A/N: Happy New Year!
I thought I'd start the year as I mean to go on with a (hastily written) story! So enjoy this one-shot, my first thing including the characters of In The Heights, as a token of appreciation from me to you for reading my stuff this past year!
I hope 2017 treats you very well!
Look at the Fireworks - A New Year's Eve story
On July the fourth, Usnavi de la Vega had kissed the woman he had been hopelessly in love with since the age of six for the very first time. Or rather, as Benny and Sonny (and from time to time even Pete, though who told him it was his place to judge was a mystery) loved to remind him, he had pissed her off and broken her heart so much that she had no choice but to take matters - as well as his face - into her own hands and kiss him before he fled the country, supposedly never to return.
He could recall it with perfect clarity despite the heat which had created a hazy headache at the time; the sudden movement, causing his eyes to first widen with disbelief before snapping tightly shut in case the dream should come to an end, the taste of salt from his own sweat and the creamy strawberry lip gloss she had been wearing mingling briefly before she walked away, leaving him dumbfounded, dazed by far more than the stifling grief or the impossible heat.
Upon reflection, it was a good thing that memory served him so well, since there was yet to be a repeat performance.
I'm getting a second date, he had told himself, a mantra in his mind motivating him to seek out the love of his life on the day he decided to stay.
I'm getting a second date, he had told Sonny as the younger boy swept the last fragments of shattered glass from the tiled floor of the bodega, only noticing a second presence in the store when a sceptical snigger, courtesy of graffiti Pete, drifted from a gloomy corner of the unlit corner shop.
"I'm getting... Anxious about how you're gonna shift all your stuff to the new place," he had told Vanessa that same day, losing his nerve just heartbeats before he dared to actually ask her on the date he dreamed of. The last one hadn't really been much of a date at all, what with his inability to dance coming between them to salvage his pride, and their subsequent separation during the blackout.
Following their impromptu kiss, Vanessa was right to have expected something more than a statement of concern regarding her moving arrangements for their first encounter following it, especially since she knew Usnavi had sought her out specifically to talk to her. But then, on the other hand, they had fought before she had kissed him, petty squabbles over pride and stubbornness, exacerbated by the heat which caused tempers to be strained like savage dogs on leashes, and even if she assumed they were stupid disagreements that would inevitably fade away, the fact that the first thing he did when he next saw her was to be friendly rather than attempt to be romantic shook her faith in his returned affections for her somewhat.
He just wants to make up, she had decided, nothing more. Ignoring the pang of disappointment that even now, after twenty years of knowing and adoring her, Usnavi still couldn't muster up the courage to tell her how he felt, she had smirked, shrugged, and admitted, "It's gonna be heavy work if I have to do it on my own. You up for lending a hand?"
He had nodded, those endearing brown eyes wide and eager as he immediately agreed, "Yes, sure, of course, anything for you..." Her heart had been brightened with hope that maybe, just maybe, she had been wrong, that perhaps he would finally confess how he felt to her. But no. Perhaps the anticipation in her caramel gaze had been just too much for him to handle, since he awkwardly retracted back into his shell, gently shoving her shoulder as he added, "That's what friends are for, right?"
If friends is what we are, I guess I'll get some more friends to help me move as well, she decided, with a resigned sigh she would quickly blame on the temperature.
And she had done just that, moving out a week later, squeezing onto the train at peak travel time with not just Usnavi in tow, but also Daniella, Carla, Benny, Kevin and Sonny, each of them carefully trying to manoeuvre a hefty box of Vanessa's stuff along the perpetually bustling streets and up the narrow stairway to her new apartment.
She still stopped at the bodega for her morning coffee every Wednesday and Saturday, since those were the days she had a slightly later start, yet somehow it never seemed long enough for Usnavi to psych himself up sufficiently to conquer his nerves and ask Vanessa out on their second date. Rather, it was always a tantalizingly brief visit, the young woman flying into the store with a grin and maybe an anecdote about the new salon or her new neighbour or her new cat before flying straight back out again.
