When Vic finally rolled awake, it was to the sound of “Only Girl in the World.” The song had been her ringtone for at least five years, but she didn’t see any reason to change it. Loud was a classic, after all. Vic threw her arm over the side of her bed and reached for her phone, blindly pressing and hoping to mute it. Instead, she accidentally knocked it off her bedside table and onto the floor, where the sounds of redheaded Rihanna were no quieter than they had been seconds ago. Vic groaned, threw off her weighty cream-colored duvet, and collapsed onto her ivory, faux sheepskin rug, accepting the call.
Vic pulled the phone away from her face, startled by the noise. It was her favorite prophyte, Diane, singing with what sounded like her entire office. Vic smiled. She knew she cared about her birthday way more than anyone else did, but it always made her happy when the people around her tried to match her enthusiasm. Vic had never understood people who made birthday plans on the fly; she always began reminding people at least three weeks in advance of the day, and the week leading up to it was always stuffed with meticulously planned events. As the final line of “Happy Birthday” rang out, Vic giggled. She assumed they were saving the Stevie Wonder version (her favorite) for later that night when she and all her sisters got dinner at Barrel & Harvest.
“Congratulations on the big twenty-two!” Diane screamed, then lowered her voice. “I know you’ve been kind of sad about today but don’t worry—twenty-two is one of the best years! You are absolutely not past your prime!”
Vic’s mood plummeted for a second. There was a dull pounding in her head, a lurching in her stomach, and her legs were spotted with the distant ache of could-be bruises. Hangovers weren’t new to her, but her delayed recoveries definitely were. This one was the result a particularly wild night out, her attempt to end the best year of her life (so far) with a bang. She hadn’t been one of those people who whined about getting old at twenty, and twenty-one had been too exciting to complain about, but now, at twenty-two, she could no longer deny the truth: she was really, truly in her twenties. She was an adult.
She sighed. “Thanks, Di.”
“Okay,” Diane said, her voice energized again. “Now get your ass out of bed!”
“How do you know I’m still in bed?” Vic bristled. She got up off the floor and stretched, her shoulder creaking as if to taunt her.
Diane laughed dismissively. “Anyway, I had all the girls in the apartment earlier this morning while you were still asleep. If you could just walk into the kitchen…”
Vic took the handful of steps she needed to get down her hall. “Oh my god,” she gasped. The kitchen table was covered with a breakfast spread almost too big to fit: birthday cake pancakes, waffles, breaded chicken tenders, scrambled eggs with feta, sourdough toast, a Momofuku birthday cake, pear jam, maple chicken sausage, champagne, orange juice. A stack of handmade cards from all her sisters sat on one corner. Vic picked a pink construction paper heart from the pile and read it:
Oh my god VICTORIA where do I even start. Who could’ve guessed when we met as awkward freshmen at orientation (polka dot Keds anyone?) that we would end up being the best of friends!! From attending rush together to late night gossip sessions, to eating dry cheerios in bed while nursing our hangovers, to running from ghosts (lmaooo), we’ve had the best times together!!! There’s no one I’d rather take slightly-over-the-top, full body thirst trap selfies with! Hope you have the most amazing day, full of love, laughter, and Rihanna!! Pour it up bitch!!!!!!!
“Vic… you still there?”
“Yeah, I’m here.” Vic swallowed her brewing sentimentality. “I can’t believe your birthday present is to make me bloated before the club!”
Diane laughed. “We’re just trying to give you the fat ass you’ve always wanted! I have to get back to work, but enjoy your day, beautiful! And we’ll see you tonight for the festivities.”
“Okay! Love you! Bye!” Vic said. She hung up, then sat at the table and crossed her legs primly. Once she’d fixed her plate and prepared her mimosa, she placed her phone beside her cutlery so she could eat and scroll at the same time.
The outpouring of love on her Facebook wall from her sisters was to be expected—it was more a formality than anything else. She’d just graduated, and sisterhood was still fresh in their minds. Vic suspected they were all as reluctant as she was to let go of the social capital they’d earned so easily as KBAs at FAMU. Postgrad birthdays, with their outsized show of support and friendship, were in part their way of reminding their peers who they were and making clear their social lives hadn’t died with college.
But Vic had also paid attention to classes of KBAs before them, and though their Facebook game stayed strong, she had a feeling their sisterhood didn’t. Vic lived with two of her sisters and saw KBAs from other schools at their monthly charity meetups, but it still wasn’t the same as before, when they were attached at the hip from dining hall breakfast to the tops of tables at 2 a.m. when their social lives had neat boundaries and rules. Now the girls had life-changing jobs in other states, new friends, and significant others who, in three quick years, would probably propose. Recently, even Vic could tell she sounded like a nag when she tried to organize bonding time with her sisters.
She continued scrolling, pleasantly surprised by all the messages posted by her new friends from work. When she’d first started her PR position at Clarke Stein, she hadn’t really been interested in being friendly with the other girls—why did she need friends when she already had sisters? —but discovered some of them were actually kind of cool. She often found herself wondering at the bizarre interests her coworkers had developed in college and staring longingly at their edgy New York outfits. Of course, living with two sisters was like having one gigantic closet, but you could only wear so many lavender and turquoise looks before overdoing it. One of her faves, Tina, had posted a picture of Vic packing up to leave the office with such speed that the image was actually blurry, alongside a caption that read “Happy bday to the speed queen of CS!! will have to give u a bday hug on Monday, but only if I can catch u :( hope u have the best day beautiful! :***”
When Vic had finished smiling to herself, she took stock of her numbers: the red notification at the top of her Facebook profile said “102” and it was only 3 p.m. Her phone boasted thirty-six new texts and seven voicemails, and even though she felt like shit, at least she could add to her long-held ‘nights without vomiting’ streak. She caught her reflection in the wide mirror she and her roommates had hung on a wall in the kitchen to encourage mindful eating. Vic turned to examine her profile. Her face was bloated from the night before, there were dark rings under her eyes from a night of shallow sleep, and her leave-out had separated a bit from her tracks. But, Vic decided, in her neon pink “birthday girl” T-shirt, she didn’t look a day over nineteen.
It always took Dan a little while to answer Abbie’s FaceTimes when she called. When he’d first left for Nairobi last month the delay had annoyed her, but as the weeks passed she started to expect it, even enjoy it. She liked to take that time to look at herself in the front-facing camera of her MacBook, to see herself as Dan would when he finally hit the green accept button. Abbie blinked at her reflection, fluffing her three-day-old twist-out in an attempt to resuscitate the curls, and tapping at the NARS under-eye concealer she’d applied just a few minutes ago.
