In the Heights is arguably the best musical on the face of this planet. There is just one problem: its practically nonexistent fanbase on fanfiction. Here is yet another attempt to fix that...
And unfortunately I am still not a self-proclaimed 'ugly songwriter who can't get girls to notice him.' Poo.
Tear splashes had stained the paper and worried fingers had folded permanent creases into the edges. Sweaty hands had smudged the red markings on the page so they were practically unreadable. The girl sat alone on the fire escape, backpack at her side and paper still clutched in her hands, her tears still falling and dotting the paper with more spots.
Maybe I could just throw it away, she thought, but another, more rational thought replaced this one almost automatically. No, that won't do. I have to return it tomorrow, and if I don't they'll call home.
For what had to be the tenth time, Nina's eyes swept over the paper. There was her name, printed in neat letters that were rather loopy and slanted a bit toward the left. The pencil marks were dark and confident over the paper, each number written with pride.
But they were wrong, Nina reminded herself as she turned the paper over to look at the other side. Every answer had an ugly red slash across it with scribbled numbers written beside it, as if in haste. The red marks made the paper look as if it was bleeding, an analogy that became partially correct as Nina sliced her fingertip open when she flipped the page back over.
Groaning from both pain and anxiety, Nina stuck the finger in her mouth, a fresh wave of tears spilling from her eyes. Seconds later, she took her finger from her mouth and dabbed at it with her shirt.
"How could I be so stupid?" she wondered aloud, her tiny voice quavering as it met the air. She kicked her backpack in frustration, causing it to tip over and spill the contents of her pencil case all over the sidewalk below. Nina peered over the railing with blurry eyes, tears falling down with her belongings.
Rubbing her eyes hastily, Nina realized that someone was under the fire escape and looking up, bewildered. Catching sight of her, he waved and called, "These yours, Nina?"
"Y-yeah," Nina tried to answer, but her voice shook again and she closed her eyes in an attempt to stop more tears. She failed in this endeavor, and wound up raining tears onto Benny's upturned face.
"What's wrong?" he asked as he wiped her tears from his face. He sounded concerned, she noticed, something she would not have expected from him - or any of the other neighborhood boys for that matter. Nina mimicked him in wiping her tears away but shook her head in response to his question.
"What'dya got there?" he pressed on, pointing to the paper in her non-injured hand. Nina looked at it blankly for a few seconds then hastened to stuff it into her backpack. This resulted in another paper cut and her paper following her pencils down towards Benny.
Sticking this new finger in her mouth, Nina watched Benny pick up the paper, her stomach clenching. He looked at it for a moment then back up at her, a crooked smile on his face.
"That's it?" he held up the paper. "A C-minus? Nina, you've got to be kidding me. I mean," Benny ran a hand through his cropped hair, "damn, girl, I pretty much failed algebra." He chuckled and then bent to the ground, picking up her fallen pencils.
"Don't bother," Nina's voice was now flat and emotionless. "I can get those myself; I'm coming down now." She moved towards the stairs that led down to the sidewalk, but Benny waved this comment away.
"I got it," he insisted, his voice kind. He was clutching her pencils in one hand and her algebra test in the other, and he began moving toward the ladder Nina had left pulled down. As he climbed the fire escape he smiled up at her, and she noticed that this folded dimples into his cheeks. It made him look boyishly innocent, and Nina found herself smiling despite her uneasiness.
"Here ya go," Benny handed her the test first as he came to the landing. Nina succeeded in hiding it in her backpack this time, to her pleasure. Next were the pencils, which she stuffed into her pencil case, making sure to zip it closed afterwards.
"Thanks," Nina told him. Standing opposite him on a fire escape, Nina suddenly realized that Benny was a good six inches taller than her, with broad shoulders that made her feel very small. It was hard to believe that he was only two years older than her twelve-year-old self.
Benny crossed to the other side of the landing and sat down with his legs crossed, still smiling at her. Nina sat as well, resting her back against the side of the building, closing her swollen eyes momentarily. Her eyes flew open painfully as Benny spoke again.
"Was that test why you were crying?"
