"So, like, when the piragua guy raises his prices in the summer, that's because the demand goes up when the supply doesn't, you get it?" Sonny's got his elbows propped up on the counter, resting his head in his hands. He knows Usnavi's not really listening to him, but talking about this shit out loud helps the concepts sink in. "More people want more of what there isn't more of. That's the relationship between supply and demand, and that's why we could charge more for coffee when it gets cold as balls."
Usnavi shakes his head. "We ain't Starbucks, Sonny. People complain directly to the complaints department, aka me. But I'm glad you're learning something in school." He leans over and fondly ruffles Sonny's hair; Sonny, like a prickly cat, bats his hand away.
"Yo, yo, yo," Graffiti Pete says, announcing his entrance. His paint-stained bag is hiked up on one shoulder and he gives Sonny a complicated series of eyebrow waggles, which Sonny thinks is supposed to mean something, but doesn't. Sonny leaps over the counter anyway. "I gotta go," he says, and runs out of the store, ignoring Usnavi's protests about how his shift's not over yet.
Pete likes to act like he's cool and has game, and maybe Sonny believed that a couple of years ago, but Sonny's not a kid anymore and they know each other too well for that.
They sneak past Pete's dad, asleep on the couch after pulling third shift, and head into Pete's room at the end of the hall. The apartment's got two bedrooms and Pete used to share with his big brother, but his brother started shacking up with his girlfriend and her kid about two years ago, so he's turned half the room into his workspace. The room is tiny and it's easy to see why Pete decided that heading out into the big, wide open world with cans of spray paint was a better use of his time than staying cooped up inside. Sonny's noticed that Pete has a hard time staying still, that he's constantly in motion, that he's always painting or dancing or talking or just circling the neighborhood and seeing what everyone else is doing. Sonny notices a lot about Pete.
"You want to go someplace tonight?" Pete asks, glancing back from the canvas he bought after Usnavi commissioned him again. Seriously, for someone who claims he hates him, Usnavi does a good imitation of Graffiti Pete's sole patron.
"Can't," Sonny says, propping himself up on one elbow on Pete's bed. "I've got an exam on Wednesday and two papers due Friday. It's the end of the term."
Pete rolls his eyes. "Oh right," he says disdainfully. "School."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that I know you're just marking time till you can get the hell out of here, and it fucking annoys me, okay?"
Sonny raises an eyebrow and sits up. "Well, fuck you, too."
Pete makes a pfft sound. "Maybe you should just get the hell out of here right now, since you're in such a big rush."
Sonny, who's never at a loss for things to say, gets up and leaves without a word.
Everyone in the neighborhood thinks of college as a way out. Maybe it is for some people, Sonny isn't sure, but the only people Sonny knows in college are Nina and him, and they just don't seem like great examples of that. Nina's in her last year at Stanford and though she's doing great now — every frickin' time Sonny sees Kevin he tells him that Nina's on the Dean's List — all her texts ever talk about is home. The number of mournful texts Sonny's gotten about how she can't afford to fly back for Christmas number in the millions, and it's killing him not to tell her Benny's saved up so he can surprise her by flying out there.
And then there's Sonny.
Wait, wait. Let's back up.
Sonny's in his second year at CUNY because of SEEK, which is a lot of letters to say that Sonny is poor and an orphan and can only afford college because of low-income assistance options. He lives at home because his aid doesn't cover housing, and his home campus is in Inwood anyway, so why the hell would he live away from home? Usnavi would get too lonely, the big baby.
This semester Sonny's taking six classes, which is at least one too many — two for his business major, two for his poli sci major, an art history class, and a figure drawing elective that he's only passing because it's for non-majors and none of them can draw a goddamn stick figure. When Sonny told Usnavi he was double majoring in business and political science, Usnavi had said, "Political science for you, that I get. But why business?"
"None of yours," was Sonny's reply, and he was pretty proud of that one. But really it was because he wanted to understand the store, and he wanted to help Pete not get screwed over if his art started taking off. Then later he told Usnavi he was taking two art classes this semester and all Usnavi did was smirk knowingly at him.
Which. Fuck off, Usnavi.
Sonny stares down at his art history book and makes a frustrated noise, throwing it aside. The subject's not frustrating him: he can identify his Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Bernini as well as anyone else in his class, it's just that he can't concentrate on what he's supposed to be studying. Like, he's fought with Pete before tons of times, it shouldn't be a big deal, but that one felt different. Maybe because Pete thinks Sonny thinks he's better than the rest of them, but that's not true at all. Pete thinks Sonny's leaving, and that's not true either.
At the bottom of his closet, Sonny's been stashing Christmas gifts bought with some of Abuela Claudia's money and some of what he gets from the bodega. He shoves aside the gifts for Usnavi, for Vanessa and Benny and Nina, and looks at the books about Alvin Baltrop, Félix González-Torres, and Robert Mapplethorpe that he got to give to Pete, and the set of nice charcoals he bought on the recommendation of his drawing professor.
"Not for me," he'd assured her. "For someone with actual artistic talent."
"For someone special?" she'd asked.
"Something like that," Sonny had replied and shrugged.
Sonny stands up and gets out of his closet.
"I'm going out!" Sonny yells to Usnavi as he grabs his jacket from the front closet.
"Don't you have a test tomorrow?"
"Shut up, Dad."
Sonny slams the door to the apartment and runs all the way down the stairs, keeps running until he's breathless and stooped over, and realizes he has no idea where he's going. Damn it. Finally facing reality makes you stupid.
Where you at? Sonny texts Pete. Maybe he won't answer. Maybe he'll never talk to Sonny again. Maybe he moved out of the country in the last ten hours. Maybe —
Ready to apologize? Pete replies.
Something like that.
Pete's already outside the club when Sonny shows up. He's got his arm around a girl and he's laughing with a whole bunch of dudes Sonny knows by sight. But when Sonny walks up, he must have a hell of an expression on his face because the whole crowd disperses with just a look from him. Everyone except Pete, that is.
"Yo," Pete says tentatively.
"Hey," Sonny replies. He jerks his head in the direction of no one. "You want to go somewhere?"
They walk together down streets Sonny's known since he was old enough to walk, but they all look new to him tonight. He knits his eyebrows together, a physical way of screwing up his courage, and reaches over to grab Pete's hand. Sonny glances over, just to see if Pete's about to punch him for doing something he's wanted to do since that blackout over a year ago, but Pete's concentrating on looking straight ahead. He squeezes Sonny's hand back, though, and Sonny's swearing on the inside, like, fuck, he's wasted a whole goddamn year for nothing.
They're still silent when Sonny lets them into Usnavi's store, but they both blurt out, "I'm sorry" as soon as the grate is down again. Sonny hops up on the counter and makes a space for Pete, pulling him in between his legs and leaning down for a kiss. The kiss is stupid good, like Sonny's played this moment out inside his head a thousand times or more, and this is better than that, not because Pete has any kind of impressive skills, but because it's real. Sonny slides his hands up the sides of Pete's face, tilts his head and fits their mouths together again. And again. And again, and again, and again. When they break apart, Pete is breathless and Sonny's overwhelmed.
"I'm not going anywhere, you need to know that," Sonny says insistently, pressing their foreheads together. "You need to know."
"Okay, okay," Pete says. His hands are on Sonny's waist, then up his sides, down his ribs, and Sonny thinks about how Pete's always restless, always moving, and wonders what it takes to make him keep still.
"I'm home," Sonny says, and kisses Pete again.