Cracker Jacks

First published in Secret Histories, 2013

“Take Roddy’s hand!” Mama shouted out the window. “Keep an eye on him. Make sure he sits between you.”

Roddy scooted out and stood furtively beside me. He wore a plaid, collared shirt tucked into belted shorts, and his pale legs vanished into brown socks and Hush Puppies shoes. At nine years old he was just tall enough to reach my chin and his cowlick brushed my nose. I took his hand. The crowd, like a swift running current, pulled us forward. Within seconds the three of us were swept through the glass entrance and deposited into the bustle of the lobby.

Becky Ann pointed to a bench pressed against the wall, adjacent to the ladies room.

“Over there,” she ordered.

On high alert, we somehow knew our jobs. I herded Roddy to a spot on the bench and looked up to see Becky Ann dive into the waves of people. She called over her shoulder, “I’ll get us tickets,” and instantly was swallowed up and gone.

A zing of worry circled my stomach but I batted it away. The hot tangy smell of buttered popcorn, tangled with sweet stabs of Butterfinger bars, Jujubes, and black licorice permeated my nose. The room was charged with energy. Kids my age and older swarmed in clutches of threes and fours, chattering and glancing about. I was inside a new world, one thrillingly askew, where anything might happen. Surely, my love crush, Wyn, was here. I could feel him.

Roddy twitched, so slight, like the flick of an ear. I murmured, soft-voiced, “It’s okay. She’ll be back.”

“Yaas Mossie,” he said, darkly. His name for me, like many of his words, left out letters that troubled his tongue, like “r” and soft “g”. I was supposed to correct him when he did this, but at the moment I didn’t care about house rules.

“Becky Ann’s bringing Cracker Jacks,” I cooed.

Roddy’s shoulders bunched around his ears, He pulled on his lip.

“Yaas, Mossie,” he muttered.

“And Fresca, too.

“Fresca, too,” he repeated, as if he hadn’t heard.

“Yes, Fresca.

“Fresca.”

Little sparks of anxiety tickled my chest: Roddy’s echo was never a good sign. Any moment now and he might start shouting….

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