Rob has been a lot of things in the course of his twenty-five years.
Unfortunately, “good with girls” isn’t one of them.
So when he’s on the N train late one Sunday night (or Monday morning, technically) and he spots a brown-haired girl off in the corner of the car, headphones in and foot tapping to the music only she can hear, he has absolutely no idea what to do.
And normally, it wouldn’t be an issue. He’s seen lots of cute girls over the years, and it really has been a lot - comes from living in fourteen cities by his eighteenth birthday, after all. Usually he’ll admire from afar for a minute, and then head off on his merry way. Rob doesn’t usually go out of his way to talk to people, after all.
It’s just… there’s something about this girl, and Rob can’t quite shake it. She’s hunched over, back to him and scribbling in a notebook as she taps her foot, seemingly oblivious to the world around her. He wonders where she’s going at one-thirty in the morning, and why she seems so awake. Most of their other co-passengers are asleep.
The thing is, though, that Rob feels like he has to talk to her. Like there’s some sort of connection, like he’ll be missing something vital if he doesn’t sit down in the seat beside her and interrupt whatever she is working on to say hello.
He wrestles with himself for a moment, trying to decide what to do. He knows that headphones are the universal sign for don’t talk to me and leave me alone - he’s been on enough public transit to know that much. It isn’t as if she’s sitting up and looking around the subway car, eagerly meeting anyone’s eyes that glance her way. There’s nothing in her body language at all that invites conversation with a stranger.
But the goddamn pull of her is intense. Really intense.
Rob’s just made up his mind to get up and go over there, to say screw decorum and screw transport etiquette when the subway dings.
“Eighth street – New York University,” the subway lady’s cool voice says, and the doors slide open.
The girl scrambles to grab her bag, tugs off her earphones, and dashes for the subway doors. Rob, cursing internally, springs up from his seat, desperate. He can’t lose her like this.
“Wait!” he calls before he can stop himself. The girl turns, surprised, and Rob’s eyes finally meet hers.
Suddenly he’s seeing comic book panels, presidential campaign flyers, dark subway tunnels. He’s getting flashes of felt-tip pens on strings and beige middle-school lockers. He remembers letters scrambling on kitchen tables, on signs, in bowls of alphabet soup, and the best group of friends he’d never realized he wanted.
The girl from the N train is Lenni Frazier.
Lenni gapes at him for a moment as the doors close, her expression filled with a dozen questions that he won’t get the chance to answer. “Rob!” she cries in shock, but then the subway groans to life and he’s whisked out of the station, leaving Lenni alone on the dimly lit platform.
Rob sinks back down onto his seat, stunned. He hasn’t forgotten his months with Ghostwriter and the team, of course he hasn’t – especially not now that he’s moved back to New York after graduation, the one city out of a dozen cities that he’s ever really felt at home. But it’s all sharper now, it’s all more real, and he’s forgotten how good it felt to have people have his back. How good it felt to be accepted, to really be part of something.
He leans back against the wall of the subway and sighs. Lenni must go to NYU – that explains her rush off at the eighth street stop. Can he go back and try to find her? Ask around on the street until he runs into someone who knows her? Or should he go back to Brooklyn and try and find the Fernandez’s store, try and find more of his old friends?
Or should he just leave it all well enough alone?
The subway’s almost all the way to Queens and Rob’s so tired from the back-and-forth in his brain that he’s close to nodding off himself. But a faint glow causes him to open his eyes again and try to focus on the letters suddenly arranging themselves on the subway map.
Welcome home, Rob. We missed you.
And even though there are half a dozen people on the subway with him, half a dozen people who will think he’s nuts and probably move away from him, he can’t help but smile.
Thanks, Ghostwriter, he thinks to himself. You too.