It’s not a funny story. It could be. He wishes it were funny. If someone told Chris this story, he’d crack up for sure. But the way the whole situation went down makes him feel kind of frustrated every time he thinks about it. In fact, Chris thinks about that summer and Tracey a lot. She was his girlfriend in high school—the first of two. Chris will tell you he’s fucked lots of girls, but as far as real girlfriends there was Tracey and Michelle. He married Michelle, so she doesn’t count, which makes Tracey his first and only real girlfriend.

The story starts at the Des Moines Target—the busiest Target in Iowa, right out on Army Post Road, which runs through the center of town. Housewives crowd the aisles during the day with their rug rats and some nights it can feel like everyone in the city is in that store. Like everybody in Des Moines needed new sheets or a screwdriver or some toilet paper at the same time.

The night that Tracey and Chris were there, Target was more than packed. It was a zoo. Chris heard once that Des Moines was home to the richest people in America. He’d thought it must be a joke because everyone he knew was broke. In the report the newsman said that people are rich in Des Moines because they don’t spend most of the money that they earn. It seemed to Chris that people loved to spend their money on dumb shit just like he did.

Chris makes a decent living, better than most of his friends. He works for his cousin, who is a general contractor, and he still gets to play baseball in Birdland Park in the evenings and on weekends. He’s a league leader in the DMSBL—the Des Moines Semi-Pro Baseball League. Chris’s team, the Titans, are ranked highest overall in Iowa. He’s not proud of himself— not too proud because he should’ve been in the majors, but that’s life. Most of Chris’s teammates are in his boat. They got girls knocked up early or became alcoholics and it killed their chances. If Chris didn’t have a kid to take care of, things would be different. He thinks he might be under contract, probably making tens of millions. He always had that kind of raw talent. People expected Chris to be famous—at least his mother always thought so. In a local TV spot, after they’d beat the Nite Hawks, Chris offered advice to youngsters watching the Des Moines 6 ‘o clock news: “Use a rubber, kids.”

It had been a record hot day and was still hot in the Target the night Tracey and Chris went, not only because of the crowds, but because the air conditioner had malfunctioned. The humidity made it so that everything stuck together, and he thought the red shopping carts might melt together, as if performing some kind of plastic copulation. Chris secretly thought objects had minds and lives of their own. He would be quick to assure you that he’s no psycho or anything, but he swears sometimes that he can see faces on ordinary things, like they have feelings. His favorite baseball bats, for instance, all have a different personality. When Chris’s having a bad game, he thinks it’s because his bat, Sally, is probably in a shitty mood because she’s on the rag, or that Jasper is being a dick about the rain. At times, to a fan in the bleachers, it can appear as if Chris is arguing with one of his bats. Most of the time, this anthropomorphizing serves him well, as he’s the best hitter on the team. Chris is a league leader in home runs. Tracey would watch him play ball in high school, but that was before things went sour and before she got all high and mighty on him.

Tracey was in the stationery aisle, looking at notebooks and pencils, and Chris was bored as hell. The idea of going to Target was born out of a growing malaise and because Tracey wanted to get her school supplies in advance for senior year. It was July.

“You know about senioritis, right?” Chris asked.

“Yeah, I know about it, so?”

“Nobody even goes to class their senior year. You don’t need notebooks. You won’t even need textbooks.”

“Yes, I will.”

“Hell, I’m not even bringing a pen.”

Tracey laughed. “Not everyone can play baseball, Chris.”

“You just need to not be afraid of the ball.”

“Yup. Then I’ll go pro, for sure.”

“You got a good arm for a girl.”

Tracey scrunched her nose. “So do you.”

“Good one,” Chris said, pulling her toward him. She smiled. He kissed her neck on the spot that made her go crazy.

“You got a good mouth for an underachiever.”

“That’s why you love me.”

She pulled away from him. “Who said I love you?”

“You did.”

