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The Wrong Number is the Right Number

The promo poster she was working on was just about finished. Ella just needed to add a couple of more filters to get the lighting just right, and she’d be ready to send it to her father for his approval. There was just one thing--she had become transfixed on one of the supporting actors and hadn’t been able to concentrate on finishing. A check of the time told her that her stepmom would be in to check on her soon. She needed to be finished, or else she’d have to eat dinner alone in the attic while she completed the job. Since her cousin Tim was supposed to come over tonight, she wanted to get done.

But… there was just something about his face that kept her eyes glued to the man in the picture for far too long. He had light brown hair, a little long on top, that fell over one of his piercing blue eyes. The smile on his face was confident, yet not cocky like most of the other actors she spent her time staring at while working. She was pretty sure she’d never seen him before. A face like that would be hard to forget.

The urge to make him the focal point had to be overcome. He wasn’t the main star of the film, only a supporting actor. Still, the camera loved him. It was a shame he was off in the corner, next to a few of the other actors who had yet to make a name for themselves.

In fact, she didn’t even know what his name was. The two main leads were easy to recognize, even for someone who hadn’t watched movies or television in months and had been used to watching French TV before that. A few of the other actors and actresses looked familiar, too, but this one… she didn’t know who he was. But she wanted to find out.

The cell phone next to her computer rang. It was one she used to speak to clients, usually unhappy ones. Yet another job her stepmother thought she’d be perfect for. She'd convinced her father that Ella’s ability to speak four languages fluently made her perfect for the job. However, when these callers spoke “French” to her, it wasn’t in the true sense of the word. It was only because they were cursing at her. Usually, it was just a misunderstanding, and she was able to repair the damage. Lucky for her most of the business dealings between Sinders Cinema Marketing and the rest of the entertainment industry were usually on point.

Ella finished applying the final filter and let her work render as she answered the phone. “Sinders Cinema Marketing, customer service division. This is Ella. How may I be of service?” After all that, she was often surprised that they hadn’t hung up.

This time, she thought maybe the caller had disconnected the call because it was quiet on the other end for so long. “I’m sorry--did you say… Sinders?”

His voice had an alluring quality to it. A bit raspy, but energetic, as if he was one of those people full of life she often envied. She tried to picture in her mind what a man who sounded like that might look like. Her eyes went to the picture in front of her. He sounded handsome--like the man on her screen. “Yes, that’s right. Can I help you?”

He was quiet again for a moment. “Huh. What are the chances? I’m sorry. I must have misdialed. Can you tell me… is your number 4072 or 4012?”

“It’s 4072,” she answered, a bit disappointed that he was about to hang up.

“All right. I’m sorry to have bothered you. I guess I can’t read my own handwriting.”

She wasn’t sure what that meant, but she wasn’t ready for him to hang up the call. “Oh, you’re not bothering me. I get that, though. My handwriting is terrible. I try to type things whenever I can.” She rolled her eyes. Like he cared….

She was surprised when he chuckled. “I know, right? Who writes anything down anymore? We have computers in our pockets for crying out loud.”

“Yep.” Desperately, Ella searched for something else to say. She didn’t have a computer in her pocket, though, because she wasn’t allowed to take the cell phone away from the table, and her stepmother had confiscated hers the moment she’d gotten back from France. It sounded so ridiculous. She was a grown woman! “I also have a computer in front of me.” There--she’d said something. Something stupid.

Yet, again, he laughed. “Yeah, I guess you do. And you probably have actual customers to help.”

“Nah, we don’t get a lot of complaints, thankfully.” She did realize that her stepmom was about to come into the room, though. If she was on the phone then, it better sound like a work problem. And she’d have to log this as something other than a wrong number. Her stepmom checked the call log very carefully every night to make sure Ella hadn’t called anyone she wasn’t supposed to. She’d have to make something up….

“Your accent is lovely. Where are you from?”

“My accent?” Ella wasn’t expecting that question either. “Oh, I’m from here… I mean, LA. But I spent most of my childhood in France. Until recently. I mean, I’m not a child anymore. I’m twenty-two. Not that you care. But… uh….”

He started to laugh again, only this time, she sort of felt like he was laughing at her. But then he said, “I’m so sorry. You probably weren’t expecting to play twenty questions with an idiot who doesn’t know his best friend’s phone number. I must’ve caught you off-guard.”

“Well, yeah, you did, actually. But it’s okay. I obviously don’t talk to people much.”

