PROLOGUE

"…And one day, I'm hoppin' that elevated train and I'm running away!"

She had to go, didn't she?

He remembers the day, a little too well. A summer day, like any other. He had been getting the coffee ready for the day, telling Sonny to get off his ass and help him clean the store. Vandals hit the night before, so there was glass. Not too many items stolen, he could always report them - insurance, something he never thought he could have. He was sweeping the last of the glass, too, when the familiar ding! of the front door caught his attention. Sunlight blinding him momentarily, he recognized her tall, willowy figure, a shadow against the bright sunlight.

"Ah, Vanessa! Your usual cafe-?"

He stopped, slowly straightening up. Vanessa, looking beautiful as always, her smile radiant, brighter than usual. Her long, silky hair hanging around her hips, and deep, brown eyes that shined with such happiness, such excitement! He hasn't seen her this happy since they all found out Nina made it to Stanford. Having bit his lip, he slowly sets the dust pan down, brushing off the dust. Normally he'd be jabbering non-stop, offering her coffee and talking to her about her day. That day, however, he's rendered speechless. While Vanessa's beauty normally renders him speechless, that day, it was because of what she held in her hands. One, holding a bottle of tall, cold champagne. The other, the keys to her new apartment.

"I owe you a bottle of cold champagne, don't I?"

She explained, over styrofoam cups of cold champagne, that Daniela had offered to cosign the lease on her new apartment in the West Village. Considering Daniela's constant berating and mocking of Vanessa's dream, Usnavi had found it unlikely Daniela suddenly decided to cosign, but he simply smiled and continued to drink champagne,

They say champagne is a happy drink. Usnavi couldn't be more upset.

Sure, she finally achieved what she dreamed of, getting out of the Barrio. She finally made it out, as they always said. The way Nina did. The way Usnavi will one day. The American Dream realized, Vanessa Garcia is finally leaving and joining modern society! But as she continues to talk about her new apartment, Usnavi can feel his heart breaking harder and harder. God, was he happy for her. God, was he glad that she did it, that she finally made it out.

But, God. Usnavi De La Vega loved her.

He loves the way that even though she pretends to be a pessimist, she had such beautiful dreams, such aspirations! He loved the way her eyes lit up every time she came by the store, playfully reminding Usnavi he owed her champagne. He loved the way her hips sway every time an old bolero played in the early morning, when she stood on the corner and swept. Dancing like nobody was ever watching. He loved how even though she is the most beautiful girl in the Barrio, she never understood why. He loved her silky smooth hair, her beautiful brown eyes, her hips, her hands, her voice and her heart. He loves Vanessa Garcia, and she wouldn't ever know.

As they finish their last cup, Vanessa tells him she's due to move in the next few hours - without telling anybody else in the Barrio other than Daniela. Her suitcase was pressed against the nearest shelf. At that moment, Usnavi had some trouble swallowing the last gulp of champagne, as she excitedly told him how she could still visit the Barrio, but it was obvious by the shine in her eyes, she had so much more in mind. She didn't want to stay there. She wanted to explore the world and see what it had to offer was ready to hop on that elevated train, at last. Where she could dance on the streets with nobody watching, and smile like she hadn't left a trail of broken hearts. He didn't know what to say, other than a stuttering congratulations. Sonny watched with interest, but he didn't interfere this time. She finishes her final cup, wiping the last of the fizzy liquid off her lips.

"Well, I'll be seeing you around, Usnavi, yeah?"

He stands there, dumb and frozen. What do you say to the girl you've been in love with for years, and never got the chance to tell her? What do you do when the girl who kissed your cheek in grade 6, the girl who listened to you cry when you were alone, the girl who danced and dreamed like nobody was ever watching, is finally leaving? He had felt hot tears stinging behind his eyes, and he heard movement, recognizing the squeak of Sonny's sneakers as he slowly left the store. Leaving him and Vanessa alone. He digs down deep inside, trying to imagine if this was him. If he had been lucky to leave the Barrio, to have the funds to finally go back home. What would she say to him? What would she possibly do to repay him for all the kindness?

No. It was an easy decision.

"It won't be long now." He says with a soft smirk, offering his hand. He feels her long arms wrap themselves around his frame, her face pressing into the crook of his neck. He closes his eyes and tentatively hugs her, taking a deep breath. Cinnamon. Always like cinnamon. He tried to memorize the way her curves fit into his body, the way her lips curved when she smiled. And the way she looked, when she walked out of his store one last time. Hips swaying, head held high. Always with pride. Getting out of the Barrio the way she always wanted. Leaving them. Leaving him.

He watched with a smile.