Most days, Abbie just FaceTimed Dan as she was—he liked a natural look—but this call was a special one, and not just because it was Abbie's birthday: she and Dan would be seeing each other for the first time all week. It was supposed to be the last of their usual six calls (Sundays were impossible, since they both used the day to finalize their lesson plans for the week), but all the others this week had fallen through, between Abbie’s last-minute Teach For America training sessions, the soccer tournament Dan was organizing for his students, and other random obligations.
Abbie’s computer stopped ringing, and she heard Dan before she saw him. “Jambo!” he said. A second later, Dan's face filled the screen, and Abbie smiled at the sight of him. His dark brown hair was longer than it had been in college and he was red from the sun, but overall Dan was the same as ever—smooth, pale skin, despite the sunburn flaking at his nose and shoulders, strong dark brows Abbie had always envied, and a thin scar he’d had since childhood slicing through his left eyebrow.
“Hey!” Abbie responded brightly, hooking a piece of hair behind her ear. It was a deliberate gesture, not a nervous habit: she was wearing the little starfish-shaped earrings Dan had gotten her for her birthday last year, and she wanted him to notice. “Jambo,” she said, but Dan shook his head, laughing at her pronunciation.
“A for effort,” he said with a grin. “But I think I’m gonna give you a C+ for execution.”
Abbie smiled. “Wow,” she said playfully, mock-offended. “Are you that harsh of a grader with your students?”
Dan laughed absently and looked down before his eyes flickered back up to Abbie’s face—or, rather, his webcam. “What?” he asked. “Sorry.”
“No worries,” Abbie said, shaking her head.
“So, how’s your birthday been?” Dan asked. He’d messaged her “happy birthday!” at midnight his time, but it had only been 5:00 p.m. in New York. For a brief, annoyed second, Abbie thought that after all this time he still didn’t know her birthday (there had been incidents in the past), and then immediately felt an apologetic rush when she remembered the time difference.
“Fine, mostly,” Abbie said. “Talked to my mom on the phone. Finished up my lesson plans through the end of the month.” She played with her bracelet as Dan nodded at her. He wore an identical one on his left wrist; they’d bought them in Thailand on their postgrad trip over the summer. Abbie had bugged Dan about getting a matching pair the whole trip until he finally caved on the last day.
Behind him, she could see the white walls of his studio apartment, bare except for a picture of the two of them at graduation, next to another of Dan with his parents and older sister, standing on a beach in matching khakis and blue oxford shirts. “I might do something tonight,” she added, mostly just to fill the silence. “Go to a bar or something.”
Dan’s eyes fell to his lap again before he looked up at her, scrubbing a hand through his hair. “I wish we could do something together,” he said, giving her a little smile. Abbie closed her eyes, her chest tight with longing.
“Same,” she breathed.
She and Dan had started dating their freshman year at Brown when they’d just happened to run into each other at the African Students Association table at the club fair—Abbie liked to joke that jollof rice brought them together. In school, their lives had intertwined easily, meeting and diverging and then meeting again. They'd read together in the cool shade of the trees on the Main Green and waste their money going to disappointing concerts at Lupo’s. But since graduation, things had changed—and in the most annoyingly predictable way. Still, it managed to surprise Abbie every time she rolled over in bed to find an empty space instead of the familiar warm scratchiness of Dan's chest.
“You should definitely go out tonight,” he said. “It’s your birthday; you should see some friends.”
“Yeah, but ...” I have no one to call, Abbie wanted to say, trailing off, but it was so embarrassing. Over the last few weeks, she’d unexpectedly come to the realization that she didn’t really have any friends besides Dan. One particularly boring Friday night in August, she’d shot off a quick message to Kirsten, an acquaintance of hers from college whom she’d always liked, but for some reason could never turn into a friend. hey girl! you down to get drinks tn? she’d typed. At first, Abbie added the dancing girl emoji but then thought better of it, adding the less familiar martini glass instead. She and Kirsten hadn’t spoken since the beginning of the summer when Kirsten was home on the Upper East Side and kept asking Abbie to get dinner. Abbie had always declined, wanting to spend as much time with Dan as possible before he left for Nairobi. After a minute, Kirsten’s reply popped up on her screen: hey lady! Kirsten’s first message read. Would love to but I actually moved to SF! I haven’t been in NY since June lol. That night, Abbie had ended up drinking three glasses of red wine before doing a pilates workout video (on her laptop) while watching Love Actually (on her TV).
In the silence, Abbie looked at the FaceTime window, trying to make virtual eye contact with Dan, but he wasn’t paying attention. He was smiling down at the phone she guessed was on his lap.
“What are you laughing at?” Abbie asked, sharper than she meant to. She bit her bottom lip when Dan blinked up at her, startled. Oops.
“Nothing,” he said. “Just something one of the other teachers at my school posted in our group chat.”
“Oh,” Abbie said. She couldn’t help but wonder if it was Kim, the tall athletic French teacher who coached the netball team at Dan’s school. Since moving to Nairobi, Dan had mentioned Kim more than Abbie would’ve liked, if she was being honest. According to Facebook, she had run track at Stanford, Dan’s dream school, and it seemed like her hair could hold a braid-out for days.
More quiet followed, and Abbie knew she and Dan were thinking the same thing: if only she had gone to Nairobi with him as they had planned all along. She’d never really been into the Fulbright thing, but for a while she’d managed to convince herself that she was—that is, until she and Dan had lunch with a Brown alum who’d done the fellowship and Abbie realized she’d have to give up her lifelong dream of moving to New York City after college to do it. Sometimes, on lonely nights, Abbie wondered if her tiny studio and long subway commute were worth the stress of being in a long-distance relationship. She made an effort with FaceTiming and constant WhatsApps, but as it got harder and harder to schedule time to talk and Dan’s replies grew shorter and further apart, Abbie was acutely aware that her relationship with Dan was slipping like oil through her fingers—smoothly, but leaving an uncomfortable residue behind.
“I’ve gotta go,” Dan said at the same time Abbie said, “Maybe I should go out tonight.” They both laughed awkwardly.
“Go for it,” Dan said, and then he ended the call.
