She comes in at two a.m., closing the door slowly, wincing theatrically at the click of the latch, so used to performing in the panopticon of female existence that she tiptoes exaggerating her carefulness, telegraphing an apology for no one’s benefit, through the darkness of the sleeping apartment.
“Hey,” he says from the shadow of the kitchen nook and she gasps, jumps.
“Holy motherfucking shit. Acer, you scared the shit out of me.”
He laughs, rumbly, under his breath. “Wanna go up to the roof?”
She nods. “Just let me pee first. I have to pee so bad.”
He’s waiting in the hallway with two beers when she comes out. There’s a cockroach dead in the corner of the landing; she’s too sleepy and sweaty to be more than casually revolted. She follows him up two flights and out the shitty old door with the broken lock. End of September, it’s still hot as balls and sweat trickles down her lower back, beads on her sternum, sticks the back of her legs to the cement as soon as she sits down on the ledge.
They sit there on the edge of the roof, trains rattling by on the elevated tracks two blocks away. She thinks she can see the purple seats from here, empty and harsh under fluorescent lights, nine times out of ten she’s got the car to herself by the time she gets off at Myrtle Ave. The guys standing outside the tattoo parlor next door are there, same guys no matter what time she gets home; they always call her “ma.”
Acer pops one of the beers open with an opener on his keychain, offers her the other one. She shakes her head, still a little cloudy from wine earlier, cold clear glasses of expensive white wine with people whose faces she has already forgotten. She feels like she might fall asleep any minute, feels like she’s lost control of the muscles that control her finer lip movements.
He shrugs, sets the unopened bottle down next to him. Pulls a pack of cards out of his pocket instead. Men always seem to have infinite pockets, full of unexpected objects.
“You wanna learn Briscas now?”
“Yes! I do.”
And he starts to deal the cards between them, three each to start, explaining as he goes, voice soft and swampy in the humid night. When the cards are dealt he turns the first one over. “Espadas.”
“Ace. Is that how you got your name?”
She reaches over and grabs his beer, looking him in the eye while she takes a long gulp. He just shrugs again. “You got it, ma?”
She sits up straighter, fans the medieval looking cards in front of her, carefully selects a queen of cups, and tosses it on top of the ace. “Yeah, I got it.”
The shearing screech of a train on the tracks wakes her up the next morning. Still on the roof. She groans, rolls over, yawns, stretches. Checks her phone—eight a.m.and it’s already hot, her hair matted and sweaty at the back of her head. She picks up her shoes and goes down to the apartment. Acer’s mattress is leaning up against the living room wall, he’s already left for work. Adora is in the kitchen.
“Where were you?”
“Fell asleep on the roof.” She yawns again. “Is there coffee left?”
Adora hands her a mug.
“You’re an angel.” She burns her tongue with a sip too soon. “Hey, so, like,” she opens the fridge and scans it aimlessly, “what was Acer in prison for?”
Adora rinses out her own mug. “I think that’s his, like, business if he wants to talk about it.”
“No, yeah, totally. I was just wondering. But he and Teo have know each other for, like, ever, right?”
“Yeah, since they were kids. Acer’s family.”
“That’s cool. I always wanted a brother.” A pause. “He taught me Briscas.”
Adora laughs. “You can’t hardly play with two people.”
“Yeah. I’m going to go shower. You need the bathroom?”
“Nah, go ahead.”
She’s lying in bed reading, on the bottom bunk with Desiree on the bed above her. The A/C is churning comfortably in the window. The front door bangs open.
“Hello? Guys? Is anybody home?” There’s a jingle of keys being tossed down.
She rolls off the bed and Desiree climbs down with a creak of the metal ladder and a thump as she jumps past the last two rungs. In the living room, Adora is hooking her iPod up to the stereo. She scrolls through it— “You guys have to hear this new song, it’s so good.” Adora taps play and turns the volume up. The bass drum pounds through the immense speakers that Teo’s installed in the living room and a driving choral melody starts. They all three begin to dance wildly around the room, between the coffee table and the couch, in circles like a ritual, spinning around each other joyfully, knees bent and hips swirled. The song ends with a jangle of piano.
