It was 3 AM, and she was awake. Again.
She had tried everything: warm milk, herbal teas, medicine – natural and pharmaceutical, staying off her phone and computer, a new pillow, calming music, cold baths, hot baths. Despite everything, it was 3 AM and she was awake again.
She sighed and sat up in bed, running a hand through her short hair. She knew that in an hour or so she would likely be asleep again. What did one do for an hour in the middle of the night?
She could work — there was always more work to do — but that might stimulate her brain and keep her awake longer. She had the same worries about reading or watching anything. She didn’t want to be awake. She wanted every one of her few hours of unconsciousness. She thought enough as it was, she didn’t need to be thinking at 3 AM.
There was a quiet buzz, and the ceiling of her dark room was lit momentarily as her phone received a notification. She intended to let it go; it was probably one of the many automatic emails she received and had been too lazy as of yet to unsubscribe from.
But, she was doing nothing else, so curiosity got the better of her. She leaned over and tapped the phone on her bedside table. (She refused to pick it up, as that would be giving in entirely.)
It wasn’t an email but a text, from someone she had not spoken to in years. To be honest, she hadn’t once thought of him in years. They had gone to the same college, a couple of years apart, worked in the same department one summer. She knew he was in the area. Their workplaces had collaborated on a project four or five years before. That was the extent of their contact in life. She had probably thought of him fewer times than she had seen him; she assumed it was the same for him.
Why on earth was she getting a text from him at 3 AM? Had he been hacked? Was it spam?
The phone buzzed again.
She picked it up, seeing the more recent text first.
Sorry. Wrong conversation.
She sent the reply without thinking, only wondering after if she should have waited. She liked to be private. She didn’t need a random acquaintance knowing she was awake at 3 AM.
An hour later, she had fallen asleep again, having already forgotten the whole thing.
Two days later, at the same time of night, she had been staring at the dark ceiling for fifteen minutes when there was a buzz and the ceiling was dimly lit.
She sat up and picked up her phone. It was him again, sharing a news article from a controversial call late the night before.
Did you see this? Everyone is saying that the umps were clearly wrong, but I think his foot came off the bag first.
Again, she answered without thinking. She knew that, again, it was not meant for her, but she hadn’t had the chance to talk to anyone about the call yet.
There was a silence from his end. One might have described it as awkward. Then,
Sorry, wrong conversation again. My brother-in-law is working the night shift at the fire station, so I text him when I can’t sleep.
No, my other brother-in-law.
Ah. She wouldn’t know him, then.
Your names are similar, so your contact always pops up when I am trying to text him.
Are you working a night shift?
She hesitated. She didn’t like to share, but she found herself admiring, a bit, that he had so easily admitted things about himself. That he had insomnia, that he liked to talk sports with his brother-in-law.
No. Just can’t sleep. Not all the time. Only at 3 AM.
Have you tried–
Yes, I have tried everything.
Oh, okay. Me too, haha
Another pause, then, a buzz.
So… you like baseball?
That was how it started. They talked about everything: books, sports, politics, movies, almost everything. Their interests aligned well. Their opinions and preferences were similar enough for it to be interesting, different enough to keep the discussion going.
They didn’t text every night, but they did most nights. Not for long. Just until one of them fell asleep.
Later, they saw each other for the first time at a conference halfway across the country. It was in the afternoon on the second day of the conference. His colleague recognized her and suggested they all get some coffee, only to run off quickly to catch a friend and leave just the two of them.
“So,” it was surprisingly difficult for her to break the silence, “have you been enjoying the presentations?”
He had already finished his coffee and was twisting the used paper cup first one way, then the other. “We came late, so I haven’t actually seen that many…”
“Oh. Well, that’s too bad. You missed some good ones on the first day.”
“They’ll probably have recordings, right?”
He hadn’t really looked at her, and she found herself looking elsewhere, too, at the vending machines, the preparations in progress for the next meal time, the dirty cafeteria floor. They had both spent time mopping cafeteria floors in college.
He cleared his throat and sat up, then realized she had started speaking. “Sorry. What were you saying?”
She shook her head, smiled politely. “No, you go ahead.”
“I–” He bit his lip, then crumpled the paper cup in his hand. “I actually have to finish the reading for the seminar tonight, so I should get going.”
“Oh. Okay.” They were here for work, after all. It was their responsibility to make the most of it.
He stood up, collecting his things. “Sorry. I’ll see you around, though.”
She nodded, staying at the table for no other reason than to let some distance grow between them so that it wouldn’t be awkward.
They didn’t see each other around. He had come a day late. She left a day early.
The night after she got back, at 3 AM, her phone buzzed.
She didn’t have to ask what he was sorry about.
No worries. We’re all busy.
But she knew that wasn’t it. It wasn’t because he was busy that he had not wanted to talk.
She understood. Some things, she supposed, could only be talked about at 3 AM. Because, really, what they had been talking about in all those conversations was loneliness, and they both knew it. Loneliness was something best talked about at 3 AM.
Still, she was still happy to have him, even if he was only a 3 AM friend.
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