Travis is awake, and insomnia keeps him company in a moon-lit bed. Three AM, winter. Outside a stranger shouts from the parking lot – rowdy yells that are companionable and belligerent.

The phone rings.

"Yes," Travis says into the receiver. "What."

"Tell me about it," suggests a woman's sleepy voice.

"Tell what," Travis says, and looks up through the window glass. The blinds are raised. A gibbous moon shines cold and white like enameled iron.

"Tell me about your love life," she murmurs, generous, mellow. There is nothing crude in her asking.

"Not a lot to tell," Travis laughs. "Not lately. Not love."

"Tell me how you might imagine it.”

"Who are you?" Travis inquires, feeling tolerant and friendly.

"Think of me as your god-mother," the woman sighs. "Not that old. Ageless, perhaps."

"She needs to be ageless.” Travis is suddenly intrigued, despite himself. "Not young. I'm too tired for the young ones anymore."

"Young souls can be vexatious," the woman agrees. "All that un-channeled enthusiasm, all that potential. But the young ones are firm."

"You know me. I like it firm."

"Don't you all."

Silence on the line. Travis is aware of the impossibility of sleep. Air from outside seeps in around the window frame, and the wall in which that window fits is blank and chilled. The part of his face above the covers feels the cold darkness.

A bottle smashes on the pavement. A man laughs. There's the distant white noise of traffic whooshing unseen along the Interstate.

Finally the woman speaks. "Ageless and firm. Think about it. Look around."

"I stopped looking long ago.” Travis hears his own voice as if listening to a stranger. Pretentious ass. You know me, he thinks.

Then the conversation is over, the connection broken. Will I sleep now? Travis wonders, hopes, but nothing miraculous happens. He dozes on and off, and each time he glances at the clock, another quarter hour has passed.

Morning arrives. He's up. He launches his scripted bachelor's routine while thinking, Ageless. What is ageless? He washes, brushes his teeth, peers curiously into the mirror at the familiar thirty-ish face, on the verge of jowly-ness, prematurely creased and furrowed by a decade working outside, but softened during a subsequent ten years in sales, selling heavy equipment to the men who continue working outside.

What is ageless? he asks over breakfast in a well-scrubbed chain restaurant. The waitress is a homely, jovial girl with horsy teeth and big bones, who doesn't seem troubled by her plainness. Travis flirts with her, pro forma, his oldest waitress lines, his stalest jokes. She looks right through him, and they both know it. She laughs anyway, kindly, like a benevolent aunt.

Old, Travis thinks. Not ageless. Decidedly not firm. Comfortable.

Comfortable could be nice to come home to. He is vaguely appalled that he even considers such a thing. If the mystery woman calls again, he'll ask her about comfortable.

His first appointment is mid-morning, in the cramped office of a contractor who runs cable. The room is a framed-in corner of a warehouse space. Travis waits to meet with a man he doesn't trust, the sullen, youngest son of the owner. And while he's regretting this, he chats up the woman there to work on the books. She is the owner's niece, Travis learns, and she has lean, attractive flanks, but frightening hair. Her gelled hair spikes in random directions in a style popular some years earlier. Beneath that coif is a small face that contradicts the seemingly experienced hair. She appears spinsterish, confused.

"I don't understand," she says five different times, to five different conversational prompts, two of them seasoned pick-up lines.

Young, he thinks. Or stupid. But young and stupid aren't the same, and he is irritated to realize that he can't tell the difference. Perhaps he has never taken the time to know the difference.

Young and firm have so often gone together that, honestly, he never paid any mind to the dumb part. The women he labeled stupid were the ones who annoyed him.

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