“Baby, what are you doing?” Miranda’s mother Ericka interrupted Miranda from her trance causing her to drop her dishes to the floor.
“Honey, I'll get that,” Miranda’s mother said, pushing her out of the door, “this is your party. Stop fiddling with your amulet. You’ll break it.”
Miranda exited the kitchen and entered her busy living room full of her former peers still dawning their cap and gowns. Her closest friends, Chi Chi, Aynez and Skyler were taking turns taking pictures with their entire families. Miranda maneuvered her way through the crowd hoping that the girls wouldn’t see her. She was lucky enough to get away from them but, not from her boyfriend Derrick. Derrick stood coyly against a wall filled with photos of Miranda and her family, with his now former football teammates. Miranda had just made it to her staircase when she caught Derrick’s eye.
Miranda froze and turned around slowly to face him. Derrick motioned for Miranda to join him and his friends and Miranda’s heart sunk to the floor.
“I have to...my mom said she needs me to...just give me a few minutes, okay?”
“It'll be real quick”, Derrick said unwilling to take no for an answer. “Just do whatever later.”
Miranda slowly made her way to Derrick who immediately took Miranda into his arms.
“Everyone wants to know what’s next for us.”
Miranda smiled sheepishly and attempted to break away from Derrick’s hold but, he wouldn’t let her. Miranda realized that not only did she have the eyes of the entire team but, everyone in the room seemed to be waiting to hear her answer.
“I...um”, Miranda started.
“We’re going to college together”, Derrick announced.
The entire room lit up with excitement as several of Derrick’s former teammates congratulated the pair. Derrick and Miranda’s parents were watching them, their eyes gleaming with excitement for what was to come for their children. As if they could see Derrick and Miranda’s entire future together at this moment. Miranda felt like she was going to be sick.
Derrick started explaining their process for picking a college and Miranda took the opportunity to excuse herself and go to her room.
Miranda ran into her room, her heart was beating so fast she thought she would pass out. She started to lay down and relax when she heard a knock on the door.
“Miranda, are you alright in there?” Miranda’s mother asked.
“Yeah” Miranda responded, her voice cracking.
“I’ll send everyone home soon. We need to wake up early tomorrow so we can start working on more scholarships.”
“Okay,” Miranda said.
“I don’t want you getting used to having days off. You need to set an example for that crazy boy downstairs! He’s telling everyone you two are dorming together.”
Miranda’s mom walked away chuckling and Miranda laid her head on her pillow and cried.
Two hours had passed since the party had ended and Miranda’s mother was already fast asleep. Ericka was more than happy to send everyone home after Miranda didn’t come back downstairs, because it allowed her to clean the kitchen well before midnight. Miranda laid in bed staring at the ceiling. She checked her phone and saw five messages from Derrick and three from her group chat. She didn’t bother reading any of them. Miranda got up and walked to her mirror. She had completely matted her hair to her head because she forgot to wrap it before laying down. With a small sigh, she put on a head wrap and got dressed in sweatpants and a tee shirt. She checked her drawers to make sure she had everything she wanted and opened her toy ATM, taking out a stack of money. Miranda took her backpack out of her closet and stuffed her money underneath her jeans. Before leaving her room, she looked in her mirror one last time, staring at the curse she wore around her neck. Without thinking, she took off the amulet and placed it on her desk. The room immediately began to tremble around her. Her vision blurred and a low whining sound slowly turned into a sharp scream. She looked in the mirror again and her skin had tightened, the hands were already so then, she could hear the rattling of her bones. Tears filled her eyes as she saw a hole open within the ground behind her. The screaming, now so loud she thought she would lose her hearing. Unable to take it any longer, Miranda put her amulet back on and it seemed to choke her tighter this time. The room stopped shaking, the screaming stopped, her skin loosened to its original state and she wiped her eyes. She put her sneakers on and left her room.
Miranda crept down the hallway and peeked her head into the crack in her mother’s door. Ericka was sound asleep. Miranda slowly closed the door and went into her living room. She looked around the house one last time and checked her phone: 12:18 AM.