She laughs breathlessly. “Oh my god, I love it, play it again.” And Adora does.
“Hey, come in here a sec,” Teo says as she walks past their bedroom door.
He holds out a $100 bill. “Here. For a blender. I know you’ve been wanting one. For your birthday.”
Her voice catches in her throat. “Thanks, Teo. You’re the best fake big brother ever.”
“For sure, for sure. You been talking about it enough.”
“For smoothies,” Adora says from the bed.
She laughs, “Don’t play. For margaritas.”
She hugs Teo. “Thanks.”
She walks home from the subway, umbrellaless. Rain tonight, buckets of it, a sudden summer downpour, warm as a soft bath as it runs down the back of her neck and drips from the eaves of her nose and eyebrows. In the apartment, only the yellow stove light and a small lamp in the corner are on in the windowless living room/kitchen/dining room when she comes in. Desiree, Teo, Adora, and Acer are all around the kitchen counter.
“Wow, everybody’s home,” she says, out of breath from climbing the stairs. She shakes her head and flings droplets from the ends of her hair.
“Is it raining?” Acer asks.
She looks in his eyes. “Nope.”
He snorts. “Fuck you.”
“What are you guys all doing in here?”
Teo leans in on the counter, “We want to smoke but we’re out. You have any weed?”
She wipes her forehead with the back of her sleeve. “No, but I can text my guy. One sec, let me go change my clothes.”
In the bedroom she peels off her wet skirt and tank top and leaves them in a pile almost precisely in the center of the linoleum floor, relishes the blast of air conditioning that hits her bare stomach.
Coming back into the living room in sweatpants, reading off her phone, she says, “he doesn’t want to come out cause it’s raining—”
“Unbelieveable,” Desiree says, “fuckin’ Dominos will still deliver.”
“—but, somebody gave me this bottle of Patron for my birthday and this shot glass,” she beams, “shaped like a naked lady.”
Acer raises his right hand, she high fives it, and they both flip their hands forward to five again at the bottom.
“Aight, that’ll work,” Teo says. He pulls her in with one arm. “You’re a little G,” and then, “Ugh, your hair’s all wet.”
“I want Dominos,” Adora says.
They all laugh, and Desiree holds up her phone. “What do you want on it?”
“I don’t care,” Adora says, then reflects, “just none of this pineapple bullshit.”
“Oh, now, hey,” Acer shakes his head.
“Get cheesy bread,” Teo says, filling the shot glass. Adora kisses him.
“Yeah, and that cinnamon bread thing.”
“Ok, ok, ok, chill.”
She’s getting ready to go out, texting one of the bouncers from the bar who’s working the door at a club in Midtown tonight. Her thighs are plump under the
hem of a pink minidress and she has a different shoe on each foot.She tilts her head to one side.
“I don’t know. Desi, what do you think?”
“I said don’t call me Desi.”
“Ugh, sorry. Desiree, what do you think?”
The bed creaks as Desiree rolls over and her head appears over the side of the bed.
“Neither. Here—” she groans and climbs off the bed, standing on tiptoe to pull a shoebox off the top shelf of the closet. “Here. Try these.”
She pulls out the shoes, orange and pink platform sandals. “Oh my god these are perfect. Can I borrow them?”
“Yeah sure,” Desiree rubs her eyes and yawns. “I never wear them anymore anyways. Just be careful. They were mad expensive.”
“I totally will.”
Desiree climbs back up on the bed. Her thin brown hips are stippled with stretch marks like the imprint of seaweed on the beach when the tide goes out. “Can you try to be quiet when you get back? You woke me up last night at like three.”
“Sorry! I will.”
“Hey, do you have your rent check?” Adora asks her.
“Oh my god, yes, I’m so sorry,” she says, “I keep forgetting to ask my dad. Can I give you guys cash this month?”
