“What?” she asks flatly. “What happened?”
“God happened,” he says. “We got the money. We’re buying the unit.”
And, for the first time in her career, Lucie spills an order on the floor.
It’s a Saturday afternoon, but they finish up their tables and close the restaurant, Lucie nudging the last customer out the door with a free takeaway dessert to get them moving faster. The minute they’re out, she shuts the door and flips the OPEN sign around.
“Closed for private party,” she says, and she crosses to the bar and yanks Winfield into a furious kiss.
“I’ll drink to that,” Jerry whoops through the kitchen window.
August grins, joy swarming in her stomach. “Cheers.”
The whole restaurant explodes into chaos—servers screaming over the phone to people who aren’t on shift, Jerry screaming at Winfield about why he never told anyone about Lucie, Lucie screaming at Billy about where the money could have come from. Billy puts Earth, Wind & Fire on the sound system and cranks it up, and a busboy runs to the liquor store down the block and returns with a bus tub full of champagne bottles.
People start flooding in. Not customers, but longtime waiters who heard the news and wanted to celebrate, a couple of regulars close enough to Billy to get a personal call, line cooks still smelling like their second jobs at other restaurants in the neighborhood. August didn’t tell anyone about the money—not even Myla or Niko or Wes—so when she sends a message to the group chat, they’re there within twenty minutes, out of breath and in mismatched shoes. Isaiah shows up around the time the fifth bottle is popped, beaming and pulling Wes into his side, accepting a juice glass of champagne when it’s passed to him.
August came to New York almost a year ago, alone. She didn’t know a soul. She was supposed to muddle through like she always did, bury herself in the gray. Tonight, under the neon lights of the bar, under Niko’s arm, Myla’s fingers looped through her belt loop, she barely knows that feeling’s name.
“You did good,” Niko tells her. When she looks at him, there’s that distant, funny smile playing around his mouth, the one he gives when he knows something he shouldn’t. She ducks her head.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Jerry drags a crate of potatoes out of the kitchen, and Billy steps up onto it, raising up an entire bottle of André.
“All I’ve ever wanted,” Billy says, “was to keep the family business alive. And it hasn’t been easy, not with the way things have been changing around here. My parents put everything they had into this place. I did my homework on that bar.” He points to the bar, and everyone laughs. “I met my wife in that booth.” He points to one in the back corner, where the vinyl’s split across the seat and one side sinks too far down. August always wondered why it hadn’t been replaced. “I had my daughter’s first birthday party here—Jerry, you baked a fuckin’ cake, remember? And it was awful.” Jerry laughs and gives him the finger, and Billy bellows out a laugh so loud, the room shakes.
“But, anyway,” he says, sobering. “I’m just … I feel so blessed to get to keep it. And to have people I trust.” He inclines his head toward Lucie and Jerry and Winfield, huddled by a table. “People I love. So, I wanna make a toast.” He lifts his bottle, and all over the restaurant, people raise coffee mugs and juice glasses and styrofoam to-go cups. “To Pancake Billy’s House of Pancakes, serving the good people of Brooklyn for nearly forty-five years now. When my momma opened this place, she told me, ‘Son, you gotta make your own place to belong.’ So, to a place to belong.”
Everyone cheers, loud and happy and a little misty, the sound filling the place up to the brim, rushing over the Formica tabletops and the sticky kitchen floor and the photo to the side of the men’s room door of the first day Billy’s fed the neighborhood.
Just as Billy takes a swig, the front door opens.
The room’s too busy throwing back champagne to notice, but when August glances across the dining room, there’s a young woman standing in the door.
She looks lost, a little shocked, unsteady on her feet. Her hair’s inky black and short, swept back from her face, and her cheeks are flushed from the November chill outside.
White T-shirt, ripped jeans, sharp cheekbones, an armful of tattoos. A single dimple at one side of her mouth.
August thinks she throws a chair out of the way. It’s possible a bottle of hot sauce hits the linoleum and shatters. The specifics blur out. All she knows is, she clears the room in seconds.
* * *
Impossibly, here. Now. Her red Chucks planted on the black-and-white floor.
“Hi,” Jane says, and her voice sounds the same.
Her voice sounds the same, and she looks the same, and when August reaches out and grasps desperately for her shoulders, they feel exactly the same as they always have under her hands.
Solid. Real. Alive.
“I don’t know,” she says. “One second I was—I was with you on the tracks, and you were kissing me, and then I, I opened my eyes and I was just standing on the platform, and it was cold, and I knew. I could tell when it was. I didn’t know where else to look for you, so I came here. I had to make sure you were—you were okay.”
“That I was okay?”
“I can’t believe you did that, August, you could have died—”
“I—I thought you went back—”
“You got me out—”
“Wait.” August can barely hear what Jane is saying. Her brain is still catching up. “It’s only been a second for you?”
“Yeah,” Jane says, “yeah, how long has it been for you?”
Her fingers squeeze in Jane’s shirt. “Three months.”
“Oh,” she says. She looks at August like she did that night on the tracks, like it’s breaking her heart. “Oh, you thought I was—”
“I’m—” she says, but she doesn’t get to finish the sentence, because August has thrown her arms around her waist and crashed into her chest. Her arms close around August’s neck, tight and fierce, and August breathes in the smell of her, sweet and warm and faintly, under it all, something a little strange and singed.
All those months. All the trips up and down the line. All the songs on the radio. All of it, all the work, all the trying and scraping and tearing at the seams of what she can see, all for this. All for her arms wrapped around Jane in a diner on a Saturday afternoon.
Her girl. She came back.
Photo from the archives of New York Magazine, from a photo series on Brooklyn diners, dated August 2, 1976
[Photo depicts a plate of pancakes with a side of bacon in the hands of a waitress, illuminated by the blue and pink glow of the neon lights that wrap the underside of the bar at Pancake Billy’s House of Pancakes. Though the waitress’s face is out of frame, several tattoos are visible on her left arm: an anchor, Chinese characters, a red bird.]
August takes her home.
The sky splits open the second they step out of Billy’s, but Jane just turns to her under the onslaught of rain and smiles. Jane in the rain. That’s something new.