Chapter Nine: Marvin Misses the Mark

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Delali, Darren, and Safiya walked into Vic’s apartment, trailing a group of girls in matching lavender mini dresses and turquoise stilettos.

“Jesus,” Darren said, looking around. “What did you say this girl does again?”
“She works in fashion PR. But,” Delali took in the clearly professional decor. “I suspect she’s getting a little help.” Tonight, filled with people from wall to wall, the apartment looked even bigger than Delali remembered. Even though it was chilly out, the double doors leading to the balcony were open and the crowd spilled outside.

“I need a drink,” Delali said, making a beeline for the food table, and Safiya and Darren followed her. Safiya had spent the entire car ride from campus to Vic’s apartment shooting Delali meaningful looks, and if she was going to make it through a whole party’s worth of Safiya’s innuendos, she definitely needed a drink. Delali poured herself a vodka soda and looked up from her cup. “Do you guys want one?”

Safiya shook her head. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom,” she said as Darren said, “Sure.” Safiya left to find the bathroom, but passed it entirely when she clocked a basketball player-type in a Supreme hoodie near the balcony doors. Delali and Darren exchanged a look.

“Looks like Saf’s gonna have a good night,” Delali said. She handed Darren a cup.

Darren laughed, taking the drink. “Thanks.”
“No worries.” They moved away from the table and Delali settled on a windowsill, enviously eyeing the people who’d managed to snag seats on the leather sectional. Darren stood in front of her, slowly nursing his drink as Delali looked past him, searching for Vic. She spotted her coming out of her bedroom and raised her arm in a little wave to catch her attention. Vic, surprisingly, looked relieved, and even more surprisingly, Delali felt the same—anything to save her from the weird silence that always felt a second away when she was alone with Darren. Vic rushed over to them, looking both ways as though crossing the street.

“Hey!” Vic said, sidling between Darren and Delali. She slouched slightly so her face was blocked by Darren’s chest. Delali gave Vic a confused look but didn’t say anything; it was clear she was hiding from someone. “This is…?” Vic looked up at Darren. He was definitely cute, but not what Vic would’ve pegged as Delali’s type. After all, she’d famously dated Adrian Carter before he became spectacularly annoying on Twitter, constantly posting about the frivolity of award shows and his pledge to recycle a single Versace tux for the rest of his career.

“My friend, Darren,” Delali said.

“Hey,” he said. “Thanks for letting me crash your party.”

Vic waved away his thanks. “The more, the merrier.” She let her gaze wander before catching sight of Frankie across the room, and ducked down again. The party had only been going for an hour now, but she was already exhausted from avoiding Frankie. She thought of using her power to get out of it somehow, but it was too risky with so many people around, and it would definitely look suspicious if she went missing at her own party.

“Is Abbie coming?” Delali asked. “I was hoping we could all talk.”

“Yeah, I think she’s bringing cupcakes,” Vic said, remembering the several pictures Abbie had sent her of potential icing designs.

“Vic, hi!” Vic and Delali turned to see Abbie standing in the doorway, her hair pulled into a puff and a white bakery box in her hands.

Vic watched as Frankie snapped her head around. Unfortunately, she’d heard Abbie too.

Fuck,” Vic said under her breath. “I gotta go. Hope you guys have a good time tonight!” She dashed away from them, all but running across the room.

“Is she okay?” Abbie asked.

“I have no idea,” said Delali. “Abbie, this is Darren, one of my friends from school. Darren, this is Abbie.”

“Hi!” Abbie balanced the box of cupcakes on her left forearm to free one of her hands. She extended it and Darren shook it. “It's so nice to meet you!” She turned to Delali and gave her a remarkably unsubtle OMG-he’s-so-cute look. Delali barely suppressed her cringe.

“You too.” Darren looked down at the cupcakes through the transparent panel at the top of the box. “Those look really good.”

“Thanks!” Abbie said. “I couldn't decide between pumpkin spice buttercream and roasted plum frosting, so I made a dozen of each.”
“Cool,” said Darren. “Do you bake a lot?

“I do,” Abbie said. “I'm actually...working on a bunch of stuff for my blog,” she said, pausing as she struggled to balance the box on her arm while she dug through her purse.

