মুখ্য What If It’s Us
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I'm not surprised such a good book came from these authors via emails....
13 December 2020 (13:10)
Um...... It's a ..u know..matlab.. u know ...it's a really really good book. When I was reading it, I was getting goosebumps, really. I couldn't stop my smile. I was grinning through the book. And I am really waiting for a sequel. Pls write a sequel Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli. Please!!
31 December 2020 (11:59)
I like taking my time on books so I can really soak them in, but this book deserved all my time and attention
12 February 2021 (06:26)
I couldn't stop smiling reading some pages, majorly relating to how Gen z Arthur is and sometimes with Ben. I found myself actually laughing out loud and all I can say is, this book has been beautifully written, the emotions have been given life to by words so intricately. I hope there's a sequel soon
26 March 2021 (09:34)
As Meera said yes it's great. It's just like Felix ever after. I really enjoyed this book. I just love it. Fucking great
03 April 2021 (09:58)
Phenomenal!!!! Great. My boyfriend Nikhil and I read this book together and we made out a lot. Ha ha!!! By the way it's greatest
03 April 2021 (10:00)
Karthik u weren't supposed to tell making out part. That's really bad of u.
This book is so pure and relaxing. I mean u will instantly love the characters. U will feel attached to them. U will laugh, cry and smile with them.
This book is so pure and relaxing. I mean u will instantly love the characters. U will feel attached to them. U will laugh, cry and smile with them.
03 April 2021 (10:03)
Seriously Karthik?? I know u r completely smitten by your boyfriend but MAKING OUT seriously???
03 April 2021 (10:05)
sooo good just kind of wish it had a different ending I love them so much
10 April 2021 (21:45)
So delighted to read these comments!!
Gr8 book indeed :)
Gr8 book indeed :)
11 April 2021 (19:04)
It's entertaining, not complicated to read at all. Narrators keep things going forward with the story all the time which is highly appreciated. This is a juvenile romance tho, so it has a grown-up-ish ending where it doesn't really end per se. So, if you don't mind open endings, go ahead, hope you enjoy.
25 April 2021 (10:36)
This book had me smiling the entire time. It had me tearing up, laughing and at the edge of my seat. I cannot wait for the sequel. AMAZING BOOK! The best part is that people can relate to it. LOVED IT!!!!
11 May 2021 (07:46)
Karthik, nikhil, guys you're both adorable! Just Reading the comments makes me wanna read the book More than eva. Best of luck to you two! :)
12 May 2021 (17:43)
bhai dil khush hogya reviews dekhkar
now i'll have to read the book smh
now i'll have to read the book smh
25 May 2021 (15:31)
READ THIS BOOK. i'm gay af and this book was everything I didn't know I needed. ben and Arthur are the most adorable cinnamon rolls, they're extremely cute. all the well-placed hamilton references made my year, being the crazy hamilfan that I am. read this if you need a refreshing gay romance that may or may not make you cry. (you'll probably cry)
25 May 2021 (20:23)
I love this book so much and it featured some great songs like Only Us from the Dear Evan Hansen which really suits the scene where Ben and Arthur sang it together.
28 May 2021 (18:07)
Dedication For Brooks Sherman, an agent of the universe who brought us together. And Andrew Eliopulos and Donna Bray, who made our universe bigger. Contents Cover Title Page Dedication Part One: What If Chapter One: Arthur Chapter Two: Ben Chapter Three: Arthur Chapter Four: Ben Chapter Five: Arthur Chapter Six: Ben Chapter Seven: Arthur Chapter Eight: Ben Chapter Nine: Arthur Chapter Ten: Ben Chapter Eleven: Arthur Part Two: It’s Us Chapter Twelve: Ben Chapter Thirteen: Arthur Chapter Fourteen: Ben Chapter Fifteen: Arthur Chapter Sixteen: Ben Chapter Seventeen: Arthur Chapter Eighteen: Ben Chapter Nineteen: Arthur Chapter Twenty: Ben Chapter Twenty-One: Arthur Chapter Twenty-Two: Ben Chapter Twenty-Three: Arthur Chapter Twenty-Four: Ben Chapter Twenty-Five: Arthur Chapter Twenty-Six: Ben Chapter Twenty-Seven: Arthur Chapter Twenty-Eight: Ben Chapter Twenty-Nine: Arthur Chapter Thirty: Ben Chapter Thirty-One: Arthur Chapter Thirty-Two: Ben Part Three: And Only Us Chapter Thirty-Three: Arthur Chapter Thirty-Four: Ben Chapter Thirty-Five: Arthur Chapter Thirty-Six: Ben Chapter Thirty-Seven: Arthur Chapter Thirty-Eight: Ben Epilogue: What If It’s You and What If It’s Me? Arthur Ben Acknowledgments About the Authors Books by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera Back Ad Copyright About the Publisher Part One What If Chapter One Arthur Monday, July 9 I am not a New Yorker, and I want to go home. There are so many unspoken rules when you live here, like the way you’re never supposed to stop in the middle of the sidewalk or stare dreamily up at tall buildings or pause to read graffiti. No giant folding maps, no fanny packs, no eye contact. No humming songs from Dear Evan Hansen in public. And you’re definitely not supposed to take selfies at street corners, even if there’s a hot dog stand and a whole line of yellow taxis in the background, which is eerily how you always pictured New York. You’re allowed to silently appreciate it, but y; ou have to be cool. From what I can tell, that’s the whole point of New York: being cool. I’m not cool. Take this morning. I made the mistake of glancing up at the sky, just for a moment, and now I can’t unstick my eyes. Looking up from this angle, it’s like the world’s tipping inward: dizzyingly tall buildings and a bright fireball sun. It’s beautiful. I’ll give New York credit for that. It’s beautiful and surreal, and absolutely nothing like Georgia. I tilt my phone to snap a picture. Not an Instagram Story, no filters. Nothing drawn-out. One tiny, quick picture. Instantaneous pedestrian rage: Jesus. Come on. MOVE. Fucking tourists. Literally, I take a two-second photograph, and now I’m obstruction personified. I’m responsible for every subway delay, every road closure, the very phenomenon of wind resistance. Fucking tourists. I’m not even a tourist. I somewhat live here, at least for the summer. It’s not like I’m taking a joyful sightseeing stroll at noon on a Monday. I’m at work. I mean, I’m on a Starbucks run, but it counts. And maybe I’m taking the long way. Maybe I need a few extra minutes away from Mom’s office. Normally, being an intern is more boring than terrible, but today’s uniquely shitty. You know that kind of day where the printer runs out of paper, and there’s none in the supply room, so you try to steal some from the copier, but you can’t get the drawer open, and then you push some wrong button and the copier starts beeping? And you’re standing there thinking that whoever invented copy machines is this close to getting their ass kicked? By you? By a five-foot-six Jewish kid with ADHD and the rage of a tornado? That kind of day? Yeah. And all I want to do is vent to Ethan and Jessie, but I still haven’t figured out how to text while walking. I step off the sidewalk, near the entrance to a post office—and wow. They don’t make post offices like this in Milton, Georgia. It’s got a white stone exterior with pillars and brass accents, and it’s so painfully classy, I almost feel underdressed. And I’m wearing a tie. I text the sunny street picture to Ethan and Jessie. Rough day at the office! Jessie writes back immediately. I hate you and I want to be you. Here’s the thing: Jessie and Ethan have been my best friends since the dawn of time, and I’ve always been Real Arthur with them. Lonely Messy Arthur, as opposed to Upbeat Instagram Arthur. But for some reason, I need them to think my New York life is awesome. I just do. So I’ve been sending them Upbeat Instagram Arthur texts for weeks. I don’t know if I’m really selling it, though. Also I miss you, Jessie writes, throwing down a whole line of kissy emojis. She’s like my bubbe in a sixteen-year-old body. She’d text a lipstick smudge onto my cheek if she could. The weird thing is that we’ve never had one of those ooey-gooey friendships—at least not until prom night. Which happens to be the night I told Jessie and Ethan I’m gay. I miss you guys, too, I admit. COME HOME, ARTHUR. Four more weeks. Not that I’m counting. Ethan finally chimes in with the most ambiguous of all emojis: the grimace. Like, come on. The grimace? If post-prom Jessie texts like my bubbe, post-prom Ethan texts like a mime. He’s actually not so bad in the group text most of the time, but one-on-one? I’ll just say my phone stopped blowing up with his texts approximately five seconds after I came out. I’m not going to lie: it’s the crappiest feeling ever. One of these days, I’m going to call him out, and it’s going to be soon. Maybe even today. Maybe— But then the post office door swings open, revealing—no joke—a pair of identical twin men in matching rompers. With handlebar mustaches. Ethan would love this. Which pisses me off. This happens constantly with Ethan. A minute ago, I was ready to friend-dump his emojily ambiguous ass. Now I just want to hear him laugh. A full emotional one-eighty in a span of sixty seconds. The twins amble past me, and I see they both have man buns. Of course they have man buns. New York must be its own planet, I swear, because no one even blinks. Except. There’s a boy walking toward the entrance, holding a cardboard box, and he literally stops in his tracks when the twins walk by. He looks so confused, I laugh out loud. And then he catches my eye. And then he smiles. And holy shit. I mean it. Holy mother of shit. Cutest boy ever. Maybe it’s the hair or the freckles or the pinkness of his cheeks. And I say this as someone who’s never noticed another person’s cheeks in my life. But his cheeks are worth noticing. Everything about him is worth noticing. Perfectly rumpled light brown hair. Fitted jeans, scuffed shoes, gray shirt—with the words Dream & Bean Coffee barely visible above the box he’s holding. He’s taller than me—which, okay, most guys are. He’s still looking at me. But twenty points to Gryffindor, because I manage to smile up at him. “Do you think they parked their tandem bicycle at the mustache-wax parlor?” His startled laugh is so cute, it makes me light-headed. “Definitely the mustache-wax parlor slash art gallery slash microbrewery,” he says. For a minute, we grin at each other without speaking. “Um, are you going in?” he asks finally. I glance up at the door. “Yeah.” And I do it. I follow him into the post office. It’s not even a decision. Or if it is, my body’s already decided. There’s something about him. It’s this tug in my chest. It’s this feeling like I have to know him, like it’s inevitable. Okay, I’m about to admit something, and you’re probably going to cringe. You’re probably already cringing, but whatever. Hear me out. I believe in love at first sight. Fate, the universe, all of it. But not how you’re thinking. I don’t mean it in the our souls were split and you’re my other half forever and ever sort of way. I just think you’re meant to meet some people. I think the universe nudges them into your path. Even on random Monday afternoons in July. Even at the post office. But let’s be real—this is no normal post office. It’s big enough to be a ballroom, with gleaming floors and rows of numbered PO boxes and actual sculptures, like a museum. Box Boy walks over to a short counter near the entrance, props the package beside him, and starts filling out a mailing label. So I swipe a Priority Mail envelope from a nearby rack and drift toward his counter. Super casual. This doesn’t have to be weird. I just need to find the perfect words to keep this conversation going. To be honest, I’m normally really good at talking to strangers. I don’t know if it’s a Georgia thing or only an Arthur thing, but if there’s an elderly man in a grocery store, I’m there price-checking prune juices for him. If there’s a pregnant lady on an airplane, she’s named her unborn kid after me by the time the plane lands. It’s the one thing I have going for me. Or I did, until today. I don’t even think I can form sounds. It’s like my throat’s caving in on itself. But I have to channel my inner New Yorker—cool and nonchalant. I shoot him a tentative grin. Deep breath. “That’s a big package.” And . . . shit. The words tumble out. “I don’t mean package. Just. Your box. Is big.” I hold my hands apart to demonstrate. Because apparently that’s the way to prove it’s not an innuendo. By spreading my hands out dick-measuringly. Box Boy furrows his brow. “Sorry. I don’t . . . I swear I don’t usually comment on the size of other guys’ boxes.” He meets my eyes and smiles, just a little. “Nice tie,” he says. I look down at it, blushing. Of course I couldn’t have worn a normal tie today. Nope. I’m wearing one from the Dad collection. Navy blue, printed with hundreds of tiny hot dogs. “At least it’s not a romper?” I say. “Good point.” He smiles again—so of course I notice his lips. Which are shaped