#tuesdayserial: tilly with the others part 4

It took longer to get home from the Pizza Tela offices than to get there. Tilly got to the strip mall's bus stop just in time to watch the bus pull away. She finished her coffee and doughnut, but there wasn't any trash can to put the coffee cup in. The next bus didn't arrive for thirty minutes —twice as long as the posted interval. The driver frowned at her coffee cup.

"It's empty," said Tilly, shaking it a little to prove it.

The driver rolled his eyes. "Just don't leave it on the bus."

"Of course! I hate it when people do that."

The driver didn't look convinced.

The next bus was late too, and there was a subway delay that sounded like someone had tried to commit suicide by jumping in front of a train. Not that the Toronto transit authorities ever told riders that. Tilly was so grateful to finally make it back to the Annex that she didn't even get annoyed the exit escalator at Spadina station still wasn't fixed.

On her walk home she decided that she would worry about the Pizza Tela CD tomorrow. She didn't trust them to give her an install disc that was free of viruses, and she was too tired to deal with it properly right now. She thought about getting some bubble bath from the health food and organic shop on the corner, but decided it was less fuss just to have a nap.

She always glanced at the answering machine as soon as she put her house keys away — a habit she'd picked up running the office for Marcus that had never gone away. The machine said that there were three messages waiting for her, which surprised her. The landlord had said something about a monthly inspection. Maybe that was it.

The first message was from Owen, asking if she was settled into her new place. Tilly flopped into the armchair by the machine and sighed. Beth must be not telling him about messages again.

The second message was from Owen too. This time he sounded worried, and asked her to call him back.

The third message was also from Owen, and was basically a repeat of the second message.

Tilly sat up. She reached for the phone and dialled his number. She hoped Mercedes and Emily were all right.

Beth answered the phone. "Hallo, Beth? It's Tilly. How are you?"

"Owen's been trying to reach you all day."

"Yes, I just got home and heard the messages. Is something wrong?"

But Beth wasn't listening. From the sounds of it, she wasn't anywhere near the phone. "It's your mother," Tilly heard her calling. "Caller ID says she's at her home number."

Tilly heard a heavy tread thumping closer. From the rhythm she guessed he was coming up the stairs from the basement. "Which phone?" said Owen's voice, far away.

"In the kitchen! I left it on the counter. Don't bother the kids."

Half a dozen thumps. The phone made banging and crackling sounds. "Ma? Are you okay?"

"Yes, of course I am. Is everything all right there?"

"Where were you? I've been calling for hours."

"I had an errand to run up north. Transit was bad."

"Ma, it's seven o'clock at night. I called you at three in the afternoon."

"Yes, and it took me three hours to get home and I haven't had supper yet, so will you please tell me what this is about, Owen?"

"I wanted to know how your new place was working out." He had that little-boy sound in his voice. Tilly grimaced to herself and tried to sound more cheerful.

"It's lovely. I have a few more boxes to go, but it's turning out very well. You and Beth should bring the children."

"Yeah, yeah, we should.... Beth hates driving downtown though."

"Leave the car at Yorkdale and take the subway. Mercedes and Emily would love it."

"Yeah, there's an idea. I'll check with Beth." Tilly could hear Beth shouting something in the background. "Um, I gotta go. Glad you're okay."

"Kiss the girls for me."

"Yeah. Yeah, I will."

Tilly heard Owen hang up, but instead of a single click and silence, there were a series of clicks and some odd fizzing noises. The fizzing got louder. She pressed the phone against her ear.

"...so if we get a Hawaiian, but with hot peppers, for sure..." said a woman's voice.

The phone spat out a burst of static. Then a man's voice said, "....it's from us, it has to be from us. It's the only way to tell..." There were some more clicks, and then the line went dead. Tilly listened for a few more seconds, but was only rewarded with a dial tone.

She put the phone back on its base, leaned back in the chair, and closed her eyes. She hoped the phone acting up was a one-time quirk and not something wrong with her line. She needed the phone line for her internet connection, and she had the second interview with Pizza Tela on Wednesday. That was five days away, but if she had to convince the phone company to check her line because she'd heard half a conversation about a pizza and another half about how to confirm...

Tilly sat up straight again. A Hawaiian with hot peppers. It's the only way to tell it's from us. You need to be on the phone a lot, so that they have a chance to use the communication network easily...

She blinked and looked around the living room. The sun had been going down as she was getting home, and now the only illumination came from the streetglow outside. She tried to remember where the nearest light switch was, then gave up and walked down the hallway to her bedroom in the dark.