“Lemme hold this for you.” Darren took the cupcake box from her.

Abbie let out a relieved sigh. “Thanks.” She opened her purse wider and brandished one of the Crafting & Coconut Oil business cards she’d gotten made. Darren took it from her and turned it over. “Like I said, I'm working on a bunch of stuff for my blog.”

“Wow, these are dope,” he said, examining the card. It was a pale peach color, and Crafting & Coconut Oil stretched across on one side in a thick cursive. The other read Abbie Balogun: 4C Hair Chick - DIY Goddess - Baker Babe.

“Thanks,” Abbie said, beaming. “I designed them myself.”

“Awesome,” said Darren. “My mom’s actually trying to start a little catering business, but she doesn’t really get the design and branding end of things.”

Delali turned to him. “I didn't know that,” she said. “I thought your mom was a lawyer.” During the weekend they’d spent together last year, Darren had confided that his attorney parents were super disappointed he didn’t plan on going to law school like his older sister.

He gave her a little shrug. “Well, it’s like her empty nester project now that my little sister’s in college. And you and I haven't really spoken in a while.” He took a sip of his drink, and Delali did the same just to have something to do.

“I’m gonna put these on the table with the other food,” Abbie said, sensing the awkwardness. She gently shook the cupcake box.

“Nice meeting you, Abbie,” Darren said, and he and Delali watched as Abbie walked away. “Are you okay with this?” Darren asked, just as Delali said, “I don’t want things to be awkward.”

“You go,” Delali said. She finished her drink with a gulp. “Actually, I’ll go. I don’t want things to be weird between us. I know we never really talked...after.”

“Same,” Darren said. “I was just asking if you were okay with me being here. I know Safiya kind of made you invite me. She’s very...persistent.”
Delali laughed. “That’s a way of putting it,” she said. “But Saf didn’t make me invite you.” She circled the rim of her empty cup with her index finger. “I’m glad you came.” It was true. Safiya had already disappeared somewhere with Supreme Hoodie, Abbie was rearranging the snacks, and Vic was playing hide-and-seek. If she was going to spend her night at a random party where annoying “is that Georgia?” whispers kept erupting around her, she at least wanted to be with someone familiar.

“I’m glad I came too.” Darren held Delali’s gaze for a moment before moving from where he stood to sit beside her, his leg pressing easily against hers. “So, how do you know these girls again? They don’t really seem like…your kind of people.”

Delali sighed, thinking of that night at The Bar and everything that had followed. “It’s a long story.”

Darren gave her a smile. “I’ve got time.”

Frankie: Hey, I’m at your apartment...are you here?

Frankie: D & E say they don’t know where are you are.
Frankie: Think I saw you by the balcony—can we talk?
Frankie: Did I do something?

Vic sat on Elise’s bed watching Frankie’s texts pop up on her phone. She wanted to stay in there all night, shielded by the pile of coats until the last guest went home, but Frankie’s last message had struck something in her. It was way too shitty to let Frankie waste her time thinking she’d fucked things up between them...which was exactly what Vic realized she’d done over the past week.

“Fuck,” she said aloud. She took a swig from the bottle of Macallan Elise kept in her underwear drawer and stood, preparing to fix the mess she’d made. She took a deep breath and opened the door. Vic saw Frankie right away—she was standing out on the balcony, alternately looking down at her phone and beyond the railing at the city. She started to head toward her, but a voice stopped her. She turned to see Faizan calling her name from the edge of the crowd, clad in a gray tracksuit.

“Hey,” she said, surprised. “I thought you said weren’t feeling it tonight.” Vic had gone back and forth on inviting Faizan and Joe, but ultimately decided to, mostly because Faizan was still so pitifully inconsolable about Mimi. Just when Vic had thought he was over it, Mimi had come by to drop off the stuff Faizan had left at her place. That was bad enough, but in a stunning act of savagery, she’d come by with her new boyfriend, sending Faizan into a total tailspin. Vic was still semi-worried Faizan would scare people with his rant about how Mimi left him for “that guy,” a dumpy, Jersey City-based banker who wore Chubbies and Chaco sandals year-round, but ultimately it was a risk she decided to take.