“I love… when you kiss me there.”

“Right,” He shrugged. “I’m gonna go play video games. Come find me when you’re done.”

Tracey was reaching for a pack of highlighters as Chris walked away. She was focused on getting into college and wanted to move to New York City. Chris wondered why anybody would want to live in a crowded, dirty city like New York. He thought it must be like being at the Target in Des Moines 24 hours a day. They said the Big Apple never sleeps.

Before that night at Target, Chris believed Tracey was cool. Being cool, to Chris, was the highest status of girlfriend-dom. Tracey’s coolness was demonstrated by her attendance at his home games and her antics at house parties and her enthusiasm for drinking a lot of beer in the woods and in Chris’s basement. He had told Tracey that he loved her because he did. Chris wasn’t even ashamed to admit it.

They’d taken each other’s virginity and that made Chris pretty confident in their relationship. He thought Tracey was great in bed. She always had new moves and stuff she would try. He had guessed she was a great lay because when they’d met at the end of freshman year at Tommy Shultz’s party, they’d danced all night together and she was a seductive dancer.

Tracey’s hair was short and shiny black, which Chris preferred to all the bleached blonds he knew. She’d smelled good to Chris even after they ran track together. She was artsy and would draw pictures that looked professional. But mostly, Chris thought she was just really laid back and fun as hell to be around.

 Tracey found Chris, and after leaving her handbasket on the floor by an end cap, they messed around in the toy aisles. They were just being silly—grabbing toy guns and shooting each other, and pulling strings on dolls to make them talk, and throwing Nerf balls—trying to peg the other one in the leg.

He remembers holding up this doll when they were both out of breath. “Let’s make a baby,” Chris said.

“You are a baby,” she laughed, and then she pegged Chris with a koosh ball she’d been hiding, and darted down the doll aisle, squealing.

“Fuck. You’re asking for it,” he said. When he caught up to her, Chris held her tight against his body while she kept shrieking and laughing and fighting to get free. He knew then that he might not get to stay with her. He had this feeling, like she was already in New York.

After they left the toy section, the two of them cruised around, stopping for a few minutes by a clearance rack where Tracey stuffed different colors of the same t-shirt into her basket. Chris first noticed that people were staring when they were in the pharmacy section. He remembers a group of middle school girls walking toward them giggling and covering their mouths with their palms. But most people were just shopping and not paying them any attention. It wasn’t until Tracey said that she thought this creepy hobo was following them that Chris started to think something was up.

This weirdo was slinking along on the other end of the hardware aisles and kept looking at Tracey. Chris thought he was looking because Tracey was hot and he liked to stare. He could have easily killed him with one punch, but all he had to do was eyeball him until the hobo got scared and disappeared.

Later, as they stood in the checkout line, a bunch of people openly stared and pointed. Chris touched his hair and tried not to be obvious while he checked himself out. He thought maybe he had gum stuck to his back or his boxers were showing.

Chris couldn’t figure out what was so damn funny. Tracey was in front of him. Her back was turned, but he could see her trying to act like she didn’t notice that people were pointing and laughing. She was always like that—quiet and good at not letting on if people got to her. Chris admired the way she kept most people at a distance. It made people wonder about her, and it was probably why Tracey was popular in school. She had a way about her that made her desirable, but just out of reach.

The line moved and Tracey started to unload her basket onto the conveyer belt. That was when her body froze and her face changed. The whole exchange took seconds, but he remembers her then like it happened in slow motion. She looked like a different person in that moment because he had never seen Tracey make that face before. All she said was, “Oh my god.”

 He looked down and that was when he saw it. At first, Chris thought she had taken it out as some kind of joke, and he didn’t like it. But then he saw that the clothing hangers that stuck out of her basket had hooked onto her tank top and pulled it so her fucking tit was just… out. Her little boob was exposed—nipple and all. It was strange being in a checkout line at the crowded Target with Tracey’s tit out there for everyone to see, and Chris couldn’t help but laugh. Tracey unhooked the hangers really fast, like she had a spider on her, and then she dropped the basket on the conveyer belt and ran away.

