“There.” Alex taped the last laminated paper in place before standing up, checking the other tables. “That’s the last one.”
Ryan nodded as he looked around, scratching his nose through the mask on his face. Every other table in the bar had been roped off, and signs were hung from the upturned chairs to show that they weren’t available for seating. “Definitely six feet of distance. Pike can’t argue with that.”
“Nope.” Alex looked at the bar stools, pausing before stepping over. “We’re not blocking off this one.”
“Because it’s Steph’s.” Alex rapped the plaque mounted to it before moving the sign. “We’ll do every other one from here.”
Ryan rolled his eyes as Alex began moving signs around. “She barely claims it anyway. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard her enforce the privilege.”
“It’s still hers.”
“Whatever.” Ryan walked over to the front door, flipping the sign around to read ‘Open’ for the first time in two months. “Make the post already.”
“Right.” Alex pulled her phone from her pocket and quickly pulled down her own mask, showing her face to log into her phone. Then she opened MyBlock from the Black Lantern’s profile, giving their already-typed statement a once-over before posting it.
Black Lantern: We’re happy to announce that we have re-opened for business! Patrons are once again welcome to swing by for the best burgers in Haven Springs! We will, however, be enforcing social distancing, and mask mandates are still in effect while you’re not eating or drinking. Our signature duck fries are waiting!
“It’s up.” Alex tucked her phone away. “God, I can’t wait for customers.”
“Me either.” Ryan nodded towards the stairs. “You should let Steph know before she leaves.”
“I’m surprised she hasn’t already.” Alex looked at the clock on the wall. “She’s usually out the door by now.”
“Was she getting ready when you left?”
“She was still asleep when I came downstairs. I’m gonna go check on her really quick, she probably just missed her alarm.”
Alex headed upstairs, opening the door to their apartment and looking around with a frown. The covers on the bed were thrown back, but Steph was nowhere to be seen.
“Steph?” she called out, closing the door behind her. “Are you awake?”
“Stay out there!” Her girlfriend called from the bathroom. “Don’t come in!”
Alex looked at the door with a furrowed brow. “… why the hell would I interrupt you in the bathroom? Are you okay in there?”
“What, did dinner last night mess with your-”
A violent coughing fit from the bathroom interrupted her. Alex froze, her blood running cold as Steph hacked for several seconds. “… ow,” she moaned through the door.
“What was that?” Alex stepped closer to the door. “Steph, are you okay?”
“I don’t-” She coughed again. “… I don’t feel good,” she said weakly. “I have a fever, and I can’t get rid of this damn cough.”
Alex grabbed the handle and tried to turn, but it was locked. “Babe, let me in.”
“No! Stay out-” she coughed again, another fit that lasted several seconds. “Stay out there!” she finally wheezed. “Don’t come in! I don’t want you getting COVID!”
“There’s no cases in Haven Springs! And you haven’t left town in months! How would you have COVID?!”
“That fucking FedEx guy who came in the day before yesterday was coughing. And he wasn’t wearing a mask.” Steph sniffed deeply. “I think that motherfucker was sick.”
“Ah, shit.” Alex yanked out her phone hit a few buttons, holding it to her ear as the call quickly connected.
“Ryan, you have to close the bar back up.”
“What do you mean, sick?”
“She says she has a fever. And it sounds like she’s hacking up a lung.” Alex winced as she heard another coughing fit through the door. “And she said that the delivery guy who came to her store day before yesterday was coughing without a mask.”
“Ah, fuck. Is she okay?”
“She barricaded herself in our bathroom, so I’m not sure.”
“Dammit, Alex, we’ve been closed for two months. We need customers. Can’t you guys quarantine upstairs?”
“I’ve been next to her for two days. What if I got you sick?”
“I didn’t see you yesterday, and we’ve been wearing masks all morning. Besides, you don’t know if she has COVID, maybe it’s just the flu.”
“You wanna stake people’s health on that bet?”
“… fuck. Not really.” He sighed. “Look, at least call the Urgent Care first. See what they say.”
Alex debated on whether or not she should press the issue. “Fine,” she acquiesced. “But you better be ready to close the bar back up if they say so.”
“How long has she been coughing?”
“Since this morning,” Alex told the nurse who answered the clinic’s phone. “And she has a fever.”
“Is she short of breath? What about a runny nose? Sore throat? Any body aches, or diarrhea?”
“Hang on.” Alex held the phone to her chest. “Babe?”
“Yea?” Steph moaned through the door.
“They’re asking if you’re short of breath.”
Her girlfriend coughed a couple of times before answering. “… I don’t think so.”
“What about a runny nose?”
“I’ve been coughing all morning. Of course I have a sore throat.”
“Jesus, babe, how about some boundaries?”
“Answer the fucking question.”
“Fine. Yes. I had some earlier this morning.”
Alex went back to the call. “Maybe on the shortness of breath, a yes on the sore throat and diarrhea, some body aches.”