It makes sense she should fly - I mean, she is an Angel, Usnavi decided bitterly. And when everything else in her life is new, maybe it's best she leaves behind the old friend who loves her.
Once, he'd even swallowed his pride and asked Sonny to ask her out on his behalf, but by the time his cousin had dragged himself away from where he and Graffiti Pete had been discussing something in low voices in the back room (where the pair seemed to spend an awful lot of their time nowadays: "We're business partners" and "Shut up, man," were amongst Sonny's most frequently used explanations for the phenomenon) she had left, needing to hurry to work.
A few times, he'd even visited her flat of an evening, filled with confidence and conviction when his fist was rapping against the door. It dwindled to his typical nerves as soon as Vanessa appeared on the other side, and more often than not, the sole thing he could find to say was, "Sonny's hogging the T.V, can I share yours?"
Without fail Vanessa would welcome him inside, offerhim wine, and lean her head against his shoulder when they settled side by side on the couch to watch a movie.
Maybe she should have simply taken it upon herself to handle the situation yet again, as she had during their first kiss. But part of her longed for Usnavi to be brave enough to tell her what he wanted. Truthfully, she was tired of diving in without being sure of the outcome. Surely, after twenty years, it was his turn to take a risk.
"Hey cuz, the counter's only ever gonna be so clean," Sonny remarked, crossing the tiles with a few clicks of his trainers against the shop floor and resting his elbows upon the freshly disinfected surface. He held his chin in his hands as he reminded the man scrubbing dutifully at the already gleaming metal countertop, "It's New Year's Eve, you don't wanna be here all night. We've gotta get good spots if we want to watch the fireworks, you know it's always crowded, we're already leaving it pretty late -"
"I'm not going," Usnavi replied, "all that New Year's Eve stuff is for kids or people with kids." He continued to polish the reflective area he always used to prepare his trademark coffee. Since her death, he always used Abuela Claudia's recipe, and somehow it seemed to make him more determined than ever to maintain the pristine standard of the surface.
His cousin was well aware of that, but he was also an observant seventeen year old, enough so to recognize that it was not just dedication to their grandmother figure that motivated the older man. In an effort to share his own enthusiasm, Sonny told him, "Come on, there's music, and Benny and Nina are coming, Camilla said she'd bring marshmallows, and Daniella and Carla are supplying champagne: it's gonna be a laugh, Navi. You know a night of fireworks is so much better than a night of cleaning."
"Says the boy who's always 'checking stock' in the back room whenever there's a spare moment," Usnavi shot back, humour pulling his mouth into a taunting grin as he saw Sonny flush red with embarrassment. Unrelenting, he persisted, "I wonder why that is... Maybe it's to do with the local vandal himself -"
"Yeah, well, Pete's not a vandal, he's an artist," the teenager quickly hurried to defend his absent friend. "And anyway, he's my business partner, so shut up, man." Frustrated, he turned his back on Usnavi, crossing his arms over his chest and scowling.
Seems I'm not the only one incapable of admitting they like someone, Usnavi realized, offering a sympathetic nudge to the teenager slouched against the till. "Whatever. I guess Pete's going with you, right? So you don't want your cousin coming along and cramping your style, and I can just watch the Fireworks and probably even hear the music from the fire escape. Have fun, Sonny, make sure you wrap up -"
"Why don't you wanna go, Navi?" The younger boy interrupted his cousin, turning back to face him with pleading brown eyes. "Come on, it'll be really fun, and everyone's gonna be there -" he paused, raising his eyebrows suggestively as he specified, "Vanessa's gonna be there." He watched his cousin cringe at the very mention of her name. Suddenly, the reluctance to leave the store began to make much more sense. "Ness is the problem?"
The store owner groaned, taking off his hat briefly to toss his head back in utter frustration. Noting the way he held it to his chest, Sonny decided he looked like a man in mourning, and considering his predicament, it had to be his own wasted youth that had him in such an aggrieved state.
"We've not... I last spoke to her on boxing day. You know, before... The Incident."
