But it didn't ring. Katie thought about calling Eoin back on the number programmed into the phone, but knew it didn't work that way. He didn't want a playmate, a collaborator. He wanted a participant in his project, that was all. He probably already had artist friends, an artist girlfriend. He already had people to talk about his projects with. He didn't need Katie.
She sighed and slid the phone into her bag, deciding it was time she went inside to help Melissa pick a dress.
"Excuse me, miss?" Katie turned at the sound of a woman's voice, calling to her. She turned towards the noise and saw an older woman, in her fifties, maybe, walking slowly towards her. She looked disheveled, and was wearing one to many layers of clothing. Her hair was shoved under a tuque and she moved as though in pain. Katie's initial instinct was to turn and hurry away, get inside and surround herself with the designer sale's bright lights, fine fabrics, and the exuberant voices of shoppers delighted with their bargain finds.
But Katie didn't go inside. Instead she began walking towards this woman, meeting her halfway. "What is it?"
"Do you have any change you could spare?" asked the woman. It was the standard line, asked by countless women in similarly disheveled clothing with similarly messy hair and lined, tired faces all across the city. Katie knew the standard response was, "No, sorry," and a turned back, a hurried retreat. There was a time when Katie would have done just that. But not now. Not anymore. She knew that this wasn't just some woman, this was somebody's daughter, somebody's friend. Somebody's sister.
Katie pulled her wallet out and handed over all the cash she had. "Sorry it's not very much," Katie said, apologizing for the $30 she had in bills. "I wish it were more." Seeing the woman close up, Katie could tell she wasn't fifty, she wasn't even in her forties. She was young, almost as young as Katie herself, only the way she moved, her clothing, and the defeat around her eyes made her look so much older. She smiled at the money, and looked at Katie with amusement in her eyes.
"You some sort of Catholic, or something?"
"What?" Katie didn't get it.
"I mean, are you atoning for some sort of sin? This is a lot of money to give to a stranger," she said, and held the money in her hands. "Do you want some of it back? Because to be honest...." she looked Katie up and down, "You don't look like you're all that rich yourself." She laughed a little, and Katie laughed too.
"No, take it. I ... I want you to have it." Katie put her wallet back in her bag and her hand brushed against Eoin's phone. He'd told her to leave it someplace interesting. "Here," Katie pulled out the phone and handed it to the woman. "Take this, too. It's ... it's for an art project. The artist will be in touch."
"This sounds cryptic," the woman said, and slid the phone into a pocket in one of her voluminous coats. "I like cryptic."
"Yeah, it's pretty cool," said Katie, and wondered if she could ask this woman her name. Ask if she'd been in the street long, ask if she'd ever come across Anne. Katie hadn't heard from her sister in weeks. "Just wait until the phone rings. The artist is really interesting to talk to."
"Katie?" The door to the warehouse swung open and Melissa hung her head out the door. "What's taking you so long? Come inside. I've got some dresses I need you to look at." Melissa noticed the stranger. "Oh." The warmth, the excitement went out of her voice. "I didn't realize you were busy," she said, and tugged on Katie's arm. "Are you coming inside or what?" Her voice was low, quiet, as though the homeless woman wouldn't be able to hear her.
"Yeah, I'm coming," Katie said, and smiled back at the stranger. "I've got to go," she apologized. "It was nice to meet you," she said, somewhat lamely.
"We didn't exactly meet," said the homeless woman, laughing a bit, "but I know what you mean." She held up the cash. "Thanks for this. See you around," she said, over her shoulder, as she walked away.
Katie went inside with Melissa. "How much money did you give that person?"
"I don't know. What I had." Katie didn't look at her friend. She knew Melissa wouldn't get it.
"But you're practically broke yourself, Katie. What were you thinking?"
Katie looked up at her friend, her eyes wet. "I wasn't thinking. I was feeling. I was feeling sad. And worried." She took a deep, shuddery breath. "No one has heard from Anne in weeks. Almost two months, actually. And we haven't seen her since Christmas."
"Oh, Katie. I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking." Melissa pulled her friend in for a hug.
"It's okay. It's just hard. You know?"
"I can imagine," Melissa said, her voice full of sympathy, but Katie knew she couldn't. She knew Melissa didn't have a clue.
"Look, let me look at those dresses, okay? I'd love to see you in some haute couture." Katie pushed her way out of the hug and grinned at her friend. "Let's pick the dress you're going to use to blow David's mind."
Twenty minutes later Katie was standing by the change room ("change room" -- it wasn't really. It was more like a sheet that the sample sale people had thrown haphazardly over a rail, and a bunch of girls and the odd guy were getting changed in a big group, all together, and Katie stood on the other side, waiting for her friend, listening to the cries of delight and camaraderie coming from the group, instant friendships and rivalries forged in the tense, electric hours of the sale) waiting for Melissa to emerge. She was trying for lighthearted but she was feeling so tired. First the taxi ride, then the excitement with the phone call and Eoin, and then the encounter with the homeless lady, and now this. She hoped the first dress that Melissa came out in would be perfect, because then they could -- "Oh my God, Melissa. You look unreal."
"Yeah! With, like, a green scarf and some cool shoes, you'll be the best-dressed girl there. The most original. The most amazing."
An hour later the two of them were back on the streetcar, the white dress nestled into a shopping bag alongside three sweaters, a couple of designer tops, a pair of jeans and another dress. The jeans, tops and one of the sweaters were Melissa's, but the other sweater and dress were Katie's. They'd manged to find her something for the wedding that wasn't too big in the chest, long in the waist, or a bad colour for her carroty hair. It wasn't the most amazing dress, but it was certainly passable, and hadn't cost her too much, and for that Katie was happy.
"I can't." Melissa frowned. "I've got to do some work at home."
"Yeah. I have a presentation tomorrow I have to prep for."
"You're the worst hookey-player I've ever met," Katie rolled her eyes at her workaholic friend.
"There's a reason I've gotten raises every year since I started," Melissa said, smugly. "Sorry. Rain check on the pizza."
"Okay." Katie sighed. "What should I do for dinner?" Snow was falling gently outside the streetcar window; Katie leaned her forehead against the cool glass and looked out at the dark night.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE TIME:
Katie decides to go home, order pizza, and stalk people on Facebook
Katie decides to go for supper at her mother's house.