Double the Pressure
Man, it’s hot! The air is thick and sticky like the lotion on my skin, and it’s just the way I like Brooklyn in the summertime. People around Bed-Stuy are always complaining about the humidity, but I love it. It’s like drinking water when I’m jumping double Dutch. Refreshing. But one thing I can’t stand is when I’m still in the house and I’m sweating just trying to do my hair. After three extremely hot summers, I thought my parents would’ve installed air conditioners by now, but no. And my fan is on its last legs. Pitiful. But if I don’t hurry, I’m going to be late for practice, and if that happens, my coach can disqualify me from competition. So I put my hundreds of micro-braids into a ponytail. It’s better this way ’cause it won’t mess me up when I’m jumping. I don’t know how my friends can fuss with their hair and put on makeup in this heat. They do it just to look cute for the boys, who barely pay attention to them anyway. We’re only thirteen; we’ll have plenty of time for boys later. Besides, they have no idea how they look after practice. All those makeup shades and mascara mixed with dripping sweat make for one colorful hot mess.
I rush out of my room to find my little brother playing games. Literally. Cameron is sitting on the steps playing on his kiddie tablet with one sock laid out right next to him and the other at the top of the stairs. “Cameron!” He never does what I ask. Then again, he’s only seven. “Cameron, did you put socks on your feet before you put on your sneakers?” I can see he didn’t. “Cameron!” Having a little brother requires patience, and right now I don’t have any.
“Cam, I’ve got to get out of here. You should have been ready an hour ago, like I asked you.” This boy is not even paying attention to me. So I snatch his toy away. “Go get your other sock and come right back down here. Now!”
“Stop yelling at me.” Cameron hates me yelling at him as much as I hate my mother yelling at us, but it’s just so darn effective. I quickly wrestle the socks onto his feet and tie his sneakers, and we’re out the door. Finally.
My mother was supposed to drop Cameron off at the babysitter’s on her way out, but she said she had to leave early. Said she had something important to do. I am guessing it had something to do with my dad, because she had that serious I’m-about-to-kick-somebody’s-butt look on her face. My mother usually acts all dignified, but she’s feisty. And when she’s suspicious of somebody messing around with him, my mother gets really jealous. One time she cursed out a cashier at the supermarket who was flirting with my dad while my mom was standing right next to him. Sometimes I overhear women in my neighborhood talking about how my father is too handsome for his own good and that my mother puts up with too much of his stuff--well, they use other words, but I get their point.
Truthfully, my parents are a soap opera in and of themselves. They should call a TV network and have people follow them around with cameras. They would make one crazy reality show. Especially my father; he doesn’t mind the attention, but my mother does. So when they argue and get mad at each other--which is every other week--they almost forget they have kids, and that’s how I end up stuck with Cameron. A lot. It seems like ever since Cameron came along, my parents have been fighting more often. I don’t think their problems have anything to do with him, but I twist my lips and raise an eyebrow to the possibility that they just might. We don’t look anything alike. When I was about six years old, my dad left my mom and me for one reason or another, and they were apart for some time. They got back together, then Cameron was born. All I know is that I spend more time with Cameron than they ever do.
And all of this drama is why I got into double Dutch. It’s the only time I have to myself, and when I’m between the ropes, I feel free. I’m focused on two things: keep jumping, and don’t mess up. I don’t let anything get into my head that will make me dwell on what’s going on at home. In the ropes, it’s about me, about how many perfect jumps I can do in two minutes. So when my parents started tripping, double Dutch became my outlet. That and my diary, which is the only place my secrets are safe. By fifth grade, I was hooked on double Dutch. Now that I just finished seventh grade, I love it, and it still keeps my mind off how unfair my parents can be sometimes. I may be a kid, but I’m not stupid; I know something crazy is going on. I guess I’ll find out what the new episode of The Real House Lives of Sarah & Johnnie is later tonight. It’s probably just another silly fight. At least I hope it is.
The babysitter living so close is cool; walking past the guys at the corner is not. I can’t help but notice them beyond the trees, beyond the little kids playing hopscotch on the chalked sidewalk and people sweeping their steps. Summer just started, and they’ve found absolutely nothing else to do but buzz around in front of the bodega like a bunch of bees waiting to sting anyone who gets in their way. With music blaring from tall speakers on the sidewalk causing all this unnecessary noise, these boys will stand there all day sniffing behind girls, looking for honey. I hate to walk past the swarm, but there’s no time to cross the street. Besides, showing fear isn’t something you do around here. I just don’t have time for saggy-pants-wearing, up-to-no-good boys. And like clockwork, one of them steps in my way.
“ ’Ey, girl. Where you going? Can I come?” some random boy asks.
I pay him no mind and walk around him.
“Leave my sister alone!” Cameron yells back.
I yank Cameron closer and drag him as fast as his feet can shuffle. The three boys laugh at my little brother’s only defense, which makes me kind of sorry that I yelled at him earlier. The corner boys’ constant catcalling and begging is annoying, but I hate to admit that it does boost my ego, even if they aren’t my type. They think I’m pretty, I guess. Am I? It’s hard to tell, since they do that to every girl who passes by. Maybe if one of them pulled their pants up, wore a shirt, and got a real haircut, I might stop to say “What’s up?” My mother thinks I’m too picky and that I’ll never find a boyfriend if I keep acting so uptight. Who said I was looking for a boyfriend, anyway? A boy is the furthest thing from my mind right now. I have a double Dutch tournament coming up.
Thank goodness Ms. Sharine is waiting for us in front of her brownstone home, or I’d really be late for practice. Once I hand Cameron off, I run the next three blocks to make it to the gym on time!
Copyright © 2018 by Doreen Spicer-Dannelly. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.