This short story forms part of our Six Tales of Christmas series. Learn about the authors and find more exclusive fiction here.
“Is she still there?”
“Yeah, but the third drink’s pretty much drunk.”
Jaime and Kim both smirked and looked back at the bathroom entrance, wondering. They’d been stranded here, at Grand Central Terminal on Christmas Eve, since early afternoon, which sounded like the beginning of one of those great holiday movies where two people fall in love overnight and make out in front of iconic New York buildings, but instead of seeing anyone cute, they’d just seen each other. Even so, it was nice to see a familiar face, especially one that you knew had also just been laid off. That made things a lot easier.
Behind that bathroom door a girl sat slouched against the fat, padded fingers of the giant baseball mitt chair that had somehow staked a claim to the small vestibule between the men’s and women’s bathrooms. There were two of those brown leather chairs, along with a couch shaped like a pair of red lips in the women’s bathroom – Eighties kitsch that never failed to delight Kim.
The girl? She was a million dollar vagrant shielded by obnoxious dark sunglasses, draped in cashmere and leather. And she was crying. That was the more extraordinary part, in a city where toughness was a moral code, she was just letting her tears fall out in the open. Well, in a bathroom, but the Grand Central Oyster Bar was packed so these were basically public tears.
It was enough to make Jaime want to join in even if she didn’t really have that much to cry about. Her parents weren’t even mad at her for getting laid off and she’d picked up waitress hours immediately, but still, everything to come just felt so shaky.
Saina knew they were watching, those two girls perched on stools at the Oyster Bar almost as long as she’d been out here, unable to move, unable to think of any other place to go. They looked like they were just out of college, still in love with New York and trying to delay their journeys to suburban homes – she caught glimpses of them as the door swung open and shut, laughing and ordering up platters of raw clams. If only the world were still like that for her, untouched and unknown. She held up her glass. Down went the rest of the martini and the final olive, which she chewed at, angry.
“I love this place,” said Kim, subtly shifting her bag to the right to claim back some of the counter space that the business-suited man next to her had colonized. “It’s like being in Harry Potter world–”
“–oh, like that grand dining hall at Hogwarts meets Platform 9 ¾!”
“With a little extra holiday despair.” Actually, even though Kim and her family barely celebrated Christmas and she had protested it briefly in seventh grade as a capitalist con, she thought New York was magic around the holidays. The despair just made the lights twinkle harder.
Jaime swirled the ice in her glass. “Hey, do you think the men’s bathroom has that too?”
“Or any kind of special couch?”
“Like what? A baseball bat?”
Jaime laughed. “A dill pickle? Those are both New York-y options.”
“Uh oh,” remembered Kim, “what time is it?”
“I don’t know, nine? What time’s our train?”
“9.45. OK good we still have a little time. Oh, I know what we should do – let’s make predictions for 2008!”
“Yes! I like this! Umm, I think Beyoncé’s just going to get huger.”
“More than Rihanna?”
Jaime side-eyed her. “Girl.”
“OK yeah,” laughed Kim, “but Riri’s more… without rules. I like it.”
“That’s not what keeps you on top,” said Jaime, whiskey-wise.
“Man, we should have been friends when we worked together!”
Jaime felt warmed by that declaration and nodded. “I know, right? We could have been doing this every night – getting wasted and stalking some bathroom girl.”
“Oh my god, I can’t show up like this, my parents will freak out!” Jaime jumped off her seat and scurried back through the bathroom door. A second later she came out again, a palm against a rosy cheek, her worst fears confirmed.
They looked at each other and smiled. “Asian girls,” they said, and it was at once a joke, an explanation, a password, an affirmation.
“It’ll fade on the train. We’ll just press cold things against it,” said Kim, reassuring.
Jaime laughed, resigned. “BTW, she hasn’t even changed position.”
“Maybe she’s like, an oracle or something.”
“Blinded by tears?”
“Exactly!” said Kim. “Should we go ask her to tell us our fates?”
They both wriggled into place in the seat across from her, a pile of fuzzy hoods and heavy boots.
Finally, one of them spoke. “You’re still crying.”
Saina shrugged. It was true. She didn’t want it to be, but it was. “I have a lot to cry about.”
“Boyfriend? Or holiday stuff?”
“Fiancé and career stuff.”
“Oh…” they said together, nodding as if they understood.
One of them started again. “This is dumb but we thought maybe… well… you kind of feel like a fortune teller or something.”
That, finally, made Saina laugh. They reminded her of her siblings, and for a moment she missed them and wished she’d gone home for Christmas after all. “I can’t even figure out what’s going on in my own life.” They huddled closer on the chair, still fascinated. She wasn’t going to give them a prediction, but maybe she could give them something. “Do you guys know the secret of the columns outside the restaurant?” They shook their heads.
“They’re whispering columns. If you stand at diagonal ones you can hear each other whisper.” They nodded, looking confused. She felt annoyed now. What did she owe them, anyways? Pulling her sunglasses back on, she said, “Go. Go tell each other’s fates.”
Kim and Jaime joined hands and walked out through the saloon, a crowded back room that led to the bar where all the seafood pan roasts were made, sending delicious, briny scents wafting up to the gorgeous arched and tiled ceilings. So many of the last-minute travellers carried bags full of gifts, brightly wrapped boxes that peeked through giant totes. The best kind of holiday chaos.
They left the restaurant, into the terminal, then looked at each other.
“Should we do it?”
“Why not? It’s totally cheesy, but why not?”
They headed to their opposite corners and Jaime thought hard. What would Kim be? What could she say that would be generous and cool and maybe true?
Suddenly, she heard a whisper. “Hey, let’s not tell each other’s fates. Let’s tell our own.”
“Yes,” she whispered. And then she smiled and felt her hot cheek press against the cold concrete. That, she realised, was what she’d wanted to do all along. “Yes, yes, yes.”
The Wangs Vs The World by Jade Chang (£14.99, Fig Tree) is out now
Illustration: Clym Evernden