“It… could be COVID,” the nurse reasoned. “But it could also be the flu. What about a loss of smell or taste?”
“I’ll check.” Alex put the phone to her chest again. “Babe, you lose your sense of smell? Or taste?”
“I don’t know. There’s nothing in here I want to smell or taste.”
Alex rolled her eyes. “How about the scented soap?”
“Oh. Right.” She heard a rustling, followed by the sound of the pump working and Steph sniffing. “… I’m not sure,” she finally admitted. “I think I still smell it a little? It’s hard to tell, my nose is kinda stuffy.”
“Right.” Alex went back to the phone. “Maybe. It’s hard for her to tell with a stuffy nose.”
“Ok, Miss Chen, you need to bring her to the Urgent Care.”
Alex’s heart rate spiked. “You want to admit her?”
“No, her symptoms aren’t that bad. But we should administer a COVID test. She won’t even have to leave the car, and you can bring her right back home when it’s done.”
“Oh.” Alex took a short breath. “Um… we live right above the Black Lantern. We can’t leave without going through the bar, which is literally just reopening. And we don’t have a car.”
“I see. Ah… give me a moment.”
Alex waited, listening to muffled talking through the phone. The nurse came back a moment later. “Okay, Miss Chen, I’ve just spoken to Doctor Wyneman. This could be the first case in Haven Springs, so we think it’s important to get her tested right away. Since you’re not that far, would you be averse to a nurse coming to your apartment?”
“I… suppose not,” Alex allowed. “If you think it’s that important. But if you guys walk through the bar in the HAZMAT getup I’ve seen them wearing on TV, you’re gonna give the other owner a heart attack.”
“We’ll worry about that later. A nurse is leaving now, she’ll be there momentarily.”
The nurse didn’t look as bad as Alex thought she would’ve, when she opened the door twenty minutes later.
Granted, it still wasn’t ideal. She wore a full-length paper gown, two layers of face masks, rubber gloves, and a plastic face shield. Even her hair was tied back and tucked under a hat. Ryan stood behind her, clearly unhappy as he crossed his arms over his chest.
“Where is she?” the nurse asked as she stepped inside.
Alex thumbed behind her. “She locked herself in the bathroom, so I don’t get sick.”
The nurse frowned. Or it looked it, anyway, since Alex couldn’t tell behind her masks. “You two are together, right?”
“You shared a bed last night?”
“Then she can come out. You’re way past the point of exposure.”
Ryan sighed. “Wonderful,” he muttered.
Alex rolled her eyes as she knocked on the bathroom door. “Open up, babe. She’s here.”
It took a few seconds for the door to unlock, before Steph opened it. The brunette looked very ill, sniffling as she hugged a blanket around herself. There were deep bags under her eyes, her brow was slick with sweat, and she looked very fatigued. “Hi,” she greeted weakly through her mask.
“Good morning.” The nurse produced a small cardboard box, withdrawing a long cotton swab. “Please lower your mask and tilt your head back.”
Steph quickly lifted the blanket and coughed into it. “Is that the thing that tickles my brain?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Be gentle,” Ryan cautioned as Steph reached up with one hand and pulled her mask down. “She drinks a lot. Probably not many brain cells left.”
“I’m too sick to be creative, so I’m just gonna say fuck you,” Steph muttered as she tilted her head back.
Alex watched her wince as the nurse stuck the swab into her nose, twisting both before capping it and sticking it back in the box. “It’ll take a few days to get the results back,” she said as she put the box away. “In the meantime, get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. If you have any cold medication, that’ll help with the symptoms. And if you start struggling for breath, come to Urgent Care right away.”
“What about the bar?” Ryan asked. “We were re-opening today.”
The nurse nodded at Alex and Steph. “So long as the two of them stay up here, and your customers stay downstairs, you should be fine. Make sure you wipe down everything again after I leave.”
“Okay.” Ryan slowly exhaled in relief, looking at Alex. “Well, sucks I won’t have any help, but if we’re getting customers back then I’ll deal with it.”
“Same.” Alex sighed, looking back at the nurse. “Thanks for coming out.”
“Sure thing. We’ll call you as soon as we get the results back.”
With that, she left, Ryan shutting the door behind them.
“Well, that sucked.” Steph reached for the bathroom door handle. “See you in a few days.”
Alex grabbed the door before she could shut it. “No the fuck you will not. Get your ass on the couch.”
“I’m not getting you sick. I’ll stay in here.”
“You heard her, we’re stuck in this apartment together. So unless you think I’m not going to use the toilet or shower for two weeks, you can spend it resting on the couch.” Alex forced the door open. “And we were spooning last night. Like she said, we’re past the point of preventing exposure.”
“… fine.” Steph let go of the handle, giving a quick cough as she shuffled out of the bathroom. “But you’re staying away from me. And keeping your mask on.”
“Whatever. Now sit down while I make you breakfast.”