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This was going to end badly.

Granted, things with Jodie had a tendency to go sideways sooner or later, but this was a whole new level of stupid, something an entire order of magnitude worse than her usual capers.

Sarah watched in equal parts fascination and horror as Jodie pulled on the dark green leather jacket, modeling it for herself in the mirror as if she were deciding whether to purchase just that coat or perhaps one in each color.  It was a well-performed pantomime, Sarah had to give her that, but anyone paying attention could tell.

The kind of people who could afford to shop here would take one look at them and know instantly that they were the sort of girls who couldn’t.

“C’mon Jod, let’s go get some Cinnabon.”  Sarah said.

“Just a sec.”  Jodie said and turned around to look at her butt in the mirror, admiring the way the bottom of the coat accentuated it.

“This looks hot on me, right?”  Jodie said.

“Everything looks hot on you.”

“Yeah, I wish.”

“Oh please, you know it’s true.”

“Not everything.  That pink sweater makes my boobs look all weird.”

“Jason McCormick doesn’t think so.  He practically fell out of his desk the last time you wore it.”

“Shut up.”

“Sorry sweetie, it’s just your burden to bear; you’ve been cursed with a killer bod.”

“So you’re saying I should get it then.”

“You don’t need it, especially not when it’s three hundred dollars.”

“Yeah, well….”

“Please don’t do what I think you’re about to.”  Sarah said under her breath.

“Just relax and follow my lead.”

“Jod c’mon, can we just get out of here?”

“We’re going right now.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Seriously, just walk in front of me and pretend like we’re talking.”  Jodie said and nudged Sarah forward.

Sarah took a few tentative steps towards the entrance.  “What about the security tag?”

“I took care of it already, keep moving.”

“We’re gonna get caught.”

Jodie put her hands on Sarah’s shoulders.  “You trust me, don’t you?”  Jodie said.

“Yeah, but….”

“You know I’d never ask you to do anything that would get you into real trouble.  That’s my job; I’m the designated fuck-up.”

Sarah laughed despite her nervousness.  “Are you sure?”

“Positive.  Cross my heart and hope to die.”

Sarah started walking again, slowly making her way towards the front of the store.  She kept glancing around, nonchalantly trying to notice if any of the store employees were noticing them, but the staff all seemed to be assisting customers.  That was the thing about looking like you didn’t belong.  On some days it made you a target of suspicion, but on other days, crowded days like this one, it rendered you invisible, like one of the store mannequins.  Sarah wondered if Jodie had picked the holidays for that reason to try and pull this off, or if it had just been a coincidence.

They were only a few feet from the door now and Jodie had begun to hum some song that Sarah couldn’t quite make out, Winter Wonderland or maybe Frosty the Snowman?  She was sure she knew what was about to happen.  Any second now someone would spot them and start yelling, an alarm would sound, and they would be pulled back inside to await mall security.

But it didn’t happen that way.

No one stopped them or even looked in their direction as they strolled out of the store and headed towards Cinnabon.

 

******

 

“Jesus, I can’t believe we did that!”  Sarah said, taking a bite of the enormous cinnamon roll and passing it to Jodie.

“Told you we wouldn’t get caught.”

“How the hell did you get the security doohickey off?”

“You’d be amazed at the myriad uses a good nail file has.”

“When did you learn to do that?”

“It’s a recent skill I acquired from a fellow inmate in detention.”

“Lemme guess, Vicki?”

“She’s a very worldly woman with much wisdom to impart.”

“I don’t think being sent to Juvy four times makes you worldly.”

“Now, now, we mustn’t judge.”

“Speaking of…I mean I know you’ve swiped stuff before, but….”

“You’re not gonna go all Molly Morality on me, are you?”

“No, I just….”

“Listen, I promise not to make a habit of it, okay?”

“Okay.”

“So are we cool?”

“Yeah, we’re cool.”

“Good, cause there’s something really important I have to tell you.”

“What?”

“You’ve got a huge glob of frosting on the end of your nose.”

“Shut up.”

“I’m serious dude, it’s like dangling there.  Very unseemly my dear, what would your mother say?”

“Bite me.”

“Ol’ Maggie has quite the sharp tongue on her.”

“Oh yeah, my mom who says sugar whenever she’s pissed off because she thinks shoot is too profane.”

Sarah saw the woman walk up behind Jodie.  She was wearing a garnet-colored cashmere jacket over a white silk blouse and a black wool skirt that stopped just above the knee.  Her hair was a deep brown that reminded Sarah of the mahogany hope chest in her parent’s bedroom and was parted in the sort of casual way that Sarah had never been able to pull off no matter how many times she tried.

“Excuse me.”  the woman said, tapping Jodie on the shoulder.

Jodie swiveled around in her chair so that she was half facing the woman and half facing Sarah. “What’s up?”

“I was wondering where you got that jacket from?” the woman said.