“Goodbye, Philadelphia,” Miranda whispered into her dark, empty living room. She sighed one last time and walked out of the front door.
Miranda was awaken again to the sound of her bus screeching to a halt. As soon as the bus stopped, everyone got up and started getting their bags from the overhead. Miranda picked her backpack off of the floor and got off the bus. She looked around curiously as this was not the part of New York she expected. She put Times Square into her GPS and tried to find her hotel herself.
She bought a MetroCard and boarded a train. She looked around confused and worried she had boarded the wrong train. It wasn’t until she arrived in Brooklyn, that she realized she was right.
Tired and lost somewhere in Brooklyn, Miranda wandered the streets searching for somewhere to settle, or at least get something to eat. The sun was coming up soon and she hadn’t even found a place to settle.
“Yo,” a guy called to Miranda from across the street. She started walking faster and decided to go into a building until the sun came up. She spotted a teen nightclub that was still flashing brightly with fluorescent colors at the time of night. She slipped inside, showed her I.D. and stumbled over to an empty booth, dropping her backpack on the floor. Miranda looked around the venue, surprised that so many people were still awake and dancing.
“This is New York,” she mumbled to herself.
She put her head in her hands and yawned. She could have gone to sleep there when she realized that a figure was standing over her.
“Do you mind if I sit here” the voice slurred, “I’m just waiting for someone and I don’t want to sit alone.”
Miranda nodded and slid over in the booth.
“I’m Jack by the way” Jack announced, reeking of weed and alcohol, “They/them pronouns.”
“Miranda.” Miranda said, groggily, “...She/her.” Jack nodded to the beat of the annoying house music.
“So, uh”, Jack said getting a bit too close, “Are you waiting for someone?”
“I’m actually...I should be getting to my hotel soon,” Miranda said wearily, reminding herself not to give this stranger too much information.
“Oh okay, a tourist. Where are you staying?” Jack inquired.
“Nearby”, Miranda replied, slightly annoyed by the tourist comment.
“Oh, cool,” Jack moved away from Miranda and looked around the club again. Their eyes laid on a group of people on the dancefloor, dancing with full energy despite how late it was.
“Actually, I should get going” Jack stood up and looked over at Miranda who was now looking at them with the slightest amount of curiosity.
“What about your friend?” Miranda asked and received an indifferent shrug from Jack.
“It’s pretty late, I guess. You’ll probably want to get going too. You have a pretty long ride ahead of you” Jack said, adjusting their hat.
“Oh yeah? How do you figure that?”
“There are no hotels around here.”
Miranda’s eyes widened for the first time since she had been in the club. She was so tired she had forgot she was dealing with a New Yorker.
“Look, there are some hotels near where I’m staying” Jack continued, “I can take you near one of those...it’s on my way.”
“I’m just supposed to trust you? A complete stranger?”
Jack shrugged indifferently again and started to back away from the table, “I mean, I guess you can do what you want. I don’t think this place likes nappers who don’t at least buy something first.”
Jack continued towards the door when Miranda called after them. Jack pivoted on their heels and walked towards Miranda who met them halfway.
“You’ll take me right to the hotel?”
Jack nodded and pulled a cigarette out of their pocket.
“Alright”, Miranda said slowly, “Thanks.”
“Why are you here in the middle of the night anyway” Jack said, sitting across from Miranda on the train. Miranda was now slouching over her backpack, it was not such a great idea to come to travel so late after all.
“I needed a getaway and it was the only way to get out without my mom knowing” Miranda admitted.
Jack checked the time.
“Where are you coming from?”
“Philadelphia” Miranda yawned.
“Where in Philadelphia?” Jack squinted.
“Mount Airy” Miranda squinted back, “What's with all the questions?”
“To see if I know where I live?”
“Well you didn't know where you were going.”
“Oh whatever. You lied too.”
“When did I lie?” Jack said incredulously.
“Please! You were waiting for someone? No one called you. You didn't call anyone when we left to tell them you were leaving. What were you doing out so late?”
