“I’m not trying to be a jerk. It’s just that I’ve been getting lots of responses from random people, and—I guess I need to know it’s really you.”
He pauses. “Well, I don’t remember the piercing.”
“But I can send you a selfie if you want. And you were wearing that hot dog tie. And there was a flash mob and those twin guys wearing rompers and I think I called you a tourist? Oh, and you mentioned your Jewish uncle—”
“Milton.” My heart is thudding.
“Right.” Then he seems to stop short. “So it’s you.”
For a moment, I’m speechless.
“I’m kind of flipping out,” I say finally.
“Yeah. This is weird.”
It’s beyond weird. It’s astonishing. It’s the New York moment of my dreams. The lovers are reunited. Cue the orchestra. Box Boy is real.
He’s real. And he’s Ben. And he found me.
“I can’t believe this. I told you the universe isn’t an asshole. I told you!”
“I guess the universe did do us a solid.”
“No kidding.” I grin into my phone. “So now what?”
He pauses. “What do you mean?”
Oh shit. Okay. Maybe he doesn’t want to meet. Maybe this is it. This call. It’s the end of the line for us. Maybe he was interested until he heard me on the phone. Because I talk too fast. Ethan told me that once. He asked me, When do you even breathe?
“What do I mean?” I ask finally.
“I mean . . . Do you want to hang out again?” He says it just like that. Emphasis on “you.” As if I haven’t made that crystal clear. Like, come on, my dude. I put up a poster to find you. I think you know where I stand.
“Do you—” I start to ask, but now we’re both speaking at once. I blush. “You go first.”
“Oh, it’s just.” I almost hear him bite his lower lip. “I gotta ask. Are those your real eyes?”
“Those are contacts, right?”
“I wear . . . clear contacts.”
“So, your eyes are that blue.”
“I guess so?”
“Huh,” he says. “That’s really cool.”
“Um. Thank you?”
He laughs. And then falls silent.
“So . . . ,” I say.
“Right.” He pauses. “So how do we do this?”
“Arthur?” calls my dad.
I slide quickly out of bed, nudge my door shut, and lock it. “How do we do what?”
“The hanging-out thing. Should we—”
“Yeah,” I say, too quickly. Deep breath. “I mean. If you want.”
“Sure,” Ben says. “Want to grab coffee?”
Coffee. Really? I mean, technically, yes. I’d grab coffee with Ben. I’d sit in traffic with Ben and hang out with him at the DMV. But this feels bigger than coffee. I’m pretty sure this is fate. Like we were meant to meet, meant to lose each other, and meant to find each other all over again. So this date has to be extraordinary. This date needs scavenger hunts and carriage rides and fireworks and Ferris wheels.
God, imagine us holding hands on a Ferris wheel.
“What about Coney Island?” I blurt.
“What about it?”
“Like as our first . . . destination. For hanging out.”
For a moment, we’re both silent.
“Coney Island?” he asks finally.
“It’s an old-timey amusement park.”
“Yeah, I know what Coney Island is,” he says. “That’s where you want to go?”
“No—I mean, not necessarily. Not unless you want to.” I drum on my bed frame.
“I mean, we can . . .”
“No, it’s fine!” I take a breath. “Why don’t you pick?”
“You want me to plan our . . . date?”
Date! He said it. Holy shit. It’s a date. This is legit. He’s romantically interested, and I’m romantically interested, which means this is actually, finally happening. An actual date with an actual boy. This is possibly, definitely the number one best thing that’s ever happened to me. And I have no chill about it. None whatsoever.
I should breathe.
“That’s fine,” I say calmly. SUPER COOL. MEGA CHILL. I shrug. “If you want.”
“Yeah, that works. So. Okay. Are you free tomorrow at, like, eight?”
“Eight p.m. Yup!”
I can’t stop smiling. I’m just. God. I have a date.
“Okay, I think I have an idea,” he says slowly. “But I’ll surprise you. Want to meet outside the subway at Times Square? Main entrance.”
“That sounds good.”
And by good, I mean great. I mean exquisitely perfect. I mean I’m living in a Broadway musical. THIS IS AN ACTUAL BROADWAY MUSICAL.
“Okay. See you then.”
We hang up. And for a full minute, I sit frozen, staring at the screen of my phone.
I have a date. A date. With Ben. I’m dating Ben. And dear God. Dear universe. Holy fucking shit.
I cannot mess this up.
Saturday, July 14
It’s almost time for my first date. Well, first date with Arthur.
It’s 7:27 and I should start getting out the door. I throw on the black T-shirt Ma insisted on ironing. My parents are standing by the door as Dylan follows me out of my bedroom, where he’s been hitting me with decent pep talk the past half hour. He only told me to think with my dick once. Improvement.
Dylan circles me while scratching his chin. “I sign off on this look.”
“Thanks,” I say. “Let’s go.”
“Wait, I want a photo of you two,” Ma says as she runs into the kitchen.
“Why both of them?” Pa asks. “Dylan isn’t his date.”
Ma returns with her phone. “His best friend came all the way from home.”
“Five blocks,” Pa says.
“It’s Ben’s first date. This is an Instagram moment.” Ma’s Instagram profile is classic Ma. She heavily filters photos of meals and selfies. She’s a total abuser of hashtags. #It #Is #Really #Hard #To #Read #Entire #Captions #Like #This. She noticed when I stopped following her.
“It’s not my first date,” I say. If you scroll back six months, Ma still has the photo of my first date with Hudson. We had gone to a comedy show that was uncomfortably homophobic. Hudson pulling me into our first kiss was the perfect middle finger to that comedian. And just perfect.
Ma stares me down. “You can keep correcting me or you can take the photo and leave.”
Dylan stands in front of me, wrapping my arms around him prom-style. I smile and roll with it.
“Perfect.” Ma takes her photo. “Thank you!” She kisses both of us on the cheek, sits down on the kitchen stool, and gets to work on her magical caption.
“Have fun, weirdos.” Pa sneaks me some extra cash the way a drug dealer hands off a dime bag. He kisses me on the forehead and hugs Dylan. “Ben, home by ten thirty. Dylan, home whenever the hell you want, you don’t live here.”
“Yet.” Dylan winks on his way out.
I close the door behind us.
I’m speed-strolling to the subway instead of speed-walking because sweating through my shirt will not be a good look. We get to the station, swipe our way through, and I stand at the yellow edge of the platform to see if the L train is approaching. It’s not. I’ll be ten minutes late, that’s fine. Fifteen tops. Still not bad for me—there were times when I was thirty minutes late with Hudson. Puerto Rican time is a joke, but it’s also a real thing with Team Alejo. I wouldn’t have racked up as many detention slips for lateness if it wasn’t. For Thanksgiving, Títi Magda always tells the family to show up at two knowing we won’t get there until four, which is the actual time the kitchen will be ready. It’ll be fine.