The Mystery of the Smoking-Hot Punk Girl on the Q Train

Graphic: Elena Scotti (Photos: Courtesy Casey McQuiston)
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“She can’t believe a tall butch subway angel saw her crying into her coffee tits.” So begins a romance that defies space and time itself. Out today, One Last Stop is the much-anticipated follow-up to Casey McQuiston’s smash-hit first novel, Red White and Royal Blue. One Last Stop follows August, a cynical recent transplant to Brooklyn, who meets and instantly develops a monster crush on a mysterious and absolutely smoking hot woman with punk ’70s vibes named Jane, who always seems to be riding the Q train at the same time as August. What’s weird, in fact, is that Jane only ever seems to be on the Q train. In this excerpt—the latest in a summer series of romance excerpts at Jezebel—August’s horrible morning is saved by her first encounter with Jane.


August smells like pancakes.

It just doesn’t come off, no matter how many showers or quarters wasted at the twenty-four-hour laundromat. She’s only been working at Billy’s for a week, and greasy hashbrowns have bonded with her on a molecular level.

It’s definitely not coming off today, not after a graveyard shift with barely enough time to haul herself up the stairs, shrug on a clean shirt, cram the tails into a skirt, and throw herself back down them again. Even her coat smells like bacon. She’s a walking wet dream for three a.m. stoners and long-haul truckers, a pancake-and-sausage combo adrift on the wind. At least she managed to steal a jumbo coffee.

First day of classes. First day of a new school. First day of a new major.

It’s not English (her first major), or history (her second). It’s kind of psychology (third minor), but mostly it’s the same as everything else for the past four and a half years: another maybe this one, because she’s scraped together just enough course credits and loans, because she’s not sure what to do if she’s not living blue book to blue book until she dies.

Sociology it is.

Monday morning classes start at eight thirty, and she’s already memorized her commute. Down the street to the Parkside Ave. Station, Q toward Coney Island, off at Avenue H, walk two blocks. She can see the bubbles of train letters in her head. She’s hopeless with people, but she will force this city to be her goddamn friend.

August is so focused on the subway lines unfolding in her brain that she doesn’t notice the patch of ice.

The heel of her boot skids, and she hits the ground knees first, tights ripping open, one hand catching the concrete and the other crushing her coffee into her chest. The lid pops off, and coffee explodes across the front of her shirt.

“Christ on a fucking bike,” she swears as her backpack spills across the pavement. She watches helplessly as a woman in a parka kicks her phone into the gutter.

And, well. August does not cry.

She didn’t cry when she left Belle Chasse or New Orleans or Memphis. She doesn’t cry when she gets in fights with her mom, and she doesn’t cry when she misses her, and she doesn’t cry when she doesn’t miss her at all. She hasn’t cried once since she got to New York. But she’s bleeding and covered in hot coffee, and she hasn’t slept in two days, and she can’t think of a single person within a thousand miles who gives a shit, and her throat burns sharply enough to make her think, God, please, not in front of all these people.

She could skip. Drag herself back up six flights, curl up on her twin-size air mattress, try again tomorrow. She could do that. But she didn’t move across the country to let a skinned knee and a coffee-soaked bra kick her ass. As her mom would say, Don’t be a little bitch about it.

So she swallows it down. Scoops up her things. Checks her phone for new cracks. Shoulders her bag. Tugs her coat around her.

She’s gonna catch her stupid train.

The Parkside Ave. Station is above ground—big red columns, mosaic tiles, ivy creeping up the brick backs of the apartment buildings that shade the tracks—and it takes August four swipes to get through the turnstile. She finds her platform right as the Q pulls up, and she’s shouldered and elbowed onto a car with a few mercifully empty seats. She slides into one.

Okay.

For the next ten minutes, she knows exactly where she is and where she’s going. All she has to do is sit and let herself get there.

She hisses out a breath. Back in slowly through her nose. God, this train reeks.

She’s not going to cry—she’s not going to cry—but then there’s a shadow blocking the fluorescent lights, the staticky warmth of someone standing over her, bracketing her with their body and attention.

The last thing she needs is to be harassed by some pervert. Maybe if she does start crying, a full-scale Wes-dropping-out-of-Pratt level meltdown, they’ll leave her alone. She palms her pocketknife through her coat.

She looks up, expecting some scraggly man to match the long legs and ripped jeans in front of her, but instead—

Instead.

Long Legs is . . . a girl.

August’s age, maybe older, all devastating cheekbones and jawline and golden-brown skin. Her black hair is short and swoopy and pushed back from her forehead, and she’s quirking an eyebrow at August. There’s a white T-shirt tucked into the ripped jeans and a well-loved black leather jacket settled on her shoulders like she was born in it. The set of her smirk looks like the beginning of a very long story August would tell over drinks if she had any friends.

“Yikes,” she says, gesturing at August’s shirt, where the coffee stain has soaked in and spread, which is the last possible reason August wants this girl to be looking at her boobs.

The hottest girl August has ever seen just took one look at her and said, “Yikes.”

Before she can think of anything to say, the girl swings her backpack around, and August watches dumbly as she unfurls a red scarf, shoving down a pack of gum and some vintage-looking headphones.

August can’t believe she thought this motorcycle jacket model was a subway pervert. She can’t believe a tall butch subway angel saw her crying into her coffee tits.

“Here,” the girl says, handing the scarf over. “You seem like you’re going somewhere important, so.” She gestures vaguely at her neck. “Keep it.”

August blinks up at her, standing there looking like the guitarist of an all-girl punk rock band called Time to Give August an Aneurysm.

“You—oh my God, I can’t take your scarf.” The girl shrugs. “I’ll get another one.” “But it’s cold.”

“Yeah,” she says, and her smirk tugs into something unreadable, a dimple popping out on one side of her mouth. August wants to die in that dimple. “But I don’t go outside much.”

August stares.

“Look,” the subway angel says. “You can take it, or I can leave it on the seat next to you, and it can get absorbed into the subway ecosystem forever.”

Her eyes are bright and teasing and warm, warm forever- and-ever brown, and August doesn’t know how she could possibly do anything but whatever this girl says.

The knit of the scarf is loose and soft, and when August’s fingertips brush against it, there’s a pop of static electricity. She jumps, and the girl laughs under her breath.

“Anybody ever tell you that you smell like pancakes?”

The train plunges into a tunnel, shuddering on the tracks, and the girl makes a soft “whoa” sound and reaches for the handrail above August’s head. The last thing August catches is the slightly crooked cut of her jaw and a flash of skin where her shirt pulls loose before the fluorescents flicker out.

It’s only a second or two of darkness, but when the lights come back on, the girl is gone.

From One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston. Copyright © 2021 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

DISCUSSION

nameiwillregret
IRegertNothing

I clicked on this fully expecting it to be about a formerly kickass punk girl who was radicalized by Qanon.

Somebody please tell me that I’m not the only one.