The line sang in his ear.
Then came a dry click followed by a long moment of silence before what might or might not be a breath.
Into that breath, he said, “Farah.”
A deeper breath. “Hello,” she said.
“This is Quentin.”
“Quentin. How are you?”
“That is good.” The voice was precise and uncomfortable, carrying a trace of embarrassment.
“You’re at home,” he said.
“How are you, Farah?”
A long pause. Maybe the line went dead. But she returned to say, “I am…what is the word? Bittersweet.”
The precision had vanished from her voice. What Quentin heard was alcohol—a little, a lot—and shifting, chaotic emotions. “Bittersweet,” he repeated. But of course she was. Everybody was. Days were short, the night winning the war. Every sane person was growing less happy now.
“I’ve been calling you,” Quentin said.
“A few times.” If “few” meant at least a dozen times. "And I came by your apartment two or three times.”
Four times, but that number would sound needy.
She breathed. She said, “I wasn’t home.”
“The last time, you left a note on your door.”
“‘Returning soon,’ it read. So I went out in the yard and sat with your dog.”
Quentin listened to her swallow.
She said, “I wish I had seen you.”
“How are you?”
Farah didn’t want that question. Better to repeat the obvious. “School keeps a person busy.”
Quentin waited a moment. Then, “Hello now.”
“But I am sorry,” she said. “I have to friends to meet, for studies.”
“It’s good hearing your voice.”
“And yours too.” Then a laugh began, joyless but long-lasting, ending with the words, “Someone’s at my door. I must go.”