exactly like Emma Watson’s lips. Emma Watson’s lips. Right there on his face. “So you’re not from here,” Box Boy says. I look up at him, startled. “How did you know?” “Well, you keep talking to me.” Then he blushes. “That came out wrong. I just mean it’s usually only tourists who strike up conversations.” “Oh.” “I don’t mind, though,” he says. “I’m not a tourist.” “You’re not?” “Okay, I’m not technically from here, but I live here now. Just for the summer. I’m from Milton, Georgia.” “Milton, Georgia.” He smiles. I feel inexplicably frantic. Like, my limbs are weird and loose, and my head’s full of cotton. I’m probably electric bright red now. I don’t even want to know. I just need to keep talking. “I know, right? Milton. It sounds like a Jewish great-uncle.” “I wasn’t—” “I actually do have a Jewish great-uncle Milton. That’s whose apartment we’re staying in.” “Who’s we?” “You mean who do I live with in my great-uncle Milton’s apartment?” He nods, and I just look at him. Like, who does he think I live with? My boyfriend? My twenty-eight-year-old smoldering-hot boyfriend who has big gaping holes in his earlobes and maybe a tongue piercing and a tattoo of my name on his pec? On both pecs? “With my parents,” I say quickly. “My mom’s a lawyer, and her firm has an office here, so she came up at the end of April for this case she’s working on, and I totally would have come up then, but my mom was like, Nice try, Arthur, you have a month of school left. But it ended up being for the best, because I guess I thought New York was going to be one thing, and it’s really another thing, and now I’m kind of stuck here, and I miss my friends, and I miss my car, and I miss Waffle House.” “In that order?” “Well, mostly the car.” I grin. “We left it at my bubbe’s house in New Haven. She lives right by Yale, which is hopefully, hopefully my future school. Fingers crossed.” It’s like I can’t stop talking. “I guess you probably don’t need my life story.” “I don’t mind.” Box Boy pauses, balancing the box on his hip. “Want to get on line?” I nod, falling into step behind him. He shifts sideways to face me, but the box looms between us. He hasn’t stuck the shipping label on yet. It’s sitting on top of the package. I try to sneak a peek at the address, but his handwriting sucks, and I can’t read upside down. He catches me looking. “Are you really nosy or something?” He’s watching me through narrowed eyes. “Oh.” I swallow. “Kind of. Yeah.” That makes him smile. “It’s not that interesting. It’s leftovers from a breakup.” “Leftovers?” “Books, gifts, Harry Potter wand. Everything I don’t want to look at anymore.” “You don’t want to look at a Harry Potter wand?” “I don’t want to look at anything my ex-boyfriend gave me.” Ex-boyfriend. Which means Box Boy dates guys. And okay. Wow. This doesn’t happen to me. It just doesn’t. But maybe the universe works differently in New York. Box Boy dates guys. I’M A GUY. “That’s really cool,” I say. Perfectly casual. But then he looks at me funny, and my hand flies to my mouth. “Not cool. God. No. Breakups aren’t cool. I’m just—I’m so sorry for your loss.” “He’s not dead.” “Oh, right. Yeah. I’m gonna . . .” I exhale, hand resting for a moment on the retractable line barrier. Box Boy smiles tightly. “Right. So you’re one of those guys who gets weird around gay dudes.” “What?” I yelp. “No. Not at all.” “Yeah.” He rolls his eyes, glancing over my shoulder. “I’m not,” I say quickly. “Listen. I’m gay.” And the whole world stops. My tongue feels thick and heavy. I guess I don’t say those words out loud all that often. I’m gay. My parents know, Ethan and Jessie know, and I kind of randomly told the summer associates at Mom’s firm. But I’m not a person who goes around announcing it at the post office. Except apparently, I kind of am. “Oh. For real?” Box Boy asks. “For real.” It comes out breathless. It’s weird—now I want to prove it. I want some gay ID card to whip out like a cop badge. Or I could demonstrate in other ways. God. I would happily demonstrate. Box Boy smiles, his shoulders relaxing. “Cool.” And holy shit. This is actually happening. I can hardly catch my breath. It’s like the universe willed this moment into existence. A voice booms from behind the counter. “You on line or not?” I look up to see a woman with a lip ring raining down the stink-eye. No fucks given by this postal employee. “Yo, Freckles. Let’s go.” Box Boy shoots me a halting glance before stepping up to the counter. Already, there’s a line stretching out behind me. And okay—I’m not eavesdropping on Box Boy. Not exactly. It’s more like my ears are drawn to his voice. His arms are crossed, shoulders tense. “Twenty-six fifty for Priority,” says Lip Ring. “Twenty-six fifty? Like twenty-six dollars?” “No. Like twenty-six fifty.” Box Boy shakes his head. “That’s a lot.” “That’s what we got. Take it or leave it.” For a moment, Box Boy just stands there. Then he takes the box back, hugging it to his chest. “Sorry.” “Next,” says Lip Ring. She beckons to me, but I swerve out of line. Box Boy blinks. “How is it twenty-six fifty to send a package?” “I don’t know. That’s messed up.” “Guess that’s the universe saying I should hold on to it.” The universe. Holy shit. He’s a believer. He believes in the universe. And I don’t want to jump to conclusions or anything, but Box Boy believing in the universe is definitely a sign from the universe. “Okay.” My heartbeat quickens. “But what if the universe is actually telling you to throw his stuff away?” “That’s not how it works.” “Oh really?” “Think about it. Getting rid of the box is plan A, right? The universe isn’t going to thwart plan A just so I’ll go with another version of plan A. This is clearly the universe calling for plan B.” “And plan B is . . .” “Accepting that the universe is an asshole—” “The universe isn’t an asshole!” “It is. Trust me.” “How could you possibly know that?” “I know the universe has some fucked-up plan for this box.” “But that’s the thing!” I stare him down. “You don’t actually know. You have no idea where the universe is going with this. Maybe the whole reason you’re here is because the universe wanted you to meet me, so I could tell you to throw the box away.” He smiles. “You think the universe wanted us to meet?” “What? No! I mean, I don’t know. That’s the point. We have no way of knowing.” “Well, I guess we’ll see how it plays out.” He peers at the shipping label for a moment and then rips it in half, wadding it and tossing it into the trash. At least he aims for the trash, but it lands on the floor. “Anyway,” he says. “Um, are you—” “Excuse me.” A man’s voice reverberates through an intercom. “Can I have your attention?” I glance sidelong at Box Boy. “Is this—” There’s a sudden squeal of feedback and a rising piano intro. And then a literal fucking marching band walks in. A marching band. People flood into the post office, carrying giant drums and flutes and tubas, blasting a somewhat off-key rendition of that Bruno Mars song “Marry You.” And now dozens of people—old people, people I thought were in line to buy stamps—have launched into a choreographed dance number, with high kicks and hip thrusts and shimmying arms. Basically everyone who’s not dancing is filming this, but I’m too stunned to even grab my phone. I mean, I don’t want to read too much into things, but wow: I meet a cute boy, and five seconds later, I’m in the middle of a flash mob marriage proposal? Could this message from the universe be any clearer? The crowd parts, and a tattooed guy rolls in on a skateboard, skidding to a stop in front of the service desk. He’s holding a jewelry box, but instead of taking a knee, he plants his elbows on the counter and beams up at Lip Ring. “Kelsey. Babe. Will you marry me?” Kelsey’s black mascara tracks all the way down to her lip ring. “Yes!” She grabs his face for a tear-soaked kiss, and the crowd erupts into cheers. It hits me deep in my chest. It’s that New York feeling, like they talk about in musicals—that wide-open, top-volume, Technicolor joy. Here I’ve spent the whole summer moping around and missing Georgia, but it’s like someone just flipped a light switch inside of me. I wonder if Box Boy feels it, too. I turn toward him, already smiling, and my hand’s pressed to my heart— But he’s gone. My hand falls limply. The boy is nowhere. His box is nowhere. I peer around, scanning every single face in the post office. Maybe he got pushed aside by the flash mob. Maybe he was part of the flash mob. Maybe he had some kind of urgent appointment—so urgent he couldn’t stop to get my number. He couldn’t even say goodbye. I can’t believe he didn’t say goodbye. I thought—I don’t know, it’s stupid, but I thought we had some kind of moment. I mean, the universe basically scooped us up and delivered us to each other. That’s what just happened, right? I don’t even know how else you could interpret it. Except he vanished. He’s Cinderella at midnight. It’s like he never even existed. And now I’ll never know his name, or how my name sounds when he says it. I’ll never get to show him that the universe isn’t an asshole. Gone. Totally gone. And the disappointment hits me so hard, I almost double over. Until my eyes fall on the trash can. Okay. I’m not saying I’m going to dig through the trash. Obviously not. I’m a mess, but I’m not that messy. But maybe Box Boy is right. Maybe the universe is calling for plan B. Here’s my question: If a piece of trash never makes it into a trash can, can you even call it trash? Because let’s just imagine—and this is totally hypothetical—let’s say there’s a crumpled shipping label on the floor. Is that trash? What if it’s a glass slipper? Chapter Two Ben I’m back at the start. I had one job. Mail the breakup box. Not run out of the post office with the breakup box. In my defense, there was a lot going on. There was that cool and cute Arthur guy, who clearly hasn’t been burned by the universe before, because he actually thought we were supposed to meet. On the day I was trying to mail Hudson’s things back to him. I’m sure Arthur is changing his tune about the universe after that marching band broke us apart. I hop on the train and head back to Alphabet City to meet up with my best friend, Dylan. I live on Avenue B, Dylan lives on Avenue D. Our origin story comes down to our last names, Alejo and Boggs. He sat behind me in third grade and was nonstop tapping my shoulder to borrow everything, like pencils and loose-leaf. Same deal as we got older when he’d need my two-versions-behind-everyone-else iPhone to text his Crush of the Week after his own battery died. The only time I ever quote-unquote borrow something is when I need him to spot me some lunch money. And I say quote-unquote because it’s super rare that I can pay him back, and he doesn’t care. Dylan’s a good dude. He doesn’t care that I like guys and I don’t care that he likes girls. Shout-out to my main man the alphabet for this bromance. When I get off the train, I stop at several trash cans, holding the breakup box over them, but I never catch that courage to actually dump the damn thing. I guess I didn’t expect the breakup to suck if I did the breaking up. But since Hudson’s the one who kissed somebody else, it still feels like he really ended things. Things hadn’t been right between us since his parents got divorced, but I was patient with him. Like when I let him plan my birthday and he took me to a concert of his favorite band. But I let it go because it was my first-ever concert and the Killers are awesome. Then he didn’t show up to my parents’ big anniversary lunch. I let it go again because celebrating my parents’ marriage after everything with his parents was maybe too much for him. And when we went to the movies to see a rom-com about two teen boys and he just went off about how love, even our own, could never be Hollywood-worthy, I stormed off and thought he would chase me and apologize or call my name or literally anything a boyfriend should do. Nothing for three days. Not until I called to ask him if we were ever going to talk again. Then he surprised me at my apartment and told me he thought we were broken up, so he kissed some random guy at a party. He desperately wanted another chance, but nope. I broke up with him. For real. Even if he thought things were over between us, he couldn’t even wait a week before moving on? Pretty hard not to feel worthless after that. I reach Dylan’s building and press his apartment number, and he buzzes me up immediately, which is great because I’m not about that waiting life today. I’m carrying around a box of my ex-boyfriend’s things. I’m wearing a backpack with summer homework. Today sucks. I yawn in the elevator. I had to get up at seven because of summer school. Yay life. The universe keeps on swinging—brass knuckles to the heart and ego. I step out of the elevator and let myself into Dylan’s apartment because we’re that tight. But I’m smart enough to knock on his bedroom door ever since a few months ago when I walked in and he was really going at it with himself. “Hand out of your pants?” I ask. “Unfortunately,” Dylan