“Well, it’s just upstairs,” he said. “And I’m probably not gonna stay long.” Vic bit her tongue. Sometimes she just wanted to shake Faizan and scream: It was only seven weeks and three days! But she stopped herself. Faizan had trusted Mimi so much he’d let her see him in the mornings before he touched up his hair, something he never did with women.

“Well, you should definitely get a drink before you leave.” Vic led him to the food, where Abbie was organizing the meats by fat content. “Hey,” she said.

Abbie looked up from where she was stacking slices of salami. “Hey, have you seen Delali? I know she wants to ta—” she stopped abruptly when she saw Faizan beside Vic, mixing himself a Henny and Coke. All week she’d been tempted to text Vic and ask who was coming, half out of genuine curiosity and half because she was hoping Vic would mention Faizan. In the end, she decided to come because of the birthday promise she made to be more social and make friends. Since September, she’d attended exactly two social events: a pumpkin-carving party where she’d judged everyone’s subpar technique, and a weird function a teacher at her school had held at a hotel in Midtown to celebrate overcoming lactose intolerance (#bradysbuttermilkbash). Vic’s housewarming was a cool opportunity to meet some fun girls around her age in the city...or at least that’s what Abbie had told herself while scrolling through the BARber Instagram on the subway ride downtown.

Vic caught Abbie’s gaze. “Faizan, have you met my friend, Abbie?”

Faizan looked up from his drink and gave Abbie a weak grin, his cocky charm from their last encounter considerably diminished. “Yeah, I remember you. The girl with the sweater.”
“Shrug,” Abbie corrected reflexively. “I forgot my shrug on our birthday and went back to The Bar to pick it up,” she explained to Vic, but Vic wasn’t even listening. Frankie was on the move toward the door, and Vic wanted to catch her before she left.

“Cool, yeah, totally,” Vic said. “I have to do something really quick, but we should definitely find Delali later so we can all talk.” She walked off before Abbie could respond, leaving her alone with Faizan.

“So,” Abbie began. Faizan’s phone vibrated in his pocket and he frowned without even looking at the screen.

“I gotta take this,” he said and left, leaving Abbie alone with the charcuterie.

“I don’t know,” said Darren. “I kind of thought Blonde was better than Channel Orange.”

Delali’s mouth fell open. “I are entitled to your wrong opinion. It’s just really important to me that you know that you’re wrong.”

Darren laughed. “We can agree to disagree,” he said. After Delali told Darren how she, Abbie, and Vic had started hanging out (leaving out all the magic details, of course), the conversation had flowed easily, moving from school to movies to Darren’s semi-shitty taste in music. A crowd vacated the couch, and they quickly claimed a corner of it, sharing one of the cushions as a group of Vic’s friends rushed to fill others.

Darren lifted his cup to take a sip, only to find it was empty. “I’m gonna get another drink. Do you want one?”

Delali shook her head. “I’m good, thanks.”
Darren withdrew his hand from her knee and stood. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”

Once Darren left, Delali slid her finger up the side of her glass, watching as it filled with vodka and club soda. She’d never tried to use her powers to refill her drinks before, but their first lesson with MJ had bolstered her confidence. The thought of MJ reminded her why she’d even decided to come tonight: to talk to Vic and Abbie about shrouded universities. She caught sight of Vic moving toward the door and called out to her, but Vic didn’t hear her.

“Vic!” Delali tried again, and this time Vic did turn. Frankie had just left the apartment, enveloped by a group of Diane’s paralegal friends. Vic thought about following after her to talk, but changed her mind when she realized it probably wouldn’t go over well— Frankie had definitely noticed that she had spent the whole night dodging her. Besides that, even though she knew what she’d done at Lovers of Today was kind of fucked up, she couldn’t deny the relief she felt at not having to have a super awkward “what are we” conversation with Frankie.

“Hey, what’s up?” Vic said. “Where’s your boy?” She sat on the arm of the couch.

“Getting a drink,” Delali said, choosing not to correct her. “Have you seen Abbie? I really want to talk to you guys about something.”

“She was by the food a little while ago but,” Vic broke off to turn and look at the table. “I haven’t seen her since then.”

“Ugh, seriously?” Delali groaned. “Can we just find her and make some time to ta—”
“Victoria!” A sharp trill interrupted Delali, and both she and Vic turned toward the door.

