I pop some Skittles.
“Want to play air hockey?” Arthur asks. “I promise you’ll come in first.”
Or I’ll end up in the hospital when Arthur sends a rogue striker my way.
“Let’s do the claw machine,” I say. “But we’ll make it interesting.”
He follows me into the corner. We’re not playing for any stuffed Pokémon, screw that.
“Interesting? Like strip poker interesting? I hope I’m wearing the right underwear for this,” Arthur says.
“Do you have wrong underwear, in general?”
“We all have our laundry-day underwear,” Arthur says.
“Truth. Well, your pants are staying on for this challenge.” There’s a claw machine for jewelry. Pretty necklaces, ugly bracelets, fake diamond rings, and so on. “Whatever we win, the other one has to wear. Game?”
“I’ll go first,” I say. Might help him to see someone else play. “That jeweled necklace in the corner will go nicely with your eyes.” I get moving with the claw, holding my hand on the lever while peeking around the case—this is good. I press the button and the claw reaches down, expands, hits the case, and is thrown off completely. It returns with nothing. “This is not my day.”
“I wouldn’t say that. Good chance you’ll have a wonderful accessory in the next minute or so.”
Arthur points at a necklace with a bejeweled peace sign the size of my iPhone. He gets the claw going and surveys the case from all angles—crouches, tiptoes, shifts left, shifts right, adjusts the claw, rinse and repeat—and hits the button. The claw scoops up the necklace and deposits it.
Arthur retrieves the necklace and smiles. “You won a necklace!”
“Did you just hustle me?”
He’s laughing—impish, alien hustler. “You chose the game.”
“That’s what makes it such a brilliant hustle. I mean, you can’t even get a basketball in a big-ass hoop, but you can grab a tiny necklace with a claw?”
“I have a very particular set of skills,” Arthur says, quoting Taken, which gets him a dozen cool points. “I’m sort of a god when it comes to claw machines.” He closes the space between us, staring at the floor before looking at me and holding up the necklace. “Okay. Peace time.”
He’s close to my face and I think about how kissing him will be awkward. Not this second, though that would be awkward too. Way too early. Talking about the height difference. Hudson and I were on an even playing field, and Arthur is not at my level. That sounds bad. And I hate that I think about this, but I do. I can’t help it if height is important for me. The way other people refuse to date someone who plays in a band or someone whose geekiness is so strong they can name all of the original one hundred and fifty Pokémon.
Arthur puts the necklace on me and his knuckles brush against my skin. He looks like he wants to kiss me. I can’t see him making the first move. Not like at the post office.
“How do I look?” I ask.
“Like someone who wants gay peace on earth,” Arthur says. “And whose breath smells like the wrong green Skittles.”
“Like sexy Skittles?”
“Like sexy Skittles,” Arthur says. His shoulders straighten. His neck cranes.
“Let’s grab a drink,” I say.
We go to the bar. I get water and Arthur gets a Coke. I’m a little hungry, but I don’t want to make this a dinner date because I get uncomfortable eating across from people. Not friends. I can watch Dylan talk with his mouth full for a disturbingly long amount of time. But with Hudson, we only ate at places where we didn’t have to sit across from each other, like counters at pizzerias and in our bedrooms while watching movies. It’s this strangling fear that we’ll be sitting there and we’ll run out of something to say and I’ll be able to witness the exact moment someone falls out of love with me because I don’t have enough substance to keep a conversation alive over a meal. Why would you want to talk to me for the rest of your life?
Our drinks arrive. “I got this,” Arthur says. He pulls out his wallet and hands the bartender some cash. “I have that high-powered law firm intern money.”
We cross the arcade floor to the windows. Arthur is staring outside at Times Square like he wants to be out there getting an exaggerated portrait drawn for thirty dollars, finding his name on one of those license plate magnets, catching a musical, running into a celebrity, or standing around the sidewalk until he sees himself appear on one of those jumbotrons.
Arthur catches me staring at him. “Oh. I’m being an obvious New York noob.”
“You are. It’s cute. You still have that tourist glow. I can’t remember what it’s like to be wowed by Times Square. Or anything in New York.”
“What! Let me mansplain your city to you.” Arthur spills a little of his soda and rubs the rug dry with his sneaker. He recovers and keeps his cool. “You can order food at, like, any time. And if you can’t order it, you can find it. These streets will still be busy at two in the morning. Movies are filmed in Georgia all the time, but they’re not always about Georgia. Movies are made about New York. I could go on.”
“I’m sure you can. You miss Georgia?”
He shrugs. “Yeah, I miss my best friends, Jessie and Ethan. And my house. The guest room we have at home is bigger than my uncle Milton’s bedrooms.”
“That’s the New York way,” I say. It’s sad thinking about how if we picked up our lives and left behind extended family, ass-smacking Dylan, and late-night food-delivery services, I could live in a big house. “You excited to go back?”
“Not thinking about that right now. I’m just basking in that New York magic.” He points at me, himself, and me again. “The city made this happen.”
I nod. “Good call.” I look around at the other games. There’s the roulette for tickets, where I once spent a lot of credits only for someone to come up right after me and immediately win five hundred tickets. There’s Just Dance, which Dylan usually wins, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Arthur has moves. Mario Kart racing is always fun. “Are you a scary movie fan?”
“I don’t totally hate them.”
We go into this booth for Dark Escape 4D. It’s a really immersive game that plays on people’s fears. The seats vibrate, air blows at your face, the surround sound makes you feel like a madman with a knife is creeping up on you, and there’s a panic sensor to track your heart rate so you can see who was the most scared.
“What do we have to do to win?” Arthur asks. “Is it who can outlive the other?”
“It’s a team game. We have to survive together.” I put on the 3D glasses as we look over the stages: Prison for those scared of the dead, Death Chamber for those scared of the dark, Cabin for those scared of pursuit in tight spaces, Laboratory for those scared of vermin.
“Is there an option for a large green field with butterflies chasing us?” Arthur asks.
“Maybe in the next edition. But the butterflies will probably be bats. And the green field will probably be a cave.”
“So not what I said at all. Got it.” Arthur puts on his 3D glasses and grabs the blaster with a tight grip. “Let’s kill some escaped zombie convicts.”