responds from the other side. I open the door. Dylan is sitting on his bed, texting away. He’s cut his hair since I saw him last night for dinner. He’s the only dude my age I know who’s rocking a beard. For the longest time I swore I was behind on the puberty game since I haven’t even grown a mustache, but Dylan’s actually the freak show here—handsome freak show. “Big Ben,” Dylan sings, putting down his phone. “Light of my life. He Who Is Stuck in School.” Summer school double-sucks because Dylan has been cracking jokes ever since that day I came out of the guidance counselor’s office with the bad news. He’s just lucky that no one he ever dated persuaded him to skip studying and to trust that the right grades would fall into place. “Hey,” I say. Cute nicknames aren’t really my thing. Dylan points at my chest. “That shirt is a thing of beauty, isn’t she?” His wardrobe consists primarily of T-shirts from indie coffee shops around the city, and he gave me this Dream & Bean shirt last night when he came over for dinner. Dylan hooks me up when his dresser gets too crowded. He doesn’t usually let go of his favorites, like Dream & Bean, but I’m not complaining. “I didn’t have anything clean to wear,” I say. “It’s not, like, a cool shirt.” “That’s hurtful, but I’m guessing you’re in a mood because you’re carrying a breakup box you were going to hand over to Hudson. What happened?” “He didn’t come to school today.” I put down the box. “Skipping day one of summer school seems like a bad start,” Dylan says. “Yeah, I asked Harriett if she would take it to him and she said no,” I say. “Then I was going to mail it, but Priority shipping cost too much.” “Why did it have to be Priority shipping?” “Because I want the box out of my face sooner.” “Regular shipping would’ve done the trick too.” Dylan raises his left eyebrow. “You couldn’t do it, could you?” I put down the box I should’ve mailed or thrown away or tied to an anchor and dropped into a river. “Stop seeing past my bullshit, it’s my bullshit.” Dylan gets up and hugs me. “Shh-shh-shh-shh.” He rubs circles into my back. “Your soothing voice isn’t soothing me.” Dylan kisses my cheek. “It’s okay, Pudding Pop.” I sit down cross-legged on his bed. I’m tempted to reach for my phone to see if I’ve missed any texts from Hudson, or to check Instagram to see if he has uploaded a new selfie. But I know there won’t be any texts, and I’ve unfollowed him on every platform. “I don’t want to see him fail out of summer school because he’s avoiding me. He’ll get left behind if he’s absent three times.” “Maybe. But that’s his problem. If he doesn’t show up, you won’t have to spend the summer with him. Problem solved.” It wasn’t that long ago when spending my summer with Hudson was all I could think about. A summer as boyfriends in pools and parks and each other’s bedrooms while our parents were working—not exes who are in summer school because we spent more time studying each other than doing our chemistry homework. “Wish you were in the trenches with me,” I say. “He has his best friend, and I should have mine too.” “Oh man, remind me to never commit a crime with you. You’ll get caught and out me so fast.” Dylan checks his phone, like we’re not even talking, which is my least favorite thing about humans. “That class would be all drama anyway. I can’t be there with my ex, that’s not a healthy environment.” “I am literally in there with my ex, Dylan.” “No you’re not. He didn’t show up, and if he does, don’t forget you got the edge here. You won the breakup by being the Breaker Upper. It would double-suck if he broke up with you. It only single-sucks for you.” I’d trade my poor kingdom for a universe where single-suck heartbreak isn’t a victory. But here we are. Recent breakups prove that we should’ve never screwed up our friend circle by trying to date. Not to point fingers, but Dylan and Harriett started this. The four of us had a good thing going until Dylan and Harriett kissed on New Year’s Eve. I was kind of into Hudson and I was pretty sure he was into me too, but when we turned to each other that night we didn’t kiss, we just shook our heads because I knew my best friend and he knew his. This was never going to last. Maybe Hudson and I wouldn’t have been inspired to give it a shot ourselves if we hadn’t been left with a lot of alone time while Dylan and Harriett spent their weekends together. I miss the squad days. I get up and turn on the Wii because I need some shit-talking and entertainment to cheer me up. The triumphant opening of Super Smash Bros. blasts from the TV. Dylan’s top character is Luigi because he thinks Mario is overrated. I go for Zelda because she teleports and deflects projectiles and shoots fireballs from great distances, which are all optimal moves for any player looking to avoid hand-to-hand combat. We get the game going. “On the sad scale, how are you feeling today?” Dylan asks. “Opening-montage-of-Up sad? Or Nemo’s-mom-dying sad?” “Whoa, no. Definitely not opening-montage-of-Up sad. That shit was devastating. I’d guess I’m somewhere in between, like last-five-minutes-of-Toy-Story-3 sad. I just need time to bounce back.” “No doubt. Okay, I need to tell you a thing.” “Are you breaking up with me?” I ask. “Because not cool.” “Sort of,” Dylan says. He does this big dramatic pause while hammering down on one button so Luigi keeps shooting green fireballs at Zelda. “I met this girl at a coffee shop.” “That is the most Dylan sentence you’ve ever said.” “Right?” Dylan’s chuckle is very charming. “Okay, so after my doctor’s appointment yesterday I went uptown to try this coffee spot.” “Of course you leave an appointment for your heart condition by going straight to a coffee shop. You’re a little too on brand sometimes.” “The yearly ritual,” Dylan says. He has a heart condition called mitral valve prolapse, which isn’t as shitty as it sounds—at least not in Dylan’s case. I don’t know what he’d do if his doctors actually banned him from coffee. “Anyway. I walked past Kool Koffee, which I have avoided forever because you know I don’t find cutesy spellings cute, and she stepped outside to throw away some trash and I became trash for her.” “As you do.” “But I couldn’t walk in there wearing a Dream & Bean shirt.” “Why not?” “Uh. Do you walk into Burger King with a Happy Meal? No. That shit is disrespectful. Have some common sense.” “My common sense is telling me to make new friends.” “I just didn’t want to be disrespectful.” “You just disrespected me.” “I’m talking about her.” “Of course you are. Wait. Is that why you gave me this shirt last night?” “Yes. I panicked.” “You’re so weird. Go on.” “I braved Kool Koffee today dressed appropriately . . .” Dylan gestures at his solid blue T-shirt. Nice and neutral. “. . . and she was humming an Elliott Smith song while making someone’s espresso, and I was done. Overdone. Big Ben, in a single moment, I gained a future wife and an unlimited supply of coffee.” It’s really hard to be happy for someone finding romance when I’ve clearly just taken a loss in the same department, but it’s Dylan. “I can’t wait to meet my future sister-in-law.” “You remember that BuzzFeed post with the Harry Potter wedding? Samantha and I will do something coffee-themed. Everyone will wear barista aprons. Toasting with mugs. My face drawn in everyone’s espresso.” “You are too much.” “One downside though.” “She has a downside already?” “She’s a huge supporter of Kool Koffee because they donate some portions to charities, and she thinks serious coffee drinkers should be better about where they’re buying coffee. I mean, I’m not ready to be monogamous with Kool Koffee.” “Did she actually ask you to do that?” “No, but . . . she asked without asking. And when the One comes along, there are things we must sacrifice.” “There’s no way you’re quitting Dream & Bean coffee.” “Oh hell no. I’m quitting drinking it in front of Samantha. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt.” “Only you could make drinking coffee sound nefarious.” “Anyway. I added other coffee shop shirts into your drawer so I don’t get tempted.” I check out the shirts because maybe there’s actually a winner in here. And yeah, I have a drawer in his bedroom and he has one in mine. We’ve slept over at each other’s places enough that it makes sense. When I was first getting cool with the coming-out thing in school, I always felt super self-conscious in gym, like everyone thought I would try and check them out. It’s really dope having a bro like Dylan who is super cool changing in front of me and me changing in front of him. I hope I don’t lose his awesomeness again like I have every time he meets the One. “Wait. Why didn’t you tell me about seeing Samantha last night when you came over?” I ask. “I don’t know,” Dylan says. Like that’s a satisfying answer. Like I’m about to just go “Okay, cool,” and go back to kicking his ass in Super Smash. “You never tell me when you first get a crush,” I say. “Name one time.” “Gabriella and Heather and Natalia and—” “I said one time.” “—and Harriett. It’s just weird. We tell each other everything.” Dylan nods. “Not trying to jinx myself, I guess. You know how my dad always goes on about how he knew he would marry my mom when they met in freshman year? I’m getting those same vibes from Samantha.” I act like I haven’t heard Dylan say this before, most recently with Harriett, who he broke up with in March, but I let it go. Maybe it will work this time. We keep playing as Dylan goes on and on about which hot beverage he and Samantha should name their firstborn after, and I refuse to be Uncle Ben to any child named Cider. I’m a little jealous Dylan is in this phase of his new romance, where it feels like anything is possible. Like how Samantha could actually be the love of his life. Like when I thought Hudson was going to be mine. How I couldn’t wait to wake up to his face—his beautiful lazy eye, the little bump on his nose, his suggestive dark eyebrows that don’t match his short auburn hair. The way he changed my worldviews, like whenever he had to push back at idiots in school who got at him because of his effeminate mannerisms; he really helped me forget my own idiocy on what I thought a man was supposed to look like. And those nerves before we had sex for the first time in March, not knowing if it was going to be good or not. Spoiler: it was awesome. Maybe I can kick so much ass this week at school that the teachers will realize I don’t actually need to be stuck taking classes for the next month and I’ll be Hudson-free. Though I got to be real, I would’ve probably ended up in summer school even if Hudson was never in the picture. I’m not super tight with school. “You’ll always be my number one, Big Ben,” Dylan says. “Until Baby Cider is born.” “Bros before babies,” I demand. “Tie?” I shrug. “Tie.” “You won’t be single long,” Dylan says, like he’s a Magic 8 Ball in white flesh. “You’re tall, your hair is Hollywood ready, your style is effortless. If I didn’t have Mrs. Samantha Last-Name-to-Be-Discovered-Before-I-Can-Properly-Hyphenate-It-with-Boggs, I’m positive you would have me changing gears within a year.” “That’s sweet. You know getting someone to go gay for me would be the highlight of my life.” I don’t go chasing after straight guys, but if one wants to experiment to see what’s what? Welcome to House Alejo. Leave your shoes at the door, or bring them into bed with you if that’s your thing. I win the first round because I’m me and we get another round going. “Let’s talk about why you really didn’t mail the breakup box,” Dylan says, like he’s going to bill me for this conversation. “Only if you drop the therapist voice,” I say. “Maybe we can begin with why my tone bothers you. Do I remind you of an authority figure?” I KO his character and flip him off. “I just . . . I really thought I’d have the chance to hand over the box personally for closure. But then he didn’t show up to school, and all of a sudden I’m at the post office talking to some guy about Hudson when a flash mob rolled through and—” “Wait. Run that back.” “Yeah, flash mob. They were performing that Bruno Mars song and—” “No. The guy. What. Who.” Dylan turns to me, once again abandoning the complex sorcery of the pause button. “You’re an asshole. You have me feeling bad for you and you’re already slutting it up with someone else.” “What, no. This isn’t real. There’s nothing to pursue or slut up.” “Why not? Who is he? Name. Address. Social security number. Twitter and Instagram handles.” “Arthur. I don’t know his last name. I definitely don’t know his address. Ditto on the handles, but while we’re on the subject, why can’t people just have one handle for everything they do?” “Humans are complex.” Dylan nods sagely. “What do you know about him?” “He’s new to the city. Visiting from Georgia. He was wearing the most ridiculous tie in all the land.” “Gay?” “Yup.” It’s always cool to find out immediately when a cute guy is gay or not. Trying to solve that mystery yourself isn’t fun and rarely pays off. “I’m getting hot vibes.” Dylan fans himself. “He’s