
“Because they twist the facts to make them seem much more enticing. That and well, the shit acting gives it away.”
Lindsey is at a loss for words. How exactly does somebody respond to that? Tamara keeps going anyway.
“You should see the next commercial they’re filming. I don’t know why they thought hiring Phil Swift to star in a blackhead cream ad was a good idea.”
“You mean the guy from those industrial tape commercials? Flexi Tape?”
Tamara chuckles. “Yes! Same guy! They're gonna have him put the stuff on models and just rip it off while saying, "We're gonna pluck those suckers right out!" It’s for cinematic effect, of course, they’ll pull it off gently.”
“Okay, that’s not what I was expecting.”
“They’re doing for the shock value. Something about capitalizing on internet infamy of the sort. Seems to be some effective commercial tactic nowadays.”
Lindsey sighs.“So like, it doesn’t work then?”
“Oh, it does. Just not magically as the commercials make it look. You gotta keep the pores open well. I usually try it on after I’ve taken a warm shower. But if all else fails, I also advise exfoliating your skin with a thin baking soda paste before putting on the cream.”
“For real? That works?”
“Yes, it makes it easier for the cream to cling on the dirt and oil.”
“Huh, never knew that.”
“Do you think that this will help you then? Or are you still interested in a refund?”
“Well, I guess this could help, but I’d have to try it out first.”
With her resolve sounding doubtful, Tamara reassures her. “Alright then. If it doesn’t work just let me know and we can work for a refund.”
“No wait, don’t hang up yet!”
Strange. Tamara isn’t planning to hang up just yet as she is content to continue teasing the young teen, but she does not anticipate Lindsey to be eager to extend their convo. It dawns upon Tamara that it is an extreme stroke of luck that Lindsey got a hold of her. Calls that come into the department are usually assigned to a random representative as there are around 20 of them in Tamara’s office space alone. Or perhaps, it isn’t a matter of luck after all?
“Have you been calling here before today?” Tamara asks.
“I just find it strange that you got connected to my line on your first call.”
“I dunno what you’re talking about. I just called the same number as before.”
“We both know that’s not how it works.”
The teen releases a sigh. “Ok, I asked one of the ladies that picked up to connect me to you. I got your name from your e-mails. It was easier than to call over and over and hope you’d pick up. Don’t get any bright ideas though. I only wanted to talk to you because I don’t trust anyone else.”
“Is it a matter of trust? Or is this because you have something on your mind?”
Lindsey remains silent. Tamara can hear her holding her breath, hesitating to speak something of importance.
It doesn’t seem prudent to ask the girl upfront if she wants to speak, as she appears to be too proud to admit it. It is starting to become obvious that the bravado she put on is a shield for her true repressed feelings. It’s best to be cautious moving forward and simply let her speak.
After a minute of silence, Lindsey speaks up. “It’s, just, stuff at home, like I mentioned before.”
“I don’t love my great aunt anymore.”
“It’s fine, some days we feel like that.”
“No, you don't get it. I really don’t feel anything for her at all. Like, nothing. Sometimes I feel I’m better off without her.”
“Are you sure? Did she say something to get you upset?”
Lindsey gives a slight mocking chuckle as her voice wavers “What hasn’t she said? If she’s not criticising me on what I wear, she’s criticising me on what I do and my friends. She’ll even bring up my mom.”
“That’s a pretty low blow.”
“Yeah, pretty fucking low.”
“So it’s not just a one-time type of deal is it?”
“Nah, this has been going on for a while now. A really long while. I even buy some of this makeup to piss her off. I’m just tired of it. I can’t remember the last time we got along, or when I wanted to spend time around her. I don’t even like living together.”
“So everything she says and does is par for the course where you live?”
“What does that mean?”
Tamara makes a small grin. “Well, it’s like another fancy way of saying ‘routine’, or something that’s to be expected.”
“Oh.” she laughs. “You people and your fancy words.”
“So, you said that you don’t love her anymore. How much is that troubling you.?”
Lindsey hesitates again. “Well, uh. I’ve been having some thoughts lately and I’m not sure what to make of them.”
Out of pure instinct now, a motherly tone apprehends her voice.“ It’s okay if you’re too scared I’ll think less of you. I won’t, I promise.”
The teen takes a deep breath. “Sometimes I feel that if she’s gone forever one day I won’t miss her. It’s not like I want her to be gone, no way, but…” she struggles to finish.
“Her attitude has taken a toll on you hasn’t it?”
There is a long silence between the two.
