“Billie, just keep talking to me,” Frank said into his headset as he cracked open another Mountain Dew while watching the Lakers game on the muted television to his left. “Come on, you called because you wanted to talk, right?”
Billie was one of the regulars at the suicide prevention hotline Frank volunteered at. He usually ended up talking to the perpetually depressed seventeen-year-old girl two or three times a month. She never seemed sincere about taking her life, just very sad. Still, it was hotline policy to never, ever ask anyone who called if they were serious about suicide. Everyone had to be treated like they were literally out on the ledge at the moment of the call, even if most of them, like Billie, were just lonely and desperate to have someone listen to them, if just for a little while. Still, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Frank knew all about sorry.
He shot a quick glance at the black rubber bracelets on his wrist as he pulled the can of Dew from his lips. He felt too old to still wear such gaudy things, but they did a decent job of covering up the scars.
A soft, wet sob came through Frank’s headset and that caused him to stop drinking the sugary go-juice mid-swallow. While Billie always sounded sad, she had never cried before.
Better safe than…
“Billie? Talk to me, girl, what’s got you so upset?”
Low sobs was all he heard.
“Come on, no matter what it is, if you talk to someone about it, you’ll —”
“Bullshit.” It was a thick, phlegmy word.
“What’s bullshit, Billie?”
“All of it. Everything. Life,” Billie said and then snuffled.
“No, life is not bullshit, Billie,” Frank said, the hairs on the back of his neck starting to rise. Is she for real this time? he asked himself, while he continued, “life is all we’ve got and it’s a beautiful thing. So whatever—”
“Oh bullshit! You don’t know. You don’t know where I’ve been, what I’ve seen.”
“No, no of course I don’t,” Frank said on autopilot as his mind raced behind the scenes. She sounds really bad. Do I hit the panic button and let the cops handle this?
All calls to the suicide hotline were routed to the volunteers at their homes from a central hub downtown. There was no office where people went and took calls at a switchboard. Not in this modern, wireless, and always connected age. Everyone who helped out on the hotline had a laptop provided to them, and the calls were sent through it. At a press of a button, Frank could send the caller’s phone number directly to the police where they could hopefully trace it back to an address, or use the cell phone’s GPS, if they had one. Frank was only supposed to hit this “panic button” if he felt the caller was beyond being talked down from the metaphorical ledge. Since he had started volunteering on the hotline over a year ago, he had never had to press the button.
Shit, what do I do?
“See, you’re not even listening to me,” Billie whispered.