Code Blues(7)

By: Melissa Yi

My heart sank. I headed outside to ask the guy on the pavement with the necklaces. He looked like a middle-aged hippy, with a graying brown ponytail and a Guatemalan poncho even though it was a warm night. He smiled. His teeth were crooked. "Wanna buy something? I got the best beads."

Chunky plastic beads and some silver rings. I tried to look interested. "Hm. Maybe." I paused. "Did you see the guy with the cell phone who left the café? Brown hair, about five-seven, black T-shirt and jeans?"

He shrugged and smiled some more. "Wanna buy something?"

"Did you see him?" I countered.

"Yeah, I saw him." He gestured at his blanket ware. "I don't have all night, you know."

He did have all night. And silver doesn't complement my coloring as well as gold, but better that than plastic beads. I pointed to a plain silver ring. "How much?"

"A steal. Six bucks." He grinned, displaying nicotine teeth with a gap between his incisors.

Cigarettes reminded me of Alex. Something had to be really wrong for him to leave without a word. I shook three toonies out of my change purse. Before I handed them over, I prompted, "The guy with brown hair?"

"Yeah," he said. "I saw him." He grabbed the money. "He went that way." He gestured north, up the little cross-street.

"But—" I should have seen him. I'd been sitting right alongside—I checked the name—Ste-Alexandre. But then I'd gone to the bathroom. And north of here was McGill University. Alex had said he lived in the student ghetto. Had he chucked me and gone home?

"Here." The street guy held up the ring. His eyes were soft with—was that pity? I was now being pitied by a guy who sold chunky beads?

I snatched the ring away and headed back to the metro.

"Hope!" A guy's voice.

My head snapped up, my heart drumming at hummingbird speed. Then I saw the white-blond hair and more angular face. It was Tucker coming down the street toward me. Tori raised her hand in a cautious wave, and Anu beamed at me.

Shit. The last thing I wanted to do was face my new classmates. Clearly, Montreal wasn't that big a city.

"Hey guys," I said, adjusting the purse strap on my shoulder.

Tucker said, "Hey, we tried to call you. We're going to grab a bite to eat and check out the Jazz Fest. Wanna come?"

I shook my head. "I'm beat. Gotta unpack, and I've got the first emerg shift tomorrow." I bared my teeth in a cheery grin. "But have fun, okay?"

Tucker opened his mouth, but Tori said, "Sure. Some other time" and towed him off. Anu waved.

Once on the metro's orange and white plastic seats, I closed my eyes and tried not to feel like a disaster. My feet hurt, my eyes felt dry beneath my contact lenses, and I didn't know whether to worry about Alex or strangle him. The metro car was almost deserted. An electronic board flashed the names of the next stop and bus numbers for transfers, as well as ads and tidbits of news. My main companion was the recorded woman's voice that announced, "Prôchaine arrêt..." Everyone was heading downtown for the night, not partying in Côte-des-Neiges.

Actually, that was something else to worry about. When Alex picked me up, he told me that my neck of the woods "wasn't the greatest area."

At my expression, he tried to back peddle. "You probably don't have to worry. The real low-income housing is on Van Horne." Right by my neighbourhood grocery store. After I freaked out more, he said, "Look. It's probably just a bad rep, because Côte-des-Neiges has a lot of immigrants. And some students, because it's near the U of M, l'Université de Montréal." Then he smiled and said, "Don't worry. I'll protect you."

He wasn't winning any gold stars right now. The Université de Montreal metro stop was only a five minute walk from my new place, but his warning had me jumping at every shadow behind a tree. I didn't dare cut through the university. I stuck to the poorly-lit streets. During the day, the maple, ash, and birch trees were pretty, but at night, they could hide a family of rapists. The sound of my own steps beating on the sidewalk, the wind in the leaves, the shadows in the apartment balconies—all of it spurred me, until I was almost running down Mimosa Avenue. My keys were clenched in my fingers, pointy side out, ready to take out someone's eyeball.

At last, I dashed up the concrete walkway to my three-story brick apartment. Only two dim torches lined the path. As soon as I opened the building door and stepped into the well-lit front hallway, I felt safer. Even silly. No one had attacked me. The silver mailboxes and buzzer system inside the entrance looked perfectly innocent.

Like St. Joseph's, the apartment had probably been beautiful when it was first built, but it had fallen into disrepair, from its overgrown, dandelion-fiesta lawn to the cracked glass in my balcony door. It was really two buildings, with an arched wrought iron sign between them that read, MIMOSA MANOR. Still, there were Art Deco squares of glass on either side of the outer door and I had real hardwood floors in my apartment.