“Listen. In life we’re going to come across people that are dangerous to our feelings. We once held them in high regard while respecting and loving them unconditionally.” she pauses, collecting herself. “But then, they betray that respect, tossing it aside like it doesn’t matter not realizing how much it matters to you. They'll say the unthinkable masking it as the most practical. I’m sure your family tells you that she still loves you back, and you must respect your elders. But love and respect is something that’s earned, not an obligation.”
Lindsey remains silent, attentively listening to every word said.
Tamara continues, “I’m not going to pretend to know what goes on in your life. But if it’s as destructive as I suspect, I don’t blame you if you feel that you don't love her anymore.”
“I guess. She’s taken it too far, a lot. I’m not sure if I’m a bad person for thinking this way.”
“Sweetie, it doesn’t make you a bad person. Trust me. There’s been people I stopped loving myself, who lost that respect from me.”
“You never forgave them?”
Tamara is giving a sympathetic smile she was sure Lindsey could see from the other line. “You know, it’s funny. They always tell us since we’re young that forgiveness is the right thing to do, that it’s a virtue, a sign of strength. I always saw it as a simple choice. You can’t control the way people are. I find the whole idea of forgiveness overrated anyway. Forgive and forget is how the old saying goes, but sometimes, it’s better to just, forget.” Tamara pauses and takes a deep breath. “None of that matters now. At the end of the day, the only real person you should learn to forgive is yourself.”
“Because, you can live your whole life overlooking what someone may have done, but you truly can’t live if you can't absolve yourself for letting it consume to you.”
The teen is more at ease with herself, knowing someone understands the complex feelings she’d been going through. She never expected to find consolation in the most unlikely of places. Then again, she didn’t know anyone before with enough fortitude and patience to actually get through to her. Lindsey can’t help but snicker at an idea that occurs.
“Oh, it’s uh. Well, have you ever considered joining self help line instead?”
“Oh.”Tamara laughs. “Honey, I don’t think that I’m that good for that type of stuff.”
“Really? You’d be awesome at making people feel better in their life, you know?”
“I’m not that good with people. I’m better at just scaring them away, or so I’m told. I did with the last guy.”
“I let him hear my pussycat.”
“It’s a long story.”
“Oh, well, you’re sure making me feel better.”
“I’m glad.” There a sense of sincerity as she said that. “Here’s an interesting piece of trivia that you’ll find eye opening. In some research, it’s been discovered that certain lobes of the brain shrink as we become older. Including the ones that control our personalities such as the frontal one.”
“So that means-”
“Yup. Your old fart becoming cranky and disrespectful is most likely from her shrinking lobes.”
Both of them are laughing now.
The two spend the next hour talking to one another about various aspects of their lives. Tamara is surprised to find out that Lindsey lives with only her brother, father and great aunt. It’s no wonder the poor girl doesn’t feel respected or understood, what with two alpha males and one out-of-touch old aunt in the household. All of them, especially her father, appear to be a tad overprotective with Lindsey, with her being the youngest woman in the family. They’ve recently become partial to the idea of her using a bit of makeup to cover some freckles or zits, but they lose their minds at the smallest glint of an eye shadow. Then the barrage of critiques and preaching would begin.
This, sadly, appears to be her daily soundtrack.
“That’s unbearable,” Tamara says.
“Tell me about it. I feel like some animal at a zoo being watched at every movement by crazy tourists furiously chewing gum.”
“Well, they usually just stare like that when they house a popular animal, they do a cute trick, or they just wanna see the chimps get at it. But I get what you're getting at.”
“Don’t worry. You’d probably be a cute Koala.”
“Haha” she deadpans. “ But, thanks, I guess. I love Koalas.”
Lindsey on the other hand is surprised to find how out much of a bookworm Tamara is. She brings up the names and works of several authors she never heard of before. The aforementioned John Irving for his thrillers, Lee Child when she was in the mood for some hardcore poetic justice, Danielle Steel for her romance and a little bit of Stephen King on the side when she wanted to feel like she was high on coke and booze from the balls-to-the-walls ideas in them. Seriously, have you read IT? Tamara has, thrice, and it gets funnier every time.
Apart from King, Lindsey doesn’t really care much about the rest; she doesn’t read much, but she finds the new knowledge on these books fascinating. She even begins considering picking some of them up. The James Patterson young adult novels sound fun.
“I feel that if I didn’t work as a customer rep, I’d probably love to work in a bookstore,” Tamara responds. “Preferably my own.”