Nina felt her cheeks turn red, and she hoped Benny wouldn't notice. She hadn't been counting on someone walking in on her crying, for, after all, an algebra test was a pretty dumb thing to cry over. Her parents were just so proud of her, every time she brought home another A and even the occasional B-plus, but a C-minus? She could hardly see that going over well.
"Algebra's hard," Benny continued, his voice softening. "I don't think your parents will care about one less than perfect score, Nina." He laughed and winked, completely oblivious to how this made Nina's face turn even redder. "What else've you got in there, anyway?" He pointed to her backpack, and Nina tugged it closer so as to look inside.
"Algebra," she began, lifting the book out and letting it drop rather heavily to the landing, "English, Spanish, geography..." Nina trailed away, not sure if she wanted Benny to know what else was in her backpack.
"And?" he prompted, obviously realizing she hadn't finished emptying it out. Nina turned to look at him, seeing his eyebrows raised and his head leaning slightly forward in anticipation.
Reluctantly, Nina pulled out a crisp piece of sheet music and wordlessly handed it to Benny. She watched his eyes travel across it, his lips moving to form the words 'Corner of the Sky.' He looked back up at her, confusion in his brown eyes. They were very nice eyes, Nina had to admit.
The sound of Benny laughing made her look up again. His head was thrown back and his laughter was so loud she was sure someone living on the street would open her window and yell at Benny to be quiet. Already anxious about showing her parents her algebra test and telling them about choir, Nina felt that having Benny laugh at her was too much. She snatched the music back, saying angrily, "If it's so funny, why did you ask?"
"No, no," Benny gained control of himself and looked her directly in the eye, speaking earnestly. "It's not that. You're just so... incredible."
Nina wasn't sure which surprised her more: the fact that Benny thought she was incredible or that he actually knew what it meant.
"What do you mean?" she asked, raising an eyebrow skeptically and her grip tightening on the music.
"You do everything," Benny explained as he stood up. "You're gonna make a great president someday, Nina." He extended a hand to her and after a second's pause, Nina placed her own in his. He lifted her to her feet and bowed over their clasped hands. Adopting a fake pompous tone, Benny said, "May I say it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Madam President."
The two started and Benny abruptly released Nina's hand at the sound of someone shouting his name. Nina spotted two other boys, Usnavi and his younger cousin Sonny, standing down on the sidewalk, waving up at the two of them.
"What?" Benny's voice sounded impatient.
"Let's go!" Sonny yelled, gesturing for Benny to come down. "Usnavi's got a new skateboard and we're all gonna try it out! You'd better come now if you want a turn!" Usnavi hushed Sonny, saying something about everyone getting a turn no matter when they showed up because it was the polite thing to do. Although Usnavi did lift the skateboard over his head to make the offer even more enticing...
"Hey, Nina," Usnavi called. Nina waved down at the two boys and Sonny started up a chorus of 'Benny and Nina, sitting in a tree...'
"Shut it, Sonny," Benny yelled down at the younger boy, but Sonny just started running down the sidewalk, yelling his chant louder. Benny groaned and, as Nina looked at him, rolled his eyes. Maybe it was a trick of the light, but Benny's face seemed to be turning pink.
"See ya, Nina," Benny mock-saluted before descending the steps to join Usnavi on the sidewalk. Nina waved to the two remaining boys as they began to walk down the street. Every few steps, Benny would turn around as if making sure she was still there. He continued doing this until he and Usnavi turned the corner and she was no longer in sight.
Nina giggled a little as she put all her books back in her backpack and hoisted it over her shoulder. She stepped into her parents' apartment through the window, careful not to smack her backpack against the glass. The familiar smell of fresh dough met her nose, and Nina inhaled deeply, relishing the scent of her mother's cooking. As she shut the window, her father came into the small room.
"Nina, good, you're back inside," her father smiled at her, coming closer to trap her in a one-armed hug. "Your mother just sent me to fetch you."
"Dad, I have something to show you," Nina wriggled out of her father's embrace, and, without preamble, tugged her algebra test and the sheet music out of her backpack. She handed both to her father and said quickly, "I didn't do as well as I had hoped on my algebra test, but I promise to do better next time. And I made the school choir."
The algebra test might not have made it up on the fridge, but, three months later, a picture of Nina in her choir robes surrounded by all her friends - Benny included - did.