For the past few hours, Delali been huddled in the library going over line integrals with a group of lames from her Vector Analysis class. She peeled away from her TA-assigned study group, slinging the straps of her Hershel backpack over her shoulders. Normally, she would never give up her class-free Fridays for anything, especially as a senior, but Professor Dinkins had decided just yesterday to move the first quiz of the year up to Monday afternoon. Considering that she barely knew what the quiz was on—it was only two weeks into the school year, and she’d already skipped class three times—Delali thought the study session would help her out. It had, but only because she’d basically ended up leading it.
After getting up to speed, Delali found herself grudgingly settling into her tutor mode, essentially teaching the material point-for-point as the guys scribbled into their notebooks. It was a role that, annoyingly, came easily to her. Throughout her teen years, she often helped the other kids on the set of Georgia on My Mind with their homework, a fun fact she’d oh-so casually mentioned in nearly all her Georgia-era interviews. Like deciding to enroll in college a year after the show wrapped, it was part PR move, part genuine instinct. She was a natural student, but she (and her publicist) also knew the press would eat up the story of the actress behind Georgia Simmons, girl genius and inventor, spending her free time tutoring her co-stars.
It was just one part of the image Delali and her team had spent years constructing to set her apart from Celeste Porter, the star of Daisy and the Dukes, the other Thursday night sitcom, and Georgia’s only true competition. Celeste tweeted snarky replies @TMZ; Delali volunteered with Girls Who Code. Celeste got a DUI before she’d even gotten a license; Delali got photographed teaching her little brother how to drive in the parking lot of his high school. And when Celeste decided to make the precarious jump from teen TV star to serious acteur by starring in a Harmony Korine film, Delali decided to move to New York for college to “live out of the spotlight and just be a normal girl for a while” (Elle, June 2012).
Delali hadn’t been entirely sure what she wanted from her career immediately after ending Georgia, but she knew it wasn’t any of the stupid, overwrought projects Celeste was rumored to be attached to: a slew of indie dramas about teen mothers, prostitutes, and drug addicts, or the book-to-screen adaptations of whatever YA juggernaut homeschooling moms were reading instead of watching their kids. Delali and Celeste didn’t like each other, but while they were filming Georgia and Daisy they at least grudgingly accepted that they needed each other. Without their competing shows, Delali didn’t care about constructing a seamless image, and college provided her with the perfect opportunity to figure out what she wanted to be—who she wanted be—while also letting her indulge her academic interests.
“Hey!” a voice called. Delali’s mouth stretched into something that wasn’t quite a smile as she turned to face Tanner, one of her classmates. She wasn’t crazy about Tanner, a Napoleon-complexed chronic underachiever who’d started the Facebook chat to organize the study group. When Delali met him in class last week, she’d wondered at him and his roided-up wrestler meets Jordan Belfort vibe—how had he ended up in the Applied Math major? —but she quickly backtracked: one of her senior year resolutions was to be less judgmental.
“Hey,” Delali said as Tanner walked down to the marble stairs to meet her.
“What are you up to right now?” he asked. He looked up at her briefly before taking a couple of steps away so their height difference was less pronounced. “We were going to get drinks.” He gestured to the other guys. “You should come with.”
“Um.” Delali ran through her mental stock of believable excuses. “I’m kinda busy.” She had plans to go to the first senior night of the year with some of her friends, but, truthfully, that wasn’t until much later. What she really wanted to do was go home and have a glass of the Cantemerle her agent, Lionel, had sent as a birthday gift, and watch the latest episode of Insecure before her friends came over to get ready.
Darren, another member of the group, walked down the stairs to join Delali and Tanner. “Yeah,” Darren chimed in. “You should come.” Delali liked him more than the others, an indistinct gaggle of free club fair T-shirts and New Balance sneakers. She could always count on Darren to side-eye Professor Dinkins’s questionable remarks while their other classmates took them in stride. “Besides, drinks with us would be a perfect birthday pregame,” he said with a grin.
“And you flaked last time,” Tanner said.
It was true. After their first meeting last week the guys had gone out for drinks, apparently having hit it off, and Delali had declined, not even bothering to make up an excuse—she just admitted she didn’t want to go. “Tell Delali she should come out with us,” Tanner said to the other members of the group as they joined the trio at the bottom of the stairs. “It’s her birthday,” he announced.
The others were immediately excited, wishing her a happy birthday and trying to convince her to follow them to the bar. Delali wanted to decline again, but then she thought of why she had come to college, after LA had started to alternately bore and disgust her. Wasn’t this the crux of it, drinking mediocre beer with some randoms in her major at a shitty bar that didn’t have a list at the door? Wasn’t this the kind of authentically pedestrian experience she’d been searching for when she’d left Hollywood behind?
“Sure,” she found herself saying. “I’m down for one drink.”
Abbie sat on the edge of her bed, pushing a mechanical pencil through the opening at the back of her glue gun, dispensing hot globs of glue onto a royal blue pipe cleaner. Since her call with Dan, she had faltered on her plan to go out. Did she really want to get all dressed up and go outside just to get drunk and have to take the empty (or overcrowded) subway home in the middle of the night? Did she really want to shower just to get dirty again, when she could instead spend the evening making crafts for her third graders and digging into the new Mumford & Sons album? Her idea of a fun Saturday wasn’t the same as most twentysomethings’, but she was pretty fulfilled. She had her kids, all twenty-three of them, and her dream guy, Dan. She was good. Besides, twenty-two wasn’t exactly an important birthday.
Abbie glanced at her laptop, which was playing her ***Ultimate Top Ten Favorite Coldplay Songs For REAL This Time!!*** Spotify playlist. When her eyes landed instinctively on the lime green FaceTime icon, Abbie groaned and dropped her glue gun onto the paper towel she’d spread over her bed. She had to leave her apartment—she couldn’t spend her whole birthday FaceTiming with Dan and then thinking about FaceTiming with Dan. She shut her computer and walked over to her tiny closet to put together a “going-out” outfit—something she did so rarely that the thought actually intimidated her. She shuffled her clothes before stepping back, disappointed. Only a few things in her closet could maybe be deemed appropriate for going out, since most of her clothes had been purchased with her classroom in mind. Her only other options were norts and marathon T-shirts. Resisting the urge to pull on a faded Banana Republic T-shirt dress—a work staple—Abbie vowed that tonight, no matter what, she’d try to get out of her comfort zone, even if that meant she couldn’t wear her beloved Birkenstocks.
