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From Chapter 8

That weekend Henry drove across the Route 1 bridge to Trenton, New Jersey. Following written instructions, he pulled off the highway into a neighborhood of row homes—some small and modestly maintained and others small and falling. Latin music with big bass pumped from little Toyotas with tinted windows. With each one he passed, the bass shook Henry’s car windows. He pulled down Bayard Street, lined with quiet brick and vinyl-sided two-story homes, and struggled to parallel park the Subaru. A teenage boy with gelled black hair, and gold chains laying over top of a turtleneck, sat on a stoop—watching Henry back up and pull forward a dozen times. He laughed when Henry was finally in place—the Subaru protruding out into the street.

Henry approached a brick home and rang. He was startled when Esther opened the door. Her black dress, ruffled down to her knees, showed her curves. Her calves exposed olive skin and hair was wet and black, like oil. Henry extended his hand nervously but she looked at it, giggled then leaned forward and gave him a hug. In the living room, a black kid was watching TV. “That’s my foster brother,” Esther said. “Willy, meet Henry.”

Willy, who wore a bandanna and a gold chain, looked up and nodded.

Henry stood speechless for a moment. He saw a tattoo of a spider on Willy’s neck. “I’m … I’m Henry. Nice to meet you.” Henry stared at him, as if he expected the conversation to continue.

Willy shot him a look. “Need something from me?” he asked.

“I… was… just… nothing.” Henry went with Esther into her bedroom. He sat on the bed while she excused herself for a minute. He looked out the window, which was covered in clear plastic, at a brick wall. Esther returned with two glasses of iced tea, and put some music on. The song had a fast dance beat and passionate lyrics—a style Henry hadn’t heard before.

“Who’s that kid out there?” he asked.

“I told you, he’s my foster brother. My mom took him in a few months ago but she is never here so I’m stuck feeding him and keeping an eye on him.”

Henry nodded. The chorus of the song began. The fast rhythm and vocals excited Henry. “Who is this?”

“Oh, this? It’s T.L.R. You haven’t heard of freestyle music?”

“No, I did. Yeah, I’ve heard of it.” He stood and danced a little bit. “They’re great.” The beat was not what he was used to dancing to, so he tripped a little.

“Like this,” she said. “Don’t bounce.” Her movements were more fluid than his and she froze for a millisecond on each beat before continuing.

He tried to move with her but continued to bounce.

“Don’t bounce,” she said.

Then, he moved his hips in a kind of sexy way, mimicking her movements. While he was dancing his gaze lowered to her waist—which moved back and forth and up and down. He bit his lip, trying to focus on dancing but her waist was having a hypnotic effect on him and was provoking pangs of lust. He started to reach for her.

“Guys aren’t supposed to move like that,” she said.

He stopped dancing and pulled the needle off the record. “Just let me dance.”

“Well, you can’t do it like that,” she laughed.

“What’s funny?”

“You’re funny, Henry.” She gently touched his nose with her finger. “Let’s go for a walk.”

As they walked past the living room, Henry looked in at Willy. They stepped outside and walked down the street to Columbus Park. “That’s where I buy my Wigwams,” Esther told him, pointing to a store on the corner with colorful sweaters in the window. They crossed and went into the park.

“What are Wigwams?” Henry asked.

She laughed. “Socks! You know… thick ones that you wear outside of pants? You have a lot to learn.”

They sat down on a bench.

“No– I mean I forgot that they were called Wigwams.”

“It’s okay; you’re still in high school.”

“So? That doesn’t matter.”

She giggled. He moved in on her quickly, kissing her lips. He spun around her. His novice lips danced a bit too much so she bit his lip gently. He slowed down. She nibbled him more and played with him. Her dancing tongue made him spin.

He took a deep breath, looking in her eyes. “I love you,” he said. He leaned in to kiss again.

She stopped and pulled back. “What?”

“I love you.”

“Oh,” she said with surprise. “Really?” She looked over at the Wigwam store. “Who are you?” she asked, inching away.

“Who am I?” he glanced at her waist to try to understand if she was just shifting in place or moving away from him.

“Yeah – who are you, Henry Kreiser? Why are you so serious about starting something with a Trenton girl. You’re a good-looking guy… aren’t there girls in Pennsylvania?”

He shrugged, annoyed at the change of tone in her voice. “Don’t ask that. I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“Well,” he shifted toward her closing the gap and pressing his chest against her shoulder. “I know you’re beautiful. What else do I need to know?”

“Aw.” She kissed him.