I launched into my "Eat the Pretzel While Juggling" routine, during which I'd sneak in a pitch for Dad's pretzels.
In the front of the crowd stood a group of girls about my age. One had shiny jet-black hair that fell to her lean, tanned shoulders. She wore a light blue bikini top and a pair of red denim cutoffs that were so short her front pockets dangled against her bare thighs. Her brown sandaled feet were covered with beach grit. She wore a teeny little ankle bracelet made of colored beads.
Despite knowing better, I allowed my gaze to shift for a split second to the girl's thighs, at which point I dropped both balls.
"Vsh pt mm glm," I mumbled, my mouth stuffed with pretzel.
The audience roared with laughter as I chased the bouncing balls across the boardwalk, got a real nice view of the girl in the red cutoffs' smooth brown legs—while holding the crowd by mumbling incoherently but emphatically through the fistful of pretzel lodged in my mouth.
Regaining both composure and juggling balls, I swallowed, proclaiming, "Ladies and gentlemen, you have just witnessed Jason the Magnificent's legendary Juggle du Gravity! Please note, when I released two balls, they simultaneously obeyed the law of gravity while I—Jason the Magnificent—consumed an entire pretzel, thank you very much! And what a delicious pretzel it was, ladies-and-gentlemen, boys-and-girls. Purchased for a quarter--one thin quarter!" I swept one arm dramatically toward the bakery. "Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you today an unsolicited testimonial for these fresh-from-the-oven soft pretzels! The saltiest and tastiest on the boardwalk!"
Across the boards, Dad watched from the counter. I made the rounds with my derby, scoring decent tips for a midday performance. "Do you doubt, sir, that my endorsement was unsolicited?" I asked a man who'd snickered at my patter. With a flourish of mock indignation, I called to Dad: "Sir! Have we ever been introduced?"
"No, son," Dad deadpanned.
The crowd laughed and applauded, and the man stuffed a five-dollar bill into my derby. As I worked my way through the small mob with my derby held out for tips, I made eye contact with the girl in the red cutoffs. We smiled. When I approached her, she did something incredible: She poked me in my stomach, gently, with her index finger.
I blinked. Something inside my head popped. It felt like my brain had sprung a leak. "Hi," I managed to say.
"You're really good!" she said. She moistened her lips with her tongue and brushed at her bangs with her fingertips.
"Thanks," I said, struggling to get a grip on my pounding heart. She bit her lower lip, shifted her weight to one hip and waited for me to say something. She wore a little bit of mascara around her purplish-blue eyes. "I, uh, work there too," I added, jutting my chin toward the bakery. My forehead pulsed. "I'm a pretzel twister, like my father before me." I searched for words like a blind man reaching for a doorknob. "But … not like his father, you know, before him. I'm … second generation." My mouth felt like sandpaper. "I'm Jason," I said.
She put out her hand. "I'm Annie."