On her hands and knees, Abbie sorted through the shoes at the back of her closet, obscured by the many pairs of jeans and tote bags she had looped onto hangers. Finally, among her Keds, Toms, and assorted Aldo booties, she found a pair of patent leather nude heels, the brownest pair she had been able to find while shopping for college clothes with her mom. She held them up in the light of her room. The shoes looked brand new—and they would, considering she had worn them only once during her entire college career. Once things with Dan had gotten serious at the end of freshman year, Abbie’s ideal weekend always included cuddling in his tiny dorm room or hers, taste-testing his homemade ugali, and watching romcoms while their peers’ screams and chants periodically disturbed their peace.
Abbie decided to wear the heels for the second time tonight, ignoring the lingering thought that something she’d purchased almost five years ago might not be the best choice. She stood back up to search for a black bandage skirt she’d impulse-bought at H&M. But after two thorough passes she still couldn’t find it, and Abbie realized she must have donated it to Goodwill last month, mixed in with her moth-eaten sweaters, old flip-flops, and a hazardous onesie lacking non-slip pads. Finally, she grabbed a black tube top from the folded pile of undergarments on a shelf above her hangers. She couldn’t remember why she had spared Goodwill this gem, but figured it was probably because Dan liked it. She wiggled the top over her hips and watched herself turn in the mirror. Close enough. After pulling off her T-shirt to reveal a black camisole with thin lacy straps, she brushed a layer of lip gloss over the matte lipstick a pushy Sephora lady had convinced her to buy. After smacking her lips, Abbie looked herself in the eyes and nodded. She was ready.
Halfway out the door, Abbie realized she’d forgotten to choose a place to go. She dashed back into her apartment and opened her laptop again, quickly muting the music and pulling up several websites with suggestions: Time Out, Infatuation, Yelp, Refinery29. They all listed bars she had never heard of. Panicked, Abbie started to realize just how much she had locked herself out of her life. It was almost as if she didn’t live in New York at all, as if it were her very first week there. She thought of calling Dan to ask him what bars he liked—he definitely went out more than she did—but she steeled herself and picked a place called The Bar, which was named on nearly every list she’d checked. It was, after all, exactly where she’d said she wanted to go.
Vic had spent just thirty minutes getting ready, a personal best. It wasn’t too difficult though, since she’d had her birthday outfit planned for months, every item picked out, purchased, and tailored way back in February. The main piece, which she’d spent weeks hunting for, was a vintage pink mini dress made up in opalescent sequins. It stopped mid-thigh, giving Vic just enough mileage to show off her best asset—her VS runway legs. She stepped into the silver strappy sandals she’d gotten from an Attico sample sale, admiring how perfectly her toes, painted Sally Hansen Sparks Fly, contrasted her dress. She’d flat ironed her leave out, blending it seamlessly with the BSL barrel curls she’d been sporting for the past two and a half weeks, and her legs were freshly waxed. After packing her purse with the essentials, Vic glanced at the copper-rimmed analog clock that hung above the front door of the apartment: 6:56 p.m. She perched on the edge of the kitchen table, surprised—she was never early.
She picked absently at the spread of food still out before deciding she had time to stop downstairs at The Bar, the weird but popular spot in her building, before heading to dinner. The Bar wasn’t exactly a destination, and Vic would never have chosen it as her go-to place, but since it was right under her apartment, it was often either the first or last place she and her sisters stopped on their nights out. Over time, The Bar had become one of Vic’s favorite places to hang out, even when she was sober. She grabbed her gray Chloé saddle bag off the kitchen counter and headed toward the door, then stopped abruptly. She picked a pink, plastic, bedazzled tiara off the table and studied it. “Birthday girl” was scrawled across a hot pink background in bubbly yellow script. Vic stuffed the tiara in her bag—twenty-two wasn’t too old to be that girl at the club, was it?
The Bar was more than just a bar; it was also a cafe and restaurant, an irony that charmed Vic more than it probably should have. All the tables were occupied tonight: couples and study groups and serious-looking people typing on their laptops, taking advantage of the last hour of relative quiet. There was only one lonely stool left at the actual bar—the awkward one placed right where the counter rounded out and met the wall. Vic settled in, carefully pulling her dress down to cover the leather of the seat. Her two favorite bartenders, Joe and Faizan, were working tonight, and she watched their backs as they poured frothy beers into heavy glasses, waiting impatiently for them to notice her.
Joe saw her first, his face breaking into a huge smile. “Vic!” he said as he turned. He looked at his watch. “It’s only seven. To what do we owe this pleasure?”
Before Vic could respond, Faizan swooped in front of him and leaned on the counter, a frozen strawberry marg—Vic’s favorite—looking miniscule in his hand. He placed it on a black cocktail napkin and beamed theatrically. “Happy twenty-second birthday, Vic.”
Vic laughed while Joe groaned and rolled his eyes. She took Faizan in with a smirk. He was always so transparent in his efforts to get her attention, forever desperate to double–
check that he was still hot, which he was. Vic couldn’t blame him though—his schtick usually worked. All Vic’s friends were infatuated with him, always reminding Vic to poke her head into The Bar and check whether Faizan was on shift before they headed over. She was ninety-nine percent sure the only reason they ever visited her (other than to pregame or crash if they were going out in the area) was so they could parade their best looks in front of Faizan and drape themselves over the counter. Vic had lost count of how many weekend nights she’d spent watching with disgust as her friends laughed at Faizan’s just okay jokes and swooned at his off-kilter English accent, begging him to tell them more about Hackney while he lavished in the attention and snuck them free liquor. She, however, had never given him the admiration he wanted, and he was vying for it particularly hard today.
Aside from the essential hardware—shoulders that swelled with muscle, an accent that drove her country-ass friends wild, and dark eyes lined with heavy lashes—Faizan had brought his A-game tonight. He’d trimmed his usual overgrown beard into a neat five o’clock shadow that revealed his square jaw, and he wore a white tee instead of his usual striped Arsenal jersey (the jersey had always confused Vic, and whenever she wanted to annoy him, she asked how the Fly Emirates were doing). A pair of dark jeans highlighted his narrow waist, the contour of the waistband visible under his thin T-shirt. His hair, as usual, was buzzed at the sides, the top grown out and slightly curly in a douchey style that too accurately reflected Faizan’s personality.
“Thanks,” Vic said.
“I was about to say—” Joe started.
