Orig. Title: Tracy

Her name , she said, was Tracy. I met her by the ice machine in the hallway of a Ramada Inn somewhere in Maryland. I recall her hair was auburn, soft against her skin, which was pale. She wore a purple and blue bikini, striped.

I was twelve, I think.

She was my own age, I recall, because I asked her. We spent two hours on a lounge chair sharing bits of priceless child lore while our parents went about their business in the separate rooms on the first floor of the hotel.

She liked pixy sticks. I couldn't stand them. She laughed at me as she ate one that we'd gotten from the vending machine in the small alcove, where it lurked with its kith and kin the ice machine and the soda dispenser. Twenty-five cents bought a package of the paper tubes, gaily colored, with sour dust within.

I was cheaper and more expensive; she had me for a smile and the easy placement of her hand on my shoulder when she laughed.

Those rare commodities got her two hours of company, running around the empty hallways (all alike and carpeted in red-and-black paisleys) and splashing in the over-chlorinated pool that lurked behind a fence of shining cyclone wire. Sitting on the lounge chair, I watched her pour the contents of the candy tube onto her tongue, trying not to laugh lest she spray sour candy everywhere. I was holding my hand over my mouth, laughing only with my eyes because she'd extracted a promise from me that I wouldn't make her laugh while she was eating the pixie stick.

The one before, I'd caused her to lose control and giggle helplessly, dropping the stick beside the chair, where it lay. This monumental feat I'd accomplished solely through the use of scientifically proven contorted facial expressions, honed through use on my younger brother and friends at school.

When she'd finished, she'd pulled my hand from my mouth as she laughed. I'd laughed with her, and she turned from me to sit with her back against my shoulder. The memory is painful and clear; indexed, no doubt, by the scent of her hair against my cheek- a melange of chlorine, shampoo and her.

I think that we were of the age of innocence for all of our brief acquaintance, except for five minutes as we sat there.

I always, with my friends and by myself, rehearsed what I'd say were I to actually get a sympathetic girl alone, and four or five percent of the things I'd say actually sounded good at the time. I could feel them turn to ash on my tongue, and take flight on the slight Maryland breeze to fly away beyond the fencing. Awkwardly, embarrassed, I instead put my arms about her as we sat there, linking my fingers where they lay against her stomach. She stirred, surprised, and the flush of redness burned my cheeks as I frantically thought of an apology, unclasped my hands-

...but she caught them and put her hands on top of mine and turned her head slightly so that our cheeks met, and I felt her smile. God knows how old we were, then, or how long it was, but later, when she left to join her mother and take to the road, she kissed my cheek and said with a look that in my memory carries the weight of those moments and said , "Goodbye. I like you."

-precious seconds lost with my eyes closed-

...and when I opened them, she was gone.

"Hey there, my little man. Are you ready?"

Oh, Dad. If only you knew.

"Yeah."

-fin-

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