Jack was staring past Miranda’s head.
“This is our stop” Jack said getting up.
Miranda followed suit and they got off of the train. The lighting was not much better where they were now than it was near the club. The only light on the block was the glow of the hotel at the end of the block. Miranda decided against asking Jack why they were out so late again so, they instead walked in silence.
Jack walked Miranda straight to the hotel as promised and stood in the lobby as she approached the desk. Miranda turned around faced Jack again, who seemed to finally be getting tired as the effects of the drugs and alcohol weakened. Miranda turned back to her desk and glanced at the fake I.D. hiding within her phone case. She turned back around and walked towards Jack.
“I lost my fake I.D.”, She tried to sound defeated.
“What does that mean?”
“They only book 21 and up right”, Miranda rolled her eyes, sounding annoyed with herself.
Jack turned around and looked at the sign behind the front desk and sure enough, it read 21 and over only.
“I...don’t know know you can”, Jack fumbled with their phone, “You really were betting on a fake I.D. to stay out here?”
“The hotel I was supposed to stay at was 18 years and older.”
“There aren’t very many hotels around here,” Jack started to back away from Miranda.
“Well, do you think your parents…”
“No. I don’t...I don’t live with them.”
“Well, can I crash on the couch of your place”, Miranda seemed to have already decided she was going wherever Jack was. If she was going to get around the city, she was going to need them.
“Yeah”, Jack said, “I guess.”
Jack turned around without another word to Miranda. Leading her to the front door and around two blocks over to a nearby apartment complex.
“I thought you lived around the corner”, Miranda asked but, Jack didn’t bother to respond.
Jack pushed a doorbell outside of the building and the door unlocked from them. Miranda followed Jack into the poorly lit apartment hallway until they stopped at a door at the very end of the hall. Jack didn’t even have to knock as a small, plucky girl with brown almond-shaped eyes and porcelain skin, wearing a long pink nightgown stood.
“Back again I see”, she smirked, “And you’ve brought...a friend. Did I ever tell you how much I love when you bring guests unannounced?”
“Well, seeing as though this is the first time, I don’t think you have”, Jack stepped inside and Miranda followed suit.
“I’m Mei, by the way”, Mei smiled at Miranda, “Our friend here doesn’t even bother with a simple introduction.”
“I was getting to that”, Jack defended, “Mei this is Miranda, Miranda…”
“She got that part.”
Miranda snorted and Jack rolled their eyes.
“Miranda is a tourist, she’s looking for somewhere to stay tonight”, Jack told Mei.
“I’m glad you thought of my place”, Mei said sarcastically, “You can sleep in my room and Jack can take the floor tonight. I love your necklace! It has like this glow. Where did you get it? I’ve been looking for something like that for years.”
“A family friend”, Miranda smiled weakly.
“Do you mind if I try it on”, Mei asked. Miranda defensively grabbed at her neck and Jack stepped in between Miranda and Mei.
“Thanks for letting her stay, Mei. She’s pretty tired. I think we should all just get some rest.”
“Oh right, it’s late”, Mei placed her palm on her head as if she had forgot.
“Thank you so much”, Miranda said, yawning.
“I’ll get you set up”, Mei nodded understandingly, “The middle of the night is my middle of the day.”
Mei left the room, leaving Jack and Miranda alone together. Jack yawned and took off their hat. Underneath it, laid thick black curls. For the first time since they had met, Miranda could really see Jack. Jack’s complexion was a shade or two lighter than her mocha brown skin. They were tall and lanky with dark, tired eyes and full lips. Dressed almost completely in black, with the exception of the tan colored bandages that covered Jack’s hands. Jack must have felt Miranda’s eyes on them because they started to squirm.
“I’m going to go try that floor out”, Jack said with their eyes on the floor, “You need anything else...ask Mei.” Jack glanced up at Miranda, gave her a light smile and disappeared into the room just past the kitchen.
Not too long after, Mei came in with a comforter, a bed sheet and a pillow.