“Yeah, right,” Faizan teased, mimicking Joe in a lazy American accent. “To what do we owe this pleasure?” His voice cut into something more malicious, and Vic and Joe shared a look.
“Oh, come on,” Faizan said, catching them and recovering quickly. “I’m just playing around. Let me get this customer.” He stalked off to the other side of the bar.
“Um, what’s his problem?” Vic asked.
“Mimi broke up with him.”
“Oh, shit.” Vic planted her elbows onto the bar and took a long sip of her drink. “So, when she said ‘break’ she meant forever?”
“Looks like it,” said Joe, scratching at the elaborate siren tattoo climbing up his forearm. “I doubt he’ll admit to you that’s the way it played out, though.”
“Duh. ‘Yeah, I dunno, I just wasn’t really feeling it anymore, wotever’.” Vic put on her best imitation of Faizan’s accent, but her constant consumption of Made in Chelsea probably skewed things in the wrong direction. Joe snickered.
“Judging by the TLC he’s giving you,” he nodded at the margarita in Vic’s hand, “I bet he thinks some birthday sex will make him feel better.”
Vic and Joe both giggled at this.
“Well, my friends will definitely be happy to hear Faizan’s back on the market,” Vic said.
“I’m sure.” Joe turned to help a regular at the other end of the counter, a b-school bro who came to The Bar to practice his Mandarin on Joe as much as he did to drink.
Faizan approached Vic again, as if on cue. “So, where are the rest of your girls? I’m sure you have a ton planned for tonight.”
“Yeah, I’m actually going to meet them for dinner soon.”
“Dope,” Faizan responded, cutting Vic off. His eyes focused on something just past her head, utterly disinterested. Vic whipped her head around and looked—there was nothing there except the front door of The Bar.
“Sorry.” Faizan shook his head as if to clear it from a fog. “Today’s all about you—I’m listening,” he said, furrowing his dark brows into a serious meditative look. Vic snorted out an involuntary laugh. Faizan was notorious for not listening to other people. To him, every conversation was an opportunity to pitch his dream barbershop or flirt his way into a huge tip or hookup. If it didn’t involve a pretty girl or a man in need of a haircut, then Faizan was totally checked out. He had only slowed down on his relentless flirting a couple of months ago, when he’d apparently fallen in love with a girl in his building named Mimi (full name Meredith). From then on, between the more subdued conversations he allowed with female customers and his usual efforts to find new barbershop clients, all he did was talk about Mimi, an undeniably hot girl with a Soundcloud who overdrew her lips and bantu-knotted her 2B hair. Even she was probably too good for Faizan, and Vic could tell by his uncharacteristic pout that he was genuinely upset about things ending between them. That was the thing about Faizan—just when you thought his self-absorption made him irredeemable, he’d do something so earnestly, tragically sweet (like be heartbroken over a two-month relationship) that you’d instinctively want to take care of him.
“You know what,” Vic said reluctantly. “Just tell me about Mimi.” Preparing herself for the tedious story ahead, Vic reached into her bag, pulled out her phone, and handed it to Faizan. “And could you charge this?”
“Yeah,” he said, plugging the phone into an outlet underneath the bar.
“So, I don’t know what Joe was telling you but…”
Faizan launched into his story, and as hard as Vic tried to keep up, she was too drunk and bored to really pay attention. She found herself zoning out for long stretches of the conversation, nodded and mmhmm-ing on auto-pilot.
“And at that point it’s like, what do you want me to do?” Faizan demanded, several chapters into his story. “As a man, how am I supposed to react? You just have to protect yourself, you know...that’s what females don’t understand.” Faizan paused to take a drink of water. “You want another margarita?”
“Uh, no,” Vic responded, finishing her drink. “And I definitely, um, see where you’re coming from. As a man. Could I have my phone really quick?” It was the first time Faizan had taken a break, and Vic couldn’t tell if it was over or if he still had a few more epilogues in him.
“Sure.” He reached under the counter to retrieve the phone.
When Vic pressed the home button, she had dozens of texts and missed calls, and the screen read 11:37. She jumped up. “It’s almost midnight!”
“What’s up?” Joe asked, heading towards Vic.
“It’s almost fucking midnight! I have to be at 2FERNS in like ten minutes! I totally missed dinner! Can you give me my charger?”
“Hey,” Joe said, handing over the cord. “Don’t be mad at me. Be mad at Mr. Free Margs.” He gestured toward Faizan, who was at the opposite end of the bar, already entrapping another customer in conversation.
“I know, I know,” Vic said, still in disbelief that she had missed her own birthday dinner.
As soon as she stood, Vic felt the full effect of the four margaritas Faizan had served her on the house. She was surprised by how badly she wobbled in her sandals—this was usually how she felt at two or three, not midnight. She looked at her phone again and opened her messages app. Too scared to call Diane, Vic quickly shot her a text: Soooop sorry got distraceted ad drunk art the bar!!!!!!!! Be tyjjhgere soon!
She headed to the bathroom to touch up her makeup before leaving. Her lipstick had faded from all the drinking and the number of times she’d folded them over to keep from interrupting Faizan, and she still wanted to look perfect when she saw her friends, especially since 2FERNS was the kind of place you went to see and be seen. Vic pushed the door marked W. This would only take a second, and if she took a taxi, she’d be at the club in no time.
It didn’t take long before Delali began to regret her decision to get drinks with her study group. As soon as Tanner began recounting a recent trip to Inwood in truly Conradian terms, it became clear that she’d made a terrible mistake. She took a sip of her second whiskey sour—Darren had ordered another round of drinks as soon as she’d put down her empty glass—and let her gaze drift away from the table as Scott-maybe-Steve launched into a lecture on how a deep dive into Kanye’s discography revealed he was prophesying the end times.
Delali lifted her glass to drink, but paused as her eyes landed on one of The Bar’s televisions. The others were broadcasting various sports games, but this one was flipped to the E! red carpet coverage of the Cha Cha Cha premiere. Delali had gotten pretty good at avoiding Hollywood news over the past three years, but she hadn’t been able to dodge Cha Cha Cha, which had gotten such effusive praise from its initial screenings that mentions of the film pierced even the most effective internet filters.
