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What If It's Us
Author: Adam Silvera, Becky Albertalli

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 you 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.”

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