cute, yeah. Shorter than I usually go for though. Like five seven, maybe five six without the boots. Photoshop-blue eyes, like an alien.” Dylan claps. “Okay. I’m sold. I am shipping you with the boy you met when you were supposed to be shipping relationship relics to your last boy.” I shake my head and put down my controller. “D, no. I’m just a bad idea right now. I need to ship myself with me for a bit.” “You’re never a bad idea, Big Ben.” “That’s sweet, man. Thanks.” “In the not-so-distant future we’re going to have too many drinks, I’ll invite myself over at two a.m., and we’re going to . . . cuddle so hard. And I promise not to call it a bad idea the next morning.” “You ruined the moment.” “Sorry. Game face back on,” Dylan says. “You’re being hard on yourself. Just because Hudson is an idiot who took you for granted doesn’t mean the next guy will. And damn, you met a cute guy with bad taste in ties the same day you were moving past your ex. This is a sign.” I think about how Arthur and I talked about the universe, and he comes back into focus. He’s not like the many cute guys I see out and about in the city where I dream up some epic love only to forget what they look like an hour later. Arthur’s teeth were super white with his canine tooth chipped. Messy brown hair. He was too dressed up for anyone our age; an alien would probably dress up like that if it arrived from another solar system and was trying to pose as an adult but didn’t realize how baby-faced it was. I shouldn’t have run out of the post office when I did. Maybe Dylan’s right, I just ignored that sign. “I should get going,” I say. Pretty bummed now. “Homework time.” “On a Monday in the summer. Living your best life.” Dylan gets up from the bed and hugs me. “I’ll call you later.” “If I’m not talking to Samantha, I will answer.” Don’t I know it. I really hope I don’t lose my best friend and boyfriend in one summer. I’m heading out when Dylan calls me back. “Forgetting something?” Dylan looks at the breakup box. “On purpose? I can handle this if you want. I’ll get a ski mask and some gloves and handle this sumbitch in the dead of night. No one has to know it was us.” “You need help,” I say. I pick up the breakup box. “I’ll handle it.” I don’t know yet if I’m lying or not. I sit at my desk and turn on the laptop. It takes a few minutes to power up because it’s not exactly the newest model, or even the newly old model. Playing The Sims would be way easier if I had an upgraded laptop. I really should do my homework, but focusing on chemistry was hard enough when I didn’t also have a box beside me with mementos from a relationship that was supposed to be everything and stopped being anything. Sometimes I focus on what went right in the relationship so I don’t get pissed. Like the way Hudson would rest his jaw on my shoulder during our end-of-the-day hugs, almost as if he didn’t want to go home or even step a few feet away from me. And how seen I felt with him, even whenever the brown of his eye was looking elsewhere, because I know he was looking at me. And buddy-reading books with him. And charging my phone in the lightning bolt–shaped power strip so we could stay on FaceTime late into the night. But that Hudson went away when his parents’ divorce was finalized on April 1 after twenty years of marriage. Hudson swore it was some ridiculous April Fools’ joke from his mother because he’d been counting on them to get back together. Even when his parents announced they were separating and his mother moved out of Brooklyn to Manhattan, Hudson still had hope they would get back together. He had that spirit of some kid in a movie who creates a master plan to get his parents to fall in love again. Watching a love that he really believed in fall apart wasn’t playing out well for us. We were mega out of sync. There were times he didn’t want me around to comfort him and other times when we would hang out and he would just be a total asshole about love. But there were only so many hits to the heart I could take before I needed to step away. I gave him a lot of chances—I gave us a lot of chances. I just wasn’t good enough to remind him love could be a good thing. My laptop is good to go. I have to let off some steam before homework, so I open up my self-insert fantasy novel that I’ve been working on since January. It’s the only time I’ve actually honored a New Year’s resolution, and I’m really obsessed with my story. The Wicked Wizard War—TWWW for short—is for my eyes only, but maybe one day I can share it with the world. Or at least Dylan, who’s dying to see the character I modeled after him. I jump back in where I last left off. It’s a scene with Hudson’s character and starts off pretty simple. Ben-Jamin and Hudsonien sneak out of Zen Castle late at night and wander into the Dark Woods for a romantic rendezvous. And Ben-Jamin clears the mist with his wind powers, and whoa, a gang of Life Swallowers have suddenly shown up to execute the holy fuck out of Hudsonien. Shame. I go into great detail about the massive guillotine they’re going to use to behead him because I really like to paint a picture, you know. And right when the Life Swallowers drop the blade from its frame, I shut down. I can’t do it. I’m not ready to kill off Hudson—Hudsonien. Or throw away the box. Maybe we’ll be able to talk things out. Get some closure. Really be friends. I want to know how he’s doing. My heart races as I check in on Hudson’s Instagram profile, @HudsonLikeRiver. One hour ago he posted a selfie, and I don’t know why Harriett said he was sick because he looks pretty damn healthy. He’s holding up peace fingers with the caption #MovingOn. It’s really clear which finger he should’ve thrown up instead. Hudson has to know I unfollowed him. Just like he knows me well enough that I would check his Instagram anyway since his profile isn’t private like mine. But if he’s so ready to move on, he should have no problem showing his face in school. I wonder if he’s actually moving on though. He said that guy from the party doesn’t live in New York, but maybe they have a long-distance thing going on. I sometimes thought Hudson may have been into Danny from math class, but Hudson swears Danny isn’t his type—too muscular, too obsessed with cars. Maybe it’s someone else completely. I mean, I can hashtag move on too. The universe definitely wasn’t trying to help me out today, otherwise I’d probably be texting Arthur instead of looking up my ex-boyfriend. But Dylan has really gotten into my head. Playing to the romantic in me. But that was a problem with Hudson. When we broke up, Hudson said my expectations are too huge and that I sometimes dream too far. I don’t get why that’s so bad. Why shouldn’t I want to be with someone who makes me feel worthy? Someone who wants to be with me for the long run? I don’t know how to find cute strangers in New York. I normally see them once and that’s that. But I spoke to Arthur. I got his name. I click out of Hudson’s profile and type Arthur into the search bar, and what do you know, the universe doesn’t just push the Arthur I met to the top just to make my life easier. I have no clue if Arthur has Instagram, but if he’s like everyone else at school, he’ll post about every detail of his life on Twitter. I type Arthur hot dog tie to see if he’s said anything about his ridiculous tie. Nothing except for a tweet about a hot dog eating contest with some dude named Arthur and a demand for a tiebreaker. I type Arthur Georgia and there’s nothing but randomness, like a girl named Georgia binge-watching every King Arthur movie, and nothing about Post Office Arthur relocating from Georgia for the summer. Damn. This is New York, so Post Office Arthur won’t pop up into my life again. I guess that’s fine. It’s not like something could’ve really happened between us. Thanks for nothing, universe. Chapter Three Arthur Tuesday, July 10 Hudson. Like the river. Lol, replies Jessie. You know you’re creepy as hell for swiping his address label, right? Sobbing tears emoji. I know, I swear I’m not a stalker And even if I were—which I’m not, I would never—I’d be the worst stalker ever. I didn’t even take the whole address label. It’s ripped and crumpled to the point where I don’t know if I’m looking at the to or the from. The address is torn in half, and the last name’s completely illegible. Still, I text a picture of it to the group chat as the 2 train pulls in. Jam-packed, as always. I squish between a man with a Cats shirt and a woman with tattoo sleeves. Well it definitely says Hudson, writes Jessie. I lean into the pole. Right? But is Hudson the boy or the boyfriend? I’m still kicking myself for letting him go. I always thought that was just an expression. Kicking myself. But nope, I’m literally standing here on the subway, kicking the back of my heel with my foot. All I had to do was ask for his number. That’s it. I had one job. Why am I such a gameless dumbfuck?? What?? Jessie writes. What are you talking about? You have so much game. I would never have had the guts to talk to a cute boy I just met. You’re a badass. God he was so cute. I don’t think you understand how cute he was. I’m serious, Arthur, that makes your game even more impressive. Muscle-arm emoji. Agreed, chimes Ethan, you talked to a cute boy, you get props. Okay, you know what’s unsettling? Boy talk with Ethan. And the fact that he says all the right things makes it weirder. Because now I don’t even know which Ethan is real. Supportive Friend Ethan from the group chain? Or our one-on-one chain, featuring a wall of unanswered texts from me? And I know it’s just texts, and it’s a weird thing to fixate on. My mom says I should just talk to him. But I don’t even know what I’d say. And I bet he’d deny anything’s wrong in the first place. I tap into my photos. There’s just this part of me that has to wallow, the part that cues up Les Misérables when I’m sad. I can’t help it. If I’m going to feel something, I want to feel it. I scroll back through time. Junior year. Jessie reading a book during the Roswell-Milton game. Ethan ironically-but-not-really-ironically wearing a fedora. Jessie napping in the passenger seat of my car. Scrolling further. Sophomore year. Ethan in front of a King of Pops cart. Ice skating at Avalon. A close-up of waffles drenched in chocolate syrup, because I always sneak chocolate syrup into Waffle House. Then I switch over to my videos, and it’s a million clips of Ethan singing. Sometimes belting. I’ll just say Ethan’s the reason I spent years assuming all straight guys were into musicals. I kind of hate him. I really miss him. I look up from my phone to find an old lady watching me, and when our eyes meet, she doesn’t look away. She doesn’t smile. She just stares at me and pets her giant purse like it’s a cat. New York is the weirdest. Though it’s weird in a good way sometimes. Like yesterday. My brain keeps wandering back to Box Boy. Hudson. The main thing I remember is his smile—specifically, the way he smiled when I said I was gay. I swear, he was happy to hear it. And yes, it could be a solidarity thing, like some kind of Kinsey scale Sorting Hat. “Better be . . . GAY!!!!!!” *cue cheers and rainbow flag waving from Hudson of Gay House* But maybe it wasn’t just a solidarity thing. It didn’t feel like a solidarity thing. It felt like fate and recognition and standing straighter and oh hello. I’m not an expert or anything, but I could have sworn he was interested. I just can’t figure out why he left. I step off the train and into the smothering heat. Here’s something I didn’t expect about New York: the heat’s worse than Georgia. I mean, it’s hotter in Georgia, yeah, but in New York you actually feel it. If it’s ninety degrees, you walk. If it’s gushing down rain, you walk. Back home, we don’t even walk across parking lots in the summer. You park by Target and go to Target. Then you move your air-conditioned car a hundred yards to Starbucks. But here, I’m sweating through my button-down, and it’s not even nine in the morning. Guess how much I love being the sweaty intern. Extra great, because I work in the fanciest office ever. I mean, this whole building gleams. Artsy minimalist light fixtures? Check. Mirrored elevators? Check. Crisp gray couches and metallic triangular coffee tables? Check and check. There’s even a doorman, Morrie, who calls me doctor, which is a thing that happens to me, despite me being sixteen with no medical training. Because my last name is Seuss. And the answer to your next question is no. Not twice removed. Not cousins by marriage. No, I do not like green eggs and ham. Anyway, my mom works on the eleventh floor. It’s the same firm she works for in Atlanta, but their New York office is at least three times as big. There are lawyers and paralegals and secretaries and clerks, and everyone seems to know one another, and they definitely all know Mom. I guess she’s somewhat of a VIP, because she went to law school with the women who own this firm. Which is how I ended up here instead of directing six-year-olds in Fiddler on the Roof