She wonders if things were different, if maybe they could fall into the kind of love that doesn’t need to announce itself. Something that settles into the bricks as easily as every other true thing that’s ever unfolded its legs and walked up these stairs.
Her phone buzzes from within the sheets.
Radio, it says. Hope you’re not asleep yet.
August pulls up the station, and the next song comes up. By request. “In Your Eyes.”
The moonlight moves, a cool slash across the foot of the bed, and August squeezes her eyes shut. There’s no point to it, loving a girl who can’t touch the ground. August knows this.
But to kiss and be kissed. To be wanted. That’s a different thing from love. And maybe, maybe if she tried, they could have something. Not everything, but something.
* * *
August has a plan.
Myla told her to say it in an August way. The August way is having a plan.
It’s contingent on a few things. It has to be the right day and time. But she’s ridden the Q from one end to the other enough to have the data she needs, carefully tallied in the back of a notebook right below all of Jane’s girls.
Definitely not during peak work commute hours, or midnight, which brings a rush of people getting off hospital night shifts, or weekends when shitfaced commuters will be barfing along the line. The slowest time, when the train is most likely to be almost completely empty, is 3:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning.
So she gathers up what she needs and stuffs it into the reusable grocery bags Niko’s guilted her into using religiously. She sets her alarm for 2:00 a.m. to give herself time to tame her hair and apply a lipstick that won’t smudge. It takes twenty minutes to figure out what to wear—she ends up with a button-down tucked into a skirt, a pair of gray thigh-high socks she bought last month, her ankle boots with heels. She tugs on the socks in the mirror, fussing over the fit, but there’s no time to second-guess. She has a train to catch.
She sits on the bench and waits. And waits some more. Jane will be on whichever train she gets on, and she wants it to be a good one. A new one, with shiny seats and pretty lights that count down the stops—and an empty car. She’s trying to make the subway romantic. She needs all the help she can get.
Finally, a train with a well-maintained, cool blue interior pulls up, and August gathers her bags and stands at the yellow line like a nervous teenager picking up their prom date. (She assumes. She never went to prom.)
The doors open.
Jane is in the far corner of the train, sprawled on her back, jacket bunched up under her head, tape player balanced on her stomach, eyes closed, one foot tapping along to the beat. Her mouth is quirked up in the corner like she’s really enjoying it, the lines of her loose and languid and overflowing. August’s heart goes unforgivably soft in her chest.
That’s her girl.
Jane is, at the moment, blissfully unaware of her surroundings, and August can’t resist. She edges up to her silently, leans close to her ear, and says, “Hey, Subway Girl.”
Jane yelps, flails sideways, and punches August in the nose.
“Agh, what the fuck, Jane?” August yells, dropping her bags to clutch her face. “Are you Jason Bourne?”
“Don’t sneak up on me like that!” Jane yells back, pulling herself upright. “I don’t know who Jason Bourne is.”
August pulls one hand away from her nose to examine it: no blood, at least. Off to an auspicious start. “He’s an action movie character, a secret agent who had his memories erased and finds out he’s a badass because he knows how to, like, shoot people and do computer stuff he can’t remember learning.” She thinks about it for a second. “Hang on. Maybe you are Jason Bourne.”
“I’m sorry,” Jane says, but she’s laughing. She leans forward, tugging August’s hands down. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” August tells her. Her eyes are watering, but it really doesn’t hurt much. It was more of a glancing, half-asleep blow than the riot girl punch she knows Jane is capable of.
“What are you even doing here?” Jane asks. “It’s the middle of the night.”
“Exactly,” August says. She scoops her bags up and deposits them on the seat next to Jane, yanking out the first item: a blanket. She throws it down over the bench. “We almost never get to hang out just the two of us.”
“So we’re … having a sleepover?”
“No, we’re having food,” August says. Her face feels hot and red, and not because it was recently punched, so she focuses on unpacking. A bottle of wine. A corkscrew. Two plastic cups. “All the stuff you want to try. I thought we could do, like, a taste test.”
August pulls out one of Myla’s cutting boards next, scorched on one side from a saucepan. Then the Takis, the sweet creole onion Zapp’s, box after box of Pop-Tarts. Five different flavors.
“A feast,” Jane says, reaching for a packet of chips. She sounds a little dubious, a little awed. “You got me a feast.”
“That’s a generous use of the word. I’m pretty sure the guy at the bodega thought I was stoned.”
August finally looks up to find Jane turning the Takis over in her hands like she’s not sure what to do with them.
“I brought this too,” August says, pulling a cassette tape out of her pocket. It took her three different thrift stores, but it finally turned up: the Chi-Lites’ greatest hits. She holds it out to Jane, who blinks at her a few times before popping open the deck on her cassette player and sliding the tape in.
“This is … nice,” Jane says. “Like I’m a normal person. That’s nice.”
“You are a normal person,” August says, sitting on the other side of their makeshift junk food charcuterie board. “Under un-normal circumstances.”
“Pretty sure the word for that is abnormal.”
“Hush and open the wine,” August says, handing the bottle over.
She does, and then she rips the bag of Takis open with her teeth, and August’s brain rapidly runs through a whole 3D View-Master reel of other things she’d like Jane to do with her teeth, but that is getting ahead of herself. She doesn’t even know if Jane wants to do anything with her teeth. This isn’t even about that. This is about making Jane happy. It’s about trying.
They eat, and they toast their little plastic cups of wine, and Jane ranks the Pop-Tart flavors from worst to best, with the sweetest (strawberry milkshake) predictably at the top. The Chi-Lites croon, and they go round and round the city in their well-traveled loop. August can’t believe how comfortable this has gotten. She can almost forget where they are.
August thinks, all things considered, for a 3:00 a.m. date on the subway with a girl untethered from reality, it’s going pretty well. They do what they’ve always done: they talk. That’s what August likes best, the way they eat up each other’s thoughts and feelings and stories just as hungrily as the bagels or dumplings or Pop-Tarts. Jane tells August about the time she kicked in a door to rescue a distressed child that turned out to be an especially vocal house cat, August tells Jane about how her mom led a bartender on for two months so she could access the bar employment records. They laugh. August wants. It’s good.