“No? Not even the people in the cubicles next to you?”

Ella looked around as if she might actually see other people in cubicles. “Nope.” That would have to do. She couldn’t possibly explain her situation to a stranger on the phone.

“That’s too bad. You’re lovely to talk to. In fact, I might just have to forget my friend’s number again sometime so I can call you back.”

All of the blood in her body had to be rushing to her cheeks, they felt so warm. “Oookay,” she said, not sure how else to answer. He seemed nice, and she’d love to talk to someone other than her family and Mary. But for all she knew, he could be a psychopath. Or a fifty-year-old balding man who just happened to sound young.

“Okay,” he said, though he didn’t sound particularly confident. “Have a nice evening, Ella.”

“You, too, uh….” She didn’t know his name. She wanted to know his name almost as much as she wanted to know the name of the man in the picture on her desktop that had just finished rendering.

“Rome. My name is Rome.”

“Rome? That’s… a great name.” She’d been to Rome, and she’d loved it. Now, she was talking to a guy on the phone named Rome who was intriguing, mysterious, and pleasant--much like the city he was named for.

“I’ll talk to you later, Ella.”

“Bye, Rome.”

She hung up and stared at the phone. The whole conversation had been odd. It was just a wrong number after all. Yet, she had goosebumps on her arms.

Shaking her head, Ella put the phone down and hastily sent the email to her dad. Then, she went into the call log and typed in, “Received call from client at 4:57. Asked several questions about our customer service department, which I answered, but would not tell me his name. Said he would call back another time when he had more information. Call ended at 5:02.” That would have to do.

The door behind her clicked open, and Ella’s breath caught in her throat.

“Ella? Are you done with the poster for The Way You Hurt Me?” Teresa wanted to know. She didn’t even cross the room, only stood in the doorway with her arms folded, tapping her foot.

“Yes, Mother,” Ella said, turning to face her. She’d been instructed to always call her Mother, and she had a feeling it was because Teresa wanted to brainwash her into forgetting her own mother and also assert her authority.

“Did you send it to your father?”

“Yes, Mother.”

“Very good. You may come down for dinner then. But don’t start cutting up with your cousin. Tim isn’t just here to see you. He wants to see his other cousins as well. Do not monopolize his time, or you’ll find yourself right back here. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mother,” Ella repeated, following her to the door.

“Change your clothes first. You’re not wearing that in front of guests. Really, how many times do I have to tell you?”

Ella forgot that she was still wearing her baggy sweats and an old T-shirt. “I apologize, Mother.”

She quickly changed into jeans and a sweater her aunt had bought her in Paris a few years ago. It was about the only nice outfit she had that still fit her; she’d lost weight since she’d been living in the attic. Anything else nice, her stepmother had confiscated and given to her own daughters, if it would fit. Anna and Drew were much curvier than Ella.

“Is this better, Mother?” she asked.

“It’ll have to do.” She rolled her eyes. Ella followed Teresa down the stairs.

Mary’s words from earlier came back. She could escape. She could tell Tim what was happening. He was her mother’s sister’s son--he would help her. The only reason Teresa tolerated him was because he was a handsome, famous actor, and she thought he would help her daughters. But she knew Tim loved her best of all. He’d been worried about her recently, especially when she’d told him she’d broken her cell phone. Of course, that wasn’t true. Teresa had taken it from her. Yet another reason to escape.

But where would she go, and what would she do? Live with Tim? He was a bachelor who had tons of girls over. Besides that, Teresa had threatened more than once that she knew the head of psychology at the local insane asylum, and if Ella started babbling about being a prisoner here to anyone, he’d come and take her away. That in and of itself was reason enough for Ella to stay quiet. She wouldn’t put it past Teresa to do something so awful. No, Teresa Main-Sinders was an evil woman. So long as she left Ella alone to do her work, and there was nowhere to run to, Ella would have to stay.

Not to mention, she didn’t want to cause her father to have to choose between her and his wife. As crazy as Teresa was, he loved her. He’d started a new family with her and her daughters. Ella was pretty sure he’d choose them over her, and she couldn’t stand to think of him never speaking to her again.

If her father came home in the next few months as planned, Teresa would have to set her free. Then, she might have the opportunity to find her own place and put some distance between herself and her crazy stepmother. Until then, Ella would find a way to endure. If he didn’t come home, then she might be forced to make other arrangements. She could tolerate the situation for now--but not indefinitely.

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