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Doug Henderson is the author of The Cleveland Heights LGBTQ Sci-Fi and Fantasy Role Playing Club, and a winner of the PEN/Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. His story, The Manga Artist, was ... [+]

Image of BART Lines - 2022
Image of Short Fiction

© Short Édition - All Rights Reserved

After rushing to catch her train, all Laura wanted was to close her eyes and zone out. She was late for work and people were crammed onto BART, but she managed to find a spot near the door where she could stand and lean into the corner. She dropped her backpack at her feet and adjusted her ear buds. The people next to her wouldn't shut up, though—two women and a guy, obviously coworkers at a startup.

"I haven't even signed a permanent contract," the guy was saying. "I just hope they offer me at least seventy, because I'm at sixty-five now and it sucks."

"I'm at seventy, so they should," said the blonde woman. Her blue bag kept rubbing against Laura's arm, that's how tightly everyone was packed into the train.

"I just got bumped up to seventy-five," said the other woman. She was shorter, with darker hair and dark eyes. "I couldn't live on seventy. I had to go to them and be like, ‘I need more if I'm going to stay here.' Even seventy-five is like, what the fuck? A coffee in this town is six bucks. How can anyone live on seventy, let alone sixty-five. God."

"I know," the guy said. "Coffee is so expensive here. Why's it so expensive?" He was sort of Laura's type, dark messy hair, a starter beard, thick-rimmed glasses, but the way he was standing—with his shoulders drooped and rounded—and the way he kept pushing up his glasses while talking in this mousey kind of way totally turned her off.

"It's expensive 'cause it's good," the blonde-haired woman said. "I used to live in Seattle, so I know. The coffee there, I mean, it's almost as good as it is here, but here is better."

Laura wasn't sure how she felt about that.

"Everything here is better," the guy said. "Because it's California."

"Because it's San Francisco," the dark-haired woman corrected. "Nothing basic can survive."

This she could agree with.

They were all slightly older than Laura, post-college, and the thought that they were the future she had to look forward to, either by working with people like them, or worse, becoming like them, put a knot in her stomach.

She still had to get through college, still had to find a real job. And then what? With the way things were going in the world, she wondered why she bothered to get out of bed some days, let alone think about her future. Would society even survive that long?

"I hope they give you at least seventy," said the dark-haired girl.

The guy replied with a smile, and for a moment he looked so sweet that Laura felt bad for him. How could such a naïve, innocent person survive in the world?

They all looked like they shopped at Urban Outfitters, or at least H&M. The guy had either bought his clothes one size too small or shrunk them in the wash. His sweatshirt rode up as he held onto the bar above him, and Laura could see a swath of his hairy stomach. Treasure trails always turned her on, embarrassingly. She tried not to look as he swayed with the motion of the train but couldn't help herself.

"I hope they at least give you a contract," said the blonde with a snort.

"Me too. I've liked working with you gals."

"I know," both girls said at once, in a cooing kind of voice that made Laura inwardly gag.

When the train arrived at Powell Station, Laura moved through the doors and away from the coworkers without giving them another glance. She wouldn't end up like them. There was no way. She wanted to travel. Maybe study dance somewhere, but somewhere cool where she'd have to push herself. Really earn it and sweat. She didn't want to work in tech and make a lot of money. She hated money, that it even existed, that people had to have piles of it to do anything.

As she climbed out of the station, she thought about making seventy thousand dollars a year, or sixty-five. Or even forty. She could do so much with forty. She walked into the coffee shop on the corner where she worked. She tucked her earbuds into her backpack as she stepped behind the counter and said hi to everyone. She wouldn't even know what to do with seventy.

She should have told that guy in the glasses with the treasure trail, that guy who couldn't live on sixty-five thousand dollars a year, she should have told him to come to her café. She'd give him coffee, free coffee. She'd give them all free coffee. Fuck the system. What did she care?

She tied on a black apron and looked at the line of customers waiting on the other side of the counter.

"Who's next?"

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