He looked around for a second and mostly everyone standing near him was watching. Chris wasn’t sure if they all had seen her tit or they just thought he had done something to Tracey to make her run out of there. He shrugged to the cashier and took off after her. When he made it to the parking lot, she was by his truck smoking a cigarette. She knew he hated it when she smoked, but Chris wasn’t going to come down on her when she was upset. Chris didn’t know why, but he started laughing again. It wasn’t funny, but he was laughing out of habit or nerves. He knew she was crying and all, but figured she might start laughing, too. She and Chris had laughed a lot, and he didn’t have anything else to offer her right then.

Tracey didn’t laugh. She didn’t even crack a smile when he asked, “Didn’t you feel a breeze?” They got in the truck, and she still looked like a different girl to him, which made him feel scared. She was shaking a little, even though it was 100 degrees inside the cab. “You need a beer?” he asked.

She stared ahead and after a little while, she told him to take her home. He headed to her house, but he didn’t get why it was all such a big deal. It was still only 8 o’clock, and they usually were out until midnight because Tracey hated her parents and only slept and ate there. Her father was a drunk and her mother had moods and it got pretty intense. She didn’t talk about it a lot, and they spent most of their time in his parents’ basement, which Chris made into a chill room. His parents, especially Chris’s mother, thought he was a saint because they thought Tracey was an angel.

He asked her if she would rather go to his place because her parents were probably still awake, and she said softly, “Take me home, Chris.” The way Tracey said his name was different then how she had said it before. She said it like he was her kid and she was disappointed in him.

They pulled up to her house, and that was when Chris said something that he regrets saying. To this day, he can’t tell you why he said it. He took her hand. “It was your boob, Trace. At least you didn’t show everyone your cunt.”

Tracey’s face got redder, and she pulled her hand away from him. She got out of the truck, and then leaned into the open window and said, “One day, I hope you learn to think.” He thought she was being a bitch because she was embarrassed that she flashed half of Des Moines and she’d calm down eventually. But that was the last time she talked to him.

At school that year, he saw her with her friends in the hallways and she ignored him. Chris called her house, but it was like she pretended he was dead. After she graduated, Tracey got into NYU and moved to her dingy dream city. She’s going to graduate soon. He sometimes wonders if she’ll ever move back to her hometown—probably not.

It’s been almost five years, but when he has to go to Target with his wife Michelle to get clothes or whatever for their son Mac, it’s like every object in that place has Tracey’s face and her personality. But it’s not the face that she had when they were going out; it’s the face she had that night when she told Chris that she hoped he learned to think one day.

He’s not sure why she hated him so much after that night. He really does think, but his mouth and his brain don’t always work together, like when he told Michelle that the Target’s bulls-eye reminded him of a boob because of what happened with Tracey. She rolled her eyes, and turned her back on him. But later when he told her about the tiny dark hairs around Tracey’s nipple, she laughed and they ended up fucking beside the washing machine.

Chris knows he could be better and that he’s let people down now and then, but Michelle would never quit talking to him forever. She and Mac and all the people in the bleachers at Birdland Park cheer him on night after night, and he always plays his heart out, no matter what. Some nights, when he hits one out of the park, Chris can’t hear the crack of his bat or the roar of the crowd or his heavy breathing, only the faint sounds of laughter just out of reach.


Rana Mc Cole traded the mean streets of North Philadelphia for the sun-drenched byways of Los Angeles at 18 years of age. She is currently completing her MFA at Antioch University and writing her first novel. Her stories have appeared in TheRightEyedDeer and Two Hawks Quarterly. A strict pessimist, she is rumored to reveal rare instances of positive thinking under the cover of darkness only to her husband and their beloved dog.