Sonny shook his head, his long black curls flying up around him as he laughed wholeheartedly at the memory of the elder man's mistake: "Come on, she shouldn't really have tried to fit so many people into her new apartment, and accident was bound to happen! It wasn't even -"
"Half a bottle of mulled wine spilled over her brand new white suede couch!" Usnavi lamented, pulling his cap back on and shaking his head. "No. That's ruined my chances, if I even had any to begin with. Sorry, Sonny, I don't feel like coming out tonight." Not if it includes arguments, rejection and humiliation, all from the girl I love.
The seventeen year old shrugged, visibly disappointed in the other man's decision, but walked away even so. "Well, I've got to go, we're meeting at the Rosario's before we head down to the river." Extending a final optimistic invitation, he insisted, "If you change your mind, come find us. It's not over yet, cuz."
10:38 - New Voicemail from Nina Rosario
The notification flashed up on the screen of his mobile fifteen minutes after Sonny had left him to mope in solitude. It wasn't unusual for his phone to forget to tell him it was ringing, only letting him know when he had a missed call, presumably due to the unreliable service in the bodega. With nothing more pressing to do, he listened to it, only to instantly regret it when he heard the overly familiar noise of Benny humming as he always did when he had his arms wrapped around his girlfriend and his chin resting between her neck and shoulder - unfortunately for him, right beside the mouthpiece of the phone. He tried to ignore the sound, as well as the mental image of the two of them all over each other, and concentrated instead on Nina's words:
"Hey, Navi! Sonny says you're not coming? You should, it won't be the same without you. Abuela would never let you stay home alone on New Year's Eve." In the background, he heard Camilla scolding her daughter for bringing up the absence of the woman. He imagined her waving away her mother's concerns before continuing, "Anyway, please come. It's New Year: anything could happen!" There was the sound of the student blowing him a kiss, before Benny indignantly muttered something about his girlfriend kissing his best friend, and just before the message ended, the sound of Nina's apologetic giggle being cut off, presumably by Benny kissing her himself.
Smiling, Usnavi shook his head fondly at the romantic antics of the pair. Why does it have to be so easy for them? He wondered, wishing he could find the courage to behave with Vanessa as Benny did with Nina.
It hadn't been simple for the young couple, not really; the distance between them was difficult to cope with, and it wasn't like they hadn't had their fair share of arguments since making it official. The thing which kept bringing them together time and time again, however, was the way they were always willing to put their dignity on the line for the sake of showing one another that they did really, truly, honestly want to be together.
Something I'm never brave enough to do.
10:56 - Incoming Call from Dani
Fumbling with the vibrating phone, Usnavi hurried to press the green button and accept the call. I might be a recluse, but that's not to say I have to shut people out.
"Hey Usnaaaavi," the salon owner greeted him, accusation and alcohol clearly audible in her words and making for a thoroughly intimidating combination to the shy young man.
"Happy New Year's eve, Dani," he replied, daring to add, "And a very merry hangover!"
"I'm not drunk, it's not even midnight yet," she insisted, sounding rather drunk as she spoke. "Carla's watching me. But don't you try to change the subject, Usnavi de la Vega, I know you're just trying to avoid talking about you-know-what."
He chuckled at the scolding, somehow feeling like a little boy as he timidly enquired, "What's you-know-what?"
"You know what!" She replied, her response punctuated with a short, high-pitched hiccup. "It's the thing about you staying at home on your own on the last night of the year because you're scared of Vanessa. All those days I've let her spend time with you while I pay her wages, hoping against hope that you'd finally tell her how you feel, but no! Now you're hiding from her because you spilled wine on her sofa. Step it up, Navi! Get your head in the game!"
He chuckled at her obviously inebriated spiel. Choosing to ignore her very logical argument, he gently instructed her, "Tell Carla I said she needs to be keeping a better eye on you. And take care, yeah?"
She mumbled something indistinct, before hanging up.
11:14 - New Message from Vanessa
He opened it as soon as the notification lit his screen:
Hey x you're not coming tonight? I'll miss you. V x
"And there goes my willpower."
