At the beginning of the story, Elena confesses that her only “source of beauty and light” that academic year was Eugene.
Eugene’s family moves into a house neighboring Elena’s apartment in August. The previous occupants of the house were an old Jewish couple that Elena feels quite close to, as she often liked to observe their daily movements from a window and a spot on the fire escape in the El Building, where she and her family live. Therefore, when Eugene’s family moves into the house, Elena naturally begins to observe their movements, too.
She likes Eugene because he likes to read his books at the kitchen table for hours. Elena herself likes to read books from the spot on the fire escape; thus, it could be that she identifies with Eugene’s love for books. She says that “she kept him company on the fire escape” that summer, even without him knowing it. Moreover, both of them are studious; after they become acquainted, they choose to walk home every day together and even pick books to read from the school library together.
Although the two teenagers have a lot in common, they come from two different backgrounds. She is Puerto Rican, while he is not. Her mother warns her about being close with Eugene, but she ignores her. She believes that their commonalities downplay their differences. Towards the end of the story, Elena understands her mother’s concerns when Eugene’s mother refuses to let her study with Eugene in their beautiful two-story house.