“Who is that?”

“My boss,” Vic said in disbelief, jumping to her feet. Lacey was draped in a mustard yellow fur coat, and her pale blonde hair was teased high above her forehead. She was flanked by what looked like a small crew of fashion bloggers, each looking more bored than the last. “I gotta go,” Vic said, leaving Delali’s side just as Darren reappeared, clutching his drink. Delali made space for Darren on the couch, deciding to just drop it.

“Lacey, hi,” Vic said. She hadn’t planned on inviting her at all, but when Lacey had overheard all the junior PR girls talking about the party and asked where her invite was, Vic couldn’t exactly avoid it. Besides, Vic had reasoned, there was no way Lacey was actually going to spend a night hanging out with the girls she spent her days alternately reprimanding and ignoring. And yet, here she was, standing in Vic’s living room in her embroidered platforms. “I didn’t think you’d come,” she said without thinking.
“Well, of course I wasn’t going to,” said Lacey. “But then your work with Harry marked you as someone special, not just another one of those beans in the playpen, if you know what I mean.”

“Uh, yeah, totally.”

“Anyway,” Lacey continued. “I hope you don’t mind that I brought a few of my friends. This is Lee, Leeane, Leigh, and Leighton,” she said before Vic could respond.

“No problem at all,” said Vic. “Do you need anything? Food and drinks are—”
“Yes, actually,” Lacey said, cutting her off. “Where’s your closet?”

Vic blinked at her. “My closet? Like, where I keep my clothes?”

Lacey, Lee, Leeane, Leigh, and Leighton let out a chorus of laughter. “Isn’t she a delight?” Lacey said to her friends. She turned back to Vic. “Yes, where you keep your clothes. I’ve already been photographed wearing this. Obviously I need to change.”
“Um…” Vic hesitated, reluctant to let Lacey any further into her apartment. “Yeah, of course. Right this way,” she said, realizing she had no option. Vic led Lacey to her bedroom. Once inside, Lacey immediately stripped to her underwear—a thong and a pair of nipple pasties—and began perusing Vic’s closet. She pulled out a black bandage dress, considered it, then tossed it onto Vic’s bed.

“Do you have any Theyskens?” Lacey asked, turning to Vic.
“Pardon?” said Vic. She was standing by her vanity, watching in horror as Lacey tore through her color-coordinated closet—the one thing in her room she paid any attention to keeping clean.

“Olivier Theyskens,” Lacey said impatiently, pacing in front of Vic’s closet. “There’s this amazing oversized leather jumpsuit from his spring 1999 Ready-to-Wear collection. It’s exactly the piece I need to get me through the rest of tonight.” She picked up a picture of Vic and her line sisters from Vic’s desk before putting it back down. “Do you have it?”

“Do,” Vic said. “I don’t have it.”
Lacey let out a frustrated sigh. “Well, what about Mouret? Fall 2003? One of his harness dresses will do in a bind.” She pressed her fingers to her temples. “And I am in a bind.” Lacey’s bouffant began to wilt.
“Um, no, I don’t have any Mouret.” Lacey’s face dropped to an expression that was somewhere between a frown and a sneer. Vic walked to her closet, realizing she needed to get Lacey clothed again before she had some kind of breakdown. “What about this?” She pulled out one of her club classics: a strappy-back cutout dress from NastyGal. She wasn’t exactly sure what a “harness dress” was, but she guessed it was probably something like this—but she was wrong apparently, considering the noise Lacey made.

“Honestly, Victoria,” Lacey scoffed. “That obviously won’t do.” She sat on Vic’s bed, and Vic’s mouth fell open as she thought of Lacey’s bare ass cheeks on her freshly dry-cleaned duvet. Lacey pulled an old Cosmo from Vic’s bedside table and flipped through it. “Be a bug and pull a few looks for me, won’t you, dear?”

Vic looked from Lacey to the door. “I...I don’t know,” Vic said, and Lacey’s terrifying blue eyes snapped up from the magazine to stare at her. “I mean, I just have so many guests. I need to be a good hostess.”
Lacey nodded and hummed. “That’s a valid point,” she said. “Hostessing is a dying art. But you can work quickly. It’s great practice for the office.”
“I…” Vic began again, but Lacey’s broad smile—which didn’t touch the top half of her face—stopped her in her tracks. “Yeah, of course.” She stepped toward her closet, kicking herself for deciding to compete with Tatiana in the first place.

