Disclaimer: I don't own the characters, they belong to Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Hudes.
Author's Note: Inspired by "On Champagne and Being Too Late" by karizmadragon. I hope you don't mind, my brain wouldn't let me give this thought up. I'd still love to see your version, too! And ya'll I'm SO excited for this movie next year. I'm not like, 100% thrilled with this one, but like I said, my brain pulled a Hamilton on me and "I just need(ed) to write something down" so...this was the result.
Usnavi de la Vega wasn't sure when Vanessa first crossed his radar.
He wasn't good with that stuff like Benny. Benny could tell you the first time he ever laid eyes on Nina Rosario-which was a Saturday night back when he was 20 years old, sitting on the railing of the mini GWB at the playground. They'd been screwing around on the playground equipment, freestyling some beats, when Nina Rosario came down the sidewalk, headphones in her ears and backpack swinging off one shoulder.
Not that Benny was payin' attention, of course.
It was just like she'd always been there. Even with their age difference, Vanessa had always been in Usnavi's sights. Laughing with Nina in an open hydrant. Spinning in the chairs at the salon, gossiping and giggling while Carla and Daniela played around with their hairstyles for school dances. He'd catch them as he leaned on the counter watching the bodega, when they came in for a soda, as Sonny would hang around the two girls hoping they'd buy him a candy bar or a pack of gum.
Benny gave him hell because he was crushin' on a girl five years younger than him. Like that was a big deal nowadays. Maybe a little weird when she was 13 and he was 18, but everybody grew up faster around here, so now that he was 24 and she was 19, it was totally different. He knew Vanessa's home life wasn't great. Nina kinda had the market cornered on the block as far as good homes went. Usnavi had Abuela Claudia, and Sonny, but Sonny lived with his dad and didn't talk about Usnavi's uncle much. So it wasn't exactly 'good'. Vanessa….Usnavi had stopped selling her mother alcohol at the bodega just because he knew what it was doing to Vanessa, but she was still getting it somewhere. The woman drank their bills, leaving Vanessa to make ends meet at the salon. It was a lot to ask a teenager, to be the sole breadwinner, especially since she'd started working her sophomore year for Daniela.
So, in response to Benny's teasing, Usnavi replied with a raised eyebrow, "Yeah? How 'bout you and Nina?" and that shut him up pretty quick.
For like, ten seconds, and then he was raggin' on him again.
Vanessa had always been around the neighborhood. So he couldn't pinpoint when he'd started 'crushin' on her' as Benny put it.
But the one thing Usnavi knew for a cold hard fact was the day the whole champagne thing started.
She'd been talking about getting out for years. "I'm gonna go live on Seventh Av," Vanessa told Nina one day as they pored over the candy selection at the front counter, both leaning on the counter as Usnavi pretended to be busy counting change in the register. "On Millionaire's Row. Gonna get me a sugar daddy and live in a place with a bathroom bigger than this place-no offense," Vanessa'd added hastily. Usnavi was pretending not to listen, shrugging it off.
"Yeah, 'cause that doesn't sound super sketchy at all," Nina laughed. "Maybe you oughta come to Stanford with me, meet some California frat boy. It's about the same thing."
"Girl you know I'll never make the grades to go to college," Vanessa pointed out. "That's why I gotta meet some big shot on the train instead." She snorted. "I'll be like some barrio Cinderella, get away from the Wicked Witch and up to the penthouse."
Nina burst out laughing. "Yeah. That's not exactly how that fairy tale goes," she shook her head.
"Does in my universe," Vanessa countered. She walked across the aisle and pulled a Pepsi bottle out of the cooler and shook it at Nina. "I'll be sippin' champagne instead of Pepsi any day now."
She plopped the soda down on the counter. "Hey," Usnavi greeted her, ringing it up. "So, ah, you're movin'?" he asked awkwardly. So much for pretending he wasn't eavesdropping on them.
"Any day," Vanessa said adamantly.
"Guess I better start stockin' champagne then, eh?" Usnavi grabbed a penny from the change dish and tossed it into the register. "One-fifty even," he told Vanessa. She handed him the money and he tossed it in the drawer. Nina leaned back on the counter, watching the two of them with a small smile.
Usnavi adjusted his hat and slid the drawer shut with his elbow. "Thanks, ladies. Stay outta trouble, yeah?"
Nina snickered. "Yeah, 'cause out of everybody you know, we're the ones you oughta be worried about."
"Thanks, Usnavi," Vanessa said. "See ya later." The girls headed out the door, Vanessa leaning back inside the store to say, "Remember, you owe me a bottle of cold champagne someday!"
He gave her a two-fingered wave as she disappeared out the door, frowning, his stomach in knots watching them cross the street, headed toward Rosario's.
He never did stock champagne. For one thing, it was too damn expensive, and for another…Vanessa never left. Nina went off to college and Vanessa stayed, working at the salon. Usnavi watched through the window on the weekends as Vanessa walked home from the salon, came up the stairs at 181st home from the clubs with different guys. And sure, sometimes he'd see her on the phone as she walked to and from work, catch bits and pieces through the open bodega door on hot days when it was cooler to leave the door open, of her talking to Con-Edison, to various management companies. And when Usanvi'd ask her how things were going, she'd always smile and say, "You're gonna owe me a bottle of cold champagne" and he'd start to sweat a little like a bottle from the cooler.
It might've been around that time he started thinking more and more about catching that JetBlue flight to the Dominican.
'Cause if Vanessa wasn't around, it wasn't gonna be worth hangin' around the block.
Lately, he'd been hearing things from Daniela next door. Vanessa had been on the phone again, with some management company. Daniela had gotten a reference check call for her. And now, as he was getting Benny Kevin Rosario's coffee (and catching hell for not asking Vanessa out like he did every single time Benny came in), Vanessa breezed in the door, cell phone tucked between her ear and her shoulder.
"I'll see you later, we can look at that lease!"
Wait…what?! He damn near dropped the entire box of Milky Ways in his hands.
Vanessa was beaming. "You owe me a bottle of cold champagne!" She jabbed a finger in Usnavi's direction.
His heart started pounding in his throat. "A-are you movin'?" he stammered, trying to be cool. Yeah...good one...
"Just a little credit check, and I'm on that downtown train!" Vanessa tapped out a rhythm on the counter with her fingernails and an ear to ear smile.
Do something! Usnavi turned behind him, shoved between Benny and Sonny and filled a coffee. Black, cream, pinch of cinnamon. He practically slapped the cup down, grateful there was a lid so it didn't splash all over Vanessa and the counter. "Well, your coffee's on the house," he said, pushing it toward her.
Vanessa frowned. "Oh...kay?" He's acting a little weird...huh.
She heard Benny, in a not-so-subtle whisper, "Usnavi, ask her out."
Sonny, who had no chill: "No way," he said flatly, crossing his arms, leaning back against the back shelves. She would have rolled her eyes except Usnavi was watching.
And Usnavi who was...frozen. Staring at her, like she'd just announced they were related or something. What's your deal, Usnavi?
"Uh, I'll see you later," she said quickly, taking the cup and backing up. "So...yeah." She ducked quickly out the door.
Usnavi dropped his head to the counter, heard Benny chewing him out from behind him. Ay, Dios, he berated himself. Why didn't you say something? Everything had happened so fast.
Everything was happening so fast...
He wondered who around the Heights could sell him a bottle of decent champagne.
If Vanessa was leavin', then so was he. May as well go out in style.