“Are you sure you don’t want me to hang around and observe the date?” Dylan asks. “Good ol’ Digby Whitaker has no problem skipping his movie.”
“I will strangle Digby with arcade tickets if he shows his face.”
We’re going uptown to Times Square. Dylan is going to see some horror movie while I hit up Dave & Buster’s with Arthur. The L train arrives and we ride it to Union Square. We switch to the N train, which is waiting on the platform for passengers transferring.
“So,” Dylan says. “A lot of pressure tonight, huh?”
“Literally the last thing I want to hear before a date. Before anything.”
“I’m just saying. You guys have this epic beginning.”
“I know that, but . . . I’m trying to be somewhat realistic here.”
It’s weird how six days ago I met Arthur at a post office and the universe reached out with both arms to pull us together. Still, I never move at this speed. Hudson and I were friends for months before he charmed me into taking it to a different level with him.
But Arthur? I barely know him. I guess that’s any relationship. You start with nothing and maybe end with everything.
We’re minutes away from showtime, and I’m kind of freaking out.
How do people even do this? It’s not like I’m the first almost-seventeen-year-old to go on a date. People date in Georgia. But back home, that means someone paying for your Zaxby’s, not Saturday night at Times fucking Square.
“You look great.” Dad catches my eye in the mirror. “Untuck your shirt.”
“It’s supposed to be like this.”
“Mmm. I don’t think so.”
I peer at my reflection. I don’t know what to think. I’m wearing a blue plaid button-down shirt, half tucked in like a J.Crew model. Like a really short J.Crew model. I’m wearing a belt, too, and I ironed my jeans. It’s highly possible that this is the best I’ve ever looked. Either that or the douchiest. It could go either way.
Dad sniffs. “Are you wearing perfume?”
“Wow. Art. So this is fancy.”
“No! I mean. I don’t know.” I press my hair down, and it springs back up immediately. I have that messy brown Jew hair, just like my parents. I should dig up some gel. I could go full Draco Malfoy.
“You might want to tone it down a little, don’t you think?”
“Dad. It’s a first date.”
“Yes. Which is why you should probably tone it down.”
“No. Okay. I don’t think you . . .” I trail off, suddenly realizing I forgot to buy breath mints. And I’m not talking Tic Tacs. I need the hard stuff. I need Altoids. I’ve already brushed my teeth six times, gargled mouthwash, and googled How do you know if you have old-man breath. Seriously, what if he kisses me, and it’s like kissing Uncle Milton? What if my first kiss and last kiss are the SAME KISS? I need a guidebook for this. I need a fairy godmother.
“So where is he taking you?” Dad asks.
“I have no idea.”
I mean, I have theories. Not that I’ve given this a lot of thought or anything. Not that I was up all night mapping it out in my head. But okay. We’re meeting in Times Square, which is the most iconic New York spot ever, so he’s clearly going for that big-city, big-date vibe. It’s probably too early in the relationship for a Broadway show, even with a TKTS booth discount, but I could see us doing Madame Tussauds. I would love that. We’d take tons of pictures, in case we ever need to trick people into thinking we know famous people. First kiss would happen next to my birthday twin and forever president, Barack Obama. Or maybe Ben’s going for more of a classic rom-com feel, like a trip to the top of the Empire State Building. I’d be cool with that. More than cool.
There’s a twist of a key, and our front door creaks open. “Anyone home?”
“In Arthur’s room,” calls Dad.
“Oh wow,” Mom says, appearing in my doorway. “All dressed up for your big date.”
“Oh.” I blush to my hairline. “It’s not . . .”
“You look great, sweetie. Tuck in your shirt.”
“Or untuck it,” Dad says.
“He’s going on a date, not bingeing Simpsons reruns.”
“Yeah, but he’s already wearing a collared shirt and cologne.”
Mom looks pointedly at Dad’s sweatpants. “Right, God forbid he make an effort—”
“Welp. Gotta go,” I say loudly. I’m out the door so quickly, it’s like I’m breaking out of prison. I’m flushed and practically buzzing with nerves. I don’t think I actually breathe until I step onto the sidewalk.
I peek at my phone. No texts from Ben. But that’s good. It means he hasn’t canceled.
It means I’m walking to the subway. It means I’m riding to Times Square.
It means it’s seven thirty on a Saturday night, and I’m four stops away from the first act of my love story.
It’s 8:11 when we reach the stop. Dylan wishes me good luck with my future husband as I race half a block down to the main entrance of the Times Square train station. It’s a Saturday night in summer, so this block is a nexus of tourists plus New Yorkers who made poor life choices that landed them here. There are police officers and men dressed as the Avengers standing underneath the giant subway sign that’s lit up like the billboards for Broadway shows, American Eagle Outfitters, and more. And there’s Arthur, half the size of the dude dressed up as Captain America. His shirt is half tucked in and he’s staring at his phone, sneaking looks around every two seconds. He’s looking for me.
“Hey,” I call.
Arthur almost drops his phone. “Hey,” he says. Blushing. Startled, I guess.
I go in for a handshake and he’s coming in for a hug. “Oh. Sorry.” I go in for the hug this time and he extends his hand and almost grazes the Ben Juniors. I grab his forearm before he can pull away and shake his hand. Great start. He smells nice, at least. Cologne. I didn’t even shampoo.
“Thought you were ghosting for a second,” Arthur says.
“Yeah, sorry. I’m usually right on time or super late. I thought I had it under control tonight though,” I say. Ten minutes is nothing compared to how late I’ve been in the past.
“I thought I was going to have to put up another poster to find you,” Arthur says. He cringes and shrugs, which scores a smile out of me. “So where are we going?” He talks a lot, which I’m fine with, and he’s not good at maintaining eye contact, which sucks because I want to stare at his electric blue eyes. Punch me in the face if I ever compare them to the sky or the ocean, because they’re much cooler than that.
“Just right up here,” I say. A vendor on the corner is selling water bottles, candy, and newspapers, and I stop real fast to get Skittles since they double as an appetizer and breath mint. “I’m still feeling burned after green apple was replaced by lime.”
“She was still sexy though.”
“The green Skittle. I’ve got some really gay DNA, but even I get it. She was strutting around in all those commercials and getting the red and yellow Skittles all riled up.”