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“Sorry, I’m—morning brain. It’s too early.”

“Is it?” Subway Girl asks with what sounds like genuine interest.

She’s wearing the headphones August saw the other day, ’80s-era ones with bright orange foam over the speaker boxes. She digs through her backpack and pulls out a cassette player to pause her music. A whole cassette player. Subway Girl is … a Brooklyn hipster? Is that a point against her?

But when she turns back to August with her tattoos and her slightly crooked front tooth and her undivided attention, August knows: this girl could be hauling a gramophone through the subway every day, and August would still lie down in the middle of Fifth Avenue for her.

“Yeah, um,” August chokes out. “I had a late night.”

Subway Girl’s eyebrows do something inscrutable. “Doing what?”

“Oh, uh, I had a night shift. I wait tables at Pancake Billy’s, and it’s twenty-four hours, so—”

“Pancake Billy’s?” Subway Girl asks. “That’s … on Church, right?”

She rests her elbows on her knees, perching her chin on her hands. Her eyes are so bright, and her knuckles are square and sturdy, like she knows how to knead bread or what the insides of a car look like.

August absolutely, definitely, is not picturing Subway Girl just as delighted and fond across the table on a third date. And she’s certainly not the type of person to sit on a train with someone whose name she doesn’t even know and imagine her assembling an Ikea bed frame. Everything is completely under control.

She clears her throat. “Yeah. You know it?”

Subway Girl bites down on her lip, which is. Fine.

“Oh … oh man, I used to wait tables there too,” she says. “Jerry still in the kitchen?”

August laughs. Lucky again. “Yeah, he’s been there forever. I can’t imagine him ever not being there. Every day when I clock in it’s all—”

“‘Mornin’, buttercup,’” she says in a pitch-perfect imitation of Jerry’s heavy Brooklyn accent. “He’s such a babe, right?”

“A babe, oh my God.”

August cracks up, and Subway Girl snorts, and fuck if that sound isn’t an absolute revelation. The doors open and close at a stop and they’re still laughing, and maybe there’s … maybe there’s something happening here. August has not ruled out the possibility.

“That Su Special, though,” August says.

The spark in Subway Girl’s eyes ignites so brilliantly that August half expects her to jump out of her seat. “Wait, that’s my sandwich! I invented it!”

“What, really?”

“Yeah, that’s my last name! Su!” she explains. “I had Jerry make it special for me so many times, everybody started getting them. I can’t believe he still makes them.”

“He does, and they’re fucking delicious,” August says. “Definitely brought me back from the dead more than once, so, thank you.”

“No problem,” Subway Girl says. She’s got this far-off look in her eyes, like reminiscing about cranky customers sending back shortstacks is the best thing that’s happened to her all week. “God, I miss that place.”

“Yeah. You ever notice that it’s kind of—”

“Magic,” Subway Girl finishes. “It’s magic.”

August bites her lip. She doesn’t do magic. But the first time they met, August thought she’d do anything this girl said, and alarmingly, that doesn’t seem to be changing.

“I’m surprised they haven’t fired me yet,” August says. “I dumped a pie on a five-year-old yesterday. We had to give him a free T-shirt.”

Subway Girl laughs. “You’ll get the hang of it,” she says confidently. “Small fuckin’ world, huh?”

“Yeah,” August agrees. “Small fucking world.”

They linger there, smiling and smiling at each other, and Subway Girl adds, “Nice scarf, by the way.”

August looks down—she forgot she was wearing it. She scrambles to take it off, but the girl holds up a hand.

“I told you to keep it. Besides”—she reaches into her bag and produces a plaid one with tassels—“it’s been replaced.”

August can feel her face glowing red to match the scarf, like a giant, stammering, bisexual chameleon. An evolutionary mistake. “I, yeah—thank you again, so much. I wanted—I mean, it was my first day of class, and I really didn’t want to walk in looking like, like that—”

“I mean, it’s not that you looked bad,” Subway Girl counters, and August knows her complexion has tipped past blushing and into Memorial Day sunburn. “You just … looked like you needed something to go right that morning. So.” She offers a mild salute.

The announcer comes over the intercom, more garbled than usual, but August can’t tell if it’s the shitty MTA speakers or blood rushing in her ears. Subway Girl points to the board.

“Brooklyn College, right?” she says. “Avenue H?”

August glances up— Oh, she’s right. It’s her stop.

She realizes as she throws her bag over her shoulder: she might never get this lucky again. Over eight and a half million people in New York and only one Subway Girl, lost as easily as she’s found.

“I’m working breakfast tomorrow. At Billy’s,” August blurts. “If you wanna stop by, I can sneak you a sandwich. To pay you back.”

Subway Girl looks at her with an expression so strange and unreadable that August wonders how she’s screwed this up already, but it clears, and she says, “Oh, man. I would love that.”

“Okay,” August says, walking backward toward the door. “Okay. Great. Cool. Okay.” She’s going to stop saying words at some point. She really is.

Subway Girl watches her go, hair falling into her eyes, looking amused.

“What’s your name?” she asks.

August trips over the train threshold, barely missing the gap. Someone collides with her shoulder. Her name? Suddenly she doesn’t know. All she can hear is the whisper of her brain cells flying out the emergency exit.

“Uh, it’s—August. I’m August.”

Subway Girl’s smile softens, like somehow she already knew.

“August,” she repeats. “I’m Jane.”

“Jane. Hi, Jane.”

“The scarf looks better on you anyway.” Jane winks, and the doors shut in August’s face.


* * *


Jane doesn’t come to Billy’s.

August hovers outside the kitchen all morning, watching the door and waiting for Jane to sweep through like Brendan Fraser in The Mummy, rakish and windswept with her perfectly swoopy hair. But she doesn’t.

Of course she doesn’t. August refills the ketchup bottles and wonders what demon jumped up inside her and made her invite a hot stranger to tolerate her terrible service on a Saturday morning in a place where she used to work. Just what every public transit flirtation needs: old coworkers and a sweaty idiot dumping syrup on the table. What an extremely sexy proposition. Really out here smashing pussy, Landry.

“It’s fine,” Winfield says once he pries the source of her anxious pacing out of her. He’s only barely paying attention, scribbling on a piece of sheet music tucked into his guest check pad. He has a penchant for handing out cards for his one-man piano and saxophone band to customers. “We get about a hundred hot lesbians through here a week. You’ll find another one.”