at the JCC. “Yo,” says Namrata. “Arthur, you’re late.” She’s got a massive stack of accordion files, which means I’m in for a fun morning. Namrata likes to boss me around, but she’s actually pretty great. There are only two summer associates this year—her and Juliet—so they’re always slammed with work. But I guess that’s how it goes when you’re in law school. Apparently 563 people applied for Namrata’s and Juliet’s positions. Meanwhile, my application process was Mom saying, “This will look good on your college apps.” I follow Namrata into the conference room, where Juliet’s already thumbing through a stack of papers. She glances up. “The Shumaker files?” “You got it.” Namrata stacks them on the table, sinking into a conference chair. I should mention that the chairs in here are squishy rolling chairs. It’s probably the main perk of the job. I scoot back in my chair, kicking off from the table legs. “All these files are for one case?” “Yup.” “Must be a big case.” “Not really,” says Namrata. She doesn’t even look up. The girls get like that sometimes: hyper-focused and irritable. But, secretly, they’re cool. I mean, they’re not Ethan and Jessie, but they’re pretty much my New York squad. Or they will be, once I win them over. And I will. “Oh, Julieeeettt.” I roll back to the table, pulling my phone out. “I’ve got something for you.” “Should I be nervous?” She’s still lost in her document. “Nope, be excited.” I slide my phone toward her. “Because this happened.” “What is this?” “A screenshot.” Specifically, a screenshot of a conversation that occurred on Twitter at 10:18 p.m. last night with Issa Rae, who happens to be Juliet’s favorite actress, per Juliet’s Instagram, which I secretly follow. “You told Issa Rae it was my birthday?” I beam. “Yup.” “Why?” “So she’d tweet you a birthday message.” “My birthday’s in March.” “I know. I’m just saying—” “You lied to my queen.” “No. Well. Sort of?” I rub my forehead. “Anyway, y’all want to hear about my latest screwup?” “I think we just did,” Namrata says. “No, this is different. It’s boy-related.” They both look up. Finally. The squad can’t resist hearing about my love life, not that I have a love life. But they like hearing about the random cute boys I see on the subway. It’s pretty awesome to actually talk about this stuff out loud. Like it’s no big deal. Like it’s just a thing about me. “I met a boy at the post office,” I say, “and guess what.” “You made out behind a mailbox,” says Namrata. “Uh, no.” “Inside a mailbox,” Juliet suggests. “No. No making out. But he has an ex-boyfriend.” “Oh, so he’s gay.” “Right, or bi or pan or something. And he’s single, unless he rebounds really quickly. Do New York guys rebound quickly?” Namrata cuts straight to the point. “How’d you fuck it up?” “I didn’t get his number.” “Welp,” Namrata says. “Can you find him online?” asks Juliet. “You seem . . . good at that.” “Well, I also didn’t get his name.” “Oh, sweetie.” “Well, I did. Sort of. I’m like fifty percent sure his first name is Hudson.” “You’re fifty percent sure.” Juliet’s mouth quirks. I shake my head slowly. I mean, I could show them the address label. But I’m not sure they need to know about me scrounging for trash on the floor of the post office. Even Jessie thinks that’s creepy. And this is the girl who once told our entire math class she was related to Beyoncé and showed up the next day with Photoshopped pictures to prove it. “So all you have on this guy is his first name, which . . . might not even be his first name.” I nod. “It’s hopeless.” “Probably,” says Namrata. “But you could put a thing on Craigslist.” “A thing?” “A missed connection. You know those posts where it’s like, I saw you on the F train reading Fifty Shades of Grey and eating candy corn.” “Eww, candy corn?” “Excuse me, candy corn is a fucking gift,” says Namrata. “Um—” “Seriously, Arthur, you should do it,” says Juliet. “Just write a post that describes the moment, like, Hey, we met at the post office and made out inside a mailbox, so on and so forth.” “Okay, do people make out inside mailboxes here? This is not a thing we do in Georgia.” “Jules, we should write the post for him.” “Who even fits inside a mailbox?” I add. “Yo,” Namrata says. “Fire up your laptop, kid.” Okay, tiny pet peeve: when the girls call me kid. Like they’re so mature and all-knowing, and I’m some kind of half-formed fetus. Of course, I open my computer anyway. “Pull up Craigslist.” “Don’t people get murdered on Craigslist?” “Nope,” Namrata says. “They get murdered for not getting on Craigslist fast enough and wasting my time.” So now I’ve got Namrata hovering over me, and Juliet beside me, and a million blue links arranged in narrow columns on my screen. “Um. Okay.” Namrata taps the screen. “Right here, under community.” “You seem to know your way around Craigslist,” I say, and she smacks me. I have to admit I love this. The fact that they’re interested. I’m always vaguely paranoid that Namrata and Juliet are exasperated by me. Like I’m some high school kid they’re forced to babysit when they’d rather be doing important things like consolidating the Shumaker files. The thing is, they’re the only squad I have in New York. I don’t know how people make friends in the summer. There are a million and a half people in Manhattan, but none of them make eye contact unless you already know them. And I don’t know any of them, except the ones who work in this law office. Sometimes I miss Ethan and Jessie so much my chest hurts. Juliet’s taken over my laptop. “Oh god, some of these are really sweet,” she says. “Look.” She rotates the computer back toward me. The screen says this: Bleecker Street Starbucks/Not named Ryan—m4m (Greenwich Village) You: button-down shirt with no tie. Me: polo with popped collar. They wrote Ryan on your drink, and you muttered, “Who the hell is Ryan?” Then you caught my eye and gave a sheepish smile and it was very cute. Wish I’d had the guts to ask for your number. Fuck. “Ouch. That sucks.” I click to the next listing. Equinox 85th Street—m4m (Upper East Side) Saw u on the treadmill, u look good. Hit me up. Juliet grimaces. “And they say romance is dead.” “I love the total lack of specificity,” says Namrata. “He’s like, ‘hey, you look good. Why don’t I give you absolutely no frame of reference for who I am.’” “Well,” Juliet says, “at least he’s giving it a shot. Arthur, you want to have sex with this guy in a mailbox again, right—” “That is not a thing. Mailbox sex is not a thing.” “I’m just saying—” “Look, he’s blushing!” “Okay, I’m closing this now.” I slide my laptop into the center of the table, burying my face in my arms. “Let’s do the Shumaker files.” “And that,” Namrata declares, “is how we get Arthur to do some fucking work.” Chapter Four Ben “I think she died,” Dylan says over FaceTime. Maybe I shouldn’t have answered Dylan’s call on my way to school. I’m on a Lorde kick this week and could be listening to more of her music before class, but I got my best friend pants on because Dylan is thrown off by Samantha right now. Last night he texted her some YouTube videos of underappreciated Elliott Smith songs and still hasn’t heard back. Dylan’s love for Elliott Smith can go overboard sometimes, like when he gave me shit for a solid week because I once spelled Elliott’s name without the second t. “I don’t think she’s dead. She probably has a life,” I say. “Doing what?” “I don’t know. Slaying vampires?” “Sun’s up. No vampires out. Try again.” “I’m sure everything is fine. You talked for two hours yesterday.” “Two hours and twelve minutes,” Dylan corrects. He refills his mug of coffee. He didn’t get a lot of sleep. I woke up to two middle-of-the-night missed FaceTime calls and ten thousand Samantha-related texts. I really don’t get the coffee thing and I especially don’t get the coffee thing during the summer and I 100 percent don’t get the coffee thing when you’re already having a hard time sleeping. This math doesn’t add up, but girls have this effect on Dylan. “She has a last name,” Dylan says. “Whoa.” “Samantha O’Malley,” Dylan says. He fills me in on every detail he learned about her yesterday: being a barista makes her way happier than it does her coworkers; her favorite movies are Titanic and The Sandlot; she takes her little sister out for seafood every week; she’s great at video games. “And I thought she liked me.” I’ve seen Dylan go through a dozen “relationships” since third grade, but he’s never been this insufferable on day two of knowing a girl. Even his crush on Harriett took a month to really take hold, which is years in Dylan Time. Dylan’s heart-eyes for Samantha remind me of how I was with Hudson back when he used to race to find me after school. We know what happens next. “I’m sure she likes you, dude.” “Liked. She’s dead. I’ll see you at the next Heartbroken Anonymous meeting.” I turn the corner and walk to the school’s entrance. Belleza High in Midtown is not where Dylan and I go, but this year they’re hosting a shitload of New York’s summer mourners from other public high schools. I’m about to reassure Dylan that Samantha will reach out when I see Hudson and Harriett sitting on the front steps of the school. Just like his Instagram picture yesterday, Hudson looks perfectly healthy. He sees me right before he can take another bite from his bacon, egg, and cheese roll, and he just turns to Harriett and busts out laughing. No shade to Harriett, because she’s awesome, but hilarious she is not. Even she’s looking at him like he’s lost his shit. “Oh,” I say. “D, I got to go.” “What’s happening?” Dylan asks. I flip the phone around and Dylan is also suddenly staring down Hudson and Harriett. “OH. Hi, guys.” Harriett shakes her head. “No thanks.” “Alrighty then,” Dylan says. “Hudson buddy, you have ketchup on your face.” I shake my head and hang up FaceTime while Hudson wipes his face with a napkin. “Hey. Hi,” I say to Hudson and Harriett. “Hi,” Harriett says. But unlike yesterday, she doesn’t give me a hug, because Hudson’s here and she can’t go betraying him. Really sucks since we knew each other before Hudson transferred to our school at the beginning of junior year. I really wish we could all be friends again. That Harriett and I could still talk about our favorite superhero shows. That Dylan and Hudson could still play chess. That Hudson and I could get our friendship back on track. Same for Dylan and Harriett. Maybe one day we can try being a squad again. “Hey,” Hudson says, not looking at me. No brave Instagram face today. He goes for another bite of his roll but holds out, probably still mortified from having ketchup on his face. Hudson always has been a sloppy eater, but I never called him out on that. Walking to school and eating cheap sandwiches while talking about whatever was a highlight for me. I know it shouldn’t sting to see him having breakfast with Harriett, but it does. Like it’s really that simple for Hudson to write me out of his life. “You feeling better?” I ask. I’m really trying to make this summer not suck. “Healthy and happy.” Hudson wraps the aluminum around his sandwich. “And heading up.” He goes up the steps and through the door. “This is going to be a fun day,” Harriett says. “I’ll never ask him how he’s doing again, I guess,” I say. “He’s going to need some time. Bruised ego.” “He’s the one who made out with another guy,” I say. “He thought you guys had broken up,” Harriett says. “He kissed him two days after our fight.” Harriett raises her hands. “It’s more complicated for him, and I think you know that.” “That’s not fair. He broke my heart first,” I say. “I don’t get how Hudson gets all the pity points just because I’m the one who broke up with him. I had my reasons. You know all of them.” “I don’t want to be in the middle any more than I am,” Harriett says. “I’m sorry, Ben.” She heads into the building. I take a deep breath. I don’t know what twisted world Harriett is living in where she’s in the middle of this—she’s clearly Team Hudson. None of this would be happening if Hudson and I had just stayed friends. I go up the steps, dreading this class. But I don’t turn back. I’m not repeating junior year because my ex-boyfriend scared me out of summer school. Our teacher, Mr. Hayes, is outside the classroom flirting with the algebra teacher. Mr. Hayes is pretty young, like maybe midtwenties. He usually does missionary work in other countries during the summer, but in May he twisted his ankle during a Spartan Race, so he’s keeping busy teaching us chemistry. He’s not exactly my type because he’s a little too fit, the kind of guy you see on a package for underwear, but there’s no denying how handsome he is. I take my seat at the back of the room, as far away from Hudson and Harriett as possible. I just open my notebook and keep to myself. I’ve always sucked at school. Hudson telling me I didn’t have to study as hard for exams definitely didn’t help, but I’ve always had trouble focusing in class. I spend way too much time daydreaming, for starters. Whenever there’s a test I study at home for twenty minutes and get back to my Sims and