It was a tough call to pick out the leader, but Leslie guessed that it was Kyle Scherzer, although he wasn't her personal fave. Kyle, everybody said, would probably be picked as the best athlete in the senior class. Kyle was captain of the baseball team. He and his twin brother, Kevin, were co-captains of the football team. The Scherzers lived at 34 Lorraine Street, a white, shingled house adjoining the park. As she stood on the basketball court, Leslie could see Kyle on the back deck of his house, surveying the park as though it were his private kingdom.
Leslie knew that the deck was a pretty special place, although she had never stood on it herself. In whispers interspersed with giggles, her teammates on the girls' basketball and softball teams had explained the significance of being invited to a party on the Scherzers' deck.
For years now Kyle and Kevin had invited their friends to deck parties after long afternoons of sports. This was the closest thing the jocks had to a frat house. Here on the deck the guys celebrated a victory, cooled out after practice or just goofed around. Mostly, it was just the guys, but every once in a while a girl who trailed after the jocks would be admitted. When the weather was nasty, the guys would retreat to the Scherzers' semifinished basement to watch television or play Nintendo.
Leslie understood: If you got invited, you belonged. You were part of the gang. The teenage heroes of the town thought you were worthy of their attention. This honor had never been bestowed on Leslie. She and the boys had followed separate paths through childhood and into adolescence—Leslie friendless and alone, the boys clustered in the most envied and admired teenage clique in the town. Up to that moment, those paths had never converged.
Today didn't seem any different. Leslie played by herself on the court, firing up three-pointers from behind the foul circle. Then, avoiding the puddles caused by last night's rain, she practiced her drives to the basket, shooting lefthanded and righthanded, just like the pros.
A hundred feet away the elite teenagers of Glen Ridge reveled in their male camaraderie. How many afternoons had ended, from her vantage point under the backboards or in the bleachers, with her watching Kyle and Kevin and their friends trooping happily toward the Scherzer house?
Sure, Leslie played on teams, but she wasn't a star. Sure, she'd been hanging around for years, but she wasn't part of any popular group in school. In fact, she didn't even go to school in Glen Ridge anymore. The district had transferred her to nearby West Orange, where she attended a class for retarded kids. No matter how friendly she was, no matter how desperately she yearned for one sign, of recognition from her heroes, Leslie could never expect to break through this invisible wall that separated her from the coolest kids in the school.
Practice was breaking up. A bunch of the baseball players began walking toward the Scherzers' house. Today was a good day to party. The twins' parents were in Florida all week. Aside from an elderly grandmother, the boys had the run of the house.
From the corner of her eye Leslie could see five or six of the other boys, who weren't on the baseball team, walking toward the basketball court where she was playing. They stopped a few feet away, waving at her, smiling, all part of one happy group. The one boy who kept coming toward her was Christopher Archer.
Of all the kids who played at Cartaret, Leslie probably knew Chris Archer and his brother, Paul, best. Leslie's parents were friends of the Archers' parents. Leslie would visit, sometimes unannounced, at their house on lower Ridgewood Avenue. She would stay a while and talk with Chris and Paul when she was selling her Girl Scout cookies door to door.