Abbie was ready to leave, but she decided to try and talk to Delali and Vic one last time. She had spent most of the night hanging near the balcony door, eavesdropping as Faizan whispered furiously to someone named Mimi on the phone. From what she overheard, it wasn’t hard to guess at the nature of their relationship—or who had ended things. Abbie shook off her disappointment, and in its place came a rush of self-loathing. She couldn’t believe that she, a woman with an amazing boyfriend, had wasted an entire Saturday night hoping some self-absorbed guy would talk to her about her blog. The only saving grace of the entire night had been Vic’s roommate Elise, who wanted tips on some professional, low-manipulation styles she could wear while transitioning. The conversation had given Abbie an idea for a new video, and she planned to start storyboarding and filming it tomorrow morning.

From where she stood, she could see that Vic had joined Delali, but as Abbie approached them, Vic was swept away by a scary-looking woman with weird makeup. As Vic left, Darren came back to the couch holding a Solo cup, and Delali greeted him with a smile. Abbie rolled her eyes as she looked away, an unfamiliar envy curling up in her stomach and taking root there. Today’s call with Dan had fallen through, and they’d rescheduled for early tomorrow morning, but Abbie already was already not in the mood. She wanted to sleep in, but Dan was leading a hike for some of his students with Kim, and they’d be at a nature preserve outside Nairobi for the whole day. If she wanted to talk to him at all on Sunday, she needed to wake up for the call—or else deal with Dan’s lukewarm, one-word responses for three days while he forgave her for missing it. Sighing, Abbie shouldered her purse and left Vic’s apartment, sending a message to the group chat to let them that she’d gone. She needed a full night’s sleep anyway.

Abbie stepped out of Vic’s building and onto the street, already thinking of what show she’d put on while she got ready for bed. As she looked for the nearest subway stop, she noticed a hunched figure leaning against the wall of Vic’s building, a few steps away from the group of smokers standing by the door. Faizan. Abbie turned, hoping to round the corner before he saw her, but he looked up at the sound of her booties clacking on the sidewalk. The two made awkward eye contact, and Abbie turned away, embarrassed for no discernible reason. She started down the block, not even sure she was going in the right direction, but she stopped when Faizan called out to her.

“Hey! Abbie!”

Abbie’s stomach flipped. She turned to see Faizan jogging to catch up with her.

“What do you want?” Abbie asked, surprising herself with how rude she sounded. She suddenly felt worn down, and wanted nothing more than to go to sleep.

Faizan took a step back and scratched the back of his head. “I just. I uh—”

Abbie raised her eyebrows expectantly.

“I just wanted to see if you wanted to hang out with me and some of my friends tonight.”

Abbie hesitated. After tomorrow’s call with Dan, she had kind of a full day ahead of her: she planned to update C&C’s followers on her DIY teacup cactus gardens, and then start designing the holiday-themed bulletin board for her classroom. But there was something about Faizan that made her want to accept his invitation—something that wasn’t his lopsided grin. Abbie wasn’t exactly excited by the idea of listening to him unload his problems with Mimi, but she also didn’t want to turn him down when she could so easily see in his demeanor what he would never say: that he didn't want to be alone right now, wasting his night scrolling through pics of the person he missed. Abbie sort of knew what that was like and it fricking sucked. Besides, if she said yes, maybe she’d get the chance to ask some questions about writing a business plan and raising capital, a way more productive night than watching Jane the Virgin and whipping up a new face mask.

“Sure,” Abbie said, feigning nonchalance.

“Really?” Abbie blinked at him, wondering if what she heard in his voice was relief.

“Great.” Faizan pulled his phone out of the pocket of his joggers and opened his messages. “My friends are at this bar in Brooklyn called Slaughterhouse— you ever been?”

Slaughterhouse?” Abbie repeated. Ew.

Faizan let out a laugh, eyeing Abbie with amusement. “Don’t worry; I’ve heard it’s cool. You down?”

“Yeah,” Abbie said, nodding. “I’m down.”

