Home > Here's To Us (What If It's Us #2)

Here's To Us (What If It's Us #2)
Author: Becky Albertalli

 


PART ONE CLEAR THE SLATE AND START OVER

 

 

CHAPTER ONE BEN

 


Saturday, May 16

What if we do?

This question lives in my head whenever I think about him.

I feel like I’ve been lost for a long time, like a box with its shipping label torn off en route. But I think someone’s finally found me.

He’s cut through the box’s heavy duct-tape seal and cracked it open.

There’s light and air.

Good-morning texts and sleepovers.

And Spanish and kisses.

Mario Colón.

Right before I entered the train station, Mario texted me a photo of himself in the dentist’s chair. He’s wearing a white T-shirt with denim overalls, one strap hanging loose, like the Puerto Rican Super Mario reboot this world deserves. His olive skin is smooth because he apparently doesn’t grow any body hair, which bums him out sometimes because he thinks he would look great with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s beard. His dark hair is curly, and that bright office light is really catching the glow in his hazel eyes. His tongue is hanging out from the corner of his lips, and even when he’s being silly, it makes me want to kiss him, like that first time when we were working together on our creative writing homework.

And the fifty other times since then.

I self-consciously swipe through to the photo I sent him in response. I usually take a dozen selfies before I feel one is Mario-worthy since he’s clearly out of my league, but I had to be quick when my train was pulling up. I angled the phone above me, making sure the T-shirt he made me was visible. For his high school graduation, Mario’s parents gave him a T-shirt printer because he wanted to add some flavor to his clothes. Last week he surprised me with The Wicked Wizard War shirts that have the same lettering from the cover Samantha created for me to use on Wattpad. The T-shirt was such a thoughtful gift. It even has me judging myself and my photos a lot less than I normally would.

Mario and I met at the beginning of freshman year in our creative writing class, and at first, I was sure he’d turn out to be a Very Serious Fiction Writer or an amazing slam poet. Neither. Mario is a screenwriter who’s been writing scripts since he was eleven years old, often getting in trouble in middle school for formatting his homework assignments like a TV episode.

He was the first person after my ex, Arthur, I zeroed in on. I would notice when he wouldn’t come to class, I’d admire how he pulls off overalls, and I really liked the turtlenecks he wore during winter. And he was confident about his work in a way that I couldn’t wrap my head around—always proud but also never cocky.

At the time, there were still too many what-ifs in my head about Arthur for me to even try to get close to him.

Now the what-ifs are about Mario.

What if we become official boyfriends instead of just friends who kiss and hang out?

I’m headed to Central Park to catch up with my best friend, Dylan, and his girlfriend, Samantha. It’s my first time seeing them in person since the holidays, since they didn’t come home from school for spring break. We were supposed to have a game night yesterday, but Dylan claims he was feeling extremely jet-lagged, even though there’s only a one-hour difference between Chicago and New York. I let it go, because Dylan has always been dramatic that way.

I spend the rest of the train ride jotting down ideas in my pocket-sized notebook for an upcoming chapter of my fantasy novel, The Wicked Wizard War. I finished drafting the book ages ago, but it became clear that my story was all over the place. Too many exciting moments were being reserved for sequels that may never happen, and all the characters inspired by my friends and ex-boyfriends needed to be more fully developed and accessible to people outside my circle.

My forever mood: writing is hard.

Mario once asked me if there’s anything I’ve ever wanted to do besides writing. Writing is the only thing I’m good at. Even if some other dream did call out to me, I don’t know what I would do without all the love my friends and strangers have shown my wicked wizards. Arthur used to talk about the characters like they were mutual friends. And Dylan loves the world so much he’s been fantasizing about a real-life drag bar where all the drag queens are dressed as different fantasy races like elves and trolls, which is a thing I’ve never remotely expressed interest in.

I love connecting with people over words.

And I’m really loving connecting with Mario over words in both English and Spanish.

He’s another white-passing Puerto Rican like me, but his parents actually raised him bilingual, unlike mine. He incorporated a lot of Spanish into his film script and said he hoped that no studio would force him to translate it for people; he wanted others to put in the work that his parents had to do themselves growing up. It really inspired me to do the damn work myself—and I practically screamed “¡Sí, por favor!” when he offered to be my personal teacher.

I’m pretty pumped to see him.

Today’s hangout with Dylan and Samantha is going to be a bit of a juggling act since Mario will also be joining us. He’s not my boyfriend, but he’s also more than a friend. Things get really tricky in that space. Like when I wake up thinking about him and want to say good morning just because, but that can sometimes feel too intimate. Or when I’m wondering what’s the best way to introduce him to my friends even though they know the gist of our relationship. Or even how words like “relationship” can feel too strong, sort of unearned when you compare them with actual relationships.

I don’t know. That’s a problem for One-Hour-in-the-Future Ben.

But I have to get Mario’s beautiful face out of my head, because I’m about to miss my train stop. I jump out of my seat and cross to the platform right as the doors are closing. I’ve got to make sure I’m not late. I’m putting those days behind me. In our creative writing class, Mrs. García would call this “character growth.”

I leave the station and walk down to the Central Park West entrance on Seventy-Second. It doesn’t take me long to spot Dylan and Samantha. They’re on a park bench, playing that game where you have to stare into each other’s eyes and slap the other person’s hands before they can retract them.

Samantha slaps Dylan’s hands. “Gotcha! Four–one. You suck.”

“Hey,” I say as I walk around the bench. “Can I get in on this?”

Dylan smiles. “There’s always room for you in our bed.”

“I didn’t say anything about your bed. I—”

Dylan shushes me as he stands and pulls me into a hug, patting the top of my head. “Missed you, buddy.”

“Missed you, too. Exhausted by you already.”

Dylan’s hair has grown to the point where he’s finally been able to master that man bun he’s been working on, which looks really great on him—and if you ask him, he’s the only person pulling it off. He’s rocking a new Kool Koffee shirt and blue jeans. “There’s a cute little café in the park. Get ready to drink all the espresso shots, my little coffee bean. Coffee Ben? Ben Bean?”

“I vote none of the above,” Samantha says. Her blue-green eyes wow me as much today as when I first met her behind that counter at Kool Koffee. Her dark hair is braided into a Pinterest-ready crown that I should include in my book. She’s wearing a navy shirt tucked into white shorts, and she’s got a silver key hanging from her neck. “Hi, Ben,” she says as she pulls me into a hug.

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