“You think if you kiss me, it’ll bring this girl back like it brought back Jenny?”
“Yeah. So. Let’s…” August thinks back to what they said last time. “Do it for research.”
“Okay,” Jane says, expression unreadable. “For research.”
She bundles her takeout back into its bag, and August stands and throws her hair over her shoulder. She can do this. Start with what you know and work from there. August knows this can work.
“So,” August says, “tell me what to do.”
A beat. Jane looks up at her, brow furrowed. Then her face smooths out, and a smile plays at the corner of her mouth, the one with the dimple.
“Okay,” she says, and she spreads her legs apart a few inches, gesturing loosely for August to sit. “Get down here.”
Shit. August supposes she did ask for it.
August settles herself on one of Jane’s thighs and tucks her legs between them, her feet skimming the floor between Jane’s sneakers. If she’s being honest, she’s imagined more than once, more than a few times, what Jane’s thighs feel like. They’re strong and firm, sturdier than they look, but August doesn’t have a chance to feel anything about it before Jane’s fingertips are nudging her chin up to look at her.
“Is this okay?” Jane asks. Her hand squeezes the curve of August’s hip, holding her in place.
August looks at her, letting her gaze drop to Jane’s lips. That’s the whole point of this. It’s mechanics. “Yeah. Is this how you remember it?”
“Kind of,” she says. And, “Pull my hair.”
For a few ringing seconds, August imagines herself melting onto the floor of the train like the ghosts of a million spilled subway slushies and dropped ice cream cones.
Completely under control.
She pushes her fingers into Jane’s short hair, scraping her nails across the scalp before she closes them on a fistful and tugs.
Jane releases a short breath. “Harder.”
August does as she’s told, and Jane makes another sound, one deep in her throat, which August assumes is a good sign.
“Now…” Jane says. She’s looking at August’s mouth, eyes dark as the pit at a punk show. “When I kiss you, bite.”
And before August can ask what she means, Jane closes the space between them.
The kiss is … different this time. Hotter, somehow, even though it’s not real. It’s not real, August recites in her head as she tries to pretend there’s absolutely anything academic about the way her mouth drops open at the press of Jane’s lips, anything scientifically impartial about the way she pulls harder at Jane’s hair and sinks into it, letting Jane drink her in.
Jane’s words come back to her, syrupy sweet and slow, bite, and so she sucks Jane’s bottom lip between hers and digs her teeth in. She hears her sharp inhale, feels Jane’s hand tighten in the fabric of her shirt, and thinks of it as progress. Results. She moves the way she imagines the girl Jane remembers would have moved, tries to give her the memory with her mouth—bites harder, tugs at her lip, runs her tongue over it.
It lasts only a minute or two, but it feels like a year lost in Jane’s hair and Jane’s lips and Jane’s past, Jane’s hands fisting in her curls, Jane’s thigh warm and steady under her, Jane for hours, Jane for days. It pulls like an undertow, and the case is up on the surface, and August is trying to stay there too.
When they break apart, August’s glasses are crooked and smudged, and an old woman is staring disapprovingly at them from across the aisle.
“You got a problem?” Jane says, arm slinging protectively across August’s shoulders.
The woman says nothing and returns to her newspaper.
“Mingxia,” Jane says, turning to August. “That was her name. Mingxia. I took her back to my place in Prospect Heights on … Underhill Avenue. It was a brownstone. I had the second floor. That was the first place I lived in New York.”
August writes down the street name and the playground across the street and the nearest intersection and spends an afternoon pulling ownership records on every brownstone on the block, calling landlords until she finds the son of one who remembers a Chinese American woman renting the second floor when he was a kid.
The kiss reveals: Jane moved to New York in February 1975.
And so, it becomes another thing they do. The food and the songs and the old articles and, now, the kisses.
There are certain crucial bits of information they still don’t have—like Jane’s childhood, or her infuriatingly elusive birth certificate, or the event that got Jane stuck in the first place—but there’s no way to predict what memory might cause a chain reaction leading to something important.
The kisses are strictly for evidence gathering. August knows this. August is absolutely, 100 percent clear on this. She’s kissing Jane, but Jane is kissing Jenny, Molly, April, Niama, Maria, Beth, Mary Frances, Mingxia. It’s not about her and Jane, at all.
“Kiss me slow,” Jane says, grinning on a Tuesday afternoon, her sleeves rolled up enticingly, and it’s still not about them.
They kiss under the dappled sunlight of the Brighton Beach Station, strawberry ice cream on their tongues, and Jane remembers summer 1974, a month crashing with an old friend named Simone who’d moved to Virginia Beach, whose cat absolutely refused to leave them alone in bed. They kiss with August’s earbuds split between them playing Patti Smith, and Jane remembers autumn 1975, a bass player named Alice who left lipstick stains on her neck in the bathroom of CBGB. They kiss at midnight in a dark tunnel, and Jane remembers New Year’s Eve 1977, and Mina, who tattooed the vermilion bird on her shoulder.
August learns all this, but she also learns that Jane likes to be kissed every kind of way: like a secret, like a fistfight, like candy, like a house fire. She learns Jane can make her sigh and forget her own name until it all blurs together, past and present, the two of them on Manhattan balconies and in damp New Orleans barrooms and the candy aisle of a convenience store in Los Angeles. Jane’s kissed a girl in every corner of the country, and pretty soon, August feels like she has too.
It’s not like kissing is all August does—the time she spends thinking about the kisses and chasing down leads from the kisses when she’s not actually having the kisses notwithstanding. It’s been three weeks since she worked a single shift. She does have to pay rent, eventually, and so to stave off absolute bankruptcy, she finally calls Billy’s and, with some coughing and begging, convinces Lucie to put her on the schedule.
“Sweet Jesus, she lives,” Winfield says, pretending to faint dramatically over the counter when August returns to the bar.
“You literally saw me last week.” August brushes past him to clock in.
“Was that you?” Winfield asks, gathering himself back up and beginning to change the coffee filter. “Or was that some girl who looked like you but has not been bedridden for weeks like you told Lucie you were?”
“I was feeling better that day,” August says. She turns to see Winfield’s skeptical look. “What? Did you want me to get Billy’s shut down for giving mono to all the customers in tables fifteen through twenty-two?”