stories. Ma was so frustrated with me in my first semester that she confiscated the laptop until my grades improved, which they sort of did because I really needed to get back to my made-up worlds. But even when I do my best to pay attention in class, I feel so far behind. Like if you miss a lesson because you’re out sick or gazing out thinking about what it would feel like to be really loved back, the teachers don’t stop class to reteach you. They keep it moving. I forget who fought in World War II. I can’t name more than ten presidents. I’m geographically lost. Trivial Pursuit is my nightmare. I want to know the real world better. Not just the ones I make up or the ones I play with on Sims. But right now I just feel lonely and unwanted in the real world. Mr. Hayes walks in with a crutch under one armpit and carrying a duffel bag in his other hand, like he’s about to work out instead of talk about chemical properties for the next two hours. “Good morning, friends,” he says. “Let’s roll through attendance.” Hudson raises his hand. “Hi. I’m Hudson Robinson. I missed yesterday.” Mr. Hayes nods. “You sure did. Feeling better?” “One hundred percent.” “Great. Let’s chat after class. I can walk you through what you missed,” Mr. Hayes says. “Okay, Pete’s here. Scarlett—” “Wait,” Hudson interrupts. “I’m not staying late. Coming to school during the summer is already over the top, thank you very much.” Harriett gives Hudson her signature dude-shut-the-hell-up face. “I’m not the one who failed you. It’s my job to make sure you don’t fail again. Just hang back for thirty minutes after class so you don’t have to spend the next year watching your friends get ready for prom and graduation and college while you’re making friends with juniors.” Man, Mr. Hayes knows how to go for the throat without sounding like a total dick. “I’m not stupid, I know the material,” Hudson says. I’ve never seen him talk to a teacher like this. “That’s not why I’m here. I was just . . .” He doesn’t look at me. “I only missed the first day. I got the basics covered.” “Cool. Tell us how ionic bonds are formed and you can earn your freedom.” Hudson doesn’t say anything. “Alloys are a combination of what?” Nothing. See? School pauses for no one. Not even confusing ex-boyfriends. Hudson shrugs and pulls out his phone, and holy shit, I hope he’s going to google these answers and not just text away. This stretch of awkward silence is made even more awkward by how hard Hudson is blushing. I haven’t seen him this quiet since Kim Epstein tried to call him one of the girls as an insult because he’s a little effeminate, and Harriett blasted Kim’s business for trying to swing at her best friend. I’m killing the awkward silence. “Alloys are a combination of metals.” We relearned that yesterday. Hudson snaps away from his phone and stares at me. “I don’t need anything from you, okay? Don’t ask me how I’m doing. Don’t help me out.” He’s so red in the face it’s a miracle he doesn’t not-so-spontaneously combust. I want to prop up my notebook and hide. No one here knows our history except Harriett. They must think Hudson is a loose cannon and I’m the summer school know-it-all. I do know one thing: this is going to be a long summer. Chapter Five Arthur On the subway ride home, it hits me: I really, truly, irrevocably messed up. I met the most gorgeous boy with the most sun-kissed cheeks, and the weird part is, I honestly think he was into me. That smile. It wasn’t a solidarity smile. It was a smile like a door opening. But that door is now slammed shut, locked, and dead-bolted. I’ll never see Hudson again. I’ll never kiss him on his Emma Watson mouth. And isn’t that just the story of my life. Relationship status: Forever Alone. Wish I’d had the guts to ask for your number. Jessie’s dead wrong about me being a badass. The truth is, I have zero guts and zero game. I’ve never had a boyfriend, never had sex, never kissed anyone, never come close. It hasn’t bothered me until now. It just felt normal. After all, Ethan and Jessie are right there with me in that boat. But now it feels like I’m auditioning for Broadway with no training and an empty résumé. Unprepared and unqualified and totally, totally out of my depth. And all the way home, I feel too big for my skin. I hop off at Seventy-Second Street and step out into a mess of people and taxis and strollers and noise. There are three blocks between the subway station and home. I spend the whole time reading missed connections on my phone. As soon as I open the door: “Art, is that you?” I set down my laptop bag on the dining room table, which is also both the living room table and the kitchen table. My great-uncle Milton’s apartment has two bedrooms, and I guess it’s considered big for New York. Even so, it makes me feel like a mummy in a sarcophagus. I definitely get why Uncle Milton’s hanging out in Martha’s Vineyard all summer. I follow Dad’s voice, and he’s sitting at my desk with a mug of coffee and his laptop. “Why are you in my room?” He shakes his head like he’s baffled to find himself here. “I don’t know, change of scenery?” “You’re scared of the horses.” “I love horses. I just don’t understand why your uncle Milton needs twenty-two paintings of them,” Dad says. “Their eyes follow you, right? I’m not imagining it?” “You’re not imagining it.” “I just want to, like . . . glue sunglasses on them, or something.” “Good call. Mom would be thrilled.” For a moment, we just grin at each other. Sometimes with my dad, it’s like we’re two kids in the back of a classroom. Which means there are times we must throw wads of paper at the back of my mother’s head. Metaphorically speaking. I peek at my dad’s computer. “Is this a freelance thing?” “Nah, just tinkering.” My dad’s a web developer. In Georgia, he was the kind of web developer who made money, until he got laid off the day before Christmas. So now he’s the kind who tinkers. And here’s something you learn when you live in a sarcophagus: sound travels through walls. Which means, most nights, I get to hear my mom calling my dad out for half-assing his job search. Which usually gets my dad muttering about how hard it is to job hunt in Georgia while living in New York. Which always ends in my mom reminding him he’s welcome to head back home anytime. Guess how totally not awkward that is. “Hey, what do you think about Craigslist missed connections?” I blurt. I don’t know why I do this. I definitely wasn’t planning on telling my parents the post office story. Just like I wasn’t planning on telling them about my sad crush on Cody Feinman from Hebrew school. Or my even sadder crush on Jessie’s very slightly younger brother. Or the fact that I’m gay in the first place. But sometimes things just slip out. “You mean like a personal ad?” “Well yeah, but not like must love dogs and long walks on the beach. It’s like . . .” I nod. “Okay, it’s kind of like a lost cat ad, except the cat’s actually a cute boy you met at the post office. But a human cute boy. Not a literal cat.” “Got it,” Dad says. “So you want to put up an ad to find the post office boy.” “No! I don’t know.” I shake my head. “Juliet and Namrata suggested it, yeah, but it’s a total long shot. I don’t even know if anyone reads those things.” Dad nods slowly. “It’s definitely a long shot.” “Right. Stupid idea. Okay—” “It’s not a stupid idea. We should post one.” “He’s not going to see it.” “He might. It’s worth a try, right?” He opens a new search window. “Okay, no. No no no. Craigslist is not a father-son bonding activity.” But he’s already typing, and I can tell from the set of his jaw: he’s all in. “Dad.” The apartment door creaks open, and I hear the click of heels against hardwoods. A moment later, Mom’s in my doorway. Dad doesn’t even glance up from the computer screen. “You’re home early,” he says. “It’s six thirty.” Suddenly, everyone’s quiet. And it’s not even the normal kind of silence. It’s one of those charged, atomic silences. I dive into it headfirst. “We’re making a thing on Craigslist to find that guy from the post office.” “Craigslist?” Mom narrows her eyes. “Arthur, absolutely not.” “Why not? I mean, other than the fact that it’s pointless and there’s no way he’d ever see it . . .” Dad rubs his beard. “Why do you think he won’t see it?” “Because boys like that aren’t on Craigslist.” “Boys like you aren’t on Craigslist,” says Mom. “I’m not letting you get killed by a machete murderer.” I laugh shortly. “Okay, I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. Dick pics? Probably. Machete murderer—” “Ooh. Yeah, as your mom, I’m going to go ahead and veto the dick pics, too.” “It’s not like I’m asking for dick pics!” “If you put an ad up on Craigslist, you’re asking for dick pics.” Dad glances sidelong at Mom. “Mara, don’t you think you’re being a little bit—” “What, Michael? What am I being?” “You don’t think you’re overreacting? Just a bit?” “Because I don’t want our sixteen-year-old son prowling around the underbelly of the internet—” “I’m almost seventeen!” “Craigslist?” Dad smiles. “You think Craigslist is the underbelly of the internet—” “Well, you would know,” Mom snaps. Dad looks confused. “What’s that supposed to mean—” “Okay, please stop,” I cut in. “Obviously, I’m not doing this. I’m not wasting my time searching for some random guy I talked to for five seconds. Okay? Can we just chill?” I look from Mom to Dad and back to Mom, but it’s like they don’t even see me. They’re too busy pointedly not looking at each other. So I leave. Grab my laptop. Exit stage left. My heart’s beating so fast, it’s almost stuttering. I hate this. It’s never been like this with them. Yeah, I’ve seen them get snippy with each other. We’re not robots. But they could always joke their way out of it. It’s just that these days, even the jokey moments feel like a temporary cease-fire. I sink onto the living room couch and shut my eyes—but I swear I’m being watched. By horses. Specifically, by the giant oil painting hanging above the table, which I can only assume is an early portrait of BoJack Horseman painted by Leonardo da Vinci himself. Mom’s voice drifts in from my bedroom. “. . . home early. Excuse me? I rescheduled two conference calls to be . . .” “Yeah. Like I said . . .” Dad’s voice drops off. “. . . early.” “Oh, come off it. Are you kidding me? That’s not . . .” “You’re reading too much into . . .” “Okay, you know what you’re not going to do, Michael? You’re not going to spend the day playing computer games in your boxers, and then come after me for—” I open my laptop. Click into iTunes. Spring Awakening, original cast album. I jam my finger down on F12 until the volume’s as high as it will go. “Mara, can you please—” And I let Jonathan Groff drown them out. Because that’s what cute boys are for. Chapter Six Ben I wish I felt Puerto Rican out in the world the way I do at home. Some friends in middle school told me I wasn’t really Puerto Rican because I’m so white-passing and only know a dozen basic Spanish phrases, stuff like te amo and cómo estás. I told Pa that day, begging him to put Post-it notes on different objects around the apartment to teach me Spanish so I wouldn’t get bullied again. Pa was happy to do so, but he broke it down for me that being Puerto Rican didn’t come down to my skin or knowing Spanish, but my blood and family. I really liked that. