“Tell her I can vouch for August.”
“Actually, I—” August attempts, but Myla stomps on her foot. She’s wearing combat boots—it’s hard to miss.
The thing is, August gets the sense that this isn’t exactly a normal diner. There’s something shiny and bright about it that curls, warm and inviting, around the sagging booths and waiters spinning table to table. A busboy brushes past with a tub of dishes and a mug topples from the pile. Winfield reaches blindly behind himself and catches it midair.
It’s something adjacent to magic.
August doesn’t do magic.
“Come on, Win,” Myla says as Winfield smoothly deposits the mug back in the tub. “We’ve been your Thursday nighters for how long? Three years? I wouldn’t bring you someone who couldn’t cut it.”
He rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling. “I’ll get an app.”
* * *
“I’ve never waited a table in my life,” August says, when they’re walking back to the apartment.
“You’ll be fine,” Myla says. “Niko, tell her she’ll be fine.”
“I’m not a psychic reading ATM.”
“Oh, but you were last week when I wanted Thai, but you were sensing that basil had bad energy for us.…”
August listens to the sound of their voices playing off each other and three sets of footsteps on the sidewalk. The city is darkening, a flat brownish orange almost like a New Orleans night, and familiar enough to make her think that maybe … maybe she’s got a chance.
At the top of the stairs, Myla unlocks the door, and they kick off their shoes into one pile.
Niko gestures toward the kitchen sink and says, “Welcome home.”
And August notices for the first time, beside the faucet: lilies, fresh, stuck in a jar.
Well. It’s their home, not hers. Those are their childhood photos on the fridge, their smells of paint and soot and lavender threaded through the patchy rugs, their pancake dinner routine, all of it settled years before August even got to New York. But it’s nice to look at. A comforting still life to be enjoyed from across the room.
August has lived in a dozen rooms without ever knowing how to make a space into a home, how to expand to fill it like Niko or Myla or even Wes with his drawings in the windows. She doesn’t know, really, what it would take at this point. It’s been twenty-three years of passing through, touching brick after brick, never once feeling a permanent tug.
It feels stupid to say it, but maybe. Maybe it could be this. Maybe a new major. Maybe a new job. Maybe a place that could want her to belong in it.
Maybe a person, she guesses. She can’t imagine who.
* * *
August smells like pancakes.
It just doesn’t come off, no matter how many showers or quarters wasted at the twenty-four-hour laundromat. She’s only been working at Billy’s for a week, and greasy hashbrowns have bonded with her on a molecular level.
It’s definitely not coming off today, not after a graveyard shift with barely enough time to haul herself up the stairs, shrug on a clean shirt, cram the tails into a skirt, and throw herself back down them again. Even her coat smells like bacon. She’s a walking wet dream for three a.m. stoners and long-haul truckers, a pancake-and-sausage combo adrift on the wind. At least she managed to steal a jumbo coffee.
First day of classes. First day of a new school. First day of a new major.
It’s not English (her first major), or history (her second). It’s kind of psychology (third minor), but mostly it’s the same as everything else for the past four and a half years: another maybe this one, because she’s scraped together just enough course credits and loans, because she’s not sure what to do if she’s not living blue book to blue book until she dies.
Sociology it is.
Monday morning classes start at eight thirty, and she’s already memorized her commute. Down the street to the Parkside Ave. Station, Q toward Coney Island, off at Avenue H, walk two blocks. She can see the bubbles of train letters in her head. She’s hopeless with people, but she will force this city to be her goddamn friend.
August is so focused on the subway lines unfolding in her brain that she doesn’t notice the patch of ice.
The heel of her boot skids, and she hits the ground knees first, tights ripping open, one hand catching the concrete and the other crushing her coffee into her chest. The lid pops off, and coffee explodes across the front of her shirt.
“Christ on a fucking bike,” she swears as her backpack spills across the pavement. She watches helplessly as a woman in a parka kicks her phone into the gutter.
And, well. August does not cry.
She didn’t cry when she left Belle Chasse or New Orleans or Memphis. She doesn’t cry when she gets in fights with her mom, and she doesn’t cry when she misses her, and she doesn’t cry when she doesn’t miss her at all. She hasn’t cried once since she got to New York. But she’s bleeding and covered in hot coffee, and she hasn’t slept in two days, and she can’t think of a single person within a thousand miles who gives a shit, and her throat burns sharply enough to make her think, God, please, not in front of all these people.
She could skip. Drag herself back up six flights, curl up on her twin-size air mattress, try again tomorrow. She could do that. But she didn’t move across the country to let a skinned knee and a coffee-soaked bra kick her ass. As her mom would say, Don’t be a little bitch about it.
So she swallows it down. Scoops up her things. Checks her phone for new cracks. Shoulders her bag. Tugs her coat around her.
She’s gonna catch her stupid train.
The Parkside Ave. Station is above ground—big red columns, mosaic tiles, ivy creeping up the brick backs of the apartment buildings that shade the tracks—and it takes August four swipes to get through the turnstile. She finds her platform right as the Q pulls up, and she’s shouldered and elbowed onto a car with a few mercifully empty seats. She slides into one.
For the next ten minutes, she knows exactly where she is and where she’s going. All she has to do is sit and let herself get there.
She hisses out a breath. Back in slowly through her nose.
God, this train reeks.
She’s not going to cry—she’s not going to cry—but then there’s a shadow blocking the fluorescent lights, the staticky warmth of someone standing over her, bracketing her with their body and attention.
The last thing she needs is to be harassed by some pervert. Maybe if she does start crying, a full-scale Wes-dropping-out-of-Pratt level meltdown, they’ll leave her alone. She palms her pocketknife through her coat.
She looks up, expecting some scraggly man to match the long legs and ripped jeans in front of her, but instead—
Long Legs is … a girl.
August’s age, maybe older, all devastating cheekbones and jawline and golden-brown skin. Her black hair is short and swoopy and pushed back from her forehead, and she’s quirking an eyebrow at August. There’s a white T-shirt tucked into the ripped jeans and a well-loved black leather jacket settled on her shoulders like she was born in it. The set of her smirk looks like the beginning of a very long story August would tell over drinks if she had any friends.