All across the city, the sides of buses announced that it was “expansive and brilliant.” Subway ads declared the film “magical” and “an effervescent display of what it means to live, love, and lose.” When praise for Cha Cha Cha had first started rolling out, Delali had thought it was a fluke—how could the bland, uninspired script she’d read and dismissed back in sophomore year really be “the must-see film of the year; a rare treat that allows us all to delight in and savor what it feels like to fall in love” (James Harper, NYT)? But as Cha Cha Cha broke box office record after box office record, Delali had to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth she’d often tried to ignore while she was living in LA: everyone had the same fucking heinous taste, something she should’ve kept in mind when passing up the role of Eleanor, an aspiring Broadway actress who gets discovered while waitressing at a Mars-themed vegan soul food tapas restaurant in DTLA, and falls in love with scrappy college dropout who dazzles her with his passion for miming and silent improv. Delali downed the rest of her glass and signaled the waiter for another drink.
A sylphy redhead was interviewing Celeste, who—of course—had ended up playing Eleanor once Delali turned down the role. The sound was muted, and Delali watched the scene play out silently in front of her. Celeste wore a full, floor-skimming skirt paired with a high-neck crop top, both cut from the same fine, shimmering turquoise silk. Her blown-out hair was slicked back from her face and twisted into a neat high bun, and her makeup was expertly applied to look as though she wasn’t wearing any makeup at all. Delali rolled her eyes as Celeste flashed the interviewer a bright smile and twirled, sending her skirt swirling around her. She looked the best Delali had ever seen her. In fact, she looked a lot like Delali used to, back when she was regularly attending red carpets. Whoever she’d hired after firing her original transition team was good. Delali could already see Hollywood beginning to forgive—or at least forget—Celeste’s barely abandoned messy ways. Delali shook her head, looking away from the table, and started to plan her escape. She was so over this night, and it hadn’t even really started yet.
She was trying to think of a way to slip out and head home when Tanner nudged her with his shoulder, apparently a last resort after failing to get her attention with a series of aggressive waves.
“Hey, do you think it would work if I sent her a drink?” he asked. Delali followed his gaze, laughing snidely when her eyes landed on a girl standing by the entrance sliding a crochet shrug off her shoulders. The girl looked skittishly around the room before settling onto an empty stool, the one closest to the door.
“Please,” Delali said. She took another sip of her drink before giving Tanner a dubious look. “That girl definitely has a boyfriend.”
“How do you know?” He sounded uncertain. Tanner leaned so close to Delali that his chin was almost touching her shoulder, as though sitting in her seat would help him see what she so clearly did.
“Come on,” Delali said. She looked the girl up and down. “Date night pumps? Pierced ears but no earrings? Four-day-old twist-out she’s trying to stretch by putting her hair in a bun?” It was exactly how the costume designers on Georgia had styled her in episode 5x07, where Georgia, newly dating the boy next door, agrees to get dinner with her physics lab partner without realizing he thought it was a date. “Definitely has a boyfriend.”
Tanner frowned, looking at the girl through squinted eyes. “Maybe you’re right,” he said, and as soon as he did, Delali could tell he wasn’t going to let her comments stop him. “I’m gonna take my chances.”
Delali finished her glass in a long sip. “You know what, you should totally go for it,” she said, imagining the giggly, waffling way the girl would turn Tanner down.
Tanner waved over a hot bartender in a white T as he passed, telling him to put another tequila sunrise on his tab and present it to the girl at the bar. Delali watched as the bartender set the drink in front of the girl and nodded in the direction of their table, looking away just as the girl shot Tanner an awkward but pleased smile.
“Should I go over there?” Tanner asked.
Delali opened her mouth to respond, but Scott-maybe-Steve cut her off. “DO IT!” he yelled. Their waiter came back to the table and slid a tray of tequila shots right in front of Delali.
“I’m gonna go over there,” Tanner said, hyping himself up. The other guys whooped as he grabbed one of the shots and knocked it back for courage. Delali followed suit, genuinely excited to watch the spectacle. As Tanner lumbered over to the bar, the others grabbed their shots and downed them in unison.
“Delali,” Darren said, taking Tanner’s newly vacated seat. “We’re going to do another round of shots. You in?” As he spoke, he pressed his thigh into Delali’s, and she was just drunk enough that she turned to him, considering. He had nice cheekbones and a sweet smile, but there was something kind of corny and adolescent about him, like his interests hadn’t progressed since the seventh grade, and not in a cool retro way. But that hadn’t stopped Delali last year when she and Darren had skipped homecoming to study for their Partial Differential Equations midterm in the living room of his suite. After bombing their first practice test, they’d taken a break. One beer quickly became four, and “let’s watch an episode of Master of None” had turned into Delali and Darren spending the entire weekend twined together beneath his twin XL sheets. Delali moved her leg away, but looked Darren over again as she pulled out her phone. She’d gently distanced herself after the encounter, figuring they’d both forget about it. But it seemed that even after a summer apart, something about Darren was still compelling to her. Thoughts on Darren Kelly ???” she typed, sending the message to her best friend from school, Safiya. Delali hadn’t told Safiya about her and Darren which meant Safiya would be totally honest instead of lying to avoid potentially hurting Delali’s feelings.
Undeterred, Darren settled his arm around the back of her chair. When his fingers brushed against her bare shoulder, Delali stood, swaying as the full weight of her drunkenness settled in her legs. “Fuck,” she said in surprise, then added “God, I have to pee,” before making her way to the ladies’ room.
Abbie sat at a stool near the front door of The Bar, trying to look everywhere other than at the guy who was maybe, definitely approaching her. She surprised herself by wanting immediately to flee—that’s how long it had been since she’d flirted with a guy. But she stayed where she was. In line with her effort to get out of her comfort zone, she decided she would accept a couple of compliments, tell him politely that she had a boyfriend, and then let him excuse himself. She averted her eyes as he neared, her chest thudding. He wasn’t her type at all: he had the kind of muscles that grew wide instead of long, a square head framed with light-colored hair, and a nearly nonexistent neck. But he wasn’t weird enough that she felt the need to refuse his drink to maintain her dignity. In fact, she decided she was flattered by his interest. In the five or so seconds it took him to walk to the bar, a million thoughts ran through Abbie’s mind: first, regret for even going out, then guilt. Dan was probably teaching some young kid how to read or write or pronounce American vowels right now, and here she was, letting herself be courted by a banker type in a noisy bar, wearing a slutty shirt as an even sluttier skirt.
“Hi, I’m Tanner.” He smiled, and Abbie somehow felt threatened by his one oblong dimple.
“Um, hi,” Abbie responded. She turned her face to her drink so she wouldn’t have to make eye contact with him and took a huge gulp.
