One Last Stop - Casey McQuiston
Taped to a trash can inside the Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen at the corner of Parkside and Flatbush Avenues.
SEEKING YOUNG SINGLE ROOMMATE FOR 3BR APARTMENT UPSTAIRS, 6TH FLOOR. $700/MO. MUST BE QUEER & TRANS FRIENDLY. MUST NOT BE AFRAID OF FIRE OR DOGS. NO LIBRAS, WE ALREADY HAVE ONE. CALL NIKO.
“Can I touch you?”
That’s the first thing the guy with the tattoos says when August settles onto the rubbed-off center cushion of the brown leather couch—a flaking hand-me-down number that’s been a recurring character the past four and a half years of college. The type you crash on, bury under textbooks, or sit on while sipping flat Coke and speaking to no one at a party. The quintessential early twenties trash couch.
Most of the furniture is as trash as the trash couch, mismatched and thrifted and hauled in off the street. But when Tattoo Boy—Niko, the flyer said his name was Niko—sits across from her, it’s in a startlingly high-end Eames chair.
The place is like that: a mix of familiar and very much not familiar. Small and cramped, offensive shades of green and yellow on the walls. Plants dangling off almost every surface, spindly arms reaching across shelves, a faint smell of soil. The windows are the same painted-shut frames of old apartments in New Orleans, but these are half covered with pages of drawings, afternoon light filtering through, muted and waxy.
There’s a five-foot-tall sculpture of Judy Garland made from bicycle parts and marshmallow Peeps in the corner. It’s not recognizable as Judy, except for the sign that says: HELLO MY NAME IS JUDY GARLAND.
Niko looks at August, hand held out, blurry in the steam from his tea. He’s got this black-on-black greaser thing going on, a dark undercut against light brown skin and a confident jaw, a single crystal dangling from one ear. Tattoos spill down both his arms and lick up his throat from beneath his buttoned-up collar. His voice is a little croaky, like the back end of a cold, and he’s got a toothpick in one corner of his mouth.
Okay, Danny Zuko, calm down.
“Sorry, uh.” August stares, stuck on his question. “What?”
“Not in a weird way,” he says. The tattoo on the back of his hand is a Ouija planchette. His knuckles say FULL MOON. Good lord. “Just want to get your vibe. Sometimes physical contact helps.”
“What, are you a—?”
“A psychic, yeah,” he says matter-of-factly. The toothpick rolls down the white line of his teeth when he grins, wide and disarming. “Or that’s one word for it. Clairvoyant, gifted, spiritist, whatever.”
Jesus. Of course. There was no way a $700-a-month room in Brooklyn was going to come without a catch, and the catch is marshmallow Judy Garland and this refurbished Springsteen who’s probably about to tell her she’s got her aura on inside out and backward like Dollar Tree pantyhose.
But she’s got nowhere to go, and there’s a Popeyes on the first floor of the building. August Landry does not trust people, but she trusts fried chicken.
She lets Niko touch her hand.
“Cool,” he says tonelessly, like he’s stuck his head out the window to check the weather. He taps two fingers on the back of her knuckles and sits back. “Oh. Oh wow, okay. That’s interesting.”
August blinks. “What?”
He takes the toothpick out of his mouth and sets it on the steamer trunk between them, next to a bowl of gumballs. He’s got a constipated look on his face.
“You like lilies?” he says. “Yeah, I’ll get some lilies for your move-in day. Does Thursday work for you? Myla’s gonna need some time to clear her stuff out. She has a lot of bones.”
“I—what, like, in her body?”
“No, frog bones. Really tiny. Hard to pick up. Gotta use tweezers.” He must notice the look on August’s face. “Oh, she’s a sculptor. It’s for a piece. It’s her room you’re taking. Don’t worry, I’ll sage it.”
“Uh, I wasn’t worried about … frog ghosts?” Should she be worried about frog ghosts? Maybe this Myla person is a ritualistic frog murderer.
“Niko, stop telling people about frog ghosts,” says a voice down the hall. A pretty Black girl with a friendly, round face and eyelashes for miles is leaning out of a doorway, a pair of goggles shoved up into her dark curls. She smiles when she sees August. “Hi, I’m Myla.”
“We found our girl,” Niko says. “She likes lilies.”
August hates when people like him do things like that. Lucky guesses. She does like lilies. She can pull up a whole Wikipedia page in her