Right across from my bedroom window was the rooftop of the next factory over. I could never get the window to close all the way, and even in the summer there were drafts that kept me up late at night. Where else in the universe got drafts in the summer? Only the Yards, I guess—only inside this little piece of heaven in the shape of an industrial warehouse. So I was meticulous about oiling my window twice a month (I borrowed some castor oil from the assembly line downstairs), and that night when I pushed the window open, the hinges flipped open without a sound.
It was a four-foot drop to the roof next door. Fortunately, the walls hugged each other tight. Not more than six inches separated the two buildings. My feet touched down. From there, I used a ladder that went from the roof to the ground.
Once my feet touched pavement, I was running free.
The address from Devin Murray’s website was a few blocks away. Mostly I used the back alleys. In a few, people were out, sitting on bridge chairs around a streetlight or a backyard light, playing cards or listening to beat-up boom boxes or just chilling out in wifebeater shirts and sandals. I almost stumbled over Mr. Diggory, the wino who sometimes slept out here, but realized I was about to step on a breathing stomach and jumped a foot to the left, knocking over his wine bottle. I stopped and reached into my pocket for change to replace it, but he started to chuckle. “Don’t worry about it, kid,” he told me, not unkindly, as he dusted off his pants. “You probably done me a favor, anyway.”
That was one of the things I liked about the Yards: No matter how screwed up everyone was, we all still met each other’s eye.
You could see the party from blocks away. My first indication of its existence was a bunch of lost-looking kids in club clothes looking at a printed-out set of directions on a corner. On an opposing corner, some drug dealers that I went to middle school with last year were laughing at them. The air was cool, stiff like winter, as if signaling the approach of an oncoming cold. Tonight seemed especially foreboding—the beginning of school, the first weekend of a new social scene, all of this curious information about my new high school’s online underground social calendar.
You know the difference between bad parties and good parties? At bad parties, the only people there are your friends; at good parties, everyone in the universe is there. And this party definitely, definitely had everyone. Tonya Murray certainly knew how to network. The trance kids were spinning music, the AV nerds were projecting a lightshow on the wall, and the jocks were busy trying to lift a massive, sumo wrestler-sized beer keg out of the back of one of their minivans. So far, the effort was being met with little luck. Not that it mattered. Sajit, the class’s token gay stay-up-and-party prima donna, was tending bar, mixing lavishly-colored drinks into elaborate martini glasses, serving them up and trying to lecture people on each drink’s name and social relevancy. Right now, a bunch of the soccer team girls were staring him down, looking disgusted while he tried to convince one of them to try a Flaming Orgasm. “Forget it,” said one girl, finally. “I can’t deal with that name -- it sounds absolutely gross. Just make me a Sex on the Beach.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. Sajit was the closest thing to a friend I had here. We grew up in the Yards together and, in elementary school, we used to get beat up together. We rarely actually hung out together, but common black eyes was the sort of bond you don’t just take for granted.
“Jupiter, my dear friend,” he said once he saw me, following up his words by wrapping an arm around me and taking me behind the bar. “How in the hell did you end up at a dump like this?”
“I live in a dump like this, Sajit,” I said, looking around to see if anybody heard. “You’ve been to my house, remember?”
“Honey, do you think that tonight just happened?” Sajit asked. I knew he was exaggerating his Pollyanna ’tude for the night, but I think he was only doing it for the effect. “Tonight is a gift from heaven. You might live around the corner from here, but tonight, you get to pretend you have no idea where the hell you are.” He pointed at my chest, then turned over his hand, cupped it, and blew into it like he was blowing pixie dust all over me.
“What do you mean?” I asked, knowing full well what Sajit meant, but feeling the need to keep him talking, to hold onto my conversation partner and to keep pretending that I knew what was going on here.
“You could be from downtown, South Philly, East Falls, even. You could have borrowed your parents’ car, or rented one of those limos outside. It’s the first weekend of school. Nobody here even knows who you are — oh, Jupiter, don’t look like that; nobody in this place is going to recognize you from that scene with Bates. It’s too dark and mood-lit. And, even if they do, whose side do you think they’ll be on? Forget about the first first impression you made. Right now is when you make your real first impression. You’re already wearing the coolest clothes of anyone here.”
“What, jeans and a black t-shirt?”
“What, do you not read Vogue?” Without waiting for an answer, Sajit took me by the shoulders, spun me around, and gave me a soft kick on the butt with his foot. “Now, stop talking to me and get out there and mingle.”