“One of the laminate tiles in the kitchen isn’t really stuck down anymore, so we all just kind of kick it around the room,” Myla adds.
“The guy across the hall is a drag queen, and sometimes he practices his numbers in the middle of the night, so if you hear Patti LaBelle, that’s why.”
“The hot water takes twenty minutes to get going, but ten if you’re nice.”
“It’s not haunted, but it’s like, not not haunted.”
Myla smacks her gum. “That’s it.”
August swallows. “Okay.”
She weighs her options, watching Niko slip his fingers into the pocket of Myla’s paint-stained overalls, and wonders what Niko saw when he touched the back of her hand, or thought he saw. Pretended to see.
And does she want to live with a couple? A couple that is one half fake psychic who looks like he fronts an Arctic Monkeys cover band and one half firestarter with a room full of dead frogs? No.
But Brooklyn College’s spring semester starts in a week, and she can’t deal with trying to find a place and a job once classes pick up.
Turns out, for a girl who carries a knife because she’d rather be anything but unprepared, August did not plan her move to New York very well.
“Okay?” Myla says. “Okay what?”
“Okay,” August repeats. “I’m in.”
* * *
In the end, August was always going to say yes to this apartment, because she grew up in one smaller and uglier and filled with even weirder things.
“It looks nice!” her mom says over FaceTime, propped on the windowsill.
“You’re only saying that because this one has wood floors and not that nightmare carpet from the Idlewild place.”
“That place wasn’t so bad!” she says, buried in a box of files. Her buggy glasses slide down her nose, and she pushes them up with the business end of a highlighter, leaving a yellow streak. “It gave us nine great years. And carpet can hide a multitude of sins.”
August rolls her eyes, pushing a box across the room. The Idlewild apartment was a two-bedroom shithole half an hour outside of New Orleans, the kind of suburban built-in-the-’70s dump that doesn’t even have the charm or character of being in the city.
She can still picture the carpet in the tiny gaps of the obstacle course of towering piles of old magazines and teetering file boxes. Double Dare 2000: Single Mom Edition. It was an unforgivable shade of grimy beige, just like the walls, in the spaces that weren’t plastered with maps and bulletin boards and ripped-out phonebook pages, and—
Yeah, this place isn’t so bad.
“Did you talk to Detective Primeaux today?” August asks. It’s the first Friday of the month, so she knows the answer.
“Yeah, nothing new,” she says. “He doesn’t even try to act like he’s gonna open the case back up anymore. Goddamn shame.”
August pushes another box into a different corner, this one near the radiator puffing warmth into the January freeze. Closer to the windowsill, she can see her mom better, their shared mousy-brown hair frizzing into her face. Under it, the same round face and big green bush baby eyes as August’s, the same angular hands as she thumbs through papers. Her mom looks exhausted. She always looks exhausted.
“Well,” August says. “He’s a shit.”
“He’s a shit,” her mom agrees, nodding gravely. “How ’bout the new roommates?”
“Fine. I mean, kind of weird. One of them claims to be a psychic. But I don’t think they’re, like, serial killers.”
She hums, only half-listening. “Remember the rules. Number one—”
“Us versus everyone.”
“And number two—”
“If they’re gonna kill you, get their DNA under your fingernails.”
“Thatta girl,” she says. “Listen, I gotta go, I just opened this shipment of public records, and it’s gonna take me all weekend. Be safe, okay? And call me tomorrow.”
The moment they hang up, the room is unbearably quiet.
If August’s life were a movie, the soundtrack would be the low sounds of her mom, the clickity-clacking of her keyboard, or quiet mumbling as she searches for a document. Even when August quit helping with the case, when she moved out and mostly heard it over the phone, it was constant. A couple of thousand miles away, it’s like someone finally cut the score.
There’s a lot they have in common—maxed-out library cards, perpetual singlehood, affinity for Crystal Hot Sauce, encyclopedic knowledge of NOPD missing persons protocol. But the big difference between August and her mother? Suzette Landry hoards like nuclear winter is coming, and August very intentionally owns almost nothing.
She has five boxes. Five entire cardboard boxes to show for her life at twenty-three. Living like she’s on the run from the fucking FBI. Normal stuff.
She slides the last one into an empty corner, so they’re not cluttered together.
At the bottom of her purse, past her wallet and notepads and spare phone battery, is her pocketknife. The handle’s shaped like a fish, with a faded pink sticker in the shape of a heart, stuck on when she was seven—around the time she learned how to use it. Once she’s slashed the boxes open, her things settle into neat little stacks.
By the radiator: two pairs of boots, three pairs of socks. Six shirts, two sweaters, three pairs of jeans, two skirts. One pair of white Vans—those are special, a reward she bought herself last year, buzzed off adrenaline and mozzarella sticks from the Applebee’s where she came out to her mom.
By the wall with the crack down the middle: the one physical book she owns—a vintage crime novel—beside her tablet containing her hundreds of other books. Maybe thousands. She’s not sure. It stresses her out to think about having that many of anything.
In the corner that smells of sage and maybe, faintly, a hundred frogs she’s been assured died of natural causes: one framed photo of an old washateria on Chartres, one Bic lighter, and an accompanying candle. She folds her knife up, sets it down, and places a sign that says PERSONAL EFFECTS over it in her head.
She’s shaking out her air mattress when she hears someone unsticking the front door from the jamb, a violent skittering following like somebody’s bowled an enormous furry spider down the hallway. It crashes into a wall, and then what can only be described as a soot sprite from Spirited Away comes shooting into August’s room.
“Noodles!” calls Niko, and then he’s in the doorway. There’s a leash hanging from his hand and an apologetic expression from his angular features.
“I thought you said he was a ghost in the night,” August says. Noodles is snuffling through her socks, tail a blur, until he realizes there’s a new person and launches himself at her.
“He is,” Niko says with a wince. “I mean, kind of. Sometimes, I feel bad and take him to work with me at the shop during the day. I guess we didn’t mention his, uh—” Noodles takes this moment to place both paws on August’s shoulders and try to force his tongue into her mouth. “Personality.”
Myla appears behind Niko, a skateboard under one arm. “Oh, you met Noodles!”
“Oh yeah,” August says. “Intimately.”