Faizan called a Süper, and when it arrived he opened the door for Abbie, letting her slide into the backseat first. As soon as he closed it, the driver started shouting.

Hell-o, there! I’m Marvin,” he boomed theatrically, reaching his arm over his shoulder and into the backseat.

Abbie and Faizan looked at each other, on the verge of laughter, and shook Marvin’s hand, one after the other. This was already way better than Abbie’s original plan to curl up on her couch with her homemade Oreos.

“Welcome to Marvin’s magical Manhattan ride, so marvelous it makes the MTA mad. No mishaps, mistakes, or misadventures here! Make yourselves mega-comfy, mute your music so we can make conversation, and you'll have some majorly mirthful memories come morning!”

Faizan rolled his eyes as Abbie grinned.

“Where are we headed tonight?” Marvin asked, tapping lightly on his horn. It let out a string of clown car noises.

“Mate,” Faizan replied in irritation. “You know exactly where we’re going.” He pointed to the iPad attached to the dashboard, which showed a map and a highlighted path to Slaughterhouse.

Marvin’s face dropped at the rebuff. After that, the car filled with a stubborn silence, Abbie debating whether she should start a conversation, but not knowing what to say. Beside her, Faizan stared mutely out the window, and Abbie wondered if Faizan was regretting going out, already back to thinking about Mimi. She was still trying to figure out something to say when Marvin began to hyperventilate.

“Oh God,” Marvin gasped, his voice wavering. The car barreled into the Financial District, Marvin’s hand still steady at the wheel. “Oh god, oh god, oh Jesus.”

Abbie and Faizan shared a panicked look before Abbie went into teacher-nurse-mom mode. “Are you alright?” Abbie asked. She stood, crouching, and placed a tentative hand on Marvin’s back. He responded with more wheezing, continuing to guide the car with shocking precision.

Faizan, unconvinced, leaned over the passenger seat to look at Marvin’s profile. “She asked if you're okay.”

“Marvin, what's wrong!”

“I just—” he rasped, glancing at the iPad. “My—my rating dropped below three stars.”

Abbie and Faizan groaned and fell back into their seats, both relieved and annoyed.

“Are you taking the absolute fucking piss?” Faizan said.

“I don't know what that means,” Marvin warbled as if on the verge of tears, or death.

Abbie looked to the iPad. The entire screen was taken up by three blinking red numbers: 2.99.

“I don't think I can go on.” Marvin turned the wheel abruptly, swerving out of traffic and to the side of the road, one wheel climbing over the curb. Abbie was thrown violently against Faizan’s side, and he grabbed her shoulders to right her. The rough feel of his hands surprised her; Dan had been away so long, the last person who’d touched her was her manicurist. “You can just— I’ll just call anoth—” but Marvin couldn’t finish. He broke into sobs, leaning against the steering wheel and letting out a long, loud horn. Neither Abbie nor Faizan knew how to respond— until finally Faizan pushed the door open and got out, closing it when Abbie also stepped onto the curb. He knocked on the passenger side window, motioning for Marvin to roll the window down. When he did, Faizan stuck his head through the window and said, with surprising tenderness, “I'll give you a five-star rating anyway.”

Marvin nodded pathetically, then rolled the window back up and pulled away. Abbie and Faizan stood on the curb for a moment before breaking out into hysterical laughter.

“Ohmigod,” Abbie gasped. “That was so crazy.”

“No mishaps, mistakes, or misadventures,” Faizan said, imitating Marvin’s voice.

Abbie choked on her laughter and the two cracked up again, until they finally recovered and looked around. Faizan took out his phone. “I guess I’ll just call a Zoom?”

“I guess…” Abbie said, but then she stopped, looking across the street. The Brooklyn Bridge towered above them, its lights dotting the night sky. Even in the cold, large crowds of people congregated at its entrance. “Actually, no,” Abbie said, gazing over the East River. “Let's walk across the bridge!” Her voice slid into its usual squeal— walking across the Brooklyn Bridge was something she had wanted to cross off her bucket list with Dan before he left for Nairobi, but he’d been so busy getting ready for his trip that it never happened. Now, staring at the bridge’s glowing arc, she couldn’t believe she’d ever let this dream fall to the wayside.

