Between His Toes
New York was a city of extremes-so cold the homeless died outside in the winter, so hot they'd faint in the summer. And no matter which season it was, those most affected by it would long for the opposite.
David Jacobs slowly strolled into the square formed by Williams, Chambers, and Duane and saw the place was already teeming with newsboys. He squinted through the late afternoon sun and looked for his brother-it was time to get home to his parents and to dinner. Though dragging Les home was always a bit of a hassle. After all, his friends were here, and they were invariably in the middle of some game. And he didn't want a hassle today. It was too hot to fight-it was too hot to do almost anything. All he really wanted was to cool off, but since he'd already stripped down to an undershirt and his mother had cut a pair of pants off at the knees for him, he wasn't sure how much cooler he could get.
Les was nowhere to be found, but Race, Blink, and Mush were standing around the fire hydrant whispering. Their shirts were all off or open, which made David feel a little better about his own outfit.
Jack's voice cut through the din of chatter and David glanced up to see him. He was sitting in the semi-shade of the lodging house's stoop, smoking a cigarette, and as David watched he clamored to his feet. They met near the shade and began to wander. David tried to steer them back towards the wall, out of the mass of people, hoping it would be cooler, but Jack seemed preoccupied by sticking around in the middle of the square.
"You seen Les?"
"Not in a few," Jack answered. "You know he hides when it's time to go home."
David sighed. "I'm so tired of playing hide-and-seek with him every night. I swear, I'm going to make him start selling with me again just so he can't do this."
Jack paused, then pressed his hands to David's shoulder and pushed him back a step.
"Wait for it..." Jack took off his hat.
"Wait for it."
"What are you-"
Before he could finish his question, a violent spray of water exploded out into the square. There was a round of cheers and David, now dripping from having been caught off guard, swiveled to see Blink, Mush, and Race completely drenched, standing in a torrent of water which was shooting up from the hydrant. They were jumping on each other jubilantly, and a round of cheers roset across the square. David sputtered, spitting water out of his mouth.
Jack grinned. "Feeling cooler?"
David scowled, but in all honesty he felt much less irritated. Though now the entire crowd was jostling, trying to get close to the hydrant. Jack grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the crowd, back to the stoop.
"Pretty smart of them," David mused as they sat. He kept his eyes out for his brother and leaned back, letting little rivulets of water stream from his hair down his neck. He took a deep breath. It felt good.
"At least until the bulls show up and start asking questions," Jack agreed. The water from the hydrant had soaked the main ground in the square, causing it to run slick and coat the cobblestones with a thin sheen of mud. It gathered in little streams and rolled downhill towards drains, and one swept right in front of them. Jack kicked off his shoes and socks, and grinned widely as he plopped his feet down in it. He let out a deep sigh. "It feels nice," he commented. "Try it."
"My shoes are on." David smiled a little.
"Shoes untie, Dave," Jack said, sounding amused. "You won't believe how nice it feels to have the water between your toes."
"Jack..." David started to protest that he really shouldn't; he couldn't stay. He had to find Les and head home. But Jack reached down and tugged at one of David's laces. David rolled his eyes a little and slowly untied and pulled off his shoes, then his socks, and gingerly dangled his toes in the water.
Jack was right. As the tiny current ran over his feet, he did feel better, less worried about getting home and much more content to sit with Jack. Somehow, his feet cooling down cooled down everything. He threw his head back and took a deep breath.
"Told you so," Jack said, smiling.
Jack's muddied foot was tracing a path up his leg, leaving a muddy print on his skin.
"Does it?" Jack grinned and took it further, lighter. David swatted at Jack's foot and Jack laughed. They both straightened up and yet somehow, David still felt Jack's foot pressed against his, their lower legs touching up to the knee. And when he leaned back again, he felt Jack's hand on his, too.
"Tonight?" Jack murmured quietly. "It'll be cooler after the sun goes down."
"I'll be there." David smiled and glanced down at the water again, only to see that Jack had begun drawing with his toe in the mud again. Sketched out in the slick dust on the cobblestones was a heart. But Jack covered over it a moment later, after David had seen it. And when David looked over at him, Jack was blushing.
Or maybe that was the reflection of the pink glow from the setting sun.
"There he is," Jack said. David peered through the crowd to see Les with a group of kids his own age, taking turns running through the hydrant-created fountain. He was soaked to the skin, by laughing hysterically. "You want me to go get ‘im?"
David felt the water between his toes and smiled. "Nah," he said. "Let him play awhile."
Jack's fingers brushed his again and they sat in quiet, drying off and watching the sun set over the New York skyline.
"I love summer," David murmured.Back.