“You can take a shower and get changed in the bathroom...or do it in the morning”, Mei said.
“Thank you again”, Miranda nodded with gratitude.
“Oh, no problem”, Mei grinned, “I’m always taking in stray cats these days.”
Mei waved goodnight and turned around, disappearing in the same room Jack did down the hall. Miranda went into the bathroom, showered and slipped into a different pair of sweatpants before finally laying down on Mei’s couch. She looked up at the ceiling wondering how much longer she had before her mother had woken up and realized she was gone. Pushing it out of her mind, she rolled over and looked out of the window, wondering if she would stay here for long.
The next morning she had woken up to Mei’s apartment completely quiet. She checked her phone to find the same text messages but, nothing yet from her mother. Odd, it was almost noon. Miranda hadn’t been able to sleep long, still realizing what she had done. She slipped into the night and ran away from home after her graduation party.
She got up and got ready in the bathroom and folded Mei’s comforter and sheets when Mei came out of her room looking reborn.
“Did you get any sleep last night”, Mei asked, surprised to see that Miranda was already dressed and the couch was returned to its original state.
“Here and there”, Miranda shrugged.
“It wasn’t the couch was it!”
“No! No, the couch was fine. Thank you again. I just had a lot on my mind”, Miranda said.
“Oh…”, Mei stared curiously at Miranda, “We’re not dating you know. Jack and I.”
“I didn’t think that at all”, Miranda defended herself, “We’re not...I mean...It’s not like that. We just met last night. Jack was just helping me out.”
“Oh okay”, Mei began fumbling around in the kitchen, “Yeah, that’s Jack. Helpful when high.”
As if hearing their name, Jack came stumbling out of Mei’s room looking more sickly and tired than the night before. Jack walked straight over to Mei.
“I got you”, Mei screamed into Jack’s ear, torturing them for their hangover.
Jack stumbled back, smiling until they saw Miranda sitting on the couch. Jack looked as though they had no idea who Miranda was for a second, before walking towards her as though she was a part of a dream they realized was real.
“You getting going soon?”
“Um”, Miranda said taken aback, “Yeah. In a few…”
“Minutes?” Jack asked, seeming incredibly desperate for her to leave.
“Jack”, Mei said from the kitchen.
“No it’s fine, Mei”, Miranda defended, “I was leaving anyway.”
Miranda quickly gathered her bag and Jack returned to Mei in the kitchen.
“Bye”, Miranda said, heading for the door.
“Bye! Nice meeting you”, Mei called after her. Jack said nothing and Miranda slipped out of the door.
Miranda walked out of the apartment building confused about what just happened. Jack seemed like a ghost of the person she met yesterday. She thought she could ask them to help her get back to Manhattan but, they seemed to want nothing to do with her.
Miranda retraced her steps from the night before to at least get back to the train. She waited on the platform for the train to come and pulled her phone out of her pocket. She had forgotten to charge it and it was now on thirteen percent and flashed three missed calls from her mother.
Miranda put her phone back in her pocket and her head in her hands, trying to figure out how she would find the hotel on time.
“You lost again”, Miranda looked up to find Jack leaning over her.
“What are you doing here”, Miranda asked.
Jack sat down next to Miranda and the two looked ahead at the tracks for a moment.
“I’m sorry”, Jack shrugged, “I know what it’s like to have nowhere to go.”
“It’s fine”, Miranda said, “Last night was weird. We don’t know each other.”
“Yeah”, Jack nodded slowly, “But doesn’t it feel like we’re supposed to?”
Miranda stared ahead at the tracks without responding. She wondered why she left the hotel in preference to going with Jack. She wondered why she felt comfortable enough to do that.
“What are you doing here”, Jack asked her.
“Just passing through.”
“Where are you going”, Jack asked, staring at the ground. The train pulled up to the platform and Miranda stood up.
“I don’t know.”
Miranda started towards the train.
“Can I come with you”, Jack asked from behind her. Miranda turned to Jack, their eyes locking.
“All stops to Manhattan”, The train echoed behind Miranda.