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Eli ordered a candy bar and counted out the coins with his long, delicate fingers. They reminded Rita of Bobbie’s fingers, with well-kept nails. But unlike Bobbie, Eli didn’t touch drugs—she’d been able to tell right away. She knew not to open the trunk of her car in front of him.
Eli was around her age, seventeen. She was thin as ever, and her straight, blonde hair hung down to her waist. He was tall, and though he was thin, he seemed to carry an immense weight in his bones. He had a beautiful, earnest face and a big afro. He coached youth flag football at the Rec Center and between games he hung out at the concession stand where Rita worked.
His melancholy might have been Rita’s biggest attraction. The nearness of his body as he maintained a respectful interval between their skin drove her crazy. All summer they chatted across the counter while the Georgia humidity made her sweat.
He finally let his hand linger today when she gave him his change. He said he had to tell her something.
“My mother’s white and my father’s black,” he said, like a confession, like it was a grave thing he was involved in.
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” she said.
“You’re not in my shoes,” he said, looking defeated by his own knowledge. “You don’t know.”
She thought of what she did know and how it could be borne secretly in plain sight. She took his hand. It was amazing what a hand could transmit all by itself.
Chaka Khan came on the concession stand radio singing “Sweet Thing.” Eli was keeping his distance even as their hands sent unmistakable messages, even as Chaka Khan put words to what he was ignoring. Rita felt a pull so fierce she would have been willing to give up everything that was in her trunk and all those trips to Bobbie’s place.
Eli, with his irresistible drawl and his fingers that he pulled back and kept to himself, had been coming to her all summer, glad to rest his burden on her counter for a while. But she needed skin.
The day was so hot she was sweating everywhere. Her tank top felt glued on and her arms glistened. The radio blared one pop song after another, as if life were that easy.
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published 22 January 2012