I shoved the lacy bra I kept under my mattress deep into my backpack, sandwiched between my Sequential II textbook and my ancient shared copy of The Iliad, and decided it was time to white out “Brisma + Kelly 4ever” on my Jansport. I needed to leave soon to meet up with Brian at the bodega on his block like I always did, but I sat at the counter, hunched over my bag, scratching out our names with criss-crossing white stitch marks and drew a circle around it so that it looked more like a baseball. I pursed my lips to blow on it, morning news blaring from the TV, before stretching the fabric toward the kitchen light to appraise my handiwork. You could hardly see us there anymore.
I downed the rest of my orange juice and told myself I was doing just fine without Kelly these past few weeks: Brian and I were back together, no thanks to her trifling ways, and while the Mets had lost the World Series to the Yankees, Mayor Giuliani announced on The Today Show that public school students wouldn’t be penalized for skipping school to attend the celebratory parade in downtown Manhattan.
When she heard this, Mami let her spoon of sugar clang against the sides of her pink Mary Kay mug, coffee sloshing over the sides where “Super Seller!” was written in a sassy purple font. She clicked off the news with the TV remote.
“Don’t even think about it,” she held a pinky up at me with one hand while dabbing a paper towel against her mint-colored scrubs with the other. “I need you here early to help me distribute my Mary Kay catalogues before work. I’m on the night shift all week and I can’t have any of your callejando right now.”
I slipped one of her trial lipsticks—“Rouge Rider”—inside my backpack before hiking it up onto my right shoulder. I frowned at her.
“It’s like you don’t even know who I am,” I said, unlocking the front door. “I would never go to a parade for the Yankees.”
As I walked to the bodega near the fourth-floor apartment across from Broadway Park that Brian’s mom had moved them into after she re-married, I found myself wondering if my father was celebrating the Yankees win in Miami, or Buenos Aires, or wherever in the world he was currently “chasing skirts,” as he’d say. I couldn’t help but feel like the Yankees’—his Yankees—win over my Mets was a personal betrayal. It was true that I’d never go to a Yankees parade, but Brian and I would take any excuse to cut school and fool around. That morning, Brian was already lifting the black plastic bag of snacks he’d got for us off the counter when I walked through the open bodega door, setting off the electronic alarm that signaled a new customer, bing bong.
“You know this kid?” Faizal asked me, thumbing a hairy knuckle at Brian.
“Yeah,” I smiled shyly.
“What you doin, messin around with this kid?”
Brian grabbed a barrel-shaped electric blue drink off the New York State Lotto placemat on the counter.
“Man, quit it,” he punched the air, laughing. “Me and my girl Brisma go back like quarter juice. She ain’t afraid of you.”
He swung his bag up on one shoulder, slipping his other arm around me as we walked out. A pit in my stomach burned hot with him, a lit flame warming my spine, through my veins to my fingertips; like a hot air balloon, I felt airborne. I rested my head against him to keep from floating away.
“You heard what Giuliani—”
“You already know,” he said, tucking his chin over my hair to scope out the block and make sure no one saw us slip back towards his building instead of continuing on toward school. When he first arrived from Bolivia and moved into the building around the corner from us, Kelly and I used to jump rope out front, each of us secretly hoping to catch a glimpse of his long eyelashes. When we learned about his mom’s temper, we offered him our homes as a refuge—or at least Kelly’s backyard, my balcony, to lay low. He taught us how to play pool at GQ and to play Bullshit in the cafeteria. And I was the one headed to his apartment, not Kelly.
The building lobby was infused with the sweet warm smell of someone cooking funche, reminding me of heartbreak and regret—not mine, but Mami’s. It was what Mami made for breakfast whenever she felt homesick for Vieques. I shook away the memories of an island I’d never visited and leaned into Brian’s chest. He playfully squeezed a handful of chicho on my right side as we waited for the elevator in excited silence.
He kissed me as soon as we spilled into the empty apartment, his mother having left early to begin her shift at the McDonalds in the basement of Elmhurst Hospital. I never felt comfortable at his apartment, but especially so when we cut; the place was eerily still, as if frozen in time, mid-argument. Empty bowls left on the kitchen counter, brown coffee splatters on the wall, Brian’s baseball jersey still draped across the back of a dining chair, where it should have been hanging in his locker during 2nd period.
He wasted no time tugging my wrist into his bedroom, a dark, musty place illuminated mainly by the screensaver rotating quadrangles on his desktop. The single window in the room opened onto an 18-inch airshaft between buildings in the complex. I willed myself to relax into the unmade bed, a gray comforter bunched at the foot, revealing navy sheets. When I’d first seen these sheets, they struck me as foreign and masculine; I still slept on The Little Mermaid sheets Mami saw no reason to update.
“You know,” I said between kisses. “We could still go to the parade if you want.”
He looked wounded, briefly. His eyes, copper batteries, narrowing at me.
“You don’t want to be here?”
“No,” I squeezed his neck. “Of course I do. I just saw Pablo headed to the subway on my way here with a couple of kids from GQ. It could be fun.”
Brian shook me off the way his pitchers did him.
“Doesn’t interest me.”
He slipped a finger inside the waistband of my jeans, undoing the brass button with his thumb.
“This interests me.”