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not constantly having to basically say, “Hi, I’m Ben. I’m Puerto Rican.” Pa’s complexion is the darkest in our family, though still really light, like a white person’s tan, and how he looks is how everyone expects me to look. No one ever questions my dad being Puerto Rican. If only everyone could see me at home, completely killing it while I’m on sofrito duty, mellowing out to Lana Del Rey while mixing the cilantro, peppers, onions, and garlic, along with the fresh oregano my mom’s coworker gave us. My dad prepares our plates with salad first, piling his rice and pigeon peas on top. He hooks me up with extra pegao because I’ve always loved crispy rice since I was a kid, maybe because it’s crunchy like some of my favorite candy. My mom sets her coconut pudding in the oven and we’re pretty good to go. Ma taps my shoulder and says something I can’t hear over the music. She pulls out one earbud. “What’s going on with you?” Her dark hair rests over her shoulder, smelling like cucumber shampoo from her post-work shower. She’s a bookkeeper at Blink Fitness, and even though she’s in an office all day the smell of sweat clings to her like a gym bro on a pull-up bar, so she’s always quick to hit the showers when she gets home. “It’s been a day,” I say. “Hudson?” Pa asks. “Ding-ding.” Pa shakes his head while cleaning the pots and pans before we eat so the dishes won’t seem as mountainous when our stomachs are filled, a trick Abuelo taught him. The soap foams over his hands. “Diego, hurry up, I’m starving.” Ma hands me utensils. “Benito, set the table. Catch us up after prayer.” I set the forks and knives on our individual place mats, these impulse buys at the corner store when our money situation was a little better than it is now. Ma’s is shaped like an owl, her favorite animal. Pa’s is a black-and-white linen stitch that he always scratches while waiting for us to finish our dinner. And mine has a T. rex trying to drink from a water fountain, which hasn’t won a smile out of me since I broke up with Hudson. We sit really close to one another. There’s never been a time where my parents are both sitting at the heads of the table. Ma says it feels too regal, like we’re eating a feast in some castle’s massive dining room instead of a super-cozy two-bedroom apartment. And Pa just doesn’t like being that far away from Ma. We take one another’s hands and Ma says grace. My parents are big on faith and we like to say we have a healthy relationship with religion. We’re not old-school Catholics who live by the Bible and conveniently ignore all the verses that contradict the hate coming out of their mouths. We’re the kind of Catholics who think people shouldn’t go to hell for being nonhetero, and that was before I even came out. My parents pray to God on the regular and I jump in during dinner. This evening Ma is thanking God for the food on the table, for my abuelita who fell getting out of the car and my aunt who’s taking care of her, for Pa’s modest pay raise kicking in at Duane Reade, and for everyone’s well-being. “Okay.” Ma claps her hands. “Hudson. What’s going on with him?” I like that my parents are so in my face but know to give me space too. “I was trying to help him out in class and he flipped on me.” Pa’s eyes narrow. “I thought you said he wasn’t the fighting type.” “He’s definitely not,” I say, and he cools down. Two years ago I got robbed outside a grocery store and my parents locked me down with tight curfews, which felt like punishment for being a victim, but I know it was all love with the way Pa trained me to throw up my fists and run. Still, that was a summer I lost, and it’s not like they come around as quickly as weekends. “He just shouted at me in front of everyone. And I didn’t argue back.” “Good,” Ma says. “Also good that you can take him if you need to.” “Definitely.” There was that one time where I picked up Hudson and kissed him against a wall because we saw a guy-girl couple doing it in a movie and we wanted to see what it was like for a guy-guy couple. Then we flipped and even though we’re the same weight, he had a harder time carrying me. “Okay, barbarians.” Ma shakes her head because she’s not about any talk of violence. She doesn’t even like action movies, which Pa and I are openly fine with since she will ask you ten thousand questions during a movie, even if everyone is seeing it for the first time. “I hope it smooths over soon.” “Not holding my breath.” I try to stretch dinner for as long as possible because being alone is really getting to me. Ma tells us about the new thriller podcast she’s been listening to, and how each episode ramps up the tension so much that she almost wishes the series was over already so she could breathe and not be held in suspense anymore. Pa tells us about how this afternoon a father and son were buying condoms at the same time without realizing the other was there. “How’s your story going, Benito? Have I made a reappearance yet?” Ma asks. The only people who know I’m writing this novel are Dylan, Hudson, Harriett, and my parents. This year I couldn’t afford to buy Ma anything for Mother’s Day, so I wrote her into the story as a sorceress who doesn’t age and casts peace spells. I printed it out, but at the last second my insecurities kicked in and I just told her what her character does instead of letting her read for herself. I’ve gotten so far with this story that I’m nervous any negative feedback might make me quit. “Nope. Isabel the Serene needs to stay in her tower. Can’t have any more peace spells in a war with wizards.” “Maybe they can reach a place of understanding by talking.” “Ma, no.” I smile a little. “The laptop has been acting up lately. It gets overheated after twenty minutes.” “Maybe if you pass summer school, we can get you a new one,” Ma says. “No,” Pa says. “His reward for passing summer school is not getting left behind.” “Better to have me home writing than outside getting robbed, right?” “Cheap shot,” Pa says. “But well played. Hector the Haggler taught you well.” Hector the Haggler got even less page time than Ma’s character. “We can find another on Craigslist,” Ma says. I think getting a laptop on Craigslist was the problem to begin with, but I can’t complain. “Frankie connected with his new girlfriend on Craigslist,” Pa says. “Which Frankie? Employee Frankie or Mailman Frankie?” I ask. “Employee Frankie. Rodriquez. He was telling me about this page on Craigslist where you can find people you met or almost met. Missed you connections, I think.” Pa looks at me and Ma like we’re supposed to know what he’s talking about. He shrugs. “Well, Frankie first met Lola on the train and they didn’t trade numbers before he got off. His friend told him to check out Craigslist, and he found a listing from Lola. Been dating two weeks now.” “That’s so wonderful,” Ma says. “Impressive,” I say. It’s like Craigslist is some agent of the universe. Handling business. And maybe the universe is speaking through my dad right now to encourage me to do the same. To see if Arthur, my Lola, tried finding me too. I get up from the table. “I have to check something,” I say. “What about dessert?” Ma asks. I halt and almost double back, but keep it moving. Dessert will still be there. I have this I-must-do-this-right-now-or-explode feeling in my chest. I close my bedroom door and sit on my bed with the busted laptop that started this whole Craigslist conversation. There’s this exciting hope of possibility filling me up, like when Hudson and I started texting for the first time, like when Arthur said hi and we flirted and talked about the universe. I go on Craigslist and find missed connections—not missed you connections, Pa, wow—and I look through their dude-for-dude listings in Manhattan. What starts out as hopeful scrolling quickly turns into defeat, and I sort of wish I could start a support group for all these people with their regrets and what-if fantasies. I close the laptop. I guess that’s it on this Arthur business. Chapter Seven Arthur Wednesday, July 11 “Arthur, shoes. Come on. We’re going to be late.” Mom checks her phone. “Oy. I’m getting a Lyft.” I peer up at her from the couch. “It’s only eight.” “Well, since your dad finished off the coffee without telling me,” she says loudly, in the general direction of their bedroom, “we need to stop at Starbucks before the Bray-Eliopulos call. You’ve taken your pill, right?” “Yeah, but.” I sit up slowly. “Why don’t I just take the subway?” “You’d need to leave now anyway for the subway.” “Not really. Not until eight twenty.” Mom scoffs. “Is that why you keep rolling into the office at nine fifteen?” “That was one time!” She ruffles my hair. “Come on. I already called the Lyft.” But then the door to my parents’ bedroom nudges open and out shuffles my dad, wearing plaid flannel pants and yesterday’s T-shirt. “Morning.” He yawns, rubbing his beard. “Hey, Art. Want to grab bagels?” “Yes!” “Michael, can you just . . . not.” Mom exhales. “Not right now.” They look at each other, and it’s one of those lightning-fast wordless parental debates—if you can even call it a debate. It’s more like watching a bulldozer run over a worm. Dad pats my shoulder. “Let’s do bagels tomorrow.” “But I don’t want to be stuck in a Lyft with pre-coffee Mom,” I whisper. “You’ll survive.” The Lyft pulls in front of our building, and I slide into the back seat after Mom. She smooths her skirt and sets her phone on her lap, screen down, hands clasped together. She’s regained her chill now that we’re moving, but she’s watching me intently, and I think that’s almost worse. No doubt she’s gearing up for a Chat. She clears her throat. “So, tell me about the boy.” “What boy?” “Arthur!” She nudges me. “From the post office.” I look at her sidelong. “I already told you about him.” “Well, you just told me what happened at the post office, but I want the whole story.” “Okay. Um. You didn’t want me to look for him, so . . . that is the whole story.” “Sweetie, I just don’t want you on Craigslist. Did you read that article about—” “I know. I know. Machetes and dick pics.” I shrug. “I’m not doing Craigslist. I don’t even care that much.” “I’m sorry, Arthur. I know you were hoping to find him.” “It’s not a big deal. He’s just a random guy.” “Well, I just think,” Mom starts to say—but then her phone buzzes in her lap. She peeks at the screen and sighs. “I have to get this. Hold that thought.” She twists her body toward the window. “What’s up . . . yes. Okay, yes. On our way. Ten minutes, and we’re swinging through Starbucks . . . what? Oh. Oh no.” She drums on her briefcase. Then she turns to me, eyes rolling slightly, and mouths, “Work.” Which means she’s not hanging up the phone anytime soon. So I turn to stare out my own window, mentally cataloging the restaurants and storefronts. It’s not even nine, but the sidewalks are jammed with commuters. They all look exhausted and generally underwhelmed. Underwhelmed. By New York! I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like New Yorkers do New York wrong. Where are the people swinging from subway poles and dancing on fire escapes and kissing in Times Square? The post office flash mob proposal was a start, but when’s the next big number? I pictured New York like West Side Story plus In the Heights plus Avenue Q—but really, it’s just construction and traffic and iPhones and humidity. They might as well write musicals about Milton, Georgia. We’d open with a ballad: “Sunday at the Mall.” And then “I Left My Heart at Target.” If Ethan were here, he’d have the whole libretto written by the time we stepped out of the car. “Oh, I don’t think so,” Mom’s saying into the phone. “Unless Wingate filed a brief. Okay, we’re a block away.” She pauses. “No, that’s fine, I’ll send Arthur. Be right up.” Already, she’s fishing a twenty from her purse. “Tall nonfat latte,” she mouths. Hashtag intern life. I text Ethan while waiting in line at Starbucks. Concept: a musical set in the Atlanta suburbs called . . . wait for it . . . Ha-Milton. Mic emoji. Down-arrow emoji. Boom. But Ethan doesn’t text back. Thursday, July 12 It’s radio silence until the next morning, when Ethan texts a selfie to—surprise, surprise—the group chain. It’s him and Jessie at Waffle House holding up a bottle of chocolate syrup. You’re here in spirit, my dude! he writes. It just sucks. Any other summer, I’d be next to Jessie in that booth, eating hash browns and ranting about politics or Twitter or stage-to-screen adaptations. I’d give Ethan and Jessie the full, unabridged post office story, and we’d probably make a football-style Operation Hudson game plan in my notes app. As opposed to here, where the girls shut down every time I say the word Hudson. I swear, they’re even worse than usual today. One of the paralegals drops off a package for Namrata, and she barely even looks at it. It’s like she can’t stop typing. For a moment, I just watch her. “What’s that?” I ask finally. “I don’t know.” “Maybe you should open it.” “I will.” Namrata’s fingers still on the keyboard for a moment while she reads something on her screen. Then she glances at a stack of documents, back up at her screen, and starts typing again. “When, though?” “What?” “When do you think you’ll open it?” “Let me guess.” Namrata sighs so hard, it ruffles the Shumaker documents. “You’re not going to let me work until I do.” “That’s probably true.” “Then let’s go.” She rips the package open and peers inside of it for what feels like ten minutes—but when she finally turns back toward me, she’s smiling. “Why the fuck did you buy me five pounds of candy corn?” “It’s actually four pounds and fourteen ounces—” “Of candy corn.” “In July,” adds Juliet. “Arthur, you are something else,” says Namrata. Translation: I nailed it. Juliet ruffles my hair. “Want to grab lunch with us?” Translation: I super nailed it. I’m so happy, I could sing. If the girls and I are lunch friends now, we’re probably on track for tasteful matching BFF tattoos by next week. And then they’ll introduce me to cute law school boys, cuter than Hudson, and I’ll never go home. I’ll just stay here in New York with my awesome new squad. My new best friends. I mean, who even needs Waffle House? I’ll just be here grabbing business lunch in New York fucking City, the culinary center of the universe. Ethan and Jessie can spend the rest of their lives eating at chain restaurants. From now on, I’ll only eat at farm-fresh artisan food trucks and iconic celebrity delis. “I’ve always wanted to try Tavern on the Green,” I say. “Arthur, we have thirty minutes.” “Sardi’s?” “How about Panera?” I gasp. “I love Panera.” “Yeah, I figured,” says Namrata, throwing back a fistful of candy corn. Five minutes later, we hit the streets, and I can’t get over how different the girls are outside