The concrete under my bare feet is almost too hot to stand on. It warms the bottoms and makes me bounce up and down on the balls of my feet every few minutes when my uncalloused skin grows a bit too tender. It’s the worst kind of hot outside – the kind that swims around your body and tugs your limbs down under its unrelenting weight. It’s 105 and the sun shines bright. The perfect summer day. My skin has a sticky shine and the sweat-touched baby hairs that escape my pony tail, curl at the nape of my neck.
Sam Cooke’s old jazz hit “Summertime” wafts out of the open garage door, and the people standing around the driveway and trickling up the stairs to the deck that overlooks the 4th of July party, sway slowly to its seductively melancholy melody. Kids dance in the street at the bottom of the hill, writing invisible messages in the thick air with crackling sparklers, completely oblivious to the daylight which softens their bright glow. No one has the heart to tell them to wait for dusk.
“You look distracted, Sun-Burned Baby,” Cameron says, breaking me from my fuzzy observations. Cam has nicknames for everyone that change with her mood and the day of the week. Mine always end in Baby, though I have no idea why.
“Am I getting pink?”
“You don’t feel it? I can always feel my skin heating and I know I’m burning,” Cam answers, poking her finger into my reddening skin and we both watch it turn white when she pulls away.
“I feel the heat,” I say, wiping the back of my hand across my sweat-dampened forehead. “Who could not feel this heat?”
“It is relentless today,” she says and tugs on the end of my sun-bleached-blonde pony tail. “Let’s go put our feet in, Sun-Soaked Baby.”
We leave Elliott at the top of the hill and make our way down to the dock, perching on the edge and dropping our bare feet into the cool water. It’s instant relief from the climbing temperatures.
“This makes me think of summers when we were younger, you know?” Cam speaks softly, unwilling to interrupt the happiness that seems to be erupting around us as families, teenagers and too-drunkenly-affectionate couples play in the lake. “The summers at Lake Barkley.”
“It was hot then too,” I say, leaning my weight back on my bent elbows and turning my face up to the sun, kicking soft waves in the cool water.
“We didn’t notice then.”
She’s right, I remember a lot about the summers Cam and I spent with our families and friends at Lake Barkley, but I don’t recall anything about miserable heat. In those days, we combated the heat with barely-there bikinis and lake-pruned skin. We lived off lemonade and sandwiches and sunlight. We smelled like sunscreen and sweat and shampoo. Much like this summer, it never rained.
“You know what fascinates me?” Cam asks and I roll my head to the side and raise my eyebrows in question behind the dark tint of my sunglasses. “That no matter how old, summer just has a freeing effect on people, you know? A restlessness that grows and bubbles inside of us until we let it out on weekends like this.”
I smile and turn my face back up to the blistering sun because it’s the comfort of good memories of years and years before this one, heavy heat that breathes into the slow summer months and makes everything seem more relaxed and yet more on fire than it is the rest of the year. Cameron’s right. Whether it’s instilled in us as children by summer vacations from school or summer vacations spent swimming in lakes or laid out on beaches, or its something that blankets us when the heat settles in each year and changes our mindset – if just for a few weeks. There’s definitely something different about summertime.
Maybe Sam’s right in that song he sings. It’s just that the living is easy.
Even when it isn’t really.
Summertime makes it seem that way.
“Let’s go get some food, Freckle-Faced Baby,” Cam says and pulls her feet out of the cool water.
Back at the top of the hill, Elliott pulls me into his chest and plants kisses on my sticky face, not caring that my shirt is damp and I smell like lake water. I bury my face in his tshirt and smile. He smells like boy – like sunlight and sweat and clay dirt and cut grass.
Later that night when fireworks light up the dark sky and we “ooh” and “aah” from our place on the grass at the water’s edge, I think about the 4th and about fireworks and about summer heat and growing up. It doesn’t matter how old we get, summertime is always summertime – it’s always a heat-heavy, freedom-ringing, sun-burning, belly-laughing season. Regardless of age or situation.
It’s dark out and much later when we load up in the car and start to drive home. A late-night, 10-minute rain shower doused the heat about an hour ago and the temperature has fallen into a more comfortable high-80s range.
“Look how foggy it is,” Cam comments from the back seat.
“It’s steam,” Elliott says quietly. “The rain cooled the black top and it’s steam rising.”
“It’s heat escaping,” I say.
Cameron laughs and leans heavily on the door. “Let’s roll the windows down, Fourth of July Baby.”
And we do, and my fingers dance through the warm breeze as we drive down the highway and my blood courses like tingle-bubbling champagne in my veins. And it feels like summertime.