Abbie looked at Tanner, confused.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Oh.” She laughed uneasily. “I’m, um, Abbie,” she said, hesitating as though she’d forgotten her own name.
“Nice to meet you, Abbie.” Tanner flashed his malicious dimple again and squeezed onto the stool next to her. She could feel his hairy knee against her shaven, exfoliated one, and wanted to recoil. But she was allergic to being rude, and didn’t want to make her distaste too obvious.
“I just wanted to come over and say hey. You looked pretty bored sitting here all alone.”
Abbie didn’t know if she wanted to, but she couldn’t respond.
“Just thought I’d keep you company,” Tanner continued.
Abbie drank again.
“You’re so beautiful. But you’re not very talkative. Why is that?”
Abbie shrugged and let out another awkward laugh. “I’m sorry,” Abbie said. Apology was a reflex of hers. “I have a boyfriend.” Tanner looked surprised and Abbie rushed to fill the silence. “The drink is good, though!” She pulled in another enormous swig as proof.
“Oh, come on,” Tanner said. “I saw you looking at me.” He parted his flat little lips into something that may have looked seductive on a different kind of guy, with a different set of lips. “No girl dresses like that if they want to go home alone.”
Abbie sat still, stunned, her mouth glued to her straw.
“Maybe you just need to warm up.” Tanner placed his hand on Abbie’s leg and leaned in to force eye contact. Abbie jumped, her entire body tingling, in flight mode.
“I uh—uhh—I have to go to the bathroom.” She grabbed her purse and hurried away.
Vic leaned close to the mirror, letting out a disgusted huff as her nose hit the cool glass. She was tempted to wipe off the oily brown foundation smear it left behind, but she figured that was someone else’s actual job and decided not to. Vic looked at her reflection without really seeing herself, and then all of a sudden, her swimming features snapped into focus.
“Honestly, I’d wife me,” she said to herself in the empty bathroom. Vic sometimes surprised herself with how good she looked, even drunk in a bar bathroom with her contour imperfectly blended. Her skin was still perfectly matte and poreless, courtesy of her new setting spray, and the wings of her eyeliner were sharp and almost identical. Her liquid lipstick, however, had not survived the steady stream of margs Faizan had sent her way.
“Literally such a waste of money,” Vic said as she began to reapply the color to her lower lip. She paused when Delali stumbled into the bathroom, glassy-eyed and giggling to herself as she swept her box braids, twined together into one thick plait, over one shoulder. Kind of a look, Vic thought to herself as she took in Delali’s boxy cropped tank top and distressed skinny jeans. She swiveled her eyes back to her own reflection as Delali ducked into a stall.
Maybe I should hook up with Darren, Delali thought as she unbuttoned her jeans and pulled down her boyshorts. She only had a couple more days of use from her last Brazilian, and she figured she might as well make something of them—even if the guy was a civilian.
When Abbie got to the ladies’ room a cool sense of safety washed over her, and she let out a sigh of relief. She was furiously fanning herself when she noticed Vic at the last sink in the room, packing up her hot pink makeup bag.
She’s super pretty, Abbie thought as Vic zipped the bag closed and clacked into a stall. She crossed her legs tightly as she waited for the second stall to empty, realizing how badly she actually had to pee. When Delali finally walked out she almost bumped into Abbie, who was practically pressed against the stall door.
“Whoa.” Delali took a step back to shoot Abbie a look before letting out a surprised laugh. “I know you,” she blurted drunkenly. “You’re Tanner’s girl. The one at the bar.”
“Um, no,” Abbie said, repulsed. “I have a boyfriend.”
“Called it,” Delali said as she side-stepped Abbie to get to the sink.
“What does—” that mean, Abbie was going to say, but Vic, locked inside a stall, interrupted her before she could finish.
“Does anyone have a tampon?” Vic called. It was just like her period to start on her birthday.
“I don’t,” Abbie chirped brightly, turning toward the stall. “I only wear pads.” Delali gave Abbie a long, questioning look before digging into the small front pocket of her backpack.
“I’ve got one,” she said, retrieving the small plastic package from her bag. She stepped toward the stall and crouched to hand it off beneath the reclaimed wood door.
“Thanks so much.” Vic reached out, her thin silver bracelets sliding down her forearm before landing at her wrist. “Oh my God,” Vic said as her hand closed around the tampon. “Gorge mani. What color is that, I Am What I Amethyst?”
“Gelato on My Mind,” Delali replied.
Right, Vic thought to herself as she fumbled to open the wrapper. She should have known the polish was too green to be her favorite OPI pastel. Vic pulled her dress back down and stepped out into the bathroom, where Abbie was waiting. “Thanks again,” Vic said to Delali, heading over to the sink.
“Oh my God,” Abbie hiccupped. “I just have to say, you’re like, so pretty.” She reached for Vic’s arm but then drew back abruptly, thinking better of it. “Isn’t she so pretty?” She swayed on the spindly heels of her pumps as she turned to Delali for confirmation.
“Uh, yeah,” Delali said, examining her eyebrows in the mirror. They were passable, but not for much longer. She was still thinking about making an appointment with Louise for next Tuesday when her eyes belatedly caught the sparkle of Vic’s plastic rhinestone tiara in the mirror.
“Whoa,” Delali guffawed, gesturing to the crown. “I haven’t seen one of these since I was like, thirteen.” Back when she spent most of her birthdays filming for Georgia, her tutors would gift her a huge plastic tiara from Claire’s before decorating the door of her trailer instead of the locker she didn’t have. “Wait,” Delali yelled. She could never stop herself from screaming when she was drunk. “Is it your birthday?”
“Yeah,” Vic said, throwing some of her hair behind her shoulder. “It is.” She lifted her chin and readjusted her tiara, still feeling somewhat slighted by the “thirteen” comment. She and her sorors had bought each other birthday tiaras all throughout college.
“No way!” Abbie exclaimed. Vic and Delali both turned to look at Abbie, who’d let her pot of DIY beeswax lip balm clatter into the sink. “It’s my birthday too!”
“Same...” Delali said. She took a step backward. “What birthday? I’m turning 22.”
“Me, too,” Vic and Abbie said in unison, Vic’s voice flattening as Abbie’s swelled.
“Whoa,” Delali said.
“Cray,” said Abbie.
“Oh my God,” Vic said. An amazing thought dashed through her mind. “My girls and I have a table at 2FERNS tonight, for my birthday.” She bounced on her heels. “You guys should totally come with!”
