Summer is everybody else's party. It belongs to the recently arrived hipsters in their beat-up sneakers and paint-splattered jeans spilling out of the bar down the block. It belongs to Puerto Rican families with foil trays of meat, sending charcoal smoke signals into the air, even to the old men in front of the VFW, sitting out, watching the neighborhood pass them by.
Val and June lie on Val's bed on the second floor of her parents' house on Visitation. The girls are waiting for the night to take shape, watching the facing row of neat three-story brick houses.
Although June has the phone numbers of twenty boys in her cell, ten she'd willingly kiss and ten she swears are dying to kiss her, the girls are alone. June's been scrolling through her phonebook looking for someone she's missed, her polished nail clicking against the screen. If she keeps this up, the battery will be dead by midnight, which is what Val's hoping for.
The girls spent another day working at Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary day care, watching the summer escape while they tended a bunch of babies. They missed the community pool and the open fire hydrants. They missed sitting on the stoop in their bikinis. They missed the shift from afternoon to evening, the gradual migration from hanging out to going out. Still, they made a little cash for when they are old enough to spend it on something interesting. But at fifteen, all the interesting stuff seems beyond their grasp.
This is one of the nice streets in Red Hook, tree lined and residential, on the predominantly white waterside of the neighborhood. Cut off by the expressway from the stately brownstone-lined streets of Carroll Gardens, Red Hook is a mile-long spit stranded at the southern point of Brooklyn where the East River opens into the bay. In the middle of the neighborhood sits Coffey Park, which splits the "front" with its decaying waterfront from the fortress of housing projects and low-cost supermarkets at the "back."
All around the girls the night is heating up. The stoops are filling, some with newcomers dressed in secondhand clothes, others with grizzled men sucking air through their teeth as if this might cool things down. It's a hot night in a calendar of hot weeks. The community pool has been packed, its surrounding concrete a mosaic of bright towels. The local firehouses, the Red Hook Raiders and the Happy Hookers, have been clocking overtime, circling the neighborhood to shut off illegally opened hydrants, telling kids to go cool off elsewhere. People have been doing their best to stay out of each other's way. By this point in the summer everyone's developed a beat-the-heat routinea soaked do-rag tied around a scalp, a tiny fan held inches from a nose, a cold beer cracked before lunch.
In the backyard, Val's sister, Rita, and her crowd have taken over the aboveground pool, still celebrating their high school graduation two months on. The paved yard is littered with cans of Coors Light and rolling bottles of high-proof lemonade. Val and June stood at the edge of the party for a while. But the talk turned to things they weren't supposed to know about. Eventually, Rita sent them indoors.
"That boy in the lawn chair?" June said, as the girls climbed the stairs. "He grabbed my ass. He totally grabbed it." She's glowing beneath her outrage.
"Your butt fell into his hand is all," Val said.
June's curves are everywhere these days, especially where they don't belong, bursting through the buttons of her school uniform or falling out of her too-short shorts. The girls, once a matched set, now seem to be fashioned from different material. Val, whose pale skin repels the sun, is made of reeds and twigslike the sad saplings planted in the park that shoot up but never seem to leaf out. June, blessed with an olive complexion even in winter, is formed from something soft and pliant, clay, maybe, or cookie dough.
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