the office. They’re so open. Up until today, most of my Namrata and Juliet intel came from one of three sources: eavesdropping, Instagram, and my mom. Now I know Juliet’s a dancer and Namrata’s a vegetarian, and they hated each other their whole first year of law school, but now they’re best friends and they go on runs together and eat cupcakes, and neither of them has skipped a single reading for any class ever. All this before we’re even in line at Panera. “I’m beyond disgusted,” Namrata’s telling Juliet. “I was like, you know what? That’s fine, don’t call them out, but guess what. I’m done spending the night there. Sorry, David, but dinosaur porn crosses a line for me.” Juliet moans. “Ewwww.” “Wait, who’s David? And why is he into dinosaur porn?” Okay, real talk: I hate when people drop a random name like I’m supposed to magically know it. “No, it’s David’s roommates,” Juliet explains. “And they’re not only into dinosaur porn,” adds Namrata, “but they’re actually creating their own—I’m not even kidding—dinosaur porn webcomic. Which—okay, you do you. But then they leave their sketches in the fucking living room, and I’m like, David, can I please not have to look at this picture of a T. rex getting himself off?” “But . . . T. rex arms.” Juliet looks baffled. “How?” “Seriously, who’s David?” I ask. Namrata looks amused. “My boyfriend.” “You have a boyfriend?” “They’ve been dating for six years,” Juliet says. “What? No way.” I turn to Juliet. “Do you have a boyfriend?” “I have a girlfriend,” Juliet says. “You’re a lesbian?” “Next,” says the guy behind the counter. Juliet steps up and orders a soup. Then she turns back to me and says, “Well, I’m biromantic ace, which means—” “I know, I know. But you never mentioned it. Why don’t you guys ever tell me anything?” “We tell you to get back to work,” says Juliet. “We tell you that a lot.” “But you never tell me about your love lives. I’ve told you every single thing about Hudson, and I didn’t even know you had a girlfriend! And I definitely didn’t know Namrata had a boyfriend named David who draws dinosaur porn.” “No, David’s roommates draw dinosaur porn,” Namrata interjects, drifting back from the counter. “That is a critical piece of information. Arthur, you’re up. Go order your PB and J Happy Meal.” “Pssh. I’m getting grilled cheese. Grown-up grilled cheese.” Namrata pats my head. “Very sophisticated.” “Hudson,” someone says over a microphone, and I freeze. Namrata and Juliet freeze. The whole world freezes. “Hudson, your order’s ready.” “Arthur.” Juliet presses a hand to her mouth. “It’s not him.” “How do you know?” “It can’t be him. That would be too weird. Like, what are the odds?” I shake my head. “It’s some other Hudson.” “We’re near the post office,” says Juliet. “He probably works around here or lives here or something. It’s not really that common of a name.” “Yeah, we’re going up there,” Namrata says. “No way. That’s shady!” “No it’s not.” She gives me a not-so-gentle yank toward the pickup counter. Standing with his back to us is a boy in jeans and a fitted polo shirt—white, taller than me, hair totally covered by a backward baseball cap. “Is that him?” “I don’t know.” “YO, HUDSON,” Namrata says loudly. My heart stops. And the boy turns around, looking slightly apprehensive. “Do I know you?” he asks Namrata. It’s not him. It’s not Hudson. Well, apparently it is Hudson, or at least he answers to Hudson, but he’s not my Hudson, if my Hudson’s even a Hudson in the first place. My head’s kind of swirling. This Hudson isn’t terrible-looking. He’s got really nice cheekbones and incredible eyebrows. He’s staring at us now, looking bewildered, and I’m absolutely pissing-my-pants mortified. “Hudson. From band camp?” Namrata asks smoothly. “I didn’t go to band camp.” “Oh well. Must be someone else.” “Someone else named Hudson?” he asks. Namrata doesn’t even bat an eye. “Yup, Hudson Panini.” Hudson Panini. Did Namrata seriously just pull a fictional camp friend out of her ass and name him Hudson Panini? “Oh wow. Way more epic than Hudson Robinson.” “I’m afraid so.” Namrata grabs my hand. “But enjoy your bread bowl, Hudson Robinson.” “I ordered a panini,” Hudson says faintly. But by then, we’re halfway back to the table. Juliet’s on us immediately. “How’d it go?” “I’m going to murder Namrata,” I inform her. Namrata snorts. “Excuse me?” “HUDSON PANINI?” “I saw a panini.” “Genius,” says Juliet. I sink back into my chair. “That was so humiliating.” “Whatever. You were being a wimpy little butt,” says Namrata. “You weren’t even going to talk to him.” “That wasn’t even him! It was the wrong guy.” “Well, obviously. He didn’t recognize you at all.” Juliet leans back in her chair. “So it was a totally different Hudson?” “Or it’s the ex-boyfriend,” Namrata says casually. “In which case, you’re welcome. I just got you his last name.” “Wait,” I murmur. But the rest of my words evaporate. Because maybe Namrata’s wrong. But maybe she’s not wrong. Maybe Hudson Robinson—backward-cap-wearing, eyebrow-god Hudson Robinson—is Box Boy’s ex. I bet he’s been too depressed to wash his hair since the breakup, which is why he’s wearing the hat. Holy shit. Hudson Robinson. I’m not a stalker or anything. It’s not like I’m going to show up on his doorstep. But everyone’s on the internet somewhere, right? I mean, maybe I was actually fated to meet the boy from the post office. Maybe I’m fated to find him again. And maybe—just maybe—I’m supposed to find him by following the boy who brought him to the post office in the first place. Hudson Robinson, I type. And then I click enter. Chapter Eight Ben Class was rough and the last thing I really want to be doing is meeting Dylan’s future temporary girlfriend, but I rush downtown anyway as if getting far enough away from school can help me forget about how much it hurts to be excluded from all the laughs Hudson and Harriett share at the beginning and end of class. I get off the train and Dylan is outside a pharmacy holding a Dream & Bean thermos and a bouquet of flowers. “You have Murderer Face going on right now,” Dylan says. “Guilty Murderer Face. Maybe we can turn that frown upside down before you meet Samantha. Happy Best Friend Face, if you need any suggestions.” Dylan winks. I will play along with Happy Best Friend Face because it’s Dylan. But it really is getting exhausting getting to know all of his girlfriends, bonding with them, and losing their friendship pretty quickly after Dylan cuts ties with them. “You got it. What’s going on with the roses?” I ask. “Samantha mentioned roses are her favorite flower while we were watching Titanic,” Dylan says, beaming, like it’s a superhuman trait to remember something that was said less than twenty-four hours ago. “You guys hung out?” “Over FaceTime last night.” “You were on FaceTime the whole time? Isn’t that movie over three hours long?” Dylan nods. “It took us over four hours to get through it. We kept pausing to talk.” “That’s impressive,” I say. I mean it. Especially considering how much sleep he lost the night before because Samantha hadn’t texted him back about Elliott Smith. It turns out she just hadn’t had a chance to listen to the songs yet. And she loved them all. “Did you like it?” “I thought the ship was going to sink a lot sooner, if you catch my drift.” “You were bored until the ship started sinking—” “I was bored until the ship started sinking, yes.” Dylan has some serious pep in his step as we rush to the coffee shop. He’s dodging people left and right, and I can barely hear him go on about how there was room for Jack and Rose on that floating door or how they could’ve at least taken turns. Dylan stops at the corner. “Okay. How do I look?” He’s got bags under his eyes and he’s wearing a Kool Koffee T-shirt, which feels super extra, but otherwise good. Except: “Might want to toss the Dream & Bean cup.” Dylan tosses the thermos at me like it’s a grenade and we pass it back and forth before I finally throw it in my backpack. “You’re ridiculous,” I say as we walk inside Kool Koffee. The coffee shop smells like pretentious writers who would hate the stuff I write. Samantha is behind the counter in all her glory. She stops taking someone’s order and waves. Her dark curls are flattened by a khaki cap, and her blue-green eyes are beaming at Dylan. And boom, bright white teeth when she smiles over a customer’s shoulder. I’m certain that I’m 100 percent gay because if I was even 1 percent bisexual I would be crushing hard on Samantha for looks and high energy alone. Dylan watches Samantha as if she were glowing, and I wonder when I went dim for Hudson. If I ever really glowed for him at all. Oh shit. One free table left. “I’m grabbing that table,” I say. Dylan wrenches me back. “You have to order. Also, I’m nervous I’ll say something stupid.” “You’ll be fine.” “I almost walked in here with coffee from the enemy.” I stay put. I have my Happy Best Friend Face on, even when some hopeful novelist-looking type our age takes the last available table, opening his laptop to write the Next Harry Potter before I can. He’s cool to look at, at least. Bright eyes, dark brown skin, Caesar cut, a shirt with the Human Torch on it. If I were ballsier, sort of like that Arthur dude or Dylan with Samantha, I would make the first move. I’d sit across from him, say what’s up, chat about writing, find out if he’s into guys, call him pretty, pray he calls me pretty back, get his phone number, fall in love. But I’m not ballsy, so I don’t. We reach the front of the line and Samantha reaches over the counter, almost knocking over a spinner of impulse-buy cookies. “I’m a hugger,” she says. She’s undersold herself because she’s not simply a hugger, she’s a damn good hugger. “So nice to meet you, Ben.” “You too, Samantha. Samantha, right? Not Sam? Not Sammy?” “Only my mom calls me Sammy. Weirds me out whenever anyone else does. Thanks for asking,” Samantha says. She turns to Dylan. “Hi.” “Hi,” he says. “How you doing?” “Good. Busy.” She smiles at the roses. “You’re sweet. Unless those aren’t for me, then I’m spitting in your coffee.” “All yours,” Dylan says. Samantha picks up a cup, writes Dylan’s name inside a heart, and gets his spit-free large coffee started. “What can I get you, Ben?” “I don’t know. A strawberry lemonade, I guess.” Sugar FTW. “Small, medium, large?” I look at the prices on the menu. “Small. Definitely small.” Holy shit, $3.50 for a small cup of half ice, half juice? I could go on an adventure with a $2.75 single ride MetroCard with change to spare. Buy a gallon of orange juice. Three packs of Skittles and five Swedish Fish at the corner store. “You got it,” Samantha says. She draws a smiley face under my name. “I’ll be free in a couple minutes. Let me just close out this line.” We wait at the end of the bar. I take another peek at the dude in the Human Torch shirt. He’s wearing headphones now and I wonder what he’s listening to. Hudson liked a lot of classics. I’m more into whatever is trending that month. I don’t seek out new songs, but if it’s catchy, I’m set. It’d be cool to date someone who liked the same stuff I did. We wouldn’t clash during road trips to see life outside the city. We could share earphones and vibe to the same song while relaxing somewhere quiet. A girl gets up from her corner table, wiping it down with napkins, and before I can charge to see if she’s leaving, two vultures—excuse me, dudes in suits on their lunch break—swarm in and take the table. “You should’ve let me get the table,” I say. “Isn’t she awesome?” Dylan asks. “Yup,” I say automatically. Samantha comes out from behind the counter, singing our names. “Here you go.” She walks to the standing bar. “Thanks for stopping by.” “Dylan wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I say. “Me either, obviously.” “Beats going home and doing homework, right?” Dylan says. I just nod. I don’t really want anyone knowing I’m in summer school. It was embarrassing enough sitting in homeroom toward the end of the school year when I wasn’t handed my report card and had to go meet with the guidance counselor. Everyone in homeroom knew it meant I was getting the go-to-summer-school-or-repeat-eleventh-grade-in-a-different-school chat. I should’ve gone that second route. I would have my summer and be Hudson-free in September and beyond too. Samantha takes a sip from her iced quad nonfat one-pump mocha with whip. I think she can tell talking about summer school is awkward and touchy for me. I wish my best friend was as quick on this front. “I love working here, but I sort of miss my freedom too. But I want to work in business one day, and my mom said it’s best to work at every stage possible before climbing the ranks so I never turn into some monster expecting masterful work from employees making just enough to get by.” “What kind of business?” I ask. “I would love to start my own app games. I have this one idea. It’s like Frogger, but instead of heavy-traffic streets, it takes place on the sidewalks of New York. You die if you get hit with someone’s shopping cart and you lose points if you cros