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Tracey leaned back against the bench, her eyes randomly tracking passersby and assorted pigeons. It was an unseasonably warm day, and she and Kelly had decided to take advantage of it by eating lunch outside. If you could call anything you purchased from the street vendors "lunch." For these precious free moments, she tried to make her mind as blank as possible. Once she walked back inside, there would be plenty to occupy her thoughts, demand her attention. This mundane little interlude was bliss. She watched with mild amusement as a gaggle of little girls in Catholic school uniforms were herded together and marched up the steps of the courthouse, presumably on some sort of field trip. She sensed her partner's presence at her side.
"I suppose you used to wear something like that ..."
Kelly followed her gaze. "Oh yeah. Every day." She handed Tracey her chilidog. "And to magnify my regret, I also wore my hair, which was really long all through high school, tied back in a ponytail ... matching ribbon." The face she made then could have been a reaction to the image of herself that she had just called up, or to Tracey's first bite. She took a seat next to her and began unwrapping her grilled chicken sandwich.
Before she'd completely finished chewing, Tracey asked, "I don't suppose you still have one?"
Lifting the top half of the bun, Kelly plucked the wilted lettuce and pale tomato from it and tossed them in the garbage to her right. "No ... a few friends and I got together and burned ours right after graduation." She mashed the sandwich back together. "Why?"
"No reason." Tracey took a sip of her soda and decided that she'd better change the subject. "What was your favorite class?"
"In high school?" At Tracey's nod, she wrinkled her brow. "Um, I guess that would have to be Math, my sophomore year." She saw Tracey's eyebrows rise and tried to elaborate. "Unlike so many subjects we had to study, math has no ... gray. There are a right answers. Absolutes." She marveled that Tracey could eat something that would have stained her outfit in 17 places without even getting a spot on her chin.
"Why sophomore year?"
"Because that was when Mr. Sean Darlent was hired to teach math. He was young and handsome and kind and all the girls thought he was just perfect ... I think everyone even called him "Sean, Darling" behind his back."
"He doesn't sound like a nun." Tracey took the last bite of her hotdog, crumpling the wrapper into a ball in her hand.
Laughing, Kelly nudged her. "It wasn't a convent ... or the dark ages. We had "secular" teachers in the major subjects and specialties. We had nuns in Religion. And Father Mac was in charge." She popped open her soda can.
"Were you this Darling guy's teacher's pet?" As Kelly leaned slightly forward to take a bite of her lunch, Tracey lobbed her trash into the can at the end of the bench.
Doing her best not talk with her mouth full, Kelly shook her head slightly, then stopped. "You know, I might have been ..."
Tracey rolled her eyes. "Of course you were."
"But not like that ... really. He encouraged me a lot once he sensed my interest in the subject, the enthusiasm I had for doing well, learning more. He was surprised when I wanted to join the math team because I was so ..." She fumbled for the words.
"Pretty and popular?"
Half shrugging, Kelly didn't disagree. "I was going to say "different" ... from everyone else on the squad. I think he appreciated my willingness to commit to it in spite of the social pressures and the cliques. And I appreciated his confidence in me." She stared off into the distance, her voice becoming somewhat quieter. "Up until then, in high school, all I had been was pretty and popular. Until Mr. Darlent's math class ... What I discovered there, what he helped me see, was that I could hold my own ... or better ... in any intellectual endeavor. So, that's why I picked that particular class as my favorite." She took a sip of her drink and turned back toward Tracey. "What was yours?"
It was Kelly's turn to be surprised. "They had ballet at your school? Didn't you say you went to a public high school?"
Tracey smiled wryly. "Yes. It was part of a grand artsy experiment at the time. You know -- give the teenagers some culture and maybe they won't riot." She picked a stray scrap of paper from her pant leg. "It only lasted one year. Funding most likely ran out, or some other theory overtook it. I was devastated. Strangely enough, my Aunt Sophia convinced my father to let me have lessons at the dance studio the next neighborhood over." Running her hand through her hair, Tracey murmured. "I never thanked her for that."
Folding the wrapper back around the remains of her sandwich, Kelly detected the vague melancholy that seemed to hover behind Tracey's comment. "Were you the teacher's pet?"
Laughing abruptly, Tracey mused, "It didn't start out that way ... but eventually, yeah. I was." She folded her arms. "My instructor, Helena Ibraminov, was not what you would call a warm and fuzzy individual. She was harsh and demeaning to those students who weren't up to her lofty standards. The first few weeks, I was a wreck. But ... instead of discouraging me, her attitude and her comments just pissed me the hell off." Swinging her foot, she laughed again. "I practiced incessantly ... worked so hard ... my feet bled. I would nail a position in class and I could sense her grudgingly noticing the progress I was making. She focused more of her criticism on me, and I vowed to show her ... that I wasn't a quitter, that I could take whatever she dished out. And damn if I couldn't dance!"
Kelly shifted on the seat so that she was turned more toward Tracey as she talked. She hadn't seen the brunette this expressive, this unguarded in ages. It made her smile.
"Once I knew I was good ... I couldn't get enough. I'd never been so comfortable with myself ... sometimes ... it was like flying." Tracey's head tilted back and her face nearly glowed with the memory. "This one afternoon, toward the end of the school year, Helena's former dance partner came by the gym while we were dancing. I overheard them speaking, saw Helena point to me when she said, 'Look Andre ... even here ... I make great dancer!" Tracey flawlessly mimicked the accent. She swung her head toward Kelly, a few stray strands of hair blowing across her face. "Up until then, in high school, all I had ever been was smart."
Without breaking eye contact, Kelly placed her hand over Tracey's forearm, resting it there warmly. It wasn't a gesture of reassurance, but almost an unconscious acknowledgement that she completely understood ... and profoundly appreciated what was shared.
Tracey suddenly found the situation acutely intimate. Forget that they were in as public a setting as they could find. Never mind that they had started out teasing about the seemingly innocuous subject of high school. This was always her Achilles heel with Kelly ... wanting her to know things, the impulse to unburden herself completely when those deepening blue eyes held her captive. She knew that the longer she remained motionless, the longer she sat without looking away, the more Kelly would know.
Footsteps rapidly approaching distracted them both. Junior ADA Terrance Wright was practically jogging their way. Kelly withdrew her hand and looked at her pager. It hadn't gone off. Wright saw her checking it as he pulled up next to them. "I was going to page you ... but then I saw you sitting out here ..." He pointed to the top of the steep stairs. " ... from up there. Figured I could use the exercise."
Impatiently, Tracey pursed her lips. "And?"
Chastised, Wright dutifully reported, "Recess is over."
"So it is." She slid her palms down the tops of her legs to her knees, slapping them there briskly as if signaling 'back to work.' As Kelly disposed of the last of their trash and began gathering up her belongings, Tracey muttered softly under her breath. "Saved by the bell."
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