Kevin is looking at Benny with an expression on interwoven feelings, but the most prominent one Benny can determine is concern. Kevin is concerned about Benny. Whoa.
"You gave up college?" Camila gapes in wonder. "It must have been bad. Sounds a bit like Kevin's father, that son of a bitch."
Kevin looks away when Benny looks at him, reprimanding, "Camila."
Camilla rolls her eyes. "Get over it." She turns to Benny and explains, "My father in law was a farmer. His father was a farmer. He told Kevin he had to be a farmer too. Slapped him whenever Kevin wanted to go farther. Kind of like your father, no?"
Benny looks disbelievingly at her and then at Kevin, who affirms with a sullen nod, his eyes, fixed on a knot in the wood table.
Benny answers Camila without taking her eyes off of Kevin. "Yeah, kind of."
Kevin knows why Benny says kind of and wants to curl up and swallow his previous words like the spaghetti on his plate.
He should have never said anything about wishing Benny was his son. Benny comes from far greater things than Kevin can ever promise and it is likely that everything Kevin says, does, and aspires to be is petty, juvenile, small, pathetic.
Kevin knows Benny doesn't want a father as low as Kevin, probably wished he never worked for or lived among the people in Washington Heights.
Benny is above them, and Kevin dreads the sting of rejection as much as he awaits it with certainty.
Camila raises an eyebrow at Benny. "Kind of?"
Benny is going to say that Kevin made upwards progress while Benny plummeted to the slums to interact with peasants.
Benny looks down, clearing his throat in a way that sounds… nervous. "Kevin is just… you know… better than me. Marrying. Becoming successful. Providing for the family." Camila makes a noise of protest from the back of her throat and Benny hastily amends, "with your help, of course."
Kevin can't help but stare at Benny. Successful? Better? Benny doesn't think Kevin is less than him?
"What about you?" Camila asks for Kevin.
Benny deflates with a self-deprecating laugh like the question stabbed the air out of him. "Me? I haven't really managed anything. No success. No progress. Just, like, survival. The one I want to be my wife likes be back, but…" Benny wrings his napkin in his hands unhappily. The rest of his sentence comes out in a soft murmur-whisper almost, his voice sounding like an old stereo, broken and scratchy. "I can't even win over her father."
Kevin doesn't know what to say. He feels like he's about to cry. This is when he jumps in with some heartfelt and comforting and loving comment, about no, Kevin isn't better, because he isn't. But he can't seem to find the words.
Or maybe he's too scared to say it to his face. Benny has always been the braver one.
Camila, however, doesn't rescue him like she's been doing all dinner. Instead, she just scoots her chair back, screeching against the floor like a fork against a plate. "Budgeting," she excuses herself briskly.
Kevin searches for the words. "Those are ways we aren't alike. So how are our stories similar?"
Benny looks up from his plate, which is now empty. "We both moved up. We both gained something."
"Gained something? You lost opportunities, money, education-" Kevin breaks off as Benny tenses up, his face closing. He moves to stand up.
"You sound just like my father."
The sentence knocks Kevin's breath out of his lungs, but he shakes his head vigorously and finds the air to refute, almost pleadingly, "I don't think you are a disappointment, I… disagree that I'm better than you in any way except that I can keep my opinions to myself." Kevin pauses. Benny doesn't make a move to settle back into his chair, but neither does he move to leave. "Especially on what I think of other people."
For the first time, the corner of Benny's mouth flicker towards the eager smile that Kevin loves.
Kevin tries to explain. "I didn't mean to be harsh. It's a bad habit I- I should fix." He looks back at his plate, embarrassed. Frankly, he's amazed with how much he's already admitted. "I just… don't understand how you feel like this life is better."
Benny nods and Kevin sighs with relief at being understood. When Benny doesn't offer any explanation, Kevin opens his mouth to ask.
Benny speaks before he can figure out the words. "You think… I went from being rich, pampered, and educated to poor, alone, and uneducated." He looks to Kevin for confirmation and Kevin nods. "Well… there's more to life." Benny shrugs. Kevin waits for him to elaborate, a confused half smile fixed on his face. Benny returns to his seat.
"My father was… of the same minds. He thought, you know, education was all I needed so I could be perfect or whatever. Then I could get a good job, et cetera, et cetera." Kevin watches Benny duck his head and toy with his napkin as he speaks.
Benny is an open book, and it is clear as clean water that Benny is nervous explaining his scars to Kevin.
Kevin regrets more than anything else that his anxiety is justified. Kevin knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that if their places were switched, Kevin wouldn't open up to Benny at all, not even a damn crack. Benny is unconsciously twisting the knife of guilt in Kevin's already stabbed stomach.
Eventually, Benny drops the napkin, gently squaring his shoulders so subtly Kevin barely notices. "The thing is, my life was never going to be perfect, not with Dad in it."
The fact of the matter is that Benny is a better, more wholesome person. He just is, and Kevin doesn't see much of himself in Benny, instead he sees what he wants to be. But this sentiment is one he can relate to. To escape his father's plans for him was something he had to do. He just had to, because his father was hurting him, holding him down.
He meets Benny's eyes over the plastic cup of water that he averted his eyes to when Benny looked up. "He hit you." it was a statement, solid as a brick and heavy as metal, but it hung in the air as though weightless.
"How much did you see, before you stepped in?" One of Benny's eyebrows is raised halfway as though apprehensive, but before Kevin can answer, he blurts out- as Benny is wont to- "Thank you, but the way. Again. I know I already thanked you…"
Kevin just sighs, trying not to glow with the knowledge that he's closer to earning Benny's admiration. He can feel in Benny's gaze that Benny feels protected. That's what a father does, he protects. "Not at all. It shouldn't have taken your… kin to make me say it." Unsure where to step now that that road has been traversed more than it needs to be, Kevin adds, "I saw pretty much the whole thing."
Benny, bless him, says nothing about Kevin's first statement and instead continues, "He beat me like that regularly… he's a drunk and gets mad easily… bad combo. I think that some people are so focused on their life they don't live it."
Benny glances at Kevin fleetingly- a question. Kevin understands, or he thinks he does anyway.
"I didn't want to be that way, care so much about, like, the official stuff, right? My dad didn't and he turned out to be a lonely prick."
Kevin is irrationally gleeful and disproportionately happy to hear Benny so blatantly insult his biological father. Maybe this means he has room for a new one.
Benny had been slouching, just a little, reflecting with his eyes tilted up towards the dark, cracked ceiling, though his gaze occasionally redirected itself to Kevin, who quickly eyed the red solo cup in front of him. Now he sat up, an indication of attentiveness. He faced Kevin and explained, "I realized that I had to choose, you know, between a good life or a… prosperous one. The people around here are what make a good life."
Kevin only nods. He has always aimed for a prosperous life, and it strikes him like turning on a dimmer light- not in an instant but with a slow rise to brightness- that though he always looked down on Benny and dismissed him as young and impulsive, Benny has made more mature decisions than he should ever have had to.
With a glowing smile, unrestrained as though Benny has shed the sober mood like a piece of clothing, Benny adds, "People like you are what make it so great."