With exactly forty six minutes until the New Year, Usnavi grabbed his jacket, traded slippers for sneakers, and hurried out into the icy air of the barrio, hoping desperately that he was able to make it to Vanessa before the stroke of midnight.
"Sonny! Hey man, where are you guys?" On his third attempt to call his little cousin, Usnavi finally got through. He was not having nearly so much fortune with navigating the colossal crowd that had gathered at the edge of the Hudson river, hence his urgent call to the boy. With the streets so crowded, it had taken far longer than it should have to follow the usual route down to the George Washington bridge, and he had precisely eleven minutes left to locate his friends - or more specifically, Vanessa - and apologise for leaving it so late, before hopefully adhering to his New Year's resolution to eventually ask Vanessa on a date.
"Hey cuz! Everyone, say hi to Usnavi!" The jovial boy held his own cell up high, waiting until everyone in his party had called out to his absent cousin before actually paying attention to the older man's words, unintentionally wasting precious moments. "What's up? I told you we were headed to the river, we're at the GWB now."
"Yeah, and so is half the city. I'm trying to find you, so you've gotta be a bit more precise. And loud," Usnavi instructed, rising on his toes to survey the enormous crowd in case they were close enough to make out in the neon darkness.
"We're on the GWB. Hurry up, man, it's nearly midnight," the teenager hollered into his mobile, his voice rising in volume as requested. "We're like, sort of in the middle."
"Okay, I'm coming," Usnavi replied, determination ringing in his words. He ended the call, shoved his cell firmly in his pocket, and braced himself; No matter the bouncing, pulsating, engulfing crowd, he refused to lose this opportunity. Vanessa wants me here, she'll be upset if I don't show up, he reminded himself, forcing his way through the mass of people crammed beside the river.
It only became more dense as he squeezed his way onto the bridge, but he pressed on regardless, blindly struggling through in the desperate hope that somehow half way didn't feel as far as it looked.
A loudspeaker system somewhere announced the start of the one minute countdown. All around him were laughing, smiling people counting the precious seconds as they slipped away, a personal reminder to the young man of how little time he had remaining. Feeling utterly powerless, Usnavi paused, standing on his toes and gazing out across the crowd once more, desperate for his mission to be something other than a lost cause, until -
"Usnavi," a hand on his shoulder span him around, and suddenly he was face to face with Vanessa. She beamed, a brilliant smile lighting her up from within and Christmas lights bouncing off the glitter of her silver dress, and in that heartbeat Usnavi was certain she'd never appeared so celestial, not even when he had first laid eyes on her and decided he loved her, dressed in a white tutu at the tender age of five. He simply grinned at her, basking in the glory of his victory, leaving her to grab his shoulders and hug him with fierce affection. "I'm so glad you made it."
"Me too, Nessa." He held her to him and breathed deeply, relishing the familiar scent of cinnamon in the shampoo she always used in the winter months.
"Three... Two... One... Happy New Year!"
As the shout rang out across the river, the first firework soared into the sky and exploded above them, the sparkling embers drifting down to the silvery water. From the corner of his eye, Usnavi spotted Sonny and Pete, and felt a jolt of surprise, followed swiftly by a wave of realisation, as he watched the two teenagers kissing passionately on that winter's night.
He took hold of Vanessa's face, holding her so that she had to meet his anxious gaze with her own. It's now or never, he told himself, before daring to recall aloud, "You're meant to kiss someone at midnight on New Year's Eve. I'd really like to, um... Can I... With you?"
Vanessa chuckled gleefully and pulled his face down to hers, pausing when he was mere millimetres from her lips. Smirking, she told him, "Only if you promise to take me out on a date this year."
"It's a deal," he assured her, eyes shining with love. Slowly, he closed the distance between them and kissed her just like he intended to kiss her for every day of that coming year.
Strangely enough, the pair missed most of the display. But there were plenty of fireworks shared between them on that New Year spent upon the George Washington bridge.