“No way!” Abbie said. “That’s so cool!”
“It’s the spot on Fridays in the fall,” Vic said, fluffing her hair. “Have you been before?”
“Um, yeah,” Delali said, suppressing an eye-roll. Who hadn’t been to 2FERNS? Of course, she hadn’t been in years. As far as Delali knew it was actually pretty dead nowadays, and she felt tempted to say so. Vic looked far too pleased with herself.
“I haven’t,” said Abbie. “I’ve heard of it, though. $ummer $tacks always posts pics from the jello shot jacuzzi,” she added, referring to her favorite Instagram model. Sometimes, when she was bored, Abbie would drink moscato and scroll through $ummer’s page, occasionally looking up how much it would cost to get ass shots.
“I love the JSJ,” Vic said. Just last weekend, her favorite promoter AJ Bandana had gotten her and two of her best friends on the list for the uber-exclusive hot tub, provided they didn’t actually drink any of the jello shots floating on the surface of the purple-lit water. It was a small sacrifice to make in Vic’s opinion; jello shots were kind of gross anyway, and they stained your teeth. “But I don’t think tonight’s that kind of night. I just got my tracks tightened,” she added, patting her tender scalp.
Delali looked at Abbie and Vic skeptically. Abbie looked like she had more than one hoodie with ears in her closet, and Vic was kind of...extra, to say the absolute least. But then she thought of her options: heading back to the table where Tanner and the others waited for her; going to a lackluster senior night; or having a gropey, regretful makeout with Darren before thinking better of taking him home. She quickly decided that this, going out with two total strangers who happened to share her birthday, was the best option by a long shot. Besides, all the talk about 2FERNS had made her nostalgic for her teen years, back when it was a new spot and all her friends were dying to have their sweet sixteen there.
“I’m game,” she said. Abbie nodded.
“Are you sure you want to leave your friends?” Abbie asked, turning to Delali. Delali blinked at her. “Those guys you were sitting with,” she clarified.
“Oh my God,” Delali said with a laugh. “Yeah, absolutely.”
“Great,” Vic said. She whipped out her phone. “Lemme just...give my friends a heads up…,” Her pace slowed as she typed, her gels tapping against the hard, plastic screen cover on her iPhone and the rhinestones on her party nail catching the weak light in the bathroom. With autocorrect attempting to fix her drunken misspellings to the wrong word, it took a while, but she finally got out: Met som grls in the br at the bar n invited them 2 2FERNS!! Their cute so it’s all good!!!!
Abbie felt a shiver of excitement run down her spine and let out a squeal without thinking, which sometimes happened when she’d had too many glasses of white wine. “OMG,” she said loudly. “I’m Abbie! Can’t believe I didn’t introduce myself earlier.”
“Vic,” Vic replied, still typing furiously on her phone.
“Delali,” Delali said, taking Abbie’s hand.
“I’m so excited!” Abbie exclaimed, just as Vic was sliding her phone back into her bag.
“Okay, my friends are down,” Vic said. She ran her fingers through her hair one last time. “Are you guys ready to go?”
Delali patted her pockets, making sure she had her phone and wallet. Abbie played with the braided bracelet around her wrist, committing every last detail to memory. I can’t wait to tell Dan about this, she thought.
“Are you good?” Vic asked.
“Yep!” Abbie exclaimed.
“Yeah, let’s bounce.” Delali said, and pushed the bathroom door open, holding it for the other girls. Vic rushed out, leaned over the bar to say something to Faizan, and headed to the door. Abbie bypassed the bar completely, then, remembering Tanner, looked covertly over her shoulder to see if he was still waiting around. He looked up from his phone at Abbie, ready to unleash his dimple again, and she whipped her head around and scurried outside. Delali grabbed her backpack and left, giving her study group a giddy half-wave over her shoulder as a goodbye. As the girls headed outside, their overlapping voices rose to the special pitch only a group of drunk girls’ could.
“My friends are paying for all my transportation tonight, so we can cab it,” Vic said as she stepped onto the sidewalk. She stood at the corner and threw her hand in the air. In her glittering dress and heels she was hard to miss, but cab after cab still passed the girls. Apparently, the whole city of New York had decided to head to the club at midnight. The three of them held their hands up, a neat row on the sidewalk, but still no cars slowed.
“What the fuck,” Delali muttered.
“I always get a cab on the first try,” Vic whined.
Abbie stood silently. She had only taken a cab once or twice when she was running late for class or a PTA meeting—she thought it particularly disrespectful to the earth to take cars outside of emergencies.
“Whatever, let’s just get a Süper,” Vic offered.
The girls huddled around Vic as she pulled her phone out of her purse and opened the app. When a message on the screen announced the car had arrived, the girls looked around and saw only empty streets—no car. Vic answered her phone with an irritated snap.
“Hell...Vic? Victori…?” The driver, who Süper informed them was named Jean, sounded as if he was underground or in the middle of a remote rainforest.
“Where are you?” The girls glanced around the four corners of the intersection. “I don’t see you anywhere.” Vic walked in angry, disjointed circles, stepping out onto the street and then onto the sidewalk again.
Delali sucked her teeth. “He’s probably not even here.”
“Hello?” Vic asked again. “GENE?”
Finally, a black car slipped from Delancey onto Essex. Delali was right; the driver had called before he had even arrived.
Vic ended the call in a fit of annoyance and stepped one sparkly, sandaled foot into the street, shoving her phone towards her bag. But she missed her bag completely. Instead of landing safely in its designated pocket, the phone soared toward the street, heading directly for a rusted metal drain. The girls all stopped short and gasped, almost in unison, reaching their arms out in a useless reflex, the phone too far out of their reach to be saved. But just as it was about to crash onto the sidewalk, a noiseless spool of light—gold, brilliant, vibrating—appeared before the girls and surrounded the phone, suspending it in the air. It floated there for a moment, and the girls felt bound to the sidewalk in a way that was completely out of their control. But they were frozen for only a second. The light disappeared faster than it had appeared, the only evidence of its existence a quickly waning afterimage thrust against the black of the city’s profile. Then, suddenly, the phone was back in Vic’s hand. There was a beat of silence, filled only by the quiet whistle of impending autumn air, then the girls walked silently on stunned legs to the car. In the driver’s seat, Jean sat with his face turned intently to his phone, swiping lazily at a series of Bumble profiles.