“That’s neat. Why don’t you?”
“It’s not that easy honey. I can’t just open a store.”
“Well, what about working for one?”
“I wish, but they don’t pay that well. And it’s hard enough to afford a single apartment for myself in this town with this messed up housing situation.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s a big problem.”
Through the receiver loud knocks are heard. “Lindsey! Do you have the phone? I need it!”
“Oh shit.” Lindsey snaps.
“Oh that’s just my bother. He probably needs the house phone to talk to his "Sweetheart Amber Middleton" or "Honeyton" as he puts it.”
“That sounds stupid.”
“I know right?!”
“I mean, if you can’t make good puns, then don’t go for it.”
The knocking is heard again. “Lindsey, hurry up! You've hogged it for an hour now!”
“Ok, I’m gonna have to hang up. This is like, the only way I can call you. I don't have a cell phone yet, just a crummy iPod.”
“What about your refund dear? You’re still not satisfied with your product? The commercial didn’t lie. We can help if it’s not what you expected.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot.” she sighs. “Listen, I’ll just reconsider it for now. Maybe your tip with the baking soda can help.”
“Alright, if that’s the case, thank you for your patience, then. I hope my assistance-”
Tamara hears Lindsey’s door bursting open. “Ok, time’s up. Give it back.”
“What the fuck? I was about to hang up!” Lindsey protests.
“You took too long. Who are you even talking to anyway? Your friends don’t have cell phones either. Don’t tell me you’re buying stuff behind dad’s back again.“
“No wait! Give it back!” A small scuffle is heard on the receiver as Jonathan presumably snatches the phone.
“Hello? Who is this? If she bought something just cancel the order. She’s grounded and not allowed to spend her allowance.”
“Oh, hello.” Tamara replies evenly. “You must be Jonathan.”
“How do you know my name? You told her, didn’t you Lindsey?"
The teen is heard pleading from a distance. “Don’t listen to him! Just hang up!”
Tamara replies.“I’m sorry, but it’s too late to cancel any order at this point.”
“Ha! I knew it! What did she buy?”
“That’s confidential. I’m not allowed to reveal that info. I think it’s best to just forget this ordeal and go talk to Amber. It’s not polite to keep a lady waiting.”
Jonathan’s tone grows impatient.“How did you get that name?"
“Amber Middleton? Oh, she’s a regular customer of ours actually. I just looked her up.”
“Well, that’s just great. What else has Lindsey told you?”
“Just how much you seem to question her lifestyle choices with Shakespearean yet foul language.”
“Hey, with all due respect, that’s not of your concern.”
“I just find it curious.”
“Well, last I checked, you mentioned that our products make our clients look like smut peddlers. And considering that your girlfriend Honeyton is one of our clients, it makes me question your taste in women. Again, your words.”
“Go fuck yourself!”
The call abruptly ends.
“Well, he was nice.”And thus, she resumes her work taking on the next call.
Later that evening, her shift is finally finished. All of her coworkers begin clearing out the offices in waves, some muddlers relieved from the stress that had befallen them, and others like her who couldn’t care less.
“Tamara Honey, let’s go. Everyone’s almost out and I need to make sure we’re all signed off,” replies Eliza at her threshold.
“In a minute. Just need to finish sorting these last e-mails.”
“You got three minutes honey, only cuz I like you.”
As she clicks through her folders marking the pending e-mails she needs to get back later, a new one comes in. This one is marked “Hey, it’s me.”
Curious, she opens the email and decides to give it a quick read:
"Hey, thanks for that. I dunno what you said to Jonathan, but he got really pissed and hasn’t talked to me since. His face got so damn red and I couldn’t stop laughing. I’ve never seen him that mad in a while.
I’m not in trouble for the cream though. My dad said that he has no problem with me buying stuff for acne, just as long as it’s not makeup. Jonathan was just talking out of his ass.
Anyway, the baking soda thing worked actually, well, mostly. I almost got all of the blackheads out, but the stubborn ones are still in there. I look better now though. I’ll try again tomorrow.
So, thanks for the chat. I kinda liked talking to you. You’re weird, but not in a bad way. Like, an unusual type of weird, if that makes any sense to you?
So I guess I’ll just call you again if I change my mind about the cream, or need to buy something else."
The message ends there. There isn’t much left to say after the exchange, but Tamara has a feeling Lindsey will call again. The girl seemed more at ease opening herself with Tamara than anyone else. She figured that, perhaps the strongest bonds are formed through mutual suffering.