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What If It's Us

What If It's Us

Page 18

@HarriettThePie: You’re going to be fine without him, my beautiful friend. <3

Him.

Hudson doesn’t need him.

I take a screenshot of the picture and Harriett’s comment, and I text it to Jessie and Ethan. It’s him.

Holy. Shit, writes Jessie.

Whoa, nice work, Ethan chimes in. Followed by three detective emojis, two white boys and a brown girl. As if Ethan—world’s most underachieving online creeper—had anything to do with this breakthrough.

But I’m too nervous to care. I’m cranked up to a thousand. I scoot back in my bed to settle in with the app. Time to take inventory.

@HudsonLikeRiver. 694 posts. 315 followers. 241 following. His bio’s kind of bare. Huds in the house. NYC baby.

I scroll again through his pictures, all 694 of them. There’s not a single one of Box Boy, not even in a group shot, and they definitely don’t follow each other. I check the pictures other people have tagged Hudson in. No trace of Box Boy there either.

I mean, maybe this is all one giant coincidence. Just another Hudson. Another Hudson in New York who dates boys and just had a breakup.

It doesn’t feel like a coincidence.

Maybe Hudson and Box Boy deleted every single picture of each other and untagged the ones their friends posted. And of course they unfollowed each other, because they probably can’t stand the sight of each other. Which is why Box Boy was mailing the box in the first place.

Any luck? Jessie writes.

Not yet. Frowny face.

I switch over to Harriett’s profile, since she and Hudson seem close—and even if she’s all for Hudson moving on, she probably knew the ex he’s moving on from.

And. Holy shit. Four thousand posts. Seventy-five thousand followers.

Okay, so Hudson’s friend Harriett is some kind of an Instagram celebrity, and that is . . . pretty fucking cool, actually. She posts a lot of selfies with dramatically contoured cheekbones and intricate eyeliner patterns, and now I can’t stop looking through them. I’m not even a makeup guy, but it’s just so awesomely theatrical. If I didn’t think it would be next-level creepy, I’d follow the hell out of Harriett.

Except—wow. Eye on the prize, Arthur.

I scroll down to some of Harriett’s earlier posts, where there are fewer selfies and more pictures with friends. Lots with Hudson, lots with various girls, and a whole series of a guy with a beard and shimmery unicorn eye makeup. But there are group pictures, too—I pause longer on those, carefully scanning the faces. I keep scaring the crap out of myself by almost liking Harriett’s pictures. Not on purpose. It’s my self-sabotaging fingers and their unstoppable compulsion to pinch and zoom.

By now, I’ve worked my way back to March, and there’s a whole series of group pictures in the snow outside Duane Reade. Mostly action shots—a snowball fight—but I notice Hudson in the background, looking out of frame and laughing.

I swipe sideways. Same snowball fight, but the image is shifted slightly to the right. Now you can see Hudson’s laughing with a guy—but he’s blurry.

I swipe again.

And then I forget how to breathe.

Because it’s the boy. It’s actually him. Center frame, pink-cheeked and smiling self-consciously, while Hudson’s doubled over, cracking up.

Holy. Shit.

I take a screenshot and text it straight to Jessie and Ethan. No caption. No emojis.

As always, Jessie’s the first to reply. Omg Arthur, that’s him? She doesn’t wait for me to reply. He’s beautiful.

That’s a handsome dude, adds Ethan. Multiple winking emojis. Ethan Gerson: my Totally Accepting Straight Bro Friend Who Can’t Be Alone with Me. I’d be totally accepting of him shutting the fuck up.

I turn back to Harriett’s feed and scan the post for Instagram handles. A few people are tagged in the snowball series, but not Box Boy. Or Hudson. Maybe they untagged themselves. I keep scrolling.

For hours.

Every single group post. I click on every single one. I scroll through Harriett’s followers—all seventy-five thousand of them. I scroll through her follow list. I click on everyone tagged in the snowball pictures and check their followers, too.

Nothing.

And not a single other picture of Box Boy.

Still no name. Maybe Box Boy was right. Maybe the universe really is an asshole.

What I need now is chocolate. And I’m not talking about a weak drizzle of Hershey’s sauce on a waffle. I need the hard stuff, like Jacques Torres or one of those giant double-chocolate-chip Levain Bakery cookies. The classic Upper West Side dilemma: when your heart says Levain, but your lazy ass remembers there’s a candy bowl next to the coffeepot.

Emotional blue balls. That’s what it feels like. It’s being handed everything you’ve ever longed for, only for it to slip through your fingers. And there’s no way to fix it. Nothing you can do but slink toward the kitchen counter in a full-body mope.

The kitchen’s fully stocked with coffee again—I guess Dad stepped up and bought some. And it’s the nice stuff—not Starbucks. It’s French roast artisan blend from Dream & Bean—

A tiny thrum in my chest. My heart’s the first to remember.

Dream & Bean. His shirt. How could I forget about his T-shirt? If I were a detective, the chief would fire my ass right now. This is the game-changing clue, and it was right under my nose. Who even wears shirts from coffee shops?

Coffee shop employees, that’s who.

I google it so fast, I almost misspell the word “bean.” But there it is, two blocks from Mom’s office. In the direction of the post office.

All my chill vanishes.

What if what if what if—

I’m going to find him. It’s going to happen. My heart slams in my chest as I picture it. He’ll be behind the counter, bored and dreamy and adorably disheveled. I’ll walk in, in slow motion, perfectly centered in a beam of flattering light. And obviously the handlebar twins from the post office will be there too, but we’ll barely notice them this time. Our eyes will be glued to each other, his Emma Watson lips trembling. Arthur? he’ll say, and I’ll just nod. I’ll be so verklempt. I thought I’d never see you again, he’ll say. I looked everywhere for you. And I’ll whisper: You found me. And then he’ll—

But wow. Okay. I need to strategize.

Because maybe he’s off duty tomorrow. I should bring the picture, just in case. Would that be unforgivably creepy? Showing his picture to the barista?

Maybe I could hang his picture on the bulletin board, like a real-life missed connection post. Like Craigslist, but old-school. I mean, coffee shops always have bulletin boards. I think.

All I know is this: I refuse to miss this chance.

I scramble back to my room, open my laptop, and type.

Are you the boy from the post office?

I feel super awkward right now, and I can’t believe I’m doing this, but here we go.

We talked for a few minutes at the post office on Lexington. I was the guy in the hot dog tie. You were the guy mailing stuff back to your ex-boyfriend.

I loved your laugh. Wish I’d gotten your number.

Want to give me a second chance here, universe?

[email protected]

Chapter Ten

Ben

“Kool Koffee coffee is the worst,” Dylan says as we step out of Dream & Bean with a fresh cup of coffee instead of refilling his thermos in my backpack. He’s become really bitter since telling Samantha she’s his future wife the way he’d normally tell no one but me. It’s fine and cool with me, but telling the girl? When it’s only been a couple days? That was never going to play out well. “Maybe it’s for the best. Bad coffee is bad coffee, and that’s what Samantha serves. If I had future-married her, I would’ve been leading this second life of lies. I might have told her on my deathbed so I could die an honest man.”

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