“Yeah, that’s fine.”
“Here, try this new lipstick I got, it’s so good. I swear, it looks good on everybody. It’s kind of a lot, but it’s hot.”
Adora fiddles with the jewelry on top of her bookshelf. “So, I have to tell you something.”
She looks at Adora out the corner of her eyes, still looking at the mirror, holding her mouth stiff to put the lipstick on, “eah uht’s uh?” She rubs her lips together, closes them around her index finger and pulls it out. “Sorry. What’s up?”
“Teo and I...we’re having a baby.”
Her jaw drops theatrically. “Oh my god, you are not. Oh my god, that is so amazing.” She wraps Adora in her long arms and squeezes her. “I’m gonna be an auntie? Oh my god, congratulations!” She shakes her head bemusedly and smiles. “Oh my god.”
Adora laughs and nods. “Thank you. I know, it’s so crazy. We’re so excited.” She laughs again, shakily. “Gonna be some big changes around here.”
“Yeah, I mean, of course, for sure. Oh my god, this is so exciting.” She looks at her phone. “Oh my god okay I’m late for work but I will see you later.”
She hugs her again. “Oh my god, Adora, oh my god! There’s a person inside you.”
They meet at the bar at the end of her Wednesday evening shift, an early one. She brings him home and makes him wait outside the apartment door. “Hang on one sec.” She comes back out with a bottle of wine and an iPod speaker. “Ok, let’s go.” She leads him up the stairs to the roof. They stand by the edge, in the late departing sun, swigging cheap fruity Pinot Grigio. She traces with one thumb the scar on his forehead.
Her skirt is around her waist, his hips between her legs, her heels at the backs of his knees, his hands at the tops of her inner thighs, when Adora and Teo come out the door. “Oh god, sorry.” Adora purses her lips and looks away and they rush back down the stairs, the door banging shut behind them.
“Oh crap,” she giggles and tugs her skirt down and kisses him wetly before hurrying down after them, telling him over her shoulder, “You can find your way out, right?” and not waiting to hear his answer.
The first cool day of summer; autumn’s filtering surreptitiously in. She finds everyone around the counter again. She grins—“Sorry, all out of Patron.”
Adora stands up. “Listen. We think—” she looks back around at the other three. Teo puts a hand on her shoulder, “—we’ve been thinking and we think it’s probably best you should move out.”
She drops her bags on the floor from her shoulders. The echo of the smile is still stuck on her face. “What?”
“I just—we just—think, you know,” Adora is shuffling her feet, but speaks with a wretched finality, “our lifestyles are different and our, you know,” she cups a hand over her belly, “our priorities are changing. It’s been a really fun summer. You’re so great. We just think, like, maybe it would be better if you lived somewhere else.”
“What about Desiree?”
“Hey—” Desiree starts.
Adora interrupts her. “Desiree is older. She’s more, like, calm. Settled.”
She cocks her head at Desiree, who just stares back, shrugs. “Sorry, girl.”
She looks at Acer. He meets her gaze for a minute and then he, too, shrugs and looks down. “I don’t pay rent. Teo’s the boss.”
Teo rests his chin on Adora’s shoulder. “We just think it’s for the best.”
She nods. “Wow. Okay.” The backs of her eyeballs feel prickly. “Okay.” She goes into their room, closes the door, sits down on the bottom bunk, stares at the wall.
Thirty days later—moving day. She doesn’t wake anyone. Her friend Joe has a car and she knows he’s trying to hook up with her again, but it makes him generous and she needs the help. He comes to get her things, all stuffed into a total of four cardboard boxes and a suitcase. She takes the bookcase out of their room, but leaves the air conditioner in the window. She stops at the blender on the counter. Decides to leave it.
She and Joe have made enough noise that she knows everyone else must be awake, the energy in the apartment has changed, but no one opens any doors, calls out a goodbye, or anything at all. She leaves her keys on the kitchen counter and closes the door behind her.
“Is that everything?” Joe asks.