Today's Reading

The girl cocked her eyebrow higher and shook the box in her hands, coins rattling inside. She was taller than Birdie by a head, but Birdie was used to that—most people were, and she refused to be intimidated. She drew herself up on her kitten heels and turned back toward the beach, lavender silk skirt swishing beneath the hem of her unbuttoned yellow-and-blue tartan coat. "That's my dad's plane," she said, pointing.

The girl looked her up and down. "Twenty-five cents to see the show," she repeated, enunciating as if Birdie hadn't understood her.

Birdie heard the same thing echoed to her left: "It's twenty-five cents to see the show." A big, clean-shaven man in suspenders was rattling his own box at a couple of men, his dark skin standing out in the overwhelmingly white crowd.

"There's no way I'm paying a quarter to stand on this boardwalk," one of the men said, lip curled. "This here's public property."

Birdie looked the other way—a skinny fellow with shiny black hair in need of cutting, wearing knickers and striped socks, was holding a box out as well, smiling gently as a young girl shyly dropped four quarters in for her family.

Birdie had a little over forty dollars with her; she'd broken the crisp fifty Dad had slipped her for her sixteenth birthday to pay her way to Coney Island. She fished a quarter out of her pocket and held it up. "Robert Williams," she said brightly, "the owner of the yellow-and-blue Curtiss Jenny just over there. Where is he?"

The girl tilted her head. She looked over at the planes. She looked back. She held out her box again, and shook it just a little.

Birdie resisted the urge to flick tattoo-girl in the forehead. She kept her teeth clenched in a smile and slipped her coin in, gentle and sweet.

The girl turned to go.

"Hey!" Birdie grabbed her wrist. The girl fumbled her box, a few coins clattering on the boardwalk. She huffed and crouched down to scrape them up. "Sorry," said Birdie unconvincingly. "I just have to find my dad. I know that's his plane, and I gave you a quarter."

The girl shook her head, lips tight as ever as she put her hands under the box and stood.

"Please," Birdie added, and was horrified to hear her voice catch.

The girl studied her another moment, her face unreadable. "Go down another block," she said at last. "Get up close to the beach, where Nathan's Famous is. You'll be able to see everything from there." Then she turned. "Twenty-five cents to see the show," she said, over the shoulder of the next person leaning over the railing.

Birdie took a deep breath and exhaled. She tilted her face up to the warm sun and closed her eyes, listening to the distant tinkling music coming from the Ferris wheel a few blocks over until the tightness in her throat eased.

She was so close to finding Dad. One surly, grubby girl couldn't shake her up.

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