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What If It's Us

What If It's Us

Page 42

Arthur gives Ma cookies from Levain Bakery, which is a tiny shop on the Upper West Side known for its huge cookies and long lines out the door. The fact that they waited in that line to bring us dessert means a lot.

Dinner is almost ready, and I feel like the world’s most unnecessary tour guide as I show them around the living room. But when I see Arthur studying every picture hanging from the wall, I remember that home isn’t about how big the space is but how we fill it. Above the TV is the framed Puerto Rican flag that Abuelita brought over when she and Ma moved from their home city of Rincón to New York. The side-by-side first-day-of-school photos of me and Pa, where we would look like identical clones if it weren’t for Ma’s freckles across my face. The oil paintings my parents made on their first date because Pa wanted to wow Ma with an experience more memorable than just dinner. The coffee table we found on the curb outside our building, which slides open to reveal decks of cards and board games. I still feel exposed, but I’m no longer worried about being judged.

“Where’s your bedroom?” Arthur says.

“Don’t worry about it,” Mr. Seuss says.

Pa walks over with some coquito for everyone to try, which is basically just coconut eggnog. Arthur and I get the virgin coquitos, and normally I can have some of the regular one, but they want to make a good impression in front of Arthur’s parents, which I respect. Team Seuss seems into the coquito. Mrs. Seuss already wants the recipe, and she and Mr. Seuss follow Pa over to the kitchen.

“So far, so good, right?” I say. Arthur doesn’t seem to hear me. He’s looking around like he’s in Hogwarts. “Arthur?”

“Oh. Sorry. What?”

“Nothing. What are you thinking about?”

“I still can’t believe I’m here. I’m in my boyfriend’s living room. I have a boyfriend. You are that boyfriend. This is your living room.”

“You really like it?”

“I really do.”

“I’ll show you my bedroom later. Let’s wait until they’re super buzzed.”

We rejoin the group and Ma gets everyone seated. She doesn’t want the families bunched together so she’s sitting next to Mrs. Seuss and Pa is sitting next to Mr. Seuss and I’m across from Arthur. We’re all still really close, like we’re huddled around a fireplace in a cold forest instead of a dinner table that has no business seating six people. The table is set with pernil, ham with pineapple sauce, yellow rice, pink beans, and salad. Maybe Arthur’s family should come over every weekend so we can eat like kings more often. I just hope they like the food now. I was almost tempted to ask my parents to fry some chicken and mash some potatoes and grill some corn on the cob, but that would’ve only stopped Arthur from discovering more about me. The little things that form the bigger picture.

“Mind if we pray?” Ma asks.

“Ma, no, they’re Jewish.”

“Oh, it’s absolutely fine. Please do,” Mrs. Seuss says.

Ma looks mortified as she turns to Arthur’s parents. “Oh no—Benito neglected to mention you’re Jewish. I made pork. I am so sorry. I can make some—”

Mrs. Seuss leans forward. “Oh, please don’t worry! We don’t keep kosher.”

“We love pork,” Mr. Seuss adds. “No objection to pork. Pigs die for us constantly. It looks delicious, by the way. What do you call this dish?”

“Pernil,” Pa says.

Team Seuss just got their word of the day.

I’m holding Mrs. Seuss’s and Pa’s hands and resting my foot on Arthur’s as Ma prays. She thanks God for the food and for bringing me and Arthur together so we can enjoy this food with new friends, and I peek at Arthur, whose eyes are still closed, but he’s smiling so hard I can see his beautiful teeth. Like he wished on enough stars that his dreams are coming true. We all say amen.

Mrs. Seuss takes a bite of the ham. “This is delicious.”

Ma taps her elbow and places the other hand on her heart. “Thank you. Mami taught me when I was seven. She was an afterschool teacher, so I would have to fend for myself when I got home. I’d make a snack and get dinner started while doing my homework. I love cooking.”

“Do you cook professionally?” Mrs. Seuss asks.

“No. I do accounting for a gym. I’m scared I’ll fall out of love with cooking if someone’s paying me to do it. It’ll become work and I won’t be excited to come home and cook with my family.”

Man, I love my mom. She’s the kind of person who will make everyone feel at home even if she has a problem with you, sort of like she was with Hudson. But I can tell she’s already so comfortable with Mrs. Seuss, like I can maybe even see them hanging out. Except Mrs. Seuss will be leaving at the end of the summer and taking my boyfriend back to Georgia with her.

“You’re an attorney, right?” Ma asks.

“Yes. At Smilowitz & Bernbaum. It’s a great firm. One that’s been very relaxed about Arthur following your son into a post office instead of running his coffee errand.”

We all laugh. I never realized that Arthur went into the post office just to follow me in.

“How about you, Diego?” Mr. Seuss asks.

“I’m an assistant manager at Duane Reade. It’s not fancy, but we’re comfortable. I have a great team—mostly great. Bills get paid. Food makes its way to the table. Ben gets his allowance. Anything else would be extra.”

I think about extra a lot. Vacations to all these tropical islands I’m always seeing in movies. Owning expensive sneakers that I can take out into the world and not keep in a closet, scared that I’ll mess them up. Family car to get us out of here on weekends. Updated iPhones and laptops. College since I won’t score a scholarship. These are all things Arthur’s family doesn’t have to worry about as much.

“Yourself?” Pa asks Mr. Seuss.

“Computer programming. I’m in between gigs right now because of the relocating,” Mr. Seuss says. He turns to Mrs. Seuss immediately. “Which is not anyone’s fault. I thought it’d be easier to find a position of interest that can be managed with our time frame before we go back home.”

“Do you miss working?” Ma asks.

“So much. The first week I got to watch a lot of Netflix, but that’s satisfying, not fulfilling. I’ve done a dozen consultations and not been hired yet, and it’s really taking a toll on me—on us.” He gestures to Arthur and Mrs. Seuss. “But we’re hanging tight.”

“The coquito will make you feel better,” Pa says. “Embarrassing the boys might help too, right?”

“Yes, please,” Mr. Seuss says.

“No,” Arthur and I say at the same time.

Our parents trade stories about what we were like as kids. I thought I was in the clear with secrets because Arthur knows I’m in summer school now, but I wasn’t prepared for him to learn about ten-year-old Ben and Dylan acting like we were on a reality show called Being Bad Boys without realizing how sexual that sounded. And Arthur sinks into his chair while everyone, myself included, bursts into laughter because of how often he used to take selfies with mannequins on his dad’s phone while they shopped for school clothes.

“I have another one,” Mrs. Seuss says.

“No you don’t,” Arthur says. “You’re fresh out of stories.”

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