Code Blues(6)

By: Melissa Yi

Alex's cell phone played a tinny, Bach riff. He held it up to his ear and almost immediately, his eyebrows drew together. "Yeah."

I sipped my too-sweet papaya juice. Maybe we could hit the Jazz Festival. Place des Arts was probably within walking distance, and I'd heard that there were lots of free shows. It was almost ten, so we still had two hours to kill before midnight.

"So?...Uh huh. Yeah." Alex was half-turned away, his shoulder hunched. "Yeah. Okay." He jerked his chin at me, then at the door. He was going outside to finish the call.

I reached for my purse. He shook his head, gestured at me to stay there. He held up his index finger.

I got it. One minute. Well, that would give me a chance to go to the bathroom.

The bathroom was small, with cobalt tile walls and a terra cotta floor. More importantly, it was pretty clean except for a twirl of toilet paper in the corner of the stall. An ad mounted on the door warned me about sexually transmitted diseases. Nice.

I washed my hands and combed my close-cropped black hair. I'd cut my hair during clerkship, on my surgery rotation, and kept it short because I liked it. My eyes were a bit red, from smoke and from my contact lenses, but I looked good. My skin was a clear, smooth tan, and my smile was genuine.

I refreshed my burgundy lipstick, winked at myself, and sashayed back into the café.

Alex hadn't made it back, but his unused cigarette lay on the plate. I sat back down and crossed my legs. The college kids behind me burst out laughing, but not at me, I hoped.

The Ste-Catherine traffic ground to a standstill. A bunch of girls in skimpy club outfits shrieked and pushed their way through the cars. A Camaro played dance music with such a heavy bass that my chair vibrated with it. Behind it, a Mercedes broadcasted rap, while the little, white driver and his buddies nodded along. How could Alex hear anything out there?

Alex. I scanned the crowd. He wasn't in front of the café.

No. That couldn't be right. I half-stood, craning my neck. He must have gone around the corner, to get away from the mob.

Why did he go out there, anyway? It was louder out there than it was in here.

Better reception? But that was lame.

I crossed to the front of the café. Across the street, I caught sight of a guy with brown hair, his head tipped down. He held his shoulders like Alex. I rapped on the glass.

The guy turned west and disappeared into the crowd.

"Wait! Alex!" I called.

Beside me, the old man with the newspaper cleared his throat.

I muttered, "Excusez-moi." I shoved open the glass door and sprinted out on the street.

"Watch it, lady!" hollered a guy on the pavement. I barely registered him and his blanketful of necklaces and earrings.

"Sorry," I called over my shoulder, and I started running after the guy. I nearly knocked down an elderly couple who were arm in arm, taking up most of the sidewalk.

I stopped at the blue and white metro sign near the Paramount theatre. Herds of people pushed past me, intent on seeing Twilight or Despicable Me. I scrutinized their faces until I realized that I was, to stretch the movie analogy into retro territory, on my own mission impossible.

Alex had vanished.

"Worst. Date. Ever," I muttered, but it had been great until the phone call. "So his dismount needs work."

A guy who was passing by gave me a strange look and hugged his girlfriend closer.

Okay, now I was talking to myself. I joined the crush of people and snagged a lobby pay phone. I dug in my purse for Alex's numbers. The phone rang once, twice, three times.

Click. "We're sorry. The Bell Mobility customer you have reached is not in service."

It wouldn't even let me leave a message. What the hell? Was he still talking on the phone?

On my last quarter, I tried his home phone number. It rang four times. A recorded female voice, the phone company default one, intoned, "You have reached 555-2431. Please leave a message."

I wouldn't have figured Alex for such a vanilla message. Was this even the right number? I said, "Alex, it's me. Hope. What's up? I lost you at the café. I don't have a cell phone"—I'd planned to buy a new one in Montreal—"and my pager's back at the apartment. So I'll check for you, and then I'll, uh, head home, I guess. Call me." I left my apartment number and hung up.

One last try. I walked back to the café. A breeze raised goose bumps on my arms. I rubbed them.

"I'll keep you warm, baby!" a guy yelled. He was standing with a group of friends outside Club Sexxxy's drawings of chesty danseuses nues.

I gave him the finger. It made me feel better, even though he just cackled.

In the café, the old man was still reading his paper, a couple perused the display case, the college kids played on, and a server was wiping down the tables. No Alex.