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It’s not pralines, or self-defense paraphernalia, or a festive little Lunar New Year treat made by second graders. She doesn’t have to open the manila folder to know it’s full of archival documents, like the millions back home in August’s mother’s apartment, stuffed with public records and classified ads and phonebook entries. There’s a note paperclipped to the front.

I know you’re busy, but I found this friend of Augie’s who may have ended up in New York, her untidy scrawl says. Thought you might be able to look into it.

“God, seriously?” August grumbles at the folder. The tattered edges peer back at her around the sides, impartial.

“Uh-oh,” says Myla. “Bad news? You look like Wes when his dad sent the thing about cutting off his trust fund.”

August blinks dumbly at her. “Wes has a trust fund?”

“Had,” Myla says. “But, you…?”

“I’m fine,” August says, trying to shrug her off. “It’s nothing.”

“No offense, but it doesn’t look like nothing.”

“It’s not. I mean, it is. Nothing.”

“Are you sure?”


“Okay,” Myla says. “But if you want to talk—”

“Fine, okay, it’s my stupid dead uncle.” August clamps a hand over her mouth. “Sorry, that—sounded fucked up. I just, uh, it’s kind of a sore subject.”

Myla’s face has gone from curious to gentle and concerned, and it’s almost enough to make August laugh. She has no idea.

“I didn’t realize, August. I’m so sorry. Were you close?”

“No, I’m not, like, sad about it,” August tells her, and a look of faint alarm crosses Myla’s face. God, she’s bad at explaining this. That’s why she never tries. “I mean, it is sad, but he didn’t die, like, recently. I never met him. I mean, I don’t even technically know if he’s dead?”

Myla sets the mousetrap she’s been toying with down. “Okay…”

So, August guesses now is when she finally figures out how to tell someone what the first eighteen years of her life were like. This is where the whole charming single-mom-and-daughter, best-friends-forever, us-against-the-world bit breaks down. It’s the thing that started August’s cynicism, and she doesn’t like to admit it.

But she likes Myla. Myla is surprising and funny and generous, and August likes her enough to care what she thinks. Enough to want to explain herself.

So she groans and opens her mouth and tells Myla the thing that’s governed most of her life: “My mom’s older brother went missing in 1973, and she’s spent almost her whole life—my whole life—trying to find him.”

Myla leans heavily against the refrigerator, nudging some photos out of place. “Holy shit. Okay. And so she sent you—?”

“A fuckload of information on some random person who might have known him and might have been in this area. I don’t know. I told her I don’t do this anymore.”

“‘Do this’ as in,” she says slowly, “look for a missing family member?”

When you put it that way, August guesses she does sound like a dick.

She doesn’t know how to make anyone understand what it’s like, how much she was hardwired to do this, to be this. She still memorizes faces and shirt colors, still wants to check the dust on every windowsill for handprints. Five years out, and her instincts still pull her back to this bootleg Veronica Mars act, and she hates it. She wants to be normal.

“It’s—” She trips on her words and starts over. “Okay, it’s like—one time, when I was in sixth grade, we had our end-of-the-year party at a skating rink. My mom was supposed to pick me up, and she forgot. Because she was at a library two parishes over looking up police records from 1978. I sat on the curb for hours, and nobody offered me a ride home because Catholic schoolgirls are really shitty to the poor latchkey kid with a weird hoarder conspiracy theorist mom. So I spent the first week of summer vacation with the worst sunburn of my life from sitting in the parking lot until seven o’clock. And that was just … life. All the time.”

August puts the file back in the envelope, shoving it on top of the fridge between a case of LaCroix and a Catan box.

“I used to help her—take the bus by myself to the courthouse to file public records requests, do shady shit for information after school. It wasn’t like I had friends to hang out with. But then I realized why I didn’t have friends. I told her when I left for college that I was out. I don’t want to be her. I have to figure out what the hell I’m supposed to be doing with my life and not, like, solving cold cases that can’t be solved. And she can’t accept it.”

There’s an extremely long pause before Myla says, “Whoa,” and, “that’s what it is.”

August frowns. “That’s what what is?”

“Your deal,” Myla says, waving her screwdriver. “Like, what’s going on with you. I’ve been wondering since you moved in. You’re, like, a reformed girl detective.”

A muscle in August’s jaw twitches. “That’s … one way to put it.”

“You’re like this hotshot film noir private eye, but you retired, and she’s your old boss trying to get you back in the game.”

“I feel like you’re missing the point.”

“Sorry, like, it’s your life and all, but do you not hear how badass that sounds?”

And it is August’s life. But Myla is looking at her like she doesn’t care—not in the way people have for most of August’s life—but like how she looks at Niko when he recites Neruda to his plants, or Wes when he stubbornly spends hours disassembling and rebuilding a piece of Ikea furniture someone put together wrong. Like it’s another inconsequential quirk of someone she loves.

The whole story does sound kind of ridiculous. One of Myla’s traps snaps shut and flips itself off the counter, skidding across the kitchen floor. It stops at the toe of August’s sock, and she has to laugh.

“Anyway,” Myla says, turning to open the freezer. “That sucks. I’m your mom now. The rules are, no Tarantino movies and bedtime is never.”

She wrenches a tub of cotton candy ice cream from one of the overstuffed shelves and plunks it on the counter by the sink, then opens a drawer and throws down two spoons.

“You wanna hear about my mom’s second graders?” she says. “They’re nightmares. She had to get one off the roof the other day.”

August picks up a spoon and follows her lead.

The ice cream is a radioactive shade of blue and horribly sugary, and August loves it. Myla talks and talks about her adoptive mom, about her clumsy but well-intentioned attempts at cooking waakye for Myla growing up so she could feel connected to her birth heritage, about her dad’s woodworking projects (he’s making a guitar) and her brother back in Hoboken (he’s making his way through residency) and how their main family bonding activity is marathoning old episodes of Star Trek. August finds it soothing to let it wash over her. A family. It sounds nice.

“So … all these mousetraps…” August nudges the one on the floor with her foot. “What exactly are you making?”