We started making prank calls some nights after we’d gone out dancing, Lana and me, when we were in between drunk and hyped and couldn’t get to sleep right away. We were too old for it of course but that made it all the more novel. We hadn’t known each other when it was a more age appropriate thing to do; we’d met in college upstate only a few years earlier. But doing silly things like that with Lana made me feel closer not only to her now but to the girl she had once been, before I even knew her.
We had our favorites to prank. Lana liked calling this bartender, Dan, from one of our regular bars down in the East Village. I thought he was sort of an idiot but Lana swore up and down that he had abs we could scrub our laundry on which should somehow make him exempt from ridicule, except then one night he started flexing for me at the bar right in front of her and Lana decided he was an idiot after all. When we called him, we’d use *67 so our number didn’t pop up on his caller ID and we’d use different accents to disguise our voices the best we could, pretending to be other girls he’d met at the bar and telling him what color panties we wore. Dan usually fell for it until one of us started snickering mid-sentence and we’d have to hang up in tears from laughing so hard.
Me, I liked calling the landline numbers at our old college, not the ones that connected to offices with answering machines but the ancient ones that were still hanging in each dorm’s common room and kept ringing shrilly until someone picked it up or at least knocked the receiver off the hook. Usually at that late hour it’d be someone who was half-drunk who answered and collectively we might wind up having excellent, heated debates that we only remembered a fraction of in the morning with people we’d never talk to again. Sometimes Lana and I would be ourselves and other times we’d pretend we were other people entirely, whatever seemed more entertaining at the time. Lana could be a psychic talking in an eerie falsetto, full of warnings for incoming freshmen. I’d be someone going through a twelve-step program, trying desperately to get in touch with someone I wronged in the past.
We both had a bit of a dramatic flair.
The two of us shared a two-bedroom in Murray Hill, which wasn’t actually a real two-bedroom. The previous tenants had put up a makeshift wall to partition my bedroom off of the main room. I didn’t have a proper closet or anything and my one window was a high rectangular transom that overlooked our living room rather than the city proper, but because my room was so clearly inferior I got some money knocked off my portion of the rent. That was fine by me. I tried not to hold it against Lana that her parents paid for her share each month. I tried not to hold a lot of things against Lana. She was, I suppose, my best and only friend at the time.
One night I misdialed the number to the common room of my old dorm, switching the last two numbers around by accident, and I got through to a junior named Marcus who was up playing video games on his computer. It was past three in the morning and Lana had already fallen asleep beside me on the couch, her long dark hair spilling over the throw pillow between us.
“And you’re looking for who, now?” Marcus asked me. I heard him pop the tab of a fresh can of beer.
“I guess you,” I said companionably. I shifted my phone over to my other ear. On my end I was flipping through the channels on the TV with the sound off.
“Huh.” There was the sound of some quick jabs at a computer keyboard, maybe to pause his game or to tell whoever he was playing with he’d brb. “I don’t recall a late-night convo with a stranger on my schedule for today.”
“Live a little,” I urged him mildly. I had already decided to make a game myself out of how long I could keep him on the phone. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
“Like, ever? Or you mean in the context of this conversation?”
I heard Marcus taking a swallow of his drink. “I gotta admit, I always forget which one the latter is.”
“And they let you into college?” I gave a little tsk tsk.
“Early admission, babe.”
I made a face at that, not that he could see it of course. But maybe he wasn’t the kind of guy who went around calling girls babe in person, just like I wasn’t the type of girl who went around admonishing the presumed intelligence of people I didn’t even know in real life. It’s funny the kind of things you could do when it was late at night and you were just on the phone with someone you were probably never going to meet.
“Where are you?” Marcus asked.
“Dude, this isn’t a booty call. I’m in the city. I graduated two years ago,” I told him.
“You’re living in New York City and you’re calling around your old college now… for, what, kicks?”
That did sound a little lame but I was still feeling a little buzzed from the earlier half of the evening to be too offended. I clicked off the cable box and the living room became suspended in the subtle blue of the TV’s blank glow. I could still make out the steady rise and fall of Lana’s chest in the dim light, the glittery silver sequins on her top shimmering like the crest of ocean waves when she breathed. “Not everyone can be super fly like you.”
I heard Marcus sigh. “I can’t decide if I should hang up now or not.”
I gave him my best deadpan voice. “So, you’re saying I have a chance.”
At this Marcus laughed and I knew I had him. He had a warm laugh, the kind that could make a warm puddle out of me if I let it. “So, I told you my name,” Marcus said. “What’s yours?”
“Lana,” I said. I hadn’t known I was going to lie until I did, and then it became obvious in hindsight. Because who else would I pretend to be?