“It was a gift from my aunt. Gorgeous, isn’t it?”  Jodie said.

“It certainly is.  We sell it at the store I manage here in the mall, Exhibition up on the third floor.”

“Oh yeah, I think I’ve seen that place.  A little out of my price range, but Aunt Shelia’s loaded.  Married an investment banker, or maybe he’s a money manager, one of those guys who helps rich people spend their cash so that it makes them even more dough.”

“When did she give it to you?”

“For my birthday last month.”

“See, that’s where we have a problem, girls.  We just started selling that item this week.”

“Guess my aunt got it somewhere else.”  Jodie said and took a long sip of her coke.

“That jacket is exclusive to our boutique.  She couldn’t have bought it somewhere else.”

“Must be a different coat that just looks like it then.”  Sarah said trying to be helpful, but it came out in a rush and when the woman looked over at her Sarah averted her eyes.

“I’m certain that it’s our item, and if you let me see the tag I can confirm it.”  the woman said and started to reach towards Jodie.

“Don’t you fucking touch me!”  Jodie said, standing up and taking a step back from the woman.

“Listen girls, I don’t want to have to involve the authorities in this.  If you just give me the jacket I’ll overlook this incident.”

“You’re nuts lady; we’re outta here.”  Jodie said.

“If you try to leave I’ll be forced to call security.”

“We’ve never even been in your stupid store!”  Jodie shouted.

“Then I’m sure you won’t mind waiting while we review the surveillance footage to confirm your story.”

“This is totally crazy.” Jodie said.  “Do you just wander the mall randomly accusing people of crimes?”

“The missing garment was discovered during an inventory check.  One of our sales associates remembered a young girl trying on the jacket earlier in the day, but there was no record of any transaction.”

“We didn’t steal shit lady.” Jodie said, but this time there was a slight quaver in her voice.

“I think I’m being more than fair about this.  Hand over the garment and we’ll call it even.”

“Jodie….”  Sarah said.

Jodie turned to Sarah; she said nothing, but Sarah knew everything from the look on her face.  It was that expression of disgusted disappointment that Jodie always wore whenever Sarah backed down or chickened out of something; that same irritated glare that told Sarah she wasn’t tough enough, wasn’t cool enough, wasn’t good enough, and that Jodie was doing her a favor by even deigning to hang out with her.  It was the way Sarah knew that she would always be second best, would always be the sidekick in the Jodie Show.

Sarah felt her cheeks flush and she turned her eyes down towards the floor.  She wasn’t sure what was said next; she couldn’t hear anything over the blood pounding in her ears.  The skin around her knuckles tightened and she felt her fingernails dig into the palms of her hands until they ached.  All she wanted was to eradicate that look from Jodie’s face.

And then it happened.

It seemed to occur outside her, like viewing a scene from a movie.  Sarah watched herself stand up and shove the woman, saw the woman stumble backwards into a chair and then topple to the ground.  The next thing she knew she and Jodie were sprinting across the parking lot.  Her sides were on fire and they finally stopped running when they reached the park almost four miles away.

“Holy shit girl!” Jodie said.

Sarah stared at her, unable to comprehend anything for a moment.

“Who knew you had it in you?!”  Jodie said and the look on her face was not one of disgust or disappointment.  It didn’t make Sarah feel like a sidekick or a shadow and she wanted to be happy, but all she felt was hollow.

She and Jodie hadn’t become equals because of what she’d done; they were something else entirely now, and Sarah knew that there was no going back to the way things were even if she’d wanted to.

As they sat there, lazily rocking back-and-forth on the swings, Sarah suddenly wished that she had stopped Jodie in the store.  There would’ve been that look, but at least Sarah would know where things stood instead of everything being up in the air.

Sarah pumped her legs and began to pick up speed.  She swung higher and higher, trying to keep Jodie in focus each time she passed her, but her vision blurred as tears spilled from her eyes in the stinging rush of the wind.

She kept swinging faster and higher, her body nearly parallel to the ground now, preparing herself to jump when she hit the apex of her arc.

All she could hope for was a soft spot to land.

 


Peter first fell into fiction penning stories to amuse his grammar-school classmates, which helped him overcome his shyness, but resulted in very few completed homework assignments.

He is an avid fan of horror movies, especially those with a sense of humor, food served from carts and roadside shacks, and the music of The Ramones, The Replacements, and other bands of like-minded misfits who found a way to connect with the world through their music and their words.  He was raised and currently resides in the Chicagoland suburbs with his wife and cats and his writing has appeared in various publications including: The Delinquent, Crack the Spine, Apiary, Cemetery Moon, The Literary Hatchet, Graze, Ink Stains, Whatever Our Souls, Dodging The Rain, and the No Trace and Dark Lane anthologies.

You can visit him online at: http://ravenpen.wixsite.com/authorsite

© 2019, Peter Emmett Naughton

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