“Alright,” Faizan said, not particularly interested. Abbie barely noticed his tone, charging ahead without waiting for him. “Whoa, wait up,” he said, meeting her as she neared the first tower.

“Have you ever done this?” she asked, excited. The waterfront glimmered, and she turned to look at the view of Manhattan, reminded of why she had chosen this over Kenya with Dan. The city stretched before her, soaring, glittering, perfect. Well, nearly perfect—her fingers reached for her bracelet, thinking of Dan.

“What, walked across this bridge?” Faizan replied, pulling Abbie out of her thoughts. “No, I always thought it was dumb, considering there’s a perfectly good subway.”

Abbie rolled her eyes, and as they continued down the path, Abbie took in every face, every view, every lock fastened to the bridge with quiet awe. Faizan kept looking down at the cars that hurdled across the lanes beneath them, mesmerized.

“Okay,” he said after a minute. “This is actually pretty dope.” Abbie smiled, preparing to reply, but was interrupted by an elderly couple in matching yellow cable knit sweaters asking for a photo. Abbie stopped to take it, yelling, “One, two, three, cheese!” as she did. Faizan laughed behind her.

The woman walked over and took the camera from Abbie’s hands. “Oh, what a gorgeous photo,” she said. “And taken for us by such a gorgeous couple!” The woman’s husband nodded warmly behind her.

Abbie’s face got hot. She opened her mouth to correct the woman, but Faizan spoke first.

“Thank you,” he said, wrapping his arm around Abbie’s shoulders and giving her a playful smile.

“You two have a wonderful night,” the woman said before she and her husband walked off.

Abbie shrugged off Faizan’s arm once they were far enough. “What was that about?” she asked. “And don’t think I didn’t hear you laughing when I said cheese,” she grumbled, continuing along the path.

“Just thought it was easier,” Faizan said. “And, I thought you were saying cheese ironically.”

“Well, I wasn’t.” Abbie crossed her arms. “Maybe if you could be enthusiastic about something other than your hair, you wouldn’t have to make fun of other people,” she snipped, suddenly wishing she were home—or maybe just here alone. They walked in silence until Faizan apologized.

“I’m sorry,” Faizan said guiltily. “I didn’t mean to—” he began, but the loud wailing of a little boy nearby cut him off. The boy’s family rushed to where he’d fallen and skinned his knee, and Abbie scurried over, already wielding the alcohol prep pads, bandages, and Neosporin she always carried with her.

“Oh, God,” the mother said, patting her fanny pack. “I didn’t even remember the fucking first aid kit.” Her husband covered their other son’s ears.

“I have bandaids,” Abbie called as she neared them. She handed a small stack to the boy’s mother, who cleaned the wound roughly and haphazardly stuck a bandage over it. Abbie cringed at her lack of technique. “There,” the mother said, but the boy continued to cry.

Abbie lingered, debating whether to step in further, but decided it was best to let his parents to deal with things. Still, she wished she had one of the lollipops she usually carried to give him, but she’d just run out this morning. “Come on,” she said to Faizan, who had paused beside her. They started walking again, taking in the glowing light of the buildings lining the East River.

“So, do you always have a mini first-aid kit on you?” Faizan asked, giving her a sideways smile.

Abbie shrugged. “I’m a teacher, so I deal with this kind of thing all the time,” she said. “Besides, you can never be too prepared.”

“Very practical,” Faizan teased, and Abbie already felt herself getting over his earlier bitchiness, smoothed away by his easy grin. “How do you like teaching?”

“I love it,” Abbie gushed. “I wake up every day and I’m just like excited, you know?”

Faizan nodded. “Yeah, I feel you,” he said. “That’s how I feel when I’m working on BARber. Even when I’m doing the annoying shit like talking to realtors or whatever, I’m still having fun. Like, it’s all part of the dream.”

Exactly,” Abbie said, and they shared a long look until she turned away. “We’re, um, at the end of the bridge.”

Faizan cleared his throat. “Right, yeah,” he said, stepping forward to lead the way. “It’s not far from here.”

“Okay,” Abbie said. She followed Faizan down the darkened streets, the weight of a new, charged energy between them. After a while of walking, Faizan’s phone let out a short beep: they had arrived.