Code Blues(8)

By: Melissa Yi


I unlocked the inner building door, ambled up the staircase and turned the key in my apartment lock. I half-expected Alex to be there, saying, "Boo." But it was empty. I could hear the silence. Only a tap dripped in the kitchen.

I marched down the hall, to the kitchen, and tightened the faucet. I'm an environmentalist. I'd hate to end the day by wasting water, too.

The phone rang. I nearly jumped out of my skin. I had to race back to my bedroom to pick it up. I'd only brought one phone. The rest were on their way, in the moving van. The phone had rung four times before I snatched it up. "Hello? Alex?"

"Who's Alex?" said my mother.

"Are you making friends already?" said Dad. "That's good."

"Oh." I sunk into bed. "Hi guys. I was going to call you."

"I miss you!" said my brother, Kevin. He's only eight. My family makes weekly phone calls with everyone on a different extension.

"I miss you, too, bud." My throat tightened. I felt perilously close to tears. Ridiculous.

Dad said, "You sound like you have a cold!"

I cleared my throat. "I don't have a cold."

He tsked. "Well, you sound like you're getting one. It's a long drive from London. You should have let us help you pack!"

"It's too far. And you have Kevin." I took comfort in our old argument.

"I could have helped!" Kevin protested.

"I know, bud. But then you might have missed your violin lesson."

"Good," he muttered. My mother started scolding him.

I felt almost normal again. No matter what, my family was always there for me. I told them I was starting with an emerg shift at 7:30 a.m. Not a word about Alex, even though his name was throbbing at the back of my brain.

"Wow. We'd better not keep you up too late, then," said Dad immediately. "You need your rest."

"Wait, I wanted to tell you Grandma still has that cough, but she's feeling better." Mom went on at some length. My grandmother is very healthy, but we all need up-to-the-minute bulletins about her few vagaries. Especially me, the family doctor. I thought I heard a noise in the front hall, but turned back to hear, "Kevin is going to start summer school, but we could still go on a trip in August—"

I sighed. "Mom, I told you, I don't want to take a vacation at the beginning of residency."

"Right, right, right, I was just going to say, or we could come visit you. Maybe spend a week. What do you think?"

I looked around. My one-bedroom apartment was littered with a handful of half-unpacked boxes. "You guys would sleep in the living room?"

"Sure, sure. Why not? We could bring sleeping bags."

"It's like camping!" crowed Kevin.

"Uh." I held my head. It felt like the beginning of a headache. I massaged my temples.

"You think about it," Mom insisted.

"She should go to bed," Dad said.

Kevin piped up. "You're going to bed earlier than me!"

"Good for you." After some more last-minute news, I hung up. I had to smile. There was only one more thing to do tonight.

With an Exacto-knife that had been lying by the front door, I slit open a box labeled "Misc." Right at the top, wrapped in tissue paper, lay my faceless, jointed wooden man. I'd bought him for a long-ago art class, but didn't really have any drawing talent. I just liked this guy. Some of my friends called him my imaginary boyfriend. I called him Henry.

The previous tenants had left behind a black veneer desk, topped by a bench-shaped piece of wood that made a second level. Carefully, I placed Henry on top of the bench. I made him sit with his legs dangling down and his right arm bent, hand to his head. Not sad, but pensive.

Beep!

I definitely heard something that time. I tracked the noise to my backpack in the front hall. My little black pager read DUPLICATE. I pressed the button to read the number. Alex's cell phone.

Hot dog! I picked up my phone and heard the rapid beeps that meant someone had left a voice mail message.

"Hope. It's me. I'm so sorry." Alex's voice, a bit muffled.

I bit my lip.

"Listen. Something...came up. Something important. I know this sucks. I'll make it up to you. Maybe tomorrow." A noise, like he covered the mouthpiece, and he said, his voice far away but irritated, "In a minute." His voice got loud again. "Hope, I'll call you." And then he hung up.

I tried the cell phone number he'd left on my pager. Still out of service. He must have turned it off before and after calling me at home and on my pager. But why?

I bent Henry's other arm, so now both hands were pressed against his face, like in The Scream.

I slept fitfully that night.

Alex never called back.





Chapter 3