Vanessa watched Usnavi prepare the coffee.

Energy. It was what he had more of than any other person she knew. In all the time that she'd known him, she couldn't think of a moment when he hadn't been bouncing from task to task or from place to place. He was propelled by some sort of mysterious perpetual motion machine that was uniquely his. Other people took breaks or at least slowed down or cut loose. Vanessa sometimes thought that Usnavi might evaporate into a blur of activity and disappear into the air.

Vanessa watched Usnavi prepare the coffee.

He'd been like that even on the day that they had met. It was strange to her that she actually recalled the specific instant, considering the fact that the moments of her acquaintance with Benny, with Nina, with Carla, with everyone, all seemed to blend into a hazy cloud of always. But Usnavi was different.

Hell, Usnavi was always different. It was kind of his thing.

She'd been standing at the school gate—first day at the new school, first day with the New York City kids—feeling the wind whip her long hair and missing Chicago. At a tall, awkward, gangling five-and-a-half feet—a giant for 6th grade—she could see across the entire cement courtyard leading to the bleak-looking school. Her stomach twisted into a knot that was so tight that she was afraid that the cereal she'd forced down for breakfast might come hurtling back up. And that would be just a perfect way to start the year.

"Watch out!"

A basketball flew past her face, missing her nose by mere centimeters. She flinched backwards and dropped her knapsack.

"Jesus!" she exclaimed. Once she'd made sure that all the bits of her face were still intact, she glared down the path of the ball's trajectory and saw a small Latino boy of about her age jogging up towards her. He was waving apologetically while behind him, several boys bent over double with laughter.

"Sorry, sorry, sorry," the boy said, exhibiting a valiant resolve not to look back at his guffawing friends. "I, uh, missed that one."

"Yeah," Vanessa replied, not quite ready to forgive him. She grabbed her bag off the ground and started brushing gravel off the bottom.

"I mean...yeah." The boy shifted from foot to foot. Vanessa picked up the basketball and tossed it to him. He managed to catch it, but only after some truly spectacular fumbling. He was such an awkward sight that Vanessa relented a little.

"You got some mad skills," she teased lightly. A faint blush colored the boy's cheeks.

"I'm workin' on it," he said. He stuck the ball under one arm in what he probably thought was a cocky and self-assured pose. "I'm Usnavi."

"Vanessa." She gave a little wave.

His friends were getting impatient and began calling him. Vanessa decided to spare him any further social discomfort.

"See you around, Usnavi," she said, giving him another little wave before she walked towards the school.

Vanessa watched Usnavi prepare the coffee.

The girls at the salon teased her about him, about her relationship with him, but she was adament that there was nothing to tease about. "Por favor!" she would exclaim to Daniele when it all became too much. "We're friends! That's it!"

And they were friends. She was comfortable around him—as comfortable as she was with any of her girlfriends. Not family, although she'd babysat for Sonny so many times that she did consider the kid her little brother.

No, not family. While Usnavi displayed a remarkable ability to keep his eyes on her face while they talked, she did notice them drift downwards at least once or twice per conversation. But she didn't begrudge him that. Because they were such good friends.

Vanessa watched Usnavi prepare the coffee. When he finally finished, he turned and presented it to her as though he was some sort of French lover handing her a rose. She accepted with a giggle and a bright smile and reached for her wallet, even though they both knew what would happen next.

"It's on the house," he would say.

"Are you sure?" she would ask.

"Yeah," he would say, and she would thank him (because they were such good friends), and then she would leave.

He did, and she did. But later, in between daydreams of Union Square and Broadway, Vanessa wished herself back to the bodega, watching Usnavi prepare the coffee.

After all, it was the best part of her day.