I nodded. “I remember it now.”
“Even our fight?”
“Even our fight.” It was coming back to me. A horrible drag-out right upstairs in Rachel’s room that had left both of us in tears and pitched in a grudge match.
“And I said stupid things, of course. I was mad that you’d retreated from me. So I said things like, ‘I hope your taste in guys isn’t as crappy as that jacket.’ Jokes that Claude remembers and holds me to, of course. I meant to be hurtful. I blamed the new guy for stealing you from Holden. I blamed your new art-house and club crowd. And then, three days after that fight, you almost died.” Rachel put her hands over her face. “And all I could think was I’d never been able to tell you I was sorry.”
“Rachel, stop. Really. It was such a long time ago. I’m sure I was awful, too. I wish I could remember precisely all the stupid petty things I said, so that I could apologize for them.”
But she wasn’t listening to me. She was shaking her head, lost in her recollection. “You can’t believe how bad I felt, standing by your hospital bed, you looking like that, your eyes all pulpy and bruised—you were so far away from us all. I was watching those drugs pumping into your veins, and I just kept praying please, please, please God let her be okay. Let her wake up so that she can forgive me.”
“You were there for me that night, and at Addington, and you’re here for me tonight,” I reminded her. “I called you knowing you’d show up.”
“Ember, I’m so sorry I never got a chance to meet him!” she blurted.
“Oh.” That startled me. I nodded. “Me too.”
“But now I want you to tell me everything,” Rachel continued, her eyes starry with emotion. “I’m not kidding. Tell me all about how it felt when you first saw Anthony. Start with that night. I want to hear every single detail, Ember.” She tucked the blanket so that it covered my feet, making sure I was comfortable, and in my gratitude, I could feel the burden of everything that had been unspoken between us start to dissolve, as Rachel sat rapt, waiting.
She was here for me now, and I wanted to tell her all of it. I could feel the whole entire story contained within me, pressing for release, ready to become real in my voice and in her listening.
“Technically, it was his brother, Hatch, who I met first,” I began. “He’d gotten a job to hand out flyers that Anthony had designed, for this New Year’s Eve party at a new club in Bushwick. I was walking down the street—I’d just bought my boots, and I was feeling really good. I felt like anything could happen.”
“And then,” said Rachel with a little smile, “something did.”
I Think I Know a Place
I stopped by El Cielo right after school. It wasn’t open for dinner yet, but Hatch was already there and working on setup, as I knew he would be, rolling silverware and refilling the containers of ketchup, hot sauce, and red-pepper flakes.
“You want coffee?”
He had to brew it first. I sat at the front bar and watched him shake out a filter and scoop six cups of grounds into the industrial-strength coffeemaker, one of those machines sturdy enough to withstand a hundred novice waiters and waitresses. Hatch had had a growth spurt this year, and he looked so much like his big brother that it was hard to take my eyes away. Isabella would be coming in soon, and so would the prep cooks and waitstaff. We had about half an hour in private.
Once the coffee had brewed, Hatch poured my mug. One sugar and a splash of whole milk. He’d absorbed that detail about me, just as he’d learned anything else about me that could be discerned through the power of observation. Hatch was a sensitive kid that way; there was a special wattage in him that burned like a flashlight, trained on others.
We’d met back when I’d first come into the restaurant, early last January. I wasn’t supposed to be there, obviously. And Anthony had warned me not to act like Hatch and I knew each other too well.
“My aunt will already be suspicious of you,” Anthony had told me. “And my little brother has a crush on you. So consider yourself double-warned.”
“Oh, save it,” I’d answered. “Families love me.”
After the party at Areacode, I’d tracked Anthony down. I’d had his matchbook, with an address that I was sure would lead me in the right direction. It’s why he had given it to me, before he’d followed me out onto the fire escape. So even when he hadn’t called me, I’d known how to reach him. He’d admitted it, later. That although he’d taken my number, he’d left it up to me to make the first move.
I’d come in and sat in the back bar. I’d watched for Anthony’s signal, and then we’d sneaked downstairs to the cold-storage room where we could talk without interruption.
But I’d met Hatch that night, too. To love Anthony was to create space for his baby brother. We hung out first on New Year’s Eve, at the St. George dormitory, with the reverberation of Areacode’s DJ beat matches and mash-ups still thudding in my ears, we’d watched Bela Lugosi movies with Hatch until 4 a.m., when Anthony had walked me home.
Another time was a few weeks later, in freezing Cobble Hill Park, where the whole gang, led by Alice de Souza, had painted that amazing mural. Hatch and I’d watched from the bench, as Alice, Maisie, Anthony (though he was “Kai” that night; he was always Kai on guerrilla-art nights), his friend Antz, and a few others had created a summer forest of trees.
We’d clapped and hooted as he’d tagged the bottom—that K for Kai that was also a sideways A for Anthony.
“I’m getting addicted to coffee,” I admitted to Hatch now. “Funny thing was I never used to drink it before.” I’d slipped the flask from my backpack and set it on the bar. He saw it, and I knew it was too much to acknowledge it. He took it in silence, quickly, without looking at me, and he disappeared downstairs—to lock it in his employee locker, I bet. When he returned, some minutes later, his eyes were red. I knew better than to explain how I’d found it. It was his now, that was what mattered.
He slid onto the barstool next to me, a boy who was beginning to act in so many ways like a man. “Sometimes I stay in his dorm room,” he confessed, almost tonelessly, staring ahead. “I’ve got the key card. It’s still activated.”
“Even after a year?”
Hatch nodded. “They kept it empty. I’m sure that’ll change come spring.”