As the sun starts it's sweaty journey into a humid July sky, Van and I are making up our bed and he's asking me if I believe in love at first sight. We rake the soil slowly over the tomato bed, as if pure white sheets were being spread over a king-size mattress in some lonely honeymoon suite. He asks me, "Dude, do yah even think that you could find your true love or somethin'? 'Cause I ain't even sure that mah girl now is da one for me but I want it to be da real thing". I don't know what to say back, and looking at him, I wonder how we came to be together, raking compost on a farm. A skinny Irish girl and a Jamaican boy five times the size of his name. There's something familiar in the way his eyes meet mine and I want to keep him with me around my neck in a delicate silver chain, but it's too late for that now.
Where Sean lives, there are no pure white sheets on the dented mattress, but then again, he hardly sleeps anymore. As the sky lightens and August dawns, we walk down the train tracks that cut Lynn in half. It's so early and so late, all at the same time, and I want so badly to believe that sleeping with this boy again will make it true love. I look at him, hat pulled low, and wonder how he could look so clean when I'm feel so dirty. I light one of my Camels greedily and he breaks the silence, "Yo, baby, let me get a stogie". I hand him one, brushing fingers, brushing memories and he puts his arm around my waist. The train sounds it's warning loud and my head aches. We stumble to the safety of the asphalt and laugh. "Lets go get some rest at CJ's" he tells me, "I'm mad tired". I nod easily and let him pull me up three flights of stairs, dragging on my cigarette and letting my eyes start to close. The metal AC unit is broken at CJ's empty apartment but I collapse on the mattress next to Sean and let the heat envelope us.
Ten years ago, in the apartment, my father was kissing my forehead and whispering "Be good, baby". It was August, and he left his favorite hat for me. "To protect my little girl from all those boys at school seein' her pretty little face. Be good, baby". It was a Red Sox hat with an Irish clover on it. Typical of him, to wear his nationality like a team, like there was a competition and we had to win. He left his favorite lighter underneath it and I threw it out the window into the alley. I hated the permanent smell of tobacco that permeated the walls and made them peel with addiction (later, of course, I'd learn it was the hot water from the upstairs neighbor's shower, leaking down and poisoning us all with truth). I wanted to remember him but all I ever remembered was that dirty Irish hat that ended up smelling like my CVS brand shampoo and sunscreen. All I was left with was some pride and Irish skin, a mother who couldn't work because of her own addiction and an apartment not worth living in.
The first thing I stole was a Zippo, as if I was a magpie and couldn't resist rounded, shiny toys. I distracted the Spanish man at the bodega by falling to the ground and screaming so Sean could steal us some cigarettes. As we opened them, two twelve year olds and our silver lighter, the late August sun shone down like guilt, but the first cough of smoke cleared all the adrenaline away. It was so easy to feel so good, and by the time we were fifteen we were lifting jewelry from the high-end department stores. He got me a sparkling silver heart necklace at Nordstrom and I started to realize that my father wasn't here to hide my face. It was two more days before we slept in his bed, graying sheets pushed to the floor, sweat staining the walls where my hand had reached up. I watched Sean, his muscles relaxed in sleep and I got up to smoke another cigarette, wincing as the lighter's flame came near my shaking hand.
It's two years later and the day before I start work so Sean spends the day with me. Really, I'm spending the day with him, since he's making his money by running his errands and I'm just along for the ride. I still wear that first necklace he got me, tight around my throat, and even as the silver tarnishes, the tan line becomes stronger. I wear it like my father wore his hat, proud: as if doubting the necklace is to doubt me, as if doubting our love is worth a fight (and on these streets, it always is). I turn the AC in his car up higher and he looks at me, satisfied even with jeans and a jersey on. The leather sticks to my legs because it's July and it's always hotter than I want it to be, and exhaling my cigarette, I ask him, "Baby, do ya think I'm ya true love?"