He kissed me again and we rolled around for a bit until he broke apart from me, his eyes foggy with desire.
“You wanna see something?”
I smiled and nodded.
He leapt off the bed to crouch at his computer, a cacophony of clicks from the keyboard. Licking his lips, he turned the monitor toward the bed, pressed play on a video he had queued up, and curled back up beside me on the bed.
We watched as a van pulled up to a girl walking on the street. A guy holding a camcorder offered to give her a ride, as long as she was willing to repay this generosity by riding his friend sitting in the backseat, on camera.
It wasn’t the first time we watched porn together, but it was the first time we ever watched something that looked like a regular person made it: jerky frames, unsteady hands, a disembodied voice commentating on the sidelines. It was a far cry from the heavily made-up girls, hair teased and nails long, static and posed on the chica chica cards Kelly and I used to collect in the dugout.
“Where’d you get this?” I asked, pressing my nose against his ear. His black hair was thick and unwashed.
“I downloaded it,” he said without looking back at me. “It took two and a half days.”
We watched some more in silence as the girl climbed into the backseat of the van. Brian reached behind, feeling for me, and I let him. He turned around, pressing his long hard body on top of mine. Instinctively, I drew in my breath, tried to constrict my organs, make room for him.
“It’s hot, don’t you think?” he asked, his teeth on the soft meat of my ear.
A flush of heat and shame and something else I couldn’t name flooded my veins, then, and I released the air from my lungs in a long, soft sigh. My eyes remained on the ceiling where the sunlight, when it could reach through the airshaft, illuminated a faint spiderweb amongst the plaster popcorn stalactite. I traced it, until a gentle breeze blew in, disturbing the latticework and shaking a languid silver limb loose over our heads.
“You like it,” Brian growled into my collarbone as he grinded against me.
The “something else” I felt was ancient: something both dormant yet familiar in the marrow of my bones, something that had always been there, but never seen, like a black box of data encoded within the bodies of all women. It was something, I understood on this primordial level, to be silenced until it was safe enough to unearth it.
“Yes,” I breathed, keeping my eyes trained on the dusty tendril tumbling in the gentle wind, no spider to be found. “Yeah, it’s hot.”
When I reemerged onto the sidewalk, spent and hollow from the entire day in Brian’s room, I shielded my eyes from the bright sunlight of the afternoon and made my way toward the park, toward home. Everything about Broadway assaulted my senses: double-parked trucks slammed their rolling back doors after delivering fresh sea bass to Hong Kong Supermarket; an ambulance meandered through traffic until blaring its siren to pull a U-ie at the busy intersection; the grimy subway grate beneath me rumbled as a group of kids I recognized from school decked out in Yankees gear and waving pennants and bandanas emerged from the Elmhurst Avenue subway stop, yelling and laughing and jumping on each other’s backs.
“Chill, motherfucker,” one kid yelled, shoving another off. “You gonna choke me out like that.”
“I thought you liked being choked,” someone else quipped, miming hands at his throat.
“Nah,” I heard a familiar voice say and my heart quickened. “That’s his moms that likes being choked.”
The crowd erupted in laughter and cheers and some threw their free World Series Champions swag toward the kid they were clowning on.
I stopped at a park bench to pretend I was rearranging something in my backpack to get a closer look and confirm my suspicion, but I’d know that voice anywhere. In the sea of navy pinstripes, I saw Kelly in her bootleg black Mets T-shirt, the chest cheaply screen-printed with a caricature of Mike Piazza at bat outlined in bright orange.
I smiled at the sight of her, proud that she was staying loyal to our team, even at the victory parade of our rivals. I relaxed in a way I hadn’t felt all day, and Kelly’s eye caught mine for a brief second before one of the boys pulled her in for a dap. I cleared my throat and reached back into my bag, pretending to look for something when my fingers grazed a narrow card, its corners rounded from traveling in my bag for so long.
I pulled it out, a Jolly Rancher wrapper glued to one side from the heat, and saw that it was a chica chica card. Kelly and I had stopped collecting them years ago, but I had seen one near Singas Famous Pizza shortly after our fight, and picked it up to show her, a reflex. It was a new school one, boasting a dot com instead of a 900 number, and it didn’t feel the same as the photos of all the other girls we used to christen with names and stories and hometowns when we were in grade school. I guess I had carried it around these last few weeks with the distant hope that I’d have the chance to show Kelly again someday.
I watched the group continue up Broadway, the orange and blue 31 on Kelly’s back in step with the tall, ubiquitous navy 2 next to her, their hands in each other’s jeans pockets, leaving no space between their bodies. The hem of her shirt kept rising higher and higher over her right hip as they walked, and I looked away.
“Tenga un buen dia, hermosa,” a man honked from his truck and smacked his lips together loudly as he drove by.
I zipped open my bag and rifled through my belongings as traffic continued to roll past me until my fingers grasped the thin scratchy fabric I was looking for. I waited for an elderly man shuffling by in socks and Adidas slippers to enter the perpendicular crosswalk before pulling out the lacy bra I hadn’t even remembered to put on. I threw it in the paint-chipped trash can by the handball courts, and tossed the new chica chica card in on top of it. I’d seen enough skin that day, I decided. I couldn’t bear to hold onto any more.