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It was going to be the most famous party our street had ever seen. In two days my sister, Darci, was turning seven, and the buzz was the whole neighborhood would be showing up, invited or not. The Coconuts were building a slippery slide.
"Ho, man," I mumbled, squinting up at the sun. "Can it get any hotter?" I'd been trying to think of the perfect birthday present for Darci, something good, something that would really mean something. But it was too hot to think, and I was coming up blank.
Julio humphed. "Where are those clouds when you need them?"
"Or just a breeze," Maya said.
We were sitting on the grass in my front yard: me, my friends Julio Reyes, Willy Wolf, Maya Medeiros, and my black-and-white dog, Streak.
At the bottom of our sloping lawn, a slow-moving river sparkled in the sun. It was the color of rust and almost as wide as half a football field.
Darci and Carlos, Julio's five-year-old brother, were poking around in the swamp grass looking for toads. Carlos had followed Julio down to my house on a pair of homemade tin can stilts.
I popped up on my elbow. "Hey, anyone want to go swimming in the river?"
Julio made a face. "That stinky water?"
Maya shook her head. "The bottom is all mucky. Who wants to step in that?"
They were right. It was smelly and mucky.
Still, you could cool off in it.
"Looks fine to me," Willy said. He was new to Kailua. His family had just moved to the islands from California.
"Go," Julio said. "Jump in. But don't swallow it."
We called it a river, but it really wasn't. It was a drainage canal that carried runoff from the lowlands out to the ocean. I took my skiff out on it all the time, a red rowboat that sat in the swamp grass below us. I got Darci to go with me sometimes, but she didn't like being out on the water. She wasn't a good swimmer.
"So when's Ledward coming?" Willy asked.
Mom was still at work, but her boyfriend, Ledward, was coming over to build the slippery slide for Darci's party . . . a monster slippery slide that would start with a high ramp at the top of our yard and run all the way down to the river.
Carlos stopped searching for toads and looked up at us. The tin can stilts were slung around his neck, two big cans with strings on them. He took them off and stepped up onto them, then clomped up the slope.
Julio groaned and closed his eyes. His brothers drove him crazy. He had four, all younger than him.
"Wanna hear a song?" Carlos said, coming over to us.
I squinted up at Carlos. "Not really."
"Go ahead, Carlos," Maya said. "You can sing your song to me."
"My mom gave me a nickel, she said go buy a pickle, I did not buy a pickle, I"
"Come on, Carlos," I pleaded. "Go sing it to the toads."
"I bought some bubble gum, a-chuka-chuka bubble gum, a-chuka-chuka bubble gum, a-chu"
I covered my ears. Where was Ledward!
"My mom gave me a dime, she said go buy a"
"Julio, wake up!" I shouted. "Carlos just wet his pants!"
Julio peeked open an eye.
Carlos stopped singing and looked down.
"Peace at last," I said.
Willy cracked up.
Maya glared at me.
"What?" I said.
"You didn't have to embarrass him."
Carlos's eyes filled with tears.
Maya slapped my arm. "Look what you did."
Julio went back to sleep.
"Hey, hey, hey," I said, sitting up. "Come on, Carlos, I was only joking." Carlos pulled up on the strings that held the tin can stilts to his feet. "My mom gave me a . . . gave me a . . ."
He couldn't go on.
"You're such a meany, Calvin." Maya got up and put her arm around Carlos. She kicked Julio's foot. "Don't you care about your brother?"
"What brother?" Julio said, his eyes closed. "I don't have a brother."
I sighed and got up. "Come on, Carlos, I didn't mean it. Look. I was kidding. You didn't wet your pants, and anyway how's about you teach me to walk on those stilts?"
Carlos stared at the grass.
"Come on. I never learned how."
Carlos stepped off the cans and held them up by their strings.
"Cool," I said, taking them.
"Calvin!" someone screeched from the garage.
I glanced over my shoulder.
Stella, holding up the dog-poop shovel.
Stella was from Texas and lived with us as Mom's helper. She was in the tenth grade at Kailua High School. She wasn't just bossy, she invented bossy.
"What?" I said, stepping up on the tin can stilts.
"Your mom called and said to clean up the yard for the party."
"So clean it."
"You, Stump. Not me."
I squinted at her. I hated when she called me Stump!
"Justice for the meany," Maya said.
Stella wasn't leaving until I took the shovel. "Let's go!" she snapped. "I don't have all day."
"This is all your fault," I said to Streak.
Streak tilted her head.
"Hey, Carlos, you want to help me?"
"Go on, Carlos," Julio said, his eyes still closed. "I've done it before, and it's really fun!"
Maya grabbed Carlos's shirt. "Oh no you don't. Carlos, don't listen to these fools."
I shrugged. Still on Carlos's tin can stilts, I clomped over to get the shovel.
Stella eyed me. "Are you some kind of a circus freak? Oh, I know, you just needed help getting up to normal height."
She snickered at her own joke.
"So funny I forgot to laugh."
She grinned, holding out the shovel. "Get it all, Stump. We don't need some kid stepping in something."
"Stop calling me Stump!"
"Well, you're short, aren't you?"
"Stop! I mean it!"
"And if I don't?"
I snatched the shovel out of her hand just as Ledward's jeep pulled up. He honked.
"Scoop the poop," Stella cackled, then rode her broom back into the house.